Can you read the caption? “Andrina Wood at the console of a BTM computer. Tabacus: The Magazine of the British Tabulating Company, August 1958.” The photo was republished on the Twitter account of Mar Hicks, a professor and historian of technology. Many of the vintage photos I’ve seen show women at computer consoles working with a legal pad or paper notebook.
I’ve started a new book. For lack of any better ideas, I went back to a project I last worked on in about 2006—the adventures of my genius computer hacker and the FBI agent who arrested her.
I wrote two books of these characters before I switched to lighter storylines—there’s just something about your hero sending your heroine to prison that tends to get dark pretty fast. And it’s hard to write genius, too, if you’re not genius yourself. Using Sheldon Cooper as a role model, especially for a female character, has its limitations.
The reception I got for these books after I’d finished them was lukewarm. The first book is about stealing an election, a topic that every agent and editor I talked to said would be stale in months. And we all know how that turned out.
“The more we stur a tourde, the wours it will stynke.” So said J. Heywood in the 1546 Dialogue Prouerbes Eng. Tongue. How true is that? I have muddied around with the first several chapters of my book for MONTHS now, but as the Golden Heart deadline approached on Friday, I found myself having to follow the equally proverbial “fish or cut bait.”
In other words, I had to make whatever changes I could get done before the deadline, then send it off on its merry way. (I have few hopes of finaling, but I thought because it’s the last time RWA will hold the Golden Heart–the “Academy Awards” of romance writing for unpublished authors–I should give it a go.)
When I finished my submission, and in conjunction with my Word Of The Year (which is DEADLINES), I told my husband that I was not going to touch those first five chapters again. And he made me sign THIS:
So it’s moving forward, starting with Chapter 6 and going until it’s done and I turn it in to my editor.
Do you put a stake in the ground when it comes to your MS? Do you only allow a certain number of revisions to a given chapter?
A few weeks ago at church, the minister talked about something called the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.”
This concept, defined by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, describes the cognitive bias of inexperience that causes people who know almost nothing about a topic think they are experts because they don’t know enough to realize the extent of their ignorance.
If you’ve ever critiqued a manuscript for a beginning writer, you know exactly what this is. The newbie will bring you her precious creation and hand it over, dewy-eyed with confidence that the next day (because it’s so good you’ll stay up all night reading it), you’ll call to tell her that she is the next J.K. Rowling/Nora Roberts/E.L. James/Gillian Flynn. Continue reading
A few weeks ago, I told you about the steady progress I’ve been making on my WIPs by working to a 20-page-per-week commitment with my writing coach. That’s approximately 6,000 new words per week. At that pace, I’d be able to write a 25K story in 4-5 weeks.
So now let me tell you about the 25K story it took me 2 years to write.
OK, I’m being a bit melodramatic. I didn’t take me 2 years to get through the new pages of the first draft. That took a few months, then the story went to critique readers who (rightfully) had some problems with the story. Then there were the inevitable months of compiling critique comments, formulating a revision plan, going back to the story drawing board, drinking before 4 PM, and reconsidering my poor life choices. And then I walked away from the story for a year.
Not to worry! I was not defeated, and the story wasn’t abandoned. I just needed to take a break. See other stories. Decide what I really wanted out of that novella. The answer was, a lot, and that’s why my time away from it was so important for fixing the story. My critique readers could give you lots of details about what was wrong with this book, like a heroine who was rather selfish, an out-of-the-blue physical encounter that would be a tough sell in a contemporary, let alone an historical, and that perennial first-draft favorite – wishy-washy goals.
But pulling back from all of that to take an big-picture view of my novella, I realized I’d written it too soon. It was under-proofed, under-baked, and just not ready for prime (or even critique) time. So how did I make such a mess of it? Oh, let us count the ways. Continue reading
As regular readers here know, several months ago, I finally gave up my high-stress, pressure-filled, deadline-driven corporate consulting job and set up my own high-stress, pressure-filled, deadline-driven writing and publishing plan. It’s a much better gig! However, one good thing about a corporate job is the structure. (That, and cake. People randomly bringing in cake. Why do my new office mates, aka the cats, never bring me cake? But I digress).
When you enter the full-time writer world, your time is suddenly your own, even with a very firm stake planted in the ground somewhere out there in Future Land. When it comes to publishing schedules, suddenly you’re thinking in terms of months or even years. Gone are the daily and weekly due dates, the guide rails that keep you plodding along on the straight and narrow. Take the girl out of the corporate world and chaos follows. At least, that’s what happened to schedule- and spreadsheet- and calendar-loving me. Continue reading
I’ve been thinking a lot about story endings for the past few weeks as I near the end of the first draft of my Women’s Fiction WIP. But in truth, I’m always thinking about story endings – mine and others’ – from the first page or a manuscript or book, the first episode of a TV series, or the opening scene of a movie. (Cue PSA: This is your brain on writing.) But when I’m actually coming up on a final page of my own, I have an irresistible urge to
procrastinate look at beginnings and endings of other stories.
This topic was an important part of the McDaniel course training of the eight ladies, and with good reason. The ending has so much weight to pull. Tie together disparate loose ends, but not too tightly. Illustrate the character arcs with subtlety and call-backs to other important moments in the story. Keep the story promise that made the reader/viewer join you for the story journey way back in the beginning when you were just saying hello. And then there’s the kicker that applies to every part of the story, but is magnified for the writer at the end of a WIP (often resulting in a frenzy of head-desking, second-guessing, and thinking that something else – anything else! – would be a better/smarter/easier use of one’s time than writing): there is no universally right ending to your story, only less wrong ones. For proof of this, you need only read online discussions and dissections of every movie and TV series ending that has occurred since the advent of the internet.
I’ve had many of my own moments of ‘Oh no, they didn’t!’ at the ends of books, movies, and TV series. Looking just at TV, I was annoyed and let-down by the end of How I Met Your Mother, and am wont to believe the story (rumor?) that the writers expected a much shorter run, and never really adapted their vision of the ending when the series ran for many more years than they’d expected. Don’t get me started on the Seinfeld ending. And – yes, I’m going to go there – I have mixed emotions about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series ending, which missed a lot of obvious opportunities for emotional impact and story promise fulfillment, but that also got a lot right.
So over the past few weeks, as I’ve spent a lot of time
avoiding my own ending preparing for the important task of writing a fabulous ending, I’ve revisited beginnings and endings of several books and TV series, and have broken them down into elements that set my little writer heart all a-twitter.
The Story Promise Revisited. Continue reading