Archive for revising

Crossing the finish line

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , , on March 28, 2008 by Trina

The hardest part about writing a novel is in crossing the finish line. Once the first draft is done, the finish line is in sight, but the final stretch is where the hardest work lies. I blogged that I’d finish my young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT, by the end of 2007. I’m not finished. I’ve lost count of the number of revisions I’ve made to the novel, but in reading through some of my older posts, I am reminded of the reasons for those revisions. In each pass through, I’ve improved specific things.

As I previously posted, I had to create a fantasy world that would be logical and real to a twelve year old. This was probably the most difficult and time consuming and yet the most fun. Time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible had to become routine parts of day-to-day life for Katharine.

Beyond the magical elements, the history also had to be accurate. Everything in the room I write in—the electric lights and the computer, the bottled water I drink, and the climate controlled air conditioning —was as imaginary in 1775, as fantastic, as Narnia or Hogwarts are today. So I had to revise with attention to detail that I hope will make Boston of 1775 real to young adults.

I’ve also fixed the POV problems I had with Katharine and her fellow wizards shape shifting into animals.

In the first chapter where the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart is introduced, my writing critique group found several areas that needed to be reworked for logic and consistency. I was tempted simply to hit the delete key because I didn’t want to put forth the effort and energy needed for the corrections. See Motivating the cognitive miser. But after some elbow grease, I think the chapter is now both stronger and more believable. I often find that the hardest scenes to write are usually the ones that I am most happy with.

Now, I’ve made another change, also as a result of feedback from my writing group–whose input has been invaluable in making the novel better. I reorganized the order of the chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT so that Katharine travels back to the past sooner, which means I’ll have to write some transition scenes and delete others. I don’t want to do it. I keep reconsidering the ordering. But I think the new order is important to remove any parallels with Harry Potter: Katharine is a wizard who is just learning to use her powers and there is an evil wizard trying to kill her. But that is where the similarity stops. I want to make it clear to readers that my novel is an historical fantasy, unlike J. K. Rowling’s novels. So, it is important to bring out the unique aspect of the book earlier, thus the trip to the past must happen sooner. I think it will be more interesting for young people this way and I am reminded that elbow grease usually leads to writing that makes me proud.

Still, I can’t seem to get momentum flowing into finishing THE MAGIC QUIL. I know what the problem is. As I previously posted, my strength seems to be writing for and about children. But I’m discovering I don’t like writing for young people as much as I enjoy writing fiction for adults. I love reading psychological and medical thrillers for adults, which is what I want to write.

Why? In writing from the point of view of a twelve year old, I can’t use the vocabulary I could for adults. The dialogue and plot are much simpler. In other words, it’s harder to write exciting stories for children. It is much more limiting. Yet, I think the story in THE MAGIC QUILT needs to be told. It is a coming of age story full of history and magic, but Katharine’s real accomplishment is not in defeating the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart, or playing a role in the battle for freedom. Her growth in character comes in finding the strength to take the first steps in ending the neglect and abuse from living in with an alcoholic mother. I wanted to write this story because there is little literature for children and young adults living with neglect and abuse.

It really shouldn’t matter what I want to write. I should just suck it up and finish THE MAGIC QUILT. It is nearly done–and I think it’s pretty good. Yet I can’t focus on finishing. I sit down at the computer and do anything else, including laundry, organizing my e-mail contacts and cleaning my office.

As a result, I spent several months working on short stories and I pretty proud of a couple of them. I have also been reading stories on Critters Workshop and have learned a lot from other Critter’s critiques of my work and others. One thing that I have learned is that there are numerous awesome writers out there who are dedicated to their art. Many resubmit two and three drafts of a story to the workshop. Their patience in perfecting their work is seemingly endless. The secret to success seems to be dedication as well as talent.

Write. Write. Write.

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing with tags , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2007 by Trina

I blogged that I would finish my young adult novel in progress, THE MAGIC QUILT, by December 31st, 2007. Argh. That was before the month of November hit me hard — scroll through the posts here in the “life coming at me fast” category to learn more. I will make an honest effort to get ‘er done, as they say in here in North Carolina. Wish me well as I travel back in time to the colonial world of spying, espionage, and rebellion this holiday season.

This said, I’m cutting myself off from blogging temporarily, until Jan 1st or when I finish THE MAGIC QUILT, whichever comes first, heavy sigh. I estimate I have about 40 hours of editing to go (based on the amount of time I’ve spent on each chapter so far). It is increasingly difficult to get myself started editing THE MAGIC QUILT. I find myself doing anything else: reading my e-mail, surfing writing discussion boards, blogging (like I’m doing now), creating new short stories, revising stories based on my critique group’s edits, and looking for markets for my stories.

So, I’m making a hard editing schedule for myself based on Greg Martin’s writing workshop focused on revision. He suggests that students should keep a daily journal of their writing schedule and goals as follows.

Each day you make seven entries:
1. The date and the time
2. How long you plan to work.
3. What you plan to work on for this day.
4. Time when you stop writing and total amount of time writing.
5. Answer the questions: What did you actually end up doing? How well did it go?
6. What you plan to work on tomorrow
7. When you plan to work tomorrow and for how long.

Sample Entry
1. Sept 15, 2005 8:30 am
2. Work until noon
3. Focus on rising action in Macular Degeneration
4. 12:15 Almost four hours
5. Sluggish until coffee kicked in, then pretty good characterization of Oscar. Didn’t get to turning point.
6. More rising action tomorrow. Must write turning point–as scene, not just a lame sketch.
7. Tomorrow: 5:30 to 9.

• You can’t take three days off in a row.
• If you take two days off in a row, you ought to feel bad, not just about your habits and your lack of discipline, but about yourself as a person.
• You must log 18 hours of writing time a week. This is an average of 3 hours a day six days a week. (You can write more.) Take a day off each week, if you must, but I don’t recommend it. Why would you?.

Hmm — day job, Christmas preparations, husband, dog, friends, family, shopping for food, washing clothes.

You’re supposed to love it. You’ll love it more, the more you do it. Wynton Marsalis didn’t take a day off practicing the trumpet for two years. That’s why he’s Wynton Marsalis.
• Unplug the phone. (Turn off cell, if you feel you must have one of those)
• No email.
• No diary-type notes. Nothing about your cat’s urinary tract infection.

So, I have 22 days. If I write 3 hours a day, the math totals to 66 hours of writing. I could finish even if I take a day or two off. I’m going to give ‘er the old college try. Wish me luck.

Taking up the gauntlet

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing with tags , , , , , on October 29, 2007 by Trina

My young adult work in progress will be finished by December 31, 2007. Period.

From my post on December 22, 2006:
I wrote a sketchy draft of THE MAGIC QUILT when I was in graduate school and then didn’t look at it again during the 14 years that I taught middle school. I never even tried to write fiction when I was teaching. I wasn’t alone in that, Stephen King couldn’t write when he was teaching either. In his book ON WRITING, King said,

“…for the first time in my life, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching… by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.”

And so THE MAGIC QUILT waited. My mind was on lesson plans and worrying about whether I had put out all the materials that I would need for the next day’s lab activity. Did I copy the lab handout before I left school, or would I have to go in early and copy it? Then there were the calls to parents about students I was concerned about, and the calls to encourage those who were doing better. And that endless stack of papers to grade that took up all my free time in the evenings.

So it was that after resigning my position as a science teacher, I reread my original draft of THE MAGIC QUILT, rewrote a couple of chapters and brought them to my fiction writing group. With their help, I decided the novel could be good and starting researching the American Revolution, the setting for the book. After finishing the second draft of the book, I took a workshop on writing historical fiction books taught by Philip Gerard, an expert on Paul Revere, and found that I had some historical facts wrong. Fixing the history trickled down through the entire novel and I had to rewrite much of the book. Now, THE MAGIC QUILT is finally so close to being finished that my goal for my holiday vacation is to finish her.

Thank you, Harry, for your support.

Now it is nearly a year later, and my young adult novel in progress is still not finished. Harry reminded me that I’ve been working on the novel for the entire four years that we have been together and I’m still not finished with it. I got mad at him, but I am really angry with myself. I had to ask myself why I am not finished.

I have been making steady progress, but it comes in spurts. I’ll make a writing schedule and stick to it until something happens, or nothing happens. Life gets in the way. We go on vacation, family visits, we adopt a dog, it is too beautiful outside to write, or the day job gets more stressful. Then, I’ll work on shorter pieces trying to get up the energy to work on the novel. And the cycle repeats.

Harry threw down the gauntlet when he asked me how long it would actually take me to finish my WIP. I’m taking up the gauntlet he threw down. With Harry’s somewhat reluctant support, I’ve decided to work part time, cutting my day job to 92% of my current hours. This means that I’ll have two Fridays off per month. Two days that I can write for eight uninterrupted hours. And I am going to finish THE MAGIC QUILT by December 31st using those days off, as well as a early mornings and weekends. Even though the holidays will come and go, I’m still going to finish. I am too close not to.

I have just sent the last three chapters to my writing group for their critique. I am editing the other chapters in the novel for consistency. I am also reading it to make sure Katharine’s voice is right. Her character changes throughout the novel as her control over her magic and her confidence in herself grows. The narrator’s voice must change with her. And, I’m tightening and trying to give the reader credit by not telling them everything.

Wish me luck.

Creative License

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , on June 1, 2007 by Trina

Below is an excerpt from Katharine Taylor and the Magic Quilt that is the focus of this blog.

“Dr. Warren’s Speech.”

… Sara Revere touched the silver locket on her necklace and transmutated into a tiny black bird that stood on her bedroom floor. Katharine transmutated into what she hoped was a brown cardinal with red tipped wings and an orange beak.

“Come Katharine,” the blackbird said and flew out the window. Katharine was afraid to fly, but she closed her eyes and flapped her wings a couple of times. She landed on the bed, grasping the bedspread with her claws. Her heart pounding, she flew once more around the room.

Still a little nervous, she stood up straight on her bird feet, took a deep breath and flew out the window. Wind hit her, like when she rode her bike down hill.

A flock of blackbirds circled the house, which startled her until she heard one of them call her name in Sara’s voice. “Follow us,” the black bird said.

When Katharine looked down, the house was small. The privy a small box the size of a domino. A flutter of fear made her wings skip a beat and she fell a few feet, sure she would crash to her death. But the Cardinal’s instincts took over and her bird body pumped its wings faster and she caught the flock of blackbirds. She was actually enjoying the wind fluffing her feathers. When she looked down again, she and the flock were above the church.

Sara dove into a window. Katharine followed her and perched on a beam in the church ceiling next to bird that was Sara. “We have the best view in the church, I knew we would,” Sara’s voice said from the blackbird’s beak. “And we’ll be able to hear everything.”

“I don’t see Dr. Warren,” Katharine said. There were at least one hundred people crowded into the sanctuary.

“Since Dr. Warren’s not here yet, we didn’t miss anything.”

“But how will he get into the door, or up to the pulpit with all these people?” Katharine asked. “The door is blocked with men. He’ll have to elbow his way through the crowd.”

Suddenly, there was a disturbance at the front of the church. Dr. Warren’s white wig appeared in the window behind the pulpit. He put a black leather shoe through, gold buckle gleaming, and jumped to the ground. Whispering voices filled the church. Unobserved, Sara and Katharine flew above the pulpit where they could see a ladder leaning against the outside the wall below the window. Dr. Warren must have climbed the ladder to get into the window behind the pulpit.

The men in the room stopped talking as soon as Dr. Warren stood at the pulpit. It may have been hard for the men in the back of the room to hear him, but the brown and black birds sitting in the window behind the pulpit heard every word. He took note cards from his pocket and read, “Our men are thrown in prison without a jury trial. They are found guilty with no defense and hung. Their families must fend for themselves. It’s time to fight back! King George III has violated the rights of his people so he forfeits our allegiance. If General Gage or any other Tory tries to arrest anyone for political reasons, we will seize British officers as hostages. Consider this war! Our intelligence efforts have begun.”

When a man with a beet red face pushed his head into the window, a black and brown bird flew into the rafters with a noisy fluttering of wings . Dr. Warren went over to speak to the red-faced man and then came back to the pulpit, “It has come to my attention that an influenza epidemic is spreading quickly. I am needed to care for the sick.” …

Struggling with whether to include the above in the young adult novel I’m endlessly revising, I posted this question at the Writers Net Discussion Forum: For those of you who don’t want to click the link, or aren’t a member, below is a summary.

I finished the first draft my historical fantasy novel for young adults two years ago. This was the first novel that I’ve ever written; in retrospect, a historical novel was not the easiest genre for a first novel. The novel takes place in the present and in 1775. I made the mistake of writing the first draft without doing enough research into Colonial Boston, or into Paul Revere’s life, who is a central character. (I am a science researcher who was a former science teacher, far removed from the history of the American Revolution).

Patrick Leehy of the Paul Revere house was kind enough to edit my text and, no surprise, he found some mistakes. For example Sara Revere, Paul’s first wife, was alive and well in my first draft. She was deceased in 1775 — oops. So I revised the entire novel, correcting such history mistakes.

In order to correct the history, I had to remove a chapter because it took place in March of 1775 and my novel is set in April. After meeting with my critique group, I want to put the chapter back in. but this will involve the central character taking a trip back in time to March, and then making another second trip in April, which will involve some rewriting work.

Meanwhile, my husband is asking me when I’ll ever finish the novel (I have, after all, been working on it for three years). I keep saying soon, but sometimes I feel like the answer is really — never. Since this is my first time around the block with a novel, I decided to post these two questions as a sanity check:

1 How important is it to have every fact correct in a historical fiction or fantasy novel? I have tried very hard to make the novel match real history as much as my humble science background allows.

2 When is enough enough? I do not feel that my novel is ready to query agents yet, but will it ever be perfect? I keep incorporating feedback from my writing group, but I wonder if I am rewriting too much.

Here are some of the responses that I received: You can read the responses in their entirety at the link above.

I write historical FICTION and fiction is the key word here. I presume (and I could be wrong) fantasy falls into the same category as fiction, since it’s not REAL. In order for some of my events to take place, I had to make a factual event happen earlier in the year than it did in reality, but, because the book is fiction I can do that. However….I clarified in an afterward that I was AWARE I had changed the time line so as not to be corrected by historians who KNOW when the event actually occurred. I believe Stephen King exercised his “poetic license” in Christine. He wanted to use a specific model for his car, but it wasn’t manufactured until a year AFTER the book took place. A short afterward stating he used that car because….even though he was AWARE it wasn’t manufactured until a year later took car of car enthusiasts who would have been breaking down his door to tell him that car didn’t even exist when his story is set. And I agree with Harper about the writer’s group. Unless you have experienced (i.e. published or very close to published) writers in the group, not all opinions may be correct. I’m in a group in which I’m the most experienced writer and I’m making corrections to assumptions all the time. Be careful.

It will never be perfect. And writing groups can be tricky because everyone’s got an opinion and they can’t all be right. Do they all say the same things, or do they each have a different slant on it? If they all agree on the problems, you should probably listen. Otherwise, you should follow your instincts. But it’s never going to be perfect. As close as you can get to perfect is to be really serious about revisions and take it as far as your skill allows. But don’t stop until you do that.

Anyone one who works for the customer directly knows taking a long time to produce a product can hurt your business. So What? Trying to flog a sub-standard product to a knowledgeable clientele will attach the odor of dead fish to everything you do for a lot longer than it takes to re-write a chapter or two..

I really appreciate the help from these experienced writers. The afterword is exactly the fix that I needed and I’ve just added it to the end of my novel. It corrects this issue and others that I have been struggling with in getting the history right. I never would have thought of it on my own.

I will keep revising the novel until I am happy with it. It is the right thing to do, even though it seems like an endless task. I do have confidence in my writing critique group. I think their suggestions have made the book stronger. So I’ll keep on keeping on and let you know what happens.

History amended: Introducing Katharine Taylor

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2007 by Trina

Let me introduce you to THE MAGIC QUILT, a historical fantasy for young adults that is set in 1775 Colonial America. The novel is a historical fiction story about the time before the Revolutionary War, but more importantly it is also a fantasy that I believe will capture adolescent minds.

Brief summary:
Katharine Taylor has never transmutated into an animal, a dragon or a mountain lion. She has never traveled to the past through her magic quilt, nor faced armies of insects and the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart. All Katharine knows is an unhappy life with an alcoholic mother. But all that is about to change when she learns that she is a wizard and travels through time portals in her magic quilt to a turbulent time in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the dramatic events that pit the King’s soldiers against their own people, Katharine finds in her new friends the strength to face her destiny.

I have researched 1775 Boston so much, the world of 1775 seems as real to me as this time and place. As I mentioned in the last entry, this is my first attempt at writing a novel and I probably shouldn’t have started with a historical fantasy. I didn’t realize when I started it the amount of historical reasearch I’d have to do. After all, science is my field, not history.

I’ve spent several months correcting the historical portions of the novel. I’m finally done with that, whew. But the trickledown of minor changes in the history affected the plot so that I had to go back and rewrite about half of the novel.

My writing critique group has just reviewed one of the central chapters to the book, “The Midnight Ride,” and the last historical chapter. Katharine accompanies him on his famous midnight ride. As always happens with critique groups. You walk away with insights and sometimes more revisions. One of the women in my writing group wondered how the men of 1775 would react with Katharine accompanying Paul Revere and suggested that Katharine disguise herself as a boy – now why didn’t I think of that. The section starts with Katharine as a cat and Paul Revere as a dog. Another member said she kept waiting for Katharine and Paul Revere to change back into animals and she thought it would be more fun for kids to read with another scene with Katharine and Paul Revere as cat and dog.

So, as always after attending my writing critique group, I’ve got some revising to do. My goal is to finish editing “The Midnight Ride” over the long weekend — I’ve taken Tuesday off work —and then write the ending of the book, which has been hanging over my head for months. I wrote an ending that I thought was pretty good, with flying dragons and a battle with the evil Dr. Ziegawart, but Katharine didn’t play a large enough role in the end, so I’ve got to revisit it.