Writing Process

Expansion and Contraction, or Glumping and Haiku

Convincing a group of at-risk teens that writing is not only a useful activity, but a fun one, could be a bit of a challenge, wouldn't you say?

Golden-dark-sunshine-25014-l And that was my charge at a workshop I co-lead on Monday for an organization I volunteer for, Step It Up.  The nonprofit hosts a Career Club for high schoolers, giving them practical information on job-related activities such as business site visits, resume writing, informational interviews, and writing cover and thank you letters.  After a few months of this training, they graduate to actual internship positions.

But first they have to learn to write those resumes and cover letters.  And in order to do that they need to get over their fear and hatred of writing.  Which was our goal on Monday.  We led them through a variety of creative activities (anagrams, how many images can you draw in the circles, etc.) to loosen them up and then got to the writing.

Here was the brilliance (it was my co-leader's idea, so I can say that) of it: in order to illustrate the writing process, first we had them glump, then we had them write Haiku.  Thus showing how the initial step is to put everything out on the page in one glorious brain dump, and the second step is to fit it into a specific structure, such as a Haiku.  Expansion and contraction. We had them free-write on one career-related word of their choice, and then compose a Haiku using that same word.

I started thinking how useful an exercise this two-step process could be for writers, to loosen yourself up and get the juices flowing.  Try it:

1.  Glump.  Set a timer, use a prompt or a word, and write.  Keep that hand moving across the page. Don't censor yourself or even think very much.

2. Review.  This is an optional step, but it can be helpful to go through your glump and highlight sentences, words or phrases you like.

3.  Write a Haiku.  Take the same prompt or word and write a Haiku about it.  As a refresher, a Haiku is a three-line poem.  First line is 5 syllables, second line is 7, third line is 5 again. 

The great thing about Haikus is that they can be lyrical and descriptive, or silly and fun.  I once had a weeks-long email exchange with my wonderful friend Suzanne, in which we entertained ourselves by writing only in Haiku. 

So try it and let me know how it works out for you.  Leave a Haiku in the comments if you feel so inspired.

And remember, if writing Haiku fails to inspire you, my Get Your Writing in Gear sessions are on special through the month of March


Photo by Ayla87, from Everystockphoto.

Activate the Power of Your Right Brain

I've written a lot lately on the writing process, emphasizing that the entire process begins with the rough draft, also known as the time when you glump it all on the page.  (In case that image doesn't do it for you, what I'm talking about is letting it rip. Write it out, without judgment or stopping.)

But sometimes you make time to glump and nothing happens.   You get yourself a prompt and write for a few minutes and everything that comes out feels stilted and dull.  But really, is this any wonder? Look at our lives–running around doing errands, picking the kids up from school, doing work assignments, buying groceries.   These are all vital tasks and they are all tasks that require the attention of the left brain. 

Ah, the left brain.  It is the half of our mind that excels in keeping us to schedules, in making judgments, in memorizing, logic, routine, and analysis. 

And really?  Not a one of those skills goes very well with glumping.

Favorites-doodles-2483231-l So the trick is to shift yourself into the right brain, that wonderful hemisphere which is responsible for feelings of love, relaxation, the new, the fresh, the global, the free-form, the dreamy, the visionary. 

Now doesn't that sound a bit more in line with glumping?  Wouldn't it be easier to let yourself go if you were in an intuitive, heart-centered, holistic state, rather than a logical, scheduled, results-oriented one?

And yet much of the time that's exactly what we do–try to write from a left-brain state of mind.  There are plenty of times when we need the left brain.  Like when we're editing, for instance.  Or marketing.  Or trying to get ourselves to our writing group on time.   It is just that it is better to shift out of it when it comes to writing.

So, how to do that?

Last September, Whitney Ferre, a right-brain expert (who will also soon be featured in an interview on this blog) did a workshop for the Writer's Loft in Nashville and she presented a couple of ideas:

Doodle.  Its as easy as that.   I'm a doodler extraordinaire, often covering my note pad with squiggles and geometric shapes while in a lecture or class.  And its not that I'm not listening, the act of moving my hand makes it easier for me to listen.  Lately I've been experimenting with doodling for a few minutes before writing, with really good results.  Doodling is no doubt the most accessible art form, because anyone can do it and the results truly don't matter.  By the way, in all of these right-brain exercises, results don't matter.  You can crumple up the page and recycle it when you're done.  Its the process that's important.

Paint.  I love to paint, and yet rarely do it.  That's because I don't have a space set up for it, and getting all the paints out and getting ready seems to take more time than I usually want to spend.  But in sorting through some old supplies last weekend, I found a container of watercolors, the kind you'd buy for a child.  Now that I can pull out and play around with for a few minutes before working.

Draw a Mandala.  This is an activity that Whitney recommends and that is quite relaxing.  Don't get all worked up about it being perfectly symmetrical or beautiful, just draw yourself a circle and have at it.  Remember, its the process, people.

Another thing that always works for me is: 561px-Rosey_Grier

Repetitive Activity.  I'm talking about knitting, or crocheting, or stitching.  Guys, you could try this, too.  Remember Rosy Grier, pictured to the right, the gigo football player?  He was famous for his needlepoint, and c'mon, he's about as manly as they come. When I'm stuck, if I remember to step away from the computer and go pick up my knitting, odds are good that the idea I'm looking for will come so fast I barely have time to get any knitting done.  (The trick is remembering to step away from the computer, but that's another story.) Other repetitive activities are gardening or dish washing.  Or vacuuming.  I would rather knit, myself, but that's just me.  There's also:

Walking.  Which has the added benefit of being exercise.  Nothing like a brisk stroll in the fresh air to get the brain going.  Try taking a walk and then coming inside and heading directly to your writing spot.  It is amazing how clear and fresh your brain will feel. 

So, right brains rule, at least for the writing aspect of the process.  How do you shift into your?

Photo credits: The doodle is by karindalziel, via Everystockphoto, via Flickr.  Image of Rosey Grier by lukeford.net, via Wikipedia.


Getting Your Work Out in the World: The Mechanics

On Wednesday, I discussed the mindset of getting your work out in the world, which, really, is even more important than the mechanics.  Because, if you're head is not screwed on right, all the submitting in the world is not going to matter.  One way or another you'll end up blocking your efforts.

Today its time to talk about the nuts and bolts of submitting your work.  In reality, there's probably more written on this subject than any other when it comes to writing and writing-related topics.  Because everyone wants to know how to get published. Or how to get an agent. So I'm going to let people with more expertise than me delve into the details of this and stick with a general overview in this post.

First, let me emphasize something–the work must be at its best.   This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many times I've had civilians (non-writers) tell me to quit fussing with rewriting and just go ahead and submit something.  Because, don't you know, that's what editors are for.  They will fix all of your errors for you, so why bother to do it yourself?

Wrong. Nuts-bolt-bolts-54260-l

What will happen is that said editor will take one look at the glaring grammatical error on the first page and toss the manuscript over his shoulder.  That's it.  End of story.  End of your publishing hopes.  So get the piece into as good a shape as you possibly can.

Next, prepare to be patient.  Agents and editors in both the book and magazine and newspaper worlds are way more overworked than we can even begin to imagine.  Consider just this one fact: agents need to spend their working hours at the office dealing with their existing clients.  This means that the search for new ones and the reading of submissions must happen during off-hours–evenings and weekends.  So prepare thyself to wait for awhile.  A long while.  I just had an agent respond to a query with a request to read chapters after two months.  I'd long since assumed she wasn't interested.  Not the case at all.

While the process of submitting your book is slightly different than submitting an article, there's enough similarities to offer some broad stroke advice. 

1.  Get clear.  It always starts with clarity, I'm telling you!  Decide what market you're going to submit to, and make a plan.  For instance, if you desire to have your book published by a traditional New York publishing house, you're going to need an agent.   If you're going for the smaller houses, you can submit directly.  But you need to know this upfront and plan accordingly.  Perhaps your plan is to go for an agent first, and if that doesn't work out, hit up editors at smaller houses.  Same holds true for magazines.  There are A list titles and B and C and D list.  Decide how you're going to approach them.  Will you start at the top and go down? Figure out what makes sense to you. Great!  Now you're ready to:

2. Do your research.  You can't just send your book off to any old agent.  Or your article to any old editor. Or your story to any old journal. As mentioned, publishing professionals are overworked.  And if  you are submitting your urban fantasy novel to an agent who specifically says he's only interested in non-fiction, you're going to piss him off.  Or if you send an idea for an article on farming to Vogue Knitting, um, you're not going to get very far.  Result? Angry editor. And that's bad karma.  There are a gazillion sites that offer agent and publisher directories, and a million books, too.  Do a Google search.  Look around on Twitter.  Ask a writing friend for a recommendation or ideas.  Cross check to the agent's or magazine's website and make sure you are clear on what they are looking for, and that your idea matches it.

3. Follow directions.  Most agents and publishers have websites.  And somewhere on that website they'll have submission guidelines.  (If they don't, its a pretty good bet they aren't taking submissions and that you're going to be wasting your time sending something to them.  Besides, my theory is, if they don't want me, I don't want them.)  Read the guidelines and follow them exactly.  Do not send your entire manuscript if they are requesting a query only.  Don't think you are the exception.  Because you're not.  Trust me.  I know your novel is fantastic, but you're still not the exception.  And not following the rules is a very fast way to have your work go unread.

4.  Ask for more.  I've had some heartbreaking rejections from agents lately.  The kind that say, love your work, love you, blah, blah, blah, but I can't represent you for some dumb reason.  When you get a personal letter that says anything positive about your work, write them back.  Thank them for taking time to read it (you should do this no matter what) and then politely inquire if they can think of anybody else to whom you might send this manuscript?  I've had astoundingly good luck with this tactic, with some agents sending me a list of five names.  And, sometimes they'll offer to let  you use their name, too, which is a huge door opener.  (Should this lovely piece of serendipity happen to you, milk it.  Put the referring agent or editor's name in the subject line of the email and lead with it, too.)

5. Celebrate.  Every time you send a passel of stories or articles or queries out, give yourself a pat on the back.  And then go meet a friend for a drink, or take the family out to dinner.  It takes a huge, somewhat tedious effort to make a marketing push.  And now you're going to be in it for the long haul, waiting around to hear.  Life's too short to mope.  So, instead, celebrate.  Then, no matter what happens, at least you'll have fun in the meantime.

What are your favorite tips for submitting?  Any horror–or happy–stories to share?


Getting Your Work Out in The World: The Mindset

So, you're done with it.  You've gone through the rewriting and revising stages and your novel (or memoir or short story collection or romance or mystery or article) is finished.  Concluded, finalized, ended, done!

And now the real fun begins. Everystockphoto_197072_m

The marketing.

Otherwise known as getting your work out in the world.  Maybe you'll be seeking an agent, or sending it to editors at smaller houses, or submitting to magazines.  It doesn't matter what your plans are at this point (I'll be discussing the mechanics of getting your work out in the world on Friday).

What matters most is your mindset.

Before you research agents, ponder websites of publishing houses, peruse writer's market lists, before you do anything, you've got to get  your head on straight. 

Because if you've got any doubts about the project, are lacking in confidence about it, or believe in your heart of hearts that it still needs more work, you're going to face an uphill battle.  Our beliefs are what block us.  And they are also what set us free.  So take a look at the following handy Mindset Checklist.

Mindset Checklist

My book (or article) is the best it can be.  I've done everything I can on it until I get the professional advice of an agent who wants to represent me or an editor who wants to buy my project.

I bless the publishing world.  Instead of cursing the publishing world for its excesses, or lamenting the fact that its changing before our very eyes, I am ready to bless it for all its wonderful quirkiness instead.  Because this simple act alone is paradigm-changing.

I'm ready to put myself out there, too.  There's more to marketing than my book.  There's…me.  And I understand that I, the author, am a vital part of the equation these days.  I am ready to write a blog, sign up on Twitter, and create myself a page on Facebook.  I am ready to engage.

I don't take rejection personally.  I understand that a magazine editor might love my article, but have run a similar one last issue.  I get that an agent my love my novel, but not feel she can sell it.  I know that there could be a million and one reasons why I've been rejected, and not a one has to do with the quality of the work.

I am willing to do whatever it takes.  I'm going to hang in there for the long haul.  And when my hand-selected agent decides not to represent me, I'll send queries out to 20 more.  When I've exhausted every angle of the publishing world, I'll research print on demand options. 

I am open to all options.  Even though my vision of publishing a book includes a top-notch agent, a big New York publishing house, and a glamorous book tour, I'm willing to hold that intention while remaining open to other options.  Because, who am I to manipulate and control the world?

If you can say yes to all of these things, you're ready baby.  Go for it.  And come back here to report your success. 


Brain photo by jkt_de, fro Everystockphoto.



Writing Process 4: Revision

Over the last few posts, I've been looking at the writing process.  (You can see a complete list of the recent posts below.) So far we've looked at glumping it all on the page and rewriting, which is about dealing with big picture stuff.  Today we consider revision.


Because, really, who wants to deal with all the picky little crap like grammar and usage and spelling? Oh, alright, I know there are plenty of you out there who do want to work on it.  And I do do too, albeit grudgingly, because I know how much better it makes my work.

A couple of stories:

Story #1: During my last semester of my MFA, my task was to get the first 125 pages or so of the novel I was working on in shape to be presented as my creative thesis, which was required for graduation.  I wasn't really certain how exactly I was going to do this.  But my then-mentor, Melissa Pritchard, told me how she was at that moment doing final revisions on her own soon-to-be-published novel.  She suggested I do the same for my creative thesis.

Her final revisions took the form of considering every single page of her manuscript in such minute detail that it took an hour–at least–to go through one page.  She looked at everything, including word choice, sentence structure, paragraph structure, and so on down to the placement of commas and other punctuation.

That, my friends, is revision.

And while you may not do it in quite such painstaking detail, use Melissa's example as guidance for the feel of what you're doing in revision.  Its quite a different feeling from rewriting, is it not?  And you can see how if you confuse the two, and put revision first, you're going to run into some internal conflict.  So please remember that revision is a last draft thing.  Do not, I repeat, do not worry about these kinds of details in any other stages of the writing process.

Story #2: A couple years ago, I got hired as an editor for an online erotic romance publisher.  I had no experience with erotic romance, and really, none as an editor.  But both the publisher and I thought that my mentoring and coaching work would suffice.  Wrong.  Because even though the publisher employed perfectly good copy editors, part of my job description was line editing.  While I am stellar at the big picture,  and great with flow, sentence structure and word choice, I'm lousy at grammar.  I have an intuitive grasp of it that I follow and beyond that, uh-uh.  Not my thing.  My career as an erotic editor bit the dust fast.  But I learned from that experience.  And because of this, I do my best to revise my own work, and also rely on others to help me with the final polish.

And so I end with this: writer, know thyself.  Know where you excel in the writing process and where, perhaps, you might need a little help. Coming up next, I've got two posts on getting your writing out into the world–the mechanics of it, and the mindset.  Woo-hoo!

Feel free to share ideas for revision in the comments, I love hearing from you.

The Writing Process, Again

Writing Process: The 3 Ps of Glumping

Writing Process 3: Rewriting

5 Guidelines for Critiquing the Discovery/Rough Draft

By the way, if you haven't yet gotten your hands on my new free ebook, Jump Start Your Book With A Vision Board, all you have to do is put your name and email address is the opt-in box on the right.  Did I mention that it is free?  That's right, FREE.  And with  it you get a subscription to my ezine, The Abundant Writer.


Writing Process 3: Rewriting

This is part four of a continuing series of the writing process.  For the previous articles in the series, see the end of this post.

What's there to say about rewriting? You just get in there and do it, right? So what's there to write about?

Well, plenty.  For starters, let me make one thing clear: I make a distinction between rewriting and revising. 

Rewriting is what you do after you've written a rough or discovery draft, glumping everything onto the page.  You've written the rough draft, which is you figuring out the story for yourself.  And now you have to figure out best to present the story to your readers.  So you work on things like character arcs and ways to show theme and plot.  

Revising is what you do after you've rewritten that first draft a gazillion times and finally feel you've gotten all the big picture stuff down pat.  Revising has to do with word choice and making sure you have lots of different kinds of sentence structures, and grammar and punctuation.  (And its the subject of next Monday's post.)

So, here's the deal about rewriting: at first, its hard.  Because at first, especially when working on a long project, there's puzzlement about how to find a way back into your work.  The logical place to start is with reading it again, but that can be confusing, also.  Because, what are you supposed to be looking for while reading? How do you know what to change?

This is when giving your rough draft to trusted readers  (critique group or a mentor) can be incredibly helpful, because they can give you a starting point.  But what if you don't have access to such readers? Or if you're simply unwilling to yet show your draft to anybody(which is your right–follow your intuition about when to share)?

Here are a few tips:

1. Begin with reading.  Because, really, you've got to go back to the beginning and remind yourself of how it all starts.  I don't know about you, but by the time I've written some 350-odd pages, I have a hard time remembering every single nuance of the start.  Or even the middle.  So, print out  your manuscript, grab a pen and notebook, and go sit in your favorite chair.  The one where you sit to read books (of the sort written by other people).  Read through your manuscript and take notes.

2. Find a way in.  Your entry point might be something you notice about a character–how, for instance, he talks about his desire to become king in chapter 10 but really needs to inform the reader of this vital point a bit earlier.  Or maybe you realize that a crucial plot point is misplaced.  Or perhaps it is something small, like a description that you think could be rewritten.

3. Expand on your notes.  When you're finished reading the draft, go back over the notes you took.  Between the notes and the reading of your draft, you should now have a better idea of things you want to work on.  Turn your notes into a plan for rewriting, even if its just a to-do list.  This will help you enormously.

4.  Look for places to go deeper.   Rewriting is most often a process of adding to, not removing, contrary to popular opinion.  Far and away the biggest problem I see in scenes is that they are not developed enough.   There's not enough description, not enough scene-setting, not enough of the viewpoint character's thoughts.  As an experiment, choose a paragraph at random from your draft and pull it apart and add to it. You might hear this referred to as unpacking.

5.  Remember that rewriting begets more rewriting.  Because once you've changed certain areas of the story, other areas are revealed.  You've gotten the character arcs straightened out, so now the parts of the plot that need work are evident.  And so on. 

Those are my tips. By the way, an excellent book to use as a guide for rewriting a novel is: Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maass.  (The companion book is Writing The Breakout Novel, but I don't find it as helpful.) Another, more general title, is The Artful Edit, by Susan Bell.

What are you best tips for approaching the rewrite?  Do you find any books especially helpful?

Previous Posts

The Writing Process, Again

5 Guidelines for Critiquing the Rough/Discovery Draft

Writing Process: The Three Ps of Glumping

Writing Process: The Three Ps of Glumping

Over the last week, I've been revisiting the writer's process.  (You can get caught up on the other posts here and here.)  As promised, today's post begins a look at each step of the process. 

And so today we talk about the fine and wonderful art of glumping. Note_creative_author_260972_l

Glumping is a word that I've always used for the magical process of spewing words onto the page in your first, or discovery draft.  (Don't know where I came up with this word, to be honest.  I thought it was a made-up word I picked up somewhere along the line, but dictionary.com defines glump: to manifest sulleness, to sulk.  Which is what happens to writers when they don't write.)

For many people, this step engenders the magic of writing, the truly creative time when ideas fly and words combine in fabulous ways.  (For others, rewriting is when the deeply satisfying work begins, but we'll get to that in the next post.)The most important thing to remember about glumping is this: just do it.  The act of getting words onto the page in a first draft really boils down to picking up your pen and writing, or turning on the computer and pounding away on the keys.

So simple and yet so difficult.

Because sometimes it is damned hard to glump. 

If you find that to be the case, remember the three Ps of glumping:

1. Prepare.  Glumping will go much easier if you ponder your project ahead of time.  (Okay, I'll quit with the ps now, I promise. Oops, sorry.) If you're writing a novel, make character dossiers, a loose outline of the plot, write descriptions of locations, and so on.  For non-fiction, a list of points you want to follow. Anything that will help seed thoughts for writing. 

2. Prompt.  Oh, the poor, maligned prompt.  People love to sneer at these clever sentences, when really, all they want to do is help you get your writing going.  If you're staring a blank page or computer screen without a clue what to write, they can be a lifesaver.   Use them as a way to get words flowing.  I recommend keeping a list handy in your journal or writing notebook and pick one at random ( do not stop to make value judgments about which prompt you want to use–just choose one).  Then write.  The first few sentences may be totally off topic, but soon you'll settle back into your draft.

3. Practice.  As in, practice makes perfect.  Because, it does.  The more you write, the easier it gets.  When you spend more time working other aspects of the writing process, like rewriting, returning to glumping feels strange and out of control.  But soon it will become second nature again.  That is, if you practice regularly.

So there you have it, the three Ps of glumping.  How do you glump (or should I even ask, that sounds vaguely obscene)? What are your expriences with the writing process?


 Photo by christgr, from Everystockphoto.


5 Guidelines for Critiquing The Rough/Discovery Draft

On Friday, I wrote about the writing process, and talked about the importance of allowing yourself to write a rough or discovery draft. Manuscriptpage

A question that comes up, and I've had quite a discussion about this lately with my separated-at-birth-sister Candace, is what happens if you are in a critique group and working on a discovery draft.  You want to bring your writing in to get some sense of guidance, and yet you're working on a rough draft, which is going to be, by its very nature, rough.  So do you go back and labor over every scene or chapter after the group has critiqued it? Or should you just not take your work in yet?

There's a fine line here.  I'm a huge fan of writing groups, I could not exist without the one I'm a part of, and I think you sometimes have to guard your work in the early stages.  Because far and away the best thing to do is write one entire draft from start to finish, without getting hung up on making scenes perfect along the way.  Why?  For a couple of reasons:

  • When you get to the end of the first draft, you know a helluva lot more about the story than you did when you started.  Guaranteed.  And part of that knowledge is going to involve rearranging things.  Once you get to the end, suddenly you realize that you have to change things up in chapter six.  And since you're going to go back and rewrite chapter six anyway, there's no reason to make it perfect along the way. 
  • Because it is just way too damn easy to get hung up on rewriting the first 50 pages until they are perfect and never make it to the end of the book.  I've seen this happen repeatedly.  Just write a  discovery draft all the way through to the end and get it under your belt.  You'll be thrilled with yourself.

Should you want to take your rough/discovery draft into your writing group (and I do this all the time), follow these guidelines:

1. Make it clear that this is a rough draft and that comments should be made accordingly.  In other words, readers do not need to dissect sentence structure and word choice at this point.  Have them comment on big picture things, such as if the plot is making sense and characters are acting congruently (which they probably won't until future drafts, but you can start to see where they go astray).

2.  Apply what you've learned from critiques to future scenes and chapters.  If readers say your dialogue sounds wooden, experiment with making in more natural as you continue to write new scenes. 

3. Consider presenting the work in bigger chunks, if the format of the group allows this.  It is often easier for readers to follow threads and throughlines if they can read several chapters at once, as opposed to reading one chapter in isolation.

4.  Take good notes.  I have one notebook dedicated to notes about the current project, and I take notes as I listen to the critique.  As soon as I can when I get home, I go over the notes and make certain I understand them.  I scribble a few ideas about how I'm going to utilize the changes.  And then I go back to making forward progress on the draft.

5. Don't take it personally.  It's about the work, not you.  If you internalize any commentary in a personal way, you'll not be able to carry on with finishing the draft.

All right, time for you guys to chime in.  How do you deal with writing a rough draft?  With taking criticism?

And stay tuned, because over the next few posts I'm going to be discussing each phase of the writing process in depth.

Photo from Photl.  Yes, I've found a new source for photos.  Don't fall over in your chair.