Compost: Writing in the Morning

background with penIn the morning the sky slowly lightens, turning a color with no name, and only approximations of its beauty can be written down. In the mornings I watch the street outside my window reveal itself, and I try to catch the elusive moment when the night birds fly home and the day birds wake up. This morning I sit at my desk which I recently cleaned of its five-year accumulation of hand sweat and pencil dirt, markings of pens, spilled coffee, sloshed wine, key scratches, spider dust, and exhalations of breakfast breath. Now my desk looks rather unfamiliar but I like the hard clean wood surface that promises new things to come. As I write I listen to the gentle scritch scritch, a good sound that makes me feel at home. In the mornings I sometimes write in 2/4 tempo, and music appears upon the paper, but sometimes my writing has no tempo and no tune, it’s just a mangled rangled piece of rusty machinery that in the afternoon would annoy everyone, including me. But in the morning even rusty machinery is gentled by the soft new light that spreads itself over my desk and whispers ahhh.

Haiku Friday: Beaver

haiku pic 1Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Beaver:

work like a beaver

show your front teeth, puff your cheeks

spread oil on your fur

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

writing tip: the Wrongs & the Rights

Grandma MaskI received the manuscript critique back from the editor I hired to review my new book Grandma’s Masks. I was pleasantly surprised that I had few hurt feelings to overcome, since she was complimentary about the book as a whole, and her suggestions and corrections made the book stronger and more vibrant. Here are five suggestions she made:

1.  She suggested I use fewer taglines with the dialog. Instead she suggested I use more actions or reactions, which gives a more immediate feel. Here’s an example:

 My original:

“I didn’t pray for fleas or beauty,” she objected, glaring at Flea in her mirror.

The editor’s suggestion:

“I didn’t pray for fleas or beauty.” She glared at Flea in her mirror.

I agreed with her, and changed it. I made a few more changes along the same lines.

2.  She pointed out places where my capitalization was inconsistent, such as when I called the character “mole” and then two paragraphs later referred to him as “Mole.” She also pointed out inconsistent tense usage. Usually the Emma and Lucy narrative was in past tense, but in a few cases slipped into present tense. Oops.

3. She pointed out where I used those unnecessary words such as “that” or “there,” which slow down the pace.

4. She suggested a few places where I should change the passive voice to active voice.

5. She noted repetitive words or phrases in a few instances, where I used the same words too close together. She also noted repetitive rhythms, which can become boring if used too often.

If Grandma’s Masks had been written by someone else, and I was the editor, I would probably have made many of these same suggestions. But because I am the author, I didn’t see them until she pointed them out. This happens to all authors, and you’d think we’d get used to it and not feel dumb when it does. Yeah, you’d think. I still feel dumb. But Grandma’s Masks is now a better book, and that is what’s important. Thank you, Heidi Thomas – www.heidimthomas.com.

Ghostwriting for a Dog: A Handsome Dog

Handsome AlexAlex Terrgi here.  Last month my human took me to a place called “the groomer.” It was the first time I got to go there. My human expected me to be unhappy there, but evidently she doesn’t know me as well as she thinks she does. I am happy everywhere. (Except the vet.)

The groomer was fun. First she poured water all over me and put some foamy stuff on me and rubbed me all over. It felt really good. Then she used something called a “clipper” and cut off all my scruff and frizz, which I didn’t need anyway, until I was smooth all over, except for my Mohawk and my beard because they are part of who I am. Then she trimmed my pawnails and brushed my teeth, which was the only part I could have done without – but she gave me treats and talked really nice to me so I didn’t mind too much. And then she used a windy thing that blew wind over me and dried my hair, and even though it made a little too much noise, the wind was warm so it felt good too. Then she tied something called a kerchief around my neck to show off how good I looked. Then the groomer took me back to my human, who said, “Wow he is SO HANDSOME!” like she was surprised.

I am not surprised. I was always handsome, but now I am more handsome. And here is a photograph to prove it.

Haiku Friday: Masks

zen gardenHere’s my haiku for today, on the subject of Masks

a lie lives then dies

only to be born again

wearing a new mask

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Writing Tip: The Editorial Critique

Grandma MaskI’ve been asked why I would hire an editor, since I am an editor myself. Isn’t this a waste of money and time?

The answer is simple: No, it is not a waste of money or time.  I’m too close to the book to see the mistakes or recognize the places it could be better. Although I will always perform a self-edit before I send it off to another editor, I know from experience that I’ll miss things.

Here is what I expect from my editor and the Manuscript Critique. First, I must recognize that it is an editor’s job to point out what does not work and where the problems are in a manuscript. They hunt for the bad stuff, so naturally they can sound negative and discouraging even though they might be positive, kind-hearted people. (I certainly try to be.)

The trick for the editor is to point out the good stuff too, and the trick for the writer is to hold on to their vision for the book in the face of the realization that it’s not yet perfect. (Actually nothing is ever perfect, not even carefully edited manuscripts.)

It usually takes an editor about two to three weeks to finish a first read-through of a manuscript and write an overall evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses. (Depending on her schedule, of course.) I expect her to make general suggestions and some specific suggestions about how to fix the weaknesses and highlight the strengths.

I want to know if she thinks Grandma’s Masks shows heart and humor, and that its theme of the elusive nature of truth is evident throughout. I want to know if this is a fun book to read. I want to know if the end is satisfying or if it leaves the reader hanging. (Actually with Grandma’s Masks, the reader is supposed to be left hanging.)

I want to know if she thinks the chapters are in an order that makes sense and the story arc moves the characters and the action along. I want to know if the editor/reader gets confused at any point, and what she is confused about. I want to know if she thinks the sentences are too wordy or too long. I want to know if she thinks more dialogue is needed, or less description, or there aren’t enough sensory details.

When I get the manuscript critique back, my first reaction will probably be a bit of hurt feelings. What do you mean, my baby isn’t perfect? Then I will get over it. I’ll try a few of her suggestions, and then I’ll see that they make the book better. Then I’ll try a few more.

Compost: Springboard Words

Gray wolfHere is one of my favorite exercises to shake up my mind. Pick a word, any word. It can be a word you like, or hate, or one you don’t know the meaning of, or one you pick randomly from a dictionary with your finger. Then write about that word – how it makes you feel, why you like or hate it, or write about the sounds of the word, are they soft or sharp or whistly, or anything you feel like writing about that word. Write for 5 to 10 minutes, longhand, and don’t pause while you are writing. (This is a Natalie Goldberg tip that has worked wonders for me.)

Here’s what I wrote when I picked the word “Bewildered.”

Bewildered has the word wild in it, which makes me think of wolves; sneaky crafty wolves streaking across a pristine white snowfield. Their paws crunch on the crust and they stop to howl. Their howls lance into my ears, hurting them and making me want to howl back. So I do, and all my loneliness and pain burst from me and is lost in the winter wind that blows across those sharp black wolf hairs tipped with silver. The wolves swallow my howl in one gulp. When I am bewildered I am wild, free at last from having to make any sense. I can run with wolves and play in the snow in a bright purple snowsuit.

Try it yourself, you might like it. What word will you choose?

Haiku Friday: Sap

haiku pic 2Here’s my haiku for today, on the subject of Sap:

commune with the trees

try to feel the red sap flow

underneath the bark

It’s Haiku Friday again.  For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose.  I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog.  Just write it in the Comments below.  The only rules are:  1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those).  That’s it.

Writing Tips: Grandma’s Masks Next Steps

Grandma MaskI hope you have enjoyed reading the first draft of the first half of Grandma’s Masks and will be eager to hear what happened to Emma and Lucy and what they learned from Grandma’s stories, when the book is published as a complete book in early 2014.

Serializing Grandma’s Masks pushed me to finish the book. One of the challenges of being a ghostwriter is that I must put my clients ahead of myself – after all, they pay me! But this means that my own work has to take a back seat, which is frustrating. Making Grandma’s Masks part of my blog meant I had to write it anyway, back seat or not. So I did! The first draft of the book is done, and now comes the work of getting it “out there.”

So instead of more serializing, on Wednesdays for the next couple of months I’ll take you along with me as I complete the “get it out there” next steps.

These steps (not exactly in order, some done concurrently, and some are already done) include:

  • Perform self-edit. Try to be ruthless with myself.
  • Research and choose editor for critique/developmental editing, and send her the MS. (I have three excellent editors in mind, whose work I know and admire. I’ll find out who is available and interested.)
  • Make changes, additions, deletions to the MS if I agree with editor’s suggestions (and try to be open minded!)
  • Send MS to copyeditor/proofreader to fix all those nasty little errors that I know are hiding from me.
  • Research and choose publishers likely to be interested in this kind of book – and at the same time develop a plan for independent publishing, so I can decide on which avenue to pursue.
  • Write query letter to submit to publishers I choose.
  • Since this book has strong visual content, work with professional photographer to photograph my masks, in case I go the independent publishing route. I have two photographers in mind who I’ve worked with before. (And yes, I make masks in real life – and I’m a grandmother too. Although my grandchildren are only 8, 5, and 2, not grown women like in Grandma’s Masks. I’m not that old yet.)
  • Talk to book designer about cover design and interior desk for both printed book and ebook, in case I decide on independent publishing. I already have a designer picked out – Cathy Davis of Davis Creative, www.daviscreative.com, who has done beautiful jobs for a number of my ghostwriting clients.
  • Make a YouTube video for display on my website, Facebook page, etc. This video will feature me (the grandma, you know) reading one of the stories from the book, probably The Flea.
  • Write comprehensive marketing plan, defining organizations and groups likely to be interested in this kind of book, such as storytelling organizations. This is necessary for both traditional and independent publishing.
  • Implement marketing plans – not all at once. (I’m only human.)
  • Etc. Etc. Etc. ad infinitum.  (Latin makes you sound so intelligent, doesn’t it?)

Next Wednesday I’ll blog about editing and what I want from an editor.