Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Great Formatting Fix of 2009

Okay, maybe the title is a bit over-dramatic, but it seemed like a major project to me. See, I first wrote my novel Zion Rising eleven years ago in Wordperfect, and converted it to a Word file somewhere along the way. I also set it aside and forgot about it for ten years. Last summer when I recovered the novel (perhaps the subject of another post) and started to revise it, I noticed that while I could get it to look okay, whenever I tried to do anything like add a header, change the font, or copy and paste a couple of chapters into a new document, there seemed to be some major hidden formatting problems. Last week, I decided that it was finally time to bite the bullet and do somthing about it. But what to do? I saved the document as plain text, so I could see where there were extra spaces, line breaks, and other things that looked like they didn't belong. Then I went through the entire novel, and took all those out. I deleted all spaces between paragraphs and put in just a line break. This took my proabably four or five hours over the course of five days, but it was worth it. I copied the cleaned up plain text and pasted it into a new document, changed the font, margins, paragraph indents, spacing, etc. into standard format, and it worked! I was very happy. When I created the header, and it added it correctly for every page of the novel, I wanted to kiss the monitor. I didn't, though. The monitor is covered with grimy handprints and who knows what disgusting germs. Then it was just a matter of centering the chapter headings and section breaks, and adding the underlining back in. Actually, I just made it italics, since that seems to be the standard nowdays. I thought that might take a while, but I didn't overdo the italics, so it didn't take long. There was just one more problem. I recently learned that standard formatting calls for only one space after sentences instead of two as I've always done. Who knew? I was worried about how to fix that, until good ol' Suzette told me I could use the find and replace feature to do it for me. It took only about a minute to fix it. Now I just have to get used to typing only one space after sentences. This clearly falls into the "teaching an old dog a new trick" category, but I'll get used to it eventually. So, now I have a clean, properly formatted copy of Zion Rising to send to publishers. All I need now is a publisher who wants to read it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Heavy Hitters

Or, The Writing is Only as Strong as its Weakest Adverb

At the workshop I went to recently, my friend Kathleen talked about the beautiful story in our heads, and how the manuscript isn't that beautiful story. It's just a bunch of stupid, clumsy words we're trying to use to recreate our beautiful story in the reader's head. (I think she was quoting someone else, but I can't remember who.) Anyway, she's right. My feeling is that we want to make the stupid, clumsy words become as transparent as we can make them, so that the reader doesn't notice that he's reading. He's living that beautiful story we've created. The real heavy hitters to achieve that are the nouns and the verbs. Vibrant, active words. Adjectives and adverbs are less "transparent," if that makes any sense. Adjectives can be good if you don't overdo it, but adverbs almost always jump out and say, "You're reading something here." I'm not saying never use adverbs. Some well placed adverbs can work splendidly (adverb :p). But overdone, they become distracting and weaken the prose. I'll try and give an example:

She almost had him. Her fingertips lightly touched his waist as a cold, dark hand closed around his arm and pulled him roughly away from her. "Caleb!" she cried loudly. She couldn't think, couldn't breath. His terrified cries achingly broke her heart.

She almost had him. Her fingertips brushed against his waist as a cold, dark hand closed around his arm and snatched him away from her. "Caleb!" She couldn't think, couldn't breathe. His terrified cries shattered her heart.

You can replace "lightly touched" with "brushed," "pulled him roughly" with "snatched" and "achingly broke" with "shattered." And "she cried loudly" doesn't need to be in there at all.

Make sense? Happy writing!

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Favorite Book on Writing

Arthur is given an assignment to write a story to share with his class. Excited, he goes home and writes the story of how he got his dog, Pal. He wants everyone to like the story, so he goes out and starts getting feedback. By the time he's finished taking everybody's advice, he's got a country western song and tap dance about a purple striped elephant on an alien planet that leaves his class speechless. Finally, his classmate asks the quintessential question, "Did that really happen?" Arthur says, "Sort of," and tells the story of how he got his dog, and everyone loves it.

I think every writer should buy this book and read it over and over again. We have to tell our own stories, stories we love, stories that are important to us. Yes, feedback and critiquing and revising are all important, but just remember that it's YOUR story first and foremost. If you don't love it, no one else will.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Good Enough for Me

So, it's Mothers Day, and I got the usual assortment of hand drawn cards and books about Mom that the boys made at school. They are all priceless, of course. I love them every year. My eight year old's tribute that he read aloud in his class Mothers Day program included, "She writes the best stories ever," and at least half of the entries in his biography of me mention writing. I guess I've made quite an impression on him. It made me happy that he is proud of that part of me. Hanging in the hall outside of his classroom was a flower with all his favorite things written on the petals. For his favorite story, he put Zion Rising -- my novel. (It's not a children's book, but his reading level is pretty advanced.) It made my day, and I got to thinking that if Zion Rising is my son's favorite story, then no matter what happens with all the submitting and trying to get published, writing the book was worth it. My other boys liked it, too. In fact, my thirteen year old has read it two or three times already. I created something that made a difference to my kids, and that's good enough for me.

I didn't do so hot on my writing goals this week. In fact, I've fallen short of my 10 page goal for two weeks in a row now. Drat. But then I got to thinking about last year. I started a short story on the 20th of March, and by Mothers Day, I was on page 20, and was pretty impressed with that. This year, I started a novel on the 16th of March and now on Mothers Day, I'm on page 70! That's quite a difference from last year, so I won't feel too bad about falling a little short.

Here's a picture of me with some writing friends:

We had a great evening together. Thanks, gals!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Write Right Now

On Saturday, I attended the League of Utah Writers Spring Workshop, Write Right Now, with my friend Suzette. I arrived two hours late, because I had to go to my womens choir dress rehearsal first, so I missed the impromptu writing exercise contest, and hearing Jessica Day George speak. I did get there in time to hear Dave Wolverton speak about choosing an agent. After that, Kirk Shaw of Covenant spoke about professional courtesy and maintaining good relationships with everyone involved in your writing career. Very good advice. Then we had lunch. Since there was a problem with my pre-registration (they didn't get it), I had to wait until everyone else got lunch before I could get one. Suzette said she'd save me a seat. When I got my lunch, I found her sitting next to Dave Wolverton. I was tickled. What a brave gal she is. We had a good discussion around the table. Suzette and I exchanged blog addresses with the lady sitting next to me, who also writes science fiction. She made my day when I gave her my blog address and she said, "Oh, yeah. I've heard of that." So, if you're reading this, thanks, Michelle. We bought some books, and talked a little more with Dave Wolverton. He offered us some posters and wrist bands for his Ravenspell series to give to our kids. (My kids, BTW, were thrilled. Even the teenagers.) I got brave enough (with Suzette's help) to talk to an editor about my LDS science fiction novel manuscript. After lunch was a panel discussion. Most of the questions were about marketing books, and I got some good information. Lee Nelson of Cedar Fort talked to us about his company and what their submission review process is like. My friend, Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury gave us some great advice on getting out of the slush pile. I also got to reconnect with my friend Annette Lyon, whom I haven't seen for years. I was secretary the year that she was the LUW Chapter president. I was so glad that I went. It was a fun and productive day.