Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanking your cheerleaders

Confession: The longest I've ever run, without stopping, was a mile.

And I did that once, about a month ago, totally on a Forrest-Gump-esque whim.* I constantly joke that the only thing that could make me run is someone chasing me with a knife. But I also understand that there are people who love running, who can't imagine living without going on long runs almost every day.

Running is a language I don't speak.

But on Sunday, I decided to wake up while it was still dark to cheer on my friend Hannah as she ran the Philly Half Marathon. I made a sign, but as I agonized over exactly what to write (it was my first race, had to make a good impression!), I decided that, since my presence was for Hannah, my sign would be for all the runners I would see before and after she passed me by.

What did I write?

total stranger,

My plan was to stand and see Hannah two places along the race route, and then at the finish. So I'm standing by myself in the cold, dark morning, and the runners start to come by. And I'm cheering and hooting and holding the sign, and I couldn't believe the reactions.

Runners were laughing and pointing and yelling "thanks, stranger!" and hollering "hey, that's me!" and saying "great sign!" — over and over and over again. And the ones who were focusing (or huffing and puffing) so hard that they couldn't say something gave me a smile or a thumbs up or a wave.

I couldn't believe the reaction that little sign was getting, and how much people appreciated and were cheered on by me, a total stranger. It was so wonderful to know how much my enthusiasm mattered to them. Even though I certainly didn't understand the drive to run 13.1 miles, much less 26.2, my support and encouragement had an impact.

That's when I thought about all the random people in my life who take the time to ask about my writing progress. Not just close family and friends, but co-workers, acquaintances, people I know from high school and college that I barely talk to anymore, friends of the family.

They're not invested in my life and happiness in any particular way, and most of them probably can't fathom having the urge to write a novel, but they still remember, and they still ask, and they still encourage me.

Being a marathon spectator reminded me to show my appreciation for the people who care, who cheer me on, who hope that I succeed in getting published. When I'm on that metaphorical mile 6 and there are 20.2 miles to go, they're what keep me moving forward.

I hope all our U.S. readers have a happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!

*Basically, the whim was this quote exactly, except instead of running cross-country, I ran a mile.

"That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama. And that's what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going."

Monday, November 19, 2012

The retreatiest retreat ever! In pictures!

The first weekend in November, we escaped to our favorite little cottage in rural Pennsylvania for a writing retreat. Once again, we found ourselves ridiculously productive ... except for when we allowed ourselves to be distracted by the cuteness that is Sara's baby Robin, who was in the womb the last time we retreated, but who joined us for the first official time!

Here's a photo recap of the non-writing parts of the weekend because, let's face it, photos of writers staring intently at laptops are kinda boring.

Farm-fresh eggs from our hosts!

Plus, fresh-picked daisies and delicious homemade
lemon-poppyseed loaves!

I might've started off my Saturday with leftover Halloween candy...
breakfast of champions.

Frankie playing with Robin in between writing sessions.

Such a cute little man!

The farm!
(Not pictured: a horse, two other goats, 
a few chickens, and two friendly barn cats.)

We've officially decided that these retreats are golden writing times. We get to reconnect as friends and critique partners, and we also are able to let our writing take front-and-center priority for 48 hours. This retreat involved drafting, revising, and even re-imagining our WIPs. 

Like a writing conference, writing retreat weekends are totally revitalizing, and we all left excited to keep writing. Since that weekend, we've been emailing a lot more about our work, and our productivity has continued to be above-average. We're definitely making this a biannual tradition!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why Michelangelo would've made a great critique partner.

We FNC ladies have been quite prolific lately, and we're all closing in on a major critique-a-thon, since our individual WIPs are just about ready for a second (and third, and fourth) set of eyes. 

Frankie sent some chapters our way last night, and then we had this Gchat conversation, which reminded me of the importance of critique partners during revision ...
Me: One more night, and I'll be ready to send you my first three chapters.
Frankie: Woo! So excited!
Me: I can't wait to read yours. Let's tear each other's work apart and make it AWESOME.
Frankie: Sounds like a plan to me!!!
Only with trusted critique partners can you be THAT excited at the prospect of getting a returned Word document chock full of comments and lengthy suggestions for revision. It's the knowledge that the CP knows and loves your work as much as you do, and with that passion will help you transform it into the best novel possible.

This reminds me of the famous Michelangelo quote: "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." 

That's a perfect metaphor for revising, except that your critique partners are your marble-carving buddies. They see that angel too, even when the rest of the world sees a block of stone, and they won't stop until the marble angel reflects your vision exactly.

Anyway, I'm feeling all kinds of warm and fuzzies toward my critique group, and I wanted to share the CP (and revision) love! Share yours in the comments!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Writing Exercise #4: Conflicting Internal Feelings

We're continuing our weekly critique group writing exercises, posting them here for you guys to join in!

This week's exercise comes from Donald Maass' Writing 21st Century Fiction, and it's all about adding conflicting internal feelings, which can add delicious amounts of depth to a scene.

The couple that epitomizes conflicting emotions.
Pick a moment in your manuscript and look at what your MC is feeling. Write down a contrasting or conflicting feeling that is also true in that moment. Add this opposing feeling to the scene.

What does your MC most want? What is the opposite of that? When and how can your protagonist want both of those things?

Pick another moment in the manuscript to show when your MC wants the opposite of what they normally want. What does your MC to achieve this? Can you add this opposite desire to two more scenes?

What is the moment when your MC rejects what they most want in the world? How does your MC throw the opportunity or desire away (in a way that is final, they cannot change their mind).
Ok, so maybe this baby's conflicted emotions are
more external than internal, but...

Want more from Donald Maass? Pick up Writing 21st Century Fiction (Writer's Digest Books, Sept. 2012) today, and check out this sneak peek from Writer's Digest!

Previous exercises:
Exercise one - Character Profile
Exercise two - Character Theme Song
Exercise three - Character Bedroom

Thursday, November 8, 2012

73 writing exercises to improve your NaNoWriMo draft

Hey, NaNoWriMo-ers!

This is a URL to bookmark for Dec. 1st:

From here, you can download 73 writing exercises from Donald Maass' THE BREAKOUT NOVELIST.

Use them to transform your NaNo novel from drab to fab!
(That line must be read in an infomercial voice.)

And even if you're not a NaNo participant, don't discount the usefulness of writing exercises to get you out of a writing/revising rut or to help you add depth to your characters or plot.

PS - If you're a fan of Maass' exercises, check out the book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, from Writers Digest Books.
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