Comparing writing a proposal to writing a book

I finally have a break from work. Yes, it’s Sunday and I have the day off. For the last five weeks I’ve been knee-deep in working with a team of engineers writing a proposal to the U. S. Air Force. And, I’d like to share some of the steps they have gone through – some very similar to those we take as fiction and nonfiction authors and some not. Plan. Start with an outline or a plan – the engineers produced annotated outlines and planning documents called story maps that showed where on each page of their sections their graphics and text will layout on the page. I started both my memoir and novel with outlines. I know some of you are panzers, but I like to have a plan before I write. Review. We spent a lot of time reviewing these plans for compliance with the proposal instructions and technical soundness. I was very fortunate to have a friend review my original memoir outline and another person review my revision plan when I was getting it ready for publication. Having … [Read more...]

Another novel character revealed

I've been missing my characters while my novel is in the eyes and hands of my beta readers. So I thought I'd share another one of the four main characters with you. I've patterned this character after my father, who in the novel is: Charles: son of Ira and Ruth Schuman. Ava Schuman's older brother Name – Chaim/Charles/Charlie Benjamin Schuman He appears as a little boy in the beginning. Physical appearance: As a grownup he is short – only 5 ft, 7 in. (only an inch taller than his father), slim, has dark curly hair – lots of it, very large brown eyes, olive complexion. Looks great in a business suit and tie. Wears rimless glasses Learns English very quickly – while he is on the ship coming over from Poland. Speaks pretty much without an accent though has trouble pronouncing Vs The deaths of his little brothers nag at him. He is very protective of his little sister and mother and father as a result. A good brother and son Very inquisitive and outgoing. He … [Read more...]

Writing about places we can’t personally visit

Please welcome Karen Mann. I'm so happy to have her with us today because I very much resonate with her topic. When I was writing my novel I couldn't travel to Poland or have first-hand knowledge of the time-period in which  my novel takes place - the early 1900s. Karen's novel, The Woman of La Mancha, takes place in the sixteenth century Spain. Here's what she did instead of personally visiting Spain and having a direct experience of the time period she writes about. When You Can’t Do Seat Research, Then What? By Karen Mann Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife, talks about doing seat research for her historical novels. Sit where your characters sat, live where your characters lived, and you can write about how it smells, looks, sounds, tastes, and feels. But what if you can’t do that? When writing my novel The Woman of La Mancha, I was unable to go to Spain or even more specifically, I was unable to go to sixteenth-century Spain, yet my readers tell me I hav … [Read more...]

Draft five of my novel is with five beta readers

  Last June I sent Draft Four of my novel-in-progress to five beta readers. This past Sunday I did it again. I sent Draft Five to five different beta readers. I also sent the manuscript to one of the first five beta readers and asked her to let me know if she thinks I created any damage as a result of all the cuts, changes, and rewrites I made to this latest draft - to comply with current guidelines for lengths of novels, I cut almost 9000 words. Hopefully, I left enough in tact that I didn't ruin anything. However, I have a safety net. I have saved every single draft of my novel. I can always add something back in if necessary. You can probably tell from the above, I consider getting my novel out in public both scary and exciting. However, it gives me a much-needed break from it. I've asked my readers to send me their comments by June 30 or sooner, so now I have time to blog, write some new poetry (I plan to participate in Robert Lee Brewer's April Poem A Day C … [Read more...]

My stress meter

I have a built-in stress meter. I can tell how stressed I am by how loud my tinnitus sounds. When I feel relatively balanced, I hear very low wave-like sounds that seem to come from one ear. When I’m stressed the tinnitus sounds like crashing swells blowing through my head from both sides. So I was interested to read a recent New York Times article titled “How Exercise May Protect Against Depression,” given that “even mild, repeated stress can contribute to the development of depression and other mood disorders in animals and people.” Mood disorders, mania, and depression run in my family, so I need to actively make sure I lower my stress level. I’ve been exercising almost all my life, and I do it every day – first thing in the morning. Exercise was especially useful after my son Paul’s death fifteen years ago. That outlet kept me sane then, and it still does. That is, at least for a while. For example, I exercised this morning – sixty minutes of cardio foll … [Read more...]

Making my product perfect

In Joe Bunting’s "The Write Practice" piece, The Ten Lessons Dr. Seuss Can Teach Writers, dated February 27, 2015, I resonated with these two lessons: 6. Be a Perfectionist: It took Dr. Seuss nine months to finish The Cat in the Hat, a book that only contains 236 unique words. He would often spend as much as a year finishing just one book. And these were not long books! Each sentence, each word is important. Don’t rush. Keeping molding your writing until it’s just right. (Share that on Twitter?) 7. Cut Your Book Down to Its Essence: Longer is not better. Cut your book down to its essence. #SeussLessons (Share that on Twitter?) As he worked on a book, Dr. Seuss would sometimes discard ninety-five percent of it before he was finished. “It was not uncommon for him to throw out 95% of his material until he settled on a theme for his book.” *** These points verify how important it is to edit and cut. My goal was to cut 9,000 words from my manuscript, and I’m happy … [Read more...]

Introducing A Flapper’s Dictionary

In celebration of completing one more pass through my entire novel as part of my revision process, I'm sharing A Flappers Dictionary. I used it to provide a smattering of flap talk throughout the second half of the book. The talk and the dress - especially shoes - of the 1920s are integral to my story (the working title of my novel is Papa's Shoes). Unfortunately I cannot say I'm done-done with Draft 4. I have many Post-it flags on pages to go back to. Plus I need to cut. I'm about 9,000 words over the 90,000 word-limit for novels. Another daunting job to start on Monday. A Flappers' Dictionary (courtesy of Book Flaps and the guy behind the counter at The York Emporium used book and curiosity shop in downtown York, PA. Visit him online) During the Roaring 20s of the last century, young ladies took on a new, and for the time radical, lifestyle. These were the years following World War I and prior to The Great Depression. It was the jazz age and the ladies were taking f … [Read more...]

Writing work check-up

On January 5, 2015, I wrote a short writing to-do list for the coming few months. Today, since it's almost the end of January, is a good time to take stock. I'm pleased to report that I'm moving right along on my novel revisions. I've incorporated my red lines and yellow highlights into my online Revision 4 chapter files up to page 124. That means I have only 54 single-spaced hard-copy pages to go. Of course that doesn't mean that I'm finished finished. As I've revised I've tagged many many pages that I need to go back to. Like yesterday for instance. I was working on Chapter Seventeen which required that I add a new subsection at the chapter's end. I wrote it. I stepped back from it, I thought about how John Updike writes incredibly detailed descriptions, and I realized I wrote only the bare bones so far. I need to go back to that little subsection and add and add and add more. Remember the old adage - show don't tell? Well my bare bones only tell. I haven't written the … [Read more...]

A Prologue or not? That is the question

I've heard a lot of pros and cons about Prologues. So I'd like your opinion. I'm definitely on the fence. And if I do decide to take my Prologue out, what should I do with the material? Please help me out. Please read my novel's Prologue and let me know what you think. 1906 Prologue As Ira Schuman pulls on his beard with one hand and twirls his payess with the other he looks at the steady stream of customers going in and out of the shop with the red and white awning. Some men wear their tallit fringes hanging below the hems of the heavy black coats and matching wide-brimmed black hats that rest lightly atop their bushy hair. Their beards and coiled payess appear long and straggly. But Ira eyes focus on the men who display short hair and smooth shaven faces. Since he’s been in Chicago one week already, he decides today is the day to go inside. He meanders around several card tables of goods for sale on Maxwell Street and enters through the shop’s open door. “Hello, M … [Read more...]

Character description

As I go through my novel chapters during this revision I'm continually checking back to the character descriptions I wrote up prior and during my writing process. One of the main considerations is keeping the characters' descriptions and actions and attitudes consistent throughout or revealing how they have changed as time goes by. One of my four main characters is described below (though a bit haphazardly). I've been told she is the most interesting. Please let me know what you think. Ruth Schuman, wife of Ira, mother of Charles and Ava Physical appearance: heavy-set, huge breasts, smooth white pale skin, short – about 5 feet, Always wears an old tight-fitting black dress usually with a dirty apron over it – until she transforms. Wears a wig at first, then her hair pinned in a bun until she gets it cut in a modern 1920s style Dark brown eyes At first all for going to America until the death of her three sons changes her so that she doesn’t want to leave Sokolow … [Read more...]

The work-in-progress blog tour: about my novel-in-progress

During this Hanukkah and Christmas season I can't help feeling grateful for all that this past year has provided. I'm especially grateful to my dear writing friends - some I've met in person and some not - who have brought me continued wisdom about the writing process and such joy in knowing them and their writing work. First of all thanks to Kathy Pooler, author of her new memoir: Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, for tagging me to participate in this blog tour. Kathy's memoir is a must read if you haven't yet. So here goes: My Work in Progress Synopsis and story idea : My novel, Papa’s Shoes, is the story of a family immigrating to America in the early 1900s and a daughter’s coming of age in the 1920s in downstate Illinois and Chicago. Some other things going on in the book – life in a Polish stetl, early 19th century Chicago and Illinois, a woman’s role in society at that time, religious prejudice, interfaith marriage, and a feisty … [Read more...]

Time to build a new version (Revision 6) of my novel

After going over a hard copy of my novel three times: once to find too much telling and not enough showing, once to address my beta readers comments, and once to improve my verbs – change as many to be verbs to action verbs and improve the actions verbs that already existed – I took the marked up copy of my novel off the wall. Amazing! After having the book on my storyboards for almost three months, it took me just thirty-five minutes to take it down, remove the push pins, and carry the foam boards into my garage. My next step is to start incorporating all of my mark ups into a new version. That means inputting any editorial changes I made with my trusty red pen, deleting material that I highlighted with my yellow marker, and adding chapters and sections where indicated – again with my red pen. However, I’m going to give myself a couple of days off to let the enormity of the upcoming task sink in. I’ll be back at it on Monday, hopefully creating a new version that w … [Read more...]

Now it’s all about the verbs

I’ve finished another round of revisions by marking up my novel chapters with a yellow marker to indicate telling instead of showing passages  and noting with a red pen places where I need to add and subtract material and provide major rewrites - even whole chapters. Now I’m going through the book again paying attention to verbs. One of my beta readers said: “I also sense that there are opportunities here for verbs that better-convey how people are using the space. For example, you can surely upgrade words like "watches," "going in," "been in," and "give up." Although maybe there's a deliberate simplicity in choosing such clear verbs, I also sense that there's more to observe that we're missing because of [this] plain style.” This reader was so thorough that he went through the text line by line indicating where I could improve my verbs. For example: "He gets out..." My reader said, ‘Another opportunity to convey mood with stronger verbs:’ "He skips out.. … [Read more...]

Does NaNoWriMo make sense for me or not?

I’d love to get involved with the NaNoWriMo challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days, but I’m not sure it’s right for me. I’m almost finished with the first run through of my revisions based on my beta readers’ comments on my existing novel and plan to be complete in time to start the challenge on November 1. However, I don’t know if making major revisions and rewrites rather than writing a new novel qualifies. I know the warning not to edit as we write makes a huge amount of sense and definitely slows down our writing. Take my advice for those of you in the challenge. Just keep you fingers moving. Don’t stop to think. Just write. However, my situation is totally different. I’ve already written my first draft and even spent hours and hours revising and editing it. Now it’s ready for another major revision. As I’ve marked up my hard copy with my yellow marker and red pen, I’ve identified places to cut, to add, to rearrange, to carry thro … [Read more...]

I’m making slow progress with my novel revisions

I’ve posted all the comments from my novel’s beta readers on the wall, I’ve posted the entire novel on the wall, and I’m working through the comments by scribbling page after page with yellow marker and red pen. I use the yellow marker to highlight where I explain and/or use expository language to tell rather than show (a lesson learned from the Writers Digest tutorial, Revise for Publication: Revision Strategies That Will Improve Any Draft). And, I’m actually rewriting with the red pen, with special emphasis on clearing up inconsistencies – like one of my characters has a black bushy beard in one scene and a light brown beard in another – improving on the quality of my verbs, and further developing my characters - while making sure I describe them consistently throughout. I storyboarded my memoir when I worked on its revisions as well. However, this time I actually saved time, wall space, and printing costs by reducing the size of the book to  single space rathe … [Read more...]

Mary Gottschalk asks: Is it memoir or fiction?

The subject matter of Mary Gottschalk’s guest post really hits home for me. I turned to memoir based on a traumatic incident in my life after a 30-career in technical writing, and now I’ve embarked on a novel based in part on factual events. I agree with Mary. I would not have attempted a novel had I not had the memoir writing experience. I hope those of you working on both memoir and fiction will learn as much as I did from Mary’s piece. Also, in welcoming Mary to Choices, please join me in congratulating her on just releasing her novel, A Fitting Place, in May of this year and publishing her memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam in 2008. Is it a Story or an Idea? By Mary Gottschalk Because the inspiration for my first novel came from an incident in my own life, I’m often asked why I chose to do A Fitting Place as a fiction rather than a memoir. Another frequent question—since I have published both a novel and a memoir—is which is the “better” vehicle for a story that … [Read more...]

Five reasons to be in a writing group

I joined a writing group a couple of years ago. It’s called The Last Sunday Writers because we usually meet the last Sunday of the month. Today’s meeting was cancelled because of lack of a quorum. Only two of us plus our leader planned to attend, and we weren’t prepared to read this month. So what’s the point? I usually want to read at the meetings, but I’m still a little traumatized from the feedback from my novel beta readers. I need to give putting myself out there a rest for a while. However, I’m very glad I was invited to join. I had known several people in the group because we attended workshops together. Or if we hadn’t met before we had worked with the some of the same writing instructors in the past. So we are a well-knit group with similar goals: continue to write, get feedback from our fellow writers, and network. Five things I like about being in a writing group are: It encourages me to prepare a piece for review once a month: this can be a new essay, st … [Read more...]

Am I going to take a creative U-turn?

Today is the day I asked my novel beta readers to send me their comments. So far I’ve received two sets. And of course I’ll very patiently await the rest. I feel my readers are doing me such a huge favor that whenever I get their comments will be okay. My dilemma now is with the two conflicting sets of comments I already have. One set says my novel is amazing, well written, and gives my writing lots of other kudos. The other set suggests major rewrite, reorganization, and more work shopping before I send it out again. This second set of comments reminds me of Julia Cameron’s section on Creative U-turns in her book, The Artist’s Way. It makes me want to stop working on this novel altogether because the task is too deep and too tall. I fear that I don’t know how to pull it off. Cameron says: “We usually commit creative hara-kiri either on the eve of or in the wake of a first creative victory….Creative U-turns are always both from fear – fear of success or fear of … [Read more...]

The storyboards are going up again

Once I get comments and critiques back from my first round of beta readers – hopefully by mid July – I’ll start revising again. Here’s my process. 1. Take my reviewer’s suggestions as just that -- suggestions. I feel it is important for an author to stay in control of his/her book. So I will review each comment and make decisions on whether to incorporate my readers’ notes or not into my next revision. If I decide not to use a comment, I’ll file it away for future reference should the need arise – I  never throw anything away. The bottom line - I am the person with the last red pen. 2. Create a revision plan. One of the first lessons I learned from my 28-year job editing and rewriting proposals to the U.S. Government was to plan before doing. And that’s what I intend to do at this point.  I will create a revision plan based on my readers’ notes – especially if major changes are suggested and if those changes affect many parts of the book. 3. Post a hard … [Read more...]

My novel is now with beta readers

As of this afternoon I took the leap. I  sent off copies of my novel in progress - actually Revision Three - to five beta readers. It is both an exciting and scary step. Now I plan to wait. I won't make any changes to the book until I've heard back from everyone - hopefully around July 15. In the meantime, I'll catch up on my blogging, write a few poems, maybe put together a poetry chapbook, and perhaps enter a poetry contest or two. I can also spend more time at my hometown beach. Really, the options for a writer are endless. After all beta reader feedback is in: I'll review the comments and criticisms I'll make changes as appropriate and turn them into Revision Four I'll seek out another group of beta readers to critique that revision I'll again review the comments and criticisms once I get their feedback I'll again make changes as appropriate and turn them Revision five And the last step before I make any decisions about publishing: Hire a professional edito … [Read more...]