Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Roughly three years ago I started blogging. Here is my first blog reprinted. In that time I've had one novel published and two others accepted--all by Candlewick.  Not bad.

Last week (three years ago) my Old English Sheepdog, Merlin, pulled some of the manuscript pages of my latest WIP from my desk and began to eat them. Merlin, like most dogs, is adept at non-verbal communication. Of course he is also, another noble trait of the canine, notoriously good-natured and non-judgmental. I wondered what could have driven him to such uncharacteristic and extreme criticism.
     After I managed to wrench the somewhat chewed but readable manuscript pages out of Merlin’s toothy grip, I started to read them. A growing uneasiness began at the nape of my neck and spread and that uneasiness became queasiness and that queasiness became despair. It was, alas, all wrong. Started in the wrong place. Went on too long here and not long enough there. Most importantly the life, somehow, had been squeezed out of it and the characters moved as if they were clueless stick figures rather than living creatures.
     Merlin was right.
     So though I am going to write about writing in this blog, and though I’ve written a lot of words and sentences and pages and have learned, maybe, a few things that might be of some small use to beginners, the truth is no writer, on any given day, really knows more than a sheepdog happily chewing away on a manuscript. And what we know on any given day is sort of a stab at the truth. Another day we might feel differently. I should probably end everything I say about writing with—Or so I think today.
     That’s a good idea.
     Or so I think today.

Friday, May 18, 2012

all manuscripts start as ugly ducklings

Today was one of those drivel writing days. I was decrying this on facebook. You know, poor me. I’m writing drivel. My sentences are drivel and my paragraphs are drivel and I’m beginning to feel as if the whole new manuscript is drivel. Well, I didn’t go that far on facebook but I will here. I fell into that place of self-loathing where I considered select-all, highlight, delete and…….good-bye cruel drivel.
BUT I didn’t. Sometimes we should but most times when we’re writing early drafts we’re writing a lot of drivel. I reminded myself that all novels start as ugly ducklings. Of course not all will become swans but that’s not really the point. You have to believe and you have to keep on as if everything you write will make that miraculous transformation.
Give your manuscript a chance. Keep going and believing and don’t be discouraged by drivel. A little or sometimes a lot of drivel must fall into every manuscript. Revision, rewriting, editing…we have lots of chances to make our ugly ducklings swans.
Or so I think today. 

Monday, May 7, 2012


I  think you need time between drafts but maybe just a few days UNTIL you are absolutely sick of writing the manuscript or until you're certain you've revised as much as you can. Then I think you need to let the manuscript set  for a much longer period--a month. You aren't seeing it anymore. You're in love with certain sentences or paragraphs or even chapters and you've gotten attached to them.  You've become close to your characters. Too close. They're real now. They're like real people. You've been with them for months and months. How can you cut them or even radically change them? They're yours. It would be betrayal. What kind of a person are you?You admit-- a word here and there in the manuscript can be changed. Fine. Tighten the language. Sure.  At this point even if your critique group says there's something wrong, you're going to secretly think the something that is wrong is THEM.

You have manuscript blindness.

The good news is it's not a permanent condition.

It's a point we all reach. I read something by Stephen King where he was saying that when he gives his manuscripts a big rest between drafting and revision, like five weeks, he always find something big he's missed. Something big. Even Stephen King, writer of a million novels, is susceptible to manuscript blindness.

At some point, when you've lived in the world of your novel for a long time, you just can't see what might not be working. You need the distance of time. You need fresh eyes. On that first time back to your manuscript it's important that you be brutally honest with yourself. You won't see the manuscript that freshly again until it's been accepted and you're working with an editor. Go into revision being open to major changes and you will improve your manuscript.

Or so I think today.