I am very excited about a workshop in Asheville this week-end led by Cheryl Klein. Anyone who ever talks publishing with me knows I LOVE Cheryl Klein. I love her blog, Brooklyn Arden. I love her books (check out the new one, GIRLS OF NO RETURN by Erin Saldin and another one I always plug, OPERATION YES by Sara Lewis Holmes). In 2008 Cheryl Klein first wrote me the kindest, most encouraging rejection letter I've ever received. Now, you might think a kind rejection letter is an oxymoron, but it's not AT ALL. Especially when you are first starting out. Most rejection letters are form letters at first. I did eventually get to the point where most of mine were personal letters, but still, early on, a personal letter is like a teeny tiny light in a big, foggy darkness. Somehow, if you have even that tiny light to focus on, you can navigate the fog and the darkness and at least be sure you are headed in the right direction. So anyway, I wrote her a note telling her that I was looking forward to the workshop, etc., and in retrospect I sound a little bit like a stalker. So I hope she won't take it that way. Anyone who knows me can vouch that I don't have that kind of time. Being a stalker is a big job, from what I understand.
In preparation for this course, Cheryl Klein sent out a pretty detailed structure for editing our novel. It was very interesting and somewhat different from my usual process. I am interested to see how it all shakes out. So far, I think I would do this technique again even though it involves going scene by scene through the entire book and answering about eight questions per scene. It definitely helps you see the threads and character arcs. I much prefer all the structure in the editing process to structure in the prewriting process. I have been to many workshops (including Alan Gratz who gave an excellent workshop on outlining before you write your novel), and they offer persuasive arguments. However, I have found that my story takes on a life of its own once I begin to write and my characters come to life and do things I never dreamed, often things way better than I could have planned, and they figure their way out of dark places on their own. Somehow, my stories are more character driven when I just write. Of course, I sometimes have a general idea of where the story is going, but not much more than that. On a couple of novels, I did this in-depth 'snowflake method' (google it) of outlining the novel. It took me through every twist and turn of my story and forced me to figure it out in advance. It was very cool at the time, but then when I'd finished I had no motivation to write it! I knew what was going to happen. EXACTLY. So where was the fun in that? And I genuinely think that if something isn't fun to write, it isn't fun to read!
All that said, I'm a structure girl. I do like to see structure and bones and tight arcs and character development and the rise and fall of action and comic relief, etc. I have found that the more I write, the more those kinds of things appear in the correct places and with good balance. I think that's where reading comes in. The more you read, the more your brain absorbs the structure of books, so when you write, the story naturally takes that form. Which is an argument for reading GOOD books.
But that's the method for my madness. I know that everyone has different methods--vastly different methods---that work equally well. A few years ago, I went to the Highlights writing workshop at Chautauqua (life changing, amazing, loved it). It was in July, and the follow August, my youngest child was going to start kindergarten. I was going to have more time to write than ever before. I would continue to do school visits and writing workshops, but for the most part, I would have a daily ROUTINE for my writing. I was so excited, so at Chautauqua, I picked everyone's brains. What is your routine? How do you write? What is your schedule every day? HOw long do you actually sit there and write? How much time do you spend on other writing-related activities? How do you set your goals? And so on...
Everyone had a different answer. Literally. Yet most of the people I asked were working writers, so I learned that I had to figure out my own routine. Now, four years later, I have a very specific routine. A good routine. It look me a little (and moving my office to the old shed in my yard) to get it down pat.
It also took me getting an accountability partner, whom you've heard me talk about tons of times. We email each other daily goals and then accountability. We set yearly and monthly goals, and check up on those, too. That helps a LOT.
So go forth and write, and stay tuned. I promise words of wisdom and inspiration from Cheryl Klein's class this week-end. In the meantime, check out her blog, Brooklyn Arden. It is FULL of writerly wisdom. Oh, and so is her new book. I also recommend that. Have a great day.
My Mission Statement
I write to serve, to unite, to educate. I write to share literature and flesh out ideas that may be of interest to others. I write to document an emotion, experience, or a blip in time. My mission is to write in such a way that the reader is reminded that we can find humor in all situations. It's one of the great blessings of life.