How important is staying plugged in?

“Is it plugged in?” That was the first question tech support always asked back when computers were new and I called to find out why the alien on my desk wouldn’t work.

Dutifully, I’d untangle my feet from the writhing morass of cords under my desk and track the computer from the wall outlet to the back of the computer. With embarrassing frequency, the connection was loose. Plugged in securely, the computer returned to life.

Ireland - Plugging into a new source of energy.

Ireland – Plugging into a new source of energy.

Eventually I caught on to that game and checked the connections before I called tech support. When I smugly assured those helpful wizards that my computer was indeed plugged in, they had this head-slapping advice:

“Then unplug it, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in.”

Following their advice, the computer almost always blinked rapidly and woke to do my bidding. My word. If life were always so simple. Anne Lamott suggests that it may be. She says:

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes .. including you.”

For much of the past many months, I’ve worked diligently to write the first draft of my novel. For most of this time, I’ve been securely plugged in, writing most days and thinking about the characters and story when I wasn’t writing. I have made great progress, though with increasing frequency, my energy lags.

I know it is time to unplug and re-boot. To that end, my sister and I embark this month for a trip to Ireland. We have no Irish ancestry that we know of, but we are both drawn to the green of the Emerald Isle, to the coastal landscapes, to the people and the pubs. The sense of place is important to my writing, and I am fascinated to see the place that has spawned so many great writers and enduring stories.

During most of May, I will be unplugged, literally and figuratively. No computer. Limited wi-fi access. Any writing I do will be old school, using the notebook and pencil in my pocket.

When we return, I expect to plug in, blink rapidly, and spring back to this life, fully charged with the energy and perspectives travel invariably offers.

I look forward to sharing thoughts on my journey – when I return and plug in again. In the meantime, I wish you moments of unplugged luxury, too.

With a little help from my friends – NaNoWriMo 2015

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) sent hundreds of thousands of writers to their keyboards in November to write the novels they know they have in them. Historically, 17% of those who start succeed.Dream Big Dreams I was one of those writers.

Writing 50,000 words in a month is no easy task, especially for someone with my perfectionist tendencies. The Nano concept is that I must securely lock my perfectionist self in the closet at the beginning of the month and not let her out until I’ve written those words. No re-reading, no re-writing, no editing. Only more words. Everyday, more words.

It makes me anxious just to think about it.

Yet, I did succeed, writing 50,406 words by November 24. (Sound the trumpets!). I was helped along by the wisdom of writers I admire. With a tip of the hat to John Lennon for the blog title, I offer the following:

“Every morning I tell myself: Write recklessly. You can play it safe tomorrow.” – Sue Monk Kidd

Kidd’s prose is beautiful, thoughtful, every word perfectly chosen. Yet she gets there by first writing recklessly. The crafting of each perfect word comes later. November was for reckless.

“I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m.” – Peter DeVries

I have always taken DeVries’ workman-like words to heart. Some mornings, I had a scene in mind to write; on other days, my mind was a blank. Yet, I committed to write. And I did. My mind always sent something to my fingers.

“I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I’m capable of writing.” – Ann Patchett

The whispers of doubt grew loud throughout the month. What right do I have to write this story? How can it be any good? Will anyone care to read it? Patchett reminded me of the mantra I’ve repeated with my previous books: Write the best story I can, as well as I can. It’s all I can do. That will be enough.

“Shitty first drafts … All good writers write them.” – Anne Lamott

Lamott is never far away during NaNoWriMo. Many of the words I wrote (while individually perfectly good words) came together as such cliched-ridden drivel that I was too embarrassed to let them go. So I highlighted them in yellow or wrote CLICHE!!! after them just so I could move on. Wow, that was some really bad writing. But every word, no matter how bad, moved me toward the goal. I trust Lamott and will fix it in the second and third and fourth drafts.

These writers were my spirit guides. They encouraged me to keep writing no matter what. I arrived at the end of November with characters I understand better, scenes I had not previously envisioned, new plot lines I may (or may not) keep, and holes yet to be filled. I discovered things about myself and the story.

And there was one more spirit guide.

“It’s not our abilities that show what we really are. It’s our choices.” – Albus Dumbledore

Albus Dumbledore wasn’t a writer, but his advice to Harry Potter applies just as well. Writing is a choice, and success requires that I show up. In November, thanks to NaNoWriMo, I showed up.

Whether you’re a writer or not, whose words of wisdom inspire you?

*Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Five steps to editor ready

The editing, one’s own editing, before the editor sees it, is the most important – Dr. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou‘s quote resonated with me when I first read it. But I didn’t really get her point until I edited my own manuscript.

After receiving supportive feedback from beta readers and encouraging ‘get it done’ advice at an advanced novel workshop, I set out to edit my WWI-era novel. A little spit. A little polish. I thought I’d be done in a couple of weeks.

Lucky for me my editor couldn’t get me into her schedule for a couple of months. Editing was not a one-time tweaking of spelling and grammar. The more I edited, the more I found there was to do. Here are the five steps I took to get my manuscript editor ready.Editing

  1. Absorbed and acted on beta reader feedback. The honest feedback of readers with fresh eyes sent me back in to add character details, deepen historical threads, and eliminate moments that caused readers to scream, Enough. Editing wasn’t just about commas, capitals and cutting. I also re-wrote, cut, and added.
  2. Searched and eliminated overused words. Using Sharla Rae’s list of echo words, I went through my manuscript front to back, over and over. In the process of finding the words on her list, I spotted other over-used words in my story. This was an insanely tedious task. Even using the Word search & replace function, I could only stomach searching a dozen words a day.
  3. Printed it out. Seeing the words on paper is different than reading them on a computer screen. I actually printed everything out twice. Once as a double-spaced Word document. The second time, I formatted the document as though it was an actual book, in a different type face, with justified, single-spaced lines. Both versions yielded dramatically different editing points.
  4. Read the entire manuscript out loud. We hear things differently than we see them. Reading out loud forced me to slow down and listen. Awkward phrases, poor word choices and duplication stood out when I heard the words. I found it was easy to read so long that I no longer heard. I could only read about 50 pages a day before I wore out.
  5. Remained open to making it better, until …  I venture to guess I went through my entire manuscript start to finish 40-50 times. As late as the afternoon of the day I hit ‘send’ to get the manuscript to my editor, I was questioning, making changes, improving. Asked when she knew she was done writing, Anne Lamott said, “You just sort of realize at some point your OCD has begun to hurt the work.” I was there. I knew I had to let it go.

Recently, I blogged about what I learned about editing during a walk in the prairie with my granddaughter. One of those learnings was: Trust your gut. This is your story. It’s your name on the cover. If you haven’t put everything in it, an editor can’t get it there. I believe that’s what Dr. Angelou meant.

My writing goal has always been to tell the best story I can, as well as I can. When I launched my manuscript into my editor’s hands, I was proud of the work.

What steps have you found helpful in editing? Please share. I know there are always ways I can make my editing process better!