Nancy S.M. Waldman's Blog: Words and Worlds Beyond
August 14, 2013
We needed a downstairs bathroom in our old house, so my husband Barry is building it. He worked as a carpenter when he was a young man and has kept up his skills, but because it isn’t something he does all the time, there are many learning and re-learning curves.
The other day while we were taking our evening walk, he told me about a “stupid mistake” (is there any other kind?) he’d made. Then he quoted the man who taught him carpentry, saying, “The sign of a good carpenter is the ability to cover up your mistakes and make them work.”
This is a concept I’m familiar with. In art, we do this. You make a mistake in an oil painting, it’s no problem, just repaint it. That’s trickier in watercolor, but perfection is elusive at best, so you figure out a way to integrate that mistake until it can no longer be identified as one. In cooking, if you add too much salt or spice you can’t toss the whole meal. No, you fix it. Add something else—potato or dairy—to smooth out the flavour and make it yummy. In dressmaking, this works as well. Is it too tight in the hips? Gussets! Hem too short? Ruffle! Occasionally our cover-ups even make it better than it would have been with out the screw-up (okay, maybe not the ruffle-fix)
Perfection isn’t necessary in many things we tackle. And, depending on our skill level, it may just be the impossible dream. A finished project or product is usually the better outcome even if it isn’t perfect.
But while on this walk with my husband (whose “stupid mistake” really wasn’t that bad), my mind, which was still firmly attached to the story I’m attempting to write, immediately went to the craft of writing. It jarred me to realize that in writing, unlike these other areas of endeavour, we really can’t cover up our mistakes.
Oh, we try! That’s what our first readers are for, dammit. If they are worth their salt, they will hone in on that plot detail that we hadn’t fully worked out, but that we thought (hoped) no one else would notice, or that Chapter 7 (the Bermuda Triangle of novel-writing) that we, basically, phoned in. In the early drafts, we wave our hands (brains) at that area of our work that is problematic and tell ourselves it’s okay. It’s fine. The mistake is well-hidden. But it isn’t. In writing fiction, stupid mistakes always show.*
The other tricky bit is that once we’ve worked with a writing project for a while, we can’t see the mistakes anymore. They hide from the writer, but pop out when a new reader comes along. And that’s not even getting into grammar and punctuation.
So fellow writers, edit. Revise. Find first readers who will spot the errors. Take their advice with an open heart. Do your best to perfect every sentence and each word. For if you are skillful (and lucky) people will be reading every one.
*I’m desperately trying to find the misatkes in this post.
August 8, 2013
For a while now, I’ve been feeling a little disappointed in myself for not getting more writing done this summer.
Yes, there was a wedding in the middle of June which took me away for a week, but other than that, I’ve been home—even more than usual.
And yes, I’ve needed to spend a lot of time working on the lay-out and typesetting of the Grey Area manuscript. That is now, I’m happy to report, at the proofreading stage. Almost ready! Release in late October!
And yes, there’s the Grey Area Inidegogo campaign, now just finishing its first week. Visit us here and pick out one of our perks to keep TPP going strong (we need the moral support almost as much as we need the operating cash. I mean it!)
And yes, my hard-working husband and I are negotiating and acquiring fixtures, tile, furnishings and the other such-fun work of putting in a new downstairs bathroom. (Okay, he’s doing all the hard work; but I have to feed him—usually three times a day!)
And yes, I have, since May, instituted a heretofore unknown-to-me regimen of walking at least two hours a day. That is going great. But because I’m using my new treadmill desk to achieve this feat, I am supposed to be churning out the word count everyday as well.
Today after walking, I was jotting down my miles, steps, time and calories burned when I took a look back at my log. In addition to the stats, I set up the table to have a place to log info about my physical status, my mental state AND what I worked on while walking. As I looked through the last few weeks, I was amazed and pleased to be reminded of what I’ve actually been doing.
That took me to my writing folders to check out exactly what had changed in the last few weeks. I found out that, starting in June, I’ve written two full short stories—one finished and marketed (and rejected; gotta get it out again), one needing more revision. I’ve started two others that are interesting to me and feel like good solid beginnings. And—with renewed energy and stepping stones in place as to where to go next and next—I’ve restarted work on a longer piece that I love, but that has been stalled a long, long time.
Okay. I feel better. I can also do better. Going to start shooting for 1600 words a day.
That’s enough…for summer.
August 4, 2013
My indie publishing house, Third Person Press, decided to put together a ghost story anthology because we get more ghost story submissions than any other kind, too many for our other anthologies where we like to have a nice mix of genre sub-types. The resultant book, Grey Area, will be released in late October, just in time for Halloween.
I had never written a ghost story before and in writing one for this collection, I finally clued into why people like them. They give a more concrete, creative way for us to think about death. Our societies do not encourage us to dwell on death. We’re supposed to get through those stages of grief and get over it as quickly as possible. But the reality is that the prospect of death—either our own or our loved ones—resides in our lives, hovering at the edge of our awareness, every single day we are alive. Ghost stories give us permission to explore this taboo subject. There’s also the element of hope. The glimmer of possibility that death isn’t the end of communication with those we miss so much. Oh, and there’s that other thing that I have never understood: the deliciousness of being scared.
Third Person Press does these anthologies on less than a shoestring. While it’s a labour of love for us editors, we are also committed to paying our writers. As writers ourselves, we feel it’s the right—the only—thing to do. We are running an Indiegogo campaign RIGHT NOW. Please visit us there, follow our campaign, put it on your blog, tweet it or otherwise help us publicize it on whatever social media you engage in and, if you can, please donate. You’ll get some awesome perks for your donation and you’ll be helping us help writers. Plus: good reading. Please check it out: here.
July 5, 2013
Hey, we all know it. Writers sit too much. And the longer we sit, the more we read about how damaging sitting is. It’s enough to make us too depressed to exercise! But there’s no way around it, writing is sedentary work…or is it?
No! Now we have: the Treadmill Desk!
After coveting Sherry D. Ramsey’s treadmill desk for about six months, I finally convinced my husband Barry to help me set up one of my own. Yes, we were both afraid I might not use it after going to the expense and trouble. But I had thought about it for over half a year and had reasonable projection of success because 1) I’ve always loved the notion of doing two things at once, 2) I’m at the computer 5+ hours a day all year round anyway, 3) I live in Canada where it’s often too cold to walk outside, 4) I like to exercise but always like what I’m doing other than exercising even more, 5) my body was full of aches and pains that I believed were due to too much sitting! All of this added up to pretty good evidence that I’d use it if I had it.
We finally got my configuration set up the second week of May. Instead of hacking a used treadmill the way Sherry did, we opted to go with a new ‘armless’ model that fit perfectly under a drafting table I already had. I then added another keyboard, monitor and mouse so that I could use my computer from the sitting desk or the treadmill.
It’s changed my life. Most days I walk for two hours and I do it without a struggle. I don’t have to make myself. I just do it because the idea of sitting is less appealing than walking. I don’t worry about how fast I walk though over the two months my ability to walk faster while I work has evolved a bit…up to 1.7 miles per hour for most activities. This isn’t “cardio,” but I don’t care. My goal is to move as much as possible every day. I won’t bore you with my obsessively-recorded statistics , but I logged over 100 miles in the first 6 weeks of walking. This—along with the outdoor walking that I’m doing now that the weather is gloriously summery—puts me way over the 10,000 steps a day that has become a benchmark for healthy physical activity.
Based on currently available evidence, we propose the following preliminary indices be used to classify pedometer-determined physical activity in healthy adults: (i). or=10000 steps/day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as ‘active’. Individuals who take >12500 steps/day are likely to be classified as ‘highly active’.
In fact, most days, I’m that last person. Highly active. It’s a new me.
But even this isn’t the best news. What has surprised me the most is how much more work I get done now that I’m walking and working at the same time. I used to sit at the computer for hours, but would—some days—only work a fraction of that time. When I’m walking, I’m motivated to be doing real work because I need my mind to be fully occupied so that I literally cannot think about the fact that my legs are moving or how much time has passed. Games, I find, don’t require as much concentration as I want. Writing stories, however, is transporting. Those days when I’m fully engaged in fiction, I’m often surprised to find that I’ve walked more than two hours. Physical activity pumps more blood/oxygen to my brain, so it makes sense that I’m working more and better.
Questions? I’m happy to talk more about the set up and the treadmill’s pros and cons
This post was written while walking. That’s 1 1/2 hours, 8100+ steps taken, 300+ calories burned, almost 3 miles walked, and I’m not through yet.
Proofread for typos and brainf*^ts by my pardner, Suze Corte. Thanks, sis!
July 3, 2013
Last year, an online acquaintance—Gary Henderson—from my Second Life writing group—The Quillians—got accepted to Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop. I had never heard of it. I now know how “out of it” that makes me…but the point is that I finally did hear of it. I was impressed with what Gary had to say about it because if anything, his enthusiasm was greater after the experience than before, and that’s saying something.
I decided, sometime during the ensuing year, to apply. I had written an SF novel with the help of last year’s Nanowrimo, that I felt was worthy enough to submit, but in an early enough stage to need the kind of help that the workshop would offer. I polished my application to the best of my ability and sent it out around the end of May.
I’M IN!I found out last week that I am IN! I am delighted and honoured!
The soon-to-be-legendary VP-XVII group is already bonding through online groups, twitter and, for the geographically lucky ones, through other RL means. I have a roommate, Mary Garber, who I look forward to meeting in person. Most of all, I can’t wait to soak up the communal, practical wisdom of the awesome staff and participants.
Here is the info from the VP home page:
Viable Paradise is a unique one-week residential workshop in writing and selling commercial science fiction and fantasy. The workshop is intimate, intense, and features extensive time spent with best-selling and award-winning authors and professional editors currently working in the field. VP concentrates on the art of writing fiction people want to read, and this concentration is reflected in post-workshop professional sales by our alumni.
Viable Paradise encourages an informal and supportive workshop atmosphere. During the week, instructors and students interact in one-on-one conferences, group critiques, and lectures. The emphasis at first is on critiquing the students’ submitted manuscripts; later, the emphasis shifts to new material produced during the week. Even when not actively engaged in teaching or critiquing, instructors often share meals and general conversation with the students.
The Viable Paradise experience is more than the workshop itself; it also includes the autumnal beauty of coastal New England and the unique island setting of Martha’s Vineyard. Taken all together, they create a learning environment that’s perfect for helping you reach your writing and publishing goals.
February 7, 2013
For the last week or so, I’ve been working on the novel I wrote in November during NaNoWriMo. Today I admitted to myself, that while effort has been expended [passive voice has been used], I’m flailing. I’ve been changing this, changing that, working obsessively on that all-important opening scene, but with very little strategy in mind.
My novel’s in pretty good shape considering it was written in a month. I started at the beginning and moved through it in an orderly way. I used Scrivener, and as a result, the scenes are organized into chapters, the chapters into parts and the parts into a whole. I also have tags and keywords that will allow me to find things more easily than I’ve been able to do in revising other novels. I still enjoy the initial concept of the novel as well as the surprising ways it twisted and turned as I wrote it. I’m enthusiastic about seeing where this revision goes.
Of course, if all of that is the good news, there is bad news to follow. What I’ve discovered in the beginning revisions is that the protagonist doesn’t have a strong enough personality to carry the story. It’s essential that she’s be vivid and interesting and different and memorable. So far, that’s not working as well as it needs to. The other major change is that the novel needs to be in first person rather than in the third person point of view I wrote the first draft. This means that every scene must be completely rewritten rather than edited, but I’m up for that. Some scenes written from other characters’ point of view will have to be cut and the information shown some other way, but at least it’s just a few instead of huge chunks of the novel.
Bad news, but not fatal.
So here’s my initial strategy:
Set aside the first scene for now, assuming that the necessary starting point will become more obvious as I work and refamiliarize myself with the whole story.
Do a story board of the novel as it is now—make it quick and simple so as not to get bogged down in what might be less stressful and more fun than the actual writing
Work on a more complete character profile of the MC knowing what I know now—the one I did before writing it is out of date. I need to remind myself of what’s in the story now and incorporate all that into the character from the beginning
Make a map of the world so I can better visualize the characters, action and time frame
Write until it’s done.
Keep you posted…
January 3, 2013
In October, I opened a shop of book cover art—Nuanc Book Designs—on Etsy. “Eye Contact,” pictured on the left, is the latest offering.
Designing the covers for The Speculative Elements Series from Third Person Press and its upcoming ghost story anthology, Grey Area, has been a pleasure for me. Because I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on them, it was only natural for me to design more and more! The Etsy shop is the result of all this creative overflow.
Designing covers is a great way for me to meld several of my interests: photography, digital art, drawing, lay-out. And fonts, of course. I’m genuinely font-obsessed. I use my photographs for most of the covers, though this latest one is a departure from that. It’s an original drawing of mine.
Each cover comes in a front cover only Ebook or full cover Print and Ebook versions.
Once a cover has been purchased, it’s retired from the collection.
Take a look at the shop and do come back often if you don’t see something that fits your book. New ones pop up frequently.
December 4, 2012
After posting about “the pitch” for my novel-in-progress earlier last month, I thought I should share what I came up with. Finally got this the way I wanted it around the end of the first week of NaNoWriMo.
As for the book itself, I’m still not sure about my title, “Plasticity.” I like it and it fits the subject matter, but it probably sells nothing. Perhaps that’s something to worry about three years from now when I’m still whipping the story into shape. Or…maybe it could be the title of the series. Hah. I know what that is. It’s my Delusions of Grandeur, which rise to the surface when I’ve just completed a first draft…of anything!
Here’s my pitch:
A young scientist reluctantly returns to the colony of her birth to stay with her estranged mother while recovering from a serious brain injury. She soon discovers that a native life form—reviled in the colony as infectious vermin—is a sentient species with great potential for good…and evil. Though her credibility is questioned at every turn due to her shaky mental condition, she takes up the cause of those ostracized because of their association with the species, the elusive Liminalis.
December 3, 2012
The thing I’m most proud of after successfully finishing NaNoWriMo is that I made no foolish pledge to blog everyday during the month. The first five days I wanted to. It was a good feeling to complete my main course and then finish off with a little blogging dessert. But after day five, the novel filled me up. I got a lot of pleasure knowing that I hadn’t made a stupid public promise to blog the process!
Now, having completed the month in fine form and having had a couple of days to chill, I want to remove the corpse from the vault, cut it open and see what’s inside. I don’t mean to autopsy my novel, for it is not dead; no, it’s a fully-formed, wee babe sleeping quietly in the nursery. I know I’m confusing the metaphor, but hey, it’s all about birth and death, two sides of the same coin and all that. No, I mean to autopsy the month itself.
But first, my Nano medical history. I’ve done Nanowrimo since 2002, and my first year was a blissful gift. I had a novel waiting to come out and come out it did. It was wonderful to write that story at that time. It was wonderful to experience how many words have to be thought up and written down in order to make a novel. It was amazingly wonderful to write that many words in such a short time span (though that novel went on and went up to 135,000 words at its most bloated). I was hooked.
The next five years were good, but not as great. The second year was like pulling teeth. The third year I bit off more than I could chew. Nano four through six, I, uh, I really sank my teeth into— Okay, enough with the mouth cliches! Four through six were the years of the Fevran Trilogy, my first foray into science fiction. I think about those books more and more as time goes by and may go back and attempt to whip them into shape. At the time, however, I didn’t feel confident in my ability to write in that genre, so I needed to learn more before tackling them.
I attempted Nanowrimo in the seventh year when I knew I’d be out of town for half the month and got less than half a novel written. The next year, my eighth, I broke the rules, but finished the novel. That’s a fantasy novel for older children that I completed, but have yet to market. I excused myself from the November melee for 2010 and 2011 because family matters far away kept happening in that month.
Having said all this about November novelling, I have to point out that I was writing and learning my craft during the rest of the months of all those years. But, I focussed on short fiction, as well as editing other people’s work in my Third Person Press role. I missed the speed-writing of Nanowrimo and the challenge of writing a longer piece, though, so this year, I selfishly protected my writing month, determined to write another novel.
And that’s what happened. The month went so well that it reminded me of my first time, back in 2002. That same creative-flow *glow* infused the whole process. But it was also very different because I had something I didn’t have in the beginning: experience. I was aware everyday (and I wrote every single day of the month, something I’ve never done before) that I kind of…knew what I was doing. That’s not to say that I didn’t make wrong turns, hit dead-ends, have a head-on collision or two, litter the landscape with absolute crap and turn on the auto-pilot here and there. I did. But a first draft is always a auto-repair job. Overall, I felt that I had avoided many of my global mistakes of the past. Here are a few of the ways I managed that:
I thought about the concept for a long, long time and therefore knew it wasn’t an impluse. I wanted to write this
I planned it ahead of time to the best of my ability, which is not the same thing as knowing exactly what’s going to happen every step of the way
I knew that organization of information is a huge part of feeling that you have a handle on a writing project this large and got the right software to facilitate this
I left my emotions outside the office door. For the first time, I had no real angst about a novel. This means not allowing a bad writing day to affect my momentum, trusting myself to have the capacity to figure it out, and being okay with a less than perfect first draft, every step of the way
It was a good month and I’m very grateful to have a new finished first draft snoozing in my novel nursery. I have a lot of work ahead of me to raise that baby and help it grow into a stand-alone adult. But I’m looking forward to that challenge, and I know this because another bit of wisdom rose to the surface from this month.
One day after having finished my words for the day, I was relaxing with an iPad game, feeling pretty darned satisfied with myself, when a sheepish self-truth asserted itself:
I don’t challenge myself hard enough, often enough. I could write like this more of the time, maybe even most of the time. I could be way more productive. I can, and should, do more. It’s not that hard.
I started this post-mortem with kudos for not expecting too much of myself (not trying to blog everyday and write a novel in one month)—ie, knowing my limits—but end with an entirely different message. The lesson is to push beyond self-imposed limits. Writing a novel in a month would have once seemed impossible and it doesn’t anymore. I must challenge myself to do more in order to find out what limits are reasonable and what are only self-protective, ingrained habits keeping me from accomplishing what is possible. Then, when it’s almost time for my actual post-mortem (realizing that I may not get any advance notice), I won’t have nearly so many regrets.
November 5, 2012
from Astute GraphicsToday, my main character showed her character.
Up to now, she’s been more self-involved and confused than anything else—for good reasons—but, that had to change. Even though she still has more questions than answers, she reached a point where she had to take a stand, to declare herself on one side of the conflict or the other. I’m proud to say that she did it unflinchingly, in a way that provides no possibility of turning back. She can’t undo what she did today.
Though I’m not writing a story about a superhero, I like to think this picture shows what she felt like when she finally revealed herself.
Haha, the plot finally begins to thicken and roil.
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