Monday, April 7, 2014

I feel like I'm in a Muppets song**

Things have been both creeping along and making significant progress.  Every time I get frustrated by my lack of progress in one area, it's nice to have another thing I can point to and say, "Yeah, but I did THAT!"

In no particular order, here's what's been going on around here:

  1. I joined a critique group for writers of children's and teens' books.  It meets monthly, but I know that at least one other member is interested in meeting more frequently to discuss our work.  The people at the group are very welcoming, and there's a broad range of interests, topics, and skill levels present.  It's great to hear about other people's projects ... sometimes it feels like I'm the only one out there pounding away on a keyboard in her spare time. We spent part of last week helping another writer deal with her fixation on how her editor friend used the word "abusive" to describe her main character's relationship.  Seeing how personally she took that single word made me doubly conscious of my own peculiarities when it comes to interpreting the comments of others.  In the words of the ever-inspiring Ze Frank, "And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate out the good advice from the bitter herbs."
  2. I got a Red Light in RL/GL, but the comments that "Kissy" made led me to rethink the opening chapters of my book entirely.  I sat down last week and reworked them, and I believe they're a lot stronger now.  They move faster and have less back story jammed into them, and I think they put the focus back where it belongs.
  3. I went to a critique meeting sponsored by the local chapter of SCBWI, at which a published children's author (Jean Daigneaucritiqued pre-submitted pages from our manuscripts.  Unfortunately, the pages I submitted from the swamp story were from the version that hadn't been revised based on the RL/GL comments, so it wasn't really my current version at the time of the meeting.  It was, however, helpful to hear Jean's comments on the story, and some of the input from the other writers was interesting.  My main takeaway was that I definitely need to bump up the age of the main character, and I'll probably need add a scene somewhere since my word count falls below the standard for Middle Grade fiction. Can't decide if I'm looking forward to heading back into the swamp (and into Susannah's head), or if I'm getting sick of beating a dead horse and it's time to move on.  Definitely food for thought.
  4. Vacation!  I didn't do as much writing as I had hoped, but I got more done than I expected (sometimes I have high hopes and low expectations!).  I've now got some brief character outlines and a plot for a new story.  More on that soon ...
  5. I sent The Indian in the Garden to Alice Bradley for book-doctoring.  It's such a help to have someone with a professional writing background take a look at my work.  She thinks about things that never occur to me, like, oh, I don't know, giving my story a theme (shudder).  She sees where things work, and she has a magical ability to point out things that don't work without making me feel like an amateur.  Yay, Alice!  I've read through her written comments on my story, and this afternoon I'm scheduled to talk with her about her feedback. I'll be editing The Indian pretty intensely for the next few days, just to get as much done as possible before I totally forget her suggestions.  This one's going to need an extra scene to up the word count, too, so hopefully she'll have some suggestions for me on that.
  6. The DIY/Girl Scout story (have I mentioned that one yet?) is dead in the water.  It's going to need a complete overhaul, and I'm just not up for it right now.  Every time I think about working on it, I decide that cleaning the gunk out of the shower door track sounds like a better idea - so you know it's bad.  I've hit this before, and generally this sort of reluctance to even open up the manila folder that houses the pages means that my subconscious hasn't figured out what needs to be done.  If I wait long enough, some day I'll flip it open and voila!  The path forward is clear to me!  It may not be easy or quick, but at least I'll know I'm on the right track.  So this story is going in the timeout pile until I don't flinch every time I think about it.
  7. In the interest of finding my niche in children's literature, I'm going to try - TRY - to write the story I outlined in Jamaica as something other than an MG book.  The plot is fairly straightforward and there aren't too many characters, so I'm going to aim for writing it as a picture book.  I know, I know - "But Gretchen," you're thinking, "how can you possibly write a whole story in less than 1,000 words?  You regularly write sentences longer than that."  That's just the point.  By forcing myself to write the story concisely, I'll work on letting a few words paint a picture rather than having to narrate every brushstroke.  Best case, I learn a few things and end up with a manuscript that doesn't take half a ream of paper to print out.  Worst case, I realize that PB isn't my genre, and I move on to thinking of it as a chapter book.
So that's what's what in the world of Gretchen.  The swamp story needs a rewrite (but I'm not sure it's worth devoting more time to do it right now); the Indian story is going to be getting extensive but guided revisions; and the DIY story is in timeout.  The newest story still needs to be written, which will take me approximately 10x as long as normal to write a story with 1/15 the words of my previous works.  And summer break - the time of "Mom can I play Minecraft? Mom can we go swimming? Mom I need a snack!" 24/7 - is fast approaching.  Wish me luck, getting some of this stuff "done" before my working hours shrink too much.

** "Movin' Right Along," which is old-school Muppets.  Yes, I know I'm dating myself.  No, I don't care.