Revise, Revisit, Redo

Celestial events are on my mind lately, influenced at least in part by this week’s solar eclipse. We didn’t see it here but some of my friends and relatives back east had a spectacular view. Even people who don’t normally follow these kinds of things seemed to be talking about it.

Some gardeners believe eclipses, moon phases and other activities in the heavens can impact our plants and gardens. The Farmer’s Almanac even provides information to help gardeners follow celestial rhythms. But gardeners aren’t the only ones who take their cues from gazing skyward. Many of the writers I know do too, particularly when it comes to the planet Mercury.

Mercury, in case you didn’t know, is the closest planet to the sun and the fastest one in our solar system. It rules communication of all kinds, as well as publishing and everything related to that industry. It rules other things too (technology, including computers, and travel being two of the biggies). Three times a year Mercury appears to move retrograde or go backwards for about three weeks at a time. When that happens, lifestyle stories sometimes pop up in the news or on social media feeds warning that Mercury is about to play havoc with communication, travel plans or our computers. And it’s true, if you follow the patterns, that there are more Mercury-related glitches during a retrograde period. But writers love it when Mercury is retrograde because it’s the perfect time to revisit manuscripts and refresh them. In fact, it’s the perfect time to do anything that starts with the prefix ‘re.’ And Mercury is retrograde right now.

Ironically, until the solar eclipse, I’d been too busy to notice. We have five yards of fish compost in our driveway waiting to be spread on the garden beds we’re revamping. I have a manuscript sitting on my desk needing to be reassessed and revised. There’s recycling that needs to be dropped at the depot. An orchid that needs to be repotted. All of these things are calling to me because in a few days we’re heading to the mainland to revisit family and friends and I’d like them done – or well underway in the case of the manuscript – before we go. The eclipse made me take a step back and look to the heavens. That’s when I realized I’m caught up in a number of Mercury retrograde activities. Does that mean I’m in the celestial flow? I hope so.  I’ll report back in a few weeks. When Mercury goes direct.  

New Beginnings

Two exciting things happened last week. We moved into our new home and I signed a YA book contract with Crwth Press. Talk about a fresh start filled with wonderful possibilities.

I’m thrilled to be working with publisher Melanie Jeffs who is already gaining recognition for her titles. Check out her website here: https://www.crwth.ca/

Melanie will be bringing out my YA in the spring of 2020, which means I’m already into the revision process.  The book in question, which I’ve referred to here before as One Good Deed, has been retitled No Right Thing. I always cringe when retitling is suggested. It’s wrong to get married to a title, I know that, and yet I often do. However, David Baldacci has just released a book titled One Good Deed and, as Melanie Jeffs explained, anytime someone looks up that title on line they’ll get the Baldacci information well before they get the Langston information.

That won’t do. Not at all.

Since this is a story about a teenager who always tries to do the right thing and yet finds herself in a situation where there is no right choice, no right thing, the title switch worked. I’m grateful to Melanie for pointing it out.

With the title nailed down, I can focus on revisions to the story, which is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Incidentally, the novel is set in my new community of Qualicum Beach. That gives me a good excuse to get out and about and explore my new town. Here’s to new beginnings and No Right Thing.  

Revamp, Revise, Redo

If you follow astrology (and I don’t mean the daily horoscope stuff), you’ll know that there are six – count ‘em six – planets retrograde in the heavens right now. It may or may not be affecting you but it’s forcing some unexpected revamping, revising and redoing around here.

Last week, during a home inspection, we discovered a whole lot of galvanized pipe running from the street into our house. We thought we had copper . . . we mostly do have copper . . . but there was a long length of galvanized piping and it had to come out. The good news is one of the companies that came to give us an estimate had a cancellation; they could do the work Friday morning, providing we dug up and moved the plants.

So Thursday afternoon, rather than writing, I was digging out perennials and moving them into the shade. At the same time, Mr. Petrol Head was hauling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of landscape pebbles out of the way. Friday morning, the guys showed up just after 7:30. By 1 pm, they’d dug down 24 inches, replaced the galvanized pipe in the ground, drilled through our foundation to replace the length in the house, and put the soil back in place.

It was our turn to replace the pebbles and the plants, basically to turn that scorched earth back into something pretty. For one, the plants we’d dug up wouldn’t tolerate sitting in their temporary homes, even if they were shady, for long. And for another, we pitied the poor neighbors having to look at the disaster that was our front yard. So this weekend we dug and placed and planted and watered. It was hot, tiring work but in the end we have a much tidier rockery and entrance to the house.

I had planned to revamp the area this summer. The rockery was overplanted and without a sense of cohesiveness. In fact, the rockery redo was quickly reaching the top of my ‘to do’ list; good thing I hadn’t gotten to it yet.

Ironically, and as is often the case, my garden project mimicked what is currently happening in my writing life. My current WIP is overwritten, meandering and without a sense of cohesiveness. I need a better handle on the through line. As I ripped out plant after plant, it occurred to me that sometimes manuscripts need a little tough love too. This one does; it needs some ruthless gutting and reshaping. Gutting and reshaping, like digging and replanting, is hard, hard work. But it’s often the only way to end up with a book – or a garden bed – you’re satisfied with.

True North

A few weeks ago an editing client presented me with a question. “How can I know,” she asked, “which direction is the best one for this story to take?” Her novel was essentially finished but there were issues with the middle so she’d hired me to provide feedback. Her beta readers had highlighted the muddied middle, and the writer herself knew it was a problem. There was so much going on that the through line of the story had gotten cloudy and the ending, while nicely executed, didn’t have the punch it deserved. Each of the beta readers, however, had come up with a different solution. One reader suggested thread A be dropped, another loved thread A but argued that thread B needed to go.

The writer wanted me to make the final decision and choose one. I couldn’t. I could point out the pros and cons of losing one thread over the other. I could give my opinion on how each thread deepened the basic conflict and impacted the main character (and even the supporting players). I could discuss and debate the ending payoff of one thread over another but I could not choose. For one thing, there are many right ways to tell a story. The story could be told, and told well, minus either of the two threads. Most importantly, however, it wasn’t my novel. I could advise, I could be a midwife to her process, but she had to birth the story herself.

She needed to find her true north, or the true north for this particular novel, and go from there.

True north is our internal compass. It guides us through life at our deepest level and helps us stay on track. With all the chatter we’re subjected to on a daily basis – from family, friends, the media or, in this case, from beta readers, it’s easy to lose sight of true north. It’s easy to doubt our instincts when we can barely hear the still, small voice of our soul.

I suggested to this writer that she employ Vanessa Grant’s ‘garbage can’ test. Pretend she’s throwing thread A in the garbage can and proceeding with thread B. How does that make her feel at a gut level? Then I told her to switch it up and pretend she’s throwing thread B in the garbage and moving forward with thread A. How is her gut feeling now? Don’t overthink it, I told her. Go with the initial feelings that arise. She could do this exercise in a few minutes or spend a couple of days mulling it over. But she needed to honor her feelings and not over analyse them.

She needed to decide what was most important to her, what direction would give her the most satisfaction when it came to writing the novel. There wasn’t a right way or a wrong way. There was only her way.

True north would point her in the right direction.

Originality is . . .

editing . . . simply a pair of fresh eyes. So said American writer Thomas Higginson. I’m not sure I’d go that far but I do think a pair of fresh eyes is essential when it comes to refining a manuscript.

As a professional writer, I rely on editors at various times in the publishing journey. If I’m working with a traditional publisher, developmental editors are the first to see my work. They provide feedback on my story and characters, the pacing and the structure. Copy editors check my continuity, my logic and occasionally comment on my sentence structure or grammar. Proofreaders catch any last minute mistakes. In the traditional publishing world, the publisher hires the editors to take care of those things. All I have to do (after writing the book!) is get my work to that editor on time and address any issues based on the feedback I receive. It’s pretty straightforward.

When it comes to self-publishing my books, I decide whether or not to hire an independent editor to help me polish my novels. And it’s an easy decision: I always do. I’m a good editor, and I probably could do it myself, but it’s not easy to edit your own work. In fact, it’s damned hard. There’ve been times when I’ve traded editing favors with other writers (and that works well) but it’s not always possible to find another writer willing and able to do the trade when you need it to happen. So paying for a professional editor is an expense I’m happy to incur.

Editing is fun. In a lot of ways it’s my favorite part of writing. It’s gratifying to take a novel that’s almost there and polish the rough edges, transforming it into an attention-grabbing, unputdownable read. Given my thrill with that whole tweaking process, a few months ago I began doing some freelance editing for other writers. So as well as creating my own fictional worlds, I’m spending a little time immersing myself in fictional worlds created by others. And I’m thoroughly enjoying it. You can find out more about my editing services by clicking here: http://lauralangston.com/editing/

 

Vacation Time

P1000623Heads up: the blog is taking August off though I won’t be. I’ll be working flat out for the next couple of weeks in an effort to conquer my ‘to do’ list.

I’m just about finished another round of revisions on One Good Deed, I have a book proposal to finish by the beginning of September, and a couple of articles to research and write too. I also have line edits to tackle for Million Dollar Blues and I’ll be exchanging emails with Estrella Cover Art as we work to come up with a cover concept. I’m planning to send that story into the world sometime this fall.

It’s going to be a fun (and busy) three weeks. At the end of it, I’ll be rewarding my efforts by escaping up island for a few days at the beach.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. See you in September!

Revise, Revisit, Retreat

reviseI’ve been in revision mode for the last few weeks, working on In Plain Sight, a YA novel about a girl who learns her father was a terrorist. I’ve also been cutting and shaping Million Dollar Blues, a women’s fiction novel about a lottery win.

This Friday, however, I’ll be leaving the desk and heading up island. I’ll catch up with a dear friend that night and then on Saturday, I’ll head to the Red Door for a two-day writing retreat with my friends, the Pen Warriors.

It’s a revise, revisit, retreat kind of week. With luck, I’ll find time for a beach walk.

And that’ll make it rejuvenating too.   P1000623

And Now for Something a Little Different

pileofpapersI’m deep into revisions on In Plain Sight and I have two more manuscripts waiting, waiting, IMPATIENTLY waiting for their turn to be polished and cleaned. So this week, I’d like to suggest you pop on over to Adriyanna Zimmermann’s blog where she posts author interviews and reviews. She interviewed me about The Art of Getting Stared At and followed that with a lovely review. I hope you like it as much as I did!

https://lifewritingsofareader.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/review-interview-the-art-of-getting-stared-at-by-laura-langston/

 

 

Enjoy the rest of your week!

A New Office

The office reno is officially done. After twenty years of dwelling in the basement (and writing almost twenty books in the same space!) I’ve moved to a place of ‘honor’ on the main floor. Let’s hope I have another twenty years and twenty books left in me! All I need to do now is find some art for the walls and strip and refinish a plant stand for the corner. Team Sheltie is slowly getting used to the new digs.

 

Okay. Get in here.

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Yes, we know you have a manuscript in that cubby that needs revising . . .january 152016 053

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But you need to get to the fresh writing first . . .january 152016 056

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And no sitting down on the job. Get on that treadmill and start producing. We’re ready for a nap. january 152016 061

My July Reads

peaches 001We’ve had a stellar peach crop this year. The fruits are so thick on our tree they’re crowding each other out. We’ve had to thin the crop to allow some of the fruit to ripen. I’m facing a similar problem with One Good Deed, the YA I recently finished. I have lots of good stuff on the page. But too much of a good thing is, well, too much. The words are so thick in places they’re crowding out clarity. I need to do some thinning there too.

In the kitchen, the peaches are being cut for the freezer so we can enjoy them in smoothies and fruit cups all winter. In the office, One Good Deed is being cut and shaped so readers can hopefully enjoy the story down the road too. And when I get a chance to take a breath, I pick up a book. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

At the gym:  What Came Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas

Beside the pond: The Sound of Glass by Karen White

Before bed: The Hand on the Mirror by Janis Heaphy Durham

 

Books Read to date in 2015: 46