Sunday, April 26, 2015

When One Change Makes All the Difference

Well, hi there! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I come bearing something preeeeetty awesome.

It's a real, live book! And I wrote it!

I really, really love this book. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. You know how writers often refer to stories as “books of their heart”? That’s what PLAY ON is for me. But a lot of work has gone into this little book over the past two years, from its original draft to the final product. And that's what we're going to talk about today.

Take a look at this picture:

Never mind the Lego photobombs. Those Post-It tabs? After a year's worth of editing, those are the only scenes left over from the original draft. In case you can't tell, that's 13 scenes. Out of, um, a lot.

I’ve written before about whether we want our stories to be good enough, or great, and this is kind of a continuation of that post. I’d say that most of the time, our first drafts are anything but great. There are some people who write AMAZING first drafts (and those people clearly have the favor of the writing gods), but for the most part, our work can be improved.

While I was waiting for my first edit letter after selling PLAY ON, my editor called me and asked, “How do you feel about cutting (insert major character here)?” My initial reaction, to be quite honest:

She explained her reasoning (which made complete and total sense), and after sleeping on it, I agreed, even though it meant essentially rewriting the story. Because, as I quickly learned, sometimes we have to part with beloved characters/scenes/subplots to really bring out the heart of a story.

She saw PLAY ON not for what it already was, but for what it could be. And that’s why having outside eyes on our work is SO important. We become so close to our stories that we often can’t see something that may be keeping it from reaching its full potential.

So. Let’s say that someone—a CP, a beta reader, or even you—suggests that a major change needs to happen to make your story better. Maybe a character needs to go. Maybe it’s a chapter. Maybe you need to open a blank doc and get to re-writing (points to above picture). Here are a few things to keep in mind:

- Be open to change.

- Think about what really matters in your story.

-  Decide where you want your characters to go, and how you want them to get there.

- Don’t be afraid of the delete button. (And if you are afraid, create a separate doc to place all your scraps in.)

I know how difficult it is to even consider a change that may mean more work, but when you end up with a story that you're so incredibly proud of? It's worth it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Author Interview: Michelle Smith

Visit author Michelle Smith's website.

We are so thrilled and honored to feature writer, critique group member, mental health advocate, and all-around awesome human,  Michelle Smith.  

Michelle’s debut novel YA novel, PLAY ON, is now available as an e-book and will be out in print on April 21st. 

First, an intro to PLAY ON

In the small town of Lewis Creek, baseball is everything. Especially for all-star pitcher Austin Braxton, who has a one-way ticket out of town with his scholarship to a top university. All that stands between him and a new start is one final season. But when Austin starts flunking Chemistry, his picture-perfect future is in jeopardy. A failing grade means zero playing time, and zero playing time means no scholarship.

Enter Marisa Marlowe, the new girl in town who gets a job at his momma’s flower shop. Not only is Marisa some home-schooled super-genius, she’s also a baseball fanatic and more than willing to help Austin study. As the two grow closer, there’s something about Marisa that makes Austin want more than just baseball and out of Lewis Creek–he wants a future with her. But Marisa has a past that still haunts her, one that she ran all the way to South Carolina to escape.

As Austin starts to peel back the layers of Marisa s pain, it forces him to look beyond the facade of himself and everyone he thought he knew in his town. What he sees instead is that in a small town like Lewis Creek, maybe baseball isn’t everything–maybe it is just the thing that ties them all together.

RW: We have so many questions for you! But, we also know you are crazy busy with your release day (!!!) so we’ll try to keep it together. Let’s talk about your debut! You’ve mentioned PLAY ON is the book of your heart. Could you share what makes this story so dear to you?

MS: I think because it comes from such a personal place. It probably sounds cheesy, but so much of my heart and soul went into those pages. There are thoughts that I never thought I should share—thoughts that I didn’t know I could share. The idea for this book was in the works for a long time, until I finally worked up the nerve to start writing it. And I’m really glad I did! 

RW: I think many writers feel a sense of vulnerability putting their words out into the world. Not only have you jumped that hurdle, you’ve gone a leap further and opened up about yourself, authoring posts for outstanding sites like To Write Love on Her Arms and, don’t bleed. breathe. Can you tell us about the decision to share your personal experiences? 

MS: The primary reason is so others will realize that they’re not alone. 

When I was going through the thick of depression, I was convinced that no one could possibly understand what my head was doing. That I was broken, that I was scarred, that I was beyond reaching. That there was no possibility for this to go anywhere but down. Depression is a very convincing liar, and it’s easy to believe those lies. So I want others to know that, while depression is so very dark and painful, there is hope, and the darkness doesn’t last forever. 

RW: As critique partner, we’re all constantly amazed by your voice.  Your characters always ring true, so vivid and memorable. Can you share a little about your character development process? Character sketches? Channeling spirits? How do you do it?! 

MS: Good gracious, I adore you guys.

I just…write people? Haha! My stories are always characters first, and I love to dive into their heads, to feel what they’re feeling, to say what they’re thinking. I will say that some characters are a little more difficult to connect with at first. In my most recent WIP, I was called out for boxing myself and my characters in, which was completely justified (I kind of realized I was doing it while writing). So my editor sent me a character development worksheet that was 8 pages long (I am not even kidding), and I just went to work. I was able to dig into them a little deeper, and it helped immensely. 

RW: We’ve got a great thing going here at RW: a blogging platform with a built-in critique group (often times support group!). But joining a critique group can be a daunting endeavor. Can you share what made you decide to reach out to the writing community?

MS: My first experience ever working with a beta reader was back in my fan fiction days. She nitpicked my grammar, let me know when my characters were being waaaaay too unrealistic, and told me when I could do so much more with a story when I tried to play it safe.

I loved her for it. And five years later, she’s still one of my closest friends. She’s also the one who talked me into writing my first book.

Critique makes you a better writer—it’s really that simple. Yes, critique can be difficult to handle in the beginning, especially if you have paper-thin skin, but it’s a necessity. Sometimes we nail a scene. Sometimes our chapters need work. And sometimes our entire book need a re-write. As writers, we often get too close to a story, and we’re unable to see the things that just aren’t working. Outside eyes help. 

All that said, it is important to find a critique group that matches your style—some readers are brutally honest, and some are more gentle guiders. The one necessity is that you find a group that’s honest. We absolutely need cheerleaders; we also need people who’ll give it to us straight, and won’t let us get away with anything less than our best.

Needless to say, I’m so happy I found you guys. 

RW: Can you share any deets about upcoming projects?

MS: Very, very little deets at this time. But I will say that we haven’t seen the last of Lewis Creek and its baseball boys. ;)

RW: More from Lewis Creek? YES! Okay, final question—and this is incredibly important—what is it that makes Dean Winchester so damn compelling?  *pause for moment of reflective sighing*

MS: *cracks knuckles* Now you’re speaking my language.

We have pie.

We have the Impala.

We have his love for Sam…

And Castiel.

We have the heartbreaking moments.

And we have general badassery. 

All that to say:

RW: You’re the best Michelle!!! 

MS: YOU are. 

About Michelle:

Michelle Smith was born and raised in North Carolina, where she developed a healthy appreciation for college football, sweet tea, front porches, and a well-placed “y’all.” She’s a lover of all things happy, laughs way too much, and fully believes that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.
Michelle lives near the Carolina coast with her family.

Connect with Michelle:   Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Impact of a Mentor

In the Creative Arts, having an amazing mentor can make all the difference in the world. Whether it be writing, dance, graphic design, film production, or music. The greatest mentors are on call twenty-four seven. They return text messages in the middle of the night, provide a guiding hand over the years to help us make the wisest decisions, and have a passion for their art that touches us in such a way, that we can only hope to one day pass that same gift onto someone else.

In my first official year of full-time writing, I was lucky to have my work critiqued by an amazing author who recognized something special in my words. She gave me the confidence to follow my heart and share my stories with others.  I can only dream where I might be today if my path had crossed with hers or another who took an interest in my words when I was younger. So you can image how thrilled I was when my eldest son, Zakaria, met his mentor early in life.

I am fortunate to have the Osceola County School of the Arts  in my county and was ecstatic when Zakaria got accepted into their program. It's renowned for its excellence in academics and for nourishing the creative arts. The only worry I had is that my then sixth grader would be attending the same school as juniors and seniors. I quickly found out how foolish I was for being concerned. Anytime I was at the school, these students were by far the nicest group of kids I'd run into. So when Zakaria asked to take guitar lessons from an older student, I agreed. But never did I foresee the transformation that was to follow. 

Over the next few months, my son went from listening to Top 40 Pop to American Jazz Greats like Charlie Parker, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Christian, and Louis Armstrong. He'd shed morning, noon, and night. You see he'd met his mentor, James Zito, and a new life path--one that without James he probably would never have taken--was formed. 

Zakaria and James playing downtown

When I first watched James play, I immediately understood why my son fell in love with jazz. His mentor didn't just play the guitar, he became an extension of it. Think spontaneous conviction spurred by passion, channeled through self-expression and then translated into music. Yep, that about describes James' playing. My son was very lucky to find such a talented teacher, but was blessed when that teacher became his mentor.

James' talent has not went unrecognized. Recently, he was accepted into the Manhattan School of Music. A premier international conservatory, this college is only for the highly talented. Check out the GoFundMe link to learn more about James and to hear him play. Even if you are unable to donate, please RT on Twitter and spread the word. You never know whose path that tweet might cross.

Monday, April 6, 2015

How to LOVE critiques

First things first -- I LOVE my critique partners. They are awesomeness incarnate. They trudge through my WIPs with smiley faces, great suggestions, and most of all with a red pen!

SO if you're struggling to understand someone's red ink or comments, here's how I learned to appreciate critiques.

1. Realize you are receiving someone else's opinion.

A great quote to go along with that -- "No two persons ever read the same book." ~ Edmond Wilson. This might seem difficult, but really, it isn't. Take everything with a grain of salt or sugar! You are not required to follow everyone's advice. The story you're writing is, above all else, yours! That said, if three CPs say the same thing, it might need changing. :)

2. If you don't understand a comment, ask!

Don't be shy to chat with your CPs. They want to explain their suggestions, I promise. If something is making you scratch your head, send an email or call them up. Or if you're in a group with time limitations, ask if you can talk to them after all the critiques are finished.

3. Take a deep breath and realize you don't know everything.

This goes for everyone! Even if you've written three thousand books, you can still learn something new. Humility wins out over pride every time. Take a break from your WIP, whether it be a nap or a good night's sleep (or a month or two!) and look at it with fresh eyes. Then you might see what others are saying.

4. Be willing to revise. Or not...

I think all writers understand that we can revise and rewrite a story to death. And sometimes over-revising kills voice and originality.

5. Say, "Thank you!"

With or without the exclamation point. :) Saying thanks is not only good for you, but lets your CPs know that you truly appreciate the time they spent reading and critiquing your words.

6. Pay it forward.

Do your best when critiquing the words of others. And remember to sandwich! Compliment-> sage advice-> smiley face.

As always, thanks for reading! We love hearing from you! Share your wonderful ideas on critique partners or horror stories. :)