Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Planning, Progress, and Pay-off

I finished the first draft of my current novel "Seeds of Salton" in two years, writing and working at a steady, sometimes-frenzied pace, all while keeping up with my home and part-time day-job. When I finished the last chapter this spring and read through the entire 356 pages I found myself face-to-face with the same question a lot of writers do: How do I turn this draft into a polished manuscript that I can present to agents or editors?

Like many I turned to the Internet to research my options, reading agent blogs and writers websites. I knew first-hand that writers conferences hold a wealth of helpful resources. In 2007 and 2008 I attended the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego, but I lacked the time and money to get to another one this fall. There were numerous editors-for-hire all over the web, but who could I trust?

To start, I turned to a writer friend who recommended editor and author Susanne Lakin in California. I contacted Susanne and we "hit it off" right from the start. I hired her to do a content edit of the manuscript, which she promptly did. She responded with many positive things to say about my writing and the manuscript, which gave me an enormous boost of confidence. In her eight-page critique she outlined my weaknesses in the premise and story arch. More importantly though, she offered suggestions on how to strengthen the manuscript in a way that made sense to me.

In the midst of working with Susanne, I attended "Story Mastery" with Michael Hauge, presented by the Midwest Fiction Writers & Screenwriters of Minnesota right near my home in Minneapolis. Michael's handouts included Key Story Component Breakdowns and a Six-Stage Plot Structure worksheet--exactly what I needed to fine-tune my own plot structure. What hit me even deeper, however, was how he presented the protagonist's character arch through "Identity and Essence" and the tug of war between the two.

Susanne Lakin also suggested I purchase the CD set for a seminar taught by T. Davis Bunn at the Mount Hermon Writer's Conference in 2009, titled "Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level," another wonderful seminar about story arch and character development. By this time everything began to "click" and I had a much clearer understanding of premise, tone, voice, and character development.

And then came the fun part! I did my best to take all these news helps and apply them to my manuscript. These past few weeks I've had a ball putting all that I've learned into action. I've cut pages, tightened paragraphs, and rewritten several scenes like there's no tomorrow. The pay-off is a much improved manuscript and a newly instilled confidence to go with it. I still plan to attend a national writer's conference this winter, but for now I am thankful for the opportunities that have crossed my path without having to leave home.

It's rewarding and uplifting to have people like Susanne, Michael and Davis who are willing to share their expertise with those of us on this journey to publication. Thank you, thank you!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

1st Place - Brainerd Writers Alliance Essay Contest

As all writers know, the journey to publication has so many ups and downs it's like being on a never-ending rollercoaster ride. The struggles, the frustrations, the rejections can turn into a one-way ride down, plunging my unstable rollercoaster car toward the ground. Thankfully those moments don't come along too often, but when they do, they're ugly. I had one of those moments recently and wondered why we must endure these difficult, soul-searching "bumps" that want to literally throw us off the track.

This one lasted a couple days. I did some good soul-searching, dried my eyes, and went back to the computer. Later that day I received a phone call from Gary Midge with the Brainerd Writers Alliance telling me I won first place for my essay, "Under the Shadow of the Tower" in their 2009 writing contest. Wow...a much needed boost! And within minutes of Gary's call, I received an email from an editor in California, filled with wonderful words of encouragement and confidence in my writing...exactly what I needed to keep going.

So here I go with my rollercoaster car upright once again, up the slow and steady climb on the biggest and steepest hill of my journey to publication...clickety, clickety, clickety...working on the revisions of my novel, feeling the sense that something incredible is waiting for me just over the top of that next rise.

Chuck Swindoll once said, "Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal."

Well, today my prayer is to keep my eyes on the goal--rather than the ups and downs of the journey--to obtain an agent and subsequent publication for my novel, Seeds of Salton.

"Raise your faith to trust God when you can't see around that corner," is another good quote from Chuck Swindoll, and most fitting!

Blessings, fellow writers,