I realized I don’t talk about my work in progress much, at least not with people who don’t have a reason to care. One of the groups I admin did the #WIPjoy tag a while back, and I thought it was pretty fun! It is a good exercise in getting us to think about our work and communicate what it means to us.
#1 INTRODUCE YOUR WIP…
Fodder for Pigs is a historical Fiction/Thriller set in 1850s Alabama and Georgia. This is my attempt at a blurb as of right now. It will change like fifty more times, guaranteed.
Blood don’t wash off yo’ shirt; it sho’ as hell don’t wash off yo’ soul.
Learn a new language as research? Crazy lady! I decided to learn Tsalagi/Cherokee over the next five years. Logical, since I have [almost] nobody with whom to speak this new language? No! But I have found a way to work it in and have about a week left of syllabary learning. Then it is on to the language basics.
I want to make a believable and respectful representation of people in my novel’s time period
By the late 1820’s, after George Guess (or George Gist/Sequoya) developed the Cherokee Syllabary, most of the Nation read and wrote this language. It was important to read the news and communicate at that time. Laws and treaties were being made without them being able to verify any information. At least with this written language, they could have something with which to create and preserve their own government.
I have some Cherokee characters in Fodder for Pigs, but most are only half Native. Given the time period and circumstances, they experience a rapid loss in culture and language. What that means for me is that I need to explore what this loss entails and how to present it accurately and with respect. History books are not enough. The internet is not enough. Cherokee/English dictionaries will have me using any one of seven words for the same object, and I know I am in deep you-know-what if I choose the wrong one.
Language is the way into the culture, forgotten or otherwise
I am encountering countless things every day that enrich my characters and plot.
I realized while researching words, meanings, traditions, etc. that some concepts in English do not exist in other languages. Take for example, “goodbye.” English uses this often. “Goodbye” for early Cherokee was too final. They would rather have said the equivalent of “be strong” or “I will see you later.”
Another example is Aniyvwiya, or the Real People/Principal People. This is how the people used to refer to themselves. Since the nation was matrilineal, only people with Cherokee mothers were Aniyvwiya. If I had not dived right into the language, I would have used it incorrectly. Half of my characters do not have Cherokee mothers.
Even though the old culture was fairly documented by both English and Cherokee speakers, there are few ways to accurately experience it halfway across the country in the 21st century. In this case, the internet, library, and databases have been beneficial to connect with material and native speakers involved in history. Not every Native American knows exactly what happened 150 years ago. Do I know what happened 150 years ago in Hungary? Nope!
So far I have learned enough to make significant changes in my Book One narrative, family dynamics being the most changed. David and Sarah are part of a broken and blended family and they live their early years on the fringes of a dying culture. Having a white mother means more than being a little confused. Since bloodlines were carried through mothers, they had no clan membership. No clan membership means no protection, at least not the depth they will need.
Languages are disappearing
Very few people speak the dialect I am learning, and yes, maybe I will have to learn another to actually talk with people, but it is better than it dying out. A dialect of this language has already died.
If you asked me a year or two ago if I wanted to write microfiction, I would have Googled it and said: “no, I’m working on my novel.” This would be a mistake. A new novel writer ought to have a collection of short stuff or risk being completely unknown in front of the “jury” when his or her manuscript is in the publisher’s slush pile (or new to the bookstore). Not having other works is one of the seven new writer’s mistakes.
A competition came up in one of the writing groups I am in and I decided to try it. We all submitted three, eight sentence pieces in response to writing prompts and voted to determine a winning piece. There were so many good pieces of writing and I’m going to follow all those wonderful authors!
I am honored to have been a finalist and amazed at having made the winning piece. This had me walking on clouds the past week or two and I am feeling more confident in how my writing has progressed. My instinct is to downplay it and call it a silly little piece of fiction, but maybe it’s time to just put it out there.
Prompt: Graves of historical figures are being robbed
Tall Socks: a Microfiction
“Abraham, you promised you would consider stopping this habit,” she floated up and placed her ghostly white hands on the gravestone in front of her.
“My dear Mary, I said I would ‘consider’ stopping, which is still not a lie. Besides, this old man doesn’t need tall socks and I do.” Abe stretched out his leg and showed Mary Todd the chilled space between his own trousers and socks.
“You don’t need socks, you’re dead! Leave Robert E. Lee alone and come back into the mist.”
Abe looked around at the series of mutilated graves and sighed. “I finally found tall socks, Mary, and I’m going to use them; if he wants them back he can start another war.”
There you have it: a nice distraction from my editing! I enjoyed this creative challenge and I’ll be looking for more opportunities this year. There are many groups and resources. I should update my list of writing communities as well! Onward ho!
“Show me your socks”
You’ve got to check out the other winning contestants. They did such a great job! I will post links to their blog here as soon as I get permission.
Here is a great piece from Glass Heart. You should really like her page, just saying:
I’ve been absent. My little green couch, perfect for me to spread out with my laptop and type-type away, has me like a magnet. Doing what? Learning how to use Scrivener and pining over my third self-edit (fourth draft!). I even gained five pounds. The good news is that while on this editing and procrastinating spree, I started using #manuscriptmondays on my Instagram and have reached 200 likes on Facebook. YAY!
Self-editing takes so looooong but it’s worth it
ProWriting Aid tries to help. I suppose I should put Bandaids over my juicy paper cuts.
After addressing character strengths and weaknesses, plot challenges, chapter and paragraph level tension, cutting the fluff, etc., I took my draft to ProWriting Aid 500 words at a time. I should probably pay for the service so I can paste the whole thing in, but I prefer to torture myself. During this process, I learned so much about the way I use words and I highly suggest using this editing tool and the other ones from that blog post.
Not every suggestion is a good idea. Take, for example, the suggestion above. ProWriting Aid has little mistakes and so does Grammarly. They can only do so much with their programming. “Juice” is not a good substitute for “blood.”
Why join a writing community? Support, encouragement, connecting with readers and fellow writers, and learning are my top reasons. When I first started writing I thought it would be fun and something I could do alone. Nope. Well, it was fun, but I’d isolated myself and therefore stunted my growth as a writer. I didn’t know where to look for people to read my work and had to wade through the endless Google searches and decipher who meant business and who didn’t. The persistent question of “who on earth will read my book and how do I find that person?” weighed on my mind. After I found people to read the darn thing, I found myself asking “how do I overcome these problems I didn’t know I had?”
In order to learn and be encouraged in our writing journey, we have to surround ourselves with people who are interested in the same things. There will be a few people who are discouraging, but that is the risk we take when we exist in this world. The fear that somebody might steal an idea is usually a concern for newbies. Just be judicious about how you share your work. When you do find somebody to share with, there are a few things you should know about the process. Read some of them here.
I wish somebody had handed me a list of writer communities when I first started, so here is a list of places I’ve discovered and a few I want to research before hoping in head first.
I know, I know. If we read books about writing it takes time away from actually doing our favorite thing—writing! Some folks say “just write and you will get better”. Well, no. If we just write with no foundation, we write crap. I know because I did it, and I thought my crap was fantastic. Thankfully my writing has improved by leaps and bounds. The secret? Reading books about writing and then actually putting what I learned into practice.
If you are reading this and just panicked about your draft, don’t worry. Self-editing is part of the writing process, and after reading about writing, it will come more natural.
People also say that reading anything improves writing. It certainly does. Reading leaves an impression on our minds not only about grammar and vocabulary, but about writing styles. Not all styles are timeless. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read for fun. I’m saying we should learn what to take with a grain of salt as we devour books. Hemingway and King can probably get away with a lot more broken rules than can a newbie like me, and some writing styles I grew up with are no longer popular.
Wouldn’t it be great if an experienced person read thousands of novels and shared all the knowledge he or she gleaned?
People do. They write books about it.
Stuck on plot? Not sure if an outline is for you? Can’t seem to make your characters get from point A to point B? Read about writing. It’s faster than trying to decipher 100 successful books.
We can get concentrated knowledge gleaned from years of experience if we read books about writing.
As I finally wrap up my second edit, I have time to read a few of these books before jumping back into more edits and critiques.
Here are some books I’ve found helpful and some I want to read
We often focus on our characters’ weakness. This is fine because everyone has a weakness and that makes them relatable, but what if we focus on their strengths? We get more defined characters. According to psychologist Don Clifton, each strength, when used at the wrong time or inappropriately, can be seen by others as a weakness.
If we can make the over-application of character strengths to work in our writerly favor, we have crafted better characters
Example: Sally has a commanding strength. This is great in tight situations where somebody needs to take charge. People listen to her when the going gets tough. It’s her best strength so it comes natural, and she sometimes uses it when she doesn’t need to. When she tells people what to do in casual situations, they think she is bossy.
Often, a person can have strengths that counteract each other or fight for dominance
The book blurb is one of the most important deciding factors in a book purchase. That’s a lot of pressure. I’m kind of freaking out about it. As I tidy up my second round of beta readers and head into the last editing round, my mind comes back to this and slaps me upside the head.
“Write a better blurb!” My mind is quite blunt.
Here I go then, kicking and screaming to the blurb writing phase. In order to get better, I have to lay out my thoughts here so I can practice writing book blurbs.
I have been self-editing book one and two of my historical fiction thriller, Fodder for Pigs, the entire month of November and then some. Editing is hard work and I appreciate people who do it as a job.
Even though there are professionals out there to help us, it is still essential that we writers learn to self-edit. A polished manuscript gets more constructive attention from alpha readers, beta readers, editors, agents, and publishers. They have to be able to see the story without getting distracted by mistakes we can fix ourselves. Once they see the story, they can focus on the nitty gritty details, if that’s what they are ultimately there to do.
I’ve noticed several things about writing during this process and will list them here in order of completion:
The first draft is crap
No matter how much I thought I polished it (7 times!), the first draft was just a draft and never progressed to second draft status. I got great feedback but more disappointing feedback. This is why one should do developmental edits before reaching out to readers. Continue reading →
This photo is from the Oklahoma Historical Society
I don’t often share themes from my stories but I will say this: they boil my blood, and they show me perseverance.
Today I had to brush up on my John Ross timeline. Can you imagine spending your life and energy in Washington to keep your people in their homes, and coming back to find that your own house has been taken? Given away, actually. Everything you built, every memory, signed away by people not authorized to speak for an entire nation. It is in somebody else’s hands and there is nothing you can do to get it back. None of the 17,000 people who backed your petition are of any consequence.
How did this come to be? Why is this important? WHO IS THIS GUY? If one is not familiar with the Cherokee Nation’s struggle, that person is probably thoroughly confused by now. Here is some background information. The entire story is so much more complex than what I have written here, and I encourage each reader to follow the links at the end of this post and also do more research.