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I write novels for teens and adults. Visit me here & on my website http://www.jenniferarcher.net

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writing Class Wednesday: There Is No Right or Wrong Way to Write!

Yesterday I had my first official meeting with my new intern/mentee. Allison is a high school senior who contacted me to be her mentor through the PRO Program at her school. As a PRO student, she had to find a mentor or mentors that work in the profession she's considering pursuing, and meet with them each week. My fab intern last year, Summer, also came to me through PRO. I'm excited to get to know Allison over the months ahead and to talk to her about the writing profession. I can already tell that she's a smart young woman and eager to talk about books and the craft of wiriting and the crazy publishing world. I have a feeling I'll end up learning as much from her as she does from me, as was the case with Summer!

I thought it might be fun to blog once a week about the writing topics Allison and I discuss since I'm pretty sure some of you who visit my blog are studying and practicing writing with the hopes of not only improving and learning the craft, but also of getting published. Let me say first, however, that I am by no means an expert on this subject! Even after publishing many books, I often continue to feel as if I'm swimming blindly through the murky waters of the writing/publishing world. Occasionally, though, the waters have cleared to allow me a glimpse of insight. So that's what I'll share with you here each Wednesday -- those snippets of information I've learned along the way that have been helpful and/or enlightening to me. 

Yesterday, Allison and I discussed this Rumer Godden quote:

"No one else can teach a writer how to write or how to use imagination; only life and experience can teach that, but he or she can and should be taught technique.” 

I don't know who Rumer Godden is, but I agree with him (her?) wholeheartedly. No one can teach us how to write, and by the same token, there is no right or wrong way to write. However, there are techniques we can learn, and then decide which among them work for us. The techniques that work for me might not work for you, and vice versa. So the key, I think, is to try many different approaches until you find the one(s) that is right for you, then adopt it as your own by applying it to your writing process. 

Don't believe any teacher or published writer, no matter how successful he or she might be, if they say that you must approach your writing in a particular way. For instance, I've read and heard numerous times that the "best way" to write the first draft of a novel is to vomit it onto the page (excuse that gross analogy!) In other words, write it really fast without doing any revising along the way. Apparently, this is the preferred method for the majority of published novelists. But I’ve tried it, and while it might very well be be best for the majority, it’s not the best method for me. I feel overwhelmed with the mess I have on my hands when I reach the end. Through trial and error, I’ve learned that a "three steps forward, one step back" approach works better for me when tackling the first draft. By this I mean that I write my pages for the day without revising, and then the next writing day, I lightly revise the previous day's work before moving on to new writing. Repeating that process each day, I work my way through the story, and when I reach the end, I have a slightly more polished “rough” draft of my manuscript than I would if I used the "vomit" method. And I don’t feel quite so overwhelmed when working on draft two.

The danger inherit in my method of writing a first draft is that you can get stuck in the reworking of the early part of a book and never push forward. If you try it and find that this is the case with you -- that you can't seem to say to yourself, okay that's enough, and move on -- then you might be in that majority that is better off writing the first draft quickly without stopping to revise. I know a lot of writers who have started several novels and never finished them because they've gotten stuck in the revising stage during the early chapters of the book. Frustrated, they gave up and started something new. Again and again. For whatever reason, I've been able to avoid that trap. I allow myself a certain amount of time to revise each day, and then I know it's time to write new material. And I do.

Trying different writing exercises to jog your creativity or help you work out a problem in your story is also beneficial. For example, I use what I refer to as "freewriting" to accomplish both of these things. Using a pen and paper rather than the computer, I write without stopping for a set amount of time -- say fifteen minutes -- about whatever has me stumped. The key is to not stop, to keep your hand moving by writing down whatever is going through your mind. If I suddenly can't think of anything to say, that's what I write down . . .  I can't think of anything to say, my mind is blank. What's up with that? I'm hungry. I don't want to do this. I'm braindead. I'm a dufus, whatever made me think I could write, I'm a hack, etc. etc.. . . until finally my mind clicks in again on the topic at hand. This is stream of consciousness writing, and inevitably it leads to an answer to my question about the story or brings up new ideas. However, some people are more visually inclined and prefer an exercise I call "clustering" that tends to achieve the same results for them. This process is sometimes referred to as "mind-mapping." You draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper or on a marker board, write your problem or issue or idea in the circle and then, quickly, draw lines off that circle, and on the lines write whatever words or thoughts pop into your head. Google 'mind-mapping' and 'clustering' and you will likely find a better explanation of this exercise and its benefits than I have to offer. I've tried it, but it's not for me. I get far better results from freewriting.

How about you? Have you found your best method for writing a rough draft, and exercises that help you get unstuck or come up with a new idea? Perhaps something different than I've mentioned? I'd like to hear what works for you, so share! Or if you're still looking and haven't tried the things I've mentioned in this post, why don't you, then let me know what you think.



Saturday, November 06, 2010

Mirror Image

I took this photograph last month at a lake nearby our cabin in Colorado. I miss October already!

On another note -- THROUGH HER EYES has scored another early review! This one comes from Khelsea over at Once Upon a Review. It's a mini-review, meaning that she'll do a more complete review closer to the release date of the book. (Scroll down past the book "blurb" to where it says "My Thoughts"). She rated it 5 flowers -- according to the ranking chart on the blog means "Oh Em Gee! Can I marry a book?!"

Why, thank you, Khelsea . . . My book is blushing and so am I. :-)

Friday, November 05, 2010

One Smart Fellow

This is going to be a very undignified post. What can I say? Sometimes harmless silliness is a necessity. I approve of silliness. It's fun, and that's a good thing. A laugh a day chases the blues away. Several laughs work even better. I could use a few laughs, so let's get silly. Share your favorite tongue-twister with me and I'll share mine. 
Here it is, as taught to me by my youngest son when he was about ten. Read it aloud, three times, quickly. Memorize. Repeat from memory whenever life gets too serious. 

One smart fellow
he felt smart.
Two smart fellows,
they felt smart.
Three smart fellows,
they all felt smart. 

I hope you're laughing.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Gotta Love Those Stars

Google Alerts just notified me of this early review of THROUGH HER EYES up on Goodreads. 5 stars! Woot!  And speaking of five -- 5  months left until my book's release date . . . April seems a very long time away . . . 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Where, Oh Where Have the Ghoulies Gone?

Here I sit on Halloween night with my porch light on and a huge bowl of goodies by the door and nary a knock have I heard. This makes me sad for the following reasons:

1. I fear parents have concluded that trick-or-treating has become too risky. It's a sad day when it's dangerous to trick or treat around the neighborhood.
2. I remember how much fun I had and that my kids had trick-or-treating, and I hate for this new generation of kids to miss out on that experience.
3. I miss seeing all the children in costumes and hearing them call out "Trick or Treat!"
4. As I said, I have a giant bowl of candy, and if I don't give it away, I will be forced to eat it myself.

If you're in the mood for a dark tale on this Halloween night, hop on over to the Once Upon A Review blog and read the YA Spooktacular:Tales From the Grave stories DARKNESS and MY SOUL TO BARE. Two fabulously creative bloggers named Danielle and Khelsea came up with the idea for the YA Spooktacular event -- two serial/chain stories written in installments by different authors on different blogs. (I wrote the 5th installment of DARKNESS). It's fun to follow the stories and watch how each author took what was written before and put their own unique twist on it. I was honored to be asked to participate!

Have a safe and fun Halloween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Perfect Movies for Halloween

I love spooky movies. Not the slash and dash kind; I’m not a big Friday the 13th or Saw fan, for instance. I like my chills with a ripple of psychological suspense. The Mothman Prophecies, Identity and The Sixth Sense are three of my all-time favorites. They don’t just terrify the audience, they make us think and question and try to figure out what’s going on. The music in these movies really add to the eerie atmosphere, as well. I listened to the sound tracks of  The Mothman Prophecies and Identity while writing Through Her Eyes. Music can really set a mood.

Over the weekend, I saw two new movies at the theater – Catfish and Hereafter. They weren’t really scary, but definitely had a creepy feel. Catfish involves social networking and it was interesting, but I kept waiting for the big, shocking revelation at the end that the commercials and reviews promised and it never really materialized. Hereafter, which was directed by the brilliant Clint Eastwood, was a lovely movie in many ways, but very slow and without a lot of plot. Thought-provoking, but not about anything most of us haven’t pondered many times before. Matt Damon is always great, though, and his performance didn’t disappoint this time, either.    

If you like creepy movies and you haven't seen The Mothman Prophecies, Identity or The Sixth Sense, I recommend them. I also recommend Hereafter and Catfish, as long as you don't go into them expecting fast-paced thrills and surprising revelations.

What are your favorite eerie movies? I need some new ones to add to my list!

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Angel Reading

It’s October – my favorite month. I love the crisp, cool air. I love the gypsy-skirt colors of the leaves on the trees. I love pumpkin patches and Halloween. As a matter-of-fact, Halloween is my favorite holiday. Candy and Jack-o-lanterns and kids in costumes; what could be better?

In honor of October and Halloween I’m going to blog this month about all things Autumn, including ghosts and ghouls and other mystical beings. I’ve written a few stories with paranormal elements in the course of my writing career; I love me some creepy books and movies and such; but I must admit that I’m an open-minded skeptic when it comes to such things in “real life.” Which brings me to angels. I’m an open-minded skeptic about saintly beings, too. I don’t have much of a religious background, and I question everything. Every. Thing. Which explains why, not so long ago, I was a close-minded skeptic.

However, that was before I had an angel-reading. Yes, that’s right; an angel-reading. A couple of years ago, I was working on a story that I’ve had to set aside to write other contracted books, and I needed to research clairvoyants. So I called a local psychic I’d heard about. (I’ll call her Drusilla because, well, it sounds worthy of a mystic, right?)

Drusilla told me she does “angel readings.” She believes everyone has at least one guardian angel and she attempts to make contact with them. To her credit, she told me ahead of time that if my angel wasn’t forthcoming, she would not be able to tell me anything. Also to her credit, Drusilla charged nothing. I could pay her whatever amount I chose to pay, or nothing at all.

Drusilla came to my house one afternoon. She is a pretty, middle-aged woman. We sat at my kitchen table and chatted for about 20 minutes about the weather, our children, and other generic things. Then she asked if I was ready for my reading, and I said ‘yes.’ I wasn’t nervous – this was strictly for research purposed, mind you. I didn’t believe in this “nonsense,” although I respected her right to believe. Drusilla trained her gaze over my shoulder and told me I had one angel and two muses. Then she proceeded to tell me a series of things that turned me from a close-minded skeptic into an open-minded one. Here are just a few things she said that had me slapping a hand across my mouth and muttering, “Oh. My. God.”

1. “You’ve been having trouble with your left foot, but if you’ll see a doctor, it can be taken care of.” (True and true. I have a neuroma in my left foot. I don’t limp, so there is no way she could’ve known this. I have since seen a doctor and I’m going to have surgery to “fix” it.)

2. “I’m being told that you’ll be going on a trip soon, somewhere north where it’s cold. Possibly Boston, but I’m not getting a clear message as to the exact place. The trip will lead to an offer. You will have to decide if you want to go through with it or go a different direction.” (True and true. My publisher at the time was sending me to Toronto for a presentation. While there, I found out about a new line of Young Adult fiction they were starting. That led to me pulling out a young adult manuscript I had worked on in the past and set aside. I reworked it, my agent submitted it to them, and they made an offer on it. However, my agent sent it to other publishers, too. I had a second offer, and I had to decide which one to take.)

3. “I see you surrounded by houses. Old houses. Several. I don’t know what this means, but they seem to be an integral part of your life.” (True. My husband and I own several rental properties. All of the houses we own are old.)

4. “I am getting that you are working on a book that involves history. Someone who has passed on in your life knows that you are interested in using some of his family stories, and he wants you to know that he would be tickled if you would use them.” (WOW. I was working on a novel that I hope to return to some day. It involved the dust bowl. I had been looking for a book I had misplaced that a member of my husband’s family had put together. It includes many family stories, including my father-in-law’s family stories about their experiences during the dust bowl. I had not been able to locate my copy of the book. My father-in-law had “passed on.” He often used the word “tickled” when he was alive. I have since found his family’s book. )

There were many more statements made by the clairvoyant that were so on target, I couldn’t explain them away. So, I ask you, have you ever experienced anything like this that you couldn’t explain?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering September 11, 2001

On this 9th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001, I find this beautiful poem "The Names" by American poet Billy Collins to be very poignant. Read the poem on his website here and remember.

From 2001 to 2003, Billy Collins was the appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. 

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Football First Downs? I Call "Foul!"

Fall is in the air and once again football season is upon us. In Texas, where I live, the game is a very big deal. I spent all of middle school and my first year of high school in a small Texas town similar in many ways to the fictional town of Cedar Canyon in my novel, THROUGH HER EYES. Friday nights in autumn were all about football. After dinner, my family and most of the other families in town, headed toward the hallowed light and pulsing drumbeat of the high school football stadium. Weekends at home often revolved around football, as well. If a game was on television, my dad was on the couch watching it – especially if the Dallas Cowboys were playing.

Since football was as much a part of my childhood as books, pop music, and mystery meat in the school cafeteria, I guess I should be ashamed of myself when I make the following confession:

I don’t ‘get’ it.

It’s true! I don’t understand the game of football! And I’m not ashamed, because it’s not my fault. It’s taken me a lot of years to forgive myself for having such a mental block about my State’s most revered pastime. The revelation that I’m not the one who’s confused took place while my brother was trying – YET AGAIN – to explain to me the rules of the game. It’s the terminology that’s off. Football lingo makes no sense. I’m a writer – a lover of words. I take their meaning literally. So, I ask you: How can there be multiple “FIRST downs?”

Here’s a definition of the word ‘first’ that I found here: “preceding all others in time or space or degree . . .

The kiss following your very first one is your second kiss, and the one after that is your third, and so on. We can only have one first love, first job, first house, first glance at our first child. These firsts “precede all others” that follow. Thus is the basis for my argument that in the game of football, the “down” following the first one must be the “second down” and the next one, the “third down,” and so it goes.

My brother, my dad, my husband, and my sons have stopped trying to explain to me why multiple firsts in football make sense. Their smug silence and raised brows tell me they think I’m the one with the problem, but I disagree. They can’t make sense of it, because it makes no sense. A “first” occurs, then it’s over. Been there, done that, as the old saying goes. Obviously, the person who invented football had no grasp of language.

(P.S. If you can accomplish what no other person has been able to do -- make sense of first downs in my mind -- I'll not only admit the error of my thinking, I'll put your name in a drawing for a free autographed early copy of THROUGH HER EYES. (And the men in my family will thank you and be in awe of you and sing your praises). Post your words of wisdom in the Comments section. Deadline: October 1.)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Don't Faint

Scared you, I bet. Didn’t mean to sneak up on you. Yes, I understand this post is unexpected as I’ve been away, well . . . FOREVER. (Actually since November, 2009.) As I reread my last post, I see that my publisher and I had just confirmed THROUGH HER EYES as the new title of my debut YA novel. Since then, some amazing things have happened in my writing life:

(1) I have a release date! April 5, 2011. That seems like such a long time away, but I have a feeling it will be here before I know what hit me.
(2) I have a cover. A GORGEOUS cover. I think I spent an entire morning staring at it the first time I saw it. What do you think?
(3) I received a big box of ARCS!! (Advanced reading copies.) And soon after they arrived, I started getting requests from many teen bloggers asking if I would send them an ARC of THROUGH HER EYES so that they could review the book. Wow. There are some fantastic teen book blogs out there. How could I refuse? The truth is, I’m thrilled they asked. Now my big box is almost empty!

(4) My website has undergone a makeover. Nothing drastic, just spruced up a bit. It even contains a link to a mini book trailer of THROUGH HER EYES that was made by my friend Emily Greaser, a mega-talented young graphic and motion design artist. Go take a look and let me know what you think. I really love it.
(5) I finished the rough draft of my next book for teens. The title is THE SHADOW GIRL, but of course that’s subject to change. I’m currently rewriting like crazy to get the draft in shape to send to my editor so she can read it and work her magic. But I must admit I’m pretty excited about this story, even though it’s caused me no small amount of frustration at times. There's a good chance I might be bald from tearing my hair out by the time it’s finished, but I *think* (hope!) it’s going to live up to my expectations. Or at the very least, it won't completely suck. ;-)

So, that’s what’s been going on with moi for the past 9 or so months. I’m going to make a real effort to post regularly from this day forward. Yeah, I know; you’ve heard that from me before…