Friday, January 22, 2010

My Process, Part II: Writing

I am a HUGE procrastinator. Truly. Especially when I'm about to start something new. (Once I get going on something it's not hard to keep the momentum flowing, but beginning a story, illustration, sewing project, is difficult for me.) I have two ways of jump-starting myself. One way is to get up at 6:ooam and just walk straight to the computer and start. The other is to have 15 minutes left in my work time (usually before I have to pick Magoo up from school) and just try to write one or two sentences. Then I've started. I've taken the first step and I have something to revise, which is like stretching to me - a good way to warm-up. Do a little revision and then the mind takes off.

I tend to keep the revisions light during the first draft because my real goal is to finish. I aim for a word count of 700-1000, so if I finish the first draft and I have 900 words, I'm good. There's room to add, and I'll most likely trim a bunch too.

I usually go through one or two additional revisions on a story before I send it to my critique group, The LitWits. If I'm ever asked to give a tip on getting published, I tell people to join a good critique group! Having people who's opinions your respect is crucial. There have been many times when I've thought I was submitting a good piece of writing, when these lovely ladies have pointed out numerous holes or offered excellent suggestions. My writing is more creative and solid thanks to them. I am lucky to have others who offer feedback too. My husband is good about helping me find places for humor and my mother-in-law is a writer so she always gives helpful feedback.

When I'm about 4-7 drafts in, I'll start to lay the book out and do thumbnail sketches. Starting the rough art at this point helps me pace the story and eliminate the areas that are over-written.

When I'm happy with the story in this incarnation, it can usually go to either my editor at Viking or my agent. They'll either have notes and I proceed, or they don't see a future for it and the project may die at this point. (R.I.P. Old Man Murphy and His Bathtub Boats.) Sometimes I get notes and work on a story for another 4 - 6 months before it dies a slow, agonizing death.

Sometimes a story develops and develops and develops and then you look at it and it's like, "What the heck is this even about anyway?" Sometimes it develops beyond the fun of the initial idea and ends up over-written and message-y. And sometimes my editor sees a different story emerging than the one I want to write.

But sometimes it's awesome and it gets better and better with each notes and idea I add to it.

I read a great article in this month's Writer's Digest by John Smolens that gave the stats for publishable writing. I'm going to paraphrase here but it went something like this:

For every five stories you start, you complete a rough draft of one. For every five completed rough drafts, one can be developed into a finished story. For every five stories you send out to editors, you're lucky if one is accepted for publication. So it's takes working twenty-five stories to make one story that is good enough to read.

That sounds about right.

Tomorrow - Art and The Dummy Book.

PS - Sorry I got your name wrong, Joseph. My husband corrected me and fixed it. Eek.
PPS - I did the math on the little para-quote above and it's true that it's takes 25 ideas to get one readable story, but according to that, it also takes 125 ideas to get one story published. I knew my husband would do the math so I wanted to make sure I worked through it first - but I am correct in what the article says. Of course, the point being, getting published takes a lot of work.


Joseph said...

LOL! No problem with the name. I figured when I commented it would be caught and it's really okay since I'm just happy to be reading such great stuff on your writing process.

I'm working on a YA fantasy/adventure novel myself. I'm 145 pages into my first draft. I already see NUMEROUS places that need work and repair, but, like you said, I'm just trying to get finished first, then I have something to back and work with.

I'm interested in what you said about the story being too "messagey." In the few children's book stories I've tried to develop that was always my downfall. I kept trying to make a point instead of telling a story. I think the tendency is to assume that children's stories are supposed to have a "moral" by default.

Thanks again, this is good stuff.

One last question, does your writer's group have only children's writers or are different types of writers involved?

Buzz de Cafe said...

you could model this as a Markov chain, where for each state in the chain \lambda = 1/5 and \mu = 4/5.


Julie_c said...

Joseph -

I, too, can write a message-y story. I think those come and go as trends and right now the trend is to be 9 parts entertainment and 1 part moral.

And yes, my writer's group only has children's writers, but that includes YA. If you haven't yet, you might want to consider joining SCBWI. That's how I hooked up with my group.

Buzz - you're funny.

cynjay said...

Every time you scrap a story and I've seen the amazing art drafts, a tiny part of me dies inside.
-your fellow LitWIt

Julie_c said...

But I still have the art Cynthia! The art didn't die!

Natalie said...

Julie's art is amazing. And may I add that having an author/illustrator in the critique group has been incredibly helpful. Julie is great about telling us to scrap a line of text because the illustrations would show the same thing. We love Julie. :-)
Another grateful Lit Wit

Julie_c said...