Friday Feature: Writing as Courtship – Timothy Savage

When Timothy Savage speaks of Davey’s Savior, his novel about a father and son, it’s with a passion which encourages the reader to pick it up. He uses that same passion in almost everything he does from caring for his own son to detailing the journey of Davy and his father.

I knew when I asked Timothy to write something, he’d present something marvelous…. and so he has.

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Revision as Courtship

courtshipCourtship is romance taken form. It’s where those thoughts and fantasies translate into actions, from the ordinary chocolates and flowers to those thoughtful gestures, everything from a caress of the hand to simple time spent in conversation, all taking place behind a barrier of uncertainty. You spend time with that special someone, you share meals and thoughts and feelings, you enjoy those little tingles that come from being in their presence, but you don’t yet cross into intimacy. Perhaps you’re old-fashioned, or imagine yourself as gentlemanly or ladylike; you save something for later. In any case, you’re not quite at that point of leaping into their arms with wild abandon.

That’s okay. Sometimes saving something for later is a good thing, even as you relish those moments together without quite sharing everything. It’s all driven by a simple truth: Courtship is a time for getting to know each other, and to be blunt, for sizing each other up.

In a long-term romance meant to last, you need to see them — and they need to see you — exactly as you both are. You need to see them happy, angry, confounded, upset, blissful. courtship2To see into their soul. To see whether it’s safe to make yourself vulnerable before blending your soul with theirs. To see your own flaws and those of your partner in clear focus, to get beneath the layers of what someone might project, and instead look for and grab onto those glimpses of truth beneath the veneer of attraction…

Wait a minute. If this is a column about writing for writers, why do I have romance on the mind? Easy. For writers, it’s like this when you’re about to embark on the process of revision. Many writers – myself included – feel a kind of anxiety, a hesitation, before diving into the process of editing and revision. You stare at your draft without moving, afraid to press a key or redline that sentence for fear of screwing everything up. It’s the same anxiety one feels before dialing that special someone for the very first time.

Writing — especially the art of crafting a book — can be thought of as a long-term romance with your story. And that sizing-up process, the very beginning of courtship, is an important first step in editing and revisions, too.

As an author, you need to make yourself vulnerable to your manuscript, to see it exactly as it is. To seek out those “warts and all” glimpses of its true nature. It’s the moment and author and manuscript test each other through presence, seeing whether they enjoy each other’s company after spending long periods of time together, or seeing whether they’d rather hide in the washroom and phone a friend for rescue.

But if you enjoy the experience together, if you enjoy spending that time and look forward to the next conversation, maybe it’s time to dig back in and read that manuscript as a reader would, as someone who’s not quite made themselves vulnerable to possibility of intimacy.

Personally, I’ve made a practice of revising “big to small.” What I mean by that is the act of seeing my story as a whole, of taking in the work-in-progress with all its flaws and foibles, sizing up its true essence, and determining what changes are necessary in a structural way to bring that story I’d envisioned into reality. Eventually I focus on smaller and smaller details; not story structure or overall plots, but the little touches that keep the reader enthralled. It’s a little like going from that first casual dinner to the first moment “alone together”; reach that level and it’s just the two of you in a dance, in the hopes of making it all work.

Revising “big to small” meant courting my other characters all over again. Looking at each of those peripheral stories in my manuscript with a critical eye, deciding whether they added to the central relationship in my book or distracted from it. Deciding which of those scenes were necessary, what worked and what did not. Deciding what should remain, and what could be safely relegated to a “cuts” folder for later consideration or swipe-left deletion.

courtship2In the end, after many dates with my manuscript that ranged through blind and awkward, rushed and too quick, exciting and anticipatory, intimate and ecstatic, the story evolved into better forms than ever taken before. I saw it for what it was, working through the small details, caressing each sentence and nuance until the story as envisioned came across as “meant to be.”

Revision is courtship. And courtship, despite the nerves and uncertainties and awkward moments, is fun. So don’t be afraid to dive right in. Swipe right on that revision. Hold that car door open, and bring along the flowers and candy for both of you. In the end, whether your revision succeeds or fails — whether the relationship with your manuscript lasts or fizzles during the courtship of revision — you’ll be a better author for having the courage to experience it.

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Noreen, thank you for the invitation to contribute to your ‘Friday Feature!’ Dashing off a blog post about writing is always great fun, and if it helps to inspire another writer or two, excellent!

Speaking of inspiration, I want to give a little credit where credit is due. The idea of ‘Revision as Courtship’ came out of discussions and collaborations with my dear, dear friend, writing partner across the pond, editor, and author of the 17th Century Midwives series of historical fiction novels, Annelisa Christensen. Her insights helped me to view revisions with something other than anxiety, and for that I am forever grateful.

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Thank you, Timothy.

You can find Davey’s Savior on Amazon

Tim’s Website – where you might find a little inspiration or even some help!

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Friday Feature: Submissions

This week for the friday feature, I thought I’d offer tips on Submitting.

Last year, I had 17 or 18 publications. This year so far, I’ve had maybe 9 or 10 acceptances. I must be doing something right.  submissions-photo-01

I think it should go without saying your work should be free of grammar and punctuation errors. I heard from one writer who was offended by an editor; her response: “I know I had errors, but they weren’t that bad.” – No excuses. Edit that work before you send it out.

First: Make a regular time to sit down to submit. This takes HOURS. It’s not going to be just a fifteen minute or thirty minute venture. You must read what the lit mags are looking for as well as how they want it submitted. Then compare it to what you might have already written, or what you’re willing to write.

Second: Keep track of your submissions. submissions1

Third: Accept rejection. (It tells me that I’m doing my job by submitting.)

Fourth: Accept criticism. You are going to get opinions. Just today, I received a rejection that said I repeated a word. That was the whole of their rejection. The word in question was repeated twice in the whole story, but I guess they didn’t like it. I moved on.

Fifth: If they ask for changes – agree (maybe). I’ve met many writers who take issue withsubmission this. They wonder if I don’t care about my work. They think I’m mad for even considering it. There are some things I won’t change. But, so far, the editors who have asked for changes have asked for simple things like rewrite this sentence, change this punctuation. No one has asked me to make major changes to any piece I love.

And Finally: Be considerate to writers, editors, and publishers in emails, on public sites, and anywhere you may meet them. When you act inappropriately, word can get around.

Publications Page

Amazon Page

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Writer Wednesday: Experience Vs. Research

Someone asked me if I write what I know. For many, that would be limiting. We write what we know in some intuitive way, like people, emotions, relationships, and some places. But that’s not all we write.catacombs

Nothing adds to a story like those little details that you’ve experienced, like the slick, moist, near sickly feel of your skin on a humid day in Paris after emerging from the chilled underground of the catacombs.

The difference in squeezing the smooth texture of black sand from Punaluʻu Beach in Hawaii between your toes and walking on fine, compacted white sand of the Whitsunday Islands in Australia.

blacksandEvery beach is just a little different. Just as the light is, depending where on the planet you stand. Being there helps.

But, research is also necessary. Maybe not to describe the sand between your toes, but other important details about place. Incorporating the general details or impressions as well as the smaller, more personal elements creates a more vibrant and more relatable to readers.

Stephen King thanked his research assistant and stated he met a lot of nice people in Oklahoma where his new book, The Outsider, is set. Experience and research.

Many of us can’t fly to Darrien, Washington and spend a week or longer researching a small town setting in the pacific northwest, but we are able to view maps, read the newspaper, follow the instagram sites, ask travel groups and even call the travel bureau in any given state.wander.jpg

I love experiences – Traveling and getting lost in a new place, picking up those sensual memories to infuse into writing and future!

Experience is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing. Research back ups and fills out details we may have missed.

Where have you been that you’ve written about?

Happy Writing!

What Do Published Authors Know?

Recently, I read a mini article posted on a blog of sorts, wherein the writer called out Stephen King’s book On Writing, concluding that “famous writers don’t know Jack.”

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WOW! Really?

 

I was shocked and offended. And I assume that is the reaction she wanted to elicit in order to bring traffic to her article or her own website.

Let me clarify that I am not an avid Stephen King reader. I’m not much into science fiction, but I have been reintroduced to his work upon reading Doctor Sleep, the continuation, in some sense, of The Shining. I have read On Writing some years ago. I’m pretty certain it’s still on my bookshelf as it’s required reading for anyone who wants to write – whether you like it or not. And my favorite essay of his, which I sometimes share with students is “Why We Crave Horror Movies.”

Therefore, I’m not defending a writer I love with a passion but an author I admire with sincerity. And I am taking issue with the blogger’s lack of professionalism in her disrespectful and disingenuous response to a successful and prolific author.

Stephen King

In Academia, occasionally members of the community in praising literary fiction take issue with popular literature. In one such class, when someone asked about King, the instructor responded – “In 100 years, no one will remember him.”

Yeah, I’m guessing someone who has written over 50 novels as well as over 200 short stories, among others projects will be remembered.

Again, my issues with her article is that she comes across as disingenuous. I don’t believe she really believes King is wrong, I think she wants to make a name for herself and create a controversial reaction and bring traffic to her website, so she can look at the numbers and get a little thrill when it pops up instead of actually presenting sound and original ideas. I say this because she didn’t actually say much of value.

This blogger’s premise is that writing is a gift and it is done intuitively, so authors don’t necessarily know how to explain writing. Understood. As well, she takes issues with some basic rules that I’ve learned since third grade. She says, “we’d all end up sounding like Stephen King.” Not necessarily so.

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Her final claim: “You can do anything, provided that you can pull it off.”

 

Well, duh! You can break every damn rule of writing if you’ve got a story so great that Hollywood will buy it and the publishers are going to make bank from it.  Dare I talk about The Hunger Games?  As an English teacher, it hurt my eyes to read the numerous punctuation errors. But, as one of my editors said, Story is King. It’s the story that matters, not the comma splices that most non academics won’t even notice.

However, every good writer should know the “rules.” And I’m using that term loosely here. A writer should be familiar with what has come before, what others are doing, as well and what others believe the rules should be.  How many people have commented on Picasso’s blue period, ignorant of his background, and said “I could do that!” Picasso learned and practiced the rules. Then he chose to break them. When I break a rule of writing, I ask myself: “Is it for effect, and is it resulting in the desired effect?

I say: “Break that damn rule if you want. Just know why you’re doing it and if it’s working.” If Stephen King breaks a rule, even his “own” rule, I imagine he knows it and knows why he’s doing it. I don’t think On Writing is prescriptive; I believe it’s meant to be descriptive.

So, I suppose I don’t even have that much issue with what she said, but it’s how she said it. Stephen King is an award winning, multi-best-selling author, show some respect. That’s called Professionalism. You can disagree with someone, you just want to do it respectfully.  She says she leaves the “writing instruction” to the “less qualified people -“.

king3.gifREALLY?  The author of over 200 short stories is less qualified than who – YOU?  How many books have you published?  I looked her up. A few “middle grade readers,” a nonfiction book, a few short stories. She says she prefers to tell people how to get published.

I go back to her line, “famous writers don’t know Jack.” How unprofessional can you be?

I teach a business writing class (among others); I run the class like a course in professionalism. And this is something I would say is an absolute NO! We can disagree with anyone – I tell my students – but we should know how to respectfully disagree.

As a writer, I see a lot of unprofessional behavior. (I in no way claim to be perfect myself).  I belong to writers’ groups and read (more than I post) in these online writers’ groups. And it can be things like this – open to the public – that can get a person in trouble. You never know who you are dealing with on the other end of that computer. Random arguments, stupid comments, and radical, unqualified statements can hinder one’s success.

I was asked recently by a publishing company for my CV. This is not a problem; I sent it right over. Why would I not?  I posted asking for advice about the CV, for future reference. Some people seemed beside themselves, as if a publishing company asking for my CV was out of line. The publishing company is my potential employer. They are entitled to my CV and, as a professional writer, I want to show it to them!

Now, what if I had written a blog such as that – disrespectfully and disingenuously criticizing one of their best authors? It might cause the publishing company to think twice about even looking at my work, let alone looking at my CV. The cold, hard fact in this world is most companies are not going to hire or work with people who are unprofessional. While they may want people to speak their minds, they don’t want people publicly running off at the mouth. Charlie Sheen and any number of actors learned this the hard way.

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I am not at all saying that we shouldn’t voice our opinions! If you disagree with anyone, you should be able to, and have the absolute right to speak your opinion. I’m suggesting it be done with polite professionalism.

Who is this author of a few middle-grade books to be criticizing King? She is never going to convince ME or many writers that King is wrong. However, had she respectfully disagreed with his views on the certain aspects of writing, clearly stated her reasoning – it would have been far more professional and more believable! I would have read it, taken her opinion into consideration, and possibly even agreed with her. However, by her announcing that he is “less qualified” and doesn’t “know Jack,” not only do I question her intelligence and her integrity, she’s possibly offended people she’d rather have as friends or colleagues. (You’ll notice I didn’t link her article here. I’d prefer not to give attention-seekers more attention).

I, personally, would rather respectfully disagree with people than announcing contrary opinions for the sake of readership. I guess being boisterous will get you noticed. But, it will also get you noticed, if you know what I mean.

I’ll take her words, “You can do anything, provided that you can pull it off.” – Yes, yes, you can. You’ve seen numerous examples of people running off at the mouth about others and nothing happened to them or their career. However, are you sure you can do it and not experience consequences? Have yking5ou built up enough credit, have enough backing, or whatever else you need, to make certain you will not face consequences. OR – have you done this, seen it done, heard it done, and the person hasn’t gone very far in their career. Hmmmm.  Might be a reason.

Say what you will. I suggest you say it with respect.