Keep Writing

I’m working on a story based in the 1950’s about a teenage girl living with an abusive alcoholic father. While struggling to endure the dysfunction that is her home life, the girl yearns to defy the conformity that is expected of her life. She resents her mother’s docile and submissive role in their home. The girl, Annabel, wants to be more than wife and mother, she wants the freedom to be anything she wants.

I wrote this story in college some twenty years ago. The words sat in a binder collecting dust for some time until I decided to give it new life. Many changes have been made and so far that “short” story has been revised to a three-hundred page novel, but the journey has not come without frustrating days when I had no idea where the story was heading and was tempted to dump it.

Don’t do that, writers. Keep writing. Don’t dump your stories no matter how lost you may be in navigating its direction. Keep writing. A new day brings a new, clearer mind.

Although I’m not yet finished with the story, and don’t know exactly how the story will end, I’m confident I’m heading in the right direction. Each day brings me one scene closer to the writing that final sentence.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

So You Want to be a Writer

I was at a bar one night and ran into a woman I used to date over fifteen years ago. In our exchange of pleasantries, my being a writer came up and immediately my ex grabbed my arm and exclaimed to me with vigor how she is planning on writing her autobiography because she’s led a very interesting life, and all of her friends tell her she just has to write a book.

I told her I was sure she had many great stories to tell, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could fill a book, but I asked if she’d had any training in writing. The uncertain look on her face answered my question. She hadn’t studied writing in any way past a classroom in high school, but figured since she had a story to tell (most people who are alive have a story to tell. It’s called life.) and knew how to write in complete sentences, she could write a book.

I didn’t roll my eyes in front of her. I’m not that rude. But I did suggest to her that if she was serious about writing her book, she should enroll in a writing course at her local college. Three months before I contracted my first book, Her Name, I had taken a writing course at my local college and it helped me more than I imagined one class would. I was lucky to have had some terrific writers in my class who gave me incredible notes on my story, which I still possess over five years later.

After I published my second book, Loving Again, I enrolled in another writing course at the same college. It was during that course that my third book, A Penny on the Tracks, was contracted. I value all of the critiques of my work by my peers and instructors because they have helped me become a better writer.

But as a writer, I have to put in the work, and it bothers me to no end when people think they can just pick up a pen and start writing the masterpiece that is their life without studying the craft.

I’m writing my current book in a point-of-view I’ve never attempted — subjective omniscient.  My former books were written in first-person and third-person limited. This is completely new to me. I feel like I’m starting all over again as a writer, and that isn’t such a bad feeling. I may enroll in another writing course. I need the guidance my fellow writers have given me on my previous works for the story I am writing now.

The writing community is tremendously supportive.

I thank all the writers who share their time and their knowledge to inspire and encourage those aspiring to write.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Excerpt from my Untitled Work-in-Progress.

My current work-in-progress has no title. I was hoping by the midpoint mark something would have come to me, but I’m close to the end of this labor of love and my mind is still blank on a title.

This is a revision of a story I had written almost 17 years ago. It was my first novel, and it was horrible. The precis was good enough to grab the attention of a publisher, but the manuscript wasn’t strong enough to carry its own weight. A big rejection letter soon appeared in my mailbox.

After blowing the dust off this story, it was easy to see why it didn’t make the cut. The story was badly written. The characters weren’t developed enough, and the dialogue sounded like something out of Degrassi Junior High.  The story was labeled a romance, but ended with the love interest dying in a plane crash. Pretty much sums up my view on love. :p

After six months worth of revisions, I’m almost finished. I think I got most of the ugly out. I just have to write the ending…and no, no one’s dying in a plane crash. Actually, the book hardly resembles the original at all. I realized I had started the story at the wrong place. I needed to go back. I needed to show, rather than tell, more of what I wanted the reader to know.

The book revolves around the friendship of two women. The way I had written the story the first time was to tell the reader about the friendship, rather than show it. One of the women betrays the other, and it is pivotal to the story that the reader understands the depth of their friendship to really feel the deception.

Here is an unedited excerpt from my untitled work-in-progress:

Taylor’s bedroom door opened and rock music poured loudly down the hallway and into the living room where Carolyn was sitting alone on the couch, her face crammed in a book. She eyed Taylor walking toward her.

Although she knew Taylor would have turned the music down if asked, Carolyn didn’t say anything because she preferred listening to the loud raucous tunes than to the sounds of her roommate having sex.

The woman in Taylor’s bedroom wasn’t Alicia. Taylor waited for no woman. 

“Where’s Jeff?” Taylor asked.

 Carolyn peered over her book to catch Taylor lean into the fridge and pull out a bottle of beer. Taylor’s gray and white camouflage cargo shorts hung just above her knee. Carolyn counted the six small sweat stains on Taylor’s white tank top. Her ruffled dark black hair hung at her chin. A shorter layer fell just below her eyes, and often Taylor had to brush it away with a flick of her head, or a wave of her hand.

“He left,” Carolyn answered.

Taylor twisted the bottle’s cap and pitched it into the sink. She took a deep swig. “Everything okay?”

“Sure. Can you think of any reason why everything wouldn’t be okay?”

“Whoa, I know that tone.” Taylor dropped next to her on the couch. “What’s goin’ on with you?”

Carolyn closed the textbook over her lap. “You know I have finals coming up, right?”

Taylor closed her eyes and leaned her head back. “Fuck me! I’m sorry. I completely forgot. I’ll turn that shit off. You need quiet.” Taylor moved to get up, but Carolyn stopped her. “Jeff and I broke up.”

Taylor fell back into the couch. “No shit?”

“No shit.”

“Just now?” Taylor asked.

“Just now.”

“Wow… I’m sorry.”

Carolyn eyed her friend closely. “No, you’re not. You hated him.”

“I’m not sorry for me. I’m ecstatic for me. I’m sorry for you. You really liked him. Never understood why, but you did. What’d he do? Do I have to kick his ass?”

Carolyn shook her head. “It was my decision. He’s a jerk.”

Taylor draped an arm around Carolyn’s shoulders. “Yeah, well, glad you figured it out now before it was too late. You gonna be okay? Need me to do anything?”

Carolyn smirked at her friend’s seriousness because it wasn’t like her.

Taylor pulled back. “What’s that look for? I’m being sincere. I really wanna know if you’re gonna make it?”

“I’ll make it just fine. In fact, I’m surprised at how little I feel about it. When he walked out the door, I was actually relieved. Kinda scares me that I saw myself marrying him. How could I miss what an asshole he was?” Carolyn groaned and rubbed her hands over her face.

“You were blinded by love. I hear it happens a lot.”

Carolyn studied her friend. “You’ve never been in love? Never felt that emotion?”

Taylor crossed an ankle over her knee. “Nope.”

“How about the woman in your bed right now? How do you feel about her, or about Alicia? You were screaming at her on the phone earlier and now there’s another woman in your bed. Why don’t you just let her go?”

“I don’t have feelings for the woman in my bed right now, but I think I could have stronger feelings for Alicia when the time’s right. I know that’s hard for you to understand, but that’s just the way it is.”

“You’ve never loved a woman?”

“Nope.”

“Not even a crush?”

Taylor seemed to think about it. “I liked my Kindergarten teacher…a lot. Does that count?”

“In Kindergarten? You had a crush on a woman in Kindergarten?”

“She was so fucking hot.”

 “You knew way back then?”

“Hell yes! Are you kidding me? I was noticing girls for as long as I could remember, especially the older ones. They had boobs.”

Carolyn rubbed her forehead. “That is crazy. You realize I’m studying to be a teacher, right?”

“Then consider this your warning. If you see little Sally staring at your chest, she’s not admiring your necklace.”

 “Great. Something to look forward to.” Carolyn leaned her head back and sighed. “As much as I would love to sit and talk with you about meaningless crap all night, I have to study so that someday I could teach meaningless crap to children who will not respect me, make faces behind my back, and apparently, stare at my boobs.” She picked her book off her lap and stood up. “Have fun.”

Taylor tipped her bottle towards her. “You betcha. And Carolyn? I was never gonna let you marry that asshole. He didn’t deserve you.”

Carolyn smiled. “It’s good to know I have someone watching my back. Thanks, Taylor. Now turn that crap off because it’s giving me a headache.”

 

 

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Just…Write.

I have a book coming out in October called A Penny on the Tracks. When I finished and edited that story, I was satisfied with what I had. I felt my writing had evolved from my first two books. I submitted the MS and was lucky to have my first choice of publishers accept the story and offer me a contract. I was on a terrific high for days, until I started writing my next book.

If I felt I had grown as a writer while writing my third book, I feel I am regressing as a writer as I write my fourth. Every line I write reads like bullet points. Lacking is the eloquent prose that draws a reader into the story, compelling them to feel they are the character I depict and everything happening in the story is happening to them.

I’m a little more than halfway into my book and last night I deleted over three thousand words (and God only knows how many wasted hours). They were crap. Absolutely horrible, and they had to go. So off they went.

I know I’m supposed to write the first draft without editing. Shut the internal editor inside me down.  Just get it out. Only when I have my first draft completed, am I to push myself on every word. That’s what I was told to do, but I’ve been working on this particular story for over five months and I don’t even have a finished first draft yet.

I have an edited and reedited first 134 pages, but I don’t have an ending. I know how I want the story to end, just not sure how to get there. I’m too preoccupied with the first half of the story being perfect.

I need to get the first daft out and write words no matter how bad I think they are because I can’t edit words that aren’t on the page.

Write. Write. Write.

But last night, instead of writing I was deleting. I know the more I do this, the longer I am prolonging the completion of a first draft, but the desperate rationalization inside me figures those words were going to go at some point, because they were terrible, so I saved myself the time later.

I know if I am going to finish this book sometime this year, I need to change my mindset and just…fucking…write.

 

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

A Writer in Need

I’m currently in the midst of writing a story which I had planned on being completed by the end of this month. I don’t feel confident that will happen. This is not an unusual place for me to be, struggling to finish a manuscript. I love writing, but there are moments I really hate it, too.

I sent the first hundred pages of my new story to a trusted friend who reads all of my work. She is honest. There is no blowing smoke anywhere with this woman. If something she reads is shit, she tells me it is shit.  I appreciate that about her. She’s a strong reader even though she hates to read, but she knows when a story works and when it doesn’t.

I believe she is the reason I received my latest book contract last September for the story, A Penny on the Tracks, coming out this October. When I was finished with the third draft for A Penny, I had sent the MS to her and she texted me after reading a couple chapters asking what the heck the story was about. “Where is this going?” she had asked. “I’m tired of reading about a day in the life of Lyssa and Abbey.”

It was a bit of a crushing text because by the time I had gotten to multiple drafts of the story, I had almost a year invested into the story. Now, she wasn’t telling me the story was exactly shit. She had thrown in a couple positive texts, too. She liked the writing, but the story lacked any strong direction for the reader.

Before I had given my friend the MS to read, I told her very little about the story. A Penny on the Tracks is a coming-of-age story about two young girls who find a secret hiding place in a field, near a set of train tracks, that they refer to as their “Hideout.”  They spend a summer at this secret places and take on fun adventures. They meet a high school boy there and forge a friendship with him.

The first half of the story centered around showing the girls’ daily activities, allowing the reader to get to know the characters and their friendship. The story was leading up to the deaths of Abbey and the high school boy, Derek, but I had originally written the story to not reveal their deaths until it happens.

After my friend questioned me where the story was headed, basically, what the point of the story was, I knew I had to change something. I went to bed that night a little bummed out because I already had the story written. The plot revolved around showing the path to the deaths (suicides) of these two characters.

Suddenly, I had jumped out of bed knowing exactly what I needed to do. To make the story more interesting, to give the reader the direction the story apparently lacked, I had to reveal the deaths of Abbey and Derek first. It was a two o’clock in the morning revelation that seemed so obvious I couldn’t believe I had written the story any other way.

So a story that had originally began set in 1986 with the girls being 11 years old, now begins with a Prologue set in 1993. The girls are eighteen year old, the age Abbey kills herself. The book opens with the news about Abbey’s death before the reader even knows a thing about her, other than the fact that she kills herself.

Now I have the reader’s attention.

Chapter One opens in 1986, the girls are 11. Now, there is some direction in the “day in the life of Lyssa and Abbey” scenes because the reader is now reading towards something, unlike before.

Telling the reader the fate of not one, but two, characters in the book increased their curiosity and interest in the story by giving them a reason to want to turn the page. To want to read more.

When my friend had expressed her dissatisfaction with my original story only a few chapters in, I had told her to stop reading it. Put it away. That was when I went to bed that night and realized what I needed to do. After I changed the story and sent her the revised version, it had made all the difference.  A couple chapters in, she texted me that she couldn’t wait to find out the reason Abbey and Derek both killed themselves and had spent most of the book guessing.

I am certain that had I sent my book to the selected publisher, the way it was originally written, I would not have been offered a contract. No way. Publishers are busy. They wouldn’t have wasted their time reading a story that seemed to be going nowhere.

My friend saved my previous book and now that I have sent her a large portion of my current story, I know am I asking her to save this one, too. I need her to lead me down the right path because I fear I have lost my direction with a story I’ve already spent six months writing.

 

 

Hopefully every writer has a friend like her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Writers Need Proofreaders?

by Carol Browne

In my working life I wear many hats. Those worn by the writer and the proofreader you would assume to be created by the same milliner, but they are mutually exclusive. This is one of many reasons why we all need proofreaders.

No time for false modesty because I know I’m a very good proofreader—in fact, your actual grammar Nazi—and I have a particular talent for spotting typos. You would think, therefore, that when I do my own writing, I would eliminate errors as I go along, like a highly efficient chef who leaves the kitchen clean and tidy while producing a gourmet meal. But no. I make silly errors that are clearly brain glitches, like putting “at” instead of “as.” When you write or type, the hand is often quicker than the eye, but the brain leaves them both at the starting gate and chaos ensues.

When I proofread my writing and then ask my beta-reader for her opinion, I expect she will find errors I have missed. This happens when you are an author because you are too close to your work, too involved with it, to be able to step back and see the flaws. The brain often sees what it expects to see. So when it expects to see “its” but by mistake you have written “it’s”, the brain will continue to see “its” until hell freezes over. This inability to be objective is another reason why you need a proofreader.

Many words and phrases in everyday speech are used incorrectly and a good proofreader will know this. “Bored of”, for example, is a recent colloquialism and not (yet) acceptable in formal English. You can be bored by or with something but never bored of it. Another common mistake is to write “should of” instead of “should have”, which is an example of people writing words as they hear them. So, correcting erroneous usage is another reason why you need a proofreader.

Some people you just can’t help, however. A local business continues to advertise its computers and “assessories” two years after I tactfully pointed out the (common) misspelling. Grammar Nazis are frequently resisted, but resistance is futile if you want your business to look professional.

We all make mistakes, hit the wrong key without realizing it, and have misconceptions about grammar and spelling. (I’ll admit here to my eternal shame that before I became a proofreader, I used “shalln’t” instead of “shan’t”. Unbelievable.)

Using a proofreader doesn’t mean you are inadequate, it means you care about what you’ve written. It means you want your book, CV, assignment, trade ad, blog, etc. to be as flawless as possible, particularly if something important, like a job or qualification, depends on the finished product.

Don’t rely on the spellchecker either. If you’ve typed “there” when you meant “their” or “sort” instead of “sought”, you need a human proofreader to catch those bad boys because a spellchecker will give you ten out of ten for spelling every time.

Experienced proofreaders tend to be knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects. My work covers topics as diverse as photography, education, nursing and psychology. They are good at research and have a sixth sense for knowing if a word is right, wrong, or should be queried. Sometimes you need a proofreader to save you from embarrassment, too. I’m sure the Polish friend who made this particular mistake won’t mind me mentioning it, but putting “bottom” instead of “button” mushrooms did give me an interesting image to giggle at. Meanwhile, my local village shop should have used a proofreader, but instead chose to display a printed sign asking customers to “bare with us” during renovations.

I’m hoping this is an error-free blog but, if not, I blame it on the fact that I wore my writer’s hat during its composition. Meanwhile my proofreading business has undergone a reboot on Facebook. Please drop by and say hello. All Likes gratefully received!

High praise for Carol’s latest book that is a beautiful anthology of poems and short stories.

No one says it better than Amazon reviewer, faeriemoonmama, who describes the book as “atmospheric”:

“The poetry is steeped in a love of nature, magic and mythology. The short stories hold interesting twists. No spoilers! The Boomerang Effect (dabbling with a love spell, Martin Nevis finds himself having second thoughts) A Force to Be Reckoned With (an outcast with thoughts of being “destined for something great” wants to join the police force) and Transformation (once bullied, Patricia attends a school reunion and emerges victorious) were my favorites.

Give this collection a read, you won’t be disappointed.”

Read more on Amazon.

Carol Browne regards Crewe, Cheshire, as her home town and graduated from Nottingham University in 1976 with an honors degree in English Language and Literature. Carol writes speculative fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She is also a ghost blog writer, proofreader, copy editor, and copywriter. Along with a passion for gardening, Carol is an avid animal lover.

Carol lives in the Cambridgeshire countryside with her dog, Harry, and cockatiel, Sparky.Pagan and vegan, Carol believes it is time for a paradigm shift in our attitude to Mother Nature and hopes the days of speciesism are numbered.

Stay connected with Carol on her website and blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

That’s Just the Writer in Me.

An excerpt of a story about a middle-aged woman who visits her old college in an attempt to settle the obvious midlife crisis/crossroad she’s living through:

The coffee tastes like shit, yet I continue to drink it. Writing and coffee always went hand in hand. At least I no longer smoked. I visit the old college I attended when I was a fresh-faced eighteen year-old. Maybe it will help me become more creative as I sit in a place that reminds me of my younger days, when anything seemed possible.

One of the perks of writing here is the coffee costs 75 cents, a monster savings compared to Starbucks, but like I already said, the coffee tastes like shit and I’m on my fourth cup.

I’m sitting at one of the tables in the lounge. There is a young woman, maybe nineteen, at the table next to me, face deep in a text book. Her long hair is dark and carelessly messy, but in a stylish way. She looks like someone I would have had a crush on. She wears jeans with holes at the knees, a black graphic tee, leather studded boots that capped at her mid-calf. Kind of grungy (do kids today even know what grunge is?). Maybe she’s a bit rebellious in a dark, mysterious, Kristen Stewart, kind of a way.

Her attire shows she might be of the “alternative” lifestyle. I remember looking for that in girls I met at college in 1995 because I was incredibly desperate to meet girls who were like me. I expected everything to be so much broader than the restricted Catholic high school I went to, and in some ways they were, but probably not broad as I had wanted, or needed, them to be.

I wonder if what I’m experiencing is a mid-life crisis. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if I felt I had accomplished something in my life. The fact that I haven’t done anything depresses me.

Did I know I would do this? Did I know I was going to spend so much time looking back? I wonder if I’m capable of anything more with my life. It’s so hard making it as a writer and I fear I may not even be any good at it. (Pause. Takes another sip of coffee. Yep. Still tastes like shit, even more so now that it’s cold.)

Two girls sit on a couch across from me. They are very affectionate and playful toward each other, despite the fact I’m only a few feet away from them and another boy sits at a near-by table. But they don’t seem to notice either of us. I watch as people pass in the busy halls, and barely look at the two girls sitting closer, now holding hands.

Their interaction isn’t tacky, nor is it an in-your-face display of affection. The two girls appear to be in love, lucky to be living in a time when they could be like this in public. Definitely not something I would have expected to see when I walked these halls very frequently, 21 years ago – though I wish I had.

I think about leaving, but decide to stay. I watch. I write. I sip my bad coffee. I sit and observe other people, like a spectator in life.

I suppose that’s the writer in me.

 

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphoto.net