Seven Things I learned at Write by the Lake Workshop and Retreat

Revision is Hard!

Everyone who writes must revise. It is a universal problem we writers have that we can’t see the errors in our writing or we are so involved in our writing we can’t see when we aren’t saying what we think we are saying. That is why I signed up for a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, last week called Write by the Lake. I’m FINALLY finished writing my book and knew it was time to revise it, but I had no idea where to begin.

I applied to be in Christine Desmet’s master class called Finish, Polish, Publish—Mainstream, Literary, Genre novels. Best decision I ever made. Not only did I meet other writers who were in the same position of revising their pages, but we also were at the same stage of our writing journey and understood the struggles each other faced in the revision process. I never realized how critical that understanding was until this week. All of us were writing different books and fleshing out different genres, but we were tackling the same basic elements in our writing. So here is what I’m working on for the rest of the summer!

What I Learned About Revising My Book

  1. Make Setting Vivid: My setting needed to be almost another character because the book hinges around saving Winterhaven, my main character’s home. I had description in there, but it wasn’t full and lush. I am working on adding more setting details to my book so readers experience the setting with all their senses. I want them to know it as well as they know the characters in my book.
  2. My villain must be in the action throughout the book: My villain is baaad, really baaad. I need to give him more time on the pages so readers can see all aspects of his character, even his tender side. He also must be more involved in the trouble my main character faces. I want him to be a well-rounded character, and I want him to be human rather than a cartoon villain. I’m working on all that.
  3. Backloading: I have learned about this term before, but it didn’t really sink in until this week! I think I must be thick or hadn’t reached the point where backloading mattered. Anyway, I am trying to end my sentences and paragraphs with a “loaded” word. For instance, when I am describing the house in my book on the opening page, I say this: “Deep green ivy crept up the red bricks and into the cracks between the windows and under the eaves where the lead flashing had been removed to make bullets for Confederate guns.” I ended with “guns.” That’s backloading, ending sentences or paragraphs with strong words to add emphasis and psychological impact.
  4. Hooking my reader: This is a tough one, but I’m working on it. To hook the reader, the writer must end the scene or the chapter at a suspenseful or dramatic point. The writer must make the reader want to read on. For example, I originally ended my first scene with this line: “He tipped his hat to her, his expression smug, then cantered back down the sand drive toward River Road.” Bleh!!!! I revised it this way: “I’ll go, Thomas, but this isn’t over.” Much better!
  5. Clear the Clutter: Writing is ALL about voice, and voice is a tough nut to crack. One of the ways to improve your voice is to cut the clutter words from your writing. Words like felt, so, then, smiled, half-smiled, turns, slowly, walked, said, replied, thought, wondered, seems, just. The list goes on. I wasn’t even aware I was using some of these words until my classmates circled them! Do searches for words like this you haven’t even noticed you overused. I bet you’ll be surprised! I was. There’s a lot more to clutter than this, but if you do a Google search for cutting clutter from writing, you’ll have many articles to choose from which help with the concept.
  6. Objects: Make sure the objects you introduce in your book have significance. I introduced a bracelet in my book, but I realized it has no significance. I’ll write it out of my book, but later (about half way) in the story I introduce a handkerchief that my main character embroidered as a child. On her wedding day her nanny gives her the handkerchief back. It comes to represent my main character’s struggles and her home and the people who believe in her, and I need to play up its significance in the story.
  7. Endings: Beginning your book at the right place is important as everyone knows, but ending it at the right point is also important. My book’s last scene is very dramatic: it’s a shootout in which the bad guy is shot, but so is the heroine. OH, NO! Oh, yes. I don’t have enough of a resolution at the end to satisfy readers. Those who read it wanted to know more about the lives of the people who were involved in the story, so I need an epilogue. Christine suggested a point a couple of years from the last scene for the epilogue, so I need to write a bit more for my characters at a future date to complete my story. I’m working on that as well.

Attend a Writing Conference

If you are a writer serious about your craft and haven’t attended a writing conference before, I urge you to sign up for one as soon as possible, preferably one of the UW Madison Continuing Studies conferences like I did. I’m partial to those. I found my voice there. Here’s the link.  Christine Desmet is an awesome teacher and writer as are Laurie Scheer and Bridget Birdsall, the other members of the staff there. They are all published writers. In fact, Christine just signed a three book deal! Her first book of the three comes out in September. They are cozy mysteries set in Door County, Wisconsin, the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Here’s her website if you’d like to keep up with her release dates and any other news she might share!

Attend a writing conference at least once. I promise you will be inspired and energized afterwards.You will take your writing to the next level and spend quality time with wonderful people who think the way you do. Feeling like you’re among your own people is invaluable!

The Change I’m Choosing

How many of us would choose some of the changes we have undergone in our lives? I know if I could choose my path I would not be unemployed right now, and neither would my husband. The past four years have been a long, sometimes hard four years, not knowing how we would survive or pay for our kids’ college tuition. We’ve spent many sleepless nights and many prayer-filled mornings asking for the courage to keep going and for something to happen to turn our fortunes.

My husband is a talented man, a great leader, and wonderful provider. He was a Marine helicopter pilot for nearly twelve years when he and I decided we wanted our boys to have a more stable life than the military gave us. He left that profession to wade into the uncharted waters of pharmaceutical sales. We left our friends in the Marines and moved to a small town in Wisconsin to raise our sons. Being out of the military took some getting used to for both of us, but Bruce got the hang of his new job and worked for  Warner Lambert before it became Pfizer. Then he worked for Pfizer after they bought out Warner Lambert. About four years ago, Bruce—along with about half the Pfizer sales force—lost his job. The following year I lost my teaching job due to declining enrollment. Neither of us has been able to find a permanent position since then, so we must change.  Neither of us is sure what we will do, but we must do something different.

Change is hard, however, even painful. It’s full of unknowns, full of challenges, some we can see and will handle well, but others we will only be able to work through as they happen. But the pain of a life in transition often leads to joys that we can’t see while we’re in the midst of the change. Change can lead to growth in our talents and in our perspective if we allow it. If we follow our passions and our interests, perhaps the change will be something we never expected, but which will change us and those around us for the better. That is what I hope for at this stage of my life.  I plan to focus on the positives wherever I find them, what I have rather than what I don’t have.

Back in April I went to a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, called the Writers Institute. I met a number of talented writers, both published and unpublished like me. At one of the sessions one writer, Laurie Buchanan, who is also a Ph.D., a motivational speaker, and a Life Coach, said something that resonated with me. It must resonate for a lot of people. She said, “What you are not changing, you are choosing.” That was, as Oprah puts it, an “ah hah” moment for me.

So here is my change. I am going to be a writer, a goal I’ve had for years. From now on when people ask me what I do for a living, I will answer, “I’m a writer.” I may be unpublished as yet, but I am a writer.  I believe we are what we do every day. I write every day, so I’m a writer. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I am establishing the habit of writing. One day I will be excellent at it, but in the meantime, I am going to work my butt off to make my dreams a reality. My students have known my secret dream, and so have a few of my friends, but for a long time I haven’t believed I could be a writer despite what I have said. I believe it now because I am choosing it. I am a writer. What change will you choose? Do you have the courage to live your dream?