When I was around ten years old, I had an accident. It wasn’t a big one; it didn’t involve a vehicle or a trip to the Emergency or stitches. It involved a bicycle, lots of blood and an old rag stained with paint.
It’s time. I’ve put it off long enough. My butt has to get in gear, my fingers have to start walking and my procrastination has to be slain. Regardless of how busy my life is, I must seize my disorganised mess and lynch it before it takes me down.
Being unorganised is about to drive me batty. I’m one more lost manuscript away from throwing myself on the floor and wailing like a three-year-old whose sibling ate the last mud cookie.
Yesterday while looking for a password – a very important password – I was left going through one stack of papers then another. After searching my day-planner – knowing I must have recorded it somewhere – and several other ideal locations, I flopped down in the chair defeated. The password was gone, never to be remembered because my brain is filled with the many things that I must do before I die. Of course, that might not be for fifty years, but I can’t live like I have all the time in the world.
Certainly, I don’t want to spend fifty years looking for things that should be at my fingertips.
It would be easier if I had a room, a wee one even, to hoard all my writing-related things, but I don’t. One is planned, but I don’t see it materialising before I lose something very important that hurls me over the edge of insanity. Instead, my material – computer, printer, paper, books, pens, manuscripts, dictionaries, documents and files – are spread throughout four rooms and three closets.
Time is at a premium between writing, working, house chores, my children, homework, horseback riding, art class and swimming. I attempt to place papers in the proper pile, but usually, the piles all come together. When it gets tall enough, I move it off my printer and onto a shelf. Then a new pile starts to grow on the printer. I have no idea how many piles I have; they eventually land in a tote where I promise to sort them but never do.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to be quite organised, perhaps a little over the top like Julia Robert’s husband in Sleeping with the Enemy. Everything was labelled and had its place. But my kids have worn me down, taken up valuable space that would have otherwise gone to neatly arranged shelves and cabinets and used up time I’d have spent putting everything just right.
Since I plan on keeping the kids – they’re too cute to give away – I must learn to organise around them. If I throw out everything no longer needed – such as those toys they haven’t played with for five years J — I might be able to create space for a tall bookshelf. Maybe I could empty out a closet and find that manuscript of the western novel I’d written fifteen years ago but haven’t been able to locate for five years.
I admit I’m a clutterbug. I have good intentions of sorting and organising but something always comes up – sketching kittens with my kids . . . taking in a movie with my sisters . . . building snowwomen . . . camping . . . fishing . . . beachcombing . . .
Has disorganisation slowed your progress? How do you keep all the writing-related papers – queries, rejection/acceptance letters, guidelines, manuscripts, notes, research – in order?
Last fall, my sister gave me a 4×6 photograph I had never seen before. At least I didn’t remember seeing it before. It was of me and my sister, taken on a summer day at Liscomb Mills. If I had seen this picture shortly after it was taken, I probably wouldn’t have liked it. I never liked pictures of myself. However, time and forgetfulness has changed my opinion. I do like this picture now.
This change of heart reminded me of a folder of writing I had found not long ago. I had begun reading one of the stories and was impressed with how well it was written. I didn’t remember writing it, but it had to be mine. It was with other stories I had written. Although it wasn’t finished, it had great potential.
While reading another story in the file, one I was familiar with, I made a different discovery. It wasn’t as great as I had originally thought it was twenty years ago. It was filled with bookisms, bad dialogue and shallow characters. The spelling was fairly good, but the punctuation needed work.
The other stories in the folder were similar – some better than I remembered and some worse than I could imagine. Being able to read these stories with an open mind was a great exercise. Ideally, we should all put ten years between our so-called final draft and the copy we submit to an editor, but that’s not practical.
Many how-to books and writing websites recommend putting distance between you and your writing, snipping that umbilical cord to gain some perspective. Almost every writer becomes emotionally attached to their writing. It is why we fight against any changes, scoff at negative comments and roll our eyes at helpful suggestions.
But we shouldn’t ignore comments by others. Helpful criticism is just that – helpful. If you feel like rejecting comments without considering them, put them away for a while. Comments, like our own stories, need time to ripen, time to become void of emotions.
After a week or two or a month, read the comments again and then read your story. Try and imagine the suggestions put into action. Does it make your story better? Or have the suggestions missed the mark? If you disagree with the suggestions, see if something can be tweaked to see avoid any future similar suggestions.
For example, the person reading one of my stories added a few words to describe how a character was feeling. It was a simple addition in place of a missing emotion, but the emotion the person added was the opposite of what I had in mind. So instead of ignoring or adding the suggestion, I added my own, giving the character the emotions I wanted her to have to avoid future misunderstandings.
You don’t have to toss things in the closet and forget about them, but . . . who knows, after several years, you might discover a gem, a gripping story or a photograph you’d love to share with the world.
Some days I feel cursed. Other days, I can’t believe I’m this lucky. As the tenth of eleven children raised by parents both born in the 1920s, I was exposed to many different genres of music. As a result, on my MP3 player, you’ll find John Denver snuggled beside Bonnie Tyler, Loverboy and Rod Stewart squished between Donna Fargo and Buddy Wasisname, and Anne Murray rubbing shoulders with Helix and Andy Stewart.
Music has always influenced me in one way or another. It can enhance or change my mood depending on the day and the attention I give it. The melody of a song can set a mood, but it’s the words that can make me laugh, dance or shed a tear. The degrees of these emotions depend on whether I’m listening to the song or singing along.
But let’s get this out of the way first: I don’t sing well. However, I sing often.
Hearing someone sing their heart out may not tug on your aorta, but that may change if you put their words in your mouth. Personally, I can sit and listen to Son Run to the Spring by Cal Smith and ignore the story within the melody, but I can’t sing it with a dry eye. I become that boy who must run to the spring for water while my mother spares me from witnessing her silent death due to a long term illness.
Feeling the music can only be accomplished by putting yourself in the shoes of the song’s character. That’s not to say you’re Dean Brody, standing on stage in front of thousands of fans. You are the boy who must watch your older brother go off to war and wait for him to return (Brothers) and the young man who wonders about the lives of his high school girlfriend, his college friends and the girl who gave him up for adoption (Trail of Life).
Of course, you get the good parts, too. You’re basking in the sun on the Santa Maria (Trooper) and bragging about Who Wouldn’t Wanna be Me (Keith Urban).
Sure, you can just sit and listen, but you won’t feel the full effects of getting into character unless you sing those words.
Breathing life into the words you’ve written is done exactly the same way.
Before I submit anything, I always read it aloud. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 400-word blog or a 100,000-word novel, reading every word is the last step in editing. Actually, if I get stuck on a section of writing, I read it aloud. Often, it is all that’s needed to find that perfect word or the next sentence.
When I read, I take on the characteristics of the character. If I’m angry, I speak with anger. If I’m stumbling over my dialogue, then I stutter. Sometimes, I’ll use a Scottish or English accent, just to hear the story with fresh ears. It doesn’t matter if I get the accent right; the point is to make it different than how I usually speak.
Reading it aloud will point out problems in rhythm, uncover those words that sound too much alike and find words that have been accidentally left out.
In my novel, Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove, two of the main characters were Ellis and Alice. On paper, these names are easily distinguished. However, when you read them out loud in a sentence, they sound very similar – too similar for characters who will spend a lot of time together in a novel. In the end, I changed Alice’s name to Shona.
If reading your words doesn’t create the emotions you want to convey, then consider making changes. You don’t want to giggle in the middle of a tragedy and you don’t want readers to think a character is angry when he’s really trying to sweet talk his lover.
If you’ve never read your work aloud, give it a shot. Feel those words, make them yours. Guaranteed you’ll hear things from a new prospective – your character’s.