Presenters – Ivory Madison and Stuart Horwitz
Presenter/Moderator Constance “Connie” Hale
All the presenters are writers and editors and writing coaches.
Connie is a journalist who works here is SF at the Writer’s Grotto, author of 4 books, edited 3 dozen books. Flips back and forth between the two.
Stuart – Wrote Blueprint Your Bestseller, about to publisher Book Architecture: How to Plan Your Book Without A Formula. Has MA in literary aesthetics and a MA from Harvard in eastern philosophy
Ivory – Helped establish the Red Room that launched many writers. Only author who can claim to be published by both the Harvard Lit Review and DC Comics. She has recently co-founded a small press and launched two books.
Current projects – Stuart just finished his second book on writing. He doesn’t plan on filling the world with writing books. He has 4 projects in mind. He has his 4 paragraphs and sent them along to his editor. Is looking for which ideas are moving and which to go with first. Historical fict, memoirs, wedding planning guide, and a spiritual set of essays. He will float these to others and get feedback and consensus.
Ivory – Co-authoring w/an author from Stanford on business ethics and strategies. She has a tendency to procrastinate on things and work on her robot novel.
Connie asked Stuart about his processes when he struggles. In his first book. There’s a 22-step for revising your manuscript. He uses this. It seems like a lot. But the three main things are scene, series and theme. Each scene is distinct from each other. Being able to analyze them and know that they are good enough.
Connie – how did these ideas come to you?
Stuart – They came to me because I have a friend who is a poet, in his 50s, and he’s never finished one. From this, I realized that we don’t need to redo the same book your entire life. Some scenes are not done. We get them to 94%, and then you’re done. Procrastinating is the other side of writers block. He thinks writers block is trying to answer the question you’re not in a position to answer. First draft write it and work around what you can. Next draft see what you can bring up a level, and third draft see what you still want to write about, omit the rest.
Connie – First stage is the excitement stage, the love of the blank page or sold the book idea. Doesn’t need coffee. Second is backfill draft. The first draft you map things out and leave stuff out. Second draft is filling in the holes. Third draft is “oh shit.” Holes are filled, and it’s still really bad. You have it “done,” but it’s bad and you don’t know what you’re doing. Fourth is Prozac draft. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’ll have to give that advance back. The fifth draft is the long slog. No joy, no inspiration. Just trying to salvage my professional reputation. Sixth draft something popes into her head and works. She gets a feeling for this and starts to do it over. She says: “Oh that’s the voice of this piece.” The 7th draft is the play draft, this is where I’m willing to show it to a friend or an editor. The difference a professional writer and an amateur is the long slog. The pro knows you have to go through the long slog and it will work.
Ivory – Back in 2002 when she started the Red Room it was a way to help her own writing. There was a sense about writing with Hemingway’s quote just open a vein. But she wanted to come up with a process that would get you from point a to point b. It would have to start with the joy and honor the creativity. She was in law school at the time. So, she created this safe community for writers. This group was co-created by a wonderful group of people. They would sit around the table and write together. Ivory says a lot of people who are blocked from the beginning. Professionalism has nothing to do with perfection. Professionalism involves finishing. This group works with the three phases: writing, editing, marketing. The skills and activities of each are different. Don’t mingle the processes. The inner critic can be put off by acknowledging that it’s not perfect and will need fixing. Writing is about “who am I?” What do I have to say? Who is my tribe, my reader?
Connie – Yes. You do need a draft before you can worry about revision. Q to Stuart. How do you describe the method?
Stuart – You hear a lot of different advice, but when you are sitting there you need to know what will work for you. You must come up with a method where you can tackle your work rather than tinker with it, moving commas around. When we speak of methods, it’s a bit of a struggle. You can put you scenes on an archery target with the theme at the center. Cut the scenes up and see about moving them around. But all of these steps are so you can use a method instead of using a formula. You’ve all seen the forumlua. At 5% so you have the inciting incident. You don’t want to do this, filling in the boxes. You need to work with your interior voice and ideas and passions first. It must come from what is exciting to you, first. Don’t use the formula, please.
Connie – Do you have a specific technique to help improve your book when it’s not as good as you want it to be?
Literary voice (Connie) – Does this sound like my character? Is this what I want it to be.
Connie’s tip. Look at the verb in each sentence, and pounce on the “is”s. Can you recast it with a dynamic verb. Not just “walk,” but “shuffle,” “skip,.”
Stuart – Use your memory. Brainstorm will help you remember what you’ve forgotten. Sometimes when he is writing a blog he will write down the seven points he wants to make from memory. He does this repeatedly
Ivory – Best tip, I usually give to people to save them hiring a professional editor. We all have people come to us who can’t afford it. We want them to get farther on their own. Print entire manuscript out. Have someone read it aloud at full volume to you. Not your spouse. This will reveal pacing, confusion of characters, long, run-on sentences. Terrible dialog.
Q and A
Ivory – email@example.com
Q – How do I know if I’m tinkering?
A- Have you separated what you’re worrying about and what you don’t? Do all your problem scenes have a character that needs to go. Do you need to cut the best from three scenes and combine them? That’s where you want to put your energy. You don’t want to fuss with punctuation and word choice.
Q – After you have finished a first draft and have looked at your scenes? How do you know if you need to shorten your scenes and pick up the pacing?
A- The novel needs to be long enough to tell your story. Think of it as a screenplay. Think in scenes. Think of scene sequences and where you need to enter and exit. At this point you know your characters well. Length isn’t the question. Ownership is looking at what is important in this story.
Connie – My first draft is twice as long as it should be. She knows only one writer who does not write long. Most of us need to cut 25%. Scenes will get shorter and the pacing better.
Q – Do you have any tips for tackling the long slog?
Connie – Writes from beginning to end. After the vomit-out first draft. Then she just makes a pass through the manuscript keeps at it.
Stuart – When it starts to seem like work. We stop. “It’s easier to stay ready than get ready.” This is the time to put the foot down .
Q – Question about scene. One of the things she struggles with is how to make a successful scene. What are the element that are needed. How can something mascaraed as a scene? What makes it complete?
Stuart – Scene is where something happens. Scene is where something changes. Scene has to pull at you, have “it.” Something is bubbling up.
Ivory – She was reading that Roger Ebert says the way people speak in films is not the way real people talk, it’s to move the plot forward. She asks if the plot pushed the character, or the character pushed the plot.
Connie – in Non fiction, it must be visual. You must put the reader in the story. The language needs to be worked such a way that it is visual. The reader needs to feel that the reader is in the room.