I’ve been wanting to write this post since the night I got home from the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference, but somehow life got in the way. Post after post came up, and they needed to go first. Now it’s November 20, and I’m finally going to write this post all the way to the finish, I hope 😊
Part 1 – Critique Guidance: I took part of my middle grade novel to the Cleveland conference, and I had an author/agent take a look at the first ten pages from Chapters 1 and 2. She gave me a lot of great advice – like what didn’t make sense to her (I only had 1 or 2 spots – Yay!)
She also pointed out places where I needed to push up the writing. How? There was one place I remember where she wanted more historical detail. I wrote about the green tablecloths at the Pennsylvania State House. She wanted to know what kind, so I googled colonial tablecloths . . . I found many were made from damask. If you’re not sure what it is, it’s a woven fabric with a pattern you can see on both sides of the cloth. It’s mostly used in table linen and upholstery, and it was used in colonial times.
There were a lot more places where she wanted me to show emotion. I went back and labeled each paragraph with a feeling like happy or sad. I have a writers’ book that’s set up according to emotions, and it has a list of ways that people show it in their faces, in their body language, and by their reactions. I picked one for each paragraph, and then went back to edit them in. I’m still polishing. I’m on my 14th revision of chapter 1, but it’s worth the time to get it right. If an agent or an editor isn’t engaged by that first chapter, they’ll stop reading. Then they’ll send an email that says thanks, but no thanks. I know – I’ve gotten a lot of those over the years ☹
Part 2 – New Chapters – Where I Am Now: In September before the conference, I just finished Chapter 13. It’s now November 22, and I’m stuck on Chapter 17. I was on it last week too. I got stuck trying to find my way in. Once I write the 1st paragraph or 2, I’m on my way.
Whenever I start a new chapter, I find 3 sources of information on a founder. I copy all 3 articles, along with their sources. I save them in a file with the notes for that chapter. Then I go to the actual chapter, and I paste in the 1st article, the whole thing. With the 2nd source, I cut and paste it where it fits in the timeline of the original article. I do the same for the 3rd one.
Because of this, all the facts about Ben as a printer are together in my timeline. The same is true for his time in the Continental Congress, and so on. The best part about this ‘lengthy’ procedure, it tells me which facts I can use . . . I can find them in 2 or 3 sources. If it’s only in 1 article, I don’t use it. BTW – I did that last week.
I also researched my main character, Charles Carroll of Carollton. For Charley, I only needed to find out what he and his family were doing in 1789/90. Ben died in April of 1790, and I figured that out last week too.
I also needed to know what was going on in America in 1789/90, and yes, I did that last week too. I knew the first US Congress started meeting in 1789 in Federal Hall in New York City. I had a list of bills President Washington signed into law, and I saved my sources, for future reference.
With all that, I still couldn’t find my way in. This morning - Ureka! I found it. I could always picture Charley at Federal Hall, but I couldn’t picture how he found out how his friend died – what was going on at that moment, in a historical fiction kind of way. Today I looked at 2 bills Congress passed in April of 1790. Bingo! Now I can picture how he might have learned about it.
It’s late, so I’ll wait until tomorrow or Friday to write those 1st paragraphs. Once I get going, I let the story take me where it wants to go. Sometimes I take the wrong path. Then I reread until I reach the point where I left the right path and took the wrong one. I delete that section, go back, and rewrite it. Usually it takes me 2-3 days to write and revise a new chapter.
Why? It doesn’t have to be perfect. I have one chance with my new chapter and my Friday critique group. Then I have to move onto #18 for next Friday, if I want to finish all 57 chapters by the end of the summer. Fingers crossed – may the force be with me!
Part 3 – My Goals for December: Starting next week, I’ll be part of 3 critique groups. One meets every Friday. Another meets on Tuesdays at least once a month, maybe twice if I’m lucky. I have a third that meets on Wednesday once, sometimes twice a month. My goal is to have one new chapter critique-ready for each meeting.
My Friday goal will be the hardest one to reach. I have to finish a chapter a week, and I only get one chance to get it done. That means by the end of the month, I’ll be sharing chapter 22 on December 29th. There’s no room for revision.
I take my Friday critique notes, add them to the chapter, and move onto the next one. I’ve been on chapter 17 for 2 weeks. That’s how long it took to write the first paragraph. It seems to happen whenever I move to a new setting. It’s harder for me to find my way in. If that happens again, I’ll fall short of 22.
The Wednesday group is now my polishing group. It’s the opposite of Friday. We’ll meet once or twice this month. I’m on my 14th revision of chapter 1, and my Wednesday friends have looked at this piece 5 or 6 times. My goal –to finish it, I hope, then polish chapter 2. My Wednesday group, they have a great eye for detail. They won’t let me call it polished until it’s just right, like a bullseye on a target.
My Tuesday group is BRAND-NEW! We’ll have our 1st meeting next Tuesday. We might meet again in December, or we might not. I have chapter 2 almost ready for them. I might start working on chapter 3, but only if my Wednesday group says 1 is done. If not, I’ll have them take another look at chapter 2. The most important thing this month – polish chapter 1. The second – to reach chapter 22. May the force be with me 😊
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!