Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
Okay, that introductory quote may be a tiny bit misleading. This is not a gardening post. Just this morning I found a wilted leaf on the silk plant in my kitchen. Seriously. Okay, it turns out I got a bit enthusiastic tossing last night’s salad. But given the forlorn, memorial jumble of soil-encrusted clay pots in my garage, you’ll forgive me if I thought, even for a moment, I had managed to kill man-made ivy.
I don’t do plants. Period.
Garden, in this case, is a metaphor for writing. Not that I can speak to how all writing “grows,” but I thought I might share a few tricks and tips—or nuts and bolts … or flotsam and jetsam—about how it grows for me.
(I have imagined responses as varied as, “I knew that,” or, “Say what?” or, “Get real, Crackpot,” or even—in my delusional moments—”Golly gosh, that woman’s a genius!” Might be fun to keep score.)
Anyway, for what they’re worth, here are my favorites.
I read a lot of books in the pursuit of my art, but I’m also a news site junkie. We’re talking human vacuum cleaner, baby. Let’s face it: Now that the news has gone 24/7, they’ll report any- and everything, just to fill the bandwidth. This past week alone I read about the crook who stripped down to his skivvies and greased himself but still got stuck in the chimney; Burger King’s new menu, which apparently happens to bear a strong resemblance to the one at McDonald’s; and Mattel’s latest “socially-conscious” marketing coup, Commander-in-Chief Barbie.
Of course those stories aren’t actual news, they’re filler. Sure, you curl your lip now, but consider this: Filler is where real life happens. Ergo, filler can a veritable gold mine. Especially if you’re looking for ….
- the occasional story idea
- interesting secondary characters
- a nifty turn of phrase
- articles (with photos!) on interior design, fashion, cars, and architecture (Subjects as dear to me as gardening, so I need all the help I can get. You’ve got to put your characters somewhere and dress them up in something, right? Why reinvent the wheel?)
- a heads-up on developing technologies (always a plus for a gal who writes sci-fi)
- a glimpse of the good, the bad, and the ridiculous in human behavior
- proof positive that truth is stranger than fiction could ever be
There’s so much raw material out there, it’s hard to keep track of it all. Or would be, if it weren’t for Evernote, a free app (desktop and mobile) that’s worth its weight in gold. Whenever I come across a gem I want to preserve for future use, I click the “Clip It” button installed on my browser, and … voila! The information, she is mine! But wait. It gets better! I can (and have) filed the information in notebooks, all the better to retrieve it, my dear. I can (and have) synced my account to my iPhone and my Kindle Fire. So my files go where I go. Handy as a pocket on a shirt, right?
I spent the last four-day weekend (spring break is one of the perks of working for a university) reading a book out loud. My book, to myself. The only drawback was dry mouth. The perks were many and splendid. Awkward phrasing and stilted dialogue stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. Meandering strands of adjectives left a bad taste, prompting me to look for ways to describe the same thing in fewer words. Justs, verys, reallys, and the all-too-common cut-and-paste fiasco stood in stark (and audible) relief.
Plus, I got to laugh at my own jokes, which sounded twice as clever in voice-over.
No kidding. Reading your stuff aloud is one of the biggest favors you’ll ever do for your work. If reading to yourself makes you feel silly—although, I can’t imagine why it would … you are, after all, a writer, and nothing is sillier than that—find (or pay) a friend or relative to read to. But do it. DO IT!
Speaking of friends and relatives, it doesn’t hurt to give someone a look at the finished manuscript. Not like an editor—”Are you sure you want to use a semicolon there?”—but like a reader. Are there elements that pull them out of the story and and make them say, “Huh?” This is a great way to identify gaps and glitches and places where additional descriptions or background information are in order.
Finally, my latest discovery. I blush to share this one, but what the heck. We’re all crazy writers here, right? Okay, this is what I did. I emailed my manuscript to my Kindle account, with “Convert” as the subject line. The convert in question was the format, and the format I wound up with was a Kindle book. No, this wasn’t an ego trip. I actually did it because, like all writers, I have copies of my manuscripts squirreled away in various places, because I’m paranoid about losing them. I mean, God forbid the house should burn down on the same day my purse (and the jump drive in it) gets stolen, and I have to start all over again. Anyway, that’s why I did it. But a strange thing happened when I pulled it up to see if the conversion took. The manuscript looked … different.
Eureka! A fresh perspective!
If my own work doesn’t look as familiar to me … and it doesn’t … who knows what I might pick up? Will this help me make Amanda’s Eyes a better novel? Stay tuned to find out.
In the meantime, I showed you mine, so how’s about you show me yours? Got tips?