Tag Archive | the writing process

My Writing Process

ground_hog_2007Have you ever felt like you were on the set of “Ground Hog Day?”  You know the movie. Bill Murray relives the same day over and over and over again. There seems to be no way out. I think I know how he felt.

This winter has been horrible for everyone. People living in the northern states have learned how to endure the never-ending grey, COLD, snowy days. People in the southern states say have winter–temps in the 50s and 60s, but this year there has been ice and snow in Atlanta.

Everyone is talking about the weather, even though I try to keep my comments to a bare minimum, but being retired now, this weather is holding me prisoner.

One day my car didn’t start because even sheltered in the garage, the temperature was ten below zero. One day my back got a chill and the muscles seized up which has put a severe pain in my backside.

Ken and I feel like a couple of grounded teenagers. Worst of all, this inclement weather has emphasized the sameness of our “normal” life. When the temperature rises above zero, we have two or three inches of snow to jazz things up . . . and because Ken’s wheelchair doesn’t have snow tires, he can get stuck in the stuff.

The one good thing this sequestering has done has been to plunk butt down in my chair and finish the first draft of my seventh novel. Now, I’m re-reading the story and putting the first pass of editing on it before I send it off to my editor.

Yesterday when I talked to a friend who has moved to Florida (who was sitting on her porch slipping lemonade), she was flabbergasted I would reread and edit my work a couple of times before any other eyes saw the text. I see this element as part of the process. I was surprised at her reaction because she likes to think of herself as a writer, too.

Do any of you come from the school of writing that I do? Do you rewrite your prose a couple of times before sending it out? Do you pass it in front of a person you trust before thinking it’s “done?” I can remember doing such a thing since I was in high school. To me this part of writing is normal.

What do you do when you complete a “first draft” of one of your pieces?

An Interview of a Different Kind

interviewYesterday I was interviewed by the area public radio station. We talked about my novels, but the interviewer also focused on how the books were conceived and how I achieve the details that were including in the writing. His questions challenged me because I’ve ever discussed such things before–especially on the fly. Most of all, I wanted to sound like I had something on the ball as a writer.

If I had given the interviewer a truthful answer, I would have told him I truly don’t know how writing these books first started. Apple Pie and Strudel Girls came on the heels of having a disappointing experience with another woman who wanted her strange story of meeting a witch made into a novel. Originally, we decided to co-author the book, but in the end, she put her name on the book cover. As I didn’t earn any money for my writing and most of all fleshing out a story that was a page-turner, I felt I had been duped. The good news of the experience is I showed myself I could write over 50,000 words. Up until this point, my longest piece was a three thousand word special report I did for a business magazine.

After that disappointing experience, I decided to embark on my own, and to my surprise, I wrote a pretty good story about girls who grew up during the war years. What I didn’t realize was I needed an editor and excellent proofreader. I wish I would have considered that piece out of the gate because now I see mistakes that were missed, and frankly, I’m a little ashamed the book was published with these boo-boos.

But, back to the interview. Just how did I conceive the story and why did I choose this time period? After pondering for a few seconds, I realized it was my curiosity and love of history that drove me to want to know more about a time period when young people didn’t believe they would have a future. When bombs fell on houses in England and when one man literally enslaved every country in Europe, I wondered how people survived such horror.

With that said, I also learned I had to concentrate on the day-to-day lives these characters were living as the world events shaped their lives in a way they never conceived. This part was easier because the characters began talking to me as I developed the story. They interrupted my sleep, shopped, vacuumed, and yes, I did admit this to the interviewer. I wonder now if he thought I was schizophrenic–but this was a true fact. These pesky characters whispered in my ear until I wrote down what they told me.

The interviewer also thought it was interesting I kept an Excel Spreadsheet to keep track of the timeline. Using this tool saved me from repeating the same research in subsequent novels.

Character sketches were also helpful. Then there was the research of reading journals and personal accounts of real people who expressed how they felt when bombs were falling on their neighborhoods while they huddled in bomb shelters. I read accounts of men in battle, and got a taste of the fear they endured as they did things they never dreamed they would have to do. There is no glory in war, just dirt, grime, death and suffering. I also read letters written by women who were waiting for their men to come home. These real-life accounts helped me to immerse myself into the time period, as well as the lives of people who survived the horrific 1940’s.

The experience of speaking with an interviewer on the fly kept this author on her toes, but I would welcome the opportunity again and again. It was fun to think on my feet and project myself as a credible writer. The show will air on Thursday at 8:00 a.m. on 91.1 FM – WGTC. In the meantime, I’ll just write.

Finding Gessler is Released! Get ‘Em While They’re Hot!

Latest Novel from McCloskey

Latest Novel from McCloskey

It’s here! It’s here! The UPS guy delivered my sixth novel this week. I don’t think opening the shipping box and looking at a new work will never grow old. FINDING GESSLER  is a beautiful book thanks to Sue,  my sister-in-law. Shee did the cover art again, and I’m convinced the cover will entice readers to my books. I’m sorry to say, the covers PublishAmerica created for two of my novels pale in comparsion with Sue’s covers.

Between my support staff of Heidi editing, Sue providing the art, and Linda helping with the proofreading, this book is one of the best I’ve produced. I’m just saying. . .

It’s exciting to see the progression of my writing, too. Writing is just like any other art, the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Sometimes I wish I could rewrite the early books, but writing is a process. I’ve learned to use other people and even a digital editor to help me improve. It’s true. We all fight natural tendencies of using the same words too many times. We all fall into the trap of overusing certain sentence structures. I am particularly lazy with the verbs I choose. Now, however, after six novels and help from my band of helpers, I am growing. Exciting stuff.

If someone would have said I ever could write six novels three years ago, I would have laughed. “Me? No way.” That’s probably what I would have said. But circumstances in my life gave me the time and the angel of inspiration lit a fire under me. And Voila! I have six books with my name on them sitting on my bookshelf. My goal is to fill the shelf before I pass on to another life. 

Somewhere I heard the advice not to quit your day job before you have produced TEN novels. I’m almost there with  STEPHANIA IN AMERICA in the rewrite stage. Heidi read the novel and gave me her critique. Now it’s my job to satisfy her questions. I trust her judgment and appreciate her help. And so it goes.

Oh, did I mention my staff works for free? (I do give them a book after I order my initial copies.) They are people who believe in me enough to give me their time and talent. What a gift!

Writing, Writing and Rewriting

frustrated writerPresently, I’m working on four very different novels and a couple of short stories. Two novels are part of  my “Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” Series, and the other two are new endeavors called “true fiction.” All of projects require different levels of research, and I’m finding that the true fiction is very difficult to write. You’d think it would be just the other way around, wouldn’t you?

Well, today, my editor friend, Heidi, finally read “Finding Gessler,” (one of the fiction novels) and gave me a good critique of what she had read over a plate of eggs and cinnamon roll french toast. She raised so many good questions, I have to go back into research mode and plan a big rewrite for the first third of the book.

As painful as this seems, I’m grateful for the feedback. Once I get into a story, sometimes I get confused about what I’ve included or excluded in the details. I get so anxious to get the thing written, off my desk and onto a new project, sometimes I forget important details. Anybody out there have the same problem?

Consider this. Heidi said, “Barb, you never described the physical appearance of the main character.” Really? How in the world could I have forgotten that? I guess I must have just figured the picture of the guy was in  my head, so why would the reader need to know that. Yeah. Right. Admit the error and carry on, Barb.

The moral to this story is to put someone you trust into your writing life. It’s the only way an author can obtain CONSTRUCTIVE criticism for your work. Even if you think your project is “done”, LISTEN to what this vital person has to say. Believe me, it’s a lot easier to take the remarks at this stage than it is when a professional review hits the Internet or a newspaper.

So, for the next several days, I’ll be polishing up my manuscript before it’s proofreading begins. I only wish my writing students could see me in this “process.” Maybe then they’d believe me that writing something once is never enough.

Saddle Shoes Recycled

When I introduced my class to the “writing process” back in September, they were aghast that they would have to “rewrite” their papers after they were “done.” It didn’t help them to know that I rewrite everything I do at least five or six times before I feel it’s ready for someone else to read.  At that point, all of us writers know that a piece is never truly “done”–we either run up against a deadline or we get sick of the piece. Right?

Well, my class looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. They just didn’t understand that good writing doesn’t just plop down on the paper. They didn’t believe me that they couldn’t buy a “magic pen” that would produce good work on the first try.

So, I thought I’d lead by example. I’d show them the process by honing a piece of my own and post the reiterations on the Blackboard Online tool. I thought the idea was brilliant. I know that I would have clambered to read something my teacher had written. The truth is: no one bothered to look at the evolution of my short story. I hesitate to call them lazy, but if the shoe fits . . .

In lieu of letting a good story go to waste, I’m sharing it with you.

Saddle Shoes for Flat Feet

Copyright 2012 Barbara Celeste McCloskey

When I was in first grade, my parents were told by my pediatrician that I had flat feet. My parents accepted the doctor’s word as gospel, so when he wrote a prescription for a pair of “corrective” shoes, my mother marched me off  to Stilb’s Shoe Store where such special footwear was sold. At the time I had no idea what that meant, but the diagnosis scarred my six year old life.

In the front window there was a beautiful display of adult and children’s footwear, and when I saw a pair of red patent leather shoes, I was delighted. My mother opened the glass door to enter the store, and a bell tinkled announcing our arrival. A tall, skinny  man in an ill-fitting brown suit, white shirt and wide tie greeted us with a nasal voice that sounded like a foghorn. My mother handed him the doctor’s prescription and he nodded. Then he led us to a display of children’s shoes and explained to MY MOTHER that SHE had two choices – “Buster Browns” or Stride Rite Saddle Shoes. Hey wait a minute! These are my feet! What happened to the cute Mary Jane’s in the window?

The man ushered us to a couple of chairs, while he sat on a short stool that had a kind of a ramp on it. He told me to take off my shoes, grabbed my right sock-covered foot, and then put it on the measuring tool. He slid a couple of levers on the tool, smiled announcing my size, and then disappeared through a doorway at the back of the store that was covered with a black curtain. I thought it like the scene in the “Wizard of Oz,” when the wizard hid behind the curtain. I wondered if the man had ruby red slippers back there, too.

The shoe salesman returned in a few minutes with one shoebox. He sat down on the little stool again, and put the new shoe on my right foot. “How does that feel, little girl?” If he had asked me, “How does that look, little girl?” I would have told him in no uncertain terms the shoes were ugly. But instead, I shrugged and  he put on  the other shoe. Next he told me to walk around. The shoes were so stiff and heavy, it was hard to bend my feet. I picked up one foot after another like an old field horse.  My mother scowled and scolded me for acting like a clown.

I cried, “But, Mom, I can’t bend ‘em!”

She and the man said, “You just have to break them in, and then they will be fine.” I thought, “Yeah, right. Breaking these shoes in will take at least fifty years!

When Monday morning came around, my new saddle shoes and I had our debut at school. I knew I was doomed. I was a geek before my time. Wearing these white and black clodhoppers would make me stand out from all the other girls who could wear pretty flats, and boys who could wear tennis shoes. I bet no one else had to wear saddle shoes with half-inch thick soles.

When the other girls jumped rope at recess, they leaped like graceful ballerinas, but I landed with a thud the soles as thick as truck tires hit the pavement. I was humiliated because I “missed” after a couple of jumps and had to be a “twirler” for the rest of recess. I needed a strategy to get out of these terrible shoes!

That night, I came up with a brilliant plan that I would employ the very next day. If I could wear out the saddle shoes, my mother would have to buy me a different pair! It was sheer genius!

I left the house with a smile because I looked forward to playing a  rock‘em, sock’em “Red Rover Come Over” in the field . Everybody loved the game, so I knew it would be easy to talk my classmates into playing. In no time at all, I would have the first installment of my “Operation Demolish the Saddle Shoes” in full swing. By the end of the week, I’d have those ugly shoes so scuffed and dirty, my mother would have to do something.

On Friday after a week of rough games, jumping in puddles, and dragging my heels through the dirt, I handed my mother the war-torn shoes only to get a scolding. “Why can’t you act like a girl, Barbara Jean?” Whenever I heard my middle name and first name together, I was one step away from death! She grabbed the shoes muttering something about me not appreciating anything, and I went to my room thinking my ingenious plan had worked! Very soon I’d be on my way to normal girl’s shoes!

A few hours later I was happily coloring in my bedroom, when my mother came into my room with the saddle shoes. She had washed the dirt off and covered the scars with white Griffin Shoe Polish. Then she bushed them to a showroom luster and handed them back to me. “Here you go. Now be more careful ! These shoes cost a lot of money and I expect you to take better care of them.”

I hid my disappointment with a cheesy smile, and promised to do better. After my mother left my room, I threw the shoes in the closet and plopped on my bed.  How was I ever going to get rid of these ugly buggers? My mother and the saddle shoes had won this skirmish, so I fell asleep dreaming of a day when my feet would have arches, and I could run in a pair of PF fliers like the rest of the kids.

Months went by, and it seemed my only recourse for my shoe dilemma was to grow bigger feet. Surely, my tender little six year-old feet would have found their arches by now, and I could get prettier shoes. So as soon as I felt my toes touched the end of the shoe, I put on an exaggerated limp, so my mother would see my severe suffering. “Mom, my toes are squished!” I complained. “Isn’t that more important any old flat feet?”

A few days later, we piled into our old Buick and headed for the shoe store to buy a new pair of shoes for my ever-expanding feet. All the way into town, I knew this time I’d merit a pair of red Mary Jane’s, and I pictured myself skipping merrily out of the store.

When we walked through the door of the store, my mother ordered me to behave. Just like last time the tall, skinny man sized up my foot, and I waited in anticipation as he searched the back of the store for my special new pair of shoes. He returned with a smile, and my eyes were wide-open with anticipation as he opened the box and peeled back the tissue paper that protected my new shoes. And there they were!  I couldn’t believe it! Another pair of saddle shoes—except these were brown and white!  Oh NO! There must be a mistake! These shoes weren’t for me! Where was my Mary Jane’s?

As he laced up the new Stride Rites, I felt my feet crying. This pair of saddle shoes was as stiff as the old saddle shoes had been. And again, I walked out of the store not being able to bend my feet. There were no smiles for me that day. I was licked by flat feet and dumb old corrective saddle shoes. I guessed I would probably have to be as old as my mother before I had any power to dictate what I would wear on my own two feet!