Tag Archives: writing advice

Why You Should Hire an Editor: (or why the teacher must be a student)

Teaching Haven Writing Workshop

Teaching Haven Writing Workshop

Now booking our Haven Writing Retreats Montana 2016 calendar!

June 8-12 (booking fast)
June 22-26 (booking fast)
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

One of the greatest moments of my life as a teacher and retreat leader happened this fall in my living room. It was my first Haven Writing Workshop, (the advanced Haven Retreat program), intensely focused on craft, structure, and what it takes to get a book birthed. The class (including me) was having a collective ah-hah moment, and an attendee turned to me and said, “It’s great learning from a learner.”

It knocked me off center for a moment, as if I’d done something wrong. Quickly I realized it was a grand compliment and couldn’t be more true:  As a teacher, I don’t set myself up to be the authority. I feel more like a messenger. Going to the front lines, getting information for the folks back in the village so that they can fortify the troops and secure the infrastructure.  And that’s all well and fine, unless you forget sometimes that you’re a villager too.  And villagers need each other.  Or maybe a better way of thinking of it is more migratory.  Take a flock of geese, for instance.  The leader leads until it gets tired, and then it takes its place back in the V, regaining its strength and navigational abilities.  Last year, it was time for me to be that goose.

I have a lot of books on the back burner.  Books I’ve written over the years, revised, and that in one form or another, got lost along the way.  Misfit books which I’d like to see land in people’s hearts, but just aren’t ready.  This winter, I printed out a few of them and read them as if I was a reader, not their author.  And with the perspective that distance invites, I could see big fractures that needed triage.  I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. I’d written them so long ago, I’d lost their pulse, and yet I felt that they were not totally DOA.

A friend told me to hire a free lance editor.  ”I AM a free lance editor,” I told her, “via my writing retreats.”  Until that moment, I’d never ever thought of hiring someone to help me with my work. I have always been a solo act as a writer. Didn’t get an MFA. Have never been a big fan of writing conferences, though I’ve attended a few and they were helpful. I’ve just cut my teeth on life and written every day, no matter what. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in being in community with writers, swapping stories and giving support. I believe in claiming your writing and living it with all your heart, speaking to yourself in the mirror while you’re brushing your teeth:  ”I am a writer. I am a writer.” Spit, rinse, go live it.

When I’ve written my way to the end of a project to the best of my ability, I ask a few select people to read it.  Pay attention to what they have to say.  (or not).  And then I go back to work.  This has been my process for almost three decades.  And it’s birthed a lot of material.  Some of it good.  Some of it not. But a handful of those babies want to be real live book babies, and while I’ve got current projects that I’m busy working on that I love…I’d still like those babies to breathe in this planet’s ozone.

So…when three published authors came on my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana this year and all shared that they’d hired free lance writers over the years in their pursuit of the published book…I paid attention.  ”You don’t have to be a solo act,” they assured me.  ”You can get help. You pay for therapy, or a gym membership, or a new pair of winter boots, after all.”

I got curious. I had heard of this amazing group of people in Seattle who are pretty much elves for writers. You name it:  social media, book proposal, editing, agenting, marketing/PR etc.  I quickly got in touch with Girl Friday Productions, and worked with their head editor, Christina Henry de Tessan on a project that I’d put on the back burner and wanted to re-visit. It was like the best Christmas present ever, elf-approved and delivered. Finally, I was able to see what was in that book’s way. Finally I didn’t feel so lost in the dark night of book-birthing purgatory. I could see what the characters needed, and more important, what this author needed in the way of brain rearrangement in order to climb back in with night vision. Finally…I had a doula!  ( A doula with a head-lamp!)  I recommend that any writer who needs a re-boot, or help on any level of writing and/or publishing, check into this phenomenal group of writerly elves.  You will not be sorry!

Lesson learned:  We don’t have to do it alone.   After all, my favorite quote from one of my favorite writers is:  I write in a solitude born of community.– Terry Tempest Williams

The teacher needs to be the student, indeed.

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Here are some words from Girl Friday Productions‘ head editor, Christina Henry de Tessan on why you might want to consider hiring a free lance editor:

Demystifying the Big Bad Editor and Her Red Pen

Working with an editor for the first time can feel daunting. After all, this might be the first time you put your manuscript in a stranger’s hands. Best case, you may feel like a real professional investing in your own career development (which is great!), but more often, you might find yourself fretting over the prospect of getting difficult feedback or panicking about whether your work is good enough. Either way, here are five things to keep in mind as you take this big, brave next step.

Editors love books. Every editor I’ve ever worked with loves what they do. We understand that it’s a privilege to get to collaborate with writers at this stage in the process and have tremendous respect for those who bravely submit their writing for professional feedback. So many of the editors I work with left jobs in the publishing industry and went freelance precisely because they wanted to spend more time working directly with authors and their manuscripts. It is immensely satisfying to help a writer enhance her strengths and polish a narrative so that it gets its message across to readers more effectively. Whether it’s figuring out how make a thriller more taut and suspenseful or helping an author who is very close to the subject find the most effective way to craft her memoir, we love nurturing the best possible story into being.

A freelance developmental editor is not the same as an acquisitions editor. We are not the gatekeepers determining whether or not a book will be purchased by the publishing house we work for. We are here to share our knowledge of the industry and the marketplace to give your manuscript the best chance of making that happen. Consider us your industry expert, cheerleader, and sounding board all rolled into one. We will do everything we can to help you communicate your message or story to the world as effectively—and brilliantly!—as possible. So don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions or get on the phone and brainstorm with your editor. That’s what we’re here for.

You don’t have to do everything we tell you to do. Honestly, we don’t expect you to. An editor is first and foremost your most valuable early reader. Yes, we have all kinds of editorial skill and genre knowledge, but ultimately we will probably be your closest reader. And as such, if something confuses us, sticks out, or makes us trip, then there probably is a little problem that needs your attention. That said, while we like to think we have the perfect solution every time, we don’t. There are often several potential solutions to a problem. If your editor’s suggestions don’t resonate with you, trust your instincts and propose an alternative that feels right. A good editor isn’t going to change your voice or make your book less “yours”. A good editor is going to help you fulfill the promise of your manuscript.

You are not alone if you feel nervous or vulnerable. It’s a big step, and it’s ok to feel a bit apprehensive. In fact, I wrote an entire post on how to handle your editorial letter for Girl Friday’s blog. A good way to settle your nerves is to schedule a call with your editor and explain how you’re feeling and ask any questions you have about their approach. If you’d rather receive feedback in the letter than have your manuscript marked up, let them know that. If you want very targeted feedback in the text, then say so. If you have questions about what they’ll be looking for, ask them.

Finally, take a moment to be proud of yourself. This is a big step, but we always learn when we invest in our own professional development. Working with a professional editor will not only give you new insights into your current manuscript but also provide you with tips and suggestions on how to improve your writing going forward, what the industry looks like, and a better understanding of the conventions and expectations of your genre. So don’t forget to stop and appreciate this milestone.

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What I Learned From My Personal Writing Retreat

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Now booking our Haven Writing Retreats Montana 2016 calendar!

February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

 

That I can go for hours and not speak and don’t miss it at all (and that comes from someone who makes a living speaking).

That when I’m this tuned in to my characters, they start talking to me in my dreams.

That when I’m this tuned in to my characters, they start telling the story, even when I don’t want them to take the direction they want to go.  Best to trust them.

That taking a walk on a personal writing retreat, with nothing else on your mind (family, kids, friends, career, bills, taxes) means that you are writing as you wander.  And when you get back to your book, you have much to transcribe.

Same with eating.

Same with bathing.

That I can write in a noisy café, even though I live in the silence of Montana.  There are no distractions when you are deeply into your material.  Even when they’re renovating a Victorian across the alley.

That even if you have support for your writing from your loved ones and colleagues…no one is going to do this for you.  No one is going to give you this time, pay for it, kick you out the door.  And if you actually have someone like that in your life, it’s still you and your book wherever you go.  You have choices in that space.  Make good ones.  (Ie: stay away from buttons unless they are on your computer, in your book document)

That the voice in my head which helps me make those choices is kind.  When I’m at home, that voice is not necessarily kind.  It’s usually frustrated and short on temper and so it often sounds more like a football coach.  In this solitary, suspended, writing space…she is loving and gentle.  She says things like, “You can do this.  Good for you.  Open your heart.  Tune into your intuition.  You know where this book needs to go.”  I’m going to bring her home with me.

That I get a lot of exercise and eat really great food when I’m in this space.  At home I often don’t get any exercise at all, besides chopping vegetables, stirring, sweeping, making bag lunches, doing dishes, and folding laundry.  And I often forget to eat.  I’m going to bring this regime back home too.

That lollygagging in bookstores looking at coffee table books on artists, and going to art house indie matinees are things that I’ve stopped doing and they feed me profoundly.  They are not just folly.  And what’s wrong with a little folly anyway?  Especially folly that feeds your muse.  TV does not feed my muse.  Reading the newspaper does not feed my muse.  Watching Maggie Smith in “The Lady in the Van” does.

That this isn’t scary at all, this being alone with my muse and my book and its characters and plot.  That I know exactly how to do this.  That I’m not lonely in the least.  That I honor and love my writing practice and it honors and loves me.  That my creative well is deep and the water is life-sustaining.  That tea is a gentle friend for this sort of experience.  And the Bach Cello Suites.  And Krishna Das.  And Gregorian Chant.  Same with Frankincense essential oil.  And baths with lavender.  And a small notebook and good ink pen that you leave by your bed, and keep in your purse.

That it’s okay to be in a major urban wonderland, and not see sites, friends, go to the newest trendy restaurant, the best show or exhibit, or to frankly leave the three blocks where you are staying.  That all you need for this specific purpose, is faith.  It’s not really about the writing, is it.  If I said it’s about channeling the Divine, would that be too lofty?  So what.  It is.  And sometimes we have to leave home to do just that.  I’d like to bring that home with me too.  We’ll see…

…Thank you, San Francisco.  Homing back to Montana….letter_pen

 

 

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Haven Winter Blog Series #9– Announcing Winner!

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So proud of my Haven Writing Retreats Alums and their powerful essays. Permission to be creative, indeed!

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALEXIS PUTNAM!

This is the last of our Haven Winter Blog Series.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  I don’t believe in competition, but I do believe in supporting people for fine work.  This is the post that my Haven team has chosen as the “winner.”  Yet all the Haven alums who have bravely submitted their response to how they give themselves permission to be creative…are “winners.”  Thank you for sharing, thank you for reading, and may the rest of your winter be full of creativity.  From our muse to yours, Laura  

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

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It is July. I stand in the kitchen, crying.

“You say you want to write, well write something! Why do you need to go on some retreat? Seems like the first step is to just put some words down…” My husband sounds both pissy and confused.

The words are logical, but miss the point, and it ignites a fire in me. Through the window I see the sun blazing away out in the backyard, and I’m surprised by the power of my anger, and the strength of my conviction.

“I do! I try! But I need help…” More tears flow, accompanied by a recounting of my view of the past several years. And why I think I should go on the Haven Writing Retreat in Whitefish, Montana. I need space and support to discover a path forward, and to recover the substance of my writing self – my voice.

I brush crumbs off of the cold, smooth counter with my hand and struggle to explain. To convey that the only thing left of my writing dream at this point is the jewel of knowing. Knowing that I need to write. 3 kids, a near-death experience, and years of sleep-deprivation and stay-at-home mothering have just about eaten me alive. And if all I have to go on is this gift of certainty, it is absolutely imperative that I follow it.

My husband is not actually a jerk. He may not fully understand, but he can see that I’m desperate. The truth is, we can’t afford the retreat, and the timing doesn’t make sense.

But these things – bold stands to nurture our deepest selves – are rarely simple or easy. Every story is complicated. So, though it’s a stretch, we resolve to make it work.

And 3 months later, I’m on a plane to Kalispell to find my voice.

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Haven is not what I expected, but it turns out to be everything I need. The four days and nights blur into one another – a circling, rhythmic process that builds and swells.

Here, I am nourished, challenged, awakened, connected, raw, open, terrified, exhilarated.

I laugh and cry and stretch and learn and sit in stillness and silence to face my loudest fears.

I find a single thread that will become my voice, and follow it as it grows stronger, truer, and more substantial. Soon it will carry all my weight.

I am given a path, and a plan to carve out time and space to write – even in the busyness and noise and engulfing nature of motherhood.

I begin to hope.

***Forward

I’m back to my real life now. And back to making that same choice – to honor, protect, and nurture my writing self – in different ways.

These days it’s not a plane ticket to Montana, it’s grabbing a notebook and earplugs, and throwing myself onto the page – ungracefully, maybe, but with certainty.

It’s 20 minutes in the morning to unload my heart and clear my cloudy brain.

It’s 3 hours on Thursdays when the kids are farmed out in 3 directions – and I’m free.

It’s negotiating on Friday night for when (not if) those 2-3 additional hours of writing time will fit into our weekend.

It’s knowing – and willing myself to feel and believe – that committing to this writing is not taking away from those I love. This commitment gives me life. It gives me hope, and makes me more myself. Which, in turn, makes me a better mother, wife, and friend.

Sometimes, making this choice looks like learning to be okay with compromises.

Perhaps it’s okay to throw all the kids in the backyard for half an hour, forbidden from entering the house?

Perhaps it’s okay to allow a few viewings of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (or worse), in this formerly TV-free house?

IMG_0544Or to serve less-healthy dinners a few nights a week to save an hour or two of cooking time?

Experimenting with alternative ways to buy time doesn’t always feel great. I’m still learning. Still haggling with myself. Testing the limits in different directions to see which sacrifices and which trade-offs feel acceptable or sustainable.

Tonight I am not writing. But since that part of me has been resurrected, it’s always running in the background, grounding me. So instead of feeling stuck, lost and echoey inside, and unsure of my direction or purpose, I can embrace all of the not-writing parts of my life more deeply.

I can feel my 2 1/2 year old resting limp against my chest without being burdened. I can breathe deep, feel his soft hair on my face, and acknowledge that he’ll never be this small again, without worrying and wondering what I’ll be left with when he’s grown and gone. Because writing is here to stay.

Alexis Putnam

***Help bring a young writer to Haven Writing Retreats and have me Skyped into your Book Group!  Secure this perk by clicking here!  Only available to five Book Groups…

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23



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Authors Supporting Authors: Q&A With Christine Carbo

2015 Haven Retreats:
September 9-13 (FILLING FAST)
September 23-27 (FILLING FAST)
October 7-11
October 21-25

11390215_10152771872081266_5713115019216739589_nIn my travels as a published author, I have found that writers who are writing are generous and kind to one another. Along the way they have given me face-to-face and long phone-calls-full of sage advice (Lee Woodruff, Dani Shapiro, Arielle Ford, Julie Metz, and so many others, they have shown up at my readings even when they were maxed out and busy, (Beth Hoffman), given me sensible gifts for the sustainable self like nesting pouches for key items (a signing pen, power point thumb drive, Advil, and reading glasses, because that’s how long it takes most of us to get published, (Pricilla Warner), agreed to meet me on the stage and ask mutual powerful questions in public with a naked heart in their hands (Kelly Corrigan, Jennifer Weigel), social media support in Tweets, Facebook posts, etc. (Nigella Lawson, Giada de Laurentiis, Patty Chang Anker, Sukey Forbes), and radio love (Dr. Christiane Northrup, Shelia Hamilton).

With Lee Woodruff at book signing.

With Lee Woodruff at book signing.

We all just say the same thing in our own way: pass it on. So when local author, Christine Carbo landed a two book deal with Simon and Schuster, not only did I run to her book party even though I was drinking from the firehose getting ready for my second June Haven Retreat, but I asked her if I could shine a light on her new book (and her writing process) on my blog. Writers must support each other. No matter what you care about deeply, I hope that you will be generous and kind, and take heart in the power of passing it on.  I hope this will inspire you!  yrs. Laura

Christine Carbo, debut crime-fiction author of THE WILD INSIDE, a gripping crime novel about the perilous, unforgiving intersection between man and nature, shares some thoughts about writing her first crime-fiction novel and the wild area that fuels her writing.

1) As a debut author, what has been the most exciting thing for you when it came to breaking into the traditional world of publishing?

Like many artists, I felt very vulnerable to put my work out to the world, and I always sensed that if and when I was signed on, that it would be the boost of confidence that would be most important and exciting for me. It turns out that that is true to a large degree, and in fact, I was over the moon when my agent was selling The Wild Inside because I had offers from two major publishers, which was more than I ever imagined. But ultimately, as cliché as this may sound, the most exciting thing for me has been getting that first real reader – the reader not needed for edits or feedback or reviews, the reader who simply writes a letter to you because they feel inspired to do so. Mine came from someone who received one of my galleys in a random galley give-away. She loved the story and wrote that she thought The Wild Inside had a poignancy like a movie she had been fond of for long time, in which a young man drowned, and because of that, a whole world of tragedy unfolded. She pointed out that sometimes all it takes is one human event to reverberate outward and affect many lives. The satisfaction and excitement to finally have that first real reader provide unsolicited comments was well worth all the hardships an aspiring author goes through to get that first work out there!

2) Living near a stunning national park and surrounded by the beauty and splendor of the location, as well as residing in the tight-knit communities of Montana, is the rural setting ideal for your characters? Do you find it more exciting than the big city life?

I don’t necessary find it more exciting than big city life. In fact, when I originally set out to write a crime thriller, I was concerned that when it came to “writing what you know,” I didn’t live in a dynamic, bustling, sexy city that exposed me to enough interesting criminal elements to pull off crime fiction. But, when I really began to pay attention to the area I live in and love, I began to see that it was full of interesting contrasts in terms of economic and environmental issues. And as far as crime goes, well there’s plenty of that no matter where you go, and my neck of the woods has no shortage. And don’t get me started on the number of serial killers in the Northwest!

And yes, the rural setting in The Wild Inside turned out to be an excellent match for my characters in many ways. Not only was I able to use the natural conflict of surrounding communities plagued by unemployment and sometimes drugs, and of small towns nestled against great patches of wilderness and all the wonders and dangers the wilderness has to offer, I was able to write about the place I love the most: the evocative and commanding Glacier Park. When I began to think of Glacier in terms of its haunting nature, I found it to be very dramatic and highly atmospheric. It became a living, breathing character for me, and in my protagonist’s mind (given the history of losing his father to a grizzly attack while camping there when he was young), the park itself became his antagonist. In some ways, Glacier Park – glorious and savage – is the “star” character of the book.

3) Your novel takes a look at nature’s wilder or darker side. When you’re in the great outdoors in Montana, how often do you feel the threat of the wild?

Northwest Montana’s nature can be quite imposing—not so much because it feels like a daily threat, but because its presence has a strong force or pull. In the Flathead Valley where I live, it is not uncommon to see elk, moose, coyote, bear, fox, and other wildlife just minutes from town. Or, you can be running an errand, your mind on all the things you need to get done and skip a breath because the evening light hitting the surrounding mountains is so inspiring. The natural world surrounds us and tugs at us. And it’s quite special to be constantly reminded of it—to be yanked away from the daily routine of work and errands – even our solipsism – to stop short because the scenery competes for our attention or because a herd of elk passes through the back yard. But we get used to the wild, so it doesn’t feel like a threat, yet there is a respect we have for it. Most of us consider risk-management in some way, not unlike those who live and play near the ocean and are careful about the tides and certain marine life. I carry capsaicin bear spray often, depending on where I choose to walk the dog or to go hiking, and sometimes just taking the trash out before it gets light out makes you wonder what lurks in the bushes beside the driveway. Neighbors frequently lose their cats to anything from owls, eagles, or mountain lions; and pet dogs are sometimes taken by lions and even wolves every so often. We had a black bear in our backyard just two weeks ago. When I walk the dog and see mountain lion or bear tracks on the trail or a pile of bear scat, it definitely carries some weight, some wonder. It reminds me of our mortality and that the untamed parts of our world do present a certain system that many of us—safe in our cities, homes and cars—have been able to disconnect from to a degree. This wonder helps fuel my writing

4) How do conflicts and such wonders show up in THE WILD INSIDE?

In THE WILD INSIDE, some of the conflicts revolve around characters in communities lying just outside Glacier National Park. Glacier draws over a million people (more than Montana’s population) each summer and most of these visitors drive through a canyon where the Middle and South Forks of the Flathead River cut through. The towns in this canyon rely on the onslaught of tourists for a short-lived season, but they are also poverty stricken places with few job opportunities. Heavy drinking and drug use, especially meth, are problems. In my main character’s investigation, he faces the life-styles the locals face as well as the kinds of conflicts that arise in Glacier Park, both intra-agency issues as well as ones that arise from trying to manage nature in order to keep it wild, yet accessible to millions of tourists.

And wonders? Well, they abound in the wilderness, and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to show some of the natural world without sounding preachy. If I can simply release some of the wild in a reader’s mind, let them slide to the side of politics and statistics read in daily papers or journals for a moment, then I am thrilled. In THE WILD INSIDE, I am able to write about the majestic grizzly bear to a small degree – hopefully let its heart beat on the page, and it thrills me to let that animal loose from its cage of statistics, at least in one’s mind. If I can do that with bits and pieces of our natural world, then I feel I have perhaps unwittingly become a servant of Mother Nature, and I love that feeling.

For your main character, how do the tensions in the wild stack up against the human ones?

For Ted Systead, an investigator from the Department of the Interior, who gets called to Glacier to investigate a crime where a man is found dead and bound to a tree, the tensions presented by the wild stack up in his mind much more intensely and ominously. Glacier is the last place Ted wants to work because when he was fourteen, he witnessed his father get mauled and killed by a grizzly while camping there one night. In many ways, the dynamics of being in Glacier, among its wild elements, proves to be much more haunting than some of the disturbing, ruthless, but common human crimes in the local towns outside the park.

5) What comes next? Are you already “deep” into the next novel?

I have already written and turned in the second novel to my editor and will soon be in the process of revising it while simultaneously doing events for The Wild Inside and beginning work on a third novel. The second book will also feature Glacier National Park, and calm and methodical Monty, Ted’s assisting Park Police Officer in The Wild Inside, will lead the next investigation in the beautiful, lush Glacier Park during the summer months when it is in full swing. In some ways, readers will feel like it is a series, since Glacier – practically its own character – continues on, even though both novels can stand alone.

Thank you for interviewing me, Laura!

 

Christine_Carbo-3Christine Carbo grew up in Gainesville, Florida until she moved to Montana when she was twelve. After earning a pilot’s license, pursuing various adventures in Norway, and a brief stint as a flight attendant, she got an MA in English and Linguistics and taught at a community college. She still teaches in a vastly different realm as the owner of a Pilates studio. She lives in Montana with her husband, three kids, one incredibly silly dog and one self-possessed cat.

www.christinecarbo.com
Twitter: @christine_carbo
FB: Christine Carbo, Author
“Evocative debut…Carbo paints a moving picture of complex, flawed people fighting to make their way in a wilderness where little is black and white, except the smoky chiaroscuro of the sweeping Montana sky.”-Publishers Weekly

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Great pearls of wisdom for writers!

The wise Bill Kenower of the free online magazine Author speaks about writing. This is vastly helpful…and beautifully pure. Check it out.

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