Immersion Master Class…Or What 5 Days at the Top of a Mountain in Colorado Did for My Manuscript

From October 9 through 13, I attended an Immersion Master Class hosted by Margie Lawson. Immersion is an intensive workshop during which you receive general writing coaching and specific help with your manuscript.

So what did I get out of my trip to the Rocky Mountains for this writing workshop? Here are five takeaways:

1. Receiving terrific writing instruction. Writing coach Margie Lawson offers some wonderful craft classes online and through her lecture packets. However, some teaching is specific to Immersion.

Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)
Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)

This was my second Immersion class, and this round reinforced what I’d learned before and added new craft knowledge. Margie not only explains principles of good prose, but provides examples so you can see how other excellent authors wield these useful tools.

2. Spending time with fabulous writers. Our writing group came from here, there, and yonder. With writers from Colorado, Texas, California, D.C., and Montreal, it was an eclectic group. Yet we bonded like a trial-by-fire sisterhood. Those who’ve attended workshops and conferences know the benefit of hanging out with other writers who share their experiences and wisdom, not to mention their laughter and chocolate.

My Lovely Fellow Immersioners
My Lovely Fellow Immersioners

Oh, and I roomed with the marvelous Jenny Hansen. That was an extra punch of fabulousness.

Jenny Hansen and Me
Jenny Hansen and Me

3. Seeing my progress. The commentary from Margie and fellow Immersioners made it clear I’ve improved my writing skills. Having Immersion experiences one and a half years apart made it easier to see how far I’ve come. It’s a bit like the kid who grows bit-by-bit, but you only recognize just how tall they’ve gotten when you scratch that pencil-mark onto the growth chart and compare it to last year’s mark below.

Sometimes it’s worth stopping and celebrating how much further down the road you are. Especially since it can be easy to get frustrated that you’re not yet writing like your novelist hero or hitting the bestseller lists or even waving your three-book contract around to your family (“See? It’s not just a hobby!”). I had the pleasure of feeling I really have “come a long way, baby!”

4. Learning my weaknesses. Before we get too worked up about my progress, this workshop also highlighted where I still need work. I’ve come a long way, but I haven’t arrived.

An edited ("Margie-ized") page from Immersion
An edited (“Margie-ized”) page from Immersion

Of course, no author arrives entirely, since there’s always something one can improve. But I know where my focus needs to turn, which writing skills require more of my attention and effort. As I edit, I’ll be looking for those problem areas and applying new skills to fixing them. If I struggle with an issue, I also know to request specific feedback from a critique partner (e.g., “Did anything in this chapter sound stilted to you?”).

5. Falling in love (again) with my story. There’s nothing quite like reading a chapter you wrote and getting all tingly-excited about your story. As I worked on scenes in the Immersion class and polished them up, I read passages I loved, reintroduced myself to characters who engage me, and stoked my desire to share this story with a young adult audience. I fell in love…again.

Ultimately, every word, every scene, every character needs to be something the author really, truly likes — such that she’s bouncing in her boots to share it with readers. And with a few more tweaks to this book, I’ll be raring to go.

While I’m partial to Margie’s excellent writing coaching, I know there are other wonderful workshops available, both in person and online. Writers can look for workshops, retreats, “boot camps,” and intensives that meet their needs. I believe such endeavors are a good investment for a writing career.

ROW80

Speaking of good endeavors, I’m back on track with A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Given my trip to the Colorado and the hard drive crash I experienced on my last night there, I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, I spent much of last week getting a new hard drive, reloading programs, and working with my tech guy to get back my files. Fortunately, all my data seems to be there. But here’s the scoop for last week:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I met a wonderful writer at Immersion who also likes a bit of snark on the page, and she will be taking a look at one of my shorts to give feedback before I publish. I know this isn’t exactly progress on my part, but I feel good about her being able to help me edit well.

2. Read 12 books. I read The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig and Nothing Sweeter by Laura Drake. Two down, ten to go.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. During the workshop, I made some great changes to my young adult novel and got a much better sense of where my weaknesses still are. I’m ready to tackle the edits head-on this week and look forward to having a pretty, polished manuscript very soon.

So what workshops, retreats, or online courses do you recommend? And how was your week?

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Visceral Verbs for Writing

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what discoveries we can find!

To me, one of the challenges in writing is to depict a character’s inner reactions on the page. Instead of telling the reader that someone in your novel is scared, show their visceral reactions by telling us how their gut twisted, their ears heated, their mouth went dry, etc. Show their body language as they cross their arms, slow their gait, etc.

The best authors do this extremely well, finding fresh and engaging ways to express the character’s emotions and even give the reader many of those same reactions.

I recently purchased a book I’d been eyeing for some time: The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. If you’ve not picked it up, I highly recommend this book. It details body language and physiological responses that people experience with different emotions like anger, anxiety, disgust. I can tell that this easy-to-read reference book will become a stand-by on my shelf (my Nook shelf, but whatever).

But I sometimes struggle with verbs to show how a character’s gut, heart, lungs, shiver, shudder, insides, whatever react to an emotion-producing stimulus. So I started to make a list.

Today I’ve decided to share that list with you and ask you to contribute your own words. Of course, not all of these verbs work with every body part, but it’s a reference to draw from if you need it.

Words in text cloud

Ache

Billow

Bite

Calm

Chill

Churn

Clench

Close

Coil

Collapse

Ease

Echo

Empty

Explode

Fall

Grasp

Grip

Hammer

Heat

Hit

Hover

Itch

Kink

Knot

Nestle

Pluck

Prick

Pull

Punch

Race

Rake

Rip

Rumble

Scoop

Scorch

Scratch

Settle

Shake

Shiver

Shovel

Shut

Sink

Sizzle

Slam

Slap

Snake

Sneak

Squeeze

Sting

Tear

Throb

Thump

Turn

Twist

Warm

Wrap

Wrench

Wriggle

So that’s my list of 58 visceral verbs. What words would you add?

If you want to learn more about how to write visceral responses, my best suggestion is to check out Margie Lawson’s courses, like Empowering Character’s Emotions. She also offers it as a lecture packet.

Synchronized Swimming and Novel-Writing

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. This past week, I attended an Immersion Master Class with writing coach Margie Lawson and seven other writers.

While in our immersion experience, I analogized writing to synchronized swimming–which got quite a bit of agreement from my fellow authors.

Synchronized Swimming Team
By Pierre-Yves Beaudouin (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Above the water are women with perfectly made-up faces, happy smiles, and poised bodies, while below the surface are constant movement, coordination, and control.

Reading a brilliant novel should be effortless. Readers know when it’s not–when something pops out as inconsistent, unbelievable, boring, or hackneyed. We know when the novel isn’t doing its job. But writing the novel that appears effortless takes real effort.

“It’s hard work to make a four-minute program look effortless and elegant.” – Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt

What does that effort entail? Here are some takeaways from my immersion experience.

Every word matters. Every word/phrase must push the story forward or inform the reader about the setting, character, or point of view. It’s easy to get lazy and include passages that sound lovely or describe the character, but don’t really matter in the overall scheme of the story.

In a well-written story, anything and everything can do double-duty. The weather in a setting can convey the mood of the scene or the characters. The way a person is described can illuminate the reader not only about the character described but the perception of the character doing the describing–the POV narrator. What do they notice? The dialogue and cues show what characters reveal to others as well as their subtext, creating tension for the reader.

Here’s a before-after example of lazy writing vs. revealing writing from my WIP, a young adult contemporary novel titled Sharing Hunter:

BEFORE: “No time to lose,” Chloe said. “Did you see those other girls tonight? The vultures are circling.”

AFTER: “Hey, no time to lose.” Chloe blew a smoke ring that hovered in the air before it broke apart and disappeared. “Carpe diem, and all that.”

In the first example, the message is there. Chloe is impatient and wanting to move forward. But the latter version tells you a lot more about her character. She’s a high school girl who’s not only smoking a tobacco pipe, but she’s taken the time to master blowing a smoke ring. She quotes the Latin phrase Carpe Diem, but brushes it away with the “all that.” You get a far better sense of who she is.

It takes longer to write version #2 (And who knows? There may be a version #3), but now the dialogue passage pulls its weight.

Rhetorical devices are an indispensable tool. Most of us know rhetorical devices like simile, alliteration, and allusion. But have you ever heard of epistrophe? Anadiplosis? Zeugma? These rhetorical devices are taught by Margie Lawson through her lecture packets, online courses, and in Immersion Master Class. When used well, they bring the writing to a deeper level.

Without telling you what zeugma is, here’s a before-after comparison from another scene in Sharing Hunter:

BEFORE: Couples weave through each other, holding hands and punch cups.

AFTER:  Couples wove through the crowd in tuxedos and dresses, grasping hands and punch cups and memories.

The first is descriptive; you see what’s happening. But the latter goes deeper, gives the reader a better sense of the mood of the prom with high-schoolers all swanked-up and taking mental snapshots that will last a lifetime. Didn’t you grasp a few memories from your prom? I did.

Time and persistence are key. There is a perception among non-writers–and sadly among some writers–that books can be turned out within a few short weeks or months. I heartily disagree. I can get a first draft out rather quickly, but a novel that sings takes far longer. Winston Churchill once said, “Continuous effort–not strength or intelligence–is the key to unlocking our potential.”

It takes time and persistence–continuous effort–to go through draft after draft making sure that you have created the best novel you can. And with life’s distractions and other story ideas tugging at us, it’s hard to keep that proverbial nose-to-the-grindstone attitude and push through.

Yet a well-written novel is a testament to language and beauty and the very best that humanity has to offer. Whether that novel is a literary masterpiece or a frolic-in-the-pages beach read, readers will savor that extra effort under the surface, even if they never see what’s going on in the deep end.

Community is a beautiful thing. One of the highlights was spending the week with some lovely ladies whose novels I can’t wait to read! I shared the immersion experience with Elizabeth Essex, Sylvia McDaniel, Chris Keniston, Christina Henderson, Jaye Wells, Lori Freeland, and Kathleen Baldwin. Not only were they a marvelous group of women and writers, but they helped me with several spots in my own novel.

Being able to walk in and say, “Does this passage work?” and get their feedback was awesome. In particular, they helped me turn one meh phrase into something awesome enough that three teenage girls (my target audience) later responded with, “YEAH!” It helped to have input–not simply from others, but from writers dedicated to craft.

I’ve been so blessed with the community I’ve met through Margie Lawson’s Immersion Class, through the #MyWANA community, and through the ROW80 writing challenge.

And thus, I transition to posting my final progress report on this round of ROW80.

ROW80 Update

  • Read 8 fiction books. Done. I read 11 this round.
  • Read one craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. I finished half of this book and will read the rest in the next round.
  • Visit and comment on ROW80 blogs as a Round 2 sponsor. I missed two weeks, but otherwise I did well. If you’re on the fence about being an ROW80 sponsor, give it a shot!
  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. Done.
  • Complete round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY SHARING HUNTER. I got about 3/4 done, but given what I’ve learned this week, I’ll be rewriting/editing again. But now I’m eager to get going and feel a renewed excitement about this story!
  • Write one short story. Done.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. Just didn’t do this one. My bad.
  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May. Done.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Done.

What have you learned about writing/editing recently? How was your ROW80  round? What compels you as a reader to keep reading?

New Gadget Love, Immersion, and an Update

Running graphic
By Parutakupiu (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. Today, however, we’re running through the labyrinth because I don’t have a lot of time. I’m in Dallas, Texas today starting Day 1 of writing coach Margie Lawson’s famed Immersion Master Class. For the next few days, I’ll be culling through my manuscript and finding ways to make it shine.

So here are my quick shares today!

Gadget Love

I have been through this city umpteen times. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “I always get lost in Dallas!” Seriously, you Dallasites (-ians?) need to petition for better signage for roads and exits. BUT my new Toyota Camry (which I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, Naming Your Car) has a navigation system built in.

Good gravy, I adore this gadget! If I could hug it, I would.

I did not get lost once. Moreover, it told me not only where to go but which lane to get in well advance of my exits. I even made it through a labyrinth of road construction.

I have no inborn sense of direction. The saying in my family is that some of us can’t find our derrieres with both hands and a map. So as soon as someone figures out how to load a navigation system into my brain, I’m there: Test Subject.

Immersion

Way back when, I won a lecture packet from writing coach Margie Lawson on a blog. I worked through the lessons and was impressed with what I learned. I bought another packet. I took an online course. Then I talked to someone who was looking to get Margie Lawson to bring her immersion class to Dallas.

Well, Dallas is a lot closer to Houston than Colorado! So I threw in with the lot of these fabulous writers, and here I am. We’ll be spending four days working on our manuscripts and getting them to NYT Bestseller quality.

No pressure, right?

ROW80 Update

With that in mind, here is my progress from last week for A Round of Words in 80 Days:

  • Read 8 fiction books. I’ve read 10. On #11.
  • Read one craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. Behind on this goal. I’m about halfway through.
  • Visit and comment on ROW80 blogs as a Round 2 sponsor. Done.
  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mysteryDone.
  • Complete round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY SHARING HUNTER. I was feeling bad about not finishing the rewrite, until I saw last week’s update. Basically, y’all, I’ve rewritten half of the book in one week. So it’s about 3/4 done.
  • Write one short storyDone.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. Not yet.
  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in MayDone.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Ready or not…!

So how was your week? What’s going on this week for you? Do you have any new gadgets that you want to hug or implant in your brain?

Lawson Academy Live and #ROW80

So how did I spend my last several days? Well, on Saturday I was privileged to attend a workshop with writing teacher Margie Lawson hosted by the Houston Writers Guild. Margie walked us through how to add power and emotional depth to our manuscripts.

Here’s a sample of a passage in my middle grade contemporary novel before and after. In this scene, 7th grader Beth Whittaker admits that her father is an alcoholic. But Beth doesn’t want to discuss it any further with her mom.

Before (1st Draft): As I spoke, Mom made her way over to me. She shut the refrigerator door and pulled me toward her. I pushed away, as tears gathered in my eyes again. “I’m not hungry anyway,” I said shakily. My mother’s arms enveloped me, as I tried to gently push back.

After (Revised): She wouldn’t leave me alone. She wouldn’t let me shrug off the terrible truth. She wouldn’t give me the yardstick of personal space I clung to like a force field. My mother crossed the floor, pierced my perimeter, and trapped me in her arms.

I had worked my way through some of Margie Lawson’s Deep EDITS lessons, but this was a good experience through which we critically analyzed passages by other authors as well as our own work to strengthen our editing skills. If you get a chance to attend an event with her, I’d recommend it.

Plus–what a bonus!–I got to each lunch and dinner with Margie and several writers, including the fabulous Lori Ann Freeland. What a pleasure to meet in person writers you’ve admired online!

Not super-excited about how I look here, but we had a great time!

Now on to my ROW80 goals:

Editing: SHARING HUNTER, young adult contemporary novel.

  • Complete full rewrite. Rewrote four chapters last week, so I’m very happy with how this is going.
  • Revise using Margie Lawson’s Deep EDITS system. Once I finish the rewrite, I’ll edit through with this approach.
  • Deliver to beta readers. Waiting for the first two.

Blogging

  • Post Sunday ROW80 updates, Amaze-ing Words Wednesdays, and Deep-Fried Fridays. Done, although I flew by the seat of my pants on Friday’s post. Having flooring installed in my house two days of the week interfered a bit with my schedule, but I love the result!
  • Send interview questions to two guests I have lined up for my blog. 

Writing

  • Write two short stories. I aimed for 1k on this goal and only hit 597 words.

Learning

Reading

  • Nothing special here. Just read. A lot. Finishing No Apology by Mitt Romney. (Read Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama in 2008. I like reading the presidential candidates’ books to see where they’re coming from.) Also  started 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson.

Non-writing goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Nope. And in fact, I went to the doctor on Friday and saw a number on the scale I hadn’t seen since my last trimester of pregnancy. My lovely doc’s response was that, hello!, I need to exercise!
  • Sort through photos and complete at least one album. (I stopped scrapbooking five years ago, and it’s piled up into a big mess. Moving into digital albums.) No progress this week. It was really hard to work on it with the floor installers here.

So how are you doing with your goals? Have you attended any conferences or workshops lately you’d recommend?

Be sure to cheer on my fellow ROWers! You can find them HERE.