The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU is proud to offer four creative writing classes through the Piper Writers Studio. Classes are taught by acclaimed and award-winning writers from the community, and cover topics such as first-draft novel writing, novel revisions, persona poetry, and creative non-fiction.
The faculty for the Fall 2016 session of the Piper Writers Studio are:
Michael A Stackpole, a New York Times best-selling author known for his extensive fantasy and science fiction work in the Stars Wars, Conan, and World of Warcraft universes. Stackpole will be teaching Winning NaNoWriMo Tuesdays, October 4 – 25, 2016 from 6 – 8 p.m.
Carol Test, an award-winning short-story writer and former editor in chief of the Sonora Review who has taught workshops for the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Phoenix College, and Mesa Community College. Test will be teaching Remodel Your Novel: Five Key Scenes for Fiction Writers Wednesdays, October 5 – 26, 2016 from 6 – 8 p.m.
Marshall Terrill, veteran film, sports, music, history and popular culture writer with over 20 books to his credit, including bestselling biographies of Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley, and Pete Maravich. Terrill will be teaching Beyond the Facts: Writing Compelling Non-fiction Wednesdays, October 5 – 26, 2016 from 6 – 8 p.m.
Lois Roma-Deeley, an author with three collections of poetry and numerous publications in anthologies in journals who founded the creative writing program at Paradise Valley Community College and received an Artist Research and Development Grant from the Arizona State Commission on the Arts in 2016. Roma-Deeley will be teaching Another Voice: Creating Memorable Poetic Personas Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Classes are open to individuals of all backgrounds, skill levels, and experiences, and are designed to fit around the schedules of working adults (taking place weekday evenings or weekend afternoons). Most classes are held at the Piper Writers House, the historic President’s Cottage on the ASU Tempe Campus. Class sizes range between 8 and 12 students in order to ensure an intimate, individualized educational experience, and start at $75 (with discounts for individuals who are members of the Piper Circle of Friends). Classes can also qualify for professional development credit with the Arizona Department of Education. Individuals can register for classes through the Piper Center’s website until Monday, October 3rd, 2016.
November may be National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but for ASU students and Tempe residents who’d rather try their hand at shorter works, this is also the month to start preparing for a new spring writing challenge.
The writing contest, which invites submissions in the genres of poetry, short fiction and nonfiction, is open to all Tempe residents, Tempe Library cardholders and all ASU students.
Entries will be accepted between Jan. 15, 2015 and Feb. 15, 2015 at this online submission link, and individuals may submit one piece in each genre if they wish. Entries will be read anonymously within three judging categories: high school student, college student (undergraduate or graduate) and community adult. One winner from each entry category will be chosen for each genre.
“The contest was the idea of several of the Tempe Public Library staff,” explains Jill Brenner, adult services librarian. “We’ve recently been offering more programming for writers as a natural extension of library services. The response has been fantastic, so we wanted to take it one step further.
“We immediately thought of ASU as a partner, since several of our writing workshops are being presented by ASU faculty members,” says Brenner.
She began collaborating in August with Jeanne Hanrahan, faculty associate and liaison for ASU Academic Success Programs, and Duane Roen, College of Letters and Sciences interim dean, to organize the contest and enlist judges from the university’s creative writing community.
“I thank the many faculty and staff who have enthusiastically stepped up to support the contest, and hope faculty across ASU will encourage their students to submit their writing,” observes Roen, who enjoys leading Tempe Public Library workshops to inspire family-history writing. “The process of writing, like any of the arts, can be an outlet for expression and a lifelong journey that enriches our individual lives and our communities.”
The Tempe Community Writing Contest winners will be announced in the spring and celebrated at a reception at Tempe Public Library. Winning entries will also be published on the library’s website. Additional information and contest details and a PDF of the contest announcement can be found at the Tempe Public Library events webpage.
For more information visit: https://asunews.asu.edu/20141110-tempe-writing-contest
Let me clarify something first. My definition of revision:
1. The act of completely revamping a previous version of a story.
2. When God looks down after creating the earth for six days and says, “Nope. Not so much.” And so He erases days two through six and starts again at day one. The general concept of creation wasn’t bad; it was everything that came after that was wrong.
Please understand that when I say revision, I don’t mean small edits. I mean that I trashed my previous story and started with a blank slate. That’s a revision in my world.
So, how many revisions are too many? I have asked myself this question countless times over the last six years. Six years. That number sounds frightening when I stop and realize that I’ve been working on the same story for over half a decade. Okay, so it’s not really the same story. In fact, in many respects it’s completely unrecognizable. But in my heart, it’s the same story.
Here’s how my novel began. It was my final semester of college, and I was on the top of my writing game. I wrote a short story as an assignment for my Advanced Fiction Writing course, and BAM, there it was—my future novel. Set in our world and a fantasy world, it was light-hearted, fun, meant for children, and I loved it. My classmates loved it too. And I thought, “I have the idea; that was the hard part, now to finish it. No problem!”
Two years later, college was long behind me and I hadn’t touched my story since graduation. I had thought about writing. I even broke it out now and then, but never with serious intent. So it sat, dormant but ready to be completed.
Then came NaNoWriMo 2010, and I decided to seriously attempt it. But my story couldn’t stay the same because I wasn’t the same. Suddenly within one month, it transformed from a child’s tale into a young adult novel. It was no longer light-hearted, but dark and complicated. And it was the beginning of a long journey of which I’m still caught in the middle.
Since NaNo 2010, I have revised my story over five times—until settling on an adult urban fantasy novel that’s still in the works. In some cases, my drafts have reached over 100,000 words. But inevitably, with every iteration, I reach a point where I scratch the entire thing. Whether I’m halfway through, a quarter of the way through, or even 75 percent completed, I always get to a chapter, a scene, or a character revelation where I get stuck.
Now, you might be thinking, “So, you get stuck. Figure it out and get back to work.” Well, I would love to do that. Unfortunately, when I get stuck, it’s because I find myself in a corner and even if I can, somehow, write myself out, that corner reveals something to me—that the story is not what I thought it was meant to be. Whenever I reach that point, I take a deep breath, shut my laptop, and make the decision to start over from word one and day one.
The amazing thing is, each time, my story has become better and better—more intricate and better thought out. The unfortunate aspect is, I have wasted so much time and scrapped so many stories. I have enough writing for two, if not three, books sitting on my computer, and yet I still continue to revise. At this point I fear I’ll never have a completed story, but I’m not sure how to fix it.
Can too much pickiness be a bad thing? Should I be more easily satisfied, or have each of my revisions been necessary to find the true story—wherever it is hiding?
I have to admit, there is a lot of frustration involved. I know the story is there, ready and waiting to be told, but where is it and how do I get it on paper?
When writing this blog, I asked myself the same question, “How many revisions are too many?” This is the fifth iteration of my blog, and as I write this sentence, I wonder if I’ll get to the next sentence or the next paragraph and decide, “No, this wasn’t the blog waiting to be told. I need to try again.”
Have you been here and faced these same struggles? How did you finally decide enough was enough, or are you still struggling like me?
For this blog at least, I’ve decided to suck it up and say, “Enough is enough.” I guess, you, my readers, will have to let me know if I made the right decision. And that’s the crux of the matter. At the end of the day, it’s not up to me. I could write the story that I know, I know, is the right story, but I’m the writer, not the reader. When all is said and done, the quality of my story, its effectiveness, and the joy it brings, is not only up to me. It’s up to you.
So be kind, dear reader. We pour our hearts and souls into our work and yet we are never fully satisfied, not until our writing makes it to you. When you read, remember that in your hands you not only hold the story you’re reading, but the endless revisions that helped it take shape. You can tell us if we did enough, if our writing passes muster, and that too many revisions were worth it in the end.
So, what do you think? How many revisions are too many?
I’m a big fan of constrained writing—the trickier, the better—because it forces me to confront certain limitations and learn to either deal with or break through them. There’s pleasure in that, I think, that goes beyond self-congratulation. Sure, I’ll do a fist pump, but once I get past the initial satisfaction, a question arises: is what I’ve written any good? That’s when the fun begins.
There’s a saying in the NaNoWriMo community: Don’t treat your November novel like a book. Completing a novel is an achievement in and of itself, and the time constraint makes it doubly so. Still, one should not expect the product of a single month’s worth of steady writing to be ready for publication. Said manuscript is, at best, a first draft. The real work starts on December 1st.
I’ve never done NaNoWriMo, but in 2005, I entered the International 3-Day Novel Contest. Here’s a brief summary of how it works: participants write a novel over Labor Day weekend and submit it to the judges, who then select a winner to publish. Think of it as NaNoWriMo on amphetamines.
Why did I do this? There were practical motivations; I was working on a book that was going nowhere and thought a new project composed under pressure might shove me out of my rut. You’ve probably already guessed the major reason why, though. I did it to see if I could. And I did. The end result was more like a novelette than a novel, but I was proud of myself and felt like I had written a winner.
I didn’t. The note that the judges sent months later was very kind, but I wasn’t even a finalist.
By the time I received that note, however, I’d reread what I’d written and recalled this tidbit from the contest’s FAQ: “No writer of sound mind wants an unedited piece of work to go to print and haunt him or her for all time.” They’re right, just like those NaNoWriMo advice-givers are. No matter what, I would have had to revise. The manuscript had good moments, but as a whole, it was a hot mess.
So, I let others read it and collected feedback. I spent months rewriting chapters, fleshing out characters, and adding details. Even with all that work, though, it still wasn’t done. A little over a year later, I abandoned the project. Once in a while, I’d reopen the file and make changes, but for the most part, it just languished on my hard drive.
Strictly speaking, time-based writing projects like the 3-Day Novel Contest, NaNoWriMo, NaPoWriMo, and the now-defunct Script Frenzy, are not constrained writing. There are no requirements for or limitations on content, form, or style. Most writers know, however, that time is itself a constraint because so many things compete for our attention. It’s one thing for writers to set up a writing regimen; it’s another thing entirely for them to actually follow through.
That’s not to say that there aren’t those who keep regular writing schedules and use their time wisely, but if the popularity of time-based writing projects is any indication, there are a lot of writers who don’t. I think such endeavors “work” because they force us to write with equal parts consistency and irregularity, consideration and recklessness.
One hopes that successful completion of a time-based project will translate into something more profound than a fist pump. Many, of course, hope for publication, but there are other victories to be had: developing a routine, learning to push past writer’s block, and building a community of fellow writers. I didn’t do any of that.
I think that’s why my novel manuscript was such a disappointment. I’d succeeded in conforming to a set of rules, but I’d failed in learning anything from them. Instead, I spent several years priding myself in my ability to rise above any writing challenge, largely because I’d written a novel in three days. After all, what else could be more difficult?
The funny thing is, the more constrained writing I did, the more I understood the trick to it. I had to consider form and function, process and result—what kind of text the rules would produce and what objectives such a text could fulfill. Following the rules of a sonnet will indeed generate a sonnet, but that’s no guarantee of the poem’s quality or its suitability to the form. The same is true of any text, really.
About two years ago, I finally dusted off that manuscript. I spent a long time working on it—an hour here, an afternoon there. It was probably the most regular writing I’d ever done outside of a time-based project. I thought about what I wanted to accomplish. I was focused.
This past October, that manuscript was published by the Chicago Center for Literature and Publishing.
Date started: September 3, 2005
Original draft completed: September 5, 2005
Time of completion: 3 days
Length: ~16,000 words
Words per day: ~5,333
Date of publication: October 14, 2013
Final book length: ~25,000 words
Number of revisions (excluding copyediting): 10
Total time of completion: 2,964 days
Words per day: ~8
The above statistics might suggest that I think time-based and constrained writing projects are silly. Nothing could be further from the truth. But sometimes, you hit a wall. The end words to your sestina don’t work. Your flash fictions run a couple hundred words too long. You don’t meet your daily NaNoWriMo goal.
It happens. Learn. Move forward. Keep your objectives in sight. If you hit lots of walls, reevaluate. Find what’s working and what isn’t. Consider your purpose. Don’t be afraid to try something different. If you succeed, congratulate yourself; you’ve earned it. But, in the immortal words of Han Solo, “Don’t get cocky, kid.” Be critical. Be reflective.
Remember, every day is December 1st. The easy part is following the rules. The hard part is turning what you’ve written into something greater than the sum of those rules.
T.A. Noonan’s latest book is four sparks fall: a novella; she promises that the published version is much better than the one she completed on September 5, 2005. Her current project is a procedural translation/reformulation of Horace’s Epodes.
I cannot count how many times I have been asked what my writing process is. It must be a writer’s most frequently asked question right up there with “Where do you get your inspiration from?” and “How do you spell (insert any word here)?” Because of this, I decided it would be worthwhile to compile a list of steps based on my own writing process and a few friends’ processes.
Please realize, these steps have been made with a longer, prose style type writing in mind but can also be applied to poetry, plays, academic writing, or anything else involving words.
Step One: Idea
To start writing, you must first have an idea of what to write about. Obviously. The unobvious part is where you obtain the idea. Inspiration can come from anything from a dream, to a lived experience, to a passing billboard. Sometimes ideas drift slowly, seeping into your brain in small waves of images and words. Other times, ideas creep up, grab you firmly, and yell “Write me now!” Regardless of how the idea presents itself, it’s a good idea to write it down.
Step One Point Five: Plan
This step can sometimes be skipped, and other times be labored over more than the actual writing. It really all depends on the author and the complexity of the story. Starting a plan can sometimes be as difficult or even more so than writing the story. It’s usually good to start with an outline of major events and a page of character bios. From there, fill in as many details as you deem necessary until you are comfortable enough to start writing.
Step Two: Write
The best and the worst part of the steps. On the one hand, your idea is realized! On the other hand, it will take countless hair pulling, pencil sharpening, teeth grinding, sweating, coffee consuming hours to make that idea real. Ok, so writing isn’t always that bad. A lot of the time, writing is fun! Either way, I find it best to sit down and write out the idea all the way through. Obviously, not every idea can be hammered out in one session at the computer but it is still best to write the story from beginning to end. Some writers like to go back and edit as they add more. I caution against that for the simple reason of many times you will get stuck trying to perfect the beginning and lose interest in finishing the story. If you have a hard time making yourself write all the way through, considering signing up for NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month takes place in November with the goal to complete a 50,000-word novel between 12:00 am November 1st and 11:59 pm November 30th.
Step Three: Read
You’ve sat down and slammed out 20,000 words of brilliance. Now is a good time to go back, read it, and add more if you wish.
Step Four: Edit
Some writers hate this step. More loathe it. Personally, this is my favorite step and I believe it is the most important. Anyone can write, but it takes a true artist to do it well. This is where editing comes in. Take a fine-toothed comb to your work. Start with spelling and grammar and work your way to tone. A professor once told me if a single word has no function in your writing then throw it out. Be your biggest critic and edit away!
Step Five: Use Your Friends
That’s what they’re there for! Use away! Hand them a copy and make them read and review it honestly. If your friends are only praising your work, you may be that great. Or you may want to consider giving your story to a mentor or joining a writing group.
Step Six: Repeat
Repeat Steps Three, Four and Five as many times and in whatever order you want until you are happy with your work. It may not ever be perfect, but it can be finished. When you’re comfortable, stick a fork in it and send it out to be published or frame it and hang it on the wall. Whichever you prefer.
Remember, these steps don’t work for everyone. But if you’re faced with a monster of an idea and aren’t sure of how to approach it, you can always try following them.
This month, November, is known also as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Starting from November 1st and concluding on November 31st, writers around the world write a novel–50,000 words, on anything they want. Some writers are doing this solo, and others are working in groups based on regional location. I have done NaNoWriMo two years in a row myself, mostly alone, and this year I have decided to take a break. Accomplishing this amount of writing involves shutting off one’s “inner editor,” focusing on pounding out and fleshing out writing, and devotion to keeping up with your word count.
NaNoWriMo has been running for 10 years, and authors have even gotten their NaNo (as it’s called) projects published!
Essentially, it’s like most other writing projects. If you want to step up to the challenge, read the guidelines and tips on NaNoWriMo and cut in as soon as you’re ready–though the longer you wait, the harder it may be to keep up! Good luck, writers!
Recently, as our submissions period has ended, we here at Superstition Review have begun upping the ante to focus on content pages and getting information and interviews from our contributing writers and authors. For me, as a web designer, this means I have begun to scramble frantically to meet our publishing deadline, and worry about content shortages as well as time shortages. We look forward to our release, nonetheless, and hope you’ll keep reading and be there to see our second issue!