Monday, March 20, 2017

Embracing Hope by Janell Butler Wojtowicz ends 3/27

Please welcome Janell Butler Wojtowicz to my blog this week. Janell is giving away an ecopy of her book. Be sure to answer one of her questions below to be entered. Don't forget to leave your email addy so we can contact you if you win. And as always let me know if you are a feedburner follower for an extra entry!

I can’t imagine what it would have been like to write a book before computers arrived on the scene. I’d have gone through a forest of paper, a railcar of ink cartridges, and a water tower of white-out if I had to use a typewriter. I can’t fathom being able to read my own hand-writing—and working through writer’s cramp—if I had to use college-ruled notebooks, or even worse, papyrus. My writing style would have doomed me after page one.


I’ve heard that some authors are able to write chronologically, start to finish, then they go back to rewrite and tweak. Not me; my brain isn’t that organized. I write in what I call “chunks.” I’m a journalist by training, and somewhere along the way this chunking method evolved. I’d write concepts, thoughts or interview answers in paragraphs from my notes or research. I rarely had the lead; it usually came after all my notes were compiled. By that time the tone of the article had jelled and the lead “popped.” Then I assembled the chunks into what I hoped was a cohesive whole.

When I set out to write what eventually became “Embracing Hope”, I wrote the opening scene, the pivotal event in the middle, and the happy ending. There was no outline. I’d write chunks (scenes, events, dialogues) to fill in the plot, bouncing back and forth like lottery balls in the cage. The chunks were all sizes—a chapter, a scene, a paragraph. I’d be on a walk and find myself developing a conversation (out loud!). I’d go home, write it and slide it into the appropriate place.

Eventually, the outline solidified and using a physical calendar, I filled in the plot right down to each day. I used a scene-by-scene POV list to make sure the characters are presented equally.

With such a haphazard style followed by the “concrete sequential”, my favorite part of the writing process became the rewrite. When I look at the finished version of “Embracing Hope” I marvel, red-faced, at the first draft: 250,000 words, an outlandish other-worldly beginning, POVs all over the map, no antagonist.

I panicked when I realized the novel had 250,000 words. (I must have been ignorant of the word counter in the program.) I was positive I’d never be able to cut almost two-thirds of the story. After I calmed down, the ruthless slashing began. I lost track of how many times I said, “What was I thinking?” or “That was stupid.”

Word surgery wasn’t as painful as I thought and it took just a few days. I saw right away that it was a better story. Today it’s a down-to-earth 97,000 words, and I added an antagonist who totally changed the theme of the story.

I compare rewriting to making pottery. You start out with dull moldable clay, put it on the pottery wheel and work it over and over with your hands, eyes and imagination. Maybe you have a rough drawing, but it’s in pencil and an eraser is handy. After dizzying spins of the wheel, you realize the piece is nothing but a shapeless meaningless chunk of clay that makes no sense. It doesn’t convey what you’re trying to create or express. So you smash up that glob of clay, rev up the wheel and start over. You rip off pieces of clay and fling them across the room; add a chunk here and there; shape and contour.

Eventually you’re satisfied and the piece is taken to the kiln and fired. Next come the details: glazes, colors, designs. Another firing. Finally, it tells a story; defines either the artist or the recipient. It might be practical, efficient and purposeful; purely artistic; representational or abstract.

Beginning as meaningless chunks of words and ideas spinning around my head, most of them flung across the room, “Embracing Hope” was pulverized, designed and redesigned, shaped and reshaped. It’s been refined through fire many times. Finally, after nine years, it’s on display as a reflection of the artist for all to see and, hopefully, enjoy.
Now it’s time to pick up another chunk of clay and rev up the pottery wheel.

If you’re a writer, what’s your style of writing and what makes it work for you?

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, have you ever started something from scratch, spent what seemed like too much time, and poured love and energy into it only to realize (or be told) that it was a pile of junk, totally useless? What did you do?

Janell Butler Wojtowicz, born and raised on an Iowa farm, was one of those kids who loved to write the dreaded “What I did on summer vacation” essay. As a result, it’s no surprise that she has spent her entire 30-year career in writing, including newspaper journalism, Christian higher education and nonprofit public relations, and local government public information. She and her husband, Frank, live in New Brighton, Minnesota, where she divides her time between writing novels and her freelance writing service, A Portrait in Words.

“Embracing Hope”

University dean Drew McKinley mourns his dead wife and still wears his wedding ring. Falling in love again is the last thing on his mind. Even as grad student Allison Bennett deals with financial hardships and academic challenges, she recognizes Drew’s unresolved grief from her own loss. Student senate president Chris Whitney carries around the secret burden of a dysfunctional family and a just-below-the surface temper. 

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  1. Thanks for sharing your journey in writing this book. I think most of us have started a project and doubted our efforts before it was finished!
    Debbie Lynne, I follow your blog.

  2. My first comment from a potential small publisher was the novel was "overwritten." Ya think?

    1. I have started many things - like needlepoint pictures - that I haven't finished. Every once in a while I will go back to one. Sometimes I finish. I am a follower. nlgriggs902atgmaildotcom

  3. I've started to read "Dr. Zhivago" dozens of times, but the names confound me so I end up watching the movie.

  4. I only write short poems and stories for my own enjoyment. I have started many and decided that they were junk and left them unfinished! Guess I'm not destined to be an author.
    I am a follower.

    1. Don't be afraid to revisit them later. They might be a foundation for something different when you look at them with fresh eyes. I left Embracing Hope on the shelf for a year.