Surfacing at Last
Wow. What a last few months it’s been! From Mo*Con at the beginning of May, to the hubby’s graduation from med school (Hooray!!!), to the Little Man’s first birthday & meeting the awesome Gene O’Neill for root beer floats, to the Little Man’s FIRST STEPS, to moving into our new place in Mass, to car/driver’s license registration, orientation, health insurance swapping, and tack on a sick cat, a couple book formatting projects, a brief but tremendous spike in Etsy shop traffic & sales, and half a dozen plus rejections paired with a brand new story sale (still somewhat secret–woo!)–deep gasping breath: you can see the kind of month(s) it’s been.
Needless to say, I’m digging out and finally surfacing. Writing has been, predictably, pretty sporadic these last eight weeks. There’s been quite a bit of novel-rewrite prep-work, note carding/plotting/etc., but not much for new words. But! I’m already planning to start a six month Chekhov plan (a short story a week, so a total of 26 drafts) to build up my editable (and subsequently, submittable) inventory again. Having a rush of new words, without worrying about editing or changing or fixing–maybe just focusing on one or two problem areas I tend to have (gripping beginnings, interesting PoVs, that sort of thing)–really helps me clear out the creative pipes. More often than not, I find few stories out of the batch that I really, really love (and sometimes a lot more). If nothing else, it tends to get the cliché, boring, or stupid ideas out of my head that won’t go away and are clogging up the idea storage bin in my head.
But things are just beginning to settle down. For the month of July, I need to 1) finish some plotting work on a novel rewrite, 2) retype a problematic short story that I need reviewed by a few talented writer-friends (because I sure as heck have no idea how to fix it…), and 3) start a fun, relaxing, totally non-publishing-worried story for a friend who needs a pick-me-up (and am SO excited about just writing something for someone specific to make them happy). There are a ton of other projects in the wings, and I’ve got to read more, but–*le sigh*. One thing at a time, one day at a time. At least the Little Man’s starting to go down at night so well that I can usually get a couple of hours to myself in the evenings. I’m thinking: writing time! :D
Over and out…for now…
Wrestling the Bull
Today in Mommy-Land
*Phew!* Missed the last couple days because the hubby was home for an extended weekend, but we all had fun hanging out. The weather has been so nice, we’ve actually gotten out for walks! The Little Man’s nap schedule is still somewhat holding, though Monday was a little disrupted due to being out and about running errands out and about.
He’s started babbling even more lately, stringing lots of syllables together in almost sentences. It’s terribly cute! The monster growling isn’t as common, though, so that’s kind of sad. It’s amazing how quickly he goes through these vocalization phases. Whispering one week, clicking his tongue the next, monster growls, crescendo’ing screeches–it’s always changing. But it is fascinating to watch. He’s also just learned how to open cabinets, and has been pulling out all the non-breakable things (as the breakable things are up on the table now…)
But it’s so nice having Andy home during the week, and not just on weekends! I can cope with long-distance if we have to, but when he’s home at night, it’s like I can breathe better. :)
Today in Writer-Land
After a fairly unproductive weekend and week-start, I actually got a lot done today! During the Little Man’s first nap (short, about 40 minutes), I managed to retype the first two scenes of the current WiP, editing/smoothing as I went. Once I type in the next three scenes, then I’ll be able to send it off to one member of my crack team of beta-readers for critique. If I can get that good to go by the end of the week, that’ll be great!
During the second nap (much longer, about 2.5 hours!), I did a bunch of brainstorming and research on the Porter Short Story Challenge, and I think I’ve got it pegged. Mwahahaha! Oh boy, this is gonna be wacky, but maybe somewhat funny. Talk about writers-writing-about-writers-writing-about-writing Russian-nesting-dolls meta. Madness!
I also dove back into the summary draft of a novel that’s been playing around in my head for the past several years. I’m really liking where it’s going, though I also feel a bit like I’m wrestling a bull–the plot is sort of under control, but it could so easily break out of my grip and run amok. So we’ll see where that goes. I only know I love writing novel rough drafts this way. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to capturing that eager creative rush from my youth. Who knows what it will come to, but for now, I’m just having fun. :)
A Novel Approach to Novel-Writing and Structure
When I was in ninth grade, I couldn’t write a five-paragraph essay to save my life. I had good reading comprehension, and understood the material, but for some reason the structure of a five-paragraph critical essay eluded me. I spent hours after school sitting down with my English teacher, trying so hard to understand what I was supposed to do. It was like ramming my head against a wall. No matter how hard I worked, I always ended up with C+, B-, maybe–if I was lucky–B on the top of my graded paper. And I had NO. IDEA. WHY. I swore I was doing what she asked me to do; hell, one time, my mother even sat in with me on one of these tutoring sessions, and even she couldn’t understand what I was supposed to do.
By tenth grade, I’d pretty much accepted that I was never going to get it, that every paper in my academic career was going to be a flung-to-the-wind Hail Mary attempt for a decent grade.
Then, I had Mr. Tulloch, and my whole understanding of critical writing changed. For our first big assignment in his writing class in tenth grade, we were going to write an essay on The Heart of Darkness, type it up in proper MLA format, and turn it in. The revolutionary catch? He was going to write the essay. We just had to put it in the right format. And he was going to write the essay in front of us, sentence by sentence, showing us what he was doing and why. He broke down each paragraph and how to structure each piece of our argument (Statement, Quote to Support, Explanation of How Quote Applies–then repeat). He told us how many examples to use, how to place them for greatest efficiency, what each paragraph of the five did what and why it worked best that way. Sentence by sentence, he wrote a critical essay on our book, and piece by piece, until we had an excellent example of what our essays would need to be like. Was it formulaic? Yes. But once I mastered that rigid formula for essay construction, I could experiment, shift the paragraphs, alter the structural flow to best achieve what I wanted to do in any essay.
Since that day, I never got anything lower than an A- on a paper, and that was a 20-page examination of a book I hadn’t technically read all the way through. The only comment? “Could have gone a little deeper.” Oh yes, yes it could. But the structure was perfect.
This is the anecdote I thought about while reading The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. It’s not a book I would have appreciated when I first started trying to write, because I would have chaffed against the step-by-step formula of creating a novel (which is supposed to be ART and UNIQUE). I would have worried that his method would turn me into one of those *horrifying* commercial writers who churn out two books a year and wind up on the New York Best Sellers List because–ugh, who’d want that kind of success? I would have feared that a methodical approach to novelling would kill my creativity and stilt my ideas.
As a more mature writer, far less afraid of losing whatever little spark it is that makes me want to write, I can only say: I think I’m in love.
Is Ray’s approach formulaic? Yes. Does it have a use? Absofreakin’lutely. I think this book may have finally taught me plot structure in a way I can wrap my head around. I’ve never been a strong plotter. Intellectually, I understand the whole Aristotle’s Incline, three acts, yadda yadda yadda. But I never GOT IT well enough to know how to apply it to my own work. Or how to dissect other works using it. I’d try, but hit some kind of mental block, and eventually give up, thinking “This structure doesn’t work for me, apparently.”
But that wasn’t it. I just didn’t get it. I read tons of words on plotting and structure, and over and over I read the same examples, the same explanations, and over and over I failed to connect the dots. The common explanations just didn’t click for me. But after reading this book, I feel like I get it for the first time.
The book is broken down into 52 bite-sized tasks in the effort to construct a whole novel. As of right now, I’m starting to run through it with my own work in progress, and am finding it opening mental doors I didn’t even know were there. Do I agree with every step Ray recommends? Eh, maybe not. But his method has shown me a skeleton to hang my own process on, to make my summary-drafting technique more efficient and fruitful, and how to move forward from that summarizing to full prose. I loved his construction method, even given that I’m not typically a “jump around” kind of writer, leaping from one scene to another. This book provides just the right amount of structure-to-creative leap, in my mind, to both capture the fun of a first draft, and keep that first draft from devolving into a hot mess.
It’s also shown me how to fix existing manuscripts I have by giving me those structural elements to look for–just as Mr. Tulloch gave me the structural tools to look for in a critical essay. And after mastering the most common plot structure, I imagine I’ll be able to twist things around and adjust them to what I want them to do for any given project, just as I learned to do for essays.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and if you’re struggling with plot and the common ways of explaining structure haven’t helped, this might be the book for you.
(This was one of the five books recommended by Peter M. Ball in his post about narrative structure.)
Day(s) 7 & 8 – VICTORY IS MINE!
So I was totally in bed last night, all tucked in and super comfy, when I realized I hadn’t updated yesterday’s progress. Oops! Ah well, life moves on, so I’ll recap a little for both yesterday and today.
Yesterday was delightful for a very specific reason: I started my Christmas cello lessons! The hubby and I have been talking for years (literally, years) about taking cello lessons at some point, but we’ve never gotten around to it. So this year for XMas, my folks got me (and by proxy, him too!) three months of cello lessons with a local teacher. It’s awesome. I’ve been so out of the loop musically, that it does feel like starting over from complete scratch–even holding the bow tires out the hand faster than I expected–but I’m pumped to be jumping into something new. Music lessons are a great reminder, too, about what it means to be a beginner. You start off with absolute, seemingly ridiculous basics (how do I take out the end-pin? Where are my fingers supposed to go on the neck? Am I holding this thing right?), and it’s mainly a matter of practice and dedication. One step follows another, progress is made with time and effort, but you really can’t speed up or jump over the beginning stages. You have to progress one step at a time.
Which is actually pretty hard for me. It’s something I’ve come to recognize this year specifically in the pressure I often put on myself. It isn’t new: when I was a toddler, I kept trying to run. I didn’t know how to walk, but I didn’t want to go slow: I wanted to run! Now! It actually kept me from learning to walk quite as soon as I might have if I’d been more patient. It was only when my folks unwittingly set me at the bottom of a pretty steep hill on a day out and about that I managed to run all the way to the top without stopping, and from there–backwards–I learned how to walk at a slower speed. I’m still like that–wanting to jump and swim and race in my daily life and in my career a lot faster than is realistic (or even good for me) at this stage. I often have to remind myself to slow down. It’s not a race. It’s not who gets there first. It’s taking the process one step at a time, so I don’t have to go back and re-learn things I would have picked up earlier if I’d only been calm enough to receive it.
That said, I’m thrilled to pieces to announce that I have–at long, long last–finally finished a rough draft of my own first original novel!
That’s right! The first ever! It still doesn’t quite feel real, but there’s something special about typing “The End” on that last page. Gosh! *Phew!* It clocked in a little longer than I’d been hoping for (about 97,000 over my estimated 95,000), and boy oh boy will it need work, but for now, I’m just gonna party like it’s 1999, and worry about that a few months from now when I dare to pick it up again. I’m just thrilled to get this one out of my head for once. HOORAY!
WRITING PROJECT: In a world where wars are waged in shadow and the separation between man and machine is shrinking by the day, a war-droid wielding cyborg-girl begins a secret battle against those who would control her and destroy the only chance of a future she’s ever had.
Working Title: Shadow Games: Book 1 of the Shadow Engines duology
Added Words: 3660 (Day 7 & 8)
Total Words (to date): ~97,400
Happening Today in the World of Fiction!: Finished! It’s finished! Ascendancy completed! Revenge enacted! Doom wrought! And a little seed of hope planted. And we get to meet a sassy clone. :D
Notes: It’s crazy that this thing is done. It’s only the first part of the longer story, but it’s the main part of the story I’ve wanted to tell for almost a decade now. Having cleared the fan-fiction novel out of my brain in September, and now getting THIS one out of my head (which has been knocking around just as long) is nothing short of a miracle. I never thought I’d be able to do it. But I did! Ho-ho! Go me!
EDITING PROJECT: Ghosts and legends and Bluebeard, oh my! The cold Maine coastline! Haunted grounds! Ribbons and bitter, ghostly wives! Dueling secrets! True love? Perhaps!
Current Editing Project: Nobody Here But Us Monsters
Accomplished in Edits: (Day 7) Got started on the next rewrite scene (just two left!), and I’m still loving this POV switch. It gives me so much more flexibility to explore both BB and the New Wife’s personalities separate from each other, without needing to always filter those views through each other’s eyes. Way, way, way, WAY more useful. And much more interesting to write! It’s getting close to that 5k marker, so I suspect there’ll be some trimming on the far end of this, but for now, onward and upward!
Hooray for me! I think I’ll eat out tonight. Maybe Italian…Mmmm, I could go for pasta… :D
A Brief NANOWRIMO Debriefing
Well, I can tell you right off the bat that my attempt at this years National Novel Writing Month has been vastly more successful than the crash-and-burn, crawl-yourself-across-the-embers attempt of 2010. Main improvement? I had a story to write, a real one, not one I’d made up on the fly that seemed like a good idea at the time but had no backbone to it. The story I picked for this year’s NANO was one I have over-cooked in my head for nearly a decade. It was more than well-aged, it was getting gamey. That helped: I knew the characters with ease, knew their goals and ambitions pretty well, knew how they interacted with each other, and with a revamped plot line, it actually came somewhat together.
I hit the 50,000 word count. Easily. Hit it on the 20th of November, actually, and kept on with my goal of 3k a weekday since. So that was nice. Bad news? There’s still a whole hell of a lot left to go. This is my first official attempt at an original novel, so it doesn’t surprise me that it’s a little long in the tooth. I can already sense some places where I’ll be going back to hack out sections, but for now, I’m pressing on. 3k/weekday until it’s finished–really, truly, totally a finished draft.
Number one lesson learned during this year’s NANO? I can actually write pretty fast. 3k is not an unreasonable daily word count goal for me. It’s not always easy, but once I get my shoulders into the day’s work, it can move along at a pretty brisk pace. This was a surprise to me. I’d always assumed, from my short story work, that I was a pretty slow writer. Apparently, I can really crank out the words when I need to, without much crying of blood, either! A rather pleasant surprise.
Granted, I don’t know if what I’ve got yet will be any good, or if it will be anything I can work with in the future, but it’s convinced me that perhaps it’s not so crazy to conceive of writing a novel a year (maybe more?<–WHA-?! Heresy!). Maybe I can even write another one before THE BIG DAY arrives in June. That’d be three novel rough drafts finished in one year.
And that might just be a miracle.
I could apologize for it being so ridiculously long since I’ve posted here, profoundly promise to keep it up with dedication for the coming weeks, and all that, OR I could totally just waltz in here like I’ve never been gone and be all like, “What’s up?” and pretend like nothing happened, and you’re all just staring at me for no reason. I choose option #2!
NANOWRIMO is back (of course it is, you’ve probably been seeing it all over Facebook for the past 24 hours), and I’ve decided, perhaps against my better instinct, to give it another go. I participated in NANO back in 2010 and managed to eek out a terrible 50,000 words somehow, after a significant amount of whining and keyboard pounding. I learned some good lessons from that first year, however, some of which I’ve come to understand the *actual* meaning of in these last few years while working on the practice novel (which is finished now, by the way! Last chapter went up at the end of September, just in time for my 28th birthday). At any rate, I *won’t* be reading any how-to-write books by Delany, so that should help. :)
So I’m going to refrain from writing much about NANO here, because really, there’s not much to say other than: OMGEEEE WHY IS THIS SO HARD?! *CRIES* <–sums up most of my whining in various shades and tones. Look for some fresh posts either this month or next once I get things a little more under control. Lots of things are changing, or have changed, in the past year, some frustrating, some very exciting/terrifying, so should be some interesting stuff here eventually.
Until then, to all you NANO’ers out there: Good Luck! To all those non-NANO-ers, bear with us. It’s only a month. :)