Saturday, December 18, 2010

End of the world. Or just winter break come early.

The snow here is hip deep after last weekend's blizzard and just too much to move out of the way of the nearly one million inhabitants of this city (plus the 'burbs). Taxi drivers are regularly getting stuck down the block and it took days for the snow plows to get to me. But really, the whole event has been wonderful (like a week in Tahoe), if a little creepy (in my daughter's words). She got stuck on a sleepover the night of the blizzard, so it turned into a double sleepover which is fine and dandy unless you don't know if you will have wait till the thaw to see your family again. And, I feel the same way - about the creepy that is. I never thought I would see my city quite so undone by a little snow. Finally we are plowed but the streets so narrow that city buses cannot get through. Confusion abounds about how to get your car out of the way. I am feeling like perhaps the end is near. There are too many people and they don't know what to do. I have never quite seen my city like this. It is this kind of stuff that brings nations down. I have been trying to spend even more time at home than usual. In the old days we would not have seen each other til the spring anyway. I like those old simple ways.

With all the general snowed-in-ness you think I would have made some virtual travels, but I haven't even done that. I have not made it out to folks blogs in the last week and I certainly haven't made it to my own. I guess I have been shoveling. So with this sad showing I am notifying you of my winter break.

TPR is also on hiatus. I will post the next schedule Sunday, January 2nd, 2011. Or you can catch Dianne on the evening of the 30th, when she hosts a pre-New Year unplug Thursday night. I will catch up with you all eventually and be back to blogging soon enough. In January, let the rat race resume!

For now, hope you get to hunker down for the shortest day of the year, write to your hearts' content and enjoy a little eggnog.  Happy festivities and see you next year!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So I won NaNo.

Seems to me like such a funny thing to say. It seems disingenuous in fact considering all the crap I let myself put down on paper over the course of the past month (NaNo = National Novel Writing Month). I was skeptical about the idea of winning NaNo before I even started. I firmly believe that in writing, as in children's sports, there is no winning or losing just how you play the game.

Well, that's a little simplistic, isn't it? We can win. There is money, popularity, good reviews, word counts. But the mind plays tricks and sometimes believing we are winners stops us up just as much as believing we are losers.

So I guess everything I needed to win NaNo, I already knew. I had learned it from yoga, from my crying daughter, from depression, from cleaning the house, from children's sports. There is only the moment and only discipline. All you can do is spend time doing what you love or whatever it is you need to get done. And the whole world is just fluctuations between those two things. And sometimes the things I love morph into the things I just need to get done but they usually morph back again - thank, God.

So yeah I deserve to win for pure tenacity. And I truly did win because I learned to trust my process. I found it validating to circle around my novel like a hawk. In the past I assumed my brain was disabled or something, not able to fly straight. This time I let it circle. And found it was heading straight down river but ever looking for prey. I discovered that when my gut is bored or disgusted with the words, it is just as well to stop and circle.

What do I have now that I am done? A book, mostly in long winded synopsis form, summary complete with motivation and character. I have to flesh out the last third into scene. And probably rewrite much of the beginning. (Oh is that all?) And I have the banner, which is darn good looking, right? I have more faith and I have fear and a very blank December ahead of me writing wise. I have been doing my morning pages as I had promised myself - 750 words every morning since I won, regardless of whether I want to or not. And it is a heck of a lot easier than the 2500 that I was doing for the first twenty days of NaNo. I think I need to commit myself to the next thing - whatever it is. Set my sights toward that and the discipline will follow. So yeah I guess I am a winner.

And I do have The Practice Room to keep me going. Come check out the schedule through the door on the right. Commit yourself. Thank goodness it is only for an hour and then you can get on with the rest of your life. Or some days it is the reverse of that, an hour that holds the rest of your life at bay while you do something that you love. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Facing the Word Count

I am re-posting this from awhile back. Remember? It is the Rube Goldberg machine video from OK Go (Yes, apparently it is OK Go week. What can I say? Their videos are relevant to creativity and that is what I am all about).

Jon reminded me of this video with a take on it different than what I gleaned from it awhile back.  It came up when I mentioned my feelings of insecurity as I write the new WIP. He told me to write on through and to watch this video again. The title of the song is in fact "This too Shall Pass." Why I didn't get it before I don't know guess I am obtuse (like that was ever in question). The idea of pushing through adversity no matter what destruction will befall you. No matter how many pieces of toast (this video) or that the TV and the piano will be crushed in the melee.

I am cruising on my NaNo word count. At this particular moment I have 43,124 words since the month began (I will add 2,500 by the end of the day. That is my daily goal till I hit 50,000 on Saturday. After that I plan on still writing everyday but I will ease way back to 750.). I am somewhere in the middle of my novel with just the barest of ideas of what will happen as I get to the end. I keep having to resubmit to the messy process and push on. This is when the doubts creep in. Is the thing I'm making gonna be pleasant to anyone else, make sense, be obtuse like me? The not knowing what is ahead is painful. It is like being in pitch black scary darkness. But the fact that it has worked this far - that I have reached the middle and there already is the tiniest light on up ahead - might mean I could make it the whole way. I guess it is a lot quieter then the OK Go video, but I feel the destruction on the inside. Facing it is the hardest part.

The Practice Room helps. It is humming along, keeping me disciplined. Come write with us. Be amazed with how productive you can be (obtuse or not, The Practice Room keeps me honest). Check out the schedule through the door at the right.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How I Write: NaNo

I have been really liking my project. My goal is 2,500 words a day so that I will be done in time to properly host my parents when they come for Thanksgiving. So far I have been managing to get my words in, even last week when I spent 17 hours at my kids' school's book fair (today I still have 2000 to do).

It seems to help when I let myself start with a meditation on the page. I summarize the book following whatever nonsense flows from my fingertips, then ideas and scenes kind of come out of nowhere about nowhere in particular in the story. So my NaNo document involves a sort of outline by summery between expanded scenes that circle all over the time line. Sometimes I summarize plot points, other times emotions and conflicts After I am done writing my words for the day, I copy and paste everything in roughly in the right order (each scene has its own text document and title in Scrivener). I have a NaNo document that is a mess, including all attempts at brainstorming and repetitions of scenes and a Scrivener doc that I keep neatish!

I have never let myself write so crazily. We'll see if it keeps working.

The last couple of days has been harder. I'm tapped and insecurity has got a hold on me. So the message at yoga this morning was: Trust. And that resonated.

One month and then its gone. Hit select all and delete and all 50 thousand words are gone. But practice counts. Next time I will do this even better. For now, I am trusting. Trusting that this idea is good enough, trusting that my fabulous critique partners will help me make it better when the time comes, trusting that practice makes perfect and not the other way around.

Please check out The Practice Room's schedule through that door off to the right. How do you write?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lookit! - The New Me

Thanks to Jon. Do you still recognize me? Check out The Practice Room, it's all new too. I am getting all streamlined here and will continue to make it more so.

So do you want to know what it is like to work with Jon. FUN! He says things like: I'm all yours and you tell me what you want and I will try to make it work. I am not the first person he has done this for just look at Heather's and Tracy has a fine chalk talk button, and of course their is the quiet but beautiful wibij. So to start, he threw out a mock up and then let me respond. What if we tweak this? Adjust that? We did all of it on google chat. He'd make a change and email me the jpeg and then we'd compare the two colors if only we could write manuscripts with the same kind of constant feedback. So voila! Here it is! He's a marvel and I love it.  Thank you, J!

The final process was coaching me through uploading all the jpegs and fussing with all of Blogger's fine tuning. Now in front of your eyes is part Jon's impeccable taste and vision. Part Jon's take on me and my two little blog spaces and part my influence as we jiggered around a bit. Process is always so lovely (unless it is painful, as it frequently is) and once again beautiful in collaboration! Many hands make the work light or so they say and that is what I hope for NANO as well. You did not think you would make it through this whole post without a mention of NaNo did you?

This NaNo has really coincided with a bunch of things that have made it possible to be rewriting myself right now. Part of the change will be how I write this NaNo novel. My old one just finished itself up and was a sort of master class in writing a novel, so my approach to NaNo will reflect what I have learned. My plan: slow and steady like a turtle. Thoughtful writing. Yet not too thoughtful! I will summarize the scenes I'm not prepared to write yet and focus on quality over quantity. And yet I am not going to fuss much. This is about forward momentum and staying true to the story and getting the words in!

I should be writing my NaNo novel right now!

Monday, October 25, 2010

What to expect when it is your first day in TPR chat...

Imagine you have just participated in The Practice Room unpluggage hour. You found the schedule through that door on the right. You have shown up at the appointed time to post your goals for the hour in Post 1's comments. Post 2  announced the hour as the host sent you off to work in the above mentioned comments. You have spent the hour ignoring your children and emails and given your WIP undivided attention. You were more productive than you usually are, than you ever expected. You are thrilled and then scared as Post 3 appears complete with a live chatbox. This is the most daunting, where you will jump in and join the fun. Comparing notes and getting encouragement.

This is how it will go:

There will be a place to sign in to Chatroll. That is the site that hosts our chats. You can either choose to sign up as a guest (this has been done by many first time users of TPR) or you can pick a user name and password. Either way we will hail you when your name shows up on the side window. "Hi, guest4651!"

Then get ready, because the questions ensue:
How did your time go?
What are you working on?
What genre do you write?
Read any good books lately?
Do you have a blog?
And then we all share URLs.
Finally, if you visit this week, you will be asked: Are you planning to do NaNo (That is NaNoWriMo. See past posts about it here and here.)

Come ad try it out! As usual, you can find the TPR Schedule through the door to the right.

Special Event Notification: We will hold a NaNo Kickoff Chat Party on Sunday night October 31st at 11 pm eastern. Come and hang out with other folks planning to write their little hearts out during the month of November. This will be your chance to feel the calm before the storm. The tumult will begin at midnight the 1st of November!

Also, COMING SOON: A whole new look, both here and at TPR. The makeover is thanks to the great Jon Arntson and his eye for internet fashion - look at his pretty blog here.

Friday, October 22, 2010


 I have recently finished in no particular order...

The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff - Read this book for voice! And the prose is beautiful. I love what the reader learns in the end of the book about the beginning(and also about the end).

The Dead-Tossed Waves - Liked this one better than the first in the trilogy.

Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick- this is a YA romance page turner, with the flavor of a mystery.

Looking for Alibrandi - The first of Melina Marchetta's books. Good characters. Good romance. Didn't love it as much as her others. I LOOOVED the others.

Everlasting by Angie Frazier -an adventure romance.

Before I fall  by Lauren Oliver - I was so impressed with how she made all characters likable, even mean girls. This book stuck with me.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine - on the short list for the National Book Awards and I totally see why. Told in first person and even as the narrator does not understand, we feel the pain of everyone around her. Well done.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Structure and Discipline: The Beauty of NaNo and TPR

In my other life I am a homemaker. Or is that the other way around, that this life - my writing life - is the other? Regardless of which life you look at, typical structure is lacking. There is not start time or end time, no job descriptions or evaluations, very little in terms of work incentives. The flexibility that comes with that is very attractive; reading time, writing time, kid time, bon bons available at any moment. I love all that. But on a day to day basis I find this lack of structure painful. What's stopping me from getting bon bons at any moment? Better question, what is making me start writing, or clean the house, or force my child do his homework? Although I would never say I hate doing any of those things(I may hate the homework), my brain screams resistance. It would be a heck of a lot easier to just stay in my pajamas and read novels and let my kids do the same. What does any of it matter anyway?

Well, scratch that. The kids matter and so does the husband so I am obliged to do the laundry, and cook the dinner and all the rest. The home work? Well, I have to teach my son discipline, because if I have learned one thing from the lack of structure in my life, it that discipline is the only thing I got going for me as a writer. And it matters that I keep working on this writing thing because I want to get better and eventually succeed at it.

It was from all that pain that TPR has sprung. Not only does it structure my unstructured day into workable amounts of time but at the end of those time periods, I have a cohort with similar goals. We understand each other and know what it takes to get better at this writing thing.

And if you look at it that way, that is also the beauty of NaNo (I spoke of what NaNo is last week. Or go to the horse's mouth to learn about it). I read a post by Michael Stearns at Upstart Crow yesterday suggesting that 1000 words of writing per day is optimal and not NaNo's inflated 1,666 words per day - that is IF I write all 30 of them (but with Thanksgiving in there and my spirit wear volunteer job that is not likely, so I'm aiming for something like 2,500 words per day and taking weekends off). ALTHOUGH I totally agree with him, I WOULD write better if I didn't push so hard.

But here it is NaNo is an extended TPR. As a finite period of time, I can focus entirely(I don't really mean that, life must go on - which incidentally often happens during TPR too) on writing during the month. But before then everything else must get done.

There's the structure that I need. A DEADLINE! We have until November 1st! I will finish that resume, clean a couple closets, write a couple queries, do a little blog re-haul, and make sure those characters are prepared for the deluge soon to come at them. When November comes, I will be writing those words hour by hour in TPR and hoping that you are there to share my discomfort (or triumph! as the case may be). Click through the door on the right to find this week's schedule.

And after November? I guess I will just have to deal with the mess I make when December comes.

What do you need to get done in the next 2 weeks?

Monday, October 11, 2010

In Preparation for Nano: TPR talk

NaNo has been the talk of TPR (The Practice Room) chats of late. NaNoWriMo that is. You know the obscene sounding writer's crusade where people think they can write a whole novel in one month, keeping track of word counts and WINNING when they get to 50,000. And yes, everybody wins when they get to 50,000(I didn't know that). If you want to know more read NaNo in a nutshell page. So it seems a number of us practice roomers are poised for the word counts of November. And today we are just three weeks shy of of the starting gun. 

One of the more satisfying part of my recent revision was when I kept a running tally of words deleted from my manuscript. Each day I watched and thrilled as my word count decreased (odd but true). And, in theory deleting words is easier that writing them, so I am a little stressed about the prospect of all that typing. Thankfully, in the meantime I don't have to type at all, I get to daydream in preparation for the starting gun. I can rake leaves and clean bathrooms while listening to my novel-to-be's playlist. I could collage and find some sort of visual representation that I'd like to capture in words. Or even fill out fun worksheets like this one about plot, and this great new one about characters, or if the spirit seriously moves me snowflake the whole thing.

So do you have NaNo plans? And what do you do to get ready?

And just in case you want to do a few practice sprints during an unplug hour or join us for a chat, find the schedule through the door along the right sidebar!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do you want to do good AND learn some too?

What - I'm posting again so soon after the last post??! I just have so much information to spread.


SWATI AVASTHI has a blog tour that has ALREADY STARTED. This tour is in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness month. All the days of October she has posts featuring different aspects of her debut novel SPLIT (read my recommendation here). And each comment will earn money towards Family Violence Prevention Fund. I know from personal experience that Swati is a terrific educator and I have already learned reading the first few posts of her tour. Follow her tour, each of your comments earn a dollar towards the cause. In conjunction to the blog tour, there is an AUCTION full of the things a writer loves and wants, all proceeds benefiting the Family Violence Prevention Fund. Know that money raised will go towards ending violence to women and children around the world AND the purchase towards the betterment of your manuscript! ...Reading the things Swati has to say about character and voice cant hurt either!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ignoring Kidlit Bloggers Conference 2010 Does You No Good

It is in my neck of the woods, do you hear? I have been seeing the words brandied about and in past years I have paid a bit of attention feeling jealous as other people go and get to meet their blogger friends in the flesh. But this year I turned a blind eye at blog posts and what not about the event, figuring I don't want to make myself feel bad not being able to travel long distances and all (for expense and time reasons mostly). This year it will take place 5.9 miles from my house at The Loft Literary Center - love that place. And I will submit my check today (a mere $45 pittance in comparison to other conference prices).

Read about the conference here. You can see the list of attendees down the blogs sidebar and find a posting about the schedule (Maggie Stiefvater as keynote) and links to other bloggers' plugs for why you should attend. Just so you know, Minneapolis is beautiful in October! If you go, maybe we could carpool?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I finished my manuscript last week.

This time I reached the end of it and knew it was actually the end.  I have passed the 54,268 thousand word document called St. Jude's Shelter for Hopeless Causes off to most of my final readers and I wait for the feedback. This is like it has been before. I wait with the same doubts and still the waiting is waiting, but it is also different. I have changed the book hugely, cut out parts that I loved, rearranged the whole thing and done it again, finally discovered what my MC is really thinking. Thanks to all you folks that help me get it here:  early writing group Sean and Laura, my writing partner Andy (jeeze I cannot thank you enough!), Paul Michael Murphy (who's feedback was totally valuable thanks for slogging through that draft!), Heather (my dear! got me to a new beginning), Jon (yes you totally did help over and over), and last and perhaps the midwife to me and the book in this final form, Marisa(I am so grateful that you loved it's oddness). I will never write a book like this again. And not just because it is totally unique and beautiful in it's finished form but also because I know a lot more now than I did when I started (say amen to that)!

The things Next Book have going for it:
-Confidence and momentum (the antithesis to all the stalling and floundering I did on last book).
-Writing Partners from the first words instead of writing into a vacuum.
-Daydreaming and playlists and having fun!
-Knowing more about pace, tension and character, so as not to torture quite as many folks with my words.
-Knowing how to hear critiques - I've had a ton of good practice getting and implementing feedback and I would not be here without it. It is a hard thing to do and I appreciate all you all have done for me.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I went to Steve Brezenoff's reading

Last night Steve Brezenoff read from his new book THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF -1 at Magers & Quinn. Steve and I met a year and a half ago at a Loft conference. He told me then about this book and in the time since has provided me with loads of useful info. It was a pleasure to get to see him and support him back! The book is told by four different narrators, one of which just has a bit part. Steve read us the first chapter of each of the others.

A lot of things come up when you watch someone you know read. Like: What parts will you use if your time ever comes? How would you answer that question from the back about inspiration? What will you do about the swearing parts when your mother-in-law is in the audience? Or worse, your grandma?!

I did once read my work in front of a crowd. It was required for my MFA degree. I was extremely pregnant at the time and couldn't breathe to save my life, partly because my lungs were scrunched to my throat and partly because I was standing in front of a room full of fellow writers and family. I wrote nonfiction back in grad school and had decided to read the vacuuming parts of my essays. What can I say, vacuuming then is a fact of my life. They also happened to be the funny parts. But I botched it all as I rushed through the whole thing panting and shaking.

Steve's reading was perfect. He paused to prepare us (and his MIL) for the swearing. He took his time and sips of water. He answered the inspiration question and even one about getting into character. He read his three narrators and they were funny and touching.  It whet my appetite for the book (not that I wasn't already chomping at the bit). His reading did everything a reading should do. I wish you could have been there.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Taking a little break and a quick reading review.

I am not gonna blog today and I am sorry that I have not been getting out and about much to blogs lately. I am very excited about my revision and am going to continue on in that venue. You can catch me in The Practice Room if you have been missing me. Find the schedule through the door off to the left.

Reading update:
Finished THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. Couldn't help but love all it's beautifully written horror. I cried at the end. Thought of it the whole time I was canning the day before yesterday (tomatoes from the garden and apples from a neighbor). I hope some post apocalyptic boy and his father find it. I hope my family doesn't ever live that way.

Finished SAVING FRANCESCA by Melina Marchetta. My new favorite author! I loved it's odd density. Gives me some hope for my own dense writing style. And she has such different books in her repertoire This was the second book she had written, JELLICOE ROAD which you may know, her third. I have dreams of a quiet yet brilliant writing career like this. Reminds me of Sharon Creech, not as much in writing style as in career style.

Finished FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK also by Melina Marchetta. Did I say she was my new favorite author??? Fantasy. Hard to get into, but I often find that with world building. Something about the themes reminded me very much of THE LOST CONSPIRACY. In the end I loved the characters and devoured the book.

Didn't finish WHALE TALK by Chris Crutcher. I liked the voice of the book but in the end I found it boring because there was just too much talking and not enough action or interaction really.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How I Write: Reading as a Writer

I am a writer mainly because of the way I read with abandon as a child. It made me want to . I loved the things that words could do to people, and I wanted to make that happen with my own words. But somewhere along the line, I stopped reading the way I did as a child. Because losing yourself in the words is not conducive to learning how to use them to your advantage. Reading as a writer requires a slowness and a certain amount of critical observation. But I have found a phenomena in my reading life that reminds me of that childhood reader. Once in awhile something just turns on in my head and I cannot get enough reading. I keep trying to articulate this. Here is how I described it in a post from last December (and don't let my 2nd person address fool you, it really happens to ME): You pick up a book to read and you are driven all the way to the end(or sometimes you only want to read beginnings but you read the beginning of all 20 books you have home from the library). Your eyes eat up the words and it is almost as if you are searching, searching, searching. It's thrilling. And then one day the engine dies, I mean, it is just completely gone but the only reason you know is because you picked up a book. You held it there in front of your face and you realize you are totally stalled. The words are bumpy. They are in the way instead of pulling you forward. It seems so cruel to find out like this. You were excited to pick up the book. The writing had gotten hard and reading would be such a panacea. But both the reading and writing engines out of gas at the same time. Like a breech in contract.  And you have to realize once again how integral the reading is to the writing and vice-versa. And that there is no way over under or around this mood, you must go through it. 
That description captures it as well as anything. And still doesn't capture it at all. Why don't I have more control over this? Why then are there only these rare moments when reading becomes everything and instinctual, as if some animal brain (not unlike my child brain) is trying to find something and whatever that thing is connects directly to my writing?

For right now I have to be satisfied that that is just it, it is instinctual and I cannot articulate that searching part of my process. Some part of me knows what it is looking for, but the conscious part of me is left out of the communication loop. Afterward, after I have soaked in all the words, the process goes underground. Or at least that is my guess! BUT WHO KNOWS, REALLY?

So, go check out what the rest of the folks have to say! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How I Write: knowing when I'm done???

I guess I would be better suited to answer this question if I had any idea how being done felt. But knowing how I feel about what I have, I can tell you that I’m close. I’ve read plenty of other people's books that were not done yet. Published or otherwise. And I’ve known that they haven't been done. So as far as my own goes, how will I know? I'm looking for the familiar signposts of doneness. You know, word counts, a beginning middle and end, tied up plot lines, some critter to tell me I'm ready, yadda yadda yadda. I have thought I was done in the past, or near done, as I do now, but this time is different--I swear.

To quote my husband’s Uncle Mort: if you think you are lost, probably you have just not gone far enough. We have found it to be almost always true. If we go just a bit farther down the road we find the right turn off. This little bit of wisdom can apply to just about everything. A writer has got to trust she will see the right turn off. The book still needs a lot of polishing and some content tweaking. And I’m sure it would be best, smoother, more solid if I started it over from scratch and wrote it again knowing everything I know now. But after writing it all over again, I would for sure learn something new and then there would be something else to change. So why not just take this new expertise to a fresh idea?

That is just what I am doing: Call myself done for now and move on to the next idea. On vacation I am day dreaming and brainstorming and collecting ideas toward WIP2 and WIP3. And taking a break from # 1, after all these years. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How I Write: Revision Narrative

Last Wednesday the series was about revision, this week again about revision. Why? Because revision goes on forever. Don’t be surprised if next week is about revision as well (it’s not actually) because that is the way revision rolls, all over you!

So I promised a revision narrative for the book that as of yet has to be named: for more about revision narrative go here.

My book saw its first spark of life at the end of my MFA career at the same time that my second baby was born. Unlucky for it. I was totally burned out and pledged to take a three year break from writing. When I returned from that prescribed and methodical break I pushed through a -2 draft (I like the term zero-draft because of what it implies, but this draft was so much less than zero). I came out with the basic frame for the story and I learned that writing is not like riding your bike. Assuming that riding your bike is more of a feel, like getting a feel for balance, that you never lose however long you go without. Writing is definitely a muscle. And my writing muscles were atrophied. I was disheartened. When my daughter was in kindergarten I wrote -1 draft. -1 might be a generous label. This draft took me about 6 months and then I took it to the Big Sur Writers Conference(hugely generous gift from my mom), a fantastic place to make connections to other writers, learn a ton about both the industry and craft in a very beautiful location--I understate--it is sublime. But I don’t suggest you go with a -1 draft.

There was a lot of residue from my MFA experience in that -1 draft. I had thrown everything in and the bathwater too--including mixed metaphors, which I kinda love (they don’t actually encourage you to use mixed metaphors in grad school). While I was at Big Sur, with feedback in hand I took the scalpel to my first chapter and whittled it down and received glowing second reports. What I learned is that I could revise, and serious revision pays off(as does feedback). But the other comment I received was: the book needed to be in first person. I had this whole 50 thousand words in third. A ridiculously poorly written piece of junk that had this sort of experimental meta narrator I was into because she was quirky and self concerned and a little omnipotent. I knew I had to get rid of her, but to totally rewrite the thing from another perspective???

I went home and rewrote the first chapter in first and third person. And liked them both. They were two completely different books. I threw out -1 draft and started writing 0 in first person for no better reason than somebody had told me to, because I honestly couldn’t tell what was better. It took me a year to write. I practiced putting one word after the other without much confidence. It wasn’t until Andy, my writing partner, came along, at the end of that seriously long period of time that I started to get ongoing feedback and really learn what and how my prose affected people. He read everyone of those seriously bad words and told me what he thought. I started to see how words and lines and phrases worked on people and how a reader’s imagination filled in the blanks. I also developed the story and its intricate tapestry of theme--this is an odd little book with an even odder tapestry. Finally after a year of that, I got some online help and that is where revision came into own. I had been relying rather heavily on a ruse in order to hold my readers interest. I had learned in grad school that I wrote beautiful prose but there was no tension to sustain a reader through its winding path. So trickery was my response. My newest critiquers have confirmed what I learned in grad school. I finally had deconstruct the sham structure and face some of my characters more serious hardships, which led me to this current draft. Which finally has a MC that is likable and flawed. And maybe even some interest. Maybe this is draft 1.

And just to refer back to that bicycle thing; now that I got my writing muscle back. I find there is a little balance that goes on too. It has taken me this long to start to get the feel of this thing, maybe it’s being able to balance craft and flow.

A note on my narrative: I left out a lot and it's way too long! I would grade waaaay down for this verbosity. And in the end this covers how I approached revision. I think it would be even more interesting to look at my specific book and take the pieces apart. But for now--enough is enough.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How I Write: Revision

Oddly enough revision is a big deal for me this week. It has taken over my life and I do not want to stop to write about it. I have been in the throws of revision on this same manuscript for nigh on 3 years now. But this week is different. I feel driven in a way I haven't for years. I am cutting cutting cutting away at the last third of my manuscript. If you have been anywhere near me in this Blogosphere you would have heard me say that. Goal = cutting the final 3rd of my book from 30k to 15k words. It is the outline third of my book, not the literal third. If you look at it on a 9 point plot grid, it is the bottom 3 squares. I want to cut half the words away to make it literally one third of all the words in my book. I have cut 6k words and I don't know if I can find 9k more to do. But I am going to try.

When I taught creative writing during my MFA program, one of the ways we graded was on a revision narrative. If my students could really articulate what their revision process was and what they were learning about their writing through that process, it could really bump up their grade. I have often wanted to take that time with my own book, to write a revision narrative time-lining the past three years and what I have learned. Somebody in The Practice Room recently said that revision was a process of layering for them. And for me this layering business has been two fold. Not only am I layering on meaning and tension in my novel. But I am also adding to what I know about writing them. But I find my memory is short and time is in even shorter supply as I really want to get my MC to her final hour.

Next week, revision narrative...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How I Write: Motivation

Yay! This one is easy for me. One word: co-workers. It is a weird term when you talk of writing, right? Writers are solitary beasts aren’t we? Sitting and staring at our own screen, in our own houses, spending time with the imaginary people in our heads. And yet, as much as my introvert self loves that part, my head can easily lead me way astray. Writing in a vacuum where nobody cares what and when I get anything done, nobody knows why it is taking me so long and how come I haven’t published already. Nobody even knows how to ask questions about my work. I think they might want to ask me IF I work.

Well, to be fair, my family really wants me to finish and even cares that I am a writer and supports the time I spend with the imaginary folks in my head, but in moment to moment interaction, they often care more about getting their toast buttered than whether I get 500 (more realistically 5) more words in.

So having somebody actually counting on me doing my thing everyday and knowing how hard it is to plod ahead at my snail’s pace makes all the difference. 

So that’s what I did. I found a writing partner and we meet face to face every couple weeks. I met other folks through blog commenting and reading. We shared our manuscripts and cheered each other on. Heather and I met in the mornings online to get ourselves up and working. It was like having an office where someone was waiting for me to get my stuff done. We unplugged on our own before I eventually made The Practice Room. Now we unplug en masse.

Right now the blogosphere is full of ways to motivate:

Sign up for Writeoncon, or Heather’s Tour de Writing, Patricia Timms is having a Writing Triathalon at her blog or come here for The Practice Room. It will make you feel like you have someone in the cubical beside you and that is does in fact matter whether you cruise the byways of cyberspace instead of buckling into your second draft. They will care that you finish, that you work hard everyday, that you make those imaginary heroes in your head as flawed and beautiful as possible. And you will keep working. Because that is the only way.

I’ve written about coworkers before here.
Find other folks writing about motivation here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How I Write: Drafting

I am sort of at a loss about first drafts. Back when I wrote the first drafts of my story (and I really consider that there were more than just one first draft), writing was something I wanted to do and something I loved, but it was barely part of my life. I needed to force myself to write. And very little of those first words remain. Although those were the words that found my story.

Recently I saved two blog posts that seemed to be about this part of the process.  One was Laini Taylor, whose  post describes how she writes scenes to learn things about her characters and stories (Laini Taylor is also generous about her writing advice with a whole website called Not For Robots full of writing wisdom). She has to remind herself that this writing thing we do is a process of discovery and let herself write things that are not going to end up somewhere even if they are cool. Janice Hardy says every author can expect tangents in their drafts. She is revising a first draft now and says in each scene she has had to find the personal goal of the character and align the scene to fit that goal first and then find it's place in the premise goal. She writes of cutting chapter after chapter of her draft because it wasn’t serving the story but it was helping her discover other aspects of it.

I want to have the looseness and understanding of Laini so that I can write and discover the things to make my story rich and as real as possible.But, like Janice, I want to be able to keep the personal goal of my characters in line with the premise goal of my novel so that both my readers and myself can care about what is at stake. Here is a conflict worksheet that has been helping me to that end (in revision). It is a ton of questions and using them still is no guarantee that I still won’t go astray and write oodles of scenes that wind their way away from that goal.  But with the snowflake under my belt, a plot diagrammed in a nine point grid (see previous post) and the questions that will keep me aligned to the conflict, I figure I am good to go. And I will set out on drafting like a journey. Consulting my maps and compas, I can find my way. But if something interesting crosses my path I better explore that too.

But, that leaves schedule. Here’s my solution. Sign up for Tour de Writing. Sign up for Nanowrimo. Come here for The Practice Room. Take a class. Find some way that works to hold yourself accountable and then get to work and do it the way that makes the most sense to you. Write fast if that is what it takes. Make a collage if it takes that.

Oh, and just so you all know, Heather Kelly offered to host some late night (for her and me) Practice Rooms. See the schedule. There is one tonight at 10 EST and one on Friday.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How I Write: Starting a new Work in Progress

I’m gearing up for Nano, I think. NANOWRIMO, is write your novel now month. A month in which people are sprinting through their stories, letting the words pile up behind them, attempting to finish the first draft of a novel in one month. I have done abbreviated versions of this in the past. In fact the first severely flawed first draft of my current novel was product of a Nano month. But this time I would like to try to spend the month of November drafting after getting to know my characters and plot.

So I guess this is how I get started now. First, I set a goal: To be drafting by November. Then, I figure out what I need to do to reach that goal: It will mean completing the snowflake for this new story and then diagramming it with the nine point plot grid and spending the rest of my time daydreaming about my characters and all their difficult situations. Recently I read this post at Upstart Crow, and I plan to apply the Rule of Twenty to my next book (fact is I think I have applied it to my current wip too, but I wrote all twenty drafts of those options, my new way I will do it all in my imagination.)

And here’s another tip, sign up for Heather Kelly’s Tour de Writing. Set your goal in her comments and keep track of it over the coming weeks. Maybe you will win a prize, or just maybe the prize will be committing yourself to that new project and getting some words down on the page! So I just set a revision goal over there this morning, and now I think I will head out and type a second goal into her comments.

Happy trails everyone, and check out how others start their new wips here!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Engagement Party

We had the most enormous party ever last night. The party was to celebrate my sister's engagement to the fabulous Jonathan (not the Jon A of internet fame but Jon B of Communist Daughter of which I mentioned last week). With a band (so fun!) and 100 + people and fireworks. The food and sangria was FABU!

My sister and her kids are staying at my house and so is my mom and stepfather. AND the house has one remaining bunny.

So I must explain: Our house is located on its own version of Teletubbyland. Lots of green space, and bunnies are a major part of the landscape. We found four in the grass on Wednesday. My dog was picking up the teeniest in his mouth and the rest were scattered like confetti around him. We left them there for two hours to see if their mother returned.

Based on my son's googling, we have estimated their birth date to be last Wednesday morning(the same day we found them, also my daughter's b-day) Best means of care, also via Google, kitten formula and an eye dropper.  Alas when mother didn't return, we figured they were orphaned or abandoned. Wild bunnies are hard to keep alive in captivity, we read. And we can now attest to that fact. 3 of the four have died. But not for my son's lack of trying.

(link to poem eventually)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How I Write: Research

First of all: Ode to Google.
Oh Google, how I love you ! You are always there when I have never been to Bath, England, which (so far) is always (jealous of you, Marisa!).  When I want to know the etymology of etymology and then how to spell it.  When I want to learn about Free Indirect Speech and the rules of the Mall of America. Oh, Google, I rely on you all day long. What would I do without you?

As far as other research goes, I sometimes like to go and be places. Places that have to do with my writing. I like to write in that spot. But more often, I save images and links that connect somehow to the idea of my book. Like this is an image for my next novel: A Catolog of Nature from The National Museum of Natural History

Or this Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Although I have yet to figure out how it relates. Most of my research happens by accident and afterwards I have to figure out how it relates.

I use research for discovery and then I use instinct to know when it is time to stop discovering and put it down on paper.

Now off to the list to find out what research means to other folk!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I had a sleepover with Heather Kelly!

When you work on the Internet you know your coworker only as words on the screen. I had a sense of her voice, just as I would a character voice in a novel, but I only see her, encounter her is when I step up to the computer. The space between us is the great divide. The things that connect us, I can only imagine, ones and zeros, wires and electrical impulses, links and keyboard clicking, our fingers, the delay and the pause. The words, Heather is typing. The emoticons and the lols.
Heather was coming to Chicago. Which in my mind was a halfway point. But six hours on my own is a long way to drive. It was never like it was really going to happen. I hemmed and hawed and tried to imagine going there all by myself. I sort of got a hotel room. I sort of got coverage for the kids. And then like magic my sister and her finance were talking, his band, Communist Daughter (check them out! They may be your new favorite band!) had a show, and my sister wasn’t going to go alone. Their first show in Chicago, what are the chances it is the same week that H. is there? A message from the blogging gods.
The first barrier breached was texting. Somehow her words magically appearing in my phone made my heart leap.
A lot was going to have to come together for this to work. She didn’t have a car. Neither of us knew the city. She had several relatives she was coordinating with. We only really had a  band, a bar and a time to work with. Communist Daughter , The Whistler, 8pm.
We started texting Saturday Night:  “Barbeque plans changed due to rain. At the movies.” “Still driving. ETA 2hours.” “If I get dropped off, can you give me a ride back?”  “We’ll park at our hotel and take the ‘L’. Do you want to sleep over?” “Just finishing up dinner. I’ll text when I’m on my way. Is that really okay?” “Absolutely! Eating at the restaurant next door to the club.” “I’m Here!!!” “Where!!” (40 messages in total!)
So Heather IRL! You want to know? She is much like she is on line. Confident, clear, precise, interested, interesting. But here are the things that I couldn’t have known: she laughs a lot! She looks just like her daughter (I should have known that, but somehow it was so striking to me irl. I have probably seen more pictures of her daughter than of her!). She is so brave (aren’t we all to be doing this writing and blogging thing?), but she is brave IN PERSON. She came to a bar filled with strangers in a strange city and came back to our place where we stayed up late and giggled while we painted toenails and braided hair and talked about the cute boys at the show!
And me, I was so nervous to be talking out loud, I kept using my hands until they were flying all over the place, blabbering and blabbering. But it was okay, she was nice, and apparently my voice is huskier in real life. So don’t be thinking I am a high pitched screecher just ‘caus I type that way. It is just that my hands are flapping around nervously!
Okay, and this is something else, people in Chicago yell. We got yelled at a lot for doing apparently strange things in that strange city. (I think I shouldn’t take it personally. But just know that if anyone yells at you in Minneapolis, they probably really mean it and you should stop whatever you are doing. But you won’t get yelled at here.) But one of the strange things was trying to approach the Bean to take our pictures there (closed at night apparently). So alas I have no proof. Except for the necklace she and Jon gave me for my birthday(last may!!). Which fortuitously, in the yoga studio steam today came apart and I had an inspiration for a few letters that belong beneath the glass (they are backwards in the photo).

This was very special experience. I loved every minute of it, no matter that people yelled or the vlog never happened, and the Bean went unvisited (I got there earlier in the day, but it wasn’t the same w/out H.) and other untoward events. It still made this cubicle across the country so much homier and now there is an actual voice and big eyes and an actual laugh to put with the lol and words on the screen!
Can’t wait for practice room IRL, when we can ALL be together!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How I Write: Backgrounding the Book (for next time)

This book writing thing has been hard for me. This first one is nearly done and  I feel as if I know less now then I did when I started. The more you know, the more you realize there is to learn, I guess.

How do you approach character development/plotting-arc building/world building? For ease, I will just call it Backgrounding. Because that is absolutely what I didn’t do.

I approached this book all wrong. And now I can’t even remember how I did. I had an idea, and it was big. I guess that is the first thing that was wrong. I wanted this story to represent something and I tried to tell it without considering the tale itself (plot), the world (an off kilter reality that I am only now getting in touch with--3 years in), or my main character (she morphs even as we speak).

This is what I have learned on this first book, DON’T START WRITING TOO SOON! I am going to do much of this Backgrounding in my head before I even write the first word of my next draft. I wrote too soon last time

(although I will say that it helped me to get the required amount of words in. You can never write too many words or take too long. Right? I am right, right? Tell me I am right.).

My friend Jon makes buttons and plaques and plotmapthings before he begins to write, playing and trying to see the story. My friend Heather makes playlists and writes out character motivations. My friend Marisa swears by her outline, says if she ever diverges she just makes a mess of things. My friend Dena has a book with a terribly complicated plot that seems to be writing itself, but she must already know everything about it. Kate imagines here character doing the things that she does everyday(just look at her imaginary friends post from today). She says if you spend that much time with them, when you sit down to write you are bound to know what they will do as you throw the hard situations at them (she needs jokes by the way). Paul describes using voice journals and here is Elana’s comment on that post:I’ve never done this, not in quite the way you’re describing. But I have just let my characters talk to find their voice. I put them in a high-stress situation and write out what they say — or don’t say. Then I do a scene where they’re alone and see what they notice. If they talk to themselves. Etc. It helps me ground myself with who they are and how they talk, what they notice, what they don’t, how they describe things, etc. That’s helped. Now doesn’t that sound smart?

I learned most of this in The Practice Room or from folks' recent blog posts. I am going to try all of the above before I start drafting the next book, so as not to try to reinvent the wheel next time.

I also plan to use these lovely resources:
The Snowflake Method: This will walk me through a long involved process considering all the above things. I am so doing this! See how Jon does it.

This clever little nine point plot resource will help me consider the highs and lows of my story, see them visually and how they relate to each other.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Weekly Progress Report (for this week and last)

In Marisa’s Friday Flashback she talked about realizing she was a writer. I don't remember when I figured it out, but I did do it. I wrote a novel at nine in the attic of our duplex apartment. Or I would work on it in Clem's class, during creative writing. He gave me special permission to work on my novel instead of writing a short story like everyone else. I wrote and illustrated it in fourth grade and threw it away when I reread it at 12. I thought it was stupid, unfinished and I wasn’t sure what I was thinking anyway. 

Marisa on the other hand, had a file cabinet. Given to her to keep her hours and hours of hard work. That floors me. It seems like in so many ways a simple file cabinet at the age of nine could that solved a lifetime of problems. What if I had learned organization at an early age? What if I had known then what I do now; that sucking is part of the process? That you might as well just save it all so at least you have proof that you have written the required amount of words to be a writer. QUESTIONS: How many words is that again? Do I really know that?

So after reading her post I noticed a pattern. Yes this was one of those epiphany moments, but it just seems so obvious and stupid now (as everything clearly does). This pattern: Write something, finish it, think it is obvious and stupid then give up on it.

Do you know I started this Blog Post last Friday during the unplug? I was writing my weekly writing progress update and was going to renew my commitment to my book (Heather pointed out the irony of writing a blog post about commitment during an unplug hour supposedly pledged solely to working on my project. How many shades of gray are there? I'll figure it out.) But I didn’t quite get it done, as I had to go searching for my son’s black shirt and then head off to his school skit. I returned to it this morning. And now, it is stupid, unfinished and I’m not sure what I was thinking anyway.

Well, that is what I do. My book is in the same predicament as this blog post, and as my first discarded novel was.

So I pledge the next hour to one more try. Okay? I will get it ready to send it off to Marisa and  Rachel and Terri (my grad-school gal friends who have been waiting patiently). And I will post this post just now, just as it is.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Weekly Progress Report (a new feature of this blog)

I must apologize to anyone still paying attention to me and my blog. I have not been able to make it back to your blogs in the manner that I am accustomed and feel is your due. This hurts my heart. I am missing you all but I have a million living things IRL that are calling for my attention.

My excuse is my urban farm. Do you want to see a picture?

Picture Goes Here 
(true to form I couldn't get my hubby's camera to save the picture or email it to myself so, as per usual, I have nothing to show for it. Like my book, the garden is a total mess. Take my word for it.)

Here is an illustration of some of the urban livestock experiencing life as we know it.

But come to The Practice Room and you get tons of attention from me (and a bunch of other cool folks!!!). It seems to be a system working for everyone (who comes that is. I am a firm believer that not all processes are created equal! So this is a plug for those that have been on the fence!). Find the schedule and The Practice Room space through the door to the right.

Now to the Report!
About The book (FYI):
Heather(my MC, I knew her way before I met the illustrious Heather Kelly) is homeless, as well as hopeless. That is why she and her mother and brother are staying at St. Jude Shelter for Hopeless Causes. And although, Jude, the shelter's director, is not the saint the shelter was named after, he is the next best thing, because he hands out dollar bills and candybars. But what do all the messages really mean? Can Heather learn what she needs to know in order to save her family from Jude's influence and find something to hope for?

Donald Maass' question: If I stopped writing this novel right now, why would it matter?

And the correct answer cannot be:
Because then I would have wasted all this time fussing with it for the past 3 years of my life(and then some), not only writing the damn thing but also telling every one that I know that I'm doing so.

But of course that is the first thing that flew into my head. Unbidden. Unwanted. Lordy!

And so I am questioning everything, like is it time to put it aside. Am I just not passionate enough? Are my ideas stupid, too complicated or a fatal combination of the two?

But, here are the things that I love about the book:
1. The hair: messages sent via hair-do. It is a quirk of my protagonist that I didn't see coming and decided to go with. Along with the hair comes a myriad of magic as ephemeral as faith.
2. The lessons Heather learns. They are important and worthy and ones that everyone needs to know. Including myself.
3. Much of the book is true, well-written and profound. There are things about homelessness and growing up that everyone even with a home and full grown can understand.  And should understand.

I know that I have to throw myself at it full force. I know that there is no looking back. And that this is a crisis of faith. It is not the book itself that I question, but myself. The book is great. It is the person writing it that is faulty. Oh, it is now that I need the muse in the corner (Dena, is that you?). As god is my witness, I will belt this thing out.

Do I have to write it? I think I am past that point. At this point it is all craft and craziness. I alternate between the two.

So what's your answer to Donald Maass' question?