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.