The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Working on same area. What I've done is break it down by place, each having a brief bit to itself and separated by white space. I think I'll probably have to go back and take out the white space where there's no time passing or real change in setting. I mean, if this was a movie or play the setting might change--or at least the shot--but in real life it'd be like continuing a conversation while you move from one room to another. So, will have to look closely at pacing here.

Now I've come to a very, very brief transition. This time it's driven by character. The characters are in one place and decide to move to another place for a very specific purpose. This sounds easy, like I just have them say it out loud and go. But I've got to be very, very careful, because this is the exact thing that has messed me up before. Notice I said "have them say it out loud." This shows that I'm already slipping out of the mindset where the characters drive the story. A page or two of showing setting and movement, and I'm in danger of losing my grip. Somehow I've got to pause and get back into their heads. They need to do it on their own. They would do it on their own--I know they would. I just need to get my head back in the right place to feel it out.

Looking at it, this wee transition is really kind of important. The reader won't understand what the characters are deciding to do, because I haven't set it up. The story previous to this is full of other things and won't support more explanation or backstory. I don't know that I can dump it here, either--but it has to come out or nobody will understand what's going on. Maybe the thing to do is try to figure out what bare minimum of info is needed. Often just a hint serves as a hook till you can really sit down and explain it. Then there will be the question of exactly when the sitting down and explaining takes place and what it consists of, but I don't suppose I'll worry about that right now.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Was trying to find a book I have on hand that covers movement from place to place, to see how it's handled. Picked up my copy of MW Turner's The Thief, because I know that has a lot of journeying. Just glancing through, it looks like she used white space to show time passing. Sometimes a day passes during the break; sometimes just a few minutes. The scene is set briefly at the beginning of each one, and they don't necesssarily end on a "hook," per se.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Worked on same as yesterday and day before. What I'm striving to do--I see it now--is get the pacing fast, the writing tight, and the story moving quickly, without giving up what I like to do and what draws me to write in the first place. Plot + character: quite a chunk to chew on, for me. Am I getting this whittled down and working? Don't know. Must be patient: three steps forward, two steps back, as long as it takes till I get it right.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

So I've been working on this transitional chapter for a couple of days, and I've thought about so much and tried to figure out so much that I'm overwhelmed and confused about what's in it and what's not, what's been said and what's not. I can't just sit down and dive back into it because my mind's been juggling so many things that I don't know where I am. Well, technically I know where I am; I'm between point A and point B, having gone through subpoints C, D, and E. But I don't know what I've established or what the general mood is, for the characters or reader. So I decided I'd better change font, print out, and try to get a feel for my position.

And then when I actually looked at the ms, it turns out that two days of labor have produced just under two pages of ms (single-spaced), around 1000 words. I feel like I've written a ten-page tome in that time. I was thinking I might even need a chapter break, it was getting so long; that's one reason I decided to re-font, print and read, was so I could see where a good stopping place might be.

Now I'm afraid to look at it, because two pages should not be that big of a deal, transition-wise. It's almost nothing. Pacing should not be a problem. My dog could make this sprightly and readable.

But what if it's a total mess? What if these two wee pages are murky and confusing and a complete loss of two day's work that leave me in even worse shape than I was when I started them? That's why I don't want to look.

But I'm gonna. Yeesh.
Today is one of those days I am reluctant to blog and feel I shouldn't even have a blog. The purpose of an author blog is to network or promote books. I look like an idiot, blogging honestly about daily process. I look like the only writer out here who doesn't know what I'm doing. The comparison with other blogging writers is probably actively harmful to my career. Not to mention most people interested in thinking about the nitty-gritty of writing probably just want answers. They want to know that there's a right way to do things, and they want somebody to tell them what it is.

Well, anyway. Sigh. For the past two days I have been working on a transitional scene/chapter in my WIP. It's like pulling teeth because it's a transition. It may also be like pulling teeth because it sucks, but I don't know that yet. The fact is, this ms requires me to write descriptions, explanations, and transitions that are needed for story rather than for characterization. I have a transition here, where two characters have to go from place A to place B. But to get there they have to pass through places C, D, E, and F, which will all show up again and which will all be somewhat important, so I don't feel I can skip them with a break for white space, or cover the whole movement with a line or paragraph. I think I need to cover each place with enough punch to be remembered, but I need to do it quickly and succinctly--just enough so that the reader will recognize the place next time we're there, and have a feel for it.

Also, by the time the characters get to place B, the reader has to know circumstances G, H, and I. This is all a matter of pacing; I can't stop dead at an exciting point and insert information about why it's exciting. It has to be planted earlier, so naturally that the reader has absorbed it without breaking reading stride. The problem is that as I'm writing I can't tell whether I'm putting all this stuff in the right place, or whether I'm mucking up the pacing and bringing everything to a halt. I have to just do my best and then come back later and look at it. But this forces me into a patchy craftsman kind of mindset that is nothing like the flowing mindset I apparently need for a ms to come to life.

What I think is that I need to be able to do both (patch and flow; explain and feel), without having one swallow the other up. Right now I must get this transition in; the characters have to move through physical space, and it can't be skipped with a break. I'm trying to pull in other things (dialog, character, feelings) along the way so that it's something I can get into rather than just doling out information. But I'm terribly worried that I'm not working towards being able to do both (p&f; e&f); that I'm really getting off track again while loftily assuring myself that I'm using my strengths to push through my weaknesses.

The amusing/sad thing is that I'm not under any illusion that this is the great American novel. At best, it'll be just a fun book. Nothing earthshattering or remarkable about it. You'd think all this work and thought would produce a masterpiece, but alas, such is not this ms' fate. Knowing this doesn't make me love it any less, though.

Oh well. Back to work.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Today worked again on trimming my beginning into something that looks like a book. In other words, I am again blindly trying to integrate my usual process with a story that has an actual plot. At some point, this is bound to work; the two have to meet up, just because I'm smarter than a monkey.* I may be in my dotage by the time it happens, but eventually this will make a something readable.

The way my process affects my writing hit me this week in a conversation with a writer friend. Said WF is plot-driven. We were discussing revelatory scenes; scenes whose purpose is to reveal something to the MC. I realized that although I have written scenes like that in every one of my books, I don't remember them as such. I have to think really hard to even be able to name one.

With a plot-driven WF, those scenes exist in order to reveal something: "In this scene, Character X learns such-and-such." To me--because of the way I think--whatever the scene reveals isn't that important. What matters to me is how the character reacts. I remember those scenes because of how he felt, how he was hurt, how his pity or liking was evoked or his interest heightened or his outlook changed. I don't see those scenes in terms of story, exactly, but in terms of how the character responded emotionally.

Right now I'm sort of stuck between wanting--needing--to respect my own process, and knowing that I can't wander around writing lazily forever. It's not productive to work against myself, but some point the ms has to be pulled together. It's hard to recognize when I'm working against myself and when I'm imposing limits on my own self-indulgence.

The goal is to enjoy writing, and to learn. But it's also to end up with a published, readable book.

*one of my writing mantras

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Did not work on the blech/patooey part. Instead--this is how much I didn't want to work on that--I admitted to myself that I've got some repetitive stuff up front. I didn't particularly want to admit it, because I knew admitting would mean thinking about correcting, which would lead to cutting, cutting, cutting, and then reshaping. But now that I've started it feels good.

What I had was characters doing X. Then there's a scene where nothing happens but another character shows up, is introduced to the reader, and the next thing is set up to happen. The problem with this is that within a few scenes that character is back again, and there's more conversation and he sets up the next thing. The thing I didn't like to admit was that it gave me that vague deja vu feeling--why give this guy two scenes, especially up front, especially two scenes that are so similar? He's not going to be developed enough to merit it. He's not what interests me. In other words, I've felt myself getting bored about having to deal with him by the second scene.

So today I cut the first scene and am going to try to head straight into the second, and see if I can get in what the reader needs to know without taking up a whole extra scene to do it. The ms feels like it's heading the right direction, getting tighter, but I also find myself having to put some of the previously cut boring description/explanation back in. I wonder if it can work now that the story is tighter, and now that I'm actively trying to stick to the necessary minimum. At some point I will have to hit a happy medium between description/explanation and, er, the interesting part. I hope I'm working closer to that happy medium, but am prepared to find that I'm not and therefore must go back and delete again.

One good thing about today is that I've got a strong ending thought for the first chapter, where it was just fading out into drizzle. I can wrap my mind around the first chapter now, and if I keep this up I'll be able to wrap my mind around the second. Fingers crossed.

No more writing today, and probably none at all tomorrow.
I really hate transitions. I hate having to tack together all the stuff I actually enjoyed doing. I can spend a full day on a line or paragraph, just getting the MC out of a car and to the front door of his house. It doesn't come naturally to me. It's hard work.

So today I'm looking at how to pull together this first 40 or so pages (single spaced) that I have right now. There are chunks missing, and I'm looking at one missing chunk and literally squirming in my seat, irritated and bored just thinking about how I have to do it. It ought to be easy. All I need is dialogue where the characters decide to do something. I can even get in some backstory very naturally. But I'm looking at it, and it's like, bleh, patooey! I'll have to force myself to do it.

But I may not just yet. I've always hated transitions, and always had to force myself through them. But what if this time the transition doesn't need to be done that way? How am I supposed to know if it doesn't feel good to write because it's hard for me, or if it doesn't feel good to write because it doesn't need to be there in the first place?

I know something needs to be there. Plotwise, this seems logical and simple. It probably is logical and simple. And another problem may be that there's an adult in it. Adults bore me; I don't like writing them. This is the dad, and I don't mind later when he's being humiliated and run over and killed, because that's not boring. But him just sitting there talking, that's excruciating. Bleh, blech, patooey.

I think I may see if there's something else to hook together. I hope so.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Slowly working my way through, getting this new beginning all together. The pacing is strange to me, because the scenes flow into each other rather than lining up as a series of staccato bursts. I'm not sure whether this is because it's boring or because it's got an actual storyline, but I'm tending to think the latter. Will see.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Didn't get nearly as much writing in this weekend as I should have. I feel okay about what I've written, but don't know whether it will stand up later when I have to pull back and look at the whole thing.

I need to think about the part I worked on today, which ended up feeling pretty good, and the part I worked on the other days, which I felt/feel very tentative and iffy about. In both, my main characters are observing people new to the reader. One observation is from a distance, and that's the one that feels funky. The other has interaction, affection, familiarity. Right now I don't feel terrible about the first one feeling a little "off," because later there will be interaction close up--so maybe there's something to chew on here, maybe there's something to show. Maybe the scenes need to contrast. Maybe what's "funky" now is really a jumping-off place for getting these scenes carved out properly so that they play off each other and deepen whatever points need to be made.

Lots to think about.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Got some work done on those three items I was talking about.

Looking back on the evening's writing, what I'm seeing is that the reason I didn't have a grip was that I was driving--or was in danger of driving--this whole part off base by working too hard to be clever. I got away from the purpose of each item, away from what needed to be done. Or, to be fair, I didn't know what needed to be done so I tried to impose a slant or meaning, which meant author intrusion, digressing into descriptions that I overloaded from my own authorly pov, and losing all track of everything except plot. I have to let the characters provide their own slant or meaning to each scene. If they don't provide it, then I need to figure out why. If I'm writing properly they should be doing most of the work for me, looks like.

So now it appears that one item is going to be a paragraph at most, buried in the rest of the ms--it's not important. The other two items seem to be moving aside a little, taken over by other things that are going on in scene. One of the items seems unimportant now, but I can see that it will be remembered by the characters; their slant on it will change, driven by what happens to them in the book. The last item I'm not sure about because I didn't get to it yet. We will see.
Rhetorical question: How do you know when to set a ms aside? How do you know when to push through? How do you know when to abandon it entirely?

I have 2 mss I can think of that I set aside forever. One was never going to work; it was mostly for my own enjoyment. There wasn't a theme or any kind of depth to it. This was early on in my writing career, and I came to see that it was never going to amount to anything worth showing to anyone else. But I loved writing it so much that I did a good portion of it by hand in a notebook because my computer died and I had nothing else to write on. Tens of thousands of words, by hand--I wouldn't do that nowadays.

I started another ms--it may have actually been an offshoot of the above ms, now that I think about it--and saw very quickly that it could not work because the MC was lower midgrade and the storyline and voice were YA. This might have worked if it had been an adult book, because sometimes those do the older-voice-looking-back. But it was a YA storyline, and not much of one at that.

I have started and set aside w-f-h ideas, but those don't count.

I still have the first ms I ever completed, and still intend to figure out how to make it work. Why? I don't know. I just feel there's enough to it. I feel it would be wrong to let it languish and die, because it is still viable, so to speak.

I kept at Night Road long past its sell-by date. Fourteen years after starting it, I figured it out and made it work.

That's very big picture thinking: Will this ms make a book or not? But what about smaller issues:

Should I keep working on this WIP or set it aside to work on something else?

Am I making this ms worse by pushing and gnawing at it, and would it be better served if I put it down and stopped thinking about it?

Those are the questions I don't have answers to, and don't know how to even start to answer. I wonder if most other writers know the answers. I wonder if everybody has a different answer and has to find it out for him/herself. I wonder if every single ms has a different answer, even mss by the same writer.

I wish I knew more about what I was doing. I wish I could be certain of a minimum amount of progress in relation to the amount of work I put in.

I do know that when I made the decision to set those unworkable mss aside, I did not feel bad or regretful or even frustrated. It was just like, well, this is never going to work so let's move on. No relief, no nothing. It was like sweeping a dead bug out the door.
I did a smart thing life-wise, because I deliberately scheduled all doctor-type appointments for everyone during spring break. However, that was very dumb writing-wise because it actually has taken up more time than a regular day does during the regular school year. Plus I'm still tutoring. Also, I have given up my only chunks of writing time to socialize with the 3 household punks. I expect them to pay me back when I'm old by occasionally visiting me in the nursing home. Must remind them of that today at lunch.

But doctor's appts are done now, and tutoring is only M-Th, so maybe I can get in the groove, either tonight or tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

note to self: focus on MC, not reader

For now, think in terms of MC--what is needed to carry the story forward for the MC. Not what the reader needs to understand. That can come later. Forget the reader for now.
Yesterday I worked on one of the bits that is blurry in my mind and made it less blurry. Today I only have a few minutes to write (although I might get in a little more time tonight), so I split my very vague outline/list up so that each item sits where it will go in the ms, among the bits and pieces of that item that I already have written out. It looks like the cumulative effect of this sort of work will be that I am able to wrap my mind around the first 60 pages (we'll say it's 60, although I have no idea how many it will really be), both as a whole and in parts. I need to be able to do that, to be able to say "This chapter is where X happens," as well as "This chapter is where character Y feels/does/chooses/understands Z." I just need to, for the book to come together.

Right now I'm looking at a part that is three items long, and am unclear whether it is really three chapters or scenes, or whether any of the items are really only a paragraph or two mixed in with the other stuff. I'll have to think about what each piece means and what it does, not from a plot pov so much as what it means to the MC.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I pulled up the ms and was going to pick up where I left off, but I'm not in the mood for that.

What I would like to do is back up and clarify/start to nail down certain ideas/scenes, but I can't seem to settle on what to do or how to do it. Right now I have a list of scenes that I know I need, both emotionally and plotwise. However, the specifics of the part I feel like working on are eluding me at the moment, and I'm a little gun shy about digging in and trying to reason it out. I don't want to start pushing the story according to plot again. But in my head a small part of the list--the part I now feel a need clarify--devolves into a blurry mess. This part is maybe two or three items, but it's not clear to me what I need to do with them or even what order they really need to be in. It's just occurred to me that two of these items need to contrast sharply with each other; I need to show two places, two sets of people, and make the reader feel the contrast and maybe start to be outraged. But even as I know this, I'm not feeling it. I can feel myself thinking too much craftwise. I know I could do this thing technically by sheer word choice. But then at the end of the day's writing I am pretty sure it would be dead on the page, because that's how everything else in this ms that I've done by craft and technique has come off. Things that technically ought to work, don't.

One interesting thing about all this is that nobody can really help me. Even other writers can't see what to do. Writers, editors, agents--nobody can pinpoint what is wrong with this thing. They can point--they may even think they know--but the things that they point to are symptoms and not the disease. I think that's why, when people start pointing at problems in this ms, they can say opposite things and still be right. One person can say, "The world is not developed enough" and another can say "Wow, I love the world-building" and they're both right. The world is there in detail, but it only exists where the reader is in scene. A well-built world (in my writing; this does not always hold true for other writers) is not a play or movie set, it extends beyond the scenes the reader sees, and it's about more than just seeing. I can describe what's in front of the reader till I'm blue in the face, but I also have to know (often just subconsciously) what's over to the side where we aren't looking, what's beyond this room, this house, this village--and what's important about it, what it means to the characters. And the important thing I must remember--the most pertinent part to me--is that I can't impose any of that onto the story. Some other writers can say, "Okay, they're in the mill; what is that like? Hmm, well, the place would look like so-and-so." It seems that for some reason I have to feel from my gut what has driven everybody to be in the mill in the first place. I have to let myself be driven there along with them--or it's just a cardboard set. Maybe being driven along with the characters means that I know what to focus on, and have a sense of emotional pacing so that it's more than just description. Maybe I'm such a character-driven author that it pervades every word I write, and if I step away from being character-driven, the words die. I don't know.

All I know is that there must be a way to use my strengths, to use what draws me to write, and to put that together with a strong storyline. It's important to me to be able to do this, because it's a reflection of real life. In real life, things are not always character driven. Things happen--"plot points" happen--and they change our lives, and we must react to them, adapt or fight back or accept.

Anyway, other writers, editors, agents can't help much because they see symptoms when the disease is insidious and subtle. The cure for the disease is that I have to teach myself how to take a reasonable plot and write a character-driven story from it. If I can conquer this problem, most of the symptoms should disappear very nicely. I know this because I was thinking back about a thorough editorial letter I got from Agent pointing out X, Y, and Z as problems. I'm sure Agent was thinking, "go back and fix X, Y, and Z." That's what I was thinking, too, and as soon as it was pointed out, I realized that X, Y, and Z are indeed things that need to be fixed. But lately I also realized that my current from-the-ground-up rethinking of approach automatically means that X, Y, and Z will be fixed. The problems will disappear without being patched on. And I know that if I tried to go back and patch them on to the old story, it wouldn't fix them at heart and it wouldn't make the story any less dead.

So, anyhoo. I can't figure out where to start today, what to do. There are maybe three or four scenes that could be as long or as short as I want them to be, but they are mushy in my head, not sharp. I can't sort out which point needs to be made in each scene. I'm not sure how to even figure it out. I think it would be a mistake to just dig in and start writing. I think I will pull a spiral out of the mess on my desk and open it up and sit over it with a pen and maybe just try to think.

Above I said that I need to make the reader feel the contrast and maybe start to be outraged. But that's just plain wrong; what I need to do is let the characters feel the contrast and be outraged. I can't impose that on them. It needs to arise on its own, naturally. And I'm not feeling it. Somehow the story itself and the characters themselves need to lead me to that place.

Well, this is all very long and rambling, but it's not meant to make sense or be helpful to anyone but me, so I'll just let it go at that.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Continued working where I left off yesterday. It's part of the same scene, and takes place over seconds and minutes, but it's the kind of thing where everything is changing over those seconds and minutes, and I have to figure out exactly what it means to all concerned. It's fun, and it's involving. Hate to quit for other stuff, but must.

It's weird how a few seconds, in a book, can turn to paragraphs or even pages, while days, years, lifetimes, can be covered in a line, a word, or just a break with white space. I don't know that you can stretch a movie scene out as long as in a book; time is time in a movie, and after you do slow motion, what can you do to stretch a moment out?

Oh. Am thinking of Braveheart. I guess you cut to other things. There's lots of slo-mo in that movie; for example when violence is being done you see the attack coming in in a long shot, then you see the attackee's facial expression, then the attacker's facial expression, then maybe a closeup of the weapon coming around, then maybe another long shot, and so on till maybe there's a slo-mo closeup of something hitting the ground, like a body part or some symbolic something. And that's essentially the same thing you do in a book. Huh.

Had a terrible thought that I know better than to have: Maybe I could get enough of this ms to sell as a partial, and get some money. I know better than to even allow this idea space inside my head. Many times I have sent something out before it is ready, and gotten my @ss kicked for it. I have tried to sell this ms as a partial, and gotten my @ss kicked for it in what amounted to long and painful torture. I'm like a dog that can't learn not to pee on the rug even though peeing on the rug always ends--very best case--in a newspaper to the nose. I'm like, "Peeing on the rug would feel so great. Surely this time I'll get a pat on the head and a dog treat for it!"

Never. Send. Anything. Out. Till. It's. Done. And when you think it's done, it's not. You're just deluding yourself--but never fear, the Big Stick of Reality will come knock some sense into you by bludgeoning you with your own stupidity.

Now. Forget: horrible carriage accidents, mangled bodies, raging desire for revenge. Think: fractions with like denominators, least common multiples, area and circumference.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Today is all cut up, writing-wise. I had an hour of writing time this morning, which I did not use wisely. I had an hour this afternoon, which I did use wisely. I will have an hour tonight, which I probably won't use wisely, knowing me. Tomorrow ought to be better, but who knows.

In the hour wisely used, I wrote the dad's non-death scene, and now that it's out on paper I feel like somebody turned on the engine to the story and put it in gear. I wonder if this means anything structurally, like it's the end of the first third. No telling. And maybe there isn't really any first third or three-act structure; maybe everybody just wants to believe that because it gives them a feeling of security and of the world having an order and a purpose.

I was thinking on the way to pick up kids about a scene I have later where I rewrote it different ways, with a different emotional slant each time, thinking, "Well, the character might react this way. But he could just as reasonably feel more along such-and-such lines. Or...I could recast it to bring X forward instead." Now I am hoping that when I get to that part there will be no question about it. I didn't even notice before that I usually don't dither around about what slant to give somebody's feelings. Usually it just is, and my problem is whether I'm clarifying it properly for the reader and getting the pacing of it right.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Decent writing day today. I just checked and it looks like about 1000 words, all new, all propelling the story forward and feeling good enough that I wish I didn't have to stop and do other stuff. I looked around the ms and finally decided to go ahead and see if I could do anything with the father's humiliation, and was surprised to find as I worked on it that it became more about the MC's impulsiveness, anger, and immaturity than about the dad. The MC has a long way to go during the course of this book, because by the end I see him as controlled, closed-off, unable to trust, but fiercely, fiercely loyal and dedicated to duty. I also am starting to see the possibilities, waaaay down the road, of having him and his best friend (they will be mortal enemies by then) both be characters to root for. From here, for now, it sounds like fun to have a book where you sympathize with both sides and don't know who you want to win because both are flawed, both are sympathetic, both are annoyingly singleminded. It sounds like fun to write, anyway: two characters who hate each other, each with a backstory to die for, facing off. I have no idea how they would face off against each other, but today is one of those days where I hope I don't get in a car wreck and die on the way to tutoring because I want to be able to keep working on all this.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Nice writing day so far. I decided to go with non-bloody and no dead bodies, so am proceeding with that scene. I thought about it and saw that bodies and blood would throw the story off because it would make everything more dire and change the way the characters react and think. It's too early to have consequences that high and that real, because it will make everyone too cautious.

I am vaguely setting a writing goal, although it may not stick because I may have to get a second/third job (depending on how you count) pretty soon, which will leave zero time for writing. But if I do get to keep writing, I think I will shoot for having enough bits and pieces of this new beginning (which looks to run 10-15 chapters, and could be a third or more of the book; the entire structure is up in the air now) to go to local critique this summer. I haven't been able to do that because kids' school interferes, and anyway a critique group can't help much when you're rewriting stuff they've already heard ten million times. But school will be out in a few months, and a critique group is exactly the thing for taking chapters and reading them in order and getting them to make sense and not be boring. So my vague goal is to have enough of this new "beginning" to start putting it in order by late May. Fingers crossed that something* comes my way soon so I don't have to drop writing completely and can work toward this goal.

I wonder if this beginning could possibly be as much as half the book. Probably not. Still, I have no idea how the rest of the story is going to shake out once this part is done. I mean, I know what happens, but I expect to see what's important about what happens, and I expect to be cutting a lot and changing the entire focus of the story. I am currently inclined to hope that by then I will understand what the story is really about.

* People say that money can't buy happiness, but it sure the hell can. Here is proof: I am unhappy right now. Watch how happy I get the second I have any money. I'll be dancing in the g-d streets.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Proceeding cautiously, without pushing it. I did work on something I was a little reluctant to approach today, because it's a scene where beloved Dad is humiliated in front of his son.

Every writer I know tries to write around something at one time or another. By that I mean writing around some conflict that needs to be in the story, but that makes you, the writer, uncomfortable. Sometimes you're trying to protect your character, sometimes you're trying to protect yourself--but in either case, what it does is lead the ms astray and lessen tension/conflict. It messes up the story.

How do you tell the difference between this and not wanting to write something because your gut knows it's wrong for the ms? I'm not sure. But I think today's initial reluctance was a case of protecting myself, and that it was best to write through it. For one thing, now that I've worked on this part, I see that it really is probably a good idea to try to stick with "emotional points" for now. This scene is one that defines the MC and propels his story, that builds emotionally to what used to be the beginning-that-came-out-of-nowhere. If I don't wince and wimp out of scenes like this, I feel that I will eventually emerge at the old beginning, which will now be who-knows-how-far into the book, but which will also feel smooth and right while carrying momentum and direction.

That's the hope, anyway. One can dream.

There is a certain piece I know I need to write, but don't know how to approach. I don't know how harsh I ought to get with the reader this early in the ms. I'm perfectly willing to do dead bodies and bloodshed, if that's what it takes--but will bodies and bloodshed spur and engage the reader and get them* on board with the MC, or will it be author-intrusive and lessen the impact of whatever I need to do later on? How much is too little and how much is too much? I don't know. I know that most times when I write tears or laughter, I have to go back and cut it, because it is meaningless. Telling the reader that the MC is sobbing or roaring with laughter doesn't do squat. The harder you try to describe that sort of thing, the less it works. Maybe this is the same thing. Maybe underplaying is best. But if I underplay it, where's the urgency, the threat? Don't know. Must think.

* This is another case of "correct" grammar being wrong and stupid. It's stupid to have to say "his" when a reader can be of either gender, and it's stupid to have to say "his or her" because that's bulky and long, and the extra words distract from whatever the point of the sentence is.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Was explaining to a writer friend today that my current plan is to try to pay more attention to how I feel about what I'm writing, and use that to guide me as far as when to push and when to back off. I told WF that yesterday I ended up writing one short paragraph during my writing time, using this method. But I just pulled up the file and saw that I actually wrote well over a page--that is very surprising. Huh.

I have got to start exhibiting more self-control over myself when it comes to fooling around on the internet when I should be writing. This is the second day in a row I've wasted time that could be put to better use. Yesterday it was messing around following links about interesting things. Today it was trolling over other people's blog fights. Yesterday wasn't so bad because I learned stuff and wondered about stuff, and kept coming across eerie connections with things I've looked up before. Today I feel sick and dirty, like I've been following one of those whadycallits where they tie a bear and bull together and watch them try to kill each other.

Not to imply that I'm a nice person or anything. I'm not, particularly. It's just like, what am I doing, taking what could be my own time of creating and making something and connecting and clarifying, and instead using it to gawk at other people's anger, pain, and self-righteousness? Ugh on me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I'm annoyed. I pulled up the ms--this is the latest version from scratch, only 30 pages (single-spaced) so far, mostly new, as opposed to the 300-page version I trashed a while back. Now that I've got this emotional-point thing in my head, looking at this 30 page version was bugging me because it's not crystal clear like what I want to be doing today. I looked at it and couldn't wrap my mind around getting started, couldn't relate it to the notes I made and the clarity in my head from this morning. So I saved under a new file name, put that version away, and started cutting everything that is not a clear emotional piece--in other words, cutting setup, transitions, descriptions, explaining. And I cut SIX PAGES. &%!@$#. No wonder I was feeling tender about it. No wonder I was feeling unclear. I was starting to lose my way. I've got to try to keep this immediate, sharp--got to stay on task. Stay with the gut. That is what comes off the page and engages the reader, not the other stuff. Unless the reader is very patient, very intellectual, or very weird.
Okay, so this morning I tried to think out what to do today. Logically I ought to continue with what I started Tuesday--just keep going on that scene--but I'm feeling a little tender about approach right now. That w-f-h sample I just did was like torture, because I had to write in order from the beginning, starting from a given point and working through, using the parameters I was given. If I was working on it on my own, I would jump around and write things that were fun to write, developing characters and figuring out what I wanted to say. The beginning would just be a placeholder while I skittered around the ms figuring out what the story was about for me, and what excited me about it. Then I'd go back with perhaps a little more understanding about how the beginning needed to be. I don't always work this way, but I often do. Since I couldn't do this, it was like writing on a leash. It took me nearly a month to come up with five pages, double spaced. I couldn't pull plot and emotion together at the same time; I'd work on one, then go back and see that the other one was missing completely. Then I'd fix that, only to find that now the other one was gone.

It reminded me very much of how I felt while working on this swordfighting WIP when I was trying to force myself through it. And look what I ended up with: a dead ms. So I feel very tender, like I do with my left knee that I popped some cartilage (or maybe it was a tendon) in once; now I am very hesitant when it comes to doing certain things with that knee. All the other people in exercise class do exactly what the instructor says, but if it's got anything to do with my left knee, I move slowly or not at all, because I sure as HELL don't want that thing to pop again. I feel the same way about this ms. I sure as HELL don't want to get back to that dead ms feeling.

So this morning I looked at the very reasonable possibility of just keeping on with what I started on Tuesday, and I don't feel inspired or eager. Six months or a year ago I would have told myself to just do it anyway. Today I'm thinking, "Popped knee, popped knee! Let's go a different direction!" So I thought through the beginning again, and after son #2 got out of the car, I pulled over and made some notes so I wouldn't forget. It's a good thing, because I think these are probably the exact same notes I've made before and forgotten. They look very familiar to me. It's a list of scenes, only this time--this morning, anyway--I saw how they connected emotionally, not plotwise. Emotionally they drive the story and build it up. They're the same scenes that made sense for the story when I was listing plot, but today I see the emotional point of each one. I know I will probably forget later, but maybe not. Maybe I'll be lucky.

So anyway, I'm thinking that what I need to do is jump around and write whatever about these scenes appeals to me. What draws me, what makes me want to write them? It can be something big or small. It's okay to have sprinkles of paragraphs or lines lying in bits and chunks all over the place, if that's what I want to do.

Maybe a way for someone like me--a disorganized, character-driven, plot-disabled writer--to approach a plot-driven ms is give up the idea of making sense, of having everything follow naturally, of making choices about transitions, of figuring out how to tell backstory. Maybe the thing to do is know the overall skeleton--which I do--and only work on characters or scenes that I'd work on if there was no plot. Maybe I should not try to hook anything together or have it make sense anywhere but in my head until my gut drives me to do it. Because one thing that I know keeps hanging me up is backstory. I keep thinking, "Oh, here's where I need to explain or the reader won't understand." Then I futz around with that for a million years and by the end of the day I have a bunch of words I don't have much feeling about.

So--for today, anyway--the plan is not to think, and not to get sucked into doing anything logically. Today, the plan is to just write freely, by feel.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Am wondering about the "rules." I finally cracked my copy of Queen Margot--I don't expect to actually read it for a long while, but maybe will peruse a chapter now and then--and was thinking about Dumas and the way so many (maybe all, I don't know enough to say) of his books were written as serials in the newspaper.

I wonder if you could impose the three-act standard on, say, the Three Musketeers. Of course, Dumas also wrote plays, so maybe he had a play-like structure in mind as he planned out his books. But in 3 Musk., the plot sort of careens around, doesn't it? However, every chapter stands pretty firm on its own and it almost feels like the big picture isn't the most important thing as you're reading. It almost feels like Dumas just wanted to make sure you bought the newspaper next week, too.

It makes me wonder about what you owe your reader. Does the reader really require a traditional rising plot that does this-and-that with X number of turning points placed thusly and a wrap-up that accomplishes so-and-so, in order to be satisfied? And look at some the manga series--they have long plotting arcs over several books, nothing like traditional American storytelling. Maybe within the arcs...I dunno. Just thinking.

Dickens wrote serials, too, now that I think about it. Were all of his books that way? I don't know if I've ever finished a Dickens book. Well, maybe A Christmas Carol. Perhaps I should try again sometime. I tried to read Tale of Two Cities many times over the years, but never got past the first chapter. That first chapter was always enough to put me into a twenty-year coma. But I am older now, so maybe I can appreciate it better. Or not. Heh.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Spent some time this morning basking in the glow of some excellent news from a writer friend. It was time very well spent. There is nothing like seeing a ms I love get the love from someplace else, especially when the writer has persisted over years, through all kinds of ups and downs, down to that bare-bones bottom line: this is something I feel deeply about; this is something I am whole-heartedly committed to, no matter what.

In a way, I like basking in other people's excellent news better than my own, because when I get good news I automatically start looking over my shoulder, waiting for the smackdown. The universe does not like me to ride too high, and I know it. But with other people's good news, I can just be whole-heartedly committed to happiness.

So anyway, after a good amount of basking, I managed to get a wee bit done on my WIP, easing my way back into it a little. I rewrote some stuff I had, putting myself more in scene, getting into it more, so I think it's a good start. There will probably not be much writing time tomorrow, but there ought to be a little, and then maybe Thursday I can really get into it mentally, because I think there may be a big chunk of time on Thurs. We'll see if I can make that time count or not--I'd love to milk every moment for all it's worth--but who knows if the writing gods will cooperate.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Okay, now maybe I can get back into my own stuff a little. Maybe. Time is short, these days.

I'm going to work on the swordfighting ms. Had some thoughts re. the dad; he needs to not die on the spot but be carried back to the old homestead and die there. He needs time to talk, because otherwise my MC is going to go off half-cocked. Well, he (MC) already is, but I was thinking about it and realized he'll go off even more half-cocked if the dad doesn't rein him in a little before he (dad) dies. The MC needs that leash, or he'll turn too far against the status quo.

Also thought about former GN a little. I am very uncomfortable with one thing that happens in it, and I was thinking that I really don't want to write that. It's not my story to tell, and I feel morally ill at ease with the idea of injecting myself into this subject. However, it is part of the story, traditionally, and it really does sort of need to be in there or I'm watering down the entire world. I'm trying to think of ways to cut it, trying to think of ways around it, trying to think what I'd have to do to make myself comfortable with it, trying to think how to make it smaller and therefore something I could grasp both emotionally and comfort-wise. No solution is presenting itself thus far.

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