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, June 30, 2009

Worked on pieces of chapters 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. All I know to do is keep at it and try to find bits I like and understand, and plug away at those.

downer of a post--unjaded, beware

Bad day. I'm going to try to work a little, but I'm very doubtful about the whole project now. There's no reason to think the story's capable of being pulled around to a proper ending, much less that I can do it.

The former GN is almost as far from being a completed ms as this one is. I'm out of money, and I not only don't know how to write the books I want to write, I don't know if they're able to be written, period--if they can be made into completed, satisfying books that will stand alongside others on the shelves as worthy reads.

The air conditioner repairman is coming--unlike the overdue checks from two editors, one tutoring-boss replacement, and one ex. Sometimes you've got to wonder if the universe is actively pushing you to pack it in on the writing, and isn't going to let up till you do.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Well, I feel like I've been punched in the gut. I went over the last third of the old ms--almost the last half, really--and it's misguided and unusable. I can't even use the vague idea of it. In hindsight I can see I toiled away on something that not only doesn't work, but is embarrassing to even think about. It's not just that the storyline careened wildly off course, it's that I put so much time and thought into trying to force it not to careen that it's overwritten, too. It is badly written.

And I have no idea what to replace it with.

I cut about 120, 130 words, but couldn't bear to look too closely at some of the other stuff I didn't cut--so I know that even more of it will have to disappear wholesale.

I feel weary to my bones.

Note to self: Stay the f*ck off the Internet

Stick to your work. Do not comment on other people's blogs. It pulls your mind completely away from your work. Don't do it! Period!

Okay. So. I copied and pasted the old version of about eight chapters into newest version of ms, cut out everything I know I can't use, and made notes about the new arc it ought to take. Now what? Must get back into gear.
I tried thinking about the rest of the story last night, but my thoughts (and my outline) petered out into the same old plot stuff: This happens, then that, then something else. I dunno. I'm trying very, very hard to not write another bazillion-word ms that has to be trashed and redone from scratch. The thought of another from-the-ground-up overhaul strikes fear into my soul. No--it strikes despair into my soul, that's what it does. Anyway, I'm going to look and see if I can find this thing I use sometimes, that a writer friend developed, that in the past has helped me define plot in terms of character. It's sort of like the Cheryl Klein outline, but more complex and more character-oriented. The question is, where did I put it?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Got some decent progress made on the dead body chapter, which I believe is 6 or so. (I may end up splitting chapter 4 in two, so I don't know how the chapter numbers will come out.)

Now it's getting late and I'm too tired to pull any more prose together, so I'm thinking about the entire story, and I'm going to see if I can start to make a vague outline of what needs to happen from Part Two on. Most of the old version is going to be cannibalized or cut, because I'll have to rethink every single scene and chapter. It was divided and set up by what happened, and I tacked the emotional story here and there where I thought it might fit. Now I need to take the wispy vague skeleton of what happened and pin it to the emotional story, lopping and tailoring and adding on where needed. Not all tonight, of course. It will take the entire process of writing and rewriting. But I'd like to see if I can even start to think in that direction. I can tell that it's going to inform these previous scenes, the new ones I've done over the past weeks; the more I understand about the later emotional arc, the better I can make these early scenes now.

I don't outline per se, but I use outlines during revision to help me keep the big picture in mind. My outlines are usually just a numbered list with one or two words to remind me what the scene or chapter has in it. Sometimes if I'm stuck or confused, listing scenes helps me see where I need to be heading next. It can provide traction, sometimes.
Working on dead guy chapter. I need to create some kind of phrase bank, perhaps random words generated by the computer, that all add up to "They went____" or "He headed____." Into the woods, across the field, into the house, whatever. It's this kind of stuff that kills me, it's so simple yet takes so much of my time. It means nothing, it's almost invisible, and yet it must be written--and it's hard for me.

Was thinking again that I really would like to be able to recognize what it means when I come to a stop. I'm not at a stop right now, but I know I will be again, and I just wish I knew how to quickly tell whether it's because I need to think carefully what happens next, or whether I f*cked up and went off track and need to reconsider something basic about the ms. Because if the latter is what's going on, it's deadly to the ms if I just keep moving forward.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Walking with Tyson today, I was thinking about the idea of bridle and spur and how that might shape the ms. Bridle and spur means several things here, one being the MC is all raw spur and his best friend is all controlled bridle. I was thinking, how does that apply to the story at hand, the old parts that I've got to redo? I was thinking about the end, because there's a lot of stuff crammed into the final scenes, so many things happening one after that other I couldn't ever really figure out what was important about the end. So while Tyson thought about who had left that interesting scent and should he pee over it, I thought: What does my character do at the end that he couldn't have done at the beginning of the story? Well, that was pretty clear right away: he gives up his sword. And why is he able to? I didn't know before (or rather, I didn't know the thematic/character arc reason), but now I do: he's able to apply his own bridle. Reason lies between bridle and spur.

And if you're wondering, Tyson's answers were "another dog" and "yes, I should."

Anyway, I think the thing to do today is try to finish trimming Chapter 4 to something just roughly workable (right now it's pages and pages of unrelated pieces), because I feel pretty sure I'll have to come back and shape it later anyway, after I've worked my way deeper into the story and have a stronger feel for what I need to emphasize re. character. I think perhaps there will be a lot of boring housekeeping-type writing to do in this go-round. Because there is a story, there will necessarily be times when I must go from Point A to Point B. I need to try not to panic and get upset, as long as it doesn't go on too long and start to head off track. I hope that now I can stick to the proper road and not stray off into a fog, although, knowing me, that seems unlikely, doesn't it?

I also decided that I do need to kill somebody here in Chapter 5, because otherwise some of the characters' decisions won't be sympathetic. I think maybe a randomly anonymous person, for now, because it's not really that I have to murder someone in plain sight--I just need a dead body, basically.

It's sad if I think about the fact that my previous completed version of the ms was basically a 100,000 word outline--and not a very good one, because a third of it was missing and the rest had about 99,950 words too many--but what can you do? Shake the dust off your feet and move on, that's all.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A writer friend was saying something that made me realize part of my struggle with this WIP is probably due to voice. It's third person, which is something I've had to work at in the past anyway, but it's not the close third person of Night Road. It's not omniscient, either. It's just that the reader and I necessarily have to know or understand some things the MC doesn't--even more than usual. I sometimes say things about him, or explain things he wouldn't bother thinking about enough to put into words. So this voice is a stretch for me, on top of all the other stuff that's a stretch.

But anyway, I was pleased to find that quote yesterday, because I've been trying to find something--a word or phrase or, best of all, title--that pulls the book into focus for me. The quote is worded different ways, depending on where you look, but basically it says that reason lies between bridle and spur. It could very well be that this will help me rewrite my ending, when I get to it. It could be one of those thematic things you need in your head, to pull a book into shape. But we'll see. I know I can't use it in the title, because everyone will think the book is about horses and riding.

And I still don't have a title. Wish I did.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

La raison se trouve entre l'éperon et la bride.


Entre bride et l’éperon de toutes choses gît la raison.
There's not going to be a lot of writing today. Today is more of an arranging-things-in-your-head sort of day, because I think I might have gotten a grip on what I'm doing, for now. In the big picture, anyway--enough to save the file under a new name (cuttingthecrap2) and cut a bunch of stuff, and split the chapters up and give them names. Also, I've divided the story into parts. It looks like Part Two will pick up where the old version began, in the middle of action. I expect there will be a Part Three, where the direction of the story changes.

Part One is the part I'm doing now, and it's going to have a different feel from the other parts because it's not all action-y (to me, anyway. To me, it's setup). I expect it to be about a third of the book, but we'll see. Looks like it might be a hundred pages or so (or will be when it's double-spaced)--but we'll see about that, too. Right now it seems to be eleven chapters, and I've got the main points of Chapter 4 in mind--that's the chapter I've been hung up on for a few days. At the moment, I can see the entire arc of Part One, which is encouraging. Of course, having a vague idea in your head and actually writing it in a compelling manner are two completely different things, but at least I see a path ahead instead of being lost in a cloud.

Now what I've got to do is:

a) Keep up my interest, because I get bored writing stuff where I already know what's going to happen, scene by scene.

b) Keep up the emotional story and not skim along doing whatever sounds good plotwise.

c) Keep my chapters on track and not get off into description and backstory and explanations.

I wonder if I should go ahead and start double-spacing. I usually don't start double-spacing till I feel driven to, but with the organizational changes, I'm sort of feeling the need. It will help when I have to print out and read, because I single-space for readthroughs*, and the more format changes from what I've been working on, the better.

*I also change fonts and margins.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More thinking re. DH and ATNF sections, while mowing back yard. The ATNF section I looked at basically reads something like: travel-travel-travel, piece of information, travel-travel-travel. Well, not exactly, because sometimes it's stop-for-the-night, piece of information, travel-travel-travel, etc. But anyway, the info is broken up into small digestible pieces by the other stuff so you have time to absorb it. In DH, the chapter break is set at a revelatory moment, but it also has the effect of breaking up what would otherwise be around seven to eight pages of straight information. So maybe--I'm not saying the authors did this on purpose; maybe they did, or maybe it just turned out that way by authorial instinct--the thing to take away from it is this: figure out what needs to be said, get it said as efficiently and readably as possible, make sure you don't cram it too full, then back off for a sec. The reader needs the main idea in one readily understandable chunk, then a break to absorb/digest. If you don't provide the break--or if you fill it with too many other things that must be understood and digested--you're in danger of losing your reader and screwing up your pacing.

So maybe the thing for me to think about next re. Chapter 4 is what's the most important piece of info I need to get in, what's the second most important, etc. And then think how to get those in, with time between to absorb. The between-times can hint at more minor stuff re. characters, world, set-up for later, etc. I have a plethora of minor stuff to choose from, so can pick whatever comes most naturally to the scene. I'm guessing I can get two important pieces of info in before it feels like the chapter is at its limit, but we'll see.
Casting about for some firm ground to stand on. Checked the shelves next to my desk for books that I know have strong plot structures and people moving around learning stuff.

Almost randomly opening Nancy Werlin's Double Helix, I'm at Chapter 29. I say "almost randomly" because I want to be near the end since I know there's quite a bit of information being learned there.

So, in Chapter 29 the MC has just entered a room with another character, where the MC is, er, learning stuff. The chapter is very short, nearly all dialog with the characters sitting facing each other. But this is interesting: it ends in the middle of the conversation. The scene isn't over, but NW chooses to end at a critical moment of learning something--or really, just after, because the conversation goes on for a line or two after that. Then Chapter 30 picks up in the middle of the conversation, which continues with nobody having moved from where they are, and after four or so pages the MC leaves the room, and the chapter ends on a hook/revelation about something else.

One notable thing is that the conversation is about plot. It advances the plot. It's not about character or world-building, but answers questions the reader has been wondering about, in a surprising way.

Now: almost randomly opening Lian Hearn's Across the Nightingale Floor to somewhere near the front, where I know there's a lot of moving from place to place going on. I think I'm actually in Chapter 1--these chapters are big-@ss long, with lots of breaks. The MC has been journeying with another major character. Lots of description and world-building. They stop at an inn, and during the night the MC overhears a conversation and learns something. MC and other character move on the next morning. Much description and world-building. Characters stop to look at terrain, and have a conversation where we learn backstory. More traveling, another night passes, characters move on. More backstory given in narration. Another night stop, another day of travel...

Already there's a problem, because when I have this much backstory and description it's boring and doesn't work. In ATNF, it's not boring and it does work. I don't know why. I'm not sure I can figure it out. Maybe because, as I thought in previous discussion with WF re. colors, Lian Hearn's affection for backstory and description comes through?

Except that I do have affection for my backstory.

Man, I don't know. I don't think I've learned anything except that I'm not Nancy Werlin or Lian Hearn. I already knew that.

Side note: To me there's a big difference between LH's ATNF and her Harsh Cry of the Heron, and I'm wondering if she outlined the latter but not the former. To me, ATNF doesn't feel outlined, but HCOTH does. (I'm referring to making outlines before starting the book, not using outlines during writing or revision.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yesterday I made notes about Chapter 4. Listed--well, scribbled--a bunch of emotional points to make re. each of the three characters in it. There are a lot of points. I don't think I can just sit down and shove them in, even in an organized fashion, because it'll be dead on the page.

Today I quickly scrolled through the previous chapters without reading them, just to see what they were about. My impression is that I'm covering a lot of ground very quickly, and I was faintly concerned about having a breathless, unrelenting pace where the reader is forced to constantly absorb world-building and set-up without getting a break. Then I thought about the bit I worked on the other day, where the characters spend time in a muddy hole. That felt like a nice breather as I wrote it, because they were just standing there and we were getting to know them without a bunch of actions or physical description being thrown in. So I went into today with the idea that I'd come at the ms very loosey-goosey, with the scribble of emotional points in the back of my head, and hope that some of them would naturally come out as I let the characters do and say whatever seem intriguing or fun. There's not a lot going on in this chapter plot-wise or action-wise. Just the characters walking around, er, learning things I need them to learn.

So now I'm sitting back to look at today's work, and I dunno. It's not very compelling so far. I'll have to make sure I understand the main questions that are in the reader's mind at this point.

In a nutshell, that's most of my problem with this ms, the past few weeks (or is it months?). I don't know what main questions to use for each chapter. I also don't know how to figure out which main questions to use for each chapter.
Taking a break from work, here. A writer friend sent a link re. an attempted book banning:

ALA/American Libraries, June 2009

This is interesting to me for several reasons. First of all, Baby Be-bop is my favorite of the Francesca Lia Block books I've read. I love it! Second of all, I don't think the attempted-banners can have actually read it, because one of the accusations seems to be that it's racist. WTF??? They probably just skimmed it for objectionable words. *

Other thoughts about book-banners: If it wasn't for a couple of issues, these particular b-banners would be almost pathetically endearing in their bumbling attempts. I've had b-banners turn their sights on my books. Get this: my first book is still passed around on the b-banners' lists, even though the book has been out of print since 2001 or something like that. I notice Baby Be-Bop is out of print, too. It shouldn't be, but it is. I don't know why the b-banners noticed it all of a sudden. Probably somebody's kid brought it home from the library.

I truly believe that most b-banners don't read. They clearly have no idea what's on the YA (and sometimes midgrade) shelves in any bookstore or library. All you have to do is walk down the aisle and pick up a book to see the reams of "objectionable" stuff that's out there. You can even just look at the covers, or read the first page, and right away you know that the book would be considered objectionable.

So anyway, the point is that these b-banners are going after a book that's a single yellowed spine clinging to library shelves across the country, next to thousands of books that they'd consider just as bad if not worse--books that move daily and in massive quantities across bookstore and library counters. (I don't like to say that, because I love Baby Be-bop, much more than almost all of the massive-quantity books.)

These b-banners look to me to be either amateurish, or doing it for publicity (maybe somebody's running for office?). The really good b-banners work behind the scenes. They quietly hassle the librarian--especially if it's in a school library. Maybe they don't get the book banned, just set back someplace where kids have to ask for it, so that the kids don't know it's there anymore and therefore are never going to ask for it. Or maybe the b-banners hassle a school administrator, which can make the librarian's job unpleasant. Next time, given the choice, the librarian may pick a safer book to buy. Why wouldn't they? Libraries never have enough money for books, anyway. Librarians already can't possibly buy all the books they'd like for their collections. Who wants a hassle that could cost your job, and/or money that should have gone to buy more books for your patrons, and/or bad feelings with patrons and/or people you have to work with?

These Baby Be-bop people are messing up. They're bringing publicity to a book that they don't want read. They're raising support for the library and city they're fighting against. They're using all their resources against one book, when they could be quietly scaring librarians into avoiding future purchases. They need to go to banning school, the one the slick, secretive master b-banners graduated from.**

It would almost be funny, except that, unfortunately, the couple of issues I mentioned above are major. There's the whole dictating-what-other people-get-to-read thing (which I don't take at all lightly, although I'm speaking of it lightly). And then there's the fact that they're suing, which costs the city money that should go to other things. People of West Bend, Wisconsin, if you find your monthly fee for trash pickup increasing, blame these book banners.

Anyhoo, back to work.

*Or maybe they scanned it into the computer, where they ran it through an objectionable-word-finding program.

**You'd think I'd be leery of saying this where a book-banner might see it and go, "D'oh! I need to change my tactics." But I'm telling you, they don't read. That's why they pass around lists that somebody came up with ten, fifteen, years ago. Most of the time they can't even manage to make it through a book they want to ban--you can tell by what they say about it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Got a bit of actual work done, and now am looking at organizing some thoughts on Chapter 4. Not because I think I'll actually remember any of the organizing or the thoughts, but if I think it through once, I'll probably absorb at least a piece of it and it'll come back out later, as if I thought of it all on my own out of the blue.

But one thing that confuses me is what constitutes action. I think of action as being actual action, like jumping out of a helicopter or walking up a hill--going somewhere or doing something. But if you have people finding something out that they didn't know before, that furthers the story or creates conflict, is that action? It's not emotional development. What is it? I have a writer friend who insists that dialog is action, but I have thus far not been able to convince myself of it. I consistently have too many, or overly lengthy, talking-head scenes and have to fix them because it's boring. Therefore, I figure, dialog can't be action. Plus, if dialog was action, wouldn't My Dinner With Andre be an action flick? I dunno.

Maybe dialog is action in a very large sense, like if you outline the whole story you can say something like "Chapter 27--While cheating Winston in a poker game, Alice learns that he is actually her long-lost twin." The action, to me, is that they're playing poker. It's what they're doing. But maybe in the larger picture, the action is Alice learning that Winston is her twin brother. It's what moves the plot forward. Whereas the emotional story would be how that affects Alice and Winston, and the cheating develops character and reveals it to the reader.

But there's another thing. Sometimes the character learns something in a scene. Sometimes the reader learns something. Sometimes each learns something different. Sometimes multiple characters are learning different things at the same time. So which one is the action?

I am massively confused. I was trying to break down Chapter 4, but realized that there are multiple things going on (three characters are in this chapter; at least three that matter). Then I thought I could divide it up by character and by action/emotion and just sit and look at it for a while, feeling that I'd accomplished something--but my head is too muddled.

Okay, maybe I will just look at the emotional side of this chapter, divided by character. That's three things to consider, and I understand emotional arcs. And I think I found earlier in the ms that understanding the emotions in a scene helps plot it--but I'm not sure, because I'm muddled and confused and can't even remember what my own name is, at the moment.

G*d, I sound senile.
Ah, it's one of those afternoons. You know the kind. Where you hear about something another writer is "getting" and you're not getting it and you feel like you need to crawl off and lie down in a quiet, dark hole somewhere. Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. Oh, yes, you do.

So. Time to shake it off, and do my work. Must find a part I can really sink my teeth into.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Skipped Chapter 4 and worked on Chapter 5. And what I did on Chapter 5 was nothing I was supposed to do to move the scene forward; instead I stayed with my characters in a muddy hole (really, they're in a muddy hole) for nearly a page. It feels a lot better to me than most of the stuff I tried with Chapter 2 over the weeks I worked on that, so I'm good for now. Tomorrow may be a different story, but if today's good, that's what counts.

A patient writer friend kindly sent this link to Cheryl Klein's Aristotelian Plot Checklist (I wonder if CK can really spell Aristotelian off the top of her head, or if she had to look it up), and also the link to the lecture notes that go with it.* WF has talked about these before, but I forgot because it's all about plot and my head don't go there, and if it ever does go there, it don't stay there.

I'm wondering if I can modify and use it for individual chapters. I think I might try it with Chapter 4. Whenever I get the b*lls to face down Chapter 4, that is. I'm thinking this checklist might help me zero in on what, out of all the massive amounts of stuff I have to choose from, needs to be in there.

It sure would be nice to have something solid to fall back on as these transitional chapters pop up.

* CK's lecture notes:
A sudden cheery and tempting thought: if I don't pull up the ms and work on it, I won't have to feel the bottom dropping out of my stomach at the realization that I'm facing down a mess of a chapter I don't know what to do with.

However, I'm gonna pull it up and work on it anyway.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Much family stuff today, and I'm too tired to write but I'm gonna anyway. Here's hoping that half of a 5 Hour Energy drink will amount to 2 1/2 hours of full energy rather than five hours of half-again-as-much* energy. If not, I'll be up till three in the morning and I probably won't be able to concentrate enough to write.

Today (much driving, quite a bit of dog-walking) I was trying to think of a concrete approach to take when I sit down to this next chapter, so I can maybe cut some of the frustrating time spent backpedaling, veering off, and petering out into confusion. Just a little less of it, is all I ask--I don't think that's being greedy.

So I was thinking, Remember to go with character. Who's in this scene? Well, two people I've blithely skimmed over, trimming to suit the story. At this point I can't pretend that's not what I was doing. I told myself for a long time that I was just writing from plot so it's okay, but the fact is I've been screwing my characters over because it was the easiest thing to do.

So today I thought, okay, who are these two when I'm not pushing them around? I figured out a lot of it, and understood what they would do in the scene. But then my brain couldn't quite make the leap from understanding to any of the actual words to type when I sat down. You know why I got hung up? Because getting from the last chapter into scene in a new chapter involves a transition. Maybe just a short one--maybe even just a few lines. But it's a transition, and therefore the Grand Canyon lies gaping before me.

Well, must go see if I can make anything out of it. Probably won't get very much done--I've missed a few episodes of Bleach and want to watch it tonight--but at least I'll have tried.

*Is that the way to say that? A half added onto the whole you already have? This reminds me of a long discussion with writers friends about what a "se'ennight next" is.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Finished up Chapter 3--not well, but enough to know what's going on. Now it's time for Chapter 4. So here I sit, once again, with a b*ttload of info to pick through, and no idea how to do it. This time, it's dialog, not travelogue. It's information exchanged through conversation.

Earlier today when I was doing non-writing stuff I was back in gear, the way I usually am, where I am into the characters and their world and thinking about it just for fun. I figured out a couple of things re. characters' actions and when I finally got to the computer, I pulled up the ms and fixed them. Now they're fixed, and I'm back to actual story, and it's a drag. Getting from point A to point B, only it's not physical this time, but it might as well be.

What did I learn from the last time? To cut, cut, cut. To focus on what the characters need, not what the reader needs.

Another thing I noticed on this last pass of the Beginning That Wouldn't Cooperate was that I had lost all sense of one paragraph leading into another. I'd have a paragraph where, say, Character 1 thinks about the weather. Then there'd be a paragraph where he says he's looking forward to having a Diet Coke today. Then there'd be a third paragraph where Character 2 makes a comment about the weather. I had to go back and rearrange everything so like paragraphs were together. I remember learning about how to organize your paragraphs by topic in elementary or middle school, but it seems I forgot that in all the other stuff I was trying to do. I just can't handle twenty different writing tasks at once. I can juggle a few, but no more. The rest have to be cleaned up on a later run-through. could be that on chapters like this, I'd better not move on until I get the chapter right.

One more time, things to remember as I work on this chapter:*

1. If it ain't bare-bone necessary, don't put it in.
2. Think about the characters, not the reader.
3. Characters' emotional journey takes precedence over action or information.
4. If you bring up a thought, stick with it till the point is made.

*These items are not general writing advice. What's that saying about using the right tool for the right job?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Surprisingly, after rewriting the end of chapter 2 three or so times, I moved on and did four or five more pages (single spaced). This is the most I've moved forward on this ms in some time. Of course, that means I'm to the end of a chapter again and must figure out what to do--and worse, the next piece involves a total change of mood from light to dire. Don't ask me how I'm going to handle that. I have no idea. I hope it's possible to handle it.

After more discussion re. color, my thoughts now are as follows: If color is important to you, it comes through in your writing and makes the reader absorb and remember it. If you throw colors in willy-nilly because you assume kiddie books are supposed to use colors as adjectives and kids aren't smart enough to deserve more thought on your part, then, well...okay, self-editing here...I highly disapprove. There, that's much nicer than what I had the first time.
Was thinking about how some writers have a process where they edit as they go--like, they write two pages every day, and those two pages must be perfect before they can quit for the day and be ready to move on tomorrow. I am doing a version of that at the moment, but against my will, and it won't last.

But I was also thinking about this ms, and starting mildly wondering what would have to happen for it to ever have even a chance of paying off all the hours of time put into it. I thought, well, maybe if it won a Newbery and a NBA and got made into a bestselling movie...and then I realized, even then, it probably wouldn't pay off. In business terms, it's a terrible investment. I probably passed the point of getting minimum hourly wage for the time put into this a couple of years ago. It will never pay off.

So I thought, this is what you call doing something for the love of it. Except (I thought) how can it be love when so much of the time is spent lost and in despair and feeling not-so-great? I don't know, but it is. In this case, working on something that is often painful and will never pay back the time put into it, in any fashion, whether it be money or some more emotional reward, is worth it. I have no idea why. It's kinda sick, if you think about it.
I was complaining to writer friends about a story I read that had a lot of colors in it. Like, the story used quite a bit of color in descriptions. Just plain old colors (red, blue, yellow, green, purple, orange) to describe plain old things (table, chair, door, hat, wall, floor). It bugged me because that's the kind of writing I see in picture book mss by people who think they're writing for kids when they're really writing down to kids. "Miss Tilly put on her yellow hat with the purple flower and went out of her brown house with its red chimney." I had it drummed into my head at an early age (writing-wise) that you never, ever put colors that don't mean anything into a PB ms because you're treading on the illustrator's turf. Maybe it made me a little paranoid about colors, but in general it helped my writing, because from the beginning of my career I zeroed in on colors as things that clog up the story without adding anything: what does the word mean, what does it add, why's it there? It helped me because basically that's what you need to do with every single word you put on the page.

To me colors are mostly wasted words, because the specific words don't do anything. I like to use "dark" rather than "black" or "brown" because "dark" conveys a mood. Color words don't make me feel anything, usually. If you make the color fancier, like "azure" or "magenta," it still doesn't convey anything to me. I wonder if it does to other people, maybe people who are more visual thinkers.

But anyway, the ironic thing is that as soon as I shot my mouth off to writer friends about the way this story used color, I turned back to my ms and the first thing I see is this:

Under Simon’s feet the winter wheat was alarmingly sorry-looking. Where there should have been a lush ocean of spring growth, there was only brown soil dusted with sparse bits of green.

I almost never use color, but there it is, right after I've derided somebody else for doing it. I thought, whoa. I mean, I'm not going to change it, but it's interesting that I'm falling back on color here because I'm trying to describe something specific. Not something in my head, but pictures of wheat winterkill I've seen on the Internet. I don't know what this means. Maybe it's not important. I notice that just a little farther on in the ms, maybe a page or two down, I'm describing something that is just in my head, and since I haven't actually got a picture of it, I'm all about getting across a feeling from the description, not a specific image. So, instead of colors, I'm playing around with words like...checking...


Hmm. I did use a couple of colors. Red. White. But looky here! You can read the above list and get a very good damn idea of mood and feeling. Red and white don't tell you sh*t. Huh.

Well, I don't have any conclusions to draw. Just noticed it, and thought it was interesting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Does it mean anything that I can't get interested in tying up a chapter properly? It just fades away and then there's a nice strong beginning to the next chapter. What does that mean? Am I supposed to stick around and fix it so I don't lose track of what I'm doing? Am I supposed to leave it and move on? Does it mean the strong beginning is in the wrong place and the chapter really needs to lengthen to include the strong beginning, which I ought to somehow turn into a strong end?

Did I used to know how to write?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Writing aside, I am possibly the worst Author I know. Just noticed that again today, for various reasons. I can't think of anybody who's passive-aggressively destroyed more Author opportunities and neglected more Authorly duties than I have. It's terrible, it's ungrateful. I guess maybe there is some excuse because of all the other cr*p I've generally got to deal with...but other people with as much cr@p manage to do the Author thing. Except I think maybe they either like it on some level, or are guilted/panicked into it by other authors or by agents and editors. No, wait--I know some people who are driven to it by need for food and a roof over their heads. But it seems that even the imminent danger of having to live in a van down by the river can't make me do some of this stuff. I have no idea why I draw lines where I do. Some people would give up writing entirely before "selling out" and writing w-f-h. Some people would rather make appearances than write to order.

I guess I need some kind of no-man's land between my own writing and the public book/Author thing. I think it's got to do with expectations, maybe--with reaching for an inner ideal as I work on my own stuff. I try to pare away my own baggage about what a book needs to be or what the market wants, and I try to pare away as much of "me" as I can, to get the book to be what it needs to be, on its own. Like when you look at a marble sculpture, you're not supposed to be thinking about a guy holding a chisel over it or whether he had a family or if he did school visits with Powerpoint. The piece before you is supposed to be the entire story. I need a no-man's land where there's the sculpture, and its creator is almost anonymous to the people who look at it. If I think very much about the viewers, it has the potential to distract me from the work at hand, mess up the chiseling, and do an irreparable disservice to the piece itself. I know the piece isn't going to be perfect, but whatever it is, I will bear complete responsibility for it.

With w-f-h, the no-man's land holds, because most times the editors aren't familiar with trade publishing, and it's all about the work at hand. I've worked with kids trying to learn to read, and I like being a person who writes the words that they are forced to try to make sense of. I like paying attention to what I'm doing, in hopes of maybe hitting a spark to where, for even a second, they forget what a chore it is and get caught up in the words. I'm not that interested in the kids for whom reading is easy and fun; I'm interested in the kids who hate it because it's boring and hard. So for me, I guess w-f-h is about the piece at hand because, ideally, it's divorced completely from me and is all about its relationship with the reader.

I guess other writers either don't need as wide of a no-man's land, or they're able to integrate the Author thing in with their writing. Or maybe it feeds them creatively, rather than draining them. Dunno. Probably it depends which kind of Author thing we're talking about, exactly.

Blah, blah, blah. Obviously, I did not write today.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Writer friend reminds me: in this ms, at least, a place is just a place. It means nothing unless it means something to the characters. I need to carve this into my desk. I can describe the daylights out of something, but without the emotional connection, it's boring and a waste of space.

Some other writers can describe, but it's just not my thing. It even bores me while I'm trying to do it. That should be a clue right there. I don't know why I can't let go of this. I suppose it's part of getting the world set in my head.

But it also speaks to chapter endings and hooks. For me, perhaps it's better not to end on "And so the door opened...", but on "The door opened and he cringed," or "He cringed as the door opened." Well, that's not a good example, but the main idea is: people not things, people not things, people not things. I must try to drum it in so I don't get sidetracked.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sent first chapters to a writer friend to see if I can get some outside help in clarifying what I already have on paper. Chapter 2 fizzles out with no ending, then Chapter 3 picks up out of nowhere, and I'm not sure where to head with it--what the reader wants from it, exactly. I don't feel stuck, just confused and unwilling to screw up what I already have by aimlessly tinkering. I feel like the ms could be starting to go somewhere, and I want to continue to feel that way. It may be one of those situations where nobody else can help me straighten it out, but we'll see.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Decided to continue from where I was. I vaguely remembered telling myself that I needed to get a grip on each little piece as I progressed. I thought I'd made a note to myself about this in an earlier entry and tried to find it, but I must need to redo the blog format or something, because I couldn't find anything.

Anyhow, I did skip a very wee tiny bit, and dove into a scene just slightly beyond the chapter beginning (beginning of chapter 3). By the end of today's writing session I had the next big confusing mass of stuff strung out enough that I could look at it, and now it's tentatively divided into chunks that I can wrap my mind around. Looks like the mass o' stuff is perhaps four chapters? We'll see. I know that the very wee tiny bit will actually be a chapter of its own, after I figure out what I want to do with it.

I guess this must be one way I operate: if I don't understand something, I try to break it down into smaller and smaller chunks till I get something I can understand. I know this drives other writers nuts when I talk to them about their own work and I keep asking annoying questions. But I'm not trying to be annoying, I'm trying to understand the pieces so I can wrap my mind around the whole.

Was discussing with some writer friends the fact that whenever we are struggling with a problem and find a fix, we automatically assume that fix must be the golden key that will enable every other struggling writer to solve a current problem and move forward. We're so relieved and triumphant that we want to share the good news and ease everyone else's path. I am trying to be more mindful of this, because it's not helpful when people do it to me and their golden key doesn't work for where I'm at. But it's hard not to generalize your own process, especially when you have been toiling away and finally feel that you've learned something useful.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Okay, so it looks like I've got a working draft of a first chapter. And I not only got a decent working draft of chapter two, I actually am pleased with the first part of it. The second part, unfortunately, doesn't have a clear idea of what it's doing, but right now I don't feel that going over and over it again will help me figure it out. I think I should move on, and maybe later when I come back I'll have clearer vision.

The problem is that since chapter two ends without a clear, strong direction, I'm once again at a loss as how to proceed. At the moment, my theory is that this is because chapter three heads back into plot-driven territory. Stuff happens because that's what the plot is. See, chapter two was transitional, so I had to pick over alllll the things that could be brought out in it, character and backstory-wise, and figure out which ones to use. Chapter two was all about the reader learning info. But chapter three is about the characters learning info.

I don't know what to do now. All I know is, I don't want to spend a huge chunk of time rewriting blindly, hoping something will fall into place by sheer luck. Should I try skipping chapter three for now, and move on to something I have a stronger feel for? Or should I back off and think about chapter three until it becomes clearer to me? Which is best? I just wish I could move forward at a semi-constant pace, with more of an idea of what I'm trying to accomplish.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How do you know where to insert information so that it's seamless? The only way I know is to work it out gradually, over many drafts, by painstaking trial and error. I can't tell if it's:

a) in the wrong place
b) too long
c) too short

except by moving, cutting, moving again, adding back, deleting, moving, splitting up, moving. As the drafts go by I lose my feel for how the piece reads, and this makes the process many, many times harder. I wonder if there's some trick or rule of thumb to bypass some of this frustration. I already know to print out with changed margins and font to make the reading fresh--but that's just removing some of the downtime I'd use letting the ms get "cold." It's not something that streamlines the actual writing time.

This is a question of pacing, I guess. Hmm. Maybe if I think of info as dead weight...the way to carry a dead weight is to spread it out in small bits over a broader space. Or make it not dead weight. So maybe one rule of thumb re. info might be to either:

1) trim every bit of excess fat then spread it out
2) make carry more meaning than is called for*

That doesn't solve the problem, though. It's just verbalizing what I do during the many drafts of trial and error. Jeez. I dunno. Would it help to be more mindful of the above as I work, or less mindful? I just want this stuff to disappear into the ms, that's all. Is it too much to ask? I just want the reader to know what I already know, so they can read without having to stop. I just want to keep things moving!

*This is probably unclear. The only example I can think of right now is not quite the same thing, because it's not strictly information in the same sense as a chunk of backstory or an explanation of relationships. But it's all I've got now because it's fresh in my mind. Yesterday I rewrote a description of how my characters got over a 12-foot-high brick wall. I did have them boosting each other up, blah blah blah, just a straightforward cold description of how it happened. Yesterday I opened the door for double duty because I started touching on how they did it in businesslike, practiced silence, so now there's room to imply that they've done it many times before, and also that they're so of the same mind that they can work together without having to discuss it. So the description could be a lot more than just "They did A, B, and C and then they were over the wall."

The thing is, I know all this, and know how to do it, and it's almost embarrassingly elementary to look at, written out here. But it's hard to hold a bunch of different things in your head at once. At least, it is for me. I lose the elementary stuff I know how to do, because my head is full of other things I'm trying to do.

But...I don't see how to make backstory do more than is called for. Maybe come at it backwards? Instead of having a piece of backstory and making it do double duty, look for other stark bits that only have single duty, that could possibly take on some wee bits of chopped-up backstory? You know, I just don't think I'm that smart--to read for revision while holding two layering tasks in my head at once. I suppose it's possible my gut could do it, though.

This is one long footnote. I sound like a rambling loser of a writer who hasn't got a clue, compared to all the smart blogging writers who just sit down and write their books. Oh well--back to work.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Worked on swordfighting ms again. Picked up where I left off yesterday and cut, cut, cut description, trying to make the story follow the characters rather than telling what they did. Hmm, that's not a good way to put it. I mean I tried to let the broader story-action fall into the background and accompany the characters as their immediate actions and thoughts let us get to know them, and hopefully those actions and thoughts laid enticing hints that make you want to find out what the characters are about to do. That's the idea, anyway--I know it's not working yet, because it couldn't possibly be, not at this early stage. And at the end I got a little confused about what I was heading toward and what all I'd just said. That usually means I lost focus and put in unnecessary stuff. But it's still a d*mn sight better than it was two days ago, even if nobody but me could tell from looking at it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

There, finally. I finally managed to stick with it and just do my work for about a page or so, and now must stop for the evening. And by g*d, once I stuck with it I could see little things falling into place, like, "Wait a minute, the character isn't thinking that, he's thinking this." Just little tiny things, but things that make the story matter instead of being a f*cking travelogue or entry in an Audubon guide to trees and shrubs. And I won't have to pull from chapter three, because if I can keep this up chapter three will be here so quick it's the same difference anyway.
Pulled up the swordfighting WIP for just a quick little bit of work, and decided to rename the file, save the old one and tuck it away, and then cut the second chapter to shreds. I named the new file cuttingthecrap.doc to inspire me. But I swear, within two minutes of starting, I looked at a line I'd cut and thought, "Wait a minute, have I explained what this is yet? If I haven't explained it, this won't make any sense." And within two minutes of sitting down to cut the crap, I was right back in there digging around to see if I'd explained the cut line and, if not, what I had to put back to get the explanation in and make sure the reader understood.

You know, it's true that the reader has to understand. But this way of thinking--which usually works for me at some point in a ms--is NOT serving me well now. It's getting in my way, big time. It's becoming a joke. This sounds counterproductive, but I have got to forget about making sense. Get the damn story in place. I can try to make sense later. For me, making sense is clearly something to do afterwards, as cleanup. At least, with this ms, right now, it is. I have got to get a grip on myself. I keep doing the same thing over and over, even when that same thing has done me no good and has not moved me forward so much as an inch in all the years of working on this thing.
Had a thought re. YA writers who think there was no YA in the 70's, 80's, or even, g*d forbid, the 90's. These comments aren't from lack of writing experience, they're from lack of reading. From lack of being in bookstores and libraries during the 70's, 80's, and, g*d forbid, the 90's. Even if you were too young for YA, the sections were right there by the kids' sections.

Also had a thought re. w-f-h. I need to stop leaving in stuff that I know is iffy. It's unprofessional because the piece just gets sent back for rewrite and I end up wasting everyone's time. While I'm writing, it's always in the back of my mind: "Okay, if I was a __grade boy and hated reading, what would grab my interest against my will?" So I keep putting in stuff that I know might bother some parents, which means it's going to be a no-no as far as the publisher is concerned. This morning I've wasted everybody's time and have to go find something else to take the place of a cannibalism/Donner party mention.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

No writing of my own, of course. I've got to get on the stick and finish up some w-f-h today, then I need to get a &*$@! real-people job*, because tutoring is over for the summer. I hate real-people jobs. Even if they're relatively painless and even rewarding, they take away writing time as well as the down time needed for creativity.

Was thinking today about how much harder and longer I have to work to cover the same ground as some writers. Some writers' first drafts are complete and readable and make sense and are salable. I have work my @ss off, usually over a much longer time, to get that kind of a "first" draft. I was thinking that the fact that I have to work harder and longer probably means that I have less natural talent. But I don't care.

Thinking about it further, I guess I have a fierce protectiveness of lack of natural talent. Some of it comes from thinking I was stupid in math all through elementary and middle school, and even in high school when I finally started making good grades. It didn't occur to me till college that I was halfway intelligent and that there was no reason a halfway intelligent person shouldn't be able to do math if they were willing to work hard and put more effort into it than people with natural math talent. So I minored in math and got a teaching certificate in it. I bring this same mindset to my tutoring: I am determined that every kid can do this, they just may have to work harder at a particular kind of thinking, or else figure out a way to get around it. Everyone has things they're good at, things that come easily; everyone has things they have to forge through or work around. It sucks if the thing that's hard for you is something society grades you on, but let's admit the suckage and move forward.

And then I guess that initial protectiveness got multiplied by having special needs kids who think differently. If you think differently, you aren't less than anybody else. However, you may have to take the long way round to get something under your belt. You may have to see other people--maybe even most other people--taking the short way round. Doesn't matter. You take your way, and do what you have to do.

So, I think I'm not just saying I don't care to cover up the sad truth that I really do care. I think I really don't care, at least most of the time. I suppose I care when the writing's going badly and I'm in despair. And it could be that all this is me protesting too much. But mostly I think all this is me trying to avoid doing my w-f-h, which is extremely stupid because the deadline is tomorrow morning.

*jobs that have nothing to do with writing

Monday, June 1, 2009

I have been churning out reading passages for w-f-h. Suddenly on Friday my mind went blank and I forgot how to do them. I had fallen into a rhythm and gotten pretty quick about it, but suddenly I hit this wall and my brain went ham-handed, so to speak. This happened once before with some little paragraphs I had to write to spec, so it's not like I was unfamiliar with this particular snag. Still, I tried to force out the passage I was working on. Of course it wouldn't come. I rewrote and rewrote, and it still sucked. Finally I gave up and walked away. Yesterday I sat down to it again, and wrote it easily. My head had needed a break to regroup, and so it took one, whether I wanted it to or not.

I see this happening, too, with bigger projects. I see it happening with other writers as well. Hit a wall, get frustrated because you're still eager to work on the piece, back off, then later when you come back it's ready to go. The conscious writing mind can only do so much before it quits on you. I have no idea why this is.

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