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.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Did a little work on dystopian, and ended up poking around the part right after the chapter break I recently made. I guess what I did today was streamline that part down to one main idea that lasts about three pages. Not sure what will happen after that, or whether this will work; it's still all taking place in the middle of the same scene.*

There are four other people currently in the room with the MC, three of whom just walked in. I keep having the feeling I'm trying to introduce too many people at once...maybe I'll think about having somebody stay outside for a while.

Hmm, one guy actually probably would stay outside, now that I think about it. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why he even came inside in the first place. I just assumed he did, and had him show up.

I have got to work on w-f-h tomorrow, though. I have to finish four small-but-intense projects before Monday, and have not been applying myself as I ought to.

*Actually, I don't think it is the same scene. I think I was thinking of it as one long scene, and that was part of my problem.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Didn't really have a chance to work on my own stuff today, but I took about twenty minutes and did anyway. Ended up looking at that key place where my MC decides to kill the guy, and started picking through that moment pretty carefully, just to see how it holds up. What I ended up doing was putting a chapter break right after it--right when the MC realizes people are coming in. Now the scene ends on the thought that everything he's just decided has to change again, instantly.

What I don't like about this is that it makes for a chapter of about three single-spaced pages, which is pretty short, and it's really part of a continuing scene, so it feels a little artificially truncated to me. The break seems to exist (or right now it does, I might see something else about it later when I have more time ) strictly for cliffhanger purposes and no other.

But what I do like about it is that it helps me "see" what I'm doing, and even in just twenty minutes I'm paying attention to details that I'd lost during the hours I'd spent on it when it was part of a bigger continuing scene. Like I'd lost the third character in the scene, a kid, and kept forgetting he was even there. Now, because the focus has suddenly narrowed due to the chapter ending so quickly, I'm suddenly able to consider what the kid's role is and what his interactions with the MC are and what they might mean and do.

My mind's been on emotional points of scenes lately because that's part of what I'm lecturing about in a couple of weeks, and I'm wondering if that's what's going on here--if breaking this part off on a whim is actually forcing me to consider the piece separately and making me see it for what it can do for the story, rather than as part of the continuum of the scene. If so, this should help me with whatever comes next. Having that white space severs the events; having a chapter break gives my writing head a complete, fresh start on whatever I have to accomplish once those people come in. It could be I'll put it back together at some point, but for now it seems like a good way to work.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Skipped ahead and wrote out some drama-filled scenes torturing my MC. Tears! Fists flying! Rage! Murderous thoughts! Helluva lot more fun than stupid boring figuring-out-how-to-transition. But I've got to parcel out the writing so I also get other looming writing-related stuff done, because if I don't, I'll have to set this aside completely. I've got multiple projects due within a week, and leave for Vt. four days after that. Egad. Must be very self-disciplined. Very.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Considering the dystopian some more.

I'm looking at the place where I left off yesterday--just after the writing problem I may or may not have solved--and feeling zero inclination to dig into that particular writing bog today. A bog is what's what it'll be, if I keep writing in a straight line. If I write from beginning to end, what comes next is in between the parts that are important to me. It's the explanation for the stuff I know happens. A lot of it is where the reader needs to follow the character's reasoning and internal struggle as he switches from doing/feeling ___ to doing/feeling ___.

My natural inclination is to skip the in-between till later, when more of the ms is put together. By then I tend to know everybody better, and often will already automatically understand how earlier events play out. By the time I've done that, these earlier sections will sometimes even write themselves.

Since I haven't figured out more specifics of what's going on later in this ms (I just have a general idea in my head) I'm looking at today's in-between part, and suddenly I feel that I'm also looking at a choice, here. I can start rewriting this in-between right now, and go over and over it it a hundred times, shifting tiny little things to see what works to lead into the next part, whatever that may be. Or I can skip it and come back later. Then I can rewrite it maybe two or three times to fit a framework that's already laid out and is clearer in my head.

The second way is more fun, more productive, and better for the ms. The first way is better for my mortgage and health insurance payments.

I need to let go of the idea of finishing this first part to get it turned in to agent--of thinking of this as one stand-alone piece that will hook up with the rest of the ms later as I continue on. From a technical standpoint it makes sense that I could work this way. From a technical standpoint I should be able to do it. Actually--from a technical writing standpoint--I probably can. I've got the writing chops to do it. It just wouldn't be any good.*

There are a lot of good things about doing w-f-h, but there are a lot of bad things, too, and maybe one of the bad things is having to force a ms when it's not ready. You don't have a choice with w-f-h; you have to make yourself sit down and get the ms working.** It's easy to get in the habit of doing that. And sometimes it is a good thing to force one's way through a sticky part. Other times, it's not.

I need to keep a grip on the fact that I have a choice. I don't have to get this part right now. I want to get it, my blood pressure wants me to get it, my agent wants me to get it***, and for once some of the people around me have actually read part of my ms, and they want me to get it, too. It doesn't matter what we all want. The only thing that matters is what the ms needs.

What it needs is for me to lay the f*ck off and go back to the characters and their interactions.

*You may ask yourself, can something be technically well-written and yet not any good? The answer is yes. Yes, it can.

**Business-wise, it seems to me that the industry is growing less able to perceive the differences between writing something somebody tells you to write, and writing something you love and connect with. Some editors, agents, readers assume it's just about figuring a book out, then sitting down and getting it done. Sometimes a writer buys into that, too--if you're talented enough, you should be able to crank out your novels on demand, right? And if you can't, that means something's wrong with you as a writer?

Nope. It's the system that's wrong. But the system also pays you and gets your books out there, so everybody's got to find their own comfort level working within (or without) it.

***To be clear, my agent is not pressuring me. Said agent would likely be happy if I could get it done, but also knows how writers work. And that, in a nutshell, is why I'm with said agent rather than somebody else.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Worked on dystopian ms today, getting it headed in this slightly new direction. Already the story's picked up its pace and things are moving along quicker. However, don't ask me how the reader's going to get any of the world-building and backstory necessary to understand what's going on. I have no idea.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I think it might help me if, instead of thinking about "plot" and "what happens," I think in terms of "what the reader craves." I wonder if looking at scenes this way may be one of the keys to being able to work with plot (for me; every writer is different).

I'm heavily character driven, and don't really care what the reader wants, until near the end. To me, if you think too much about the reader as you're working through a ms, you can start censoring your characters and judging them, and that messes up the story. The characters need to be free to be who they are and guide the storyline themselves. But this might be a good tool to pull out at times when I'm spinning my wheels: What might the reader crave right here, at this very spot where I'm stuck? The thing to watch for is that I don't go overboard and lose track of the emotional story. It's a tool, I think, that may need to be applied lightly and with care.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Started looking at the dystopian tonight; I know I shouldn't but I did anyway. And ka-wham!--I'm pretty I sure see the exact place I started going off track. Of course, I see other little things, too. One gaffe in particular is galling, because I buried a huge moment in the middle of a sentence in the middle of a paragraph; but that's okay because I'm not yet sure what I need to be getting at with it anyway. Now that I know where it is I can find it later when I start to pull the emotional story together more.

But now I also see the exact line in the ms where I start moving away from the storyline--and immediately after that is when things stall out.

Basically, my MC needs to decide to go in the other room and kill a guy. Everything's set up to where he'd do this, but right now at the exact spot where he gets up and goes in the other room, he's all iffy about it, and hangs in the doorway thinking and mulling over and trying to decide what to do, and eventually he's interrupted in his thoughts by people coming in, and I'm wandering around for pages not sure what goes where. Duh. He goes in there to kill the guy, who suddenly realizes his danger, and there's a moment of hesitation and connection between them--and then everybody comes in. They interrupt the killing, not the interminable thinking I've had him doing.

Through recent conversations with fellow writers, I have come to realize that I have never really cared what happens in a story. I only care what the fallout is and how it drives everybody forward--or better yet, how it drives them into the pits of despair. But two of the mss I'm working on right now--the dystopian and the swordfighting mss--are equal parts plot and character, and part (if not most) of the problems I've been having with them is that they require me to also pay attention to this flip side of things. The Writing 101 stuff like wanting an exterior goal and not getting it, plot stumbling blocks, etc. If I want to up my writing game and write a good, well-balanced mix of plot and character--which I do, that's been a goal for a few years now--then it seems I've got to add a couple of layers of depth to my writing-type thinking. Without letting those layers mess up the stuff I already know how to do. And that's going to be tricky.

If I can start thinking in plotting terms as well as character and thematic terms--if I can pull the two together in a way that works for me--I will be a happy camper. I hope what I'm seeing today is an epiphany rather than a delusion. It's easy to mistake the two sometimes; they can be nearly interchangeable.

So, whenever I look at this in the cold light of day--which I hope will be tomorrow, because I have a terrible craving to work on my own stuff again--I will have my fingers crossed that this was all epiphany and zero delusion.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This semester has been insane, but boy, have I learned a lot. Most of which I didn't particularly want to learn, but now that it's been forced on me, I'm glad it was. I guess. Well, as soon as some of the pain of constant failure and not understanding anything I'm writing except how bad it is has worn off a little, I'm sure I'll be glad that I was forced to learn.

The main thing was having to write a plot-driven w-f-h book. A huge component of this was having to write battle/fight scenes that had nothing whatsoever to do with anybody or anything except that they were supposed to be exciting plot stuff. Random preassigned bad guys would show up and the good guys had to fight them. On top of that, I had to insert plot-driven suspense--like, it's not enough for somebody to just go into a room. They have to hang in suspense outside the door for no reason except to make the reader wait, so that s/he will wonder what's in the room.

I got schooled, big time. I was basically forced to spend five months outside my comfort zone*, and had to learn a different way to write, from the ground up. I had to learn--or rather, had to be told--how to construct a scene when it's not in the least driven by character. I mean, like in Writing 101: how to apply rules about scene construction and make the scene happen. Like, choreograph it. Then double, triple, quadruple revise to make sure everybody's moves make sense and fit the rules of the story world. Then revise again for flow and pacing. Then go back and check and revise the choreography again and make it build properly.

Then, after the fairly generous deadline for the ms revision--again, I say AFTER the revision deadline--I started to realize that with all the choreography in place and everything relatively smoothed out, I could now make the character arc, emotional story, and theme come into play, too. I could make the whole thing come together so that the fights weren't just about fighting. Once I had inciting incidents and cause/effect and action/reaction and all that sh*t, I could see where the "deeper" stuff could also build to mini-climaxes within those scenes, and also how each could make a larger point along the arc of the Big Story. So I went over the whole thing again; I hung onto the ms and put it through another solid revision. Why did I engage in such unprofessional behavior as revising a ms that had basically already been approved and was past deadline? Because I couldn't stand not to---that's another thing I learned this semester, is that I'm insane.**

This ms isn't Shakespeare and never will be, but holy f*cking sh*t, I don't think I've ever learned so much about writing in so little time. My stomach lining is eaten away with caffeine and I spent six months constantly behind schedule on everything, because this ms was supposed to take 2-3 months, not 5-6.***

I can use everything I did in my own work. I know I can use it in the swordfighting ms, and I'm pretty sure I can use it in the dystopian, too. Because one thing I learned is that just because I see no earthly reason to have somebody linger outside a door, or to spin out a fight to a length that seems beyond its immediate repercussions in the story, doesn't mean I shouldn't consider doing it anyway.

I also have a new mantra: Nobody can tell me what not to care about.

*This has lessened the already minuscule amount of pity I had for writers who don't like to move outside their comfort zone, to the point where that one tiny iota of pity I used to have is now pretty much nonexistent. Students, be warned.

**I also learned that I lie to myself. I tell myself I can do something well in ____ amount of time if I just work hard enough, when really, with some things, I can only do a sh*tty job of it in _____ time, no matter how hard I work or how long the hours I put in.

Or, in ____ amount of time, I can do a job that would pass muster--but apparently I'm too neurotic to accept that there's a difference between late drafts that pass muster and late drafts that are sh*tty.

***There was also family stuff going on, but family stuff always pops up in my house, so that's a given.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

this about sums it up

I have been swimming in files the past six weeks, and the two currently open on my desktop involve: a) a masters-level critical thesis in process, and b) a monkey molesting a robot.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I haven't had time to work on any of my own writing for a week, but today I sorely needed a break from everything else, so I worked on the dystopian ms. I think the part I need is coming together--slowly--and that I may actually have a good solid six or seven chapters to show my agent whenever I have a chance to get it done (and done properly). Today's work was a special treat, though--I need to put the ms aside for a couple of weeks and tend to other responsibilities.

I moved randomly over chapters five, six, and seven (and parts of three), just doing whatever I felt like doing. The biggest thing I accomplished was seeing what the main throughlines were--the main emotional point in each scene and section--then removing the clutter of backstory and side issues. That was a big relief. I clipped all the excess out (in pieces) and stuck it on the end of the ms where it'll be out of the way. Later I'll have to figure out where it all can go without draining energy and momentum. Right now the focus is on getting these chapters right and readable. I hope I'm one step closer to that, but of course will have to wait and see.

I don't know why things fall into place more easily on some days than on others. Last week I hadn't so much as glanced at the ms in weeks, yet couldn't see it as clearly as I saw it today. Or as clearly as I think I saw it--like I said, I'll have to wait and see.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Yesterday I spent a disproportionate amount of time on my ms, and need to try to make up for that today by not looking at it. If I don't keep things balanced, I'm going to get myself in a tight spot come the end of this month.

Basically what I did yesterday was open the floodgates for this one scene. I let every bit of story and backstory and setting and action and dialog that came into my head spew forth onto the page. That's the kind of writing where I usually don't feel like I've accomplished anything after I've done it, because now there's a big unsorted mess on the page. It'll take a lot of trimming, moving, smoothing, and shaping, to get it to amount to anything.

I have to admit I'm also a little concerned about the way plot stuff keeps happening. I don't have any context for how plot-driven pacing is supposed to feel while I'm in the middle of my spaghetti bowl of a ms, drowning in strands of story and character.

However (I remind myself), that's one of the points of writing this ms. I'm going to bloody well get a feel for it, even if I have to open my skull and rewire the same part of my brain every day for 20 years.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Yesterday I chopped and moved things, and have some scenes lined up in an order that might work.* I didn't think they were very interesting, though, until this morning while walking Tyson I was trying to figure out how to get started on this one particular part. I haven't been able to get into my head what kind of place this is (the setting for a certain scene), so I was mulling that over, trying to get something that felt workable--a good combination of what's best for story and what seems most realistic--and thinking about who would be in the scene and why.

The basic reason for this scene existing is for the MC to get some information. In other words, it's just a plotting thing. That means I'm bored to tears by the whole scenario and it's also probably why I haven't already written it. But as I thought about the layout of the place, I realized that it would be laid out in the same way as the MC's childhood home. The place is walled and guarded, and they'd keep the area around it cleared of trees and brush, so the guards would have a clear view of anyone approaching. And they'd shoot anyone who disobeyed their directions and tried to approach without permission.

I have a backstory scene already sketched out that I really like and have always intended to use--the MC's first time to kill somebody. It took place in those exact circumstances, when he was a child--he shot somebody from the defensive walls, somebody who didn't listen when the guards didn't clear the person to approach. I wrote that before I really thought much about this present-day place, but now I see that this is where that backstory scene goes. As the MC and his girlfriend go to the place where they'll get the plot information, I'll of course have to describe where they're going, and that will be a natural spot to put that backstory because he'll automatically be remembering that, and it also brings up the dangers of the present day scene. And it neatly ties back to the basic ideas that are driving me to write this book, thoughts about mercy and empathy. So that was a good morning's work, even though I haven't written a thing and probably won't till later today, if at all. I have to get some other things done first.

*or might not. There's only one way to find out.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Looks like I need to abandon my skipping-ahead idea for the dystopian ms and try to muscle my way through the saggy part.* I printed out the first five or whatever chapters and looked at them, but they're still pretty much etched on the inside of my eyeballs. So I guess what I'll have to do is reason my way into a faster-paced arrangement of the many scenes and pieces I have on hand (any of which could go in that part), then ask around for readers who can tell me what I'm not seeing. I already know everything that's going on in the story, so I don't have a clue what the reader wants or is most curious about at this point.

*Why? E-mail from agent, that's why.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Yesterday I skipped ahead and wrote a scene where my MC is suffering emotional torment. That was a lot of fun.

I need to figure out how to keep this ms simmering on a front burner over the next month or so, and not let it get pushed completely aside.

And I need to figure out what to do about that &%$@! saggy part. It's driving me insane. I just want it to be fixed so I can move on. Is that too much to ask? I don't think so.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Am trying to get a grip on larger picture of ms using sticky notes on the inside of a cardboard box, because a poster board wasn't large enough. I've got the end idea I need to come around to* written in front of me so I don't lose sight of it. I've got a different color of sticky note for each thread I'm trying to deal with. Each sticky note contains one scene I'm pretty sure I want to write.

It looks like there are two main threads to be woven together. One follows a certain secondary character and mostly appears to be plotty stuff. Another follows a different secondary character and mostly appears to be character-theme-ish quiet scenes. Hmm.

It looks to me like there's a turning point, and after that there won't be room for much of anything except plotty stuff. That might be the last third or so of the book. Not sure. But once that turning point happens, the MC is going to be obsessed and unable to think of anything else.

However, if there's mostly only quiet stuff for a huge chunk of the ms before that, I've got a problem: sagging story.

One thing I've wanted to do since I started this ms was to use the idea of six bullets as a ticking-clock device to pull the reader through. However, the way it stands now, four of the six bullets are fired in the last third of the book, which is already going to be moving quickly (if the story really does go this direction). So...I think I can move one of the bullets up somehow, and not lose anything. I think it can go in a third colored thread, which belongs to yet another character/storyline. Except I don't know how this third thread/storyline fits in with the others yet. However, I do know it's part of the middle, and it's not quiet, so that's good.

So, hmm, hmm. Right now I could write out a couple of scenes to feel out some stuff, or I could freewrite a secondary character's backstory, because I'm going to need to have that firmly in the back of my head in order to write the middle.

Oh, yo. Revisions on w-f-h just popped up in my inbox. Well, there's no way I'm going to put all my lovely different-colored sticky notes aside just yet, mere hours after I got them out. I've skimmed the e-mail, and will digest its contents while proceeding on dystopian ms for the rest of today's writing time. Tomorrow I will look at the commented-on w-f-h ms itself, egad. By then my loins should be fully girded.

Okay, so anyway. Not to put too fine a point on it, I need to figure out when my MC has sex with a certain character before I can understand how the third colored thread weaves in with the other two. And the problem I'm having there is that my MC needs to visit the same place twice, when he doesn't actually go there very often, and only one of the visits is exciting, plot-wise. The other's boring...except for the sex. Only he won't know he's going to have sex till he gets there, so there's nothing to compel the reader. Therefore: sagging story.

*Or rather, two ideas: mercy binds the group and strengthens it; mercy to oneself is necessary as well. These are the things that drive the book, underlie all the character arcs, and pull everything together.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No actual writing today, but I've been scribbling notes and trying to work out a plan of attack. I want to work on the middle, which has got preplanned plot stuff to it. But I don't want to get off track and end up with an unusable mess, like I have with some of my other WIPs. I'm trying to come up with an approach to plot that can work for me; obviously the straightforward approach that some other people use isn't my thing.

What I'm going to try now is to look at the overall character arc and keep one eye on where I'm heading--the ending change or realization that takes place in the MC. At the same time I want to look at the plot stuff I have (these are individual scenes where things happen) and try to make sure I can also see each piece in terms of how it affects or shows something along that arc. Then maybe, when all is said and done, the plotting stuff will consist of scenes that do something emotionally as well as story-wise--thus making for a successful read.

I also have a bunch of scenes in mind that are pretty much all emotion--not much going on in terms of action--and I'm not sure how to work those in yet. I don't know if there needs to be a rhyme or reason to it.

I finally had time to take a very close look at some books I'd been hoping would offer some clues about ways to look at plotting vs. that emotional trajectory. I was disappointed to find nothing helpful. It looks like some people have the opposite problem from me, is all I figured out. I guess it was good to get that opposite problem nailed down in detail, though. And maybe I should take another look and see if I can learn something about pacing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

No writing yesterday; got caught up on e-mail and worked on 2 of 3 outstanding writing-related projects. Will write today, though.

I'm going to try to pick apart a problem I'm currently working on, because I caught myself starting to drone on about it in a private e-mail, which is unkind to those I am corresponding with.

Problem: when you need a character to do or say something. You can't just make them act or put words in their mouth, because that can mess up the book. They have to really do or say it, all on their own.

In my case, what I need from my MC is more of an internal change, and it's interwoven with other problems that need solving, but all I'm going to look at right now is me trying to get the character to fall in line with what the story needs.

Some of the things I've tried:
  • Write through, step-by-step, the MC's considerations as he reasons his way toward doing/saying what I need him to do/say.
  • Go through the scenes from other characters' POVs to see if fleshing out the scene helps.
  • Let the characters talk about the situation in scene to see if one of them influences the MC.
  • Rethink who's present.
  • Rethink when they're present (i.e. coming in, leaving).
  • Rethink what everyone's doing in the scene.
  • Break down the MC's considerations into smaller scenes; in other words, take him through the steps required to bring him to doing/saying what I need him to.
None of that quite works. Now I'm going past these types of changes to change the deeper structure of the story. I'm actually making these changes in an attempt to address other problems, but it may solve this one as well (the problems are all interrelated anyway; I'm not sure which is causing which). By changing the time of day, I don't have to account for the characters' interactions because they'll be asleep as soon as I'm done with them in scene. I can move straight into action the next morning, and story problems will come in more quickly, thus changing my MC's mindset. I'm also, er, thinking about drugging a character so he'll stay quiet while my MC works things out. Or giving him greater injuries than he's had in previous versions (again, so he won't be an active presence in the story for another scene or two).

Anyway, after I get all this worked out, I'll forget the process I went through--I may even think the story came out right the first time--so I wanted to get it down while I'm in the messy middle of it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Line of thought re. dystopian ms:

1. It slows and sags by the end of chapter 5. (I think it's chapter 5; still haven't looked at it.)

2. I could make stuff happen quicker; i.e. let the new people show up and introduce the new problems.

3. But I already just brought new people in--3 of them at once.

4. Therefore, switching out the sagging part for more new people and problems feels "off" to me, pacing-wise. It just seems like too much to take in, as a reader. It seems too crammed.

5. I'm trying to remember what I've been telling students lately, and am seeing if I need to follow any of my own advice.

6. If I was my own student, I would advise me to find the emotional points I feel drawn to and see if I can use them as "markers" then fill in the rest from there.

7. I do have two small pieces that I love and feel drawn to, that both go in this part somewhere.

8. If I switch the time of day to evening rather than morning, I can probably skip a lot of the saggy part and go straight to those two pieces.

9. The problem with this is one of logistics, but I'm not going to worry about that right now.

10. Those two pieces are more internal and quiet, and will provide the break in pacing that I need. So I think I might be able to go straight from them back into faster-moving events.

And that is what I'm going to try today: pull up the ms, go to that last completed chapter, and start changing it under the assumption that the characters are losing daylight. But I'm not going to go back farther in the ms and try to change earlier stuff to fit; I'm just going to see how this goes. Who knows what I've forgotten about the story that could make this not work? Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Okay, where was I?

I'm finally down to only three things on my writing-related to-do list. This respite will only last a few days, but with any luck I can do better at keeping up when the pile increases again. This past couple of months has been hellacious, what with family stuff going wrong, and a serious misjudgment on my part re. the w-f-h novel. I thought that since I'd written an 80K word novel in two months, pounding out a 40K one in the same amount of time would be a piece of cake. Here's what I didn't realize:

1. The 80K novel was from my own outline; this one was from somebody else's.

2. The guidelines I had to follow for more than half the scenes formed an intricate web of minutiae. This meant that I couldn't write so much as a sentence without flipping through reference books and going back through the ms to make sure everything hung together and I wasn't f*cking something up. This took time, and it also meant that I couldn't get any writing momentum going in those scenes, which in turn meant the whole thing took even longer.

3. Almost all the scenes had 4-5 main characters present, each of whom had to be actively involved in the scene; I couldn't "lose" any of them for any length of time.* It doesn't sound like any big deal, but juggling more than 2-3 characters in a scene takes some doing. And these people were in every freaking scene, participating as equals.

Anyway. That ms will be back on my desk shortly. I hope I can stay more on top of it this time. I guess that depends on how off-point the version I sent them was. I bloody well tried to get it as on point as possible.

I'd like to try to get something done on my dystopian ms before the w-f-h comes back, but I'm scared to look at it because I'm afraid it really sucks. Right now I'm deciding whether to actually look at it, or just starting writing in the general vicinity of where I left off without taking a peek. I know that part needs to be rethought anyway, so I'm leaning toward diving in blind. I can't even remember what all I had in there, the last time I worked on it.

*Now that I think about it, this is probably one way I could have worked faster, by just letting everybody say generic stuff that needed to be said, and not worrying about personalities. I ended up doing that some, anyway.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Note to self: look at pacing in Hunger Games

Something seems different about the way some of the chapters end. Like maybe they're cut at a slightly unusual place in the scene, or the last line is atypical for a cliffhanger? Maybe those last lines aren't concretely set in scene? The chapter ends are working, but something seems different about them.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Family and other things are very quickly piling up, so I need to get into gear for the next few weeks. Will be restricting myself from internet. Starting NOW.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

To quote Scooby Doo: Ruh-roh. No work done yesterday, and only 800 the day before.

However, this presents me with a good challenging exercise, because what I must do is quit pausing to ensure that events and characters are following the world's rules and making sense in the context I've been given. I need to just start writing the damn story. So that's my challenge to myself: if I come to a place where I don't know my given parameters, then instead of stopping to figure out exactly what they are and how write within them, I need to put a placeholder. I need to leave that spot blank and move on.

This is also probably what I need to do with the dystopian ms, so it ought to be excellent practice. If I can stick with it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Around 2800 words over three days. Oh dear. I do feel like I'm getting a grip on the background material, though. The background is very complicated and a little intimidating, and requires a lot of reading.

Worked on former GN a little, but the voice keeps lapsing back into default, which is isn't helpful because that's the same old rut I've been in for several years now. Today's theory is that if I write this ms every single way it can possibly be written, eventually all that's left will be the one way I haven't written it, which will be the way. Eventually I'll use up all the other combinations of words in the universe, till all that's left will be a hole in the shape of my ms. Then I can plug the hole with the last exact combination of words I haven't tried, and it will be perfect.

Only 28,995,430,511 combinations of words to go.

Writer friend came up with an interesting approach to a problematic tangle of a ms. Said WF used sticky notes on a poster board to lay out the entire ms visually in order to see it all at once. The stickies are different colors depending on who is in the scene.

Another writer friend said that a third writer friend used a method like this, except the colors were about settings rather than characters--and that this helped WF3 to see the big picture and proceed. Sometimes with a novel you just have to step back and try to get a bead what it is you're doing. I'm thinking I need to do something like this with the dystopian ms--except I'm not sure I can really do stickies because I don't have my scenes in order yet. Those two WFs had complete or nearly complete mss. But I do feel the need to make a stab at getting some kind of mental order to the many threads of the dystopian ms, because I think doing so might possibly help me stick to something that moves forward at a brisk clip rather than going off on boring tangents. No time to try this out at the moment, though. The former GN is so chopped-up in format, it lends itself more to being worked on at the same time as other full-steam-ahead projects. Not so with dystopian, which is all of a piece.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Added 3300+ words to ms yesterday. Most of them involved copying, pasting, and typing stuff from the bible/outline and other reference materials, to help me stay on track. But I counted them as my own words so that I could reward myself with a little work on the former GN.

I kind of like where this new tack is taking me with the former GN. I think it has potential. If nothing else, it's shaking me out of the mental rut I was in. I'm having to restructure the beginning* and make it more grabby and think in terms of tension and in terms of planting at least a grain of a seed of a question in the reader's mind, for g*d's sake, instead of drifting over 250 pages in a namby-pamby lyrical cloud of a non-story.

*Or rather, the old beginning, which now comes after what used to be the ending section. I'm cutting up the old ending section and interspersing it as a framework for the whole story. However, I think at some point framework and story will meet and the ending will just continue on as the ending in real time.

This all sounds very complicated. I guess it is. Still, it's right up my alley because it means playing around with various permutations of voice, style, and especially format. For now I'm just writing for myself, for fun, to see what I can get the words to do on the page. And what places where there aren't any words can do.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I was bad on Wed. and only did 250 words. Yesterday I was good and did 400--that 400 was during an hour grabbed in the middle of a busy day, which is why it's good.

Now my word count is about to go out the window because I'm going to copy and paste huge pieces of the bible/outline in hopes that I can work faster by jumping around. I keep having to stop and look stuff up, but if I jump around I might be able to work on one story thread at various places in the ms and focus on following it through. Maybe.

Lunch at Chuck E. Cheese yesterday with non-writer friends, and discussed economic/social aspects of dystopian ms with them. If you have a high tolerance for kid noise--which I do--you can get a lot of discussing done at Chuck E. Cheese. Hmm, that sounds weird, but I'm serious. I realized I need to lean more toward a Dark/Middle Age European mindset for this dystopian project and try to forget the vestiges of Mycenaean background that have crept in from the former GN.

Will try to get a copy of Brunelleschi's Dome for sure.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Now I remember why I never do word counts. Yesterday it appears that I wrote 2000 words, but I'm sure it was more like 800 because I copied and pasted pieces from the story bible to keep me on track. Plus I rewrote parts, trimming them considerably to make them fit together more smoothly, so my word count went backwards sometimes. Word counts never mean squat, where my writing is concerned.

Still, will pretend they do mean something for now, because I will surely hit the keyboard daily to avoid having to man up and blog that I didn't do what I was supposed to do.

In more interesting (to me) news, I had a small epiphany while jogging. It's interesting--not just because I am now seemingly used enough to jogging that I can think about something besides how much I hate it and that I really ought to quit right this second because only crazy people do this to their joints and anyway I could go get a Milky Way or some Ruffles--but because I think I may see a way into the former GN. I'll keep the new experiment in structure (i.e. starting with the ending section and interspersing it throughout the story) and do some hardcore change-up with the voice. I'd like to stick with third person (I'm uncomfortable with the idea of first in this particular ms), but pull into a closer third that matches the protagonist's age and outlook.* In other words, the reader will grow with her, and realize things with her. This feels like a good idea to me, a good thing to try. It feels like it might be forward progress.

In fact, it sounds like a lot more fun today than trying to write 2000+ words of someone else's book. However, first things must come first.

*Now that I think about it, this is similar to what Karen Hesse did in Music of Dolphins, although that didn't have anything to do with age.

Monday, July 26, 2010

No writing at all yesterday. 2800 w-f-h words today.

I'm not allowing myself to work on my own stuff on any given day until that day's w-f-h quota is met. I may not be working on my own stuff for a looooong time. After I've written that many words, I don't want to write any more.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Now I need to settle in and write an average of 2000-2500 (or more; more is even better) words per day on the w-f-h novel.

Today: 2000+

Also decided to change up the ending of chapter five of the dystopian ms, in an effort to keep it moving. I went in and quickly cut out one short scene, cut half of another, and ended on the gun going off. Will have to see later what effect that gives; no time to read it over for flow right now.

The w-f-h novel shouldn't be too bad; I like the character, and probably will have to watch that I don't wallow in too much character-driven stuff, as this is meant to be an action-filled midgrade for boys. Also must try to stick to schedule since packets will overlap, and sons' school starts in mid-August, which always seems to use up days of time, although I'm never quite sure why.

I'm hoping that the looming humiliation of not meeting this now publicly stated words-per-day goal will drive me to keep up. Because otherwise I'm going to be an utter mess by the end of August, putting in sixteen hour days and longer (!) to get the job done. Don't ask how I know that this is what happens when I don't keep up. Some of my writing history is better left unexamined.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Have been tinkering with the former GN. Pulled the ending to the front...and am stuck there, not knowing how to lead into the old beginning.

I seem to keep running into the same problem of balance in all three of my current WIPs. All three require world-building and backstory, and I keep hitting the same wall, over and over again: at some point the story slows down too much.

And now that I think about it, this probably relates at least partially to my old nemesis, transitions. Either I'm leaping around from scene to scene, or I get immersed in the minutiae of the characters' daily lives and have trouble thinking outside that natural progression. There isn't much middle ground in my head, and that middle ground is where the transitions are. It's also where the world-building needs to be, I think.

Maybe the thing to do (with the former GN) is to keep tabs on what idea needs to come next. Usually every scene needs to carry one main idea. This ms is not a normal format with normal scenes, but maybe trying to think in big-picture terms of scenes would help.

Technically maybe this book shouldn't be possible, since the MC has no goals, positive or negative, and doesn't want anything at all until the very end. But now I'm thinking that surely there's a way to get the structure to carry the story forward, since the content apparently can't do it. That's what I'm looking at now. I'm thinking I might be able to use structure rather than content to pose the "questions" that keep the pages turning, if I mess around with this long enough--and if I can keep from falling into the same old mental rut.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Was discussing former GN with a fellow writer, who wondered if the problem of boringness might be solved by starting with the last section of the book and interspersing the current story along the way as vignettes or flashbacks. I am very interested in this suggestion and will be considering it in depth when I have the time, which won't be for a week at least. Well, I won't have the time then, either, but it's interesting enough that I'll probably make time when I shouldn't.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Partial of 60+ pages, first five chapters, done and sent. It's as good as I can get it right now. So that's off my mind for a while, probably. Unless agent tells me I screwed up and have to fix something.
Am second-guessing myself re. chapters 3, 4, and 5. I've looked at it too long and can't tell whether I'm shoehorning stuff in. Normally this would mean I need to lay off--but I can't, because people are waiting to see it. So I've been going over and over it, and when I see a spot that doesn't seem smooth, I zero in and think about whether it's going the way it would naturally go if left to its own devices. The unsmooth spots are getting smaller and smaller, but like I said I've lost all perspective, so it could be that as the ms gets more natural, it also loses conflict and tension. Because basically what this part of the ms needs to do is start shifting the reader's focus to new tensions, and it needs to do it pretty quickly. Hard to do that without losing steam.

Anyway, the d*mn thing's going to be off my desk today. Period. Before midnight, it must be gone. I'm behind, behind, behind on everything else.

Also, decided maybe I don't have to kill that character. Also, made notes laying out the basic sequence of one of the plot threads that has eluded me, the one that brings about the climax and ending.

Also, am thinking about former GN, as far as POV--maybe the fact that it's in third person could be helpful, maybe there's some way to switch to serial close third and use the changing POVs to ramp up what the reader wants for the character vs. what she wants. Or maybe not. Just randomly musing.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I was correct; the first five chapters are almost nailed. I thought I could get them finished and sent by the end of the day, but there's still some places where the pacing stutters just for a split second, and I'm too tired to fix them right now. So, d*mn. I need to get this done so I can move on. Oh well, will bear down tomorrow and try to get it right.
On Deadliest Warrior, it's usually the case (not always, but usually) that the guy with the later technology wins, so of course you'd expect Vlad the Impaler to beat Sun Tzu. But it just seems wrong, somehow, to see the prototype for Dracula cut both hands off the general who wrote The Art of War, and impale him, twitching, on a stake. It just seems wrong.

OTOH, maybe there's something to think about here re. planning/theory vs. no-holds-barred brute force.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Worked on first five chapters instead of chapter six, and I think I've almost got them nailed. If I'm right, I should have 60 pages (double-spaced) ready to go by the end of the week, which will be plenty to fulfill the agreed-upon partial. And it ends on a nice hook, so tra la! Fingers crossed that this reads as smoothly tomorrow.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Working, working, working. I've got everything loosely sketched out through chapter 5, but I guess it's about time to read it over and see if it's very far off the mark. Not looking forward to that. I've looked at the first two chapters so much that I can't even get a fresh read on them by plying my usual tricks to squeeze just one more read out of a tired ms. But I need that fresh read in order check the flow and buildup on everything that follows.

Hmm, maybe I won't read it tomorrow, but will see what I can come up with for chapter 6, which is going to require a lot of new writing. All I've been doing for ages is shuffling pieces of dialog and interactions around and tying them together in different ways. It might be nice to write some larger new portions.

I do wonder if this story is taking too long to get started. Part of the problem is that I'm not sure what "get started" means for this ms. If I think about it in terms of three acts (which I don't seriously want to do; that kind of thinking has not been super helpful to my process in the past) I suppose I know where the end of act 1 comes, because the story will shift to another "problem." Hmm, I think I'm concerned that the change will be too sudden and the bottom will fall out of the story and all momentum will be lost. Well, at least now I know I'm concerned. I'll have to wait and see how it pans out, I guess. I'm a long way from that part, because very soon I'll have to set the whole thing aside. I'll be extremely lucky if I can get a decent first draft through chapter 6 before I have to quit.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Didn't have much writing time yesterday, and what I did have was cr*ppily spent, retreading the same fairly meaningless scene over and over, trying to get it to mean something. In that line of scenes, the MC seemed to be growing increasingly well-disposed toward a stranger that he'd given shelter, and I thought about the larger picture and understood that the MC needed to be moving from not wanting anything to do with the stranger, to letting the stranger stay with him. The problem was that there was no believable reason on this earth that he'd rethink his decision not to let the stranger--who has nothing to offer--stay on. Finally gave up and admitted I should put it aside and get some of this other stuff done and not work on it anymore till I had some distance or some inspiration.

Then I woke up at 2 in the morning and as I stumbled out of bed to get a drink of water without stepping on the cat, I realized that the stranger asks to stay. D'oh.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I am trying to remind myself that this ms is actually progressing quickly and well, because I lost direction in chapter 4 today. I have all these nice pieces and scenes that I don't know what to with. I can't just randomly throw them together because they make sense; they have to add up to make a point and make the reader feel something. Only I don't know what. And I can't afford to spend time lost in a muddle of a ms because of all the other projects I'm slated to deal with, each with its own ticking clock. I need to maintain at least a modicum of focus here. Ugh. Frustrating.

What I'd like to do is take the ms up to where the gun goes off, and leave it there for now. But I don't know what belongs between the events of the MC's morning and the gun going off. I've got meals, conversations, gutting and skinning rabbits, informational memories, hair braiding, singing, and sex. How the f*ck am I supposed to know which ones go between the morning and the gun? The gun could possibly not go off for several days! Or it could go off that very afternoon. I don't really care when it goes off. It could go off right now, and that would be fine with me.

As Goku from Saiyuki and Saiyuki Reload would say, "Crappity crappity crap."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

various levels of spoilers; if you don't like spoilers stay away

Earlier in the semester, a fellow writer was discussing a death that takes place in one of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart books. I haven't read any of the three, and FW's discussion was in depth enough that I decided I'd better not, because the death looked terribly, terribly sad. It looked well designed enough to make a reader weep--and who has time for that? Not me.

So that interaction made me think of one of my favorite books of all time, Cynthia Voigt's Wings of a Falcon. I seldom have time to just sit down and read, so I keep books going in different places around the house and if I have a few minutes, I pick up whichever one is in the room and read that. After the Sally Lockhart discussion*, I pulled Wings of a Falcon off the shelf and brought it into the rotation, because it's been a long time since I read it.

What I'm finding myself doing is reading a bit the way I normally do, then flipping to the key death in the story--which is a shocking slap in the face of a heartbreaker--to read that, too, before I put the book down for the day. I've done this over and over and over. I have read that death at least once a day for a couple of weeks now. It's kind of sick, really--it's much worse than just reading the Sally Lockhart books through one time. I thought maybe I was trying to prepare myself for the forthcoming death so that when I finally got to it, it wouldn't hurt as much as it has in the past. Or maybe I've finally gone off the deep end, who knows.

But then yesterday when I moved things around in my dystopian ms, one chapter had a new ending, and suddenly I just hit that sucker out of the ballpark. I don't know if it'll stay that way or not, but that ending is suddenly a setup for the death of the character I'm planning to kill off. I don't want to kill the character off, because said character certainly doesn't deserve it. It's a terrible thing for me to do, it's almost beyond the pale. But as I wrote that chapter ending and boldly set up stakes for the probably future death, it occurred to me that maybe I've been reading and rereading the Wings of a Falcon death to work myself up to writing one of my own. I've never killed anybody off before, not like this. The reason for this death is because it'll break the MC entirely, crush him like a fly. To write that, it needs to break me entirely, and crush me like a fly. So now I'm thinking the obsessive rereading of the WoaF death is my subconscious mind trying to gear up to do what it needs to do. I guess we'll see; I could get to that part of my ms and find that the character doesn't need to die, after all.

*and after another discussion with a writer friend who was reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, and commenting on the way Cromwell's third person POV never uses Cromwell's name, only "he" and "him" and such, and how that could get confusing after a while. That reminded me of Wings of a Falcon, which starts off the same way, so I also picked it up to see when Voigt gives her MC a name, exactly. Answer: over 70 pages in, in Chapter 5.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Worked long hours on dystopian ms. I rearranged chapter 3 a little, and carved a general shape for chapter 4, as well as a rougher shape for chapter 5. I used scenes and pieces of scenes I've already written, plus wrote new bits and compiled them with each other and with old bits, laying everything out to approximate where the finished scenes might end up. I'm mostly thinking of the general flow and trying to get it to work.

Basically I laid out what amounts to twenty-something pages (single-spaced), the bones of the first part of the story (after the first 2 1/2 chapters), so got a lot done.

Also wrote the last line, but I don't know if it'll stay that way.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Worked nearly all day yesterday on dystopian ms. Got a lot done; so much, in fact, that by the end I was utterly confused and lost, and thinking nobody in their right mind would ever be interested in any of it--which is probably a good sign. I hope. Actually, I can't remember if it's a good sign or not. Eh, doesn't matter; I shall proceed onward anyway.

But not today, probably. I've got to get some kind of schedule going, because I contracted to write a w-f-h novel by Sept. 1st, plus I told agent I'd make an attempt to have 6 chapters of this ms in before I leave for V. residency. Plus "lecture," plus getting family and house and animals ready for me to be gone. Egad.

Anyway. I was trying to describe the former GN to a fellow writer, and pulled it up out of curiosity to see how it looks now that I've laid off it for four or so months. Answer: not too good. It's a mess. Needs a total overhaul. It really is boring and, well, fruity. Am mulling over (again) the problem of the MC with no goal. The solution, you'd think, would be to make sure that the reader has a goal for the MC. However, I'm having trouble figuring out how to do that, here.

I suppose the thing to do would be to make the reader feel bad for the MC, make the reader root for her to be happy. But in order to do that, don't I have to make the MC really miserable? That's what makes a story work, is conflict and inflicting misery on your MC. But it's not what I want to do, not at first. I can't do that, really. It would go against the entire raison d'etre for the ms, which is that misery and giving oneself away in relationships is insidious and begins in small, almost unrecognizable increments. So...there must be another way to do it. I'll have to keep mulling it over. I was thinking that since it's in third person, maybe there's a way to sort of stifle and smush the MC by telling her story underneath the activities of other people, in the beginning. Don't know how to do that without giving the false implication that it's their story rather than hers, though.

Anyway, no time to think about it right now. All I know is, I seem to have lost not one ounce of determination to get that ms working, even if I have to stretch my feeble liver-spotted hand out of the coffin they've placed me in and type the last (correct) words of it before I finally expire.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Worked on dystopian ms yesterday, and got a lot done. Added maybe 5 pages (single-spaced) to chapter three and finished it off, and am now messing around with the pieces of chapter four.

Dunno if chapter three works. I'm pretty sure I've got too many little side issues in there, that will have to be pulled and moved elsewhere because they'll be slightly distracting and interrupt the flow of thought. I tried to get most of them cut out, but more kept popping in as I worked.

Surprisingly, the transition between the two parts of chapter three ended up coming from a different secondary character than the one I thought. I'd fixed up the character I'd been trying to focus on, really thinking through the scene from her pov--and then as I was done and getting my MC out the door, I paused to ground the scene for a beat, just for pacing so it would read smoothly. When I paused I used one of the other secondary characters for the grounding, because I realized I didn't know exactly what she was doing at that specific moment. I knew generally; she was on the floor bending over this sick guy, tending to him. But I didn't know specifically, like what her hands were doing, what her posture was, what she was looking at and thinking and feeling about the sick guy, at that particular moment. That's the kind of thing you sort of need to know. Especially the thinking and feeling, because those are what tell you about the "doing" and "looking at" parts.

When I paused to pinpoint her just for that one beat, to understand exactly what she was doing and feeling, I realized that the MC got mad at her. Well, not mad, just kind of exasperated and frustrated and burdened. But he went off onto this whole tangent of thought that became the transition, and carried the MC very nicely into the next part, and helped me trim the entire next scene.

I hope that transition doesn't end up being too much. I touched on a big idea that I'd been saving for later, so that bit may have to be cut. I can't tell whether to hint at it over the beginning of the book and use it for a tease, or slowly let the reader in on it in a straightforward manner, or just hit them with it later in the story. As of yesterday, the reader is slowly being let in on it in a straightforward manner. I'm iffy about whether it'll work, though. May be TMI too soon, and lead to reader overload. OTOH, they're already being teased with a lot of stuff, and may be suffering from tease overload instead of TMI overload. It may be best just to leave it out for now. Oh well, I'll have to wait till I read the whole thing over.

Which won't be today. Don't know how much if any work I'll get done today. Will be in the car most of the day--must take a spiral. No, wait, I think I already have one shoved between the seats.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Am finally getting back to dystopian ms. Last week, or the week before (forget which) I was about to miss yet another turn-in date I'd given my agent for having the partial in, and I was so close to finishing chapter 3 (and thus, the partial) that I decided to just sit down and devote myself entirely to finishing it, perhaps in a morning session, and then (thought I, tra-la!) it would be done by afternoon and I could dive back into all the other things piling up on my desk--dive in happily, freed of the shadow of this one important yet unfinished project.

Bad move (of course). I ended up getting stuck, but I was so close to having it fall into place that I spent the entire day trying to force it to work, and ended up without a partial and with all my other work piled even higher.

What happened was that I had the end of chapter three narrowed down to two possible scenes--but by the time I smoothed out the first part of chapter three and started popping the scenes in and out to figure out which one worked and built naturally, I had lost sight of the transition between them. So I kept gliding over it, using it to weld the front of the chapter and its following scene together, rather than thinking the transition through in solemn depth. I kept pushing it, redoing it over and over, and it wasn't working. Finally I had to give up, defeated, knowing I'd been a fool to think I could get this completed in a predetermined time slot.

A day or so later I realized I should have stopped and dealt with that transition as its own little scene, given it some time and respect, and checked in with the characters to make sure I was following their train of thought and not using them as a means to my end. They were fine in the actual scenes around it, and I knew how the transition worked to move the plot from one scene to the next. I just kind of forgot that the characters--especially my secondary characters--aren't my b*tches, so to speak. If I try to treat them like they're my b*tches, I'll end up paying for it. And I did.

So today I started on it again, and by now I already know which second scene to use, and where the chapter ends and where the next one starts*. But I've got to get this little transitional bit going, and I'm a little leery of it, like if I put my hand out it's going to bite me. At least I know what I have to do this time: treat it with respect.

*Due to the proverbial back-of-the-mind processing that goes on while you're busy with other stuff.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

thoughts about MFAs in writing

Okay, this semester is winding up, and I have finally formed an opinion about MFAs in writing.

Reasons not to get an MFA in writing:

1. Money
2. It's time-consuming
3. It's hard work

Reasons to get an MFA in writing:

1. You can compress about 10 years worth of learning how to write into 2.
2. You don't have to feel alone while you're doing it.
3. You get forcible, out-of-your-comfort-zone exposure to a broad variety of writing styles, techniques, mindsets, and processes.
4. You can interact intensively in a vibrant community of working, thinking writers.
5. You can come away with a big box of writer's tools to help you get over being stuck.

I keep using the word "can," because these are things that are open to you if you come in with a hunger to learn and the drive to work at it. And it may depend on the program, I don't know--all I know is the one I've seen from the inside. Anyway, it looks to me like if you come in with some talent and a belief that this is similar to all those effortless A's you got back in high school or college, then you're screwed. In that case, it looks to me like you should just save your money and your time.

To me (speaking only for myself, not for any programs or for any other advisors) if you're thinking about getting a MFA:

1. You'd better bloody well be serious about writing.
2. You'd better be ready to work your butt off.
3. You'd better be willing to rip your guts out, lay them on a platter, and dissect them.

Is it worth the money? Nothing about writing is worth the money.*

But all that aside, I guess it depends on who you work with and what your goal is. I don't know about other programs, or even other advisors, but having come up through the trenches myself, I always have the publishing world at the back of my mind, and to me (again, speaking only for myself) that's the minimum standard for a MFA in writing. To my mind, by the time you're out of the program, you should be producing writing of a standard that, at the very least, is comparable to what's being currently being accepted for publication. Whether your idea is currently marketable isn't my lookout, but the quality of your actual writing is.

And of course, this is all colored by my own mindset, which is impatient, intense, non-academic, fairly non-nurturing, and extremely focused on what's on the page.

*I would say that the only reason to get into writing is if you can't live without writing. But it was recently pointed out to me that some writers are able to keep themselves going through all the stress and negative internal voices by feeling the opposite way--that they can live without writing, so it's not that important, and if it's stressful they're free to walk away for a while. For me, this is an alien concept and I'm still suspicious of it and haven't quite sorted out what I think about it yet.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Was thinking about a character--I've been figuring he was from a society based somewhat on Heian Japan (just because I like it)--and today I started thinking seriously about what that means, and realized that I need to cut a stupid plot idea that was bothering me anyway, because I don't need it if he's from a Heian-ish type place.

The reason I was thinking this was because I remembered an entry in Sei Shonagon's diary, where a destitute man whose home had burned down had somehow gotten onto palace grounds (Sei Shonagon was a lady-in-waiting who lived at the palace). He was looking for the emperor; he was going around begging someone to please help him find the emperor, whom he was sure would help him. What he didn't realize was that, to the aristocrats, non-aristocrats were also non-human. So when he was stumbling around the buildings in distress, trying to find someone who would tell him what to do and where to go, Sei Shonagon and her friends saw him and thought his misery was hilarious. SS wrote him a mocking poem and handed it to him, knowing he couldn't read; she just did it to be funny in front of her friends. And since he couldn't read, he thanked her, thinking it was a receipt that would rebuild his house. SS and her friends nearly keeled over laughing when they realized that.

And that kind of society sets up situations that mean I don't need the other idea that was bothering me anyway.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lots of driving today, and around the fourth or fifth time I was in the car, I figured out not only the full point of the dystopian ms, but the final third of the book as well.

Also now know:

1) I am not only going to kill off this character I've been thinking about killing off, I'm going to try to make it into a "Where the Red Fern Grows" moment. Goal: make guys cry.

2) The story is structured around a loaded gun with six bullets, which are used up one by one as the story progresses. I've been iffy about what happens to the last one, but now I know for sure.

3) The story takes place on a slightly smaller scale than it could have (think local rather than national), so the "national" bigger-picture story will be left hanging in a big way. C'est la vie.

4) All this leaves a very interesting character up for grabs, if I want to explore him later, which I probably do.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Worked on chapter 3 a bit, trying to get it done so I can send the piece in. I moved everything around again, and added in a part about dressing rabbits. The gross kind of "dressing," not the cute kind. Ugh. They have videos about it on YouTube, but I don't plan to watch one unless a) I sell this ms and b) I know the scene is definitely staying in for sure.

So I've got a first draft of the first three chapters now, but I don't know if I'm going to keep the scenes I've put in #3 or change them. Also, right now I don't know where to end chapter three, so it just kind of stops. Not sure what to do about that. It usually feels wrong (to me) to put too many scenes in a chapter, but maybe I need to bite the bullet and put a break and add another scene.

Or maybe I've got the wrong scenes in there already, and that's why it feels like it'll be too long.

At the moment I've got, let's see, one, two, three scenes. Hmm, no wonder it feels like another will make it too long ("long " in this case meaning too many ideas for the reader to take in; readers need regular breaks and a little space to regroup). Must think about this and get it figured out, next time I get a chance.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Very quickly stuck the killer thing in at the beginning of chapter three, but it didn't feel right. Not sure what needs to be there. I think I'll have to print out and read for flow up to that point, and hope it suddenly becomes clear exactly what needs to come next.

If all else fails, I guess I can just tell the story straight for now, and figure out how it'll really be later when I write the whole thing.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Finished two w-f-h stories that took much, much longer than they should have (my fault), and am in the middle of packets, end-of-semester thingamabobs, w-f-h book project, and a partial on the dystopian ms to give to agent, who needs it ASAP.

I worked on the dystopian ms some yesterday, and have been figuring out what goes in the first three chapters. This problem is actually a little clearer than usual--figuring out the beginning of a story--because for once I know most of the book before I've gotten very far into it. I have a vague idea of the ending it's heading toward, I know the thematic and emotional arcs, and I know most of the stuff that's going to happen along the way. What I've got to do is play with the pieces that are up front and see how to get the story rolling and keep it tightly paced and on edge, but also give the reader what they need for depth and backstory.

I've got chapters one and two, basically--I think--and am well into chapter three. But I've got to figure out what chapter three is building toward. What is the idea I want to leave the reader on, at the end of chapter three? That's going to be the end of the partial, so it needs to be strong.

Chapter three is where other characters start coming in. I also have the option to drift into some backstory here; the action has stopped, for a moment, and we're in a quiet period. So...I guess I'll need to think about what the reader wants to know next, after just having read all the previous pages.

What is the reader going to be wondering about, here in chapter three? I've got the answers in my head. I suppose I ought to see which answers might fall into place most naturally here, and weigh that with what I think the reader will be most curious about at this point.

No. First I need to think exactly what everyone in the story is doing. It's morning, so they're going to be going about their daily doings, whatever those are at this particular time of year. That could easily get boring, though; there still has to be some kind of conflict or tension, or I'm going to get bored. And I want this story to move like a motherf*cker. I want this story to be Hunger Games meets The Giver, but for guys.

Maybe I could go ahead and bring in some of the other characters, and go ahead and get into a scene I have in mind that starts another thread. In chapter three? Will that work, starting another thread before I've even established the first ones? Hmm. I think it might.

I went to put that on a post-it so I don't forget, because I can't work on this right now, and found a note I wrote to myself last night about this very chapter. It says "These are the people I have killed..." and then it lists them. So I might do that, too, list the people the MC has killed and get in some backstory that way. Then go into the new thread and the new character. I was thinking about him last night, anyway.

I'd better write all this down on a post-it, but then I also better find a place to put the post-it where I'll actually stop to check it before I sit down to work on this ms again.

I really do need an office, with lots of desk space. And a maid; I need a maid.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Still zero time for my own writing.

Had to help son #3 study for a final on The Book Thief, which I haven't been reading like I was supposed to in case he needed help. So I read over the last 3/4 of a inch quickly, which added to the first chapter I read at the beginning of the semester and made me able to get the job done.

I had been terribly impressed, at the beginning of the semester, when I read this line about survivors:

"They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs."

There's some really strong stuff in the book. I don't know why I'm thinking that if an American female midlist author had written it, instead of a young Australian male, it might never have seen the light of day in this country.

I have to give my copy back to the teacher, but now I'm curious as to how Zusak decided what order to put everything in, and what to put in and what to leave out. I like the way he didn't mind breaking things up.

I'm thinking about the former GN, and what I want to do is get back to it, and look at each section and think how to make it a punch in and of itself. How to make the reader be feeling something strongly so that every time they turn over to the next title page, they hit that white space and they've still got a lingering sense of ka-WHAM! from what they just read. With every section, I want to try thinking not about the general scene and what the point is, but what about it can hit the bone--and how to do that. Is there a way to tie up each scene in the same way, to deliberately use the same pattern over and over that would help? Or would that be too much? It'd be like a picture book rhythm where you know what's coming because you know the pattern. But you don't know the exact form it's going to take this time.

However, I won't be looking at that ms any time soon. Too many things to do. And I'm probably going to take on another project that will last all summer and take many focused hours.

Probably what I'll need to do is create a daily schedule and stick to it. However, "need to" and "will do" are two different things.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Very busy. Zero time for my own writing. However, today I woke up having decided that when I go back to the former GN, I'm going to reslant it toward the idea of wanting something.

"Some say that the most beautiful thing on this dark earth is a host of horsemen; some say an army of infantry; others say a fleet of ships. But I say it is that which you desire."

I think I'm going to pull the whole thing around from not knowing what you want to not even being allowed to know what you want, to knowing, wanting, and taking it.

This ms has been niggling at the back of my mind, making me want to work on it, probably because I've been doing so much big-picture organizational thinking lately. The former GN is mostly about ultra tiny detail and it's not very practical.

No time right now, though. Off to other work.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Deadliest Warrior is having Attila the Hun vs. Alexander the Great. Oh, happy day!

Circumstances forced me to finish and send the dystopian synopsis late last week, so I did that. Otherwise, I'm just thinking about the ms at odd hours, and today a nice meaningful chunk of backstory came to me. I'm supposed to be working on getting the first few chapters, maybe 30-50 pages, together for agent (I've got about 80 pages, but they're not in order). However, I can't figure out what needs to be in the front of the book till I understand more about the middle.

As far as the end, I'm feeling more and more like I want to know the point of the book--I want to have one strong thought about how the MC changes--and I don't yet. But I probably don't have to have that, to get the first 30-50 pages. I vaguely know what's going on, and that ought to be enough for practical purposes, for a while longer at least.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yesterday I spent most of the time thinking about other people's mss, and then I worked some on the dystopian WIP. In my WIP I jumped around doing I don't know what all, because I'd start one scene, and then whatever I was working on would make me realize I'd better remember to do something else in a another scene. Being worried I'd forget exactly what needed to be done, I'd jump to the other scene and do a bit, then realize another piece I'd better remember and jump again. And while jumping around I found some old stuff that had no bearing anymore, and cut it. So yesterday wasn't a straight-line kind of day, but a productive one nonetheless.

Now I'd better set it aside for a while and let the back of my mind mull it over while the front of my mind thinks about/works on other writing-related projects.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Worked on chapter two today. It's funny how when you slow down to consider where everyone is and what's really going on in the scene--if you stop to set it, thinking about what's around the characters, how they're moving, what they're wearing, etc.--little bits develop in and of themselves to flesh the whole thing out.

Ah. E-mail just in--more w-f-h up for grabs. Must take it. So, back to juggling like mad. Oh well, at least I got some good solid work done on my own stuff.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The way it's going to work for now is: first violent scene, MC beats the bejeebers out of a guy with his bare fists. He's cool, almost regretful about it, just trying to make a point so he can head off future trouble. He isn't aware of how torn up he is about it inside. Second violent scene, MC is in a rage, vengeful, full of hate, enjoying the guy's distress and trying to prolong it. This time it's physically removed, with a gun so there's no sensation or contact involved. This time he steps back mentally from himself at some point and can't recognize himself. Probably that's when he ends the torture and kills the guy.

I'm not sure yet how this all works around to fit in the story arc, but I think whatever he recognizes in that second scene is one of the keys to the book. I think there's maybe one more violent scene where he has to deal with whatever he realized about himself in the torture scene--maybe at that point he sees he has a choice to make about the kind of person he is, and makes it? Dunno. I kind of have some ideas about who's in that last scene--it may be the next to last scene in the entire book--but am not sure yet.
Am getting opinions on first chapter (of dystopia ms) and a cr*ppy draft of the synopsis. I hate writing synopses. Bleh.

Started a new scene, a violent one, but I will have two scenes that are similarly constructed, one earlier in the ms and one later, and I need to think which one shows what. What does each one do in the story, what is its job? They're both about the MC hurting someone. I can't get a bead on whether he's mad or cold about it in this first scene, whether it's deliberate or in anger--because right now the big difference between the two scenes is going to be in how the MC is when he comes home after he beats the h*ll out of a guy (well, in the second one he'll kill the guy, probably). In one of the scenes, he suppresses and ignores his distress about what he's done. But which one?

Was also thinking about former GN. How do you show that something's at stake, when nothing external is at stake? When everything would be perfectly fine if the MC continued on in the same manner for the rest of her life? That's the problem: what I want to say is that it's not fine--not with me, anyway. It's fine in the eyes of the world, though. Hmm.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Late last night I ended up going over the first chapter of the dystopia ms, trying to get it into shape. Feels great. To be working on it, that is. Right now it looks like the first chapter may be several scenes, which is not my usual way of doing things. Usually I do one scene, and the chapter ends. I'm not sure--will look at it at some point today, I hope. I've got other people's novels on my mind and need to organize my thoughts on those, too.

So far it really does look like having to think about other people's mss is actually keeping my creative wheels greased rather than getting in the way. That's unexpected, considering the number of mss. I knew it could be that way with two or three, but not for five plus my own.

I can't get the right name for one of the characters in my ms. I've been through four names so far. Just can't hit it right. Every time I get one, it interferes with another character's name--it sounds too close, too similar. Maybe I'm being too picky.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Worked on other writing-related stuff this morning, then pulled up dystopian work and tried to put a synopsis together. Didn't get very far. It takes me forever to try to write something like that. I am putting it aside and asking fellow writers for advice to keep me focused next time I pick it up.

It has taken me years to be able to even answer the question "So, what's your book about?" for any of my novels. Now I can usually answer with a one-liner--but only because I figure nobody really cares what it's about anyway. It doesn't matter if the answer is accurate or not, or whether it gets across any of the things I think the book is really about. The stuff that interests me is usually not what interests anybody else.

So when I try to tell what this dystopian ms is about, I immediately get off into backstory and world-building, because to me the story doesn't make sense without it. But I guess what I need to do is think of it more as catalog or flap copy, because otherwise I'll go on for pages and all the conflicts that drive the story will be buried in piles of boring blah-blah-blah.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

W-f-h: done. For now. Probably.

Yesterday I took 45 minutes that should have been spent on something else, and worked on the background info/synopsis/whatever-it-is for the dystopian ms. I really have no idea what this side info needs to look like or how far I need to dig into it. I don't think I'll go all that far.

I was trying to think where the story takes place. This won't make any difference to the reader, but I need to have pieces of it fixed in my head if I want to move on. At the moment I've vaguely got parts of Mission Concepcion in my head for the actual "house." I haven't been there in a long time, but the place has a strong feeling to it. It was abandoned for a while--even used as a stable, I think--and parts of it have fallen down, but most of it still stands. The walls are thick so in the smaller rooms sound is muffled and it's very quiet, and also cool, and the light has a still, filtered quality, like in some Dutch golden age domestic paintings.

stairwell at Mission Concepcion

This is an outside stairway, though, so it's not quite the same feeling. This is kind of the feeling:

window at Mission Concepcion

If you put those two together, plus

ruins at Mission Concepcion

The feeling of it might be just about about right.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I couldn't get the Story From Hell finished Sunday (lord knows I tried), so yesterday I got up early to try and finish it before 9 a.m. New York time. I set the alarm for five, but decided I'd get up as early as four. In the morning. To write. Egad.

So I woke at four, got up and dressed, ate breakfast--and then realized I'd accidentally reset the time on my clock as I was setting the alarm. So I'd gotten up at 3:00 a.m, not 4.

No point in going back to bed, so I went to work. Still didn't finish by open of NY business day--but the first draft is done and turned in. I expect it back today for at least one rewrite.

Still have to rewrite other story and get that in, too. Plus packets have started. Also, I have Conspiracy of Kings in my grubby little paws now, but don't want to start it till I at least get these rewrites in.

Agent is still waiting for first chapter of dystopia ms. I've probably actually got it, but it needs to be fixed and molded into a real chapter with a chapter ending and everything. Plus, I need to write down the general idea of the story--which I also have, just not in a form anybody else could easily understand. I am very reluctant to do a synopsis or outline for this, because this time I'm trying a different method of meshing my writing process with a more plot-driven outlook. What I'd like to do is list the separate storylines (because I know what they are, just not how they'll fit together) and not try to smush them into a certain order. I don't know if that'll fly, though.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Horrible last couple of days, writing-wise. This last w-f-h story is the story from h*ll. I should have turned it in Wed. but it took longer than I expected, so I stayed up late and got up early to get it done (son #2: "Have you been working all night?") but that took longer than I expected, too, and then when it was finally almost done, I realized it sucked and I couldn't turn it in like that. I have no confidence that I can fix it before Monday morning, and it's therefore likely to be late and suck. A double failure.

I hate it, I'm sick of it, and I'm not even going to look at it today or I might slit my wrists. I'm going to work on my own stuff. Then tomorrow I'll return to the lowest circle of story-writing hades, oh joy.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

No work of my own; all w-f-h.

Was thinking about former GN. There's nothing driving the story, I'm just telling it. It's an interesting story, but not interesting enough. Missing: What does the MC want?

Well, she doesn't want anything. That's the point. By the end, she decides not only to want something, but to take it. So how does that make a book? Why should the reader care?

I suppose the thing to do--the thing that makes sense--is to show her wanting stuff but not getting it, to shut her down more and more harshly until she doesn't want anything anymore. That doesn't really interest me, though. I like the idea of being raised in an environment where you've absorbed the mindset that you don't matter, that you're not as important as other people. I like that half-formed want that can't even be allowed to take shape.

I'll have to keep considering, though. I know back when I started writing, I got annoyed because people told me I had to end each chapter with a question or hook, when the entire point of a chapter might be that the MC achieves a feeling of safety. Obviously a nice safe ending reflects the idea of that chapter and is right for it. The problem is, who wants to keep reading after that? The overall idea was to establish the feeling of safety, then take it away in the next chapter--but without that question or hook, there's no reason not to put the book down and walk away. I realized that if somebody was reading before bedtime, they wouldn't think, "Oh, I'm sure the feeling of safety will be taken away in the next chapter, so I must keep reading." They'd think, "Here's a good place to quit for the night," and put the book down, and who knows when or if they'd ever pick it up again. Really, they'd have no reason to.

So I know sometimes you have to do something that doesn't seem quite honest to the story, in order to make it a book and not a random slice of your character's life. But I don't want to betray my MC either, by simplifying things or prettying them up. So...will have to think about it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Have been working on dys. ms--just writing stuff from all over, wherever I feel like it, which at this point seems to be mostly from the first third or fourth of the book. No, wait, there's one piece that goes later, although I don't know where yet.

I need to get the place where the characters live set in my head. The actual building. I'm not sure what it looks like or what it's made of, and I can't get some of these scenes written until I understand where they're taking place. So...maybe today that'll come to me.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Okay, I'm finally down to one w-f-h story left to write and one to revise (deadline in maybe five days or so?), so I worked on my dystopia WIP today, and will continue working on it this weekend, I hope. I'll write better on the w-f-h after my brain has been cleared of it for a while. In other words, I need to wash all that stuff out of my mind for a day or two with other kinds of writing (my own!), so I can start fresh when I pick it up again.

I want to get a good first chapter (of dys.) to send to Agent, but in figuring out how to do that (get a good first chapter) I'm writing down a whole bunch of other stuff, spilling it all over the place. So I'll have to go back and figure out what needs to be in the first chapter to make it grabby, yet not confusing or unclear. What I don't like about writing a first chapter to show someone is that normally I might work over a 1st chapter a million times because as I go along in the ms I always decide I need info sooner, or later, or develop it in a different place, or hint at it where there were no hints before--all kinds of changes happen as I go. I don't know if Agent just wants to know how the WIP is progressing, or whether Agent is considering doing something with that first chapter. Sometimes Agent is wont to do things with first chapters. Sometimes Agent is not.

Started reading a bad nonfiction book that I probably won't finish. It's an adult book, and it's annoying because it could have been really good, but the author went for cutesy-clever style at the expense of accuracy, with the result that you can't believe anything on the page. Sorry, Author, your witty turn of phrase is not more important than the subject you're writing about--which is something I really wanted to get some good info on. If I'd wanted bon mot-type commentary, I could put it in myself. I am massively annoyed.

In happier news, I will soon have Conspiracy of Kings in my greedy little grip, as well as some other cool books. But mostly, CoK. I turned down a chance to read the ARC because I want the full unadulterated experience. Can't wait.

Back to thinking about WIP. Maybe I'll write out the first few chapters, and that will help me figure out the first chapter better. Will see.

Monday, March 22, 2010

No, wait, altruism is the wrong word. I don't know what the right word is. Altruism would be writing to make the world more beautiful or nicer or whatever. I don't do that. I don't know what you call it when you write for the sake of the writing itself.

Ironically, the only time I might possibly be called altruistic about writing is in the mercenary side, when I'm writing for cash. Those are the pieces that will go into classrooms and some poor book-hating kid will be forced to read them against his will. I think about that kid when I'm doing w-f-h. The sucky force-fed school stuff is probably all he's ever going to know about reading. So I try to get something in there that will be painless, if not actively sparking enough interest to get the kid caught up and not hating reading for the length of the story. I work hard to do that, beyond and above what the specs require. But I get paid for it, and I'm only doing it for the money in the first place. So it's not altruistic.

Unless you can count altruism in terms of hourly rate, because I spend more time on stuff than I should, thus bringing my hourly pay down. Same with Vermont. Except that's not about getting anybody to like reading something, it's about the work again--just somebody else's work, not mine.

When I was tutoring kids in reading--the first and second graders--they'd be hunched over the book, laboring to sound out a word and figure out how to put all the words together so that the sentence, the thought made sense. And once in a while, a kid would hit a word or phrase that had payoff for him--could be anything, an onomatopoeia or a dead-on emotion or a surprise--and there would be this pleasurable pause. Instead of toiling on blahblahblah, the kid would stop reading for a sec and--just for that very brief moment--appreciate what had just been said, and that he "got" it and that it had transcended sounding out boring crap for an hour. That's what I'm shooting for.

But I get paid.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On the other hand, I heard from a writer friend that an experimental project WF has been playing around with for a long time has gotten a good response after being brought out into the light of day. This is a project that WF has labored on for personal satisfaction, knowing there was a good chance it might all be for naught, business-wise. So that was cheery news.

Interesting discussions lately with writer friends re. altruistic vs. venal/mercenary outlooks. I think some writers believe you're either one or the other. I know you can be both, because I am. Violently so.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I always think spring break (or fall break or Christmas break or summer break or any school holiday, for that matter) is going to be a gloriously long expanse of computer time. And then every single year--every single holiday--I get behind with my writing work; I get behind schedule deadline-wise. Blah.

Blah, blah, blah.

I also decided that the former GN has no chance at all in this publishing climate, and it's not right anyway, it's got serious problems that aren't going to be worth sorting out to anyone else, so I shall clutch it to my chest and not show anyone but just keep working on it for myself, indefinitely. It will be my J.D. Salinger ms.

Blah, etc.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

No time for my own writing at the moment, but I did sneak in a very wee tiny bit yesterday, anyway--probably not more than 50 words, but they were really good ones. Or at least the idea behind them was good. It needed to be written down.

I'm beginning to wonder if I only want to work on my own stuff because I'm not supposed to. I suspect that if unlimited time opened up to work on this latest ms, I suddenly wouldn't feel like it anymore and would have to force myself to get started every time.

Also, being away from the former GN ms is giving me a sinking feeling that it's just not "big" enough to be a book. I'm going to get it working anyway, and will see if anybody wants to publish it, but (as a writing buddy always says) it is what it is. Meaning, the ms is whatever it needs to be, and too bad about the rest--publication, money, career, writerly reputation. Just because the ms does what it needs to do doesn't mean it's worth a company laying out 60K* or whatever to get it into print and distribute it.

A sad idea, but oh well. I'll be d*mned if I give up on a ms just because it's technically not worth anything.

And now, must get my @ss back to work.

*No, I do not get 60K per book. I wish!

Blog Archive