Happy Holidays!

It's been a while since I posted here, but I wanted to wish anyone who happens to stop by a very happy holiday season.  Nothing interesting going on here right now, but once the craziness of the holidays dies down, I hope to have more time for this space.

To everyone out in the blogosphere, all the best to you in 2010!

Let Me Know When It Gets Easier

I was lucky enough recently to get the gracious beckylevine to look at my WIP (BTW, she should change her name to Becky Divine), and she gave me an incredibly helpful critique.  It's like she wrote the book on how to give critique.

I had gotten to a point where I was really a little bit lost as to what will happen next and how to lay the path for the ending or even know what the ending will be.  So her guidance came at just the right time.  Now I have a list of concrete, actionable tips to get me moving forward again.

This is all great, right?  It is.  Really.  But at the same time, I thought knowing what I need to do would make the whole process of writing this story easier.  In a way, though, it gets harder to see all the elements that need to be woven in.  It isn't just about pretty sentences and some cool ideas.  It's structure, tension, character development, plot development, diction, dialogue, voice.  It's seeing the big picture without losing sight of the little moments.  It's surrendering yourself entirely to the fictional world you've created while remembering that ultimately you will be striving to deliver a marketable product.

Um, well making pretty sentences comes fairly easily to me.  All the rest of that stuff: hard work.  I'm glad to see where the gaps are; now I have a map for this journey.  As for where my destination is and the route I take to get there, I guess that is still up to me.  And that's the hard part.


Drive-By Post: Keeping It Real

Wow, it's been over a month since I dropped a post on this blog.  I've been very busy with real life things and not so much fake life things in the world of my WIP.  But the funny thing about the fake life I am creating is that it still has to be real.  I am nothing like the protagonist of my current story (I say current as if there have been past stories and will be future stories, but really it's just this one so far).  She is impulsive; I'm a planner.  She is introverted; I'm an extrovert.  Even according to Meyers-Briggs personality and work style typing, she is an INTP, while I am an ESTJ - if you don't know what that means, suffice it to say we have no letters in common.

So how is it that I know what she's going to do when I put her in a certain situation?  When she confides her secret to her growing-ever-distant best friend, and he turns around and tells her dad, why do I write the scene five different ways and finally land on her going pscho-killer on the guy in front of their parents?  And how is it that I know that's what she would really do?  You know, if she wasn't fictional and all.

I don't have time to really figure out how all that works, so maybe other writers can explain it to me.  Until then, note to self: writing trippy.

Team in Training

We had a great full manuscript critique session tonight at writing group, and afterwards it struck me how we have come together as a group.  I feel like our group has evolved into like a "team in training", only we're not running a marathon, we're working on novels (well some of us are working on novels, and others, like me, are just working on getting past the next page, to say nothing of having a complete work to finish).

It's so encouraging to see someone else finish his or her manuscript.  I mean really finish it before my eyes.  I was there when he read the first chapter to us, and I'm reading the completed draft now.  Wow, there is no inspiration like watching someone else accomplish what I aspire to do. 

And there is solace in hearing other people hit their first bump in the road, struggle through the middle, re-think their entire story (phew, it's not just me, I'm not defective, I don't completely and utterly suck).

Having the creative energy of the group gives me the fortitude to keep writing when it seems like the words are all dried up.  Just like with training buddies, there are days when I'm writing less for me and more out of obligation to the group.  If everyone else can put in the time, then I'll do my part, even if I'd rather be watching a Friends marathon on TV.  Sometimes, someone will scribble a little note in the margin, "I can't wait to find out what happens next."  And that's enough to get me over to the next word, the next page, the next chapter.

Until each one of us crosses our own finish line.  Even though we are doing it one by one, it feels like we are all crossing that line together.

The Ritual of Writing

These days, when I get ready to write, I find myself playing a few rounds of word games first - maybe PathWords or Lexulous (aka fake Scrabble) on Facebook, then I pull up some melancholy playlist, make sure I have a big glass of water at my side, and slog away at the computer for a few hours.  Then a little light reading (or careful reading if I'm reading a manuscript for my critique group), and I'm off to bed.

My husband can always tell when I'm getting to write because my writing ritual unfolds like clockwork.  And it got me wondering what other people do to get themselves ready to write?  What gets you in the mood and brings you to that creative sweet spot where you can coax the right words out of your brain and onto paper (or a MS Word doc)?
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A Breakthrough!

It's been a while since I hit my LJ blog, and I'm happy to say it's because I had a little bit of a breakthrough on my WIP.  After re-visiting the same three pages over and over, I decided to try writing the chapter in present tense, and not only did the words start to come more easily, but I think they're better words.

I went back and re-wrote four other chapters in present tense, and I was surprised to find that what happens in the story actually changed because of the tense change.  Part of it was that it exposed parts that always seemed forced to me, but I never figured out why.  Another part of it was that now that things are happening as my MC is telling the story, she doesn't have the luxury of filtering what she's telling the reader.

I suddenly find myself at the bottom of a hill of work with the desk job, so I don't know if I'll be able to keep up the progress, but wish me luck.  And if you have any insight into what the magic is behind something like a change in tense, please share.  I'm always trying to get from "unknowingly competent" to "knowingly competent" (heck, sometimes "knowingly incompetent" is even a step in the right direction).

Getting To Know My MC

Thanks to everyone who responded to my previous post.  After reading all the comments, I decided that I needed a break (if you can call the spare trickle of writing that I've been doing something that could be interrupted) from writing the story to get to know my protagonist better.

In that vein, I've been ruminating about her, what makes her tick, what she wants.  When I first got the idea for my WIP, I imagined a slightly different character, and after some really good feedback from my critique group, I realized that she started the story too developed.  It was like she time traveled back to the start of her story after about 30 years of hard living.  So I really had to figure out what she was like in her youth.

I got some great suggestions in the comments last time, but I would love to hear how everyone gets to know their main character.  Is that person you (hopefully it's pretty easy then)?  Do you model your MC on someone you already know?  What other exercises do you do to get inside the MC's head?  Here are some great suggestions I've received so far:
  • Letters from your MC (to you or to another character in the story)
  • Have your MC "sing the blues"
  • Give yourself sleep suggestions before going to bed (for example, "how does my MC cope with her anger?") and let your imagination figure it out while you dream
  • Spend some time writing back story, even if there is no intention to include it in the WIP itself
As for me, what ended up giving some breakthrough insight was doing a personality-typing test (such as Myers-Briggs) in the voice of my MC.  I have to give my soul-sucking corporate desk job a shout-out for making me do one of these as part of a team-building exercise every time my department was re-organized.  It helped me to understand myself better, and it did indeed help me to understand my MC better.

By the way, I did try all the other suggestions, too, and I did discover many useful nuances to her character as well.  So what other exercises, tips, or tricks would you like to share on the secret to really getting inside the skin of your characters?


How Do You Write?

I've been struggling lately with my WIP on all fronts.  I got to page 42, and from there, it's been writing and deleting and re-writing the same 3 pages, with the story moving forward differently each time.  And it occurs to me that I am an incredibly undisciplined writer with very little skill in the exercise of writing.

Back in school, all the creative writing I did was done in pretty much two drafts.  Draft one: write.  Draft two: fix typos and grammatical errors, use thesaurus as needed for repetitive words.  That seemed fine for poetry and short stories, but obviously it is much harder to apply that approach to writing a novel (which, by the way, I refuse to call it a novel, because I'm not confident enough that I'll get past page 43 at this point - let's just call it a story).

So I need a little help - how does one keep moving forward on a novel?  How do you stop yourself from "what iffing" a dangling plot point over and over?  While you're at it, tell me how you come up with a plot.  This word is strange and frightening to me.

One friend from my writing group suggested I take each chapter as a short story in and of itself, with a beginning, middle and end, and string the chapters together.  But I'll take as many suggestions as I can, because page 43 is intimidating me, and I need to get past it.  Thanks.

An Open Letter to AM Jenkins

Dear AM Jenkins,

Please stop writing.  That way, I will not find myself awake at 2:00am, anxiously turning the pages of your books, feeling like I have to, have to, HAVE TO know what's going to happen next.  I won't be crying while I sit on the toilet, feeling some unnamed emotional ache that I never knew I had.

I won't have to stop reading every few pages of your books to tell myself, "Dang, this AM Jenkins is an incredible writer."  I won't lose my breath over your skill, your ease, the way you coax heartache and laughter and pain from how you string your words together.

I won't look at my own work in progress and think, "Why didn't I write this story in second person?" because your book Damage is so effortless in its second person depiction of a football star tumbling into depression.  I won't wonder how a mother of three in Texas can become a demon possessing a sullen teen boy (in Repossessed) so convincingly, while I struggle with finding my own voice.

I hope you understand it's not personal.  It's just that I need the sleep.  And I need to operate in a world where I don't see how high the standard of writing can reach (and how far I am from that standard).  Let's compromise: could you just go on a vacation for a while?  And when I'm all caught up on sleep, you can resume.  I think that's a win-win for the both of us.

Thanks in advance for understanding.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have one more of your books to finish, because I have to, have to, HAVE TO know what happens next.

Hula Bunny

An Open Letter To Bonnie Becker

Dear Bonnie Becker,

We started reading A Visitor For Bear to my younger one last week (she will be 2 on Wednesday), and I am recalling how much I love that story, not just the story itself, but how much I love reading it aloud to my kids.

I love how my son will tell his little sister, "You need to VAMOOSE!  She's impossible, intallable, unshuffable, Mommy!"

I love how my son clears his throat with Bear.  How both kids blow their nose with Bear.  I love how they both laugh when Bear becomes distraught at finding the mouse in his fridge.

I love making "grumpy Bear voice".  I love the beautiful illustrations (thanks, Kady MacDonald Denton).

I have heard there are going to be more adventures with Bear and the mouse.  So when is that going to happen?  Don't make me beg.  Or tell a joke.  Or do a headstand. 

Because even though one Bear book is good, I like two.  I hope you agree.

Hula Bunny