Posts Tagged ‘novel’

More drafts, more workshops

Friday, August 18th, 2017

from the Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival. There's metaphor in here somewhere.

Summer is tilting to a close, winding down into the cooler days with a spike of heat. It’s been nuts, juggling kids and writing and marketing and family and the world as it currently stands and all manner of things but still, here we are, hanging on by our claws.

I finished Draft #3.5 y’all. Somehow. <a cacophony of horns>

It’s been three years — two years really, adjusted for baby-having — of working on this Novel about ghosts and identity and prejudice and grief and steampunk-iness and birds. The story itself saw its very first incarnation (the first half of a short story) way way back in 2009. It was a little over 3 pages, single-spaced, and just shy of 2000 words.

Draft #3.5 is 95,736 words, aka 307 manuscript pages.

For those keeping track at home, word counts for the drafts, as compiled:

Draft #3.5: 95, 736; 307 pages (~8 months)
Draft #2.5: 92, 038 words; 295 pages (~5 months)
Draft #1: 96, 089; 327 pages (~ 1 year)

I’ve been working on the third draft since January. So roughly eight months — six adjusted for child sick-time and extended vacations. I haven’t been tracking my revisions with this draft you guys because they have been so extensive. I hacked up Part I and rearranged so much that even I forgot the changes I made when I went back to do my ½ draft this past month. I literally had folders labeled “Rearranging” for each Part so I could move scenes out of order without losing them. I hit two major snags — Chapters 13/14 and Chapters 23/24 — that stalled me for weeks each time.  I feel like I’ve taken this draft as far as I can go.

So what now? It’s with beta (gamma?) readers again.

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More readers? When do I get to read it??

Patience, young padwan, and thank you for your vote of confidence. It’s on my ten year plan to be published before I’m 40, so there’s that?

The truth is it needs more eyes but right now it needs a finite number of eyes and the right kind. What I mean to say is I’ve identified several of the problem areas and potential problem areas. I need other writers to look at the manuscript and help me work through those sections. Those who can give me constructive, actionable feedback. I want you to read it —I do!— I can’t wait for that glorious day. But for now I’m still keeping it close because I want it to be as perfect as I can make it when you do get to read it. I want it to flow and make sense and sear you right down to the inner chambers of your heart.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned during this draft?

This will sound silly, but I changed my chapter length. In the last draft, my chapters were usually around 5000 words, give or take a thousand. I cut that down so now they’re more like 3000 on average. That isn’t to say I cut words. Au contraire. Instead I changed where my chapters ended to increase momentum. So now I have more, shorter chapters. I heard a podcast about chapter length on Writing Excuses and it changed my whole outlook. I think it’s made the book stronger, even as it made some transitions much more difficult.

So what’s next?

I’ll be reading some books and some other folks’ manuscripts over the next month. But mostly I am turning my attention to my nascent marketing business huzzah!

I am hosting TWO marketing events this September:

Bookseller Panel FlyerBehind the Bookshelves: A Panel on Building Relationships with Bookstores

Sept. 10, 2 – 4pm, The Writer’s Loft
I’m moderating an awesome group of bookstore folks —managers, booksellers, connected authors— and we’re going to talk about how stores can be community hubs and advocates for writers at all stages. Join us! It’s (pretty much) free!
Class Spotlight Marketing WorkshopBuild Your Own Event: A Marketing Workshop
Sept. 16, 10:30 am – 1:30 pm, Grub Street Inc.

Yup, I’m teaching my building events seminar again but this time at the illustrious, Boston-based, non-profit creative writing center Grub Street Inc. They have a lot of famous instructors y’all. Steve Almond even teaches sometimes. Anyway, I want to make a good impression so if you’ve been wanting to get a crash course in events/marketing, PLEASE SIGN UP. Or if not, SIGN YOUR FRIENDS UP. Nothing makes a good impression like a full roster.

But what about the writing?

I need a little break. Maybe I’ll writing some poetry. Or revise an old short story. There’s a time travel one that’s been kicking me for a rewrite.

But really, prove to me you wrote something. C’mon.

Well, alright, if you insist. From Chapter 8:

Instead, she leans forward so her hair hangs down on either side of her face and she begins to braid it, cleanly and methodically. The braid is tight and small, right next to her face. “Here,” she says, tilting her head towards me, her dark, straight hair caressing my arm, soft as feathers. “Help me.” I want to ask my questions but I don’t. Instead I take a handful of her hair and clumsily separate it into three strands. She is already onto her second braid.

“Where I’m from, mourners wear their hair braided for a year. New braids, every day. Right after a death, you fill your hair with braids, as many as you can make. Members of a family or community will help each other. By the year’s end, you have one braid. Down the back or to the side or tight against the skull. Some people wear their hair that way for the rest of their lives. Others go back to living.” She gently shakes the bottom of the braid she has just finished, tugging on one of the strands and the whole thing unravels. She begins it again.

“Am I allowed to mourn myself?” she asks “How many braids is that?”

“I don’t know.” I try to focus on the braid, distract myself from the soft feeling of my fingers tangled in her hair. But I’m no good at braids; it’s messy, hairs straying all over the place, uneven. No mourning braids in Eidolon; we have the Order of Days and rituals that are supposed to help. Corna would say following the old ways connects us with the Living and the Dead, the wheel and the Valley. Tearing our sleeves, marking our bodies. But it is never finished is it? Just a never-ending circle of deeply etched grief. Perhaps I’m the only one who feels this way. What am I missing? When you can visit your dead face-to-face, what reason is there to grieve? I know a hundred reasons but I still don’t know how to speak them.

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Wild Summer Days

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

lake

My summer has been a wild one and I’ve been having trouble getting my feet under me. It has literally involved a birth, a death, visiting family, unpredictable illnesses, and the slow climb back to health. Despite how much I enjoy the summer months and hot weather, I’ve spent most of my time indoors. I haven’t done much writing this summer (I hadn’t planned to) with the exception of a poem for my sister. I’ve managed to read half a dozen books, including Max Gladstone’s Two Serpent’s Rise and Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was (as translated by Ursula Le Guin). My garden is a wild place full of bolted lettuces, overgrown rhubarb, weeds, and herbs run rampant. My preschooler is the only one who’s been harvesting anything: handfuls of fresh mint and sage that she eats on the back steps. I have drunk gallons of iced tea and am not ashamed in the least.

I’m a new parent for the second time. There’s a fullness and an emptiness to the early days of parenting. The days are long and full of needs – hunger, discomfort, boredom, exhaustion – but it feels impossible to meet them all, for yourself or your child. There is so much to do coupled with vast swaths of time just… waiting: for the baby to wake up or fall asleep or finish eating. You need space and you need support. This time around I pressed down my misplaced pride and accepted as much help as possible with an open heart. I’m grateful for all the extra hands and frozen dinners and chances to nap. I’m grateful that the pieces of our life that have slowly been taken apart this summer are finally coming together again in a new shape.

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Now I look down the long lane of the autumn months and the spice of anticipation is mixed with the dread of not knowing how to get back into the rhythm of the work. I’ll be meeting with my beta readers at the beginning of September to get feedback on The Ghost Story project and then will tackle Draft 3. I’ll be teaching a workshop on author events at the Writer’s Loft in October. I want to reconnect with the world of books and writers. I want to write book reviews and blog posts. But after a summer that has fluctuated so wildly between overwhelming and tedious and with an autumn where I’ve committed to caring for my newborn along side my third draft, I feel as if I’m starting from scratch. How can I ensure we’re all getting enough sleep and sunshine and creative time?

It comes down to re-aligning expectations. Taking care of a baby while trying to edit a novel is going to change the way I need to structure my days, both as a writer and a parent. I won’t have the luxury of dawdling on social media or watching TV during naps – I’ll need to be working. If I want to have this project polished enough to submit to agents by the end of the spring, I’ll need to find the time to write — and if I can’t find the time, I’ll need to make it. And I’ll also need to forgive myself over and over again for missteps as I rediscover balance.

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Draft #2 or Revising the Ghost, Take 1

Monday, February 22nd, 2016
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That’s iced tea not beer. Though if I drank beer, I totally could have used one.

It has been moons, fair readers. Like, a ridiculously long time. But I am sure you are all dying to know how The Ghost Story novel is coming along. Good news: IT’S COMING ALONG.

In November I took a class on revision at The Writer’s Loft in Sherborn, hosted by the delightful and talented Erin Dionne. I had grand plans to dive right into the revision process but that didn’t really work out. In all honesty, I barely did any real writing at all at the end of 2015… I read through my draft, made notes, did research, twiddled with outlines, notecards, and all the various tools Erin walked us through. I was scared, intimidated, and frankly, tired. A lot. And so, I didn’t get cracking on actual revision until January 2016.

The first week was wonderful and terrible. It felt good to be writing but I kept having existential moments of GAH WHAT IS THIS and HOW DO I FIX and OH THE FUTILITY. It took me two weeks to get through most of Chapter 1 and I thought: This will take forever. I have at least twenty-two chapters to go through. And this is just draft two. But I realized I just had to sharpen my scalpel. I have to be unforgiving and relentless with the writing, but forgiving and patient with myself. And that revising can contain just as much writing as it does cutting.

Authors have consistently said at events I’ve run/attended: “Oh yes, I had to cut the first 100 pages of my first draft” and it always made me blanch. How? Really? Impossible! Well…

For the numbers people, as of 2/18/16:
Number of writing days since revision began: 20
Chapters Revised: 6.5 (mostly)
Word Count (New Material): ~16,000 words (50 pg)
Word Count (Revised + new material): ~25,700 words (85 pg)
Word Count (Cut from 1st Draft): ~24,500 words (80 pg)
Current goal for 2nd Draft Completion: April 30, 2016 (then a month of “polishing” before off to beta readers)
Cups of tea consumed: Countless

Want to know what has needed the most revising? (more…)

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Photo evidence

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

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What you see there is 327 pages worth of words, my friend. 327 PAGES. My kiddo helped me pick the attractive lime-green binder. I bought new colorful pens, index cards, and post-it flags. This is all supposed to make me feel confident about editing and revising.

Right.

Truthfully, I feel daunted. What if I have to re-write all 327 pages? What if I get halfway through and realize the book is hopelessly, irrevocably unsalvageable? What if my first-person protagonist is boring? What if I’m boring? What if I just don’t know enough to write this book yet.

{I know the answer: write the next one.}

I’m not afraid of work. I’m afraid of time. I’m afraid of gnawing at this project for years and years and not moving forward, of not knowing when to push harder and when to back away slowly.

Books don’t get written and shared by authors who were too afraid to do them justice. I know this. It’s just… it’s a really big binder. And there’s a lot that needs work in there. Right now it’s a foreboding mass of pages and words and way, WAY too many characters (anytime I hit a plot snag, I added a character…oops). I won’t know what (else) needs fixing, really, until I read it from the beginning to The End.

Wish me luck!

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Pushing past half-way…

Monday, February 23rd, 2015
emotional stages of writing a novel

From terribleminds.com.
Yup, I’m somewhere between “Old man lost at the mall” and “Destroy Boredom with a Hammer”…

So right around Valentine’s Day, I hit 50,000 words on The Ghost Story! **confetti cannon**

This is a big deal to me because:

  1. It means that in theory I am half-way through the novel, according to my word count goal. 
  2. 50,000 words is also the word count goal for National Novel Writing Month, something I’ve attempted several times and never completed. So even though this was more like National Four-and-a-Half-Months-Of-Writing-Half-a-Novel, I still won.
  3. It means I’m in it to win it. In other words, I can’t back out now.

And ooooh boy do I sometimes want to back out. Like, right now.

As I mentioned in my last post, plotting is not my strong suit. The thing about getting to the middle when I don’t know how the story ends is that I feel like I’m trying to push through one of these six foot snow banks in my front yard. Nothing but cold, cold resistance. I have a vague, half-formed plan. And I feel like every scene I write that moves the story forward, requires all manner of revisions to things I’ve already written. Sometimes I go back and make those revisions. But generally I try to just keep writing and tell myself “No! MUST PLOW ONWARD!” And grind my way through another chapter.

What I’m finding is that I can’t wait to be finished. Not just so I can say “I wrote a novel!” but also so I can go back and fix the damn thing. I need the whole picture and I’m just not there yet. There’s at least another 50,000 words to go. I want to finish so that I can go back and fix it so it’s less of a hot mess. Then I can give it to a few beta readers who can ask me pointed questions so I can fix it again.

Case in point: The first line of my novel (as it stands) is “The trucks arrived at dusk, as usual, bearing the Dead.” Just last week someone in my Novel in Progress class asked “What do the trucks run on?” and I thought Yes! That is a hugely important question. It seems so simple because readers bring to it so many assumptions that you wouldn’t think it needed explaining, but when you’re building an alternate world something like a truck can either feel natural or anachronistic. It’s really easy to drill down into the details too much but it’s right there in the first line. The trucks better be friggin’ important and I need to know everything about them if they’re going to be there right out of the gate. There are tons of basic things like this that need fixing, I know this already, even as I write something and think huh, that sounds good, I better figure out what it means. But I need to be done to ask those questions effectively. So that in answering them I can make sure all the puzzle-box pieces of story slide seamlessly together.

I’ve been asked how I can write a story not knowing how it ends and honestly, I don’t know. So far I’ve been muddling my way through with a scrappy, unconvincing list of plot points. Mostly, I just try to muster confidence in my storytelling abilities, that enough reading + thinking = writing. That something alchemical occurs between the ideas and thoughts combining and recombining in my imagination and the words I put to paper.

I did put together my W-plot, for anyone who’s reading along. It was mostly “I know all these things happen… (downward slope, beginning of first upward slope) and then here are a series of other things that will happen, maybe in this order.” Mostly I got a sense of the emotional trajectory of the novel, which is helpful. Now I just need to figure out what my characters do to get there.

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Big Story Questions or What’s So Hard About Writing a Novel?

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

My W is a little lacking...

I’ve started my writing workshop through Grub Street and last week was my first opportunity to bring a piece of writing in to share with the group. Typically, one brings or email copies of one’s piece to other members of the class who then read and makes notes on it at home for discussion the following week. This class is a little different; we bring in copies for the class but instead of getting to take it home and ruminate on it, we read it aloud and discuss it right there in class. And we only get to bring in five pages. I can already tell this will be an adjustment.

The benefit to this on-the-spot kind of workshopping is you get immediate first impressions: this works for me, this confused me, etc. But it’s also a challenge because sometimes it can be hard to get at the root of why something works or doesn’t work in the ten minutes we have to discuss the work. Is it just something is phrased awkwardly? Or is there something fundamentally problematic with the character’s motivation or conflict? Perhaps that’s the point: it makes the writer do the work of sifting through the questions to figure out which speak to larger issues in the novel, which are scene specific, and which are irrelevant without the context of the rest of the piece.

(In classes like this I tend to talk to much as it is, so it’s a little bit of a challenge for me to have to whirl out a thoughtful critique on the spot without just babbling stream-of-consciousness style at the author and sucking up everyone’s time. So clearly a skill I need to develop.)

The positive feedback I received for my five-page scene: “Evocative, loved the descriptions, great tension, really felt pulled into the world.” Constructive critiques: “Was confused about the protagonist’s age; the characters give in too easily; dialogue on the final page falls apart; confusion about the mechanics of going to the Valley [the land of the dead].” But the biggest question was: “What ties the characters to this place and community when their life is so hard? Why don’t they leave?”

(more…)

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