Posts Tagged ‘novel’

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
InstagramCapture_b32b8455-541e-4cd6-b7dc-034f6af3cfea

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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