It’s a good day for reflecting so I’m looking back at the goals I’ve set for myself for the year, the habits I hope to cultivate and the planning I’m doing in order to make it all happen.
I tend to think big. I’m a great idea person and brainstorming is like crack to me, I get so excited by the many possibilities and think I can and should be able to do it all. And maybe I can, just not all at the same time. So this year I’m writing down all those great ideas and then picking a few for the year and then, breaking it down even further, picking a few for the first quarter and then for the first month. From there it goes to daily and then hourly.
When I worked in the corporate world we called this making a plan for the plan. I used to laugh at it. We’d fly people in from all over the world and then we’d spend a week or two in one of the giant conference rooms making plans for the plans. We had giant pads of paper on easels around the room, maybe 20 of them, and each group would brainstorm around various topics then tear off the paper and tape it to the wall. Then they’d rotate to the next topic and another group would come in and brainstorm around the same topic the first group just did. Then we’d do it again, combining ideas, filtering them, moving them from group to group. We’d fine comb this several times until finally, at the end of a week or two we had a plan for the plan. A nice overview that the managers could take back to their team, plug into Microsoft Project, and begin to plan in more detail.
There’s a power in planning that I have rarely achieved in my creative life.
But this time, some lessons I’ve always known but rarely applied seem to be sticking. I made a huge dream list. I culled it for must-dos. I organized the list. I picked one project for the first quarter and then broke that project down into daily goals. Finish a rough draft in three months when my writing has been sporadic this last year sounded intimidating. Writing two poems a day for three months makes it sound doable.
So planning is working for me but I think it is working for me because I am making time for it.
Planning to plan. Planning to succeed. I like the sound of that.
Usually by this time of the year I am going crazy with preparations for a teacher assignment at an at-risk detention facility. For whatever reason, I didn’t get an assignment this year. I’ll admit to feeling a little bit down for a day when I realized the time for assignments had gone but now I realize that it was likely the Universe telling me it was time to just knuckle down and finish some writing projects of my own. When I teach, I find it hard to write much of anything except my daily teaching reports. Teaching is exhausting. Teaching poetry to incarcerated young men is VERY exhausting.
So I’m listening to the Universe and trying to focus, instead, on SS which is a YA verse novel inspired by last year’s Poetry Month poems about my father. I’ve never been one of those people who thought much about how many words I got down each day. NaNoWrimo never worked worked for me. And except for deadlines that come when I am writing on assignment, I’ve never tried to get a certain project done by a certain day. Which probably explains why a lot of my novels are waiting to be finished.
But the last two years for National Poetry Month I committed to writing a poem a day, every day, on a certain topic. And I did it, without fail.
So I’m setting myself a new goal – I want to have a ROUGH draft of SS done by the end of March, before National Poetry Month begins. I’m rounding out the time left between then and now to 75 days. (actual number is 78) I’m not counting what I already have done but if I did 2 pages a day, that would give 150, 3 pages a day would be 225. Since this is in verse, I’m setting it at 2 poems a day. Some fit one one page, some will run longer. Now no one knows how long a book is going to be and I’m not going to worry about the specifics. I’m just going to try for 2 poems a day.
Now I don’t think that means the book will be done by the of March but I can’t revise until I have something to work with so that’s the goal. One rough draft of SS by March 31st.
Wish me luck.
There have been some things going on in my life lately. Some things that have me thinking those deep, dark thoughts that keep you up at night. I found this old post from a few years ago that touches on it somewhat and I thought I’d share it again, (with some editing) because it explains a lot of where my mind is at of late . . . though it helps if you can read between the lines.
* * *
Hemingway said, and I can’t remember the exact quote so I’ll try to paraphrase it, he said that he couldn’t write about Paris when he lived there. He had to leave Paris before he could put the words on the page that would describe his experiences. While living there it was too much, too intense, too something and it skewed his vision. He needed distance and the passage of time before he could tell his story.
Some stories, while not easy, can still be written while you are in the midst of living them. When my kids were little I wrote about events within weeks or months of them happening. It was fun, like putting things in their baby scrapbooks. I recorded their awkward moments, their growth, and many of our special family memories. I told stories about our family and I got paid for it. Now I can go back and reread those old articles and it’s like picking up an old teddy bear and paging through a scrapbook of their childhood.
But other stories, perhaps those that touch the most painful parts of us, lay fallow for many years before the words begin to venture forth. I believe our emotions go into self-preservation mode and give us time to heal before we’re strong enough to attempt share a piece of ourselves through the telling of a story. My first picture book, Can I Pray With My Eyes Open? rested deep beneath the surface for over 25 years before it burst forth, near fully formed in one sitting. I can tie that story to an exact moment in time, when I was 10 years old, and I know that the book was an answer to a question asked long ago. Another picture book, Oliver’s Must-do List , seems, at first, to be a simple story about a mother and a child have a playday together but I can tell you now that it was born of guilt – immense guilt that my children were grown and I couldn’t go back and spend more time with them. Hugging the Rock is a novel about fathers and daughters, but more than that, it is about making peace with things you cannot change. I never knew my father and I wondered about him for many years. I can’t remember when I finally stopped searching but when I did, I realized that my own story was inching closer to the surface, closer to being ready to be heard.
Hugging the Rock is also about picking up the pieces after a divorce. Though many friends advised me to, I couldn’t write about my own divorce in the years immediately after it happened. The pain was too immense, the emotions too raw. But time was a helpful balm. Eventually my emotions bubbled to the surface telling me when it was time to write the story. In the process of the writing there were still some deep and painful moments but because I had waited, I was strong enough to go to the dark places and still come out alive. Enough time had passed that I could accept the blame for what was mine and let go of the blame for anything else. I could see the details through the tears.
There are other childhood events I want to write about someday but they’re still simmering and I’m still healing. Those stories will have to wait a bit longer. It’s been almost a dozen years but I know I am not yet ready to write about my time in New Orleans. I don’t know how long it will take before I am brave enough to face those demons head on. Not all my writing is tied to a piece of my past but I am making an effort to mine the treasures I have within because I do believe that’s where the juiciest stories wait to be told.
As many of you know, I’m working on Flyboy’s story right now. This project began over 25 years ago when my then-husband and I spent weekends out on the tarmac, our necks straining as we watched the sky at the air shows the way film buffs watch the movies.
What part of my life is like Flyboy’s? Where’s the connection? What makes it so hard to write? I don’t fly planes. I’m not adopted. My dad wasn’t famous. But I know what it’s like for the main character to obsess about planes the way I obsess about writing. I know what it’s like to wonder where you came from and how that might affect where you’re going. I know what it’s like to feel lonely even in the midst of a family.
When you’ve been working on a book for over 25 years, like I have with this one, the story becomes so wrapped up in your own life that sometimes it’s hard to remember what happened to me and what happened to Flyboy. Was it Flyboy or was it me that found the box that held so many secrets? Was it Flyboy or was it me that met someone who knew their father and answered questions held silent for so long? Was it Flyboy or was it me that finally realized the true meaning of family?
I hope it is both. I hope I can tell that kind of a story, one that feels like it happened to you.
I hope that helping Flyboy find his answers will help me decide what to do with some questions of my own.
Need help with your synopsis? Head over to
This week got away from me. I thought about blogging on Thursday and Friday but I missed it. I have a good excuse though. I’ve been working on Flyboy. In my actual office even.
1. I started this week with seven chapters of a sloppy draft of Flyboy. The goal being to get all the main characters introduced and show a couple of flying scenes. Goal met.
2. It was a really, really sloppy draft. So much so that a couple of times I wanted to cry because I thought I had forgotten how to write. I recovered enough to realize I do know how to write but am still not sure I know how to write this story.
3. Began revising. Why now? Because I wanted to get this partial into shape enough to send to my agent.
4. This week I printed out what I had written. Made changes in hard copy. Input changes. Went through and let Word highlight all my typically overused words. I am now on Chapter Four excessive word use clean-up.
5. After I finish #4, hopefully in a few hours, I will print it all out and go through it one more time. Then I will have no excuses left and have to face the, (cue the music) dreaded synopsis.
6. Plant Kid is still whispering in my ear though. He told me he wants his own blog and I about had a heart attack.
I’m looking for some colorful, possibly dumb and dorky, words and phrases that would substitute for swearing for a character.
Decided to update this post with the list so far from here and Facebook.. These are GREAT! Thank you everyone. Keep them coming.
schucks, fudge, fiddlesticks, sonofagun
Granny used to say Hoover Dam! Horse poop, fish hooks and geewillikers are others that come to
horse hockey, darn, darn-it-all, giminy/jeeminy
Sugar the cat! Sweet biscuits!
Judas Priest, Sun of a Pup
Cripes! Jiminy Cricket! Shut the front door! Freakin’! Zoinks! Jinkies! (those are from the Scooby-Doo oeuvre.) Crikey! Crappity doo-dah! Heckuva, sweet jeehosefat, darned, bull-shucks. Holy shoot!
Fewmets (Basically, they’re dragon droppings. Can’t get much dorkier than that.
My personal favorite (also in the dorky category, but in more of a Clark Kent way) is "Heavens to Betsy!"
"Dang it" is a popular one. "Shoot". "Darn it"
"Jumpin’ Jiminy Christmas!" – this is one that I’ve only heard south of the Ohio River. Not sure how wide spread it is.
My grandma used to say "Shoot far fuzzy" or "dadgummit" or "well….foot"!
Fadoodle. (Usually "I don’t give a flying fadoodle.")
Shut the front door! – instead of Shut the f*** up!
"Cahn-sarn-it" and to steal one from Daffy Duck – "Razza-frazza".
Oh, applesauce has been a fav lately. But for the BEST ever swearing without swearing, watch Ned Flanders on The Simpsons.
I’ve taken to saying "Mother biscuit!" lately. No, I have no idea where that came from.
"Rassumfrassum" is another popular one with me.
Colonel Potter (M*A*S*H) always used to say "horse hockey" with great conviction. He also used buffalo bagels and cow cookies.
A friend of mine is quite fond of holy guacamole.
My grandmother always said, "BS" followed by, "That means Brown Sugar."
Ratzafrazz is another one. This one I used to avoid being grounded.
I’m reading the book Ron Carlson Writes a Story right now. He talks about a lot of things that really speak to me, things I need to remember when I am writing or maybe more importantly, when I am not writing. One of them I want to share.
You can’t think your way through a story.
You start off thinking about what you want to write and you get a general idea and then you start to write.
It’s that simple.
It’s that hard.
You can outline and pre-plot and do your index cards of scenes and chart high points and mid points and black moments. But then you need to put it all aside and just write. Through-out the book you start and stop to think and then start again but you can’t think it all the way through all at once. You shouldn’t try. Because it is the process of writing the story that brings the story to you, to life. There are things you can’t think about until you see the story unfold as you write.
But it’s one of those things you have to take on faith. I need to remember that.
Example. The other day on Twitter I threw out one of my favorite writing exercise questions – what does your main character have in his pocket? And I thought about my main character and the scene I was working on. I knew he had a wallet that wasn’t his but one thing wasn’t enough. Because I had been reading Carlson’s book I just threw in a couple of things, the first things that came to mind, a pack of gum and a parking ticket. Now I have never had a parking ticket in my life and I have no idea where that parking ticket came from but I just plugged it into my Twitter update, hit send and went out into the yard to work in the garden and think for a little while about those things in his pocket. Then I got busy cutting back the dogwoods and collecting seeds and pretty soon I wasn’t thinking about the character anymore at all.
After a few hours in the garden I came inside and went back to my WIP. My character had to go someplace but I didn’t know where he was going to go first. I didn’t know how to figure out where to start. So I looked at that parking ticket and there was a city and a state on it. And that’s where I went. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I get there and that’s okay.
I’m going to trust the process will get me where I need to go.
We are on the downward path of weaning Cassie off the steroids and as a result we are beginning to see a bit more of her old self returning. The side effects are lessening more and more each day. Today she was not happy to hear me use the blow dryer because she knew it meant I was leaving the house. And when I came back after being gone just a short time, she was interested enough to sniff me all over for any new smells and then give me lots of kisses to say welcome home, I’m glad to see you. She picked up a stuffed monkey a few times and chased her “egg ball” around the room for a while tonight.
And I smiled.
Less than a year ago I didn’t even know this dog existed and now, now I can’t imagine not having her in my life.
I have talked to other people who have had dogs with similar and worse diseases. Some were told to let the dog go, to put it down before the illness got worse, to save themselves the pain, the money, the struggle of dealing with a young dog who had a disease that would cost them both time and money for the rest of their lives. Not a one of them did. They all stuck with their companion through it all.
I am struggling with Flyboy’s story. I broke my own pattern and started with plot instead of character. I feel like I’ve been dropped off in a foreign country where I don’t know the language. I have journaled him, written letters, journaled more, interviewed him, written more letters, ignored him, cossetted him and even yelled at him more than a time or two. And the simple fact remains, I have no idea what’s going on with the story at it’s most basic level – what does Flyboy want more than anything else in the world and what is he willing to do to get it.
How can I be working on a book for over 20 years and still not know what it’s about?
When I was writing Hugging the Rock I wrote at least 10 versions of it all the time telling anyone who asked that it was a story about my daughter and her relationship with her father. Along about version 15 I realized it was about me. And along about version 17 I finally admitted that it was about me and my dad.
I didn’t get there all at once. I had the help of a fabulous editor who constantly pushed me to go a little deeper each time, to peel away a little bit more of my self-preservation until I was raw and exposed and filled with nothing but absolute emotion and no place to put it except for there, on the page.
I’m not there yet with Flyboy. I don’t have an editor with a vision of the end story that can be my guiding light. I have to get to a certain point on my own. What I have is a sixteen-year-old boy who is a lot like I was at that age, wondering where he fits into the family dynamics. A square peg in a round hole. I can see the pieces, I just don’t know what to do with them. It’s like Cassie’s bumps, we could see them, but until someone put them under a microscope and looked real close, they were just bumps under the skin.
And I think I figured something out today. I don’t think it’s Flyboy that has to go under the microscope for a closer inspection – I think it’s me. I need to reconnect with the part of me that is a part of him. Until I do that, he’s just a name on the page, not a flesh and blood character that will have you rooting for him as you turn the page.
It might sound easy, like giving Cassie the right medicine once we got the correct diagnosis, but I’ve been there before. I know better. There are going to be side-effects from going deep. It’s not going to be pretty, not at first. It’s going to hurt to look at some of those parts of me that I know need to go into the story.
Some people might give up on a story after 20 years and no results. Especially knowing the path ahead of them.
But the thing is, me and Flyboy, we’ve been together a long time. I can’t imagine not having him in my life. He’s counting on me to tell his story.
Several people in the past have given me and my blog various awards and I need to apologize if I have not jumped in with an immediate reply. I am trying to do better in the future. Thanks to jamarattigan for awarding me the Kreativ Blogger award.
The idea is to share 7 things that you love. I really liked Jama’s suggestion of 7 songs that she would stay in the car for so she could hear the ending.
My first thought was to post the 7 writing books I reread every year but then I realized I had more than 7 so I will save that for another post. I briefly considered the 7 blogs I have to read every day but again, that number was more than 7. I would love to be creative and share the 7 characters I love best from children’s books but alas, I read sooo many books that my memory holds the story but not the character, not always, until something triggers it. 7 television shows? Hmmm, perhaps.
But I think I am going to tell you about the 7 characters I love from current WIP projects that I hope to finish in the near future. I have to love them in order to work on them, right? And note that "near future" does not correspond to a calendar. Not setting myself up for failure on that one. No way. But here are 7 characters from various WIP and why I love them.
Flyboy is the MC in the YA prose novel I am working on now. I love Flyboy because he is me. Substitute his love of flying for my love of writing and we are the same person, well except for the fact that he’s a guy and I’m a girl. And he’s going to get the answers to questions I’ll never get the answers to. And he has a pilot’s license. And a dad. But except for that we’re practically the same person. He is insecure when he shouldn’t be. He worries about the past and what it says about his future. He speaks first and deals with the consequences later. He is horribly flawed in search of family connections and when I finish his story I am going to have a meltdown akin to the one I had when I finished Hugging the Rock.
#2 Plant Kid.
Plant Kid is the MC in a MG prose novel that is hovering on the sidelines at the moment. I love Plant Kid because he is an awkward pre-teen who is trying to find his way in the world and can’t seem to figure out where he fits in. His best efforts often backfire but darned if he doesn’t keep coming back for more. When he discovers the beauty in nature and makes the connections to his own life, I can see him blossom like a garden in spring. Come to think of it, he’s me too.
#3 Max & Frankie
Max & Frankie star in a MG prose novel that is still very new though the characters have been with me for about 5 years. I love Max & Frankie because well, Max is a dog and I love dogs - all dogs, all shapes and sizes and breeds and dispositions. I love Frankie because he is a tireless crusader for Max despite his own unenviable circumstances. He really and truly believes that loving someone, something, is enough in this world. Hmmm…I’m started to see another connection to, you guessed it, me.
Cooper is the hero, flawed as he is, in a MG verse novel where an impulsive act has far reaching consequences. On one hand I understand why Cooper did what he did. On the other hand, I can’t believe Cooper did what he did. Some of Cooper’s story is inspired by previous workshops I have taught at alternative schools. Some of it will no doubt be inspired by the current workshop I am doing with incarcerated teens. And a part of it is inspired by events in my own life, so yes, part of Cooper is me too.
Paolo first showed up in a picture book that got many wonderful comments from editors (in rejection letters) about the beautiful language. Alas, there was also a distinctive lack of plot. What I have finally realized is that Paolo’s story is much bigger than a picture book. It is an entire novel. A MG historical novel which will involve a tremendous amount of research. Paolo’s wants in life are simple; a warm bed at night, enough food to eat, someone who loves him. But the simplest things in life often elude us when we need to focus all our energies on just staying alive. There is a part of me, the part of me that lived and died and in New Orleans, that breathes in Paolo. If I can bring that emotional energy to his story I may be able to let go of some of my own pain.
Hannah is my grandfather’s best friend. She follows him everywhere and relives the parts of my childhood that I cherish the most. Hannah also came to me in a picture book first. And her story was also rejected, many times. Though the rejection letters were filled with praise the fear of it being too nostalgic was very real. I know now that I need a whole MG novel in order to tell Hannah’s story. But first I need to find a way to make it more her story and less mine. I think they may be a mystery involved. I’m not sure.
Poor Missy. Ever since her mother died her life has never been the same. Especially after the guy moved in across the street with nothing more than a duffle bag and one other very important item. Her obsession may be her downfall or her salvation, I’m not sure which. I have rewritten the first chapter of Missy’s story, a MG prose novel, more times than I can count. Every word, every sentence, is exactly as I want it to be. But therein lies the problem. I devoted so much time to that first chapter that it has sat in the drawer for a dozen years waiting for me to find the creative energy to unlock the rest of the story. In this way it is much like me, waiting for years for the opportunity to follow my heart, never realizing that baby steps in that direction really would be enough to get me started.
The common thread in all these characters is my love for them but also it is that a part of me is in each of them. I think it is the only way I know how to bring a character to life.
If I tag you and you don’t want to play along, don’t beat yourself up about it (which is what I always do.) And if I don’t tag you and you want to play along, please do. Tell us your 7 things that you love.
The first two books I ever wrote were novels, sweet young adult romances with a very predictable plot line. Girl falls for wrong boy. Complications ensue. All is made right with the world and the good guy gets the girl. 12 chapters each and each chapter ran about 12 pages. I wrote them sitting on the stoop in the garage watching my first husband work on cars. And I wrote them straight through, from beginning to end. I figured that was just the way you were supposed to write a book, the same way you would read it, chapter by chapter. Plus I was taking a creative writing class and it just made sense to have the next chapter ready to turn in each week. (Egads, did I really write that much, that fast, back then? I think I did.)
Along the way I have written a lot of other things, picture books and articles and basically anything I could get paid for. Because my life was crazy busy with two young children I learned to write all over the place, in the car, the waiting room, watching karate lessons. When I went back to working on a novel again I pretty much assumed that I would do it the way I had before, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, in order. Of course I also assumed I would be writing it in straight prose, not free verse, which is what happened with my middle grade novel, Hugging the Rock.
When I was stumped, I mean totally blocked on the straight prose version, a friend suggested that I just try poems to see if I could connect with the character. No one was more surprised than I was when the entire novel begged to be written in free verse. The advantage for me was that poems were small and fit perfectly into the pockets of time I had to give to my writing at the time. I had been working on the novel for a couple of years already so I knew a lot of what I wanted to say, I just didn’t know where anything went. Because my life was crazymaking at the time I just threw caution to the wind, picked a scene I knew I wanted in the book, and wrote the poem. The went on for a month or so and pretty soon I realized I needed to put them into some sort of order. By then I felt I had enough of a hold on the story that I could think in a more standard format, beginning to middle to end. But when the book sold and my editor asked me for some new poems, I didn’t think about where they were going, I thought about what they were going to do for the story.
It was a slightly fragmented way to approach storytelling and yet it worked for me.
Last year when I was struggling to decide which story to tell, Plant Kid, Max or Flyboy, I started writing letters to the characters and having them answer me. And in case they led me to scenes in the book, scenes I had no idea where they would go when all was said and done. I’m not sure why this is easier for me, perhaps it breaks the book down into more manageable pieces? And even though I have written the first three consecutive chapters on my current WIP, Flyboy’s story, I don’t expect that it will continue in chronological order. How do I know? Today I wrote a new ending to chapter 3 which immediately made me think of a scene toward the end of the book. That scene is on my mind now and will probably be what I write tomorrow.
It may or may not end up in the final book but that’s not what matters, at least not to me. I am a character person and have to watch myself for getting so deep inside my character’s head that I forget to make him, alawriterjenn DO SOMETHING especially DO SOMETHING IMPORTANT.
When I think in scenes I remember that the action in scenes is the building block that carries the story forward, page after page.
And that is what matters most to me.
That doesn’t sound like much and yet.
300 words. Words I didn’t have the day before. Words that captivated me so much when I was thinking about them that I drove right past my turn-off and had to backtrack about 5 miles when I was going home.
300 words. Mostly dialog which is unusual for me and yet it felt easy and right as I wrote it. There is still a voice that uniquely belongs to the main character and yet falls naturally from my fingertips.
300 words about a boy with a secret and his sister who has a secret of her own.
300 words. That I had no idea where they were going when I started and yet, when I ended, hooked right back to the beginning of the book.
I have never written like this before, in fits and spurts of scenes that are mostly complete in their rise and fall and conflict. With no idea of the road ahead and yet, like stepping stones in an overgrown garden a path is built to somewhere special.
Oh happy day.
Most characters (and people) carry certain things around with them most of the time. A purse, a backpack, or just a pocket. What they carry around with them (or what they DON’T carry) can tell a lot about them.
I have one character who carries two pictures with him, one of a person and one of a place. They’re getting a little tattered around the edges.
Another character carries a wallet that doesn’t belong to him.
And the last has a key tied to a shoe lace and an old pill bottle that doesn’t have any pills in it.
What do your characters carry along with them?
Chatting with Linda Sue Park about writing yesterday was just what I needed. I don’t know about you but I do love hearing how successful authors struggle with insecurities. I don’t wish pain and suffering on anyone but it does make me feel a bit better to hear well-known authors talk about floundering at different stages of creation. Linda Sue shared some of her thoughts on the importance of structure (which she feels is the must-have first thing for her which got me rethinking an original idea for structure I had for my project a long time ago) which led to her making the comment that there were two universal themes for stories: hero goes on a journey and stranger comes to town.
I admit to hearing that before but I hadn’t stopped to think about that in regard to Plant Kid’s book. So last night when I was in that in-between falling asleep time I gave it some more thought.
First thought: “That SO totally doesn’t work for me.”
Second thought: “You must not be a real writer then because, come on, Linda Sue Park, HELLO?”
Third thought: “Well it’s not like I have a real plot yet. MAYBE it could work for me.”
Fourth thought: “HELLO?Linda Sue Park, remember.”
Fifth thought: “Well B isn’t going anywhere for real and I don’t think he is going anywhere emotionally so that journey thing is totally out.”
Sixth thought: “You’re not trying. Remember what Linda Sue said, if you want easy, bake a cake.”
Seventh thought: “But no one new comes to town. Everyone already lives there. See, it totally doesn’t work for me.”
Eight thought: “You’re really dense sometimes. Remember what else she said? Remember how she said she wrote three different endings to Kite Fighters? You have to try them all out.”
Ninth thought: “What if M wasn’t someone who already lived there? What if M is the stranger who came to town? What if he came to town because . . .”
The last thought I remember having before falling asleep was about birds which suddenly had the potential to matter in the book which made perfect sense NOW but which I hadn’t even considered before.
Thanks, Linda Sue!
So what about your story? Do you think it fits into one of the two universal themes?
Even when you don’t know where you are going with a book, sometimes the universe rewards your persistence with a bit of serendipity. Not in a big way, like having an actual plot, but in a small way where there are connections in a story that you know will mean something else, something big, later on. As soon as you figure it out.
Early today I was working on my character letters. I had one from Flyboy and one from Frankie but Plant Kid was being a little quiet. So then I started wondering about Mr. Mac and if there was some kind plant advice he could give Plant Kid that might help me out.
Like many writers, my brain is working on several levels at once. On some other level I remembered a recent discussion on my California Native Plants listserv about how botanists will sometime reclassify plants for one reason or another. (Can’t remember the details so this is more research for me.) Normally I don’t remember those sorts of notes on the list because heck, I can’t hardly ever remember the latin names, let alone the genus/nomenclature /etc. But this one stuck because it was about one of my favorite shrubs, Sambus Mexicana. (Why is it one of my favorites? Beautiful and huge wildlife value.)
Anyway, in an earlier letter conversation with plant kid he had asked me about his living situation and the response that evolved felt right and true to the path the story was taking. At that time I had illumination #1, what if . . . ? (Sorry, can’t tell you that. It would be a major spoiler.) When it came time to write another letter I had been thinking about him in school and wondering what he would be doing which led to illumination #2 (which I also can’t tell you but which is mentioned somewhat in a recent letter.)
Which leads me to illumination #3 and brings me back to the letter I was working on today and the advice from Mr. Mac. I was trying to figure out how or even if Mr. Mac would explain about reclassifying plants and suddenly my brain did the math: #1 + #2 + #3 = serendipity. They were all connected. In a small way. In a plant way. In an organic way. In a way that I believe will become a major thread in the story.
Personally, I don’t think I would have made these same connections if I weren’t doing the character letters. Yes, I might have made different connections but these are the connections that get me all fired up. I mean, I got those shivers you get when you know, and I mean KNOW, it’s a good idea.
Which leads me back to the title of the post.
Sometimes it just all comes together.
This weekend I did something I’ve never done before – I wrote the last scene in a book long before the end of the book was in sight.
It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t sit down and say wow, let’s write the last scene in the book because, heck, I don’t really even know what this book is about – yet. But I am continuing on my bit by bit method of writing these three stories at once by just trying to write a single scene every night before bed. Of late they have all been in the plant book and that’s okay. The character is very real to me and, I almost hesitate to say this, but I may have found his voice which goes a long way to bringing a book to life.
Friday night I knew I wanted to write a scene about the MC and a particular plant. So I did. And then I reread it, as is my habit before turning out the light and I realized that it was the very last scene in the book and suddenly I knew where I was headed. I have no idea how I’m going to get there but that’s okay, I have a goal for this kid.
Saturday night’s scene was prompting by watching my husband spend most of his Saturday pulling weeds in the yard. So I set the MC to pulling weeds. And in the process of writing the scene I had that wonderful experience where, before you can even get the words down, you can see the whole scene unfold in front of you. I gave him a simple task to do which set something else in motion which created a conflict that I needed but didn’t know how to orchastrate.
Sunday night’s scene was an apology that was not accepted.
I have no title for this book. I don’t even know if I have the main character’s name for sure and I’m not sure I know what his problem is or what he wants.
But I have scenes. And for now, that’s enough.
For months I have been busy not writing. For over a year I have been busy not writing. I have been doing an awful lot of NOT writing. Not even thinking about writing except how, once upon a time I used to be a writer.
Then I decided to wade back into it all. I was ready. I could go slowly. I had nothing pending that needed my immediate attention so I could play with a few ideas and see where they took me. My only writing goal for 2008 was to write three proposals. A hopeful goal would be to turn one into a really rough draft of a complete book. No problem. I had three ideas that interested me: the flying book I’ve been trying to write for over 20 years, the plant book, and Max.
First I worked on the flying book. You may remember my huge index cards project. By the time I was done I was hyped up and ready to go to work. Then came Christmas, family melt-downs and illness. I lost my way.
Because I didn’t know what to do next, I borrowed an idea from
and started writing letters to the main characters in the three books I wanted to work on.
The way I saw it, even if I wasn’t actually WRITING a book, I was THINKING about writing again. I know that thinking about writing and actually writing aren’t the same things but I was okay with inching my way slowly back to words. I figured a few letters to Flyboy would be all I’d need to take off writing about him. Across the last couple of weeks I’ve written about 20 new pages for Flyboy, in longhand. It’s not a lot, especially if you look at the word meters so many writers post in the blogs, but for me it was progress and that was all that matters.
Now here’s what’s been going through my writer’s brain. When I wrote the new pages on Flyboy I thought they were horrible, stilted, boring and had absolutely nothing to recommend them. They were garbage, the crappy first draft I had to get through before I could find the story. But writing such horrible junk stifled me. How would I ever be able to turn it into a book that someone would want to read? I tossed that notebook aside and went back to the character letters of the Plant kid and the story of Max. One day I saw the plant kid in the yard and I grabbed a notebook and jotted down what he was doing. And then I shivered, those good shivers which tell me there’s something there, maybe even that elusive voice. Yet I tossed that notebook aside too because I was supposed to be working on Flyboy’s book first. It was the one I had promised myself to finally right or admit that I would never write.
But I couldn’t make myself go back to that crummy draft and reread those stilted words. I couldn’t make myself ADD to those stilted words. So last night I looked at the letters I had written about the story of Max and wondered about him a bit more and I wrote the opening scene. And it was all there, his friend, the gypsy lady, the setup, and of course, Max. In one short scene. And I shivered again.
Before bed last night I told my husband that was it, Flyboy was grounded because it was absolute crap and had no magic and it was obvious I was supposed to work on the plant book and Max. So so obvious. Absolutely not interested in working on that flying book at all.
Each night I give myself a dream suggestion to do with my writing. I wasn’t sure what my question was going to be so I picked up the notebook on my nightstand (you can totally see where this is going, right?) and I figured I’d just flip through it, read a few pages, give myself a dream suggestion and call it a night. I saw Flyboy’s pages and thought there was no harm in reading them because I had already decided they were crap and I wasn’t going to work on that book.
And the Universe giggled.
Sure, the words were still rough and there were lots of missing pieces and bits of notes to myself like (describe this and what is that gauge called again and why doesn’t this character have a name) but I got sucked into the scene, the story, and I wanted to know the answers to the questions I had posed in those pages. And most importantly, again, I felt the shiver.
What does this mean? Well besides the fact that it appears I am currently roughing out 3 books at the same time, (which means it’s going to get really crowded in my head and my poor husband will be once again bucking for Sainthood) it means the magic is back. Because I think that’s what those shivers were – the reminder of how wonderfully magical it is to have these stories to tell and the ability to tell them. I woke up excited at the thought of diving deep into fiction.
The Universe has a wicked sense of humor though. Way back in October of 2006 I sold a book called Enrique Esparza, Boy at the Alamo. A true story. A non-fiction book filled with facts and history and things I researched almost 2 years ago. After over a year of complete silence, of not even having an editor assigned to the book, suddenly the edits are coming my way tomorrow. As in the day after today.
And she would really like them back in a week so we can keep on schedule for the fall 2009 publication. Sigh.
Fiction may have to wait a bit longer but that’s okay. I have the shivers to help me find my way back.