Even when you think you know what your book is about, it’s important to keep an open mind so when those stray ideas fly in from never-never land you’re smart enough to write them down.
Example. In an effort to
procrastinate research I decided to try to do something I had never done before – make a collage of about my main character. Okay, back up a step. The idea for the collage came because someone asked if I had a picture of my MC and I said no. And the reason they asked me if I had a picture was because I wasn’t even sure, back then, if I had the right name for him. I don’t normally know what my characters look like. (I’m one of those writers who hear voices.) But I decided to give it a try. I sorted through all the pictures I had saved from magazines, checked the online photo banks, and nothing. None of the faces jumped out at me and said, “Hey, here I am!”
So I stopped looking. And started watching television. And I caught sight of this kid and he sort of whispered to me so I slowed down and watched a little bit more and thought, hey, that might be my kid. But of course once the show was over I couldn’t remember his face. I went looking online (thank you, Google) and I found him in not just the show I saw him in but in a couple more. I ended up saving a ton of pictures to a folder to check out later. One thing leads to another. When I was looking at all those pictures I saw a house. It wasn’t “his” house but it got me to thinking about what kind of house he might live in so, you guessed it, I started looking for houses. I never found one, but I did find a yard and the yard reminded me of the rock that I thought this kid had in his pocket when the book first started. (I realized it would be weird to have a real rock matter in this book after writing about the other rock in Hugging the Rock, and no, for the record, I don’t believe I have any deep-seated issues with rocks.)
Along about then it was time to go work in my own yard and pull some weeds. Which I did. But then I got distracted by collecting seeds off my flowers and I thought about my MC while I was plucking seed pods and carrying them around in bottom of my shirt held up like a pocket and I wondered what my main character thought, if anything, about plants and flowers and things that grew in the ground. It was hot. My MC didn’t say much and it was too hot to work any more in the yard so I went back inside with a glass of ice chips, the fan on high, and I started to look a bit closer at all those pictures I had saved of this kid who might look like the one who is really telling this story. In one of those pictures his face was filthy and his eyes were filled with tears. And then ZAP, it hit me, the missing piece in my story braid. An entire subplot just burst onto the scene and I’m pretty sure it’s a keeper. The piece of the story the picture gave me had nothing to do with the movie the picture was from. It was the visual of that face that clicked the switch in my brain.
I still don’t have the collage (which I may or may not do) and I don’t even know if this particular kid really is my MC (and it doesn’t matter) but in the past few days I have captured, print out and cut up dozens of pictures, some of which might even belong in the book. I’m doing no-pressure plotting and a lot of playing.
What’s the moral of the story? There are a few of them actually.
1. Enjoy the process. Writing is supposed to be fun and when it IS fun the positive energy that the pleasure brings will feed your creativity and bring new ideas to your work.
2. Remember that each book will write itself differently and that each revision will unfold differently. It goes back to #1
3. Try something different. Sometimes I try something different because I am blocked and sometimes I try something different just because it sounds like fun. Yep, all goes back to #1.
I’m doing lots of thinking and not much posting so here’s a quick update on my writing life. I think I have new names for the two major characters. I’ve been living with them for a few days and they feel pretty good. I have no doubt anymore that the MC is male and not female. I spent a lot of time (that I should have been writing) looking for pictures that might represent my MC and his world with the intent to make a collage. I still might do that but then I realized (after a frustrating number of hours going nowhere) that I am more auditory than visual so I don’t know that it would help.
I am struggling with too much thinking on this project. I am thinking in terms of story arc more than I did at this stage with HTR. When I started HTR it was a novel, then it was verse but this is verse yet I can’t not think about plot. Sigh. No two projects are birthed the same, that is a simple fact. I am most struggling with the idea that I have not yet hit upon the proper unique factor. In HTR the father/daughter relationship was unique. In MTLB, so far everything sounds ordinary. Kids grow up in bad familes, families have money issues, violence issues, addiction issues. Sigh. Perhaps later, working in the yard, I will be able to find that angle.
In the very happy news department I got the book jacket for HTR yesterday and it is lovely, simply perfect. I love the flap copy. I love my bio. I even don’t hate my photo. And on the back of the jacket, set off alone in the middle of the page, is a single blurb. A beautiful blurb. A blurb that made me cry. I can’t post it for public knowledge yet but the “wow” factor is major!
I really don’t know how to write a book. This is insane. How did I ever tell a story from point A to point B before? And now the name I had for my main character, the name that was so perfect when he was a she, well I’m not so sure that it’s the right name anymore. And the other kid. The little kid next door. That name is wrong too. Well if I can’t even get the names right, how can I get the story right? And the beginning? Don’t even get me started about how the book begins. I had a great poem. A wonderful poem that asked questions and encouraged you to turn the page BUT, and this is sort of important, I really don’t think the poem is written by the main character. In fact, I highly doubt that it belongs in this book at all. Sigh.
So I tried starting with the day that is different like I did with Hugging the Rock but it doesn’t work either. The day that is different simply hangs there like a piece of modern art hung on a wall in the outhouse. So I’m writing backstory poems except I don’t know for sure that they are backstory because it is good stuff all about the relationship between the two boys which leads to the horrible thing but I never set out to write a relationship about the two boys. But wait, you say, doesn’t that mean that the characters are taking over the store and isn’t that good? Not really. Without the bones of some kind of plot to hang the whole thing on these guys will just keep on talking and talking and nothing will ever really happen. I wish I could remember how much of the story I knew when I started HTR. I simply don’t know. And that book was written at a really bad time in my life when everything around me was turning upside down. I was in constant physical and emotional pain and not just from the writing but from simply trying to live.
What if I’m one of those writers who can only write when there life is FUBARed to the Nth degree? Please no. I don’t want to go through that sort of thing ever again.
Yes I know to keep on keeping on but sometimes you need to stop to smell the flowers and sometimes when you do, you get stung by a bee. End of rant. Back to work.
Well last week I came up with the great idea of doing a Poetry Friday update of my current WIP, MTLB, in poetry form. And last night I did indeed write another poem that shared what I had learned about my character from writing this week. But I no longer think I will post these to the public. It is too close to, too tied to, my story. Instead I will keep a separate, private, journal of these poems. If the book sells, it might be interesting to people to read it then. We’ll see.
I will say that it was a good writing day yesterday and that I roughed out six new poems and fine-tuned one more. Even more exciting was the unveiling of an important aspect of my character that both explains his drive and lays the foundation for the relationship between him and his father.
An interesting twist on this WIP. I write my poems in longhand. I almost always, 99% of the time, work in a green steno pad. They are easy to tuck in my purse or carry around with me. They have a place to hold my pen. And they have a hardback which makes it easy for me to write just about anywhere. But getting started with MTLB, every time I picked up a steno pad and tried to write I felt constrained. It was too small. It was too something. It wasn’t the right paper for me. So for the heck of it I picked up a yellow legal pad (which I NEVER use) and started doodling around. Before I knew it, I was writing. I have no idea why the bigger, yellower paper is working for me at the moment but I’m not one to argue with the muse when she makes her appearance. For now I will be grateful. I will also make a stop by the store on the way home for a few more big, yellow legal pads, just in case.
In honor of poetry Friday, my update for the new book project MTLB.
Searching for the boy
I find him
for someone who is
for someone who is
for someone who
to stand up for himself.
their very sameness
which she is still keeping to herself but I now know where she gets it from. Gotta love those hand-me-downs from mom and dad. I haven’t done much writing worth saving on MTLB, more like writing in circles and a lot of stuff that I hope will prime the pump. But at least I know more about her family situation now (perhaps a little more than I want to because I can’t be easy on her) and I think I am closer to writing about the “horrible thing” that happens that sets the changes in motion. I need to write more on her first, to build up to it and peel away my own layers of self-preservation first but I think once I actually write the poem that has that scene in it, it will unlock a few more things. I find it easier right now to write about Mrs. W and the things she does to try and help M and I think that’s okay. It’s safe right now but I’m still building up the trust levels between me and M. Maybe once she realizes I’m on Mrs. W’s side, she’ll open up to me.
The hard part right now is still fighting my own process. I’ve had a couple of days off from work and I really expected to have gotten a lot done but that’s not been the case. It’s been more reading, more thinking, more plodding with words. And I have to accept that’s the way it is (but I don’t have to like it.)
I did a pinky swear with kellyrfineman to formally start work on MTLB, my next verse novel, TODAY. My goal is to have the first rough draft of the book done by September 1st, if not before so I can’t put it off any longer. Acting class was dismissed early so this is just my procrastination, I mean pre-writing, before I actually dive in. I want to have one new poem roughed out before I go to bed. It will probably be the day that is different. It may not be the beginning of the book but it is a scene that needs to be shown early on and better yet, it is a scene where I already know what happens.
It still surprises me how every book begins differently. Some with a whisper, like Hugging the Rock, and some, like this new one, with a scream.
When I began Hugging the Rock I never intended to write in free verse. I tried everything BUT poetry to find the voice. Yet it was through short poems written in stolen snatches of time that Rachel’s voice came to me. This time I am deliberately choosing the form of a verse novel. And it scares me to death. I have a main character. But there is no voice. I don’t think think there’s a voice. No, I’m pretty sure that I’m just talking to myself and M isn’t talking to anyone. Of course, who could blame her for wanting to stay quiet after what she did. It isn’t like friends are breaking the door down to talk to her. Which is just as well because, like I said, she’s not talking to anyone. She IS doing a powerful amount of thinking. And then there’s that teacher who just can’t resist the chance to meddle in M’s business. Lucky for M she does. If you asked her, and if you could get her talk about herself in the way that shrinks and best friends can make you talk, I think M would say that it all started on Tuesday when her shoe came untied in front of the bus stop on the corner and she bent over to retie it and . . .I don’t think she’s ready to spill the beans yet. I have more of a plot than a voice and I don’t know how to write like that. I’m thinking about backstory and motivation and if it is even an interesting idea or just a collage of cliches when really, all I need is a voice.
If your character refuses to speak to you, how can you tell their story?
I hate the uncertainty that comes with starting a new book, of committing myself to a story as yet untold. What if I can’t find the voice? What if I don’t remember how to tell a story? What if it just plain STINKS? Yes, I know, enjoy the process, which I do. But at the beginning of something new I also go through this “omigosh I don’t think I can ever write a book again” time.
My husband reminds me that this is part of my process. I fall apart, sure that I have forgotten anything I ever knew about how to tell a story. I throw myself against the mountain, again and again, until some little crack breaks open and the story takes off. I’ve done it before and I will do it again. But I’d sure feel better about it all if I had a voice.
And so it begins.
That’s the question of the night. My husband the non-writer let me yammer at him for a bit tonight, spinning absolutely useless ideas, crappy, stinky, I can’t believe you even said that ideas, in the hopes that I would eventually flush the good ones to the top. No luck. Did I mention how much I hate being at this beginning part of the book? Sigh.
I know the story is about M. I know what she wants most in the world. I don’t know what her parents are like but I do know that they are not the sort of people I would make eye contact with on the street. I don’t know if she really did the terrible thing I think she did and if she did I don’t know why. And if she didn’t do the terrible thing I think she did then how did she get into the class she’s in? And if she did do it, why did she do it? What could one kid say to another kid that would cause this to happen? She might be fat. But maybe she’s not. She might have a younger brother. But maybe not. She might have a talent at something but I have no idea what. She doesn’t have any pets and I wouldn’t want to sleep in her bed.
I did mention, didn’t I, how much I hate this part of getting started?
And then there’s her name. Which I know is her name. Absolutely her name and no one else’s BUT there’s a worry there. If you look her name up in a book someone might connect it to Hugging the Rock and then I wonder if people will wonder what the heck is wrong with that writer that she’s so obsessed with those things? Man we writers are a worrying bunch, are we not?
So it all comes down to I don’t know.
Kelly – 4 days until May 1st and then it’s time to go looking for these answers through the actual writing.