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.
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 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.
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?
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.
One true sentence a day. That’s all I’m shooting for.
Every day before I start to write, I look through my yellow index cards to keep the various story questions in my mind as I write. If I have time in the morning before I go to work, I give them a look then as well. I never know what my subconscious will come up with on the drive or while I’m working on spreadsheets and other not-so-creative tasks.
I’ve been working on the opening of the book. I decided to go back when the main character is very young and living through a horrible experience. (see this week’s Teaser Tuesday.) It’s a scene I’ve written many times over the years. Most versions I gave away too much. So I started cutting, digging in for just the emotion of the moment. But the rhythm was off at the end of the scene. It needed something more. One sentence. Just a few words.
They were running but I had no idea what happened next. They were running and then they weren’t. They were running and something happened. I almost gave up and then I realized that they were running and they just kept on running.
It was enough and I ended the scene. I had no idea who was running (besides the main character.) I had no idea where they were going or what would happen when they got there. I just knew they were running. I knew it was a true sentence. On the way to work today, in that half awake fog that is my commute brain, I knew at once who it was.
I filed that new knowledge away and started my work day. But first I gave my subconscious something to work on. Something that had to do with names. On the way home from work I got an idea and couldn’t wait to get home and play with it. I’m sure it is as a result of the suggestion I gave me subconscious And now, as I call it a night, I can say it worked out better than I had hoped.
I finished tonight’s writing session with one of those sentences that not only gave me goosebumps, but put another whole layer into the story.
I love this job.
One of the things I love best about writing is when you are in the zone, just typing along, and in the back of the mind you know that you have to figure out how to address something, a really big something, and then you keep on typing and you look on the page and there it is – the answer. WooHoo!
I knew that I was going to have to figure out how to show a bargain the MC made with someone but it wasn’t strong enough to use to start the book and I didn’t want to do a flashback. But I really needed to get the information into the story because it would set a bunch of other things in motion fo the rest of the book. So I just started typing, basically telling what was going on in the scene figuring I’d go back and fix it later and boom, what should show up but the perfect mechanism to share the information in a completely organic way to the story.
I just love it when that sort of thing happens. It makes me feel like a magician
From the book Emotional Structure – Creating the Story Beneath the Plot by Peter Dunne
The mentor represents the protagonist’s highest aspirations.
He personifies the kind of moral person the protagonist wishes he could be and mirrors the protagonist’s spiritual center. While the mentor is allowed to give the protagonist all the encouragement in the world, he isn’t allowed to give him any answers. And the reason is simple. The mentor’s answers are HIS answers. The protagonist has to find his own.
Learning how to find the answers is the lesson being taught.
This is my current work-in-progress. A stack of paper over a foot high, much of it handwritten on old school lined paper which means the ink is fading fast. Add to that about another 25 MB of files on my computer. That’s after purging.
This is my current work-in-progress on index cards.
Granted that tall stack of purple prose has had close to 20 years to grow to that size. Diving back into the story again I knew it was too overwhelming for me to get a grip on the story I wanted to tell. The book was broken, I wasn’t arguing with that, I was just lost in a sea of paper. I made the mental commitment to basically throw out the old story (after reading everything through once more) and start anew. But there were some things worth saving. And because the book required a lot of research, there was no need to do it all over again. I also was, I admit it, a bit afraid of this book because it has a deeper plot and a subplot (maybe 2 subplots) and there was much more to keep track of in this book than in my others.
Enter the humble index card.
I started off with bright green for all the things that needed names. (I had decided to rename everything and everyone in the book because the orginal was a wee bit too, well, cutesy.) As I went through the stacks of papers or thought about the book I jotted down anything that needed a name on a bright green card. The town, the parents, the dog, and the daughter who may or may not be a love interst. (That goes on another card.)
As I read through the old stuff there were some of those wonderful phrases I didn’t want to let go of, even if the chance of me reusing them were slim. They went on the violet cards.
The book is about something I don’t know much about – airplanes. So the pink cards are my glossary of words that are used around planes, like Hobbs Meter and chords and elevators which do not meant the same in the real world as they do in the world of flight.
More details about planes, like the particulars about a Cessna 152 or cruising airspeeds in different planes went on the green cards.
Over the years I had read a lot of flying books and jotted down great words about flying from other people. They all went on the blue cards.
The three most important cards turned out to be orange, white and yellow.
I actually started with the white ones, jotting down just a line or two about a potential scene. I wrote down most of the scenes from the earlier versions of the book and then, of course, my brain generated new ones. I didn’t stop to evaluate it, I just wrote them down. I didn’t stop to think about setting or POV, I just wanted to get the good stuff out of the old stuff and start my subconscious working on bringing up new stuff.
As I worked on the cards I would get an idea of something I wanted to remember to consider during the writing, maybe something about his flaw or strengths or a piece of advice from someone on how to build a stronger plot. Those notes went on orange cards and are great to flip through and ponder when I’m feeling blocked.
The last cards are yellow for any questions that come up that I think I need to answer during the writing. At the moment it’s a very tall stack. It might be something like wondering if the MC is going to fall for Edna’s daughter or if he likes chocolate milkshakes or when he will find out the truth that is driving the story. As I work and a question pops into my head, I jot it down on a yellow card. One question to a card.
Now I have a stack of a little over 500 cards. Will I use them all in the book? Not hardly. Did it help me wrap my brain around the 17 versions of the book I have had stacked up in my office for years? Absolutely.
I love that the cards are portable. I can take them and some blank ones with me wherever I go. On my lunch break if I want to work on the book I can pull out a white scene card and see where it takes me. As I firm up the scenes I will whittle down the cards I keep close at hand. If I were a real outliner, this would be a good first step to writing an outline. That’s not my particular style. For me I think it is enough that I have the cards. Before I sit down to write I can thumb through and start to warm up the brain soup.
Now here’s the thing about writers giving other writers advice. Most of us love to talk about how we “do it” and quite often other writers, those just starting out, will listen to us and think that’s how they should “do it” too. And maybe you should. But maybe not. The best writing advice I can give anyone is to look at what works for someone else, take what will work for you, discard the rest and don’t feel guilty about it.
I was pretty sure I had killed off all the mom characters in the book but I think I might have been a bit premature. I read something interesting in my notes last night. I was reading about flaws and one of the things I had printed out (I’m not near it now to get the quote exactly) said that the fatal flaw should be in direct opposition to the theme. I found that fascinating because as I played out what I first thought the theme was in my book it just didn’t work with the fatal flaw I gave to my MC. The initial theme was too vague; not focused enough. So I kept doing questions on the theme to spiral deeper and deeper and finally realized what the heart of the book was all about. And I realized I need the birth mom in order to help me do it.
She’s still dead, but she’s back in the book because I think he needs to find some things from her or of hers that will fuel his negative expectations in himself. There is much work to be done on the idea still. I need to think of what he might find of hers that I can mirror in some fashion into his world but it should be an interesting journey.
The grandfather? He’s still dead.
This post is for my friend Melodye,
And I say yes, it is more than fair. Those who love us want to help us heal, they want to help us in any way they can and sometimes the best thing they can do is create a safe place from which we can create.
I have many projects like this, stories that will require me to go deep and think about things I’d rather not think about. I wrote a bit about it a few years ago in this post called, Does your writing scare you? I had to put Frankie’s project aside because, well, it still scares me too much. I’ve been in the process of moving posts from my first blog and this seemed like a good time to move this one over. You can click the link to read it all behind the cut.
I tend to reread this whenever I’m about to start on a new project because Schneider knows what writers are afraid of and says it’s okay and encourages us to write anyone. She gave me my current mantra.
“You can write as powerfully as you talk. If you are safe enough.”
I love that. It rings quite true for me. For years my writing was okay but not really going places and I know it was because I wasn’t digging deep enough to write about the stuff that scares me. I couldn’t because I didn’t feel safe. It’s only now, in a wonderful marriage with the best supportive partner I could hope for that I feel safe enough to visit the dark corners of my mind and write what is real, what hurts. Schneider says that if you can talk, any sense you have of not being able to write is a learned disability, scar tissue that “is a result of accumulated unhelpful responses to your writing.”
She also says that, “For the writer, fear arises in exact proportion to the treasure that lies beneath the dragon’s feet.”
So we need to write toward that fear, past, through, over, kicking and screaming if need be but we need to face the fear, claim it, make it ours so it will reveal the treasure that is our writing, the stories we were meant to tell.
The last novel I finished was my most real yet. The raw kind of real that still makes my stomach lurch when I reread certain scenes and still makes me cry at the end. Now I’m gearing up to do it again. I’m glad I feel safe enough to try and write my truth.
For all of you that have painful stories to tell, stories you haven’t even considered trying to tell (yet), take a look around the support system you have built for yourself. Find your safe zone. Make a list of all the things or people you need around you in order to feel safe. Maybe you’re not there yet and that’s okay. You should still make a list of what you need in order to feel safe so you will recognize it when you have it.
In case you didn’t get it the first time, I’m going to repeat it. “You can write as powerfully as you talk. If you are safe enough.” And once you are safe enough, (note that I did not say that you will feel safe enough because we will never feel safe enough to tell some stories but we will do it anyway) once you have a safe zone, there’s only one thing left to do, dance closer to the fire and start to write.
We’ll all be here cheering you on.
Writing progress. I have been working hard on the YA novel. I have gone through about 90% of the notes I have made over the years on VZ and transferred the keeper pieces of information to a variety of color-coded index cards. I’ve almost gone through 3 packs of cards. I need more of a couple of colors to finish off. I had already made the decision to toss all the old versions and start anew. But even after packing those old pages away I was left with a binder full of notes about characters and airplanes and various plot possibilities. Not all of it is usable but reading through it has helped me sink deeper into the story. Reading more about planes has helped me remember the initial pull to tell the story from 20 years ago. I have one colored card just for questions that need to be answered and as I went through the notes I’d find questions leading to more questions which lead to more plot points. I just kept jotting them on cards without trying to analyze them. That will come later.
I find it all very interesting to see that way my young writer mind worked back then – better in some ways (at taking notes) not so good in others (lots of cliche) but still workable. Still a very writeable story. A story I still want to tell. This is good news because for a while I wasn’t so sure. Anytime I have to do a lot of research for a book I reach a point where I don’t think I can do it. I get scared with all the facts that have to be perfectly correct and want to run and hide behind a story that just has to be emotionally correct. I think that’s why I wasn’t able to write this story before now – I just wasn’t writer enough to stand up to the material. To do it justice.
Jane Kurtz once told me that, “It isn’t just about telling the story but about becoming enough of a storyteller so that people will listen even to the hard things.”
That the kind of writer I want to be – one that compels you to keep reading even though you know some of the story isn’t going to be pretty. Am I still chasing demons of my own? Yes I am.
It’s always amazing to me when a book makes a shift from being just an idea or a concept to an actual story with a life of its own.
Sometimes it’s a result of changing format, like when I moved from straight prose to free verse in Hugging the Rock.
Sometimes it’s because a book has percolated long enough that it just bubbles to the surface in a boil that pours onto the page (after over 25 years of simmering as it did with Can I Pray With My Eyes Open?)
Sometimes it’s because you just keep asking your character the same question over and over again until he finally answers you just to get you to shut up. And then you make a phone call or two or three or ten (I lost track) to verify what’s real and what’s not and before you know it, you have piles of conflicts and questions without answers and people keeping secrets and dozens of scenes waiting to be written.
And so it begins.
And not all of it takes place on solid ground.