Monday, May 29, 2006

In which I finally get off my ass

I've finally gotten some writing done after last week's workfest and a weekend spent goofing off, feeling guilty for same, and editing existing scenes rather than writing new ones. Which is great for tightening the book, but ain't budging my word count much.

But: Finally progress has been made. And now I'm back on a more normal work schedule, so the progress should continue.

Let me rephrase: Either the progress will continue, or the beatings will.


I'm starting to understand that there's a trick to this writing stuff. The trick is not to outline efficient little plot twists or to work away at character backstories like Joan Crawford scrubbing at Christina's baby skin to get it clean.

The trick is recognizing that creation is messy. And why should it be any other way? From making software to putting up buildings to growing a garden to making babies, it's all trial and error, it's all messy as hell, it's all attempt after attempt after attempt, and sometimes you get it right but that doesn't mean it can be made any more streamlined or efficient than it is.

To quote my friend Sara, the joy's in the journey. Of course, so are the stubbed toes and flat tires. But like Rumi says, where you are broken is where the light comes in. So maybe a few stubbed toes are worth the joy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Faith and karma

So a week or two ago, I did something good for someone I don't know. Don't put that halo on me yet; it was completely motivated by self-interest, and in fact I feel kind of cheesy about the way I handled it.

But as it turns out, karma takes a dim view of self-recrimination, and encourages acts of kindness regardless of the motivation.

At least, that's how it seems to me after this weekend, when a couple people who are very important to me made it clear how much faith they have in me, and how far they are willing to go to help me.

One of them, out of the blue, offered to help me get a foot in the door with someone who could help my writing career. My mentor, Jenny, offered to introduce me to her agent, who is amazing and fierce and who I have been stalking in the literary sense for some months now.

It could all come to nothing - she could hate what I write (or worse! be indifferent), but trust me when I say that it's a big foot in a very heavy door, and I am a very lucky girl.

The other one is C, who is a very calm guy. C's not that excitable, and when I came to him with this news, he sort of smiled and said "Way to go" while I was turning cartwheels and running naked down Queen Anne Avenue.

Of course I gave him hell about it, because I felt lonely, all alone in the Excite-o boat like that. I wanted him to jump up and scream and flash the sign of the horns and open himself to the sky too.

Which is when he told me how much faith he has in me, how much he believes in me and my book and my voice and my drive, and how he sort of expects people to have faith in me because duh, talented.

He also pointed out that he doesn't get all hyped up when this stuff happens because I do that just fine on my own, and someone needs to keep the boat floating while I'm waving the flags and tooting the horns. And that is very true, and after he said it I felt far less lonely.

I'm not doing it justice, but trust me when I say that by the end of it, I was completely awash. It's terribly potent, having the person you love tell you they believe in you. Particularly when they know how hard you've worked, and how difficult it is to succeed at whatever it is you are trying to do. That always comes across hollow if they don't really believe in you, but when C said it - and kept saying it - it rang out like a bell.

In book news: I've rounded the corner on the first act. I'm sure this seems very slow to all of you, but about a month ago I did something critical: I deleted almost the entire book, except for the first 20 pages or so. I reimagined and reoutlined, and that has made all the difference.

Since then I've been writing like a house on fire. And now Act 1 is done and I'm starting on Act 2. I'm also getting critiques from two talented writers I know - oh, make that three if Eileeny joins in - so that's all good.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Did I mention?

I did finish my scene-by-scene outline of FMT. It's going through a few little tweaks still, and I need to make sure the ending is true to Claire's and George's arcs (see tweaks), but now I have a specific roadmap to get me through to the end. Yay me! Yay Girls!

Outliners and pantsers

This started as a response to E is for Editrix's comment in a post on another blog, but then it got huge, like I was downloading the whole Cherry writerly consciousness into one overloaded comment pane, so I thought I'd bring it up here instead.

So Editrix mentioned that she's an outliner - that she needs to be able to see where the action is before writing the book. I get that; I wish I was that way. Sadly, I am a pantser.

A pantser is a person who writes by the seat of her pants - and then revises, revises, revises. Often as I'm working through a first draft, I'm getting to know my characters - and I find myself seeding stuff into the beginning and middle as I work through the middle and end.

If I outline first, I cheat myself of the chance to get to know my characters - and often as not, I find I kill the story by forcing it.

But when I'm on Draft 2 (or, say, 5*), that's when I work up an outline: so I can spot the weak parts of the story, the saggy middles, the plot threads that meander into nothingness. And then I fix. And I look for layers, for theme, for meaning.

And then I beat my head against a walll and stop writing for another month because I am drinking too heavily to see the screen.

Writing a novel is an overwhelming thing. (Somewhere, three writers I know - at least three - are all drinking and nodding their heads.)

So why wouldn't I outline? Wouldn't that save me from the head-beating and the alcohol poisoning?

Girl, I have tried. I've written two extensive outlines for books, with turning points, dark moments, all that - and once I finished the outlines, I felt like the story was done. Why write it? I know what's going to happen. There is no more room for surprises.

Perverse, I know. I so admire people who can do that.

Other people manage to write outlines and then deviate from them and it's all cool, but I haven't figured out the knack yet. It's like my subsconscious is run by Ayn Rand: all anal, all the time. "You can't possibly change that now, it's in the outline!"

It's only when I let the Girls in the Basement** roam free, in their belly tees and flip-flops, smoking their little Cuban cigarillos and passing around a bottle of hooch, that they really surprise me. So, no outlining.

I do, however, have to go into a book knowing, more or less, where my characters have to be at the end of it, which gives me something of a roadmap. I'm getting better about using that to spin up reversals and twists.

* Long ago, when I was just a young and innocent girl, I truly believed that best-selling novelists wrote one draft, maybe two, of their books before shipping them off to an adoring publisher and taking off on the yacht to cruise around the Caribbean.

Well, don't you believe it. Through associating with my betters, I am finding that in fact, the better the novel, likely the more revisions it's been through -- and the more bloodletting the author has done over it. Nothing good comes easy, except of course for love and pie.

** See Stephen King's boys in the basement - his muses.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I have a dream

It is my dream to have my story broken down into a simple little list of scenes, and that way, I can just go day by day, writing a scene a day, until the happy day when I get up from my computer, burst into tears, and announce to my dog, "I Am Done! O Happy Day! For Lo, I Am A Writer!" Then I will promptly burst into flame and cease to be.

Great title

Some day, I am going to write a book called Lucy Boone and the Cowboy Slides.

The plot will be based on these shoes. My friend Lang will serve as inspiration for the main character.