My Two Cents on Starting

Most days I think I’m a good mom, and an improving writer. I think I can cook, but I can mix drinks better. I think I am pretty, but only now that I’ve grown my hair out. These parameters keep me from being too wrapped up, too vain, or too emotionally stunted. I sharpen because I believe I am not perfect, nor am I a train wreck.

I recently read an article by author Julianna Baggott. Now, it should be said, that I have a girl crush on Julianna. Maybe I should call it a writing crush, since it stems from how deeply I identify with her voice. Her communication style. Her writerness. Whatever I call it, I heart her.

In the article, which you can read here, Julianna puts forth a method for writing your first novel. She calls it a loophole. It began for her as a way to trick herself into writing by pretending it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t about creating a masterpiece, it was about getting fifty pages done and out. She suggests writing is about wanting to turn the page, for the writer and the reader.

This rang very true for me. I have discussed before that this is my first novel, the MANUSCRIPT I am revising now but not forever. Before writing the manuscript, I had mostly worked in the medium of screen-or-stage playwriting. I had attempted, after completing a feature length screenplay and then not knowing what the hell to do with it, a novelization of my screenplay. Ultimately, I was burnt out on that story and needed something new.

When I sat down at my computer sixteen months ago with a voice in my head, I didn’t know what I was doing. There was no plan. There wasn’t even a concept. There was an inkling. A whisper.

I don’t consider myself a naive person. I live in Brooklyn and haven’t died yet, for goodness sake. But about this I was. I believed I could do it. And why not? It was just a novel. Geez. I had written a screenplay, so a novel couldn’t be much harder.

Had I read anything about writing a novel before I started, done any preparation at all, I would have failed. I would have psyched myself out. I’m such a fool I flippantly professed to anyone who would listen that I would finish in a year.

I just wrote. I kept writing when I wasn’t sure where I was going. I kept writing when I was angry at my characters. I kept writing when words flowed like cold honey. I just flipped the switch inside me and wrote.  As Julianna said in her article, I kept turning the pages. 

I finished the first draft about six months after I began. It was 70,000 words and a lot of it was shit. Some of it was brilliant. Some of it was acceptable. 30% of it was garbage I wouldn’t wipe dog poop off my shoe with.

I’m being hyperbolic, but you get it.

So, the advice I would add to Julianna’s (who knows way more about this than I do) is this: Be naive. You can’t lose if you put blind faith in yourself. You all know I hate losing, so if I’m saying this…

Believing you can’t fail may seem like you’re setting yourself up for crushing disappointment, but it’s a wonderful place to begin. Self-doubt and the knowledge that you will never be good enough comes later, when your beta readers rip your heart out, or the rejections from countless agents come flying to your inbox.

Begin naive, you can’t fail.

Road Trip Wednesday: #161 What’s in a name?

rtwRoad Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

 This Weeks Topic: The list of top baby names in 2012 had us talking about naming characters. How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?

I have always loved the meaning of names. Not because my name has the most awesome meaning. Rebekah means, almost everywhere you look, “to bind“, although the link I’ve included does try to improve the connotation a little bit. I’ve accepted this over the years. When I was pregnant with my son, there was never another name option other than Samuel. Samuel means “God heard”. He did hear when he gave me Sam, so it fits.

Naming characters in my writing is a different process, for me. The name of a character isn’t always a choice, or something I plot out. I tend to get a name stuck in my head in the early incarnation of the idea, and getting it unstuck is nearly impossible later on.

As the character develops, the name begins to feel like a part of their identity. Sometimes the name meaning turns out to be  ordained, connected to who that character is or what they represent in the story. I love when this happens organically. I also love when I begin to understand the character more because of their name. When you meet people in life, they introduce themselves to you with a handshake. You see shades of who they are, you know pieces of what their life has been, and you know their name. Over time, you get to know a person better and their name becomes synonymous with who they are to you. My relationship with my characters is very much this way.

In the case of my novel, some of my characters names are not actual names at all. This is always a fun thing to have happen because it feels like you’ve discovered something no one else could, and you’ve gone to a place truly separate from the framework of your own world.

There are different kinds of writers out there, this is true of every art form. I’m the kind who doesn’t plan much, at least not in the first draft. I don’t always know who a character is, or is going to become. I don’t always expect the character to turn out the way they do. I think this makes my discovery of the movements in my work a lot more exciting for me. It also means I have to do a lot of  revisions. That’s fine, I’ve accepted this is my writing personality and it will never change. Just like I’ve accepted I don’t really have any power over how my characters are named.

To Prologue or Not? (And other thoughts.)

Sometimes my brain, my plot, and the route to a decision, look like this.

During this last revision process I began to think a lot more about the techniques of storytelling I was employing in my manuscript. In the first draft — which I completed in May 2012— there was no prologue, however there was a brief and vivid flashback which ran rather long. I had this idea that if I did a prologue I would be taking the easy way out, doing something I was seeing in a lot of YA fiction I was reading. I wanted to find a new way to give this aspect of the story to the reader.

In my second draft — which I completed in late July — I wrote a brief prologue. I was never satisfied with it, but it felt necessary. I felt trapped by this convention, a feeling I really hate. For that draft though, there were other, more pressing issues to address.

Come around to the third revision — which I completed in the first weeks of October — and I found myself at a crossroads. Something about the prologue (I couldn’t tell you, maybe the tone?) felt wrong. I couldn’t help it. It read well, it operated as a prologue should operate, but I found myself dissatisfied.

In the midst of this dilemma, I was also trying to steer the novel away from comparison to a certain massive trilogy many of us love and read. The reason for this was twofold: 1) The comparison was being drawn because of setting, and 2) No one needs to try to live up to that. One of my readers helped me understand, in her very brilliant teenage way, just what was doing this in the early pages of the manuscript. Thankfully, I was happy to listen to her critique. (An aside, finding really awesome readers is maybe the most important thing about revising efficiently.)

Solving my prologue issue as well as the unwanted comparison problem turned out to have one and the same solution. I reworked the lay-out of the book and added a world-building scene to set the tone I was looking to set. Now, will there always be comparison’s we don’t want from readers and critics and people who read what other readers and critics say? Yes. Will I ever be utterly satisfied with every decision I make as a writer? Not likely. Can I accept both of those things? With a healthy dose of petulance, maybe, and a full glass of wine, maybe more.

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

— Stephen King, On Writing

In the end, I hope future readers will manage to see beyond the imperfections that are unavoidable, to the great stuff inside. I believe in my story, my characters, and the world in which they reside. I have done my best to convey that. Now I have to wait to see if I’m right.

And…done!

Last Tuesday afternoon I had the immeasurable pleasure of texting both my agent friend and my husband (who had already returned to New York) that my revisions were finished. A whole bunch of Awesome! and Wow, well done! followed. Then the panic set in. What had I done? I finished!!!!!!!!!! My OCD rose up and began to line-edit (again!) and beg for mistakes, work needed, moments with my characters to fill me up until I begin the sequel. All of these things are, of course, completely unnecessary. There will still be work because I am not a copyeditor, an editor, or my agent friend. I am just the lowly, obsessed author with a brain that won’t be still.

Today, after reveling in my rechecking, I sent my manuscript to my agent friend for a read. I’ve been spiraling since, and excited. Revisions are a funny friend. They make you feel like you are losing your mind, lost in your own world and out of control. This revision has seen me scrutinizing every scene to the last word, asking myself the hard question that no writer wants to ask: is this moving the plot forward? My answer was sometimes no, and sometimes for scenes I truly, absolutely loved.

I have had the question asked, over the last month of revisions, what is my next step?  My simple and untempered answer is: I don’t know. I have ideas, a swirl of ideas in a brain filled full. I have plans, and hopes, and scope, but I can’t tell you the order. I can’t be in control of that and I am utterly grateful for that fact. For now, I sit in a place of completion. This revision feels like a real end. And I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh here (only sub in my manuscript and a glass of wine):

RTW # 150 — There is a season, turn, turn, turn

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This weeks topic is: How does your writing (place, time, inspiration) change with the seasons?

First, I want to say I had a wonderful time at the Austin Teen Book Fest and will try to do a post about it by the end of the week. Look forward to that!

Now on to the question. I like this question. I have always been highly susceptible to change in weather. When it’s sunny, I feel happy. When it’s gray, I feel introspective and gloomy. When it’s cold I imagine myself burrowing into a cave like a bear and emerging with a renewed vision come spring (also thinner because I’ve been hibernating and not eating). I love the colors of fall, and the romance of winter, and the clarity of spring, and the laziness of summer.

When I began working on my novel — exactly one year ago this week — fall was upon New York City. Fall in the northeast is a rhapsodic time. Poems can (and have) been written about it. Painters flock to the city and the surrounding land to capture the brilliance, this tangible proof that beauty can and always will be possible. The world is transformed, by leaves aglow from light like fire, by softened sunlight, or even by the reemergence of sweaters, stockings, and little wool caps.

I was very influenced when creating my world by the atmosphere of fall. I still am. My book takes place in late fall in a woods much like you would find sprawling across New England. Even as winter, spring, and summer have come and gone since I’ve been writing, in my mind I’ve tried to hold on to autumn.

So, I guess, to answer the question completely: I am not very influenced at all. I carry a season around with me as long as the project lives in that season. My manuscript is over 300 pages, but still it is just barely winter when it ends. As I come to the end of these revisions (my third round) I also come to the beginning of fall. Full circle, maybe even completion.


I’m the Map!

Map-Maker, Map-Maker, make me a map, build me a world, ink it all out!

Or draw it with a Wacom tablet and map-making software. Whatever, I just need one.

Today, after avoiding any tactile pre-writing, plotting, or the like, I finally broke down and bought myself a sketch pad. Now, I cannot stress to you how very poor an artist I truly am. I generally avoid graphite and paper without lines. (Who am I kidding? I generally avoid paper and pens, even the erasable kind.) In my manuscript there is a point where a map is presented to the protagonist. This map is described, in some detail, by the protagonist as she lays out the boundaries and scope of her journey.

I needed a visual of this map. My husband is an artist, both fine and of the tech-variety, but I am not. He may someday, should it become necessary, make me a map that looks way prettier and shinier than my own crude version. But my own version, for the purposes of storytelling and needing to make sure the image in my head is the image written in the manuscript, will do just fine.

Now, you are probably hoping for a the scanned sketch. Sorry, again, I am neither artistic nor super tech savvy. We are also in Texas where we have no printer/scanner/mind-reading devices at our present disposal, so my assurance that I have made a map and it is pretty bad will have to be enough. For now. When my book is published, I hope there will be a beautiful, clear and not-at-all smudged with my fingerprints map included in Chapter Seven where she (protagonist) first sees it herself.

Until then, here are some fun maps of fictional worlds that my map in no way resembles. Enjoy!

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Thumper

I realize I’ve been a little quiet the last week, which is unusual for me. I have been in Texas since last Saturday working on revisions and proofreading the revisions I have finished. It’s been exhausting and exhilarating. Why Texas? I am originally from the Lonestar State, and both sets of grandparents live in our former hometown. It’s a great place to occupy my son while I am pushing through to finish my novel. I am pushing through everything right now. Through my tired eyes. Through my aching shoulder. Through the other things I could be doing, and the missing my New York apartment and my sweet son who is happily engaged with his family.

Mostly, I am pushing through self-doubt. I think this is a normal emotion to struggle with in the face of rewrites, and the finish line. I had it nicely boxed up inside the corner of my mind reserved for those sorts of thoughts (my weight insecurities and parenting shortcomings also live there) until yesterday. Yesterday I had an experience I would rather not elaborate, but only say, I began to fear my own talent, the positive feedback I’d received from multiple sources, and the truth that I really, really believe this book is worth publishing.

The reason I will not elaborate is I refuse to be one of those people who wears their heart on their sleeve. I refuse to express my anger and frustration at an individual person in a blog that can be read by anyone. I think someone should put this person in line, but I will not be the girl to do it.

I will, however, be the girl to tell you that you can never allow one asshole’s opinion to affect you for more than a glass of wine and a good cry. I do think you should have that glass of wine and good cry, that is super healthy and smart. But after that, and I mean right after, get your ass up and keep moving. Remember what you know to be true. Remember that you can never please everyone. When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me — with her hands on my shoulders: “If everyone likes what you’re doing then you’re doing something wrong.” She was also the one to encourage me to remember what Thumper’s mother said: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I am still reminding myself of this today.

I am remembering it as I tell you to forget critics and remember only true critique. I am remembering it as I curse those who think they know more than Jesus, and may know a lot, but who can still be blind and foolish enough to make asinine statements in an offhand way. Those people are invited to bite me. I do realize that was not something nice to say and have chosen to say it anyway.

I think you have to find kindreds in your life and remember not everyone will be one. Not everyone is super creative or good at knowing their own mind. Some must be told what they like. Those are the ones who followed the popular girls around school and who now ride the coattails of someone else’s brilliance. There is need for those kind of people in life. I will readily admit that. I will also readily admit that I really, really don’t care to be one of them. But that is sort of off point. I am trying to be edifying.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you too wrestle with self-doubt, remember that self-doubt can cripple you into never putting yourself out there. Don’t let it. Let it wash over you and remind you of your self-confidence, your self-worth, and your uniqueness. (Have a glass of wine and cry, too, if you like that sort of thing.)

Road Trip Wednesday: #144

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This Week’s Topic is: Inspired by Stephanie Perkins’ post on Natalie Whipple’s blog, what is your novel’s “Love List”?

I had to go read the post (as if they were twisting my arm, or something) to understand what this question meant. Once I did, I realized two things:

  1. This is a brilliant idea, it’s also something I have done mentally since my first draft without ever putting a name to what I was doing.
  2. I am now following this authors blog. My blogroll grows again.

So, you may or may not want clarification, but I’ll give you some anyway. As Stephanie says in her post, the “Love List” is a list of things that remind why you love you WIP and why should keep pressing forward to make it what you in your heart believe it can be. It’s like a Pro’s list about your book. It’s also a guide to the strongest parts of your book, and can help you focus when you lose your way in rewrites. The “Love List” is your breadcrumbs home.

So, here is my “Love List” for my Manuscript (or what I can say without giving too much away):

A field of Poppies

Fur

Hands

Velvet

The silent child

Moonshine

The Way of the West

Poaching

A beautiful, lopsided face

The smell of her blood

Telling a secret

Lamplight

The Forest

Dangerous kisses

That was fun. Hmm…it also makes me miss my Manuscript, which is just minimized in my dock. I think I’ll open it, just to be close to them.

A Quandary in Exposure

Image by mikerigel

There’s an issue that’s been weighing on me lately, one that I think may or may not press on the minds of other writers seeking publication. It’s something I wonder about, I question, and then I throw out the window to hopefully see it splat against the wall because that’s how annoying I find this issue.

The issue? What people learn about you when they read a novel you wrote, and how much you cannot control the perception of you created by that novel and its moral or world view.

I think this accompanies the reality that when we write, the very cultivation of the words digs into our soul and pulls pieces out. I think this part is freaky and also exciting. It comes from the same part in us that rubber-necks alongside a car wreck and secretly smiles when a celebrity is arrested. It’s that kind of morbid fascination we have with pushing our boundaries, social or otherwise. It also lets us get to know ourselves and our world better, which is good, though can be a little embarrassing. But when you are writing in the hope of being published, this excavating also reveals the bones of the author to the reader (critics, friends, and bullies, alike) and that is the part that makes us recoil.

I recently did some work on my manuscript. Some necessary exposition, so to speak. This work will appear largely in the first third of the book. It deals in an aspect of the protagonists backstory that I have fought with putting in for every rewrite up to this point. I have lost the fight. My agent friend, in her editorial feedback, wanted to see this particular experience is technicolor. I wanted to hide from this particular experience. I wanted to hide from it, and yet I could neither change it nor make it less gut-wrenching.

This fact made me feel immediately exposed, like I am in front of a camera with noonday sun overhead. Whenever you write anything, it comes from a place in you. Either a place where you have been , or a truth you understand. We cannot be separate from our words, and therefore, when our words are read by others we cannot pretend it comes from a foreign place. It doesn’t. And owning that is what make this so hard. It’s also what makes it so rewarding for the reader.

Road Trip Wednesday

Wednesday, which means it the day to Road Trip with YA Highway. Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and we bloggers link back with our response.

This weeks question, and it’s a good one, is: What music has been your summer soundtrack?

Now, my summer soundtrack consists of the music I listen to when I write. Writing music is a funny animal. It’s music I like, but can’t be distracting, and it has to evoke the mood I am trying to convey in my words. I have listened to a wide variety of stuff — from instrumental film soundtracks, to pop, to moody bluegrass. Here are just a few examples, courtesy YouTube.

 

You get the idea. The mood and tone of my manuscript is not entirely heavy, but the intensity with which she is pursued and with which she must battle is akin to the crashing symbols and abandon of these singers. I used Spotify to make playlists, as well as have access to way more music than I have in my iTunes. Spotify is good for us as writers because the possibilities are limitless, as long as we always remember to support the artists beyond the easy listening of the internet. Uploading these videos got me distracted, what was I doing?— oh, yes, a make-me-gag-synopsis.