Thursday, October 29, 2009

What is it About?, or, What I learned at the Retreat

When I go to conferences or retreats or workshops, I believe that if I learn One Thing that will help me (even at cooking lessons or art classes) in the future, then the event was worth my time.

So at the end of my wonderful weekend near Waco (Valley Mills is about 25 miles NW of Waco, but it's not alliterative), we had a session of "What did you learn at the retreat this weekend?" I honestly don't remember what everybody else said. Maybe by the time I get to the end of the blog, I will. There were only four of us left by Sunday morning--that's all that stayed the night, so it's not that much for me to remember. You would think it wouldn't be difficult. But I've slept since then. Several times. Anyway...

What I learned at the retreat: You Have To Keep Your Focus on What The Story Is About.

During our critique sessions, and our plotting sessions especially, the group kept going off on tangents, and someone (often me) would have to get us back on the point.

Over the years, I have been on a lot of committees. Committees have a bad tendency to go off track and start talking about--all kinds of silly things that have nothing to do with why the committee is meeting. I don't like to sit around at meetings for hours on end. I want to get the business done and move on. I have spent a lot of time in meetings going "Okay, so we're going to have a booth at the Fourth of July celebration, and its going to be the library's used book sale, right? What other fundraisers do we want to do?" when the meeting got off on those little tea cakes Frances brought to the luncheon... I'm big on moving things along.

During the retreat, I found myself going: "Okay, so what's this book about? Is it a romance? A mystery? A post-apocalyptic adventure? What?" (You try saying 'post-apocalyptic' three times fast. Ain't easy, is it?) Not to move things along, but to be sure I was properly critiquing the material. If you don't know what it's supposed to be, it's hard to make sure that's what you're reading.

When we were plotting--we worked on three different stories for three people--we had discussions on "what is the main plot, and what is the B-plot." One of the stories was like "Twilight" in that she wanted the main plot to be the romance, but had a suspense plot with a bad guy as the subplot. Except when we were plotting we kept coming up with ideas for the subplot.

How the bad guy would find out about the heroine. How the heroine would feel about the death in the story. It was almost like we wanted to do that plot more than the main plot--and we would have to get off the subplot tangent and go back to the main plot. How would the author show the budding romance between her victimized heroine and her cop hero? Then someone would say something like--"Oooh, but what if she has a gun? And the hero sees her gun, and runs a trace on it. And--and--" and we'd get sucked right back into that suspense subplot. Which played off the main plot and pushed it forward--but wasn't the main plot.

I kept coming back to "But what's the story about? What kind of story is it?"

Brainstorming a plot is sort of like plotting by committee. All ideas are welcome. It's the author's job to decide which ideas she likes. It's the author who has to keep control, who has to know What Kind Of Story It Is, and maintain a focus on that, on what he wants the story to be about. Whether you create an extensive chapter-by-chapter plot outline, a quick one-page list of plot points, or just start writing without much more than an idea of how the story will end, it's important to remember What The Story Is About.

This, actually, is why I have my one-page outline to write from. Because in my past--I think it still lives in my file cabinet--I have a historical romance that I wrote before I learned this lesson. I call it my 600-page octopus, because it's at least that long, and it goes off on as many tangents as an octopus has arms. (or more) I kept forgetting what the story was about, and sticking in this adventure, or this mini-romance, or that complication. That story grew, and grew, and grew, and got absolutely nowhere. I didn't maintain focus.

It has taken me a while to learn that I am so easily distracted by every shiny story bauble that floats by, I MUST have that outline so that I can maintain that focus on What This Story Is About. Otherwise, I'll end up writing some other story. Or no story at all, but another octopus. You may need some other tool to help you maintain focus, or you may not need any tool at all, if you're a fly-into-the-mist, seat-of-the-pants writer. (I am in awe of you types.)

The important thing to take away is that novels are really long. They take a long time to write, and it can be easy to get distracted. In order to get from the beginning, all the way to the end, you have to keep in mind What The Story Is About.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Retreats for Writers

Or maybe it was a Treat for Writers.

I went on my annual pilgrimage to Valley Mills with my writer friends for the Heart of Texas writers' retreat.

The place we go isn't fancy. There are cobwebs in the rafters, and the floor slopes across the back room from the bathroom to the back door. There are 3 bunk beds, providing room for 6 to sleep, and a double bed at one end of the front room. (There's a kitchen at the other end.) There is no heat unless you light the propane heater--and we didn't light it. It got COLD that first night...but warmed up later. My friend Belinda and I went out a day early because we both had the day off. And it was wonderful.

There'd been a lot of rain lately, so the tank (man-made pond, for you non-Texans) right behind the cabin had water running into it, and out of it--into a pretty good-sized waterfall not too far away. Lots of limestone makes for lots of waterfalls. When there's enough water to fall. This was the first time the tank's been full enough to have a good-sized creek running out of it, and the water sang to us the whole time we were there.

We critiqued my synopsis (B came up with the perfect last line for it.) We wrote our morning pages. Belinda and I are going through The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron together, and we were bad. We wrote our morning pages together, and we kept stopping to talk. It took us a couple of hours to finish. By the time we went into town for lunch and got back to the ranch, the other participants were starting to show up.

Friday night, we had 7 there by the time everyone got off work and came out. We ate sandwich for supper. (One great BIG sandwich in a ring, we cut into sections. We ate that sandwich a couple of days.) We critiqued the chapters of the people who sent them--four of us. We talked plot for the chapters we critiqued. I got too loud.

Four of us spent the night, one more came back around 10:30 a.m. And we did some writing drills--the ones where you take an assortment of items out of a bag and write a scene that includes all of the items. We plotted stories for me and another lady. B and I walked around the tank and down where we could see the waterfall from the front side. Sort of. Then we jumped the creek to get back. I took off my shoes and socks, in case I fell in. I didn't have walking shoes, and I almost slid out of the backs of my clogs climbing the back side of that tank, because clogs don't have backs.

We spent some time writing on our own stuff. B and Diana (the middle person in this second picture--Belinda is on the right and Shelley on the left) went into town to get Diana some water, and brought back pizza for supper. After supper, we watched the movie "Twilight" and then analyzed its plot points. We used the plotting method from the Save the Cat book by Blake Snyder, and found it interesting that the main plot was the romance between Edward and Bella, and the subplot was the bad vampires. Most movies are the other way round. We talked writing until midnight or so, and it felt like we'd hardly got started.

Of course, after sleeping 3 nights on those bunk beds-- they weren't bad, but they weren't the best beds in the world either-- we weren't exactly looking our best. Belinda did not want her picture taken. I haven't seen all the pictures taken of me. I'm hoping I can cut myself out of the worst ones... Yes, I forgot to take my camera. I forgot my sleeping bag--you think I'd remember my camera? (The beds had clean sheets and blankets that worked just fine.) I remembered all the critiques I'd printed out, and my notebook for the morning pages. The important stuff. (Also my toothbrush and blow dryer.)

Sunday, we got up and did some other exercises, then cleaned up, threw away our trash, divvied up the remaining groceries (I got the Fritos, a package of bagels and the blueberry cream cheese), hugged everybody good bye and went home again. We're going to try to do this again in the spring, so we can have a spring and a fall retreat, more than just once a year.

So now my synopsis is fixed, my partial's been critiqued, and I'm printing it out to send off to the agent. I really like retreating... :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Worst Sky Rat: Seagull, Pigeon, Grackle??

Okay. So, I went walking out by the water today. It was a rather surfy morning with lots of wind and birds (royal tern, snowy egret, cormorants, pelicans, willets, first ring-beaked gull of the season, as well as herds and flocks of laughing gulls), and I saw these ladies feeding the gulls.

As I walked nearer, more gulls arrived. They were flying over from--from miles away, or it seemed like it. The gulls already present didn't seem to be making much noise. No cries other than the usual, from what I could tell, and not many of those. And I decided that seagulls must have telepathy.

There must be some extrasensory sense they use to tell each other when somebody's throwing food. Because there might be One seagull when the first breadcrumb gets pitched, and dozens mass out of nowhere to fight over it.

I'm pretty sure these ladies aren't local. Most of the locals are not fond of seagulls. They're too much of a nuisance to want to feed them. There are a few locals who will feed seagulls. The matriarch of a local restaurant kingdom used to feed the seagulls from the balcony of the hotel next to their flagship restaurant. There's a statue in the restaurant of her, or someone, feeding gulls. There's a story going round (I don't know how true it is) that she died falling from the balcony while feeding the gulls. But let's leave that depressing digression and return to my next thought.

Which was: Which is the worst nuisance? Pigeons, grackles or seagulls?

They are all known for gathering in great swarms. They are all known for pooping on everything in range. Frequently, with great disgustingness and stench. But which one is the worst of the sky rats?

My vote goes to grackles.

Seagulls? They're stuck by large bodies of water. They have webbed feet , so they can't sit in trees and poop on the cars parked under them. (Take note, director of 300 where a seagull sits on a spear--not possible. Webbed feet can't grasp a spear!) Their cries aren't that annoying. Laughing gulls have a lower pitched cry than other gulls, so it's less annoying than those others. They're also smaller birds, as gulls go, so they don't poop as much as the big herring gulls. Also, I haven't seen them sitting on the beach in groups larger than, oh, maybe 30 or so. Mostly less.

Pigeons have a wide range. We have pigeons on the beaches. Sometimes. They do sit in trees and on statues and stuff, and I think there may be a pigeon ESP as well, because they seem to gather instantly when somebody starts throwing bread crumbs. But they don't seem to gather in flocks as large as the grackles. Also, they're edible. And they coo. Nice, soft, cuddly-sounding coos.

Grackles? They're as big as pigeons, beak to tail, but they're skinny. No meat on their bones. And they collect in flocks that can take over whole city parks. Thousands of birds. We took this picture in February/March (around Mardi Gras). The power lines are not that thick. There are birds along every line, and they're all over the lines across the street, and along the rooflines, and in the trees (there aren't many) and Everywhere. Massive, Alfred-Hitchcock-worthy flocks.

Besides all the pooping and gathering and flocking, grackles do not coo. They do not tweet or chirp or cheep. They Screech. Like nails on a blackboard. Literally. And they clack. Sort of like a 3 Stooges "Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk," but louder. And more clacky. And then they screech again. Endlessly. Back and forth at each other in their ginormous flocks.

If I have to have grackles, or pigeons, or seagulls, I will take seagulls. If I can't have seagulls, I'll take pigeons. If only I do not have to deal with grackles. Unfortunately, on the island, we have all three. Sigh.

Oh. I took a picture of a little sand crab too. It was very cool. I almost didn't see it, it's so tiny, and so close to the same color as the sand. Can you see it in the middle of the picture? It's casting a pretty big shadow. The whole thing, from one end of its little legs to the other, is about the size of my thumb, to give you a size comparison. I only spotted it (and the other, smaller one I saw) because they were running across the sand. Back to their holes, maybe.

I did write today. I got all the way to the end of the action in the synopsis. I now need to write the emotional denouement. I am not sure what it will be. I also pretty much left all the romance plot out of the synopsis. I'm trying to lean harder to one way or the other in SF or romance. I do pretty much half and half, most of the time. I can write the romance in the story, but I'm having trouble writing it into the synopsis. It's like--the romance happens while they're doing this other stuff. We'll see how it works. Maybe this story is the other way round. Ah well.

So--what's your vote? Grackles? Pigeons? Seagulls? Which is the worst nuisance???

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Intuitive Writing Process

I've taken part recently in a discussion (I read the blog, read all the comments and made a comment of my own--and now can't remember where it is...and Google isn't spitting it up) about whether becoming a writer had destroyed my ability to read as a reader. I contend that it mostly has not. Because it hasn't.

Part of that, I think, is because I'm a very fast reader. The other part, however, has to do with--I think--the fact that I honestly don't have any idea how I write. I'm not a very structural writer. More intuitive.

No, I do not sit down and just write. I have to have a semblance of a plot outline before I can really jump into the story and get where I want to go. I think this is because I am so VERY disorganized and--well, intuitive--in the way I write, that if I don't have that minimal amount of structure--a road map, or point-to-point guide--I can't get anywhere.

But when I'm reading my own stuff, I don't necessarily know what's wrong with it. I can usually tell when something's reading slow, and I need to thin it out. Or cut it entirely. But I'm not real good at analyzing scenes--especially when I'm in the middle of writing them. I just write what feels like needs to be there.

It's possible I'm more analytical than I realize I am. I do remember writing dialogue scenes and having to stop and go back, because I didn't get some information in that I wanted revealed, or the characters didn't say what I wanted them to say. Sometimes, I stop and rearrange all the dialogue, because it doesn't lead logically from one thought to another. (dialogue doesn't always, but I do try to keep the non-sequiturs to a minimum.) And sometimes, I cut stuff out, because Somebody already said that once. Or twice. And yes, this happens on the first draft through.

Anyway, I think this relates to my ability to still read as a reader. Sometimes I stumble over things--misused words, or historical anachronisms--but if it's a good story, it's not much of a stumble. I keep flying through. Then at the end of the book, I have to stop and think "Okay, what did I really think about that book." Because sometimes, I reach the end with the feeling that something is just a bit off, or maybe a lot off, and I have to think about why.

I'm in the middle of a book right now, which I have been enjoying less and less as i've gotten deeper into it, and I can tell you exactly why. It's depressing. In the beginning of the book I was willing to give the characters some slack, if they were maybe a little too mean, too callous, too selfish to really like them. There were other, more likeable characters to follow. But then the author killed off the decent characters, had others fall apart, let the roguish character go a little too roguish, and let the bad guys loose to be really, really bad.

I know he's doing the "dark before the dawn" thing--but I'm only on about p. 1782 (out of 3345--it's on my Sony reader, and I have the print turned up to medium-this is a really LoNG book), and there's a lot of dark ahead of me, and there's only one character left I even sort of like. I'm not sure I have enough reason to finish it. Especially since it's science fiction, and thus no happy ending guaranteed.

This is why I read, and write romance. Because the characters are likable, and there's a happy ending.

Another Travelogue

I did have an idea for something to write in this blog last night...and of course, now that it's morning, I've forgotten every idea I ever had. Sigh.

Maybe if I put on my computer glasses... Yes, I have a separate pair just for working at the computer. Trifocals would just divide up my bad vision that much more...

Nope. Doesn't help. So you will get another travelogue, because I am now home from San Francisco, fixing to head out again (Yes. FIXING TO. I am a Texan. Deal with it.)

So. We ate our way across San Francisco and Sausalito. Went with a group of fellow Galvestonians to Muir Woods to see the redwoods. Wow. If I knew where the camera was, I would download pictures and post them. But it's in the fella's briefcase, and that sucker has so many compartments and booby traps, I'm afraid to go hunting for it. (The camera, not the briefcase. Though I'm not sure where that is either.)

We went on a small bus, because the large ones won't fit on the road that goes down into the canyon where Muir Woods National Monument is. The only road I've been on that compares, in terms of twisty hairpin curves and vertical drops was in Norway. Even Independence Pass, across the Continental Divide in Colorado, does not compare. And our bus driver drove like a bat out of Hades. And we were in the very back seats on the bus, thumping up and down and swaying and almost flying out of our seats with every curve and pothole. It was rather like a rollercoaster. Only without safety bars. Though on the way down, I was wedged in pretty tight--the seats barely had room for my knees...

But the trees were amazing. And the creek was picturesque. We even saw a 10-point black-tailed buck. Cool.

We ate fish & chips in Sausalito for lunch. We rode the ferry across the bay and watched some stunt pilots in the air show. There were so many pleasure boats out on the water (both sail & motor) I'd swear you could walk from Fisherman's Wharf to Alcatraz stepping from one boat to another. There was probably more room than that between them, but it looked that close. We went looking for a balcony to watch the rest of the air show (It was Fleet Week, and the Blue Angels were supposed to perform.) and wound up eating again. I had ice cream. With very delicious chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.

Then we walked further down Fisherman's Wharf to find another "better" view of the Blue Angels--except they called off the show on account of fog and wind. Oh well. So we went and sat outside a pub where they were watching the Texas-Colorado game inside. These were mostly Colo. fans. (Oh well.) And I was freezing. I pretty much froze the entire time I was in San Francisco. Except when I was inside the MoMA and had to take off my jacket. The rest of the time, I was cold.

Eventually, we worked our way back to the hotel. And went out for Chinese food for supper. We were going to go to the Irish Pub down the street first, but they were so slammed, we never got waited on. (And I wanted to have a cider. Darn.) So we left. And that was our eating adventure.

When I got hungry the next day, I wasn't sure if I was really hungry, or just so used to being stuffed to the gills, it felt strange when I wasn't...

I have thought nothing about writing. I have done my morning pages. Except for today. Drat. Better go do that. I had the notebook out, but... I'm being very bad.

Still have a few more things to do before I can leave to check on parents. Like buy gas for the vehicle. I'll get there. I think I'm going to have to start going up to go to all doctor appointments with them. I wonder if I can get Daddy on that Alzheimer's medicine. I'm not sure that's what Mama has, but I think that's my Daddy's problem. We'll talk about it.

Friday, October 09, 2009

My Heart Isn't the Only Thing in San Francisco

All of me is here. I am currently sitting on the 18th floor of a hotel near Union Square, piddling around on the fella's laptop. I was thinking I would have a really long blog post to write when I get home...and realized (duh!) that I had a computer. With Internet access. I can write a not-so-long blog post Now. So I am.

I was going to work on my science fiction romance synopsis, and when I got the folder out of my red bag, I realized that I did not manage to stick in the page where I'd worked out the plot. I put in the form I made for the Hero's Journey plotting--but I hadn't filled in any of the blanks on that one. I sort of remembered what I had in mind, so I got about 3 sentences written. But I wanted a bigger finale than what I could recall of my plot ideas. And I kind of decided my main idea really wouldn't work. So I got out the Tarot cards and did a GMC spread and that gave me an idea or two. I think I sort of know how I can spice things up some.

So that was yesterday morning. I went out for lunch, then walked down to the Museum of Modern Art, since that was one of my "goals" for the trip--to visit an art museum. I got there just in time to join the lecture on the special exhibit of Richard Avedon photography, so that was all good. It was very interesting. And I got to see the other exhibits--some Matisse and other paintings & sculptures. There was a very interesting one titled "Bridge" that was done as part of the WPA in the Depression, and now I can't remember who did it. But it got "assigned" to the MOMA as part of the project. I liked that one a lot. Liked a lot of the art, actually, but that one made a big impression.

I often set goals for my trips. Things I want to see in a place. The last time I was in San Francisco, last summer, I had one afternoon to do sightseeing, so my goal was just to see Something. I walked to Chinatown. (Nearly killed me, climbing those hills.) This time, I wanted to go down to Fisherman's Wharf (twice so far), ride the cable cars, actually see the bridge, and maybe get out of the city a little bit.

When we went to Europe--Many years ago--I wanted to: 1. See a WWII resistance museum; 2. See some crown jewels. 3. See a Medieval castle. We saw a whole lot more stuff than that, but I did get to see those three things. We saw the Danish crown jewels in Rosenborg palace in Copenhagen. And the WWII rsistance museum in Oslo is in a 13th century castle, Akershus, whch was used as Gestapo headquarters during the occupation of Norway. It helps to have goals, I think. :) (Yes, I am a Virgo. So is the fella.)

And then I walked back from MoMA and succumbed to the temptation of going into the Britex Fabrics store. I haven't done any sewing since we moved to Galveston, but I am still a sucker for beautiful fabrics, and of course, they had their most beautiful there on the first floor. I wouldn't let myself go to any of the other 3 floors--I probably would have gone into a coma. And I managed to limit myself to buying only One Yard of a beautiful Chinese green/black/gold brocade. I will make a cushion of it. Or if it doesn't go in either my bedroom OR my den, I'll make a vest. Yes, I am a fabric junkie.

Got back to the room, & went with the fella and a bunch of the folks with us to Scoma's on the waterfront. We rode the cable car over, which was fun, but COLD. I am a wussy Gulf Coast Texan. It was very warm and even more humid when we left town. And it's in the 60s For The High temp here (I'm not converting to C because I'm on the flla's computer & he doesn't have the website bookmarked), which means it's colder most of the time. I brought jackets and long sleeves, but my ears and hands got cold. Frankly, I'm spending a fair bit of the time Freezing.
(Typos are Not my fault. I'm hitting the keys, but this keyboard is apparently finicky. Must not be holding my mouth right, or something.)

Anyway, we went to eat at this wonderful seafood restaurant which everyone told us was wonderful--and it was. Absolutely Delicious. I had swordfish--which I had never had before, but there is no seafood I do not like--except for oysters, and yes, I have tried them. I keep trying periodically, but still me and oysters do not mix. I knew I would like the swordfish--and it was indeed wonderful. We have eaten at many wonderful places. Had Italian food (veal scallopini in sambucco-cream sauce) at Venticello last night. Excellent. Fella had shrimp/scallop risotto. He had shellfish saute last night. We get excellent seafood at home. Really. It's not like we don't get a chance to eat it normally. We just like seafood. Going for more tonight. I'm not really a "foodie," but I do appreciate the chance to eat yummy food. (Which is undoubtedly why I look the way I do. Sigh.)

One of the ladies in the group had spent yesterday shopping. I have only been to the one fabric store, and to the store at the MOMA. (Bought a very cool trinket box. Not sure how I will get it home tho...) Since the fella is skipping out on his conference this afternoon, maybe we'll do a little shopping then. My thing it--I don't see any reason to shop in stores I can shop in at home... We have a Macy's. We do not have an Asian Arts Center. So--

I brought my watercolors to try and paint a little, but with my afternoon being preempted, I suppose I won't get the chance. Oh well. I tried.

I do not have a camera on my cell phone. It's VERY basic, and really stupid, and definitely not a 3G phone. More like .5G. Anyway, when we get home, and I can download the pictures we've taken onto my own computer, I will post some. It's time to go hunt for a hamburger...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Write, Write, Write"

There's a debate on the web, about the "just write" advice writers often give each other.

One side says: "Just plant your fanny in the chair and write, whether it's working or not, whether you feel like it or not, no matter what. Don't edit--just write."

The other side says: "If it's not coming, take a break. Read a book. Watch a movie. Take a walk. Write something else. Do other writing-type stuff like marketing. Just don't push it."

And, as usual, I'm one of the people who says "Yes, Exactly!" to both sides. (I've always been one of those "yes" people when asked either/or questions. As in "Do you want chocolate or vanilla?" Me: "Yes, please." or "Can't I have both?")

See, there are times when you just have to power through. Like when there's a deadline. And there are times when you're better off taking a break, because there's something wrong with the story and you have to let your subconscious work on what the problem is.

I think part of the debate comes when people are told "If you don't do this, then you're not a real writer." Which is BAD. Even when we tell it to ourselves. I'm working through Julia Cameron's Artist's Way (and I'm not making a link for that, because I have too much to do as it is--you'll just have to look it up yourself) with my best friend, because she's been doing some of that to herself. Any time someone tells you that you have to write This Way, because otherwise you're doing it wrong, it's BAD. Because it just ain't so.

Your writing goals are Your writing goals. Your process--How You Write--is Your process. I probably do it differently. So does everybody else. And however you do it--if it works for you, then Great! If it doesn't work, well--try something else.

That said--if you want to be a writer, and you're not writing? That's when you have to just Sit Your Fanny In That Chair and WRITE.

If you've been writing, and it's not working? Try something different.

I spent February through mid-July of this past year (as those of you who have read this before know) wrestling mightily with The Book That Became Heart's Magic. I wrote pages and pages and pages of scenes that will not be in the book. They are Good scenes. A little action-heavy, but good. I'm hoping I will get to use them elsewhere with some tweaking. I may not. I wrote them because I had a Sept. 1 deadline and had to get the book done. But I knew something wasn't right. The book just Was Not Coming Together.

Some days I wrote a whole half page. Some days I wrote Nothing. I walked on the beach. I journaled about the issue. I brainstormed and plotted with friends. I visited family and went to writer's conferences and free-wrote and took the dog for walks and read books and watched movies. I fit and fought with the thing--knock-down-drag-out combat. And I wasn't winning. (Not sure who was, but it sure wasn't me.) I kept writing, but writing wasn't all I did. It took me till mid-July and a conversation with my editor before I finally figured out that it was a plot issue, and the issue was that I had way too much. (As I have said before.)

But all of that wrestling and struggle and fighting was not a waste. Since this is the second time I've done it, I will probably try to put way too much plot into a book again, and not figure it out for a while. (The plots of New Blood and Heart's Blood were originally both in New Blood. I realized I had two complete plots about 1/3 of the way through NB.) If I get to write more blood magic books, I already have a plot for one. :) And I think--by the time I did pull my plot together, I knew my characters and world so well, things just flowed.

Of course, when life throws craziness at you, and you can't write because of this issue or that one--whether it's illness or hurricane evacuation (that was Heart's Blood) or a house full of company for two weeks in the middle of the last month before deadline (Heart's Magic...)--It is important to acknowledge that Stuff Happens, and you just can't beat yourself up over it.

The thing is, there's a lot of stuff that's included in the writing process that doesn't necessarily include putting new words on the page. For some people that includes a lot of plotting. For others, that part may be minimal, but they do a lot of revising. It's all writing. It all counts. And as long as you're producing something you are pleased with and that accomplishes your personal goals--it's all good.

Oh--the picture. Did you know that looseleaf notebook paper would go through a printer? Neither did I. I recycled paper from a revision and didn't realize I had looseleaf paper stuck in the middle of some printed pages with my inserts written on it. This page I could read. Most of the others, I had to reprint...

Time for lunch.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Write fast? Write slow?

Seawall mural is looking sadly bedraggled since Ike. Wonder if they'd like volunteers to try to spruce it up...

Anyway. I have taken to checking in at Twitter, and clicking on all the referrals to articles & such until I have a whole row of tabs across the top of my Firefox. And when I have a minute more, I read them all. And now I can't remember which one I read that made me think.

It was an interview with Ron Charles, who is an editor and book critic with the Washington Post and just won an award. He sounded like a fascinating man (especially since they have been trying to find a Romance novel reviewer who doesn't write things like "If you like this kind of crap..."), and I found the interview interesting. But there was one thing that tweaked a few thoughts. I've thought this before, but I don't know that I've blogged about it before. If I have, and you read it, forgive me, and skip down to the beach report.

He mentioned how he tried to be respectful of the fact that the novelist might have poured the past 8 years of his or her life onto the book when he reviewed it. And I got to thinking about a writer's pace of writing.

There are a lot of folks out there who think that a book more slowly written must inevitably be a better book than one written quickly, all subjectivity set aside. I do not agree. Furthermore, I have a sneaking suspicion that if a person takes 8 years to finish a book? They were doing a whole lot of other stuff (most likely a day job) while they were writing that book.

I have a book I'm working on that I have been working on since, oh--1981, or earlier. I'm still not finished with it. But I have not been writing on the book every day of that time. I decided, back in '81 or so, that I did not have the craft and skills to write the book at that time, since it had a complicated plot, would have to be told in flashback, and had a difficult character to write. So I set it aside for about 20 years.

In the intervening time, I have written 5 or 6 books which will never see the light of day. I have written 8 more, which have or will be published by various publishers. It's not like I haven't been writing. I just haven't been actively writing on THAT book.

If I count only the time in which I have been actually writing and researching Thunder in a Cloudless Sky (working title), I've probably been working on it 6 or 7 months.

I don't consider myself a fast writer. I can't whip out a draft in a week. Or even 2 weeks. Or a month. But. I do write an average of 6 pages a day, which is faster than the 1 page a day book in a year that some writers manage. And I don't write multiple drafts. My first draft is pretty darn close to the final version. I might add a scene. More likely I've cut several scenes (I tend to write long.) and reworked it to smooth things out. I've probably cut and smoothed some dialogue. Corrected grammar and typos. Fixed inconsistencies here and there--like changing eye-color, or minor character names. And that's about it. I prefer the "all at once" method.

Still, despite all that, it does not take me 8 years to write a book. Even Thunder, which is a huge book, will not actually take me that much time to write. I posted here last week: it took me 10 weeks, 2-1/2 months, to write 450 pages. And I don't even spend all day writing. I do my composing/drafting in the mornings, then I do other stuff--PR, e-mails, blogging, etc.--in the afternoon. I do it this way because I have found that I tend to fall asleep over the desk if I try to draft in the afternoon. I just have a sinking spell, as my Great Aunt Jessie put it, about that time. So I get those 6 pages written in half a day.

Other award winning authors write faster than I do. Some write slower. The thing is--how you write is how you write. Faster does not necessarily equal better. Nor does slower. Working eight years on a book (or six, as in Dan Brown & The Lost Symbol) does not mean it's going to be a masterpiece. It might be a darn good read. But it might not.

Personally, I think I write better when I write faster, because I keep my head in the story. I'm more immersed in the story world. I do not think about it all the time. I think it's better to shove everything back into the swamp where my stories live, and ignore them, until it's time to pull things out again to go to work. The swamp does a better job, most times, of letting the right stuff bubble up when I need it than if I actively think about it. I might think a little bit if I'm working morning pages a la The Artist's Way, but mostly, I don't. The subconscious is smarter than I am about a lot of things.

In the end, I am still skeptical of those people who claim to write full time for years to produce a single book. I just find it hard to believe they're writing all that time. If I took six years--or five, or two--or even one--to write a book, you can bet that a whole lot of that time would be spent doing other stuff.

I'm not saying it's wrong to write slowly. Your process is your process, just like mine is the weird thing it is. I just have trouble comprehending what they're doing with all that time...

Because, you know, if you write just one page a day, at the end of a year, you have enough pages for a book. I wrote a whole hour & a half today, and got TWO pages. And they were synopsis pages, which, as we all know, counts the same as Four pages of story, because it's twice as hard to write a synopsis...

Beach report: Yep, went out to the beach to walk. Went late, at 9 a.m. instead of 8. Sun was bright and hot, humidity is heavy enough to make the windows of my house sweat all day. Temp about 82 F/28 C, but it felt hotter because of the sun & humidity. The water was pretty surfy today. More waves than we've had lately, white water all the way out past the jetties. The seafoam was white. When I went out Saturday, it was kind of greenish. Weird.

It was still a nice walk. I found a big, pretty shell. Will try to remember to take a pic of it soon. Met a cute little dog. (Did Not take Dolly.) Not many birds out that late, but lots of little crabs were digging the sand out of their holes. Didn't see any cool crab footprints though...

Better go put food on to cook.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Lifelines - or How To Keep Going

The princess wussy dog and I went for a walk this a.m. She makes me walk faster, so I get more out of it. I intended just to walk on the seawall (I have to wear actual shoes when I'm walking with her from the house--too far in flipflops) but she was a good dog--didn't bother any of the people while we were out walking, and she kept looking over the edge of the seawall. She hasn't jumped off since that first time. I imagine the 10-12 foot drop gave her pause. So we went down the stairs and walked back along the water. She was very good then too--did not slip her collar to chase birds and did not upset the small children by going too close. It was a beautiful morning for a walk, cool & breezy. (Cool for Galveston = hot for many other places. It's probably 80F/27C) I threw in this picture of the "Do Not Swim Too Close To the Jetties" signs because I thought they looked festive with their red and yellow floats on the ropes--but you can't really see them in the picture. Oh well.

Walking on the beach is one of the things I really enjoy about living here. We can walk from the house (which we never do with the grandkids, because we don't want them to know just how close it is), or drive up and save the walking up time for beach time. I was going to use that as a segue from talking about my beach walk to talking about lifelines in writing--but I can't figure out quite how to do it. Except that writers have to do non writing things to "fill the well" that the writing comes out of, and walking on the beach is one of the things I do.

Now, I am going to talk about those Lifelines mentioned by Ali Hale. She talked about how lifelines are other people who keep the writer honest. They keep us writing and working toward the goal of finishing a longer work, so that we keep writing those 10 pages a day, or 6 pages, or 2 pages. (There have been times that I struggled just to get a half page written.)

She mentioned writing critique groups, online or in person. And critique groups are great. I belonged to a fabulous group in Waco about 15 years ago, before I moved away from the area. Of the first 5 members, four of us have been published. I do believe in critique groups. The problem is, not everybody can find one where they live. I moved from my small town near Waco (I lived about 30-45 miles (48-73 km) out of town) to an even smaller town in the Texas panhandle, about 60 m (97 km) from Amarillo, the nearest city. No critique groups available. There are online crit groups that work very well for some people. I've never been able to make them work for me, because so far, nobody in any group I've tried to participate with has been consistent in either critiquing or writing. Which kind of defeats the purpose of a lifeline.

See, a lifeline is a form of accountability for those deadlines. When you set your own deadlines, there's no penalty if you don't make them, except maybe guilt, and getting down on yourself. However, if you're producing 10 pages a week for your crit group, and they expect those 10 pages, (we met every other week, and shared 20 pages each time) you work harder to get them done.

That said, a critique group, for all that I love them and would love to have one again, is not the only kind of lifeline there is. The past 3 years, I have had a Goals Coach.

Back in 2006 I took an online class by Gwen Shuster-Haynes on creating a writing career plan for introverts and extroverts through the Kiss of Death mystery/suspense chapter of Romance Writers of America. I got a lot out of this class--I took it, I think, just before my publication contract with the LUNA imprint of Harlequin got canceled, and it really helped me organize myself and keep moving forward. Anyway, one of the things I got was the idea of a goals or career coach.

How this works, or how it's worked for me, is that I teamed up with another person, we wrote down our goals for the week every Monday (or as close to Monday as I could manage), e-mailed them to each other, and then the next Monday, when we e-mailed our next set of goals, checked off what we managed to get done in the last week's goals. My first Coach was Shari Bouillion, (I may have added or left out an I in there) who insisted we work out yearly and quarterly goals with dates. (I tend to be real wishy-washy about dates.) And that we include family, work, writing, and spiritual/personal goals. It's obvious she was MUCH better at this goals coaching thing than I am. We coached each other for over a year, and her life got so complicated, she had to drop out.

I was bereft! I still wrote up my goals every week, and printed them out and stood them up on my lamp where I can see them if I ever get stuck with what else I need to do, but it's not the same if you don't have somebody to be a bit of a nudge. I limped along on my own for a while, when on an e-mail loop I'm on, someone asked about how to keep going through the end. So I did my goals coach pitch on the loop, and asked if anyone was interested, and now we have a 3-way goals coaching group going between myself, Natasha Moore who writes for Red Sage Publishing, and Carol Stephenson, who is one of those right on the verge of publication, that last frustrating phase before you finally make it over that final hump.

Natasha has very short goals lists. She confines hers to just writing. Carol prioritizes hers. She has a Must Finish section--which are not all writing goals--and a Priority 2 section which is "If I have Time & Energy." I put all my goals in one long list, but the ones at the top of the list are top priority, and the ones at the bottom are lower. (I need to move "Exercise" higher on the list!) And it's time to nag them (though usually it's Carol that does it) to post some goals for the last quarter of the year.

We don't critique. We all write Very different things. We write at different paces. Sometimes, we don't post any goals for a week or two. I tend to disappear when we have company (friends & family love to come visit us at the beach). Carol moved house a while back and is still dealing with that. Natasha goes on RV trips. (Jealous!) But we come back when we need to, because it's a way of keeping ourselves on track.

It seems to work best in a smaller group. We could probably add one or two more, but I don't know that I'd go higher than four.

So. There you have it--another kind of lifeline for writers to stay on track. If you have a critique group that's working for you, great! But if you don't, you might try finding one or two other people who can help keep you on track by exchanging weekly goals.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Book Is In - Deadlines

This is what my office looked like right after I finished putting all the revisions into the ms. and e-mailed it to the editor. Do you see anywhere else handy for me to put the pages after I finish putting stuff in??? Neither do I. The floor works. That hump? The one that's not a leg of the chair... That's my purse. It's under there somewhere.

I did pick up all the papers today. The floor looks much better. And HEART'S MAGIC is turned in. On time. Sort of.

I wrote 448 pp. in 10 weeks, with a couple of weeks of lots of company in there. So maybe, it was more like 9 weeks. (I did get some done while they were here. Just not a whole lot.)

Which I guess really leads me back around to my riff on Deadlines.

Deadlines are really helpful. REALLY. If you want to write a story/book/memoir/whatever--and you don't have a deadline? Get one.

I am the world's greatest procrastinator. Just ask the people who know me. Self-imposed deadlines don't work as well on those of us with this issue, but they do help. I would not blog here even the once a week I usually manage if I didn't make it a deadline, that I WILL blog at least Once in a week. Monday is a soft deadline. Friday is the harder deadline--and sometimes I miss that one. But not often.

It's really better if you can get somebody else to give you the deadline. I have a college degree in journalism. That's when I learned about deadlines, and that you really can crank out 500 words in 30 minutes, if you have the information. An hour is better, but it IS possible to do it faster if you have to. Those deadlines that somebody else gives you? Those are the ones you HAVE to make.

On the other hand, sometimes life happens. Or books refuse to gel. This is particularly bad if you have a deadline set by somebody else, and they are counting on having that book. You Need to tell your editor--the somebody else--that there may be issues.

Early in July, I had a bad feeling about The Book That Became Heart's Magic. I was writing and writing, and getting absolutely NOWHERE. It had no structure. Individual scenes were pretty good, but as a whole, it sucked swampwater. So I talked to the agent, who talked to the editor, who said "Sure. We can back the deadline up a month." I figured that would be what it would take to get it nailed down and finished. So I got an extra month, and I needed every bit of it. I got my deadline extended. But I finished it by that deadline.

I have entered contests that required a book to be finished for entry--okay, it was RWA's Golden Heart contest. Once, I entered with a book that was little more than a 5-page synopsis. I took the days left till the entry had to be turned in, divided the pages to be written by the number of days, and figured out how many pages I had to write per day to get it done. (I've been pretty much stuck at 6 pp per day since. I'd really like to get that up...) I'd paid my money. I had to finish the book by that deadline. And I did. (Didn't make the finals. I've Never made the finals in the Golden Heart Contest. Never won an "unpublished ms" contest, either. So you don't have to, to get published. Doesn't hurt, but isn't necessary.) Anyway--contests are another good way to acquire a deadline that is more than just your own "I really need to have it finished by X" because those are really the deadlines that can go whooshing by.

So, yeah. I believe in deadlines. And setting goals and all that kind of stuff. They work.

And next, I will riff on lifelines. Later.