Friday, October 29, 2010

NaNoYeahRiMo

I really wish I could do NaNoWriMo. I wish I could do it in the same way I wish I could push a "pause" button to make life hold on for a bit while I catch up.

The two things are equally realistic for me right now.

I've been reading great posts about NaNoWriMo across the blogosphere, and I'm totally hooked on the excitement buzzing around it and the idea that it could help me kick-start a new writing project and challenge myself. But it'd be torturous, ridiculous, crazy, masochistic, all-around-looney of me to sign up this time around. Not that I'm not a little masochistic with my self-expectations. Just that I do live in the real world, most of the time, and I know how hard it was for me to carve out the time it took to write a novel in eight and a half months. And how hard it is, right now, for me to carve out time to revise said novel.
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I think it would set me back to do NaNoWriMo, not push me forward.

So I'll hold that thought till November 2011. In the meantime, though, I'm thinking about making November my own personal StaNoReMo: Stacey's Novel Revising Month. That's right - revisions complete in 30 short days. Think I can do it? Think I can at least have a fully finished third draft ready for critique, if not ready to query, by the end of next month?

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wait a Minute ... What???

Ahh, the twists and ahh, the turns. They're what make fiction great. They're what make writing fiction great - I love it when a character surprises me.

But I thought I was past all that with the first draft. Because that's where the major plot twists emerge, isn't it? Editing's all about shaping and finessing and fine-tuning, but there aren't any big surprises.

Right?
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I mean, I know how the story ends.

And yet there I was, tapping away at the keyboard, nonchalantly going at revisions when a new twist on an old line just sort of happened. And it changed everything.

And I do mean everything. It changed relationships, it changed intentions, it changed motivations and emotions and reactions. Most importantly, though, it solved a problem I was having with my main character. The way the scene was written before, she sort of fell away, in that moment, from who she was. With that one little tweak - one little errant thought that gets in the way of the action going on - she becomes herself again, and her struggles become more real. It means more work for me as the writer, but that's what revisions are for.

I keep saying this, and it's because it's true: Revising a novel is soooo much harder than writing a novel.

In a way, the whole process parallels life. My characters keep learning and growing and struggling the same way I keep learning and growing and struggling. The big difference is that in the fictional world, I can go in after the fact and dabble with the past. It's pretty cool to have power over a character's emotions plus the ability to go back in time and see what happens when Just That One Moment takes place a little differently.

And that kind of makes you think about life, right? If you'd said that one thing that one time that you instead held back, it might have redirected the entire course of your future..

That's heady stuff.

And again, it's what makes writing fiction great.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Time and a Lack Thereof

Holy cow, where's the past week gone? It feels like I blinked and it flashed by.

Fall pretty much always feels that way around my house. So much happens this time of year - parties, events, sports, etc., etc. I've been running nonstop, and that means I haven't had much of the "me" time it takes to sit at my computer to work on my manuscript or write blog entries. And that's happy and sad at the same time. Happy because it's things like my son's 4th birthday and my husband's lifelong favorite team making the World Series and my freelance career gaining steam that have kept me outside my book. Sad because, well, I'm always sad when I have to spend a prolonged period of time outside my book.

But also happy because every time real life keeps me away from my fiction, I come back to it recharged and raring to go. I might not have opened the manuscript in a few days, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been on my mind. I know when I do get a chance to get back into it (which WILL happen tonight), I'll jump right in, feet-first, with a whole new level of perspective and enthusiasm.

There's a lot to be said for that. In fact, without the forced breaks I took throughout the process of writing my first draft - sometimes a few days, sometimes a few weeks - I don't know that I could have charged through it the way I did. Even good things have to happen in moderation.

OK, pep talk over. Now I need to get some work done so I can get in a little "me" time today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Menace to Society

(Alternate title: Music as Muse.)

Like a lot of other writers, I have a playlist that inspires me as I work. In my case, it's a soundtrack to the book - the songs relate to and follow the storyline and characters. I've picked up new songs along the way and tweak/shuffle them according to what happens and changes as I edit.

My husband, who's way into music (like High Fidelity kind of obsessed), sends new songs my way every now and then that he thinks relate to the story. That's how I knew, in fact, that he liked my book. He was my first true beta reader, and while he read, and especially once he finished, he reacted by sending me names of songs for my book playlist.

That was, like, a huge compliment from him. A stamp of approval.

So what's on the playlist? Killers, Coldplay, Dido, Iron & Wine, Drive-By Truckers, U2, John Mayer, Anya Marina, Postal Service, Otis Redding, Aerosmith, The Cure and my current band crush, Band of Horses. Among others.

And how, you might ask, does all that relate to the title of this post? Well, here's how. I don't actually listen to my playlist while I write. I've learned I like to write fiction with little background noise. If the TV's on, I mute it. If music's on, I drop the volume to barely audible. If my 4-year-old is running around, well, I do what I gotta do. There's no mute button on that guy. ;-)

When I do listen to my playlist, it's at times I can't physically be at the computer working on my manuscript. While I clean the house. While I'm at the office. While I'm busy. While I'm living life. And while I'm driving.
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Most often, in fact, while I'm driving.

Hence, the post title. My playlist is the means through which I enter my fictional world when I really want to be at my computer moving around inside that world. And the songs on the list really put me there. They get me thinking about my characters, which gets me thinking about scenes in the book, which gets characters talking in my head, which leads me to pull out a pen and the closest receipt or take-out menu or playbill and start scribbling out ideas and dialogue while hurtling down the highway at 70 mph.

I try to pull off the road. But sometimes it's just not possible, and we all know how elusive and valuable and fleeting these sudden, random tidbits of story can be. Guess I should invest in a mini voice recorder ... but that would be organized. And organized I am not.

So instead I'm a menace to society. But in my defense, my in-transit notes look more like blind contour drawings - because at the very least, I keep my eyes on the road. That's more than I can say for the chick texting in the car beside me.

Lord help us all.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Separate Spheres

It's so fun and funny and odd and interesting and ... disturbing to move deftly between two worlds on a regular basis. I mean, I guess I should be used to it. I've been devouring books since I was a tiny person, and that's kind of the same thing. You move out of the real world for a while and into this new, constructed reality that - when it's well done - is hardly discernible from the real thing.

The weirdest part about it is how often I wish I could be inside my make believe world when I'm out in the real world, doing other things. It has nothing to do with not enjoying reality. I do. But when I'm really feeling "on" with my manuscript, which I am right now, there's not much in this world I'd rather be doing than working on it.

And often - very, very often - real life prevents that.

That's OK. I mean, it is what it is. I'm not a person who can, or even wants to, shut myself away from society to write. I get the occasional urge - usually at the end of a loooong day when I've got twelve other things on the to-do list before I can sit down at the computer - to get away for a little while, to rent a cabin in the woods for a few days and snuggle up in front of a crackling fireplace with a glass of wine and my laptop. But the practical side of me shuts that urge down before it can get too out of control. Cabins in the woods aren't actually all that appealing to me without other people to share them with. Funnily enough.

The thing is, I'm busy. I'm sitting here looking at the start of a veeeery busy weekend, and that's what has me musing on this topic. Real life isn't going to lend much time for writing and editing this weekend, and again, that's OK. This weekend, life's poignant moments won't be playing out on page, but in real life, in real time, in living color. With the people I love. So the Land of Make Believe will just have to wait.

I write to live, but I don't live to write.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Timely Advice

You know how sometimes you hear a word you've never heard before and then you hear it again, in a different setting and different context, like three times that same week? That's what this week has been like for me - total synchronicity.

Only this time it's not a new word that's appearing again and again. It's advice that keeps popping up without me really seeking it on issues that were plaguing me at the precise moments I received the advice.

OK, let me start making some sense.

I'm in the revision phase on my novel. And revision is hell. Why? Well, try taking something you know is probably broken but that you, nonetheless, like the way it is. And then try fixing it so other people will like it - even though the concept of "what people like" is subjective and everybody likes something different. It's a nebulous assignment, to say the least.

Did I say I was going to start making sense? Well, apparently that's not in the cards today. ;-)

Anyway, I'm tackling revisions - slowly, painfully, prayerfully. And one thing that's helping me get through them is the support of the online writing community. And in the past couple of days, I've come across not one, not two, not even three but at least four bloggers who've been doling out advice on the exact issues I'm struggling with at the exact time I'm struggling with them. Not to mention that I got feedback from that agent (see Rejected!, two posts prior) on issues she could see in my manuscript.

The first case of this was a fantastic post by literary agent/author/speaker Donald Maass at Writer Unboxed on how to instill meaning into your work and what it means to take your MC on a true journey. Inspiring stuff. So inspiring I'm hand-copying an excerpt from it into my personal journal. And it really hit me where I was struggling at the exact moment I read it.

The second bit of advice had nothing to do with revisions, but everything to do with my writing career. It was a post by Lori Widmer at Words on the Page about lessons she's learned the hard way and how to apply them to your freelancing career. And since I'm stuck in a couple of different ruts with my own freelance work right now (namely the rut of complacency - I have enough work with regular clients to keep me busy and paid right now, so I'm not doing much [OK, I'm not doing anything] to meet my goal of writing for national design publications). That one kind of kicked me where it hurts - and I needed it.

The third post, a guest post at Nathan Bransford's blog, had to do with the first chapter and how crucial, critical, imperative, a-thousand-other-words-that-mean-important it is to get it right. That one came along just after I'd written a beta reader a novel-length e-mail about what was wrong with (the latest and greatest version of) my first chapter and what I can do to fix it.

The fourth case happened just a couple of hours ago. I've been doing much, much pondering in the past few weeks - and especially the past few days - about how to revise my manuscript. But I haven't been doing much actual revising. And I think it's because I've been sticking to the same non-functioning routine: I sit down at the end of the night, when I'm completely spent from a long day of freelance writing, housekeeping, wife-ing and mommy-ing, pull my computer onto my lap and open my manuscript. Usually I even do it in bed. So no wonder - right? - that I get through about two sentences before falling asleep. I was very happy, then, to read Creepy Query Girl's latest post, which is about her revision process and how she (literally) shook things up.

Seriously, people, thanks! You don't know how helpful you've been. Now as for the fact that my new struggle with blog addiction is eating into my limited revision time - well, I don't really think there's much you can do to help me with that. ;-)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oops....

A reader pointed out to me a few days ago (thanks Jen!) that something was going on with my comment settings. I thought I'd fixed the problem, but I finally remembered tonight to test it and sure enough, it was still messed up. This time, I'm pretty sure I actually fixed it. I'm sorry about that!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rejected!

I've been initiated. Actually, no, I've been validated. This is a big day for me - I got my first rejection letter.

Is it nuts that I'm super excited about it?

Here's the story. I finished my manuscript in the spring. Soon after, I handed it off to a few beta readers, and they gave me some great feedback. Since then, I've been tweaking and revising and chopping and "killing my darlings," etc., etc. I've written, at this point, three different Chapter Ones. I've made it to the not-quite-halfway point with my edits, and when I get all the way through, I'll probably start again at the beginning and tweak, revise, chop and kill some more.

In other words, I'm not really to the point of sending queries out yet.

But I did send one, just one. A few months back, I saw this contest/opportunity to get my query and first chapter read by an agent. A real agent - a really, really good agent. So I jumped on it. I polished the query letter I'd started shakily writing, prepped my Chapter-One-du-Jour best as I could, held my breath and clicked send.

Then I let the breath out, because I didn't honestly expect to hear anything back. The agency I sent to is one of the ones that doesn't guarantee a response because it receives so many queries. But I did hear back! I did! I'm still reeling from it. It was a rejection, of course, but it was more than a form rejection! The agent gave me real feedback! Honest to goodness constructive criticism! She mentioned my main character by name - she really did read my work! And her criticism was spot-on. I now have some solid ideas about things to work on to make my manuscript stronger. I can't tell you how excited I am about that.

Plus she said I'm "a lovely writer." I can guarantee you, even if she just threw that in to spare my feelings, that's the part of the letter I'll be thinking about as I drift off to sleep tonight, not the negative, rejection-y stuff.

I'm really glad I took that leap and entered that contest. Even though I might have jumped the gun - even though, honestly, there's a tiny chance I missed an opportunity to be represented by this agent by sending her my work before I had it fully ready, I'm glad I did it. I feel encouraged by the experience, not discouraged. I feel, somehow, like I'm a "real" writer now. And most important, I feel ready and eager and anxious to delve back into the manuscript and get it ready to send out. (And if anybody's been reading my recent posts, you know I really needed that kick in the pants.)

I'm soooo psyched to get in there and make my story better. So, basically, I'm about as happy as a girl can be to have been rejected.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Avoiding Distraction

I've been having a little trouble sticking to a revision schedule.

When I wrote the first draft of my novel, I was so disciplined. Or, I guess it wasn't discipline so much as obsession. I had to get that book out of me. I pounded on my keyboard with a fury that literally wore down the keys on a fairly new laptop.

And I made the book my main focus. At least the main focus of my free time. I kicked my TV habit pretty much completely. Not only did I not watch TV, I had no interest in watching TV. I watched absolutely nothing except Glee (which I was addicted to almost as much as my manuscript) for at least two TV seasons.

I didn't read much. For one thing, reading is time-consuming. And books for me are pretty much all-consuming - when I'm into one, I can't put it down. For another thing, I didn't want reading to interfere with my writing. I wanted my book to be in my voice, unencumbered by the voices of my favorite authors. And for yet another thing, I didn't want to psych myself out. When I did read while writing, I'd get all neurotic about it. Like, "wow, I really suck. This writer is so much more awesome than me."

And I don't like feeling that way.

Plus, and here's the big one, I refused to let myself think about the fact that I might, one day, actually try to get this book I was pounding out published. I didn't google "literary agents" or "publishing houses." I was completely ignorant of the whole process, and I wanted it that way. One of my rewards to myself when I finished typing the last chapter of my manuscript was to finally go on amazon and order a copy of the latest Writer's Market. And thus began my journey into publishing research.

I knew that part would be intimidating, but I didn't realize just how intimidating it would be. The online writing community is awesome - fabulous, amazing, supportive, insert adjective-of-choice - but it's also huge. I had no idea how many people were out there doing exactly what I was doing. And it rocks. And it's what I'm now addicted to - I have a whole round of blogs I have to check out every day, and those blogs lead to books I have to read, and now I have my own blog....

And that's all great, seriously great. But if there's one major, major lesson I've learned through all my research, it's that I don't want to launch my manuscript out into the world until it's ready. The first draft was easy. Revisions are ... not. And so I haven't been glued to the manuscript lately. But I need to be. I want to be. I want to launch my baby out of the nest and into the world.

Basically, I want to get re-addicted to my manuscript. I want to resist all the temptations out there that are calling my name, and I don't want to have to go to Franzen-style lengths to do it. (Did anybody see that Time photo of the desk where he worked on Freedom? Spartan. Facing a wall. No internet. Ugh. But it definitely worked for him.)

So I guess I'd better shut this down and get back to Chapter 11.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Cozying up to My Characters

This weekend, I went to Dallas for the first time in ages. I lived there back in the early 2000s, and lately the place has taken on a new significance for me because one of the characters in my novel lives there.

That just happened. It was one of the many moments in my book where a turn of events surprised even me. I had mapped and plotted out a good bit of the story, but I'd left the details up to the characters to fill in. I was wondering where Noah ended up, and suddenly, while writing, there he was. In the great state of Texas.

It definitely makes it easier to write about a place when you have an intimate level of familiarity with it, and several of the places I've lived or visited frequently have cameos or major roles in my book. In the case of Dallas, I still had to do some googling to find a logical spot for Noah to live and work, and while there this weekend, I was really curious to find out how well I'd done in describing a setting that existed, until then, solely in my head. Turns out, really well. I drove around and found "his" office - there was one there, in the spot I'd described, that fit the way I'd described it. I found the park where he walks his dog. I found the bars and restaurants he hangs out in. I drank a couple of beers for him.

With him.

That's the weird thing about it. Being there, in the setting I've lived in inside my head for so long, really made me feel close to my characters - like they could walk around a corner and bump into me at any given second. It's the second time it's happened to me since this whole crazy Land of Make Believe thing started. Back in the spring I visited the town where I was born and spent the first couple years of my life - which also plays a significant role in the book. I hadn't seen it in years, so the town in my novel is completely fictional. But it was so much fun to drive around and, again, see how well I'd done describing a place that had taken on an entirely new life in my head. And again, I found some uncanny similarities to the settings I'd described.

Like the house pictured above. It couldn't be any more like Amelia's family's house. It is Amelia's family's house. As weird as that sounds. But then, anybody reading this is likely a writer, too, so you might understand this particular brand of weirdness.

Or maybe it's just me.