Friday, February 25, 2011

Finally Found a Way In

Two days later, I finally found a way into this chapter. It's that same old first lines issue I tend to have: if I don't have an opening line, I find it really hard to just skip ahead and write the chapter. Last night, while driving down dark, winding country roads to tutoring gig #2, I talked out loud to myself about the chapter and what I want it to achieve, and came up with a tentative first line. It's only 8:15am, but I've already smoothed out that line and written a total of 138 words while The Son ate breakfast. We're snowed in today, but I'm going to try to get in an hour of writing time during quiet play time.

So my word count situation hasn't improved. But I did work on EN during the two days of no forward motion. I have this list of little changes to make to what I've already written, little notes to myself that say things like, strike all references to x, or, plant two mentions of y. The list had swelled to 20 items, and I managed to cross out 15 of them. No one thing on the list requires a lot of effort or deep thought, but taken together it's a time-consuming bunch of chores. It's a relief to have three-quarters of it done.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Man, I Missed Editing

So I actually edited a scene yesterday.  Technically, this whole draft is supposed to be editing, since it's the third draft and all. But for the last 20,000 words, I've been writing from scratch. In every draft, that chunk of the book was always the weakest and most poorly-conceived section. I knew something had to happen during those years of Somi's life, but for a long time I didn't know exactly what it was, or how to make it interesting, or how to tie it in to the rest of the plot. I'm happy to report that I think I've pretty much fixed that problem.

But it sucked not being able to edit. I kept thinking the last draft would have at least skeletons of some of these scenes, and then I'd look, and nope. The scene existed only in my mind. But then yesterday I hit a portion of the book that I do have usable scenes written for. It was seriously heavy editing, nothing like the shuffling and polishing I did to the first 35,000 words of the book. But it was still a relief to have that skeleton to hang the meat on, so to speak.

One thing that's really struck me is how much my dialogue sucks in that second draft. Now, when I wrote that draft, I wasn't trying to make it "sound good"; I was just trying to get the story written. But still. I'm not having any trouble rewriting it to be what I think is actually good dialogue; I'm just continually unsettled by how startlingly, aggressively bad it is. It sounds like a sequel to The Lord of the Rings written by an 8th grader.

I'm at 9,190 for the month. I just finished a chapter, and don't have a first line for the next one, so today will probably be a lot of work for not that many words. Unless the childcare fairy visits me and I get a magical full day off from life between now and next Monday, I'm probably not going to reach 15,000. But I'm not beating myself up for once. Progress is progress, and I'm proud of myself for sticking with it this month despite all kinds of obstacles. Go me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Genre Rant

I belong to the writing community WriYe, and while I don't participate in the yearly challenge or post very often, I do wander over to the forum once a week or so and check out the posts. Now, WriYe's membership is largely high school and college age writers, mostly female, mostly writers of Young Adult Fantasy. They are a lovely, bright, dedicated bunch. Many have little or no support for their writing from either family or school.

One posted that she recently got an idea for a story stuck in her head, started writing it, and realized to her surprise that she was writing ChickLit. After several sources gave her grief about ChickLit being trivial and "unworthy", she posted a question: do you think ChickLit is worth writing?

Here is an expanded version of my reply:

Anyone who would declare an entire genre Unworthy of being read or written is an elitist jerkwad. Are there crappy chick lit novels? Of course. Are there well-written chick lit novels that are in their own way the equal of the best of other genres? I would be astounded if that weren't the case.

Literary snobbism irks me like few other things. High school teachers refusing to allow Fantasy for independent reading because it's "garbage"? College creative writing classes with a "no genre fiction" rule? Literary critics using terms like "bodice ripper" and "space opera" to dismiss all of Romance and SF? Bullshit, all of it. In the first place, all fiction is "genre fiction", dumbass. Second, aren't we supposed to, like, encourage young people who actually choose to put down their iPhones and read or write something, instead of shaming them for their preferences? I'm pretty sure I read that in an education manual somewhere. And third, the whole concept of genre as a measure of literary merit belongs back in the day when the term "The Great American Novel" could still be uttered without irony, when we actually believed one white guy's experience could sum up everything for all of us.

Even more depressing is when writers themselves buy into the idea that genres can be ranked. The SF crew look down on the Fantasy folk, and both of them scoff at the Romance gals, who sneer at the Erotica crowd... and everyone picks on the poor Fanfiction bastards. And looming above them all, sitting smugly in their castles made from old copies of The New York Times Review of Books, are the LitFic elite, the genre so cool they won't even admit they are a genre-- never mind admit that they can write some seriously crappy books themselves. They also have no problem pillaging from the hacks when it suits them. Most forms of Literature-with-a-capital-L include some elements of "genre". The brilliant SF and Fantasy writer Lois McMaster Bujold once referred to Romance and Mystery as literary "universal donors"-- everyone takes from them. But one of the big tricks of LitFic is that when you steal borrow from a genre, everyone acts like you invented it. As a Science Fiction reader and writer, it bugs the shit out of me that when Margaret Atwood or Cormac McCarthy write about the future it's not genre, it's "a daring exploration of form". It's also a fucking Science Fiction novel, and not a particularly original one, so get the fuck over yourselves.

Most infuriating of all, the ones that go around unilaterally bashing another genre have usually read virtually nothing--or sometimes just plain old nothing-- from that genre. Hey, who needs to read it, right? Everyone knows that Science Fiction/Fantasy/Romance/Mystery/Erotica/Inspirationals/Young Adult/Fanfiction is crap. And get a load of that cheesy cover! If it doesn't have a black-and-white photo of an abandoned doll and the words "A Novel" on the cover, it ain't Lit'rature. I learned that in grad school.

I think I hate this crap so much because I used to be a believer in it. In college I was a poet, and then a writer of contemporary short stories. Then I attended an M.F.A. program that was All LitFic, All the Time. I rolled my eyes at entire sections of the bookstore. And then, as a lark, I started writing Science Fiction... and then quickly figured out I had to start reading Science Fiction, too. To my shock, a lot of the novels were actually good. Some of them were actually better than the LitFic stuff I'd been reading. My little mind was blown, and I have never been the same since. So when I see smart people who should know better clinging to these ridiculous outmoded ideas of genre, I want to slap them, hand them a copy of Four Ways to Forgiveness, and challenge them to explain to me why that book is not Literature.

Look, I'm not saying that everyone has to like everything. Subject matter can turn you off; nearly every woman I've mentioned to that I'm writing a SF novel has told me that they don't like SF. Every genre-- including LitFic-- has its conventions, and sometimes they're just not a good fit with your reading preferences. I don't care for Horror, most Mysteries, Fanfiction, Mainstream, contemporary Romance, or Chick Lit. But I have faith that when readers tell me there are sublimely written and deeply satisfying examples of these genres, they know what they're talking about.

I have a dream. I dream of a day when the best books of every genre will share the right to be called Literature; when writers let go of using junior high school lunchroom politics to rank their fellow artists; when Science Fiction and Romance are reviewed alongside LitFic and Memoir; when no young person will be told by a teacher, a reviewer, or another writer that the books they love to read and to write are Unworthy.

In conclusion: yes, I think ChickLit is worth writing, if that's the story you have to tell, and you tell it well.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Don't Mind Me. Just Writin' a Novel in My Car.

It's weird how sometimes adversity will totally derail my writing, and sometimes it'll make just make me more determined to succeed. I've been such a whinypants lately about my cold, the snow, and the demands of motherhood conspiring to attack my word count. But while all that stuff really was going on, I think my less than stellar February has more to do with the Mid-Novel blues than any external factors.

But now I'm on a roll. The last few days the writing has gotten better and easier and more every day. And then I come to today, which has been ripe with excuses not to write. I had my first night at tutoring gig #2 last night, got to bed late and then had terrible insomnia, so I'm operating on a major sleep deficit. I just got my period and am in pain. (Side note: Hello, menopause? I'm ready whenever you are.) The Son had gymnastics camp again today, but when I went back to the lovely little coffee shop where I wrote yesterday, they were blaring Harry Connick, jr. (seriously, jazzy standards were not meant to be played at speedmetal decibles) and I knew there was no way I could work there-- and nothing else nearby is open yet at that hour. Then Oberon the laptop started acting up; there's this horrible screeching motor sound when he boots.

A few days ago, I would have said fuck it. But I wrote through the sleep deprivation and the cramps. When the coffee shop was too loud, I drove to library and worked in my car while I waited for it to open, while people walking their dogs gave me WTF looks. When Oberon started freaking out, I transferred the files to the desktop that's still set up in the dining room from my last laptop emergency, and wrote there during quiet play time. And I have 840 words so far today.

If I could just figure out how to be this tenacious about my writing every day, maybe I could finish a novel in less than a decade.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Think I Hear the Quittin' Bell

I'm at 1,572 words, and I think I'm going to stop for the day. Somi and the main antagonist are having a nice little chat by the hearth, and I need to do some thinking on how the rest of it is going to unfold.

No Luxury Like Time

I dropped The Son off at gymnastics camp this morning and then went to a café and wrote 746 words in just over an hour and a half, which is a blistering pace for me. Picked The Son up and dropped him with grandma, who plans to take him swimming. I bet he falls asleep in a matter of seconds tonight. I just had lunch and am now going to wash my hair, and then will settle down for another 1.5-2 hour writing session.

It's such a luxury to have the kid-free time to work. The Son has an hour of quiet play time every afternoon, but when I write during it there's always a part of my brain that's in mom-mode, going, Oh, crap-- what was that big crash? It's just not the same as how I can concentrate when he's out of the house, being cared for by someone else.

I have my first evening at tutoring gig #2 tonight, so I might not be able to check back in with the day's word count total until tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Priming the Pump

EN is off its ass and moving again, to my massive relief. I hate that "stuck in molasses" feeling. I got 528 words today, and probably won't get any more than that tomorrow. But if everything breaks my way, on Thursday I should have essentially the whole day to write. Getting some words down before then helps to prime the pump, so to speak.

I haven't abandoned my goal of 15,000 words this month. I might not make it, but gosh darn it, I'm gonna give it my best shot.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mid-Month Check-In


February is kicking my ass.

I'm still not totally over my cold (I had a sinus headache all weekend). My annual midwinter urge to hibernate is kicking in (I went to bed at 8:00 on Saturday night). The Son-- normally a pretty easygoing kid-- is having a hard week with lots of limit-testing and meltdowns, and I feel sucked dry every night when I put him to bed. I'm exhausted and burnt out, I can't concentrate, I have practically no free time, and I've been dicking around trying to write the same goddamn sentence for three days. All I feel like doing is watching Top Chef and playing this ridiculously addicting flash game.

The word count situation is bleak: I'm at 4,009/15,000 for the month.

But! There is a teeny ray of hope: tonight I applied my butt to the chair and managed to get PAST the sentence of doom. I only wrote about 200 words, but any forward motion feels like a triumph right now. Tomorrow my friend/childcare provider L and I are going to swap childcare, which should leave me with an hour or so to write before the tutoring gig. Later in the week The Son will have a total of 4 hours of gymnastics camp. And mother-in-law #1 will almost definitely take him for an afternoon. If I can use that time wisely, I'll be back on track by the end of the week.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Gift From the Sandman

Plans worked out better today. I have 713 words for the day so far, and I plan to write at least another 200 before bed.

Last night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I figured out how my hero and heroine's first kiss is going to play out. I've had their big sex scene all mapped out for ages (um... but not in a pervy way), but the kiss was always a question mark. They both have so many reasons not to take that risk, and either one taking the "dominant" role just rang false for their relationship. I tried out a variety of scenarios, but they were either too prosaic or too romance-cliché cheesy.

And then last night, in that magical half-asleep headspace, the whole thing played before my eyes like a scene from a movie. It's still a bit on the romance-cliché cheesy side, but it feels authentic to the characters, so I'm happy. Now I've just got another few thousand words to write to get to the kiss!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Long Post That Is Mostly Not About Writing

I had grand plans for today. I'd drop The Son at preschool, and then do a quick co-op run for the ingredients I need to make both a batch of cookies for the preschool's Valentine's Day party and a batch for the fundraising bake sale the next day.  Then home for a solid 2 hours of writing before work. I'm about to plunge into a scene where both the antagonists are on stage at the same time, and I was looking forward to finding my way through it. I had hopes of putting up some big word count numbers.

But everything went awry before we even got out of the carport. I strapped The Son into his car seat, threw it in reverse, and got stuck in a snow bank. (Yes, in my own driveway. Don't judge until you've seen the driveway.) Spent 20 minutes trying to dig myself out, in 3 degree F weather. Still stuck. The Son suggested walking to school, and I was too proud of him for being such a New Englander to wimp out. So we walked to school. In 3 degree weather.

Walked back, and spent another 30 minutes or so on the car, helped toward the end by The Father-in-Law (thanks, man! you rock!), who finally got it out. Went to the co-op and discovered they do indeed have heart-shaped sprinkles. Came home and was so frazzled and cold and hungry I decided to spend my remaining hour of kid-in-school time on a hot bath and Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code. Picked up The Son from school, took him to L's house for childcare, did the tutoring gig all afternoon, picked up The Son from L's, went home, made supper, had The Son help me make cookies for his class, dealt with bedtime-related freakout by The Son, and did laundry.

I haven't written today, is what I'm saying. And I'm not gonna. I'm doing the bath and Artemis Fowl thing again and then going to bed early.

But I have grand plans for tomorrow.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Back in the Swing

The weekend was not kind to the novel. Too much snow, too little time to myself. I wrote a few hundred words here and there, but I just couldn't get my head in the story, and I was super cranky in that book's-not-going-well way.

This morning I had an emergency dental appointment (I broke a molar and need a crown for it) that was over much earlier that I'd predicted, leaving me with two kid-free hours to write before tutoring gig #1. And just having the house to myself for a while got me back into the right headspace to write. I've gotten nearly a thousand words today, and the crankiness has abated.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Lack-of-Progress Report

Well, the inspiration fairy has left this house. The last two days I've had almost no time to write. Yesterday I had to do some subsistence-level housekeeping (dishes and laundry) during The Son's school time, and then when I sat down to work my mind kept racing ahead to all the time-sucking errands of the afternoon, and I couldn't get into the flow of the story at all. I finally gave up trying to be creative and ticked a few items off my list of "little changes to go back and make to the first half of the book".

Picked up The Son from school and went over the river to the gymnastics studio, where I signed him up for another round of classes, and also for a two-day "camp" held over February school break (yay for more writing hours). Then we drove 30 miles to the rural ghetto so I could be fingerprinted for tutoring gig #2. (Don't get me started on how insane it is to have to get fingerprinted every time I get a student from a new town. It's crazy and there has to be better way. Let's just leave it at that.) Then we drove 30 miles back and got to the hospital just in time for The Son's 4-year-old pediatrician visit. Then home, where I managed to write 333 words during quiet play time. Then in the evening I had book club, which stereotypically included much wine and more discussion of our kids than the book. Had a great time and didn't get home until 10:40, which is roughly equivalent to what getting home at 4:00am would have been to me at 21.

Today The Son doesn't have school, so the whole day is pretty much shot. I tried to write during quiet play time, but he kept coming out of his room and interrupting me and I couldn't get in the zone. I'm going to write for at least an hour tonight and try to get some words, but I also want to hang out with The Husband.

If these first few days of February are any indication, 15,000 is a more realistic goal for the month.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Inspiration and Goals

Another snow day today, and with a socially approved reason to hide out at home in my PJ's all day, I've been doing a lot of "thinking work" on the book. I'm having one of those days where it's like you've struck a vein of ideas and can't stop them from gushing out. Even with The Son around, I figured out a lot of scenes for Bresher's POV chapters, which have always been the sections that give me the most trouble. And I made some notes for the Sexy Next Book (TM). And I sketched out a few of Somi's upcoming scenes. I wrote ~500 words on Eleven Names. I even thought of a great hook for EN's eventual query letter. If I believed in muses, I'd guess mine had an extra latte this morning.

But I've also been having some goal angst today. It's the second day of February and I'm still dithering over my word count goal for this month. My idealized 2011 schedule has me doing another 20,000 this month... BUT this month has three less days than last month... AND it includes a preschool-free week, during which I will not have the luxury of 4 mornings to write... AND I'm about to start tutoring gig #2, which will mean two evenings a week at a nearby boarding school-- two-hour sessions with a half-hour commute on either side. We could use the money right now, but it's also wiping out two evenings of writing time.

So with all that, I'm thinking 15,000 is more realistic. But then that seems like copping out. I dunno. I'll brood over it some more.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Last Lines and First Lines

Writing this draft, it has become clear to me that the first lines and last lines of chapters are a big thing for me. Often I'll think of the perfect parting shot for a chapter when I'm about 3/4 through it, and I find that writing toward that last line makes that last 1/4 gallop home. If I haven't thought of one to write toward, that same 1/4 feels like a slog on a half-lame mule.

And first lines can trip me up. Usually I find them easier than last lines, but today I spent a total of three solitary, concentrated hours trying to write the opening of this chapter and getting nowhere. I hated everything I wrote, and it was driving me crazy that I couldn't come up with the right first line. I tried to skip ahead, but without the first line I didn't have a tone, and tone was going to be key in this chapter: the last chapter ended at the mid-point, and left Somi in an emotionally low place. But Somi (who is a first-person narrator) is the kind of person who would try to change the subject when things get too heavy, so I wanted it to sound lighter. But not too light.

Then, finally, with 10 minutes left on The Son's quiet play time, I got it.

As Kimor had threatened, I had to learn to ride a horse.

Doesn't seem like much for three hours worth of work, does it? But it set the tone, and I managed to get up to 413 words by the time The Son went to sleep, in little 5-minute spurts stolen while preparing dinner or running the bath. And I know where I'm going next, which means I'm not dreading opening the file. The right first line can take me pretty deep into the chapter before I have to stop to puzzle over my next turn.

New Day, New Month, Blank Page

Funny thing about writing: no matter how many milestones you cross in a day, the next day you still have to get up and fill another empty page with words.

Yeah. It's going slow. I'm at the beginning of a new chapter, that is itself the beginning of the second half of Act II. I know where the chapter has to end, but to get there, I need to fast-forward through ten years of Somi's life. And I'm just not sure where to start. I've been diddling around with it all morning with nothing to show for it.

I have a few errands to run in preparation for being housebound in the blizzard we're getting today/tonight/tomorrow, so I think I'm going to go do that now and hope I can return to the blank page later with a fresh perspective.