Monday, November 30, 2009

The End of Act One

I've done it. I've written every day in the last 30 days except one. I've typed out 70,676 words in a month. Even though this is the third time I've done NaNo, 70,000 words by the end of November is a lot for me. This time last year I was at only 53,000. Unfortunately, I'm not done with my novel. In fact, I'm not even close to done. I'm 240 pages into a novel that should be about 300 pages, and I'm going to have to cut a huge chunk to make it fit, because there's a lot left to write.

If my adventure of writing a novel was to be described in Acts, I just finished Act 2 of the journey—completing the quest of writing 50,000 words in 30 days—only to realize the real treasure (the finished manuscript) still lies out of reach at the end of Act 3.

After Act 2 typically comes a happy lull where everyone feels good about what's been accomplished. I'm feeling a post–Act 2 depression. I really should be much farther along. If this novel is going to be about 80,000 to 100,000 words long, I've spent too much time on a beginning and not enough time on action. I feel behind in a race that exists only in my head.

Were I a slightly more seasoned writer, I'd probably go back now and edit down the beginning to streamline the story, but I still worry about the possibility of getting bogged down in "the perfect beginning" and never finishing the novel, as I did for many years with my first book.

So I will push ahead and write the rest of the novel as the first should have been written, with brevity at the forefront of my mind. I'm not a minimalist writer, so forcing myself to think of ways to make the scene progress faster, the action sequences to come more rapidly, the characters to minimize their internal conundrums is difficult for me, but the results (as I've seen with Madison) are well worth it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Who's Writing This—Me or My Character?

There seem to be two camps of authors out there: those who say their characters are basically real in their head, with the ability to dictate the story and tell the author where to go, and those who scoff at the first camp as utterly ridiculous, since that character is nothing more than a figment of the author's imagination, and therefore has no opinion or idea that is not, in fact, the author's own idea. I say both camps are actually one and the same, just with different perspectives.

I think it is a bit silly to believe that the imaginary people that I create somehow occupy a part of my brain separate to that which is me, and that they can, from their thrones in my head, dictate where the story should go and what they should say. At the same time, a character, once created, is never all me. She is never again just my imagination. She becomes the whole of her parts, and her experiences and dreams dictate her actions, just as mine do in my own life.

So when authors of the first camp say their characters took the story in a different direction than they planned, or that they took over, I believe this is nothing more than the summation of the character's personality traits making a decision that feels right to the character created. It is the author's feel for the rhythm of the characters and the story that makes the moment feel right or wrong. The author may originally have planned a different decision for their character, but by the time that point in the story was reached, it no longer feels true to the character.

For example, in writing Sasha, I preplotted many of the major scenes with quick notes on 3x5 cards. If I had more of the scene envisioned than would fit on the card, I would type it up in a Word document to remind me of my vision weeks later when I reached the scene. Sometimes these notes were nothing more than an extra sentence or two; sometimes these notes were whole pages of dialog and descriptions.

I recently arrived at a scene I'd entitled "Confrontation" because my main characters were to have a very heated argument about their mutual betrayals. I'd written out half a page of their verbal volleys back when I was storyboarding, but when I read back through them now, nearly five weeks later, it no longer rang true for the characters. The scene needed something quieter.

Were I an author of the first camp, I'd say that Eva refused to be pigeonholed into that conversation and had a mind of her own for what needed to be said to the male lead. Were I an author of the second camp, I might claim that this change of plans was nothing more than me changing my mind. Instead, I feel that my decision to go with a different mood for the scene was one of those magical moments when the characters felt like real people, and their decisions—down to when they picked a fight to when they chose to deflect one—felt as clear and real as my own emotions, and I accepted it for the blessing it is, hoping that when I do the first edit, it reads as true as it feels now.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

One Hobby Down

Writing has always been the thing I've done on weekends and during holidays for as long as I can remember. The more serious I get about it, though, the less it's like a hobby and the more it is like work. And I'm not complaining.

However, when I get together with friends, I don't have a lot to say. I work at home. I write. I spend exceptional amounts of time in my own head, and a lot doesn't translate to casual conversation. I wondered if I'd backed myself into a socially dull corner.

And then I realized that most of my favorite authors—the ones who produce multiple books a year and who write almost as fast as I'm ready to read them—they've all talked about how they are workaholics, working seven days a week for the most part.

I've never considered myself a workaholic (quite the opposite when I worked in the corporate world), but with the recent ongoing experience of NaNo, I can see how I could easily fall into that category. I've been writing about 2 hours every morning before switching over to work. Those two hours fly by. If I could write all morning, edit in the early afternoon, and do non-writing author work in the evenings, I'd be a happy girl.

I was just reading about Janet Evanovich's writing schedule (get up at 5 a.m., write until 2 p.m. with a break for exercise and eating, work on other author stuff in the evening five days a week, and just write in the mornings on the weekend). It sounded ideal.

NaNo has also reminded me how important it is to work on the weekend. It's so helpful to be in the story every day. A day off throws my personal rhythm, and a day off makes it easier to take the next day off, and the day after that...I've learned that from experience, too.

So maybe I'm on to something when I can't think of a hobby I'd rather be doing than writing. And when writing becomes my career, I guess I'll be a workaholic, because I still don't think there will be something else I'd rather be doing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

To Sum Up

Now that I've gotten back in the groove of writing (aka, I'm not rolling around on my bed moaning about how this book just doesn't work and my characters aren't believable, followed by flailing around various rooms—wherever Cody is so I'll have an audience, because pity parties are better with an audience—with long wailing sounds reminiscent of whale songs, and instead my writing time is filled with the sounds of the keyboard keys clicking away) I can take a more philosophical approach to the bad parts of writing a book. The wound is no longer fresh. The memory of the pain has receded.

So this quote, taken from Devon Monk's post on Deadline Dames, seems like a token of hope to me now, like the leftover chocolate chips in the bottom of the box after all the cookies are gone:

"I think as time goes on, writing becomes more predictably difficult, but the frustrations, bumps, glitches, fears, failures, challenges that you’re feeling right now never go away."

She also comments on how, while it is work, writing is and should be fun, but it was the line above that stuck with me. Yes, there will be times in the future where the blog posts become text tears and literary moaning again. It's inevitable. And in some way, that's very freeing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The First Sex Scene

Sasha is a romance of sorts. There are romantic elements, at least. I haven't pinpointed down exactly how I'll market it, but it's definitely a romance. Romance means sex. Since before I even began to write, I've been toying with how to handle the sex scenes. Do I have a fade-to-black sort of approach? Do I have a detail-by-detail approach? Something in the middle?

I've gone back and forth on this more times than I can count. On the one hand, I like to read romance novels with sex in it. That is, in fact, one of the top reasons I don't want to read YA romance/fantasy: no sex. On the other hand, my mom is going to read this book. So are my friends. I know that the sex scenes I read in novels are not pulled straight from the author's life, just as Eva and Justin's sex scene wasn't pulled from my life. But sex scenes are pulled from the imagination. The imagination can be a pretty private place sometimes.

Today I got to the first sex scene, and I decided to write it out. The whole thing. Each move, each sensation. To write what I would want to read. If I chicken out later and take a more Janet Evanovich fade-to-black approach, so be it, but at least I'll have this written so later I'm not coming up to a sex scene dry.

In fact, I was at my word count minimum at the start of the scene. The first kiss put me over 2,000 words. I considered stopping, but the echo of Laurell K. Hamilton's advice about writing sex scenes came back to me: don't start them cold. She's written often in her blog that she's learned to not stop writing in the middle of a sex scene, because it's hard to recapture the mood when she comes back to it. A very valid point, I thought. So I continued to write. The seduction had begun; I couldn't just cut it off there and hope that tomorrow would bring a similar mood.

Which is why I finished at 3,422 words for the day (over double the traditional NaNo daily word count)! I'm pleased with the choice I made, and though this sounds weird to say, figuring out how my main characters have sex told me a lot more about them than I thought it would. So hooray for getting a large scene down on the page, and hooray for adding new depth to my characters.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Supporting the Cause

Today, the Office of Letters and Lights, in other words, NaNo WriMo organizers, are holding a donation day to raise funds for next year's NaNo WriMo goodness. The goal is to raise $100,000 dollars in a day, which is a tall order for this organization of start-up authors. Of course, you can donate or buy things from the store for many days to come, but today's the day with the goal. If you like NaNo or you like debut authors, or you just plain like creativity, it's a very good cause to support.

I did my part by purchasing this lovely shirt:

You might note that this shirt says NaNo WriMo 2009 Winner. While I liked the participant shirt, I thought this one was especially fitting, since yesterday I topped 50,000 words. At this rate, November should be a 64,000-word month for me. What a doozie!

(p.s. Unlike the bar at the top of this page says, this book is so not 68% done. It's more like 45% done, but the word count doesn't reflect this because I have so much to cut from the beginning.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Title Is Taken

I'm always on the prowl, mentally and physically, for good book titles. I have difficulty thinking of great titles. For my novels, I want something that captures the imagination and pulls a reader in even if they've mistyped something while perusing and wound up on the wrong page. The kind of title that inspires at least a hesitation in the casual bookstore or Costco browser, makes that spark of interest ignite the impulse to pick up the book and flip it over to read the back.

That's a pretty tall order for a title. It's part of why I yearn for a fan club: so I can run contests for titles for future novels and have my creative title-gifted fans submit lots of ideas.

In the meantime, I rely on Cody and very long, tedious brainstorming sessions that devolve into self-mockery titles of unending length (which is also why I'm rather attracted to books with titles that never seem to end—somebody's brainstorming session led them down the path to that paragraph of a title, and the marketing geniuses at the publishing house went along with it: it's magic).

However, Russell Brand, one of my favorite comedians, stole the very best title for a book: My Booky Wook.
Yes, there have been several books with the same title, so I could still use it, but I'd hate to be the "not the Brand book, the other My Booky Wook, the urban fantasy novel." And, of course, in that daydream, for some reason "My Booky Wook" makes sense as an urban fantasy novel.

Anyway, the best book title out there is taken. I guess the only way to top that is to call my book My Booky Wooky, but that sounds like I'm trying too hard.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Book That Almost Wasn't Read

I am a fan of Lora Leigh's Breed series, and I thought I would branch out and try one of her other series. I selected Killer Secrets, which is filled with alpha males, much like her Breed series, but is set in a (slightly) more realistic, action-packed setting. I liked everything I read on the back, so I purchased the book and brought it home.

Then, trying to decide between it and another book for which one I should read, I did my tried and true test and read the first line of both books. The idea is that whichever first line appeals to me more, that's the book I will read.

Killer Secrets has been sitting on my shelf for several months because of its first line:

"Slipping into the ICU unit of the military hospital wasn't an easy task."

ICU unit? As in Intensive Care Unit unit? Did he next go to the ATM machine? How did this get past Lora Leigh, the editor, copyeditor, and proofreader?

I've finally decided to push past my disproportionate annoyance with this editing flaw and read the book. So far, so good, but that first line really drives me crazy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pep Talk Wisdom

One of the great things about participating in NaNo is the pep talk emails that get sent out to all the participants. I'm loving Kristin Cashore's emails this year: they've been spot on every time.

Writing tends to be a very private adventure by its very nature, and so I tend to start thinking that I'm the only one fumbling to find my character's true voice or to weed out the dry parts of the story even before I write them. Then I get an email from Cashore, and it's like she's in my head, listening to me complain. The most recent email is no exception. She writes:

Here's what it starts to be like for me somewhere in the midsection of a novel:

(1) I've written the beginning, but I'm pretty sure it's a pile of crap.

(2) The end, when I even dare to contemplate it, feels as far away as Uranus.

(3) The prose I'm writing right now, here in the middle, sounds like a stiff little busybody who's sat down too hard on a nettle.

(4) I've discovered that my plot, even if it's an engaging plot, has sections that are not engaging to write, and I'm bogged down in those doldrums sections, when all I want is to move on to the exciting parts that are just ahead—but I can't, not until I've written the parts that will get me there. Boring!

(5) The house is strewn with post-it notes on which are written about a gazillion important reminders of things I must somehow remember to find a way to weave into the novel at some point, although, where, I can't imagine. Some of the post-it notes are written hastily in a code I have since forgotten. ("He is temperamentally sweet, but dangerous, like Jake." That would be very helpful, if I had the slightest idea to whom "he" refers, or if I knew anyone named Jake.)

(6) Worst of all, whenever I take a step back and try to examine objectively this unstructured mess that is half created and half still living in my head and heart and hope (and on a gazillion post-it notes)... I get this horrible, sinking feeling that my novel isn't actually about anything.

Does any of that sound familiar to you?

Hell yes! That's exactly where I'm at right now. I just spent three hours getting my daily word count and at least half of that time was spent doing some editing and adjustments to the previous scene while the fixes were fresh in my head. The fixes really needed to be made for me to feel ready to write the next scene, but there are reasons why I don't normally edit like that while I'm in the middle of a book: 1) it takes a lot of energy, and 2) it takes a lot of time.

And then I read this line in Cashore's email: "Throwing out the last twenty pages you just wrote can involve just as much progress as writing three new ones."

I hesitate to make that the quote for this novel, for fear of drawing the wrong energy into the project, but just reading that line made me feel better about all the cuts I've already made and all the cuts I know still need to be made from the beginning of my story. And before my head turns ugly and I start thinking about all the ways in which this project has been much more difficult for me than Madison ever was, I'm going to get out of the house for a while.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gearing Up

I just finished catching up on my email, which took over an hour. Only one of the emails was a friend email; the rest were action items—bills to pay, items to note/track, etc. However, one of the things that simply had to be done was some Amazon book shopping. I've had a few Amazon gift cards sitting around in my inbox for over a year! They needed to be used.

For simple reading pleasure, I selected Kim Harrison's White Witch, Black Curse because it'll finally be out in paperback next week. I can't wait. Harrison packs so much story and character development into each novel, I'm always impressed and awed.

For some writing advice, I chose Janet Evanovich's How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author. I saw this book many months ago in Borders, and my first thought was it was going to be tripe. Yeah, that's not exactly nice, considering that Evanovich is one of my favorite authors, but a lot of the "how to be a writer" books out there are more about how the author made their success, not filled with applicable ideas for new authors to try. I picked it up and thumbed through it. Yes, Evanovich draws a lot on her own experience, but she uses it to explain the lessons, not just to show how she succeeded. Helpful stuff. Still, I set the book back on the shelf, but it's been popping up in the back of my head a lot lately, so I thought it was time to get it.

The other book I got is a new names book, Baby Names Made Easy: The Complete Reverse-Dictionary of Baby Names. (I think that all name books are amusing by going under the title "baby names" as if somewhere out there is a book floating around called "adult names.") I have a 15-year-old name book right now, and this one looked like it could offer a different way to search for character names. Since I'm in the middle of writing an entire novel worth of new characters and trying to come up with names almost daily, I thought this could be useful.

The rest of my time in which I was supposed to be doing chores was spent reading about all the stuff happening with Harlequin and the RWA. Check out Pub Rants and Jackie Kessler's blog for explanations and a breakdown of how Harlequin has stepped into murky water.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's a Process

Of all the blogs I visit, I think Deadline Dames is my favorite for writing advice. The blog is run by nine published authors, who offer advice and inspiration for writers and an inside peek into the world of authors for readers. Yesterday's post was especially pertinent to my life: Tips for NaNoers. However, it was Jenna Black's recent post that cheered me up more.

In the post, Black details the minimum number of times she reads through her own story before it's published, noting at what stages she goes back for reads and rereads, when she does edits, and when she does rewrites. It was comforting to see that she reads her book at least 7 times, with the beginning getting an extra 6 reads along the way. Having just finished my umpteeth read/edit of Madison, and seeing what's ahead of me for Sasha, it was wonderful for me to see that a published author has to spend so much time polishing her work, too.

Which got me thinking. I have this idealized vision in my head (still!) that really good authors like Janet Evanovich and Laurell K. Hamilton, authors with lots of books under their belts, don't have to do edits. That they write their first draft, it goes by their editor, and they make the changes suggested, and then it goes to copyedit and print. I know this isn't true. I also know that these seasoned authors don't have to do as many edits as those starting out their career. But it wasn't until I read this blog yesterday that I fully realized how absurd my expectation of zero edits is.

To put it in perspective for myself, I tried thinking of other jobs where the first attempt was expected to be perfect. Artists spend hours and days and possibly months with their canvases, getting every color and detail just right. Engineers draft a design, make changes, build their invention, and make rounds of modifications until everything runs smoothly. Chefs make multiple variations of a dish until they get the flavors just right. One pass simply doesn't cut it.

I think with writing, it has the illusion of appearing to be easy. You read a great novel, and it seems like those perfect sentences must have just flowed in exact form onto the page, since there's no better way they could have been arranged. And there's the implication that if you're making something up, it should be easy. After all, children make things up all the time. It can't be too hard.

Writing a novel also has an elongated learning curve. It takes writing a whole book (or three, or eight) to learn the process, and writing a book typically takes at least a month. Then there's editing it. Then there's critiques, rewrites, and edits again. For me, it takes some time and distance to see some of the major flaws (like the lack of a third act, character holes). It has taken me a little over two years to get Madison ready to sell. That's a long, long learning arc.

Because the process takes so much time, I had the feeling that one book should teach everything. There are very few other things that it took me two years to learn (and that's not counting the previous eight years that I've been working on other writing projects). Part of my depression this weekend was realizing that I still have so much more to learn. Which is why it's such a huge comfort to me to be reminded by published authors that this is a process. Rounds of edits are just part of the process.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Seeing Acts Everywhere

One of the unexpected upsides of my meltdown and rebirth (aka Sunday of Doom aka Disastrous Day Off) is I realized that if I'm having a hard time writing past the second act, it would be a good thing for me to study how others do it.

Since then, I've watched Bolt, Police Academy, and an episode of Legend of the Seeker. In each, it was actually pretty easy to pick out where the second act ended and what event changed the main character(s) and renewed their urgency in the quest, which then culminated in the third-act climax.

Bolt I thought was going to be the easiest, with Disney and children's movies in general being more obvious about their story arcs, but it was actually Police Academy that was the easiest. I'd probably have more problems dissecting other elements of the spoofy movie, but the acts were very clearly defined.

I've also passed the second act climax in Ten Big Ones, and it was good to see it in written form. Hopefully recognizing second-act climaxes vs. third-act finales will help me imagine more complete stories from the beginning. Only time will tell. At least it will improve my editing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Failing and Flailing

I've been feeling a little burnt out with nearly half a month of writing 2,000+ words every day, working on Madison, working on work, working out, working around the get the picture. Friday I had a light workload, and I was feeling pretty refreshed, but when I sat down for my writing session on Saturday, it dragged, so I stuck with my plan of taking Sunday off.

What a disaster! I had the goal of a relaxing day of fun, with zero time on the computer. Theoretically, that should be easy. Except, the night before, once the decision was already made, I realized that my character's electricity-killing ability wasn't really important to the story. Remove it, and I'm writing an ordinary romance (not my genre). Keep it in, and the story needs to change. Saturday night, this seemed very doable.

I woke up Sunday with the Sasha story in my head, and not in a good way. I wasn't even out of bed before I was wondering how I was supposed to rework the story. I was depressed after twenty minutes of staring at the ceiling.

We got out of the house for a while, and that helped, but the moment we returned home, so did all my fears and doubts. I pushed them aside and laid down on the bed in the sun. This was a day for relaxation. And while I was relaxed, I had a few great ideas for a scene coming up, and I thought I'd run with it. Cody was napping, I had the time; why not storyboard the rest of the novel. The ideas seemed like they were starting to shift and move.

So I jotted notes and paced and put up new note cards and took down old ones and got out my trusty The Writer's Journey—

And realized I'd done it again: I'd written a two-act story.

I paced more. I talked out loud. I had a cookie. I had another cookie. I jotted more notes. I jotted random words for inspiration. I tried creativity-inducing exercises. I woke Cody up. And then the real pity party started. Oh, it was awful. I'll spare you the details (and save myself a little pride) and simply say that at one point I was questioning my career choice, my ability to be a writer, and how terrible a person I was.

We left the house. It was the only solution short of blacking out. All the ugly thoughts in my head wouldn't stop. We went for a walk. When we returned, we watched Bolt. And finally, finally, after so much frustration and self-pity (and did I mention frustration?) a new idea came to me, a way to rework the ending and get my third act.

The idea is far from fleshed out (it's a whopping two cards of my storyboard), but the third act is there. I wasn't even terribly excited. I was just tired.

I still can't decide if the day off was good. Emotionally, it sucked. But it made me realize the flaws in my story and see the lack of the third act before I finished and even before I got there. And I've already decided how to cut out 5 scenes from the beginning to get the book moving faster. Plus, I've got a better grasp of the genre (paranormal action with elements of romance—yes, that needs work and focus). I've also pinpointed a direction. Possibly I consolidated a month or more worth of editing frustration into one day. But, holy cow, that day was not one I'd want to relive!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Packing for the Apocalypse

For the first time in a long, long time, Cody and went to see a movie on the opening night. Given my waning obsession with all things apocalypse and 2012, it should come to no surprise that we went to see 2012.

I promise I won't give any spoilers away here. The movie was highly entertaining peppered with moments of improbable pauses to explain things to the children in the movies. I really enjoyed the whole show, despite John Cusak. Cusak makes a very believable semi-deadbeat dad with a failed career. He's not so believable as an action hero. (Cody disagrees, citing Gross Point Blank. I say that Cody's argument is still flawed.)

But the movie got me thinking of this apocalyptic scenario: If I know that 90% of the earth's population is going to be wiped out, and to make this fantasy enjoyable, I also know that all the people I love are going to be safe, and I know we're all going to get on an arc, and we're allowed only one suitcase, what would I bring?

A survival guide comes to mind. Clothes to layer. Eyeglasses of different strengths. But beyond that, what is there to take? I've been running this over in my head for a whole day and come up with surprisingly few items. Most things seem like they'd be useful, but then they'd be used up in a month or two (a flashlight's batteries would die, the toilet paper would be gone through, the toothpaste squeezed from the tube, the books read to deterioration). And none of those things would lend themselves to survival once land is again found. I guess I would pick a lot of different nonfiction books: how to farm/irrigate/find water, how to build a house, how to weave and crochet and knit, how to take care of injuries, how to find plants that heal. Or maybe I would take things that others would find useful so I could barter for someone's medical skills or for a shirt someone else wove. What would you pack?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Another Goodwin Original

On Thursday, Cody and I attended a friends and family event at the 20th Street Gallery in Sacramento, California, where one of my favorite artists, Suzanne Goodwin, had 20 pieces on display. The show was a 20/20 show, where the artists were challenged to do 20 pieces in a little over 20 days. As a NaNo WriMo participant, I can appreciate the trials and joys of such a tight deadline for an artist, and I always love going to Suzanne's shows to support Suzanne and see all the wonderful pieces she's created. This time, there was an added bonus: We took home a Suzanne Goodwin original!

It's she cute! Cody and I both fell in love with this 8-inch by 8-inch painting. I've been roaming around the house with it for the last two days trying to find just the right place for it. I'm thinking she's going to find a home in the office. While she hasn't (yet) inspire a story, she makes a cute muse to watch over my shoulder.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Great Author

I finished Sharon Shinn's Mystic and Rider last night and wanted to rush immediately off to the bookstore to get the next in the series. Unfortunately, I was dressed in my jammies and had just finished brushing my teeth before bed, so I'm still without The Thirteenth House (book 2). (Though, sad to say, I was headed for bed before the bookstore was closed; this NaNo thing has been wearing me out!)

Shinn is a new author for me. While I've seen her books in the stores for years, I've never ventured to pick on up. This time, it was a combination of a coupon and the beautiful color of the cover (I'm a sucker for these warm colors) that made me take the chance. Ah, such shallow reasons!

The novel was a quiet read. By this, I mean there was not a point when I was consumed with the need to stay up all night finishing a chapter/scene. Yet, I loved the story, I loved the characters, especially the development of the characters as a group, growing tighter and more loyal to each other through the course of the novel. Her world was delightful, fraught with peril, uplifted with comedy. Enchanting.

My favorite part was the end. To be specific, the last two paragraphs. Let me preface my praise with this: I don't like poetry. It's not that I don't like poets or pretty or evocative words put together just right. It's more that I don't like the space poetry needs. It needs lots of white space on the page. It needs lots of mental space to let the poem unfold in. It needs time and separation from the moment to be appreciated, or so I've always felt. But I like my words to be strung together into something that moves forward, something that is real and rich on the page, creating a new world or character or scene even if I'm reading while sitting in front of a speaker in the middle of a Metallica concert. Basically, I want words that take up so much space in my mind and create something so much more that this world temporarily falls away. I suppose that may happen for some people when they read poetry. It's what happens for me when I read really good books.

There are many authors on my auto-buy list who create this escape through speed and high action, and I love that. But there are those few who create an escape through action and characters and the raw beauty of their story, and it is these authors which I'm both in awe of and adore, like Jacqueline Carey and in some scenes Robert Jordan or Laurell K. Hamilton.

Shinn's whole novel was fun to read, but the ending achieved this beauty. The last few paragraphs were pure poetry in story format, and they made me love the story that much more.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Half Done, Four-thirds to Go

For all that I've whined and moaned on this blog at times, I'm usually very happy with my writing, with the act of writing, and especially with the memory of having written that day. So it's been uncharacteristic of me lately to feel upset with my writing almost instantaneously after I finish for the day. Today was a perfect example. I wrote more than I normally do in less time, the story was flowing, and the characters had a few moments of connection, but I closed the Word document and immediately felt like I'd written a day's worth of crap.

I decided it was unwise to listen to that ugly voice, so I'm focusing on things that are positive.
1. I figured out the motivation of my evil characters last night, which means I can map out the ending.
2. The story is progressing.
3. According to the traditional NaNo numbers, I'm over halfway to the word-count goal.

The rest of the fear can go sit on a shelf for a while. I refuse to dwell on how little story has happened in these 85 pages.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The 30/70 Rule

It's a well known fact (at least to me) that I write over word count/page count every time. Most of my editing is cutting, trimming, tightening. So I realized, especially after reading about the average length of debut novels being no longer than 80,000 words, that I was setting myself up for extra work later on by making my word count 100,000. Not just is that too long to begin with, but even as I looked at that word-count goal, I knew that I'd overshoot it. I always do. Which is why I've decided to cut the number down to 80,000 and hopefully tighten the story as I go and I keep a stricter eye on the length of my scenes. (I could be deluding myself, but if it works, hallelujah!)

With edits in mind, I keep thinking of something Laurell K. Hamilton mentioned recently on her blog: when she first started writing, she says that about only 30 percent of what she wrote was good, but she had to write the other 70 percent to get to find that good 30 percent. When I read this, I scoffed. Only 30 percent was worth keeping! It's a good thing my average was reversed!

Or so I thought. Now, a bit more humbler as I'm back in the writing process and remembering all the edits I make even as I'm writing, and then all the subsequent edits I've made to Madison, I think I can believe in the 30/70 rule. I've trimmed so much from Madison, added so much new text, changed sentences, scenes, conversations, character names, that my original manuscript looks closer to the character/plot sketch of the final product than an actual novel. I'm already editing and rewriting Sasha, sometimes as I go, sometimes as NaNo No-No days of redoing scenes. How quickly I forgot about all the trials along the way!

And yet, I still hold out hope that with Sasha I'll have a better ratio. Maybe a 40/60 ratio of good to bad text.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lightening Up

Today I had a very frustrating writing session. I struggled along with flat descriptions, slow pacing, and characters with erratic emotions that didn't match the scene. It was painful. It was torture. I finished two hours of writing and thought I'd barely gotten 800 words. Nope, I'd written 2,358, more than my daily allotment.

But it's not good. I know that's okay in the NaNo rules. I know that it's less about writing something readable and more about just writing out the story, but the scene is haunting me, so I have a feeling that tomorrow will begin with rewrites. The scene doesn't need to take that long (and if I'm going to keep the book down to a decent page count, it can't take that long).

I know where I went wrong now, after a day of percolation. I lost sight of where the tension was in the scene. I can fix that.

I spent the day feeling bad about how long it's taking me to get the feel for this story and to get the pacing right for these characters. And then I sat down at my desk to blog and looked at my calendar: Nine days. I've been working on this novel a whopping nine days. It's time to cut myself some slack. Madison, the novel I love and am almost ready to sell, has taken me two years to perfect to the point where I take pride in it as I read it. I think that expecting that same level of polish after nine days was a bit much. It's time for me to lighten up.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

When the Internet Isn't My Friend

Sometimes the Internet is just plain scary. I logged in today with the intent of writing a fluffy little post about my first QVC purchase (I've gotten sucked into so many of their pitches and thought I needed what was being sold, but this is the first time I made the plunge). I'm very pleased with the purchase, and it was fun, and it was in the grand scheme of things, pointless, especially in a writing-related blog, but I like celebrating firsts of all kinds, and I was going to celebrate with you.

Then I stopped by several of the blogs I follow. Everyone out there has serious topics of late: how writing saved their life, changed them, helped them find something better than abusive relationships; how hard the industry is; how the novel length I've chosen is probably too long for a debut author...

Scary stuff (though the article about writing saving the author's life was very powerful—it just was much more serious than my mood). I don't need doubts planted by other people. I'm rational enough to be able to tell when what I write is good (and I have had feedback, real non-Mom feedback, that supports both my good and bad opinions about my work, so I know I'm not delusional). I get along pretty well in a bubble of hope and inspiration and determination. Being told that it's hard doesn't help. Being told that I'm writing too much...well, it's good to know, but at this phase in the writing process, I can't think about word count too much. I have to focus on a good story and cut and trim later.

Which is why I'm going to check out Cute Overload and then log off, because I don't need the added pressure of an industry's collective doubts and fears.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A NaNo No-No

Yesterday morning, I finished a scene that struck a sour chord. All day I pondered it in the back of my mind, and by the late afternoon, I knew where I'd gone wrong. I even jotted down some quick notes for how to fix it in the next scene.

This morning, while brushing my teeth, I realized that I didn't need to fix the next scene—I needed to fix the scene I'd already written. And I knew exactly how to do it.

So this morning I broke one of the number one NaNo rules and went back to text I'd already written. I started out with the idea of doing the changes as edits, but I realized that I pretty much (except for two paragraphs) needed to scrap the entire scene. The entire scene!

I cut out eight pages (2,161 words), saving them in another document in case my new notion was way off base. Then I wrote 11 new pages (3,277 words) and confirmed that the bad feeling I'd had all day yesterday about the previously completed scene being wrong had been right: this new scene is the one that needed to be written.

I've decided not to count the removed text, since my real goal is not so much to make the NaNo word-count goal as it is to make my own 100,000-word novel goal. Still, it pleases me that I'm ahead of schedule even with the cuts, having amassed an "extra" 4,363 words more than the daily NaNo requirement (being 1,667 words per day). Since my personal goal is 2,000 words a day, I'm still ahead there too, with a spare 2.365 words, just in case I need a day off.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Coming Up for Air

I had a wonderful writing session this morning, in which I wrote 3,692 words! I started trying to make the scene short, and it got away from me. Great for now, but I know there'll be a lot of cuts and edits to this section later. Of course, it's the beginning, and it takes me a while to get the right tone and pace for my new world/book.

But that's not what this post is about. It's about The Proposal. I finally got to see Sandra Bullock's latest romantic comedy and I loved it! It made me laugh so hard in parts that I couldn't breathe (always a good sign in a romantic comedy), and though I saw the ending coming (it's kind of hard not to with a formulaic genre I've read and watched a thousand different times), it was unique enough that I was captivated.

Which is a rather jaded way of saying that I think all fans of the genre and all Sandra Bullock fans should see this film if you haven't already. So cute!

(And I'm going to blame my lack of articulation on those 12 or so pages I wrote this morning—they didn't leave much creativity for a witty blog post.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sing Along With Me

I love my new ending on Madison! I've been dancing around the house and in general being quite obnoxious about how much I love the ending I added on to Madison. Editing it the other night was one of those magical moments when my writing was better than I remembered it!

As you might have guessed, I finished the final major edits on Madison and I'm now typing them all up, one hour at a time (or whatever time's worth of energy I have left at the end of the day—so far an hour is the max). Every little bit gets me closer to selling it, and now that I've chopped off a good 30+ pages from the beginning and added an equal amount to the ending, making sure there's actual story on all the pages, I know I'm going to sell this novel.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can't Equals Motivation

I recently discovered that there seems to be nothing quite as motivating as knowing that I have to stop writing to really get my creative juices flowing. I've been writing in the morning, so I can devote the most energy to writing before work has funneled off it's portion. However, I also schedule most of my appointments for the morning because I like large, uninterrupted blocks of time during my day in which to work.

Thus, I had a problem today when I was almost finished with a scene in Sasha, almost finished with my minimum daily word count, and I had to abandon it and rush out the door to a chiropractic appointment. I considered canceling the appointment because the scene was so alive in my head, the dialog vivid and fresh, the next scene building behind it, but I really needed an adjustment, so I went.

When I returned home, the scene had cooled, but I managed to finish my minimum in a matter of minutes and wrap up the scene. Now I need to learn how to capture that I've-got-to-leave-in-just-a-minute, hurry-up-and-type-it-all-out-in-the-remaining-two-minutes urgency at the beginning of my writing session.

Monday, November 2, 2009

New Book, New Name

I have finally settled on something to call this new novel. It's most definitely not the title, but since I still needed something easier to say than "my current NaNo WriMo novel," a nickname will have to suffice. Thus, I shall call it Sasha.

Why Sasha, you ask, since the main character's name is Eva? Well, I've secretly been calling the novel Sasha for a while now, since I first conceived the story idea almost half a year ago. Sasha is a secondary character around which the entire plot revolves. Yep, you read that right. Although the main character, Eva, is who the story is really about, her story wouldn't be possible without Sasha. I thought of Sasha long before I thought of Eva and her electricity-killing curse. I thought of Sasha long before I considered she'd be in danger for most of the novel. She was the impetus of the whole book. She's also not human.

I'm not sure how much I'm going to give away of this novel at this time, though, so that's a sad little teaser for a project at least a year from being read. But I'm happy to share the novel's nickname, finally, and be able to have something to call it while I slave away at my word-count goals.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It Has Begun!

NaNo WriMo has begun! For the third year in a row, I stared at the blank first page of a brand new novel, and I didn't curl into a little ball under my desk (as a small part of me wanted to do). Instead, I began typing. Then erasing. Then typing again. I deleted almost as much as I kept as I tried to find the right voice and tone for this story, weed out information that only I need to know about the characters, and keep the pacing going. Yep, all that, and I wrote only 6.5 pages.

The last two years of my life have been devoted in one shape or another to Madison projects. I know the Madison world pretty well by now. I can slide in and out of it in a matter of minutes. But while I've been kept awake many a night by visions of this new world, getting it down on paper proved a tad more difficult than I imagined. I'm writing in the first person again, so getting into my new character's head was also challenging. She's different from Madison, more mature, more self-sufficient, more focused and driven. She also, finally, has a name: Eva Parker.

Choosing a name took a large chunk of time out of my day. I'm still not a hundred percent certain it is the name, but I'm liking it for right now. The male lead: Justin. As of yet, no last name. (Cody wants "Case," but I've vetoed that; the novel's going to have humorous elements, but I'm not leaning toward spoofy.)

The other thing I'd forgotten: how much energy writing takes! I've set a goal of 2,000 words a day, with the expectation that this novel will be 100,000 words. Which means, I should finish December 20, like an early Christmas present to myself. That's the goal as of today, day one. I'll let you know if I still think it's realistic in a week.

For all you NaNo WriMo people out there: I wish you luck. The rest of you should try this!