Preparation for writing my own Damn Fine Story

So I’ve decided to do NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and am spending my time before November 1st figuring out characters and outline. It’s intimidating to think about 50k words in 30 days and I’m fully aware my success depends on the very best road map I can create.

I had a cold shock the other day with the realization that my outline was a series of “and then” scenes (one event following another, without an increase in tension). As written, my outline was worthless. I’m not gonna have the luxury of taking breaks to noodle on how to increase conflict in the NaNo draft. I must have built-in conflict before I begin which means I need to link my scenes with “but” and “therefore.” Note: there are many links out there regarding Trey Parker’s explanation regarding “but, therefore”).

Last night I couldn’t sleep and spent hours in the dark thinking about my protagonist and what he’ll be up against in my new book. Tons of ideas bounced around my head (none of which I wrote down) and then I remembered what I’d read in Damn Fine Story (written by Chuck Wendig, profane and big-hearted gift to the writing world). To paraphrase: it doesn’t work to cram a plot onto a character; the characters drive the story.

This morning I reread Damn Fine Story’s chapter two: “Soylent Story: It’s Made Out of People.” And guess what? I’m feeling much better about my upcoming NaNo experience.

Thank you, Chuck!

Embracing My Dummy Status

I’ve used the  writing software Scrivener in the past, but haven’t touched it in quite a while which means I’ve forgotten how to navigate it. I was never a pro user and only utilized a small percentage of its capabilities, but even those basic skills have vanished in the mists. So today I’m using Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez to reacquaint myself with the program. (I find the Scrivener manual to be more of a rabbit hole of confusion than a help). This Dummies book isn’t perfect, but I am finding my way and making progress outlining my work-in-progress.

Proof I’m hard at work!

My favorite aspect of Scrivener is the corkboard because I do so much better when I can take in the whole of something. Plus, I can label and color code my index cards! Despite the learning curve that’s always involved when Tracy Meets Software, I’m pretty sure I’m having more fun than Bartelby the Scrivener ever experienced.

Thankful Thursday: the Dr. John Sarno edition

I just got home from a run in which my right hip got SO tight, I was forced to stop running. The pain was close to excruciating. It was definitely in the oh-my-effing-goddess category, and if I hadn’t known about the mind-body connection, I might’ve panicked and thought I’d suffered some horrible injury.

But I knew better.

So I stood there in the street and talked out loud to my brain. I said, “Brain, I get it. You know that I’m under a great deal of stress lately. You know I was just now thinking about how slow I’m running, how tired I’m feeling, how hard life seems to be these days. I was feeling sad-angry-depressed. And then BOOM,  my hip locked up. But guess what? This bogus pain, that is NOT rooted in any kind of physical reality, will only get in the way of me being active and coping with those emotions. Running is what I need to do to live my life. Your job is to make sure I don’t trip on anything. Your job is to process info from my eyes so that I can enjoy the signs of spring and process the bird songs I hear, so I can identify those feathered friends. Your job is to work with my body that absolutely requires movement in order to handle stress. I must be active. Let’s work as a team.”

And then I started running again. I’ll be honest, it didn’t feel great. My hip was still tight, still painful, still annoying as hell. But as I ran, I talked some more. I pointed out to my brain that I was running, that the bogus pain hadn’t achieved the desired effect of making me focus on the pain so that I’d “forget” about the hard stuff in my life. Instead, I was going to continue running so that I could cope with the many challenges that wouldn’t just magically disappear because my hip was locked in muscle-spasm-hell. By the time I finished my run, my hip had loosened. It’s sore after spasming, but there’s no lasting damage.

My brain is being very tricky lately. Last week, I suffered tightness and pain in my neck unlike anything I’ve ever experienced (Zippy could hear the vertebrae click when I tilted my head forward). I have to admit, I got caught up in that one and didn’t immediately recognize it as mind-body stuff for a couple days. But as soon as I started talking to my brain, it loosened up. It’s still not 100% better, but I am being active and living my life. I have not given in to a bogus “injury” that isn’t rooted in any kind of reality.

If anyone’s still reading and is interested, there are forums in which people discuss all sorts of physical conditions that they’ve been able to treat as mind-body conditions. Our brains are very crafty and will go to great lengths to manufacture pain to distract us from life’s stresses, difficulties, and anger-inducing situations. Sometimes we gotta be smarter than our brains.

Bunny Monday

I’m writing writing writing, but am not yet finished with this draft. I need to send the manuscript to my critique group in a few days. The clock is ticking.

No time to say hello, good-bye . . .

My aim is true

Today as I work on my novel, I am thinking ahead, hoping ahead, to the day when a reader reaches for my story. Last May, I photographed this man perusing a “Book Exchange” in Stockholm and am posting it as a motivator. I aim to create the most compelling, reader-enticing story I can write, dammit.

Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!

Apparently, today is #WinnieThePoohDay. I just pulled my Winnie-the-Pooh collection off the shelf in search of a passage to quote. After getting lost in the pages/memories, I chose the following:

Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
I don’t much mind if it rains or snows,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice new nose,
I don’t much care if it snows or thaws,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice clean paws!
Sing Ho! for a Bear!
Sing Ho! for a Pooh!
And I’ll have a little something in an hour or two!
(from In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole)

I can’t help but feel a kinship with Winnie-the-Pooh. He finds great happiness in composing silly little songs, and the next smackeral is always on his radar.

Thank you, A. A. Milne for all the smiles and fun-to-sing songs.
Happy Birthday to you.
Tiddly pom.

Bunny Monday with a hint of peril

I miss seeing bunnies on my lawn and haven’t snapped a photo of one in a while, so went to Pixabay in search of an image. There were many wonderful photos, but this one jumped out as a fitting representation of our political predator-prey dynamic:

Rabbit, Run!

Where’s Tracy going with that axe?

There’s no limit to how complicated things can get,
on account of one thing always leading to another.
~ E. B. White

I don’t know the context for this quotation, but it speaks to me today as I struggle to revise my once tightly-plotted novel. The changes I’m making are needed and will strengthen the manuscript. I know this. But that knowledge doesn’t make the process any easier or less painful.

Every single tug on a story thread results in a temporary snarl that must be untangled in order for the revisions to flow. Today it feels as if I’m falling behind on the untangling process.

I’m hoping E.B. White was wrong and that there is actually a limit on how complicated things can get.

So, a funny thing happened

I’m in the process of drafting a middle-grade novel, a story I started six years ago and then set aside after writing 50 pages. Those pages burst out of me with voice and vitality, from who knows where, and while it’s great fun to be reunited with those characters, my process for writing the brand new pages is very different. This time around, I’m using a synopsis as my guide.

I’ve never written a synopsis before completing a first draft. Ever.

Last spring, when I’d let my agent know about the project, she asked if I had a synopsis to send along with the newly revised 50 pages. Um, no. However, I decided to give the loathed document a whirl, with the caveat that I wouldn’t shoot for any specific length, rather, I’d include EVERYTHING. A week later, I sent her the pages plus a 10-page synopsis. And today, I did the unimaginable: I thanked her for suggesting a synopsis. I told her that it was helping me keep on track, which was, in turn, helping me keep writing.

Which is why I decided to devote today’s blog post to my newfound appreciation for knowing-what-in-the-hell-comes-next. So, I pulled THE ELEVENTH DRAFT: CRAFT AND THE WRITING LIFE FROM THE IOWA WRITERS’ WORKSHOP off the shelf in hopes of finding a passage to reinforce my synopsis love.

And wouldn’t you know, what resonated the most was an excerpt from Fred G. Leebron, a workshop student who arrived in Iowa with absolute faith in Freytag’s Triangle.

Except, the part of his essay “Not Knowing” that spoke to me was this:
One night in Iowa City, I sat and listened to our instructor recount his day of writing, how he followed a character down to the basement, where he heard a strange rustling, and the character turned and drew out his gun and shot in the dumbwaiter a rat. “And,” the instructor grinned, “I didn’t even know it was there.”

And I thought, “So you don’t have to know.”

Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!

I admit to feeling momentary panic about that blasted 10-page synopsis. But then I calmed the f*^% down. Just because I’ve charted a path for the story I’m writing does not in any way mean that I am beholden to that chart. It’s a general guide, nothing more. If a rat or gun or dumbwaiter shows up in the story, I’ll allow them time to lobby for their inclusion. I won’t automatically toss out anything that shows up to the party.

And when that panic and angst over being too structured returns, (because I know for a fact those emotions will return), I’m gonna come back to this right here. After all, I set out to write one kind of post, and quite happily ended up with another.

The power of a name

Today I finished reading MY CROSS TO BEAR by Gregg Allman (with Alan Light). I was very sad when he died, and put a library hold on his autobiography. I’m currently listening to Brothers and Sisters, the first full album the group recorded after guitarist-extraordinaire Duane Allman died of injuries from a motorcycle wreck, and am listening to the music in a whole new way.

I’m feeling chock-full of Allman Brothers Band lore, but the anecdote that really gives me the chills is the one about how they chose the name for the band. I always assumed it was because Duane and Gregg put the group together, so Allman got top billing.

Not so.

Photo for At Fillmore East album, 1971. Photographer Jim Marshall.

Once they (finally) found their perfect musical combination of two lead guitarists, two drummers, one bass player and one organist, Duane called for a vote on the group’s name. The six members each wrote down the band name he wanted. Gregg chose Beelzebub (the right-hand man of the devil) and Duane, a huge Tolkien fan, chose something from Lord of the Rings. The other four guys? They each wrote Allman Brothers Band.

For some reason, that story really makes me smile.

I changed my mind

Just now, I sat down at my computer and went to pexels.com in search of a Lamb’s Ear photo. My plan for this blog post was to publicly declare my new-found hostility toward that invasive plant, and to describe how I’d ripped out AT LEAST SEVENTY GAZILLION of them from my garden today.

But when I got to pexels.com, my search results from several weeks ago were still there; I’d been looking for images for the characters in my work-in-progress.

And this guy was the very first photo:

I’ve decided to drop my rant and, instead, dedicate today’s post to this delightful child.

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Why I write books: Reason #87

Look at a book. A book is the right size to be a book.
They’re solar-powered. If you drop them, they keep on being a book.
You can find your place in microseconds.
Books are really good at being books,
and no matter what happens,
books will survive.
~  Douglas Adams

 

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Yeah? Well, I’m the kind of writer who does

I grabbed my copy of WRITERS DREAMING from the shelf and opened it in hopes of finding something interesting/insightful to share here today. I wasn’t searching for anything in particular and within a couple minutes, I happened upon these two excerpts:

I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t take notes.
I tell myself, trust the unconscious.
If something is important enough in my unconscious life I will remember.
It will come to me when I need it.
So I don’t keep a notebook of good lines, good thoughts or dreams.
~ Bharati Mukherjee in WRITERS DREAMING

Usually I don’t take notes
even when I have an idea for a story until I actually sit down to do it.
Because I always have felt that I have so many ideas that the ones that are important to me, that really are good, will stay.
And the other stuff will fade.
That’s kind of a filing system.
If it was not that interesting, or not that good an idea, if it had a germ of something good in it, that part will come back.
It’ll be in there somewhere.
~  John Sayles in WRITERS DREAMING

What the hell? No notes? Because the unconscious? And because bad will fade away and good will make itself known?

Who are these writers with their functioning memories and bizarre confidence in their abilities?!

I can’t imagine life without notebooks.notebooks
I have a variety of notebooks in a drawer, waiting for me to pull them out to write down all sorts of things inside. The good, bad, and everything in between. It’s how I sort out what’s what and who’s who in my stories. Notebooks help me navigate the oftentimes confusing dance of ideas going on in my head.

I take notes because I’m that kind of writer.

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Happy Windsday, Piglet

Zippy and I just went for a run.
It is very blowy out there.
Ugh.
winnie-the-pooh-and-the-blustery-day-winnie-the-pooh

It wasn’t quite that bad.
I mean, neither of us went airborne.
But that’s only because we’re not chubby little cubbies all stuffed with fluff.

Otherwise . . . WHOOOOOSH.
Trust me.

 

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No longer worrying my pretty little head

Just brought in today’s mail that included this:
cover

What the what?! A paperback in my mailbox? A book without author or ISBN? A book seemingly focused on end times?

I searched the rest of the mail and found this:postcard

Oh, cool. God’s got my back. What a relief to find out I no longer need to worry about Agent Orange & The Billionaire’s Club!

Whew.

 

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You yourself burst into bloom

geranium-bloom

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”
                                                                       ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

 

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Carrie Fisher: A mother of nature

I’ve been offline most of the day and checked in to discover Carrie Fisher has died. It’s hard to comprehend. She seemed indestructible. Tiny and fierce. A forever force of nature.

I remember reading POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE the first time. I remember thinking that Carrie Fisher was hilarious, yes, but also incredibly insightful about what it means to be human. She was so damned smart and brave. And generous. She went to her dark places and brought that scariness out into the light as a gift to us. Her writing, tweets, and interviews were a constant reminder that none of us is alone on this spinning ball, and that since we’re in this thing together, we might as well share laughter along the way.

Holding the copy Zippy bought to replace the one he accidentally dropped in a lake while reading.

This is the copy Zippy bought for me to replace the one he accidentally dropped in a lake while on vacation.

There’s lots of gold in the book’s “postcards” written by character Suzanne Vale, but this portion from the Epilogue speaks to me now:

[…I still don’t think I feel the way I perceive other people to feel. I don’t know if the problem lies in my perception or my comfort. Either way I come out fighting, wrestling with my nature, as it were. And golly, what a mother of nature it is. Sometimes, though, I’ll be driving, listening to loud music with the day spreading out all over, and I’ll feel something so big and great—a feeling as loud as the music. It’s as though my skin is the only thing that keeps me from going everywhere all at once. …] 
Happy New Year,
Suzanne

Carrie Fisher lived a life big and bold, and I’m glad her skin kept her here with us as long as it did. Wherever you are now, Carrie, I hope there’s nonstop loud music and feelings so big and great. You were one helluva writer and human being. Rest in peace.

 

 

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Ting-a-ling!

A bum on a cot next to Trout’s at the shelter wished him a Merry Christmas.
Trout replied, “Ting-a-ling! Ting-a-ling!”
~ From TIMEQUAKE by Kurt Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut gets my vote for all-time best humanist, and Ting-a-ling! gets my vote for best response to these frightening and infuriating times.

kurtvonnegut

Ting-a-ling!, everyone.

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Kidder and Fitzgerald for the assist

I just read GOOD PROSE: THE ART OF NONFICTION by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. As the cover says, it is “Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing.” I highly recommend this wise and funny book.

goodprose-coverThere are many gems scattered throughout (and not just for nonfiction writers, but anyone who loves playing with words), and one has been in the front of my brain since reading it:

I remember in college reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon and studying a note that he left in the manuscript: “Rewrite from mood. Has become stilted with rewriting. Don’t look — rewrite from mood.” I reread those lines so often, trying to understand them, that they stuck in my memory. Fitzgerald knew that there are at least two kinds of rewriting. The first is trying to fix what you’ve already written, but doing this can keep you from facing up to the second kind, from figuring out the essential thing you’re trying to do and looking for better ways to tell your story. If Fitzgerald had been advising a young writer and not himself, he might have said, “Rewrite from principle,” or “Don’t just push the same old stuff around. Throw it away and start over.”

I’m getting close to The End (of this draft) of my YA project, and very much appreciate Mr. Kidder sharing Mr. Fitzgerald’s wisdom with me. Maybe it will reach someone else who needs it now.

 

 

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Houston, we have a problem

A few minutes ago I searched for something on my desk. I found what I wanted.

However, I also discovered a whole stack of stapled-together drafts of various scenes from two different projects plus a pile of chronologically-organized query versions for one of those projects. Clearly, I have a paper problem.

paper-problem

But even more distressing than the avalanche of paper that has become my life is the realization that all those pieces of paper had one thing in common: handwritten revisions.

What am I thinking? That the literary world will need those important documents for the museum created in my memory after I die?! That someday someone will publish a study of one of my books à la E.B. White and THE ANNOTATED CHARLOTTE’S WEB?!

I tossed all of them in the recycle bin.

 

 

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Hanging tough with THE INFAMOUS RATSOS

Writing a good novel is hard work. But writing a good early chapter book is even harder because there are fewer words to establish setting, characterization, humor and emotions, and plot. Kara LaReau’s new book THE INFAMOUS RATSOS hits all those marks (with a big assist from the illustrations by Matt Myers!)

the-infamous-ratsos-cover

From the inside flap:
Meet Louie and Ralphie Ratso, two brothers who want to be tough, tough, tough, just like their dad, Big Lou. But every time they try to show just how tough they are, the Ratso brothers end up accidentally doing good deeds instead. What’ll Big Lou do when he finds out they’ve been acting like softies all over the Big City?

From Kara LaReau and Matt Myers, here is a clever and funny new chapter book about two wannabe infamous brothers who are bad at being bad.

I laughed in a bunch of places but especially loved whenever Ralphie Ratso tossed out another “Nyah-nyah!” in hopes of establishing his “tough” cred.

I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of THE INFAMOUS RATSOS . Do yourself a favor and bring some heart and humor into your day, Ratsos style!

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