I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by all the horrifying happenings in the world right now. In an act of self-preservation, I’ve spent today in a fictional world that exists in my head. I’m revising my middle-grade novel, spending time with some funny girls and “bad” guys who, in the big scheme of things, aren’t really all that bad. I know that I need to return to reality tomorrow and behave as a contributing member of society, but right now I’m hunkered down in a happier place.
I’m sifting through the feedback I received from my critique group. Most everything offered either resonated with me right away (YES! That change is a must!) or fell flat on delivery (NOPE! That misses the point and/or is unnecesssary and/or etc). Those are the easy critique points. However, I’ve also got some tough calls to make, and those are now simmering in my middle mind. Should I expand the mystery element of the story? Does X, Y, Z happen? I’m hoping my middle mind has answers for me in the very near future.
In the meanwhile, I’m reveling in some of the truly messed-up things that happen in this book. Lest you think I’m alone in this kind of thinking:
Personally, I see little distinction between an artistic mentality and criminality.
You couldn’t possibly create a compelling story without some wickedness
or some fascination with the disgusting.
Being good is a hindrance to a writer.
~ Russell Smith
Can I get an amen?
As I revise my middle-grade novel, plugging holes and solving plot problems, I’m keeping this sentiment in mind:
Honey bees don’t need a pithy quote; they made the connection between luck and toil a looong time ago.
Last night I met with my critique group, The Writing Roosters. (Yes, we’re aware that it’s funny for a membership of six women and zero men to be roosters.)
It was my turn to receive a critique and the group didn’t disappoint. I’m grateful for their willingness to point out holes and weak characterization and plotting improbabilities in my novel, and also to let me know what they felt I’d done well. It was my first draft and I now have a pretty firm grasp on how to revise.
I received lots of guidance last night, but want to give a special shout-out to Claudia Mills for using Track Changes/Comments a whopping 429 times! Thank you for getting down and dirty with my manuscript, friend!
Last weekend I spent time with my nephew who is also a writer. We talked books and the writing process. We also talked a bunch about Marilynne Robinson, and the next morning I woke with her on my mind. I grabbed my notebook from 2003 when I spent three weeks in Iowa City absorbing her genius, and reread the notes I took.
Today, one of MR’s fourteen-year-old pearls of wisdom helped me out:
You should be every character’s advocate. You are God to that character. Typically, in one way or another, people are trying to make the best case for themselves. People are whole creatures. Villains have history behind them.
Aunt Isabel is no longer a one-note character. Marilynne Robinson for the assist!
I’m writing the final scenes of my middle-grade novel.
I know where the story goes and how it ends.
However, that doesn’t make the process any less exhausting.
I’ve got lots of characters coming together,
and they’re all toting individual motivations and plot lines.
Choreographing these scenes feels a bit like juggling chainsaws and kittens.
The good news is that it’s only a first draft.
I need to remember that these scenes do not need to be perfect.
The synopsis for my work-in-progress includes a plot point in which my protagonist has an accident that results in medical costs her family can’t afford. When I wrote it, I didn’t think much beyond that general idea. For the last couple days, I’ve been working on those scenes. And it’s slow-going. Why?
BECAUSE I’VE FALLEN DOWN A RABBIT HOLE.
How are federal poverty levels determined?
How much Medicaid coverage is available if the state declined federal funding?
What are hospital costs vs urgent care costs?
What happens if you miss an insurance payment?
It’s interesting (and infuriating) to do this kind of research in the shadow of the Repugnicans’ efforts to deny health care to millions of people for the sole purpose of giving the obscenely rich more tax breaks. If I’m not careful, my story could easily turn into a one-issue manifesto. (Universal health care, yo!)
I’m trying to keep this quote from Zora Neale Hurston in mind:
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.
I’m down this rabbit hole to better serve my plot and story.
Some writing days are excruciating. The worst are those when I don’t get any words down, and instead spend my time catastrophizing and twirling in my head. The next worse are those days that feel like a death march through neck-deep glue, in which every word has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the page.
Today was the latter. I achieved my word count, and now possess a messy mass of sentences which have the potential to be revised into something less vomitous.