Feeling a bit like this

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.

Poking and prying with a purpose

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.

Word spew

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.

Yay, me.

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.

Steve Holt!

I spent the day reading and critiquing a writing friend’s middle-grade manuscript, and just hit SEND.

There’s only one man on the planet who truly understands how pumped I am right now, and that man be Steve Holt!

 

Sidetracked by aquatic mannequins

I’m drafting a new scene for my middle-grade novel, a scene that takes place on a lake. There’s a raft and it’s a hot summer day, and the protagonist is learning how to do a back flip off the diving board. Anyway, I wanted to document where I’m at with this book and so went to Pixabay in search of a lake-raft-swimmer image to use.

I found this:

The photo has absolutely no connection to my scene (okay, this lake is comprised of water, as is the lake in my book), but upon discovering this image, I quit my search. I mean, this piece of photographic genius deserves its own documentation.

There’s so much weird going on here. You could focus on the fact that these women are playing cards / gambling in swim caps and goggles or that the mannequins are wearing robotic assassin expressions, but all I can think about is how it’d feel to stand in lake muck while slimy lily pad stems wrap around my legs.

Eww.

So. Many. Words.

Only 26 letters in the alphabet, yet so many words to choose from as I write this book. I’m not talking “damp” vs “moist.” ** I’m talking about the pressure of potentially stringing together words that inadvertently take my novel in a whole new direction. Words wield so much power.

But words are also a writer’s playground, and it can be very cool to play with them. Sometimes, though, writing a first draft reminds me what it was like to get off one of these old merry-go-rounds.

I’d be disoriented and slightly fearful about what I was about to crash into. I’m having that same feeling today.

** (Sorry, moist-haters, couldn’t resist)

No blood on the tracks

Over the past two days, I’ve felt stalled and demoralized about the middle-grade novel I’m writing. When I woke this morning, I was determined to face the pages and write myself out of that morale-sucking place. No matter what it took.

Well, I’m pleased to say that (1) there was no bloodshed involved in the writing of those pages and that (2), I’ve officially regained my momentum and am back on track.

However, I can’t be complacent about my efforts. Tomorrow I must plant my butt in the chair and face the pages again. And so on, day after day, until this draft is finished.

Even if you’re on the right track,
you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
~ Will Rogers