I’m not in the market for a new project, thank you very much

Today I’m suffering from a self-inflicted case of the writer’s malady known as Shiny New Idea Syndrome. I’ve been revising a middle-grade novel and mostly liking it and, in fact, the other day had a breakthrough regarding how to rewrite the opening and quickly reworked it to my satisfaction. The revision is mostly going well and there’s no reason to set aside the project.

But.

I learned of a submission call for picture books and decided it would be good for my brain (that’s been almost 100% devoted to writing novels) to try something new. I figured noodling on a completely different type of project would lubricate my creative juices and invigorate my work. Am I invigorated? Who knows? All I can say for certain is that I just spent the last couple hours going through my Picture Book Ideas notebook and now my brain is ping-ponging between multiple story possibilities. None of which are suited for this specific submission call, but details like that don’t ever matter to Shiny New Idea Syndrome.

Universal truth: The grass is always greener on the other side of the work-in-progress. All that not-yet-effed-up potential is so very tempting.

I’m going to keep working on my middle-grade. If a suitable picture book idea comes to me, I’ll pursue it. Otherwise, I won’t go beating the bushes for other distractions.

You read it here first.

Sunday Confessional: It’s taken me five days to write 350 words

I’m writing a new opening for my madcap middle-grade novel, one that (hopefully) sets the correct tone for the manuscript. It’s been a struggle. Over the past five days I’ve written draft after draft after draft and today started thinking I’d be better off if I gave a chimpanzee a typewriter and locked her in here while I took a long nap.

Time to step away from the keyboard . . .

As this crow flies

I’m programmed to believe it’s best to take the shortest route between Point A and Point B. Why waste time, right? Get where I want to be as quickly as possible. To do otherwise is proof I’m lost and confused.  I’m hyper-sensitive to that judgment because I have a horrible sense of direction and spend a fair amount of time feeling disoriented. I’ve literally pulled over and cried in frustration when my brain couldn’t sort out where I was headed. Even when I get somewhere without mishap, I frequently berate myself for taking a longer route than necessary.

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Why? The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And anyone who takes a longer route is someone who’s doing it wrong.

That’s an unhelpful way of thinking and is particularly dangerous in terms of my writing journey. And yet, those thoughts pop in my head. Right now I’m wondering how I could’ve written three drafts of my manuscript without recognizing a key problem. How did I not know?! What is wrong with me?!

Well, nothing’s wrong with me. It’s called the writing process. I’ve been here before and I’ll be here again. Guaranteed.

Today I celebrate side roads, scenic detours, and fourth drafts.

Knowing when to pivot

I was all ready to blog about how I’d received feedback on the latest draft of my middle-grade manuscript along with a suggestion on how to address a core problem. It was going to be a blog post about trusting my gut, in that the revision suggestion had initially resonated with me but after further thought I knew it was all wrong. The post’s title was a straight-forward “Trusting my gut.”

I wrote a few words and went off in search of “gut” images. Nothing. I searched “belly” and came up with a slew of pregnant bellies which I nixed because I didn’t want to sound a pregnancy alarm. “Stomach” and “tummy” brought more pregnant women pics.

And then I searched for “chubby baby” and came across this:

I’m trusting my gut that this image is what I was looking for all along.

Thankful Thursday: Better Late Than Never

Sometimes taking the most simple action can quell my anxiety. Yesterday as I worked on this revision and felt overwhelmed by the many, many details of my madcap story that must be explained by the end of the manuscript, I started a list.

LOOSE ENDS / EXPLANATIONS NEEDED

Whoa. Behold this literary rocket scientist at work!

I’m trying hard to stop kicking myself for not creating the list at the outset of this round of revisions and, instead, be grateful for my peace of mind in the here and now.

A good day in the Mind-Doh factory

I’ve spent the day working on the third draft of my work-in-progress. Thanks to three reads (partial and full manuscripts) from the wonderful Writing Roosters critique group, the book is in pretty decent shape, which makes for a pleasant writing experience. I can see the good that’s already there and can easily envision the good to come. I’m about sixty pages from the end and hope to have the draft completed by the end of the month.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have this creative outlet.

Thankful Thursday

Sometimes the universe gifts you a tin filled with popcorn kernels. And sometimes the gift comes in the form of a writing project that transports you away from life’s challenges and makes your heart sing.

Down the research rabbit hole

Where did the day go? Last thing I knew, I was sitting down to figure out some stuff about the fictional community I’m creating. I did learn lots about pea viners and farming trends, and my revision notes are more fleshed out. I definitely made progress.

Still. Where did the day go?

Riding through the storm

Today I’m feeling a bit like this as I revise:

There are visibility issues, doubts and uncertainties, and a nagging worry that the whole endeavor is about to go into a skid. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying the ride and can’t wait to see the end result when the dust settles.

When it’s all too much

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.

Artist or criminal?

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

cremation ashes

Can I get an amen?

Today I’m earning my fortune

As I revise my middle-grade novel, plugging holes and solving plot problems, I’m keeping this sentiment in mind:

Luck is not chance, it’s toil;
fortune’s expensive smile is earned.
~ Emily Dickinson

Honey bees don’t need a pithy quote; they made the connection between luck and toil a looong time ago.

Thankful Thursday: Writing Roosters edition

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.)

Our mascot that oversees every meeting.

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!

 

Thank you, Marilynne Robinson

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!

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.