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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
Whenever I write a novel,
I have a strong sense that I am doing something I was unable to do before.
With each new work, I move up a step and discover something new inside me.
~ Haruki Murakami
It was a gorgeous weekend here, but I mostly only saw it through the window. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I accomplished what I hoped to do which was finish writing a synopsis for my new middle-grade book (that I haven’t completely written yet) and rework the first six chapters according to that synopsis.
I just hit SEND on those materials and feel pretty damned good.
Cue the sparklers!
I’m working on a synopsis for my work-in-progress and, as anyone who has ever written one can attest, it’s not a pretty process. This time around I’m writing a synopsis before writing the novel which means I’m not locked into anything.
NOT LOCKED INTO ANYTHING = EVERYTHING IS A POSSIBILITY
Or another way to describe it: SQUIRREL BRAIN FREE-FOR-ALL
My ADD tendencies are having a blast-y as I try to reconcile my rough outline with all the brand new shiny ideas firing in my brain.
ZIP ZAP ZOOP.
However, I did make progress today. And when I’d had enough of ye olde synopsis, I put Emma on her leash and we went for a run on the trails.
Nothing clears the squirrel from one’s brain like a run over uneven terrain.
For me, when I ‘discover’ a story,
there is a feeling of buoyancy and clarity,
perhaps similar to early morning out on a prairie highway,
when darkness lifts and reveals
the outline of farmhouses and copses of trees in the distance.
~ David Bergen
Just hit SEND on the opening pages of my brand new middle-grade novel to my critique group. We are WRITING ROOSTERS so it feels appropriate to do my celebratory dance with the Bluths:
Lindsay is definitely bustin’ the most rooster-like moves.
Actually, unlike Dug the Dog from the movie UP, I maintained my focus today. I woke this morning with a game plan for working on opening pages of a new middle-grade, and I kept to that schedule. I made good progress and am feeling (slightly) less nervous about sending those pages (plus more) to my critique group on Monday.
I declare today a WIN for this writer.
I’m working on my new-old middle-grade project, one I partially drafted and then set aside for six years. It’s been a slow process as I reenter this manuscript, but not painfully so. It’s more of a satisfying slowness as I put down words that, at times, feel very close to being just right.
Who knows? Those words may end up being absolutely wrong.
But right now it doesn’t matter. Right now I’m allowing myself to enjoy the slow, deliberate movement of this particular story’s metamorphosis.
That right there is progress.
After a revision-filled day, I’m pleased with my progress. In fact, if I pushed on for just one more hour, I’d probably make it to The End. But my eyes are screaming for a break and, since my peepers work very, very hard for me every single day, I owe them a respite.
This lemur’s calling it a day.
I’ve made huge progress on my middle-grade revisions, and am ahead of schedule. Woot! My plan was to have the revision finished before leaving to visit my mother at the end of the month and, because I’ve kept to my pages-per-day commitment, I will succeed. And that feels very good.
However, I can’t help thinking about how much revision has gone into this particular project. Oy. It’s been a long, long haul.
But a wise children’s writer with WAY more experience than me once said:
Revision is the heart of writing.
Every page I do is done over seven or eight times.
~ Patricia Reilly Giff
It’s nice to know I’m not alone.