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.

About everything

Fiction is too beautiful to be about just one thing. It should be about everything.
~ Arundhati Roy
sedum

I absolutely agree with Ms. Roy. Fiction should include the smooth, the rough, the soft, the sharp, the bright, the dull, the everything. Right now, however, I’m struggling with a bit of overwhelm in regards to the EVERYTHING I’m contemplating for this current project.

The good news is that I’ve (temporarily, at least) eluded my panic, and am whittling away at one piece of EVERYTHING that I hope belongs in the story. If it turns out this piece doesn’t belong, I will still have learned something.

Disclosure: That mature sentiment will fade if this project turns into one long-ass process of elimination.

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Thumb’s out

I’m ready to skip town.
Still not finished with this draft of the YA-from-hell.
Intended to finish by November 30 in my version of NaNo, but life intervened in a couple big ways and derailed those efforts.

Photo by Atlas Green

This young hitchhiker could have walked out of the pages of my manuscript. (Photo by Atlas Green)

I have written several drafts of this book, but never the final scenes. While I’ve mapped out those scenes, they’ve never been fully realized. I’m starting to wonder if it’s a case of “talking myself out of a book;” in other words, precisely because I have visualized and plotted out those scenes, I’ve lost all interest in writing them. Maybe they already feel done? Maybe I’ve lost faith in my abilities and so want to give up? Maybe I feel my efforts would be better spent on a more high concept story?

I can’t help thinking that my uncharacteristic antipathy toward this project somehow holds the key to my stuckness. I also can’t help thinking that if I just wrote the effing scenes, I’d escape these circles of hell.

 

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Real feelings

There’s a real feeling when you know you’re getting it right. It’s a physical feeling.
~  Robert Caro

pop_art_cartoon_ginger_woman_tearing_hair_out_-_154569740__medium_4x3

Yeah, but what about when you’re not getting it right? Huh? What’s that physical feeling called, Mister I’ve-won-multiple-Pulitzer-Prizes-and-National-Book-Awards??

Around these parts it’s starting to feel an awful lot like baldness.

 

 

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Weebles wobble

If you presume to love something,
you must love the process of it much more than you love the finished product.
 ~  John Irving

Right now I’m not entirely sure I love the fiction-writing process. As I revise this young adult novel, I’m starting to question whether I have any business trying to get published. I received some feedback on another manuscript that has me questioning my talent, and today I’m more wobbly than I’ve been in some time.

So. The bad news is I’m scared and exhausted and wishing someone could cut out this obsessive writer part of me so I’d never have to feel this way again.

The good news? My experience tells me that this ugly fog will eventually lift and then fade to a very faint memory. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I might not always love the process, but I trust it.

a copy

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Yes. No. Maybe So.

I’ve spent the past couple days researching nonfiction project ideas and it’s been a joy because the planet’s animal inhabitants are incredibly diverse and mind-blowingly freaky in their behaviors. I could read forever.

20140719-BatteryParkCityNY-LunchWithErinAndrew (56Edit)

But I can’t read forever because I need to make a decision. I need to choose a topic and start writing. The problem is I want to write about all the things that fascinate and entertain and expand my world view. All. The. Things.

I’ve started three different Scrivener files, adding research sources and roughing out drafts. And then my brain says “But there’s also that other cool thing. Maybe it would be best to write about that right now.”

indecision

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve never had this problem with fiction. I decide what story to work on and away I go. Over the years I have revisited fiction projects, which to the casual observer might look like indecisive bouncing around, but I’ve never experienced anything like this. Which is kind of strange considering that the planet’s human inhabitants are also incredibly diverse and mind-blowingly freaky in their behaviors. I mean, there’s a lot to choose from there, too.

I’d love to be assigned a topic, but that’s not happening right now. So I’m going to make a decision because, like this guy says:
The risk of wrong decision quote You heard it here first.

Letter to Self

Dear Tracy,

Angst and uncertainty are part of the creative process. You know that. You also know those feelings are best handled by writing and pushing through to the other side. But sometimes those feelings become so huge and unwieldy and the voices are shrieking so loudly in your head that you convince yourself you hate the project and want to quit it forever.

Please don’t give in to those feelings.

Instead, remember this: sometimes you feel stuck and unable to move forward NOT because you’re no-talent and the project is worthless, but because your approach is wrong. Sometimes you can’t make progress because something deep inside your creative self digs in its heels and refuses to budge. Sometimes you just need a little time to find the way.

Your project doesn’t suck. You don’t hate it. And it would be a sad, sad thing if you quit it forever.

Love,
Tracy

You Talkin’ to Me?

“This is not a book that should be tossed lightly aside.
It should be hurled with great force.”
~  Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was 50 years old when George Platt Lynes took this portrait in 1943.

Dorothy Parker was 50 years old when George Platt Lynes took this portrait in 1943.

Okay, so Ms. Parker was not referring to my work-in-progress, but the quote strikes a nerve. Wandering the wilderness of my creative mind is always a scary endeavor, and one which I’m currently going to great lengths to avoid. I would very much appreciate a sign . . .

What, Me Worry?

        
            

Last Friday I sent BIRD BRAIN to the four generous souls who
offered to read and critique my manuscript.
It’s much, much too soon to expect responses, but that hasn’t stopped 
my mind from turning into a writhing nest of worries and fears.

AGNES by Tony Cochran

Maybe I’ll just get it over with and go put underpants on my feet.
               

Girding My Loins

        

I’m ready to wade back in there
and begin reshaping BIRD BRAIN’s opening chapters.

And then complete another (final?) round of revisions.

I’m equal parts anticipation and dread.


                                                                                                                                                          Image from morguefile.com

Cue whatever music it is I need to hear right now . . .
                   

Characters Revealing Themselves

      

I’m trying not to panic about all this,
but as I work on BIRD BRAIN, 
I keep going back and adding bits and pieces of characterization.
Stuff I just recently discovered about the characters.

I’ve been working on this project off and on
(with lots of OFF), since April of 2008.
You’d think by now I’d know the characters inside and out.

What’s it like for the rest of you?
Do you continue to get glimmers of understanding as you write?
Or do you figure out all the basic, most important stuff beforehand?

Or, like me, have you ever thought you knew all the basic, most important stuff
only to discover you did not really know those characters?

As I said, trying not to panic . . .
                   

Adaptation

      

I was hearing that nasty voice in my head today
as I worked on a project long dormant.

It tied me up in knots.
Filled me with self-loathing and doubt.

I pushed past it and met the small goal I’d set.

Then I watched one of my favorite movies about writers and writing:
ADAPTATION.

I’m feeling much better.
                 

Mentor Monday: Trusting My Gut

    

I heard back from Claudia yesterday on the two chapters I sent last week.
She had much good to say about the stuff that worked,
and offered a couple excellent points about places I needed to lay a little groundwork.

She also had some thoughts on how to handle a certain plot point.
I’m mulling over her suggestion, taking notes in my trusty notebook as I unravel my thoughts.
So far I’m thinking I need/want to go with my initial idea for this story line
but am mindful that part of me might be rebelling against outside influence.

The thing is, Claudia has had lots and lots of good ideas during this revision process.
I’ll have an idea and she’ll tweak it just a tiny bit to make it an even better idea.
I’m thrilled that my story is so much stronger than before
but I’ve also had a few insecure moments in which I wonder if the improvements are because of her or me.

I’ve never worked one-on-one before to revise an entire manuscript
and am wondering if anyone else has experienced any of these feelings.
Have you ever worried your story is better only because of someone’s input?
Or have I just gone out and invented a whole new brand of writerly neurosis?
               

Won’t get fooled again

      

What is it about writing stories that renders us
(and by us, I mean, me) clueless?

I’m revising a manuscript I used to think was pretty damned solid
but with the help of my mentor, I’m realizing I’d hit many wrong notes.

The opening chapter is so much better now
which makes me very happy
but also makes me wonder
what the hell was I thinking before?  

How could I miss the obvious?

I felt a bit shame-spirally last night as I contemplated my cluelessness
but am now trying to focus on feeling grateful for a stronger manuscript,
and am reminding myself I will carry this awareness to later projects.

I won’t get fooled again.
            

Clothes pin?

     

I’m supposed to be revising right now.
I was, up until two minutes ago
when I tiptoed away from my pages.

The thing is,
the whole project seems pretty stinky right now.

I’m not sure if I should
(A) call it a night before I do more damage or
(B) put a clothes pin on my nose and keep at it.

Maybe I will 
(C) crack open a cold beer and ponder the situation.
             

Brain Contortions

  

I’ve spent much of today trying to decide
whether I need to halt the agent search via
my middle-grade novel
in order to give the manuscript a complete overhaul.
Or maybe just a partial overhaul.
More of a lube and tune-up.

But the way my brain keeps twisting
as I struggle with the question
makes me feel I’m about as qualified
to fix this book as work on a car.

Not a good feeling.

                

Feeling Invisible

        


(Couldn’t find photographer credit)

I’m starting to understand why some writers
send money, chocolate, etc. with their submissions.

Including an owl pellet is probably a really bad idea, though. 
         

Tweaking for Sanity

   

When a project first goes out into the world,
it’s easy for me to focus on other work.
I’m still satisfied with the outgoing project’s polish,
and proud of the accomplishment.
I don’t need to think about that project anymore.

Up to a point, that is.

My project has not yet yielded the desired results
which means The Doubts have descended upon me.
Pitched a tent in my head
and settled in to whisper crazy, non-helpful stuff.
Non-stop.

For the sake of my sanity, I needed to shift that energy.

Today I made a slight change in that project’s format.
It only took about an hour and just like that,
I feel so much better.
More confident.
Less like a campground for negative, whispered voices.

Once again I’m proud to have created that book.

Which means it’s time for me to get back to my other work.

                

Name My Angst

I’m in a bit of a panic.

I’m 200 pages into the first draft of a YA that came to be because of a name.
A name that presented itself to me when I was playing around with this Band Name Generator.
I immediately loved the name.
The name offered so many possibilities for a main character.

Without going into details, the name includes a noun that stands for a specific kind of crime.
My entire storyline (and I use that word loosely since I’m firmly entrenched in blither-blather territory at this point in the draft) comes from that noun.

And now I’m wondering (mostly because of that blither-blather angst I’m currently experiencing) if I’m nuts to let a name
dictate a story.

Have any of you ever written a book based on a name?
Did it all work out in the end?

I cannot believe I have 200 pages written but am suddenly insecure about the whole project.

              

Voices

Panicked today as I worked on draft 2 of my project.
The voice just isn’t there.
(And yes, I caught the irony of panic following so close on the heels of this).

The project I just finished is Full of Voice but this current project, not at all.
I started wondering if that was all the voice I had in me,
if possibly the voice had run dry.  Or hoarse.  Something like that.

So I went back to that last project and read bits of draft 1.
No voice.
Draft 2.  No voice.
Draft 3 didn’t have it, either, and by then I didn’t even want (or need) to know about the 4th.

The moral of this story: 
WHEN IN DOUBT, TAKE A STROLL THROUGH YOUR CRAPOLA; YOU JUST MIGHT FEEL ALL BETTER.
(at least temporarily)
                 

Revision Angst

I’m having one of those moments.
One of those "this is crap, who are you trying to kid?!" moments.
One of those "what made you think you could pull this off?" moments.
One of those "this isn’t even close to working so you might as well
go fill out an application at Taco Smell" moments.

I hate these moments.
But I know they always pass.
Especially when I read those vile criticisms aloud in R’s voice.

Okay, now I’m smiling again.  
Thanks for listening.

I gotta get back to it.

    

Fueled by Guts

I’m working on the intimidating middle section of my book. 
Feeling overwhelmed.  Full of despair.

Gave myself a pep talk and told myself I could do it.
Gave myself permission to write crap.

Wrote.
Quite possibly crap. 

Nonetheless, relieved to write for two days in a row.
Celebrating the baby steps.

Gotta keep digging deep and gutting it out.
Ugh.

        

Beating its wings in my face

I’m still working on my JoNoWriMo+1.5 project.  Despite being ahead of schedule, I’m experiencing almost daily bouts of Help, my book has fallen and it can’t get up!

Last night I felt the need to take a break from children’s literature so I started reading Edith Wharton’s THE GLIMPSES OF THE MOON.  The Nick Lansing character is writing his first novel, and Wharton begins her seventh chapter with this:

 Of some new ferment at work in him Nick Lansing himself was equally aware.  He was a better judge of the book he was trying to write than either Susy or Strefford; he knew its weaknesses, its treacheries, its tendency to slip through his fingers just as he thought his grasp tightest; but he knew also that at the very moment when it seemed to have failed him it would suddenly be back, beating its loud wings in his face.


Ain’t that the truth.

 

                     

Days Fifteen – Nineteen: JoNoWriMo+1.5

It’s been crazy around my household this past week. In spite of the various ups and downs, I kept to my word goal although I won’t vouch for the quality of anything written. This might possibly be the suckiest draft in the history of the world but I’m forging ahead. At this point I’m writing scenes out of order. I never do this. Maybe once or twice in other books I wrote one scene out of order but not the way I’m doing now which is to basically fend off that icky brain-creep paralysis by writing whatever it takes to get me to my word count. So while it might all be dreck, I’m at least establishing a habit by writing each and every day. That part does feel good.

But man oh man, this writing gig can really take it out of a person. Yesterday I realized it’s already October which means I’m nearing the end of yet another year in which I didn’t sell a book and then I think about January 1st and how I’ll soon be staring down that whole hopes and dreams and goals routine for the new year wherein I continue to flail about wondering if I’m incapable of producing anything anyone wants to read, and the whole situation makes me want to curl up in a ball and disappear.

May I just say “Shit on a stick!” and “Crap on a cracker!”? (And feel free to share any of your favorite expressions so I don’t feel too juvenile.)

Anyway, I’m posting my stats here so I can at least remember that I’m honoring my word count goal while I battle the demons in my head:

Day 15: 321 words
Day 16: 511 words
Day 17: 516 words
Day 18: 440 words
Day 19: 739 words

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
20,733 / 38,000
(54.6%)

Day Three: JoNoWriMo+1.5

A pattern is emerging: First day was ugh, second was fine, third was ugh again.

According to my complex analysis, tomorrow should be another fine writing day. That is a relief. I don’t think I could take two days in a row of crying out in a fit of self-loathing as I slam all fingers onto the keyboard, momentarily sending the display into a quivering spasm of random chaos.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
12,839 / 38,000
(33.8%)