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 . . .