Loki on Oct 3, 2018
Here’s Loki more than a year ago, basking in sun so bright his pupils are slits. None of that toasty warmth today. It’s gray. Cold. Drizzling and threatening snow. Soul-crushing, if I’d allow it. BUT. I’m parked at my standing desk, drafting my new novel.
Maybe if it was sunny and warm, I’d be curled in a patch of sunshine. Napping instead of writing. Guess that’s my silver lining on this miserable day. Color me grudgingly grateful.
I’m drafting my way through this new project and am past the halfway point, which certainly feels good. I’m noticing, though, that the “mushy middle” angst is suddenly alive and well. And I find myself thinking about jumping. Or running away. Or maybe abandoning this particular ship for a different ship .
“Don’t jump, Tracy!”
But that’s silly. Because as Emma and I both know, every project has moments in which it ceases to feel like great fun / feels less shiny than another idea / intimidates the crap out of me.
So I’m gonna stay on the beam and keep drafting. I promise, Emma.
Today is cold and icy. Again. Unlike two weeks ago, I am not venturing outside because I very much do not want to slip and fall again. Instead, I went in search of an appropriate quotation for this ice-encrusted day. I found the following . It speaks to me, despite never having directed a film. I read it as “Writing a novel is mystifying…”
Directing is mystifying. It’s a long, long, skid on an icy road, and you do the best you can trying to stay on the road… If you’re still here when you come out of the spin, it’s a relief. But you’ve got to have the terror if you’re going to do anything worthwhile.
~ Mike Nichols
Suffice to say, I’m firmly in the white-knuckle, can-I-pull-this-off portion of the writing process right now. First drafts can be simultaneously exhilarating and puke-inducing.
Last year I officially signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and so am getting emails from the Colorado NaNo people. As noted earlier, I’m taking a modified approach** this year, so when I received an email about a write-in happening at a coffee shop near me I decided to attend. Big deal, right? Wrong.
I do about 99% of my writing at home and wasn’t sure it’d be a good fit. But I liked the idea of all that collective energy, so packed up and went. I arrived two hours into the session today and people were busily writing away. I found a seat in back, put in my ear plugs to muffle the loud music, and got to work.
Wow. I wrote 2500 words (many of which were keepers) in about three hours. Part of my success was because I didn’t ask for the wifi password which meant I couldn’t procrastinate online. When I’m at home, closed off in my writing room, I find all sorts of ways to waste time. Despite all the sounds and movement taking place around me, something about writing in public kept me more focused. It felt all official-like or something.
I thought I’d be writing this novel at my standing desk, but will most definitely be going back to that coffee shop for more writing sessions!
** My goal is to finish a draft by the end of December.
I’m brainstorming and jotting notes for a new middle-grade novel, and sometimes feel slightly overwhelmed by the possibilities for this story. Is it this? Or that? Here or there? There’s so much to consider.
This photo of me feels like the perfect image for this stage in the process and I’m posting it here as a reminder to myself: infinite possibilities are a gift.
Rustler Gulch Trail, July 26, 2018.
May I continue enjoying the creative journey as much as I did that wonderful hike. May I continue embracing the infinite landscape of my creative mind.
Centennial Cone Park hike. July 10, 2019.
I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom,
till you yourself burst into bloom.
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I’ve mentioned before that I’m usually a one-project-at-a-time kinda writer. It seems my brain and creative juices struggle when I switch focus. BUT. I think it’s a good skill to cultivate, juggling projects, so I bought myself a brand new notebook for a brand new middle-grade novel idea I’d like to noodle on while working on my work-for-hire nonfiction project. If you hear the sound of shrieking gears, that’ll be my brain right before I burst into bloom.
I’m trying to add layers of text to my nonfiction picture book and am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the gap between my vision for this project and the reality of what it looks like thus far. In my mind, this project is pure AWESOME. However, the manuscript currently feels more like a collection of fits and starts.
So I’m posting this magic mushroom as a reminder of how intricate details come together to create a whole. One gorgeous layer at a time.
Revising a manuscript can be overwhelming, especially when your agent sends two pages of notes. I’m hugely grateful for her insights and feedback, but there are moments when I panic and think it’s gonna be impossible to bring coherency to this messy draft. That’s where the colorful fun comes into play.
Highlighters + sticky notes + bound manuscript = me forging ahead.
I’m holding tight to my color-coded revision process because it keeps me organized, but also because using different colors bring me happiness. Novel-writing should include joy and happiness as much as possible. And because coffee and peanut butter rice cakes also bring joy and happiness, they are equally mandatory to my process.
I will bring order to this messed-up draft. You heard it here first.
I’m revising a young adult novel I fast-drafted in 2009. Since that time I’ve, in a very on-again-off-again manner, written several drafts. I’ve known the protagonist’s emotional arc pretty much all along. The action plot has come more slowly, but I’ve also had a pretty good grasp of that for quite some time.
My struggle is with the climactic scene. I’ve written several versions and like each of them. Today as I wallowed in confusion and indecision, I decided maybe the best solution would be to make this manuscript a Choose Your Adventure story. That way, the reader’s choices would dictate how it all plays out and I’d be off the hook.
It’s either that or I flip a coin.
Hey, Laughing Gull! How about an assist for this lowly writer toiling down below? Could you please tell me how to organize the scenes in this new project?
There’s a bread crust in it for you . . .
As I work this afternoon to get ready for my NaNo adventure next month, I’m trying hard to be like Marcel. Not so much by waggling my big pink ears or biting my toenails (although I would welcome that kind of flexibility), but in maintaining my focus. When Marcel’s in grooming mode, that’s all that matters. Don’t even think about interrupting his session.
Um, guess I should get back to my prep work.
Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string.
Today as I continue exploring a new story idea, filling pages in a new notebook, I’m filled with excitement and anticipation. There’s nothing but pure potential at this point. I haven’t yet taken any wrong turns or gotten bogged down in the swampy middle of the novel. It’s just me and a 12-year-old boy finding our way.
Enthusiasm is running high.
As I wait to hear back from my agent on the middle-grade manuscript I sent her way, I want to document a new approach in my revision process. For the first time ever in the history of me writing books, I paid to have a manuscript bound. Here it is:
I was inspired by this tweet from author-extraordinaire Laurel Snyder:
Intrigued by the idea of revising in that tidy format, I asked Laurel if she printed single or double-sided and she responded that she did single sides because then she could write on the backs of pages. She also said she requested extra blank pages bound in the back for notes. Genius!
Before having my manuscript printed I switched it from the manuscript default (Times New Roman 12-point) to Garamond 12-point. I did that so my brain would see and read the pages differently. It came out to about 200 pages and cost me $22.
I applied my usual revision approach of reading the entire manuscript in one sitting. I always set the goal of reading without revising or making notes, but this time around was not at all successful. I tweaked sentences here and there early on and then forced myself to merely mark troublesome passages with CLUNKY. I made other general notes in the margins and then after finishing the manuscript wrote out big-picture thoughts/questions on a blank page in back.
Verdict? I loved working with a bound manuscript. All my notes and thoughts were in one place. I transferred my edits to my Word doc that was also color-coded with revision threads (green for anything dealing with X and yellow for Y and blue for Z and fuschia for wording still in need of tweaking). It was so easy to follow a plot/characterization thread from beginning to end.
I can’t wait to use this process again.
Writing a novel isn’t like building a brick wall.
You don’t figure out how to do it, and then it gets easier
each time because you know what you’re doing.
With writing a novel, you have to figure it out each time.
Each time you start over, you just have the language and the idea and the hope.
~ Kate DiCamillo
Today I wander the wilderness of my manuscript, hoping I’m (finally) headed in the right direction with these revisions. Remembering to acknowledge the process and enjoy the journey as best I can.
With great writing there is great clarity.
~ David Costabile
That is precisely why I’ve got my notebook out again, jotting down elements of the manuscript I’m revising in hopes of making connections I’ve missed so far. It’s hard to admit, but my story lacks focus. How that can still be true in the fourth draft I do not know. What I do know is this:
With mediocre writing there are muddy waters and confusion which result in the reader not knowing exactly what she’s supposed to root for or why any of it matters.
Word of the day (and probably however long it takes to finish this draft) = CLARITY.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
I’ve gone back to a project I haven’t looked at in 18 months, a project that hasn’t been shopped at all so should still have a brand-new shiny feel. Instead, this project that’s given me fits over the years continues to make me nervous. I think the nerves are a result of the MANY hours I’ve put into this book without an end in sight. I read it through in one sitting yesterday and while I admired much about the manuscript, I’m still not confident the story structure is correct.
You know what that means . . .
My self-imposed deadline for finishing this draft is fast-approaching and I’m torn between wishing I had another couple days of work time and being SO GLAD the end is near. I’m at that point in which I’d just as soon throw the manuscript in the lake.
Soggy or not, here I come.
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.
Today, as I work on revisions and battle feelings of overwhelm and oh-my-goddess-will-I-ever-be-finished-with-this-effing-story, I’m trying to keep in mind that perfection is the enemy of done. My revisions will never, ever be perfect. This manuscript will never, ever be perfect no matter how many times I revise. Yes, the bloom on this Christmas Cactus is pretty much perfect, but that kind of creation is out of my reach.
What is within my creative control is forging ahead. Ignoring the voices in my head telling me that my efforts are pointless because they’ll never be exactly right.
At this point, the healthiest attitude is to let go of exactly right and aim for exactly done.