All thumbs

I’ve written lots of stuff over the years and have quite a few thumb drives.

thumb-drives

Going back to locate an old project used to be a pain in the ass. Well, not anymore! I FINALLY took the time to index my various drives and to move files around so that none of those projects are on multiple drives. (In case you’re judging me, I challenge anyone to work on a project off-and-on over the years and still maintain a pristine filing system. And yes, I do know about the cloud. Much of this stuff’s out there, too, but that’s a task for another day.)

Right now I’m very satisfied with my little box of thumb drives and index. Never underestimate the power of organizational wizardry. The world feels very bleak right now, and little victories such as this can stop me from running into traffic.

 

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Thankful Thursday: The I-finally-freakin’-did-it edition

If you happen upon this, writer-friend Linda Salzman, you might be happy to know that yesterday I finally, finally wrote the final scenes of the YA I’ve been wrestling with since the beginning of time. Are they perfectly written scenes? Hells no. Are they fleshed-out scenes? Absolutely not. Are they even close to being what they’d need to be in a final draft? HAHAHAHAHA.

In which Linda is the pug offering encouragement to the tortoise-slow Tracy.

In which Linda is the pug offering encouragement (“Do it!”) to the tortoise-slow Tracy.

The scenes I wrote yesterday are, at this point, a collection of placeholder words. A roadmap for the next draft (should I ever have the inclination to wade into the manuscript that right now feels like a horrible, torturous place to spend time). I learned about the value of using placeholder words from writer-friend Laurie Schneider, and I must say it’s one of the most liberating tools in my writing kit. The pressure is off when I’m creating placeholder words; all that’s required of me is to literally hold the place in the manuscript with clues for my authorial intent. The details come later.

So after writing those scenes, I printed out a hard copy and wrote out a few notes for myself before packing everything away in an accordion file. At the soonest, I’ll read that manuscript again in a month. But I have a feeling it’ll take longer than that for me to muster enthusiasm. After finishing, I’d gone back to read the opening chapter, thinking it would fire me up by reminding me the rest of the book is stronger than the ending. *insert hysterical laughter* Turns out, I’d arrived at the THIS BOOK SUCKS MORE THAN A HOOVER stage, and it’s gonna take some time for those feelings to fade.

The good news? I’m already reacquainting myself with another project. This one has huge potential and fills me with excitement. So take that, nasty voice! (Also, I was very grateful for the distraction of this “new” project when I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about Debbie Reynolds dying the day after losing her beloved daughter.)

There are sad and horrible things happening all over the planet, but I’m grateful for the fictional worlds I create in my mind. Sometimes the pretend is the only thing keeping me from being crushed by the real.

 

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Kidder and Fitzgerald for the assist

I just read GOOD PROSE: THE ART OF NONFICTION by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. As the cover says, it is “Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing.” I highly recommend this wise and funny book.

goodprose-coverThere are many gems scattered throughout (and not just for nonfiction writers, but anyone who loves playing with words), and one has been in the front of my brain since reading it:

I remember in college reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon and studying a note that he left in the manuscript: “Rewrite from mood. Has become stilted with rewriting. Don’t look — rewrite from mood.” I reread those lines so often, trying to understand them, that they stuck in my memory. Fitzgerald knew that there are at least two kinds of rewriting. The first is trying to fix what you’ve already written, but doing this can keep you from facing up to the second kind, from figuring out the essential thing you’re trying to do and looking for better ways to tell your story. If Fitzgerald had been advising a young writer and not himself, he might have said, “Rewrite from principle,” or “Don’t just push the same old stuff around. Throw it away and start over.”

I’m getting close to The End (of this draft) of my YA project, and very much appreciate Mr. Kidder sharing Mr. Fitzgerald’s wisdom with me. Maybe it will reach someone else who needs it now.

 

 

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A Running Start

One of my favorite writing strategies is to take a running start at a manuscript, a technique that works for me both in the drafting and revising stages.

How do I define a running start?

A running start is sometimes merely rereading the work from the previous day in order to find my rhythm so that I can continue in that flow. Most days that’s all I need in order to keep going.

Other days, however, the nasty voices whisper so loudly in my head I worry that writing in that mindset will result in me inflicting big-time damage on my manuscript. I’m talking crash-and-burn, holy-hell-how did-we-end-up-on-this-tangent kinda damage OR, worse-case scenario, convincing myself that the only logical response to the crap I’ve put down on paper is to give up on the project, my writing, and all dreams. Forever

Those are the days in which my running start requires that I go back to page one and read everything I’ve written/revised thus far.

Image from morguefile.com

Image from morguefile.com

Today was a nasty voices day. So I read the 50+ pages of revised manuscript and, as predicted, my literary goblin’s voice faded away. I liked what I read. I was proud of what I’d written and felt a renewed enthusiasm for the project. I made progress on the revision.

It’s important to note that there are multiple decisions required of this strategy. I have to ask myself two questions:
1) Is this a regular running start kinda day or a Page One running start day?
If I immediately know the answer, it’s all good. If not, I ask myself the following:
2) Are the nasty voices so relentless they will dominate no matter what I try?
If the answer is Yes, it’s best to not even fight back. No running start, no writing, no thinking about the project.

There’s always another day and another perspective.

Starting Over, One Word At a Time

I’m revising the YA I’ve been working on off-and-on for years. There are a whole bunch of reasons for the delays and procrastination but the main takeaway is that because of the down-time, I was intimidated about jumping back into it. Then I read about one writer’s approach to getting back into a story: she retypes the entire manuscript.

I decided to give it a try.
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I’m taking it chapter by chapter, retyping from the last hard copy I printed out. So far, I agree with the writer who suggested it that retyping helps me revise on a deeper level than if I were only working with what was already there. In other words, my revisions would be more superficial if I was working with a hard copy and pen. Retyping seems to highlight issues such as where the text bogs down and any character inconsistencies. Most importantly, something about putting those words down, again, is helping reconnect me to the story. And in the process, it’s helping shine a light on what needs to change.

Every book I’ve written has taken a different path. There are days when I’m not sure whether that’s a blessing or a curse. This method, at least, is allowing me to move ahead.

My Insides Match My Outsides

For the past several days I’ve been working on the first 90 pages of my YA, zooming in on one particular relationship between two characters. I first went through the pages and highlighted every interaction between them in yellow. Then I went back to the beginning, highlighting in red the words I want to delete and using green highlights for the new words I added. It’s been a slow process but I feel as if finally, finally these characters are unfolding at the right pace and that I’m avoiding the dreaded Emotional Ping-Pong (something that was rampant in a YA I read over the weekend).

So imagine my delight when a few minutes ago I opened my computer to resume work on my project and I realized the screen mirrored the glorious colors outside.More fall leaves and computer screen 001

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday Five: Where I’m At, Project-Wise

This is probably of no interest to anyone besides me, but I’d like to document where I’m at on this first round of revisions of my YA (a contemporary realistic story I fast-drafted four years ago). Consider this a public reckoning of the project and my process.

1) I’m trying to write 1000 words per day but lately am not always succeeding, and the obstacles are varied yet predictable (I waste time; I psych myself out; I suffer crippling doubt; rinse; repeat). On those days when I produce fewer than 1000 words, I try very hard to give myself credit for showing up.

A supportive stranger from MorgueFile

A supportive stranger from MorgueFile

2) I’m using Scrivener and while I’m utilizing only a fraction of the program’s capabilities, I think it’s a great tool. I’ve saved images in the project file (thank you to the lovely Amy Butler Greenfield for telling me about Flickr Creative Commons) and use a split screen so I can refer to the image as I write; I’m using the Project Target so I can track my word count (which is extremely helpful because it helps me talk myself past the finish line); I have a folder with Touchpoints with my one-sentence pitch, character motivation, and plot point, emotional point, etc to keep me on track; I’m breaking down/writing the manuscript one scene at a time, and like being able to organize it that way.

Scrivener = toolbox in garage containing many mystery tools.

Scrivener = toolbox in garage containing many mystery tools.

3) This revision is not so much a rewrite as it is a write; much of what I wrote before is not useful in terms of the plot (there’s plenty to scavenge for characterization, detail, etc), so I’m essentially writing another first draft in places. However, the writing doesn’t have that “just get the words down” feel to it, and is more deliberate and focused. I hope.file3961279893649

4) For the first time EVER in the history of me writing novels, I’m considering listening to music while I write. There’s a singer/songwriter I greatly admire (RA) who feels like a good fit for my narrator, yet I can’t bring myself to do it. I’ve always, always been about the lyrics and I don’t understand how writers write while listening to words someone else wrote. Still, how silly that I don’t just give it a try, right?

She's back! And this time she's saying "Hush"

She’s back! And this time she’s saying “Hush”

5) There are days when I feel like a warrior just for showing up. And there are days I feel like someone who can’t take a hint. I’m 50 years old, I’ve had three different agents I landed with three different manuscripts, none of those books sold and yet here I am writing another. What is that saying about insanity . . .?

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The Story Is In the Details

It’s been a very strange summer in terms of my productivity and sense of passing time, but school is back in session and I’m trying to get back in the groove. I’m working again on the contemporary YA I focused on during the online revision course with the ever-wise editor Cheryl Klein, and realized I needed to know much more about the setting. So I’m taking the time to create a map of the community, including local businesses. I’m getting to know proprietors and citizens and landmarks.

I’m adding detailed texture to the story.Sedum 052Just having that map and sketches of those additional characters makes me feel like an authority on my story. Taken separately, details can seem like tiny, sometimes insignificant things. But when you add them up, those tiny details turn into a solid foundation.

A Tip from John Irving

“A writer’s job is to imagine everything so personally 
that the fiction is as vivid as memories.”   ~ John Irving                        
                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                          

Friday Five: The Round-and-Round Edition

1)  As mentioned before, I’ve had to circle back and work on opening chapters some more  and have been mostly pleased with my progress.

2)  Then yesterday I hit a bump and realized I needed to circle back yet again to tweak a scene so brainstormed characterization and plot issues to prepare myself for today’s work.

3)  This afternoon I revised and revised, then printed out the pages and congratulated myself on a job well done.

4)  Except when I began jotting notes about a tangential issue on my enormous whiteboard, I started doubting myself regarding the characterization and plot line I’d supposedly just wrestled to the ground.

5)  So I went outside and shoveled very heavy snow while talking out loud about all this stuff and came up with this answer: there’s such a thing as over-thinking a story and it would be wise to relax and enjoy the ride. 

image from morguefile.com

Wishing everyone a whirly-twirly, fun-filled weekend!