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 (“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.
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.
There 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.
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.
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.
For me, writing a novel is like having a dream.
Writing a novel lets me intentionally dream while I’m still awake.
I can continue yesterday’s dream today,
something you can’t normally do in everyday life.
~ Haruki Murakami
Writing a novel is a pretty cool gig, all right. Except for when the process turns nightmarish. Other than that, though, it’s a dream. Really.
I’ve just started working again on a YA project that’s gone through many on-again-off-again phases. The reasons for that aren’t important (mostly because I’m not entirely sure why this project has been the biggest-mule-of-a-novel-ever.) What does matter is that I’m reminded (again) how difficult it is to bounce back from an off-again period when working on a project that is kinda, sorta a mystery. Mysteries require a precise sprinkling of clues and epiphanies, and that sprinkling would be hard enough to pull off if I’d written this book in a timely and consistent manner. As in, a day-after-day writing schedule that helped me keep ALL the details straight until this draft was finished, rather than periods of intense work followed by months of neglect.
So much unnecessary confusion.
Sherlock’s disdain burns in my soul . . .
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.
I’m a perennial gardener which means that the flowers I’ve planted are supposed to come back every year. Some, like the coreopsis that once bloomed long and bright throughout my beds, suddenly stopped blooming. All of them, at the same time, disappeared from my garden. The same thing happened with the exuberant clumps of blanket flower that used to bloom next to my driveway and were the the envy of my neighborhood. Here today, gone tomorrow.
But those are exceptions. The vast majority of my flowers come back each year which is great because I’m lazy. And cheap. I don’t like having to plant year after year and I don’t want to pay a bunch of money for flowers that will only be around a few months.
For a number of years I did plant annuals in clay pots and place them around my patio and down the steps. It was a lot of work and cost a bunch of money, and I had to remember to water them all the time because it gets extremely hot out there in the late afternoon. So I just kinda allowed that aspect of my gardening to fade away and left the empty clay pots stacked in my basement.
However, one huge pot remains outside year-round.
This is a photo from yesterday and the petunias blooming there are the result of the last planting which was 2-3 years ago. Those petunias haven’t gotten the memo that they’re annuals. They keep coming back. They refuse to give up.
and I feel an undeniable kinship with them.
To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.
~ Joseph Chilton Pearce
Anyway, “wrong” is a subjective term except for when I’m doing math.
Which I most definitely am not.
So it’s all good.
(Okay, not “all” good. But mostly!)
I’m at the library again, doing my best impression of The Little Engine that Could. My study carrel is in the quiet section that is liberally decorated with these signs:
About an hour ago, a man had a conversation on his phone within spitting distance of one of those signs. Several people glanced around as if to say, “What the hell?” but no one did anything. Including me. I figured we all deserve one free pass and that was his. Well, the dude started up another phone conversation. So I channeled my inner Pete Seeger who once said, “If there’s something wrong, speak up!” (and yes, I do realize that Pete was talking bigger issues than cell phone etiquette.)
I stood quietly by the man’s carrel as he continued to talk. And the longer he talked and refused to acknowledge me standing there, the more uncomfortable I felt. But I stayed put and when he hung up, I held out the sign and politely said something like, “I wanted to remind you about this.” He finally looked at me and his faux surprise at seeing the sign was laughable, but he did say, “Oh, okay.”
And that was it.
I’m taking the time to blog about this because I couldn’t believe how much adrenaline was pumping through my system after that interaction. I felt physically ill because of one polite conversation regarding cell phone usage, and I’d like to figure out why.
At this point, the only thing I know for sure is this: