Archive | February, 2011

Don’t Be A Diva, Just Write

In January, Janet Fitch wrote a guest post titled Writing Tips For Parents. She said: “Forget unbroken stretches of time. If you have a few minutes to write, grab them.”

This is something I’m trying hard to embrace during these long days with my newborn. He’s nursing every two or two and a half hours, and it takes about forty minutes. That means that, best case scenario, I have an hour and fifty minutes between nursings. Usually it’s more like an hour.

After fighting the urge to do dishes or laundry or even shower, I eat a little and then sit down to write for as long as the battery powered swing will help the little angle sleep. This is not how I’m used to working, but I keep telling myself – Don’t Be a Diva, Just Write.

So I reread where I left off, and organize my thoughts, and write a few paragraphs before he starts stirring, ready to eat again.

This has necessitated extreme focus. The only thing harder than working in these short stints is trying to work on multiple projects at the same time with only snippets of time. My solution has been to decide each morning what I’m working on and (after an hour to answer emails and or blog) I don’t work on anything else for the duration of the day. Some days it’s freelance work/networking to find freelance work, other days it’s my nonfiction proposal, and the days I enjoy the most are the days I devote to my novel.

I’ve committed this weekend to my novel, and as a matter of fact, the little dude just fell asleep, so I’m going to wrap this up and get back to it. Fingers crossed for a full half hour!

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First Idea, Best Idea?

I met with my writing group last night. We discussed a 20 page section of my story that involves Tallula’s love interest and the question came up – should a predictable plot line be avoided? Or is the natural unfolding of a story what should be honored, even if it is expected?

I’ve always been a fan of stories that go someplace that I, as a reader, didn’t know they were going. The book that came up as an example last night was “1000 Acres,” by Jane Smiley. There’s a book I couldn’t put down, and mostly because it took me by surprise in a lot of ways.

As a matter of fact, as I sit here reviewing the books I’ve read and enjoyed, I can’t think of a single one that didn’t have some element of genuine surprise woven into the plot. So what does it mean to let a story unfold naturally? To me it means writing under the umbrella of that old adage “first idea, best idea,” and frankly, I’ve always found that to lead to dull stories.

For me it, it’s always 20th idea, best idea. If I need a brother and sister to have a fight I’ll make a list of 20 things they might fight about. It’s only around idea 15 or 16 that things start to get interesting. It’s only when I dig deep for story that I find the creativity that lends to juicy plot.

So where does that leave me in my challenge of how to manage Tallula’s love interest? Well in the first draft things unfolded very naturally (predictably). I think it’s time to shake them up a bit.

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Goals For 2011

Yes, I know it’s February. Not even early Febraury, but what can I say I’ve been distracted. Better late than never I say. And so I’m thinking about my goals for 2011.

I have a few. 1) No more hospitals. For various reasons the last two years have had me in and out of waiting rooms and beds with call buttons, and I can honestly say I never need to eat another hospital meal as long as I live. 2) Increase my freelance income. This is a goal I set every year, as it seems that any professional should see an increase in income over the course of his or her career, and 3) Finish this novel!

As I mentioned, I feel I’m getting close, so I’ve set some concrete goals to get me across the finish line this year. Here there are:
I will finish this draft by my birthday (May 7)
While my reading group and husband read it over I will do yoga and cleanse my brain for the upcoming rewrites (just kidding, I’ll probably just devour the latest book in the Twilight series).
On June 1, I will start the official third draft, then send it out for another round of readings at the beginning of September.
I will collect notes in September, then work on revisions for the remainder of the year.
Come January I will send it to my agent.

To stay on track I have about 9 weeks to finish this draft. Since I’m past the point of just busting out pages, I can’t set a page per day goal, I’m just going to have to keep plugging away at it.

If it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that things always take longer then you think they will (this is true in hospitals AND in writing), so I hereby vow not to slack off and procrastinate.

The end is sight.

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Page 99 Test

On my trip home from Portland yesterday I was browsing Southwest’s in-flight magazine when I came across a piece about a website called Page99Test.com.

The basic premise is that writers spend forever, in and out of workshops, brushing up the first 20 pages of their manuscript, but without reading further, an editor/publisher doesn’t know if the the whole of the book is any good. So an industry practice has evolved wherein the reader flips to page 99 and starts reading there to see if the work is engaging.

This site takes the practice to masses. You have to make an account to participate, but once you do, you’re presented with a page of a manuscript. The work may or may not be published, and the author’s name is confidential. You rate the page, saying whether or not you’d be likely to buy the book based on the 99th page. You can even give the author a note as to why or why not. It’s oddly addictive.

The really fun part is that you can upload your own 99th page, which of course has me looking closer at my own work. My 99th page finds my main character reflecting on the life of her grandfather, the only person in the world who was ever good to her. The story opens a year after his death, but this is the first close look we get at his life. It’s not quite ready for critique just yet, but I think once I’m done with this draft I will definitely post it to this website, just to see what people think.

Because there’s nothing like anonymous feedback from strangers, right? Has anyone out there taken this challenge? What did you find/learn?

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Revision Road Map

I’m up in Portland this week visiting the newest little Tallulah. With two infants and a toddler under one roof things are pretty noisy, but tucked away in my suitcase, just waiting for the moment that everyone else is sleeping, are my notes for the revision of my current draft.

I printed the story out last week (four pages to a sheet to keep it compact), and read through the whole thing making notes as to what needs to change where. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that step, but every time I sat down to write I got overwhelmed by everything that was missing from the story, so I had to do something.

I’m glad I did. Now I have this perfect road map of edits to make, page for page, and the work suddenly seems a lot less daunting. Some are line notes, some are thoughts that will need considerable work, and in some instances I simply wrote “no,” but now I no longer have to think about the big picture while I type, all I have to do is write.

Of course, before I can do that I have to find five minutes of quiet. Right now, that’s the bigger challenge.

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The “Social Network’s” Unlikable Hero

I’ve been catching up on some movie watching lately and finally went to see The Social Network. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that I thought the hype was justified. The writing was great.

The thing that really stuck with me was how much I liked Mark Zuckerberg, even though he’s never, not once, a nice guy.

I’m fascinated by anti-heroes. What makes us love them? After much thought, the best I can come up with is that he may not be likable, but he’s consistent, honest and so fucking smart (not to mention rich) that we, as the audience, want to be him. Agree? Disagree?

Who are other great unlikable heroes, and why do we love them? I’d love to hear some thoughts from all you out there in cyberspace…

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The Newest Tallulah

It was an exciting weekend for our family.

My sister, after 78 (holy shit 78) hours of labor, my sister gave birth to my very first niece (or nephew for that matter). And what did she name her? Tallulah.

Tallulah Rose. It’s so beautiful. As soon as I have photos I will share them.

For anyone who hasn’t been following the blog, my main character’s name is Talulah. Back in January of 2010, after much debate, and input from you guys, I settled on an intentionally misspelled version of the name as a shout out to my character’s mom who was a poorly educated teenage mom, but now I’m thinking I’ll change it again, in honor of the newest little Tallulah.

It’s fun to fantasize about the book being a big hit, and my niece growing up not realizing that I didn’t actually name the character after her at all. The fact that I chose the name two years before she was conceived is a detail we may or may not decide to include in family lore.

I can’t help but wonder what it would do to a kid to share a name with a character invented by someone close to you. What if she interprets it as unspoken expectations? What if she thinks it’s some sort of pre-written destiny that she be farmer of some kind? What if she doesn’t like the book?

Maybe I’m over-thinking the whole thing.

I’m traveling on Friday, with the fam, up to Portland to meet the little lady. I can’t wait.

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Voice

I had this crazy dream the other night.

My husband and I were skydiving, tandem style. I was strapped to his front and we were sailing along through the sky like birds, the wind screaming past us. Then it was time to pull the cord to let loose the parachute. Daniel reached back and yanked it and I saw the long cords string out above us, with a mess of white fabric at the end, but the parachute didn’t open.

I didn’t feel panic. I thought, it just needs a second or two, it’ll be fine, but then it came loose from us all together and sailed off toward the horizon. Looking down at the earth coming closer and closer I realized, again without panic, that we were about to die.

I reached back to run my hand through his hair and pull him close so he could hear me. “We’ve had an amazing life together,” I said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“Really?” he said, “because it would have been nice if the parachute had opened.”

Then, as we hit the ground, I woke up.

The funny thing about this dream, is that, if you know my guy, that’s exactly what he would have said. To bring it back to my writing (because this is a blog about writing, not dreams – no matter how entertaining I may find them), voice really is such a particular thing, and if you don’t really know your characters you might miss that perfect line.

It makes me think of that scene at the end of Star Wars V where Han is about to be frozen in carbonite and Leah says “I love you!” Apparently there was some debate about what Han would say at that moment. What did they finally land on? In case you live in a cave and never saw it – he says “I know.” It really was the only thing that character could say. Could you imagine him breaking into tears and crying “I love you, too!” Never.

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Hey Jealousy

I am not a jealous person, generally speaking. I’m very happy with my life and I view the success of my peers with excitement. I tend to see us all as in this thing together. If a friend of mine gets a book published I feel in some small way like I’m a part of that triumph (especially when I’ve given feedback or support). As writers we need our community to cheer us on.

When I was in school I had a professor tell me to be prepared. That some day a friend would publish something that made me jealous and that it would be a difficult thing to deal with. I scoffed. Not me.

Well aren’t those words delicious?

A past creative partner just hit the jackpot with his most recent project and I have to admit that I’m jealous. I hate it, but I am, and the thing is, I feel justified. The reason I no longer collaborate with this individual is that I didn’t like how he worked. As an analogy, say he was a writer who taught undergrads and basically took advantage of everyone around him to complete his current successful piece – stealing ideas, not giving credit, etc. (he’s not, exactly, and he didn’t, quite, but I feel this analogy gives a sense of why I’m angry without giving away the guy’s (or gal’s) actual identity).

So now he’s a big success. Ug. Puke. Why him? He got lucky, that’s all. I still have no intention of ever working with him again, but it makes me wonder – do you have to be a dick to get ahead as a creative professional?

I maintain that good work speaks for itself and that lying and cheating your way to the top will earn you a limited stay. Maybe I’m being naive. I suppose time will tell.

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