Archive | 2012

Writing: Better Than The End Of The World

Okay, I will admit to kind of, sort of, maybe just a little bit being disappointed by the lack of apocalypse on Friday. It wasn’t so much that I wanted the world to end, it was more that I was ready for a little hell to break loose. I even went shopping to stock up on supplies, justifying the purchase of 25 pounds of rice with the fact that I really have been meaning to beef up our family’s post-earthquake survival stash.

So the world as we know it is pretty much just as it was a week ago, except that I’m much more prepared for seismic activity.

I think I was just feeling a little overwhelmed by all the Christmas business, and work, and family, and all of it. I wasn’t having any time for my fiction. I guess it’s pretty silly to think that in the face of the apocalypse I would be sitting down to pen a story or two, but such is my brain.

I think we all secretly (or not so secretly) get excited by predicted shake ups because even though we don’t know what would happen, we know life would be different, and the grass is always greener after the end of the Mayan calendar. You know?

Well, Christmas was great. The family is all still in town, but I went back to work today. It continues to be difficult juggling it all, but I did finally make some time for the fiction last night. I left all the relatives upstairs and brought a big old glass of wine to the bedroom where I began the task of mapping out the whole story.

It sounds funny to say that, being so close to done, as I am, but I find it a really good exercise to make a 3×5 card for each scene and lay them all out. I use different colors for things (blue for scenes in cars, white for flashbacks) so that I can see if they are all evenly spaced, or if the story is heavy in certain parts with certain elements. I also find that it pushes me to be very precise with my scene work.

There are some scenes, I’m realizing, that don’t really need to be there. For instance, I have a half-page scene where my character gets ready to go outside. Really, she can just go outside (and it can probably be assumed that she put her boots on at some point). I tend to over write a bit when I’m just drafting. And now it’s time to trim all that fat.

So that’s what I’m working on. It’s tedious and difficult, but the wine helps.

In retrospect, I’d much rather sit with my story and a glass of zinfandel, then fight to defend my 25 pounds of rice from looters who did not have the sense to go shopping before the end of the world.

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This 5 a.m. Thing Is Catching On

I was talking to a dear old friend of mine this last weekend. He was staying at our place while he and Daniel took some time to work on a screenplay together. They’ve been collaborators for years.

Anyway, we were talking about where he would sleep on the couch, or downstairs next to the exercise equipment, and I was warning him about the kids being up early. He said he’d prefer the couch. He added that he’s been getting up early anyhow and not to worry. As he is not yet a father I pushed a little – no, really, they get up early. And he totally surprised my by saying that he’s been getting up around 5 every morning to write before going to work.

You too?

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who’s on this whole “5am is a great, quiet time to get some quality creative work done” train.

This would be a more impressive story if you understood the extent to which this friend and I (once upon a time) perfected the art of late night drinking. Now here we are, getting up before dawn to write our stories before heading to work like the good, responsible people our professors likely doubted we would ever become.

It was a new found link in a long standing friendship.

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What My Characters Drive

I spent the wee hours this morning figuring out what cars my characters all drive. It seems like a silly thing. I almost felt like I was wasting precious writing time, browsing the internet for images of various cars, but the truth is, these little details matter.

This bit of research was prompted by the realization that every time a vehicle comes up in my story I write either “car” or “truck” and leave it at that. The truth is, I don’t care about cars (or trucks) and so any details beyond that seem unnecessary, but really, for most of my characters, what they drive actually says a fair amount about them.

My main character, for example. She lives on a farm. She drives a truck. As of this morning, I know that it’s a white, 1998 Toyota Tacoma truck. It’s a real work horse, but it’s getting older. It’s white because it sits in the desert sun all day – if it were black or blue it would get so hot she would burn herself on it. It’s old because she can’t afford a new one.

Her boyfriend, on the other hand, lives in town. He thinks he’s a tough guy, but really he’s the kind of guy who buys an SUV and then never washes it so that it appears that he takes it off road, but he never does. Ford Escape for him.

My villain gets a red Dodge Ram. A big old thing that looks like it wants to eat other trucks.

I made a word doc and pulled an image off Google for each of my character’s vehicles. I may likely never need to refer to it. Really, it’s not like I’m going to go into all that much detail about the cars, even now that I know what they all look like, but it definitely helps me visualize a scene if the pieces in it are specific and real.

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Developing My Platform

I need to publish more short fiction.

Everyone is always saying that you need to get published in literary journals if you want to prove to potential agents/publishers/audiences that you are worth reading. You have to build your platform. This is what they say.

When my novel was in its nascent stages I was actually sending out short stories, and had some luck with getting them published, but it’s been years. I need some current work to go out into the world.

I was voicing this concern to my writing group last week and they reminded me that I actually do have some short stories that I’ve worked on in the past years, I just haven’t gotten them across the finish line. So I think, when I finish this draft of the novel, I will send it off to my trusted round two readers and pull out those short stories.

When I last sent out the novel for feedback I took two months away from my fiction. I didn’t write at all. And now I’m kicking myself. This time around, I’m hoping to finish two of my short stories while I vacation from the novel, so that I can be submitting them to journals while I do the next round of edits on the manuscript.

It’s a little daunting, but as I was saying in my last post, I am enjoying my current writing fitness. And taking two months off would be no good on that front anyway. So I guess I need to brace myself. No rest for the wicked.

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Feeling the Fitness

On Thanksgiving I sat down, after the craziness of the day had passed, and took advantage of a quiet moment to write our family’s holiday card – you know, the letter that will be tucked in with the cute little card of the kids doing fun stuff over the course of 2012 and mailed off to family and friends as a well-intentioned but woefully inadequate way of keeping in touch? I’m sure you’re familiar with the genre.

Anyways, I’ve only ever written one of these before, and I will admit to having had a few glasses of wine, so when I went back yesterday to read it over, I was actually amazed to find that I pretty much hit it out of the park on my first try.

I’ve often said that writing is like exercising. You have to do it all the time if you want to have any endurance or skill. And even though I’m not necessarily writing fiction all day every day, I am thinking critically about written content a lot of the time, so that when I do sit down to work on the novel, the words actually come out like I want them to. As a matter of fact, not to brag or anything, but I’m in the best writing shape of my life.

It’s a fact I’m most happy about at 5 am when I sit down to work on the fiction. It’s not historically my best time of day, but I’ve trained myself well enough that once I’m sitting in front of the laptop, the story just flows.

I wish I could say the same about my physical fitness. The Tough Mudder is only two months away and I have completely fallen off the training bandwagon. Ug. There just isn’t enough time in the day. The more I write, the less I run.

So at least when I fall flat on my face in the mud and can’t get across the monkey bars, I can console myself that my novel is coming along nicely.

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One Hippo, All Alone

There’s a kid’s book called “Hippos Go Berserk,” by Sandra Boynton. It’s a favorite around our house. For those of you who don’t know this little gem, allow me to share. It starts out with a drawing of a hippo, sitting at a table all by his (her?) lonesome. The corresponding line is: One hippo, all alone.

On the next page that hippo calls two hippos, on the phone.

The next thing you know, there are three hippos at the door, who bring along another four.

It goes on like this for a bit until finally, there are 45 hippos in the house, and…

All the hippos go berserk!

And they really do. One is standing on his head. Another is clearly streaking, which is funny because most of the hippos are naked anyway, but this one is running by and has a banner of some sort wrapped around him. One is passing around what I swear are jello shots. There’s a blue beast hanging from the wall art. By any standards, it looks like a hell of a party.

That’s how this weekend felt.

horse headDaniel and I went to Austin for the wedding of a dear friend who walks an interesting line in life between Texas high society and a rowdy Burning Man crowd. At one point I looked across the dance floor to see a very dapper elderly couple waltzing, and behind them danced a man in an orange jumper wearing a full rubber unicorn head. There was a fire dance performance. The last song was from the most recent Muppet movie. And then the party moved on. I crashed out around 4, but the bride and groom closed the place down at 6am.

All through the hippo night, the hippos played with great delight, but at the hippo break of day, the hippos all must go away.

And so it was for us. The next day, after a brunch that I was too exhausted and hung over to go to, all these wonderful people headed back to their far flung homes.

Daniel and I made it home that evening, and as we loaded into the taxi for the final stretch Daniel turned to me and said “I feel like a hippo.” I didn’t understand what he was saying at first – until he quoted me the last line of the book: One hippo, alone once more, misses the other 44.

Just goes to show that perfect prose come in many forms.

It was a wonderful weekend. Thank you, dear hippos.

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I will not call it done just because I’m tired of working on it

I went back and looked at what I wrote on my day of writing, and you know what? It’s not all bad.

The thing I really have to let go of are these self-imposed deadlines. I’ve taken on the noble challenge of writing a novel. I did not sign up to write it in any specific amount of time.

And so I will continue to get up at 5 in the morning to write before the kids stir. I will carry on with my attempts to chip away at the little things that bug only me. I will never give up my goal to craft every damn sentence in my story.

Because that’s what writers do.

All of this is a fancy way of saying that I don’t think my book will be done by the end of the year as I had hoped. It’s close, but (new mantra) I will not call it done just because I’m tired of working on it.

In other news, you may have noticed that my blog has received a facelift. I decided to go with a desert theme, as my story is so deeply rooted in the Mojave, and the desert is simply where my creative juices are flowing lately. I like to think that in the years to come I will update it to match whatever project I’m working on. Maybe the next one will be a seascape. After four years in the desert, I could handle that.

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Oh, When Will This Ever End?

Yesterday was my day long writing “retreat.”

It was good to get a big chunk of writing time in, but somehow I had built it up in my head too much. I had this idea that I was going to be able to rewrite the entire ending of my story, all in one sitting.

Badabing, badabang.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. I’m really struggling with the end. I think I made some serious headway yesterday, but I’m left with this anxious feeling. It’s not done.

I want it to be done.

I guess I just have to keep plugging away at it. What else can I do?

I still think I can have it done in two weeks. Well, I can have the story done in two weeks. I will need longer to do the word-for-word polish. In fact, I have no idea how long that will take. I really want to make every page, every sentence, perfect. And there are a lot of sentences.

To keep focused, I have written myself a new mantra: I will not call it done just because I’m tired of working on it.

I guess I just need to let go of having it done at any particular time. It’s just stressing me out. It will get done when it gets done.

 

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Rock Lake Writers Day-Long Retreat

Doesn’t that sound official?

As it turns out, most applications for writing grants or residencies ask you what writing organizations you belong to. Well, my writing group has been meeting for two and a half years now. We go to readings, we talk publishing – we do everything any writing organization does – so we decided to give ourselves a name: The Rock Lake Writers. And now we can list it on our resumes. Sweet.

The name is inspired by geography. Two of our members live in Eagle Rock. The other three in Silver Lake. (Silver Eagle just sounded to militaristic.) I’m thinking of building us a website (with all my spare time).

In all the many months that the Rock Lake Writers have been coming together, we have each moved closer toward our goals, but we’re all very busy, and it can be hard to find quality time for our writing. So a few months ago, as we were sitting with our calendars and mapping out our meeting schedule (aren’t we official?) we decided to set aside a day for a mini writing retreat.

It’s this Sunday – and I’m so excited. From 10 to 5 the dads will watch the kids and we will lock ourselves in the home of one of our members and just write, write, write. It’s good timing for me. I’ve reached a point with the novel rewrite that I need a big chunk of time to really dive deep. It’s the ending. It needs to be completely rewritten. It’s so much work that I’m not sure I can do it all in one day of writing, but I’m sure as hell going to give it my best shot. I’m thinking about going old school and just writing long hand to let the new version of the end just flow. Then I can edit as I translate it to my computer. I don’t often work that way, but I do find that writing things out long hand helps me be more creative. It’s as if I’m less afraid of being judged when it’s written out long hand. Once it’s in the computer it’s official and must be edited.

I’m getting so close to being done with this project. Here’s hoping the first-ever Rock Lake Writers Day-Long Retreat is highly productive.

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The Things We Capitalize

I edit a lot of writing. In my work, I review the prose of CEOs and celebrities, assistants and managers. Some of them are actually very good writers, but the one I really enjoy editing for are not. There’s something very satisfying about taking a jumble of words and turning it into a piece with flow and meaning. Along the way, there’s a part of my brain (the part that wanted to study anthropology) that is noticing the WAY in which people use (or more interestingly – misuse) language.

The thing that has caught my attention the most lately is the way people tend to capitalize random words.

Sometimes these errant capital letters make sense. People will write: I asked the President why I should vote for him. This mistake is understandable, but for the record, you only capitalize titles if they are used with (and as part of) a proper name: I asked President Barack Obama why I should vote for him, instead of Mitt Romney, who would also like to be president.

But these are not the typos that fascinate me. The ones I like are the ones that are inserted to give a certain importance to a word (either consciously or not). For instance, I edited a bio today that was written by a city manager. He wrote something along the lines of: My wife and I have two Daughters… There’s something just very sweet about that. His girls must be very important to him.

Sometimes people will capitalize the word dollar for no apparent reason (except that money is very important). I also like when people use the uppercase for website – as in: my Website is the greatest. (Of course, you are supposed to capitalized Internet, so this could just be confusion on the part of the writer.)

Anyhow, that’s what’s been kicking around in my brain.

If you could insist that the world capitalize one word – what would it be?

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