Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Help

July's pick for book club was "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.  It was full of rich characters - three of whom we see the story unfold through and around which in the beginning was hard to follow until I could figure out who was who.  This book was, for me, a fresh perspective on civil rights painted by those who lived in Mississippi in the 1960's without being tragic or preachy. I simply loved this book. Once in a while a book comes along and actually lives up to the hype it is given - this is one of those times! Highly recommended...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Layers of the toolbox

I love roller coasters!  Unfortunately, Hubby has had too many concussions in his risk-taking and active life which has left me with no one to enjoy them with for too many years to count.  Hopefully one of my girls will take up the position he vacated and that it won't be Baby Sister because I sure as hell can't wait that long!  The last couple of weeks have been a roller-coaster of a different kind for me and here I am to regale you with the telling!

Remember the last time I checked in I was stuck on the outline for my novel.  I gave a synopsis to a couple of people who came up with some very interesting "what would happen if they did this" kinds of brainstorming ideas.  It got me out of the block I'd been in and had me excited again, although for directions I wasn't quite sure would work with what I had originally envisioned for my story.  (Thank you, by the way... you know who you are!)

Then, I submitted my *incomplete* outline to my writer's group as my submission for our upcoming meeting.  This action itself was something I would not normally do but if you want different results than you have had, you have to take different actions.  Instead of wallowing and feeling inadequate because I hadn't finished my outline in time to submit it for critique (the deadline I'd given myself), I gave them what I had up to that point, admitted I was stuck and asked for a high-level brainstorming (instead of planned outline critique) when we met.

As is the case with every meeting of my amazing writing group, I learned something new that night.  And that something new is: (drum roll) I don't know enough about story structure to outline properly.  Just when you think you have trained enough and mastered all the tools in the writing toolbox (point of view, passive vs active voice, dialogue, showing vs. telling, etc.) someone comes along and shows you there's an entirely new layer deeper in the toolbox that you still need to master.

I'll admit I walked away from that meeting feeling more than a little dejected.  Here I had put in all this hard work and I was READY for race day... only to find out that the race is not a mere 5K or even a half marathon; this sucker is more like a full marathon or an ultra.  And I haven't trained enough yet! *sigh*  After a couple of days of thinking things like "maybe I should just start a different, easier story" or "maybe I don't have the energy or the time to write a novel after all" and other such bullshit, I slapped myself and laced up my running shoes for more proverbial training runs.  The past week my writing hours have consisted of listening to podcasts and reading articles on all things writing, googling youtube videos on different types of story structure, and brainstorming ways of simplifying my story idea back down to an urban fantasy instead of the behemoth epic it had morphed into - in addition to trying to figure out how it ends!  My fellow writers are amazing women and in the past week have given me encouragement, talked me off the ledge, sent me suggestions about which podcast and other resources to check out, and reminded me that regardless of anything else I know this story and I'm invested in it - all the things that make them great writing buddies as well as friends.  (Thanks guys - you already know you'll be in the acknowledgments of my first published novel but I didn't want you to have to wait that long!)

I know all the training and hard work will pay off ... I just hope there isn't yet another hidden layer below this one in the writing toolbox that I have yet to discover because quite honestly that just might kill me!  And, I keep reminding myself, it's better to learn it now than go through rejection after rejection because I finished a novel before I mastered the art of novel writing.  My advice for the week: KEEP WRITING - no matter what!

Monday, August 15, 2011


Here I sit... That damn cursor blinking at me... and I can't figure out where the story goes from here.  So I thought 'what the hell, maybe blogging about it will help!'  Of course it is also cheating because that means I'm using today's allotted writing time for actual writing.  I've been kicking ass and taking names on the outline - who knew I'd be so good at it since I thought I was a discovery writer!  I've consistently been writing as planned - mostly.  Nothing goes one hundred percent right all the time.  And now I'm sitting here with a story that is three quarters roughed out.  I've got new characters I didn't know existed, new motivations I didn't know they had, lots of twists and tension... and now... yeah... I don't know exactly how they all get to the ending I see in my head yet.  Of course that ending has only been summed up in a single sentence up until now which is precisely the problem.  (And no, the sentence is NOT "They lived happily ever after" either, thanks for asking!)

I keep exploring possibilities but it all feels too cliche or anti-climactic.  I need another twist and I can't see where it will come from yet.  Nothing I've come up with has me inspired enough to even write down.  And no, blogging about it hasn't helped yet either.

Anyone out there in Internet land want to share their favorite twists on story endings so I can get my creative juices kicked into gear over here?  Please?  If not, I'll be forced to show up with no first chapter and no completed outline at writer's group next week.  And that will suck...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Embarking on the crazy journey... or the one about Terra project planning her life

Remember a couple of posts ago when I was talking about standing at the edge and knowing that leaping into this I'm-finally-going-to-write-that-novel-I've-been-working-on-for-years pool was going to be super shitty and hard and basically freaking out?  Well, I pulled myself together and decided that all I needed was a plan.  I tackled this gigantic endeavor as I would any project of its scope and magnitude: I broke it down to requirements and measurable deliverables and defined how to utilize my resources.  (Told you I was a total data girl and project manager extraordinaire!)

Here are my requirements:
1)  I'd made a commitment to read the entire manuscript we will be critiquing at our August writer's group meeting.  Since this is book two of the trilogy of which the first book already has a publishing deal, I know I can't slack on that commitment and call myself one of the members of my kick-ass writing group.  Since typically my reading happens via iPod, having to sit down and actually READ a book represents significant time.

2) I am still training for whatever I decide to do in the fall - I keep going back and forth about whether I'm going to do another half marathon or not - so I can't slack off on my running or sacrifice training time for writing time.  I just got new shoes.  My last pair were new in late February and I'd already run three hundred miles on them. Three hundred miles every five months makes this not a small deliverable.

3)  I have to find time to write in the non-magical world where there are only 24 hours in a day, of which I still have to work eight at my "real" job and spend at least a few hours with my family being a wife and mother.  I have to write every day and be consistent about it or nothing is ever going to be different than now where I talk about writing as if it will always be in the future and never happening in the present.  The Universe sent me LOTS of pointers on this one in the form of podcast topics and daily writing tips telling me to JUST. DO. IT.  Kind of like shouting it at me with a "FOR GOD'S SAKE" added for good measure.

So here's the general plan that I came up with...

First, I gave myself a super tight deadline of finishing the critique for my writer's group by the end of July.  I was only two days late.  Check that one off the list!

Second, starting August 1, I will write everyday and act as if THIS month is NaNoWriMo month and just keep at it until the first draft is done. 

And finally, stick with the same running schedule I used while training for Ragnar all year since I know for the most part it works for my life.

How does that actually look with my schedule?  Monday through Friday workdays I either run at work (short-run day) or at the gym (the night Big Sister does NOT have dance) or in the morning (mid-week longer run).  When I get home from work, I'm a Mom/Taxi until the kids are tucked into bed at a reasonable time.  No more letting Big Sister stay up as late as she wants.  Since school starts in three weeks and we need to get back to a scheduled bedtime this works anyway.  The hours between 9:30 bedtime and when my natural clock winds down for the day, somewhere between 11:30 and midnight, will be devoted to writing - with the exception of Friday nights which I protect and preserve for quality time with Hubby.  Weekends are devoted to at least one long run - typically about ten miles Sunday morning - and getting on top of mundane things like laundry and dishes and perhaps squeezing in a touch of a social life - aka, the things I have been doing between the kid's bed time and mine until now.  Since weekends are way more flexible I will write a minimum of three hours a weekend somewhere between the two days.  My house may be less clean for a while, I'll definitely have to drink more coffee than normal and my DVR will fill up with all the things I won't be watching regularly; but all of these things are worth what I'll be gaining in return - being a novelist.

I'm off to an amazing start - only two days late due to the critique deadline that I blew but who's counting, right?  The first night I spent two hours rekindling the story in my mind and working out any bugs in the outline I've got so far.  I figured out that the story should actually start with what's in Chapter Three so I had to work the back story info-dump I had planned for chapters one and two in elsewhere.  And, I determined which of the three main characters point of view each chapter/section would be written from.  In the wee hours before dawn when I was awakened over and over again for a pretty heinous on-call shift, an element of the story kept churning through my head and I came up with the missing piece of my world's creation myth - got to love bonus non-planned creative time, right?  Don't forget, I have RELIGION of all things in my book.  Insane, I know.  Even more so when you realize that I have to basically come up with the equivalent of an entirely new system of mythology to explain what and why things happen and why people let them happen without question.  Last night, I worked another three chapters into the outline... and busted out a blog post which actually by definition counts as part of my writing.

It feels amazing making progress on the novel and it's crazy how I kept thinking it was going to be so hard to find all this time and stick to such a rigid and unbending schedule so I wouldn't have to sacrifice anything in my life.  What I didn't factor in is that I enjoy writing so much that the time just flies by and all the shit about how tight my schedule is doesn't even matter.  Here's to starting strong and continuing the trend all the way to the end!  I am a novelist by definition since I am writing a novel... regardless of whether I ever get said novel published or not.