Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It's Not You, It's Me...

I took a photography class several weeks ago in which I had a conversation with the instructor about cameras and vacations. She told me that she used to love photography, but once she started making it her job – lugging her camera around for portrait sessions and weddings – she stopped taking her camera on vacations. Every time she pulled out her camera, she said, it felt like a job.

So this woman who takes the most amazing photos I've ever seen, carries her iphone to DisneyWorld for her family vacations.

I don't feel this way about my computer exactly. I love my computer. I'm addicted to the internet and blogs and writing. I love the sound of the clicking of the keyboard.

But I do realize that every time I pull it out, my family thinks I'm at my job. And in a sense, I suppose, they're right.

So I'm taking a break for the next week. I'm breaking from the computer and internet to spend uninterrupted time with my family, to go to some amazing places, eat some good food I don't have to cook or clean up after, to enjoy summer, to find quality time with my camera, to try some new things.

No book. No blogging. No twitter. No facebook updates.

Just me, my family, and some time off.

I'll see you back next week.

If I make it out from under the pile of stacked up emails!  :)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Summer Has Begun! (It's Friday: It's a Good Thing Edition)

This is officially the last day of school for my kids. You know what that means: pool days and sunburns; less writing, more sleeping; vacations, roasting marshmallows over our fire pit and eating s'mores; catching fireflies and laying on our backs in the grass watching the stars come out; trips to Krispy Kreme – a summer-only treat. Hours and hours browsing the used bookstore; sipping Paneras iced coffees and working on the book while the kids are in music camp. Crazy art projects and bike trips through forest trails. Sand between our toes. Turquoise toe nail polish and good books.

I love summer. I love not having to hound the kids to finish homework. I love not having to wake up at six and fix three lunches before I can even think about breakfasts. I love drinking coffee because I love it and not because I need it. I love no after school activities. I love traveling to far away places. I love the fresh, crisp feeling of our new passports, and the prospect of breaking them in. I love sprawling on the living room floor with three kids and a new book, reading. I love trips to the zoo, and to museums when the zoo is too hot.

Two summers ago I finished the book I would call the "book of my heart." Last summer I got a contract for that book.

Summers are good things. Full of possibilities and hope. Friends and family.

Today: it's not quite summer yet. Today is crazy. Today is frantic getting ready for summer. Today is "how am I ever going to get it all done and survive?"

Tomorrow, though... tomorrow it all begins.

What's your favorite thing about summer?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Page A Day is Over. Triumph or Failure?

Last month I signed up for a Page A Day writing challenge. But the story starts before that.

A month before I'd set up a challenge for myself – actually more a spreadsheet than a challenge - in which I'd write a thousand words a day until this Friday, when summer officially begins for my family. This Friday, if I completed my personal challenge, I'd be done with the first draft of my book.

When I signed up for Weronika's Page A Day, I didn't think of it as a change in plans at first. If I did my thousand words, I'd do my  But when the PADC started, I realized the point was to take the pressure off of writing massive amounts and make it okay to just do something, even if only a page.

So I took that to heart, and today the challenge ended. I'm trying to decide if it was a success or a failure.

The truth is, if the point was to write at least one page every day, no matter what, I failed. There were several days I wrote nothing. Most of those days were weekends where my family had packed days that started at sun-up and ended when I could barely hold my eyes open. I wasn't even home or around the computer those days, and to try to stay up past midnight to squeeze that page in would have been defeatist.

And yet – over the course of 31 days, I wrote 69 pages: more than twice the PADC requirement. So I can't feel too bad about that.

In 31 days I added more than 20,000 words, and have come within 15,000 words of my first draft goal (I write skinny... I'll probably add another 10,000 on rewrites). I only really started this book in March. If I didn't have that other goal with it's pretty little spreadsheet mocking me I'd be thrilled. Over the moon. Busting with pride.

And yet.... I am so disappointed that I'm not done. That this first draft writing is now bleeding into what is supposed to be vacation. I feel like I let myself down.

I still have three days to cram in some writing, but those days are already packed with end of the year parties at school, field days, shopping and packing and last minute details. When I closed my document tonight, I knew in my heart it was the end of significant progress this week.

I'm still finding my peace in that. And trying hard to feel the joy of the success I had.

What about you? How do you deal with falling short of your goals?

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Opera singer sang like a bad simile...

Last weekend my family went to a concert close to home. The kids in particular loved this one because they knew a lot of the music: some of their favorites from Disney movies and the Sound of Music.

There was a guest soloist who was amazing. She's a professional, sings with the National Opera, has traveled the world. She needs to only sing one or two notes for you to know: she's a star.

The thing is, she sang several beautiful songs from movies that my kids knew, and sang them true to the original versions.... until the last few bars. Then, unexplainably, she went into a highly operatic, showy series of notes as if to prove she was deserving of all the great things the program said of her.

The notes by themselves were, well, incredible. The problem was that they totally took us out of the song. All of a sudden I wasn't sucked into the beautiful melody and lulled by the emotion of the lyrics. I was suddenly thinking of those few notes, the ones that, while gorgeous, did not belong.

Earlier that afternoon I'd been talking with my 9 year old daughter about writing tests she was being prepared at school to take. One of the things the teacher has tried to drill into them is to use figurative language in their essays. So, like most young kids, my daughter has learned to sprinkle her writing with similes and metaphors.... which usually don't make sense. Or at the very least are awkward.

We were talking about how in school you have to learn how to do things that later you aren't suppose to do, like liberally use similes. When I told her that in my writing, editors discourage the liberal use of similes, she asked why. I told her that unless a simile was very very good, it takes a reader out of the story. They notice the comparison and stop to think about it instead of staying in the flow of the story.

So when we walked out of the concert, she said to me, "That last song, where the singer did that big thing at the end - that was like a simile, wasn't it? Because it made me think about how she was singing instead of enjoying the song."

Lesson learned.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Stages of Revisions (How to get from "Utter Poo" to "I Love You!")

Good morning, dear readers. It's Tuesday as I write this, and I am finally mostly caught up on emails, one cup of coffee down and a full pot still warm, and ready to start a long stretch today of being productive and writing: something I haven't been so good at the past three days.

I started the page a day challenge with the idea that I could write a page a day with little problem. What's a single page, right?  But while I'm page-wise ahead of the goal (24 days in, nearly 50 pages written), I haven't written every day. Sometimes, especially the weekends, the days slip away with family activities that do not revolve around access to a computer, and by ten at night when I sit down, I'm fried and tired, my brain can hardly put two thoughts together, and I know even if I struggle to get that page written, it's going to stink and I'm going to end up deleting it later anyway. So I'm still working on that grace thing.

Patti asked me a great question the other day that I thought I'd share here:

Question: When you finish this one will you let it sit and go write another or keep editing it?  

Typically I'd respond with the agent-approved method: let it sit for a while.

But I've discovered there are different kinds of revisions; a hierarchy if you will. This is how the process goes down for me:

Stage One: (Other wise known as: "It's all utter poo") The first draft is done, and it ain't pretty. There are holes all over the place. Overwriting. Lack of description. Inconsistencies from where I changed the plot or a character or the time-line but put a note in the margin and kept going. Entire scenes that are out of place, or missing! I don't need to step away and give time here. I need to get back in while it's all still fresh and fix it. There's as much writing in this phase as rewriting. Then I spit-shine a little and hit the spell-check.

Stage Two: (Otherwise known as: "Rose-colored glasses anyone?") the major overhaul is done, and now it's starting to look pretty good. In fact, I think I'm attached to it. There are some darn good pieces of writing in here. Most of it looks great in fact. In fact, I think I'm brilliant! This is going to be a best seller!!  Let's send it off to the crit group and await their glowing responses. (This is when it's a good time to take a few weeks away from the book while others read and comment. It's also a good time to start a new book and stock up on chocolate for when the crits start pouring in)

Stage Three:  (Otherwise known as: "My writing partners are not evil; My writing partners are not evil...")The critiques come in and, after maybe three or four weeks away from the book, it's sheen has started to wash off a little. I want to deny deny deny, but as I read the crits, I realize with a sob: they are right. It's still not perfect. Closer, but not quite. I go through their comments line by line, plot by plot, advice by carefully worded advice, and fix it. I probably grumble a little. I probably defend my original choices to myself at first too, and then finally admit that they're right. Or not. The point is: I carefully consider each thing they've said.

Stage Three and a half: (Otherwise known as "Please Love Me") If there has been any major changes, I might send snips of them back to the crit group to see if they think it's better. At this point, I'm not looking for new crits. I just ask them to read to see if I fixed whatever it was that they thought was missing or deficient. This section might be a paragraph, or a small section of dialogue.

Stage Four: (Otherwise known as "Fine tuning isn't just for pianos")I've now completed the bigger things. I go back through for the smaller things. Typos. Punctuation. Grammar. Spelling. Essentially, I copy-edit. Sometimes I make changes here too. Things that I thought were clear because I heard them in my head but now, after time away, I see were not that clear. But mostly, I clean up. And I make sure I think it's ready to go.

So the question is: will I wait when I finish before I dive into revisions, and the answer this time is no. I'm still at the utter poo stage. There are ideas written all over my margins; there are scenes I know I'm missing but can't figure how to fit in; there are scenes that are out of place. I need to fix these before I lose them to my cluttered and foggy brain. When I know stuff is wrong, I need to get at 'em before the rose colored glasses cloud my vision.

Hopefully by the end of the summer I'll be ready to send it out to my group. Even better, by end of summer maybe I'll be getting it back from my group and begin the last stages.

The truth is, too, that no matter how much time goes by, it's never enough. I'd finished and revised my first novel to death more than a year before I received the galley proofs to go over copy-edits, and even then, I wished I'd written things differently. I hope that's because in the meantime, I became a better writer.

How do you approach revisions?

Friday, June 4, 2010

I Am Not My Character

When I began writing Some Kind of Normal in first person, the voice of Babs took over. There were times, especially in those early chapters, when Babs would say something that would make me cringe. Things that I went back and deleted, thinking: "I can't write that!" Especially when she calls diabetes a fat people's illness. Even now, I cringe.

Then I realized that this wasn't my story. It was Babs', and if it was going to be authentic, it had to be from her perspective, with all of her own quirks and flaws and prejudices. I had to let go of my internal editor and realize that readers will get that. Readers will understand that this isn't my opinion. It's fiction.

Yeah. Right.

Turns out, readers - especially those that know me - are looking for me in the book. And they assume some of it is me.

I take it as a compliment most of the time. I've had a lot of people I don't know ask if Babs is a real person, because they feel like she's real to them. That's the hugest compliment I could get. But the fact is, Babs is totally fictional. She's not based on me, or on anyone I know. And for the most part, I worked really hard making her as unlike me as I could so people wouldn't see me in it.

Yet, a character is always some part of the writer. We write from our own realm of experiences and exposures. From the simple things, like the kind of potato chips a character might be munching on to the larger things, like the way the way they might react getting life-changing news. We don't have to have eaten those chips or had that exact news, but exposure to the vast array in a grocery store or hearing bad news of another kind form a foundation from which an author can draw.

It's true that I might place characters in a Mexican restaurant because I like Mexican food (one friend pointed this out to me), but in truth, I put them in a Mexican restaurant because they are Texans, and when I lived in Texas, that's what most restaurants in the small town I lived in were. It felt more authentic than putting them in, say, an Olive Garden. So even though my experiences influenced the character's choice, my personal preferences didn't. (As proof, one character ate chile rellenos, which I hate!)

The fact is, readers don't connect with characters necessarily because they are living out the same plotline in their real lives. They connect because, despite the differences in situations, human emotions are common ground. 

In the way that Babs was brash and opinionated and loud, my newest character is quiet and angry and deeply hurt. She is everything I'm not. Which doesn't mean I haven't felt hurt or angry at times. I, too, once packed everything I owned in my car and drove half-way across the country to a state where I knew no one to set up a new life for myself. But for very, very different reasons, and with a very different relationship with my family.

And yet, I have no doubt some readers will read the book and make assumptions that there are secrets in my life I haven't shared. That there are regrets I haven't moved past. That I can't cook, got sick on tequila once, drink frappacinos, hate kids, ate pizza out of dumpsters, and have a knack for managing questionable adult clubs.

If I write this book well, that's what they will think.

And I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Page A Day: It's scientifically proven to work

I am now half-way through the page-a-day challenge and I'm so excited about how far I've come. In the last 16 days I've added 39 pages and 11,000 words!!  I've discovered that the crazy scientist I had to learn about in middle school was right: an object in motion stays in motion. Or in writer's terms, a writer in momentum stays in momentum.

The more I write, the more I want to write.

On the other hand, the blogging has suffered. One can't conquer in all arenas at the same time.

If you've been with me on this blog longer than a few months, you might remember that I started a story well over a year ago... one that I struggled with on and off for a year until finally, in March, giving up and diving into the one I'm writing now.

The thing was, I couldn't get all the pieces of the story to fit. I had these characters, great, fantastic characters that I totally and completely knew and loved. But I didn't have a story for them. I tried. I tried hard to get them a decent plot. But every part felt forced.

Today, suddenly, having not thought of these characters in a long while, the plot fell into place. The entire, whole of it. And suddenly now I am anxious to start that story all over.

But first I need to give my current characters an end, and instead of wanting to rush over and change allegiances, I actually want to stick it out and finish this one before starting the other.  I take that as a good sign.

This past year and a half has been rough, writing-wise. Of course, I did sell my book, go through edits and revisions, and get it published, but there was plenty of time in there to get another one written, and I didn't. Not for lack of trying, but somehow I just struggled settling into a new story. And I think part of that was the pressure to write a lot. Every day. 1,000 words or 1,800 words. 2,000 if I thought I had nothing else to do during the school hours.

This page-a-day challenge has been freeing. A page isn't always easy, but it's not overwhelming by any stretch, and when I feel like going to bed or clicking to check my social media friends, I think, "Just one page. That's it." And when I do it, it feels triumphant.

I've stopped beating myself up over small successes and started saying, "A small success is a success no matter."  The little things really do add up to something big.

It took 3 months to get 15,000 words down. Painful months. If you'd have told me in March that I would've reached 40,000 by May, and 60,000 by June, I would have laughed at you.

The bucket is filling. Little by little word, it's filling. And it feels good.