Portrait of a NaNoWriMo Rebel

Just as I did last time I made progress on a NaNoWriMo project, I’m keeping what I’m working on mostly a secret. I can’t quite remember why I did last time, other than to not lose momentum, and that’s certainly a factor here. But there’s also something else going on: I’m embarrassed by it. I’m reasonably certain that almost everybody I know will think it’s kind of stupid. If I finish it, I’m sure I’ll talk about it then, but as a work in progress, my faith in it is pretty fragile.

In fact, I also think it’s stupid. I’m usually pretty good at self-analysis, but in this case I’m really not sure why I’m pretty intently working on something that I think is both dumb and unpublishable. Is it just a form of self-infatuation? Is it just easier to work on what I have than try to come up with yet another possible project? Do I ever love something starting out? Or do I just come up with a plan, and doggedly follow it until I have something complete and pretty okay?

I don’t know. I guess that isn’t a terrible way to be. Although I think it’d be better to have a brilliant inspiration, follow it doggedly, and end up with something I consider fantastic and a surefire bestseller.

It’s not that I don’t have brilliant inspirations. I have a lot of images I love floating around in my head. But I have trouble fleshing them out into a story that really fulfills my vision. It’s like how the boy you have a crush on isn’t quite the same as the boy belching on the couch. I don’t want Victoria or 10 Lonely Angels to belch!

So I guess maybe I’m aiming low again? Citadel of the Sky was definitely aiming low, while Matchbox Girls was a serious effort. But both were meant to be quick stories. I promised myself my next project would be something I’d be happy to spend 2 years writing on purpose. And I think this fulfills that promise, even if I do HOPE I’ll have something to show before 2 years are up.

So I’m ready to spend two years working on something I think is dumb?

But it won’t be dumb in the end. Or at least, it’ll be good and dumb!

Yeah.

PS: I can confide in this blog because I firmly believe that only one person I talk to regularly actually reads this blog anymore, and he’s very discreet. Everybody else just relies on Facebook. Shh! Our secret!

NaNoWriMo Rebel, pt 2

I’m falling further behind, but I’ve been working hard. I’ve made things complicated for myself, as usual, so I spend time each day writing words I don’t count even if they’re part of the same project, and revising my previous novel, and knitting. Day by day, stitch by stitch, word by word, I really do feel like I’m making something.

It’s rare, too, that I feel ok about the amount of work I’ve done. I may sometimes be happy with the quality of work I do but I am almost never happy with the quantity. I could always be working harder. But I feel pretty good about today and yesterday, even though I’m behind.

I’d still like to catch up, though. I have an evidence-based fear that if I’m going to stop at 50k words or the end of November, whichever comes first. In this case, stopping at 50k words should be fine, since I’ve carefully planned out how to fill the wordcount perfectly. But if I lose steam because the pressure of NaNoWriMo is over, I’ll have loose ends, and that would be sad.

NaNoWriMo Rebel

I wrote a 2000 word outline for roughly 6000 words of future story today. Apparently my method for doing that kind of detailed outline is a first-person narration. The sort of narration somebody who isn’t a very good storyteller might give in a conversation. Whatever works, although I’m a bit concerned that it’s kind of dull and introspective. Maybe that’s just a living example of ‘show not tell’?

Now I’m sitting up knitting and decompressing. Robin didn’t fall asleep until 12:30, despite a bedtime of 10. Tomorrow I need to write another 2000 words of outline and I still won’t be caught up! Because that’s how crazy NaNoWriMo is.

Despite not getting a single word that c…

Despite not getting a single word that counts the way I want it to count, I think I dedicated a good six hours to story design today. I’m happy with that. It’s one little step on a long journey but I can feel it already. It’s interesting to look at the lists of characters and remember that once Tiana and Marley were just unfamiliar, awkward names in a list, too. Somehow, if I keep working, all those names and phrases become a story, one anybody can follow and maybe even enjoy. Even though I’m the one doing the work, it still looks a little bit like magic. And it makes me think of bread dough.

A world without readers is hell

You should know by now that all my posts come in pairs!

Ultimately, I write to be read. I write to communicate. I write to tell you something cool!

I’ve considered writing fanfiction before, just to tap into a ready-made reader base. I haven’t only because I’m pretty sure Kevin would divorce me.

I want readers! I want new work from me to prompt quiet little ‘Oh yay’s and maybe an ‘ooh’. I want my ideas to take up residence in your skull, if only for a little while. God knows other writers do it to me, even their unpublished poorly written ones, the bastards.

I can write into a void. I often write just to help myself think, to put things on the page and pin them down so they stop running around in my head. But I don’t organize what I’m writing unless I think somebody will read it. I don’t carefully package it up and parcel it out unless I want somebody to read it. I don’t write down stories for myself. Why bother? In my head, they’re whole and complete with a fraction of the work.

I really, really want people to enjoy my work. Enjoy it! Anticipate it! Hate some bits and love others! Nag me for the next part of the story! And I want it from somebody other than Kevin because, frankly, he married me and so I think his judgement is questionable at best. (But I love you, Kevin! And you’re the best first editor I can hope for!)

Here’s the blurb I wrote (at textbox-point) for Sparksister:

Marley does her best to avoid any excitement found outside of a good book, but when she ends up taking care of two preschool girls, that all changes. Very Special preschool girls? That’s putting it mildly. They’re maybe even a little bit… different. But it turns out their missing uncle is different, too. And his friend Corbin. And that girl with all the dogs. But what exactly does ‘different’ mean? Do vampires and werewolves fit in somewhere? How about fairies? Angels? Demons? Monsters?

Maybe…

And the maligned first paragraph is:

It should have started with a dream. But Marley Claviger didn’t pay attention to dreams and so it started, late, with Marley waking up gasping, right before the cell phone on her nightstand rang. She fumbled for the device, knocking a plastic bottle of pills and three books off the cluttered surface in the process.

Am I doomed to hell?

A poopy diaper and a snotface calls!

Grace, good humor, and dignity.

Robin’s been sick and crib-bound this week, and for the last few days, I’ve been… working. That feels strange to say, and I’m not sure it’s connected to Robin’s illness. I hope not!

By ‘working’, I mean: engaged in writing, including the writing of fiction and the writing of critiques for other aspiring novelists. I’ve been working a lot.

I redrafted the first chapter of my novel, and assigned it a shiny new name. No longer is it ‘Under Bridges’. Instead, it’s ‘Sparksister’, which is also not really a name I like but at least it’s more evocative for me.

I managed to write this first chapter out because my little intermittent writing group that I’ve been absent from for months has decided to start exchanging chapters every week. It used to be every month, which ends up being too long a timeframe for me to work to. A week is just close enough that I have to schedule to it, especially when I also have to write critiques of other people’s chapters.

Extrapolating from how much a couple people’s expectations motivated me, I went ahead and investigated an online writing workshop I’d been planning to join when I had something to get critiqued. And then Kevin pointed me at another one which is comparable and I decided to try them both out for a month and then pick one.

So, right now, I have the first chapter of my novel awaiting critiques in three different circles. I’ve received two already. They were not… encouraging. Both were in response to critiques I’d done, rather than out of any interest in the story itself. Neither liked it very much– one of them absolutely shredded it, rating it 1 of 5 and providing a matching critique.

Now, a logical person might observe that critique circles and workshops aren’t the place to go for cheerleading and handholding– for fond anticipation of the next chapter– that’s what your friends and family are for!

But examination suggests otherwise: people make friends in these places and they’re quite enthusiastic about their friends’ works. It could just be that I suck and their friends are a-mazing, though it’s more likely a matter of taste if it’s something objective. Anyhow, I think I can make friends, too. Haven’t given up on that yet, and my actual critiques on S– have been highly received, so that has potential. I’m trying to accept criticism intelligently.

But this is my blog (is there a recognized acronym for that yet? TIMB? Google doesn’t think so) and so I’m going to be a bit self-indulgent. Whine a little. Cry a little. Please bear with me.

Sometimes I really feel like there’s something wrong with my writing. Something badly wrong, especially with my fiction. It’s bewildering because not only can I not see it myself, my friends and family won’t tell me what it is! All I can really gather from various differing critiques over the years is that whatever it takes to really pull a reader in, I don’t have it. That zing.

And please, friends&family, don’t think I’m pushing away your encouragement over the years. It’s precious and important and useful. I just can’t help wondering what the difference between you and them is.

.
.
.

Actually, quite unexpectedly, this bout of self-indulgence has suggested an answer. While wallowing in the shared complaints of the 2 critiques so far (compilation is really the only way to analyze critiques, I’ve found), yes, ok, the first line apparently doesn’t work, yes, ok, you all hate my word choices (even Kevin said something about word choices) and my newly acquired wordiness and…

hm…

you don’t trust that I know what I’m doing. Thus details are described as irrelevant, and mysterious events are rejected as implausible even when the protagonist notes they’re implausible.

What I’m trying to do is lay down a foundation to build on later, and to deal intelligently with observing the remnants of supernatural events. I can imagine how that might come across wrong if I’m just some words on a page– although I don’t have to imagine it because I can read it. I’m not, by the way, trying to reject criticism with claims of ‘you don’t undersstaaand it! iIt’s Not For You!’ Not understanding it is my fault, something I’ll have to work to remedy.

Unfortunately, I’m very afraid the remedy is ‘write a simpler story’. The previous draft included lots of early emphasis about how weird everything was, and that just didn’t work for me.

Of course, another remedy– not one that will work for impressing publishers– is to keep writing chapters and Show Them All. That’s actually what I’m going to do, since I have to finish this novel…

A writer’s lessons from board books

Robin has finally —finally— realized that if he brings us a book, we’ll read it to him. And when we’re done with that reading, he takes the book and gives it to us again. And again. And again. Until we run away or distract him. He balks when I try to get him to say or signal ‘book’. He’s giving us a book, we damn well know what he wants, why should he learn a new mechanism? If we try to suggest a different book or even hint we might not read him the book he’s demanded, he cries like an addict being denied his fix. On the other hand, when he brings us a book, or we ask him to find a book (often by title) he does this delighted little full-body shudder. He prefers to sit on the floor so he can look between the book and our faces, but sometimes he’ll consent to sit in our lap so we can whisper certain lines in his ear. 

His favorite books are, in order:

  1. Secret Seahorse
  2. Goodnight Moon
  3. Busy Doggies
  4. My Many Colored Days
  5. The abridged board book version of Hop On Pop, specifically the pages about walking.
  6. Whatever is to hand, as long as we’re not denying him what he’s asked for.

 

Secret Seahorse is his clear favorite. He has good taste! It’s a very sturdy book that has endured his love much better than Goodnight Moon (2 damaged copies floating around) and My Many Colored Days (second copy hasn’t fallen apart– yet). And it’s a beautiful book– Claire Beaton does unique, amazing work, constructing elaborate landscapes out of textiles. We’ve picked up several other books she’s illustrated, including another one written by Stella Blackstone– but none of them have quite the appeal or magic.

And, having read Secret Seahorse six or seven times a day for the last week, I finally feel confident discussing why the book works so well! It’s the writing. It’s a board book with a plot. Most of the board books I’ve seen are just lists of things– doggies in different situations, or rhyming words arranged amusingly, or an introduction and a conclusion tacked onto a sequence of, say, colors, moods, or animals (and let me say, I do very much love My Many Colored Days and another one, Rainbow Rob). Or even dinosaurs, to reference another Blackstone/Beaton teamup. Goodnight Moon is a dreamy, surreal, spot-on description of a small child drifting to sleep, with pictures and words that create a lulling rhythm; everytime I finish it I want to snuggle under covers. (“No! Read it again, mama!”) The rhythm almost feels like a plot but it’s not, really.

On the other hand, Secret Seahorse could be a template for all sorts of adult books. Told in the first person, our unnamed protagonist discovers an interesting situation. At first it seems awesome, but it soon gets beyond her. She’d like to catch up, so she first seeks out the advice of mysterious figures. She doesn’t understand their response (but a keen observer will notice that they give her exactly the answer she needed) and so goes on a journey. In her travels, she encounters amazing things, one, two, but neither are what she’s looking for. Finally her exploration is balked by a barrier she can’t pass– and in great literary fashion, the true barrier is her own fears, rather than any external obstacle. But she overcomes her fears with the help of her curiousity, and discovers on the other side of the barrier everything she’d hoped for, in a fashion she totally didn’t expect.

Great stuff. And it rhymes, too.

Yes, the fact that I can divide a board book into a 3-act structure amuses me to no end.

WTF? Why can’t I break even?

I’ve been reading about entropy and the laws of thermodynamics again. I can’t help myself! I have questions and ideas, and no physicist handy. I have to stop now, though, because my eyes are bleeding, even though I’m ignoring all the formulae and everything.

You know how when you read or say a word over and over again, it becomes divorced from its meaning and you can appreciate just how weird a sound/shape it is? My bleeding eyes have reached that point with The Laws and their extrapolated consequences.   The heat death of the universe is just… stupid. And entropy? It’s the plot hole of thermodynamics.

Every magical universe I invent is significantly less bizarre than this one.

ABNAness

I have not received a letter of congratulations (as did my friend Justin) nor is Citadel of the Sky listed among the 836 posted finalists. I’m pretty confident that I have NOT made it to the semifinals.

I am rather sad.

I have a lot of stuff to think about. For example, I think perhaps I should go ahead and submit Citadel to agents to at least get some practice doing that with my practice novel. I don’t know exactly how I want to go about doing that yet. Maybe I should have somebody else read the revised version first, but I’m not sure, since I don’t know if I have the stomach for more Citadel revision right now.

There’s a reviewing contest associated with ABNA. The 3 people who write the most high quality reviews get a Kindle and a $2000 AC gift certificate. I’d love a Kindle and GC but I suspect the competition will be fierce.

I’m going to start work on another couple of projects.