Saturday, January 31, 2009

2K a Day

I started writing a new novel a month ago and I’m a third of the way through my first draft. At this stage of the game my writing style is to just get some words on a page. The first draft of my previous novel clocked in at a big hot mess of 152,000 words. Although I believe in writing anything and everything in the first draft, this time around I knew I needed to give myself a limit. So my goal for the first draft of this book was to hit 80,000 to 100,000 words. Not being good at math, I turned to Excel to calculate some things for me. If I wrote 2,000 words a day, five days a week, it would take me eight weeks to hit 80K, ten weeks for 100K and (go, math go!) nine weeks to hit 90K. I, being a firm believer in the middle ground, decided to shoot for 90,000 words.

I am driven by deadlines and 2K a day gives me something to work towards. I already know I don’t hit that 100% of the time. But what if I didn’t have a daily goal? How many words would I write then? I’ll tell you: about 37. My goal with the first draft is to get some words down on a page. I don’t care how grammatically incorrect or plotless or without setting they are. I just need them there to shape them into some sort of story. Then, the super hard stuff of rewriting begins.

For now, I have a method of writing that works for me. I know the output of my early drafts is not writing at its finest, but I’m consistently producing words. I write like it’s a job, something I have to show up at the computer and do each day. Whether I want to or not. Whether I’m inspired or not. And at the end of the day, I have a bunch of words to work with.

Next week (and likely next week only) I’m going to document my word count each day. I’ll post it here, too, and chat about it a bit. The good, the bad, the ugly. It will help me see how close I come each day and hopefully keep me honest about how I’m spending my time.

I wonder about the different methods people use to get their words out. What works for you? Can you write at the drop of a hat, the way some people can sleep on command? Or do you have days where you only get out a single paragraph, but it is a perfect, lovely paragraph wrapped in beauty? Do you write the ending first, then write the chapters in reverse order, kind of like that movie Memento? Please share your writing methods. And then keep comin’ back and I’ll share more of my tales as I climb that Mt. Everest of a first draft.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Itching to Write on Vacation

I just got back from a lovely week-long vacation in Puerto Rico. For the first time in my life on vacation, I really missed my job. My job of writing. That doesn’t pay me a thing.

I approach writing full-time as a 9 to 5 job, Monday through Friday. Just like any other job I’ve had, I don’t work on weekends or evenings and I get to take vacation. But boy did my fingers miss the keyboard when I was out of town. They were itching for my laptop as terribly as the bug bites were burning up my legs.

And here’s another little struggle I had. My husband is pursuing photography as a serious hobby. We approached this trip as our first foray into freelance travel writing and photography. I love to write, he loves to take pictures, and we both love to travel. Why not combine the three?

So, every day, Mike was armed with his camera and spent his time getting the composition and lighting right for his pictures. Not only was he taking pictures to document our excursions, and possibly get published, he was having tons of fun. I have to say I was terribly jealous.

I didn’t bring my laptop (it was a vacation after all) but I brought my little travel notebook. Yet I didn’t write a thing in it. I felt like I wouldn’t be vacationing if I was writing. Writing is my job now, not just my hobby, and I felt an obligation to keep the two distinct. How would I have felt if Mike whipped out his blackberry and started checking work email? Answer: angry, disappointed, and kind of weirded out.

I was struggling with how much I missed writing and how happy Mike was pursuing his passion of photography on our trip. I hinted at this finally, and he said “I’m telling ya, bring your laptop next time.” As easy as that. As casual as that. But no way, I said, giving him my blackberry example. To which he replied, “But your job doesn’t make you miserable. It makes you happy.“

I have to say I’m not certain if I’ll bring a laptop on our next trip, or ever. It feels like a slippery slope. Plus can you imagine what it would be like to get sand in the keyboard? But the fact that I was itching to get back to work while I was on vacation says to me that I’m surely doing the right thing with my life. Sure, it sucks that this job doesn’t pay me a cent right now, and may not ever. But I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it for the accomplishment, the creativity, the challenge, the fun, the slightly obsessive need to write. And for that feeling that I must have the best job in the world if I can’t wait to get back to work.

Friday, January 16, 2009


One of the big things I keep hearing agents talk about is voice. And by hearing, I mean reading their blogs. My eyes are my ears these days. So, they say to me, one on one in our daily little virtual chats, voice is what really pulls them into a story.

I have come to admit that my background in journalism and technical writing has done me no favors in this area. Journalism is strictly facts. Technical writing is insert item A into slot B and click OK. (Did you know that the proper term is not press or hit or push, but in fact click, and that you never, ever click on? For shame). There is no room for these little funnies in a documentation manual or online help system.

And when it comes to creative writing I do have a fond appreciation of descriptive text, made-up situations, and onomatopoeias (yet I fear the adverb, as should you) I realize that I have a hard time with voice. And I couldn’t put my finger on it until I started looking for it. Think Bridget Jones. Really, I don’t care if you think this book is fluff, Helen Fielding nailed a distinctive voice here. Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Holden getting all sexy in The Catcher in the Rye. Enzo the dog in The Art of Racing in the Rain (by Garth Stein, a great new book, you must go read it).

I noticed voice better when I started reading blogs daily. I read mostly (aka only) blogs of agents, writers, and editors and I read them to learn. But for the folks with voice, I will read the posts about their cats. Their words sang to me, no matter the topic. So to demonstrate voice and also share some lovely ideas about publishing, here are a few posts that I dig.

Courtney Summers. I read her as a guest blogger on the The Swivet. And even though, not being a young adult, I don’t read YA fiction, I could not stop reading Courtney’s posts. She was adorable and I wanted to give her a hug and dance to 80s music with her.

Janet Reid. An agent at FinePrint Literary Management and also the Query Shark. She will tell you why your queries suck and when you get done laughing at a bad query, you will realize that you make some of those same mistakes too. Here’s a post on query mistakes.

Nathan Bransford. An agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. He is super laid back and fun all around, but I especially love this one where he writes in the voice of the dreamy and mysterious Don Draper of Mad Men fame.

Moonrat. An editor with a blunt tongue. This is a great post on Overwriting. Plus, she goes by Moonie for short. That’s just super cute.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Keep Writing

Apparently I didn’t impress anyone in my Graduate School applications with my memory of my first foray into fiction. But it’s my blog and I love this story, so here goes.

In third grade English we had an in-class assignment to write a story. Mine was about a girl named Christie (which I thought was the most beautiful and exotic name I’d ever heard) and a haunted house. That’s pretty much all I remember about the story, except overuse of the word “eerie.” What is significant is that when the time for English was over, and we had to move onto social studies or some other such nonsense, I told my teacher I wasn’t done with my story. She said, “Keep writing,” and let me be for the rest of the day until the story was out of my system. The edge of my hand was fully of ink smears from my blue Bic erasable pen (remember those?).

Years later, I realized “keep writing” is pretty much the best and most basic advice you can give a writer. Yes, there is a lot to learn beyond that. But no one is going to publish your blank page with that sad little blinking cursor.

When I started writing seriously as a grown-up who had discipline (I took two creative writing courses as an undergrad and wish I appreciated them more at the time), I started with the short story. I must have a copy of it somewhere, although that was three computers ago. I don’t need to pull it up to remember that it was awful. Just awful. Critique partners (I started with Writers Online Workshops, cheap and helpful and great way to start, totally recommend it) said they couldn’t picture things in the story. Heck, I couldn’t picture things in the story. But, like Mrs. Nagratski said, I kept writing.

In those days, I didn’t stay with a story very long. I would edit and proofread my heart out before I turned anything in for critique (please, for the sake of your critique partner’s time don’t skip this step – and you’ll get more impactful feedback if people aren’t editing sloppy punctuation), and then revise a little based on feedback. I churned out a couple bad drafts and moved on.

Then, as I started spending more time on individual stories, they got better. They were not fabulous, but I eventually moved out of awful. I had characterization. I even dropped in some similes. Setting, I am sorry to say, is really still a struggle for me.

And one day, a short story turned into a novel. The story was bigger than what a shorty could handle, and my first novel evolved from there. And three years later, it ended up getting rejected several times over. But at least I had a book to submit, which was a big, scary, impossible world I never thought I would become a part of when I first started. And, bottom line, I only got there because I just kept writing.

An Introduction

Last summer I did a very bold thing. I quit a very nice job to focus on writing full-time. After working in Corporate America for twelve years and writing on the side seriously for the past six, I decided to switch my priorities. I kicked it off by attending a month-long writers’ retreat in France. I started my MFA in Creative Writing in September, finished my first semester in December, and in January decided not to go back. All I really want to do is write. So without a pesky job or piles of homework, I have plenty of time to do just that. My current goal is to write 2,000 words a day. Some days are better than others.

I have had a few short stories published and completed my first novel last year. I sent queries to 62 agents. Fifty-two rejected it. Ten requested partials and of those ten partials only one requested a full manuscript, but that agent is suspect. It’s a tough business. Right now I’m working on my second novel, and I’m 22,000 words in.

My goal now is to take my business and marketing background (a few wrong turns from my technical writing and training career) and apply it to writing. Treat it like a business. Goals, plans, consistent output, market research, networking. And I’m totally my own boss, so that’s pretty cool.

I offer this blog as a way to share my full-time plunge into creative writing. I’ve learned a lot about the publishing industry, writing queries and handling rejections from fellow bloggers. I hope I can offer a community, an online Fiction City, for writers to hang out and chat about the business of creative writing. We’re all in it together.