Thursday, August 27, 2009

What I've Been Up To

What have I been up to this week? Well, it's not writing, I can tell you that much. This week I have not written or edited one word of the novel. Never you mind that I owe 10 pages for a manuscript evaluation by September 1st, or that I've had two critiques via blogs where I've received feedback that I could, you know, incorporate into said novel. I've done squat.

Oh, and by the way, I don't believe in writer's block, so that's not the problem. The problem is that I don't know what to do with the story so I've been avoiding any and all work on it. I've been employing simple avoidance techniques. No writer's block to be found.

And since I don't believe in whining either, and always try to look on the bright side of things, here is a list of things I have been doing this week instead of working on the novel. I offer this because if I stumbled on another writer's neurotic list of things she did when she was stuck on her book I might feel less alone and therefore slightly more hopeful.

So, this week I:
  • Cleaned the lobby of my condo even though it is not, and has not, been my month to clean the condo lobby for quite some time.
  • Saw Julie & Julia (fabulous!) on Wednesday afternoon. Proceeded to prepare for weepy confession to hubby over dinner that I went to see a movie in the middle of the day instead of working on my novel. Wonderful husband didn't mind, perhaps because I was busy plying him with lasagna and Chianti and/or he was grateful he didn't have to sit through that movie with me.
  • Tried to think of other ideas for a new novel, since I keep hearing so many people say they know exactly what their story is going to be about before they even write a word. Needless to say, no luck there.
  • Recorded and watched every episode of Gilmore Girls available to me on ABC Family.
  • Cried a lot about being a lousy writer who will never, ever make it and wished I didn't want to be a writer so very badly so that I could actually consider the easier option of giving up.
  • Vacuumed living room and the little sun room where I write read blogs.
  • Stopped reading one book half way through (to protect the innocent, I won't say which) and started reading another (Queen of Babble Gets Hitched by Meg Cabot).
  • Exercised almost every day, because if I didn't I would be even more crazy than I currently am. Plus, now that my body can process red meat again I've been eating every cheeseburger in sight.
  • Tried not to think about partial I sent to agent last week.
  • Also tried not to read too much into agent's blog post about how all the partials she has are pretty good.
  • Washed and folded laundry, but did not put said laundry away.
  • Enjoyed two fun social evening events (yay for birthday parties!) but was bummed when two additional social evening events were cancelled. I needed four fun social evening events this week!
  • Gave myself a pedicure. Forgot about recent pedicure, and smudged six of ten toenails in less than five minutes.
  • Re-read one of my existing short stories and thought about making it my next novel. Got scared/overwhelmed by thought of starting another novel. Closed Word document quickly to avoid potential panic attack.
  • Wished I didn't blog so much last week so I would have more topics saved up to post this week instead of a terribly revealing list of novel avoidance activities.
Yeah, that was my week. Quite the winner, no? Anyhoo, what have you been up to? And what do you do when you get stuck?

How's that Novel?

Well, I'm stuck. I just hope that I won't still be stuck in another three years, so that when, say, Stewie from Family Guy keeps asking me about it, I won't do this to him. Seriously, watch this through to the end.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blog Goodness

Before I leave the urban jungle for some weekend camping (read: drinking beer and eating chips while sitting next to a bunch of trees, maybe going for a hike) I thought I’d leave you with some blog goodness:

Agent Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint Literary Management is hosting a contest for two scholarships to the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar in New York. This is a big deal. If you have a finished manuscript you’re ready to query, enter now.

Really funny writer and twitter avoider Karen from Mentor created a story based on a list of random words, like birthday cake, submitted by me and someone named Estrella. It includes lines like this: "Now I love Cas more than birthday cake, and that's saying something because for chocolate birthday cake with butter cream icing I'd push my grandma into traffic."

The ladies at edittorrent have yet another smart and helpful piece, this time on a story’s emotional arc. They remind us that "nearly every event is going to cause emotional effects in the POV character."

The very cute and generous Miss Snark’s First Victim is hosting her monthly Secret Agent contest. I’m submission #31! Feedback is dead on and I’ve already updated my manuscript.

Janet Reid goes, um, nice? She asks for advice to give a "very very beginning writer." Seriously, read the comments on this one.

Celebrating Mad Men here and here.

What to do when you realize “A monkey could have written something more coherent.” Although Ms. Freeman seems to insist that plot must be planned in advance, which I don’t agree is a requirement. That’s one option, but not the only option.

I haven’t read his book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and apparently I’m the only one, since it’s a international bestseller. But author Jamie Ford keeps a blog at Bittersweet, where he makes frequent but brief posts on his book tour. It's clear that this guy adores what he does and is humbled by the success he’s earned. This post is worth a look.

I continue to adore author Joshilyn Jackson because she says honest things like this: “I draft in huge awful hunks of steaming word poo.”

That’s a lot of blog goodness!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'm Starting to See a Pattern

I've finally been writing long enough that I'm starting to notice patterns in my writing habits. Note that I didn't say I've started to develop patterns. They've likely always been there. I'm just now noticing they exist.

For example, my first draft is usually overloaded with dialogue. And to this, do I say, heck, I'll just take up screenwriting? Oh no, I do not. Probably because screenwriting is a completely different animal with its own rules of craft and I'm just starting to become good friends the fiction craft rules and they are all my brain can handle for now.

What I do instead is create a lot of backstory. Oodles of it! Piles of delicious, luxurious, how my character felt about her elbows in third grade backstory.

Problem is, backstory sucks. It's a little indulgent for both the character and the writer, not to mention super boring to read. But alas, it comes out of me. I cannot stop it.

I've considered trying to just turn off the backstory spout (as if I could even locate that precious valve in my brain). But it has spit out some interesting nuggets about my characters. Instead, I take out the backstory hatchet.

I do not know how to properly use said hatchet just yet. I don't know how much to cut vs. save vs. move. But I have the tool in my hand and I'll figure out how to use it little by little. (Hey, adverbs, are you listening? Scared, aren't you?) Anyway, I'm just glad I know that I need the backstory hatchet.

So for now, I'm just going to write how I write. My plan is to take whatever writing pattern comes and work with it. Because if I run away from it I will have nothing but a blinking cursor and a really high score on must pop words.

What are some of your writing patterns?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Women's Fiction

When I dropped out of a Creative Writing MFA program after one measly, expensive semester, I was embarrassed to tell folks what I was working on next. But I've been getting more confident lately and a few posts from Bookends and Pimp My Novel have helped me take pride in what I do.

I write women's fiction. There. You might even call my current novel chick lit, but some say the market got over-saturated and now “contemporary women’s fiction” is apparently where it’s at, although these hilarious girls believe that Chick Lit is Not Dead.

A good three or four years ago, the first time someone suggested that my first novel was women’s fiction, I was insulted. To be honest, I thought my writing was more important than that. I thought women's fiction was too narrow of a category and not taken seriously. For folks who are better at explaining genre than I am, check out posts like this and this.

But a few years of learning about how important it is to define your genre, how many agents are specifically seeking women's fiction, finding authors of that genre who I love (Lolly Winston, if you write another book I promise I will buy it and not just borrow it from the library), I've come to peace with the term.

I love thoughts and feelings. I really, really do. I love to write about thoughts and feelings, I love to experience thoughts and feelings, I love to think about and feel thoughts and feelings. I just can't help it. Granted, that's not all that women's fiction encompasses, but it's what I'm obsessed with and so it's what I love to write about.

However, my books aren’t just touchy-feely emotional dramas. There’s more to the story than just sex and love (but there is sex and love!) They do have some meaty topics, so I can tack on the term “upmarket”.

But they’re not science fiction, crime, paranormal, thriller, historical, young adult, or steampunk (yes, that is a genre!). And based on how quickly I can whip out a draft, they’re not literary either. I tried to use the term “mainstream” fiction, but agents really, really, really want you to pick a genre.

So I picked, or perhaps it picked me, women’s fiction.

And that’s what I’m writing. I’m rather proud of my book. It’s cute. It’s not going to change the literary stratosphere or evoke world peace. But it might make you forget your crummy day when you’re riding home from work, and think, hey, that girl's kind of like me. How does she deal with all the crap going on in her life? Do I want to be like her, or the exact opposite of her?

What about you, what are you proud to say that you write?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Conviction, Not Just Conflict

I've been reading John Irving's "A Son of the Circus" and came across the following passage that really hit home. In this scene, Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla is reading a book that completely drawing him in -- and it's at a time when he feels an urge to have a more creative endeavor in his life. He's completely inspired by the power of this particular writer. (Eerie flashback to me reading Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" circa 1996.)

"But more than technical virtuosity separated Dr. Daruwalla from Mr. James Salter, or from any other accomplished novelist. Mr. Salter and his peers wrote from a vision; they were convinced about something, and it was at least partly the passion of these writers' convictions that gave their novels such value. Dr. Daruwalla was convinced only that he would like to be more creative, that he would like to make something up. There were a lot of novelists like that, and Farrokh didn't care to embarrass himself by being one of them."

I love the line that this author was "convinced about something." It hit home for me, especially as a firm believer of Socratic ignorance, the idea that "All I know is I know nothing." I am a humble person and I'm just smart enough to know that I don't know everything and have so much to learn everyday.

I always allow myself room to consider the other point of view, but this often leads me to be a waffler, which can be all sorts of types of frustration. I think this makes me easy to get along with, but it just might mean I'm also a pushover. Either way, I don't really mind. See what I mean?

But, when it comes to writing a book, Irving shows me, the author is best advised to have a conviction about something. Perhaps a big idea: That other thing that the story is about, the stuff that bubbles underneath the conflict. Hope. Honesty. Betrayal.

I have to say, I'm still picking away at what I'm convinced of in my current WIP. I can see this as a big problem this far along in the game. Or I can be grateful that at least I've learned this lesson now instead of two weeks from now, or two years, or never. See how waffling can do some good?

Anyhoo, this conviction is something I don't quite have figured out for this book, but it's something new to add to the to do list. And when I write my next novel, it's something I will know to consider up front.

What are you convinced about (or still unsure of) in your current story?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Literary Twitter

Check out this USA Today article on creative ways writers are using twitter.

And how did I hear about this article, since I never, ever read the USA Today or visit their website? Well, twitter of course.

I'm home alone writing all day and twitter keeps me connected. I've made a few twitter friends and visit their blogs regularly. I even won a free book yesterday by retweeting an author's post (thanks @LizandLisa).

Twitter posts do not merely consist of "I'm going to the bathroom," and "I hate folding laundry." You don't even have to follow Ashton Kutcher, I promise. You really can use twitter to find a community of like-minded people who share the same interests. And if you're reading this, those interests are books, aren't they?

You don't have to be on twitter all the time for it to be effective either. Check in when you can and read through the most recent posts. You will never catch everything, don't even try. But you'll probably learn more about the publishing industry, discover more books, better understand potential agents, and make a few more friends than if you never tried.

Go ahead and give it a whirl and check me out at Send me a tweet and I'll add you to my Follow Friday list!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

StoryStudio Chicago Open House

Tonight I'll be swinging by StoryStudio's open house. If you're in Chicago, stop by and say hi! StoryStudio is located at 4043 N. Ravenswood, #222. It's right across from the Irving Park Brown Line stop and has gobs of free parking. The open house runs from 4 to 7 p.m. and I'll be there early before I head to the Cubs game.

StoryStudio has tons of writing classes in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and oodles of other stuff. Plus, I work there, although I apologize in advance for how the coffee might taste. But the cookies are delicious. Check out the class schedule for more details.

After India

When I first heard that I might get a chance to spend a month in India this summer, I divided my to do list into two categories: Before India and After India. (The During India to do list would take care of itself, and it did, more photos coming later). The Before India list involved things like immunizations, buying summer clothing beyond Old Navy tank tops, spending as much time with friends as possible, getting through a second draft of the novel. Check on all counts.

Then there were the things I would take care of in the second half of the year: After India. Namely, finish the novel. Well, here we are. And I think I can pull it off. Just as long as I can continue to make it through the "when will I have enough sanity to realize I am nuts to quit my job to write a book?" bouts of self-doubt. Because I sure don't ever want to have one of those "boy, I sure wish I took some time in my life to write a book" deathbed moments. I consider this preventative medicine to avoid regret.

Anyway, what this means is there is a lot of writing to do. I had some pretty good breakthroughs on the book my last couple of weeks in India. It's really taking much better shape.

So, the goal is to finish it by year end. It's harder for me to mark progress in the rewrites stage than I did in the first draft daily word count. On my trip, I tried to focus on the first fifty pages, and boy are they different. I can see the end in sight, I think, or at least I'm confident enough this morning to think so.

So back to regular blogging, writing, reading and writing some more.