Sucker Literary Writing Process Blog Hop

I was tagged by Shelli Cornelison to participate in the Sucker Literary Writing Process Blog Hop. She wrote about her writing process here. At the end of my post, I’ll tag another writer to share their process and the fun will go on.

1. What am I working on?

I am very close to finishing a draft/revision/something of a young adult historical novel. Historical should probably be put in quotes since the novel is set in 1992 and I am not yet ready to concede that 1992 qualifies as historical. On the other hand, it was before iPhones and texting. To teens these days, that might as well be the Dark Ages.

The story is about sensitive, 14-year-old Lucy who is stuck in the small East Texas town of Balentine while her mother cares for her dying great-grandmother. She has no one but her bickering aunts and her gossipy cousin for company until she befriends the town loner, a troubled boy with a reputation for being a devil worshiper.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Are there a lot of novels featuring accused teenaged Satanists? I’m guessing there aren’t because every time I give the elevator pitch to someone, they go, “huh.” To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s a “Huh. Interesting.” or “Huh. I should back away slowly.”

Seriously though. . . I’m not really sure. I’m not even sure I could name exactly what genre my work belongs to. For marketing purposes this book is young adult, but I think it has a nostalgia factor that would appeal to adults. If I could invent a brand new category for this book I’d call it contemporary historical. The story may be set 20 years ago, but the themes are universal and contemporary. The stuff that the protagonist is dealing with is stuff we deal with throughout our life — grief, loneliness, injustice.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The short answer is: because I can’t help it. If a character or a story calls to me, I have to write it. I don’t set out to write a historical YA or a literary short story. I write what I write and then people tell me how to categorize it.

I feel like it’s also somewhat uncouth for a writer to admit this, but I write what I do because of my experience.  My work is not autobiographical, but I draw from my emotional well to create characters and situations. I don’t know how else to write. I admire writers who can dish up a story completely from their imagination, but I don’t work that way. In order to get characters with even a hint of authenticity, I have to put a part of myself into the work. It’s also a bit of what makes the work unique, I hope.

4. How does my writing process work?

There’s a reason I called my work-in-progress a draft/revision/something back in question one. My process, especially on this manuscript, can be best described as “all over the place.” I fast drafted this novel about three years ago and promptly stuck it in a drawer because I was in the middle of another revision at the time. I dragged it back out last summer. So it’s partly a revision, in the sense that the story idea was written out once, but it’s also very much a draft, since so much has changed from the original.

I’ve been working with a mentor on this project, which has made me a little more aware of my writing process. For me, the first stage of writing is exploration. I try different plot ideas, characters, dialogue. etc. In the next stage I build on the stuff of the first stage. I bring the characters more into focus, make sure the plot is plausible, layer on more setting and emotion. The last stage is fine tuning: weeding out clichés and improving prose.

Lest you think I’m a really organized writer, let me assure you that these stages are not consecutive. In the finished draft/revision/thing, the first third is probably in its final stage, while the last third is still in the first stage. The process is like waves on the beach. I need to write, explore, and see where my mind takes me. But at a certain point, I feel like I’ve gone too far. I lose the voice. I lose a sense of my character. That’s when I need to go back and reread and revise. After I feel like I have my footing again, it’s back to stage one as I forge ahead in the story. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

. . .

And that’s it for my writing process. Next up is writer and illustrator and fellow Austinite Salima Alikhan. Enjoy!

Love what you do. Love how you do it.

“Part of becoming a writer or artist is learning to love not only what you do, but how you do it.”

~~~~~
That’s my paraphrase of Rebecca Stead at Sunday’s Texas Book Festival Tribute to Madeline L’Engle. The discussion had turned to process and after Rebecca Stead mentioned she was a slow writer, Hope Larson asked if she’d heard that R.L. Stine writes a book a month.

I spend a lot of time agonizing over how much I don’t get done or trying to change my process to be faster or more productive and I know I’m not alone. My writing friends have recruited me in trying everything from fast drafting to setting a schedule to accountability buddies. We’re all out there looking to be better, faster, more productive.

Again, I didn’t catch the exact quote because I was being blinded by the light bulb going off above my head. Instead of spending so much energy trying to fight against my process, I should just learn to love it, slow that it sometimes is.

It’s a good revelation to have just before NaNoWriMo. It’s the one part of the writing process that I look forward to. I was thinking of skipping it this year. I have one mss that needs to be pushed out into the world and another that needs more revision attention than I’ve been able to give it. But dammit if I’m giving up an exhilarating month of fast drafting, logging word counts, and putting my head down and getting lost in my book.

I’ll have to spend the other 11 months learning to love my writing process, but November? I’ve got that one down.

‘Fess Up Friday: Two steps back

What happened: Twice now I have come on the blog to be all cavalier and like, yay, I’m feeling better. And then it comes back to bite me in the butt. So I’m not saying I’m better. I’m just saying things are not as bad as they have been, healthwise. Anyway.

I get in a pretty rotten emotional place when I get sick. I get tired. I feel bad. I get worried about my health and I end up not doing anything more than what needs to be done to keep my husband and I fed, clothed, and out of complete squalor. And even then, I sometimes fail. So that was last week.

What’s happening now: I’m revising and I’ve had a heck of a time with it. This weekend and earlier this week I tried several times to write the scene that seems to be missing at the end of chapter six. I’d write something and throw it out. Write something else, toss it. Nothing felt right. So then I did something crazy.

I threw out the draft and started retyping it from scratch. Well, not scratch, exactly but the last remaining hard copy I had. Now, I confess, this sounds like a gigantic waste of time, even to me. The Type As out there are probably rolling their eyes. You might be wondering, you couldn’t just edit the manuscript? Turn on track changes and go to town? No and no. I tried going that route and spun my wheels for three days. I tried it this way and typed/revised consistently for four. I like this way better. All the retyping actually helps keep me grounded in the novel so that when it’s time to completely revise or write a scene from scratch, I already feel like I’m there, you know? It’s like half the battle is already won.

At some points in the process, it’s simply data entry. At other points, it’s blood, sweat, and tears writing. But you know what? Even at the points where it’s just data entry, it’s still much better than sitting on my couch, agonizing over why I’m not creative enough to find the right ending for the end of chapter six. It feels like taking two steps back, but it’s not.

What I predict will happen: I’m still on target to have this revision finished by the end of the month. If I average about two chapters a day, I think I’ll be doing good.

What I am learning: Just as every writer’s process is different, so is every writing project. I never would have imagined doing this before, but this project calls for it and so I heed.

Happy writing, everyone!

NaNoWriMo Hurdle #1: Writing on Vacation

One of the reasons I seriously considered not doing NaNoWriMo this year was because smack dab in the middle of November, the husband and I were heading off to fabulous Las Vegas for a weekend. Now, I’m sure some people could view the vacation as a glorious writing holiday, but I am not those people. To me, travel is great, but exhausting. I spend most of my energy trying to get from one place to another on time and without leaving my shoes in the security bin. I spent most of this month desperately trying to pull ahead enough to cover the three days we’d be gone.

When we left on Friday, I was about a half day ahead of the word count.

And this is where NaNoWriMo surprises me once again. On the plane flight out, I added 2,500 words to the manuscript. The next morning, I went straight to work and made the daily quota. I put in another 1,700 words on the plane ride home. I came home from the vacation almost two days ahead of the word count. Crazy.

Here’s what I learned about writing on vacation:

Get ahead, even if it’s only just a little bit. Before you leave, try to get ahead or at least stay on target. If you slip behind, it’s easier to justify not writing while traveling and you don’t want that to happen.

Write during the non-vacation time. There are certain parts of vacation that, to me, do not count as official vacation. These include long car rides, airplane time, waiting on your spouse to wake up and get ready to go out for the day, etc. Use these times to write. If you’re traveling by air it is totally worth it to bring your laptop or notebook and use the travel time to do some writing.

Adjust your priorities. You may find it’s worth taking the focus off word count for the duration of your vacation. Make time just to write. Maybe you’ll get in a 100 words, maybe a 1,000. Be flexible.

Rest. Seriously, don’t spend all your time worrying about your word count or your story. Make your vacation enjoyable.

Of course, now hurdle number two comes: Thanksgiving. We have company arriving this afternoon, a mattress frame to assemble, a kitchen to clean, vegetables to chop, a seating arrangement to figure out. In short, crazy times. And I already burned through most of my lead yesterday when I had to run errands and do all the shopping I didn’t do over the weekend. So while I have a decent strategy for writing on vacation, I have no idea how to find time to write in the midst of family and in-laws and holiday craziness. Any tips?

‘Fess Up Friday: Surprises

As of this morning, the word count on the draft I’m writing for NaNoWriMo is 8,691. I’m not quite done writing for the day, but there you go.

As expected, I’ve been NaNo-ing I mean, engaging in the narcissistic commerce of writing all week long, with very little narcissistic commerce of revising to speak of. (Thanks to you, Ms. Miller, I have finally learned to spell narcissism correctly.)

Since there’s already enough negative NaNoWriMo energy going around the blogosphere these days, let’s talk about some of the great things NaNo has done, yes? There are many benefits to NaNoWriMo including encouraging discipline, getting a first draft out of it, bringing together a community to cheer you on. As for me, the biggest benefit of NaNoWriMo this week is that it has shed some light on my process as a writer.

I mentioned in a previous entry that I had two ideas I was kicking around for NaNo: one that was just a seed of an idea and one that was more fleshed out. I went with the seed. It just felt right. Now, rewind to earlier this year. My SCBWI chapter had a run of talks about scene and structure and there was a lot of talk about the benefits of plotting out your novel before you write it. (For a crash course in plotting, check out Hélène Boudreau’s blog, “Plotting… OCD Style

So, on the heels of all this great advice, I decided I was going to write my next novel outline style. I took a week and mapped out the entire thing. I made chapter summaries;I had an inciting incident, and plot points 1, 2, and 3; I knew the ending. I sat down to start writing and made it through the first chapter before taking a couple of days off. I wasn’t feeling it. I started it up again, trying to cheer myself on with the reminder that I already had a climax and an ending. I wrote a couple of scenes into chapter two and was just done. Between the move and everything else, I never went back to the project.

And now I know why. I like surprises. I like fly by the seat of my pants drafting. I like to follow my characters through twists and turns . It’s happened to me every day this week. Just as I think about moving my characters from Place A to Place B, one of my characters picks up her backpack and takes off to Place M. And suddenly a whole other piece of her world opens up. It’s kind of awesome.

(Not that I’m knocking the outline, by any means. Novels need structure and writers need to impose structure on their novels. I just find that it’s a more useful tool in revising than drafting.)

I suspect I’ve always known this, I just lost a little confidence in my process. The unknown can be scary, but for me it works. I’d like to write another thousand words today. Just this morning, my protagonist decided to cut school, outran the security guard, jumped in her truck and high-tailed it out of town. I can’t wait to find out where she’s going.

Reading:

Paper Towns by John Green

Watching:

Still with the Rock Band mania here. The Clash at Gallifrey is about to start our regional tour!

‘Fess Up Friday: In the Land of Maybe

Well, now. THIS is what a week is supposed to be like. I finally kicked the cold/allergy/alien infection or whatever it was that kept me down for the last couple of weeks and got back to work. Since then work has been divided into two distinct categories: revision and maybe.

The revision is pretty straight forward, though very slow going. After I finished the second draft of Prodigal back in May, I printed out a copy, put it in a three-ring binder and let it rest for a couple of months. This week I pulled it off the shelf and began reading it just as I would any other book, but with a pen in hand. I covered about half the book, spending quite a bit of time making notes as vague as “put more stuff here” and as specific as changing language and rewriting entire pages. I think I’ll call this the hard copy phase of my revision process.

I realize it would be way more efficient to pull up the document and do all this revising on the computer, but I seem to work better off a hard copy. For one thing, it helps me turn on editor brain. I’ve trained myself to have writer brain in front of a blank page on the computer screen and I don’t want to confuse the two. Also, I find it’s better to let my proposed revisions marinate before making them permanent. I’ve learned this one the hard way, but that’s another story for another time.

The other thing I’ve been dealing with is the approach of NaNoWriMo. I’m doing it for the third year and possibly against my better judgment. Unfortunately, I’ve been wrestling with which idea to work on in the allotted month. There are two contenders: both contemporary YA pieces. One has been floating around in my head for about a year now and exists in snippets of freewriting here and there in my notebooks. The other appeared within the last few months and has no plot to speak of and several significant characters are missing names. I’m not even sure of what it’s about, though I am exploring that in my morning pages.

Anyway, all this thinking means that when wasn’t revising this week, was in the land of maybe. The land of maybe (apologies to Russell T. Davies) is that happy place where the ideas are flowing, but have not yet wilted by having to commit them to paper. It’s a lovely place to be because it means you can zone out in front of the back window with an apple slice at your lips until your husband comes along and asks what exactly you’ve been doing, staring into space for the last ten minutes, and then you get to say, “writing.” In the land of maybe, anything is possible. Your hero can be a magician or a ninja. Or both! Your characters are alive and real and not marred by the inconsistencies between chapter 2 and 12. And you are the Best Writer Ever. As I said, great place to be, but you can’t live there and I’ve only got another week before I have to start making some very real decisions, starting with which idea to work on.

So that’s what a semi-productive week looks like around here. Now for the obligatory media consumption:

Read:
The Astonishing X-Men Omnibus by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont

Watched:
X-Men
X2

(Yeah, there’s a theme. When I get hooked on a topic, I get hooked bad. Playing in a different genre sandbox than what I’m currently writing in is also a little helpful.)