January Recap

I’ve decided to try something new here this year, as a way to plot my progress. At the end of each month I’m going to try to sum up what I’ve accomplished in the month, kind of like a NaNoWriMo, but instead of tearing through fifty thousand words with reckless abandon, only to decide that wasn’t such a good idea at the end of the month, I will try to make the equivalent of a word counter for all my writing related activities.

Ah, first draft, wouldn’t I just love to do another one of those…but I digress. So here they are, accomplishments for January:

  • Lesson Eighteen of the How to Revise Your Novel Course is now behind me. My progress in that course has been positively glacial, and assuredly not for lack of effort on my part. The results so far have been worth it, but still, each lesson crossed off is a milestone for me.
  • I put up the first chapter of ‘The Tempest’s Serenade’ for critique at Critique Circle. That was hard for me. I couldn’t sleep the whole night before it went up, firmly convinced that I was making the biggest mistake of my life. No need to tell me, I know—it doesn’t make sense, but I have to be honest about my feelings if I’m to be a writer, and that is what I felt. Some of the critiques I got, by the way, nearly knocked me off my chair. I learned a lot from this experience and am eager to continue putting chapters up.
  • This is a less quantifiable achievement, but feels every bit as important to me. I finally filled in some holes in my revision that I had serious doubts I would ever get right. Well, I got them so right it astounded even me. I discovered, in a nutshell, why this book is so important to me and why I am writing it now. The book is about my present, older, self talking to my younger self, trying to figure out whether I’ve made the right choices in my life. There are other implications as well, our present state of affairs in the US of A, versus what came before, but since I’m not particularly interested in being preachy, I’ll let the story speak for me and leave that open to interpretation. Whew, didn’t mean to get heavy here, but my point is, lots of progress in meaning, theme and world building.
  • I took a challenge at 750 words.com to see if I could write 750 words every single day this month, and, if I write my words tomorrow, I will win this little badge. Isn’t it cute?
  • Speaking of writing every day, I posted three and sometimes four times a week at the Write A Book With Me blog, where I post my progress on my revision. That has been one of my biggest challenges. Hitting that publish button and knowing that my words are going out to twenty-odd followers (don’t laugh, please, those seem like a lot of followers for me!) is one of the scariest and exciting writing challenges I’ve conquered this year.
  • And, finally, I got up the nerve to take a look at my NaNo from 2011, Dragon’s Milk-Crown of Thorns, because I was firmly convinced it was awful. (See above: Submitting chapter for critique) I discovered it’s not awful. It needs revision, but it’s not even close to awful, in fact, I couldn’t stop reading it. I think I’ve got the ‘write for yourself’ thing down, at least.

It might be a good idea to sum up what I’ve learned from each month’s achievements, and for this month, what I learned might be obvious from reading the above list.

I need to learn to say NO!

I can’t do everything at once, so I need to start narrowing down my projects. Not quite sure how to do that right now, but it’s something to shoot for.

To those of you still reading, what were your achievements this month? What did you learn from them?

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(Image courtesy of Cecile Graat @ stock.xchng)

My White Space

Let’s talk about white space.

I look out my window on this January morning and see a whole lot of it, but the idea is to get some on my page. It’s something I only learned about recently, from my critiques, and from some light research on the internet. Then, as I often do, I turned to what is still my favorite writing reference, Stephen King’s ‘On Writing.’

Mr. King writes:

…Grab a novel…Open the book in the middle and look at any two pages. Observe the pattern—the lines of type, the margins, and most particularly the blocks of white space where the paragraphs begin or leave off.

You can tell without even reading if the book you’ve chosen is apt to be easy or hard, right? Easy books contain lots of short paragraphs—including dialogue paragraphs which may be only a word or two long—and lots of white space. They’re as airy as Dairy Queen ice cream cones. Hard books, ones full of ideas, narrative, or description, have a stouter look. A packed look. Paragraphs are almost as important for how they look as for what they say; they are maps of intent.

I learn by doing, as a kinesthetic learner, and took this concept for a ride in my morning words. The main character of Tempest’s Serenade is always up for a chat and here’s what we talked about:

Nick shuffles in. His hands are in his pockets, and he has a smirk on his face. He looks proud of me.

“You did it!” he says. “Great job, finally getting a chapter out there. Told you they would like my story.”

“But what about all the little nits? The cheesy parts? The long sentences?”

“You’re doing fine with that.” He pulls his hands out of his pockets and waves them as if dispersing fog from the air. “You got some things wrong. All beginning writers do that. The important thing, like Ivan says–“

“Wait, you know Ivan?”

“‘Course I know Ivan. I know everyone you know. I’m kinda stuck inside your head.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.” I grin. It makes me happy to know that I’ve made Nick so real that sometimes even I forget that he exists only inside my head.

“Ivan says,” Nick continues, “That it is important for you to get work out there. And now that you’ve gotten such a good response, you might even be able to put Chapter Two out in a few months.”

“Is that the chapter where you get into the car with Stuart even though he’s drunk?”

“No, not yet. In Chapter Two we flash back to when I was a kid.”

“Ah, yes,” I say and survey the white space I am creating with all of this dialogue. “But we need to talk about that part with Stuart and the driving.”

“Can I sit down?” he asks and looks around my cluttered office. Another load of ironing has been deposited upon my bed. 

“Go ahead,” I invite him. “Sit on my blouses. It’s not like you’ll wrinkle them any worse.”

He heaves himself upon the bed, but not even the cat notices. Then he folds his hands across his stomach and gives me a smoldering stare. I take a moment to admire it.

He starts. “You always knew that I would never let Stuart drive drunk, so why did you think that was going to work?”

“I tried to get Jack involved.”

“How deus ex machina of you.”

“Smart ass.”

“Look, white space.”

I admire the clean-looking page, then get back to business. ” But tell me, how did it really happen?”

“I told you,” he reminds me. “Courtney took the car. So she could get home before the rain got any worse.”

“It was raining?”

“Just starting to, you know how the water condenses on stuff before it really even starts raining? Something about the water on your skin. It was hell to light my cigarettes that day. You forgot about that part.”

“’Cuz I hate it when you smoke.”

He lifts his arms behind his neck and props his head up. Staring at the ceiling.

“So, you were on your own then?” I ask. ” You were hoping Stu didn’t get so drunk that he couldn’t get you home?”

Nick nods. He doesn’t seem to be paying attention and I don’t know if seven hundred and fifty words will be enough to get this out of him.

“I thought I could convince him,” he says. “If he would just give a shit for once, and take it easy. I told him not to.”

“Like he ever listens to you.”

“That was the night I decided to move on.”

“You did?”

“After the agent turned us down because Stuart was so useless.”

“Oh, that’s right, I forgot about that.”

“Bad writer.”

“I am not!”

I turn away and fill in the next few lines of dialogue, taking pride in the huge field of white space I am leaving in my wake.

“So you should probably include that part in the first scene. It might even make the challenge you were looking for in the story blurb. Honestly, writer, I don’t know how you made it all the way through this novel.”

He is not serious though. He knows how much I care about this, and that I will be back to fix all my mistakes.

“But if Stuart pisses you off, then why are you in his car?”

“Maybe he pretended he wasn’t drunk.”

“What–like fooled you? I doubt it.”

“I’m thinking. Don’t rush me. It will come to me. Maybe today while you’re staring out the window thinking about the story.”

“Oh, shut up. I want to write this, why don’t you just help me?”

“That’s not my job, writer. You have to ask the right questions before I can help you. But right now I’m not sure what you want to know.”

So, it looks like I’ll probably have to continue this interrogation. For now, I’m off to clear some white space off my driveway.

(Image courtesy of Mike Thorn @ stock.xchng)

Hello, 2012!

Almost had you going there didn’t I? Betcha thought this blog was going the way of many blogs, a few months of posts, and then nothing. But don’t worry. I’m here, just swamped with the excitement of getting critiques right now.

I know this is the time to make resolutions, but I’ve decided to think bigger this year. When it comes to my writing I do what most writers do best, and that’s daydream. So instead of a list of things to do this year, I’m going to mix them all together and make a comprehensive list of all the goals and dreams I’ve accumulated over my short writing career.

Because, in the words of Henry David Thoreau:

‘In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high.’

Here’s what’s in my sights right now:

  • Revise everything I’ve ever written. And I mean everything. ‘Tempest’s,’ of course, but its prequel ‘Lost Wax’ is begging to be revised. I had a blast reading it over the holidays, and only wish I could get to it sooner. Three other drafts await my attention after that; ‘A Bridge of Light‘, ‘Constants’, and ‘Dragon’s Milk Chronicles: Book One’. There are a couple short stories kicking around on my hard drive that I would love to revise too, including, ‘Testament’, ‘A Mirrored Star’, ‘Play’, and another one that I’ve even forgotten the title to and will bug me until I find it on my hard drive somewhere, tucked inside another novel’s Scrivener doc. (Found it, it’s called ‘Galaxy’s Gateway’ and stuck in with ‘A Bridge of Light’.) Looks like I have my work cut out for me in the revision department.
  •  Write a million words. The Mt. Everest of word count goals didn’t actually sound terribly hard for me and seemed more like a fun challenge. And, as you can see by my little meter, I’m inching towards that goal right now, nearing that 300k mark. Words just aren’t that hard for me to get; the time to write them is.
  • Write a trilogy. I’ve made some progress on that with the first draft of the ‘Dragon’s Milk Chronicles Book One’. I haven’t the faintest idea what Books Two and Three will even be about, but I am excited by the characters and can’t wait to stir up trouble for them. There is certainly plenty of it around in post-apocalyptic Earth.
  • Goal four sounds easier than it is. I would love to make my point in five thousand words or less, and learn to write a short story. ‘Nuff said.
  • Goal five would be to submit a short story to a competition.
  • When my revision of ‘Tempest’s’ is finished I would like to hire an artist to make the cover art I have in mind, then print it in hardcover. I even know who I want to dedicate it to:

To my father: Who explained to me exactly how far away the stars really are, but never doubted my ability to reach them.

  • Then I’m going to show it off to everyone I know and tell them I wrote this!
  • After that, the manuscript goes off to agents!
  • While I wait for the check, I am going to read every book on my ‘to read’ list. I know, it’s a good thing my ‘to read’ list gets longer faster than I can keep up, because that check might be a long, long, time in coming.
  • I would love to write my novel as a screenplay. Originally, before I discovered how much fun writing is, I was going to summarize my idea as best I could and give it to a screenwriter friend. In the process of making this summary I discovered that I love writing! To get my story into the form it was originally conceived to be would be really cool, and maybe even help me with my dialogue skills.
  • Someday, maybe I’ll get to go to one of those writer retreats Stephen King describes in ‘On Writing,’ where you write all day and then compare notes over wine and cheese in the evening.
  • Then, once I’m discovered, I will sleep until ten a.m and write until two a.m in my pajamas because I make enough money at writing novels to quit my day job.
  • One day, I would love to see my book clutched between the fingers of someone at the airport as she flips through the pages, desperate to get to the end of the next chapter before she almost misses her flight.
  • I have this weird obsession. It started when I wrote most of my story by hand this summer as part of the revision course.  Now I have this vision of my story written on a huge wall. I don’t know how long the wall would have to be to fit the entire novel, but people could stand and read it and walk along the wall as they got further into the story. I’m thinking it would be a kind of performance art, where people experience the story together, like a movie-going experience, except that the story was created by one person with a pen, to be experienced by so many. I probably won’t ever get to do this, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stop me. The idea of one story written by one person, to be enjoyed by many seems to have been diluted between publishing and stories-by-committee and marketing departments. I just want someone to read my story and smile. Would my story lose its copyright if I posted it this way? These are the kinds of questions that make me want to do this.
  • Last, but by far not the least, my goal is to pay it forward. I want to encourage other writers the way I’ve been inspired in the classes taught by Holly Lisle, by writing my first drafts for NaNoWriMo, and by so many others. One of the most pleasant surprises about writing was how much other writers are willing to help me in this endeavor. I intend to do the same.

Let’s see where I am on my list by next year, won’t we? Do you have any goals that seem like dreams right now? Do you have any weird obsessions?

(Images courtesy of Piotr Pawel, Tiago Rio, Atif Gulzar, and Matthew Bouden @ stock.xchng)