The last few months have been a whirlwind of launching Another Good Dog into the world. It’s been beyond my wildest imagination, surprising me again and again.
I’ve done enough TV now that I’m finally getting better at not blinking so much while talking and actually answering the question that was asked (as opposed to rambling on in questionable English while my mind is screaming, “OMG – I’m on TV!”).
I’m not certain which famous author wrote that in an article I read in which rich and well-known writers were asked for their best piece of writing advice.
I’m also not certain how many times I’ve quoted it to creative writing students. It used to hang on a little sticky note on my computer monitor, but it’s probably lost amongst the dust bunnies behind my desk now, the sticky long since dried up.
I’m a wordy writer. If it weren’t for the countless editors who forced me to bend to their word count will, I probably never would have been published. I tend to over-tell you what’s happening, repeat myself, as it were.
When you’re writing a clever personal essay where voice is the most engaging feature, you can get away with extra words. But in fiction, readers have no patience for the writer who explains every turn of the doorknob and unfolding of a napkin.
‘Assume they are wearing pants’ means that there is much you can trust the reader to figure out on his or her own.
You don’t need to write that your character brushed his teeth or pulled on his pants or went to the potty or drove to work. You can trust your reader to figure out by the time your character ‘stepped out of the elevator on the sixth floor of the Bronson building ready to conquer the world or at least the part of the world that dealt with Fifteen-millimeter straws ’ that all of that has happened.
But maybe your character was late? You might need a few of those steps. ‘Fred brushed his teeth, as he drove, weaving in and out of his lane frustrated by the slowpoke in front of him mentally rehearsing his presentation which should have started ten minutes ago. In the elevator, he noticed his socks didn’t match and he had toothpaste on his tie.’
I still didn’t tell you that he put his pants on, but I’m pretty sure you know he’s wearing pants. Otherwise, everyone in the elevator would be staring at him, right?
Details are important, but the only details you need to include are the important ones.
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I’ve polished my manuscript until parts seemed to be wearing through and it began to feel like I was rearranging furniture. Now it’s safely languishing in my agent’s TBR pile. Even as it’s tempting to go back in there and fiddle, I’m staying out of that world. Jem and Liz and Jake and Fish and Coach are safe from my meddling fingers.
My other novel-in-progress is marinating. Marinating is what I call the time between edits. It’s very hard to be objective and see your story clearly unless you leave it lie for at least a few weeks between edits. Otherwise, it’s like trying find anything on a map on your phone—you’re too close to see anything in perspective. Which means I have to leave Kat and Dylan and Pilgrim and Gwen alone to work their problems out, at least for a little while.
So, no fiction. Which isn’t easy for me.
Instead, I’m working on guest blog posts for my upcoming blog tour for Practicing Normal (which comes out June 6!!) and mostly coming up blank. Plus, I’m putting way too much time into blog posts for my dog blog. And still my writing energies are stopped up.
I’ve become so desperate I’m thinking of trying my hand at a short story (again). I’ve never written a decent short story. Every short story I’ve ever attempted either turned into a novel or landed in my ‘crap I wrote’ folder to languish for all eternity. But you never know, maybe this time I’ll figure out the genre. Either that, or I’ll have a good start on my next novel.
Writing is not a job for the unmotivated. There is no boss telling me what to do, although, true confession, I kinda wish I had a boss telling me what to do. If I had a boss and a specific job description, then I’d know when I was finished a job (plus I might have benefits and overtime and paid vacation). Instead, writing work is endless, spiraling into the land of all-the-ways-to-waste-productive-time-productively. Blogging, for instance. Writing this post is not required of me. And yet, here I am, musing on nothing much. Wasting time, really, but productively because if nothing else I’m honing my craft.
And that’s just it. If you’re gonna be a writer, ya gotta write.
Even if it’s just a journal entry or an email to a friend. Slap those words down, one after the other. Do that long enough and eventually you hit on a few good combinations.
That said, I’m gonna head out to the wilds and do some short story wrangling. (Can you tell my short story will involve horses? And maybe cowboys. Hmmm….) I’m toying with pasting the beginnings of that story right here on the blog, if for no other reason than to hold myself accountable. So watch for installment number one next week.
What are you writing? Anything good? Well, I hope at least your writing is humming.
Have a great Thursday and thanks for reading!
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I buckled down and got serious about my assigned reading this week, plowing through three chapters of Story Genius. The picking apart of the story writing process prickled my nerves a bit. I’ve never been good at following directions and details bore me to tears, but I pledged to read this book so I powered on.
I found myself, nodding, duh, duh, duh at some points and at other times I underlined sections like I did in American History class, thinking, “This is the part that will be on the test.”
And then I went for a run and thought about it. I don’t have time to read to be reading. My shelves are creaking with books I’m dying to read. So, what is the point here? Why am I forcing myself to read craft books? Can’t I just write? Continue reading “Nature Vs Nurture: Am I a Story Genius?”
After sharing my disdain last week, I take it all back. Digging deeper into this book, I’m finding nugget after nugget of gold.
Maybe I was a bit sensitive after her comments about pantsers (those of us who write by the seat of our pants as opposed to careful outlining). I’ve decided that Lisa Cron actually does have room for pantsers in her heart. At least my kind of pantsing.
She’s not shoving an outline down my throat (at least at this point), but she does want me to know exactly what it is my protagonist wants and what is keeping her from it. The intersection of those points is what she terms the ‘third rail.’
While I may have no idea what’s going to happen in any story I start, I do know my protagonist inside and out and am very certain of what she wants. I even know the first obstacle which will throw her into a tailspin and start my story. After that, though, all bets are off, but inevitably obstacle after obstacle will present itself.
In my novel Girls’ Weekendthere were three protagonists (although Cron has helped me see that there is actually an ‘alpha protagonist’) and I knew what those women wanted (even though not all of them did) and what stood in their way. In reality, looking back, that could have been three books. A nice little series. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
So, yeah, enjoying Story Genius.
The other books are also inspiring me, even Donald Maass. Here’s a line I’ve been ruminating on from Fire in Fiction:
“Like a handshake, an opening and closing line can create impressions and expectations. They can set a tone.”
I’ve gone back and begun looking at each chapter and studied my opening and closing lines. It’s one way to be certain my story is bringing the reader along purposefully. He also talks about being certain there’s a purpose in every scene, not just artfully rendered sentences. I’m a serious proponent of that direction, and I chuckled at his line about the purpose not having to be obvious. There’s no need to “squat atop it like an elephant on an egg.” Totally going to steal that line at some point.
And then this from Fierce on the Page:
“This is the power of the written word. As we take in a story that affects us, we meet ourselves more deeply.”
Yes. That’s exactly it.
Natalie Goldberg echoes this sentiment:
“A responsibility of literature is to make people awake, present, alive.”
Doing all this reading about craft and purpose and style and function some days makes my head spin a bit and makes me feel like not only do I not know what I’m doing, but maybe I should apply for a job at the new Burger King that just opened in town. But Jordan Rosenfeld was there to catch me when she wrote:
“Trust your gut about what resonates and what does not. Know that you’ll know what to cut and what to keep…..You will find the alive passages, and you can even choose to build on them. Those are the words you are meant to write; similarly, the life that flows is the one you’re meant to live.”
I think she might have more faith in me that I have in myself, but I’ll borrow it for now.
May the power of literature change your life this week.
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I don’t know if I’m going to make it. There are only five days left in the month and writing time is at a premium considering the house is overrun with kids and their messes and their friends and my need to be amongst them. Add to that a couple foster dogs/puppies and well, I’ve got a boatload of excuses for not finishing NaNoWriMo.
I’ve got just under 13,000 words to go. Doable? Sure, but will I do it? Not so sure.
I’m doing what I’ve done with pretty much all five of the novels I’ve written – stalling in the middle. Ask any writer – the beginning is the easiest part. And then for many writers, the ending is obvious, but the middle….that’s terribly tricky. It’s very easy to wander. It’s very easy to obsess over unnecessary detail. It’s very easy to play favorites with your characters and entertain an odd darling or two.
For me, though, what happens in the middle is a lot of circling and stalling and avoiding the ending. I don’t want the story to end. Once it’s over, the real work starts. The tedious, painful editing. The sorting out whether there’s really a story here or not, and after 90,000+/- words, there really better be a story here.
Hanging out in the middle is safe. It’s easy. I like it there. The tail end of the middle is the time when I get anxious. What if the ending doesn’t appear? And what if it does and it sucks? Or what if I jump the gun and force it?
Much better to just stall and await a sign.
The problem with NaNoWriMo is there is no time to stall. There’s not time to explore tangents and wiggle my way into an ending. I have to write 13,000 words. NOW.
But what’s the worse that happens? I don’t finish NaNoWriMo? (or in the NaNoWriMo lingo – I don’t win?) So what? No big deal, Easter seal. I can handle it. I don’t have to achieve my goal. I can finish in another week or two. What’s with the arbitrary deadline? There’s nothing hanging in the balance here. The only person I owe this to is me. And I’m easy. Ask my kids. I talk big, but in the end I always cave.
Will I make it? It’s so very hard to say. I wouldn’t wager any money on it, but then again, I’m a more or less reliable person. I usually do what I say. So, you know, maybe it’ll happen….let’s just wait and see.