Turbulence and Abrupt Stops

The middle section of my book came to an abrupt end, yesterday, as I realized that the scene I was writing and the scene where my main character turns herself in–we’ll say to the “police”–could be smushed into one convenient bundle, and end a whole lot of tramping around the countryside.

It also ends the potential for any of those love-scenes I write when I can’t think of anything to write, and leaves my characters divided and arguing.

Oopsie.

I’ve run into a few instances where things I thought were separate episodes turned out to be elements of the same scene, and they may be the only reason I have any hope of coming in under word count.

They also have a way of getting that story cracking, and I’m positive that’s a good thing.

So, now… MMC doesn’t know it, but FMC has come to “the police station” for two reasons–she intends to leave him in a safe place, and she intends to turn herself in.

For various reasons, he’s not crazy about being left in a safe place, and the accelerated surrender means that I have a plot card that’s just… floating. I need to either ground the plot card, or go back through the draft and remove it, entirely. I haven’t decided which one, yet.

Or, maybe I just haven’t decided how, yet.

So, my sagging middle is starting to tighten up, and I’m reaching the point that I’m happy with the results.

Gearing Up For Competitive Blurb Reading Season

I’m not writing my query letter yet. I’m still looking at examples from our forerunners, and looking for something (anything) that includes a vital piece of backstory. Yes. Exactly. My novel is the exception to the “no backstory” rule. At least, I think it is. There’s one glittering hunk of backstory you can’t understand the inciting incident without.

Yes, I know there are whole writers’ groups full of writers’ rule exceptions. But me… I’m the real deal.

Shut up.

So, I’m in the process of reading blurbs on the backs of books, or movies, or you know… tattooed on performance artists. Whatever. Trying to get a grasp on what other people are doing, and what works (backstory!) And what doesn’t, and why.

I’m not there, yet, but I’m working on it.

So, while  shopping for movies doing intense, and detailed research, today, I ran into one that was largely cliche, and which made me smirk just a little.  Let’s make sure I get this right. Snazzy relationship ends after she disappears without a trace. Very next sentence? He follows her “trail.” I’m pretty sure a “trail” is a pretty large “trace”.

Fortunately, it’s a movie, not a book, so with the right number of explosions, I could forget all about that, and be happy.

But I probably have less wiggle room as a writer.

Back to the great backstory hunt.

Choosing Trust

A while back, I wound up trapped in a conversation with one of those I’m Telling You This For Your Own Good people. The topic was critique groups, and the woman was basically a stranger.

I know you’re bracing for a horror story.

So, here it is.

Someone she knew stole her title.

I won’t tell you what the title is, but I will say that it churns up nearly a thousand results on Amazon, and it has that vaguely familiar feel to it. It’s one of those deep and meaningful titles you find on literary fiction and questionable poetry. It ain’t Snakes on a Plane.

I’m sure you’ve heard something like this, before. The general idea is that when you take your writing to a critique group, it’s in horrible danger of being stolen, and people lie, and flatter you, and really, how do you know they aren’t just saying what you want to hear to make you happy. Or, you know… ripping into you for shits and giggles.

On the other end of the spectrum is the guy who says you shouldn’t be afraid to give away all of your work. (Eventually.)

I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t think the people who criticize my writing are doing it for their own amusement, and I believe that if someone says my work is good, they actually mean it. (Whether or not they’re objective is another thing.)

I post work on my blog from time to time, and even chunks of longer works. I blog my thoughts, and I’m choosing trust every time I push the publish button. I’m not sorry.

But I’m not good at trust, either. I password protect things. I keep my website–and sometimes my writing–a secret from my real-world acquaintances. I think about things like my rough draft being sold in Lebanon without so much as being told. I’m not the jump and trust the Universe to catch you type.

There’s that voice in the back of my mind that says things that are a lot like… I’m telling you this for your own good. And… This probably sucks, you know.

And there’s the real world stuff-the at what point is it published, and how much can I share before it turns the publishing industry off? A lot of that is fuzzy math, but I think I’ve stayed in the clear.

The other thing that occurs to me is that not every writers’ group has to be a deep and deadly serious critique group. I’ve gotten a lot out of groups that were mostly just social, and I’ve found critique partners there.

How far do you trust people with your work? Any hard limits? Any suggestions to avoid those critique group horror stories?

Deep Breath, and Very Carefully Cut…

I am working my way through my rough draft, taking all those pieces of… stuff… out of the old file and putting them in chronological order in the new file. I’m also cutting out a lot of the **stuff that doesn’t happen in the revised timeline** stuff and a few tons of **wow, this is smutty** type smut. I wouldn’t call it romance, exactly. Or erotica. More like the Kinsey Report on The Indigenous Cultures of the Penitent Planets.

We will also be removing a significant section of work dealing with furniture, and specifically, chairs.

Well, my inner editor will. My muse is both endlessly fascinated by chairs and incredibly indignant that his masterwork is being butchered. I’m not taking sides.

And I’m not entirely sure my Muse has figured out that “chairs” probably means no tables, either.

There’s no way around it. I honestly have no idea how I wound up with that many pages describing chairs. Someone else must have broken into my house, hacked into my computer, affected my writing style, and started yammering away.

I mean… chairs. Plus or minus an upholstery job or two, I have no strong feelings about chairs. They’re just there.

Except… in my manuscript, they’re so much more than there. They’re described. In detail. From the first ladder-back to the the last spring.

Well, that’s why I’m doing this. Because if I left all the chairs in situ in the manuscript, I might not notice. I might not realize how much weight the chairs have. I might wind up being… that writer with the chair fixation.

I’d wind up with legions of fans, all of whom simply adore chairs. People who would carry their chairs on their backs to get them signed, and who consider merely sitting in a chair to be utterly pedestrian.

And I would wind up staring at them in gaping idiocy as they talk about chair-back settees and barrel chairs.

What?

It’s that one over there.

You mean the red one?

Yes. The red one.

And my entire fandom heaves a collective sigh.

Organization for the City Landfill and Tidying for Writers

I went all Moleskine-y at the beginning of the year, partly because 2016 dropped me into a dollar-store calendar with write-in dates morass, and partly because I happened to find an almost-new Moleskine in the basement, so why not? Blank pages, and the elastic’s still good.

I’d never realized how important having a calendar is to me, until I didn’t have one. I need to write down my progress to feel like I’m making progress. I think it helps with other good habits, too. Did I or didn’t I take that vitamin? Did I actually eat breakfast, or did I work straight through? And… just how often and how long am I sleeping in, on weekends?

I feel better, if I know I’m making progress, instead of just thinking, and I work harder, if I know just exactly how many blank pages there are in my calendar.

Right now, it seems like the answer is a lot.

And…yeah, I’m sleeping in on those weekends. Not in the sense of “until noon” but well and truly beyond what I do on a normal day.

I’m writing every day, though, and after a while, it will add up. I like to keep a daily word count, and also a running total. Monthly, yearly… I also keep track of what I’m doing for my revision, but that’s a much fuzzier kind of math.

The other notebook is a little harder to describe.

Right now, my sorta-almost idea of how to use it is… Basically all the organization and editing things that need to stay organized and accessible go in the Moleskine. It doesn’t replace all of the spiral notebooks and computer files, but the things like query letter drafts and wrangling that whole comprehensible order thing–those do go in the Moleskine.

I’m working on putting together a functional outline. When it’s finished, I’ll beat the manuscript into submission, and make it look (at least a little) more like the coherent outline. Before I revise the crap out of it.

Someday, I hope to write in chronological order. Last week would be good. I should have worked on that.

I’m not sure if my brain works that way. But I do think having the One Notebook is likely to help me keep things together until I can get it right the second time around. It’s small enough to be with me most of the time, and it can’t be mistaken for any of the other notebooks in my life. It’s also expensive enough that I don’t wind up ripping pages out left and right when I decide I don’t like something.

So… do you write in chronological order, or are you more non-linear like me? How do you organize for revision? What works for you?

Getting Back to Work is Hard to Do

Why is it that good habits are so much easier to break than bad ones?

Let me lay it out for you.

My pattern is this:1.) Get into a good writing habit. 2.) Stop to revise. 3.) Really, really stop to revise. Farewell, new words. 4.)  Fail to make revision a measurable part of my routine. 5.) Try to figure out what happened to the good habit just broke into a million pieces.

Get into a good writing habit. I’m actually pretty good at that. When I’m working on those first-draft word counts, I’ll hit a thousand words or more a day. That’s a lot. In the course of a year, it can add up to more than a quarter of a million words.

Stop to revise.  Well… that seems pretty necessary. Especially for someone who’s been known to cram twenty-seven murder scenes or  five versions of the same proposal into one book.

Really, really stop to revise.  This is where things start going wrong. The word count drops off, and I don’t really land in the next project with any kind of wits about me.

And then… well, just exactly how do you measure revision goals? What do you do to make sure you do enough? And how do you keep track?  Pretty soon, I’m not writing new words, and I’m not revising, either. I don’t switch back and forth all that well.

And that’s it. Progress is slow–or maybe just not noticeable enough–and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.

Right now, I’m in the revision stage. I would like to finish my novel. Finish-finish. High-shine polish finished. Elegance and refinement finished.

I keep looking for that perfect balance.

Maybe the short stories I’ve promised to write are it. Something I can finish in an afternoon when I’m not revising.

Maybe short stories will be just enough to prime the pump.

We’ll see.

Suggestions and advice welcome.

“Words,” Editing, and Tastes

When I was young and poor, one of my roommates was a conservative Christian. She had one of those set-top boxes for the TV which was supposed to block swear words. It ran off of the closed captioning, and basically muted the TV for the entire time the word was on the screen. Mostly, it worked. You didn’t hear the swear.

But you didn’t hear any of the other words that happened to be on the screen at the same time, either.

It would miss typos. So, if the “word” was not spelled correctly in the transcription, you’d hear it.

And if the captioning wasn’t synced up to the audio, you’d hear the “word” and then silence. Or silence, followed by the “word.”

There were about two hundred words on the naughty list. I never figured out exactly what they all were.

They were exclusively American “words.” That always had me rolling on the floor. If you were listening to Brit-com, you’d be hit by a row of obscenities that would curl your hair, followed by silence when they finally hit a relatively mild “word” the box knew. (Kudos to the BBC for well-synced closed captioning, by the way.)

And some of them were ludicrous. Cinderella could go to a ball, but Lydia Bennett most certainly could not go to two or more balls. That would be obscene. And no, it didn’t matter in the slightest that the thing turned Pride and Prejudice as a whole into a roaring comedy.

I’m not quite that finicky. Refined. I figure three or four “fucks” to a manuscript and poor Lydia can have as many balls as she wants. It’s not a swearing extravaganza, but I also don’t have a set-top-box to keep it out.

Still, the experience did leave a sense of utility. Does this word change the meaning of the sentence? Can someone follow the story without that word? With a different word? I suppose Lydia could go to cotillions or something…

And I could say “very.” Very is indeed a most excellent intensifier.

The truth is, I don’t write for children, and I think I’m pretty moderate, anyway so I’m not all that worried about it. I do notice if I go over my average for the big ones. An I have other words I over use, and I’m always on the lookout for them.

Do you have to think about this? Quotas or guidelines? Or do you have a hard ban on profanity in your work?