Dark Crystal Authorquest – The Final Stretch

December 2, 2013

I’m entering the final stretch of the Dark Crystal Authorquest, and much as in the frenzy of NaNoWriMo, I’m starting to feel as though I hardly have any words to spare for non-Authorquest writing endeavors. I did manage to write last week’s  Young Adult Catholics post while in the car on the way to Rapid City for Thanksgiving, and I got half of an entry written from A Year in the Life on Saturday, along with a few short journal entries.

My goal was to have 10,000 submittable words by the end of November, and I didn’t make it. Instead, I’m at about 12,000 words that are not yet submission-worthy. I have one or two more scenes to write before I’m going to stop to focus on revision, some of it substantial. I’m hoping to write that last scene tomorrow. Tonight I’m drained after writing about 1,500 words and am surprised I’m even managing to squeeze this entry out. I’m looking forward to having this submission all tied up and sent away, hopefully early enough that it won’t plague my holiday preparations. And perhaps when it’s finally out the door, I’ll have the energy to detail how I managed to get it written.

Advertisements

My Marketing Revelation

November 18, 2013

Cover image from Sarah Pepper’s newest release.

Last week, I went to a community ed class about how to market your book put on by Sarah J. Pepper, a local author who has achieved success through both traditional and self publishing. I always wonder when I show up at these things whether I’ll learn anything new, and I always walk away from them glad that I went. Along with some potential freelance contacts, great handouts, and frantically jotted notes, I also came away with this revelation:

To really market, I need to stop writing.

Not forever (God no!) but long enough to not be distracted. Long enough to let my writing energy rest and build up. Long enough to really commit myself to marketing, and long enough to possibly see results.

This came when Sarah admitted that her husband told her she “can’t start” writing a new book until after her soon-to-be-released Death of the Mad Hatter is released. So all that writing energy goes toward … promoting the upcoming book.

I’ve never been good at marketing because I always try to squeeze it in on the fringes of my writing work (which I try to squeeze in on the fringes of my paid work). And since I don’t like marketing, it’s easy for it to fall to the bottom of the “to-do” list. It’s not so much that I don’t like talking about my work — like most writers, I enjoy that very much. But I don’t like feeling like I’m “bugging” people. And as an introvert who doesn’t really like to be “sold to,” I project that onto anyone I might try to sell myself to, and I sort of crumple up inside. And I retreat to writing. True, there could be worse ways to avoid a dreaded task. But I really, really, really need to give this self-promotion thing a try if I want to keep striving to make writing central in my life. And I do.

Now the decision point comes — I know that my focus needs to be on my Dark Crystal submission until I send it off, hopefully in early December. After that, my initial plan was to return to work on my Rapunzel novel and work on preparing my Rumpled ebook for distribution. But it may not be wise to pursue both at once, as I’m likely to hide from the ebook within Rapunzel. Still, I’m thinking a good strategy might be to complete my second draft of Rapunzel, then set it aside to work on Rumpled. I’ll probably have some fresh insight when I return to my Rapunzel draft afterwards. Now the real question is whether I can accomplish all this before next November, which is supposed to be my “on” year for NaNoWriMo. Stay tuned!


NaNo’Ers, I’m With You in Spirit

October 28, 2013

Although I usually take one year to “recover” between attempts at NaNoWriMo, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at November the same way again.

This year, I’m on “recovery,” still working on the novel I pounded out last November (I’ve discovered that novels written in a month take two years to revise). But as November draws nearer, NaNoWriMo is still very much on my mind. On Wednesday night (October 30), I’ll be leading an online chat about NaNoWriMo at New Moon Girls, which is free for members. I’m also leading, “So, You Want to Write a Novel?”, a webinar for girls ages 8-14, in which I’ll share some of my tips for writing and finishing novels.  Girls need not be members of New Moon to attend. The webinar is offered twice — once on November 5 and once on November 7. If there’s a girl in your life who is tackling NaNoWriMo or novel-writing in general, send her my way!

As for me, I’ll be finishing up my Dark Crystal submission in November, while a friend is working on producing one short story a week. May this November find you keeping the winter writing spirit in your own way!


To Outline or Not to Outline: A Question Only You Can Answer

September 17, 2013

A few weeks ago, as I fretted over my Dark Crystal submission (which I still haven’t started), one commenter authoritatively told me I must write an outline for it. I did, and I am, because it’s such unfamiliar territory for me that I just feel a lot safer going in with a map. But that’s not always the decision I make.

Currently, I’m reading APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, which recommends outlines and disses authors who don’t use them handily in one tidbit of advice:

“Many authors find an outline too constricting, but an outline sets me free. If you can’t write an outline, perhaps your thoughts are insufficiently organized.”

I had to bristle at this. It’s one thing to offer advice to would-be writers, quite another to imply that they are lacking if they do not follow your advice. The March/April issue of Writer’s Digest featured a wonderful article on “organic writing”; that is, writing without an outline, seeing where the story might take you. I used to be an outliner, but then I met NaNoWriMo, and I discovered the joy of flying by the seat of my pants. That’s when I learned I could be an organic writer, too, and now I often write without an outline. The advantage is a heightened sense of discovery; the disadvantage is the potential to panic if you don’t know what’s next, which can perhaps lead to an increased risk of writer’s block (at least, it does for me.)

A friend in my writer’s group has recently begun writing his short stories without an outline. There is no difference in quality between those that were written with or without outlines; if anything, the ones written without outlines are better, because he continues to develop his skill as a writer.

I once read something about Stephen King in which he said he no longer used outlines, that he could “feel” when the story was getting off-track and self-correct it. I find that writing without an outline has developed this sixth sense in me as well. If you think of an outline as a map, it makes a lot of sense to use it in unfamiliar territory to keep you from getting totally tangled in your jumble of prose. But after you’ve been writing for years, especially in a particular genre, you probably will get through the thicket just fine without a map to guide you. Your intuition will tell you when you’re going down the right path, and when you aren’t. And if it doesn’t? Revision is your friend.

I’m currently working on a novel-writing webinar for girls that I will offer in partnership with New Moon Girl Media. I plan to start with the idea that there are two types of writers: “planners” and “pantsers” — those who plan in advance of writing, and those who get by “by the seat of their pants.” Both types can and do win publication, popularity, and acclaim. I recommend trying both methods to see which you prefer, and more importantly, to get a sense for which approach is appropriate for each particular work. And if you ditch the outline? It doesn’t mean your thoughts are too “disorganized” to make a good book — only that you’re brave enough to tackle your adventure without a map.


Knowing When to Turn it Upside Down

July 15, 2013

Although I hate to do it, I find my writerly energies pulled in too many different directions right now, so I’m taking a break from Rapunzel. Ironically, this is the story I most want to be working on, and I think that’s ultimately why I have to do this — so I can free myself up for it properly by wrapping up a few loose ends — the completion of my Rumpled ebook and a new piece for a contest I’m entering. I’m hoping Rapunzel will feel like my “reward” after all of this, that the time away will only increase my enthusiasm, and that we won’t come together feeling like strangers when everything settles.

And as of last Saturday night, I’m also wrestling with a somewhat offhand comment my husband made as we drove home from an out-of-town wedding, a comment that made me re-envision the entire Rapunzel story. Different setting, different time. I began to wonder if I was doing this all wrong. It fed into a bit of insecurity I’ve had about the story for a couple months now, as I think about retellings in which Cinderella is a Cyborg, Sleeping Beauty is traveling through space, and Red Riding Hood hunts werewolves. Against stories like this, my own retelling seems quaintly traditional, staying close to the time, place, and structure of the original Grimm’s tale. I found myself often asking, Is it different enough to hold any interest, to bring anything new to the table?

Recasting it in light of Ivan’s comments would take care of that issue, but I’m still don’t feel ready to go in that direction. I’ve made so many changes already between drafts 1 and draft 1.5-ish that I kind of want to see how my new vision pans out before I do a complete overhaul of it. As I talked to Ivan about this on our drive, he said, “Why don’t you write both? Finish the one you’re working on now, and then write the other one, and see which one you like better.”

I thought, But do you know how much work it is just to write one novel, let alone two, just for the basis of comparison?

And yet, it wasn’t long before I felt like that was the course I wanted to take. There’s a reason this story won’t let me go, in its current form … and I’m going to stick with it long enough to see what that is.

In the meantime, that car conversation gave me ample fodder for many Novembers to come.


Pulling up the Weeds

July 8, 2013

At about this time last month, I planted my first garden since moving to South Dakota, and my second garden in my whole life. My first garden was almost 100% neglected, and I still got some vegetables at the end of the summer, which taught me that cucumbers and zucchini are the best veggies for a negligent gardener.

This year, I resolved to do better. Except.

I let the whole month pass with very little weeding.

The lack of weeding was, admittedly, partly due to laziness. But it was also due to inexperience. When I first started seeing green sprout up from the patch of dirt, I was elated. Something was growing! I watered profusely. Everything in the garden grew. And grew. And grew. Until I started to suspect that a lot of what I saw were weeds. (I didn’t recognize them right away because I’m so inexperienced with gardening that I didn’t know what the vegetables I planted were supposed to look like when they first came up.)

Yesterday, we bought a hoe at Big Lots, and I took it out to do some serious weeding.

There was a moment of despair when I realized 85% of that green I’d been so proud of a few weeks ago had grown into ugly, insistent weeds. In fact, the whole garden seemed to be monstrous weeds. There was a moment when I wondered whether there was even a point to tackling it.

But I’d promised my husband I would if he cleaned the bathroom, and the bathroom was already gleaming.

So, I put the new hoe to work.

I was brutal.

There *might* be something good there once I get this guy and his extended family out of the way …

I chopped through the weed canopy until I noticed that, underneath it all, there were some plants that looked, well, different.

Underneath it all, cilantro, carrots, beets, green beans, watermelon, sugar snap peas, and cucumber were making a go of it, despite the hostile weeds.

I got down on my knees then and started doing precision weeding, carefully separating the weeds from the vegetables, pulling the weeds up by the roots and tossing them aside. My frustration started to dissolve. The work started to feel rewarding. There was something worth saving after all!

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the writing (and especially the rewriting) process.

Often, a first draft looks very much like that garden overrun by weeds, especially a first draft penned during NaNoWriMo. It’s easy to write it off, to decide that it’s just not worth the trouble. But then when you go in and get your hands dirty, chopping down the “weeds” of unnecessary scenes and cumbersome sentence constructions, you can start to see some beautiful themes and words and images hiding in their midst.  You start to feel a sense of satisfaction. You start to see something worthwhile emerge from the mess. The work starts to feel like it is worth something. And then, it’s much, much easier to continue.

Most of us start each new writing project the way I started my garden — hopeful, excited, a little scared, very naive, and then deliriously elated when something, anything starts to take shape … to be subsequently overwhelmed when you realize that maybe what you’ve been cultivating isn’t what you wanted after all.

Or maybe it is, if you look a little closer, and aren’t afraid to chop and pull mercilessly until you’re reminded that the good stuff really was there, all along.


Rapunzel and Research

June 10, 2013

Last week after I finished a scene on my Rapunzel novel, I was struck with the conviction: I have to research now.

My initial plan with Rapunzel was to do as much research as possible before NaNoWriMo began last November. I was able to do some research, but not as much as I wanted, because I was also trying to finish another draft of Rumpled. Then in November, of course, there was no time for even the most basic research–writing was pretty much my only option if I wanted to finish. That was okay, though–I could research between drafts. Except somehow, March and NaNoEdMo were upon me as if December, January, and February had never happened. So I was putting in over 10 hours a week editing Rapunzel without the time to do the research I’d wanted to do then, either, although I did stop here and there to do a spot of research as needed, mainly into European growing seasons and other garden-related trivia.

I’ve never written something that requires massive research, such as historical fiction novel or novel that incorporates real people as characters. Even though what I write is primarily speculative fiction, I’ve still managed to keep a lot of the human experiences close enough to home that I could get away with not researching except as needed for certain scenes (scenes in one of my past novels that involved curing pork and assembling guns come to mind.)

I don’t think Rapunzel necessarily needs more than this level of research. Although it takes place in a vaguely medieval European world, the actual kingdoms are imaginary, and no specific dates are mentioned, nor any real historical events. Still, there’s something that’s telling me to stop and go deeper at this point, and I’m going to listen to my gut. This story has taken hold of me in a way that nothing has for years, so I’m going to let it continue to lead the way and see what happens.

My research primarily takes two paths. The first investigates the “Maiden in the Tower” motif to which Rapunzel belongs, more deeply exploring the pervasiveness and commonalities of these stories (to that end, I’ve recently ordered a book by the same name both through Interlibrary Loan and Amazon.com). The second one centers on medieval witchcraft trials. I was surprised that I needed to go beyond my local library to find good information on the latter, as I live within the largest library system in South Dakota. Still, it seems most of the witchcraft resources that exist focus on the Salem Witch Trials. I find this an interesting turn, since those witch trials were the descendants of their European predecessors; far fewer witches were tried in Salem than in medieval Europe, and yet somehow those are the trials that loom largest in the public imagination. Is it just the ethnocentrism of living in the U.S. that makes other witchcraft history hard to get hold of?

And then, somewhat unintentionally, I’ve also begun some hands-on research. Last week, it finally stopped raining long enough for me to plant a garden. A witch’s garden figures prominently into nearly all versions of Rapunzel, so of course it’s a central setting for my novel as well, comprising one of the few places outside the tower that Rapunzel has ever experienced. I’ve never been much of a gardening enthusiast myself, but I am an enthusiast of fresh, cheap produce, so for me the garden is just a means to that end. I had a garden a couple years ago that I woefully neglected that produced vegetables in spite of that, and I was halfway expecting this garden to take the same route. And yet, already I’m feeling a greater sense of investment in this garden. Is it because it’s dependent only upon me, when I had my sister and my dad sharing responsibility for my former garden? Is it because I planted every single seed myself? Or am I perhaps channeling a bit of “Mama” (Mother Gothel in the original), who loves her garden with the same fierceness with which she loves Rapunzel? In one scene, Mama justifies taking Rapunzel because of the way her biological father treated plants:

“Your father was cruel, Rapunzel,” Mama said once, throwing aside weeds she had just pulled. “He didn’t even bring anything for clipping the rampion. He just ripped it out of the ground, roots and all. And when I confronted him, his arms full to bursting, he became whiter than a slug’s belly. He blamed his wife, and her desperate cravings. And I thought, if this man cannot be gentle with these living creatures–” Mama spread her hand to indicate all that bloomed around her–“then how could he be fit to care for a tiny babe?”

I was surprised to feel that same sort of protectiveness as I dropped tiny seeds onto the ground, then gently covered them with dirt. Here’s hoping I have a little bit of Mama’s talent with coaxing abundant and nourishing food out of them as well–although I could do without the fanaticism.