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Every now and then, young writers contact me for advice on writing and publishing and/or to interview me for a school assignment. In these cases, I try very hard not to terrify them. Recently, one of these young writers asked me a question that resulted in me ranting a bit. I hope I didn't terrify her, but it was an important rant on a subject I myself often need to be reminded of. So I'm going to repeat my rant (in expanded form) here.

She asked me of procrastination and how it would effect her goals. And I said:

Well, yes. Procrastination is bad. But you already know that! I'll put it plain and simple: Procrastination means you don't get things done. If you don't get things done, then things don't get done. That sounds stupid but it's true. Here's the thing about writing that a lot of aspiring writers weirdly don't seem to understand. They seem to think that all they have to do is THINK about writing. No, seriously. You wouldn't believe how many people never get beyond this point. But if you want to have written, you first have to WRITE. It doesn't work any other way. Little elves do not come into your room at night and write your book for you. Believe me, I've left out cookies for them and they never show up. Unless you are a famous celebrity and can afford to hire ghost writers, the only person that is going to write your book is you.

So. To overcome procrastination, you must decide what it is you want the most: Do you want to write a book, finish it, get it published, have people read it and e-mail you and tell you how much they adore you and your work and also get a check from a publisher that you can cash and use to buy yourself things like food and other lovely stuff? Or do you want to play Farmville?

For a writer, this is entirely up to you. You do not have any boss but yourself. Nobody is going to stand over you with a stick and force you to write. The world is not waiting for you to write your Great American Novel. The world doesn't particularly care if you do or not. There are plenty of other writers out there who are writing and getting things done. So if you want to be one of those people, you must do this on your own. There is simply no way around this.

Here is the expanded part: I actually had a revelation about this years ago. Is it ridiculous that I would need to have a revelation that in order to write, you have to actually...er..write? Well, I did.

The revelation came during a particularly brutal revision on my first published novel, Raising the Griffin. I was so horribly stuck on a difficult problem my editor had raised and that I could not find a solution for. I remember actually, literally banging my head on my desk because I couldn't figure it out. I was working late into the night, bruised forehead and all, writing and rewriting the same scene from one dead end into another. The rest of the family had long gone to bed and the house was quiet and I was pretty sure I would never be able to do what needed to be done. I was done. I was quitting. I even said it out loud.

"I can't do this!"

And this is where I begin to sound delusional, but remember, it was quite late at night and I had recently suffered a self-inflicted head injury. But I swear I heard a voice quite distinctly say:

"If you don't do it, it won't get done."

There it was. The plain, simple fact. No one was going to do it for me. And nobody but me was really going to care if I didn't do it. And why should I care? Because I'm not afraid to admit that I'm one of those writers who loves having written. I love having written because I love to be read. To be read, you must be published. And 99.99% of the time, unfinished books don't get published. And so it must be done. And so I must do it. And so must this young writer. So far, nobody has figured out how to get around this. Except rich celebrities, that is.

HOSvision Revision

So for the last little while, I've been working on revising HOS. To do that, I had to finish up HOSvision. (What the heck is HOSvision?)





I'm so glad I set this up because it's been enormously helpful for revision. It gives me both a broad view of the balance of the plot but also a very quick chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene accounting of the story. So as I'm going along revising, I can track just where certain things happened without relying on memory or flipping through 500 pages.

The chart is color coded by the characters that dominate each scene. For some reason (and it would probably be a good idea to figure out why,) this made more sense for me, helped me keep things clear. There are little star stickers in a variety of colors to give me the emotional feel of the scene. The larger dark stickers are actually cat stickers because I could not for the life of me remember where the cat was in this story and it was important to know where she was.

Of course, the thing that jumps out is the long string of blue stickies near the end. That's the climax (and the lead up to the climax.) This seems long, right? Six chapters of buildup and climax. But it's a fifty-chapter book. Also, this is when my MC is drawn almost completely into the world and secret hell of the character represented by the blue stickies.

In the end, this method helped more as an organizational tool than an aid in helping me move forward as far as figuring out the plot. But since I am a massively disorganized mess at the best of times, I'm definitely going to try this again with the current WIP, especially since that is from two different POVs. I'm going to need a lot of stickies.

Friday Five: Where Have I Been?

1. Uh, nowhere, actually.

2. I have, though, been head down in revision on HOS. It's gone very well and I'm so excited about this book. I love it dearly, dearly, dearly. My first two published books had male MCs and while I adore them still and loved writing them, I feel a kinship with Eddy (the female MC of HOS) that is different. Well, there is a difference between adoration and kinship.

3. I've also been working on a new WIP. Bits and pieces and trying to plot as much as I can. I've got two MCs this time, a boy and a girl, and this girl is a little slow to let me in, so I'm giving her time to reveal herself.

4. And eventually, I will relaunch WIP Diary 2.0, if only to help me keep track of what I'm doing. Hopefully next week.

5. And I am embracing the digital age. I was given an ereader for Christmas and I love it. For me, it does not replace physical books. There are pluses and minuses to it. Chiefly--and this may be a quirk of my own--I miss flipping through pages with ease. Ereaders do not flip. Other issues include protecting it from extremes in temperature which aren't all that extreme, like ninety-eight degrees. And a sudden new concern that it could be stolen, so I can't leave it in the car, something that never worried me with physical books. And many of my old favorite books--the books I love to reread--are not available in ebook form. (Hello, Dorothy L. Sayers estate, get on the ball.) But on the plus side, as a multi-book reader (reading more than one book at a time,) I do love carrying a truckload of books around with me in the palm of my hand.

The Final Wordle

I enjoyed doing these throughout the process of writing HOS, so thought I'd see what the final one looked like. Here it is:

Wordle: HOS

Tags:

WIP Diary 2.0: Into the Woods

We went on a little research expedition last week, hoping it would trigger some inspiration and help me figure out what project to work on next. We visited the closest "old growth" forest preserve, this one at Snyder-Middleswarth State Park. It had rained all day the day before and was overcast, foggy and with a steady mist the day we went. And you know what? In some weird way, walking in the woods in the rain (which I have somehow never done before) was an oddly addictive thing. I really want to do it again, soon. Maybe it was an elemental thing. Here you had earth, water and air all around you and pretty much nothing else.



Old growth was not what I expected. I expected a dense, dark forest, but the big trees inhibit sapling growth. And unfortunately, deer overpopulation has decimated the undergrowth in a lot of these forests. Still, it was very different than many of the other state forests we're familiar with. For one thing, there was no dirt visible. As rainy and wet as it was, we emerged without a spot of mud on us, even though we slipped and fell and had to clamber over hillsides and rocks and fallen trees. The trail was either rock (so covered in lichen they were solid green) or a black peat of hemlock bark and needles so thick and soft, it was like walking on a sponge.



Oddly, it didn't smell like anything. I had gone prepared to collect sensory details and fully expected a catalog of fragrances and odors to take with me. Especially in the rain, you would expect the place to be redolent of earth and moldering leaves, spicy with the scent of fern. What it was, instead, was utterly clean.



The place was lush with ferns and a rich variety of mosses, including this wonderful shaggy moss that covered an entire hillside of rocks:



The mist and fog were perfect for the story I have in mind, almost like it was intended. We only had this one day for our trip and it turned out to be perfect weather:



The trail was challenging and made few concession to ease of hiking. You wanted to see this forest, you had to work for it. Here the trail disappears into a spring. You had to figure out how to get around it.



In other places, we hopped from rock to rock (wet rocks) and had to figure out if it was easier to go over or under trees. In some cases, neither option was ideal. And then there was this:



On the stump of this fallen hemlock, other hikers have left a cairn of stones. I don't know why or what it means, but if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's to take note of details like this because sometimes, they are a gift from the universe. And so, we'll see....

Hoping to go out again to another old growth preserve in a couple of weeks (if it isn't freezing cold.) This one definitely shook something loose and the ideas are starting to simmer. Setting was definitely a strong connection in Funny How Things Change, a connection that built the plot. And I think it will be with this idea as well.

Now as for the other front runner idea, that research is quite a bit different, and I'll be doing some of that this week.

WIP Diary 2.0: Begin Again

I took a week off to wallow in the plight of Dante and Lulu over at General Hospital*. (Please, General Hospital! Please stop putting holes in Dante! I can't take it!)

I'm so out of practice in sending mss out into the world, but I do remember how important it is to become invested in a new project as soon as possible. So today is going to be "What Next" day. I've got a file full of ideas but nothing that's really jumping up and down and saying "Write me! Write me!" Maybe it's too soon after finishing TDB to have that excited feeling. It will come, I'm sure. Maybe I just need to open a couple of them and work on each one a bit until one of them takes off. That sounds like a plan. And right now, a plan sounds good.

The problem is that the three front-runner ideas are sooooo sketchy, and that terrifies me. See, TDB (aka HOS) started out very sketchy, just an assemblage of pretty things I wanted to toss into a book and twirl around with. Plot? Who needs a plot! We have carriages and balls and pretty dresses! Yeah, that didn't work out so well.

So this week might be about taking each idea out for a test drive, a little waltz across the floor and see if one of them takes off.




*And one of these days, I have to write about what I've learned about storytelling from soap operas. But right now, I feel like I'm learning more from reading the message boards than from the shows themselves. It's so interesting to gauge what works for viewers and how they interpret the characters and their actions and motivations, what works for them and what doesn't.

WIP Diary: We're Through!

You know why? Because I finally finished This Damned Book!!! That's right, at 9:00 last night, this monstrous, out-of-control thing finally wrapped up. I'm thinking it might have one of the longest, most drawn-out endings in YA history, but I don't care. I love it. It makes me happy to see it all tied up in dozens of pretty pink ribbons.

And I managed to finish it while distracted by day job angst, Christopher Plummer's loin cloth, a jackwagon neighbor who seems to believe that the way to fix a car is to repeatedly rev the engine right outside my window all flipping day long, and my deep concern over the fact that Dante Falconeri currently lies bleeding to death on the floor of Sonny Corinthos' coffee warehouse! That, my friends, is dedication.

At this point, I choose not to think (too much) about how many years I spent writing this thing. (Because A#1, I choose not to make myself any crazier than I already am.) Though I do wonder why I stuck with it. It's not like it's going to rival War and Peace or change anyone's life or anything. It ain't that kind of a book.

But it is my book and my characters and once they had taken life inside my head, I couldn't walk away from them. Oh, I tried. There was a whole year in there where I just completely abandoned them. But I kept thinking of them, home alone, living off of saltines and ketchup, and I had to go back and take care of them. Because that's the thing my writer friend keeps telling me. You are your characters' only chance. If you don't care about your characters, nobody else will. You owe it to them to give them every chance to live and breathe.

At this point, I'm not going to think in terms of revision or the possibility of having to cut drastically. (Maybe it's a blessing it did take me this long because if I'd finished a book this size five years ago, no one would have considered it. Now, a door stopper like this doesn't raise an eyebrow.)

But it's hard not to wonder if it will sell, if anyone but me will love not just the characters, but the frivolous details, the relatively pointless asides and extraneous interactions.

Whether it sells or not, it's done. It pleases me. It pleases me that I finished it. And now my terrier brain can move on to the Next Damned Book.

Final Statistics:

506 pages
125,089 words
50 chapters
6 kisses
1 death
3 sisters
1 cat
2 balls
1 muselar
3 handsome men
1 cold mama
3 dresses made out of curtains
1 snippy housemaid
and a curse

WIP Diary: La C'eran Baci

So stuff keeps happening to draw this ending out. I am violating every rule and tenet of structure here but I don't care. I'm just letting TDB roll out the way it wants to.

But I must say that at this point, I am rather tired of describing kisses. You see, there's been a bit of a pile-up of kissing in the last quarter of this novel. All of a sudden, everyone wants to kiss my MC.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy kissing. It's a very nice thing we humans have lit upon. But after about the fourth or fifth one, you run out of ways to describe the texture of lips and the spreading warmth of sensation a really good kiss can provide. In short, breaking kisses down into technical description gets annoying after awhile.

Today, I'm going back through the last couple of chapters to add in some details that I skated over. Oh, I know, you're not supposed to write this way. But you know what? This is the way I write. My mind won't be happy until we go back and make sure we've made it clear that James's shirt has been ripped open there in chapter forty-eight.

And then...and then...I might be able to finish today. Do you think I will??? Is this E-Day? (Ending day!) Stay Tuned.

WIP Diary: It's a Surprise Party In Here

So the other day, I'm all angsty about how there won't be a happy ending to This Damned Book because I was so smugly certain it just wouldn't work out that way.

Well.

I was wrong. Once I shut up, let go of the anxiety of rushing to the finish and just let my characters do what they wanted to do, guess what they did? Well, I probably shouldn't tell you, but it wasn't what I fully expected to happen, what I was actually planning to write.

Once again, this is the kind of stuff that makes you sound like a prime candidate for the laughing academy, but it's not as freaky weird as it sounds. It's about listening to the characters. Wait, no. That still sounds freaky, like you think they're actually real people or something. But that's getting closer to it.

Look, I know they're not real but the thing is, I want them to seem like they are to the reader, so I have to remember that when I'm writing, remember that they have reactions according to their own feelings that may not necessarily fit into where I think the story should go and I fail to listen to them at my peril.

Must go to the day job. Hoping to get to the end by early next week!

WIP Diary: Just Give Me a Denoueminute

(I know these entries are coming fast and furious now, but that's because I'm nearly done!)

So, as feared, the denouement is spinning out of control, heading into the third chapter of tying things up. The big problem is all the explanations. There was so much my MC didn't know that the reader also didn't know and it all needs to be explained clearly, quickly and realistically. Man, I hope this works.

And then there are all of the relationships to resolve. There is no room here for a romantic happily ever after. It wouldn't be realistic anyway. It would take a whole 'nother book. (And no, I ain't writing no sequel to TDB!) So I have to somehow set up a satisfying close that is really an opening, that will let the reader know that yes, this will happen in the future. Is that going to be satisfying enough? I don't know. I guess I'd better go work on that and see how it turns out.