Month: July 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

FINISHED! (Sort of…)

Last night at 1 AM (okay, so technically this morning) I finished the first draft of my novel. It felt like this:

However! I did not write 30k in 13 days. Here’s why:

For the first week, I kept writing as I had been. Except more. I spent less time on blogs and email, I went out to libraries and coffee shops, and I stayed up late to work. And it went okay, but not great. I definitely wasn’t on pace to finish telling my story by the end of the month.

Then I talked to Erin, and she encouraged me (not for the first time) to try a trick she uses for NaNoWriMo: [more]. In other words, any time I got seriously stuck, just put [more] and keep going.

Can’t figure out the exact dialogue in a scene? [more]
Not sure how to get your protagonist from point A to point B? [more]
Don’t have the words to describe the beautiful vista from the top of the mountain? [more]

It’s very versatile. It can stand in for as much or as little as you need. And you know what? It works! At least for me. It freed me from the mindset of obsessing over words. It allowed me to just put the story down.

In addition to using [more], I started writing in a condensed form. Almost a note-taking style. For example, instead of…

Marco pulled Kate to the back door. Rain pounded against the house, a soft drumbeat to accompany their nervous breaths. Marco shot one last glance at Kate, who nodded. Together, they burst through the door and into the downpour.

I would just type…

Kate and Marco flee the house in the rain.

(And no, haha, that’s not from my book.)

Anyway, you can probably see how much quicker that made finishing my book. Because I wasn’t bogged down in details or word-smithing, I was able to focus on the story. I still made note of emotional beats, and occasionally jotted down lines of actual dialogue, but mostly I moved my characters around and made sure they did what needed to be done.

Now, of course, I’ll need to go back and expand and clean up. But I think this might allow me to enjoy the writing process more, because I won’t be stressed about figuring out what happens next (i.e., the storytelling part).

I think this is what some writers mean when they talk about a first draft being a skeleton, which they flesh out in a second pass. I’d like to try approaching my next project this way from the start.

But first I have to finish this one. For real. So I sent the second “half” to a friend to get feedback on the plot. While he looks it over, I’m giving myself the weekend off. I’m going to read (yay!) and recoup some sleep. Then I’ll use August to get the book in shape, and I’m thinking I should be ready to query agents in September.

Wow. I feel like everything is moving so fast, and yet I know I still have such a long way to go.

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Writerly Wednesday

Psst! Don’t forget to check out the July giveaway for your chance to win HALF A LIFE by Darin Strauss or THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL by Melissa Senate.

I have just a few days left in July, and no idea whether or not I will finish my first draft. I think it’s still doable, but it’s turning out a bit differently than I expected. I’ll blog more about that next week.

In the meantime, please enjoy these writerly links. I sure did!

1. Brian Buckley’s sixteen simple rules for writers. Sadly, these are absolutely true. Wry and paradoxical, but true nonetheless.

2. Kate Hart provides a really nice visual breakdown of YA cover demographics. Conclusion: They are not all “dark.” In fact, they’re mostly white. And by white, she means ethnically.

3. In a lovely and unexpected analogy, Joelle compares writers to spiders.

The story when completed will snare a reader’s attention and wrap that person up in it until the story is done. The reader will then rest upon those delicately woven threads realizing that they have been caught up in the web that the author has created. Smiling and sated the reader will wait in delicious anticipation for the next story.

4. Last but not least, a LONG but inspiring keynote speech from bestselling romance writer Sherrilyn Kenyon about the hardships she faced and overcame. Makes my life seem like an afternoon stroll through a garden of roses.

In my darkest hour, my best friend who happened to be an editor for a magazine did the most incredible thing of all. She offered me work. “Now I know you haven’t written in awhile, but if you’re willing to do it…”

Oh my God, are you serious? I can get paid and not take off my clothes? I’m so there.

I hung up and went to the closet where my husband kept his old typewriter. Then I sat down on the floor — we had no furniture in our apartment at that time — and the moment my fingers touched those keys the most amazing thing happened. Every character. Every voice I’d silenced on that cold winter night when my brother had died, came back with a screaming clarity. I had no choice but to write.

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On death and closure (or lack thereof)

Don’t forget to comment on the July giveaway for your chance to win HALF A LIFE by Darin Strauss or THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL by Melissa Senate.

Not to be a downer, but death has been on my mind lately. A week ago, a young alum from my college died in a car accident. A few days later, a girl I knew from high school dance team passed away. Then of course there are the high-profile deaths: the tragic bomb and shooting in Norway, the train accident in China, Amy Winehouse.

Like that list, this post is going to be a bit disjointed. I’m going to jump from thought to thought, the way I do in my Reading Reflections. Only this time, I’m not responding to the lines of a story; I’m responding to life. To death.

• I feel a responsibility to remember. I feel guilty because I didn’t know the guy, despite our mutual connections. I could have known him, but I didn’t. I feel worse, I think, because I did know the girl, and she was a lovely person. But in many ways I didn’t know her well “enough” — I don’t have a right to real grief.

• We wish we could make sense of it all, wish that the deaths had a larger purpose. Maybe for some people they do. Me, I’m still mulling it all over. Is purpose something we are given, or something we create? Does it make a difference?

• I cannot imagine what that 90 minutes was like for those kids. Or maybe the problem is that I can imagine, and it’s beyond terrifying. (Side note: I couldn’t help thinking, And that WSJ book reviewer doesn’t think kids live in hell? Hah. I know it’s not a typical situation, but still. Shit happens. All the time, all over the world.)

• More people on Twitter and Facebook posted about Amy Winehouse than Norway. Then came the backlash: why does a celebrity with a history of drug abuse get more attention than innocent children? On the one hand, I understand that sentiment, but on the other, everyone is allowed their opinions, their feelings. Sorrow shouldn’t be a competition.

A recent piece in New York Magazine talked about how Twitter and Facebook may be more “lifelike” than books or articles,because of their lack of narrative structure. They don’t give happy endings or closure. They just simply record our natural timeline, reflecting our reactions as they unfold. Maybe that is more like real life. Maybe that’s never more clear than when we’re faced with death.

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July giveaway

Same rules as usual: Please leave a comment below and let me know which of these 2 books you’re interested in. If you’re interested in both, that’s fine. You have until the end of this month to enter, and then I’ll draw names at random and announce the winners on Mon, Aug 1st. Must have US mailing address — sorry, international friends!

Images and descriptions courtesy of GoodReads.

Half a Life: A MemoirHalf a Life: A Memoir
by Darin Strauss

“Half my life ago, I killed a girl.”

So begins Darin Strauss’ Half a Life, the true story of how one outing in his father’s Oldsmobile resulted in the death of a classmate and the beginning of a different, darker life for the author. We follow Strauss as he explores his startling past—collision, funeral, the queasy drama of a high-stakes court case—and what starts as a personal tale of a tragic event opens into the story of how to live with a very hard fact: we can try our human best in the crucial moment, and it might not be good enough. Half a Life is a nakedly honest, ultimately hopeful examination of guilt, responsibility, and living with the past.

The Love Goddess' Cooking SchoolThe Love Goddess’ Cooking School
by Melissa Senate

Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine — a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can’t make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that’s why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart.

So when Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy. But Holly’s four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla’s chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter’s heart. Juliet, Holly’s childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can’t find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla’s essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed — and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam… and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.

Kristan’s random note: I intensely dislike and disagree with the choice not to put the “s” after the possessive apostrophes in both “Strauss'” and “Goddess’.”

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Crunch time

So, my to-do list tells me that I’m supposed to blog today. However, my brain says that I’ve been telling people I want to finish the “first” draft of my novel by August. Y’all, that is only 13 days away. And I still have about 30k words to write. If you do the math (or let a calculator do it for you) that is roughly 2307.69 words a day — i.e., insanity.

But it’s my own dang fault. That finish line has been in the same spot for in months. Problem is, I haven’t been running toward it very quickly. In fact, I’ve sorta been walking. Stopping and smelling the roses, even. Maybe sprinting once or twice for the heck of it, but overall not really worrying, because hey, it’s no biggie, August is far, far away.

And now suddenly it’s not. Doh.

So for the next two weeks, I am making no excuses. I will not be good at commenting on blogs. I will not be good at responding to email. I will not be good at probably anything — except panicking, and making people at Panera/Starbucks/the library wonder how someone so young and able-looking could have degenerated into such a stinky, slouchy blob.

Fortunately, you don’t have to actually witness that. You can pretend I am calmly, peacefully dreaming my novel into existence. Like this:

steph painting cropped
(I wish.) Gorgeous painting by Stephanie Mooney for our friend and We Heart YA crit partner Ingrid.

In the meantime, if you want to read how I felt (more or less) about the last Harry Potter movie, click here. If you want to read how I felt (more or less) about the US vs. Japan Women’s World Cup Final, click here. And if you don’t want to do any of that, then just wish me luck please. I’m going to need it.

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