September 12th, 2022
A Sort of Poem for My Wonderful Beta Readers
I've been sitting at my desk inside a blue balloon, finishing this draft of Netted Chain Creek.
I floated above the earth and am now friendly with the moon, the stars, the sun.
But near my feet waits a needle the length of my arm.
It’s almost time to pop this thing, to end this creative isolation.
I’ve warned you that my words are coming your way.
This story is only mine now, and that's not enough.
I hope it deserves more than my two clouded eyes.
After hundreds of sentences and hundreds of hours, too close and it’s too blurry.
Too far and it's unfamiliar. Strange, even.
What’s in my head may have missed the page by thousands of miles.
What’s in my head may be too jumbled.
So, to my wonderful reader friends, please tell me what I’ve forgotten. Avoided.
Where the pieces come unglued.
What’s hiding in the woods or dead and bloated on the bottom of the lake?
What can’t you hold because it’s thinner than air?
What makes you happy or disappointed or angry or bored?
My skin doesn’t pop with a needle. Do be thorough. I can take it.
My book can take it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
January 9th, 2022
Happy New Year!
I finished my first draft of Netted Chain Creek in the middle of November, well ahead of the date I’d been aiming for (January 1st). I must admit I zipped through the last chapters with wild abandon, certainly inspired by all the Nanowrimo folks, so I might have some alarmingly bad writing waiting for me when I get to those areas to revise.
I’ve been thinking about this draft in terms of numbers:
9.8.20 was the day I wrote page 1.
There are 98,335 words in this first completed draft (eek).
I have 2 very different POVs.
I have 2 timelines that intersect.
I have a 151,554 Word document I titled “Brainstorming for NCC.” It’s still growing.
Page 218 of my draft is the approximate location of my current Midpoint. Considering I’ve created a 350-page book, if this draft were a tent and the poles were all plot points, it wouldn’t stand up. (Basically, my first half is probably too dense, my second half is maybe too rushed, and the whole thing is too long overall.)
I have filled 1 3/4 college-ruled notebooks with handwritten notes, because sometimes writing by hand gets my 1 tired brain to reset.
I cycled through 6 pairs of reader glasses daily. (This book killed my eyeballs. So long, 20/20.)
I read 36 novels during 2021 (missing my Goodreads challenge by 4, unfortunately).
Who knows how many hours I’ve spent daydreaming?
Who knows how many other documents I’ve opened and filled with outlines, notes, character studies, etc.? I bet I’ve written 500,000 words trying to complete this first draft.
I am overwhelmed by how much effort and time and heart I’ve put into this monster. I also know that if I were to hand it to a reader right now, they just might say, “It took all that to make this?”
There’s still SO MUCH WORK TO DO.
Good thing I love it.
October 28th, 2021:
How I love this quote by George Saunders:
“If you know where a story is going, don’t hoard. Make the story go there, now. But then what? What will you do next? You’ve surrendered your big reveal. Exactly. Often, in our doubt that we have a real story to tell, we hold something back, fearing that we don’t have anything else. And this can be a form of trickery. Surrendering that thing is a leap of faith that forces the story to attention, saying to it, in effect, ‘You have to do better than that, and now that I’ve denied you your trick, your first order solution, I know that you will.’”
This has been one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever read. In the past I've clung to the idea of some Big Reveal in my stories—that big, amazing twist—imagining just how powerful it’s going to be when I finally get there. But what can happen then is that everything else seems like filler along the way, not necessarily titillating build-up. The story can become predictable, or even silly, by the time you write that Big Reveal. Readers might tire of your continued withholding of information, and it takes great skill to keep those kinds of secrets for pages and pages without plot holes and/or characters who continually can't put two-in-two together. (Nothing worse than getting irritated with a character because you know a person in real life would never miss so many clues or opportunities or get so distracted, and you're aware that this is happening because the character can't know too much yet for the advancement of the plot.)
Now when I'm working on my WIP I brainstorm by asking myself questions like this: “Hm. But what if this BIG EVENT happens in Chapter Two? What if it’s not the climax after all?” Or: “What if my characters already know this truth? What if the reader does?” This way of thinking has tremendously improved my writing. It has challenged me to be more imaginative, helped me with pacing, and opened my mind to new, creative directions for my stories. It’s surprising how many unique ways you can tell your story. It’s like creating your own Choose Your Own Adventure for yourself. Or...creating your own maze with lots of twists and turns and dead-ends to maneuver through—and it’s so much fun.
May 7th, 2021:
Just jumping on here to recommend Lisa Crohn's STORY GENIUS.
This week I pulled out that trusty book after a long time away, and it helped me access all that was in my head for my WIP but hadn't found its way onto paper yet. It was so exciting to have an entire outline for two timelines just spill out of me...and make sense in how they're woven together! I know from A LOT of experience that things can (and should) drastically change throughout the creation of a real book,* but I'm still pretty darn excited about having a clearer idea of how to get from my beginning to the end in this draft!
Plotting this one seems incredibly important because with two POVs and a dual timeline every word has to truly count. I have two character arcs and story arcs to complete this time around. I can be a longwinded writer, so I don't want to waste any space with paragraphs I'll have to later murder, and I hope I'm saving myself some time in revisions. We shall see...
At any rate, the creative process while writing a novel simply ebbs and flows. This week it has flowed. This week my characters are having full-on conversations in my head while I'm driving my car or doing the dishes. It's a wonderful thing, welcoming them in. And I'm so, so sorry that they're going to have such a hard time. :)
(I can't tell them yet that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, and that they'll come out better on the other side!)
* Regarding how books transform during the process of their creation: My latest book, DEAR BONES, was first written in the POV of Jill, and Richard was the side character. I wrote it nanowrimo-style, all the way through, now years ago. When I came back to it over a year later, I had a mess of 100,000 words and I trashed probably 75% of it, but somehow there was a story in there I wanted to tell. And I learned I really wanted Richard to have more space, because when I reread my story, my heart followed him. So I then attempted two POVs--Jill's and Richard's.
But I struggled with Jill's. I knew who I wanted her to be, but I didn't like being in her head. She sometimes seemed too simple. She fought with me. I kept trying to make her better than she was. I must've used thousands of words brainstorming what made her tick, and I did understand her over time, but in the end it was only Richard's story I wanted to tell. So DEAR BONES became his book, and Jill became his side character. I don't know why it took me such a long time to figure it out, and I've lost track of how many drafts I wrote. When I think back on writing DEAR BONES, I know there were some really hard times where I was stuck, stuck, stuck. It's such a difficult process but I absolutely love it. I'll never tire of creating stories and hearing my characters talking to each other in my head.