Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A WIP seen through a glass darkly. Very darkly.

I'm happy to report that yesterday's writing went very well (I'm relieved too - I'd been stuck for a couple of days, and at this late stage that makes me very anxious). I ended up creating a brand new scene with one of my favorite characters and even throwing in a little romantic tension (ooooooh).

Come to think of it, I haven't explained my creative project in the context of this blog, so I suppose I should do that to give some sort of face to these writing updates. I'm working on a YA fantasy novel of approximately 100,000 words. I've recently learned that you are not supposed to post plot details about WIPs (works in progress) online, because of one in a million plagiarism concerns. So I guess I'll just say that if you crossed Eragon with A Wizard of Earthsea, set it in the middle of The Secret Garden, and dusted it with a pinch of The Queen of Attolia, you'd come up with something that's more or less unlike my book. :)

Here's hoping this blog post will launch me into another successful writing session! (Got to write yet another sword sparring scene. Why do I do this to myself? Why?)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Scaredy Cat on the Block

I've recently been discovering that at the root of much of my bouts of writer's block is fear. This is actually a discovery I make periodically, and then somehow manage to forget. I suppose this is because I don't like the idea of myself trembling in front of my own keyboard as Dorothy's new companion, the cowardly novelist! But deep down inside there's always a little nibbling voice: What if my story's not good enough? What if my story's good enough, but I'm not good enough to write it? And I find that these fears get worse the deeper I get into editing. During the first draft, one can always say to one's self, "Self! It's ok if it sucks. First drafts are SUPPOSED to suck." But that mantra doesn't work so well by draft four.

There are a couple of strategies I've found for silencing this block inducing scaredy cat. One is to acknowledge that I'm afraid, remind myself that courage doesn't mean a lack of fear but going forward in spite of it, and shoving forward as hard as I can. Sometimes this works. Sometimes not.

Much more helpful is remembering I am my primary reader. As long as I write a story that makes me happy, everything else is secondary. A very big, very important secondary, yes, but if my book makes me happy, then I'm ok. And that lets me step back, forget the imaginary hordes who will someday line up to buy my bestseller (maybe), and ask, "What would *I* like to see happen next?"

So, all that to say, I'm trying to write a brand new chapter for the draft tonight, and I'm feeling a little nervous about it. It has the potential to be very cool, but also to go absolutely nowhere. So, tonight I am trying to ask, "Self! What would you like to see happen next?"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Geriatric Jive

The other day, I spotted this old guy at the gym. Actually, he was kind of hard not to notice. He would plant his cane in front of him, and then shuffle up to it in time to the peppy beat pounding down from the sound system. And I thought, that’s who I want to be when I grow up. The old lady doing the electric slide with her walker.

Groove on, old guy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Learning is like a giant paper-mache doughnut

First things first. Here is a link for Maggie Stiefvater's blog which I forgot to add after raving about it in my last post, just in case anyone wants to check it out.

On to the topic of the day: LEARNING!

The other day, my totally awesome kung-fu teacher (and you thought I was kidding about going to school while standing on one leg) was trying to help us understand the value of daily practice, even when it doesn't seem to be making any difference in our performance. She said it was like a tree with life-giving sap creeping up inside. At first, only the very bottom of the trunk is alive, but over time the sap inches up until even the highest branches are vibrant with life. In other words, every practice is another inch.

But did I see myself as a majestic oak, spreading its mighty branches to the sky? No. Being me, I imagined a plastic palm tree with a bicycle pump attached.

So, as I searched for an image that did work for me, I remembered a giant paper-mache doughnut I made in art class my junior year of high school. First, I twisted newspaper into a general doughnut shape and wrapped it with masking tape. Then I spent weeks coating it in dozens of layers of newspaper. Apply a layer, let it dry. Apply a layer, let it dry. Apply a layer, let it dry -- until I never wanted to read a newspaper or eat a doughnut ever again. I could have slacked off halfway through, and slapped on a lot of glossy paint the first time I got bored. The result might have been pretty, but it would have collapsed the first time a seventh grader stole it off the display shelf and punted it across the library. Instead, I stayed the course and got something that could have been a Blunt Object in an Agatha Christie novel.

And I've realized that this is the way I learn. I never get it right the first time. I had to read Romeo and Juliet five times before I got what all the fuss was about. I had to write three dozen school essays before I realized that I had things to say that hadn't already been put into books. And I had to practice approximately 7,978 palm strikes in kung-fu before I even came close to getting them right. But now, not only can I do those things, but I can do them well, so well that when a seventh grader takes them and punts them across the library, they don't fly into pieces.

Finally, I think that writing a novel works that way too. The first draft is really just an idea, with characters who behave in more or less consistent ways as they stumble through a landscape that changes every time you see a new special on the travel channel. Second draft, your characters begin to figure out who they are, only unfortunately, you don't like your heroine--in fact, you can't stand her. Third draft, you kill your baby and replace her with a much more engaging (hopefully) twin, who (you discover one day while missing your exit on the freeway) has a brother. Fourth draft, you've finally got characters you wouldn't be ashamed to introduce to your mother, although your plot is sort of like pastry when it hasn't got enough water and refuses to stick together. Fifth draft - well, I'm not sure what happens in the fifth draft, but when I find out, I'll let you know :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

An Introducion and Maggie Stiefvater

I've never been any good at journaling. I always get bored after a couple of weeks at most, probably because whenever I open the cover of a new journal, I feel compelled to write something like "Resolutions" or "Expenses." No wonder I never make it past page four.

Nevertheless, after a long period of resistance, I am at last sticking a toe (although I do have very big big toes) into the world of blogging. I wish I could say this stemmed from some noble resolution to develop a healthy habit of self-introspection or a desire  to connect with my fellow human beings, but really, it's because Maggie Stiefvater is SO COOL.

Maggie is a YA urban fantasy author, whose most recent novel, Linger, debuted as #1 on the NYT bestseller list. But this is not why she is SO COOL (although it doesn't hurt). Maggie (I'm pretty sure she won't mind me calling her Maggie) has a blog, the first blog I've ever followed with any kind of sustained interest, and I find it perfectly awesome. It's upbeat, it's varied, it's lively, and I always come away feeling more cheerful about things in general. She also gives great writing advice, which I, as an aspiring novelist, really appreciate. In short, she showed me that a blog doesn't have to be a slog (there's a slogan for you), and thus was born my ambition to be Just Like Maggie. (Well, not really. I don't want her kids, or her husband, or her dogs, and I'm happy living in Texas instead of Virginia, and I don't really want to write about werewolves, either, although I did enjoy her book. But you know what I mean.)

This blog exists in two places: Blogger.com and livejournal. It is exactly identical in both places, but since the cool people I know in real life are on blogger, and the cool people I wish I knew (Maggie, and the fabulous Megan Whalen Turner Sounis community for starters) are on livejournal, I decided to split the Gordian knot and do both. You can friend me on either site without missing anything.

Thus, my experiment in blogging begins. Here we go!