Thursday, April 21, 2016

Taking a Break

Two weeks ago my sister came into town to help me paint my entry way and hall. Yadda, yadda, yadda, we painted my dining room too. In the interests of my own sanity I took a break from writing. I gave myself permission to just skip it all for 7 luxurious days of rest...wherein I was on an extension ladder sweating myself dry and edging places that have not been touched for years. So, to review: hall, upstairs landing, dining room and three separate alcoves. It was colossal.

But, if I'm honest, part of the reason I was so happy to take a break is that I was kind of at a sticky place in Chapter 11 and, my oh my, was it ever hard to come back from ignoring it! I took a pill in Ibiza, so to speak, and stepped off the rollercoaster...

The chapter I turned in this week to my critique group ended up being short and poorly-written and I fully expect to catch flack for it. But I am so glad I've got the writers group to pull me through those times when I just don't want to write and I feel like the well is dry...or an oozing brown puddle at best.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Blocking

I recently turned a chapter into critique group that I was a bit proud of. It had four very interesting characters in a room together with four different and sometimes conflicting missions. The dialog was killer. There was chemistry, America.

But like Spartacus entering the coliseum, the poor thing took a beating. Rightfully so.

What was so wrong?

First, I wanted to have two of the characters have a private conversation so I'd invented a cute little character that would draw them away from the rest of the group but not keep them. But they could get away without her so, Miss Octavia Sandringham, aged and delightful companion of our grande dame, is no more. She's been murdered. Well, maybe not murdered. But she's axed for these purposes. May she live to sort silks by the fire another day.

Second problem was that the couple I wanted to have talking could have a much more interesting time hanging out in the group. Remember those competing missions? Funner to watch if you can see them clashing.  

So, long story short, it's another big rewrite and I'm so glad I've got my critique group.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Filler

In between one and two hour stints of Writing the Novel, I have these chunks of time where stringing together coherent thought is a non-starter. I'm a stay-at-home-parent and my dream is that my daughter gets her crayons out and is coloring quietly at the clean surface of the table while I tippity-tap out a work of genius on the laptop at her side. Occasionally, in this Cloud Cuckoo Land, we turn to one another and crinkle our eyes in an understanding smile that says, "I'm doing my own thing. You need your personal space. I feel you." Instead, it's March and I live in Portland and I have a nasty case of cabin fever but it's so cold and wet and I don't want to go anywhere enriching with my toddler. **whine whine whine whine me me me**

On days like this, the Littlest Pledge likes to lay on the couch and catch up with Daniel Tiger and likes when I fling an arm over her body which is not conducive to anything more than surfing the web and getting a cramp.

It's nice at times like this, to have filler. Checking Twitter. Filler. Reading blog posts for research. Filler. Browsing Pinterest. Filler.

All of this would ordinarily be a time suck but if I'm not doing anything, it's not a bad way to feel like I'm getting somewhere.

Today, I ended up making several character profiles for my novel. I copied images of what I thought my character looked like and popped them onto a google doc. For each character, I kept my inspirations down to one or two actors (mostly) and tried to get images of several different moods and expressions--with 4-6 pictures. I then wrote a paragraph that began: (Name of character) would like you to know that...

It was a good way to distill what the motivations of these people I have created really were and also get into their own head a little. I was surprised by some of this. Some of the characters came to me fully realized. Others of them needed more fleshing out.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Wandering in the Weeds

It's been a busy few weeks at Casa Dominguez.

I was accepted as a cast member of that show I was trying out for and feel like I really nailed my audition. (Good for me for sticking my neck out and trying something new!)

A few days later, I woke in the dark watches of the night and realized that I had made a massive (though not irreversible) mistake in the subject of the essay that got me accepted and decided I had to step out of the production!
Over here! Let's plant the flag of your personal integrity on this firm soil!

Oh, America, it was a dark, dark time. So much self-recrimination. So much self-doubt.  So many apologies. The subject of the essay was a major insecurity of a young person(YP) I love. And I ignored my native good sense and wandered into the weeds by writing about it. I had strapped on my blinders and wrote the best story I could think of (and it was pretty great) and didn't think through the implications of publicity and discovery as thoroughly as I ought to have. The YP was pretty great and kind but didn't want it shared and I could not fault YP at all.

My writing group, which is the best, helped me find the courage to write an email to the producer. I had so much guilt not only for writing the story but for also letting these fine ladies down. But they could not have been more understanding and nurturing and after talking to them, I felt a massive weight roll off my shoulders. I was doing the right thing.

So what's the take-away? I guess it's that sometimes I'm going to make unforced errors. Sometimes I'll foul up and it'll be all my fault. I was ultimately able to wrest back control of what was going to happen but it took being willing to walk an uncomfortable road--uncomfortable for me and inconvenient for others.

But I stuck my chin out a few times and that's good. I encountered kindness and that's good. I am not tempted to run back to my burrow and that's good too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Blockage

Actual quote from author Betty Neels: "I should like a plunger, sir."
My writing group has a few rules...and by "rules", I mean it in the "guidelines" sort of way. We submit 10 pages each Wednesday. I'll send my own off in an email and print up the ones that come to me and mark them up and comment on them in a hopefully constructive way. And then on Friday mornings we get together and hash it all out.

Well, I've been ahead of the game for a few weeks and have used my spare time to write for that show I mentioned before and to completely overhaul the two bedrooms of three of my Pledges. So, it hasn't been wasted time but I certainly haven't been burning up the keyboard for more than two weeks.

But today is Wednesday. And I could submit the chapter I have. It was enough different as a draft that there would still be good criticism I could glean. But every time I've sat down to edit, my head feels like the glue at the bottom of a bottle of Elmers--thick and slow.

So, last night I sat down because it's Tuesday and I've got to get cracking, right? Long story short, as soon as I decided to rewrite the blasted thing from the ground up, the words poured from my fingers. Blarg. Blarg, Hooray.

It's so much better. It was one of those "everybody-sits-around-a-tea-table-and-talks" chapters and now we're cooking with gas.  Everyone is doing something interesting and plot and character-driven and I'm not bored to tears when I read it.

I suppose the moral of the story is that this blockage came from a real antipathy to what I had written. It wasn't just laziness or exhaustion that kept me busy on other projects. It was a real confusion over what to do with what I had.

The only prescription? Ground-up rewrites.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Twitter

Eloise, my darling, your hat is as hideous 500 miles away as it is when we're together.
I have joined Twitter in the last few months to connect with and follow favorite authors, agents, publishers and friends. I am surely not the first to wax anxious over the limits of 140 characters and feel myself echoing the words of Pledge 2: "So Twitter. What's that about?"

One of the things I've found helpful is being able to follow researchers writing about the era I'm also writing about. They serve up bits and bobs of information that can spin off a thousand different ways and careful curation of a list of resources like this has really improved my internet reading.

Another byproduct of following authors on Twitter is being able to see their social media presence in an intimate way. The best of them are engaged with their readers, focused on writing (theirs and others), and friendly. I also notice that they tend to have 'visiting hours', so to speak, that they set aside for social media instead of a steady trickle during the day.

Because I am a notoriously late adopter, I am terrified that my joining signals that their stock will bottom out and that it will be a graveyard of empty accounts in no time. #hopenot

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sticking Your Neck Out

Marie can do it.  You can too!
So this is the part that scares me the most--self-promotion, seeking out criticism, competition.  It all leaves me with the feeling that a dying salmon is flopping desperately in the pit of my stomach.  The thing about it is that I think I've got potential to grow as a writer but this has an entirely different skill-set than the jazz hands of authorial salesmanship.

To that end I found this great quote from Lord Byron about beheadings:
The day before I left Rome I saw three robbers guillotined—the ceremony—including the masqued priests—the half-naked executioners—the bandaged criminals—the black Christ & his banner—the scaffold—the soldiery—the slow procession—& the quick rattle and heavy fall of the axe—the splash of the blood—& the ghastliness of the exposed heads—is altogether more impressive than the vulger and ungentlemanly dirty "new drop" & dog-like agony of infliction upon the sufferers of the English sentence (i.e. hanging). The head was taken off before the eye could trace the blow—but from an attempt to draw back the head—notwithstanding it was held forward by the hair—the first head was cut off close to the ears—the other two were taken off more cleanly;—it is better than the Oriental way (i.e. with sword)—& (I should think) than the axe of our ancestors. The pain seems little—& yet the effect to the spectator—& the preparation to the criminal—is very striking & chilling. The first turned me quite hot & thirsty—& made me shake so that I could hardly hold the opera-glass (I was close—but determined to see—as one should see everything once—with attention) the second and third (which shows how dreadfully soon things grow indifferent) I am ashamed to say had no effect on me—as a horror—though I would have saved them if I could.
— Lord Byron, 1817

A) That's really good writing.
and
B) The upshot is that I signed up to audition for a show this week--requiring a short essay on some topic about motherhood--and I hope that doing things like this over and over will soon make it feel as blase' as a second beheading.