NaNoWriMo

Or something like that….

I’m committing to writing 50,000 words during November as part of National Novel Writing Month.  People from all over the country, pledged to complete a novel in 30 days. 

Well — complete 50,000 words of a first rough — usually really rough — draft.  Most novels these days are in the 80000 and up range.

Since I’m about 50,000 words from the end of In God’s Name (which will end up being 110,000 words) it seemed fated to participate this year. Friday, I had coffee with four other women in Ashland who are also participating.

One of the challenges of a writer’s life can be the solitude of it.  I like situ de better than most, but even I like the companionship of those with shared passions.  So NaNoWriMo tries to create community around what is essentially a solitary craft.  Of course with 1500 words to average each day, time is hard to come by for socializing.  Still, I do better with accountability, so I may use Friday coffee to keep me on track.

One young woman is part of a group of fantasy writers who use gaming to work out plot and characters.  They have gatherings where they dress in character and do role play.  How cool is that?

So I wrote 800 words today and edited in a 500 word chunk for a total of 1355 words.  Took 1hr15. Will need to build up speed and endurance, but I’m on my way.  

For more information visit the web site at http://nanowrimo.org.

Mrs. Doubtfire today

I went to the Cabaret  yesterday to see 39 Steps.  It was great fun, but as the actors took their bows I was troubled by the gender ratio — 3 men, one woman.  The roles in the play are more equitable, but one of the men played the “women of a certain age”. ( All of the actors play multiple roles except for the hero.) these women, played by a man, were played for laughs — ridicule really.  

And it isn’t the first show this season to feature men playing female parts.  As if the inequality of opportunities for women isn’t small enough because there is a gender bias in the crafting of the script — you’d think the world was 30 percent female instead of 56 percent, now we’re giving those parts to men….

A return to Shakespeare’s times where all the parts were played by men?

It is also troubling that older women are ridiculous in this scheme of things.  I was once told that if my newsroom was a movie, I’d be played by Holly Hunt (ala Broadcast News).  As I aged I used to joke that it was more likely to be Kathy Bates.  Now I fear, it might be John Candy….

Left brain, right brain

Not all the steps of writing are creative.  Developing the plot and characters, writing the first draft — that’s creativity at its purest.  We make something from nothing.  Awe-inspiring.  In fact, humans can’t not make a story.  We shape our lives in the retelling, making sense out of the events and emotions.  

But editing?  That’s an analytical function.  And there are several layers of editing between the creativity of the first draft and the final one.  Too often my beginning writers neglected this stage.  Others focused on it too much, reluctant to move on until that first paragraph — first sentence was just right. And then they froze.

For me , and for most writers I know, there’s a sequence that works best: create, then pause, then analyze.  In any given writing session, I have never been able to edit and then go on to write.  Write first, then switch to analyzing. 

I don’t try to edit for perfection the first time through.  Like sanding a table, you need to start with a rough grit sandpaper and progressively move to a finer grade.  No use fixing commas when you may delete that whole scene.

First pass

Structure and fact checking comes first.  Does this scene belong here or there? Or maybe it should be cut? How did I spell Rodriguez’s name?  How old was Janet during Desert Storm?  Does the pacing work? Are the chapter breaks in the right place? And on and on.  Some of that I may do during the first draft stage — but only after I’ve finished a scene.  And only after I’m done creating for the day.

Second Pass

Now it’s time to focus on the writing itself.  Did I say it well?  Can it be punchier?  Clearer? Richer?

I’m itchy about this right now in In God’s Name.  I just finished three crucial chapters, two of which I found very difficult to write.  One will need to be much more dramatic.  The other one switches point of view repeatedly — not good especially in a flashback  — and the language felt really clunky.  I’m resisting going back and revising them.  Better to move ahead and fix that later.  Who knows what may come up in future chapters that will affect these chapters?  

Writing can be like making pie dough.  Over mixing may make it tough and flat.  Best to use a light hand.

Third Pass

Now it’s time for the commas!  This is the copy editing stage.  Going over each sentence, each word, and yes those pesky commas.  

Then it’s time to hand it off to someone else for a copy edit. Changes are made, and then everything is proofed. And there will still be mistakes.  I always roll my eyes when people sneer about mistakes in a piece of work.  Marks them as an amateur.  Independently published, traditional publishing house — doesn’t matter.  Things slip through.  Still,  being a professional, says you strive for the cleanest copy you can.

So back to my novel.  Back to my creative draft.  Telling a story.

End of Week 2

In God’s Name is moving along.  Hit a rough spot last week — a migraine interfered with two days of writing — but more, it is time for a difficult flashback.  And so, I’m inching through it paragraph by paragraph.  Not necessarily a bad thing.  If it is emotionally difficult to write, it will be emotional to read.

Something I’m reminded of repeatedly: it is impossible to create and be emotionally closed down.  Creativity is the expression of our inmost selves. To write compelling fiction, I must tap readers’ emotions.  And I must be willing to tap my own first.  I wonder if that is the difference between stories that move us and those that only feel manipulative?  It only seems right that I open myself up to feeling deeply if that is what I am asking of my readers.

End of week 1

Two weeks ago, I decided I would pick up the pen again.  Or in this day, the keyboard.  The first week, I slowly made my way through In God’s Name, editing — again — the first 13 chapters.  And then last Sunday, I started chapter 14.

I promised to write for 30 minutes a day.  With a blog post on the weekend. (Here’s post three.)  And I have.  Thirty minutes isn’t very long, but in the week, I’ve written chapter 14 with 16pages, and I’m into chapter 15. 

Small, slow steps at first. My goal is to finish by Christmas.  And I will, even at this pace.

What I’ve been reading

Crucible Zero by Devon Monk

I have binged on this writer in the past.  I discovered one of her  books,  read its sequel.  Then I went to her earlier series and read all of those.  It took me maybe a week.  And then I had to wait for this conclusion to the original series.

I really admire Ms. Monk’s work. I also appreciate watching her talent mature.  And Crucible Zero didn’t disappoint.  It was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.  Wouldn’t really stand alone, but I don’t expect book three to do so.

It was, however, extremely straightforward. When I was growing up there was an old hymn that said “We’re marching, marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion…” I often hear that song (usually sung loudly and slightly off key) with plots like these.  No real twists.  Straightforward objective.  See the hill, take the hill and then go home.  Or to Zion.  

It can be done well, as it was here.  Or not so well.  Or just flat out boring.  But I’m always left a bit flat.  It seems to me that plots are best circular — a spiral actually — that return you to the starting point, only changed for better or for worse.  Straight line plots are like straight roads across the plains.  You get there quickly, but the scenery gets old.

The Lost Series by Cynthia Eden

I usually read Cynthia Eden’s paranormal books.  But this suspense series (two books so far) caught my eye.  I like her books, and these return to a lower-key writing style.  

I particularly like her ability to create characters who have emotional scars but who open up to love one more time.  Sounds sappy, but her characters never are.  

Aurora: Eden by Amanda Bridgeman

I’ve had some issues with this series, and I’m not sure I’ll buy the next one.  This book rambled and took a loooong time to make very little progress in the series arc.  Meh.

But more troubling is the gender roles.  And now the complicating issue is the parentage of the twins by different fathers.  Much is made of the fact that the fathers and grandparents need to be involved in his child’s life alone.  It seems to me that the actual genetic father is irrelevant. I expect parents with genetic and adopted children to love both equally.  Yes this is a bizarre twist,  but the drama over it doesn’t work.

It seems like the author needed a plot device to increase the emotional trauma,  and is milking this one for more than it can really give.  She has so many good ideas that really this one isn’t needed.  Most certainly its being asked to do more work than it should.