Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Elephant in the Room.

Today we're going to talk about...


The reason we're going to talk about deadlines is that there is one looming over my head like an elephant being held up by dental floss and, as such, my brain is not really capable of picking apart nuances of the writing process. So, sorry if this blog comes out a little rambly and stream-of-consciousness-ish. I promise I'll return to coherency next week after I have completed this draft.


Like the men in that car, I'm feeling a little concerned.

Deadlines are important though, despite the anxiety factor, especially for people like me. And by 'people like me', I mean people who turn procrastination into an art form. As much as I love to write, I always seem to be able to find eight hundred other things that I need to (or, often, simply can) do before I can settle in and really work. Often I require bribery, extortion, threats and, yes, looming elephants in order to get things done.

Why, you ask, if you love writing so much? I think it's a combination of things. Mostly it's because I have the attention span of a four week old cocker spaniel. It's also because the closer I get to finishing my novel, the closer I am to having to let it go. Soon I'm going to have to put it in the hands of someone who isn't Laura--who has been picking the plot apart since before the plot existed--and trust them with my baby. Trust them to love it, or hate it, or be completely indifferent to it. And that scares me.

However, I didn't write this manuscript so that I could hole up in a cave with it, stroke it and call it 'my preeeeecioussss'. I wrote it because I had something to say that I thought was important. Because I had characters in my head that wouldn't shut up. And because, at the end of the bribe-filled, elephant ducking day? Nothing makes me feel happier or more fulfilled than staring at my big pile of scribbled-on manuscript and knowing it is mine. I wrote it because I wanted the little girls I have been a nanny, babysitter, camp counselor, girl scout leader and big sister to, and the people who also read the books I love, to have, as John Green would say, a gift.

I wrote it because I wanted to share it with the world.

But the likelihood of the world ever being remotely interested in my gift is going to get even slimmer unless I meet this deadline. So, I guess I'd better get back to work

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Second Drafts & Finding My Way Out of the Forest.

Oh editing, how do I loathe thee, let me count the ways.

I won't really count the ways. I find it easier to be witty when not writing in list form. That doesn't mean I hate editing any less, however. I do. I really, really do.

While I was struggling madly this summer to finish my first draft of Unpolished Gem, people often gave me incredibly heartening encouragements such as, "You're almost over the hump!" and, "It's all easy after this!" and, "The hard part is almost done!" What I've come to realize, gentle readers, is that those people were either a) liars or b) some combination of sadists/masochists, (or, perhaps the most likely option, c) my friends and family who were hoping I'd stop crying and get off the floor). Because, while the idea that once a novel is written then all you have to do is fix it and that's easy is incredibly comforting while in the death throes caused by the end of a first draft? In my case, at least, it just didn't turn out to be true.

Sure, I hit lots of bumps while writing my first draft. Yes, I changed my mind six times as I wrote about the nature of my magical (not magical? full of magical people? just really freaking LARGE? uh, magical again?) forest and my draft reflects that, BUT I was pushing the story forward, I was getting to know my characters better, and (JOY OF JOYS) I was discovering how it would end! When it was done I felt accomplished, I felt invincible, I was the Queen of the World.

I had no idea what I was in for.

The problem with all those little inconsistencies and plot bumps I left behind to "go back and fix later"? Is that now... I have to go back and fix them. And while I know that editing is probably the most important part of the writing process, for me it lacks the thrill that comes with first telling a story. I know what happens now in this tale; I have three more stories in that back of my mind that want to be written - can't I move on to those?

No. I can't. Because I believe in my project, I believe in my story, and I believe in myself. Which means, no matter how frustrated I get, no matter how much I want to throw the computer and manuscript out the window every. single. time. that I find yet another reference to what I've come to affectionately think of as The Forest of Inconsistency, I have to soldier on. I have to turn on 'I Have Confidence' from the Sound of Music and sing it over and over and over again, loudly, until I remember that it's the things that scare me, that are hard, that are unfamiliar and frustrating, that are often the most rewarding, (and the most likely to get me married to a sexy Austrian naval captain).

Lest you think I'm giving second drafts a bad rap, mine has been helpful. Things make more sense. New storylines have emerged. My characters seem more three-dimensional. All of the good things that should happen with a second draft are happening. It's just that sometimes I get so bogged down in the semantics and the comma splices and That Damned Forest that I forget to focus on the good stuff.

Maybe that's what the second draft is really about in the end: finding your way out of The Forest of Inconsistency so you can see more clearly on the other side.

Okay, so, maybe I don't hate editing quite as much as I thought. Don't tell.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Have Returned!

Well, I sort of fail at updating this, don't I?

However, I've had a lot of requests that I start doing so again, so I will! I'm not going to try the twice a week schedule for right now, life it too crazy. I will pledge to update at least once a week, however.

To highlight how things have changed since I last updated the blog, (in JUNE, really? Sorry, guys), I have completed the first draft of my novel and am now almost done with the second draft. The book now has a title--thanks to my Awesome Aunt!--Unpolished Gem, and I've gotten a lot of really positive feedback. My primary Plan Sponsor, Laura C. Stevenson, (check out her books, especially The Island and the Ring and All The King's Horses, they're wonderful), and I have been really going after it and working out some of those first draft kinks. And, trust me, there were a lot of first draft kinks.

I've heard a lot of people say how much they prefer editing to writing the first draft lately. I'd like to state for the record that I am most certainly not one of those people. And I'll tell you why. In next week's post.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

These Fridays Just Keep Rolling Around, Don't They?

Today I had lunch with the lovely Casey, a friend of mine from Sirens. For those of you who don't know, Sirens was a fantasy conference I attended in October for four days, in Vail, CO. Last year we talked about women warriors. Right up my alley!

I always love meeting up with Casey for lunch or an event. We have such a great time together. We're both writers, both total nerds, and we have the same sassy, sarcastic kind of humor. It's also nice to be able to unload some of those writing insecurities on someone who understands them.

Today I told Casey about some of my worries regarding The Novel. Are people bored of quests? Are coming of age novels passé? I wouldn't say that that is all The Novel is about, but both are certainly strong components. Are people, I wanted to know, not going to be interested in a story about a girl who needs to grow-up and the journey that helps her do it because they've already read Tamora Pierce, Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine (among so many others!) doing it brilliantly? Has this book been written too many times?

The conclusion we came to was, no, it hasn't. These aren't original concepts. That doesn't mean it isn't completely possible to come at them in a new and interesting way.

I think people want a character they can root for. But, perhaps more importantly, they want a character they can relate to. Which means characters with flaws, anxieties, needs, and room to grow. The point of a story is to take a character on a journey from the start of the book to the finish. The events of a journey, or even of everyday life, change us. If a book ends with the exact same main character it had when it began, it wasn't a success in my eyes.

So yes, my heroine, Gem, goes on a quest. She comes of age. But as long as I keep my story well-paced, my characters interesting, and my plot different and exciting? People will want to read my story anyway. I know Casey wants to, anyway. That's one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Fabulous Friday



That's really all I have to say because, what could top that?

I know you're all thinking, "A whole novel?" And you're right. But that day will come. It will come in the next two months. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again!

I think I'll try to stick to the idea of a Tuesday and Friday blogging schedule. And it's Tuesday so I should probably think of something witty and fascinating to say. Right now. Oh dear.

I made, or perhaps re-made, a realization about my writing process today. Which is this: I respond extremely well to light-hearted bribery. Less well to threats. I'm under a lot of pressure from the Powers That Be (Laura, Tim and John, I LOVE YOU ALL, just to be clear) in regards to finishing The Novel by mid-August. Namely, if I don't have a completed first draft by then, I'm not supposed to re-enroll in my program for the semester. Which would, quite frankly, suck. It is my primary sponsor's last semester, so that would really mess me up. And, let's be honest, I'm so ready to be graduating come December. That should be enough to have had me writing up a storm since I got the news in May, right?


If anything I've found it HARDER to find my character's voices and sort out my plot. Probably because there is so much else going on in my head that they get drowned out. And because the pressure sure does take some of the fun out of creating.

But today, rather than yet again listening to me whine about how little progress I am making, my beloved Hannah C. Stuart set me some light-hearted goals. For every 500-or-so words I wrote I got a little piece of writing from her (and, let me tell you, I love Hannah's writing). I accomplished 1,400 words in under two hours.

The best part is that I feel capable again! I can see where I need to go, and I can hear my characters voices. It was just the kick-start I needed to get me going again. Thanks, Hannah!

I'm confident again that I can get this done by my deadline. I've got this. Plan? Plan is going to rue the day it challenged one Rebecca Mallary to a showdown.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I'm Back!

After months of not updating due to health issues, lack of internet, lack of time, and lack of sanity, I have returned! I'll be blogging on the progress I'm making with The Novel (name suggestions, folks? Five of Cups just didn't fit in the end), soon enough, but I thought I'd ease my readers back in with a book review I wrote about Robin McKinley's young-adult fantasy classic, The Hero and the Crown. The review was written with a teenage audience in mind, but I hope everyone can get a kick out of it. Enjoy!


It was 1985 when Robin McKinley first published her novel The Hero and the Crown. Thankfully, I don't remember much about that fine decade having made my appearance towards the tail end of it, but I've heard the stories. Neon spandex. Side-ponytails. Scrunchies. Leg warmers. Sure, all these things have a time and a place (hopefully a time and a place with a healthy dose of irony, ladies, please) but they certainly no longer have a place in everyday life. Nor do we turn on our radios to rock-out to Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls. So what use could a novel from back then be? Our main character, Aerin, is from fantastical medieval-style kingdom created in a decade when people willingly took to the streets wearing multi-coloured bicycle shorts; what could a modern girl possibly learn from her? The answer, as it turns out, is a heck of a lot.

Aerin is a princess with long red-hair, fair skin, and a whole mess of problems. Her entire life she's heard stories about her mother, who died giving birth to her. People say the Queen was a sorceress who bewitched the king into marrying her so she could produce an heir for their kingdom, Damar. The hitch? She died of despair when she realised she had born a baby girl.

Not exactly a legacy one would be jumping up and down to claim.

On top of all the whispers, Aerin just can't seem to fit in. She doesn't look like the other people in Damar, she has a beautiful, perfect cousin who delights in torturing her, and unlike the rest of the royal family she doesn't display a certain talent for...

Well, you'll find out if you read it.

Are you with our heroine yet? Ever felt like the odd one out? Ever worried that you'll never be as good as that other girl everyone seems to adore? Ever feel like no one sees you, or that everyone sees you for the wrong reasons? Seems like girls worlds, universes and decades over feel the same fears and insecurities, (even if they don’t share the same fashion sensibilities).

McKinley spins a story that is nearly impossible to put down. Like any good, modern girl, Aerin is not content to sit about the castle, feeling awkward, and letting everyone else have all the glory. She is smart, she is savvy, she is nurturing, kind and witty. And, most importantly, she is strong. The book features a princess and a tower, but it is in no way the tale of a doe-eyed, simpering maiden waiting for a prince to come along and save her. Aerin finds adventures around most corners, ones she seeks and ones she can’t escape. She makes mistakes, she kicks butt, and things don’t always turn out the way she plans. She finds love in unexpected places, and the most obvious of all.

A quarter of a century has not made The Hero and the Crown unreadable or outdated. Aerin’s struggle will inspire girls of today-- from our skinny jeans to our funky belts to our cardigans, and back again—as much as it spoke to the scrunchie-wearing crowd of yesteryear. Pick up a copy; you’ll be glad you did.