Category: Big Ideas

Trying Again

Way back when I first started this project, I toyed with the idea of writing some scenes out of narrative order, just as they came to me, so I could preserve them when they were fresh in my mind. Most of the time when I’m thinking about future scenes I see them as pictures in my mind, a little snippet from a movie. It’s only when I’m actually writing them, or working up to writing them, that I start to think about them in words and sentences. I tried writing one scene ahead of time in chapter two, but found it really awkward when it was time to actually fit it into the narrative. It wasn’t the same seamless transition I’m used to having when I write from beginning to end, so I kind of gave up on that idea. Until today.

For whatever reason, one of the key scenes from Book Three started coming to me in words instead of pictures this afternoon. Why, I’m not sure, but you can bet that since I won’t be getting around to even starting Three for at least a couple years, maybe longer, there was no way I was letting it slip by or trying to hold onto it in my mind until then. So now I have a new doc called Random Scenes, with a fresh 1,000 words in it. I guess time will tell if this new attempt will pay off, since I won’t get to that point for a long while, but it was a positive experience today, getting it all down and out of my head while I had it locked down. If it happens again, I’ll probably do the same thing. I even included what might amount to a brief outline beforehand, explaining what happens immediately before and after the scene I wrote, so I know where in the narrative it fits.

Honestly I think I’m moving closer and closer to making an actual outline, to get rid of some of the confusion I have over what happens when. There are all these mini-movie scenes floating around in my head, but I keep moving them around and I’m not sure where they all fit in relation to each other, sometimes. Maybe once I’m finished One, while I give myself a bit of a break before I start editing my first draft, I’ll take some time to nail down a really solid outline. In the meantime I have an Ideas doc for when bits of dialogue and stray thoughts need to be recorded, and this more formal future scenes doc for when I want to actually write them out in full detail.

Incidentally the one I wrote today is a real turning point for the entire story as a whole. Something major changes in Callie, something that sets her off in a completely new direction from that point forward. It needs some work – it’s a dark point and I want to make it even darker than it already is – but the bones are there, the basic structure, which I can hopefully build on, and with my before-and-after notes, I should be able to fit it into the rest of the story nicely once I get to that point. My previous issue with the scene in chapter two, I think, was that I wrote the orphan scene first, then wrote the before and after, then tried to cram the orphan in between them. I think next time if I stop after the before (this is going to get convoluted here), paste the orphan in, then write the after, the transitions will be a lot smoother. At least that’s what I hope. I’ll report back in 2015 or something with an update.

And I’m still writing up a storm on my vacation. I’m on track to have 15-16,000 words written by the time I go home in two days. I hadn’t really set a firm goal beforehand, but I’d thrown the number 10,000 around in my head as something I’d be thrilled to accomplish. Who knew I’d be so motivated, so inspired and so full of fresh ideas? Every other time I’ve tried to write on a non-writing-retreat holiday has always come up as an abject failure. I wonder now if this is my new routine, my new normal that I can maintain once I’m back into the swing of things at home, or a short-lived burst of productivity? Time will tell, I guess. All I know is I have a seven-hour drive ahead of me, and driving always stirs up all kinds of interesting things inside my head.

I Don’t Believe in Destiny, But…

A friend just brought up the Myers-Briggs test in a conversation online, and, while I’ve done the test before, it’s been awhile since I’ve read the definition of my type. I’m an INFP – Introversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Perception. I’ve always tested fairly extreme in each of those categories. Looking at the Wikipedia page and its definition of INFPs, one description stands out to me:

INFPs are creative types and often have a gift for language. As introverts, they may prefer to express themselves through writing. Their dominant Feeling drives their desire to communicate, while their auxiliary intuition supplies the imagination. Having a talent for symbolism, they enjoy metaphors and similes.

So there you go. I’m hard-wired to be a writer or something. And it looks like I’m in very good company too. (seriously, Orwell, Poe, Lee, Rowling, Lovecraft, Shakespeare?) (Ignore Nicolas Cage and the sparkly vampire guy).

I still believe it’s something I work hard at. I certainly wasn’t born great, or even good, and I’ve put in hundreds and hundreds of hours over the years to learn and improve. But it’s cool to know that my aptitude for writing seems to be personality-based, and that there’s a reason why I spend half my waking hours building castles in the sky, and the other half trying to record them.

Orphan Scenes

Ever have ideas for a scene that’s completely isolated from your story – just a vignette, a brief moment in time, that forms so vividly in your brain you just know you have to use it somewhere? I do all the time, but then I’m stuck with trying to figure out where it could fit into the story arc in a way that’s organic and makes sense. I had one such scene develop this morning as I was semi-conscious – prompted by my desire to start making soup in the fall – and it’s been spinning around inside my head ever since, developing layers, dialogue and feeling. I really like it, and I think it could prove to be an important moment between two of my characters.

Problem is, I have no idea where to put it, or how to develop the story in a way where having it occur would make sense. I mean, I’m sure I’ll figure it out somewhere down the road, but since it’s so detailed in my mind now, I’d like to know where its eventual home will be now. Nothing to do but write down a few notes about it and hope I can find it a good home eventually. I know I don’t want to shove it in there somewhere just for the sake of having it because I thought it up and I’m all enamoured with it right now.

In other news, I thought up the ending to The Unravelling today. I’ve known how the climactic scenes leading up to the end of the book were going to come together ever since I’ve had the idea for the story, but I haven’t been sure quite where one book ended and the next began. Today, I know, down to the very last line, and I’m going to write that down too so I don’t forget it like I have other important details.

Not too bad for a couple hours’ lazing around in bed, hey?

Update: and a couple hours later, once again when I was laying in bed (this time waiting for my youngest to fall asleep) I know exactly where I’m going to put today’s orphan scene. My bed may have magic creative powers.

Bookish

As a rule, I try to avoid reading how-to or theory books, because I prefer to follow my own instincts and find my own way in life. Too much reading on a subject – let’s say parenting, which my life mostly revolves around these days – only leads to eventual conflicting information and viewpoints, and a whole hell of a lot of confusion and second-guessing oneself. At least it does for me. The authors of these types of books don’t know me or my family and our specific circumstances, so I feel they aren’t qualified to dictate how we do things. If I’m looking for advice I’d much rather turn to friends who do know me, and may have been in similar circumstances. In this respect I am wealthy indeed, because I have a wonderful community of supportive friends.

Same goes for writing. I figure I can muddle my way through better on my own because I’m the one who’s most familiar with the particular mechanisms of my brain and how it likes to develop a process for writing. I did buy one book to help me outline and flesh out the basics, Ready, Set, Novel, which I started with the best of intentions, and is now gathering dust on the shelf. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t get to know what her characters are all about until she starts writing them, and I found it impossible to fill out before I’d begun my story. Someday, I may get back to it and finish filling it out now that I know more about these people.

Other than that and my copy of CP Style which I’ve had since the early 2000s and my j-school days, that’s it for writing assistance. In this instance I’m not against it, but I don’t want to fill my head with all kinds of how-to information and have that drown out my own creative process. When I find all the things wrong with the manuscript when I’m done – and I know there are many at this point – that’s where I can turn to experts to help me solve those problems.

I suppose I can do that with my kids as well – when they’re in therapy three times a week I can read all kinds of child psychology and development books and find out where I went off the rails. However I imagine kids are a lot harder to edit than first drafts. Oh well.

Anyway, I read this interview on Terribleminds and immediately thought, this is the sort of book I could find useful, here and now. And today my copy of Wired for Story by Lisa Cron came in the mail.

Blowing.

My.

Mind.

I’m only a few chapters in and I’m already seeing so much that I could stand to improve, but also what I’m really nailing (admittedly a lot of the latter I wasn’t even aware I was doing, which either makes me unconsciously awesome or one lucky biotch). I want to make notes, highlight things, create charts, maybe even (gasp!) an outline (don’t hold your breath there, it still wigs me out a lot).

Anyway, I’m really into this book. I like how it’s based in science instead of opinion, because I can get behind science. Science makes sense. And the rest of the chapters, based on my totally superficial evaluation of their titles, look like they’re going to be awesome too. So while I probably won’t be writing any new material for the next couple of days, my time spent reading will (hopefully) help me to reach a point where when I do start up again, it will be with a clearer focus on my goals and what I need to include in order to make the story the best it can be.

Can’t wait!

The Slump

I suppose everyone goes through it – that period of time where you just don’t want to write anything. Mine’s about one week in right now, and my not writing has really bled into my everyday life. I haven’t been all that enthusiastic about anything, frankly, and not sleeping well either. Whether that’s caused by my break from the keyboard, or is the cause, I can’t be certain, but this past week hasn’t been pretty, let me tell you.

I think a lot of it had to do with my not being too certain on the outcome of a scene that I’m in the middle of. I left it off right before the turning point because it was late and I was tired, but then I began to second-guess what I’d originally planned. I just wasn’t feeling it. So then I thought of an alternate outcome, but that felt even worse to me. Although it would be maybe more satisfying to readers in the short term, it didn’t fit with the overall story arc and would have made things a lot messier down the line. So I’ve been stewing, going back and forth between Option A and Option B, feeling impatient to get to the next bit after this scene, which I’m very, very certain about.

Then Secret Option C snuck into my head yesterday, right when I was at my lowest point and frustrated over my inability to make up my mind. Secret Option C uses elements from both Options A and B, with a completely different outcome than either of them. It feels right. And now if I can step away from the blog for a bit, I’ll get down to writing it. I’ve missed these people. I want back into their world.

Why Didn’t I Think Of This Four Months Ago?

Fact: When I write, I’m often distracted by other things online, switching back and forth between my doc and various browser tabs that have nothing to do with research.

Fact: My usual output is anywhere from 300 to 700 words an hour.

Fact: This week I’ve had very limited internet access because I’ve been away from home, out in the sticks, but I’ve still managed to snag the rocket stick when I wanted to write.

Fact: This afternoon I couldn’t get the rocket stick but I decided to write without it anyway, figuring I’d give up quickly after I couldn’t research some tiny point.

Fact: I actually wrote 1,300 words in an hour. That’s probably a speed record for me.

Fact: From now on when it’s time to write I’m going to turn off the wifi capability on my laptop and only turn it on in cases when I actually need to. Facebook doesn’t count as a need.

Fact: It took me about 100,000 words over two novels to discover this about my writing routine.

Fact: I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes.

Ideas

Where a writer gets his or her ideas is apparently a hot topic. Obviously, fiction writers need to have a good imagination and creativity to spare, but the source of the inspiration is pretty varied. Dreams, true events, childhood experiences, even a mystical muse, can all get a writer working on a project.

My ideas mostly come from music. My entire concept for these books came to me because two songs played back-to-back on my iPod one day driving my daughter to school. It was as simple and straight-forward as that. In the first chapter I talk about how sometimes Callie gets an idea for a song all at once, like a high-speed download into her brain. Well, that’s basically what happened to me. The first song gave me the idea for Callie herself, and the second created the scenario for the plot and built more on her as a person and introduced the second main character (who I JUST got to write about for the first time – FINALLY! – the other day and I’m so pleased to start getting into his head at long last). In about eight minutes, I had a whole new world in my head and all these people started talking to me.

The rest is minor details, and like I’ve mentioned before, some stuff I’ve written doesn’t occur to me until I start working through a scene. Other parts have come after copious amounts of research. But the basic story arc all came about because of the whim of the shuffle algorithm.

With that I started looking to some other songs I like to fill in holes or describe relationships or certain scenes, with interesting results. Usually it’s a matter of just listening and waiting for the right song to come up. Sometimes it’s as little as one line of lyrics, others it’s the entire song from beginning to end. And there are definitely specific songs that I think about when I’m describing some of Callie’s work – a detriment to me because eventually I’m going to have to come up with some original lyrics for her, and that’s hard to do when you’re already fixated on something someone else wrote as your inspiration. Nothing beats the car for letting new ideas come to me, although now that it’s getting warmer out, I’m hoping walking can replace a lot of that.

When I’m writing a scene that has a song that inspired it, I usually put it on repeat – like I described in my last post – to keep my head in that emotion I’m trying to convey (I’m often prone to distraction, sadly). The second song of the original duo I’ve listened to over 250 times since I started writing, according to iTunes, and I have a nice little playlist built up with a bunch of songs that have triggered something for me.

Everything else comes from idle daydreams, but without those two songs coming up one day in February, I wouldn’t be on this adventure today. It may not be a typical path for a writer to take, but I’m going to run with it and see where it takes me.

Dragging my feet

Today I hit 20,000 words!

It’s not quite writer’s block, but I sure seem to be struggling getting through this part I’m working on now. It’s not that I don’t find it interesting or necessary – in fact I’m doing a lot of important relationship building that will be paying off in the future – just that the words aren’t really there. I’m a little muddy on what exactly is going to happen in the next few paragraphs, so it’s hard to push forward.

Part of it is that I’m still thinking about the future, word-wise, and impatient to get there. I also came up with a twist that I’m really, really exicted about – so much so that for the next few hours after I thought of it, I kept remembering and smiling gleefully to myself – but writing that whole part is many, many months and probably years away. I guess it’s enough that I know it’s going to happen, and can write toward it with that knowledge. Already, what I’ve already written makes more sense, and is more relevant, with the eventual inclusion of this twist.

As an aside, why do all my best ideas come to me when I’m driving?

This week I’m determined to get back into my writing routine and steer clear of distractions. Having been away for the weekend without accomplishing much at all, I’m ready to tackle it again. If I can get through the next 3,000 words or so, I’ll get to one of the Big Scenes that’s been shaping itself in my head for the past two months and is itching to get out. That should provide some motivation, right? And that will bring me to the end of chapter four.

What I think I need to do is spend some time in my head on this current scene, and work it all out in there, rather than focusing (obsessing, really – let’s call it like it is) on the Big Scenes and running through them over and over again. I need to remember that the parts in between are important too. So there you go. Time for bed and a little daydreaming – not something I ever complain about!

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