Let Me Tell You a Story #22: Trying Something New

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With my first novel under my belt, I’ve been through the rewriting process before. Last time around things got complicated, but this time, hopefully, I can keep myself more streamlined.

That doesn’t mean I’m not open to trying new methods, though. I’ve been reading up a little on other authors’ rewriting styles, and I stumbled upon one that gave me a light-bulb moment.

I’m typing up an entirely new draft, side-by-side with the old one.

It sounds like a lot of work. And it is. But I drafted this novel so fast during NaNo. I’ve always been stronger at dialogue and character interaction the first time around, and weaker on setting and description. I don’t always “see” where my characters are, just what they’re doing. So the story, as it stands, has a lot of talking-heads passages where nothing much happens except dialogue.

I feel like this process is tailor-made for my weaknesses. Armed with my notes from the re-read, I can zoom through, adding whatever I need along the way.

My first revisions always end up longer than the original draft anyway, because I realize I need extra scenes I didn’t envision during the outline phase, or I have to shore up weak settings, or I have to expand on something that seemed obvious in my head the first time around, but doesn’t make sense when I re-read. (And if I don’t remember what I meant, how is the reader supposed to figure it out?)

In the last five days, I’ve plowed through the first six chapters, taking 12K and turning it into almost 17K.

But, Elena, I hear you saying, isn’t that going to bloat your draft? Wasn’t it long enough in the first place?

Well, yes, and no. I wrote everything I thought it needed at the time, though by the end I already knew there were some flaws that needed fixing. It came up about 8K shorter than my target (WWNTS clocks in at about 98K, I was aiming for roughly the same length) but I didn’t mind if it ended up a little shorter, because book length isn’t a hard and fast rule.

And I’m not cutting words at this stage, not with intent. Some sentences get rewritten to be shorter as I go, if I see blatant issues that I can correct on the fly, but I’m not doing the nuts-and-bolts editing yet. That’ll be the next pass. So here’s what this book’s life will hopefully look like:

  1. Rough draft – done!
  2. Additive rewrite draft – underway
  3. Subtractive, language-tightening edit draft
  4. Beta reading! (During which I will start rewriting #3)
  5. Fix-the-reader-issues draft
  6. Final proofing
  7. Ready to print!

See, I have a plan. It’s so comforting to have a plan.

Let Me Tell You a Story #21: Creative Exhaustion

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It had to happen eventually.

I sailed through NaNoWriMo last year, which took me most of the way through the first draft of the sequel to What We Need to Survive.  I wrapped it up by mid-December and took two weeks completely off writing, then started the first draft of book #3 over my post-Christmas vacation.

But now I’ve run out of outline!

Historically, I’m more of a pantser than a planner, but since I had the idea for both books at once, and planned to attempt a drafting cycle in order to increase my productivity, I decided to draft #3 before revising #2.  (WWNTS was my sole project at the time, aside from fiddling with plot bunnies during beta-reading stretches, so this is a new experiment for me.)

It certainly has benefits, even this early on, and especially for a series: having at least some idea of where #3 ends up means I can lay better (ie, more consistent) groundwork in #2, trim dead-end subplots, plot stronger character arcs.

It has downsides, too, in as much as oh my god I’m writing two first drafts back-to-back, somebody pull me out of this quicksand!

My outline for #2, created in a blitz just prior to NaNo, was solid, and the right length.  I only had to add a few spur-of-the-brainpan chapters here and there to fill holes I hadn’t anticipated, but that’s always been my experience writing from an outline.  Scenes become necessary during the actual writing process that I hadn’t imagined ahead of time.

I thought that would carry me through #3’s much shorter, looser outline.  By the time I get there, I told myself, I’ll have plenty of ideas on what to do next.

I know these characters.  I know who they are, what they want, and what they’ll do to get it.

And yet, suddenly I don’t know where I’m going.  And a new, completely unrelated plot bunny is fighting for space in my brain.

I think that’s why I’ve been spending so much time reading lately, instead of writing.  I’m excited about my reading challenges, yes, and I’m having a grand time trying out new books for them.  But I’m losing the discipline of writing.  Over the weekend, I didn’t meet my 1000-word-a-day minimum I’d maintained since starting the draft.

It’s time to switch back to pantsing, which is a little scary, after working from an outline for so long.  I know where I need the story to end up, I just don’t know how to get there.

There’s no real fix for it.  It’s not so much a case of writer’s block as a feeling that I’m spewing useless words out for the sake of writing.  A lot of what I force myself to write in the next few days (or however long it takes me to get back on track) will probably end up being heavily revised or (gasp!) cut entirely.  Knowing that, I have a hard time wanting to write it.

But the dedicated writer soldiers on, plowing through the tough times.

I am that writer.

I can do this.

(This grandiose, public self-pep-talk brought to you by a dismal, rainy afternoon, the letter T, which decided to become stuck on my keyboard for a while yesterday, and the number 3, for the books I picked up at the library on my last trip and am dying to read.)

The Twelve Days of Christmas Blogging, Day 2

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Favorite Christmas tradition, new or old. Well, I sort of covered that already, with the sugar cookie story.

So I’ll use this opportunity to tell a funny story that came about because of one of my family’s other traditions.

I was an impatient child.  I am a slightly more patient adult, but as a kid, I was a monster.  I had to have everything now.

My parents mollified me (and got me to sit still through Christmas Eve services) by promising I could open one present after church, before bed.  Just one. I think they did it first when I was five, but the tradition continued until I moved out of the house.

Eight-year-old me was fascinated by this one strange box under the tree that Christmas.  It was small, about as big as my fist, but heavy.  Really heavy.  I could not figure out what it was, though I tried.  It didn’t make any noise when I shook it, so there were no clues to be had except its size and shape.

One night about a week before Christmas, while my parents were watching TV in the other room, I took this strange, heavy box from underneath the tree and carefully, carefully undid the tape holding one end of the wrapping paper down.

I didn’t dare unwrap it completely–I was hoping there would be something printed on the box that would tell me what it was. Alas, all I saw was shiny black cardboard.

I folded the paper back down along the original creases, pressed the tape back into place, and hid the box behind some other presents, as if I could hide my guilty conscience along with it.  (This was the only time I’ve ever tried to peek, and it didn’t even work!)

After coming home on Christmas Eve, I crawled under the tree and fished out the mystery box.  I remember my parents giving me a strange look as I unwrapped it, maybe trying to remember what it was.

It turned out to be a power adapter.

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Yes, a power adapter.

Then Mom says, “I guess we have to give her the other one now, too.”  And she knelt on the floor beside me, searching through the boxes until she found the right one, which she handed to me.

I get a second present early?

That year, we’d moved, and in the move, we sold my mother’s piano.  I’d wanted to learn to play, so they got me a kid-sized electronic keyboard, and that was the other half of the power-adapter present.  The good half.

But not the mysterious half.

I was an impatient child, but a curious one.  I had to pick the weird present, right?

Let Me Tell You a Story #20: Christmas Cookies

cookie-235801_1280My first childhood Christmas memory is not of trimming the tree or opening presents, but of baking sugar cookies with my dad.

The first time must have been when I was four–who would let a three-year-old into the kitchen with a hot oven going?–and while Dad made the dough and rolled and cut the cookies, I stood on a step-stool with an array of sprinkles and colored sugars to hand, ready to decorate them before they went into the oven.  (We’re not a fancy frosting family, it’s all about the sprinkles.)

As I got older, my duties expanded to include: 1) helping choose the cookie cutters; 2) actually cutting the cookies; 3) rolling out the dough; and eventually, 4) making the dough and being allowed near the oven for the baking part of the process.

We did this, me and Dad, every year until I went off to college, and sometimes even then, too, if I was home on break soon enough to help.  Several batches were always necessary to keep up with the cookie plates for church, for my parents’ coworkers, for my teachers, and of course, for our own voracious sugar-teeth.

The cookbook that the recipe came from is long gone–the page fell out of the book when I was eight or nine, from excessive use.  We saved the loose page until it was so flour-coated and milk-spotted that Dad copied the recipe over onto notebook paper, then that version lived under a magnet on the side of the fridge so that it wouldn’t get lost before next Christmas.

When I moved out on my own, the first Christmas I wasn’t there to bake with him, I ended up calling a week before Christmas so he could dictate the recipe to me, because I needed to make them to have a proper Christmas, and I’d never taken the time to copy it out for myself.

My own Christmas baking, to cover my friends and my family and my coworkers, has spiraled into the realms of “What new and exciting things can I try this year?”  But I still try to make at least one batch of the family-recipe sugar cookies, because traditions are worth having and keeping, and of course, they’re freakin’ delicious.

If you want some new recipes yourself, here are some of my favorite finds from last year’s cookie-and-candy extravaganza:

Happy baking!

Let Me Tell You a Story #19: Life Is Strange

I had an idea for a post about AUs again this morning, but I failed to write it before launching into the final episode of Life Is Strange.  Oops!  I’ll try again tomorrow.

So I. Am. Reeling.

I’m not going to be useful to anyone for a while.  I’ve been crying for most of the last hour, and turning over in my mind how fucking brilliant the narrative is, both on its own, as a function of the game play, and as quite possibly the best time-travel-based anything I’ve ever encountered.  (I still love you, Stargate SG-1.  “Window of Opportunity” is still amazing, but for different reasons.)

(On that note, time travel is so easy to get wrong, the playing field is littered with the bodies of those who failed.  But LIS gets is so very, very right.  No obvious loopholes here, guys, this story is tightly woven and expertly crafted.)

I wish I could talk more about my approval, astonishment, and holy-hell-I-didn’t-know-my-feels-could-take-this-much-abuse, but that would take us deep into Spoiler Land, which is something I try never to do.  I mean, the episode only came out today, so that’s definitely too soon to start talking about how aliens landed and kidnapped everyone for scientific study, right?  (/wink)

The only solution to this level of emotional wretchedness (for me) is to dive into something totally different, which is why I was thrilled to sit down with my chamomile-mint tea, catch up on a little Tumblr, and see the release announcement of a new story collection which includes pieces by two of my favorite erotic-romance authors, which of course I promptly bought.

(I haven’t done much with book reviews and recommendations, because to some extent I feel like I’m in an echo chamber when I do.  But plugging independent authors is something I want to happen to me when I’m one of them, soon, so I should really do more of it myself, right?  Be the change you want to see, put your money where your mouth is, and so on.  Well, this is me doing that, a little.  I have plans to write up a post on erotic romance anyway, so consider this a preview.  Check them out, they’re completely worth your time.)

Anyway, my eyes are red, my head is achy, and maybe I’ve just written four hundred words of disjointed emotional nonsense, but on the inside, I’m still crying a little for Max and Chloe and my roller-coaster ride through the trials and tribulations of Arcadia Bay.

I only hope someday I have the ability to tell a story that gripping.

Now I’m going to go read and get totally hooked on something else.

Let Me Tell You a Story #18: Wherein I Wax Ecstatic About Apples

Today is Apple Butter Day.  No, that’s not some sort of holiday (as far as I know, and also, it probably should be) but the first fall day where I make apple butter.

If you’ve never done it, it’s just about the easiest thing in the world.  I spent half an hour this morning peeling and chopping apples into my crock pot, listening to alt-rock with my earbuds and mouthing the words as I worked because it was 5:45 am and I’m kind to my neighbors.

A five-pound tote of Galas just about filled the basin to the brim.  After I washed all the apple guts off my hands, I tasted one slice to see how sweet they were (not very) and added some sugar.  (For five pounds of apples I never add more than one cup of sugar, and often much less.  Since these weren’t very sweet I put in 2/3 cup.  I can always add more later.)

Then, the spices.  Or, in this case, the one spice.  Traditionally apple butter is like pumpkin pie–some combination of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  Since I try to make more than one batch of butter a season (when the harvest, and thus the apple prices, cooperates), I’ve branched out into specialty flavors.  (My most memorable batch, several years ago, was Pink Lady apples with ginger.  Sweet and spicy!)  For this batch, it’s just cardamom, my absolute all-time-forever-favorite spice.

I popped open my tub of cardamom (yes, tub, I use it a lot and I can get it from a Mediterranean grocery not too far away in copious amounts) and chucked in probably two teaspoons’ worth.  (When I bake, I measure accurately.  When I cook, approximation is fine.)

On goes the crock pot.  In a few hours, when the sugar has melted and the apples are disintegrating, I’ll open it and give it a stir, mashing up any big chunks that are left.  After that, the mass of delicious-smelling goo will start to brown, darkening throughout the afternoon from pale yellow to that rich gingerbread-brown.

And just before I make dinner tonight (it’s Taco Tuesday, observed with zeal Chez Elena) I’ll spoon all the apple butter out into containers to cool.  After dinner they’ll go in the fridge.  (Sadly no one in my family cans, so I’ve never learned how, or I’d see if I could actually preserve this stuff.  I’m in love with my freezer instead, and some of this batch may end up there.  It does freeze pretty well, if you put it in a plastic bag and smush all the air out before you seal it.)

And tomorrow morning, for breakfast, this apple butter will get dolloped onto my oatmeal instead of brown sugar.

Apple Butter Day.  Fall has arrived, and it tastes amazing.

Let Me Tell You a Story #17: The Obligations of Social Media

So, you might remember, I’m on Twitter.  Not that there’s much evidence of that these days.  I started my account, used it consistently for maybe three weeks, then decided Twitter wasn’t really for me and stopped checking it.

I know everyone says that’s where all the authors hang out in the social mediasphere, but I was already familiar with Tumblr before I started my writing journey–I’m much more comfortable there, and I’m sure it shows in the quality of my content, between the two.

I didn’t make any meaningful connections with anyone in my brief Twitter shelf life, I thought.  No one will miss me.

But here’s the thing:  I forgot I entered a contest.  Because, you know, one enters contests without any actual expectation of winning them, right?

Random House hosted a Twitter giveaway for the release of Julia Pierpont’s Among the Ten Thousand Things.  I read the posted excerpt, thought it sounded interesting, and tweeted a quote from it to enter the contest.

And promptly forgot about it.  Like I said, not expecting to win.

That was on August 12.  My last tweet was on Aug 28, and until this week, I didn’t check my Twitter at all.  No one would miss me, right?

So I missed myself winning the giveaway for over a month, until someone from Random House tracked me down on Goodreads this week to leave me a message.  (Which was incredibly surprising and awesome and I thanked her most fervently.)

But this is where I publicly acknowledge the egg on my face.  It’s warm and wet and embarrassing.  I prostrate myself before the Altar of Books in shame for neglecting an avenue of contact.

Okay?  Good.  Now let’s get to the fun part–the loot.

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First, I saw the tote bag.  A big ole sturdy canvas tote bag, which will become my new I’m-going-to-the-library bag.  (I should have included something for scale–it’s really big.)  Inside, there were books.  Many books.

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The giveaway was a selection of Pierpont’s favorite works–so I shouldn’t necessarily have been surprised by the handwritten notes on each cover, but I was.  I held in some serious levels of squee while reading each one, and now that they’ve been documented for posterity, I’m going to stick them on the inside front covers and keep them.  (This is Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.)

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The excitement I feel getting these little notes on each book has only strengthened my resolve to do a giveaway myself of signed copies of What We Need to Survive–I just have to work out the logistics.  And, you know, set a release date and all that.  Working on it, I promise.

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This one sounds amazing (Toni Bentley, Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal) and is going to be the second one I read.  (I’ll get to the first in a bit!)

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I like that there’s a mix of old and new, especially with debut novels.  I’m not necessarily expecting to like everything once I’ve read them all, but I’m really hoping I pick up at least a few authors to follow from this.

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This might be my favorite cover of the bunch.

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Poetry!  There’s poetry!  I haven’t read much poetry since college (I took two creative writing seminars, one in poetry and one in fiction.)  So, again, there’s a certain level of squee attached to this one.

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So, this is where the Universe is showing me what a wonderful entity it can be.  I haven’t read any of the books that came…but I have read The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Granted, that was over a decade ago, and I’m not sure where the copy I read is (I may have borrowed it from a friend) but I can always get it from the library to reread it before I dive into the sequel.

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In my senior year of high school, I played Nora in a production of Tune In To Murder (and the only thing Google turned up for it was PDF of the script?  Weird, I had no idea I was in such an obscure play.)  I’d say my high school shunned the more classic plays, but a few years before that the senior class production was The Outsiders, so, yes, but not completely.  We certainly never put on Our Town, and I’ve never read it.

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No, wait, this one’s my favorite cover.  I take it back.

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So I said I was reading one of the earlier books second, because (duh!) I’m reading Among the Ten Thousand Things first.  That’s what the giveaway was for, right?  It would be rude not to!

A big thank you to Julia Pierpont and Random House for hosting this, I’m about to swoon from book joy.  I better go lay down and read for a while…

Let Me Tell You a Story #16: Technology is Wonderful

Except for my camera, apparently.

I tried and tried to get a cute picture of me in my favorite jeans and fuzzy socks, sitting on my couch reading something on my new (and already much-beloved) Kindle Fire.

But the light in here is terrible today because of the rain, and all I got were fuzzy snaps of the bright screen and indiscernible darkness beyond it.  I mean, my jeans are dark and my couch is pretty dark, but my socks are bright, I figured they’d show up at least!

Alas.

And rather than wait until I could get a good picture, which honestly may never happen (the prevalence of cute book/e-reader pics on my Tumblr may have misled me into thinking they were easy to take), I wanted to share my thoughts on e-readers anyway.

I will never, ever, ever give up on print books.  I’m going an extra mile (or two or six or twenty) with my novel to get it printed, because it means that much to me to have a copy on my shelves, and copies I can sign and physically hand to people.

But man, e-readers are sweet.

I don’t have many e-books on my account, I’m sure, compared to others–some free stuff I’ve picked up through Project Gutenburg, a few things for free from Amazon or author sales, and a few I’ve actually paid for because I took a chance on independent authors whose books I couldn’t get any other way (hurray!)–but the first time I was lying in bed and finished the book I was reading, and then didn’t have to get out of bed to start a new one, that felt amazing.

Lazy, but amazing.

My library has an e-book lending system, so once the weather turns and I don’t want to brave blizzards for new books, I’ll definitely be looking into that.

I’m glad I didn’t take the plunge and get one when they were brand new and shiny and prohibitively expensive, but I’m thrilled to have one now, and I almost can’t wait for my next vacation so I can load up on things I haven’t read yet without stuffing a tote bag full of hardcovers.

It’s going to be awesome.

Let Me Tell You a Story #15: Formatting Bites

My draft has been through so many different programs (Open Office Writer, Quoll Writer, Google Docs, and then back to OOW) that the paragraph indents are all effed up.  I can get the line spacing and justification to transfer just fine–though the font magically switches from Times New Roman to Calibri, which is bizarre–but blast those missing paragraph indents.  I have to go through and add them all back in manually.

And the template is set with Garamond as the font, because that’s apparently what most books use…but I was like that looks like Times New Roman to me.  Because it was.  Because I don’t actually have Garamond installed.  And while I could download it for free from numerous legitimate sources, they’re all under noncommercial license.  And using it in formatting my book for publication is definitely not noncommercial.

So for the moment I’m using Gentium Book Basic, though that may not survive test pages–it seems a bit heavy, though that may be a function of my line spacing as well.  Palatino shows up on a lot of the most-popular lists, and I have that too, so we’ll see.

In Quoll Writer, I wrote (rewrote) using Yu Gothic Light.  Not going to print the book in that, though…

(sigh)

I will make this perfect.  I will make this perfect.  This is giving me another chance to spot typos.  I will make this perfect.

(face-smash keyboard in 3… 2… 1…)

Let Me Tell You a Story #14: A Broken Needle

One of my crafty hobbies–and I have many–is altering clothing.  I hate waste and I love to shop, so rifling through the endless racks of donated clothing at thrift stores thrills me to my bones.  What will I find next?  Can I make it fit me, or make something else out of it?

I came home a few weeks ago with a good haul that included several pairs of nearly-fitting jeans.  One in particular was just the right shade of black-fading-slowly-to-charcoal.  Brand-new black jeans are just too…black.

They fit in the waist and hips just fine.  Score.  But they’re flared…and while I don’t consider myself wholly a slave to the seasonal whims of fashion, even I don’t wear flared jeans.  I set about taking in the legs to match my favorite pair of ink-blue straight legs.

Halfway through my third seam, the heavy denim snapped my needle.

My mind said setback while my heart screamed tragedy.

I have spare heavyweight needles.  I have leather needles from my brief stint where I was convinced I could turn a thrift-store leather jacket into some kind of awesome steampunk vest thing…which didn’t happen.  What I do not have (and should get) are any denim needles.

Knowing that, a sensible person would set aside the jeans and start sewing something else until said denim needles could be acquired.

I turned off my sewing machine with the shaft of the snapped needle still in it and haven’t sewn anything since.

And that is why I write every day.  Every. Single. Day.

It’s a common piece of advice, and it’s a commonly shunned piece of advice.  The shunners have good reason–I’m not arguing that.  Forcing yourself to write through a creative drought can be disheartening, draining, damaging.  The “Write Everyday” mantra is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

But I have to write every day, because one day missed can easily become two.  Two days turns into four, four into a week, one week into two, two into a month.  I started keeping a journal again in mid-August, meaning to do a page a day, and I forgot one day because it was still new, and then my next entry was a week later.  Oops.

Every. Single. Day.

It’s not about the word count, though I have goals for that, too.  It’s about the habit.  Writing needs to be a habit.  Writing has become as necessary as exercise and food and sleep.  In fact, I was just about to go for a run when I got the idea for this post, so I sat down in my running gear and whipped it up.  (It’s nice and cool out this morning–I think today might be a four-mile kind of day.  Maybe even five, if I feel good when I’m out there.  I just changed my playlist a few days ago, and that always helps.)

Also, if I have time this afternoon, I might start a new sewing project.  A shirt.  A pillow.  Not jeans.