Monthly Goaling

Most of you know that I love New Year’s resolutions so much I actually do them every month. It helps me to break everything—writing, life changes, uphill march to awesomeness—into little chunks for easier digesting.

For e, I gave myself the whole month of May to work on major plot revisions in my crime book. And, of course, promptly got almost nowhere.

So hard!

I wrote up a list of all the things that weren’t really working for me the last time I read through the draft, but I just haven’t found a good way to get “into” the book. I’ll rewrite one scene—and then suddenly I’m sidetracked by all these other cosmetic changes. Grrr.

The last couple of workdays I’ve been trying a new approach: putting together a synopsis of the book, my IDEAL book, and then using that as a roadmap for revision. Hope it works; I’m getting tired of trying to find a way to get these revisions moving.

Pretty sure I’m going to be working on this well into June.

On the other hand, I DID accomplish several of my other goals for the month, so I don’t feel badly. Just trying to figure out how to streamline this revision process… It would be psychologically healthy to get to where I could see some results for all my work. I mean, somewhere other than on my computer screen.

Yep, those are the daily issues I’ve been hacking away at. On the other hand, we’ve had a heat wave of 80+ days, blues skies, and lazy white clouds. Been able to sit out basking while working on the synopsis… Been making strawberry pie and rice pudding… Been spending time with friends.

So, yeah, no complaints really.

Just working hard and chipping away.

On Reading Well

Finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s fantastic little book, Blink. Highly recommend, and want to share this one bit with you. Made me howl with vindicated glee: I KNEW IT!

I mean, I didn’t know this factoid at all, but I’ve always suspected—well, I’ll tell you what I’ve always suspected in a minute. This is a long quote, but bear with. It’s interesting:

One of [Vic] Braden [one of the world’s best tennis coaches]’s digitized videotapes is of the tennis great Andre Agassi hitting a forehand. The image has been stripped down. Agassi has been reduced to a skeleton, so that as he moves to hit the ball, the movement of every joint in his body is clearly visible and measureable. The Agassi tape is a perfect illustration of our inability to describe how we behave in the moment. “Almost every pro in the world says that he uses his wrist to roll the racket over the ball when he hits a forehand,” Braden says. “Why? What are they seeing? Look—” and here Braden points to the screen— “see when he hits the ball? We can tell with digitized imaging whether a wrist turns an eighth of a degree. But players almost never move their wrist at all. Look how fixed it is. He doesn’t move his wrist until long after the ball is hit. He thinks he’s moving it at impact, but he’s actually not moving it until long after impact. How can so many people be fooled? People are going to coaches and paying hundreds of dollars to be taught how to roll their wrist over the ball, and all that’s happening is that the nunmber of injuries to the arm is exploding” (pg 67-68, my emphasis).

Interesting, right? The world’s best tennis players might be able to ace it every time, but they sure can’t tell you how they do it. They just do it. Their bodies and subconscious minds just know. By years of practice and some innate awesomeness, they just know.

The reason this thrills me is because I’ve always sort of avoided those ten thousand books on how to write well that people are always foisting on you when they hear you want to write.

Don’t misunderstand me: there’s a lot of good advice in writing books. Especially the really factual ones about how to format a synopsis, how grammar works, and what the difference is between a “crime novel” and a “mystery.”

And, sometimes they’re just interesting or fun. Like Stephen King’s book On Writing. Or Daphne Du Maurier’s autobio. I had a lot of fun in those pages.

But that shelf in Barnes & Noble with ten thousand titles on writing fiction and plot techniques and how to make your writing SEXY… Yeah, I go to that shelf like I go to the funeral home. It’s not exactly a cosy hang out spot for me. Seems sort of vampiric, actually. I mean, if they knew how to write a bestseller every time, don’t you think they’d be writing bestsellers? Surely there are more beach readers than frustrated novelist readers? I sincerely hope?

Writing books can be helpful, but when it comes right down to it, even listening to Andre Agassi all day might not necessarily make you a better tennis player. He might not even really know what makes HIM a better tennis player.

I’m not saying there’s not a measure of laziness or self-justification or ego in my opinion. I’m just saying:

Malcolm Gladwell thinks I’m right.

Constructive Community

So, I get that writing is fundamentally a solitary pursuit (I mean, that’s at least part of what fueled the desire in the first place, right? One of the few fields that allows applicants to stay at home in their pjs ALL DAY). I get that, but at the same time, it’s hard to keep cheery or learn very fast on your ownsome.

Been trying to figure it out.

Because writing groups—especially those at bookstores and libraries—are sort of inherently useless. Not always, of course, but the intention is amateur: writing for pleasure, writing for self-expression, writing for cooler-than-tennis hobby. So there’s not much pressure, not much focus on marketability, not much time for regular feedback.

I’ve joined a couple of writing groups online. One is a quieter group, and the other much more chatty. It’s been fun to see what other people are working on, and I’ve gotten some good feedback about specific wording, but it definitely doesn’t answer all my needs/wants. Been thinking about it for a bit, and here’s my latest theory.

Seems like there are 3 basic types of constructive communities for a writer. At any rate, I’m benefitting from 3, and it’s been helpful to see each one as providing something necessary without expecting it all from any one group or person.

1. The cheerleaders: The hardest to find, the most necessary, and also totally the least likely to catch a missed comma. Carl is my best cheerleader, always perfectly willing to tell me how fabulous I am, how I am not wasting my time, how it will all be all right and in the mean time there is pizza. My friend Em and I have a mutual cheerleading society—she believes in my writing and I believe in her art pieces. Just chatting with her over the phone gives me new energy.

2. The dedicated trudgers: These are also a rare breed. I don’t know anybody within coffee break distance who’s trying to write for a living, so my best relationships on this head are carried out over email. My aunt is in the query letter stage with her project and my brother is in the early writing stages of his. None of us are published yet, but we know we will be… and in the mean time, three sets of eyes are better than one. We swap drafts, query letters, and tips culled from reading books on publishing.

3. The guinea pigs. This is actually where I’d place my online writing group as well as all the many fabulous and supportive friends who have read drafts of different books. This involves the difficult art of grapeshooting your book to friends and acquaintances who look sort of like they’d Be The Type to pick up your nov and then trying to elicit whatever reactions you can. There’s a veneer of polite interest that has to be scraped off, but very often you can learn something about the general pacing, characters, and plot.

I’d love to say there was a fourth group: successful awesome types who are happy to act as mentors to we small folk. But, alas, those only exist in fuzzy slipper movies. Like Finding Forrester. And The Mask of Zorro.

The rest of us have to figure it out for ourselves.

But, in the mean time, the journey is much better for having all three of these communities. Instead of trying to find the one perfect reader who is unendingly supportive and unerringly right and insanely successful and ready to die for that particular genre or audience… yeah, I try to be realistic.

And be incredibly grateful for all the different bits and pieces that, put together, make up the patchwork writing community that’s been there for me from the start.

It’s nice to have friends.

First Read-Through

Day of truth!

After finishing up the first draft in March, I set the crime novel aside for a few weeks to revise another project (again) and send it out to a third batch of agents. It’s getting to the point with the Lilies novel where I’m starting to get ambivalent about selling it. There are some things I continue to love about that book, but time naturally changes my perspective. I see all the things I would have done differently. And, of course, the mind races on to new and better things.

Today, howev, I’m finally free to sit down with a giant mug of green tea and read through the crime novel. It’s going to be hard to resist the temptation to line edit, but I want this first read to be quick. Just a pad of paper and the internal note system in Word to jot down all the big changes.

I’ve been trying to work on a 3 draft system: First draft is rough, second draft is for major plot/character changes, third draft is for language.

Still negotiating the tradeoff between efficiency and quality. Great writing is incredibly important, but I can’t afford to take five years for each book either. Life is way too quick for that.

Anywho. The tea is brewed and the words await.

… Wish I felt less like crap. Couldn’t fall asleep until after 4am this morning, and woke up with a jolt at 9. It’s a long story, but I’m pretty sure it’s my BCP acting up. I’ve never looked forward to a dr’s appointment before, but this year’s check up can’t come soon enough. I have some questions that want answering.

In the mean time, we do what we’ve always done: write and feel a mood boost simply because the sky is blue today.

Fishing for Story Ideas…

Plyms kicked off its street fair summer season with the “Green Street Fair” last weekend, an excuse to set up white tents down Main St, eat a lot of kettle corn, and buy artisan soaps.

Sign me up!

Carl and I strolled around on Saturday evening, ending up at the corner Panera in time for dinner, where we were kept waiting for a bit by our cute little waitress—who, come to think, isn’t actually a waitress, since she doesn’t wait tables. Register person? Now, there’s a clunky phrase for you. Anyway, when she dashed off again to do something else, Carl smiled at me. “It’s the beard,” he claimed.

“The what?” I said.

I mean, I had actually noticed that my husband was growing a beard. I am that observant. Also: it’s hockey playoff season, so I’m pretty sure this has happened every year since he’s had facial hair, but I wasn’t sure of the connection.

But, apparently, there is one. Carl says he can always count on a dip in the service quality from folks when he grows a beard. He tells me about being followed around stores while shopping, being asked by security people to turn out his pockets when leaving stores. Actually, you can sue for harassment over the last one—stores are only allowed to ask you to remove merchandise from a pocket/purse if they know exactly where it is and what it is you’ve taken (and the image of Carl shoplifting is pretty funny at best). Random searching is a big no-no.

I am appropriately appalled and list the many things he should have done or said to those awful, prejudiced, horrible people who would DARE to be rude to my person.

“I know,” Carl says, and I know instantly that he is not  disturbed at all. “I’m going to write a book about it.”

“Good,” I say.

“Called: Confessions of a Bearded Man.”

I laughed. Something about the soapy “confessions” juxtaposed with the hockey playoff “bearded man.” Admit it’s a great title.

Those are the little things, though, you know? The little niggling facts about the way people are and the craptitude that becomes experience that stick in my brain and eventually gets folded into one story idea or another. Nothing major, just little things.

And even though I’m probably not going to write Confessions of a Bearded Man, if I saw it in a book store with the right cover, you can bet I’d pick it up.

Life is random like that.