Tag Archives: creative process

writing is music is art

I usually write in silence, but sometimes I get a certain song looping in my head, connected, often, to a certain character or scene I’m working on, and I play it over and over and over.  I am always intrigued by this, by the interaction between different kinds of art, music to writing, movies to music, dance to art to comics, whatever the mix.  Steampunk, for example is cool in the way the visual art is fed by the books, which are fed by the music, which are fed by the sculptures, all in a loosely unified movement (maybe?) or possibly you call it an aesthetic.

Sidebar: There is a steampunk cafe in our tiny town, a fact which I adore.  It has a series of nesting room sporting a decidedly steampunk (if under capitalized) ambiance and sells steampunk art, jewelry, books, pastries and absinthe, no kidding, I’ve had some.  You pour it (it’s pale green) over a sugar cube and it tastes delightful.  Did you know that absinthe is not the toxic substance it is commonly thought to be, but, rather, all that wormwood-makes-you-crazy-stuff is just bad PR spread by the French wine industry in the early 1900s?  Seriously!  There is a fun documentary about the history of this mysterious beverage called, what else, Absinthe, and here is a link to a preview of it.

Anyway.  I have mentioned my love of of the anime Samurai Champloo, and now I’ve seen all the eps (sadness! finding something that delights is so bittersweet because once you’ve finished, its gone) so, in mourning, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack.  Shinichiro Watanabe, Champloo‘s director and creator, is famous for the powerful use of music in his work, and even for writing scenes for specific songs.  Champloo is no exception, lots of great songs in the mix.

My favorite, hands down, is the song played during this amazing scene in ep #14  where a character is having a life-flashes-before-his-eyes moment, plus some possible afterlife with weird crow-men gods-of-death sort of dudes—a WAY more remarkable scene than this little description lets on—and I’d say a large part of the scene’s impact comes from the song, an eerie Okinawan folk song about sadness and death.  Indeed, Watanabe has said that he was so moved by that song when he first heard it (before he started working on Champloo) that it would NOT be an exaggeration to say that he had created the entire series just to be able to write that scene for that song.

Here it is, “Obokuri Eeumi,” and it’s gorgeous, go ahead, click play listen.  The video itself is just a few pictures from the show, ignore that, just listen to the music.  And no, I’m not giving you the scene itself because that would SPOIL you for this great episode.  Plus Funimation doesn’t want to share the copyrights, boo.

Did you listen?

I’ve done this, too, this song-to-story transfer. I’ve had songs that moved me, sometimes on their own, sometimes because they were connected in my head to a certain moment in a movie or show, and I’ve written that mix into a scene of my own.  I remember at one point I had latched onto part of a song by Tori Amos, “Siren,” and another small part of “I Wish You Were Here” by Incubus (I think there was another one, but I can’t think of it now, god, what was it?  maybe “Opening” by Philip Glass?) while I was writing the Jeremy section of Children of the Fallen and playing these three bits over and over on a loop—“Iiiiiiii wish you were here, Iiiiiiiiii wish you were here!”—my poor family!—until Paul came in one day and said, “You wish she was there, yeah, you say that now, but wait till she gets there.”

I bet Watanabe played “Obokuri Eeumi” over and over. I just bet.

On the other hand, a writer friend of mine says that writing from your own life, rather than writing from other people’s art, is more potent, more real. I find this an intriguing differentiation. Is writing from other people’s art derivative and therefore less valuable? Certainly there are less digested (and therefore, more easily recognizable) versions of retelling someone else’s story. Copies of copies. (Which makes me think of that Star Trek: New Generation episode where an entire culture’s language consisted of references to mythic stories. “Shaka! When the walls fell!” I loved that ep. Could that culture tell new stories, I wonder?)

Is it cheating somehow to write from other people’s writing or music or visual art?  Or, possibly, are these three separate things….

Similar to the the music-loop phenomena, there are paintings and photographs I’m looking at a lot for Lucidity Effect, probably because my main character, Liv, is a photographer. For example, I love these, images I found at the Etsy shop, Eye Poetry.  This is in Italy:

or this one from England,

These pictures help me know something about my character, for some reason.  Art influencing art.  Media hopping?

I wonder how all these tracks work in the brain, how separate they really are?

As for soundtracks, I’m also listening to the music from The Secret World of Arietty which I love, and writing a scene between two characters that shares an emotional quality with a scene in that movie—something about the way Miyazaki creates such meaning and importance in the exchange of a couple of insignificant objects, how he builds that up in the way the story is told.  The music is reminding me of all that, so I listen and listen and try to channel that feeling into the words I’m typing.  He is such a master at tiny moments that contain great emotion.  May I touch the hem of his kimono.

Pro tip: Good headphones are very important to this process, or one’s family gives one no end of flack.

Deep thoughts for a late night blog post, eh?  Anyway, I should probably get back to it and quit blathering on.

writer’s report

The Lucidity Effect—that’s the working title for my novel-in-progress—is just shy of 70,000 words (my other novels are all about 100,000 words) and is ticking along, slowly but steadily.   (Thus the more infrequent blogging.)  And I’m so relieved because, at this point, it seems fairly certain that I’ll finish it.  That is, I’m pretty sure, very nearly sure, that this one will be a complete novel in the not-too-distant-future—unlike last year’s novel, around which I still have some scar tissue.

If this one is a go, maybe last year’s crash-and-burn was not a harbinger of All Novels to Come, you know?  Maybe I am not washed up, maybe I still have at least one more in me, maybe my wad has not been shot.

Toby Streams the Universe was the last time I finished something new, and I started Toby in late 2009—a lifetime ago in the current publishing climate!  I spent 2010 writing and editing Toby, which was fine, but then the 2011 novel ran aground and just would. not. go.  And, well, I guess I became nervous that there would be no more novels.

But, it would seem that, possibly, this is not the case.

On the other hand, any relief I might be feeling on this point is TOTALLY premature since I have not, in fact, finished Lucidity, and I’m an idiot to even allow myself a breath of relief, really, because OF COURSE this novel has lots of time to wipe the floor with me.  As novels are wont to do.

On the other other hand, there is a tipping point in every long project I’ve done where I can feel (do other novelists feel this?) that the bulk of the manuscript is behind me.  I’m doing the second draft now (I often do up to five drafts, but still).  Yes, it has patches where I roughed in scenes with dialogue only and bracketed bits such as [funny memory here] or [this scene sucks, rewrite, what is its point?], so it certainly isn’t fully fleshed out.  But still, having written all but the very end, and now going back through to fill in the blanks, there is a weight of material already in the can that gives me…confidence.  A little bit.  I think I can see the end from where I stand.

But, DUH, I’ll probably get a little further, even a few days from now, and definitely when I get my first beta-reader comments back and realize, with certainty, that the entire book is FUCKED and will take total and major rewrites and all this confidence was mere self-delusion.

I can go back and forth like this for days.

I’m aiming for a Summer 2013 publication.

Did I mention that Lucidity Effect is a about a woman who’s dreams have been infected with a parasitic entity? Sounds gross, doesn’t it?  Hee hee.

Lucidity Effect will be my eighth novel.  So I’ve been around this love/hate/indifference/despair/shame/tentative confidence cycle a hundred times at LEAST.  As far as I can tell, this is par for the course.  Actually, the oscillation of emotional torment on this one has significantly less amplitude than many of my previous novels.  Maybe I’m maturing?

I should say, Lucidity will be my eighth novel, if I finish.

Which I think, I’m pretty sure, I will.  Probably.

I guess it freaked me out more than I realized last year to start a novel that quit on me halfway through!  It’s like I’ve got the back-in-the-saddle jitters.  I still get excited about things in that failed novel, still want to read it.  I wonder if I’ll ever go back and write it, like maybe there is some skill-set I haven’t got yet that one day I will acquire and then I’ll realize, hey, I can write the Cupid and Psyche with aliens novel now!   That would be cool….

Blah blah blah, I’m just stalling.  Quit your blathering you lazy whiner and go write your 1000 words, Lassiter!

can a pantser become a plotter?

If you’re a writer, you probably know what I’m talking about.  It is the age-old writing-process dichotomy.  Does one write by the seat of one’s pants?  Or does one plot and outline things ahead of time, i.e. before writing that first draft? I know there are those writers that claim the pants/outline dichotomy is a false one, that there are third or forth options, that you can be both, or neither.  And that’s fine.  But I’m willing to wager that the majority of writers out there identify themselves as one or the other, or at least have so identified themselves, at some point in their writing career.

I’m a pantser by the way.  And I kind of hate it.

There is a kind romance to the pantser.  To pants is to start a novel knowing almost nothing, just starting at page one and following your nose, your muse, your characters, your whim.  You’re like an archeologist, brushing away the sand from a couple of white lumps, slowly and methodically revealing the complete (you hope) tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.  It seems mysterious and magical to create something complex and beautiful (you hope) out of thin air.  Basically you amass a ton of words, like a giant glob of clay on the potters wheel, and then you make it into a novel in the rewrites.  It’s a wonderful process of discovery.  The story surprises you, you find gems you had no idea were in there.  This paragraph has exceeded the legal limit for metaphors, so I’ll move on.

On the downside to pantsing, large chunks of material are thrown out (read: wasted time), false starts, wrong paths taken, gobbledeegook and blah blah blah has to be excised and tossed.  Then new material must be written to spackle over the holes.  Themes and meanings and through-lines must be discovered. Foreshadowing (once you know what the hell is going to happen) must added back in.  Characters that morphed half-way through must be made consistent, motivations must be made clear all the way through, etc etc.  Then the language must be smoothed to make all this major destruction and construction undetectable.

It’s a lot of work.  For every pantser I know, including myself, there are many, many drafts, many, many rewrites, and much emotional handwringing over whether this mess will ever turn into something good.

Plotting, on the other hand, seems so efficient.  You do a bunch of creative work before you start writing.  You ask a bunch of the questions first, you work out your character arcs, your settings, your plot twists, or mid-points and culminations, all before you draft a single word.  Then when you sit down to actually write, you have a map (that you can change if needed, it isn’t a straight-jacket after all) and you get to be creative about other things, language, weaving in setting, emotional depth, dialogue, etc. rather than using all your energy in flailing.

But it does seem a bit clinical, doesn’t it?  This pre-writing.  Many pantsers say, “Why write it if I already know how it ends?”  To which a plotter might answer, “Why waste all that time flailing and being miserable?”  They both have a point.

I used to love being a pantser.  I think I thought it was some kind of badge of creativity or even of talent.  “I’m so good I can just start typing and a novel comes out.”  Some bullshit like that.  Like it was a point of pride that I knew nothing when I went in.  I now see this as stupid and an insubstantial mask for sheer terror.  I’m sure I fooled no one.

On the other hand, I really have loved revision.  I have loved discovering the book in the pile of words and lifting it out.  Drafting has always been the hard part for me.  Revision was where the magic was.  Revision was where the book became a book.

But on my god, I’m so sick of the wretched groping around in the dark.  And it seems like the more I know about writing, about story structure or scene structure or craft, the harder pantsing becomes.  I remember with the first few novels I wrote a certain joy and exploration to the drafting, a freedom of ideas and a willingness to throw stuff in willy nilly.  Maybe I’ve lost that feeling of freedom as I’ve become less able to ignore when I’m going off the rails.  I can see that I need a character motivation or an outer conflict or a bit of back-story revealed through this setting’s details, and so I start trying to get that stuff in, and that effort seems to kill the free-form drafting that pantsing requires.  Or, at least, at my current level of drafting ability, it seems to kill it (maybe there is a higher level that allows one to pants and work that stuff in, too?).  But craft stuff: that’s revision level work.  The free flow of drafting gets stunted by revision.  You can’t do both at once.  Or, at least, I can’t. (Maybe one day?)

And hey, I also want to write faster!  Two years for a novel is too slow for my goals.

And anyway, all that thrashing and gnashing and wailing is getting old.  Can’t I just get on with the work with a bit less drama?  Please?

Which leads me to this:  I have begun mission Pantser To Plotter.

I know, I know, it may not be possible.  Being one or the other might be a function of the equipment I was assigned at birth. And even if it can be done, it may not be desirable.  I might become an outliner only to realize pantsing is better after all.  Whatever.  I’m thinking of it as an experiment.  For Science.  Can it be done?  Can this transformation be made?

I, your intrepid guinea pig, aim to find out.

I made a trip to the library and checked out a metric shit-ton of books on writing novels.  There are the pantsers who have books on “the writing life” and there are the plotters who have books on “first draft in 30 days.” I’m reading them all.  Memoirs, structured programs, interviews, anything where writers talk about their process, either for entertainment or to teach, I’m reading it.  Out of all of this might come a method because I realize, really, I have no idea HOW to outline a novel.  How do you figure out what a book is about without writing it first to see?  So clearly figuring that out has to be the first step.

(Several of the outline-y books have you start by writing dowm a basic statement about what the book is about.  The START with this.  This sort of sentence has always been the very LAST thing I figure out about a book I’m writing.  Either I’m doing to totally ass-backward, or wow, these two methods to creating novels are really THAT DIFFERENT.)

I also purchased a new notebook—one that you actually write in, not type, I mean in actual longhand!  They still have those!  AND I rousted out my fancy fountain pen because What The Hell.  I need PROPS to help me in this epic endeavor.  I might even need a hat.

I also have 100 pages of this year’s novel, drafted by pantsing, that may or may not be raw material for this experiment.  We shall see.

But either way, I am going to learn how to be an outliner this summer, come hell, high water, or the zombie apocalypse.  I might hate it, but I’m going to do it anyway, just to see what’s on the other side.

So there you have it.  Can a pantser become a plotter?  OR can a pantser become more at peace with her pantsing by trying to become a plotter and realizing her folly?  AND if that’s the case, is there an easier way to pants?  Could there be a middle ground as some writers insist?  Is there a third option altogether?

Tune in next time to find out.

the dark side of a lounge pants obsession

It’s probably the Katwise thing (see yesterday’s post), plus Sophie doing a bunch of sewing with her great aunt (who is a master seamstress) (I covet Sophie’s adorable new bag made from too-small favorite jeans with rhinestones and rainbow lining, by the way), plus Luc just got this rocking pair of pirate pajama pants at a yard sale and I WANT THEM only, you know, they don’t fit, plus, oh, I don’t know, I’m supposed to be finishing this NOVEL, oh yeah THAT. All of these things add up to my new total obsession with all things LOUNGE PANTS.

As in, I want to make some. A bunch of pairs.  And what’s up with that, calling what is clearly a single item a pair?  I know there are two legs, as in a pair of them, yada yada, but really, the whole pantS as plural thing makes no sense.  But I don’t care I want to wear nothing but lounge pants plural or singular, I want them in all colors, especially pirate. I’m going to wear them on my arms, too. And my head. The kids will wear them. Paul will wear them. I’m going to make some for the dog. I may have lost my mind. But  I’m sure wearing some lounge pants will help with that.

I love this photo I ran across when googling “pirate lounge pants.”

Some intrepid mom has made pirate lounge pants for her entire family! I’m totally going to do this.

I like stripes, too, still the pirate-y theme, sort of,

Or maybe horizontal?

Okay, maybe not.  (Does my fat ass make my fat ass look big?)

But really, don’t these pants look all loungy? Don’t they make you just want to lounge around?

Or, you know, maybe if we’re going to have men in lounge pants…

Uh, what was I saying?  Oh yes!  Lounge pants!  (You would not believe what google gives you if you put in “sexy man in lounge pants.” Ahem.)

And let me go on record right now against the controversial topic of words on the butt of lounge pants.  You know what I mean, pants that have “sweet” or “butter” or something that canNOT help but seem like a euphemism for something nasty when on someone’s (usually a pretty girl’s) bum.  I don’t know who started this but it’s just wrong.  Because, hey, if you’ve got a nice ass, you don’t want to mess up the view with some silly word.

Anyway.  I totally want some lounge pants with cupcakes on them.

Or a COMBO, pirate cupcake!

YES!  YES!  It’s perfect!

Oh, wait a minute, it isn’t even a picture of lounge pants.

STAY ON TARGET, LASSITER.

There.  Whew.  I kind of got lost in the frenzy there for a moment.  But look at these lovely lounge pants!  I must have a dozen pairs of these at once!

Of course this means trying to locate my old Singer sewing machine in my mother’s attic (put in storage when we moved from the rambling farm house to the 700 square foot yurt) and seeing if it still works after 8 years of disuse.   It’s over 100 years old, purchased for $20 bucks at the thrift store, a FIND. I have made many, many things on that baby, skirts, quilts, halloween costumes.  No lounge pants, though.  Until now.

There’s a project for us!  Pack the kids in the car for a four hour drive to my mother’s place to find the sewing machine!  That should take DAYS.  And that’s all before I actually start sewing!

Because CLEARLY I have gone OFF THE DEEP END because what I am SUPPOSED to be doing right now is EDITING MY FUCKING NOVEL which supposedly is going to be PUBLISHED IN A FEW SHORT WEEKS WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING GOING ON AND ON ABOUT FUCKING LOUNGE FUCKING PANTS????  [tearing own hair out]

This is all totally par for the course, of course.  Procrastination is an art form, a CRUCIAL part of the creative process, and I stand by that.  While wearing lounge pants.

Fuck me.  Maybe I just need a vacation.

Where I do a lot of lounging.  In pants.

(I’ve typed “lounge” so many times now that it looks like a foreign language word and I’ve had to google it to make sure I’m spelling it right.  Twice.)

my fallacy is bigger than your fallacy

I’m trying to learn formal logic.  Don’t laugh!  Stop laughing!  I am.  I’m reading a stack of books now on logic, fallacies, syllogism (which I can barely spell), and, you know, stuff.  Why am I torturing myself like this?  Every writer’s ice burg: research.  Ice burg because research is the ginormous amount of time and effort that is integral, apparently, to writing a novel, and in fact supports a novel from beneath…only no one ever sees it.

I remember taking a class in Symbolic Logic at university—I think it stood in for a math requirement or something.  Shockingly, I got a 99%.  That’s an A+, thank you very much.  I received perfect scores on all the exams (but neglected to do any of the homeworks, thus losing that one point), and the whole experience was strange because the it felt like I was doing nothing at all to deserve these grades.  I mean, we did stuff, I guess I memorized things? But it all seemed very obvious, like learning how to play a game or follow instructions on a complicated piece of electronics, if this, then that, it wasn’t tricky.  Many of the others weren’t having an easy time of it.  Maybe, thought I, I’m just innately logical?

I said stop laughing!

Anyway, when I started thinking I needed to know more about formal logic for a particular character I’m trying to write, I thought maybe something of that long ago class would arise from the dust bin of my brain and grace me with intuitive understanding of logic’s inner principals.

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Okay, okay, now I’m laughing.  Because either I never knew these mysterious inner principals, or they’ve vanished, or or, something, because my eyes glaze over INSTANTLY whenever I’m trying to read these books.  I have to keep squeezing my brain to get it focus.  What is my problem? It’s like my brain has gotten all mushy and sludgy and just can’t come to attention any more.  Maybe I need more coffee?  Has the hormonal soup of pregnancy, childbirth, lactation and sleep deprivation passed over my brain in a giant tidal wave leaving, as my children grow up, a swampy morass in their wake, where once my sharp intellect flourished?  I’m pretty sure I had an intellect at one point, pretty sure….

Meanwhile, I’m wading through such things as the petitio principii, confirmation bias, and falsifiability, affirming a disjunct, denying the antecedent, false dilemma, false attribution, fallacy of the single cause, lion and tigers and red herrings, oh my—

But seriously, it’s weird to realize I’m out of practice with the sharp thinking.  I wonder if forcing myself to comprehend this stuff will whip my brain back into shape.  It’s scary to have so much trouble holding these thoughts in my head, like I’m in the pre-pre-cursor to dementia.  Is this a slippery slope I’m on?  Jane, stop this crazy thing!  There IS an unfocused, broadly cast attention net State of Being that is part of being a mom, where I’m loosely aware of what both kids are doing, wherever they are, plus doing two or three things myself (cooking something, writing something, cleaning up something)…plus thinking about a couple dozen other things at once, or possibly in some quick, if random, rotation…and this state seems to be the opposite of focused, clear intellectual thought.

Or maybe I’m just being mentally lazy and trying to justify myself?  Maybe I’m becoming stupid.  If I were smarter, I could use logic to answer my own question, couldn’t I?

Anyway, if you have ever read a good, friendly, funny-is-a-plus book on logic, let me know.  One with stick figures, maybe, and small words.

insomnia and wishes

I am reading tons of books about insomnia. This is not because I have insomnia, but, rather, because I am writing a book about two characters who are insomniacs. I’ve got a stack of them here on my desk (books, not insomniacs), cure-yourself self-help books, popular science books about sleep research, memoirs by writerly insomniacs…you get the idea. Honestly, very little is known about why some people don’t sleep. It’s gone from a “secondary” problem, meaning, they used to think it was caused by something else so fix the something else and the insomnia goes away, to a “primary” problem in its own right, so at least it gets a little respect now, but not much. There are the “sleep hygiene” people (who picked that name? it’s terrible!) who try to control the behavior around sleep (sleep restriction, getting out of bed if you aren’t sleeping, regular sleep and wake times, etc) in order to cultivate sleepiness and sleeping when (and where) you’re “supposed” to be asleep, the drug people (billion dollar industry so you know its whack), the alternative people (acupuncture, hypnosis, herbs, crystals, brain wave music, meditation, whathaveyou), the therapy people (solve the underlying neurosis, sleep returns), the apnea people (CPAP anyone? that is, don’t you want to try to sleep with a reverse vacuum mask strapped to your head?). But despite all these approaches, still there are people who just don’t sleep. There is some new research that says there may be a neurological abnormality that explains it but as far as I can tell, that research is too new for much of anyone to be reporting it because I can barely find mentions. Mostly it’s the same advice, drink warm milk, take a warm bath, don’t worry so much, you’re probably getting more sleep that you think you are. In other words, suck it up and quit whining.

I had something that might have been insomnia when I was in my early twenties. I had just gotten out of a painful break-up and was living all by myself for the first time, no roommates, no significant other, no family, just me. I found I could not get to sleep. And I was incredibly uncomfortable just lying there in bed in the dark, listening to all the noises, imagined and real, in my 100 year old farmhouse. My solution was to watch movies—this was back in the days of the VCR (did you know that being able to remember a time before the internet and digital-everything defines a person as part of the so-called Generation X?)—and, not being able to afford my rampant movie rentals—in these days of Netflix and instant streaming, it’s hard to believe we actually drove to stores to rent movies, isn’t it?—I got a job at the local video store and took home stacks of them for free each night. After a few hours renting movies at the store and watching then two or three movies at home, I could fall asleep, finally, maybe at 3 or 4 in the morning. Once I was asleep, I stayed there, so that was good. Getting there was a problem.

I’ve also experienced sleep deprivation, when I had two babies and was nursing both. One or the other of them would wake me up every hour to nurse, and then I would lie there waiting to go back to sleep, knowing the next waking was coming all too soon. Even if I was in bed for eight or nine hours, I wasn’t getting more than thirty minutes of sleep in a row. I was a ZOMBIE. I couldn’t think, couldn’t remember anything, could barely focus enough to have a two sentence conversation.

I really believe this period broke my sleep. Prior to this I could easily sleep the night through. Now I wake several times a night and often lie awake for an hour somewhere in the middle. Maybe its hormonal shifts? Maybe it’s self-training, that mommy-listening for crying babies, always one ear open…that keeps me from sleeping as deeply as I did when I was younger? All I know is, it’s different now, sleep isn’t something I can take for granted. But it’s okay, I wouldn’t call it insomnia. Now Paul, he has insomnia. He’s up half the night most nights, poor guy. I keep reading him passages out of the insomnia books, all conflicting advice, he’s probably pretty sick of it, to be honest.

I am tired a lot of the time. It’s why I started eating all these vegetables. Those raw foodie types are always going on about how much energy they have, and I thought, I want some of that. Eating greens has helped, although I’m still waiting to shoot into the sky like Super Woman on a caffeine binge. Still…waiting….

In contrast, my kids sleep astonishingly well. They have both rolled out of the bed onto the floor and not woken up. Their eyelids become perfectly smooth and uncreased in their sleep, something they can never fake when trying to pretend to sleep. Lately we’ve gotten into telling each other our dreams when we wake up. I write them down in a little book, the kids love that, as if it gives importance to their inner world. In all my reading I have frequently run across the statement that young children don’t really dream, but rather have simple images of their day passing through their minds. Whoever thinks this has not been hanging around my kids. They’ve had complex dreams since they were old enough to tell them to me. Who are these researchers, anyway?

I do not know why I am writing about insomniacs. Starting a new novel is just like that. You reach into a bag and pull something out. Elves! Mid-life crisis! Genetic cloning! A love triangle! Cats that talk! You really never know what you’re going to get. Norma Fox Mazer, one of my advisers in grad school and a wonderful, generous human, said (paraphrased) every writer is given a certain territory that is theirs to mine. You don’t get to choose that basic territory. You only get to choose how deeply you go into it. The bag I reach into when it comes time to write is the territory. Apparently part of my writerly territory bag includes sleep, dreams, and their corollary: insomnia. And also nightmares.

But sometimes this happens: Last night I dreamed I was on one of those bullet trains, trying to read a book, working hard at it, and this woman—Gayle Greene, actually, the author of the excellent Insomniac—came bustling along, saying people were sleeping, it needed to be quiet in here, and if I wasn’t sleeping, I should go out. I was annoyed at her bossiness, haha, but she kept saying “Sleepy people need to sleep!” Then I woke up (5 in the morning is never any fun) to get up and write, but I kept thinking of this dream, kept hearing, “Sleepy people need to sleep!” and thought, shoot. She’s talking to me. And I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Too much of that and I’ll never get this novel off the ground, much less finished. I’ve only barely begun, maybe 10,000 words in (that’s about 10% if it’s my normal novel length). It’s a truism for me that I don’t know what I’ve got until I’ve got the whole thing. Editing is where the book emerges. Drafting is just getting the clay on the wheel. I wish I didn’t have to choose between sleep and work.

But then I remember that my kids will grow up and not care what I’m doing any more and I’ll have loads of time to write and to sleep. Don’t wish this time with them away.

I wish I didn’t have these bags under my eyes.

hi my name is maya and i am a drama queen

Some of y’all may have noticed that I am slogging along in this current novel-in-progress with all the enthusiasm of a root canal.  It’s been HARD, people.  I’ve got 50,000 words or so and most of them are CRAP.

Now, I’m used to this.  There are always times when a novel feel like crap as you write it.  You just put your head down and keep at it and eventually you come to the other part of the cycle where you think you’re a freaking genius, and the novel sparkles, and diamonds and flowers start coming out of your bum.  Good times.

But man, I haven’t had much at all of that on this project.  It’s been mostly a slogging, hating it, ride.

I want some rainbows!  I want me some fucking unicorns!

Anyway, I got so sick of it, I picked up a story a friend of mine and I wrote years ago, with my sights set on polishing, deepening, revising…

…and I found I really liked the story.  There were some lovely bits, a solid main character, some cool ideas.  Suddenly writing was fun again!  Suddenly I remembered why I do this!  Getting to the computer became easy.  I started having happy dreams where I talked to my favorite authors (I’m serious, it was Madeline L’engle last night, she’s AWESOME).  And, well, I just feel happy and forget why until I remember, oh yeah, my story is Kinda Good!

This is important for me.  I am bitter Way Too Often.

And then, wow, I finished it today, what a RUSH.  As a novelist, I usually only get the I JUST FINISHED SOMETHING rush maybe once a year.  Which is pretty lame when something feels as good as this does.  I am totally thinking about getting into short stories again, because man, I could use a high like this a hell of a lot more often than once a freaking year.  Or maybe there is another way? An easier way.  Extreme sports?  Multiple-orgasms?  Drugs?

Anyway, back to the present.  Because now that the story is done, well, not now, because now I’m floating all over the yurt in post-story-euphoria, but, you know, soon, I’m going to have to face the Novel That Sucks.

Should I put it aside?  I mean, I’ve bailed on projects before when they just weren’t giving me any love.  But I’m 200 pages in and usually the “put it aside” point is at about page 50.  Am I really going to give up on 200 pages?

On the other hand, I do have two other manuscripts I want to edit and put the final polish on.  I could work on those for a while. Maybe, in doing so, I’ll figure out what my 200 page turkey needs to find its wings.

On the other, other hand, maybe I should man-up and just keep on with this one until I break through into Happy Writing Land again? Maybe I just need to have a little faith.

Fuck.  Well, if I knew for sure that I would [cue holy music] Break Through, I would choose that, for sure.  But what if this novel really does just suck donkey dicks all the way down and I really should just hang it up and move the fuck on?  How to decide?

(Or maybe I should (looks around furtively) start something new?)

GAH.  NO.

*Beats self for even considering it.*

Could we go back to the drugs and orgasms option again?

lawrence, the cookie ninja writing coach

We go to the toy store pretty regularly on Luc-Choose days. He loves that toy store.  So last week, wandering around the toys, waiting for the kids to uncover today’s treasures, I found myself carrying around a little stuffed, um, bat?, creature, thingy.  He was cute and I was bored and I ended up talking to it and having it talk back to me in a funny voice.  The kids thought this was hilarious.  I wouldn’t buy it for myself—I’m a grown-up, for heaven’s sake!—so they bought it for me.

Turns out his name is Lawrence.  And he is a cookie ninja.

“Give me all your cookies!”

Seems all he eats is cookies, he hoards them in fact, flying around at night to raiding any cookie stashes we might have.  Here is Lawrence, pondering the height of our fridge, and the container of cookies that lives up there, next to the raisin bran and honey O’s.

“Hmm…”

But cookie raids are not, it turns out, Lawrence’s only job.  His other job is to kick me in my writerly butt.  “Have you done your 1000 words today?” he says, swooping in to land on my shoulder and nip at my ear.  “Those words you wrote yesterday were crap!  Write better words today!” he adds, before flying off again.

I’m serious!  He said this to me yesterday!

Okay, maybe it’s the kids, swooping him over, speaking his words in little high, screechy bat-tones.  But so far, Lawrence is always right.

Honestly, I had no idea the kids have been paying any attention when I speak of writing, or of my 1000 words, or of how well, or disastrously, a given day’s work had gone.  But they are.  And they’re offering their support of this mysterious thing I do via a small black bat.

I love how playful my kids are!  I love that they bought me this bat with their own money, to give to me, and then gave it a name, a personality, and a roll in our family, not to mentioned illustrated some of his adventures.  How cool is that?

I don’t know about Lawrence, though.  He’s a bit of an addict.  I found him this morning in a tableau set up for my discovery, flat on his back, covered in cookie crumbs, one half cookie still dangling near his mouth.  He said he didn’t remember a thing.  Cookie black-out.

Nearby, Sophie and Luc were giggling.

But he merely staggered to his feet, refusing to admit to anything.  “Do your 1000 words, lazy bones!” he screeched before flying, crookedly, away.  Trailing crumbs.

“There are mine!  Mine!  You can’t have any!”

He’s like my evil alter-ego.  Right now he’s perched on the window ledge above my computer in the writing room, preening and scolding.  “Get to work, quit blogging and get your 1000 words.”

See?  I needed this guy!  I had no idea.  My kids know me so well. 

the writing life

Tremendous thunder storm last night, I thought for sure the pine trees were going to crush us in our sleep.  I woke over and over to thunder booms—storms are SUPER LOUD in a yurt.  But we’re all fine this morning, lived to see another glorious day in the forest.  Everything is sparkly and moist, I love that.

Anyway, I’m up to 20,000 words in my drafting of the wip—wait, wasn’t I at 30,000 last time I posted about this?  I know, I know, but I had to throw out a big pile of words and write four new chapters, had a great idea for how to fix the trend to BORING that the previous version had.  So, the new, improved, version is at 20,000 and ticking along nicely, although I need to get my main character more fixed in my mind.  She waffles.  Which is totally typical at this stage.  On the down side, my new idea meant I had to go and do a bunch of research on interrogation, GOD humanity is so fucked up.  Have you heard of “enhanced interrogation,” all “legal” whatever that means, and pretty much evil, if you ask me.  Jeezus.  Well, my poor characters, why do I do this to them.  I’m sure they would have been happy with the “regular” interrogation, but no, I had to go and “enhance” it.

It’s interesting to see that, so far, this novel is a totally typical novel process for me.  I mean, interesting (to me, anyway) that I have a typical novel process.  Here it is: push forward to 100 pages, run out of steam.  Go back to the beginning and find out what went wrong.  Get some ideas and implement.  Push forward again, maybe to 150 pages.  Run dry.  Repeat.  Push forward again.  Until finally, finally, I reach the end.  Party.  Let it rest, binge read, watch movies, eat chocolate, play with kids.  After obligatory resting period and recuperation, print out that bad boy and read it.  Realize, FINALLY, what the novel is about.  Begin Real Revision.

I’m hoping to reach the Real Revision, what I usually call the Second Draft, although it’s all been through multiple versions by then, by the end of June.  I may be fooling myself.  I probably am fooling myself.

So!  In other writing news, I got a near-done progress report image from my cover artist yesterday, and it looks terrific, I’m so pleased.  Actually, I am TOTALLY STOKED to release Conjuring Raine into the world as a print book, hopefully very, very soon.  Like yesterday!  Okay, not yesterday, because I have not perfected my time machine.  YET.  And then the next novel to be released, I think, will be last year’s project, Toby Streams the Universe (working title, I’m not sure about it…) which I got back from the editor recently and hope to rewrite later this summer.  So stay tuned for news on that.

So many projects, so little time!

the straightest path between two points is not a novel

The new novel is kicking my ass. Down the stairs, around the block, and to the moon. I swear to goddess, we’re in March already and I only have a few thousand words–that’s right, a couple thou of pathetic, piddly words, that’s it, it’s embarrassing—and every single one of those words is crap. I mean, NONE of these words are going to end up in the finished thing, IF I can ever finish it, which is getting more doubtful by the day. No, what we have here are a couple thousand Slogging Through words, the kind one writes when one is trying find one’s way into a book and CAN’T. I get points for trying—I am showing up (most) days. But that’s about it. I can’t find the voice, I can’t find the character, I can’t get through these scenes. They are terrible. It’s all just terrible.

How have I ever written novels in the past? How have I started them? Maybe I haven’t. Maybe all my novels have sucked and I’m just fooling myself. Maybe I don’t actually know how to do this novel writing thing at all.

Yes, it’s so bad, I’ve entered into the Downward Spiral of Self-Doubt early this year. I usually wait until the middle of a novel to start thinking like this, but no, this year, I thought I’d get a head start and avoid the rush.

I still like the idea behind this book, I am still excited at the thought of reading this book. I mean, if I were to come upon this book on a bookstore shelf, I would exclaim, hey, cool, this looks fun! I’m so reading this! So that’s something.

My daily prayer to the novel-writing divas: There has got to be a way to get there from here. Please, let there be a way. And let me find it.