Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Veera: Word by Word

I read somewhere that Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. Needless to say, I'm no Hemingway, but it's good advice. I used to write in inspired bursts. Whenever the desire came over me I'd park myself at my notebook or eventually my Brother word processor, and then at my first laptop which probably weighed more than I did, and write for hours until the words became blurry. After, I'd stop and wait for days, weeks, even months until the next burst came.

If I had a deadline for a class, I usually procrastinated until the last minute and pulled more than a few all-nighters. The fast approaching deadline was the only thing that drove me into a panic of productivity. I remember finishing whatever I was writing, a short story or a paper, sitting at my white Formica Ikea desk, the smell of old coffee lingering in the air, and feel that sweaty and delirious sense of accomplishment as the sun rose, and the huge relief that I actually wrote the damn thing on time.

That was then. Before kids, before I published my book, before a lot of things. Only the pressure of an exciting idea rising to the surface or an imminent deadline could get me to write, that pain-staking creation of word after word, sentence upon sentence, page after page. Now I've seen the light--breaking my work down into a daily word count. It's not the new me, it's the old-er me.

It took me six years to write my recently published novel, THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL, which I produced in my inspired-burst way in between work and having babies and life. Since publishing the book, I've been working on a few different projects, some hopeful, some under contract and the only thing that gets me to hit my deadline now is sticking to a daily word count. After tinkering with amounts, I've found 500 to be the perfect number (thanks Hemingway!). It's enough space to make true progress on the piece, not enough to exhaust the writer or intimidate one to do the work. I can always find a couple hours for 500 words.

This past year I was juggling children, marriage, a teaching job, and those writing projects, two of which had tight deadlines. Fear still gets me to produce, but the difference is that I used to be driven by the fear of the deadline fast approaching. What's changed is now I'm driven by the fear that I just don't have the all-nighters in me anymore. If I do not write a little everyday, it will NOT happen. This fear has allowed me to produce a 25,000 word manuscript in about 60 days. I do it even though I'm not always excited about it. Most of the time the inspiration follows, and when it doesn't, I fix it in revisions.

According to my trusty iPad, this post is exactly 500 words. A good day's work.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Megan: Summer Reading for Writers

Summer reading.

For some of you, just the words make you shudder as you recall a slog through teacher-approved books that seemed intent on teaching you that life was a bummer and always would be. Others know that in the right hands, summer reading can be a gateway to unknown worlds. Summer reading can mean sunny afternoons spent swinging in a hammock, or rainy days on the couch. I think a successful summer reading list relies on choice, not only in book titles, but also in what the reader hopes to get out of it. It is in that spirit I offer this highly subjective list of summer reading books for writers.

A Classic:
The Chocolate War and Beyond the Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
A case could be made that Cormier started the current trend of YA literature. He was one of the first to write specifically for teens and many of us who came of age reading his books are now writers ourselves. The Chocolate War is a quintessential story of standing your ground amidst abuses from classmates and teachers. It’s sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War, achieves the trick of making you feel sympathy for the villain of the original novel.
Alternate Choices: Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Craft Book:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Personally, I’m not much for craft books, but I love this one, perhaps because it is a craft book tied up in a memoir. King can spin a good yarn, and also offers concrete, nuts and bolts writing advice from avoiding adverbs to keeping rejections out in public.
Alternate Choice: Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott, The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood

A Beach Read:
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
A beach read should be light, funny, with a bit of romance, and this book has that, especially the funny. Beware of reading in public: you will be laughing out loud.
Alternate Choice: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (less laugh-out-loud funny, more wry-funny)

An Adult Book:
Pocketful of Names by Joseph Coomer
There are adults who say they only read YA and MG books because those books are better/more interesting/what have you. (See Roger Sutton for the counterpoint). I think it’s a false dichotomy. Adult books and kids books are necessarily different. A couple of summers ago I read Pocketful of Names. It begins with a dog overboard, struggling to swim to an island. For pages. And pages. Whereas a YA novel would have jumped right in, Coomer took his time. Reading for this difference can teach you as much about writing for children as reading an all kidlit-diet, not to mention the simple pleasure in revelling in the language and the more languid pace.
Alternate choices: The adult books in my pile are Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, though I think I may be the last person on earth to read it, which brings me to . . .

A Buzzed-About Book:
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay.
When I found out that Jim Kay was going to be doing the cover and interior illustrations for The Water Castle (Walker 2013), this title moved to the top of my TBR pile. It is, quite simply, stunning, and I’m not surprised it won both the Carnegie and the Greenaway awards.
Alternate titles: It never hurts to read the latest big award winners: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Newbery Medal), Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (Printz), Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai (National Book Award), No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Boston Globe-Horn Book).

This list is undeniably contemporary realistic fiction heavy, which reflects my bias. I would love to get a more complete list going in the comments. So, what are your summer reading suggestions?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Erin: My WIP is trying to kill me

I've been working on a certain side project since before TAKEN went on sub over two years ago. Whenever I have some downtime, this WIP is the baby I pull out and tinker with. It has been through countless drafts. It's changed POV and tense. It's been stream-lined in some areas and bulked up in others. It's been revised again and again and again and it's still not the story I know it can be, the vision I have in my head. Each revision brings it closer, but something is still...off.

Sometimes I'm convinced this manuscript is trying to kill me. I'll be elbow-deep in revisions and get hit with that pesky wave of doubt that claims, "You just can't do it. It's never going to be what you want it to be. Maybe you weren't meant to write this story."

My debut sort of fell out of me in one fell swoop, which was somewhat magical. I couldn't type fast enough, and when I finished, the story was pretty close to the tale I envisioned from the start. But this WIP is a labor of love, a struggle, a constant challenge, and I adore the story–the possibility of what it can become–too much to quit.

So I keep chipping away, sculpting and shaping, making it stronger every time I sit down and open Scrivener to write. As the very wise Jenny Martin said on twitter recently: Writing is revising. (And while it's slow, I am making progress.)

The only thing I know for certain is that all books start and end in the same place for a writer: there's a spark of an idea that sends us running to our computers, and later–much, much later–we've amassed several thousand words that we are proud to call our story. It's everything that happens in the between these start and end points that's unpredictable. How the story comes into being depends not only on the story itself, but the writer as a person.

So maybe it's not that I'm not supposed to write this WIP I'm struggling with, but that I'm not supposed to write it yet. Maybe I need another one, two, five years of living under my belt to tell it properly. Or maybe I just need to keep chipping away at it, day by day, until I find my path. Maybe I'm really close and I'll see the light when I round the next corner. I don't know how I'll get there, but I know that I will. One day I'll finish a revision and it will be the revision. The story as it was supposed to be told.

It's funny how stories always seems so straightforward in my head. And then I start typing and well, it's a lesson I seem destined to learn over and over: Writing is just plain hard.

So tell me...Do you have a WIP that is trying to kill you? A story that you believe in and love but seem miles away from completing? Let's commiserate in the comments! :)