Friday, March 28, 2014

An Exercise in Visualization (Magazine Edition)

I love art. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m mildly obsessed with French Impressionism…to the point that I’ve traveled to Paris twice in order to walk the halls of amazing art museums and tour Monet’s beautiful water lily pond.  Ironically, I’m coming to realize that I’m not a very visual person, or at least not when it comes to characters.  Description is one area of writing where I always feel myself struggling. I’ve never been a big fan of books that include detailed descriptions of clothing, sunsets, rolling hills, or almost anything out in the real world. (If you’ve read Games of Thrones then you won’t be too surprised to find that I haven’t read the series, particularly for exactly this reason!)  Weirdly (or maybe it’s not so weird), I can spend all day and night reading and writing descriptions of internal struggles, rationalizations, and thought processes. I guess I figure all of the really interesting stuff is happening inside of us, so why waste the reader’s time telling them the color of the wallpaper? I know, total psychologist mentality!

On a rational level, I completely understand why descriptions are not only needed, but are essential for good reading.  How can a reader imagine a character or scene if he or she has no idea where the characters are or what they look like? Unfortunately, when I try to force my brain to think about or write descriptions, I suddenly feel the need to start cleaning the kitchen or googling some celebrity rumor I heard. Clearly, I have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to this realm of writing.

Given all of this, the topic for this month’s SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting was perfect for me.  We brought magazines to the meetings and spent the time chatting and searching through the pages for pictures that we could associate with our character(s). Once we found something useful, we were supposed to cut it out and paste it onto our “character collage.” As you can imagine, I felt myself struggling at first with this assignment.  I do have one rationalization for this, which is that my characters have fairly shitty lives and most magazines (that we had at least) featured smiling, happy people living in beautiful houses and eating yummy food. However, with a little concentration, I was able to find some pictures that could illustrate my two main characters (and some pictures that illustrated everything they didn’t have but desperately wanted.)

My collages for both characters  

The collages are not finished by any means, but I do like what I came up with.  Not only do I now have a tangible visualization to help me with each character, but I also have a new goal.  Starting now, when I flip through magazines or look at pictures, I’m going to try to see these images through the lenses of my characters. Would my female lead wear a certain dress or eat a certain food?  Which movie advertisement would my male lead be most interested in?  All of this information is pertinent and can tell me a lot about the characters, even if I never use it in my actual book.  I’m sure this will be an ongoing process for me, and one that I’ll write about again, but at least it’s a start!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Adventures in Revising

I’ve been working on my current project for close to a year now. I should have written down the exact day, but it was sometime in spring of 2013 for sure.  I’ve made a lot of progress in that time (I guess), including completing an entire 300+ page first draft of the book.  However, as anyone who has tried writing will well know, first drafts are crap.  Totally and completely.  I have a sneaking suspicion that mine is worse then most other people’s crap because I think they are able to actually revise their work, whereas I’ve taken to completely rewriting the entire book a second time. Sigh.

It’s amazing how much work there is to do before you even start revising.  First, you’re supposed to put the book aside long enough that you start to forget about it.  That’s easier said than done when you’ve been thinking and working on something for almost nine months. (I can see why writers will sometimes call their books “their babies”…though mine is still in the gestation phase.) I put my first draft away for almost six weeks and it was hard but comforting at the same time.  I didn’t have to feel any guilt if I wanted to watch TV or sleep!

Second, you need to read your WIP (work-in-progress) in its entirety. I’d never done this before with anything else I’d written, which I now realize is completely ridiculous.  How could I have possibly thought that it was a good idea to send out my last novel to literary agents when I hadn’t even read the whole thing myself?! To be fair, I had actually read that last book many, many times, but just not all at once.   I see now that this makes all the difference. You can’t just read chapter 1 and then skip over to chapter 10—you have to read it from start to finish without changing or rewriting anything because that’s what a reader will do.  That’s the only way to truly see your book as a whole.  So, that was a new experience for me…and a fairly depressing one.  Like I said before, I wasn’t necessarily expecting much, but I was still sad to see how bad some of it was. 

Once you’ve gone through that trial, if you have any motivation left at this point, you need to start working through all the changes you need to make. For me, that included completely rewriting the first half of the book (!), changing the tense of the entire book (!!), and adding a second narrator (!!!). That ‘s enough to make you want to just quit and find a new hobby, but that never works for me in the long run. I can only hold out so long before the writer in me starts banging on the walls of my brain, demanding to be let out again. So, I push on, and blindly tell myself it’s going to get better.

Now, this might all seem very doable if this was a one-time deal, but many writers revise their books (heavily revise—not just moving commas and changing adjectives) four, five, or even SEVEN times before sending it out to be reviewed.  Oh dear Lord, how long will it take me to go through this process seven times?!!  I don’t even want to know.   I’m just going to keep moving forward slowly, one paragraph in front of the other, and try not to think about the future. Or, maybe I’ll only think about the far future…when I’m a published writer.  ;)

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Beginning

I’ve dreamed of becoming a writer since I was a little girl. I’ve saved pages and pages of stories that I wrote throughout elementary, middle, and high school, and even a “hardcover” book that I wrote, illustrated, and bound (by wrapping sheets of paper around cardboard for the front and back cover). I don’t know exactly when this idea first came to me or why. If anything, it’s a goal that I’ve tried to push away many times because of how unrealistic it seems.  However, no matter how hard I try to forget about writing, I find myself thinking about plot lines while driving or noticing how a certain song would perfectly capture the mood of one of my scenes.  So, I’ve decided that I’m going to try—really try—to become a writer and see where it takes me.

Really, the whole idea of becoming a “writer” is silly because, technically, I’ve been a writer since I first wrote “The Dreams of Isabella” as a young child.  Anyone who tries writing a story or novel can call themselves a writer, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But I want more than that. I want to become an author. A published author. And, boy, is that a scary thing to write in black and white for the whole world to read.

What I never dreamed about was writing a blog.  In fact, I’ve resisted creating a blog for a long time now…and by that, I mean a year or so.  It’s not because I have anything against blogs. Blogs are great for people who having something interesting to share with others.  Cooking recipes, inventive party planning tips, and more importantly, advice from sage, published authors are all great topics for a blog. The thing is, I don’t have any of that information.  I’m not at that point in my writing where I can start telling people about the do’s and don’ts of plot or dialogue.  I’m still working on all of that myself.  All I have is my own take on this experience of trying to write a novel while also doing about a hundred other things, among them teaching full-time and being a wife and mother. So, that’s what I plan for this blog to be about.  My thoughts and experiences with writing, any new information or hints I learn, and all of the steps I take on my way towards this dream.

 Maybe by taking time to write all of these “musings” out, it will help me to understand this whole process better. And if not, at least it gives me an excuse to not actually have to write today!  ;)  Either way, thanks for taking the ride with me!     
Some of the many 'books' I've written over the years.  If you look in the back, you'll see a few are handwritten.  :)