Tuesday, March 25, 2008

NaNoEdMo: Serendipity...Please?


I love first drafts. There’s magic in those first words to hit the page, an energy that crackles as my fingers fly across the keyboard. First drafts are where I unearth those precious secrets held close in the hearts of my characters, where I see their strengths and their beauty and their frailties. This is where they first reveal themselves to me, their hearts fluttering with nervous trust.

By comparison, editing slogs along. This is where I assure my characters that I know what they’re capable of, that it’s time for them to open up that little bit more, to risk that bit of extra danger. I nag them, I push them, I make them push back. I fill in the gaps and sweep up the mess I left my first time through. Editing is wringing potential from the first bare bones of my story. It’s the last leg of the journey before I let my baby go. Editing is hard, uphill work.

It’s no wonder so many novels never get past the first draft stage. For every minute I spend productively editing, I spend 10 minutes checking my email, sighing and staring at the monitor. I can’t tell I how many times I’ve looked at a rough draft of a scene and thought, “This is it. This is the scene that’s going to bust this book’s balls for good.” I find myself literally panic stricken. I rub my forehead, scrub both hands over my eyes, let out a heartfelt sigh. Sometimes, when I’m really flummoxed, I even grrr at the monitor.

But then I hit that moment of kismet, that serendipitous split-second where everything clicks into place. Suddenly, I see what I need to do—cut this, add to that, scrap those three lousy pages. As the story shapes up, a tremendous high carries me aloft. I know I’ve given my characters the best vehicle I could. I did them justice. Somehow, I made them live and breathe.

I’m trapped in a scene that’s killing me right now. The last precious EdMo hours are ticking away. Beth is lost to me, somewhere beyond the fog that’s clouding my consciousness. I rub my forehead, sigh, but I can’t hear her voice. Without her, my work is empty. I wish she’d come home.

So I stare at the monitor. Somehow, I have to hang on to what I have: faith in kismet, faith in the process. I’ve been through this before, trod this uphill road, felt my feet too heavy in my boots. I have to believe. She’s out there. I trust serendipity will bring her back.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NaNoEdMo: Mmmmm, Crow


After last week’s indolent foray into shopping and theatre outings, this week I fell victim to a new writing enemy: THE FLU.

Out of nowhere, it hit me, like Michael Strahan mowing over slow-moving seniors at the Old Country Buffet. As I lay in bed, too sick to read, my household fell into shambles. Like a trooper, my husband confronted his fear of the kitchen and prepared three meals a day. My daughter appeared several times an hour, eyes wide and lower lip trembling as she told me, “But I don’t want to play with Daddy, Mommy. I need you.”

On Sunday, I finally emerged wobbly-legged from bed. As I surveyed the wreckage that can only happen when Mommy’s out of commission, I realized two discouraging things. One, I hadn’t done a lick of editing in days, sending my EdMo goals spiraling into the abyss. And two, with 20 people coming for Easter dinner and the house in a shambles, I wouldn’t have time until after the Lord had risen.

I don’t want to lapse into whininess, but I feel as though my EdMo was doomed from the start. I wanted to quit before I began, then, miraculously, things seemed too easy that first glowing week. Did I make the fatal mistake of wallowing in cockiness? Even after the indolent slacker week, I honestly thought I could recover. EdMo was a piece of cake, compared to the intensity or NaNoWriMo. All I had to do was fix the mess I’d already written.

And therein lies the rub.

The editing is the tough stuff. I knew that going in. Still, somehow, this thing slipped away from me, in spite of my good intentions.

So what now?

The way I see it, I have three choices:

1) give up and spend the rest of March feeling guilty and sorry for myself.

2) push forward, torpedoes be damned and let my in-laws eat egg salad sandwiches in our dustbunny-laden germ-hovel. Or,

3) do the thing I find hardest when it comes to my writing--compromise. Not on quality. Never on quality. But perhaps ease up a bit on quantity. Learn to live with it if I only edit 6 scenes instead of 8, fix 40 pages, instead of 50.

The thought of it galls me. I hate giving up and compromising feels like just that. But this is the part where I remind myself this isn’t about me. It’s about the writing, so I guess I have no choice. It’s time to step outside of myself, shut up and accept the fact I may have to eat a little crow. Anything's better than egg salad.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NaNoEdMo: Lessons for a slacker


What started out with a bang has dwindled to a pitiful fizzle.

Yep, NaNoEdMo is running amok. Don’t get me wrong. I’m doing fine on my scene and page counts. I consider those things the real tangibles of NaNoEdMo. But my editing hours have fallen into a slump.

I won’t make excuses. I booked a busy social calendar for the weekend and didn’t leave myself time to write. But, even while I was slacking off, some pearls of writing wisdom came my way.


This one came from a theatre outing with my husband Saturday afternoon. I enjoyed the production—a very tight rendition of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The acting ranged from quite good to excellent. The set was pleasingly minimal.

What I didn’t like was being bludgeoned with a heavy handed Lazarus symbol, a too-oft repeated device used to impart theme and character development and to impose structure on the play’s deliberately fragmented structure.

Personally, I got the Lazarus symbol the first time I heard it. By the fifth time I was bored to tears with it. And when they closed the play with it, complete with hackneyed trick of Raskolnikov walking into the blinding light, I found myself feeling a little insulted. Before I even left the theatre, I’d added this to my DO NOT EVER DO list. An audience is smart. Give them credit for it. Let them put the pieces together themselves.


While out shopping with a few lady friends, I tripped across a bottle of nail polish that made story ideas dance through my head.

It was a gorgeous, saucy garnet, made by O*P*I, color name I’m Not Really a Waitress

I pictured innocent girls, leering greasy haired male customers, casting couches, dreamers and those sad, plodding women whose glamorous dreams have been strangled. I’m Not Really a Waitress. That name makes my wheels turn. I could write at least four stories off that single, provocative prompt.


A friend’s husband passed away Saturday afternoon after a vicious war with cancer. He was only 62 years old. No one expects to die in their 60’s anymore. For most people that’s just a beginning of a whole new phase of their lives. As I think about my friend and her husband, I wonder how many things they thought they’d have time to do, but didn't as they raced against the clock.

Since I know my readers are smart, I won’t belabor the point. And, really, I'm in no position to talk. I'm the one going off to plays and lunch and shopping, rather than sitting my butt at the computer.

So I remind myself to work, with the knowledge that life is short. Take time for friends, for family, for fun, but always make time to write.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

NaNoEdMo: The First Few Days


The fates must be smiling on me. NaNoEdMo’s going better than I hoped.

You see, I never thought I’d find myself in this happy circumstance. Last week, plagued by headaches, the stress of living with a two-year-old, and a generally bad attitude, I almost gave up on NaNoEdMo before I even started. And when a friend sent me an email to say she’d be in town on March 1, I thought, “Yep, that’s it, the sign from heaven that I just need to let this thing go.”

Well, I didn’t. I dug in Saturday, albeit much later than I really like to write, and got a big chunk done on a scene that had been busting my chops since last fall. Now, two days later, I wrestled that scene into fighting shape and I've begun tackling the next one. I never would have imagined it, but I’m right on track for meeting my aggressive 2 scenes per week goal.

Here’s a piece of the scene I just worked on, from my WIP, Somewhere On the Road To Me. In this excerpt, the 12 year old protagonist Beth hangs out at the tavern owned by her best friend, Shel’s dad (Ken). Debbie is Ken’s second wife and she hates Shel.


We’re sitting at one end of the bar, near the wood door with its giant glass middle. I soak in the pale green walls, the rows of booths and tables behind us, the half curtains hanging dustily in the clouded windows. The sunlight shines through them like we’re floating in someone’s dream. Above the curtains, the beer signs ooze dim gray-edge red and blue against the afternoon sun, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee.

I cross my legs and bounce my foot, elbow planted on the bar as I lay my chin on my nonchalantly curved hand. I breathe in cigarettes, grease and beer, feeling sophisticated down to my toes.

We’re well into a hand of crazy eights when a tall, foxy guy struts in, all chest and heel and hips swinging, chin out like he owns the place. He’s wearing a rust leisure suit with one of those silky beige Qiana shirts, the neck unbuttoned three down to show a copper crab resting in his blond chest hair.

“Who’s that?” I whisper.

Shel glances up and back to her cards, her head never moving an inch.


I lean forward, whisper. “He is so foxy.”

Shel rearranges a couple cards, says low, “He’s Ken’s liquor distributor.”

Dave struts by with a blast of cologne. He click-clicks a tongue and points his finger at Shel like it’s a gun.

“Hey, Doll.”

Shel rolls her eyes.

Dave laughs and rumples Shel’s hair, then walks over to where Debbie’s perched on the beer cooler. From the way Debbie smiles, you can tell she’s way happier to see him than she ever would be to see us.

“Your turn,” Shel says.

I start drawing cards, but my eyes are glued to Dave. He leans over the bar and gives Debbie a smile that would melt the North Pole. “Let’s go in the storeroom and see what you need this week.”

Debbie smushes out her cigarette and hops down from the cooler, lickety-split.

“Take care of the bar,” she says to Shel, then smiles all teeth at Dave. “And don’t bother us.”

She and Dave disappear into the storeroom, leaving me and Shel with the fogeys...