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Thanks, y'all... [Jul. 10th, 2007|02:03 pm]
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Thanks for all the congratulatory comments on the Heinlein Award.   It gives me a warm glow to know there are people who are glad for me and who think I deserve the award. 

The story is in--emailed to my agent at 1:30ish this morning, after two more revisions and another nit-combing attempt to remove any problem areas.  (One that sneaked past several revisions, showing how tired I was--I typed "side" instead of "sight" in one place and didn't even see it until the *second* time I read it aloud.)

My agent liked it, said it made him laugh out loud (rare) and is sending it on to the anthology editor for me.   So I'm really glad I didn't quit before getting the ending to "pop."    (It had a good ending but just not *enough*.  So I deconstructed the last fourth of it *again*, after 11 pm, put it back together after polishing each bit,  and then the perfect last paragraph popped out at me.)

I mention things like the hours, and the number of times I rework something, not so much as a brag (gee, would I ever brag?  Lil ol' humble me???  Ya think?)   as to let less experienced writers know that there is no set number of times to rework something....you do it until it's *right*.   It may come out right the first time (rare, but it happens)  or the second, third, fourth, or twentieth. 

Part of a writer's toolkit is learning how to tell if it's right yet.   On short works, we almost never have editorial help...but a short work is easier to hold in mind all at once--you can see the whole thing, in your mind's eye, and turn it around mentally to see all its surfaces, make sure that everything is clean and polished, that the shape makes sense, says something, has the effect you wanted it to have.  When I first started writing fiction, I had no concept of "right"...I was just storytelling, rambling along in the voice of this writer or that, trying things out.   Later on, I thought I knew when a story was "good enough", but I knew that in terms of schoolwork--spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax.  

Not until my thirties did I begin to feel the difference between a story that was all there but not "right"  and one that was "right."  Depending on whether you think of writing as discovery or construction, one of these analogies might make more sense than the other.  Discovery:  the story exists as a perfect entity   somewhere in the sludge at the bottom of your mind.  You go dredging for stories; the net brings up a mud-covered lump with some gleams showing.   Is it a story?   You don't know yet.   You begin cleaning away the muck, the goo, the odd slimy creature from the deeps...you dig out the tarry stuff that's caught down in the crevices, decide if the stony growth on one end is part of it, or of something else....and when you've got it all clean, all the parts that don't belong to it washed away, it's "right."  Construction:  the story is something you make: you carve pieces, you assemble it, you sand it smooth and rub it down with linseed oil so it shines.   Early in the work, the pieces are rough-carved; they don't fit together well yet; it's encumbered with extra bits of wood (it may even be held in a jig that will completely disappear later)...but as you progress, it takes its real shape, and then its final finish...and then it's right.  Nothing's there that doesn't belong; everything's there that does belong; everything's in its right proportion to everything else, and you can't see any of the joints.

It's a good feeling.  

Almost as good as the praise and congratulations of friends...which is every bit as good as receiving an award.

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: green_knight
2007-07-10 08:15 pm (UTC)

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the art of the short story is something I cannot seem to master. I cannot constuct one for the life of me, and they don't jump ot to me fully formed until on very rare occasions.

Novels are easier somehow, and I'm happy to write until things click, even if it means that I'm 2K past the ending...

As for the 'holding whole novels in my head' I've discovered a neat trick" I create a new file for every scene, and I give every scene a title. Read in order, my scene list gives me a mini-synopsis, and I can judge the pacing against it.
[User Picture]From: dinahprincedaly
2007-07-11 01:50 am (UTC)

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Next time I will do this, this sounds very sane... but I'm roughly 375-400 pages into a novel and I'm losing it, can't hold all the pieces together... any advice???? I can't go back right now and name all my scenes, break them into separate files... I need to move forward... but its hard without it all in my head...
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-07-11 02:19 am (UTC)

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Not everyone can work the same way. I have several possible suggestions for you, but there are several things I need to know, because the easiest way to get a handle on a book you're that far into depends on some structural points.

1. One point-of-view character or multiples?
2. Mystery or other type of plot structure?
3. Settings: spread all over the map, or happens in a single (or a few close-together) locations?
4. Time: Straight-line sequence that fits into approximately one year, or a) has a lot of parallel or flashback sequences or b) plot runs for several-many years?
5. Ending: Do you know the outcome yet? (not in detail, just generally.)

Quick fix if it's one main POV, it's not a mystery, the setting isn't too complex, and the temporal sequence is straightforward and not too long:

A. Do the one-sentence summary: your protagonist does what why? (John leads rebellion against government because they shot his mother for stealing bread to feed her children.)

B. Define, for the protagonist, all the following: emotional state at beginning of book, emotional state at end of book, dominant emotional state, primary defense mechanism (denial, rationalization, aggression, etc.), greatest fear, greatest hope, primary strength and the vulnerability its excess causes, primary weakness and its utility if the weakness isn't too great. Define the protagonist's basic belief system: what does he/she think is good, evil, disgusting, admirable, etc.? Does he/she think change is possible/desirable/undesirable?

C. Read what you've got so far, and do a barebones narrative (no description) that hits only the direction changes. "John sees his mother die; John vows to bring down the government; John gathers allies. Someone betrays him; all flee, John makes it to neighboring country. Gathers new allies, but is shot by enemy agent, loses a leg. Leads rebels back home, despite this. More and more support. Successfully blows up power station and railway bridge..." This is like telling a friend who knows you're writing a book about the book...

D. Write the ending.

E. Read the whole thing, with the exercises you've done in mind. Do you see someplace that's "soft" or looks like it doesn't fit? Take it out. Do you see a place where something's missing? Put it in.

Now if you have multiple viewpoints, that's a different situation and best approached from another angle.
[User Picture]From: dinahprincedaly
2007-07-11 02:59 am (UTC)

my gratitude and awe

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how did you do that? all that orderly thinking? so fast?
this is incredibly helpful... thanks...

1) one POV
2) many mysteries (a preadolescent plot twister character involved) most of which will never be solved
3) one city, apart from flashbacks
4) I am writing it sequentially, day by day, morning to night, but the plot is not strait forward, is layered... is supposed to read a little like a domestic thriller... It starts on a Tuesday and ends the following Tuesday. (It was supposed to end on Monday, but I could not fit everything in, I need one more day.)
5)I do know the end... I still have several small but complex scenes to write and two major scenes--that need some major figuring out... and a then a kind of coda

one problem is I lost momentum when I took a two week break from writing... I kind of lost the narrator's voice
another problem is I think I have become a rewriting addict... I can't get past myself... I keep thinking of better ways to do it... I change just one word 22 times... this is so unlike me... I wrote most of this novel, flat out getting it close to right the first time... now I can't do that for some reason... I get stuck seeing all the possibilities a scene could go...
well, anyway, I am going to reread your suggestions and try again tomorrow morning crack of dawn before life takes over
thanks again---really thanks

[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-07-11 04:15 am (UTC)

Re: my gratitude and awe

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How? Lotta rubber has been on this road. I didn't get these gray hairs just by breathing in and out (this is a joke, not a put-down.)

One pretty-obvious problem is that you choked near the end...that's a sign of something other than the writing blocking the writing. It's rude (and usually inaccurate) to do public psychoanalysis, but let me just mention that a lot of creative people get really scared near the end of a project...it's a form of performance anxiety. If that's what's causing your rewriting frenzy, and you recognize it and stare it in the face...it will shrink. (It happens to me, after twenty books...there is a point in the last third of every book where I think "This is utter cr*p, I don't know what I'm doing, I've lost it...")

This is the point at which writing the one-sentence summary, reviewing your protagonist's psychology, and then a sorta-kinda outline summary will all help. The one-sentence establishes your backbone--who did what why. The quick review of the protagonist's emotional state, coping strategies, etc. helps you with motivation of the intermediate actions. What you don't want to do is change the kind of thing you originally thought of, this late in the game...it's like, if you're 3/4 of the way through building a two-story colonial, this is not the time to decide you'd like it to be a split-level ultra-modern. Go on and finish the colonial, and if you still hate it, sell it and start something else.

The break in your writing certainly could have contributed to performance anxiety--you lost the flow, and it IS hard to get it back sometimes. Usually, in fact. The fact that you're working with a complex plot structure--mysteries, a twist--means any gap in your work is more likely to cause problems than if it were a straightforward plot. So now you have those possibility-branches--all the maybes and mights--more or less flapping in the breeze of your worry that it's not easy anymore.

Several things might work--one of them should jump up and say "ME!" at you. First, really dig into your protagonist for a day. It's great that you're only dealing with one POV character, because it's easier to think inside of one (when you're having problems, anyway.) If you really know that character, he/she will be less flighty about possibilities (the story may call for the character to be confused, but he/she will be confused in a singular way. I hope that makes sense.) Second, flowchart the alternatives you think of. This isn't writing; this is mechanical plotting. It's quicker than writing, and it's also more visible when something won't work (or is a new idea that might work...) If you choose to flowchart, carry it to the end (don't do this at the beginning of a book--it'll drive you crazy--but as far along as you are, it can help.) Third, make a pact with yourself not to change *anything* until you're finished. If this means that you have fifteen pages of unintelligible junk because you're not able to think of anything else....fine. Do it anyway. Obsessive rewriting is like going back to the house 20 times to see if you really turned the stove *all the way* off. If you force yourself not to go back, the anxiety will eventually go away. If nothing else, write about why you can't write and how much you want to go back and rewrite...but don't delete or change even that until you've come to the end. (Then, of course, you go back and cut stuff.) If you can keep in mind that you're *drafting* the book...it doesn't have to be perfect right off, anything can be changed *later*...that can help.

Good luck with it.

[User Picture]From: dinahprincedaly
2007-07-11 07:45 am (UTC)

good luck with it

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Okay, sounds like nail square on head.(20 times back to the stove...) You seem like a very tough and kind person. Thank you for thinking about this for me.
[User Picture]From: webfaerie
2007-07-11 04:18 am (UTC)

::print::

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Awesome. Concise, and yet adapable to a variety of writing styles. I paid $19.95 (or something like that) for a book that wasn't half as helpful in putting the whole process in perspective.

Karen
[User Picture]From: dinahprincedaly
2007-07-11 11:52 am (UTC)

Re: ::print::

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yes... I agree... e_moon60 could easily write a sane and lifesaving book about writing... there is so much out there about how to find or get inspired and not so much about how to fix the process when the one you are in is not working and you feel straanded in the middle of nowhere... e_moon60 is like the car mechanic who loves cars and hears the sound your car is making no one else hears, has customized her tools to fix problems that the tools you buy new in the store don't fit... I would buy her fix-it book in a second... I think she should write it like a roadtrip... the signs, the pitstops and pitfalls, the wrong turns, roadkill, good motels, bad motels, where to eat, etc.

what do you think e_moon60 ??? got the time, inclination?
[User Picture]From: cdozo
2007-07-11 12:36 pm (UTC)

Re: ::print::

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Ah, I see you two have met.

By way of introduction, Elizabeth, this is Dianh. Dinah is an LJ friend of mine. It the "real world" she is a friend of my sister's. She lives in the NYC area.

Dinah, this is Elizabeth. She is primarily an online friend, although we do interact in person on occasion.
[User Picture]From: dinahprincedaly
2007-07-11 01:18 pm (UTC)

Re: ::print::

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thanks cdozo, you a gracious host... happening into a comment by e_moon on your LJ was one of the luckier things that have happened to me in WEEKS... thanks for your friendly LJ... I am still a pretty green user... and I may be still the bull in the china e-shop... but, this was a godsend yesterday... and now I am also hoping my sis matildasmom manages to get her LJ going, so when she drives off in her subaru and goes back to being 3000 miles away from us, I can still have this odd but wonderful kind of a window into her life this LJ way
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-07-11 03:25 pm (UTC)

Re: ::print::

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I'm a green user too...you should've seen me kicking and snarling about the interface over the past couple of weeks. I'm used to communicating on my SFF.net personal newsgroup (accessible through the SFF.net website's webnews, if you don't want to install their news server in your newsreader...just go to http://www.sff.net/ and in the upper right corner there's a link for WebNews. Browse the newsgroups..there are writing-related newsgroups, too, in the writing hierarchy. My newsgroup is in the "people" hierarchy.) This is very different. Each has its advantages, but LJ is taking some getting used to.

[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-07-11 02:54 pm (UTC)

Re: ::print::

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Connections! I love connections. (I can't always *remember* connections, any more than I can remember faces, but I like them.)

[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-07-11 02:52 pm (UTC)

Re: ::print::

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Time? (Hollow laugh here, followed by hair pulling, whimpers, longing looks at the outdoors where it is finally not raining and the floodwaters have receded, but there is work on deadline inside...)

But more seriously--I never thought about a "writing rescue" book. Hmmm. You're right, there really isn't one. And it could be useful. Hmmm. Not this week, though. This week is page proofs for one project, editorial revisions for another, and a bio for a study group project thingie. And somewhere in there laundry for the next trip and it would also be nice to clear another square foot of floor.
[User Picture]From: dinahprincedaly
2007-07-11 03:00 pm (UTC)

Re: ::print::

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wise women do housework and do mull...


...bad directions, outdated maps, going places you haven't been before, returning to places you have and why they are never the same... AAA roadservice, renting a cheap car, losing luggage off the rack... Need some more chapters for the rescue book?
[User Picture]From: cdozo
2007-07-11 03:20 pm (UTC)

More Chapters

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Throw, tow, row, go...The ABC's of CPR...
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-07-11 02:24 am (UTC)

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I couldn't write novels that way...different brains work differently. Sometimes I'll be "given" a scene that's out of sequence from where I'm working, and then I'll save it in a separate file, but much of the time I write in long stretches, where scene after scene flows by without my noticing it.

When I'm doing multiple viewpoints (as in the Vatta's War series) I often work in one viewpoint...and then those viewpoints are titled (this time I had "Rafe and Stella" and "Stella and Ky" etc.) With multiple points of view, I don't know what order the viewpoint sections will be in until very near the end. Where to transition from viewpoint to viewpoint depends on exactly how the other viewpoint is written--which I can't know until I've written it.
[User Picture]From: cdozo
2007-07-11 03:25 pm (UTC)

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I enjoy that aspect of your story telling. As one point-of-view is unfolding, I'm imagining what may be happening elsewhere. Then the POV switches and I see how much of what I imagined is actually going on.

I also like the insights to the various characters I get from this technique. I like getting to see them from both the inside and the outside.
[User Picture]From: neshel
2007-09-17 07:25 pm (UTC)

Congrats and then some.

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Wow, I know this is a really old post but as I found this one first, and its quite appropriate, I wanted to respond here.

First off all, I'm a big fan. You probably get a lot of that, but I had to say it because I'm currently sitting here in absolute awe, realizing that I have a way to (possibly) talk with one of my favourite authors.

Just reading your answers to other people's questions is like discovering a wonderous fountain of knowledge, but I simply can't resist the urge to ask you one of my own. Especially since I realized only yesterday what exactly it is that has me banging my head against a brick wall.

I've been planning a novel for a while now, and I've written a few scenes but not too much because I've still been tweaking the ideas. I have, however, finally reached the point where I feel like I can start to seriously write.

I have my end quite firmly in mind, my characters lovingly designed, and the beginning chapters almost fully written in my head. I've known since the beginning what the heart and soul, or the overall message of the story is, and I'm feeling really good about all that.

The problem is connecting the beginning to the end. There are certain things I want to happen, certain plot points, if you will. One of the moments I most want to include, for character exploration and growth (among other things) is, however, causing serious conflicts with my ending. I know there must be something I can do to connect this event with the ending, but I'm so frustrated with it right now that part of me thinks I should just chuck it, even though I really want to include it.

Have you ever experienced a similar blockage? Your advice to dinahprincedaly might be useful to me, I have most of that in my head but I'll try writing it down to see if it helps. In the meantime, if you've got any specific advice you're willing to share I might just die of happiness.
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-09-18 02:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Congrats and then some.

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If you die of happiness, you'll never finish the book...

What you're running into is the "work" part of writing a book. First, you need to get those beginning chapters written down *really*...not in your head. I've mentioned before the well-known T-shirt (for equestrians, anyway) "Shut up and ride!" (Something instructors are always saying, in various ways, to students who, instead of riding, want to ask questions or talk about how they can't do something.) Well, "Shut up and *write*!" is the writers' version of that.

Seat of pants applied to seat of chair, fingers to pen/pencil/keyboard. Every day. For a significant length of time (at least an hour, usually longer, but you can work up to it.) The physical act of writing is part of what generates the momentum to get you over the rough spots. You can't do it all in your head (or...almost no one can. Solzhenitsyn, locked away in the Gulag...but most of us have too many pleasant distractors.)

You can outline on paper more extensively, but that doesn't work for me. It does for some--and until you try, you don't know what kind of writer you are (the outlining kind or the non-outlining kind.) The proof is whether the outlining/notetaking works when you start the actual writing.

I would caution against falling in love with any detail until you've got everything up to then written...it may be a fine detail (person, event, place) but it may not really belong to this book. The good thing about jettisoned bits of books is that they don't actually leave trash on the highway...you can discard anything that doesn't work and readers will never know it was there. Sometimes (not often for me, but oftener for other writers) you can pick up the bits you dumped and use them somewhere else.

But at this point, your job is to sit down and get it on paper. Start today.
[User Picture]From: neshel
2007-09-18 03:14 pm (UTC)

Re: Congrats and then some.

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Ok, maybe dying of happiness is a slight exaggeration, but finding this blog and -wow- talking to you all feels a little surreal right now. (Note to self: restrain fan-ish impulses.) Sorry.

Thank you for taking the time to reply. I was taken aback for a moment by your comments, but I think deep down I already knew that what you've said is right.

I used to write prolifically for my own pleasure (fanfiction mostly) without any outlines and certainly not all this stalling. I've had a sort of writer's block -for various personal reasons- for the last few years; but I've known for a while now that my anxiety issues, though mostly under control now, have been causing me to stall on working on this book which is most precious to me.

I am probably trying to iron out so much of it in my head because part of me is afraid to start writing it seriously, but I swore that I wouldn't let my anxiety get in the way of doing what I love anymore. I guess its time to listen to my own resolutions and face that particular demon instead of making excuses.

Thank so much for hitting me over the head rather bluntly like that. It's what I needed to hear, as much as that annoying clenching of my gut disagrees.
[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-09-18 03:44 pm (UTC)

Re: Congrats and then some.

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Fear is normal...look, I don't know any writers who don't have it, at some point or other, when facing the start of a new book. I certainly do. It's like climbing on a new horse for the first time...or facing a line of fences you've never jumped before...or starting any new job/project/class.

I wrote an article on blocks (it's on my website) and this is the one I call "novice nerves." It can hit anyone, including an experienced writer, when starting something new or different. Hard as it is to believe, the answer really is "shut up and write." Go to work. Force yourself to think only about the characters and story...because what's interfering is your thoughts about everything else (Can I finish? What if I get stuck? Will people like it? Will it sell? Who will it sell to? What if I'm wasting my time? What if I never get published? What if....etc.)

It may help if you tell yourself a big whopping lie...tell yourself that you're just writing for fun. That this is just a story, like the other stories you wrote. No pressure (you don't have a contract and a deadline) so you are doing it just because you want to. Remember, I started Paksenarrion's story as a short story for a friend's kid...I didn't even think about it being a book (let alone one that long) until I was happily writing along and realized it was getting awfully big. But it was fun...

It should be fun, at least part of the time. Yeah, there are sucky periods in every book when I want to *headdesk* over and over, but basically it's fun. So let it be fun. Don't worry about all the rules. You can fix just about anything in revision. Just write. Have fun with it. Let the story tell you what it wants to be...which it can only do if you're actually writing it. That's both scary and fun, but more fun than scary.
[User Picture]From: neshel
2007-09-18 04:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Congrats and then some.

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I found your writings on blocks and depression and gave them a read (yay lunch breaks) and I'd say your diagnosis of Novice Nerves is right on.

Oddly enough, I had what you described as true writer's block in my second year of University. I was taking BioChem, which turned out to be a disastor because I hated it, and while slipping deeper and deeper into depression I lost the will to write absolutely anything.

Its been 4 years now and I finally have my head back on straight, for the most part. I do have a separate anxiety disorder that surfaced thanks to the depression, but as I said earlier I think I have that under control now.

I think that, more than being afraid of whether my writing will be any good, I'm afraid of all sorts of things related to that block and how much it hurt to lose that drive. Until I finally managed to start writing little thing again this year I was terrified that I'd somehow lost my creativity. In retrospect it seems kinda silly, but that's depression for you.

Either way, writing does seem to be the best solution. My day job doesn't drain my energy like it used to, so I have the time and energy again...

And I get what you mean by "let the story tell you want it wants to be". Its odd, when I was in high school I wrote novel sized fanfiction and never had a clear ending in mind until I got there. At the time it never occurred to me that something so fun could actually be a possible career. Science was what my parents went into, and I was b-lining straight for it. I wonder if its simply the idea of publishing, the dream of writing for a living, that made me change my strategy.

I have a hard time lying to myself, saying its just for fun or not a big deal; but I think that I should be able to "shut up and write", the resolve is there I've just been being a bit stupid. I won't beat myself up about any wasted time though, depression makes one do stupid things.