I’ve been a bad blogger this week, but a good writer.
There are still 10 days left of July, and I’ve blown past my month’s novel-writing goal of 90 hours. As of today, I have spent 101 hours doing hands-on-the-keyboard revision. For the last week, however, I’ve been starting to get a little crazy – the work was blurring and I couldn’t pull myself away from it. Yesterday, the heat wave we’ve been having broke, Ogre had the day off work, and I needed a break. I couldn’t really abandon the novel-writing headspace entirely, so I opted for a sort of working holiday.
Every setting in my novel, Legacy Falls, is inspired by a real place, in or around the town of Anoka, Minnesota. The house where Lizzy, Will and the kids live (and where another family of spirits roam) is based on the Oliver H. Kelly Farm. I have take huge liberties with its location, size, floorplan … well, with just about everything. And I’m okay with that. Now that I’m in the revision draft, though, it’s time to get some half-remembered details right.
From chapter 1 of Legacy Falls:
Now, as she surveyed the area, she was surprised to find her sense of satisfaction waning. The cellar looked too empty, even barren.
Ought to be full, oughtn’t it? This late in the season.
Heat flushed Lizzy’s cheeks. Despite the chill, she felt sweat welling from her scalp and along her hairline. In the span of a blink, she imagined the room as it should be—the bins overflowing with potatoes and onions, the shelves lined with jars of pickles and preserves.
Apple butter. ‘Should be a dozen pints of apple butter put up by now.
With all this beautiful space at her disposal, why had she never taught herself to can the vegetables she grew in her gardens? Sure, she had been known to blanch and freeze a few Ziplocks full of green beans, but—
But this is just wasteful, idn’t?
A drop of perspiration ran down her temple and into the corner of her eye. When she raised a hand to rub the sting away, she realized her palms, too, were oily with sweat. Instinctively she moved to dry them on her apron … then stopped in mid-motion, with her hands hovering over her stomach. Of course she wasn’t wearing an apron. She hadn’t worn an apron since she was a kid, playing house.
Lizzy knuckled the salt from her eye, pressing hard enough to make phosphenes dance behind her lids. Dizziness flared, then turned into a surge of cold that flashed from her head, through her torso and along her arms. She reached for the counter to steady herself. For a second, she thought she had missed it, but then her fingertips caught the edge.
A small dust-devil—carrying more golden leaves than dust—tumbled down the short flight of wide steps from the yard. All but invisible, it whirled directly toward Lizzy, raised the hair from her sticky nape, then collapsed at her feet. A scent engulfed her, something warm and sharp and pungent. The earthy odor had a bracing effect and her knees steadied.
You should be resting in this heat. Think of the babe.
Apple butter? Apron? Babe? Where were these thoughts coming from? She coughed. Straightened. Wiped her hands down the thighs of her jeans. Still the scent clung to her. Out loud, she asked, “What is that smell?”
“Manure, Schatz. Just good manure.”
Lizzy stood still. She tried to believe the words had sounded not in her ears, but somewhere in her head. She listened to her own breathing until she heard a squeal and hiss from beyond the cellar door. The school bus had arrived.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the entire Lizzy Novel manuscript printed. I thought I was going to fix the ending (which has been giving me fits) then do a hand-edit, make a few changes, check on the flow and pace, then start the second full draft of the book – you know, the one where you check for dangling subplot threads and go cross-eyed looking for adverbs and clichés.
Then I read the damn thing – from page one to the end – and discovered that whole great swaths of the behemoth are pretty much useless.
The good news is that I had far exceeded my intended word count anyway – so much of the cutting was only painful, as opposed to excruciating.
The bad news is that somewhere in all those pages, I had become lost. My plot-line had become diluted and weak. Too many tangents had crept into the work as I tried to write my way from one flimsy section to the next, and too many crucial bits of story development had been glossed over or written around.
There was much worth salvaging – the characters are likeable, distinctive and engaging; I seem to have a decent handle on creating atmosphere and mood; there isn’t much info-dumping – but the foundation of the story was more like a haphazard cairn you’d stumble onto in the woods than the mortared stone wall I wanted it to be.
I set to with a will, but working with the pages didn’t get me anywhere. I kept getting caught up in details, rather than getting a clear overview of the story. No matter how much I manhandled the manuscript, and slashed at it with pencils, I couldn’t find my way back to the heart of the plot. Worse, I started to fear that the whole thing needed to be
burned in a cleansing bonfire fueled with frustration and shattered dreams scrapped.
I stomped around the house and complained I needed a way to see the whole thing at a glance … I wanted a massive whiteboard or something. I didn’t make any real progress until Ogre reminded me that I already had the tool I needed, in the form of the section map I’d made before I started generating text. (A section map is basically a detailed, scene-by-scene, outline – the method is from The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.)
I only needed about a day with my original section map to see how it was flawed. In the months since crafting it, I had done my job by writing to its specifications, but I had also learned a lot about how a plot should actually unfold. The map was solid at the beginning and ending, but the middle sections were too vague, and they had led me down the tangential paths. (When I made the map, I had not written anything as sprawling as a novel, so I didn’t spread out the plot development well.)
At first, I tried to make corrections on the original map. For a while, it worked. But then even the map became unwieldy as it stretched to several pages. Once again, I couldn’t see the big picture. I started a fresh one, and kept my section descriptions to a maximum of three lines. With patience, I was able to create what I needed – a map that showed me exactly where the major problem was … turns out, it was smack dab in the MIDDLE of the thing.
The start was good, the end was good (surprise!) but I needed to make sure the reader would find tasty crumbs all the way through the book. When I had pulled all the pointless tangents, I had revealed the holes. Into those holes, I needed to redistribute events and revelations more subtly and evenly; I also flat-out needed more of them. And I needed to figure out if any of the discarded sections were worth keeping, after being flogged into submission with a thorough reworking, of course.
I wanted to talk it all through with someone, but no person on the planet has enough patience to listen to me think-out-loud as I go over every detail of a plotline.
No person except me, that is.
So, I took the ultimate Artist Date. I settled in on my balcony with iced coffee, my smokes, the revised (hole-riddled) section map, and my cell phone. I fired up the same Easy Voice Recorder I use for EVP hunting. Then I talked my way through the entire story. It took an hour and a half. Then I listened and took notes for another two hours.
And now I know what to do with my writing time this week.
God, I wish I’d done this a long time ago.
I’ve taken the first seven minutes or so of that session, slapped it on top of a slide show of images that suit the book, and posted it to my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/RRudeParanormalist
Those seven minutes cover the first five sections (of eighty-one.) Each section is 3-5 manuscript pages. (Sections are not chapters, nor even necessarily scenes – a scene can have multiple sections. These are guidelines, people, it’s not as restrictive as it sounds.)
You’re welcome to have a listen.
By the way, In this process, I may have stumbled onto my title. It might be appropriate to name the story after the town in which it takes place, especially if the name of the town also describes the story arc. (Here’s the plot synopsis.) Of course, that may be too punny. If it works though, which do you like better, Heritage Falls or Legacy Falls?
It’s the first of the month, so WriMoProg is open for a new cycle.
I’m really proud of my June results – As usual, I spent too much time on social networking and could have done better on the novels, but I exceeded my total goal.
June, 2013 – GOAL: 68 (novels) + 30 (blog and other social media) = 98 (hours)
ACHEIVED: 60 +58 = 118
I feel like I can do better this month, so I’ve set my bar higher – kind of a lot higher, now that I think about it, but we’ll see.
July 2013 WriMoProg: 2 + 8 = 10/145
[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]
A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April. I didn’t even know there was such a thing, until I got an email invitation to participate. The atmosphere for camp events appears more relaxed than November’s nano. You can set your own word count goals.You can continue an existing manuscript. You can revise and/or edit, as long as you can come up with a fair equation for comparing such work to raw prose generation.
At the time, I was thinking, “Hey. My work schedule has mostly settled down to 3 nights a week. The boy seems to have a handle on school. Ogre likes his new job. The days are getting longer … yep, it’s time to settle down and do this.” I carefully examined my available time and set an ambitious but manageable goal: to spend the month of April editing the complete Lizzy novel. I figured the pass I intended to make would require between 80 – 90 hours. (This goal, btw, required me to actually finish writing the ending to Lizzy’s novel in March.) I set to work with a will.
In the last year, I’ve been counting on one of the two effective strategies for generating content: slow, steady, consistant work. I managed to get 50,000 words down in Novemeber 2012 by carving slots of time from my schedule so that I could put my butt in the chair every day for a set period of time. I planned to schedule my way through editing the Lizzy novel too.
Then my boss called to tell me he’s going out of town … three times in March and April. Consequently, I will be back to working more than full-time for three of the next six weeks. And a lot of it is bad: Seven days in a row. Nine days in a row. Working until midnight, then back at the desk by 9:00a the next day. My available time was obliterated.
Then I had a melt down, which I didn’t post.
Then I made a decision to suck it up, which I did post.
Then – the good news – my daughter (of recent button-making fame) called to tell me she is coming home from North Carolina for her friend’s wedding. And she’ll be staying with us for 16 days. I was ecstatic until I remembered the insanity of my work schedule in April. I checked the calendar and discovered that most of her visit does not overlap with my boss’s trips.
Then I called my boss. I explained the situation and told him I would abide by the schedule he’d made for the weeks he was going to be gone, BUT that I wanted a total of four days off on the other weeks. He balked at first, but I held my ground. It’s complicated, but I will only have to work five of the sixteen days she’ll be here. (He’s still pestering me about one Saturday, but I will not yield. What’s he gonna do? Fire me?)
Then I sat down with the calendar again, and recalculated the month. This time, instead of looking for available writing slots, I assessed the big picture.
Spring is coming. My family will be together. My mood is likely to be positive. I figure, maybe it’s time to return to my old ways … to the OTHER effective strategy for making prose happen … getting caught up in the story and succumbing to the muse. (Am I the only one who thinks “the muse” is just a romantic way to describe the hypomanic state?) In my schedule, I blocked out additional space for sunshine, exercise, flirtations, adventures, nutritious and delectable foods, and copious amounts of caffeine, chocolate and liquor.
So now, I have decided not to drop out of Camp NaNoWriMo, but I have revised my goal so I won’t go insane. I will not likely finish a complete editing pass in April, but I can make a big dent.
I’m heading out for the gym. Then I’m going to have a date with my husband. Then I’m going to stay up late and write.
Let’s see if this works.