Commit to finish

Karalee’s Post #122

Well, Paula threw down the gauntlet to challenge her group and the world at large to write a first draft in five months starting September 5th. The date was chosen three years ago to signify the five of us in our writing group with September being the month for new beginnings. For many of us September coincides with the end of summer holidays and the beginning of a new school year when we were children. As adults, September is often the beginning of new projects or a new set point after holidays.

September is for renewal.

A new commitment makes sense and is imperative really. So why not choose something you love to do? It doesn’t have to be painful like needles and a full sleeve tattoo, or piercing parts that were never meant to be pierced. Or running up hills or spinning in spin class until you throw up all in the name of getting into shape.

Choose something challenging and satisfying. Then do it!

That’s the reason I’ve titled my blog post ‘Commit to finish’ as opposed to ‘Commit to start.’

Why?

I find that myself and many of us in the western world are good to go at the starting gate. Take New Year’s Resolutions and the thousands of people that start in the gym and go whole hog for a couple of weeks only to peter off. The same can be said for diets, or keeping the house clean, gardening, sorting old photographs, purging your closets, and on and on.

And of course, writing the book you always said you would.

I can bet that most of us have many starts to many books. We have an idea of what happens in the middle and maybe a good feel for what will happen at the end or what needs to happen. The beginning though, is my nemesis.

All of my stories have taken an extraordinary amount of time to perfect the start. My beginnings have sucked up too much energy, causing an overload of angst, cursing, emotional highs and lows, and so many rewrites that it seems impossible to even get to the muddled middle, not to mention nowhere near the exciting slide to the finish.

My beginning often takes away from my end.

It can be extraordinarily difficult to reach the finish gate, so if you are like me, put blinders on and get past the first two to three chapters. Accept they are far from perfect. In all likelihood, you aren’t even starting at the right point anyway, so don’t waste time on it. Keep going.

Keep going ……… and going ……. and going ….. until ……… the …….. VERY …… end.

Siwash RockI refuse to get stuck at the beginning, so like my fellow 5Writers, I’m throwing in my gauntlet too and making a commitment to write. I’m choosing differently though. That is, I’m choosing a story type that I can manage with my new business where much of my energy is focused at the moment. I’m choosing to write short stories.

Five short stories in five months! 1writer5shortstories5months

 

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Perspective Photos

Siwash Rock

The Nest UBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

The Write Stuff (part I) aka “Houston, we’ve got a problem”

the right stuff

Paula’s Post #99 – I’m back. Back after my longest 5writer blogging hiatus ever.

I published my previous post: Multi-Tasking Writers: Are you a tortoise or a hare (part 3) way, way back at the beginning of February, in what now seems a long, long, time ago; in a universe far away.

Since then, my husband and I have:

i) inked a deal to sell our single family second home in California with the intent of downsizing;

ii) inked a deal to purchase a smaller single family second home in a nearby community;

iii) reviewed the home inspection report for the proposed second home and cancelled the agreement;

iv) inked a deal to purchase a condo in the community where we presently live;

v) a mere three days later, simultaneously closed on the sale of our old home and the purchase of our new home and packed up and moved into our not-so-large condo, two blocks away;

vii) unpacked, unpacked, unpacked…

viii) purchased a new washer/dryer, new sound system and subsequently welcomed the Sears appliance delivery, the cable guy, the audio-visual guys (they’re here right now, making my husband’s TV and sound system even louder – oh, joy – and so on, and so on, and so on).

But wait, there’s more.

That is just the, pardon the pun, “home front”. Since I drafted my last blog we have also, in February:

i) flown from California to Canada;

ii) driven from Canada to Washington State; picked up darling LuLu, our new, 8-week-old, miniature poodle puppy in Washington State; driven 2500 kilometres for three days straight across three states, crashing in three hotels with LuLu in tow, introducing her to the thrills of watching the finals of the Australian Open and the SuperBowl while eating take-out pizza in ‘yes-we-welcome-pets’ chain hotel rooms.

ii) arrived back in California in time to welcome 5writer Helga and her husband to the desert and to celebrate Valentine’s together at the iconic Riviera Hotel in Palm Springs, home of the Rat Pack;

iii) cheered on my teammates on our Ladies 6.0 over 55 tennis team and even played in a match. We’re on a roll this year – undefeated – and just this week, after celebrating our sixth straight win, learned our team will be going to the USTA Southern California Sectionals in Santa Barbara in September. Whoo-hoo!;

iv) shown clients at least a dozen homes; hosted two open-houses; attended a glittering soiree at the famous Bing Crosby estate in Rancho Mirage and a couple of less than glittering office meetings;

v) participated in last weekend’s Club Championship Mixed Doubles Tournament with my brave (though novice) husband as my partner in a sport that, when spouses play together, is invariably referred to as ‘Mixed Troubles’;

vi) participated in the Club Ladies Guest Day “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” event (which of course involved first watching the movie on the big screen, planning wardrobe and props and a full day of fun and camaraderie on the course). Never anyone’s first casting choice for Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, I decided to play to my strengths (5’7″, blonde, ‘big-boned’) and cast myself as George Peppard’s character, Paul Varjak). Guess what: winner of ‘Best Costume’?

Paula as Paul

I could go on, enumerating a long list of social and business events that have filled the days of my calendar, but what’s the point?

By now, we all get the ‘real’ point: this is not a writer’s calendar. Not by any stretch of the imagination. At least in February of this year, I no longer had ‘The Write Stuff’ and, if truth be told, haven’t had ‘The Write Stuff’ for a very long time.

Too long.

If there any consolation, I seem to be in good company. While my 5writer colleague Silk is Clearing Roadblocks to Writing, my 5writer colleague Joe struggles with Making Writing Fun (again). To some extent or other, with the possible exception of the ever-disciplined 5writer Karalee, we’ve all been struggling lately.

When we started this blog in September 2012, we definitely had ‘The Write Stuff’: courage, confidence, dependability, daring. in other words: the necessary qualities for the given task of writing and publishing a novel.

But that was then.

This is now.

Do we still have it?

In my heart, I know we do. Just like the heroes of Tom Wolfe’s acclaimed 1979 novel, The Right Stuff, profiling the US test pilots engaged in the first early rocket experiments, I believe we 5writers have all the essential elements in our own chosen field of endeavour, fiction writing. Specifically:

1) Courage – In mid-2012 we created the epic challenge of writing a novel in just 5 months. But we didn’t stop there. We decided to engage in this challenge in a very public way, not only creating this blog, but also blogging about our often exhilarating, often painful, and always intensely personal experiences on a weekly basis.

2) Commitment – Through 2012 and into 2013… not a waver. We never lost our way. We stayed strong, dedicated to our craft, focused. But 2014… 2015? Hmm… have we lost our way.

3) Confidence?

4) Dependability?

5) Daring?

Hmm…. while the jury is still out, I, for one, feel that we have lost our way.

And that’s a damn shame.

We 5writers, at one time, had something very special. And I don’t just mean this blog and our followers. We had a unique relationship born of our shared membership in a very special critique group. At the outset, we shared not only a burning desire to write, but also the shared commitment to give and accept criticism with candor… with grace and with above all, great good humour. Sure, one or more of us were occasionally reduced to tears. A raised a voice was occasionally heard during an especially spirited meeting. But more often than not, we shed tears of joy and laughter, let loose with shrieks of excitement, enthusiasm and inspiration.

We had fun. But that’s not all. We were productive.

Prior to our 5writers challenge, each of our 5writers, on average, churned out the first draft of a new novel every year. Maybe not Pattersonesque speed, but not bad, either.

We were learning from one another, honing our skills, our craft, our gifts. What’s more, we knew we had something special. Smug in our knowledge that as members of our own very special and dedicated writers’ critique group, we had an immense advantage over those poor lonely writers struggling to ‘go it alone’.

Today?

Today, my fear is that we may have squandered this advantage. That we’ve lost our core focus. Our momentum. Our track record of achievement.

So what do we do about this? Well… perhaps the first step is admitting we have a problem. Only then will we have the courage to rekindle our commitment and return to the shared vision and core values that imbued us with ‘The Write Stuff’.

LuLu enjoys the Westin

Keep your promise to your readers

Helga’s Post # 106: During our recent downsizing from house to condo I was forced to part with a multitude of boxes containing heaps of notes and articles about writing. I lovingly and dutifully collected this treasure trove over years at writing workshops and conferences. I had even hoarded term papers from writing classes of my university years.

A painful process, judging what to keep and what to shred. Most of it went to the shredder. I did not want some dumpster diver getting his hands on my early manuscripts, basic though as they were.

I still recall some of my creative writing classes at Simon Fraser University, and the first year I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Like a dry sponge I absorbed every word of dispensed advice! I made copious notes of everything my professors and workshop leaders offered. More importantly, I believed every word from my classes and conference workshops. Passionately.

Then came the second year of the Surrey International Writers’ conference, and the third, and more after that. They turned out to be still interesting, but much of the information was by now repetitive, and quite a lot of it contradictory. The most obvious that most of us are familiar with: Always outline. You can’t ever finish a novel without. Never outline. It will stifle your writing. Each camp has its devoted disciples.

Gradually, I sifted through all the learning from my early writing years and applied what sounded most practical for my style. Not only ‘applied’, but relied on it. But here’s the rub: I got increasingly stuck trying to squeeze the multitude of ‘rules’ into my writing. I tried to use them all. I spent more time trying to write to the ‘rules’ than letting my story flow. After a while I felt like getting buried in an avalanche.

Until I realized that it wouldn’t work for me. Time to change tactics. To find a better way.

I am not suggesting that new writers should disregard writing rules. Every writer needs some rules. But the key is to be selective. Just as some writers absolutely have to outline, it would stifle the writing process for others. We need to apply the rules that suit our individual style and preference. Cherry-picking, rather than one-size-fits-all.

Nonetheless, some cardinal rules apply that have stood the test of all writing styles. Take those related to starting your story. Mountains of books have been written about the pivotal ‘First Chapter’. If it doesn’t start right, nobody will read your novel. Those rules are ironclad. Ignore them at your peril.

Some of the cardinal rules that have been most useful for me are also the most basic. They continue to serve me well. Here they are, in a nutshell:

Start your story with an action scene. That applies to all genres from romance novels to thrillers. Start with the ‘real’ tension and conflict. Don’t start with the main characters reflecting on life, thinking about their current or past situation, or contemplating doing something.

First chapters are a bit like speed dating. A reader knows within a few minutes if they will be interested enough in your story to continue. They might hold a really good book in their hands, but your story has to grab them or they’ll drop it and never buy another book you wrote.

Avoid backstory on your first pages at the fear of torture. Don’t spoon feed your reader with detailed explanation. Let them guess – less is more. Use dialogue instead of narrative. And by all means, use conflict. Ideally the main conflict of your story should be clear at the end of the chapter.

In my early attempts at writing I made the mistake of introducing my protagonist in a way to ‘force’ my readers to like him/her. I did this either by ‘telling’ a heroic quality early on, or by giving her/him some kind of flaw, counting on the reader’s empathy. Reading through my first manuscripts I notice how hard I tried to have my readers ‘like’ my main character in the first few pages with all kinds of backstory, when instead, I should have focused on an action scene to keep my readers turning those crucial first pages.

Consider this: Your first chapter is a promise to the reader. It tells them what kind of story they can expect to get. Without going into details, or worse, backstory, the reader should know the main conflict of the book and have some sense of the main character’s personality.

headhunters

Headhunters: How did we get from this…

Keeping the promise to your reader is of utmost importance. We can all think of a book or movie that broke that promise, and we feel cheated at having wasted our time. For example, I watched ‘Headhunters’ on Netflix the other day, a movie based on Jo Nesbo’s book by the same name.

I was intrigued the way it started: Stylish Scandinavian setting and actors, beautiful house and art exhibits, great theme (high-end art thefts to support a lavish lifestyle), all the right things. Our protagonist gets in trouble, finds his wife cheating him, etc. But then the theme gets derailed and confused.

.... to this ?

…. to this ?

Suddenly I find myself watching a horror movie, with some disgusting scenes including when he has to hide inside the dump hole of an outhouse. All the way, deep down, and then we are forced to watch him emerge in glorious detail. And on it goes for most of the film. So where’s the theme? Suddenly the lavish lifestyle is gone, and all we get is blood and disgusting other stuff. To me, this is a good example of a broken promise. If the film had started differently, fine, I knew what to expect. But that way I felt kind of cheated. As an aside, book reviews praise this standalone work by Nesbo. I assume the filmmakers used his theme as a platform for the gory version.

After all the lectures and conferences I’ve attended over the years, the first and most useful rule then, is this: If you’re writing a murder mystery, don’t start your first chapter like chick-lit. Or vice versa. Set the tone and stick to it.

Once you got your first chapter down and you haven’t lost your reader, things will get easier. And more fun.

(Until you get to the sagging middle)

Commit to write and set your goals

Karalee’s Post #91

It’s wonderful to refocus and aim high. Yes, everyone in our writing group has agreed to each have a book written, edited and ready to self-publish within the next year.

To me our 5Writers group has expanded from being a critique group to an all-encompassing writing support group. We’ve challenged each other to write our manuscripts, continue and expand on our social networking as 5Writers, plus learn as much as we can about self-publishing and all that it entails. And, we will all support one another in all of these aspects along the way.

5 heads are better than one, right?

freytag's pyramid

I work best to deadlines and taking courses on learning about the craft of writing seems to light a fire under my butt and often kick-starts my ideas.

I can easily flip between feeling confident in my writing to wondering WTF am I doing? So, improving my writing skills definitely feeds my self-confidence to be able to write well enough to publish an awesome book!

Before our two day writing group retreat I had already started an online course by Dean Wesley Smith  called “Character Voice and Setting”. It is excellent and I enjoy how Dean uses videos to teach so it’s close to being in a classroom and taking your own notes. The assignments are in-depth too and put into practice the concepts taught.

12 weeks to draft

The other course I’m signed up for is through Writer’s Digest University called 12 Weeks to a First Draft  by Mark Spenser. This course is perfect timing for me as I’m pushed to figure out my plot-line, develop my characters and setting, and put into instant use the techniques I learned through Dean’s course.

I feel stoked and my FUN FACTOR is back to get my book written. My goal is to get the first draft outlined, researched and at least half written by Christmas. There, I said it.

To make it happen I need to commit to time and productivity goals so here goes:

  1. Spend a minimum of 3 hours in my office per day or 21 hours/week.
  2. Produce at least 500 words/day over and above research/outlining/blogging, etc. starting next week so I have this first week to do initial plotting.
  3. Keep up my regular exercise routine for my health.
  4. Meditate daily. I’ve found this has become essential to help keep my energy and mood balanced.
  5. Journal my progress daily. I haven’t done this before and I think this may open my eyes to how I work best and help my productivity for future books too.
  6. Of course, my dogs and family need some daily attention too!

dogs at beach

I feel that all 5Writers left our retreat pumped to rise to our new writing challenge. In the last year our group has become even more geographically spread apart and the feasibly of getting together more than a couple of times a year seems difficult. To help us stay connected and give us a regular venue for progress and feedback, we’ve decided to have a Monday morning group check-in via email. I love this idea and we started this week. Already it’s a great addition to our group dynamics.

Sometimes the simple ideas are the best! And who doesn’t like Monday morning coffee?

Does your writing group keep connected in-between meetings? If so, how?

Happy writing!

Silk’s “Trinity Method”

1-2-3

Silk’s Post #96 — After reading a lot of how-to books and attending a lot of workshops and classes on the craft of writing, I’ve come to a conclusion.

There is no comprehensive step-by-step process to follow. At least not one that works for everyone.

Some advice seems analogous to the art of cooking. I call this the Betty Crocker Method. But writing a novel is simply not like baking a cake, where you assemble ingredients in precise quantities, then put them together according to a specified method, and cook for a recommended time. Yummy when it comes to cakes. Perhaps not so much when it comes to books.

Then there’s what I call the Central Planning Method, which reminds me of the old “paint by numbers” kits. Draw your characters and outline your plot in detail, perhaps aided by stacks of index cards or hundreds of sticky notes, then simply use words like paint to fill in the spaces. The results can be, let’s say, a tad mechanical.

Hardly anyone actually recommends the Pantsing Method, which is more often treated as the default approach of the undisciplined writer. Unless a masterpiece is produced, in which case it’s lauded as the artistic process of the true genius.

But, of course, I’m exaggerating for effect and I don’t mean to be dismissive of anybody’s pet methods. And this is not to say craft advice is worthless. Much of it is extremely valuable. Like diet books, the advice may be excellent. Following the advice is the hard part.

The difficulty comes when one tries to create a step-by-step method out of all this received wisdom that leads the writer from concept to completion. Just follow these simple instructions, and in only X days you can have a finished novel, ready to publish! This is the Holy Grail that emerging writers are desperately looking for when they sit down in front of that blank white page and wonder (maybe for the hundredth time): Okay, where do I start?

The problem is actually pretty obvious: writing a novel is not a linear process, and linear thinking will not get the job done.

Conceiving a plot, structure, theme, characters, world, and all the other storytelling requirements of a long-form piece of fiction – and then putting it into words that stir the reader’s emotions, curiosity and thoughts, compelling them to turn page after page … this is a highly complex, layered, interconnected undertaking. It can be a little overwhelming.

So, where do you start?

I’ve come up with my own Trinity Method: just three things I want to nail down before I decide to invest my time in the much longer process of writing a story I have in mind. After these three things are well and truly accomplished, I believe a writer can pick and choose among all the bits of good advice available to create her own personal method of getting the job done successfully. In fact, I’m now retracing my steps – applying these “necessities” to my book in progress.

The Gravity Field

My theory is you start in the centre, with your biggest idea – the idea around which the whole book will revolve, the idea that will create the story’s gravity field. Some might call this a premise or a theme (the two terms seem to be often confused and I find the notion of a gravitational centre easier to visualize). This could be character related (Catcher in the Rye), a thematic saga (Lord of the Rings), action/intrigue driven (Hunt for Red October), a moral message (12 Years a Slave), or any of the million variants of big ideas that give successful stories their heft. No matter how well structured or how well written, I think a book without its own strong, inspired, internal gravity field will be, if not a failure, then a small story at best.

The Lode Star

Next, turn your big idea into a log line – one sentence that tells what the book is about, introduces the protagonist, poses the problem/villian he faces, and provides a unique “hook”. This is probably as hard to do as writing the book itself, and might take as much time as writing a whole chapter, or more (there are many excellent books and online resources to help you write a good log line). You don’t need to know all your characters at this time, or your sub-plots, or every little detail about your protagonist and all the various hurdles and reversals he’ll encounter. These can be woven in later. Just fixate on the most critical elements that will drive the story (this may keep you from later being lured into blind alleys by secondary characters and distracted by plot points that are bridges to nowhere). Log lines are a common practise in scriptwriting that can really help focus a novelist. Your log line is a lode star, which (especially for pantsers) may be more valuable than a map (outline) to find your way through the plot.

Beginning and Ending

This may not be for everyone, but I’ve come to believe that the next useful step – before getting lost in the inevitable details of character and plot and setting – is to figure out the beginning and the ending (not write them, just figure them out). I’ve really struggled with this, thinking that in order to know the beginning and the ending, I needed to be able to visualize the full plot and all the action that moves the story from the first page to the last. I now think all that’s necessary is the big idea at the centre and the log line, which will dictate the arc of the story.

Personally, I like the freedom to follow my nose, so I’m a natural pantser. I’m in my comfort zone when it comes to developing characters, but I’ve come to realize that I need a bit of structural discipline – perhaps in the form of a fairly short narrative synopsis in three acts, and maybe a timeline. The rest is likely to be a somewhat messy process, rummaging around in my imagination, chasing butterfly ideas that float by outside my window, and grounding myself with research without being swept away in it.

For me, the most joyful part is always the words. Playing with them, massaging them, trying to evoke emotion and create tension and make them sing. I can’t wait to get to this part. Pure freedom. I will try to keep my internal editor at bay. She’ll show up soon enough with her blue pencil as sharp as a fileting knife, looking for cliches and purple prose and any hints of author voice.

But first, I need to get my Trinity in hand. I’ll let you know if it works …

PS – I’m standing at the end of a dock right now, lightning in the sky and the occasional shower. It’s 11:00 pm and getting cool. I have some links to add, but the funky little wifi server at the Poulsbo Marina has other thoughts. It wants to go to sleep now, please. If I can, I’ll add later!

Don’t succumb to self-doubt

Karalee’s Post #68

Generally I feel positive about writing and getting to know my characters and creating a story that needs to be told. After all, like Silk put it, we are storytellers.

But truth be told, right now I’m struggling. I feel lost at the beginning, lost in the maze in the middle and can’t fathom getting to The End. Oh, I have down days and question the rational of following this passion that is sure to be padded with rewrites and rejections, but to be down for any length of time is unusual for me.

I know it’s a passing phase that I’m sure hits most writers on and off. My outline is quite good and I should be raring to go on my new story.

So what is the problem?

Self-doubt is creeping in. It has visited before and I can usually do my research and write through it. But with this story I am expecting more of my writing and I truly want to write an awesome story to support my awesome premise. 

That is taking me to the point where I’m questioning whether I know enough to write about this story I want to tell. I’m not savvy about politics or computers or how banks and the financial world works. How can I make my story believable?

I’m dealing with it by watching mystery and thriller movies and serials. Our family subscribed to Netflix over the Christmas holidays and for the first time I can watch shows ad nauseum at the push of a few remote control buttons. I have been pulled into viewing serial programs and I’m constantly digesting how the plots are set-up and the characters developed and change.

Oh, I’m sure this cloud of self-doubt will pass as I get back to writing. I allowed my routine to be interrupted during the Olympics and I’m taking a winter vacation with my husband next week for a couple of weeks so I’m dragging my tail in my writing productivity.

I will take the advice Joe gave a couple of months ago and RESET.

reset

 

I will make a new To Do list and stick to it:

  1. After morning exercise, apply bum glue in readiness to meet writing goal.
  2. Write until my set productivity is met (scenes with a word minimum).
  3. Reapply bum glue until word count is met.
  4. Enjoy the process.

 

Research is huge for this story and I know that it can be done. I merely need to apply myself, and as my productivity sets in again, self-doubt will once more settle on the back burner and allow my creativity to reemerge.

Happy writing!

 

 

Writerlust

writerlust

Silk’s Post #71 — For a writer, nothing beats the feeling you get when you start on a new story. To riff on Paula’s great post last week, “Serial monogamy”, it’s like the rush of falling in love.

I call it Writerlust.

You’re vibrating inside with the thrill of possibility. Your endorphins kick in. You’re filled with energy and purpose. Ideas bubble up out of nowhere, and bits of dialogue play in your head. The world looks a little brighter. You feel a little smarter, a little cooler, a little more adventuresome, a little more confident. You wake up in the morning excited about spending the day with your hot, new muse. You hit the keyboard before the coffeemaker has even finished gurgling.

doris-dayI’m feeling the love right now. I had a chance to discuss my new book concept with my 5writer colleagues last week, and got a pretty strong thumbs-up. At least that’s how I heard it, because, in the immortal words of Doris Day, “Everybody Loves a Lover.” When you’re in Writerlust, your infatuation is contagious and everything sounds like an endorsement.

But I’ve been hurt before.

I’m no Romantic Advice columnist, but I’ve decided I should give myself a little talking-to. Just, you know, in case things don’t totally work out the way I hope. Just on the off chance that I actually cannot write my amazing new story in a month-long gush of boundless creativity, skimming across the surface of the Saggy Middle Swamp on magical writer’s feet towards an orgasmic climax that no agent or publisher will be able to resist. In one draft.

So … Notes to Self:

Enjoy your euphoria right now. Don’t let anything bring you down to Earth too soon – stuff like preparing your tax returns, or cleaning anything that’s been let go for a couple of years, or trying to fix the first draft mess of your last unpublished book, or making your first attempt at serving a turducken to dinner guests. Remember, euphoria is ephemeral (see how good you’re getting with those esoteric “e” words?).

hotel new hampshireTake this opportunity to become obsessed. You will need to survive the many dangers and deprivations of your writing journey on the fading memory of these fleeting feelings of Writerlust. So right now, while you’re thirsty to write, drink the Kool-Aid and commit yourself totally to the story you’re in love with. Take the sage advice of the madly successful writer John Irving in Hotel New Hampshire: “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.”

Inoculate yourself against perfectionism. Okay, right now your book is perfect. That’s because you haven’t written it yet. It’s just a sexy mirage in your head. One morning, when you have 25,000 words on the page, you’ll wake up and look at your darling story and see what’s really lying there beside you in bed: something far less than perfect. It may snore. It may have bad breath. Or missing teeth. It may have packed on the weight in all the wrong places. You may wonder what you were thinking, bringing this thing home with you. But if you’ve inoculated yourself with the anti-perfectionism serum, everything will be okay. You’ll give your story a knowing look – full of love and sympathy – and get back to work, confident that you can get it in shape at rewrite time. A great story always cleans up nice.

Put on your chastity belt. While you’re living with the story you’ve said “I do” to, keep your roving eyes on the straight and narrow. No flirting with other new stories. No tearful calls to your old bookfriend in the middle of the night – the one abandoned in the bottom drawer that’s looking better and better compared to the new story you’re struggling with. No giving-in to aching desire when you read your favourite writer’s newest book and realize it’s better – way better – than the story you’re deeply involved with. Buckle up and be true to your sweetheart.

Remember that you can’t hurry love. Who could forget the sage words Mama said, as immortalized by The Supremes:

can't-hurry-love

You can’t hurry love
No, you just have to wait
She said love don’t come easy
It’s a game of give and take

When you’ve been living with this story that you’re marrying for months and months … and you just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel … and all your writer friends are already working on their query letters … and there are moths fluttering out of your file of agents who told you to send them a chapter (but not until the book is really, truly finished and it’s the best it can possibly be) … and on bad days you wonder why you ever fell in Writerlust with this story in the first place … well, just sing yourself this song. Don’t try to jump into bed with the first passing agent and allow yourself to suffer from premature evaluation.

Wise words to be sure. I will likely forget it all as my life with this new story stretches from days into weeks, and weeks into months … as my Writerlust heat cools and I encounter the tepid ennui of writer’s fatigue, and the cold sweats of writer’s block. So it’s a good thing I wrote it all down. Now I just have to remember take my own advice.

Writing a novel involves a long-term, committed relationship, not a one-night stand. It demands a huge chunk of your life, and there are times when every writer wonders whether it’s really worth the time, effort and angst.

The gurus advise us: Write what you really care about. I’d add: Follow your Writerlust. Make sure you’re all-in with both your head and your heart before you start.

fire-in-fictionThis goes beyond craft and technique. When agent/lecturer Don Maass titled his great 2009 book The Fire in Fictionhe didn’t just mean the fire on the page, he meant the fire inside the writer. I think that only a wild passion for your story at the outset will sustain you through 400 hard-won pages of writing that is capable of captivating a reader.

At least I hope so, because I’m deep in the embrace of a story I love and I’m going for it.

Time to revive Detective Winston Kee?

Paula’s Post #52 – Life has been pretty tumultuous these past few months. We sold our principal residence in Canada in late May, blithely confident we’d have no problem finding a new home by the time the transaction closed at the end of summer.

We did not.

In mid-September, we made an offer on a little 1980’s house in the little coastal village of Gibsons, B.C.

But that deal doesn’t close until December 1st.

After it closes, before we even move in, we’re going to do renos, (oh joy), during which time we’ll split our time between the ‘postage stamp’ apartment we’ve rented in Vancouver and our winter retreat in the desert city of La Quinta.

Haven’t a clue when the reno on our new home will be done, Gibsons runs on ‘Island Time”.

It doesn’t really matter, since we’re already committed to several trips both within and outside Canada in the next few months: a lovely new grand-daughter to visit in Ottawa in mid-December; a trip of a lifetime to Africa for much of February and March.

Throughout, the year I’ll  also be working hard to establish a name for myself in desert real estate, conducting buyer’s tours and scouring the landscape for listings.

In other words, the handwriting is on the wall. My very tumultuous life is, inevitably, destined to remain, tumultuous.

I don’t know why it’s taken so long for the penny to drop, but this week, it suddenly hit me: I’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting. Holding my breath. Biding my time.

Waiting for things to get back to normal.

Hello!

Earth to Paula?

Welcome to the new normal.

So, like the Phoenix, rising from the ashes, it is time to once again mix up some metaphors: Time for this Tigger to rise from this perpetual ‘state of chaos’ and start writing again. Period, full stop.

So, to celebrate my return to the writing life, I’ve excerpted below the prologue to a novel in progress. A prologue that needs reworking, a novel I need to get back to. So, to get rolling, I’m putting up the prologue. I need to resubmerge myself into the lives of my characters, fall in love with my setting all over again. I know the prologue needs work. It’s capital ‘L’ long, and even though I deliberately wrote it that way, wanted it to sound as deliberate as Detective Winston Kee, I know I still need to sharpen my pencil.

So, deep breath. If you wish, why not feel free to turn the tables on this 5writer. Critque the critiqueers. For all are writing, we rarely let you see our ‘writing’ so hear’s your chance.

Let me know what you think.

Prologue:

Honolulu, Christmas Day, 1937

Detective Winston Kee squashed down his wilted Panama hat and stepped from the Ford sedan into a cold grey dawn and a torrent of needle-like raindrops.

The droplets splattered against his neck, the chill, unfamiliar bite catching him by surprise. He flinched, the gesture almost imperceptible, yet Kee felt a stab of irritation nevertheless. Annoyed at his weakness. Annoyed, though no one stood near to bear witness.

 No one except Patrolman Oliver Tanaka.

 And 22-year-old Ollie, Kee knew, had other thoughts on his mind.

Kee took his time, not hurrying, his eyes alert as he scanned the short expanse of ground that separated him from Tanaka. Headlights illuminated the rivulets of debris and filth, the jumbled flotsam that swirled over the rough cobblestones. Kee kept his eyes focused on the ground. In the almost twenty years since he’d attended his first crime scene, Detective Winston Kee had discovered that the journey often proved as important as the destination.The rain, he knew, would make his task harder and today, nothing in particular attracted his attention.

As he drew nearer, he was pleased to see that his instructions had been followed, that Ollie Tanaka stood alone by the body, that no gaggle of excited, booted officers had arrived to trample his crime scene.

The young patrolman had blanketed the victim with his own rain slicker and now stood coatless, his white uniform blouse slicked to his pale torso, the shirt soaked through. Translucent enough for Kee to count the young patrolman’s bony ribs, the wet garment transparent as the gossamer sheers Grace had hung above the kitchen sink.

Ollie Tanaka held an umbrella in one hand, a juggled flashlight in the other. With an apologetic glance at Kee, he shifted his weight, moving like a dancer swaying to the rhythm of a swing beat as he shuffled around in a half circle, lifting the umbrella outwards, sheltering the corpse that lay at his feet.

Kee grunted in satisfaction, pleased with Tanaka’s initiative, with the young patrolman’s sense of respect. 

But three days of pounding, December rains had caused Chinatown’s alleys to run like rivers. And no matter how much Ollie Tanaka danced, Kee knew that the answers he sought would not be found here. Not today.

Despite Tanaka’s fidelity, the crime scene was ruined.

 

He glanced again towards the young patrolman, who’d thought to extend the beam of his heavy, Bakelite flashlight and illuminate the rest of the way for Kee, assisting him to traverse the last few yards of rough cobblestones. And even though he didn’t really know the boy, Kee liked him for that, too. Could tell he was a thoughtful, courteous boy and that he’d been raised right.

Kee pushed these inappropriate thoughts from his mind and fixed a solemn expression on his face as he took the last few steps. He nodded towards Ollie but did not speak. Instead he inhaled. A series of slow, deep breaths: the spicy aroma of cooking oil, cooling in the wok; the tang of ginger and jasmine, garlic and chili; the faint, pungent aroma of opium, seeping from the windows and transoms. Scents that, despite the rain, hung heavy in the moist December air.

Long ago, Kee had learned to filter out all these ordinary scents, had even learned to screen out the more pungent smells: the stench of rotting vegetables, of human waste and vomit, the sourness of dank stone, the earthy, loamy smell of rotting vegetation. To filter through all these scents, until he was left only with that which did not belong.

But this morning Kee’s nose detected nothing unusual and he felt disappointed.

He reversed gears and shifted focus.

Clear the mind. Sharpen the senses.

Dawn was breaking, pale and tremulous, a golden incandescence that illuminated the dark ridges of the Ko’olau range. As Kee watched, the grey clouds parted and he caught a glimpse of the day’s first rainbow, sparkling and brilliant, arching across the jagged, emerald mountains, looming behind Honolulu.

Though even that sight did not lift Kee’s heart as it might have on another day. He turned back to Tanaka and closed his eyes. Kee felt calm now. Serene. Composed. Ready to tackle the puzzle that lay before him. He nodded at Ollie Tanaka. The young man seemed to understand what Kee wanted, for he shifted his flashlight again and let the beam fall on the lump that lay curled under his oilcloth slicker.

Kee stooped down and with a slow and solemn grace lifted the corner of Tanaka’s oilcloth coat. He tugged, his face expressionless as the coat fell away to reveal two legs: one bare and crumpled, twisted under the body at an awkward angle, the other stretched straight out in front, toe pointed, encased in a black nylon stocking.

Kee remained silent, impassive, as his gaze travelled further up the victim’s pale body. The top of the black stocking disappeared under the hem of a ruffled, red organza gown, the bodice slashed and torn, ripped open to reveal a lacy black brassiere. Asymmetrical, flat on one side where the stuffing had fallen out, mounded on the other.

Detective Kee’s eyes roved upward, towards the bloated, purple face and the blank, protruding eyes.

Blue.

After a second or two he shifted his gaze again, to the blonde wig that had slipped from the victim’s head and now lay half-submerged, half-floating, in a large filthy puddle, like some dead furry animal, swept up and drowned.

Several seconds passed. Finally,  Kee stood and turned towards Tanaka, one eyebrow raised.

Ollie Tanaka tucked the butt of the Bakelite back into his utility belt and reached into the pocket of his uniform trousers, his hand re-emerging in a tight, balled up fist. He held out his hand to Kee, arm trembling as he opened his palm to reveal a sodden mass of black nylon.

“I-I-I find ‘de udder one round dat boy’s neck.”

© Paula Third

Welcome to the new normal.

Hell is multitasking

iStock licensed image

iStock licensed image

Silk’s Post #56 – As you may have already surmised from other 5writers’ posts last week, our October meeting to plan a new collaborative project took us in an unexpected direction. Oh, we had lots of good ideas … some great book concepts that I hope do get written. But as we kicked them around the room and imagined the logistics of how we’d actually, specifically, functionally write a book together, it turned out that the best idea of all was not to. At least not right now.

Dodged a bullet, I’d say.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my handful of writer friends. We’re probably as close as any writers’ group anywhere. And even though we have much in common, I think one of our great strengths is that we’re all so different. It keeps us from becoming an echo chamber. But it also means that a writing collaboration might well turn out a Frankenbook, or possibly  occasion a mass murder.

The good news is that instead of nailing our collaboration project, we hit a different bull’s eye altogether – one that better suits our collective and individual needs right now. And what we all really need is simple enough: get the projects we’ve already started finished and polished, get them out into the marketplace, and start new projects. Duh!

So we’re all going to start the clock again on 5 new books after the New Year. But instead of holing up in our writer’s nests and crashing them out in secret, then submitting the first drafts for critique, we’re going to marshall our collective resources to overcome the pantser’s worst nightmare: the outline stage. Yes, we’re going to critique outlines, for the love of Mike. Probably as weird an idea as collaborating on a novel, but – like many emerging writers – we all find plot and structure to be among our biggest challenges.

Now, all of us have always sketched out our stories in some manner, and Paula had a good experience with her first outlined novel last year. But at heart, we’re all more like NOPs than OPs. For myself, outlining has always felt too mechanical, like training wheels. I want to get to the fun part – the words. However, I’m now acutely aware that a wonky structure is hard work to fix once a book is all written, no matter how good the concept or the characters or the prose.

Life is for learning. So this time we’re going to try building the bones of five great stories before we put flesh on them.

The objectives: No blind alleys or dead ends. No forgotten characters left up in the attic, never to reappear. Less sag to the middles. Stronger character arcs. Fewer “huh?” moments. More satisfying endings. Above all, fewer rewrites. And – who knows? – having good road maps may actually free our creativity, since we’ll hopefully avoid the constant angst of getting lost too often in a bad neighbourhood.

There’s only one problem with this plan: it means that over the next few months I will be multitasking three different books at different stages. It’s going to be like doing a triple mountain climb on three different continents.

First I have my 5writers challenge book to finish, a mystery-suspense, working title Catch and Release, starring my feisty protagonist, Sunny Laine, versus a very creepy antagonist. Yeah, I know. The first draft was supposed to be complete last February, ready for the critique in June. Well, it wasn’t. Too much procrastinating and writer’s block last winter, and too much travel this past summer. I’m slogging my way through the dreaded middle now. Getting to “the end” is my first priority.

Second, I have to come up with a new story concept and draft outline for our next writers’ retreat in February. I already have a few concepts in my file to mull over, but that’s the easy part – the part that puts a smile on my face. The outline will be the root-canal part – the part that makes me scream for mercy. I guess the good news is that if I can’t make the concept work in outline form, I will have spared myself the future pain of writing a whole book that doesn’t hang together.

Finally, I have my first novel, Saltspring Bridge, to rewrite. It’s now been idling on my drive for a year, and my file drawer still hosts a two-inch-thick folder of month-by-month critiques to review, weep over, heed and learn from. This is the book that was in my head for 15 years before I wrote the first word. I rewrote the first 30 pages 10 times during the three years I was sniffing around the writing life … going to writers conferences and wondering whether I was really a writer, or just someone who liked the idea of being a writer. It’s the book I took the plunge with, and it’s totally a pantser effort. It’s flawed as hell, and maybe in the end is nothing more than a practice book. But it’s my first baby and I can’t abandon it. Gotta finish it, which will require a serious rewrite.

In my long first career in design and advertising, I did nothing but multitask, and I got pretty good at it. I was somewhat famous among my staff as the Queen of Spinning Plates (birthday and Christmas presents at work often picked up this theme in myriad amusing ways). I must admit I’m feeling a bit out of practice, but I seem to recall it required massive amounts of energy, a rapier-like memory, a high tolerance for tedium, a keen sense of timing, an unnaturally thick skin, and eyes in the back of my head.

Hellish, in other words.

iStock licensed image

iStock licensed image

Each of my book projects is like a greedy, squawking fledgling in the nest, craning its scrawny next past its siblings with mouth open wide to get the first worm. “Feed me!” they all cry at the same time. Feed me your time, your ideas, your talent, your life – just gimme everything you’ve got. And now! Feed me first. Me, me, me. Feed me or I’ll die.

Alright, already! Having been, as always, inspired and energized by our 5writers meeting – and the prospect of starting something new and exciting – I will muster my multitasking skills and start digging up worms.

With luck, and not too many diversions, I will keep all three projects alive and healthy and growing until they’re strong enough to fly.

Deciding on a new project

Karalee’s Post #50

Our group had a meeting today. The agenda was for each of us to come bearing three possible ideas for a collaborative project. Among our eighteen ideas surely there would be one or two that resonated with all of us and could catapult our group into the realm of the next bestseller.

Right?

Now there are ways to produce collaborative writing with multiple authors, but our ideas weren’t easy to implement in that fashion as far as we could see, even though we were hopeful to begin with. Most of them looked like this:

by L'eau Bleue

by L’eau Bleue

or

The good news is that we all have a couple of awesome new ideas for our own work and will come to our next meeting prepared with an outline and have a good old-fashioned brainstorming session.

What we did last year was write our own stories and then  had them critiqued in our group at the end. The members that had partial books found that the input at this point was invaluable in directing their manuscripts and reducing the rewriting burden.

From this experience and feedback we have decided to each begin another manuscript starting with our new and awesome idea, then outline in the way that works for each of us. At this point we will meet again and brainstorm with the input of all five in our group instead of individually like before.

What fun to look forward to.

In the meantime we will continue with our ongoing projects and begin the querying process when ready. Joe is out of the starting gate already and is off to SiWC this year to market his new YA book. Go Joe!!

Happy writing.