Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Soon To Be 2009

Not only am I wrapping up another month today, I'm wrapping up a whole year. Shoot, that's a lot.

This year I started teaching, got a dog, joined the CWC, started the bar novel, stopped working at the bar, started the Cass stories, and wrote about eight of my ten thesis stories. I've been busy.

This month, my whole thing was to break out of my usual routine. Between being on break from school and revising my thesis, I've managed that in spades. I've never been a huge fan of revising, but now I'm getting over some of my intimidation, thanks to going through about 100 pages to revise them over the weekend. Whew, that was crazy.

Also this year, I've had a couple of firsts. This year, during the bet with John, I wrote more words in fewer days than I ever have before. During this past weekend, I undertook the single-most massive revision ever. The thesis is the longest cohesive project I've ever finished a full draft of.

So, while I haven't gotten the big book deal, or cured cancer, I think it was a pretty good year. I pushed or crossed a lot of boundaries, and once you do a thing the first time, it becomes easier to do it again. That makes me optimistic.

Here's hoping you all can also find many things to be proud of from 2008.

And now, on to 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Yikes. Thesis revision was intimidating. Total count: 33,200 words, approx. 116 pages. Good grief, this has been a lot of work. The hardest part wasn't necessarily even the writing itself, either, it was trying to get my themes unified and figure out how I could connect ten different stories (with ten different sets of characters and settings).

As of half an hour ago, I finished whole-thesis-draft #2. No time to spare, either, as CWC is tonight. I hope everybody likes the binders I stuck the draft in. I didn't get the introduction finished like I wanted, but I did do edits on all ten stories. It's all mush in my head now, but I know I made it at least a little better.

I feel like I should get an ice cream, or at least a round of applause.

Extra kudos to Jenny, who just did the same thing and is up for critiquing tonight.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gotta Call It Something

I used to know exactly what to call my thesis, but then I changed direction with it and now the most-fitting thing I can think of to call it is "the thesis." The title for this one is killing me. I have a couple options:
The Lost McKades
The Lost and Found McKades
Lost Birds
To Find a Falcon

Yet, none of them strike me quite the way I want them to. I'm thinking that since I'm still tweaking things, that the title is waiting to come to me when I finish revisions. Or, maybe this is one where I'll need to rely on other people to find the obvious. I'm hoping that if I stay stuck, the CWCers or Juan will be able to peg it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Since I need to be working on my thesis, I've decided to transcribe some of the Cass stuff from my notebooks. Hey, it may be procrastination, but at least it's writing procrastination. Besides, I think it'll help me get into the right mindset to tackle rewrites.

In thinking about the Cass stories/novel, and after reading Dead Until Dark, where I found the narration annoying in spots, I've decided to shift Cass out of 1st person present tense into 3rd person past tense. It makes transcribing difficult. I'm trying to read one tense and type another. Doesn't work too well. I'll get a few sentences down fine, then suddenly realize I've written "says" instead of "said." Ugh. If only there was a Word function that could shift everything for me. That'd be so cool.

P.S. Okay, I've gotten through most of the first chapter, and it's bizarre. After so long of thinking of Cass in one tense, shifting her to the other just sounds wrong and awkward in my head. I keep telling myself it's bound to get better once I finish transcribing and get into writing more from scratch.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Catch Up

A few days ago, Jenny asked me how my re-writes were going.

My response, "What rewrites?"

A full week of Christmas break, and I still haven't dived into thesis revisions. Instead, I've been playing catch up. My house is now cleaner than it's been in a long while, my dog is recently bathed, and I've had some decompression time spend making jewelry.

Tomorrow, I think, will be the day to get around to the diving.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grades Day

Today was the day that grades were due. This meant a big rush of grading over the weekend. This meant I had to have all my grades for both classes calculated and turned in by 5:00.

This also means that as of now, I'm done with fall semester. That makes me happy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Editor Ali?

A few days ago I noticed that one of the craft blogs I read a lot is in need of a new editor. Today, I saw the notice was still up and decided that maybe I should be that new editor. It's one of the more intimidating writing things I've done, trumping even submitting work to magazines, because they don't just have to like me for one story, they have to like me ad infinitum.

If I get the job, it'll be a great experience for my writing because I'll have a regular writing commitment - 5 posts a week, no excuses.

I don't know how long it will be before I get a response. Not too long, I hope. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Shawn's Defense

I just went to Shawn's thesis defense, which is the second I've gone to and the first for a creative thesis. I've got to say, she was totally badass. If I hadn't had conversations with her about her frustration during the revision process (esp. about the introduction part), I would have never guessed it from how cool and smooth she was today. Go Shawn!

It, like the other defense, was also helpful for me in practical terms. I met with Juan today and told him that I have to have the whole thesis ready for the CWC at the end of December. Now I'm comitted, not just with the group, but also with Juan. The clock is ticking, it's time to knock out that dang preface.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I Like Baz

I just got home from seeing Australia at the movie theater. It's definitely a Baz flick. You've got the outside filmed inside, loads of attractive stuff to look at, love, and, above all, a mythic/fairy tale feeling overall. This stuff is larger-than-life, guys. And, if nothing else, you know this, because the drover is just that, The Drover, i.e. a man with no name. Oh yeah, and there's voice-over and magic.

Now I won't say there's nothing to nit-pick, because there are certainly imperfections. (Like, why did __ have to die? That was pretty pointless.) But, at its heart, it's the kind of movie that I like. It sucked me in.

Why'd I like it? Because of how its over-the-topness balanced with its realism. It seems like the two shouldn't fit, but they do. The fact that I have a crush on the continent of Australia itself doesn't hurt, granted, but even aside from that, it's good Baz stuff. He's good at making fairy tales real. Instead of fantasy versus reality, fantasy becomes reality. It's like magical realism all over again.

I think I'm going to have to watch my all-time fav. Baz movie, Moulin Rouge, again soon.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mix Up Redux

For December, I'm going to revisit one of my favorite standby challenges - the mix up. Since December tends to be a busy and/or generally mixed up month for most people, it seems appropriate. Your routines are going to get rearranged and I challenge you to embrace that and run with it.

Writing-wise, this is your month to change up your writing. Write in a new space, at a new time, or with different tools. If you usually write on a computer in your home office, this is the month to take a notepad and pen to the coffee shop, etc. Or, write in a different coffee shop, take a writing tour of all the coffee shops within a certain radius of your home. Whatever you want, it's your pick. Just make it different.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

November Fin

Oh yeah, tomorrow's December. I forgot about that. This month was all about goofing off a bit and writing just for fun. I did an alright job of that. I added a bit here and there to the Cass stories. My progress on those has slowed, thanks to other priorities and running low on ideas and wrestling with exactly how I'm going to structure them. But, still, not too shabby.

Thanksgiving break helped a lot with the goofing off part, though in terms of non-writing things there. I've got five new necklaces on my wall and a lot of being a bum and watching TV under my belt. It's back into the trenches tomorrow, and a new month to start. Then, before we know it, a brand new year, too. Wow. Things are moving fast these days.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dead Until Dark vs. True Blood: Take 2

Finished the book. Still liking the series better. Not only does Sookie cry less (she cries all the damn time in the book), most of the supporting characters, especially Bill, are more interesting and that makes me like them more. And, most sadly, Tara doesn't even exist in the first book.

So, at the end of competition: TV beats book.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dead Until Dark vs. True Blood

Deb brought a bag of books to the last Pirate meeting and among them was Dead Until Dark, the first of the Sookie Stackhouse books which the new TV show True Blood is based on. Since I'm keen on the show, I snagged the book.

Right now I'm about half way through the book. Far enough to see how closely the TV show generally is, and where the differences are. There are a few things where I'm interested to see how it works out, logistically, in the book because it's different - namely, the show has revealed the killer and there are some basic details in that regard where, in the book, my first thought was, "really?"

We'll see how it plays out with the book in the end, but overall, I have to confess I'm liking the TV version a little better. Mainly for two reasons:
1. The book is 1st person and Sookie's kinda annoying. Most of her commentary is fine, funny even, but there are definite "I'm so adorable" moments, which are irritating.
2. The book does a little bit of over-explaining at times where the TV show streamlines and sometimes combines things by sneaking one sentence of explanation into a scene that's got some action, instead of having a whole paragraph of just exposition in the book. It's, in short, a classic example of showing instead of telling.

Because they're two different media, it's no big mystery why some characters and scenes got expanded in the show, but it's interesting to see the other changes and think about why they were made.

P.S. Also in my stack from Deb, Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, aka the series which birthed the show The Dresden Files. I think I might have to read that one next.

Taking the Plunge

As an extra incentive to get my thesis revised and wrapped up, last night I asked the CWCers if it'd be okay for me to monopolize January and give them the whole thesis + intro to critique. They looked relieved.

This 50 + pages every other month thing is taking its toll, that's for sure.

Now I'm committed to polishing the thesis fast, not only to keep me on my new timeline, but in order to get it ready to hand off to the gang in December. Wish me luck.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thanksgiving In the Garage

This semester Amanda is taking a creative non-fiction class. A few days ago, she asked me to look at one of her pieces. I asked her about what kind of feedback she'd like, so I had guidelines on how grammatical, blunt, etc. to be. Amanda said, "Be gentle."

This morning I read a story she wrote about her family and Thanksgiving. I made minimal marks and those marks were just lines beside things that stuck out to me, no actual words. Then we chatted about 'em. I went gently.

Biggest victory of the chat was adjusting her story telling structure and, my favorite, naming it. She had a title, but it didn't quite fit. When I asked her why she titled it that, she kinda shrugged and said she has a hard time with titles.

"Okay," I said. "When you think about this story, what's the biggest thing that sticks in your mind?"

"My aunt continuing to eat the stuffing, even though she kept complaining about it."

"But that's something that happened that day, not something you wrote on the page. On the page, what sticks out to you?"

"Me and my brother sitting in the garage."

"That's perfect!"

You see, the story starts off with Amanda having a conversation with her mom about why Amanda can't host Thanksgiving this year (because the only place there's room is in the garage). Then you go back a few years to Thanksgiving at Amanda's parents' and there's an argument going on over dinner. To escape, Amanda and her brother duck into the garage. It's beautifully parallel.

I feel like helping Amanda get a new title (a perfect title, if I do say so myself) is my biggest accomplishment for today. I just can't help wondering if that might be a bad sign.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hey Look, It's Sunday Again

The last bit of fall semester is always a bit chaotic. This go 'round, things just seem to be picking up speed as I near the end of it. Everything's kind of going "whoosh" right now. Two weeks of class left, and the light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger and brighter.

First, though, Thanksgiving break. Three class periods to go, then a whole week off. People keep asking, what I'm going to do. Beats me, but there will be much goofing off, that I do know.

But now, it's Sunday. Again. Which makes tomorrow Monday. Next Monday though, guys, is going to be lovely.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Momentum Is Good

Here's a shout out to Deb, who's on a roll with this whole NaNo business. Looks like she's found her rythm and now she's speeding away so fast, she's blurry.

That's the fun thing about momentum, it's easier to keep running than to start running.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bullet Biting

I've been avoiding working on my thesis preface about as long as I've been working on my thesis. The whole idea of talking critically about my own work just felt wrong. One of the reasons I write fiction is so it can stand on its own, so I don't have to explain everything. Not to mention the part where talking about myself seemed awful egocentric.

Last week I promised Juan preface pages by today. This morning I had none. An hour before our meeting I had none. But, I had a deadline. I chomped down and came up with two pages.

Me: I know it's not much, but it should be enough for you to tell if I've got the right approach or if I'm doing it all wrong.
Juan: Alright, let me have a look.

I handed it to him and watched him read it. Physically watching people read my work is always unnerving. Takes an eternity too. He nodded a couple of times. Make a couple of marks, and then looked up at me.
Juan: There are things you'll need to work on more, but you've got the jist.

My reaction surprised me. It was along the lines of, "Oh, really? I actually have an idea of what this should look like? Wow."

I'm still not incredibly excited about this part of my thesis, but something's clicked in my head. After so much time going around and around and talking with different people about what this needs to be, I think I finally get it. Big relief, let me tell you.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Anthology Edits

Right now I'm a short ways away from finishing my first run-through of edits on the latest Writing Marathon anthology. One interesting thing about these anthologies is the variety of writers who contribute - some who're professionally published writers, some who are just now dipping their toes in, and everything in between.

Another interesting thing is the number of people whose writing reflects a desire to articulate the purpose of the act itself. It's almost as if people feel the need to define writing before they can say they are a writer themself.

Makes me wonder - how necessary is it to define writing for yourself? How necessary to define it before you do it?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Pen Gods Doth Smile Upon Me

Ask anybody who knows me a little bit. They can tell you I have an obsession with pens. I'm a bit of a pen snob, too. Get thee behind me, ball point! So, I like to periodically buy a new pen/set of pens to see if I like 'em.

Yesterday I hit the art department at Hobby Lobb and found a set of Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens. I eyeballed the 20 pack, but couldn't justify paying that much for pens right now, so I opted for the 10 pack. Though, even then, it was a splurge. Then I got to the check out and learned they were 1/2 off.

I think it's a karmic payoff for all of the out-of-the-house pages I've been doing on Cass. Today, since my office mate Amanda needed the office for student conferences, I stopped by the bookstore. I wrote for about a solid hour (+4 pages) and said "howdy" to Jenny.

By the way, the Staedtler pens are very cool. I love the ink quality and the extra fine points (.3m). I'm thinking I'll have to get more.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thesis Decision

I'm off to see Juan in a couple of minutes. I feel like a slacker 'cause I haven't got any more pages of any sort for him, but I also feel a bit relieved because I've made my decision. Yes, I think I could manage to get my thesis ready in a week or two, but I'm going to allow myself more time.

New plan: Take the whole rest of the semester to finish the thesis. Defend in Spring.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Relevance and "Papa Legba" by the Talking Heads

There's a principle based on the idea of relevance. Once you're aware of, or thinking about, something, you see it everywhere. You buy a new car and suddenly notice that model everywhere.

I've been studying up on magical lore for the Cass stories, and Voodoo specifically. I like Voodoo for the Cass stories because Voodoo takes things from a variety of lores and blends them together. A little bit of Catholicism, a little bit of ancient African tribal mythology, and mix it all together.

This weekend I read through Kenaz Filan's The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa. Interesting stuff. My vision for Cass is that she doesn't have specific allegiance to any one school of mysticism, but rather picks and chooses among them. After reading the book, I fleshed out my idea for the first Cass story to introduce the batch I'm working on. Featured in it, the Voodoo Loa, Papa Legba.

Then, a little bit later over the weekend I stumbled onto a bizarre movie, True Stories. Toward the end, one of the characters goes to none other than a Voodoo mambo and then there's a scene with the song "Papa Legba" by the Talking Heads.

Small world, isn't it?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

For Yourself

The biggest thing I'm taking from October is getting back to before I was a "serious" writer, back to when I did it just because I liked telling myself stories. It was more fun then, and I didn't have to worry about anyone else's opinion on what I wrote. It was all just for me.

This month I'm using October momentum to keep on with the Cass stories. They seem to be falling together almost on their own, figuring out how they all fit together with little help from my part. It's fun. There's no pressure for me to do it any particular way, because right now I don't especially plan on them being seen by anyone else any time soon. Maybe, after a while, I'll run them through the CWC. Maybe I won't. Doesn't matter. They're just for me right now, and I'm liking that.

My challenge for you is to spend some time this month writing something just for yourself. What's that story you've always wanted to write, but haven't? What's that idea you've put on the shelf because it'd never fly in your critique group? Now's the time for you to write it. Whatever else you've got on your writing plate, find a little time to write something that's just for you, and to write it exactly the way you, and only you, like it.

A Whole Month

Seemed like October was a long one. At the least, it was quite eventful. Neil Gaiman and thesis adventures were the highlights. Lots of reading, too. It's been a fun month (except for the recent thesis stuff, which has been stressful.)

The main thing I'm taking away from October is a reminder to myself that I should lighten up. Drafting is drafting, it's about getting the jist down on the page so you have raw materials to go back and polish up later. More than ever, I find myself making margin notes as I go along, things where as I write the next paragraph, or the next page, I think, "Oh yeah, I should add X in." Then I make a note and get on with things. I'm thinking of it as a drawing process - 1st you just get some shapes outlined, then you go back and refine those sketched lines, then you add detail, etc. It's a multi-step process.

Bottom line: It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be a story. Anything that's not quite right can always get fixed later.

How did your October go?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Oh Yeah, It's Halloween

It's not that I forgot what day it is. I even spent the last couple of days working on scrounging a costume for a Halloween party tonight, so it's certainly not that I forgot. It's just that the realization of today has been rather on the periphery of my mind.

This morning, as I was writing some more of a Cass story in my notebook, I had an "Oh yeah," moment where I thought it was kind of relevant to be writing a supernatural story on Halloween. That's when the connection between the two actually clicked in my mind. Last night I was reading a Vodoo book, and it didn't connect then. Earlier this morning I sat down next to a book titled "Voodoo, Devils, and the New Invisible World," and it didn't click then. I guess I'm a little slow on the up-take today. At least, Halloween or not, it's Friday.

In other news: In honor of the day, I'm passing along an article I just read, "Why We Believe" which is interesting because it gives scientific rationale for why our brains are hardwired in a way that makes us likely to believe in the paranormal. Fun stuff, and very cool.

Otherwise, happy Trick-or-Treating tonight, I hope you get nothing but good candy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

By Tuesday

Monday was CWC night. I got lots of feedback on the second part of my thesis and everybody got to talking about how it all fight together. I admit, I walked out of the meeting bummed. After all this work on the stories, I was kind of thinking how soon I'd be done, and the gang reminded me I still had a far ways to go.

Tuesday I met with Juan and we talked timeline. The jist being that I'm running out of time to get the whole thing done. The conversation ended with him saying, "It's your call."

If I want to try for getting my thesis defended this semester, I need to have it all completely written and revised in time to distribute to my thesis committe incredibly soon. I told Juan I'd have my answer for him at our next meeting. This gives me just over four or so days to decide if I'm ready. Can I get it done in time? Do I want to try, or would it be better to just ease up on myself and allow more time?

I'm starting to really feel the stress. I'm not liking it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Writing the (Cass) Bible

I love making charts and lists when it comes to stories, even though they usually prove useless in the end. Still the physical act of drawing diagrams often proves fulcrum-like in moving my thoughts around and getting them focused.

In TV shows they often create a Bible, a rulebook that holds details about characters, the mythology of the show, etc. Today I pulled out a fresh binder and started making title pages for each of the dividers - things like "monsters/creatures" and "magical lore" got printed out, hole-punched, and plugged in. It made me feel brilliant, important, and productive.

I'm digging the orderly vibe going on here, though I admit the binder is pretty skinny thus far. Gotta write more stories so I have more details :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I'll Take The One About Demonic Forces, Please

In order to aid my work on the new stories, I've started to hit the library. Today I went to the branch by campus and picked up a few to get me started. I've gotta say that checking out a handful of books with things like "voodoo" and "witchcraft" in the titles made me feel like I was an angsty goth teen. I was slightly embarrassed.

I had to fight the impulse to loudly announce to everyone in earshot, "It's not what you think! I'm a writer. It's research."

I'm hitting the main branch tomorrow to pick up a copy of a nifty book called Lucifer Ascending. I should wear black lipstick to do it, don't you think?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test

I heard about a character test, designed to judge if your character is a "Mary Sue," or in danger of becoming one. Since I'm in the midst of working on the new stories about the new character, I ran her through it. Her score: 18 (probably not, but be careful).

It's an entertaining test, to be sure, but far from the be-all, end-all on character construction (as the authors themselves point out). For instance, the test-writers don't like characters who are too unique. You get strikes against you if your character is a tom boy, has special abilities, is something other than pure human, or is the best at something. Oops, my bad. Then again, also Joss's bad (or anyone else's who I like). Angel, one of my favorite genre characters, isn't human, is incredibly powerful, saves the day more than anyone else, etc. Shame on him.

Now, toward the end of the test there is a section of de-Suifiers, which can help make up the difference. This is the spot where you get to click on character flaws. There are far fewer options for flaws than for perfections. Feels a bit weighted. If your character is overweight, middle aged, and a wuss, you're in good shape. Angel is none of these. Bad Joss. Angel has other flaws, some of which are listed on the test, but most of which are not. Flaws like arrogance, vanity, a savior complex, etc. But, since they're not on the test, they don't count, right?

Anyhow, the test is fun. Take it for one of your characters, but take it with a grain of salt.

For me, I'm thinking now about my character. She's the hero in an urban fantasy world, so there are certain things that go along with that - she's a bit special, she's not purely human, and she tends to be the one to save the day. I've done my best to make her personality flawed, but now I'm thinking of how else I can make life hard for her. I think I need to take some time to think about what her vulnerabilities really are. What are her weaknesses? Her vices? What's she most afraid of? What abilities/virtues does she have that could get pushed too far and turned into weaknesses? Good questions to have answers to.

Along with/instead of running one of your own characters through the test, I also recommend substituting some of your favorite characters from your favorite story tellers. I wonder how their hero does? If, according to the test, said character is a Mary Sue, what is it that the test doesn't account for which redeems them?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Thesis Plan

I just got out of a thesis meeting with Juan. I gave him another story, which leaves us with one left before he's read all of the fiction. He keeps telling me that if we need to push back the mid-November deadline, that it's not a big deal to defend next semester. It's good to know, but if at all possible I want to do it before then.

In order to do so, here's what I've got to accomplish:
Revise all of the fiction based on feedback I've gotten thus far
Draft my preface
Give the preface to Juan
Revise preface based on Juan's feedback
Give whole thesis to my committee members (by the last week of October)
Revise based on committee feedback (which is a lather, rinse, repeat kind of process until they're satisfied)

In order to do this all, I'm on a tight schedule. Next week I'm giving Juan the final installment, and revising the fiction with great speed. Then I'm giving Juan a complete & revised draft of the fiction probably a week or so after that. The week after next is a good week to give him the full draft of my preface.

All-in-all, I'm looking at roughly two weeks to have a complete draft of my thesis, including revisions on the fiction.

Tick tock.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The New Stories

The new stories I'm working on right now run through my head more like the episodes of a TV show than anything else, so I'm rolling with that kind of framework. I've got a greater plot arc in mind (the season arc) and then littler ones for each story/episode. I'm only a few in, but already I can see how it's tricky to balance out the stand-aloneness of the stories and the cohesion of the overall arc.

I'm digging it, though. It's like a game. I get to do research, too, which is also fun. I know a new word now: Molybdomancy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

'Cause It's Fun

I'm liking the direction this month is going in. Last night I was watching some TV on my computer and started working out a new character, who's kind of a spin-off from my thesis, oddly enough, and then a new series of stories about that character, and then I stopped watching TV and started writing the first story about her. All the while, I was thinking how these stories aren't going to help my thesis, nor do they fit in with the bar novel which I have to keep working on for the CWC.

In short, they're not part of any mandatory project I've got going on right now. There's is no practical reason whatsoever for me to be writing this. In short, no pressure for me to do it. I'm just doing it 'cause I've got the ideas and I want to.

This morning I finished off the first story, which is feeling kind of like the "pilot episode," though that may change. Then I started another story about the character. I'm at about 4,500 words about this gal. She's fun to write, her world (urban fantasy) is fun, and I get to pull out some interesting folklore-y stuff about the supernatural and basically keep running with my thesis themes, but play with them more.

I am really liking October. In the midst of thesis pressure, the challenge of seeing a novel through, and coming off a heinous word-count bet, I'm goofing off. It's nice.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Perfection Problem: Part 2, Responding to It

This morning I pulled out my newly printed & compiled thesis (which has its own dedicated binder) and a purple pen.

One of my new stories, "The Honeymoon of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Roux" was one that just kept getting longer as I wrote it. It's the longest of the collection, coming in at about 25 pages. As I wrote it, I had things I thought I needed to go back to and write more on. There was a moment when I wondered to myself just how long this thing needed to be in order for it to work.

This morning, I started with that story. It took me a while to read through it and make revision notes. However, I tackled this revision differently than I have in the past. For starters, and I have a hard time admitting this for fear of sounding silly, as I read, I imagined how Neil Gaiman would read it. I kept his voice, his pacing, his intonation in my mind. Because, let's face it, a good reader can make just about anything sound good.

As I read through the story with Neil's voice in my head and the mindset that I ought to ease up on myself, a lovely thing happened. This story, which I kept thinking was so sketched and rough, didn't seem so bad. I could see some the machinery behind the story working (i.e. plot points that connect like they ought) and I was able to lean back a little and just like my work. It was cool.

That said, I made notes on every single page about things to edit. When I get my critiques on it from the gang in the CWC and Juan, I'm sure there will be more things that need my attention. So, I'm not saying it's perfect as is. Rather, I'm saying that I'm letting myself like it for its own sake instead of focusing so much on what's wrong with it.

Part way through October, and I find myself applying my "nuts & bolts" fiction study having different results than I expected. Instead of giving me some technical, or stylistic, thing to try, it's giving me a different kind of mindset. The biggest thing I'm getting out of this so far is to trust myself more.

It's refreshing, to say the least.

The Perfection Problem: Part 1, Naming It

I'm about half of the way through The Graveyard Book right now, and I keep thinking about the reading Neil did. I'm also beginning to buckle down on my initial thesis revisions. I like having the two in my mind at the same time.

I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan, and I've been asking myself why. The thing is, it's not really because of how elegantly he writes. Let's face it, he doesn't write all that elegantly at all. Neil's prose is pretty simple and straight forward. On the way back, Deb and I were talking about how bad he'd get dinged in a critique group for his frequent use of "was." But, that's the thing, sometimes "was" is the right word, passive tense or not.

In a critique group, we're so focused on trying to make things perfect that we sometimes work too hard on finding things to fix. There have been plenty of times when I've talked with someone about something that was not only published, but even acclaimed or award-winning, and we've talked about the fact that said author would have been criticized in a critique group for one thing or another in that piece.

"But, it's a prize winning author!" You say. "They've done it just fine." And you're absolutely right.

The critique group danger is always thinking there's something to fix. Don't get me wrong, there's often plenty to fix and many ways to make something stronger. But, as soon as we work too hard to make something "perfect" we start squeezing out the character of the thing we're writing/revising/critiquing.

Right now I recognize in my own writing this struggle for the perfect. I've wandered away from the land of the happy medium and into the land of "if it isn't perfect, it's not worth it." Time to make a figurative U-turn.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Thesis Title

After the second push on thesis pages, and my change in direction, I realize that my initial title no longer fits. Thus, I'm faced with finding a new thesis title.

I don't like not having a title for the thesis. I'm in the process of playing around with some, making lists, trying to decide what I want to use as a focal point. I wonder, would it work to call it Falco Sparverius, or would that be all wrong? What about The 250 Year Molt? I almost feel like I'm coming full circle back to my very first ideas about the thesis, like I want the word "totem" to fit in the title somehow.

I'm taking it as a good sign that I've circled back around, maybe it means I was on the right track all along. Maybe I should look all the way back and see what my first thoughts on title were, maybe I've already named the thesis exactly right, but have just forgotten.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Neil Night

Deb and I made our way up to Boulder last night to see Neil. Way fun. You can tell he's very at home standing in front of a couple hundred people (which makes sense for as long as he's been doing book tours), and he's a great reader. You can see some of what we saw on Neil's blog. (Just imagine seeing it from the other side and farther away.)

We even got to see bits of Coraline, have Neil answer audience questions, and then we got a bonus of him reading us his new upcoming picture book. Nifty stuff.

And we both snagged autographed copies of The Graveyard Book, which tells you what I'm reading as soon as I get home today.

(Side note: It was especially interesting to go and see him right now, when I'm focusing on paying close attention to how writers do what they do. I never before noticed how often he uses metaphors/similes in his descriptions, for instance.)

Though I am quite tired today, thanks to the late night, I am very glad I went. Neil's as much fun in person as I had thought he might be. Besides, it's always nice to prove to oneself that:
1. That person you so look up to really is flesh and blood
2. Writers really can have fans
3. Not only that, but people will pay money, dress up in goth gear, and wait in line outside of a church just for the chance to see a writer

And, did I mention that I got an autographed copy of the book? He signed in purple ink.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Thesis: The Compilation

During my last meeting with Juan, I told him about having hit 22,000+ words in two weeks. He asked me if I felt like that and my earlier pages were about what I wanted, or if I planned to add more. I said I felt like I had enough.

As of two minutes ago, I've put everything together in the order it belongs in and cut out the stuff that I don't feel quite fits, and got it all together in one place.

106 pages of fiction. 30,247 words. I just may have a book, guys. Plenty of revisions ahead, no mistake about it, but it's all there. That makes me smile.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Feel the (Book) Burn.

In keeping with my writing study, I've made two trips to the library in the past few days. Now that the bet is over, I'm in high gear for productivity and have burned through a couple of short books.

I gave up on the Kim Edwards The Secrets of a Fire King when it proved to be too literary for my tastes (pretty, but little happens). The title story was probably my favorite, but I couldn't make it further than my half-way goal. Then I burned through a Batman comic by Frank Miller, also not my favorite (way too much stuff going on all at the same time, sorry Frank). Since I've heard lots about The Vagina Monologues that was next on my list. Eh. I get the political & feminist stuff behind it, but it was only okay. I opened a book about the Bell Witch, but made no progress at all because I didn't like the first paragraph. Then I remembered I had a half-read issue of Realms of Fantasy in the clutter on my couch, and that held my interest infinitely more than the others had. Nifty mag. However, with only a few stories per issue, I was soon needing more stuff to read.

Since one of my influences/supports for my thesis is Sherman Alexie (let's not forget that I named my dog after him), I decided it was time to re-read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I'm a couple stories in right now, and remembering why I like him so much (poetic language and stuff happens). Meanwhile, I stopped by the library again, picked up some new books, and flipped through Nocturnes, a book of Chris Faust photography. I'm debating whether I'm going to stay focused on the Alexie or hit my library books next (as library books have due dates and I own the Alexie). Either way, I'm doing lots of pages reading-wise, which nicely balances all the pages I just did writing-wise.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Back to Basics

One of the things about writing so many pages all in one go is that it makes it very clear to me what my writing does, and what it doesn't do. I'm talking mainly style here.

My writing style is pretty spare. In high school I was reading something and I kept getting fed up with all the exposition in the narrative, especially with regard to characters. It's that classic "show don't tell" idea, and the thing I was reading was all about telling. Then I read "Hills Like White Elephants" by Hemingway and with the two experiences together, I latched onto streamlined writing like nobody's business.

Now I find myself with a problem. My reaction in high school has influenced me ever since, and it also ultimately led to over-correction. So, I've come to the point where it's time to start swinging the pendulum back. While I can never imagine myself getting into really elaborate or expository prose, I can admit that I have a leaning to make my writing more skeletal than spare. I already know I'll need to go back over the pages from the bet to put some flesh on them, and to help that I'm turning to more reading.

One of the best places to look for help is examples, ergo that's what I'm doing.

Which leads me to this month's challenge. However long you've been writing, chances are it's been a while since you've really broken down the nuts and bolts of it and taken some time to closely analyze how other people's stories work. And I'm not talking in a critique group context, here. I'm talking published work which is presented to you as the best version of that novel/story/poem.

This month I challenge you to pick out a few pieces, maybe even focus on one of your favorite authors, and break them down. Look at the different parts of that writing. How do they fit together? How do they talk to each other? How is it that when you put them all together, you get something of publishable quality? Play around with it, a bit of mimicry is encouraged at this point. See what you can learn from it and take for your own repertoire.

September's Over

The challenge this month was a pick your own. I ended up going the competitive route with my bet with John. Boy howdy, talk about productivity.

Overall, this month has been all thesis, thesis, thesis. It's been interesting. The thesis has entailed some firsts for me. This is the first time I've ever written so many pages in so little time. The first time I've been so consumed by a writing project, and it's the first time I've done such a full and complete single project. It's been a while since I've had so many firsts in my writing. It's groovy.

September was good for me. How did yours go?

Monday, September 29, 2008

600 Words

The bet ended today. Sadly, John beat me. Not by much, though, which I like.

Other things I like:
- This is a new personal best for me - it opens up a whole new standard for what I'm capable of.
- I not only reached my goal of 50 pages, I smashed right through it.
- I'm now ahead of schedule on my thesis.
- Tomorrow I get to go to my thesis meeting with Juan and tell him that I didn't write 50 pages like I planned, I wrote almost 80.
- I hit the point, a few days ago, where I was worn out and low on inspiration and really feeling like I'd reached my limit, and I pushed myself through it.

Without the bet, I'd have almost 30 fewer pages than I do right now. I may not have won, but all-in-all, it was worth one dinner.

Cheers, John.

The Last Push

We're closing in on the contest deadline, and I can feel the stitch in my side. Just a couple more hours and then we're across the finish line.

In the mean time, I'm busy getting prepped for the CWC meeting tonight. While they're getting most of the fruits of the past two weeks, I'm leaving a bit out due to its roughness and the need to work on it more before it sees the light of day.

As I've been furiously typing out the second part of my thesis, I've made a significant change to my organizational strategy. It makes more sense to me than my first idea, and I'm hoping it makes more sense to other people, too. I'll also be curious to get people's thoughts on how the whole thing fits together, and how well the second part holds true to the themes of the first (though "1st & 2nd parts" is arbitrary since they're being blended together and inter-cut).

Now I've got one of the biggest hurdles of the thesis jumped - the draft of the fiction. Now I get to celebrate by sleeping in tomorrow and having chocolate. Mmm... chocolate.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

No, I Haven't Forgotten

Deb just gave me a little nudge about my word count - namely, it didn't go up yesterday.

Yes, I know. I know I'm in a word count race, and I know that one whole day without progress is bad.

Bottom line: conscious decision 'cause I needed time to regroup. I started off with about four story ideas to work through. By yesterday I'd finished off the three that I knew what I wanted to do with and was left with the last story, which I was less clear on. Since I don't like to just write without having some idea of where I'm going, I decided not to force myself to do so. I figured it'd be smarter to step back, recharge a little, and do some brainstorming for new stories.

This is a marathon, after all, not just a dead sprint. Burn out is worse than a day of rest. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Word count will go up tonight, though. Can't let John get too far ahead.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Marvelous Progress

My biggest goal this semester is to get my thesis over and done with. Since everyone else I've known has spent two semesters on theirs, my goal is certainly ambitious. I'm within 20 pages or so of finishing a full draft of the fiction portion of said thesis. That's exciting. I've been juggling stories and working on four simultaneously this past week. Until yesterday, when I finished one. This morning, I finished another. I'm feeling more and more like my thesis goal is actually achievable.

The bet with John is going well. He's talking big, last night he put up a post talking about leads. He's had one on me for the past couple of days, but I'm closing fast. I went from being 5,000 words behind to being 1,000 (current: 12, 023 vs. 11,010) and that's taking into account the fact that he's continued to make progress. My plan today is to finish closing the gap and to trade spots with him as the leader.

I hesitated in announcing this plan, as it's basically giving John advance warning, but what's the fun of a bet without some posturing?

Monday, September 22, 2008

John Pulls Ahead, For Now

I just got an e-mail from Deb about our going to see Neil. Yay! Neil!

She added a P.S.
"It looks like John's kicking your butt. Step it up, girl!"

If you've noticed, John just powered through about 5,000 words this weekend, putting him at about 10,000 overall and well beyond my 5,267 noted at the time of this posting. Deb is concerned.

I reassured her. He's got a good lead, 5,000 words in one weekend is nothing to sneeze at. So, props to John for that. However, I'm not quaking in my boots just yet. See, while John was typing like a madman this weekend, I was grading Composition papers. That made it impossible to add to the thesis at the same time. I expected that he'd get a lead on me, though I admit to be impressed at just how much of a lead he managed.

I've got a plan, though. I'm going to be closing that distance real quick.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Push/Juggling

So, after I've talked with Juan during our last meeting, and after he's said that it's important I keep bringing him pages, I make the bet with John. Then I tell Juan, "So, I'm going to write the next fifty pages of my thesis in two weeks and thus knock out a full draft of the fiction portion of it."

Then Juan looks at me with what can only be called an expression of skepticism. He said something to the effect of, "Well... that'd be good." The part he didn't say was, "If you can really pull it off." Oh ye of little faith.

We're rounding out the first week of the bet and I'm standing at 14 typed pages, plus two hand-written ones I did today when I was kicked out of the office because Amanda needed it to conference with a student.

The jist: I'm writing like a fiend because I know the only alternative is to come up short on my CWC submission. My honor is at stake here, yet again. Honor which I'm adamant about defending. I know I talk big sometimes, but I try to back it up. Ergo: motivation.

I've come up with an attack plan that's working well so far. In the past I've tended to stick primarily with either drafting longhand or on the computer - that way all the stuff is in one place at a time. However, since I'm back in the swing of the semester, this strategy wasn't going to work. If I had to rely on only writing on my home computer, it just wasn't going to work. Luckily, as I mentioned the other day, I've gotten a few new ideas for stories. This gave me a way to both split up my work and keep it on one notebook/computer at a time. Depending on where I am, I can work on a different story.

For the big push I'm relying on the interweb, Google notebook, especially, to give me one "place" to keep things. At home I've got it all together on a Word document, but then I get to campus and have a few minutes, so I add to Google notebook and then copy/paste when I get home. Then, since I wasn't in the office and thus not in front of a computer, for an hour this morning, I pulled out a notebook and wrote the first part of another story I had in my mind about a little boy who walks to Nevada.

In the midst of all this, I have to keep up with my reading for the thesis, so guess what I'm doing at the dog park?

There's a saying about how if you want to get something accomplished you give it to a busy person. There's truth in that. I am accomplishing oodles.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Terms

The terms of the bet have been decided and agreed upon:

Both participants must post a running page count on their respective blog.
Deadline: 5:00 p.m. Monday, September 29th.
He/She with the highest word count wins.
Loser buys winner dinner at place of winner's choice.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's On, Like Butter on Toast

Because he's begun lifting heavy objects, John seems to think he can out-write me in the next two weeks. So, now we have another bet.

My problem is that I can't decide what the terms should be. Namely, what's the pay off for the winner if one of us *cough* John *cough* doesn't make it to the page count?

When it comes to bet penalties there are different schools of thought. I lean away from the mean or terrible and emphasize the benefit of the winner over the pain of the loser.

Thus far I've had thoughts about the loser baking a batch of cookies for the winner, car washing, or the loser buying the winner a milkshake. However, I'm feeling the need for more ideas, so I'm going to ask for a little audience participation here. What do you think? What's a good penalty for losing the bet?

Ah, Deadline, Maker of Momentum

In order to fulfill my goal of getting the thesis over and done with by the end of the semester, I pretty much have to have it all written and revised by November 14. This means I need to have the fiction part written, the research done for the theoretical preface, and the theoretical preface written. All-in-all, we're talking at least one hundred pages.

Not just one hundred pages written out, either. One hundred pages that have been written, edited, distributed to my thesis committee, and revised in response to their feedback.

All this, in two months. Most folks I know are taking two semesters to work out their thesis. But, that's why I wrote stories ahead of time, right? Right. Now it's crunch time. Juan wants pages every time we meet, and I'm quickly running out of material I wrote over the summer. The cool thing, though, is that where for a while I had stalled out on ideas for stories, all of a sudden, I'm prolific. I've got the first page/paragraph of three added into the thesis to work on, and I'm thinking I might toss in a flash I wrote out completely the other day. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, that flash fits right in with one of the new ones...

Oh yeah, and I'm due for 50 more pages for the CWC in two weeks, without having made any noteable progress at all after I did that spurt of 15 pages. Thus, I'm thinking I'll switch my CWC project back to thesis and kill the proverbial two birds, etc.

Of course, this means I have even more pages to write to get the thesis up to a 50 page sub. than I would have to do the same for the novel, but that also means I'll be that much closer to getting my MA when I want to.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Campus Newspaper Survey

I found a short survey in my campus mailbox today, distributed by English Club for a feature in the university newspaper. They're collecting faculty responses, and some of the questions are straight-forward, like what's your name and position with the university?

Others, though, prove problematic:

#2: What's your favorite book of all time?
Of all time? I can say what my favorite book is today, or what it was yesterday, and maybe they'll be the same book, but maybe they won't. So, "of all time?" Impossible.

#5: What was your greatest writing success and how did you accomplish it?
This one, especially, stumps me. What counts as success, what counts as greatest? Does having people like Oracle enough to occasionally nag me about finishing it count?

Obviously, I could just pick an answer and get on with my life, but I'm pre-occupied with the questions. It's all about wording.

Tell me, if you were answering the survey, what would you fill in for those two?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Speaking the Same Language

In my Composition classes we've been talking about cultural issues, like language and culture clash. We've been talking about using MLA because writing is a conversation and MLA is the language we use. It's all about being able to speak the same language, only then can we have a conversation.

Today I had a meeting with Juan for my thesis. I feel like we're not speaking the same language yet. His definition of magical realism is a pretty hard-core, Gabriel Garcia Marquez one. Magical realism means "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings." Okay, I can appreciate that.

However, I also find it problematic to use only that definition. Why? Because of the "magic" part. You look cross-culturally and the common denominator of what magic is, is a description of seeming. Things that seem to be magical, are. It is belief in the magic that makes it real. Magic becomes a description of reality. With me so far?

So, then I start thinking of a less literal description of magical realism - manipulation of our accepted perception of reality. A broader umbrella. Beneath that umbrella falls Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried because the whole book is a conversation about what reality is and how reality and truth are not always synonymous. How things seem becomes more important than how things are. Again, we're back to describing reality.

In my mind, it's all inter-connected and magical realism is a first-cousin to metafiction and ways of story-telling. I briefly mentioned Tim O'Brien as a magical realist author to Juan, and got a very skeptical reaction. I couldn't articulate my thoughts at the moment, so I dropped it.

Bottom line: right now we're not quite speaking the same language. I've got to figure out how to articulate it in a way that's clear before I can make progress on my theoretical defense portion. I've got to figure out how I translate Tim O'Brien into Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

New Music Thing-y

Today I found a new way of getting music, Spiral Frog. I've been scarfing down lots of music, and tonight has had a disctinctive Elton John and Reckless Kelly theme. It doesn't immediately seem like the two should go together, does it? But, I promise you, they do.

So, I'd like to offer you some lyrics ('cause they're sad and lovely), since there's been much talk of cowboys (or, at least cowboying-up) and of striving on the blogs:

"My first love was a wicked twisted road
I hit the million mark at seventeen years old
I never saw the rainbow much less a pot of gold
yeah my first love was a wicked twisted road

My first love was a castle in the sky
never thought I'd make it 'till I had the guts to try
and I sat up in my tower while the whole world passed me by
yeah my first love was a castle in the sky..."

-Reckless Kelly, "Wicked Twisted Road"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure

After proposing a new challenge every month, I find myself out of ideas. I'm so wrapped up in current writing projects that all I can think of challenge-wise is page count, and that's not at all interesting.

Rather, what is an infinitely more interesting idea is to have an entirely different type of challenge this go 'round. I hereby challenge you to come up with your own challenge for this month. Think of something bold, daring, innovative, and/or uncomfortable to try this month. Then, post your personal challenge in the comments. It's just not fun unless you're accountable.

So, what do you challenge yourself to do this month? What brave feat are you going to attempt?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Messy It Up - The Necessity of Chaos

When I got my CWC critique of the first part of the bar novel, the main common thread in people's comments was to make it messier. Bottom line: it's not complicated enough yet.

The second issue was relating to the protagonist. As anyone knows, if the reader isn't hooked into your main character, you're in trouble.

Now, the cool thing is that if you put the two issues together, they create a solution. Complications build character, and character is how you get complications. They feed off of each other. So, when I solve one problem, it'll lead to the solution to the other. After mulling it over for a while, I've come up with an idea of how to complicate Jess's life. I'm excited about this idea not only for the sake of dealing with the issues I've already mentioned, but also for getting around my stall-out with the sections of the novel when Jess is away from the bar.

It's not even lunch time yet, and I've already come up with ideas on how to tackle the three biggest struggles I'm having with this novel. I'm awesome :)

Yeah, yeah, just let me allow myself a touch of ego, okay? It's the only thing keeping me going right now.

End of August Run-Down

I started off so well with that bet with John - fifteen pages in a week, I was rocking and rolling. Then I stalled out, lost momentum, and haven't really added to those fifteen. I credit part of my stall to the fact that I have a harder time writing the parts where Jess isn't at the bar, which is the next part to write, but I have to admit that difficulty is only a fraction of the reason I petered out. Mostly, I got lazy.

Shame on me.

How did you fare this month? Better than me?

Monday, August 25, 2008

About This 8 a.m. Thing...

I'm just wrapping up my first day back on campus for the new semester. After a few months of waking up at 8:30 at the earliest, I now need to not only be awake but also be on campus and in class by 8:00. It's going to take some adjusting. And coffee. Definitely coffee.

I think I'm going to like having my Comp. classes back to back, it seems like they go quickly that way. I got a pretty good handle on student names today, and I'm hoping that by the end of classes on Wednesday I'll have the names of all 46 students down. I know it may sound a little crazy, but I'm big on knowing names right away.

Then, after class was my office hours, then I had a getting back on track meeting for SCWP, and this semester I'm training a replacement who'll take over next semester when I'm graduated and no longer eligible for work study. So, we spent a couple hours doing the office tour where I showed her what got filed where, etc.

It's just 3:00 and I'm feeling like I need a nap. However, tonight's also CWC night, so no dice there.

Coffee, I think I need more coffee.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Novel in Two Pages

On Friday night I went to my first American Icon. It was fun to watch Deb, Fleur, and John get up on stage and do their stuff. And, nerves and all, each of them did a right proper job of it.

You've got to admit, however, that the premise is a bit insane. Theoretically you've written a whole novel, so some couple hundred pages of characters, setting, plot, and dialogue. Then you've got to pick out a passage short enough to be read in two minutes (i.e. about two pages) to represent the whole. Crazy stuff. Yet...

I was impressed at how it was possible to get a feel for a writer's work based on that short snippet. It only takes maybe thirty seconds to get an idea of who's a humorous writer, who's a dark writer, who's good at setting a scene, etc. The drawback is that it's still such a small slice of the novel that you can only guess at how the rest fits in with that two pages, so while you can get an idea of what the writer's about, you still can't entirely tell if you'd like the whole book.

All of this led me to trying to figure out which two pages I'd use if I were the one reading. I have an idea of what I'd pick from Oracle, but I'm not working on Oracle right now. So, what would I pick from the bar novel? Try as I might, I can't think of which two of the pages I've written so far would be the best choice. Luckily, it's not a pressing issue at the moment, but seeing the others get up there and do it felt kind of like a challenge. Maybe by the time Icon rolls around next year I'll have an idea?

If you had to pick only two pages of your novel, or say two paragraphs of your short story, to represent the whole, do you know what you'd pick?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Riches

I was browsing through Hulu, looking for a new TV show to watch and, quite by accident, I stumbled on The Riches. I'm just starting in on it, but it holds much promise. After all, anything with Eddie in it can't be all bad.

So far it's got plenty of dark, plenty of grit, and even a bit of poetry thrown in. Beautiful. Makes me wonder how much ad libbing Izzard does?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Slippery Days

I don't know what's going on, but the days leading in to fall semester are slipping through my fingers like a squirmy five year old. *Sigh* So much to do before I'm back on campus, sheesh. I'm excited about having 15 pages ready, but not excited about having made no progress this past week.

But, no time to worry about it, I've got a syllabus to revise, a new assignment to create, a key to acquire, rosters to get, reading to do...

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Vital Importance of Failure

Here we are, in the midst of the Olympics, talking about things like inspiration, and even more importantly, failure. Deb has a post about the topic, and so does John. Lately, between the bet with John and these posts, I've been vividly reminded of my time in sales.

For a little over a year, I was a salesperson who sold things. Even though my time in sales was relatively brief, it was dense, and in the end I have a hard time remembering that it was only about a year and a half of my life. By the end of my sales gig, I had achieved the single most important, and most monetarily costly, failure of my life to-date.

The sales gig was also one of the biggest factors in making me who I am. I like who I am and I know that missing that failure would mean missing certain changes that I made in myself. But, enough with the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Though true, it's not my point.

My point, is that among other things, I learned how important it is to make yourself try. As a sales rep, and as a manager, I had a lot of practice setting goals. The best goals to make were never "sell X amount" but rather "schedule X appointments" or "make X phone calls." Because, as soon as you start weighting your success purely on end result, you set yourself up for falling short. Once you start thinking only of what you want, instead of the work you'll have to put in to get it, your chances of achieving that goal become poorer.

Not every sales call will end in a sale. It's statistics, you can't argue with statistics. However, in the sales job, we also knew that a certain percentage of sales calls would end in a sale. It all boiled down to a numbers game. If you wanted to hit a sales goal, you had to focus on first hitting a scheduling goal, which meant hitting a phone calls goal. You had to break it down and you had to count in a certain number for sales calls that you knew would not end in sales. If you wanted X in sales, you had to do a bit of number crunching and start at the bottom. Sales weren't a matter of getting from point A to point B, but rather from point A to something like point H.

Going through all those steps meant you could get to your end goal. However, at each of those steps there was the guarantee of a certain amount of rejection. We used to talk about ratios. Every "no" equaled a certain number of "yes"es. So, if you could wrap your head around it, each "no" became almost a good thing, because it brought you that much closer to the next "yes."

It became one great game of psyching yourself out and shifting your whole mentality of how you defined success. I remember one manager I had who had absolutely embraced this approach, and applied it to more than just sales. Specifically, he got a lot of dates. Granted, he was cute and personable, etc. However, this was not why he got dates. Not even close to the reason, in fact. No, the reason he got so many dates was because he got turned down so often. He knew that, like in sales, it was all a matter of statistics. For every X women who turned him down, X would probably say yes, which meant for every few dates he wanted, he had to ask out many more women. I would even, on occasion, hear him talk about his rejections with fondness, as if they were their own kind of success.

The funny thing is, when you get right down to it, they were.

One of the best ways to succeed at something is being willing to fail. By saying this I don't mean you shouldn't put your blood, sweat, and tears into it. I'm saying that failure is the key part of success. At the end of the day, how you deal with your failures says the most about your potential for success. And, if you're dedicated enough to what you're doing, you will fail. In fact, you will fail many times. Better get used to the idea, because it's only through that failure that you really stand a change of winning.

There are very few things we get right the first time, or the first ten times, or maybe even the first hundred times.

Wanna know the real secret of highly successful people? Being too stubborn to quit, despite all the times they've failed. Or, in some cases, because of it.

Remember, the guys who get the most dates are the ones who are most often rejected.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

With Time To Spare

I made my 15 pages, and e-mailed them to John for proof. Of course, now that he knows how much I've done, I wouldn't be surprised if he tries to outdo me on page/word count. But, I say I get a time bonus for getting mine done first.

Alright, alright, enough with the posturing.

I got my 15 pages done on time, and hit my goal. That adds up to 4,200 new words for the novel that I did not have a week ago. All competition aside, I'm feeling good about that.

Sometimes a friendly wager can be really productive. Add in the chance of having to make a public admission... and watch the fingers fly!

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Gentleperson's Wager

Once upon a time, John gave me grief about getting 15 pages done in a week. So, I said, "Care to make a bet?" I mean, he needs to get his own pages done, after all, so why not make things interesting?

The rules: 15 pages by midnight Sunday. They must be double spaced, Times New Roman font, and with standard margins. If we do it, then we've got the pages. But, if either of us fails, there will be an allusion to the third episode of the fifth season of the X-Files.

Now, of course, he's already talking big, but it remains to be seen where all that talking is going to get him.

I'm up to six pages, John. What've you got?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Now I Guess I've Got To

After I put up a recent post on this blog, Deb said she'd race me to catch up, and then a certain person thought it would be cute to send me an e-mail which started, "DID YOU GET ANY PAGES DONE YESTERDAY?!? HUH? DIDJA? DIDJA?" and ended with an inquiry about my ability to get my page count up to 15 by the end of the week.

Well, you put those two together and it sounds like a challenge to me, and as has probably become apparent through this blog, I have a difficult time backing down from a challenge.

Now, I was going to let it slide, I really was, but then I figured out the second part of my issue with the next bit of the novel (basically that there was no rule against skipping ahead a couple of months in the timeline) and so I sat in front of my computer and started typing.

Before I knew it, I had two days worth of page count and I started thinking about the above comments. And how can I let it slide now that I've got some pages? Yeah, not gonna happen.

15 pages by Sunday? It is so on.

(P.S. I'm going to hold to 15 pages, even though my goal is 2 pages a day and that times two weeks equals 14. Obviously, some people can't do math.)

I'm Gonna Make This Pencil... Disappear

I saw The Dark Knight last night. Now y'all can stop nagging me about it :)

The problem with walking into a movie for which your friends whose opinions you respect have gushed their love for is that your expectations are high. I'm not saying it wasn't good. However, I was hoping for it to be awesome. Sadly, while I do agree it's good, I think they missed a couple of opportunities to make it really great.

Best parts: Michael Caine and Heath Ledger.
Second best parts: Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart.

My main disappointment, though not a huge one, was Christian Bale. Mostly, I think the writers could have upped a couple of aspects of the film regarding him and accomplished more. There were a couple of emotional bits where I was expecting them to close in on him and give him a moment where we could really see the knife turn. They did this some of the time, but seem to have not wanted to on one of the most key points. I felt let down.

Then there was the whole issue of that one thing... *Spoilers ahead*

So, Joker says "You can save one of them" and then we get that fallout, but am I wrong, or did Joker reverse the addresses? And there's no payoff for it (aside from the obvious). That was where I really felt let down. *Sigh*

Overall, good stuff. I love the direction Ledger went with the Joker. Creepy, creepy stuff, and the makeup for him was fantastic. Great stuff there.

So, I'm not saying I didn't like it. I'm just saying it didn't blow my mind as much as I hoped it would.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Word In My Defense

I just want it on-record that though I've been lagging on page count, it hasn't been purely all procrastination. The past week-ish has actually been pretty busy for me. I picked up an extra night at the bar (aka more research for the novel), currently have out-of-town relatives visiting, and had various other activities, including:

Getting ready for and attending my dad's retirement party (no birthday was involved whatsoever, the decorator was just delusional).

Going up to the mountains with dad over the weekend.

Tackling some cleaning around the house and especially in my office, where I've been depositing my horde of binders (note the big box) and gradually running out of storage space and thus resorting to use of the floor. (Dog included for scale)

I've also been refining my new polymer bead style and adding additional, and even more labor-intensive steps to how I make them. Now, along with all the other steps, I'm sanding too.

So, no, I haven't been keeping up with my 2+ pages a day writing goal, but it's not like I've been an absolute slacker, either.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Why Demons Are Good

Here I am, almost a week in on the 2 page a day goal. As you may have noticed, my page count on the sidebar hasn't changed.

Only two pages a day. Shouldn't be hard. Shouldn't be hard at all. Is proving otherwise.

My difficulty is deciding what the next arc will be. My first CWC submission pretty much consisted of the starting arc - you know, introduce the people and get Jess started working at the bar. Easy, everything has a logical progression. Then, later, I have other plot arcs already decided on, but it's still too early to start on those, so I've gotta figure out the arc that comes in betwixt.

If I had the pressure of a close deadline, I'd figure it out quick. Without, though, I'm lagging. Crap. Need more pressure.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

That Whole Discipline Thing

Well, after the insane two-week push to 50 pages, it seems imperative to try and avoid a repeat. So, the only logical challenge I can think of for this month is based on consistency. Consistency has never been my gig, I've always been the type of writer to go in spurts. The best I've done on consistency was when I had my habit of writing stories during boring classes.

Then, the past two weeks, I was remarkably consistent because if I wasn't, it would have been a very bad thing. The thing about falling in to a rhythm is it ends up being, if not easy, maintainable. I got on my computer and typed up an average of three or so pages a night. Being able to think to myself, "All I need to think about right now is the next three pages," made breaking down the novel into manageable bits much easier. It was cool.

This month, I'm aiming to add to the novel a little bit every day (with the exception of nights when I'm working at the bar). My goal is to average two pages a night. I think three pages a night would be doable, but a month of it might prove the path to burnout. So, two a night is my minimum and anything beyond that is bonus.

That said, here's my challenge for you:
Think about what your writing goals are for this month. Are you aiming for page count? For revision? For research? What is it that is your top writing, or writing-related, priority right now? Got it in your mind? Good. Now, I challenge you to do something to work toward that goal every day, at least five days a week.

Here's how this'll work, you decide that in order to meet X goal, you're going to break it into Y-shaped chunks. Then, each day you'll do one of those chunks. If you miss a day, you make it up. However, if you get ahead, you don't get a day off, you just keep on going. If you hit your whole-month goal early, kudos to you, but you've gotta keep going. Or, if you don't have a specific X, then your goal could be as simple as devoting a certain amount of time each day to writing.

The key here isn't so much that you reach X goal, but that you work toward it every day. It's the every day part that's important. Now, if you're in the CWC, I already know at least part of your writing goals for this month. But, I still want to know - how are you going to break them down? Do you have any additional goals?

If you're not in the CWC, then I have no idea what you're aiming for. So, what's on your plate?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Style Recap

For as long as June lasted, July went by all blurry-like.

My biggest thing this month was feeling sick of the sound of my narrative voice. So, I proposed a switch-up. My original thought was to pull out a short story from another author, analyze it a bit, and then write one of my own in imitation of their style. It's an exercise I've done in the past with good results.

Never happened.

Instead, I did something impulsive and started a novel. After all, the narrative style of a novel is different from that of a short story, and I am in a novel-writing group, so it seemed fitting. I have to say, I'm pleased with how that went. My narrative voice was different, and I fell out of the patterns I had gotten into with my short stories (or, at least, I fell out of the patterns I was aware of).

My prose was different and more interesting to write because of it. Not exactly what I intended by picking July's challenge, but the end result came out about the same. I call that a win.

How'd you do this month?

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Whole Hour

I just finished making copies of the first part of the bar novel for the group. With a whole hour to spare, even. Piece of cake.

Page count met: check. Granted, I wiggled a bit, but still: check.

Critiques done: check. And, since I did them so recently, they're nice and fresh in my mind.

It's funny to me that tonight I submit the first chunk of my bar novel since tonight we'll be critiquing the first chunk of Jenny's bar novel. The two use the central bar in different ways, and there are plenty of other differences, but there's still some overlap in spots because we're covering some of the same ground: booze, laying out a bar, and female protagonists.

Now, the real question is if I can keep up the pace I've been going at so I can write the next chunk over two months rather than two weeks. Wouldn't that be cool?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Power of Fries

Whew, I made my goal, plus a page or two. It's off to dinner I go!

The Last Push

I sent Jenny an e-mail yesterday that I might not make it to dinner with the gang tonight since I've fallen behind on my page count and the CWC meeting is tomorrow already. She said she'd give me a pass this once, but only if I was disciplined and busily typing away during my absence. Otherwise, it'd count against my attendance grade.

Still, I don't want to miss dinner. I'm in need of some good conversation and, especially, fries. So, I've made myself a deal. If I can do at least five more pages before the time I would leave for dinner, I can go. Fries make a good incentive for typing.

To get myself going, I've got Big Kenny's Live a Little looping on my computer (lots of energy in the music to keep my momentum up), and I've dived into the tricky bit of the novel - the scenes where Jess isn't at the bar. Thanks to the combination of imminent deadline and especially the songs "Rumba" and "Under the Sun," I'm making headway.

Just how much headway, though, I can't exactly say at the moment. I've also resorted to a mind trick I sometimes use for class papers. If I know I have to have X double spaced pages, I change the spacing to single or 1.5 spacing. Then, I can type, type away without getting obsessed with page count, knowing that once I change it to double it'll be an immediate ego boost. Wow! Look at how I just got two full more pages!

"Somewhere under the sun
There is happiness and fun
There is love for everyone
Somewhere under the sun
Somewhere under the sun"
-Big Kenny

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Easy Part, the Hard Part

This time last week I was in panic mode. 50 pages, two weeks, how was I ever going to pull it off? Tonight, after averaging out pretty well on my 3.25 pages a day goal, I sit at 33 pages of rough draft.

My many years of English Majoring are paying off. All that paper writing (usually at the last minute) has gotten me pretty practiced at producing quickly. I've had lots of practice getting my thoughts in gear fast and, thanks to typing classes in middle school, my fingers are good at keeping up.

All the time spent working on Oracle is paying off, because through it I finally got a feeling for how to write the pacing and general architecture of a novel.

My many, many blog posts on my bar blog gave me architecture for writing bar scenes, and since I'm so practiced with that kind of tone, the bar scenes are proving easy to write out.

Then, there's the part where my procrastination means I have to write a few pages every day or face sad, sad defeat. The upshot of this is that it's gotten me into a rhythm, it's built momentum.

Of course, those are the easy bits.

There are hard bits too. Thanks to the pace at which I'm writing, my rough draft is pretty sketchy. I already have scenes I know I'll have to go back and flesh out before Monday, which will take more time on top of the pure hit-50-pages time, though it'll also add a few pages to my final count.

The worst, and most unexpected part, is that while I'm having such an easy time writing the bar stuff, I'm having a hard time writing the stuff where the main character is not at the bar. The bar's easy, so many coworkers and/or customers to play Jess off of. Once she's clocked out, I start coming up blank. A little problem, to say the least, and I've got a very limited amount of time to solve it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

And Then There Were 25

The fun part about goals is when you get so close to the end of one that you can't help but push just a little bit more to reach it early.

Tonight I made it to twenty four pages, which was the end of a chapter, 3.25 new pages for the night, and a good stopping place.

But, come on, how could I really stop just one page short of a milestone? That's right, baby, 25 total to finish the night. I think I need some celebratory ice cream.

Getting to Mid-Way

I started off well with the 3.25 pages a day idea. Then I hit day three. Still, I made some good progress and it did get me in a rhythm of sorts.

Of course, my biggest difficulty wasn't the page count itself, but nailing down the plot arc. Since I set my 3.25 pages a day goal, I changed my mind about what I wanted to do for the main character's conflict - i.e. the reason she's working in a bar. Then, I changed my mind again. Needless to say, this slowed me down a bit.

I've got a few more pages to go until I hit the mid-point on my 50 page goal. I'm pretty excited to get there, as I'm sure you can guess. The clock is tick-ticking away and shows no sign of slowing down on my behalf.

Good thing I got more chocolate when I went grocery shopping yeterday. My current favorite form of chocolate: Ghiardelli 60% cocoa bittersweet chips - bittersweet, because it's awesome and delicious; chips 'cause then they're just like M&Ms, but without that distracting candy coating.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Hakawati

I'm annoyed.

You know when you're reading a book, and you're near the end, and you look at how many pages are left and think, "Ok, I've gota dozen pages to go," but you're wrong because there are endnotes and you've only got one more page of the actual book?
I was just reading The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine and had that experience. I confess, I was irked. Impressive, that in reading a book that's just over 550 pages, I hit the end and thought, "But no, I want more."

When I read Alameddine's book I, The Divine, I knew he was a good writer. Not many can pull off a novel written entirely in first chapters.

With this one, I was impressed again. It's gorgeously written and brilliantly executed. Two of the cool things about it: it's metafictionally groovy and the fact that it's written in the style of the traditional storytelling from which the book takes its name. He starts out telling one story, then splits off into another, then divides again. You get the main character's story of his dying father, then stories of the family's history, then a folk tale, which adds in another folk tale, sprinkled throughout with numerous moments of "Let me tell you a story." It's mind-boggling how he juggles it all, and especially how he manages to make it perfectly coherent. Brilliant.

Technically, I can see how he pulls it off. The inter-cutting of stories is constant, so constant that he doesn't stick with a single one for more than a couple pages before switching back to another, so the different characters and plotlines are always fresh in your mind. Also, the overall structure is grounded into two arcs, the present-day arc with the main character, and the story of Fatima, with all others in some way branching off from them. So, while you've got dozens of stories going on at a time, you've still only ever got two. Make sense?

If I can ever pull off something that intricate and complex, I will be infinitely pleased with myself.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dr. Horrible is Here!

We now interrupt the recent stream of belly-aching with a short break for unbridled glee.

Guess what's finally out on the web? Yup, you guessed it, none other than Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

This makes my whole day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Page Count Countdown

Goals are stressful. Goals are sometimes intimidating. Goals can also be fun.

Right now I'm facing a 50 page goal. I fluctuate between which description it counts as. I've decided to go for it and submit the first part of the new novel, currently titled Zen and the Art of Beer Wenching. The problem - as of this moment, I've got seven pages of it.

In order to get through it, I've resorted to playing a game with myself. It's a simple game which can be summed up as keeping close track of my page count. Each page I finish is a little "hurrah!" for me, and tonight I'll probably add some chocolate as additional incentive.

Here's the question: When you're staring down a monstrous goal, what is your best strategy for takin' care of business? What's the scariest/biggest goal you've ever successfully met?

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm in Trouble

I thought I had more time. Today I checked the calendar. Two weeks until the next CWC meeting.

Uh oh.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I May End Up Regretting This

For a while, I've had a vague idea that one day I'd write about working in a bar. A number of people on different occasions have also thought this'd be a good idea. Today, I figured out the characters, bar layout, and general plot arcs of just such a story. Except, it's not a story, it's a novel.

And, with my next CWC deadline quickly approaching, and a general lack of pages of pages on my end, I really need to get in gear to get my 50 pages ready for my next submission. Except, I decided that today would be a good day to write the first scene of the bar novel.

Deadline? What deadline?

Now if only I could decide what to call the novel. Brainstorm:
Zen and the Art of Pretending to Like People
18 Koans for Cocktailing
The Universal Rules of Beer Wenching
Enlightenment and Girly Martinis
The Saturday-Mornings-at-Dusty's Club
Fate and Tequila

It might be too early in the game to settle on a title quite yet, but are there any you guys like?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Your Style Type

Since I've been in a narrative rut, I think this month is the month to do a style change up.

Let me make this short and sweet: Whatever style of writing you've been doing lately, this month is the one to try something new. Are your sentences usually short and to the point? Make 'em long and eloquent. Do you usually skim over description in favor of action? Reverse that. Wherever your emphasis has been lately, shift if.

Bonus points: A great way to play with style is imitation. Pull out a writer you admire whose style is very different from your own. Take some time to study their style - how do they structure sentences? deliver dialogue? etc - and then spend some time writing like that.

One thing to try is, once you've decided on your practice style, take something you've already written and rewrite it in the new style. Then, maybe rewrite it again in yet a different style. Keep playing. Take some time to think about how the story/scene changes just because of the way you write it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Elvis Has Left the Building

This month has seemed remarkably long. There's just something about June that seems to last forever. So, I had plenty of time to tackle my musically themed challenge.

I found a good amount of new music, made a number of CD purchases, and spent a lot of time on Pandora. I even made a station for my thesis. Cool, huh?

Though, I have to admit that on a writing front, this month wasn't especially productive. I ended up running into more problems than solving them, and I've reached a point of frustration with myself. Neat, huh?

I'm feeling the need to mix things up a bit, so maybe the new music has affected me, just not in the way I imagined it would. I'm thinking less about how music influences my writing while I do both at the same time, and more about styles. You have so many different genres of music to choose from, and all of them are approaching a finite pool of subject matter, but doing so with different rhythms, instruments, melodies, and singing styles.

It's impressive, really, when you consider how many songs there are about broken heartedness, for instance, and how we manage to keep from being completely overwhelmed by the number because all of those songs have a different style. It's pretty fascinating, really.

To sum up: lots of music, less writing, and an idea of how to pull myself out of a writing funk. Not much page count-wise, but still useful.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Readers Aren't MIND Readers/The Redundancy Wall

Last week Jenny put up this post about struggling as a writer. She puts it well.

During that conversation I whined a bit about feeling tired of hearing myself write. It's something which gets superbly illustrated when one goes from a small to large page count. All of a sudden, I keep thinking "I always write X that way, I'm so redundant." Since everything I'm writing is so immediate and in such quantity, all kinds of patterns pop out. I have certain ways I like to phrase things, certain types of gestures common to my characters, etc.

A couple days earlier, I was working on a piece and had the thought, "I've already written this story. I'm just repeating myself." I don't remember which story I had that thought during, but the thought itself was clear and frustrated.

So, I asked Jenny a little about my thesis (though she's saving the bulk of her input for the CWC meeting tonight) and then I whined. She let me for a moment, then responded to my redundancy whinge with, "You're okay. As a reader, I don't see it."

At the moment I'm juggling three stories. I have a clear idea of how I want two of them to play out, but I'm struggling with actually putting the words on paper. Thinking about the point Jenny made helps, but I still feel like I'm pushing against, rather than through, the wall, (which is made of granite and at least four feet thick).

How do I write them without feeling bored with myself again?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Think I'm Over a Threshold

I've been on a music kick of late, this much is pretty apparent. However, my recent preoccupation has expressed itself in a new and unexpected way. Unless you were already expecting me to go there.

Yesterday, I spent some time on Pandora refining my stations and doing some exploring. This turned into creating a couple new stations. This, in turn, led to finding The Rogue's Gallery on Pandora, which, in turn led me to the following thought:

You know, if my whole thing this month is about putting music and writing together, and if I could make a soundtrack for my Scottish Lit. paper... why not do it for my thesis too?

Thus, I made a station for my thesis. Which works in a fun way, because by refining what does and does not belong on that station, I practice refining what my thesis is and is not.

Now, the real question is whether or not I've just crossed the line into a whole new territory of nerd-dom.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Intentional Coffee Shop Pages

Went to a new coffee shop last night and did my first out-of-the-house pages since I acquired a dog. It felt good. I got about two and a half pages of the story about finding bones.

Since the other day when Deb told me what she saw as my thesis theme, I've been slowly seeing more and more of it myself. After all this time, trying to figure out what connects my stories and being too close to them, I think her comment was just what I needed to be able to take that step back. While I'm still very much looking forward to what the group has to say, I'm starting to feel I have my own direction.

Which is even better for hearing others' comments.

Whenever we're talking about writing, one of those bottom lines we're talking about is what the author is trying to convey versus what the reader sees. As the writer, I can have a crystal clear vision of exactly what the story is in my mind, but unless the reader reaches the same conclusion, my vision is a moot point. Sometimes, unexpected and fun things come out of this when the reader says, "Well, here's what I see," and it's completely different from what the writer had planned, but better than the writer's plan. Then you steal the reader's vision and use your revision to bring it out, all the while claiming that it's what you were going for the whole time.

So, now that I have a clearer idea of where I'm going, I'll be better able to use the feedback from the CWC folks. Now I have a baseline.

The reason I've brought this all up is because it's relevant to my pages last night. Thesis themes have been rolling around in my head and I've been looking more closely at how those themes cross from one story to the next. Last night I sat down with an idea, which would have been alright on its own, and then played with it a bit to make it fit the themes I can see elsewhere in my thesis. In short, I sat there and said, "Well, how can I make it speak to theme X? Well, if I change this detail, then it relates to that other thing, and if I make the setting this place, then that has something in common with the other story..."

Last night, as I sat there with a raspberry green tea and my fountain pen, was the first time I worked on a thesis story with clear ideas of what made it a thesis story.

Cool, huh?