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.