Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rewriting (or, more accurately, Tartarus)

I knew my Nanowrimo novel wasn't top notch. Or even good. But, using the Shrunken Manuscript Revisions method, I single-spaced everything, shrunk my writing to a point 6 Times New Roman font, and printed my 50,000 word, originally 150-paged novel in 31 pages.
I looked at it. And then, I have a post-it in my hand, and I slapped a huge REWRITE on the first chapter (which, by the way, has shrunken to less than a page). Then I looked at the rest of the manuscript. And then my inner writer/editor cried.
Inner Writer: "You gotta rewrite this whole thing."
Me: "!@^*(% WHY?"
Inner Writer: "You are not conveying this theme and story in a satisfying manner."
Me: "But--I have tolerable scenes, and--and" *gestures frantically*
Inner Writer: "In other words, your story sucks."
Me: "Shit. You're right."
But a WAY better story structure has emerged--tying everything together in a tighter, more connected manner.  I'm actually glad.
I am now neurotically outlining my next one. I'm definitely WAY better on outlines. I still love pantsing (that's the only way my story gets out on the page) but now I've adopted the outlining method on the Excel spreadsheet. I'll update on how that works out. 
Except.....I have no definable climax. Or the Dark Night of the Soul, the my-character-has-hit-rock-bottom-and-is-pretty-much-about-to-internally-and-physically-die part.
And what good is a story without its final battle?
I'm leaving on vacation Friday--hope I can generate more ideas then.
Meanwhile, onto my chocolate and comfort food...

Monday, December 10, 2012

My Secret, My Masterpiece

You know you have found something you truly love when you suddenly see the beauty in this world.
When you want to laugh, and cry, and jump at the same time.
When everything else has fallen away, and it is your goal. It is the one, the pinnacle. 
"Almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
-Steve Jobs
I am not about to die. Nor am I sick. I am well, alive, healthy. But I have never felt more alive. My novel is my work. My Michelangelo, my sculpture to shape and mold. It makes me believe in the beauty of it all. It makes me believe in miracles from God. It gets hard sometimes. I'm in the clouds, then I'm down on the cold, unforgivable ground. But I rise up, again and again.
Dear readers, I am invincible.
Confucius once said that love could make you strong. I know it to be true.
I have found my passion, my life love--writing. 
At times, it feels as if I'm walking through Heaven and Hell at the same time.
But I am a writer.
An unknown writer, no doubt, but a writer.
This is my work. Right now, I will savor the moment where everything is perfect.
This is my secret. My project, my masterpiece.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Revisions from James Scott Bell

On Tuesday, the Writer's Digest hosted a (free!) webinar featuring James Scott Bell, the renowned author of several writing books. In it, he talked about novel revision--the very thing I wanted to hear.
It was amazing.

I had been fretting on my supposed "break" about all these small details, questions like, "How will this character get from A to B?" and "What color highlighter should I use for character issues?" I had been thinking about mapping and index cards and working out the intricate structure in my book.

But James Scott Bell made me rethink all that.
He made me see the forest from the trees. He made me go to the roots of my story. Revisit character. Motivation. Theme. He plainly brought out the driving force behind the story; The Stakes.

I'll share a little bit of his genius on what he defines as the stakes.
He defines it as the "death overhanging". The stakes, he says, are based on three types of deaths; physical, professional, and psychological.
  • Physical
    • Literal and actual death; there is a danger that the character might get killed. (He gave the example of a mafia don)
  • Professional
    • Death of something you have built your life around, such as the position of a CEO, a millionaire, or even a role like a mother. There is a danger that the profession might crumble and the character will be left with nothing to support them.
  • Psychological
    • Death of spirit, or motivation. There is a danger that the opposition will crush the motivation and the character will be left with a broken spirit and lost motivation.
I feel like he defines the stakes beautifully. I used to think that the stakes was only the threat of a physical death. The character might get murdered, or killed, or end up in a hospital with a coma. But James brought out the two other deaths--making way for a multifaceted conflict.

Think of conflict as its own character. It cannot only be one-dimensional.  It has to have many sides, many faces, and many interpretations. It made me completely rethink my story. All its conflict was there; but James Scott Bell gave it all a name. I can then polish the stakes, and the story would flow much more smoothly and the tension would definitely increase.

And don't forget; this is a two-way lane. There must be stakes for the protagonist, so there must also be equally high stakes for the antagonist. I want to be able to write the story from the antagonist's point of view, and have it JUST as compelling as if it were told from the protagonist's point of view.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ah, the chills!

I'm a fan of Andi Buchanan, the author who co-wrote the book The Daring Book for Girls with Miriam Peskowitz. Way back when I had first read her book, I fired up an excited email to her (my first email to an author. Ever.) and--by miracle of miracles--she responded!
We maintained our correspondence over the years, and once I posed a question to her. I was writing this dystopian novel at the time, and I had this sub-plot where my characters fall in love. As of then (and still as of now) I have not experienced falling in love. (I have had some crushes, though--oh, yes.) But that mutual relationship? I knew nada. Zero. None.
And then she answered the question--in a writer's conference! She talked about me and gave me compliments that were really touching (and more than I was worthy of :]).
My reaction?
"AHAHA-that's-AHAHAHA-me-AHAHA-Oh my God, she's talking about me!"
Yeah. I get a little overexcited sometimes.
But it was a strange experience, hearing someone talk about me. It gave me chills. Happy chills. It was my first step into what you would call....fame?
I don't know. Maybe later, I might include a link to the video.
But man, am I excited for the future.

Monday, December 3, 2012

You Know You Have a Story When...

Okay, I could have just gone ahead and titled this post "Vacation Time".
Because right now, that is what I am "technically" on.
Ya-huh. I'm totally chillin' at this location right here:





Just kidding. I'm stuck in my home. Mental vacations, anyone?
(Source: blog.wesleycoversolutions.com)

I'm all done and finished with my rough first draft. (And I mean very rough). I give myself a mandatory week to let the manuscript cool before I dive into a round of revisions, with a tight seven-week schedule for a completed second draft. I'll be filling in some holes, rounding out the characters, and...having a whole load of fun? I guess?
Revisions don't have to be bad. Actually, I'm pretty excited.
Like, overly excited. And that's my problem right now. I literally CANNOT wait to get into revisions! I really don't know why, because I've never felt this way about any of my previous manuscripts. Usually, the idea/story/plot is so bad after the first draft that I just walk away and leave it in the depths of my hard drive. But this time? I have an idea I actually like.
And this week is torture. 
I need this break. But I cannot wait until Saturday, when I'm finally able to print out a hard copy at Kinkos. And then it will be index cards and highlighting and colored pens galore.
I've gotta say this: you know you have a story when you are just begging for revisions.
I'm all kinds of excited, guys.
                                          

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I won this NaNoWriMo!

Final Tally: 52,096 words.
I feel so accomplished.
Actually, let me express it in gifs.

                Right now, I feel like this:







                     And this:
                                     





(that's me in the back, spreading the news. That manager = my friends and family)
(source: tumblr)

By now, I have written three novels. Two of them are sucky and will never emerge out of the inner labyrinths of my hard drive.
But this?
I feel funny. Like I'm missing a limb. For the last two novels, I just wrote them on the fly and never looked back. But this one, I feel disoriented.
I think I need a break.
But for this novel, I think I'm going to revise and edit it. See where it takes me. Build a Neanderthal writing cave and move in.
I really think I need a break.
This would be nice, eh?
                                        Welcome to Arizona.
                                        (Too bad I don't live anywhere near there.)

                                                      (source: scottsdalearrivals.com)
 I guess a break from writing would just suffice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fear

Today I sit here, like any amateur writer trying to prove her worth by penning her thoughts.
I realize that my previous posts show a different side of me--strong and confident.
But in truth, I'm not.
I fear. In this final stretch of Nanowrimo, I fear that my story is worthless. Inaccurate. Riddled with plothole within plothole. Illogical. Down in the depths of the Tartarus of Suck. (Greek myths, anyone?)
There are moments, glimpses, where I find faith. I find the story that I'm trying to tell.
But right now, I can't see the forest from the trees. I am afraid, so afraid. Fear truly is my greatest enemy--but so am I. I am my own enemy.
I am close--so close from finishing. I just need to finish this crap I started. Sit down. Stare at the computer. And write. Writewritewritewrite.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Foolproof Inspiration

Inspiration.
In Latin, the prefix in- and the root spirare mean essentially, "To breathe in".
Inspiration. Breathing life into a story.
It can choose to settle in one of those BAM moments, when one perfect seed of an idea drops into our hands. Sometimes, we have to chase after it with a club.
Everyone knows that inspiration can be a fickle muse at times.
Many think that we have to have that BAM. We have to have a kernel of literary wisdom or a perfect plot to come upon us. We can wait. Oh, we can wait.
I'm telling you, if all you do there is sit there and wait, it's never gonna come.
You have to be fully engaged.You have to chase after your runaway muse with a club in one hand to fend off the beasties and the other hand reached out to catch her.
What's foolproof inspiration?
You have to turn on what author John Brown calls the zing meter.
The zing meter is this sort of idea detection radar. Any snippet of the news, any interesting event--if it catches your zing meter, scribble it down in a notebook or a Post-it to remember later.
We all have this zing meter inside us. Once we turn it on, to full blast, everything filters in. Let's say you catch something in the news about an off-the-map, archaeological discovery.
Then you start asking the what if questions.
What if maps were forbidden in a place, so no one finds their way out of the land? What if they're protecting the secret of the civilians--that the civilians don't know themselves?
You can now develop it. A main character will rise out of the chaos. The poor thief whose brother mysteriously disappeared. Or even the daughter of the ruler. like the Hunger Games's Madge Undersee. .
Curiosity. Intrigue. Revenge. Rivalry.
These are all good conflicts to propel an idea. Add bones. Then flesh it out with story.
Turn on your zing.

More on Nanowrimo

                                                    (credits to bordengymnastics.ca)
Ah, the deep woodlands of NaNoWriMo.
National Novel Writing Month--or NaNoWriMo, for short, is where participants sit down, stare at the computer, wonder where their muse went, and type out 50,000 words of story. In the month of November.
The thing is--though a lot of people are participating in this event (over 300,000), still the vast majority of mankind (and any type of living organism with a functional cogitative system) can't figure out why we are shunning our family and friends in the name of typing an impromptu, madcap, slapdash novel that, well, stinks.When we could be using our free time to watch  Survivor instead.
The thing is, writers are like another different species. Writing is such a geeky activity. After we emerge from the "writing cave", as author Kat Zhang calls it, we deeply resemble humanoid zombies that have just suffered from a 24-hour, transcontinental flight. (those are not fun. seriously.)
But the thing is, when you are pushed out of your comfort zone to type like the world is ending the next day, overhyped by caffeine and chocolate, magic indeed happens. When writing, you change. Some days, you will feel like the dead. You will feel like your story isn't worth it. You'd rather dig your nails out than write another hundred words. But eventually, you will chance upon buried literary treasures that you wouldn't have dared venture towards because of those scary-looking dragons. This month, you take out that sword, and slay your obstacles. You come across genius subplots, quirky characters, and an actual functioning plot. 
This month, you will make a creation. A flawed, plotholed, probably cliched creation, but a creation nonetheless.
And you can turn right back to those watching yet another episode of Survivor and say, "This month, I wrote a novel. What did you guys do?"

Monday, November 19, 2012

Spartan Over Luxurious

A few days ago, Margaret Peterson Haddix visited our school. Margaret Peterson Haddix is a bestselling author, with loads of published books under her belt. (Among the Hidden, 39 Clues, etc.)  Frankly, I admire her. A lot.
The presentation itself was wonderful, and as we were getting ready to leave, I was fortunate enough to ask her a question.
It was, "What kind of writing software do you use?"
I expected her to rattle off a bunch of notebooks, Post-its, a comfy writing gazebo, etc. (just kidding about the gazebo). I expected her to be another of those well-known, successful authors that gushed, "I SWEAR by Scrivener!"
But she just smiled, and said, "I use Microsoft Word."
How does this story relate to the title?
I once read this book called, The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle, offering 52 fantastic tips for success and so-called "talent".
In his sixth tip, he says, "Spartan over Luxurious."
He talks about how the experts, the superstars, and the best of the best let their talent blossom in under-cared-for, rundown places.
"The talent hotbeds are not luxurious," he says. "In fact, they are so much the opposite that they are sometimes called chicken-wire Harvards. Top music camps--especially ones that can afford better--consist mainly of rundown cabins. The North Baltimore Aquatic Club, which produced Michael Phelps and four other Olympic medalists, could pass for an underfunded YMCA."
When I was in sixth grade and writing my first novel, I even built myself a writer's tent. Such romantic intentions, right? I thought that it would be the best way to nurture my inner writer, to shut myself away from the rest of the world and make way for my inner creative monster.
I'm telling you, I spent way more time worrying about whether that tent was going to fall on me than I was writing my story.
We all have the ideals of our writerly lives--typing madly in sprawling libraries, in a jazzy Starbucks, or heck, even in a writer's equivalent of a secluded ski chalet. (Am I the only one that thinks of this?).
But the truth is--we don't need all those fancy embellishments. We just need Microsoft Word open, butt in chair, and a goal to work towards.
In the end, the writing process is as simple as that.
Spartan over luxurious. That's how authors get born.


On the Magic of Nanowrimo

I finally get it.
I finally get why I do Nanowrimo.
It's that first spark of idea, that seeds and blossoms.
It's those first words, the smell of coffee, the lure of crisp-smelling books.
It's the moment you say, "screw it" to inspiration and take off on your own.
It's the ungainly prose, the crappy characters and descriptions and flawed plot.
But--
it's the spark. It's still there. Pulling at you. Tugging at your inner muse.
The exhilarated rush that makes you want to dance to any music, that sweeps you up into its clutches and carries you to a faraway world.
And in that world, it's when you finally believe in the beauty of the stars and your dreams.
In that world, the future is infinite.
Let's conquer our stories together, my friends.