Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ditto July

Goal time. Mostly because I have nothing really great to talk about, I'll talk about the stuff I mean to do, but generally don't get to.

1. read all submissions
2. Originally I planned to bang out the CWC submission and then just worry about writing something new outside of that. But I've discovered that the 'banging out' which I thought to be 'editing' turned into 'must rewrite' and by 'rewrite' I mean 'write all over again because most of what I have is absolute tosh'. So that means more writing than I anticipated because I have a hard time turning in stuff that I know sucks the big one. So, three pages a day.
3. One page a day on the new story. That way I can take my time with it.
4. Read some stuff on the side. I want to finish Willa Cather's My Antonia because it turns out I really dig her writing. Plus I want to read one contemporary writer this month. Mix it up a little.

That's all she wrote (or wants to write). What about you guys?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

200 Blogposts and Something New

Welcome to my 200th blogpost. Initially I thought I'd do something kinda cool with it: authors who would be 200 if they were alive now, great works that were 200, things like that.

Instead, I'm actually going to pitch this cool new thing from work. Normally I would think this a silly thing to do. But Barnes and Noble has launched a new ebook section--and all the books there are compatible with any ereader, plus iphones and blackberries, and your PC or Mac. It's all free to download:

Barnes and Noble ebooks

So, even if you don't have an ereader like Kindle or the Sony Reader but you're one of those people who haul your laptop everywhere....It's just one more thing to distract you from your writing.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Writing Math

I don't know about you guys, but in my spare time when I should be writing I like to calculate how many pages or words I would have to write to be done in a certain time frame.

For example:
If I want to finish a 100,000 word novel in 6 months (average 30 days a month) then I figure I have to write 67 pages a month--a tiny bit over 2 pages a day for six months straight.

In my head I tell myself that's a cakewalk. No sweat. Could do it in my sleep.

If I weren't so busy doing the writing math.

So I recalculate. I've spent a month figuring out how long it would take to write a novel in six months and I'm one month down. Maybe I submitted a new story. Maybe I wrote a couple random things, edited a few bits here and there. Did a lot of writing math.

100,000 words in 5 months=20,000 words=80 pages a month=2.6 pages a day, so now it's closer to 3 pages a day but still doable.

Yeah, but between work and the kids and the whole family togetherness thing, I'm out another month. Plus I've got to read, right? Good readers=good writers. Kiss a second month goodbye.

Four months and 100,000 words to go=25,000 words per month=100 pages=3.3333333 pages a day

But, lo and behold, I have not prepped anything for my evil CWC group which demands a certain level/quantity of pages in and of itself. I spend the next few weeks revamping old, trashy work to buy myself time to eventually turn in something new to them.

And I'm down to three months. Nose to the grindstone time. But I lost a lot of sleep because I needed to get an UGWP submission ready too, so I didn't feel guilty about submitting to just one group...I do, after all, owe them an end to the intolerably long Round Story.

So, two months to get 100,000 word novel done.

Two months with 100,000 words=50,000 words per month=1666 words per day=6.66 pages per day.

Freaked out. Wasted time writing a blog post about how much time I was wasting.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mentor of the Month: Nathaniel Hawthorne (w/help from Jhumpa Lahiri): Where do titles come from?

There's a line in "The Custom House": Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.

For those of you familiar with Jhumpa Lahiri's work, you'll know she has a collection of stories titled Unaccustomed Earth--the stories cover the new generations finding their own home. So, it's the perfect title, written by Hawthorne, years and years and many generations ago.

Now, my question of the day: Where do titles come from?

Nowadays, an author is incredibly lucky if they get to decide their own title (who knows if Lahiri got to pick Unaccustomed Earth?). But I think an author should still be able to figure out an acceptable, maybe even the perfect title for themselves. Though, perhaps, I am an author far too attached to her titles and won't listen to anyone. Not you or you or you or you.


But how to pick a title?


Places where titles have come from in the past:
  • lines from other books or the book itself
  • quotations (which I guess includes lines from other books)
  • totally made up
  • references out in the world
  • lots and lots of other places
Where do you come up with your titles? How do you decide what's important in the story/character/plotline that you want to convey as sooooo important that you'll emphasize it by putting it right on top? What are some of your favorite titles?
Sidenote: Titles Jenny Likes (does not me she loved the books as much, but the titles helped her pick up a book)
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coehlo
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
...and many others

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mentor of the Month: Nathaniel Hawthorne: Work Sucks but may be Necessary

"I took it in good part at the hands of Providence, that I was thrown into a position so little akin to my past habits [the Custom House]; and set myself seriously to gather from it whatever profit was to be had. After my fellowship of toil and impracticable schemes, with the dreamy brethren of Brook Farm; after living for three years within the subtile influence of an intellect like Emerson’s; after those wild, free days on the Assabeth, indulging fantastic speculations beside our fire of fallen boughs, with Ellery Channing; after talking with Thoreau about pine-trees and Indian relics, in his hermitage at Walden; after growing fastidious by sympathy with the classic refinement of Hillard’s culture; after becoming imbued with poetic sentiment at Longfellow’s hearth-stone;—it was time, at length, that I should exercise other faculties of my nature, and nourish myself with food for which I had hitherto had little appetite. Even the old Inspector was desirable, as a change of diet, to a man who had known Alcott."
-Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Custom House", Introductory to The Scarlet Letter


I have just returned to the work-grind yesterday after a week of vacation. It was with a rather sort of bitterness, though I can't really express why since I didn't do anything worth noting while on vacation. Sat around and watched some T.V.--and even that was fairly useless: no station ran anything new because of the July 4th holiday.

But a daily job forces us, as writers, to get out of our heads for a while. I lifted books and made phone calls and listened during the manager's meeting for our magical sales numbers. For a few hours I wasn't able to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It was a time where "at length, that I should exercise other faculties of my nature."

Hawthorne makes a persuasive arguement in "The Custom House." It's an argument about letting life happen. And sometimes life is tedious, seemingly useless work. For a writer, however, tedious, seemingly useless work is never so. If a writer is paying attention he can catch details...quite like the details that Hawthorne goes into describing his co-workers.

Of course, the whole point of "The Custom House" is how a writer stumbles on to his inspiration. The only fictional piece of the introductory is the part where Hawthorne 'finds' the scarlet letter purportedly worn by Hester Prynne. After finding the letter, he describes how his imagination takes him away....

As of yet, I have not found the little piece of inspiration at the bookstore that will drive me to write something as brilliant as The Scarlet Letter. Not yet anyway. I'm still hopeful. There's plenty I think I have to say about retail and how it works in America...but right now I think I'm too busy occupying that space to write about it. Who wants to work retail and then go home and write about it?

I think Hawthorne and I are at different points right now though. At the moment, I wish that I were around Emerson and Thoreau and Alcott. Wish I needed a break from those guys...(I'm willing to bet good money that if we held a seance and pulled Hawthorne back from the depths of the grave that he'd say he was being sarcastic when he says "Even the old Inspector was desirable, as a change of diet, to a man who had known Alcott." (He's talking about Louisa May Alcott's daddy.) I'm willing to be money because my writer's groups are far preferable company to my co-workers--though I am very lucky in my co-workers, I must say that now. It's not the people I work with who are my problem...it's just the daily 9-5 itself.

Still, I must list the things I have learned/accomplished because of the work I have done:
1. Makes me appreciate the time with my family and the time with the pen.
2. Introduces me to a whole range of interesting people. (Like the woman who said Obama was the reincarnation of Hitler, and the homeless dude who reads the Bible and chapters on female anatomy equally as loud.)
3. New skills--I can make a latte. I can disassemble bookshelves and reassemble them faster than your average bear.
4. Discovered I am claustrophobic. You try wearing those goofy, hot costumes for storytime and see how you feel.
5. I have actually saved a couple lives (maybe more) as a lifeguard.
6. Taught kids to swim--later they placed in state competitions.
7. There's more, but this list has served its purpose: there's been a lot I've experienced because of the day-to-day and if I keep working and paying attention and keep writing, one day the three will merge and it won't really matter. I'll have gone where I needed to go.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Summer Reading Challenge Progress Report

I just finished reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I must say that I was more impressed than the high schoolers that are currently assigned to read it will be. Yes, the language is old and tedious...made even more so because Hawthorne, being that great writer that he is, also made the language more old fashioned to adjust for Puritan talky-talk. Thees and Thous all over the place. This could be confusing for students who may not understand that Letter is a historical novel.

But I'm really glad I read it. It was definitely a wonderful psychological piece. Talk about messed up children and all kinds of emotional damage.

If I'd read this in high school when I was supposed to, I know--deep down in my heart of hearts--that I would not have appreciated it. At all.

Part of the appeal also came from Hawthorne's introductory "The Custom House." In this little intro to why he wrote The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne makes me feel a whole lot better about being an author. Apparently, even back in the day, authors (genius authors even!) had to work tedious, shitty day jobs. Because of this, I'm going to make Hawthorne my mentor of the month. Stay tuned for further expansion on the day job and the genius!

Now, on to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass!

(I've begun these two Lewis Carroll works and I have to give the writing edge to Hawthorne. By a lot. It's obvious Alice is totally kid's lit, just from the language.)

The July Goal Piggy Back Post

Happy July, everyone.

So Deb set up her goals and ten points to her!

Now for my stuff:

1. rough out concept for 10 minute play competition in November
2. two rough drafts of poems for poetry competition in November
3. get two submissions for CWC ready--and this has suddenly become more like writing new stuff as I streamline things a bit...so this is probably the bulk of my month...but then I won't worry about it for a while.
4. finish out the little black book challenge that I set for myself last month. I didn't do too bad, but I'd really like a complete notebook done. We'll see how that goes with the Last Night rewrites.
5. prep bio, pub credits, photos, query letters, and agent research for CWC

Plus finishing all the critiques and maybe getting something ready to submit to UGWP--that'll depend on the little black book exercise.