Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trucking Along

You know why they tell you to write everyday?

It's not so that your fingers won't lose their supple musculature. It's not so that your keyboard gets that nice, worn-in feeling--where it feels like the keys are molding to your fingertips. It's not even for consistant word count, even though that's the nice side effect.

They tell you to write everyday because if you do that, it's just easier. You don't have to 'warm up' as long, you don't have to remind yourself where you were when you finished, you just pick up and go. And, if you've ended in the middle of something (I believe that was Hemingway's advice) then you can go even faster because you've already done the hard bit of starting a scene.

Because of a very up-and-coming deadline for my CWC writing crew, I've been trying to finish 50 pages pretty quick. The result is that I've been writing consistantly (part of the point of the group in the first place) and every day. I'm still way behind, but I'm digging the rhythm that's being established.

Fingers crossed that I can keep it up after the deadline. When I forget to do that, it's up to you guys to remind me to read this post and repeat: It's easier if you just do it. It's easier if you just do it.

Nike's on to something with that slogan.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sometimes You've Gotta Lose Your Mind: Mentor of the Month: John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck's first big hit was Tortilla Flat. I haven't made it very far in...but enough to comment.

It opens like all Steinbeck's stuff--with beautifully desolate descriptions of place. The introduction tells us that this is a rethinking of King Arthur, which has been done before, and often. This time it's set in California during the Great Depression and it's about a bunch of outcasts, basically.

So far, so good. Crisp narration. The tell-tale genius that Steinbeck is known for.

Then we reach the first bit of dialogue: "I looked for thee, dearest of little angelic friends, for see, I have here two great steaks from God's own pig, and a sack of sweet white bread. Share my bounty, Pilon, little dumpling."

Are you going "What the *&^%!" too?

Thee, Thou, Knowest, etc. The old language jumps out and punches you in the face. I'm not far enough long to know whether or not this works for the story because I'm so busy going "What the $*&&$!" but I'm guessing that it's effective at making some mysterious point in the future because Steinbeck was not a one hit wonder and this was his first hit.

And I'm willing to bet that it was his first hit because he did something totally bat-shit crazy with his writing and it fascinated readers who weren't ready for it. I mean, who the heck thinks up stuff like this? It's a bit of creativity and boldness. It's still refreshing (and somewhat annoying...I'm still not sure I dig it...) today.

What I admire about it, even if I'm not a fan quite yet, is that it's crazy creativity with a purpose. It's no secret that Steinbeck was a super-fan of Le Morte d'Arthur and his retelling is spelled out in the introduction.

Is there something in your current work in progress that would lend itself to something crazy? Have you ever read something that made you go "What the &$#%^%!"?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Thinking is the Problem

Recently I started a new job. Yay! More money, more fun position.

My new position is more fun because it involves stratigizing--which I dig. It's what I like about the writing process. Sorting out problems, finding the solutions, and hopefully the result is reward: publication, money, etc.

Turns out, the new job's challenges seem to be problematic towards my writing. Namely, I'm so busy stratigizing for the new job that it's distracting from my writing. I'm having to do some creative problem-solving with the work situtation, and I haven't figured out how to sort that creative energy from the writing's creative energy--turns out I'm leaking my creative energy all over the place.

This turns into a weird psychological conundrum in that I don't want to spend my energy on stuff that isn't making my writing. But, ya know, the kids want to be fed. It feels like I'm being forced to settle.

Somehow I've got to separate the forced world from the writing world. I know some of you have had to deal with similar issues with work and school--please, please let me know how you dealt with it. (I am trying to keep in mind that this job is all of two weeks old and the newness will wear off eventually and it'll probably be rote performance after that...therefore the rhythm will come back. But I'm not there yet.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Struggling Writer; or, More Writing Math

It's been months since I've submitted to the CWC and it's been a tad longer since I've worked on my WIP. Distracted by serial killer poetry books, I didn't work on my novel.

But now the time is nigh. (Yes, I just wrote 'nigh')

And February is a frighteningly short month. A week into it and I haven't made any progress in the story.

Writing Math Time: Basically I have to write 4 pages a day until the 22nd to get 50 pages done.

Since I haven't really written anything on this particular book since the beginning of December, I'm trying to remember where the hell I was on the story line. I think I've got a grasp on that now--after days of thinking about it.

The writing is not coming as easily, though. It's feeling like work instead of fun, and I'm in real need of fun right now. I'm sure as I slog through it, the enjoyment will return. Sounds strange, right? Slog through it and it'll be fun again?

That's just how it works.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Secret Year The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Disclaimer: Just because I won this book, had it personally signed to me, and have spoken personally with the author and her agent does not mean that I've adjusted my review in any way.

The really good stuff: the main character is not a teen-angsty kinda guy. Colt feels real and has real emotions, which is refreshing to find among the teen novels of today. He responds with all the questions and anxiety that teens experience when faced with difficult situations.

For example--not only does he lose a classmate to a car accident (something, unfortunately, too many teenagers are familiar with)but it's the girl he's had a secret relationship with. So now he can't even mourn in public.

Hubbard doesn't pull punches with teen relationships--there's sex, and revenge sex, and fights, and revenge fights.

The strike, for me, was the portrayal of upper/lower classes. There's the 'in' kids who live on top of the mountain and the 'out' kids who live (guess where?) at the foot of the mountain. Literally upper and lower. The way they were made 'different' felt forced to me.

But the story is definitely moving and worth reading.

View all my reviews >>

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mentor of the Month: John Steinbeck: The Playable Novel

According to the after-notes of Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck had decided that the novel should be considered a 'playable novel'. This means that, without any additions, subtractions, etc., a theater company could used the novel as its play book. The descriptions were the setting and stage direction, the dialogue was for the actors, and so on.

When you look closely at Of Mice and Men, his attempt is supported because there is no description of emotion that isn't done through an action of some kind. Steinbeck doesn't say that Lenny feels hopeful when he talks about the rabbits. He doesn't say that George feels bogged down by Lenny except through dialogue and action.

While his attempt was supported and you can see the underpinnings once you know what he was attempting, the plays and screenplays that followed the book did have to be written separately. (It's really hard to memorize lines among all that narration.) However, the book itself is wonderful because of the drama-like tension that's created in the scenes. The story stretches taut and practically thrums because there's no one filling you in to anticipate what will happen. You have to 'watch' the action.

Then I got to thinking of all the genre-mixing and what it could lead to. What if he'd decided to write 'playable-poetry'? How many genres are there to mix up and create something new? Epistolary novels are even a genre mix--letters and novels. I've heard of poetic novels (Elizabeth Barrett Browning did one way back).

I don't have any clear inspirations yet, but it didn't make my mind wander a bit. What genres--and by genres here I mean types of writing (plays, poetry, screenplays, novels, etc.) not subject matter--do you think would be interesting or effective to mix up? What effects do you think it would have?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mentor of the Month: John Steinbeck: Short but Big

Of Mice and Men is one of Steinbeck's most known works. It has been made into several movies, a play, and has been read in high schools and colleges across the country.

It's also, in a word, short.

In these days when fantasy novels stretch to 12+ volumes of 1200 pages each, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and The Historian stretch out over 800 pages, a short novel is almost a relief. You can read it and finish it within a few days and have a totally satisfying experience.

What struck me about Of Mice and Men was the level of control that Steinbeck maintained. There was nothing about this story that wasn't structured to have an impact. The parallels he created in such a small space of pages only served to make the gunshot at the end that much louder. Every scene was deliberate. Every response intentional. And I didn't think about it while I was reading it, I just went right along with the characters.

Over the last couple years or so, I've been working on a fairly short novel. While I'm starting to think there's too much that I've forced into the small space, it was a great learning experience. I played with characters and plot and scenes. It weighs in at about 50,000 words, which I think is right around where Of Mice and Men is...only mine is no Of Mice and Men. But I did get a lot out of working on something so short that I couldn't have otherwise.

I managed to finish an actual novel. I wrote a lot. I revised a lot. (It could use more.) Short is less scary, but I've discovered it doesn't take less work. Steinbeck could not have gotten the smoothness and deliberateness of Lenny and George's story without lots of work. At least, for me, a shorter word-count goal made me feel more accomplished! My first novel weighed in at a fantasy-epic novel word count, and I didn't touch a word of it for revision purposes.

Have you ever written something larger than your ability level? Have you tried writing something shorter? Do you find longer novels more satisfying? Does size really matter?