Self-shaming Novel Update

Last week’s goal:  Continue with the outline – map through to the rising action, at least.  Write Leo Baxter’s inciting incident scene. 

I’ve made some progress with the outline.  For me, it’s a slow tedious process.  I have waffled a bit on one particular element – to kill a character, or not.  Usually, I don’t have a problem with this, but I like the guy.  I’m having difficulty letting him go.  I’ll get over it.

The first blow took Leo Baxter by surprise, the second drove him to his knees.  – Retribution

I’ve been staring at this sentence for a week.  All in all, it’s not a bad first sentence for Leo’s introduction scene, even if it’s a little cliché.  I think it’s a good pushing off point for the event that spurs Anna to reenter a life she fear and loathes.  I just wish I could come up with the sentence that comes next…and the one after that…and the one after that…and so on.  Even now, as I stare at it, I am perplexed.

This is a pivotal scene, and I’m well aware of what I need to accomplish.  It’s just a matter of getting the words to flow.  I’m sure they will eventually come to me.  Probably when I’m in the shower with shampoo in my hair and no writing materials within close proximity.  Or better yet, at the gym on the elliptical with 30 minutes left on a 45 minute workout.  I’ve tried keeping a note pad and pen with me at the gym, but I’m not known for my grace, and well, I’ve almost fallen off trying to jot down an idea.

Anyway, what else have I done with regard to Retribution since I last saw you?

Very little.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

I feel I was able to accomplish part of last week’s goal.  The outline is coming together. Leo’s scene is not.  Therefore, I did not advance my word count this week.  Not a big deal. It’s not always about the word count.

Next week’s goal:  Continue plugging away at the outline.  Make a firm decision on the elimination of a certain character.  Finish Leo’s scene.

Until next time.

Self-shaming Novel Update

“Panicky despair is an underrated element of writing.”

– Dave Barry

This time last week, I was elbow deep in introduction scenes for both Anna and her brother, Aaron, and my goal was to have two completed scenes by week’s end.

Well, I accomplished half of my goal.

(golf claps all around)

Anna’s scene is rough, and bare bones, but it’s out of my head and down on paper.  Most of it works, some of it needs improvement, but that can come later.

That brings me to Aaron.

<sigh>

How do you solve a problem like Aaron?

(Yes, it’s alright to sing that the way the nuns at Nonnberg Abbey did in The Sound of Music.  I won’t tell.)

I’ve said it so many times – Aaron is a pain in my ass.  However, I think he and I have come to a degree of understanding.  He will play a less significant back up role in this story.  His only real involvement – to briefly aid Anna’s quest by using his unique skill set.  In doing so, I promised not to kill him off before the mid-point.   I thought that was an excellent compromise.

Oh, and I’ve also changed his name.  Aaron and Anna.  Oy.  What was I thinking?  He will now be known as Lenk Schuyler.  Don’t judge.  This new name fits his role and serves a purpose.

In addition to the above scenes, I also worked on reconstructing my outline.  For those of you keeping count, this is version #5.  I’ve made a lot of progress with that.  Most of it is handwritten and as I type up my chicken scratch, I have expanded upon scenes and themes, and will continue to do so.

So what’s the low down skinny?

Last week’s goal:  Two workable scenes

Actual accomplishment:  One workable scene, a character redesignation, and a partial outline.

Word count:  1688

Next week’s goal:  Continue with the outline – map through to the rising action, at least.  Write Leo Baxter’s inciting incident scene. 

Until next time.

A writing marathon

Yesterday I took a break from my studies and went on a little excursion with my writing group.  We ventured south from our corner of suburbia into an eclectic downtown neighborhood known as Deep Ellum.  It has the kind of charm that comes with age -each building has a tale to tell; every face a story. 

Organized by my fellow WC-er Bill Chance, the trip was intended to spark our imaginations.  You can read about his experience with a recent New Orleans writing marathon [here].   The idea was to walk through the streets, take in the sights, draw inspiration, brainstorm, and then find a comfortable corner to write.  We wrote in 20 minute bursts, then shared.  I wasn’t big on the sharing part at first, but I warmed up to it.  I’m glad I did.   If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years, its that raw honest feedback is invaluable to a writer. 

I haven’t written much fiction since the end of August when I chose to put my WIP aside, and focus on that damn Geology class and lab.  Regrettable, but necessary.  However, now that the semester is winding down and all I’ve left on my plate are finals, I am itching to get back into the fray.  This trip was a good way to kick start the creative juices and reconnect with my old friend, Anna.

Where did she lead me in Deep Ellum?  She led me to a crumbling Roman brothel where she met with a drunken ex-KGB operative – her maternal grandfather and the man who murdered her father.  She longed to put a bullet in his brain, but instead, she swallowed her dark desires for retribution and asked for his help.  I’m not sure how this is going to work out.  I like the idea of this man; I like the familial connection; I like the conflict.  I wonder how Anna will reconcile her feelings toward her grandfather – will she pity the drunken shell he has become?  Will she give into her baser desires and avenge her father’s legacy? Or will she simply take what he can give and walk away?

I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. 

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On the agony of writing

I’ve written in some capacity since the third grade.   My first completed work was an alternate ending short story inspired by Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare.   I was very proud of that story.  I sat for hours, hunched over my desk, No. 2 pencil biting into my short stubby fingers, the eraser worn to the quick, and labored over every single word.  When I finished, I felt proud.  I had written a story.  From beginning to end.   I turned it in to my teacher, confident that I would earn an A for such blinding brilliance.  It was a great story.

My teacher saw things a bit different.   The evil Mrs. Rupe promptly tore my work to shreds, citing a laundry list of flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings.  She gave me a C.

I always hated Mrs. Rupe.

I’m not bitter about it.  Really.  Though, I do hold a special place for her at the top of my list of unforgivable grudges.  She was a miserable human being who should have retired from teaching long before 1980.   But for all of her petty viciousness, and she was awful for so many reason beyond just giving me a C, she did teach me a few important lessons:  writing is subjective, rejection is a rite of passage, and criticism keeps a writer grounded.

Of course, such lessons are meant for those who can actually finish something in a timely manner without falling victim to the hazards cluttering the road to success.  I seem to be having a bit of trouble navigating that thoroughfare, at the moment.   Or perhaps, it’s my mode of transportation that is faulty.  I blame the outline – I think it has a flat.

For several days, I’ve struggled to write a single scene, introducing a solitary character.   My trouble started when I made the decision to give Anna a brother.  His name is Aaron and he is a total pain in my ass.   I thought he would add an emotional depth and focus to the story, but instead he’s done nothing but cause me heartburn and an endless headache.  The latter may be from banging my head on my desk out of frustration.   I’m not really sure.  It’s hard to differentiate.

The way I see it, I have three choices:  delete him completely – move on and pretend he never happened; kill him slow and painfully – my novel is titled Retribution; or scrap the scene as it is and start over.

Oh lord, maybe I should tweak the outline again…ugh.

Writing is brutal; its hard; its agonizing.

I think I hate it.

But, I love it.

Note to self:  buy more Advil.

Week one – Camp NaNoWriMo

Life is all about choices, and accepting responsibility for those choices – good or bad.

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I am in the midst of rewriting a novel that I have struggled with for a very long time.   At the beginning of the year, I tried to force myself into a whirlwind of writing in order to finally complete it.  That backfired on me and I wound up walking away from the entire project.  In March, I picked it back up and decided to approach it differently.  I drafted a detailed outline.  I hated every minute of it, but it helped.  In mid-May, I started the rewriting process in earnest.  It was slow and tedious – almost as painful as the first go around.

In the last few days of May, one of the members of my writing group mentioned a June installment of the November NaNoWriMo challenge.  I’ve never participated.   November is a crazy month around my house between school, work, family, the incoming holiday season, and my irrational desire for sleep.  By contrast, June is a relatively easy month.  I took the plunge.  I signed up.

I’ll be honest, the prospect of writing 50,000 words in 30 days scares the shit out of me.  Not because it is this great unattainable thing, but because I have never before produced that volume of words in such a short time frame.   I see other writer’s do it and I am in awe.  Julie over at Word Flows is a prime example of this.  She is a writing machine.  I envy her free-flowing ability.   I’m not like that.  I’m a slow, methodical writer.  I tend to write for a bit, stop, go back to review and reassess, ponder my position, let things percolate around in my head for a while, and then rewrite it before I move on.  In my professional world, this works out great for me.  Unfortunately, in my creative world, its debilitating.

When I went into this challenge, I knew that I was going to have to let go of my notion of perfection, understand that the story wasn’t always going to gel completely, and accept that I was going leave a trail of mistakes in my wake.   The thought of that made me all itching, but I chose to do it anyway.  The first few days were tough.  Around day three the little perfection troll that shares my head with my phobia troll pulled out all of his hair and ran screaming from the building.   That was the best thing that could have happened.  My head is much quieter now and I am letting go of old habits, rereading only the proceeded paragraph, and referring to my rough outline for guidance.

As of last night, I was right on track with 12,034 works written.  Each day it gets easier to just let it flow and I find that I am enjoying myself.  It’s been a long time since I felt a connection to my writing like this.  It seems this is exactly the kick in the pants I needed.

Only 23 days and 37,966 words to go.

Just Write: Self-shaming Sunday…er…Wednesday update

When I last left you, I was struggling to find Anna’s new voice.  I received some great suggestions from my fellow writers and bloggers, and I thank you all for that.  It helped.  I must say once I reconciled myself to the fact that she was not who I initially intended her to be, things began to flowed and the scene came together quite nicely.  The tone has been set and I am largely pleased with it – and myself.

This week’s process has been hampered by another stumbling block.  A need for a few additional scenes that were not on my original outline.  And, as Anna needed to change, so too did another essential character – one who used to be a contributing villain.  I’ve cleaned him up a bit, given him a purpose, and put the burden of national security upon his war-weary shoulders.  I think I sort of like him now. Maybe I will have to kill him off about midway through.

So on to some news.  I’ve decided to participate in this summer’s Camp NaNoWriMo.  Every November several members of my writing group delve into the madness of NaNoWriMo and they’ve produced some pretty impressive stuff.  I always feel a twinge of envy, when they do.  November is a crazy month for me and to commit to such an undertaking would land me in an institution, and maybe even divorce court.  Except for a family vacation near the end of the month and my dreaded 40th birthday, I have nothing going on in June.  I have no obstacles and no excuses.

Bring. It. On.

The nitty-gritty:

Last weeks goal:   Work out my characterization problem with Anna and her team; write the aftermath and resulting mission; and accumulate a word count in the 5000 range.

Goal met?:  Yes and no.  I have worked out my character issues with Anna and her team, written the initial disaster but am still working on the aftermath – it is a more complicated situation that requires additional scenes.

Next weeks goal:  Finish up what I lagged on this week; begin the frenzy that is Camp Nanowrimo; have a very nice word count to show for my efforts.

Just Write: Self-shaming Sunday update

This week I delved in and began the process of actually rewriting my WIP.  I must say that it did not go as smoothly as I’d hoped.  I am struggling with Anna’s new role.  She is less solitary in this version, more of a team player and a bit warmer, with a sarcastic wit that would have never worked originally because her entire life was molded around the desire for revenge.   That is an element of this story that no longer rests on her shoulders, but on those of another.  As such, it is important that the opening scene convey this change in personality.  The reader needs to understand the deep mutual respect and, dare I say, love, that she and her team share.  It is proving difficult because I am having trouble completely letting go of the idea of Anna that I have long held to.

I have written the scene from beginning to earth shattering kaboom, but because of the personality issue, I do not have the tone quite right.  I feel that because this is the opening, it is important for me to get it right before I move on.  Yes, I realize this is contradictory to everything they preach about momentum in basic story writing class, but I don’t give a shit.  If I don’t work out this problem now, it will plague me  down the road.

So what’s the skinny?

Last weeks’ goal:  Introduce the world to Anna and blow up the Piazza Navona.

Goal = largely met

Next week’s goal:   Work out my characterization problem with Anna and her team; write the aftermath and resulting mission; and accumulate a word count in the 5000 range.

Just Write: Let the writing begin!

Do you smell that?

That is the smell of uninhibited creativity.

What?  Smell’s like burning plastic…

…humph.

Today, I am getting back into the groove.  Though, if the truth be told, I haven’t really fallen off of the writing wagon.  I’ve just had no time to blog about my progress.  You know how life can be sometimes – it runs you ragged and sucks you dry.    A few months ago, I started outlining the rewrite of my WIP Retribution.  It went badly at first, as I knew it would.   By nature, I am not an organized writer.  A personality flaw to add to my growing list.  However, I figured out what worked best for me, and the awkward process seemed to straighten itself out.  I feel pretty good about what I’ve got to work with, and hopefully it will be enough to get me past the 30,000 word mark – the point at which I threw in the towel last time.

For weeks, I have resisted the urge to write.  Premature writing is distracting and tends to land me in a big old mess of trouble.   Well, the time has come.

Let the writing begin!

To keep with the theme of my self-shaming Sunday update, which will make a return this week, I am going to give myself a goal to meet.

This week’s goal:

Complete draft of opening scene – i.e. introduce the world to Anna and blow up the Piazza Navona.

…and away we go.

Just Write: Beginnings

Plato once said that “the most important part of a work is the beginning.”

Planning is key.

I think for most of us mere mortals, this philosophy holds true.  Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way – through humbling failure.   I have always hated the process of outlining, but I understand now that it is an evil that must be endured – for the greater good of humanity.   At the same time, I think that the spirit of Plato’s words can be applied directly to the physical beginning of a work:  the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first chapter.   They set the tone for the entire body of work.

A few months ago, I accepted that my WIP  needed a major overhaul.  To do that, I had to suck it up and draft an outline.

It was painful.

It gave me a nasty rash.

It took three tries to get it right, and even now, I think “right” might be an overly generous description.

There’s only one problem.

I didn’t know where my story – Anna’s story – begins.

I know where she’s going.  I know why she’s going.  I know, for the most part, how she is going to get there.  I just don’t know where she begins her journey.

That’s a pretty significant problem, eh?  It sort of reminds me of the third Indian Jones movie – The Last Crusade.  You know, the one where the senior Dr. Jones has spent a lifetime plotting a map that will lead him to the Holy Grail, only to fail to figure out where his quest will begin?

That’s where I am at right now.

At the beginning.

Still.

Just Write: Self-shaming Sunday update

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” – C.S. Lewis

Progress is a relative term, subjective, and in the eye of the beholder.  If you take a quick peek at my notebook, it will tell you that I have worked diligently this week in an effort to nail down a set up for my work in progress.  However, if you delve a little deeper, you will see that I’m floating untethered in a turbulent sea of uncertainty.

I’m sure this is a normal phenomenon in story planning, and I have no doubt that it’s the natural order of things.  It’s a learning process, after all.  However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling frustrated.  It’s a dizzying thing to take two steps back for every step forward.

On Friday, I was convinced that I had come up with the perfect midpoint plot twist that would turn the entire story on its ear.  It was fabulous.  The greatest idea I’ve ever had.  I was blinded by my own brilliance.

One step forward.

Today, I hate it.

So, I changed it.

Now the midpoint doesn’t jive with the set up.

Two steps back.

Okay.  Enough with the whining.  Let’s get down to it, shall we?  How did I stack up this week?

Last weeks goal:   Finish up character profile for Ivan and continue working on setup outline.

Goal = met – I guess.  I did finish up my character profile, though I think with the new midpoint, I will need to make him less douche-baggy.  

Next week’s goal:  Figure out this midpoint thing and get it to jive with the set up.

Did I make progress this week?

Yes, I believe I did.

(Cue the obligatory golf claps now)

Resisting the Itch

A writer writes.

That manta has been drilled into my head since the moment I decided to embrace my desire to put pen to page.   There is a societal expectation that if you have the audacity to call yourself a writer, you must produce proof of such a claim.  I’ve always taken this to heart.

I think, therefore I am.  – Rene Descartes

I write, therefore I am a writer.

It’s a mindset that is very hard for me to reconcile at the moment.  If you read my posts, you will remember that at the beginning of the year I made the decision to shelve my work in progress.  Recently, I’ve felt the magnetic pull of characters that will not be ignored.  In an effort to stave off the voices, and because I believe in the essence of this story, I decided to begin again.

Back to the drawing board.

To start over.

From scratch.

As new ideas begin to take root, grow, and blossom, I am overwhelmed with the desire to write.  Witty dialogue mingles with vibrant action in scenes that swirl around my brain, begging for an outlet.  It is the order of things.  In the past, I’ve been very much a fly by the seat of your pants writer.  As the voices grew louder, the scenes more vivid, the siren’s call of the keyboard more desperate, I inevitably gave into the temptation to write, mindless of the consequences.

Herein lies the reason my first stab at Retribution went down in glorious, Technicolor flames.  I gave into the voices and lost sight of the big picture.  I planned poorly – or rather – I didn’t plan at all.

This time it will be different.  It must be.  I took an oath to myself that I would resist the itch to write until I had a thorough, well-planned outline.   It was a promise that fell freely from my lips.  It sounded so easy, such an attainable goal.

I was wrong, as I am so often lately.  It is very hard to resist the itch to write, especially when you have set such boundaries.  It is as if my rebellious self is testing the limits of my resolve by spitting in the eye of my iron will.

But, my iron will is a determined beast.  Resist I will.

For now, anyway.

 

Just write: Self-shaming Sunday update

This week it’s all about the map.

My first attempt to write Anna’s story of retribution was a dismal failure.  I allowed myself to get caught up in the complexity of individual scenes and forgot a vital rule in novel-writing:  Every character action/reaction must benefit the progression of the story as a whole.   As a result, I lost sight of my final destination.  To rectify this problem, I’ve gone where I’ve never gone before.

To the fiery depths of Hell.

Well, not really.  Just into the depths of the dreaded outline.

I’ve been working on a vague sketch of Retribution using my favorite prompt game, “What if.”  This week the story is beginning to take form.  Through this process, it has become obvious that this will be a very different tale from the one I initially envisioned.  But it has to be, right?  Of course, it does.  The last one was complete shit.

So what’s the nitty-gritty on the my weekly progress?

I have a good overview of Retribution down on paper.  Of course, there are a few gaps, a few unconnected dots,  but I think they will work themselves out during the hardcore outlining phase.   Which is where I find myself now – the hardcore outline.  Up first, the set up.  I’m pleased with the sequence of events in this phase.  However, there is one hiccup.  Anna’s father.  In my last attempt, he was dead.  His in-depth characterization was largely inconsequential.  He had a peripheral presence that did not require any real exploration.  In this version, I have brought him back from the dead – at least for the interim – and his real-time relationship with his daughter is an essential element in the progression of Anna’s story and her quest for revenge.  Therefore, he must be fully examined and profiled.

This week’s goal = finish a solid first draft of the setup outline.

Goal = Sort of met, but need to find out what makes Anna’s father tick before I can really set this outline portion in stone.

Next week’s goal = Finish up character profile for Ivan and continue working on setup outline.

What if?

I am outlining my novel, Retribution.

And when I say outlining, I mean outlining, outlining.

The real deal.

I’ll give you a minute to digest that bit of news.  I don’t want to be responsible for causing anyone to go into shock-induced cardiac arrest.  I’m pretty sure my homeowner’s policy has no coverage stipulation for that.

I am no great proponent of the outline.  I think it’s a big old waste of time, and have successfully avoided squandering precious minutes of my life doing it.  I like to go with the flow, see where the ideas take me.  To do this, I employ a simple shell method.  I think of it as something that perhaps contains an aura of an outline without actually being an outline.

  • Topic
  • key points, usually 3 but sometimes more depending on the document (one word each)
  • Conclusion

That’s it.   I write these three little bullet points on a blank page and then proceed to fill in the paragraphs.  I’ve done it this way for…well…ever.  It has never failed me.

Until I started writing Retribution.

It turns out that it is impossible – for me, anyway – to write a well constructed novel by implementing this tried and true method of leaping before I look to see what lurks at the bottom of the canyon.  I hate it when I’m wrong.

It took a year for me to accept that I was going to have to suck this one up.  It was a year filled with several crying fits, a lot of self-loathing, and a couple of toddler worthy temper tantrums.  In the end, I seceded.  I am stubborn, but I’m not stupid.  I can admit when I’m beat.

As we speak, I am working on that outline.  I’ve received a lot of good advice from my fellow writers.  Some have recommended a few of their own methods, others have suggested certain reference books.  All great ideas which I’ve taken to heart – purchased a book or two.   Somewhere along the way, I came across someone or something – a blog, a writer’s manual, a professor (I can’t remember!  Ugh!) – who used the “what if?” method to dig deeper into their story.

What if Anna did this?

What if Anna did that?

What if Anna’s father said this?

What if Anna’s father injected her with this? And then told her that?  And then died in a fiery ball of twisted metal when a mysterious motorcyclist attached a bomb to the bottom of his moving car?

This intrigued me because “what if?” is a game I love to play while people watching at the gym.  I’ve used it as a prompt, but never considered doing it in this context.  So, I thought to myself:  Self, what if I used this method to write my first quick pass through in preparation for a more thorough outline?

My self agreed that it might be a decent idea.  I tried it out.  I wouldn’t say that I would recommend it for a hard-core outline, but it does get the creative juices flowing.  I’ve breezed my way through to the mid-point of the novel, in just two days.  I even sketched out the climax scene because, in the midst of all of this, I had a stroke of brilliance that could not be contained.  If nothing else, the “what if” exercise was rejuvenating – creatively speaking – and reconnected me with my story.  Just a few months ago, I thought that was an impossibility.

Should I dare to hope?

Could it be possible?

What if…what if I actually make all the way to…

…the end?

Just Write: Starting over

Anna and her story of retribution will not leave me in peace.  In my last entry, I finally acknowledged her incessant chatter as something that will not cease until I’ve made good on my promise to give her the story she deserves.

Yesterday, I dusted off the binder that holds Retribution’s character sketches, rough outline and 154 pages of completed scenes and chapters.  At the suggestion of my friend over at Word Flows, I set about to figure out what worked and what didn’t.  Within minutes, I had my answer  –  the inciting incident in Anna’s childhood, the timing and manner of her father’s death, the impact that these events have on her motivation and the timeline of the story doesn’t work.  In short, its entire foundation is faulty.

On the surface, it really does appear that this story is a lost cause and deserving of the recycling bin.  However, Anna is a character that has evolved from a two-dimensional idea on paper into this larger than life presence that is my constant companion.  Anna is more tangible than ever to me, and I find that abandoning her would be like walking away from my child.   I guess, in a sense, she is my child.  I have given birth to her, nurtured her, molded her.  How can I possibly walk away now?

I can’t.

So, with that established and the problem identified, the question now is what to do about it?

I think the answer is quite simple.

I must start over.

Just Write: All roads lead back to Baku

At the beginning of the year, I set out to make a sizable dent in my novel, Retribution.  In the process, I discovered that my story sucked.   As the novel stood, it was riddled with holes and contradictions.  It was over-simplified in places, too complicated in others.  It was a completely unworkable piece of garbage.

Coming to that conclusion was painful.   I was left feeling beaten and discouraged.    So, I did what any self-respecting writer would do when faced with such a situation.  I set the manuscript on fire in my outdoor barbecue and I walked away.

Oh, wait.  That’s only me?  Real writers don’t do that?

My bad.

When I walked away, I felt relieved.  It was like a huge burden had been lifted off of my shoulder.  I carried forward the hope that my creativity would once again flow freely, and I could move on to something fresh and exciting.  All I wanted to do was put this failure firmly behind me.

For a while, that’s exactly what I did – moved on.  I roughly sketched out a new story idea with a protagonist inspired by a brilliant, young biologist I know.  She has long intrigued me and it seemed like the perfect time to explore the idea of her further.   I have eight solid chapters and an opening sequence outlined.

Progress!  I’m on my way.

Right?

Wrong.

I haven’t touched this new story – I’ve tentatively entitled it The Faction – in a month.  Hell, I haven’t even told my writing group about it.

Why?

Because I can’t concentrate on it.  I find that I am holding back, hesitating.  I can’t seem to allow the story to envelop me, take root, and grow.

Why?

Because Anna won’t leave me the hell alone.

It began with a whisper –  feather soft, barely audible, across my ear.  Just a passing word carried on the wind.  Then, the noise began to build.  Its invocation more demanding, more imperious.  That whisper evolved.  Soon it turned from a hushed hum into a deafening roar inside my head.  At every turn Anna screamed at me.  She taunted me, cursed me, begged me to tell her story; to finish what I had started, to give her the vengeance that she seeks so that she may finally know peace.

I am not a spiritual person by nature, but I am superstitious and hold to the belief that there are things in this life that happen because they were meant to be.  I thought Retribution was dead.  I thought I had buried Anna and her secrets, but somehow the road has led me back to her.

Back to Baku, where her story began and where I must begin anew.  It seems Anna will not rest until I have given her what she desires most.

Retribution.

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Just Write: When ideas strike

Every Thursday my writing group meets at our favorite coffee shop.  We crowd around little round tables, in wooden, straight back chairs and shoot the stink eye at the losers taking up space in the comfy chairs – our comfy chairs.

Okay, maybe that last bit is just me.  Damn you knitters and internet daters!

We sip our poison of choice, nibble on something that is not at all diet-friendly, and commiserate.  We complain about our process or lack thereof, offer encouragement to those feeling disparaged, and argue over such things as alternating points of view and plot twists.  Thursdays are my favorite day of the week.

A few weeks ago, one of our members mentioned that the piece she brought for critique was inspired by a dream.  This sparked a lively conversation about how dreams influence a writer’s work and the best way to capture these little fragments of inspiration, in the dead of night.  I sat quietly as the group debated the benefits of a bedside notebook versus a mini voice recorder.  This is a conversation I’ve heard before.  Indeed, the first time was in Patricia Burroughs’ Basic Novel Writing class five years ago.   As I did in class, I listened with a sense of wonder, a lot of confusion, and a dash of self-doubt.

I have never been influenced creatively by a dream.  Ever.

I rarely remember my dreams and when I do it’s usually because I’ve done some mentally exhausting activity right before bed and my mind is unable to let it go.  When I was in the homestretch of a hellish four semester math marathon, I frequently found myself solving quadratic equations or finding an inverse in my sleep.  Last semester, I had a night of fitful sleep after I made the mistake of studying the Reformation and the Renaissance together, right before bed.  It was a weird, yet interesting dream, but not worthy of an earth shattering storyline – well unless I was working as a consultant on the new Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure movie.

Eek.  I shudder at the thought.

The conversation at the coffee shop started the gears in my brain turning and once again I began to question my ability.  Is there something wrong with me?  Is this something I need to be worried about; something I need to work on?  Then, Agatha Christie whispered in my ear:

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

Vindication!

I don’t plan a book, or a scene, or a blog entry while doing the dishes.  It’s not my chore anymore, but I do find that I am the most creative in two places:  the shower and the gym.  When an idea strikes, I am either soaking wet and naked or in the middle of a workout without my trusty notebook close at hand.  Unfortunately, my memory is shit, and even more so if I am having one of those over-stimulated days.  I’ve lost some pretty brilliant stuff that way.

Get your mind out of the gutter – not that kind of over-stimulated.

I’ve been chugging away on my novel.  I’ve set a weekly goal for myself, and so far so good.  Because of this, my story is on my mind a lot.  I’ve been slowly working through some early plot problems and character development.  Things are taking shape, but I’m not all that far into it.  Maybe a little more than one-third is down on paper.

So, Monday afternoon, I was trucking along on the elliptical, sweating like a pig, silently seething because not a single television in my direct line of sight was tuned to anything worth a damn.  I guess I could have gone to the perky little girl behind the desk but…oh wait…what was I talking about…squirrel.

I was plugged into my digital music library, listening to one of my favorite live albums by The Police – only the greatest band ever.  Don’t judge me.  The song King of Pain began to play.  It’s one of my favorites, especially when performed live, and it never fails to effect me emotionally.  So, I suppose it’s not too surprising that it was during this song that the little idea troll in my brain decided it was the right time to reach out and give me a good slap to the back of the head (Gibbs style for all you NCIS fans).

Bam! I had a vision.  It was as clear as if the scene was unfolding right in front of me, between the row of elliptical machines and the recumbent stationary bikes.  A catalyst scene – a point in the story where one character does irreparable harm to another – and one I’ve not spared one thought beyond a few scribbles in the margin of my rough outline.  But suddenly there it was, a vivid picture in my mind’s eye, the echo of their dialogue reverberating through me, their tension palpable.  All of it just begging to be written, to be cast out of my head, and down onto paper.

Who am I to argue with such clarity?

I spent a good half an hour hunched on a bench, in the gym locker room, surrounded by women with no sense of modesty, scribbling away in my notebook.  I couldn’t chance it getting away.  It was too powerful.  Too real.

Of course, I spent the better part of my evening trying to decipher my chicken scratch so that I could incorporate this new, pivotal scene into the work in progress.

I suppose the point of my nonsensical rambling is that there is nothing wrong with me.  At least, not where this is concerned.  Everyone is inspired and struck by ideas in different ways, be it in a dream during the dead of night, or in a vision at the gym while listen to The Police.  We are merely slaves to its creation.

Yeah, I still don’t see the correlation between King of Pain and my scene, but again, who am I to argue.

Stop surfing and start writing

I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump that last six months or so.  I’d like blame it on a grueling work and school schedule, but that would be a lie.  The truth is, I haven’t been applying myself, and I’ve allowed self-doubt to wiggle its way into my subconscious.

In an effort to rectify this bad habit and regain some much-needed confidence, I sat down at my computer this weekend, pulled out my binder labeled Retribution, and opened the Word file of the same name.  I scrolled through page after page of text until I found the spot where I last left my main character dangling off of the side of a yacht anchored in the middle of the Danube.  I reread the preceding paragraphs, noted the word count.

I was ready to write.  It was going to be brilliant.  I knew it.  I could feel it.  Creativity surged through my veins, setting my soul on fire.

But first, I needed to know how to say “I am going to kill you, you piece of shit” in Hungarian.

That’s where it began – and ended.

A productive afternoon of writing derailed by the time sucking abyss known as the internet.  Sure, it started out innocent enough.  I did go to my favorite online translation source.  I did find a comparable and acceptable phrase.  I even wrote it down. But that’s when I “accidently” clicked on the Facebook toolbar tab; then MSNBC; then OMG Katy Perry and Russell Brand are getting divorced?

Squirrel!

Three hours later, my character was still dangling over the side of the yacht; still waiting for an opportunity to make good on a promise to kill the man who is responsible for her predicament.  And I was no closer to get her down than I was when I started.

It was at this point that I realized I have a problem.  I am too “plugged in”; too prone to distraction these days.  I am by no stretch of the imagination the queen of procrastination, but it seems that if left to my own devices, I will choose pointless, brain cell killing pop culture uselessness over substantive creativity.

So what to do?

Unplug.

Duh.

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially, in today’s society where we are programmed to need instant access to everything – emails, voice mails, status updates, news, the Kardashians.   We are a bunch of instant gratification junkies.  As a writer, the internet is an invaluable research tool.  It’s convenient, efficient, and quick.  But I am finding that I have to draw a line in the sand.  I need to make the conscious effort to avoid logging on and signing in.  After all, I’d like to finish this damn novel before I am too old to type.

How am I going to accomplish this?

I am going start by disabling my wireless when I sit down to write.

I am going to learn to mark what I don’t know and move on.

I am going to learn to accept that a draft is just that – a draft.

Of course, none of these things will be easy for me, but then, nothing worth doing is ever easy.  It will take some time to adjust, but I am confident that with a little practice, I will begin to see some real progress.

Now, excuse me.  I have to go write my character off the side of a yacht.  She’s been there since October and is starting to get a little belligerent.

Just Write: Sunday Self-shaming Update

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to write about my writing process, or lack thereof.  I admire those who write blogs, documenting their failures and successes; giving advice to help ease the way for newbs like me.  I don’t feel that I can compete with those writers.  I don’t mean to imply that this is some sort of competition and that I am advocating my skills by screaming “hey, look over here!  I’m a better writer than so and so over at blahblah.com.”  No, my reluctance comes from the knowledge that I have nothing useful to add to the mix.  I’m still trying to find my way out of the fog and find my voice as a writer.

This lends to a personality trait that some might call a flaw.  I am a watcher, not a joiner.  I like to stand on the peripheral, and take it all in – learn from what is going on around me, and silently, walk away.  Not necessarily a bad thing, right?   Maybe not.  But in this realm of my life, I am discovering that this quirk is a clear disadvantage.

Recently, my creativity has hit a bit of a road block.  Well, if I’m to be completely honest, “road block” seems to be a bit of an understatement.  I have run headlong into a brick wall, spray painted with the words “You, a Writer?  Dream on.” in big bold letters.  Now, as I lie on the ground, thoroughly bitch slapped by self-doubt, and stare up at those mocking words, I am faced with a dilemma.  Get up and try it again;  or lie here, lick my wounds, and consider knitting as a safe alternative.

I will get up, of course.  I hate knitting.

But now the question is:  How do I prevent this sort of thing from happening again?

I need a platform that I can chronicle my failures and successes.  I am learning that even though I am not a seasoned writer, my process is important.  Even if only to me.  Surely, by whining about my writing/plot/character problems, and sharing my successes, I will find a way to cleanse my convoluted creativity and unburden my mind enough to actually make a dent in this novel – a manuscript that has plagued me for the last year.

The answer:  I will blog about it and torture my few followers.  Brilliant!  Misery loves company, right?

I am not one to make New Year’s Resolutions.  I think they are a recipe for failure.  I’ve only made one other in my life.  I succeeded in that – losing 50lbs.  However, I accomplished that feat, not by making an all-encompassing pledge, but by making small attainable goals for myself and then resetting them once they were met.  I will apply the same school of thought to my writing process.

DSC01542December 20, 2011:

Novel:                            Retribution

Current Word Count:      24,001

Number of Pages:               124

January 1, 2012:

Novel:                                Retribution

Current Word Count:       24,940

Number of Pages:                129

Not a lot of progress made in ten days time.  But, in reality, it is.  In that time, I dove in and did a lot of word purging.  A painful process, but a necessary one.  In all, I wrote and rewrote some three thousand words or so.  I also was able to realign some plot issues, create a new character conflict, and deepen a main character’s sense of purpose, clarifying her goals.  Of course, as often happens in these situations, my character spontaneously goaded me into alluding to a twist; one that will be difficult to incorporate, but you never know.  We’ll see where it goes.

Lesson of the week:   Accepting that sometimes a fresh scene is poorly written and perhaps lacks the precise tone of the flanking scenes, but, at least, it is out of my head and “on paper.”  I can fix it later – after I’ve typed those sweet words – The End.

New goal:

What:                        3000 words written; Including 2 new outlined scenes

Completed by:           Next Sunday – January 8, 2012