I wrote this on Tuesday: I woke up this morning feeling really good. I read a little out of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas & the first chapter of 1984. The former is turning out to be WAY different & WAY more spectacular than I expected it to be. It’s artfully written & covers tragedy in a realistic yet respectful & engaging manner. I’ll wait until I finish reading it to give you a full review, but I’m super jazzed about it right now. 1984 has also been exceeding my expectations thus far, which is quite the feat since I had REALLY high expectations. Friend Lori has been telling me for YEARS how much she loves this book, & with my recent privacy paranoia, it may be the perfect book for me to read right now. Sometimes, I read books that would have gripped he much stronger had I read them at the right time… not the case with 1984. It already has me. I’m limiting how much of it I read right now, because The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is currently my priority read, but I’m really excited about it.
NEXT – on the writing front, I’m nearing an important rubicon. By the end of the week, I will have at least 30,000 words in my manuscript. There is now, officially, no turning back. I’m learning a lot of things about myself as a writer through this process, & I’m currently experiencing an up moment in my roller-coaster ride of self-hate, unbreakable conceit & pushthroughatallcosts. I’m submitting to failure in the “I’m going to finish a draft by the end of the month” category, but setting an equally lofty goal of “I’m going to finish a draft by the end of July & revise all but the last scene before that.” It’s probably another one of my unlikely-to-accomplish plans, but I don’t think I’d ever finish if I didn’t set myself to impossible tasks. Today, I wrote about 1,500 new words & revised the first 3 pages of chapter four. If I can get on a routine of doing that every day, I should do fine.
I just got distracted for a few minutes reading a blog entry by John Scalzi written to teenagers who write. It’s disappointing to me that A LOT of the things he wrote (to teenage writers – who I get paid to teach how to write) actually applied to me. Mostly, this made me sad. However, I liked what he wrote about time. He listed off a billion reasons why it generally take people about a decade to get good at whatever it is they do. I’m 25 now & I started working on my very first novel when I was about 15. I tried to do a novel in fifth grade, but I’m not counting that one. I’ve been working on the idea & brainstorming & outlining for the manuscript I’m currently working on for about 6 of those years. There was some overlap with two other books I tried to write, then gave up on because they weren’t good enough. There were chunks of time when I wasn’t really working on my writing, but more like playing around with it. But ultimately, the point is that I’ve put in some time. I know that I need to improve A LOT if writing is going to be a career for me, but looking back & recognizing that I have already improved A LOT is really encouraging.
THE BEST PART OF SCALZI’s ADVICE: “…don’t worry that your writing sucks right now. “Suck” is a correctible phenomenon.”
I’m not gonna lie… my manuscript sucks right now. The first 3 and 1/2 chapters are decent because I’ve done a lot of revising on them, but there are chapters after that that are entirely plot. There is no character development, no setting, no nothing… except for plot. The reason for this is that when I’m drafting, plot is KING. With the complex set of circumstances I have going on in my story – the pacing of plot reveals is CRUCIAL. So that’s all I worry about when I’m drafting. So & So did this, which led to this, which confused our narrator who responded in this way… That’s what I’m thinking about when I’m drafting.
Then, I do 1 revision for each character in each scene. I start with my protagonist. I think about who he/she is & what’s happening & how he/she feels about it & how he/she connects with other characters, etc… Then, I revise for the character my protagonist understands best. The reason I progress in this way is that I’m probably writing in 1st person or in 3rd person limited, so I have to make sure that I filter all information through my protagonist. The reader doesn’t get much info (if any) that my protagonist doesn’t have. Also, every time I revise, I think about connections between scenes & between pages & between paragraphs & between sentences & between words. Basically, while I’m trying to figure out how each character fits into each moment in the book, I’m simultaneously attempting to present that character in an engaging way that doesn’t waste my readers’ time or lead him down a rabbit hole he doesn’t need to go down. I’m a firm believer that no information in a book should be wasted. If you tell your reader that a character likes gum, he better choke on gum later. It’s actually a really widely-known writer metaphor to say that you can’t put a gun on stage unless someone’s going to use it. Therefore, in revisions, I try to get rid of unused guns (or find a reason to use the previously unused gun).
So, it’s a good thing that suck is a correctable phenomenon… otherwise, I’ve been wasting a lot of time on revisions.
Another thing I got out of Scalzi’s blog is to beware of “cat vacuuming.” Evidently, authors have an unfortunate habit of climbing on the internet to blog so that they won’t have to fiction… of course, I never do that (wink, wink).