Category Archives: Writing
“Second Draft Problem!” I threw up my hands, and my writing group laughed.
This happens frequently as I stumble like a drunk zombie through the prose in the first draft of my future best-seller. (Mmm…. local best seller? Mid-level seller? Self-pubbed fiction that only family has bought?) I’m trying to embrace the first draft philosophy– you just have to write it, get the words on paper, find your story, don’t judge yourself. And so I have a new mantra- “Second Draft Problem!” I repeat this to myself every time a turn of phrase falls flat, when a scene feels boring, when a plot point doesn’t quite work. Push on, I tell myself, liberating Current M from responsibility. Future M will solve this for us in the second draft. Just keep swimming, and Future M will deal with this later. Future M will save us, erase all our writing sins, squeeze blood from turnips.
Man, I can’t wait to meet Future M. She must be an effing genius. And really wise too. She’s the wittiest person ever, and she solves plot puzzles like she’s the new Agatha Christie. I bet she’s great at editing, too. In fast, I’m counting on it. Plus, she’s a champion at time management and organizational skills. She’s got all kinds of multi-colored Post-It notes and color coding pens. Not that she needs them; her mind is like a steel trap. She’s even figured out how I’m going to get health insurance if I ever manage to have the kind of writing career where I don’t have to work a 9 to 5 and lose my employer funded benefits. Future M is ON IT.
I’m a little concerned, though, because Future M already has a lot on her plate. She’s supposed to figure out financial planning for me, too. And she’s gonna be pretty busy becoming fluent in French. When I imagine the future, I’m always fluent in French and wearing really fashionable scarves. So, she’s gonna have to start getting into fashion magazines in her spare time. She might also be a little tied up with all the dinner parties she’s hosting. She better be hosting some dinner parties, or else why do I own a rotating chalkboard serving tray? And what if Future M can’t deal with my manuscript because the Zombie Apocalypse finally happens? Or she’s working in a factory mill because China finally calls in our debts to them and turns our whole country into one big production line?
It occurs to me that Future M evolves from Current M. Current M would feel a lot better about the odds on this evolution if Current M thought something magic would happen in the meantime to create Future M. Current M imagines this:
Tired, “Winging It,” Dullsville Current M + SPARKLING MAGIC EVENT= Energetic, Deliberate, Modern Algonquin Roundtable Future M
But the truth is, Current M is more likely to have to trek through some dark places and do the mental equivalent of P90X so that Future M can emerge with her toothpaste ad smile and bon mots dropping from her lips like rain.
And so Current M turns back to her laptop and promises Future M she’s on the way. Current M still has First Draft Problems.
Every year, I resolve to write more. Every year, I don’t write as much as a I thought I would. Every year I vow to be different. I suppose this year will be about the same except this year I MEAN IT.
I’m off to a decent start– I helped co-author a post about the Greatest Movie of All Time for a history blog, The Tropics of Meta. My friend Lauren, a history PhD candidate, invited me to help her write an article about the rise of our a capella overlords in the movie Pitch Perfect, and I had to class up my act to hang with the academic writers. The blogs’ editors did change our proposed title: “A Capella or, Organized Nerd Singing: In Which We Explain Our Love for Singing Boys in Bow Ties, Nick Lachey and Also That Girl Who Was the Only Good Part of the Twilight Movies.” I can’t imagine why that didn’t appeal to them.
They also opted not to include the gif we lovingly selected to close our piece, and I’ll post it here now for your enjoyment.
2013, y’all: the year of a capella, the year of writing, the year of the Kimye baby. Go forth and conquer.
Dear Meg Cabot,
I’m coming to see you this weekend. I’m bringing you a gift.
Don’t be afraid. This is totally legit because you’ll be speaking at the Decatur Book Festival and you want people to come see you, so it’s not like I’m googling you to figure out where you live in Key West so I can walk by your house twenty times. I swear I have not done this even though I will be going to Key West in the near future and I think you would find me amusing over cocktails. (I will require two before I have enough nerve to act like myself in front of one of my idols.)
Also, the gift is not weird. I’m not giving you your portrait made out of used gum or a friendship bracelet made out of my hair. I’m appropriate and normal that way.
I’m writing you this open letter because chances are when I see you at your book signing, I’ll be too dumbstruck to say much of anything. I know you’re not Ryan Gosling and you’ve totally tweeted at me before, so I should be completely cool and collected. But I remember when I met Neil Gaiman a couple of years ago and I didn’t manage much more than a weak smile and something about loving his books, even though I rehearsed something really clever and funny in my car on the way there. Nope. As soon as I stood in front of him with my copy of The Graveyard Book, I became a wide-eyed fan girl. And your writing is more significant in my own reading/writing journey, so I figure I’ll thrust my gift at you and say something awkward and then run to the bathroom and frantically text my friend J.
J’s part of the reason I adore you. She’s my long distance writing partner and a true friend. We found each other on a writing board when she made an intelligent comment about a TV show we both love and I screwed up the courage to send her an email. Until I met J, I didn’t know anyone who liked The Princess Diaries or High School Musical or any of the other geeky YA stuff I adore. Most people my age don’t bother, think it’s too young and silly. J sees what I see and we’ve built this great friendship that’s now way beyond gushing over Michael Moscovitz as the perfect fictional boyfriend and dogging broody loner boyfriends who like to suck blood. For me, your books were like a secret password. Once I knew J loved your books too, I knew we were in the same club. Now we share our writing anxieties and excitements, and I don’t know if I ever would have taken the writing dream seriously without her egging me on. So thanks for that.
Thanks for writing light, funny romances that don’t take themselves too seriously. It seems like so many writers focus on Saying Something, and so many high profile books concern Very Grave matters. I knew I didn’t want to write angsty fiction, and reading your various series showed me that we can write good-natured stories that are there for the sake of being happy and entertaining that do not force us to live in Sweet Valley (although it is admittedly interesting there). There can be messages (The Gospel of Mia!), but they don’t have to come to us through impossible language and dark imagery. We can write things that are both fun to write and fun to read. We can include pop culture references, dammit; they are amusing and people like them. We can leave our terrible days at work and go home to books that make us smile instead of cry. We can be girlie girls who want equal rights and good jobs, but we can still want a nice boy to kiss the heroine at the end. What a relief.
In short, I’m thankful that you write what you write because it’s helped me figure out who I want to be and what I want to do with my life. Kind of a big deal.
Anyway, I’ve gone sentimental and sappy, and I hope you won’t think I’m all boring because of that. I’m totally interesting. I once stopped a kid from mugging me by grabbing his hoodie and yelling for help. I can also say the alphabet backward while drunk, if that helps.
I’m looking forward to hearing you speak this weekend. I’ll try to say something witty when I see you, but I think it’ll come out sounding like, “I love The Princess Diaries. The weather is gross today.”
But you’ll know what I mean.
Cheers to you, Meg!
PS Have you seen this?? I found it on Tumblr. I wish I knew who made it so I could credit them.
Have you read Stephen King’s On Writing? Just read it for the third time in my efforts to get a fake MFA in the next month while I gear up to Write The Novel. You can read my review of it on my writing blog, but I don’t think you actually need to go read my review because I’m just going to tell you now that I really like it and it’s a great resource for beginning writers. Folksy but firm, practical but amusing.
Since I’m collecting writing wisdom, thought I might share some high points. One of these days I’m going to do some kind of data analysis on all the writing advice from all the authors I like and prove that there is no correct way to write. But here’s what Uncle Stevie thinks.
*Plotting? Don’t do it! Your characters will tell you what to do.
In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life though your speech. You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer—my answer, anyway, is nowhere…. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless… second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. … my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves.
* Where should I write? In a quiet place, no TV, no phone, door closed, desk in corner of room to remind you that writing should reflect life and not the other way around.
*How much should I write? Every day, at least 1000 words. Write at the same time of day too, if you can help it.
Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind… Writing is at its best—always, always, always—when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.
*How long will it take? Three months for the first draft, probably
* How long do I let the first draft sit? 6 weeks.
* Do Not: use adverbs, write in the passive tense, get carried away with descriptions, write above your natural vocabulary, start out thinking about symbolism or theme
* Do: Keep dialogue tags simple, read or write 4-6 hours a day, look for natural symbolism and themes in your second draft and then polish them up so they shine
So we read to experience the mediocre and outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience different styles.
* Do Not: Rely on the muse, but DO: make a comfortable place for him/her to land.
And as your mind and body grow accustomed to a certain amount of sleep each night—six hours, seven, maybe the recommended eight—so you can train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work on vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction. But you need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal… don’t wait for the muse…. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re doing to be every day from nine til noon or seven til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.
* Characters? Very important. In fact, they should grow and the stories should really be about them and not just “what happened.”
* What to look for in editing?
During the reading, the top part of my mind is concentrating on story and toolbox concerns: Knocking out pronouns with unclear antecedents, adding clarifying phrases where they seem necessary, and of course deleting all the adverbs I can bear to part with… Underneath, I’m asking myself the Big Questions: Is this story coherent? And if it is, what will turn coherence into a song? What are the recurring elements? Do they entwine and make a theme? I’m asking myself What it’s all about…. What I want most of all is resonance.”
*Critique groups? Meh. More important to have an Ideal Reader whose taste and opinion you trust. Write for them and pay attention to what he/she likes or dislikes. Too many writing classes make you too impressed with your own intelligence and imbue meaning where things are really more simple..
* And finally, the point of it all:
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay?
And there you have it! Next stop: vacation home in Florida.