Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On Having Ancestors That Have Done Bad Things

Some of you may have noticed that I've been sharing stronger opinions about political issues lately. The thing is, a few years back, after becoming more aware of social justice issues--particularly those regarding racial and immigration issues through personal relationships--I went back to check to double-check that there were no slaveowners in my family.

Sure enough, no slaveowners back there--BUT, in addition to the first cousin 9 times removed my grandma touted (a Revolutionary war general), I also discovered that we had a guy on the wrong side of the Salem witch trials (oops!). Sure, he had a better reputation than some of the other witch accusers, but that doesn't mean he did right because we can understand his motives. As a writer of historical fiction, I feel empathy for all of my characters, even the villains--but that doesn't mean I can in good conscience endorse their bad behavior.

The thing is that yup, like all of us, I have ancestors who did good things purposely, and ancestors that did bad things purposely, and ancestors that did terrible things out of the right motives. I'm proud of my heritage, yes, but that doesn't mean I have to claim those bad parts of the history as good. And I find the attitude that says we need to do just that--especially about questions of race and immigration--is causing a lot of real pain to large groups of people. And I've noticed that some of the more powerful voices are telling those in pain to sit down and shut up about their pain rather than giving their legitimate needs and emotions a legitimate space in the dialogue. So I've realized it's time that I stand up and say, in a respectful manner, that kind of thing's not okay.

It's not just others that have done this, and are doing it--I've realized I've been complicit in this attitude too, many times, in lots of little ways. So I'm working on it myself as well. I'm working to acknowledge the bad parts of my ancestors' behavior, fight the ways I find myself having inherited their attitudes (including, yes, racism--I feel white supremacy inside myself despite that lack of slaveowners in my past), and speak up about the injustices I see having stemmed from their behavior.

Some examples of the issues I see: that whole business of the slaughtering of the people who were here first on this land, from which I benefit. The idea that any vestiges of slavery might be somehow worth hanging onto, including hanging a flag out in public that the KKK has regrettably used for lynchings. Also the exploitation of workers to make me cheap goods. Oh, and the idea that I might viscerally feel unsafe in a neighborhood with people who look different from me, or go along with the popular idea that white crime is somehow a youthful indiscretion whereas others are the "real criminals," whether because of their skin color or because they're not from here.

I'm trying not to be self-righteous about any of this as I do it--or to justify the bad behavior that anyone does, including in heritages and groups that are different from my own--but I can no longer feel comfortable with myself if I ignore the presence of ugliness in my own group, or create a space that makes others in my own in-groups feel comfortable with hyperboles about the bad stuff in others to make themselves feel better about themselves.

If I don't do these things, I feel I too become complicit in not learning from the lessons of my heritage. That creates a moral problem for me. So yeah, I'm working on it, and that's just going to come out in my use of my online presence as well as the other things I say offline. This may cause some of my audience discomfort, but to be honest, I don't think that's such a bad thing--a lot of comfortable things are terribly bad for us.

Please know that if I post a response to something you say with which I disagree, or even saying I think one of your beliefs or attitudes is wrong, I'm not trying to attack your self-concept in any way. I think we're all valuable people that could be even more wonderful if we didn't avoid the unpleasant parts of life to make ourselves feel better, but instead put our effort toward working on the issues and listening better to each other even when it's hard. This is just me, a recovering conflict avoider who's studied and taught quite a bit about communication and conflict and rhetoric, saying that I don't accept the concept of injustices being swept under the rug, and I won't be a part of it.

tl;dr: All of our ancestors have done bad things; mine too. We don't have to sweep that under the rug to be proud of them--and if we don't acknowledge and fight the problems they created, we're complicit in continuing hurts they've caused. I'm working on this personally, and it will likely come out in stuff I say online and in conversations with you these days. Bear with me, and as you can, please join me in the hard work of honestly facing these thorny issues and trying to move toward collaborative solutions for them.

Monday, July 29, 2013

NaNoWriSpr & NaNoWriSum Remembered: The Composition Process

I loved working on the whole process of writing this novel manuscript that I'm about ready to shop out, even though it felt at times like I was never going to get there. I'm so glad, in retrospect, of everything that happened with the composition process.

A few examples:
  • I'm glad I was teaching while I drafted the first third of the manuscript and did the bulk of my research. The first part is always the hardest, and the hardest to do without other things to balance it out, so teaching 2 classes was just about right during this time.
  • I'm glad I took my creative writing class during this same period. Since I'd done so much academic writing for so long before this project, the class helped me transition and gave me vital instruction and feedback as to how to provide the right amount of tension and information in those vital early chapters that help to sell books and hook readers. And most importantly, they helped encourage me that I was on the right track when my confidence was lowest.
  • I'm glad to have so many delightful volunteer readers and others to encourage me and listen to my crazed ramblings about the research and characters of my novel. Having patient sounding boards helped me during my deepest immersions in the novel, and having readers who needed to read the novel by specific times gave me much-needed deadlines in addition to crucial feedback to help me revise.
  • I'm glad I was able to immerse myself in writing the last two-thirds of the novel this summer with few distractions. Yes, I know, I know--as late as May I was warning people that I might become completely incapable of socialization during this period, and was scared of it. But the truth is that as the book grew longer, frequent complete re-reads and revision sessions became necessary, requiring long chunks of time. In fact, in the last two weeks before the full draft was finished, every time I sat down to write I re-read almost the whole thing first every single time (this was why I was up till 5 a.m. every other night during that time). I'm convinced that without this immersive experience of writing a lot of story in a short (but not too short) period of time, the end of the story wouldn't read nearly as fluidly.
  • I'm glad I did all that obsessive re-reading and re-drafting of the whole story toward the end of the first draft. Because without my obsessive re-reading, on the last day of initial drafting I would never have been able to make that gigantic push (35 pages in less than 24 hours! by far a personal best!). Certainly not without feeling confident that my big climax and resolution scenes actually wrapped up most of the story threads. Sure, I had to go back and revise some of the early parts to foreshadow the exact details a bit after the fact, but that's been a joy and delight as well.
All in all, I'm pleased and grateful that the process has come out as it has. It's been a bit painful at times, sure. But really, in retrospect, has gone pretty quickly overall. Especially considering how happy I am with the results. And here I am toward the end of the process--transitioning into the seeking publication part of things. And it feels good to be here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Done! (or, the Novel Is in Others' Hands)

I just looked back at this blog and was a little appalled my last entry was on May 20. At the same time, I have an incredibly good "excuse," in that my absence here has translated into excellent progress on the novel project.

Back then, if you'll remember, I had 130 pages, or almost 31,000 words, of my first-ish draft.

Now I have (and this deserves some bolding) nearly 95,000 words, or around 350 manuscript pages, in a third draft that's out to readers for further feedback. This is a beautiful thing. I've already gotten (largely highly encouraging) feedback from half a dozen readers, and I'm waiting to hear back from more while I'm preparing all the appropriate materials and feeling my way into the path toward seeking publication.

This deserves a huge huzzah. So huzzah huzzah huzzah! Thanks to all those who have provided me support and feedback already on this project that's felt incredibly quixotic at times. One thing is sure: it's been a lot of work, but also a ton of fun. I'm profoundly thankful to have had an opportunity to undertake it!

Until later, Cheers!

Monday, May 20, 2013

NaNoWriSum: Week One Report

I'm encouraged. at this time last week I had 103 pages. I was pleased just to break triple digits before my grade submission deadline ended the semester.

Today I have 128.

If you count the work I did last weekend, that means I finally hit the 30 pages in one week mark this past week. Huzzah!

While I love teaching and I'm immeasurably glad it was there to give me some variation during those early chapters, I'm pleased the cage match is over for a few months. It's really nice to have some time to focus almost solely on creative writing. I of course still have other things to do than the novel project--I'll be spending at least a day or two per week on writing academic articles, for instance, beyond the fact that I plan to see non-fictional people every so often, get lots of exercise, and do other more usual life stuff like cooking and cleaning and attending farmer's markets.

But I'm beyond thankful that I have a summer to primarily focus on this project. To finish telling my story. To layer in everything that needs to be layered in. To simplify what needs to be simplified. To complicate what needs to be complicated. To get it ready to go out into the world.

Storytelling is such a privilege. The time to do it, and do it well, doesn't happen every day. You are witnesses: I pledge not to take it for granted. Hold me to that, eh? Thanks for your continued support!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On Transitioning from NaNoWriSpr to NaNoWriSum

So it's been a long time since I updated my blog followers about my progress on my novel-in-a-few-months experiment. From back-to-back academic conferences at the end of March and beginning of April to submitting my grades this past Monday, life has been the usual end of semester blur since my last post.

The good news is that my novel has moved forward tremendously during the blur time, if not quite as much as I'd hoped. Grading always takes more time than one thinks it will, traveling is exhausting, and I've spent this past week sick with a cold/sinus thing.

But at one of the conferences I got to go to a museum related to my topic, picking up some great background info to get deeper into my characters' experiences not only in the museum itself, but also in the attached library. I even picked up a few useful books at the gift shop.

And since the conferences I've done a lot of revising and expanding of the first three chapters in response to feedback from all my wonderful readers this semester. Plus I wrote most of a fourth chapter, and read that to a friend and incorporated that feedback.

By the time the grade submission deadline (this past Monday at 3) signalled the end of the semester, I had officially broken the double-digit barrier by three pages.

It felt so good to be in the triple digits--more than a third of the way through!--that I wrote 6 more today, which brings my current total to 109.

So NaNoWriSpr is officially done, and its successor--NaNoWriSum--has begun. The NaNoWriSpr experiment began as a crazy hope to write a novel in a semester while teaching 2 classes and taking an advanced fiction-writing class as support and encouragement for the NaNoWriSpr experiment. I ended up writing more than a third of one that I feel pretty good about. I know that it's not just an assemblage of pages pushed out as quickly as possible, but a manuscript on its way to being a viable manuscript of a novel. The plot's set up, and I know where it's going, for the most part. We've met most of the characters, and I now know the main ones well enough to generate realistic examples and scenes and dialogue for them on demand. The others are coming into focus, as is the setting and era and surroundings.

My goals for NaNoWriSum are as follows--I want to write this novel to its natural conclusion, revising as I go, by the end of July so I can get full manuscript drafts out to my other reader volunteers by that time.

It might seem like a lot--200 good pages in 2.5 months, when I just barely drafted 103 pages in 4. And yet without the teaching, it should be totally manageable. If I can write 3-4 pages per day (and today I sat down and read through the whole thing again before pounding out 6 new pages), I'll be there.

Congrats to team NaNoWriSpr for a solid start to the relay race! NaNoWriSum should be able to take it from here. Go team finish the novel!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

NaNoWriSpr: On Guilt, Conference Season, and Novel Writing

Okay, so no new pages lately--teaching and other academic endeavors have been winning the cage match lately, with two academic conferences this week and next at which to present my dissertation research, subs to get and prepare for when I'm gone, midterm grades having just been finished and handed back, various professional development opportunities to apply for, etc., etc., etc.

When it comes down to it, Livelihood has quite the right hook, especially just after spring break, when midterms coincide with Conference Season. It's a good thing an amazing stack of well-written midterms softened the blow. I love seeing my students learn and begin to grasp difficult concepts in depth.

But that doesn't mean Creative Writing and the DNiP are down for the count, by any means. For one thing, I just workshopped my third and last novel installment of the semester in my fiction writing class yesterday, and it went well. It feels good to know I'm on the right track. And I'll be taking the files with me while traveling in case of a spare hour or two. Hotel rooms can be good places to write.

Furthermore, it's not like my academic activities are really divorced or separate from my creative writing endeavors. My diss was about author-audience relationships in storytelling situations, after all, and I love that I get to go talk to others who are interested in the same things.

Plus, after a week away from the novel-writing absorption of spring break, I was reading through my current manuscript again last night and could see the benefits of the down time. I'm a bit worried about spending TOO much time away, but I'm in a really good place with it right now, so a couple of weeks of lower writing activity won't hurt, I don't think.

Plus, talking to other humans who are interested in similar things--and hearing interesting papers about a wide range of topics--will be good for me, and I'm sure to enjoy it. If there's one thing I've learned over the years, stimuli that doesn't always seem to move my immediate projects forward can inspire me in ways I would not have expected. And as I've been realizing more and more lately, one of the things I most love in life--that animates me the most, and drives projects stemming from all my selves, whether professional or creative or social--is a good nuanced dialogue about interesting and important things.

[With great effort, picks up boulder of DNiP guilt and sets it outside of the suitcase she's packing.] This will be a good week and a half.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How Teaching Has Helped My Writing, Part Deux

So I'll admit it--when I went on Spring Break a little more than a week ago, I was very ready to bid Teaching goodbye, to thumb my nose and bid adieu (or at least au revoir for 10 days). Other than a few necessary academic tasks, I wanted to absorb myself fully in my novel process, which was tugging me toward it with the force of a very insistent small child.

I assuaged my guilt about this treatment of Teaching by writing my most recent post. But while I meant it, I was thrilled that the DNiP* had won the Writing vs. Teaching cage match for a short while.

And I'll tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed my week with the DNiP. I dove in full force. I vised. I revised. I read source materials and writings from my era. While I never seem to be able to achieve the 20 pages per week I long for, I won through to 74 pages of draft and felt confident about the first 50 of them. It was great. I realized that if I stay on this pace I'll be at a very respectable 150 pages by the end of the semester, which would leave me on track to finish the manuscript this summer.

And then it was Sunday, and I emerged from my cave. Someone asked me a simple question. I'm pretty sure I gave an answer that might have made sense. I wasn't sure. But at that point the pit in my stomach clenched up a bit, knowing that the upcoming summer of time alone with my DNiP might become a problem. See, it's possible that too much time alone with one's fictional creations and absorbed in that world could potentially be a bad thing for my social skills.

After the summer, will I be able to pull out of this daze I develop in these hermit-like spates of writing? Will I remember how to interpret and create appropriate non-verbal stimuli? Will I be able to converse on normal subject matter?

These questions are real (if slightly hyperbolic). At any rate, they drove me to very much enjoy the sociability of my teaching interactions yesterday. It's good to practice stringing sentences together orally so that an immediate audience can understand them. To focus on subjects that aren't associated with this all-consuming project that has such strong pull. To have a break from some of the heavy subjects and emotions that come with the research and writing.

Yup, this might have been the biggest reason for Marilynne Robinson's aversion to the writing life sans teaching I mentioned in the last post. I'm going to have to schedule some good regular social time this summer to balance out the solitude and absorption inherent in my writing time. Yes indeed.

*Dear Novel-in-Progress.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

How Teaching Has Helped My Writing

I'll never forget what Pulitzer-prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson said once during an interview at Calvin College's Festival of Faith & Writing. It boiled down to the fact that she doesn't do well when she can't teach along with her writing.

At the time, not having had much experience with teaching, I thought it was sort of a funny thing to say. But now, having had several more years of teaching experience under my belt, I'm beginning to get it. I'm not sure that teaching is quite as indispensable to me as it is to Marilynne. But then, right now I'm deep into a particular project, and quite enjoy the times when I can be fully absorbed in its world.

But I can also see that my experience with teaching--and I do love teaching--has definitely helped improve my writing, both that for academic audiences and creative projects. This semester I'm really seeing the fruits of teaching in these seemingly non-teaching-related tasks.

Take my academic writing task for this morning. Since I'm going to present at the Popular Culture Association conference in a few weeks, I had to take an aspect of my nearly-300 page dissertation and turn it into an 8 page paper to present in 15-20 minutes. The fact that the last few years of teaching has given me experience in just how much complex information I can translate for students in a short amount of time helped me to complete this task in a short amount of time. (And of course the fact that I regularly teach public speaking didn't hurt either: I've planned several spots where I hope to draw the audience into the presentation through asking them questions, for instance.)

But academic writing isn't the only way that my teaching experience has been useful. In my NaNoWriSpr novel manuscripting project, I've noticed that my practice in persuading students to be interested in learning subjects they see to be boring or difficult has helped me in writing my novel as well.

After all, one can't assume one's readership comes into a novel automatically liking it, and so you have to make a strong case for their attention both at the beginning but also throughout the story while dispensing the right kind of background information at the right times. Watching where my students' attention flags--and knowing the same material strikes different classes in different ways--has helped me to be aware that my reader is likely doing the same with my writing at times.

Unlike with my teaching, I don't have immediate non-verbal feedback with my writing. My teaching experience has taught me, therefore, to get feedback during my development process from as many readers as possible to see how different types of people respond to my story. This, like my students' faces, helps me to see how well I'm doing to engage a range of people without relying too much on a single reader experience. And when a theme pops up over time in my reader feedback--as it tends to both in students' faces and in student evaluations--I know I need to consider how to adjust to better engage my audience.

Yup, I'm beginning to get a sense of why Marilynne Robinson said what she said about the teaching. Without the feedback, the practice in translating things for others, the face-to-face interaction with others in a setting like teaching, the process in writing can become a little disconnected from these crucial concepts. Like Marilynne, I'm thankful for the teaching experience I've been granted so far.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

NaNoWriSpr: On Vising and Revising

Here's the primary difference between what I'm doing this spring in what I'm calling NaNoWriSpr, in which I'm trying to write most of a 75,000 word novel in 4 months, and what is usually attempted during NaNoWriMo, in which writers try to write 50,000 words in a month: I'm researching, planning and especially revising as I go.

Of course, this doesn't mean I hadn't planned and researched in advance. I didn't have an outline, but I'd first conceived the novel (and written the first two paragraphs) in 2007. I've been researching on and off since then. And starting last fall but particularly over the Christmas break I tried to finish reading what I thought were the primary research texts, having all the supplementary ones (I thought) ready to go for when I needed them. I had a big picture idea of what might happen in my story, at least the first part, and the primary characters were coming into view.

And I am so glad I wasn't thinking I had done enough to plow this out in a month or two.

See, this is a complex novel, and as I'd mentioned, it's set in a different place and time. I had looked into the era a little bit--read a book or two--and had done a heck of a lot more research on certain aspects of the story and its genre, but that didn't mean I'd read enough memoirs of the time or the times before that my characters would have lived through or had read through enough books or articles about my setting and events of the period. I'd spent a lot of time developing my main character and getting into his head, but I still felt some distance from him and was still working to get to know the others.

And so the first stages and drafts of the early chapters have taken a lot of what I've come to call vising time: others might call it visioning or planning. I've needed to immerse myself by researching the era and reading memoirs and watching documentaries, much as one seeks to learn a language by immersion.

And like learning a language, I've of course tried writing about these people and their times and given the early efforts to a few other people to see whether they felt I was getting it right to communicate engagingly with the modern reader (which is of course the bigger trick, as in this case I'm learning a language only for translation to those who aren't familiar with it). The workshops in my fiction-writing class have been tremendously helpful in this, as have a few helpful friends.

As with learning a language, they've been kind in these early efforts to point out the places where I wasn't quite getting it right. This has supplemented the clarity a sleep can bring to my own distance from my writing to see where it can be improved. And both processes have encouraged me to go back and hone my writing to make sure I was going in the right direction. I'm still working on this, but I can already tell the efforts have borne fruit.

See, for me, I really can't imagine trying to make a draft without all of these processes involved at once, which is why NaNoWriSpr feels so much more reasonable and manageable than NaNoWriMo to me. At the same time, I'm thankful for the NaNoWriMo model, as it reminds me it's okay to push myself and that immersion in the writing act is a useful way to go.

So even though I haven't technically hit my "new pages" limits,  I'm pleased to announce that I've written 60 on-their-way-to-good pages with six weeks down and ten to go.  I'm thrilled about this, in fact, as the early parts of the novel are the most important to get just right in so many ways, and now that I know where I'm going and I've introduced most of my characters it will go faster, I hope.  But even if I stick to my 10 pages per week average (which wouldn't be surprising as I expect to continue to revise a lot as I go, and the amount of pages for revising continues to grow) I'll get to my goal within six or seven months, with a much much better draft than I had for my Novel in a Drawer after I finished the first draft in 18 months.

I'm getting better at this. And faster. I can tell. Which is encouraging, as this is a much more complex project than the previous one.

Man, this is fun. Exhausting at times, but fun.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

NaNoWriSpr: Character Bleed and Outlining

It's been a little while since I wrote anything here. It's also been a little while since I've been able to write a lot of novel pages. However, that doesn't mean I haven't been doing a lot of work on the story. Really hard work that is already beginning to bear fruit, thankfully. Because this has been a tough couple of weeks.

So this is what's been going on: Part of my research has involved reading and watching accounts of some pretty tough stuff that my characters would have experienced. The thing is, unlike the way counselors and doctors are allowed to distance themselves from what their patients are feeling, it's the writer's job to dive into at least some key parts of that emotional territory so they can express it as well as they can. Often, while the writer isn't necessarily writing at all autobiographical work, it can also touch deep corresponding emotional springs in the writer that they then have to deal with.

Virginia Hampton Wright talks about this necessity in her book The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life: "Emotions, when tapped, bring a dimension to a scene or a song that will make all the difference. [But] sometimes we pay a price for the emotions we work with when we are creating. It can be difficult to delve into an emotional scene while I am writing a chapter of a novel but then to pull out of it by dinnertime. An artist sometimes has to live with certain emotions long enough to understand what they mean to a creative work. This can be exhausting" (p. 113).

Actors who are using method acting, I'm told, experience the same thing, and they call it character bleed, which is a perfect term. That's exactly what it feels like. Talk about the ability of fiction-writing to build empathy. Sometimes it would be nicer if it wasn't quite so up close and personal. But it is. At any rate, in the last couple of weeks I've been experiencing a lot of character bleed. It's made me incredibly glad that I'm teaching 2 days a week this semester, which means that when I delve into my material in this intense sort of way over the weekend I have a bit of time to recover before being called on to do another thing I love that can also be draining if one's dealing with other emotions at the same time: enthusiastically presenting to my students. Thankfully the flexibility has worked well in allowing recovery, and I think the worst of it is over, for at least awhile, allowing me to step back and get more distance from my material, which is another important writing function to craft the story well.

The up side is that the very emotional territory I've had to deal with has brought forth some great material going forward. I've timelined out some key material that will be revealed over the course of the story, which will allow me to make more educated decisions about how and when it should be revealed going forward. I've created character sketches and referenced ways each character is connected to the central material. I know my characters better, which will hopefully make decision-making much much faster going forward. And while the background research keeps begetting more research, I've been making good progress in that area too. I'm hoping I can dive back in to the actual writing very soon--perhaps even today--with a much better sense of direction and strategy and control over what's happening next, so it all ties together well.

I certainly hope so. No matter what, I know all of this work has been crucial to moving forward. Not the most favorite part to deal with, nor the part that feels the most like making progress in terms of that page count I'm pressuring myself to put out, but it's such important foundational work.

Okay, I think I can actually go write new pages now. Thanks again for any cheers from the sidelines you're willing to spare. We're entering the part of this process where they're getting increasingly important.

Monday, February 11, 2013

NaNoWriSpr: On Getting to Know One's Characters; Or, Authorial Guilt

I realized this weekend that I was still avoiding something I rather had to do if I wanted to move forward in pumping out solid pages of interesting story.

I needed to sit down and get more acquainted with my characters. Especially my secondary characters, who are about to be introduced, but my main characters as well.

Please excuse the bad reality TV reference, but this makes me feel like the girls in The Bachelor who are always saying that they realized they need to take down a wall of self-defense and disclose more about themselves.

Interestingly, in this case, it's not me that needs to let my characters into the secret of my personality and past. It's the other way around. (Or one would think.)

What I realized is that I'm scared to dive deeper into some of my characters' lives and psyches. This is something I predicted earlier, but so far it's been pretty painless with the main ones--even gleeful. But since I'm writing from a first-person narrator, I've really only had to dive into my narrator's thoughts.

The thing is that the other characters are about to get more involved soon, so I need to understand them not only from my narrator's perspective, but from theirs as well, though ultimately I'll write it from his perspective.

I don't like doing this part. Some of these characters have deep dark secrets I'll have to disclose, or I wouldn't have an interesting plot. I feel like if I proceed I'll become the author character in Stranger than Fiction who is writing a story when her primary fictional character discovers she's creating and narrating his life. In the movie, the character blames the author tremendously for a raw deal. And I think I imagine that these characters might pop out of these pages and do the same to me.

Still, as with those I love in life, I can't protect my characters from bad things happening to them. Nor can I entirely protect them from themselves. (Nor, for that matter, can I protect myself from any emotional wells that may pop open in myself through writing about my characters' lives and emotions.) And so I must put my fears aside and get to know them better.

Especially since, let's face it, getting to know these characters better is much more statistically likely to produce a long-lasting and satisfying relationship than The Bachelor.

Okay, I've just received a date card for a group date with my characters. Hopefully if I persist, they'll give me a rose and allow me to finish these next couple of chapters.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

NaNoWriSpr: Ups and Downs

So it's been an eventful couple of weeks since I posted last. The honeymoon of writing 31 pages in the first couple was disrupted by a week filled with insomnia and panic at thinking I was losing key Interlibrary-loaned books to due dates.

I only wrote 1 page that week, and I was both pretty cranky and pretty hard on myself for it.

But then this Tuesday at my writing class (which officially began my 4th week of the experiment) we workshopped my first chapter.

Did I agree with all the comments? No. But I was able to apply grains of salt as required and it was exhilarating to get audience feedback. One can get so much in one's own head when one's writing that it can be a relief just to know that they mostly got what you were going for.

Plus, putting together the patterns of feedback can help you to discover where the reader gets stuck.

As it turned out, I needed to throw out my first 2-3 warmup pages, which weren't as active, and replace them with an actual scene that served the same purpose as the pretty warmup description had.

At my followup conference with my professor, I showed him the new version and got lovely lovely confirmation that I'm on the right track.

This--THIS!--is why I'm taking a class while doing this while I have the opportunity.

And so the workshop got me back on track and inspired again. So far this week I've written 12 pages, and there's a very good chance I'll get more done by Tuesday's class.

Plus, not only was I able to renew the key book I thought I would lose--I now have it until the end of March--but I discovered that the work I did during my seemingly dead week was intensely useful as it was a highly important source for me to get the gist of before going any further into the plot.

The insomnia? Now that, I have yet to realize the purpose for. Maybe I'll have some characters who will have it before the end of the book, and last week's experience will help me to empathize with and communicate their experience of disrupted productivity.

I don't know. But the great thing about being a writer is this: It's all potentially material. I love being back in the thick of the process because even on the down times, it never fully feels as though anything in my life will be wasted.

And I deeply, deeply love the way so much of my knowledge, skills, and experiences of the last few years are able to be applied in this particular project. It very much feels like I've been training my research and writing and narrating muscles for this moment.

There will be more weeks like last week, I'm sure--I won't always hit my page goals. But getting 42 pages of new manuscript, almost half of which has been revised into a second draft of sorts, down in less than 4 weeks is pretty exciting.