Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mixing It Up

School holidays are upon me once again. Three weeks of the kids at home, starting today, and as usual I’m stressing about how on earth I’m going to find time to write.

I’m really rolling along with revisions, and I don’t want to lose that momentum; therefore, I simply have to find some time to write, every single day. But how to do this, when the house is over run by kids?

In theory, my children are old enough to keep themselves entertained and out of mischief for at least an hour; on a good day, maybe even two. But there’s always something … like tonight, for example. In the forty-five minutes since I arrived home from the school run, Child #1 tracked mud all over the floor, requiring a major mop up (played soccer at school today and brought half the field home with him, by the looks of it); then Child #2 let out a blood curdling scream and I went running, heart in my mouth, expecting to find a broken limb at the very least - erm, nope, he was fine, but the battered, seven year old Mac notebook he’d been using finally died, is all. And not to be outdone, Miss Five promptly squirted herself in the eye with mandarin juice while attempting to peel one. Sigh.

So, yeah, how to do this? I’ve got to mix things up a little, is how. Writing at night is out. I wish I could, but by the time the last of the little darlings hits the hay I’m usually far too exhausted to even think about my book. Which leaves me with mornings … early mornings. Very early mornings - like hitting the desk by 7am, mornings. Blech.

But I have to do it. If I don’t, my story will drift loose from its moorings in my mind, and I know from experience it’s a long, hard row to bring it back to shore. So for the next three weeks I’ll be up and at ’em to squeeze in my daily exercise (groan) and then lock myself in the study for as long as I can. I’ll have to do a deal with the kids – unless the house is on fire or someone is bleeding, leave mum alone until 9am and then I’m all theirs – and I might have to bribe Child #1 to make breakfast for Miss Five (the promise of a shopping spree at Borders should be sufficient motivation for my book-addicted son!) But that’s the plan, and I think it’ll work - but any other suggestions would be much appreciated!

Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how the early morning writing-fests go; and I’ll try to ignore the dark, and the 4C temperatures, as I write!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Little Maddy Snark

From FAKING IT by Jennifer Hendren (c) 2010

Hopefully this is new to everyone. Enjoy!


My days fell into a routine over the next week. Each morning I would start off in Miranda’s area. About an hour or so into my shift, Gabe would show up and take me out to the shack. Frankly, these little rides were the most exciting moments in my operation. I prayed my lustful thoughts weren’t apparent on my face.

Since that first day, he had stopped flirting with me—in fact, he was downright cold to me most days— and I couldn’t help the stab of disappointment I felt. I’d taken great pains to make sure my hair was in place and my face clean when he showed up each day. Nevertheless, he hadn’t continued his overtures toward me. What was wrong with him? Or rather, what was wrong with me?

Even more confusing than my infatuation was the fact I hadn’t seen Reynolds at any point. I’d be glad when my driver’s training finally began. For one, I wouldn’t be wasting my time and Drew’s money on these useless poker games that weren’t getting me anywhere.

Okay, so I’d been losing. No biggie. Drew hadn’t threatened to cut me off—yet.

Second, I wouldn’t have the proverbial carrot dangled in front of my face on a daily basis. The sooner I got away from Gabe, the sooner I could get him out of my head and my nighttime imaginations. Altogether too much of my time had been spent in a little fantasy world where Gabe was shirtless and I…well, you get the point.

I’d managed to find out his full name from an employee roster the big boys had given me at the company meeting. Gabriel Marquette. It suited him.

As if on cue, his horn sounded behind me. I climbed up and took my place beside him.

Miranda gave me a disgusted look as we sped away. She had made her opinion on my little excursions clear the moment Gabe had dropped me back at her workstation that first day.

“You’re a real stupid one, ain’t ye?” she had said, stepping around a column that had hidden her from view.

I had to do a mental shake at that one, but had refrained from blurting out the first thing that sprang to mind. I couldn’t afford to alienate anyone that early in the game. So instead of the snarky retort I had wanted to give, I said nothing and walked on past her.

“He ain’t nothing but trouble, mark my words.”

I didn’t know whether she meant Gabe or Reynolds, but I didn’t care. I smiled regardless. Whether or not she realized it, I took her words in a positive way. Trouble equals success in my biz. And warnings meant I was on the right track.

Even so, her little tirades had grown tiresome.

She was still in sight as we stopped to let a group of workers pass in front of us. I leaned out, made eye contact, and flipped her the bird. Whatever she said in response—and it was plenty—was drowned out by the ambient noises in the factory.

Beside me, Gabe chuckled. That really made me smile.

The Last Hurrah


So, I've been totally floundering on the revisions front. It's been a VERY long dry spell… longer than I really care to admit. And well, honestly I was beginning to worry that it would go on For-Ever.


Well, for better or for worse, I dusted off FAKING IT this last week and have dug in for what I'm calling The Last Hurrah. In the words of a good friend, it's time to finish this Bitch. (g)


The title is really more tongue and cheek than anything. I realized (for about the billionth time) that my filing system for revisions of this MS are an ever loving NIGHTMARE. I have so many versions of this and that scene…all saved on numerous USB keys, various folders…all over the dang place. I decided I HAVE to get them in order and will now be saving all of the correct versions in my Last Hurrah folder*. Just to help get it straight. (*I've got so many FINAL folders it's ridunkulous. The Last Hurrah had a go get 'em feel and also stands out amongst the other folders.) I'm in no way saying I have X number of days to finish this thing or else, so no panicking. I'm panicking enough for all of us. J


So yes…FI is back on the table. I've read through about half of it, no notes…no serious revision plans at this point. I'm just trying to get a feel for her again… I haven't even read my "outline" as I don't want to go into this with an "I have to do it this way because that was the plan" attitude. Nope, I'm just feeling her out, and seeing where she takes me.


That said, I haven't written a single word yet. In all honesty, I'm Scared To Death to write. Scared like I've never been scared before. I liken it to stage fright only much, much worse. What if I can't do it?? What if I can't write funny anymore?? What if I can't get back inside Madison's head?? And don't get me started on the guys… heck, they were hard enough for me before. What if I can't find their voices again??


What if…what if…what if?!?!?!?!


Oh how these worries—and more—have been plaguing me. But as people keep reminding me, I need to forget all of this shit and just jump back in. I'll never know if I've "still got it" if I don't let "it" out to play. If only it were that easy!


That said, I'm trying to go at this with less of a fatalistic…this is my one chance to get it right or else…mind frame. I want to have fun with my writing again and that's what I'm setting out to do. I'm going to forget all about awaiting (I hope) agents and what I THINK they'll like or not like… I'm not going to (or at least try not to) focus on the finish line. I'm going to put one word in front of another and worry about all that other bullshit when it's finished. And you know I'll worry enough for ten lifetimes when I DO get to that point. J


So…a new attitude…and a new soundtrack! LOL. I was going through my "playlist" for FAKING IT and realized something. Holy Bejesus. Most of the songs I chose focus on the low points of the book – when Madison's morale is lower than low…when she's doubting herself and everyone around her…when she thinks there's no hope. WTF. I mean, really?? That isn't the person Madison is…and though there are some low patches in this book, I need to listen to music that expresses her better. A bit of sass…a bit of snark…and dammit, a whole helluvalotta fun. Tell me this doesn't say a whole heck of a lot about Madison and Gabe…or Maddy and Drew, for that matter.


MY LIFE WOULD SUCK WITHOUT YOU by Kelly Clarkson


Or how about HANDSHAKE by Tristan Prettyman.

video

Listen to her, people. She's fantastic. And damn if that doesn't put me in a good mood. J


Okay, I promised Deniz a snippet of FAKING IT. I am still looking for one, and will put one up if/when I find one.


For now, happy writing…and please send all positive writing vibes my way. Jen needs to find her mojo again. J


 

Another Big Sqwee Moment

Hey all,

Well, we thought it was about time to have another round of 20 Questions. And who would be better than our very own Jo!

I say "our" Jo because a lot of us on the forum have seen her rise from putting up snips to becoming a romance writing star. And we can't think of someone more deserving.

Jo, or Joanna Bourne, is simply a stunning writer. Her three novels, The Spymaster's Lady, My Lord and Spymaster, and The Forbidden Rose are marvelous. And after reading her answers, I can promise you all, she had oodles to teach us! And we're very grateful that she has consented to come on by and play.

So stop by this Friday for 20 Questions with Joanna Bourne.

SQWEEE!!! I can't wait!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Monster Mash

Hey all,

So remember my post on dry spells? Heh. Well this correlates directly with the serial as I can't seem to write a word of the final installment! Argh! There, I said it. I'm blocked. But not to worry! I'm following Claire's steps to getting in the zone and I'm feeling pretty good about getting back on track. In the mean time...

I'll just post at random! :)

So, I made a little trip over to Absolute Write today. Nothing like a little procrastination with the morning coffee! There is a discussion going on over "monster-mashups". If you don't know what that is, we're talking about the new fad of taking classic novels and integrating paranormal monster stories into them. The first being that huge hit, Pride Prejudice and Zombies.

This is basically Pride and Prejudice with Elizabeth Bennet being a zombie slayer on the side. Of course the book's creator got a huge advance, sold boatloads and garnered a movie option as well. And publishing being that wonderful bandwagon that it is, an explosion of subsequent monster mashups ensued, Jane Slayer, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Little Women and Werewolves...

Now a lot of writers take umbrage with this new trend. They see it as insulting. A gimmick. Someone has taken a story that is guaranteed to sell -since it's a classic and already has slews of fans- and simply added the modern fad of monster slaying, a la Buffy. Never mind that the original author's name is still on the title page, ensuring that these new books will pop up when a reader does a search for the classic... So sure the first time it was pretty brilliant, in an Andy Warhol sort of way. Pure marketing genius. But now? Enough already!

On the other hand, these books are obviously selling. Where's the harm if it makes everybody (from the writers, to the publishers, to the readers) happy?

I'll be honest, I haven't read one. I have no idea whether they are good books or not. But I can see the reason it's got so many writers disgruntled. It's hard enough to get published. And there are a lot of writers out there struggling to come up with original material. It seems almost a cheat for these mashups to get such success only by incorporating monsters into classics. But is it sour grapes? And is it really that simple? A good story is a good story. Right? Or wrong?

Are monster mashups really just fan fiction in disguise? And does it matter?

How do you all feel about monster mashups? Are you sick of seeing them? Do they insult your intelligence? Or is it all in the name of fun and these disgruntled writers should lighten up?

Inquiring minds...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

In the zone

Kristen talked on Monday about the creative well running dry.

I'm going to talk today about the exact opposite of that- those times when the creative well is so overflowing that you could supply your own village and sixty others without a blink. Kristen calls it being "in the zone", and I think that's very apt.

I'm in the zone right now. I've been here before- once in particular, between December 2006 and May 2007, when I cranked out no less than 120,000 words after joining the CompuServe Forum and getting inspired.

This time I've accelerated my rate even faster than that- I've written 55,000 words in three weeks.

But between May 2008 and now, I've been more or less dry. So why is it that you can have these periods of amazing productivity, and in between those have times of incredible apathy/ lack of motivation/ inability to write anything? If you can motivate yourself while you're in the zone, why doesn't it translate into an ability to get yourself out of the rut when you're down? And how exactly do you get yourself back in the zone when you've been out of it for a while?

I have a few ideas, since I'm so newly back in the zone that I can still remember what got me back on track. But first and foremost, above all else, I've got to say that I think the zone happens when it happens. I'm not sure you can actually create it at your own will- not fully. It strikes me as a confluence of mood, time, inspiration, ideas, and enthusiasm, all coming together at once. So all you can do is try to work on those factors, knowing that at some point they'll all be happening at the same time, and you'll have the zone back.

First point:

Keep writing. Even if your story bores you, even if you think everything you write is crap, even if you don't have a single idea in your head. You don't have to write your story- write anything. Write creative Facebook status updates, write a blog, write a diary, get involved in discussions on online forums. Email a loved one or a friend. Just keep stringing words together somehow, and whatever you write, make it good. In the end, when the time and motivation and ideas come together for you, you'll thank yourself for never getting out of practice at putting words, and more importantly your unique voice, down on the page. It's the number one factor, I think, in how successful you'll be at getting back to things.

Second point:

To kick start the zone, you need time. Time to get on a writing roll and crank out a good amount of words. A good amount is whatever constitutes a single big session for you- for some, that might be a few hundred words without a break. For me, it's more like 2-3000 words. When I'm having a great day, when I'm right on song and it's all working, that's what I'll get out.

You don't have to sit down expecting to achieve your best- but you do need to give yourself the time that, should you actually get on a roll this time, you're not going to cut yourself off before you get where you're going.

If you do get out a good amount of words, your writing self esteem goes up a big chunk. You're more motivated the next day. You do it again. Brilliant! Your confidence is back. It only takes three days of good consistent writing, IMO, to remember that you actually can do it. Less than that, and you can convince yourself it's a fluke, and you're still down and out.

So, how do you get three days of writing time? For me, there's only one answer, and that's to get away somewhere by yourself. I went away on a work trip that gave me time away from the toddler and the house, and all the other factors came together at the right time- especially the ideas and the inspiration- and bam. 25,000 words in one week. That's a roll that takes you somewhere, and by then you're well and truly in the zone. And when you're in the zone, suddenly everything that seemed hard- finding time, figuring out what to write next- seems easy.

So yeah. I'm recommending you take your own writing retreat, somewhere away from home and family and work, for not less than three days. Do it. Once a year should work, I think. You don't have to go far, but you do have to get away from your usual daily life.

Third point:

I think I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago in my post about why travel and writing went well together, but it's really become apparent to me now I'm home, and that is the need to give all of your focus to your writing when you're working on it.

Before I was back in the zone, I didn't think I had time to write. During the day, I'm running around after a toddler, trying to keep up the house, checking emails and Forums and Facebook and internet, and I never feel like I have enough time to get myself in the mood for writing, then write. I felt like I couldn't write unless I had a specific period of uninterrupted time- say a good two hours- and that's something I almost never get.

But my toddler is old enough to entertain herself for an hour now, and if she comes up for a bit of attention while I'm writing, it's not a bad thing for me to redirect her to another activity. Instead of having half my attention on what I'm doing and half on her for half the day, if I take an hour or so to really concentrate on writing and spend the rest of the day giving her my full attention, we're all happier. And I've found that following this theory, I actually have more time to write than I realised- I've managed thousands of words in the last fortnight at the same time as looking after the rest of my life.

One of the big reasons for that is my motivation and focus. Before, I felt like I couldn't use a half hour break to write, because I couldn't "get into it" in that small amount of time. But now, I'm already "into it" when I start- I'm in a perpetual state of having the story in my head all the time.

This is a factor I've noticed is quite important in the zone- the story is not something you have to work to think about. It's something that just occupies your mind at all times. That just comes from thinking about it and working on it plenty.

Fourth point:

Exactly what Kristen talked about on Monday- getting feedback. When I'm not "in the zone", I could care less about getting feedback on my writing. But as soon as I enter the zone, I'm like a crack addict. I want comments, critiques- hell, I just want to know people are reading it, and that's enough for me. I put loads of stuff out there, and the more comments I get the more it drives me forward.

I do think there's a difference in the kind of feedback you want in the zone, though- when you've finished your writing and you're in careful consideration of what stays and goes, you need good honest critique and partners who know how to constructively deconstruct your work to make it better. But when you're in the zone, what you really want is people telling you you're awesome.

Sad, but true. You want validation. You want fans! You want to be writing for someone other than yourself. It gives meaning.

Fifth point:

I've always hated it when people tell me to do this, because it doesn't seem remotely realistic, but I'm forced to admit that there's merit to it- I'm talking about the oft-repeated advice to write every day.

Like hell, my brain wants to tell me when I'm not in the zone. How can I find the time to do that?

But when I'm in the zone, as I've mentioned above, time no longer seems an obstacle. And as a result, I get to write each day- often 2000 words every day- and every word I write makes it more certain that I'll have the motivation to write the next day. The story is moving constantly. I'm not getting bored. Things are happening. I'm never stuck.

I've had three consecutive days off writing this week, and I'm getting twitchy as hell about it. But in lieu of writing the words I'd written for the preceding 21 days, I've been putting down plot thoughts and notes, following piece of advice number one, to just keep writing anything and everything.

Last but not least, I have a controversial point six, and it is this: I think depression often plays a role.

We're all artistic types, us writers. We're all introspective, and we write about other people as a way of examining the world around us. Though I have no scientific proof, I would happily guess that writers are probably more susceptible to depression than your average person.

I know I am, and I'm in the middle of my fourth run at antidepressants in the last ten years. But I'm coming to the tail end of my need for them, as I always do when these cycles begin to fade, and so I'm getting a little naughty about taking them regularly. I miss them more often than I take them.

And by coincidence, during the two biggest writing stints of the last month, both weeks in which I wrote over 20,000 words, I'd inadvertently forgotten to take my medication for more than 6 days in a row.

By the time I hit 6 days, I'm getting proper withdrawals- dizziness, headaches, crankiness- ah, the joys of modern chemical medicine. But I'm also starting to feel very different things. I've said before that antidepressants are vital for squashing the harshest negative feelings, but that at the same time they dull the highest excitement and happiness, too. And they always, always have an effect on my writing as a result- I don't get super hyped about the story. I don't have that desperate urge to write and keep writing.

Now, this may sound like an advertisement for not taking antidepressants, but let me fill you in on the flip side- it's exactly the same.

When I'm depressed, it has all the same effects on my writing. And it has further negative effects on my life as a whole, which is why the medication is absolutely necessary. It's quite the balancing act.

What I look forward to are the times when I don't need the medication, and I'm not trapped in negative cycles of thinking.

I raise this because I feel that many people out there who are missing their zone are underestimating the possible effects of depression on their writing. They can't get words on the page, so they beat themselves up more. That feeds into the cycle of depression even more, and it feels like they'll never get back to it.

But depression, like everything else, passes with time and effort. If there's one thing I've learned in years of attending counselling, it's that the "fake it til you make it" approach is critical to beating out negative cycles of thinking. Sure, you don't feel like writing. You don't even like it anymore. But if you analyse it critically, not applying emotions but logic, you know for a fact that you've loved writing in the past, and that it made you feel happy.

And so you follow the advice I've given above, and you just do it anyway. Put down those Facebook updates and those blog posts. Write words that you hate. Just keep on writing, though, and one day you'll remember that hey, you actually do love this.

And the next thing you know, you'll be right back in the zone, as if you never had a break.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

“Often you prefer to read a book than go to a party” – question from a Myers-Briggs personality test.

Well, Kristen’s great post on Monday really got me thinking. I was in the process of writing what turned out to be a very long-winded comment, so I thought I’d pick it up and plonk it down here as my post for the week.

Feed back. This is the topic that got my cogs spinning; why some of us need and thrive on it, while others (erm, that’d be me) writhe in agony at the thought of anyone reading anything less than my bestelling, Pulitzer Prize-worthy, hardcover.

OK. I’m not that bad. I do adore feedback when I get it. But as the ladies of All The World's Our Page will attest, the snips I send out to share are few and far between. And it used to bother me that I was so reluctant about sharing my work when others so obviously got such a huge charge and boost to their creativity by doing so. I wanted some of that good stuff, too, but just couldn’t seem to make myself send out anything. Then I realised my reluctance was hardwired in me, all because of my type – my Myers-Briggs personality type, that is.

I assume most of you have heard of, if not used, the personality inventory devised by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers (if not, here’s a quick overview.) According to their theory and process, there are sixteen possible psychological/personality types; taking a Myers-Briggs test will determine which type you fall into.

I’m firmly in the type known as ISTJ; Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judgment. Here’s a detailed run down of what it is to be an ISTJ, "The Duty Fulfiller" (oh man, that sounds so boring!) but basically, I prefer to live in my head, drawing energy from ideas and thoughts and reflections; I need to retreat to my cave and recharge if I have too much exposure to the outside world; I like my routines, rules and regulations; I’m dependable and responsible, organized and methodical; I can juggle and store a vast amount of facts; I prefer to work alone; I’m a perfectionist, but also a keen observer of life.

So it kind of makes sense that I’m not one to readily seek out feedback. I’m internally motivated, and my perfectionist streak makes it hard for me to let my work go.

It’s also interesting to note how my ISTJ attributes can be a bonus, as a writer. I don’t mind working on my own; in fact, I love it. I’ll drive myself hard, stick to my routines, soak up the little details of the world when I dare to venture out. I can keep track of a whole novel’s worth of facts and plot points, and twists and turns, in my head. And my ISTJ tendencies also help to explain why it’s taking me as long as it is to write my book – I have to work out how to do each and every step of this novel writing process exactly right, and “winging it” will never work for me!

Conversely, knowing I’m an ISTJ makes me aware of the pitfalls of my personality. Like my tendency towards hyper-perfectionism, which could see me writing draft number five hundred and twenty-nine of this book and still not being happy with it. And that my inability to let go and share my work, warts and all, can stop me from getting valuable and necessary feedback. Not to mention that my ability to force myself to stick to a writing routine can also tip into me slave-driving myself into creative burn out.

So, what’s your type? Here’s an online test, if you're interested in finding out. And in what ways do you think your type helps or hinders you as a writer?


Monday, June 21, 2010

Dry

Mondays are getting away from me lately. Correction, envision me hog tied and helpless on the ground as two children destroy the house. Yeah, that’s about the long and short of it.

Anyhoo…

Going dry. Specifically, going creatively dry. It happens to every writer at some point or another. Stress, life, whathaveyou sneaks up on you and wham, you can’t write a thing. Lately, I’ve been dry. That is to say, ideas swirl about in my head and yet when I sit down to write… nothing. Now, that could have something to do with the scenario mentioned above. It isn’t easy to write anything when you’ve got the kids home for summer vacation.

But it is more than that.

Because I DO get time for myself.

No doubt about it, I’m in a dry spell. Which is okay. I’ve had them. I’ve come back from them. But what to do when one is IN them?

Friends. Whine in their ear. g

Rachel was kind enough to point out that stress plays a major part with being creatively blocked. Oh, how right she is. I’ve been running on empty for a while. Creativity needs fuel. Not just the mental kind. We need to get out in the world, get exercise.

Getting out in the world always helps because truth is always stranger than fiction. There is endless fodder out there. It is up to you to soak it in. You can’t do that if you stuck in your house.

Exercise is important as well. A sluggish body leads to a sluggish mind. When I was pregnant with my fist child I didn’t write a thing. Between total fatigue and daily vomiting, I just wasn’t up for it. And at first, it really bothered me. I beat myself up for those endless months of not writing a thing. Until I let it go. We can’t be all things. My priority at that time had changed. I had a baby on the way. There was nothing wrong with changing my focus for a time.

Feed back.

Claire and I had a discussion about feedback this weekend. It occurred to me that feedback is essential. A writer works in isolation. We put countless hours in to creating worlds and then what? If we don’t get any feedback, we never know how our work affects people. This is slightly different than crits. Critiquing is essential. But simply having someone read your work, hearing what works and what doesn’t is a good way to keep you motivated. To fuel that creative well.

For me, this dry spell is annoying, but I’m not worried. Dry spells can be a good thing. Because once back in the saddle, you usually do amazing work. Heck, the last time I ended a dry spell a wrote 180 thousand words in five months. And loved every minute of it. I came back revitalized.

If you find yourself in a dry spell, don’t sweat it. Nothing makes that spell go on longer than stressing over it. Get out there, get some exercise, make contact with your writing partners. It’ll be okay.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Less is more

So, I'm now sitting pretty on about 45,000 words of my story after an unbelievable month of overdrive in the writing department. I've written close to 30,000, and I've pulled in the rest from stuff I've previously written. This is a good thing- I don't want my earlier drafts to come to nothing, despite the fact that the story has changed so much they're barely relevant anymore.

In the course of all this writing and salvaging, I've discovered and rediscovered a lot of things about how I write. One of the new things that has just struck me between the eyes has been a big revelation, but at the same time kind of obvious.

And that is, for me at least, less is more.

If I sit down and write my scenes to a high level of detail, incorporating every bit of sensory detail, inner feelings of the characters, etc etc etc, it takes me quite a while. And at the end of it, I might have four thousand or even six thousand words for a single chapter. This is what I had going on in my first draft- hugely detailed, and let's face it, bloated chapters.

The problem with those chapters was that in the course of trying to capture everything about the scene, I often lost sight of the core story- what the purpose of the chapter actually was. Every chapter has a purpose in the overall scheme of the novel- they each drive the plot forward. But I, in the meantime, was busy trying to be the best graphic writer I could be, making sure I got my settings just perfect, or my characters exactly described. I didn't mind if they wandered off track and talked about something completely irrelevant, because I figured it was all character development.

Which it is, but it doesn't belong in the story.

And herein lies my biggest problem, and the reason why I'm rewriting the lot- I'm not good at cutting things out when I'm editing. I'm much, much better at adding detail instead.

So, faced with a six thousand word chapter, I struggle to figure out what needs to go. I sit and look at it, and I frown at it, and quite possibly I say a few swear words. I read it until I know it off by heart, and I still can't decide what has to go. The major reason for this is, those chapters rarely contain the right material that I'd need to leave. It's why the parts I need to cut are not obvious- in most cases, I need to cut the lot.

Now, my approach this time has been different. Instead of worrying about setting, instead of fussing about how many times "he frowned", "she smiled", "he touched her arm", instead of fussing over dialogue tags and the like, I've just powered on with my writing, and I've made it spare.

My focus this time has been on two things- action, and dialogue. What these people are doing, and saying. These two things contain all the conflict of the story- not the setting or anything else. Just the people, and their doings.

It's a little bare in places, like a newly built house, where the people have moved in but they're still collecting furniture. But for me that's a much better start than the alternative- moving into a house that's too small, and having to cull your furniture because there's way too much of it jammed in there.

The better part is, every chapter does what it's supposed to. When I read through them all, I see a story- not just a collection of meetings, discussions and descriptions. Some chapters don't have beginnings yet, and some don't have endings. Some suffer from an awful excess of stage movements that appear in lieu of better description. Some of the dialogue is brief to the point of being abrupt, but it all contains the basics.

I can bulk out every single one of these things when I go to edit, and there's little I need to remove. But it's also going to be a lot clearer when I do come across something I need to cut, because it won't be hidden in amongst extraneous words.

But wait, I hear you asking- you already have 45,000 words! For the first quarter! And you're going to bulk that up?

Yes. Yes indeed. I'm thinking I might need to revisit the separation of the book into two stories, *again*. We'll see. But for now, I'm just enjoying the ride again.

On the agenda this week: I'm taking a sideways step and writing some alternative points of view that will definitely not appear in the final book. Namely, I'm writing scenes from Kit's and Lionel's points of view for the time when Bill is away at war and the two of them are left at home to deal with each other. I actually think there's a second book in that story alone- I'm quite awed by the power of their conflict. To keep her ailing father-in-law from finding out the shocking truth about his eldest son, Kit has to live with the guy who raped her while her husband is away at war, unable to protect her. But the tables have turned since he's lost a leg and contracted a terminal heart condition through his war injuries, and she's now the one with the power. The two of them coming to terms with all that has happened, and fighting it out for redemption and forgiveness and all of those things, is proving to be an amazing story in and of itself.

Once I'm done with that part, I'll be ready to write about Bill's return home to face his brother after Kit's death in childbirth...

Spoilt for Choice

Well, I’m afraid it’s another post of the “short and sweet” variety from me. I’m running against the clock to get the house, and the people who inhabit it, sorted out so we can get away for a short break, en famille. Yay!

I’m halfway through packing for four, I’ve cancelled the papers and made sure the house-sitter has the keys. And now, I’m facing the ultimate dilemma: what book to take away with me?

Well, I will definitely be packing the book I’m three quarters through, the fabulously talented Joanna Bourne’s The Forbidden Rose.



I am loving this book, and there is NO way I can leave it behind with Doyle and Maggie facing such turmoil! But I'll be finished it before our trip is done; what to read next?

See, this is where having a towering TBR pile is a curse. So many books make it so hard to choose. But after burrowing through my TBR pile this afternoon, I’ve narrowed it down to these choices:-


The Confessions of Catherine De Medici, by C.W. Gortner


Casanova, by Andrew Miller

The Pale Blue Eye, by Louis Bayard

... or Affinity, by Sarah Waters

And I’m stuck. Can anyone recommend one over the others? Otherwise I’ll just have to let my five year old pick, and that’ll come down to which cover has the shiniest, curliest, writing. J I suppose it's as good a way to choose as any!

















Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Food for Thought: When Your Kids Want to See

A while back I was in the end process of editing. This entailed reading through the manuscript to make sure I’d crossed all my “t”s and dotted all my lower case “j”s. A slog, to be sure. As I was staring at the screen like a zombie, my daughter sidled up and started to read along. Well, as much as she can. She’s still in the “core” words stage of reading. I.e. run, jump, dog, log, mommy, daddy, if, and, me…

Let me first say I am ecstatic that dear daughter is learning to read. Reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I can’t wait for her to be able to snuggle down in a chair and pour through books upon books. Only…

Only this time it went something like this:

DD- “Mommy.”

Me –still in editing daze- “Huh.”

DD- “What’s that word mean?”

Me –changing “it” to “is” (damn it all, how did I miss that?) “What word?”

Tiny finger coming into view. “That one.”

Me- looking. And… NIPPLE. “Ah, uh…” Frantically scrolling… “Er…”

DD- “Can you read the page to me?”

Me- Shite! “Uhm. Not right now, sweets. I’ve got to fix something else.” Find. Some. Other, page!!! More nipples! Scroll! Scroll!

DD- “But I want to read your book.”

Flaming of face and at a loss for words, I distracted her with a viewing of Wonder Woman on YouTube. But it begs the question. When will I let my daughter read my stuff? Will I ever want her too? And what does it mean?

Am I ashamed of the sex and violence in my stories? No. Not at all.

Or am I? I don’t know if it would ever make me comfortable to have my children reading my stories. Or my mother, for that matter.

But sooner or later, my children will learn to read. Should I be published by that happy time, there isn’t much I can do to keep them away from my books. What will I do then? Tell them it’s a grown up book, I suppose. Eventually, though, that won’t fly. So what to do?

What do you all think? Do you mind having your parents, children, friends, neighbors read your work? If you ARE writing stories with mature themes, what will you do when your kids express interest in your stuff? And do you see this as a sign of shame? Or perhaps just the uncomfortable feeling of those closest to you delving a bit too deep into your psyche?



Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why Facebook is the writing devil

[ETA: Coming to you a wee tad early this not-quite-Thursday-in-Australia-let-alone-the-US. Busy day for me tomorrow, and also I mostly forgot I was too early, so forgive me (g)]

I was going to go with What I've Learned Part 3, but this is part of what I've learned, and it's big enough to justify its own space. I might come back with something more scholarly and helpful next week. But for now, I'll just say this: I've learned that social networking is the devil when it comes to writing.

There, I said it. And okay, yes. Now I'm checking nervously over my shoulder to see if Facebook heard me. Please don't hate me, Facebook- you know we'll always be friends. Really!

But seriously- I love my social networking. It keeps me connected to friends and family, and it provides all kinds of stimulation- and therein, I think, lies the problem. I believe I've identified a new reason why Facebook (etc) is a dreadful drain on writers, and I shall explain.

Today on Facebook, amidst my 299 friends, there was a variety of drama- happy, sad and everything in between- played out. I'll give you a little cross-section, shall I?

- A friend's sister had her much awaited baby
- A high school classmate got news that he'd passed his PhD
- One person injured herself belly-dancing. Yes she did.
- A couple more lamented the work it takes to raise a baby/ toddler. I may or may not have been one of them.
- Someone else announced a change in jobs and a move to the city
- Someone else had an essay due but was leaving it right to the last minute
- Another friend won a prize in a radio contest
- Someone else was stung by a wasp
- Another was preparing for her engagement party
- I got an invite to a slumber party. No, not for my kid- for me! A grown-up slumber party! Love it :)

As you can imagine, that's just a few of the 200+ status updates I read every day. This information in and of itself is not especially complicated stuff. Reading those sentences won't give you a great deal of information about those people and their lives, and it won't take up a lot of space in your head.

But for me, I know every one of my Facebook friends from a particular place and time. Some I know fleetingly, most I know moderately well, and a chunk I know very well indeed. Regardless, for every status update that appears in my feed, there's a hidden backstory.

For the select group represented above, I could tell you oh-so-many secrets and lies. It'd be like a matching game- which one of them has a baby born with a brain injury? Who follows Scientology? Which is an archaeologist? Who lives in America, who lives in Australia? And more and more and more than that. Every time I read a status update, that person's backstory flits through my mind, and I think about them.

Which means, of course, that I spend all day immersed in other people's dramas and delights. I'm people-watching from my virtual high point, getting my fill of human intrigue without even needing to leave the house.

(I do, by the way, leave the house.)

Anyway! I'm getting there, I'm getting there. I realised as part of my big trip last week that limited Internet access made a big difference to my writing productivity. Again, I thought at first that it was simply a matter of time- don't spend hours pfaffing on the Internet, and you'll have hours to write. This is obviously true anyway.

But since getting home a couple of days ago, I've discovered that I'm straight back into bad habits- perusing Facebook when I could be writing, for example- and that even when I do have the time to write, I don't feel like it.

Why? Because I'm all drama-ed out without needing to open up my story. I'm getting my human drama, my "character interaction", through real people instead of fictional ones.

What I need to do, I'm realising, is spend time (mentally) with my characters, and limit time spent with Facebook and the like. Fifteen minutes is all I need to check my email, the Writers Forum, Facebook and the various other places I waste time. After the first fifteen minutes, all I'm usually doing is just re-visiting all those places anyway, hoping someone will entertain me. But after the fifteen minutes is up, I need to back away from the Internet and just think. Think about my story and my characters, and what's going to happen next.

While I was away, I noticed that I had a perfect handle on that. I would open up the computer at night, and I would know exactly where I wanted to start, and what was going to happen next. I tried that today, and nope. Total blank. And I'm certain it's because the bit of my brain that thinks about wars and weddings and sibling rivalry is already full of all those things, and so stuffed with human backstory that it's hard to step back into the mindset of someone who was born in 1896, many decades before the first computer ever existed.

So! Another new resolution- I'm going to limit the time I spend using social networking sites, and aim to think about characters and plot instead. It'll be like my own little fictional Facebook in my head. They can poke each other and sign up their cats. But most of all, I'll be thinking about what comes next, and they can tell me how they feel about it, perhaps in 140 characters or less (g).

What I've Learned So Far, Part 2 ... and Kittens!


Well, I was going to follow Kristen’s very helpful tips with some of my own, but events have conspired against me (more on this below) and I just don’t have the brain-power to put together anything lucid. Instead, I'll simply hit the highlights:

Be patient. And I mean be patient with your writing. Even though I am DYING to finish this book, the more I panic and rush my writing, the less satisfied I am with the end result. Really, what I’ve learned is that I’ll never be one of those writers who’s able to churn out thousands of words a day *cough, Claire, cough*. And that’s OK. I’ve learned that I write in layers – first, I write a quick skeleton of a scene, then I go back and add the muscle, then the flesh, and lastly, the quirky, interesting bits, like the heart shaped birthmarks. And that takes time. I’ve also learned that sometimes I really do need to back away and take a day or two just to wool gather about my book. So learning to be patient is a big one for me.

Give yourself permission NOT to write. Being a little on the obsessive side, at first I tried to religiously stick to the old “write every day” credo. That nearly drove me nuts, especially when life intervened and I’d have to miss a day, or two, or three and I’d start to panic and beat myself up about it. No more. Weekends are now writing-free zones, and my family, my writing, and I, are much better for it.

Read, read and read some more, and never stop. This is the best way I’ve found to soak up the craft of writing. Plus, reading a brilliant book always inspires me to get cracking with my own. Double win!

Get some sleep! Oh boy, I just CANNOT write well when I’m sleep deprived. Unless I’m on the home stretch of a book, I will never be one of those writers who churns out the words in the wee small hours. Diana Gabaldon, I ain’t! And sleep deprivation is the reason for my abovementioned lack of brain-power and the brevity of this post – I’m suffering from it, badly. I had a couple of very late nights on the weekend – fun, and totally my own fault. Then Monday, our house alarm malfunctioned and went off at 4am, waking the whole house with a nice shot of adrenalin; and yesterday, my five year old daughter malfunctioned and woke up at 3am (waking only me this time. Aren’t I special? :-/) Not fun, and not my fault. Grrr.

So I will leave you with one last thing I know about writing … that I enjoy it much more when I have furry, four-legged, company. I’ve missed this since the last of our cats died in March, but the cavalry is coming in the form of the two new kittens we picked out a couple of weeks ago, who will join our madhouse in July. Here's a picture of the critters (they’re Devon Rex kittens, which accounts for their kinda odd, gremlin-like appearance.) Oh, and that’s another thing I know - baby animal pics always make me smile, even when I feel like crud. J



Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Serial Blues

This is a pretty timely post for me as I'm really making an effort to jump back into my writing. I know I said I would as soon as I quit my second job, but things have been a bit crazy…or rather, I've gone a little crazy with socializing since then. You have to understand that I haven't had many Fri/Sat nights to myself in a very long time, so I've been doing a little catching up on all the fun times I've missed. That said, I'm getting some of it out of my system and would really like to refocus on getting these dang stories out of my head and on to the page.

Even my reading time has been put to the wayside with everything going on, which is just irritating. Nothing I love better than snuggling up with a good book. I recently started reading the next in line in a series I ADORE, and have found myself becoming slightly irritated with the author. Said author shall remain nameless, because I hear she redeems herself quite nicely in the next book. That said, I thought I'd delve into why I'm annoyed, and why that annoyance sparks concerns with my own work.

First, let me tell you why I love this series. It's wonderful, frankly. And I think she did a superb job of world building. Everything has been well set up, the characters and their roles defined… you know how things work in this world…what the rules are…who is bad, who is good. YAY for her world building. It's awesome. Add to that some kickass characters and story lines…and this series is just fantastic. Then came this book…

She pulled a quick one. Through in a new type of character that had before gone unmentioned. This is fine of course, there are always surprises in books…especially series, but I really feel the way she did it was SUCH A COP OUT. She pulled it off (or didn't pull it off) by saying knowledge of this race (for lack of a better term) of people are kept secret until a person reaches a certain age. I mean…W.T.F.??What kind of crap is that? To think (1) anything in society of this significance can be kept under wraps is fairly implausible (2) the people in the dark are teenagers. If anyone is connected to the world at large and can tap into the underground crap that goes on, it's teenagers. If there wasn't full knowledge, there would at least be rumors…or myths…or whatever. Something.

To put it bluntly: It bugs. Whereas I devoured the other books in this series, I find myself meandering through this one. This is actually the second time I've started it and I can tell you EXACTLY where I got hung up both times. The part where they introduce this hidden race. Oh le sigh. Yes, I need to get over it and move on, but there are other things bugging me.

The second major one is that she's using a series of flashbacks to include things that WEREN'T in the previous books. Most are fairly simple interactions between characters that COULD HAVE happened off stage, but GAH. Irritated here. It's as though she's suddenly realized she doesn't have the necessary foundation for things occurring in this book and therefore must go back and create them after the fact. CHEATING. She's CHEATING.

LOL. Any Joss Whedon fans out there? Okay, I'm going to cop to the fact that I got slightly irritated when Dawn arrived on the scene. It seemed like such a CHEAT to create Buffy a sister out of thin air. Granted, I ultimately forgave him because he made it work…but yeah, it bugged for quite some time. And don't even get me started with the "one slayer at a time" rule that he bended at his will. I loved the series, and yes, he ultimately made it work…but was he cheating? Probably. J

And that brings up my main concerns as I head back to work on my books. This doesn't really have much to do with Madison and her crowd. Her world – hell, I've lived in it. I understand the rules and who is who. And I have a fairly good idea of where the series is going. Yes, there are big reveals in later books, and I do worry from time to time if they'll be too much for my reading audience…but I think I've done a pretty good job of setting up things in book one. And well, yeah, I'm not overly concerned about it.

My main concerns surround BY THE PALE MOONLIGHT. When I originally started it, I intended it to be a one book, one shot deal. Then I started writing… LOL. It grew…and it grew…and it grew… SHIT A BRICK. Before I knew it, I realized that I would probably end up with at least 85K….and that alone would NOT tell the entire story. It was right about then that I decided to break it up into 2-3 books. Maybe more. That said, I'm worried about it. Whether or not I've put enough in to set up what I have planned for the later books. And when I say "planned," I mean I have a vague idea of what is going to happen. How I'm going to get there is a little fuzzy. J

Reading this book mentioned above, I'm getting even more worried. To tell the truth, there's a big reveal at the end of book one that I'm not sure I've properly laid the foundation for. Basically, I'm going to reveal it…and book two is going to be spent trying to figure out how the heck said event transpired…. and well, this is when the "true" rules of this world will be explained.

Problem? I'm not exactly sure _I_ know the rules yet. As you know, I'm a chunkster… And well, I consider each book separate globs that I pound into shape. This method is a little nutso, but it works great with the FAKING IT series because each book is very self-contained. Yes, there are story arcs that bridge all of the books, but ultimately each book contains a story from start to finish, and could most likely be read separately.

I'm beginning to worry this isn't the case with BTPM. And if this is true, I may be in trouble with the way I've approached this series of books. I DO NOT want to cheat is what it boils down to.

Hmmm…food for thought. Any opinions? Can anyone think of other examples when an author has pulled a rabbit out of a hat? Did it work/not work?
 

Monday, June 7, 2010

What I’ve Learned So Far


Hey All,

Hopefully Jen, Claire, and Rachel will have something more to add, but I thought I’d start in on what I’ve learned during about writing after all these years. Yeah, how did it get to be YEARS??

Today I thought I’d talk about plotting and conflict, which for me, means talking about my characters. Plotting was my Achilles heel, do doubt about that. When I started writing, I didn’t really have a story in mind. I had characters. Characters would pop up in my mind fully formed and rearing to go. I’d hear them quite clearly and tended to follow where they wanted to go. Mushrooms, Diana calls them. And this was all very good. Characters, likeable and fully-fleshed ones, are the pillars of a good story. Except…

Well there is a huge danger in just letting your characters go willy-nilly on their way. The danger being that you have this meandering story that, well, goes nowhere. This is a problem for several reasons. One, in this day and age, new novelist just aren’t going to be given that sort of room. Your book has a space limit. Long, meandering novels just won’t fly for most publishers. Which means that you are going to have to tighten that plot, shorten that word count. Sigh. Sad but true.

But more importantly, things tend to happen to these characters, sure, but this is more a reactionary process. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

1. Reactionary Plotting

This is when you let things happen to your character, rather than having the plot revolve around the character acting. Huh? Well, it is like this. It is all very well to throw obstacles and conflict in your character’s way but the key is that the plot propels forward based on what actions the MC takes rather than how the MC reacts.

See the difference? One has the character bumping along, towed by life. The other is when a character takes charge of his life, and hopefully changes in some way by the end of the journey. One story might be interesting to the reader, the other will engage the reader. It is often the difference between a lose plot and a tight, ‘unputdownable’ plot.

Why is this? In part I think it is because, as readers, we admire action. Often times, when we read about a MC who has conflict after conflict thrown at them without working in a decisive manner to solve the conflicts, we start to think, “what now?” or “really? Another issue?” However, when the character acts, we often sit back with anticipation and wonder, how with Mr. X get out of this pickle?

2. Conflict for conflict’s sake.

Here was a hard one for me to work through. Conflict is awesome. Layers of conflict are even more so. But at some point, you are going to slip into over-complicated melodrama. Or farce. Does everyone remember KISS? Or Keep It Simple Stupid (I’m sure there is a nicer term for that last “S” but I don’t know it *g*)

The best books have conflict, but it is a simple thing. Yes, the stakes are constantly upped, but the conflict is never a matter of the writer tossing as much as she can at the MC. No. The conflict is an organic thing. This is a mystery to be solved, a problem at hand. And let’s be clear, when I say conflict, I am discussing plot devices –i.e. occurrences that happen within the story.

Let’s look at the typical soap opera model.

In a soap, conflict goes something like this:

Man and woman fall in love, except there is someone else who loves either man or woman as well. That someone else does everything under the sun to steal their love away. Meanwhile woman finds out that she is really the illegitimate daughter of man’s deepest enemy while man finds out that the only way he can save woman from her sudden deadly illness is to sleep with evil woman villain who happens to have the formula for the only known antidote… and on it goes.

It can make for great drama. And yet it gets overwhelming, doesn’t it? And farcical.

In short, your MC’s need only have simple goals, desires, wants. And yes, you should throw obstacles in their way, but let those obstacles grow naturally, and NOT be there for shock factor alone. Or to look at it another way, everything in hindsight should make sense. Revelations coming from that next step, rather than the next step always being needed because of a new conflict. Clear as mud? Good. Onto the next problem.

3. Loving your characters too much.

Ah, this was SUCH a problem for me. What do I mean by too much loving? Well, it goes something like this…

You fall so in love with your characters that you want to spend all your time with them. Hence, there will be scene after scene with your character doing something wonderful, witty, exciting, etc. This is a bit of a Mary Sue issue. Sure, these scenes can forward the plot, give good headway into character development and all that. But why are you really writing them? If it is because you simply love spending time with your characters, beware.

No one is going to have the same level of total connection with your characters as you do. And even if they do, at some point, all of these great little scenes are going to have the negative effect of bloating your plot.

I can’t tell you how hard this one is for me. I have so many cut scene that I simply love. I adore them. But in the end, I had to bite that bullet and realize that they weren’t really needed. A scene these days needs to do double, triple time. I’ve said that before. But it is SO true. In editing my current manuscript, my agent said, ‘Uh, sorry, you’re going to have to cut 100 pages.’ Well, shite. I mean, I had already cut a load of them. These scenes were essential!! So what to do?

In the end, I had to look at every scene, identify what I was trying to convey in regards to PLOT. Inevitably, what forwarded the plot took up about ten percent of the scene. Hence, I had take that key info and condense it into another scene.

Some of these types of cuts are painful. Hell, I mourn some scenes. Character development is always good. But if we do our job well, character development will be present in every line, but we must keep our eye on moving the plot ever forward.

Novel writing is tough. It is an art and a craft. No matter how much fun that initial falling in love with your story phase it, the truth is, you are going to have to be a general. And a strong one at that. You are going to have to take control of all aspects. Learn when to cut the bloat, understand when to redirect, retreat, and –sadly- have a bit of a dispassionate eye toward your troops. Tough decisions must be made and there is no place for sentimentality.

Of course, this is just one writer’s opinion. I’d love to hear what the rest of you have learned…

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday snippet

Hello from me on a Sunday- how unusual! I thought since I have 13,000 shiny new words that I'd post a little snippet from BETWEEN THE LINES. Hopefully the other girls might do the same from their works in progress to give you something to read on your Sunday.

This snippet comes from 1915, when Bill is looking after the farm while everyone else around him has gone away to war, including his brother Len and his fiance Kit's brother Tom. Len, of course, attacked Kit before he went away, and they've all been dealing with the fallout since. Tom joined the Army just to go look for him to bring him to account, and they're all worried about what he might do. And Bill and Kit, though they'd been intimate before the attack, haven't touched each other since. These are the issues they're dealing with in this little bit. It's in progress and not edited, so excuse any shonkiness (g). Hope you enjoy!

#

The next months passed in a blur of work. Harvesting season came around a couple of weeks before Christmas, a month after the papers showed the big pack of ships leaving port in Albany, bound for the other side of the world.

Len was on them, somewhere, or so they had to assume. Tom, too.

Kit was working with them now that Len and Tom were gone, and she was the equal to any man as far as effort went. He’d never been as proud of her as he was to watch her riding high in the saddle, shouting out to the dogs as they herded up the sheep, or whistling to the horses as they worked together to bring in the crops and level the field again after. She might not have the size or the strength, but he’d take her as crew over his brother any day.

He started the sowing early that morning, knowing it was the day she did the washing first. It was a hot January day, and the heat beat down on his neck as he worked and rose back up at him out of the soil. He was lost in the rhythm of reaching into the bag, pulling out seed, slinging it side to side, and he didn’t realise she was there until the wind switched directions and whipped her voice around.

“Bill!”

He stood fast, and scanned the field with a hand over his eyes. He spotted her running toward him up the hill, skirts flapping, one arm up in the air. She’d taken to wearing pants around the farm, but of course she still wore a dress when she went into town, so she must have been in.

She was puffing like a steam train by the time she got to him. “Here! In the mail!” She held out a piece of card, and when he took it she dropped her hands onto her knees to catch her breath.

The postcard was brief, and it wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as she’d made it look, racing up here like that. He read it out loud.

“Dearest Kitty,
In Egypt now with the boys. No news.
Love Tom.”

He looked up at her. “No news?”

She was almost recovered now, standing up straighter and breathing like normal, but her cheeks were flushed pink and her lips were a little open. “No news is good news. We don't want Tom to find him.”

“We don’t?”

She shook her head. He nodded toward the nearest stack of bales, which cast a thick shadow across the stubbled ground. They made their way over to it and sat down together, backs up against the itchy hay, glad to be out of the burning sun. Her leg pressed against his, and he was painfully aware of the way her skirt was sitting just above her ankle. He tried not to look, without much success.

“We don’t?” he prompted, gently.

She looked thoroughly determined. “We don’t. It happened. It’s finished. I’m starting next week at the school, and Len’s gone. We want Tom to come home, not to do something stupid.”

He pursed his lips a little. “It’s not that easy.”

“It is. I say it is.”

He opened his mouth to speak again, but then he noticed how white her fingers were, clenched in on themselves, and he thought better. There was nothing they could do, sitting here in this field, except forget Len and hope Tom was home soon.

Kit rummaged around in her skirt pocket and pulled out a round of damper. “I brought you some lunch.”

His stomach rumbled loudly in reply, and she laughed, pulling out wax-wrapped chunks of ham and cheese, and even a little jar of pickled onions in brine.

“You look after me so well.”

She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek, but by the time he turned his lips toward hers, she was busying herself with the food. She chattered on about town as she cut slices of meat with her pocket knife and tucked them into torn bread, telling him about who she’d seen and what they’d been up to. He could remember his mother doing the same before she got sick, coming home full of gossip for his father. Just like his dad, he couldn’t keep track of all the comings and goings. It seemed to be a uniquely female way of looking at the world.

He tucked into his sandwich when she handed it to him and contented himself with watching her eat. She was tiny, like a little sparrow. Neat bones in her fingers and wrists and collarbones, plumes of hair escaping their knot to flap in the wind. It had been months since he’d seen her without her clothes on. He craved it like a man in the desert craves water. He needed it.
He set his sandwich aside, leaned in and kissed her neck, just beneath her ear. Just where she liked him to kiss her.

She stiffened up and stopped chewing. He sat back.

She wasn’t looking at him. She was staring fixedly at the red earth in front of her, like a statue of herself.

“I’m… sorry,” he said. It was clear he’d done the wrong thing.

She shook her head, making curls bob, and took a big gulp to finish her mouthful. “It’s okay,” she almost whispered.

He leaned towards her again, but she put her hand up.

“I mean… it’s okay. But… I’m just not ready.” She looked up at him with such pain in her eyes that he felt the stab in his own chest. Until that very moment, he’d thought Len was gone. Really gone. But he wasn’t. He was right here, sitting in between the two of them. Still with his hands all over her.

The wash of emotions almost drowned him in one hit. “I thought… Well, are we still going to get married?”

She answered him by turning the other way. The bottom seemed to drop out of his stomach, and he wasn’t hungry anymore.

“Aren’t we?”

She turned back, tears in her eyes. “I want to marry you. I do! I still do. But… I want to wait for Tom to get home.”

He nodded. The way she said it told him it was a convenient excuse more than a heartfelt desire. “That could be a while yet. He thought he’d be back by Christmas, remember? And he’s not even fighting yet.”

“Perhaps he won’t have to fight,” she said brightly. “Perhaps it’ll all be over before he gets there.”

“Maybe.” The way the papers were talking about it, that didn’t sound likely. He reached out a tentative hand and touched hers. After a moment or two she opened her fingers and let him hold on. That was all they’d done since September. Just held hands, touched each other in passing. She’d pecked him on the cheek once or twice, and he’d kept his hands to himself.

“Kit…” He didn’t know how to say it without sounding like he was pushing her, and he knew she couldn’t be pushed. “I miss you. I miss us. Don’t you?”

She closed her eyes and turned her face up to the sky. “Of course I do. But when I think about you like that…” She dropped her head. “I think about him. I can’t stop myself. I don’t know how. And I’m not ready.”

If she thought about him half as much as he thought about her, then Len was spending an awful lot of time in her head. “Don’t let him come between us. Please!”

She looked up at him. “I don’t want to, but…”

He leaned forward impulsively and kissed her on the lips. She drew back, but he reached around and pulled her in, all the way onto his lap, holding her close. After a few moments, the tension started to ebb out of her back, and then her tongue flicked against his and she kissed him back. Her hand snaked around the back of his neck and pulled him closer.

After a few minutes of that, he was ready to explode on the spot. He pulled her gently sideways, aiming to lay her down on the hay, but she went stiff again and broke away.

“No! No. I’m not ready for that.”

“You weren’t ready for this a minute ago.” As soon as the words were out, he regretted them. She looked as though she’d been slapped. “Sorry. Sorry! I didn’t mean to say that. I’ll do whatever you want, and nothing more than that. I promise.” He pulled her back again and kissed her softly on the lips. “I'm not my brother.”

She nodded, stroking his cheek. “I know you’re not. Let's just... be together for a while. Please.” She settled in against him and he pulled her close. After a while, she whispered, “That was nice.”

He nodded, his cheek against her hair. It was. But he wished that he could have all of her, mind, body and soul, like he had before. And he didn’t know if he’d ever get it back again.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Claire's patented airline theory of writing focus

I come to you from Sydney, Australia, on the other side of the country from my usual digs. I've just spent most of the last week in Canberra, our nation's capital, attending a conference for work.

And in the three days I spent travelling and staying in a hotel, I wrote no less than 13,000 new words.

Let me say that again- THIRTEEN THOUSAND WORDS in three days.

:0

Pretty amazing, huh? The funny thing is, I always have got a lot of writing done while travelling. I used to travel one week in two for my archaeology work, and I wrote thousands upon thousands of words then. I thought it was baby brain that had curtailed my output since Sophie arrived, but now I'm wondering if it's actually because I'm no longer travelling so much. Not that I'd trade one of those things for the other, but still- thinking about it has led me to the reasons why travel is so good for writing, and to a new theory on focus and productivity at home.

The reasons I've come up with are as follows.

1. Solitude

When you're travelling alone, there are no interruptions from family. No obligations. You don't have to get anyone dinner or do the dishes or feed the cat. You are responsible only for yourself, and you decide what you're going to do and when. These are ideal circumstances to spend a good amount of time writing.

2. Limited activities

When you're on an aeroplane travelling, you can't use the Internet. You can't get up out of your seat and wander off to make a cup of tea. You can wander, sure, but you don't get far and there's nothing to do. You can't turn on the TV to see what's on- or if you have one of those little seat-back units, you can, but again you're limited to what they show, and odds are good you won't find it interesting. Your distractions are comparatively few. And so you can focus fully on your writing without any of the usual excuses.

3. Time limits

Not only do you have a specific period of time on an aeroplane, but your time is organised by other factors. For the first half hour, during ascent, you can't use electronic equipment. Ditto for the last half hour. Somewhere in the middle, you get a meal served. You can turn it down, of course, but a girl's got to eat! My flight to Canberra went a little like this, timewise:

4:30pm- depart. No electronics during ascent.
5pm- Electronics allowed. Computer on. Get writing!
6pm- Dinner served. Half an hour to eat before it's all cleared away.
6:30pm- Back to writing
8pm- Descent begins. Computer has to go off.
8:30pm- Arrive.

In my four hour flight, I had a total of 2.5 hours writing time- and I got 4000 words written. I looked at it like a mini marathon- I had a particular amount of time to write, and I just wanted to get as much done as I could in that time.

4. Time to think

This is quite an important factor, I think- not only do you get time to write on a plane, but you get time to think about what you're going to write. For the half an hour at the beginning and end where you can't use your computer, you can either focus on the fact that you may well die shortly (if you're a nervous flier like me!), or you can use that time to think about what you have written and what you will write next. Time to think is something I know is lacking from my daily life, and it's more important than you realise. You also get time to think in cabs and while you're eating your solitary dinners.

So, there you go. My four factors as to why travelling is great for writing.

But we don't all travel all the time- most of us are stuck in the one place, living our lives day to day. So it occurred to me, during some of my thinking time, that it would be possible to take all these factors and apply them to writing at home.

How? By using the same principles during a time-limited writing session.

It takes four hours to fly to Canberra. If I planned to write for four hours on a Saturday, the same amount of time I'd spend travelling, I could replicate all the same conditions I'd get on that flight.

First, I'd close myself in my office so that I didn't have distractions.

Second, I could plan my time the same way. Half an hour of "ascent" to do non-writing things (in this case, probably bugger around on the Internet), then solid writing time, then a break to eat or have a cup of tea, then straight back to it.

Third, limiting access to distractions. Once writing time starts, there ARE no distractions. They don't exist as far as you're concerned. No access to the Internet. No getting up and wandering, beyond the office.

And lastly, write like that's all the time you've got to do it. Go hell for leather and get as much done as you can.

I'm planning on using these theories at home, now that I've given myself such an awesome head start. And next week, I'm going to talk about some of the writing skills I've learned or remembered while undertaking this mini marathon. I'll also post some little snips of what I've written. I've made it 3/4 of the way through my WWI section thanks to this trip, and I've had the biggest revelation of all time in relation to this story- the biggest possible change. Are you ready for this? I'll leave you to contemplate:

Lionel is no longer going to die in the war...

Mwahaha.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cos my baby just a-wrote me a letter ...

I received an invitation in the mail last week. Beautifully hand written on thick, creamy paper, it made a delightful change from the avalanche of bills that usually spew forth from my letterbox. And it was doubly delightful because it was an invitation to a wedding. I haven’t been to one in years, as all my friends and family seem to have finished with that cycle of life and are instead moving on to 40th birthday parties … a little depressing, but still, better than my parents and my in-laws, who are busy on the funeral circuit.

But I digress.

The excitement of receiving personal, hand-written mail got me thinking - when did I last put pen to paper and write - and post - a proper letter? Not for a very, very long time. These days, with email, texting, Facebook and Skype, it is so easy and quick to communicate electronically; why would we bother with the more laborious and time-consuming option of hand writing and posting a letter? It just doesn’t make sense to do so.

Still, I can’t help thinking that we’re losing something with the demise of the letter …

My (now) husband and I got together way back in 1990. He was 21, I was 18, we were in lurve … and six months into our fledgling romance the company he worked for sent him across the other side of the world to Florida. For nine whole months. Back then it seemed like we would be separated for an eternity, and in a way, we were; in 1990 there was no email, no texting, no Skype, and international phone calls were HUGELY expensive (I remember a single 20 minute phone call cost me $80. Ouch!) So the only way we could keep in touch regularly was to write letters.

And boy, did we write! Something like four or five letters a week. I still remember the excitement of opening the letterbox and seeing those blue, airmail envelopes with those American stamps. And the thrill of opening those letters, knowing he’d touched the paper I held in my hands. Nine months of letter writing kept our fledgling romance blooming; must’ve worked, because 20 years later, we’re still here. J

Now, I’m the first to admit that I would have jumped at the chance to keep in contact with the man by email or Skype. They’re instant, and they’re easy. But they’re also impermanent. Unless you print out an email, it’s gone once you clean out your inbox. And if we’d relied on emailing each other, we wouldn’t have what we have now – a wooden keepsake box stuffed full of letters. Hundreds of them. I’ve kept them all, his and mine, and once in a blue moon we read a few, have a giggle at our younger selves and feel grateful for each other. Would we be able to wander down memory lane in this way if we’d emailed? I don’t think so.

And then I think of all the letters that researchers and biographers read to inform their studies of people who lived years and years ago … what do they rely on now? Scouring outdated hard drives for fragments of emails? It’s not the same as holding a delicate, time-worn page that someone poured their heart out on, or ranted away on, or pondered the universe …

Anyway, back to the wedding invitation. There were two options to RSVP – either by writing and mailing an RSVP to the bride’s mother, or by email. Which option do you think I chose?

That’s right. I emailed. :-P

In the end, convenience won out over the opportunity for me to write and post a note expressing my delight at being invited to the big day, something the bride and groom might have kept for posterity. Ah well, what can I say … except that next time, I won’t be so slack. Next time, I’ll take the time to write and post something that significant. For not only is it a quiet thrill to receive snail mail these days; letters are, to quote Goethe: “... among the most significant memorials a person can leave behind.”