Progress, progress

I’ve been slowly making progress since my last post. I’m nearly two-thirds of the way done with draft number four, which I hope is my final draft. I was going gangbusters in January, February slowed down as I had a freelance web design project to do, and then things picked back up in March. April was challenging because of some health issues, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be better able to manage those in the next couple of months.

While going through this latest draft, I’ve noticed some interesting tics I have. Whenever I want to downplay something (that really doesn’t need to be downplayed – usually context is enough) I use the word “merely.” I would sometimes use that word, or a variant, dozens of times within a chapter (which seem to average about 20 pages in the current font and spacing). I think I managed to reduce my word count quite a bit just by cutting out that word. As an aside, I did leave it in the few times it made sense.

Another thing I noticed I spent a lot of time doing was using words other than “said.” “Growl,” “snapped,” and “barked” were the most common. I guess I’m writing about a pack of wolves or something? I would often pair these words with a facial expression, such as a scowl, so sometimes using “said” worked just fine, sometimes using nothing at all worked better.

Something else I discovered is that I think I can do without an entire couple of chapters in the middle. I’m planning on doing a fifth draft and leaving them out, then rereading to see if the story has lost anything critical. I’m reasonably confident about the quality of my writing, but one thing I feel particularly confident about is that the story reads pretty quickly. I also enjoy reading it, which has made working on it a lot easier.

Sometimes I’m still frustrated by how long it has taken me to do the revisions, since it only took me a year of lunch breaks and a few extra hours here and there to write the first draft. On the other hand, I feel that the second book has benefitted greatly from percolating in my brain for the extra time. I’ve completely revised the ending in my mental outline, and I think the entire series will be stronger for it. As rewarding as the revision process has been, I’m still very much looking forward to getting back to doing some writing!

Slowly Coming Back

Happy 2012! I can’t believe it’s been a year since my last post. I fully intended to come back and write here, just as I fully intended to work more on my story. Unfortunately I didn’t end up returning to this blog, just as I was able to make little progress on my story.

I wouldn’t say I made no progress, however. I’ve had a lot of time to brainstorm book two, and I think I’ve made some good strides in imagining certain plot points and scenes for that book. I think about it all the time, even if I don’t actually get to write or revise.

I have had time to read, and I’ve read a lot. I think I’ve learned many things that I can apply to my revisions of book one, so hopefully the work will be stronger for my hiatus. Hope springs eternal.

This year I intend to get some of my life back from the forces that ripped it away from me last year – my mother’s illness, a gigantic project at work and the resulting overtime demands, and sleep-deprivation. My son is now sleeping through the night and sometimes even goes to sleep early. My mother’s situation is slowly resolving itself. The project at work is winding down to manageable levels.

That means I intend for 2012 to be the year I get my writing back on track. I think that book one is really close to being ready…now I just have to decide if I want to try to go the self-publish route or the traditional agent/publisher route. Any feedback or opinions would be appreciated. I’m going to give myself the time and space needed to make the work better and to make the right decisions.

Here’s to a better year.

So Close, So Far

Shortly after my last post, my mother moved in with us in preparation for some medical care.  Since she’s essentially an invalid, I spend whatever time I’m not working trying to take care of her, and running her to various doctor appointments means that I shift my work hours and work into the night.  On the one hand, I’m incredibly lucky that my day job is so flexible that I can take the time to get her where she needs to go.  On the other hand, it means that the one thing I’m definitely not doing much of is writing.

My priorities right now are like this: family, job, food, sleep, working on the house remodel, writing.  There’s no way I have it in me to write right now when I have barely enough time and energy to shovel corn chips into my mouth straight from the bag.  This time shall pass, I know.  One of the beautiful things about writing is that it will still be there when I’m ready for it.  The stories aren’t going anywhere.  They’re patient.  They’ve waited this long to be told, they can wait a bit longer until I have the time and energy to spin them well instead of just tying strands together.

That said, I do despair of ever finding it within myself to make the time I know this novel (and subsequent novels) needs.  I so desperately want to write, and while I never expect to support myself solely on writing novels, I would hope to make a little extra cash.  But I have to put the time in to make it work.  The first draft of this book is so close to being done, but I still need to write my synopsis, query letter, etc.

I think that having a bit of extra time to think about the story is good, though.  I think about it on the drive to work.  I really love thinking about it as I drift off to sleep at night, on the nights I’m not asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, and the nights that my son doesn’t wake up complaining as soon as I crawl into bed.  There’s a scene in the story where a contract is made, and I think I’ve found a much better way to seal the deal because I’ve had time to think about it.  What started as a single, albeit important, moment in the first book can now extend through all three and has increased symbolism.  I’m going to try to stay positive and tell myself that the extra time is adding layers of polish to the story that I might not have otherwise imparted.  My hope is that when I can finally get back to it, all the improvements will flow onto the page and make the story the best it can be.

Equipped

I finally broke down and bought myself a new computer.  I hate to admit how much of my productivity is tied to having a piece of equipment I can actually use, but there it is.  I was actually afraid to work on my novel when every time I tried to save a change the darn program crashed on me.  I felt it stunted my progress. It made me wary of edits, which slowed down the way I thought about the story, until I wasn’t actually producing anything at all.  Luckily my brain is more reliable, and so I’ve been able to continue thinking about the story.  In fact, I’ve had a breakthrough as to the plot of the third book.  I’ve always known how I want everything to end, but I’ve gone through several permutations on the path the characters take to get there.  Now I feel like I’ve got something solid.  Those months spent off the computer weren’t wasted, after all.

It’s amazing how quickly I digress, so to get back to my original point, I now have full access to my files again and can get back to my edits.  A dear friend of mine just finished reading the first draft of the first novel in the series, and she seemed to really enjoy it.  Very encouraging!  She did find a couple of spots where she had questions about what happened, which gives me an opportunity to tighten up my story and my writing a bit.  I’m so excited to be able to jump back into it.

In addition, my son, who’s almost walking now, has started to sleep a little.  Not a lot, but a five hour stretch of solid sleep does wonders, especially when compared to waking every one to two hours.  Yipes.

In talking to my friend about the novel, she brought up Nancy Pearl’s idea that people read for one of a few things (I’m taking a lot of liberties with Ms. Pearl here, since I didn’t hear her original dialogue on the subject and am even paraphrasing my friend).  People either read for plot, for character, or for setting.  My friend is someone who reads for plot, whereas I am someone who reads for character.  The fact that she enjoyed my book and plowed through it, as plot-focused as she is, makes me very glad, but she also became interested in the characters.  I hope that speaks well for the strength of my characterization.

Now that I have a new computer, a semi-sleeping baby, and another person’s opinion of my story under my belt, I guess I’ve pretty much run out of excuses to not be working on this thing. Thing is, that break was just the thing I needed to get really excited about writing again.

A New Job, A New Schedule

I will be gainfully employed once more as of this coming Monday.  The job is with the same company I’ve been with for a few years (Allyis – which is a fabulous employer), but in a position of more responsibility.  While the hours and location of the position are still more flexible than at most companies, it is still more rigid than what I was used to before.  On the down side, that means less time to spend with my family (although it’s still pretty good by most standards).  On the up side, that means a more consistent schedule is being forced upon me, which might help me in my writing endeavors.  We’re also trying to get our son on more of a schedule.  We’re not trying to force him to nap or go to bed at an exact time every night, but we’re trying to get him at least more consistent.  It’s a struggle!  The hope is that once we have a more predictable schedule (or routine, really, since to me the word “schedule” intimates inflexible time lines) that I’ll know where best to cram in a few moments of writing time.  It might end up being in the morning, it might end up being in the evenings, or possibly even both (I would like it to be both).  Then I can purchase a new computer so I can actually access my files.  Funny how much more productive I am when I have a machine that actually functions.

I read somewhere recently that a writer should read a thousand words for every word they write.  In that vein, I wanted to say how much I enjoyed “Finnikin of the Rock” by Melina Marchetta.  I really liked the main female character – damaged, as most of the characters were, but very strong.  The main character, Finnikin, I liked fine, but for some reason he felt a little flat to me.  Not that he wasn’t believable, but it seemed to me that the other characters were a bit more fleshed out (like his father, for instance).  The names of countries are tossed about all the time, and I wasn’t really able to keep them all straight (don’t know if it was due to the writing or to my sleep deprivation), but in the end it didn’t really matter if I could or not.  I was able to track the ones that were important.  Anyway, I did get a good sense of the world, there were some vibrant characters, and I really enjoyed the way she unfolded the story.  I’ll seek out the other things she’s written and keep in mind the aspects I do and don’t like when I get back to working on my own stories.

Another book I read was “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea.  I enjoyed it immensely – again, there was a good, strong female character, and her relationships were complex and engaging.  Great imagery, and I felt the novel really put some aspects of immigration and the US/Mexico border in perspective for me.  (This is not a typical border crossing novel.)  The book made me laugh out loud with pleasure near the end – we should all be so lucky to have a character such as Atomiko in our hearts and heads.

Job Shuffle

This month has been a rough one for me.  I’ve been out of work, and mysteriously this has made me even more busy.  I think I’ve actually had more meetings as an unemployed person than I did when I was working.  Since I’m the sole source of income for my family, it’s been a particularly stressful time.  Throw a cross-country trip in there with a one-year-old and I’ve been pretty frazzled.  That means not much writing.  It doesn’t help that I’m still having problems using the word processor on my ancient computer.

Even though I haven’t been writing, I have been thinking.  I had a breakthrough with the second novel in the series.  I’d been dithering on how to have one of my protagonists take out the main antagonist of the book, but I think I finally hit upon how I want it all to go.  This is very exciting to me, as it makes me feel like the plot is gaining momentum even before I’ve really written much of the first draft.

The other thing I’ve been doing is reading.  I’ve needed a way to relax and escape a bit from my daily stress, and reading has fit the bill perfectly.  I’ve read a couple of great books and a couple of fun books, both literary fiction and fantasy.  (I tend to prefer young adult fantasy, since I believe it tends to be less formulaic and has less sex and violence – crutches that “adult” fantasy seems to rely on.)  Among the fantasy I’ve been reading is Diana Wynne Jones – one of my favorite authors – and Megan Whalen Turner.  Turner’s latest book, “A Conspiracy of Kings,” is the most recent novel in a series that I first encountered last summer.  I loved “Conspiracy” just as much as the previous books.  I hope that someday my readers feel the same excitement at the prospect of reading the latest installment in one of my series.

Anyway, it looks like the end to my unemployment might be at hand.  That means less time stressing about resumes and interviews and applications and more time thinking about, and hopefully even writing, my own stories.  If all goes well I’ll have enough saved for a laptop this fall and can get writing in earnest!