Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wax in my ears

I know that most people think it's beneficial for writers to have some sort of set schedule to stick to - an hour a day, even if it's poop, that kind of thing. For the most part I kinda agree. Except I also really believe in the muse that grabs and holds.

I think the "poop" writing thing is totally fine for a first run-through. Getting that first draft out is pulling teeth no matter what, and will probably be shitty no matter what, so one should keep writing through it, with the knowledge that it can be fixed later.

But now I'm on the revision part. And I don't want poop. I want quality. And I don't think quality in the second draft is something that can be forced. It's an instinct that seems to require the perfect mindset to be able to see that invisible perfection in the air and grab at it. I need to be in that "zone", that place where I know exactly what feels right, how words should be arranged, how a story should be told. This is where precision and delicateness comes in. This is where poop isn't allowed, because this is where you take something that's just a bunch of shit and try to make it into art. And art can't be forced through will alone, art is vision, and vision only hits you sometimes.

So it's frustrating to me when I hit a roadblock where I'm trying to piece things together and I know it feels wrong, but I know it's wrong because I'm not in the right mindset.

I'm working on Chapter 9 now. I am trying to use a block of text that originally appeared in Chapter 7 in my first draft, and integrate it. This requires some new preamble that must be freshly written, but has to sound just right in tone. Right now, I'm hitting a fog that is making it impossible for me to hear it. It's like I have wax in my ears or something, or am getting hit with a signal block. I can't get an accurate read on if this is sounding right, but I'm pretty sure it's total shit.

So I'm going to go eat a bowl of Ranier cherries, read a little, and then maybe take a second stab. If not, I guess there's always tomorrow night.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Draft 2

... is so much easier than draft 1.

I edited two chapters tonight. Bringing my current WiP draft 2 to 20,950 words, 64 pages and 8 chapters.

It's so much easier to write a second draft because the story's out, and the scenes are mostly all written. It's just a matter now of looking at it from a macro perspective to try to address pacing and scene placement, and then filling in the gaps that exist. I don't really do outlines, so now that I have all my scenes down, it's like fake outlining. Ie: cut and paste.

But seriously, this process is a billion times easier than draft 1, where you have to create 100% of everything. Here, I find myself writing new scenes almost every chapter, but it becomes much clearer what scenes I need and are missing, whereas before it was all such a crapshoot.

This is so much more fun than draft 1, seriously. It actually makes me kinda excited, to see my random scenes and stuff finally starting to come together and actually beginning to make a coherent whole. I just hope it's halfway decent!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New template

Because the 2-column template was getting too crowded!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Heartbreakingly perfect ending.

Okay. I just finished the Lahiri collection, Unaccustomed Earth, and I am so heartbroken!


As soon as I put together day after Christmas, Thailand and earthquake in the morning, I KNEW IT. I KNEW WHERE WE WERE HEADED and I only hoped that Lahiri would navigate away from the heartbreaking ending so that they could be together.

But no. NO SHE DIDN'T and I AM SAD.

See this is how I know that Lahiri is awesome. These are only three short stories linked together loosely, and I am so bound to these characters in just a few pages that she's broken my heart. IN THREE SHORT STORIES! In 100 pages! How does she do it? Why am I upset? It's simply unfair. Unfair I tell you! How did they not end up together!!!

The ending. It was perfect and beautiful and heartbreaking:

It might have been your child but this was not the case. We had been careful, and you had left nothing behind.
--[pg. 333, "Going Ashore", Unaccustomed Earth]

I couldn't have beared (bore?) to do this to my characters if I were Lahiri, so kudos to her. Even though I sorta HATE HER FOR IT!

Seriously, amazing short story collection. I rarely am captivated by an entire collection, enough to want to read the whole thing through cover to cover, but this was simply perfection.

When short stories are successful.

So I'm not a big short story reader. I like my novels. I like being able to immerse myself in a character and go on a long-haul journey, not a little snapshot. I've rarely finished an entire short story collection, mostly because there's no incentive to. You finish one and it feels good enough and then you lose momentum because you had to do stuff, and there's no drive to pick it up again and finish where you left off. Even as a writer, the drive of a novel is so much more intense than to write a short story. I always want to stay with characters and their worlds longer.

Nonetheless, I have my own short story favorites. Most notably, Edwidge Danticat's Krik? Krak! collection is beautiful to me, the opening story "Children of the Sea" my favorite of all time.

I picked up Unaccustomed Earth because it's Jhumpa Lahiri. She went to my alma mater (as did Danticat) and I just kept hearing about how amazing this collection was. This I didn't doubt, but I did doubt my ability to sustain interest to finish the whole thing. I have Interpreter of Maladies floating around somewhere - I've only gotten through the first few stories.

Nonetheless, when I couldn't decide what book to read next, I picked this up. I'm about halfway through right now, but I have to say, I am really really impressed. Her short stories don't feel like short stories. They feel like little snapshots of something fully formed. I really feel like I get to know her characters and become personally invested in them as people, and they don't feel temporary to me. I care about them, and am really sorry when the short story is over. In fact, every story feels like a mini-novella, and it just makes me sad that I don't get to continue the journey with them.

I'm one story away from being done with the first section of the book, and it seems like the next section are a collection of linked stories, which excites me.

Lahiri really impresses me with her prose and her storytelling abilities. I've been sitting here trying to dissect what makes her stories so successful because I am so impressed. :)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Holy sh*t.

I just wrote the last 15 pages (I think) of my novel. That means. I am actually at the end. As in, I wrote to the end of my novel!

I have a ton of scenes from the first half still to write (that I lazily skipped over in my first run-through), but once I get those under my belt, I can start writing the fun second draft where I can piece everything together since now I know what happens!

I am SO EXCITED. This novel has been so daunting to me, and while I know I still have a long long long way to go before it's even fit for a beta reader's eyes, I feel I've climbed my own little molehill here in actually getting to the end!

I wasn't sure I was going to make it!

[For all you writers who already have 1+ completed novels under the belt, I guess this pittance of a milestone is nothing... but I am REALLY REALLY excited!]

Okay. Bye!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Strong female voices

I just finished The Red Tent, and really enjoyed it.

I'm horrifically ignorant of the Bible (Old or New Testament), and I pretty much assumed Genesis was like... Adam and Eve and the creation of the world. In any case, I never knew much about the story of Jacob or his sons, and certainly not Dinah, so I came into this story with no knowledge. I found the writing and language really easy but rich in tone, and I loved the story of the mothers. This is truly a female book. Afterwards, I did my googling to figure out what the passage in the Bible actually said. I think it's extremely imaginative of Diamant to come up with her own interpretation of this small section in the Bible, and an imagining that is so feminist in its way (not rah-rah feminist, but of strong bold women). I seriously just enjoyed being immersed in the world she was painting for us.

The only moments where I had problems was towards the end, as we started getting a listing of all the spawn of the Jacobites. I realize that this probably has to do with connecting it back to the Old Testament, but it just sort of seemed listy to me. The ending with her being this spirit, and telling of her death was also kinda gimicky to me. I would have preferred an earlier ending just by a few pages. But beyond that, thought this book was fantastic.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dragons and phoenixes and beasts, oh my!

I finally had the chance to finish up my friend Cindy's debut novel Silver Phoenix (sorry Cindy!). It was so good! It's really quite something to be able to read a book that somebody you know wrote!

My favorite thing about the book, hands down, is how DETAILED she gets in describing the food. I was constantly hungry while reading the book... hee hee! It made me laugh because it was so obvious how much Cindy loves food while reading her book.

Okay, just kidding, while that was among the things I liked best about the book, it wasn't my most FAVORITE thing. Her book reminds me of the sort of wu xia type books of Chinese folklore and fantasy -- all the beasts and magic and fantastical creatures and fighting! It really has that sort of Jin Yong type feel to it -- only her characters aren't petty and annoying as Jin Yong's can be. I really like how strong Ai Ling is as a character, impetuous but empathetic, and how she's loved for her untraditional traits. And her love for food definitely helps (seriously!). I am so proud of Cindy for coming up with something that is so inventive and interesting in terms of characters and different kinds of beasts and other magical elements, completely giving her own take on Chinese-type fantasy. And her descriptions of all of these worlds and elements were so detailed. I only wish kinda that we got to spend more time in some of those places - like the one-armed town! We only got to see it mostly from a pastoral walk and then from the inside of prison. I would have loved to find out more about what the people are like, what their customs are, etc. Woulda been cool to have them land in a place different from their own and have to interact with them for a few days or weeks at length so we get a true immersion of a different place. I think that's probably my biggest criticism - I felt we were introduced to so many really cool elements, that I wish I had spent more time with them to really get to understand them and be immersed as opposed to only meeting each of them for a chapter or two and then moving on to the next ones. I wanted to get a real feel and understanding of these alternate worlds, that I'm not sure I got right now because we were introduced to so many but not over an extended period of time.

I'm really intrigued by what's going to happen in the sequel (Chen Yong's daddy search? Backstory on what happened with Silver Phoenix and Zhong Ye? Ai Ling and Chen Yong sitting in a tree?) because I feel like there are so many questions left unanswered!!!

Good job Cindy!! I am so proud of you!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Blah blah writing blah blah

It's been a fun-filled last couple of weeks since I finished my last paper, what with my birthday passing and lots of trying to get in some fun time out West before I move back. That means I haven't really been reading, and writing isn't moving along as well as I'd like. Instead of getting in 3000 words a day like I was hoping, I'm getting MAYBE 1000 a day. And that's after a lot of hemming and hawing because I'm so stuck. This novel is kicking my butt. I feel like I'm stalling as I write scenes, which is never a good sign. I met a screenwriter this weekend who told me it took him 3 1/2 years to write his first screenplay, which was his way of encouraging me. He told me the first one is always the hardest because you're trying to figure out your process. But that after the first one, it'll get easier.

So I keep telling myself this. This will get easier. Because right now I have NO IDEA what I'm doing!