Day 12: The worst writing day of all

So today was the worst writing day of them all because I had to write about food. Specifically, bad, terrible food that I really really love.

Fair food.

Hero and Heroine were on their first date at a pop-up parking lot carnival. Heroine had never eaten fair food before, and Hero was bound and determined to let her taste real life. So I wrote about turkey legs, and corn dripping in butter, and tart sweet lemonade, and crunchy, fried funnel cake…are you seeing the problem here?

I never knew I could write such loving, detailed, convincing prose. My stomach grumbled in need all day. I think I gained 10 lbs just imagining the food. Ach, I’m getting hungry again just reliving the food experience. I need to stop and inject some grease into my veins. Maybe that’ll help.

So that was the bad news. But there was some good news, too. Here’s a handy breakdown!

Good news:

  • this is the furthest I’ve ever gotten in any story
  • it’s only taken me 12 writing days to get there
  • I’ve managed to establish a plod-along-process. I just keep asking myself “and then what happened?” and pretend to tell the story to someone else in order to get to the next paragraph

Bad news:

  • my writing days have not been sequential
  • I’ve discovered that I’m the slowest writer on the planet. Everything takes sooo looonggg to explaaaaiiinnn…
  • I may run away tomorrow and join the carnival circuit

The best news:

  • I have 15,549 words as of today. Yay!

So what I learned in school today is this: there is always good and bad news. I’ll just have to keep plugging away.


Day 11: Keep on Keeping On

Last week’s writing efforts were hit or miss because life got in the way again, but this week I’m striving to write again every day. Part of the inspiration came from a discussion at last week’s book club, when other members pointed out that writing was a lot like exercise. “You can write every day, but if you fall off the wagon and restart, it’s almost as if you’ve never exercised before.” 

This makes a lot of sense to me. I once had a daily yoga practice, and every now and then I’d hit my stride and not miss for months. Then something would happen, and I’d have to take 2-3 days off, and when I’d restart, my body would always be like, “Hey, what is this? What are you doing? You’ve never made us bend like this before…ouch!” The body, much like the brain, doesn’t like to get stretched back into shape once you’ve given it a few days off.

Today’s writing session was tedious. I slogged through and got a solid 2,000 words. I think. I have to admit, I tried not to look too much—I really wanted to concentrate more on moving through the scenes. I got Hero and Heroine out of the house and on a date. I left them at dinner. Hopefully tomorrow I can get them back home to reflect on what just happened.

What I learned from school today:  I’m a slow writer. I have to pause and think before every little interaction. Why is this person saying this? How can I describe what’s happening next? It’s frustrating because I’m a fast reader, and I expected that I’d write as fast as I read. Not! I have to just slow down and keep plodding along. Nobody’s holding a stop watch next to me. I’ll write it as I get the words. 

Day 10: Study Session

Today I did more thinking about writing than actual writing, but the story moved forward, and I’m going to take any forward momentum as a win. My first task was to wrestle with Hero again. Today’s scene involved him trying to convince Heroine that the crazy plan they’ve hatched up together is going to work. I was having a hard time writing his argument because if I were in Heroine’s shoes, I’d say “there’s the door, sorry, I can’t work with your idea.” But then that would mean the end of the story at a paltry 12,475 words, then cue sad trombone.

How was I to solve this?

I picked up On Writing, and read up on character. King believes in free-range character development: let them go and see what they do. Well that wasn’t going to quite work because I wrote a schedule for my characters and I wanted them to stick to the schedule, dammit. My Hero and Heroine had places to go and people to see. Free range wasn’t going to cut it. 

Since Janet Evanovich was responsible for said schedule, I took a peek at what she had to say. She handles character development by giving them clear motives and layered personalities. Somehow, this information wasn’t enough to get me over the hump.

Frustrated, I went to study group at the corner coffee shop with with Cee, my writing friend forever, and behaved very maturely: I bitched about Hero behind his back.

“I just don’t know what the problem is,” I said. “He’s a big unknown to me.”

“Have you talked to him?” Cee asked. “Have you taken him out to the bar like you said you would and get to know him? Do you really think he’d go to a bar?”

“Yes, he’d go to a bar,” I said. “And no, he hasn’t told me anything new. I mean, I know what he’s saying makes sense, but I just don’t believe him.”

“Why don’t you believe him?” Cee asked.

“I don’t believe him,” I said, “because Heroine doesn’t believe him.”

And suddenly, the lightbulb clicked on. I don’t believe Hero because he’s not convincing Heroine, and therefore, I don’t trust him. Ever engage in a story (on tv, movies or books), where a character does or says something that seems unbelievable and you think ‘ugh, that would never happen’, and dismiss the rest of the story? That’s what was happening to me.

So Cee and I talked through what would make Hero’s argument valid. Very, very helpful. I went home and wrote them out of their scene, and now those two crazy kids are on their way to an honest-to-goodness-fake-date. I finally got them out of the house! Whew!

What I learned from school today: study groups are an amazing support, and I’m so grateful that Cee helps me with my homework!



Day 9: Back in the saddle

The fog has lifted, my mind is clear, and so today I returned to school. I’d been absent a while, so it took some time to get back into the swing of things. Today I was only able to get about 1,000 words in. They were—at times—dull, uninspired words, but at least they moved the story along. I hope.

Today’s struggle involved the Hero. Who is this guy? What’s his motivation? What would he say and do in these circumstances? I know why he’s doing what he’s doing, but I don’t have a real hold on his personality. I can’t channel his words because I’m not exactly sure who he is. Sometimes I think he’s a been-there-done-that Han Solo kind of guy, and other times I think he’s a slick I-can-get-any-woman-I-want kind of guy. I need to read up on character development to get a lock on this.

What I learned from school today:

1. Writing is hard, and problems crop up everywhere. I thought I’d be motoring along since I had the plot finally figured out, but now Hero is getting all mysterious on me, and I have to take him out to the local bar and get to know him.

2. Any writing is good writing. Since I got sick, the only form of writing that I’ve been able to do is blog posts: they’re short, sweet, to the point and I already have the form figured out. It’s been helpful to see that I can still accomplish some sort of writing while I recuperated.

Here’s hoping for more words tomorrow!

Day 8: Guest Lecturer Janet Evanovich

Today at the School of Writing Janet Evanovich guest lectured about her writing process from her book How I write. Janet is the author of the very funny and successful Stephanie Plum series. I’m so happy that Cee, my WFF (writing Friend Forever) lent me the book yesterday. It couldn’t have come at a better time.


All flagged up!

You see, even though I’d been making progress on the story I’d still been worried about What To Do Next and How Was I Going To Get There. I was afraid of getting stuck. Janet shared a very clear, practical process on structure, which really helped me out. She does two things: creates a timeline of the action, and then maps out a storyboard. For class today, I decided to try both as exercises.

Janet’s timeline method is fairly simple:

“I start with the characters. I do a short character sketch for each of my major characters. Next, I pick a location, and then I decide what the crime is going to be.

Once I have those elements down, I make a time line of the action. This means that I know the beginning and the end and a bunch of things that will happen along the way.”

After reading this description, I finished my own timeline. It was only two pages, but my story is going to be shorter, so that was okay. Moving onto storyboarding, which Janet describes this way:

“I have a huge white dry-erase board that hangs on the wall in my office…I map out in a couple of sentences what the physical action is going to be…every now and then, I’ll add what is going to happen in Stephanie’s romantic relationship and sketch in the secondary plot information as well.”

Here’s storyboard excerpt from her book Twelve Sharp:

(Fri) Go to bonds office—interview losers—get Leon James—dinner at parents’ house with Morelli—go to see Lula and band at the Hole—spend night at Morelli’s house

(Sat) Go to bonds office—interview second batch of losers—discover Carmen dead in SUV—get report on Virginia Rangemanoso—go to Ranger’s condo and look in computer files—find photo of Un-Ranger—Ranger waiting in her apt.

(Sun) Wakes up in her apt and Ranger’s there working—go to Newark to canvas neighborhood—take train to Virginia to talk to Carmen’s parents about Carmen’s husband—get info on employment—go to mall—get name/Edward Scrog—go to Scrog’s apt and get computer and scrapbook—drive home—Ranger spends night with Steph.

It was at this point, that I put the book down, rolled my eyes at myself and thought two distinct yet important things:

1.) What happened on that Sunday that Ranger ends up spending the night?! I need to re-read the book again (I’m a Ranger girl all the way.)

2.) Are you kidding me? It’s this easy? I can storyboard. Hell, this isn’t even a storyboard. This is project management. I do this at work all day. Let me at it!

So I marched back to the computer, fired up Google Calendar, printed out three pages of week views, sat down with pencil and paper and created a storyboard in 5 minutes flat. Then I went back to the computer, and fleshed out my timeline with the storyboard. And then for good measure, I typed up the storyboard in the same format as Janet’s, and ended up with even more insights. Completely unstuck! Now all I have to do is to write the scenes that make up the storyboard.

Finally, after all that work, I was ready for a doughnut. Just like Stephanie Plum.

What I learned from school today:

1. Sometimes the writing you do around a story is more important than logging in word counts. It’s still a good day of work if you make progress on the story.

2. I didn’t get the impression that Stephen King broke his story structure down like this, but that’s okay. It’s good to hear perspectives on writing from different authors, and I’m happy to learn from all of them.

Off Days

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to write the last few days because I’m fighting off something, leaving me pretty exhausted in the evenings. Hoping for some good rest tonight because I want to hit it hard tomorrow.

Hope the rest of you are still writing.