Wednesday, December 30, 2009

writing resolutions 2010

Our annual workshop get-together where we announce our writing resolutions was supposed to happen last night. We had a freak snow storm a few hours before the appointed gathering, so our intentions fizzled with the melting snow. Or at least the spoken declaration of them.

Given the reprieve, I'm putting mine back in the slow-cooker. There are the concrete production goals: finish a novel, sell a screenplay, etc... those are no problem. It's the process oriented resolutions I have a harder time with. The "eat healthier" as opposed to "lose 10 pounds" type promises. For years I have vowed to write first thing in the morning, before the soil of the day seeps into my psyche. I talked about this with my client Ted today. The beauty of attending to the writing, even if it means simply sitting in a room as the light changes out the window. Slow. Down. Listen.

So much of what ends up on the page is dependent upon psychic stance. Tone, character, dialogue. When we attend instead of barge forth, we are operationally at an advantage. Attending gets harder as the day grinds on.

So, in deference to the muse, in 2010, I will pledge, once again, to write before my monkey mind has a foothold. There. I said it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

revising during "the season"

December is galloping along the way it always does. Candles, boughs of holly, ornaments, gingerbread creatures and their lairs. Who put all of these props on the stage? And then there's the concerts, plays, parties and festivals. Wassail? Why not! It's been a while since I had night free of alcohol.

I am a big fan of the seasonal hyperbole. As long as I stay clear of malls, I'm not unduly affected by the stress of too many people, spending too much money and the ennui that comes with abject commercialism.

My biggest complaint about December is that it's really hard to hunker down with the pages. Especially revision. Writing new stuff aligns with the mania of December. Sober judgment of existing work--not so much.

This Sunday afternoon, I've sequestered myself at the office, where there is nary a soul, save the cleaning lady. I've come here to tweak sentences, gain clarity on voice consistency, make back-story pacing decisions and to hopefully solve a host of other second draft problems, but my brain is not wanting to go there. It doesn't want to engage in work at all! Instead, my heart is leading my brain off in search of whimsy and baubles and the desire for rum balls.

Oh bother.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Stairway of Love gets reviewed by the briliantist writers in Portland!

Last night my writing group came over, manuscripts in hand, sat in a circle in my living room and opined on Stairway. Jim said I should have been wearing a crown. Seriously, all that was missing was a cake with candles in it and a wish before I blew them out. The Stairways lay about, each decorated with the pen colors and handwriting of my various workshop mates. Chelsea (blue marker) said she was proud of me. Cheryl (red pen) said I was one draft away from a book deal.

Everyone who writes a novel-length manuscript should have access to this--a circle of trusted advisers--smart writers all--who want you to succeed.

We're a big group. In size, in psyche, in personality, in success, in every way, we're big. And we come from disparate writing traditions. Some of us have MFAs, some literature and journalism degrees, some, none of the above. We write memoirs, thrillers, popular fiction, high lit. Poetry, reviews, screenplays and short stories. We blog, avoid the Internet, write until 3 a.m. or only in manic bursts.

Though we've been meeting weekly in one configuration or another for, in some cases, two decades, this is the first time we've ever critiqued a manuscript in this fashion. None of us was sure it would go well, in fact some of us had serious doubts it would work at all. One of the great things about our workshop, we've all said at one time or another, is that there's no homework. We show up, pass out pages, and get feedback chapter-by-chapter. Until now.

We decided to add this once-a-month whole-work review to our weekly workshop because although feedback on granular sections is undeniably useful, and has a cumulative quality as we venture further into our books, occasionally the critique veers toward the pedantic as we examine sentences and declare, on a micro-level, what works or doesn't. At a certain point, it's crucial to examine work from a big-picture stance, the way the ultimate agent, editor and reader will. For me, and for my next draft of Stairway, this was imperative.

Typical of the workshop model, the group started large and positive, and then moved into particular concerns, holes and problem areas. Having set the work aside for a month made me pretty open to hearing the negatives, and when there was disagreement about what should be done about the bumps, I felt relaxed enough to push further to get to the heart of the problem so I could determine whether the issue was universal or an individual reader's taste.

At some point, we stopped offering opinions on problem areas, and began to come up with solutions. The evening swerved into brain-storm mode. "What about" became "what if" and, in the course of two-and-a-half hours (and a few glasses of wine), MAJOR areas of my book got fixed. It was magic.

All that remains is two months of disciplined focus as I pore over my notes, re-engage my intuition, and dive into my book. Happy birthday, SOL, it's time to get you out of the womb.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

some contemporary characters redux

The 3-day Twitter-thon is over, and, frankly, I'm glad.

Moody's "Some Contemporary Characters" told via Twitter in 10-minute increments during three work days in a row proved to be somewhat like a sexy character sketch with a smart first act arc, and an ennui-riddled ending.

The characters themselves were not contemporary, really, but the modes surrounding their "hook-up" and the props and, of course, the medium of the message were all very modern.

What worked terrifically well were the tweet-to-tweet POV shifts. Better than white space on a page, the temporal cadence of 10 minute pauses between micro-narratives had an interactive component. The "reader" had time to imagine the retort of the other party, and more frequently than not, Moody thwarted that expectation with the lyrical interjection of enjambment. Not always, but enough to get your attention.

I have to admit though, I felt like a misbehaving high school student when meeting with a client with my phone blurping out the announcement of a new message continually. And if a half-hour or, God forbid, 45 minutes went by without me checking for recent installments, I felt behind--which is my big argument in opposition to Twitter generally.

The big question is, is this prelude to more of the same, or simply a passing fad.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

moody ambrosia

Rick Moody is tweeting in my pocket. Okay, it's not REALLY him--it's processed him, but the effect is the same if I suspend disbelief.

The innovative folks at Electric Lit engaged Moody for this particular experiment in micro-serialization via Twitter, and I'm enjoying the output immensely. To the reader (or audience, or viewer, depending how you experience it), it feels like being in on a secret- a fly on the wall in your favorite writer's writing room. Or maybe like being a bobblehead doll pasted next to his computer screen. Or the recipient of an epistolary manic episode.

This is the opening of the micro-piece:
"There are things in this taxable and careworn world that can only be said in a restrictive interface with a minimum of characters:"

Of course Moody would employ the colon at the beginning of this thing. The king of appropriative literature (read Hermit Crab) Moody has always been my favorite genre-bender. Twitter seems to be a terrific medium for the way he writes. The piece is dense and lyrical, utilizing repetition and enjambment innovatively and effectively.

Check it out--command it to inhabit your iPhone. You'll be hooked!

NaNoWriMo day last

I made it! Nope, I'm not a "winner" in NaNoWriMo parlance--I did not make it to 50K--but I did manage to crank out just a smidge more than 23,000 words and create a narrative hitherto nonexistent. I also managed to wreck my "t" key and build a chronic ache into my shoulders.

Nevertheless, the impetus behind signing up for this ludicrous marathon of wordspill was the carrot of unexpected reward. Unexpected because I couldn't predict whence my swerves and epiphanies and happy accidents would spring. And where they would go. And a lot of that happened--just not 50,000 words worth of that.

Yesterday, before clicking closed my laptop and heading to the dentist for a couple hours of rubber dam torture, I knew I'd failed, and I was sad. So sad, that I haven't yet logged on to the NaNoWriMo site to view the percentage of winners, because who wants to start a new month feeling like a loser?

But I did leave the contest on a high note. I added a significant lover to my narrator's cache, and in so doing found what amounts to a plot-driving grail object--the quintessential tragedy that informs my character's broken heart. So hurray for me! Not only that, but for the first time ever in my non-memoir writing career, I've appropriated an historical event for narrative catalyst. So hurray for me again.

I do plan on continuing along at less than break-neck pace with ALL OF MY CHILDREN ARE NOT HERE, but the fish fry that awaits at week's end is my writing group coming over this Sunday w/ skewers and STAIRWAY OF LOVE under their respective arms. Anyone for novel-kabob?