March 31, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Category: blog
I’ve been researching deep POV, and I came across an article that suggested writing those intense scenes either very early in the morning or very late at night, the assumption being that mental barriers are down when a writer has one foot in the Land of Nod.
The theory seems to be that, without those primitive forms of self-protection that constrain our waking hours, we (meaning those schizophrenic-types known as writers) can more easily slip inside the brains, and personas, of our characters. For deep POV, that would be an extremely useful skill. I could use it the rest of the time, too.
Right now I’m beating my head against the wall, trying to find answers to pressing questions: What is at stake? What is my character’s greatest fear? What would she never do? What would she never sacrifice? Black moments, conflict boxes, amping the emotion without turning it into a McLove scene, polishing the pacing – clearly, I’m taking too many classes, reading too many “how-to’s” and generally wallowing in angst and Imposter Syndrome.
I need to snap out of it. I need to stop looking for answers and just write. I need to get myself into the zone, so I can feel what I need to write and just do it instead of trying to do my old high school trick: read everything on the subject I can lay my hands on, and stay up all night before the big exam, trying to absorb it all through some kind of ink-to-brain osmosis. The thing is, sometimes that actually worked.
Maybe there’s something to the idea of our brains being more receptive when we’re half asleep and relatively brain dead – look at all the great books that have come out of NaNoWriMo!
I thought of this last night, as I forced myself to put down Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible. I was only halfway through the book, and knew if I didn’t put it down, I’d pass the point of no return and stay up until dawn to finish it. I am wired for reading, though, so I brought the new issue of TIME magazine to bed with me. As my husband played with the music he is wired for, I began to skim the pages.
An article on the economy by Kurt Andersen began with a great hook: “Don’t pretend we didn’t see this coming for a long, long time.” Intrigued, I started reading. You know that feeling, when something is so well-written you just get goosebumps? It was that kind of article; at least for me. Optimistic without being Pollyanna-ish, written by someone who loves words and knows how to use them. Read the whole article, something I rarely do when it’s an article about the economy, and everything I read after that seemed to be sprinkled with the same magic fairy dust: Joel Stein’s article on spas, a review of a Norwegian singer, a closing article, by Stein again.
I was so buzzed, I wanted to wake my now-sleeping husband and quote things to him. I wanted to run to my computer and write. Having some common sense, I resisted that urge, but gave in and read a few more chapters of Loretta Chase. Woke up this morning, thinking that I’d have to reread those articles today. Were they really that good, or was I just so tired it seemed that way?
It was really late by the time I finally got to sleep. I’m pretty groggy today, even though it’s afternoon now. Kind of in the zone.
I think I’ll check out that fairy dust, see if I can sprinkle some on my story. I can almost feel those mental barriers crumbling, but, in the hard light of day, will it be the same? Time to find out.
March 9, 2009 at 1:22 am | Category: blog
What has my career as a non-fiction writer taught me about writing fiction? At first glance, not much.
Head-hopping, pantsing vs. plotting, internal and external motivations, character arcs, mid-points, turning points, pacing, dialogue, the comma controversy, the benefits and drawbacks of entering contests, critique partners, pen names, marketing, ARCs, the dreaded query, the even worse synopses, epub vs. big pub, rejections, agents, Chapter meetings, POV: all of these were new to me when I started seriously trying my hand at fiction just over a year ago.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a professional — even the IRS will back me up on that. I’ve made a living (although, not much of a living) as a freelance garden writer and author for over 16 years.
I’ve had a number of books published, most about gardening but one, under the pen name Lexi Martin, a teen interest book. I stopped counting the number of articles I’ve had published when I passed the 1,000 mark several years ago. I’ve done book signings, lectures, luncheons, seminars, mentored high school students, the whole deal.
I’ve written for newspapers (local and big city papers), magazines (trade and national), written and taught online gardening courses — you name it.
I’ve had editors come and go. Hell, I’ve had magazines come and go. I’ve had magazines go bust before I got paid, and said goodbye to those paychecks. I’ve been paid ridiculous amounts to write incredibly few words for national magazines, and been paid peanuts for writing massive tomes for trade publications.
I’ve written as many as twenty articles in a single month, for several different editors/publications, each of whom required a different format, font and writing style. I’ve had editors call (more often than I’d like) bewailing the fact that someone else failed to meet a deadline and would I please, please write this for them? Today. Or, at the very latest, tomorrow.
I’ve had editors change mid-stream. I’ve had publishers change mid-stream, for that matter. I’ve had assignments start out as one thing, and end up as something else altogether. I’ve had editors tear apart everything I’ve written and put it back together, piecemeal.
I’ve had editors publish my work with all the formatting gone, with headlines that make no sense and — worse — are misspelled. I’ve had editors take my careful research and replace it with garbage, that still carried my by-line. I’ve had to face up to mistakes — but only once, and since then I’ve refused to rush technical articles.
What has non-fiction writing taught me about fiction?
To persevere. To be true to myself, but to accept that different editors require different things from me, and to adapt when it is called for. To meet deadlines. To be flexible. To be a creative researcher. To be organized. To write when I really, really don’t feel like writing, because a deadline is looming.
To spend my own dime to go to conventions, because I have to be my own agent and marketing department. Taking that a step further, to constantly be on the look-out for marketing opportunities. To know my subject, and to keep up with everything related to it by reading trade publications, attending conventions, joining a professional organization, networking and observing how current events are affecting my industry.
Yes, I still have a lot to learn. But years of non-fiction writing have taught me this: I am a professional. I know how to persevere. I can learn, and adapt.
And I am going to do this.
March 9, 2009 at 1:20 am | Category: blog
by Becke Martin
NaNo is panic, followed by sleepless nights, dreaming of your characters, and waking up in the middle of the night (if you aren’t still up writing) to jot down notes for the next scene.
NaNo is making friends, or getting to know old ones better, as you rediscover highs and lows you thought vanished with Clearasil many years ago. (In my case, many, many years ago!)
NaNo is coming up with long ways to say short things, as in this quote from our NaNo loop:
“Dumb as a stump” = 4 words. “Dumb as a box of rocks” = 6 words.
NaNo is sprints, challenges, silly word-use contests, plots that make no sense (Plot? Yours has a plot?), characters who don’t know what they’re doing—much less why—and often live with names like “Hero” and “Heroine” for way too many pages.
NaNo is forming a close, warm relationship with your computer chair, which you sincerely hope will not grow around your butt like that gross toilet-seat story we all read about this summer.
NaNo is rarely cleaning your house (OK, never) during the month of November, considering serving your family Swanson’s Hungry Man Turkey Dinners for Thanksgiving, and wondering what new position you can come up with to keep your husband from a) killing you or b) moving out before the end of the month.
NaNo is wishing someone would invent a waterproof laptap so you could write down the great ideas that come to you in the shower and vanish the second you sit down at your computer.
NaNo is wondering if it’s worth disconnecting your desktop and bringing it out of town with you because, even though you have a flash drive, you still don’t have a laptop.
NaNo is learning that you must back up your story every night. Let’s say that again: Back. It. Up. Every. Damn. Night. Because, in my buddy group alone, two people lost a total of about six thousand words.
NaNo is learning to appreciate the recuperative properties of alcohol, as well as caffeine of all kinds. And chocolate. Especially chocolate.
NaNo is discovering that a lot of freaking weird people are living in your head, and every one of them wants to be in this story.
NaNo is hitting the wall and not being able to write a single damn word, coherent or not.
NaNo is sitting back down at the computer, anyway, and forcing yourself to start writing again.
NaNo is going back to your support groups, again and again, to find the strength to keep pushing forward. And gaining a greater appreciation of all your buddies who are doing this in spite of flu, full time jobs, crashing computers and little children.
NaNo is thinking you are writing a romance, only to end up with a suspense story about werewolves, only not really.
NaNo is hitting 40K and thinking maybe—just maybe—you’re going to be able to pull this thing off after all.