Friday, September 25, 2009

Writers' Methods. Everyone is different...

The new book is going well, but I won't mention word counts; if you've been following, you'll have noticed the increase in the side bar.

I always know things are humming along properly when I hear interior conversations between the characters when I'm supposed to be watching the news. I apologize to Jim Lehrer's Newshour, but sometimes it does drag, and that's when I sneak off to the computer to get that dialogue down.

Perhaps it's appropriate to mention how I write. I've discussed it before, but some of you could have missed it. We are all so different in our approach to the work, but it can't hurt to hear my take on it.

Once I begin physically writing - that is, not writing in my head, but typing - I am very fast at getting the words down. I usually do a complete chapter before I stop and get off the rollercoaster. I'll take a break, then come back and read that chapter again, correcting, amending, and, I figure, improving. I then go back to the previous couple of chapters and re-read them. Something I've just written could well upset something I'd said earlier. If I'm really on a roll, I might start the next chapter. About once a week, I re-read the whole manuscript and do another clean-up, which never - ever - ends.

In other words, the manuscript is being vetted, and added to, as I go. I am constantly inserting new snippets (which came to me while I was washing up, probably) into previous chapters and this will go on for the whole book. I could be adding something to the fourth chapter when I've reached twenty-seven. When the book is finished, that so-called first draft, which is really a misnomer, I'll give it a final overhaul, but basically it should be ready to be queried.

Some of you speak of pecking away, not really into it, suffering over it. I can't work that way. If I have nothing to say, I leave it alone. A couple of days later (even a couple of years later!) the fire's back. It's worth really thinking about your own methods. Is it tedious for you most of the time? Are you writing because of guilt, thinking that you must write something or you're not a real writer? Don't do that. Don't beat yourself up. When that little daemon critter is firmly residing in you, you'll know it.

I believe that writing should be an enormous pleasure. It shouldn't be making you miserable (although there could be some of that if you're writing a particularly tragic book, but this, too, can be cathartic in a positive way). Crying over your work is one thing, but bleeding over it (metaphorically) is crazy. It should be the reason you get up in the morning, although not necessarily every morning, because we all have dry seasons. But you should definitely know what that feeling is like. It might happen for you once a week, or just once a month. You have so many other things going on in your life - most of you work full time, for Pete's sake. Don't force it. Don't put huge demands on yourself. The writing will come when it's ready, and not before. This is how you are. Accept that. Everyone is different.


For those of you who are dejected at being rejected, take a look at Query Tracker's Suzette Saxton's posting on GOOD rejection letters. Hope you get some renewed enthusiasm after reading this.


In a couple of weeks, I'll put up the first three chapters of (tentatively titled) Summer Must End. By that time, the bulk of revising and snipping should be finished on that part of the book. Not that it will be ready as the infamous First 30 Pages an agent could ask for on a good day (knowing my constant need-to-tweak), but it will be close.

AppleFest is on here this weekend, our salute to fall. This is apple country, you know. There will be dozens of stalls all along my street, and outside my house, offering their collectibles, and art, and food, and so on. And here's me freshly cash-poor because of my cunning local antique dealer.

I got seduced into buying a vintage post office desk, about the size of a large suitcase, the sort that's meant to be attached to a wall. It has a drop down door, which becomes its work surface, and it has loads of pigeonholes and drawers. I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, especially when the antique shop displays it right outside, where I can't ignore it. I tried to avert my eyes, honestly. Today I spent a good two hours trying to make room for it on my desk, moving my screen and laptop around, disrupting my dozens of paper notes, clearing an area where I think it will fit comfortably when it's delivered.

Which reminds me: that's why Macs are so good. I have the other sort. What on earth do I do with all these damned wires?

Have a great weekend.

Friday, September 18, 2009

On Starting My Third Novel - Does this news motivate you or make you yawn?

Thanks, all of you, for your lovely comments about my new granddaughter. I was only a tender forty years old when my first grandchild was born and I wasn't too amused, although I got over it, of course. With this fifth grandchild, I can now laugh about my earlier vanity.

Obviously this overshadowed everything else on my blog, and caught your eye, but did anyone notice that I started my new novel? I've now completed 12,500 words, an additional 7,000 from last week, and I'm totally involved in the thing. I'll probably do the same amount in the coming week. I told you about it because it's a big deal for me, and isn't that why we blog about writing? To encourage, to motivate?

But it occurs to me that this must be a real downer for a lot of writers who are stuck in the no-man's land of non-inspiration, perhaps pessimism, and are just plain feeling blue about the whole process. It stands to reason that you don't want to read about someone who's trumpeting on about how easy it all is with their third novel, when you could be battling with your first. Well, I know it's not easy, of course I do. I know how it feels - all the doubts about the quality of the writing, and the negativity about finishing, let alone the frustration of finding an agent. I remind you that I've been at this for years and years (and years). You probably started later. Just remember, whatever appears here, I am not published. We are all in this together.

So, from now on, I won't expect any comments about my word counts - or anything else I have to say about the positive side of writing. You'll still read me, but I understand if you have to stifle a yawn while I'm on this particular roll.

But be warned that I'll be expecting you all back when I go through my own mid-novel blues period again, or when I announce that my agent isn't working out and I'm back in query mode again. I'll really need your upbeat comments then.



I've added a link to a site called Varkat - a very detailed post about all things related to the business of publishing. It was originally a keynote speech - you'll read the details - and I found it covers many of the questions we have from time to time, all in one place.


Check out Fiction Notes in the sidebar today, under 'Always Worth Reading'. Darcy has done a wonderful job of talking about character development. I'm such a smarty, I figure I know just about enough, but she always reveals something more. Thanks, Darcy.


See you next week.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's About Time - and How We Use It


As a young kid, I was smitten with rock'n roll, the usual favorites, most of those now classics, but I was always fascinated by jazz. One brother played boogie, and has continued that passion throughout his life. My other brother had a great record collection of traditional jazz - Jelly Roll Morton et al - and New Orleans blues. Growing up with it, I naturally enjoyed it and still do, but my young brain back then craved a newer, more sophisticated sound.

And then I heard Dave Brubeck.

With his totally new take on time as it relates to jazz (the use of 3/4 as counterpoint to the conventional 4/4 beat, for instance), he stunned me. Since then, for me, cool jazz, particularly the sounds from the Fifties and Sixties, is the only kind.


I've seen Brubeck perform live twice in my life, decades apart - once in Australia (we hung outside his hotel for hours, just to get a glimpse of him and went to the airport to see the group leave), and once here, in Toronto. I've loved a lot of other jazz over the years, but Brubeck remains the one who changed my musical tastes forever.

To achieve anything worthwhile from life, we are urged to simply turn up. Dave Brubeck has been turning up at his piano for over sixty years. Perfect use of time, as I see it.

He's to be honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on December 6 (coincidentally, his 89th birthday!). I'm so proud of him, anyone would think we were related.



After battling some Avoidance Demons that had me in their clutches for the past couple of weeks, and who laughed at me as time dragged almost to a standstill (it's all relative you know, and can speed up or slow down), I've started the new book. Forgive Boadicea's appearance once more, but I'm feeling hugely triumphant.

Summer Must End is probably only a working title right now, and I'll tell you if and when I stamp it with a permanent name. Come to think of it, your agent could force you to change your title anyway. Did you know that? Anyway the outline is good, and I have a lot of ideas for the plot which are still inside my head at this stage, but the characters are more or less ready in the wings. I've set it, for a complete change, in an area very similar to where I live now. I knew I didn't move to Brighton for nothing.

Naturally, I have the last line for the ending. Couldn't start without it.

I've completed two good chapters, or 5500 words, and I have that bug well and truly back - the one that doesn't let me sit anywhere except at the computer for more than ten minutes. I'm once more shifting impatiently in my chair in the living room at night, ostensibly watching TV, but longing to turn the computer back on, even when I've been writing for hours during the day. Over the past two weeks, grouchy and impatient, my time has been used cleaning the house, watching the BBC, cleaning the house some more. Lousy use of time. I wasn't even writing in my head, which would have been fine. Never mind. Tempus fugit again. My house will be neglected and full of dustbunnies, but I'm writing. Now there aren't enough hours in the day.


I became a grandmother again early this morning. My fifth grandchild, and third granddaughter, was born to my son and his wife in England, a sister for their first daughter, who just turned five. I have no deep words of wisdom to add about this because I am in stunned awe of it all, once again. I'm teary-eyed, overwhelmed, and utterly delighted. Practically speaking, it's yet another indication of my time here, I suppose. More proof that I turned up.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fall introspection. What's in store for you?

Since I finished Strachan's Attic (and I'm still waiting to see if my agent wants to take it on in addition to Hafan Deg), I've been in an extremely quiet, introspective mood. I thought it was because of my vacation in England, the inevitable upset of my routine, but I see that's only part of this state of mind.

The light is changing in my little neck of the woods, and there's a tiny nip in the air overnight. I should have immediately recognized my feelings. It's that hint of fall that gives me a totally different view of things. It happens every year, without fail, a need for deep examination of where I've been and where I think I'm going. And so it's almost fall again, bringing an almost delicious anticipation of soft, warm sweaters, and even more snuggling-with-cats-on-the-sofa, and contemplative moods.


It's the season for knuckling down to the real work, with no outside distractions, and certainly no temptation to sip wine on waterside restaurant decks. I'll enjoy cooking soups, and baking cinnamon-scented yummy things. Fewer people will pop in to chat, opting to stay sensibly at home in the warmth, surfing for something worth watching on TV.




I've been watching a lot of BBC News. CNN has started to pall, and I never thought I'd ever say that. In fact, it's a real shame I have no fireplace.

I'm guessing I'll have nothing much to blog about, only the rehashing of things past, which is covered in my archives anyway. If I get something new to impart (e.g. agent offering a contract for Strachan) you'll know about it, but, in the meantime, you won't see much of me. Perhaps I'll redo my page design. Melissa changes her background every day, I think. Very nice.


And I'll begin my new book, she said confidently.


What does the fall have in store for you?