Writing Marathon Day 2, and Our Next Contest Winner

Calendar Day 2Second day of the marathon! Here we go:

The Writing Day

Today I got through the majority of Chapter 10: Swamp Times. I have about a third left (and I may have to delete half of that, I’m not sure yet). There was a tricky scene in the beginning that took several hours to sort through and re-write, but I admit the rest of it was already fairly polished, so the cleanup was pretty smooth-sailing—in hindsight, anyway. It still took a while. These things do. I also spent some time working out a timing issue with how the whole end of the novel goes down, and adjusted a few bits in earlier chapters accordingly.

I had a headache again this afternoon, and so I present to you:

Tips for Writing with a Persistent Headache of the Dull, Achey Variety:

1.) Make a blog event and contest out of your writing struggle. Writers need accountability. If people are expecting a progress report from you by the end of the day, you’re gonna make some progress. (Seriously, you guys are helping so much.)

2.) Write in Bed. This is a terrible idea on a good day. Usually, you’ll do your best work sitting upright at your desk. But on a bad day? When you’d really rather be sleeping? Working in bed can be just the compromise you need to trick yourself into being productive.

And I guess that’s all I have on the subject. Do any of you have any tips to share?

Don’t forget to read yesterday’s post for yesterday’s winning blog topic, in which I elaborate on the inner thoughts, feelings, and frustrations of a Boston street lamp. Also, you can still get in on this contest thing; I’ve made a temporary link under the website banner with the explanation and the rules, with the form at the bottom. There will be six more winners after tonight.

Okay. Drawing tonight’s winner.

And the winner is...

Grace, of Homeschool Hijinks! Congratulations, Grace!

Grace’s Entry: What does your planning process look like before you begin writing? Do you have huge detailed outlines or do you just jump into the fray or something in between? Do you chew on a story for hours or months before deciding to do something with it on paper?

What a good a good question! And the answer is that my planning process looks like everything, at some point or another. Usually, though, there is a single idea or an image that captures me, and I “jump into the fray” with it. A lot of these don’t go anywhere. I have tons of notes on scraps of paper (and, more recently, in computer files) of fragments and beginnings of stories. Sometimes I get an image first; Vanya, the main character of Wanderlust, came to me after a period of artists’ block (which is exactly the same thing as writers’ block, if you’re wondering). Suddenly (in the middle of math class, my junior year of high school) I drew this sad little boy, and it was one of the best things I’d ever drawn. I knew exactly who he was, too: the wandering harper. I drew him alone for a little while before I realized his best friend Taniel, and at the time they both existed in a medieval fantasy world. I tried to use them in a few comics/graphic novels that didn’t go anywhere, but it wasn’t until a whole year later that I thought, “Wait, wouldn’t it be cool if they lived in the modern world?” This was good for a few Vanya-in-fishnets illustrations for me and my friends to swoon over (we were into emo boys at the time) but it wasn’t until I decided to write a book for my senior project that I realized Vanya and Taniel were the perfect subjects. And so, Wanderlust was born! I don’t remember how I planned out the plot for that first book, but then that book sat around for five years, while the idea continued banging around in my subconscious and I got better and better at writing and arting. Five years later I’m working on the book I’m working on now. It has a plot very similar to the original, but it’s overall way more awesome.

That was a little round-about, but it demonstrates a pattern I’ve followed over and over again. I get really excited about something and just start doing it, and then later, often MUCH later, I pick it up and bring all sorts of new ideas and experience to it and turn it into something so much better than the original thing. And since I’m mostly working on Wanderlust right now, all those other things I’m not working on are undergoing subconscious development right now. A 70 page hand-written story about a dryad I wrote while homeschooling in seventh grade re-surfaced as a series of art projects in college, along with a partial rewrite that has so much more going for it than the story did before. Didn’t have enough time to actually finish it or really work on it at the time, but someday it’s going to come up again, and it’s going to be awesome. As for huge detailed outlines, for me those come later. I make an outline when I’m a third of the way into a book and realize I have no idea where it’s going. I make outlines to figure out what I’ve already written, and to help me get it straight in my head. Today, I outlined the entire plot of my novel by days of the week (it starts on a Friday and ends on the Saturday a week later). So I use outlines as a tool, when “pantsing” it (writing by the seat of my pants) starts to break down.

Thanks for the blog topic, Grace! If there’s a moral here, it’s that I am so grateful for all the writing I did in elementary school, middle school, and high school. It made me the writer and storyteller I am today. You’re already doing awesome work (hey everyone! You can read some of Grace’s stories at her blog!) so keep it up, and you might be surprised where it takes you. 🙂  Also, you will be receiving your name-doodle prize in a week or so, and definitely by the end of February.

And hey writers: How would you answer Grace’s question? Do any of you work in a totally different way than I do? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

-G

Writing Marathon Day 1, and First Contest Winner

Race to the 8th Day 1It has begun! Now, the savvy among you may be looking at that cool calendar graphic and wondering if I spent the whole day creating it, rather than writing. To you, I can proudly say that I stayed up late to finish it last night so I’d have the whole day free today. More of you might be wondering what is up with the unicorn and the sparkles. Well, did I mention we’re doing this whole thing because the 8th is my birthday? My birthday has always been about unicorns and sparkles. That’s just how it is.

The Writing Day

Well, today was not perfect. I was tired, headachey, and dealing with all sorts of cravings for all the foods I’m not eating. I was not in any way immune to the distractions of the internet, or to the temptation to check and see if I had any new contest entries every five minutes (I didn’t). Still, I did okay. I made a good start. I’m proud of myself. Today, I completed my revision of Chapter Nine: To the Wolves. Admittedly I’ve been working on this chapter since, god, since Christmas, but I’ve been working on it so long because it’s tricky. There’s this one part I finally polished off today where I’m writing about one thing and trying to reference this other thing, but it has to be done without looking like I’m referencing the other thing, and without being too obvious. This is what I meant when I said my progress reports wouldn’t make much sense to you. But hey, Chapter Nine down. Tomorrow I can move on to Chapter 10. In total, there are 12 chapters and an epilogue. Seven more days. This might be doable. There are, of course, still a few clean-up matters to attend to in the earlier chapters, and I’m just now considering ANOTHER re-write of my opening pages, but still. We’re moving along. Tackling Swamp Times (Chapter 10) tomorrow!

One More Thing

before we announce the winner, because it is too good not to share. I had a series of interesting dreams this morning. In one of them, I found my soul mate at a very dodgy, second rate carnival in Michigan. I know it was second rate because they wouldn’t stop the ferris wheel even though I was CLEARLY only holding on by one hand and about to fall to my death. I found him (my soul mate, who was someone I had never seen before in my life) just outside the paintball room/funhouse. We were both so surprised :). In my next dream, however, I was back in Maine and in the same house as a serial killer. You will be happy to know that I did the right thing, and set Beyoncé free. My own fate was still up in the air, however, so it’s good I woke up when I did!

And now, the part you’ve all been waiting for. I realized pretty quickly that I wanted EVERYONE to win, so we’re doing this by a totally random draw. I’ve got names in a container beside me at my desk. I like the noise they make when I shake them. I NEED MORE NAMES, PEOPLE! Entries are still open.

Okay. Drawing a name now.

And the winner is…

Elise! Congratulations!

Elise, by the way, is a friend of mine from school, and she is also the lady who is marrying Leftenant Weatherby (Tom Rich). I am so excited for both of them. 🙂

Elise’s entry: Rewrite one of your favorite (or most hated) scenes from the perspective of another character or onlooker.

Oh geez, Elise. This could be a five-day prompt! It’s a really intriguing proposition, and I recently saw something similar on another website as an exercise for fleshing out secondary characters. There are also some really cool ways I could respond to this that I wouldn’t actually be able to share, because of spoilers for Wanderlust book 2, if you’d believe it. But here goes:

Conveniently, I have this scene illustrated, although there is not actually a streetlamp in evidence in this picture.

Conveniently, I have this scene illustrated, although there is not actually a streetlamp in evidence in this picture.

The street lamp at the corner of Baker and Fifth* was uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable because there was a person standing underneath it. Not that the streetlamp was unaccustomed to humanity passing by on the sidewalk below; it was just, that, well, they usually passed by, and didn’t camp out holding a sign for several hours. Actually, this little bit of humanity had been there even longer. It had first showed up when the streetlamp was still lit, a good bit past the point when the late hours of the night transitioned into the early hours of the morning. It had stumbled down the street from the direction of the tavern on 7th, and had curled up in the lee of the steps of the print shop. It slept until the streetlight followed its program and shut itself off, and until other passers-by made noise and got on with their business of passing by. Then it—which the streetlamp supposed was a boy, or a young man, even though it had long blonde hair like a girl—had woken up, looked miserable, and sat in the grass for a long while. He was carrying a few heavy bundles, though he didn’t open them. Go on, thought the streetlamp. Go get breakfast. I bet you had a hard night. But you can make today better. Go on, move along. The boy just sat there. It was infuriating. Finally he stood up and picked up his bundles. Alright, thought the street lamp. Now you’re getting it. But instead of walking down the road, the boy went into the print shop. The streetlamp couldn’t hear anything that happened in there, but the boy came out carrying a sheet of paper with something written on it. And then he proceeded to stand underneath the street lamp, just stand there, holding that sign. The streetlamp wasn’t used to this kind of treatment. This wasn’t one of those neighborhoods. They didn’t even get much homeless here, and what they got usually preferred the other side of the street. So what was up with this kid, and why here, of all places? And why did he look so sad? And what did it say on that sign? The streetlamp waited over an hour to find out. The whole time, the kid barely moved. A few cars slowed down as they went past him, presumably to read the sign, but they sped along quickly. Finally, a blue ford pickup truck came down the road. The ’92 model, unless the streetlamp was mistaken. The pickup truck slowed down. The street lamp would have held held its breath, if it could breathe. Then—yes, the pickup truck stopped. The boy let his sign flutter to the ground, and put one of his bundles in the truckbed before climbing into the passenger side and closing the door. The truck drove away. The street lamp looked down, and saw that the kid’s sign had landed face-up. The streetlamp could just make it out: “Broke Rock Star Needs Ride.” Huh, thought the streetlamp. Glad he found what he was looking for. And then the street lamp got on with its daily business, entirely oblivious to the fact that it had just witnessed the beginning of a grand adventure.

That was fun, thank you Elise! You will be receiving your name-doodle prize in a week or so (and definitely by the end of February. That’s a promise.)

I will see you all tomorrow. Happy Writing.

-Grace

*Totally fictional street names because I never bothered to research actual neighborhoods of Boston.

Writing Marathon and… *Contest*

So you’ve all heard that I’m getting close to finishing my current manuscript revision. I’ve been saying it for weeks. Still, every time I think, “This is the week I finish!” it seems like I barely make any progress at all. I need a push; I need a deadline. And conveniently, it’s almost my birthday.

On February 8th, I turn 24. Beginning on February 1st and going until the 8th, I mean to put everything aside and write—because I want a completed draft of Wanderlust for my birthday this year. And I’m gonna need your help.

Race to the 8th Contest

I will blog about my daily progress, because reporting to you will help keep me motivated. Your support and encouragement will help too. I know my progress reports won’t be as meaningful to you as they are to me, however, and I want to make this worth your while. I won’t have a lot of time to blog around working on Wanderlust non-stop, so I am asking YOU to give me eight five-minute blog topics. These could be questions about me, questions about writing, questions about Wanderlust, or even silly things, like, “Please write a story about penguins.” If I choose to respond to your entry (entries will be chosen by whatever I most feel like writing about, or drawn from a hat if that fails) you get two prizes: 1.) I will link to your website on my blog, and 2.) I will create a personalized name-doodle for you. [Edit 31 January: Fine Print is here.]

There will be a delay of about a week for the doodles, because I won’t be able to do them during the writing marathon. I did this sample one with my name, which went in a sort of ocean-nymph direction. YOURS MIGHT BE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. These won’t be hugely detailed works of art; I plan to spend in the neighborhood of twenty minutes on each one. Still, I promise to make something aesthetically pleasing just for YOU.

Want one? Enter the Contest!

Want one? Enter the Contest!

Now, there are several things that will make this writing marathon hard. I have recently started a very restrictive diet as well as a new exercise routine. As hopeful as I am that these things will make me healthier and more energized, in the beginning stages they are just as likely to make me tired and cranky. What I’m saying is, this whole thing might go up in flames. I’m hoping we can have some fun before it does. I get a chance to make some real progress on my book, and you get to ask me questions and win prizes. Are you with me? Submissions are open.

I Can’t Get Away From The Wolves

That’s what it feels like, anyway. I’m slogging through Wanderlust Chapter Nine. My heroes are exhausted; tired and aching and scared, already nearing the limit of their endurance, and that’s when the wolves attack. My boys have to find a way to save themselves so they can travel on and complete their quest. My task is much easier. I just have to fix all the sentences, tune up the dramatic pacing, and use the perfect words to describe how it all goes down. I’ve been thinking about it all day, I’ve been working on it on and off, and somehow I’ve barely made any progress at all. My characters feel tired and stupid in this scene (I’m at the part right before the “oh-god-I’m-being-chased-by-WOLVES” adrenaline kicks in) and I feel tired and stupid as I’m writing it. The only good part about this scenario is that, at least, we’re in it together.

When I sat down to my manuscript after a week or so off and looked at my characters’ names, I got a momentary case of the giddies. Like when you’re walking down the street and you unexpectedly see that guy you have a crush on, or when you’re watching that television show and that one character you just can’t get enough of walks on the screen. Vanya and Taniel, I read. Ooh, squealed something inside of me. Really? I get to write about these guys?!

So the wolves are attacking. I’m tired and grumpy, and I want to know when we’re getting out of this stupid chapter. Are we there yet? But I’m on the journey. I’m in the book. I’m working on it—and that’s so much better than the alternative.

-Grace Out

P.S. I’d love to hear about your own projects in the comments section. How often do you remember your excitement for your characters? Would you rather be involved with a project, and frustrated, than not working on it at all? How did you get away from the wolves?

DarkWolfMakley

The Dark Wolf © Grace Makley. Watercolors, some editing in Photoshop.

Taniel

Sketch of TanielA stylized sketch.

Taniel is one of the main characters from my upcoming novel, Wanderlust. His face is a little too thin here, and he looks slightly elven—no doubt a result of my current Tolkien kick.

I believe I’ve posted the most drawings of Vanya, the blonde one, and spent more time talking about Vanya than Taniel in this space. I did create Vanya first, and he is exceptionally dear to me—but Vanya never worked as a character until he had Taniel. Vanya is a sort of mysterious man-child, a wandering waif with a harp. This works as an archetype, as an idea, but in terms of story he needs someone to engage with. Wanderlust is written in very limited third person, and we see the whole story through the eyes of Taniel. Taniel’s thoughts provide readers with an access point to Vanya, and to the story. He is Vanya’s sine qua none; without him, Vanya could not function as a character and, indeed, Vanya could never embark on the adventure of a lifetime that is chronicled in Wanderlust. They didn’t know it, but before they met each other both Vanya and Taniel were waiting for their lives to begin.

And there, I’ve talked about him all in terms of Vanya again. It’s a little inescapable, as they both exist for each other. Yet who is Taniel?

He is a band manager when the story begins, having turned to the business side of music when he decided early on that he didn’t have what it takes to become a professional musician. He has worked very hard for a very long time, and most of his life centers around work. He doesn’t have very many friends. He is health-conscience, rule-abiding, and something of a scholar. Though prone to panic and quick bursts of anger, he has always felt most comfortable with himself when he has someone else to take care of. He is an orator, a dreamer, and a teller of stories, but he was forced to be practical very early in life, and he needs the influence of Vanya to re-discover his creativity and appreciation for the beauty and magic of the world.

Does that whet your appetite? Knowing this much about Taniel, would you pick up my book and read more?

Updates and Oddments

I’m preparing an actual blog post about an actual topic, but it will have to wait a few more days. We’re in an uproar here, by which I mean we are all sitting around in our bathrobes with cups of coffee, but we do have to leave in a few hours. We’re going to Boston tonight, to see our excellent and admirable cousin play The Pirate King in an MIT production of Pirates of Penzance. Since it is (it is) a glorious thing to be a Pirate King, this is something we really could not miss.

I’ll give you some updates—it’s all I have time for.

Harp: Still GOING WELL, although since our car was in the shop I had to cancel Wednesday’s lesson. I have the two songs my teacher gave me memorized, and I can play them at a fair speed. I can also play nearly all the songs from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and I also know the chords to Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa and can even play them nearly up to tempo, and I almost have all the verses memorized. My harp teacher is sending me new music, and with any luck I shall see her next Friday so she can tell me all of the things I am Doing Wrong. I am hungry for that new music. I am still playing every day, but for the last week it hasn’t really felt like a challenge.

Wanderlust: I am cruising through chapter 8, and I really feel that the end (of this revision) is in sight. The writing may be questionable in the later chapters, but at least the plot was mostly hammered out by the time I wrote them. I have a theory this will make revision easier. Thanks to a comment by Lady Higg on my last post, I may have come up with an entirely different format for the stories-within-stories. This is both exciting and scary, because it will require working back into chapter one AGAIN.

Also, a big thank you to The Literary Man for being my 70th follower mere minutes after Tuesday’s post begging for one more follower to round out the number. As you will notice, the counter now reads 75, so thank you to ALL my new followers. Your presence here is very much appreciated.

And now, I will give you one more thing. A few weeks ago, when I was mired in chapter 4 of Wanderlust and didn’t think I would ever get out, I began a crusade of finishing things. Knocked out that cross stitch I abandoned four years ago in a single afternoon. Finally made some progress on that doll kit I got for christmas about ten years ago. It was very satisfying to work on these small projects because my big project was so overwhelming. I also finished an old drawing on the back of my bedroom door, the side that faces into the hallway. A long time ago, I began to draw a picture of Vanya on it in white chalk or oil pastel. When I tried to wash it off I discovered it was almost definitely oil pastel, which makes sense as the drawing dates from the era when I tried to use oil pastels for everything. Since the drawing wouldn’t wash off, I decided to finish it. It looks a little silly, because I was working from a very old drawing, but I’m attracted to the way the pastels (I used chalk pastels to finish it) fade into the wood. Since I didn’t feel like finishing up the lower anatomy, I hung the large version of the Wanderlust cover (printed out for my senior show) on top of the pastel image. I like the finished result; the pastel drawing functions like an echo of the actual book cover, and its close interaction with the wood grain of the door gives it a magical, dreamy feel.

Pastel Vanya on wood door

Stories Within Stories

This is my 40th post on this blog, and today is also the day we will reach 2,000 total hits. Thank you all for stopping by! With one more follower we will also reach the impressive number of 70 followers, if anyone wants to help out with that.

All these big numbers make today a good day for reflection. I originally hoped to finish Wanderlust by the end of the summer. Ha! Summer is definitely gone, and my book is not completed. I need to update both the “Grace” and the “Wanderlust” page with some more realistic goals. I would love to give you a solid status update on Wanderlust right now, but it’s just not that easy. I’m sort of on Chapter 7 of my 12 chapter book in the last round of editing—you know, except for all those things I skipped in chapters 4, 5, and 6, and all those pieces of information that need to be inserted back into chapter 1. It’s coming along, guys, and I’d  love to spend all day working on it, but I have to spend most of the day house-painting for money so I can afford tomorrow’s harp lesson (these are very reasonably-priced lessons but that’s just how broke I am) and pay some bills and start saving for christmas presents and, after that, for my very own harp. I do feel like I’m in some sort of final push on Wanderlust, though. I believe the last half of the book will fall into line more quickly that the first half because most of the last half is relatively new material, and therefore more malleable and not so set in its ways. Still, I can’t see clearly enough right now to give you a definitive when. I am, however, still gonna do this. I’m telling you because I must tell myself, each and every time I balk at how much work is still before me. I’m going to do this. I will.

One of the things that’s been getting me down lately is how to handle stories-within-stories. When I started this this thing I was all “Won’t it be cool if I base it on Irish Mythology?” That was me in high school. I then had to go find the Irish mythology, which I proceeded to skim over and take from what I needed. Five (or so) years later I’ve actually read all the source material, and I know too much! The issue now is paring down the full stories, and conveying them in such a way that they support and enhance my narrative. I’m very concerned that every time I switch over to Irish-story-time, my readers will get bored. It’s not that the stories themselves are boring, but when you’ve been doping along reading about Vanya and Taniel and suddenly they’re gone from center-stage and you have to concentrate on new characters from an Irish-myth story that you haven’t met in the novel yet, well, won’t you get frustrated? My impulse is to skim over the story and get back to Vanya and Taniel as soon as possible, but if I do that I think it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy and the myth-stories really will be boring because I’ll expect them to be.

And sometimes I Illustrate the stories in the story!
Illustration © me

I probably need to give my readers more credit. Story breaks are fairly common in fantasy literature, after all. I didn’t stop reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree, for instance, when the narrative took a break to convey the tragic story of Lisen. The story itself was beautiful, and it explained the hostility of Pendaren Wood, which threatened characters in the novel’s present tense. Far from skipping over the poems about Tinuviel and Nimrodel and Gil-Galad and Earendil in The Lord of the Rings, I’ve spent countless hours committing them to memory. (“Gil-Galad was an elven king/Of him the harpers sadly sing/The last whose realm was fair and free/Between the mountains and the sea.” (Aaaand I just noticed that the first poem I ever memorized from LOTR mentions HARPERS. A sign?)) So the story thing can be done. I think part of the issue is that I’m too perilously close to the manuscript just now to know whether I’m doing it right—although I have some hope. I believe that, in this draft, I’ve made it more apparent to the reader through foreshadowing and other means that these myth-stories are important to the actual narrative of my book. I hope I am tying them in better, and I hope my readers will both be able to see how the stories connect to the current plot, and find them interesting enough in themselves to keep reading. That’s the goal, anyhow. I will continue to muddle through, and then, when I am finally comfortable enough with a draft to show it to other people, perhaps my first readers will let me know whether I am successful or not.

Have you read any books that feature a story within the story? Can you think of any authors that do it particularly well? Has a story within a novel ever made you so bored that you skipped past it, or put the book down?