Monday, November 30, 2009

PS: Millay Monday, Week 2

Almost forgot. But it's technically still Monday.

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

I like the last line best.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Wonders of Word Vomit

(Courtesy of **CRT**)

Today I am trying my best to remember what I've learned from Anne Lamott. Want to hear?

Okay, well if you don't, feel free to not read this.

She says: "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it."

Her advice is: let your first draft be shitty. Like word vomit. Every thought and idea that occurs to you, spill it out on the page. Stuff doesn't make sense? Screw making sense. Make no sense. Don't shore up plot holes. Expand them until they suck everything else into a vortex. Feel like changing voices halfway through? Do it. Make it big and stupid and clumsy and obnoxious. Do it.

That's not exactly what she says, by the way.

I have So. Much. Trouble. With this. If you know the whole enneagram personality numbering system, and I tell you that I'm number 1, you know what I mean. For those of you not In The Know, the number 1 personality type (not a ranking system, just numbers assigned to each one) is known as "The Perfectionist." As in: everything is either good or bad. THERE IS NO GRAY. Therefore eradicate the bad! Right now!

Which is why TM had seven false starts before it transformed into a complete story.

Anyway: one of the descriptors you might (might) use for someone like me (maybe) is...stiff. I find it difficult to let go. And that's stupid, because it's not like I didn't completely rewrite TM after the first draft was done anyway, so what was the purpose in starting it over again seven times if it was just going to change again? I suppose it was a learning experience. But I don't need to have that experience every single time I write something.

So today's goal: embrace the word vomit. Turn off the internal editor. Shake it out.

I'll let you know how it goes. Any advice, anyone?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Millay Mondays

I keep rediscovering how much I love Edna St. Vincent Millay's work. So I've decided to just give in to the selective poetry love. But only once a week. How fortunate I am that this occurred to me on a Monday, thus allowing me to give it the title "Millay Mondays."

I guess I could have just waited for Monday if I decided this on a different day, but I'm not that patient.

I would like to state for the record that I removed the exclamation points from this poem, because I really don't like exclamation points. Sorry, Edna.


Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,--so with his memory they brim
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, "There is no memory of him here"
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

Breaks my heart.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RTW: Muse-ic. See what I did there?

Road Trip Wednesday!

This week's question: What are the songs that represent/influence your WIP(s)?

I'm pretty sure I could talk about music and writing for pages and pages and pages, because this is something that I find interesting and that has always been a part of my writing process, ever since I was thirteen, typing away on one of those old macs that doesn't even have a color screen or a CD drive. (Yes, that's right: I was alive when those existed, even though I'm still a youngin'.)

So I'm going to babble, but I'll do it after I actually answer the question.

TM: "Mercy" by OneRepublic (really, it's most of the CD.)
LL: "Last of Days" by A Fine Frenzy
B-B: "Here Without You" by 3 Doors Down (...I'll explain later) and "Marchin On" by OneRepublic

(Some lyrics of Marchin On, just because I love them and because they embody this love story I'm concocting perfectly:

There's so many wars we've fought
There's so many things we're not
But with what we have, I promise you that
We're marching on

For all of the plans we've made
There isn't a flag I'd wave
Don't care if we bend, I'd sink us to swim
We're marching on

Okay. OneRepublic. I am not usually into that particular style of music (what would you call it? Alt/Pop? I don't know) but they have a cello and a piano and their music has this slow, sad vibe that worked really well for me, for some reason, at that particular time. I came up with the basic premise of The Manuscript while listening to "Mercy," and its tone while listening to "All Fall Down," and a central action sequence while listening to "Tyrant." Basically, TM would not exist without that CD, at least not in its present form.

Most of the time, whatever music I happen to be listening to makes me think of particular scenes. The basic premise and the general plot and stuff just appears out of nowhere, sometimes when I'm dead asleep (and then, when I write it down, it comes out in this stupid chicken scratch that I can't even read the next day, let alone make sense of), but sometimes when I'm standing in line at Noodles or in a van full of exhausted people on the way back from a retreat or watching reruns of primetime soap operas with my roommates, and a song comes up, I just see something happen in my head and a glorious light shines down from the heavens and a chorus of angels sings in harmony in the background and THE SCENE is born.

Okay, so it's not quite that dramatic. But, case in point: 3 Doors Down. I do not like 3 Doors Down, and never really have, although I don't think they're quite interesting enough to hate-- I just don't have strong feelings either way. But "Here Without You" came up on some girl's shuffle in that van I mentioned earlier and I suddenly found myself with THE SCENE-- that is, the first scene idea I had for a story idea I'd already been tossing around. And it wasn't the opening scene or anything, it was just the first time I'd envisioned either of the characters in a place at a certain time doing a certain thing. And that led to a week full of The Steady Advance Toward Carpal Tunnel, also known as "Oh. My. Gosh. Did I just write 12,000 words in five days?"

Anyway: it's not about the quality of music (though I do think that OR is good stuff. Did I mention there's a cello? CELLO), or what genre it is, it's about function. Do I see things when I listen to it? No? Then I probably won't listen to it that much.

Gosh, I sound like I'm on hallucinogens when I say stuff like that.

Suffice it to say that without OneRepublic's "Dreaming Out Loud" or Brandon Heath's "What If We" or everything by Ludovico Einaudi, my novel would be either nonexistent or in a much different form than it is now. And every day I'm poking around iTunes looking for my next novel to basically plop onto my word processor.

Because it's that easy, folks.

Only...not at all. At all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writing Music Alert

New OneRepublic CD is out.

That is all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


PS the other day I was in Barnes and Noble and I found this book written by someone on Absolute Write (writer website, yesss) and I was like "Holy Crap! I've read that person's message board posts!" annnnnd it was weird. Sort of like when you see a celebrity in public and you think "...there goes Tom Hanks. Wow, that's cool." Only, I suppose, not quite as exciting.

I would have turned it facing out (which is a big deal, if the bookstore wants to turn your book facing out) except it already was. Which is how I saw it in the first place.

Oh, to be a published author.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I recently started to check out this blog called YA Highway, which is of particular interest to me because...I write YA. And I like hearing what other people have to say about it. Anyway, my goal is to answer the weekly Wednesday question-- this week is "How do you choose your genre?"

For me this is kind of a complicated question. When I was sixteen, my characters were over 20, which planted me firmly in the "Grown Up Books" category. The only problem with that is, I didn't know what 23 was like when I was 16, so it wasn't very convincing. I don't even know what 23 is like now, and I'm 21. Anyway, I never consciously decided to stop writing that age level until The Manuscript waddled along.

The Manuscript is my attempt to write about what I like to call "healthy love." The short definition is: love without The Death Grip. And it seemed obvious to me that said story had to be told with teenagers, because I felt like it would have been nice for me to read something like that when I was a teenager, rather than reading books and watching movies in which the girl always needs to be saved and she cannot LIVE without the guy and O. M. G. I must fan myself every time he calls me so that I do not FAINT. I was under the impression that the fainting heroine of many Victorian novels had disappeared with all mentions of corsets and men named Edmund, but apparently, I was misinformed. Seriously. Ever read East Lynne? That woman swoons every five minutes. A tiny sliver of shock and BAM! She's on the ground.

That's not to say that there are no books with strong heroines and healthy love stories out there, but I didn't bump into them until later, so there need to be MORE, people!

Back to my point: the story demanded characters of a certain age, and therefore I found myself writing a young adult novel. It then occurred to me that that was what I wanted to do: write young adult, because that was the age at which I loved reading the most, and it's the age at which I was trying to figure things out and wanted to read about other people figuring those things out, too. Hence, YA. There are some other reasons, but I'll stick with that one, for now.

As far as a more specific genre goes, I think that just depends on what I have when I'm done. I write about the people that pop into my head and if they're fantastical, the story turns into fantasy, and if they're not, it doesn't. I don't know. It's not an exact science, I suppose.

For school, I write literary fiction because that's what I'm supposed to write. I am glad that I have learned to write that way because it has given me a useful set of tools. I just don't seek it out when I'm in a bookstore. Maybe I'll change my tune when it's no longer The Assigned Reading, though. Because I do like a lot of it once I get into it. For awhile I had this distaste for literary fiction, but I think that was mostly the last bits of post-teenage rebellion that were floating around in my brain. Now they're gone and I appreciate it for what it is. Which is: good writing. Complex. Sometimes brain-numbingly boring.

So...genre. Let me summarize:

Unconvincing Grown-Up Characters --> TM + Northwestern = YA + Compulsory Literary.

See? I can do math.

Monday, November 2, 2009

And Now, A Poem

I have discovered that in general, I don't like poetry, but I really like Edna St. Vincent Millay. Here's one that reminds me of TM, and if you don't know anything about TM, it's at least a cool thing to read. Enjoy? Or go about your daily lives in peace.

Not that it matters, not that my heart's cry
Is potent to deflect our common doom,
Or bind to truce in this ambiguous room
The planets of the atom as they ply;
But only to record that you and I,
Like thieves that scratch the jewels from a tomb,
Have gathered delicate love in hardy bloom
Close under Chaos,--I rise to testify.
This is my testament: that we are taken;
Our colors are as clouds before the wind;
Yet for a moment stood the foe forsaken,
Eyeing Love's favor to our helmet pinned;
Death is our master,--but his seat is shaken;
He rides victorious,--but his ranks are thinned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Shortest Distance Between Two Thoughts...

What I am doing right now (not right now as you read this, but currently, in my writing life): Line. Edits.

Have you ever stared at something long enough that you couldn't see it anymore? Like that air vent that's been on your floor since you moved into your house. Or that tiny stuck pixel on your computer screen that's always red when all the other pixels are black. Something is always in front of you so it starts to disappear.

Well, that's what happened to me with TM. Let's ponder this, shall we?

I wrote about seven versions of TM before I arrived at the one I've got now. Five of those versions were pretty short, admittedly, because I hit my sticking place and had to start over. The sixth version I worked with for the entirety of last year. I probably read that draft like...ten times. And then, when I did my TM Overhaul earlier this year, I read THAT about five times. So I know this story backwards, forwards, sideways, and diagonally. And up until like two weeks ago, every single sentence had disappeared for me.

Scary, yes?

Two weeks ago I sat down with two copies of my draft that had been marked up by Others, and I started to see the sentences again. Why? Because I really like to use the phrase "took a sip of" when I should have used "sipped." Because you don't need to say "reached out and touched" when you could just say "touched". Because every...word...counts. Mraaaaagh.

I have edited 83 pages so far, and I have already cut 5,500 words. For those of you who don't think in words, that's like...a little over 15 pages. And that's just sentence-to-sentence. I'm not axe-ing huge chunks or anything. So here's my question:

Who knew this was possible?

Let me tell you, though. It feels kind of awesome. When I reread, everything sounds clean to me, like it's been scrubbed with a Mr. Clean magic sponge or whatever they're called. Clear thinking leads to clear writing. And clear writing kicks buns.


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