Back to the Main

I have, like, 15 minutes, so I’m sorry if this sucks.

First, thank you THANK YOU to the wonderful people who provided feedback in the Game of Intros. It was awesome. Some of you gave me feedback offline too, and I appreciate all of it. I will probably go with Slave Chip because that is hands-down EVERYONE’s favorite that has said anything, AND I like the concept too–I mean, SLAVERY. What’s not to love?

And now, back to Jed and my current 85k WIP. Jed has decided that he must be allowed to speak in first person present. Good grief. Here’s how that happened.

So, yesterday, I sat down with my character model, 9-year-old Eli, whose personality I tried to capture in the guise of Jed (my MC, for those just joining us). So far, Jed’s story doesn’t exactly suck, according to my alpha reader (Carey), but he’s been “less interesting by far” than the other characters. In other words, he sucks. And that just will not DO. Will not.

So Eli & I sat down and we went scene-by-scene and I picked through the contents of his brain and it was awesome. I think he had fun too, because it was like a choose-your-own-adventure for him. I told him what was happening and he told me what he would think and do in each circumstance.

I wrote it down word for word and about halfway through, after writing so many “I think such-and-such” and “I wonder about who-and-who”s, I began to feel like Jed was telling me, maybe… maybe he wanted to be written that way, the way that Eli was talking. In first person present.

FIRST PERSON PRESENT, y’all. I hate first person present.

Except in The Hunger Games. I love it there.

So I went back and re-wrote the first scene in first person present. Let’s call that Version Two. And the original, the first/second draft version in third person past, is Version One. Then I created a Version Three, which is the exact same wording as Version Two except the pronouns & verbs all changed to third past. I thought maybe I could capture the immediacy of first present without all the awkwardness and difficulty and WEIRDNESS of one character in first present with all the others in third past.

Then I handed it all off to Carey and said, “Tell me what to think.”

He read Version Two (first present) and said, “That’s definitely more interesting.” Okay. Cool.

Then I handed him Version Three (EXACTLY the same as Version Two except with third past) and he said, “I don’t understand. Isn’t this your original version?” Remember, the version he thought was “definitely less interesting” than the other characters? He thought the EXACT SAME WORDS as Version Two were actually Version One after I changed it back to third past.

Then he re-read Version One, side-by-side with Version Three, and said Version Three sucks. Actually, he said he liked the original better than Version Three, which is the same thing, seeing as how the original didn’t exactly have him excited.

Then he said, “First person present is going to be really hard to do. But if you can pull it off, it’ll be frickin awesome.

Crap.

So first person present it is.

I’m afraid none of that exactly made sense, but the point is, Jed demands first person present and I always try to give my characters what they want, which is the least I can do for them given how many terrible things I put them through. So the new first chapter is mostly first person present now. It’s taking a while to re-write, but it’s fun. The most fun I’ve had since I started on this novel, I think.

I’m trying to work up the courage to share a snippet with you here. Okay. I have to. Okay, here goes. Gritting my teeth. Why is this so hard? Here’s the original third past:

Jed always thanked the bushes when he plucked their berries. When he found leafy greens, he never took the whole plant. And he never, ever dug up roots to eat. He couldn’t stand the sound of their screaming.

In the mornings, he and the other boys would leave the village together, laughing and shouting. Several of them had been born in the same summer nine years ago—it had been a good year for babies. So they knew each other well, and he liked them well enough. But by the time the sun was over the trees, he always found a reason to move off by himself into the woods. Nowadays, he tried to do it before they found anything to eat, because he didn’t want to hear them kill the plants, nor endure their ridicule when he tried to stop them.

Once alone, he would wander until he found a particularly beautiful meadow or clearing in the woods, where he could throw himself down in the grass, with his bare brown belly pressed against the earth, and lie still until his breath came slow and quiet. Then he could hear the plants whispering, and sometimes he imagined that if he thought hard enough, maybe they would hear him too.

And in first present:

I always thank the bushes, you know, when I take berries from them. I put leaves in my sack, too, if you can eat them—but never the whole plant. No, never the whole plant—the screaming is too awful.

The sun is coming up as I leave the village, and the other boys are laughing and shouting already. They’ll leave me alone if I’m quiet and if I remember not to say anything about the plants. When we get where the dirt path ends, I tell them bye and go up toward the meadow. I don’t want to hear when they find, well, edible roots and stuff.

There won’t be many berries yet, but at least there will be a few. Through these woods there’s a meadow and when I get there, I throw myself down in the grass, feel the cool dewy ground against my warm belly. When my breathing comes slow and quiet, I can hear the plants whispering. They’re so glad it’s morning and they’re alive—it makes me glad to be alive too. I wonder if they can hear me saying that to them?

I know that’s short. It’s all I have courage for.

And that’s all I got time for. See ya and THANK YOU.

Novel Update

A few of you have asked for updates on how the novel is coming. Here’s a little visual:

2013-08-18 book

Revised portions on left, unrevised portions on right

Same stacks, from the side (revised, left. Unrevised, right):

2013-08-18 book2

So, yeah. That’s where I am. Now, mind you, there are several chapters still to be written to finish it out–the original climax was cloudy and the denouement nearly non-existent. Good thing I’ve managed to cut over 10,000 words from my original draft. We’re currently somewhere just north of 79k.

Once this round of revisions is done, it goes back to my alpha reader–Carey–for honing. Then out to my betas for a round of feedback followed by revisions. Then tightening & editing. Then proofing.

So, how’s it going? Well. It’s a long plod, but it’s going well. Heck, just for fun. Here’s a screen shot of my tracking document.

Word Tracking Screen Shot

Why Is It So Hard to Find Meaningful Work?*

Photo from The Smitten Image. Click to visit the author's page.

Still slogging through revisions. Completely rearranged the order of several events, requiring yet another rewrite of an early chapter, of which I completed about 1/3. Slogging.

I’m in meetings most of today, a privilege I am grateful for because it is part of the career I have built for myself. Most people aren’t so lucky.

Many writers, even the famous writers of yore, spend(t) most of their lives in jobs they don’t love. I’ve spent most of mine the same way. Humans seem to be almost unique in this habit of hating our work. No mockingbird ever sets an alarm clock and drags its lazy butt out of the nest for a day of foraging. A mockingbird wakes up and sings.

If you look deeper, though, it turns out we’re not entirely unique in this respect. In times past, a good draft horse would be harnessed to the plow at daybreak and work, mindlessly, without choice, at a boring job, until nightfall. He worked hard, but the job came with perks: Healthcare, room and board, an occasional Saturday dressed up and taken downtown.

The mockingbird, on the other hand, wakes up singing every morning and spends its day doing just exactly, exactly as it pleases. It’s totally free. And what it pleases to do is work: Find food. Defend its nest. Feed its young.

Because if it doesn’t do those things, somebody dies. And that, my friends, is the definition of meaningful work.

Sometimes, somebody dies anyway. Life is short in the wild. Very short. And so maybe the reason the mockingbird wakes up singing is because it knows it’s lucky at least this one more morning.

The draft horse, on the other hand, is never so close to death as the mockingbird. If he skips a day of work, the world goes on turning. If he skips a couple, he still gets his grain and a warm stall, even if he does miss out on the nightly rub-down.

And so sometimes maybe he turns his back and offers to kick because today, he just doesn’t feel like it. Go away. I’m going back to sleep.

And that’s we writers sometimes, too. Someday we will die, but not today, not even if we turn the alarm clock off and roll over and sleep through our designated writing hour. Not even if we are late to work. Not even if we call in sick. Not today, not because we missed work, anyway.

It is possible to live closer to that edge, though, and therein lies one possible gateway to meaningful work.

About three years ago, Carey’s and my personal financial situation caught up with the general economy, when Carey’s employer went out of business. We had some tough choices to make. He had been director of product at his former company, a job he loved. I had been a stay-at-home mom and part-time freelancer. But nobody was creating new products in the crapola economy, so those opportunities were few and far between, and I’d been focused on growing a toddler and hadn’t built my freelance network recently. He could get a job as a business analyst, which he would hate and would pay less but enough; or we could live a little closer to hunger, and a little closer to free.

We chose the latter. We have been self-employed ever since.

I am not always convinced it was a good choice. I will not lie to you, and I also will not tell you the whole truth. We Americans are way too uncomfortable talking about money for me to do that. Let me just say this: It got bad. Financially, I mean. Really bad.

We have periodically revisited the idea of one or the other of us taking a job. One with benefits. But with benefits come costs. And maybe living a little closer to the edge is worth it if you feel like singing when you wake up.

And that is the crux of it, really.

We always, in our fortunate, privileged society–at least we with the benefit of an education and training–have the option of a warm stable, hot grain, and a blanket at night if we choose it.

We also have the option of the storm-tossed limb.

The bird does not fear the branch breaking beneath her, for her trust is not in the branch but in her wings. -Author Unknown

That is my secret. It is not the only way.

Another way is to wrench meaning out of the cracks, the interstitial spaces between the things that must be done to earn our benefits. Write for an hour before everyone is up, or for two hours after everyone is in bed, or instead of our video games or television show. Steal the time back for the things that matter.

Even as much as I love my career, I still must steal these spaces for writing the things that matter to me alone, the things that nobody is paying me to write (yet–one can hope, it is good for one to always hope).

Anyway, maybe the reason it’s so hard to find meaningful work is that we forget that we even have that choice. That we make the choice every day when we decide between the stable and the limb, between the video game and thing that we are called to. And while we’re cozy and warm in the stable, it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have this choice for one more morning, and so we forget to sing.

*Apologies, and thanks, to Demian Farnworth for letting me completely rip off inspiring the title of this blog entry.

P.S. What do you think? Do you love your work? Why is it so hard to love our jobs? To find meaning in our lives? And, under it all, why do we even care?

Writing It In, Writing It Out

It’s been quiet on the blog for a couple days. I’m thick into revisions now, and it’s a whole other place to be. A place not conducive to writing something new, like a blog entry. My brain is in critical mode, cutting, pasting, and rewriting mode, and it has no time for the passion and excitement of creating something fresh. Maybe that’s why there’s so little information from authors and others about the process of revision, how to do it–because when you’re in it, it’s hard to write about. And when you’re done, maybe you’re just glad to be done. There is this, though, and it’s pretty good:

The best bit starts at 5:15 to about 6:20.

It’s funny to me how people who are accomplished in something tend to think that whatever method they use is THE way to do it. Even though a hundred other accomplished people do it differently. There’s a lot of “This is how you must” and “You really have to” in that clip, but whatever. I don’t do it the way those authors do, except that I do cut quite a lot on the first rewrite. Here’s what I’ve done so  far:

  • I dove right into revisions within hours of finishing the final scene of the first draft. No setting it aside for me. I get the point of setting it aside, and I also don’t think it’s necessary for everyone right away. I will probably get some distance from it after the first set of rewrites, or when I send it out for beta, but for now I’m making progress and it’s working, so I’m going with it.
  • I revised five chapters in quick succession, within a few days.
  • I handed them to my sons and my husband to read.
  • They loved them. Carey compared the chapters favorably to several published authors and said “It’s riveting” and “I want more.”
  • Encouraged, I plowed forward on a couple more chapters and handed them off.
  • Carey said, “Hm.” I said, “What.” He said, “Not AS good.” I said, “Crap.”
  • We spent three hours talking through what was wrong and why, and what it needs. I love my husband. We figured out that the main problem is that I didn’t have any idea what one of the main characters was even doing in the book, why she was even there. She was just a place holder with a cardboard personality. Amazing that Carey could already see that, from that one chapter, when I didn’t even realize it. Hm.
  • I spent two days figuring out where the major plot points are, and what that character is doing, who she is and why she belongs in the story (I seriously considered cutting her out, or subsuming her under another character, but in the end she earned her way back in). Fleshed out another supporting but important character.
  • Began a re-write of the chapter that was most “hm”-worthy. Didn’t get far, but at least I know where it’s going.
And that’s where I am now.

It’s not exactly fun. There’s no growing word count. No “Look how much progress I made” chart. No: Look, I wrote 1200 words today go me! Also, I totally don’t identify with Sinead Moriarty. She talks as though her revision process involves a series of minor tweaks and occasionally she has to rewrite something. There is nothing minor, nor tweakish, about my revision process.

You must begin in confidence and revise in persistence.

(I don’t remember where I read that, sorry–ping me if you know the citation.) Today I only wrote 300 words. Yesterday, none at all, unless you count penciled notes on plot points. And I’ve deleted more than I’ve put in. My draft is shrinking.

I have created copious amounts of supporting materials, however. There’s now a pencil-written outline, with a list of scenes. A “character sheet” (HP, Constitution, armor class, etc.–no, not really) for each of four characters (more are coming). And a separate pull-out document containing the first part of a re-write on that really sucky scene.

I guess that’s why Carlo Gebler’s comments on Hemingway, in that clip above, hit me today. It’s comforting to think the reader will just know. 

Are you in revisions on anything right now? How do you approach it? Any words of wisdom to help me through?