First Draft

I think I just finished the first draft of my novel.

There are scenes missing and a lot of cleaning up to do, but I think I’m there. The first draft is as complete as it’s going to be.

I feel remarkably calm. I think it’s because I’m aware of how much work I have to do now.

I’m going to do a ‘scene grid’ or, as I like to think of it, a ‘motif grid’, as recommended by Stuart Horwitz. There are several things that came up during my last few scenes that I realize are key to the story and the character, and I want to make sure I’m getting them in early and often.

I’m going to try not to get overwhelmed in the revision process. Then, hopefully I’ll have a second draft, ready for polishing when I go to UnCon in November.

[small w00t]

I do enjoy my StoryADay stuff and the non-fiction writing I do, but nothing quite compares to the way I feel after I’ve written a piece of fiction. It’s lovely.

Pressing “Send”

So, I didn’t get any writing done yesterday. 

Lessons learned: Write First.

(I don’t know why I have to keep I learning this one over and over and over and over again,Maybe one day it’ll stick.)

Today wasn’t shaping up much better for the writing. Sometimes my job is to actually raise my children, not just make sure they don’t stick their fingers in sockets or run out into traffic. After an intense session of “talking a not-yet-teen off a ledge” and discussing what kinds of pictures we can and can’t take with our phones, it was a little difficult to immediately switch gears and throw myself into fiction. Especially when I hadn’t  done the thing I said I was going to do when is signed off here the other day: I did not go and sketch out the next scene I need to write. Which, of course meant I was left with the prospect of starting from scratch while emotionally riled up/elsewhere. 

Hmm. Not a four-star recipe for success.

But, as I keep saying, lesson learned. However  briefly.

In other news…

I sent off the book proposal to the publisher today. I had stalled and waited for an opportune moment, with the result that I’ve been sitting on this for almost four years now. The actual proposal went to an agent last November. She was very encouraging, but suggested some changes that stalled me almost completely, driving me into StoryADay May season, when I could think of nothing but that. Then I was  traveling and…

It occurred to me this week that this was the perfect moment. They don’t come along often, but I had banked on this being one, what with the boys being in camps, and me having nothing else pressing on my plate, (apart from, you know, finishing the novel…)

So I checked it over, made some changes, added new data about the growth rate of my list, and undoing some other changes I had made in Feb. Then I bypassed the agent, who had said I could, if I wanted to contact the publisher directly. I’ll pull her back in if there’s an offer of a contract and some actual money. If she wants to be involved. Otherwise I’m in trouble.

And yes, I had the telltale rush of adrenaline to the head and neck region as I contemplated hitting the send button. Checked it a couple more times and hit send anyway.

And now we wait.

To be honest I haven’t had the best luck contacting this person in the past, and I know I’m hitting them at a busy period, but we’ll see. If I get some kind of acknowledgment of receipt, that’d be nice.

Into The Foggy Blue Yonder

Today, I typed up and tweaked the last of the writing I did on the plane last month.

I had used Larry Brook’s Scene Checklist from Story Engineering to help me figure out what I wanted the scene to achieve BEFORE I wrote it, which made it really easy to revise. I noticed that I’d forgotten which character was supposed to be having which emotion, so I tweaked that as I typed it in. Made it stronger. Yay.

Now What?

From here on in, it’s all new material until I get to the actual end of the draft. Because I don’t know exactly what happens next I’m going back to the Scene Checklist from Larry Brooks to figure out what’s IMPORTANT in the next sequence of scenes.

Using this checklist helps me avoid wandering around aimlessly in a scene.

It’s relatively easy to write ‘stuff happening’.

It’s harder to write good, meaningful scenes unless I know in advance what I’m trying to achieve: who are the key players; what’s the key piece of information I want the reader to learn (and have I set that up properly in earlier scenes or will I have to go back and do that?); what emotions do I want the reader to experience when they’re reading it?

Even if you resist outlining, this checklist is a really helpful way to get into the next scene you want to write. It manages to whet my appetite for writing the scene, instead of taking all the joy and anticipation out of it (as I always fear outlining will do).

The plan now is to spend a while, later today, outlining the next scene and thinking hard about what I need to achieve in the first draft of the resolution

It’s important to remember that this is the first draft of the end of the book.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written.

Sometimes The Slog Pays Off

Today’s writing progress: I found a fragment of Holeheads that I had handwritten back in June and typed it up today.  (Z’s on a boat!)

Threading the Bridges

I remember that, when I wrote it, it felt like a slog. It wasn’t advancing the plot fast enough. It felt like marking time. I only wrote about 600 words in that session then gave up, defeated by the weight of the amount of story I had to tell in the section after this one (which is kind of a transition)

But when I came back to it today, it became the framework for a bunch of character-development moments as well as simply filling a ‘how they got from there to here’ hole.

Sometimes  you have to slog through the unexciting parts to make something you can revise later.

Just keep putting words down and coming back and revising them. I guess that’s how this works?

Blogging About Writing

I’ve decided to blog every day AFTER I write my fiction words. I used to try to write random stuff first as a warm up and sometimes that works, and sometimes I run out of time. So I’m going to try to work on fiction first and then blog my progress. It might be boring, but I’ll try to share insights that will help Future Me (and possibly you, if you’re a writer-who-isn’t-Future-Me).

Saturday today.

I was, amazingly, up before everyone else. I did some other, random thing that was on my mind and then realized I should be using the time to work on my writing, so I didn’t get grumpy and time-grabby later.

So I did.

Of course, by that time, everyone else was up. And I made the mistake of cleaning out the office yesterday (even buying new chairs) so that this room is now attractive. A couple of hours alter and the entire family is in here with me!!

HOWEVER, I did discover that it’s entirely possible to write in here, with the whole family on the other computers and devices, by putting on my headphones and declaring “I’m ignoring you”.  The fact that they’re ALL here, means they all have someone to talk to, who isn’t me.

Everything’s coming up Julie…

So I typed in (and revised) a scene for my novel, Holeheads, that I wrote on the plane last month on they way to Scotland. It was incredibly sketchy at the time, but it gave me something to revise. I realized there was nothing in there about the people who were supposed to be pursuing the heros (they just sort of disappeared), so I added that. And I added some more emotion and physicality, and a bit more chat. The straight transcript was around 600 words and the revised one 700.

It is liberating to realize that what I write doesn’t have to be perfect.

I don’t have to be sure this scene is important or going to survive. I just have to write it down. I might end up cutting this whole scene out and maybe one sentence of it will survive. But the scene exists as part of the story (whether or not readers ever see it) and I needed to write it. And it was only 600 words. It’s not like I spent three months on it.

There. That’s me, conquering my fears, right there.

(“Conquering”. Ha!)

N.B. I also wrote what I think will be the heart of the final big sequence while on the plane. Haven’t typed that one up yet.  Looking forward to sharing pages with the critique group. It’s been too long.

The Battle of the Somme, 100 Years Later

Ten years ago I posted this, back when my journal was still over at Livejournal.

The Battle of the Somme began 90 years ago today. By the end of the day 20,000  young British men were dead, 40,000 more were injured. By the end of the battle one million people had been killed or wounded.

These were the parents of my grandparents generation. Except they probably weren’t, because so many of them died. They called them The Lost Generation. Imagine what the world might have been like if we had not lost so many bright young men on that one day. What might they have achieved? What diseases would we be without? Would we have avoided other wars?

This was the defining moment for a generation that grew up to send their sons off to another horrendous war, one that would also come to their towns in the form of air raids.  Everyone must have lost someone they knew in the First World War—in mud and noise and horror—only to go through it again twenty years later.

Today we can watch bombs being dropped, exploding, in real time. But how many of us are really touched by the death and the awfulness?

Sorry.

But our history must not be forgotten. It is horrible and important.

90 years sounds like a long time, but my grandparents were born around this time, raised by people who went through the awful shock of The Somme and other WWI battles. My parents were raised by the children born during WWI and raised in the shadow of WWII. It’s not that long ago. These were real people, real families, all ruined by nation-building and the greed of the ‘great’.

Lest we forget.

A Good Writing Day Is Hard To Beat

I was having trouble getting started on my writing this morning, even though this book unblocked me and I had a scene already started. Something was holding me back.

So I browsed some posts from myself, that were recommended by the Related Posts Thingy at the bottom  of this blog. This one, from 2012, was the one that finally sent me scurrying to my computer.

3741 words later, I’m exhausted and happy, and have blown past my 10K-words-of-fiction-a-month goal for the first time since January. And it’s only the 24th of the month!

When will I learn that I’m happy when I’m writing? Everything is better when I’m writing. When?!!!

I Didn’t Know How Busy I Was

Sometimes I get annoyed with myself for not getting more writing done. Then I look at my day. Here’s today:
– 6:30-wake up, pack bag for day.
– 6:45-make breakfast for G
– 7:00-shower
– 7:20-drive G to school, with his percussion kit
– 7:50-Settle in at coworking space. Critique 2 stories for writing buddies. Slurp a protein shake. Compose & publish writing prompt blog post; minimal promotion for post; critique 35 more pages for writing buddy.
– 11:40-Race out of coworking space. Drive 11 miles to writing group meeting. Eat chicken salad during meeting.
– 2:45-leave to pick up G and his percussion kit from school.
– 3:10-pick up groceries, unpack groceries, marinate chicken, empty dishwasher, wipe down surfaces.
– 5:00-sit down with coffee to read story A has been working on for weeks, while on hold with a business-related call (25 mins later, still on hold).

I still have to cook dinner, clean up, monitor homework time and, I hope, spend some quality time with the spouse.

Good thing I “don’t work”, isn’t it?

For The Love Of Handwriting

Sometimes I see this kind of post on Facebook:

I love handwriting. I think everyone should have a good, fluid, readable handwriting style. But. I can’t subscribe to this knee-jerk ‘we must teach loopy handwriting to seven year olds so they can read the Constitution’ mindset.

I’m Pretty Smart But…

When I went to university as a joint English/History student, I couldn’t read this:

I certainly couldn’t read this:

(in cast you’re wondering, it’s the Magna Carta, one of the most important governmental documents in my country’s past, and still hugely important in the history of most modern democracies).

People Who Can’t Read Cursive

My husband, who can get by in French, can read scientific documents in German, has a PhD and did postdoctoral research at Harvard, has invented a couple of drugs, and makes the world a better place every day, didn’t understand why he could no longer read our son’s writing when the boy hit second grade.

The school had taught him cursive…which my drug-designing, guitar-playing, Latin-reading, grammar-correcting, polymath husband had never been taught.

It hasn’t exactly held him back.

And if he needed to know what the Constitution said, he would learn cursive. Or ask a trusted source.

Which brings me to Point A and Point B of this blog post.

Point A – The Love of Learning

Should we really be spending valuable time in elementary school, forcing children to learn an archaic type of handwriting that they may or may not ever need?

What better way to squash the love of learning in children who may not have the manual dexterity (from the Latin for “right-handed”, dating from a time when left-handedness was considered a sign of being in congress with the Devil) to master it? I know both my boys have HORRIBLE handwriting, in spite of their teachers’ efforts to make them write like 18th Century schoolgirls, because they lacked the interest or fine motor skills to master the form at such a young age.

I understand that it’s a good thing to be able to be able to read your country’s founding documents in the original.

But it’s not essential.

I learned to read Middle English in order to appreciate Chaucer…but I was 19 at the time, and had elected to study English Literature full-time at university.

I learned to read early moveable type fonts (think: Gutenberg. All those elongated “S”s!) so I could read explorer’s journals of their voyages to the New World…but, by that time I was 20 and thrilled to be given the opportunity to do so (white cotton gloves, no backpack, and frowning, supervisory Rare Book Librarians, and all!)

More importantly, I learned to rely on translations of things that are considered the founding documents of their disciplines. I read Beowulf (arguably the first great English language epic) in translation (fabulous translation by the poet Seamus Heaney) because I can’t make heads nor tails of the Old English. I trust the scholars to have done that for me. Scholars funded by public and private funding sources. Scholars who are (ideally) free to concentrate on the work, not the politics or economics of doing their job.

I was developmentally ready, and I was excited, to learn these things. I wasn’t 7 years old. I wasn’t trying to learn to decode and to compose at the same time as I was trying to read these new forms of writing. I was mature. I could handle it.

Point B – Trust, But Verify

If we are to have any hope of living in a society, we must learn to have trusted sources, to trust each other. We must learn to allow people to be experts, and trust that their motives are no less impure than our own.

I don’t read the Bible in the original languages; I trust 2,000 years of church scholars to come to some kind of understanding of the text that represents The Truth (even in 14 years of Catholic school, the only time I really learned any Latin was in the music room!). I trust Seamus Heaney to represent the spirit and the letter of the poetry of Beowulf. I read side-by-side versions of Chaucer and used scholarship and judgment to figure out if the ‘translation’ was trustworthy.

No, we shouldn’t rely on one or two people to tell us what’s in our historical documents.

Yes, we should fund robust and independent scholarship, so that we alway have experts who can give us diverse (and probably argumentative) arguments about what they mean.

We do not ALL need to by polymaths, Renaissance Men, or Jacks of All Trades.

It’s OK to be an expert and trust other experts. (For example, I don’t want my hypothetical heart surgery to be performed by my General Practitioner/Family Doctor, and I’m fairly certain she’d be much happier to recommend whichever “nice Jewish boy” — her usual, impish referral — she respects the most.)

I Love Handwriting

I’m not against teaching handwriting. Far from it. I think it’s important.

  • Handwriting lights up parts of the brain that typing doesn’t, boosting both creativity and memory.
  • Handwriting allows you to slow down and consider what you’re saying, compose sentences before you write them down.
  • Being able to write with a pen, means putting your hands all over the paper, which you can then send to someone miles away. They can hold it, knowing that you held it. They can touch it and feel a thrilling connection to the physical reality of you.
  • When I look back at my handwritten notes and journals, I can see what mood I was in simply from the size and shape of my handwriting.
  • It’s important to be able to write fluently, fluidly and in a way that can be read by yourself and the general population, because computers and keyboards are not always practical or optimal. (For the record, I recommend learning to write in a nice, clean italic, joined-up style. If you have already learned to write, you can still teach yourself this style as a useful alternative to printing or cursive.)

And I think it probably is fine to teach cursive handwriting in schools.

But I think it’s probably much more useful to teach them a less-convoluted, more practical form of joined-up writing that lets them take notes quickly and efficiently, and then teach them cursive in the middle school History class and the art room; Latin in the music studio (andante! Edit: Thanks to Craig for gently reminding me that I also learned Italian there too!); and most importantly, let them learn enthusiasm for scholarship and expertise in every room in the school.

To The Woman Who Felt The Need To Correct My Ten Year Old At A Concert

I know it’s a wonderful thing to listen to classical music live.

That’s why I brought my nearly–11 and just-turned–13 year old sons to the school auditorium for the 2pm Sunday performance.

And I know it’s annoying when people distract you.

This is why I’m sure you’ll have noticed (since you were obviously watching us) that I was silently correcting my 10 year old when he got fidgetty: stilling his hands with mine, making sure he wasn’t kicking the seat in front, quietly prompting him between pieces as to how many more movements were still to come.

What Went Down

Towards the 1 hour 10 minute mark, I admit he was moving around a lot. I’m sorry it distracted you. It distracted me too, especially as I felt a responsibility to correct him over and over again, so that he wasn’t disruptive.

Having got to the last piece in the concert, you felt you needed to lean forward and tell him that there was only one piece left, with the unspoken “so for goodness’ sake sit still” hanging in the air.

Thanks.

Thanks for making me really uncomfortable.

Thanks for making me miss most of the last piece as I tried to figure out how much we had annoyed you, or whether you were trying to be supportive. And wondering why you waited until the short, last piece to make your displeasure known.

I’ll bet you didn’t notice the way my boy was squeezing my hand in time with the music. Or the way he shared your chuckle of glee when the motif from the first piece came around again at the end, in a piece by a completely different composer.

I’ll bet you didn’t consider that I’m trying to bring my boys up to be well-mannered, cultured, and excited by the passions of others (wasn’t the violinist amazing, by the way?).

What The Future Holds

I know it’s annoying to be distracted during a concert.

I also know that I was one of the youngest people there, not counting my boys. And I’m 43.

If we want live orchestral music to survive as a form, we need to make concerts (afternoon concerts, at that!) a hospitable place for people with children and for first-time concert-goers. The soloist did. Remember? He told us to go out to the bathroom whenever we needed to; he wouldn’t mind. He said he’d cue us when to clap and, when we got it wrong, he laughed and said “We’ll take it!”. He was the perfect host.

Without people like me — paying full price and bringing along the next generation of fans — orchestras will not survive.

So. I will continue to take my kids to this regional orchestra’s Sunday afternoon concerts in the middle school auditorium. And yes, the 13 year old will read his book for a while. Yes, the 11 year old will fidget towards the end of a long concert without breaks. And then, one day, they’ll be ready for the big city orchestra’s Saturday night concerts, where they will pay big money to hear amazing music, I hope, for the rest of their lives.

If, that is, there are enough people willing to brave the tutters and the sighers to keep orchestras alive that long.