Wednesday, May 29, 2013

You Don't Always Have to Love It

Sometimes being a writer, you will be super in the groove, excited about every scene that comes next, wake up the in morning and can't wait to get to your computer. You can't stop thinking about your characters so much that you can't sleep at night and you keep getting out of bed to write another scene. The book I wrote last December was like that.

And then there are books like the one I'm writing now... where I know the idea and characters are solid, and interesting-ish things are happening, but my passion for the story is only at a low simmer. I sit down each afternoon to write... and then go check twitter again. And Facebook. And maybe watch yet another John Green vlogbrothers video because that guy is so entertaining and compulsively watchable! And then, oh yeah, I'll click back to my Word document and type maybe another hundred words.

Here is the thing: there is this myth out there that a book will be no good if you don't just loooooove it while you're writing it. That somehow your lack of passion will translate into lack of reader passion because you just can't capture the magic mojo. But this is not true. I know this first hand, since the book that was THE HARDEST THING I'VE EVER WRITTEN has gotten the best reviews. I'm referring of course, to Override, which long-time blog followers will know was the bane of my existence for over a year. I wrote it once. And then wrote it over from scratch again. And then AGAIN. I did not love that book when I was writing that last draft. I'm pretty sure that the word 'hate' even got tossed around for awhile there. But I knew that I did have a deadline in a month so the dang thing had better get written.

And the thing was (and believe me it shocked me more than anyone!), all of the time and attention that book had gotten both plot-wise and character wise had turned it into a really good book.

Maybe some people in magical candy author land love every single part of every single book they write. But then there's the rest of us, slogging through unending middles, muddling through murky characterization, spending a whole week trying to get one friggin' scene right and then skipping it in the end to figure out later so I can at least avoid stalling completely on the whole project... oh, ahem, that might have veered into describing my own past week a little bit ;)

Suffice it to say, I may not love this book I'm in the middle of drafting. I think there's lots of work ahead reshaping and crafting it, but like I said, sometimes that can make it an even better book than ones that have slipped out easily the first time around. That's what I'm holding on to as I muddle through the middle! What are you guys working on? What's your process like? Do you give up and move on to another project when the passion dries up, or keep barreling on through?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Upside of Impatience... At Least In My Writing!

I admire books that have that easy kind of narration where you go along for the ride for the character’s entire day, even the boring daily stuff. Little mini-scenes talking to parents or friends in the hallway.

Because the thing as, in my own writing, I’m horrible at this. I skip all kinds of little mundane details like, you know, setting, in my first drafts. Also I tend to skip over transitions. I’m light on descriptions. I forget what my characters supposedly look like, what color their hair is, or their eyes. I forget their last names.

And a lot of this boils down to a personality trait that is probably one of my most dominant: impatience. Okay, that and my horrible memory, lol. But basically, I want to skip over all the stuff that I, well, skip over sometimes when I read. With a lot of books I read, especially if they’re just meh-okay, I’m a skimmer. I’ll read every bit of dialogue, but long descriptions of the room or even internal thought if it goes on for more than a couple paragraphs—I want to skip to the action, to where things start happening again! Which is probably a little evil of me. After all, I know what a pain it is to make sure all those setting details are there in the first place (since I have to go in and painstakingly add them in later drafts!).

At the same time, there are some upsides to this impatience in my writing. It's nice to find the positives in a trait usually considered a negative. The upsides:
  • My novels will always be a little shorter
  • I get you to the action and the central tension of the book FAST
  • Every chapter is accomplishing some work (plot work, that is). Basically, every chapter is pushing the plot forward. My character’s generally don’t hang out just for the heck of it. I’m trying to accomplish something in every scene. If I’m really on my game, I’m doing two things at once: building the character’s emotional arc while also pushing the external plot of the story forward)
  • This ideally should make for a tight novel, where something's always happening and you have to keep flipping the pages to find out what comes next
  • I write drafts fast, because I dig into the story like a speed demon till I get it out
  • Because of my skimming habit, I consume a LOT of books each year, which, I don’t know, just seems like a good idea in general if you’re a writer ;)
As far as impatience in my real life, well… I’m working on it. That’s what’s up with me talking about Zen and meditation all the time ;) And in the meantime, I'm glad at least the impatience serves me well in my writing. What about you? Any negative traits you've turned into positives in your life?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Identity Crisis & Lust for Life

Because of some debilitating chronic health problems, two months ago, this was my daily routine: I would wake up, check email for five minutes because that’s all I could handle of looking at the computer screen, then turn on an audiobook, put a cloth over my eyes, and just lay there listening for hours. For days on end. For weeks. Just me laying in bed, listening. Unable to work at all or write or even watch TV. I listened to 26 audiobooks in the month of February, almost one a day, no lie.

Even though it was just a month and a half ago (I’ve been gaining more and more strength back ever since), it doesn’t seem real. The time had a dreamlike quality, even when I was living it.

It’s kind of throwing me into a weird identity crisis now that I’m feeling better. Which I guess happens to most people during periods of great change. Like culture shock, or when you went away to college or lived on your own for the first time, or get married. Suddenly you’re in all these new circumstances, surrounded by new people, and the patterns of identity that used to characterize you are suddenly all in flux.

The Buddhists would say this is probably an accurate picture of how life is, constantly changing, ever moving. That periods of stability in our life are really only an illusion, an attempt by us to wrestle control from an unsteady world.

And the past two years have been full of dramatic changes like that, often because of the ups and downs of my health. Two years ago I was the healthiest I’d been since I got sick a decade ago. I was able to drive, stay out all day, and come home and take a twenty minute walk. Then last year I crashed so hard I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks at a time. It’s enough to make a person screwy in the head, because sick-Heather is a different person than well-Heather. Healthy-Heather is a confident bad-ass with tattoos and pink hair. Sick-Heather is reclusive, meditative, and very, very quiet.

So, in spite of the Buddhists, I would really love for things to be stable and placid. I would like a period of rest where I continue feeling healthy and am able to work without interruption, and I would like to know that I can plan something a couple months from now and rely on the fact that I’ll be feeling well enough to do it. I would like to figure out faith and what I think about the world and have it remain stable. I’m tired of feeling like the floor can drop out from under me at any moment.

I want so many things. All these zinging firecracker desires.  I feel like the world of wants has suddenly opened back up to me, now that I’m feeling better and am able to do more things. I feel almost frenetic, I want to do ALL the things, ALL AT ONCE! The name of that movie about Van Gogh keeps pinging around my head: Lust for Life. Yes, I think, that is exactly what I’m feeling right now. Lust for life.

Desire strikes me as this deeply human and beautiful impulse. The Buddha might say desire is the cause of suffering, and that’s true to a point, but there’s also something explosive and beautiful-unto-weeping about wanting to gulp in the whole world and savor it on your tongue.

So that’s me lately: gulping it all in. And writing a ton, as if I’m making up for those months where I couldn’t write a thing by writing like a speed demon now.