Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Weight of Glaciers

Though I had good intentions of finishing Chapter 4 before I had to go back to work at my day job today, it didn't get done. I severely underestimated how time consuming family togetherness can be. There was, of course, a minor family crisis, lots of drama, and lots and lots of cooking, which I don't do often and had forgotten takes hours upon hours to do properly. So Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were non-productive for writing or even thinking about Project Reach. The subsequent days would be wholly set aside for writing, or so I thought. In reality, I had saved the latest draft of Chapter 4 to my trusty thumb drive...and left it in the port at my work computer! I couldn't get any momentum with the chapter since I was missing a rather crucial transition that I'd written during some downtime at work last Tuesday, so I just left it be and focused on some other pressing tasks

On three of my five days off, I slept very late into the day. There was, of course, the aforementioned family togetherness. I attended an Ugly Christmas Sweater party and spent the day after recovering from it. I began refinishing my living room floors so I can install my wall of bookshelves and finally remedy my critical lack of book storage. I did laundry and put away my summer clothes at long last. I painted my toenails and gave myself a manicure. These are all things that were overdue. Things I had put off in deference to Project Reach. And now that they're done, or on their way to being so, I can make another push at Claire's narrative.

I'm more than a little concerned with the pacing at this point. But there's little point in fretting about it now, as I won't even be able to evaluate the pacing properly until I have at least six chapters strung together. At least I have a better feel now for my own writing pace now and can adjust my expectations for progress accordingly. My pace is truly glacial! But I'm at peace with that metaphor. Glaciers may be slow, but they are an irresistible force and possess fierce beauty.

Also, not all of the verdicts are in, but now that we're two chapters in with David, none of my readers can abide his tone. It's distracting. I knew this was a danger when I began to conceive of David's style of internal dialog. But I'm still waiting on the verdicts of a few other of my trusted readers before I make any determinations as to amending David's tone. I knew that first person narrative was a bit of a gamble, and that present tense risked coming off too 'literary' but I honestly believe that the most crucial bits of the story can only be told properly using the technique of altering first person narrative in the present tense. And one of my readers may have been a bit confused by the switch from past-tense to present between David's chapters. Her comments suggest she read David's present tense chapter as a continuation of his character narration and not as his present reality.

Reach Reader commentary on Chapter 3:
I am once again assaulted by words, that seems to be the beating I will always get from David...He seems more arrogant now, but he also just seems to have no filter when he speaks about himself. He's just saying the truth, as he sees it, that he really does know a lot.
So many weighty considerations. I am not above performing a complete re-write if my approach to the story is completely untenable. However, I still have faith enough to rely on my skill to uphold my creative decisions.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Plan

Just because it's the holidays, doesn't mean I'm taking a break. In fact, I have big plans for the "downtime" that I will have on this long 5 day weekend. I had the opportunity to make an editing sweep of the half of Chapter 4 that I have written while I was at work on Tuesday, so all of that is fresh in my mind. Today, our electricity was out for most of the day, so I got all of my last minute shopping and giftwrapping out of the way so that I'll be able to focus on writing tonight and tomorrow (when I'm not cooking or hanging out with my family). Friday morning I intend to put in a good four hours before heading out to an Ugly Christmas Sweater party. Saturday ad Sunday, I have no plans but writing. The hope is to get Chapter 4 completed in less than however many months it took to get Chapter 3 in the proverbial can. And if I'm very, very diligent, perhaps I'll be able to get a jump on 5 and 6.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Words I've had to add to my Spellchecker


Chapter 3 finished

Chapter 3 is finished!! Finally. I stayed in (bed) and worked on it all day on Sunday. Being able to put the lid down on it at long last was a really good birthday present! (Even though I finished up at nearly 4am, so it wasn't actually my birthday anymore.) I'm really pleased with the transitions I created to stitch the chapter together, and I'm especially thrilled that the pacing and smooth flow carries over from Chapter 1 so seamlessly because it's really just an extension of David's introduction. In Chapter 3 we get caught up with who David is now, what his academic status is, the state of his personal finances, and what his major dilemma will be for the duration of the novel. Next up is to get Claire from The Deck, through campus, and to the catering drop off. Doesn't sound too eventful, does it? Even so, I expect it to take about 1,500 words and should link up nicely with what I already have written for Chapter 4. I'm always unsure where the chapters will end, so Claire may have a short conversation with MarLo, too, which will be really fun to write. In any event, my chapters are tending to be very short - about 3,000 words each - so the trick is to keep the narrative from feeling disjointed. So far I don't think it's been a problem, but I'll ultimately leave that judgment up to my readers.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Who Hub Interview


Friday, December 19, 2008

Gearing Up

The last two days I've been focused on remedying some computer issues that have been plaguing me. The thesaurus wasn't installed in Open Office on my new Linux laptop. When I'm at an absolute stall in my writing, I live and die by the thesaurus. I'll just go trolling around in Visual Thesaurus until I stumble on a word that gathers more words around it. Eventually, I end up with a sentence. So I'd been trying to figure out how to get my Open Office thesaurus function to work and was messing around with command prompts which ended up royally screwing up my operating system to the point that I couldn't save a document without the Open Office program crashing. Not good. So I had to roll my laptop back to the factory settings by booting it off of the recovery disc. While trying to accomplish this, I inadvertently wiped the hard drive on my desktop. This could easily have been a major disaster, but I'm very diligent about backing up my files. As it stands, I have all of my most important works backed up on a thumb drive and an external hard drive. I have over 500 poems that I'd hate to loose. But I could never loose all of them in a single, catastrophic event because the bulk of them are backed up on pathetic.org and the earliest works are stored on floppy disks. And of course my Project Reach files are all on my laptop, desktop and on my USB flash drive. The completed chapters are further safeguarded by being uploaded online as Google Docs.

So after toasting all the data on my desktop, I just went ahead and installed Ubuntu on it and will work on moving my files over from the external hard drive this weekend or over Christmas break. So I'm all converted to Linux now. That's progress.

Having my head all junked up with tech, I wasn't in the right state of mind to write David, but I did work on a poem I began jotting down while at work. I haven't written a poem in more than months; it's been whole seasons since I've completed a verse. But this piece, although slightly disjointed, is good. It's not 'there' yet, and I'll likely make at least two more editing passes at it, but it felt really good to output some verse. I can feel MarLo in this one. Or maybe there's just a lot of me in MarLo.

I have been meaning for a few months to send out a round of poetry submissions, but never followed through on my intentions due to computer and printer issues. I was shocked to realize that I haven't published any verse since 2006, and even that was a piece from 2005. It's just ridiculous to think that I haven't sent any submissions out in over two years because some of my absolute best works (or at least my current favorites) came out of 2007 and 2006. I have a list of journals and magazines that I've checked out. It's just a matter of choosing appropriate pieces for the forum, formatting to the publisher's standards, taking that deep, sickening breath, and hitting the send button (or dropping the letter in the mailbox). I fully intend on seeking to publishing at least a half dozen of my better poetic works this coming year in an attempt to beef up my credits so that when Project Reach is finished and I send out queries to agents, mine will perhaps be slightly more appealing than those of other freshman novelists who maybe have no publishing credits at all.

It will be a big help during this submission push to have a functioning printer. I've gone years without a printer at home because my Epson, though technically still functional, was such a pain about the ink cartridges always being full and I could never afford to keep all seven of them in supply. Eventually the nozzles clogged to an insupportable degree and I just gave up using it altogether. But for Christmas, I bought my mother a color copier, printer, fax, scanner combo. One of her hobbies is to color copy her snapshots and cut them out to make collages. It's not even in the same league as scrapbooking, but she enjoys it immensely. She used to drive all the way into the next town to go to the offices of the local newspaper and pay 75 cents a page to make color copies on their machine. So I got her a Brother color copier/printer for Christmas. It's got big, back lit, mom-friendly buttons and only four ink cartridges, the refills for which are the least expensive of all the major brands. I keep it on my desk hooked up to my desktop computer upon her insistence, and I'm very happy with it.

In addition to sending out a round of poetry submissions, I also dream of applying to some local artist residency programs. I should fill out the applications I've had lying on my desk for over a year now. It would be good for me to sequester myself for the purpose of writing. I just find it so difficult to get anything written in the evenings when my brain is out of juice for the day. I did get to snatch a few minutes of time to write at work today. 36 minutes to be exact. This was broken up into about five separate intervals of varying lengths. But in those few short interludes I was able to fix a transition in Chapter 3 that had been bothering me and extend he narrative by about three lines. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a lot of progress in such a short time. I take it as further testament to the fact that I do my best work during the day when I'm working and not free to write.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

David's Internal Dialog is Evolving

I'm really happy with the direction that Chapter 3 is heading...finally. It's taken a long time to get it this far, but I have no complaints about the gestation period of a given chapter so long as the finished product is of a very high standard.

A few nights ago, I was making another editing pass of 3 and started beefing up the science content. It's caused me to have to put in some extra research time, but it has gone a long way toward solving the problem with David's tone that I'd been having. My readers and I both have been concerned that David's elevated vocabulary can get downright annoying, but I am trying out a new tack for David's internal dialog. If he exhibits his brilliance by drawing clever parallels between the science of neurobiology or cutting-edge cognitive research and his everyday experiences, then he won't have to exhibit his brilliance through words alone. The language aspect I have a handle on and don't spend as much time hunting through the thesaurus as I've been accused of having done, but the science is mostly new to me and it's a challenge to hunt down facts that fit seamlessly into the narrative.

In any event, I haven't been able to do too much in the way of writing this weekend. I've been learning Linux prompts and broke my text editor by trying to upgrade it. So now I will have to consult with my computer guru on Tuesday and make do with Google Docs for the time being. Which is fine anyway since I need to share docs between two computers and a thumb drive and can never seem to remember where the most current version is saved. Tonight I'm hard at it, trying to get Chapter 3, at least, sewn up. I'm a little discouraged at my writing pace and think continuously that if this turns into a war of attrition, then I might not have the stamina it takes to tell David and Claire's stories to completion. But determination is certainly a learned skill and may be one of the many lessons that writing has yet to teach me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More Tools

I should mention that I have acquired another new writing tool. For one thing, a friend of mine gave me a mini travel mouse to use with my Aspire One so that I can now avoid being overly annoyed with the track pad. For another thing, I've gotten a bed table for my laptop with a tilting top so I can type from bed more comfortably. Now I have absolutely no reason to leave bed on the weekends! Hopefully, the acquisition of the Aspire One and various accessories will help me become just a bit more productive. I certainly don't NEED any of this to write the story I have in mind, but having the right tools does help things along. Only today I got several paragraphs written during my lunch hour at work. That's much more than I got written at home during several hours of 'leisure' time tonight!

Progress vs. Productivity

I've had a horribly unproductive week and weekend, but I'm not fussed about it. I'm making progress. Chapter 3 still isn't stitched together into a coherent whole, though the sections are getting consistently more excellent with each passing edit. Chapter 4 still needs the ending to be written. I've jumped ahead to record an interchange in Chapter 6, and Chapter 5 is mapped out in my head as is much of 7 and 8. Though I barely wrote even a single page this weekend, I made huge progress. The insertion of one simple sentence into Chapter 4 completely solved a huge dilemma I'd been having. And the addition of an extra paragraph in Chapter 2 revolutionizes the readers' early impression of MarLo. Six short sentences give us her academic history, hometown, socioeconomic standing, how she got her distinctive name, and the status of her relationship with both Claire and her own father. And I thought cramming David's entire childhood into one chapter was tough! I'm extremely glad to have found a way to integrate this information into Chapter 2, though, as it had been weighing on me. I just hate the feeling of the writer knowing more than the reader. It feels like a failure to me.

As for the next tandem of chapters, it's just a matter of finding the time to find the words. Or at least finding the energy. This weekend I had plenty of time and didn't take advantage of it because I was basically depleted. I have found that the more I pressure myself to be 'productive' the less actually gets done. I spend too much energy stressing over my expectations for speed and have precious little processing power left over to be creative. So I'm trying out a 'write when its right' philosophy. I now have my Aspire One with me everywhere I go, so I'm going to attempt to write when the words come to me as opposed to blocking out several hours of time in the evenings and on weekends during which I attempt to force myself to output words. The problem with this new philosophy is that I'm not a professional writer. I have to work for a living, and I can't just take a time out to write midday during my best hours when MarLo starts talking into my ear. The best I can do is to jot quick notes and refer to them later when I'm at liberty to channel my characters' voices. To date, I have stacks of notes that I haven't so much as glanced at. It's very frustrating. I certainly hadn't started out with the goal to become a professional writer, but it's fast becoming a sort of dream of mine that aligns so nicely and neatly with my current dream job that it's ridiculous to think it never occurred to me before. One can certainly be a contract book designer and writer of novels at the same time.

But, honestly, dreams are all fine and good (necessary, even) but I have to get some real writing done soon. I am very aware of the law of diminishing returns as I've had two abandoned attempts at writing a novel previously. I've learned from both of those failed projects, but David and Claire's story, I'm determined will not just be another 'learning experience' for me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Re-Writes and Reach Readers

I've just completed ANOTHER re-write of Chapter 2! That's right. Another one. I think I've finally gotten all of the rough patches ironed out, though. There were several pieces that just didn't fit as nicely as I'd liked them to. There was either too big of an idealogical leap between paragraphs or there was too much information in too few words or missing information that would need to be in place before we take on Claire's next chapter. In any event, I've gone over it all again, word by word, aloud, and it's a much nicer read now. There are a few sentences that I can feel David's influence in. They're too highly styled and verbose. But I like allowing Claire the occasional lush observation. She has the ability to comment on so many things that David just doesn't notice.

Updates on the Reach Readers group: Three of my first readers and I were discussing the first two chapters over dinner this holiday weekend when a friend overhead and commented that he'd love to read and critique what I've written. He's involved in professional theatre, and I've seen several of his short plays performed. I was alway very impressed with his stage writing ability, so I decided that his opinion would be really valuable. I just never knew he'd be interested in being a part of Project Reach, or I would have invited him sooner! He has just posted his comments and they're terribly insightful. He finds Claire 'insufferably boring' and I can't say as I disagree with him. I'm hoping that I can keep enough interest in her chapters through the intervention of MarLo and Decker until we get to the meat of her story, but it's a tall order. Claire is dull. One of my female readers is annoyed by Claire because she perceives Claire to be a control freak. This is possibly a problem. I was intending to illustrate Claire's great capacity for compassion and possibly her potential for strong leadership in her debut chapter, not her need to step in and control everyone's lives. But then, Claire is all about control. Self-control. I'll have to keep a careful eye on how I convey Claire's concerns so that Claire isn't misunderstood by the reader. All excellent feedback!

My theatre reader's comments on The Deck:
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading about the deli. EASILY my favorite part thus far. I want to spend the whole story there. Hell, I want to spend a DAY there. It's a character in itself! How unique a place like this is. In just a few short passages we get an entire history of the place, and each little tidbit was more interesting and entertaining than the last. It's a great frame for snippets of action, and allows you to do some great things with mood simply by changing songs - which you've done already! It's such a creative set piece, and I'm really impressed.
I, personally, thought the inception of The Deck was a masterstroke, but I'm biased beyond belief. It's very validating to have someone recognize your good ideas for what they are and very useful to have someone able to draw your attention to the areas that need to brought up to the high standards of those good ideas.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Progress Report

Well, I've got a new tool! My Aspire One is up and running and networked with my desktop. I've written a bit on it. It's not impossible to type on, but it can be tricky. I'm very excited, as evidenced by the following exclamation points!!!

That being said, I performed some very minor re-writes of chapters 1 and 2, taking into account the feedback I've gotten so far from my Reach Readers. Chapter 3 is coming together slowly. It's still in several pieces that will need to be stitched together to form a coherent whole, but at least I'm not scrapping the whole chapter. Chapter 4 is turning out to be a fairly easy write. I've gotten the first three quarters of it written, pretty much in one sitting. The next bit is all in my head, but the challenge will be to get the words on the page. Chapter 5 is sketched out. Chapter 6 is also sketched out, and is where the story really begins. It's also where I'll have another big hangup requiring a lot of research and deep thought. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to put a lid on 3 and 4 about mid-week and then get a good start on 5 and 6 this weekend. I'm eager to post the next tandem of chapters for critique. I'm really excited to bring MarLo into play in Chapter 6.

For now, my pact reader is going to have to settle for incomplete chapters, though. I can't stick to a rigid bi-weekly deadline. I am far too concerned with quality prose and well-thought plot to rush myself. Admittedly, though, I should have gotten more writing done over the holiday weekend, but friends were in town to visit, so I spent more time socializing than I'd originally budgeted. It was worth it, though!