Category: writing process (page 1 of 10)

Eavesdropping — A Dialog-Writing Exercise

So yesterday in my Novel Writing class, I sent the kids into the commons for the last 20  minutes of class, which happens to correspond with the lunch they don’t have. The commons was full of teenage humans. I instructed mine to sit down somewhere and start eavesdropping. They were to write down random lines of dialog that they heard people say. They turned in their 5 favorite lines. I laughed a lot. Their overheard lines were weird. Funny. Awesome.

Today I had them pick their favorite one or two and put them up on the board. I had made columns for them to place the lines in, and after they’d all put up their best lines, I revealed the  topics heading each column. So now there are 5 or more lines of dialog – totally unrelated – under each of the following topics: Song Lyrics, Polygraph Machine, Job Interview, Explain Earth to the Aliens, Break-up, Babysitter Report, Newspaper Interview, and Love Letter. Now they’re furiously writing scenes that use at least one of the lines in whatever category it fell. I love watching them grin while they’re working.

Here are some of the overheard lines:

“It’s more than just a hat.”
“I’ve been drinking your blood and tears.”
“No. He doesn’t want them on because of his bug bites.”
“She’s literally like the spawn of Satan.”
“Babe. He doesn’t like the shirt.”
“Do you want your socks on?”
“I’m the whitest white girl here.”
“I seriously almost hit someone in the parking lot.”
“There was a guy who shipped two whales to Utah and kept them.”
“It’s free real estate.”
“Don’t write that down.”
“There’s a drink called the Hissy Fit?”
“Get out a marker and write YES on the goldfish.”
“He underwent intensive psychotherapy.”
“Something magical is about to happen.”
“Just buy a hose, you freak!”
“My mom was like, ‘Did you put on makeup? You know there’s guy makeup, right?'”

Clever little eavesdroppers. I can’t wait to see what they’ve made from their spoils.

Writing Snowflakes

I’m having one of those existential moments when I’m finished reading to my Creative Writing class and pestering those who haven’t yet turned in their poems, and they’re (theoretically) writing personal narratives, and I’m staring out the window and watching the snow flutter down.

It’s only been happening for a few minutes. The flakes are fat and feathery like little puffs of cotton. But if it keeps up for hours or days or anything longer than minutes, I guess, there will be something to show for it.

And here’s the part where I make a writing analogy, obvs.

I’ve been super dedicated to my daily writing time since before Christmas. I’ve been CONSISTENT, don’t you know. And it’s starting to add up. The words may be fluttery and flaky at the time I write them (and in fact, I’m pretty sure that is exactly the case), but as it happens, day after day after day they start to add up. It may be true that I am 12,000 words into a “story” that I can’t define (in fact, totally true – I don’t know what it’s about), but the point, today, is that I’m 12,000 words into it. 12,000 more words than I’d have if I’d never decided to put down the few flaky words every morning.

Let it snow (words).

(and also snow, I guess.)

Breaks

I love my Christmas vacation! (Look! An Exclamation Mark! Many Marks!) I have my whole little family home, and we do a lot of relaxing, some eating, some visiting, some movies, some reading (we all got books for Christmas, natch), some laughing, some playing, and some of us (totally not me) even get to do some skiing.

I also have been doing the writing. I have this goal that I’ve been meeting for a whole week now about writing 1000 words a day. Once that was my normal. Once I did that every day. In less than an hour. Then I got a job and an increased blood pressure and a fear of failure all at once, and I sort of cut away at all the things that Didn’t Matter So Much. Writing my 1000 words a day fell by the way. The blood pressure normalized, and I realized that – although I missed it – writing was not essential to my life. Then. I’ve kind of decided that I want it to be essential to my life again.

Here are some things I’ve noticed: * Writing 1000 words is not hard if you have something to say. Dialog can go on for pages and pages and pages, if there’s subtext and romance and sadness. If, however, you’re trying to describe getting a heavy box into a locked house, it can take a really long time to make those sentences stick to the page. Because WHO CARES is why.

* Seeing the word count grow at the bottom of a document is a total rush for word nerds like me. Total rush. RRRUUUSSSHHH. (Don’t you hate how that doesn’t really say a word anymore?) It’s kind of like the feeling when the numbers go down on a scale, but the opposite in direction and SO FAST.

* I don’t need this story to be a book. I have arrived at the place where I’m writing for the sake of writing. If I manage to make this a Real Story, and it lives to see itself Revised and makes it through Edits and I like it well enough to Submit, it still may not be a Book. And that is totally okay with me. I’m having fun with Greta and Will and Mac and Marigold and Julie the Librarian.

* This is a story that I’ve been pecking at for a long, long time (that’s calendar pages long, not consistent fingers-on-keys long), and it’s fun to see how things change in that time. Characters have grown depth and flaws and dimensions. Some things I’ve been certain my main character wouldn’t do (because they’re stupid) I’m letting her do (because they make good Story). It’s easier to teach that than to actually let it happen.

* Rejection still hurts my ability to create, even though I’m old. I have to deliberately focus on the fun of creating, the joy of drafting, and not consider how it might feel if this manuscript goes the way of the last one. Even though I’ve decide to write for the gift of it, sometimes my brain slips backward into the muck of disappointment (in myself, in bad communication, in frustrating relationships) and it’s hard to write my way through it.

* One thing that seems to help is to write the Vomit Draft. Maybe Real Writers (you know the ones – they have OUTLINES) don’t need to vomit out scene after scene, but I need to allow myself to do just that. It’s an act of discovery. I am throwing up words here, and I am okay with that. Today, this month, this year it’s okay to write words that won’t stay. Once (or maybe over and over) I told writer class attendees that Writers Block is nothing more than the fear of being less than awesome. I don’t have that fear any more, because OF COURSE THE FIRST DRAFT IS GOING TO BE LESS THAN AWESOME. That’s why God invented Revision. So I don’t have to feel blocked, because it so doesn’t matter (today) what I write, as long as I write. This will not always be the case. But I’ll embrace it today.

I’m loving this Christmas break, and the huge amount of family time it’s bringing. I’m enjoying the gift of writing time (and I really, really hope I can be a champ about it when I have to get up at 5:00 to do it) and the gift of watching my manuscript grow and the gift of seeing my characters become Something. Maybe I needed a break from daily writing to recognize that I really like it. Not like I like Breathing, necessarily, but maybe the way I like something else that’s good, like popcorn or snowshoeing or reading novels.

I hope the things you love are the things that fill your days as we stride toward the finish line of this good year.

Dickensian

Once my dad read a manuscript I’d written, and he wondered if the plots weren’t a little too dramatic. Dickensian, he called it. Did I, he wondered, really mean to make such tragic, permanent things happen to my characters? This might surprise you if you read my books (and if you don’t, let’s just say they’re more character-heavy than plot-heavy, as a rule). But lately I’ve had cause to wonder if the ideal book pitch isn’t swinging back Dickens’ way.

Not that I’m some literary novelist (don’t be ridiculous), but I really enjoy reading (and writing) quieter stories where WHAT HAPPENS is not so important as the people to whom it happens. I tell my writing classes, “I don’t care what happens until I care who it happens to.” (Because I love to break rules about ending sentences with “to” and also because I mean it.) What if I’m the minority?

I am in my classroom now, so I can’t look for this book that I’m thinking of, but a few years ago I read a delightful middle-grade novel that was so unsubtly Dickensian that I laughed my way all the way through it (like I was supposed to). Is that the way I should be structuring my stories’ plots and conflicts? Strange benefactors, the creepy elderly, cartoonish villains with angular knees and elbows, all the orphans, death lurking around every corner?

{UPDATE: The story is called SOLOMON SNOW AND THE SILVER SPOON. It’s adorable.}

These are the thoughts. No answers. Ideas and wonderment and more and more thoughts.

The thing about Outlining

Serious writers outline. Everyone knows this. They create visualization boards and put awesome color-coded cards on corkboards with pushpins. They keep character bibles. They plan out Three Main Points of Action, they catalog the Try-Fail cycles, they draw sweeping character arcs.

I try to do these things. I try to be an outliner.

I can’t.

I write like a toddler playing with shiny glass beads. I play at it, which I am aware is not the world’s best work ethic. But it’s fun, and sometimes I allow myself to remember that writing is fun.

When I try to write like someone else, I find that less happens on the page. I think I finally figured out why. Here’s today’s epiphany. I love the discovery parts of writing. The starting from a point of conflict (usually emotional, but physical works, too) and growing a character inside a situation that will become clear later, when I feel like writing the scene where that stuff gets decided. The beginning with a conversation and building out into an interaction that grows into a written relationship… that’s the kind of writing that I love to do. Discovery-work.

Which still somehow feels LESS than it should be. So I try the other ways. I write an outline, and I make scene cards and they’re numbered and they have handwritten notes about what should happen in scenes, and then I put those cards up on a corkboard with red pushpins. And it looks really pretty, and I have NO FUN writing those scenes.

I think it’s because I already did the discovery-work part, and everything left over is work-work. And the rest of today’s epiphany? I don’t have to eliminate discovery-work. I don’t need to write like anyone else does. I don’t have to keep the charts, or learn how to use Excel, or color code my world (as much as I would love to do that part). I can write the way I write and take as long as it takes and put the words on the page as they come into my heart, and not worry so much that my mind doesn’t have a plan. Because the words want to be written. They want to exist on pages. They want to be shared, and they’ll come, even if it’s all out of order and skeewampus for a few drafts. The characters want to grow and become and flourish and try and fail and succeed and love and laugh, and they will, even if it’s in a different way than most people make it happen.

My way isn’t the best way to write. It’s not the fastest, or the most organized, or the smartest, or the most teachable. But it’s my way, and I can do it my way if I want to. And I want to.

Moving Right Along

I did it, guys. I survived January. And not only survived, but I had fun inside that madhouse of a month.

And I finished the long-term substitute teaching business. It was nearly every day of 2 months, and some kids were growing tired of me, and to a lesser extent, I of (a few of) them… but on my last day, look. Look what I got from someone I can’t name (because I don’t know who sent it).

 

I ask you, does it get any cuter than that? And does my life require much beyond a little overstated praise now and then? No, no it does not. So, thank you, unnamed kid at the high school. You have brought me gladness. Loads. (Also, proper use of “You’re” — so, I love you. Whoever you are, I love you.)

And this marks the third morning of Not Teaching, and the third morning of Writing Instead. And ideas are coming faster than words, but hey — that’s okay since words will arrive to follow the ideas, whereas sometimes the words come by themselves, and just trust me, it’s better when those pesky words have Idea Chaperones to keep them on task and out of trouble.

And so it goes, day by day, word by word, class by class, moving right along. Feeling grateful for the days that don’t move quite so fast as some of the others. Holding on tight to moments and minutes and happies.

 

Back to Work

So after the most lovely and relaxing 4-day weekend, I’m back at it this morning. Off to school in ten minutes. And I managed to get myself out of the bed early enough to have fifteen minutes of writing time. Fifteen minutes in which words tumbled.

They were words, and that’s what matters now.

But also, there were a couple of lovely ones in there. And they took up space in a document that is growing (very slightly) larger daily. Even a couple of hundred words at a time are a couple of hundred more than there were yesterday.

And that’s goodness, don’tchaknow.

Today’s things…

We went back to school today. Does that seem a little… sudden to anyone else? Yeah. Me, too.

The Boy had a basketball game — 3rd grade league, coached by Husband. No keeping score. Except that our row (me, and his 3 older sisters) saw both of his awesome shots go in. And we cheered, and so did he. He’s adorable.

Writing about things. It’s good to do. Writing about real things that happened before I was alive? Good, too, but slightly harder.

Poll: What do you consider historical fiction? Like, I’m thinking, I want you to tell me how old the history has to be. If I’m writing about something that happened a couple of years before I was born, is that historical? (Is anyone else thinking about THE PRINCESS BRIDE’s line, “Only compared to some”?)

I like school visits. I get to do one in a couple of weeks. And I grow giddy at the prospect. (What’s the verb form of giddy? Do I Gid? I must know.)

Don’t you love my hair in this picture? I have never been able to duplicate it. Such is life. Also, I don’t mind that I have wrinkles. Getting older is way better than the alternative.

So… what’s going on with you today?