I’m up!

Standard

Hello,

A lot of time has passed, over a year in fact, since I last wrote. I wanted to come back sooner, but some days I didn’t want to, some days I physically couldn’t, and some days I felt too embarrassed and disappointed in myself to believe I should or could write.

But here I am. Again. Wiping the dust off my shoulder and my keyboard and trying.

I looked up a few of those inspiring quotes to add to this post. None of them really explained why I decided to pick up my long abandoned blog and book.

I started the year on a great reading kick. I was commuting for three hours every day and everything I read was great. If I started a book I didn’t like I dropped it. For nearly five months, I was in book reading bliss. But once my work shifted to back at home, my reading didn’t come with me and I felt like garbage. I binged watched television and movies, spent too much time scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, and got caught up on the youtube channels I follow. One day, I was scrolling through Twitter and read a post about self-comfort vs. self-care. I realized that I was comforting myself but not caring.

So I picked up my books again. Hilary Mantel. Kevin Kwan. I even attended an author event with Kwan for his newest book, Rich People Problems, which was delightful. Reading good books has turned into wanting to write a good book.

This summer, my brother asked me if I’d been working on my book. I didn’t try to hide my lack of progress behind the too busy response. I haven’t been working on it, but I know that I should. I still, after all this time, like the idea of my book. But blank pages don’t tell a story. Not even a bad one.

So I will write. I will write for this blog. I will write my book. I will read. I will keep trying because I want to and that’s enough reason for me.

 

Trust issues

Standard

I’ve been working on a scene in my book that is a pivotal moment for my main character. I’m not actually that far along in the story yet, but I really wanted to write it so I skipped ahead. The difficulty in writing the scene was the need for Rosaline to decide if she trusts someone or not, and I needed to decide if her decision is the correct one. My choice and hers could bring the story in different directions and I had to weigh the pros and cons of each. An added concern was that the choices revolved around a real life event, so the characters’ actions had to make sense for the real outcome.

On June 14, 1497, after leaving a family dinner at his mother’s home, Juan Borgia was murdered and his body dumped in the Tiber in Rome. The Pope began an investigation, but abruptly called it off after only a few days. As a result, while the family had many enemies, a rumour implicating his brother Cesare began to circulate. Juan’s murder was never solved.

Borgia

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At this point in my story, Rosaline is close to the Borgia family, acting as Lucrezia’s confidante and friend and frequently sparing with Cesare, though they are also friends. It is a dangerous time and Rosaline needs to decide what path she wishes to follow.

While the process was difficult and I struggled to make a final choice for the plot, I really enjoyed writing it and, ultimately, I think I stayed true to Rosaline’s character and her development.

Now I have to go back and tie the sections of my story together. Knowing where the characters are going and what the fall out will be helps me weave details and clues in the previous pages. I have to admit, the hard work of putting together feels really satisfying.

BJL

Realistic to Reality

Standard

I didn’t finish my novel in 2014. When I started my blog I really thought it would be a possibility. I would get my first draft done. When I look back at my posts over the year, I can see where my job, you know, interfered with my writing – there are several months when I have no posts and completed no writing of any kind. And then there are posts that are full of great plans that never got fulfilled. I admit I felt embarrassed and discouraged by my inability to reach my goals and my general lack of progress. Even at the beginning of this year, when I sat down and looked at my novel, I had to work hard to not just give up entirely – on the blog and on my novel.

But then I read a really good book called Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen. I wrote about it in a guest post on Girl of 1000 Wonders, check it out here, but as you can probably guess, it is about the Nurse from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The novel is a good example of historical adaptation: it uses the source material well, smoothly integrates historical details, and presents a good original story. And it made me rethink my own novel.

What I was left with at the end of Juliet’s Nurse was not only a satisfying reading experience but also a renewed sense of value to my own story. Rosaline’s story is worth telling.

So now I need to make a plan to which I can actually stick. Part of that will be admitting that, as my busy season at my work starts up in the next week, I won’t be doing much, if any, writing. And that’s okay. It’s not because I don’t believe in my story or want to get it done, but that I am just giving way to the reality of my situation.

Would I still like to finish my first draft this year? You bet. But I will just have to deal with the pace my life allows me. I have to take the time I am given and use it well. I have to turn off the distractions (cough, cough, Netflix, cough). I have to remember the hard work does pay off. I have to put words on the page and not try write the next great Canadian novel but write my novel.

Step one: break one bad writing habit.

I will write every day. It doesn’t even have to be on my novel, but I will sit down and write. Even if I can only find five minutes, it is better than nothing. Those minutes and words will add up to pages, chapters and, eventually, a book.

Today I wrote 206 words for my novel. Huzzah!

BJL

Cut. It. Out.

Standard

Last week I began a month-long discussion about description/exposition in fiction writing with a post of examples from the greats.

This week, I want to take a closer look at making each word count, cutting the fluff and the filler. The adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” could easily apply to my editing strategy. If the words don’t improve or add to my story then they don’t need to be there.

Listen to Uncle Joey and Cut. It. Out.

For me, the extra words creep in as unnecessary adjectives and flowery language or direct exposition of the characters’ feelings. Reading it back to myself I feel like I am channeling my 14-year-old protagonist a little too closely when writing – she plays older than her age, thinks everyone either loves her or hates her, and, oh, the feels. There is too much wild emotion and it leads to wild writing.

No purpose, no plot, no book.

At the risk of completely embarrassing myself, I am going to share some of the lines that recently got hacked from my book.

 

Rosaline reached out and grasped the paper in his hand.

Um, in order to take something in your hand you must move your arm. No one is going to lift it, place an object in your hand and close your fingers for you. Delete!

 

Now seeing the last gift she had planned for Catalina gave her comfort; her loss was great because their love was great.

If the reader can’t tell how much Catalina means to Rosaline by the time she dies, than I need to do a lot more work on the beginning of this novel. This falls under the show don’t tell philosophy of writing. Delete!

 

“I know why you want to stay close to me,” Rosaline said, taking a step closer to him. She knew her head fit neatly below his chin. She could step three feet closer and lean against him and he would put his arm around her. “You like being close to me.”

Marco’s eyes glimmered and a faint smirk crossed his face before his low, rumbling laughter took over.

WTF. I love me some romance novels (see here, here and here) but, regardless of the fact that I changed the relationship between Rosaline and Marco, this is no YA love story. Ugh. Delete!

 

In an attempt to fill my head and my pages with better writing, I’ve started reading more about description. I am currently reading The Art of Description: World into Word by Mark Doty. While the book uses poetry for examples, I’ve found the focus on how much can be inferred with only a few lines and well placed words to be illuminating. I’m going to keep up my secondary reading on description for the rest of the month as well. So if you have any books to recommend, let me know in the comments.

Structure vs. Chaos

Standard

Lately, I’ve been feeling like one of those inflatable tube men that are put up in front of businesses that are having sales – flailing my arms, full of hot air, and not accomplishing much. Re read pages was supposed to help me focus on my writing by getting me to actually write, but I feel like it has become just another thing for which I’m not writing enough.

October is going to be different. And since I don’t just want to hope I’ll be different this month, I am making an October writing plan and giving my writing goals for re: read pages and my novel (a lot) more structure.

This is what I will have coming up this month:

Books to Read

Lives of Short Duration by David Adams Richards – Richards’ third novel, time to get back to reading my way through his works

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart – this will be the second time I’ve read this novel; Stewart died this past May at the age of 97

The White Deer by James Thurber – another reread, this is a novel I first read with my mother when I was little

Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville – a debut novel and historical fiction, my two favourite things

On Writing Wednesdays

I will also restart my discussion of various aspects of writing. To help support my novel writing, I’ve decided to dedicate each month to an area I am interested in/struggling with in my novel. For October, the topic will be description, and I plan on talking about examples of great descriptions, cutting unnecessary fluff, using description to add foreshadowing, and getting the details correct, and offering a sample of what I feel is my best bit of description produced in October (yikes!). I’m flipping my Wednesday and Friday schedule for this week, just so I can introduce my plan, so Friday will be a post on description, but next week everything will be back to (the new) normal.

My Novel

The goal for the month is 14,000 words, dispensed in 500 words (minimum) per day segments. This is doable. I’ll update my progress every Friday, including the weekly word count (yikes 2.0!). I really need to get words on a page because, as Jodi Picoult has said, “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

The hard part will be making it a habit to sit down at the same time each day (at the end of the day when the kids are in bed) and hammering out those words. Hopefully I will become a more efficient writer with each evening’s work.

So there is my October writing plan. I’m hoping making a game plan will keep me more accountable, but feel free to shout at me if I start missing deadlines or if you have some suggestions about how to keep on track I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

– BJL

Deadline extensions are the best

Standard

Last month I discovered that a publishing house was accepting unagented submissions in June and tasked myself with preparing my first 50 pages for consideration. I worked on getting that ready (more on that process in a moment) but, of course, I wasn’t content with what I accomplished as the deadline loomed. But I promised myself that I wouldn’t chicken out and I would send in my work for review.

So you can imagine my relief when I learned that the deadline for submission is actually the end of June not the beginning. Yay! Additional days to smooth the scene transitions and rewrite clunky dialogue.

I’ve been reading more historical fiction with the idea that reading great examples of the genre in which I am writing will force me to up my game. And it is, but it is also showing me how much work I have yet to do.

My biggest fears in writing historical fiction are that I will be historically inaccurate or shallow and that the writing will be immature. I am 35 years old and, while there is great writing for every age group, my aim is to write a book for adults, not YA, not New Adult, but for actual, can’t-deny-it adults. To me that means the story is more than just the experience of the characters, it is the experience of that time and place and expresses an idea larger than the situation, which is no small feat to accomplish. Most of the time I’m not even sure that I’m up for it.

But I won’t know until I get the bloody thing done.

So with that in mind, I printed out the first 50 pages of my book and read them straight through with a pink pen in hand (much more friendly looking than red). By the end of my read, I had removed four pages of text, the equivalent of around 1,300 words.

And it felt good. Really good.

I learned a lot about my writing in this editing pass, but here are the five key things I took away from experience:

  1. I go too fast. It was like my story was on fast forward. I couldn’t wait to get to the next scene, the next plot twist, the next conversation. I need to give my characters time to take things in and build up the world they live in.
  2. My characters touch each other way. too. much. And not even in a sexual way but just like they have no personal space. I mean, I’m a hugger, but even I was thinking, “back up a little.”
  3. Pick a genre. Ugh, sometimes my writing has too much feels. #melodramaticmuch?
  4. I have more research to do. I read Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus and in the first three pages she presented a master class in historical fiction that really made me see how details can be implemented to help the plot along while grounding the book in its time period. Meanwhile, in my editing pass I actually wrote “kind of bullshit” beside a passage I crossed out
  5. I like my main character, Rosaline. I want to know what happens to her and I hope readers will too.

After I finished my slash and delete editing pass, I headed to the library to pick up a massive stack of books to help build up the work I have already done. The weeks remaining in June will be busy ones but I am glad to have them. There is so much more to come and that is exciting.

BJL

Get on with it

Standard

Sometimes you just want to feel like you are accomplishing something and moving forward with your goals. With that in mind, I have decided to submit my novel to a publishing house that is accepting unagented authors in the month of June. I’m going in with no expectations; I just want a real deadline and a purpose to my progress.

 

So the month of May will be all about cleaning up my first 50 pages. I’ve been a little terrified about rereading my own pages. The impulse to delete everything because it is not good enough will be difficult to suppress, but this is where the hard work of writing comes in. Deny the doubt and get on with it.

 

That means I will be editing and reworking 14,400 words – too much of it dialogue. Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve noticed that the fiction I admire generally has very little dialogue. While I can’t completely change my style, it is a little chatty, like me in real life, I can work on being more selective with what needs to be said or at least present the same information in a less direct way.

 

I will also have to answer questions that I’ve put off answering in order to avoid more research, such as the size of personal libraries in late 15th century Italy (FYI, Google and Wikipedia are no help).

 

And I will have to decide where to begin. I’ve already changed the beginning twice. I’m not sure if I’ll keep the beginning I have right now, which is an extended flashback (admittedly another crutch in my writing), or rework the back story to be revealed as part of Rosaline’s character development.

 

The first step will be printing those pages out, grabbing a green pen (it stands out and isn’t as angry looking as red ink) and marking up my work. There is a different feel to editing in hard copy. I can see more when I have all the pages out in front of me rather than scrolling page by page on a screen. Call it old school, but it works. That is this weekend’s homework. Then I’ll set about putting my story back together again.

 

Now that I’ve started talking about it, I’m feeling more and more excited. Be sure to check back throughout the week and keep me honest!

 

BJL

 

 

My words

Standard

I reread my notes from my novel. Wow, there is a lot of information there – clothing styles, political alliances, modes of transportation, religious expectations, phases of the moon and more and more. And still I have blank spaces in my story. I am beginning to feel bogged down by research and frustrated by my lack of writing, familiar feelings, unfortunately. So I am going to set aside the research for a while, be okay with the blank spaces and star putting words on the page. They may not be perfect words but at least I won’t have a blank white page.

Next week, I will discuss my progress. My goal is seven new pages (no editing previously written ones). For now, I think I need to get up the courage to share some of what I have written already. So I am including a selection from a defining moment in Rosaline’s life. Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

Catalina’s scream cut the air. Rosaline’s attention snapped back to the shoreline just in time to see her sister being pulled down the river. Rosaline rushed to the water, flinging herself in the current and letting it drag her through the water.  The little girl’s head bobbed in the water ahead of her. Rosaline’s limbs, cold from her first crossing, felt as though they were weighing her down rather than propelling her forward. Rosaline kept swimming, watching for her sister’s flailing arms and calling her name. The river narrowed and the current increased in speed. Rocks jutted out of the water. Rosaline could no longer see or hear her sister. She was battered against the stones. Her head slipped beneath the water. She broke to the surface for a moment before being pulled under again. Rosaline pushed against a rock toward what she hoped was the surface. She gasped for breath as she came up into the air; Rosaline pulled herself from the river and collapsed.

Rosaline’s arm throbbed, a painful assurance that she was still alive. She slowly opened her eyes. She was in her own room, the curtains drawn, a candle flickering on the side table. She tried to lift her head.
“Shhh, you must not try to move, though I am relieved to see you awake,” Maria appeared beside her bed, checking her covers, pressing a cool cloth against her head. Rosaline shifted her gaze to Maria’s worried face. She tried to speak her sister’s name but only a thin whisper past her lips.
“Have a drink.” The cool liquid soothed her throat as she drank, but even that small act depleted her strength.
“Catalina.”
“Rest,” Maria said, tucking the blankets around Rosaline. Rosaline’s head began to throb like her arm. Did they not know that Catalina was missing? Where was her sister? White flashed before her eyes. The rush of the water sounded in her ears and then all was black once more.

The sun was shining on her bed the next time Rosaline opened her eyes. Her arm and head no longer hurt, so she propped herself up.
“You’re awake.” Her mother’s voice drew her eyes to the window. Alma’s dark silhouette turned; Rosaline could not see her face.
“Where is—”
“Do not speak,” Alma sharply cut off Rosaline’s question. “You have been sleeping for five days. How could you let her near the water? How could you let her fall in?”
“I tried—”
“I told you not to speak!” Alma rushed to the bedside, “We found her not 15 feet from where you lay. Her face blue. Her leg twisted. Her hands bloody and torn.” Alma’s face, now close to Rosaline’s, was pale. Her eyes were red and puffy. “You were supposed to protect her,” Alma said, pushing away from the bed and walking toward the door.
“Mama.”
Alma froze. Without looking back she replied, “I only had one daughter, and I buried her yesterday.” Alma stepped from the room, closing the door on the anguished cries coming from inside

Going forward

Standard

This week, I reread the pages I have completed so far on my novel. There were good parts and bad. In some places I just wrote in what I needed to find, for example “job title,” or “Transition” when I wanted to get to the next scene. I can see what I’m trying to do and still like the idea but it is so rough. So, so rough.

My biggest desire is to go back and smooth it out, work out the kinks and fill in the blanks but I am going to ignore that impulse. It can be fixed later. Right now I need to get more words on the page.

So I have made two goals for myself. First, I want to reach the end of my novel. I figure it should be a little over 300 pages when I am finished. If I even wrote just a page a day, I could be done before the end of 2014. I know that a page a day is an impractical way of writing because I won’t get the chance to write every day, but a goal of seven pages per week (minimum) doesn’t seem that impossible.

Second, I noticed a dependence on dialogue. I use it too much and skip over showing the scene. I need to start filling in those blanks, show what the character is seeing and add some heft to the scenes. I think this will go a long way in adding not only length but quality to the pages.

When I think of the books I admire, there is not very much dialogue. Part of reading great books is the hope that their greatness will sink in and influence my own writing. I’m hoping that the idea behind “you are what you eat” converts to “you write what you read,” kind of like I’m consuming nutritious novels instead of sugary beach reads. I like sugar and there is noting wrong with eating a little, but I have to eat my Grapes of Wrath, too.

I must admit, it was a little discouraging to go back and look at my old work. I remember being excited when I wrote it and going back to it with a cold read exposed its flaws. I know that there will be a lot of revision and ultimately it will make the novel better, but right now it feels like a long way between the first word and last word. So I am trying to focus on a quote from Earl Nightingale:

Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.

Writing a book seems like a good way to pass the time.

Origins: my novel

Standard

Hard truth: I started writing my novel in January, 2005.

2005! How did almost a decade pass without my completing it?

It began as a project with good (but high) expectations. I had enrolled in a college’s creative writing correspondence program – six months of writing with a mentor – in the hopes of producing a strong piece of work by the end. At the time, I had just finished an English degree, was working two jobs and planning my wedding.

My mentor was encouraging and supportive, but, in five months, I only produced an outline, started researching, and wrote maybe 20 pages of my novel.

I was overwhelmed by what I undertaken – a historical fiction set in 15th century Italy. I wanted to be accurate in my descriptions and authentic in my characterizations. I drowned a little in the research, hampered by, among other things, the need to track down translations of Latin and Italian texts and the discovery that the Borgias (the papal family that feature strongly) were a murky mix of legend and truth.

I was happy with the work I produced, though disappointed with the volume. I didn’t work right to the end of the program as my wedding took place a month before and I was also accepted to a Master of Arts program for English in a different city, so I wasn’t focused on my writing aspirations.

And that was pretty much the last time I spent quality time working on my novel. Sure, I’ve had spurts of writing, but they have been irregular and often combined with sweeping editorial changes as I reread my own pages and found them lacking. I always had an excuse for not spending time working on my book: finishing my degree, starting a career, having two kids, cleaning the fridge. Really, any excuse would do because I was terrified of being a writer (see my post would-be writer from Wednesday for a discussion on the fears of a writing life).

But then I turned 35 and started questioning how I wanted to spend the next 30 years of my life. And the one constant that remained was that I wanted to be a writer. Consequently, I am dusting off what I still consider to be a good idea for a novel and making time for it (and, ultimately, myself).

So, here is the idea: What happened to Rosaline?

Who is Rosaline? Rosaline is the young lady who didn’t fall for Romeo’s charms before he met Juliet. She is the one that got away. Not many people remember that Romeo first was tortured by love for Rosaline, but I always wondered about this girl who spurred Romeo’s advances in favour of  “Dian’s wit” – a reference to the virgin goddess Diana, meaning Rosaline had taken a vow of chastity. What did a life in the church mean for a woman at that time and why, next to religious belief, would someone choose that life? The idea spun out from there after I began my research, but, really, if you’re going to borrow from another writer, Shakespeare is a pretty good place to start.

Now that I’ve decided to go back to work on this novel, I need to make a plan and set some obtainable, but challenging, goals. I’m going to start by rereading what I’ve got so far (resisting the urge to edit too much) to remind myself of how much I have done and, hopefully, get more excited about the idea again. I am going to decide how much time to give to my novel each week. I do still have a day job, so I may not get to work on it every day. I think by making writing part of my schedule, just like going to work, making dinner and playing with my kids, I’ll get a lot farther than I realize. And, of course, I’ll share the process and the work here on re: read pages, so I hope you will check back often.

BJL