2014 in review

Standard

Looking back is always part of New Year’s Eve, and looking back over a year of re: read pages gives me a lot of joy. I hope you found some great new authors or books worth rereading as a result of perusing this blog. Thanks so much for checking in. I hope to bring more discussion, reviews and writing updates in the year to come.

Check out the year in review for re: read pages from WordPress.

Happy reading in 2015!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 990 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Can you see what I’m saying?

Standard

I’m a chatty person. I love a good, long conversation. I have pre-conversations with people to work out how I think a talk will turn out, often working myself up in the process or laughing at how I think they will respond. What I’m saying is that dialog, external or interior, is not a problem for me.

What I do struggle with is the stuff in between. How characters physically interact, how they move within a scene and from place to place, how the characters take in what they are seeing and feeling, how to share what they are thinking without just making it a interior monologue. You know, basically the bulk of the novel. Often, as I discovered on a recent editing pass (read about that here), my writing descends into cliché and melodrama when I have to write an extended scene with no thought or speech. Clearly, this is an area I need to work on.

So the plan for the month of October is to focus on the art of description.

What better way to start than to look at some examples:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

In a review of this novel, John Updike (no slouch himself) had this to say about Atwood’s writing, “…scarcely a sentence of her quick, dry yet avid prose fails to do useful work, adding to a picture that becomes enormous.”

Updike’s words handily sum up what I think great writing should contain. Every word counts to creating that bigger picture and meaning of a novel. The Blind Assassin was the first Atwood book I fell in love with at first reading.

Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence. Time and distance blur the edges; then suddenly the beloved has arrived, and it’s noon with its merciless light, and every spot and pore and wrinkle and bristle stands clear.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

This novel is in my top 10 all-time favourite books. I find something new every time I read it.

Roland looked at Maud. The pale, pale hair in fine braids was wound round and round her head, startling white in the light that took the colour out of things and only caught gleams and glancings. She looked almost shockingly naked…. He wanted to loosen the tightness and let the hair go. He felt a kind of sympathetic pain on his own skull-skin.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The novel had me from the start and when I read the following description all I could think was, as Liz Lemon would say, “I want to go to there.”

The man called Isaac nodded and invited us in. A blue-tinted gloom obscured the sinuous contours of a marble staircase and a gallery of frescoes people with angels and fabulous creatures. We followed our host through a palatial corridor and arrived at a sprawling round hall, a virtual basilica of shadows spiraling up under a high glass dome, its dimness pierced by shafts of light that stabbed from above. A labyrinth of passageways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive woven with tunnels, steps, platforms, and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry. I looked at my father, stunned. He smiled at me and winked.

“Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Daniel.”

 

 

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

The first cut

Standard

I’m editing my first 50 pages and needed a little perspective:

“The first draft of anything is shit.” Ernest Hemingway

“If a word in the dictionary were misspelled, how would we know?”  Steve Wright

Ah, better. Now back to editing.

 

For more quotations on editing, check out the blog Terribly Write.

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

 

 

84 days

Standard

The last time I posted on this blog was in January. 84 days ago. It feels like forever but, despite my best intentions, I never had the time to put up a proper blog post. Instead, you would have been treated to the incoherent ramblings of a sleep-deprived proofreader whose work was tied to the corporate tax season. The timeframe is, mercifully, defined by law, but the hours are coo coo bananas.

Over those 84 days, I maintained my sanity by reading on the subway. I managed to read three books in 45-minute increments: Lucrezia Borgia by John Faunce, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss (I actually read non-fiction!), and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (third time is a charm). Plus, on my first real night off, I binge read Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui (a memoir, sort of, and great read to celebrate the return of free time). I’ll be posting my thoughts on the two novels over the next couple of Mondays.

My own writing was completely dropped. Terrible, I know. I did try to write while on my way to work, but more often than I should perhaps admit, my thinking between sentences turned into napping for the rest of my commute. But now that my work has slowed and I have more hours to myself, I am ready to rededicate myself to my novel, this blog, and reading.

To help get back into the habit, I am making myself a new goal: 84 days of writing. Every day from today until July 16, which, coincidently, is my wedding anniversary, I will write for at least 45 minutes. I will treat this time like the time spent on my commute – completely unavoidable – and, hopefully, at the end of it, I will feel more invigorated and inspired than I did at the end of tax season. Seems doable!

And just as a little motivational reminder, check out this post from the blog 101 Books on 7 myths about being a writer.

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.