Daily Archives: September 6, 2010

Don’t Worry About Me. I’m Just Sitting Around Starting my Book Over Five Million Times

Okay. Three million times. I exaggerate.

Let me talk about something. In BIRD BY BIRD, Lamott says how sometimes you have to write four pages to get that one paragraph. That ONE paragraph. And you sit back and you say, ahhh, so that’s what all the rest of the crap was for.

So my question is what if you have to write 100 pages to get one paragraph. Is that still okay?

I keep starting my book over. I have been keeping my 2000 word count goal which would be cool if I actually got to keep any of the words. But i keep realizing mid-sentence on page new 95  that something is feeling off and thus a new draft.

cam says. are you okay?

i say. oh yes. i am great. i am so great.

One time, what is in my head won’t come out how I want it to on the paper. I am messing up this story. I am hurting these people’s lives. They want to live, not say lame things, overcome stuff, not have their “heart drop” over and over again, love stuff, hate stuff, I am so tired. can you tell?

But it’s true. What Carol says. You have to wade through it. You have to get out the draft. Then you can tinker. I’m used to tinker tinker tinkering as I go but I think enough is enough. Revision is the best part. The journey to get to that point is the hard one.

In my book, THIS IS WHAT I DID:  some of my favorite parts came up in revision. The characters got to breathe more. Got to laugh at each other more. The palindromes that Logan and Laral write back and forth? Fifth draft. And I love those. I want to get to love parts. And I have to let myself remember that that usually comes in revision. Stop stopping. Start keep going. Even if it means changing POV mid-draft. Or adding a charactr that makes no sense but I’ll fix it all later. Or letting a really lame speech about dogs stay where it is because maybe in this first draft, dogs need to hang around for awhile until i can figure out what the speech is really supposed to be about. (probably no speech, i know).

this is bad. very bad. But good. So good. Because this is what it’s all about. Overwriting and stressing but mostly wearing clothes with mustard on it from my son’s birthday where he stuffed cake in his mouth and ran around screaming racecar racecar racecar.


Filed under Uncategorized

Swiss Cheese or the Beginnings of Revision

The first draft of the DD is done. And man, it’s got some holes. But at least I’ve got a beginning, a middle, a climax and an end. Thank goodness. That was so hard.

Now comes the fun part. The hardest draft, for me, is the first draft. You know, the trying to make-up-the-middle part. The trying to put the bones together in such a way that I end up with a finished project–something that will hold the weight of flesh and guts and emotion. That first draft stuff is awful, as far as I’m concerned.

Okay, so everybody writes differently. And we even work differently from book to book. Ann Dee and I have been complaining about that for some time–that these two novels we’re slaving over haven’t come together like novels in the past.

When I wrote KELLY AND ME, I spent years on it. I was writing short stories at the time. I never thought I could write a novel. And then, in the middle of the night,  years after I started writing what would become a book, I realized I knew the end: someone had to die. (Those of you who have heard me talk know I say that you have to have someone dead and/or naked in every book you write. I did that in my first novel.) Wait! I now had a book!

When I wrote KELLY AND ME, I worried that I might never have another idea. That’s not been the case. I have plenty. What I never saw coming is how I would wrestle with novels to finish them. Some have come quickly, like CAROLINA AUTUMN or MY ANGELICA. Some I’ve worked on for years, like GLIMPSE. Each is almost its own life form, in a weird sort of way, growing the way it thinks it should.

A friend recently said to me, “I’m writing my book and it’s taking a shift. I didn’t think it would go this way, and it is. I’m worried.” “Follow it,” I said. “Let the book lead the way.”

Here, in just a few steps, are a some things I think you should think of when you are following your novel to hell and back in that first draft.

1. The story must start on a day when something is different for the main character.

2. In the first chapter of a middle grade or young adult novel we need to meet the main character and see that there is some kind of problem.

3. Very soon after we get to know our character, he needs to make a choice, or have something that is thrust upon him, that changes his path.

4. We need to see a steady rise in action, driving the main character toward the climax of the novel. Remember this part, it’s important. Everything that happens in the book must drive toward the climax. If it doesn’t, cut that part out.

5. Your character makes a choice that propels her to the climax of the novel. She is thrust (or run) into a situation that doesn’t allow them to go back to their old life.

6. The book winds up in one chapter or its equivalent.

7. The character is not who she started out as, but has changed.

Here are these steps if I’m using a real novel–one of my own–to show you how they work. Remember–this is a basic idea. These 7 steps do not a book make. They are a draft.

1. The prophet is coming to the Carlson home for a visit.

2. On page one we are introduced to Kyra. As the story unfolds, we see her as a little girl and as a young girl. We know there is a bit of a problem when Kyra says, in that beginning part, that she hopes her little sister will sleep through the meeting.

3. Kyra is told she will marry her uncle.

4. We see Kyra’s sins and her family. We see how they all struggle with the decree she must marry Hyrum.

5. Kyra decides to run and does.

6. She talks with Samantha, knows she is alone and what has happened for her to get to where she is.

7. Her life, and she, will never be the same again.

Now, you can see these are just the very, very basics of the book, right? And you can see that there is much more that unfolds in the novel, too. Not everything came to me in the first draft. I did a lot of figuring things out in drafts two and three and four. (You’ve heard me complain about that, too!) What I am showing you here is a way to see that you are headed in the right direction.

If you know these kinds of things should happen then you will know that they need to be in the completed book. Right? That means you can write to some of this or you can revise to it.

Which is what I’m getting ready to do. Rewrite. Fill in the holes. There are lots and lots and lots of gaping holes in this charming DD.

And then guess what?

I have another novel to start. And you know what that means? That’s right–me complaining on this blog for the next few months.


Good grief, that scares even me.


Filed under Uncategorized