May 30, 2012

my rough drafting process.

I'm closing in on this rough draft. The end is nigh! I can almost smell it. Which means I'm pretty manic.

All of my rough drafts I aim for a 80,000 word count (give or take a few thousand) (usually give!). Right now I'm about at 63,000 words.

Rough drafting is my favorite out of all the stages of the novel's growth, which can be unfortunate, since it ends up only being a little blip in the project's life-span (at least, this has been my experience with LUMINANCE HOUR). While you're in the throes of it though, rough drafting feels like it lasts forever. Especially when you take a wrong turn. Or decide to rewrite the first third of the book.

The thing I love most about rough drafting is the absolute freedom. When you first begin you aren't married to anything. You have no plot. No subplots. No deep character backstories. (At least, I don't, because I'm not really a plotter. At all). I think the real joy for me is seeing these things bloom to life on the page in front of me. To sit back and see how my subconscious manages to piece it all together in a way I don't always completely understand. (That subconscious is a sneaky, smart thing.)

Usually I start a story off with a single key scene in mind. It doesn't have to be in the beginning of the story. In fact, it usually isn't. For LUMINANCE HOUR, that scene is in Chapter 2. For Cutthroat Novel, the scene doesn't pop up until about page 80. Sometimes it's the first scene I write. Sometimes I back track and make notes and imagine this world for hours before I actually start to write.

0 words: Brainstorming. Who are these characters in my head? How do they connect to each other? Where do they live? Why? Is this our world or a different place entirely?

0-5000 words: Tentative exploring phase. Where I get a feel for the world and my main characters. Sometime it stays. Sometimes it doesn't. Even if I delete it I usually file it away for back story. Here is where I establish who is narrating and why. Sometimes there's more than one.

5001-10,000 words: Minor characters are popping up. They have stories too? How am I supposed to keep this straight? 

Reread the 40 pages. It's not bad, though the exploratory nature of rough drafting means it's, well, rough. At this point I usually go back and fix things, align facts. Polish up some language issues.

10,001-20,000 words: There should be a conflict in here somewhere. Oh. There it is. This is SUCH AN AWESOME STORY. I can't believe no one has ever thought of this before!

This is also the phase where I ship off a very messy Word Doc to my critique partners. I then stare at my inbox and wait for their immediate response (just kidding!) (not really...)

20,001-30,000 words: "The roller-coaster phase." Where, one day, you feel like your prose is golden and your character inscrutable. The next day you want to chuck your laptop out of the window because you can't think of creative dialogue tags.

Which is when your critique partners write back with rosy reviews (with a few peppered criticisms dashed in). This is generally a wonderful moral booster and keeps me from throwing away the draft altogether.

30,001-40,000 words: Really? This is the halfway point? I feel like the ball has just started rolling... *it was at this point in Cutthroat Novel that I realized my story was missing a narrator. So I had to backtrack and add him in. Which bumped the wordcount up considerably.

40,001-50,000 words: Oh. The plot is picking up. There goes the ball. Wait. I can't see it anymore!!! *runs frantically after plot*

I usually take another break at this point and reread to make sure my character arcs and subplots are coming along as planned. I make notes in a separate Word Doc to return to when I get to tackle edits. (Another joy of rough drafting: There's a problem? Leave it for edits! Future-self won't mind at all!)

50,001-80,000ish words: No looking back now! It's like the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyworld--once you get out on that ledge, there's no stopping it. The last 30k usually goes fast for me. It's a very manic stage, where I see all of the many character histories and subplots I cast come together and push the plot to its final solution.


And then? I close the Word document, pour myself a nice glass of wine and let it sit for a month without touching it. (The marination creates good distance). I'll send it to betas, CPs and my agent and take a well-deserved break.

To a non-writer, I know this process probably sounds a bit... unhinged. And it can be at times. Writers- does your rough-drafting process look at all similar? I'm curious!

May 29, 2012

herd mentality

One of the sad, sad truths about living close to a beach is that you almost never go. It's been warm/borderline beastly hot for a few months now, but I've only made that 15 minute drive to the beach about twice. And neither of those to actually swim in the ocean. I know, I know, I can hear your yells of admonishment through my computer screen. I plead the busyness of real life?

So I decided to go last weekend. Hindsight is 20/20... but I really should have realized that it was Memorial Day Weekend, thus, every other person in the city/county/state had the same idea. I put on my sunglasses, sprayed on my sunscreen and sat in my car for an hour and a half. When I finally reached said beach, there was very little wiggle room on the sand. But I was able to lounge and reread The Scorpio Races for  a good three hours to make my traffic snarl worthwhile.

I suppose, though I wasn't completely aware of it at the time, that I was participating in a "herd mentality." My friends/acquaintances/everyone on Twitter/Facebook talked about going to the beach, so I decided to join. And I "suffered" because of it (in a very, light, metaphorical, white-whine sense). It made me think of how many times writers fall victim to the herd mentality.

Herd mentality isn't always bad. Often it starts off as a good thing. People will flock to entertaining ideas/plots/genres. There's so much out there to be discovered, that oftentimes we need other people to experience things first and then recommend them. This is why sites like Pinterest are so wonderful.

I think where it goes wrong, is when writers are afraid/insecure in their stories because they don't fit in with the hot trend of the time. Some are even so worried about where the herd of other writer/agents/editors/reads is going that they don't write down the story that's burning inside of them. Instead they write what they think the herd will want to read. They cater to the tastes of others instead of penning down the story they were meant to write.

Sometimes the stories of your heart and the "hot genre" coincide (lucky you!!), and that's great. But most of the time they won't. And to me, the stories that I love the most, the books that stand out, are the ones where the author took risks.

Harry Potter was written at a time when children's literature wasn't "popular."

The Lord of the Rings is one of the first volumes of modern "high fantasy."

Redwall features talking animals who live in a woodland Abbey....

Killer water horses? Reincarnated chimera/human/demons?

This is as much as a peptalk for myself as it is for anyone reading this post. Don't worry about what other people will think. Write down what you need to write. This is how the best stories are born. And if the herd loves it, then great. And if they don't. Well, at least you had the courage to jump and write what you needed to.

Write what you love. Who knows. It might spearhead the next big trend!

May 26, 2012

lucky 13s post

If you guys hop on over to the Lucky 13s today you can read about some of the art and pictures that helped inspire LUMINANCE HOUR. Hope to see you over there!

May 25, 2012


So. The week is over. Words have been written.

Here's the tally: 12,451 words this week.

Which is about 2450 words a day.

I could hardly believe this myself really. Hopefully I can keep up the pace. If so then I could have the rough draft of CutthroatNovel finished in two weeks.

The key word here is hopefully.

I'd like for this to be true, because I have so many other looming projects that I'm afraid if I don't push through with this rough draft I won't get it done for a long time. So that's the goal. Finish CutthroatNovel. And make it good.

I'm really excited about this one guys. Really, truly.

May 23, 2012

full time! (at least for now)

Remember when I tried to do that whole 2k-a-day challenge thing? How I got through it and decided that  pushing myself so far kills that little thing called creativity (which is a pretty necessary qualification for this job). Since Monday I've found myself in the amazing and fortuitous position of being a FULL-TIME-WRITER!
Throw Confetti
Commence Confetti!!

It's only temporary, since, unfortunately, bills do not stop coming but book advances do. However, I fully intend to take advantage of these next two months. In the past three days I've discovered some things. Mornings at the preschool were by no means utterly exhausting, but they did take a mental toll that adds up to about 1000 extra words for me! I've written just about 6000 words since the beginning of Monday morning! Which is really good for me. Let's hope this is a steady trend and not just an outlying spike in creativity.

I've spent the past few weeks immersed in the world of Cutthroat Novel, which is coming along quite nicely. I hit the 50k mark today, and according to Maggie Stiefvater's post 80,000 Words of Fun, Fun, Fun this is the point in the draft where the story feels neverending. I'd have to agree. I only have 30k words to wrap up THIS ENTIRE PLOT? AAAAGH!

Anyway, I can't really say much about Cutthroat Novel, except that it's vastly different from other stuff I've written. But I can show you a few pictures that have helped me form this world on my Pinterest board for Cutthroat Novel.

May 21, 2012

thoughts on summer

Today is the first day of summer. I regard it as extra-special because it's the first "free" summer I've had in several years. I've always found it a bit cruel to condition children for 22 years that they have 3 months out of the year to do whatever they want, since the other 60 years of their lives are doomed to summers spent in offices. Making money.

I don't, however, support the idea of taking kids' summers away. (As they tend to do in South Korea). I lean more on the side of the fence of giving adults their summers back. The way the Europeans do. Two weeks of vacation a year is not enough. Especially if your job is of the soul-sucking/soul-crushing nature.

I'm also of the opinion that people should throw graduation parties when they're 4 years out of school, to celebrate surviving four years in the "real world." Because there are many, many times when I think that slogging through the mundane of work and bills is harder than school. Sure, there are no tests and papers in the real world, but there's generally no ultimate frisbee in your yard or all-you-can-eat cafeteria buffet lines in your kitchen.

I think people deserve parties for surviving their first 4 years out of school!

So anyway. I plan to make the most of my "free" summer (it's technically not truly free since I'll be writing full time, but it feels like that anyway). I'm hoping to finish Cutthroat novel (It's at 47k today!) by August. We'll see! And make it to the beach at least a few times. Of course.

May 17, 2012

unkindness, murder and charm

So I was haunting Twitter this morning (I like to wake up slowly, with coffee and mindless Interneting) when someone tweeted about collective nouns for birds, or more specifically ravens. Apparently a group of ravens is actually called an Unkindness. At first this noun seemed too amazing to be true, so I hightailed it on over to Wikipedia to verify this information (clearly I'm very concerned about scholarly citations).

And guess what! It's true! Groups of ravens are called an Unkindness. This makes the creative chunk of my brain do a little jig. I also dug up some other awesome terms.

Crows = Murder (I feel like lots of people know this one)

Goldfinches = Charm (This feels like something right out of Harry Potter to me!)

Owls = Parliament (This word is so perfect for owls.)

Parrots = Pandemonium

Jackdaws = Train

Lapwings = Deceit

My question, who came up with these bird terms?

I just looked up larger animal group terms and came across these:

Cockroach = Intrusion (Yes, that sounds right. *shudders*)

Gerbils = Horde (Run!! It's a horde of gerbils!!)

Lemurs = Conspiracy

Ponies = Marmalade

Salamanders = Maelstrom

Zebras = Zeal

There are so many more... But really, how many people say, "I was walking through the paddock today and I saw an entire marmalade of ponies!" I feel like this is a challenge. How many crazy pack/flock terms can I include in a single novel?

May 15, 2012


There are only so many hours in the day that I can be creative, so I need other things to do to fill my time. I read, I jog, I clean. I work other jobs. I generally do productive things. One thing that I enjoy doing that is in step with other writers is baking (and cooking). I love food. I'm a bit of a foodie, and I've come to realize as I've gotten older that if I want to eat good food at home, I need to be the one to make it. (Husband comes with 4 staple meals, which isn't so terrible for the male-type, but a bit limiting to my palette).

In the past few days I've tinkered a bit more in the kitchen and tried my hand at these:

My critique partner Kate introduced me to these puppies when she came to stay for YALLfest last November. Oh. My. Goodness. They are heaven in your mouth. For real. The cookies are all dark chocolate and the frosting... *drools a bit* Well, you get the idea.

Source: via Ryan on Pinterest

These are roasted carrots with cumin and lime juice. The recipe also calls for honey, but I didn't have any, so I substituted maple syrup, and it turned out deliciously. Also, I made this dish to go with it: 

Roasted artichoke hearts and chickpeas with garlic and lemon juice. Healthy AND delicious.

May 9, 2012

it's not the flu! it's rundownedness!

So apparently I spoke too soon when I diagnosed my malady as the flu. Around the fourth day of a throat that felt like it was perpetually being struck by lightening and a low-grade fever that kept me alternately sweating and swaddling up in every available blanket, I decided to go to the doctor.

This was a big decision for me. Mostly because I'm cheap and doctor's cost money (as does medicine.) Husband also didn't understand, because he grew up in the wilds of Africa and thus never went to the doctor as a child. He's a huge fan of "pushing through." (Okay, so he didn't grow up in the wilds wilds. He grew up in a city. But he did grow up in Africa. And he didn't ever go to the doctor).

But when I woke up with about forty tiny broken blood vessels on my eyelids (hey! built in eyeshadow!) I decided I was going. The doctor was nice and friendly, but she was very perplexed.

Nice Doctor lady: "I don't think it's strep. And it's probably not mono." [sidenote: at this point my heart did a little one-two step and I begged God to please, for his sake, not strike me down with mono.] "I think you're just very run-down."

Run-down? My body was tired so it decided to commit germicide Hara-Kiri? Exhaustion, fever, congestion, cough and other unspeakable things just decided to stop by because my schedule was a little too full?

This struck me as funny because, in relation to several other periods of my life, right now is one of the less busy ones. I'm not working on my feet 60 hours a week like I was last spring (never, again) or living thousands of miles from my homecountry while trying to balance a 45 hour a week job in a foreign work environment (don't forget to throw the writing in there too). Compared to those my life right now seems dreamy. I still work, but I have so many more free hours to sit down and do what I love (write novels) and get paid for it!

I shared these thoughts with my husband, who had this nugget of wisdom to share, "Yes, well, you have a little more stress in your writing life now. Maybe that's contributing."

At first I scoffed, but then I thought about it. It's true. Once you sign your publishing contract, the act of writing changes and shifts. It's still something I love, but now I feel like the level of expectancy is higher. Even (and maybe especially) for the manuscripts that haven't found a publishing home yet. There's a certain stress that comes with being officially official as a writer. I hardly mean to sound ungrateful. Believe me, I couldn't be more grateful! But that doesn't make anything I said untrue.

So, I'm going to listen to my body and try to push off the stress, both mental and physical. Hopefully my health and my writing will be better for it.

May 6, 2012

why i haven't been around as much...

This is what happened Thursday night:

Me: Lalalala. Oh wait? Why is my throat scratchy? And I have a sudden chill as if I'm feverish....

Flu: Hello.

Me: Nooooooo!

Flu: I'm here to stay for a while. So don't plan anything big. Like, getting out of bed. Or eating.

Me: *whimper*

Yes, this has been my life for a few days now. I was very surprised since I've been fortunate enough not to have the flu before (with the very notable exception of the Swine Flu). And because it's May, which is apparently the absolute latest in the flu season (of course).

Yuck. I'm going back to the couch now. See you guys when this thing blows over.

May 1, 2012

two things on a tuesday

1. A very big and wonderful and happy BOOK BIRTHDAY to my friend Wendy Higgins and her debut novel SWEET EVIL. Wendy and I both share an editor (the lovely, talented Alyson Day), and she has provided much moral support and even some beta-reads for me during my journey through the publishing process. I'm on my way to go pick up SWEET EVIL from my BN this afternoon when I finish my daily work allotment on Cutthroat Novel.

2. Some of my friends have been making lists of things that they've been thankful for over the past few days. I think this is a really amazing exercise to practice. Usually I only do it about once a year (read: Thanksgiving), but it's really helped me center in and focus on the little things that make life special even in the mundane of "everyday" life.

In the past week I've been thankful for:

-seeing a two bald eagles in the wild

-watching the sunset over the marsh

-drinking iced chai at Kudu with my husband

-having really amazing artist friends (see their art here and here and here)

-free BBQ

-Trader Joe's

-finding an entire cache of Anthropologie clothes at the thrift store for $4 a piece

-and of course, being able to write every single day!