So I Wrote a Novel…and Then I Avoided It Like the Plague

canstockphoto2547234And one day, when I’m mere ashes being transported in a tacky vase to my destination of choice (my reading chair, of course), they will rifle through my meager possessions to find a two inch black binder covered in a thin layer of dust and decorated with geometric coffee rings on every other page.

There will be notes in red ink hastily scrawled along the margins: Geez, time travel much? Get Strunk and possibly White, this grammar stinks! Schedule mammogram. Look up spelling of onomonopea omonomopia. Bread, milk, canola oil, trail mix with cherries, toothpaste. Thank you note to Grandma. Who is this character? If I don’t know, is he needed? Unnecessary side plot. Pay Visa.

As you can see, I have the attention span of a sugared-up hamster after consuming a box of powdered doughnuts. Even less, because the hamster at least finished the box of doughnuts, which is more than I can say for the editing of my novel. National Novel Writing Month was fan-friggin’-tastic for pushing me to write, but it turns out, when the month was done, I was still left with me. Procrastinating me – rationalizing every missed opportunity and every interruption as impossible to avoid, when all I’m trying to avoid is facing this 50,000+ word train wreck.

And check it out, I’ve taken more time to write blog posts about my novel than actual time editing it:

Purposeless Dialogue

The Making of a Serial Killer: Fictional Characterization

When the Writer’s Away…

Every day I plan to work on it. By a half hour in, I’m ready to scoop litter boxes. That doodoo would be easier to deal with than this bog of words into which I’m sinking. This morning I’ve been distracted by a very large spider crawling across the ceiling overhead. There’s the sound of a train in the distance. Emails are making my phone vibrate. My daughter just broke into a coughing fit while sleeping in the other room. Dogs are barking good mornings to each other across neighborhood fences.

My brain is cycling through 15 different writing projects, none of which include my novel. Problem? I’m not sure I want to fix it. It feels like a shoddy investment – I’ll fix it up and flip it, like a starter home, but I have never settled in and said this is the kind of story I want to tell. Sometimes, as a fellow writer pointed out, you just have to get the garbage out of your system before getting down to business. Oh. My novel has become a bad relationship – I’m sticking with it, because I’m afraid nothing better will come along. And maybe, just maybe, if I keep at it, things will change.

I’m the perfect unpaid writer. I write on whims and random thoughts. Word count goals got me to the table, but I’m too busy wondering if the table is pressed wood or if it came from an oak with a long history, mowed down to satisfy corporate profit and if corporations really do own us now and if they do, what’s the point of having a fake representative government….uh, where was I?

I Need a Shower

Winner-120x240 My wrists ache and I have an eyelid twitch. My daughter thinks she lives in a single parent home and my employers wonder if I’ve relocated to a witness protection program. I have finally met the National Novel Writing Month challenge word count goal of 50,000 words.

I’m sick of it. Let’s move on to something else. Like personal hygiene. And physical exercise. And possibly some flu-free living. November was a bit of a hell month, but not the same kind of hell month of those hit by Sandy or say the starving and homeless had. Even I have some sense of proportion – so this is my petty post. I’ll write about deep and meaningful stuff again. Eventually.

The novel I intended, is not the novel I wrote. Apparently I have a lot of issues to work out. It was simply supposed to be a character study, a family drama about the effects of addiction and dysfunctional personalities on a family and the repercussions. In the end, there were 3 deaths, adultery, incest, verbal and physical abuse, narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and murder. This was not the family I had hoped to write about – it turned into an overwrought melodrama that I wouldn’t buy in paperback at the Goodwill store. How’s that for self-promotion? Needless to say, it needs a lot of work and a little focus wouldn’t hurt either.

Tomorrow is a new day and even better, a new month. I’m pulling down the boxes of holiday decorations out of the garage rafters tonight, so they can thaw out. My daughter has already hinted at a long list that she has been writing. I like to think of it as the “Stuff I Won’t Be Getting for Christmas Because My Parents Hate Shopping” list. When I put it like that, she narrows the list down to things that I can buy at the convenience store while I’m getting gas. Priorities, child, priorities.

I look forward to dragging my ass, which is strangely now the shape of my office chair, to the YMCA in the morning to start the long road back to full physical recovery. I’ll be the one wearing all black with a lot of layers, waiting for the treadmill that is against the wall. Without the mirror. I don’t care if there are twenty other treadmills available. I’m waiting on this one, lady, so get a move on.

After my workout, I plan on perusing all the blog posts I’ve missed over the last few weeks. I fear the NaNoWriMo thing has corrupted me – I’ll be writing comments to posts that are longer than the actual posts and getting frustrated when I can’t see the word count. I will happily, happily get back to blogging. No one interacts with you when you’re writing a novel, except to come into the study to ask if there’s dinner, slinking away in despair. My family has become a pack of scavenging wolves. They’re much more self-sufficient, though. I might tell them that December is poetry writing month.

Writing Spaz

The National Novel Writing Month deadline is around the corner, Essentially, I’m either screwed or writing like a maniac for the next four days. I’m going with maniac. It’s been a challenging month, mostly because because of the respiratory flu bug that has had its grip on me since the beginning of the month. I still haven’t shaken it, so here I sit at 5am, desperately trying to put more words to paper.

My head has that floaty sensation of too much cold medicine, my knee is bouncing up and down relentlessly. I’m finally starting to freak out a bit about NaNoWriMo, an arbitrary goal that I was so excited about striving towards. I recruited one of my friends who had never heard of the program. She passed the 70,000 word mark last night. I’m watching my other writing buddies dancing close to the goal (hooray Lorri and Ruth!). I may not make it, but I’m going to give it the “old college try”. For me that means I’ll be writing frantically in the last few days before the due date. My college career was made up of all night writing and pots of coffee, so I know it’s possible.

I started slowly and precisely with my novel and as I continued, more characters started butting in with their stories. Plot lines became twisted and tangled and overwrought with drama I had not intended. Watch it all go to hell as I write frantically into that dark night: I will not go down without a fight.

Needless to say, I’ll be taking a break from blogging over the next few days, which also means I probably won’t be reading other people’s blogs. Expect comments from me for blog postings that you wrote a while ago, but I hate to miss things. December will be editing on the novel and catching up with my blogging friends.

And now, lest I put one more word here that actually should add to my novel word count, I bid you adieu – but only until this NaNoWriMo thing has soundly beaten me or I it. Thanks and good luck to the rest of you. See you at the finish line, either November 30th or according to my word count stats, sometime in the new year.

When the Writer’s Away…

I made the mistake of ignoring my novel, Phoenix Rock, this last week. It’s highly unlikely I’ll meet the word count goal of 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month. I’m going to give it a good go, though, and last night I reviewed my work thus far, so that I could get back to work on it today. Big mistake to leave my characters mid storyline. They’re pissed at me and not cooperating at all.

I left my main character, Meg, to an awkward, but happy reunion with her brother, Jamie. They were standing out on Main Street, engrossed in conversation. I peeked in last night, only to find them leading some sort of riot. They were throwing rocks through storefront windows, randomly knocking down old ladies, setting cars on fire. Apparently these people have given into violent hooliganism when left to their own devices.

“Meg, what the hell are you doing? You were supposed to be talking with Jamie about the estate property and foreshadowing the complicated relationship I intended to develop for you.”

She sneered at me. “You were making me into some sort of passive weeny. I’m not all that, mate and frankly, there was some sort of ‘Flowers in the Attic’ vibe you had going. Ew – how gross is that, you perv?”

She wrenches a purse out of a passerby’s hands. “You got food in here, lady? This wanker left me wandering on Main Street for days. I’m hungry. Aha….Altoids. Excellent.” She shoves one Altoid after another into her mouth as her eyes widen. She runs over to the fire hydrant and with superhuman strength that she has apparently endowed herself with, rips open the cover and dives, face in, to the stream of water while shrieking “It burns! It burns!”

I better track down Jamie. I spot him on the corner, relentlessly punching, oh no – the town’s esteemed lawyer, Mark Allen, who is on the ground and whimpering. Shit. How did that happen?

“Remember when you gave me that wedgie in 3rd grade and made me cry in front of everybody? Who’s crying now, you worthless prick?” Jamie shouts, stands up and lands one more kick, while Mark cowers on the ground, shielding his face.

Wow, apparently my characters’ language in my absence has, uh….developed. And there are some unforeseen issues that they needed to work out.

I’m scared to see what Sonya, the matriarch of this brood,  is up to, but I wander over to the house on Hamilton and Oak. Her front door is open. This can’t be good. I walk in – the house is still immaculate, but I can’t locate her. Then I hear scrub, scrub, sniffle…I go down the hallway and there she is, on hands and knees in the bathroom, scrubbing the tiles with a toothbrush.

I lean over and quietly ask “What’s going on, Sonya? Are you okay?”

She looks up at me, eyes crazed, mascara running haphazardly down her face. “Why, oh, why?” She wails. “You left me after that horrible confrontation with my angry daughter. You had Meg tell my live-in boyfriend that I was actually lying about still being married. You left me waiting to see my son after twenty years.” She bends to her task of tile-scrubbing again, scrubbing so hard that the bristles on the brush spread out flat and useless.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been really sick this week and couldn’t get more writing done. I promise I’ll get to it.”

“You’d better!” She shrieks. “Can’t you see what all this anxiety is doing to me? My OCD is running unchecked. My boyfriend walked out. He might have left me for good. Or he might be at the grocery store.” She stands up and grabs me by the shoulders, shaking me roughly, spittle flying out of her mouth. “For the love of god, where is he?”

I shake her off and run out of the house. I’d better locate Hal and fast. The grocery store is as good a start as any. The windows have been broken. The store has been looted. I call out. “Hal – are you in here?” I hear grunting and groaning from the back storeroom. I wonder if I should be adding some paramedics to my cast of characters.

I swing open the door. Hal is, ewwww, pants around his ankles with…who the hell is that? I haven’t introduced her into the story! I storm out and hear Hal shouting to me. I turn and he is scrambling to pull his pants up. “What?! I didn’t know how long we’d be here. I thought, hell, if we’re locked in time, I’d better have some fun.”

“Who is that woman? I didn’t write her into the story.”

Hal grins sheepishly. “Well, you’re not very far into the story. There’s a lot of characters waiting backstage. I just struck up a conversation. I was SO bored.”

I scowl at him. It still doesn’t explain the turtle tattoo on his butt, but I’m not asking. I’d better get to work, before I’m voted off the island.

Optimism: Delusion or a Force that Propels Us Forward?

I’ve been whining about being sick the last few weeks. Really, weeks – this is the flu bug that ate Detroit. It arrived on the heels of dutifully gotten flu shots, so I’m a little bitter about it. Today is my rally day. I was up half the night with a bronchial cough, my ears are ringing from cranial cavities of snot and I smell like Vicks Vapor Rub. But by golly, I’m going to get caught up on laundry and my NaNoWriMo novel and pirouette off into the sunset, flu bug soundly rousted.

People keep saying, “You need to rest. Stop breathing on me.” I’m two sneezes away from storing Kleenex under my bra strap, if I had the energy to put on a bra. Needless to say, it ain’t pretty in The Green Study today. But – there are signs of optimism everywhere. I cleaned off my desk last night, in preparation for the day. I started catching up on my blog reading this morning and opened all the shades to let sunlight in. There is a potential for a hot shower, although that might be putting the bar pretty high.

I am the master of optimistic expectations for myself and my time. Sometimes I wonder if this is a detriment to self-esteem, since 9 times out of 10, I do not fully meet my goals. On the other hand, if I set no goals at all, would anything ever get done? People wiser than I would point out that it doesn’t have to be “either/or”, but I’ve never been adept at the middle road. My natural inclination is one of extremes. Fortunately, maturity (exhaustion) has tempered my youthful optimism. Just a bit.

Setting realistic expectations is a skill I’ve yet to fully master. Right now, I make “to do” lists like I write. I spew out whatever is in my head and then do a machete edit, cutting back until I think I have something legible and/or achievable. On occasion, I just put stars by those items that must get done. It’s a system that combines force of habit with some sense of priorities, but ofttimes is still unrealistic.

“It is the formidable character of the species to routinely seek the improbable, the difficult, even the impossible, as a source of pleasure and self-justification. Who would try to write poems, or novels, or paint pictures unless he is an optimist?”
Lionel Tiger, Anthropologist

Today’s the day, though. I will conquer the world, get caught up, write a zillion words, fold mounds of laundry that smell a lot better than I. But first, I have something marked with a star on my list for today: *Get some rest. Stop breathing on people. This, I can do.

Do you set expectations for yourself and are they realistic? This curious and snot-filled mind would love to know.

Purposeless Dialogue

I am spending an inordinate amount of time writing crap today for my first novel Phoenix Rock. I met the daily word count goal for National Novel Writing Month. That month is now in progress, so if you stick around long enough, I can bore you senseless with my writer’s angst and discussion of the “process” ad nauseum. On the other hand, it might be a nice break from my feminist chest-thumping (ow, ow) and the exploitation of my many maternal and human flaws.

There are some things that I write well. Dialogue is not one of them. I spend a lot of time trying to remember punctuation rules and a lot less time determining if the dialogue I just wrote actually has any bearing on the story. Here’s a gem I just regurgitated:

“Hey Meg – can you get me a refill?” A deep, gravelly voice called back to her through the server’s window. Lily must have run to the back, the coffee pot emptied in her absence.

“Sure John, I’ll get another pot started – leaded, right?” Meg leaned forward to see John’s tired, gray face topped off with the grungy John Deere hat.

“What other kind is there?” He shuffled back to the table, chuckling at his own joke.

Believe me when I tell you, this conversation has no relevance to the story I’m writing, except to establish that the characters are in a restaurant, which I did, by starting the paragraph with “In the restaurant”. I’m a fan of spare writing and we all know that normal everyday dialogue runs more like this:

“Hey, uh Meg – can you maybe get me a refill, if you got a moment, darling?” A deep, gravelly voice called back to her through the server’s window. Lily must have run to the back, the coffee pot emptied in her absence.

“Um, sure John, I’ll get like another pot started, okay – leaded, right?” Meg leaned forward to see John’s tired, gray face topped off with the grungy John Deere hat.

“Uh-huh. What other kind is there?” He shuffled back to the table, chuckling at his own joke.

Again, it doesn’t add to the story and is awful to read. Like, you know what I mean? So this is the challenge before me right now. How do I make spoken words count, have added value and be engaging for the reader? I know the story I’m telling – I just don’t know how to make dialogue purposeful.

Like anything else, when I am in need of knowledge, I start digging for resources. I listened to this podcast today – useful for grammar reminders while writing dialogue. There were some good tips at Writer’s Digest by Scott Francis and James Scott Bell to think about. I’m also checking in with some bloggers who post their fiction, like Pete Armetta, Nett Robbens (she writes steamy stuff, but I just read for the dialogue, really), and there are some great reminders from Rebecca at WriteRight. I am also getting a book to hone my skills when offline: Writing Great Fiction – Dialogue by Gloria Kempton, while resisting emphatically, the “also recommended” Writing Fiction for Dummies. Screw you, Amazon.

For now, John, Meg and the whole gang at Phoenix Rock will have to keep their traps shut. I’m trying to write, dammit.