The latest news from revision land

Photo of coffee brewing by Karl Fredrickson

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged lately, despite my best intentions. And suddenly it’s April. April is indeed the “cruellest month” to quote T.S. Eliot—but not for the reasons given in The Wasteland. It’s because, after I’ve spent months luxuriating in the newness, the beginningness of a fresh year, April comes as such a shock: holy crap, the year’s already one quarter over.

Where has the time gone?

First, I’ve been slowly but steadily plugging away on The Shadow Clock. Ari, my editor, sent me her notes at the end of November, and I spent December and January trying to strengthen the story and make everyone’s motivations clearer. The distressing problem with books set in a magical world where heists and thievery are prominent is that everything must also make logical sense. Go figure! At any rate, I’m writing a new draft now. But February and March are always impossible months for me—things like taxes or my daughter’s birthday can take whole weekends out of play, and then I’m left with the tiny scraps at night when I’m propping my eyelids open or the slug-brained times at 5 in the morning when I’m trying to jolt myself awake with coffee.

Maybe at some future point I’ll write more about how I’m approaching the revision. But the short version is—resist, panic, drag feet, then take a deep breath and crack it open. One of the biggest things I can do for a successful revision is not rail against my situation. Yes, I’m busy, and my job and home life mean I can’t spend as much time on it as I’d like. So what? My novel notes file is full of lectures to myself about how it doesn’t matter a bit how I feel. Stop paying attention to feelings about the work and simply do the work!

On the subject of being busy (and illustrating my incorrigible tendency to overcommit), I’ve been consulting for Write the World, a global student writing community. I first met the Write the World group back in November of last year when I was a judge for their novel writing competition. I was so impressed by the quality of the student entries, and so intrigued by their mission and community, I asked if there was a way I could continue to be involved. What I find so great about this site is the emphasis it places on getting constructive feedback and revising as part of the writing process. I can’t help but think if I had learned to embrace revision earlier, I might have had a much smoother journey. Write the World offers writing prompts and monthly competitions. If you have high school age kids or know teachers who would be interested in sharing this with their students, please check them out.

In January I made a list of writing goals for the year; one of them was to write and submit four short stories to literary journals (I am nothing if not crazy aggressive in my goals). Well, I have one written and submitted so far. This is a huge accomplishment for me. When I was in my MFA program, I struggled with short stories. I kept feeling like I was doing them wrong. I didn’t get them. And of course I was so thin-skinned about rejection, I gave up immediately if a piece didn’t get accepted. During the past few years, I’ve been so focused on novels, I’d kind of forgotten all about short stories. But there was something about this idea that I kept returning to. It was something I really wanted to write, and I knew it was a short story, and not some other form. So now it’s out there, hopefully finding a home. Be well and spread your wings, little short story!

Cover of Deep Singh Blue by Ranbir Singh SidhuSpeaking of my MFA program … one of the talented writers I met there was Ranbir Singh Sidhu, who’s just written a great novel called Deep Singh Blue. I had the chance to review Deep Singh Blue for the literary journal Your Impossible Voice. That review has just appeared, and Ranbir’s book has just come out. It really is a gorgeous, funny, tragic coming-of-age story. Plus, it has an only-in-California hot tub scene. Definitely worth checking out.

Here it is on IndieBound. And you can read more on Ranbir’s blog. Though be warned, he lives an utterly enviable lifestyle. If I chuck it all and move to Crete, you’ll know who to blame!

 

Awesome coffee photo by Karl Fredrickson from Unsplash.com.

Rules to develop mental strength

Photo by Jeremy Cai from Unsplash

Photo by Jeremy Cai from Unsplash

The other day I was looking through my “Notes” file for The Shadow Clock and found this self-help list I had written to myself with the title “rules to develop mental strength”:

  • No comparisons
  • Choose conviction/self-belief rather than self-doubt
  • Make choices for physical health
  • Recognize that I am on a mission to cultivate fortitude and consciously look for ways to do that

(Okay, the fourth point is basically a roll up of the previous three, but I like the idea of being on a mission to cultivate fortitude – I can picture doing it in some ninja/Navy Seal jumpsuit with hidden pockets.) I forget what was going on at the time I wrote this, but mental strength is a quality I desperately need right now. I’m trying to finish a draft of the new book to give to my editor in March, and instead of going full bore on writing, I’m frittering away my concentration on job angst. So unproductive!

This list reminds me of myself as a kid, when I would go to the library and check out books about ESP or meditation. I so wanted to develop super powers. What I didn’t know then is that by the time you’re older with kids and a job and you’re reading the news about climate change, it’s a super power just to protect some imaginative bandwidth in your brain!

Anyway, mental strength is my project now. I’m just hoping I can find the right jumpsuit for this.

Still looking for that magic story structure

Death to Stock photo of Post-Its I’m plugging away on THE SHADOW CLOCK, so there’s not tons to report, except that every once in a while I panic and write things like this in my “Notes” file:

Anyway, I was thinking today that there is still something confusing and murky about the concept, the premise. I still want that lovely clear hook that immediately makes you want to know what happens.

I spent the next day writing a list of at least 25 sentences stating the premise, trying to get it as clear and exciting as possible. (This I think is the “logline” in Save the Cat. But the thing about Save the Cat—at least for me—is to read it when you are not writing anything. Read it, assimilate it. Then when you are writing, hopefully you just have structure magically pour onto the page.)

Just last weekend I was at the super fun YA Writers “Bootcamp” that my local SCBWI chapter put on in Pleasanton. So I saw great people and felt very writerly. Here’s the thing. Save the Cat is like the Bible. Tamara Ireland Stone and Katy Longshore went into a whole structure deep dive with beat sheets straight from Cat. (If you don’t know what Save the Cat is, it’s a screenwriting book that has very clear, approachable advice on story and plot.) One thing I so appreciate is learning how other writers do this stuff—it was great to see everyone’s cork boards and index cards and their printouts and Scrivener tips.

Of course I’m insecure about plot and structure. That’s the reason I obsess over it. Maybe I’ll get to the point where I know it down in my bones, so I know intuitively what the strongest premise and plot structure is for the story I want to tell. In the meantime, I write things like “This is a pivot point” in my wild, untraversable draft. I haven’t listed out beats, but I’ve figured out the emotional terrain and how that intersects with the action terrain, so the landscape is taking shape. Now just build the road.

P.s. This image is from Death to the Stock Photo, and they have this great writing prompt partnership with Medium. Check it out.