Sunday, August 17, 2014

An Undefinable Something: Thoughts from Revision Process

My fabulous Critique Partner, KT Simpson, has read three of my novels so far.

She recently tore through what I refer to on Twitter as #FairyPrisonBook, staying up late into the night to finish within a few days of receiving it, sending all-caps reaction texts at two in the morning.

She’s now reading a different novel, and it’s going slower. No reactionary texts to speak of.

This is understandable to me, considering I wrote the last 30k of #FairyPrisonBook in three days, careening through the latter half easily, and excitedly—

While this other novel rewrite dragged.

I recently saw KT’s face LIVE AND IN PERSON FOR THE SECOND TIME EVER (I’ll try to refrain from bragging) and at one point we stumbled into a conversation about this, and the tangible difference between #FairyPrisonBook and the other projects she’s read for me.

When I searched around for words and landed on “It has a heart that the others don’t yet,” she knew exactly what I meant, and agreed.

Now, to a certain extent, this feeling rises up every time I switch to actively work on a new project. Whatever I’m working on at the time feels like it’s becoming the best thing I’ve ever done. This is the project that will make it, this is the one that readers will adore and agents will fall over each other to represent.

I could refer to it in any number of ways that we’ve all heard before—heart, inspiration, spark, it-factor.

But none of those words entirely encompass the feeling in my gut.

Frankly I feel kind of ridiculous writing a blog post about something so undefinable and vague and impossible to replicate.

I just want to document this feeling right now, because it feels like something different.

The fact that KT felt it too, that there is something separating #FairyPrisonBook from the other things I’ve put before her? It feels like confirmation that there is something there.

I’ve managed to start scraping some of that something that was missing onto the page.

I feel this way so strongly in some parts of the book that I can spot certain places where it’s not there. And then after tweaking sentences again and again, I can feel it start to come back. It’s like that quote about carving away every bit of stone that’s not a statue…

Which of course does not mean that this is definitively The Book.

There’s no guarantee #FairyPrisonBook will get published. For all I know, this feeling’s all in my head.

But I do know where I’ve stumbled across the spark before—often enough to know that it was missing in my own work.

Certain published books I’ve read have it. Not always the most well-crafted, not always the most profound or the most ambitious. And it’s not always there for everyone else.

But certain books, I love. I gush over. I connect for no reason I can put words to, other than this undefinable something.

I’m not saying #FairyPrisonBook is to that level, obviously. Not yet, though it’s closer than I’ve ever come before.

And I know a big part of this is that it is a newer project, crafted after everything I’ve learned from those other drafts. Pacing, tension, balance, character—all the other individual elements that make up a book. I’ve gotten better at handling them the longer I write, and some of that improvement might just finally be making it into the draft as a whole.

But it’s not just that, either.

Is it improvement in craft? Is it just passion for the specific themes in this particular project? Or is it all my imagination, something to look back on in fifteen years and laugh over how close I thought I was back when I didn’t really know anything?

I have no idea what it is.

But it’s here, or it’s starting to be, and I hope I can keep the feeling going.

*more on #FairyPrisonBook here, and earlier today I happened across this post "Finding My Voice in Fantasy" by Lev Grossman that kind of reminded me of the feeling I'm talking about*

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nostalgia is my Weakness

As I type this I listen to my Spotify playlist of songs from childhood movies, specifically a song from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (which I have been dying to rewatch, along with Lilo & Stitch, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire).

I am a sucker for the joys of my youth. I obsessively memorize movie dialogue. I would happily reread the ancient books of questionable quality that I dug out of basement boxes as an eight-year-old. I’m filled with joy every time I rediscover a childhood location that I remember too vaguely to even ask my parents about (ex. that one specific playground with that one specific thing that made it the best playground).

Going to college in a town where I lived for two years when I was younger means that friends have let me show them my old house and reminisce about things with escalating excitement (and confusion as I realize that the house aaaall the way down the street was actually right next door). Friends have taken to me to a neighborhood park and listened to me gush about it as couples smooched nearby (going after ten at night was not a good idea in retrospect, but it was my first week at college).

I love revisiting childhood memories, and the physical places where they occurred. I love figuring out what’s changed, what’s the same, what I remembered completely wrong in the first place.

But I’m about to experience kind of the opposite of that.

Tomorrow, we sally forth to perhaps my favorite childhood place of the five places I lived growing up.  Michigan. A land I associate with shade and sand and warm, free summer evenings.

This is not our first time back, since Mom’s parents live in Michigan, but my reasons for this trip are twofold:

1.       I get to see my fabulous Critique Partner, KT Simpson, in real life for the second time ever. We shall meet in the town of my youth, Holland, and she is going to let me run all over the place looking at THINGS that I LOVE.

Including, but not limited to:

  • The freaking fantastic library
  • the beach
  • a notable nautical-themed ice cream place
  • the former location of my house
  • the location that they moved my physical house to after we left
  • the downtown streets where we used to window shop
  • the park that we’d go for evening walks in.

It is going to be quite an event.

2.       My grandparents are moving to Tennessee. Which means I probably won’t have an excuse to return to Michigan for quite some time.

They’ve relocated within the state before, they’ve wintered in Florida, but they’ve lived in their current house for a good chunk of my childhood. And it feels like not that long ago that we heard about their decision to move.

They’ve already started packing. Which means their house is already in the process of turning into something other than what I remember.

Meanwhile, my Dad’s mom may also have a move imminent, as some recent health issues have led to her recovering in a nursing home…and potentially staying there. Things have leaned that way for some time, but now it’s like everything lurched toward the ground. Expected changes came suddenly.

Her house has been around for my entire lifespan. And due to some recent basement flooding, this childhood staple has also begun its transformation into something different and irretrievable, before I ever expected it to.

Obviously, my melancholy nostalgia is nothing compared to what Grandma must be feeling, but it’s still strange. And it just gets stranger and stranger, how fast things can shift.

There’s no significant, drawn-out goodbye (or if there is, it won’t happen until the houses are empty). These places don’t linger. Very soon now, we can’t go back.

No more walking around my grandparents’ yard in Michigan, remembering when it was all sand instead of grass, and when we built cities and called them Oz.

No more flopping onto the decorative boulder in Grandma’s front yard and lamenting when it was our grand and majestic Pride Rock.

The rooms we spent so much time in are going to belong to somebody else. They’ll be used for other things. These pieces of my childhood are going to be chipped away, emptied out, turned into something other than what they were.

From now on, there won’t be a baseline to compare my memories to. Those markers—a larger equivalent of marking your height on a doorframe—aren’t going to exist anywhere but in my head.

I hope that doesn’t sound resentful, because I’m not.

Just…contemplative. Wistful.

This feeling has increasingly been on my mind in the last few years, and I’m trying to pin it down. Put it into the right words. I want to capture it. Because along with it is the feeling that I’ll eventually run out of these childhood places.

I’ll find new ones, but they’ll have a different magic to them
The places I grew up, the things I grew up with…

In some ways, they’ll always be irreplaceable.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Revising Every Day: the Struggle in Starting

As mentioned in this post on my writing process, I've written 15 books during the 20 years I've lived so far, and approximately 8 of them seem salvageable. More than salvageable, some of them seem good.

This begs the question, “Why haven’t I tried to query yet?”

In the afore-linked-to post, I gave the short answer to this:
I have the horrible (yet still productive) habit of leaping on to the next idea, diving back into the drafting phases with either new stories or complete rewrites of the old.

The long answer is something I’ve grown more and more aware of in the last week or so as I try to revise the project known on Twitter as FairyPrisonBook.

I can write every day (usually).

I can do NaNoWriMo.

As I’ve recently discovered, I can write a book in a week.

But revising every day? Super hard for me. Even if I see a bunch of problems and have ideas how to fix them, even when I’m just reading through the draft to look for more problems and solutions.
Something about the revision process—maybe just the yawning, vacuous space of everything that needs to be done and the impossibility of gauging whether I’ve made things better or worse—makes me lag.

And once I’ve skipped one day, it’s too easy to settle into a rhythm of procrastination, doing everything except revisions. It’s too easy to poke at a few words and settle back like that’s enough for the day, the rest can wait for tomorrow, or maybe the next day, or next Monday for sure if I have time.

And then NaNo is around the corner or a Shiny New Idea carves itself into my gray matter, and next thing I know, I’m 10k into a new draft while whatever I’d been revising collects dust.

By the time I get back to that dusty old draft, it seems just as easy to do a full rewrite.

And then I’m back where I started, with essentially another rough draft, nowhere near ready for querying.

I tweeted about this recently, how hard it was to make myself sit down to revisions....

...before I stayed up until 4 am revising because it was going so well, I had so many ideas, I didn’t want to stop.

So it’s not that I can’t have fun revising, though it’s by no means always a walk in the park.

The struggle is in starting.

In sitting down, every day, and remembering that “every day” rule doesn’t just apply to drafting, but to poking  around, rereading, and tweaking the same paragraphs over and over again

*and in not writing blog posts to put off that poking around, shhhh*
Anyone else stuck in the revision cycle? Got any words of wisdom on how to move forward with it?