Monday, August 27, 2012

The G-word

There are a few words in the English language that make a shiver of revulsion travel down my spine every time I encounter them. Some are innocuous words like romance, pink, and Valentine that for one reason or another have a negative association. A few only make me cringe when spoken by someone with a particular accent. For example, folks from a particular corner of Washington state say "warsh" instead of "wash." There are other words that are more obviously objectionable like the F-bomb. However, there is one word that has always been able to make my stomach churn.



I don't know why this word sends me into a fit. It's not the word's fault. In fact, it's a perfectly fine word. One that I celebrate during sporting events. (Goaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!) But those positive associations seem to vanish the second I leave the arena.

Why is that?

Perhaps it's because I had to fill out so many goal lists in school that I have a trained aversion. They are one of those things that we never see the usefulness of until we're adults. Or maybe it's because once I've taken the time to set them, I feel obligated to follow through? Hmmm. Could it be that simple? Could my fear of failure cast an unnecessary pall on what should be a good and noble word? Perhaps. They are kinda like New Year resolutions and pirate laws. They're only made to be broken.

Regardless of the reason, I haven't let my aversion prevent me from setting them. I just use other words in its place: promise, objective, benchmark, deadline, thing-that-I-must-do-before-I-die. I also have a pretty awesome incentive program to ensure that I don't forget why I want to accomplish them.

My ultimate (gulp!) goal is to be a NYT bestseller. I know. It's a lofty aspiration, but it's certainly not unreachable and it is what I ultimately want. Besides, I figure I'm never going to become a bestseller if I don't try. As a daily reminder, I have these on my bookshelf.

These are the Matchbox versions of two of my favorite cars. The silver one is a 2010 Nissan GTR and the black one is a 2011 Audi R8. (For those of you who aren't motor heads, they're really fast, really sexy, and really expensive cars.) When I reach the top 10 of the NYT (I say when, not if because I'm trying to think positive) I'm going to buy myself one of these cars. It'll most likely be the Audi because I fell in love with the real one at the Portland Auto Show. I named it and everything!  :)

Behold, Excaliber!

While the Matchbox cars are pretty effective, let me tell you, nothing will put a fire under your ass faster than coming face to face with the object of your desire. (Especially when said object is a smoking hot V10 convertible.) When I saw Excaliber, I was finishing the first draft of my YA novel. I'd been writing at NANO speeds for three months in order to finish it by my self-imposed deadline and was really burned out. But all of my creative fatigue disappeared when saw her gleaming carbon fiber and titanium alloy. The cruel fence that sepererated us only made me want her more. I was so close and yet so far away. The symbolism of the moment was quite poetic. It made me re-evaluate my feelings on the G-word. I can call it what I want at the end of the day but my promises, objectives, benchmarks, deadlines, and things-that-I-must-do-before-I-die are at their heart, still goals. Those goals and subsequent rewards have kept me going for the past two years and will continue to fuel my determination as I inch toward achievement. That night I realized that as long I felt that fire, I couldn't be defeated by publishers, bad reviews, depression, or really, anything. I am an unstoppable force.

In the immortal words of Wayne Campbell, "She will me mine. Oh yes, she will be mine."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Can I rephrase your question?

I’m fortunate to have a league of friends and associates that like to keep tabs on how my work in progress is coming along. It’s wonderful being surrounded by people who are as excited to know a writer, as I am to be one. However, some of their questions perplex me. One of the questions I hear most often is “how is your novel coming along?” It’s a pretty standard question and I have no problems answering it. But it’s also a question that is a bit more complicated than these individuals realize.

I always have at least one work in progress. Usually it’s a primary project and two or three side projects. The primary project is the one with the deadline (self-imposed at this point) and the side projects are various stories and series that I’m playing around with or still developing. Most of my time and creative energy is spent on the primary project and when I need a short break to clear my brain I’ll spend a few hours on one of the secondary projects. The primary project also the only one I talk openly about.

Until recently, there’s been only one novel that I've been public about.  But I finished the first draft of said novel in January and the edits in April. I was so excited and proud of myself that I announced it to the whole world. My friends should know that “the novel” is complete and that I'm on to the next. If they asked "are you going to publish it" that would make more sense. So why are they still asking about "the novel's" progress? Is it habit? Do they doubt that I actually did it? Is their memory so faulty that they don’t remember? I’m willing to write off a few repetitive questions to faulty memory, but not all of them. A few of the update seekers are that spacey, but not all of them; which still leaves me wondering why are they asking for a status update on a finished project?

I can't help wondering if it’s because of how non-writers view the craft. I suspect that these individuals think the creation of a novel is an insurmountable task that can never be finished. Whether this pre-conceived notion is conscious or not, I don’t know. Either way, it would certainly color their perception. To use last week’s jigsaw analogy, it’s as if they think there are an infinite number of pieces to be placed. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that the puzzle only has a thousand pieces and that all of them are in place, they still think there are more hidden in the box.

Obviously, writing a novel is not an insurmountable task (shelves, both physical and cyber, are overflowing with the proof) and I don’t think it’s a reflection of any doubt that they have in me. They are my friends after all. I think what it’s actually a reflection of is doubts they have of their own abilities. Because writing a novel is something they believe they could never do or even aspire to do, they think that no one in their social circles can either. Even that would be too much to aspire to.

That’s an incredibly depressing thought. I'd like to think that my friends have a more positive outlook, but I'm not so sure. I hope that I’m wrong for their sake.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Jigsaw Novel

This past weekend I took a couple of days off of outlining the new series. Work had left me completely  drained and I really needed the break. I put together a jigsaw puzzle that I bought earlier in the month, while I watched the Olympics. As I was assembling it I had an interesting thought:

"Writing a novel is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle."

No really, it is. Think about it. Inside of the box there's a fragmented image. You know from the picture  what the finished image is, but when you look at all of those small, irregular pieces it's hard to see how a streak of brown on a field of green is part of a leaf. Is that flash of gold part of the knight's gilded armor or the fair maiden's locks? Is that white speckled grey piece the spray at the foot of a waterfall or part of the dappled mare drinking at the edge of the pool?It's a complete mystery. Only when you dive in (to the puzzle, not the pool) and start testing the fit that you understand what each speck and smudge belongs to. There's also no one correct method of assembly. Yes, there's only one way for the pieces to go together (unless you're doing an Impossibles, but I digress), it doesn't matter if you start with an interesting bit in the middle or the border, the end result is the same.

Now, I should clarify that I'm not talking about the 25 piece puzzles that you put together as a kid. I'm talking about the 500 - 1000 piece monsters that take up the entire dining room table, a few days to assemble, and cause you to shout profanities at the cat when they walk across it.

Personally, I'm a border starting girl. I like knowing what parameters I have to work within and exactly how big it's going to be when it's done. I also have to have all of the pieces in front of me, face up. I know what sections of the image I'm going to work on first, second, third, and last -- I usually save the most difficult and tedious part for last. But once I've started, it becomes an obsession. Every spare minute is spent scanning the pieces and waiting for that "aha!" moment when I find the piece with the right squiggles and curves to fit the hole that's been bugging me for the past hour. I'll even forgo checking my e-mail (gasp!) in order to have a few more minutes to work on it.

Sometimes the cacophony is too much and I have to walk away for a short while or view the pieces from a different angle in order to make any sense of it (I find that upside down works the best). Occasionally I'm tempted to give up and throw the whole lot back in the box and I have to remind myself that I've come too far and spent too much time on this to quit now. Usually within a short time my perseverance pays off and victory is mine.

And you know what? My writing process is exactly the same (minus the upside down viewing). I do preliminary research and outline so I know what parameters I have to work within. All of my notes on what the finished piece should be are at my fingertips at all times. Whenever something doesn't work out the way I thought, I go back to my notes and look them over until that "aha!" moment arrives and when I feel discouraged I remind myself that I've spent too much time and energy on this to simply quit. Then last but not least, when the final words are in place I can look at the finished product, reflect on the journey, and say "yeah, I did that."

Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, August 6, 2012

The method behind the madness

It's kinda funny that every time I start a new story, I realize how little I know about a particular subject. It doesn't matter if I can carry a conversation about said subject, the moment I sit down and outline, it either flies out of my brain or I discover that a working knowledge just isn't enough. I'm currently working on the outline for my cyberpunk series and for this particular project, the latter is true.

I originally started work on it in December of 2010. I was bouncing between four books back then and while I spent most of my time on my primary project (the YA fantasy), I worked on one of the others when I needed a break. I thought that I had all of the worldbuilding in place and the outline filled in enough that I could at least get started on the first few chapters. But when I read through my notes, I realized that not only had I left a lot unfinished, but I hadn't checked facts on a lot of the tech. In fact, when I realized how much research I'd need to do, I just about had a heart attack. It's going to take most of the month to complete the outline.

Now, I know a few of you are shouting "No! Don't get bogged down with research! Write the book and do all of that later."

As much as I'd like to, I can't. If the information I was missing was how much recoil a gun has or the average airspeed of an unladen swallow, than yeah, I could look that up later. But the things I need to check are along the lines of "can silicone even do that?" and "that's a great gadget, but how are you going to power it?" You know, essential things. I can't justify writing a scene, let alone many scenes, that rely on a gadget that may not even be feasible. It's a waste of time and creative energy. It's better to work out the details now. Besides, in the process of figuring all of this out, I'll gain a better  understanding of what can and can't be done with the gadget so I can use it more effectively in the story.

See? There is a method to my madness.

There's also a passion behind my madness. I mentioned back in June (Just the Facts, Mam) that I love it when authors do their homework. Now, I'm not going to spend two years on research like Diana Gabaldon does. I like doing research, but not that much.

You see, it all goes back to that oft repeated advice: Know yourself.

I know I have a tendency to do too much research and to even stop writing so I can look something up. That's why I gave myself the month to finish researching and outlining. This will force me to focus on finding the answers that I need so I don't get lost in the bowl full of deliciousness that is link salad. This is the first time I've tried this tactic so we'll see how well I actually follow through on this, but it should work because I hate missing deadlines.

Side note: I apologize for the irregularity of my posts lately. Summer is my busy season and I've been running ragged for the past few weeks. Instead of updating the blog every Friday, I'm going to do it on Mondays now. I tend to have more free time on Mondays so that should help me get back on track. Thanks for bearing with me!