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Posts tagged ‘writing process’

Cathy: Breakthrough, lists

Some people are born list makers and some definitively are not. I fall somewhere in between.

I like to make a list then buck it; or avoid making a list, thinking I can keep this, that and everything else in my head.

The truth of the matter is there are some instances in which making a bonafide list is truly necessary.

Otherwise I go into the grocery store for lemons, milk, asparagus, dill, and artichokes, and I come out with ice cream, cookies, potato chips, and baking soda. Then we have no vegetable side dish for dinner.

In the case of working on my manuscript, I found, I had a good editing list “in my head,” but I wasn’t doing the editing. It became daunting knowing I had to look for, and keep in mind this variety of “to dos” as I read through the manuscript. So what I actually ended up doing was nitpick editing the first 20-30 pages over and over again, getting hung up on a comma or a sentence, or a preposition. Then let two weeks go by, until I hit my writing group again and could sit there for three hours and look at the same 20-30 pages over again.

So, when I was at writing group yesterday, this suddenly dawned on me. I mean, it wasn’t really a new concept. I had been vaguely aware that I was preventing myself from doing the real work that needed doing for a while, but I saw an honest to goodness bluebird out the window, which set me dreaming about the edges of things, because they live in edge forests by open fields. The next thing I knew, I realized, I had been on the edge of my manuscript for months now.

So, yes, I KNEW what I needed to do, and it was plenty the more I mulled it, so I decided to write it down.

First I wrote down the chapter headings, made a list of all the chapters, like a table of contents without the page numbers. While I was doing that, it occurred to me that I could combine a couple of these short chapters into one in a few places, which would simplify a lot, really.

Then I made a list at the bottom of that which looks like this:

Working on:

~continue to edit Joe out/Mike into Thanksgiving and Observatory scenes

~write observatory scene using A.H.’s notes

~pay attention to name changes for T.B. and T.N.

~characterize supporting characters more through action and physical description

~make ‘thought bubbles’ action scenes or move them to more fitting scene

~edit down cooking relevance

~more on comets

While it still covers a lot of tasks, some quite involved, to see them written down is so much less confungulating (hybrid of confusing and confounding and frustrating my non-writer Honey came up with, which I love!) than when I was trying to keep them in my mind.

This way I can separate out the tasks and work on them, one at a time, and maybe fix a few of those name changes along the way.

What a concept! And to think I used to counsel my tutorial students to do exactly the same thing in organizing their much shorter papers.

Crossposted from musings in mayhem

Cathy: Uninspired

I don’t know if it’s because I’m still waiting for some feedback on my manuscript, or because of the weather and time of year, or because I recently completed my first larger scale writing project since my thesis in college about 20 years ago, but for a couple months now, I have felt completely uninspired to write.

In the past, when I have felt this uninspired, I generally have felt depressed or frustrated by the absolute emptiness of my head. This time around I just feel pooped which can be attributed to the lack of sleep with a toddler who still wakes three times a night at least. The other feeling I have is vaguely satisfied, generally upbeat. Now, again, I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the manuscript or just maturity level over aged forty.

It’s summer and all the kids are as around as a teen can be when all his friends are back from their extended vacations that did not coincide with his visit to his father the previous month. S is always around, hovering upstairs drawing and reading or tapping me on the shoulder and Momming me repeatedly; and of course, Baby C is generally underfoot, when she’s not on top of something like Honey’s closed laptop on his desk. So, for me to sit in front of the computer is generally a continuously interrupted thing to do times three. During the school year, I generally have the mornings to myself, with my mother-in-law out doing her exercise thing (which is better than I can say for myself in that arena), and of course, C is still with me constantly.

I think some of this lack of inspiration is just the simple down time from writing something that was a huge deal for me to finish, so to speak. A first draft is a first draft, after all, and I am very aware that what I wrote is not a completed novel. But I wrote the story from beginning to end over one hundred pages. To me, that’s a big deal, not the page number, but the story arc, the things that the main character, who felt like one of my own kids, underwent and his growth and transformation.

I think this month especially has been one of considerable downtime, maybe a fallow field. Usually, when I lived in New England, anyway, the inspiration really starts popping like corn as soon as the first hint of autumn is in the air. So I wonder if some of this is just the dog days of a hot, humid August for me.

S’s eleventh birthday is on the 26th. This and Kenny’s advancement to high school and C’s toddlerdom have really had me considering the constant mutability of time. It seems not so long ago that my boys were C’s age, reaching those initial milestones. Time is simultaneously standing still and speeding by for me. I am constantly considering what is important to pay attention to in the long run, as my children are representing three distinct developmental stages.

I am also in the process of applying for positions outside of my home after a considerable amount of time in which I focused on my kids, my recovery after bedrest pregnancy and my manuscript. In some ways it was a necessary luxury, as Kelly mentioned in comments on Brittany’s recent post that must end. I took offense to the term luxury when Kelly used it, but I can see now is that it is a luxury to be able to be home, to be available to see the magic daily that is the kids growing and changing before my very eyes. Maybe some of the lack of inspiration can be attributed to refocusing on the outside world after being very insular for a long time.

While I have been very philosophically minded, I have not felt the urgency to write that has largely defined my life. This is the first time that to be so uninspired feels like a good thing.

Cathy: Ugh – on a stick

I just spent all morning and some of last night working on a post for the blog that when I went to copy and paste from my Word doc, disappeared completely. This is just an example of the weirdness that happens when i am around computers, or pretty much anything that uses an electro-magnetic field. I was able to go back and find an earlier version of the document that contained approximately half of the unduplicatable post which was about the writing process in progress, as it unfolded. So following is what is still available of all the work I put into the piece . Please note that while I am completely and utterly miffed about all the work lost, I am please that I seem to have the basis of a story including background notes on all characters involved for a future short story, that I hope to keep the engine running on this week and finish a draft of. also please note that Laura is already not Laura but Deirdre, called Dee. and the girl’s name is Dahlia.

What’s in a name

When I write fiction, most of the fun I have is in naming characters. Many times, the story unfolds from the name. Enough time has passed, while I wait for readers to get back to me with their critical thoughts of my children’s novel manuscript, I feel names and characters growing in the back of my mind and wanting to push through to the front and onto paper. I also have a big baby names book which I use in referencing names to be sure I have the right character in the name’s origins and meanings as I want to convey in the character. Names are funny things though, and while a name has a particular etymological meaning, it also has a cultural and personal meaning. An Elizabeth is a ‘gift from God” a Betty, nickname derived from Elizabeth, however is a friendly outgoing older woman, grandma or not. Elizabeth is old fashioned, Libby is sweet, or a can of vegetables. Beth is straightforward or a KISS ballad, Liz is forthcoming, Eliza, artistic, Lizzie might be spastic, or at least energetic and makes me think of the old band, Thin Lizzy. Elizabeth can be dignified or snotty or shy, depending upon associations the public has or personally people I’ve known. Growing up when I did, there were many, and typically they weren’t all alike. But Elizabeth is a special kind of name, so prevalent and so many derivations and nicknames that it becomes very individual depending upon the person bearing it.. So, to start this blog, Elizabeth may not be the best example.

Let’s start from another angle. I have my big fat baby name book out. I have an idea: a boy, a girl, a young woman, an old man and a room. The room is in the grandfather’s house and contains a tatty old sofa, dim amber light emanates from a dark lampshade. There’s a dark window, so it’s night. Otherwise, I have to come up with names to fill in who they are, why they are sitting there and what is the crux of the situation, the story comes from there. but first I need names.

Let’s start with the boy. I flip open my big fat book to the back half, where the boys’ names are, and land in E. I don’t feel Edward, first E name that pops to mind when I notice I’m in E. I look down, peruse a little, nothing makes me pause until I hit Etienne. French name for Stephen which means ‘crowned’. This to me gives a sense of privilege, and maybe a bit of a delicate nature for being privileged, sheltered, and he’s probably blond. Well that doesn’t really fit with the tatty old sofa of the grandfather. What’s the least Etienne name I can think of off the top of my head? Walter comes to mind. Look it up: two origins: from German it means ‘army ruler, general’; from English it means ‘woodsman’ – both very strong meanings a general, a man wielding an axe, but Walter has a cultural connotation probably largely from the Walter Mitty character from James Thurber’s story of the imaginative but put-upon unsuccessful guy. Walter has a bit of a comical appeal, but a bit of sadness attached to it. Maybe the kid is named after his grandfather, as it’s a traditional, older name. You don’t hear Walter in kids much these days when so many Aidens, Michaels, Ethans abound. Although Michael is a perennial much like Elizabeth. But I’m getting offtrack.

So the boy’s name is Walter, and now apparently, so is the grandfather, but we’ll call him Walt, he’s a good old guy, probably fought in World War II or Korea. If that’s the case, then I don’t think our young Walter is very young, as more likely his grandfather would have fought in Vietnam, but then, I’m back to Walter is an older name than that generation, so Walter is a later in life grandson to Walt, born to a youngest child of his, later in her life. Aha. Now we have the youngish woman, Walt’s daughter, or daughter-in-law. HHmmm. Ok not there yet. Sorry about al the background, but this is really how I go about knowing what’s happening with this particularly set of characters. Okay, I’m starting to see, a single scene situation developing here, not really a novel, probably a short story, could be a play. Leaning toward short story. Are they gathered in grief? Okay, back to the names, that’ll give me a little more to go on. So the woman, well she’s a bit younger than I am, and maybe Walter is about my son K’s age, or a little younger. Okay he’s 12. Closer to my son S’s age. That seems to fit. So if she’s a little younger than me, but her father, okay, it’s developing, that she is Walt’s daughter, not daughter-in-law, then she wouldn’t likely be one of the overly popular names of my generation like mine, Cathy/Kathy, Debbie, Suzy, Laurie, there was a fixation on cutifying names when I was coming up, but wait, I think she could be a Laura. OK, consult book:

and after posting it then going through a final read through, i realized i had a lot of other editing in there than what you see above. like connotations of Eliza Doolittle from My fair Lady, some grammar corrections, better clarifications…

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