Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Writing Down the Bones: A Notebook Tip

I can't promise to stop buying them...
I kind of have a thing for notebooks. And legal pads and stationary and post it notes and index cards and envelopes, but mostly notebooks. Paper stores give me the kind of buzz normal New Yorkers get at sample sales.

My main use for notebooks is organizing (lists, press trip or conference notes, etc), but I also use them in my fiction writing. This is probably less common in the digital age, but pen to paper just makes sense for some of us.

Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones was written before there was a MacBook on every table at your local coffee shop. This is why many of her tips are computer-free. I found this craft book while cleaning up my bookshelves and decided to reread it. Here's an interesting tip she had about notebooks, and using them as a tool that works for you: 

"Sometimes people buy expensive hardcover journals. They are bulky and heavy, and because they are fancy, you are compelled to write something good. Instead you should feel that you have permission to write the worst junk in the world and it would be okay. Give yourself a bit of space in which to explore writing. A cheap spiral notebook lets you feel that you can fill it quickly and afford another."

Fancy notebook syndrome is a drag - I caught it once when I had a BIG IDEA that needed an equally spectacular notebook to expand in. I remember squishing my words so teeny tiny, because I was afraid of using up the pages too quickly. There was a grid pattern on the pages that also distracted me. I wanted my writing to be neat and error-free, like the perfect boxes that lined up and down the pages. Clearly, this was not the ideal blank slate.

Goldberg recommends using something cheap. She prefers notebooks with cartoon characters on the cover as a reminder not to take herself and her draft too seriously. With the right pen, filling up the pages should be the easy part.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Progress Report

If you're just tuning in, here's the scoop on ROW80.

Hello! And happy late Thanksgiving to my writer pals out there!

I am back in New York from Boston, where I got to visit family, eat a few slices of pie, and revitalize my hometown accent.

This is a quick check in as I don't have much to report. I'm behind on my revising goals, so I'm adjusting them again, and hope to be done with this draft by the end of the week. Instead of crossing my fingers, I'll be using them to type this time ;)

And in better news, I finally sent new pages to my amazing critique group, and also finished a book that rocked my socks off.

Hope all you brave NaNo writers are on track despite the holiday. Best of luck writing this week!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Lesson in Voice From "Suri"

From Suri's Burn Book:
"Sometimes I think Louis Bullock might be the only person who understands me. If my mother dressed me up as a pirate, got herself a matching hat, and took me to a party where the favors were made out of cardboard, I’d be pretty upset, too."

I have to admit that my insides feel  a little squishy over how much I enjoy Suri's Burn Book. The faux tumblr depicts Suri Cruise's musings on the Hollywood elite, from her own famous parents (who she refers to as Katie and Tom) to other celebuspawn.  While the posts are hilarious, it's completely unfair to hijack a 5-year-old's persona and snark on other kids while you're at it. Sure many of their parents shove them into the limelight for cash, but it's by no fault of their children.

At the same time, you can't help but adore the ultra sophisticated, pretentious voice that the blog uses. Voice can be a tricky thing for some writers (*cough*me*coughcough*). So let's put aside the obvious issues of posing as a celebrity toddler and check out the good stuff. 

One of the neatest things that the real author of this blog does is take a snobby character and make her likeable through humor and hyperbole. She is the queen bee, and has a strict set of social rules, that in turn lightly mock her own elitism. 

The posts take photos and stories you'd typically see on TMZ, and treat them with the diva's Hollywood sensibility. Fake Suri has fashion advice for kids who aren't as camera-ready, is appalled by denim and sneakers (but most of all, by Crocs), and calls Germany's President Angela Merkel one of her personal heroes. She has a Xanax-popping fear of the future royal baby stealing her thunder, and an old fling with Cruz Beckham, who "if we got married, his name would’ve been Cruz Cruise. Don’t even pretend like that’s not how that would go down."

The frustrating thing about voice is how hard it is to define and teach - the common idea is, you know it when you see it. Here are a few posts in which the author nails the traits that define this middle-grade Gossip Girl's voice so well:
What are your favorite blogs that have great voice?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jim Morrison Can Go Twice as High

If you haven't seen Jimmy Fallon singing "Reading Rainbow" as Jim Morrison of The Doors... take a look (it's in a book) - complete with shout outs to Goodnight Moon and The Hungry Caterpillar.

It's taking a few seconds to load after hitting play, but it's worth the wait. If you're having trouble with NBC's embedded player, here's a link to Late Night.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

ROW80 Update: In Which Highlighters Save the Day

If you're just tuning in, here's the scoop on ROW80.

My revising troubles from last week backed me up a bit - but all your amazing comments on how to overcome the difficulties of switching around multiple scenes in a simple program like Word gave me many ideas.

Quite a few people mentioned how great the highlighter function in Scrivener is, which inspired some old school thinking. I ended up grabbing a bunch of highlighter pens to mark up the sections that needed to move using three different colors to keep track of where they would end up. It took about 10 minutes. 10 minutes! After all the time and energy I wasted thinking it was going to be tedious and sloppy and headache-inducing. Lesson: Learned.

Thanks again for all your help!! And for prodding me to keep going, too.

As for my progress - well, I'm a little behind on my revising goals, and need to push back my revisions deadline by one week. But with ROW80's philosophy, I do so with no guilt. It's the writing challenge that knows we have a life, after all!  Happy writing this week to you!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jailbreak the Patriarchy: Swapping Gender in Books

Fun with words!
Danielle Sucher created a pretty mind-bending Chrome App that I've been playing with called Jailbreak the Patriarchy. Here's what it does:
 "Jailbreak the Patriarchy genderswaps the world for you. When it’s installed, everything you read in Chrome loads with pronouns and a reasonably thorough set of other gendered words swapped.  This makes reading stuff on the internet a pretty fascinating and eye-opening experience, I must say. What would the world be like if we reversed the way we speak about women and men? Well, now you can find out!"

The app is super user friendly. I genderswapped the synopses of a few books on Goodreads, and the results were interesting. Let's start with kidlit:

LITTLE WOMEN: "Meet the March brothers: the talented and tomboyish Jo, the beautiful Meg, the frail Beth, and the spoiled Amy, as they pass through the years between boyhood and manhood. A lively portrait of growing up in the 19th century with lasting vitality and enduring charm."
THE PRINCESS DIARIES: He's just a New York City boy living with his artist dad... News Flash: Mom is prince of Genovia. (So that's why a limo meets him at the airport!) Downer: Mom can't have any more kids. (So no heir to the throne.) Shock of the Century: Like it or not, Mia Thermopolis is prime princess material."
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband."
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES: "Everyone's favorite redhead, the spunky Anne Shirley, begins his adventures at Green Gables, a farm outside Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. When the freckled boy realizes that the elderly Cuthberts wanted to adopt a girl instead, he begins to try to win them and, consequently, the reader, over."

Nothing too crazy, but it's neat to imagine the roles switched. And now adult fiction, which gets a little more real:

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA: "Chiyo is only nine when he and his brother, Satsu, are virtually sold to a stranger by his mother. Chiyo's unusual beauty lands him an apprenticeship in one of Kyoto's best-known okiya,or geisha houses, while the plainer Satsu is led to a run-down part of town where he will be forced into prostitution. Except for a momentary reunion many months later, the brothers never see one another again."
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA: "A novella,tells the story of an old fisherwoman, Santiago, and her long lusty struggle isn't so much over one fish, but the act of living—living fully, actively, robustly."

LOLITA: "Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. She also likes little boys. And none more so than Lolita, who she'll do anything to possess. Is she in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is she all of these?"

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA: In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but she is a romantic. As she rises in her business career she whiles away the years in 622 affairs--yet she reserves her heart for Fermina."

THE COLOR PURPLE: "Celie is a poor black man whose letters tell the story of 20 years of his life, beginning at age 14 when he is being abused and raped by his mother and attempting to protect his brother from the same fate, and continuing over the course of his marriage to "Mister," a brutal woman who terrorizes him. Celie eventually learns that his abusive wife has been keeping his brother's letters from him and the rage he feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by his close friend Shug, pushes his finally toward an awakening of his creative and loving self."

"A young man in love with a woman torn between her love for him and her incorrigible manizing one of her mistresses and his humbly faithful lover--these are the two couples whose story is told in this masterful novel."

I think my favorite is The Old Man and the Sea - because I wish women were in more epic roles where they are masters of their own fate, answering life's big questions. That, and also the word "manizing," switched from "womanizing" in that last blurb.

This could be a neat tool to examine your own writing as well.  Hat tip to Jezebel, and check out the articles they jailbroke from Cosmo to The New York Times.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Slowing Down With Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith might just be the reigning queen of author readings. Last night at NYU, she read selections from the novel that she's been writing over the last eight years. I've always admired her amazing dialogue, but hearing her act out different characters totally blew me away. She wasn't being overly theatrical or anything, but I could see how she pictured each voice in her mind, and how she took great care to capture it just so on paper. Her pacing and word choice are thought out entirely, and the result was beautiful.

Here's something she said that hit home in the frenzy of my goals and being done, done, done already:
"It's not the typing that takes time. To type a novel would take six weeks, or not even that.  It's the mental blocks and those kind of horrors. But say you even wrote 500 words a day, which is nothing, you would have several novels completed in a year. But no one does that, because it's actually tough to find 500 words that you like. That's all the trouble."

Definitely an interesting thought to hear in the middle of National Novel Writing Month. The energy of NaNoWriMo is absolutely captivating. And we all don't have the luxury of working on a novel for years and years. But it was also refreshing to listen to her talk about her process, and how getting 500 words down isn't just difficult, it's almost painful. I'm inspired to take a little more time getting moods and attitudes right, to read my work aloud in different voices, and to obsess a little bit more over stringing together beautiful sentences.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Conflicts of Interest

A Venn diagram close to my heart on Indexed today, titled Consider the Sources.  Though advertising pays the bills, it's obvious when it tries to crawl into that A overlap, especially for us Internet editorial folks.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cut & Paste

Row80 Update! And I've been so busy, I haven't updated in... a bit. Given my writing schedule, Sunday will most likely be the day I post my progress reports, or the occasional Wednesday if it works out that way.

After I posted my goals, I peeked at some other ROW80 lists and wondered if mine were maybe a little easy. Reading and editing pages every week seemed like the same old - and it's what I've been doing for the better part of 2011. But since I began tackling revisions, I know I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. During this third draft of my manuscript, revisions are taking much longer.

My current struggle is with moving around scenes and chapters. After rereading a large section of the beginning, I realized that reordering a bunch of scenes would solve a couple plot and character development issues. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but oh boy that doesn't make it an easy one. Once I started slicing and dicing, the results were messy and confusing. It's not a simple cut and paste, since a single paragraph might need to be split up and positioned in different places.

Right now I'm just using a Word doc, but I suspect a program like Scrivener would be amazing for this type of editing. At this stage, I'm going to finish up and learn Scrivener when I start a new project. For now, I'm handing this tricky process by marking everything up on printed pages, then copying the text that needs shuffling into a new document, split up into different sections. The new document helps keep track of the random sentences that need a different home.

Have you ever juggled parts of your story in a similar fashion? Any tips?