Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I have a writer friend who absolutely loves rewriting. And almost hates first draft. I have another friend who rarely rewrites, loves the 'rush' of the first draft and then just puts things away and starts a new piece.
Both of these have their drawbacks. The rewriting fiend can't send work out because it always needs one more rewrite. The first draft fiend sends things out occasionally and after one rejection, tosses it in the bottom drawer and moves on to the next story.
I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't enjoy fiddly rewrites, where I'm doing very little to the story, but I recognise they need to be done. It's where the sentences matter, where the language improves, where the characterisation deepens. But it can also be where I step too far back from the voice and the action and then I start to lose the depth of character. I try now in rewrites to imagine myself into the heart of the story and work from there. This is where the silent house is important. Nothing to distract me from the heart.
A few years ago, I listened to Adib Khan speak (he is an Australian literary author) and he says he does four drafts, but for the first three, he puts the previous draft aside, doesn't even look at it again and starts the new draft from scratch. Each new draft is like a distillation of the previous.
I have found this also to be useful. It helps to re-vision the story, rather than just fiddle around the edges.
But everyone is different. What to do with a new work that suddenly develops into something unexpected? That's where I am with a YA novel right now. I thought it might work based on emails, but the character has other ideas. This will be a novel where I do a lot of experimenting, on the basis that not all of it will work, and I might have to throw out lots of pages. But the central story and character excite me, so it will be fun. Even the rewrites sound promising already!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

This is that time of the year when a great "tidy up" tends to happen in my chaotic office (i.e. the spare bedroom). By tidy up, I mean two things. The first is obvious and requires the use of a large rubbish bin.
The second is about following up on anything that has been bugging me or left hanging or just plain needs to be finished. Thus the tidy up list includes: copying all 58 poems in my verse novel into one computer file so it can have page numbers and a set order and be printed out properly (and sent to agent for reading); following up on manuscripts that have been sitting on someone's desk for way too long; following up an an advance that should have been paid to me a couple of months ago; updating industry news and networking stuff; sorting out what projects I have completed this year and where I am with the rest (kind of like a progressive goal setting thing I've started doing); having Xmas lunches and stuff with various writers and friends; buying books that I will devour over Xmas when there is nothing to do but relax; planning what writing I will work on while away with laptop; debating whether to buy a second laptop battery.
And making decisions about some important writing issues that have come up. Outcomes will be deliberated on in the New Year.
Have started reading "Best Australian Short Stories 2005" and got right back into short fiction all over again. Want to read more poetry. Am hoping that my copy of Meg Files' new anthology, published by Pima Press, will arrive very soon. It's a collection of poems on aging and the samples she sent were great.
Also I have been reading "Wolf Brother" by Michelle Paver and loving it. One of those books I plan to photocopy some pages from and analyse the writing. She is so good with setting and voice. But first to simply enjoy it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It's a funny thing, being really tired and yet twitchy to write. The brain says, "No, no, sleep or veg out or something" but none of those things satisfies.
I'm end-of-year tired and grumpy, and wishing I was about to have 3 months off instead of 3 weeks (if I'm lucky). A country far far away sounds good right now but I might have to settle for Narnia.
Tried to be a vegetable last night and watch mind-numbing TV but it wasn't working. The twitching grew worse and in the end I had to rev up the laptop and write something - anything! Turned out that the beginning of a short story I wanted to add to had disappeared; thank goodness for hard copy and my need to print stuff out to "see" it. So I retyped it and made a few changes and seeing as how I had just that day made some notes on where I thought the story could go, I kept writing and have ended up with 2500 words. It's not finished yet but I'm happy.
It's a fantasy short story, not something I write often, but the Firebirds anthology has been inspiring so I thought I'd take another look at what I'd started.
I loved the story in Firebirds by Diana Wynne Jones - from a cat's point of view, which I have seen a few people do a miserable job on, but the story was great. An excellent example of how to have seven characters (cats) and keep them all clear and defined in the reader's mind. No confusion at all. I can't speak for dog lovers or cat haters, of course.
Miss Snark's blog continues to entertain. I even entered her 25 word competition and did about as well as I do in baked bean slogan competitions - zilch. But it was fun, and more fun to read the winning entries.
I also have read a children's classic - "The Midnight Fox" by Beverly Cleary. It felt old-fashioned but still very engaging. I think the old-fashioned feeling came more from the main character than anything - he was a funny sort of boy. But a lovely book.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Even though I didn't reach my 50,000 words for Nano, I seem to have inspired (for lack of a better word) a couple of others to try it in December as November just wasn't the right month for them. I really appreciated the Nano site with the graph on my page - there was something about seeing the graph go up that was encouraging. Maybe that's a bit sad, I know, but sometimes that outside "poke in the ribs" is just what you need. For one of my friends, I've created her own graph. Will it help?
In the past, when I've ground to a standstill for one reason or another, I've done various things to reignite me. One was to write a poem every day for a month. Sounds easy until you get to about Day 10 and end up writing a limerick about your bathroom! I've also used books like "Wild Mind" by Natalie Goldberg - very useful.
The Sue Miller book was "Lost in the Forest" - I think I gave the wrong title earlier. I enjoyed it - and envy her ability to get right inside her characters and make each one so interesting.
Currently reading "Firebirds" which is a fantasy short story anthology edited by Sharyn November. Most of the stories so far have ranged from pretty good up to great. Often with an anthology I hit a spot in the middle where I get a bunch of stories that just don't grab me and it takes a lot of perseverance to keep going (last year's Best American Short Stories did that - it's still sitting there half-finished).
I was asked recently to contribute to the Read Alert blog at the State Library - my favourite book for the year. That was a hard choice but I went for the Chris Crutcher book in the end (Whale Talk) - the voice of that character has just stayed with me for weeks.
After writing about 3000 words of a new YA novel at the end of Nano (and I had to stop because I had no idea where to go next) I am now ready to do some planning and exploring. I know the story I want to tell - the central one - but this novel needs much more than that. It's multi-layered and the other layers have to work too.
So the next couple of weeks will be thinking, writing, exploring, and then there's still rewriting on other projects to do.
Who has time for Christmas?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Today I did what any sensible writer does - I rewarded myself for writing. With a 45 minute Chinese massage. It was meant to be 20 minutes but the guy said my back was very stiff (it's called computer scrunch, a new medical term I invented) so I went for the extra 25 minutes. Floated home and promptly attacked a rewrite of 'The Littlest Pirate Number 3' which has been waiting for my scalpel for several weeks. I was hoping my brain had returned from the hidey-hole it had crawled into, but it only put in a pale appearance and then went again, so I struggled on by myself. I did manage to cut 400 words, only 100 short of what the editor asked for. And I left in most of the funny lines, I think. I hope.
On Friday I went to the Dromkeen lunch. For those of you not in Melbourne, Dromkeen is the homestead at Riddell's Creek, an hour from the city, which is a gallery and exhibition and workshop/school visit place that focuses on picture books. The lunch is an annual thing which honours librarians and has illustrators doing demonstrations. The guest during lunch was Marc McBride who does the Deltora covers and he created an airbrush painting of a dragon while we watched.
Every time I see what illustrators do, I go green with envy. They create such marvellous things. I did a little bit of video/filming for my teaching materials project at the university, but it was a horrible rainy day so not much scope.
Still reading the Sue Miller book.
Finally got around to copying some old files off my ancient computer in the office and now am not sure what to do with them. After having several floppy disks die on me recently, I'm loathe to leave the files on them. These file depositories in cyberspace sound interesting, but the mainfile at work might be more convenient. Ultimately I should print out hard copies too, but all that paper ... and as it is I have spent 3 hours today trying to tidy up the office. To add more seems self-defeating.
More rewrites coming up. I wish I could do both at the same time, i.e. alternate between first draft stuff on one book and rewriting on another, but this is one area where my brain seems to need to do one or the other, not both.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Nano sure does take up a lot of time! But it was inspiring and educational, if nothing else. It showed me I can write any time, any place (I have a photo of me with my laptop out in the woods, writing), and also fit in writing in the odd half hour if I really want to. It cured procrastination (not once did I have to use the alarm set up on my computer that is supposed to tell me to get writing or else!) and I got back into that old habit of continually keeping the novel in my head and thinking about what comes next so as soon as I sat down, I was ready to go.
All of that was very satisfying (but not always fun).
I also found that those people out in library research land are still being wonderful to me - hence an email to South Carolina resulted in an answer to a question that I had spent hours trying to find out via books and internet. Thank you!
On the down side, I am absolutely exhausted. As well as Nano, I had marking to do, then stuff started going wrong at work and things piled up at home, waiting for me to do them, and the pressure built. Mind you, chopping down a bouganvillea tree and feeding it into a mulcher did wonders for my aggro.
I did not reach 50,000 words. For one simple reason. I finished the novel I was working on. It came in at around 75,000 words (it was already started when I started Nano) and although I did start on a new novel the very next day and managed a couple of thousand words on it, I just couldn't continue. But I am very happy with my novel draft and looking forward to working on it more (probably cutting some of it for sure).
Now I am a vegetable, a reading vegetable, taking great pleasure in soaking up someone else's words. First up was Tess Gerritson's new book (yes NEW, unlike the last one) called "Vanished". That got four stars. Now I am reading Sue Miller's new book "A Walk in the Forest". Very different, not crime. And a weird point of view, as in many points of view. She changes from section to section, and you can't really call it omniscient POV because it's not distant. It's right inside each character's head and emotions. One to study.
Next on the pile is Marcus Zusak's new book "The Book Thief". Hope it's as good as everyone says it is.