Sunday, September 27, 2009

Math of Words

I vowed on this blog that I would have a 1st draft of my novel by Oct. 1st.

Well, unless there's some divine intervention in the next 24 hours, I didn't get there. I don't have the words, the pages. They did not come. First, I'm disappointed in my lack of discipline. Then I'm disappointed I'm too hard on myself. That feeling escalates until I'm disappointed for not be harder on myself. And the cycle begins again. It's a harrowing, neurotic, ridiculous process. It goes without saying there are ups and downs.

When I write, I try and get 1,000 words per sitting thank's to Inkygirl's 1,000 Words A Day Challenge I've found this to be the easiest way to just get words out. Just move forward, 1,000 words at a time. The math is simple. It puts things into perspective. If you want a 75,000 word novel. Write for 75 days and you'll have it. It makes the process a little less daunting. For me, anyway.

There are nights when it is absolutely painful. A scene drags. It's completely mis-guided, mis-directed, and I am wandering senselessly through awkward prose and pacing. These are nights when I desperately hit the Microsoft Word counter, begging to the word Gods that I've hit 1,000. Devastated when I see something like 337. (Anything below 400 feels like a nightmare when the words just aren't flowing.) But I manage to push through by telling myself, if the words dont' get written, the novel doesn't get finished. It's as simple as that.

There are times when I'm flying through a scene and I don't even look at the clock, when I hit the word count thinking I'm at evil 337 and see that I'm at 1300. It's a welcome surprise. I often stop mid-sentence, excited to pick up next time, paranoid and fearful that if I didn't stop there, the words might not come the following day.

It's easy to get caught up in the math of the words. For a first draft, I prefer it that way. Like, I said, it's the only thing that allows me to move forward right now.

And I've realized, that there are a lot of things holding me back. Most of the time, I'd prefer to watch netflix, or sit on the couch and zone out in front of the boob tube after a long day at work. And I have other interests. Other people in my life I'd prefer to see. Other activities I'd prefer to engage in. When I arrive home at 9pm from a yoga class, cook dinner, and eat at 10pm, the last thing I felt like doing is writing. When it's really beautiful out on a weekend (and oh, have you been to NYC in the fall?) I want to go hiking or biking. I don't want to sit indoors and watch my protaganist have all the fun. And on Friday and Saturday nights, I want to drink wine, watch movies, go out for nice dinners, see my friends, and celebrate having managed to get through a boring work week, cooped up in grey office cube...

But, I am ever-surprised by my characters, the people they meet, and the places they go. I am constantly shocked by plot twists I never thought would happen and excited by all the new prospects that arise in this constantly evolving work. There are exciting things happening alone at a desk with a cursor blinking on a blank computer screen. For real. There are. If there weren't, you wouldn't find me there...

So, I use basic math to keep me going.

75,000 1st draft word goal
59,000 written =
16,000 to go

16,000 to go
1,000 a day =
16 days

And when you put it that way. It doesn't seem so bad.

So, help me get through the next 16 days please (I'm telling you now, they won't be consecutive). Text me, tweet me, e-mail me, ask me what number I'm at. For those of you that have the pleasure of seeing me face to face, smack me upside the head if I tell you I didn't write that day.

And uh, don't remind me of the impending edit just yet. I'm stickin' to numbers for the time being. :-)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


So, I know this blog is supposed to be about writing and books and being literary and all that junk. But today, I digress. I digress into a topic I have absolutely no authority on: style.

I have no style. I mean, I have a style. But I don't have what people call style. I don't think I need to be on What Not To Wear but you're not going to find me on Page Six or on a red carpet any time soon. I am obsessed with fashion eras I was never born in and therefore have no capacity to replicate.

This became all too apparent today when I walked into a small shop in Brooklyn absolutely determined to Madmen Myself. It was very simple. I wanted to look like Joan Holloway.

I mean, WHO IS THIS WOMAN? She is absolutely fabulous. I want to pull a Serena Williams and shout expletives at unsuspecting line judges about how !%$#& FABULOUS this woman is. I can't handle it.
But it turns out, I can't look like Joan Holloway. Apparently, you have to have breasts. And hips. And things like curves. I tried on 8 (count em!) EIGHT Joan Holloway dresses and I looked like doo.
I sulked all the way home. And on my way, I began to think. What is wrong with me? I was not sulking because I couldn't look like the latest runway model, I was sulking because I was not alive in 1960. So, I began to think about what consider stylish.

Here's my list of things that are fabulous.

Audrey Hepburn. If someone would bring back cigarette holders, I'd be forever grateful.

Joni Mitchell. This photo doesn't quite depict it, but apparently she wore short skirts a lot. I think that's cute. I am trying to grow my hair this long, blonde, and straight. And it's completely ridiculous that I am attempting this considering my hair is brown, frizzy, and wavy. I would start my bangs in the middle of my head if I could, but that's also completely ridiculous so I won't.

Anything from The Sound of Music. I would wear hand-me-downs from a convent. I would wear the blue dress that brings out my eyes for the Captain. And I would wear things that are very drab and pilly while avoiding Nazis. Perhaps most disturbingly, this also means that I would have no problem wearing clothes made out of old curtains.

And of course, my style icon, Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She is the be all and end all of what I consider fabulous. Like Mary taking on Minneapolis as an Associate Producer, I, too, took on the Big Apple with the same title. Like Mary, I knitted a striped hat with a pom pom and thought I might try and replicate her famous hat-throwing gesture. Like Mary, I don't quite have the chest to fill out a Joan Holloway dress, but it's ok! Because I can (in theory) wear this:

So, it's staggering. My style icons are an array of half fictional women and austrians all running around looking good well before my birth year. I'm not even going to get into empire waist dresses in Regency England. It's just too depressing. When it comes to style, I'm simply stuck.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers! What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami
Especially Read This If You're:
A writer
A runner
A biker (Murakami's tales of biking woe will make you laugh)
A Triathlete
Training for a race
Writing things with words
There are a lot of books about writing that we've all been told to read. The most likely suspects: Strunk and White's Elements of Style and On Writing by Stephen King. But maybe you haven't been told to read this one, yet. (And if you have, why haven't you?!)
Haruki Murakami is one of my all-time favorite writers. I'm about one martini away from hopping on a flight to Tokyo and asking him to to marry me. Thank goodness I never drink martinis. He is genius for so many reasons. For me, he is a simple case of: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
That is why, when he wrote a book about running I ran to get it.
So, here's where things get tricky.
The book is mainly about running. It is about the many marathons and ultra marathons and triathlons that Murakami trains for. It's about running in many different places across the globe (the most notable for me: Athens and Hawaii). It's about failed triathlons and being numb at the end of a race and getting injured and feeling euphoric.
But this book is mainly about writing. Follow me yet? Because while you're reading for the umpteenth time about how many miles Murakami ran that particular day (Murakami, for me, is a master of the mundane) and what his time was and what he wished his time was and what he wished he wished his time was, he offers these little gems about writing. And that's what it's really about.
A writer's life. A runner's life. A running writer's life. A writing runner's life And the discipline and the training and sheer determination it takes to live it.
So read it. And tell me what you think.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers! The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie

Especially read this if you're writing:
A YA Novel
A Book with Pictures
About cultural identity
In First Person

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian immediately struck me because of the strong 1st person narrative voice. This is an example of remarkable story-telling from a specific POV- a teen boy who is acutely observant, self-aware, confident, and hilarious. It's conversational, easy-going and, because of that, resonates as strikingly realistic and unique. No other person could tell you this story and no other story could tell you about this person. Let's face it. That's hard to do. That is REALLY hard to do. A strong narrative voice can make or break any novel, 1st person or not.
Voice is so important and this novel does it well. Simple as that. But, I know it's not as simple as that. And part of my goal is to become a more active reader and discover why it's not as simple as that.
I concluded that the voice is so remarkable because it feels like dialogue, but it's not dialogue. It has it's 'well's and 'okay's and 'Jeez'es and that makes it feel like the narrator is speaking to the reader. It's intimate. It's friendly. There's no talking up or down. It's story-telling. It's straight. It's humble. It's one to one. The reader becomes a peer. An equal. It makes readers feel that whether they are sitting in their chair reading or standing inside of the novel, they are right there with the action. It's one and the same.
This style doesn't work for everyone, but I know that it can be helpful. If the narrator of my novel was sitting next to me with a cup of tea, she would tell me her story in a very different way than she might be right now. I'd like for her to sit down and tell me, one-to-one, the real deal. Well, okay. Jeez, Melissa. So...this is how it happened... ;-)
Thank you Sherman Alexie for creating (among so many other things) a remarkable voice. Which is so key to a successful story.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers! A Prayer For Owen Meany

For the past week I've been reading John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany. I haven't finished it, but I am enjoying it very much. I have attempted only one other John Irving book in my life (The World According to Garp) and, to be honest, I didn't have the patience to finish it.

I am by no means scared of lengthy books with over-attention to detail, but there came a point in my reading of Garp where I couldn't bear to go on and I simply shut the book, placed it on a bookshelf, and declared it unfinished indefinitely. This is very rare for me. It's only happened one other time, during my reading of Stephen King's Insomnia, and I hope that Owen Meany does not suffer the same fate.

There are a lot of things I admire about Owen Meany so far. Right off the bat, I was intrigued by the use of capitol letters, which are used whenever Owen (whose voice is apparently rather irritating) speaks. I have never seen this done before and I considered it absolute genius. It certainly made me wonder how I can use physical letters and punctuation to achieve something similar. How can I highlight a certain physical or emotional characteristic beyond simple description? Is there another way? Beyond capitalizing all of the dialogue of a character with an annoying voice--well--I couldn't come up with one. Let me know if you do.

The other thing that struck me is the first sentence:

"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice--not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."

I happen to be writing a novel that is about a person who is changed by someone else. I think this is pretty common in a character driven novel. And even if it's not the whole story, if a protagonist is on any kind of spiritual or emotional journey, every experience and every person they interact with at every point in that novel is going to change them. Or at least move the story forward. I probably wouldn't call it out in the same tone and manner that John Irving does (I'll leave that to the masters) but I want to be sure that every character my protag meets achieves something.

So, this got me to thinking, once it's time to edit, every person in this doggone novel is going to have to be held up to what I'm going to call the Owen Meany First Sentence. If you break it down: "I remember this person, NOT because of a unique physical characteristic and something they did but because of how they changed my life or at least moved the novel forward." I mean, when you think about it, it pretty much covers everything. A physical description of this secondary character, an action they took, and a spiritual and emotional change that pushed the protagonist forward or backward. Or at least contributed in some way to the main character's arc and growth in the story. That's pretty cool. And I really think it's going to help! Thank you John Irving!