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A Beloved Blogger’s Beautiful Book

May 24, 2010

(Not really sure why I went so alliteration crazy. Just roll with it.)

Isn’t that a fantastic cover? It’s for Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White — one of my favorite writer-bloggers! It comes out in September and promises to be all kinds of awesome. The best part? You can win a copy of it! The bonus-best part? If you win, you’ll also get a copy of Laini Taylor‘s Lips Touch, which I assure you is one of the most beautiful books EVER.

What are you waiting for?


Assembling The Troops

May 24, 2010

Caffeine, Pirateology, and a Shakespeare action figure — what more could a writer attempting to finish a draft in two weeks need?

Bird By Turbo-Charged Bird

May 23, 2010

I’m sure I’m not the only writer who’s read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird dozens of times. One of her most memorable pieces of advice has to do with, as she succinctly labels them, “Shitty First Drafts.” Here’s some of what she has to say on the subject:

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page…Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.”

Sounds great, right? Except that I happen to be nigh incapable of writing Shitty First Drafts. This is not to say that I sit down at my computer and release magic and rainbows from my fingertips, that in mere days I effortlessly produce prize-worthy prose. Quite the opposite, in fact. I edit as I go. I labor and scrutinize and delete and re-type and delete again. (And then maybe re-type again.) As frequently as I tell myself to just go with the first-draft flow — and as many mind games as I play with myself — I find it very hard to “just get it all down on paper.”

There has been one notable exception to this. A few summers ago, while rehearsing for a production of Les Mis, I sprained my ankle. I then proceeded to perform the entire run of said production on said sprained ankle, which was perhaps not the most medically advisable thing to do. (My devotion to Les Mis is unwavering.) I was told to stay off my feet for a week straight, at which point my mother dared me to do my own version of NaNoWriMo…in seven days. When you’re writing more than 7,000 words a day, it gets pretty tricky to stop and edit. It was an exhausting, exhilarating, wrist-cramping exercise in busting through those mental blocks and putting words on the page.

In an odd sort of echo, I currently have a torn tendon in my foot and two weeks off of work to recuperate. I love my WIP, and I don’t want it to get bogged down by my self-correcting and over-analyzing. At this point, I think I’d rather have a big mess of pages that need editing than a handful of them that don’t. So this time, I’m going to dare myself.

Two weeks. One Shitty First Draft.

Starting tomorrow, let the madness begin!

(Pssst, God? I realize I’m writing a book filled with characters who don’t believe in you, but if you felt inclined to help me out with this — like, on the down-low? In some super-secret way that neither of us would have to be embarrassed about? That’d be GREAT.)

Under (Slightly Less) Pressure

May 22, 2010

The night Wyatt Tobias unexpectedly came into being, I was not particularly happy to be woken up by Important Writerly Thoughts. I would have much preferred to remain in the land of Delightfully Squishy Down Comforters and Bizarrely Realistic Dreams, particularly as Wyatt Tobias was an Unplanned Interloper as opposed to a character I might have actually been excited to hear from. So as I opened my netbook, grumbling all the way, I wasn’t in the mood for my usual I Am A Real Writer antics. I didn’t want to type a title and my name and maybe a dedication and perhaps a few lines of acknowledgments, not like that’s putting the cart before the horse or anything.

(True story: I had to Google that saying to make sure it wasn’t “put the horse before the cart.” Because when you think about it, can’t “before” be used to mean “in front of,” like “before me knelt Robert Downey, Jr., a small jewelry box in his palm,” in which case putting the cart before the horse would actually be rather logical? Perhaps I digress. Mmm, Robert Downey, Jr.)

No, I was crabby and drowsy and wanted to get this silly Working On My Book business over as quickly as possible so I could return to the vastly more important task of Working On My Sleeping. So what did I title my new document? “Take eighteen hundred.” (Only a slight exaggeration.) When I returned to Wyatt Tobias the next morning and opened a second document in which to preserve excised lines, I labeled that one “snip snip.”

And how do these rather ignoble titles help me? They take some of the pressure off. They say, “You’re just playing! Scribbling! Experimenting! This isn’t a book, it’s an assortment of words that might one day be of use to you. STOP EDITING, KATELYN. First drafts are messy, and besides, this is supposed to be FUN.” (Ignoble they may be, but quiet they certainly are not.)

Of course, it’s not like I can actually make myself forget what I’m trying to achieve, and I still find it hard to stop editing as I go and instead just Get Words On The Page. But a few mind tricks certainly never hurt.

Nothin’ But a Number?

May 21, 2010

In an awesome collision of one of my favorite blogs and the online writing folk I stalk so faithfully, Jezebel posted yesterday about “teen phenom” Steph Bowe. Steph’s original blog post on the subject is titled “Does age matter in publishing?”.

Steph is 16. Her debut novel, Girl Saves Boy, comes out in September. And yes, that does indeed flood me with equal parts “way to go, Steph!” and “way NOT to go, Katelyn.”

That, of course, is the point of all this online chatter. Many of the Jezebel commenters seem simultaneously excited about Steph’s terrific achievement and regretful that they didn’t achieve similar heights when they were teenagers. “Jealousy” is a pretty harsh word — and one that would be horribly unfair to Steph if used — but it’s understandable to feel twinges of remorse and disappointment when confronted with someone so successful at such a young age. Those sentiments are only heightened when that someone is successful in “your” field. A 16-year-old winning an international science fair won’t tug on a writer’s heartstrings the same way a 16-year-old with a publishing deal will. It’s difficult to avoid comparing yourself to a “teen phenom” — and often even more difficult to avoid feeling that you’ve come up short.

But what’s perhaps most interesting is the reaction — expressed by many on Jezebel, including the author of the article — of retroactive gratitude for never being published that young. The general feeling, though often rather more eloquently expressed, seems to be one of “man, my writing SUCKED back then.” Repeat mentions are made of gaining deeper understandings of the world, learning to write for more than the fame and novelty factor of being a young author, and having more time to simply study the craft.

To her credit, Steph is quick to counter the idea that youth and poor writing necessarily go hand in hand, and publishing history is happy to back her up. Carson McCullers wrote The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter — which Time named one of the 100 best English-language novels — when she was 23. The second-bestselling YA book of all time, The Outsiders, was written by S.E. Hinton when she was 17.

As someone who recently spent several hours sifting through old papers, however, I understand the gut reaction. The majority of my writing from before college ranges from just-barely palatable to downright laughable. And so I’m a bit torn. Part of me wonders if the “thank goodness I wasn’t published that young!” response is one crafted to mask remorse. If we can in some way justify our past regrettable (in)actions, after all, memories of them tend to sting less. The other part of me agrees with the sighs of relief, and happily files away my old writing in a storage box.

I’m certain of one thing, though: all of me is impressed by Steph and other young writers so determined to pursue their dreams.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Let’s Hear It For The Girls

May 20, 2010

Cassandra Jade is hosting a discussion about favorite female protagonists. I find myself unable to choose between two: Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart and Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet.

Why Sally? She’s brave, intelligent, and a fiercely devoted mother. She refuses to adhere to societal expectations, forging a career as a financial consultant in a time period when women aren’t even allowed to vote yet. She’ll do anything to protect her daughter, yet also goes to great lengths to help others in need. It doesn’t hurt that she ultimately marries Daniel Goldberg, one of my all time favorite fictional romantic heroes.

Why Alanna? Many of the same reasons, actually. She risks everything to pursue her dream of being the first female knight her realm has seen in over 100 years. She ends a romance with a rather lovely prince because being Queen would force her to stop being herself. (Pierce writes about this here — “Why did you make Alanna pick George and not Jonathan?”) She was also the first character to spark my fascination with fictional heroines having purple eyes.

These are the types of female protagonists I hope to be able to write — feisty, independent, passionate, and determined. Want to post an entry about your favorites? Hop on over to Cassandra Jade and share your link!

Glee-ning Writing Lessons From Last Night’s TV

May 19, 2010

Opinions about Glee are sharply divided. Many of the criticisms are understandable, but I remain an unabashed fan. No matter how preposterous, cheesy, or predictable the show gets, it never fails to make me smile. It seemed only natural, then, to find a way to turn my Gleek-y adoration into something (vaguely-loosely-kinda-sorta) related to writing. I’ll do my best to keep this a spoiler-free zone, but there will be vague mentions of last night’s episode, so steer clear if you’re uber-cautious and haven’t seen it yet. (Though, really, if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you doing here? Why aren’t you here?)

This most recent Glee-ful hour, already bound to be squee-worthy courtesy of Joss Whedon’s guest directing stint, was jam-packed with all sorts of other delights. Neil Patrick Harris. Molly Shannon. Idina Menzel. Jonathan Groff. A dance number that simultaneously kicked ass and broke my heart. LES-FREAKIN’-MIS.

Excuse me, I think I’m having heart palpitations.

Ahem. Point being, it was one busy episode — but I never questioned it. The TV Powers That Be just kept piling on the awesome, and I loved every second of it. Perhaps another kind of show would have slowed the pacing, spread out the guest stars, toned down the emotional musical showdowns. But Glee isn’t that kind of show, nor would I ever want it to be.

So what, exactly, is the writing lesson I’m attempting to draw from this? Don’t hold back, especially not in the early stages. Try everything out. Throw in four guest stars, an angry rock duet, and a flash mob — or the equivalent of those things within the context of your writing world. Pile on the awesome. Glee certainly isn’t letting its detractors stomp on its spirit, so why should you let anything or anyone stomp on yours?

And really, what do you have to lose?