Wednesday, May 16, 2012

SUMMER, SUMMER, SUMMER. Plotting, Planning, Thinking, Scheming: Decisions, decisions.


Finishing a novel always presents me with the same dilemma: the abundance of time. I’m talking about hours that can be filled in anyway I see fit, save for the occasional freelance job and family obligation. But after three weeks of sending out queries and biting my nails in wait, I’m ready to start something new. I have to start something new. That’s what I do. I write. For better or worse. And the possibilities are endless.

Decisions, decisions.

Since I’m a file folder fanatic, my computer is veritable Wonderland of folders within folders within folders, which all lead to a set of ideas that have hit somewhere around the 150+ mark. Picking one, however, is my true problem. You see, I’ve written one young adult Greek mythology that didn’t do so well with agents despite the hours I spent researching, or my natural (heritage) inclination toward that topic. But I have to move on. I recently finished a young adult thriller that’s seeing some interest, but I know that could mean everything or nothing. A second blow to my ego could, quite literally, devastate me, so I try not to think too hard the negative. So what’s a writer to do…Can you hear the clock ticking as I thrum my fingers on my desk?

Start again.

I’m juggling six ideas at the moment, one of which is middle grade series that sort of fell into my lap and makes me smile like an imp, and the others go something like this: Two young adult historical fictions (one based on true family events), One horror story (based on a strange phenomenon/urban legend from the State where I grew up, Massachusetts), One contemporary young adult, one young adult thriller, and one science fiction. 


The prospect of summer’s rapid approach immobilizes me. I love summer. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just, historically, my most difficult time to write, to really hammer out words. But I’m a plotter. I like to know the end before I begin. I insist upon it.  I also like to start with characters. Characterizations are my all-time favorite, and I’ve been told one of my strengths. Play to your strengths, as they say. Work on your weaknesses.

Will do.

The first thing I’ll do is concentrate on character traits, idiosyncrasies, and setting; ensconcing myself in the world I’m creating. This happens so fully at times the transition back to reality is something like time travel. I need a better flux capacitor or something, I guess.

Then the process goes something like this:

“It’s about a boy/girl who….” (Fill in the blank)

Once I have the basic gist, I answer these questions:

1.     Who is the main character?
2.     What happens in the character’s life that throws them into this story?
3.     What does he/she want most in the world?
4.     Who are his/her closest allies?
5.     Who or what opposes him/her and stops them from getting what they want most in the world?
6.     What happens if he/she doesn’t get what she wants – what’s at stake?
7.     What does he/learn in the end?

After I can answer those questions confidently, I begin a plot board. Beginning this week, in between writing a synopsis for my recent work, I propose to start outlining these stories one-by-one. My thinking is that one of them will scream to be heard over the others, and that’s the one I’ll put my backbone into. For the love of YA.

What do you do when you’ve finished a novel? How do you decide what to write or read next? And how do you plan on using the upcoming summer to work on your craft?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

FUMBLING ABOUT — A Guest Post by Scott Livingston

2:10 am — near dark pitch pine trees — it seemed important at the time

I recently believed I’d become a writer. But then I got a letter. Several actually. They all said the same thing. “Nope.” I hate it when that happens.

The thing is, Mr/Mrs. Nathan/Kirsten/William/Kate/Sara/Michael etc etc, I
am a writer. But you were right. Saying “no,” I mean. I just wasn't a publishable writer. At the time.

Before the gates of excellence, the gods have placed sweat.

 – Katherine Paterson

But it’s just that I put so much work into writing the stupid book, I thought for sure -
for sure – you’d have to say “Yes!!” and “How many zeroes would you like on your check?”and “We’d like to buy all the books you've ever, ever written - since first grade” and “Can you fly to New York in the morning? First class of course. On us.” Instead you just said “Nope.” Turns out that work - the uncounted, grinding hours - some spent huddled in the dark of my mind, lots sitting in that one room in the library, others spent thinking and typing and then backing up and writing again. And again. And again. They were all just a waste, right?

(Note to you, Muse over publishing: Where’s my dream about sparkly vampires in a meadow? Dude.)

So okay, not a waste. A journey. A life lesson. A process. Becoming a published writer is a slap in the face, brisk water, ultra marathon, “you'd better be ready for years of nope ‘cuz that’s the price to play, son. It just is”

Fine. Be that way. If I want this thing. Really, really want it. Then I should - I must - understand that only the serious dare enter the cage, boots cinched tight, prepared for no after no after no. Because as someone brilliant (and published) once said – “That which we receive too cheap we esteem too lightly.”

The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork (including writing) is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. — David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

So back to the wrestle go I. Fumbling about once again. Still. Always. I bring what few tools I've got to the work, and work the best I know how. Believing still. Again. Always.

I will be published. I must be published. I'll bend bones, snap turtle shells (empty), call down angels, even eat Cream of Wheat to be published, brotha. I shall prevail. I must. Must.

“Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, and the impossibility of ever getting it right. No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound.”
-Bill Goldman

SCOTT LIVINGSTON is a talented writer, and all around great guy, currently seeking representation for several excellent works. You can learn more about Scott and his writing at: otherwise known as Bemused
Twitter: @sleye1stories