View From the Writer’s Desk

I didn't stare out the window too much today.

Getting out of the house helped today. I’ve been moldering within the first 50 pages of a revision for a few weeks now.

Let me clear: This isn’t a revision of the genteel sort. This is a massive overhaul. This is a rewrite, a restructuring, an upheaval.

Just now I cleared my way through the first 50, and through the next ten pages. I realized that I was stuck-ish (I never admit to writer’s block) because I’d softened my protagonist too much. We’re irrational creatures, we humans, with contradictory impulses and emotions that coexist especially in times of stress and grief. Anger and sadness, resentment and guilt. Inner conflict, need I say more?

Over on Murderati, Stephen Jay Schwartz discussed writing tight. Because, officially, the manuscript isn’t a first draft, I’ve been caught up in writing as lean as possible. Oddly enough, his post got me thinking that I need to liberate the manuscript, which is to say, treat it as a first draft all over again. The truth is that I still don’t feel sure enough about the upheaval to spend the extra time it takes to write tight.

I’ll write in all my wordy and expansive glory, and revise tight later.

View From the Writer’s Desk

Kale: stir fry with ginger, soy, and garlic?

View: a little on the “meh” side this week.

I spent so much time staring out the window that I rearranged the physical view in hopes that my mental view would change. All week long I faced my laptop, but nothing much happened. I’m not sure why. No excuses here, but it got me wondering why it is that some weeks my output flows, and then others it fizzles to a barely discernable trickle.

It’s the weirdest thing. Nothing changed this week. No stressors. Ah, but perhaps that’s it. No stressors! Through last week I was gung-ho to finish a revision for an agent. I was PUMPED. The revision was a beautiful thing, and I knew to the core of my physical being that I was improving the manuscript. It just felt good, you know what I mean? I sent it off one week ago.

Then, this week — fizzle-city. I re-read where I’d left off on another revision, and after the headiness of my previous effort, this revision felt flat. Good news: I think I figured out what’s not right about it, thus far, which is a huge part of the battle. And I did get words down on paper — I did. Just not so much is all.

But, okay, in a fit of frustration I did buy the decorative kale you see in the image, and I did set piggy beside that sickly lily, poor thing. I kept pondering how to cook up kale, however. I like kale okay, but, come on now, not that much.

As a friend wrote in an email message this morning about her own window-staring: Taking a break, it seems.

Apparently, the brain wants what it wants at times, and no amount of striving and self-flaggelation on my part is going to change its stubborn mind. Hey, Brain, vacation’s over come Monday! Uhm, okay, pretty please?

Plastic Surgery, Novel Style

Industrious bee...if only revision were as bloodless

I completed the most gruesomely delicious month of manuscript revision. I’d received feedback from an interested agent — the most simple and straightforward, beginner-ish feedback that I’d heard in a loooong time. Little did I know that I needed to hear it.

The agent said, I felt the manuscript slowed in the two chapters before the murder and got muddled. I also felt like I lost the voice a little bit, which was so strong in the earlier parts…I think if a scene or dialogue doesn’t serve to move the story forward, you should cut.

I read the two specified chapters while attempting to inhabit her point of view. Which is to say, with pure objectivity. Lo and behold, something clicked. A big ol’ whopping, humiliating, painful, Homer-head-slap DOHing, light flashing, baseball-bat wielding CLICK.

I ended up cutting half the text and combining the chapters, the whole time pondering the weirdness of the brain, or maybe my brain. I can’t tell you how many times I’d ransacked the manuscript. But it took a near stranger with an interest in sales potential over all else to inspire a fundamental shift.

With the fundamental shift in place, I cut, sliced and hacked the entire beloved but aggravating thing. In the process of carving away the fat, a couple of muscular plot ideas appeared, lean and mean and there all along. It was like magic, sharp-edged magic, but magic all the same.

Poor thing needs to heal for a week before I pull out my bloody revision implements once again. Maybe all it will need is a punch here and there. That would be good. Bruises heal faster than cuts…

Then we’ll see what wounds the agent has in store for it. Once the plastic surgery starts, does it ever end?

Almost Forgot St. Paddy

Wow, 1:30 p.m. and I just realized it’s St. Patrick’s Day. There’s no reason I ought to remember except that I’m part O’Brien and those O’Briens like to spread around their Catholic guilt — even within my heathen veins.


Interestingly enough, I’m emmersed in all things Irish at this moment. I’m swimming in mist and rain, in gloom and dreariness. I’m exploring drystone walls and green landscapes, Celtic tumuli and Medieval relics. Atmospherics everywhere, or so I hope.

My novel is about as contrary to St. Patrick and his missionary goodness as you can get. If anything, I might, just possibly, poke a little fun at Catholicism. No offense to anyone; I figure I can because it’s a sickness that runs in my family. (Kidding! Kind of.)

I’m on the tail-end of this revision. Really. I am. Down to the individual words. Got a wearying list of them I’m “Find”ing because I ran into them too often while reading the printed manuscript. Various forms of the words “shiver” and “lurk.” “Gaze.” “Creak.” “Glance.”

And, for some reason, “smile,” too. Despite the fact that my characters are running around on a serious quest, I’ve got them smiling alot–usually as subterfuge. Gotta remedy that.

This is THE most boring revision task. But it’s necessary, so return I must. Back to all those blasted smiles.

Have you noticed that you fall back on certain words when drafting your stories?

One Manuscript, One Dog, One King-Sized Bed

Big enough bed for all of us
Big enough bed for all of us

Frankly, I’m delirious with exhaustion. I’ve set myself another one of those quick-reading goals during another one of my self-imposed writer’s retreats.

It’s not so much reading a 400-page manuscript in 48 hours that’s got me tired. It’s this task after multiple deadlines I had to complete before I took off. I get that way sometimes, where I gotta clear the decks. So, over the past week, I completed the current revision (goes without saying since I’m here reading it), dealt with my taxes (yikes), met a day-job deadline (hefty), and wrote the short story I mentioned in my last post (compulsive purge).

Trellis wishing for its greenery
Trellis wishing for its greenery



I’m not going to pat myself on the back until I finish this quick-read. One-hundred-fifty more pages to go before I leave this sweet little hotel room tomorrow. And then? Pleasure reading and sleeping and nothing else for a solid 24 hours! I have a light novel waiting for me. The latest Candace Bushnell, whom I’ve never read before. I already can’t wait.

This time around, I’m not splurging on a plush ocean-front view. However, I am lodged on the grounds of a pet-friendly botanical garden called The Oregon Garden. The Oregon Garden Resort opened in October, and it’s so fresh the breeze smells fragrant as a horse stable — all that manure and spring planting. Mmm, I love that smell. It comforts me, reminding me of the horsey girl I once was.

Luna's probably nibbling a little manure back there
Luna's probably nibbling a little manure back there

It’s quiet up here in the foothills, in the middle of nowhere. The Oregon Garden is a tourist attraction that never took off, so I suspect. That’s why this resort now exists with its great package deals. Last night I snuck into the gardens after dark. Frogs and gurgles and weird rustlings accompanied Luna and me. A misty half-moon gave scant light, and I bumbled around with a scaredy-cat thrilled rush, imagining bogeymen, while my dog stopped every ten feet to sniff at doggy delicacies.

But tonight, it’s all work, no play.

And how is the manuscript this time around? Better, much better! Last November, in the ocean-front room, I was mired down with uncooperative story threads. Also, possible new scenes, flow issues, and so on.

First arrivals
First arrivals

This time, I’m hiccuping on smaller stuff like awkward sentences and overused words/phrases. I’m amazed, actually. My story is growing up!

I’m an efficient quick-reader by now, and I’ve created a convenient shorthand. Underlining means come back to this sentence or paragraph because something ain’t right. “WW” means “wrong word,” as in: Is this the best I could do? Or, as in: You’ve already overused this word; get a new one. “Segue” means crappy transition or jumpy thought.

I’ll be up late tonight pushing this exhaustion to the max. But so worth it!

Negotiating With Self

coffeehouse1Today’s signs of spring: Dog panting on our walk and me only wearing a hoodie over a long-sleeved cotton shirt.

I’m sitting in a local coffeehouse, feeling low-grade anxiety. This low-grade anxiety tells me I ought to be working on today’s day-job task. This low-grade anxiety tells me that straight-A students don’t delay the paying work for a few hours. This low-grade anxiety tells me that someone (but who?) will get mad at me if I don’t turn around today’s day-job task one minute from now.

But here’s the first thing: The immediacy of day-job tasks will always trump fiction if I let them.

Here’s the second thing: Which means that if I’m not careful I’ll accomplish less fiction than usual.

Plus this: Unfortunately, my creativity turns off at night because by then I’m brain-tired.

How could I not peek?
How could I not peek?

However: Since I always make my deadlines and the day-job task isn’t creative, I’ll get it done this evening for sure.

So: Here I sit in a coffeehouse about to complete a few hours worth of fiction. Take that, low-grade anxiety. Pipe down, you.

How’s that for negotiating with myself?

OMG, Is That a Spreadsheet?

Wasn’t I just talking about becoming more organized and that my revision outline was a good start?

Not easy to decipher. Took a picture of my monitor.
Not easy to decipher. Took a picture of my monitor.

After Monday’s post, I began revising per said outline. Unfortunately, yesterday I experienced a mini-mental blowout when I arrived at this question: Move Chapter 14 back so that right before Chapter 17?

Because I’m not organized enough to have a chapter-by-chapter spreadsheet–the global view, you might say–I began flipping through the hard copy, ever more distracted by the marginalia (Wait, did I fix that comment? Really?) not to mention befuddled.

Lo, after an hour of this, a revelation came upon me like a bossy pointing finger and voice descending from the clouds. Thou shalt use an Excel spreadsheet. Thou shalt list each chapter in organized fashion. 

Oh man.

But. Remember I mentioned that I received a spreadsheet from my day-job boss? Hmm…And I may or may not have mentioned novelist DeAnna Cameron’s discussion about spreadsheets just last month. (I left a comment or two on her blog because I was fascinated by her organizational prowess.) Hmm…

So, using the spiffy spreadsheet on hand and stealing DeAnna’s column headers, I came up with what you see here. Cool—and colorful too! It’s my miracle for the week. And, guess what? Laid out tidy like that, it’s too obvious that, of course, Chapter 14 must be moved back two chapters. Duh.

I like spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are good.

Foul-Weather Mood

slushyWhat a change from yesterday’s green-day bouyancy. The weather mimics my current mood: slushy and gray.

I only had one day-job task today, and it should have taken 30 minutes. Instead, one hiccup led to another, and then it was noon. By then, the weather had turned most foul, and I found myself pacing my apartment in restlessly annoyed agitation. I’ll admit it: Today the day-job interfered with my fiction.

Now I want to throw in the damp, smelly towel (the one I used to dry off the dog after our walk) on the day. This is the struggle with fiction: getting it done despite our foul-weather moods. Am I right, or am I right?

I had a goal: work through a significant portion of my revision notes. I was going to go to th—okay, wait, the electricity just flickered off, the monitor went black but came back, thankfully. I’d best hurry because there might be more of that. But this is my mood! I’m flickering off for the day. I want to head back to bed.

As I was saying, I had a revision plan that included a coffee house, but now I’m not into people. I need a compromise that gives in a little to my slushy mood but not all the way in. Sometimes, the only way I progress is by negotiating with myself. Do you do this?

petsI’ve experienced many a fiction-curtailed funk. Who hasn’t? I’m trying to remember what I’ve done in the past to settle myself down into that special state of mind that my stories like from me, that brain-space that’s fluid and steady and calm, exactly where I’m not at the moment.

In the past, I’ve told myself to write one page. Just one, then I can quit. Often, of course, this leads to more. Today, I hereby coax myself to remedy five bullets-worth of revision notes, the easiest ones. Five easy fixes, that’s all.

And, to further lull me into getting the work done, I shall do this in my unmade bed. What’s the point of a laptop if not getting cozy with it in an emergency situation? The cat and dog are snuggled in and snoozing away at this very moment. So, I’ll join them with laptop and revision notes in hand.

Green Day (Not Envy, Not the Band)

Sign of spring...

Walking the dog in the park today, I spied my first sign of spring. I was so thrilled I later printed out my revision notes in green ink.

I might be more organized than I used to be…huh, wow. I can’t believe I just wrote that about myself. Me, organized. Look at those notes, those bulleted points—and the sub-bullets!

I’m proud of myself. Really, I am. I’m the person who piles her “to file” papers on top of her file cabinet. Also count me in with the folks who run around looking for their keys at least twice a week. And then, there was the time (last month, eh-hem) I discovered a bunch of my clothes in my mom’s laundry room. They’d been hanging there since December. (Yes, sometimes I do a load or two at the parental unit’s house.)

revisionnotesWhile working, I tend to jot revision ideas on Post-its or in my novel journal. I also insert them at the beginning and the end of the manuscript, or even at the top of new chapters. Of course, there’s also the questions-to-self scribbled on the hard copy. Gathering the comments in one place was my writing task for the weekend. I think this counts as getting my writing in, don’t you? 

Coincidentally (or maybe not, maybe a sign instead?), today my day-job project lead sent me a spreadsheet (!!) that I’m supposed to use to keep track of revision feedback. Who knows, get used to the spreadsheet and maybe one day I’ll blog about using one for my fiction!

Many Brains

papaccinos1Two weeks since my last post, and, frankly, I’m  surprised. Did I dive under the covers in a final rebellion against winter gloominess? Almost.

The other day I realized that I wasn’t thinking about much of anything. My blogging brain went on hiatus. Earning-money brain took over for awhile. I’m sure it’s the adjustment. Up until now, I’ve been on the writing grant: all creativity, all the time, with plenty of cerebral space for blogging brain and fiction brain.

I hope earning-money brain pipes down so that blogging brain will regain space. The only reason I’m blogging today is because I scheduled it in. Scheduled it in. Oy. And I had to leave the house to get it done. (Not that I mind sitting in cafes.)

In truth, this not-thinking-about-much-of-anything business feels good, as if I’ve been vacationing far, far away from my bad-ass, overthinking self. I’m relaxed, rejuvenated, ready for the thoughts to start again.

Old-School Pacific Northwest
Too Classic: Old-School Pacific Northwest

And, guess what? I’ve only got two chapters left for this round of revisions! Something to say for myself, after all. I had that epiphany last month, which has led to further revelations. So, another round coming up. It’s all good.

Just now, the women in the photo said, “I’ve always wondered who reads blogs.” She said this like, What’s the point? I used to wonder the same thing. All I can say in this moment, sipping a nonfat latte, listening to The Black Keys (a bluesy duo; good stuff) background music, sitting in a wing-back chair, that I’m enjoying myself.