Monthly Archives: April 2013

I Know How Many Teeth Have Dragons

1468.

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The Immersion Conundrum

This post is aimed at those of my readers who are also writers.

Do you have a good way to overcome your psychological need for immersion in work? What I mean by this is, I struggle to find large blocks of time (like hours of time) in my life to focus on writing. But when I sit down knowing I have only 30 minutes or something, I often find working impossible.

For various reasons that seem impossible to change right now, my life is fragmented. I won’t have entire Saturdays to just write for the forseeable ever.  I have been opening docs and staring at them in confusion, trying to orient myself in a story, focused mostly on the fact that I have a finite amount of work time, and getting nothing done. Or at best a handful of sentences that get written over the next day because they were useless.

Part of this is just life stress. Work has been stupid lately, and hubs and I are about to take a trip out of the country so I am stressing out about making sure everything is ready for us to be gone, caught up at my desk at the job so someone else can step in for a couple weeks, etc., and one of my ghostwriting gigs has changed so it’s not a comfortable column anymore but articles I am really struggling to start, much less finish. I feel like my brain is flying in a hundred directions and about to explode at all times, and it has been getting more and more frenetic, wound tighter and tighter, by the day. I haven’t been able to focus on words either at night after work or even first thing in the mornings–it’s like English is Klingon. The words just don’t fucking make sense.

And this is killing me. I feel neutered or bound in a straightjacket or something. I want to cry when I think about what I want to be doing (writing) and how for whatever reason I just can’t do it right now. I hate that I can’t just pick up a story and write a few words and let them add up. Instead it’s this stupid “If I can’t have too many bon-bons then I will have none” mentality, only by bon-bons I mean hours to just simply focus on my story.

Part of the problem, undoubtedly, is that I am having to imagine all the current scenes from any project I could pick up as I write them. In fact maybe the primary problem is that my brain is so focused on other things–work, while I’m there, and getting ready for this trip while I’m home–that I haven’t been free to just imagine anything lately, and that’s really what’s upsetting me.

I don’t know. I just need a way to stop myself from dwelling on the fact that I only have a finite amount of work time and instead just do the work.

I’m the same way when it comes to sewing projects, so I know this is not just a matter of writer’s block or something like that. It’s something in my psyche. Maybe it’s a subconsious acknowledgment of my ability to hyperfocus away the usual ADD, which is a process that takes me out of my own mind for hours.

The sticking point is, if I am in the regular routine of working and in touch with the characters daily, I don’t need to have the hyperfocus to get to work…but right now because I don’t have the time to do a hyperfocus writing marathon, I am not able to work even in small doses. I am banging my head against a wall.

In the past when I have had this, the problem solves itself when I have a day that words just come pouring out in a flood, and then I’m back in the groove and all is gravy. But I don’t have that day right now. It won’t happen for at least 3 weeks. And I can’t deal with waiting three entire weeks to write something.

I should probably just say, “I am not writing again till we get home,” but I want to cry at the very thought. I am just in despair and making writing a source of stress for myself at a time when I need less stress, not more, but the fact is that I tend to define bad in terms of whether I got anything done. If I have a shit day at work and my husband is away and none of my friends will come out of their caves to see me and even the cat won’t talk to me, it’s still not a bad day if I got good words down. I have had a lot of bad days (in all ways) lately, and I could really, really use the balm of at least writing well to make them better.

So, anyone else struggle with this? What do you do?

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Dance Or Die

I received an invitation from a friend in New Orleans to mask in tandem with her this Halloween. It was, to be perfectly frank, the most excellent invitation I have yet received.

So…cause I’m weird like this, would you be interested in dressing up as French ladies going to a bals des victims with me?

Madame, fear not: I am just that weird and delighted by the macabre.

Also, I have been looking for an excuse to make an empire/Regency gown but have not had an Event push it to the top of my costume-making list. Just wanting to is, alas, not quite enough for me to prioritize something.

I had never heard of this phenomenon (or 200-year-old urban legend) called bals des victimes before, nor had I heard of women wearing red ribbon necklaces. All of these commemorations of the terror make sense to me; I would actually find it more difficult to believe such balls didn’t happen than that they did. But even if these were only rumors, the idea has power.

As FIELLE blog put it so very aptly,

It is extraordinary to see illustrations of women of this period with shorn hair, in complete contrast to our ideas of the fashion of that time. Dresses were in the style of underclothes, as this was how one met with Madame Guillotine – and a red ribbon was worn around the neck, grimly recalling the manner in which the aristocracy met its end. Even jewellery in the shape of the guillotine was worn.

I will comb my hair up in the back and make curls out of my front, and if I can lay hands on a guillotine charm then I will wear that…somewhere. Not sure yet whether as a pendant or a bracelet or earrings.

As to the dress…I will probably cheat the period just a bit and go more 1810 than 1795. I like the chemise dress intensely more than the round gown style from the turn of the 19th century, and most of the particularly delightful versions of it I have seen were from a few years later. But since those were British we can always make a Gallic shrug and say, “But of course Parisian ladies had it first.”

Don’t worry…my journey to making this dress will be fully documented here. I will have to research the styles, then find an historical costuming book that has either the particular style I want or several similar styles that I could amalgamate into what I want, then pattern it, then find fabric (that might be the hardest part!), and then at last construct it. Oh, yes, and decide if I will be making stays to go under it or just a chemisette. Regarding construction, there is a possibility that I will choose to hand-sew the gown. I have been wanting to make a dress by hand for a while now, and for some reason Regency gowns seem like they would lend themselves to that pretty well.

Regardless, I now have my next historical costuming project. After, that is, I finish my spencer. And a couple 1950s vintage Vogue summer dresses. And a couple pairs of pants a friend commissioned, and the 18th century gentleman’s/pirate shirt I’ve been slowly sewing (by hand) for over a year (working less than infrequently!), and half a dozen other things. Wow. My creative ADD really is as bad in my sewing as it is in my writing….

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We’re playing unlimited loo? This party’s gonna be off the HOOK!

Oh, the glorious breakthroughs that happen when research comes to my rescue like the White Knight of Bridge-Gap. 

No, I have not yet finished writing The Scene. But at least I have figured out what in the hell the heroine’s brother is playing that is about to ruin them both, and knowing the specific game will add enough structure to the amorphous scene of “he loses” that I can actually get somewhere in putting it into words.

What I’m saying is, I just put boards under the back tires of my mudhogging truck and now have a ramp out of the mudpit. It’s still a long, dirty careful drive to get clear of the hole I dug myself into, but at least I’ve got a bit of traction now.

Anyway, reading multiple sources across multiple days was what really helped me decide on a game. I was intrigued by the sound of loo, but the first three descriptions of the game implied such small stakes that I didn’t see it as a viable option (plus it comes up as a parlor game in Jane Austen, how could it be the ruin of a professional gambler?). I needed a game where the bets could be anted up to astronomical heights, and was leaning toward brag. But when I sat down to write tonight, I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t liked loo and went to look up how to play it again. I chose a different site than I had gone to previously by accident, probably my fourth or fifth source on how to play loo, and it contained a brief differentiation between limited loo, in which the loo (the losing penalty) is the same as the buy-in, so the penalty for losing remains low, as does the total pot; and unlimited loo, wherein the loo is equal to the pot total, essentially increasing the stakes at a linear rate. In 11 hands the pot is ten times its initial size. There was the kind of ramping up of stakes and losses that I had been looking for!

I’ve now got the scene started. The parts that come next have progressed from utter vagueness to shifting outlines–still not completely defined and set into stone, but becoming clearer with every run through the scenario with this new information.

Now I am out of excuses. I will simply have to face the fact that this scene terrifies me to write because it is so important to the whole story, and just get on with it. Ignorance is a much more excusable roadblock than fear…even if it’s also one that can be conquered more easily.

If I start screaming, “Fezzik! Fezzik, I need you! He’s getting away from me! Fezzik, PLEASE!!!” will my muse show up to help with this one?

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Things I Am Feeling (Illustrated Edition)

yup
creative constipation

donefuckinground

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Nerd-goggles Or Intentional Game of Thrones Reference? You Decide!

So I came across this little dialogue gem in a Christmas story anthology I bought back in December and have only just gotten around to reading (what? I was waiting till I finished my own so as to avoid inspiration creep!):

i am a greyjoy

For those of you who cannot read the text picture (and, of course, for internet searchability of this outstanding moment in literature), the retort from one lady to another is “How kind, but I do not sew.”

Allow me to slip my cloak on for a moment and remind everyone reading that the House Greyjoy motto from Game of Thrones is “We do not sow.” They say this because they are pirates, and they take everything they need from other men (iron price! That means blood! Because blood has iron in it!). Not making this up. Observe their commendably vaginal sigil:

my sigil has been commended as being highly vaginal

So my question to the readers is this: was that line in the book italicized to emphasize the girl’s militant severity on the subject of not sewing, or was it italicized to acknowledge that, yes, I, the author, DID just make a Game of Thrones reference?

We may never know the answer to these questions. But I, for one, prefer to see the world through my nerd-goggles and believe that the pun was intentional. We do not sew. Perhaps that could be the motto for House LeFevre…except, oh, wait, I do sew, and rather frequently at that. Alas. My motto would, instead, have to be something like “We always mask” or “Logic first.”

Logic first. Yes, I like that. It is suitably INTJ-ish.

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Re-visioning: #amwriting cross-post

This is a companion piece to last month’s line editing post, about the various revisioning passes I make before I get to the line editing. Read it at amwriting site.

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Last month I wrote about line editing. One important step (or, rather, a series of steps) exists between finishing a rough draft and tightening via a line edit, and that step is content revision.

My writing mentor used to discuss revision not as a chore but as an opportunity. He told us, “Look at the word itself, revision. Now look at it again and see what else is there: re-vision. It’s a chance to re-envision your work.”

I have always loved that breaking of the word and the concept. Re-visioning sounds so much more…optimistic than revising. The word is an invitation to evaluate what you imagined in the first place and really weigh it against all the other possibilities. Maybe it was the best choice; many times it will be. But if it wasn’t, here’s the chance to get it right the first time. Or the second. Or the third. Revision is not a one-step process.

As with line editing, I find keeping a “hit-list” of areas I know to be problems on hand helps me examine my work from every angle. There are two sections to my revision master list, one focusing on the story and the other focusing on how the story is presented.

Storyboarding

I examine every scene with these questions in mind:

  • Does this scene advance the story or character development? This is a yes or no question. The answer is rarely no, because I write from an outline, but if it is no, then I have to decide whether to remove the scene or add to it so that it becomes integral to the whole.
  • Is this scene told from the best point of view for story/character development? The best point of view being either the one that will create the most narrative tension or the one which will deliver the most information, depending on the point of the scene. If I got it wrong the first time, it is a relatively easy fix to flip the point of view.
  • Does this scene begin and end where it should? Sometimes I cut things off too soon, other times I don’t start them in quite the right place and have to back-track to fill a time gap. Sometimes the bridging works, but sometimes I should have just started the scene earlier and told the events in “real time.”
  • Is the timing of this scene clear? It is always clear to me when a scene takes place, but not necessarily to the reader if I don’t properly cue them as to where it is in relation to the end of the previous scene. And do so in a less intrusive way than a clumsy opening like “Three hours later….”

Writing

Unlike the storyboarding list, which is pretty universal, this list is going to change from writer to writer and genre to genre. I developed it for the context of writing historical romance, with some of my known weaknesses as a writer in mind. Your weak spots might be different; your genre needs almost invariably will be.

  • Sexual tension/physical awareness – this pass is probably combined with the next one. A lot of romance is built on the sexual tension between two characters. I don’t often get it into a rough draft because I am too focused on the dialogue and the immediacy of the events. Some scenes are naturally tense; others aren’t, and then it’s important to remind the reader of that thread of the plot with at least a moment of awareness in every scene the characters are together.
  • Physical grounding – a slightly different issue than the above. I am super-focused on what’s going on inside a character’s head, and I neglect to put in the details of the physical world that “ground” the reader. So I have to go through my dialogue or internal monologue scenes and add references to the world at hand.
  • Dialogue – does it sound natural, add in slang from the era. My main goal in drafting dialogue is not to use modern colloquialisms and let my characters talk for themselves. But a specific look at whether they sound plausible, and a bit of flavour from The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is never a bad thing.
  • Don’t belabor the point – I overexplain thought processes; minimize it. This comes from approaching my stories from a place of logic. Often a character’s reasoning process is unnecessary, but I draft it in, so then I have to decide if it needs to be there and if not, take it out, and then add back in any details or physical cues that might help the reader understand what the thought was even if it wasn’t spelled out.
  • How does the character think about the world? – what I jokingly call the INTJ test. That is my MBTI type, and as it is relatively rare in men and extremely rare in women, I have to make sure that I’m not just writing myself over and over again. The perspective of each character should be subtly (or maybe not at all subtly!) different. In this pass I try to pair them with a friend who has a different way of looking at the world and thinking through situations than I do, and use my knowledge of someone else’s perspective to try and drive that character a little bit further from me but still keep them realistic.

So this is my revising process. What’s yours?

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