Some problems take a long time to solve…

…and that’s really quite all right.

Some background: During my thesis meeting, one of my committee members asked me what I would say if she told me that everything I had was great, but that the real story for the novel started three months (to toss out a random number) past the events that I was writing about. I looked at her and said, “Honestly, Natalie, I think I’d cry.”

But that’s been in the back of my mind ever since, because what was clear was that something wasn’t quite clicking with my story, and hadn’t been for months leading up to my defense. Oh, I was doing work that needed to be done—and this was really the first time I was seriously working with the novel form—but I kept running into problems around page 40, right around the time the book should have been taking off. At first I thought I just needed to rewrite those particular pages (and what came after), but in the eight months since my defense I’ve been considering another possibility: that things have been falling flat because I picked the wrong starting point. Continue reading “Some problems take a long time to solve…” »

100 Days of Writing: Update

I’m checking in at my one fifth point. Unless I’m remembering incorrectly (the official count is written down on a sheet of paper about five feet away and my sadness over not being at AWP is making me too lethargic to go get it), I’ve done 20 days so far (out of a possible 21). The biggest step so far? Diving back in to my book (formerly my thesis).

I pulled it out, for the first time since turning it in prior to my defense, this past weekend. I’d been preparing myself for this move by writing short shorts featuring my characters, but Friday night I decided to stop putting off the big step and to just go for it. And it’s been fun. Right now I’m in the middle of a reread looking for the things I like and the things I don’t. I know that the next big step is going to be a reorganization, so I’m hoping this does two things for me. First, I’m hoping it helps spark some inspiration as to where the next iteration of the book should begin (I’m quite sure it will start at a different place in time, maybe a month or two past where it’s currently set). But also, I’m looking for scenes/threads that are salvageable and those that aren’t. I’m looking for holes in the backstory and possible directions the new story can go. I think I’m getting quite a bit.

However, this has led me to reevaluate the initial rules I set up for this 100 Days of Writing project. The farther I get in, for example, the less fulfilling blog posts seem. But they fit the criteria. Tonight, for example, this will be my writing. On the flip side, I’m spending a lot of time in my car, in bed, in the shower, at the kitchen table, etc., thinking about my book. I’m trying to work through problems, to answer questions, to consider solutions. This, however, does not count as official writing time, and no matter that it feels so much more important to me in the grand scheme of my writing career.

So I’m trying to decide if I’m going to adapt the rules or if I should just finish this challenge the way it was intended—its limitations certainly haven’t been hurting my creativity. If anything, being forced to sit down and produce something has been a good thing for me. (Plus, if there’s one thing that’s hurting my book and short story writing, it’s the writing I do for work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be doing creative writing for work, but I haven’t yet found a way to partition and separate the two types of creative writing in my brain yet. My book is not appropriate content or style for developmentally challenged 5th graders and on the flip side, the type of writing I do for the specialized reading passages does not mesh well with what I do in my book.)

Maybe I’ll keep the rules I have but sort of loosen up a bit. I’ve already stopped obsessively timing my sessions—as long as I have found myself dwelling on my book throughout the day. It’s funny how even though I have a deadline, I feel very free to play and experiment. I don’t feel stressed when I sit down to write each day (even when, as now, I’m writing 90 minutes past the time I said I wanted to be in bed). This is a very good thing for me and my writing, but I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed that I didn’t get here sooner. I think this was something Sam (my advisor) was always trying to get me to understand. “Don’t think about the thesis,” he would say. “The thesis doesn’t matter.” And only now that the thesis has been removed as a stumbling block am I really able to look at this piece of writing as my book.

Thesis progress

As some of you may already know, I had to cut 30% of my thesis last Monday. Due to a lack of understanding certain character motivations, the story was starting to unravel. In the end, in addition to cutting the offending pages, I decided that the base of the story—the first fifty pages—was also flawed and so before working on replacing the 23 lost pages, I did a heavy revision of the 53 remaining.

It’s been a rough nine days, not least because I can really feel the clock ticking: I turn it in on May 26, exactly two weeks from today, and defend on June 9, exactly four weeks from today.

Last night I finally finished the revisions, culminating with one scene being almost entirely rewritten. As of this morning I have sixty-two pages, all of which are much stronger than they were before. The clock is still ticking, but suddenly it doesn’t feel quite so looming—mostly because I have an idea of where to go next, something that was markedly lacking before.

Anyway, I know I’ve been a bit low on actual informative posts lately, but my thesis is getting all of my attention right now. If you’re just totally missing my awesome insights, head over to Bark and check my Monday column!

Some writing updates

It’s been an insanely crazy week! There were a few hours on Monday when I thought I might have to turn in my thesis next week (when I was expecting late-May), and, as you can imagine, this triggered a sizable panic attack. But luckily for me my thesis advisor has my back and I’m now scheduled to defend June 9 (instead of May 20). Commence sigh of relief.

My novel (!) is now just over 75 pages and I’ve got the entire narrative arc of section one written. It feels incredible to be able to say that. That means I’ll spend the next three weeks revising, revising, revising. I want to tighten this first section as much as possible. For the first pass I think that will mean continuing to drop little seeds for me to grow later in parts two and three of the book. For instance, one subplot that is going to become pretty big in part two had fallen away by page 35 so I went and dropped a few more small details around page sixty, just so the reader doesn’t forget (and so the eventual importance of that move seems believable). Now I know why it took me twenty-five years to learn how to revise: It’s hard!

In short story news, I wrote my first one today in about a year. It felt good, but those particular writing muscles are a bit rusty. I’m looking forward to being able to spend at least one day a week on short stories once I graduate. (I’m supposed to be breathing thesis right now, but I didn’t really cheat because the short story featured characters from my book.) I’m hoping that will mean I can start sending off more short stories again, for publication. I decided to stop (with Sam’s advice) because if an editor likes my story but it isn’t quite right, and he or she asks to see more work, I don’t have anything to send. Oh, I have other short stories, but none are ready to be sent off, and I don’t have the time right now to devote the tens of hours it would take to get them in shape. So I’m waiting.

Other than that, I’m just pushing my way through my thesis reading list. Right now I’m working on The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s fantastic. Now I just want to find one (or preferably two) more male writers to add to my list; it’s decidedly female-friendly right now with only two men.

Oh, and I need some sort of working title for my book (other than Working Title of Thesis the Awesome). I hate titles.