Lots of Caffeine and Internal Screaming: An Autobiography

Let’s just say that today has not gone how I had planned. I meant to write this post this morning before my classes, but I got distracted by some small design changes on the blog (anyone notice my profile picture and the tiny icon on the top of your web browser? I’m so proud that I figured out how to make those!). But now it’s the afternoon, and after figuring out my schedule for next semester (at least, I think), trying and failing to not worry about my housing situation for next year, and rejoicing over the fact that my friend sent me a potato in the mail, in addition to worrying about all the other things I have to do, my brain is tired out and I want to feel like I’ve done something non-academic but still productive today.

That’s a lot of words to say that, yes, I’m procrastinating on studying for an exam and writing a paper by writing this post. So here we go.

The above title, though it’s doing a great job of describing my life in general right now, could also be referring to what I really want to focus on in this post, which is the status of my novel revisions. They’ve been on the back burner for the past few days, but I still try and go through a few pages every night before bed. Having a low-pressure task like that is relaxing to me, probably because I’m not actively making any changes to what I wrote yet. I’m just reading it, seeing where it works and where it doesn’t, and making notes about things that I’ll want to change when I actually get further along into my first major round of edits. As I go through each scene, I add it to a spreadsheet-type list in Google Docs, and I have a separate document for more details about what kind of improvements each part could use.

Going back and reading what I’ve written sometimes makes me feel confident that I didn’t print out 276 pages of trash only to throw it away (yes, I’m one of those people who prefers actual paper to reading on a screen. I know, I’m so old fashioned). There are small glimmers of hope, scenes that I got right. Sometimes it’s more like having a whole series of cringe-inducing memories from middle school. There are whole chapters I’d forgotten about just because they were so bad. There are sentences where I know that I’m trying to say something profound, but it got lost in a twisted metaphor that went on for an uncomfortably long time. It’s about as messy as messy can be, and I know that as I continue to go through it, I’m only going to find more inconsistencies and more thousand-word stretches of pointlessness.

But that’s all okay, because that’s what editing is for.

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The manuscript in late afternoon sunlight. It currently lives in a soft-cover binder and I brought it on an adventure to the library this afternoon. 

So yeah, there’s a little update on my project. That’s all I really have to share for today. This reminds me that there are definitely some notes scribbled into the margins that I should move into the spreadsheet before I forget. I’ll try to keep the updates on a regular basis, but as we all know too well, things happen.

Thanks for sticking around.

 

 

First Draft: Finished!

Greetings, earthlings! I’ve been on an emotional high for the past few hours. When I think about it, I can’t help smiling. What’s going on in my life, you wonder? Remember that post I made a few months ago about the first draft of my novel?

Though I haven’t had the most eventful spring break, I did accomplish one of the many goals I set for myself over this week: I finished the first draft of my book. I typed the last few words of Loud Whispers this evening, right after dinner.

giphyIt was just as exhilarating as you’d think. I mean, I wrote a whole novel. I told 80,256 words of a story. They are terribly imperfect words, and over the past few days, as I realized I was nearing the end of the draft, I started coming up with ways to revise problems that I already know I have (*sneaky writer smile*). I’ll be the first one to admit that my first draft sucks – there are definitely three scenes in a row that repeat the same information or phrasing, scenes that serve no purpose, pieces of dialogue that sound fake, run-on sentences galore and phrases that don’t make sense, even to me. Whole chapters are definitely out of order – I sent two of my characters on a cross-country road trip from Boston to California, and I’ve written their stop in Chicago after the part that takes place in San Antonio.

Like, have I even looked at a map of the United States in my life?

Oh, and did I mention my total lack of description of some of the settings? I swear at least half of this story takes place in a vacuum of boring whiteness, because I just forgot to talk about where the things were happening. That means there’s still a ton of research I have to do – thank the good Lord for Pinterest so I can just add pretty pictures of the cities I’ve never seen to my board.

And how could I forget to mention the fact that there are scenes in my document that are contained entirely in [brackets]. Like right now they’re just summaries of the longer, better scenes that they should be, because I got lazy and wanted to write a part that was more fun and told myself I’d return to that part when I looked at the manuscript as a whole during my editing process.

And – perhaps the scariest thought – who knows, maybe I don’t actually have a story in there at all. Maybe it’s just 80,000 words of pretentious philosophical meandering that no one else will ever want to read. Ever.

But guess what? I don’t care about any of that right now. Those flaws I mentioned – I’ll get to them in stages as I revise. I’ll tackle one thing at a time. Tonight, I wrote those words and then had a big cup of hot chocolate to celebrate. Yes, I know my first draft is crap. All first drafts are. Tonight I finally finished the novel that had been kicking around in the back of my head, in at least some form, for years.

Continue reading, dear friend, and I shall play you the song of my people uh, I mean, tell you the story of the story. Storyception. Kind of like that song How a Bill Becomes a Law from Schoolhouse Rock, but instead How an Idea Becomes a Sort-of-OK-Novel-Draft.

Once upon a time, way back when I was a wee sophomore in high school, I wrote a story. Because I grew up watching too many Law & Order marathons, it featured a crime. The details aren’t really all that important, because the story wasn’t all that good since I didn’t know what I was doing. But the characters stayed with me, and before I knew one of the side characters I’d only barely introduced at the end became the main character, and a new story had to be told.

From there, Loud Whispers (I love a good oxymoron) has gone through about a thousand different incarnations, and just as many titles. I knew the theme from the beginning – the interconnectedness of our lives and the responsibilities we have to one another. After I discovered Katie Weiland’s fabulous writing blog (she’s definitely earned a place in my book’s acknowledgements) and spent countless hours walking myself through her guides, I learned how to map out the plot structure as well as all of the major character arcs. I outlined until I thought I was ready to finally sit down and write.

But I would still struggle to write the story. Every time I set my fingers to the keyboard, trusty cup(s) of tea within reach, I would come to a grinding halt around 20,000 words. Then, as I tried to troubleshoot whatever was going wrong, I’d get stuck in an endless cycle of re-outlining, re-writing, and… whatever the rest of my life was deciding to throw at me.

I think one of the biggest problems I had was desiring that everything be perfect on the first try. This perfectionism infects all areas of my life, not just writing. Recently, though, I’m happy to say that I’m starting to see it let go of me. I can’t pinpoint a particular time or place that I started to see this happening, but I know that I am strong enough to move forward with less fear.

Two summers ago, before I started college, I finally nailed the plot twist that was going to tie all the story’s pieces together. When it hit me, (I won’t go into too much detail because, you know, spoilers) I was unsure about including it. I thought it would be too mature, beyond my abilities. But now, I don’t think the story that I want to tell would be half as powerful without it. And even then, when I knew what was supposed to happen, I struggled with the actual writing.

According to Google Docs, I created the document for this draft on August 19th. So I’ve been working on it for almost exactly eight months. I spent many months before that trying to figure out what was wrong with this story that was keeping me from writing it the way I wanted to. There’s definitely at least a dozen (probably more) half-started drafts hanging around my computer, which I kept in the hope that the many hours I’d spent working on them wouldn’t be in vain and that at least a sentence or two would be valuable. And maybe there’s something of value there.

Anyway, I can feel myself starting to lose my focus. My point is: I’ve learned a lot writing this darn thing – about the craft of writing, yes, but also about life. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t let the fear of failure scare you off from what might be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

And accept humble, crappy beginnings. Potatoes have to grow in a lot of dirt to become the beautiful sources of nutrients they are.

I shall end with this meme, which I stole from Pinterest/Whisper. Maybe it will explain what I mean.

potatoes