Finish that Manuscript! (A Board Game)

All you need is a die, and some colored bits of cardboard you can pretend are laptops or notebooks. Click on it to enlarge the view.

That’s all I have to say; I spent too long making this thing as it is.

ETA: I’ll be off to the mountains this weekend with family, so radio silence until Tuesday night. Have a great weekend, everyone!

5 Rules for Getting It Written

I wrote the first draft of my work-in-progress (nicknamed le manuscript) in a little over two months. I’m sure it’s not the fastest record on time, but it’s much better than my first manuscript (over a year to complete) and my second (clocking somewhere around eight or nine months). Experience has something to do with it, but for me, it helps to have some rules.

You can do something with assigning word counts to different stages of the plot, like Anne Greenwood Brown describes in her blog post that inspired this one, “Kicking Out a Fast First Draft.” What I did was a slightly-less-insane version of NaNoWriMo, a goal of 1200 words per day. My friend Seven organized it, and we and a few other writers encouraged each other to go, go go!

Not all of us finished our drafts. Part of what helped me was I was already somewhere around 15,000 words ahead, because I’d started drafting le manuscript in February, then gave it up in March when I realized Manuscript Numero Dos needed some serious help (it still does). But I got le manuscript done, and will now be revising it for the next 86.92 years.

Here are some rules that helped me reach my goal:

1. A Writing Schedule Is Your New Best Friend. This was easy at the time, because Z was still taking her naps (this is a blog post for a different day). The rule was: I pick up my blank book and work on that draft, as soon as she goes down for her nap.

2. A Back-Up Writing Schedule Is Your Second Best Friend. If, for some reason, I got distracted by the scrub jays in the back yard, or the way my pinky fingernail desperately needed filing, or how that spot on the wall kinda-sorta resembles an ex-boyfriend’s nose… If I didn’t make 1200 words during Z’s nap, I had to finish them up after she went to sleep that night.

3. Clean Houses Are For People Who Don’t Write. Or who write, and have maids. Or who write, and have older children they can make into their chore slaves. I did whatever household chores I could while Z was awake. She really loves to “help.” That’s right, Z, washing dishes is FUN. Never forget it, ’cause this is just the beginning, baby.

4. Do It On Paper. My Paperblanks journals are the bestest ever. You know why? No wireless internet. No Mahjong Titans or other tempting solitaire games. No wireless internet. No lights to irritate the eyes after prolonged exposure. No wireless internet. I recently read a blog post, How to Get More Done by Pretending You’re on an Airplane. It’s true. The most writing is done distraction -free. Twitter, lately, has been hearkening to me like a sadistic siren, and I don’t even like Twitter. I don’t. There. I said it. Now every time I try to log on they’ll tell me Oops! they’re over capacity.

5. Outline It. I’m way too much of a control freak to just start writing. I also adore lists and bullet points. So I come up with a rough idea of where I want the story to go and how I want it to get there. This doesn’t mean that I know all the major players right away. This doesn’t mean I ignore tempting paths – I take them. Having an outline keeps me going because I don’t have to chew thoughtfully on my pen while deciding what should happen next. One of my critique partners, Jo, has a good post on creating an outline (click here for that), although I get by with a bullet-point synopsis.

Like Anne Greenwood Brown says at the end of her post, there’s no way she’d share her first draft with anyone, not even her mother. I agree. The first one is total trash. If anyone has tips on how to revise a novel in two months, do share. As things are going, I only have about 86.33 years left of revising le manuscript.

There’s probably more, but I’m off to the woods for some mosquito-slapping, bear-dodging, holing-up-in-my-cabin-and-writing adventure. See you Wednesday.

Writing Prompt: Found Letter

Recently I started following the YA Muses blog, after I met Katy Longshore at a local get-together. The prompt is this: “At a used book sale, you purchase a leather-bound volume. At home, you thumb through the pages and an old letter tumbles out. What does it say? Write the letter.”

Here’s my response to the prompt.

*

I knew you would find this letter if I hid it here, among the books you call friends. You can’t look at a book without picking it up, thumbing through it, getting pulled into story.

You call these books “friends” and I imagine your surprise when one of them betrays you with this note.

Because the stories are the problem. A woman obsessed, you cannot stop. You paused briefly to give birth, but before your daughter was even weaned, already the pen, the paper, and the book were there, open before you while she slept at your breast.

No one needs to tell you these years are fleeting. You watch them scream past, measuring them in unsellable manuscripts, pausing to breathe and scream back only if something, or some little person, dares to disrupt your solitude, silence, sanctuary.

The guilt of the time you take for your failings is heavy indeed. No wonder you take photographs, evidence of what time you do spend with her, hoping that those frozen memories will be enough to convince her, when she’s older, that everything you did, you did for her. That it was always about her, never you.

Let me tell you a secret: the dedication at the beginning of your manuscript – published, unpublished – will never be a substitute for you.

Put down the pen, and play with your daughter.

Dear Blog.

Dear Blog,

We’ve had a pretty good year. In fact, I think we just passed our one-year anniversary. Quick investigation reveals January 29th as our first blog post together…I didn’t bring you flowers or anything. Oops.

The truth is, Blog, that when we began our relationship I was in between projects. Putting the finishing revisions on one manuscript, getting ready to begin another…and I didn’t realize what  a time investment you would be. At first I planned to do five posts a week. That lasted all of about, I don’t know, two weeks? That’s a generous guess.

Then we cut it down to three, which is doable. Oh, Blog, I don’t know how to say this, but…I’m seeing someone else. I’ve been seeing her for awhile now. When you and I took that break a couple of weeks ago, things started getting serious between me and her. She’s…oh, she’s high-maintenance and it’s all ups and downs. One minute I think she’s the best thing in the whole world, and the next minute I’m ready to cast her into the fireplace. She is completely bewitching, absorbing, and all-around mind-bending. Every step forward with her revisions brings me three steps back, and she’s a headache and a pain and she makes me want to scream sometimes and I LOVE EVERY MINUTE I SPEND WITH HER.

My current manuscript. Sigh. Even draped in her myriad imperfections, she is divine.

I feel a passion for her that I just don’t feel for you anymore.

Can we still be friends?

I think we should still see each other, but maybe slow things down a bit. Our dates might not be as regular. Definitely we should get together at least once a week. Miss you already! Bye!

With care, gratitude, and respect,

*Beth

Monday Maybe-a-Book-Review Day

Okay, so here’s the thing. I could write a book review for today, but I’m not really feeling it. What I am feeling is working on my manuscript, which does, quite honestly, begin to unravel on page 200 (better than page 115, which is how it used to be before my revision marathon, a.k.a. The Great Visit of the Mother-in-Law Who Answered My Prayers for Free Babysitting). The very idea of working on other stuff when the last 82 pages of the story are so flawed…I just can’t do it.

So, the new blog schedule is now going to be “Monday: Maybe a Book Review.” I can’t take book reviews off the schedule permanently because I love books too much – I’ve gotta share these books with the world!

Alas, au revoir, ciao, adios for now. See you Wednesday. My mom’s here to distract the Z-meister today (a.k.a. Another Sucker Grandmother Answers My Prayers for Free Babysitting…uh, just kidding Mom. About the sucker thing, that is), and I plan to take advantage of this opportunity. You’ll thank me when you read my book. Er, I hope.

Internet Blackout 2011, Part Dos

…a continuation of Wednesday’s post, plus a quick reflection.

diary + manuscript = obsession

Day 5. Only two pages of obsessing about writing, and my bad mood: But if I do feel like crap because of issues in my writing, does that make me a bad person? Can I just blame the stinkin’ wind & call it not-my-fault?

Day 6. I’ve decided my email limitation challenge thingie is sort of stupid. It’s extremely inconvenient when it comes to planning outings & events.

+ 10.5 pages of manuscript-obsession-drama.

To a critique partner & friend I wrote, “This is dumber than the No-Chocolate Challenge of 1999!” (Yes, my friend A & I both did this. It wasn’t really dumb, just kind of annoying once I realized I could get through the year without chocolate.)

Day 7. I have some hours to myself! Yay! I keep getting stuck, though [again, sigh, I am writing about writing TBC]. Right now is when my email & blog ban really helps – otherwise I’d be emailing & blogging right now.

——

Earth's Crammed...with obsessing over my manuscript.

Why are you doing this?! people wanted to know. I couldn’t really tell them. Before the challenge began, I hypothesized and dreamed that it would magically make me prettier, make me happier, and make me lose me ten pounds.

None of the above. Well, maybe I was a little prettier. My eyes weren’t as red from staring at a glowing screen for so many hours each day. And maybe I was even a little happier, as I was spending more time with friends and family, and got oodles of work done on my manuscript. But the weight loss? No way. Because with some of my newly-freed-up free time, I baked. We eat what we bake, in this house.

Overall, limiting email to an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday freed up some time. Not writing blog posts freed up even more time. I got tons of work (and obsessing) done for TBC and felt really good about that. The other side of the story is that not checking email on certain days was kind of pointless, especially with my being so strict about it. I should have broken my email ban to confirm my meeting with the preschool director, for example.

Will I change anything as a result of this experiment? I’m thinking rather than give myself a LAW about when I can and can’t work online, I could try to limit my visits to a couple of times a day during the week. That way I can take care of basic planning with friends and colleagues, and on weekends I’ll still  get that family time I so enjoyed. And in the future when I really need those extra hours for writing, I can always take a little vacation from my blog.

ETA: Just read a great blog post featured on Freshly Pressed about another writer reflecting on technology’s impact on her writing time management.