Sunday, August 25, 2013

Books I Want to Write

There are two books that I really want to begin writing.  They are very different from one another.  One is set in the future.  One is set in the past. I am having trouble deciding which to start, even though at the same time I am loving not having started either.

I love the part before you begin a tale--like standing on the edge of a cliff in terror.  But you've strapped some wings to yourself and you are pretty sure they are going to work.  Yeah.  They will work.  That cocky confidence mixed with utter fear--that is the best feeling.

That sense of  not knowing mixed with an intense desire to discover pretty much sums up what I love about writing.

So, here I stand on this precipice. Waiting.

I should just start.  I know it.  But see, I've spent the summer rewriting one thing and revising another and anyone who tells you that rewriting and revising are easy are either lying or crazy or both.  To revise (or rewrite) well you have to get out of your own head, which is hard for a writer because WE ALL STAY IN OUR OWN HEADS a lot.  It is hard work.  Hard.

And one day I took a little break from it all and wrote a picture book which pretty much stayed exactly the same from first draft to last.  In other words, it came out right the first time. I know I was lucky and it was a gift, because it just doesn't really happen that way usually, and MAN OH MAN did I ever need it.

I needed to remember the ease of writing.

And now it is midnight and I have lost the thread of this post. Ironic, considering that is  exactly what I fear when I am on that edge that I spoke of--the loss of the story early on, or worse, the inability to take the idea and find the story within it at all.  The feeling that the idea, while amazing, is still too nebulous to become a story, and all of the coaxing in the world will not summon it.

It is sometimes much more fun to dream about the quest than to pack the bag, get on the safari jeep, and just go.



Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Weirdo Writing Process--Middle Grade Edition

So, I finished a draft for In the Kingdom of the Selkies. (*confetti cannon*). This story has been calling to my heart for a long, long time.  I thought I'd just talk kind of generally about how I write a longer book--you know, what goes through my mind and all as I tackle the beast. I was inspired by similar a post by Maggie Stiefvater, but I cannot find it anywhere. If you know the post, let me know in the comments and I will link it.

Anyway, here goes:

Before I even write a word:  I have a document (the manifesto) in which I write down all the dreams I have and ideas about the story.  This is a fun time, a time when I won't allow myself to  write the book because usually I am busy drafting or revising something else at the time.  This is my playground when the revision/drafting of another book has got me down.  Sometimes, I might write something like this:

 I want this story to be beautifully imagined, tinged with sadness and a touch of magic, but not too much.  I want to feel, as I am writing it, that the writing rings true and honest.  That there is really no way the story could have happened any other way.  I want the bits and pieces to fit together like a mosaic, not woven together all nice and tight like a rug or cloth, but like a stained glass window, so that when you look at it from far away, you can see the art of it, but there are places in between, places that leave the whole thing up to interpretation. The spaces in between are important.

(I wrote this about In the Kingdom of the Selkies^)

At this point, I am not writing the story, but writing about the story, which are two different things altogether.

When I am ready to begin the book but and much too scared to actually do it:  At this point, I have convinced myself that this book could be GREAT if only I WAS GOOD ENOUGH at WRITING to do it right.  I am far too petrified to actually face a blank page, so I keep playing around in the manifesto.  Often, I'll start playing with tag lines, or one paragraph pitches, so I can get myself excited about the story.  Sometimes, I will write snippets of dialogues I can imagine characters saying.  And I have created LISTS of possible character names, trying them out, writing sentences with them together to see if they "go".  I am not outlining here, repeat I AM NOT OUTLINING, I am playing.  It sounds much more fun because it is.  Eventually, I try out some opening lines or paragraphs--just to see, you know? Somewhere along the line, I find a sentence that leads me into the story.  It's like going into that room with a hundred doors and you have to find the one that opens to the tunnel which will lead you...away.

0-1,000 words   I am still not sure if I am going down the right path for this story or not.  I am really scared I am going to mess it up, and then come to the realization that the idea that I loved is really dumb.  I am still writing in the manifesto, for I am not confident in it enough yet to put it in its own document yet.

1,000-5,000 words At some point, I have cut and pasted the best parts of the manifesto into an actual DOCUMENT.  The moment is usually a little different for each story.  It's where I think, "YES!  I want to work on this for the next couple of years!" (Because that's how long it will take before it will be published, if it is good enough, of course).  I am pretty confident about the book, even though I have little idea where it is going to go.  It is all about getting to know my characters and letting them drive the plot.  Sure, I'll throw some things at them to see how they will react...and I love it when they surprise me.

6,000-10,000  Planning my outfit for the Newbery banquet.  This book rocks!

10,000-17,000  Whoa. Wait a minute.  Is my pacing off.  How long do I think this book is going to be, exactly?

17,000-20,000  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where I pause, take a gigantic breath, and write a synopsis.  (If you are thinking, YUCK, then you are right.)  But since I don't outline, once I know the story and am about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through, I need to figure out where I THINK I am going.  (I have been wrong before.  I have gone down one path when I meant to go down another.  Somewhere before the 20,000 word mark is usually where I make some deadly mistakes, if I am apt to make one regarding this particular book.)  Sometimes my synopsis will say something like :

"And then something happens which makes the character change their mind.  I don't know what it is yet, but I think it will happen around here...."

At the midway point of a book, I am really considering the structure.  Am I writing short chapters?  Is that working?  How is the POV holding up versus the pacing of the story?  (I really do ask myself these things...usually I will answer myself with, Fine, fine, it's all fine...because reworking what isn't working stinks.  But it is often necessary.)

Sometimes things are chucked here.  Big things.

20,000-30,000 Oh yeah.  I see where this is going.  Wait! Wha?  Where did that come from? (major amazing epiphany or major amazing surprise!! Yay!) or Wait! Ugh!  I just stepped in something (major unamazing plot hole.  Poo.)

Sometimes things are chucked here, too.  Big things.

30,000-35,000 Sloggity, sloggity, slog.  I can see you, ending.  Yes, hiding behind that bush.  Nice try.  I just can't seem to get to you.

35,000-40,000 Will this book never end????

40,001- Oh, well, it just ended, I guess.

Now, since I write middle grade, I am usually shooting for something between 35-45k. Sometimes the story is longer, sometimes shorter.  And I tend to be an underwriter in terms of detail sometimes, so I know I usually have to add stuff during revision.

So there it is.  The Shelley Moore Thomas Weirdo Writing Process.  Such as it is.

Is your similar?  Different?


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Hermit Emerges from her Cave...or Lair....or Whatever

Occasionally, I do leave my desk in the summer.  

Last weekend, I went up to LA for the SCBWI international conference.  The first time I attended this conference was last summer, so I knew to expect that I would be completely overwhelmed.

Which.I.was.  Even though I knew what was coming.There is just so much good information and inspiration.  Many, many things to ponder, but little time to ponder it, because you are quickly off to the next session!  Aaaaiiiiiii!

But I had two main reasons for attending this year.  The first was to have a meeting with my agent, Joanna Volpe.  I had never met her in person, and she was just as cute and adorable as she sounds on the phone.  She gave a couple of presentations and spoke on the agent panel.  Let me just tell you how utterly proud I am to have this woman represent me.  And we had a little time to discuss a story I'm struggling with and to pinpoint exactly what and when something major (in terms of character arc) needs to happen for the story to hold together and gel at the end.  (And when I read her the synopsis, we both got a little a good, um, I hope.)

And I stupidly did not get a picture. Boo.  (But I am just going to admit that I am really lame at remembering to take pictures.  Just ask my children:(.)

I did, however, manage to get a picture of this guy:
This is Richard Peck.  As in THE Richard Peck--multiple Newbery Winner who gave THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET the following wonderful blurb:  "All storytellers have special powers, as Trinket learns on this incantational Irish odyssey to find her fate and her father."
When I heard Richard Peck was going to be at the conference, I knew I had to go and hear him speak.  He gave an amazing workshop entitled, You are only as good as your first line, and gave all of us pointers we will never forget. (Except that I am pretty sure he would disapprove of the first line of my new book--too long.)

So, those two people, Jo and Richard, are responsible for dragging me from my lair all the way up the coast to LA.  But, and this is a big but, there were even more amazing folks there!

However, I am afraid that will be a post for another day.  Somehow, it became August, and I have a love/hate relationship with August.  Right now, I am loving having some time to finish up a few things before school starts.  But soon, I will hate how rushed everything will become...alas.

I am getting ready to crack open Richard's new book:  THE MOUSE WITH THE QUESTION MARK TAIL and marveling at the wonder of summer--where I can sit down and read and not feel one bit guilty about it!