Saturday, February 27, 2010

Least I don't need to beg or borrow

Roncalli High School Quest for Excellence Competition
U.S. History Category
First Place:  Joey Erickson

When the boys were little, we used to share thumbs-up on everything. They could see a thumbs-up from a distance without me having to shout and embarrass them. It was a clear visual signal that everything was all right, that I was proud of them for their accomplishment or that I had confidence they could handle whatever difficult undertaking they were facing. Make it to the end of the block without your training wheels? Thumbs up! Place well in the spelling bee? Thumbs up! Standing nervously on the stage waiting for the Christmas program to start? Encouraging thumbs up!

We don't use the thumbs up so much anymore. They're too big and mature for such silly things. But today?

Today I got a thumbs up from across a crowded gym. And then when the awards ceremony was over, I got a hug. In public. And when I said, "I'm so proud of you," he replied, "Thanks for the study guide, Mom." It was one of those full circle moments you get once in a rare while that allows you to believe that maybe you've done an OK job as a parent after all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

And all that you hope to be

That scene I mentioned last entry? I have scrapped it entirely. OK, no, not scrapped entirely. I copied it into the scratchpad section of my document, because there are bits of scenery and character description that I can likely make use of, if nothing else. But I woke up yesterday thinking how boring this scene and the next planned one were, and how I wished I could just get on to the one after that instead.

Uh. Here's a clue, Lori. If you feel that way, then maybe, just maybe, you should consider skipping this scene and the next and going to the one that matters. So I took another look at what I wanted to accomplish with the two snooze scenes and determined that I could accomplish the same things if I meshed them into the more exciting scene. AND I don't risk slacking up on the pacing of the story at this early point where I probably should not yet be slacking up on the pacing of the story.

So yeah. Now I just need to do the work. Yesterday was a bust, in part because other things demanded my attention, but also in part because I was having a fuzzy brain day. I am having a fuzzy brain day today, too. Hence the blog post--I'm trying to wake myself up, remember how to string words into sentences, and convince myself that I want to wake up and string words into sentences.

The non-writing stuff that kept me busy yesterday consisted, aside from my afternoon stint working at school, of taking Joe to register for his freshman classes in the morning and then spending a couple of hours at evening meetings to go over field trips for Michael's 6th grade class and Joe's 8th grade class. And to discuss 8th grade graduation, which is a big deal in these parts because St. Rose only goes through 8th grade, and the students then depart for a variety of high schools, depending on where they live and/or whether they enroll at one of the Catholic high schools.

One of the things they do at the graduation reception is a slide show of photos of the graduating class as they grow up. I started going through pictures last night. I may be in a funk of motherly sentimentality for a few days. It's a bittersweet, wistful sort of experience. I should be used to the feeling by now, but I kinda figure I never will be.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Think I have about sixty miles of gasoline left in my car

Research for the next group of scenes has been accomplished, and that should be the biggest part of the research overall, save for some inevitable smidges along the way. (Knock wood.) I have begun writing the next scene and am probably about halfway through it. But I stopped because there are a couple of fiddly details that are not sitting right with me. The right characters are in the scene. They are behaving as they should be (mostly) and the necessary relationships and setting details are being revealed. But these little fiddly details are bugging me. I think I have decided to push ahead and finish the scene anyhow, with the resolve to mull over what needs to change about the little fiddly details--because I know at this point that they need to be different, but I do not yet know what they need to be instead of what they currently are.

I also need to tweak the behavior of one of the characters, because I am not quite capturing who he is. And I do need to nail that before I go on, or I will be floundering in every scene after this one.

Any writing is good, as long as it's taking me somewhere. Right?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You know love's a funny thing, you just gotta let it be

It didn't take me until the end of the week to hit the 30,000 word mark after all. I pretty much had it Monday night and then just finished up the scene I was working on Tuesday morning. At which point I realized I needed to move into a different character's head, as well as a different physical setting. At which point I freaked out a little: "OMG, I don't know enough about this setting. I can't write it believably enough. I'll never be able to make it convincing! I should just quit now!"

I can be pretty dense like that sometimes. I have since remembered that a) I didn't know enough about the other two time periods/settings/historical characters/cultures I've written scenes in before I researched them, either, and I think those scenes turned out reasonably well. And b) Um, that's what that stack of books over there is for. To READ before you try to write these next scenes, remember? It's called RESEARCH?

I have always gotten very easily fixated on word count and daily production of it. My agreement with myself on Crowmaker was that I would try a different approach this time: I did the basic, absolutely necessary research before and during outlining. I will do the nitty gritty, need-the-details-please research as I write the draft. This necessitates relaxing my stranglehold on the word count tracker, because it takes time to do the research before I can write the scenes. Which is, y'know, what I've been doing. I just sort of got all caught up in the excitement of watching that little bar grow, I guess.

That, and I want to get this next part written so I can get back to the two characters I have to leave in limbo while I switch to these other characters. I'm going to take that as a good sign. Even better will be if by the time I get to the end of these scenes, I don't want to leave these new characters, either.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's like falling backwards into no one's arms

We had no school Monday, because Archbishop Buechlein gave all Catholic schools in the archdiocese a free day to show support for the hard work and leadership of the Colts. (We have to make it up on President's Day instead of having that day off, so... yeah. It was a nice thought, I suppose.)

We had no school Tuesday or Wednesday, because most of the state was under a winter storm warning. We didn't really have all that much snow, at least not as compared to what I remember us getting when I was a kid in northern Illinois. But apparently there was much blowing and drifting in the outlying areas. And hey, who am I to argue with a day off? (Although again, I hesitate to call them "free" days, because you know they're coming out of future days off at some point.)

And then we had an early dismissal day on Friday.  Although I did work for about an hour and a half. But, y'know, considering I didn't work at all on my usual days of Monday and Wednesday, I cannot complain.

Joey's buddy Matt has been here since yesterday afternoon, and the three boys are currently romping around upstairs. I think they think they're getting dressed to go outside for an airsoft fight. But I also think that given the rate of distraction and goofing off I hear, they're actually getting dressed so that Matt will be ready just in time for his parents to pick him up in 45 minutes. (Side note: What I love about Matt--about Joe and all of his friends, really--is that they always include Michael in what they're doing. If Michael wanders off for some alone time, they will even come looking for him. I suppose some parents might worry that Michael never asks to have any of his friends over, but... Joey and his friends ARE Michael's friends. He has other people he hangs out with at school, but given a choice of who to ask over, he opts for whomever Joe is asking over.)

Work accomplished this week:
  • I taught class on Thursday (the ONLY full school day of the week). We talked about story premise, looked for it in books and movies we know and love, and recalled fondly the in-class group story premise brainstorming exercises we've done in the past. (I have been told, repeatedly, that it was the best class session ever. If I let them choose what we do, I think that's all we'd do.)
  • I have prepared my lesson plan for next week's class. Funny how it's always easier when the kids have participated enthusiastically the class before.
  • I have completed this week's assignment for the 2YN class over at Forward Motion. I was kinda bleh about this one, since I'm already 99.9% positive what point of view I'll be using. But it was cool to revisit these characters after not thinking about them for years. Except whenever I hear Boston's "A Man I'll Never Be," which has been Zaras's theme song for as long as I can remember. Y'know, it's possible the song even helped give birth to him, now that I think about it.
  • The early part of the week was heavily loaded with research reading for Crowmaker before falling into a pattern of somewhat lighter research and scene design/preparation followed by actual writing of the scene in question. As of this morning, I have completed three scenes to the tune of 5,750 words total for the week. I have a fourth scene researched and prepped and will hopefully get at least some of it drafted today or tonight. I am pleased with this progress. By the end of next week, if all goes as planned, I should have 1/3 of a novel. This also pleases me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sure make a hell of a car

By the way of brief explanation, so that I don't sound like a complete wacko to any of my non-writing friends, when I work up characters for a story (or anything else), I start with your basic information about them--what they look like, what they do for a living, what kinds of things I have in mind for them to do in the story (so that they will be the kind of person who would believably do such a thing), etc. And I continue to fiddle with their bios as I plan the story, adding stuff as it comes up. And at some point, they "show up," more or less like I've summoned them by the magic ritual of writing down the facts of their fictional existence. I like when that happens. It makes the whole writing business so much easier.

At any rate.  I was fiddling with some technical details a few days ago, trying to come up with a fictional title for a fictional rank in a fictional outfit of gunfighters/security guards/organized mercenaries. Mr. Vincent Bradley is a member of this unnamed rank, and he hadn't had a word to say to me yet.

Got out the thesaurus. Started writing down possibilities: regulators, enforcers, implementors, administrators...

Pause. Snicker. Tools...

You bitch.

And not only did I hear him call me that, but I could hear him do this awesome little laugh-snort along with it. 

Next day, hubby is cooking and has AC/DC cranked up. I am not overly fond of AC/DC. But as I walk through the kitchen, I hear Mr. Vincent Bradley's voice in my head once again.

That's my kind of music. You're gonna need that on your soundtrack.

 And then he smirked at me. And he's grinning right now. Apparently, he can really turn on the charm when he likes. And yet there are those cold eyes, still, reassuring me that he is capable of gunning down any idiot who gets in his way.

Hello, Mr. Bradley. Why yes, we should get to your scenes very soon now. Just put the weapons away and try not to wear anything out with your impatient pacing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And I get scared but I'm not crawling on my knees

I told myself I could not blog until I'd finished the scene I intended to write today. But it's at nearly 2,000 words and still not over yet, so in the interest of giving myself a breather, here I am.

Nearly 2,000 words is actually right about 1,750, and honestly, I wasn't sure I'd get more than 10 when I started out this morning. I have researched everything in this scene that needed to be researched. And then some. I knew what needed to be written--I've been seeing bits and pieces of the scene for days now. I even knew the first line. The scene was THERE. I was READY.

And I just could not get myself to sit down with it this morning. OK, granted, the morning started with getting up at 7am, checking email to find out that school was canceled for the day, and sending everyone back to bed, myself included. So it was 10 before I got back out of bed, got dressed, had some breakfast, and even attempted to wander back to my desk. But as soon as I sat down...  Stage fright. That's what it was like. This is the first big scene of the book--everything else I've written so far will eventually be incorporated later in the story. This will be the scene that has those magic first five pages. This is the scene that launches all those later scenes. And I think I just let myself over think it.

But no. I don't think I over thought it. I believe the amount of planning and research I've put into it was absolutely necessary. So it wasn't over thinking so much as just forgetting to turn off the thinking and planning portion of my brain and turn on the part that takes all those facts and structures and makes magic with them. So yeah. We're back to stage fright. The scene is so big and so clear in my mind that I was afraid I could never do it justice.

At which point, once I'd realized I was falling into that trap again, I was able to remind myself that no scene EVER comes out as perfectly on paper as it appears in your head. But it sure as hell comes out a lot clearer than if you never write it at all. So I took some deep breaths and put on my Crowmaker soundtrack. And once I sat down and forced myself through the first sentence and then the first paragraph, it got easier. Like it always does. And it started flowing. Like it always does. And the muse handed me some lovely poetic bits crafted from hard-earned research facts. Like it always does.

Someday it will take me less than two hours to talk myself into remembering how this always works. Someday.

But in the meantime, yes. Almost 2,000 words on today's scene.  If you average it out over the research time I put in on Friday, that's still almost 1,000 words/day, and I don't count myself done for the day just yet. I can live with that, I believe.

Edit:  Final word count on the scene, as of 12:30am, was 2,750.  Whew.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Don't need much, just enough to get me through

Let's see. Friday was library and research reading day, followed in the evening by the much-touted annual Punk-N-Rock show at the middle school. Sixth grade serves as stage crew, so Michael got to wear black and hop around backstage. He also got to catch a wheelchair after it was flung down the stage ramp as part of one of the skits. This was Joe's last year, since he's on to high school next year, and his entire class (yeah, all seven of them) looked so relaxed and like they were having a ton of fun up there, which made every skit they were in all that much more fun for those of us in the audience. They did covers of everything from the Hee Haw gloom and agony song to "Crazy Train" to Veggie Tales to "Love is a Battlefield" to Jonathan Coulter (plus a whole bunch more I just can't think of right now). I will follow up with pictures and perhaps video when we get the dvd we ordered, but my own camera sucks, so for now I will simply assure you that Joe made an awesome Bob the Tomato.

Yesterday's writing time was devoted to putting together next week's lesson plan, and today's was spent on the 2YN class I signed up for over at Forward Motion. I've been wavering on how badly I really need to be working on another project right now. But so far, the time spent on it each week hasn't been overwhelming, possibly because so far it's much resembled the process I already put myself through. Which also makes me question how badly I need to be in the class. But I keep telling myself it's not about learning an entirely new writing process at this point. It's about picking up little bits and pieces of other people's processes that I might incorporate to strengthen my own process.

And honestly, it's also about walking through the process with other people. Because let's face it, writing is pretty quiet work, even for a seriously introverted introvert like me. And since I gave up WoW, it's kinda nice to have other online "voices" around once in a while. So hello to any fellow 2YN participants who happen to wander through! Feel free to say hello. I promise I won't yell and chase you out of my yard.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hey satellite man your time has come

Today's productivity countdown:
  • Hauled not only children, but also drum kit, to school this morning. The drum kit will be used for mass tomorrow morning, and for the annual middle school lip sync/skits/musical production tomorrow night. (Unless winter unloads on us. Then we'll have to see.)
  • Supervised the crew of 8th grade boys who unloaded the drums, which involves such difficult feats as asking them to NOT beat on the drums INSIDE the school, please, and reminding them that yes, they do need to go back to class now that the kit is stowed safely on the stage.
  • Confiscated the guitar amp that somehow made its way into the trunk with the electric guitar, because I'm pretty sure Mrs. B. only wants the guitars for props, not for actual loudness. (I'm sorry, I can't help it. I haven't been able to use that word without picturing that band since the 80's. Seriously.)
  • Made a quick restocking run to the grocery store because have I mentioned lately that the boys are bottomless pits?
  • Spent six--SIX--blissful hours working on Crowmaker, either rough draft or research. You will notice that my progress bar now stands at 20,000 words. That's 20% of a draft. I am mildly psyched. New word production will likely fall off for a few days now, since I need to pause for some more research before embarking on the next scenes.
  • Picked up the boys from after school dress rehearsal, coached them through getting a couple of quick pieces of homework done, and herded them off to take showers. They had pizza after rehearsal, so I didn't even have to cook supper tonight! Any night without cooking is a good night.
  • And it's still only 8:30. I could conceivably get a good chunk of research done yet tonight.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Same old line you used to use before


I have spent almost every appreciable chunk of free time over the last couple of days... sleeping. Killer cold really knocked me for a loop, so I followed a pattern of take kids to school, set alarm and sleep until last possible second, get up for work, come home and nap until supper, go to bed as early as possible after supper, rinse lather repeat. So yeah, pretty much sucked for writing. But I seem to have broken the worst of the cold. (Serious, SERIOUS knocking of wood, here.) And I was clear-headed enough to crank out some word count tonight.

I might be back. I just hope I haven't slept so much that I won't be able to sleep tonight and will wind up sick again.

Tonight, I finished up the last scene of a sort of story within the story. I wrote said story within the story before starting on the main story because I needed to know what happens in that story in order to figure out some of the things that happen in the main story. Now I need to write up some backstory stuff in order to figure out some other things that happen in the main story.

And I'm just not thinking any further ahead than that right now. The outline is there, the story is there, so I'll just focus on this piece of the bigger picture and refuse to be overwhelmed.