Tag Archives: writing routines

Getting into that new-book groove

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“That’s the mountain I’m gonna hike? Son of a–“

Now that I’ve finished the rewrite of my last novel (Are we ever truly finished? Those are the questions that nibble my toes at night…), I’m finally able to clear the way for my new work in progress. This should be a fresh, freeing sensation, right? Honestly, it’s kind of terrifying.

I’ve discovered I have an awful time “breaking away” from the last book I’ve been working on. At least I already have a great start on the new novel, but it’s like wading through a desert. I don’t have a strong grip on the voice yet, and everything is so new, it’s daunting. There’s an overwhelming “I don’t know where to begin-ness.” I have, after all, been rewriting for the past year, which involves one comfortable, well-worn story. I know all of the characters inside-out. I can tell you the route you need to take to get from Freddy’s house to Paul’s, and about how Freddy likes chocolate milk, but won’t touch it plain. I have a grasp on my new characters, but I am still learning about them.

The new story has a ton of promise, but it isn’t broken in yet, which is an apt way to describe my life now. New town, new habits, new novel in progress… nothing is nice and cozy-comfortable yet. And as I previously established, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t take well to change. I find security and sanity in the things that don’t surprise me. But I also am the kind of person who loves to go on adventures and discover new places and sites–maybe I just need something trustworthy to come home to.

Either way, I’m not there in my book yet, which is why I haven’t been writing regularly. Also, the story wasn’t coming as quickly as it had been in its fledgling days of wildfire ideas. Instead of writing for the sake of writing, I wanted to take a new approach. I decided to stop forcing the issue of writing for the sake of writing and reflect on the story outline, which is usually impossible for me. Normally, I just let the characters reveal the story to me and write when a scene comes to mind. In the back of my mind, I knew that this story had to go somewhere and I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees; the arc wasn’t as apparent to me as I thought it would be, so I just let my brain “rest” on it and gave myself a “break.” 

And then it came, like a shot out of the dark. I can’t even recall if there was a trigger. Maybe my brain was quietly working on the lock on Pandora’s Box, and one question or thought about my characters or story revealed it all to me. Either way, it changed the entire story for the better. And what’s crazy is it revealed enough for me to construct a nearly complete outline of the book. I don’t work with outlines until I’m usually reworking plot issues or am nearing the end, so this is all unfamiliar territory at this stage. I have an outline, which I now need to develop with actual pages. And it’s kind of terrifying, because I’m not used to knowing where my story is going from point A to point Z. I don’t know where to begin because I know too much, if that makes sense. And it’s not like this is a plot-driven novel.

The subject matter of my new plot is deeper and more serious than anything I’ve tried to approach before, and it’s a little intimidating. It requires the kind of research you can’t find online or in a book. I’m going to have to actually interview someone to find out what I need to know about my character’s problems. Maybe you know this or not, but writers aren’t usually equipped with suave people skills. A lot of us mumble and avoid eye contact and would rather be thrown into a pit of tigers than into a situation where we have to voluntarily sit down and speak to strangers about real life situations– IN PERSON.

So while it’s exciting to have most of my book completely outlined before I start to knuckle down and write, it’s also vexing. Sometimes I’d prefer not to see the mountain before I start to climb it. Rocks and pebbles are far less intimidating than a tower of steep, evergreen-populated granite. On the bright side, having the whole story before I start writing saves me from churning out thousands upon thousands of words I will never use. My last book took so long to rewrite because my leap-without-looking method got me into two books’ worth of material, and it was supposed to be a stand-alone novel. I would rather not repeat that offense and see those acres of words burning, the smell of their carcasses blurring my revising eyes. This time, I want to do right by my story the first time out of the gate.

Now, where to begin. 

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Movin’ On: Giving up the chair and a hard-worn routine

Have you ever looked back at a chain of events in your life and wondered if the world was setting you up to make a big change? I can’t help but feel I was being prepped over the last several months to make a huge life switch. Remember my panicky chair rant from months ago? It’s so ironic. Two months later, my column in the local paper was canceled because it wasn’t “local-centric.” And then my husband declared he wanted to move closer to his workplace, as the 55-minute commute had finally taken its toll after eleven years. In the end, I had to give up not only my beloved writer space and chair at my favorite coffee shop, but my whole town. I’m not going to lie. It was hard to accept.

ImageAs much as I complain about living in Hellinois, my nickname for the great soul-beating state that is Illinois, I do love this town. It’s not Chicago, but it’s pretty much the next best thing as far as culture goes. Over the past few months, I had to accept the fact I’d be giving that up and moving to a smaller town, Conservativeland, if you will, and have been plotting how I will survive. It has a university within a bike ride of my new house, and a fairly vast library I will be able to get lost in. Plus, there is a coffee shop. I don’t think it has a special cushy chair, but it does have chai. And there is a nearby multiplex, as well as a single-screen theater currently under renovation in the old downtown. Access to movies, books, and a hermit hole is basically all I ask for. The food in this town is dismal in comparison to the one I live in now, so I’m going to have to cook more (Big HAH!) or something.

What’s really weird is how more and more things keep changing before the move. The school down the street from where I live has shut down for renovations, and they  tore out several huge, beautiful trees to make way for a new addition. Down the street from my coffee shop, a hotel is scheduled to go into an empty space where a building burned down a couple years back. (I was there the morning the firefighters were putting out the flames.) My local independent movie theater has turned into a co-op because rent is ridiculously high, and I fear for its survival. Even some of the regular servers at our favorite haunts have disappeared. Bearded Guy doesn’t come into my coffee shop and sit at the table in front of me every day like he used to. I still see him, but not as much anymore.

It’s as if all these changes are happening at this point in time to push me out, to make it easier for me to leave it all behind; like a chapter in the life of this town has come to an end, and when I come back after the move, it’ll be a different town than what I once knew. Leaving a town with all the creature comforts is bad enough, but leaving behind the personal things that make it your town is the worst. As someone who despises change, I hate to see these things happen, and it’s almost easier to leave now than it ever could’ve been.

It’s as if I’ve run the course of this town, and need to move on. Maybe it’s psychological, but it really feels like there are outside forces making this transition mentally easier.

Image An update on my beloved chair: my coffee shop kept it in its usual space and never did install the dreaded “Kid’s Corner” threatened earlier by new ownership. Maybe someone actually listened to my declaration this chair was the only reason I kept coming back. I’m going to miss it perhaps most of all. The cushion in the arms has worn so thin, you can feel the wooden framework when you prop up your elbows. There is a staple that pokes through the fabric on the left arm I constantly bump myself on. It’s in need of a new stuffing and reupholstering, but it’s my chair. Like Sheldon Cooper has his “spot” on the couch, this is my little corner of the universe all else revolves around.

In the past month, this chair was witness to two more milestones: my finishing the fourth draft of my novel in progress, and the place I was sitting when I found out my hero, Ray Bradbury, died. This chair has held me while I cried in public more than once. This chair could almost have its own book about the things it’s been a part of. I’m sitting in it now, teary-eyed as I write this entry. I’ll remind the owner again before I finally move that I’ll take it if they ever consider throwing it out. It’s been here longer than I have, so I really don’t know how much longer they would keep it. Maybe some kid will knick is or her arm on the staple and they’ll finally decide to toss it. The other two cushy chairs that used to sit in the back of this coffee shop have vanished for whatever reason. My chair stands alone, the last monument of a fallen empire.

The official moving date is nine days away. I should probably apologize for being such a sentimental sap, but I this is one more piece of the transition I need to set in place. I can’t help but look at every act without a feeling of finality. “This is the last time I’ll be walking my dog in this neighborhood,” or “This is going to be my last morning chai at this coffee shop,” even though that’s silly, since I’ll only be living an hour away and can visit anytime I like. But I won’t doing those things as I live in this town. I’ll have to make a special effort. And you know how most “special effort” promises turn out. I hate getting up early. There’s no way I’m going to get up at 6am so I can drive up to this coffee shop and have breakfast here at 8. It’ll never happen.

But, all these changes are pushing me to the realization that maybe it’s time for me to turn over a new leaf, anyway. My time in this town has come to an end. I need to begin new routines and learn new streets and find new hermit holes. Maybe even find a new chair. I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

And as “Closing Time” makes a well-timed appearance on the coffee shop radio, I lay to rest my last blog entry made at this coffee shop, sitting in my chair. I’m not even making this up. Sometimes, the radio just knows.

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