A Halloween Story

Happy Halloween! This year I went to San Diego with a bunch of friends to celebrate and the costume theme was “Disneyland Rides.” Four of us dressed up as characters from “Toy Story” – Emperor Zurg, Buzz Lightyear, a green alien, and Rex (if you haven’t seen the Partysaurus Rex short yet, check it out!).

Disney knows how to tell a good story. “Toy Story” – original! They say that every story has already been told… and yes, I guess you could say that we already have stories told from the point of view of toys (The Nutcracker, for example; “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”). I remember reading a scary story when I was a kid about a killer teddy bear. But no one has ever done a toy story in quite this way – and Disney has made three movies, not to mention numerous shorts, each arguably better than the last.

Creating original, brilliant stories is no easy feat. Forget about original, creating a brilliant story isn’t easy. All right, forget about brilliant – even creating a story that’s good isn’t easy.

My self-imposed NaNoEdMo begins tomorrow and my reigning thought is, What the hell was I thinking?! I’m not ready for this! What if I can’t do 50 hours in a month? What if I can’t do 20? This is stupid and it was my idea anyway so I can just say I’m not doing it. Okay, done. Not doing it. Phew.

No, I’m not really backing out. I’m doing it. At least I’m going to give it my all and try.

Today I decided to “practice” and I spent 3 hours revising short stories. It was a positive experience because I had fun and it helped me think, Yes, I can do this. I don’t know if I can keep it up for a whole month… but it’s really only 1.67 hours per day, right?

The key to this, I think, is not getting caught up in the deadline. Practice some forgiveness – if I miss a day, don’t hound myself, just move on and see where I can put more hours the next day.

Basically, if you don’t see any posts from me through November, you’ll know why.

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A Novel Critique

Last week I had a successful critique for Draft 3 of my novel, and I am so grateful to my readers. This group of very intelligent and supportive people read through the entire 300+ page draft, wrote notes, and joined the critique with thoughtful and honest comments. Over the past few days I have also had a personal calls with people who weren’t able to make the crit. Thank you to all my readers for your encouragement and the effort you’ve put into this.

We discussed everyone’s favorite scenes, favorite moments, the world-creation, and the construct of being popular in this novel. And the main things I have to work on are, let’s see – the beginning, the end, and my protagonist’s character arc. No big shakes, right? For some reason I thought that by the fourth draft I might be working on things like, I don’t know, expand this scene, cutting this specific scene. Sentence structure, refining dialogue – well, it seems the dialogue is one of the strengths, and wordsmithing on the sentence level doesn’t happen until oh, about draft 8.

With previous drafts I was getting comments randomly, and there was no dialogue between critiquers, so it was hard to be sure what I wanted to take and what I didn’t. This critique was so great because people talked to me and to each other, so I got to see clearly what was disagreed upon and what everyone thought was a necessary change.

Hard copies of my draft with notes from my readers.

When my mentor said he thought I should cut the first 60 pages, I wanted to tear my hair out. Apparently it’s a common thing for young writers, not to begin where the story actually begins. (I hate to think of myself as a “young” writer, even though I am, and I was so sure I was starting where it really begun!) I’ve let that little dagger sit for awhile and have gotten used to the idea. Thinking about okay, how might I do that? I brought the question to critique, to general agreement – yes, much of the beginning should be trimmed (a nice way to say, cut). The question – to prologue, or not to prologue – remains. (How often do people really read prologues? I do, because it’s usually part of the fiction. I’ll admit, however, I hardly ever make it past the first few pages of a forward.)

Usually for me critiques go one of two ways. Excitement, inspiration, I want to work on this immediately. Or deflation – it will never be what I want, I can’t even look at this right now. My general feeling after this critique is okay, here we go again. I’m elated that it went so well, afraid I’ll never get it published (sure, each draft has been significantly better than the previous, but still so riddled with issues), and ready to work on it again. I’ve heard many different forms of advice, one of them being that you should never begin work on a piece directly after a critique. You have to let it sink in, work in your subconscious, so when you go back to the piece, you have a place to go. To me, two months seems like forever. I feel like I’ve been away from my novel for a long time. But two months isn’t really that long. Often, it’s advised you take much more time away to get perspective. I have short stories that I’ve been working on for years, and the most recent drafts could never have happened back when I first wrote them.

A lovely gift from my friend, critiquer, and fellow writers’ group member. I couldn’t do what I do without the incredible support of the amazing people in my life!

What I’m getting to, is whether or not I should do NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month – November. Next month. I’m afraid that beginning a whole new project in the middle of my first novel is a crazy idea. At the same time, perhaps the time away would give me needed perspective. But if I begin a new novel, isn’t it only that much longer to publishing my current one? It’s a great thing for craft, to be writing and writing and getting perspective and writing some more, but a person could spend her whole life doing this and never publishing.

I’ve had the idea for my next book for a long time. It’s been brewing in the backround, and I’m starting to get excited about it. Several members of my writers’ group are going to participate. We even have a word counter up on the blog. I so want to participate in this race, be inspired by some healthy competition!

My mentor is adamant that I don’t step too far away from this novel. “You’ve worked too hard,” he said, “To let this go.” Perhaps I can use the buzz of NaNoWriMo to speed along my revision. A whole new draft in a month? That would be amazing. I just don’t know if this is a process that can be sped up.

Typing Challenged

One day I was doing yoga and my wrist started to hurt. I thought if I went easy on the yoga for a while, it would go away, but after two months I finally decided to go to the physical therapist. Turns out I sprained a muscle in my hand, and I have to stay off of it for 1-2 months.

Although the sprain wasn’t necessarily a result of yoga, this means not doing yoga. Which would be hard enough, as yoga is my favorite form of exercise, plus meditation. Apparently all sorts of simple activities I never thought were related have been exacerbating the sprain – things like holding a book up for long periods of time, using a stapler, holding up pots while washing dishes. Pressing the space bar.

I’ve been becoming somewhat ambidextrous. And yes, it has totally been slowing down my writing. The physical therapist also said, though it’s a remote possibility, I may have early (really early)-onset arthritis. So I bought this brace and I’m not pressing the space bar with my right thumb anymore (writing by hand is difficult; chopsticks are a definite no-no). What if I couldn’t write anymore? I’m terrified by this idea.

People keep telling me about these phone apps that translate your spoken words to written, like for the forbidden texting-while-driving scenario. I think I have one of those apps, actually, but I’ve never used it. There is something different about thoughts through fingers rather than thoughts through speaking. I guess if I had to I could get used to dictation.

This general concept, however – what if I couldn’t write anymore? If I were incapable, or censored, or for some other reason, whatever it might be… that thought is terrifying. A sure part of me would be lost. Something deep and necessary. For now, I’m determined to heal my hand.

Goodbye Blogger

Ladies and Gents, I have made the move to WordPress. Why? I have loved Blogger – so simple, so easy, the perfect way for me to learn to blog. It’s time to kick it up a notch. WordPress seems to hold more credibility in the writing world, and I already have a successful WordPress blog with my writers’ group, MUG. So goodbye to blogger for now. All future posts will appear here.

A Writer’s Epiphany

I ran out into the sunlight, my purple, plastic box banging against the side of my knee as I clutched it. I caught an elbow here, a bump there in the mass of children pouring onto the playground after school. It didn’t matter because preschool was done for the day.

The teachers herded us to the waiting area for pick-up. Bits of stray asphalt poked me as I plopped my three-year-old self on the ground.

A few feet away, three girls in the grade above me huddled in a circle. One of the girls whispered in another’s ear. She giggled and passed the secret on. Every day after school, those three girls sat together so close that their cross-legged knees touched.

I rested my box in my lap and opened it, but only a crack, so nobody else could see. I leaned down to the crack and looked inside, to make sure that everything was still there. When I peeked at the girls around my box, they were staring at me.

The girls giggled to each other. I closed my purple box and clutched it tighter. One of the girls stood, motioned for the other two to stay seated. She flounced over to me, her ponytail bobbing beneath a neon pink bow.

“You can be friends with us,” she said, looking back toward the other girls, “If you show us what you have in that box.”

I looked up at her pudgy four-year-old face and pictured myself sitting with them. Four girls huddled together with our knees touching, giggling, telling secrets.

“Ok,” I said. The leader beckoned the other girls over. I set the plastic box on the ground. I released the latches and flipped open the lid, exposing my treasures. I looked at the other girls, waiting. They had seen and now I could be best friends with them too.

The girls’ faces contorted as they giggled. The same sounds they had emitted moments ago, only closer, and louder, and directed at me. The girls laughed as they ran away, and the sound of their tittering continued when they gathered at the foot of the playground jungle gym.

I closed my box and cried until my mother came.

When I graduated from UCLA, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I took a seminar to try to figure it out. I was one of the youngest people in that seminar. There were all these older people around me realizing they weren’t happy with their careers. I didn’t want to turn around when I was 30, or 40, or 50, and say, I wish I’d done x, y, z when I was in my twenties.

I looked back at that incident on the schoolyard when I was three. I don’t even remember what was in that box – pipe cleaners or Silly Putty (which I still find cool, by the way) or something. It is easy to remember what it felt like sitting alone, wishing to be part of their friendship. When they laughed at me, I knew it was because of that box, and how I was different. I decided I was not going to be different anymore. I was going to conform, to do what was right, what everybody else said I should do. Then they wouldn’t laugh at me. I decided, no more purple boxes.

I can track this decision through my life – I did what I was told was the right thing to do. I got good grades, went to a good school, joined a sorority. Normal. When I graduated, I thought I was going to go into marketing. Wear a suit, get a corporate 9-5.

Then, as I saw how that preschool experience had affected my life, I was able to let it go. When there were no constraints, no “should’s,” nothing to do that everybody else said was right, I was left with questions: What did I really want? If I could do anything, what would it be?

Write. Write, write, write.