Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hitting the wall...Marathon writing Gu

For those of you who don't know, I'm an avid runner as well as a writer. Avid as in I'm in training for my second marathon. Over the past three years I've run over 30 5k's (3.1 miles) a few 10k's (6.2 miles) and 1/2 marathons (13.1 miles) and one doomed from the start but very funny (after it was finished) marathon. I intend to redeem myself by running this upcoming one without making a bunch of rookie mistakes. We'll see.

How does this relate to writing and revision? Just bear with me.

When training for a marathon (26.2 miles and yeah, that's a LONNNNNG way to run without taking a nap!) you have to plan on certain factors that non-runners never think of. For those of us who aren't elite runners, it's going to take 4-6 hours to complete the course. That means we have to deal with these issues longer than those who can throw down a 2-3 hour marathon. THOSE people are freaks of nature. But in a good way. And I'm friends with some of them.

But as to the issues...remember, I do have a point!

Chafing and blistering: I won't get graphic, but after several hours of certain body parts rubbing against fabric (or other body parts), skin gets irritated. While training, you need to learn where your chafing and blistering points are, apply your preferred sweat-resistant chafing cream ahead of time, and you're golden. Except sometimes your toenails fall off, (which is a bragging point among runners) but that's another issue. 

Hydration and nutrition are other issues.That means you're going to sweat not just water but electrolytes and lose a lot of glycogen. During our long training runs, we try out different types of "gu" or "blocks" that add back some of those needed electrolytes and glycogen so we can keep running. One of a runner's worst nightmares is to get a DNF (did not finish) especially on a race that they've spent so much training time and money on.

For those who don't know, glycogen is the sugar in the body that gives runners their "kick". When you run out, your body hits the clutch, pops into neutral, and slowly shifts gears into fat burning mode. This is a long, slow, PAINFUL process called HITTING THE WALL. It's when you mentally and physically feel you have to give up because you have nothing left to give. Your body is in the process of shifting gears so it's spinning wheels on gravel, your mind is freaking out (studies show you actually produce chemicals that produce negative emotions!) because your body isn't reacting the way it supposed to, and the whole experience can literally stop you in your tracks.

If you let it.

So, dear writers. What does this have to do with writing?

Sometimes we get chafing and blistering when we constantly rewrite and rewrite a scene that isn't working. We do it so much the scene becomes meaningless and gets further and further out of context with the rest of the piece. What should we do? Well, I have two suggestions. One. Remove what's causing the chaffing. What are you saying, Cannon? Take out the scene? Yep. Take it out. Take it all out. Then re-write it from scratch without looking at what you had before. I guarantee you'll be happier with what you had before. It's a lot of work, but it's better than ending up with blisters every time you face that scene (or worse, procrastination syndrome because you're tired of working on it). Second suggestion is to take the scene, outline what you want it to say on a piece of paper or a separate document, THEN revise it. Either way, you should be able to "glide" your way past the blister. (Haha. Glide is a brand of chaffing prevention cream. Just in case you didn't know.)

And what happens when you run out of glycogen stores and you...JUST...CAN'T...WRITE? Well, okay, I'll admit, that's what I'm doing right now. Finding my writing "Gu" to recharge my creative stores. Blogging instead of working on my novel sometimes does that for me. So write, just don't write on the piece that you've been banging your head against. Keep writing otherwise you'll again get into the procrastination syndrome. But there's no sin in writing something else while your body and brain recover from whatever trauma they're dealing with that is preventing you from writing on your story. I'm dealing with a lot mentally right now. Physically, it's been really HOT lately and with the uptick in getting ready for school and training for this marathon, I just haven't been in the game. But I'm not giving up. I'm still going to write.

When I ran my first marathon I had two injured knees, fainted 1/2 way through (then got my butt up off the ground because I WASN'T going to get a DNF on my first marathon!), got leg cramps, stomach cramps, overheated, and sunburned but I learned a valuable lesson: persistence. Don't give up. Never give up. Find a way. It may take longer than you want but persistence is a stronger tool than any other. Go ye therefore and write!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Long Roads, Heartaches, and Why Can't I Just be a Writer?

At various times in my life, I've complained about my jobs. Yeah, I admit it publicly. I'm not always perky and silly and punny. Sometimes I yell and get angry and frustrated just like every other human being on the planet.

My current job is no exception. While I love working with children, love teaching technology, and love the people I work with, it saps nearly all my energy. During the school year when I come home at night I am a nearly lifeless husk of a pod-person. Being an introvert in an extrovert's world will do that. Sometimes I wonder how I drive home in my dazed stupor. I have no active brain cells left to write with, therefore, August through May, I write almost nothing creative at all. Which makes me sad. Nine months of the year lost because I have to eat, pay for a place to live, pay insurance, and fill my car with gas.

And I begin to wonder...wouldn't I be a better writer if I could quit my job and write full time? If my husband made enough money for us to live on, I could do the freelance gig to fill in the gaps while writing my stories and novels on the side and that would be bliss incarnate. What if we cut back a little more here and there, went out to eat less, and saved our money more? We could make it. It would make me a better writer. Really!


Then again, when I look at the YA novel I'm writing I couldn't have done that without LIVING around children who deal with real issues of abuse, neglect, learning disabilities, and social dysfunctions every day. Currently I have two people very close to me who are going through very scary medical situations. If I didn't take time off from writing and go visit them and cry with them and comfort them, I wouldn't see what going through those situations felt like.

Research is a wonderful tool. The Internet is my friend when it comes to many aspects of my books because I can't possibly know everything about everything. But when it comes to PEOPLE, nothing substitutes the actual living of your life to make your writing real. You will create more believable, more REAL characters when you really live. Sometimes that means you're not able to write as much as you want.

But some day, there will be a day when I won't have breakfast duty, lunch duty and bus duty all in the same day that I have three meetings, no prep hour, and have to break up a girl fight. (Girl fights are the WORST!) I look forward to that day.

Ah, retirement. Fourteen years down the road. Unless my husband suddenly gets a six-figure job. Which that works, too. ;-)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Going short...When word count is worrisome

When I finished the first typewritten draft of Shadow of Redemption, my newest novel about a girl who hides from the world but is forced into the light to help save some people she's grown to love, I ended up with about 37,000 words. As most "authorities" in the world of YA will tell you, that's mighty short of the 50 to 55,000 word MINIMUM you need for a YA novel. "Oh, but don't look at word count," they amend. "Make sure you have a good story. If you add fillers, the readers won't read it." Well, two for two, but here's the kicker: if you don't have the minimum, the publishers won't publish it. If you add fillers, the publishers won't publish it. So....

Honestly, I'm not really worried. All I need is 13 to 18,000 words--a few more chapters--and I'm golden. I just have to make them GOOD chapters. HONEST chapters. Not simply add-ons to fill the pages. So here are my options (and I can use a combination of choices, of course!).

Option #1 - Add another point of view: Currently, the book is only from Emily's point of view. I'd prefer to keep it that way. As a reader, I get confused when the writer keeps switching POVs, but if done right, two points of view can make a book much more interesting. I have enough side material on Daniel, the other main character, (I had to, otherwise I couldn't keep up with what was going on behind the scenes), that I can easily fill out the extra word count. The only "loss" is that the reader has less tension in trying to figure out the questions about Emily's past, origins, etc., but I can create other tensions. I would prefer to create a novella tentatively called, "Shifting Perspectives: Daniel's Story" and use it as a free or cheep e-book to promote the novel. (And yes, the title is a pun and I'm not going to tell you why.)

Option #2 - Take a look at her "empty" days: Right now, there are a lot of days that Emily isn't "doing" anything. While the reader doesn't need to know how many times Emily does dishes, goes shopping, or goes to the laundry mat, there are some additional adventures I can send her on/people I can have her meet that will help her reach her ultimate decision at the end of the book. I can have her consider her past as well, but I *hates me them flashbacks* when they run too long. A little can be cool. A lot can ruin a story. If I choose this option, it HAS to work toward the main plot, otherwise it is simply filler.

Option #3 - Expand the ending: This is a tricky one. As someone who LOVES Lord of the Rings, I was one of those fans that sighed just a *tiny* bit at the extended ending sequences of Peter Jackson's last movie in the trilogy. Yes, he had a lot of plot to finish. Yes, it was masterfully done. But come on, dude. Four hours of move, no matter how good, and we're ready to take a restroom break, take a walk, and get outta there! Right now Shadow ends BOOM. Done. I like it. No discussion, no down time, just "Oh, hello! Ending! Tie up the plot and lets get some pizza!" I could write one more chapter and BETTER explain the fallout from the final confrontation, but the reader already knows what's going to happen. Why insult the reader by telling him/her what he/she knows is going to happen? This is one I'll have to think about a lot to make it work.

Option #4 - Something I haven't thought of yet: Isn't that always the option the good author takes, is the one the reader doesn't expect? So maybe there's an option I haven't thought of that's the best one.

So sometimes revision isn't cutting, it's adding. Which for me isn't hard, it's just a matter of choosing the best of the crazy wackiness that's careening around in my head. After I input all the current paper revisions, I'm going to give it to a few readers, let *them* give me suggestions for additions (hehe, didn't I say I had an option #4?) and we'll go from there. Emily is one of my favorite characters I've created to date and I can't wait to see what people think about this super introvert who's going to have fits trying to learn social skills she should have learned 10 years ago. SO fun! 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Emily Gets a Puppy...That wasn't in the outline!

So I'm writing along on my new novel, following my carefully prepared outline, and suddenly I read back over the last few pages I've written to make sure I'm not dreaming because for some reason, my main character just acquired a puppy. I go through my notes. No puppy. I read through my typed draft. Definitely a puppy and a very significant presence for the rest of the story. What happened?

First off, let me explain a couple of things for those of you who don't know me, I don't have pets. I can't have pets. It isn't as if I don't like dogs and cats. In fact, I love little balls of fur that love you unconditionally and rub against your legs and play fetch and sit on your lap to watch TV with you and greet you at the door after a long day's work. (I don't like the cleaning up part after them, but that's part and parcel of taking care of another living being!) I'm highly allergic to fuzzy animals. Pretty much all of them. Including guinea pigs, which I had at one time. And since I don't know a lot about animals or how to care for them, I generally try to avoid writing them into my stories and having pet people cry "fowl" (hehe) when I say something that makes no sense.

But as I was writing Emily's story, the puppy made sense. As Stephen King said in his novel on writing, it's almost as if the puppy in the story was already there and  I was simply the archaeologist digging up the bones, revealing the history of what had been hidden.

Revision isn't only about changing your mind, it's about reading the mind of the world you've built and discovering where it leads you. A scientific experiment of sorts. Sometime that's a good thing. If you've done a good job of world building, you end up with a surprise puppy that leads to great plot twists. (Seriously, this puppy is one of the best things that has happened in this book. Tied together some loose strings I didn't know how to work in and made some of the plot twists even twistier. With just a puppy!) But you also have to be careful. Puppies can also lead to tangents that will take the plot too far off track or worse, ruin the flow of the book. That's why it's so important to have your rules already established for what works and what doesn't, especially in fantasy or science fiction writing.

So find the puppy, the surprising twist that binds together the strings of your life that you haven't been able to pull together. It's a sweet, tender moment to realize beauty still exists in the world, you don't have to be angry all the time, and that happiness is attainable when we find someone to love and trust.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Religion and Politics...YES, discuss them!

The other day my running partner and I had a long discussion (yes, while running) about a religious issue. She and I aren't from the same "brand" of faith nor did we agree on the topic. But we had a lively debate, laughed a little, learned a lot about each other, and in the end were still friends. Still. Friends. Seriously.

Over the past few months I've engaged in a couple of on-line debates/discussions about religious issues with Facebook acquaintances. They made their points. I made mine and even backed some up with scripture. No one convinced anyone of anything, but we made our points, I learned a great deal about their point of view (which was an enlightenment to me) and no one unfriended anybody. Seriously.

In this day of "don't discuss religion or politics" I think we've done ourselves a disservice. We've made ourselves MORE divisive, not less, because we're not practicing our discussion and communication skills. Instead, when the topics come up, many people ARGUE the topic rather than rationally and reasonably present their side with evidence to back up their opinion. We've lost the skill of debating. We've lost how to communicate with each other. We must be right and the other person must be wrong and there is no other way to see the issue. Final answer.

When did having a religious or political conversation become a competative blood sport? Why is it manditory that if you start the discussion on religion or politics you must win or the discussion is for naught? That's stupid. I would love for everyone to agree with me, but I realize that not everyone is going to see my point of view. That's life. I don't get my panties in a wad about it. It's okay if you don't think I'm right. Even worse, Heaven forbid, what if you CHANGE MY MIND and I realize I'm WRONG and have to admit that you're RIGHT? What do I do then? Why is that such a cultural taboo?

It shouldn't be. We should be open minded enough to listen to what other people have to say, judge it against evidence, and make our decision based on the evidence we have not make a concrete decision before the discussion begins. That's what makes us firm in our faith about our beliefs. If we can discuss it rationally, defend it rationally, and in the end feel strong about our position, then we have succeeded. It isn't about changing the other person's mind. It's about solidifying our own personal beliefs.

Or...if by listening to the evidence of "the other side" you find you're convicted to change your faith, then you need to change. This is the tough one, but the one we all need to revise our lives around. Being open minded doesn't mean I will automatically agree with everything everyone else says. But it should mean that if I hear something that makes me realize I'm wrong, I need to change. Change is hard. But that's how we grow.

Grow, baby. Grow.