Monday, March 15, 2010


After a month and a half of writing on this book, I've now passed two major milestones in one day: 1) I've now written well over 200 pages and 2) I let my husband read the first five chapters. For anyone who reads this blog, you'll know what at terribly frightening prospect that was (the husband part). Well, I handed him the second draft of Part I and now I'm on to flesh out Part II. I didn't want to be there when he started reading, because his face is a bit like an open book. He read and he read and when he stopped reading I thought he might have something to say or maybe have some questions. But sadly he didn't. So I brushed my teeth and started to go to bed and asked how far he had read; a silly question because of course no sensible person would read more or less of one chapter in an evening sitting. Arn't I stupid. Still failing to bring the conversation I was seeking to life, I furthered a remark: "Well, that was fast." To which he replied: "Not really, it was only fifteen pages." Perhaps I'm a bit over sensitive, but ouch that was a very pointed 'only.' But in the interest of not spooking him, he has agreed to read it, I am letting the lack of discussion lie for the moment. Maybe there will be some response at the end of Part I? I will just have to wait and see.
As for Part II, writings going well. Once again, I had some wonderful brainstorms in the shower yesterday (about an hour before I had to leave for my sister's birthday dinner: Hi, Taylor) and so very quickly went to the computer to pour everything out onto the page. I had been a bit worried that after a few days spent rewriting and proofing Part I my mind would have trouble shifting focus back to producing new material, but low and behold it was ready and raring for the task and the words have been flowing nicely ever since. I hate to walk away from the computer today, but I have to actually pretend to be a housewife for awhile and take care of the banalities of life. I've also promised myself a trip to the gym, once I noticed that too many days in front of the computer were causing spider veins...eww! So I need to get the blood flowing to clear out my circulatory system and the cobwebs in my brain. Who knows, I might have some great inspiration on the elliptical. God I love that thing! J.A.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Busy Busy Busy

The last week has been slow, but productive. I have finished the first five chapters of the new book along with two rounds of rewrites. In the end I'm left with something quite good, though I'm not entirely sure anymore after re-reading so many times I've probably memorized it by now.

It is now time to move on to the next section of the book which revolves around travel and the revelatory power of a journey. I figured the best thing to do was to review great travel sagas: Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Rings, even Peter Pan all of which give detailed reactions to new environments and foreign geographies. Walking that razor's edge between describing a setting enough to allow the reader to follow your thinking and boring said reader to death with too much detail is on the agenda next week. I'm focusing as much as possible on emotional response and connection to new landscapes (as someone who studied Landscape Archaeology (yes, that is a real course) it should be a piece of cake, right?). I like the idea of making the geography a character, but it may not be terribly appropriate at this point (maybe in the rewrites).

In other news, I'm taking the big leap this week and allowing my husband to read what I've been working on this past month or so. You have to understand that he is a physicist and computer scientist and as such is incredibly terse and practical. He also does not believe in my 'overly descriptive and sentimental writing technique.' In other words, he thinks I write like a girl. Not the most sympathetic audience. So, showing him anything forces me to prepare for an onslaught of criticism and let's face it, who wants her husband to tell her she should give up (not that I would). Brace yourselves people, next week could bring tears!

Any helpful advice or words of encouragement would be gratefully received. J.A.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Back From the Back of Beyond

I've just returned from an extended trip to visit the family. I took along a draft of the first five chapters to review and rework, but needless to say, in all the confusion of what turned out to be a most terrible series of events (including many hospital visits) I barely opened the plastic cover I'd lovingly created before I left. Usually I like to take these obstacles and adventures as opportunities for creative exploration, but today after assessing my emotional fatigue I can barely stare at this screen without falling asleep or breaking down into senseless tears. I'm just tired. After a week's vacay from the writing wagon, I've been itching to jump back in, but the brain is not cooperating. I feel unsettled and unsteady and these are never good places for me to work from; my thoughts are too scattered and shifting.
I did start reading Tender is the Night in between trips to the hospital. I've always loved Fitzgerald's turn of phrase and so far I'm even more in love now than I ever was with Damned or Gatsby. I'm still not sure why his characters are so young, though perhaps this has something to do with the autobiography of it all. For me, it's hard to imagine such young people being so complex. I mean, can you name a 19 year old today who would have the self-possession and awareness of Rosemary or the distant disturbance of Nicole (only 24). I myself am breathing down the neck of 30 and even with years of travel and exposure to "the rest of the world," I don't think I am half as comfortable with myself as these people, half of whom are mentally ill. Maybe that's just me. J.A.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Apologies For My Brief Absence

Sorry to have been away for awhile. I've been furiously working on my "new thing" for a week or so and have been too absorbed in it to think of much else (including laundry, dishes, dinner, family or sadly my husband). Luckily, everyone has been very good about my sudden disappearance and neglect of my regularly scheduled duties. My husband has been happily eating take out for the last several days (I hope this unexpected pleasure is not an indication of the quality of my cooking). I have been slaving away and in the last week have been hitting the big numbers and surprisingly enough I think it all is quality. At least it feels good. At last count I was up to an astonishing 38,000 words this month and February still has six more days left. Needless to say I'm ahead of schedule and pretty proud. A lot of this success I think has come down to the support of my own planning and organization.
I've been diligent with my notebooks and binders this time, rigorously preparing character bios, chapter outlines, setting maps and sections. It has been more prep work than normal, but I think it is really paying off in my confidence in my words and motives. The plot is of course important and I had that firmly established long ago, but the development of characters, family groups and dynamics has been essential for this one and I'm trying hard to earn every ounce of progress. It is really wiping me out at the end of the day...explaining feebly the present state of my house.
I've been doing some reading on novel length lately and am happy to report that I seem to be on track for an average novel. The online advice I've found so far can be found here. However, there does seem to be a lack of consensus on page length; with some critics suggesting 250 words per page and others stacking it up closer to 500. Any thoughts or feelings on the subject would be gratefully received. J.A.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Joys of Snow and Insomnia

Well, this is the third day we've not been able to leave the house and after hours of shoveling snow, I found myself for the first time in months dealing with a bought of insomnia. Did I lie in bed, tossing and turning? Did I spend hours
staring at the minutes on the clocking droning silently? Well, yes I did for awhile actually. Then somewhere between toss and turn I found myself daydreaming (yes at night) about what I'm writing at the moment. I allowed my mind the right to tick along when it could have been sleeping and in those restless hours lying prostrate, I worked out most of the immediate obstacles to my imagination. The joy of fiction writing is that there are no problems than cannot be ironed out by applying and expanding one's imagination. The limits of your imagination are the only real limits there are; this is probably one of the reasons I enjoy writing so very much.
By 3 am I had worked out just about everything I had been struggling with in the last week. Then came the choice: allow my mind to drift off to sleep or commit the cardinal sin of recovering insomniacs and get out of bed. Well folks, I'm a sinner. I slid out of bed, careful not to disturb my snoring husband (who seemed to be having his own sleep issues last night from the discussions he was having with himself) and made my way down the darkened hall to my moonlit office. It was wonderful to see the results of the nearly three foot dump of snow we'd received yesterday. By the late afternoon the clouds disappeared revealing a wonderfully orange sunset, but at this early hour of the morning the big bright moon overhead left a light over the woods around our home like something akin to a fairy land. So I sat in the darkness, lit only by my computer, looking out over the magic below and felt even wider awake, but somehow more at ease and in sharper focus.

Bleary eyes cleaned away, I was ready to sit down and spill the last several hours of hard thinking out on the electronic page. And I did. In the next hour I had written ten full and thick pages (nothing polished or beautiful, but complete).
I returned to bed happy and satisfied as if I'd just finished Thanksgiving dinner and slept like a baby until 9 this morning. Murdoch's character Moy has a period of time every morning (she calls it her white time), where after dressing she lies on her bed for half an hour and stares at the ceiling preparing for the day. I have a feeling that this was probably Murdoch's habit as well (though we will probably never know). I think hours spent simply planning and thinking about things are the most important habit a writer can get into, besides writing obviously. The more I've planned the fuller and thicker the pages are, the more confident I am that I am doing the right things for the progression of my characters and the story. When writing works it is the best feeling in the world, but when it doesn't it is a misery. Those miserable times for me come from the fear of not knowing where I'm going. Maybe insomnia is just a part of being a well planned writer. J.A.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Flesh to the Bones

Spent most of today fleshing out characters and working on 'world creation.' This is a funny phrase that was apparently developed by Scifi circles in the '70s, but in my opinion should really be applicable to any sort of fiction writing. I'm working on one word this week: CRAFT. My writing technique will be ever evolving; it can only happen naturally, but something I can work on in a tangible way is my technique for developing ideas into worlds and characters that people will want to read about. I've just about finished Mayer now (though I will keep going back to some of his prompts), but re-read a section today to remind myself that the reason I should be writing (if I want to be published) is so that someone will want to read/buy it some day. With that in mind, I'm looking back over some older work along with the new stuff in hopes of improvement and focus.

I'm also working on a new short story that started yesterday, pretty much out of the blue. It centers around people in my community (ie writing what I know) and a group of people that I am at once connected to and intrigued by in ways that confuse me.

Otherwise, I'm also looking into joining some local writing circles, because so many people seem to suggest that this is a good way to work through problems at an early stage and to figure out which ideas are strong enough to get off the ground. I hate the idea of sharing things before they are finished; I won't even show my work to my own husband. Perhaps, it would be a good step forward to show strangers first. I have to stay confident in what I'm doing or I'll fall into despair and I'm afraid that criticism at this point won't do me any good. Thoughts, suggestions, good will would all be appreciated at this point. J.A.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sad About Salinger

I've just heard about the death of J.D. Salinger. Frannie and Zooey is one of the reasons I continue to strive towards becoming this thing we call a writer (I was actually thinking about writing a comment on it yesterday, about the time that he passed away). I can only say that his genius will be sadly missed but will live on in the immortality of his words on the page. Very sad news. Very sad day. Must worker harder to deserve what he has given us. J.A.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Working Is A Good Thing

Well, Folks. When I promised to finish something I guess I lied (wait did I ever really promise anyone anything?). So far, I've kept to my goal and finished at least 1,000 words a day. Some days have been much much better. The goal to finish something remains, but for now I'll continue to settle for production.

I've done a terrible thing and started something new, again. I had a flash of overwhelming creation at the gym, while mindlessly chugging away on the elliptical. It was so visual and strong that the second I got to the car I took out my voice recorder and started describing images as quickly as possible (I always do my best work at the gym or in the shower). It has been over a week now and it's still going strong. I can't get away from the obsessional phase of writing. I love new ideas so much that I allow them to consume me and to become my only focus. What's more, I've switched into a genre that I've never tried before and worry that my idea is perhaps cliche. In the interest of growth, I'm allowing myself to explore this to its end (wherever that may be), but at some point I'm going to need to talk to someone or read something that either confirms or denies my suspicions.

Mayer, who actually writes very nearly in this new genre, says that there are never cliches only formulas and that simply by writing from your voice and prospective you will never duplicate someone else's work, even if you are influenced by it. He's a strong proponent of formulaic writing, which I am not. It is fun though, a bit like 'choose your own adventure', where you fill in the details. I'm going to let it run it's course and see where it leads, though I may just be spinning my wheels in self-gratifying writing. J.A.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Finish Something, Already!

Over the last several days I've been writing vigorously on many different projects, though have yet to be able to finish the one I started to focus on last week. Message to self: MUST FINISH SOMETHING! Still the fact that I've been consistently producing anything is a good sign. Writer's block in never fun and as long as the words keep coming, it somehow all seems worthwhile.

It has made me wonder why I'm so shy about showing my work to others, especially my husband. That fear of criticism or maybe more plainly rejection is probably what is holding me back from finishing anything in a meaningful way. Editing is a long process, I know that. You can't ever expect to write something that others are meant to read without receiving a healthy dose of alteration and amendment. I just don't know if I'm ready to share all this stuff yet or whether maybe it should remain mine.

Books are like babies in a way; every mother sees her child's flaws, but god forbid anyone should point them out. I feel that way about it at least. Right now, when my ideas are being put to page, all I want is to survive the birthing process, but the hardest part seems to be letting go of the product. I can't seem to get it all out of me for fear that it will fly away. Criticism is just that: critical and to allow someone else, especially someone I value to view the worlds into which I retreat is scary and difficult. Maybe strangers is a better way to go. At least it won't so that detrimental to my family life. J.A.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Murdoch & Harpers

Yesterday was a solid start, not great, but solid. I've been reading a book on writing by an ex-Green Beret called The Novel Writer's Tool Kit. He suggests that one of the main secrets of successful writers is constant reading and analysis of other novels. Though I'm not only interested in novel writing, it is something I'm working on so I say great! I love reading and I've spent the last decade lost in critical analysis, so here we go.

Today, I'm reading two wondrous tomes of literature: Iris Murdoch's The Green Knight and Harper's Magazine. Laymen may wonder why I hold Harper's in such esteem, well to put it bluntly, they are one of the few remaining American magazines that regularly pay for works of fiction. So their Reading section is one of the places I'm going to send my work (someday). I say aim high or don't bother bringing your gun to town, so it's important to size up the competition. Harper's won't be the only place I'll try, of course, but they're one of the big names that some regular people actually read.

My other favorite that I'm dishing about today, is Iris Murdoch:

Like me, Murdoch spent the greater part of her formative years at Oxford and met her husband there, as did I (Sylvia Plath did the same at Cambridge, but that's a story for another day). So, on New Year's Day I started reading The Green Knight for the first time and I'm blown away by the twists and turns in plot. More than anything, Murdoch demonstrates an amazing ability to juggle an unbelievably expansive cast of characters, popping them in and out of scenes with a mastery and complete understanding that I personally find impossible. At present (the point where my bookmark is currently seated), she has brought forth twelve main characters (including a collie), who all have interwoven backstories and complicated mannerisms. This does not even include all the minor characters that I am sure will be coming to the fore soon.
What I find most impressive is that none of these terribly complex individuals would be distinct without the use of impressions from the other characters. In short, it is not clear who the main character is or even which of the characters is the intended protagonist (for they are all so faulty that I don't really want to delve too far into any of them). Normally, this would make me want to stop reading, for surely there should always be at least one character that you side with, but the interactions are all so wonderfully interesting that I'm afraid I find it hard to put down.

In Tool Kit, Mayer writes that there is always one scene or image that was the origin of a story and as a writer you should try to track that key moment of inspiration down. I can only assume that Murdoch's first image was either of two boys playing a game affectionately referred to as 'Dogs' or of a small ugly man trying to beat a lovely looking man to death with a baseball bat. Either way, the story that evolves from these two incidents (both of which are only related either in passing or flash back) is heartbreaking and confusing, but entirely compelling. I take away from it a need to find a purpose for my writing; a message that is unexpected by the reader. Murdoch shows that it is not simply plot or characters that drive a story, but a skillful combination of the two. Otherwise, you are left with a shell of a novel and let's face it no one wants to read fluff all the time.

On another note, I finished 1,500 words today and have almost moved on to the editing phase of a short story I started over Christmas in England. I'm at a crossroads, however, in that too much of the story is taken from real life and I'm not sure the characterizations will be favorably received.
So what do you think? Should I do the smart thing and mask my characters a bit better or should I stick by the original idea? Maybe a bit of both? As always tips, feedback and suggestions are very welcome. J.A.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Goal: One Year To Follow A Dream

Hello Ladies and Gents,

After a solid year of unemployment, I'm allowing myself 1 year and 1 year only, to follow my dream and become a real writer. For years I've toiled away in silence, writing for me, myself and I, but no more! The goal is by year's end to have published something, anything, anywhere for pay. Even if it is for a tuppence, I will be published or I will throw in the towel and take a job at First Data (like my mother has suggested). Each day, I will write at least 1,000 words and begin to send out submissions to magazines, newspapers, literary agents, etc. until someone hears my call.

Most people might find this daunting or extreme, but after four years in college, three years in graduate school and two years of attempting to get by on pitiful excuses for academic employment, I now find myself a year into what looks to be a lifetime of unemployment so I figured what's the harm in trying to get paid for something I love. I won't post my writings on here (that somehow feels a step too egocentric), but I will chart my journey of success or failure for you each day (or so). By the end, if nothing else I will have a how to manual for how not to get published.

In the meantime, I am very happy to hear from any of you who might have thoughts or suggestions for my journey to publication. I'll be doing a lot of research into the business of writing (something I know very little about) and will feed that back through if I find anything helpful or interesting. Till then, I'm off to writing land for the day! J.A.