“The writer’s job is to write--the rest is just paperwork.”
Christie Yant

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

On Yielding To Temptation And Eating All The Candy At Once
Wed 2008-11-19 13:53:29 (single post)
  • 35,184 words (if poetry, lines) long

Monday was a hugely unexpected marathon day for the novel. I expected to just do a nice 1,500 or so, now that the Weekend Of Writing Dangerously was successfully over. I expected to put the novel away for the evening and begin working on a short story that needed revisions. But as I was biking over to my friend's house for a dinner-and-writing date, my Muse freakin' jumped me. Treacherous wench! And I mean that in the nicest possible way...

Biking is good for you. It's low-impact, unlike jogging, so your knees don't suffer; it's aerobic if you push yourself a little, which is good for the heart; and, while you bike, there is nothing to do whatsoever except think. And if you're a writer, sometimes your mind starts churning through the work in progress. Which my mind did. And what it came up with was something absolutely perfect for what I'd begin thinking of as "the big kiss scene."

Couple of tangents there.

First: If your two male leads fall in love with each other by the end of the book, and you want this to be a surprise to the reader despite all the really obvious hints you've been dropping, you cannot simply rely on "No one expects it of two guys!" It's 2008, for crying out loud. Same-sex relationships may not be universally accepted (cf. CA Proposition 8), but they're pretty universally known. You need something else to make your character's budding romance a surprise. Like, I dunno, character development or something. Basically, you want your plot not to look stupid when we enter that day and age where readers bring to the page that simple, unspoken understanding that any two (or three, or four) characters can have romantic potential. That day and age, if not here already, are coming soon. (And I'm really happy about that!)

Second: I'm really beginning to regret naming the secondary character "Rocket." There's a good reason for it, but it still sounds like a porn star name to me. Which becomes damnably silly if the guy's story arc is going to take a romantic turn. (Do arcs take turns? Hrm.) Maybe I can defuse this a bit by having Timothy make fun of it when he first meets him. "'Rocket'? Are you kidding? That's fucking stupid. I mean, overcompensate much?"

Anyway. Back from the tangents to the whole point of this post, which is this: A bite of candy is good to get you moving, but eating all your candy at once might leave you bereft of inspiration tomorrow.

You know what a candy-bar scene is? Holly Lisle coins this phrase in her excellent essay, How To Finish A Novel:

It's one that you're just itching to write -- something sweet enough that you can dangle it on a stick in front of yourself so that you can say, "When I've done these next three chapters, I'll get to write that one.
And oh my Gods yes, the "Big Kiss Scene" was absolutely a candy bar. I'd visualized it enough to know exactly how it was going to go down. I'd built up the dialogue in my head, blocked out the body language, and put implications of plot significance liberally all throughout. But I wouldn't let myself write it yet for two reasons. First, any time I skip forward in a novel, I end up writing from a more uninformed position than I'm comfortable with. I don't yet know everything that went before, and anything that goes before can necessitate changes in what comes after. I wanted to get there by driving, not by instantaneous teleportation. And, second...
Make sure your candy-bar scenes are spread out through the book, not all clumped together. Write down a single sentence for each of them. Don't allow yourself to do anymore than that, or you'll lose the impetus to move through the intervening scenes.
If you feed the donkey the carrot, you don't have the carrot anymore. You need a new carrot! The candy-bar scene is your carrot, and you need to keep some in reserve.

Well, my mind and/or my Muse played a mean trick on me Monday night. They found a looming problem in my existing plan for the Big Kiss Scene--a problem that arose due to the surprising turn the story took this weekend--and then it/they solved it so elegantly (if I may flatter myself) that the Big Kiss Scene wouldn't get the hell out of my head until I'd just freakin' written it down.

So I did.

And the scene is OK, but now it's gone. I wrote it. I need more candy and I have none!

Also, since I skipped a good 5,000 words of character development and action that should intervene between where I left off and where the Big Kiss Scene happens, I have in my head a terrible impression of bad pacing and out-of-character behavior that threaten to make the Big Kiss seem, well, kinda silly. It doesn't matter that I'm going to fix that by writing the intervening words; the impression is in my head now. This makes thinking up those words difficult.

It's like web design, for me. I am terribly, terribly impressionable. My team lead where I used to work liked to brag on me a little, telling people how, when I interviewed for the job, "Niki totally passed the HTML test with flying colors programming blind!" It's not because I'm that good. It's that I'm that susceptible to first impressions. The test involved a web page layout of sufficient complexity that I really had to get most of the code down before I could allow myself to look at the results. If I get the unfinished, terrible, disjointed, badly laid-out result in front of my face, I'm going to have a hard time finishing the job. The unfinished image will take precedence over the desired finished product in my head. So, yeah, I built a fairly complex table layout with rounded corner graphics and stuff mostly blind, but that's because I'm not good enough to do it looking every step of the way.

So I try to make my rough drafts fairly presentable so that my later revision efforts aren't stymied by having a bad first impression of what I wrote. It's also why I have a hard time getting started in the first place; I'm terrified of "ruining" a valuable story idea by putting it down on the page wrong.

Today I am avoiding the issue entirely by scrolling backwards and rewriting the opening. There's a bunch of implied off-stage action that could be brought on-stage: Rocket becoming aware of the "new penny" situation and driving off to fulfill his role as mentor, Timothy finding the coin and teleporting for the first time, stuff like that. Also Timothy's back-story: how his past shaped his present anti-social, foul-mouthed self. And, speaking of him being all anti-social, how that character note reconciles with him being the one to lecture Rocket on their responsibility to ordinary human beings. Stuff like that. Also, at the place where I left off, Timothy's about to try to cook breakfast in a kitchen that suddenly isn't connected to a municipal electricity grid, and he's going to realize that there isn't a lot of firewood around to be gathered. Their stay in the setting of Beowulf (post-dragon) is limited. Which will be fun for the characters to discover and argue over.

So I guess I'm not stuck. Just... feeling really silly in the morning. Which is how writing anything the least sexy or transgressive leaves me, so, no big deal. Right?

But I still need to re-stock on candy.

In Which I Entertain Myself, or "Writing: Ur Doin It Rite"
Mon 2008-11-17 15:21:50 (single post)
  • 32,691 words (if poetry, lines) long

Writing is an occupation with very few instances of external positive feedback. At least, for the beginning/amateur/unpublished writer. You're functioning in a vacuum most of the time. Sometimes you send out a story, and most of the time it comes back with a rejection letter attached. If you're lucky, the rejection letter says something like, "Sorry we couldn't use your story this time. It's really well-written and we hope you will continue to think of us." But most of the time the writer has to look inside for confirmation.

This, by the way, is one reason that peer critique groups might be popular. It isn't just the pragmatic necessity of getting comments from someone who doesn't already have the story living in their brain; it's also the chance to get someone in the real world to say, "Hey, this is good stuff. It has some flaws you need to fix, but you know what? You really are a writer."

That's my theory, anyway. A theory. The one I'm working on today.

Internal positive feedback comes in several flavors, most of which a writer has to discover herself. The most common one, I've found, is the simple enjoyment of the process. Writing is quite definitely work, but it is often fun too, especially in the rough draft phase. Which is something NaNoWriMo has going for it. NaNoWriMo is all about rough draft and having fun. And the fun comes in a bunch of flavors itself: the fun of telling a story no one else has heard yet because you made it up; the fun of knowing you can tell a story, that you are capable of inventing stuff whole cloth out of your head; the fun of being surprised when characters do something unexpected, or, if you prefer to sound less insane than that, the fun of suddenly having an unexpected idea about what your characters should do.

Me, I think the insane-sounding stuff is fun precisely because it sounds insane. Hell, I believe in magic. With or without a k at the end. I converted to Wicca partly out of a rebellion against the mundanity of the world: "The Goddess is too alive and magic is too afoot, so there!" I will cheerfully tell you that I expected yesterday's portion of the story to go one way, but that my characters had another plan, and if you tell me that my characters cannot have a plan because they are not real, I will blow a raspberry at you because they are too real, so there, thththbbbp!

For instance, here's what happened yesterday. Here was my plan. I expected Rocket to throw a tantrum and storm out when he couldn't convince Timothy not to get himself killed taking on the bad guy. I had his speech all thought out in my mind: "Fine. Fine! But if you think I'm going to stick around and watch you die, you can just keep thinking." Then he'd stomp out the door and not show up again until later on that night when he would try one desperate last time to change Timothy's mind.

That's what I expected to happen. But when I got to that point, Rocket did something else. He tossed aside ethical considerations and attractive melodrama, and instead brought the full power of his "What I say is true" supernatural ability to bear on Timothy, forcing him instantaneously to teleport them both the hell away from the bad guy. Then, to prevent him simply teleporting back once his magical influence had faded, he punched him out. And then a dragon nearly fried them both to a crisp, because, being given no time or free will to choose one location over another, Timothy had teleported them to somewhere that didn't actually exist. Or, rather, that existed in the same way that I think Timothy and Rocket exist. Which is to say, it was fictional. And the dragon was the one which Beowulf was going to kill himself slaying shortly afterward.

I was watching the New Orleans Saints pound the crap out of the Kansas City Chiefs at the time, and sitting next to a good friend who was doing her thesis on Beowulf. These circumstances may have influenced the punching-out part and the dragon part. Hard to say.

So that's part of the fun: being surprised by your characters. But later that evening I was surprised by another sort of writer enjoyment: realizing that my own half-written novel was living in my head the way a published novel does. You know that feeling? You get halfway through reading that book, you have to set it aside so you can get to work on time or whatever, and the story stays in your head, niggling at you: What happens next? You can't wait to get home, to read the next page, to be in the company of the characters you've been following...

Well, I was feeling that way about my novel yesterday. Even after I reached 30,000--ten thousand words in a weekend! go me!--and I was taking a well-deserved break with Puzzle Pirates and blogs, that niggling thing was happening. The part of my brain that gets addicted to experiences easily--the part that imagines me playing more Puzzle Pirates when I ought to be writing--that part of my brain was imagining the story even while I was trying to take a break from writing it.

The scene I'd stopped in the middle of, not knowing what comes next? It kept resurfacing in the back of my addled little brain. I wanted to know what happened next. And it wasn't that I wanted to figure out what happened next, being the writer and all. I wanted to turn the page and find out what happened next, like a reader.

And that's cool. Cool and fun.

Which is all I really wanted to say today.

NaNoBlogging: We Can Has 25K+ At Halfway Point!
Sat 2008-11-15 20:32:25 (single post)
  • 26,320 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I've been doing that NaNoWriMo thing this year. I haven't been blogging about it mainly because I haven't really had a lot to say. I mean, beyond what I've been saying on the Colorado::Boulder regional forums. Most of my non-novel-writing energy has gone toward being active there, 'cause I gotta, what with the whole Municipal Liaison thing.

It's a weird and happy thing. Every year I get scared of the responsibility involved in this volunteer "fearless leader" position. I think, I must be crazy, thinking I can write a 50K-word novel and be a cheerleader and go-to resource person for everyone else in the Boulder area doing the same thing. I think, I'm going to let everyone down, I just know it. And then November 1 comes around, and suddenly everyone else is being such a boundless font of energy and excitedness that I find my job consists mainly of keeping up with them. The forum erupts in write-in suggestions and discussion topics, and my role is pretty much to participate, keep an eye out for questions that need answers, and officialize the events everyone else is setting up by pasting them into the calendar. And to send out the odd infrequent regional email.

Which is to say: Boulder NaNoWriMo participants rock.

Which is a good thing, because this year has been challenging on the novel front. Like I mentioned before, my stock of novel ideas mysteriously ran out. I went to the pantry, so to speak, and it was bare. So for the first time I have been writing my way through November by the seat of my pants. Driving by my headlights on an unlit highway, able to see only the next few feet at any one time.

My starting point was, as I said, the character sketch involving two guys leaving a bagel shop. I have come a long way since then. (Hell, I've come a long way since last night, when at 9:00 PM I had only 16,666 words. This weekend I am totally living inside my novel.) When I try to remember how little I knew on November 1st about these two men, I get a little flustered trying to reconstruct how I got from there to here. I mean, consider where I started:

"They're running away from some supernaturally scary pursuer or predator. The main character found this talisman thing. It does something. They have to do something with it before the pursuit catches up."
Fifteen days later, my understanding is somewhat more fleshed out:
"When Timothy finds an old silver penny in the desert, his life turns on a dime. Suddenly he has a deadly enemy, an inscrutable ally, and a strange newfound ability to leap from place to place with the flip of a coin. As he learns more about what he's running from and where he's headed, he makes a decision that may cost him his life, or may free others like himself from a two-hundred-year scourge. Or both; this coin needn't land on just one side at a time."
That's the synopsis I wrote today and pasted up on my NaNoWriMo.org profile when I also pasted in the new and improved title, Like A Bad Penny. (On The Run With Rocket was just a working title, which you can tell by how dumb it sounds. It wasn't much more than a single-clause summary of what I knew was going on: the main character was fleeing for his life in the company of a mysterious, scary guy called Rocket.)

And the thing is, that's not a synopsis--that's a back-cover blurb. The "inscrutable ally" is Rocket, a mentor figure who has the ability to say things (like, "The moon is made of green cheese," or "that space shuttle is totally going to explode") and make them true. The "deadly enemy" is another person-with-superpowers gone horribly wrong, who preys on newly awakened powers. Rocket thinks the quest is just to keep the main character, Timothy, safe, until he's totally assimilated his abilities and matured out of the reach of the predator. Timothy, once he knows what's going on, decides his quest is actually to defeat the predator once and for all. Meanwhile there's a damsel in distress, there's shameful secrets, there's possibly a troubled childhood, and enough tension between the main characters that the slash-fic damn near writes itself. In fact, I may up writing it myself, which either nips the slash-fic potential right at the source or else invites the writing of slash-fic that's more explicit than what I intend to include in the book (but not likely more explicit than what is in my head and will stay there, never to see the light of day, thank you very much). Which is not anyone's concern until such time as this thing becomes published and widely read. Which, of course, is the Big If which we are not concerning ourselves with now.

It's been an enjoyable ride. I'm almost sorry that I know where the second half of this book is going, because the process of discovery has been fun. Madcap, panic-making, tightrope-like, but fun. I suspect I shouldn't mourn the discovery phase just yet; I don't think the remaining action will fill 24K words. So there's probably a sub-plot I haven't discovered just yet.

I hope those of y'all reading this who are also participating in NaNoWriMo are having as much fun as I am!

Finishing One Project (very soon now, promise!) And Starting Another
Sun 2008-11-02 16:36:34 (single post)
  • 1,728 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 8,702 words (if poetry, lines) long

(See, there, I nearly did that "disappearing in a puff of shame" thing again.)

It's November 2nd. What's your word count? Yes indeed, it's that time of year: National Novel Writing Month! And we had a huge handful of local and not-so-local participants come over for the traditional all-nighter kick-off party. Great conversation! Great food! And, starting at midnight, great productivity! I don't think any participants who attended left having written anything less than 1200 words.

This was, of course, why I knew I'd get nothing whatsoever done on the StyleCareer.com project on Friday. After I got home from work (for the last time), I had a lot of cleaning up and prep cooking to do. Then people came over, and it was no use thinking about anything but NaNoWriMo.

It was Samhain, by the way. John and I celebrated Samhain by filling out our ballots together over dinner. Symbolic, that. Out with the old, in with the new! Our contribution to turning over a new leaf for the new year!

So I did in fact reach and slightly surpass my daily 1667 for Day 1. Then, after everyone went home and I puttered around the vast Internets for a while, I went to bed. At 5:00 AM.

Saturday I got nothing at all done towards anything at all. I slept and read and slept and read. I went to a NaNoWriMo write-in, and did nothing more than smile, hand out stickers, and try to stay awake. We call this "all-nighter recovery."

So now I'm sacrificing NaNoWriMo Day 2 in order to finish up the StyleCareer.com project. My editor granted me an extension, and I am not going to ask for another one. I'm still feeling terrible at how little I got done on Thursday. How does one go into the Denver Public Library with the intention of working, but in fact end up reading web comic archives for four hours? I kept thinking to myself, "Just another few minutes. Then I'll start." And, "I really should start. Why am I not starting?" Click. Click. Not to over-dramatize my particular indulgence in the doldrums, but it's these sorts of shameful, stupid afternoons that bring me closest to possibly understanding what it's like to live with depression.

I thought hard about finishing the project via an all-nighter Thursday, but not only would that result in a much too rushed product, but then I'd be in terrible shape for the planned all-nighter Friday. Of course, now I may be looking at an all-nighter tonight, but that's not nearly as bad. I slept a lot yesterday, and I have nowhere to be tomorrow. Nothing scheduled. Hell, I can be a nocturnal writer now, if I want. I'm a free woman!

So that's the status report. There will quite likely be another one in the wee hours.

Enough about that. It's NaNoWriMo, did I mention? This year, for the first time, I have no idea what I'm writing. Nearly none. I'm out of ready-made novel plots! How did this happen? This past year has been a terrible one for ideas--I've let myself get out the habit of producing them. Been trying to fix that lately, though. Been going on writing dates with a friend, forcing myself to stay in the notebook or word processor just a little longer than I think I can. One Monday morning a few weeks back, I started a character sketch describing a man I saw exiting the bagel shop, and the character turned into one of two guys on a road trip, on the run from a mysterious, scary, supernatural something or other that was tracking them across the country. So that's where my Day 1 words went: imagining how that story might have started. Hopefully, the Muse will be kind, and She'll keep feeding me enough of the story each day so that I'll reach the end of it by November 30.