19 November 2010

The Write Life

I'm sitting in Border's with my large iced tea (extra ice), trying to get caught up with my NaNo project for this year. I'm woefully a good 12,000 words, I think. It's not all that important to be right on target, because in the end what I want to wind up with is a decent story, not just 50,000 words, but... yeah, I kinda want that dorky PDF You're a Winner! certificate.

But...I'm sitting here with my iPad and bluetooth keyboard, which tends to attract a bit of attention. Usually people just want to know about the iPad, a few want to know about keyboard, and just about everyone wants to know how much this setup costs. Most of the time I want to snark, "More than you can afford, sunshine," but I think that has mre to do with 1) wanting to be snarky, and 2) for some odd reason wanting to call everyone "sunshine" lately. I don't know why.

But today there's a group of writers doing the same thing I'm doing (ok, they're engaging in NaNo activities...I don't guess that all of them are writing a blog post right now.) At first they wanted to know about the iPad because hell, it's easier to lug around than a laptop, and with the right app you can also move your work to your computer later for more thorough editing.

Yes, it's tres spiffy.

But the curiosity over the iPad quickly waned and discussion about the things we're working on ensued. A couple of overacheivers have surpassed 50K and are on their way to a full length novel. A couple are struggling to hit 20K. All are excited to talk about what they're working on.

I admit, I was feeling a ltitle squirrely about saying I was working on the 5th book in a series, but after some prodding, I talked about it. The assumption was that I'd been doing NaNoWriMo every year and those were my efforts, and oh, wouldn't it be nice to someday see all our books in print?

That's when the kid who has my ice tea perfected piped up from the counter, "Oh her books are published!"

Now, when something like this happens, there are a few things sure to follow, right after I bludgeon the tattle tale with my tea-wet bendy straw. Sometimes I get bombarded by questions about finding an agent, what rights did I sell, AM I RICH?!?! and WILL YOU READ MY BOOK? and to be honest, it's a little weird to say, "Don't be impressed...I own the publishing company."

Sometimes I get asked about the editing process. I tell them my editor consumes Carnation Instant Bitch for breakfast every morning, and that she's meaner than mean...but she gets the job done. And then, no I won't hook you up. I want her to keep liking me.

The ones who are truly interested in writing and not the possibility of a contract with a $500,000 advance ask about the writing itself. The process. How do I work? Where do my ideas come from? How do I choose first person over third? Do I edit as I go along or do I write from a stream of consciousness and edit later?

These kids (they're all about they're kids) fall into the latter group. They could have cared less about my income or connections; they wanted to know about what it's like to be a writer...and seemed genuinely surprised that in my book (no pun intended) they already are writers.

You write, you're a writer.

As simple as that. (Ha...yes, that was intentional.)

So we sat here talking and there wasn't much writing being done. And that's all right, it's not like my manuscript is going to commit suicide if I don't add another 5000 words to it today. But eventually, the talk about frustrations and not quite grasping outlining and plot versus character driven works turned into, "Please. Will you look at this and tell me why it's not working? Just this chapter. Please?"

I hate doing that. Mostly because I hate telling people the truth about something they've poured themselves into. It was kind of hard to say no, though.

So I read. And inwardly I cringed. The truth is that it wasn't working because it was mundane; it was boring on a level of boredom I rarely experience. The thing is, I could see what she was trying to do and where she was trying to go with it, but there was just so much. Writing is painting pictures with words, but there is such a thing as TMI. There are things better left to the readers' imaginations.

So I began pointing out some things that needed to be edited out in order to tighten the story (but after NaNo, since word counts count here...) The things were simple: a monotonous section describing the character flossing, for example.

"But those are things real people do," she tried to say. "And you write what you know, so..."

Real people floss their teeth, yes. But real people also sit at the dinner table and eat; real people defecate; real people pick their noses and a few eat the treasures they find. That doesn't mean the reader wants a detailed description about how many times the character chews his food, unless it lends something to the story. Readers don't necessarily want to read about how well or ill-formed a character's poop is unless they've been poisoned and it's a part of the plot. And unless the character is a child or someone elderly whose filters are gone, I can't imagine wanting to read about someone eating boogers.

Real people do boring things; we either write them in a way that makes them not boring, or we leave them out.

Mostly, we leave them out.

Luckily, she got where I was coming from. And perhaps not so luckily, I gave someone else an idea for one of their secondary characters, an old woman in a hospital bed; she thinks it would be wickedly funny if the protagonist, on visiting her, finds her digging in her nose and popping what she mines right into her mouth without a second thought about it.

Glad to be of service.

I don't often spend much time contemplating what it's like to be a writer, and what that might mean to someone who wants to be where I am, even if it's not under contract to one of the Big Six. When I think about it, I guess it would be like me sitting down with someone who is playing in the big leagues. I do know several writers who are (and frankly, they're not thrilled to know a whole bunch of indie writers outsell them regularly...) but to sit down with someone who's not just there but there? If I could get my brain to engage I think I'd be asking questions, too.

The problem would be getting my brain to engage. I doubt it would.

I really am quiet in person.


So. Now I get back to work, unless someone starts talking again, which seems likely, because holy crap, these people like to talk.

(Oh phfttt you know I enjoy it.)

I am sooo not winning NaNo this year...


kmilyun said...

Ok your snarky comment is true I can not afford it but then again I can not afford floss right now either.


Lemon Stand said...

"...I tell them my editor consumes Carnation Instant Bitch for breakfast every morning, and that she's meaner than mean...but she gets the job done..."

OK, that was pretty darn funny and such an apt description of my darling daughters at least once a month... unless it's CHOCOLATE Carnation Instant Bitch... then I get a slight reprieve while they ask where I hid it...

I have a daughter who attempts the NaNoWriMo every year. She's a writer. Period. She wants to teach English Literature one day to High School aged students... preferably in England. :)

I love to write, but it's to dump out the contents of my brain. The only place I want my writing published is on my blog. I know I am the epitome of boring, so it never hurts my feelings if someone doesn't like what I write, or how I write it. There is always an 'x' box to close out my web page.

Now, the iPad and wireless keyboard is a different story... I am green with jealousy...

Angel and Kirby said...

At least you had someone that really wanted advise!

Camie's Kitties said...

For NaNo, do you have to be working on a story, or does any writing count? Because, if any writing counts, you just added another 1,200 + words to your total.


Thumper said...

Technically, you're supposed to be working on a novel... technically...

Shaggy, Scooby and Scout said...

The writing life fascinates me.I'm a reader from a family of readers (ie: piles of books all over the place) Getting a Kindle or Nook for Christmas sure would solve the problem of no place for new bookshelves! And the problem of how many books can I fit into my backpack for the mid winter vacation without throwing out my back. The idea of lugging books around seems so primitive now, but as all true readers say: the tactile feel of having a book on one's hands is part of the pleasure.
I recently bought a fine book from Library of America called "American Writers at Home." Gorgeous pictures of the private homes of 21 of America's greatest writers with biographical stories of how "home" shaped the way they wrote. I especially like the pictures of their studies and writing desks. Beautiful book, it has a contemplative feel to it.

Thumper said...

Once you've used a good e-reader, you get over the whole "reading is a tactile experience" thing. You still have it, it's juts different. And being able to change the font size...awesome.

I freaking love my Kindle...and the Kindle app on my iPad. I think I read a whole lot more now than I did before...

Shaggy, Scooby and Scout said...

And... the e-books are so darn cheap!!!
Amazon sent me a promo on the new generation Kindle G3 priced $189 last month. I really really want this! Lynne

Shaggy, Scooby and Scout said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Furry Bambinos said...

So, it sounds like you may have groupies! ;-)

Seriously, I think I am a writer's groupie. I love to read, and as a child, the first thing I ever wanted to be was a writer. Which is why I think I like cat blogging so much - it fulfills my inner creative writer. I became a "scientist" because math and science came easy to me, while I really struggle to understand great literature.

Posts like this one inspire the inner writer in us all. Thanks.

Mom Sue to The Furry Bambinos

craziequeen said...

Hi Thumper - just stopping by to say Happy Thanksgiving to you and the Spouse Thingy and the Boy - not forgetting Max and Buddah of course!