All Posts Filed in ‘after

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A for-realsies blog. FOR REALSIES.

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After has been going better than it has been in months. A while ago, I said something about it to a friend and she said, “oh, so you’re still writing it?”

Yes, I’m still writing it.

I’ve just stopped talking about it, because I ran out of ways to spin my lack of progress.

I’m about to start my first draft again, from the start. It’s maybe the 6th or 7th time I’ve done so, but I’m hoping that this time might be the last. I’ve thrown out or can’t use over a hundred thousand words of material. It’s frustrating, and it’s depressing, and there were a few months there were I was frighteningly close to hating the whole project. But I’ve never stopped writing – and I have no intention of that changing.

One of the walls of my bedroom is covered in post-its. I have spreadsheets and documents and flow-charts and note cards, and I still – almost a year later – don’t know how my first act should run. So I write it, and I write it, and I write it. So far, one scene – the first scene I ever wrote, months and months ago – is the only scene that stays constant. Months ago I was blogging about trying to find the feel of the universe, and in some ways, I’m still there. Some days it feels like, if nothing else, I’ll surely eventually exhaust all the ways this story shouldn’t go.

I hope so. I don’t know for sure, but I feel close. What I wrote this week – every day after work in the library – feels real. The worst part is that once I get out of the first act, I have a solid outline. I how the rest of the story goes, I just can’t work out how to get these people colliding in the right ways – and how to make the prose feel the way their world feels in my head.

But I’m closer.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it is. I always think of Patrick Rothfuss, who said — roughly — in response to fan complaints about how long it was taking him to write The Wise Man’s Fear, “You know I have to make all of it up, right?”

Honestly, it’s huge. I’m excited.

It’s funny, at this point, three years in, really knowing what it means to write a novel. To still want to write novels. To have a job where I’m paid – well – to write stuff that, if not all that interesting, is definitely satisfying, and know that I’d still rather be sweating and agonising over my laptop. Ruining my posture and my eyesight and my social life for people who don’t exist.

The idea of the tortured writer, hunched in a dark room with a bottle of whiskey and their own misery, probably holds a grain of truth. It’s a satisfying process – an amazing, rewarding, incredible process – but it’s not a fun one, a lot of the time. You struggle through the horrible days where you’re grinding out horrible words you know you’ll delete tomorrow, to get to the days where something clicks, or surprises you, or a recalcitrant character starts to talk back. Those days are incredible. On those days, I remember why I do this. Nothing else – nothing else – feels as good as that. My stomach churns and my hands shake. I get so excited I feel physically sick.

It’s a drug, essentially. And sometimes the hardest part is that I can’t share it with anyone – I can’t show you how it feels, and no one in my life will ever be able to be part of those moments, or feel it with me. The best moments of my life are always going to happen on my own.

Which is okay.

But just because I’m not talking about it doesn’t mean I’ve given up, or ever will give up. The opposite.

It doesn’t sound like the most positive recommendation, I know. It’s not really. There’s a reason that so many published authors’ top piece of writing advice boils down to “If you can do anything else, do that instead.” The idea of novel-writing as this creative fiesta, a giant free-for-all of conjunctions and characterisation, is as crazy as the maudlin drunk crying over a typewriter. Writing a novel, producing hundreds of pages of carefully structured story, is more science than art, and more slog than science. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly master a skill, and at this point, I’d tell you that even more than creativity and talent, it takes being pedantic, more than a little obsessive, and obstinate to the point of insanity.

But most of all, it needs to be in you. It needs to be part of you. You need to have no choice.

So that’s where I’m at. And right now it’s kind of awesome.

—–

NB: all quotes not ACTUAL quotes, as I’m WAY too lazy to find sources. The second one is definitely attributed to David Foster Wallace at least, but I also feel like Maureen Johnson has said it well too. WHERE she might have said it is a MYSTERY. Everyone loves a mystery!

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Emily and I are pretending we might go somewhere other than Sweet Mother’s for dinner tonight. Which is cute of us, but ultimately pointless.

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I have a secret, internet. I have been avoiding you. I wouldn’t cross the street if I saw you coming or anything, but I might have been letting your calls go to voicemail. The truth is there’s only one way to say this, so here it is:

MY CAR. BROKE DOWN. THE DAY. AFTER I TOLD YOU. IT WAS FIXED.

And it was! Because what I have now is an entirely NEW problem! An expensive and complicated one that has rendered my car entirely useless until I find a money tree or some magic beans.

LESS THAN 24 HOURS LATER. SERIOUSLY.

This is what I get for telling life to suck it. Okay, universe. You win.

—–

I have another secret: I haven’t written anything in a week and a half. This is out of control ridiculous — I haven’t had a week and a half away from a novel in almost two years. It feels weird. It’s itching at me like a phantom limb, and I feel simultaneously guilty and like I’m getting away with something. Like I’m playing hooky from myself.

But man, I need this break.

After is a strange experience for me. It’s ambitious — I’m constantly terrified it’s too ambitious. It’s big and weird and, maybe most importantly, it’s my BIG IDEA.

It’s that idea that’s rattles around in the back of your head for years. The one that pokes at you when you’re trying to sleep. The one you think of when you see a movie you like; that has a soundtrack and a mood and its dust on your boots. The one with the characters you’re too invested in and the world you sometimes dream in. The one that words will never be enough for.

And right now, I hate it. It still doesn’t feel right. The characters don’t talk right. Nothing is happening the way I want it to, because nothing CAN happen the way I want it to. This idea has been around for five years, in one form or another, and it’s taken those five years to sneak up on it and pin it down and wrestle it into a story. And now I have to wrestle that story into clauses and constructions and paragraphs and chapters? That’s scary.

That’s FUCKING TERRIFYING.

The thought that I don’t have the skill to do this, that I’m not good enough or experienced enough to do this — that thought has been pretty much constant lately. And that thought makes me want to vomit. And then die. And then vomit again. Looking at my own words has been making me cold sweat. I know enough to know that I have permission to suck in this first draft, these first chapters. I know that every author is only doing their best to limit how much they fuck up their story in transcription. I know that.

And yet.

So I’m taking a break. At a certain point, it seems like all you can do is back off. Leave your characters to their own devices and live your life, and wait to see if you miss them.

And right now, today, I do.

I’m glad. And relieved. And a little nauseous.

I want to know what they’ve been doing without me; how they’re feeling about the shitstorm we’ve been through. I want to know if I can leave these first 10,000 words THE FUCK ALONE and move on, since I’ve now written them four or five times. I have to trust that as we get deeper, as their voices get clearer, I’ll suck less. And when I get to the end, when all the bones of this thing exist in a tangible way, THEN I can make it good.

—–

Sometimes, in weeks like this, I wonder seriously if I’m going to quit. If I’m one of the people who isn’t cut out for this — who doesn’t have the drive or the stones to see it through. Sometimes that seems like it would be a relief.

But… I don’t write by choice. It’s a choice to stay disciplined, to focus on achieving something, but there are words inside me all the time, bubbling up, stringing themselves together. The only option I really have is how I use them. I haven’t worked on After in over a week, but I’ve still written. It feels like purging to me, like emptying out. I blog, I journal, I email like it’s a competitive sport. I narrate EVERYTHING. I have a sneaking suspicion that words are the only way I can process the world.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that it’s not just that I want this. I LOVE this. I AM this.

And if my biggest problem is that I love this story so much I’m actually scared to write it, then I’m probably not doing so badly.

—–

Things may be quiet this month — I’m heading away this weekend, and things are crazy busy at work for the next few weeks. But even if we do not talk, internet, please know that I am THINKING OF YOU ALWAYS. And I like you very much.

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Afterverse!

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So, Buffy and Supernatural are both shows in which good-looking people fight monsters. The same themes and scenarios (and actors) turn up in both of them, but the Winchesters’ universe is dark and damp and vaguely 70s; all blue-collar bars and classic rock. Sunnydale is bright and quirky and compact — the people there go to the mall and watch TV and wear colours. Even though Supernatural is the newer show, an iPod feels out of place there in a way it wouldn’t on Buffy… and on Buffy, the Impala would be a joke.

As much as I need Faith and Dean to hook up (and, believe me, I do), they don’t inhabit the same world.

I have the outline for After, the this-then-that. The characters are up and moving. Coco has a delightfully foul mouth. Lucas always has his foot in his. I thought Jamie was going to be cool because Jamie thinks he’s cool, but it turns out no one else is buying what he’s selling.

I’m writing, but mostly in circles. I still don’t know how their world feels.

(Tense, POV and style are all facets of this, but I’m not talking about voice here. Voice — although obviously influenced by what you like and steal and are motivated by — isn’t something I think you can engineer. It develops as you do, but you can’t consciously affect it without sounding like a stunted douchebag. The tense I’m writing in changes the atmosphere of the story, but I can’t decide to write like Elmore Leonard or Meg Cabot any more than I can grow a tail.)

I know it’s hot there. Dry and barren and broken-down. There’s crows and sun-bleached bones and carcasses by the side of the road. People ride horses and carry guns on their hips. There are tattoos and long-fingered trees and rusted-out cars. I know those things, but I can’t feel them yet. I’ve built their world, but I don’t inhabit it.

I went back and read some of Sparks the other night, just to remind myself that although the story may not have worked, I can, historically, write coherent English. The setting — the feeling — of that book centres it. Grounds it. Whitaker is an island that only exists in my mind, but I know how it feels to walk around there.

It helps that I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest. Whitaker is equal parts Deep Cove and Bowen Island, and it feels like the top of North Vancouver in October. It’s crows and firs and constant, half-hearted rain. The mist sits on the ground at night and gets tangled in the tops of the trees in the morning. Raspberry canes crowd out over the sidewalks and houses perch over streams or back into cliffs. In that world, everything is damp and heavy and lush. Everyone has an agenda. It’s seedy and unruly and slightly claustrophobic.

I wrote Sparks here, in New Zealand, mostly in summer. I don’t need to stand in a desert to write dry heat in cold rain, but I’m not comfortable in After’s world yet. I haven’t got the mood, the feel, the weight of it in my head. I wrote a whole sequence in a deserted suburban house before I realised that the house didn’t belong. I moved it outside and changed the tense and it started to click, but I’m still pushing the pieces around, looking for a way in.

It isn’t enough to build the architecture of a world — to know the rules and logic and history. You have to build an atmosphere. The setting and the characters should build on and inform each other, creating something bigger than the sum of the story’s parts. Creating a universe.

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In which I hump the universe’s leg.

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I am having one of those days. It’s Friday! I’m photoshopping pictures of bedridden elderly ladies for a scare-tactics hand hygiene campaign! I just ordered new jeans ON THE INTERNET, because that’s how I like to roll, folks. Rebelliously. A little bit dangerously. I probably cannot be trusted with your children or stemware. WATCH OUT.

—–

Dear running: let’s never break up again.

Last night, I got home from a quiz night with my mama around nine (NB: we won! Also, told you I was edgy!), clambered into bed to finish my bizarre bargain-bin book about magic pirates, and the next thing I knew it was 6am and I was cosily awaiting the arrival of my alarm feeling all well-rested and bushy-tailed. How often does that happen, you guys? Let me answer for you: THAT HAPPENS NEVER.

Here is a short summary of my usual sleeping habits, 1982-present:

10pm: I’m tired. Maybe I will go to bed soon.
11pm: Okay! In bed! Sleepy! This shit is going OFF!
12am: SO TIRED. What should I do tomorrow? LET ME JUST WRITE A LIST.
12:30am: GOD I AM SO TIRED. I wonder what would happen if character A did X instead of Y? Better write it down! Oh wait, gotta pee. That dog has been barking for ages. Maybe there’s an intruder! Maybe its owners are dead and no one has found their bodies!!
12:45am: Or maybe there’s about to be an earthquake. What would I DO if there was an earthquake?
1:15am: Five year earthquake-recovery plan complete! Better decorate my post-tragedy mansion…
1:45am: Okay, TIME TO SLEEP! Wait, I need a beach house! OTHERWISE WHERE WILL WE HOLIDAY?
2am: I’m sailing a boat! On the lake outside my completed beach house (I guess technically it’s a LAKE house now. Does that change the décor?). Ian Somerhalder is also in the boat! Mmm, sailing.
2:15am: Wait, I hate sailing. All your clothes get all wet and chafe-y and the boom of your tiny boat hits you in the face when you lose concentra…
2:30am: WAIT, WHAT IF CHARACTER A DID Y INSTEAD OF X?! I HAVE TO WRITE THIS DOWN! Oops, I wrote this down yesterday. Also, it makes no sense. MAN I WISH I WAS ASLEEP. But I can’t sleep because Ian Somerhalder wants to picnic outside the beach house and I need an outfit to picnic in. WHAT IS APPROPRIATE ATTIRE FOR PICNICKING LAKESIDE WITH IAN SOMERHALDER?
[…]
6am: I HATE EVERYTHING.

Here is the same summary, with hard cardio applied to it:

10pm: I’m tired. Maybe I will… ZONK.
[…]
6am: YAY, A DAY! MY FAVOURITE! WHEN DOES MY ALARM GO OFF? WHEN DO I GET TO GO TO WORK? WHY DON’T IAN SOMERHALDER AND I TALK ANYMORE?

—–

Dear Stephen King: I can’t believe I’m about to declare my love for another one of your books before I get to the end. Or, as you usually like to call it, the ‘I’m bored now. Magic trick!’-bit.

I’m listening to the audio book of Under the Dome. This is kind of a foolish book to listen to, since it’s four hundred thousand pages long, but I’m enjoying it so very much I hope it never ends! Ever! And not just because Stephen King is bound to ruin it in the last ten pages like he always does.

(Hand of freaking God my ass.)

That aside, Stevie K is amazing. He is probably my hero. I still haven’t read a lot of his horror books but when that dude is on, he is pretty much the king of everything. The dude is a master class in storytelling AND in writing: the best writing gets the fuck out of its own way. He writes SUCH solid prose, and I don’t think he gets nearly the credit he deserves for it.

I LOVE the way his worlds unfold on their own, tangling into these complicated, fantastic sprawls of ideas and images and characters that all feel like real people making bad decisions, even when there are aliens. That sense of discovery and exploration is also why he can’t end a book to save his life, but the ride is so goddamn good I can almost forgive him.

(Except for the Dark Tower books. We don’t mention the war.)

Under the Dome is Stevie K on top form — sprawling cast, rich world, so freaking readable you could chew on the pages. I’m only halfway through it, but I’m going to go WAY out on a limb and declare it better than The Stand.

Wait, what just happened?

—–

Dear After: be mine. xo, Katie.

I don’t want to jinx it by putting it in print, but OH MY GOD YOU GUYS, AFTER IS GOING SO WELL! I AM SO EXCITED!

YESTERDAY ONE CHARACTER SAID SOMETHING TO ANOTHER AND THEN EVENTS TRANSPIRED AND OMG, OMG, OMG, IT IS ALL SO AWESOME. JUST YOU WAIT.

I am on a STREAK with this thing. It is bound to end with me face-planting in a mountain of French fries and taking to my bed for several days when I realise I’ve written myself into a corner and the only way out is to start over or have everyone discover it was all a dream, but until then I am SO VERY HAPPY.

Words! Nine months of constant work and I finally get to play with ACTUAL WORDS!

YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW EXCITING THIS IS TO ME. More exciting than sailing with pretend Ian Somerhalder. More exciting than internet-jeans. MORE EXCITING THAN YOUR MOM.

Basically, the most exciting thing ever. The peak oil of excitement.

(Except hopefully my future writing career holds more than rising sea levels and economic collapse. That would be depressing.)

And anyway, if I get really stuck, there’s always THE HAND OF GOD.

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Now consulting on all matters of the undead!

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You guyssss, I need to say something funny here. BUT I’M DRY. My brother and his delightful co-host just called and asked me — in my position as the local zombie expert — to comment on the plot of some zombie musical theatre being put on in Northland. THERE ARE THESE KIDS, AND THEY GO ON AN ADVENTURE. AND THERE IS BOTH MYSTERY AND SELF-DISCOVERY, AND ALSO THE UNDEAD. PLUS A JEWEL MINING OPERATION. IN SONG. PROVIDE COMMENTARY FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC.

Thanks, Will and Jax. The joke is on you, because there is nothing amusing and off-the-cuff to be said about that particular confluence of events. I am jealous I didn’t think of it first, so I talked about the dude in America who cut off his own arm instead. THAT DUDE IS AMAZING.

It amuses me that when I am talking rubbish around here, I spend a lot of time concerned that no one will take me SERIOUSLY, and believe I have SERIOUS THOUGHTS about SERIOUS MATTERS, and thus spend their imaginary pennies on my imaginary novels. Which are mostly about people having hilarious conversations about nothing anyway (Kelly’s feedback on Sparks: Katie, people are not ALWAYS WITTY. The dialogue is too clever; I am struggling to feel their pain. Katie: BUT DID YOU LAUGH?), so it’s not like I am competing for a slice of the highbrow literary market, anyway. At least not until I wake up as Justin Cronin (is there a passage joke to be made here? I’ll leave that with you, internet).

Anyway. Then, when I stop blogging about, like, SALAD, and the dream I had about Puck last night — omg, Puck, that got KIND OF WEIRD, right? But, um, call me sometime anyway — I get all WHOA, I NEED TO LIGHTEN THIS MOTHER-TRUCKER UP, BEFORE THE INTERNET (hi internet!) REALISES I AM A JOYLESS BLOWHARD.

Where is the BALANCE, universe?

—–

So I wrote my first thousand words on Sunday. I felt pretty good about them until Monday, when I had to go to bed with the first season of Party Down until I stopped hyperventilating. On Tuesday, I thought about writing, and then I got slightly drunk instead. Yesterday I wrote my second thousand words, none of which take place in the scene they are meant for. It’s okay. A zombie apocalypse takes time. AND, APPARENTLY, SONGS ABOUT MINING.

I am not mocking the musical theatre, so we’re clear. It’s a high school production, and high school musicals are awesome, especially if they are about adventures and treasures and zombies, and even if they do not star Zac Efron. Mmm, Zac Efron.

—–

Later*: feminism, and why it is not a dirty word! Shoes! Recipes! Pictures of cute kids! A guaranteed abuse of capslock!

* Before the end of time. Followers of Mayan calendar: YMMV.

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Plotansering…

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I’m freaking out a little bit. I took the end of last week off work to finish my character work and get my ducks in a row to outline, and realised that after six solid months of planning and world-building, I pretty much have everything I need already. YOU GUYS, I COULD WRITE. LIKE. TOMORROW.

WORDS ON PAPER, IN SENTENCES. ACTUAL STORY.

Okay, so by ‘freaking out a bit’, I sort of mean FLIPPING MY SHIT. I’m flipping my shit.

For Sparks, I did a full outline before I wrote a word, and then I did a scene breakdown in a spreadsheet, to keep track of clues dropped and facts collected. Then I wrote the first chapter.

Then I re-wrote it.

For six months.

Then I got back to New Zealand and decided to get serious, and I finished it at a thousand words a day, seven days a week. I banned myself from editing. I banned myself from reading back over anything I’d previously written. If I made a change to a character or plotline, I left myself a note to change all the earlier references to it in editing, and kept going. I kept the document open and minimised at my current page, to prevent the temptation of scrolling past old words.

For After I’m going to try something different. I’m still going to write at a thousand words a day, because that seems to be my creative limit — at least while still working a 40-hour week. I’m still banning myself from reading back or editing as I go, because that way lies chaos and self-doubt and stalling. But I’m not going to do a full outline.

This feels a little like announcing I’m going to jump out of a plane without a parachute, which I genuinely think would be easier. I’m a planner, not a pantser. I can’t pants to save myself. I get overwhelmed and my words dry up and my characters don’t know who they’re supposed to be, and everyone is gripped by a paroxysm of inactivity on page 7 and — gasping — slowly chokes.

It’s always page 7, by the way. My mental leash is about 3,500 words long.

But that said, I had to have a rigid outline for Sparks. It was a mystery. Events had to spin themselves out in a certain way. But at the same time, the depth of my outline kinda bound the story up in itself — or, more, it bound the characters up in the story, and both of them suffered for it.

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

— E.L. Doctorow
(From this excellent post on the subject by Timothy Hallinan.)

What I am doing is a partial outline. I know roughly where the whole story ends, and where I want to take my characters in getting there. I’ve spent a lot of time and words getting to know who they are, and the world they live in. After has a three-act structure, and I have a rough outline for act one. From that, I’ve done a scene breakdown of the first sequence of act one. When I’ve written that, I’ll break down the next sequence —  I need to see how everyone copes with the first sequence to understand how the next one will play out, but I need some framework to keep me moving from A to B. I’m hoping this is going to be a compromise that works.

(All of this, non-writers, is extended code for ‘a lot of talking to myself’. Which is also what I’m doing with this blog post. Fun!)

So now I have to use my words. Scary. It’s been almost a year since I finished the first draft of Sparks. WHAT IF I DON’T REMEMBER HOW TO MAKE FICTION WORDS? And more importantly, WHAT IF THEY SUCK?

This idea, as long as it’s still an idea, is still perfect. I haven’t stuffed it into sentences that can constrain it or ruin it. It’s all beautiful, delightful potential. I can still believe I’m good enough to write EXACTLY WHAT I INTEND TO WRITE (belly laughs echo from all other writers ever to live). Wrestling a story out of your head is scary and slippery (and exciting, and daunting, and impossible). Part of not reading back over my work is giving myself permission for my first draft to suck as much as it wants — and part of it is avoiding knowing how much that is. But now, this bit, before the first words go down and the story becomes an entity in its own right; it’s hard not to feel daunted by that bit. I want it to be good. I want it to be PERFECT. Knowing it can’t be doesn’t stop that.

So even though I COULD write tomorrow, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll need to give me at least another week of dicking around before I get up the guts.

—–

In case it’s not completely obvious, all this process stuff is just what works for me — and that’s a work in progress itself. If I’ve learned one thing from the wider interwebs, it’s that everyone’s process is different. You have to be true to whatever works for you. Cherry-pick from any advice that sounds good, but you won’t know if it will work for you until you try it.