What I’m doing now: a month of revisions

I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but better late than never: Hey readers! At the end of November, I finally finished the first draft of the final book in the Resistance trilogy.

First draft of third book, Star Wars crawl edition.

A photo posted by A.J. O'Connell (@annjoc) on

It’s been a long time coming. The second book, The Eagle & The Arrow, was released just around the time I found out I was pregnant with my son. After that, I slowed down in the creativity department.

(I’d always assumed that pregnancy would be a time of quiet reflection and creativity for me. Yeah, no. It turns out that I, personally, cannot gestate a baby and a novel at the same time.)

Anyhow, now that the baby is no longer a baby, but a toddler, my third book is nearly finished. But it’s a draft, and my editor asked to see it by the end of this month. (Which is something I remembered at the end of last month.) So my big job this month is to revise that sucker, a set number of pages a time, through the month of February. I started this project February 2, and am more than halfway through with the revision. I’ve been doing it after work, and during nap times, and although sometimes it’s the very last thing I want to be doing after dinner, I’m amazed at how quickly this revision is moving along.

This is only the first step, though. I still need to read through the first and second books to make sure this book — written more than 10 years after Beware the Hawk was written and four years after the second one was written — makes sense. I’m dreading that part because I like reading my writing as much as most people like listening to recordings of their own voices.

 

This scene is terrible, and I’m not writing it.

fantasy shopping

Wizard shopping. Yaaaaay.

There’s a scene I have to write, but I’ve been dreading it.

It’s the kind of scene I hate reading, but it’s also seemed like the sort of scene I needed to write in order to connect important plot points.
Here’s the breakdown of what needs to happen: It’s a fantasy novel. A character needs warm clothes to go on to his next plot point. So he has to go shopping, but shopping would be a big deal for this particular character, so I have to address this. I can’t just skip it and say “he went shopping.”
But I do not want to write it. I’ve danced around writing it. I’ve brainstormed it. I’ve made little diagrams for it. When I wrote out the story beats for it, I wrote “make this scene FUN!” next to its bullet, as if writing an exclamation point on my outline would make this scene any more interesting. But no, it’s still a stupid scene. Just thinking of writing it makes me tired.

It’s not that I hate shopping. I like shopping. I like it a lot. I went shopping today, in fact. But shopping in fantasy settings? Eh. Those scenes have always seemed stilted and dull to me (yes, even the ones that take place in Diagon Alley).
I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because reading shopping and actually shopping are two very different experiences. Or maybe it’s because in a fantasy world, shopping often looks nothing like shopping in real life, so the author flounders around, trying to make up something plausible; A character walks into a tailor shop (is that even a thing?) and orders robes or is measured for clothes or whatever, and there’s a lot of stilted olde-timey fantasy talk, and if nothing happens to move the plot along, you can skim right over it.
Anyhow, If I’m bored by the very idea of writing this scene, why bother? Won’t the reader be bored by it as well?
So I decided something.

I’m just not going to write it.

My character doesn’t want to go shopping. I don’t want him to go shopping. So he’s not going. He can either freeze for a few chapters or he can steal something to wear and we can all move on with our lives.
It’s fine. He’s fictional. If he freezes, no one will actually get hurt. And even better, no one will be bored.

 

 

photo credit: Cauldrons, All Sizes via photopin (license)

A room of my own.

Virginia Woolf is famous for saying that a woman needs money and a room of her own if she’s going to write fiction. This week, I finally have a room of my own again.

It’s been almost a whole year since I packed my office up.

My son was no longer a newborn and needed to move out of our room and into his own space. So I packed up my writing books, my notes, 80,000 drafts of my novel, my office supplies, my Gandalf and Obi Wan Kenobi action figures and everything else I’ve managed to accumulate over the last 15 years of my career and moved my desk to a corner of our bedroom.

Then we moved, and I had my own room again, but since we moved during the holidays, all the boxes we didn’t want people to see got hidden in my office. Then my son’s playpen got moved in. And while it was a room, and mine, it was filled with crap, and I could find nothing in it.

Oh, you need to use the printer? YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

Oh, you need to use the printer?
YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

After a few months of working in this disaster, I took some time this week to find all the boxes that contained my office. I still don’t know where about 20 percent of my things are, but I found and unpacked most of them. (Including Gandalf. I losy Obi-Wan, but I like to think there’s a little blue action-figure Force ghost floating around in here.)

My office is back. I can find my notes. I can find my stapler and the extra ink for the printer. And most importantly, I have a room of my own again. It’s not perfect. The walls in here still need to be plastered and painted, which means I will have to move everything again. (I refuse to think of that right now.)

Now I just need some money.

Seven things about my writing that readers might want to know.

So, there’s this status going around writing circles right now on social media: “Seven things about my writing that readers might want to know.” I was tagged by a friend this morning, so I thought I’d do this here, on my blog, instead of Facebook.*

I’m not tagging anyone, but if you want to share your seven things after reading this, please do. Feel free to comment with a link to them, so I can read them. I’m curious.

Here are mine:

  1. It is difficult for me to complete any piece of writing. In fact, I have this irrational belief that it’s impossible for me to finish anything. I think that was one of the reasons I went into a newspaper job where I had to complete at least two stories a day.
  2. I resisted outlining for years, until recently, when I had no choice because I couldn’t afford to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike.
  3. I used to write 500 words of fiction a day. Now I schedule the days I will dedicate to fiction and which I will dedicate to journalism in advance.
  4. I can’t write fiction and non-fiction on the same day. My brain won’t do it without a fight.
  5. you-should-be-writing

    Shut UP.

    I hate it when other artists think they can tell you how to create. If someone tells you “writers write” or “you have to write every single day” or “you should be writing”  they’re probably well-intentionedly repeating their own mantras to you. They probably beat themselves over the head with those mantras, but that doesn’t mean they get to beat YOU over the head. Don’t listen to these people. No one can tell you how to make art.

  6. My fiction is always the richest when nothing exciting is happening in my own life.
  7. My son will probably be hearing the words “Just wait until Mommy finishes her chapter” for the rest of his life.

What are your seven things? Share them in the comments.

*I have strict rules for myself about chain letters and memes. I don’t usually participate and for 20 years, I’ve been guilt-free about ignoring them. Why? Because in my sophomore year of college, someone sent me the anti-chain letter and now, just by virtue of having read it, I am absolved for life of all guilt for not forwarding emails, not scrolling to the bottom of messages, not reposting statuses, not tagging people and not nominating people for online awards just because I was nominated.

On transitions in writing (or, avoiding a case of the “howevers.”)

Hey guys. Just a quick post to let you know that I have an essay up at Spry Literary Journal today as part of their ABCs of Fiction Writing series. My letter was J, so I wrote about junctures: the places where we join the pieces of our prose.

Check it out. And check out Spry. It is a very cool journal devoted to the short form. (One of the stipulations for writing this piece was that it had to come in at 1,000 words or less.)

Things you research while writing a thriller

Because I turn off my internet connection while I’m writing, I keep a written weekly list of the things I have to research for my books. And because I write political thrillers, the things I Google are pretty suspicious. Although, let’s be honest: nothing beats “where do senators park” search I did when I was writing The Eagle & The Arrow. I fully expected men in sunglasses to show up at my door for that one.

Here’s this week’s list of questionable things I’ve Googled while writing books for The Resistance Cycle:

Disposable cell phones – do they have cameras? Yes, they do.

Can you check into a hotel without a credit card? Sort of, depending on the hotel.

Okay then, how about a stolen card? The Internet says no, but I am skeptical because I believe the Internet doesn’t want to give me the tools to be a criminal. Listen, Internet, I already have a mother.

So wait. How do you use a stolen credit card without getting caught anyhow? Apparently it’s pretty labor-intensive. Scratch that plot point.

What are the protesters from Occupy Wall Street doing now? Lots and lots and lots of things. Or nothing. It depends on where you look. Guess I can make some stuff up then.

Beware the Hawk 3, or, my collection of crappy first pages.

It’s probably time for an update on my Beware The Hawk series.

It’s an update I’ve put off, because I am having some trouble with the last book.

It’s not that I’m not writing it. I am. I started writing months ago.

The problem is, I haven’t gotten very far, because for about six months, all I could write was the first page. I’m not even kidding: Every time I sat down to write, I looked at Page One, hated it, and wrote a new beginning.

I now have a collection of crappy first pages. They’re everywhere: in my journals, on my old laptop, on my new laptop, on my phone. I think I even dictated one to myself in the car. If the public were hungry for an anthology of bad first pages, I’d be booking readings right now.

Please allow me to share my very favorite crappy sentence from my very favorite crappy first page:

“I’m going to find that thing. I don’t know what it was. I don’t know what happened to it.”

That thing. Is it the plot? The narrative voice? The author’s train of thought? We may never know, because I have no memory of writing this line. It’s like that time I sleep-wrote half a page during NaNoWriMO.

Anyway, I am happy to report that, in the last two months, I finally managed to move beyond the collection of bad first pages, and am now creating something that looks like a story. It is slow going, because despite the fact that I write 100-page thrillers, I have some loose ends to tie up and some mysteries to solve and I want to do it well. (I can’t imagine what this same task must be like for George R. R. Martin, who writes 1,000-page monsters and juggles 31 point-of-view characters.)

I can tell you a few things about it so far:
– My working title for this project is Songbird.
– There is a new point-of-view character.
– I am trying for 500 words a day on this bad boy.

I cannot promise they will be good words, but I can promise that words will be written. And for those of you who have been asking, I can also promise semi-regular updates here.

Got questions about Songbird? Get at me.

Writing a serial novel is a crazy rollercoaster ride.

Dinoland_Logo_1Chapter 7 of DinoLand is live! It went up yesterday, but I had some obligations and couldn’t post about it here. So I’m posting today

Whew. To tell the truth, I really didn’t think I was going to get the chapter live this month.

Working on a serial novel is insane. It isn’t like writing a novel that will be presented as a whole: I’m not concerned with buffing and polishing the language to a high shine, and I only have a basic idea of what I need to do each month.

I have some very rough drafts and an outline of where I want the story to go, but that’s it. I never know exactly what the next chapter is going to be until two weeks before it goes live. I’m working right up against the edge of my deadline and incorporating what feedback I get (I’m open to feedback guys – email me. Message me. What do you want to see happen?)  It’s an exhilarating way to write, but it’s also exhausting.

Today, I am sitting down and revisiting my outline. I’ve learned that because I’m working serially, my pacing has to be different than it would be if I were working on a traditional novel. For example, I would probably spend two or three chapters on one character if I were writing a regular novel, but because I’m only putting out one chapter a month, I need to focus on one major plot point a month so that the readers don’t forget that certain things are happening.

I also need to repeat myself more: I might have mentioned that a character got her start selling hot dogs in Chapter One, but I need to say it again in Chapter 7 because new readers won’t have read Chapter 1, and readers who’ve been with me might not remember that detail.

I’m also changing some of the future scenes to reflect the work that artist Max Farinato has been doing. He drew this awesome lab last month, with gigantic red tanks. I hadn’t imagined those before, but I loved his idea, so I’m going to work them into the story.

It’s an exciting way of working, but it’s completely new for me.

Head on over to Geek Eccentric and check out Chapter 7.

Actual, real tips for writing with a baby

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post, in which I live-blogged a day of trying to write with a baby. I realized, as I read through the post, that although I complained about not being able to find helpful hints about writing with a young child in the articles I’ve read, I didn’t actually include any of my own.

I mean, I read my “takeaways” again, and “Get a babysitter” is probably the worst advice I’ve ever given.

Anyhow, I’ve had a few restful hours to reflect on yesterday’s experiment and I do have some tips because some of the things I did yesterday worked. So here are a (very) few tips for writing while watching a four-month-old by yourself. What works for me may not work for you, but give these a try:

This thing is worth its weight in gold.

This thing is worth its weight in gold.

The play-yard is your friend. I tried the swing, the crib, the exersaucer and the bassinet. It was the play-yard that helped me the most. (You know, it’s that mat thing with toys hanging off it.) I got most of my writing done while my son was next to me, swatting the dangling toys and listening to music. Sit on the floor or on a big bed and put your baby next to you on the playmat. Then grab your laptop or journal and get to work. Your child will be occupied by the mat and happy to be near you.

Make sure your lunch is easy to assemble. This was just luck on my part. I’d planned to make a sandwich, but found that my husband had made a vat of split pea soup. A bowl of that made for a quick lunch. When you’re watching a kid and trying to write, no one has time for a sandwich.

Have an idea of what you’re going to tackle ahead of time. Knowing what I was working on ahead of time helped me to get something done, even when I was being interrupted often.

In fact, just plan to be interrupted. Probably best not to go into this thinking your kid will nap and you will write a certain number of words. That way lies madness.

Lastly, remember that this is just a writing day. In yesterday’s post, I wondered if the work I did was any good because I was so distracted. But none of that really matters. It’s like any other writing day: you put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard and you write. Sometimes you write well. Sometimes you don’t. The important thing is that you’re writing, baby or no baby.

Writing with a four-month-old: a live-blogging experiment

I'm sure this will go well.

I’m sure this will go well.

Today I’m trying something new. I am live-blogging my attempt to write while home alone with a baby. I’ve read a few things about tactics for writing with a young child, and those articles were not terribly helpful.  So today is an experiment. I’ve got a baby carrier, a bouncy chair, a play-yard and my laptop. All I need now is luck. Wish me that. I will be updating all day.

11:30 am  – My husband has the dog with him today, so I don’t need to worry about walking her. I’ve done a metric ton of laundry. I’ve nursed the bairn into submission and put him into the crib, so I should be able to start… crap. Diaper change. DSC_0018Oh god, no, I was wrong. It’s a diaper blowout. I’ll be back.

11:48 am – Okay. Baby cleaned and put in the play yard. New laundry started. Surfaces Cloroxed. NOW: It’s been a while since I worked on my novel, and I am a little blocked in places, so thanks to some advice I saw from a friend who was in my MFA program, I’m going to journal about the problem. Maybe that will help me write around the block.

12:16 pm – I’ve got to ditch the internet. It’s distracting me. So I’m logging out of Facebook except on nursing breaks. Despite a diaper change and distractions online, I have been journaling about my novel and I’ve made a little progress with character development issues, but now the baby is fussing. He’s probably hungry. And I just realized something. So am I.

1:20 pm – The baby and I are both fed. I’ve realized that although I’ve made some headway with character development, I cannot find the first copy of my manuscript, which is what I was working from. I am giving myself five minutes to find it and if I can’t, I’m winging it.

1:23 pm – Found it. Baby is in the crib. Let’s do this.

Tire yourself out, my child.

Tire yourself out, my child.

2:01 pm – I’ve done 254 words worth of writing. I’ve also changed a diaper, eaten a plum and wandered around for a few minutes Iike a lost soul. Finally I accepted that if I don’t get the baby into the exersaucer soon, he will never go down for his nap and I have hopes for naptime. They aren’t big hopes, but they are hopes. So that’s where he is right now, bouncing in the saucer. The good thing is, although I’m working in drips and drabs and this pace is frustrating, I am working. I don’t know if I’m producing anything of value, though.

2:45 pm – 300 more words written. That’s more than the 500 a day I used to hold myself to, so I guess, technically I could stop now. But I haven’t written at home in a while, and this is an experiment, so I’m going to continue until my husband returns. FOR SCIENCE. It’s time to feed the baby now, though.

3:39 pm – The baby is fed and changed and it could be that most golden, elusive, glorious time of the day: naptime. My son doesn’t like to nap, but sometimes he does actually go to sleep, despite himself. In the meantime, he might at least be quiet for a little while and I may be able to write some more until backup arrives. I hope.

3:55 pm – Naptime turned into an Olympic gymnastic floor routine, and I spent my writing time alternately trying to prevent head injuries and researching crib bumpers, so that didn’t really work out. Now I’m keeping him next to me in the play-yard on the bed, and he’s practicing his vocal exercises instead. These are as distracting as the gymnastics, but not as alarming. Now, to make one final push at writing.

4:42 pm – Feeding the boy again. Between the feeding and a changing, I’m getting less done than I did this morning. This kid is active. How does one tire out a four-month-old? Is it even possible? I’ve written a few words though.

4:54 pm – The experiment has ended: 781 words, three outfit changes (baby’s, not mine) and one load of laundry later, my husband has returned and I’m shutting it down.And what do you know? The baby is sleeping. Because of course he is.

So, after a day of writing alone with baby, what’s the verdict?
The take-away of this experiment is probably that sensible people get babysitters. Well, no. I think the take-away is actually that I produced more today than I did before I had a baby because I was always pushing to get words on the page before he started to fuss. But quantity is not quality — while I got more written than usual, I do wonder if it’s any good compared to my normal output. I can’t tell, because I’m too tired right now to know good writing from bad.

Also, and this is probably open to interpretation, it’s hard to know if my parenting also suffered because I was trying to do two things at once. I mean, I did all the things I’d normally do on a day home with my son, and he was even by my side more than he usually is, but I was focusing on writing rather than housework or walking him at the park. So was I a worse mom because I was working and watching him? I don’t know. Only he knows for sure, and he doesn’t speak English yet.

Well, it’s been real. I’m going to put this baby down, save my work and find the Pinot Grigio.

Want tips for writing with a baby? Check out my next post.