How the writer avoids writing by writing

i very nearly gave up this week. And then i didn’t.

In order to keep myself going on the Twiry stories, i finally sat down and mapped out which story ideas would make the cut and then put them in order. Then i wrote a story and a half. i’m now on number seven.

i’m still stuck on the eponymous chapter, however. Part of my problem with Twiry Glitterwing and the Moss Palace has been that i’m not sure i’m getting the tone right—it doesn’t feel like i imagined it would. And part of the problem is that i don’t know for the life of me what the moss palace should be like—where it is or how it looks. i decided that that story should be the last chapter, to sort of end at a high point, where there isn’t anywhere else to go. But if i can’t figure out the moss palace in the next few days i’ll probably be forced to insert another story in the middle somewhere and end with what i meant to be the penultimate chapter—the tea party, where all Twiry’s forest friends are in attendance. i think either story would work as the last in the book (if i could figure out the moss palace itself, that is), and i think the tea party would work either as last or as second to last. So it’ll work out. But if i scrap the moss palace, i’ll have to come up with another story idea and change the name of the book. No big deal, but still, things that’ll need doing.

Meanwhile, since i don’t particularly want to be writing Twiry, i’ve been spending unnecessary mental energy on another book that i have no intention of writing anytime soon and which hadn’t really occurred to me as a real option until halfway through October. i didn’t have time to think out an outline before Nano at that point, and i wasn’t sure which time period it would cover, so i couldn’t get started writing it, but now that i am stuck writing something else, ideas for this other novel keep coming to me.

It’s a vicious cycle.

The other novel that i’m considering writing is centered on Alandros. He’s Rixi’s best friend’s magic tutor. i really like him as a character. The original reason i thought of him as an option at all, though, was the simple fact that he’s in his late 30s and it would give me a chance to write someone closer to my own age. But that he’s also a powerful Deteer in a well-positioned town with a lord who’s very politically important also gives me an opportunity to write a story with high-level intrigue and action. Of course, therein lies one facet of the rub (if that’s a valid metaphor, mixed as it is): i don’t really pay attention to fight choreography in the shows and movies i watch. i know when it looks cool, but i don’t analyze the moves. And i don’t tend to pay very much attention when reading that stuff, either. i get the gist, but i’m not a strategist. So it would be a challenge to learn to write the battle scenes well.

On the other hand, i’m going to have to write scenes like that for the next book in the Lily Cycle, also, so practicing on Alandros may not be a bad idea.

Other facets of the rub are the fact that he’s male, and he is closer to my age than my other characters—and his age would mature the book’s tone significantly. Durom Falls works well as a book about a sixteen year old adult. The tone will have to change (and hopefully not in a histrionic way) as Lily matures and starts dealing with harder things, but Durom Falls itself felt very much like a YA novel to me. That wasn’t what i was going for, but as i said, it works for a sixteen-year-old protagonist. It won’t work when the protagonist is 37. And can i write older prose? i guess we’ll find out. (It’s not like i don’t read enough of it. i just don’t have any characters older than 17 right now.) And the fact that he’s male just puts me outside my comfort zone. i’ve written some snippets with him in them, but not from his perspective, and i’m not used to writing for a male lead. i’m just not sure if i can pull it off believably. (Tana French says that people are just people, and i’ll buy that, but i can’t ignore gender altogether. Men and women just aren’t the same, internally or externally, and while i buy that individuals do not act as stereotypical representations of their class, they do carry at least part of a set of characteristics, even if other parts of the set don’t seem to correspond.)

Anyway: The brilliant idea i got this afternoon was to tell the Alandros story as two parallel stories. One, a present-day struggle (siege or civil war), and the other, his first year or so as a black robe (graduate) Deteer. That would allow me to develop his character more fully—we’ll see what makes him tick and why he ticks that way. It’ll also give me the chance to use my YA voice, while contrasting it with an adult voice for the same character—a fascinating study, and a good writing challenge.

i was talking this over with Jonathan at dinner, and thought up another twist on this idea. i could write the parallel stories as Alandros’ youth and the siege (i understand this might be a very opaque reference), and then write a second book as his experience in the civil war (another opaque reference). The siege is a very simple thing, much easier to do in half a book than it would be to delve into the strained relationships and the morass of motives between the bevy of political players that exists in any civil war. The civil war can hardly be told in half a novel, but it could certainly be told in a full novel (if kept to a single perspective). You know, depending on how things turn out. i am writing living history, after all; not all details are clear yet. And that’s another reason to use the siege, rather than the civil war, for the parallel stories: The siege has already happened. The civil war is only just heating up. So if i used the siege, i could pretty much start writing this book anytime. No waiting, just outlining.

i sort of like the idea of having a book plot in mind for a year before writing it, however. It might be well-formed by next November. Neither Durom Falls nor Twiry were well-formed before i began writing. It’s not a work’s death knell, but “measure twice and cut once” can be applied to any project.

Summary: i made no progress on Twiry today. But i have a lot of great ideas for a completely unrelated project.

Four stories and faltering

When i first came across this quote, my immediate thought was writing. Honestly, stories in general, including many i have not written, but writing in particular. i love storytelling, making people, watching them grow and unravel and grow again. The process, however, is often painful or simply frustrating.

The Twiry stories are not working out like i’d wanted them to. They aren’t bad at all—they just don’t feel like what i’d imagined. And this is the problem with writing in-world artifacts. The stories have a life of their own in Nirth already. i am not trying to write something new, but to find something already well-loved by people in another world.

The concept of sehnsuct is behind much of my love of story, as is the theme of redemption. Haunting beauty. All things made right. The world as it should be, but isn’t. Incarnation: the deep longings of every heart, given form.

i don’t know how to do that, but i desire it deeply. And it kills me. It kills me to read it, it kills me to attempt it, it kills me to achieve it, and—much more often—it kills me to close my hand on air, over and over again, thinking i’m close but finding i’m not.

Give me a few months and i might like Twiry better. i feel fairly desolate right now. But i will press on, because Nano demands it, and because i have made promises. Next time i write a picture book, however, remind me to write it with pictures.

The second thing i’ll be writing this month is part of a longer saga of heartache-in-writing: Rixi, in a critical and wrenching moment that won’t end. Oh, Rixi, why do we hurt each other?

For now, though, i am only 5830 words and four stories behind schedule. And tonight is a write-in. And i will make it, somehow. If writing kills me (and let’s be honest; it won’t), it’ll be because i let it, not because i can’t get up again.

Three stories in

Jonathan and i were gone this last weekend on a sightseeing train trip through the mountains. Consequently, neither of us got any writing done. But it was a marvelous trip, and i don’t regret it one bit.

i spent this morning at my favourite writing spot: Genoa Coffee & Wine. After some shop-talk with the barista regarding coffee origins and roasting, i settled down to finish story two and write story three.

In story two, Twiry enjoys a mint patch and meets her dearest friend, Mr. Bumblebee. In story three, they go on a foraging trip for nectar, and Twiry meets some forest creatures. So far so good, i think. The first story, by far, had the most author-reader interaction. i’m trying to work that into all the stories. The first story simply had more opportunity, as it was introducing Twiry and the idea of fairies. Subsequent stories have more action and discovery, and less exposition and dialog. At least, less dialog between me and the reader. More dialog between Twiry and her friends. 🙂

At this rate, however, the Nano calculator tells me i’ll be finished by December 14. Obviously, i have more catching up to do!

In which we meet Twiry and everyone has adventures

Nano is well underway. Jonathan, Cassie, and i had a little kickoff party of our own, involving Chinese take-out, two cats with assumptions, and a coffee break halfway through.

So far, Twiry has Happened, discovered the joys of jumping and twirling, met a chickadee, found a mint patch, observed a lady-beetle, fallen asleep, and awakened to a buzzing sound. All that in only 2348 words! i’m one and a half chapters in. Stay tuned!

In the meanwhile, here’s the flower from which Twiry was made:

Now, who wants an excerpt?

A little bird came by just then, as the little fairy was fluttering her wings, and it called out to her. “Twee-twee! Twee-twee!” just like that. She looked up and saw it watching her from the tree above. “Twee-twee!” it sang again.

Twiry thought it was saying her name: “Twiry! Twiry!” so she sang back to it: “Birdy! Birdy!” The bird thought this was a very fun game. It hopped closer, onto a lower branch, and called again: “Twee-twee! Twiry!” Twiry was so happy that she jumped up into the air and spun around three times, and then she landed—flimp-bump!—in the grass. The bird took wing and fluttered a little closer. This time it landed on a very low branch, although a very low branch is still rather high for a tiny fairy girl. “Twiry! Twiry!” it sang.

Twiry jumped up from the grass and spun around again. “Birdy! Birdy!” She was very pleased with this new game. She wanted to get a little closer to the bird, and to try out her new wings, so she fluttered and jumped all at the same time, and then she was flying! She flew right up, fluttering and zipping just like a little pink dragonfly, until she was able to land on her tippy-toes at the end of the branch where the bird was sitting. It was a very handsome little bird, with a black head and beard and a creamy chest. It was not very much bigger than Twiry.

Now that i’ve gotten the fairy-dust out of my system for the night, it’s time to go watch some vampire-slaying.

In which we average the averages and discover an averagey-average

Today i finished reading the Pooh stories (those in the two books of stories by A.A. Milne), and read one the first of the Pooh stories by David Benedictus. i was not at all impressed with Mr. Benedictus’ stories. i wanted to quit halfway through the first story (or maybe sooner), which is why i didn’t continue reading. Well, that and i really needed to get to reading the Beatrix Potter stories. i believe i shan’t bother with Mr. Benedictus’ stories at all anymore. His dedication poem at the front of the book wasn’t bad—rather touching—but even his introduction demonstrated that he hadn’t gotten the voices right. i hope he didn’t reward himself with any chocolate biscuits, although i suspect he did.

Meanwhile, i really didn’t enjoy the stories in The House at Pooh Corner, either. They were sad from the beginning and felt like they were harder to write. They were certainly harder to read. Not bad, but not free and careless and young. They felt older. i think this means that i like stories written for four-year-olds better than the ones written for eight-year-olds who already know about Factors and Knights and Suction Pumps and Brazil.

After i finished reading the stories, i did the math. This is not the fun part, but it is the instructive part.

The shortest of Miss Potter’s stories was The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, which was only 807 words long. The longest, though, was The Tale of the Tailor of Gloucester, which i have personally read dozens of times, thanks to a good friend of mine named Naomi, who is older than Jonathan and i put together although she is only eight. That one is 3022 words long. Seeing that, i decided the best thing i could do was ignore the shortest and longest. Then, i had a range of 899-1301 words (between The Tale of Two Bad Mice and The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle). The average of the longest and shortest came out to be 1758, and the average of the second-longest and second-shortest came out to be 1100 exactly, so i added the two averages together and averaged them again and came out with an averagey-average: 1429.

Coincidentally, 1429 is exactly the length of the second-shortest Pooh story.

i did the same thing with the Pooh stories, speaking of which. The longest of them is the one where they find the North Pole, at 3022 words, and the shortest is the one where they hunt the Woozle, which is 1237. That average is 2129 words. The second-longest is the one where Kanga and Roo come to the forest: 2864. The second-shortest is the one where Eeryore loses his tail: 1429 (see? same as Miss Potter’s averagey-average). So the average of the shortest and longest Pooh stories is 2129 (as i’ve said), and the average of the second-shortest and second-longest is 2146, and those are much closer together than the averages i found in Miss Potter’s stories. The averagey-average of the Pooh stories is 2138.

Then i realized that Pooh is always making up hums, and as i don’t imagine Twiry singing little songs (although she might; i haven’t asked her yet), i thought i’d better subtract the length of the longest hum from the averagey-average, to be safe. Then i had a modified averagey-average of 1957 words.

After that, i averaged the averagey-averages (using the modified one for Pooh, not the one with the hums) and found that that was 1693 words.

So all in all, i came up with a target word count for the individual stories: 1700 to 2000 (1700 being closer to the average averagey-average and 2000 being the modified averagey-average from Pooh). So my final target word count for the whole book—now pay attention—is 17K-20K.

i was surprised to see how much variance there was in story length in the works of both authors. i never realized how uneven the stories were. Even still, i wanted a tight range so as not to be undisciplined; i didn’t want my stories to wander. So i will be pretty strict with myself.

The rest of the words (30K-33K) will be taken up with the Rixi adventure.

Now i am off to Do Nothing, which is a wonderful thing to do. Nano starts in only two hours!!! (Although i intend to start tomorrow, not midnight.)

i leave you with this image of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Lucie. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is one of my favourites.

Silly old bear

i checked out not one, but five Winnie-the-Pooh books today, and a collection of Beatrix Potter stories as well. i’ve read the first Pooh book now (called simply Winnie-the-Pooh), and it looks and feels and sounds and reads just like the sort of format i want for Twiry. But there’s no need to decide too quickly. i’d better finish my research first. What a burden, reading delightful children’s stories.

One of the Pooh books is actually “in the tradition of A.A. Milne,” so i don’t consider it “real Pooh,” but it still might help me gauge a good length for my book. The author, David Benedictus, has written exactly ten stories (just like Milne’s two books), but they are a good deal longer than the original stories. My guess is too long, given that i’m torn between modeling mine after Pooh (around 2K words per story) and Miss Potter’s stories (around 1100 each). Benedictus’ stories run closer to 2700 words apiece, on average. Still, it’ll be a fun read, and one never knows if the pacing of his stories will sound more like what i’m imagining once i’ve started reading them, even if they aren’t canon.

The other two Pooh books are just collections of things published elsewhere. It turns out that i was a bit over-zealous in my checker-outery. They do have some of the poems in them, which i’ve never read, so that’ll be fun—but as Twiry won’t contain any poems, they won’t be instructive. i’ve decided i don’t mind. 🙂

i still need to read The House at Pooh Corner. Then tomorrow i’ll read through the Beatrix Potter stories, and one way or another i’ll decide on an appropriate word count goal. Then on Thursday it’s writing time!

The beginning of a new adventure

National Novel Writing Month starts in two days. This year, i am writing two pieces which together should total fifty thousand words. The first is a series of short fairy stories for children. The second is a piece meant to fit into a larger narrative. They are both being written from scratch, but neither on its own qualifies as a novel, so i am participating as a rebel.

My plan is to do a little blogging here during the month of November. Obviously, my posts won’t be long or deep, as i’ll be spending my writing time actually writing my stories, but i will be using this space to chronicle the writing itself (and perhaps to post excerpts). i need to keep my best reader in the dark during November, so posting publicly isn’t the best option, but this blog will work as a compromise between silence and indiscretion. After November, i’ll try to keep it going with more posts about the writing process, snippets of my writing, and perhaps a few writing exercises. It’s been awhile since i’ve kept a blog, so bear with me—i’m out of habit.

Now then, since my amanuensis isn’t listening, i can tell you about my projects.

Both pieces are written for Nirth, a feudal medieval-plus fantasy world that my husband created. i love living and writing in his world, and have several projects going in it. One is a cooperative storytelling group, in which my character is a young woman named Rocket. Her younger sister, Rixi, is arguably my main character. Rixi’s narrative is expressed primarily through letters between Rixi and her aunt, although several narrative snippets punctuate the letters, allowing me to step outside of Rixi’s head at times. These snippets may be written from Rixi’s perspective, or from her best friend’s, or her aunt’s or uncle’s, and they enrich the story while not infringing upon the letters as the main vehicle for the unfolding drama. Another thread in this world began as last year’s Nano novel, Durom Falls. The main character in that book is Lily, who began life as a friend of Rocket’s but will require a full three-book cycle to complete her journey. i am not yet ready to move past the first book in that cycle, so i am left without a plot that will require 50K words to complete. Thus, my rebel status.

This year’s projects are both part of the Rixi narrative. The children’s book is actually intended to be an artifact in the world—a book Rixi finds in the school library. i’ve never written in-world literature before this, and i am looking forward to the challenge. It’ll be completely different from everything i’ve written before—innocent, beautiful, simple. The second project is a longer piece of narrative that will chronicle an adventure of Rixi’s during one of her field assignments in school. It is also a departure from my usual writing, as i haven’t yet written anything this long in the Rixi narrative, nor have i written a full descriptive account of one of her adventures before. Her adventures, before this, have mostly been told in the form of letters to her aunt or brief accounts in a snippet which isn’t meant to explore the adventure itself, but her reaction to it. This one will necessarily explore her reactions as well, but it will be much more action-driven than anything else i’ve written for her. Rixi tends to live in her head, and doesn’t relish adventure, so her stories have always been more about schoolwork and relationships and growing up—her own personal journey—than they are about adventures. The full story is already written down in note form as a very robust outline, so this is another departure for me—i tend to let the story tell itself as i go, without an outline at all or with only a very vague idea of where the story should end up and one or two things that might happen in the middle.

i am still struggling with an appropriate word count for the fairy stories. Depending on which existing children’s books i take for a model, it might be appropriate to set it at 13K or 23K. (My models are Beatrix Potter and Winnie-the-Pooh.) Either way, the remainder of the 50K can easily be taken up by the adventure story, as the notes already come to a bit more than 21K.

The children’s book is titled Twiry Glitterwing and the Moss Palace. The adventure story has a working title of The Call South.

i am beginning to be very eager for November and the beginning of another adventure! If you’d like to follow along with me, here is my Nano profile and this year’s project page, including my word count tracker. And of course, i’ll be posting here.