Monday, September 3, 2012

GUTGAA: Getting to Know Me

Deana BarnhartGood day, friends and cyber-neighbors!

I'm taking part in the Gearing Up to Get an Agent Blog Hop  or as it's fondly called in writer circles, GUTGAA, now happening on the amazing Deana's Barnhart's Blog.  This is a six-week event, culminating in agent pitch contest and a small press editor pitch contest.  So, in the interest of full disclosure, transparency and getting to know me better, I shall now bear my soul.  Well, not really.  I'll just answer a few questions.

-Who are you?

My short bio is to the right.  But I will add, that I grew up in Chicago and currently live on the west coast.  For my day job, I'm a documentary researcher and production coordinator.  I love writing and I love researching and when you write novels, you get to do a lot of both.  Win-win!

-Where do you write? 

Mostly in the tiny cramped little room that used to be our son's bedroom, and is now known as "the office."  It's messy and dusty, filled with bookshelves, my husband's photo equipment, and papers waiting to be filed.  It's cluttered, because to keep the rest of the house clean, we dump all the junk in here.  As usual, you can't see my desktop right now.  My husband's desk, where he makes his own magic happen, is to the left of me.   There's a window to my right that looks out on the path that leads to my front door, where I can watch for delivery people and advertisement flyer distributors.  My family wonders how I can spend so much time in this room, and I remind them that, while my butt's in the chair, my imagination is carrying me off to faraway fantastic places.

-Favorite time to write?

Anytime, really.  My life's too chaotic to stick to any kind of schedule. Morning's probably best--but not too early.  I need to be fully awake before the creative juices start circulating.  But not too late or I burn out. 

-Drink of choice while writing? 

Hot Tea.  English Breakfast usually.  And I like it sweet.

-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

Oh no, I need silence when I write.  Occasionally, I might put on some classical music.  Or my husband plays jazz.  But nothing with lyrics because that's distracting.  It's too hard to write while I'm singing.

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it? 

DARKLING was inspired by the characters.  I wanted to write a story about a feisty, kick-ass girl, and a flawed, not-so-heroic hero, trying to make amends, and the story took off from there.

-What's your most valuable writing tip? 
Anything from Stephen King's book On Writing.  He says: Read, read, read.  If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write.   Also, I like the advice from Ann Lamott who urges us not to be afraid to write shitty first drafts. This is a good way to thwart the overbearing perfectionist in all of us.  The idea is to get started, put the words down, no matter how crude or unkempt. You can always go back and pretty them up later.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Outliners, Outliers and Hitting Brick Walls

So I'm writing the first draft of this amazing story. (Amazing to me, anyway.)  I have wonderful characters, an interesting setting, and great conflict.  Suddenly, as I'm headed to the finish line, I slam into a brick wall going a hundred miles per hour and everything stops.  47,000 words, flowing like smooth honey on a hot summer day, and  I suddenly I've got ice cubes in the middle of a Canadian blizzard. 
Photo by Dan Holm

And I have no idea how to proceed.

A fellow writer once asked me: "how can you even start writing anything until you know how it's going to end?"  But, you know, that's how I roll.  I'm an intuitive writer.  Outlines are an anathema to me.  I shun them as I would a chunk of rotten pineapple at an Hawaiian luau.  When I write, I usually give the idea a little forethought, take a few notes, then plunge right in.  Even though I might end up running myself smack dab off a cliff. 

I can't help it.  It's the way my brain works. I've tried to change.  But when I sit down and make myself try to outline, I come up dry and unsatisfied.  I need to feel the story, be in the moment.  I like to watch the scene play out in my head, hear the characters talk and see them do things I never imagined they were capable of. 

It's my theory that there are two types of writers in the world--the Outliners and the Outliers.  The left-brained Outliners are the ones with the clean desks.  Their pencils are always sharpened and their pen holders are always filled with working pens.  They plan, they plot--they construct character studies until they know what side of the bed each character likes to sleep on and who they voted for in the 1976 election.

Outliers like me, on the other hand, are right-brained and kind of loosey-goosey. Our desks are piled with magazines and old letters and parking tickets we forgot to pay. We make it up as we go along.  We feel our way through a story, groping for plot twists, grasping for meaning.  And basically flail around and flounder until we find something that makes sense. 

Which of these two methods is better?  Well, Outliners are more efficient, I'll give them that. They get through their stories with far fewer dead-ends, much less beating of the chest, and pulling out of the hair. But don't ever let anyone tell you this is the only way to write.  There is no one way to write, and anyone who tells you there is, is blowing smoke up your... chimney.  In reality, every writer has to decide for him or herself what works.  It all depends on what is suited to your own particular flavor of brain.

Now, back to my amazing novel, which I left hanging precariously in story limbo:  I had a breakthrough.  Or at least I've found a useful tool, a writer's-helper, to unclog my stopped up story-pipes.  I followed the recommendations of Talia Vance in her wonderful presentation, The Revsion Checklist.

Yes, Taila's method includes writing an outline, but only after you write the first draft.  It's a way to graphically lay out the story so you can organize your thoughts and see the big picture in front of you. 

Using this method, I came up with a plot twist I hadn't thought of before. It's a small step toward crafting the second half of the book, but at least it's a start.  Check out Taila's great article for more advise on revising and completing your own manuscript "from big picture to small details."

So what do you think?  When you write, are you a plotter and a down-to-the-last-detail planner?  Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?