I Am A Serious Writer

Hello, friends. Today in Writing A Book Is Tantamount To An Exorcism, I wanna talk about whatever comes nonsensically out How I Write.

Many times, you will be asked that very question. “How do you write? What’s your writing process? What’s your deal? What the hell is the matter with you?” people will say, or something along one of those lines, and the best way to answer that is by ignoring the Terrified You being held against their will in a small cage inside your head and power through as though Public Persona You knows what they’re doing. Make very declarative answers. Grand, sweeping and often moral statements that you intend to be broadly applied to writers you’ve never met – because that’s what the listener is going to do with it anyway, why fight it. The important thing is that you never, ever admit that every single book was written differently, and if you weren’t a colossal hoarder of self-records, you would have zero memory how it happened, because you woke up sore and in a stupor, your body beaten and broken, and beside you was a bloodied collection of pages, which you quickly threw at a passerby, thereby making them a CP.

I’ve written blog posts before about The Things I Need To Start Writing, which I’ll just quote here because sending you to a post from 2013 is just jarring (for me, no one’s thinking about you) and wow, life changed since then, I mean not specifically then, but in the time since, and this kind of mental scramble is precisely what I was trying to avoid. Thanks for your help.

[I have redacted references to projects you still know nothing about.]

a) Concept – This is one of the most AHA! moments – or at least, the first.

b) First look – This is either the first line of the story/book or a mental movie of the first scene. This one’s interesting because it’s not tethered to a particular point in the process. Sometimes the first line happens several times. Like in the case of rewriting. The thing is, it has to feel like “the one” every time for me to move forward.

c) Music – Yeeees. This is a big one. Again, this one isn’t set in stone, in terms of when this happens. I do not understand people for whom music is not everything. I do not. [ETA: As I’ve said elsewhere, this is about finding a song/usually instrumental that captures the …aura(?) of the story. The tone, fine.]

d) First query – [ETA: Yeah, this where one tests the stakes and the emotional logic flow, I find.]

e) Title – Man, this is another one that has become sort of paramount. Because titles come quickly to me, when one doesn’t, I’m missing something very important to my process. The title is everything. First of all, I keep a lot of “administrative” documents and I HATE them being titled after the main character, unless of course it’s also the title, which has only ever been the case with Keepsake, and even then, it’s not her given name. [ETA: ….AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA]

I need these things.

So. How much of this is still true.

Well for one thing, I’m 3/4 done with a project that’s still named after the main character, if that tells you anything. So Title, you’re not that important to me anymore. We’ve grown apart. It’s not me, it’s you.

Now writing a follow-up (and I am intentionally not saying sequel, yes, because sometimes it’s just a follow-up, kids, and I’m not sure companion book works for me either, if it does still necessarily chronologically follow the first book), a couple things are different from jump.

(a) Concept is locked in. Woot.

(2) You can get surprisingly far into writing without a Query because (i) you are very familiar with the character, due to having already written some of their story, even if they weren’t the main character in the first book, and (%) your First Look for this story might also have appeared in book 1.

But that still leaves Music, and in a follow-up with a different main character, this is still seriously important to me. Namely so that this character, who lives in the same world and concept, doesn’t sound like the first one.

Can we just talk about the things that are different this time around that I’m gonna unnecessarily declare are my new requirements despite that this is not my first or third or fifth rodeo and I should know better?! Thank you.

(F) First Chapter – this isn’t 100% new, but apparently I didn’t do it in 2013, so here we are. Pretty sure First Look evolved into this because before I was writing this book in earnest, I had three first chapters to choose from – one of which was so far from what I’d thought it was gonna be like that I knew I wasn’t ready to actively write it.

(D) Synopsis – homg, this was a game-changer. Allow me to pause here and say: Don’t come into my comments (where no one comes anymore anyway) telling me about how you’ve always written synopses first. That’s great. Good for you. I did not. But my life has undergone some very bandwidth-gobbling transitions, and I genuinely had my first experience of I’m Pretty Sure I’ll Never Write A Full-Length Novel Again Because Who Can Even Do That, so when I was asked for a partial (which I already had because Ease of Flowing Into Second Book) and a synopsis, it was a blessing. As well as an easy, two step process.

Step one:

terror

Aaand step two:

Phew

And of course, now I’ll swear by it, until it doesn’t happen for a future wip, at which point, My Process will change again, and I will die on whatever hill that is.

Because you see, the way in which book writing is like an exorcism is that whatever gets the demon out is the right way to do it. (I don’t know very much about exorcisms.)

I was gonna talk about this whole Every 15k Make A List Of Important Facts/Themes/Plot Points That Mustn’t Get Abandoned thing I’ve also been doing, but this is long and unwieldy and I’ve lost my devotion to it.

nonsense

The Dream I Dreamed

Who among us doesn’t have the Suddenly Realizing I’m Not Wearing Pants dreams? WHOMST?

The great thing about this is it’s not limited to one type or genre of dream. So last night, I’m dreaming about this extremely troubling three story, spacious mansion, and of course the walls are red, parce que why wouldn’t they be, non? And so this is a Serious Dream, and the top level, which you can’t avoid because the staircases are confusing and shouldn’t be because they’re all visible and dead center of the house and they’re just like branches off each other and why is this so difficult to explain (hi sleep brain imagery)? So yeah, the top level is all closed doors, but too close together, like is it just a huge floor of closets? Also the doors are also red up there, which just feels wrong, and I don’t like it.

Anyway, the second floor has every single bedroom. Not just in the house. All the bedrooms ever. They’re all there. And I’ve clearly been sleeping in one of them, but it’s anyone’s guess which one, now that I’ve been downstairs with people, but see, I have to remember which room (and stop accidentally going up to the third floor) BECAUSE I NEED TO PUT ON SOME PANTS.

The best thing about these dreams is that no one else notices you’re not wearing pants until you do. It’s very Emperor’s New Clothes meets The Garden of Eden. But now I’ve noticed so dude downstairs has noticed, and I NEED these pants, people.

The icing on all of this is that there’s an extremely wicked movie playing in a loop in one of the rooms, that involves children and torture and all the little things that make life great, and because this is MY DREAM, the audio is leaking out through an intercom system this house shouldn’t have, and so you hear this movie in the background no matter where in the house you are, but is it louder when you get to the third floor? YOU BET YOUR SWEET BIPPY IT IS.

So this is me, going into a bedroom I’m sure has pants, only to find it’s the wrong room, there are no pants, and I have to keep searching, and accidentally ending up on the third floor, doubling back, trying not to hear the movie playing, etc etc. And what was I doing in this dream before the Great Pants Search? Who can know such things, friends.

Pants

 

That’s it.

That’s the post.

You Cannot Make Sense Of This

The title is your fair warning.

Yes, I am here because I have nowhere else to go. You knew what this was. Do not be petty, just accept me when I randomly appear, and don’t make a big deal about how long I’ve been gone. That’s all I ask.

So, basically I am that dog in a room on fire. Like, outwardly, I am an object completely at rest, and then internally I am that spastic cat on the bed. (I’m apparently Gina Linetti and am unable to express myself without invoking comics, gifs or emojis.)

Serious question, for the writers among us. Why. Why do we do it. Not the writing – that’s life and necessary. I mean the part where we do a month-long marathon where we’re just like creatively bingeing. We know – WE. KNOW. – what comes after.

During binge:

DanceLiv

Moments after you write “The End”:

tumblr_inline_nj58cpuwep1rbhpj3

I don’t know, I couldn’t really find a picture of Kerry Washington looking ravaged, y’all. Basically she just did a color run, but whatevs. Anyway, my point is I am internally destroyed. And we know this happens. Like, seriously, the come down is the worst because my brain is still circling that story and even though I have another project I’m super obsessed with, I know I’m not there yet.

But no, this time’s different anyway; there’s a new, fun layer. It’s called waiting. LOL, waiting is not new, querying and revising and writing in general is totally all about waiting, but this is waiting for things that are going to be on shelves and sent out for public consumption and it’s oh so quiet, Bjork, but like maybe not in an hour or so? So my brain wants to stay on alert and therefore is ravaged, preparing, plotting other project, listening, stopping suddenly in the middle of conversations and then the other party’s like, ….are you okay? And then I lose my train of thought because what were we talking about?

AND I’m keeping secrets so I can’t even bother you incessantly about the one thing I can occasionally get my brain to run with.

So anyway.

This is fine

 

Speed-Dating With Bethany

As an aside, I considered reusing the blog title “Rando Calrissian” because I just really feel like it didn’t get enough affection and is one of the most underrated of my clever blog titles. Shoulda timed it to coincide with episode VII. The following are equally random tidbits*, in an attempt to reconnect with you, dear reader. The things I do for England.

(1) Yesterday, during our Montreal Sunday Funday – which is what I call our weekly return to the city for church and fellowship…because I’m not great with titles *all the time* – I took a bite of chicken salad and immediately had a full sensory memory of the last time I’d eaten chicken salad. Which was like twenty years ago. I am 33 and feel it is far too early for this sort of phenomenon.

(2) Relatedly, I awoke with the theme to L.A. Law in my head.

So. That’s…

Yeah.

(3) REDACTED IN 2019 but I left this gif because I love it:

(4) This season’s marathon of the original Planet of the Apes franchise has left me with three truths thus far – because full disclosure, Ezra and I haven’t watched #5 yet, but will today! I do not apologize for how much space will now be devoted to talking PotA.

I will never apologize.

(4.1) The 2nd movie – Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the one in which a strange subterranean enclave of telekinetic radioactive humans worships a bomb and which includes an unnecessarily long “church” scene complete with organ and hymnal – which I would have *EASILY* said was my lowest ranking in previous seasons, actually went up in rating, if not ranking. I AM AS SHOCKED AS YOU ARE.

(4.2) The 3rd movie – Escape from the Planet of the Apes, in which Zira and Cornelius come from the future to 1971 and are first the toast of the town and then, well, not – remains the absolute highlight of the franchise. Period. I realize this doesn’t sound like new news, but it was confirmed. Favorite.

(4.3) The 4th movie – Conquest for the Planet of the Apes, in which Caesar begins the revolution in 1991 – tanked in my rating. Just tanked. I think due to the overall comparative strength of the story, I’d given them too great a pass on the complete and utter lunacy. No more.

But, you, beloved…

Yes, you, MacDonald. You were just grand.

(5) They opened a huge Dollarama on Queen Mary as soon as I left Montreal. Thanks a bunch, friends.

(6) There is no Popeye’s in Northcountry New York. The implications of which worked me into a nearly destructive lather at one a.m. Still adjusting to being back in the States, but nowhere near to what I’m accustomed. We’ll get through this together.

*If perchance you followed the link to Rando… you would know that my Planet of the Apes ….fixation, shall we say, is inescapable.

And Start Again At Your Beginnings

New book, new process. That is the apparent fact of my life as a writer. So despite that I’m writing a “sequel” – and you’re all, Bethany, why would you put that in quotations, and I’m all, Friend, I can’t really go into that – writing Avrilis 2.0 is another exercise in learning to write the book. And that’s not a bad or hard thing.

It’s exciting to me to figure out what I need and what I need to know to really start a project. Once I had my grid process for Avrilis 1.0 (whose Goodreads page I SHAN’T neglect to foist upon you from here on in, get used to it!), I thought that would be the key to all future projects.

Shuttup.

Anyway.

So I still have the chapter grid, altho the column functions are different now because I graduated from needing all of them (YAY improvement!) and also identified which ones I don’t really rely on (like “dialogue” became “highlights”), but I have disabused myself of “pantser” or even “plotter” in the sense that I often see it used.

Hello-My-Name-Is-Label-LB-1992

I have accepted how very much happens on the page. I imagine the writer who can completely plot out a novel and know down which rabbit holes her mind will go, and I think, how nice for her. Or something less committal and equally uninvested. The thing is, go, her. Do you, everybody. But I am very aware that anything I plot will end up sounding super boring or will be so far-fetched that I’d never get there organically once pen goes to paper. Or I’ll summarize a conflict in one sentence and be like, this is gonna bloom once I’m actually writing it! And either, nope, that was it, wasn’t as deep as you thought, or yep, there’s no logic to that. Too intentional.

SO! What worked/is working with this one: I wrote down the major things I knew would happen and estimated where in the book they would occur. (That’s something I’ve never done, btw, tho it feels closely related to word-count segmenting, which I did for This Is Not Heaven.) And then I worked my way back from the first such thing (I mean, the first chapter inciting incident notwithstanding), and voila. First five chapter outline, give or take.

But to be honest, this time the thing that made everything pop-pop! (isn’t it cuuuute how Magnitude went on to be Sid in Galavant, d’awwwwwwwwww)

– wait, where were we?

YES! So the thing that ended up being the MEAT? Totes not the list of big things or whatever the devil I was talking about here. It’s what happened off-camera (Bethany, you’re talking about a book. I know, shuttup.) and how people feel about it. Seems so DUH once it’s decided. But something was missing and trying to just plot out a book and think about the things that would happen and even KNOWING the things that would happen didn’t make it WORK.

All of which is to say, that column I didn’t need on a grid anymore… is basically what I just circuitously defined as being the thing I needed to know.

What Is Life

Today I have been tested by way of:

(1) Letting the landlord and a worker into my bathroom only to realize that my dog had apparently gotten into the trash and strewn all its contents throughout. And so, yes, humiliated that in their minds I live in a constant state of abject squalor, I locked myself in my bedroom for the duration.

(2) Literally feeling my pulse in an eyelid vein set to twitching by the torturously simple and redundant song of what I can only assume was a mentally enfeebled bird directly outside my window.

(3) (In a return to abject squalor:) Tugging the garbage bag out only to find that said bag is decidedly NOT Hefty so when I had adequately stretched out the top and momentarily set it down to get a second bag in which to encase it, this happened.

Cartoon approximation.

Ewwwww, garbage water!

All of which threatened to lead me here:

Because I am but flesh and blood.

And this is not how you treat a Thane of Whiterun!!!!!!!!!

Demolition (Wo)Man

I’m gonna be honest, I gave that title all of three seconds of thought. That’s a lie. It was less than that and I feel like you can tell.

So I’m in the middle of a really, excruciatingly deceptive revision right now. Like, a deep bones revision.

You know how you’re watching brain surgery (as one does) and it just looks like this person will never be the same because you’ve flipped their scalp the other way and sawed through their cranium and dug around in the brain – and then you see them afterward and you cannot see the scar? (Shout-out to the docu-series, Brain Hospital. I wanna be you when I grow up.)

Okay, that’s what I feel like but not what I feel like I’m doing. Let’s start over.

This is the book.

victorian

 

Oh my gosh, it’s also the house I wanna DIE in.

::ahem::

Sorry. Anyway, so that’s the book, right? It’s the world, the concept, the scene outline, the characters to some extent. And so, that – that beautiful structure up there – looks relatively the same.

But see, inside – where one keeps all the insulation and world logic and character interaction and motivations?

….

Right?

So, sometimes my brain’s all, no, what are you talking about, this is totally a low-key revision because look.

victorian

 

And I’m like, yeah!

What was I thinking! This is gonna be super chill. I’m so silly. I think I’m just getting all mixed up about this whole driving in the snow and feeling like every mile brings me closer to the moment I go home to be with the Lord and this whole hubby having been sick and fever dreaming, cuz I really haven’t been getting great sleep what with how he’s taken to growling and kicking off the covers so lemme just open this word doc again, I don’t even know what I got so worked up about –

::crying in the wreckage::

~

So we’re good.

It’s gonna be great.

Super excited. Mildly terrified. Glad we’re doin’ it.

Totally unrelated: isn’t it hilarious when agents/editors/cps make one apt comment and you re-envision (the execution of) the entire novel. I love it.

Next time we’ll talk about writing other projects and how it sometimes teaches you how to properly write the first one. (And we’ll use “the first” rull loosely.)

::puts on hard hat::

 

Lightning Crashes

 

Let me tell you about the most frustratingest two days of my June life. (Because, let’s be real. I can’t rightly remember what happened in May. That was May’s problem; none of my business.)

So I have a bucket of projects from novel to flash fiction length out and about, looking for a home. (Does anyone else do this thing where they have several submission lists, in various visual iterations – like each particular project has its own excel workbook and then there’s the linear list of each project and where it’s subbed but then there’s this other thing which is shapes and just a different presentation of the same information because sometimes that’s how my brain needs to ingest information. You do, right? I should mention I am not soliciting diagnoses at this time.)

I tell you about this murder of organizational/administrative/brain-pressure-relieving documents because sometimes dealing with this aspect of the writer life suffices for a day or week while I wait on the next Must Write story/character/scene.

But not this past week. I was/am in the middling stretch with basically all aforementioned projects and I was like, okay, the next step in the thought-it-would-be-a-collection-of-flash-stories story might be transitioning into novellette or novella territory (dude, I wish I could tell you why) and simultaneously wanting to write a new novel for the adult market, but no. Seriously, not a single thought or concept was coming. By which I mean, not a single thought or concept that made sense.

It’s about a killer robot driving instructor, who travels back in time for some reason.

And then as it does, magic happened via the mundanity that is something I experience all the time and BOOM. Scene in my head. So, even though it was a simple scene, I wrote it down. As per yoosh, in the writing, more was revealed, but it was still vague in a way that surprised me. It could be more than one genre, part of more than one story.

So I made a two column list. This is how the story would proceed if it were this genre, this is how the story would proceed if it were this genre. And ho.my.gosh. One of those columns got long and extravagant and the concept turned into a world and ojsdopfjpdogkpdkfophhpodjfg and

It’s not ready to be written but WOW. I can’t. It’s one of those I have no idea how to write this projects and I can.not.wait.

That’s all.

 

‘Cause We Can’t Stop

 

TheNewBelovedYou ain’t even know.

This marvel of marvels, this tastiest of things? Is my new journal. Now, the first observation should rightly be: this is not a Roma Lussa, to which I desired greatly to return after two years of writing in a lined, non-marbelized-edged, decidedly un-handwoven-paged, sans leather not to mention wrap-adverse covered tome. Which I ended up very much enjoying for its delightful thickness.

So the thing is, I am very near the end of a journal and I cannot handle that being the case without knowing where I will write next. Mentally. I can’t handle that mentally. And finding my beloved Roma Lussa has been a challenge (no, the cost of shipping was not acceptable) so I went to Renaud-Bray to see if there was anything I could love. And immediately, no. NO. on all “leather” journals. I put that in quotes because I don’t know what these things are made of but it is not the supple buttery delectability to which I am accustomed, friends. It is not.

But then, I move a journal aside on a top shelf – I feel it’s important for you to accurately picture me on tiptoe here – and there is this. This flabbergasting cover with two glorious hooks, containing larger unlined pages than I have ever journaled on. But it wasn’t what I was looking for so I put it back. And then I came back and picked it up. And I put it down and went about my business. And then, as I was preparing to leave, I came rushing back and picked it up again. And then, darlings, I knew. I could not be without it.

I’ve begun my goodbye to the current journal. The obligatory flipping back to the beginning, seeing where I was, where it began. September 2012.

Le sigh eternal, you guys.

Have I mentioned I love journaling? (Ever?) (At all?)

Title This After Reading

So I’m listening to Hammock’s Oblivion Hymns over a 10 hour rain track and every time I do this, I just feel like a genius. You know? Like…in some very real way…it’s because of me that this is awesome.

I’m amazing.

And I’m also something else. It’s funny how I don’t trust my writing that isn’t speculative now? Which is easier to feel properly than to relay to you. I have to feel a purpose, which I have considered that I may simply be conflating with texture. Or voice. Something that takes this beyond something that happened that I am relaying to you like minutes. And when I say, why does this matter, I’m really only speaking to myself because I think this is an author-end consideration. I don’t assume the technique will “matter” to a reader, or need to. So anyway, what is communicated by speculative elements brings purpose for me.

All of which is to say, the short story I’m writing at the moment is not speculative. I had to ask myself “why would I write this” for a couple hours before I found an element that provided a “reason”. Geez, this isn’t making sense, is it? L’abort.

Anywho. I have no mixed feelings about returning to my non-speculative-writing soundtrack. It is glorious, altogether. Have some.

 

That and. I just. I need to go to Iceland. I need it. I cannot explain how I know this. But I need to write in a dome-shaped house of glass in the middle of a void.