One Word at a Time

I love to examine all the ways my writing has grown over the years. So, I’m going to share just a little bit about my writing journey, the methods that I’ve been developing over time, and how I’d like to improve upon them.

Book 1: Huntress

When I began my first manuscript in earnest, I was a new mom. As my son happily rolled and gurgled about on my living room floor, I sat next to him in front of my old laptop with a broken keyboard, and a MacGyver set-up of an even older desktop-keyboard and mouse set in front of it, and I wrote. It was painfully slow going (and the baby liked to bang on the keyboard, probably because it made his mom shriek), but I was doing it. Being the technological genius that I am, I lost about half of that manuscript, and spent a few painful months wallowing and wondering if I could ever pick up the pieces of my story again.

Long story short, I did, (and I tattooed “BACK UP YOUR WORK” on the inside of my eyelids) but by the time I was ready to commit to it again, I’d had another baby and was a busy mom to two young children. I needed to be more disciplined, and I found that the unearthly ruckus that a toddler and a baby can make are entirely unconducive to creative thinking. So, I carved out quiet time to write during naps and after the babies were asleep for the night. Finally, I finished the book.

It took a painfully long time, and afterwards, I figured out why.

I’d felt that so much was at stake in writing my first novel (primarily this question – could I even do it?), that I desperately wanted to get that first draft right. I needed everything to fall into place as I wrote it – a ridiculous expectation of a first draft. Of course, it didn’t work that way, but I was compelled to learn a lot about editing a manuscript.

Book 2: Truth Cursed

One more baby, several in-depth revisions, and a couple of short stories later, and I was ready to write another novel. It was different this time because I knew I could do it. This time, I knew that I was willing to make the inevitable mistakes, and plan for those subsequent drafts. I put that first draft in its proper place – as the draft that doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be written – and I had a lot more fun.

I had three children by this point, so nap-time and nighttime was when I wrote. My word-count goal for each week-day was an extremely attainable 1,000 words, and it was enough to get me through the draft in four months.

One of my goals is to become a better plotter. However, the method of light plotting at the beginning (a general outline containing the conflict, character goals, and desired resolution), followed by jumping into the writing and working out the rest as I went along, worked exceptionally well for this novel. The plot came together as I wrote, and even though my first draft was chock-full of contradictions and plot holes, I never turned back during that draft to correct them, but kept moving forward as if I already had. I kept a document full of notes of what needed to be corrected, changed, and figured out in the second draft.

I was delighted with the way the plot unfurled before me during that draft. The choice to keep it organized in my notes and in my head, but continue to charge ahead, was very freeing. Although challenging in the way that writing undoubtedly is, it was nothing like my first novel. I’d sweated over and struggled through Huntress, always doubling back to fix something, unaware of the knots I was creating for future pages.

I have a very helpful beta-reader (an excellent and exciting writer, herself) who read the first draft of this manuscript as a serial. She was always confident that I was working out the kinks, and was able to look ahead with me. Her suggestions were invaluable and joined my extensive document of notes for Draft #2.

My second draft was all about going back through and creating continuity, and making sense of the plot that had taken shape in the first draft. I handed it over to a second faithful reader, who helped me see it through fresh eyes. Mine were getting a bit blurry.

I made multiple revisions, and each time I read through Truth Cursed, it was with a different, very full checklist. Plot, character, continuity, line edits, world-building, trimming, etc., etc.

The organization that I’m able to control in my writing helps me balance the frustration that can grow when I can’t keep a lid on every disaster my three riotous children might conjure.

I left as much world-building as possible for later drafts. Another of my goals, for when I’m writing fantasy, is to be better at world-building at the beginning of the first draft, because this occasionally could be a set-back that affected the plot when I tried to fit it in later. However, I struggle to envision an environment until I know what my plot and characters will require from it. (In this way, writing historical-fiction gives me a lot to work with in the plotting stages in terms of researching the environment, which is something I appreciated about Huntress.)

So, those are just a few thoughts on my novel-writing journey and how my methods have evolved. I hope as I keep writing, I’ll keep growing and learning. I’ve been working on a short story this week, which in some ways is a very different ballpark, but similar in other unexpected ways. More on that another time.

I’d love to hear about the different journeys and methods that others have developed along the way. Thank you for reading!

The Useful Myth

Fairy tales shaped my early love of story, and as my interest in literature and history deepened in my teen years, I began to develop a love of ancient mythology as well. It took off, and was fed, in a college course dedicated to studying the works of C.S. Lewis. I loved seeing the connections to mythology in The Chronicles of Narnia, which had shaped so much of my early growth as a reader. The idea of using aspects of myths as a starting point in my writing has been around since the early days of my appreciation of mythology, but I became quickly overwhelmed by the vast, deep well, and felt that I could only ever skim the surface.

Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis, an allegorical novelization of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman, with its web of ancient and modern mythology, were two (very different) books that both inspired and scared me off. They were so richly imagined and researched, and I was thoroughly daunted, but hungry to read more.

It wasn’t until a few years after a college trip to Ireland, that I couldn’t help but give it a try. I was experiencing a hot-blooded, desperate sort of nostalgia that pushed me to research Ireland and its history, which often seems inextricably entwined with its layers of legend. I wanted so badly to inhabit not only that beautiful, physical place, but the magic and robust life contained in its stories.

I also wanted to write a story about a young girl (for young girls), fighting for her place and purpose in a changing land that is being overtaken by ruthless men, who would use a girl like her for their own gain. I wanted to write a story of adventure and sisterhood, and a magic that is as much part of the very fabric of a beautiful land as its deeply-felt history. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ireland and this girl, so I wrote Huntress.

It was an intensely emotional endeavor, fraught with mistakes, but I believe that story taught me how to write. Writing a novel, your first novel, is a little bit like going on an epic journey, then returning home again and realizing that it’s changed you. Your life won’t be the same again, you must keep ever onward, ever seeking. It’s a feeling that I wouldn’t change for anything. My writing might never find its place among the works that inspire me and the rest of the world, but I won’t let that stop me from trying any longer. Right now, it’s enough that some of my stories exist outside of my own head.

And for the record, I did only skim the surface. I used a teaspoon of myth and a bit more of history as my jumping off point, but it was enough to set me on my way. 🙂

Spinning Fairy Tales

“Your first-born child.” This time its voice was like a rainstorm, heavy and deceptively soothing.
With great effort and a fire in my throat, I mustered another weak chuckle, to show it that I was not afraid, even now, and what an unprofitable bargain it was proposing. The weak laugh earned me a blinding, choking pressure against my windpipe, and the manacles at my wrist began to steam and sizzle. I smelled my own flesh burning as white hot streaks of pain shot through my arms, my fingertips.
Without enough air for speech and my throat almost completely blocked, I forced out the words that would taunt me and howl in my ears eternally. “She’s all yours.”

– Excerpt from my short story, “Spun of Gold and Pain.”

In theory, fairy tales are my favorite place to start. This is theoretical because both of my full manuscripts have no fairy tale origins. But whenever I’m ready to start somewhere new, these old stories are the first place I look for inspiration. Sometimes they take form as a short story, sometimes as a valiant start that wasn’t valiant enough to find its stride. But they always succeed in firing up my imagination, because the possibilities feel infinite.

I’ll never forget the day I decided that maybe it wouldn’t be ridiculous to try writing fiction again, as an adult. Sitting in my little apartment, entranced by Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, I decided I wanted to try something like it. I wrote a now-lost beginning and a flagging, but intrigue-packed, plot outline to a re-telling of “Rapunzel.” I had an awful lot to figure out about writing fiction, much more than I realized at the time, but I got a taste of just how exciting it could become for me.

We all had different pictures in our head when we first read or heard the various fairy tales we grew up with, but for me, those images aren’t immutable. They are growing, changing opportunities for richer, fresher versions of beloved stories. I love to tell my kids stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk” or “Little Red Riding Hood” over and over, but add a new, different detail each time I tell it. One of my very favorite fairy-tale re-tellings is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. It takes the ageless story and asks “what if?” to enormously successful effect.

In my short story “Spun of Gold and Pain,” I asked the same question while contemplating one of my favorites,”Rumplestiltskin,” and the result was a strange little story that I became quite fond of. I won’t be posting the whole story here, at least not yet, but here’s another bit of it:

I named her in a haste that irked the king. I called out her name in a strong voice in the moment of her birth, and then it was done. The power of a naming was solemnly regarded and could not be undone, not even if the child’s father is a king. My daughter would not be like me, a nameless, unwanted wretch of a child. She would not be vulnerable to the malicious whims of a fey. She would be safe.

Greetings

I suppose I must start with an introduction, although like many writers, I prefer to jump to the good stuff. How do you do? My name is Angie, and I’m starting a blog.

Good, we got past the awkward bit.

You know when your head is full of words, but you’re not a big talker? Of course you do, some of you. I’ve spent years of my life buried in books, and that love of words very quickly evolved to writing them down myself. In the past decade since graduating college with a uselessly exciting degree in English Literature, I’ve been indulging in what I used to think I could never do — writing stories. I’ve been researching and practicing the art of writing like a reader, and for a reader. In other words — for myself.

I write a lot, and I think about writing a lot. I’ve written two (as-yet, unpublished) novels, as well as some short stories and a fat folder full of many unfinished bits of starts and ideas. While querying my work, I go a little nuts, hence a blog is born. Here I will talk about books and writing (and frankly, whatever else catches my fancy and runs off with it), and hopefully, in time, generate some discussions!

I’m awfully pleased to meet you.