I have to be honest, getting into a summer writing routine has been harder than I thought. In the weeks leading up to the last day of school, I’d convinced myself that I’d get up early and write for hours before anyone else was up–no! I’d stay up late. That’s what I’d do: stay up as late as I wanted, then sleep in every morning. But then the last day of school came…and so did the tears. I took a new position next fall, teaching English at a different school than the one I’ve been at for the past three years. I think I’m ready for the new adventure and the challenge, but it was still really hard (I mean ridiculously hard) to say good-bye to my school, my friends there, and the young people who’ve filled my days for the past few years. So I needed a couple of days to recover from the school year and its ending, and I took them.
My next challenge was getting my co-writer on board. For all of the days during the school year that she wanted to cram some writing time into our already-full days, now that we have hour upon lazy hour to fill with creativity, all she wants to do is watch nonsense (I’m sorry, I meant “top-notch cinematography and drama”) like Teen Beach Movie 2. *eyeroll* With our goal of getting Book 2 out by the end of summer, we broke out our calendar and worked backwards from there: how long to get it formatted? One week. How long to have it in our hands with suggested edits and changes? A couple of weeks. How long can we expect our beta readers to spend reading and marking up our draft? Gotta give ’em a couple of weeks, at least. So when do we need a complete first draft to work with? By July 17th!!! And we’ve got about 11,000 words done right now. So…that’s a lot of writing. But we’ll get there. I know we will. It just takes a little time to settle into summer, to fully absorb the enormity of days on end with no schedule and no commitments. And then to get bored enough to crave routine.
In the meantime, I’ve gone hog-wild with my own story/series. I wrote a romance about six or seven years ago that I’ve always really loved (well, it was the characters and the setting that I loved, not the story necessarily), so I’ve been working for quite a while now at dismantling that and bringing the parts that I love to life in a way that works for me. Right now I’ve got that mapped out as a five-book series and I’m well into the first book, but as you can see above, my writing goals are sometimes a little lofty, so…
Right now we’re trying to find our groove. We’ve been sitting out on our deck together at night, letting the moon come out as we talk strategy for Book 2, and answering questions from the awesome bloggers we’ve met so far who have agreed to feature us and our writing adventure on their blogs. All in all, I think this is going to be a pretty awesome summer.
For as enthusiastic as I was a few weeks ago about the book Take off Your Pants, I am equally invigorated right now by Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing. And yet…I sort of feel like I’m chasing my own tail. While Pants got me to outline and think ahead before writing in a way I’d never done before, King basically throws an arm around my shoulders and tells me, “You’ve been doing it right all along–keep going.” Which I love, of course, but it just reinforces for me what a solitary, unique pursuit writing is. What works for me may not work for you–and vice versa–but according to King, that’s just fine and dandy. In the same way that the universe drops the right people, jobs, and situations into your life just when you need them (I’m still waiting for the universe to drop the right lottery numbers into my lap–that definitely needs to happen), I think it also slides the perfect book under your nose at a time when you’re searching for exactly what lies between the covers of said book. Take off Your Pants was timely and helpful as I floundered with my own process and wondered what was missing, and On Writing fits the bill as I move forward and think about the parts of writing that bring me the most joy.
And I find that joy in the creative place where time evaporates. That place where I start writing and working and the next time I look at a clock, three hours have gone missing. During these spells, the characters take on a life of their own and move the narrative forward in a way that makes me feel like my hands are just holding the planchette on a Ouija board while some unseen spirit does the work. King agrees with me here–the magic is in the way that you pull a story from the ether (his analogy is of unearthing a fossil carefully, of trying to keep it intact as you extract) and in the way that you get to essentially be the first reader as well as the creator–the story is as much of a wonder to you during the first draft as it is to your readers. Beyond that, his suggestions for tighter writing and editing are beautiful. If nothing else, I’ll walk away with the metaphorical toolbox that he helps his reader build, as well as with the knowledge that you have to slay the evil adverb. In our final edit, Holly and I are going through our manuscript right now and stabbing every adverb we can find, tossing molotov cocktails into our sentences wherever we see modifiers like “angrily”, “sadly”, and “pitifully”. We’re on a mission to get our narrative tightened up so that it corners like it’s on rails, hums like a tuning fork, and moves the reader along at breakneck speed like the Shinkansen bullet train racing through Japan. It’s been an exciting journey so far, and we’re speeding towards our first stop (book one’s publication!) on this adventure. All aboard!
In addition to the writing, planning, and dreaming that goes into this project, I’m really enjoying the level of engagement I’m seeing in my child. She truly gets joy from every part of this process. Over spring break she discovered an awesome website that lets you design houses (all on her own–how do they do these things? They learn to navigate and seek out their interests right under your nose…and the next thing you know, your 11-year-old is a mini-architect. Amazing.) Anyway, she stumbled onto a site called homestyler.com, and then proceeded to devote hours to imagining what the house of our next protagonist looks like.
Already underway, book two is set on Oahu, and our main character, Mai, and her family have moved from Tokyo to share a home with Mai’s aunt, uncle, and cousin. So with the help of homestyler.com, Holly now has a visual rendering of the walkway leading up to the little yellow house that we’ve written about, complete with bedrooms for each character, shared living spaces, and a lanai that’s decked out with furniture and landscaping. I love that she knows what it takes to inspire her own creativity, and while I’ll admit that I’ve never needed (or at least never had) an architectural layout of my characters’ homes, I kind of love it. To be perfectly honest, I’m hoping that her organization, visual inspiration, and preparation, rub off on me a little as a writer because I tend to just dive in. My whole story universe generally lives inside my head (and on my old-school cut-and-paste inspiration boards, as mentioned in a previous post), so to have all of these colorful, dynamic, well thought out pieces of the puzzle is pretty cool for me.
And on another note, report cards came out the Friday before spring break, and guess what Holly’s note from the teacher said? “I’ve really noticed huge improvements in her writing skills this trimester.” (**insert big Mommy Smiley Faces here**) That was certainly not my sole intent when we started this journey, but it’s absolutely a welcome side effect of our collaboration!
Writing in a partnership is a roller coaster. I find that sometimes it makes the whole process more exciting, like when you have an idea that you share with the other person, and you both end up shouting, “YES! That’s perfect!” and falling all over each other with praise. Other times it can be challenging: you’re in the flow of writing, and the other person has something to add that brings the whole thing to a screeching halt. Or you don’t agree on something fundamental, which means you have to talk it through–something you don’t have to do while working alone. But the feeling of doing something together is incomparable.
The way we write is especially sweet for me: Holly is our idea guru, and I bring the ideas to life. For instance, when we start something, we come up with a theme for the book, then we talk about characters, scenes, locations, etc. (Can you imagine how proud a mother who majored in English is when she listens to her 11-year old debate the merits of realistic versus science fiction? When she starts kicking around terms like ‘universal themes’?) From there, she goes bananas–she researches, finds pictures and maps, and then she creates a slideshow for us that serves as inspiration as we go forward. She did one just this morning for our new project that was set to music and included a picture of what she thinks every character in our book should look like.
Next, we sit down together, side-by-side. (This is my favorite part.) Sometimes we work on the couch, other times we lean against a big pile of pillows on her bedroom floor. And if the weather is nice, we head out to the backyard to work in our little casita, surrounded by pink walls, inspiration boards, my collection of rabbits and cardinals (stuffed, wooden, and porcelain), the sunlight streaming through the miniature windows with their cheery pink and white checked curtains. Then she leans her shoulder against mine or puts her head on my arm as I write so that she can read every word as I’m typing. That means she can stop me when I use a word that’s ridiculously out of character for our heroine, or when I need input on something “cool” or “young” to keep our heroine living in the 21st century. But in the end, I know that no matter what–whether we’re successful at this endeavor, or whether it’s just a fun hobby–I’ll never forget the times we spent together, lost in the process, her soft, fragrant head on my shoulder, easily within kissing distance.
Because that’s just how we write.