Monday, September 1, 2008

Working Without a Net

Working my way through the first draft of a novel has been very much like walking a tightrope without a net.

Word count as of Wednesday night, 9:57 MST: 43,610

It's been quite an education so far and something about the process has shifted. I wrote the first first chapter of The Foundling Wheel (that's not a typo -- I've written a new first chapter) between Christmas and New Year's Eve of 2007. At the time, I was embarking on a brand new story with close to a dozen other writers who were starting their own stories. To be truthful, getting through the first hundred pages wasn't all that difficult. Over time, the words slowed and then they stopped coming at all.

I didn't do much, if any writing at all between March and June. What I'd been doing to that point wasn't working anymore. I did a lot of thinking and mapped some things out visually, hoping I could see what the structure looked like and where I needed to go. Slowly, I got moving again.

In July, I went to a retreat for a week and I returned inspired and reinvigorated. I've written six more chapters since July, but something has changed in the writing. When it flows, it really flows, but I have the almost visceral sensation of vertigo. When I wrote the first few chapters it felt very concretely like I was writing. I was posting the chapters as I wrote them, so although I was writing quickly, I was editing as I wrote. I'm not doing that now. In fact, I've got unnamed characters and other unknowns denoted by a "***" so I can go back and fix them later. Sometimes I feel more like I'm typing a story and not writing one. The second pass on these new chapters will require much more extensive rewriting than the first ten or eleven and those changes will undoubtedly set off a domino effect of cuts and major rewrites to the earlier chapters as well.

Oddly, the biggest change when I write is that my anxiety is gone. Despite the fact that the writing is much less careful and I still have plenty of questions about how this story will move forward, I'm not nearly as nervous, self-conscious and worried about it as I was, even though I truly feel like I'm moving forward blindfolded at times. I've paid lip service to my goal of finishing a first draft from the beginning and it's always been my goal, but for I long time I said it more in the spirit of "fake it 'til you make it" than out of any real confidence I could do it.

I can do it. I can't explain why I suddenly know it, but I do. It's kind of exhilarating.

It seems like it's been a long time since my last post. Work has been busy, I've been getting a decent amount of writing done, I've been reading quite a bit and frankly, the DNC and the RNC have been a huge distraction.

My list of August reads will be up shortly. Other things that have my attention are this season of Mad Men and the upcoming new season of House. Yesterday, Scott and I went to see the new Woody Allen movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and I loved it.

What's keeping you busy this week?


Julie Layne said...

Oh, don't you love it when you're in the river like that? What a great place to be. Don't get out until you've run it dry!

We went to see Vicky Christina Barcelona weekend before last. It was a funky fun movie. Loved Javier Bardem's part especially.

G√ľnter said...


Nice update. Very glad to hear that the writing is going well and the no-internet time is paying off.

I don't know if you saw my comment-reply on IWCM, but I'm reading/listening to a collection of stories by Scott Wolven that I think you'd like at least as much as you liked that story by Richard Lange. And Wolven is all over the internet.

The Copper Kings
Atomic Supernova
El Rey

Good stuff. Check out that last one, if only to humor me because I had to dig through to get the links. :)

I agree about the DNC and RNC. I'm a junkie. I won't get into it too much here, but to summarize my feelings about Wednesday night's proceedings: "RAAAHAHAHAGGH! ANGRY LEFT!"

Anonymous said...

Lisa, I love this update! Thank you. But what I love most of all is that you now BELIEVE you will finish that first draft (as I always knew you would). It's a wonderful feeling, isn't it?

I can't speak much to what happens once you finish since I'm still sort of stuck in that limbo of knowing I need to revise but unable to get any momentum going.

Regardless, you go girl!!!! (and yes to the RNC and DNC. I'm equally fascinated and horrified by all of it...)

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

"Writing without a net"--what a great descriptor. And it's what we do (or need to do). You've captured it exactly.

This week? I'm catching my breath between trips and between books (sent a final--I hope--draft off to my agent last week and will be diving into book #3 when I get back into town late next week).

Oh, yeah, and trying to not get totally sucked into the political vortex.

steve said...

I've been busy--driving my son to Hanover, IN, finding that my ancient Toyota's clutch and exhaust system cost too much to fix, buying an ancient Subaru with problems of its own, and working a lot. Plus trying to pack up the house in Elkhart on my days off. Basically I've been sleep-deprived and exhausted. And I haven't had a lot of time for writing.

I did have a chance to see Chicago 10, now that it's on DVD. Some of the footage gives me a better idea of the Lincoln Park and Grant Park scene, though sadly, there was no footage of the LBJ Un-birthday Party.

I've been upset about the Sarah Palin coverage. The whole pregnant daughter issue seems to be a smokescreen for the Troopergate scandal and the fact that she was once a member of the Alaskan Independence Party--a group that wants to hold a referendum on Alaska's secession from the U.S.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading your new first chapter of The Foundling Wheel.

Lisa said...

Julie, Yes, it does feel like being in a river -- or maybe rapids and I don't know if I'm headed for the falls or a soft landing!

Javier Bardem was incredible! It was nice to see him in a role that was so different from the sociopath he played in "No Country for Old Men". And of course I have a weakness for passionate, swarthy artists ;)

Gunter, Ooooh, thanks for the links! I hadn't been back to check, but I'll go there now. I love the podcasts for those times when I'm having lunch or doing something where I can stop what I'm doing and just listen.

The politics! Arghhh! I was so high and happy and full of optimism after the DNC and by the time Palin wrapped up last night -- after the smarmy, adolescent Giulliani speech -- well, I was just plain pissed off. I'm not sure if the intent was to drive people to Obama's site to make another contribution, but that's the impact the RNC had on me last night.

Kristen, I couldn't ever really say it out loud before, but I really had a lot of doubts as to whether I was really capable of writing a first draft from start to finish and for whatever reason, I've gotten through it and I know I will finish. Thanks for being such a good friend about it.

Judy, Book three! Wow! When you were in the throes of book one did you ever think you'd be saying that? Congratulations for finishing two. I can't wait to read it.

If you can stay away from the politics, all the better for you. It wasn't really a distraction for me until it became infuriating. Bah!

Steve, Being sleep deprived is not a lot of fun. I hope you can finish up this move, take a long rest and get back to your writing, refreshed.

The Palin thing has be so exasperated, mainly because McCain chose her for all the wrong reasons and because there's so much that's controversial about her that now the mudslinging and negative campaigning is inevitable.

Denis said...

Woohoo! tipee-tappee-type/type/type...
skritchy-scratchy rite/rite/rite!
There, now there's no excuse for not finishing this and the 2nd of this series! whoooosh!
love Denis

Riss said...

Glad to know you're kickin' butt. The asterisk trick works smashingly, as does the red letter highlight as you'll notice in mine hehe. Not that I'm going anywhere with it at the moment...things have sort of coming crashing in around me the past, oh...two weeks? But it's normal. Life does this occasionally. Now I just have to remember not to kill the kids. Tonight it was a close call for them. Anyway-I'm glad to hear that you're working like I said and I can't wait to see the end of the story. You're awesome. :D

pattinase (abbott) said...

I didn't get much from the Allen film to my regret. I can't get beyond the fact they all have his speech cadences and obsessions. It's like every character is Woody.

Steve Malley said...

Previously, I've always reached the end of my first draft with little notes in the middle like ((something here where we check in with Herman)) or ((Perhaps this would be good to hear from the villains)). Some re-assembly has always been required.

I also have RCNS, Rapidly Changing Name Syndrome. Herman might turn into Harry and even spend a few pages as Dexter. Sometimes, Herman might become Dexter and I name some other poor schlub Herman. Fun trying to sort that one out.

SO far, I'm just past 29,000 words and none of these problems yet. At least, not that I've noticed...

Usman said...

Way to go. Don't worry about the blanks, just know your story, write it.
I'll be updating where I am on my blog. Someday soon.

Sustenance Scout said...

Not sure why I didn't get a notice when this post was up; so glad I took the time to stop by to read it. I would've congratulated you yesterday when I saw you!! YES to losing the anxiety. I'd be interested to hear from Scott how long it took for him to consider himself a confident painter rather than someone who was learning to paint, if that makes any sense. You're on a roll! Can't wait to read the first draft, K.

p.s. wish I could've stayed longer yesterday; your back patio with all those trees is a place I could camp out in. :)

Carleen Brice said...

Def sucked into the political vortex.

Riss said...

Can I help you at all with the German name? Since I'm here and all. I know you lived here for 4 years but figured I'd offer. (c:

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

It's when it flows that you know it's good - don't stop for the ***es and the ???s, just keep at it until you get to the end. This week was quite frenetic: neverending emails, Excel spreadsheets, research proposals, group discussions, editing, bike rides, designing oligonucleotides with VectorNTI, meetings with professors, training work studies to operate the primer database, reading papers on aphid saliva and transgenic sweetpotatoes, baking recipes from home, and beer. Lots of beer. No wonder I haven't blogged recently.

Lana Gramlich said...

We kept busy by waiting for waters to recede & power to come back on, mainly. Gustav wasn't so bad, I guess, but now Ike's not looking very friendly. <:(

Patti said...

i was especially happy to read about your progress, because you are a wonderful writer. seriously.

and i'm busy trying with a computer virus (boy to the rescue!) and rewriting my wedding piece for submission and the marathon blog (which i think i am fantastic that crass to say?!) and thinking about a women's retreat for those mommies who suddenly find themselves without kiddos to mother because said kiddos had the nerve to get their own lives and fnding an agent (still).

nothing much, other than that.

Lisa said...

Denis, I am going to finish...dammit!

Riss, I noticed you were doing the *** thing and it's working for me. Don't kill the kids! ;)

Patti A, That is the one thing that gets annoying with Woody Allen movies -- and I'm not sure why he insists on doing it almost every time. But, having said that, I am a die hard fan and I'd probably watch any movie he makes and love it no matter what.

Steve, I wasn't expecting it to happen, but I've gotten so far into it that I've actually started forgetting characters' names. I have a couple of *** spots where I named the character, but didn't want to stop and go search. Old age? Write on!

Usman, Sounds like you have to be very close!

Karen, I don't think Scott ever really had any insecurity, but I know he did a pretty intense three year apprenticeship with a group of painters in California when he first started. He really had an innate facility and was selling paintings almost immediately -- and I think that really alleviates any anxiety for most people. Yes -- it seems like hanging out on the deck was forever ago now that it's gotten cold!

Riss, I think I picked one that I like, but I will take you up on your offer if I decide I want something different.

Orchid Hunter, I've now done sort of equal parts of edit as I go and just go and there are pros and cons to both, although "just write" is the only way I could have kept going past about the 30K word mark with this. "oligonucleotides", "aphid saliva", "transgenic sweet potatoes" -- I will resist the urge to google! Baking recipes from home...hmm...are there some particular baked goods that I need to know about? The beer will definitely slow you down, won't it?

Lana, Jeeze, I wish hurricane season would be over already. You guys have been through enough. Are you feeling any PTSD from Katrina?

Patti, You are the sweetest :) AND I have been following all of your marathon updates, just in stealth mode -- remember, I'm always there, whether you see me or not. I am very proud of you. I can't wait to read the wedding piece WHEN it is published.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf