Children's book author, Brenda Ferber, writes about the writing life.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Happy New Year!
Tomorrow I start NYNN (New Year, New Novel). I'll be attempting to write 2000 words per day, six days per week, in an effort to complete a first draft of a new novel. I made a rule for myself that I'm not allowed on the internet AT ALL until I've completed my word goal for the day. I'm afraid there will be very few days this month when I'll be checking e-mail, reading blogs, playing on Facebook, or updating this blog. Boo hoo! But won't it be worth it? A first draft in a month? It sounds like heaven.
May 2009 bring us a revived economy, pride in our president and country, good books to read, peace on earth, and joy and laughter with our family and friends.
We sleep as late as Ozzy lets us (8:00 today... a record!). Eat a big breakfast and stay in pajamas till around noon. Read, watch movies, bake cookies, play games (like Monopoly, Apples to Apples, Whoonu, and Rock Band), play with Ozzy, go out to dinner, light Hanukkah candles, open presents, watch TV, then head to bed.
It's the perfect amount of laziness.
I love this break from the hectic day-to-day business of our regular lives. It fosters family bonding and allows time for creative and clear thinking. For about a year now, I've known I wanted to do some kind of summer camp book tour to celebrate the release of Jemma Hartman Camper Extraordinaire. But I could never figure out what I would actually do up at the camps. It's not a school visit, that's for sure. It would have to be something fun and meaningful and camp-like. Suddenly, yesterday, the perfect idea came to mind. It was one of those ideas that jumps out at you and makes you want to click your heels and shout "Eureka!"
Drum roll please...
It's a Time Capsule! Every cabin will choose or create an object that represents a story they want to remember forever. Then they'll present their stories to the camp and put the objects in a time capsule to be opened 20 years later at a camp reunion. There will be awards for silliest, most memorable, and most creative stories/objects. I'll talk about some of my camp memories and show how they ended up in my book. Then we'll sing songs, I'll sign books, and everyone will feel a little bit closer and more appreciative of their amazing camp experience.
Now I've just got to get some camps to put me on their schedule.
Lately, I've been fickle, like a woman who falls madly in love with a man only to lose interest a month later. Of course, I'm still happily married to my actual husband. But I keep falling in and out of love with my plots. I start a new manuscript, thinking This is the One, only to soon wonder what I ever was attracted to in the first place.
It's not a very productive way of writing. And it makes me feel yucky.
I talked it out today at critique group. Have I told you how much I love my critique group? As usual, they had great advice for me. Jenny thought I should tell myself my next book would be my file drawer manuscript, the novel I wouldn't publish. She thinks the pressure is getting to me, and she's right about that. But unfortunately, I don't think I can trick myself into thinking I'm writing for nobody. Carol told me I should write about a character with the exact problem I'm having right now... a girl who thinks she has nothing interesting to say. That has its appeal, but it doesn't feel compelling enough for me to dedicate myself to it for a year or more. Plus, I don't like this feeling! Why would I want to immerse myself in it? Ellen asked, "What do you love about writing?"
That was a good question.
I said, "I love trying to answer a question. With Julia's Kitchen, the question was, 'Why does God let bad thing happen, and how do you deal with the worst possible thing?' With Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire, the question was, 'What do you do when a friendship that you thought would last forever starts to fade?' I love living vicariously through these characters as they figure out the answers to these questions."
So then, of course, Jenny, Ellen, and Carol asked me what I wanted to know the answer to now.
Another good question.
I'm thinking about it. And hopefully, when the right question comes to me, I'll fall in love with a character and plot and be able to commit, at least for the next year or two.
I'm not sure if book trailers are a fad or something that will take hold. And I'm not sure if they make any difference in terms of buzz or sales. But I do know one thing for sure... they are an area of creativity that is wide open for exploration and development.
And that is fun!
Check out this rap video trailer for Perfect Chemistry, by Simone Elkeles:
For only $20, this charity will give a family somewhere on this globe a flock of chicks. And then Each starter flock has from 10 to 50 chicks. One flock gives a family in a developing country a much needed source of food and income.
Did you know that chickens:
lay up to 200 eggs in a year.
require little space.
thrive on readily available food scraps.
control insects & fertilize gardens. Can make an enormous difference in a family's life?
And you thought chicks were just cute and silly!
Please join The Silly Chicks in helping families from Cameroon to the Caribbean. Donate now and send a notification card to Three_Silly_Chicks@yahoo.com. Or send a copy of your receipt to Three_Silly_Chicks@yahoo.com as proof and they will name you an Honorary Silly Chick and give you a post on their website! (Note: The receipt does not contain any financial information!)
Have you heard of national novel writing month, NANOWRIMO? Well, my friend Carmela Martino has now created NYNN, New Year/New Novel. It's just like NANOWRIMO, but it takes place in January, and as absurd as it sounds, I'm going to try to do it. The idea is to write a 50,000-word draft of a manuscript in one month. Participants are called NYNNies (or writing fools). Today I had nothing major to do for myself or my family, so I decided to test out the feeling of writing 2000 words in a day.
I ended up with 619. And now I'm so sleepy I just want to take a nap.
Is it possible to write 2000 words in a day? Is it kind of like lifting weights in the way it gets easier if I do it on a regular basis? Will I be able to care for a family and a puppy and still write that much? Will I have to take a break from karate? Laundry? Grocery shopping? Will my family pick up the slack?
I definitely like the idea of turning off my inner critic and whipping out a first draft like this. I like the intensity of it. I like being called a NYNNie. And January looks pretty open on my calendar.
I think this might be the closest I'll ever come to running a marathon. People train for marathons, right? So I should think of this time as training. 619 isn't so bad. It's like running a mile or two. You gotta start somewhere.
When I write, I try to love the characters I create... even the villains. But I especially have to love my main character. I'm asking readers to go along for a ride with her, to root for her, to laugh and cry with her. It wouldn't be fair of me to expect readers to do that for someone I didn't think was totally worthy.
That's why I aim to create wonderfully flawed, vulnerable, spirited, and resilient characters whom readers (and I) can identify with or try to be like or at least want to get to know.
And that's also one of the reasons why I'm having trouble with my main character in my work-in-progress. See, she is popular, and I have a thing about popular girls. I tend not to like them.
I'm not proud of this reverse-snobbery. It started in middle school when I was completely intimidated by a group of popular girls. They were so cool, and I was so not. I stayed away from them, and instead of admitting that they scared me, I found reasons to hate them.
At first glance, it might have looked like jealousy, but I never wanted to be like them or to be included in their group. If anything, I wished they would be more like me. Maybe then I wouldn't be so threatened by their perceived superiority in practically every area of life.
Thankfully, once I grew up, I stopped being intimidated by popular girls, and the reverse-snobbery faded away, but I know it's still there, under the surface. And as I sit here, trying to write about a popular 8th grader, I'm finding it challenging to get past my bias. It's so much easier for me to love the outsider.
But I realized something yesterday. Popular girls don't call themselves popular. That's a term other people use to label them, to exert some power over them. So I'm going to stop calling my character popular. She certainly wouldn't describe herself that way. She would actually be annoyed by the term and all that it implies.
Hopefully that will allow me to get a little closer to her heart. And she to mine.
Why I Hate First Drafts: 1. I don't know who my character is. (I mean really and truly who she is.) 2. I don't know what the story is. (I mean the actual truth of the story.) 3. I don't like writing badly. (And I've yet to find the magical pen that writes beautiful first drafts.)
How I'm Trying to Avoid These Problems with My Work-in-Progress: 1. I'm thinking about my character as much as possible, imagining what she would say or do if she were with me all day long. She's practically my invisible friend! 2. I'm outlining and re-outlining and re-re-outlining in an effort to get to the one essential truth of the story. 3. I'm not writing at all.
I realize at some point I'm going to have to actually write something. A chapter. And another chapter. And so on. That's kind of the key to writing a book. (Duh.) But until then, I'm not going to feel bad that I have nothing to show my critique group, my agent, or my editor. (At least not too bad.) I'm not going to focus on the fact that I started developing this idea four months ago. (Yikes!) This isn't procrastination or writer's block or any other negative sounding label. This is just the way I work. (Life is busy with three teens and a puppy, you know.)
Maybe all this thinking and pre-writing will help in the long run. Maybe when I finally write this draft, the story will come out in the beautiful and magical way I'm imagining it.