Work of Art

Hey, my outline is a work of art, man. I’ll just turn this in, call it a “novel”—we’ll be set.

In all seriousness, as I confessed below, I reached a point in this first-drafting where I needed to have a detailed sense of where I was headed, so I stopped writing and backtracked into outline mode. It’s not really an outline though. It’s all of Act II in notes, reflections, snaps of dialogue, peeks of scenes… I don’t know. E read it and said it’s more like a treatment. Some might say a rough draft. All I can say is that doing it made me feel so much more connected to the middle of the book, and middles are my weakness. It made the book feel alive again. It made me love the book even more than before. I think scribbling out my plans in a formless amorphous blob of possible potential is just part of my process. Must remember for next time.

Anyway, I did that. And then the rest of my life got me stressed. Due to extenuating circumstances so out of my control I can’t handle them, I turned immobile and, well, I did a bad evil thing and I regret it terribly.

I napped.

Two afternoons in a row.

*filled with shame just thinking about it*

I haven’t been feeling well, and on top of that I just started sneezing and I’m probably getting a cold. Also I meant to do twelve things this weekend and accomplished only two and a half. Also my shoe keeps slipping off when I walk. Also I have an appointment at the Apple Store on Tuesday, so I can get the laptop a new case, and I’m having separation anxiety already, wondering if I’ll have to leave my baby with them overnight. Also it’s Monday morning. The sky is falling, whinewhine.

But at least I have my outline! It’s a beautiful thing, really. Like a love letter to the novel I want to write. You can say a lot of things you don’t actually mean in love letters, you can gush and embellish and use mortifying pet names, but in this outline I mean every word.

I feel like making out in a dark corner with my novel for a while. By that I mean I’m stopping this post now to write.

Stop the Train!

square_trainHang on, we just pulled the emergency brake. We were nearing decent speed when I faced the fact that we had to stop, and now we’re at a complete standstill while I do some maintenance and get my head on straight.

Here’s what’s going on: I’m writing this new novel. Some of you may have seen the good and exciting news elsewhere and/or know I now have an official deadline, real and true, just like I like ’em.

First draft deadline: Feb. 1. But want to write to the end so E can read first: Dec. 1. Besides, my first drafts need a lot of self-editing. To make Feb. 1, I really should try to hold December.

Say that happens. Then that gives me THREE AND A HALF MONTHS to get all the pages out and get them out good. There will be fifteen chapters, maybe sixteen. That’s a bunch of words, and the math… let’s just avoid the math.

Basically, I have a lot of work to do. I’m a slow writer. It’s been slow. I can’t just spit out pages and have them stand up afterward worthy of reading. If I spit out pages, they may as well be trashed, so what’s the point of spitting? And in this voice especially—my narrator, C., sees the world in a very detailed and specific way. Her details are all her own. What she notices and interprets and imagines and reveals is distorted through her eyes and seeing through her takes me time. I can’t let C. sound like anyone but herself. I can’t let her go flat.

So why did I pull the emergency brake when I have just THREE AND A HALF MONTHS to write an entire book, and make it good?

There’s the answer. I want it to be good.

I’m aware of the pressure—it’s there. I can see expectations and I want to meet them. But more than what any external forces may or may not be thinking, there’s me and what I know I’m thinking. Insecure me, perfectionist me, ambitious me: I want to do it for myself.

The truth is, the last five novels I wrote were done with detailed chapter-by-chapter outlines. Sure, four of those novels were on assignment and don’t have my name on them and I pretty much had three or four months to write them anyway, so they needed to be planned out and pre-approved beforehand. But I wrote my last novel like that too—the first one with my name on it—I had to do an outline per the contract because it was sold on chapters (and that outline turned out to be 38 pages single-spaced), but I didn’t mind at all. I liked it.

There. I said it: I liked it.

I don’t have to write a chapter-by-chapter outline for this new book, since a synopsis was already done (remember THAT struggle? so relieved my agent put up with me!), so I thought, I’ll just keep writing! I know what happens in the story, mostly. Everyone else writes without outlines, why can’t I!

And here we are, brakes shrieking to a stop and we’ve all got whiplash.

It’s a crutch, the outline. It’s not brave. It’s not nearly as exciting as this “pantsing” method I’ve heard other cooler writers take on while writing first drafts. I once went to a reading of an incredible fiction writer, someone so literary and amazing I’m nothing like her but I used to want to be. After she read, there was a Q&A. Someone asked her if she outlined or planned out her novels beforehand. She venomously spat out that she never writes outlines, NEVER, and she doesn’t plan her novels, NOT AT ALL, because that would ruin them. She just lets them decide where they want to go. Her characters tell her. This is ART.

I believe this. I believe it is art. I would sure like to be an artist who channels her characters and has no worldly idea what she’s writing until she’s reached the end and looks up and seen she’s written it.

But I’m no artist, not like that. What I am is a writer on a deadline I’m determined to meet, and you know how I’m going to succeed in meeting it? By outlining.

It’s not reckless and exciting. It’s not sexy. It’s a little bit shameful. But now you know.

On My Scattered Mind

Some things crowding my head this Saturday morning:

My new novel, obviously. Like constantly. Like at the worst moments, and the best moments, and when I’m trying to fall asleep, and when I’m showering, and making me almost miss my stop on the subway, and making me walk into strangers on the street, and drop things in the hallway while at work, like on my toes, and I have a bruise in my side from where I walked into the door when I was thinking about chapter five. If I could just dream about this novel and eat it for dinner, my life would be complete.

What am I going to do with my future, huh?
This question is still floating in the air and I hope it will be decided in a few months, or at least by 2010. Factors out of my control make it undecidable now so there’s no point thinking about it, but clearly I do pointless things like thinking about things I shouldn’t be thinking about while thinking about how I shouldn’t be thinking about them, and is there a way to stop your brain from whirring? I could use a pause.

I have a novel coming out in LESS THAN TWO MONTHS HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
That’s right: Dani Noir is out September 22. I have lots to do to prepare for that launch. Updates forthcoming.

Anxiety. Related to the above three items, much of the space in my brain is filled up with this amorphous thought, which takes the shape of people’s faces sometimes, or other times it’s faceless, or like a cloud, orange sometimes or red, and this morning I had a weird dream featuring my agent, my mother, and someone who I think was supposed to be my landlord, and I woke up all the more determined to write my novel, whatever that means.

Bagels. I really love them. There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not thinking of some food-object and today it’s bagels. I had a sesame.

New ideas. I have some. One is the idea for the next YA. No worries—I wrote it down and will go back to it later. But two are ideas for new tween novels, the age level of Dani Noir, and I really want to work on them, but I have tons to do this weekend, so it’ll have to wait.

How I may change up this blog. Make it less personal. Or delete it entirely. Is there a poll I can add where you can have a vote? ETA: There is! See below.