Saturday, June 30, 2007

eye liner & chickens & "the ugly stage"

So, yesterday evening, due to a complex chain of events, Jim and I joined my brother and my eleven-year-old niece for a concert. That's where the "eye liner" portion of this post title comes in -- it was (and really still is) all I knew about this band: that the front man wears a lot of eye liner. The band was Fall Out Boy, much adored by teen and pre-teen girls and there was much shrilling and shrieking. I hadn't been to a concert in a while (I don't love concerts. Even when it's a band I like, I get bored really fast and wish I had a book and a flashlight) and was amused to see there was a big screen by the stage that people could TM little messages to, like "Amanda will u marry me?" and "Neal your walking home" [sic] ha ha!

Being there, surrounded by teens, I thought a little bit about writing a contemporary teen book. I mean, I wasn't thinking seriously of doing it -- my dance card is kind of full -- just thinking about what that would entail. What would I have to do if I wanted to write a convincing contemporary teen novel? Part of the reason I'm comfortable with fantasy is that I can create my own world, my own culture. Teen culture today is obviously pretty different than it was 20 years ago, and I don't know much about it. I know YA writers have to do research just like any other kind of writing, and they have to hang out around teens to get familiar with how they speak, and what they're into. The emotions are surely the same as they've always been, but it seems so much more intense, what teens today have to deal with. It's intimidating, thinking of trying to write something authentic that would resonate with them. I came up with a few ideas and jotted them down. Who knows? Maybe some day I'll try to write a book set in high school. It would be fun to write highschool characters that were bolder and quirkier than I was, sort of play out some of the "what if," the things I loved and feared and was mortified by, but you know, updated, and cooler!

Anyway, we left the concert for a "Chicken Party" which had nothing to do with eating chickens. It was more like a "coop warming" for Maggie's girls -- a soiree in honor of the hens, who were sleeping and out of sight by the time we arrived. At the party I got to talking to a guy named "Howeird" who said he has been writing two different sci-fi trilogies since the 1970s, and it came out that he still hasn't actually started writing them. He's outlined them and re-outlined them, and he's done the "world building" but as far as the actual writing. . . not so much.

Now, I totally get this. I do. I bet there are a million Howeirds out there. As I talked about a little in this speech, world-building was the big fun for me as a young "writer." Dreaming up the cosmologies and character names, even drawing the maps of imaginary lands. It's a great exercise of the imagination. But it isn't writing. Make no mistake. Outlining is not writing. "Dreaming stuff up" is not writing; it's the threshold of it. I know. Progressing from the one to the other is like jumping off a cliff. It is so hard. To dive in, pick a scene and go, just go, flail forth into the dark. It's freaking hard.

But it was kind of good for me to give Howeird advice last night that I doubt he will follow, about starting the dang writing already. You know how sometimes giving advice to someone else is the best way to reinforce it for yourself? Well, it's not that I need to start a book -- that's well underway -- I just need to believe the things I was saying about first drafts and just moving forward, about "exploratory drafts" and how OF COURSE the book is not going to be awesome right away.

I'm still in an "ugly stage" of my manuscript right now and I'm gritting my teeth through it. That's what I call my paintings when I've put only the underpainting in, the flat first layer of color without any rendering or shading, and I just have to know that it's part of the process and it WILL get "prettier." Well, it's easier with paintings than with a novel, but the principle is the same. Got to keep the faith through the ugly draft, that it will serve its purpose as a solid foundation for the lovely thing to come. In the past I have, ahem, been known to spend days and days writing a perfectly beautiful scene, just to have to cut it later on when I figure out what the book is really about. Wellll. . . this is a good way to minimize that sort of thing. It's a strategy. I have a lot of strategies. I feel kind of like I'm a marathon runner, or let's say cyclist, and I'm also the person driving alongside in a car shouting encouragement. I'm both, the exhausted one who wants to fall off the bike and gasp, and the maniacal bullhorn-weilding one in the car whose job is to keep the cyclist moving. I don't know if that's how it works in cycling. Maybe in training. Oy, am I ever rambling. The thing to take away here is dang, it's hard to write a book.

Yesterday I wrote over 5000 words, which is just marvelous for me. It was a kind of surge. And it's likely not a single paragraph of it will survive to the next draft, but that is totally okay, because I'm finding my way through the book, figuring out the best way to fit the scenes together, learning the kinds of things that can not be learned from an outline, only from the actual writing. So I go forward with the ugly, every fiber of my being yearning toward the pretty, the persnickity, the rewriting.

Speaking of word counts, I'm still a bit derailed from having discovered that Naomi Novik, author of the Temeraire books I was raving about recently, considers 6000 words a productive day of writing. HOLY holy! That hurts my head! I wish I could selectively delete that from my memory!


Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Oh this is eerie! Just today I was thinking the same thing: what would it take to write a contemporary teen book in which the vernacular was right and authentic. I was thinking this because I have a 16 year old sister (half my age) and in the year between 15 and 16 she really turned into a true teen who rolls her eyes and seems dark and finds everyone over the age of 19 suspect... And as I thought of trying to write to HER audience I realized that I would also have to write fantasy for teens--something that takes them away from their life, rather than trying to speak to it. But I bet you could do it, Laini. You're talented.

meghan said...

I love it when you write about the writing process. I was sort of stuck in a place in my book that wasn't wanting to be written just yet - and I thought about you and I skipped it and started from another place. Please keep writing about writing. It makes the process seem possible!!

Jone said...

Your writing process astounds me. I love it.Would love to talk more about it. If there are any Portland bloggers who would like to attend the author party on Monday, they are invited.

Lucy said...

hi Laini, I just wanted to say Congratulations on your book again! I am excited that my library ordered me a copy and I am picking it up today for my son to inspire him into some summer reading. ( he is going into 10th grade) ( sorry I didn't buy it) I am going to read it after he is done. Thanks! :))

gomomyourock said...

I just ordered your book for my daughters. They'll love it I'm sure! Congratulations!

rel said...

I enjoyed your mini treatise on the writing process. I'm the type of "perfectionist" who believes he should be able to sit down and write a perfect first draft. But reading your insights as well as S. King's I've taken a more realistic position in thinking about the writing of a book. Not that I have a book in mind, but if I ever do get to the point where I might plunge in to such a project, I will keep your advice in a pocket of my brain where I can retrieve it often.
I finished Blackbringer and it was stupendous! THANK YOU.
I'm going to order another copy for my grand daughter who lives in Texas. She's 11 y.o.

Amber said...

I am with Meg. I also love it when you write about writing here. It really is very, very helpful to us. I know it is to me. You...make sense.

The other day I got to the part of your book where a thought "snicked" together for Mags, and it really made me smile to remember your post about "finding" that perfect word. How fun! I can't wait for Wyatt to be old enough to read it. And by that time you will have a whole set for us!


Claudia said...

5000 words? 6000 words? Oh my goodness. I´m going to try and keep count of how many words leave my mouth´s 7.40 and Í´m at 200.

Anonymous said...

*sigh* Consider my butt kicked. I've been having fun playing with my index cards, moving them around, reading, doing everything except, you guessed it...writing. And let's not kid ourselves. While I am not ready to finish the whole thing today, I have more than a few scenes that are ready to be written...NOW.

But I am afraid to do it because...well, if I wait, I might have a better sense of what should happen next and...

yeah, no. WRITE.

Thanks, as always, for the inspiration. If you ever wrote a writing book, I'd be the first in line!

Disco Mermaids said...

Boy, did this post ever hit home for me. I am right now in that "limbo" zone where I recently finished rewrites on my middle grade and now I'm ready to start a completely new book. I've brainstormed and jotted notes and outlined, and today, right now, was the first time I was to sit down at this small table at a gritty coffee shop and actually put words down.

Only I couldn't. Nothing was coming. Because I want it to be perfect and I want it done quickly. So instead, I surfed blogs and luckily came across yours at this very moment. So, thank you. I am now going to hit "file...quit" and get busy with the process of writing.

You're the best, girl!! (Can't wait to meet ya!)


Disco Mermaids said...

And now I'm sitting two feet away from Robin in the same coffee shop reading your blog post for inspiration. Thanks from me too!

Writing my new!


Anonymous said...

I don't like concerts, or any public gatherings, very much. Sad, because I love music, and live music is the best. I think I have "human claustrophobia."

Why do people do word counts anyway?