The first thing I knew I didn't want to do, when I decided to write about Kimberly and Alex, was to write them meeting. I didn't want to write about a courtship. I didn't want to write about him courting her. I wanted to open with them in a committed, female-led relationship. Books begin all the time about people already entwined in their dramas, why not a femdom book? I opened with them years in, and I had a story to tell, but in the course of getting to know them, the backstory came out that Alex had Kimberly over to his apartment for dinner on their third date. Up to that point, Kimberly had been subtle about her dominant nature. After dinner, they sat on his couch to watch a movie and Alex made the mistake, not of putting his feet up on the coffee table, and not of not taking them down when Kimberly said, but of not taking them down swiftly enough to satisfy her.
I realized that while I didn't particularly want to write "a story about a courtship," I had a burning desire to write "the story of their courtship." I wrote these words in a random notebook that were the beginning of my writing of Courting Her:
"Why didn't you put your feet down when I said?"
"I did put them down."
"Did you do it right when I said?"
"Why didn't you put your feet down when I said?"
"I don't know."
Saturday, January 21, 2012
When does the ending come for you? I had the incredible experience, when I finished Protégé Mistress after a marathon writing session of about 8,000 words (I realize that’s a fairly typical session for some writers but for me that’s a marathon), of writing the ending at the ending. That moment of finishing a book and coming up with its ending will always be a top writing memory, and likely not one I’ll have again. I was so affected by that moment that I actually cursed the ending for my WIP (work in progress), which came to me the other day. No, dammit, I’m not to that part, yet.
Sacrilege! How dare I question the muse? You have to go with it when it comes, and it’s an exciting part to write but it is also something of a relief when you have an ending. I think that’s a typical stress for writers. We get excited enough by characters or a scene to start writing, it starts to develop into a story, and at some point we think, Oh Crap! How is this going to end? I think it’s, for the most part, an irrational worry. The story ends when you’re done telling it. The more rational worry is writing an ending you like and think works well, but to carry this vague stress through a WIP of it just “not ending” doesn’t really have any logic to it. Of course, that doesn’t prevent it. I finished my first short story more than twelve years ago and after an hour long intense writing buzz finally began to fade, I thought, Oh Crap! What if I never think of anything to write again? I still write with that worry, but I’m mostly numb to it.
Like a lot of things in writing, you have to have a good balance. I try to write without worrying about how a story will end, but I do press a little, which keeps my mind working on it, and I think that’s why possible endings start coming to me, sometimes soon after I start a story. Usually I’ll discard them or they’ll turn out to be scenes but not ends. (I think I have a tendency to tighten the framework to keep me focused.) Good possible endings will start to come around two-thirds through, usually. Coincidentally, right about when my irrational Oh Crap! How is this going to end? worry gets ratcheted up.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
There are two types of To Do Lists. The workday To Do List and the day off To Do List. The workday To Do List shouldn’t be loaded up. If you made a reasonable amount of progress on your most recent day off To Do List, your workday To Do List should be manageable. It may only have a couple unfinished items leftover from the day off one. Make a new list. You don’t want to be staring at a To Do on Tuesday List on Wednesday. It’s discouraging and humiliating.
I should back up and wax philosophically on the nature of To Do Lists. Aristotle invented To Do Lists in ancient Greece. Tragically, the world’s entire store of To Do Lists burned in the library of Alexandria. Along with a lot of plays by Aeschylus burned a lot of To Do Lists. Word spread through the ages, though, and Shakespeare was extremely well known as a user of To Do Lists. You didn’t know that, did you?
All right, I won’t back up that far. Also none of that is true. I wanted to blog about To Do Lists near the New Year because I think of New Year’s Day as To Do List Day! There are those who refuse to make New Year’s resolutions. Their reason? They never last! Wow, I can’t even wrap my brain around how illogical that is. Those people are really missing the point of self-improvement. I have to have a really bad day before I will let an uncompleted To Do List get the best of me. After all, I made it. One thing I like to remember that I tend to forget, which is kind of nice because I do enjoy remembering it, is that the pressure I put on myself as a writer is self-induced. It was like that long before I got anything published and it’s still like that now. When I have a day where I wanted to write this and edit that and send one thing and research where to send another, if I finish the day and got half that done, that’s twice as much as nothing! No one else cares what I’m getting done. They don’t even know what I’m doing. They haven’t seen the list! That’s where I think the people referenced above go wrong. They make a resolution for the year, and then say, “Man, I only made it for a week, I suck!” No, you made it for a week, you’re awesome!
I make my day off To Do Lists the night before. These things are extravagant, they fill a page. First thing I do in the morning is pare it down. If I put that I wanted to mail out five stories, I change it to two. If I wanted to query two agents, I change it to one. I get realistic. There’s only so much time in the day and a lot to do! (I know because it’s all on my huge list!) Now, I put everything on my To Do List, even fun things. After all, I’m doing them, aren’t I? If you want, you can even put “pare down To Do List” as the first thing on your To Do List, do it, and cross it off! (I don’t do that. I take myself a little more seriously than that, but you can.)
My friend, during a recent To Do List discussion, said he didn’t understand why his wife needed to make a To Do List to clean their house. “It had three things on it. We weren’t going to forget three things.” Remembering to do the things on your To Do List is only one tiny part of the point of To Do Lists. It’s at least as much about organizing your day or your next month or, in the case of New Year’s resolutions, your next year. It’s about focusing on your goals. Even the items I cross off in the morning have served a purpose. It keeps me in touch with those goals and good chance they’ll show up on future To Do Lists and actually get done.
Last thing because this is getting kind of long and I have a lot to do, today. Never throw a To Do List away. To Do Lists are like little time capsules. If you’re as disorganized as me, you’ll find them in random places, months or years later, and shudder with amazement that these things, at one time, needed done and that you did them. Last December, just before Bottoms in Love released, I randomly came across a crumpled To Do List with submit Bottoms in Love to OC Press written on it. And it was crossed off.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
I had an odd experience after finishing The Road by Cormac McCarthy. A book I loved. I have that book in my top five. (My top five has way more than five books in it, but still, that's saying a lot.) I read the second half in one sitting and soon after got online to read what others thought about it. Which actually isn't something I do that often, but I think that book made me want to connect with people. Most people loved it as much as I had, but a few people complained about how it was filled with sentence fragments. Now, to each his or her own, I didn't have a reaction to people having a different feeling from the book, but sentence fragments? I hadn't noticed any.
I told a friend about that, who'd read it, and he said. "You're a writer. You didn't notice all those sentence fragments?" I was so sucked into that story. I guess I was just way too far gone to notice any potentially annoying stylistic quirks.
Sentence fragments are tough, especially in this day of word processors that point every one of them out to the writers in the first draft. I try to go by feel when deciding on a sentence fragment, but I think those ugly colored lines in my word processor make me weed them out, for the most part. I still try to go by feel, but I end up using them almost as rarely as I use exclamation marks. I use them when not using them feels awkward, for instance, if I have a string of descriptive sentences that I feel need to be there, I'll make the last one a sentence fragment because it makes the rhythm feel right. And, in at least one instance, I used one for effect: a key moment in Courting Her happened in a fragment. I’m not going to include it here, not as a teaser, but because I want it, for any readers of the book, to stand out as a key moment but not to stand out as a sentence fragment. A sentence fragment, like anything else, shouldn't pull a reader out of a story, but also like anything else, because a sentence fragment pulls a certain reader out of a story doesn't always mean it shouldn't have been there. It just means it didn't work for that reader.
How do you feel about sentence fragments when you come across them as a reader, and how do you feel about using them as a writer?