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Process Update

My hive mind doesn't generally follow my blog, being unconnected from my usual circle of writers. Still, they're my hive mind. In some form or other, I've been part of this hive mind for several years now. This past year was not a good year for all of us getting together on a regular basis. Life has intervened quite a bit for several members. But I don't think that has anything to do with my lack of productivity. I think that blame is on my shoulders, for taking on nonfiction work that ended up lasting the better part of a year.

That said, the second Annual Markham Retreat was held this past weekend. Only 3 members of the mind were able to attend, so we are scheduling a second retreat the first weekend in January, where up to six will attend from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, a 48 hour extravaganza of writing and communal meals. This was much shorter. I arrived first at almost 1pm and worked to 4pm on Sunday, so it was just over 24 hours. Karin arrived at about 3pm, when Jennifer and I stopped to eat. I usually stay in a separate apartment over the garage by myself, but we were so few that I didn't feel claustrophobic this time. In fact, I had a better vibe in the big house.

The house sits on 8 acres with a pond and dogs, but the weather was inhospitable for the walks I took last year. Cloudy and snow flurries on Saturday, windy and cold on Sunday. There is only one "neighbor" and the mountains surround the property. It's far more isolated than mine. Unlike last year, I kept in touch with The Dude by ichat through most of it. The house is a crazy quilt. The builder made a log house from a kit and then added onto it a more conventional house. It has stairs that go to different sections and blind alleys and dead ends and secret passages that put you where you don't expect to be. The "window" in the bathroom associated with the guest bedrooms is a sheet of plywood behind plantation shutters because otherwise, it would look down on a living room. There's a corkscrew staircase leading up to our bedrooms. Light from downstairs can be seen through the floorboards.

If that weren't enough, Jennifer was once a caterer, so we always have something special, like eggs benedict florentine with eggs from my chickens for Sunday brunch. I bring a pot of homemade soup which simmers.

Now that you have the ambiance, back to my process.

I wanted to freewrite on Cumin's story. And I wanted to begin editing the fairy story that I finished in NaNo. I also copied my documents folder over to my new laptop before I left so I would have all my stories when I was there because there were two others I thought I might work on.

Realization #1: When I brought drafts into Scrivener, I discovered that I have 13 stories in draft at various stages now. That's not bad. Most of them I had to put down because I couldn't figure out how to fix them or finish them. I felt this sudden confidence that I've passed through that difficulty and can complete them, that my toolbox has tools.

Realization #2: Cumin's story is still in its infancy. I could only spend so much time working on it because I'm still trying to see the shape. I know who's in it, I know some things about it. But, for example, I don't know where in the story certain things happen. I don't know what the overall shape is. Is this central event the beginning or the end of the story? I just don't know yet. I now have 2500 words, which should be 25% written down. Mostly brainstorming. My fairies are trying to decide how to choose a king. Translation: the writer is trying to decide how the fairies decide how to choose a king.

Realization #3: By contrast, editing the fairy story from November was easy. The story has a title now. It's called "And From His Lips." It's part of a line from a Leonard Cohen song that influenced the storyline. I cut 2500 words pretty quickly, most from the opening where I was writing my way into the final storyline. Some from late in the writing where I laid out an outline and had notes for the possible endings, about 80% of the way in.

I took a hard copy of the story with me, double-sided, because I knew this was an early rewrite. I did some editing on screen and some on the paper. I enjoyed cutting huge chunks of text, I really did. It was no longer needed, those times when I wrote to keep writing in NaNo, more interested in word count than quality. It didn't hurt, it didn't frustrate me. It was exciting, because underneath was a Real Story. Whenever I reached a passage where I had caught fire, I just got more excited. I made a couple of notes about things I needed to do. Not decisions, though. One thing that has me excited is that I don't feel alternate paths in this story. The arc is there and it's the right one, whether or not some editor agrees with me. I hope they will, but I'm writing this to *my* standards right now.

My conclusions at the end of the first edit were:
1. Introduces characters right away at a crucial decision point.
2. has foreshadowing
3. has a reversal
4. has a definite plot, definite ending
5. demonstrates character change
6. character is not passive
7. uses triangulation to increase the tension when a balance of power is imminent.
8. is nasty in places and I believe I can build to that nastiness, back off, and build again, and again
9. is definitely dark fantasy, which is what I was trying to do
10. ending as written feels right without an epilogue in character #3's pov. epilogue is implied sufficiently well

My notes were things like:
1. possible inconsistency that has to be resolved THIS way because that's the correct arc
2. what's character #2's secondary trigger, given that she's 'always been this way'?
3. does character #2 know character #1 is a king, whether or not she cares?
4. character #1's changes need to be x, y, z, etc. to the final ending

Frog Out


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 8th, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)
I love writing neep.
Dec. 8th, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
sometimes one has a lot to say and sometimes one doesn't.

But yes, I love it when people share their process.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 8th, 2008 05:50 pm (UTC)
That's because you want to read another fairy story!

But yes, it's also exciting because so much is coming together and I'm working on fiction, my first love, and when I get stuck and Frost suggests something and the dam breaks free, my head feels like it's going to explode. In a good way. Taos was key in all of this. I needed names and shapes for how narrative works and then I needed to let it gel, figure out at what point in my process I apply the framework. Clearly, I apply it after I do the initial imagining.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 8th, 2008 07:29 pm (UTC)
Macs are now also a pc. I haven't taken the plunge of loading some form of windows onto this new laptop and I'm not sure I will. Right now this machine is for writing and that can all be mac-based. My tax work has to be pc-based due to the software I use. My old pc laptop is still functional for the upcoming season, assuming I get the connection resoldered.

I don't think I use Scrivener fully yet. I'm in play mode. Geoff has it down to a science with his large world. But so far, I like aspects of it very much. There's this "full screen" mode that blocks EVERYTHING else so you don't check your mail or your blog and all you see is your writing page or black borders. You can even adjust the width of the 'paper.'

Taos, for me, hit my blind spots. It gave me terms I never really knew for things I did hit or miss. Which is why I went and why I kept rethinking my decision to go. I discussed it with Greg ahead of time and we decided it would hit places that he couldn't help me, would expose me to a very different way of writing, especially with Connie and Walter. And I kept being worried that it would be "wrong" for me in some way.

But it wasn't. It was so obvious so quickly that spending 2 weeks with other writers at a level slightly above what Clarion had been was worth the price of admission alone.

And in the end, it seems to have given me what I needed for my writing as well. I just had to process it and internalize it.

I suspect it did something for you as well. But how it will manifest is going to be unique to you. But again, at the very least, it gave you a whole new community to belong to.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 9th, 2008 11:56 am (UTC)
it's interesting to me to see that you got valuable and necessary tools from the Taos experience, and that getting your grip on them required some processing.

It does for everyone. Results will vary, as they say. It can take years to process. It depends on how much life intervenes with your writing process, where you were in your process when you went.

My personal assessment was that it was a very different experience for each person. For some it was the first time ever in a workshop. For others, it was an affirmation of their current process. For me, it was a revelation, a stepping outside of my comfort zone into unknown territory. The reason I ranked it so high as a workshop was because the results were so individual and my impression is that everyone got something. I could be wrong, of course.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 9th, 2008 08:01 pm (UTC)
wow. the only time I've been able to do that is deconstructing something as short as Jemima Puddleduck by Beatrix Potter. Anything longer and if it's any good, I'm too lost to notice structure. But I can see it more in movies now. The Dude and I have fun pointing it out to each other.
Dec. 8th, 2008 05:16 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed reading this, too--and the ambiance!

I'm so pleased for you that you 'have the tools' now. It must feel like a whole new world opening up. So: Nano a success in more ways than one?

And I'm jealous you have Scrivener!!
Dec. 8th, 2008 06:00 pm (UTC)
It feels very much like a whole new world is opening up. It feels like a balance achieved between the two sides of the brain.

The critic was holding back the freewrite with "you're not ready, you're not good enough" and the lack of freewrite was keeping the critic from learning to apply the tools that had been supplied.

NaNo is a success (officially) when I have 3 drafts ready for readers in a reasonable span of time. But so far, it was just what I needed to do to move to a new level.

Tricky part now is that the shape is still in my head and not fully on paper. I'm excited by the self-confidence, cautiously optimistic.
Dec. 9th, 2008 12:40 am (UTC)
Fascinating report! Glad the trek to Real Story is making progress.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )