Still creeping...

I'm on draft number five. My mother thinks I'm obsessing.

I think my mother's right.

Help

I would rather write one hundred books than write one stinking synopsis.

I know I've been bitching a lot lately, but this part of process – for lack of a better, more articulate word – sucks.  There is no joy in Mudville right now.  I love to write stories, and nothing has felt more joyful or fulfilling than creating worlds and characters and conflict.  But summarizing the story?

S-U-C-K-S.

It's one thing to break the novel into plot points.  I can do that.  I have a detailed outline that's twelve pages long and it's easy enough to condense it down to five pages (the standard length of a long synopsis – a short synopsis is one page).  But then it's just a bunch of "And then this happened. And then this happened."

How I do make it compelling?  How do I inject voice?  How do I keep it from being wooden?  I've just spent the past hour surfing my go-to writer's website for samples synopses, and you know what?

Most of them suck, too.

I'm scratching my head.  Why the hell would an agent ask for this?  But I know they will, because many of them do.  And I need to be prepared.  Last thing I want is to write something on the fly and send if off.  But what I can't figure out is how to inject soul into something that is, in its very nature, well... soulless.

The query letter and synopsis are marketing tools.  Advertising, if you will. T hey're the equivalent of a glossy ad in a fashion magazine featuring a handbag you simply can't live without.  Their purpose is to create desire.  The agent is supposed to read my query letter and want to know more about the book.  The synopsis is supposed to show I understand story structure and character development, and that I can bring the story home.  But both need style, not just substance.  Both need to reflect my ability as a fiction writer to tell a damned good story.

A writing friend, in her quest for publication, hired someone in public relations to write her query letter for her.  She didn't feel she had the objectivity to do it herself, and now I see why.  She picked ten agents to query, sent out the letter she didn't write herself, and eight of the ten agents were interested.  She had deep discussions with each of them and ended up signing with her number one choice.

A few weeks later, the book sold.  Two-book deal, six figures.  I'm looking at the first right now. It's sitting on my shelf, in between Steinbeck and Tolkien.

And her manuscript wasn't even complete.

I've written two novels that are four hundred pages long, each.  I can write twenty pages of fiction in under ninety minutes if I'm focused.  And yet I can't write five pages summarizing a story I've already written to save my life.

Help.

Excellent!

I've only used the word fuck—or some variation of it—96 times in my book.

I thought it'd be much, much worse.

Glazed over eyes never lie

My book is putting me to sleep.  My book.  Not the one listed on the right of this blog page that I'm reading by another author, but the one I wrote.

I fell asleep last night only to wake up an hour later, sweaty and disoriented, with my little girl kitten draped across my neck like a heating pad.  My little boy kitten was sleeping belly up on top of my proofed pages.  I'd passed out, purple editing pen in hand, right in the middle of chapter seven.

Creep is boring.

What I can't seem to figure out is if it's boring because I've been working on it for a year and have re-written every sentence at least a half dozen times and have practically memorized each word, or if it's boring because it's actually boring.  I don't remember thinking it was boring two months ago. So I'm desperately hoping it's the former.

There's an easy solution to finding out one way or another.  I could ask someone to read the damn book.  The question is... who?

Beta reading is a horrible task.  I know because I've done it, in workshops and in my writing groups, and it's not that much fun.  You really only do it so people will critique your work in return.  Once you get past your curiosity of how good (or bad) other writers are, beta reading involves a lot of analysis.  It's like writing a book report.  You can't just sit and back and read for pleasure.  You have to "listen" for imbalances.   You have to "watch" for plot holes and inconsistencies.  And should you stumble across something that doesn’t work, you have to explain to the writer – in the nicest and most encouraging way possible – exactly why it doesn't work. And then make suggestions – again in a kindly, non-condescending manner – as to how to improve it.

Beta-ing is tedious, time consuming, and can suck all the joy out of reading.  And I wouldn't wish it on any friend or relative.

But neither do I feel comfortable heaving my manuscript into the lap of a fellow writer, because all the writers in my life aren't really close to me.  We've met online (in class and in writing forums) and have "chatted", but we've never met face to face.  Am I cool with emailing a completed novel to someone I don't actually know?  Not really.   It's not that I think anybody would plagiarize it – I've already workshopped large chunks of the novel – but it's too personal a thing to hand over in it's entirety to someone I don't know personally.  I can't explain it better than that.  The only person I could even consider asking was just deployed to Iraq, so he'll be a little busy for the next year (God speed, Greg).

I dream someday of having a small and steady circle of writing friends.  People whose faces I can actually watch as they read my work, and whose laughter I can actually hear as they get to a funny part.   We'd meet every other Tuesday for coffee and brownies and long-winded discussions about craft.  We'd like each other as people and respect each other as writers, and we'd give credit to each other in the Acknowledgments sections of our debut novels.

But it looks like I'll have to be published before that kind of networking happens.  My specific neighborhood isn't exactly a hotbed of literary artistry.  In fact, the girl who highlighted my hair the other week admitted she hadn't read a book since graduating high school.  Five years ago.

If I hadn't been at the mercy of her bleach, I'd have said something snippy (pun intended), but I smiled instead.  I wanted my hair to turn out nice.

Already I'm selling out.

The final countdown

And so it begins.   The fourth and final draft.

I don't know why it's always so scary coming back to my work after some time away.   It freaks me out, every time. I've given myself a nice, long absence from Creep – the third draft was completed on July 5th – in order to attack this last draft with what will hopefully be fresh eyes.  But after nine weeks away, I'm afraid of what I'll find.

I'm afraid it'll stink.  That my wonderfully fresh eyes will see a thousand glaring errors.

(There.  That was my ten seconds of self doubt.  Now I'm telling it to fuck off so I can get on with it.)

I'm going to be multi-tasking for the next couple of weeks.  Here's what I'm up to:

1. Final draft (proofing five chapters a day).

2. Agent research (yes, STILL – it's amazing how one can drag out a task one does not enjoy, and watching Kim Clijsters mount her comeback in the U.S. Open certainly doesn't help).

3. Query letter (which is written but far from perfect).

4. The dreaded synopsis (which as of this posting still does not exist).

I plan to work on each of these things every day.   My goal is to send out my first query letter no later than October 1st, a full month behind schedule.   But it's okay. It's got to be perfect.  Rushing won't get me published.

I feel a little crazy.  You'd have to be to do this, wouldn't you?

p.s.  I have an itch to start writing the sequel to Creep. Do I scratch it or wait for it to go away?

A glass of whine

I haven't even started and already I'm complaining.

I'm a writer.  I write stories.  I study and practice the craft of writing fiction.   What the hell do I know about marketing?

Slowly and painfully, I'm working my way through a preliminary list of literary agents trying to determine who to query (or is it whom to query? ... oh, whom the fuck cares).  The first ten or so I researched were kind of fun.  I'm now about halfway through my list and I want to kill myself.

I feel like I'm back at the University of Waterloo adjudicating bursary applications.  At first it was super fun deciding who got money and who didn't.  Oh the power!  But after my first fifty applications, I wanted to shoot myself in the head.  (I changed jobs instead.)

Faces and biographies and deal histories on Publisher's Marketplace are beginning to meld together like a five-cheese dip that was once colorful but has now turned into a weird, unnatural shade of yellow.  By the time I finish this list, I don't think I'll remember who I liked and didn't.  Sure, I'm ranking as I go, and my spreadsheet is pretty detailed with my pros and cons for each agent, but the names are becoming meaningless.

Unlike writing, this is so not fun.

Enough whine.  Time for chocolate.

See you in September

I'm disappointed I didn't do everything I said I would do this summer.

Having finished the third draft of Creep on July 5th, I had big plans.  I was going to read a lot, write a lot, research a lot, and generally be super productive.

Yeah, that didn't happen.   Not writing-wise, anyway.

I did get to go to New York for ThrillerFest and I learned a lot. Beyond that, everything else I did had nothing whatsoever to do with writing.  And now that's summer's over, I'm dismayed at myself and feeling awfully guilty.

I didn't read as much as I wanted to.  Only three books in the past two months.

I didn't make a lot of progress on my current novel.  Strategized, yes, but not a lot of actual writing took place.

I didn't finish my agent research.  Of the 180-ish agents on my list, I've researched about 75. I forgive myself for this one just a little.  It's fucking boring.

My query letter reads the same as it did back in June.  No excuses here.

And the synopsis I need to write summarizing my 400-plus page book into 5 concise pages of plot point and character development?  Never mind finished... it doesn't exist.

So what the hell have I been doing?

I spent time with my mom and stepdad, we built a huge deck in the backyard, we got a new car, and we got two new kittens.  We rented movies. I slept a lot.  I saw Showboat at the Village Theater and spent my birthday at the Teatro ZinZanni.   I changed my hair color.  I gardened.  We barbecued.

And that's about it.  In some ways, it really was an awesome summer.  :)  I feel rejuvenated, relaxed, and believe it or not, BORED.

This weekend is Labor Day weekend, and other than the U.S. Open (tennis), Labor Day weekend has always symbolized the end of summer and a new beginning.

Which, for my life here in the Northwest, means cooler temperatures, only patches of sunshine, mist over the Cascades, and rain.  Perfect for writing.  September and October have always been my favorite months and I am so looking forward to getting back into work mode full swing.

Summer is great, but I'm happiest when I'm working.