Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

April 2, 2012

Let the writing begin…

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 9:30 am

I haven’t blogged for a week because, unfortunately, when something’s gotta give in my schedule, the blog is the first to go. I figure when it comes down to writing for my website or writing for Penguin, I will always choose the latter.

Last week was a mad scramble to get through some important research (not by any means the last of it, however) and do some last bit of outlining before I start writing book number seven. (I wish book number seven had a title so that I didn’t have to keep calling it book number seven, but until it does I’ll just refer to it as Velva Jean in Hollywood.) This weekend I took that outline– composed and arranged in a stack of virtual index cards through the writing program Scrivener— and presented it to my boyfriend. We sat on the sofa in our living room, surrounded by cats, and I told him the story from start to finish.

We did the same thing last year around this time when I was writing Becoming Clementine. I’m finding that nothing is more helpful, when you’re getting ready to write, than to tell someone you trust every single scene of the story. Some things don’t sound as strong or compelling or make as much sense when said aloud to an audience, and some sound even better so that you know you’re on the right track. He has questions or ideas, which lead to other ideas of your own, and before you know it you are reorganizing the puzzle pieces a bit until– oh yes– they seem to fit more naturally. You discard this and add that, and by the end of it you realize you’ve done a lot more good, solid work than you knew. As Louis said afterward, “You really know your story!”

Of course, it is fiction, which means things will change along the way. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you start to go with that; you get some footage of that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion, and as you’re watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up.”

The important thing is to have a good, detailed idea of the first couple of chapters and know all the most crucial beats that follow. Inevitably the characters and story will veer from the path now and then, taking you places you don’t anticipate. But it’s good and necessary to have a road map.

So my road map is in place, even though the research will continue and the route will alter before I get to my destination. But now there are no excuses, no reasons to delay. The book is due in September and it’s time to draw the blinds and lock the doors and turn off the phone and start writing.

January 14, 2012

Behind the Book — My Modern-Day Quill Pen

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 12:06 pm

When I was finishing up the first draft of the third Velva Jean book, a terrible thing happened: Microsoft Word self-destructed. Right before my eyes, every letter turned into an asterisk, one by one by one, until the entire document was gibberish. (Apparently, more than one person has experienced this problem with Word for Mac.) Needless to say, I freaked out. The document was irretrievable, but luckily I had saved and re-saved multiple versions, so all that was lost was a handful of rewrites on various paragraphs and lines.

That day I switched over to Scrivener. I still use Word, but only for short (and far less important) documents. Scrivener is a program that was created by a writer (Keith Blount) for writers. As he says on their website: “The thing about programs aimed at writers is that no one program is going to suit all writers, because all writers work in different ways.” What he did was create a program for himself, the kind of thing that would help him in his own writing.

When I switched Velva Jean #3 to Scrivener, I didn’t do anything but use it as a regular word processor– a hopefully safe place in which to finish my manuscript. Because my publisher needed the manuscript submitted in Word, I easily imported it there and sent it off.

Now, as I’m in the researching/brainstorming/compiling/outlining phase of the fourth Velva Jean, I thought I’d give Scrivener a go to see exactly what it’s made of. With every book, I’ve organized and outlined the material a little differently from the book before. In the case of Velva Jean Learns to Fly, I wrote a 30-page detailed, scene-by-scene outline on the computer. With the third Velva Jean book, I wrote every scene on index cards, which I filed by month (since most of the action takes place within one calendar year). In this fourth one, I started doing a little outlining on the computer, a little on index cards, but for some reason this feels too scattered now.

Readers and writers are always asking me about my process, about my system for writing a book. What I tell them is that every book is a new experience, new territory, and you have to learn your way along the way. Each story is different, which only makes sense that each will be outlined uniquely and individually.

Here is what the folks at Scrivener say about their program: “Writing a novel, research paper, script or any long-form text involves more than hammering away at the keys until you’re done. Collecting research, ordering fragmented ideas, shuffling index cards in search of that elusive structure—most writing software is fired up only after much of the hard work is done. Enter Scrivener: a word processor and project management tool that stays with you from that first, unformed idea all the way through to the final draft. Outline and structure your ideas, take notes, view research alongside your writing and compose the constituent pieces of your text in isolation or in context. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.”

So far I’m liking Scrivener. Like many writers, I love organizing and reorganizing my materials. One of my writer friends, who also shares my love for organizing and reorganizing, has tried Scrivener as well. At first she loved it. For weeks she learned and made use of every single feature and option. But in the end, she had to turn away from it. She said the problem with Scrivener– for any writer who has even an ounce of the procrastination gene– was it was so detailed and so much fun to work in that, before she knew it, she was spending all her time organizing her files and photographs and outlines and digital index cards, that she didn’t have any time for the actual writing. In other words, it’s a great program if you can exercise restraint.

I’ve spent yesterday and today creating character files for everyone, even Velva Jean, who I know almost as well as I know myself. Rather than listing her traits, this is a place for me to brainstorm her journey in this particular story. I also created separate files for the “characters of place” that will figure into the book– everywhere from Hollywood itself to the movie studios to the nightclubs Velva Jean might visit. These files are great because, unlike the physical index cards, I can put anything in them– photos of the people and places; links to websites for more info; maps; blueprints; and, of course, text.

This phase of the writing is always fun, but I have to say that Scrivener (as of this moment) is only making it more fun. Hopefully it will continue to work for me…