Alternating books!

Does anyone write more than one book at a time? Rachel Caine does, and explains how she juggles several projects at once.

So, real talk. I write four books a year — more or less — plus half a dozen short stories and pitches for new projects. That’s not counting travel, events, and promoting new releases. Up until 8 years ago, I held on to a full-time, high-pressure day job, too. Sounds overwhelming, right? (It does to me, when I put it that way.) But the fact is, with a plan and a solid writing process, it’s achievable.

So how can you juggle such a massive workload? I’ll break down how I schedule writing and revising multiple books in progress. Perhaps you can adopt some of these writing process tips in your own life and work… but remember the cardinal rule of writing: You need to find your own path that works for your life and your particular process. (Also, there are no rules — just guidelines.)

My initial challenge was a common struggle authors face: finding the time. But you don’t find time. You make time. So let’s start there.

Quick Journey to Plot Exercise: Your Turn!

My books are character-driven, so I might say, "Oh, I never plot." But in fact, I've learned to do basic plotting by using a character journey as the big structural apparatus really helps. That is, very basically, what is my character's journey through the story? Like:

Independence to affiliation

boy riding bike.jpeg

or

Distrust to trust

or

Innocence to corruption

or

Shame to self-acceptance

or where the character starts emotionally/psychologically and where she/he ends up. Let’s try “independence to affiliation.” Chart the main steps involved:

Act 1. Beginning: She is devoted to her independence in the first act, and I show that (how will the reader know this). She should probably be given the choice to accept help but refuse it.

End of act 1 (maybe around ch. 2): Something (what) happens that makes her independence more of a problem than a solution. (What happens and how does she react)


Act 2: Things heat up on the external plane and make her independence or self-reliance a REAL problem, and she gradually has to change in response to 3-4 events in the external plot. Some group or person should probably be giving her help, or trying to, or trying to get her to affiliate.

End of Act 2: In the crisis/dark moment, her need to be independent really complicates the external conflict, and she's in huge trouble (or she's about to lose her goal or lose something essential). In the dark moment, she has to choose to change and ask for help or something that compromises her independence but allows her to receive help from being affiliated with someone or some group.


Act 3: In the climactic scene, where the external plot resolves, her newfound willingness to accept help allows her to conquer whatever the main conflict in the outer plot is.

End of Act 3: Because she has now chosen to affiliate, she is more happy and safe, but also might keep her independence a bit by becoming not just a follower but a leader.


That is, you're going to have certain things happen in the external plot.  If you have a sense of what the main character needs to learn and accomplish-- the journey's start and destination-- you can make each of those plot events push the character down that journey road.


As I start a story, I try to have a really good sense of where my character starts out, and how she'll react to each plot event given that starting point, and usually, of course, the basic endpoint is fairly obvious once I know how she's limited or damaged at the start.


I like to analyze plots, but my own... I'll get bored if I outline too deeply ahead of time. What I'd love to be wild and yet disciplined enough to do is to write wildly and freely in the first draft, and then use journey, outlining, and structure to revise it in a second draft.

 Alicia

 

The Character Interview: Lots of Questions

The Character Interview: Lots of Questions

Here are some questions that will help you discover your character from the inside-out, or from the outside-in... anyway, all the way through.  I address the questions to "you" to avoid the gender-specific pronoun; I am, of course, referring to the character, not the writer. 

Don’t feel you have to answer all of them! Just choose a question or five that sound interesting, and free-write the answer IN THE CHARACTER'S FIRST-PERSON (I) VOICE.  Free-writing means no stopping and no editing- follow the diversions where they lead, because that's where the intriguing stuff is!

Making Memories, and Hooking Them Later

Hi, everyone! I was asked to do a guest post about what I call "Life Hooks"—the recording of memories that lets us yank our life experiences together.

I've never had much of a memory. We moved around a lot when I was young, so every year I'd be in a new place and all those visual cues to memory (the chair my grandmother sat in, the kitchen where I started a fire while making popcorn) were left in the old place.

But years ago, for my parents' 50th anniversary, I was in charge of making up a "memory book" of old photos. There are eight of us siblings, so I delegated each a town the family had lived in along the way, with the assignment of choosing some photos associated with that place and writing down a memory.

What I learned from that process is that we each remember different things, but also different sorts of things. I regret to tell you that what I remember are old grievances (like the time my big brother told me to do a swan dive into the snow off the back porch in Elgin, IL, assuring me that it would just be like jumping onto a big pillow: Note to self, never trust a big brother's assurances).

Mark (that very big brother) remembered the cars we had, and since my dad would buy old junkers that couldn't last, he had to remember a lot of them. Rick, the youngest, remembered a single crystalline experience of going out into the desert and seeing the stars like they'd just burst into flame.  We all remembered… but different things in different ways.

What I also learned was that the very fact of recording a memory brought up a dozen more, and that as my parents paged through the memory book, they recalled events and experiences none of us had ever heard of. It was as if they could live them again—and significantly, they remembered only happy things, or at least things that were amusing in retrospect. 

The memories weren't lost, but they needed a "hook" to become accessible. And that hook was the sharing of our collective memories.

As we baby boomers move protesting and incredulous into our senior years (btw, I just saw a book title, "You're Never Too Old to Rock and Roll," which could be our battle cry), I think we're going to need to find more of those memory hooks.

We were most of us more dedicated to “living in the moment", keeping our options open, and trying new things to get much into ritual and tradition, which are the most common ways of "hooking" memories.  Many of us have moved far away from our homes and families, discarding boxes of junk and mementos on the way. Now we look back at a lifetime and find that we don't have a lifetime's worth of memories available for review.

But of course we do. Experience carves actual pathways through our brains—that's where the memories are stored—and we have them, but it's like they're up on a high shelf in a distant corner of a dusty attic in an abandoned house. We need a way to find them and bring them back into the light of life.

After doing the memory book, I realized that there's something special about the physical representation of memory. I used to scorn my friends who scrapbooked; now I wish I'd been doing that all along, saving the tickets from concerts and films, the cards I'd gotten for my birthday, the scraps of my life which I just threw away.  I know now that the act of recording events, capsulizing them into some piece of paper or photo or memento, and gluing them into a book, would hook my memories together. And then they'd always be right there—not so much in my mind as in this physical book, ready to be taken down and paged through whenever I need a reminder of who I used to be.

What is it about an actual book and actual ink and actual photos? I wonder why those are still so significant in these digital days—why we still jot down a to-do list in the morning, rather than just texting ourselves our schedule; why we page through a young couple's white satin wedding album when we've already seen the photos posted on Facebook.

Maybe the physical act of recording captures the physical experience? My sister-in-law Cher Megasko, a frequent traveler, keeps a travel journal and writes down her impressions as she makes each trip.  She said, "I journal when I travel abroad, taking care to record lots of unremarkable details. I keep track of each drive we take, every restaurant we eat at ... even things like the number of stray dogs and cats. I'm surprised at how often I go back and read what I've written. Sometimes it's just to reminisce, but I also use it to help plan future trips, even if not to the same destination. My travel journal is my younger daughter's first choice of things to inherit when I'm gone!"

The memoirist and writing teacher William Zinsser echoed the importance of both the recording of  the unremarkable, and the usefulness of a physical representation: "When my father finished writing his histories (of the family and his shellac company), he had them typed, mimeographed, and bound in a plastic cover. He gave a copy, personally inscribed, to each of his three daughters, to their husbands, to me, to my wife, and to his 15 grandchildren, some of whom couldn’t yet read…. I like to think that those 15 copies are now squirreled away somewhere in their houses from Maine to California, waiting for the next generation."

My friend Cynthia Furlong Reynolds has also used the physical to capture the ephemeral memories. She once worked to help elderly people record their memories—kind of making their own oral histories-- and told me that they often found it oddly calming.  She remembered sitting with one elderly man with dementia, taking notes as he talked about his past. Then she typed up her notes and made them into a little book, which she printed out for him. She tells me his wife found that when he got agitated, just holding the book of memories calmed him. I think it's because knowing the memories were in this paper-and-ink, permanent form freed him from the anxiety that he might forget.  He didn't have to constantly remind himself about his childhood home, or his mother's name. All that was here in this book and would always be there for him.

Maybe all this "physical" stuff is just a relic of any earlier age… but I don't know. I had two nieces who are close in age – still teenagers-- but not in geographic proximity, and while of course these days, they kept in touch with texts and emails and Facebook messages. But once we were all together, and they showed me the little wooden boxes where they kept the letters they mailed to each other (yes! envelopes and stamps and all), and here they were, children of the electronic era, holding these pieces of paper and reading the letters out loud and remembering when they'd written them.

girl reading standing.png

Anyway, I'm thinking of printing out some of those photos I have on Pinterest, writing out a note to my mother-in-law by hand for once, maybe even getting a scrapbook and starting—way too late!—to collect the junky little scraps of my days and nights. Maybe then, when my always-bad memory slides into no-memory-at-all, I'll have something to touch and page through that reminds me I indeed did have a life!

What do you think? How do you hook into your memories? How do you remind yourself of what's been and gone? What do you want never to forget?

I'll leave you with a couple pretties to help jog your memories—

Here's a Tim Buckley song about memory, Once I Was.

And a W.B. Yeats poem, "When You Are Old and Gray and Full of Sleep (take down this book)."

 

Alicia Rasley

Lorem Ipsum as poetry

Do you know what "Lorem Ipsum" is? It's nonsense gibberish used as sample to fill in text boxes and book samples, like this:

 

 Lorem ipsum (from Gutenberg app page).

Lorem ipsum (from Gutenberg app page).

Well, I came across this Lorem ipsum while checking out some new WordPress app, and Google popped up a box asking if I wanted to translate. Automatically I clicked on it, assuming it wouldn't work-- after all, this is just gibberish, right? Yes, but it's LATIN gibberish-- every word Latin with an English counterpart. So here's how Lorem ipsum looks translated!

 That's sort of like absurdist poetry, don't you think? "How I wish football at another office of honey!" There's all sorts of meaning in that!

That's sort of like absurdist poetry, don't you think? "How I wish football at another office of honey!" There's all sorts of meaning in that!

The End... of the Beginning

The End... of the Beginning

The End of the Beginning
Most of us storywriters are obsessed with the openings to stories—that is, how to effectively start the plot and introduce the characters. But the opening has to end for the plot to really get underway. So as you're revising your opening, look at the last few paragraphs of the first chapter or wherever your "opening" ends. Does the end of the open “open up” to the complications of the story?

Family Motto: Another Characterization Question

Family Motto: Another Characterization Question

We probably all have one: The family motto.  By this I mean the secret or open aphorism that expresses the family's attitude towards the world, the family worldview.

I'll give you some examples. My family's motto (secret) was "You can't trust anyone but family." No, we are not members of the Mafia, but you aren't wrong to think we would fit right into those Godfather movies (except for all the crime stuff).

9 Effective Ways to Cut Lotsa Words When Your Story Is Too Long: Scalpel vs. Broadsword

9 Effective Ways to Cut Lotsa Words When Your Story Is Too Long: Scalpel vs. Broadsword

I was just asked for a few tips on cutting big bunches of words. You know, you were aiming for a nice 75K novel, only this ended up at 95K words.  And from your perspective, it works! But it's too long for the line or the editor or the type of story, right? So how can you trim words without deleting meaning? 

Sympathy Through Struggle and an Infinite Number of Leather Jackets by James Rasley

Sympathy Through Struggle and an Infinite Number of Leather Jackets by James Rasley

Making a character sympathetic to your readers or audience is a common goal and stumbling point for writers. What draws the reader or audience to certain characters and pushes them away from others? What is it that intrigues us about characters like Odysseus or is less interesting like Achilles? I think one of the reasons is struggle. If we see a character struggle, we instinctively sympathize with that character because we have struggled ourselves.