Game On
When my husband and I wrote our teleplay for a pilot called Game On a few years back, it was the most significant writing I had done in years.  In my previous career I had published a few manuscripts on educational systems around the world, and contributed to another publication, but because these were reference materials I never gave much thought to the fact I was published.  They didn’t count.

The opportunity to write a pilot for a half-hour sitcom came up and my husband and I did a sort of “wonder twin powers unite” thing and got to work.  We had never collaborated on any project before and while it was not completely smooth sailing, we got the project finished as a team and it felt good.  I was energized by this writing in a way that I hadn’t been in years.

One of the reasons we worked well together is that we both brought different strengths to the project.  He was more the “outliner ” while I was the one who filled in the details.  We’d go to lunch several times a week and discuss one liners and scenes together (and argued quite a lot about what was actually funny), then we’d come home and get to work.

Outlining My Own Process
When I began writing my current WIP, a novel, I felt lost.  This was my own project–I didn’t have a partner to write the bones of the story for me.  And at the beginning, when there are no words written, the empty page seems like an ocean of failure, not opportunity.  I was overwhelmed, but still determined.

I knew almost from the start that I needed to work from an outline.  Some authors don’t–I’m not one of them.  The first thing I did was write what I thought would be the ten core scenes that would move the story forward.  I say “thought” because over the last few months of writing, things have changed and those original 10 scenes have been moved around, updated, or taken out.  Writing them, however, helped immensely during those first days of staring at the empty page.

I found it wasn’t enough, however, because I still didn’t have a clear vision of the beginning, middle, and end of my story and that was causing writer’s block.  I wrote a 20 chapter outline with one-sentence descriptions and suddenly things really got started for me.  I made notes where key actions had to occur to move the story forward (things such as turning points, complications, temporary triumph, etc).  Though this 20 chapter outline has changed as well (and honestly, is missing a few points) it has been the true beginning of getting this novel written.

If you’ve never embarked on writing a novel before and don’t know where to start, I recommend trying the 20 chapter outline first.  Don’t worry if you can’t fill in all twenty chapters–this will evolve over time and give you a mental image of the scenes that need to be written.  Write the scenes that are clearest to you first, and they will spawn new scenes.  If the 20 chapter outline doesn’t work, try something else.  But most of all, start writing.

Perhaps it was all that thinking I did about writing and depression, but in the last couple of days I've been ruminating about my history as a writer and the types of writing I've done throughout my life.

When I was young, writing was really my only creative outlet.  I have a journal filled with the poetry I wrote as a teenager and in college, and reading it now is, um, interesting.  When I was a senior in high school we did a unit on Shakespeare's sonnets, and I was quite taken with the structure of them.  This is the first one I wrote–an assignment for the English class:

If I were to reach out and call to thee,
In speaking would my words make me a fool?
If I looked within your soul would I see
A heart of stone and eyes forever cool?
Yet even if I never bare my heart,
In looking at you my eyes betray me.
They speak of feelings words cannot impart
And show you all the passion locked in me.
To say that I love you should be a lie;
For love is only true if is shared.
But I would put one more star in the sky
To know for one short moment that you care.
    In loving you I've nothing left to give–
    I sometimes wish you'd die so I might live.

So much aching in the heart of a 17 year-old girl!  I am not 100% sure, but I think I remember the boy I wrote this about (and I'm friends with him on Facebook now, if I'm thinking of the right person).  I was all melodrama and tears back then–this is why I say I wouldn't go back to my youth for anything in the world!

There are eight sonnets in the journal, and five of them are about various forms of unrequited love (for the first 28 years of my life there was no other kind).  One is about God–I was once a devout believer–and letting go of Him was a painful but unavoidable part of my life.  I don't think I'll be posting that one.

There are other poems besides sonnets in the journal, but I think perhaps the sonnets are the best.  The constraints of the Shakespearean sonnet require the writer to keep things tight and choose words wisely–good practice for any writer.  I responded to it then and I respond to it now, even if I'm not quite the bundle of teenage angst I was back then.

I was desperately trying to think of a topic to write about today when this fell into my lap via RonHogan on Twitter:

Writing and Depression:  the Kiwiburger Conversation

I have long wanted to discuss my depression in relation to my writing/creativity, but it seems so difficult to put into words.  How does one even describe depression?  I'll start by answering a couple of the questions posed in the Kiwiburger blog.

1. What is depression?
To me depression is like hovering on the edge of a cliff that you are trying not to slip off of.  You use all of your mental (and sometimes physical) energy to stay on the edge and not fall.  It is exhausting, and you always feel like you're dangerously close to slipping.

As a chronically depressed person, I live very much in my head.  I am overly analytical and I have an active imagination.  I am also very introverted and though well-liked and on the outside, fairly sociable, my preference is to be by myself or with my husband.

I do not use writing as a coping mechanism.  For me writing is a compulsion that taunts me mercilessly.  It's like exercise.  The process itself is miserable, but the end result is worth it.

2. If you live with depression, how/when did you first realise it? Was there a formal diagnosis at some point?

I have lived with depression my whole life, or at least as long as I can remember.  When I was young, I staved it off by reading my favorite books over and over.  I reckon I've read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret more times than anyone on the planet.

During college, my depression hit a fever pitch.  Already low on self-confidence, I found myself thrust into a new environment with no support system, no boundaries, and copious amounts of alcohol.  By the time I did build up that support system, I had already learned that alcohol was an effective, though temporary, form of self-medication.  Bad choices, lots of them, were made, particularly in the area of (shall we say) interpersonal relationships with boys.  Without a doubt, college was the worst four years of my life.

I'm very pleased.  My word count for the week was 4169.  I also made significant progress in outlining my chapters (which I find helped me actually write more) and sussing out my story.  I have always found it a challenge to incorporate my research with my writing but this week I seemed to have fallen into a groove.

Better yet, my total word count so far is 30,041. 

Dorset_Garden_theatre_1673 
The Duke's Theatre, where Lucian Wilde's plays are produced

After a horrible start on Monday wherein I did nothing very useful, I was determined to make Tuesday productive.  Much of Tuesday was spent outlining chapters, which as I said above, really helped me move the story forward.  Wednesday through Friday was spent writing.

My biggest challenge continues to be an inability to see how this is going to end.  There are several possibilities.  Another challenge is taking what is really a very complicated political situation and explaining it so that it's entertaining.  I have now become a Popish Plot Geek, and the trouble with that is that it's easy to make assumptions that other people will know what I'm talking about.  Conversely, it's also easy to assume the reader needs to know everything, thus rendering my novel boring and unreadable.

I read an interview with David Liss today that perfectly voices my predicament:

"A lot of historical fiction makes the mistake of either not knowing how to effectively deploy research or feeling too beholden to actual, historical events in the script," he explains. "My feeling is that history makes for great history, but it doesn't necessarily make for great fiction, and that if you're writing a historical novel, the history needs to be driven by the things that make great novels. That history is there as a context and setting and background, but that it needs to be foremost a story about characters. A lot of it, I think, is… putting character before research.

"Of course, I'm not saying I make things up. But I feel there's a certain kind of historical novel that wants to basically novelize history; the novelization of historical events… It's a perfectly valid way of telling a story, and I have nothing against it, it's just that I don't do that."

When I'm not writing, I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about why I'm not writing.  One of the biggest reasons, I think, is feeling overwhelmed by this seemingly monumental task.  Outlining helps with this, but I am realizing an even bigger part of my writer's block is coming from a lack of clarity with the story itself.  I know what my characters want, kind of, but not to the extent that they are 100% real to me yet.

Useful Links:

Outlines:  Ruining the Fun Since Chapter One - From Deadline Dames via toniandrews

Guest Blogger Terry Brennan - via RachelleGardner, a first-time author describes the editing process

The Book Deal - Editor Alan Rinzler's blog about the publishing industry

Published Authors Deal with Insecurity - Author Lionel Shriver talks about her experiences with her seventh novel

What do your Characters Want? - A great post by Literary Agent Nathan Bransford

I joined Twitter around the same time I joined Facebook, but I never used it because, well, it didn't seem very useful to me.  At the time, I suppose it wasn't.  I only truly got interested in it in the last month, when John at This Young House posted this:

If you’ve noticed the “Tweet Nothings” widget on our sidebar, then you probably already know that we’re on Twitter. I’m the primary tweeter between the two of us, using it to share tidbits that aren’t quite full-post-worthy and keeping you updated when we’re on the move (like if we’ve just spotted a new deal while out shopping). We’d love to mutually follow more of you, so check us out here and click “follow” under our picture. No clue what Twitter is? Watch this to get you started.

I thought "Hey, that's not such a bad idea!  I'll try that myself."  I was intrigued by the concept of microblogging, and unlike Facebook, where I generally post drivel for all my friends to see, I planned to use Twitter in much the same way I use my blog.  To pass on information.

But Twitter really exploded for me when I read about something called #queryfail in Media Bistro's Galley Cat blog.  During #queryfail, agents and editors twittered their worst queries.  As someone who is writing their first novel but who has no experience with the publishing industry, I was completely interested.  I headed on over to Twitter and was "introduced" to a group of people who were entertaining, honest, knowledgeable, and best of all, willing to share information.

On any given day, I am treated to a selection of links as diverse as these:

Doris Lessing:  On Why Autobiography is Inevitably Untrue via Stephka, who writes The Crooked House

50 Reasons No One Wants to Publish Your First Book, via DanielLiterary

Insane Hiking Trail via EGDeedy (RT Zeblue_Prime and Maczter)

Novel Approach:  Undercover at Library via KevinRoose, an author whose book UNLIKELY DISCIPLE: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University comes out this month.

Q & A with Literary Agent Michelle Brower via mariaschneider

What's the Hook?  The Art of the Pitch via joefinder, best selling author

I follow authors, literary agents, editors, book publicists–anyone who I think will post useful information for me to gobble up.  Right now, I'm pretty much in listening mode, but as I learn and find things to share, I will be more of an active participant.

To use a Twitter-appropriate analogy, I am like a baby bird with my beak wide open, waiting for its mommy to come back to the nest to feed me.  Feed me information!

Humming_birds
Baby hummingbirds by T. Solis

Of course, I also follow crafty-types and DIYers because, ya know, that's in my blood.  Truth be told, however, those folks don't tweet near as often as the literary-types, so most of what I get out of twitter is in that vein.

Here's another good post on why Twitter is useful.

I leave you with a few twit-bits from Top 10 Tips for Twitter…And Life, via Bookgal:

1. Fluff and filler are no longer an option. Nobody has time/interest in reading them. Get to the point.

2. Be real. 140 chars is cut to the bone – you can’t wear a fake character on top and still fit.

3. Pick what’s important. You could use twitter to talk about your day down to the bowel movements, but then you’d have nobody following you. People follow you on twitter because what’s important to you is a match with what’s important to them, so share it!

I updated my About Me page today to include a brief description of my novel:

I am a writer currently working on my first novel.  The working title is Diary of Bedlam and it is a mystery based on the real-life unsolved murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey.  Set in 1678 London, it faithfully describes one of the darkest periods of political turmoil to occur during the reign of Charles II:  the popish plot.

I didn't set out to write a novel about the popish plot.  When I first read about the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey I was enthralled by the mystery but I just wanted to write a novel–not a treatise on the politics of the time.  Unfortunately, the Popish Plot and Sir Edmund's murder are irrevocably intertwined.  Indeed, to a large extent, one would not have happened without the other.  The conspiracy was already brewing when Sir Edmund's corpse was found in a ditch at the bottom of Primrose Hill, but the kettle had already boiled and the coffee was cooling.  Sir Edmund's death gave new life to the popish plot and set off a frenzy of rumors, lies, and suspicion in London.  The city became crazy with fear–a sort of Bedlam.

As often happens to writers, I could not let go of this story.  It touches upon another theme that is important to me:  religious discrimination and its role in government and politics.  I had found the story I was born to write.

I decided that posting about my progress at the end of the week (Fridays) and weekend (Mondays) might be a good way to keep me honest.  So here you go, my first weekend writing report:

Words written:  765

Well below my goal of 1000 words per day, but we did go on an overnight trip this weekend so I absolve myself.

The good news is that these 735 words were written as part of a new scene and were not added to previously written scenes.  It always feels good to move the story forward.

As of last weekend, my word count was around 24k.  However, this doesn't count some of the subplot I put to the side while I work on the main plot.  Ultimately I know wordcount is important but for now I've got to get the main story worked out.  Honestly, I haven't even figured out who the killer is.  I'll worry about word count later.

Best line written this weekend:

“My dear,” Charles said, taking my chin in his fingers and lifting my face so that my eyes met his.  “Don’t tell me you’ve become just another meddling woman.”

Useful links:

Fiction Writers Review -  Tagline:  The site for writers who love to read and readers who aspire to write
Get Your Characters Out of My Way - Good advice for avoiding 'gawking' characters, via Nithska
Tommy's Top Tips – #1 Literary Agents – Detailed advice about literary agents and getting one, via Tommydonbavand

See you on Friday with my weekday wrap-up.  Think I can make the 5000 word goal?

Good time management, alas, is not part of my skill set.  I do okay when I have actual deadlines (if waiting until the very last possible minute counts as okay), but in the case of my novel or anything that doesn't have an imposed time limit, I am severely time-management-challenged.

Here are a few of the ways I am working to ensure Better Time Management:

1)  I make lists.

Almost every day, I make a list of what has to get done, what I hope to get done, and what I think needs to get done but probably won't.  A typical day will look like this:

    1.  Run
    2.  Write
    3.  Call insurance
    4.  Do laundry
    5.  Straighten room
    6.  Figure out what to wear for party
    7.  Pluck eyebrows

I try to put everything I can think of on a given list, knowing that some of the less important stuff will get moved to the next day.  The end result is that the laundry always needs doing and my room never gets straightened (and don't get me started on those eyebrows), but the stuff that has to get done usually does.

2)  I set timers.

I have a bad habit of letting the entire morning slip away whilst I browse the Internet.  Now I set a timer for one hour and let myself do all my browsing/reading/updating during that time.  When the hour is up, it's time to get to work.

I also set a timer for blocks of writing time.  I mentioned this in another post, but I stole this trick from Dr. Wicked.  The timer is set for 48 minutes, during which time I am not allowed to anything but work on my novel.  Sometimes the 48 minutes is used for research, outlining, or plotting, but I try to do at least one 48 minute of writing only per day.  By using this method, I am generally able to fit in 4 solid blocks of writing/work time per day.  It might not sound like a lot of time, but you'd be surprised at how much you can get done in 48 minutes when you refuse to let yourself get distracted.

3)  I multi-task.

I do a lot of things "on the way" to do something else.  For example, if my coffee cup needs re-filling I use the trip to the kitchen to take back my breakfast plate and any other kitchen items on my desk back to where they belong.  Whilst in the kitchen I take a moment to unload a few items from the dishwasher.  On the way back, I straighten something in the dining room or take something from the living room that belongs in the bedroom back to its rightful place.  I rarely take the time to do anything all at once (such as unload the entire dishwasher) but over the course of the day things end up getting done and I never feel like I took time out of my schedule to do them.

What do you do to ensure better time management?  I'm always open for tips in this department!

Lucian_wilde Lucian Wilde (1 April 1648 – 26 July 1685) was an English playwright.

Early Life
Lucian Wilde was born in Wye, near Canterbury, England.  He was the third child of Bartholomew Wilde, a barber, and his wife, Elizabeth.  He had an older brother, Adam (1644-1665) and sister, Isabel (1646-1689).

Though not a noble family by birth, Lucian's father had a good reputation and knew many important men.  When he was 15, Bartholomew was appointed Lt. Governor of the colony of Surinam in South America.  Lucian, Isabel, and their mother accompanied him on this journey.  Lucian was not suited to the warm, tropical climate in Surinam and spent most of his time writing and plotting his escape from what he later called "that wretched place."  The family finally left in 1664 but his father died at sea on the voyage back.

Toast of London
During the family's stay in Surinam, Lucian's brother Adam, a goldsmith by trade, had become successful as a jeweler to the court of King Charles II.  Upon their return to London, Adam introduced both of his siblings to the court where they became popular visitors.

Lucian was a gifted playwright whose first play A Gentleman's Folly was received with great acclaim at the Theatre Royal and further ensured his status as a favorite at court.  He later wrote for the Duke's Company where he continued to see success.

A notorious gambler, Lucian was never to amass a fortune for himself despite his success.  He was deeply in debt, and generally relied on the generosity of his patrons or his sister Isabel to maintain his lavish lifestyle.  His love for gossip, schemes, and meddling, however, often put him at odds with the very people who supported him.

Though Lucian was linked with many of the most beautiful woman of the period, he was said to prefer the company of men.  Whether he was bisexual or homosexual is not known, but he never married or had any legitimate children.

Author's note:  The portrait above is of John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester.  Lucian Wilde is only loosely based on him–rather, he is a composite of many of the playwrights and characters of the time.