Back to paper and pen

A week after the writer getaway, I’m still in the pre-planning stages for the novel. I’m feeling increasingly confident that I’m on the right track.

Nudged by the confluence of a post on a writer friend’s blog  and a seriously cute 3-ring binder I found at Target this week, I’ve gone back to a planning technique that worked well for me several years ago. It’s something I came across in an old book on writing by Phyllis A. Whitney, who wrote mystery novels for adults and teens right around the time the fiction category of Young Adult was establishedPhyllisWhitney09102014 (on Page 19, she writes, “There is also the new category of books and stories for ‘young adults’…”).

So yes, some of the text is dated–carbon paper! typewriters!–but most of it stands the test of time, in particular her use of a loose-leaf notebook to organize each novel, using tabbed sections for plot ideas, characters, things to check, things to fix later, etc.

I followed her notebook process while writing the other book and found that the writing went surprisingly smoothly (and successfully in that the book found an agent, although it didn’t sell). Then along came Scrivener,  a word processing program especially suited for long projects, and I fell headlong into the digital-is-everything trap.

Well, three years and another novel in, I’m here to say that digital isn’t everything. Take ebooks, for example. In my experience, they’re great for light reading, not so good if I’m reading for discussion or research, or a book where an off-hand remark in Chapter 4 is the clue that solves the case. For a book I want to flip back and forth in, I want something I can mark with sticky notes and flags as I go along so I don’t have to deal with virtual bookmarks and highlighting and swiping and typing.

Turns out it’s the same for me with planning a novel. I love Scrivener to death for the writing and the moving around of scenes, but for planning, I’m returning to pen and paper.

DSC01143Here’s a picture of the cheerful little binder I’m using. I also learned this week that page divider technology has come a long way since the last time I bought a package. They now come with erasable tabs.

The package says they work for pencil and ballpoint and yes, they do, but lettering with a Sharpie looks nicer and–ta da!–can be erased! Using a pencil eraser on marker worked but was tedious and ugly. However, I found a workaround: whiteboard cleaner. Spray the tab with whiteboard cleaner, wait a couple of seconds for the ink to dissolve, wipe off the tab, hard, with a facial tissue. Cleans it right up. For some arcane, probably chemical, reason, if you miss something the first time around, or don’t press hard enough when you wipe it off, a second spray with the cleaner won’t do a thing about the shadow that remains. However, if you use a pencil eraser the second time around, the shadow will disappear as if by magic. Go figure.

© 2014 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

Posted in Productivity Tools, The Writing Life | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Writer Getaway, Day 2.5

This morning I watched another of the online classes I’ve been auditing, and suddenly something that has eluded me for months became blindingly obvious. To rescue my WIP from the mud it’s currently stuck in, all I have to do is:

  1. Change the point of view from 1st person present to 3rd person past
  2. Change the premise back to the original idea
  3. Start things off in a much weirder location.

These three not-so-little changes will pretty much deep-six the first 4000 words and require a complete rewrite of the other 18,000. Meh. A lot of the early stuff was character discovery anyway, and I suspect some much of it was not exactly gripping. Also, there might be passages, maybe even entire chapters, that I can retain in some form or other.  So it’s definitely not the end of the world, just a major surprise. When I walked into this room on Monday afternoon, I sure didn’t expect to find myself back to Square Two a mere 48 hours later.

The other surprise: how good it feels, how downright freeing it is to finally see a clear path ahead. I was positively giddy for the first hour. I decided I needed to let this insight settle for a bit before tearing into a new manuscript, so I went for a long walk around town.

Now, after dinner with Marcia at a trattoria up the street and an exceptional dessert** back at the Inn, I’m feeling a bit stuffed and a bit sleepy, but still excited and very ready for the next part of the journey. Unlike the first time I started this story, when all I had to go on a fragment of an idea, now I have a whole cast of characters I’ll be traveling with.

* On my walk I found an area near the old RR right-of-way where the streets are named Iron Lane, Steel Lane, and Furnace Street. I tried to find the foundry that must have been there at one time, but either it has been torn down or re-purposed beyond recognition. I also spent some pleasant moments on the bridge over a little river that runs in front of the Water Works, so it was a good head-clearing exercise all around.

**Pumpkin-bread pudding with cranberries and a bourbon sauce. Best. Bread. Pudding. Ever.

© 2014 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

Posted in The Writing Life | 4 Comments

Writer Getaway, Day 1.5

I’m in Day 2 of three-day writer getaway with a friend (we’ll call her Marcia). We’re at an old inn about an hour from each of our homes. It’s our second visit; we came here this past spring for a two-day getaway that we both realized was not quite long enough. We chose this place because it’s roughly halfway between our homes, it’s affordable (thank you, Living Social deal!), has pleasant surroundings, good food that somebody else fixes, and is far away from the distractions of home (I’m talking to you, laundry/dishes/yard work/groceries).

There's a Mirror of Erised in my room! However, as Older Son observed after my previous visit to this inn, if the mirror's attempting to reflect my heart's desire, either it needs a tune-up or I need to seriously up my game.

There’s a Mirror of Erised in my room! However, as Older Son observed after my previous visit to this inn, if the mirror’s attempting to reflect my heart’s desire, either it needs a tune-up or I need to seriously up my game.

I arrived Monday afternoon, test-drove the in-room whirlpool first thing, watched a couple of sessions of an online video about plot and structure*, and went with Marcia to the Chinese restaurant up the street. Given that it was Monday in a small Wisconsin town (population 5,093), this was our best option from What Was Open. It worked out: the fried rice was the best I’ve ever had, and the message in my fortune cookie was: Act as if it were impossible to fail. Definitely a Win all the way around.

After I came back to the room I lay down for a short nap and slept for 13 hours (not a typo). I feel 300% better now than I did yesterday at this time, although yesterday at this time I was not aware that I was operating below capacity.

I spent this morning re-watching a couple of the classes from yesterday so I could take notes, since what was being discussed was exactly what I need to learn for the novel I’m plotting now. It’s exciting when things fall into place, as they have been ever since I returned to this particular Work in Progress (hereafter known as the WIP).

Last week, for instance, I peeked inside one of the Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood and found the exact book that influenced the main character of this novel. I took that as another encouraging sign.

Things aren’t perfect. When I made the reservation I neglected to ask for the room I had previously, and I’m finding this one to be a bit short on natural light. The desk faces the wall, for starters. I’d move it to the window, but the window faces the brick side of a building across the alley. I did know this going in–this is the room Marcia had this spring–but Marcia managed to do just fine here so I decided that this was the room I was meant to have. It’s working out OK, but I do miss a portal to the outside world.

Update: 2 PM. Amazing thing just happened. One of the rooms on this floor is being renovated and today’s the day the crew showed up to put down the new flooring. With nail guns. Loud nail guns.

It was noisy but nothing I couldn’t live with, especially since I had my earbuds on listening to the videos, especially for the price I’m paying! However, an hour ago the innkeeper apologized for the noise and offered to move both Marcia (who was on the other side of the renovation) and me to new rooms.

And…one of the choices was the amazing room I had last time! I packed up in, like, nanoseconds, and then spent considerably longer unpacking and re-organizing. I now have both a desk at a window overlooking a not very busy side street AND…ta da!…a REFRIGERATOR! The latter is very helpful, because I brought a cooler of breakfast, lunch, and snack items and the ice is melting faster than I expected it to.

As I said, things seem to be falling into place.

*The online video class is a semester’s worth of lectures on Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, with author Brandon Sanderson as the instructor. Links to the classes are here (they’re all on YouTube, apparently with the permission both of the instructor and the university, and they’re easy to navigate). Although my WIP is neither SF nor fantasy, the techniques he discusses for character, setting, and plot are applicable to any work of fiction, and as a long-time reader of science fiction, I’m finding the world-building and sub-genre discussions a welcome bonus.

© 2014 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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Fun with the Apostrophe

I was right. It is Dan and Kate’s Rehearsal Dinner, not Dan’s and Kate’s Rehearsal Dinner.

And it only took me 40 minutes paging through three reference books to find the rule so I could quote it to the person who raised the question, whom we will call Mr. Dunson (not his real name).DSC00986

The books I consulted were Voyages in English 6, The Britannica Book of English Usage, and The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition. I had to resort to books because one of the problems with being a writer is that, if you’re any good at all, you internalize the rules early on. With time, some of the details blur, such as the exact name of a tense (past perfect progressive, anyone?) or the geography of the parallel universe known as the Subjunctive Mood.

You know you’ve written something correctly, but when you have to explain why to a client or a colleague (or Mr. Dunson), it’s tricky to come up with the exact rule. Going online is easy but–and I’m sorry to disillusion you here–not everything you read online is 100% authoritative.

Besides, I paid good $$ for Chicago 15 so I use it every chance I get. (I have no idea where the BBoEU* came from; I’ve had it forever. Voyages in English 6 is a dated sixth-grade language grammar that I rescued from a wastebasket when I was helping a teacher clean out her classroom at the end of the year. It’s stamped “Complimentary Copy” so I suspect it was something she picked up at a convention. I keep it around because it’s a lot easier to navigate than either Chicago or BBoEU.)

For the record, the BBoEU rule regarding nouns in joint possession** is on page 322: Compound nouns and nouns in joint possession show the possessive in the last word only. But if there is individual or separate possession, each noun takes the possessive form.

In Chicago 15, the rule appears under “Particularities of the Possessive” in section 7.24:
Closely linked nouns are considered a single unit in forming the possessive when the entity “possessed” is the same for both; only the second element takes the possessive form. When the entities are different, both nouns take the possessive form.

In other words, Dan and Kate are having just one rehearsal dinner, which they both “possess” and so the apostrophe goes after the second name in the series. (The case could be made that Mr. Dunson and I possess the rehearsal dinner because 1) we’re paying for it and 2) it has yet to be bestowed. But I digress.)

I have so far been unable to find a reference to joint possession, by any name, anywhere in Voyages in English 6. They must have been saving it for the upper grades, along with subjunctive mood. Note to self: find copy of Voyages in English 8.


* Not to be confused with The Big Book of the European Union.                                              ** I bet I’d get a lot more hits on this blog if I added joint possession to the tags.***         *** And I’d draw yet a third crowd if I added unmodified possession.

© 2014 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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Scratched, Dented to Order?

This past week a manufacturer of premium made-in-Pennsylvania-when-not-in-made-in-China stainless steel cookware ran a two-day online sale of factory seconds.

On Wednesday morning, the second and final day of the sale, I received an email to the effect that many sold-out items had been re-stocked. I didn’t buy anything during the sale but the origin of those re-stocked items has been nagging at me all week.

Did one overnight production run really result in that many scratched and/or dented skillets and sauciers?

Did they send Harry the Hammer down the line to rough up the inventory to order?

If I’d bought something on Day 2, would my chances of getting a Factory First have dramatically improved?

© 2014 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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