Wednesday, April 10, 2013

what's to love: brain walking

A friend of mine told me last week that she couldn't wait to read what I'm working on: It's a chance to walk around inside your brain, she said. It's going to be so interesting!

I didn't tell her that there's not all that much inside my brain lately, just wondering where I misplaced the tea, and oops I accidentally blew two hours watching trailers on, again. I didn't tell her how I waste time watching birds pick their way through the backyard. And also how I spy on my neighbors (not with binoculars so I hope I'm not too weird), how I obsess over the tiniest details of my day.

That is what's inside my brain, it seems.

But--I really do know what she means, too. Reading what someone else has written--it's an incredible experience, right? In On Writing, Stephen King calls it telepathy: "We're not even in the same year together, let alone the same room . . . except we are together. We're close. We're having a meeting of the minds."

A meeting of the minds. It makes me shiver a little. And it's true: which is why a good book, a good mind meeting, can quench loneliness.

I discovered this in college when my best friends were traveling and I felt abandoned. I curled up in front of a common room fireplace, with a book of personal essays. I read Seneca and Max Beerbohm and Charles Lamb and G. K. Chesterton. All of them dead, obviously, but I felt like I was in a room crowded with uncles, all of them outspoken, dropping pipe tobacco (um, except Seneca?) and giving me advice and making me laugh.

Books and writing... It's telepathy. Brain exploration. Minds meeting.

And just darn good company.

Monday, April 8, 2013

what's to love: the redemption machine

One of the great comforts of the writer's life: It's all material, baby. Anything can be boiled down, blown up, distilled, expanded, reimagined, or otherwise twisted, and used in the story. Anything. Anything. Anything.

Though we all know this, now and then it's worth celebrating all over again.

I can use the elementary teacher who would sigh at me all the time, like I was such a lousy waste of time. I can use the time when I happened to wave at Queen Elizabeth when we were both in Paris, and she waved back. (I just wanted to put my name and Queen Elizabeth in the same sentence, but yes, it's true.) Somehow, I can use that.

I can use the roommate who I think wanted to kill me, or at least to see me dead. I can use the I fell into a torture chamber in the Tower of London in front of so many people! story. I can talk about giddily running barefoot at night when I couldn't see. About hours of ceramics work, about goofy marching band stories, about my ongoing love affair with pie making. About all the lunch hours I spent in junior high at a typewriter in the school library, quietly retyping all the call numbers, spine by spine. About stings, about glories, about the quiet moments too.

I can write about what I overheard, what I dreamed up, what happened to me, and also all the things that never did. I can write about that. So can you.

It's poignant, sometimes painful, bittersweet, or joyous. But it's a gift, isn't it, to know that nothing is wasted. In this crazy work we do, it can all be used to tell the truth, to redeem what hurts. We spend it all in the service of something beautiful.

Friday, April 5, 2013

what's to love: they'll hold anything

During this massive spring cleaning, I found a crate of file folders, a bit cobwebby, with unidentified bug carcasses scattered in the bottom. Ick. As I was dusting and sneezing and discarding, I found a bunch of lined notebook pages stapled together. I instantly recognized it:

It was the first book I'd ever made.

I must have written it when I was about six. The spelling and penmanship were both truly, um, unique? Creative?

But I was already choosing a genre: Child's Early Book. I knew what went into them, having read plenty of My First Books: mainly lists of stuff, like colors and animals and opposites and things children are learning.

So I came up with my own collection: I had a list of the rooms in our house. I taped in flowers from our backyard. I drew a list of feelings. (The one for scared made me fall over laughing.) I listed foods, random words, the letters of the alphabet, holidays... and I was already getting part of the lure of making your own book.

It sounds simplistic, but: you get to put whatever you want in it.

I was my own little curator; those notebook pages were my museum. I could write any list I wanted to, put it in whatever order I wanted. An addictive experience. While cleaning I also came across spiral notebooks I kept when in second and third grade, filled with one page stories, like "Miles Starts a Band," "The Faraway Castle," "A Day at the Zoo."

I haven't outgrown that delight. I love this, love this: I get to put whatever I want in it.

So yesterday, when I found an early scene in my current draft boring, I gave myself a shake. It's my book: if I'm bored, it's not working. So I made characters collide. Why do a stiff Hi-I'm-so-and-so-and-who-are-you scene, when you can make two characters literally hit each other, sputter, and then run off somewhere when a bigger threat shows up? So much more fun.

And I wasn't bored anymore.

I have to remember this more often: to delight myself in each scene, get my own heart going, surprise myself. I understood that when I was six: oh the delight of choosing which words got to go in my exclusive, carefully considered list of WORDS?  Which emotions on the FEELING page?

Okay. I'm being silly. But it's still true.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

what's to love: ink

In one of his novels, P.G. Wodehouse called a writer an ink slinger.

I can't tell you how much I love this title for what we do. Scribbler, scribe, wordsmith... yes, all good names, but I'm awfully partial to ink slinger. And sometimes it's true in the most literal way.

Are those freckles on your face?

Why, no, they are splatters of INK. I got just a little carried away during work today.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

what's to love: the uniform

What's to love about writing? This is kind of a corollary to yesterday's, but it's not to be underestimated either:

You get to pick your work clothes.

If you want to work in your pajamas, go for it. If you want, you can wear a writing hat, like Josephine March, or a three-piece suit, or even, ahem, leave it all off and write completely naked.

(Does this actually work for anyone?? The single time I tried it--at the suggestion of one of those crazier release your creativity!! books--I only felt 500 times more uncomfortable than I already did, and my writing didn't get better. My sentences sounded panicked, and like they would really like a sweatshirt, please.)

It's whatever works for you. You can write in whatever clothes (or lack thereof) that you choose.

My favorite uniform lately has been some well-worn yoga pants and an oversized top. I'm totally comfortable, and can either see it as clothes for a workout, for brewing some sweat, or clothes for relaxing, for easing into those longer paragraphs. Because any given writing day, both can be true, right?

I take that freedom for granted too often, but, seriously, isn't it nice? I'd probably melt away if I had to be flawlessly presentable every day, and have a manicure and dozens of shoes and figure out how to, I don't know, coordinate things. Shoot. Even the thought of doing my hair every morning sounds exhausting...

I'd rather be in bed late, like this morning, with a book of poems, another of essays, and a bulky Mark Twain collection.

Who needs hair spray??

Monday, April 1, 2013

what's to love: seating arrangements

What's to love about writing?

A good writing friend of mine once said, "The best thing about writing is that it's something you can do sitting down." It had been a long, sweaty day at a midwestern writing conference, and after trekking here there and everywhere across a campus... well, her words struck a chord.

You can write sitting down. You can write sprawled in a recliner. Or in bed with your pages spread all over.

A small thing, maybe. But I'll take it.

tales of love & maybe even adventure

I remembered something about drafting last week, as I scribbled my opening chapter. There were all the usual woes: how to introduce character after character, how to make the setting new and fresh, how to make Chapter One count for more than just a big "Hello My Name Is _____."

I remembered the hate side of my love-hate relationship with writing. I remembered that the editor voice inside my head doesn't actually talk during the first draft, but instead it crouches in the corner of my mind and makes noises like a cat retching.

And I remembered one more thing. That if I push through this, and really do push, then I get to this sunny, happy, the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music kind of place. Last time, it took me two weeks. Two solid weeks of grinding my teeth, but then I really did make it through. The next six weeks were glory.

So. It's only been one week, and an off-and-on week at that. I really don't want another week or so of cat retching. I mean... come on.

I'm gonna drown it out. With a big, bold, air horn. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm focusing on everything I love about writing. About storytelling. About books. Because it really is a super-huge list. I really, actually, do love this work.

So brace yourself. Because April is going to be a big love letter to the literary life.

And that editor in my head is just going to have to go puke somewhere else for a while. I have a draft to love.

from the battlefield

I really didn't mean to disappear, it just happened like that. But what also happened? I finished the outline, yes? Printed it off and marveled at how it actually has some weight to it. Some heft. 106 pages, and you'd notice if it, say, hit you on the head.

Which is what I tried to do to my arch-nemesis Chaos. Smack it over the head with all those pages of plot points.

And, well, Chaos slapped back. With the worst headache of the year (the kind where an ice pick and a tympani strike up a friendship), emotional landmines, huge snow storm, missing paperwork, last minute urgent outings... you know. The usual Chaos tricks.

But. I grabbed five minutes, wrenched open a battered composition notebook, perched on the edge of my bed, and scrawled the opening page of the story. Quick and quiet and like maybe no one would notice.

Chaos sat back and considered me.

Last Monday, I snuck in two more pages. On Thursday I tried some we-can-do-it heroics and wrote for an hour and a half. With a bit more work Friday and Saturday...

So Chaos is still circling, planning its next move. The ceiling might fall in. I'm still missing all kinds of important things, like, for instance, half of my wardrobe. The weird burning smell from the car might be really bad news. Who could possibly know, right?

But the pages are slowly piling up.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

some dreams (about outlines) really do come true

Got any cymbals? Go get 'em. I'll wait.
Right, okay, you have them? Then slam those things together, because the outline is done!!

Over 100 pages. Months and months of notes, stuck together in a somewhat-orderly fashion. And with almost as many holes in it as there is content, but... I'll take it!

Whew! It's a thing of beauty.

A thing of beauty with a low ominous whisper.

And what's it whispering?

"Buckle up, Lucy Flint. Drafting is right around the corner."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

46 weeks: or, Writer Girl versus the Forces of Chaos.

Forty-six weeks left, until my manuscript dives from my loving hands into the vast unknown.

That's not so bad. That's a lot of neat little boxes on a calendar, right? Plenty of space in there for brilliance, for good old fashioned lack of brilliance, for rewriting, revising, re-envisioning. I think I'm basically right on track.

Even though all the contents of the kitchen cabinets are strewn on countertops and every other available surface. Even though the exterminators are arriving, yet again, even as I type. Even though the toilet decided to stop flushing properly. (Yes, I just mentioned toilets. It happens.)


I didn't forget my last post: I'm not complaining. Not at all. This is actually a battle cry.

From one red-capped, tea-swilling, trying-to-be-plucky writer girl to the Forces of Chaos.

Guess what, Forces of Chaos. I'm not taking it. This is the week that I finish the massive outline, and that the next draft begins. Really. It's on. No matter who is ringing the doorbell. No matter what happens.

So, let the plaster fall, let the floorboards crack and split, let the tree limbs rain down...

I'm getting this draft started by Saturday!!

Seriously. You don't know who you're messing with.

It's on.


(Which is the sound of a gauntlet smacking a pesticide-stained floor, in case you couldn't catch the nuances.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

the lucy flint promises

I love blogs about books. They remind me that my mania for reading (especially fiction) is shared by so many others. And I especially love blogs about writing and writers. They make me feel less crazy. Less alone. They make me believe it's okay to be every bit as nosy as I am: I want to peek over other writers' shoulders and say, how are you doing that?

I didn't think I would start a blog about my writing life, though. There are so many already!! Written by people far more clever, talented, and hey--published, than I am.

But in the midst of this year, of straining toward the finish line, of writing more than I wrote before... well, I've gotten a little lonely. And while I still love reading about other writers, I wanted to add something to the discussion. Put myself out there again.

I have loved posting these last ten days, blowing the cobwebs off my old blogging brain. I feel terribly rusty, though! My voice is coming out all weird, and I'm so sorry about that. I feel more awkward doing this than I thought I would, but hey, that's all part of writing, isn't it? Getting out there, feeling weird, and shrugging it off, because after all, it's just practice.

I'm just practicing.

But because I've read good blogs and bad blogs, writers I loved and writers that put me off, I wanted to give myself some guidelines. To keep on track.

Ever find when you're writing that you do exactly what you hate in other books? I have so done that. Mortifying to realize it, but good too... Anyway. To keep myself clear, here's what I've been thinking of, for the Lucy Flint Project:


work six days a week: it's so easy to just talk about writing, and not so much write. I don't want to fall into that! I'll write first, blog second. (Usually.)

post often: simply because, if I don't, I'll forget I have a blog, ha ha! But seriously, I hope to stay focused on these new goals, and if I stop holding myself accountable, stop reaching out, stop trying to meet other writers... the momentum stops. And the goals get hazy. 

celebrate the small things: I'll be honest, I'm not awesome at this, but I want to be. I'm so much happier when I recognize the little victories, and toast them appropriately.

be honest: I've met a handful of people lately who are flat-out amazed that I'm a writer. They want to know all the little details about my day, and it makes me laugh--you'd think I was doing enormous work at my desk, rather than just tormenting my little make-believe protagonist. But it makes me realize that this really is an incredible vocation. I want to see it all for what it is, and not hide the mundane parts, or the times when I feel inept, but also not forget what's great about it.


complain: it is just too darn easy to complain. So easy for me to sit here and whine, whine, whine, but who wants to read that? And seriously, it doesn't help any of us. So I'm gonna quit. As of now. Really. Right now.

seek ugly perfection: I'm a lifelong perfectionist, and it's taught me two things: seeking perfection never works, and it makes me miserable. Books are never perfect, though they can be excellent, and they can and must be authentic, and for heaven's sake, they should have a bit of beauty. I'm seeking those three things when I write now, and I'm not looking for hard and fast and false perfection.

... So. That's where I'm starting, as I look ahead at the year of writing, agent-seeking, and conversations with other writers. This is what I want to hold to.

Off we go.

lucy flint vs. the ever-lengthening outline.

It has been a wild & crazy week. Thanks to some household pests (not human ones, I'm talking about bugs), this house has been turned upside down, thoroughly shaken, and put back on the ground. We're trying to get all the pieces back in order, dishes washed, laundry done, shelves cleaned.

It's been a big deal, that's what I'm trying to say. And it makes me want to curl up in bed and watch every single Poirot episode on Netflix, and not be a genius-writer-girl, stringing together an outline for this next draft.

Comfort food, yes. Plot twists, no.

Cinnamon twists? They would be okay. Any kind of pastry would be great. I'd also except wine. (And maybe whine.)

BUT, in spite of dust, Clorox wipes, and paint (yes, paint), the outline is still progressing. I'm trying to put months and months of notes into one continuous outline.

I sometimes think that half of writing is trying to organize ideas. How the heck do you do that?

But I'm going to persevere. This little story of mine is growing and growing. The dust (real, household dust) is settling slowly.

And even though I won't start this next draft of mine on time (whatever that means), I will start it. Soon. Ish.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

you & me.

It's like being early to a party.

No wait, it's like being the party hostess, and knowing you have big plans and great prizes and the best ever food... it's like admiring your little party dress and smiling at the invitations.

It's gonna be big. It's gonna be great. ... But no one's here yet.

That's kind of how I feel on this blog.

I've written for two other blogs before--one was part of a blog circle thing, so there was a lot of natural traffic coming from what we were discussing and who else was writing and all that. A few years of that, and then I split off to do my own thing, and a bunch of readers followed me, so that was comfortable and great.

But I felt really strongly about starting the Lucy Flint Project in the dark, in the quiet. Just me and a big empty party room. So it feels a little bit like I'm talking to myself... maybe because I am talking to myself. It's just me, the search engine robots, and a whole lot of quiet.

But that's okay. Good things are ahead. It's going to be an exciting place. And eventually, when I ask questions out loud, someone will be there to weigh in, have an answer, or hey, even disagree. And that will be wonderful.

And even if the party doesn't ever get here ... well, it will still be fine. If all that happens on this blog is that I talk to myself (and the robots), over and over, tell the robots all my goals, and still send out my manuscript on February 1, 2014?

Then it's a total success. And there will definitely be champagne. And I will be in a darn fabulous dress. And it will be one heck of a party.

Till then, I'll keep reporting, just to me and the robots and the quiet. But if someone happens by, feel free to talk back. Okay, Someone? Feel free.

Monday, March 11, 2013

strength & confidence.

I'm going to say it a lot during this year, so why not start now...

I would not still be writing--shoot, I probably would not be sane--if it wasn't for two brilliant books by Heather Sellers: Page after Page and Chapter after Chapter. I cannot recommend them enough.

(And since I know that I'm my only reader at the moment, I'll say this a lot more later, when someone else is reading. For now, you know, it's just practice.)

Plenty of people tell you how to write paragraphs, dialogue, character, emotion, etc. etc. What Heather Sellers does is help you see how to have a writing life. After four years of creative writing classes and practice, I at least was a decent beginner at writing... but I had no idea whatsoever how to craft the life that went with it. The whims and emotions. The neediness. The cycle of feeling like a pure genius, only the next moment to feel like the village idiot. Sellers talked me through all this, and does it with class, again and again.

She is brilliant. Buy her books. Trust her.

Today I scribbled this quote from Page after Page, to help coach me along this year (read: to keep me from shirking):

Your confidence as a writer is going to come from the strength you get in establishing a regular writing practice. Something you can count on. While publication is very juicy and sexy and delicious, it doesn't change the fact that you will have to go write. You need to focus on that.

And with that... back to work.

forty-seven weeks left.

Forty-seven. It's a nice number. It's bigger than I was afraid it would be. With February gone and March slipping past, I start feeling like, why even bother?

But that would be crazy. This is your year, Lucy Flint!! Keep writing! Untie those knots in your plot! Figure it out!!

(Insert other encouragement here.)

Right. I could let it make me crazy. Or I could sit here with my Lady Grey tea and stare outside (all greys at the moment, grey greens, grey browns, even the red of the tail lights is a bit ... grey), and let calm seep into my heart from somewhere.

One word at a time. One sentence at a time. One nifty little plot trick... at a time.

On February 1, I am sending a manuscript out. No matter what. No matter what.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

the Lucy Flint Project, part two.

I don't know about you, but for me, goals require a lot of talking.

I talk myself into believing them, day after day. I break goals down into little bits, the tiny rungs of the huge ladder I'm planning to climb: and then I talk myself into believing that each rung is good for me. I coax myself up, step by step.

This goal, the goal of going professional in every aspect of my writing life? Well, it's a darn big ladder for a girl who--ahem--may or may not always brush her hair, and who certainly does a lot of writing while wearing faded pajamas.

(I definitely need some new pajamas: let's add that to the list.)

I'm more willing to do something difficult if I surround myself with pep talks. I write down encouraging quotes from all kinds of writers, artists, creators. Sometimes I have a fantastic bit of insight, and I write that down too, and stare at it when things go awry.

And I'm far more likely to do something difficult if I tell other people about it. If I make loud promises.

That, new friend of mine, is the Lucy Flint Project. This is my super-loud megaphone promise to myself, that, come havoc or high water (I seem to attract both), I am sending my best manuscript to the top agent on my list, at the end of January 2014.

One year after I made my Let's-Go-Pro decision: End of January. 2014.

So there's my ladder. Let's get climbing.

what is the Lucy Flint Project?

I realized in January that this year is time to aim higher. This year, I write not just to learn, but to publish.

Ooof. Publishing!

I feel like I've been scribbling under a rock for six years, and now it's time to creep out, look around at what this industry is, who the competition is, and at what it takes to be truly professional.

Living under a rock, I've picked up some bad habits. You don't really need to brush your hair much when no one sees you, you know? So being professional means more than just writing the best book I can and brushing off those social skills I might have misplaced. It also means, um, brushing my hair. And looking somewhat like a grownup.

I realized one other thing about this whole going pro scheme: If my goals stay in my head, they'll vanish. I'll whine and complain and pretend I'm being mistreated, and all the things that this year, 2013, should be about? They'll fade out and I won't be any further along by this time next year.

That's where this blog comes in.

who is Lucy Flint?

... which means, who is Lucy Flint for now, ha ha.

At the moment, being Lucy Flint means: I'm 28 years old, single, and vegan (more or less).

I'm also a writer. Unpublished and undaunted (more or less).

Through four years of college and six & a half years after, I've been writing, writing, writing. Poems and essays and short stories for professors. And for myself? Three novels, and working now on a fourth.

I read somewhere that writers--like all good craftspeople--have to go through an apprenticeship period. And that the apprenticeship takes about ten years. Ten years of hard work before you're ready to become something else.

It's been ten years of apprenticeship. I wrote those novels and put them under my bed. We learned a lot together, but they need massive repairs. But this fourth novel, I think it has promise. And this year, I've decided, is when I become more than an apprentice.

It's time to go pro.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

progress is better than fudge.

Right, so I've moved past the fudge-eating stage. Feeling very proud of myself.

There are dozens, hundreds, of index cards in neat little groups of three, and then larger groups of nine, spread every which way in my bedroom/studio... covering the bed, desk, all available surfaces. The plotlines and subplots labeled, very neat, very nice...

But all the rest of the cards are empty.

Snow falling outside; blankets of snow-white index cards inside.

The idea of a symphonic score is all well and good, but you still have to compose the darn thing.

Composers, how do you do it? Something I never learned in years of music lessons. How do you turn chaos and bits and pieces, snatches of a melody, bits of fugue... how do you make it an actual workable piece of music? What's your process?

Years of being fascinated by where do you get your ideas have turned into this: How do you do it? Skip the brainstorming and idea generation: tell me how you make it happen. The rubber to the road, notes to the score, ink to the paper.

I think I've captured the high points. I think I know where those go. Hoping to inch my way from there...

where we begin

Today I am facing down a mess of notes, a patchy first draft, and a second draft gone cold after fifty pages. So many little notes, character tidbits, scraps of dialogue that don't attach to anything, abandoned narrative trails... I'm supposed to somehow pull these far-flung elements together and produce some kind of outline for draft three: the draft that will save the world.

I can see the outline in my mind: it will be breathtaking in its neatness and order. I picture it taped to my largest wall, in neat rows of index cards--each card bearing a sweet little description, a tiny plot nugget. All the plot layers and subplots running in rows; sections of chapters in columns. It would read like a conductor's score, I think. For some great, to-be-played symphony.

Only I can't stop freaking out about the sheer volume of notes, in so many places, and so, so disorganized. I actually need a new word, something beyond disorganized to convey the sheer catastrophe that's smoldering on my desk and in my computer.

I did the only sensible thing I could think of: I ate fudge.

I think Hemingway recommended fudge, right? Or maybe Flannery O'Connor? Or actually, wait, maybe that's just me.

Here's my writing advice to you: When your outline is just a dream and your book has exploded and you're sure, deep down in your marrow that you are far too stupid to ever be a writer (in spite of years of hard work)...

Go eat fudge.

And then make some tea and go start a blog. Start chatting to strangers out of thin air. Bare your soul online.

A heck of a lot easier than making sense of those notes.