BoardZilla

I decided to try the whole planning-a-novel-on-index-cards-thing, so I bought a new cork board to hold them. I already had one in the office, but I decided I needed more space.

Ahem.

The small one is for mere mortals.

I had to move the front seats of the car forward, collapse the back seats, and was barely able to squeeze the trunk shut. The board came from our local Ikea-knockoff, so its size was given in centimeters, and I’m a bad Canadian and suck at metric but I’m thinking it’s at least four and a half feet tall. Maybe five.

I lugged it through the back door. My husband was gaming on the couch in the living room, and when he saw my new monstrosity he just laughed.

“That’s ridiculous! That thing’s HUGE! You could use it as a sled.”

“Shut up.”

“Or hold it over your head for a parachute…or use it to build an addition on the house…”

“SHUT UP.”

“Parasail…area rug…bet it won’t fit up the stairs.”

I rolled my eyes, asked him to kindly shut the fuck up, and went to carry it upstairs. I managed to put a ding in the wall, which made him laugh so hard I thought he’d pee himself.

I love my new cork board. It will be the answer, I know it. I’m guessing this thing’ll hold about 60 index cards, which should get me through just fine (ha!).

I told a coworker about it, and without missing a beat she said, “Flotation device in a flood.”

Shut up.

How to Talk About Your Story Without Giving Details

As you know, I’m working on a new project.
As you also know, I don’t talk about stories I’m working on.

Sometimes I want to talk about the work, especially when I’m happy with the way it’s falling together, but I loathe giving away details before the story’s basically finished. Instead, I have this bad habit of making really awkward metaphors, which probably don’t tell anyone why I’m so excited in the first place.

I was trying just now to tell my husband about the new book/stories/thingy that I’m working on, and I didn’t want to jinx myself by telling him what exactly it’s all about.

This is what happened:
“Okay, so there’s a really obvious…thing…that connects the stories. Like BAM! right in your face. Say it’s a bunch of stories about dogs. ‘Kay? Now, there’s also a more subtle theme; like, say the dogs are like metaphors for the soul or something. Whatever, just listen. Okay, so I just figured out how two of the stories connect, specifically…like, Lassie is the dog in the first story, and she has puppies, then in the second story WHAM! one of puppies is there! There’s like…layers.”

So to those of you who have been asking…there. That’s what the current project is about. Glad I could clear that up for you.

Write the Words and Solve the Puzzle

I don’t plot my stories. Not in any real sense; I find if I have the whole thing written down and planned from A to B to C, the story is robbed of its magic and it’s no longer fun.

Instead, I have a very vague idea of what I want the story to be about, some spark that’s going to serve to set it off. “Murder”. “Sociopath”. That kind of thing. Then I’ll decide what big event I want to have happen in the story (hint: people often die). Then I get to sit back and write the thing.

It’s an adventure, not knowing exactly where the story will go. I’ve heard it said by other writers and I can vouch for it myself: half the time I’m just as surprised as (I hope) the reader is. Things will turn at the last moment and suddenly it’s a whole new story. (For example, What’s Inside was going to be about a terrible little boy mutilating animals in his backyard. Then I thought, don’t many kids who torture animals grow up to be murderers? I skipped a step and BAM Cody kills his teacher. I had no idea that was going to happen when I sat down to write.)

The reason I’m talking about this today is that I’m stuck again. It doesn’t have the sense of frustration that often accompanies being stuck; instead I have a couple pieces that I like and I need to solve the puzzle of how they tie in to one another. It’s fun instead of frustrating, because once those pieces click I’ll be off in an exciting new direction.

So I’ll sit back and wait. I’ll trust in my brain, my Muse, wherever the hell these ideas come from, and know that the puzzle will fit together at some point.

If you happen to catch me smiling to myself today, that’s a pretty good sign I’ve figured it out.

On Copyright and Concept

So, yesterday I had a sudden flash of inspiration. A concept for a story that was so crisp and detailed and visual that I started to worry I’d seen it somewhere before.

Like, literally seen. Like maybe it was in a movie I’d watched and then forgotten.

I don’t talk about stories I’m working on, so no, I won’t be talking about the concept itself here. (Superstitious? Maybe. But I come from a home where putting shoes, even brand new ones, on a table is inviting misfortune and bad mojo to rain down upon you. Hi Mom!) Anyway, because I don’t talk about works in progress, that also means I can’t ask around to see if the concept seems familiar to anyone else. I Googled, which turned up nothing. I wracked my brain. I finally caved and reluctantly told my idea to C, something I very rarely do, and he assured me he’s never heard of it.

Still, the worry nags at me. It’s not that I think there’s anything new under the sun (hell, I even have a super-trendy zombie story under my belt). It’s just that the details of this concept feel reasonably fresh, and frankly I’d hate to find out later that someone beat me to it.

It’s the idea that writing a story about a hotel is fine, but writing about a haunted hotel where a snowed-in writer loses his mind has been done, and even barring legal issues, to write the same story would be stale and redundant.

I asked for advice in an online writing community and was reassured that I should write it anyway: that ideas can’t be copyrighted and that shy of actual plagiarism I should be safe from getting my ass sued off.

It’s a new feeling. I’ve never been so hesitant to write before, and it’s bumming me out.

Insomnia, My Best Worst Friend

Couldn’t sleep last night. That won’t surprise many of you; I have sleeping…issues. Mostly I can’t get settled, can’t shut my brain off. The longer I lie there, not sleeping, the more resentful I become. It starts off a horrible cycle where I’m angry because I can’t sleep, and I can’t sleep because I’m so angry. I finally drifted off around 4:30. I had to be up at 5:30 for DayJob.

Why am I telling you this?

BECAUSE…as I stared off into the darkness, my mind wandered and BAM! fell right into an idea. An idea for a novel. Pieces fell together and suddenly I had a loose outline, a title, hell, even a cover all planned out.

I rolled over and told myself I’d revisit it today, to see if any of my half-asleep ramblings actually made sense. I even (and this is a cardinal sin: writers, look away) decided not to get up and write any of it down. I figured I might forget it, sure, but it was late and I was busy in the throes of a bitchy little funk.

Luckily, it stayed with me. And the more I think about it, the more I like it.

I’ve never had a story come together so easily before. I have whole little mind-movies climbing over each other to be written. And they make sense and they work.

This is easily the most excited I’ve been about a story, and I owe it all to that sleep-sucking rat-bastard. Silver linings, I guess.

(And no, I won’t tell you what it’s about)

Keeping Secrets

Working on a new story is a secret process.

Sure, you might see me clicking away at my netbook in the breakroom (yes, I know it’s pink, it was on sale, shut up) or watch me brighten with epiphany and scurry off to scribble it down (or maybe it looks like I have the runs; I’ve never actually seen my epiphany-face).

It’s fine if you know that I’m working on something new. My whole goal is to always be working on something new.

But.

Nothing will kill a story faster than telling someone what it’s about. It’s instant death. It’s peeling the shell off a chick half-formed.

Because no matter how well-meaning, someone will always try to “help”.

Maybe I’m over-protective, but as soon as someone else has put in their two cents, the story no longer belongs just to me. Now it has the smudge of someone else’s fingerprints, and the rest of the time I’m working on the piece I can’t stop glancing at those little blotches someone else left. Maybe their suggestion is fantastic: I’m not trying to negate, here. But once someone else has touched the story, I’m no longer the sole captain of that ship.

Writing is ultimately for an audience. Part of what kept me from finishing anything (for years!) was the fear of not having anyone like it. The whole point is to entertain the reader. To make them feel satisfied with the time they spent on your story. If you don’t ultimately concern yourself with the reader, you might as well be scrawling on the walls in a closet somewhere.

But first, before the reader gets let in, the story is just for me. I want to write something that I enjoy, without tailoring it to some demographic. I need time to experiment, to fail catastrophically and nix the whole damn thing if I have to. That freedom is worn away every time the partially-finished story is told; suddenly you have expectations (I thought this was about zombies? Where did the mysterious strangers in the bushes go? Why did you change the names?). And expectations weigh the story down, tying tiny little ropes to it until it can’t move anywhere.

So please: don’t ask what it’s about yet. And if you do, I apologize in advance for my grimace.