Welcome to my rambling thoughts on working with words, while I put off getting out of bed on a Sunday morning.
I've been doing a lot of writing lately. Not as much as I'd like to do, but more than I've managed in the past several years. Most of it is stuff no one will ever see--sketches for alternative timelines or extra scenes that use my characters in ways that don't fit in the books. It's a blast, though. It's like playing extra music for fun that doesn't count as practicing.
I started my first novel (Almost There--go read it if you haven't yet!) when I had two small children and wanted a project I could carry with me in my head as I cared for them. It wouldn't matter if I never finished it. (How many people who say they want to write ever finish a novel? Seemed like very little pressure there.) It sounded like a nice diversion. I didn't expect to love it.
When you're deep in the creation of a novel it's like living somewhere else for a while as you also live your normal life. The closest comparison I can come up with is binge watching several seasons of something. Your mind sort of swims with plots and characters that sometimes seem more present or interesting than anything else around you, even as you live your real life and still know the difference. (Reading a great book in one straight shot is like that, too, but I've only had time to read in small fits and starts recently. Netflix I can have on while I work and is often the only thing that makes being a human clamp, while gluing something complicated, remotely tolerable.) It's fun to be immersed in something like that. Even more so when you can exert control over it.
I started my first book in 2005. The first draft took me about two months to finish. It was so interesting and fun to do I wrote a second book, and a third in quick succession. Then Ian got deployed and I had our third child and life became impossible in terms of my own projects. I poked at the first book a bit, but was too stuck about how to clean it up properly to do anything with it for years. Then after Ian had done two tours in Iraq and looked like he might stay home, and my kids were all in school, I pulled out my fiction writing again. A friend gave me much needed direction about how to make the first novel work. I finished it. But then there were two more waiting in the wings.
I decided early last year that I should either buckle down and finish the other two novels gathering virtual dust in the corner of my laptop, or abandon them completely. I took a mini-writing-retreat with my invaluable friend and gutted and rewrote most of the second book and now it's essentially done. Whenever my mom has time for the cover and my brother is up for formatting with me again, I will be ready to put that one out in the world.
I had planned to do the same work on my third book at the end of this year, but once I opened those files up again I was hooked, and now that one is about finished. I've gotten good feedback from a couple of test readers and there are a few things to rewrite or tweak a bit, but that won't be hard. I'm hoping to have that one out in the world this year, too.
I want to complain briefly about typos. I recently tweaked that first novel a little, taking out several typos that were bothering me. I still didn't get them all. While editing both my second and third novels, I never cease to be amazed that I can go through them countless times and still not catch every typo. There are some I can only see if I print the whole thing out. There are some that get by every single test reader. And just at the point where I'm certain they are gone, I can pull up a manuscript to a random page and bam, right there in the middle of it is something glaring. It's maddening. But I take heart as I am reading the Harry Potter series again to my kids that I stumble over typos in there, too, and if they couldn't catch everything for JK Rowling, then I can't expect I'll find all of mine. Still. I wish they would hide themselves in the finished printed work as well as they do in manuscript form.
One of the interesting things about trying to wrangle a piece of writing that's about 100,000 words is finding out what specific ones you use too often. It feels the same way when you have kids and they start talking and then repeat back at you phrases you didn't realize you said with any frequency. Or they get tripped up by certain words or grammar and you have to look at those again in a fresh way that is surprising. (My favorite grammar issue with my kids when they were tiny was when they would hold up their arms to be lifted and they'd say, "Carry you!" and I couldn't figure out how to explain, "No, you mean carry you...") There are certain words I use enough that I now do a search for them and methodically take them out.
One of the words I do a search for, annoyingly enough, is "it." Which wouldn't seem like a problem until you start noticing that in most cases, "it" should be replaced by whatever "it" is. Most of the time my writing is greatly improved by explaining "it."
The most intriguing word usage issue I've become aware of that I'm trying to change? My Positive Anymore. My friend Fernanda called me out on that peculiar habit when we were doing our writing week. I read a sentence out loud and she stopped me to ask me about why I was using a word in a weird way, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out what part of the sentence had caught her attention. Turns out most people use the word "anymore" in a negative context only, such as, "I don't do that anymore." But there are certain regions where people simply use it as a substitute for "nowadays" in either a positive or a negative context, as in, "He's pretty good at that anymore." Fernanda's eyes got wide when I used the word that way and I was flummoxed.
She found me this when we each returned home and had internet again:
Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: Positive Anymore
When I wrote to my friends and family, they all said that I didn't do it when I lived in Michigan growing up, and that they just thought it was some odd thing peculiar to me that they didn't bother to correct for some reason. (Now I'm worried there are other things I say that people should be telling me about and aren't. Because we all have things we hear wrong or use strangely. I was in my late 20s before I figured out the expression was "intents and purposes" instead of "intensive purposes.")
So now I'm wondering where I picked up my Positive Anymore. Because it doesn't sound wrong to me at all, but it sounds really wrong to everyone around me. So how does that happen? There must have been someone who used it in a manner that it didn't sound strange to me when I was in college in Ohio or living in Pennsylvania. That's so unusual, though, to pick up something in your speech that late. Why didn't that odd usage jump out at me when I first heard it the way it jumps out at everyone else? Who would have been using it around me enough that I incorporated it? (And look at all those times I used "it" in that paragraph! *sigh* My blog posts are stream of consciousness and I seldom do more than a cursory edit of a first draft, so I'm not going to deal with any of those.)
Another thing I never noticed before that now I find myself paying attention to--after someone whose writing I like pointed it out--is using the word "said" before a name or after one. Apparently in certain genres of writing you are supposed to put "Alex said" during dialogue, but in most things it's still okay to write "said Alex." I actually wrote to Grammar Girl about that concept, and she checked several sources and determined in most fiction nowadays (look at me not using "anymore" there) that many authors go back and forth between the two. I'd never considered before how little I paid attention to "said." I tend to process it almost as I would punctuation, and not really a word.
Speaking of Grammar Girl, she had a recent post about remembering lie/lay/laid/lain, and I was relieved to know that she can't keep them straight easily either, and she offered up a chart to simply print out and consult. (Which I did.) My dad was the one I could always rely on to sort out the lie/lay/laid/lain problem. I wish I had ever thought to ask him to make me a chart. His would have been funnier.
I think at this point I am officially procrastinating. It's my one day off and I have a lot of cleaning to do, and I need to cook my husband's birthday dinner that he didn't want until the end of his drill weekend, so I need to get baking. What I'd rather be doing is working on my fourth book, which is starting to take shape and that I think will be a lot of fun.
I love playing with words. But I think the only ones I should be saying to myself right now are, "Get up!"