Deleted Expletives and Lifesaver Roommates

I was looking for something in the Argh archives and found this from 2009. It’s amazing how much this is EXACTLY WHERE I AM NOW. I never learn. Although I’m grateful because it reminded me of the notecards in Scrivener which is where I’m going now. So here’s a draft from three years ago that I never published. No idea why. I’m not deep. But you can pretty much substitute Lavender’s Blue for Maybe This Time and get exactly the post I’d have written if I’d written it today.

So I have about fifty thousand words on Always Kiss Me Goodnight and probably twice that much in notes and diagrams and research, and I’m looking at massive amounts of information and false starts and raw dialogue, plus two collages and a stack of books on ghosts, and I start to panic because I am definitely [expletive deleted] because this book has to get done. I love the book and rushing it could screw it up, but sitting around waiting for it All To Become Clear is not an option. I know the story is thematically about ghosts from the past, literal and figurative, and I know it’s about do-overs, and I know it’s about building family/community (it always is) but there are still holes I can see daylight through. Well, not daylight. Have you seen Coraline? The part where Coraline walks out of the world the Other Mother has created and it’s all blank space? That’s what I’m seeing through the holes in my plot.

So in a desperate attempt to get organized, I opened a program I’ve used for organizing before called Scrivener. Three hours later, I was ready to give those guys in England big wet sloppy kisses. Scrivener: Best Writing Software EVER. My fave part is the corkboard: Each scene gets its own index card to the right of the text window that you can write notes on or, when the scene is finally structured, scene beats, and then you click on the corkboard and all the cards are spread out there with pushpins color coded to the POV character (or to whatever you want) and you can move them around until the story seems to read right and then you click on the Outline icon and it arranges everything into a written outline for you and stop me before I swoon again.
Plus you can click “Full screen” while you’re writing a scene and the background goes black so all you’re looking at is a white page. Or you can keep the regular screen and put the photos you refer to as you write in the section to the right. I could go on, but really, BWSE.

Once I’d entered everything into Scrivener, I organized the corkboard and made huge progress and then hit the wall again because there were still some blank Other Mother holes, making my plot look like swiss cheese. My head started to explode, so I took a break to have lunch with Lani, and she said, “How’s it going?” and I said, “I’m [expletive deleted].” And she said, “No, you’re not. Tell me about it.”

I never talk out my stories. It kills them for me. But since I was expletive deleted I had nothing to lose, so I explained it all to Lani, and she kept asking questions, trying to understand, and as I answered them or said, “I don’t know,” and thought about it, suddenly the holes began to fill in. We must have hashed out that story for two hours, trying to get it to a place where it all made sense, and by the time Lani got up to go back to work, I had a real grasp of what was happening in my story world. Better yet, it all made sense.

So then I went back and revised the first twenty thousand consecutive words and sent them to Lani and Krissie because I need to know if the beginning was working. Because here’s the things about beginnings: it’s all set-up. That first act, 30+K words has to establish everything that’s coming up in the book. But the kicker is, it also has to move the book, the plot has to start on the first page. And what always happens is that while I’m trying to set things up, my set-up strangles my plot. As in, “Why are they chatting here?” That would be to get the reader information which is not the same thing as story-telling so let’s rewrite that so it moves the plot, okay? And they came back with exactly what I needed–this runs too long, where’s the conflict here?, I don’t see a goal for this character–and then I had lunch with Lani again (it’s very convenient having her live upstairs) and argued some of the things with her, not because I thought she was wrong–I knew she was right–but because arguing the points makes me see the way out.

Here’s the thing about listening to other people and hashing out a plot: as long as you know what your book is about, as long as you understand your characters, even if you don’t have them on the page, you can articulate the answers to the questions in your story and then you know how to fix them. So when Lani said, “Look, North never gets out from behind that damn desk for the whole first act,” I said, “It’s a master of the universe thing: he stays behind that desk and fixes everything and never has to come out from behind it and deal with emotional things. So that first TP for him is when things get back enough that he has to come out and deal with people.” And Lani said, “Terrific, let’s see that on the page.”

If I don’t screw this up, this is going to be a really good book. You know you’ve broken through when you can’t stop thinking, “Ooooh, oooh, then that means this, which means that means this, which means . . .” Possibilities popping up all over the place like surprise lilies. I’m so happy. Or I will be until tomorrow when my head starts to explode and I realize I’m expletive deleted again.

It’s a good thing I love my work or it’d kill me.

63 thoughts on “Deleted Expletives and Lifesaver Roommates

  1. Is it at all comforting to know that this is just the process? And that it ends with you having a fabulous book?

    Because I’d be tempted to be a little Pollyanna about that. πŸ™‚

    1. It is, a little.
      A very little.
      Kind of like remembering you get a baby after the hell of labor. “At the end, you get a baby.” “OUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCHHH!”

      1. I remember the midwife telling me that in fifteen minutes, I’d have my baby. I thought “She must be kidding, I won’t be able to live through this pain another two minutes!” But somehow, I did. And afterwards, I had this Titanic-Queen-of-the-world-feeling. And a baby. It was great. Even better than the feeling when you finally close the document and hit “submit” to send it to the editor.

  2. Maybe This Time is a really good book, wonderfully funny, suspenseful, terrific enjoyable characters with whom to spend time. I know. I just reread it.

    1. Thank you. I sincerely hope you feel that way about Lavender’s Blue a year from now.
      Dear God, I hope it’s done and out a year from now.

      1. Well, if what you said in the top about it being the post you’d write today – that’s pretty good. And, we’re willing to wait. πŸ™‚

  3. Ah! I’m beginning to see the appeal of Scrivener. I already know the appeal of good writing friends! πŸ™‚

  4. Yep, I have to agree. No matter what the problem is, writing a novel, breaking up with a guy, money problems, if you start talking and brainstorming with someone else, you get answers. Not from the other people but from yourself. I think because the answers are already there in your subconscious, but to get them out and understood, you have to voice the questions out loud. You have to have an audience to bounce the ideas off. It’s like going to a therapist. They nod. They listen. You learn. They don’t actually tell you how to achieve want you want because you have to discover that for yourself. By talking to Lani, or another trusted person, you can be free to talk it out yet you get to retain all that good crunchy stuff as being your thoughts and yours alone.
    Good for you. Now go finish writing Lavender’s Blue. : )

  5. I learn more from reading this blog. Still not sold on Scrivener. I like the concept, but I get angsty when I’m confused, and I physically need to manipulate something. Why, I’m not sure. But I do feel a lot more in control if I can take this shred of paper from here and move it to there. Besides, there’s that whole joy of using the repositional tape.

  6. Someday when you’ve finished this book, would you and Lani please consider teaching a long weekend intensive workshop somewhere? I just can’t seem to internalize the three acts with the scenes and beats and the cowbells and really work it into my writing and I’ve been in workshops where you’ve explained them all before. Maybe I’m just on the slow learning curve for this particular approach. I don’t know if Krissie also writes to this structure, but all of you for a long weekend would be incredible.

    1. Ditto. I’ll put some money away toward that now, so I’ll have it when you finally give in to us and do it. (And remember: money. You need money. You bought a fixer-upper. And there’s m*@% in it.)

    2. Well, just between us and any other Argh People who read the comments, Mollie and the Cherry Forums mods are in the early stages of completely revamping what was the forums into a site that will have a lot of new stuff including a workshop component. So I may be doing some online teaching much later in the year. Other than that, the only places I’d be teaching a workshop would be Ohio or New Jersey, and you’d have to leave your dolphins. I don’t think you should ever leae your dolphins. You have such a great life down there.

      1. I’ll sign up today. Of course, I could probably only pay a $25 downpayment right now, but I’d start saving my pennies. I had a great time at CherryCon. And, I deserve it. I vote for Ohio though. It’s in the middle of the country, and I can drive there. πŸ™‚

      2. I could probably make it to Ohio too. Or New Jersey, even. (I don’t like to leave the cats, but I suppose I have to on occasion, or I run the risk of being one of THOSE cat women.) For you and Lani (and maybe Krissie), I’d go just about anywhere. Maybe a cruise? ‘Cause it could be a Crusie Cruise. Sorry.

        And I agree, that book turned out great. I’m sure the next one will too. And the one after that.

        I just bought the new Windows version of Scrivener. I’m sure I’ll really love it if I can ever get the so-called Interactive Tutorial to run so I can learn how to use it. And convince the big laptop (on which I do major edits, because I can have to pages open at the same time and still see them both) that it REALLY wants to run to full version, not the Beta version. Expletive deleted.

        I have an amazing critique partner. She lives in CA, but our over-the-phone brainstorming sessions have saved my overly-large tush many a time. And last week I and another author pal spent an hour on Skype brainstorming with a friend who needs to write her next two Blaze books RIGHT NOW. By the end of the hour, we had both books generally sketched out. It was amazing.

      3. Ahh, but I’m a Jersey girl bred, born and raised. I go back home at least once a year to see family and friends. I do have an excellent life and, yes, I miss the dolphins, as well as my dogs, if I go away for too long, but they’d understand. Plus, it’s always fun to come back!

      4. A weekend workshop with you and Lani in Ohio?! I could so be there! I’m in Indiana, so that’s like a skip away. Do it!!

  7. Well, just between us and any other Argh People who read the comments, Mollie and the Cherry Forums mods are in the early stages of completely revamping the forums into a site that will have a lot of new stuff including a workshop component. So I may be doing some online teaching much later in the year. Other than that, the only places I’d be teaching a workshop would be Ohio or New Jersey, and you’d have to leave your dolphins. I don’t think you should ever leave your dolphins. You have such a great life down there.
    Skye, aren’t you in Texas? Really, I’m not worth that much travel.

    1. Oh, you so are worth the travel. I once went all the way to Australia to hear you speak. Well, that and to see Mum and the sibs. ; ) You were awesome1 I can still remember the workshop on metaphor and simile. That was a major writer’s turning point for me.

      1. It was _great_. I nominate Jill to start planning the next one… πŸ˜€

        (Ducking and running very fast…)

    2. You are worth the travel. Seeing parts of the country I’ve never seen before is worth the travel. Travel is worth the travel. I need to keep changing my life until it gets to where I need to be, where I want to be internally and externally, and visiting Ohio or NJ, attending a workshop by you and meeting more of the various folks on Argh and the Bettyverse, would be worth more than rubies. (Although, I rather prefer peridot and sapphire and swarovski crystals to rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. So it would be worth more than those, too!)

  8. Great post . . . great comments. I have to do something with my WIP; haven’t even had the courage to look at it since November ended. I don’t think I’m ready to tackle more technology, but I can do note cards for right now . . . and treat myself to Scrivener when I make some progress (-:.

  9. It took me forever to get to that post a while back, and I was so glad I did, because the trial for Scrivener got me through NaNo, and I loved it so much my MIL gave it to me for Christmas. But trying to search for it when you can’t remember the name for the program? Talk about an ARGH!

    I love the notecards so hard.

    I agree with whoever said about that MTT was a great book, after all that hard work and being exactly in this place. It will come. And we will read the hell out of it, and buy copies for all our families and friends.

  10. Jenny – we will wait. We always wait.

    The book(s) will be great. We just know it – so we wait.

  11. Jenny:

    Thanks so much for posting this (and for finding it!). I’m in the midst of this sort of headache with Book 3, and it’s nice knowing someone else messes with those first 20,000 words (aka, Act I) for just way too long. :o)


  12. Based on how much I loved MTT, I figure you’re gonna do well. It’s more than good times ahead. It’s troughs of followed by peaks of β€œOoooh, oooh, then that means this,”

    But if there’s one (of a few) things I’d love is to read all of your unposted blog posts in their current partially edited and unposted form.

    1. I have 79 drafts on here. The real jaw-dropper for me, though, is that there have been 742 posts. We started July 21, 2005, because Mollie wanted something that changed on home page of the website each week, so she said, “You need to do a blog.” I said (no kidding), “What’s a blog?” She said, “Just do a short paragraph about something each week and don’t enable comments,” and Argh Ink was born. Then came He Wrote, She Wrote; PopD, and ReFab, and now here we are and I know what a blog is. I think Mollie ends her prayers each night with, “And please, God, don’t let my mother start another blog.”

  13. I just started using Scrivener this week for a new story. Love it for organizing so far! I’m trying to do more plotting this time around so I don’t have my agent come back and tell me I need to rework the entire beginning again. *sigh* (at least that’s done and is being shopped now – crossing fingers). Anyway, Jenny, I was wondering if you (or any Argh people) use Blake Synder’s beat sheets, as I have a question about the “A story” and “B story” that I really need a romance writer to answer. He claims the B story is the love story, and I’m wondering if that is true in a romance novel as well. Shouldn’t the A story be the romance? I’m really trying hard to plot paranormal romance, but I’m confusing myself in the process.

    1. I’m chiming in with KM Fawcett. I’d love to know what experience Jenny and others here have had with Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!

      But to answer KM’s question about A-story/B-story and romances… Blake answers that in the second book, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, where he says, “The A story is the love story… the B story is the thing that prods that forward, and in fact forces the theme of the movie” (pages 155-156).

      1. See, I don’t get that. The thing that “prods the movie forward” to me should be the protagonist’s motivation and actions to get her goal, not a subplot. I don’t understand how a subplot can be motivation for the main plot. I understand how it can intersect with the main plot, how it can provide barriers to the goal of the main plot while it arcs toward its own goal, I understand how it can strengthen the motivation of the protagonist in the main plot, but I don’t see how one plot can be the motivation for another plot. So it may just be that I never understood his language.

      2. Thanks Molly_G! I think I get it. So, in my case, the A story is the “love story” and the B story is the “golden fleece” story wherein the shape-shifter hero searches for the elixir. The B story prods the A story along because the hero needs to heroine’s expertise to help him find it.

        1. Ok. After Reading Jenny’s reply. I’m confused again. If the subplot can create barriers/ conflict to the main plot, why can’t it also do the opposite? Create motivation?

          You did mention online teaching right? Can I be the first to sign up? πŸ™‚

          1. I’m thinking about doing online teaching. What I mostly do is Argh.

            I think a main plot has to stand on its own, contain all necessities within it. Subplots enhance the main plot, act as foils to the main plot, give dimension to the main plot, echo the main plot, but they’re not an intrinsic part of the main plot. That’s why they’re subplots.

            HOWEVER, there are many roads to Oz, and if the Save the Cat method works for you, that’s terrific and run with it. There are a million ways to explain and structure fiction. I just don’t get that one.

    2. I must be the only writer on the face of the earth who didn’t like Save the Cat. I know it’s helped a lot of people.

      The way I’d analyze it is:
      Who’s the protagonist? What does she want? Who’s the antagonist? What does he want? How are they locked in a combat neither can resign from? How is that conflict resolved in the climax?

      That’s your main plot, the one that’s solved in the climax.
      Any other stories that are carried along with it and intersect with it are subplots.

      So if you’re writing Moonstruck, the love story is the main plot. Loretta vs. Ronnie.
      If you’re writing Morning Glory, the love story is one of the subplots, while her struggle with the famous anchor is the main plot. Becky vs. Mike with Becky vs. Adam as the subplot.

      Or to come at it another way, what’s the conflict/goal/antagonist that the protagonist can’t walk away from?
      In Grosse Point Blank, Martin can walk away from Grocer and does several times. But he can’t let go of Debi, he even betrays his latest client for her. It’s a love story first and hit man rivalry story second.

      1. Completely agree with the analysis of each of these movies but particularly like how you frame Grosse Point Blank. For me, that film got everything right and wasted nothing. Every element revealed character and fed the main plot while keeping the script tight.

        When I hit a phase in my writing like the one you describe and need to step back and take stock, I rewatch movies like this for inspiration. Always helpful. But always leaves me feeling like someone should invent a way for authors to include soundtracks with their books. The music in Grosse Point Blank rocked. I’m thinking with everything digital now, why not let us book writers add music to our stories too? How hard could it be? One day, when someone figures out all the rights and royalty issues, I could definitely see that working for your books:)

  14. So no one has given me an alternative for OMG yet, and you know how I hate that. But here we go: OMG, you don’t know how much it helps me to know that your books have holes. (well you think they have holes, maybe you just haven’t really focused on those parts yet so they haven’t materialized for you.)

    Lani did a lovely critic on both my current WIPs – really good and smart stuff – and I thought “oh god, I can’t write. What the hell do I think I’m doing.” But I kept going anyway because that’s what I’m doing right now.

    So the fact that you spent two hours working on that stuff makes me feel hopeful. Maybe I can fix the problems after all. I can’t write like Crusie, but I can write like me… and do it better with a little help.

    1. LOL, if it helps, even Crusie doesn’t write like Crusie . . . until the final draft.

      (That came out of nowhere! Who the hell am I channelling?)

    2. In regards to alternative to OMG, I’ve seen OMD, for oh my dog! It kind of cracks me up when I see it but I still get the general idea. πŸ™‚

  15. And I was going to get a massive whiteboard, hang on my wall, divide it into squares and write scenes on it. Trouble with that is, you can’t shift things around without rewriting everything. Scrivener…thank you so much! It sounds ideal.

  16. I too loved to read this from you because 1) your books are tremendous in the end and 2) I also struggle with the blank spots and holes and how to move forward, etc. Talking it out is a magical way to get around the walls – and it’s funny because when you said you argued some points not because you thought Lani was wrong, but because she was right, I do that all the time with my husband and he attributes it to my not being able to take criticism instead of his actually helping me to work out a snarl. Ha! Now I have a comeback for him next time he says that to me πŸ™‚

  17. Scrivener looks kind of astounding – the PC version even has a name generator!

    But yeah – talking to people. That is why we have crit groups and close friends who do (or at least understand) what we do, isn’t it?

  18. I just read Agatha Christie’s Autobiography, which doesn’t contain much about her writing process, and she apparently wasn’t much of an angsty person, but, like just about every author I’ve heard comment on the process, she too suffered from the fear that her current work was no good, that she’d never write another publishable story, etc., well into her career, possibly even to the end, when she was quite aware of her extraordinary success.

    1. The thing about success is that you always think it’s a fluke. “Okay, people seemed to like the first twenty books, but that was just luck.”

  19. My ex (a surgeon) used to say “You’re only as good as your last case.” I suppose that thinking, which I though was pessimistic at the time, is what makes you try harder and always give 100%.

    Happy brainstorming day!

  20. I am rerererereading Maybe This Time and checking Fantastic Fiction every few days to see what’s coming next. Please write another funny, wise book and publish it soon. I don’t know how many copies of your books I’ve given away. I try to pick something that speaks to the particular condition of the recipient, and generally they wind up buying the rest. People keep asking me what my favorite Crusie is, and I just start chanting titles. Favorite collaboration is easy, though: Agnes.

    Love Gabe showing up in Maybe This Time. And what are Dilly and Nadine up to?

    1. Fast forward about twenty years from Maybe This Time and Nadine has just met Carter. Dilly’s helping at the gallery.
      No that book won’t be done for years yet.
      And thank you for forcing my books on people, that’s very sweet of you.

      1. I finally got my mom to read you, in that last 9 months or so before she died, after Gram died and she had too much time on her hands. She loved your stuff and was very glad I’d recommended you. And she read A LOT of different authors (as do I, when I have either credit at a used book store or time spent at a library with a good selection).

        Of course, I am “forcing” two of my girlfriends to read you. I know they’ll love you as soon as they do. They are just stuck on the “romance means 1970s-style harlequin novels” concept. It’s a bad place to be stuck, I know that’s what kept me from romances for a very long time.

    2. Good to know I’m not the only one! Every time I see a copy of a Crusie book, I pick it up. When I give them to people I refuse to take money – I just want everyone as addicted as I am. It seems to be working well…Hehe…*evil cackle*

  21. I looooooove Scrivener. You can put pictures in and you can take things out and shake them all about and still have the original, and it has the little target board in the bottom right hand corner and you can click on it and put your word target it and it moves from red to amber to green when you have hit your word count. Quite apart from the genius outlining stuff.

    I loved Maybe This Time. Am looking forward to where you go next. So glad you are excited about the writing.

  22. I just started working with Liquid Story Binder, it has taken me some time to figure it out. So far though, I am liking it. I also just discovered that mind mapping seems to help me work some of the details out. I haven’t tried it on LSB but it does have that feature. At some point, I might try Scrivener too.

  23. Don’t forget to just to the best you can and be proud of it. It’s possible that the book won’t be *perfect, but we won’t know that. We’ll love it for what it is, not hate it for what it isn’t. You may have to wrap your head around it a little to get there too – change anything that makes you hate it, and let go of the “this could go either way” stuff for a while.

    I’m starting to think you share an issue I have. I try to make each piece perfect but fail to finish the project in its entirety. If only my high school art teacher had had me show my “B-” still life to my counselor, I might have figured out that I have an issue and how to cope with this a decade before I did. The problem was that I was so focused on getting the shading right on a candlestick (I love doing shading, see), that I drew only 4-5 objects around it in a field of maybe 20 objects. The “correct” way of doing this would have been to rough in all the objects before trying to start shading them, and from there to make the candlestick perfect. It didn’t matter if the candlestick was perfect if all anyone saw was an unfinished drawing. Now I still love that perfectly shaded candlestick. I would have had the best still life in the class had we had a week of lessons to draw it. But we didn’t, we had one lesson and the point of the lesson was to get the whole onto the page. If the point of the lesson had been to get an element onto the page and perfect it, I would have won. But my point here is that it didn’t even occur to me to draw the whole thing out before perfecting my candlestick. I didn’t know how to skip over premature details.

    I’ve since learned how. My most memorable example was from when I thought I could wash sweaters with towels because they’re both bulky. If you don’t yet know, never do this. I got bright orange towel pills on my dark green sweater. It was ruined. But I’d recently learned the trick of attacking the most obvious flaws first, and forced myself to use the sweater shaver only to the point where the worst, biggest orange pills were gone, then move on. In a half hour, I’d removed the worst of them, and lo and behold, even with a few little orange towel fluffs remaining, it was in wearable shape! Not ruined after all! I still have and wear this sweater and over the years, the remaining little bits have come off completely. But if I’d tried to get them all off to the tiniest particle the first time, I’d have had one orange and green sweater with a perfectly green arm in the trash, or perpetually mending pile.

    Can you use this Scrivener tool to step back from your details? Then, Don’t fix the “is this introductory bit moving the story forward” bits until you’ve nearly finalized the story. Now that you’ve drawn in some really nice candlesticks and apples, it’s time to make sure they all have a home in the still life before you go back to perfect that shading. And it’s possible the shading won’t have to be all that perfect for the finished result to still be mighty pleasing. Yes, this should have been a post on my own blog. Maybe I’ll put it there too. But that’s what I see going down, from my outsider view through the colander of your blog. Best of luck. I would really love to see more of your stories.

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