Thursday, October 28, 2010


This morning I was trying to write a scene where lice play an important role. What are lice like? I am lucky enough to have no idea. No, really, I don't!

So although I eschew e-books, I happily went online to research lice. Of which, it turns out, there are many sorts. My arm itched a little just looking at the pictures.

Lice are small. They are bugs. They are itchy, and lay eggs, and can carry diseases. But what do they FEEL like crawling up your arm? My head itched. Do they skitter like tiny ants? Do they bite with a piercing red itch, like a flea (now those I have had)? My elbow itched. Do they just wander around causing general itching, like poison ivy (ditto)? Can you eat them like monkeys do? What do they taste like? Crunchy? Salty? Squirmy or so tiny you can't even tell whether you're biting down on a louse or a poppy seed?

Pretty soon I was scratching myself all over but still no closer to understanding, truly, personally, in the flesh, what it's like to have lice. And soon I may have to face the question: how far am I willing to go in the name of verisimilitude and accurate writing?

The answer makes me itch.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Redraft, thou saucy varlet!

How much change does a draft go through before it's not an update but a REdraft? Significant change? Well, I've stripped out all the velociraptor helicopter pilots and flaming robot soldiers, but the battle moths and proselytizing garden slugs are still intact.

Kidding! Or am I?

No, a redraft is when you remove the second two-thirds of the book to save for later, and focus on the first third.

If there's a scary part, make it scarier. Turn-your-stomach-to-water scary, I hope. Sad parts get sadder. I want readers to feel pierced by grief. Hey, the characters are; it only seems fair. Beauty? Make it ache.

But it's not just turning up the volume on drama and emotion. It's clarity. Clarity. Clarity.

Lots of mud gets scooped up with the first draft. I try to clean that out. Fragments of plot ideas that ended up going nowhere: take 'em out. Unclear motivations, or ideas that grow out of sequence: fix all those.

But here's what has surprised me the most. During the first "exploratory" draft, I'm improvising. Testing out ideas, phrases, ways to describe things. I try not to feel too attached to anything I'm writing, because I can "easily" go back and change it, either in revisions or right there as I save the first draft and begin "draft 1A." And 1B, 2, 2B, etc.

I cribbed this idea from Laini Taylor and it's worked wonders. It's like writing with a safety net.

In any case, in the first draft, the stakes feel nice and low. When I can't think of the exactly the right word, I use the closest approximation: Characters are running and trying to talk? Do they gasp? Breathe? Pant? Grunt? Gulp? Shudder? Cough? Gag? Hack? Stutter?

But in the redraft: Ah, the redraft. Every. Word. Matters. It's the opposite of the wild freedom of that first draft, where I'm so frantic to get the words on the page I don't even check spellings.

No, at this point, I'm working with scalpel and forceps, needle-nose pliers and long thin tweezers, removing a word and trying another, and another, and another, until it's just ... right. It's painstaking work, but slowly, very slowly, the needless layers slough off and what's left is the story I've been trying to write since that first draft many months ago.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Coming back from a two-week vacation and launching right into work has meant that the house is full of stacks of (clean) laundry; half-unpacked laundry, water bottles, nearly empty containers of sunblock, shoes and sandals, boarding passes and dinner receipts, national parks brochures, guidebooks.

All great stuff! But it's meant that my normally only-half-messy workspace has become an obstacle course that forces me to high-step through debris to get to the computer.

I deliberately set up my writing space in a small and dark room, facing a bulletin board rather than a window (which is closed most of the time anyway, since I write before dawn). I like the idea of not having a view or a beautiful room to distract me. But when I can't even see the carpet, the mess itself is a distraction. So it has to go.

The same thing goes for "the shop" (garage) where I'm building the boat. How many cars fit into a two-car garage? None, if it's already filled with one boat, a second half-built boat, a kayak, two bikes, a table saw, a workbench, and stacks of lumber. To say nothing of the crickets.

And I can tolerate drifts of wood shavings; clamps not put back in their correct spots (hung to the right of the bench, if you please), dulled pencils in nearly every little crevice of the boat, and so on. But when I spend more time avoiding obstacles than working, it's time to clean up.

It always seems aggravating to be cleaning instead of working, so I'll usually clean a little, work a little, clean a little, etc. Here's the secret, though: cleaning never takes as long as I think.

Still, on a bright and cool October day, with the wind tearing through leaves the color of fire, I think of glittering blue water or the frustrating and beautiful intricacies of my book, and wish I could just get down to work.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Taken home

Get taken a lot. Taken when I was little away from motherlap, motherwarm, mothermilk. Taken from others, wiggling and warm and crying like me.

Taken to a new place, didn't know, didn't like it. Food but not hungry. Blanket but not tired. Scared. Dark. No others.

Taken outside sometimes. SMELLS sweet grass sour road warm squirrelpath, dog dog dog dog dog dog, marking here. Taken away from trash smell, from food smell, from motherlap smell.

Lived with others, not so cold anymore. Not so dark. Sleeping, outside and in, sometimes on the couch until the big ones made scary noises at me. Hiding, sometimes, under porch under bed under bed.

Same for long time. Everything the same, everything good, understand it all now. Walk. Outside. Smell. Mark. Eat. Sleep. Outside. Big ones scratching ears, scratching neck, rubbing head good good good.

Taken again. Big ones gone. Taken to a different place, full of others, loud and smells and scared and scared and strange others, fear and anger and hate and fear and alone alone alone.

Loud. Screaming others. Always loud, always strange. Smells different, food different, big ones different.

Not hungry. Not loud. Not eating. Everything coming at once, everything closing, everything crushing closer closer closer.

Loud and loud and loud everywhere. Not eating. Not sleeping. Not drinking. Loud screaming smells and screaming.

Taken out. Two big ones, and quiet. Waited. They came again. Taken out again, taken into car. Noise and bumping and can't stand, can't eat. Smells and strange and smells and noise noise noise.

Taken out of car. Grass strange. Sun strange. Smells strange: cat and bird and squirrelpath and dogs street leaves mouse woodsmoke creekwater lowflowers treeflowers dirt mud trash big ones.

Taken inside. Catsmell strange. Blanketsmell strange. Floorsmell strange.

Eating. Sleeping. Catbarking. Outside smelling.

Good now. Sleeping sleeping.