Secret Project, Secret No More

You remember that post I wrote back in February, about the need to finish the first draft I was working on so I could get started on the first draft of the book I was supposed to be writing?

Well, I finished it. The first draft of a story that jumped into my mind sometime in … either November or December, I really don’t remember now … and I knew that I had to start writing it then and there. If all I did was outline it, I knew I wouldn’t come back to it later. The outline would just sit, and languish, and collect metaphoric dust in my documents.

It wasn’t supposed to be very long, only around 30,000 words, a short, fun, MG. Of course, me being me, that turned into 51,000 words, closer to YA than MG, and with some surprisingly deep themes woven in amidst the lighter-hearted bits. In fact, I need to make sure the light-hearted bits are as prominent as I want them to be when I go back for the second draft.

I couldn’t talk about it at all, to anyone, for fear of losing the momentum. I didn’t even tell anyone I was writing it until I was halfway through, and then I finally broke down and told Carl what I was writing – but I wouldn’t tell him what it was about. Only that it wasn’t what I “should” be writing. A few weeks ago a friend asked me on Twitter what I was writing currently, and all I could say was “A secret project.” It didn’t need to be secret for any outside reasons – but I was afraid talking about it would have the same effect as outlining it. Death to the story itself.

So. It’s the messiest first draft I’ve ever had the privilege of finishing, because most of my first drafts are more like third drafts by the time I’m done with them. I break The Rule, you see, of first drafts. I am a compulsive go-back-er. I can be three chapter ahead, realize a way to make that past chapter better, and if I don’t go back and fix it right then and there, it eats away at me until I get it right. If I introduce a character that later on doesn’t fit, I have to go back and take that character out immediately, instead of just dropping the character from then on and removing it entirely later. I write a few chapters, go back and fix a few chapters, write a few, go back and fix a few … which is why I always cringe when I hear someone declare that all first drafts, every time, are junk. Because mine aren’t. Usually.

This one is, though. I just needed to get it written. So I skipped the edit-as-I-go this time (and yes, it drove me nuts, but I did it, and I’m kind of proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone. And I don’t plan to ever do that again) and just got it all done. I’m not going back and immediately fixing anything now that it’s written, either.

I’m going to pretend it doesn’t exist for a while. Go back to working on Wings of Song and Magic in Disguise, the second Maia and Len book (it’s been six months since Magic Most Deadly published, and I think I’m finally ready to get back to their world). And then, once I’ve finished the initial drafts of both of those, I can drag this one back to life, tear it apart, and put it back together again better.

It’s been a fun interlude. And it was what I needed when the stories I was supposed to be writing (see previous paragraph) were not working, and I was feeling a considerable amount on ennui about my writing in general. Sure, it took me almost four months to write a draft I thought I would have done in six weeks, but hey. It’s there. It’s done. And it put the zest back in writing for me.

And now, it’s back to work.

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Gramercy, I Cry!

I was never taught much grammar, per se. I figured it all out pretty much on my own, through all the reading I did, and my mom taught me how to assign the names to parts of sentences in middle school, but at that point it was all so instinctive to me that it never really struck. Hence my struggle in basic English classes in college, when we covered grammar – I could write you a perfect sentence, and pick out an imperfect one, every time, but ask me to actually parse it, and I was sunk.

Wait, which one of these is an adjective and which one is a verb again? One is a descriptor and one is an action word … or is it an adverb, and who really cares anyway?

All of which goes into why I am teaching Joy grammar now, as part of first grade, so that it becomes ingrained in her before she’s such a fluent reader that she can’t be bothered to keep track of what is what. And it’s actually helpful to me as well, because after two months of nouns alone, you better believe I am not ever going to forget their definitions now.

Hopefully by the end of first grade, we’ll both be able to perfectly parse a sentence!

Homeschooling: an education for child and parent alike.

Joy’s grammar review this morning.

(Please excuse the bad pun in the title of this post. I can never resist a good homophone – and yes, I DO know what that is. I learned it from Veggie Tales.)

Not So Original

Last night, I half woke up from a dream, thinking it would be the perfect idea for a story someday … it featured a married couple in a medieval-fantasy world, where the woman was the warrior and the man was not, and he was always cracking jokes, and they were quite happy together …

I was horribly, terribly sad this morning when I woke up fully and realized that it was not, in fact, a brilliantly original idea which I could use for a fabulous story.

I had just taken Zoe and Wash from Firefly and inserted them into the Middle Ages.

Darn you, subconscious!

Author Vs. Engineer

Me to Carl: I have about a million different thoughts all tangled together right now, and every time I try to pull one loose it gets all snagged in the others and everything gets knotted up worse. Basically my brain is one big messy ball of yarn.

Carl to me: Huh.

Me to Carl: Yeah, I know. Your brain is like an excel spreadsheet.

Carl to me: Well, pretty much.

Oh, THIS Is Why I’m Tired

Got up at 4:30 this morning to take care of Grace’s latest coughing fit. Two nights ago she was up almost all night hacking, so I was happy enough to hand her over to Carl after 15 minutes today and collapse back onto the couch (where I’ve been sleeping while she’s been restless, easier to tend her needs without disturbing Carl) to get a little more sleep if possible.

Woke again at 9, mildly horrified at having slept so late, but glad I was able to catch up on the missed sleep from Monday night. Walked into the girls’ room to wish them “good morning,” only to be confronted with a scene from a horror movie. Blood on the carpet, covering Joy’s nightie, splattered on her comforter, and a guilty expression on her face.

“I tried not to pick my nose,” she said before I could utter one word, “but it’s just too hard.”

I buttoned my lips and hauled her into the bathroom, where we took care of the bloody nose, and then stripped the bed and her and threw all the blood-spattered items into the tub to soak in cold water. Trimmed her nails, and was scrubbing at the carpet when Carl got back from his meeting with a professor.

Made Grace, who was coughing again, some hot lemon-honey-ginger-cayenne pepper, then got both girls some food, and now, at 10:00, am finally ready to start thinking about breakfast myself. After which I will need to go commandeer the washing machines on our floor for an hour. We’re meeting some new friends at the playground after lunch today, and this evening I’m supposed to go to Bible Study, and we do need to fit school in at some point today …

I guess, really, it isn’t that surprising that I’m so tired all the time.

Far From Ideal

You guys might or might not be good for me. I spent a ridiculous amount of time this weekend coming up with the perfect combination of first and middle names for the third-daughter-we’re-never-going-to-have. All the talk on here about names … Carl laughed himself silly when I saw me scribbling out the list.

*blushes*

Anyway. On to this post.

I have this ideal family life, in my head. It’s not even so unreasonable. It doesn’t involve children wearing white dresses and running through fields of wildflowers with nary a grass stain to be seen, or me standing at the sink washing my glassware to sparkling cleanliness with a chipper smile on my perfectly-made-up face. It’s actually pretty simple. It is this …

I read stories – many of them – out loud to the children every day. Some are picture books, some are longer chapter books.

We go on walks outside every day. On days when it’s warm enough to hold a pencil without your fingers falling off, we take drawing supplies so the girls can draw any bits of nature that catch their eye.

We don’t necessarily do art projects every day, but when we do them, they inspire great bursts of creativity and the girls revel in them. Mamma does not grit her teeth and wince over the mess.

We do school according to schedule, and it’s never haphazard, or forgotten because Mamma got distracted.

The kids work with me in the kitchen when making food, and it does not drive me to distraction. I can assign them clean-up chores, and not forget to remind them to keep up with it.

Our home is filled with music and laughter and friendship all the time.

And I am not so dog-weary tired all the time that it’s all I can do to plod through my day.

It doesn’t sound that impossibly, does it? OK, maybe the bit about me not losing it over the inevitable mess that comes with any kind of art project. But the rest of it? It’s simple. It doesn’t require any Herculean bursts of strength to accomplish. Lots of other families do it (I know, I know, comparison is the thief of joy and all that … but it’s true). So why is it so hard for me, for us as a family, to live that sort of ordinary, peaceful, simple, happy life? What is it about me that makes me so tired all the time that I can’t seem to get much more than the basics of life done in a day? I get almost-enough sleep these days. I’ve eliminated as many outside stressors as possible from my life, which were what used to suck all my energy from me. I eat mostly-right, and while I don’t specifically exercise, I do my best to stay somewhat active. I’m not depressed, thank God, anymore. The kids are 4 and 6, a pretty awesome age, past the baby-and-toddler stage, not requiring my attention every second of the day, requiring all I’ve got just to keep them and me alive.

When I was eighteen, I started feeling the aimlessness of my life. One day, as I was grumbling to God about the fact that I had all these great ambitions and yet all I was doing was working in the hardware store and not doing anything about those ambitions, it felt like he hit me upside the head with a 2×4.

“Then do something.”

I got home from work that day and immediately started researching colleges with good English programs. I knew that I couldn’t just sit around and expect life to change me, that if I wanted to achieve my dreams I at least had to start down that path myself.

I thought of that experience this weekend, as I was grumbling once again about my inability to get anywhere with my very basic daily life goals. Living with someone like Carl, who sees what he wants and then figures out how to make it work, and then does it, is very exhausting for someone whose natural inclination is to wait for God to drop life changes into her lap without her lifting a finger.

This isn’t the same situation as my decision to go to college instead of twiddling my thumbs waiting to be discovered by someone who would want to publish my wonderful books, though. I wish I could just do it, just go ahead and make the changes. But the problem here is that I just don’t have the energy to change. When I talk about being tired all the time … even forcing my brain to deviate enough to think about sitting down in the middle of the day and read a story to the kids is an effort, much less doing it.

I have a great schedule written up and posted on the fridge. It’s flexible, and basic, and pretty much the best daily schedule I’ve created since I started making schedules for myself however many years ago. And have I been able to stick with it once since the day I wrote it?

No.

I’ve written this entire post, and now I’m not even sure if I’m going to publish it or not. Because what’s the point? To have people metaphorically pat my head and say “there, there”? In hopes that someone will give me a magic cure, something that will make me suddenly able to do everything I want to do? Neither of those are what I want.

But I guess maybe I will publish it, not in hopes of being soothed, but because I strongly suspect there are others out there in the same boat as I am, and maybe knowing that they aren’t the only one floundering will bring them a small measure of comfort. And because sometimes, the very act of sharing one’s struggles can give one strength.

And because, frankly, if I’ve sat here for an hour typing out my frustrations, I don’t just want to hit “delete.” I have little enough to show for my days as it is, I don’t need to lose the few things that I do get done!

Names and Naming

I realized, a few years back, that every single story I was writing had a main-ish character with some version of the name Katherine. Every one. The funny thing is, that name was never even on my list of favorite names, certainly not one I considered for either Joy or Grace (although if I had a third daughter …), and yet it kept cropping up in every one of my stories, until I had to consciously edit it out. Magic Most Deadly’s Julia was a Kate first, for example. As were the main protagonists in the two other stories I was writing/plotting at the same time as that. I kept one as was, changed MMD’s Kate to Julia, and abandoned the other story entirely, at least for a time.

Other names, or name-sounds, crop up with frequency, too. I adore Lloyd Alexander’s Princess Eilonwy (I think the E and the I look ugly next to each other, especially with that W showing up so soon after (W is just an ugly-looking letter anyway), which is one reason why I never considered Eilonwy as a name for Joy or Grace, but the sound of the name – Aye-LON-Wee – is pure music). I love JRR Tolkien’s Eowyn as well (though the E-O-W is even uglier to look at than E-I…W), and have found myself using very similar names in many of my stories. I have an Eilwen in one, her daughter Eirlys in another (plotted but not written). I’ve used Owen, Will, Gwen, in several of my non-fantasy stories. And I have yet to write this character, but I love the name Telyn and am eagerly waiting for the right story to put her in.

I sat down and analyzed Wings of Song the other day and realized it pretty much needed to be torn apart and begun again. Part of that tearing apart meant changing my main protagonist’s name. So much of her character was bound up in her name. If she needed a different personality, she needed a different name. I wanted this new heroine to be a combination of two previously-written protags: one named Meggie, one Gwen. At first I thought I wanted a name that preserved that middle “eh” sound, but in the end (and it was surprisingly difficult), I went with something entirely different.

And it’s working.

Poor Carl – I used to scare him half to death when we’d be driving along in the car, talking of something completely different, and I’d suddenly fire off: “What do you think of ___ for a name?” “Are you pregnant?” he’d howl.

He’s since learned to just roll with it. He married a person with an endless fascination for names, how they look, how they sound, what sort of associations they conjure up in people’s minds, all that. When I did get pregnant, and we finally did start talking names for real, I couldn’t settle down to think about anything in the pregnancy seriously until we had decided on names. (Joy and Grace, for newer readers, are not their real names. I decided when Joy was a baby that I could use photos OR real names, but not both, and at that point I went with photos. As they’re getting older and their faces are getting more recognizable, I’m starting to rethink even that policy. We’ll see.) And even though we didn’t use the boy name we had chosen for Joy, I couldn’t consider that name (Evan, by the way) for Grace. That was Joy’s-boy-name. Grace (of course, at the time we were discussing names, we didn’t know she was a girl) needed her own unique boy-name (she would have been Tristan, if you’re curious).

What about you? Are names something that fascinate you, or are they just convenient handles for keeping people and characters from getting confused? Do you find yourself drawn to similar-sounding names without even realizing it, or re-using one name across many different stories? And which is more important to you, a name that looks beautiful written, or sounds beautiful spoken?