Best Tweet ever

On my desk is a wooden pen holder which holds no pens. I keep it there because of the shape it’s carved into: “WRITE.” I’m going to print out my new all-time favorite Tweet, from Roger Ebert tonight, onto a little sign and stand it up in the pen holder, because it’s the most true fact about writing:

The Muse visits while you are writing, not before.

Going Freeform

With nonfiction, I’ve always been a fairly organized writer. I never made a formal outline but I was always conscious of the shape of my work.

Usually this began as writing down a list of all the ideas I wanted to cover and then deciding how they chunked into groups. For an article or a chapter, these would be subtopics; for a book, they would become the chapters. Once I’d written some of the subtopics or chapters, I might see a better way to organize things, but until I had the basic structure worked out, I never got far with the writing.

I always assumed fiction would work the same way for me—I would need to work out the basic plot and sketch out the major characters before I could seriously start writing. It turned out, though, that until I started writing, I didn’t know enough about my characters and how they thought and behaved to figure out what they’d do until I’d written a couple dozen thousand words.

I’ve always liked that line about writing to think: “in order to know what I think, I have to see what I say.” Fiction, it seems, is a magical variant of the same idea: I have to write my characters in order to see what they’re like, and then, suddenly, once they’re down on paper, I can see what’s right about them and what doesn’t work and needs fixing, and as I write and rewrite, I see what has to happen.

I’d never have guessed I’d turn out to be a non-outliner.

Why Didn’t I Try This Years Ago?

The way I look at it, I started writing while I was in college. While I learned about grammar and punctuation and the niggly details of form in school, I learned how to communicate with language by writing for the college paper. I’ve been writing—more or less steadily—ever since.

About fifteen years ago, I started thinking it would be fun to write a murder mystery. Since I was a homeschooling parent at the time, editing a bimonthly homeschooling periodical, my mystery would involve the contentious and often self-righteous politics of the homeschooling movement. Though I kept playing with the idea in the back of my mind, I never seriously developed it.

Three books later and mostly retired from the homeschooling world (aside from an occasional conference speaking gig), the mystery floating around in my brain had become a fencing mystery, though it was no closer to being written than the homeschooling mystery had been.

Suddenly last fall I realized I was sick of my dithering. “Put up or shut up,” I told myself, and promptly signed up for November’s National Novel Writing Month (more familiarly known to its participants as NaNoWriMo), which was possibly the most terrifying thing I’d ever done.

NaNoWriMo is a peculiar challenge. Nobody makes you do it. Nobody but you decides whether you win. There are no prizes, aside from a certificate, some downloadable web badges, and a couple of discount coupons. All you have to do is write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.

The genius of NaNoWriMo, though, is that time limit. You have no time to worry about how good the writing is or whether the characters are interesting or the plot makes sense. You can’t afford to look back and see how you’re doing. You can’t delete anything that doesn’t meet your standards—hell, you can’t even have any standards. You just have to get words down on the page and keep going.

To my surprise, at the end of November I had a first draft of a mystery. It’s crap, of course, but it’s crap with potential. Somewhere in that frantic mess, there’s a real book waiting to be shaped and polished.

That’s what I’m up to now. This part takes longer.

Consolidation Time

The time has come to consolidate my web presence, such as it is.

I’ve had various topics spread over too many different places and none of them focus quite where my interests lie these days. My Viral Learning blog covers mainly learning and alternative education topics, though I’m not much active in that area these days. Fencing—From the Inside Out is where I wrote about fencing and national tournaments and discovered that I was only intermittently interested in writing short informative pieces about fencing and national tournament.

Over at www.marygriffith.net I made a catchall site, with links to the blogs, plus pages about my books and conference speaking, along with a few other odds and ends. Mostly I used it to replace the Authors Guild site I’d let lapse because of the limited design options it had offered and to see what I could do just playing around with iWeb.

And there’s Facebook and Twitter and my Lulu storefront and my Amazon author page and I can’t even remember what other odds and ends scattered around . . .

Too often lately I’ve not bothered to blog because the topic didn’t fit well enough with one of my existing blogs. With the new writing projects I’m working on now, that’s happening more and more often, and a bit of blogging is usually a pretty good warm-up for the more serious projects I’m working on now.

Here I can talk about anything that interests me and tie it to everything else that interests me, too. Strangely, the more disparate subjects I’ve dug into lately, the more they’ve come to seem tightly  connected to everything else I’m working on.

For now, I’m going to leave the old blogs as is and just link them in the sidebar rather than moving archives over here.

This should be an interesting new playground—lots of WordPress bells and whistles to play with and no more worries about what should be posted where.