Tag Archives: J.K. Rowling

All Was Well.

24 Mar

“All was well.”

– J.K. Rowling | (The final sentence in the Harry Potter series.)

And, indeed, I imagine all was well with J.K. Rowling as she settled on those final words, those ten little letters, last in line behind the several million letters that spelled out the story about a boy, a scar, how he got it, and what it meant.

Work like hers does not happen by accident.

Letters don’t just fall into place, and ideas — no matter how magical — don’t just tumble, fully formed, beautiful, captivating, onto the page.  At the end, all is well.  In the beginning?  An idea.  Then, a first word, then many more words, until words fade into story.

But what about in between?  What happens, if not magic, between the first word and the final sentence, to make something special out of mere words, something logical and coherent out of ideas, something empathetic and captivating about characters?

I don’t know yet.  Whatever technical skill is involved, though, I’m inclined to believe that patience and determination are the yeast that make the whole thing rise into something great.

Before my long hiatus (spent in the unseasonally warm and disappointingly un-snowy Minneapolis, Minnesota), I promised a post about editing.  I thought it only fitting to start talking about this overwhelming process with a little bit of inspiration: even J.K. Rowling had to start somewhere, with a single word.  Everyone is a beginner at some point, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Some beginners quit, and some beginners end up writing seven Harry Potter books.

I’m a beginner.  Specifically, I’m a beginner who is determined to learn how to do this thing, to do it well, and to end up more toward the second category (and definitely far away from the first).  This is my latest post on what I’m learning, and as I warned in my pre-hiatus post, it may be a long one.  After almost two weeks of not posting, though (Not a trend I intend to keep up, by the way.  That was just due to Minneapolis.), I don’t feel too bad about the length.

The Problem

Editing a novel?  It’s a little (okay, a LOT) overwhelming, to say the least.  I thought I was more prepared to tackle this part of the project, but as it turns out, I was only somewhat prepared.  Though I’ve read loads about what to look for while editing, and have even done a great deal of actually looking for, and finding, those things to change, I noticed a problem.  How, exactly, was I supposed to go about changing things?

After making pages of color-coded notes for each scene, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin with them: do I start chronologically?  Or, with major issues and plot changes?  Do I switch the scene order first and then start with the changes?  I had stellar ideas about what actually needed changing, but was clueless when it came to physically making those changes.

The Solution

My Novel

Index cards.  After staring at the various iterations of my notes for a while, I finally figured it out: a stack of 336 pages of black on white is not the easiest thing to navigate.  I needed something tangible, an outline I could hold, a deck of scene cards.  At a glance, each scene needed to be as recognizable as aces or spades; one look at the whole hand, and I’d know in an instant the layout of that section.

The Process

Here’s what I’m doing, step-by-step, to begin physical editing work.  I’ll start with the cards, and move on from there.

  • INDEX CARDS. | One card = one scene.  Title of the scene goes on the front, in bold black.  On the back, I wrote the scene number and listed the pages on which it currently appears, for easy reference.
  • SECTIONS. | I read through the deck of index cards, scene title by scene title.  I grouped them into logical sections of varying lengths, each one ending in a climax of some sort.  This project currently has nine sections.
  • TO-DO CARDS. | For each of my nine sections, I created “TO-DO” cards.  They are hot pink, and I placed them at the beginning of each section.  Each one is flagged with a post-it flag, so I can easily flip between sections.
  • POST-ITS. | On the back of each “TO-DO” card, there are three small post-it notes.  From left to right, there is a pink, a green, and an orange stuck to each “TO-DO” card.  Starting with Section One and ending with Section Nine, I evaluated each section’s major issues.  On the pink post-its, I made notes regarding those issues: which scenes need to be moved/cut, where new scenes need to be written, what problems need to be dealt with first when dealing with that section.  On the green post-its, I made notes on plot and continuity issues.  On the orange post-its, I made notes about pacing, language, and other things that need general smoothing-out.
  • FEELING PREPARED. | Dividing the novel into sections, and figuring out what needed work within those sections, helped me feel more prepared to start physically editing.  My novel in deck-of-cards format helped me make notes about specific preparations I need to take in order to make major changes.  I feel confident that I can go chronologically now, because I’ve planted notes for myself wherever later-in-the-book changes need to occur.
  • MARK THE PAGES. | Starting with Section One, I completely obliterated my pages.  They already had red pen on them; this time, I went in with pink and orange.  Red, I used to mark general observations; now, pink marks specific changes to make, while orange is for thoughts and other ideas.

    Section One

  • MAKE THE CHANGES. | After marking up Section One, I will make the actual changes on my computer.  This is where I am right now; I finished marking the pages right before my trip, and plan to start making the changes on Monday.
  • RINSE + REPEAT. | My plan, obviously, is to work my way through all nine sections.  I never intended for what I’m working on to be a final edit, so I’m sure I’ll have to go back once I’m done and tweak some things.  However, I think it will be much better after this pass.

So, there you go.  I’ll let you breathe, or eat, or sleep, or theorize about LOST now.  Just thought I’d share what I’m doing with you guys, because for all the what to look for when editing posts I’ve come across, there haven’t been too many that deal with the order in which to work those changes in.  As always, I reserve the right to humbly change my process, should it become mind-numbingly terrible.

For now, though, all is well.

Finding My Moxie

23 Oct

You can’t see me, but I’m smiling.  Yes, despite the fact that I was going to sleep late (well, until 8:00) this morning.  Despite the fact that Dexter the Kitty ran across my face to wake me up, then started chewing on my glasses.  Despite those things, it’s going to be a good day, I can feel it.

Yesterday was a good day.  The days this week keep getting better and better…and thus, I bring you Update #4 in this Oktoberzest Project.

At about 2:00pm yesterday, I started to worry.  I’d tried – twice – to sit at my computer and write, but twice I ended up checking email and reading blogs and doing other such fun stuff.  I gave in at lunch and decided to indulge in a little Top Chef while eating my leftover sloppy joes.

But then…conviction set in.  I loaded up my laptop, grabbed my binder full of story-notes, and headed to Barnes & Noble.  I walked around the store, looking at all the paper-and-ink proof that this whole thing could be done.  

Row by row, I checked out author names, book titles, cover art, letting myself get carried away with how cool it would be to see my hard work packaged and condensed into something pretty you could hold in your hand.  I looked at my plain black binder and thought, “All of this info?  This, right here?  Could be right there.  Sitting on the shelf, between the Ns and the Ps, which is only a few letters away from the R of Rowling, you know.”

I found a wide black table and planted myself there, telling myself if I wrote 2,000 words I could reward myself and buy a magazine.  

It would have been easy to leave after 789 words, which was better than my Day 1 total.  This was also about the time my battery icon turned red, and there wasn’t a plug anywhere around.  But, no.

It also would have been easy to leave after 1527 words, when my sweet husband had been home for an hour and was ready to eat dinner.  However, I prepared a turkey-artichoke stuffed pasta dish a while back, and it was just waiting to be pulled from the freezer – so I stayed.

I did not reach 2000 words, and I did not buy my magazine.

These, however, were both choices.  I pushed myself to 1917, then made the decision to stop there, at the end of the chapter.  It felt good to stay when it would have been easy to leave, and I’m happy with this number.  This chapter was totally new, and for all the planning I’ve done, I did not see it coming in the least.  That’s such fun, especially when new ideas fit so seamlessly with everything else.  The events of this scene brought a necessary cohesion to some original ideas, as well as new depth to the characters and their conflicts.

Who knows what can happen today?  I’m ready to find out.  Oh yeah, and about the magazine, I just decided not to spend $4.99 on it.  I guess it was rewarding enough to accomplish that much last night.  

PS: I didn’t know what moxie meant until this morning, when I saw it in a Survivor recap, of all things.  It means “force of character, determination, or nerve.”  I think it’s funny that the sentence example in my dictionary says, When you’ve got moxie, you need the clothes to match.  For some strange reason, that makes me imagine most Angelina Jolie characters.  I guess I could wear a Lara Croft Tomb Raider outfit while I write my novel, but I’m pretty sure no one wants to see that.  And, it would be a little cold for October.

The Forbidden Journey

27 Sep

I wonder how it feels to have a world you created in your head not only make it into seven books’ worth of print, not only sell a gazillion copies of said books, not only come to life in an eight-part film series, but to see the readers you’ve touched through your ideas actually be able to enter the world itself?

I mean, really – what Harry Potter fan hasn’t wished she could walk through the streets of Hogsmeade and drink butterbeer?  What Harry Potter fan hasn’t wished he could eat Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans, get a magic wand from Ollivander’s, or purchase a Sneakoscope from Zonko’s¹?  Every Harry Potter fan I know, myself included, would love a chance to do these things!  And soon, thanks to Universal Orlando, we’ll be able to.  That’s right – they’re opening a theme park called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.”  Oh yeah, and there are roller coasters, not just Potter-themed stores.  We just have to wait a little while to visit – Spring 2010, according to the article² I read this morning.

Now, from a realistic standpoint, we aspiring authors will not all become the next J.K. Rowling.  However, I think we can all agree: it’s inspiring to think all this started from an idea she had in her head, and continued by her diligence to execute it onto the page.  Years and years of diligence, years of patience, years of determination and love invested in her story world.

When I get stuck, I always get re-inspired when I think of J.K. Rowling.  The thought of affecting the lives of strangers through my ideas is exhilarating, whether it’s the life of one stranger or 10 million.  How rewarding it must be to have extraordinary love for the story world you created, and then see others so excited to love it, too.

On an unrelated, but just as motivating, note – check out Merrilee Faber’s post about finishing her novel!  Talk about patience and diligence – 89,600 handwritten words (notice the picture she posted of her manuscript), what appear to be seven dead pens, and somehow, her hands have not withered to claws, even after fifty-six consecutive days of writing.

¹It occurs to me that this may be the silliest group of words I’ve ever combined in a sentence.  

²Read the full article here.  It’s called “Universal Reveals Details of New Harry Potter Park,” written by Travis Reed, and I came across it on MSN this morning.

When Hard Work Goes Unnoticed

22 Jul

I want to be remembered as someone who did the very best with the talent she was given.

– J.K. Rowling, J.K. Rowling: A Year In The Life

Motivation: we all need it.  Some of us have it.  It’s sometimes easy to lose, in the face of difficulty or after hard work that seems to go unnoticed.  It’s definitely easy to lose in the face of hard work that will never get noticed.

I’ve been thinking about my novel’s characters a lot lately, and why they do the things they do.  It occurred to me to ask myself, the author, the same question: why is it that I do what I do?  Why do I love this work so very much, why does it feel so satisfying when I complete something that may never get appreciated by someone else?  I hope it gets noticed by someone else one day, but there’s no guarantee of that.

So why do I do it?

The quote above resonated in me when I heard it.  It’s no foreign concept to me – for a while now, this has also been one of my main reasons for writing.  What struck me about it is that it was THE answer she chose – not to be remembered for her uncanny knack at telling a great story, not for her rags-to-riches story, but for doing the best with what she had.

About a year ago, I was on my knees, scrubbing coffee from the undersides of the tables in Starbucks.  I spent countless days, not making the lattes, but taking orders and handing drinks out the window.

The years before that, I cashed checks and made deposits all day, most every day.  My cash drawer always balanced, and it was perfectly organized.  I got yelled at (um, cursed at, rather) for asking for ID.  I got yelled at for things I didn’t do and couldn’t change.  

I did those jobs as well as I could, though.  I learned how to craft great drinks.  I scrubbed the tables vigorously (more from annoyance than from love of scrubbing, I have to add).  I smiled at the people who yelled at me.  

I did the best I could, but I felt a gaping chasm where I should feel at least a little satisfaction in the work I got up every day to do.  I tried to push my pride aside when the (evil) man in the Starbucks drive through said, “Oh, your parents paid for college? I bet they’re really proud of you working here.”  I tried, but I was truly, deeply unfulfilled.

Why, though?  People do these jobs every day.  We need people to scrub tables, we need people to deal with the money.  Goodness knows I need my lattes!  I rationalized myself into staying with them, because they are good jobs and I am not above them.

One day, though, it occurred to me:  these are not bad jobs, but they don’t use all of me.  They use my people skills and my ability to be responsible with money, but what about my brain?  What about my passion to create?  What about thoughts about life, love, morality, spiritual things, and people?  What about my heart?  Where does being project-driven fit in jobs that have no end and make no progress?  

It’s not just about doing the best you can – it’s about doing the best you can with the talent you are given.  

For me, writing is where I feel myself blossoming.  Hours and days fly by before I know it.  Writing a novel seems to be the perfect combination of using my brain, my creativity, my discipline, my organization, and working in all sorts of things I care about.  I get to explore so many avenues of myself just by sitting down to write.  Therein, I find motivation.  

Doing the best with what I’ve been given might lead to some great side-effects – publication, success (whatever that is), and seeing my printed ideas in the hands of other people.  But it might not.  Whatever happens, I love what I do every day, and it is satisfying to exercise all, not half, of me.

How about you?  What was it that motivated you to write in the first place?  What drives you to keep going, especially through times when you feel like nothing you’re doing is making a difference?  

 

PS: J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life is a documentary put together by James Runcie, a novelist/filmmaker.  There’s an article about the documentary here.

PPS:  I notice, often, that people find this blog by searching for “When my hard work doesn’t get noticed,” and other similar things.  If this is you, I hope your situation gets better soon.  Under-appreciation is never fun, and boy do I understand.  Please feel free to drop a line in the comment section, I love hearing from new readers.

Thunderstorms and Influences

29 Jun

Days like today are my favorite kind.  

I love the dark sky, the thunder, the sheets of rain.  I love this weather because I find it inspiring, and everyone needs extra doses of inspiration on Mondays, right?  Some people want to sleep through this weather; I (almost) always want to get up, drink a latte, and get down to business.  

Lately, I’m reading Pretty in Plaid, by Jen Lancaster.  If you’ve never read her stuff, you should – at least, I think you should.  This is her fourth memoir, and her voice is refreshing, genuine, and absolutely entertaining.  As a writer, I aspire to – like Jen Lancaster – have a distinct voice.  I long to bring something original to the table; something fresh, yet classic; something that will emerge from the furnace of critical opinions and easily-distracted minds in one solid piece.

I can easily think of a handful of people who do this with admirable dexterity:  

J.K. Rowling, who creates a magical feeling in the reader merely by her words, and whose very  first novel was wildly successful.  I’d say she’s my number-one inspiration.

Patty Griffin, folk artist whose skillfully woven voice, lyrics, and melodies create music like no one else.  I want to meet her and have her disciple me in the ways of improving my song-writing skills.  

Jeff Jensen at EW.com, one of the most well-researched columnists I’ve ever read, consistently delivers articles that transform my weekly addiction to LOST into mental yoga.  

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, writers of LOST, who have skillfully paced their addictive plot and juggled an ensemble of intriguing characters.  

Michael Slezak at EW.com, who is not afraid to put his opinion out there on all things Idol-related (and by the way, if I ever make it on the show – totally giving him a shout-out). 

Jen Lancaster, who puts her life on the page in such a familiar, yet totally distinct, tone.  (www.jennsylvania.com)

 Jodi Picoult, a master at conveying tension, emotion, and the intricacies of life-destroying situations, all through the use of written words.  

Evangeline Lilly, an actress who seems to have retained her humility and uses her resources to make a difference in the world.  

Jonathan Larson, who wrote the Broadway masterpiece RENT, its music and cast deftly woven together.

These people inspire me, some more than others.  It is my hope that their various influences will trickle into my own creative work to make something wholly other – something wholly me.  

So, on this inspiring, rainy Monday, I wonder – who inspires you?  Someone famous?  Someone not-so-famous?  And, what are they inspiring you to do?  I look forward to reading your comments!