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Longhand

Filling the notebook with "Turning For Home"
Filling the notebook with “Turning For Home”

Who writes in longhand anymore?

Society awards a certain level of sophistication to the act of typing. Writing longhand is so eighteenth century.  You’re writing in a notebook? Why not just pull out a feather quill and some foolscap? (Note: I don’t actually know what foolscap is. I’ve just read it for years and years and assumed it’s a kind of paper.)

Of course there are layers and layers within this typer’s sophistication. There’s the cafe full of people furiously typing away at MacBooks, surreptitiously checking their Facebook when they don’t think anyone is looking, securing their spot and their computer with eye contact and a nod with the neighboring typer when nature calls (all those lattes have to go somewhere).

I’ve been part of that scene, and for a long time I thought it was the most sure way to identify myself as a writer. You feel like a writer, when you’ve shrugged off your sweater and you’re sipping lukewarm coffee and your fingers are flying across your MacBook’s keys. It’s like going to the office. It’s more official than when you sit on your couch in your pajamas.

(NOTE: I am currently sitting on my couch, in my pajamas.)

Some people take the typing obsession a bit further and get a typewriter. Typewriters require a certain amount of confidence — you’re clipping along at a good pace, just like on a computer, but without the safety net of a delete button. Of course, they’re not socially acceptable in cafes. (Although I could see a typewriter cafe being extremely popular in Brooklyn, and now that I think of it, I’m kind of shocked that this is not a thing. Can you imagine the noise level? They could issue earplugs at the door, I suppose.)

But what both typewriters and computers get wrong is speed. Too much speed. Typing fast is a modern accomplishment. And it’s great for certain kinds of work, like taking notes or hammering out a bunch of emails that don’t require a lot of wordsmithing.

I type too fast. The WPM averages that I took such pride in during my 7th grade Business Applications class are not good for my novels. When I’m in a typing groove, fingers flying, delete button hardly in play, I can get down thousands of words in an hour. The problem is that I’m writing with a total lack of caution.

Which sounds great, until two hours later when I sit back, crack my knuckles, and realize that I’ve gone so far off the rails that I either have to rewrite my entire book to accommodate the detour my plot has taken, or do a substantial amount of deleting.

The crazy thing is, this just keeps happening. I keep on giving in to the seductive Cult of Typing, slipping into a booth at my local cafe and joining the typing legions. I write for an hour or two, smile, do it again the next day, smile, and a few days later I look at the work and try to figure out how it’s heading towards the ultimate conclusion and realize… I’ve done it again.

I have a stack of documents on my hard drive now that are painful to think about, most of them relating to Turning For Home, the upcoming (supposedly, if I could nail it down) novel in the Alex and Alexander series. They’re well-written (some of them are downright fantastic) and I can’t just dismiss them. But some of them, eventually, won’t fit into the narrative. That’s brutal to think about. (I love my words!)

All of this, of course, could be avoided if I would just learn my lesson and stick to longhand for first drafts. Longhand isn’t necessarily sophisticated. It doesn’t give me that Look I’m a Professional Writer look. It makes my right hand ache and I’ll probably end up with arthritis.

But longhand is slow enough, even when I’m scribbling, that I have more time to think about my words. And so unlike typing, which allows me to throw words onto the screen with abandon, emphasizing quantity over quality, longhand creates measured, thoughtful sentences from the very first draft. Scenes that open and close in perfect rhythm. Characters who stop and think instead of just chattering their way through a dialogue.

And I can still write in longhand while sitting on my couch, wearing pajamas.

Every time I write a book, I come back to my notebooks and my pens and my aching hand as I slowly write it all down in longhand. I don’t know why I keep trying to do it all on the computer. I suppose I’m trying to save time. But if there’s one thing that should never, ever be hurried, it’s a work of fiction. I’m posting this here to remind me of that.

Longhand, baby.

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@ Equestrian Ink: It All Comes Down To This

Ambition, coming May 2014
Ambition, coming May 2014

I’ve read my new book about six times in the past two weeks.

It’s not because I’m obsessed with my new book (maybe I am a little bit) but because I’m an obsessive editor, in general. So I’ve been reading and rereading, tweaking and changing and fixing word by word, line by line, trying to get the best possible execution of this story I’m trying to tell. And when I’m done reading it, my husband reads it, and does the same, and then I have to add in all of his changes — which means reading it one more time.

I have to admit, there are times when I am a little tired of my new book.

But reading it can be a fascinating experience for me, as well. Because throughout Ambition, just as throughout Other People’s Horses, The Head and Not The Heart, Claiming Christmas, and Horse-Famous, I’m reading new accounts of old experiences I’ve had.

Click here to read the rest of this post at Equestrian Ink.

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The Writing Process Blog Hop

My good friend Linda Benson, who writes lovely fiction for animal writers, was kind enough to tap me for this blog hop about writers and the writing process (which is why it’s named The Writing Process Blog Hop, and isn’t that just convenient! We are creative people, we writers.)

Linda Benson's Cat Tales series
Linda Benson’s Cat Tales series

Be sure to go say hello to Linda Benson, who writes for animal lovers of all ages, with works ranging from dystopian fiction (The Girl Who Remembered Horses) to contemporary fiction (her Cat Tales series), and blogs at LindaBenson.blogspot.com.

This blog hop is timed very well, as things are getting very exciting around here! Here’s why… in the very first question!

Question 1: What am I working on? The final edits of my new novel! I am in the production phase, almost ready to release Ambition to the public.

I’ve been writing and rewriting Ambition, in some form or another, for several years. At one point it was actually in present tense. I have a great hint for any writers considering taking a present tense novel and making it past tense: don’t ever do it! What a nightmare that was. I’m still finding leftover typos from the changeover.

But Ambition is worth it to me. I had an idea in my head, of a girl who couldn’t afford to be an event rider and wasn’t going to let that stop her, who had an idea of what her horse could be and wasn’t going to let anyone take him away from her, and it wouldn’t let me go. So every time I read through a draft and shook my head and said “this isn’t it,” I just set it aside, wrote something else, and came back to it.

And this time I decided I wasn’t quitting until it was well and truly done.

So now it’s done — the cover is being designed, the final copy-edits are on its way — and it should be on sale in just a few weeks. It’s going to be incredible to finally have this book out there. I hope that it resonates with readers as well as Other People’s Horses did. Because I’m working on the next book in the Alex and Alexander series now!

Other People's Horses: Book 2 of Alex and Alexander
Other People’s Horses: Book 2 of Alex and Alexander

Question 2: How does my work differ from others in its genre? My equestrian fiction stands apart because it isn’t genre fiction. Try finding adult fiction written about the horse world that isn’t a mystery or a romance — it’s very hard to do. And horses aren’t merely the backdrop to my books — they’re a huge piece of the narrative. I’m writing for horse-people, and for adult horse-people in particular. I love a good pony story as much as the next person, but someone forgot to write about what happens when horse-crazy kids grow up. Well, I am one of those kids. So I’m writing our stories.

Question 3: Why do I write what I do? I write the books I want to read. It goes back to the previous question: no one else was writing contemporary fiction for adults in the horse world. There is plenty of Young Adult, but very little for the rest of us.

The same goes for my three Historical Romance novels. I like romances, and I wanted to create a few with strong equestrian settings. Isn’t everything better with a good horse?

Babies on the loose! Ocala live oaks co-star. Flickr/Christopher Stadler
Babies on the loose! Ocala live oaks co-star. Flickr/Christopher Stadler

I’m also utterly in love with my settings, and that has a lot to do with how I write. I write about horses, but I also write about Florida rather obsessively, and some other favorite spots, like Saratoga, that really speak to my soul. I couldn’t write a sterile paragraph about a Florida afternoon — there’s too much to admire and love and fear all at once. So I’m not one to shy away from trying to paint an Ocala sunset with words or describe the way the air tastes just before a thunderstorm. Instead, trying to find words for those things is one key component of why I write. I love them too much to passively observe them. I want to own them.

Riding Apollo, a spotted draft, on patrol in Central Park, New York City
Riding Apollo, a spotted draft, on patrol in Central Park, New York City

I’m looking forward to adding New York City to the geography of my books, after spending so much time riding in the parks as member of the NYC Parks Department’s mounted unit. I have a very exciting idea in my head about a young woman riding in Brooklyn’s own Prospect Park — but that’s all I’m saying right now!

Question 4: How does my writing process work? Slowly. Well, not quite. I’m actually a very quick writer. If you’ve ever seen people doing those thousand-word hours during National Novel Writing Month? Yeah, I do that in about fifteen minutes when I have my blood up. And those tend to be my best pieces. If I’m not writing at about a mile a minute, I’m usually thinking too hard, and not getting what I want on the page.

And that means edits.

Many, many edits.

I’m an obsessive writer, always looking for the perfect turn of phrase. That means that my books can take a very, very long time to reach completion. I have started doing a very thorough outline, which helps: Other People’s Horses only took me about six months, thanks to my outline. Ambition, on the other hand, never had an outline — and it’s taken three years.

So while I’m capable of doing something like a magazine write-up in about twenty minutes, send it to the editor, and go on about my day without another thought, my novels are a long, drawn-out process, with plenty of sleepless nights, lots of self-doubt, and moments of sheer terror while I’m waiting for someone to finish reading a sentence and tell me what they think. Writing novels: it’s just so fun!

And that’s all from me this time! Next week you’ll see blog posts from authors Christine Meunier and AnnaLisa Grant. In the meantime, go check out their blogs and their books. I think you’ll find there’s a little something for just about everyone!

Christine Meunier writes about horses in many facets from a home base of Australia. You can visit FreeReinSeries.com to learn more about her children’s equestrian books, and equus-blog.com for everything equestrian, from book reviews to horse health!

Free Rein Series

AnnaLisa Grant has a successful Young Adult series in The Lake Trilogy, and she has recently released her first New Adult novel, Next to Me. She blogs about the writing life at annalisagrant.com.

The Lake Annalisa Grant