Monday, March 9, 2009


Rut is a good word. One of those words that means exactly what it should mean. I like that. I do not, however, like being in a rut. (I'm speaking figuratively here. Right now I'm sitting in a chair borrowed stolen from Michigan State University some twelve years ago, and while the chair is well worn, I wouldn't go so far as to call it rutted (actual word.))

The rut of which I speak is of the writing variety. Here's the deal. Some time ago I wrote a book called FARVE CASTLE LETS IT GO. Then I revised it again and again and again. Then I revised it some more. Then I had to sit around and wait for the good folks running the Delacorte Yearling Contest for a First Middle Grade Novel to reject it. Being the good little writer I am, I dutifully followed the advice of many a writer: I started my next book. Then I finished it. And revised, revised, revised.

So here's the rut: I've been revising so long that I'm having a hard time writing a first draft. I've started about seven different first drafts but can't seem to keep the motor running. And I know what's causing the stall. I'm revising too much as I write. I'm fretting over every word and worried about story structure and all sorts of nonsense that I know has to wait, but flat out refuses to because my brain is running a continuous loop of revise, revise, revise.


Writing teacher Lucy Calkins penned the phrase "passion hot, critic cold" to express this dichotomy. That is, when writing a first draft the throttle needs to be open and you need to bring the heat of passion to your writing. But when it's time to revise, you have to divorce yourself from your wonderful words and reread with the cold detachment of a surgeon.

The surgeon refuses to leave the room. Anybody with suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Oh, and since you asked, here's a quick run-down of the seven stories I've started. Maybe I should open it up to a vote. Couldn't hurt at this point.

1. Sequel to the YA. Might be a little presumptuous, but the characters are a blast. It's like hanging out with really fun people.

2. A story about a vain queen, an ugly princess, and a depressed alien. Also, a King who loves to watch bowling and eat Cheese Bombs. There's some saving-the-world from alien attack thing going on, too.

3. YA about a kid getting revenge against six kids he blames for his pathetic existence. Yes, it's been done, but I'm going for funny here. And just between you and me, one of the characters is named VanHalen Mendenhall. I may have to write the thing just because of that.

4. MG about a kid who finds a magic music box and uses it for nefarious purposes.

5. Humorous MG about a boy who believes he's destined for greatness because of his scar, a fortune cookie, and something he read on the Internet.

6. Another revenge story, this one MG. After getting embarrassed in front of the girl he likes, Harvey Wentworth hatches a complicated plot involving a rare Jawa action figure, a theft, and some insurance money, all so he can exact revenge and maybe pay off his mother's gambling debts.

7. Story about married celebrities who hand over their kids to be used on an island reality show with the understanding that they'll be dropped in the ocean at the show's conclusion.


Anita said...

Can't you just tell yourself not to revise? Just keep going? Kick yourself in the arse already and get passed chapter one.

And while I'm feeling bossy: I like option #5. Also: Don't do the sequel. You can always go back and write that any old time.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

yeah... THANKS, Anita. I hadn't thought of that.

(Note: That's how you do textual sarcasm. I should teach a class.)

I also like option five. Lately, it's been between that and the alien story.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

That shoulder snickerdoodle who keeps telling you to revise, that's an annoying little fella. Comes around my place often too. Snickerdoodle. Also a great word. You on hold with agent until he/she reviews your revision? Is it Farve Castle agent is interested in. Hope so.

Hmmm... #4 is speaking to me, so is #5. I agree with Anita about the sequel. Having another stand alone novel gives you another shot, unless you're thinking series, then I'd go with it.

Okay, I really like #4.

A see a mild running theme here... revenge.

meradeth said...

Not that you really care, but #7 made me laugh. Maybe a little Hunger Games-esk, but I like the concept :-)

Ben Esch said...


I feel your pain. I know I've gone through that a bit. A couple of suggestions that might help you get some momentum going:

1. The critic

Not exactly sure where I heard this, but you take a piece of paper, write "the critic" at the top, set it next to your laptop or notepad or whatever, and then whenever you have a thought about what you want to revise, or how the story isn't working, or basically anything besides keeping the story moving, you write it on the "critic" sheet of paper.

This helps.

Along similar lines:

2. The Lucas Method

Supposedly, George Lucas refuses, REFUSES, to look at any of the pages he has written until he has finished the entire story.

Granted, this guy has written some godawful stuff, but think of all the joy he has given us over the years.

And along radically different lines:

3. The Vonnegut method

Legend has it that Kurt Vonnegut would rewrite page one until he was a hundred percent happy with it, put it aside, and then write page two, revise until he was a hundred percent happy with it, etc. until he was done with the book.

Then at the end, he had a full novel and didn't go through any revisions.

Personally, I think option 3 is a good way to go insane.

Personally, I'm more of the school of thought that you write your first draft to figure out what the hell you're trying to write about (I stole that line from somebody, but I can't remember who).

And your story ideas are good. I would suggest going with the one you like the most (though I've been told it's a good idea to hold off on sequels until the first one has proven to be successful...but, rules being made to be broken and all that).


Paul Michael Murphy said...

Wow. If this is the response I get when I actually blog about writing, maybe I should do it more often.

Tracy--Yes to your first question. Yes to your second question. Not sure where the revenge thing comes from. (And don't really want to think about it that much either.)

Ben--thanks for the tips. I think one of the Pecks (I can never keep them straight) used Vonnegut's method as well.

meradeth--thanks for stopping by and commenting. And I do care. I care a lot.

Kelly said...

I would agree that you should write the one that you enjoy the most.
My fave ones seem to be the princess/alien one or the fortune cookie one.
Of course I do like the kid named Vanhalen for obvious reasons.

chris said...

I was going to weigh in on this but Ben Esch had way better suggestions with actual names. My suggestion was going to involve you hunting through your nearby woodlands for a parapalegic raccoon and then purchasing three tubes of industrial caulk. How this would help you with your writing rut would have been explained during the Hunt Axiom part of the plan, but like I said, Ben Esch's suggestions seem easier.

All of those ideas sound awesome. I want to read them all. But I gotta go, my raccon needs to go outside so I have to put on his wheels.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

chris--I think you should probably explain the Hunt Axiom. I googled it and couldn't find a thing. You could own it. (On my Post-It: Good title for a book=Hunt Axiom. No Googly confusion.)

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

PMM - forgot my suggestion. Okay, Ben came up with the best ones, but another thing you could try is typing your novel single-spaced (double if it drives you crazy) and neglecting capitalization, quotations, etc. while getting the story down on paper/screen. It may cause a bit more time revising later, but you might lay your foundation (first draft) quicker and more efficiently this way.

Did I really just use "laying foundation"

Lily Cate said...

Hmm. Have you tried jumping on the fast draft thread over at Verla's?
I found it was a great way to loose my self consciousness, and just enjoy racking up a big word count. In three months, I even had something I could make a decent story from.