Monday, April 13, 2009

The Perfect Outfit

I thought I'd stop by and make a post here so we could get things rolling. I also have a personal writing blog, which can be found at Adventures in Writerland, that I always tell myself I'm going to post on a regular basis, but of course never do.

I have a formal introduction coming in a future post, but let me say this: I am one of those people who has to have the perfect outfit each day. It seems like some people wake up and know exactly what they want to wear, and others just pick the first top and first bottom off the pile, and it just works for them. That's not me at all. I think about while eating breakfast, while in the shower, and while I'm staring into my closet each morning, where inevitably nothing looks suitable. I'm one of those people who will put on the blue shirt, then change it to the purple shirt, then go for the indigo shirt instead. All of this means that I come across days where I simply run out of time to choose the perfect outfit, and instead have to go with the moderately-okay outfit. Moderately-okay outfits are the bane of my existence. They throw off my entire day. They make for the kind of days that make me go out and impulsively buy new clothes, because one off-day can make me feel like my entire wardrobe is inadequate.

You're probably thinking two things right now. First, I must be the worst packer ever when it comes to trips. This is absolutely true. Unless I've hit my stride and I'm able to envision a whole week of perfect outfits (nearly impossible to do), I end up packing half my wardrobe for a three-day trip. Secondly, I bet you're thinking, what on Earth does this have to do with writing?

The answer: a lot!

Frankie posted some very valuable information about the importance of having passion for your project a few days ago. Frankie and I are similar writers in that we're both YA fantasy writers, and we both began our projects for our Writing for Children class in fall 2007. The difference between Frankie and I is that while (in my eyes, at least :) she never seems to get frustrated by her story, I find myself almost constantly feeling like I'm veering off-course or losing momentum on my current draft. I often find this doubly frustrating because it's not that I've lost passion for my work--in fact, when I get stuck like this, my story is often all I can think about. For me, a suitable sentence or chapter or draft is like the perfect outfit. I want it--I need it--and I can't stop until I find it. A lot of times this means I spend hours and hours thinking about writing, but very little time actually putting words down. It also means I often throw out chapters and drafts before they're even finished, because I tell it's just not going to work for me. The whole process drives me crazy, but I keep at it because there's nothing more satisfying to me than finding the perfect outfit, or the perfect story arc.

This post isn't just a place for me to vent my frustration about my current work in progress. It's also to talk about a strategy I learned at the SCBWI Poconos conference from author/editor Lisa Graff in her First Chapters workshop that is aimed at helping the "perfect outfit" issue. Lisa's advice was very simple and straightforward--when she gets stuck, she changes the setting of her first chapter. She explained that, for her, changing the setting often changes the issues that come up in the first chapter, or the order in which the issues appear. This, in turn, helps her identify which issues are really meant to be in the first chapter, which need to be put at the forefront of the story, and which can come in a little later. It also helps her find a more organic way of introducing the issues--sometimes changing the setting can be the difference between telling the reader, "My characters is afraid of water" and showing the reader the problem.

While I was in the workshop, I thought to myself, "This is a good idea. I should figure out a way to apply this to my writing," but it took me a week to fully process how to use it. This is probably due to the fact that it took me all of last week to first perfect the opening three pages of my first chapter, and then promptly become disenchanted with it. Instead of floundering around for a new beginning for weeks, though, I've already managed to come up with something else, using Lisa Graff's wonderful suggestion. And I think this might be the perfect outfit for my WIP--I know I've said it before, but I think I have, with the endless patience and helpful brainstorming of the fellow bloggers on the First Novels Club, figured out my character's main motivation at the beginning of the story--her first and second chapter story arc--and can hopefully finally, FINALLY, leave the house and start the day.


  1. Hahaha, oh Sara!!! I think we are more similar than I realized and this is why I have tortured you all with 100 versions of chapter 1.

  2. PS I saw your little linky move in there-oh wise one, show me your ways!


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