Life After Life

life after life

I finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It tells the story of Ursula Todd, for whom time is sort of fluid. Every time she dies, the story is rewound and she gets a chance to do things differently. While she isn’t exactly aware that she has lived multiple lives, she does at some point become aware of memories of how things could have gone differently. It is definitely an interesting take on life, death and rebirth.

I found myself fascinated early on, interested to know more about Miss Todd and how many times she would meet her end before her death became final. How many drastically different lives she would lead before she found the one that best suited her. When she would realize that she’s an extraordinarily singular person and that most other people don’t get inexplicable feelings of intense dread that warn them of terrible danger.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, Ursula is palling around with Eva Braun and having occasional encounters with the Fuhrer himself. It kind of lost me there. I disconnected and didn’t pick up the book for a week or so. A shame, because then certain references were lost on me, certain people she met or saved, certain deaths she evaded only to visit the sites where they would have occurred, as they were happening to other people. I just wanted more of Ursula, Very Interesting Person, and not Ursula the Savior.

I perhaps got too caught up with the idea of her shadow-lives not actually happening, since every time she died she went back to a younger state. What I should have been looking at was the totality of it, because she retains some of the memories of those shadow-lives. For her, they happened, if perhaps in a strange, tangential-to-reality way. I gave the book three stars on Goodreads, though I sincerely feel I kind of ruined it for myself by putting it down for too long. I would still recommend it to someone, and recommend that they pay close attention in order to catch all the fleeting connections with people and places as Ursula walks through echoes of lives that never were. Except for her.

Hacking through the wilderness

I deviated from my outline, making another chapter on the list obsolete. I tried to write it anyway, because I liked the neatness of my POV rotation: A B A C A D… etc. However, I found myself writing a chapter that didn’t have a direction, that I didn’t like writing, and that didn’t need to be there.

2014-04-18 16.18.27

So I decided to move on. “I make the rules,” is going to have to become a mantra of mine, because I seem to keep forgetting that as I write. Forcing out a chapter that will end up being crap isn’t worth losing momentum; better to set it aside and keep going. In the unlikely event that this chapter is worth salvaging in some future draft, it will be easier to do that once the bulk of the story is out.

I was essentially tying my own hands, thinking, “But… the plan! I have to work within the plan.” I’ve said from the beginning, the outline is meant to be ignored if a better idea comes along. I can work my way back to it, but I shouldn’t go hacking through the wilderness when there might be a more natural path that starts a little further out of the way. I would just get exhausted and make a mess for the sake of a straight line.

A change of scenery

I meant to post last weekend, then I felt bad for not having much of anything to say and for thinking of taking time away from my NaNo project. I am so far behind on my goal. I’m trying to berate myself just enough to light a fire under my ass, but also be realistic enough to accept that I may not get to 50k this time around. The main reason for this would be the switch from typing up my first draft to scribbling it down by hand. Typing is easier and quicker. I am infinitely more pleased with looking at nearly 70 pages of handwritten words, though.

I frequently have to remind myself to resist the temptation of spending time typing up what I’ve written so far in Scrivener. I want to save that step for when the first draft is complete, so I can give myself license to make edits as I go, to add in things that I meant to write the first time around but didn’t get to. I don’t want to do any editing at all until the first draft is done. I feel that’s a trap I’ve fallen into too many times; I get carried away with ideas I have for making the story better, and it never gets finished because I end up in an endless cycle of revising as I go. Even if I don’t meet my goal with Camp NaNo, I have to carry the lessons I learned from NaNo last autumn if I expect to get this all out.

Last week, I took a day to leave work early and set myself up in a cafĂ© across the street from my apartment to write. I ordered a chai latte, streamed Songza over their free Wi-Fi, and wrote for nearly two hours. I responded to a few text messages from my husband, but other than that I didn’t touch my phone. When I began, I noticed people coming in and ordering and sitting down. By the end of it, I was so engrossed in writing that when I stopped, I wondered how the place had filled up without my noticing it. It felt good to set aside all the distractions and focus on getting the story out. I plan to make this a weekly thing, but I haven’t been back yet.

I liked being out in public and having fewer opportunities for distraction. No cats, no kitchen cupboard, no piles of DVDs/blu-rays/what-have-you. Sure, my phone could have offered up a number of diversions, but it’s surprisingly easy to ignore. I was there on a mission. Ideally, I would have written at least enough words to meet my NaNo goal for one day; I stopped just shy of 1,500. Handwriting really is so much slower for me. I’m glad I learned how nice it feels to put myself in a different setting and get to work, though.

As it’s looking more and more like I will be unable to meet the goal I set for myself, the thought I’m repeating is, “It’s okay if I don’t make 50,000 words as long as I write every day.” I am not writing everyday, though. Mostly, but there are days here and there that I skip. It seems like it’s a difficult line; I want to write often, to feel like I’m progressing in my story. I don’t want writing to feel arduous. I want it to stay fun. I want to give myself permission to read or listen to an audiobook or play a game if I don’t feel like writing any particular afternoon.

I shouldn’t ever forget that I’m the one who makes the rules here. I’ve got almost seventy pages more than I had at the beginning of the month. My book seems about a quarter full. These are positive things. I just need to keep going.

Black and white

I have not gotten off to the greatest start with Camp NaNoWriMo, though I have been able to up my writing frequency from semi-daily to daily. I think the main trouble is that where I could spend an hour to an hour and a half during NaNoWriMo typing to get my 1,667 words a day, writing longhand for that amount of time just doesn’t get me that kind of wordage. I have to step it up and devote some evening, at-home time to my writing.

This is infinitely more agreeable because I can write on a nice surface like a desk or a table instead of on my bag on my lap on the train. Also, my apartment tends not to move or curve from left to right like the train does. Big pluses, those.

I started writing Project: Destiny in a spiral-bound notebook and soon rediscovered how annoying it is having those metal wires under my hand. I wanted to buy a nice journal to write in, but didn’t want to commit to copying down what I had already written into it. Then I decided that the prologue could be in the spiral notebook (it takes several years before the story so I won’t likely reference it often) and I could continue with chapter one in a nicer book.

destiny journal

I picked this up at a bookstore downtown. The text on it reads, “Brighten up… life does not always have to be black and white.” The text repeates in French and German. I don’t know that the words are necessarily relevant to the story, though I do like the mention of “black and white” since those are two of the colors of shadecraft. The pages are lined and the spine is bound with two bookmarking ribbons, though they’re joined at the bottom for now.

As of now, I have finished chapter one at an unimpressive 1,993 words. I am getting through this draft by telling myself that things can be cleaned up and expanded upon later. NaNo last year helped me to realize that a large part of my problem with writing is my insistence on getting every little detail right the first time around. That’s what the revision process is for, though. Until the thing is bound and printed and on bookstore shelves, I have the power to change and improve it.

I’m not going to sweat it, I’m going to write a messy first draft and try to turn it into something better once the whole story is out. In this way, I’ll finally finish this project that I’ve been working on (in one form or another) for almost fourteen years.