Another Very Brief Excerpt From NEXT BOOK

I wanted to share a second excerpt from NEXT BOOK, still tentatively titled A COINCIDENCE OF DOORS, because when I was doing my first revision pass this little segment of conversation absolutely floored me. I’d forgotten I’d written it; it had come out during one of those 1000 Words of Summer days when Jami Attenberg was urging us all to write down the truest and toughest stuff we knew.

Reading this won’t spoil the plot, if you’re curious. Nor does it really need any introduction. ❤️

“Is that what you want?” Grandma Trudy asked.

“Family isn’t about what you want,” Ellen said. It had been something her mother had said to her, during the years when Ellen had wanted to sit with her book or play on the computer or simply be left alone. “It’s about what’s best for the family. For everyone.”

Grandma Trudy looked unconvinced. “Anyway,” Ellen said, “I’ll still be able to read. It’s all I ever wanted to do, anyway.” 

“December 2, 1984,” Grandma Trudy said. “You told me you wanted roller skates for Christmas because you wanted to feel like you were flying. You were wearing a blue sweatshirt with snowflakes on it, and jeans with a hole in the knee. From playing, not reading.”

“I never had any roller skates,” Ellen said. 

“Well, your sister was a baby and your mother wanted you where you couldn’t move fast enough to get away,” Grandma Trudy said. “She called you Mommy’s Little Helper.”

“I sort of remember that,” Ellen said. “How old was I, three? How would I have known about roller skates?”

“You read a book about them,” Grandma Trudy said. 

“I remember when I got invited to a roller rink birthday party,” Ellen said. “I went out onto the rink and it was like I really was flying. And then Mom told me I had to stay with Grace, who was still clinging to the wall.” 

“Your mother did the best job she could,” Grandma Trudy said. 

Ellen let out a single exhale; not quite laughter. “That’s what she always said about you.” Then she said “Grace doesn’t think love is a thing you can do. She said it was a result of something someone else did. So you can do what you think is a loving action towards someone, but they won’t receive it that way.”

“That makes sense,” Grandma Trudy said. “People need different things.” Her hands grabbed fistfuls of her blanket, then let them go. “It’s hard to understand what people need. I used to keep a tally, on a little pad of paper, of what made your mother happy and what didn’t. That was when she was young, when it was just the two of us. The marks never came out the same, two days in a row.”

“Well, she was a toddler, right?” 

“But they’ve never come out the same, whether I’ve kept them on paper or in my head, for anybody. Even you. It used to be that you’d be happy if I gave you a book, and then one year you told me it was a book you’d already read, so I started asking your mother what books you were reading at school, and she said you read more books than she could keep track of, and suddenly trying to do the same thing that had worked before had made two people angry with me.”

“I don’t think I was angry.”

“Maybe not angry, then. Irritated. Frustrated. The grandmother that had gotten something wrong. The mother who was asking her grown daughter for one more thing when she already had too many things to do. The extra trip she had to take, so you could return the book and get one you hadn’t read before.”

“Dad took that trip,” Ellen said, remembering. “And after that I gave you a list.”

“It’s different for fathers,” Grandma Trudy said. “Especially when it’s not their mother that made the mistake.”

How #1000WordsofSummer Improved My Draft

Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsofSummer writing challenge ended on Sunday, and in those two weeks I added 14,013 words to the novel draft I am currently calling A Coincidence of Doors.

I’ll be realllll up-front about it: not all of those words were great. Some of the 1000-word writing sessions helped me understand my characters better, others helped me clarify elements of the plot, and others… um… well, they felt like I was typing words for the sake of typing words.

Like, I knew that I needed to add more description to the conversation my characters were having, but I couldn’t come up with anything and the time I’d set aside for writing was running out, so I’d revert to cliches or type “HE SMILED” for the way-too-manyth time.

At one point, I literally (pun intended) wrote the following:

“And the luggage,” Grace said, still assuming she had a role to play.

“We don’t have a door large enough,” Mya said, playing her opposing role.

But I also wrote some stuff I’m really happy with, and I got the draft to a place where—well, it’s not quite a finished first draft, I still have to write the ending and a few short scenes in the middle, but I’m going to go ahead and move the project into what I’ll call Second Draft Stage.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to begin going over A Coincidence of Doors section by section, looking at everything from worldbuilding to word choices. I’m also going to examine the arcs I currently have written into the book: where does the conflict intensify, and where does it release? How do the smaller conflicts get resolved, and how do they relate to the larger conflict at the center of the story? Does every action have an equal and opposite reaction?

I still have a lot of work to do on this book, especially in the second half when our characters find themselves on the other side of the titular door (this is not a spoiler, you can’t write a portal fantasy without having the characters go through the portal at some point).

The first half feels like the stuff I do really well: close-range, intimate family moments in a realistic setting and a specific time period.*


But I figure I’ll learn something from writing this regardless of what happens, and I hope what I learn will be good enough to share with the rest of you. ❤️

*I did realize, during the Democratic Debates, that if I don’t get this book into the world quickly enough I might have to rework the whole thing, the same way I had to rework The Biographies of Ordinary People after the 2016 election. Like, this story would be very different if we had a better healthcare system. However, in the long run I’d rather have better healthcare for everyone than the current draft of my book, sooooooo LET’S MAKE THAT HAPPEN, OKAY?

What I’ve Learned From #1000WordsofSummer (So Far)

The most interesting aspect of Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsofSummer project, in which writers are invited to write 1000 words every day for two weeks, is the way it immediately quantifies how long 1000 words takes.

For me, it’s 90 minutes minimum.

That’s if I want 1000 words of any caliber, and over the past few days, I’ve watched the words in my NEXT BOOK draft decrease in caliber somewhat.

Here’s an example of the kind of draft I write when I take my time:

Robin had taken a step forward and Ellen had stopped walking and now they stood, nearly eye-to-eye, Ellen a few inches taller.

Here’s an example of the kind of draft I write when I want to hit a fixed word count and have a limited amount of time in which to do it:

“Ellen!” he said. “What a pleasure!” He rushed to her; she had still not moved.

It’s the same character and the same action (Robin is moving towards Ellen, who is standing still for METAPHORICAL AND THEMATIC REASONS), but the #1000WordsofSummer version feels weaker. Thinner. Rushed, to borrow the word I already used.

And sure, I could go back and rework it all, and I’ll probably have to, but one thing I’ve learned about myself as a writer is that I’m not that much of a rewriter. I do a lot of the prep work in my head and in a separate notes document, and then I put it all together on the page.

Plus, my freelancing work has taught me that whatever I write is probably going to be published as-is, for the whole world to see, in, like, an hour—so I’ve learned how to churn out publication-ready drafts.

The stuff I’m writing now is not publication-ready. I’m tempted to give up on the word count goal so I won’t have to rework everything later, but I’m also tempted to just keep following the #1000WordsofSummer plan for the next 10 days, because it only lasts until July 1, and see what happens.

Because… why not? Maybe I’ll learn something new. ❤️

Let’s Do Jami Attenberg’s 1000 Words of Summer

Currently, my NEXT BOOK draft includes 33,460 words.

I suspect it’ll be just over 50,000 words by the time the draft is finished, although I anticipate adding to the draft during the revision process (remember, there are sections where I feel like I’m only writing 70% of a story).

Which means I am very excited that author Jami Attenberg is running 1000 Words of Summer again this year.

Unlike NaNoWriMo, which asks you to write 50,000 words in a month (that’s 1,666 words per day, which would be totally doable if I wasn’t already writing four articles a day for my freelancing clients, also I gotta do family stuff over Thanksgiving), Attenberg is inviting us to write a thousand words per day for fourteen days.

June 17 through July 1.

I can do that. I couldn’t last year, because the project coincided with my book tour and vacation (and although I did keep writing throughout my book tour, I said no to writing during my four days of vacation) but I can this year.

This means that I’ll probably have the NEXT BOOK draft finished by the end of 1000 Words of Summer, if not before.*

That’s both unbelievable and totally believable.

Anyone else want to participate? ❤️

*If I do end up finishing the draft before 1,000 Words of Summer is over, I’ll revise a 1000-word chunk of text each day, or something like that.