Revisiting My Writer Past

Laura's House

As most of you know, I was on vacation last week. I intended to post this Tuesday, but when I got back, unpacking from camping, catching up on work and all the stuff I’d neglected before and during vacation, and realizing that deadlines I’d pushed back to the end of summer were now less than two weeks away. All to explain why this post is going up on Friday.

While I didn’t get to go to Realm Makers this year, I did end up in St. Louis, MO on the Monday after Realm Makers. A couple of my friends and I took an awesome week-long road trip to Missouri. And, I still got to revisit one of my writing roots.

The year was 1996. I was six years old when my parents loaded up our old Midas motorhome and took my brothers and me to Missouri.

My dad had read the entire Little House series to us, me curled on his lap listening to the rumble of his voice in Pa’s stories and knowing that I was his Half Pint as much as Laura was Pa’s. We’d already visited the replica of the little cabin in the big woods, though it is now a little cabin surrounded by tiny saplings. I don’t remember if we had visited any other sites by that point. I eventually visited all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, the last one in Independence, KS when I was sixteen.

But on this trip, we were stopping at a Laura Ingalls Wilder site not in the books, yet essential to them. I’m talking about Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, MO, the place where Laura Ingalls Wilder actually wrote the books.

I was six. I was awed in the museum at Pa’s fiddle and a handwritten manuscript. The house was old and huge. The furniture big. The tour boring. I don’t remember anything from most of the house.

But I do remember Laura’s desk. It was big with cubies and space for writing. And there, standing in front of that desk, I made the decision.

I was going to be a published author someday.

The year is now 2015. Nineteen years have passed since I saw that house in Mansfield. Seeing things as an adult is both the same and different.

The wonder at seeing Pa’s fiddle is still the same. Pa’s voice in my head is still my dad’s. I’m still my dad’s Half Pint.

Pa's Fiddle
Pa’s Fiddle

The house is different. It’s smaller. I actually remember the tour through the rest of the house. This time, I see the people and their lives, not just the author and her books.

Laura Ingalls Wilder is smaller. I’m actually taller than her (by a whole inch, but I’m still taller).

And the desk is smaller. My own desk at home could swallow it. It doesn’t look like something big enough to start off a little girl’s hopes and dreams.

Laura's Desk
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s desk

Still, I choked up standing there. At six, I’d stood there and decided I was going to be a published author. Nineteen years later, I stood there a couple months after my first book released. A surreal moment.

Nineteen years. A longer road to publication than my six-year-old self could’ve comprehended. I’d thought I’d be published by sixteen or eighteen at the latest (because eighteen year olds are so old when you’re six).

Have you ever read the Little House books? What memories do they bring up?

Do you have a specific memory of the day you knew you wanted to be a published author?

Road Trip Snippets

I’m on a road trip this week so this is a scheduled post. I’ll answer the comments when I return.

In honor of road trips, I’m going to share of few snippets about road trips, roads, and driving.

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A few years ago, I went on a trip with my dad to Texas. To a Michigander, Texas roads are strange to look at. The bridges, off-ramps, and on-ramps are all these swooping, beautiful loops. Some are even decorated. Ever driven through Fort Worth? The highways are built in layers, stacked on top of each other.

2013-03-05_08-39-32_645In Michigan, we just don’t build roads like that. All the bridges are built as short and low as possible. There are a few swooping on-ramps, but they have huge ice warning signs and sometimes they drift shut with snow during storms.

On that same Texas trip, we were driving a stretch of high way south of San Antonio. The speed limit was 75. My dad was blowing by all the other cars on the road. Curious, I glanced at the GPS, which shows our speed. We were going 70.

In Michigan, most freeway speed limits are 70, and a large portion of the population drives at 75 to 80 or more. If the speed limit were 75, then Michiganders would probably go 90.

But in Texas, where it is legal to go 75, the drivers go 60. Strange, huh? Maybe it was just that stretch of Texas road. Any thoughts, all my Texas readers?

On our way home from that trip, my dad swerved to avoid a pothole. I swayed with the car. Swerving around potholes isn’t something unusual for Michiganders.

My dad glanced in the rearview mirror. “He’s not from Michigan.”

“Who’s not?” I asked.

“The driver in the car behind us. He hit the pothole.”

It is something many of us Michigan drivers learn. If the car in front of you swerves, odds are they are swerving for roadkill, a pothole, or shreds of a tire cut open on a pothole. It’s like a big game of Follow the Leader meets Obstacle Course. Add in a little bit of Memory because it never hurts to memorize the locations of the worst potholes so you know when to swerve without even thinking about it.

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Several years ago, a few friends and I took a road trip through West Virginia. I quickly learned that very few roads in West Virginia are straight. They twist and turn all over the place through the mountains. At the end of each day, my upper arms hurt from turning the steering wheel and holding it through the twisty turns while going up, over, and down the mountains.

Speed limits are a little crazy on some of the back roads. In the valleys, the semi-straight parts of the roads, the speed limit drops to 45. When the road goes up and over a mountain, the speed limit goes up to 55 even though it is physically impossible to actually go 55.

I also quickly learned that in West Virginia, the speed listed on the yellow signs is the maximum speed you can go. In Michigan, we look at the yellow speed of 40 and continue to go 50. In West Virginia, I learned really quickly that going 30 when the sign says 20 might not be such a good idea. In fact, it dumps the cooler onto your friend’s lap and cause a lot of screaming.

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What about you? Any fun road trip stories?

Pantsing and Chapters

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Image found at http://becuo.com/open-book-background

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of advice on writing chapters. Go Teen Writers had a post on Monday on writing chapters 2 & 3. And today I stumbled across this blog post on how long chapters should be. Jody Hedlund’s blog post today also talks about jotting notes about each chapter when doing pre-writing plotting.

It made me realize that my method for chapters is strange.

I don’t have chapters in my first draft.

Weird, huh?

When I write the first draft, I just write. I put in asterisks for the scene breaks, but other than that the writing is in one big chunk. Sort of. I actually write in 25,000 word chunks. I focus on reaching 25,000 words, which seems a whole lot less daunting than 75,000 or 100,000. When I finish a draft, I then put all of the chunks together into one file.

It is only then that I go back and decide where the chapters fall.

My chapters might change even then. For Dare, my first pass resulted in 27 chapters. Once I started revising, I did a lot of cutting, revising of scenes, and even combining of scenes. I also realized that many of my chapters were too long with too many scenes per chapter.

By the time I finished revising my chapters, I’d come up with 45.

In the final revisions as I formatted Dare, I made a few more changes that resulted in 47 chapters in the final version.

This system works for me. It prevents me from being stuck on chapters while I’m writing. I write each scene to where it needs to be and put in chapters later.

But this wouldn’t work for everyone. One reason I think this works for me is that I’m something of a “pantser” when I write (someone who writes by the seat of their pants instead of plotting it out first).

I’m not what you’d call a pure pantser. I don’t sit down at the computer with no plan and just write and see where it leads. I think that is the stereotype of pantsers, but that makes it sound like we have no plan and no ideas in our head.

I have lots of ideas. I usually have whole scenes plotted out (complete with dialogue, body language, and scenery), arranged in a structure, and usually a beginning to get me started and an ending I’m working towards. I know what I need to foreshadow and when I need to add certain items into the story to set up later events. It’s just all in my head instead of on paper. I’ve tried plotting out before hand, but the only way to get what’s in my head onto paper is through writing the first draft.

Yes, I do have a lot of revision to do when I finish that first draft, but I speed through that first draft since I’m following the rough outline I have in my head.

But since it is a rough outline, I don’t have it laid out in chapters. I don’t have pages of notes that tell me that in chapter 1 this will happen. This happens in chapter 2, etc.

How do you guys handle chapters? Do you write with chapters or without? Does it play a role in how you plan? Do your chapters change during revision?