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Monday, September 29, 2014

Outlines and Writing Software

My amazing co-MFA cohorter Kate asked if I'd used any of these writing programs. I'll copy the list first in case you're looking for one:

  1. BloggerThis popular Google-owned site is a great place to start your own blog for free.
  2. ScrivenerThis popular, feature-rich program is great for organizing research, planning drafts, and writing novels, articles, short stories, and even screenplays.
  3. The Literary MachineThis free software allows writers to compile research and writing modules that makes it easier to draw on information collected during research to write an outline or a final draft.
  4. New NovelistCreated for Windows users, this program is specifically designed to meet the needs of novelists, making it possible to juggle ideas, notes, and more in one place.
  5. Open OfficeWhy pay for Microsoft products when you can create free documents with Open Office? This open source software provides similar tools to the Microsoft Office Suite, including spreadsheets, a word processor, the ability to create multimedia presentations, and more.
  6. Script FrenzyScriptwriters will appreciate this software. It offers an easy layout that helps outline plots as well as providing storyboard features, index cards, and even sound and photo integration.
  7. StorybookThis open source software can make it easier to manage your plotlines, characters, data, and other critical information while penning a novel.
  8. TreePad LiteThe free version of this software keeps the writing process simple, ensuring that information stay organized and your story stays on track.
  9. WordPressWordPress is another popular and free choice for starting a blog (or two).
  10. Writer’s CafeGet creative with writing fiction with this easy-to-use software. Designed by a writer, it features a notebook, journal, organizer, writing tips, and even an e-book all about writing.
  11. yWriter5Another word processor for writers, yWriter5 helps break down a novel into chapters and scenes to make everything a little more manageable.
  12. ZohoDocsZoho is another free word processing suite, and like Google Drive, it allows you to write and access your work from any computer with an Internet connection.
[edit: taken from this site. they list 150, though, so consider this a scaled-down model.]

Here's what I replied:
OpenOffice is seriously exactly microsoft office. word, excel, all that. it's the same thing. For outlining, I'm partial to regular blank paper -- i make a list of

and then little points
     and then i'll indent a little and write scenes i have ideas for 
and do it that way. the more bare-bones, the better. my writing partner Eric tried this iphone app called Save the Cat (the free version, oh, here it is) that gives you a 15-point outline to fill can try that, too. but really just see what works for you.
So I guess my big writing secret is, I don't have a big writing secret. I try to be in the moment. Sure, there are some things I know about my characters before the audience knows them -- you can't very well write a murder mystery without having some idea who the murderer was and how she slips up -- but the big, character-defining, wow-instilling moments, I like to come to at roughly the same time as the reader.

But I do spend a LOT of time, hopefully more than my readers, thinking about what's going to happen, and what might happen, and the outliers are always the most interesting parts, al pi Flannery O'Connor's idea that an ending should be both "surprising and inevitable." And those are the chances we get to surprise people. I guess those are the moments that really justify outlining and planning ahead: because you've already anticipated all the expected things, and you've come up with most of the surprising-and-probably-won't-happen endings (the "evitable" endings?), and so what remains -- bizarre, off-kilter, and true to the story -- might be your ending.

(Or it completely might not. Which is why, for the 20 pages I'm writing now, I have four different outlines going. I mean, it's a novel, which means things will get sticky...but sticky is exactly what outlines are made for.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Song Lost and Found

Tonight while writing a post for Hevria, this amazing new group blog about art and G-d and Jewish stuff, I had to look up something in my own old blog at Diaryland. I got swept up in the tsunami of ego and started reading all these old entries, parts of a self I barely remembered.

The last entry I posted was about the novel I'd written that had just come out, Losers. Almost all the chapters are named after Cure songs, and I was writing liner notes to them, one by one (the chapters, not the songs). In one of the notes, I got lost mourning for a song that I could never find, one that my best friend put on a mix for me before he died:

Another Cure chapter. The song "A Night Like This" is a beautiful song in its own right, track 8 on "The Head on the Door," which some poet-friends in Melbourne performed a track-by-track jam of poems influenced by the songs. But there's another Cure song that my best friend Mike put on a mixtape for me that was just Robert Smith's voice and a brilliant string section and tympani drums that's called something like "Other Nights Like This" -- the handwriting was scratchy. I never remembered to ask him, and now it's too late. Now the tape's broken, and I keep googling the first words, but I can't find anything.

That was 2008. Before I had kids, before I had a job or style or a pager (I still don't have a pager). At that point, it was already three years since I'd spoken to Mike. It wasn't until tonight that my ex-roommate, dear friend and how-does-she-do-it-and-with-kids-too-type person Andrea saw my whoa-remember-this post and found it on Facebook.

And, like, I'm sure it isn't as good as you think it will be, but it's been fermented in my memory, and every second of it is about a time I remember more than anything will ever happen again.

And now I am crying.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Here's Your Next Reading List (or mine)

Just finished with my writers' group, a collection -- a straining? -- from my master's program. I think when we all decided to meet up, it seemed like an excuse for a reunion (and to drink). Turns out, it's more of a working night. We workshop two stories, and we go pretty hardcore. The way I know it's going well is, I learn more and get more out of the workshops where other people's stories are being workshopped than the ones where mine are put under the spotlight.

Anyway, we've been coming up with cool interstitial activities to do between workshops. Tonight, our assignment was to talk about whatever we're reading. Here's what people said. I'm mostly writing this because I feel psyched and energized and I want to read all these books. Enclosing links, mostly to the Brooklyn Public Library, so hopefully at least I use them, and you can too. I'll let you know how it goes. I hope you'll let me know, too.

Nobody Is Ever Missing, Catherine Lacey (recommended by Elisia). Elisia knew her years ago, when she was trying to sell her first novel. It never sold. This is her second, and it is apparently all over the place. It's a great story (she read us the first bit), and it's great to keep in mind when you think that you're never going to get anywhere as a writer.

CosmosWitold Gombrowicz (Laura). Long sentences, a crazy meandering plot, purely beautiful writing. Laura tried to make this a beach read and it was so not beach reading, but it was amazing anyway.

Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante (Ben). Really beautiful quiet moments, mundane, but with surprising moments of violence.

(By the way, I should mention that the six of us destroyed four bottles of wine, so if there are details that I'm messing up, it is my fault alone, and not the fault of the recommender.)

My Struggle by Karl Knausgaard (Marc's reading it). It's named after Mein Kampf. Messed up? Yeah. It focuses on mundane, trivial moments and really blows them into microscopic thinking. Apparently a lot of men are reading this and really digging it. "It's about a guy who wants to be a writer, but can't because he has to raise a kid," explained someone. "What the fuck is the big deal?" I said. "You squeeze it in. You make it work. How do you think people have been doing it for the past thousands of years?" Yeah, Knausgaard. I'm on kid #3. I'm probably messing it up bigtime, but that's life.

Plainwater, by Anne Carson (Caitlin). "I like reading poetry before bed. It resets the rhythm of my brain."

Interlude: Someone tells the rest of us about an 11-year-old whose father is reading Infinite Jest to him and they're recreating it in Lego.

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray (Caitlin). "You must read this," she told me. I am still not sure why, although the title, and the fact that it's a 3-volume book, have intrigued me for a while.

Oh! And here are mine:

Cujo by Stephen King. In his brilliant (!) book on writing, he says this is the book he can't remember writing. For me, it's seamless. Not just metaphorically but literally: it doesn't have chapter breaks. It's a moment-by-moment, play-by-play story. He commits so fully to the conceit of the book, the situation of the characters and the moment that all the stuff is happening.

And the books I'm actually reading:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I know that it's actually an allegory for Christianity -- thank you, o eleventh-grade Christian fundamentalist girl who I had a massive crush on, for pointing that out. But it's such a good story. And so purely good. I should probably write a Kveller post about my intellectual conflictedness on this issue. But as a storyteller, I could not get behind this more.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami. It's not my favorite of his, but after 50 pages of goodness-but-not-blow-away-ness, there was a moment where the emotional force of the story pummeled its way through -- it's about a guy who's always been part of a group of friends, and suddenly, for no reason he can discern, they kick him out -- and hit me squarely in the gut. And then it keeps hitting. It's not the best book ever, and there are lines that would totally embarrass me if I were Murakami (especially that one about "Tsukuru Tazaki's life was changed forever, as if a sheer ridge had divided the original vegetation into two distinct biomes"but it's a really solidly good book.

I included everyone's names as a way of sort of quoting/attributing to them. Hope it's okay.

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