Tag Archives: David Foster Wallace

Week Two: Winter 2017 Online Writing Group

This is week two of the Winter 2017 edition of the Lake Projects Online Writing Group, and I begin this week’s goals post with a call to action: this week, be the hammer. You all had a good start on your projects last week, so this week, don’t lose your momentum. Keep whacking away at those nails until your foundation is able to stand on its own. Be the hammer.

Hopefully you all saw last week’s addendum about our three new group members, and this week we’ve got everyone together in a single, beautiful group. So let’s go!

Week Two Goals:

Alena: I’ve been writing essays for scholarships this week instead of working on my two short stories. I’ll return to them for Week Two. My other goal is to start reading Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. I know this isn’t technically a writing goal but reading helps develop writing skills so I’ll include it.

Anne D.: My Week Two goal is to polish up a few pieces and see where that takes me.

Anne H.: This week I’m going to continue making notes on “Save the Cat,” and I’m also going to continue reading the Elmore Leonard novel Get Shorty; and after I finish reading the novel (almost done!), I’m going to watch the movie. I think the novel and movie are similar to a project I’m working on, so I’m using them as a study. [You all know how I feel about Elmore Leonard.]

Cynthia: My Week Two goal is to write at least a paragraph a day. Baby steps. [Those are the cutest kind of steps!]

Kate: Coming soon…

Laura: I worked a bit on my short story last week, but I have another once-over to do before submitting it. That’s my goal for this week: to submit to two magazines (one I just found out about last week; another I’d intended to submit to is closed for the winter, so I’ll keep it in my pocket until they’re open) and to a contest. This week I’m also going to start to begin the outline for my new course.

Lisa: So…I did absolutely nothing during week one. My goal for Week Two is to write the three pages I wanted to write in Week One. Wish me luck! [Good luck!]

Matt: The first week has been productive; I’ve completed the basic process of reorganizing my framing device and feel that I am well on my way to where I need to be. Sadly this has only reduced the overall size by about two thousand words, or about point-zero-zero-two percent of the total mass of the book, but it’s a start.

Now that I have a new shape, for this week I go back and start again, revisiting where I began, armed with the knowledge of where it ends up. The framing device has a narrator and I am still finding her voice.

The frustrating thing is that I also keep finding more stories, hidden inside the little cracks, and it’s hard not to want to tell them. How do you deal with knowing so much about these characters, knowing stories that want to be told but also knowing that they probably don’t need to be told?

Noëmi: My goal for next week is to write at least about 500 words. I don’t know whether I want it to be a short story or a blog-post or something else.

Rachel: I met last week’s goal to compile all my essay ideas in one concrete place: I bought a little notebook at Muji, gathered all my idea scraps, and wrote them in there. For next week, I will plan to write a first draft of an essay about an old Dutch lady I met at the post office last week who tried to cut in front of me in line (don’t worry, we became friends by the end). I’ll shoot for 1,000 words for the final draft.

Robert: Week Two goal: continue working on my novel. Week One progress: wrote 1500 words.

Sarah: Week Two goals: my thesis course is back in session. To stay on task in the course I need to write everyday. I need seven pages this week and I have ten to edit. I did well with my Week One goals so I’m energized to wrap up this paper. Oh and I need to finish my blog post.

Yahoo!

This week, in addition to telling you all to be the hammer, I wanted to talk a bit about how writers break up their writing. The long and winding road that got me to this idea started last week as I determined how many books I would set as my goal for this year’s Goodreads reading challenge.

See, last year I set my goal as fifty books, but by the end of 2016 I’d only read thirty-two, and I’m always a little disappointed when I don’t meet my goal. I know that I spent a lot more time last year reading academic publications for my two graduate classes, which don’t count toward my Goodreads goal, but I think that I also missed my goal because I read a number of big, fat books that took me a long time to read.

Sad. It's so sad.

Sad. It’s so sad.

As I thought about the number of big, fat books that I read in 2016 — A Brief History of Seven Killings (688 pages), Villette (657 pages), It (1,116 pages), City on Fire (911 pages [though, full disclosure: I started this in 2016 but I haven’t quite finished it yet]) — I thought about Infinite Jest, because thinking about long books invariably brings me to thinking about Infinite Jest (1,079 pages [a couple hundred of which are footnotes (yes, you do need to read the footnotes)]).

And then (bear with me; I’m almost to my point), as I thought about how reading It is such a wholly different experience than reading Infinite Jest is (in every aspect, including the simple act of turning pages), I started thinking about how both writers had broken up their books into small sections, sections so small, sometimes, that they were only a page or two.

And this kind of a break up of a long piece into small sections — maybe authors call them chapters, but frequently they don’t — is useful in a piece of any length, but especially when you have something that’s upward of six or seven hundred pages. Stephen King knows this; he is a prolific writer in terms of books and in terms of pages (It is not King’s only book over 1,000 pages, and he frequently publishes novels that are 800 pages or more [for better or for worse…]), and he usually breaks up his books into small, non-chaptered but numbered sections that are sometimes only a few paragraphs.

it-and-infinite-jest

And Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, knows this, too. James broke up his Man Booker Award-winning brick-of-a-book into smaller first-person sections, each told by one member of his cast of about a dozen or so characters. And relative newcomer Garth Risk Hallberg, author of the 911-page impromptu-weapon-against-home-invasion City on Fire, breaks his long book up by short chapters, too (also by character p.o.v., though third person, not first like James’s). I don’t have a picture of Hallberg’s book because it’s downstairs and I forgot to do it and I’m too lazy to leave my chair. So you get Tolstoy instead.

Anna Karenina was so big and fat that sometimes it's broken up into two books!

Anna Karenina is so big and fat that sometimes it’s broken up into two books!

And all of this segmentation can help you organize your story, too. It can help you organize the writing of the story (it’s easier to tell yourself that you’re going to tackle just one character’s account from that one afternoon when she was running errands and ended up getting car-jacked rather than the entire swirling narrative of all of your characters and what in their lives led up to that one car-jacking and their lives in the days that followed it); and it can help you organize the overall narrative arc as well. If your big work is broken up into smaller segments, you may decide that your story is best told out of chronological order and instead told according to character, or according to location. Once you’ve decided what’s best, just move all of the bits from each character together and you’ve got your story. So easy, right? (hahahahahahaaaa! writing is so easy!!!!)

Breaking your work up into small sections will also help your reader; because books that are broken up into smaller sections are much, much easier to read. As I started reading City on Fire in bed at night, it was easy for me to tell myself, “Oh, just one more chapter, it’s such a short one.” And then, the first night I’d started it, it was 1 a.m. and I was two hundred pages in. Boom.

For those of you who are working on short pieces, think of the breaking-up of your story in more traditional narrative terms: onset (leading up to the [usually unpleasant] main conflict); conflict, resolution. This three-act organization is typical in films and easy to understand, so use it as your guide. You likely won’t organize these three sections numerically once your short piece is finished; in fact, your story might take place all in the same place in a very short amount of time and you’ll have written a single scene. But thinking about this segmentation might help you to get through the drafting process.

And for those of you who are working on very short pieces (this is me), I have only this advice: just sit down and f*cking write it.

Okay, that’s my long-winded advice for this week! In case anyone is curious, I’ve set my 2017 reading challenge for only forty books; let’s see how I do.

Write, on, everyone!

Just one more for good measure (YES I JUST DID THAT!)

Just one more for good measure (YES I JUST DID THAT!)

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Camp Crystal Lake is Open for Visitors

It’s been a busy few weeks at Camp Crystal Lake, because Trevor, Roo, and I have been hosting overnights for some of our favorite people (to be fair, though, we have a lot of favorite people [Trevor sometimes says I’m hyperbolic and I usually tell him that he’s absolutely insane]).

In September, I asked my book club — The Ladies of Literature and Libations (because yes, it’s cool to name your book club, and yes, our name is the best name of all the names) — to make the fifty-mile trek out from Chicago to spend twenty-four hours talking about all things David Foster Wallace.

David Foster Wallace

I was ready in case we got bored.

In February the group decided to read Infinite Jest, DFW’s 1079-page novel published in 1995. I’d read IJ before, but I hadn’t had a cohort to talk about it with (it’s a lonely book, and it’s a f*cking amazing book [imho], and book babes make loneliness less lonely and f*cking amazing even more f*cking amazing), so I was really excited. We knew it would take us a while to read it, so we had a couple of check-in points in the spring and summer. Then, on September 26, 2015, seven wonderful women came to Camp Crystal Lake to get down with the Jest. And it was super fun.

I made a pie (and veggie “Whoppers” [and I provided plenty of Trial Size Dove Bars]):

Peach Pie

And I made some bookmarks:

Book Mark

And, of course, book bags…

Enfield Stencil

Enfield Totebags

I filled each with little treats, including a bandana for everyone to wear and channel DFW:

This is DFW (image: Salon.com)

Book Club

And this is us–so many bandanas!

We talked about breathless prose, tennis, wheelchair assassins, addiction, and end-notes; and we didn’t even scratch the surface. But it was so much fun. I’m almost certainly going to make this an annual invitation.

We had a couple weeks to breathe before this past weekend, when T. and I got a visit from Dan, Best Man Extraordinaire, and his stupendous daughter Maya.

Bestest Man

It’s painful how cute these two nerds are (Image: Tone Stockenstrom)

I hadn’t seen Dan in forever, and I hadn’t seen Maya in double forever (remember: hyperbolic). I remember when she was just a tiny booger who looked like this:

Smiling Maya

This is the first time I babysat Maya. It’s the night I almost ate a baby because of an unrelenting hunger for cuteness.

And then this:

Maya

But now, she looks like this:

Maya Picking Apples

Image: Dan Segar

She’s so grown up! And in addition to being super grown up, Maya is one of the best kids I have ever met. Over the course of the weekend, she jumped off hay-bales, picked the best apples in the orchard, and drew a dozen or more pictures that included a time machine and a fruit cocktail (and a dolphin, paperclip, the Milky Way, bubbles…).

Maya in the AirPicking Apples

She also made her appetite preferences crystal clear to Trevor; after he asked her if she was sure she didn’t want more pizza before she ate a piece of apple pie, she replied, “You don’t understand: I’m not hungry for pizza. I’m hungry for pie.”

You don’t understand, Trevor. It’s pie, for god’s sake. Get the girl a piece of pie.

Tiger Face

If you don’t feed her a piece of pie every hour, on the hour, she turns into a tiger.

She also wanted to learn to knit after she saw my basket of yarn (really, though, who could resist a giant basket of yarn? no one, that’s who); and then she told me that I was really good at knitting. She’s too young to know how wrong that is, but it’s a pretty terrific thing to say, so I let it slide.

T. took Maya and Dan down to the park while I did some work, and Dan took some gorgeous pictures:

Maya and Trevor

Image: Dan Segar

Maya and Boats

Image: Dan Segar

When they got back, we all walked down to the beach and she made some abstract sculptures in the sand. And then, as though she wasn’t already the best first grader I’d met ever, she did math homework.

Math Homework

Now, to be honest, getting her to finish said math homework turned her into Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer.

Image: Elle.com

But she still got it done.

In a couple of weeks, T. and I will open our doors again for four more of our faves: Cristen and Jayson, and Juli and Matt (remember Juli and Matt?! they got married in Maine this summer! and remember Cristen? she’s a filmmaker! and remember Jayson?? he’s Tapeface!!!!!)

I’m currently preparing the house for their arrival, and I’ll share more of our spookifying with you all here, so look for that soon!

Spookifying 2015

Week Two: Online Writing Group

It’s the second week of the Summer 2015 Online Writing Group!

It sounds like most everyone is on track and that makes me so happy! But I’m going to be the outlier and admit that I didn’t meet my goals for week one. I could tell you that I’ve been busy rehearsing for a play (I have!) or that I’m useless if I don’t go into the office where my little pomodoro picture is hanging on the wall (I am!), but you all know that all excuses are bullshit. This week I was just a slack-dog.

Yes, the person running this group is a slack-dog. What’s a slack-dog, you ask? Here you go:

Slack-dog \ˈslak ˈdȯg, ˈdäg\ : one who does not do her weekly writing

Pictured Right–Slack-dog \ˈslak ˈdȯg, ˈdäg\ : one who does not do her weekly writing   Pictured Left–Regular-dog \ˈre-gyə-lər, ˈre-g(ə-)lər also ˈrā- ˈdȯg, ˈdäg\ : one who does do her weekly writing (if writing =  eating, sleeping, running, and pooping)

So now you know what you’ll turn into if you miss your weekly goals! It’s not really that bad; but I do hope to look like a normal human again next week once I’ve done some writing.

Here are Everyone’s Week Two Updates & New Goals:

  • Anne: This week I plan on continuing my writing at a slow pace and to FIND time for myself to write this week come hell or high water. I will begin some research for another novel in stories that has been rattling around in my brain for the past month or so. I don’t want to give too much away (in case it doesn’t work the way I planned) but it will be about a local historic hotel in my area that has been closed for some years now. This hotel is important to many people in the area and I want to show the history of this place and why it was so important. I want to at least have a rough draft of this going by the end of the eight weeks, but maybe get around five pages written, or at least get an outline written for this week. It’s mainly going to be a research week but I will try to get something written. I have decided that the novel in story format will work perfectly for this project as well. This novel in stories is going to focus more on the place and the lasting impact this hotel has had on the area residents. As for Circus Man, it’s still going along, slowly and I will be doing more research for this as well this week. *
  • Anuar: So far my writing has been going pretty good and I was able to finish all my goals. My goals for this upcoming week are the following: add at least two chapters to the book I’m writing; and write a guest post. (Anuar’s guest post will be featured next week!)
  • Bev: Continue work on spring break letter (minimum 3 pomodoros), which is taking longer than I thought it would; continue researching agents (minimum 2 pomodoros); and re-read intro to 7 Bridges and cut even more spurious content (minimum 2 pomodoros). (I’m so glad the pomodoros are working for you, Bev!)
  • Bonnie: (Bonnie is out of the country, so we’ll assume she’s met her goals and is processing her Ireland experiences for the project she’ll start when she returns.)
  • Curt: Baby steps : Write every day. Aim for 1500 words at the end of the week.**
  • Laura: Since I came woefully short of my first week goal, my second week goal is to open the story, and just start working. I’m going to analyze the first page to see if I’ve clearly answered Lisa Cron’s three questions (see below), and if not, I’ll start my work there.
  • Lisa: I will be trying to get through another five pages this week. So far, so good. 🙂
  • Mary: Week two goal is to edit my blog post. (After I finish writing it because we all know I didn’t finish. [thank you, Mary, for being an amazing slack-dog, too! I feel better])
  • Matthew: (Matthew contributed this week’s guest post [it’s going up tomorrow, so check back!], and he has met his goal for this week.)
  • Mike: Week two goal is to complete an outline of the new story, consolidating the existing drafts of the two previous stories, and the notes from the earlier workshop on one of the two stories.
  • Robert: I’m at 40,700 words, so I wrote maybe 700 – 1000 words. We are busy prepping for our vacation, so I didn’t expect to get much done. Once the vacation starts, well, I don’t think much writing will occur. That’s how it goes. When I return, then I’ll get back to the project. But I’ll be reading this blog! Keep on writing, fellow writers! (Thanks, and safe travels, Robert!)
  • Samantha: My week two goals are to begin to rewrite the first chunk of the story, as I have reread it and hate it to bits. (I told Samantha she has to hate it so that she can rewrite it and make it amazing.)
  • Steve: Draft of Mendelssohn paper by June 10.

*Anne, this sounds amazing! I have two books to recommend for you: 1. Hotel World by Ali Smith–it’s not a collection of short stories, but a collection of narratives/voices centered around a hotel. Smith is a terrific writer and it’s an interesting book. And 2. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. Although I am confident that this is not the genre or style you’re working towards, I’m going to recommend you read Haunted for an example of a novel through short stories as well as first person [sort of] narration. Be warned, though, that Palahniuk is at his graphic best (worst?) in this book, especially with the story “Guts.” (writers, what other stories-as-novel do you recommend?)

**Curt is new to the group. His eight-week objectives are to complete at least three chapters of Book 2 (of his Legacy of the Guardians series); maybe finish one of several short stories that have been stuck in limbo for so long; send another round of query letters to agents for Book 1. Welcome to the group, Curt!

All right, so everyone (besides me) seems to be on track and getting it done–good work, writers!

This week, as part of my slack-doggedness, I started reading Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. This book, by Lisa Cron, is a marriage of the two things I love: books on writing and books on brains.

Cron’s first chapter begins the explanation of why humans crave story and what we writers can do to create a compelling first page and first line. In large part, writers must make sure to answer the following three questions (and quick!) in order to keep the reader engaged:

  1. Whose story is it?
  2. What’s happening here?
  3. What is at stake? (Cron 19)

As readers, Cron says, “we are looking for a reason to care.” So when we write, we must make sure to begin our story with a “ball already in play” (13).

I give you, then, a job this week, writers: re-read your first line and your first page. Will your reader be able to answer Cron’s three questions? If not, revise.

And to inspire you, here are some great first lines (because after reading Cron’s first chapter, I immediately started pulling books off my library shelves to read the first lines. [this, then, led to me rereading, in its entirety, my favorite book Franny and Zooey, thus further procrastinating my writing]):

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen)

“I still get nightmares.” (House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski)

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” (Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides)

“Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up.” (Under the Skin, Michel Faber)

“Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” (The Trial, Franz Kafka)

“Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.” (The Shining, Stephen King)

“The circus arrives without warning.” (The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern)

“Gerard Maines lived across the hall from a woman named Benna, who four minutes into any conversation always managed to say the word penis.” (Anagrams, Lorrie Moore)

“This was supposed to be a writers’ retreat.” (Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk)

“Never never tell, Maddy-Monkey, they warned me, it’s Death if you tell any of Them but now after so many years I am going to tell, for who’s to stop me?” (Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, Joyce Carol Oates)

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of Communism.” (The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx)

“When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.” (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami)

“Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone had hoped it would stay for the big weekend–the weekend of the Yale game.” (Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger)

“Who’s there?” (Hamlet, William Shakespeare)

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” (White Teeth, Zadie Smith)

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson)

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.” (Chapter 1, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien)

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy)

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.” (A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole)

“The person to whom this book is dedicated, Phoebe Hurty, is no longer among the living, as they say.” (Breakfast of Champions [Or, Goodbye Blue Monday!], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

“I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.” (Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace)

“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital/Columbus, Ohio,/USA — /a country caught/between Black and White.” (Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson)

Now, writers, go on and write, reflect, revise, and let us know how it goes. Check back tomorrow for Matthew’s amazing guest post. Good luck, and good writing!

Cron, Lisa. Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2012. Print.