July Already?!

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You see that interrobang in the title? Yeah, that’s right. I’m a little shocked to realize my last post was back in May.

Not that I’m a reliable poster, I never really intended to be, but still. That’s a long break! Especially when I left you with a promise for other posts in the critiquing series. That’s actually part of why I haven’t posted. Those posts require research, thought, and revision, and I’ve not been up to tackling that.

It’s been a weird month. I have gotten very little accomplished. I stalled out on my Cliff rewrites. I didn’t feel like I had anything worth saying via social media. I struggled to keep up with and attend crit group. I didn’t do much of anything writing-related, actually.

I could blame work – summers there are nuts, and kind of suck the energy from me – but that would be a cop out. I could blame the nice weather and my obsessive tendency, which recently latched on to my garden (hey, I could post on that!) – but that isn’t right either. And I could blame King’s Mark, as the launch sucked me back in time and broke my concentration.

Nope.

I just stopped and started wandering around. I just read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which talked a lot about fear. Maybe I was letting my fears surrounding the current project get in the way. I have high hopes for Cliff, and other people seem to share those hopes, and that’s a little intimidating. Or maybe I lost balance for a while, focusing on some recent personal/job-related difficulties overwhelm me. Probably both.

But now I’m going to get back on the horse.

The Official November Plan

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Since I’m not following wordcount goals this NaNoWriMo, I thought I should explain what my goals are. That way you can all keep me honest!

Essentially, I have 16 major scenes/plot points to hit before Thieves is done. Therefore, I must complete one scene/plot point every 2 days (at least). Since earlier means fresher, I’ve got 2 that I have to finish in the first 3 days so I can fit them all in.

I bought a big(ish) whiteboard/corkboard to keep track of all of this, and make sure my goals are right in front of my face.

Here it is: (btw, don’t try to read the cards if you don’t want spoilers!)

So far, I’m on track! Yay! And incidentally, just under the Nano official wordcount goal, so who knows – maybe I will hit 50,000!

In other news, this has been a week of organization. There are whiteboards everywhere :). I even got a little crafty and did my jewelry too:

They’re just wooden cross-stitch frames, with lace pulled over the inner hoop. That way I could hang my earrings and pins directly on the lace. I had to glue cork to the inner hoop in order to attach my bracelets and necklaces with pushpins. Simple, and hopefully more usable than my previous stack of little cases.

And last, in case you see me around in the next month, I’ve got a walking boot on.

Turns out I’ve been walking on my feet too much. Or something. So now I’ve got to wear this boot thing and not walk around so much, at least until it heals. Ugh. Though on the good side, maybe boredom will force me to be more productive on the Nano front… especially since I’ve also canceled my Netflix for the month.

Lessons from the Revision Process

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So, having now finished the draft version of my first novel, I must now undertake the most extensive revision I’ve ever had to do. And it’s waaay harder than writing the first time.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like it, finding those spots that I can change just so to make a concept or character click is one of the greatest joys in writing. But I like to feel in control of my efforts, and I am finding it difficult to maintain an organized approach. I guess I haven’t found the revision process that works for me yet. Maybe it’ll take another book or three before I get it down.

This entire process has been a learning experience, so even if the book goes nowhere, I’ve benefited. I can hardly believe the sheer amount I’ve learned, both from the writing style books I buy voraciously and from the process itself. I know I’m not done, but I thought I’d share some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far. Keep in mind these are just personal lessons, I’m not in any way qualified to advise others. Remember, I’m pretty much wingin’ it.

ONE
Revision is scarier than writing. For me, there is this constant lurking fear that I am going to change something and it won’t be as good as what I had. Or I’m going to irreparably mess up everything my critiquers said they liked in my attempt to fix what they didn’t. This is ridiculous. It’s just insecurity and a tad bit of hubris. As James Scott Bell says in “Revision and Self Editing,” you revise from a place of deeper understanding than you write. You might think you understand your characters or plot when you write them, but it isn’t until the entire thing is on the page that you can see the whole picture.

TWO
If your alpha readers say something, LISTEN! Even if you disagree with the suggested solution, readers are never wrong about their reactions or understanding of the text. I don’t remember who said it, but writing is a kind of telepathy. Your end goal is to control what the reader experiences, so if they don’t get the right vision from your work, that’s YOUR failure. So fix it. It doesn’t mean your vision is wrong, it means your telepathy is off.

THREE
Passion is what gives writing life. If you suddenly shift focus, you lose that special magic. It isn’t the individual words on the page; word-smithing doesn’t create passion, although it can enhance it. I learned this because I re-read my earlier chapters. Although I’ve learned an incredible amount over the last few months, my first few chapters sang in a way my recent work doesn’t. And as I begin to add and rewrite segments to better reflect my vision of the story, I’m rediscovering my passion and excitement for the story itself. I believe my writing will show this.

FOUR
That said, the muse nonsense is bull****. I used to believe I couldn’t write unless I felt the inspiration. Now, I know that’s horse hockey. I totally agree that there is a wondrous kind of “zone” you can get into sometimes. But it is mainly excitement and focus – not some sort of magic that means your prose improves. The voice in your head that tells you what words to put where is the same, it’s just talking enthusiastically so you feel good about it. In fact, stuff I wrote while I was in the “zone” actually needs more work than a lot of my other stuff, only it is harder for me to recognize, because I get this little echo of how great it was to write that part when I read it through again. So passively sitting around waiting for the muse to strike is wasted time. The best stuff I wrote came from ideas I got excited about after thinking and thinking about an “unsolvable” problem for days.

FIVE
Washing dishes, long drives, going on walks, and taking showers are idea-generators and problem-sovlers. Steven King was totally right when he talked about sending stuff down to the “boys in the basement.” Anything even remotely creative I thought of wasn’t me in my desk chair.

SIX
Every book, podcast, and writer says that the serious author should write a quota of words every day. Or every week. I’m not against this, in fact, I agree with the principle. Good writers must develop dedication, discipline, and professionalism, and writing every day is a step towards that. Not only that, but there is something to be said for momentum – it is way harder to get back into something when you’ve spend days or weeks or months away from it. However, personally I can’t hold down a quota of words daily. There are too many days when I come home from work and can barely eat before I fall asleep. I’m sure a better person would be able to set aside their hour or two and slog through 500 words a day, every day, no matter how exhausted. But I have come to realize I am not that person. In the winter, I can do that and more. In the summer, no dice. So I have compromised. Absolutely every day I sit down and work on my writing. It might be a bit of an editing or it might be 3000 words.

I like my day job. I am writing because I love to write; it is enough for me that I do some small thing every day. Maybe someday that will change; I have no idea what the future holds. They say you cannot possibly be published if it isn’t what you live and breath for. So if I need to commit to more someday, then I’ll think about it. But for now, I think it is a good thing that I am not dying to be a full-time author. It means I can learn without judging myself too harshly, be semi-objective about my work, and distance myself a little from the neurotic, destructive author behavior I hear about and see in other writers I meet. My self-worth is not inextricably bound to my writing – I am more than that. And if that means I am never published, so be it. It is worth it to keep some tiny bit of my mind sane. But I think I will always write, just as I always have.

More later, I’ve got a timeline* and a heck of a lot to do.

*Speaking of which, I’m sorry to the one of you who looks at my progress bar. I’m not well enough organized to be able to tell how much farther I have to go on my revision. Suffice to say, I’m doing lots every day, and there’s still plenty to go. I don’t know if I’ll meet my first week of September goal, but I do know I’m working hard.

Next Steps

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I have spent this entire weekend trying to polish up my last 3.5 chapters for review. My critique group isn’t meeting for another two weeks, so I do have a week to get the first half up to scratch… but I really want to start my next draft. But reworking is taking longer than normal. This week, I blame West Wing, George R. R. Martin, and my new-found skill in jam-making (spiced plum is amazing, and tomorrow I embark on ginger-grapefruit. Holy cow, I’m awesome). Ah well, it WILL be done!

And then I will start draft #2. As you may have noticed, I have added a second progress bar to track my progress on draft #2. For those of you who have agreed to be my beta readers, that little bar will be ticking down the moments until I’ll send the whole darn thing out to you.

Here’s the plan:

1. Finish polishing the ending and send it out to my critique group.

2. Define what I need to concentrate on in my next draft, go through previous critiques and pull out what I will change, what I need to clarify, and what I’m going to ignore.

3. Accomplish said changes and clarifications. Cut a little, add a lot. (I hope this will go more quickly than the transition from rough outline draft to first draft, since I do much better once the words are on the page. I want to finish this by the end of August. Wish me luck!)

4. Send draft #2 out to my beta readers (if you want to be a beta reader and haven’t spoken with me, let me know! I have a list 🙂 While my beta readers read, I’ll research, get advice, and generally work on my pitch. I want to prepare as much as possible for the process that comes after the writing part so I don’t end up stalled or rejected just because I was ignorant.

5. Get comments from beta readers, do a final polish (hopefully there won’t be many big changes) and start looking for an agent. I want to be doing this by October.

All in all, it seems more and more possible. I get good reviews from my critique group (lots to fix, but still overall positive), even when I look at my stuff and deem it crap. I finished it without getting bored and dropping it (I am incredibly proud of that). I have a plan for the immediate future. Not bad for a first attempt at a book!

Even if it never gets published (there’s still a very good chance of that), I’m still going to feel good about it. I’ll keep on keepin’ on, because I really do love the act of creation. And let’s face it; the ‘muses’ are not easily ignored!

But how thrilling would it be to see something I wrote on a bookshelf somewhere?

Elephants and Procrastination

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Sorry for the late post! I choose to attribute my lateness to the highly productive writing session I had last night. It is definitely not because of the nap that I took yesterday after dinking around all morning with my zookeeper friend’s elephants.


So how much did I get done? Saturday was writing group, so chapters 12-13 are now critiqued. I finally reached some sort of peace with chapter 14 – for now, anyway – so consider it ready for other people’s eyes. I’m partially finished with chapter 15, and planning to do the rest this evening. Not the most productive weekend, but better than last week.

Really, I should be making far more progress than I am. Not that I shouldn’t have taken the time for things like giving ginormous elephants pieces of carrots and walking in bright sunny parks. Creativity needs to breath and see the world in order to be healthy and active. Besides, I think I would resent a project or schedule that prevented me from doing those kinds of things.

But I have not been as motivated or focused as I was a couple weeks ago. I lost some of my momentum, and I want it back. I procrastinated far too much, doing things like re-watching an entire season of a TV show and messing with my aquarium. I’ve even stopped writing to go clean my house or do dishes! What?!

There are lots of things to blame. I’m back on my ridiculous summer schedule at work, where some days I work super early and some days I stay super late. I need my beauty sleep like nothing else, I’m one of these 9-hour-a-night freaks. I’ve been distracted by worrying about stupid interpersonal crap in several areas of my life. And let’s face it, the first season of Glee is simply addicting. Not to mention that Bleach is on Netflix now (I’m such a dork).

It isn’t that I don’t want to write or that I don’t enjoy it. I really really do. It is an escape, it is fun, and I feel accomplished when I get it done. It is completely different from what I do with most of my time and energy. But all this other stuff is exhausting, and writing is hard work. It takes attention to do it well, and I don’t like to do things poorly. My mind tends to keep coming back to things like a dog worrying a bone or a kid poking a loose tooth, and it can’t do that while I’m writing.

I think every writer struggles with this in some way, because I’ve heard lots of advice. Pick a place, pick a time, use a timer, reward yourself with whatever it is that you are procrastinating for, set a goal, all the same stuff I heard in college that was supposed to help me study. Not so helpful then, not so helpful now. These things just change what I’m procrastinating from – I’m a slightly neurotic and very creative procrastinator.

What is helpful for me is “cleansing my palate.” Do something to stop me thinking about whatever I’m obsessing over. It can’t be a TV show, movie, or novel, I just end up obsessing over that story rather than my own. Band works well, if band doesn’t involve interpersonal crap, but band isn’t every night. But the solution is still music – earbuds in, House of Heroes or FM Static playing, hands doing something menial. That’s what helps me get into my writing zone.

I just need to remember that… and get enough sleep.