Category Archives: Development

First Draft

I think I just finished the first draft of my novel.

There are scenes missing and a lot of cleaning up to do, but I think I’m there. The first draft is as complete as it’s going to be.

I feel remarkably calm. I think it’s because I’m aware of how much work I have to do now.

I’m going to do a ‘scene grid’ or, as I like to think of it, a ‘motif grid’, as recommended by Stuart Horwitz. There are several things that came up during my last few scenes that I realize are key to the story and the character, and I want to make sure I’m getting them in early and often.

I’m going to try not to get overwhelmed in the revision process. Then, hopefully I’ll have a second draft, ready for polishing when I go to UnCon in November.

[small w00t]

I do enjoy my StoryADay stuff and the non-fiction writing I do, but nothing quite compares to the way I feel after I’ve written a piece of fiction. It’s lovely.

Into The Foggy Blue Yonder

Today, I typed up and tweaked the last of the writing I did on the plane last month.

I had used Larry Brook’s Scene Checklist from Story Engineering to help me figure out what I wanted the scene to achieve BEFORE I wrote it, which made it really easy to revise. I noticed that I’d forgotten which character was supposed to be having which emotion, so I tweaked that as I typed it in. Made it stronger. Yay.

Now What?

From here on in, it’s all new material until I get to the actual end of the draft. Because I don’t know exactly what happens next I’m going back to the Scene Checklist from Larry Brooks to figure out what’s IMPORTANT in the next sequence of scenes.

Using this checklist helps me avoid wandering around aimlessly in a scene.

It’s relatively easy to write ‘stuff happening’.

It’s harder to write good, meaningful scenes unless I know in advance what I’m trying to achieve: who are the key players; what’s the key piece of information I want the reader to learn (and have I set that up properly in earlier scenes or will I have to go back and do that?); what emotions do I want the reader to experience when they’re reading it?

Even if you resist outlining, this checklist is a really helpful way to get into the next scene you want to write. It manages to whet my appetite for writing the scene, instead of taking all the joy and anticipation out of it (as I always fear outlining will do).

The plan now is to spend a while, later today, outlining the next scene and thinking hard about what I need to achieve in the first draft of the resolution

It’s important to remember that this is the first draft of the end of the book.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written.

Sometimes The Slog Pays Off

Today’s writing progress: I found a fragment of Holeheads that I had handwritten back in June and typed it up today.  (Z’s on a boat!)

Threading the Bridges

I remember that, when I wrote it, it felt like a slog. It wasn’t advancing the plot fast enough. It felt like marking time. I only wrote about 600 words in that session then gave up, defeated by the weight of the amount of story I had to tell in the section after this one (which is kind of a transition)

But when I came back to it today, it became the framework for a bunch of character-development moments as well as simply filling a ‘how they got from there to here’ hole.

Sometimes  you have to slog through the unexciting parts to make something you can revise later.

Just keep putting words down and coming back and revising them. I guess that’s how this works?

Blogging About Writing

I’ve decided to blog every day AFTER I write my fiction words. I used to try to write random stuff first as a warm up and sometimes that works, and sometimes I run out of time. So I’m going to try to work on fiction first and then blog my progress. It might be boring, but I’ll try to share insights that will help Future Me (and possibly you, if you’re a writer-who-isn’t-Future-Me).

Saturday today.

I was, amazingly, up before everyone else. I did some other, random thing that was on my mind and then realized I should be using the time to work on my writing, so I didn’t get grumpy and time-grabby later.

So I did.

Of course, by that time, everyone else was up. And I made the mistake of cleaning out the office yesterday (even buying new chairs) so that this room is now attractive. A couple of hours alter and the entire family is in here with me!!

HOWEVER, I did discover that it’s entirely possible to write in here, with the whole family on the other computers and devices, by putting on my headphones and declaring “I’m ignoring you”.  The fact that they’re ALL here, means they all have someone to talk to, who isn’t me.

Everything’s coming up Julie…

So I typed in (and revised) a scene for my novel, Holeheads, that I wrote on the plane last month on they way to Scotland. It was incredibly sketchy at the time, but it gave me something to revise. I realized there was nothing in there about the people who were supposed to be pursuing the heros (they just sort of disappeared), so I added that. And I added some more emotion and physicality, and a bit more chat. The straight transcript was around 600 words and the revised one 700.

It is liberating to realize that what I write doesn’t have to be perfect.

I don’t have to be sure this scene is important or going to survive. I just have to write it down. I might end up cutting this whole scene out and maybe one sentence of it will survive. But the scene exists as part of the story (whether or not readers ever see it) and I needed to write it. And it was only 600 words. It’s not like I spent three months on it.

There. That’s me, conquering my fears, right there.

(“Conquering”. Ha!)

N.B. I also wrote what I think will be the heart of the final big sequence while on the plane. Haven’t typed that one up yet.  Looking forward to sharing pages with the critique group. It’s been too long.

Novel Number Two

You’d think that, having just worked ridiculously hard to finish the first draft of a novel, I’d want to do anything but work on another novel.

Except I do. I want to do it all over again.

I know I still have to wrestle the first one into shape, but I can’t do anything with it until 3/27 at the earliest, when my critique group will have returned it to me with their comments, suggestions, notes and corrections. In the meantime I feel like i want to take everything I learned in the past few months, about writing a long long story, and put to work again.

So I dragged out the draft of the novel I started in 2012 (two years after I started the Novel Number 1 as a NaNoWriMo project too). It’s set in the same universe and I’m itching to get back there again. I remember why I gave up on this one. I lost the voice. I lost the lightness I had intended it to have. I hadn’t yet finished a novel and it felt pointless to be working on another one, without knowing (believing) I could finish it.

So now I’ve imported the existing 35K words into Scrivener, broken it up all into scenes, started capturing character notes and plot points, and read through it. Instead of being discouraged by its imperfection, I am now tickled by the bits that do work: The things that I know I can use to power the plot of the story.

I have an existing story that I can refer back to. I have a really strong sense of this world, this city, that I have created. I know the people. I want to hang out with them some more. (A different cast, mostly, but the same city).

Next steps: Identify the through-story, the big action scenes that’ll make the story fun, and then think really, really hard about all the pieces that have to be put in place to make it all hang together.

I’m excited.

Novel Draft 1.0

This morning the phone rang at 5:30. It was the school, to say that the boys would be staying at home today. Noooooooo!

Not that I don’t love my boys and enjoy their company, but today was the last day I had to work on my novel before my critique group expected to see it in their inboxes.

Knowing that the kids would sleep in unless roused, I stumbled out of bed (at 5:30. Yes, I did) and fired up my laptop. I’d been working fairly intensely for the past two or three weeks: printing out what I had of the manuscript, cutting up the papers in to scenes, paperclipping them together and writing notes on index cards clipped to each scene. I had been writing linking scenes, rewriting scenes and making notes on what I still had to do. I knew I was close. I just needed to push on and get it done.

K appeared, at some point, to say his work was closed too, because of the approaching storm. Something in the back of my brain said “whoopee”, but I don’t think I even stopped to acknowledge him. I just kept working. The sun came up. The boys started moving around. I smelled eggs and bacon cooking. I worked on.

By noon I had been though the whole manuscript and typed up the ending I had written a couple of months ago. I was just about to pat myself on the back for being done, when I discovered a whole slew of scenes that I thought I had already written, that I had in fact only written “[this is what happens here]” notes for. Eek!

Two hours later, I stumbled, crazy-haired and unwashed, out of the office and declared my novel (first draft) DONE.

Four years, four months and four days after the first line was written.

I could/should have proof read the whole thing again before I sent it off, but I was so drained that I just compiled the text, gave it a quick once-over and sent it off.

I wrote a novel. And people are going to read it. It was a Herculean task and I feel pretty amazing for having wrangled the darned thing into some kind of shape I’m happy with. It’s a first draft. It’s not ready for prime time, but the pieces are in place and I’m happy to let people look at it in all its imperfect glory.

And I’m taking the rest of the day off.

Little By Little, I’ll Get There

So, I have this deadline. It hits in exactly two weeks. I have to finish a readable draft of the novel I’ve been tinkering with since Nov 2010, and send it off to my critique group.

Finishing a novel seems like such a huge, unmanageable task that I keep putting it off. Every time I started on it, without the deadline and the critique group, I got overwhelmed at the idea of all the things I had to fix and finish.

With the deadline, I’ve been able to force myself to solve problems and make notes and plan scenes and push myself to figure out how to get them written even when I don’t feel inspired (or as if I know what I’m doing). There are lots of resources that have helped me, but the most important thing I’ve discovered:Writing Log YTD

Doing any writing, even a little bit at a time, helps me get closer to the end.

Fancy that.

This is a lesson I’ve learned from knitting. Even if I only knit one row a day, I”ll eventually get to the end of the project. The biggest thing I’ve ever knitted turned into a manageable project when I sat down and figured out that I had to knit four rows a day every day between then and October to get the thing done. And then it wasn’t scary any more.

So.

I’ve been planning out the scenes I need to write. I’m still far from being done, and I feel like i’m not getting anywhere, but when I look at that chart up there I realize that yeah, I’m getting stuff done. 29,955 words so far this year.

Wish me luck with getting that first draft ready in two weeks!

Good Writing

2300+ words on the novel today.

It doesn’t seem like that much until you realize that I’ve been up since 6:30 AM and it’s now 3 PM and I’ve exercised and eaten well, and got two boys out to school (with help) and cleaned up the breakfast dishes and eaten a healthy lunch and spent half an hour on the treadmill and that, as well as all that, it was GOOD writing.

I don’t mean deathless prose. I mean: I thought about what I wanted to write and made notes. I worked through my temptation to give in to Resistance. I put myself in front of my keyboard and pounded out words until some of them started to go together in ways I liked. I let go of ‘perfect’ and settled for ‘something I can work with and that gets me closer to the end of the story’.

These are big things for me, people. Big things.

Routine. Determination, Persistence.

Not things that I specialize in. (Going, rather, for a hopefully charming spontaneity and good humor).

But I’m trying to find a process that gets me closer to what I want (which is to be writing and finishing stories all the time.)

So, huzzah. Now I’m off to do the domestic goddess bit.

How have you fed your Creative Animal today?

Two Steps Forward…

More of that Writing Amidst Life stuff today.

Two hour delay; breakfast with husband; the lure of fine writing implements

The kids had a half day yesterday because of The Blizzard That Never Was, and I not only negotiated some writing time with the Husband, but used it productively to add 1400 words to a scene in the novel.

Today I had more time at my disposal and managed to sit and stare at the scene for quite a lot of it. I figured out my problem, though, which is something: I need to know what the heroine’s story goals at this point in the story. It’s a waste of my time to just add more words to the scene if they don’t serve the overall story. So I did some background writing to figure out what she needs to figure out at this point.  That sounds very clever and it would have been, had I not succeeded in completely confusing myself. Time to go back to my notes, It think.

But this is the absolute worst time of the day for met to try to make decisions, so I’m going to send a few emails and try to get back to this later. Or tomorrow. But at least knowing what the problem is, now.

Sheesh!

Current projects/priorities/progress:

  1. Finish draft of the novel (so I can revise it for the critique group) – Getting there. Have added, since last week, about 4000 words in three different scenes, building towards the climax. Huzzah!
  2. Post weekly Write On Wednesday prompts to StoryADay – No progress, but I have three weeks’ worth in the bank
  3. Start prepping for April’s build-up to StoryADay – Wrote a Thursday Feature Article about Turning Up At The Page
  4. Non-fiction book proposal No progress
  5. Reading –  Um…
  6. Regular column for other site – Really very little progress unless you count what I do  in the next 30 minutes…
  7. Planning – Captured a list of Things I Want To Do This Year. It’s quite a lot, and now it’s all organized and in a Google Document that I can update from year to year. Fun!

Writing Process

I’m trying to figure out my own writing process at the moment: trying to find a practice that I can use to get my writing going every day, not just when I feel inspired.

This novel I’m working on has been dragging on for too long and I’m determined to get a draft finished. To that end I’ve promised to hand a draft to my critique group in early March. So I have to write it, now. 1

So, given that I am, by nature, a sprinter, not a marathoner, I am struggling a bit.

Currently what seems to be working is to sit down and write a summary of the next scene: what is going to happen and why, what the reader should be feeling during the scene, and what it leads into. I jot it all down in the present tense and then I can start writing the scene. Having figured out where it’s going before I try to write any prose frees me up to get there by any route I fancy.

I’m also coming and working at the co-working space because it makes me feel more professional and less of a hobbyist.

Tools I am using:

  • The Snowflake Method
  • The Scene Checklist from Story Engineering
  • Scrivener for writing
  • Google Docs Spreadsheet for capturing a list of scenes
  • Google Docs Spreadsheet for capturing my word count every day (which isn’t really important but helps me to see my progress)
  • Google Docs Slacker Tracker Spreadsheet set up by Carol to help me manage different projects. Which reminds me, I have to work on another thing today too!
  1. to be clear, I have lots of words written. it’s just that they don’t entirely hang together as a coherent story with a middle and an end and any obvious reason for all the stuff that happens.