Juggling Timelines and Cutting with Vigor

I’m making progress on putting my manuscript into chronological order. Most of the time, it’s my own stubbornness slowing things down. Oh, yes…. I’m aware that I just cut out that whole timeline, but that scene is so good.

I’m moving things from wherever they happened to fall in the old manuscript file to their places in the new one, and labeling as I go.

I  have 169 pages left in my original disorganized chunk.

I started counting somewhere around 497.

I’m also cutting a lot of words (or at least throwing them into the cut this file. I’m not a barbarian.) And that’s a good thing, because the manuscript is over the limit, and besides, every word I cut is another word I don’t have to revise later.

I’ll have to write new chunks later, to fill in a timeline that was diverted to send a major character to prison.

I’m still on a tight word budget. Mostly, every word I write will have to be cut from somewhere else, or I’ll wind up with a series that doesn’t begin with a stand-alone. But… I’m not as hopelessly over as I was before the organization and machete-ing.

I’m getting there. Slowly.

Getting Back to Work is Hard to Do

Why is it that good habits are so much easier to break than bad ones?

Let me lay it out for you.

My pattern is this:1.) Get into a good writing habit. 2.) Stop to revise. 3.) Really, really stop to revise. Farewell, new words. 4.)  Fail to make revision a measurable part of my routine. 5.) Try to figure out what happened to the good habit just broke into a million pieces.

Get into a good writing habit. I’m actually pretty good at that. When I’m working on those first-draft word counts, I’ll hit a thousand words or more a day. That’s a lot. In the course of a year, it can add up to more than a quarter of a million words.

Stop to revise.  Well… that seems pretty necessary. Especially for someone who’s been known to cram twenty-seven murder scenes or  five versions of the same proposal into one book.

Really, really stop to revise.  This is where things start going wrong. The word count drops off, and I don’t really land in the next project with any kind of wits about me.

And then… well, just exactly how do you measure revision goals? What do you do to make sure you do enough? And how do you keep track?  Pretty soon, I’m not writing new words, and I’m not revising, either. I don’t switch back and forth all that well.

And that’s it. Progress is slow–or maybe just not noticeable enough–and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.

Right now, I’m in the revision stage. I would like to finish my novel. Finish-finish. High-shine polish finished. Elegance and refinement finished.

I keep looking for that perfect balance.

Maybe the short stories I’ve promised to write are it. Something I can finish in an afternoon when I’m not revising.

Maybe short stories will be just enough to prime the pump.

We’ll see.

Suggestions and advice welcome.

And the NaNoWriMo Results…

At the beginning of last month, I set out to write a novel–50,000 words of one,  anyway–in 30 days.

And… I was going to do this one sheet of paper at a time, in hopes of a cleaner draft and ultimately, an easier revision. (I’m always looking for an easier revision.)

I was behind from day one.

Obviously, write longhand and then type is not the best strategy for speedy drafting. And that really wasn’t the point.

At the end of the month, I had roughly 14,000 words. That’s not great, and it’s not even average for me. (I usually wind up closer to thirty or forty thousand words in a month, and I aim a little higher than that in a good year.)

I was also blogging–mostly unrelated–and that would add a few thousand more words. Haven’t counted. And there’s the short story I wrote for the Advent Calendar this year. Oh. And I never really got away from the revision I was working on before I started Nano.

So, I started on November 1st with ONE piece of paper on a clipboard and a pencil.

And I started writing the ONE scene that was lodged in my mind.

And then, what?

Well, I found a few more scenes over the course of a month, but I never really got into the story. It never started to feel like one of my stories, and I never really started having fun with it.

Maybe I was a little afraid of this one. It’s the kind of thing that has to be done really well. Otherwise… it would fall off the edges, and either turn into a sermon or a farce.

So… what I learned from NaNoWriMo 2016

  • writing longhand DOES produce cleaner drafts BUT in my case, at least, the reduction in speed adds up to a reduction in passion. I’m not sure which part of that is going to be useful in the future.
  • I may be better off to write as a NaNo Rebel, and work on whatever I already have in the works.
  • Even if something sounds more efficient, it may not be the best path for me.
  • I still need to get out there and be a part of the community, even when things aren’t going well. I started tanking in word count, and withdrew. I didn’t do a lot of the social things on the Nano Site that I would have liked to.

For next year… I’m not really sure what the goal should be, but I’m probably going to keep working on whatever I’m working on when it gets here. I’ll also focus more on the community building aspect of it.

So, what about you? Lessons learned? Strategies for next year?

One Week Into NaNoWriMo

As of right now, I am writing at roughly half the speed it would take to have 50,000 words on November 30. Part of that is that I haven’t been feeling well, and some family things have come up. Part of it is that I’m writing longhand, which well, it takes longer than typing, and it’s been a while since I wrote anything of any length longhand, so I’m consistently overestimating how many words are on that piece of paper.

I’m right about five thousand words.

The good news is that writing on ONE piece of paper at a time has forced me to focus on the scene that I’m writing, and not jump all over my outline. (If I had one.)

The process is working.

What I have is a lot smoother and more complete than what I would wind up with typing.

The problem is, there’s also a whole lot less of it.

I feel like I’m missing something, right now. I feel like I’m not sinking into the layers of the story the way I would with a little more scene hopping. I have a couple–maybe three really good, really thorough scenes, but I don’t have a grasp on the big picture the way I usually do.

The story is taking longer to start feeling like one of “My” stories than it usually would. I don’t have a sense of most of the characters, and I still haven’t found that one, central relationship–you know, the weird and freaky one–that would catch my muse’s imagination. In fact, I think I have fewer characters, in general.

So, Day six, and the process is working, and not working. I think I’m writing better, and definitely cleaner… but being quite honest… I’m losing interest.

Throwing Away The Classics

I ran into this post–which talks about why not to give children a particular book– on Carol Nissenson’s Blog the other day and despite the post’s title, it took me three or four read throughs to figure out exactly which book she was talking about. The Secret Garden. One of the books I read as a child, and enjoyed. And probably would have handed over to the next generation without a second thought. The truth is, my initial response was something more along the line of “What is she talking about?” than “Oh, she’s right.”

But she is right.

It took me a while to think of the negative stereotypes she was talking about. But, of course, they didn’t make as direct an impact on me as they would have on other children. And, in time, my memory glossed over them.  So, I went back to Padma Venkatraman’s interview, and kept reading.

Oh. Yeah. That. Well, yes.

Leave a comment and tell me if you knew right away what scenes she’s talking about, or if it took you a second.

Revisiting old stories… old songs… old anything and consciously thinking about the messages in them has been a recurring thought lately.

For instance… Pretty Woman (the song, not the move)… It’s street harassment, but kinda catchy, and you can dance to it. Still… Should little girls’ brains be marinating in the idea that you’ll hurt a stranger’s feelings if you don’t smile at him?

Return to Sender… A stalker classic. No amount of pelvis shaking is going to change the fact that the woman in the song is giving Elvis a clear NO! and his next step will be… to show up on her doorstep. Not a great example for little boys.

And The Secret Garden? Well, damn it, I liked the Secret Garden. But moving forward… I liked a lot of books. And I still want there to be time in childhood for kids to discover their own favorites. I don’t think every childhood needs to be a blow-by-blow replay of my own to be a good childhood.

The Great Hierarchy of Children’s Books

  1. Books Recommended by A Parent, Teacher, or Librarian. In my family, this included Caldecott and Newbery winners and nominees, and a large number of dog stories. Books received as gifts from any of the above. And things on school reading lists. That recommendation–the moment when someone actually hands a child a book and says “Read this”–is a high level of approval. And not all books deserve that seal of approval. This is the pinnacle of all children’s books.
  2. Books Not Recommended, but Still Enjoyed by Parents, Teachers, or Librarians. These would be the books of no particular social value (or detriment) that your mother is willing to read to or with you. Your parents aren’t holding them up as anything special. You probably brought them home, yourself. Good for you.
  3. Books That Annoy the Shit Out of Adults Not actually harmful, but your mother is not willing to read them to you or with you because she just doesn’t like them. Because, at some point, you’re old enough to read that to yourself, if you really want to read it. My family? Well, this would be any Ramona book.
  4. Books That Will Result in a DISCUSSION. These are the books that will need some parental guidance. The ones where your parents seriously disagree with some of it, or where clarification will be necessary. The family medical encyclopedia. That thing about the circus sideshow. And anything where the expectations in your family are dramatically different than what’s shown in that book. For instance: The Secret Garden is really old fashioned, isn’t it? Wow, that child is horrible.
  5. Books That Will Result in Someone’s Career Ending There weren’t a lot of books that fell into this category, when I was a kid. (We’re a fairly information-positive family.) In one notable instance, however, a really lazy grade-school teacher decided that a movie about World War II would be just as good as a more formal lesson. Her career ended somewhere during a scene with a couple f—udging* on the porch.

I believe that books can move up or down the hierarchy of children’s books without any actual censorship or book-banning taking place. I don’t think I owe a recommendation to anything, and I certainly don’t think I should recommend everything to children. Plenty of books I read myself–and enjoy, and recommend to adults–that I wouldn’t recommend to a ten year old or a six year old.

Most of the books I read, I wouldn’t recommend to a young child.

And if I do recommend a book, I want it to be good–not just enjoyable, but good–a step in the direction I believe the world should go. I want it to be something that represents something I can stand behind, and something that will give that child–and the children he comes into contact with–a better life.

*If you know how to use euphemisms, thank a teacher.

 

Team Holly and NaNoWriMo

I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month–which begins November First. And Holly Lisle–of Holly’s Writing Classes–is sponsoring a team for the event. That makes this the first time that I’m doing Nano as a member of a team. Look at me! I’m a joiner. See? I have a banner and a team-name to prove it.

So, here I am being a team player.

The goal for Nano–the individual, ONE person goal, that is–is 50,000 new words in a month. And that used to seem impossible. Until I did it. And then, it just seemed difficult. Until I decided to make my writing goal 1,000 words a day. And then, it just seemed slightly hectic.

This year hasn’t been great. Life happened, and I got out of routines that worked for me, and into treading water. I’m hoping to get back into routines, and make some effort toward nicer, cleaner drafts that will revise like a dream.

Right now, that cleaner draft thing seems impossible to me. We’ll see.

The idea that pops into my head is that I should be taking ONE piece of paper instead of a notebook. So I have to focus, and make use of ONE sheet instead of starting over and starting over.

The thing that I don’t want to to quit doing over nano is the blog. Which is a new habit, and a new routine. I think this works fairly well for me. At any rate, it’s not dangerous.

With a little bit of peer pressure and a lot of force to keep me in line, I might get some real work done over Nano. We’ll see.

IWSG: Am I Good Enough?

Go here for more information about the Insecure Writer’s Support Group or to Sign Up.

When I first started this round of query research, I had a dream in which an agent returned my query letter along with a do-it-yourself flaming bag of dog poop kit. Dear Author: Please ignite this on your porch. Well, I suppose we can all be grateful that, being city people, agents have very limited access to horse poop.

The first time I ever showed a novel to a beta reader… well, the first time someone actually told me what they were really thinking…. my inner pantser was hard at work. I’d been revising, but the truth is, I didn’t have the foggiest idea of how to revise, and what I had was the shiniest, most grammatically correct chunk of scrap metal that ever walked the earth.

Eventually, she gave the manuscript back, and admitted she couldn’t get through it. It was repetitive. Circular. Hard to follow. It was a disaster.

And she was right.

I won’t get into details, but the book didn’t start in the right place. It had way too many characters (most of them, corpses.). And somehow–I’m still not sure how I missed it–it had two protagonists, and they each had a partial plot line, and it was… well, sorta two incomplete books smashed together to make one complete disaster.

The picture I had in my head was so clear… and yet, what I’d written was unreadable.

After that, I’m always a little unsure if something–particularly something long–is good enough. Am I good enough? Is my writing good enough? Am I capable of holding a stranger’s attention through three or four hundred pages?

The whole “Am I Good Enough?” Question ties in with this month’s IWSG question. How do I tell if my project is ready? Well, I guess the answer is, I don’t. I run it through my revision process. Read through it a few times… and then send it out to other people to make that determination. I wouldn’t trust myself, but my friends are smart, and they have good taste. And if they like it, and if they’re able to make it all the way through… I fix the things they think need to be fixed, and ship it out.

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Backtracking and Password Protecting

Today, I password-protected the first ten chapters of the Science Fiction Experiment.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. And this is what I’ve come up with.

When I started this blog, it was incredibly small. Microscopic. Just me and a few writer friends I know from various places on the internet. And I started posting chapters from my novel to entertain them, and to get feedback from other writers.

Now, the blog is still small–it’s still microscopic, in terms of the internet–but it’s getting to be huge in terms of a writers’ group. And as writers’ groups go… well, I have a handful of really amazing, and active readers, and then, I have some passive spectators.

This morning, Recently, I was watching my stats. Watching someone move through the Experiment chapter by chapter. And I love watching people read my stuff. It’s the proof that what I’ve written is readable. For me, that’s an accomplishment.

But the interaction–the “here’s what I think” –that’s the reason I post stuff.

And I was sitting there, waiting. Leave a comment. Leave a comment. PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT.

Nothing. Not a compliment. Not a note pointing out a misplaced comma in chapter 7. Not even a quick Joe wuz here.

It happens more often than you’d think. And maybe, before I tried doing it, myself, I would have done the same thing.

But right this minute, I’m thinking about what I want from this blog, and what I want to do with the Science Fiction Experiment after it’s cleaned and polished. What I want from posting writing on the blog is more or less the same thing I’ve always wanted. Interaction with other writers.

My plans for the Experiment have changed. Solidified. I would like to publish it as a book.  At some point, it went from being something fun to entertain a few friends to being something I really believe in.

The first step is to go back, starting at chapter one, and password protect what’s already here.

After that… I’m not sure. I may go on posting new chapters behind passwords, or I might focus on revision for a while, and then beg the people who have been reading and critiquing as they go to be my beta readers.

So, that’s what I’m doing, and I’m open to suggestions. Make sure I have your email addresses, if you’re interested in beta-reading or passwords.

Who’s My Main Character?

About a week ago, I started a new project. It’s a cute little thing. About ten pages long, barely talking in complete sentence fragments, yet. I’m also revising my last project, working through what I have, and trying to get it all to sit still in some kind of order.

The two projects are very different. The old one is third person, multiple points of view, and basically becoming a sprawling wasteland of revision. The new one… well, maybe I’m looking for something simpler, right now. It’s first person, one point of view, and–from an ethical standpoint–a lot more right and wrong.

First person really narrows my focus. The main character–the one who’s going to spend the most time on stage–is the I character. (Haven’t named her, yet. Of course.) Yes, you can find exceptions. But in general, that’s it. And that’s it in my new project.

I’m hoping that focusing on ONE character will reduce the revision time. And that first person will force me to do that. Can you tell?

In my last project?

There were five major characters in the last project, and that leaves me with two suspects for THE main character.

And three, if I’m allowed to count the world as a character in its own right.

It’s a big story.

But I’m still not sure whose story it is.

That makes me wonder if some of it’s more repetitive than I’m seeing. The two story lines are pretty closely intertwined. In the end, I’ll pick one, or reasons will appear and make one a clear winner.

From Pants to Plot–Aiming For a Cleaner Draft

I’m not much for plotting. More of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of girl.

Actually, if you see me plotting–and especially if you see me jotting down my characters’ brand of toenail polish– just go ahead and hire an exorcist. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a supernatural ability, and I’ve never really wrapped my head around it.

I start plotting, and everything just stops. There’s a plot. Maybe I get as far as a to-do list. But checking off scenes doesn’t really work for me. I don’t wind up with finished novels like that. Just a lot of first chapters.

When I don’t plot, things work better. I get to the end, eventually. And then, I revise.

Revision takes me a long, long time. After all, the manuscripts aren’t always in chronological order, and pieces can be missing. And that subplot that seemed so brilliant? Well… let’s just say that could be a novel of its own.

So, right now, I’m staring at more manuscript than I will ever need, and wondering if there isn’t a better way to do this pants thing.

Something that would make revision a little smoother, at least.

I’m not suggesting that I’m going to give plotting another try. That was a disaster. But some kind of plan to produce a smoother rough draft and make the revision go more smoothly? I could be into that.

The places I can see changing right now are:

  1. Better use of My software. Things get labeled appropriately as soon as I’m finished writing them. They have real chapter names. They have descriptions. They are arranged in something resembling chronological order.
  2. More focus on writing scenes in the order they happen, rather than the order they show up in. I have no idea how to do that. But, it would be really nice to have a neat orderly manuscript going into revision.
  3. Filling out plot cards as I go, rather than waiting until the end, and keeping them in order, at least.
  4. Plot grid! Well, it’s worked for me before… when I happen to do it.

And the thing that needs to go back to the way it was is the daily word count. I thought about dropping it, based on the fact that I can’t revise as fast as I write, but the last year hasn’t produced the results I want. I’m going to say that I undervalued raw words, and possibly over-valued the revised product.

If anything, maybe I should have increased my goal word count. Especially if the goal is to write cleaner.

If anybody has any ideas on this, I’d love to hear them! Don’t be shy. Shout your thoughts out in the comments.