Backward Word Sprints

I started running backward word sprints a while ago. I’m not sure what else to call it. I set a timer, and focus, and then, when my attention wanders, I hit the timer, and write down how long I’ve been at it. The timer goes up instead of down, and the goal is minutes of focus instead of words. (I’m revising, so words would be a little tough.)

I wound up with 32 minutes and 52 seconds over my lunch hour, which is as coherent a chunk of time as I’ve ever managed to come up with.

It also leaves me with the feeling that I’m getting something done.

Trackable, concrete progress.

Something to write down in my notebook to prove I’m not just sitting around breathing air.

A lot of the time, I do feel like I’m just lollygagging around. I write–but is there progress? Am I any closer to where I want to be than I was, when I sat down?

When I’m writing, I have words to log. Yes, moving toward a finished draft. But revising? I’ve never really gotten the hang of that. I have a process, of course. It’s a good process. (I bought it off a stranger on the internet, and it’s turned out to be one of the best purchases I ever made.) But that new-words feeling? Well, that’s just for new words.

One of my characters did something really out there, today. I don’t know what corner of my subconscious that came from, but he wound up punching another character. One I had considered sacrosanct. Guess not.

And I’ve reached the point that I’m rejoicing over words cut. Hey, that means I have space for my characters to punch each other in. (Yes, I’m down to the dangerous end of too many words.)

 

Unsagging My Middle

No, not my middle. My Story’s middle. I have a character who needs to get from point A to point B in a hurry, but the middle third of my book is starting to look more like the Lord of the Rings than something thoroughly modern, and written by someone who **ahem** doesn’t particularly care for dual person verbs.

There are a few things that need to happen on this trip, but not a lot. It’s not an epic journey, and it’s certainly not the whole point of the story. Just enough that I can’t skip over it and just say “And when he arrived, he took a bath.”

And the whole thing has to be very, very sleek, because I’m running out of spare word count.

As if it didn’t have to be sleek, anyway.

There was a lot of sag to the book, when I started my revision. I’m not sure if I’m talking about words and plot lines that I never should have written in the first place, or if they were… necessary explorations that have now served their purpose. They don’t fit in with the plot, and most of them can’t fit in with the plot.

I’ll save some of them for the next book, and throw out the rest.

I keep coming up with things that could–and maybe should–go in the book, though. A plot card here, a paragraph there.

I have plot cards in an envelope. Counted out and color coded according to available word count. If I run out of cards before I run out of plot, I’m in trouble.

So, how about it? Any plot de-sagging tips I should hear?

Early Morning Word Sprints (Caveman Style)

I got up this morning and did a nice, long word sprint, instead of my usual blog post. I got a lot done, and wound up with enough of a scene that I didn’t feel particularly guilty about going out to play. It gave me something nice to put in my “progress charting journal” and really does… uhm… compliment the on-going “took a vitamin D capsule in the pretense that it’s actually morning when I get up”. It worked well, and there’s a fairly good chance I’ll do the same thing again, at some point.

Maybe I’ll be a little more organized about it and figure out I’ll put up that day at some time in the evening.

Word sprints are working out fairly well for me… well, when I remember to do them. I got two of them in, today. They were both an hour long, and that amounts to about six pages, all with teeny-tiny writing. (Don’t ask the size of the pages.) I’m doing the writing longhand, at the moment, which seems to keep me in a much more linear space, and it also puts the computer (and Twitter and the News and and my e-mail and my several writing forums) out of reach.

Linear is very, very good.

I’m reminded of that every time I pick up a section to revise.

Eventually, I’ll wind up with a stack of little yellow papers, and type them all into the computer (because nobody’s willing to accept a shoe box full of little yellow papers) and that will be like a first going over editing. As long as I can keep all of my little yellow papers together long enough to get them into the computer, this process could really work out well for me.

I did some word sprints socially during NaNoWriMo last fall, and then, a presentation by Jenny Marts (Writing Sprints Journal) at the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference kicked me back into it. I haven’t gotten as far as chasing down sprinting buddies, because I’m not exactly sure what I’d have to report back to them, besides a number of handwritten pages. I’m also–not always, but frequently–going a lot longer with my sprints than we did for Nano.

In a weird way, writing sprints seem to be a thing I’ve always done. Not, perhaps, the organized, pre-emptive, I’m going to sit down and do this thing, but the last minute, NO, REALLY, YOU HAVE AN HOUR AND A HALF, NOW COME UP WITH SOMETHING COHERENT! thing.

So, there you have it. If you’re going to wait until the last minute to get anything done (and well, yeah. I am.), you should probably figure out a way to get yourself as many last minutes as possible.

Does anybody have any tips on how to make sprinting work for revisions? How to measure revision progress in general?

So, NOW What Do My Characters Have In Common?

I finally found that scene. You know…. THE scene. The one that has been missing, and in hiding, and presumed dead, or possibly never to have existed in the first place. I found that scene.

I’m still writing it, but I think that it’s what the novel needs, maybe more than any of the other scenes. I thought it was probably going to be a love scene in the end, and I can’t say I was all that thrilled about it. I’m pretty blustery when I’m in a slump. I’m always going to give up writing good stuff and go write Sasquatch porn on Amazon, or, you know… Zombies or Spiders could be sexy…. but in the end, the problem with my erotica-writing get rich quick schemes is that what I write never turns out to be erotic. Oh, look, a duck! So, in terms of actual love scenes, in actual post-slump writing… Uhm…

This is not a love scene…

Not really.

But the two characters do have a lot in common by then. They actually… might have more in common than any other two living people in the book. (There are a lot of dead people. I won’t do commonalities with the dead.)

I forgot to ask that “what about now?”  question. You’d think I’d remember that.

So, now I have the first end of the scene, and some choppy bits, and I think that’s probably my last “safe” plot card. We’ll see if I can get to the end of the book without getting into my “tread carefully” plot cards or my “do it and you’re dead” plot cards.

Counting Down the Plot Cards

I got to work on my revision project for a while, and I wound up putting everything in order, or close to it. That makes the whole thing seem a lot more complete than it has in the past. (Previous Organization: Main Plot and Sub-Plot neatly separated so I can make sure everything’s there. Current Organization: Chronological.) It also makes me feel a whole lot closer to the word-count of doom. You know… that moment when you go over anything remotely resembling marketable, and you have to go back and fix it (again) before you can even think about selling it?

I have color-coded plot cards, and I’m moving into the word count warnings.

When I run out of cards entirely, I’ve hit too big and clumsy.

Right now, I’m envisioning virtually every card I have left going toward the development of the relationship between main characters and why the two planets cannot exist without each other.

Every time I start a new project, I am convinced that I’m going to plot in a neat, orderly way, and not write a whole bunch of material that I don’t really need. I’m convinced that I’m going to make out plot cards as I go along, and stay focused.

And it never seems to happen that way. Part of it is my mind skipping from place to place as I settle into a new story. Part of it is probably just laziness and disorganization. I don’t necessarily have a plot thought through at the beginning, but keeping track would sure be able to cut down on the revision time. And the writing time.

I think writing by hand tends to keep me a little more focused than writing on the computer. Or maybe, I just throw things away in a more expedient fashion when I’m writing by hand. Let’s just rip that out of our notebook and throw it away. It didn’t go anywhere. (And on a computer, I just press save.)

So, right now, I’m playing with a couple of ideas for my next project. One of them involves robots, and the other involves space ships, and long-term space travel. I only have a couple of characters, and maybe a scene or two for each one.

What do you think?

IWSG: Did You Ever Just Quit?

 

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.
The awesome co-hosts for the June 7 posting of the IWSG will be JH Moncrieff, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Jen Chandler, Megan Morgan, and Heather Gardner!

So, this month’s question is Did you ever just say “I quit” to writing? If so, what made you come back?

I’m not sure I ever quit quit. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing in one form or another, and writing regularly. There are highs and lows, of course, and there are moments when I think I should just make writing my secret hobby, and go sell insurance for a living, but quitting?

No. For me, the problem isn’t quitting, so much as starting.

I’ve always written. I don’t remember not writing. I have stacks of old journals in the basement, and files and files of hand-written, spiral bound stories. I entertain myself that way. Sometimes, I understand myself that way.

The problem for me, is getting to the point where I believe in my abilities enough to make this more than a hobby. Enough to do the heavy lifting that gets you from writing for your own amusement in the back of the classroom to writing professionally, with the intention of supporting yourself.

The trick isn’t–as far as I can tell–to keep writing. It’s to keep writing for others. Others who may not be cheering you on, yet, and who are definitely going to see that plot hole, and who are definitely not going to take “Well, it exists in my head” for an answer.

I’m getting there in baby steps.

There’s the first novel you write. And that revision nearly killed me. I kept going around in circles, and you know… since I’d only written ONE novel, and since I was having massive trouble getting it revised, and I was… probably having more fun writing for myself than working on this insurmountable, clean and polish until other people can read and enjoy it thing.

I’m not really to the place where I believe that I can revise quickly and efficiently, and not want to sell insurance. The write for others for a living thing just seems soooo far away.

But my version of quit would probably be start writing whatever suits my whim, without any professional intent, rather than actually giving up writing entirely.

That Writing Sprints Journal Thingy…

I got a copy of the Writing Sprints Journal by Jennie Marts. Let’s be honest. This is one of the books I could have bought at the writers’ conference, and maybe I should have. It took me a couple weeks to decide I wanted it, though. Even after hearing the author talk, and seeing her amazing productivity.

This is a how to organize the three and a half minutes you have in a day book. It’s not how to write a novel, or how to revise, or how to write perfect characters.

It’s just how to get the most out of your time.

Jennie’s goals are a lot loftier than mine. She does four or five books a year, and still looks like a beauty queen while not cussing out the books, the schedule, or random strangers on the street.

Personally, I’d be happy with one book a year, while looking nearly human. (And I promise not to cuss out lamp posts or fire hydrants.)

Okay, so after the initial shock of Word sprints? Really? That’s it???! I thought about it, and the truth is that word sprints–in general–do work for me.

I’ve never really done them in an organized, routine way, though. More of a panicked, I’m how many words behind? during Nano.

This is more of a plan, and then sprint, and by the way, do it every single day kind of approach. It’s Organized with a capital O.

And as you may have guessed by now, organized is not my natural state. It’s something I buy or steal off others. It’s something an army of high school teachers has tried and failed to teach me. (Some of them came through remarkably well. Others… well, they do twitch a bit, now.)

As of right now, I’m in the revision phase of current book.

As of… well, a  really long time, actually.

I’m debating whether to start right off by adapting the book for revision-y sprinting, or to start with actual word-sprints for new material, or what.

Fine. So, I’m writing in my recurring events, and working my way up to the big stuff. Right now, the goals are: Finish revising book. Write Query letter and Query the book. Begin next book. Short Stories for Blog Hop and (**sigh**) 52 week challenge. Oh, yes… and try to sell at least one of those.

I’ll just sit here and stare at the journal until I wind up jumping in head-first, I think.

 

Writing by Index Card and Machete

So, I started the revision with three separate files on the ol’ novel-writing software. I had One for the  chapters at the beginning that I’d already revised almost to finished. One for the things that I think I can use out of the first draft. And One for scenes which did not exist, when I started the revision. (I have matching, color-coded index cards to go with this.)

I’m pulling the three apart to make one, coherent file, right now.

Watching my word count soar.

I’m aiming for a word count somewhere in the middle of my genre’s expectations.

Word count and I haven’t always been friends. My first novel wound up very low, and the first draft of this novel is… well, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of twice as long as it needs to be. I was playing with writing thick at the time.

Let’s just swing back and forth between extremes.

I have about 80,000 words in the “good” pile and about another 70,000 in the “possibly able to keep” pile.

**sigh**

I know I have a lot I can’t save, and some of it doesn’t even fit with the plot, anymore… but still!

It’s possible that writing thick isn’t working for me on the revision end.

So, how do you write? Less than you need and add more later, or more than you need, and cut it down to size in revision?

 

Reading, Writing, and Television Documentaries

I’m finally sitting down to finish reading the Doomsday Book, and it appears that I’ve saved all the most depressing bits for last. **sigh** Well, I guess I shoulda figured it out back at the beginning, when I found a quote from the author that suggested that all time-travel stories are inherently sad, because you’re dealing with characters who have long since died.

Let’s see if I can keep up here. I took a break from my Hugo/Nebula list to read Sandman, an now I’m taking a break from Sandman to read the Hugo/Nebula list. Oh. And some quick peeks at the book I was given at the writers’ conference. Because, hey, free books.

Ideally, I would like to have my own book finished before the people I met at the writers’ conference forget who I am.  So, I’ll just hop in a time machine, and go back to last week to mail the manuscript. I’m feeling incredibly forgettable, right now. And maybe, the truth of the matter is that the whole point is to be able to “jog” people’s memories later: “We met briefly at the Pike’s Peak Writers’ Conference. I did not throw up on you.”

Clearly, I need a more concrete timeline.

Right now, I’m working on organizing everything I have into one coherent document with a timetable attached. I think most of the scenes are written–or, at least, I can say they exist in real life–and just need to be polished.

And I watched a delightful–if somewhat mass-audience–documentary on syphilis today. It’s amazing the things that are just sitting there, waiting for you to find them on YouTube. I learned that there is a non-lethal, airborne version of the disease, and also that John Deere tractors are sold in England.

To the best of my knowledge, there are neither John Deere tractors nor venereal disease mentioned in my novel. Perhaps I should add a postscript.

 

Killing My Imaginary Friends and other Pastimes

So, today I invented an entire person just so I can kill them off. Start to finish, her short life is about six pages before she dies an untimely, yet horribly convenient death. Poor thing doesn’t even have a name.

I’m not one of those people who cries a lot writing scenes like that for my own books, but I’ll cry buckets over other people’s characters.

Maybe it’s because my own characters continue to exist for me–and I know that no matter how dead they are in that time line, they’re still alive and well in my notebooks. Maybe suspension of disbelief is harder for me as a writer than it is as a reader. I don’t know.

In my first book–my very first ever finished, book-length book type book–I killed my main character’s husband. Then, I un-killed him in revision. Then, I erased his existence and brought him back a second time. The truth is, I have no idea why she had a husband, in the first place, and that one character made so much work that I’m pretty quick to kill off future characters.

Characters were the big problem in that book. I had too many. And I didn’t like the ones I needed to like. Not, of course, in the sense that I wouldn’t go out and grab a cheeseburger with them. But in the sense that I didn’t like working with them.

The pure novelty of writing a novel got me through writing that one, and the terror that I might never do it again got me through the revising.

What I should have done… what I hope I now have the sense to do… is write another novel.

And another one.

It’s so easy to get trapped in revising “THE” novel. It’s harder to get trapped in “a” novel.