The First Rewrite

Joe’s Post #179

Last Wednesday, at 9:44 pm, I finished my first rewrite of my novel, Yager’s War. Or my second draft of it, depending on your point of view.

So, what’s it like to do a rewrite?

Best I compare it to cake, cuz, I’m hungry and I’ve been thinking about cake a lot.

If my book were a cake, this is how I imagined it before I wrote a single word.

When you start out to write a novel, it’s because you have some amazing idea or story or character you MUST write about.

Like a wedding cake, at this point, the story is perfect beyond perfect (because you’ve not written a single word and just have something in your mind.)

You can imagine the sweeping character arcs, the brilliantly described settings, the epic emotions everyone will feel and, of course, the perfect way the plot all comes together.

Then you do your first draft. My first draft had the title, The WW2 Dutch Novel. Like calling something, The Cake. And, if I continue the metaphor, imagine making a cake when you’ve only seen one made by a master. The ingredients are listed, but not the amounts. The cooking time is only hinted at. And, as for the icing, there’s merely a note saying that you need some.

But if you take seminars, go to conferences like the Surrey Writers or attend workshops, you can get the idea you might need 2 eggs instead of one and maybe use some sugar at some point.

So, off you charge to make your cake, all excited cuz, you know, you like to make cakes.

This is what a first draft cake looks like. And it tastes like it looks.

Here is the result. And, guess what, it doesn’t even taste that good.

For some writers, this is as far as it gets. To fix that first draft mess requires a lot of work. Even Stephen King says he looks at what he’s done, sighs, puts it in his drawer and looks at it at a later date.

It’s not like I didn’t try to make a good cake, I simply had to see what worked and what didn’t. And hey, it kinda looks like a cake, right? Kinda a different color than I imagined, and I think I used salt instead of sugar, but now it’s time to fix it.

Can you fix it?

No. Not really. I mean you could put it in a blender, but really, you have to start over. So, in cake creation, like in writing, you start from scratch, again. You work hard to make it look better, taste better, smell better. You also realize that achieving that perfect perfection may be a little harder than you originally imagined.

The first reworking of the cake. See, it looks like a cake, smells like a cake, even tastes like a cake, but is it what you imagined?

The result is the next stage. The stage that I just finished. It looks ok. It even tastes kind of cakey, but you know you can do better. You just know it.

But you have the basics of what your cake will become. You’ve learned a bit about how to make it, how to add some interesting details and it is beginning to take shape.

Now, comes the next step. Refinement.

This is where you take a look at all your parts, all your ingredients, all your techniques and ask the simple question. Can’t I just go buy a cake instead?

Well, you can, but the question you really need to ask is How can I make this better? Then better than that? Then, even better still.

That whole process will take a lot more time, but when people bite into your cake, don’t you want them saying, OMFG is that ever good, I couldn’t stop eating it, this is the best cake I’ve ever tasted.

Now it’s time to work on those final details. The right mix of ingredients.

So, too, does it go with my novel. Now I need to work on making it the absolute best it can be before I send it off, because, as my published writer friend Sean Slater said to me, Joe, you only get one chance at a first impression.

Next week, a quick update on this progress. I think I’ll make a system because I’m all about systems.

Now for some cake.

 

Write on!

when the clock strike midnight,

In retrospect, the title of today’s post, “Write On” seems more than a wee bit hypocritical, since my exhortation to ‘keep writing’, which was actually written last week, fell through the cracks, interrupted as it was by my week at USTA Nationals in Surprise AZ.

Ah, well, another road, paved with good intentions.

But I did get that blog post written last week, even though being on the road and other issues meant I didn’t actually get it posted.

Perhaps I will make up for it this week, by sneaking in a remedial post before I’m once again, ‘on the road again’.

Written Last Tuesday, at YVR International Airport:

One of the looming perils we unpublished writers must constantly be on the lookout for is that ubiquitous menace known as ‘evil wee beasties who lurk in the dark’. Half-formed, unseen creatures who slink behind us, dogging our trail, snarling, ready to lunge at the slightest opportunity.

Creatures who feed on ‘self-doubt’.

Omnipresent, like wolves trailing a wagon train.

These evil wee beasties and they’re related brethren lurk in the woods, at night. They hide in the shadows, crouch behind rocks, yipping and howling, until our dreams turn to nightmares.

When we wake, things look brighter.

For a while, the beasties seem safely at bay. You go about your morning in a delusional state of cheerful optimism. I’m safe, you think.

At least for awhile.

But do not fool yourself.

You make a fresh pot of coffee, maybe answer a few emails, settle down into your ‘writing space’ and then, just like that, it happens: you read what you wrote yesterday and you see in an instant that the wolves are back, scratching at your office door, howling to be let in.

Your thin veneer of safety and security crumbles… self-doubt is right there… right outside the door.

Take heed. You cannot afford to relax for even a moment. You must keep constant vigil.

Even as the evil beasties yip and snarl and howl until you must cover your ears, lest you go mad. Write on! For if you do not, you’re lost.

Instead of starting on Chapter 12 as you planned, you suddenly find yourself back at Chapter 1, rewriting your ‘opening’.

Put it down! Now! Go back to Chapter 12! Write On!

It’s not that I am completely unsympathetic. I know the temptation of lingering over Chapter 1. You know it well. Chapter 1 is your friend. You feel in familiar territory here. Your writing is strong, the wolves far behind.

Why not fix up Chapter 1 just a little more, you think. After all, isn’t it the most important chapter? Don’t all the experts say that if you don’t hook them in with the first word, first line, first paragraph you’ll never get an agent, never sell that book?

Well, to that I say ‘poppycock’.

Your Chapter 1 isn’t going to be worth diddly-squat if you don’t finish the book.

You’re never going to show it to anyone if you don’t finish the book.

Put down Chapter 1 and quit messing around! Your date today is with Chapter 12, or 14, or 42 or wherever you last left off. Your job is to Write On.

Finish the first draft.

But what about Chapter 3?

What if now, in retrospect, you’ve discovered you’ve disgorged way too much back story much too early in the book.

I mean, how can it hurt to just go back and fix that one little chapter and…

No. Write On!

Maybe you’re committed to pressing on, maybe you’ve just flipped back to your latest pages, just to see where you left off and then… OMG!!

You read your latest pages with critical dismay.

What started out so promising last night when you crafted those words at midnight has now morphed, in the cold grey light of dawn into sheer, incontrovertible drivel.

Oh yes, I’ve been there. I know of what you speak.

So, what are you to do? What are we all to do?

Fix it! Your brain screams. For that is your natural inclination, goaded on by what I like to think of as our ‘evil twins’ aka the voice of your inner ‘self-editors’.

Cover your ears. I beg you! You must ignore those voices of self doubt and Write On!

Remember, it is not safe to dawdle here. Wolves lurk in them there woods. And those wolves are hungry.

Press on at speed! Write on! Write on!

Back in the midst of our original 5 months challenge, I expounded on just this theme. I think at that time, I used the ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’ theme song from ‘Rawhide’.

But in retrospect, I think I like the wagon train analogy even better.

Think of it, those wagons are full of your most valuable assets: your characters… your plot… tension and conflict, climax and resolution. Your job, as author, is to get everyone in the wagon safely to the end of the trail, even with those terrible wee beasties, howling in the woods.

Write On! For if you don’t, your first draft will never get finished.

Now, I admit, we are admittedly on the verge of straying into ‘chicken and egg’ territory here.

I hear you.

You say you cannot move forward until you are firmly convinced that you’ve got the right characters huddled in those wagons. And as far as the plot is concerned, how can you ever know that it is all going to work out in the end until you know all the obstacles that might be encountered along the trail? All the antagonists and villains who may be along for the ride?

Well you can’t, of course.

You need to know some of that, sure. But my impassioned argument is that you must, as much as possible, just Write On.

Get the first draft done! Tell the story to yourself, from beginning to end. Find out where your characters want to go, and why. See where they lead you. Maybe you are being led into a swampy quagmire or ‘boxed-in-canyon’.

You can’t know for sure.

But you must keep writing. Because if, in the end, all you do is rewrite and rewrite until your first or second chapter is ‘perfect’, you’ll never get that first draft done.

Now, I still see you shaking your heads.

You think my advice for the day to just ‘Write On’ is just a candy-ass pantser’s approach to writing.

You think that a real writer would have spent hours and hours working out the plot and crafting a rock solid outline, would have no chance of straying into boxed-in-canyon or swampy quagmire.

Well?

That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?

And the truth is, you may be right.

Because, that, dear writing friends, is the ultimate dilemma.

But I still fervently believe that you have to just Write On, at least in the first draft. Until you get a solid feel for your characters’ dialogue, your characters’ inner conflict and all those other ‘intangibles’ like voice and pacing that every writer knows they must nail, but usually has no idea how to find.

I do think, however, that the faster you can tell the story to yourself, the more naturally cohesive your story should be.

Theoretically, anyway.

Because we are, from time immemorial, natural storytellers. Our stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Our goal, as writers should be to write to that end with as much tension and conflict that we can possibly create in our first draft fiction, without getting waylaid by the temptation to re-arrange commas and semi-colons in the same manner as the doomed passengers on the Titanic rearranged the deck chairs. (And yes, I know that this is most definitely a mixing up of my whole wagon train metaphor, but I couldn’t resist).

So, this week’s post is intended as a gentle exhortation to my 5writers group and also to all our followers, (especially those about to embark on their own epic journey: in the blood sport known as NaNoWriMo): Write On!

Write the first Draft!

Just do it.

PS: You shouldn’t even be reading this post anyway.

Not until you finish your first draft. Remember, the clock is ticking!

.

Commit to finish

Karalee’s Post #122

Well, Paula threw down the gauntlet to challenge her group and the world at large to write a first draft in five months starting September 5th. The date was chosen three years ago to signify the five of us in our writing group with September being the month for new beginnings. For many of us September coincides with the end of summer holidays and the beginning of a new school year when we were children. As adults, September is often the beginning of new projects or a new set point after holidays.

September is for renewal.

A new commitment makes sense and is imperative really. So why not choose something you love to do? It doesn’t have to be painful like needles and a full sleeve tattoo, or piercing parts that were never meant to be pierced. Or running up hills or spinning in spin class until you throw up all in the name of getting into shape.

Choose something challenging and satisfying. Then do it!

That’s the reason I’ve titled my blog post ‘Commit to finish’ as opposed to ‘Commit to start.’

Why?

I find that myself and many of us in the western world are good to go at the starting gate. Take New Year’s Resolutions and the thousands of people that start in the gym and go whole hog for a couple of weeks only to peter off. The same can be said for diets, or keeping the house clean, gardening, sorting old photographs, purging your closets, and on and on.

And of course, writing the book you always said you would.

I can bet that most of us have many starts to many books. We have an idea of what happens in the middle and maybe a good feel for what will happen at the end or what needs to happen. The beginning though, is my nemesis.

All of my stories have taken an extraordinary amount of time to perfect the start. My beginnings have sucked up too much energy, causing an overload of angst, cursing, emotional highs and lows, and so many rewrites that it seems impossible to even get to the muddled middle, not to mention nowhere near the exciting slide to the finish.

My beginning often takes away from my end.

It can be extraordinarily difficult to reach the finish gate, so if you are like me, put blinders on and get past the first two to three chapters. Accept they are far from perfect. In all likelihood, you aren’t even starting at the right point anyway, so don’t waste time on it. Keep going.

Keep going ……… and going ……. and going ….. until ……… the …….. VERY …… end.

Siwash RockI refuse to get stuck at the beginning, so like my fellow 5Writers, I’m throwing in my gauntlet too and making a commitment to write. I’m choosing differently though. That is, I’m choosing a story type that I can manage with my new business where much of my energy is focused at the moment. I’m choosing to write short stories.

Five short stories in five months! 1writer5shortstories5months

 

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Perspective Photos

Siwash Rock

The Nest UBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

Keep your promise to your readers

Helga’s Post # 106: During our recent downsizing from house to condo I was forced to part with a multitude of boxes containing heaps of notes and articles about writing. I lovingly and dutifully collected this treasure trove over years at writing workshops and conferences. I had even hoarded term papers from writing classes of my university years.

A painful process, judging what to keep and what to shred. Most of it went to the shredder. I did not want some dumpster diver getting his hands on my early manuscripts, basic though as they were.

I still recall some of my creative writing classes at Simon Fraser University, and the first year I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Like a dry sponge I absorbed every word of dispensed advice! I made copious notes of everything my professors and workshop leaders offered. More importantly, I believed every word from my classes and conference workshops. Passionately.

Then came the second year of the Surrey International Writers’ conference, and the third, and more after that. They turned out to be still interesting, but much of the information was by now repetitive, and quite a lot of it contradictory. The most obvious that most of us are familiar with: Always outline. You can’t ever finish a novel without. Never outline. It will stifle your writing. Each camp has its devoted disciples.

Gradually, I sifted through all the learning from my early writing years and applied what sounded most practical for my style. Not only ‘applied’, but relied on it. But here’s the rub: I got increasingly stuck trying to squeeze the multitude of ‘rules’ into my writing. I tried to use them all. I spent more time trying to write to the ‘rules’ than letting my story flow. After a while I felt like getting buried in an avalanche.

Until I realized that it wouldn’t work for me. Time to change tactics. To find a better way.

I am not suggesting that new writers should disregard writing rules. Every writer needs some rules. But the key is to be selective. Just as some writers absolutely have to outline, it would stifle the writing process for others. We need to apply the rules that suit our individual style and preference. Cherry-picking, rather than one-size-fits-all.

Nonetheless, some cardinal rules apply that have stood the test of all writing styles. Take those related to starting your story. Mountains of books have been written about the pivotal ‘First Chapter’. If it doesn’t start right, nobody will read your novel. Those rules are ironclad. Ignore them at your peril.

Some of the cardinal rules that have been most useful for me are also the most basic. They continue to serve me well. Here they are, in a nutshell:

Start your story with an action scene. That applies to all genres from romance novels to thrillers. Start with the ‘real’ tension and conflict. Don’t start with the main characters reflecting on life, thinking about their current or past situation, or contemplating doing something.

First chapters are a bit like speed dating. A reader knows within a few minutes if they will be interested enough in your story to continue. They might hold a really good book in their hands, but your story has to grab them or they’ll drop it and never buy another book you wrote.

Avoid backstory on your first pages at the fear of torture. Don’t spoon feed your reader with detailed explanation. Let them guess – less is more. Use dialogue instead of narrative. And by all means, use conflict. Ideally the main conflict of your story should be clear at the end of the chapter.

In my early attempts at writing I made the mistake of introducing my protagonist in a way to ‘force’ my readers to like him/her. I did this either by ‘telling’ a heroic quality early on, or by giving her/him some kind of flaw, counting on the reader’s empathy. Reading through my first manuscripts I notice how hard I tried to have my readers ‘like’ my main character in the first few pages with all kinds of backstory, when instead, I should have focused on an action scene to keep my readers turning those crucial first pages.

Consider this: Your first chapter is a promise to the reader. It tells them what kind of story they can expect to get. Without going into details, or worse, backstory, the reader should know the main conflict of the book and have some sense of the main character’s personality.

headhunters

Headhunters: How did we get from this…

Keeping the promise to your reader is of utmost importance. We can all think of a book or movie that broke that promise, and we feel cheated at having wasted our time. For example, I watched ‘Headhunters’ on Netflix the other day, a movie based on Jo Nesbo’s book by the same name.

I was intrigued the way it started: Stylish Scandinavian setting and actors, beautiful house and art exhibits, great theme (high-end art thefts to support a lavish lifestyle), all the right things. Our protagonist gets in trouble, finds his wife cheating him, etc. But then the theme gets derailed and confused.

.... to this ?

…. to this ?

Suddenly I find myself watching a horror movie, with some disgusting scenes including when he has to hide inside the dump hole of an outhouse. All the way, deep down, and then we are forced to watch him emerge in glorious detail. And on it goes for most of the film. So where’s the theme? Suddenly the lavish lifestyle is gone, and all we get is blood and disgusting other stuff. To me, this is a good example of a broken promise. If the film had started differently, fine, I knew what to expect. But that way I felt kind of cheated. As an aside, book reviews praise this standalone work by Nesbo. I assume the filmmakers used his theme as a platform for the gory version.

After all the lectures and conferences I’ve attended over the years, the first and most useful rule then, is this: If you’re writing a murder mystery, don’t start your first chapter like chick-lit. Or vice versa. Set the tone and stick to it.

Once you got your first chapter down and you haven’t lost your reader, things will get easier. And more fun.

(Until you get to the sagging middle)

Is productivity only measured in words?

Karalee’s Post #93

siwc2014For the next four days our 5Writer member Silk will be attending the Surrey International Writer’s Convention for her annual mixing with authors, agents and fellow writers. This year Silk has a bent for learning more about publishing and social media as well as attending lectures on the craft of writing . And of course, much information is exchanged among the attendees after hours in the bar and at dinner.

Joe will join her on Friday to do much of the same and  I’m sure they will fill us in on their experiences next week.

In the meantime I will encourage them to tweet #surrey2014 about exciting news or such and I may join them for a drink one evening. The conference will be exciting and tweets are already rolling:

Hallie siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

sean cranbury siwc1

 

 

 

 

 

 

kc dyer siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Cranbury, author and presenter has shared his work re social media if you want to check it out.

I’m not attending as I’ve dedicated my time and funds to the Writer’s Digest course I’m taking: 12 Weeks to a First Draft. That brings me to a quick discussion on productivity.

 

 According to the MW dictionary, the word PRODUCTIVE means:

: doing or achieving a lot : working hard and getting good results

: producing or able to produce something especially in large amounts

: causing or resulting in something

 

To me writers inevitably measure their productivity in their word count. Is productivity only measured in words?

Undoubtedly that is what matters in the finale since words are what our end product is. But before The End is achieved, there is so much behind the scenes work going on before, during and after our first and subsequent drafts until the book is ready for publishing.

My course has me looking at many aspects that go into making a great story. It’s not simple characters, settings and plots, but rather layers of depth that create a complex story with compelling characters and plot lines. That means a lot of time spent on ‘What if’s’ and looking (deconstructing) other books to see how other authors achieved their goals for an unforgettable story.

This week my mind-mapping  has continued and expanded to include sub-plots and how my protagonist and antagonist can become more emotionally complex, which also makes the main plot more complicated too.

I am having LOTS OF FUN and making great progress in my story. To me I have been very productive this week, albeit much of my work hasn’t directly added to my word count. It’s work that is very important, the backstage work that Silk talked about in her last post. This has to be mastered too in this craft of writing that we have chosen to do.

So this week my productivity has been:

  • most of my mind-mapping has been completed
  • character development, setting and plot lines are being layered in
  • Word count: words cut 760; words added 1600; total in first draft 2500
  • Hours in my office: 30
  • Times I journaled my progress: 0. I suck at this and need to follow-through even if only to see if it helps. I won’t know if I don’t try it.
  • Pies eaten: 1/4 pumpkin. My favorite and there’s so many pumpkins right now….
  • episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 0

If anyone is preparing for NaNoMo and want good advice, read Jami Gold’s blog on this topic. She talks about tracking two types of  arcs: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. I found this blog also helpful in developing my own story and not only for the one month go-for-it for NaNoMo.

Happy writing!

Productivity is habit forming

Karalee’s Post #92

Last week I made commitments to be productive in my writing and to keep a balanced life while doing so. I’m very glad of the list as it has already helped me focus my time and energy and get some writing and outlining done even with life’s priorities shifting temporarily in an unforeseen direction. My husband had emergency eye surgery a few days ago and I’m forever grateful for our medical system here in Canada. He is healing well and I’m settling back to my new routine.

I’ve also committed to giving back to my community this year and I will be volunteering with a teacher friend in her class of refugee students, especially helping them with written and verbal English. I know I will learn as much from them as they will from me.

dick francis proofI will be deconstructing a couple of novels during my 12 Weeks to a First Draft course (so I will be very busy), but for purposes of my own writing I’ve always been drawn into Dick Francis’s novels and will deconstruct Proof as my exercise to learn how his writing hooks me. I’m looking forward to this exercise and am positive it will help pull my writing to a new level.

So, my productivity this week has been:

  • I’m half-done mind-mapping my new story. I find this process very creative and I draw the interconnections of my story on a roll of craft paper and pin it on the wall of my office. I write my characters out too with a picture I find that looks like them. The visual references are invaluable to me as I write.
  • I’ve written my novel’s back cover plus the first chapter and some of the second. Total words: 900
  • Hours in my office: 15
  • Times I journaled my progress: 2

This isn’t writing progress, but is reality:

Pies eaten: half a pumpkin and half a strawberry-cranberry pie. Hey, it was Thanksgiving!

Special dinners cooked: 2. One for my son’s 19th birthday (8 people) and one for Thanksgiving (12 people).

Episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 2

If anyone out there is using Scrivener, there’s also a quick way to learn the software as well as learning how to format everything for an eBook including the covers.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

Commit to write and set your goals

Karalee’s Post #91

It’s wonderful to refocus and aim high. Yes, everyone in our writing group has agreed to each have a book written, edited and ready to self-publish within the next year.

To me our 5Writers group has expanded from being a critique group to an all-encompassing writing support group. We’ve challenged each other to write our manuscripts, continue and expand on our social networking as 5Writers, plus learn as much as we can about self-publishing and all that it entails. And, we will all support one another in all of these aspects along the way.

5 heads are better than one, right?

freytag's pyramid

I work best to deadlines and taking courses on learning about the craft of writing seems to light a fire under my butt and often kick-starts my ideas.

I can easily flip between feeling confident in my writing to wondering WTF am I doing? So, improving my writing skills definitely feeds my self-confidence to be able to write well enough to publish an awesome book!

Before our two day writing group retreat I had already started an online course by Dean Wesley Smith  called “Character Voice and Setting”. It is excellent and I enjoy how Dean uses videos to teach so it’s close to being in a classroom and taking your own notes. The assignments are in-depth too and put into practice the concepts taught.

12 weeks to draft

The other course I’m signed up for is through Writer’s Digest University called 12 Weeks to a First Draft  by Mark Spenser. This course is perfect timing for me as I’m pushed to figure out my plot-line, develop my characters and setting, and put into instant use the techniques I learned through Dean’s course.

I feel stoked and my FUN FACTOR is back to get my book written. My goal is to get the first draft outlined, researched and at least half written by Christmas. There, I said it.

To make it happen I need to commit to time and productivity goals so here goes:

  1. Spend a minimum of 3 hours in my office per day or 21 hours/week.
  2. Produce at least 500 words/day over and above research/outlining/blogging, etc. starting next week so I have this first week to do initial plotting.
  3. Keep up my regular exercise routine for my health.
  4. Meditate daily. I’ve found this has become essential to help keep my energy and mood balanced.
  5. Journal my progress daily. I haven’t done this before and I think this may open my eyes to how I work best and help my productivity for future books too.
  6. Of course, my dogs and family need some daily attention too!

dogs at beach

I feel that all 5Writers left our retreat pumped to rise to our new writing challenge. In the last year our group has become even more geographically spread apart and the feasibly of getting together more than a couple of times a year seems difficult. To help us stay connected and give us a regular venue for progress and feedback, we’ve decided to have a Monday morning group check-in via email. I love this idea and we started this week. Already it’s a great addition to our group dynamics.

Sometimes the simple ideas are the best! And who doesn’t like Monday morning coffee?

Does your writing group keep connected in-between meetings? If so, how?

Happy writing!

Don’t succumb to self-doubt

Karalee’s Post #68

Generally I feel positive about writing and getting to know my characters and creating a story that needs to be told. After all, like Silk put it, we are storytellers.

But truth be told, right now I’m struggling. I feel lost at the beginning, lost in the maze in the middle and can’t fathom getting to The End. Oh, I have down days and question the rational of following this passion that is sure to be padded with rewrites and rejections, but to be down for any length of time is unusual for me.

I know it’s a passing phase that I’m sure hits most writers on and off. My outline is quite good and I should be raring to go on my new story.

So what is the problem?

Self-doubt is creeping in. It has visited before and I can usually do my research and write through it. But with this story I am expecting more of my writing and I truly want to write an awesome story to support my awesome premise. 

That is taking me to the point where I’m questioning whether I know enough to write about this story I want to tell. I’m not savvy about politics or computers or how banks and the financial world works. How can I make my story believable?

I’m dealing with it by watching mystery and thriller movies and serials. Our family subscribed to Netflix over the Christmas holidays and for the first time I can watch shows ad nauseum at the push of a few remote control buttons. I have been pulled into viewing serial programs and I’m constantly digesting how the plots are set-up and the characters developed and change.

Oh, I’m sure this cloud of self-doubt will pass as I get back to writing. I allowed my routine to be interrupted during the Olympics and I’m taking a winter vacation with my husband next week for a couple of weeks so I’m dragging my tail in my writing productivity.

I will take the advice Joe gave a couple of months ago and RESET.

reset

 

I will make a new To Do list and stick to it:

  1. After morning exercise, apply bum glue in readiness to meet writing goal.
  2. Write until my set productivity is met (scenes with a word minimum).
  3. Reapply bum glue until word count is met.
  4. Enjoy the process.

 

Research is huge for this story and I know that it can be done. I merely need to apply myself, and as my productivity sets in again, self-doubt will once more settle on the back burner and allow my creativity to reemerge.

Happy writing!

 

 

Hell is multitasking

iStock licensed image

iStock licensed image

Silk’s Post #56 – As you may have already surmised from other 5writers’ posts last week, our October meeting to plan a new collaborative project took us in an unexpected direction. Oh, we had lots of good ideas … some great book concepts that I hope do get written. But as we kicked them around the room and imagined the logistics of how we’d actually, specifically, functionally write a book together, it turned out that the best idea of all was not to. At least not right now.

Dodged a bullet, I’d say.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my handful of writer friends. We’re probably as close as any writers’ group anywhere. And even though we have much in common, I think one of our great strengths is that we’re all so different. It keeps us from becoming an echo chamber. But it also means that a writing collaboration might well turn out a Frankenbook, or possibly  occasion a mass murder.

The good news is that instead of nailing our collaboration project, we hit a different bull’s eye altogether – one that better suits our collective and individual needs right now. And what we all really need is simple enough: get the projects we’ve already started finished and polished, get them out into the marketplace, and start new projects. Duh!

So we’re all going to start the clock again on 5 new books after the New Year. But instead of holing up in our writer’s nests and crashing them out in secret, then submitting the first drafts for critique, we’re going to marshall our collective resources to overcome the pantser’s worst nightmare: the outline stage. Yes, we’re going to critique outlines, for the love of Mike. Probably as weird an idea as collaborating on a novel, but – like many emerging writers – we all find plot and structure to be among our biggest challenges.

Now, all of us have always sketched out our stories in some manner, and Paula had a good experience with her first outlined novel last year. But at heart, we’re all more like NOPs than OPs. For myself, outlining has always felt too mechanical, like training wheels. I want to get to the fun part – the words. However, I’m now acutely aware that a wonky structure is hard work to fix once a book is all written, no matter how good the concept or the characters or the prose.

Life is for learning. So this time we’re going to try building the bones of five great stories before we put flesh on them.

The objectives: No blind alleys or dead ends. No forgotten characters left up in the attic, never to reappear. Less sag to the middles. Stronger character arcs. Fewer “huh?” moments. More satisfying endings. Above all, fewer rewrites. And – who knows? – having good road maps may actually free our creativity, since we’ll hopefully avoid the constant angst of getting lost too often in a bad neighbourhood.

There’s only one problem with this plan: it means that over the next few months I will be multitasking three different books at different stages. It’s going to be like doing a triple mountain climb on three different continents.

First I have my 5writers challenge book to finish, a mystery-suspense, working title Catch and Release, starring my feisty protagonist, Sunny Laine, versus a very creepy antagonist. Yeah, I know. The first draft was supposed to be complete last February, ready for the critique in June. Well, it wasn’t. Too much procrastinating and writer’s block last winter, and too much travel this past summer. I’m slogging my way through the dreaded middle now. Getting to “the end” is my first priority.

Second, I have to come up with a new story concept and draft outline for our next writers’ retreat in February. I already have a few concepts in my file to mull over, but that’s the easy part – the part that puts a smile on my face. The outline will be the root-canal part – the part that makes me scream for mercy. I guess the good news is that if I can’t make the concept work in outline form, I will have spared myself the future pain of writing a whole book that doesn’t hang together.

Finally, I have my first novel, Saltspring Bridge, to rewrite. It’s now been idling on my drive for a year, and my file drawer still hosts a two-inch-thick folder of month-by-month critiques to review, weep over, heed and learn from. This is the book that was in my head for 15 years before I wrote the first word. I rewrote the first 30 pages 10 times during the three years I was sniffing around the writing life … going to writers conferences and wondering whether I was really a writer, or just someone who liked the idea of being a writer. It’s the book I took the plunge with, and it’s totally a pantser effort. It’s flawed as hell, and maybe in the end is nothing more than a practice book. But it’s my first baby and I can’t abandon it. Gotta finish it, which will require a serious rewrite.

In my long first career in design and advertising, I did nothing but multitask, and I got pretty good at it. I was somewhat famous among my staff as the Queen of Spinning Plates (birthday and Christmas presents at work often picked up this theme in myriad amusing ways). I must admit I’m feeling a bit out of practice, but I seem to recall it required massive amounts of energy, a rapier-like memory, a high tolerance for tedium, a keen sense of timing, an unnaturally thick skin, and eyes in the back of my head.

Hellish, in other words.

iStock licensed image

iStock licensed image

Each of my book projects is like a greedy, squawking fledgling in the nest, craning its scrawny next past its siblings with mouth open wide to get the first worm. “Feed me!” they all cry at the same time. Feed me your time, your ideas, your talent, your life – just gimme everything you’ve got. And now! Feed me first. Me, me, me. Feed me or I’ll die.

Alright, already! Having been, as always, inspired and energized by our 5writers meeting – and the prospect of starting something new and exciting – I will muster my multitasking skills and start digging up worms.

With luck, and not too many diversions, I will keep all three projects alive and healthy and growing until they’re strong enough to fly.

The Year in Review… Paula’s perspective

 

End of summer

 

Paula’s Post #45 – Hey, wait a sec. Something is just plain wrong here. Post #45? That can’t be right. No way!  Silk just posted yesterday and, if I’m not mistaken, her post was labelled “Post #51”.  I know I’ve been MIA for a few weeks during my move but, crikey… has it really been that long? Have I fallen that far behind?

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Except I can’t say there’s been much fun in my life this summer. When I last posted, (way back in mid-July), I confessed to being in full retreat from the writing life. Admittedly, I’d ‘checked out’:

At least until my house-hunting quest comes to an end. Six weeks to go until we move and still no destination in sight. So, while others haul out their manuscripts and start their edits, my days are spent hunched over my laptop, checking out each new listing that hits MLS (Plan A) and trolling through Craigslist in search of a rental house that is both, 1) bigger than a breadbox and 2) not shared with bedbugs and cockroaches (Plan B).

Okay, so maybe it isn’t that bad, but it seems that way as tick, tick tick….every day brings us closer to our late August moving date.

Characters? Plot? Pacing? Forget it, baby. I’m sorry to say these are not the thoughts foremost in my mind.

No, I’m staring in my very own mystery novel. The one entitled: Where are we going to live next!

For those of you curious about how this mystery turned out, I can only say, ‘Plan A’ is a distant memory, ‘Plan B’ our default strategy, now the reality. As the dog days of August dwindled to a close with no new home in sight, we panicked.  We bit the bullet and rented what I now affectionately refer to as the ‘Postage Stamp’ a rather luxe apartment, sans bed bugs and cockroaches, but alas, not much bigger than a bread box.

Since we moved into our new digs a week or so ago, my days have been filled with playing the moving equivalent of ‘musical chairs’, except in this game, all the chairs are boxes. Boxes we an never find a place to put, no matter how hard we try. Our tiny, elegant pied a terre resembling nothing so much as a home from an episode of Hoarders Hoarder.

I admit it. We’ve reached critical mass.

Time to give up and admit defeat.

But there’s a delicious silver-lining to ‘surrender’ to the inevitable.  Now that I’ve abandoned my war against ‘stuff’, I’m actually beginning to think I may be entering a new phase in my life. A metaphysical ‘space’ where I feel settled enough to actually get back to writing.

For many of us, September is a time of renewal. A time when Labor Day rolls around, (or “Labour Day”, for those north of the border) a time when we turn away from the pleasures and past-times of summer and get back to more serious pursuits of school and work.

And writing.

In her post of yesterday, Silk reflected on what her 5writers journey has been like, what she has accomplished, and what she has learned. I really enjoyed and appreciated her candor. I’m sure our readers did too. So, following Silk’s lead, here are my ‘two cents’ on the year in review:

Accomplishment #1 – We’re still together.

Did you see the photo Silk posted yesterday? Five smiling 5writers, five fingers, splayed in unison, our symbolic tribute to the powerful bond we share. Skeptics take note. Amongst our small community of writers, this bond has never been stronger. And while I may have been a wee bit green with jealousy as Helga floated around northern Europe on her swanky cruise ship and Silk glided through the peaceful waters of the Northwest Coast on her sailboat and Joe communed with nature in the forests of beautiful British Columbia, while I packed box after box after box….

…. oops. I’m getting off track again.

The point is that while our lives at times can seem very different, our core values as writers are remarkably similar. We strive to be encouraging. We strive to be respectful. We strive to be honest and never pull our punches. Too honest, perhaps for some. We are not the kind of group to say something’s good when it is, well, not to put to fine a point on it, utter crap. But we are dedicated to supporting one another, to learning as much as we can from one another, -all in the quest of trying to master this very difficult craft and becoming, (we hop)e, better writers than we were last year. In this, our core values unite us, and for that I am grateful.

Accomplishment #2 – OMG we’re actually blogging. I’ve done my mea culpa for dropping off the face of the earth this past August, but now I’m back and happy to be here.

Surprisingly, little empirical statistical research has been published on the phenomenon of blogs and blogging. Our blog is hosted on WordPress, according to Forbes the most popular blogging system in the world, powering over 60 million websites worldwide. Yet the statistics I’ve seen seem to suggest most people who start blogs, quit within the first three months. What blogger Judy Lee Dunn calls, The Princess Syndrome.

Well, we’ve learned we’re not quitters. We are, apparently, also not “Princesses”, which may come as a huge relief to Joe.

Accomplishment #3 – over 323,064 words and counting

Okay, maybe I didn’t add to that total over the summer. But I got my licks in early and I’m back on track now. I’m going to add to that total very soon. And that brings me to the last of Silk’s headings:

My big, fat, life lesson.

Time for another mea culpa. While I was one of the two 5writers to actually complete a novel in 5 months, I’ve now let that novel ‘percolate’ on the back burner for a few months. Result? I’ve got to confess, I’m not wild about my novel.

My fast-paced young adult thriller was a lot of fun to write, but now that I’ve stopped and caught my breath, I have to admit that I’m reluctant to go back, pick that manuscript up and put in the grunt work necessary to polish it to the stage where I can even start thinking about the query process.

Ironically, part of my ambivalence arises from my ever so painful moving experience. One of the dilemma’s I faced was what to do with the huge stacks of paper I’ve accumulated over the years as a writer of fiction. Like many of you, I’ve kept most of my writing on my computer. (Thank goodness for digital). But inevitably, I’ve also squirrelled away a ton of paper: hard-copies of partial manuscripts (my preferred medium for rewrites and sharing with beta readers, manucscript mark ups from my critique group, hand outs and articles and…. well, an avalanche of paper, spilling from file cabinets, boxes and drawers.

Frightening.

But during my aborted effort at downsizing, I realized I liked some of those stories a lot more than my current 5writers YA manuscript. I’m not going to beat myself up about it, if your heart is not in it, your heart is not in it. That’s why, when I do start writing again, and I hope it will be soon, I’ll be picking up and dusting off a different manuscript, most likely my noir mystery novel set in pre-war Honolulu. Or maybe the culinary-mystery-with-a-twist set in Napa. Haven’t decided yet, but I’ll let you know when I do. I promise.

At the end of yesterday’s post, Silk wrote:

My “5writers year” has been endless. That is to say, I’ve not yet typed “the end” in the story I began on September 5, 2012. When I do, I can make a new beginning.

Hopefully by then I’ll be wiser about what kind of writer I am.

I may have already experienced the joy of typing ‘the end’ on the last page of my original 5writers story that I began on September 5th, 2012, but like Silk, I think I’ll be making a ‘new beginning’.

Maybe I’m already a bit wiser about what the kind of writer I am.