So, I’ve been quiet lately, namely on account of taking some time to do some editing and recharge the mental batteries after finishing the last novel draft. The novel is still, in my opinion, crap, which means it’s too soon to turn my gaze back at it. Before I dive into something fresh, I thought I’d take a week or four to recharge the mental batteries. To that end, a lot of my free time lately has been working on my stamp collection, a topic for another post.
English: Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editing or co-teaching in online education. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the things I find myself wondering about as I recharge is where my next story will be manifest itself. My last two novel-length exercises have been an urban fantasy (with slight horror elements), and Big Dumb Object in a fantasy setting. I doubt I was the first to attempt the latter, but it felt fresh to me (at least compared to the even more common fantasy tropes, and its not the same as the quest object, like rings and swords, I swear), and it was a fun exercise. I’ve toyed with the next novel length project as a science fiction story, but I’m still somewhat wedded to the notion of the “all in one book” approach, and all of my space opera notions are volume spanning epics.
That brings me around to an interesting notion and the topic for this post. The epitomous “they” say you should write what you know, by which I’ve learned to interpret as write what you feel the most comfortable writing. The urban fantasy novel (and its sister volume that lies mostly finished) have so far been the easiest words to flow from brain to fingers. The fantasy novel made it its way out eventually, but felt forced in parts, and that’s never a feeling you want to have hanging around your own work. I think the hardest part with this is I don’t even like reading urban fantasy, at least not these days – not since the 90′s anyway.
The crux of the problem is that I know I am forcing myself to write certain genres and ignoring the fact that it should be fun. Maybe this is why some writers don’t read in the genres they write in – writing outside the familiar, we’re less likely to fall into all of the same traps that familiarity breeds. I can feel my batteries brimming with charge, ready to be directed. Now to figure out what direction the compass points in.
As I start this blog post, I have just finished the first draft of the current novel. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful, if not to you then to me, to lay out some of the lessons learned in writing this first draft.
- It’s just the first draft. That means that changes in character, motivations, and back story are allowed, you just need to remember to fix them later. This is a draft only – nothing is set in stone.
- Comments are the secret to not back tracking. I wrote the first part of this novel in Google Docs, switching over to Scrivener after the first 20k or so because I needed Scrivener’s ability to quickly move between segments (scenes) in the book without have to cut and paste large blocks of text. A feature of both writing tools (to use the phrase lightly), and that I exploited in both environments, is the comments button. With a single button you can make a note to check a fact, verify a bit of back story, or just of an idea for something without actually going back and interrupting your current progress.
- Always write forward. It’s hard not to go back and make changes, or make additions, but always moving forward was how I carried the momentum from start to finish. This is different than not adding chapters or scenes – I’m talking, mostly, about editing yesterday’s work. Don’t. Just write forward.
- Writing goals suck, but can work. I’m not the kind of person that’s going to be able to say I have 365 days of solid writing – I need to recharge my batteries, life happens, etc.. But during the course of writing this novel, despite the fact that there were two weeks (one in November, and one in December) where I did no writing at all, I aimed at a bare minimum of 500 words a day. I didn’t always meet that number, especially in the last week or so when the day job started to catch up with me. For most of January, though, I was able to target 1k a day, and that really made all the difference. 35k of the just over 60k novel (so far, first draft, caveat lector, etc.) was written in January alone. If you haven’t tried them, and your project feels like it needs that boost of momentum, you should give it a shot, even if your target number isn’t high. Sometimes that’s all that matters.
- Know your length. Past writing experience has taught me to “feel” how long a story will be. I knew starting out that my first draft of this novel was going to be roughly 60k, and so far that isn’t far off the mark (I hit 60k yesterday, while I’m in the final chapters).
- I didn’t outline – but I did draw some pictures. Probably sounds silly, but it worked. They let me visualize where I wanted the story to be at certain junctions, and left me free to write my way to them. I didn’t stay true to them, not 100%, but they gave me a kind of storyboard hint at where I was heading in all of this.
- The first draft is crap. So set it aside when you’re done and come back to it after its had time to mature in your head. I know, it’s a little to early for me to say this – with this project. But this is a lesson I have fought tooth and nail my entire adult life, and have only in the last few months come to truly appreciate. Maybe you do write the perfect piece on the first go. I used to think I did. I also have never sold anything, so that tells you something. Take your first draft, whatever it is (short story, novella, novel, whatever) and put it aside for a few months. Get your mind on something else. Then come back to it and revisit what you wrote. If you feel no compunction to make any changes – no additions, retractions, or modifications of any kind – cool. But for me, I’ve begrudgingly come to realize, I can’t do it like I thought I could all those years.
The novel ended at 62k. I’m sure that in the next pass I will add to that while cleaning up, but I’m satisfied with this first pass. Now I plan on taking some time to recharge my batteries before diving into my next effort.
Just wanted to share a quick writing update – I hit that 50k mark tonight. I think it’s safe to say that I’m on the downward slope of this first draft. Still hard for me to say if its going to make 60k, or 80k (though I’d really suspect the former), but this feels like a milestone. Part of that probably comes from the fact that half of it was written this year (25k in the last 22 days). I’m actually itching to do the second draft, but I know I should box this when I finish and set aside for a month or two.
Of course, after all of the polishing, at some point I’ll have to figure out what to do with the manuscript when I’m done. Bah, that’s what March and April are for!
- It Isn’t A Race (ronaldpaxton.wordpress.com)
- But Can’t I Send My Best Pages? (avajae.blogspot.com)
It’s a quiet Sunday morning in Chez Cummings, and I’m staring at a blank page. Not this one, of course. My blank page is in scrivener and is the next scene in the WIP.
“Baby of the team” Neil Harvey, aged nineteen, never lets a Sunday go by without writing home to his mother (Photo credit: State Library of Victoria Collections)
Let me start this by saying the WIP is coming along smashingly. I’m at 46K, which is a respectable stab at my initial goal of 60k for the first draft. Why just 60k? Well, because I’m not looking to write a tome here, and because 60k is (at 250 words per paperback page) about 240 pages long. I’d like to write a little more than that, maybe get the book in the 300 page range when all is said and done, but I’m not trying to write a doorstopper here. While I like the idea of writing future books in the same world (and I’ve more than a few failed attempts in this milieu), I’m not looking to write a multivolume series. I don’t think.
The hesitation comes when, as a pantser (one who writes with a framework in mind, but no written outline), I start to wonder if maybe, rather than being at the end of my story, I’m really only half way through it. I know this is a slippery slope to be considering, but as my mind worms its way through these final chapters towards my original goal, I see room for so much more than I have envisioned so far. The subconscious mind, in an effort at world building, has allowed references to a larger picture slip in that are just damned tantalizing.
We’ll see. Temptation is great, I tell myself, but finishing is better. Maybe rather than being wrong about the length of this book, I’m just wrong about it being stand alone. Of course, a lot of this is so I can avoid the nagging suspicion that it’s all crap and should just be trashed.
Now I must return to that blank screen of mine. Later today I have another trip down memory lane post queued up, I hope you enjoy it!
- Do You Outline? (wordsofprocrastination2.wordpress.com)
- Random Wednesdays: Unnamed WIP (Excerpt) (jackiejonesfiction.com)
- Writing with Scrivener – Pros and Cons (writersanontaunton.wordpress.com)
Someone had mentioned this the other day and I didn’t give it the thought or attention it deserved – because, like, I’m working on a novel right now, right? Right!
F&SF 2009 10-11 (Photo credit: sdobie)
But then it strikes me – what if everyone else decides not to submit? F&SF is a great magazine, but a barrier to submission in this modern age is their paper-only process. I know, it sounds like a ludicrous barrier, but its out there. I’m giving consideration tonight, after I finish my 1000 words and pick up my car and do all of the things I do with my family on a weeknight, of going through my shorts and seeing if I have anything that can be cleaned up enough to be submission worthy. Because the only thing worse than submitting the best of my crap is not submitting anything at all. And what if my crap is the best crap they get? Wouldn’t that be something?
In other news, porcine aviators sighted…
More info via Announcing a special guest edited issue of F&SF