Thursday, November 14, 2013

Weekly Writing Update, Take Two: Fuzzy Math and a Thematic Cake

Confession: I discovered an inaccuracy when I re-read my last blog post, and feel the need to apologize or explain. I have already corrected it. I was not intending to mislead anyone, including myself, when I stated that I have 50 pages left to write. In fact, I have 100.

Although I misstated the total in my post, fortunately I had worked out the correct number in my plans. I had figured 100, but somehow reported 50 in my blog post.

I have also, finally, reconciled the limitation in my understanding of signposts and journeys. It was something I had been meaning to do for months, but never got around to it . . . which is why I ended up over-planning the story. Had I had a firmer grasp before now, it wouldn't have happened.

Being a visual person, I created a diagram, which shows the different thematic themes and sub-themes per domain (Main Character; Impact Character; Main/Impact; and Overall Story). I call it the Thematic Cake of my book, according to what needs to happen, thematically, within the sweeps between the Signposts and Journeys. I have also determined what chapters go into each sweep. And I have anchored each sweep according to which act it belongs to. So nice to finally have a visual for this.

Here's what the cute little cake looks like:

Didn't do any writing today. Went to Costco, then finished reading Night by Elie Wiesel, for my book club. Yesterday, with my brain needing a rest from my intense pace over the past week, I read Nathan Bransford's How to Write a Novel in 47 Steps. I wasn't planning to buy it, but there is such a danger for me in getting on Amazon and looking at tables of contents and first pages . . . Darn, but I have ended up buying a ton of books as a result of browsing this way.

Nathan's wit and humor in those sample first pages really hooked me. There are some good points in the book, especially for beginning writers. He doesn't go deep at all into novel writing theory, but if you want or need someone to stand over your shoulder and encourage you, he is quite inspiring in a laugh-out-loud way. It's a page-turner and a lightning fast read.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Weekly Writing Update: Writing and Stitching

My mother used to have a sewing machine that looked like this. I wish I knew what happened to it. Maybe when I was a teenager and started to make my own clothes, she used it as part of a trade-in for our newer, 1966 Singer model.

As my manuscript takes place somewhere around 1912-15, and as I have been "stitching" it together lately, the sewing image feels apt. More on that, later.

But first, last week, I began keeping track of my progress by actually counting words. I had never done anything like it, and it's pretty cool. It will keep me from over-writing a work that needs to hit 70,000-75,000 words and not a word more. See chart below:

I have written, on average, 10 pages [2500 words] each day since I started keeping track. I am finding that number is by no means grueling for me, but I am spending more time at it than I would like. If I were contracted--and now that I have a feel for what I am capable of at this time--which is probably no more than 3500 words [14 pages] each day--I would work out a manuscript deadline that required me to write only 6-8 pages/day.

That would give me time to incorporate more fun into my day, such as time for reading and scrapbooking and that all-important category: Social Media.

As a pre-published author, I've mostly adhered to agent Rachelle Gardner's recommendation that we spend 90% of our writing time on writing, and 10% on social media. This is currently a very comfortable ratio for me, but the minute I've signed a book contract, the ratios need to change. (It goes for you as well!)

As to my stitching metaphor,
Yesterday, and since I've been keeping tabs on word count, I discovered I had 100 pages left to write, but also that I had planned another 30 pages beyond that.

Snafu! Snafu! Slap myself upside my head, hard.

Here's where all of my careful planning crumbled, and needed to give way to panstering. I spent most of the day sorting through the rest of  my notes and combining/culling scenes that would have taken up half of those extra 30 pages. Do you think that's fun? It definitely is not, as I had planned the story rather tightly to begin with.

The saving grace was that I had been aiming for 70,000 words. Now I will be using the full allotment with the remaining 15 pages of scenes that contain information that cannot be combined or culled. You might be wondering how I could've planned an additional 30 pages to begin with. I had misinterpreted the sweep of my signposts and journeys (Dramatica terms). I had thought that because there are seven signposts and journeys in a novel, I should take my total word count and divide it by seven, to get the total number of words to devote to each signpost or journey.

The trouble came when I discovered that the number I should've been working with was six, not seven. There are seven signposts and journeys, but only six sweeps from one to another. Duh. When you reach the final signpost, you don't need an additional (12,000 words). At that point, you are done.

Hubby's going to visit his mother in Western Washington tomorrow until Saturday, and today, he's going geo-cacheing with our daughter's kids, who she is homeschooling. So I will probably write another 10-12 pages each day until hubby returns.

I have 100 pages left to write. I have 50 pages to write and I'm at the black moment. After that, it's 50 pages of "Epiphanies, Decisions and the Final Resolution."

I still love my story. It's been fun to watch the scenes come into their own. As a planner, I know what needs to happen in each scene, but I never know how it's going to happen. That is a fun movie to watch, as my characters begin interacting with each other!

Also, as I looked over my notes for the unwritten pages, I realized that I really do need to reinsert the pistol and all the references to it, that I had removed after a contest judge's comment. She had convinced me that it didn't belong in an inspirational romance. She was wrong. It would add a lot to a "showdown" scene, thus I need to use it . . . Er, my heroine needs to pull it out of her reticule and aim it at her no-good brother, who is about to spoil her life, again! But I promise, she doesn't kill him.

How was your week, reading, writing, or otherwise?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Weekly Writing Update: NaNoWriMo-ing; The Great Experiment, and a New Tool (treadmill desk)

I am not officially signed up for NaNoWriMo, (National Novel Writing Month) as are 280,000 other writers this year, but I am essentially NaNoWriMo-ing.

This month is also, for me, The Great Experiment. I hope to write 40,000 words in November. I have never been this disciplined before. What this means is that I really am turning my writing into a full-time job this month. No trip to Arizona. No trip to Western Washington to visit hubby's mother; hubby will be going alone. I do plan to host Thanksgiving for the extended family. That will be serving dinner for 20-25 people--and they will help with it--but I'm not worrying about that right now.    

At the beginning of the week, when I unofficially began NaNo, I had written 30,000 words of the 72,000-75,000 word manuscript, plus 20,000 words' worth of notes. If all goes well, I will have a completed draft by the end of November, and then I can take a month to revise it. It will already be highly focused (due to the 20,000 words' worth of notes), and so revision should look more like editing, rather than true re-envisioning. That's because I have already re-envisioned the story (my notes!) three or four times and have come up with better ideas for scenes with each successive pass.

Pansters say they hate to plan, because they don't want to be boxed in. I am a thorough planner, and by the time I sit down to write, there won't be many big surprises or changes. Because I have already allowed myself, as I passed through the story 3-4 times, to try out different possibilities. The final quarter of my book has already seen three or four different ending possibilities that provoke the characters' final paradigm shifts so that they can end the story as different people.

Anyhew, if I can complete the draft by November 30, I will know that I can write a full manuscript in about six weeks. My next Great Experiment, on my next novel, will be to chart how long it takes me to plan a book in the first place. I began planning my current book while I was working full time. When I was writing, I was spending 99% of my writing time on a YA manuscript. I really have no idea how long it will take to plan a novel, now that I am not working full time outside the home, and I am not working on something else. I suspect I could do it in two-three weeks' worth of concerted planning.

That's saying I could conceivably plan, write and revise a novel in four months, even giving myself a tad bit of wiggle room. This information is something every writer needs to have a handle on, because once we are contracted, we will have deadlines and production schedules. The line I am targeting would love to see their authors write two to four books a year. It's how their authors make more money, get more exposure, and move to the head of the line with that publisher.

I don't know that I am that ambitious. Two books a year sounds about as much as I would ever want to write. I would also like to have a life . . . traveling, spending time with family and friends, scrapbooking, gardening . . .

But I do need to know what I am capable of.

I also have a new tool, which you saw in the picture above, and below. 

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I had bought a treadmill desk through Amazon. An inch of snow currently blankets the ground, so hubby put it together on Monday. Its home is in our basement. 

I love it! It's sturdy, and the table top is deep and broad enough for anything I might like to put on it. Such as my laptop, of course, but there is also room for a notebook, books and/or other essentials. 

Do you know reliably how long it takes you to plan, write and revise a manuscript? Keep in mind that you will need to have a firm grasp of the answer, once you have signed a contract with a publisher. They expect you to meet their deadlines! 


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Nine Ways we Lose Control of our Writing

Having a writing dream is easy. Maintaining, nurturing, growing it from dream to reality, day in and day out, year in and year out, is not.

Some writers think that writing a book is among the hardest things there is to do. When I look at what humankind has achieved outside of writing a book, I highly doubt that assertion. Let's get real.

But there is a steep learning curve, and it does take a concerted amount of effort to become a published author, whether you're going traditional or indie. 

Here are nine ways that we lose focus, and how to get back on track.

1. We don’t set goals. Goals need to be specific enough to write in a sentence or two. You need to set a date when you expect to achieve them and, again, you need to be so clear as to the results that you know when you have achieved them.

2. We set impossible goals. Goals need to be within our control. Completing a book in a year is within our control. Seriously. Signing with a particular editor who sells it to Random House and then having it hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list, if you are a debut author, would be an exponentially more difficult. Not impossible, but pretty unlikely.

3. We don’t pay attention to our goals. Don't create an elaborate calendar of what needs to be done and then ignore it completely. This is different from not setting goals at all, but not much.

4. We decide to quit working on our goal because we’re tired or stressed. Regularly scheduled breaks will enable us to keep working longer. Vacations help to ward off burnout. Just be sure to get back on track as soon as the break is over. Don't allow it to linger on for another week or two or three.

5. We attend to immediate situations to the neglect of long-range ones. No matter how busy we are, if we hope to have a writing career, we need to schedule even a small amount of time each day to work on writing goals. Now that writing is my job, it's easier to find time to write, and yet it sometimes amazes me how hard I need to work to protect my writing time. I have inherited from my aging father-in-law the job helping to move farm machinery during the spring and fall. I'm more available to babysit grandkids, and so that happens at least once each week. My social life could easily burgeon. Fortunately that one is generally the easiest one on which to set limits for most people. It's easier to say "no" to friends than it is to family.     

Take a hard look at how you spend every hour of each day and then brainstorm ways that you can fit in writing time. Maybe you could exchange babysitting hours with a friend. Maybe you could cut back on TV viewing. The possibilities are endless.

6. Sometimes we give everything the same priority when in fact, many things are not as important as protecting our scheduled writing time.

7. After a perceived writing failure, we focus on calming our emotions—overeating, watching too much TV, endlessly telling our friends all about it—when the better solution is to get back on track and start writing again. Granted, we need to take some time to process our volatile emotions. But for some personality types, this can stretch into days and weeks. If you are one of those types, take heed. 

Feel the pain of failure and then, as soon as possible, face your fears of returning to your writing goals. The best way to do it? By sitting down to write. It's uncomfortable. I hate it when anxiety feels like a cat clawing at me with very sharp nails. It spurs me to do any number of things to escape it—I’ll do three loads of wash. I’ll vacuum and steam clean the floors. I’ll eat a huge plate of carrot salad. No, two plates. I can’t eat chocolate or sugar, so rabbit food with a lot of chewing works well to calm me. 

But after that, I need to plant my butt in the chair and begin to write again. Once I’ve been at it for four or five hours, the pins and needles of anxiety melt away.

8. Another way we lose control is that we allow an initial failure snowball. Dieters are famous for this. If we blew it at one meal, we figure we might as well blow it for the rest of the day. Or maybe the weekend. Maybe we’ll get back on track on Monday. The same thing can happen with our writing. We miss one writing session and then, before we know it, we haven’t written for a week, and then a month. It’s much easier to get back on track immediately, rather than after we haven’t looked at the book for two weeks.

9. We decide we can’t write and we stop trying, in order to avoid further failure. Never stop! If you want to make this dream become a reality, you only fail when you stop.

Are you guilty of any of these? What do you do to get your focus back?

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