Keeping Score: April 19, 2019

1,086 words this week, all for the novel edit, this time.

Though I suppose calling what I’m doing a second draft would be more accurate. I’m not just reading through chapters, tweaking phrases and dialog. I’m rewriting some chapters wholesale, others I’m stitching together from bits and pieces of the previous draft like a linguistic version of Frankenstein’s monster.

It’s hard to ignore that previous draft, sometimes, even when I know it’s wrong. Not just bad — though the writing certainly deserves the name vomit draft — but wrong. Wrong for the story, wrong for the characters, wrong for the book. And yet, the fact that its words are done, written there on the page, makes it tempting to use them. Even when I know I shouldn’t.

So it’s easier to delete them, get them out of the way. Of course, then I’m staring at a blank page, that intimidating spotless thing. Who am I to rubbish it up, especially when I know this won’t be the last draft? These revisions will need revisions, and those will need tweaks, and those will need a polish.

I resort to tricks, at that point. Lie to myself. “Just 50 words,” I’ll say, “and then you can go back to Twitter.” Or: “Just describe what this character feels right now. You’ll cut it later, but get it done now, just in case some of it’s good.”

And once I’m going, it’s hard to stop. Even when the clock reminds me that it’s time to close up shop and head to the day job, to earn the money I use to keep my hobby — my art — going.

Every day a new trick. A new lie. But every day the word count grows. The work takes shape. The story comes alive.

Keeping Score: April 12, 2019

1,134 words written so far this week. So I’ve got some catchup work to do this weekend.

About half of those words are from revising the flash fiction story I wrote at WonderCon. I tried to do it right this time: I put it aside for a week, sent it out to some very kind friends who were willing to read it, and then started working on it after I’d had a few days to digest their feedback.

I feel like this second draft is orders of magnitude better than the first. Though even calling it a second draft is somewhat disingenuous; I’ve written three other drafts of the same idea (different characters) before, neither of which really worked. So in some ways I’ve been working on this story for just two weeks. In other ways, I’ve been working on it for (checks date on Scrivener) almost a year.

Ye gods.

Found another gem on Twitter this week, from writer A Lee Martinez, that I’d like to share. It pushed me to re-examine my own dialog tags, and tighten things up a bit in that short story I’m working on.

The whole thread is good, but this is the bit that resonated with me:

It’s like this:

“I don’t know.” He turned to her. “I don’t.”

VS.

He turned to her. “I don’t know.”

Even something as minor as that can turn a sentence, turning a scene, turning a chapter, turning a whole book. It’s not that every word matters, but the ones that do, really do

I realized I tend to do the former a lot, particularly when I’m trying to mimic the cadence of real speech. But his tweet made me realize my writing would be stronger if I stopped using dialog tags and other interruptions as crutches, and just let the dialog speak for itself. True, that might mean changing the dialog. But the writing will be better for it.

What about you? What piece of writing advice has made you change something, however minor, in your own writing?

Keeping Score: April 5, 2019

Written 1,014 words so far this week. That’s a little short of my 1,500-word goal, but given I ended up with 3,805 words for last week, I’m going to give myself a bit of a break.

I hit that awesome word count last week because of WorldCon. Partly because it was so inspiring. Partly because I had more time alone in which to write.

But it was more than that. WonderCon made me feel like a writer.

For maybe the first time, my imposter syndrome was flipped. I started seeing myself the way one of the panelists said we should see ourselves: that like superheroes, the day job is our secret identity, but in truth we’re writers.

And I finally felt that way. Not only did I feel like a writer, I felt like myself. That it isn’t shameful to not be published yet, because everyone starts out unpublished. That it isn’t bad or a barrier to have a day job, because everyone needs a way to pay the bills.

I even got to share this feeling. In the last panel, on “Writing the First Draft,” Jonathan Butler gave us all homework: to turn to the person sitting next to us, introduce ourselves, and build our support network of fellow writers.

But when I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said “So, you’re a writer?”, she looked down and said, “What makes someone a writer?”

I told her what Jonathan Maberry has told us at every Writers Coffeehouse, something I’m not sure I really believed until that moment: “Writers write. If you write, you’re a writer.”

She smiled, and started telling me about the screenplay she’s working on.

I might never see her again, but for that moment, I felt like we were friends, peers, fellow writers making our way along the path.

It was an incredible moment, and for that feeling alone, that feeling of being at the same time an authentic writer and my real self, it was worth it to go to WonderCon.

What about you? What moments have inspired you as a writer, or made you feel comfortable calling yourself a writer?

Keeping Score: March 29, 2019

Something V. E. Schwab tweeted earlier this week really struck me:

It’s often hard to start, but wow, I always forget how much BETTER I feel after writing/editing/working. It’s like a pressure valve. My chest feels looser. My head feels quiet.

Could not agree more. Particularly this week, when I put off working on the novel for…well…most of the week, only to finally sit down on Thursday and bang out most of my word count.

And it was like a spring uncoiled inside me. My shoulders relaxed. I realized I hadn’t listened to music all week, either, but after writing I finally felt like listening again. I felt like singing.

I hope I don’t forget that feeling, today, tomorrow, or next week.

Particularly today, when I’ve only got 1,034 words in towards my 1,500-word goal. The number’s a bit of a jumbled mess; I’ve hit the point where I’m leaving most scenes intact, but still need to rewrite whole sections to make it work. So I’m taking the total word count for each scene, dividing it by two, and moving on.

That means I need to go through 1,000 words this weekend in order to hit my goal. Note to self: remember how good it feels to be done writing? Hold onto that.

What about you? Do you find you’re more relaxed after writing? Or is it like taking a bite of your favorite pie, and once you get going you never want to stop?

Keeping Score: March 22, 2019

Only 751 words written so far this week. Seems I’ll be playing catch-up again this weekend.

I’ve had some trouble writing the new scenes, particularly dialog. I want to be sure to capture each character’s unique way of speaking, along with their thoughts and feelings in the moment, all the while maintaining the right intensity level for the scene.

It leads to doubt, which leads to feeling blocked. Which means no words.

To unblock me, I’m trying something new: let them swing for the fences. As in, instead of internalizing something like:

I wanted to tell him to go to hell. But I knew I shouldn’t, because that might set him off again. Get me in trouble with the Warden.

I go ahead and let the characters say what they want to say:

“Go to hell,” I blurted. “You’ve wanted my job for years, and you’re just looking for an excuse to take it. But I’ll be damned if you’ll get it without a fight.”

…and then, sure, they get in trouble. But it’s more interesting to write, it’s easier to write, actually, and hopefully it’s more interesting to read.

What about you? How do you get over the fear and doubt that come from staring at a blank page?

Keeping Score: March 15, 2019

Wrote 971 words this week towards the second draft.

That’s short of the 1,500 words I’d like to produce by the end of the week, so I’ll have to do some catch-up work this weekend.

I’m not too worried though. Even though I’m terrified of sucking every time I sit down to write, once I get over my fears and actually do it, everything flows. It’s like I know who these characters are, I know where and when everything is taking place. I finally have a solid grasp of what their story is and where it’s going.

I’m hoping this won’t turn into a complete rewrite. Not that I can’t do it — I feel like I actually could, no question — but I don’t know that I could do it in time to meet my self-imposed June deadline.

I don’t think that’ll have to happen, though. I’m writing new scenes now, but later on I should be able to take scenes I’ve got and just tweak them a bit to make them match the new story beats.

How do you choose which parts to keep and which parts to re-work completely when editing something? Do you lean more towards keeping what’s there, or are you more inclined to tear it up and start over?

Keeping Score: March 8, 2019

Finally getting back to the good part: the writing.

Or rather, the re-writing.

Finished off the sequential outline earlier this week, after going back through the workbook outline and my manuscript to slot in missing scenes.

Then I took all the scenes from the first draft and shoved them into a single folder, marked “Original.” That way I can keep them around for reference, and pull what I need from them, without them being in the way of the scenes I need to completely rewrite.

Starting with the opening sequence.

Early feedback on those scenes said they lacked tension, and they were right. Thankfully, after going through the workbook, I’ve got much better ideas for them. I’m going to introduce some antagonists earlier than before, and tie the bigger conflict arc to their early conflicts with the protagonist.

I will, most likely, eff up these scene drafts, too. But they’ll be better than before. And hopefully, if I get the story beats at least down correctly, I can work more on language and dialog later.

Keeping Score: March 1, 2019

Finished the workbook’s version of the outline. Finally.

Now I’ve just got to take that outline, plus my other notes from the workbook, plus the existing novel, and hash it all together into a regular, scene-by-scene, linear outline.

Easy, right?

Maybe it would be, if I didn’t feel so demotivated all of a sudden. Every time I reach for the outline to work on it, I can feel my shoulders sag. I feel like reading, or doing laundry, or scrolling through Twitter, or even working on one of the short stories I’ve got waiting in the queue. Anything but keep working on that outline.

I’m tempted to skip it, and just dive back into writing. No notes, no plan, just go.

But that’ll end up with me making another messy draft, won’t it? I’ll just have to go back through it and do the same exercises, all over again.

So I plod on. Maybe I’ll give myself some time off next week, reduce my writing days to 2 or 3 instead of 5. Allow myself to work on something else, try to recharge the batteries.

Wish me luck.

Keeping Score: February 22, 2019

I’m two-thirds of the way through the workbook’s version of the outline.

I say workbook’s version, because it’s not linear. It doesn’t go scene by scene by scene. Instead, it groups scenes by their impact on the story: the five most important beats on the way to the resolution of the protagonists’ main problem, etc.

So even once I’m done with it, I’ll need to draw up a second outline, one with everything in order, so I know where and when to drop each of the elements from the workbook’s outline.

This is becoming more work than I thought.

I’m starting to worry if it’s all necessary. If I’m hiding behind the outline, instead of diving in to get the edits done. Certainly outlining feels like work, like good work, brainstorming different ways scenes could go. But it’s not writing the actual book, it’s just prep.

And I must confess I have some trepidation about writing the new scenes. They’re all going to be first drafts, which means they’ll be bad, and need revision later. But those revisions will mean changes to other areas, probably, which’ll mean more edits for the altered scenes.

I worry that I’m looking at a chain of revisions, extending through the rest of the year and beyond.

In some ways, it might be nice to have a deadline, and someone to send it to. Then I could see an end to the chain of editing, or at least a point where I’m forced to hang up my keyboard and say “no more.”

Perhaps I should choose one, then. According to my notes, I started working on the ideas and characters for this book in June of 2017. Two years isn’t too bad a time to spend working on a novel.

So I’ll target being done with these revisions by June 30, and thus having the book ready to go out to beta readers at the very least, if not agents.

There. Now I have to get past the outline stage and get cracking on writing new scenes. I’ve got a deadline to meet.

Keeping Score: February 15, 2019

The novel keeps changing.

I’m trying to pull all the threads from the workbook together, so I know what edits I need to make. I’ve been using the outline template from the workbook, which has been surprisingly helpful.

But as I do so, I keep having more ideas, better ideas, that ripple out and change the book. One of my characters has gone from being a Senator, to a corporate auditor, to a DOJ Investigator. The key scene between my protagonist and one of the secondary characters that makes him switch sides, which was weakly motivated before, now has the solid footing of a quid pro quo exchange (tied to one of the protagonists’ plot layers).

Once again, I’m glad I’m taking the time to do this work. I was skeptical of the workbook’s outline at first, but in going through the process, I’m learning a lot about my story and my characters. Some of its seeing how much I really do know about the world, and some of its seeing those connections that I didn’t before.

So it looks like I’ll be lucky to finish the outline by the end of this month. But it’ll be a damn good outline, once it’s done.