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.

Keeping Score: February 8, 2019

I’ve finished the workbook!

Well, finished as much of it as I can. There’s a few exercises that I’ll need to come back to.

One says to take every scene in the book and choose one detail to heighten, which is something I’ll want to do after I’ve written the new scenes and re-arranged the ones I have.

Another had me write a pitch, and then follow-up by coming back to the pitch in a week and winnowing it down some more. That’ll obviously have to wait.

But I’m done with the bulk of the exercises. Now all I have to do is put them into practice.

So next week I’ll be combing through the workbook, pulling notes and scene ideas out and combining them with the notes I have from own first read-through.

There’s going to be a lot of changes, so I’ll need some way to keep track of them all. I think I’ll start by writing out a new outline, sketching out the scenes (new, changed, and existing) in order. That’ll give me something to compare to the novel as it exists now, a guide to what needs to change.

I might also work up a timeline, just to be sure everything’s in place, and maybe even a map of the setting, to fix everything in my mind.

Hopefully I can get all that done in a week, and then start on the edits the following week.

I have no idea how long those’ll take. This is my first time doing this — editing a novel top-to-bottom using more than just my own gut instincts — and I want to do it well, or at least as well as I’m capable of doing it.

If it takes me all year, that’s fine. So long as keep at it, and finish it.

Keeping Score: February 1, 2019

I’m almost done with the Breakout Novel Workbook. Only seven exercises left to go, which I might be able to knock out by the end of next week, assuming I double-up some days.

Even as I enter the last part of the book, the novel keeps changing. One of the last exercises was on marking changes in how the characters see each other, which pushed me to ask why Character X comes to see Character Y favorably, which led me to alter a scene so those two characters were in it (instead of the original two), which opened up new connections I hadn’t seen before between events very early in the book and the arrival of Character X, which led to…a whole cascade of changes.

All good changes, I think. The workbook emphasizes connections — between characters, between actions, between subplots — and each change is making the parts of the book more connected. With each change, it’s almost like I can feel the various plot threads pulling together, tightening up.

And I need that tautness, that tension. I want this story to be so tight it hums.

I’m even starting to see where the lessons of the workbook can be applied to the short stories I’ve been shopping around. Ways to make their stories more personal, more powerful. Once I finish the workbook, I might practice some of those techniques on the short stories before tackling the novel. None of the stories have sold, so it can’t hurt, right?

Keeping Score: January 25, 2019

I’m almost two-thirds of the way through the Breakout Novel workbook, now.

The exercises seem to be getting easier. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m resisting them less, or because I’m just getting used to the idea of needing to punch up the book. Definitely not because they’re any less work; most of the exercises end with a variation of “all that work you did? great. now repeat it ten times, for other parts of your novel.”

Things are starting to fall together, though. Changes inspired by one exercise are rippling through the others, presenting new opportunities for making the book better.

For example, one exercise had me work through the story from the perspective of my antagonists. Thinking about what would make their lives harder pushed me to change the occupation of one of my protagonists, and that opened up new ways to make her story intersect with the other characters in interesting ways.

I know that each change I contemplate is creating more work for myself down the line, when I start to actually implement these changes in the novel. But I’m excited about the work, actually, not intimidated. I feel these changes really will make my novel better.

I might not succeed in pulling them off, true. But if I don’t push myself, if I don’t try to make them, I’ll never get any better at this. And that would be worse than failing.

Keeping Score: January 18, 2019

Ever had a week where you feel like a failure? When even the things that go right don’t go right enough to balance out the things that go wrong?

That’s what this week was for me.

Not on the writing front, thank goodness. But in my day job, in the work that keeps me fed and clothed and housed. This week it felt like nothing I did there was good enough, for anyone, and it’s had me looking forward to the weekend like nothing else.

Thank goodness for my writing. Even as I work through the Breakout Novel Workbook, finding flaws in my novel, I don’t feel defeated. I feel energized, like I finally have full control over something. There’s no committee going to tell me to leave a scene as-is to meet an arbitrary deadline. No coworker to stomp on my dialog choices because they think things should be phrased differently.

No, this novel is mine, like nothing else is. I can do what I want with it, fix it the way I want to fix it, polish it until it gleams.

It’s a powerful feeling, and a solace during such a hard week. Editing this novel is going to be a lot of work, but it’s work no one can stop me from doing.

Keeping Score: January 11, 2019

Again, no words written this week. Staying focused on editing the novel, and submitting existing short stories.

One of the stories I submitted last week has already been rejected by the market I sent it to; I need to pick another market and send it back out, hopefully by the end of today.

Otherwise, I’m still plowing through the Breakout Novel workbook. I’m still managing to get through about one exercise a day, though some of them are longer (and thus harder) than others.

Each time I feel like skipping one, I push myself to work through it. And I feel like skipping them a lot; this is adding up to a lot of work. But I tell myself I’m in no rush, I’ve got no deadlines. And I’m the only one who can fix my story. If I don’t put in the work to make it better, no one else will.

And the exercises are paying off, so far. Even the frustrating ones end up generating some good ideas. Sometimes it takes a few hours for things to shuffle around in my head and then suddenly click into place, but that’s ok. Those sorts of lightning-strike insights I wouldn’t have otherwise are exactly why I’m doing this.

Keeping Score: January 4, 2019

Absolutely 0 words written this week.

But! I’ve not been idle. I submitted two short stories (to different markets), and I’ve been making progress on editing my most recent novel.

The week of Christmas I was able to do a first read-through, making notes as I went. I ignored things like word choice or sentence structure, and looked for higher-level problems: scenes where the characters’ actions were inconsistent, or the physics of the place didn’t match up, or where the timeline didn’t make sense.

I found a lot of problems that I’ll have to fix. But I was happy to find that I still like the characters, and their story, and want to make it the best version I can.

So this week I cracked open my copy of Writing the Breakout Novel: Workbook, by Donald Maas. Jonathan Maberry recommended it at one of the last Writers’ Coffeehouses; he told us that he buys a new one for each novel he writes, and works through it as part of his editing process. So I’m giving it a shot.

The book is basically a writing workshop in written form. Each chapter describes a writing technique, a way to improve your manuscript, and ends with exercises to push you to use that technique in your own novel.

I’ve gotten through 6 chapters so far, and while I balked at first (“don’t you tell me my protagonist isn’t heroic enough,” my internal rebel snarled), when I forced myself to work through them, the exercises generated a lot of new ideas for the book. Nothing too radical, as yet, but definite ways to make what I’ve got better, to make my characters’ personalities clearer and my scenes more interesting.

So I plan to keep going, working through one chapter a day. That’ll put me on track to have it completed by the end of the month, at which point I can start collating all these ideas and plan out the editing passes I’m going to make on the book.

The goal is to have all the editing passes finished and it ready to submit to agents by the end of the year.

Wish me luck.

Rebooting My Writing Brain

When I finished the first draft of the latest novel two weeks ago, I told myself I could take the rest of the year off. Maybe do some editing of a few short stories, but no real work till the first of the year, when I planned to dive into editing the novel.

So, of course, I’m already outlining my next book.

It surprised me. For a good week there it felt weird to not be writing, but also rather good. I had more time to exercise, to study French, to simply read again.

But then I read Cicero, followed by Legion vs Phalanx, and that connected up with an idea for a YA novel I’ve had bouncing around in my head, and suddenly I’m writing down characters and plot points and trying to work this story into shape.

It’s like a damned addiction, this writing thing.

I’m not keeping score, though; not yet. I want time to think things over, to brainstorm and throw ideas away, before committing to daily, serious work.

For now, it’s time to play.

Keeping Score: November 21, 2018

At 67,010 words, the novel’s done!

Been writing at a good clip while on vacation this week; almost 7,000 just since last Wednesday (!)

And of course, I already have a list of things I need to go back and fix. Characters that need to be combined. Personalities that need to be made consistent throughout the book. Even events that need to be reworked, because I changed my mind part-way through, so the latter consequences of the event doesn’t match the thing itself anymore.

But those can come later. For now, the first draft is done, and just in time for Turkey Day 🙂

Hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving (in the US), and a successful NaNoWriMo, if you’re participating!

Keeping Score: November 12, 2018

Another week down: 2,295 words written!

Not all of those were for the novel, though. I’ve decided I want to try my hand at posting more here: more essays, more organized notes, etc. I know I won’t do it if it means taking time away from hitting my word count goals, so I’m making a change to the way I keep score: from now on, I’m counting words written for a blog essay as half.

So, for example, writing up a 900-word essay would count 450 words towards my weekly goal.

At the same time, I’m raising my weekly word count goal, to 2,500 words. I’ve been hitting the 2,250-word goal for eight weeks now. It’s time to stretch a bit further, and adding in essays to the word count should make 2,500 achievable. And even if I don’t write any essays in a week, it’s only 50 words extra per day.

Wish me luck!