Keeping Score: October 30, 2020

So I found a cure for the distractions last week: Stop reading the news.

I’m serious. Before last week, I’d check three different news sites in the morning, first thing, before sitting down to write. I felt informed, sure, but I also used up time in the morning that I could have spent writing.

So now I’m…not doing that anymore. I wake up and write, for about an hour, before doing anything else.

I still read the news, of course. I just do it after my writing is done, not before.

And so far, it’s working! I’ve been able to churn out anywhere from 800 to 1,200 words a day, doing things this way.

Which is good, because NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday, and I’ve signed up for it again.

I know, I know. There’s too much going on. I’ve already got a novel I need to doing additional editing passes on. And what about that series of short stories that I wanted to do, based on those horror writing prompts?

The thing is, I logged into my NaNoWriMo account last week, just to blow the dust off it, and I realized that every novel I’ve ever written started out as a NaNoWriMo project.

Even if I didn’t finish the novel during that November, I got enough of a start that I eventually finished that draft.

So I signed up. I think the previous short story idea I had, about a woman in the eighteenth century who fights to protect an endangered species — dragons — has enough there to be longer than a short story. I already put off starting it once, because the more I worked on it, the longer it grew.

Well, if I just call it a novel off the bat, the length’s fine, isn’t it?

As training, I’m working through Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. It’s got a series of exercises for drilling into the bedrock of your story and figuring out what really makes it tick, so (presumably) writing the novel itself becomes easier. For example, writing a full scene from your main character’s past that shows the origin of the internal issue they’re going to work through (in the course of the novel).

I’m doing it for the horror short story, for now, not the novel (not yet). First because, well, doing it on the novel would be cheating. Second because I’ve not used this book before, so I wanted to try it out on something small to see if it works for me. And third, because I was kind of flailing on the short story. I hoped some structure would push me forward.

And it has, so far. As I mentioned, I’ve been churning out backstory scenes, working through my main character’s personal issues so I know just what situation will push them out of their comfort zone (and into the plot).

I’m hoping to have enough worked through before Sunday that I can at least write a first draft of the story, and get it out of the way before I need to focus on the novel.

But if not…Oof. I’m not sure what I’ll do. Start the novel, I suppose, in order to keep up with the NaNoWriMo pace? And pick up the short story on the other side, in December.

If any of you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, look me up! My user name’s mindbat , let’s be writing buddies, and help keep each other’s spirits up!

Keeping Score: October 23, 2020

Distractions piling up this week.

First, there’s the upcoming election, which has my stomach in knots. We need to kick out the current regime in the US, but even if voted out, will they go? Even if they leave, what will they destroy on their way out?

Second, we’re having some work on the main bathroom in the house. Which has meant days where the water’s shut off. Days where the workers pounding on the floor right above my makeshift office feels like they’re hammering directly into my skull.

Third, the short stories I’ve been sending out, including the one that I feel is the best thing I’ve written to date, are getting rejected, one by one. I know I’m not supposed to take that personally, but they make me question myself.

I mean, what am I doing, really? Building a writing career out of fifteen minutes here, thirty minutes there? Who am I fooling?

The writers whose stories I know, the ones that have made it, all have spent more time on it. More time writing, more time editing, more…time, in general. I don’t know if it’s a constant source of tension with their families, but…I can’t take that kind of time.

So I’m down and doubting, dear reader. Unsure of myself, and this thing that I’m doing.

I don’t want to quit, but…if all my writing has is a weird half-life, scraped together from minutes in the day, is it something I’ll ever be good enough at? And if all I’m doing is doodling on scraps of paper that might end up on the fridge if I’m lucky, why am I doing it?

Keeping Score: October 9, 2020

It’s done! The edits are done!

Well, this round of edits, anyway…There’ll be more, down the line.

But the third draft of the novel is finished!

This is the first draft that I feel can be seen, so I’m sending it out to beta readers, hoping to get some good (meaning: useful and thorough, not merely positive) feedback.

I’ll also need to send it to sensitivity readers, because some of the characters are from ethnic groups outside my own. I think I’ve done them justice, but I know I’m not the best judge of that. So I’ll ask some friends of mine to be additional readers, letting me know if I’ve messed anything up.

While I wait (and lean into my reading, to unwind a bit), I’m going to work on a short story or three.

Or five.

I found a horror anthology that’s accepting flash fiction on five different subjects through December. The topics are broad enough that I’ve brainstormed a few different story ideas for each.

Since they’re flash pieces, I thought I’d write one up for each topic, and submit them all (which they allow). Five little stories for my brain to chew on while I take a break between editing passes.

What about you? What do you do, between revisions of a longer work? Or do you take any sort of breathing room between them, at all?

Keeping Score: October 2, 2020

I’ve been having incredibly vivid dreams.

Dreams that fade from memory when I wake up.

Parts of them linger, though. An accusation that was hurled at me. A song someone else was singing.

I think it means my unconscious mind is…bored? I haven’t worked on anything new in a while, since I decided to focus on the novel edits. And as I near the end of the novel, those edits are becoming more re-phrasing and less re-writing. Less work for my imagination to do.

So I wonder if that’s why my dreams have suddenly become full-color 3D rousing soundtrack level productions. It’s my unconscious saying “give me something new to work on!” while I keep saying “not yet.”

Because I do lean on my unconscious mind a lot when writing. Drafting or outlining, I’ll often hit a wall, a place in the story where I’m not sure where to go, and I’ll stop there for the day. Literally sleep on the problem, and come back the next day.

Usually, by the time I return to the work, I’ve got a solution. My unconscious has chewed on the problem all night, and delivers it up to me when I need it.

After…well, years…of working together like that, I’m wondering if my unconscious misses it. Even in the midst of a pandemic, even when I think (consciously) that I can’t work on two things at once, it’s saying “let’s give it a shot.”

So I guess I will! I’ll pick up the new story again, wrap up its outline, and start drafting.

Or maybe even just dive into the drafting part, who knows? The outline’s mostly done, and it’s the writing itself that works out my unconscious the most.

What about you? Do you rely on your unconscious mind for help in your writing? Has it ever sent you a message, like it seems to be doing to me?

Keeping Score: July 31, 2020

I feel like I’m telling this story to myself, over and over again, with each outline. New details get filled in, new connections appear, with each telling.

And each day I get up and tell it to myself another time, adding more pieces.

I so much want to just write, just set the words down on the page and let them fall where they may.

But then I’ll be plotting out the second third of the story, and I’ll have an idea that ripples all the way back to the beginning. And it makes me glad I haven’t started writing anything more than snippets of dialog just yet. Because all of those snippets will likely need to change.

This story…It’s more complicated than other short stories I’ve written. Less straightforward.

It’s a five-part structure. One part setup, followed by three parts flashbacks (taking place over years and across continents), followed by a climax. And it all needs to hang together like a coherent whole, present flowing to flashbacks and then returning to the present.

I’m not sure I can pull it off, to be honest. I’ll have to do a good bit of research for each flashback, just to ground them in reality. Then there’s the problem of each flashback needing to be its own story, complete with character arc, while feeding into the larger narrative.

It’s like writing four stories at once, really, with them nested inside each other.

Will it all make sense, in the end? Will the flashbacks prove to be too long, and need culling? Will my framing device be so transparent that it’s boring? Will the conclusion be a big enough payoff?

Who knows?

All I can do is tell myself the story, piece by piece, over and over again, until I can see it all clearly.

Keeping Score: July 24, 2020

I’ve never written a short-story this way before.

I’m coming at it more like a novel. I’m outlining, then researching things like character names and historical towns to model the setting off of, then revising the outline, rinse, repeat.

So I’ve written very little of it, so far. And what I have written — snippets of dialog and description — might get thrown out later, as the outline changes.

I’m not sure it’s better, this way. I feel frustrated at times, like I want to just write the thing and get it over with.

But I know — well, I feel — that that will result in a story that’s not as good as it could have been. Like eating grapes before they’ve ripened on the vine.

And I do keep coming up with more connections between the various pieces of the story, more ways to tie it all together. Each one is an improvement. Each one makes the story stronger.

Perhaps that’s how I’ll know when to stop outlining, and start writing? When I literally can’t think of any way to make the story itself better?

How about you? How do you know when it’s time to write a story, and when it needs to sit in your mind a little while longer?

Keeping Score: July 17, 2020

Started drafting a new short story this week.

I’m taking a different approach, this time. For short stories, I usually just sit down and write it out, all in one go. At least for the first draft.

For this story, I’m doing a mix of outlining and writing. I jot down lines of dialog as they come to me, or — in one case — the whole opening scene came in flash, so I typed it up.

But the majority of the story is still vague to me, so I’m trying to fill it in via brainstorming and daydreaming. Sketching a map of where it’s taking place, thinking through why the town it’s set in exists, what it’s known for. Drafting histories for the main characters.

It’s fun, so it’s also hard to convince myself that it’s work. Necessary work, at that.

Because my guilty writer conscience wants to see words on the page. No matter that I’m not ready, the ideas only half-formed. For it, it’s sentences or nothing.

So I’m pushing back by reading a book specifically about short story techniques, using the authority of another writer to argue (with my guilt) that it’s okay to pause and think. That progress can mean no words save a character bio. That every story needs a good foundation, and that’s what I’m trying to build.

It’s working, so far. My guilt does listen, just not always to me.

What about you? How do you balance the need to feel productive with the background work that every story requires?

Keeping Score: July 10, 2020

Missed last week’s Keeping Score, but for a good reason: I was wrapping up the second draft of the novel!

I set down the final words in the last chapter later that weekend. It’s done!

Or rather, the current draft is done. I’ve still got some editing passes to do: for consistency, for character dialog, for general polish.

But this draft, which started out as minor edits and grew to become pretty much a rewrite, is finished. As part of that rewrite, it’s grown, from 70K to 80K.

Ditto the rewrite I was doing for the short story, which I also wrapped up last week. The story’s grown from a 3,000-word piece to something north of 8,000 words! Some of those might get cut away in editing, but it’ll still end up more than twice as long as it was before. I had no idea there was so much story left to tell with that one, until I tried to tell it.

With two project drafts done, I’ve mostly taken this week off. I need the space for the novel to cool off so I can approach the edits with an objective eye. I might leave that one untouched for a month or so, just to get some distance.

For the short story, I think I’ll start editing it this week. At least an initial pass for consistency and word choice, before sending it off to beta readers. Once I get their feedback, I’ll make further edits, to get it into shape for submission.

Meanwhile, I’ve started brainstorming a short story idea I had a while back. Everything’s still vague now, but it’s about dragons, and mentors, and loss. I’m excited to see how it shapes up!

Keeping Score: June 12, 2020

This week, I’ve been chasing the dragon of a finished draft.

I’m so close to being done with the short story revisions that I’ve been working on them every day, instead of alternating with the novel. It’s like at a certain point, I can only hold one or the other in my head, and I’ve been holding the short story.

I’m still following the one-inch-frame method, jumping from scene to scene and writing a few paragraphs here, a page there, then coming back and joining them up later.

It feels like a cheat, sometimes, like I’m putting off doing my homework and playing video games instead. And I suppose I am, in a way, holding off from writing the parts that feel difficult in the moment and writing the ones that come easily.

But so far, I always end up coming back to the hard stuff, and finding that either a) It doesn’t seem hard anymore, or b) It’s not even needed.

The latter still worries me. How could this piece that I thought was essential not even need to be written? Am I not just procrastinating on my homework, but refusing to do it altogether?

I try to reassure myself with the knowledge that this is just a draft, one of many, and everything can be revised later. Nothing is permanent.

So here’s hoping I can wrap up this draft over the weekend, and then push through the last scenes of the novel! Would be nice to end June with two projects completely drafted, ready to sit on the back-burner for a bit so I can come back and revise them properly.

How about you? When you’re closing in on a finished draft, do you find you have little room in your head for anything else?

Keeping Score: May 15, 2020

Current writing streak: 64 days.

Finally reached the part of the novel where I’m back to editing, instead of writing new chapters. It’s made things easier going, on that front. Less intimidating to sit down with words already on the page, and know I’ve just got to make them consistent with everything else.

There’s a few chapters at the very end where I’ll need to be drafting from scratch again, but for now, at least, it’s smoother sailing.

Of course, this won’t be the end of my editing passes. I’ll need to do at least one more of what I’m thinking of as “consistency passes” to check all the new material against what’s already there. Then I’m planning on doing a dialog pass for each main character, to ensure they speak consistently throughout. Finally I’ll do a phrase and copy-editing pass, looking for awkward wording or cliché description.

So still plenty to do.

I’ve also continued to work on the short story on alternate days this week. I wasn’t sure I was ready to start writing the new section of that work, to be honest, but by focusing on just one little detail at a time — Anne Lamott’s one-inch frame technique — I’ve managed to add ~1,000 words to the draft. If I keep this up, I might actually have the draft done (and ready to set aside, for later editing) next week.

Which would be…amazing. I wasn’t sure I could ever get back to some sort of functioning writing schedule during the pandemic. Or get back to writing more than just a sentence or two a day. But something’s happened recently, like a mental fog has lifted. I’m able to brainstorm again, and hold both of these storylines (the story and the novel) in my head again, and write a page a day again.

It may not last. I’m going to appreciate it while it does, though. I know not everyone has been as relatively fortunate as I have through this pandemic.

So I’m grateful, for the work I can do, while I can do it.

How about you? Have you felt like you’ve turned a corner lately? Or are things still too much in the air for your writing brain to settle into some kind of routine?