Fiction, Process

Plan your work, work your plan

20140729_100849I completed the second draft edits of “Afterlife.” To give you a clue at the lack of fanfare regarding this event, my husband doesn’t even know that.  And in his defense – I just decided that I was done with the edits on Sunday night after about a week’s lull of activity regarding my WIP.  I was sitting at my desk when it hit me … I’m done with the second round of edits.  In fact, I had finished edits when I was in a hotel room in Colorado the week before.

But this should also give you an idea of how long I still have to go with AL.  The internal deadline I had set for myself with AL was that she’d be ready for beta readers by the fall.  Conservatively, I’d say that she’ll be ready closer to Christmas.  There are still some holes, there are some exciting things that I discovered during the second round of edits that I’m going to go back and flesh out.

Next steps?  Mentally, I decided that I finished the second round of edits on July 18th.  I’m giving AL a month to rest and then I’m picking her up again for version 3.  (As you can see in the photo above, I have the binder for v3 all ready!)

Here’s what I’ll be doing in the meantime:

  • Reading “Write Your Novel From the Middle” by James Scott Bell.  The middle of my novel has issues.  There’s some pacing concerns that I’ve grappled with during v2, so I’m hoping that this helps.
  • Dammit … I wanted this to be a bulleted list.  And to be honest, that’s really the only thing I’m doing in preparation for v3.  There are other things that I’ve done to further AL.  Those include (subbullets!)
    • Reread a lot of Patricia Briggs … Mercy Thompson is one of my favorite characters in paranormal literature. Plus, the way that Briggs presents her stories in the same POV that AL is in.  It’s a good primer to see what I want to accomplish with my own work.
    • Finished rereading Elizabeth Lowell’s “Always Time to Die.”  For some reason, that novel has been stuck in my head and I re-read it on my flight back and forth to Colorado.  I tried to pay particular attention to how Lowell unfolded “ATtD” because she has a lot of story threads moving through this novel and I wanted to see how she managed all of them and still presented a pretty gripping story.  (Even if some of the romantic dialogue leaned heavily towards the cheese territory.)

Starting August 18th, I’ve taken three days of PTO from work and I’m going to devote that time to kickstarting round three of edits.  My goal is to complete that round of edits by October 11th.  It’s ambitious, but not impossible.

In the meantime, I’m going to take my hiatus from AL to switch gears and start outlining a story that I started a few years back.  I have a big problem with starting and abandoning projects.  As a result, I have about four orphaned stories that I’ve been working on over the past 10 years or so.  This story (the working title is “Summoned”) is one that has been niggling at my brain lately and I’m very much looking forward to going down that path again and setting up a road map that I can refer to when I go back to writing that particular tale.

Plan your work, work your plan … Happy Tuesday, everyone!

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Daily Habits

When I was an undergraduate, I took a creative writing class where the professor stressed the need to write daily. “Writing daily is like going out to the seashore every morning and gathering seashells,” he had said (this is me paraphrasing here). “You never know what treasures you’re going to find. But you need to go out every day.”

To be honest – I was kind of an asshole in college and I didn’t really like my professor all that much, so I doubt I raised my hand as I puffed up in youthful arrogance and said: “Well, why wouldn’t you just wait until the ideas come to you?”

I took the wind out of my professor’s sails (I was puffed up with youthful arrogance, he was staring meaningfully out the window having one of his moments where he was probably congratulating himself on molding the minds of young writers) and he looked at me in annoyance for interrupting his “moment” and with a little bit of pity.

Some 15 years later, I can admit two things: 1) I was insufferable in college. 2) He was right.

But here’s what my professor didn’t explain adequately (or maybe he did, but I had shut down and was daydreaming about my latest unrequited love or wondering if it was taquito day in the Caf). How do you carve time out of your day, put butt in chair, and write?   How do you weed through the distractions and not put writing off until tomorrow.  Or a better time?

Let’s have a moment of honesty here, shall we?  First and foremost, a lot of us who write fiction also hold down day jobs. I’m a proposal writer. I’ve also been an executive assistant, I’ve worked at a cab company, I worked in newspapers. Before that, I was a college student and I worked during college as well.  Work – it takes up a shit ton of time.

Also – if we are lucky beings, we are surrounded with people that we love. We are wives, husbands, parents, siblings – we are human beings who have obligations to others. I have two children under two, I have my own grumpy cat, and I have a wonderful husband who gets that there’s a weird piece of my persona that has told myself stories since a young age and that the woman he married has enough chutzpah to think that someday she might be able to produce something publishable.

What I’m saying is this: Life gets in the way. My life is full of deadlines and distractions. It is easy for me to get discouraged when my mind feels like the words I’m rearranging are shit. I’ve been dealing with a plot problem lately that makes me want to hurl. But I go down to the effing seashore every day and try to pluck godforsaken shells off of the sand.

And last night, I had one of those moments where my pen was zipping across the page of my notebook and my mind was ALIGHT with words and images. There were still distractions – my kids are young and they don’t like to sleep through the night. I was feeling guilty that I was downstairs writing while my husband was getting up and tending to their needs. But I took the time to satisfy the muse and to capture the moments that I needed in an outline so I could harness some of the magic when I had time to return to the page today. (And I’ll do something nice for my husband today. Or sometime in the future. Baked goods work. Dairy Queen treats work even better.)

So today as I was committing my notebook scrawls to Microsoft Word, I had a thought. And it was that the daily* practice that I’ve adhered to bore fruit last night. I was faithful to my practice and I was rewarded. And I think I have enough to power through my shitty first draft (SFD) and wrap it up by month’s end. But even if it stalls and I feel like digging my eyes out with my bare hands, I’ll still show up. Because my book won’t write itself.

“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.” – Harlan Ellison

***

This post was prompted, in part, by this piece in The Kill Zone.

* – A note on my “daily” practice.  I do try to write every day.  However, I also have “other things” going on from time to time.  This weekend it is a reunion of some old friends.  Last weekend, it was a birthday party for one of my lovely nieces.  In these cases, I always bring my project notebook with me.  I never know when inspiration is going to strike and it usually serves as a talisman so I don’t lose momentum.

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The wooshing sounds of deadlines …

I had set an internal deadline of finishing edits on my Shitty First Draft (SFD) by July 1.  It is July 1.  And I’m about four chapters, give or take, behind.  However – I am not bummed by missing this deadline.  I have two children under the age of two that are running afoot, I work full time, and I really like spending time with my husband and other family members; I’m cutting myself a little bit of slack.  And that’s partially because I’m confident that I’m not far away from finishing my edits.

What’s next?  I’m wavering between giving my story some time to rest and marinate (what does that even MEAN?) or going right back into more edits.  I think I’m going to give it a little rest, partially to give myself some objective distance, but mostly because there’s another project that’s been niggling at my gray matter and I want to do some outlining on that before I return to my edits.  I worry about losing my momentum, but my instinct is telling me that I’m going to be OK as long as I return to AL before August 15th. 

In other news – I’m reading again.  When I’m writing, my reading habit becomes feast or famine.  And if I do read, I want to read something that I’ve read before (It’s my brain’s version of comfort food?  I’m really strange?  All of the above?),  I’m out of my famine mode and back into feasting on books.  I’m back to reading Patricia Briggs’ “Mercy Thompson” series and restarted the “Alpha and Omega” series.  I love the world that Briggs created with these characters – again, mental comfort food.  I’m also reading books on the Russian empire – Robert K. Massie’s “Catherine the Great” and Edvard Radzinsky’s “The Last Tsar.”  I’ve been minorly obsessed with the Romanovs since high school.  And like my penchant for mental comfort food, I cannot explain why I am drawn to those eras in history and that country. 

Happy July, friends!