Novel Process

I was watching a really interesting blab the other day by Ally Bishop and she and her co-hosts were talking about process and the concept of the ‘Shadow Novel’. She talked about this weeks ago but it’s really been on my mind in terms of The UnSeen Writing…that feels like it takes up all my time.

My Shadow Novel is all the writing I put into characters and things that happen off screen. “But April,” you might ask, “If it’s happening, shouldn’t you put it in?”
Nah. Not really. I have my current story start off when there is action, when my two main protagonists are meeting one another during a very active and busy time, a time when they need one another and resent the situation. Yet for me to fully understand a character, I have to know everything about them. And while it might be important for me to know how Character A realized that he liked a certain thing, it’s not really great for the pacing and story if we follow him around shopping. I might use one line too reference it later but I actually spent 2 days using my morning writing to figure out that aspect of his character.

Not everyone is like this; writing out stuff and then only using a few words to reference it might not be your style. Hell, I’m sure that there are plenty of writers who don’t have to have all those things laid out in so much detail; they seem so gifted in just writing the line with an image in their mind as the only reference. But that’s still part of the Shadow Novel, the unseen bits of the iceberg as it were.

Today, after saying I was going to do this for oh, weeks, I sat down with Scrivener and began to label out the ‘notecards’ of my project and realized that while I have 39,500 words written in my current project, less than 10k are actually in any shape of a useable draft with the other 3/4th of my current manuscript composing of character exploration, outlining, plot determination, false starts and unlinked scenes that I needed to get down even if I don’t end up connecting to them.

Guys, I feel so much better now that I’ve done this. Is it disheartening to realize that I still have so much to go? Not as much as it was to think that everything I was putting down was unuseable.

It’s a slow process. I write one hour a day most days with some extra time on the weekends. So, honestly, I remind myself that while this work feels slow now, it could have been done faster if I’d had more time to do it. But I don’t, so slow isn’t bad.

I’m still here, one step at a time. I’m still dragging through, one scene, whether it goes into the final draft or stays in the shadows. That’s my process: keep churning it out and don’t get angry if the words I’m mining are diamonds or rocks.

 

Writing Process

Happy Saturday.

Today I want to talk about writing processes and how I manage mine.

Process is different than daily Habit. Getting up every morning, sitting down and doing your writing, that’s Habit. That’s the act of working on your craft and it’s PART of the process, but that’s not the entire thing.

When we go to writing classes they talk about the following:

Brainstorming

Write

Revise

Edit

Share/Publish

Ok, cool. That’s great. Except most of us don’t really follow that.

Here is my Writing Process:

Brainstorm. (for three months about the same idea)

Write. And Write. And then print it out, clean it up, realize it’s not done/I had to cut an entire 10k of words because that plot line isn’t going to work….Write. Write. Write. Write. Finish…

Then there is the cool down period and you’re supposed to go over your edit process, polishing and finishing.

Well, confession time guys.

I’ve never gotten past the Write phase for anything that wasn’t a short story or a very small novella.

Ever.

So that’s where I’m at today in my writing process. I’m going to go print out a current work in progress today because while I’m not done, I also am sort of lost where I’m at so I’m spending today to look at it from a new perspective. My stories are like, winding paths and sometimes I get lost.

This of course, can be remedied if you are good at outlining, which I am not. A friend of mine recommended an outlining tool a few weeks ago and I’m going to finally buckle down and try and use it this weekend and see if I get any farther with my this process. Because no lie, the manuscript is a mess.

That’s ok though. Messes can give birth to beautiful things and I still really believe in this story. So it’ll be born whether it likes to be born or not.

What sort of problems do you run into with process? Hit me up here or on Twitter and let me know.

 

The Importance of Being Beta’d

Recently I submitted a short story to the Writers of the Future contest. I poured over that bit of fiction for three months. I had my beta reader pour over it. I revised and edited then showed it to another beta reader. Then revised some more and then, I submitted it. Proud of myself for my submitting accomplishment, I then went and showed it to a friend who’d expressed interest in looking at it and her first comment was, “I really like it! Do you want me to point out the typos I found, or is someone else doing that for you?

Lesson: There is no such thing as too many beta readers.

I mean, sure, ok, maybe more than 10 people is a bit much, but less than? No. It can never hurt to have more eyes on your fiction.

Yes, you should have the ability to write something with complete sentences, and yes you should have a character in a setting with a conflict so that the reader has something to do, but before you can get to the point of HAVING a reader who spent money on your work, a writers needs someone to read their words and makes sure at A, they are good and B, that they didn’t leave in the entirety of your grocery list on accident or some other such nonsense.

I was first introduced to the concept of a beta reader when I got my start in writing by in fanfiction at the tender age of 11. I used to post my work to Fanfiction.net. (I believe that account has been deactivated and all my work taken down…but with the internet, one can never tell.) There used to be a column on the site that would give writers advice for improving their fictions. I didn’t recognize writing advice the first time I saw it, but the lesson of showing your work to someone before you put it up for the world to see has always resonated with me.

When I joined my first writing class, I was introduced to the very vital rule that Writing is Re-Writing. Before that class, I’d always felt a lot of frustration that nothing I put on paper came out the way I saw it in my head. I felt like I couldn’t show anyone my writing without being horribly embarrassed. There were exceptions of course. In high school I co-wrote a few stories with some friends via a swap-journal. We’d get a book and start writing out bits and pieces of a story and then hand it off when you were done with your part. Yet even that wasn’t true re-writing because we never edited or criticized what the other one was putting down.

That, dear fellows, is what a Beta-Reader is for.

First, you don’t want just anyone you meet to be a beta reader. If you are writing about sci-fi, perhaps your friend who hates sci-fi isn’t the best person to ask. Make sure that your reader is someone who is familiar with the subject that you are writing about and would be a good audience for the story you’re trying to tell. Find someone who is good at picking out errors and pointing them out. As someone to close read for unexpected scene shifts, head hopping and pacing problems. A beta reader can point out that you wrote that last passage as if your character had three arms and whether or not she remembered to actually use the same name for the type of mythical time keeping method you have in place for your fantasy world. Or if your murder suspect’s alibi changes between location moves.

A good beta reader will be blunt but kind. They will take your baby into their arms, lay it out on their exam table and using a steady hand, draw the dotted lines around where the incisions need to be made for a better version of your work. A beta reader does not tell you what to do. A beta reader does not re-write your words and change your novel without talking to you. They don’t share your work around to other people and they, above all things, do not tell you that it’s fine as is on the first pass.

These qualities can take a while to cultivate and find. For me, the best way to get a good beta was to become a beta. When I found out that one of my close friends was working on her writing, I immediately volunteered to look at her work. As I began to go through it and give her that needed extra opinion, we began to feel each other out, to realize where each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. Personally, I’ve been told that I’m a decent story-doctor when it comes to recognizing pacing issues. She is amazing at grammar. It all evens out to create a better product.

Finally, recognize that your beta reader probably should not be your life partner or parent. There needs to be some boundaries that exist and both those people are unlikely to give you the completely honest feedback you need to improve.

Good places to find Beta Readers:
-Online Writing forums

-Writers circles – Most writing circles offer critique. I know that I was in one for a few years where we emailed out what we were going to critique and you came and discussed it together.

-Social media – Follow people who read the types of books you do and make some friends. See if they will look over your work

-Online forums – There are several communities that spring up around areas of interest and here is a good area to hunt down readers who would be interested in what you’re working on.

-Writer’s blogs – A lot of writers (including myself) are usually interested in some sort of swap. I like to swap the first 500 words of a work in progress with people when I’m trying to nail an opening or hook.

Writing is Re-writing, friends. Don’t be afraid to change.

 

 

Accountability

I have been trying to keep a decent writing schedule on this blog since I started it.

If you knew me in meat space you would now begin your cackling and rolling on the ground. However the one thing that all my current habits have in common is this:

Accountability.

Cleaning the cat box? If I don’t, my cat will poop everywhere.

Keeping my dishes done? If I don’t, the roaches will come find me.

Turning in drafts? Deadlines.

Daily word count? My friends and I have a monthly pool going. Whoever has the most words at the end of the month wins.

It really is that easy for me. One of the reasons I think I have never managed to keep a good work out schedule stems from the fact that I dislike working out with people. (If I’m sweating away my delicious calories that I worked hard to collect, I’m not feeling chatty or happy. It makes me unpleasant.) Any other project or task that I’ve procrastinated on all moves back to accountability.

Stories require accountability too. I have so many half-started fiction bits rolling around in my word processor files that one of these days they are going to fit themselves together like Frankenstein’s monster and come eat me in my sleep. How can you get that sort of external check system?

Well, consequences for one. If you DON’T do the daily writing, then you WON’T finish it which is a shame. You won’t be able to show anyone, or at least if you’re like anyone I know, you won’t WANT to show the half-finished bit to anyone. Two, if you have a friend, that helps.

Friends who write aren’t always easy to acquire. I have some writer friends who are fabulous to hang out with but have such different writing processes than myself that accountability with them isn’t as helpful. It takes time and patience but once you have found them, put a ring on it. (Figuratively…unless they are also partner-in-life material then good for you.) If you can find a buddy or at least someone you know to ask about your status on a daily/weekly basis, that can help.

I won’t pretend that I know all the answers. I often feel like I am fumbling forward in the dark, fingers outstretched to find a way through to the other side. That imaginary other side resembles a podium at some awards ceremony where I am being told what a steller author I am.

Done laughing? I am too.

In the end, focus on the stories. Focus on the words and remember: Each keystroke is one step closer to that completed project. The story of 1000 words n’ all that jazz.

Drafting Versus Editing

I made a tumblr post forever ago that stated simply, “I’d be a much better writer if I wrote as much as I talked about writing.”

After all.
Writers Write.
They don’t talk about what they are writing.
They don’t sit in one place and dream about what they could be writing.
They turn off the Candy Crush. They turn on the word processor. They start pecking away.

This universal and oft-repeated truth is one of the hardest things to do. Writing, in short, is hard. People who don’t write think it’s easy. They expect that their writer friend or co-worker can just spit out amazing things because hey, they are a writer and that’s what they do.

Another repeated and true thing is that writing is re-writing. I never, in my life, have been able to pull exactly what I want in a story out from my brain the first time around. In fact, that first stage when our intrepid author-wanna-be is throwing words onto the document sheet and piling them up is my most hated and reviled part of the process. Nothing I say in a rough draft ever fits what I picture in my mind. Its only in the re-writing and fixing process that I start to find that beautiful idea that I had months ago.

In Editing, I look at the lump of clay that I have clawed out of myself and I begin to cut away the imperfections. I accentuate what I wanted to focus on, strengthen the weaknesses, and slowly bring out the concept that had me typing away in the first place.

Finally, everyone’s process is different. I am a sprinter. I will write thousands of words for  months at a time…and inevitably life will interrupt me as I attempt to keep my writing habit fed…and I will fall disastrously off the daily writing habit. I once was dormant for years. Then, as the need became greater, months and most recently, weeks.

I look forward to the day when I have beaten that cycle and can keep to a daily writing schedule, but since I am a flawed individual, I expect that it will happen again. I’ve also learned to be okay with that. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a few days at the keyboard. It’s when you never get back into the groove that you have problems.