After several days without power, internet, or both, I’m back! I didn’t get as much writing done this time as last time. I did, however, handwrite a blog entry, which I’ve typed up below:
In late, out early has turned into one of my mantras. It basically translates into “hew your scenes close to the conflict.” When I start a scene or a chapter and I find myself frustrated with how it is progressing, or failing to progress, it’s usually because I violated this rule. It never hurts to step back and ask myself, where is the conflict in this chapter? Where is it really? If I discover that the start of the chapter is nowhere near the conflict, it’s time to scrap it and start over.
This doesn’t mean that every chapter revolves around a fight scene. Sometimes the conflict is character versus environment, or character versus self, or character versus circumstance. It really depends on how the scene is supposed to be moving the story along.
Just yesterday, I was writing a dialogue scene between the two PoV characters. It was flowing along marvelously, and it pertained to something I had recently researched so I was interested in where the conversation was going. But when I pulled up what I’d written today at lunch to continue where I left off, I hated it. It was an interesting conversations, and the characters were great. But it was two or three pages of text that didn’t do anything. There was no conflict or conflict resolution. All it did was establish that I had researched something and knew what I was talking about.
I had to scrap it. I never really fully delete anything, but I excised it from the manuscript and put it into my wiki instead. And then I thought about where the conflict was, and I started the chapter over where I should have started it in the first place. The dialogue would have led me there eventually, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as clean. The death of that dialogue hurts in some ways, because it was good and I spent time writing it. But the story’s better without it.
One of the hardest things about working full-time and writing part-time is just finding the time to write. When I was in college, I used to have to spend between half an hour and an hour reviewing what I’d written so that I could get into the mindset of my characters. If I didn’t have a chunk of a couple of hours free, I just wouldn’t write. This isn’t a luxury I have any more. I rarely have hours-long chunks of time just sitting around.
As I may have mentioned before, another thing I used to do was write in a specific notebook. There were actually two notebooks, one with the character sketches and one with the story. I would find myself wanting to write but then I would become frustrated because it’s not very easy to transport two notebooks everywhere. I wouldn’t have them with me at all times. So I would find myself writing when I had big chunks of time alone in my dorm room. Again, not something that happens these days.
Now I have a writing tablet. It’s a tablet with a keyboard attachment that I use solely for writing. I’ll pull it out when I’m in the doctor’s office waiting room and write a couple sentences. I’ll put it out when I’m waiting in my car and write a couple sentences. I definitely take it to work so that I can write at lunch.
But most importantly, even if I don’t have the tablet with me, I can write things down on whatever scrap of paper I have handy and put it into the tablet later. I used to think that writing the same scene twice was a waste of time. But I’ve long since gotten over the idea that every sentence, paragraph, and scene I write has to be perfect the first time. And when I realized that I can push perfectionism off to the second (or third, or fifth, or tenth) draft, and that there will be second, third, and tenth drafts, I realized that typing up a scene that I’ve already handwritten isn’t a waste of time. Anything that allows me to convert more of my ‘wasted’ time into writing time is a very useful.
I ended up having to cut my original Chapter 17 in half. I always knew that a lot of action was going to happen in 17, but there ended up being even more action than I thought there was going to be. As I was writing I thought that I wanted to delve a little more deeply into the pov character’s reactions to what was going on, and I think it was a good decision. On to chapter 17.2, also known as chapter 18!
I’ve always been the kind of person that takes copious notes. One of the things that has really improved my writing life is the little wiki program that I use to keep track of my book notes and story ideas. I use a really simple free app that I found in an android store because the more complicated wiki programs really intimidated me. I just wanted something that would work, not something I would have to spend valuable time figuring out how to use.
I used to have a little spiral notebook. It was a huge distraction. I would get upset at stupid things like not planning enough pages for this character sketch or that piece of worldbuilding, and then I’d have to re-write the whole thing or I’d end up spending time flipping around without being able to find the information that I was looking for. With the wiki program, I can add information in the right spot. And even more importantly, I can very easily go back and edit information (like when I decided to make all the characters in my novel a little older). I keep character sketches, lists, random thoughts, and my outline all in one convenient place. And use.
But like so many technology things, it’s a blessing and a curse. I have days like today where I catch myself spending more time updating my wiki files than actually writing. In a way even that is good because it gets me to think more about the plot and characters and the way things are interconnected. But it’s also bad, because the time I spend doing it is time I spend not writing. And it’s really bad when I pop into the wiki to figure out one tiny thing like a super minor side character’s hair color… and then spend twenty minutes updating character files and lose the flow of what I was writing completely.
In bad news, I was without power since yesterday afternoon due to bad thunderstorms. Also in bad news, the writing process update that I had planned on posting on Friday didn’t happen. In good news, I have extended battery power in the keyboard for my writing tablet. Since I had nothing to do yesterday and today but sit in the dark and babysit the generator, I managed to get TWO chapters done in two days.
It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been thinking about these chapters and chapter 17 for a long time now, since I’m about to hit a major turn in act 2 and I’m very excited about it. Act 2 still has a long way to go, but since my original goal was 1 chapter a week, I’m very pleased with my progress.
There comes a time in everything that I’m writing where I hit the middle and I have to make myself keep slogging forward. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a short story or something longer. It usually hits about 1/3 of the way in.
I’ve tried to analyze what it is. I’ve heard writers, usually on panels or podcasts, explain that it’s because the newness has worn off and the ending is very far away. I don’t think that’s my problem. The middle isn’t a boredom problem for me. The middle is where the meat of the story happens, and even though I write from an outline, the characters still do things that surprise me. And it’s not a shiny new thing problem. Shiny new things crop up, and I either modify the idea and throw it in my outline, or I write it down and save it for later.
My wall usually arrives in the form of self doubt. I catch myself thinking, what if this actually isn’t as cool as I think it is? What if I’m wasting my time when I could be writing something better? What if the ending sucks? What if I hate it? So I think my problem is a self-consciousness problem.
I’m not going to lie, there are a couple things that I’ve written that are completely cringeworthy. I hold on to them in the hopes that, some day, I’ll be reading through my collection of works in progress, lightning will strike, and I’ll have the answer that solves all of the story’s problems. For some of my things, especially my earliest things, I think they are probably just too bad to be saved. But I can’t bring myself to throw them out.
Even considering the cringeworthy stories, that’s only some of my writing. So when the story has stopped dragging me along, and it’s my turn to drag it along, I have to remind myself that the rest of my writing is actually pretty cool and enjoyable to read and why do I even care anyway because I’m writing this for myself. It usually works. Besides, if I stopped 1/3 of the way through every time I felt that way, I wouldn’t finish anything.
Finished up chapter 14 this morning. When I was writing it, it felt like a little bit of a longer one because I was feeling my way through. But because I was mostly hand-writing it on lunches at work, that could just be my perception. I still have to type it up, but it’s a lot easier to type up something you’ve already written than it is to create something from scratch.
I’ve decided to make my third post on punctuation. I must really want to turn off anyone stumbling on this site by accident.
I’m not always perfect at grammar, but it’s definitely something I notice. When I’m workshopping or alpha reading someone else’s work, improperly used punctuation really jumps out at me. I’ve heard several other authors who are just getting started say that they just don’t care about grammar.
I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s because one of the most helpful classes I took as an undergrad was Grammar of Modern English, where we basically just diagrammed sentences for a semester. Maybe it’s because my day job requires me to write pretty technical stuff, and my boss is a real stickler about grammar, punctuation, and word choice. Or maybe it’s because I don’t want to look foolish by improperly using dashes, now that I know there are people that are going to judge me if I just randomly pick between en-dashes and em-dashes or some dashing style totally of my own invention.
When I pick up a new book and the first chapter is so full of semicolons that I imagine the author had a bag of the things and just dumped it out on the page? I have to put the book down. Even when the semicolons are used properly, it’s such a strong punctuation signal that I start to feel like I’m being punched in the face with “these sentences are really, really related!” over and over again.
And if the punctuation is not used properly? Forget about it. There comes a point when bad punctuation distracts me so much that there is really no point in even trying to finish the story. If this is how I feel, I can only imagine how an editor is going to feel. Do you really want anyone who is going to maybe hopefully pretty-please going to want to buy this story to be so distracted by randomly sprinkled semicolons that they put the story down?
Punctuation is a very important tool to impart a message. And as a writer, language is my most important tool. It affects a message almost as much as word choice does. And I really don’t understand authors who don’t want to learn more about how to use language.
I have a little bit of time this morning so I thought I would share that I’ve finished chapter 13 and am on to chapter 14. The transition to chapter 14 was a little rough. There was a lot of information that I wanted to impart after chapter 13… but I decided to do a short time jump. The information was really interesting to me about the minute details of this and that, but I’m not sure it would be interesting to read. I suspect no one will miss it.
Meanwhile, I’ve decided my working title for the novel is “The Plague.” This won’t be the title. It’s not really about a plague. The plague is the setting. But for now I really have to call it something.
So this is my new website. I thought I’d set out what I’m hoping to do here, so that I stay focused and on topic. And when I write down rules, I’m a lot more likely to follow them. Maybe that’s just my lawyer brain.
The goal is to post frequent updates. What do I mean by frequent? I like blogs best when they update at least once a week. I’d like to shoot for twice a week. I don’t make any promises about length. In fact, I intend to limit myself to devoting no more than 15 minutes to a single post. The goal is for the blog to keep me motivated and excited about writing, not for it to take over my life and use up all of my useful writing time.
My life is pretty jam packed with work and family and volunteering and writing and gaming. So I’ve been asking myself, why add a blog on top of that? Here’s my answer in a simple syllogism: Thinking about the process of writing keeps me motivated to write; writing about things makes me think about them; therefore, writing about my process of writing will keep me motivated to continue writing.
Besides, I like the idea of accountability, even if I’m only accountable to myself (and my writing group). I’ll post later about how valuable my writing group has been to me.
So here’s where I’m at with writing. I have a couple completed short stories and a few in various states of not-yet-ready-to-sell. I’ve put those in my Works in Progress page. I’m also about half way through chapter 13 on my novel. I’ve almost hit my 15 minutes and I’m sure to spend more time writing about that later… a lot more time… so I’ll leave it at that.