WIP Marathon March Check-in

Wow, it’s like I just did one of these!

…oh, wait…

Gorgeous view from Mirador Morro Velosa, F’ventura

At least this month, I’m (sort of) on time! I promise my next post (which might be today, who knows) will be about stuff other than my word counts, because I realise that for non-writers and even non-WIP Marathoners, that might be about the most boring thing in the world to read. Sorry.

Last report word count: 120,000. This is my WIP’s first draft, version 1.2 😉 (Not a 2nd draft, oh no).

Current report word count: 116,587. As I said last month, I like to have a lot of padding before I dig into a serious edit. I’m still at the “Does this story follow any kind of cohesive narrative whatsoever?” stage. So… As they used to say in Infocom text adventures, Maximum Verbosity.

WIP Issues This Month: I find myself feeling like, “Is this enough?” and wanting to add side plot after character backstory-reason-for-doing-X-Y-Z after side plot. I know I’ll have to scale back, but this is going to be my biggest (not just size-wise, but cast/world-wise) story yet, and I’ve yet to find confidence in the balance between enough complexity and too much. :-l

Is there a writing craft book called “Knowing When You’ve Got Enough Actual _Story_ And You Can Stop Adding Bits Now”?

Four things I learned this month while writing:

1) That it would be awesome if I was a meticulous JKR-like writer who has spreadsheets out the wazoo about what characters do/reveal when and related symbolism, flashbacks, foreshadowing, and what-have-you. I am not.

I have typically one journal per story, and keep notes in as organised a fashion as I can, as well as using different docs within Scrivener for keeping track of world building, but I’m constantly afraid I’ll miss some Post-it or scrap of paper or Evernote stream of consciousness where I’ve written something of UTMOST IMPORTANCE to the unravelling of this story’s universe that I’m stressing myself out.

Last Sunday I heard (and saw) Diana Gabaldon speak for the second time, this time at the Oxford Literary Festival at the Sheldonian Theatre. She was brilliant. I’ve heard and read her how-I-got-here story many times, and each time is increasingly inspirational. She said she doesn’t outline, she doesn’t usually even write chronologically, and often writes conversations or scenes where she may not even know who the characters are yet. And she offers no apologies. She does her research, finds something interesting, and finds a way to work it in. As much as I admire JKR for her sheer imagination and ability to weave plot threads from Page One of Book One with, apparently, God-like awareness of how it will all pan out, I loved hearing Diana explain with wit and refreshing self-confidence that no, she doesn’t know precisely how the series will end until she gets there. And that might bring me to …

2) There is no right way. There’s the way that works for you.

3) If you could use some great examples of plot points, head on over to KM Weiland’s website here: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/movie-storystructure/its-a-wonderful-life/. This particular example uses It’s a Wonderful Life, one of my favourite films, with a very concise and helpful look at how structure holds that story together so neatly.

4) Keeping Twitter/HootSuite/TweetDeck/whateveh shut for 3 hours = 4 scenes edited. BAM. Thus, henceforth I’m going to try to limit Twitter to breaks. I’m way too easily sidetracked. (Though I believe that sometimes this is a GOOD thing, and inspiration sneaks into cracks and crannies (what a word!) through means such as internet distraction. But for real, I need to be more disciplined right now).

What distracted me this month while writing: Besides Twitter, we went to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands at the start of the month, I had a monster cold, and then I went to Oxford for the following weekend. That and my previously mentioned Writer’s Ass, but in the past few days it’s gotten much better! I discovered something called somatics, and it seems to be helping. Praise God!

Goal for next month: Finish this draft by April 17th, then write 20k of Camp NaNo story in the days left in the month.

Next blog post around, no word counts! I promise.

And one more thing, infinitely more exciting than my WIP progress, is the amazing, generous, and talented Susan Dennard (author of SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY and writer of words over at Pub(lishing Crawl) is giving away a bound copy of her upcoming TRUTHWITCH! Check out this link to enter — it’s exclusive to subscribers of her Misfits & Daydreamers newsletter, which you can subscribe to RIGHT HERE. Run, don’t walk! Her newsletters are packed full of magical cookie GOODNESS. OMNOM.

See you next time!


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Cut the writing flab, unpack the muscle. Very tricky.

I met another one of my favourite authors recently. I just had to put that out there right away! Diana Gabaldon is AMAAAAAZING! (See below photo).

Okay, I’m behind on my #Writemotivation updates, as usual, but this is a habit I must break! So quickly, here’s where I stand, in the midst of a last-minute trip back to New York to visit family:

1. Complete LitReactor course and apply to WIP for a CP-ready draft.writemotivation_header1-36217_186x186
Completed the course and got some very encouraging words from the teacher, John Skipp. My summary of the course below.
2. Polish WIP synopsis. Working on this.
3. Keep up better with #Writemotivation cheering. Trying to! Shouldn’t be as hard as I’m in EST time zone right now, but visiting family takes precedence, but I cheer here & there where I can! You guys are ALL doing way better than I 🙂
4. WF x3. Hope to do this this week.

I admire people (*cough* KT *cough) who plow through edits regardless of what busy-ness life throws at them. When I’m travelling, I tend to lose focus; late nights are key when everyone’s asleep, but that means editing with my eyelids propped up by toothpicks. Must practice this technique.

Now, on to my experience with the LitReactor 2-week course entitled Lean, Mean Writin’ Machine.

As with most things writing-related, two unplanned events took place during the course of the 2 weeks that kept me from giving it my full attention (a friend visited from abroad, and then *I* went abroad). I made the most of it though, read as many of the other students’ stories as I could and commented on their revisions. I loved it because everyone was supportive of one another and shared some great suggestions. Everyone brought a fantastic idea to the table, and John Skipp was honest, blunt, witty, and insightful. I highly recommend any of his future classes. He says it like it is, but will tell you what he likes, too. There were a few “lectures” as well as discussions where John posted brief articles about how to tighten and cut your work down to fighting form.

This appealed because I’m struggling to find a balance between unpacking dialogue tags, adverbs and adjectives, and keeping work – especially action scenes – punchy and uncluttered. John is a master at this. He took one student’s scene and cut it down expertly without losing the heart of it, giving a template for my own assignments. Even though this was stuff I knew intellectually, being part of an online class made me whip both scenes into much tighter shape. I lost the flab.

A few items of note:

  • Cut to the chase. Literally. I don’t know why, but hearing this rusty old phrase hit me hard. In a pivotal action scene near the climax of my WIP, this was well-timed advice. I’ve got so many great big blobs of introspective hoo-haw in the midst of what should be a nerve-wracking, page-turning scene. Skipp pointed out that this stuff needs to go before or after the scene. Not in the midst. DUH!
  • Cut soft, weak words. Again. Obvious. But somehow these are words I find again and again in my revising. Examples from submitted work were things like, “and then,” “nearby” (as in “the nearby tree”), “simple”, “single” (as in, “a single bloody scrape”).
  • Foreshadow. It was brought to my attention that an action in my scene that seemed impossible and would make the reader go, “Yeah, right,” would easily be made believable had I foreshadowed it and how it might happen. A character was bound with ropes and I overlooked how I could show him a few paragraphs earlier inching his way forward and how he was moving to use his ropes to strangle another character. But before I foreshadowed, it seemed to just come out of nowhere. It didn’t even occur to me because *I* could picture it. Another reminder that my job is to make readers see and believe. Not just dump the stuff that’s in my head on the page.
  • Don’t forget sensory details. I fear being verbose so much that sometimes I skip even the most basic smell/sound/feel of things that would help the reader connect with the setting and the moment. Gotta work on this.

Conversely, there’s been conversations among #Writemotivation people on our +Google community (come join us!) as well as on some other websites lately about “unpacking” our prose. This article by Chuck Palahniuk says rather than writing, “Tom hated Mary,” we should unpack this to describe Tom’s facial expressions when Mary enters the room, how he rolls his eyes or moves to the opposite side, or exits the room entirely, clenching his fists or tightening his jaw. Interesting article.

But the advice is tricky to put into practice if you’re an unpublished author looking for representation. Yes, we want to show not tell as much as possible, but there has to be a balance, right? Skipp’s class was about losing the flab. This article is about gaining inches of muscle. So we should lose the flab (weak, soft words) and gain muscle (unpacked showing rather than telling). But doesn’t “writing muscle” in a kind of way leave us in a similar position as the “writing flab” that we want to eliminate? Both take up precious space on the page. Obviously muscle’s preferable. But it still adds heavily to our word count.

Example: if Diana Gabaldon was trying to get agent representation for OUTLANDER/CROSS STITCH in August 2013, she’d have to cut about 220,000 words first. And it’s all muscle.

Sunday I was lucky to hear Diana speak at the Fergus Scottish Festival in Ontario, which I found out was taking place (2 hours away) near my hometown as I was en route from the UK. She was on my “hope to meet someday” list but I didn’t expect it so soon!

Fergus Scottish Festival - 18

She was lovely, generous, and full of anecdotes. She mentioned that OUTLANDER is, I believe, 305k. I would never begrudge her a single of the exquisite words in any of her books. She’s successfully unpacked her captivating descriptions of everything from medical procedures performed in the 18th century to detailed character studies in every scene.

But we’re being told these days that 120k is the maximum for adult fantasy. 100k is more like it. 80k would really be best. How on earth will a debut author ever get a novel as richly painted as Diana’s on the shelves again, unless s/he first has wild success with something more akin to a novella by comparison?

It’s disheartening, but makes me realise the importance of striking a balance. Sometimes you need the, “Tom hated Mary” sentences. Boom. There it is. Sometimes you need the, “As soon as Mary entered the room, Tom set down his beer and excused himself from conversation. His jaw ached from clenching it. His first free night in weeks now ruined. Memories of their last conversation flashed in his mind, how her smug features set his nostrils flaring. He couldn’t make a scene here. He grabbed his coat and took the back door.” (Whatever. Please excuse the off-the-cuff verbiage).

Do you sacrifice word building and character exploration in order to “unpack” every dialogue tag or clipped phrase possible, thereby cutting down on actual story in order to SDT? There’s got to be a happy medium, but in this day and age when production costs and bookshelf space are primary concerns over story (and I do get the financial side of it… sort of), it seems like we’re being given very dicey parameters.

Having just finished a course about tightening your prose, I think a lot depends on genre, style, and voice. Maybe alternating clipped phrases with more illustrative actions. But I *don’t* think we need waffling on about Tom’s every body function that spells out his hatred for her when we could just say, “Tom’s disdain for Mary knew no bounds,” but I think maybe it’s all about context. In other words, there is no hard and fast rule. Don’t use “said” for every dialogue tag in the world, but we don’t need three sentences to avoid using an adverb.

Any thoughts? I’m still kind of baffled by it all, but it’s something worth thinking about. (Though perhaps, not too hard ;))

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July #writemotivation

At the end of April I came across the hashtag #writemotivation on Twitter and while I’ve been a bit wary (read: uneducated) about hashtags in the past, this one caught my eye. A bit of research into it later, and I was signed up for the May #writemotivation. This meant that I was putting my writing goals out there, published on K.T. Hanna’s blog – the genius behind this group – and my own. Despite knowing I was getting married and and going on my “minimoon” in May, I made some lofty goals.

If you’re reading this, a writer, and are unfamiliar with #writemotivation, check out K.T. Hanna’s blog. I highly recommend you sign up next time around! The basic premise is keeping others motivated via Twitter and blog commenting and checking on on each other’s monthly goals. Writing can be so solitary, and I feel like this was just the social boost I needed. The people are LOVELY and I’m so glad to have found the group.

So since I’m not getting married this month (sadly, as it was a total BLAST), I am dedicating myself to getting the majority of the rest of my WIP first draft finished. Here are my July goals:
1. Finish new round of edits to MS #1.
2. MS #1 x5.
3. Finish edits to WIP to Chapter 9.
4. Write 10k in WIP.
5. Balance job hunting with writing, CP/Beta work, and blogging. Be realistic!

The last one might be trickiest. I’ve taken on another CP and another Beta – happy to have found them! But this means I’m still finishing (but delaying finishing, at the same time, as I’m enjoying them WAY too much) the OUTLANDER series, while reading several other WIPs/drafts of other writers. And regardless of my writing goals, I still need to spend time on the job hunt. I’m hoping we can relocate to Scotland so I’m looking for jobs there – but this job hunt-around, I plan to be very picky about what I apply for, spend an entire afternoon if I can on each application, and focus on what would be worth moving for. Also still looking for work in the Bristol area, though I feel like I’ve been beating my head against the wall in that respect for over 2 years now.

So I’ve got to be realistic, but I know I can do this. No big plans; I can’t go away this month because the UK Border Agency has my passport as they process my new visa (don’t get me started on the nerves!!), and part of me knows that even if I get an job interview this month, I don’t know how well it will go without my passport in hand to show them. So I’ve got plenty of time and NO EXCUSES 🙂

I will be doing the rounds on all my fellow #writemotivation writers’ blogs and Twitter and hope to see yours soon 🙂

Photo credit to Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Being a doer.

She looks like she might be worrying, and procrastinating. So much so she’s turned to stone. Don’t let this be you!!

With the #Writemotivation May Goals, I’ve been thinking (see that? Already! Thinking and not doing…) about just getting stuff done rather than deliberating, contemplating, and just generally faffing. If you don’t know the definition of “faffing”, I do think the word is very nearly an onomatopoeia.

And as this blog has been keen to announce publicly, I am a worrier and it is my great goal in life to stop this ridiculous, futile habit. Yesterday I read a great little devotional by Max Lucado about being a “worry-slapper.” He compares worries to mosquitos – and I’ll go one step further and compare it to midges, which if you’ve spent any time in the Scottish Highlands, or Scotland in general, you will know how infuriating these insects are.

Lucado points out that when a mosquito lands on you, you don’t watch it land and think about it. You slap that bugger away immediately. Worry should be no different. Letting it sit and stew and dig its claws into your skin, making it harder to extricate later? No good. As one of my lecturers at Falmouth sagely offered, with regards to plagiarism come dissertation time: “Plagiarism. Crack cocaine. Just don’t.” With a mosquito, you don’t say, “I’ll take care of that in a minute.” You immediately remove it! And anxieties are the same.

Don’t waste an hour wondering what your boss thinks; ask her.  Before you diagnose that blemish as cancer, have it examined.  Instead of assuming you’ll never get out of debt, consult an expert.  Be a doer—not a stewer!

Not just about worry, this topic. Last night I finished reading the second OUTLANDER book by Diana Gabaldon. I meant to go to bed around 10pm, feeling like a cold was coming on, but I had reached 90% of the book on my Kindle and decided I needed with every inch of my being to know how it ended. So I read until 1:30am. I’ll need to write a blog post about Diana’s writing at a later date, but the way her characters have leapt off the page at me (partly thanks to the Scottish setting and historical deliciousness) has gripped my heart and I WOULD. LOVE. TO. WRITE. LIKE. HER. She is fascinating and has such a strong voice for each character, and her writing voice is just brilliant. Like the sun. I’m in love. (And I’m so not a Harlequin/romance fan, at all. I kinda have to breeze through those passages, but they’re still so well written. I just don’t do romance, but her books are not defined as such. They’re too much else.)

It inspired me even more – one more massive block of fuel to the fire under me to write. Just write, as much as I can, as inspired as I can, and stop spending hours a week reading *about* writing. Just GET GOING.

So. Get going 🙂 Don’t let that midge sit around and sink his fangs in. Slap that procrastination–that Pinterest, that Facebook, that pile of dishes that really can wait until 5pm–slap it all away and get moving.

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