Thursday, June 30, 2011

Writing, blogging, volunteering, and hair coloring

Yesterday was a very atypical day, in that I did more revising of the plot map, did a little writing, worked on a couple of different blog posts, spent an hour and a half phonebanking with Organizing for America, colored my hair (first time I've ever done it myself! Eek!), and finally got back to writing. Still, I did manage another 1102 words! I am closing in on 23% completed on my first draft.
I'm a little worried that I may be taking too long to get to my protagonist's decision point, but I'm just going to keep moving forward. I can sort all the plotting out later, and if I need to cut some stuff or move it around, the second draft is the proper venue for that.

Oh, and here's the result of my debut as a hair self-colorist:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming

Still making steady progress, having added another 1072 words yesterday. Sometimes I find myself wondering how many of the words I'm banging out every day will survive into the second draft, but I suspect that such speculation is a threat to progress. After all, it's hard to justify writing words that may just end up on the novelist's equivalent of the cutting room floor. So let's not think about it, shall we? I am very close to 22% finished with the first draft, and that's something to celebrate!
Today, I would really like to get to what I feel is the end of the "first act" of the story, the point where the protagonist makes the decision that catalyzes the rest of the plot. I think I may be coming to it later than I should be, from a technical standpoint, and that may be something I have to correct in the next draft. But I have been pretty careful to make sure that every scene has actually moved the plot forward, so I do feel good about the plotting so far. And everyone who has read the draft has indicated that they are finding it gripping, so it doesn't seem to be a saggy story.

I don't know--maybe it's just fine. Who cares? I need a completed draft before I start dissecting the darn thing. Onward!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Back to the grindstone... thank God

Yesterday was a slow-starter. Most of the time I spent on the novel was applied to plotting in greater detail the next three big scenes. This was necessary because the plotting I've done so far has kind of been like planning a road and marking where I think it's going to go with little dots of spray paint. Then, as I actually write, I find the places where the ground is to hard to dig or there are obstacles that I don't want to try to write around, or I just find a better or more interesting direction.

In other words, writing can trump plotting, particularly when it comes to details. So where I ended up on the last big scene did not deposit the story precisely at the place that I had expected when I was plotting. Therefore, re-plotting was necessary.

Once I was ready to start writing, though, I found my reserves of enthusiasm were greatly depleted. This was due to several factors. Fortunately, a good friend called late last night to slap me upside the head with some common sense. At the time he called, I only had 450 words written and was struggling to reach the 500 word minimum quota. After he called, the writing caught fire and I finally stopped at 1200 words. This means I have officially surpassed the 20% completion mark!

Monday, June 27, 2011

"That's it?"

As I predicted, I spent most of the weekend working on my new entry to the screenplay competition, so I didn't write as much on the novel. I did, however, add a new 1083 words, which puts me over the 19% mark for completion of the first draft.
I tore my hair out for the first part of the weekend. Literally no concepts were coming to me for the screenplay prompt (genre: fantasy, subject: a natural disaster, character: an airport security guard). I eventually realized that the reason was that I was attacking it from a scenario and plot angle instead of letting the plot grow from a character. So I finally picked a concept and just started writing a character walking into the situation, focusing on who she was.

Thankfully, the writing flowed after that. I finished the first draft Saturday, polished it a little bit Sunday, and turned it in with hours to spare. Now I wait for a confirmation that the competition received my entry without any issues, and after that, I wait until July 18 to hear if I made the cut to the final round. I feel pretty good about my chances; I really like what I turned in.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Just write, damn it!

I slowed down a little yesterday, not deliberately but because the words seemed to come more slowly. I think I feel prey to a bad habit for writing a first draft: thinking too hard and too long about everything... word choices, characterization, etc. And while I felt good about what I'd written, I finished without that sense of elation that I've been experiencing at the end of the day up to now. I believe the reason for that is that I gave up so much momentum by stopping too often to think.

Still, I wrote another 1,038 words, bringing me to 18% of the first draft completed.
I've been doing a lot of reading of blogs by writers lately, looking for advice on how to build a "writer's platform," which is the latest terminology for writers doing their own marketing and promotion work. In doing this research, I came across a truly hilarious, and highly profane, website and by writer Chuck Wendig. If you are not easily offended by obscenities (I'm not), you should really check out his page on building a writer's platform, and pretty much anything else he posts to his blog. I laughed so hard reading this stuff that I was nearly in tears, and yet he consistently makes valid, practical points from which any writer will benefit.

But where I really found some advice that was very timely for me, in particular,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More progress and some good news

Okay, folks, I'm officially closing in on the first plot point, and at just about the right time (according to plotting experts), because after writing an additional 2,081 words yesterday, I now have my first draft 17% complete!
As part of my never-ending campaign to derail my own progress, I've been worrying a lot the last few days because the writing is coming so easily. Not that it doesn't take me a lot of hours to come up with each day's words--it does--but I'm not actually struggling, and it seems like I should be. After all, didn't Gene Fowler say, "Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead?"

Well, so far, I'm digging deep for what I'm writing and I like what I'm doing--a lot--but I'm nowhere near bleeding. And yes, I know this sounds stupid, so please feel free to make a doll with a lock of my hair and stick pins into it to your heart's content. That might at least provide me with something legitimate to complain about.

In other news, I just found out that I have advanced to the second of three

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The good times keep on rolling

Had another really good day yesterday, wherein I actually wrote about 2,000 words, but did enough adjusting in the process that I actually had a net gain of 1,889 by the time all was said and done. So I am now a solid 15% done with the first draft!
But the exciting thing is that what I did yesterday felt so good. While the genre of this novel is contemporary fantasy, it is also comedic, and the scene I was working on yesterday was especially heavy on the comedy. Writing it was an absolute blast! When I finished, I texted a friend to say "I hope this scene is as funny as I think it is." She later read it and declared that it was, indeed, funny, so I have more or less independent confirmation.

I can only hope that this trend of feeling good about the writing will continue, although it's a double-edged sword; whenever I feel so wholeheartedly enthusiastic, I begin to wonder if I'm losing perspective, which leads to suspicion that the writing isn't as good as I think it is, which then triggers a certainty that it's not, and so on and so forth. You'd think there'd be a good medication for this, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My cup of inspiration runneth over

After doing a bit of rewriting and tightening of the 11% of my first draft that I had completed by Friday, I found myself in a strange position: I was overly inspired. I know that sounds a little ridiculous, but I honestly felt so good about what I'd written and so full of creative energy that I was momentarily not sure where to go with it all.

At least one character that I'd intended to use and discard turned out to be too interesting and full of possibilities to toss out after a single use. On top of that, I suddenly had a number of ideas for the the climactic scenes of the story that were much more interesting and full of delicious conflict than I had previously imagined.

So, I took the weekend off from writing while I pondered all this. And I'm still not sure exactly what my outline will look like going forward, but yesterday, I did manage to get most of the way through my next scene and produced a tidy sum of 2,258 words, bringing my draft up to 13% completion!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Never mind!

Yesterday was a very atypical day for me, novel-wise. I didn't actually write more from where I left off the day before. Instead, I went back and read everything I had written in order to clean it up, weaved in the stuff I had just sort of air-dropped into the plot along the way, and tackled known problems that I had left myself notes about. I wound up writing probably an additional 800 words or more, but because I also cut a bunch of stuff as I went, I only ended up with a net gain of 179. But hey, I still have 11% done!
I know I had kind of committed myself to just writing straight through to the end of the first draft, but I think I'm not temperamentally capable of that. I used to go back and rewrite everything I'd done before each day before continuing on the story, which resulted in a really great first couple of pages which then progressively deteriorated. I'm not doing that this time. But I do think I need to do a quality-control rewrite every 10,000 words or so, just to ensure that the tone and the logic and plotting remain consistent throughout.

What really shocked me as I reread my first few scenes was this: they weren't in need of that much rewriting. I did completely strike one paragraph and I rewrote the first three paragraphs of the novel, but after that, it was just a lot of smaller tweaks. I had really expected to have to do more rebuild, when in fact what was needed was mostly finishing work.

And today my friend and writing partner (on yet another novel project) read the whole thing and declared that it is, in fact, not even close to crap. So, yay! I can stop driving myself batshit crazy and get back to work. Several other people have offered to read my draft, so I have to add some more to it in order to make it worth their time. :D

And by the way, I feel I should apologize to anyone who actually follows this blog for the fact that it reads like it should be titled "Leanne: Portrait of a Middle-Aged Neurotic." But hey, they do say to write what you know.

Friday, June 17, 2011

This is a stupid concept that nobody wants to read

As I predicted in yesterday's post, the pace of my writing did indeed slow down yesterday as a result of my having to stop and rework the next portion of my outline. This was necessary because, after actually writing the stuff dictated by my outline so far, the next scenes I had prescribed initially either weren't quite appropriate or just not as good as the ideas I had now.

Still, I managed to do 700 words yesterday, so that's nice!
Interestingly, my subconscious saboteur decided to make another derailment attempt. Last night, I started wondering if maybe my protagonist was the only character I would ever be able to write successfully. (This was brought about by the fact that this is far and away my most successful novel attempt.) I promptly rattled off several other characters I've written successfully (in a separate novel I'm co-authoring), so I beat that attempt at sabotage rather easily.

This morning, however, I was taking a shower and suddenly had the thought pop into my head that my novel plot was stupid. Just silly and stupid and utterly uninteresting to anyone but me. This bit of negativity has been harder to refute, simply because, besides me, nobody has read what I've written yet. I really don't know for sure that my plotline isn't dumb, I have no way of knowing if anyone who doesn't see my face in the mirror every day will find this story compelling. For all I know, people will cringe as they read it and won't progress beyond the first ten pages.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don't touch that fire extinguisher

My hot streak has continued.Yesterday, I wrote another 1,955 words! This brings my running total above the 10,000-word mark by a healthy margin:
Things will probably slow down a little today, because I need to rework the next part of the outline. The way I've written the last couple of scenes dictates that the outline I have for the next two or three needs to be tweaked quite a bit. So I suppose that most of today's work time will be spent reshaping the next scene or two, with enough left over to write my minimum of 500 words. Unless my fire is still burning after all the outline work and I can zip through an extra 500 or so.

That's actually a real possibility, since I've reached the point where I'm actually "living" in this novel world of mine now. That's when my creativity hits overdrive and I just don't want to stop writing until it feels like the right time to quit. Although I love being inside the head of my protagonist so much, I never really feel like stopping. I just have to sometimes, to eat and sleep and stuff.

Anyway, I'm off to rework the outline. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fire in the hole!

I had another creative explosion yesterday, during which I wrote 2,887 words! I started a scene and it sort of caught fire, and I didn't want to stop until I'd finished it. This brings my running word total to the strangely round number of 9,800:
Look at that red progress bar! I'm closing in on 10% completion on the first draft.

The next section of the plot plan will need some retooling, because at this point, there is a slight gap between what I had specifically planned to do and what I actually wrote, so it's unlikely I'll get anywhere near even a thousand words written today. But it's really nice to have made this much progress.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Steadily marching forward

Another good day of goal-meeting for me. Last night, I added another 663 words to my first draft, bringing me to a grand total now of 6,913:
Notice that I'm still showing at 6%, but I'm almost to the 7% completion mark.

I decided to take a look at my mind map again today. I've been looking at the plot side for guidance on what needs to happen and in what order, but I haven't done much with the character side since I started writing. Turns out there was a lot to change and stuff to add to several of the characters, because I've made decisions as I wrote that contradicted what I'd originally thought I'd do or that have simply fleshed out the characters more. I've now updated all the character info - until something else changes during the writing I do going forward.

Then I made some modifications on the plot side. I know that I originally stated that I had broken the Beginning, Middle, and End sections into individual scenes, but that's not how it has actually turned out. What I'm actually finding more useful is just to list things I want to accomplish one after the other and then, during the writing process, grouping those events into scenes however they naturally fall.

Here's a picture of the top part of the map. The plot stuff is on the right-hand side:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Increasing the saturation

If you read the last post (all three of you - you know who you are), you may recall that I left off with a word count of 2,135 and was concerned that I was trying to sabotage my effort to complete a first draft.

Well, I'm not worried about that anymore. At least, not right now. Why not? Well, let's just say I had a bit of an explosion of productivity this weekend, quite unexpectedly. Remember, my baseline goal is 500 words a day, but on Friday, I set an informal goal of doing 1,000 each on Saturday and Sunday. Take a look at the ol' word counter now:
That's right. I went into the weekend aiming for another 2,000 words and somehow wound up writing over 4,000. The really extraordinary part is that I didn't spend that much time actually writing. Most of my weekend was taken up with doing research on the areas of Portland where the bulk of my novel is set, areas that I "know" but didn't really know.

Friday, June 10, 2011

There's a saboteur in my midst!

A funny thing happened to me last night and into today - one of the characters in my novel suddenly became very real to me, despite the fact that I'm still just figuring out who she is. I expected that to happen (creating characters has never been my weak point), but I didn't expect this particular character to take off this soon. It suggests that I will be able to use her a lot more in the plot that I had originally planned. I like that idea!

Oh, and lest I forget to report the daily stats, I wrote 585 words last night, despite a headache. This brings my total up to 2135.
And I've now got a whopping 2% of my first draft written! Yay, me!

I have lofty ambitions for the my weekend productivity: I want to write 1,000 words each on Saturday and Sunday. Think I can do it? I do.

So now we come to this bit of insight into my twisted mind. The story is really coming alive to me now - I'm having fun writing the characters, they are becoming real to me, and I'm really digging the process and feeling extremely positive about the novel. But when I read what I've written, I have this knee-jerk sensation of "oh, this is crap." Now, objectively, I don't think it's crap. I think it's pretty good for the first ten pages of a first draft. I believe in my writing ability and I know that I wouldn't be feeling so positive about the project if what I'm writing really were crap. Why, then, is some part of me so desperate to make me believe that it is?

Maybe it's because my inner self-saboteur is scared to death that I might actually succeed this time. Sorry to disappoint you, chicita. I'm doing this.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The road to first-draftdom: so far, so good

As of last night, I have written 1,550 words of the first draft of my novel. I find that rather impressive, considering that yesterday was only Day 3 of the actual writing. But, since it is just Day 3, I don't want to get too cocky, so let's seek some reality-checking context.

In the title of my very first post to this blog, I alluded to my novel-writing venture as being a 50,000 to 75,000-word proposition. However, a brief bit of belated research in the genre of my novel (fantasy) indicates that most examples are expected to run to approximately 100,000 words. I'm not much of a minimalist, so I feel certain I can meet that expectation. With that in mind, here is a graphical representation of my progress thus far:
So, while I might feel that producing 1,550 words in three days (spending only perhaps six hours, total) is writing at a pretty good clip, it still represents only about 1% of the totality of the first draft. Keeping that in mind will help me when I'm tempted to slack off later.

I decided at the beginning of the day yesterday to set a daily goal of 500 words. Generally, I can produce 500 words of decent prose in 30 to 45 minutes of work - quite a bit more if I just write without stopping to think and rethink word choices and other writerly decisions. In other words, 500 is a pretty low bar for me, but since my weakness is in following through and finishing the first draft, I want to keep the daily goal low enough that I can feel good about my progress even on days when I can't take a lot of time to write or when the words are flowing like kidney stones. If I get too discouraged, it will make it easier to walk away from the project.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Characters, plot, and writing the first 754 words

Okay, as I was saying in the previous post, I have found a process for planning and plotting a novel that seems to be exactly what I and my quirky little brain need to keep things in focus, on track, and moving forward. And so far, it is working for me: it took me a week and a half or so to plot out the novel, and as of last night, I've written 754 words. Can I get a high-five? *slap!* Thanks!

I found what I didn't even realize I was looking for on the website of Simon Haynes, a science fiction writer in Australia. I started reading some of his articles on writing novels and getting them published. That's when lightning finally struck; specifically, while I was reading the one entitled, "How to plot your novel." In this article, Simon shared his personal method of figuring out both his characters and his plot using mind mapping. He showed an image of his mind map for his first novel, which he produced with Freemind, available by free download.

Looking at Simon's mind map, I experienced a sense of recognition. This was it! The very tool I needed!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Beginning the journey of 50,000-75,000 words

If the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the journey to write a novel might be said to begin with a thousand first steps. Or at least, that's the way it's worked for me. I've had a number of ideas for novels over the years, and have actually started to write some of them. The novel I'm currently starting? I've started it before - at least twice.

I've spent a lot of time and no small amount of angst trying to analyze the reason or reasons for my failure to bring my novel to term. The nebulous plotline I started with didn't really work out as I wrote, so I tried to force it to. Then, one of my minor characters turned out to talk and behave in ways that didn't suit what I'd planned for her. But the biggest deficiency was that, while I had a vague idea of how I wanted the novel to end, I hadn't even a vague route planned to get me from the beginning to that ending. And my ending wasn't nearly well-formed enough to make a good target.

Pick up any book on novel-writing or even a writer's magazine and you will learn that novels are supposed to be outlined. But for me, writing an outline seemed like a) as much work as writing the novel - maybe even