Thursday, September 30, 2010

Week 2: 29 Chapters / 36,402 Words

Another productive week behind me! I've stopped trying to edit as I go. The forward rush really takes all the time I have. It's better not to edit anyway, although a little tweaking for clarity as I write is fine. I almost finished the antagonist's scenes -- only two more to write. They were, as anticipated, much shorter and it was a welcome relief to see that I could still keep scenes brief and tightly-focused. Running long is not a good pattern to fall into.

My minimum goal is ten scenes per week. I was able to write more scenes this past week due to the fact that many of these scenes were shorter. As I transition into the main character's POV, the scenes will tend to run long again. The word count is currently in line with where it should be, but I'm sure it'll grow at least somewhat excessive again from this point forward, so I'll leave the estimated word count at 110,000, instead of 100k.

I have about 51 more scenes to write. That should take about five more weeks. If so, then I'll actually finish the draft in seven weeks instead of eight, which is terrific since it'll leave me with another week to use for the editing! I've set a date in January for this novel to be completed, in time to submit it for the next Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.

Up to this point, I've been planning on a pattern of many short chapters. Each chapter has only one scene. Thus, eighty scenes equals eighty short chapters. Some run 500 to 600 words, others closer to 2000 words, so there is variety. The generic word count goal per chapter (scene) is 1250 words, with a range from 500 to 1750 or thereabouts. I may keep this arrangement or I may decide to group the scenes into fewer chapters of multiple scenes. I'll wait until the editing phase to make that decision. The rationale for many short chapters is the idea that people sometimes read in short installments and the goal is to make the story readily accessible for reading during the daily commute or the typical lunch break.

That's all for now! I'm enjoying it and trying to remember to pace myself. It is a marathon, and I have a lot left to write, so best not to overdo. I have to complete this draft, then I still have many weeks of intense editing ahead of me. I look forward to the time when I can share the completed story!

Best wishes for your own writing progress,


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mid-Week Update

Just a quick update at what is "mid-week" according to my writing calendar. Since I started on a Thursday, each week begins on Thursday and ends on Wednesday. I am now mid-way into the second week.

The work currently stands at 18 chapters out of 80, and 29k words out of a revised total of 110,000. Since things are running a little longer than I intended, I revised the estimated total upward by 10k. See the updated the graphic in the sidebar.

I finished the scenes for the Romantic Interest Subplot and have written the first scene for the Antagonist Subplot. I'll continue those scenes this week. There are twelve more of them to do. If I can, I'll try to finish all those scenes by Wednesday, working beyond the 10-scenes-per-week pace that I had established. These scenes are much easier to write and most of them are supposed to be somewhat shorter, so it might be possible to accomplish this within the next several days.

That's all ... want to keep it brief. I'll update again after this second week's work is complete.

Best wishes for your own rapid progress,


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Week 1: 11 Chapters / 19,323 Words

Autumn has officially begun and I've just completed my first full week of writing on my new WIP. I'd certainly call the first week a success. The novel has grown slightly: I'm now estimating 80 chapters and 100k words.

My goal is to complete 10 chapters per week for 8 weeks. I reached 11 chapters this first week. The chapters are running long, so the word count is higher than it should be. At 11 chapters, it should average out to 13,750 words. I completed 19,323 words, which means I'm hammering out about 40% more than I need to.

It's hard to keep it as short as I want it to be! Some of this can be edited away when I tighten the prose. However, in a few chapters I planned to abbreviate through narrative summary and I'm finding it hard to summarize and thereby "leave out" scenes. I tend to want to dramatize these steps since they are interesting in their own right and help flesh out the world and characters as well as advance the plot, so I end up with two or three scenes where I should have only one with some summary to move things along.

At first I was worrying about this but now I've decided to just go with it. This is the first draft and I would be better off having the extra scenes in case I decide to use them later. I can expand the word count as needed. Better to stay true to the story and these scenes seem vital enough to warrant inclusion as I'm writing them. Once I complete the draft then I can put my editor's cap back on and reorganize or cut out scenes as appropriate.

Today I'm starting the second week and looking forward to it. Hope it's as easy as the first week. I really breezed through the writing thanks to all the planning, and I feel the overall quality is pretty good for the first draft. I just have to keep my confidence up -- I realize all too well that I've left behind the logical planning stage and am now immersed in the creative phase, and I have to respect that. This is not the time to rethink things, or analyze the plot. I just need to write, to follow the blueprint, the map, the plan. Let it happen, and it will happen. Then, I can clean up the messes later. Overall, I'm doing really well with sticking to the plan and maintaining continuity.

Marching on,


Saturday, September 18, 2010

It Felt Like Christmas Eve

After so much preparation, I eagerly looked forward to the day I had marked on my calendar to begin the first draft of my new WIP. That day was Thursday (9/16). I took Wednesday night off from any writing activities to give myself time to clear my head and rest up. That night, it felt like Christmas Eve! I was so excited. I had dreamed of creating such a collection of planning materials in the past, but never quite succeeded. This time, I went all out. In the weeks leading up to the big day I thought the story through forward and backward and mapped every scene in detail.

When Thursday rolled around and I finally sat down to write the first chapter, I felt like I was opening a wonderful gift that I had prepared for myself. I wrote joyfully, satisfied that I knew what I was doing. True, it was a little daunting at first, but I found it easy to resist the tendency toward perfectionism that can stall the creative flow. It wasn't about getting it down perfectly, but getting it written. My positive experiences in writing and editing earlier this year gave me the courage to trust my ability to write and polish. I set my qualms aside and focused on the scenes as I had imagined them, and sure enough I brought the story to life on the page. I really appreciated having it all mapped out for me this time. I could focus entirely on the individual scene, rather than having to wonder where things were headed.

I've completed five chapters and am working on the sixth one. I'll try to complete ten chapters per week but that may vary. I'll try to finish the entire draft in eight weeks, no more than ten. The projected word count is 95,000 words, but it will likely be somewhat longer. I don't want to exceed 110,000 words and can edit things down as needed. This story is epic fantasy, so the word length is appropriate.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm writing the chapters out of order. I considered several ways of approaching that and decided at least initially I'll work with one of the minor POV characters and write through all his scenes in the order they appear in the story. Then, I'll switch to the other minor POV character, and finally to the main character. This enables me to focus on each character's voice and how his perception shades the telling of the story. Continuity is not much of an issue at this point. I really did think through the details, and am keeping track of things well enough. I can also make brief notes to remind me of fine points for later editing but haven't needed to do that yet.

I'm also setting a new rule with this draft: it's okay to edit the current chapter, but once I declare it "finished" for the sake of the initial draft, and move on to the next chapter, I can no longer go back to it. Also, I will not read any previous chapter once I begin a new day's work. In other words, I can write a chapter in the morning and return to it throughout the day to edit and improve it, but when the next day rolls around, I can no longer go back to edit it or even to read it. I can only ever look at or edit the current day's work. This plan represents a compromise between the desire to read and edit previous chapters even as I advance to new chapters, and the opposite extreme where I never look back no matter what, and never edit anything until the draft is complete.

So far, the results are very much what I was hoping for. I'm thrilled to find it so easy to bring these scenes to life. The planning has not hindered that process. It has only helped it.

I'm not sure how much I'll blog along the way. I may put up a word count meter in the sidebar. You can rest assured I'll be writing steadily, probably every single day until the draft is complete in about two months. I won't stop until it's done and I'll finish it as quickly as possible while also maintaining quality.

Off and running,


Monday, September 13, 2010

The Ball Is In My Court

Turns out I do need a few more days to complete the planning work I have in progress. Last night I wrote 10k words in scene descriptions ... covering the first 25% of the novel. I'll need a few more days to finish these for sure! I could try to write less but I enjoy exploring the scenes and feel this is useful. I'm generating details I can draw from later. Better to sure up than leave to chance.

It's clear to me from all my planning work that the ball is in my court. It's up to me what to do with this story, how to do it, when to do it. I'm not on a power trip: I'm just realizing the power that I have to make decisions. I'm seeing clearly how the decisions I make play out and how it really does matter what decisions I make. I shape the writing experience for myself.

I've tried a mixture of approaches the past few years, and continue to try new avenues in search of the most productive and efficient ways to get my stories written. It's been a long haul and a massive amount of work, but I've made substantial progress and have learned a lot along the way, both what works for me and what doesn't. I've tested the boundaries, found how far I can go with some things, where the point of diminishing returns lies, and whether it's reasonable to gamble on certain strategies or not.

I need to stay true to myself, to do what works best for me. All the writing advice in the world is just that -- advice. The reality of my work as a writer is that it is an experience which I shape, which I must know well, for which I am responsible. It's up to me to pick and choose and develop the best way for me to get the job done. I have more courage now to rule in or out various strategies, perspectives and philosophies. I've tried things ... one should never make such hefty decisions without trying things. But with experience comes the right to make those decisions.

And always, I can try something new. Sometimes when I first try a new approach it doesn't seem to work. I'm smart enough to know that doesn't mean it's a bad idea: I just may not yet have figured out how to make it work. Too often we let our assumptions (and prejudices) guide us rather than clear the slate and try in earnest to understand something that may not come naturally or easily to us. Those who persevere may eventually find a way to make a new, worthwhile idea work and gain a substantial benefit (or learn more about why something is not for us).

I'm about to launch my first draft of my new WIP and I plan on writing it out of sequence, something I've never tried before. The basic rationale is this will force me to be cognizant of what I'm writing, to write with purpose, with forethought, with awareness, rather than from the seat of my pants. Even when I have planned substantially in the past before writing a draft, in the end it always comes down to developing a context, i.e., figuring it out as I go. This time I want to change that pattern, to force myself into a situation where I must know the story, and maintain continuity of the important details, a situation where writing is sharing what I know rather than learning the story as I go.

It will be interesting to see how this experiment pans out. I anticipate a very enlightening experience when I finally do read (and edit) my way through for the first time in sequence from beginning to end. This challenge is one I'm ready for, and doing it at this time makes sense in my ongoing development as a writer. Had I tried this a few years ago, it would probably not have taught me much of practical value. If this strategy works as I hope, it may become my new way of doing things.

We'll see!

Best wishes for your own strategizing, and may the risks you take prove worth it,


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Planning Heaven

Yes, the view is great ... I'm in Planning Heaven and enjoying every moment of it!

How did I get here?

A lot of hard work, to be sure. But that didn't put me off! Quite the contrary. I love working hard when there's a purpose to it and when it makes a difference.

Here's what I've been up to since my last post....

First, I finished reworking the plot of my current WIP, which was originally constructed according to the Marshall Plan. I felt the need to tweak things a bit as I discovered more connections between scenes across the novel, and why various scenes were important. I added a few extra scenes to more fully develop certain subplots and even cut a few scenes when I found I could put their story business into other scenes. I kept the initial, pivotal and final scenes in the proper order according to the Marshall Plan, but now have a few additional scenes in the "between-spaces" beyond what I anticipated, based on intended word count (those familiar with the plan will know what I mean).

Then, I carried a piece of paper around with me for a week. That may not sound like such a great accomplishment in itself, but there's more to it! On the paper was a simple table with four columns for the four quarters of the story. Running down each column was a short description or title for each scene in that portion of the story. In other words, I had an overview of the novel that I could whip out and study at any convenient moment. I spent time just staring at that paper and imagining relevant details for each scene, such as "goal-conflict-failure-next goal" or "emotional-rational-decision", key snippets of dialog, and details of setting or mood or character development, etc. I internalized the story by using my imagination and reinforcing my story knowledge by remembering things, and checking my notes later when I found I couldn't remember something. The result: I know this story forward, backward, and in every other way that's fit and proper to mention.

Next, I spent the past couple of weeks creating a detailed storyboard, something I've attempted before, but never to this extent. I created a digital presentation of the story, about 400 slides with images and brief text summarizing the scenes (a few slides per scene). This gives me a visual sense of the story. Watching the presentation as a slide show allows me to read the story (in "tell" mode) and gain an overview of how well it fits together, where the highs and lows are, whether it makes sense, whether it builds suspense, etc. I had a lot of fun putting it together and it has helped enormously with putting a face to the story (actually, many faces, and locations, objects, etc.).

Currently I'm in the final phase of my expanded planning efort: I'm entering the scene data into yWriter5, which I'll use to compose the first draft. As part of this work, I'll write the final scene descriptions and also add notes of key ideas to include at key moments to help in setting up later events. I hope to have this work completed between now and this weekend but I may choose to spend one additional week on the planning in order to more fully capture those all-important little notes.

Thusly, and in such a manner, I should start the first draft either by the end of this weekend, or by the following weekend. I plan to allow about 10 weeks for that. I also plan to write this one OUT OF SEQUENCE, something I've never tried before. With such extensive planning, I feel this is worth trying for several reasons. I'll blog about that next time!

Best wishes for reaching your own Planning Heaven,