A Novel in 3 Months (week 12) – fail (well, just a little)

watching: 27 Dresses
reading: Hunger by Michael Grant
listening to: Vacation Rain by Sister Hazel

So it’s crunch time this week.  Three months – 12 weeks – is up tomorrow.  And I have to say, the question I put to my writing demon (let’s call him Steve):  “hmm… wonder if I can write a whole book in three months?” ended up with him laughing in my face, then yelling, “No!  Hah, what were you thinking?”

As I look at the pages, I find I have 28K (give or take) to go.  Wait, really?  Yep.  I’m close to half-way there in terms of actual words on the screen.

Which is interesting.  So like every goal not achieved, I take a look at three important things:

1. what did I do right?

I had a basic plot mapped out.  I fleshed out my character sheets to give my story direction.  And I had a time frame and deadline (very important if you want to achieve a goal!)  I wasn’t besieged with days of flu (unlike my last book!), or weeks of precautionary swine flu quarantine or my son’s chicken pox, colds and some expert acting from ‘muscle pains’ that mysteriously disappeared around 10am.

2. what did I learn?

I learned – again – that because I didn’t have my writing time blocked out (visually, on my calendar),  I got easily distracted (duh).  Surfing, blog posts,  website tinkering, research that spiraled into hours of aimless wandering through unrelated websites.   I didn’t close my office door so walk-pasts from family members were inevitable.  I also made a few appointments that could have easily been done on the weekends instead (when I don’t write).

I also learned I’m more of a flimmer than I thought.  Elements of the story have come to me while I’ve been plotting (also known as “staring at the wall and daydreaming”) which is a very flimmer-like quality.

3. what can I do differently?

I need to ensure I keep my visual calendar up-to-date, regularly update my complete word count (which gives me a confidence boost every time it increases!).  I need to say no to non-essential P&C/PTA school activities.  I need to close my office door 😀

The story beginning, some turning points and the end started complete in my head.  But it’s the getting them down which is the problem.   And I think to do that, I really have to make a mental decision to commit to the story instead of letting myself being distracted by external factors.  This can be a major problem, because being an author isn’t a ‘normal’ job.  You don’t dress for the office, commute, put in your 7+ hours, then drop everything and go home.  You’re switched on 24-7.  The stories are always there in your head, clamoring for attention, demanding to be written.  You think about your characters in the supermarket isle, you toss over plot scenarios while you’re at the gym, you go over GMC as you eat dinner.  Everything you read, watch or witness has the potential to be part of a story and that can get tiring after a while.  And even when you go to bed, you dream up stuff  (I’ve had the best story ideas asleep!)

Okay, so it isn’t all doom and gloom.  I deliberately gave myself a month’s leeway from my actual book deadline, so I still have (studies calendar closely…) a good 20 days to write 28K.  That’s roughly (calculates)… 1400 words a day, just under 6 pages a day.  Can be done.  Well, has to be done 😛

How did all of you go?  Any insights?  Any major setbacks?  Post here, let me know how you went and you could win  Getting The Words Right: How to rewrite, edit and revise (Writers Digest) by Theodore Cheney.  I’ll draw a random poster on Sunday May 2nd the 7th (Friday)!

Why do they do these things? Why???

It’s not about RT Book Reviews giving me the mediocre rating of my June book, The Billionaire Baby Bombshell (coming in at a 3).  No, sirree.  RT, you’re gonna have to go a loooong way before you can even make a dint in my critique-proof armor.  I was a contest entering champion.  I laugh in the face of cutting remarks.  No way can anyone come close to Judge CO when she critiqued (and by “critiqued” I mean, “eviscerated and shredded”) my contest entry as an unpublished writer many, many years ago.  (As an aside, that same partial got a full request from Harlequin and eventually came 2nd place in that contest AND included blush-worthy praise from Valerie Parv herself).

No.  I’m talking about the terrible, terrible oversight RT made by REVEALING AN IMPORTANT STORY TWIST in that review that the reader would not discover until… oh, nearly 20 pages to the end of the book.  (No, I’m not going to tell you which twist they blabbed about.. and of course,  now you’ll want to read the review, right?  :sigh:  Okay, go right ahead, I can’t stop you.  But I’ve warned you, so don’t say I didn’t tell you so…)

RT, how would you feel if, never having seen The Sixth Sense, I suddenly blurted out, “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time!” hmmm?  Or, “Darth Vader is Luke’s father!”  Or even “Kevin Spacey is Kaiser Soze!”  Totally wrecked your potential enjoyment of the movie, did it?  Not sporting, is it?  Bit of a downer?  So RT, please stop this nasty habit you have before it becomes a full-blown addiction.  Please.

A Novel in Three Months (week 11) – nearly there!

Watching: Flashforward
Reading: Gone by Michael Grant
Listening to:
Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield

By the calendar, I have 14 days to go until my first draft is finished.  In reality, it’s actually… (mentally does the math)… seven.

Wait… what?

Yep, seven days.  That’s about 28 hours actual writing,  so if I did 1K an hour (approximately four pages), I’ll be finished by the 30th.

Does that seem impossible?

Okay, let’s not even go there 😯  Let’s talk instead about an awesome article I read the other day by Jo Beverley.  She of the ‘flying into the mist’ fame – you know, for those writers who cannot meticulously pre-plan a story?    Jo said some wonderful things about defining who flimmers are by nature and it really struck a chord.  She does not do charts, or arcs, structures or detailed synopses.  She does have an idea about who her characters are, the place, the situation.  She starts with the seeds of barriers and problems and writes in the now, discovering what will grow from those seeds.   But when it comes down to the actual writing, the story takes on a life of its own.   She makes a point of emphasizing the ‘mist’ metaphor – you can see, but not far ahead.  All directions are possible, not like driving down the road with the headlights on, which is a predestined route that implies you just have to follow in order to get to your ending.

Being a flimmer doesn’t mean you can’t write complex plots – Jo says “they grow as I write.  The distinction is whether we pre-plot or not.  I can plan a little ahead and have at least a 50-50 chance of following that path because the mist is not fog.  The further I get into a book, the more I can see ahead because of the truths I’ve laid down in 40, 50, or 70,000 words.  The mist thins, if you like.”

Now while I HAVE to do a synopsis, it’s not incredibly detailed.  And I must start with a character’s who/where/when/why/why not.  But for the rest of the story – for the bits that form and take shape while you’re writing, ,  where you discover your characters and their problems more deeply – it sounds like Ms Beverley and I have something in common. What about you?

A Novel in Three Months (week 10) – getting stuck

Watching: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
On the iPod: Where Do You Go by Sister Hazel

For the last three days I’ve been in Sydney, spending some time with my boy during school holidays.  We visited all the places he loves – Taronga Zoo, Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Museum (twice!).  And even though I wasn’t writing per se, I was thinking about my current story.  To be specific, all the bits I’m worried about.

Writers can be a bunch of pessimists.   For some, all that doubt, all those thoughts of “this story sucks,” and “what the hell am I thinking?”  can be debilitating.  But the trick is knowing what to do or think when those doubt demons come calling.  I know they’re there in the back of my mind but I don’t allow them to take over my thoughts.  I might panic about my deadline and lack of pages but that also gives me the focus I need to keep writing.  I might think that my characters need better motivation so I reassess their pasts and what their goals are.   If I think I’m doing too much telling, I add a note to that paragraph and come back to it later.  And if I feel that I’ve come up against a brick wall, or am writing a scene that doesn’t grab me, I go to a scene that I really want to write and come back to the other one when I have more story down.

Because I plan my story and write a synopsis, I’ve never really come across the “what happens now?” as so many others do.  My ‘getting stuck’ mainly consists of:

  • lacking the right words for that particular scene – in which case I type in “and then X finds out X.” or “love scene and afterwards, X emotionally withdraws.”  I then keep writing.  But still, that problem scene is in my head, waiting for me to fix it.  I find if I read, watch or listen to something, my creative brain will eventually trigger an idea that will lead to a solution.  For example, I’ve been thinking about one scene in my WIP where my hero and heroine go and inspect the hero’s just-built billion-dollar apartment complex.   I was trying to figure out just who would be involved in that meeting… interior designers, some engineering rep… who else?  I found AllExperts where you can ask experts in various fields questions for free.  I did get an answer but there were still gaps.  And as luck would have it, while I was in Sydney, a high-end apartment complex was going up on the next block.  And there, on the side of the construction chip board, was a list of  names and positions involved in the project.  Karma, definitely 😀
  • lacking enthusiasm for the story – aka Writer’s Block.  And the reason I get this is because I’ve written the synopsis and now I know the story and I know what will happen, so my brain is already off thinking of other exciting stories yet-to-be-written.   But this one has to be written – I’ve received an advance, I’ve got a scheduled date and people are expecting me to be a professional.  So I acknowledge that yes, I’m at “that stage” of the story, but for Heaven’s sakes, pull yourself together and just write the damn thing!  I write all the scenes I’m dying to write, the fun ones, the love scenes, the bits of snappy dialogue or the confrontation scenes.  And after I do that, my word count increases, thereby releasing all those feel-good endorphins and giving me a renewed sense of achievement.  I liken this to the Seven Stages of Grief, but I call it “The seven stages of a deadline”.  It goes like this:
    Shock and denial – “OMG, I can’t do this.  There’s no way I can write 25K in four weeks.  I just can’t.”
    Pain and guilt –  “Every word is like blood from a stone.”  “But people are depending on me to fulfill this contract/sell this book.”  “My partner and I agreed I should take two years off to write but I’m not even doing that.”  “I’m letting my family/my fans/myself down.”
    Anger and bargaining – “Why the hell did I say yes to three books in a year?” “Please just get me through this first deadline, then I’ll (insert fanciful promise here).”  “I promise next time I’ll plan a lot better.”
    Depression, reflection, loneliness – “No-one understands just how difficult this writing gig is.”  “I won’t get it done and then I’ll have to pay back that advance.”  “Maybe I should have gone back to my full-time job…”
    The upward turn – “I’ll reschedule all my appointments until after my deadline.”  “Okay,  I’ll just reread this problem chapter and figure out what I need to do to get back on track.”
    Reconstruction and working through – “I managed to write for three hours today without interruption.”  “I read up on GMC and worked my way around that problem.”  “I brainstormed with my editor/crit partner and reworked that scene into something better.”
    Acceptance and hope – “Only 20 pages to go!”  “I think I nailed that black moment scene.”  “I’ll make that deadline with a couple of days/hours to spare.”
  • outside influences stopping me from writing – parents, a child, phone calls, school, appointments… you name it.  Sometimes, all in one day!  But I’ve gotten pretty good at juggling stuff.  I make a couple of appointments for one day, instead of a bunch spread out over a few days.  I close my office door to minimize interruptions.   I say no to a lot of school-based organizing committees (they always get enough people without me anyway).  And the land line is attached to an answering machine (most of the time).  Hardly anyone rings the mobile.

Are you finding one particular area you always stall at?  Or does it vary with each and every story?