I know I’ve mentioned before that it amazes me how stories seem to pull themselves together when you write them, as if they already exist in their entirety and when you write them you are just uncovering what is already there. Well it happened again while editing this week.
In my re-read a couple of months ago I identified a question that was raised in the story and never answered. At first I thought it was too complicated to sort it all out so I was getting ready to cut all the bits that related to raising the question. Then, while laying in bed on Tuesday night, the answer came to me. More amazingly, the novel already had all the foreshadowing required to insert it.
The communal unconscious which (I’m sure) gifts us all these stories knew exactly what was happening and why the characters were doing what they were doing. It took me over a year to figure it out. I am stunned at how many hints were already placed in the book, hints I had no idea I was leaving. They just seemed right when the characters were living that part of the book.
So the edit to answer the question amounted to less than a half-chapter of re-writes for something that I think really contributes to the story. It is so addictive this story writing caper. I can’t believe everyone isn’t doing it.
There is no doubt that the most important part of writing a story is coming up with the idea, but does that process of thinking about the story count as writing? I guess first we have to define what ‘counting’ means. For me, anything I can use to offset my guilt from not writing any words for the week is an activity that ‘counts’.
This week I’ve had this chat with three other writers, all more productive than me when it comes to weekly word count, and the split was 2:1 against. The argument against was that thinking is just daydreaming, whereas writing was words on a page that could be read by others. I know how easy it is to lose an hour to daydreaming, the idea that this could be writing was like being told you will now get paid for your commute to work as well as the hours in the office.
I will admit, I was firmly in the against camp, but as luck would have it, immediately after this chat I got lumbered with a 40 minute wait at the bus stop while my bus crawled through Fringe road-closure traffic. Can you guess what I did with that time?
By the time the bus rolled up I had ironed out the bumps in a new story idea that was kicking around in my head. The key here was ‘in my head’ –I haven’t written a word for this story, but I know it is a story, and now I know what happens in it.
So I guess there are cases when thinking is writing, so long as that thinking is not just fantasies about aliens landing so you don’t have to go to work, or coming up with a string of good come-backs you should have used on the person who said that really mean thing to you. Provided you don’t replace all your word-smithing time with daydreaming I think it is vital to give your mind space and time to do some work without a keyboard.
My day job is all about electronic document management. That’s why it is so embarrassing to discover how bad I am at paper document management.
Before I got started on the next writing project I thought I’d pull together all the work I’ve done on it so far. It is not that there is a lot, but it is everywhere!!!!! Just when I think I’ve got it all, I find a notebook with a few random pages of scribbles.
What I wonder is how did I ever expect to use all these notes when I seemed to be doing my best to hide them so well? I know how it happens, I get an idea and I don’t want to lose it, so I write it down in whichever notebook I have close at hand. But that is the best way to lose ideas, not record them.
My recently finished project was started and finished in a short period of time, which might account for my extremely helpful decision to make all my notes in the one book. Everything I had ever thought about the story was in one place.
So I think I’m going to invest in an expanding file and rip out all the ‘novel notes’ from my different pads and put all the related story ideas together. Yes, it does sound like another excuse for some heavy duty procrastination, but I think it is necessary!
Now if I could just work out how to apply metadata to paper…
Well, it’s done, I’ve completed the edit and submitted my YA novel for the Ampersand Project. I’m proud of the novel and hope that my enthusiasm shows in my writing. I guess the next two or three months will let me know.
This novel writing process was pretty intense, if it wasn’t for all the lists around the place (on my computer screen, the fridge, my bedside wall) I don’t know that I would have been able to complete it on time. Knowing exactly where I needed to be with the word count and the edit meant I hit all my due dates. And that was without knowing what the storyline was going to be.
In true me style, I tracked everything about the novel. I know how much time I spent actually writing the story as compared to just sitting at the desk thinking about it, how many words I averaged each sitting and how many days of writing per week gave me my best per-hour output.
There was one thing I did not measure; chocolate intake. I know I started the process with a pile about six blocks high in the pantry. I also know that I bought a few more along the way, and by a few I mean a lot. The cupboard is now empty.
So perhaps my writing spreadsheet needs an extra column added? Then again, maybe it is best not to know. I am so pleased I managed to get this finished on time and submitted that I really don’t care about the chocolate.
In the last six months I’ve spent my writing time exclusively on one project and managed to get it from vague idea to tidy first draft. At the beginning of this year I tried the exclusive project method and failed dismally. The big difference between then and now is that then I was trying to finish off something that had been sitting in the bottom drawer for nearly a year, but this time I was writing something new.
While I’ve been editing I’ve had a few different stories bubble to the surface, asking to be written; one is brand new, one is a couple of years old and already half written, and one is ten or fifteen years old with only five rough chapters written. Which one do I work on next?
A big, sentimental part of me wants to write the decade old story. The lazy side of me wants to write the half-written, figuring it will take less time to finish, and the newly awakened pantser wants to go for the new story. The scary part is the logical side of me is also voting for the pantser story. Logic and pantsing do not seem likely bedfellows, but the speed with which my other novel was written has made me wonder if it is the best way to go?
I would love to get another novel finished before the end of the year, which I could only do with the half-written or the pantser novel, so I guess I’ve just narrowed it down to two. I still have a week to make up my mind. I just wish there was more writing time in the week. I would love to be able to finish all my novels instead of having to choose.
I know I have only recently written about habits in writing, but I want to give you my own recent example. With my pantsing novel I got into the habit of booking non-negotiable writing times, and that was non-negotiable with friends, family and me.
As much as I wanted to jump straight into the edit when I finished the first draft on the Friday night, I knew that to do it justice, I should let the novel rest for as long as possible. With the deadline I’m trying to hit looming, I set that rest time to be two days (but I’d normally recommend at least a month).
At first I was excited waking up on Saturday morning, knowing I had given myself the weekend off. My writing time on Saturday is normally 12-4 in the afternoon. I was getting antsy at 10:30 and I was sitting at the computer by 1pm. I wrote the novel summary and some related content. It was such a relief to be back at my desk.
On the Sunday I was determined not to write any novel-related content, I was to have the day off. That lasted until just after lunch as well. While I haven’t written anything to do with the novel I have just written all my blog posts for the month of August. Again, it feels like a huge relief to be writing.
I love that my writing times are now a part of my weekly schedule, and I will keep them going. I also am really glad that I have all my August posts written because I have just one little month to do all the editing of the entire novel. Wish me luck!
I am so close to the end of my novel that I feel like I should be able to reach out and touch it. I have also just mentally closed down on my writing. After pounding out three to four thousand words a week for the past three months, I’ve now hit a wall.
It has been a long time since I finished a first draft novel. It was some time in 2010, and I don’t remember if this happened. Part of me doesn’t want to finish the novel, because I’ve enjoyed having a project that I have been able to totally immerse myself in. I’ve liked spending time with the characters and in the world and knowing what was waiting for me at the computer each time I sat down.
Another part of me is terrified of stuffing it up.
I have also had a head-cold and lost all the heating in my house as we shiver through the coldest few weeks of the year, but they are excuses, not real reasons to stop. It is late summer in my novel, it is not cold spending time there.
So I will buckle down and do what all writers do when faced with this; force myself to write. If I give myself permission to write as many ends as the novel needs, I’m sure I’ll find the right one eventually. One that will do the rest of the novel justice.
But it is incredible the feeling of loss I’m already getting at the idea of it being over. I’m sure the edit will quickly cure me of that.
I can’t explain the how or why, but when I get a story idea I almost always know the approximate length the story will be. Often it is only a small moment or part of the story that I see, but even then it will feel like a novel, or a short, or a flash.
My feelings probably then dictate how I end up writing the piece, so I can’t entirely put it down to the communal unconsciousness of writing, for example I recently wrote a flash fiction piece (which will be published in Antipodean SF next month) which could easily have been a short story, or even a novel, but it felt like flash so I kept it under 500 words.
Having said that, I repeatedly saw one scene of the novel I’m currently writing, which has turned out to be the opening chapter, but at the time I had no idea what the story would be, how it would end or even who was in it. But I always knew it was going to be a novel.
So I will keep thinking it is the magic of this writing thing. The stories are already out there, they randomly choose a writer to discover them.
The exciting thing is that I can feel another novel tapping at the side of my brain, waiting to step forward. And what do I see; a small parrot darting over the top of a boy. I’m serious, that is what is haunting me. It’s what I know about that moment, about the boy and about the parrot that tells me it is a novel. I love this writing thing.
I started writing the pantser novel; the one with no plan, no real end and only vague plot points for me to aim at. I’m up to chapter 5, the dreaded chapter 5. For me, this is the chapter where a novel normally stalls. This one feels like it is stalling.
I’ve spoken before about how chapter 5 is my insurmountable hill. If I can get past that I can probably write the book. In fact, two of the three novels that I wrote beyond chapter 5 are actually finished. The third is really close to finished.
So what is it about chapter 5 that chills me? I think it is because this is where the novel is really starting to take shape. You feel like you know the characters, you have a pretty good idea about what type of book it is going to be, and you start making your characters go in directions that are going to have massive ramifications on the book.
It is that last point that worries me with this one. It is a true pantser book, I don’t know where it is going and it has most certainly started going somewhere. What if that somewhere is bad, or wrong, or worse; nowhere?
The only thing I can think of to get past this is total immersion. I’m cutting myself off from the outside world this weekend and I’m writing chapter 5 and 6 in one hit. As far as I can see it is my only option. I have to break this chapter 5 curse, and I have to find out where this book is going to end up.
Wish me luck!
Writers are generally broken up into two groups; planners and pantsers. Planners plan out what they are going to write, sometimes in very fine detail, before they get started. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, discovering the story just a moment before the words fall onto the page.
I always thought I was a pantser, an idea comes to me which is normally made up of the beginning and the end of the story and I have to discover all the bits in between. The only time I ever write a ‘plan’ is when a story idea comes to me and I’m not ready to write it yet. So I’ll note it down in my plans book so that I can come back and look at it years later and go ‘what the hell did I mean by that?’
I have a story growing in my head right now which I’m really enthusiastic about. I can see the first, second and third chapter already. Every time I let myself think about it, more chapters fall into place. Only problem is that I have no idea how it ends. At last count I had seven ‘started’ novels, some with only 3 chapters written, some with many more.
For all those other ‘started’ novels I know exactly how they end, and yet I still haven’t been able to finish them. This novel I’m currently considering has no end at the moment, so I’m terrified if I embark on it that it will just end up being another unfinished novel. But the pull is so great. It is filling my idle thoughts; I’m seeing it like a movie in my head. I want to write it.
I think we all know what is going to happen. I’m going to start it and there is a good chance it will turn my seven into eight unfinished novels. But I guess I’ll find out if I am a true pantser and if somehow my subconscious mind will find an end for it somewhere along the way.