Writing Update: Deciding to Embrace Decisions

I have been experiencing an inadvertent fallow period. (I say “experiencing” rather than “enjoying” because I am constantly accompanied by a heavy side of guilt for not progressing faster with Fox Story). With work demanding more of my time the last few months, I think this was my mind’s way of balancing what pays my bills with what is important to me.

Revisions have been daunting to me for a variety of reasons. It is basically the opposite of the adventure and excitement of drafting. You trade exploring for city planning. My wise CP and friend Katy Pool wrote this post about revisions that I have been taking to heart for a few weeks now. Revisions were always a to-do list of “Fix This, Delete That, Add This” for me, and it really helped me see my story in a whole new light. It also made me feel like I could make about a million decisions. Your choices are nearly limitless! Just start choosing! Why is that such an overwhelming thing?

See this thread, which reminded me how much we have to combat decision fatigue to write after work. Understanding why you feel drained is the first step to defending against it! Being presented with the freedom to make a bunch of decisions is exciting, but it is not easy. Fear of making the wrong choice can be crippling. What if you choose the wrong option? Your brain wants you to believe that Irreparable Disaster will follow. Then this common proverb floats into your mind: “Just go with your first choice: it’s your gut. Don’t get side-tracked by other options.”

Nope. Your gut can protect you in a flight or fight situation, sure. Intuition can be a guiding factor, sure. But your gut is also lazy, because as we have mentioned, decisions are hard and burn some calories. We rely on short-cuts to combat fatigue. If you go with your first choice for a plot point or character arc, you are pretty much guaranteed to be going with the wrong one—a short-cut that is no fun for anybody. So that means you can’t ignore the other options! You are supposed to generate several choices in order to roll past your brain’s lazy answer and get to the good stuff. #science

This brings me to Maggie Stiefvater & Court Stevens’ 7 Sentences Seminar, which was a bit like spending 9 hours in an “I didn’t study for this test!” dream sequence. My friend and I traded slightly panicked looks as we went through the process of taking an idea from concept to ready-to-draft in one day. (Yes—idea, premise, mood, setting, plot, character, language—one day). What they explained was that to be an author you must write many books, and the faster you can do that the better. But writing a book requires so many decisions, some of which you can spend months mulling over. Behold: this seminar will give you a process that speeds up your decision-making and allows you to solidify the book sooner, thus writing it faster. What better way to tell me to stop being afraid of making decisions? The entire day was spent making decisions, and making them quickly. It was exhausting—and by the end, it was also not scary.

Because it doesn’t matter if you make the wrong choice when you can follow it to the end quickly and go with the next option, and the next and the next. You know when to trust your gut (because it has been working hard and not just giving you an instant answer). You know because you had some failures—and that’s normal. And only those failures let you know when you’ve landed on something Good.

After several weeks of this, I feel like a plant drowning in water. Occasionally I buy a plant to neglect and when its leaves droop, I overcompensate, almost kill it again with care, and then sigh with relief when it grows taller and stronger than before. As haphazard as the past month has been, I drowned my drooping leaves with inspiration and information. I feel refreshed and ready to plunge into Fox Story with a more realistic lens and plenty of resources when I inevitably get stuck further down the road. It’s spring, even in Denver: new beginnings, new goals, renewed energy!

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Writing Update: Draft 2

If you’ve wandered through writing posts before, you will know that Draft 2 is the Beast. The hardest draft because it has you fighting on all fronts: plot holes, character arcs, world-building/setting, and pacing.

Your rough draft attempted to pin a story to paper and it probably resembles the story you intended like you resemble a human when you first wake up—the confusion, tangled hair, and morning breath. Sure, the story is there under all that, but it needs a comb and caffeine.

But before you can even spend time fixing it, you have to make a list of everything TO fix, and HOW you want to fix it!

For me this is agonizing, because hours staring into space chewing on a pen do not feel productive, no matter what I call it. “Brainstorming” “plotting” “revision preparation” “exploring my mind palace”– whatever, it is not a rising word count, and progress is not always quantifiable. It might take days to unravel one problem! And that means nothing on my detailed “Plan of Attack” list gets crossed off for days, leading to anxiety dreams of how I never finished the book because I got so far behind. There is so much to fix, how do you address all of it efficiently?

Well, my lovely CP Christine helpfully reminded me of an important revision tool that I had bookmarked and forgotten about: Sooz’s revision guides!

You really can’t get more organized than Susan Dennard. She has outlined every step of the book-to-query process and you can tailor it to fit your own goals! Highly. Recommend. So I reviewed all these and made my own Draft 2 Plan of Attack in January.

To prepare for February, I had these done in January:

  • Read through my novel and note everything I need to fix
  • Sort these notes into four categories: plot, character, setting, other

So here is what my February looks like:

  • Solve these problems! (done…for now)
  • Go through chapter by chapter (all 43 of them…) and implement my changes (here we go!)

Note: this is still not the line edit, make-it-pretty version. That comes next! For now I just want all the details and beats I need on paper, connecting the dots in the right order, making sense.

You may remember I did a lot of pre-writing for Fox Story last summer. I made a detailed outline for plot, character arcs, and world-building. Everything I did has saved me so much time at this stage! It’s impossible to write a perfect rough draft. But this rough draft resembles draft 2 or 3 of previous projects thanks to all this hard work, so 10/10 I will repeat this process in the future! No, it did not magically eliminate the need to revise, but when I sat down to make my draft 2 notes, I was dealing with a pretty organized story, not a mess of “inspiration” that got out of control by chapter five. I had no extraneous chapters of random events. I did not have to analyze chunks of my book wondering what I wrote it for and how it was supposed to fit in my outline because apparently I thought it was important at the time and now I can’t remember why! Most of my notes were about things I could not have known until I wrote the rough draft! Extra layers to enrich rather than explain the story. Not everyone outlines a story and that is totally all right, but if you do, remember everything you add to that outline is time saved later on! Treat your future self!

I have set the (very) aggressive goal of finishing draft 2 by March 1. We’ll see if I can manage it!

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Writing Update: Revision Plan of Attack

After a lovely, refreshing holiday break I was absolutely itching to get back to my Fox Story! I missed the characters and the world and as fun as it was to catch up on reading and thinking up some new ideas, I’m ready to dive back in and make my rough draft into an actual book.

The best part about a critique group is getting so many perspectives not just on drafting or books but on the craft and process. I polled my writing buddies for their revision processes and cobbled together some good advice for tackling my own project!

So this is my plan to carve Fox Story into the book I imagined so many months ago:

First, I always need to read through my rough draft, noting plot, world, character, pacing issues, and what needs more research. I draft quickly and don’t spend much time going over what I previously wrote, so more than anything I need the entire story fresh in my mind so that I don’t confuse what I *think* is in the manuscript with what I actually wrote.

From these notes, I make a list of action items to smooth out the plot and decide what scenes should be added, cut, or changed. I can’t focus on character until the events make sense to me, so I have to make sure my timeline and actions happen in the right order and aren’t confusing. “Making a list” sounds simple, but what this really means is that I will make a BUNCH of lists with things to do. For instance, “Add this character’s backstory” becomes “Create backstory, what are motivations, what is the timeline, what is the best way to reveal this information, does this change anything in my plot and if so how…” The second draft is basically pulling even more threads into the tapestry and then weaving them together properly.

I also want to wrap up any additional research needed! No sense in revising and then having to change things again based on something I could have looked into before (what immediately comes to mind as an example are my sword fighting scenes).

When the plot is smoothed out, I ensure character beats are placed correctly for maximum impact. Character and plot are always entwined, but if I know what needs to happen I can adjust these moments to best toy with and push my characters along their own path. This is the part where “make things worse” comes into play!

After all this, I will develop any other material needed (world, setting, character) and include all that. My draft is already about 10K longer than I anticipated so we’ll see how much it balloons!

Finally, I’ll polish it before I send it to my first round of critique partners for notes, which basically means make it as book-shaped and typo-free as possible.

Based on their notes, I’ll begin the cycle of revising and getting more notes until I feel like Fox Story is ready for the final and most agonizing step: querying!

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Goals Met and Goals Set

In January I had some ideas for everything I wanted to accomplish this year. Now that the first half of the year is over, I thought it would be a good idea to do a check-in and see how I’m doing. Overall answer? Not too shabby!

What did I want to do?

I finished revising my novel, I did my read-through, I got some feedback from my CP’s, I made a query letter and pitch (with their help!) and I’m actually pitching my book to agents tomorrow. Pitching to agents in person wasn’t part of my original plan, but I’m very excited about it! Although I don’t have my compiled list of Dream Agents, the two I am pitching tomorrow would definitely be on there.

Depending on the feedback I get from Leviosa Con, I’ll decide later whether I want to keep querying this book, or shelve it in favor of a new project (or both!).

What will I do now?

It’s the plans I had for the second half of the year that are changing the most. I originally wanted to begin drafting the sequel to my current fantasy novel. Instead, I’ll be carefully working on a Shiny New Idea. I’m very excited about this (I actually have been daydreaming about it for almost two months now) and I want to do it right. So instead of drafting too early like I always do, and creating a mess for myself, I have a plan for doing so much prewriting work that this story can’t help but evolve the way I want it to. I am choosing to believe that and any evidence to the contrary is a problem for Future Me!

I do still want to finish revisions on my YA contemporary novel, but those will be on a looser deadline than my Shiny New Idea and querying my first book (if I choose to do that).

The reading restrictions I put in place a few months ago definitely helped me meet my first set of goals, but you can bet my reward for all this hard work is a book binge for the next month! I want to blaze through my TBR and start fresh in September!

Bring it!

Fuel for the Cave

My deadline is just a few weeks away, so I am still in the revision cave! I revised chapters 5-7 and did a final read-through of the manuscript. Now it’s back to hammering out chapter 1 and constructing my pitch / query letter / synopsis. (EEK!)

Of course, my lovely CP’s have offered to help me with this so I can’t be *too* scared but it does remain my absolute least-favorite part of finishing a book.

My book-buying ban / reading restrictions (i.e. only lunch breaks, pretty much) have helped me stay on track with my revision goals, so as a reward I’m reading ALL the things beginning July 11th!

Finally, I’ll leave you with how I managed to keep motivated and happy during these revisions – my cave fuel:

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1) Amazing critique partners

Anytime I was stuck, discouraged, or needed feedback, my lovely cult of writing women was there for me! Commiseration, ideas, and all the wine–I don’t know how I managed to write for so many years without them but I do know I’ve never had revisions go so well for me. It’s thanks to them! Every book is a group effort!

2) Deadlines

With the goal of pitching at Leviosa Con, I had no choice but to have everything ready by a certain date. I’ve never had a firm deadline before, and it has been incredibly helpful to me! (And stressful, yes). I made weekly goals leading up to it (again, using this fun little app called Habitica) and by breaking it down into smaller pieces, I was able to keep the Revision Monster from terrifying me into paralysis. I was excited to see my progress each week!

3) Chocolate

I’ve consumed an ungodly amount of this over the last 3 months. Just sayin’. I regret nothing. If you want to be more official, chalk this up to “make your work space a pleasant place to be” or whatever.

4) Blogs/Podcasts/Social Media

How was this anything other than a distraction? Because I had specific reasons for utilizing them! Podcasts about writing (thank you Katy!) recharged my batteries while I was at work. Other blogs reminded me why I’m doing all this – for people who love to read, and to be a part of a community of people who love to write. Twitter is 50/50 distraction/informational for me. When I needed a break, I scoured Twitter for book news, author updates, agent posts–generally keeping myself informed and motivated to pitch soon!

5) I came up with something new

It may sound insane to think about a new story idea when you’re frantically trying to finish another one, but I actually found this incredibly refreshing!

We had a long road trip through Kansas in the middle of the night, and I was daydreaming (as usual) when a Shiny New Idea struck and refused to leave my mind. I was ecstatic! I wrote down so many notes for it and felt so recharged. I’m not sure how my book will be received when I pitch it–I’m not sure if it will do well enough to warrant querying many agents. I was terrified that after years of work I’d be back at square zero. Not square one, because that’s an idea, but square zero of an empty creative tank. I’ve been devoted to this single book for a loooooong time. I’ve never spent much time coming up with new ideas–what if I couldn’t?! What if I was a total fraud? A one not-even-hit wonder? I’m incredibly excited and relieved that this isn’t true. 🙂

Now, back to the cave for the home stretch!

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Revisions: The Cave

This post will be short because I’m prioritizing actual work on my book and reading my CP’s work! With only 2 months to Leviosa Con I’m in the deadline trenches and that means little to no time to write anything unrelated to my novel. I’m in The Cave.

Revisions are moving right along with chapters two through four-I’ve added material that I think only improves my story, so I feel good about that! Heading into chapters 5-6 now.

When I’m revising I tend to obsess over other writers’ methods/tricks/magic spells to be productive and engage any Muses floating around, and I typically land on Susan Dennard’s advice, because she’s a guru. (Seriously, check out her website here–she does all this for free and she could charge so much!) And speaking of Sooz, she plugged a fun, free app called Habitica on her Instagram which treats your life like a video game. Earn points and weapons and magic pets by checking items off your to-do lists and meeting your goals on time! Ridiculous as it may sound, I’ve found this works for me, so if you want to try something new, check it out!

Back to the cave now!

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What? Who said a cave had to be dismal?

Revisions: Clearer on 1, or clearer on 2?

In the last month I’ve ripped apart my first chapter several times and although it’s better, recent consensus (and looming deadlines) indicate I need to drop it and move on for now.

Am I still feeling positive about revisions? Yes, which is still a first for me! I’m moving through my changes much faster and trying new things without having as much anxiety about it, so although my first chapter needs a break, it doesn’t worry me the way it used to. For some reason I used to operate under this fear that if I changed something I couldn’t go back to it (um, computers make that super easy!) or I was somehow betraying my original intent by altering it. I’d get stuck on these thoughts and end up making the most minor substitutions (a word here, a semi colon there) and then growl about how revising was pointless, look, it’s not any better, I’m gonna write something Shiny and New that will obviously be Perfect on the first try.

Complete nonsense of course! I’m starting to get addicted to making the changes my book needs to make it better. It’s like spring cleaning – you throw everything open to the fresh air and get rid of the clutter and bring in something fresh and alive. Voila! The chapter is better!

That’s how I’ve felt most of the time. On the flip side, revising feels like going to an eye exam. You sit with pages and notes in front of you with different ideas for improvement and ask yourself “Is this clearer on 1? Or clearer on 2?” a few times, with no right answer. (Because seriously, the difference between those always seems so small to me!) Or THIS happens–you’ve been going through options one and two for a few pages, making some choices, everything is moving along and then BAM!

“Or what about 3?”

What the hell, I thought we were working between these two options, you can’t change the game now!

“Or 4? Here they are again, 3 or 4?”

NO-well, wait, maybe Option Four…dammit, I said there were only two options, do you know how this screws with everything down the line if there are FOUR options??? But Option Four does solve Character Arc Problem 2…ughhhh, fine, Option Four. Let’s revisit the previous ten pages with all four options in mind…

Too many options can give me anxiety. I outline, I make a plan, this plan is supposed to avoid Surprise Options this far into the process. That moment of “What about 3?” always used to make me tear my hair out. I wanted to make progress, I didn’t want to start over yet again–but now I’m finding that instead of freaking me out with Too Many Choices these moments get me excited! Because if that’s what you need, find it out now and put it in and then move on with something great!

This book has been in the works for years…partly because it’s been so hard to let go of things and make changes, so now that I’m finally ready to do that, I’m excited to see how it turns out. So back to the cave for another month!

And a special thanks goes to Erin for always responding with enthusiasm when I text her “Heyyyyyy…wanna read my first chapter again?” ❤

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