Hitting the Sweet Spot in Writing

I can be a serious weirdo sometimes, you know that? For reals, peeps, there are times when I can be Mr. Nutjob. Take, for example, when I’m writing. Sometimes when I’m on a roll with some passage or piece of writing I have a tendency to get a little spooked with the prospect of stopping. It’s like I’m afraid I’ll jinx the process–as if there’s some kind of writerly magic going down that I’m going to throw a wrench into, you know?

Perfect example: writing. When I get on one–I mean really get trucking on a good bout of storytelling–I’m always worried about breaking whatever habit I’m in at the moment that is producing that great stuff. I will get totally wacked with it too, hitting the same coffee shop at the exact same time and ordering whatever I had the last time I was on a roll. And if someone is in my chair–and by “my chair” I just mean the one I was sitting in yesterday when I hit the word count lotto–they better look out because I’m about to toss a whole box of stink eye across the room at them. Things are about to get loco up in this piece! Anything goes when I’m trying to keep writing like a boss.

So what about you? Do you get all schizo when it comes to your “special place” or are you the type who can plop your cakes in a chair and tap out some genius no matter where you are?

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Why Daily Word Count Goals Sucked For Me

I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of dude who can’t shake an idea once it worms its way into my brain. Take last year for instance, when I had the totally insane idea of going back into the Army. I’d hit the Twinkies a little too hard after getting discharged and had packed on some chubbiness as a result (in Army-Speak they call it being a “fat body”). Those pounds meant I was way outside weight standards so I needed to get back into fighting trim if I wanted to re-enlist. So, I made a decision to burn the fatness and set out to do the deal.

Zip forward about five months from that point–I’d lost seventy pounds, was hitting the gym seven days a week, and could run eight miles in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Not too shabby, right?

When I decided to write a book in September of 2011 I took to it the same way I did with losing weight. I set down a jam plan to plot for a month, write for three, and have the thing done by January 1, 2012. I broke out the TI-83 (my super awesome calculator) and figured out that I’d need to tap out about 1,100 words every day to hit my 100,000 word goal. Totally doable, right? You know it. I figured it was going to be easy as lying in Confession.

Well, a couple things happened as a result of my plan. I got the writing done–way to go, me!–but most of it sucked worse than an episode of Ghost Whisperer. See, I had worried so much about my word count tally that I stopped focusing on the quality of what I was putting on the page and just focused on the number of words. I kept telling myself, “Get the thing written and worry about the rest of it later,” but that was so totally stupid. By the time I finished I had a giant manuscript with a crappy plot and more things wrong than I knew how to fix. But can you bet your sweet cakes that thing was done on time. Oh, yeah. I meet my deadlines.

My experience with the first draft showed me that writing a book is something I need to take my time with. That’s not to say I don’t work on it everyday, because I definitely do. But I try to work to time nowadays rather than word count. Setting a goal for how many hours I’m going to work is the method I’m digging right now, and it seems to be working. My pace is slower, but I feel like what I’m putting down is better.

What’s your method? Do you slam out the story as quick as you can and sort the mess later? Or are you the plodder, writing the way my grandpa used to eat a slice of denture-unfriendly pie?

80,000 words or 100,000 words? That is the question.

Today was a solid writing day–a 1,500 words kind of solid writing day. I finished writing chapter four and knocked 1,000 words off the top of that bad-boy chapter five. Not bad, am I right?

The only question bouncing around in my brain right now is whether or not I should be shooting for 100,000 words or 80,000. The reason I’m not sure is that I already knocked out a first draft which counts to me as the crappy draft that I would be shaving in the end. That being said, I should be able to aim for 80,000 on this draft and then see what I have from there.

I guess we’ll see. More details to come!

A Groundhog’s Day Worth of Fiction Writing

On a scale from ten to one on the suck-o-meter–ten being where I write like a best-seller and one being the inability to write complete sentences–I think today was about a three and a half.

See, I woke up this morning with a sweet-ass-sweet plan to get a whole bunch of writing done. I had it all laid out: pack my laptop along with me to work and then head to this little coffee shop nearby. I swaggered in, snagged a mug of hair bending french press–french press has got to be the perfect go-juice when it comes to writing–and then plopped my cheeks down at a table.

“I’m ready,” I told the room. “Let the brilliant ideas flow forth!”

And that’s when the suck commenced.

I spent the first hour writing and rewriting the same paragraph. I’d tap out something that felt decent, then reread the paragraph and hate it. Then I’d do it again, hate it again, do it again, ad nauseum.

My face while writing. The groundhog's, I mean. Not Bill's.

It sort of felt like that movie Groundhog’s Day, except much less funny because Bill Murray wasn’t there.

At some point I got sick of writing the same thing over and over so I just settled on the version that seemed the least sucky and moved on. I decided to start rolling from the beginning of the chapter and laying in some light revisions. I reworked a few sentences, swapped a couple of words, and pretty soon I felt like taking on that paragraph again.

Good thing I did. I went back and pwned that thing.

So it all had a happy ending. Isn’t that great? I got a couple revisions done, finished that super painful paragraph, and capped off chapter two. And all it took was four fricken hours.

So now, my question to all you writers: have you ever had problems like this? If so, what do you do about them? When you hit a block do you power through it or are you more the type to snap your laptop shut and give your brain a rest? Fill me in. I really want to know.

[I got that flick of Bill here]

Getting Over the I-Suck-At-Life Blues

You know those times where you feel like you can’t write worth a crap? Yeah you do. I can see it in your beady writer eyes.

I don’t know if those periods of feeling crappy are just a matter of perception or if I’m really just striking out when it comes to putting words on the page, but I do know that it doesn’t matter. Nope. Not one little bit. Whether it’s reality, or just perceived reality, the result is still the same: I feel like I suck and that’s no bueno for producing anything worthwhile.

While I’ve found that those periods of feeling crappy are always going to happen, I try to take time to balance them out whenever they start to crop up. My most recent means of feeling better is reading through the “How I Got Published” section of James Dashner’s blog. In this little section he talks about how he busted his heiney to go from a schmuck with a scrap of writing talent to author with a whole boat-load of publishing credits including the NTY best-selling Maze Runner trilogy. How awesome is that?

So check out Señor Dashner’s blog right here. Once you get to his page scroll down a whole bunch and look on the right. The link is kind of hard to spot but I know it’s there (I just checked!).

That’s it for today. Happy writing, ya filthy animal.

Chapter One, Part 2: The Re-Chaptering

Whoa! Rewriting does not suck as bad as I’d thought it would. Who knew?

Have no idea what I’m talking about? Lemme back it on up real quick for the folks playing catch-up (That word makes me think of ketchup. Or is it catsup? I vote the former). I mentioned in a previous blog post that I’m starting this whole novel thingy from scratch. Deciding to scrap the first draft was tough, but I’m 99% sure it’s going to pay off. Let’s just hope the 1% doesn’t come in and ruin it for me.

[insert rimshot punch line sound here]

My first draft had about a million little loose ends–stuff that made no kinds of sense to me. So I figured, “Hey, if something I wrote doesn’t jive with me, then what are the chance that someone else is going to be into it?”

“Not good,” I said in my best Gollum voice. “Not good at all, my love.”

Anyways, I’m on the second day of pounding away at this thing and I feel pretty okay with how things are panning out. When I thought about rewriting I didn’t plan on reworking the whole story, but as I got deeper into the process I started to figure out that I was going to have to make an entirely new story if I wanted to make the thing work. The characters are pretty much all the same–that is to say that they have the same motivations and such–but the way the plot plays out is quite a bit different. Looking at the first draft showed me that the scenarios I was putting them in were not dramatic enough. I needed to make them hurt, make them bleed a bit more. That might sound really weird, but in my brain-grapes it makes perfect sense.

So that’s where I’m at. I did a thousandish words today of chapter uno but I’m going to plug away at it some more this evening. When things go sideways (and they always do!) I’ll be sure to come on here and lay out my plan for getting through it.

How I Quit Being a Baby About Editing – Part Two

Where did I leave off? Oh, yeah. I’d been sobbing.

Just kidding, foolios. I was talking about editing and how rough it is. More specifically, I was writing about how I don’t know what the %#&! editing is all about. Or at least I didn’t know. Not completely. I’ve got a few plans on what I’m going to do next. Here they are!

Wading my way through the process of writing a novel has been messy. Super dooper messy, man. But thankfully, messy isn’t the same thing as impossible. No, sir. Not even close.

I starting off editing where I left off: my writing. I had the manuscript, notebooks full of character sketches and plot ideas, not to mention a fatty pile of notecards that I’d stacked. I sorted through all of it, flipping from manuscript to notebooks to notecards but I couldn’t really felt like I was getting my footing. Good golly, it was about the biggest bummer ever. See, I had this expectation about how I was just going to plow through the editing process the same way I’d done with the writing. But this whole editing thing? Not the same at all. Everything I tried felt like I was spinning my wheels in the mud.

Whenever I get stuck on some writing I like to mix things up a little bit by doing something out of the ordinary. Picking up my wife’s cat Lola and spinning around in circles until we’re both super dizzy is one of my more solid methods for getting the old cerebral juices pumping. Usually it takes just one kitty spinning session to get things working but seeing as this was a pretty tough problem I had to take her for three separate sessions. By the end of it Lola was in a serious hissing mood, but I my brain was back in working order.

I started over by asking some questions. Why was this sucking so bad? Why wasn’t I getting anything done? What did I need to do to make this thing work? I decided to take a look at the manuscript and try to figure out a way to start working on it by making a list of all its nasty flaws.

  1. The thing is 120,000 words long–holy crap, that’s big! Way too big for a YA novel, even with the typical fat that gets trimmed in revisions.
  2. There is way too much internal dialogue. Why did my protagonist need to always reflect on what she was doing?
  3. I have too many scenes that serve no purpose. If a scene does nothing to drive the plot then it needs to go the way of the buffalo.

Looking at these flaws led me back to my stack of notecards. On a sidenote, I think I’m going to post a picture so you guys can see the level of shenanigans that got to. Seriously, that stack was fatter than Dudley Dursley after Christmas dinner, not to mention that every single card was totally packed with a million gazillion notes.

But wait, I thought. Could that be it? Could it be the million gazillion notes that were the problem? Yes! It all made sense now. What a dorkus maximus I’d been. In trying to build the framework for my book I’d gone totally OCD and overdid the thing. In trying to plan things out so as to not lose the trail of the story I’d gone and made the thing too complicated. The result? 120,000 words of YA science fiction.

That was so dumb. That was really dumb. Fo’ real.

But it’s not all bad. Writing that bloated manuscript taught me what not to do when I rewrite. Now I know that I need to pull waaaaay back. I need to plan things out, but I need to do a whole lot less of it. And that’s where I’m at now. I’ve got a bunch of chapters plotted out, but not in the extreme way that I did before. It might not end up being the way I stick through the process, but it’s a place to start.