Month: November 2013

When You’re Finished

This morning, instead of sitting down to tap out four more pages of the novel that has taken five years so far, I snapped 161 typed pages into a binder with some index cards, two hundred blank sheets of loose leaf and a zipped pocket with a red pen tucked inside.

Yesterday morning, I finished my rough draft.

It isn’t very pretty.

It probably needs more work than I can comfortably imagine from my current cloud nine.

But it’s finished, and seeing it sitting there an inch thick in pages I can turn gives me a chance to sit back in this chair and think ‘look at what I’ve done.’

If you have been writing, when you press that last period and lean back in your chair, print out what you’ve done. Print out what you’ve spent days and weeks and months of your life uncovering, so you can hold all that work in your hands. Make all the early mornings, late nights, forgotten dishes, cups of coffee and Skype conversations with friends where you can talk of little else a tangible, real thing.

It doesn’t matter if no one will ever read the copy.

It doesn’t matter if it’s so terrible, you’ll never look at it again (though I strongly suspect that if you’ve spent this much time on your story, letting it go won’t be that easy).

Printed pages give all that work weight.

And you deserve it.

When You Have a Bad Day

Today was not a good day.

Yesterday I reached the NaNoWriMo goal of 50 000 words, but my novel isn’t done yet. I’ve got a couple weeks of writing left. I’m trying to get to the end of the second act by Tuesday and then I’m in the home stretch.

I don’t know if it was reaching the 50 000 word milestone, or that I started second guessing my work, but the words came hard today, and I’m not sure that any of the 1 700 words I wrote will make it into the rewrite. The dialogue was choppy, the scenes seemed unnatural, and I just wanted it all to be over. I’m sitting with the feeling that the police interrogation scenes will be my eternal Waterloo.

Bad days happen. Bad days are why it’s taken me five years to get this thing done in the first place, and my first instinct is and probably will always be to quit now, before I invest another second into this horrible, awful, no-good, very bad story. Or at least until I sit down with a police officer and get details on realistic interrogations. There is always that ever-present temptation to hide from the plot in research.

But that’s what the rewrite is for. What is important now is finding the end. I’m just now starting to give myself permission to just get there. Intellectually I know that decline in quality in this moment won’t even be evident after I’ve spent some time reworking it. After I’ve tracked down a cop willing to tell me what would happen if a person confessed to a murder he knew she didn’t commit. This is not a draft that a single eye will see. In my heart, my words matter already, and seeing them come out clunky and broken feels like I just pushed my daughter into a mud puddle. On purpose.

There are bad days. Really bad days. Just push the words out, close your computer, put down your pen, and steel yourself for tomorrow. Because you will get there. You will find the end. And so will I.

3 Tips for Surviving the Second Act

Remember when I told you that my blog posts would be fewer and further between as work away at NaNoWriMo, trying to finish this monkey of a novel that has been hanging onto my back for four years? Well, it turns out that I was right.

And I’m sorry. It hardly seems fair that I should introduce myself to you with a post-a-day series, and then abandon you entirely the month after, but c’est la writing vie. (And I was a French teacher and all.)

Anyway, I just started my second act today – the part that can feel like such a slog – and while this is a H.U.G.E milestone for me with this particular book, it’s already killing my soul. The problem is, that I, like most writers might, I think, have outlined several important and crucial scenes both in my main plot and my major subplot, but I haven’t the slightest idea how to get from scene to scene without putting everyone, including me, to sleep. That’s right, I failed at taking my own advice.

I’m trying not to get too stressed out about it, because I know I’ll figure it all out in the rewrite, but the second act has a huge capacity for making the writer feel like the failure. So this is what I’m doing to get through it and hopefully keep the plot moving apace.

1. I set a goal. I decided what day I would arrive at each major scene so that I can look at a plan and determine exactly when this nightmare would be over. For me, Act II should be done by next Thursday, with major main-plot scenes happening on Thursday and Tuesday.

2. I break it into manageable chunks. Four page sections work well for me because it’s what I do (see blog title) So I decide what will happen for four pages, and I write a note reminding myself of what happens in that scene. For example:

  • 85-88: at the Myersville safe house
  • 89-92: Grady meets with Ben – readers learn Ben’s history
  • 93-96: Grady passes on intel to Michael

3. I write. I stay within the parameters of my mini-outline and write the scene I’ve set for myself. Sometimes the scenes get boring, sometimes I wish they would hurry up and get over, but my outline keeps me on track and ensures that I am writing every day. It also makes sure I deliver crucial information that might get lost as I barrel forward to the more exciting parts.

Keep in mind that even if a scene doesn’t seem like it’s working, you can tweak it in the rewrite. The important thing right now (for me and you) is to keep moving forward.

Why You Should Write Every Day

I think it’s probably fair to say that I will be blogging a little less frequently this month, since I am writing furiously trying to finish a novel in 30 days. I am beginning to think that this back-to-back-write-every-day-challenge thing may have been a lapse in good judgement.

At least it forces me into good writing habits.

the writing life

Because I really do think that you should write something every day. I think that applies even if you’re not a capital-W writer. There’s something neurological and science-y that happens in your brain when you actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards, but scientists – whose names escape me – will point out that it’s a different kind of science-y thing if you’re dealing with technology), and it’s got to be good for you to massage the ol’ myelin on the regular.

So whether you’re doing something crazy like writing a novel in thirty days, or writing about why your cat is hilarious, make this month about creating a habit of writing, just a few pages, every day.

PS: I once took a class on adolescent brain development, which is what makes me an expert on massaging myelin.