Novel

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.

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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.

Day 31 – Now Go Write

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

If this series worked like I hope it did, you now have a complete and detailed outline sitting next to you, ready to guide you through writing your novel. Before you start, keep this in mind: your outline is not a legally binding document and you are in no way obligated to do what it tells you to do. Your creativity is a force of nature and no matter how strong your outline is, it will never be able to overpower the strength of your story.

Hold it loosely, keep it mind, use it to help you remember the little things you thought of through the planning process, let it help you make your narrative arc make sense. But don’t be afraid to leave the paved road for a bit if your story pulls you that way. Follow along and see where it takes you. If it’s a dead end, you can always come back to the outline.

Whether you are planning on writing a novel in a month or thinking about taking a little more time, take a break today. Set your work aside and let your brain take a deep breath. Tomorrow you can jump back into your story. For now relax and have a cup of your favourite hot beverage. You planned and peopled a whole world this month. Reward yourself.

The fact that I managed to complete this series proves that I have it in me to write every day for a month (something that is going to prove a boon to me when I start NaNoWriMo tomorrow. Come find me and let’s write together!

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.

Day 30 – A New Equilibrium

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Generally, things don’t turn out exactly as we want them to, and in your novel, as in your life, things may not happen for your protagonist exactly how he envisions them. Although a character coming full-circle is not an uncommon way to end a story, it doesn’t have to end that way – readers can achieve closure without all the little goal boxes being ticked.

For example – say at the beginning of the novel, your protagonist’s main goal is to return home. Perhaps on their journey they realize that home is relative and is wherever they have friends. So they may not return to the exact coordinates they wanted to go to, but they have still achieved their goal. A new equilibrium is reached.

Or, like Bilbo Baggins, maybe they do return home – to their former physical space – like they always wanted, but they have been forever emotionally altered. Their home is the same, but they are not.

Or they want to find a sense of personal identity, and they have an idea of what that looks like, but in the end they realise that they are personally defined by the identity of the collective.

A little girl goes through life always wanting a puppy, and in the end has tamed a dragon – a much cooler pet, if you ask me.

Creating these slight shifts in beliefs, or making the final goal that has been reached a little different from what was expected, add an element of realism to your story, and also create a talking point among your readers, leaving them wondering if the new equilibrium is really better than what the characters had been striving for all along.

31 Days to Plan Your Novel

Every October, hundreds of bloggers gather at The Nesting Place to write for 31 days straight on a variety of different topics, teaching and encouraging and offering tips and tricks to make life easier.