Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Goals and Thoughts for June

New month!

I'm shooting for another 60 hours of Butt In Chair (BIC) time, and hoping that will bring me to the mid-point of the book by the end of the month. One wrinkle is that because we didn't have any snow days this year, The Son is out of school on June 17. I didn't sign him up for any camps that first week he's out of school, and am hoping/planning to spend a lot of time at the pond and other fun, summery outings that promise to eat up many hours of the day. And then toward the end of the month we'll be on Cape Cod, where I'll be lucky to get an hour a day of BIC time. Taking all this into account, I'm going to take advantage of his remaining school days and try to get 40 hours by the 17th.

I feel like I should say something about my pace. If you do the math on the stats I've given, you'll see that I'm averaging less than 500 words an hour, which is horrifyingly slow. That number is slightly misleading, since my BIC time includes hours spent making scene outlines, researching, and doing light editing. But even taking that into account, my pace is sluggish. I'm (mostly) okay with it, for two reasons:

1) I feel like I'm doing two drafts in one. With both Eleven Names and The Owl Bearer, my first draft was verrrrryyy rough-- "the crap draft", as I affectionately refer to it. I was so overwhelmed by writing a WHOLE NOVEL, I just wanted to get the story down to "The End" and not worry about anything else until later. This meant that I wound up doing 3-4 drafts of each book, which as I've documented on this blog is a grueling process, yo.

I don't think approaching it that way was necessarily the wrong choice for the writer I was at the time... but I'm not the same writer now. I'm not so overwhelmed by writing a novel. And I'd like to avoid ever having to do such extensive revisions again.

To that end, I'm taking the time to get the words right, rather than rushing to splash the story onto the page. I'm paying attention to tone and flow. I'm not skipping over the hard parts. When I get stuck, I'm going back to a previous chapter and doing a little line editing until the solution comes to me.

I hope that being this methodical (and slow) will actually save me time later, when I only have to do 1-2 revisions rather than 3-5.

2) It's slow, but it doesn't feel like a slog. I'm having a blast writing this thing! "Write the book you'd want to read" seems like "duh" advice, because what kind of weirdo writes a book they wouldn't want to read?? But I'm seeing now how that advice needs to be applied on a micro (scene) level rather than just considered on a macro level.

Earlier this year, I read 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron-- ironically, in the hopes it would make me a faster writer-- and in it she said something that kind of blew my mind: Writing is not supposed to be a struggle, and if it is, that's a sign something is wrong.

I know. Let that sink in.

I've known so many writers (myself included) who say they like having written far more than they actually like writing, and who complain about the horrors of the creative process, that it just seemed like the Way of Things. It's never really occurred to me how fucked it actually is. To be honest, I've always unkindly suspected that the few who were like, "What are you talking about? Writing is fun! Wheeee!" were stupid people writing very simple books.

But Aaron frames it like this: You became a writer because you love stories and love telling stories. Telling your own story to yourself (which is what a first draft is) should be the best thing ever. To quote the book: So why aren't you enjoying this fundamentally enjoyable thing?

Earlier in the book, she talks about storybuilding: creating characters, building worlds, and coming up with scenes. She says that this process should be enormously fun, and that if it's not, this probably isn't a book you should write. I completely agree, and have always delighted in the storybuilding stage of writing. It wasn't that much of a leap from that to her point about first drafts: if you aren't enjoying it, there's something wrong with the story-- not with you.

Sometimes our writer-minds create scenes we've decided are necessary to the plot, but our reader-minds have no desire to read them. Sometimes the plot veers off course and we keep slogging forward on the overgrown path because we loathe the idea of backtracking the last 5/20/100 pages and starting over. Sometimes we forget that if we're bored by what we're writing, it's probably boring.

In her book, Aaron relates how she began tracking her word count output as a first step to trying to increase it. One thing she discovered is that she had much higher word counts on days she was working on "candy bar" scenes. For those unfamiliar with the term, a candy bar scene is a scene you are dying to write. A scene that's been in your head since you first got the idea for the book. A scene you write all the other stuff just to get to. She realized that she had to get that excited about every scene, and if she couldn't, the scene had to go.

So that's one of things I've been focusing on this time around: trying to get psyched about the awesome in every scene, and giving my reader-mind more of a say in how the story unfolds. So far, it's working: I'm enjoying telling myself this story, and giving myself permission to trash a scene if it's boring me.

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