Posts Tagged 'novel writing process'

Never Easy

Leaf portrait small

It’s been awhile since I’ve said anything about my progress or lack thereof on Sky.

That’s because, in part, writing all those posts about rebound took up a lot of words and mental energy.

It’s also because after a couple weeks of unrelenting distractions and interruptions, when I finally got back to it, the magic had once again left and I had no idea what I was doing.

I had brought things to a point at the end of Chapter 7, but couldn’t quite finish it off. Too many questions… too many options. Too many, “whys”. As in, if A does that, what will B do in response? If I don’t want A to be figured out by B now, how can I have events progress as I have them? B would have to be a nincompoop not to figure everything out, and he’s not supposed to be a nincompoop.

[Where in the world did that word come from? Nincompoop??]

Somehow those questions led to a re-evaluation of the surface of the world I am trying to build, which led to a re-evaluation of the government, this after an earlier re evaluation wherein I decided to change my world set up from a single empire situation to multiple nations…

Then an interruption would come in and several days would pass before I could get back to it, during which time I would have forgotten what I had been thinking about… Returning to the work was almost like returning to square one and the whole project would seem so vast and overwhelming I’d spend at least the first day back doing my best to run away from it.

But today I got back to it and in the course of writing one of those nonstops I’m so wont to write, I remembered this:

From my ruminations over today’s work:

“It occurs to me that I haven’t really thought all this out and this kind of thing, the ideas, the modification, the sudden realization of inconsistencies, the  major readjustments, the refinement – or the dumping as unworkable and starting over…  it’s all part of the hard work of building a world for a novel. So… nothing’s wrong here. It’s part of the process and the process is long, hard, confusing, frustrating, exciting, gratifying, rewarding, never easy. Nor simple. Nor fast.”

It’s been like this before. Many times. I’d forgotten that. Forgotten that I just have to keep plugging along, and be patient, It will come, in time.

Eating an Elephant

eat an elephant

I’m sure most of you know the old adage, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. ” Well, my next step in my writing rehab program, as outlined in my Overcoming Writing Blocks book, was just that.

Having dealt with the distractions in my environment, I moved on last week to the writing project itself.  First up was to break the task into “bite-sized units.”  For a novel,  that would be chapters or possibly “Parts,” though so far I have not been thinking of this book in  terms of “Parts.” For now I took the average of the number of chapters in each of my six books — 42 — as the number of chapters in Sky.

I’ve already written six of them, which  leaves 36. At a rate of 2 chapters per 3 weeks,  with time out here and there for holidays and trips, I would be done with a first draft around May 1 of next year.

Whether that has any tie to reality or not, I have no idea. But it’s a start.

Next was to come up with a “Purpose Statement.” For fiction writing that would be one’s main story question for the tale. In working through developing this,  many things came to light about the world I’m building and this plus the next step “research reading and taking notes” (which I take to also include work in developing the parameters of one’s make-believe world) sent me off for most of last week gathering all my scattered notes and ideas into folders with the intention of going through the collected material and deciding what I want to keep and what I want to toss.

In the process of all this I realized that I am no longer interested in the linear set-up of a single empire beneath my fictional planet’s surface with the heavenly city floating above as I had originally envisioned. There have to be various nations to carry out what I’m wanting to do,  and in fact in the chapters I’ve already written there are already at least two other national entities mentioned. So I see that this concept was there all along, despite my initial plans.

I’ve been taking all my note cards and entering the notes on them into one of my many world building documents, or if I’ve decided not to use that material, simply throwing it away. It’s been very productive work. Not when it comes to chapters written, but as regards the fundamental shift the story is now taking. Once an optimum number of the world building questions have been answered, I’ll be able to turn my attention to the plot…

The fact that I’m making this fairly major change, in addition to much new material I’ve gathered from miscellaneous reading, news events and my own increasing understanding of some of the spiritual issues I was wanting to deal with, I’m beginning to see there might have been a reason for my stall over the last few months… years? … that goes beyond mere burn out, life distractions, or lack of self-discipline…

Game of Hot and Cold

Some time back in one of the messages I listened to about living in your spiritual gift, Pastor Farley described his own experiences in developing a sermon. He said that when he starts a message, he’s often stone cold. The Holy Spirit plays a game with him of hot and cold.

That immediately made me think of something I learned back during the time I was writing The Light of Eidon: if you’re bored and don’t want to go forward with a certain plotline or situation, that’s very often a “COLD”.

I remember planning out an entire sequence involving a fire in Southdock, and then could not make myself write it. Just could not. Finally it dawned on me that maybe this was not the way to go. Once I did that, and began to think of other ways to proceed. Sometimes in fiction, there’s an event you only want to “have happened” not actually portray dramatically and it can be difficult to figure that out. Sometimes, you’re just, flat headed in the wrong direction altogether and the event is either one you’ll never use, or something to be saved for another place in the book, or even another book.

I think that’s what’s been happening with Sky. I’ve been trying to take the story in a direction that seemed interesting and just is not where I want to go.

Green Lights and Red Lights

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In this developmental phase of writing a book (ie, the general beginning),  I find myself struggling to be at ease with the process. In thinking about the story, I want to to come up with a sequence of events and yet my mind seems to shy away from that. I start there, but sometimes, almost immediately, it turns away and gallops after other pursuits.

I catch myself, pull it back and the process repeats. I get glimmers of things, ideas, events that might happen, rising to the top of the soup that is my mind, and then drifting out of sight, no connection to anything else, no certainty that indeed these are elements and need merely be connected for me to have my story. Maybe this event or incident will happen. Or maybe that. Sometimes the two are opposites. They can’t both happen. And it seems I should be clearer on the matter, but I’m not.

That tends to distress me. To make me feel stupid, flighty, incompetent. Don’t you know your own mind? Don’t you know what you want to write about, for heaven’s sake?!

Well…no. And no.

But my pastor says there are far more red lights in life than green ones. That we spend more time waiting for the doors to open than walking through them. So it seems to be here. I am waiting. And I must be at peace with it. I must remind myself that the Lord is involved in this, that I can trust Him to lead me in developing something that will be pleasing to Him.

Addendum:  This is a piece I wrote for my own edification back in April of 2001. It remains as true today — this very day — as it was then. I’m sorry to say that six books later, I still must endure this experience. Repeatedly. It is of some comfort to know that I have gone through it before — and enough times that I actually wrote about it for future reference.

A Day in My Life

 

Well, I wanted to put up another post on thoughts generated by my reading of America Lite, but I’m afraid I’ve reached the end of my day without sufficient mental energy to do that. Yes, I started the post yesterday, but there are so many thoughts, it’s hard to narrow them down into something that makes sense.

I’m also in the process of working on a Big Project that has nothing to do with writing, which is partly why I don’t have any energy. And, I’ve been making a point getting in at least two hours of writing work a day on Sky (I’m using a modified version of the pomodoro system I wrote about here) in addition to my weekly Monday house cleaning stint. I’ve been putting the latter off for a couple of weeks now… I run out of time, tell myself I’ll do it tomorrow and hey! Tomorrow never comes.

So today I just decided to do it first. I put on my mp3 player tuned to messages from Pastor John last week (which were EXACTLY what I needed to hear, last week and today) and went through all the chores instead of trying to split them up across 5 days. Worked much better and I was glad to just have it all done.

After that and breakfast, I did 8 pages of revision on chapter 6. Oh and I printed up the following, which I found whilst re-reading my old blog:

Really bad means REALLY BAD

I forgot about writing really lousy drafts! Or rather, I knew about it, and I even have a sign about it on my desk, but I’d forgotten about it. Kind of like I know the Lord has promised to take care of me and bless me , and that He is wise and good and kind and powerful, yet suddenly I am worried and fretful again. I know it, but it’s not registering. I’m not applying it.

Really lousy drafts are just that. Really lousy drafts. Bad, bad writing that makes me wince as I’m setting it down. Sentences and thoughts that provoke all manner of objections — No! It can’t be that way. It should come after this, or before that. Or, This is really cornball… Or melodramatic. Or off the wall.

I just have to plug my mental ears and keep on writing, one bad sentence after another.

I love these reminders from the past. Besides reminding me of principles and activities I’d forgotten about, they also remind me of how much I forget!

I spent the afternoon working on the project before more Bible Class, walking Quigley, making and eating dinner and then… putting in some time on the blog post before Hawaii 5-0 (Danno is really starting to bug me and this episode — he and McGarrett on the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad fishing trip — he was especially obnoxious. I wasn’t too fond of that character in the original series, either, though I think for different reasons.)

Well, if I want to have any mental energy at all tomorrow, I’d best stop this and get to bed.

One Day At A Time

Well, I’m tired this week. Still getting over a cold I’ve had for over 10 days now. And We had a big weekend — my hubby wanted to throw a party for friends who’d helped him with this Bighorn Sheep Hunt last year, and so I helped. It was an all day affair on Saturday that started at 7am and lasted until 2am the next morning. After a few hours sleep, we started in on the clean up.  I had a nap after that.

Monday I was good — worked on Sky for three hours! — but Tuesday I crashed entirely. Slept almost all day. Watched TV all evening… (Well.. they were the season openers for NCIS and NCIS:LA, so… I’d have watched them anyway. Probably wouldn’t have sat there for VEGAS though…)

Today I was in the blank, wandering around the house staring at things mode. Trying to make sense of the notes I had for Sky, feeling like the entire premise was absurd and fatally flawed and how had I ever thought this was remotely interesting?

So I didn’t work on the next blog post I’d thought to do for my impromptu Light of Eidon week. In fact, I couldn’t even decide which one of several to do.

So I got the idea to go looking again at my early newsletters… the ones I put out right after Eidon released and found this bit from one I put out in April of 2003, written while I was deep into the writing of Book 2: The Shadow Within.

It applies today as surely as it applied nine years ago, and was actually a comfort to me to reread in my current circumstances.

One Day at a Time

I’ve been writing for a long time, and have never been a fast writer. I have always tended to go three steps forward and back up two. Sometimes I have to rewrite and rewrite until I get the thread right, and only then can I go on with the story.

Often I may go for two or three days getting nowhere at all, blank and empty and even indifferent. Then the doors will open, the scenes will emerge and all will be well. Until I hit the next blank spot.

Over the years I have tried setting up various writing schedules according to the generally accepted advice that if you want to complete a big project, you must divide it into increments, then proceed to carry out each increment in its time. I would make up my schedule of how many chapters I wanted to complete over a certain period of time, and determine that I would be professional and disciplined and Just do It! It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not, you just have to write it. Except . . .

I couldn’t.

Never have I managed to keep one schedule. Always I hit a snag, go over the allotted time, then hit another snag and another until the deadline I had set for myself fades into dim memory. I have received much friendly and helpful advice on how to deal with this, but none of it ever works.

Over the last few months, as I contemplated the remaining time I had left before Book 2 (The Shadow Within) is due, I found myself increasingly disturbed that I still hadn’t reached the point where I could sit down, plan out a schedule of work, then embark upon that work and be confident that it would all be done on time.

Throughout all this, the Lord was reminding me that I should be trusting Him about it, but the voice was too still and small, and the message too familiar.

I was too busy thinking about how much time I had left and comparing that with how much work I thought I had left to do. Too busy harassing myself to get to work, to be more disciplined, to force the story out. Too busy getting upset over outside things that came in to steal my time. Too busy beating my head against the wall–for it was all to no avail.

The story wasn’t coming any faster than it ever had. But the idea of stopping that, and giving it all over to Him? How could I do that? To do that would mean losing all control over it.

It wasn’t until I had that last ridiculous thought that I realized how silly I was being. I had no control over it anyway, so what’s the big deal about giving it over to Him?

Clearly I had a choice to make. Was I going to continue to seek to control the what for me is an uncontrollable process, flailing myself for my lack of progress and worrying about what would happen in the months to come when the Lord clearly tells me not to? Was I going to continue refusing to rest in Him, and instead seek to use my own strength and ability (obviously lacking) to handle this?

Cursed (miserable!) is the one who puts her trust in man. Or woman, as the case may be.

Finally, that verse, one I memorized long ago, got through. The light went on and I backed off.

So from here on out it’s one day at a time. I WILL stay out of the future. Whatever progress He gives me, I will accept, without making a fuss about what hasn’t been given. If I fail to concentrate or use my time wisely on any given day, I can have confidence that He knew, way back in eternity past, that I would fail and He took it into account when He made His plan.

If something comes up that diverts my time and energy away from the book, I will remember that it is also part of the plan, and that He has everything under control, knowing precisely how long it will take to make this book what He wants it to be. This is His book, not mine, so He’ll have to see that it gets done in spite of me. (I especially like that part.)

Now, at last, I can rest, knowing that even though I am “dust”, inadequate and weak, He is completely adequate and His strength will be perfected in my weakness. I may bungle my way through my days and the writing of this book, but He who is wise and good and faithful and gracious is at work in me nevertheless. And His Plan is not only perfect, it’s brilliant!

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord, for he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes.” ~ Jeremiah 17:7

Incubation

“Mulling over the problem in a sort of chaos of ideas and knowledge, letting go of certainties… entertaining widely differing or incongruous ideas so they can coexist long enough conceptually in order to be considered as a new composition.”

That’s “incubation.”

So when I am having a day like I described in the nonstops of yesterday’s post (Walking in Fog) or looking at the note cards spread across my desk and each one is an item that has little to do with any of the others, or there are clumps that relate, but no sequence that is emerging… they just are all there, like jigsaw puzzle pieces… I am in the process of entertaining differing or incongruous ideas together.

Incongruous: lacking congruity; not harmonious;  INCOMPATIBLE (not compatible: as a) incapable of association or harmonious coexistence; b) not conforming. DISAGREEING “conduct incongruous with principle”,  c) inconsistent within itself: “an incongruous story” d)  lacking propriety : UNSUITABLE “incongruous manners”

So if you have two ideas, say, “Abramm plans his way” and “He thinks about Blackwell…” those don’t, on the surface, have anything to do with each other. Nor does, “Trinley and Rolland argue about Abramm’s reign.” They are all three incongruous and when I think about it, I feel this frustration. Because I can form no connections.

Not that I’ve consciously tried to form connections, just that I survey the stuff and there aren’t any. So I’ve lately been just collecting it all into a chapter. Then I read the chapter and it jumps all over the place. Because there is no sequence, no organization. It’s chaotic, it’s a collection of different things, ideas, actions, feelings… sometimes they contradict each other. They can’t both happen, but I don’t know which one I want to happen. And it is very uncomfortable.

You’d think I’d have learned by now to get comfortable with it, but I haven’t. Reading files like this one, written as it was back when I was starting Return of the Guardian King is helpful.

As is the realization that this very thing that I find so frustrating is probably a key ingredient to making my books work. If I just laid down a simple sequence, chose a few things and went with them, I wouldn’t have so much to wrestle with. Writing would go more quickly. Unfortunately I would be very bored… which means my readers would also be bored.

And consciously trying to link my incongruous ideas not only won’t given me the final answer, but may lead me off on 100 page rabbit trails. I just have to resign myself to waiting until it falls together on its own, in God’s timing, not mine. Thus this stage will always be here, this mulling stage where I have the incongruous and widely differing elements coming together to form something new. I have no idea what that is, so how can I possibly guide it? I can only play with it.

And pray for guidance. And wait.

Walking in Fog

Last week, in the process of looking for something else, I stumbled upon a documentI created in 2007 called “The Muddled Phase, which is a collection of quotes from various nonstops I had made when I was beginning The Enclave.

Once again, they track dead on with what I’m experiencing now with Sky, and it was such a help for me to read them, again, I thought I’d share.

“Gah!  I hate all this muddled thinking I’m doing!  Just completely mushed up and tangled.  Nothing clear, nothing right.  A mess.  Ideas float in and out.  Who knows if they’re any good?  They sort of fit, but then need modification.  I just don’t know what I’m doing.  It all feels like a stupid idea, I should just give it up and go write something simpler.  But . . .

“I do recall feeling this way about Arena.  And about Eidon, for that matter.  So.  Again, I must walk by faith.  And again I am in the fog.  Where I can’t tell if I’m going forward or backward, where I’m going, if I’m actually going anywhere, or just in a circle.

“In fact, it’s hard to even think about any of it.  As I start to grope for it mentally, it seems to recede and fall into a jumble.  I want to wrest it all into order, and yet there’s nothing to hold onto.  Not even a direction to head in.” 

–Snip questions, possibilities, ideas —

“Hmmm. That could be interesting.  Urk and urk.  Swirling again.  Maybe I should just try and write it.  I don’t know.  Maybe I need to lie down or iron or something.  Something constructive.  Something besides just sitting here staring at the wall having half-formed thoughts flit in and out.  It’s maddening.  Maybe I should just paint.  Or clean or . . . but I don’t want to do any of those.  I want some order.  I want a map.  I want it now.  I have to make it myself.  My brain won’t cooperate. 

“Interesting about …” [and then my mind flits to something that is completely irrelevant but bothering me at the time]

“Where was I?  Trying to distract myself?  Is this avoidance behavior?  I don’t know what to do.  Sit and wait, or try to make something emerge?  Reread the material or . . . sit and wait.  Lie on the couch.  Stare at the penguin mobile.   

“Oh this is a waste.  My brain is dust.  Ash.  Urk and urk.  And urk.  So many distractions.  I am becalmed again.  There seems to be an awful lot of that.  I need to rebound I guess and ask for guidance because there doesn’t seem to be any. 

Oh.  That’s right.  My emotions have been turned off, so I can’t look for much help from them.  I listened to two songs today that usually get me going, and they did hardly anything emotionally.   Maybe I shouldn’t be waiting for some great surge of  “It’s right!”  Maybe I should just look at what I’ve got and go with it, whether I feel good about it, or not.  Just do the plan I have,”

 From another Nonstop, later

 “Okay, I was being frustrated, angry.  I have need of patience.  I need to trust Him to provide and to be content in whatever state I find myself.  And if that is in not finding the lost object — AGAIN — then that is what I will be content with.  Looking for the object in my mind.  Or not finding the answer.  That’s what it is.  It’s not an object, it’s an answer.  An understanding. 

“And I haven’t found it.  And I feel as if I should be able to find it now.  Immediately.  But I can’t.  I look inside and only incoherent thoughts fly by.  Not even floating anymore, more like whirling, breaking apart, joining with others and breaking apart.  Maybe that’s what’s going on.  I don’t know.  Maybe I should just give it up and iron.  I am impatient.  I feel that I must get busy on this book.  That I must be professional and work.  That I must use my time wisely, when it seems all I do is write endless, worthless nonstops that get me nowhere.”

And then having read all the above, I opened another file, this one titled “Incubation” which justified everything I described above as being a legitimate part of the creative process. But I’ll save that for tomorrow.

A Tomato, a Coin and a Die

Today I actually managed to get around to working on Sky for a good five hours!Actual story writing as opposed to  note organizing. A tiny bit of progress.   YAY!

I did so using a new technique that I’ve recently discovered and an old one I’d forgotten.

A Tomato

The new technique, developed to help increase productivity, is called The Pomodoro Technique, so named because its inventor used a red tomato kitchen timer to implement his system. He’s Italian and “pomodoro” is Italian for tomato.

The technique was designed to also investigate where various distractions originated and to provide a means of dealing with them.

I used it pretty much as outlined (click on the link above for the full thing) when I started a couple of weeks ago.   There is a free booklet you can download and some official pages as well:  a To Do Today sheet and an Activity Sheet.

You list the things you want to do on the first sheet. In the beginning, I listed things like “write a blog post,”  “read through all my notes on Sky,”  “transfer information on sheets to little cards,” etc.

Then you set the timer for 25 minutes  (a “pomodoro”) and get started. If you suddenly get a thought to go do something else, you are to make a tic mark in the column next to where you listed your task, then decide if the activity must be done  right now, or if it can be done later. If later, you note it on the Activity Sheet. If you feel it’s imminent — you absolutely HAVE to order that pizza now — you note it at the bottom of the To Do sheet.

One of the iron clad rules is that you cannot spend more than a minute or two on some distraction so if you do get up and order the pizza, then you have to void the pomodoro and start over, even if you’ve only got five minutes left.

It was in intriguing exercise which made me aware of all the things I kept thinking of doing in the middle of when I was supposed to be writing. Internal distractions the developer called them. They seemed to come rapid fire at first. But because I had the timer on, I stopped getting up to go do them and just noted them on my activity sheet. The more I used this technique, the less internal distractions I had. Plus having a place to note them helped a lot.

After the timer goes off, you place an X in the column next to your task, then take a 3 to 5 minute break to walk about, stretch, visit the restroom, or get a drink. Then it’s back to another pomodoro. . After four pomodoros you get a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

It’s not as complicated as it might sound, but it’s pretty regimented and while at first it did a lot to get me back on track, ultimately I rebelled and one day I just couldn’t make myself do any of it and went out to play. I’ve since abandoned the activity sheet, since it’s not all that relevant for me.

I have, however, stuck with the 25 minute increments and the three-minute breaks, the latter because they get me out of the chair and walking around or stretching and that’s good for the body. And the former because I not only have to somehow quantify my task (“work on the book” is not specific enough) but it puts a beginning and an end time to it (as opposed to doing it “until I get tired”)

Before, if I hit a snag there was a good chance I’d just get up and walk out of the room on some inner directed tangent. With the pomodoro, I at least wait until the timer rings before walking off, though even then I haven’t wanted to dive into some other thing.

So that’s the new — modified — technique I used today.

Yes, I know… rules again. But not exactly. I think they’re more just useful guidelines that keep me on track. So for now I’ll keep using them. I have my own “pomodoro” all set up under my computer screen.

A Coin and a Die

The other technique, the one I’d forgotten, was to use a coin to build my characters. I had five male characters who were nothing but names that I needed to be in the scene I am currently working on.

So one of the things you can do and which I had actually made charts for years ago, is to divide characteristics into twos… tall/short, fat/skinny, muscular/frail … then flip a coin to determine the characteristic — eg, heads, he’s tall, tails he’s short.  If you have more characteristics than two, like hair or eye color, use a die — assign a color to each number, then roll the die.

It’s a way of breaking through the blankness. As the characters started to emerge, I found myself thinking, “Wait, I don’t want him to have light brown hair, it should be black instead.”  Or, “No, he’s not going to have a beard, he’s going to be clean-shaven.”  You aren’t bound to whatever the die or coin dictate, but if you don’t care, it’s a way of actually getting something to take shape.

So that’s what I did today using my pomodoros, and my coin and die. I now have five index  cards and five characters with a fair amount of definition. Since these are minor characters, I’m not yet sure how big of a role they’ll play so I don’t want to go too far in developing their profiles. For now, I have enough to work with.

Another thing I did, that came out of nowhere, was that as these guys were coming together I started seeing parallels to some of the Avengers, so I decided to just go in that direction and use the Avenger characters as a rough guide for my development. Oh! Horrors! She’s copying movie characters!

Not exactly. I think it was more a general template and lifting one or two characteristics from each. And it was fun. I know in the end it won’t be noticeable, because once they get “real” for me, they’ll take on their own individuality. Besides, they may turn out to have almost no role at all. I have no idea at this point.

All I know is, it helped me work, and as a result I ended up with one guy who’s a techie and another with anger issues. As an additional bonus, those two qualities triggered thoughts about the setting and the situation and suddenly the whole scene — characters, interactions, setting, situation and action — gained richness and substance and direction far beyond what I had when I started.

Oh yeah, and that new laser TSA is going to be using in 2013 — the one that can read your cells from 164 ft and tell if your adrenaline is rushing, and what you ate for lunch and if you have explosive residue in your fingerprint creases?  Well that’s just perfect for this scene as well. Only it won’t be a laser, and there isn’t any airport. 😀

Quote: Beginning is Chaos

“For some people, the beginning is a time of complete chaos. You see bits and pieces of what is before you. You have a sense of what it is you must set out to do. But nothing will form yet. When you sit cown to write or paint or form movement, it’s like stepping over a cliff or into a dense fog. All you can do is trust that this impending masterpiece is going to somehow manifest itself as you work. But you do know that there is something specific ahead, and you feel the excitement of that.”  ~  Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story

At first I thought dense fog was the better metaphor for how I tend to feel at this stage, but then decided that stepping off the cliff might be better. Because you’re falling and you have no idea where and it may well be to a very unpleasant end.  And you’re seeing all sorts of things — rocks, trees on the cliff face, birds, but can’t quite get a fix on any of them…


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