Thursday Words

Zero Draft

Hello friends and welcome to another lover of longhand edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.

Since turning in most recent, and possibly last for the year, romance novella last week I have found myself with the most curious thing: spare time. Wild, I know. Of course, I took a few days off to let my brain unclench a little after I struggled hard with that last romance, but now it is back to the grind.

I had just started what I am, for now, calling a cozy fantasy (though I am starting to doubt that label) when I got my contracts, which meant I had to take a two-month break from the idea. This week when I hauled out my notebook again, I’ll admit it was pretty darn tempting to just lay it aside and dive into something new or different, especially since I’ve been doing some world building on the Border Towns rewrite (more on that later).

But, my better sense won out in the end (for once), and, honestly, it felt really darn good to write until my pen ran out again. 

If you’re new around here, it might come as something of a surprise that I prefer to write my first draft entirely by hand. When I’m on deadline I have to switch to typing simply because of the time factor, but absolutely given my druthers, longhand is the most effective method for me to push through a first draft. 

Think about it, first drafts can be pains in the anatomy. If you’re like me and many other writers, the propensity to doubt (or even hate) what you’ve written can often lead to just wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. And while I’m of the opinion that no words are wasted as long as you’re learning from what came before, moving backward is rarely helpful when you’re trying to tell yourself the story, like in a first draft.

For me, writing longhand helps stem the tide of backspacing. Part of that is simply because I’m so neurotic, I really don’t like seeing a bunch of big ugly scratch outs on my page, and I really, really don’t like wasting paper and pens. So, when I’ve written a few paragraphs that I don’t necessarily love, where it would be easy to erase them and start over on a computer, when I’m drafting on paper I pretty much have to decide if it’s worth it or if I should just move on. Most of the time, I move on.

Because it’s the first draft. It’s not supposed be pretty and perfect. 

Actually, in a way, I consider my longhand writing to be the zero draft of a project. My scribbles are often indecipherable to any second set of eyes, littered with shorthand and misspellings, repeated words are rife, and description is thin on the ground. Then, when its time to transcribe the pages into my computer, I take things nice and slow, fixing errors and rewording things as I see fit. That’s when I identify the places where I’ve written myself into a corner, or repeated a scene idea. That’s when I evaluate what lessons I’ll take into, what I consider, the real first draft. 

Plus, writing longhand gives me an excuse to buy sparkly gel pens I’ll actually use and pretty notebooks I’ll actually write in. And what writer doesn’t love that? 


But, the cozy fantasy (working title: Pieces of Eight) isn’t all I’ve been spending my creative energy on. Nope, you read that right: I, Kerry Share, have been world building. And its not just any world building. Its world building for a story that long time readers might recognize as Border Towns, my erstwhile WIP that I took to Nano, finished just days before my 30th birthday, and then proceeded to struggle with in subsequent drafts because, as I later realized, it needed major revisions.

That said, revisions isn’t quite the word I would use to describe what I’m doing with the project. Complete overhaul is more accurate. While the premise, characters, and general plot threads will remain the same, pretty much everything is getting a massive makeover. I’m even changing all the names, including the title. Henceforth, Border Towns will be known as Tyranny of Titans.

And the very first lesson that I’m taking from its predecessor is: I can’t just leave the world building for later. I’ve got to have a really clear picture of the space around the characters, the cultures they exist in, and the broader scope of the conflict at the heart of the story, before I can start writing in earnest. So, in the creases between the day job, the child rearing, housekeeping, and drafting Pieces of Eight, I’ve been doing some world building.

I’m starting off slow with just the custom language of the setting. I used the VulgarLang tool to plug in the phonemes of the language I wanted to base mine off of (a secret, in case you were wondering), and generated a few examples until I found one I liked. Then I skimmed through the dictionary (I paid for the full version of VulgarLang years ago and is still one of the best purchases I ever made) provided and chose about 100 words that I liked the sound of and plugged them into an excel spreadsheet. From this list I am coming up with the names for my cast of characters.

I’ve always been really bad at coming up with names in my stories and one of my chief dissatisfactions with the original Border Towns was that everything felt so uncreative because the world had no uniqueness to it. So, this process has been actually kind of fun and inspiring in its own way. I definitely recommend checking out VulgarLang if you’re a fantasy writer, like me, who might need or want a fantasy language for their story but can’t figure out how to make one.


That’s all from me. I’m still trying to think of ways to fill the Friday blog spot, so I may post something random or experimental tomorrow. Until then, my friends! May your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.

Kerry Share

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The Right Tool for the Job

Manuscript News

It’s been an interesting week.

First thing’s first: no, I did not go to that write-in on Friday. I really did have plans with my partner on that day. As early as Friday morning those plans still had a non-zero chance of falling through, so I was keeping my options open for the evening. However, our plans went ahead as scheduled, and thus the write-in was skipped. I’m still looking forward to getting out there sometime, maybe even this week.

Also: yesterday I hit a big milestone. I reached the last page of my pretty flower notebook. That baby helped me get through NaNo. She came with me, shoved unceremoniously into a purse really too small for it, to family functions, gymnastics practice, the day job, road trips and everything in between.

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At only 70 pages I know it doesn’t sound really impressive. But I average about 550 words per page, and if you add it all up, it comes out to about 38,500 words. That’s a HUGE chunk.

I’m really proud of myself, if I’m being honest, which also feels kind of silly. My manuscript isn’t done yet, so even though I filled up a whole notebook, there’s still so much more work to be done. But it does feel a little awesome and not a little satisfying. To be able to flip through the pages and watch the kaleidoscope of different colors from all the various gel pens I managed to burn out whiz past is just… a really cool feeling.


The Weekly Struggle

Which brings me to the main topic today, which isn’t really a struggle per se, more of a realization I came to when I finally closed that notebook for the last time.

Every writer is different. I know that, of course, but yet I somehow hadn’t really internalized it. I would rail at writing tips that offended my own writing style, and yet I still tried to adhere to them, subconsciously or otherwise. I binge listened to Rachael Herron’s excellent podcast How Do You Write, seeking out tips on how to improve my own writing process. Yet, even though each guest would have wildly different ways of getting their work done, I somehow held on to the thought that there is a right way to write.

Despite the fact that I extoled, what I consider to be, the virtues of longhand writing in a blog post dedicated to the subject, drafting this way was almost a secret shame. It is not as fast as typing, and it even creates extra work, as those words you write on the physical page will then have to be transcribed onto the digital one. It’s kind of hippy-ish, and certainly lacks the numerous tools programs like Scrivener offer.

But the truth is, I can get really locked up when I sit down in front of the word processor and see a blank, white screen with the insistently blinking cursor taunting me. For whatever reason, I really can’t pinpoint why, that doesn’t happen to me with a blank page. The tactile feel of the pen and paper, the indentations of writing on each page, the notes scribbled in the margins… taken together it creates something that my brain finds creatively stimulating.

So, what do I take away from all this? It’s simple really: stop trying to force myself into a process that just doesn’t work for me. Embrace the methods that do. Stop looking for things to act over and start enjoying the process a little more.

The feedback I got on Twitter after posting a little video of my completed notebook was honestly incredible. It helped me take pride in my choice of medium in a way I hadn’t before. So, honestly, thank you everyone for that.

I’ve just started my next notebook, another 70-pager. I’ve got my crappy middle-school gel pens all ready to burn out after only four pages. And I’ve got roughly 40,000 more words to write before I can call the first draft of this MS done.

Time to hit it.

notebook


What I’m Reading This Week

I’m still making my way (slowly) through Tree of Ages. My plans with my partner this weekend completely eliminated my reading time. But, I am takings recs for what I should tackle next!


That’s enough rambling for one week. Til next time!

Kerry Share

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NaNoWriMo Update – Week 3

Oh man, guys, the mid-month blues hit me hard this week.

I thought I was flying. I wasn’t pushing myself overmuch, I had realistic goals, I was riding the high of hitting 20k, and then….

SPLAT

The burnout got me.

I wasn’t stuck — that’s what my trusty outline was for. I wasn’t too busy. I wasn’t even sick, like I was last week. I was just tired. I still tried to write every day, and I guess technically I did, if you count that one day where I only did about 150 words. But I was at a point where opening my laptop and staring at my document just made me feel like…

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It wasn’t til late Monday night, as I lay in bed watching that helluva football game and guilting myself for not working, that I decided I was going to stop trying to force the words into Scrivener.

As I talked about in an earlier post, I’m a huge fan of writing longhand. I haven’t exclusively done it for NaNo simply because of the time factor, but I do have a notebook that I write in while I’m at my day job or at my daughter’s gymnastics practice. At home, however, I was taking advantage of technology to keep up the pace.

And maybe it’s that pace that wore me out so much.

So, I retrieved my pretty flower notebook and sparkly pink gel pen from my work bag, got back in bed, and started writing that way.

I only worked for about 30 minutes but I got more done than I thought I would.

So I decided that, while the burnout lasts, I’m going to stick with writing longhand. In my pretty flower notebook, I can write about 500 words per page. Over the course of a normal work day I can usually write about two pages. If I can double that with some evening writing, I’m ahead of the game.

Yesterday was my first attempt at this and I set a five page goal for myself. I clocked in at 4.5 and 2221 words. My sparkly pink gel pen is dead, may she rest in peace, my hand is sore as hell, but I already feel revitalized. Today, I was so caught up in my pages that I almost forgot to even write this post for you all.

It’s just so funny to me how the smallest changes, be it the scene you’re working on, or the medium you’re working with, or the environment of your workspace, can inspire you even when you thought you had nothing left to give.

Writers are such strange beasts and I’m really jazzed to be one of them.


This week I’m reading: I’ve been really bad about reading new things lately. I felt so guilty about it that I even started actively resisting it. Which was stupid. This week I decided that I need to stop making excuses and follow advice that I love but have yet to heed: writers have to read. So from now on I’m going to carve out more time for myself to read new things, not just my old favorites (I read Pride and Prejudice once every nine months or so). To that end, at the end of every regular post, I’m going to talk a little bit about what I’m reading that week. I’m still a slow reader so it might not be different every week, and I’m woefully behind on books so my list might be quaint, but… well it’s my blog and I’ll read what I want to.

So, after a creatively frustrating day this week, I wanted something new and fresh to input into my brain, and after browsing the Kindle store I settled on Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve never even watched the Starz series (though I had at least heard of it from under my rock), much less read the novels, but I’d heard great things. I know I’m years behind on this series, but I’ve been burned lately with some (forgive me Indies!) pretty bad Kindle Library books and wanted something tested. I’m not terribly far into it yet, not even enough to give an opinion, but it was a relief to be able to get through a chapter without cringing.

No spoilers, but what does everyone else think of Outlander?

Until next week!

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Longhand

Since I’ve talked a lot so far about my fears and failures as it comes to writing, I thought I would, for once, highlight a part of my creative process that actually does work for me.

And that is writing longhand.

It’s such a writer-ly thing, isn’t it? To have piles and piles of notebooks laying around, some filled cover to cover, some with half writing and half scribbles of your two year old who co-opted it, or some that just plain looked pretty that you never got around to actually using.

I am one of those.

When I was a teenager, my girlfriends and I made up some Mary Sues and co-wrote self insert fanfiction as our hanging out activity of choice. We did this with notebooks and different colored pens for each of us. We would sit around one of our bedrooms, sometimes late into the night, throwing notebooks back and forth at each other and giggling about whatever drama we had just created in our fictional lives.

I learned a lot about writing and, in particular, my own writing quirks and preferences.

(Don’t worry, I got past the Mary Sue/self insert stuff. )

One of the things that did end up sticking was how much I enjoyed writing longhand. Maybe it was because I was a teenager and writing with gel pens gave me such delight. Maybe it was due to the portability of notebooks, allowing me to scribble anywhere and everywhere I felt inclined.

Whatever the reasons, I took this method into adulthood and have continued with it as my preferred method of drafting.

There are pros and cons to this, and it’s obviously up to individual personality and preferences which of those two cancels the other out.

The first big downside is that it takes a lot longer to write the same amount of words. Plus the hand cramping, oh the hand cramping. This might not be true for everyone, some people can scribble words just as fast (or faster) as they can type them, but I have a weird tic where I can’t stand looking at hand written pages that are full of scribbles, scratch outs, or ugly blots. So I tend to write a little more carefully, which of course takes longer.

However, that brings me to something I consider a major pro, and that is writing longhand limits my urge to constantly self-edit. Maybe it’s because of my strange little compulsion to keep written pages neat, but I tend to leave what I’ve written alone after it’s been inked on the page, no matter how clunky a sentence sounds or if a better word comes to me later. And in drafting, where actually finishing needs to be priority one, this is immensely helpful in silencing the inner editor.

Con #2 is that you’re pretty much doing twice the work. Not only are you spending more time writing the words themselves, you also have to put time into transcribing them.

But I’ve found that when taking my writing off the page and putting them into a word processor, I can make subtle changes that improve the quality of the work without really losing stride. I know I just bagged on editing while drafting, and I’m not talking about an actual editing step between the longhand version and the typed version.

But those clunky sentences or better words can easily be fixed or swapped in without too much time loss, provided you can reel in the impulse to make further, more lengthy edits.

I also really love that I can drop a notebook in my purse and be ready to write whenever I have some spare time. And, yeah, I still really like the feel of writing with gel pens.
I’m not saying this method is for everyone. It certainly doesn’t have the flow that typing rapidly can bring. But, as someone who tends to get paralyzed in front of a word processor for whatever reason, it is tremendously useful to have a jumping off point scribbled down already.

There’s also something immensely satisfying in the tactile feel of it, or maybe that’s just me. In fact, this is probably all just me.
So there you have it. If you can deal with the pain that is transcribing after the fact, not to mention the much more literal pain of your hand after a hefty word sprint, I find longhand a great way to draft.

Your mileage may vary.