Writing Thin

Hey! Fellow white writers! Just a reminder! Diversity is good! Write characters that don’t look like you! It’s healthy! But! Don’t! Write! BIPOC’s! Stories! Just! Don’t!

Also, don’t try to prettify human suffering. Just a thought.

kirk02
Seriously tho, can we not?

Anyway, those of you who are still here, welcome to another week in the life of a struggling writer. This struggling writer, anyway. And, lord, has it been a struggle. As it turns out, deciding mid-draft that your WIP needs a major developmental revision is not something that can be taken care of in a week. My mental pendulum keeps swinging from “excited and energized” to “I’m a terrible writer, all my ideas are laughably banal, and I’m just going to give up on this whole writing thing in general, don’t at me.”

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A visul recap of my week.

I’m caught between the idea that my creative well is running dry and I need to take a break and refill it, and the little voice in my head that continually reminds me I took all of December off, I’ve barely done anything creative this month, I keep making excuses not to write. 

I’m gonna figure it out. Eventually. I’m gonna strike a balance, and this will get written. Maybe even in my lifetime.

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My list of revisions.

Anyway, one of the things I’m definitely going to have to figure out if I am going to get this book done is how to stop writing so damned thin.

I imagine many writers might say that writing thin is a good problem to have, and I believe that is true for a lot of people. For me, however, it’s a bane. As I’ve mentioned before, I started writing when I was 11, and though I started in original fiction by 13 I had been roped into the magical world of fanfiction. Now, my path is my path, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I learned more than you’d think about craft, but one thing I left behind in those years was the ability to describe literally anything.

I relied on the fact that any readers would already be familiar with the characters and setting, and almost everything I wrote was entirely based on interactions. Conversations, conflict, sex. It was easy.

Now I’m kicking myself, because I find myself falling into that pattern even now that I know I have to set the stage myself.

I just did a read through of my second draft. One of the things I realized is that a major character has only ever been described (once) as “tall.” That’s it. That’s all you know about her. Another character, equally important, hasn’t been physically described at all. Most of my cast are little more than floating, talking heads.

Don’t get me started on worldbuilding. Again. I hate it. I mean, I love it, but, actually, I hate it. I have a perfect image in my head of what my world is, but when it comes to the text of the novel I don’t feel compelled in any way to describe it. “What purpose would mentioning the scenery of the countryside serve?” I ask myself. “Does my made up historical context really have any bearing on this scene?” or “Why slow down the pace and ruin the tension just to remind the reader there is a fully fleshed out world beyond this conversation?”

Most of that is thanks to a piece of writing advice I took and surgically grafted onto my heart, and that is: good storytelling is often about good secret keeping. Don’t give away what you can hold onto until the moment is right. And that is the philosophy I have carried into my fantasy stories: don’t info dump when you can sprinkle in the details as needed.

And, honestly, I still think that is really sound advice, but, in rereading this second draft, I think I may have lost sight of what is too much to hold back. The draft reads like I’m being greedy with my world, or that I’ve forgotten that the readers don’t know what I know. I rush from plot point to plot point without adding critical context, because I already know the background of X and Y characters’ relationship with each other, or where A and B locations are on the map.

At DFWCon I had the chance to sit down with an agent and kind of talk shop (I wasn’t ready to pitch yet, obviously, but I still wanted to get some insight). We got into a discussion about word counts for debut authors, and after hearing that I had just finished a first draft, he asked my word count. 105k, I told him. That’s really good for a debut fantasy, he said. Right in the butter zone. I wish I could have been pleased about that, but I knew, deep in my bones, that the only reason I kept it that low was because the draft wasn’t really complete. I had left so many details on the floor, details that would be inexcusable to leave out of a polished manuscript.

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Or, writing, as the case may be.

Going into draft 3, I know this is something I’m going to have to be serious about fixing. I need to learn how to take my time and properly build a world that readers will want to crawl into. I need to figure out how the keep the flow going without leaving important information out in the cold. I’ve got to teach myself that it’s okay to do those things, even if it means a 300k word draft.

Because that’s what revision is for.


That’s all from me this week. I hope you enjoyed Captain Kirk coming along for the ride with us. Next week I hope to discuss The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, which I’ve been reading this month. Which means I need to close up and get it finished. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few!

Kerry Share

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Editing As You Go

Happy Thursday, fellow Struggling Writers. I took last week off thanks to the Very American Holiday™ but I am back now, with my ever evolving thoughts on writing! And away we go!

Manuscript News

July is here and, with it, Camp NaNoWriMo. I sadly missed April’s camp, so I was determined to participate this time around. It also happens to fit neatly into my Border Towns second draft schedule, so it seemed perfect. My goal for July? 40,000 new words. Since I have been struggling of late to write consistently at home, I told myself 2000 words a every work day will get me over the finish line.

Despite some early setbacks, it’s actually been going pretty great. I was just thinking yesterday how much better I feel about this new draft than I ever did the first one. I said on Twitter that I’m actually excited to do my daily pages every morning. Whenever I finish a scene and check my outline, I say, “oh, yeah, that’s a really good one!” And I haven’t even got to the exciting parts yet!

I don’t expect this feeling to last. I’m only 14000ish deep out of an estimated 120k. Perhaps by the end of it I’ll be throwing my notebooks across the room like I did when I finished draft one. But until that happens, I’ll be riding this wave.


The Weekly Struggle

Death_note_delete.gif

So, as I mentioned, getting this new and fun draft off the ground was not without it’s share of hiccups. Writing the hook felt not unlike I was using that torture quill from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. You know the one. I become downright hysterical at one point, ripping out the first five pages of my new notebook as each new attempt of an opening scene failed to live up to my wildest expectations.

“This is revision!” I told myself. “I can’t just write whatever and promise to come back to it later. Now is later!”

…Yeah, it was ugly. I ended up spending the majority of my first day back to the page on what ended up being a 650 word scene. I finally convinced myself to move on, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that it was just… wrong.

The next day, I was still feeling distracted. I found it hard to pick up writing new words because all I could think about was returning to that first scene and perfecting it. I had transcribed and emailed myself the previous day’s work the night before, so I printed out the hook, picked up a sparkly blue gel pen, and… I edited it.

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There’s something so satisfying about this image, to me.

Let me tell yall, it. felt. incredible.

I never would have imagined myself as loving the editing process, mostly because I was dreading it so much. I honestly didn’t know how to improve something that was already written. Not because I thought that my writing was perfect to start, far from it, but rather because… since this is the best my brain could come up with the first time, why should I believe it’s going to think of anything better the second go around. Wow, did I have another thing coming.

My favorite part was when I just straight crossed something out, when I cut something without the intention to rephrase or move it somewhere else. Just boom, gone. It made me feel powerful, in a weird way. I also liked taking a clunky sentence and transforming it, via improved syntax or vocabulary or what have you, until it was functional yet beautiful.

I spent four hours on the edits of this one scene, probably more than I should have (though I justified the time expense by saying, it’s the hook! it’s the most important part! it has to be perfect!), and when it was all said and done I actually felt happy with it, an emotion I rarely feel about my own words on the page.

It worked so well for that first scene that I decided I was going to incorporate editing one previously written scene a day into my process. It hasn’t all been picture perfect, but it has helped me move ahead with a draft that is radically different from it’s predecessor while also scratching the revision itch.

Don’t get me wrong, though, this is not a technique that I could see myself adopting for a first draft. When it came to the first draft, all I could think about was getting from Point A to Point B to Point C, all the way until it was done. If I had gotten stuck in the weeds of editing as I went along then, I probably never would have finished.

The only tricky thing I’ve run into so far is, as it stands, I find myself inflating my word counts while I’m editing. I’m terrible at including description and have to remind myself that the readers can’t see what’s in my head, so I typically end up adding instead of cutting. I know that’s going to have to change when I do a proper edit.

And, rest assured, I’ll be here to flail and panic at you all when that time comes.


That’s all from me this week! I’m going to try super hard to get a blog post to you next week, but this month is rife with work obligations (pesky day job, paying the bills and cutting into my writing time) so I make no promises. Until then, however, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few!

Kerry Share

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Obsessed With Outlines

Manuscript News

I know, I know. I’m supposed to be taking a break from Border Towns in order to be fresh and ready for the meat of revisions. But, what can I say? I feel a little nervous about the tight timeline I put myself on this year and I’m afraid if I lollygag in my preparations for draft two then I won’t get it done in time.

So, suffice it to say, I’m not drafting. I’m really not. But, I’m doing everything I can to stay engaged with my story. I know this means that by the end of September I’ll probably feel ready to take this novel behind the shed and shoot it, but I’ll cross that event horizon if it ever comes.

What exactly am I doing? Well, read on…


The Weekly Struggle

Let’s talk outlining.

Nine months ago, I wasn’t sure where I fell on the plotting/pantsing spectrum. I even wrote a blog post ruminating on the subject. Now, one completed first draft later, I think it’s fairly safe to say that I fully identify as a plotter, and that is largely thanks to how much I truly enjoy the outlining phase.

I’m a freak, I know.

I had tremendous success with my pre-first draft outlines (yes, I said outlines with an s), though it didn’t always feel like success. The first outline came out to a very thin, rather pathetic sixty scenes. So, I started a new one. A second draft… of the outline. Sadly, outline #2 never actually got completed because I simply ran out of Preptober time. I was committed to starting NaNo with everyone else, and so when November 1st hit, I just got started. Outline #2 was on pace to be 85 scenes.

So, confession. One of the things I chafe at when reading discourse regarding pantsing vs. plotting, is the idea that plotting is too rigid and leaves no room for creative discovery. (For the record, I know that people who say this are usually only referring to themselves, but the anxiety monster in me internalizes it anyway.) But, for me, that was absolutely not the case.

I try to think of writing as a road trip of sorts, where the goal is to get from Point A to Point B. The outline is the map. It might show you the most efficient, direct route to complete your journey, but that is just one option among dozens of others. If you get detoured by construction (a character going rogue), or if you find an interesting landmark you want to visit that wasn’t on your path (a sudden plot idea you want to include), you still have you map to guide you back to the highway when you’re through.

For me, the outline was instrumental in unblocking me at one particular point during my first draft. In essence, late in the second act, my main character jumped the gun on a plot I had slated for the second and third books in the series. At first I just went with it, as I had in the past when things like this happened. However, afterwards I encountered some serious blockage. My characters were no longer cooperating, largely because they had to deal with this major bombshell that had just been dropped on them, while I was trying to usher along the main story plot.

After a great deal of fussing around, I went back to my outline and, with it, I was able to pin point the exact scene where I went wrong. Though I was initially hesitant to change anything, I eventually made the tough decision to strip out 2500 words and start fresh from the trouble spot.

It worked. I no longer felt blocked and was able to move along with my story until I eventually finished two weeks ago.

Which leads me back to this week’s activities.

I’ve been kind of at a loss as to how to tackle revision. I’ve never made it to a second draft before, and I don’t know what my process is or what will work. I’ve known for a while I want to do a fresh second draft, without the first draft sitting in front of my face to directly reference, but I also don’t want to go into it completely from memory either. While mulling it over on Twitter several weeks ago, I realized I could utilize my obsession with outlines once again. If I write up an outline based on the first draft, I can then do a second draft outline based on that, without getting caught up in the minutiae of the prose itself.

And that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m calling it my post-mortem outline. It’s given me an impetus to get through the necessary, if cringe inducing, task of re-reading the first draft, as well as help me form new ideas for what I want out of draft two. So while it might not be for everyone, it’s absolutely already been worth it for me.

Honestly, I can’t wait to get started on the second draft outline.

I know, I’m weird. But that’s okay.

weird


I know I said last week that this week’s post was going to be about Writing For Yourself, but I’M JUST SO PASSIONATE ABOUT OUTLINING YOU GUYS. Next week I’ll be back with a post previewing my very first writing conference. Actually, it’ll probably just be 800 words about how nervous I am. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few!

Kerry Share

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Bullet Journaling (Or Something Like It)

Manuscript News

I’d been having some trouble reconnecting to my manuscript after my little hiatus. That was a tough spot to be in by itself, because it fed back into the guilt and resentment I’d been feeling during the hiatus. However, after giving it some real thought, I realized that the problems I was having with it started before I took a break. And after doing a read through of the last half dozen scenes I wrote, I was able to pinpoint what it was that was giving me such a hard time.

I talked about it in the last post about the hiatus: I had written myself into a corner. At the time, I told myself that was okay. It could all be fixed in revision, I just needed to keep moving forward regardless of that pesky little scene.

Well, reading over it and all the disjointed, messy, stunted scenes I had tried to write after it made it apparent that this was an error that could not wait until draft two to be revised.

So I committed to stripping out the last 2500 words and rewriting them entirely. To date, I’m not quite caught up to where I left off, but I feel so much better about what I’ve done.

Writing is such a fluid process. Sometimes, it will be better to just leave trouble spots to fix later, but there will also be times where it is necessary to do some on the spot revision. It’s not always going to be obvious which solution is the right one.

 


The Weekly Struggle

This week (and the week or two before, really) for me has been all about getting myself back into a healthy, positive mindset when it comes to my writing. I’m terrible at habit forming, and I tend to jump around from one fad to the next trying to find something that works for me.

Sometimes I wonder if the lack of consistency is part of process and I should just embrace it, but that’s neither here nor there.

A fellow writer I admire and follow on Twitter posted her writing To Do list last week, and throughout the day continued to post updates to it. I loved it. Mostly I loved the public accountability part and the way it drew her friends and followers into her process. I thought to myself, “I am so going to do that every day from now on.”

I realized 200 milliseconds later how ludicrous and annoying that would be.

I’ve had bad luck with To Do List productivity apps in the past (see above), but I thought that I would give a new one a try anyway. About twenty minutes and a few ill-fated downloads later, I was feeling dejected. My writing is tactile — as you all may know by now, I do almost everything longhand. Using my phone to track my daily goals and progress felt like a betrayal of my most fundamental sensibilities.

And then I remembered, belatedly, like a dope, that because I languish in longhand I carry a notebook and pens with me literally everywhere. At the time, hilariously, my drafting notebook was sitting about three inches to the left of my arm.

So, I flipped to a new page and I wrote out the writing-related tasks I would like to accomplish, complete with cute little check boxes that I could tick off.

Then, on a whim, underneath my list I wrote a few words to remind myself to keep my spirits up. I was (and still am) shaking off some depression-related doldrums and needed a boost. I’ve never understood the “affirmations” sections of the numerous planners I’ve bought and abandoned over the years, but that day, for whatever reason, it clicked.

Underneath that, I left a space for notes. I was researching new themes for this blog and I wrote down which ones I liked the best. I also jotted down various creative bits and bobs as they came to me (names, mostly; names of people, towns, chapters, etc.).

The next day I did it all over again. To do list. Affirmation. Notes.

And just like I started what I think is a rudimentary bullet journal.

Admittedly, I know very little about bullet journaling. I’ve done some cursory research into the subject, because I love fads and I will try almost any supposed productivity booster once, but at the time I found it to be too unstructured for my tastes. However, looking at what I’ve been up to the last week or so, maybe that which I rebelled against mentally is actually what I need. Not something I need to hold myself to rigidly (I’ve already taken a few days off from making these lists), but something fluid that I can utilize when I want or need it.

bullet journal
Today’s list.

Honestly, I’m not really interested in whether or not what I’m doing falls into the “bullet journal” category. I don’t even know if it’ll stick. What I do know is that I get a very tiny surge of excitement and sense of accomplishment when I get to check off one of my little boxes. I know that writing my affirmations has helped me climb the hill of my various anxieties. And I know leaving myself a space to take notes, rather than relying on my memory, has already helped me stay in a creative state of mind, even when toiling away at my day job.

It’s working, for now at least, and that’s what matters.


Wow this one got long. I’ll be back with another post next week. Until then, may your writing be plentiful and your struggles be few!

Kerry Share

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Panic! At the NaNo

I’m back! Not that… anyone noticed I was gone, but I’m back! A mini-staycation from the day job was spent largely in bed or doing some much needed deep cleaning of the homestead. I did get some writing done, but blogging was not on my schedule. In the future I’ll try and announce programming interruptions before they happen, not after.

So, as of this writing, we are just ten short days away from the official start of NaNoWriMo, and I, for one, am freaking out.

Things were going so well.

I finished my first draft of my outline for this year’s project, Bordertowns, over a week ago. I knew it needed revisions, but I thought the extent of it would be trimming some fatty scenes, fattening up some thin scenes, and shaking others around so they fell in a more sensible place.

That was about ten days ago. I thought I had plenty of time.

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I mentioned in an earlier post that I feared my plot was running a little thin, and that I hoped to thicken it with some supplemental story lines. However, when my outline reached sixty scenes, exactly my target, I thought perhaps I was on pace after all.

Well, revising my outline has brought me to the painful realization that the scene count doesn’t matter as much when the content of those scenes is dreadfully boring. There’s really no other word for what I have right now, particularly the last half of the second act. It moves the story along in the least interesting way possible. It drags and is often redundant. Worst of all, I managed to jam pack almost every original idea I had for this story into those scenes. The entire novel hinges on them.

Gulp.

I’m not giving up on this project. However, the entire outline needs to be rewritten from scratch, and now I’m just looking out the calendar and sweating. I mean, I guess I’m glad I realized this before I got two thirds of the way through the draft because I just know it would be a total motivation killer. And, yeah, I could just go ahead with the outline I’ve got knowing that it will need to be completely reworked, since, what with it being a first draft and all, it would have to be rewritten anyway.

That’s my backup plan.

For now, I’ve got about a week to crank out a new outline.

The struggle continues.