Writing Life Update

Since June, a lot has happened.

1. I joined the Toronto Writers’ Centre.

This was a big one for me. In an effort to take my writing seriously by putting money on it, I joined with the goal of gong to the same place every day, a place where professional writers create novels and television scripts, and buckle down on my novel revisions.

It’s worked to a degree. While I don’t go every day, when I do go, I get stuff done with minimal distractions.

I had also hoped that I would be able to make friends and be part of a community there. This has been less successful. While it’s a good environment for hard work, it’s not what I would call a friendly place. In fact, I’m considering other venues that include social activities.

2. I started attending Meetups.

I attended a new meetup which, while not a group I’d attend again, introduced me to several people that were looking to create a critique group. We’ve exchanged contact info and three of us have already met for a reading and short crit.

I’ve agreed to be a beta reader for someone in the group who has already finished their novel which, I think, will be a good experience for me and may help me in my own writing.

Through this initial meetup group, one participant mentioned another group/event she is involved in called So You Want To Write and I went to their pub night. There was a panel discussion and several participants gave readings that were then critiqued by the panel members in front of the entire group. Brave souls!

So You Want To Write is a large, active group that offers workshops and one on one sessions with agents and editors (at a price, of course) but the monthly pub nights are free and well attended. The email newsletter mentions crit groups organized through them and I may look into this to increase the eyeballs looking at my work.

3. Finally, yesterday, I went to Word on the Street.

This is a massive festival/conference/book sale with both indoor and outdoor venues. Writer’s panels, readings, info and sales booths make this the event of the year for both writers and readers. Best of all, it’s free!

This is all well and good but how’s the writing going? The novel is inching along slowly. I’ve been trying to work out the inconsistencies in the plot line, changing the story, sometimes in significant ways. I’m terrified.

But, I’ve also written a short story about an incident in the lives of my novel’s main characters, an event that works as a catalyst for the novel itself. I’m quite pleased with it. In fact, this is what I read for my crit group and have, since then, submitted it to three publications and am looking into others that would be a good fit. Wish me luck!

10 Things I Learned Writing My First Draft

I think the hardest part of writing a novel is the middle part, where you don’t remember why you started and can’t imagine how you’re going to finish. – Sarah Rees Brennan

I don’t like referring to my first draft as my First Draft. I prefer Rough Draft like when you rough out a shape in a painting that you hope to fashion into a tree or a building or a face. A bit of shading, a line or two, maybe a single colour – red or blue or green. That’s where I’m at with my novel manuscript. Cluster. Even the title is a placeholder. And the middle? It’s rough alright.

I still can’t believe I finished the first draft of my manuscript. This is the furthest I’ve ever gone with a piece of long writing and I have to admit, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for getting this far. Usually, I would have given up by now. So I thought I’d take the time to go over some of the things I’ve learned through this process – some things I already knew without knowing, some things that came as surprises, good and bad.

  1. After the initial heat cools off from the first writing sessions, writing is damned hard. There will be days when it seems easy again. Don’t be fooled.
  2. Keep going no matter what. You may feel like you’re walking on mush, slipping and sliding on what used to be solid ground until you were too far along to turn back. Keep going. Run if you have to.
  3. Don’t miss days. Write every day if you can, by a set schedule if you can’t. Whenever I miss a day, I inevitably miss another and another and another… Too many days away from the story and I start to forget – if not the story, then the feeling of the story. It’s hard to get the feeling back.
  4. If you do miss days, don’t quit altogether. So you didn’t make your daily word count yesterday. That was yesterday. I’m a perfectionist. If I miss a day in my diary or flub the dates in my agenda or make a mistake in my notebook, I want to throw the whole thing out and get a new one (which is why Discbound notebooks are saving my skin)
  5. Word count goals are merely something to shoot for. In your daily writing and in your manuscript word count, write the number of words you need to write to get the story told. If the story is told in fewer words, don’t add filler. It will only make editing a nightmare.
  6. Starting with some kind of outline is easier than starting with none. With an outline, I have an inkling of where I’m headed next. Since I started paying more attention to my prep work, I’ve had less of an issue with writer’s block.
  7. Outlines are made to be broken. Go where the story takes you even if it’s into the mush (see number 2). Outlines are not scripture. Rewrite it as many times as you need to. Yes. Outlines also have drafts.
  8. Somewhere in the middle, your story will become a many tentacled beast. There will be multiple story lines and alternate versions. POV and tense will flip and flop all over the place. This is normal. This is ok.
  9. The first draft (the Rough Draft) doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Scenes may be working against each other. Characters may sprout out of nowhere or disappear after the first chapter. That weird dream you had the other night? That was a Rough Draft.
  10. That said, try to get as close to a beginning, middle and end as you can so that you have less work later, both in your scenes and in your story as a whole. This is something I’m learning right now, the hard way, as I begin my first edits.
  11. BONUS: No matter where you are in the process and how long it takes to get there, be proud of yourself. You should be.

85k90 – Days 7 and 8

Yesterday was a wash. Dealing with continuing condo issues left little energy for writing. That’s ok because today, I more than made up for it with two good writing sessions and a copy and paste of some writing I’d done for NaNoWriMo that folded into the scenes I’m currently writing ending the day with a gain of 2,437. All is well with the world again.

I’m finding that reading for an hour before writing and mapping out my writing day (whether or not I follow my map) is helping a great deal, both in preparing the writing part of my brain and in avoiding the blanking out I get when I sit down to write without first choosing a direction for my thoughts.

Also, my daily checklist. Why haven’t I done this before?

85k90 – Day Six – The Day of Water and Ice

Today hasn’t been much of a writing day. It’s been more of a candle lighting, hot water boiling kind of day.

This weekend is the coldest on record for this area at this time of year. During the night last night, the power blew in our high rise and we switched over to emergency power. Emergency power doesn’t include heat. We spent the day trying to keep the apartment at a reasonable temperature which, it turns out, is pretty time consuming and stressful living with the knowledge that the remaining electricity could go at any moment. I stayed away from my iMac just in case.

Around dinner, the heat came back on. Hurray! Heat! Hot water! But not for long. Within about an hour, there were reports of water filling the lobby. Water rained down from the pot lights in the ceiling. The heat and hot water vanished again..

And that’s where we’re at right now. I’m using my iPad to write this post. I hope I’ll have power to upload once I’m finished. I will do a bit more writing throughout the evening. So far I’ve written 400 words which is all right considering the circumstances.

I hear it’s going to heat up this coming week. I can hardly wait.

85k90 – Day 5 with Planner Pro

It’s still early and I haven’t started on my draft for the day so this isn’t going to be an accounting of today’s writing. Instead, I thought I’d tell you a bit about my process for getting ready to write and staying on track.

I never used to have a process. I didn’t find it necessary during NaNoWriMo because the time involved was so short. I can do anything for a small about of time. It’s keeping it up over an extended period that I have difficulty with. I figured, if I was going to make this 85k90 thing work, I’d need to develop a system that had as few pain points as possible. Something simple that I didn’t hate and that I actually might like.

I love planners. The weight of them in my hand, the smell of the leather and the paper, finding just the right pen to make up a set. I also find them utterly useless for keeping track of things. I live in a digital world. I need my planner to be digital too and so I started looking for an app that gave me the same sorts of features I’d find in a planner without too much else going on so that it wouldn’t be overwhelming and become a chore.

After a few failed experiments, I landed on Planner Pro and have been very happy with it.

If you love physical planners, you’ll find the layout of Planner Pro familiar. It has both iOS and desktop versions so I bought them both. I like being able to access my planner on any device I happen to be using but, if I had to choose only one, the iPad version seems to be the best fit for the software. It feels like it belongs there. There are daily, weekly, and monthly views plus tabs for your collection of tasks and notes. While the weekly view can be quite useful, spend nearly all of my time on the daily view.

To make this app useful for 85k90, I’ve eliminated all calendars but the one I’ve set up for the project. I’ve created a list of tasks that I’d like to accomplish each day and repeat daily so that each morning I open Planner Pro, I have a fresh checklist to go through.

The first thing I take care of is One Hour of Reading. I do this with my morning coffee/breakfast and try not to rush through. I try to read novels from writers who’s work I admire and books that I see as similar to what I’m currently writing. I set a timer on my device and, when the timer goes off, I put the book away and check that item off of my list.

The next task is journaling – something I’ve found to be invaluable for thinking about what I’ve written the day before and what I’d like to write today. I write my journal entries directly into the Planner as daily notes. Once I’ve used it to figure out what I’ll be doing, I can check journal writing off of the list and and I’m ready to start in on my novel.

I use Scrivener to do my writing, sometimes on my desktop and sometimes on my iPad using the excellent mobile version. I like to change it up so I don’t feel held captive by my desk. When I reach my predetermined goal for the day’s words, I stop and check it off of the list. I might go back later and add more if I come up with an idea that I feel I need to get down right away but, for the most part, I’m trying to keep it slow and steady so that I can really ruminate on what I’ve written and where my characters are heading. This also keeps me eager to start up again the next day because I haven’t burned myself out the day before.

In the evening, (today being an exception) I will do a blog post. I’m trying to use the blog to keep me accountable to others. So far, the blog posts have been the hardest to get through and feel forced. That’s why I’ve changed it up today and decided to blog about something other than my word count which, let’s face it, just gets boring for both you and me.

Planner Pro has a subscription model but it’s not onerous like so many are – something like $5 per year Canadian. That’s peanuts for how valuable it’s been to me so far. I’m not affiliated with the company or the creator in any way and you might find other ways to mark out your days that work for you (I’d be interested to hear about them!).

How to you organize your writing life to keep you going through a long haul?

85k90 – Day 2

Reached my goal today through sleepy eyes. It’s so hard to stay awake in winter. I want to hibernate.

My favorite bit of writing today includes a husband observing his wife:

You’d never know that she was fifty. Never in a million years. Forty, tops. She’s wearing a blouse made of see through fabric that billows when the wind catches it, clings to her body, puffs out like a cloud and sucks into her again. Underneath the blouse is a lacy bra, the pink one with the matching panties. His eyes drop instinctively to her lap but she’s wearing pants. He’s glad he picked up the wine.

Spoon

We hadn’t had sex in months. Instead, we’d spoon. I was always the little spoon even though I was the bigger of the two. He’d form himself to my back pressed into me like another skin and I could feel his breath on me – irritating, rhythmic exhalations – until I couldn’t stand it any longer and I’d curl up into a tighter ball, pushing him away with my hip. He’d make a tentative play for something more, a light caress up the side of my arm, a hand inching around my waist. My body would will him away, stiffening against his stiffness until he’d get the idea and turn back, forming his own ball, our bums touching.

Rabbits

The radio counted down all of the hits from 1979. Another One Bites the Dust – one of my favourites – and I picked up a stone, flat and smooth and perfectly oval, and skipped it into the middle of the lake. I was dancing now, singing along (machine guns ready to go), firing off pebbles in rapid succession. I glanced up the dirt road to the top of the hill and saw a dust cloud travelling down the switchbacks. Another minute or two and he’d be here.