I’ve made it through 2018 and it was a hell of a ride.
This past year, I managed to finish the first draft of a novel that I’m still excited about and eager to complete. I’ve made good headway into my first rewrite after rejigging the outline and synopsis numerous times, each time paring away the excess, digging into the meat of the story and falling in love with my characters.
Even though I’ve been alone most of the time, I haven’t felt particularly lonely. I spend my day with friends and enemies on the page and it’s surprising how much comfort they give me, which is, I suppose, a way of loving myself.
In December, I met a few women as interested in starting up a local writer’s group as I am and we will meet for the first time on the 16th. Maybe we can even encourage a few others to join in.
I signed up for a course at George Brown College which is the first in a series of courses leading to a certificate in Editing. I’m nervous and excited at the prospect. I love learning and school and the stationary gathering that precedes it.
Do you see the large black disc bound notebook in the above photograph? That’s for school. It’s so much nicer than a binder and so much more personal than a laptop. We’ll see how long I get along with my computer before I cave.
The pictured pen is my current pride and joy. It’s a Lamy Studio fountain pen in the now discontinued 2017 Limited Edition colour Racing Green. It’s slim and heavy and sleek and lovely. I can’t write at length with it because my hand cramps up due to my death grip habit but I love it anyway. Right now, it’s filled with Jacques Herbin 1670 Emerald of Chivor fountain pen ink which is a lovely colour although I’m unsure whether I’m attracted to it for the colour or the name. Emerald of Chivor. Emerald of Chivor. Try saying that without conjuring images of manner houses with drawing rooms.
As part of my New Year prep, it’s now time to clean out last year’s planner and get ready for a brand new set of unmet goals and unchecked checklists. And the smell of new paper and unnecessary stamps and stickers. Off I go!
I have a large iMac and I like to use every bit of the screen. Here’s my latest set up for working on my rewrite in Scrivener.
Right now, I’m trying out Things 3 to manage my projects and tasks. I opened Scrivener in full screen to remove distractions and give me plenty of room to work and then added Things 3 as a narrow column on the right. Now I can check off sections as I complete them for encouragement and to manage deadlines.
A bonus is having room for the target widget which I like to have open to monitor my word count during my writing session instead of having it float over my Scrivener project causing me to have to move it out of the way while I work.
In Scrivener, I don’t tend to use the new Copyholders though that may change as I get used to them, and I rarely use Quick Reference. I like to keep things simple and seldom use more than one editor although I appreciate the usefulness of side by side documents.
A couple of days ago, I started using Bookmarks which I never saw much use for in the past. I also discovered that I can pull out the inspector panel to document width making it a great way to list and navigate through research documents without worrying about accidentally replacing my main editor like I tend to do when I have more than one editor open.
I drag and drop items I want access to for a particular document (I’m not using project bookmarks right now. I want my bookmarks list to be small so I’m not overly distracted. After I have my list, I can just click on an item and it populates the bottom of the inspector panel.
It’s November which means I’ve been working on my novel for a year, ever since I had an inkling of an idea for NaNoWriMo last year. One year of sprints and stumbling, false starts and about faces. I’m inching my way through my first rewrite which has been slow going as I work out problems with my initial plot, adding and subtracting entire chapters and spending a significant amount of time spinning my wheels.
I’m told that all of this is normal, part of the process. I’ve met writers who have been worked no on the same story for five years or more. I sat in a lecture listening to a published writer talk about his process which involved twelve complete rewrites. That is not a typo. Twelve.
This makes me feel both better and worse. It means I’m moving along at a typical pace but I may be only at the beginning of a very long journey.
It started with a family holiday. My son and his wife came from Vancouver for a visit and The whole family drove up to Ottawa to play tourist. It was fun filled and interesting and enough to break my stride. All of my work developing a writing habit was done in. I’d even stopped writing in my journal.
After the kids all left, it was time to get down to business. I needed a support system, stat. Conferences are great but they’re too short and classes and writers retreats are expensive. A writer’s group would help but I needed support every day.
The Centre is in Korea Town along the Bloor subway line above a bank and a dumpling restaurant. I’d never been in the area before which added to the “away-ness” of it. I think that this physical and psychological distance from my usual life will help me focus more on my work without distraction.
I spent the day in the lounge and kitchen areas making myself available to meet the various writers writing and networking in the space.
It was comfortable and still quieter and more secure than the usual coffee shop or library outings but tomorrow, I’ll give the super quiet writing room in the back.
Even with all of the introductions and conversations, I was able to get more work done than my attempts at home and my writing felt loose and natural rather than the grind it’s been.
The best part came when I packed up and headed toward the door.
“See you tomorrow,” one of the writers said with a wave.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BONUS: No matter where you are in the process and how long it takes to get there, be proud of yourself. You should be.
Has it really been this long since I’ve posted on my blog? I had no idea. I’m terrible at this.
On the other hand, I’ve been writing in my writer’s journal almost daily although, I must confess, the entries haven’t been exactly post worthy. They’ve been a series of two parters. I start by writing what I want to accomplish during the day and then finish off in the evening by recounting what I actually did. So far, it’s been working to keep me accountable. I’ve fallen off of posting my counts on the 85k90 site. I just didn’t find it helpful to me. I prefer the NaNoWriMo incrementing counting you fill in each day but even that would be too much over the long night haul. Keep it simple. Get it done.
I finished March off 15,000 words short of my 85k goal. I’d started out in front at the gate but then life and laziness overtook me and I started missing days, and then whole weeks, of writing and now here I am and it’s April.
I’m still writing. April is a flex month and I’m writing every day, even on the weekends when I prefer not to. I’m not writing a lot each day. Only 500 to 750 words. Having the goal post so low gets me in the chair because I know it won’t take long. So far it’s working out. I’m almost at 75k and 20 days left in the month to write 10 more.
And, really, the numbers don’t mean as much as the direction I’m headed in as I slowly creep toward the finish line.
Yesterday’s cut and pasted scenes from the past couple of days really needed to be dealt with today. I had to stop cutting and pasting and start going through the material with fresh eyes, rewriting much of it and fleshing out the scant details from the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo version. I thought it would be a chore – messy, hard to pick up. I’ve had that experience in the past working on another manuscript during an earlier NaNo attempt to write a novel. It was dismal and I soon gave up.
This time, it wasn’t bad at all once I got going. In fact, it came together well, thanks to my ongoing novel journaling and Scrivener‘s ability to cut up blocks of text into individual scenes. If you don’t know how to do that, let me give you a little tutorial.
First, I cut and pasted in a large section of text into one of my scenes. After reading it in this new context, I saw that the second half of it needed it’s own scene – perhaps even it’s own chapter – and that I needed to add a scene between what I had previously written and the first half of the pasted text. No problem.
First, I placed my cursor where I wanted to split the file in two. Then I went to the menu at the top under Documents ->Split -> at selection for a simple splitting into two documents in the binder.
If I’d wanted to, I could select some text and split with the selected text as the title of the new file but it’s not necessary here. I had a new scene to work with and it was already started!
I also needed another scene before the new one so I created a new scene file and tucked it in between. I added synopses to these three scenes to remind myself what I wanted from each of them and I was ready to go.
Right now, I’m still working on the first of the three new scenes in which one of my characters, Steph, arrives at work and chats up her friend Wanda. Because I’ve organized the cut and paste into three distinct scenes, I have my writing sorted until the weekend.
Today was an average writing day. I ended up with about 1000 words although a lot of that involved copy pasting from my NaNoWriMo draft. Mostly, I wrote in my Novel Journal which, as it turns out, is what the writing I’ve been doing in my Planner Pro notes is called.
If I wanted to, I could do this work within my Scrivener project which I have done in the past, creating a Notes folder outside of the Manuscript folder for this purpose. For some reason, however, I’m finding it easier to focus my thoughts when I’m away from the project space. I feel free to write whatever comes into my head without trying to fit into the current logic of the piece.
I have tried something similar to this in the past, free writing by hand before each writing session as an brain exercise but, while fun, didn’t seem to help me, when it came time to working on a specific project.
Bell quotes Sue Grafton explaining her process in using novel journals which is where he first learned of the idea:
The day’s date and a bit of diary stuff, how she’s feeling and so on. This is to track outside influences on her writing.
Next is notes about any ideas that emerged overnight. I especially like this part, because the writer’s mind has been working while I sleep and I want to pour out everything I can. The trick here is not to think too much about what you write. Just let it flow.
Third, Sue writes about where she is in the book. She “talks” to herself about the scene she’s working on, or problems that have arisen.
This is exactly what I’ve been doing and it’s making a big difference both in the amount of work I’m able to accomplish and my ability to focus on where I’m heading in the story.
Choose a format that works for you and give novel journaling a try.
I’m starting to get into the swing of the story. It could be because I am entering a new scene that I’m writing to replace a scene from my previous draft. I love the exhilaration of writing something for the first time. Maybe I’ll finally get it right.
I don’t have a fear of blank pages. A blank page holds the universe. I could go in any direction and it would be the right direction. The further I go, the choices narrow until there’s only one way and it leads to nowhere.
I hate that.
I have so many lovely little notebooks that I’ve bought over the years, each with just a page or two filled in, sullied, tossed aside. Every once in a while I find one and read the first page:
December 15, 2015
I wish that I was simple so I would like simple things.
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.