Finding the end and going back to the beginning.

Well, the first 1 ½ pass is finished for last November’s NaNoWriMo project. And, as always, I’ve learned a lot!

Starting with the1 ½ pass method has had a distinct benefit. By reading and noting on the whole thing before I started making edits I could make better decisions than I have on the first pass for early books (I really wish I’d known about the 1 ½ pass technique back when the first edition of Johnson Farm came out…).

This first editing pass has led to major changes. As things stand now, the end of the book in the first draft is actually the end for the second book. I realized I was rushing events in my “third act” far too much. It didn’t work because I wasn’t letting it develop. The natural ending for the first book was actually about 100 pages earlier.

I still love the events of those 100 pages, and by putting them into a second book I can give them the space and development they really deserve. I can also develop my former “1st” and “2nd” acts (the real story of the first book) to perfection, because I’m not sweating the upper word limit my intended publisher has set for a mid-grade book.

I know. I know. Even I’ve said we should cut when editing. And, in the first pass, I did some serious cutting. Besides moving “Act 3” and a few necessary bits of “Act 2” to the second book, I burned a whole unnecessary chapter, which allowed me to divide another chapter which was really two concatenated together. Which satisfied my intent for the unnecessary chapter better and more naturally.

Elsewhere I’ve cut a whole page (or two… or three…) where a tighter and better reading version of the text needed to grow.

Cutting is important, and I recommend cutting the dead wood out of any story. But you have to build out the parts that need expanding too. Make sure you have all the right pieces in place before you worry about finishing and polishing them.

As of now, my first “1 ½ pass” pass is done. And, believe me, I’m celebrating my success. I’ve improved my story. Now (actually… Monday), it’s back to the beginning for the second 1 ½ pass. This time the changes should be smaller. The parts cut will be smaller. Anything added will be smaller. It’s time to move from the rough work to a refining step.

Now that I really know where the ending is, and where the next book goes, I can make sure the beginning points to the right place, that my promises will be kept, and that the dreaded middle of the story will support the journey.

And then, once this pass is done, I can move to doing some polishing work (I hope). And then… It goes to the publisher (who will trigger another round of refining and polishing before the book goes to print and I can get on to developing book two).

Each book has its own quirks, challenges and rules. The rules for this book aren’t the rules from the last book. And they aren’t entirely the rules for the next book either. Our stories develop, and we grow and learn as writers. That means every project should have new challenges. And at every ending, it’s back to the beginning.

Good luck in your own writing dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.

Blowing out and reading up…

When I’m not writing I’m occasionally known to do metal work. Among my favorite moments is the moment where I safely (yes, I hear some of my old teachers yelling) plunge a hot lost wax mold into water. It’s one of the most exciting, rewarding and sometimes gut-wrenching moments. It’s the moment you get to see your design realized in metal… Unless something went wrong. And then, you’re working at a lump of metal that was supposed to be your project but didn’t work out.

Once your metal comes out of the mold, even if your piece comes out well, you still have a lot of cleanup work to do. The sprue has to be cut. The scar from the cutting has to be filed down. The whole thing needs to be sanded. Pits may have to be filled.  And after all of that you still have polishing, and stone setting and inlay tasks that may be waiting.

There’s a point in the writing process that’s almost the same, and as I write this, I’m in the middle of it… If you’ve finished a first draft there comes a moment when you have to go back to the start and edit that first draft. Instead of discovering a successful casting we hope to find a good manuscript, but we still have a lot of cleanup to do.

The processes are similar.  True as writers we rarely attack the project with saws, files, scrapers and sand paper. We rarely worry about literal pitting and porosity. But we still have cleanup and fixing to do.

It’s just that we cut words instead of oxidation and roughness. We polish words rather than surfaces.

We still face parts that didn’t quite fill in the way we wanted. bits that don’t look as good as we thought they did when we started, and parts that will take more work than we thought they would.

It’s an exciting part of the process and, just like with metalwork, it’s a good idea to look over (read) the whole thing before jumping in and working on stuff. Some bits will need to be moved. Some parts will need to be reworked. If you’re like me, you may have a section that needs a different point of view (or was just plain in the wrong place).

Reading through and looking over can be depressing and hard… There’s so much to do! But by completing a read through we can make an actual plan that saves time, effort, and heartache in the long run. I’ve written about the “1 ½” pass editing technique before , and this represents the first ½ pass of the technique. it might seem like you’re not getting a lot done. But, by getting a look at the whole thing before you fiddle with parts you can cut out one or more whole editing passes because you have a better idea of what you need to do and why.

Those of us who “won” NANOWRIMO, and anyone else with a first draft manuscript in front of us have a lot of work to do, and a first read through will make the whole process a lot easier.

That’s it for this one dear reader. I’m on my way to finishing my read-through, and I suspect some of you probably need to get back to writing too (you know who you are…). So, I’ll see you next post.

Scrivener… after NANO thoughts (part one)

Last time I talked about Scrivener  I said I would get back to it after NANOWRIMO. So, that’s where we’re going today dear reader. Actually, we’ll be talking about Scrivener this week and next week, there’s enough to say just based on my first draft experience.

This still won’t be an entire, comprehensive review of Scrivener (I spent the last month writing a first draft not just learning a software package…), but I definitely learned some things during NANOWRIMO that have shown me a thing or two and will affect my writing process from here on out.

First… A general statement: If you make the jump to Scrivener from other programs like MS Word there will definitely some habits that need reshaping. The nature of the software is such that it works differently. But, if you’re going to work on writing a book, it’s worth the effort to make the change. Once you’ve learned to use Scrivener, some parts of the writing process become much easier. And… some specialized tricks and features available if you have both Scrivener and MS Word.

Next… The things I wasn’t fond of (but can live with…):

Formatting (While Writing):

The standard format that Scrivener works in is RTF and the screen view you see while you’re writing is basic and doesn’t reflect the layout that will exist on the printed page. This is something that takes getting used to., at this point in the game (working on the first draft and early edits) layout doesn’t matter as much for a book or story. There is enough editing and other moving around that needs to happen that you’re not seeing a finished product yet anyway.  Scrivener’s way of dealing with formatting has big payoffs later, but if you’re used to functioning in MS Word, or are a very visual person, this can be off putting.

Printing (a piece at a time):

Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of printing out the day’s written work and adding it to a physical copy of the book. Well, that gets more complicated with Scrivener. In Scrivener you need to compile before you print, so there’s another step. If you compile to print, there’s no dialog box to choose which pages to print.

Don’t get me wrong, you can tell it to print only certain sections of the writing but you have to make those selections before you compile to print. And, as a result, you don’t get the same pagination you would when printing a section of a Word document.

There are workarounds, for instance you could compile to a pdf and then print part of the pdf. But if you want to print the latest part of a work in progress on a regular basis, you might end up with a bunch of PDFs that have to be deleted or stored…

But, in the “print today’s work” method pagination can get off anyway if you insert a section between parts you’ve already written. So, you’re not giving up a lot. And, like I said, things will change between first draft and ready to publish, so the “print your daily work” method has pagination problems anyway.

Chapter titles and finding stuff

Within a scrivener project you have folders and text documents. For a fiction manuscript, when you compile the document the folder names become chapter names and the documents within the folders become chapter content. This can cause headaches when you have sub folders you forget about. You should also remember you need not type chapter titles into the documents within the folders.

Once you see how it works, it seems to work well. But, I still have to figure out headings and subheadings within a chapter (not so much for my mid-grade novel, but I’ll want them for other projects…)

Summing up the negatives

The issues I’ve mentioned are more about getting used to a different program and work flow. There are ways around them and ways to cope with them. Though it takes effort I think working in Scrivener is worth the investment.

Next week, we’ll look at what I really liked about Scrivener while working on the first draft process. If you’ve got any thoughts so far, leave a comment.  And, come back next week for part two!

NANO’s here…

Well, dear reader… NANOWRIMO starts next Friday.

As usual, I’m putting aside other projects to push my way through a new manuscript. So… I’ll be giving the blogs a rest until December. I’ve got the manager stuff handled. I’ve made sure the other characters and stories on my plate are safely locked away until I finish. (Umm… Zeek, check that door again… Geez… Let’s rounded ‘em up, again… This time make sure they don’t have lock picks ok…)

This year I’m working on a mid-grade/YA story (Planning for mid-grade but could skew a little older) about Ruby, the younger sister of a character in my 2017 project. Hopefully, this one will be a little simpler to do and get into print faster (Not really the sister’s fault she and her fiancé ran into people who got a little Downton Abbey into my fantasy story…).

Since I’m running with some younger characters and heading for a younger audience, this time I’m aiming for 50-60 thousand words. Which is a step down from the 75-85 thousand word manuscripts of the last two years. But, I’m also hoping less unexpected themes and subplots pop out at me…

I’m confident in getting the NANO win (it’ll be the 5th running win…). And I’m hoping to learn a few things.

I’m also inviting you to join us in the fun and madness of NANOWRIMO (if you haven’t signed up already (in which case see you in the trenches)).

And, either way, I’ll see you next post (in December…).

Soundtracks for writing?

Environment is important for writing. There are a lot of plusses and minuses to writing in different locations. There are also a lot of elements in those environments that can be hard to control. But, there’s one environmental element we can control, and even bring with us as we travel. It’s also been claimed to have the power to transport us to other places. It’s as simple as listening.

Music can tell stories. Music can trigger memories. Music can tap into raw emotions. Music is a tool that shouldn’t be overlooked in the preparation and process of writing.

There are also complications and problems. But many of those can be controlled by choices you make.

(Some of) the problems with music

Some of us like to write in public. And, it’s problematic to listen to our ‘writing music’ in public places. We don’t want to be offensive, but we also want our music. Can you (safely) wear headphone or ear buds where you’re writing? What about finding somewhere that has ambient sound/music that works for you?

A bigger problem, whether you’re in public or private, comes in the form of sensitivity to lyrics. I don’t mean the “I’m gonna shoot a cop then rape your grandma” lyrics (though there are problems with that kind of lyrics…). The problem we’re talking about is that for some of us, and in some processes, lyrics in music can be distracting.

This one is easier to cope with when you can choose the music you’re listening to (so… in your writing spot at home or using those ear phones/buds…). Choose music with lyrics that work for you, or just instrumental music.

It’s true that sometimes the lyrics you’re listening to get in the way. Sometimes that happens. For me it happens more in new writing. I like lyrics during the editing process. The answer (as usual dear reader) is to experiment a little, learn what works for you, and use it.

And music can work for you dear reader.

Music, emotion, and taking you there

Music (the sound portion) operates on a different level of thinking/feeling than the spoken word. It can convey emotion to us in ways the written or spoken word can’t. This effect can be amplified when you add the right lyrics. Because of this ability, music can be helpful for getting into the right headspace for a scene in a story, or for building up our courage for writing that difficult or scary part of your non-fiction (both my wife and I have finished graduate degrees we know about difficult and scary parts in writing fiction and non-fiction…).

Music can also be linked to a time and place. That’s both good and powerful.

It wouldn’t be too hard for me to get to some of the physical locations we call the old west (a lot of them are within a day’s drive). But, getting back to the time of the old west is harder. Music can help with that. I can find modern (recorded) performances of old western music to help put my mind in the frame of that time and place.

I can also pull out my Japanese, Pilipino, and Thai music to get me over to Asia.

Or, I can throw on some Bach or Telemann (You know… Just in case I need to get back to Leipzig in the 1840s and my TARDIS is in the shop…).

We have the technology to feed ourselves a steady stream of music that helps us be in the mental space to write and even to feel a link to times, places, and experiences near and far. We can use that music to inspire us and make writing easier. (It even helps some of us concentrate better!)

For me, developing a ‘soundtrack’ for a writing project is as useful, or more useful, than ‘teacher approved’ techniques like outlining. Thinking about and planning my soundtrack gets me thinking about what the themes of the story are, what the feeling of the story is. In its own weird way, planning my soundtrack is outlining the story on an emotional level… It can also count as part of my research if I’m doing a period piece.

What are your thoughts about soundtracks for writing dear reader?

Leave a comment if you like. And, I’ll see you next post.

Plantser’s gambit…

Well dear reader, as of Monday this week I’ve announced my NANOWRIMO project for this year.

I’ve talked about NANO before (like a couple minutes ago in my other blog…). I’ve shared some thoughts about why I do NANO . And, I’m doing it again (both talking about NANO and taking part).

This time around I’m building on what I’ve learned over the past four years and once again using NANO as a sandbox to experiment with something new. I can do YA fiction. I can do fantasy. I’ve even successfully written cross gender. Now I’m shooting for a mid-grade fantasy featuring a female protagonist.

Trying this during NANO I know it’s a first draft. I know there’s a lot of work to be done on the back end. So, I’m not afraid to experiment. This is only the first draft, the sandbox model, not the final product. So, I can tell the internal editor to back off and get some real writing done.

NANOWRIMO is also my version of a vacation…

I’ll be talking about NANO again before November first, as a “plantser” there’s prep to do, even though I’m not doing a full “planner’s” outline… I would also love to see you join us (if you haven’t announced your project already (If you have… Great! I’ll see you there!). If you’ve been wanting to write a book (even if it isn’t a novel), or if you want to write another one… Check out the website and join us!

Think about it dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Office supplies and NANOWRIMO…

A lot can change in a week. In the last seven days: I got a novel to the publisher (toy/reward budget unlocked!), plans with my in-laws changed (three times…), and (at least in my area) School supply season is open!

Long time readers know that I’m one of those weird old-school writers who like to write things out long hand before using the computer. There are lots of reasons: I think at about the same speed as I write, my notebook never runs out of batteries, my handwriting is bad enough it counts a data encryption (sadly not a joke…), my notebook is lighter than my laptop… It’s a system that works for me (and as always I encourage you to find the system that works for you and use it).

The system works, but it means I spend a fair amount on office supplies.

I guess you could say office supplies are a two-stage motivator for me. Office supplies make me happy (no idea why), and when I have a bunch of them, I find myself thinking “Well, I have them, so I’d better use them!” which gets me to writing. And then the writing depletes the stock sending me back for more office supplies (is there such a thing as a positive vicious cycle?).

School supply season also reminds me that National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) is just around the corner. And, that means I will need a new box of pens and at least 5-6 purple notebooks for my nano project, and at least 4-5 yellow ones for those edits/rewrites that will definitely happen. And then, since I have the stuff, I can’t let myself back out on NANO. It’s both a productive writing time and my vacation of sorts.

But, NANOWRIMO the organization is more than just a bunch of writers flogging keyboards and using massive amounts of caffeine. They also promote reading and writing in our schools and libraries. NANOWRIMO is both a way to get that first draft out and a way to do some good in the world. (If you want two ways to do good and like office supplies, why not donate some to someone in need as well?)

As writers we’re a lucky bunch, we get to chase our dreams and obsessions and call it work! We get to learn, do, and create things we want to. Those are perks of the job (make that a career… life style…?).

But, it’s also good to help others while we’re helping ourselves. And, NANO is a great way to do that.

I’m sure I’ll be talking more about NANOWRIMO (and office supplies) in the months to come (I do every year). In the meantime, check out the organization , think about giving, and writing.

And, I’ll see you next post.

Pearl Harbor and moving forward

When this post goes up, it will be an anniversary of a battle. It is the anniversary of what was meant to be a crushing defeat. It could have been, but it wasn’t. December 7th 1941 ended with the bulk of the U.S. Pacific fleet burning or on the bottom of the bay at a place called Pearl Harbor. But, instead of giving up people got to work. A country went to war. Men and women took their fate and the fate of their country into their own hands and did something.

Men went into training. Women went to work. Ships rose from the ocean floor to fight those who had attacked them.

There was a lot to do. The fight was long. But, when the war ended in 1945 the United States of America stood stronger and taller than it had before. We as a nation, and many as individuals, became more than what we had been before. We grew stronger because of a defeat, a failure some were sure would kill us.

Failure and defeat happen. Sometimes, even when you win, you are so exhausted it seems like you can’t go on. One example of this, not as dramatic as a world war but a real thing, is what can happen to a writer after NANOWRIMO…

I’ve pulled it off again. I ‘won’ Nano… But I also won myself a lot of work. There are the worky icky managery things I’ve put off because I was taking a month to write, there are the blog posts I’m behind on and then there is an almost 60,000 word (222 double-spaced page for those non-word count folks) manuscript that is going to need a lot of work before it sees prime time.

But in some ways I’m one of the lucky ones. I actually finished the first draft.

Whether you’ve finished the first draft or not, there is still a lot of work ahead of you. There is a reason that Nano’s “finish the manuscript” period is in February and March. One of the most important things to do right now is figure out where the Q@%#$%#%#$!!! you are and what to do next. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a finished manuscript and you’re heading into the world of editing. If you didn’t finish the first draft, you might want to take a look at why, and figure out how to move forward.

Either way, there will be issues in your story you need to address. Sorry gang, no first draft is perfect. They just aren’t. You are going to have things in the story you need to fix. And, you’re going to need to shift your work habits to a different mode (and time table) to get through it. But it is possible.

Some of the work ahead will take a team. Sometimes you will need advice. Pretty much all the time you will need somebody other than you to read stuff (we’re not here to write a big old manuscript and then shove it up on a shelf…). What you need readers, advisors, and other helpers for depends on where you as a writer are, and what your story’s about. But one thing is definite, trying to do it all yourself is about as easy as one guy in a wetsuit trying to get one of those sunken battleships back into fighting shape!

Writing and publishing, and how to do those things, are what we talk about here. These are the stories, adventures, and learning experiences we share here. If you’ve succeeded in these things; if you are engaged in doing these things; if you’re having problems with these things, but are willing to stay in the fight; you are welcome here. We all have rough patches and hard spots in what we do. Any successful writer has a few failed manuscripts lying around. Any good writer has learned something from those failures and then used that learning to do more and better the next time.

I learned a lot doing Nano this year, and I hope ‘win’ or ‘lose’ you did to.  In fact, I learned things doing Nano that are motivating me to raise one of my ‘failed’ manuscripts off the ‘bottom of the bay’ and make it what it needs to be!

Take time and figure out what’s next dear reader, it’s that time. Spend time with the ones you love (and be on the lookout for those who are feeling alone!). Win or lose in the past we are heading into the future Dear reader and let’s make it a good one!

Plantser…

There are two standard ways to write a novel: the “Planner” method and the “Pantser” method.

Planners have (or claim to have) everything planned out. They figure out everything first, outline every detail, and then write the book. This method will work because it creates a pile of text with sufficient words and all the parts of a story. But, there is no Ah-hah moment. It‘s all laid out. Where’s the joy?

These books are often plot driven. Too often I see characters bent to fit a preconceived idea even though the author might feel the character would do something else.

Pantsers “just write”. Real Pantsers don’t have a plan… Writing this way is possible, but you at least need an idea!
Steven King is a Pantser done right. He starts with an idea or interesting concept, finds a starting group of characters, and then allows them to behave realistically.

This method can work. But, you need to have a good concept, and a handle on your characters (a handle… not a complete plan (please skip the second grade report card!)). You can succeed if you have the right skills and mindset.

But, people think the Pantser method is easy, “you jump in and write”. What they miss is that people like Steven King have had a lot of practice and an idea or concept in mind. Without those your story has a good chance of acting like a cow that finds a hole in the fence.

Being a Pantser takes work, it’s just different work. But, I like the freedom for surprises (that’s part of the fun).

Unless you‘re willing to put in the work; all I can say is “MOOO!”

When writing, I try to hold the middle ground. I have a situation and some big challenges planned. I have a handle on my characters and key events thought out (“fixed points in time” for you Doctor Who fans…). But, I don’t plan everything.

In one spot I may say, “Here my characters move out of their comfort zone into their adventure.” In another I may ask, “If my characters do this, how does the government react?”

I have a plan; however, I also allow things to move and grow as I learn about my characters and story.

This is the “Plantser” method. You plan (you know won’t happen), but you also leave yourself some freedom for the spontaneity and surprises that can make those great moments of literature.

Starting on the first, I’m once again doing NANOWRIMO dear reader. You might not hear much from me until December. My plan is here. And, I’m looking forward to having my questions answered!

I invite you to join us in the fun and madness of trying to write a 50,000+ word book in a month dear reader.

The choice is yours. And, I’ll see you next post!

NANOWRIMO both surviving and thriving

Well dear reader we’re back… And I have to say NANOWRIMO turned out pretty well. This year’s all out push to write a novel in a month resulted in a 75,000+ word manuscript and a clear direction for where to go next (both with new writing on what has confirmed itself to be a trilogy and in terms of what to do next for this specific story).

Naturally in addition to turning in 75,000 words (17000 more than my last NANOWRIMO high score…) I learned a few things on the way.

One: an all-out writing push can be hard…

Even if you’ve planned, exercised your mind and writing muscles and/or have the ‘mojo’ to do 50,000+ words in a month it can take time and effort. That means even if you can handle the writing part like a boss you still have to cope with the effects on other ‘jobs’, relationships, household chores, regular meals, and so on. And that can add up to a lot of stress.

Solution: be attentive to the needs of your family and make a plan. Even if you’re a ‘pantser’ and don’t plan your story, take a little time to plan out how to keep your spouse talking to you and the refrigerator stocked.

Two: no matter what you do there’s always ‘that guy’ who doesn’t get it.

I did the math…. 75,000 words over 295 pages is an entire school year’s worth of term papers or more in a single month, and I did it… But there will always be that one person who just doesn’t understand the achievement, or what went into doing it.

Solution: finish your book and publish it anyway! Some people will come around when they see the final product and some won’t. The won’ts often have their own issues that cloud their understanding and it may not be worth the battle to bring them around. You may not be able to bring them around at all, but if you push through and succeed there is a chance that they will come around on their own.

Don’t be a jerk about it, but don’t let them stop you. The ‘I don’t get it’ crowd will always be there and there’s not a lot we can do to change that.

Three: the system may take a little while to cool down…

Even if you didn’t succeed in your NANOWRIMO quest, if you put in a good effort you have probably learned something and gained new skills and abilities. You will also need a little while to shift back into ‘normal’ mode (that’s why this post is coming out on December 8th and not December 1st…). And, it might be a good idea to put a little time and distance between your initial writing and the assessing and editing process… You need the space and perspective.

Solution: no solution needed! Go clean out the ‘fridge, walk the dog, buy those Christmas presents you’ve been putting off, or whatever it is you need to do. And then come back and keep writing. Give yourself a little space and see what has changed and how you improved (for instance my transcribing from notes speed is up by about 50%!).

As I said going into NANOWRIMO the whole experience is a good thing if you use it correctly. Whether you succeeded or not, if you want to be a writer (or if you are a writer) the thing to do now is to recover from the experience and learn what you can from what you’ve done and produced. It will help you in the long run.

That’s it for this one dear reader… Next time, back to our regular schedule (for about a week and then the holidays happen…)