Archive for November, 2014

PBWQ14 Week Seven Update

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Yep. It's week seven.

Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Week Six Update

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

As far as hours spent and miles put behind me, things took a dive this week, compared to the first ten days of November. For one, I caught a cold, so that slowed me down. To that end, I tried to get some more sleep and that's never a bad thing. For another, I think I kinda knocked myself out creativity-wise. That burst cost me a bit.

As for the book progress, I still made some. I began revision mode. I took "Draft Zero", the fifty thousand word proto-manuscript, and broke it up into scenes (I ended up with ninety-nine). I also printed out a paper copy, because that really helps me wrap my brain around it. And lastly, I began some initial work on "scene sorting." Some scenes are already strong, a fair number are extremely weak, and every once in a while, they're just in the wrong place in the story.

So I broke my rule of "just leave it." In general, it's not good to jump right into revisions. It's better to let the manuscript sit for a while and give your brain a rest. But the thing is, I've been at this for far too long to just rest now (in spite of what I said in the opening paragraph). I've built up a lot of inertia in the last six weeks, and I have to keep it going.

More in a week.

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Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

I have to admit I did not see this coming.

Okay, that's a lie. Last Friday I saw it coming, but even then it seemed a real stretch. But I can truly say, "I did not see this coming," if I go all the way back to the beginning of this year's PBWQ. I mean, even now it's hard for me to believe that as I started tapping away at the keyboard at 12:00:01 am on November 1, 2014, I still had no idea what my story was.


"How could you possibly not know what your story was?" you ask incredulously. And you deserve an answer. Normally I would sum up, but today I have time to explain.

When I say I don't know what my story was, that's just shorthand for: I had not yet come up with a detailed, bullet-proof, sensible plot. I knew generally what it was about. I knew who my protagonist was, and the setting, and how the story started and (most importantly) how it ended. But all the important pieces that glued all that together were missing.

Think of it this way. When I set out writing ten days ago, my story looked like this:

  • Restless boy on farm wants to see the universe.
  • Receives a Call to Adventure.
  • Meets an old man who helps him cross the threshold from the Ordinary World to the Special World.
  • Learns that the forces of evil are on the move.
  • He gets by with a little help from his friends.
  • Gains mystical powers along the way.
  • Finally, he uses all his gifts (knowledge, friends, and powers) to defeat evil.

So you see, there's definitely a story there. It's your basic Hero's Journey. But look what it lacks:

  • Why is he on the farm?
  • Why can't he just leave on his own?
  • Who is the old man and how does he help him to cross the threshold?
  • Who or what is working against him?
  • What are these mystical powers? How do they work? Why doesn't everyone have them?

Once you answer questions like these, the story becomes that much more fleshed out. Now you have your goals, your antagonist, your conflict, and climax all well-defined. But you're also not done. Because answering the above only opens up more questions:

  • What does the farm look like? Iowa? A swamp? A jungle? A desert?
  • What does the Threshold look like? Is it a wretched hive of scum and villainy?
  • How exactly does he develop these powers? Does it make sense in the overall story, or do they just magically come into his possession with no plausible explanation?

And as you continue to drill down there are further and further levels of detail:

  • How exactly are the space-clarinets designed and played?
  • Should the band be playing Daft Punk or perhaps something closer to dixieland jazz?
  • How many different species are in this bar and what do they look like?

Let Me Sum Up

So where did I end up on this continuum? In short, I now know everything I need to know about my story to actually turn it into a real, readable manuscript. And that's saying a lot. No, I don't yet know what the space clarinets look like. But I do know that there are space clarinets and what purpose they serve.

All my characters and their backgrounds and their personalities are fleshed out. All the scenes are now defined and in the right order. The story pace is finally apparent. About two thirds of the way through I realized my intended ending would no longer work and now I have one that's twice as good.

Next Steps

  1. Walk away from it. It has to rest a bit.
  2. Print it out and read it.
  3. Make notes: what worked, what didn't?
  4. Identify darlings. Kill them.
  5. Then begin writing the actual manuscript. Because what I have is definitely not a manuscript. It's all story, but no storytelling. It's all the facts, but without the emotion. It's bereft of scenic details and sweeping descriptions. Some of my characters are actually named So-and-So. Many of my places were given real-world city names until I could come up with proper in-universe names.

If I can even begin #5 by the end of this month, that would be a big win. If I could finish #5 by the end of February, that would be an even bigger win. But for the first time ever, that no longer feels like an impossible pipe dream.

Posted in Progress |

PBWQ14 Week Five Update

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

On Friday night I went to my first-ever write-in (well, one that also wasn't a kickoff party). After all these years of writing alone in a small box, I decided this year to try and socialize a bit.

I was admittedly hesitant, because (to me anyway) writing is not a social event. It's just me and my brain and everyone and everything else just gets in the way. Further, when I write alone in a small box, there's zero overhead. Write-ins mean traffic and parking and spending money to support the local establishment hosting your write-in and lots of tiny things that all add up to one thing: cutting into my writing time.

But I'm glad I went.

However, let's get on to the real focus of today's update. On Friday morning (yesterday, November 7) I started looking at my numbers and my trajectory and two possibilities became apparent:

  1. Breaking my seven-day word count record was within reach.
  2. I might actually be able to hit 50,000 in ten days.

I was cautiously optimistic about both. Especially the latter, which would mean a 7,500 word Saturday, a 7,500 word Sunday, and nearly 5,000 words on Monday. Anyway, first things first. Breaking that seven day record.

After I got home and took a brief break, I merged my "mobile" document with my primary manuscript, cleaned things up, and checked my word count. 29,846 words. It was around 10:30 pm and I only had an hour and a half to add another 1,871 words. I honestly thought, "No way." You see, I keep a spreadsheet which tracks my progress details: words written, time spent, velocity, and so on. And that spreadsheet told me I'd never written that much in that little time before.

In fact, I actually wasted time working on these calculations and predictions. So it was that I didn't even begin writing until exactly 10:43. But I set my fingers loose and somehow reached and maintained a pace of 1,712.4 words per hour. I not only met my goal but added 2,169 words in that last seventy-six minutes of the day. That's the fastest I've ever moved.

The writing is terrible of course, but it's serving its purpose. The story is growing, and beyond word counts and record-setting paces, that's my true goal this month: to have a fully fleshed out, end-to-end, complete story. And in all the years I've been hacking away at this, that's the one goal that's always eluded me.

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PBWQ14 Month One

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

That was a FAST month and I'm sad it's over. Because October's my favorite month and Halloween's my favorite holiday and it feels to me like the month only lasted about seventy-two hours.

This is also the first time that I've ever skipped my favorite holiday. No costumes, no trick-or-treating, and (most importantly) no pumpkin carving (which itself means I missed my annual viewing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, because I always pop in that movie and put it on repeat while carving pumpkins.

Anyway, in my last update, I recounted my little miscalculation whereby I forgot to do any planning for my book during the month where I had intended to do all the planning for my book. I sure did a good job on everything leading right up to it, but stopped short of getting the immediate task fleshed out.

Time waits for no man and suddenly, and seemingly without warning, I found myself at Dragon's Lair for my very first NaNoWriMo kickoff party. This is my sixth NaNo attempt, but I never went to a kickoff (see above notes about my feelings on Halloween).

NaNoWriMo Kickoff Party, Austin TX, 2014

The evening began at six o'clock with a book signing by Elizabeth Moon. She's had twenty-six more books published than I have, for a grand total of twenty-six books. I bought one and got it signed, which means I can now cross off Item #57 on my Bucket List: "Go to Dragon's Lair on Halloween and get a book signed by an author with twenty-six published books."

At seven o'clock, she gave a talk which was followed by a Q&A session. At eight o'clock I was unable to get my last question in to her, "Are you hungry?" Because everyone else was. Fortunately, that's just when the pot-luck began.

Feeding ended around nine. I had planned on spending that last three hours doing some last-minute planning. But it was more noisy and social than anything, so it just wasn't in the cards. As the clock ticked toward midnight, I actually started getting a little nervous. Probably because I was about to embark on a thirty-day challenge to turn a three-sentence synopsis into a full-length novel.

3... 2... 1...

At midnight everyone shut up and got to work and suddenly I was happy for this event. Because without it, I would probably languish in planning mode for at least another half a year. It's good to just say "good enough" and move on to something else. Do I know every last detail of my story? No. (I barely know every first detail.) Will I get stuck halfway through or even tomorrow? Likely. But none of that matters. Because my goal isn't to write a novel in November. My goal is to write.

And it felt good to just finally start again.

Posted in Progress |