Progress report

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The summer is moving by so quickly, I think I might have missed it. Temperatures have been hanging out in the low 60s and cracking into the mid-40s at night giving a very distinct late summer vibe. I mean, except for the 21 hours of daylight.

I’ve been doing a bit of work on my current project, and last week I even tore through a rewrite of a few chapters that I’d been putting off. These chapters are a distinct sub-plot with a different lead character (in cliché fantasy tradition). They make up something like 1/4th of the book.

As I was going through these particular chapters, I noticed two major things. The first is that they needed (probably still need) quite a bit of editorial massaging. The second is that these particular chapters are, even with final polishing necessary, arguably the best chapters of the book. On one hand this is cool. I’ve got a few chapters that generally work. Unless a beta reader notes a major problem, these are good to go until editing! On the other hand, this is ¼ of the book. That means the other 3/4s still need a tremendous amount of work to be up to scratch. I think I’m making major progress on that score, but it’s hard to tell until I sit down and attempt another full re-write.

One theory of why this sub-plot is working better is that I don’t really care about the characters as much, and so as things start going to hell for them, I really don’t mind and just sort of let it happen. My main characters (the heroes, if you will), however, I care too much about. As a writer I’m not effectively putting their backs against the wall (more clearly stated: The MC should have a simple goal ‘right now’, simple goal right now is being blocked by a clear and present antagonist). I can’t say that this is THE problem I’m working through, but it’s definitely a contributing factor. The characters aren’t being driven from place to place so much as they are going from place to place. It seems to me that this isn’t doing any favors on the overall conflict and rising action.

So then what am I going to do about that?

I’ve already started tackling some of the problem bits. The first four or five chapters actually weren’t awful as far as this is concerned. The eleventh chapter, however, is a different story. The night before last, I completely rewrote it. It took the immediate conflict in a different direction that still managed to land the main character in almost the right situation to start chapter 12. The change also did good things for the conflict in chapter 12, which becomes something of a pivotal chapter (it always has been, but it just doesn’t have that feel or flavor yet). In any case, chapter 11 feels vastly improved from what it was, but I won’t know how much better this strategy is until I get to the end and look at the story as a whole.

So, anyhow, that’s where I am. The wife is out on the town tonight, so I’ll probably get a full chapter re-write in and if I’m lucky, tomorrow will be mostly a writing day and I’ll see if I can hammer out a few more chapter rewrites.


Photo credit: Me (don’t judge)

 

Major massive milestone

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Ten years.

That’s kind of a long time. Over the course of the past decade, aside from the usual 8-5 job and various successes there, I’ve built most of a house, added a workshop, duck-house, chicken-coop, took up woodworking (I managed to sell a few pieces of furniture), fiddled with bonsai, learned much about the art of home-brewing, and, not least significantly, had three children (okay, I didn’t, my wife did, but I was present). In short, a lot has happened. I’m sure at this point you must be thinking: This guy is a smug and self-important bastard isn’t he? If you’re not, perhaps you should be -I would be. The thing is I’m not. In fact, if you think I’m calling these ‘accomplishments,’ you’re wrong*. These are the daily distractions of my life, all of which I have chosen, for the past several years, but don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this.

When our first son was born, I had my trusty notebook with me for the hospital stay, where I was treated to three nights on a too-short couch and the absolute panic associated with being a new parent. The story I was working on is the very same I’m working on now. It started as two separate sci-fi novels that morphed and merged into a single fantasy series that dropped all of the sci-fi elements**. Back then, I was mostly focused on background and constructed language development. I’d be a lying jerk if I tried to claim I had anything like a plot, and the characters were sketches of people, without any sort of personality.

Now, for the milestone bit: I finally, after a decade, have a full first draft.

Holy crap, it took you ten years to write 90,000 words? What’s wrong with you?

Hey! – I got it done, and bits of it are fairly well polished and have even been through beta-readers. It happened last night. I hit the end of a sentence and spent a few minutes trying to think of where I might go next with it and realized the remainder of the ‘story’ was superfluous. Nothing more needed to be said.

Wait! You dodged the question about what the hell took you so long!

Alright! Jeez. It may be that it took me a decade, but in all of that random stuff I was spending time on, I wasn’t necessarily spending much energy on writing. In fact, there were stretches of months, maybe even as long as a year, where I didn’t spend any time thinking about writing at all. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I once again dusted off my notebook and started working on my story. I made some serious progress. Over the course of a few months I ran through what’s now the first five or six chapters of the book, as well as a few other chapters sprinkled in throughout later parts of the book. Then, I sort of shelved it again. We had some family stress and I just didn’t work on it.

An interesting side note here, I had only confided in my wife about this project while working on it, that is until last spring. I started thinking about it again and decided to confide in a friend and co-worker what I was doing. I’m not sure why, but I did.

Anyhow, sometime last summer, I had a shit or get off the pot moment. I don’t remember it exactly, and neither does my wife, though she assures me that’s what happened. The bottom line is that I said (probably after a few beers), I’m going to finish this book dammit!

Are you going to get to the point or just ramble on?

I’m just about to get there, stop interrupting.

What I think I realized is that I had been waiting for some sort of inspiration to strike me. (Emily Russell wrote a good article related to this, if for some reason you’re reading this and haven’t seen that, just stop and read that first – but come back here!). Inspiration isn’t going to finish a book. It’s not the sort of thing that just hits you while you’re driving down the street thinking about the trees*** It happens while you are trying to write, while you are actively thinking about your story. Sure good creative ideas do seem to strike in a flash of brilliance, but the truth of the matter is that you were thinking about it. It’s even better if you’ve written something down. Of course, I’ve had those moments where something strikes me as funny or odd, and I scribble down a note for later. Perhaps that’s a bit of inspiration, but inspiration doesn’t make a book. Writing does. Work does. Effort does. Like it or not, sacrifice does.

Possibly one of my favorite inspiration stories is the J.K. Rowling story about Harry Potter. She was on a train and the boy who lived just sort of walked into the train car with her. Isn’t that lovely? Boom – A multi-million dollar franchise was born! Bullshit. After that bit of inspiration, Rowling worked her ass off on back-story, setting, character development, plotting, and themes. It took years and loads of work (and quite a bit of luck too, but I’m not going there). For all practical purposes, ALL of the story comes from hard work and focus.

So. There it is. Lesson learned. If you want to finish, you have to focus and not make excuses about having too many other responsibilities. One paragraph per night? Good enough. You’ll get there, just keep on it.

* Except for the day-job stuff. I really am pretty full of myself there, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

** Someday I will blog about the circumstances leading to this, but not today.

*** I do this, don’t laugh. My family all thinks I’m a freak because I’ll fawn over the trees on any sort of hike. I will actually stop on a trail, grab a leaf and pontificate about a particular type of tree.

Milestone

I took the week off (most of the week – I have a budget meeting on Thursday) to work on finishing a first full draft. It was a fairly lofty goal given that I’m trying to squeeze in the rest of life during this period. I’m not sure I’ll quite hit the end of a full first draft by Sunday evening next week, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility either. Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far since Friday night:

  • Finished the third re-write of chapter 10, which is much better now.
  • Rewrote chapter 17 to fit changes in plot better (this was actually a pretty major rewrite)
  • Wrote chapter 18 – this rounds out a major sub-plot with a brother.
  • Started chapter 19 – I have 1000 words written as of right now.

All of the work I’ve completed above is not in what I would call a polished format, it’s very much draft. Chapter 17 still needs some major work, but I’m going to save it until I go back through the book again. The issues are largely related to character development and I want to try and address all of those problems in one or two passes. Chapter 18 is very short, and will probably need more detail, but it’s plenty good for a first draft, and chapter 10 still needs a considerable amount of polishing. My target, right now, is 21 chapters, meaning I’ve got to finish up 19, with two more to follow (this alone is likely to be 10K-12K words). I haven’t ruled out the possibility of inserting as much as a chapters worth of material earlier in the book to explore some character elements a bit more.

If you’ve read to this point, I suppose you’re wondering what the milestone was, after all I didn’t finish the book or anything. Well, the original target was 80K words. With the start of Chapter 19, I’ve hit that mark. Given the direction I want to go, and the additions I know I need to make, the new target is looking more like 90-100K words.