Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Year of Writing: Eighth Month

At this point you’ve either quit or are feeling pretty good about yourself. In the likelihood that you’ve been reading through this whole thing in one sitting with either mild interest or actual anticipation of completion, just consider how good it would feel to have a whole book finished and another on its way. Remember that feeling because that is the most efficient motivation to keep you going.

Day 1. Write for four 15-minute intervals.

There are three different sorts of daily writing goals you can have: word count/page count, content, or time. The first are based on numerical evaluations, the second is based on the events that happen, and the third is based on how long you do it for. Each have their own individual benefits and negatives. I am suggesting basic daily writing goals here for two reasons: it’s hard to do a day-by-day series of steps when “inspiration” is your planning method, and I personally find that most of my inspiration comes after I forced myself to start.

Since we’ve experimented with content and word count, now we’re going to think about time.

Day 2. Edit your query letter.

You should have four different queries for your previous book at this time. Pick the one you like the best and do another draft of it.

Things to remember:

This is a letter. Just by having that in mind, it has helped me to know what is appropriate to say and how to say it.

This is where you talk about what you like about your story. This seems obvious, but there are many occasions in which people focus on getting down the important details and not the fun ones.

Remember, you might be the exception to the rule, but you’re still going to have to prove it. Fatalism and being God’s Chosen one is a pretty common feeling amongst authors. Indicating that an author or his book is destined for greatness makes him look more like one of the common people than one of the elite. Any indication that a story will be the next bestseller or that “God gave me this idea,” will require a heaping amount of evidence that probably won’t fit in a query. Agents want to love your book, but they don’t think they will. An author has to prove to them he’s great, not just tell them. They won’t believe him.

Day 3. Write for four 15-minute intervals.

Day 4. Write for four 15-minute intervals.

Day 5. Write for four 15-minute intervals.

Day 6. Edit 10 pages of the book.

Because we’re writing out of order, how you choose to tackle editing is up to you.

Day 7. Write the beginning.

Really, you should decide this when inspiration strikes. The thing about leaving the beginning for later is that it allows you to understand what the book is about and better foreshadow it. You will often come up with more interesting ideas for how to begin somewhere in the middle. If you have yet to be inspired by anything, it might be time to just bite the bullet and begin the story. If you don’t like it, you can always change it later.

Day 8. Write for four 15-minute intervals.

At this point you should be at least 30,000 words in. There is a chance that while writing this way you have found yourself with most of the events already in place. If you were efficient, it might seem like the story is going to be really short. If you’re like me, however, you probably still have a lot of ideas you need to do. If that is the case keep going, add some things in and try to make them flow. If you are a member of the first issue, then focus on getting the story with a continuous plot line. If you end up short, your job will just to be to fluff it out.

Some people find this process of lengthening easy, while others (like me) find it ridiculously hard. While I write a great deal more than I should, it often becomes I’ve said what I needed to. When I am short, I need to come up with new ideas. Don’t worry about size now. It will need to be done, and if you’re good at it it will be fun, and if you’re bad at it it will be a good challenge.

Day 9. Write for four 15-minute intervals.

Day 10. Take your first project and give it to someone else to read.

You must find someone you respect, who you believe likes you, and who you understand. They don’t necessarily have to be a good editor, although it helps. It’s more important to find someone who you like and trust than someone who will be really good at what they do. Knowledge is useless if we don’t want to believe it. Most importantly, make sure to pick someone who will actually read it. Every other trait can be thrown to the wind if they’re the only one who will do it.

Because many authors start in a “I want to show you what I’ve done phase,” and maintain a, “I need proof this is what I’m supposed to do with my life,” the first critique is always hard. There are a few tips to preventing this:

Decide if you like or don’t like it. Do not wait for other people’s opinions to tell you if it is “good.” The number one reason feedback hurts so much is because it’s our hopes shattering. If you have a basic idea about how good you think it is, you’ll be safer. You’ll either like it and won’t take it too hard, or you don’t like it and you’ll understand what they’re talking about.

Give them a hardcopy of the manuscript. This is easier to read, but, more importantly, allows for you to ask for it back when they haven’t finished it in months.

Tell the person exactly what you want. At this stage, you probably do want some actual feedback, but it’s okay to say, “I want to show you what I’ve made,” rather than, “Can you tell me what you think?” If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. Be honest with yourself about what you want and need. Despite what Christianity tells us, it’s okay to want things.

I always tell people, “I don’t want you to be harsh, but I do want you to be thorough.” “Harsh” criticism will come out bluntly without a lot of forethought in making it palatable and clear. They will say, “It is boring,” instead of explaining, “I feel I would be more invested in the characters if I knew who I was supposed to route for.”

Lastly, make a point about talking about how much you trust them, how much their feedback means to you, and how you’re giving it to them because you know they’ll do it, unlike all those other bastards. Press importance that they go through with it and they will be more likely to do it.

Consider giving them a deadline. Be generous but not too generous. Ask them to have it back in a month, and let them know if they realize they’re not going to do it to give you back the manuscript as soon as possible. Tell them you’ll want to give it to someone else because you really need some feedback. The honesty will help them know to prioritize the project and not think it doesn’t matter.

Day 11. Write for 15-minute intervals.

Day 12. Write for 15-minute intervals.

Day 13. Write for 15-minute intervals.

Day 14. Edit 10 pages.

Day 15. Write for 15-minute intervals.

Day 16. Write for 15-minute intervals.

Day 17. Write for 15-minute intervals.

Day 18. Begin editing the first book again.

Now that it’s been a month, you can look at the novel with fresh eyes. Normally, I let them sit for years, but this isn’t a deliberate choice.

Again, if you can hack it, I’d say sit down and read the whole thing in a day. But odds are, that’s a ridiculous request. We’ll cut it down to 30 pages.

(Note: When I say “page” I refer to an 8 x 11 word document, single spaced. If you are of the normal mindset and think of it as double-spaced, double the count.)

Day 19. Write for TWO 15-minute intervals. Edit 15 pages of first project.

One of the issues I have with my Year of Writing articles is that I allow you to take breaks from time to time, for various reasons. My personal impression is, however, that stopping work on an in-progress book is not a good idea. It can be done, and many people have been able to pick up projects they dropped for years, (I do it all the time) but if it isn’t an accident, don’t test it. Working on it every day allows an author to keep his head in the game. It is easier to start up each morning when you’ve worked on it a day before.

So I’m suggesting splitting it up. Write half your usual amount and edit half your usual amount. You might consider alternating days—edit day one, write day two—or even finishing your second project before doing this edit on the last.

I don’t recommend the latter suggestion because you’ll want to start editing the second book when you finish it.

Day 20. Write for TWO 15-minute intervals. Edit 15 pages.

Day 21. Write for TWO 15-minute intervals. Edit 15 pages.

Day 22. Edit 10 pages of second book.

Day 23. Write for TWO 15-minute intervals. Edit 15 pages of first book.

Day 24. Write for TWO 15-minute intervals. Edit 15 pages.

Day 25. Write for TWO 15-minute intervals. Edit 15 pages.

Day 26. Do another draft of the query letter.

Look at it from the cynical perspective of an outsider. Remove any thought that luck might be with you.

Day 27. Write for TWO 15-minute intervals. Edit 15 pages.

Day 28. Write for TWO 15-minute intervals. Edit 15 pages.

This should finish the fourth draft of your first book. If it is longer, consider continuing to split the time between the two until you finish.

If you still have any big issues with your first novel, now is the time to change them. If all you know is that you’re not in love with it and aren’t sure why, wait for the response back from your critique.

And that is the end of the eight month! In hindsight, I calculated and decided if the year of writing was to start in July (for arbitrary reasons), this would be February, hence the mere twenty eight days.

How are we doing? Discouraged yet?

Think about all you have accomplished, remember the feeling of pride, and aim for that goal.