Monday, June 17, 2013

A Year of Writing: Fourth Month

We are in month four of a year of writing. So far we have five short stories, four of them sent out for publication, one half a book, and the outline for another. If you are just browsing lethargically, I’d say the first installment (HYPERLINK) would be the thing to scan through.

Day 1. Reread and edit first 20,000 words.

Readers who have been glancing through this whole thing know my opinions on editing while you write, but because this is a new month and a new article, let me sum up: Perfectionists shouldn’t do this, people who focus on finishing and have a hard time reading their own work should.

Because we’ve already done a second draft of the book throughout the story, this will actually be the third glance. This means that you are already less likely to hate it than you were before. And by editing the first fourth of your book now, you’re not going to become paralyzed with fear when you have to read the whole damn thing.

If this is your first novel ever there is a good chance you will hate it, for two different reasons. One is that it’s likely you aren’t experienced and it shows, but, more importantly, you have not become accustomed to how you write and you will be surprised by some of the choices you made. Like hating your recorded voice, there is something to be said about the human nature to distrust unfamiliarity. Don’t worry about it. Focus on mild edits and smoothing out the rough edges. My biggest mistake in writing was thinking I had to fix everything now, and my greatest epiphany was realizing the wonders small little alterations could do.

Do not be discouraged.

Day 2. Write to 38,000.

Day 3. Write to 38,750.

Day 4. Write to 39,500.

Day 5. Write to 40,250.

Day 6. Edit last 5,000 words.

Day 7. Write to 41,500.

Day 8. Write to 42,250

Day 9. Write to 43,000.

Day 10. Find a character sheet and fill it out about your main characters.

You know, the things that ask questions like, “What’s his favorite color?”

I never found these to do much good for me, but I did have a blast doing them. They can be inspiring in a way, just because you get to consciously think about your characters instead of putting them in the back of your mind.

Every once in a while you’ll find that, while just doing it for sheer enjoyment’s sake, you might learn something new about your character.

Take a break from the story and find out something irrelevant. Worst that can happen is you talked about your character for 30 minutes.

Day 11. Write to 43,750.

Day 12. Write to 44,500.

Day 13. Write to 45,250.

Day 14. Edit last 5,000 words.

Day 15. Write to 46,000.

Day 16. Write to 46,750.

Day 17. Write to 47,500.

Day 18. Find a writing exercise/prompt that seems interesting and write a short story.

Experimentation is hard to do on a first novel. We’re so invested in having it come out right, so afraid this will be the only story, that many authors have the tendency to not take any risks. Challenging ourselves, changing tactics, and doing something “weird” is not only a great part of writing, but a good way to become better. Taking chances is hard and that’s what makes it so interesting to watch.

So find something to do and write a story that you don’t care about enough to worry about messing up. I recommend another flash fiction piece (under 1,000 words.)

My suggestion:

Find a book and open it up to a chapter in the middle. Take the first sentence from it, then the last sentence from a different chapter. Make a story beginning and ending with those two lines.

Day 19. Write to 48,250.

Day 20. Write to 49,000.

Day 21. Write to 49,750.

Day 22. Edit last 5,000 words.

Day 23. Write to 50,500.

Depending on the finished length of the book, 40,000 to 60,000 words should be your midpoint. Personally, I aim for 80,000 words because succinctness was never a quality of mine. If you tend to write long, set your sights on a smaller goal. I have to tell myself I have half the words I do, or it will be twice as long as I want. If you tend to write short, go for the middle ground. In either case, length size can be really important for a book, especially for first time writers. And while art shouldn’t be limited by arbitrary factors, size is the most easily sacrificial aspect for an author. The ability to say anything as long as or short as you want it is the sign of a great master, and often trying to say something quickly is the best means to be creative.

The inciting incident should definitely have happened by now. This term is described most commonly as “where the protagonist is propelled into action.” (The farm boy is forced to leave home because someone blew up his house.) But considering the popular trends of the antagonist’s plot (a story propelled by the objective of a villain and with the main character being the obstacle), and the unaware protagonist (a story in which the audience is aware of a conflict, but the hero isn’t) I suggest that the inciting incident is when the plot/conflict is first introduced to the reader.

By this point your characters (either antagonist or protagonist) have some sort of plan in the making, and the stakes as to why that plan must succeed are being introduced. The plan might have already blown up now leaving them in a situation worse than before. If you tend to write long and haven’t had the first disaster yet, do it soon.

Day 24. Write to 51,250.

Day 25. Write to 52,000.

Day 26. Edit one of your short stories.

We now have two works that have yet to complete their fourth draft. Work on one or the other, which ever you’re most inspired by. While editing, consider a choice that you consistently make that, while it works, you’ve been depending on it. Try to do it differently. (Prime examples are use of the word “was,” “adverbs,” over using “said,” beginning sentences/paragraphs with the same words/patterns, describing characters by just hair color, eye color, and clothing, etc.)

Day 27. Write to 52,750.

Day 28. Write to 53,500.

Day 29. Write to 54,250.

Day 30. Write to 55,000.

Day 31. Edit last 5,000 words.

Four months down, eight to go. We now have six short stories, four sent out (and possibly published), and somewhere between ¾ to ½ of a novel. In only a third of a year you have more than some people do all their lives.

It’s likely you’ve had some days of writer’s block, some discouragement, some fear of being a colossal failure. This is what writing is all about. Isn’t that wonderful? Use these negative feelings as proof you are an actual writer. Feel good that you have them. It’s part of the wonder that is the elite world of the author: intellectual moodiness.

Whatever you do, keep going.