The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler is a terrific craft book for writers on characters and plot. My own Writer’s Journey is made up of more mundane baby steps.
I am presently in revision mode. It’s not that I’ve finished this third book in the series yet, which is what (finishing your rough draft) is highly recommended, but it’s been a while since I’ve worked on it.
So I reread what I wrote. Then I naturally revise or rewrite what I wrote. This process takes me about an hour per chapter, and were I to go back over it for another look, I’d still find ways to improve the writing. I’m certain I could revise much faster if I were going through it one point at a time, e.g., finding any missed passive voices, or reading through for plot inconsistencies only. But I need to finish the entire story first.
So today’s baby step in writing is revising chapter by chapter until the words start to blur.
I force a few real life steps at the conclusion of each chapter – stretch those ole legs every hour, rip out a few weeds while I walk around the yard, grab a fresh cup of tea, then dive back in.
I want to scream, “UGH! This is so hard!” But my tea’s ready, so I must return.
Baby steps. One step at a time. One chapter or scene at a time.
At a wedding dinner this past weekend, someone at my table asked me: “Are you still writing?” I responded quickly and without thought: “Always.”
In actuality, the month of May was an unusual off-writing month, except for some revisions. I was busy with three trips and a wedding weekend (12 hours), and included the Anniversary-BBQ weekend. Yet, I am always writing, even when it’s not working with the words of the story. A couple of examples:
During the outside rehearsal time when I was not needed, I took a walk with a boyfriend of one of the bridesmaids. He grew up in the Philippines. I grew up outside. I pointed out a mint plant, crushed and tasted it, pointed out the square stem and told him a story involving mint where I nearly died. I told him history, too, but mostly when I spoke (there was a lot of silently enjoying nature), it was about the land…about flora and fauna. On that walk I was a teacher, a storyteller, a writer in disguise.
Last month I drew and thought a lot about a large-scale map of my fantasy world, including lands and peoples not even incorporated into my tales. I find it interesting how the landscape can “make” a people. People living in milder climate next to a sea are a different sort from those who live in the mountains with their warm days spent gathering enough food for their long and cold days. Desert dwellers. River folk. Animal farmers. Crop farmers. Each set of people are different, with the land forming who the people are. I didn’t do much revisions, nor any raw writing at all this past month, but I was working on it, thinking about it, drawing it. That’s writing, too.
There was also new people interactions, which is always handy references for characterizations.
Am I still writing? Always. How about you?
An interesting question popped up on Miss Snark’s blog today: (basically) How do you revise? Do you revise right away or let it sit?
It got me thinking…
I revise in various ways:
1)sometimes as I’m writing the rough draft (a very slow writing method);
2) the following day, while reading over the previous few paragraphs or chapter to get a running start on new words;
3) when I’m finished with the entire rough draft for consistencies of voice, etc;
4) after going through comments from a few beta readers or critique group; and
5) right before I click “send” for an agent/editor submission. If it’s rejected, the story can sit years before I look at it again, then — BAM — it’s like I’m my own beta reader.
So? What about you? (Or are you like a best-selling author I know who says, “Only revise when your editor tells you to”?)
Rule #1: Writing is not simple.
Rule #2: Write; Finish what you write; Revise; Have it critiqued; Revise a few more times; Let it sit.
Rule #3: Read. Read. Read — read EVERYTHING you can get your hands on: books in your field/genre; NF research; books for pleasure; books so out of whack from your own writing genre that it would make your fellow writers blink to see you reading them; etc., etc..
Rule #4: Take another look at your story; Revise again.
Rule #5: Research agents and/or editors; submit it.
Rule #6: Start writing another story.
Rule #7: Go out and play. (More grown-up authors might rephrase that to “Go out and live.”)
Long ago, I ditched the resolutions bit. Could never keep them; often broken by the end of the first week of the new year. So I started setting goals. Goals are much easier to reach, especially when taken in baby steps, e.g., not a vague “lose weight” or “lose 30 pounds,” but rather, “lose 5 pounds by February 14.” Ah, sounds like a goal I could reach.
So it is with writing. Set goals you can keep, then re-evaluate and reset them in summer.
Like my friend Rose, each year I try to simplify my new year’s writing goals. My general (did you hear “vague?”) writing goals are to read, write and submit. More specific is to revise two novels, send them off, and write two more. At this moment, I have no idea what the two 2011 new novels will be about. Isn’t life exciting?
So what are your new year’s writing goals?
Each January, I set writing goals before me for the coming year. At the end of December, I look over my goals and reflect on how I have improved and/or moved forward in this bizarre career of writing.
The first goal I listed in January of 2010 was to find work at MacDonald’s, or else to quit writing entirely. I’m very happy to announce that I did neither of those things, although working at a fast food for research purposes had crossed my mind several times during the year.
I only attended one live writers conference (usually it’s more), but I participated in several on-line conferences or workshops in 2010.
I’m disappointed that I only sent out a few submissions to editors or agents. Like winning the lottery, and the fact that you must buy a ticket in order to win, so it is with writing. Write your story, revise it, have it critiqued, revise it a few more times, but then you must submit it if you want to see it published.
However, the good news is that I revised (a few times) my historical MG novel, written during the 2009 NaNoWriMo period, and I wrote and revised (a few times) my tween fantasy, as well as worked on some shorter stories. One polished novel a year isn’t too bad at all. Maybe, though, future goals would be more than one a year.
I also helped clean turtles in a river oil spill near our house. This was not a writing goal for 2010; however, I never find time-investments in new things a waste. I’m sure oil spills or turtles will show themselves in a future story.
How did your 2010 writing goals work out?
I am revising one of my stories now, and came to the conclusion that I find revisions both frustrating and wonderful. Frustrating, because I must find the time or force myself to sit down and DO them. Wonderful, because, my, what a better story I’ve written afterwards.
I have come to a second conclusion, that if I’m doing a whole-novel revision, I work best on hard copy. When I sit in front of a computer screen to do revisions, I don’t have the past scribbled pages next to me to show me how much progress I’ve made. On the computer screen, it all looks good, and so I plug away one line at a time without really seeing the progress. Doing whole novel revisions is similar to weeding a garden. If you just plucked five weeds daily, you may not notice much of a difference. But if you spend a couple of hours (or full day) weeding, and next to you is this pile of weeds to be tossed, there is greater satisfaction.
Keep writing, and keep revising! If you have only a few minutes a day to revise, keep plugging away. If you can read your hard-copy scribbles, keep doing those corrections. Which is your preference, or do you do revisions entirely different from these two?
Today is day one of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I participated last year, and will do so this year as well. Although what I produce during NaNoWriMo is not readable at the end of the month, and perhaps not even finished, I get inspired by short-term writing goals, and end up putting down lots of words to work with. I did not make my 50,000 word goal last year, but came close. Most of what I wrote ended up as stream of consciousness, but all related to the story. I ended up deleting about 9/10 of what I wrote. But that 10% was well worth it, and made for a solid foundation of a novel, which I did end up finishing last spring.
NaNoWriMo seems a sloppy way to write, yet is very productive. The end product is trash can material, with a few pages and ideas and scenes rescued. Yet to me, NaNoWriMo is a means to an end. It inspires me to make writing a priority. Deletions (lots) and revisions (tons) follow.
Novel Revision Workshop Teacher, Darcy Pattison, suggests to get a story down first. Then, you can make it readable. (My paraphrase; apologies to Darcy.)
I will get my story down this month – or at least a good chunk of my thinking-writing time will be spent doing this. I actually look forward to the January to spring revisions.
I am reminded of my friend Ross, who told me last summer that he has a splendid story idea, and that if I wanted to write it out, I could have the idea for free. Ideas are easy. Writing is hard. Perhaps I should introduce Ross to NaNoWriMo, even though he doesn’t own a computer and still uses a land-line rotary dial phone. (Who needs to make up fictional characters?)
Good luck to all NaNoWriMo participants, and to all other writers who continue to plug away without this sprint.
I’m working on a new story, started a couple months ago. It takes up a lot of my thought time. I’m rather anti-social right now, even when it comes to posting on my writing blog. It’s as though all these other things in life are merely interfering with what I am passionate about, and what I can’t stop thinking about. I’ve done pre-writing, outlining, know where the story is going. I’ve done some raw writing — love doing this rambling, care-free part of writing. And, because I have been submitting chapters to my critique group, I have also had to work on revisions. Sometimes I find that all three of these writing stages (pre-writing, raw writing, and revisions) go on interchangeably, like a wild writing dance. I just hang on to my partner (the story line); sometimes I lead, and sometimes the manuscript leads.
So now I’m at about 35,000 words, with some chapters merely book-marked with a paragraph telling what goes on there. If I were a more disciplined writer, or a writer without a critique group to hold me accountable each month, I think I’d write out the entire story in one shot. But then, perhaps I’m not that disciplined writer. So I pre-write, raw-write, then revise and re-write until the story is finished. Dry to talk about, but exciting to do. Off to write.
As I was writing on my story this week, suddenly one of the secondary characters died.
Wait one minute! That wasn’t in the outline! Who was typing when that happened?
But then I thought to myself: total twist in the plot element. Cool. So I’m keeping him dead, poor guy. I just must take some think-time now to rework a few things, well, like the rest of the story, basically. Still, very cool.
Before this, I have intentionally gotten rid of characters, even main characters who didn’t serve any purpose except to give company to the main character. A parrot would have been more interesting. For me, taking out one of the major players was simply boring revision junk, to get rid of any sign the person existed.
Writing Challenge: Is each one of your characters essential to the plot? To the MC? Might a couple of them be combined, and still accomplish the same thing?
Poor ole secondary characters. Every last one of mine are now shaking in their paper boots.