Paperless Writing Cycle Challenge

I’ve been entertaining the idea of going paperless in my writing cycle for some time, but I love pens. Besides my love of pens, I have to admit that my favorite part of revising is all the colorful scribbles all over a printout of my work. 

However, I struggle with corralling all the paper of the printouts. Double-spacing a rough draft and printing it out takes roughly 200 pieces of paper. After I scribble all over it, I enter my changes on my computer and usually print it out again for more scribbles. On top of that, I print other things out during the revision process. Let’s just call it 500 sheets of paper per book that end up trashed. Besides the waste of the paper and ink, there’s also the cost of printing (toner or ink). That’s not a huge deal, but it still contributes.

What’s really difficult for me is keeping the papers organized and away from the kids. They love to “help” which usually equates to crayon scribbles all over my papers. Is it the end of the world? Of course not. Is it frustrating that I have to scrounge around the house for the pages they “revised” so I can do my own revisions? Of course. I thought it was a huge breakthrough when I started printing on three-hole punched paper so everything could go in a binder. (I admit, I’m often a bit slow on my “genius” ideas.)

Anyway, I’m starting revisions on the sequel of Letting Go this week. The first few days were spent reading over the rough draft (on my iPad Mini) and making notes of areas that need repair. I love this because I’m limited by what I’m willing to type on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. I sent it from Ulysses to my iPad (via AirDrop) as a PDF, then I used PDF Expert to mark it up. I highlighted typos, created a couple of custom stamps (“Set the Scene”, “Who Says?”, “HUH?", "BORING!", etc), and blasted through the rough draft in one day. There were a few spots where I made notes in the app, just to make sure I remembered what confused me about an area, but I tried to stick to the stamps.

After that, I propped my iPad up next to my computer and made the structural changes (moving scenes around, deleting things that had to go, doing the research that I skipped in my rough draft, making sure names were consistent all the way through the story). Then, I was all excited that I could get started on what I consider the funnest part of revision. I hit “Print” and started picking through my box of pens to decide my first victim (I'm a serial pen killer when revising).
I got out my binder, straightened the paper that came from my five year old printer, and put it in the binder. But when I started flipping pages, there was a problem. 

 A sneak peek of my rough draft for your entertainment.

A sneak peek of my rough draft for your entertainment.

I changed the toner cartridge. I cursed. I told myself I could work with what I have. I looked at my photo printer and shuddered at the thought of printing 177 pages on it. Not only is it slow, the ink had probably dried up since I seldom use it. I googled solutions. I cleaned the corona wire (while drinking a Rolling Rock-odd, huh?), and I cleaned the drum of my printer. Alas, none of it helped.

I googled some more and found the recommendation of “replace the drum of the printer.” I checked Amazon. $85 for the drum! A new, wireless laser printer with great ratings was only $90. 

 

Eighty-five dollars for a drum that may or may not fix my five-year-old printer. Or ninety dollars for a brand new printer that was smaller, faster, and would free up a huge chunk of my desk space.

I put the printer in my cart, along with a couple toner cartridges. 

But...

I didn’t complete my order. I decided that maybe this was just what I needed. Maybe this is the shove I need to switch over to a paperless writing cycle. Therefore, I now challenge myself to revising this book without printing another page (until I order my printed proof from CreateSpace, of course). 

So, here goes. I’m going to do this, and I’ll document my journey here, just in case you’re considering it as well. 

Have you considered a paperless writing cycle? What is your biggest concern/obstacle keeping you from taking the plunge?

Monday Mayhem

I didn't have a blog post planned for today, so I'm just going to fly by the seat of my pants this week. How about a little free-writing this morning? Normally, when I free-write it comes out like a journal or diary entry. That's not going to help me come up with any ideas. 

Not that I need any more ideas right now. I have a whole pile of stuff that I've started and set aside. I need to figure out what to do with those projects. Right now, I'm revising a novel that I wrote a long time ago. I want to say it's been at least ten years ago. 

Some things I've noticed as I've been revising that piece are:

  • it's not as bad as I thought,
  • the parts that have been heavily revised are the worst of it,
  • and don't ever throw away your rough draft. 

Some of the revised parts were so bad that it made my head hurt to even consider revising them. Since the latest version had veered so far off course from my original idea, I cut some scenes and replaced them with the original scenes from the rough draft. 

I literally, cut them out of the notebook I originally drafted it in and glued the pieces to printer paper so I could put it all in place. I'm surprised at how little I really had to change the rough draft portions. 

Which brings me to my next thought. I think I over-revise. At least I sure did on this piece. If I recall correctly, I did 7 revisions before I put it away, frustrated with it. I did something similar with Alaskan Recovery. I wrote the draft, then I revised and got another idea for Cari's character.

For those of you who haven't read Alaskan Recovery yet, I don't want to include any spoilers, but I will say that I wrote 100-150 pages of story that was essentially backstory. I spent years trying to figure out the best way to combine the two "stories". In the end, I cut the 100-150 pages of backstory and ended up back to the original story. 

I need to remember this with my upcoming projects. I don't want to spend ages revising and tweaking stuff that isn't necessary. I'm not saying that I can't add details and nuances in revisions, but I do need to ask myself whether or not I'm adding to the original story, or just obsessing with my characters and making my life more difficult than it needs to be.

So... now you can see how my mind works when I just let it go. I worry a lot about what I'm doing. Whether it's right, wrong, or just a waste of time. I think with my fingers as I type. And sometimes, I just need to see stuff on the screen to solidify it in my brain. 

There really wasn't much point to this blog post, other than I said I'd post every Monday. So here I am, posting. ;)

Facebook is the devil...

who steals my time. 
 

Okay, fine. It's my own fault. I'm the one who plays all those games. But I already told you that I have no focus.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been struggling to get back on track since my little writing retreat. Well, today, I bit the bullet and blocked all the Facebook games I've been playing. All except one. And just in case you were wondering how to do it, I took some screenshots for you. 

Enough, Lana! Stop wasting my time and tell me how to do it, already!

When you're logged into Facebook, go to the top right corner and click on the little triangle.

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Then click on "Settings".

On the left side of your page, click on "Blocking".

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Scroll down until you see "Block apps" on the left side of your page. Then start typing the name of the app/game that wastes too much of your time. A list will show up and you can select the one(s) you're blocking. 

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Now that you've blocked all your games on Facebook, you'll have lots of time to devote to writing, revising, proofreading, or whatever it is that you've been avoiding. :)

I lack... Focus.

I admit it. I've been having a hard time concentrating on my writing for the past few days. Last week, I had a mini writing retreat from Monday afternoon through Thursday morning. I accomplished a lot in those three days, but I've been struggling to get back into the swing of things now that I'm home. 

So, it's time to pull out some of my secret weapons. (Okay, they're not that secret, but they work for me.)

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Where do you find the time?

How many of you struggle to find time to write? To find time to do what you think you need to do throughout the day to achieve your writing goals? I bet every single person reading this wishes there were more hours in the day. Even if you're not into writing, you probably still have incomplete items on your daily "To Do List" at the end of the day. 

People often ask me, "Where do you find the time to get your stuff done?"

I find time just like anyone else who knows how to prioritize. Yes, I have kids, a husband, pets, a job, a house to clean, errands to run, and dinner to cook. There's lots of minutes in there where I don't need to do anything. Waiting for the water to boil to cook rice? I can get a few thoughts down, maybe even a few paragraphs if the kids are entertained with something.

Right now, I'm sitting next to the washing machine while it drains so I clean the filter. Rather than play Angry Birds on my phone, I'm typing. If I don't feel like writing when I'm doing something else, I do chores so I have uninterrupted time later. I can clean the bathroom while the kids play in the bathtub. Can you empty the dishwasher while your toast cooks? If not, maybe you should have darker toast tomorrow. ;)

While the kids are building forts in their bedroom, I can fold their laundry and put it away. Besides, the more little chores I finish throughout the day, the less stressed I am by the huge pileup of stuff that needs to be done before I can go to bed with a clear conscience. 

I'm not saying that you'll ever accomplish everything on your list. I know I won't. But, you can do little things throughout the day that will free up more time for your writing. Or whatever it is that you really want to spend more time doing. Who am I to judge if you're just trying to find more time to watch The Bachelor?

Is editing worth the price?

I keep asking myself if editing is worth the price. Other people have asked me, "Is editing worth the price?" Of course, your mileage will vary as will the cost. But, looking at this screen shot, I'm going to have to say, "Yeah. Pretty sure it was worth it." Letting Go changes

This is a view from Microsoft Word's "compare documents" feature. All the red indicates changes between the first document I sent my editing team and the final document that I published. I removed the "formatting changes" from this view.

As you can see, there's not a whole lot remaining from version one.

So, is editing worth the price? For me, it is.

How to outline a novel.

I've struggled with how to outline a novel for years. Today, I'm here to tell you what I've decided is the best method for me.

Screw the novel outline!

I'm not like everyone else. I've never felt like I fit in. I'm okay with that for the most part, until it comes to my writing process.

I've been struggling and struggling to find the "right way" to write and revise. All I've found is that I'm not getting anywhere. I get hung up trying to make sure I'm doing everything the way all the "how to write a novel" books say to do it.

    • Step 1: know the ending of your story
    • Step 2: know your characters inside out
    • Step 3: figure out what page everything needs to happen (beat sheets anyone?)
    • Step 4: have a complex outline
    • Step 5: follow your roadmap and write the novel
    • Step 6: revise
    • Step 7: submit/publish

Here's what I've found out. If I outline, I don't care to write the story. If I do force myself to write the story from the outline, I end up with X number of words. And I feel so proud of myself for writing an outlined story.

However, here's my issue. And it's a big one.

I get it back from my editor with comments like, "Your characters feel like they're doing stuff because they have to in order to advance the plot, not because they're acting as they should."

Well duh! Of course it feels that way, because I plotted it all out and told them to behave. The outline makes sense and will get us to the ending just fine.

Yeah, that's no good. What's the point of outlining and forcing myself to write the story if my characters feel fake and unlikeable?

What's the point of sitting around, figuring out exactly how this story is going to play out in an outline and not having any interest in it? Why am I trying to outline?

Ooh. That's a good question. Why am I trying to outline my novels?

Because I think it'll be easier to revise them. Why do I care about the ease of revising them? I like revising. I just want it to be faster. Why do I want my process to be faster? Because Authors A, B, and C are producing 6 novels a year and they're making more money than I am.

Here's the kicker. Here's what I have to accept. I'm not Author A, B, or C. I'm me.

I've always loved writing because while I'm writing a rough draft, I get to find out what happens to the characters. I get to know my characters. I get to find out how the story goes. And when I'm done with the rough draft, I get to go back and scribble all over my manuscript, improving it.

And by the time my book makes it to the reader, it's not the same book it was when I started writing it. I'm okay with that. I'm not okay with not enjoying the process.

So right now, I'm telling you guys this. I'm aiming for three novels a year.

But I'm also telling you that I can't tell you what those three novels will be. And I can't tell you if they're going to be a part of a series. I can't even tell you if they'll be romance or not.

They'll be whatever shows up on my paper when I write by hand. Because yes, I'm going back to writing my drafts by hand, because that's what I like to do. It's not fast, and it's not the way I should do it if I want to be productive. But it's my way.

My way worked well enough for the rough drafts of Letting Go, Alaskan Healing, and Faceoff of the Heart. Don't fix it if it ain't broken. Right?

 

Trial and Error

I feel like my writing is a process of trial and error. And right now, it seems like everything I try is an error. Just when I think I've got a system figured out, I fail. The good news is that failing and frustration mean I'm trying new things. Growth is painful. The bad news is that I get discouraged.

Here I am again, trying to outline but feeling that outlining is a pain in the butt and not the way my brain works. On the other hand, if I could get an awesome outline figured out, I feel like my revisions would be so much easier.

Then I'm back to, "But once I know how the story ends, I don't have much interest in writing it."

Someone shoot me now.

 

Outlining by the Seat of my Pants

For years, when I wrote my stories, I had no plan. I'd just have an idea stuck in my head, usually a character in a scene and I'd write that scene down with pen on paper. And sometime while I was writing that scene, I'd figure out what happened next. I'd continue that way until I ran out of ideas. Sometimes, my ideas would continue until I had 30-40,000 words. Often, the ideas would stop around 15,000 words. I was fine with that. I was only writing for my own entertainment then. I've gone back to three of those "pantsed" novels now and I'm in the revision process. My editors have said the same thing about them. "You should outline these and make sure all the subplots are taken care of. Then you can start editing and revising."

Well, hell. If I have to outline it anyway, I might as well try doing it before I write it. Maybe that way I'll have a better chance of it all making sense. Maybe I won't have to spend so darn much time editing and revising for big plot holes. Maybe it'd be easier to get the rough draft done. All of those maybes culminate with Maybe if I outlined, I'd get more of my stories out of my head and onto paper quicker, leaving me more time to dream up new stories.

I've tried various outlining methods.

None of them really clicked for me. I've even done it my own way. Take a pile of little square sticky notes and write down all the ideas I have for stuff that happens in the story. (They're not necessarily whole scenes, more like things that happen, beats of action.) Then I play around with those sticky notes until the order makes sense. This worked well for planning Alaskan Healing and Alaskan Hope.

Anyway, today I decided to make use of one of my tiny Moleskine notebooks. I'd been discussing ideas for a couple different books with my friend and wanted to get my ideas down before I forgot them. So, I filled out a simple beat sheet (found on the beat sheet link above) with an inciting incident, turning point, climax, denouement, etc. Then I took my little book and counted the pages (80 if I use both sides of each page) which works out great because my books run about 40 scenes.

So I took my beat sheet, adjusted the "word count goal" to 11,000 to get 40 pages. That told me  what number each of the main scenes fell on in my 40 pages of the notebook. (The two books go together, so I'm outlining them together in the same Moleskine.)

Then I went through the Moleskine and added those main scenes on the correct pages. After that, I decided which scenes would be from what perspective (I'm doing alternate perspectives throughout both of these books. Male main character and female main character.) That way I knew that all of the left facing pages would be Character A and all the right facing pages would be Character B. I added scenes to the Moleskine as I thought of them, and as of right now I have a book completely outlined.

The second book has a few important scenes sorted out already, but not all of them. As they come to me, I'll add them to the Moleskine.

As I get ideas for each scene that's already listed, I can add that to the tiny notebook which I intend to have with me everywhere. (It's really similar to how people plot with notecards, I guess) but it's easier for me to keep track of one notebook instead of 40 cards. :)

Self-sabotaging behavior

Why do I sabotage my own success? And how do I stop it?

How many of us have been close to a goal and suddenly we make horrible decisions, thwarting our efforts to reach what we believe is our ultimate dream?

I do this in a couple different facets of my life. Right now, the place I sabotage myself the most is with osing weight. I’ve been unhappy with my weight for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, I thought I was fat. But now, I suspect I just wasn’t “the same” as everyone else which was a bigger issue than I cared to admit. However, I have been grossly overweight for about fifteen years.

Eleven months ago, I had our third baby and I was tired of being tired all the time. It was hard work to chase my other two kids and my energy level was always non-exisitent. At that time, I decided to start working out and following a nutrition plan. It was hard, but I did great.

After 60 days, I was down 11.8 pounds and 18.75 inches. I felt amazing. I took a couple weeks off to “relax” and then started another fitness program. This one was 90 days long and I didn’t like the workout as much, but my real issue was with following the nutrition guide.

Right now, I’m 13.6 pounds lighter than I was when I started last October. I’ve been bouncing around between 171 and 168 for the last six months and I can’t figure out why. Well, I know that it’s because I’m eating crap, but I can’t figure out why I eat crap when I know that I need to eat healthy foods to reach my goal. (I’m still 40 pounds away from my goal).

Anyway, I know what I have to do to reach those goals. I have to exercise daily and eat healthy foods and stay within my calorie range. It’s not rocket science, but I’m not doing it. I go shopping to buy healthy foods and I end up buying peanut butter cup Oreos. I go out with my family to eat and I choose pizza and beer rather than grilled chicken or salmon (both of which I love).

I’ve ben trying to figure out why I self-sabotage. Why do I choose to have a Coke when I know it’s not going to help me reach my goals? Is it because I’m thrilled to be a size 8 instead of an 18? Is it really because I work so hard that I think I deserve a reward?  Or is it simply because I don’t believe I can be as small as I want? (Don’t freak out, I’m not talking crazy tiny. I just want to be fit. And in a size 6.)

I look at myself in the mirror and I’m not happy with what I see, yet it’s so much better than it was. I’m starting to think that I just don’t believe in myself. I don’t believe I can get down to a size 6, which is ridiculous. I can get my goal jeans on. I can even button and zip them. I just can’t move once they’re on.

I’ve done some reading on self-sabotaging behaviors. Sadly, I didn’t find a cure-all method. But I did realize that maybe there isn’t an answer. It wasn’t easy to lose that first 11.8 pounds, but I did it because I followed the plan exactly. That’s what I need to do to lose weight.

It’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to do it. And I’m going to follow this plan exactly as written for the next 60 days. I’m not going to weight myself until 30 days in. And on that day, I will post of my success. Because dag nab it, I CAN do this. I WILL do this.

Tomorrow is a new day, and I’ll be a new an improved me, with my healthy foods and regular workouts every day.

Keep on keeping on.

I've been trying to figure out what readers really want to see on my blog. I doubt most of you really care about my struggles to deal with software or computer issues. I suspect only a handful of you care about my writing process, and I KNOW there are lots of blogs out there with more helpful advice for writers than this one. So really, what is it that you guys visit my blog for? I'd love to know so I can provide something interesting for you to read. I need some direction. Tell me what you'd like to see.

Since I'm here, I'll share a bit of what's new in my life.

Professional: I'm a full time writer now. Well, as full time as a person can be with 3 small children, 2 dogs, 3 cats, a husband, and too many hobbies.

Health: I've lost about 15 pounds in the past 6 months and have never felt better. If you'd like more details, let me know!

Family: We had our third child (our second daughter) in August 2013. She's currently teething and cranky. Our eldest child (our son) is going to start 4K in September.

Pets: We're holding steady at two dogs (Dogues de Bordeaux) and three cats (all rescues).

Writing: I'm currently working on edits for Letting GoAlaskan Hope, and an unnamed novel. I also have several ideas I'm mulling over.

An update on some projects...

Alaskan Hope has been sent off to the editor. I'm sure she'll have a ton of suggestions for me, but at least I'm moving forward with it. Letting Go finally resembles a cohesive novel. I had a lot of trouble getting it to work the way I wanted it to, but I think I'm there with it. Again, much work needed, but the hardest part is done. My editor intends to start working on that the first week of January.

Now, I'm trying to decide where to go next. I have signed up for NaNoWriMo. I have a very rough idea to work with. But I'm excited about it.

That leaves me roughly a week to find something else to do with my time. I'm not sure what that's going to be. There's plenty of chores I've neglected which I could do, but... I think I'll look over my list of writing projects and see if any of them speak to me. I'm sure I have something in the trunk-o-writing-junk that can be salvaged.

A general update on... things

I see it's been nearly a month since I posted anything. Well, you probably didn't know, but I've been hiding out in the mountains of northern Idaho, near a historic silver mining town, gathering berries and story ideas, while avoiding the people who wish me dead. No, seriously, I'm still where I always am, doing what I always do. I've just being some prioritizing. In case you didn't know, I'm currently awaiting the arrival of my third child, who is due to arrive almost any day. My belly makes it hard to use the laptop (my lap seems to be missing). And it's uncomfortable to sit for any length of time at my desk to use the external keyboard.

I also have returned to work after six months of being laid off due to lack of work. While it's the same position I held before, with the same company, some things have changed in the six months, which leaves me struggling to do some things that used to be simple. It's good to learn new things though.

Other than that, there's not much worth discussing from my personal life.

If you're curious about the progress of my writing (and really, why else would you read my blog), I have been plugging away at my revisions on Alaskan Hope. I have also shared it with a couple of friends who are telling me all that's wrong with it. They think they're hurting my feelings, but I LOVE all the information and feed back they've given me so far. (Thanks Jennifer and Shelia! You ladies ROCK!)

And now, this is where I admit the truth. I'm so far behind my self-imposed deadlines, I don't have any idea when it'll be available. Right now, I'm forcing myself to focus on making it as wonderful as possible instead of being done as quickly as possible.

Please be patient. I honestly believe it will be worth the wait and will be much better than my previous books.

Ah-ha! A new idea...

As you know, I just finished a rough draft of a novel that I've been struggling with for nearly a year. Tonight, as I'm planning my revisions, a new idea popped into my head. I'm not willing to share many details, because I suspect I'll lose interest once I start sharing my idea. However, this idea is based on a tiny tidbit of information I learned about one of my relatives when I was doing some genealogical research. Which means, it'd be set in the past, not my normal comfort zone, but I'm eager to get started.

My plans for this story consist of: no plans, no outline, just writing as it comes to me. That is, when I have time to get started.

Now, if someone can just explain to me why I get all my ideas when I already have a huge pile of projects underway and a time crunch.

 

So tell me, is this an opening that would intrigue you?

"What do you mean, he hung himself? That's ridiculous. He wouldn't hang himself."

"That’s what the police claim."

"That's BS." I was so upset at the thought of people believing he'd killed himself that I didn't even really comprehend that my grandfather was dead. He was my only relative in this country. He'd come over from Bohemia with my mother and I, to ensure we weren't taken advantage of while we got on our feet in the United States. Mother had died a few months ago in an accident at the market.

Grandpa would never leave me on purpose. Not when I was just getting over the loss of my mother.

"He was found hanging from the tree in back of the apartment."

"That's ludicrous." I yawned, exhausted. I'd been to help a friend of my mother's for a couple days. She'd been burned at the laundry where she worked. Burns on her hands had made it impossible to care for her children. It was now early morning, the roosters were barely crowing, and I was walking home with the boy who lived next to my grandfather and I.

"But why would he kill himself?" I asked again.

"I don't know. The policeman told me to fetch you."

"Well, what if I don't feel like being fetched?"

"Look, Lucy. Whether or not you want to be fetched, I don't need the police looking at me too closely. So you're being fetched. Maybe they can explain all this to you."

"Maybe they can, but I doubt it." I, like most other immigrants, had a deep-rooted suspicion and fear of the police. In our home country, they were corrupt and easily bought for a few coins. Here, we suspected it was the same.

I grabbed Joseph's arm and stopped walking. "Wait. What do you mean, you don't want them to look at you? What have you done?"

Any interest at all?

Random Thoughts About Writing

Today, I'm just going to post some random thoughts about writing I've had lately. I've been pushing myself to finish this rough draft and it's a struggle. However, the 100 Day Challenge has been helping force me to write daily. Even if I don't do the prompt posted, I've been writing. And of course the BIW Challenge was a huge help this month. I only have a few more chapters to finish writing then I can announce that the rough draft is done. Random Thought #1: I see many similarities to my writing attitude and my 3.5 year old son's attitude.

Some examples:

  • He likes to yell for help, even though he doesn't need it. He just needs to do whatever it is. This is comparable to me spending hours online looking for the best way to do something. I don't have to do it the best way, I just have to do it.
  • He continually tells me, "It's hard," and pretends to cry when he's trying to build a "fort" in the living room. My response is usually, "Of course it's hard, but you're doing great. Just keep trying." Why can't I remember this when I want to whine and pout about how hard it is to string together 80 thousand words in a manner that makes sense?
  • He's indecisive about what he wants to eat. He requests one thing, I make it, and he declares, "I don't like it." That's just like me being excited about something I'm working on, but quickly changing my mind and wanting to work on something else, in the hope that the other project will be easier.

Random Thought #2: I should be more like my 22 month old daughter.

Examples:

  • She's perfectly content to admit "I'm stuck" and she just keeps trying different things until she's unstuck.
  • Her big brother knocks her down when they're playing and she just bounces back up and goes back to her thing.
  • She goes with the flow when it interests her, otherwise, she's happy to do her own thing, even if it's not the way something is supposed to be done.

Random Thought #3: I should appreciate every second I have to enjoy my kids at this age and not worry so much about deadlines that I inflict upon myself. There will always be another story idea, another hour to write, another weekend where the kids are visiting Grandma and I can focus completely. My babies will only be this age for a little while.

Random Thought #4: I should quit blogging and get back to writing. :)

What random thoughts do you have about writing? Does your writing behavior ever remind you a toddler's behavior?

Unemployment != Lots of Time to Write

I've always dreamed of having the chance just to hang out and plenty of time to write, with no other employment obligations. What writer doesn't think, "Wow. If I didn't have to do X, Y, and Z for 40 hours a week, I'd be so productive. My  writing would take off like crazy because I'd have 40 hours free every week just to focus on my imaginary worlds." In December, I was informed by my boss that I'd be laid off at the end of the year due to lack of work. I was excited, knowing that I'd collect some unemployment and have "free time" to write. I assumed I'd get a couple rough drafts completed, start revising, do an outline of a new idea, and even get in the habit of blogging regularly (on both my blogs).

After a couple months, I accepted that I was delusional and reassessed my goals. I would be happy if I was blogging regularly and finished the rough draft I've been focusing on lately. If I could move along with Alaskan Hope, that'd be a bonus.

However, in the past five months, I've got so little accomplished that it's embarrassing. I should have finished at least a draft on one (two would be better) stories that are all outlined. Instead, I've been spending my time sleeping and playing facebook games. I've also compiled an enormous list of things I'd like to buy. Funny how much I think I should purchase when I have no paycheck.

I could make a pile of excuses like:

  • My husband has been working lots of hours, so when he's home (and needs to sleep), I have a hard time saying, "Hey, watch your kids for a few hours so I can concentrate on writing."
  • I'm pregnant and tired.
  • It's hard to concentrate with two little kids running around.
  • I don't sleep well, so when I get a chance I want to nap.
  • I'm not inspired. And when I do get inspired, it's generally at some ungodly hour of the night and I know I have to get up with my kids in a few hours, so I make a note and go back to sleep. By the time I get a chance to work on the idea that inspired me, my interest has waned.

But the truth is, I'm not doing what I need to be doing in order to get my stuff finished. I have three novels completely outlined, rough drafts of two others that need some major work, and ideas up the proverbial wazoo. But nothing is getting done. I'm not sure if it's because I lack any sense of urgency to complete my current projects, I've lost interest in my projects, or I just plain enjoy being lazy and spending time playing with my kids.

While I'm not going to end up living in a cardboard box when my unemployment runs out, money is a nice commodity. I applied for a few jobs in my "chosen profession" this week. And I suspect if I get hired, magically, all I will be interested in is writing. But for now, I still want to sit on the couch with the dogs and kids while playing Words with Friends.

Does anyone else have issues being productive when there isn't a deadline looming? Do you work better under pressure? Have tips to force myself to work?

How do I turn an idea into a plot?

One of my readers asked me how I turn a single idea into a plot. Rather than just spout off some quick answer, I decided it’d make a good blog post, so here goes. To clarify, Merriam-Webster defines “plot” as the plan or main story. So, the question really is how do I come up with my story?

It partially depends what kind of idea I have in my mind.

Alaskan Healing

With Alaskan Healing, my initial idea was “What if a woman gets hired on a crab fishing boat in the Bering Sea?” From there, I brainstormed a bunch of possible things that could happen.

  • she could punch the boss
  • she could fall in love with a crewmember
  • she could save someone’s life
  • she could be injured
  • someone from her past could end up on the boat

Those are some of the ideas I had that made it into the story. I came up with 20-30 possibilities and started writing each “occurrence'”. So in that case, I just threw a bunch of possible “plot points” on a piece of paper and rearranged them until they made sense chronologically. Some I didn’t use, and of course there were areas that were missing something, so I had to figure out what happened between them.

It was easier to start Alaskan Healing because of the rough outline I had, but I didn’t stick to the outline for the entire process.

Faceoff of the Heart

Faceoff of the Heart, was written in a different manner. I sat down on November 1st, 2006, and started writing. I was addicted to watching hockey that season, but determined to complete National Novel Writing Month. A novel about hockey was the obvious solution. I could watch games and write at the same time.

I didn’t plan anything ahead of time. I just started writing and kept writing (and watching hockey) through the month, and at the end of November, I had just over 50,000 words in a rough draft. I tucked it into my “trunk-o-writing-junk” and forgot about it.

I found it last fall and decided to revise and edit it. At that point, I made a rough outline of what I had, and decided what drivel needed to be removed. That left me a really short novella instead of a novel, but I had a good idea who the characters were and how they interacted, so it wasn’t terribly difficult to come up with some more scenes to add. And I had to decide on an ending, I didn’t bother doing that on the rough draft.

I like learning the story as I write it without planning.

Another Example

Often, I only have a scene in my mind when I start thinking of a story. If that’s the case,

I write that one scene, hoping to get a feel for the characters. Here’s a shortened version of the possible ways' I’d turn that into an entire novel, if the scene really stuck in my head.

A man steals a hot dog from a vendor, running off before paying. A woman witnesses it, and for some reason, pays the vendor, makes it seem normal and then follows the man. (I’d probably write around a thousand words for this scene, just because that’s what scenes average in my rough drafts.)

When I finish that scene, I’d ask myself, “What if she found him?” And I’d start the next scene that pops into my head.

She asked the man, “Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Steal a hot dog?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“Because it’s wrong. The vendor needs the money, otherwise he’d just be giving them away.”

The man refused to meet her gaze. “He deserved it. Besides, it’s not for me.”

“Who’s it for?”

At this point, I’d have to stop and decide who the hot dog is for and whether the man is going to tell the woman anything, or walk away. Or? What else could he do?

“Here hold this,” he said and thrust the coney dog at her. The scent of saur kraut sickened her, but she held on to it.

“Hey! Come on. I got her,” the man yelled and suddenly the duo was surrounded by uniformed police officers, with shields and masks.

“What the hell?” she muttered and considered running, she hadn’t done anything wrong. But clearly, they’d realize she was innocent. It’d just take a few seconds to explain and she’d be back to work at her boring desk job, wishing for five o’clock and a martini.

So I’d figure out how this scene ended, and then ask myself, “Now what?”

Once I have an idea of where the story’s going, how the characters behave, I tend to sit down and write out a list of possible things that happens in the story.

The cops don’t believe the woman.

She ends up in jail

The vendor can’t be found to corroborate her story

The original thief shows up, wearing a disguise, and bails her out of jail

She doesn’t trust him but agrees to talk to him, there must be some crazy explanation for this.

He buys her a martini

He explains himself (not sure what his excuse is yet)

The next morning she goes to work and gets fired.

 

I consider that list of possible things in the story to be my outline. It changes as I write, but if I get stuck, I have something to fall back on.

 

My process for my current WIP is much like Faceoff of the Heart. I wrote a couple of rough drafts years ago and decided that I still liked the characters, but the two stories were similar in some ways so I combined them into one story. I’ve added a few scenes to transition, made lots of changes so they’re cohesive as one story, and now I have another idea to give the story more depth.

The plot hasn’t changed much, the main story is still “Girl wants a family of her own”, but there are more items in my outline now. I’m currently trying to fit the new “scenes/occurrences” in the correct spots in draft. Then I’ll be ready to start revising and editing.

Combining Two Rough Drafts into One Novel - Part 3

This is the last post regarding combining two rough drafts into one novel. The first one can be found here and the second, here. It's been a heck of a struggle, but I'm happy now with what I'm considering the rough draft of Letting Go (working title). Some difficulties I ran into were: characters (names, ages, descriptions, etc.) Thankfully (?) I'm not very descriptive in my rough drafts so it wasn't too hard to change those things. I did have some problems with getting the names right throughout. For example, using "Find and Replace" to change "Matt" into "Lance" resulted in several places that said, "What really Lanceers is..."

Looking on the bright side, I now realize that I overused the phrase "What really matters," in dialogue.

This was the first time in quite a while that I've actually used scissors and tape to cut sections of the manuscript up and move it around. I probably should have used Scrivener, but I was being stubborn and didn't want to fight with software. That's a mistake that wasted a lot of time for me. Today, after I made all the changes in Pages, I copied and pasted all the new text into Scrivener. I should have just left it in Scrivener and figured out how to make it do what I wanted.

Now that I have a rough draft of one story, I'm letting it sit for a few days before I start my normal revision process. While it sits, I have a notepad nearby so I can scribble any ideas that pop into my head. This way, I might have things sorted out in my head when I start to mark up the next revision. I know many areas are skimpy on details and I add things throughout my revision process.

Combining Two Rough Drafts into One Novel - Part 2

Last time I posted, I stated I was working on combining two similar stories into one novel. I've been trying to focus solely on the first revision for the past week. Of course, kids and life refused to let me focus as completely as I would have liked, but I've made some progress. As I mentioned previously, I have a big pile of paper on my desk and a short list of things I felt needed to be changed. The first 80 pages were pretty simple to revise, just a few little things to change, like character names, time frames, etc.

While I was working on that section and not making many changes, I couldn't decide whether it was because it was so awful, I had no hope of it ever being better, or if it really wasn't too bad. I knew all along that things would get much more complicated when I got to the "second story".

Well, I'm to the "second story" now, and it's a mess. I've been working and working on it. From page 81 to 111 has taken me most of the past week. And I know it's not going to get any easier in the near future. But, it will be so much better than I originally thought when it is complete.

Now, some thoughts on what I should have done differently. Instead of starting at page 1 and going through the manuscript chronologically, I think I should have made a list of things I needed to fix and then prioritized them (biggest issue to smallest issue). It would have made more sense then trying to remember everything I'm changing and trying to keep coherent. At least, it seems like it would be easier. Whether it really would have been easier is debatable. (I suspect, no matter what, revisions on this novel will be complicated while I patch things together.)

I'm having a hard time remembering that instead of playing with Frankenstein, I should just figure out what I want to convey in each scene and rewrite it if there are a lot of changes. It would probably be quicker and would definitely make future revisions simpler. However, I'm stubborn. And often make things harder than they need to be.