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Posts Tagged ‘writing process’

20171031_184458~01~01.jpgI’m sitting here at my desk with a cup of coffee to hand, thinking up fantastic stories that will hopefully come to fruition in the next 30 days. It’s dark outside and I feel like utter crap, but my brain won’t shut down for the night. That’s because November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I am once again taking on the daunting task of writing 50,000 words in a month. This is my sixth year doing NaNo, but there was a time when I never thought I’d ever even attempt it.

For a long time I was simply a writer of short works: short stories and poems were my forte, and I didn’t stray too far from those. They were creature comforts for me, as reliable as Old Yeller and much cuddlier. People would sometimes ask me if I was ever going to try and write a novel, and I would laugh at them. “Why would I stretch outside my comfort zone?” For me it was an easy answer, because for me it was all about doing what was easy back then.

My wife, upon hearing that I was gearing up for yet another NaNoWriMo, good-heartedly joked, “So we won’t see you for the next month.” On some level that’s about the extent of it, honestly, because NaNo takes a singular commitment. It means setting word limits every single day and hitting those word limits, come sleet, snow, or hail… you know, or even the dreaded writer’s block. It’s particularly tricky when faced with all that life likes to throw in the way, but that’s also what makes it so satisfying. When I look up on November 30 and realize I’ve surpassed 50,000 words in one month I raise my hands high like a fighter who has gone 12 rounds with a behemoth.

So I’m ready to begin again, but this time will be different from the ones that have preceded it. For one, I won’t be writing something directly from scratch. With ever other NaNo I came into it with some ideas but nothing really set in stone. This time, though, I’m writing a sequel, which is a first for me. I’ve never written any kind of series, for probably the same reason I hadn’t written a full novel until seven years ago. Once I had the idea of writing a novel under my belt it became relatively easy to write with that in mind. But a series… well, it takes that much more commitment and an ability to take your characters and seamlessly slide them into another world, even if it’s the same world.

I guess it would have made more sense to just write 200,000 words in one shot, then separate all those words into two or three separate books, but I can’t imagine writing that way. For me every book has to have a beginning and an end, and splitting something in the middle seems just a tad bit wrong. Besides, now that I’m up for challenging myself, why not add on some more pressure? Maybe I should have waited until my 10th NaNo to attempt it, but I’m feeling like it’s time now.

Which reminds me, I’m tackling this as a YA series, something else I’ve never really done before (the first book hasn’t been released yet). It’s fascinating to me to write something so foreign to me, and yet I absolutely adored the first volume in the series. I knew while I was writing it that I wasn’t done with the characters, but I never thought far ahead enough to know exactly where I would take them next. Or where they would take me next.

I have a title, and that’s a start. I also have a chronology that I’m thinking will go in the beginning of every book in the series. It’s a start indeed. And first thing tomorrow I’m going to begin the beginning, as I attempt to string thread from where the first book ended off to where this one enters in. My thoughts have gone many places, from when I first decided to attempt to do this, to right now on the verge of actually digging in. Either I will get through it or I won’t.

But I think I will. Now I just need to begin.

Sam

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nanowrimoWriting is a process. I’ve always thought that, but it’s only been lately that I’ve honestly tried to pick it apart, at least my own process. That’s because up until 2012 I hadn’t focused on writing larger works. I had been content with shorter pieces like short stories and poetry, which didn’t require too much picking apart. But to write over 100 pages of prose requires a breaking down of plot in a way I had never thought of before.

And every November I put that process to the test, participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Some years I go into it unprepared, waiting for the muse to take over after I’ve already started the story, and others I come in with a character list, a plot summary, and an ending already mapped out. Either way, however, I put the process to the test. It looks something like this…

  1. Is my story going to be character driven or setting driven? Or both?
  2. Is my protagonist one character or two?
  3. What is my point of view?
  4. What will my story progression look like?
  5. Will this be a mystery or not?
  6. What will be my starting sentence?
  7. Who is my supporting cast?
  8. Add details.

This year I had absolutely no idea where I was going to go with my story. All I knew was that I had a male protagonist, that I was going to write in third person, and that my goal was 2,000 words per day. So far, through three days of NaNoWriMo I have a male protagonist who has already run into a couple of surprises. I have been writing it in a present tense, third person narrative. And I’ve hit my 2,000 words per day. It only gets harder from here, though.

Word Count: 6,713 words.

Sam

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imageIf I had to describe the difference between my written words and my spoken words I would have to say that in writing I feel so much more comfortable. I think it shows too.

I remember one of the first times my wife observed me writing, she said that it looked like I was in another world, and I guess I am. There’s just something to be said for crafting words from thin air, or more accurately creating words to describe feelings and motivations. It’s not easy, but it is exciting, that path from nothing to something, the filling in of white space with black letters strung together and bled out.

When I first started writing it wasn’t that way, not really. I wrote because I needed to do something to deal with my emotions, and punching the wall wasn’t yielding quality results (not to mention it hurt my hand). So I took an old composition book, turned to a new page, and started scribbling random words down, pressing down hard with the 2008-words_JUSTpencil until the lead snapped. As time passed I learned how to reduce the random nature of those words, how to channel them to soothe my jangled nerves instead of fighting with the pencil.

Those first few writings were still scattered, though, because my brain was always going a mile a minute and I tried to get everything down as quickly as it came to me. That proved to be a huge mistake, and my writing suffered for it because it took me ages to discover and fix the problem, to begin organizing my thoughts so they wouldn’t overwhelm me. Then it became magic.

When I say magic I mean that every time I sit down to write it has a calming effect because it takes me to other worlds, even if the writing is non-fiction. There’s nothing quite like picking the precise word to convey the exact emotion I hope to portray. When a sentence comes together like they often do, there’s nothing better to me. More often than not I sit down to write this blog and an idea just pops into my head that I end up fleshing out and publishing.

The beauty, the joy of text, is in its idea and execution. It’s one thing to have a million ideas, and to even speak them aloud, but they don’t take on an actual form and solidity until they’re down on paper, or burned into this flash drive. Often when I look back on something I wrote last week, last month, last year, or 10 years ago, I notice things I didn’t see back then. I’m often amazed at how language speaks through me, and not the other way around.

Sam

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Scraps of papers on tiled floorFor the first time in my life I have been able to stick to a writing schedule, and I’ve been able to do it more than once. 2013 was spent writing, writing, and writing some more. I finished rough drafts of two novels, edited another, and my debut novel, Detours, was released in April. Through it all I have also been able to maintain three blogs, two of which will be getting major makeovers in the next month or so. It has been the singularly most prolific year for me, writing-wise, and I have so many people to thank for making that a reality: my wife, my children, my coworkers, my Facebook friends, my real friends, and random strangers who I’ve come in contact with who have made me ponder some things. I never know where inspiration is going to come from, and I have so many who have inspired me just this year alone.

So, with that in mind, I have an announcement to make, and I’m nothing but giddy about it. My second novel will be released on February 18, 2014. The date is as firm as it can be, and I’m so excited to be able to announce it. Of course that means that between now and then there will be a whirlwind of activity to get ready for the release. I will be updating the progress here on my Journal in installments along the way so you can travel this road with me. I wasn’t able to do that with Detours, not like I wanted to, so this time around I will revel in the adventure. Here’s where I am in the process…

EDITING

Keep in mind that I’ve gone through the manuscript with a fine tooth comb no less than three times already, from start to finish, but during those other editing sessions I was first reading for grammatical correctness, for punctuation errors, and for general understanding. Now I’m working on character and plot issues, including character and plot development and accuracy within their prescribed areas in the novel. I am basically working through each character and his/her interactions with others, and then going through each plot point and fleshing it out. If you were wondering, this part of the editing process takes a lot longer than the initial rough edits, but it’s a lot more satisfying in the end. (more…)

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A middle-aged writer sits at his desk in preparation for the experience, with pen in hand, a drink just out of reach, and classical music spinning on the record player in the opposite corner. The sound is set on low so as not to disturb the creative process. He will often turn it down even lower once he has gotten into the flow. This writer has a specific time to write as well. Always at 9 o’clock at night and 5 o’clock in the morning. He has tried to write at other times, to no avail. He has also tried typing his words on a word processor, but the words won’t come when he uses that modern technology. The typewriter in the corner mocks him, but he cannot use it either. Only pen on paper can satisfy his creative muse. Once everything is finally in place, he exhales and finally begins to write, looking at his pre-writing notes every once in awhile to keep him on task. He never deviates from the notes because he is very disciplined. He is a writer.

“Amazingly enough, you’d think with as prolific as I am on here, I would have no time to write anything that is unrelated to the blog, but you would be wrong.”

And he is NOT me. Not at all. That is probably the furthest from my own writing process as you can get and still call yourself a writer. I have never been like that, and I never will be. But that’s not to say people like that are wrong. Everyone is an individual, and if that works for some people, so be it. I myself don’t have a particular time when the muse strikes. In fact, sometimes it will hit me smack dab in the middle of the day when I’m doing about 10 different things, but I have to stop whatever I’m doing (unless I’m at work, then I put it on pause) and type in whatever has come to me. If I’m out and about, I just use my phone’s wordpress app (it’s a godsend), or if I’m at home I just type it either in Word or in the blog draft feature (also a godsend). If I don’t get those words out right away they will shift, and who knows what will come of it, if anything. I don’t freak, though, if the moment passes and I haven’t written down what has been dictated by my wild muse (I call her Elizabeth). It was meant to be. And I just wait for the next moment.

Amazingly enough, you’d think with as prolific I am on here, I would have no time to write anything that is unrelated to the blog, but you would be wrong. I often write snippets that never make their way to the blog, or poems that are just for me. And, of course, I have larger pieces as well that will eventually make their way into novel form, etc. I also have no pre-writing that I look at, or at least nothing I created primarily to work later into either a blog entry or something else. Instead, I tend to work and re-work on the piece itself, as if it were a rough draft. And sometimes I don’t re-work it at all, especially not on here. Usually the thoughts as they come into my head make their way to the blog unfiltered and fresh. It’s almost like a direct upload, from brain to fingers. And hit “Publish.”

“Sometimes the song will even affect what I write, or help to shape it some way, shape, or form. I call it artistic transference.”

Music is also directly involved in the process, but classical isn’t what I listen to while writing. Generally I’ll just put my iPod on shuffle and see what comes up. For example, as I type this, Phil Collins is singing “Domino,” with Genesis, from the 1985 album Invisible Touch (Yes, I know all of my songs, albums, and year the album was released, even though I have over 27,000 songs on my iPod). It’s a great song, but next up might be Ludacris, or Moby, or Alanis Morissette, or Brad Paisley. You just never know, and that’s what I love about it. Sometimes the song will even affect what I write, or help to shape it in some way, shape, or form. I call it artistic transference. I love when that happens.

The easiest genre for me to write is actually the short story. I love the form, the possibilities for creativity, and the idea of stepping outside of myself and inhabiting a different character, for even a short while. I usually write my short stories in first person and in present tense, too, so it makes the experience more immediate and real to me. I’ve experimented with other forms like third person, omniscient,. and past tense, but I tend to return to first person, present tense because of that feel. The second easiest is poetry, and I approach it in so many different ways. I love repetition, so many of my poems have repetition in them. I also love irony and personification, so they usually make their way in as well. Poetry is my outlet when I’m fighting with emotions, or when I’m approaching artwork, as an interpretation technique. The hardest thing for me to write is long form. It has been a labor of love and perseverance, every single time I’ve approached writing a novel-length piece. The only time it has been relatively easy for me was this past November when I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m not normally so great with deadlines, but I hit and exceeded every single one I set for myself that month.

“Writing is the best way to talk without being interrupted.” -Jules Renard

I can’t remember the last thing I wrote freehand, by the way. My handwriting is pretty terrible (the curse of the English teacher), and it takes me much longer to write than it does to type, so I generally type everything. It saves time transferring writings to a word processor, though, and I’m taking time every day to copy over a lot of my early works that only exist on paper at the moment. I’ve also just discovered Office on my phone, so I can create Word documents and save them there too. Now, if I can figure out how to use the wireless printer that would be amazing as well. At the moment I have two drafts in process for this blog, and I have some good thoughts for both of them. And I’m also writing my first romance novel on my phone’s version of Word. It’s definitely a change from what I usually write (mystery). We’ll see how it turns out.

That’s my process. What’s yours?

Sam

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