On Writing With A Plan

I’m blogging a series that I’m calling “Stop Thinking About Writing…And Just Write!” Thinking about writing is easy. When I mention that I’m a writer, people often say, “Oh, I’ve thought about writing a book.” My encouragement to anyone who has had that thought is, stop thinking that. Just do it. Writing can be difficult but it’s worth it to give it a try. So here are some of my thoughts on the process. Six thoughts, actually. The first was Write Every Day. Next…

#2: Write With a Plan

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On Writing Every Day

Over the next few weeks I’m blogging a series that I’m calling “Stop Thinking About Writing…And Just Write!” Thinking about writing is easy. When I mention that I’m a writer, people often say, “Oh, I’ve thought about writing a book.” My encouragement to anyone who has had that thought is, stop thinking that. Just do it. Writing can be difficult but it’s worth it to give it a try. So here are some of my thoughts on the process. Six thoughts, actually.

#1: Write Every Day

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On Why Weak Characters are Plot Killers

Much has been said on the subject of plot vs. characters. I’m not sure why it’s a debate. When writing fiction, you have a plot, and you have characters. Both are equally important. No one cares about the plot unless they care about the characters, and no one wants to read stories about people who never do anything.

I have heard a sage piece of writing advice, passed down from writer to writer until no one knows who first said it: “Every scene must move the plot forward.” It is true. Each scene must have a purpose, and even if the main purpose is character development or setting, it must tie to the plot somehow. It’s easy to get carried away writing a scene that has developed in my head and forget about this important truth. That’s why books are written on plot and structure and why outlines are important, to remind creative writers not to get so carried away with their creativity and their characters that they lose the plot. But it’s also possible to become so tied to your plot that you lose your characters. And when you lose your characters, you lose your readers. That, my writer friends, is a disaster.

Continue reading “On Why Weak Characters are Plot Killers”

On Writing Time and Other Frustrations

As I’ve worked for the last month or two on a fairly clearly defined “writing schedule,” I’m finding that getting time to write is difficult. I clearly understand why I had been making such slow progress on my previous project. In this day and age I think the myth of the “stay at home” mother who does nothing but sleep late and go on nature walks and make adorable craft projects with her perfectly behaved children, or whatever it is that we supposedly do all day, has been dispelled. In reality, it is hard work that consumes most of a mom’s time and energy with very little immediate reward or visible progress, other than children who are alive, fed, and somewhat for the most part groomed. It is more than a full time job, it’s a life’s work that for several years is pretty much the only life we have time for. Personal pursuits such as part-time careers, hobbies and interests, are always secondary. And by secondary I mean they fall somewhere in the approximately 5% of time left after chasing kids around and trying (often failing) to run a household, eating, and sleeping. For me, finding time to write has meant making sacrifices in one or more of those areas. And I’m not the kind of person who sacrifices easily, especially when the sacrifices I make also mean asking the most important people in my life to sacrifice time and convenience, too. Continue reading “On Writing Time and Other Frustrations”

On Mythology

The project I’m working on currently involves some well-known mythological characters, so I’ve been doing research into these characters and the stories that surround them. It’s fun research because I get to read some imaginative stories, including novels, which are always my favorite. I’m learning that it’s possible to get creative with mythology, because that’s what people do. There’s no such thing as maintaining historical accuracy because over the years people have turned these folks into whatever they want. Which means I get to do the same thing. As long as certain names, places, and things maintain a sense of familiarity, I can build on the mythological foundation and add my own piece to the structure. And that sounds really fun.

I’m making progress with my plot. In all the writing I’ve done previously, I’ve started with characters and then created a story. This time I’m starting with a plot and adding characters. In terms of craft it’s a pretty subtle difference, and I’m approaching my outline the same way I normally would. But it feels weird to me because there are some characters who I don’t have names for yet. I’m not good with names anyway. So I just think of them as “so and so” or as someone’s dad or friend or goat. Actually that’s not entirely true. The goat’s name is Una.

My plan is to spend the rest of this month outlining, and launch into the actual writing beginning in June. I’ve tweaked my schedule and hopefully soon I’ll feel more comfortable with this writing like it’s a job thing. If you’re reading this and you’re one of my writer friends, I’ll finally be ready to do some writing sprints in June so hit me up on Facebook and Twitter and stuff.

Today’s blog is short (like me, haha) but I wanted to check in and update things for those of you who have been asking “how’s the writing going?” Short answer: I’m happy with my progress. Long answer: Weeelll, I’m technically not exactly writing, not yet anyway. But I have most of a plot and I’m going to to some pretty mean things to my main character and I think she has a pet goat. I’m looking forward to writing this book. It might be painful but I think it will be good.

On Research (and Libraries)

I’m a week into my cleaning and research projects, and I’m excited to announce that I have an acceptable place to write while I’m at home, a weekly schedule that includes daily and weekly tasks I’ve been bad about neglecting lately, a stack of books from my library awaiting perusal, and a TBR (To Be Read) list that is growing daily.

I love books. I love real, physical books most of all but there are advantages to ebooks as well. Mostly, I’m finding, one of the advantages is availability. It feels strange to say this, with my dust-collecting Master’s degree being less than ten years old, but I come from an old-school library background. Maybe transitional is a better word. We did online classes and electronic databases but the physical collection, number of volumes as well as useful content, was still a matter of pride. Shelf space was as issue. My experience was also limited to academic libraries. So I was somewhat surprised during my trip to the local public library to discover that they have weeded out a large portion of their physical collection. There are still books available, but many of them have been dispersed among various branches. Luckily for me they have a terrific hold system which allows me to place holds on items, even from home, even for books held in my “home” branch’s collection, and pick them up in the holds area the next day. As a former library assistant in Interlibrary Loan who delighted in rejecting patron requests because they were available in our physical collection (I’m a much nicer person now), I admit I find this system perfectly suited to my needs, and I take full advantage of it. Hey if they want to let clerks comb the shelves for potentially misshelved or missing items and save me the trouble of doing that myself, I say go for it. And then of course there’s the whole world of internet and electronic resources. In this modern age, I can do all the research I need from home, or if that is too loud and crazy, my neighborhood Starbucks.

All that to say, I’m content to work with what I have. I’m the kind of person who does what it takes to get the job done, whatever that means to me, and not really the kind of person who goes far above and beyond what is necessary to ferret out every minuscule factual and anecdotal detail about a place, a time, or a group of people in order to move forward on my project. If I can get a good general picture of who people were, what they called themselves, how and where they lived, what they valued and how they spoke and what ate and wore and what kind of pets they had, I’m good with that. A benefit of fiction-oriented research is I can also use fiction to inform my world. What other authors have written about people and places is, after all, part of the body of literature on the topic. So I get to read textbooks, articles, children’s books, encyclopedias, and yes, even novels and wikipedia, in my hunt for information. And all along the way, my mind is churning as I imagine new characters and how they will fit into this world, finding flashes of inspiration for their journey through it. It’s so fun that I occasionally stop and wonder at the fact that I’m actually getting paid for this. This is literally a dream come true for me. Somebody remind me of that a few months from ago when I’m agonizing over a plot that’s not moving properly and characters that just won’t behave the way I thought they would. Deal?

On A New Project

Once again, I’ve let my blog lapse for nearly a year, not because I didn’t have anything to say (I always do), but because I didn’t necessarily feel that this was the time or place to say it. Now that I have some interesting new happenings in my writer life, I’m renewing my blogging efforts. I’m hoping to give my blog/website a fresh new look later this year, but for now, welcome back to Allie On Life. I’ve missed this. Have you?

So, what are these new writerly happenings? Here’s what I can tell you: Earlier this year the CEO of Lineage Media and Solutions hired me and a couple other authors to write some novels to tie in with some of the company’s creative projects. Last week, we met for two days at the office in beautiful Bellevue, WA to connect and collaborate and discover the world these novels are set in, as well as the plots and characters of our books, and how they all tie together in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. To say that it was fun would be an understatement. I’m hoping I played it cool and professional, like hanging out with other authors is something I totally do and I totally know what I’m talking about and all that, but basically I was geeking out for two days straight and IT WAS AWESOME!!

And now I’m going to write an actual book that other people are actually going to read. Again, playing it cool while totally doing the inner geek out thing. This is gonna be so fun. And crazy. And hard. And you, dear reader, whether you be real or imaginary (because imaginary friends are people too) are invited along for the ride.

The book I’m writing is basically a historical fantasy written from a Christian worldview. At least that’s how I’m choosing to describe it. I’m keeping the title and premise secret because it’s just so awesome that the world isn’t ready for it quite yet. Is that sarcasm? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you’ll never know…

Because this is a historical novel, I’m starting out with historical research. Oh. Yes. I’m trying not to get too carried away because there is a book to write, sooner rather than later but hey have I ever mentioned I have a BA in History and an MLS in Library and Information Science? Well, I do. And yes it’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to do some historical research so yes I’m excited about the chance to do it. And yes there are people in the world who enjoy research. We’re called nerds, people. There are a lot more of us out there than you’d think. Why do you think The Big Bang Theory is such a popular show? It’s because everyone either knows a nerd or is a nerd. But I digress…

Along with the fun stuff about writing, like hanging out and talking about writerly things with other writers, and historical research, and plotting, and actually writing, there’s some boring housekeeping kinds of stuff. Some of it is quite literally housekeeping. I need to create a space in my house where I can be a writer, since at the moment I’m a little bit too broke to rent a table (buy a latte) at Starbucks three or four times a week. I also need to make myself a schedule since the one or two hours a week that I’ve spent writing lately will not be enough to write a real actual novel in time for my real actual deadline. So this week I’ll probably use most of my writing time for things like that, and setting up my notebook, and starting things like a basic outline and a list of questions that I’m hoping my research will answer. I’ll check in here periodically to give an update on how things are going. You are cordially invited to tag along via this blog. I’m hoping it’ll be a fun ride.

On Why I Love Scrivener

It occurs to me that I should have posted this at the beginning of November, for anyone attempting to write an entire novel during National Novel Writing Month, although if you are a NaNo participant, you may be eligible for special offers this month. I didn’t discover Scrivener until after my first NaNoWriMo journey. I wish I had known about it then, and I’m definitely glad I have it now, as I prepare for a rewrite that is going to require rearranging several scenes, deleting some, and adding new ones.

Scrivener is a writing software, available for both Windows and Mac, at literatureandlatte.com. Unlike a regular word processor, it allows me to write my novel in chunks (I call them scenes) rather than in one long file. It eliminates the annoying need to scroll forever through a multipage document when I realize I made a typo in the middle of say, chapter 12. It’s much easier than cut and paste if I decide that a scene I put at the end of chapter 10 really would go better at the beginning of chapter 11. It also allows me to keep notes, research, and deleted scenes all in the same project file rather than searching my computer for that piece of backstory or that scene I deleted and now decided I want to put back in.

Here are some of my favorite Scrivener features:

  • There is a handy search function, so that when I realized in a read-through that I use some form of the word “irritating” too much, I could list all the spots where I used it and edit them.
  • The Project Targets, which shows a total word count for the project as well as my current session, and gives me red, yellow, and green bars to tell me how close I am to my targets. Statistics also give interesting information like an approximate page count and how many times certain words are used.
  • The ability to Snapshot the current version of a scene before editing it. That way, if I make a change I’m not certain about and then I decide I don’t like it, I can just Rollback to the previous version with a click, or cut and paste bits and pieces out of previous versions. Scrivener saves as it goes, so this is one way to keep a log of previous versions of scenes.
  • The extremely valuable Compile function, which allows me to compile all of my manuscript, or just parts of it, into various file formats. So if I want to send a PDF of my latest chapter to a reader, no problem. If I want to compile the entire thing to archive it before a major edit, done. I can create a Word file and touch that up for submission to an agent or publisher. And my latest, most exciting discovery: I can create a .mobi file and read my own book on my Kindle, or send it to beta readers in that format if they want.

In my opinion, writers are much better off using writing software than word processors to create their manuscripts. Word processors have their place, but since Scrivener can compile into a .rtf file, why not wait until the manuscript is complete and then use the word processor for final editing and formatting? I haven’t even taken advantage of all the amazing features Scrivener offers. It has different templates for novels, non-fiction, scripts, etc. It’s not very expensive, and adding the license to multiple computers is simple, so once you’ve bought it you shouldn’t have to ever purchase it again. I know there are other software options out there. I tried several before choosing Scrivener several years ago, and I’ve never regretted it.

Do you have any questions I can try to answer about this amazing tool? If you’ve used it, do you have any comments to share? Maybe you can tell me about a feature I haven’t tried yet!

**I purchased Scrivener at the full retail price and I am posting this blog without the knowledge or permission of Literature and Latte Ltd. I have not received any promotional discounts or other compensation in exchange for my opinion of the product. It is simply something I use and enjoy.

On Writing: The End

Yes, the rumors are true. I finished my book this week. I’m just going to stop for a moment and celebrate the fact that I have actually written an entire book. It’s 112,000 words, so about the length of Twilight or The Golden Compass, and if you’ve read either of those stellar works of literature, well, good for you. Anyway, it’s a full-on, novel-length book, and I hope you can forgive me for feeling pretty pleased with myself.

After writing my last post about reaching 100,000 words, I struggled for several weeks to reach the ending I was aiming for. And then on Sunday, I got mad, gave up on that ending, and took a completely different direction. Two days later, I was writing furiously and suddenly I realized I was at the end. I’m not sure yet if I love it or hate it, or even if I’ll keep it, but for now, it works. It’s actually pretty good.

Now for the bad news.

While I was struggling through those last few chapters this month, I realized (thanks in part to input from friends who will remain nameless) that part of the problem with getting to the ending is that the middle of the book lags pretty badly. The story just sort of meanders along aimlessly for a few chapters and doesn’t really build to a good ending. So now that I’ve finished this draft, I’m going to take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling for a week or so, and then go back and rewrite most of the middle. Because yeah, I wrote a book, and there are good parts to it, and I really like the characters, but the story as a whole still isn’t very good. So, I’ll let it rest for a little bit and then it’ll be time to open it back up, rip it apart (again) and see what I can salvage from it this time.

Writing a book is definitely a learning experience for me. It’s not as though I’ve ever done this before. Yeah, I’ve written bits and pieces of various stories over the years, but an entire novel that carries one plot from the beginning through the end, that’s new. I’m still not very good at it, but I think I’m getting better. I’m enjoying the process, despite occasionally panicking and deciding that I hate my book and I can’t actually write and I’m wasting a whole lot of time and effort on a completely useless pursuit. It’s fun.

I appreciate all of you who have been asking how my book is going. It’s really sweet to know that there are people who actually care, or are curious, at least. No news yet on when anyone (except those nameless few) will actually get to read it, though. It still needs lots of work and lots of love from lots of people I haven’t met yet. But for today I’ll just say I wrote a book, and I’m pretty happy about that.

On Writing: 100,000 words

This week my novel tipped the word count at over 100,000 words. I’ve found that while writers tend to think in terms of word count and automatically have an idea of what 100,000 means, readers often want to know how many pages that is. Word count is a solid, tangible number, while page count is rather ambiguous in an unpublished work. The number of pages in a book depends on several factors, including format (paperback or hardcover), font, print size, front matter, back matter, chapters, sections… That being said, not that anyone is counting, but if my book were published in its current state, it would be somewhere around 300 pages, give or take 50 or so. But let’s not talk about my book being published in its current state. I’m already breaking out in hives.

Honestly, I never thought I could write a book that was 100,000 words long. Don’t get me wrong, I know I can be pretty wordy. I decided when I was ten years old that I would never be a short story writer. Novels are my thing. I love action and drama and fast-paced, quick-moving stories… in movies. In a book, I like to take my time to get to know characters and love them before things happen in their lives, while things are happening, and after the things happen. That’s what I love, so that’s what I write.

Characters take time to develop. Just like first impressions in real life, where you can make a snap judgment in five minutes and decide whether or not you’re going to like a person, very often you can tell within five pages of a book if you’re going to like a character enough to invest in them for the next 300 pages or so. But then there’s the fun of really diving in to what makes this person tick, watching relationships unfold and stretch and change, seeing how they respond in various situations and wondering if you would react the same way. That’s what’s fun about stories, isn’t it? Escaping your own life and immersing yourself in someone else’s, just for pure entertainment. Sometimes you even learn something along the way. Again, that’s what I love, so that’s what I write.

Still, when your novel is limping along at 55,000 words (barely a novella by most standards), which is where mine was a year and a half ago, 100,000 seems like an impossible target. When I embarked on this major rewrite, adding important things like a plot to my story, I set 80,000 as my target goal. Surely I couldn’t add 45,000 additional words to what I thought was already a fairly complete story, but 25,000 seemed reasonable. Then as I kept writing, and the plot and the characters kept developing, and one minor character kept demanding more of a role, I looked at my outline (yes, I do look at it sometimes) and thought, “This thing could go massive. Like, I’m not sure if it will be less than 130,000 words.” But I kept writing because I figured, hey, if I can add that many words, I can just as easily cut out that many when it’s time to get it into shape to try to submit it for publication. Then a few weeks ago, out of nowhere, I wrote a short piece of a scene that just popped into my head and thought, “Hey, you know what? This sounds like an ending.” So now I’ve been writing toward that, and I’m only a chapter or two away, so 110,000 is sounding like a really good total number of words for this draft. And let me be clear: it’s a draft. The kind of thing that only a few patient people who really love me would be willing to read through. It needs lots of work, still. But I’m much, much happier with it now than I was a year and a half ago. Who knows, maybe in another year and a half (or less!) I might have something that I’d be ready to let the whole world read. We’ll see. For now, I’m going to enjoy this moment, knowing that I’ve written more words in a single story than I ever have before, and focus on writing on to that ending!

(In case you’re wondering, this entire post is about 730 words)