Back Under the Knife

January 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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A week or so after my draft was done, I finished a start-to-end revision – no huge changes, but lots of fiddling and smoothing. Then I asked two family members to read the new version and give me feedback.

Both of them felt that my general format (diary entries) doesn’t work too well as the book is currently constituted. One of them also supplied many thought-provoking comments on many macro and micro aspects of the story.

I’d figured it would still need quite a few nips and tucks. But now I’m faced with performing major surgery instead. All right – back to the keyboard to meet the new challenge!

Draft Notice!

December 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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As of last night, my first draft is finished! It clocked in right around 45,000 words. Woohoo!

I spent a chunk of the evening filling in one final scene near (but not at) the end of the story. In it, a secondary character, who’d been presented somewhat unsympathetically, suddenly – to my surprise! – did a really noble thing, for a heart-wrenching reason.

Since I wrote that scene, I must have reread it a dozen times. And I’ve cried a dozen times. Yeah, I’m kind of a softie, but still … I can’t help but wonder whether it will touch readers the same way.

Now comes a substantial editing/revising/proofreading phase. I’m hoping to finish that in the next month or so, but I’ll likely end up looking back at that time projection and laughing.

After that, I’ll share it with a handful of friends and relatives who’ve asked about reading it, and I’ll base my later actions on their comments. It’s a wide enough cross-section of people that I’m sure to get a good range of feedback and suggestions.

For today, at least, I’m going to try to resist rereading the story. I want to clear it out of my mind so I can take a fresher look at it when I start the new phase. (Besides, I have some paid editing work I need to finish today.) But it will be tough to keep my “baby” out of my thoughts!

Yielding to Temptation

December 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”

-Oscar Wilde

Since an early stage of my novel, I’ve had a clear idea how it would end. Much of the middle was still a mystery, but I could picture the final scene – not the entire concluding chapter, as mentioned here, but the very final action.

Still, I delayed writing that scene, figuring I needed to fill in all the earlier parts first. I held the conclusion out as a prize to push myself to get everything else done.

Yesterday, I gave in to temptation. With about 95% of my first draft finished, I went ahead and wrote the ending.

I was happy with how it came out. Actually, “happy” may not be the most accurate term, as I cried the first time I reread it. (I’m overly sensitive like that.) But I’m pleased.

Now that I’ve already had my dessert, I have to go back and take care of some of the vegetables – a few short segments I’ve fleshed out mentally but still need to write, and one plot issue I’ve been wrestling with but haven’t conquered.

Even though it’s done now, the ending is still spurring me on; I feel driven to complete everything else to bring the reader to the happy/sad denouement.

Almost there! Exciting times – a little scary too, but mostly exciting.

Planning the Wrapup

December 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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I’m not “almost done” my book draft, but I am about 3/4 of the way there. That means I should start reining in the storyline, keeping new subplots from branching out. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor?) It also means I need to make some final-ish decisions about how the book will end, as mentioned in an earlier post.

While I’d figured that the two main characters would generate the ending, a third character’s potential is now intriguing me. She hasn’t been a key player so far, but her appearances have contained actions or symbols that could point toward a more crucial role in wrapping up the tale.

I’m asking myself both Which development would fit more coherently into the existing plot? and Which development would a reader prefer to see? The significance of those answers depends on whether I’m writing the story more for myself or for potential readers.

You’d think that conundrum would have a simple solution. Doesn’t look that way to me, though. Yes, I want everything in the book to coalesce smoothly; yet, I also want it to be “grabby” to readers, perhaps surprising them with a less logical plot twist.

This is the month I’ll finish! So I need to make those sorts of big decisions, as well as countless small ones about what my characters do and say and feel.

Just because writing is fun, that doesn’t mean it’s not hard; just because it’s hard, that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.


Absence Makes the Story Go Faster

November 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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Let me go on record here as saying I love my wife a whole lot. Asking her to marry me was the best thing I ever did, and her saying “Yes” was my greatest gift.


When she’s around the house, my writing pace slows. Sometimes she needs to use the computer we share; sometimes she asks me to do other things (such as make dinner); and sometimes it’s just awkward to try to wrench bits of emotional, highly personal prose from my brain and heart and fingers when she’s sitting barely more than arm’s length from me, reading the paper.

This past week, she was traveling. I missed her … but I also made great progress on my book! I filled in some gaps (which I noticed because I keep a spreadsheet showing what happened on each day of the story); I rearranged a few events so they made more chronological sense; and I plunged further into unvisited regions. On a couple of days, I churned out more than 1,000 words. Right now, I’m up to 33,000 – about two-thirds of my goal for a complete first draft.

In this project’s early days, I figured I could finish the draft and do a thorough revision by the end of this year. I’m less convinced that I’ll finish the revision so soon, but a finished draft this year is looking very likely.

Now I really have to wrap my mind around all the interlocking aspects of the story’s denouement. How far over the line will my protagonist’s actions go, how will they be discovered, and how will he pay the price? I don’t know yet, but the time to decide all those things is upon me. That process may be slowed now that my wife is back; I’ll gladly take that tradeoff.

On the Downslope

October 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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As of two days ago, I’m more than halfway to my 50,000-word goal. I still have to make some key decisions about the plot (and about potential subplots), but the story is really taking shape, and I can foresee its completion. Exciting times!

(This may not seem like a big deal to the people who pump out a 50K-word novel during NaNoWriMo every November, but to someone who approaches writing more deliberately, it feels like a real achievement.)

An Important Stat!

October 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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Yesterday was one of those rare days when I didn’t write. I did lightly edit a few portions of my book-to-date, but I was occupied with too many other duties/responsibilities/distractions.

I did make a key discovery, though. I’ve been writing with the idea that this will be a “middle grade” book rather than a “young adult” book. However, I’ve been feeling like the writing level is near the borderline between those two audiences.

An obvious idea occurred to me yesterday: why not use software to check my manuscript’s reading level? Microsoft Word contains such a tool, and it reported that the reading level is 5.2, meaning it fits right into the middle grade category. That surprised me – I’ve used some less-common vocabulary, and I didn’t realize my sentence structures were that simple – but it was definitely a good surprise.

Nice to know that I’m basically on target to reach my desired audience, and that I won’t have to go back and dumb my writing down!


Blocking, then Rushing

September 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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Nope, this post isn’t about football, despite the title.

I gradually drifted out of the 500-words-per-day habit that I mentioned in my most recent post. Part of the blockage was caused by other demands on my time, but some delays were internal. I’d reached a significant turning point in the story, and I was struggling with decisions about what would happen next.

This morning, I woke early and felt clear-headed. As I lay in bed, I started pondering the story … and a profusion of new ideas started blooming. I was torn: stay in bed until the ideas slow, or go downstairs to type them into Microsoft Word before I began forgetting them? After twenty minutes or so, I quietly rolled out of bed and headed to the computer. Opening my story ideas file, I was delighted to find the ideas still resident in my head; they flowed through my fingers and into Word.

I grabbed one of those ideas and ran with it, adding a new day to the plotline. Pecking away, I passed the 500-word mark while everyone else slumbered upstairs.

I celebrated by getting into running clothes and loping eight miles at the state park a few blocks from my house. When I returned, other people were up, and I had breakfast and showered and read the paper and so forth. Later in the day, though, I found myself alone in the house, and I sat down for another productive writing session. Before I knew it, I was up around 1,500 words for the day – and just past 20,000 in total!

My first draft will probably be around 50,000 words long. The one-third mark is receding out of sight in my rearview mirror, and the halfway mark is suddenly within reach.

I hope you have great writing days like this too!

Steady, Steady ….

September 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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Everybody says the key to writing is to sit down and do it every day.

Everybody is right.

Apart from an extended vacation trip, I’ve squeezed in work on my novel every day since I started it about two months ago. On an average day, I add roughly 300-500 words. That brings me up to a little more than 15,000 words so far – probably almost 1/3 of a complete first draft.

It’s amazing how the story has developed its own momentum. As it’s progressed, the main characters have displayed additional facets of their personalities. Meanwhile, other characters have appeared, sending the plot branching into unplanned directions.

I’m now aiming to finish and revise this tale by year’s end. The stereotypical spare-time novelist often takes years to write a book, while thousands of people bang out 50,000-word novels in a single month as part of the annual National Novel Writing Month initiative. My pace, slowish but steady, is lodged comfortably between those two extremes.

Currently, I’m wrestling with a decision: whether to add a whole separate substory that would flesh out some family relationships but might be an unneeded distraction. I’m good at a few things, but making decisions is not among them. Wish me luck!

Moving Ahead!

July 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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Updates since the last entry:

1. Early this year, I entered a short story contest organized by the Bronte Society. I worked hard on my tale about a Jane Eyre character, polishing and re-polishing it until it felt like the best piece I’d ever written. I submitted it … and it failed to win one of the three prizes. Oh well! Just by putting so much effort and care into that story, though, I realized that my writing really is good enough for publication, and that I’m ready to write a book.

2. This month, I realized what my book’s main topic would be. I’d been trying to come up with a topic, but this one just grabbed me in an unguarded moment, and immediately I knew it was right. I’m not going to reveal it just yet! Last week, I started a draft, and right now I’m about 1,500 words in. The writing isn’t great yet, but I’m having fun coming up with new ideas. As I write the story, even at this early stage, it’s already starting to lead me in directions I hadn’t expected!

3. Observation: I didn’t spend enough time choosing a tense for the book.  In my draft’s third chapter, I unthinkingly described an event in present tense, then realized that was better than the past tense I’d been using. So I just went back and tense-shifted the earlier parts. They feel more energetic now. Yay! (Writing: an in-tense process. Heh heh.)

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