Saturday, October 31, 2009

Only a day away

With all due respect to Little Orphan Annie, we're less than 24 hours from me starting my second (really? second? that still sounds weird) novel. It's also my first foray into National Novel Writing Month, so that should also be interesting.

The first draft of Novel No. 1 is still hibernating in the hopper, so it's full steam ahead and all focus on the next idea. That's refreshing on a few levels.

First of all, I know that I can do it, so it's not nearly as intimidating this time around. Secondly, I'm just as excited to get going on this one as I was on the next one. And finally, I have an idea that is completely different from my first idea, so I can't wait to tackle the challenges that brings forward.

The thing about NaNoWriMo is that you're trying to get 50,000 words crammed into 30 days, but I don't think it should be a problem. I was averaging around 2,000 words per day over the final month of writing my previous first draft, so I'm not worried about the goal.

What I am worried about is making sure the silly thing makes sense. The key in doing this, as it is with any writing, is to maintain that confidence and stick to your guns. I'm looking forward to the experience - and seeing if I can do it all over again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I may actually know what I'm doing...

Just a few days away from starting up the next first draft - this time as part of National Novel Writing Month - and the second time around has a little more organization surrounding it.

The last time I started a novel, I was just kind of flying without a parachute. Or a map. Or any lights on the runway. I pretty much had just a sort-of plan in my head and started writing. Now that I think of it, that's a pretty good way to head into NaNoWriMo - just sit down and write.

I plan on sitting down and writing for pretty much all of November, but this time I have a little more than just some gas in that plane's tank. I've taken some notes, gotten my idea a bit more organized, and have a better sense of direction going in.

I am not under the illusion that my first novel is going to magically get published. But it showed me some good things and some bad things about my writing process - like what works and what doesn't. Surely, I will learn a few more things through the next process and each ensuing process after that.

Maybe someday, I'll actually get this whole thing figured out. Either way, it's been a pretty fun trip so far.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gearing up

Two weeks ago, I was just trying to figure out which of the numerous endings I had written should I stick on the end of the first draft of my first novel. I was happy to be wrapping up that first foray into novel writing.

Now I can't get enough of it.

I haven't written on anything that big for a few weeks, and it has me wringing my hands, not waiting to start another novel. It's like crack - or what I've heard crack to be like - ultra-addictive. But I'm waiting to check out the first draft and go through another edit for a few weeks.

And I still have to wait for a few more days before starting on another novel. I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month for the first time, so I can't start going on the next novel until Nov. 1.

As much as I like writing short fiction, I really, really can't wait to start going on another big project again. But for now, I'm stuck. I am relegated to poking out my hokey short stories and working on set-up stuff like outlines and such for the next novel.

Now that the first one is wrapped up (except for edits, of course), I can't wait to start the next one.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More to Read

The post mentioning Stephen King's ON WRITING drew a lot of positive feedback in the comments and the emails, so I thought I would throw out a few other books that help me throughout my writing process.

One great resource is THE 3 A.M. EPIPHANY by Brian Kiteley. It's a book that is loaded with exercises to try and get you thinking outside the box. Kitely is a creative writing prof at the University of Denver, and the thing this helped me a lot with is writing tighter.

Struggle with dialogue? Then you gotta read LUSH LIFE by Richard Price. It's not a help book, but he's a master of writing dialogue. Reading that book showed me ways to use dialogue differently, ways to use different voices and it just plain helped me in that department. Besides, it's a damn good book.

One of your characters missing something? Check out WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER TRAITS by Linda Edelstein. This book won't tell you a better way to write characters, but it will show you how to give them more layers. This book helped me make my characters seem more realistic.

Those are just a few. Of course, one of my tips for any kind of writer is to read, read, read. Then take a nap, write and read some more.

Anybody else have some good resources that helped you in your writing? Share them in the comments for everybody. Go on. Don't be bashful.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Back on horse, sort of

With my first draft in the vault for awhile, I've found that starting up on other stuff is much, much easier.

Before I got into a routine, it was tough getting myself to write. I've long said that the most important part of writing is actually getting your can in front of the computer and just typing. Now that I'm used to it, things are much, much easier.

I've come up with a couple more ideas I think are good, but I'm trying to organize them now. I don't want to start any of them until National Novel Writing Month starts, but I should be good and organized for my first foray into NaNoWriMo.

In the meantime, I've been enjoying doing some other stuff - short stories for the most part. The one thing I've noticed is that things come much easier to me know. I don't have the novel hanging over my head any more, and I was worried about this limbo between NaNoWriMo, but I can tell that my writing is better. Even with this short stuff.

Top benefit of finished first draft: I'm a more confident writer, and that has led to better writing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sealing the Vault

With my quick edit finished, I'm in kind of a tough spot.

I'm not going to look at that work in progress again for probably six weeks. This is a little tip I got from reading Stephen King's ON WRITING, so you leave it for awhile and then take it on with fresh eyes. The tough part is that I don't want to put it away, and I'm going to have to force myself to not do anything with it.

The timing is interesting, as I'll be away from it for all of November, where I plan to write during National Novel Writing Month. However, I'm having a tough time leaving it alone. I've dumped so much into it over the past couple of months, and it has consumed a good chunk of every day during that time.

But this is a crucial part. I know I'll be able to tackle it better when I come back to it with an open mind, since I've been so up close and involved with the thing over the past couple of months. I've got to let it marinate.

By the way, if you're a writer, and have not read King's ON WRITING, get thee to a bookstore posthaste. You can read it in two or three days, and it will be a vital, vital tool in your working. I know it was for me.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Say what?

The bulk of the stuff I'm editing right now has a lot of dialogue, and that's been interesting to me.

I want the different characters to have different voices, but there are times I think I may have been trying too hard, so I changed them up. This is the good part of editing, especially with dialogue. When I read these conversations between characters out loud, sometimes I find myself saying "Well that guy sounds stupid."

Dialogue is a bit of a toughie. You really have to think it through. It has to be well-planned, but it can't sound staged or set up in anyway or it comes across as phony.

Also, now that I'm through the whole draft, I have a better handle on my characters than I did when I started, or even after I was going for awhile. That familiarity means I know who they are, and know what they would say. That helps with the editing of their dialogue in earlier chapters.

The words they say have to keep them within character, but they have to help develop them, too. This is a pretty tough balance - and it's a balance that isn't going to be achieved in just one edit.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Back on the horse

I'm just about finished with the quick edit of the first draft, and then the book is going into the drawer.

Does that mean this blog is finished? That I just wait for six weeks before talking about things again? Oh, heavens no. Obviously, this blog is here through the whole process: Writing, editing, hair-pulling, the whole works.

Just because my first novel is finished doesn't mean that I've stopped writing. I took a couple of days off, but that was it. In the meantime, I've worked on a few different things. Short stories and the like, but now I'm back.

I'm still editing, but the writing is back. A few people have asked me "What do you work on now that you've finished your novel?" The answer is that I'm gearing up and starting the next one.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

First first draft, now first contest

I finally got around to doing it. I entered my first paragraph (or what is the first paragraph so far) of my first draft in agent Nathan Bransford's contest.

You can check out the post about the contest at this link.

With around 2,500 competitors when I submitted mine, I have no illusions about winning anything or even becoming a finalist or anything. But it was kind of neat to be able to see the various other first paragraphs out there by people in the same spot as I am.

I also have to admit: It's a pretty good feeling to have something to submit into something like this.

Here's my first paragraph:

Somewhere, paint was drying. Boy, was I missing out. Lying in the ditch and staring at the road's dusty dead end had lost its luster awhile ago, but I couldn't find it it in my heart to tell Will how boring this was. He had been so wound up. But when I heard the snakes rattling, I figured I had been on the ground long enough.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This ain't so bad

As a newspaper guy, I hate editing. Editing stuff is never any fun. I know, I know, it has to be done. But so does laundry, and that stinks, too.

But through the process of doing a quick run-through of my novel, I've found that editing your own stuff isn't so bad. I don't want to sound selfish, because getting another set of eyes on copy for a newspaper is one of the most important things before it goes to print.

It's just different. Nobody has seen what's in this novel so far except for me. Taking a look back at it as a whole is refreshing and fun. I mean, this isn't the main edit that will create my second draft, but this is a neat look for me at the finished product (Hey, it's still rough, don't get me wrong, but it is finished). It's neat for me to see where I've taken these guys from start to finish.

All of this stuff from here on out is new for me. I've written tons of things before, and the writing of this novel was a blast, but I'm starting to find out that the rest of the parts - even stuff like editing - can be pretty fun, too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where did this come from?

I'm going through a quick edit of my now-completed first draft, and I'm having a few revelations.

The main revelation is this: "Man, I don't remember writing some of this stuff."

Sure, it was a couple of months ago when I wrote some of this, but I couldn't believe how different some of my writing is. I've cleaned a few things up and changed some things to make it sound more like the other stuff I wrote, but still.

This isn't the main edit, I'll be doing that probably at the end of November. But reading through this once - from the beginning - before I lock it up in a drawer really shows me how far my main character moved along through the book. And that makes me happy.

I'm sure I'll change some stuff around and add words and hack words out, but getting this first glimpse of the thing as a whole is pretty neat for me. And refreshing, too.

Friday, October 9, 2009

And on the 64th day....

I rested.

I didn't do one thing with my novel today after finishing up the first draft on Thursday. I'm taking one day from the thing before starting one quick edit over the next few days. From there, I'll drop it in the drawer and let it marinate.

And I have to say, I don't like it. For the last two-plus months, I've written nearly every single day on that thing. Of course, there has been one or two days off because of situations out of my control, but those days off were few and far between. This real day off is nerve-wracking.

I can't say that I won't write tonight. I'm sure I'll get home from work and want to do something - work on a short story or start another book or whatever. OK, I probably won't start another book just yet, but I thought I would throw it out there.

For me, a day without writing usually isn't a very good day. But this was a day to relish what I've accomplished. It's been a pretty good day.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed!

Don't look now, but I might actually be a novelist!

I finished my first draft of my first novel tonight, and I feel like I'm walking (and typing) on air. The last two sessions wound up being two of my best of the whole process, as I typed 4,067 words today. And boy, did the time fly when I was doing it.

I can't believe I actually got there, and now I know why people want to do this for a living. It's for these types of moments, right now. I've never been as giddy typing a blog as I am tonight. I apologize if I'm rambling, but I don't really care.

Will it get published someday? I don't know. That's not why I did this. I set out to see if this was something I could actually do, and now it's done. It's rough and will need a lot of editing, but it's DONE.

The total word count for the work in progress is 79,731 words, and it took me exactly two months and one day from when I started to hammer it out. In a weird sort of way, I can't wait to start hacking out some of those words I agonized over in the editing process!

But that's for another day. For now, however, I'm going to relax and enjoy tonight. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Final Countdown

Finished a key chapter tonight, and now all I have left of my first draft (before clean-up, quickie edit) is to wrap up two or three chapters that have given me a little bit of trouble.

I wanted to have this draft finished by the end of October, but now I'll be disappointed if I don't have it done by the end of the week. I've said before that it doesn't seem like the end, but it is.

The work in progress is more words than I would like, but that's just fine with me. Too much in the first draft is better than not enough, and I'm sure I'll be able to chop it down.

What I have learned through this process so far is that I have good writing habits, and bad ones (who doesn't?).

But the good traits have found their way to outnumber the bad, and that's when I flourished. The main thing for me throughout this process is that I don't have to force myself to sit down and write anymore - even thought that's what got me through the rough patches. Now I'm looking forward to each and every session that I write.

And I've found I'm pretty darn good when I get on a roll. Yes, that's me patting myself on the back (I think I've earned it).

I ended on a roll tonight, so let's hope that continues into tomorrow, so I can finish this thing with a flourish.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Strange Days

This is peculiar. I'm only a little ways away - probably two or three writing sessions - from finishing my first draft.

I can't believe I've written more than 70,000 words on something that started on Aug. 7 - exactly two months ago tomorrow.

I'm still trying to hammer out a couple more options as far as endings go, but this is the finish line. It feels weird. It's like I don't want to wrap it up because it seems like it's been one of the only things I've been thinking about for the past couple months.

Don't get me wrong, I want to finish the first draft, but it's a different kind of feeling knowing that you're writing the last few thousand words on something that started as just an idea clanging around my skull.

After I'm done writing, I'm going to do some housekeeping on the thing where I make a quick read through, do some quick editing and make sure I have everything in the right order. Then I'm going to print the thing and toss it in a drawer for a month or so. Probably more like six weeks.

But that still seems like miles away, even though I'm aiming to be printing this thing out for the first time in a couple of days. (A couple of days? Am I really this close?)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Take that!

Is there anything more liberating than writing a scene in which one of your characters tells everyone to go fly a kite?

That's what I got to rattle through today, and the result was a whopping 2,030 words in an hour and 15 minutes. I had been waiting to write that scene, and had it all locked up in the ol' noggin just waiting to bust out. Once it got out there, it felt great.

I'm coming down the home stretch (I know, I've been saying that for awhile), but I really feel that I'm only a few more writing days away from wrapping up this first draft. I'm starting to tie up things here. For as much frustration as I had trying to decipher an ending, getting there is a very liberating feeling.

This has done a lot for my motivation, and I really can sense that I will have this first draft done in the next week (or early next week at the earliest).

Not only are my characters starting to free themselves from the things that were holding them back for 55,000 words, but I feel like I'm starting to free myself from the frustration of writing the last 10,000 to 20,000 words.

And man, it feels pretty darn good.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

This Ending is Confusing

No, I'm not pulling a page out of Lost on the ending of my novel, and the direction I'm taking does make sense. The confusing part is coming up with the right ending.

I've already blogged about multiple endings, but it's the part of the book that's really weighing on my mind right now. I'm closing in on 70,000 words on the work in progress, and that doesn't include any of limited writing I've done on potential endings.

I've read in a few different places (and heard from a few friends) that the ending will be something you will have to write multiple times before finding the right one. And the right one might not necessarily be the one you like the best.

A few options have been jotted down already, and I have some other ideas that I want to get down, but I must admit that I'm avoiding it. I've spent the last few days fine tuning some of the stuff that I already have, which has, in essence, been ignoring the 500-pound elephant in the corner.

Maybe I don't want this whole process to come to an end. Maybe I don't want to fight the dragon known as the ending. Maybe I'm just rotten at writing endings. Maybe I just don't know what I'm doing.

One of these days, I'm going to sit down at my computer (with my sword) and I'm going to attack this thing. Hopefully, some good blog posts come out of it. I'm pretty sure I'll win the fight, but that doesn't mean there won't be some bruises.

You gotta fit in

I did a mini-editing session last night, and found a couple of speedbumps.

There were a couple of scenes in there that I remember being important when I wrote them, but seemed stagnant with the direction my novel wound up heading as I get close to the end. I had a couple of choices to make: Whack and hack, or Spice and Nice.

The Whack and Hack is simple: Chop them out and go on as if nothing ever happened. The Spice and Nice is a little more tricky: Make them worthwhile by jazzing them up with a new coat of paint to make them look good to the rest of the novel.

Sadly, some of that stuff was beyond repair, and not even I - their creator - could save them from being out of style. However, jazzing some of the stuff up can make your novel even better, I've found.

Remember, those thoughts and ideas fit in somewhere once upon a time, so maybe they're not that far away from being in the club once again. I've been able to turn a couple of them around (with a snip here and a snip there and adding some more words over there) to make them great.

I've found that a ruthless editing pen is a must, but it's OK to give some scenes a chance to say their peace before you hit that DELETE button.