Note from Cassandra: I’m over on Laura’s blog today but she has come to visit us here in the realm to tell us about her writing schedule. Thanks Laura for being here today. After you check out her post here, hop on over to Laura’s blog to check out my post for today.
Gosh, I’m so excited to be a part of Cassandra’s blog tour. What an exciting month, right? Cheers, Cassandra, for all the hard work you’ve put into organizing this international writer fest!
I’ve been asked countless times about how I squeeze writing into my schedule. I’m going to preface this with a disclaimer. You see, I think my answer is a non-answer, but it’s the reality. Okay, drum roll, please!
I don’t schedule writing time. Nope. I don’t.
Why? Because if I did, I’d feel pressure to write, no matter the quality or topic. For me, pressure creates angst and frustration. Angst and frustration actually makes me freeze up. I get too caught up in things like: What should I write about? What if it sucks? What if I can’t find the right words? What if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it?
Notice most of those questions have a negative connotation. SO not cool. Once the negativity wheel starts spinning, I dig myself deeper and deeper into a rut and my writing stagnates like a 1000 year old bog. Stinky. Yuck.
So I don’t even go there.
Sure, I still have goals and I still work really hard to obtain them. For the most part, I do get some writing in every day, but I don’t go all ballistic and start berating myself if I don’t. I trust myself and my brain that the right words will come out if I let them come at their own pace.
Yes, it’s true that I will go days, sometimes weeks, without writing. And that’s okay. Because my brain is still processing things even if I’m not actively thinking about it. I can tell because when I DO sit down to write, the magic happens. An idea strikes. A dialogue snafu gets smoothed. A plot hole gets filled in.
It all works out.
That being said, everybody develops their own strategy to apply to their writerly life and I’d LOVE to hear your routine for writing!
Laura is a board certified psychiatrist and hopes to become a published author. She writes adult and young adult urban fantasy, fantasy, and dystopian fiction. Her blog: Diamond, Yup, Like the Stone http://lbdiamond.wordpress.com/.
I was thinking the other day about my post on the sycophant and that actually got me thinking about my most recent reading (I’m currently working my way back through Eddings, again, I know). What I started wondering was how many times should you remind your reader about the nature of a character (either through action or through other character descriptions). It seems that if you endless preface everything the character does by a reminder about why you like/don’t like them eventually your reader is going to get sick of being treated like a child with no attention span but if you don’t put enough cues and reminders in you risk your reader forgetting key points about that character.
In relation to my own writing I’ve noticed that I have a lot of reminders in first drafts. Most of my ‘abandoned’ projects are full of these prompts (some in bold for my reference so I remember what I was trying to convey about the character at the time). One in particular has something on nearly every single page to remind the reader that character S is meant to be unstable. Other characters hint at it, she does something that not clear minded person would do, an earlier incident is referenced, something is hidden from her because she may not be trustworthy. Every single page. Okay, I may have missed two pages because she wasn’t involved in either scene but you get the point.
Wouldn’t reading that just drive you up the wall? Wouldn’t you want to ask the author – how dumb do you think I am? You just told me she was unstable, you showed it clearly, move on with the story already.
At the same time, if she was called unstable, did one slightly zany thing and then consistently acted normally throughout the story, when her instability became essential to the plot, the reader may have forgotten it entirely and wonder what planet the author was on when they wrote that critical scene.
This brings me to Eddings (awesome epic fantasy writer that he is) and his use of provisional reminders. Mostly with the Ellenium trilogy I’ve noticed that as each character is introduced they are given, or demonstrate to have, a number of very specific character traits. These recur periodically but not to the point where the story is stagnating in flags and pointers. However, if a character is absent for multiple chapters, upon their return, one of the other characters will usually make mention of having missed something about them, or they will almost immediately do something that reminds you of their character traits. Also, at the beginning of the second and third books, the first time a character is reintroduced the protagonist makes a point of considering his companions but he does it in a way that isn’t too intrusive to the story and it is a pretty quick recap.
I think Eddings found that balance between reminding the reader of the critical points without getting endlessly repetitious, and he’s disguised his reminders for the most part or at least managed to weave it into part of the story.
So, writers and readers out there, what are your thoughts? Do you like to be reminded or do you like to move on with the plot? Is finding a balance the key?
I’m not using it and I haven’t referred to it – but a plan exists. Surely that counts for something.
In case you are wondering what I am talking about, it is the old to plan or not to plan argument in writing. As always, I outline, know where I want to go, and then dutifully ignore any of it and write whatever anyway. From the number of unfinished projects I have stacking up, this may not be the most effective method, but it works for me. I don’t want to lock myself in if I’m not feeling the characters lead me in a certain direction. And I don’t want to be endlessly worried that they haven’t progressed as neatly from point a to point b as I would have liked.
I love to write. I love words. If I can eventually tidy them up enough to make a story, great. If not, I’ll have enjoyed the writing anyway and maybe at some future time I’ll return to the story and figure it all out.
That’s kind of what’s happened at the moment.
I came across a fairly old story (in fact I don’t remember when I started it). I didn’t even have it on my computer any more. I only had the paper copy I printed out. It wasn’t finished and as I was reading it I realised I really wanted to know where this story ended. Only I didn’t remember.
Fortunately I also printed out the plan and included it in the file.
Unfortunately having just read the first act of the story, I realised why I abandoned it. The plan didn’t make any sense. There were entire sub-plots that were clearly leading to X but just didn’t appear in the plan at all. The main character was clearly not motivated by D but by P and those two characters over there were as likely to be conspiring as a spider with a fly. I’d had a plan but the way I’d written that first act just made the plan entirely irrelevant. The story was better than the original plan and the characters a great deal more interesting but it made the second act almost impossible to write without an entire overhaul of the over all goal of the story.
So now I need to figure out where the story should be going and how I’m going to get it there and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get it written. I’m not going to commit myself to it but I have a strong feeling that I’m going to spend quite a number of sleepless nights thinking about it in the near future.
I’ve jumped works in progress for the time. I wasn’t making progress on one draft and I wanted to write so I decided to have a look at an earlier abandoned project (rather than starting yet another never to be finished project). Interestingly, even though I abandoned the project because I felt it was too flat, reading it after having a fairly lengthy space, I was drawn in to the story and the characters again and when I got to where I’d abandoned the project I was disappointed that the story didn’t finish.
So working between project I am now trying to reacquaint myself with some of my earlier character creations and it is amazing how fast they come back (all giving me dirty looks and muttering about being cast aside).
One of the characters I particularly enjoyed reading about again and getting to know all over again is the sycophant. This isn’t actually his name though it may as well be. It is what he is called by pretty much all the other characters and even though he is only a minor character in the story, he manages pretty effectively to be despised in the most amusing of ways.
I’d clearly also used the thesaurus when writing the draft originally because I noticed I was very careful not to endlessly repeat the word sycophant, even though I really enjoy that word. It rolls right off the tongue and always gives just the right amount of contempt and loathing.
Anyway – alternatives to sycophant:
All of them very flattering words.
Incidentally, when introducing the character I don’t tell the reader that he is a sycophant. I have one of my other characters call him one within the first few lines of him entering the story and then back it up by having him carry out some very toady like actions. His character is established and I haven’t once said to the reader (by the way, you’re meant to dislike this character).
I’ve since also moved on from this project but I think the time will come very soon when I’m going to have to finish this one.
Cat Woods recently shared a post called Strap On Your Writing Helmet and she related the story of her son who is too afraid to try riding his bike. She then linked this to her own fear of sharing her writing with the world for fear of rejection or even fear of success.
I could definitely relate to this feeling.
Other than my close friends, I don’t tend to share my writing with many people. Even my friends have to wait until I’ve tidied the draft sufficiently that I don’t want to dig a hole and hide in it while they read. Making the decision to try to get Death’s Daughter published was absolutely terrifying. Knowing that the worst thing that could happen would be rejection didn’t really help. In the end, it was up to me to decide that I wanted to share this story and if that was what I wanted then I needed to push the fear aside and try to make it happen.
Amazingly, rejection didn’t kill me. It didn’t even metaphorically kill me. A form rejection letter has limited sting because it isn’t a personalised attack. A more complete rejection with reasons why my manuscript was returned became a valuable tool for improvement and could have been considered a fairly positive step.
Then the book was picked up and I was terrified again. What if I couldn’t finish the edits and rewrites? What if I stuffed it all up?
Then it was released. What if no one likes it?
I could panic and moan and fall apart thinking of all the what if’s in the world but at the end of the day I have to be pretty happy with how things are going. I finished the novel, which was a huge achievement. I refined the novel, which probably took way too long and I really need to work on that. I found a publisher and I had my novel published.
I’m not going to lie and say that I am fearless and everything will be all breezy and easy from here on in. That is a complete lie. I’ll continue to worry and second guess myself forever. It is part of who I am. But I’m not going to stop writing and I’m not going to avoid rejection. The only way forward is to move forward.
Thanks Cat for this very inspiring post.
Character, plot and setting.
All three are vitally important to the story. Usually I like to focus on character but today I think I’m going to have a quick look at plot.
Plot is one of those tricky things because you would think, to make a plot interesting, that is needed to be fresh and new and complex and twist and turn and all of those other splediferous (yes, I know it isn’t a real word) things plots can do. Yet simple is sometimes much better.
So many times you read the advice that you should be able to explain what your story is about in a single sentence. An entire novel boiled down to one sentence that explains the whole point for the story. For Death’s Daughter this caused me no end of headaches because I didn’t figure this part out before I wrote the story. I wrote the story and then asked what it was about would rattle off a bunch of things that Calandra (my protagonist) did but I didn’t really get to the point. What I finally came up with was this:
A girl, cheated of her chosen destiny by forces beyond her understanding, must find a way to end a war between gods and discover the truth about who she is.
Once I knew this about the story, I could see how I had distractions and how some of the sub-plots weren’t working and I just found it much easier to work through the story because I knew exactly what the story was about.
Keeping in mind how much easier working with plot was once I knew what the plot was meant to be, I decided that for my next project I would start out with a simple statement of what I wanted the story to be and work from there. Admittedly, I haven’t even finished the first draft and I already know that what I decided the main point of my story was, isn’t. I’ve gone down a totally different track at this point but I know that once I finish this draft, I will be able to say in a single sentence what the point of my story is and I’ll be able to edit with that in mind.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on plot and how you go about crafting one.
It is an old argument; should we write on the computer or write by hand? Honestly it comes down to whatever works for you. My first manuscript was nearly entirely written by hand in the first draft and was typed out several years later and has since undergone a massive restructuring but some of the original lines have stuck all the way through, which is nice. I haven’t tried to duplicate the effort since it is much easier to edit if I just type it out to begin with. Here are my 5 reasons to type rather than handwrite.
1. I can type much faster than I can write. Much, much faster than I can write and I can almost always read the results.
2. I can type without looking at anything in particular so I can shut my eyes and go for it. I cannot write by hand with my eyes shut. This helps me to focus on the story I am writing and to visualise the scene I’m trying to describe or the character I’m currently introducing.
3. It is harder to lose information. Not impossible – we all know computers crash, break and fail massively, but it is harder to lose things. I have at least three copies of most data and I make sure I regularly back everything up so I’m not too worried about losing entire drafts. I have misplaced notebooks and entire print outs of drafts though. That is quite annoying. Plus my cat eats paper (not joking) and it is really hard to edit a manuscript with a cat trying to eat the page you are reading.
4. Spell check. No, you should not rely entirely on spell check as it has quite a few issues but it does catch the out right silly errors that you make while typing quickly with your eyes shut. Spell check is definitely a friend.
5. As I said in the introduction – editing. So much easier to make changes and adjustments on the screen then in a note book. By the time you cross this, circle that, draw arrows indicating where that should go, and you get to your twentieth footnote, the notebook becomes unreadable.
These are my 5 reasons as to why I type instead of hand write (for the most part). What are yours? Or do you still hand write?