Monthly Archives: May 2013

Concentrated 200-word Bursts

Interesting statistic I have noticed about how I write.

Since last weekend, when I read through all of Dean Wesley’s Smiths ghost-novel-in-ten-days posts and comments, I’ve been on a kick to find more time to write in a day. (From the comments, I glean that this is the natural reaction to reading his posts. I disagree with the man on a few things, but he is both right and inspiring when it comes to challenging writers to simply cunt up and write (my phrase, not his).) Waiting for blocks of time is netting me untenable production schedules, and the first takeaway from his posts is that production = time spent writing. Therefore I need to find more time to write if I want to increase my work speed.

The second takeaway is that you can get just as many or more words written in a day in multiple smaller writing sessions as you can in one big one. This is probably the more important point for me.

Regardless of whether the large blocks of time are the best way for me to write, the reality of my life is such that I don’t have blocks of time, or at least not blocks of the “good” time (first thing in the morning, before the surface of my mind is churned up with the day’s sensory input and rendered useless for concentrating). Right now writing happens in the cracks of my life—around work, around the chores I do to maintain our household, around the time I spend with my husband, around the time I spend with my friends…eventually, perhaps, around having a child. The part of me that is dedicated to writing stubbornly keeps at it, even when any “real” writer would probably do a better job at telling their spouse not to distract them at certain times or blowing off their friends. I’m not going to be a hermit, and I’m really terrible at drawing that boundary for myself. So writing often has last priority, becoming this thing that I do when my time is finally my own…and that time comes parsed out in drips and drabs, not in large, unbroken streams.

But the truth is this: I am incredibly wasteful with the time I do have to myself. I have a helluva lot more time to write than I think, if I abandon the notion of only doing it in big chunks.

I have to admit, the idea of trying to write in 5-minute, 15-minute, 30-minute increments causes an instinctive rejection. I tend to have the ADD mentality, that if I don’t have time to hyperfocus on something, I don’t have time to do it. I am really terrible about this with sewing, as well, and I was this way as a teenager with crafting/art stuff, so it’s a lifestyle mentality, not something limited to writing. I also have the ADD reality, that if my head is cluttered up with a bunch of other shit, it’s really hard for me to concentrate. Like I can read words I wrote and not comprehend what they say hard.

But I am determined to figure out a way out of this box. I can’t stand giving 45 of my best hours to someone else anymore. I want to be doing what I love and making enough income at it either to drop to a PT job or stop working for anyone else entirely. I have a very good plan for how to get there, but it involves having 4+ works in my pocket when I implement it, and that means I have to write two more novels or at least novellas before I can even think about reducing my out-of-house work schedule, and that means I have to produce the additional works from within my current schedule, and that means I have to find the time to write.

So I’ve been paying attention to my writing patterns within a single sitting to see if I can find methods or tricks to slip back into a piece and get a few more words squeezed out, even if it’s in 5-minute increments.

Thus far the most interesting observation I’ve found is that I write in approximately 200-word bursts. That seems to be how long it takes for me to express something like a complete thought (paragraph, not sentence). Then I pause, and reach for the next thought. Sometimes something distracts me and I have to take a break from writing. Sometimes I just find the next 200 words of the story.

200 words takes me about 5 minutes to write, once my mind has a direction.

If nothing else, here is where my endless hours of typing on stories that never went anywhere all through my twenties come in handy: my typing speed is approximately 95 words a minute, plenty fast enough to keep up with my thoughts.

Okay, I think to myself—5 minutes and 200 words at a time it is. I only need….290 more sessions to hit 70K on the novel I just resumed.  Let’s bump it up to 300 because we all know I will write more than I think, and divide that by 30. That equals 10. So 10 five-minute sessions per day gets me a novel in a month. I…can do that? Surely I can do that?

I’ll never know for sure I can’t (can’t prove a negative!), but I’m sure about to try and prove that I can.

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Does Knowing I Am INTJ Make Me an Expert on My Type?

I am not sure how I feel about this one. I am getting a lot of hits on searches for the various ways of expressing “INTJ female.” On the one hand, yes, I am one, I talk about being one sometimes, and if I didn’t want it known I wouldn’t put it out there. On the other hand, I am not convinced I’m a good resource for people searching for information on INTJ females in general. This blog is not an MBTI-focused site. It is my personal site, and references to my type appear only when I am blogging about something that seems to typify or be influenced by my type. I write romance novels, which in and of itself seems odd for my type, and I am not sure any of my usual topics (writing, ADD, the romance genre, writing sex scenes, free-market/drug-war/other libertarian rants, etc.) are going to be of interest to someone specifically seeking information about INTJ females. The topics might be of interest TO XX-INTJ’s, perhaps, but not by being directly about them.

But short of taking down any reference to my type, which I’m not about to do – it just explains too much about me to hide – I will just have to deal with getting attention because I talk about my type. Hopefully I have written something on the topic that is interesting or helpful to the people searching for answers. I think I am just uncomfortable getting hits on that search term because I don’t think I’m the droid they are looking for.

So, if you found me via a search for “female intj” and came away disappointed…well, now you can’t say I didn’t warn you. 🙂

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And Now for Something Completely Different

I am putting off diving into Revision Hell for a time. 

Part of this decision is emotional – I am just tired of the story and the characters. I need a break from them. More than that, I need a break from the grind of writing in long-form scenes I had previously created. I would like to go back to the purely creative side of the process, where I am brainstorming and excited and perhaps a bit manic.

Part of the decision is also practical:  Given that I have to backshift the beginning of the story to match how it ends, I am going to need to run through the entire novel at once on the re-envisioning pass to make sure I can keep hold of all the plot threads and change them all to the final version of the plot. Such a project is going to require the ability to concentrate completely on what I’m doing. Probably for no more than a couple days, but that is still long enough to require planning. It is one weekend, yes, but one that is absolutely inviolate. It might happen if my husband is called away for work, and otherwise I will take a weekend sometime this summer and drive to my parents’ house in the woods and tell them to leave food outside my bedroom. Perhaps I will take the Friday after July 4th off and have a 4-day weekend to work with.

So, where my exhaustion with this story and my decision to move on to a new story rather than immediately revising leaves me is needing to pick a new project.

The one that I am planning to complete  next – I say “planning to” because my muse may decide he has other ideas; that has happened many times before – is one of the stories that made me write my Twelfth Night novellas. Not because this story is related to them or in any way inspired them, but because I was having such trouble getting anywhere on the story that I had to stop and write something shorter just to prove to myself I could write romance and could finish a story other than fan-fiction.

I have about 7500 words written to open the novel and maybe two scenes from later in the story sketched. These passages go back to the creation of the novel’s Word document on December 8, 2010. Yes, This novel has sat, barely begun on my hard drive and in my mind, for two and a half years.

The reason I picked it up, out of all the stories I have begun on page or in my mind, was a conversation I had about a week ago over dinner. I was telling my friend – the only one of my in-person friends who reads romance – about Dear Author’s post suggesting the historical romance genre be allowed to die because she sees it as being stagnated beyond rescue. I was outlining several reasons I disgree with her assessment that self-pub can’t redirect it, and one of them was my own work, particularly this story that I have yet to write. 
(I don’t mean to tease, but I never discuss particulars of my work before it is ready for publishing, so I’m not going to say what the specific moment is, but it’s a politically incorrect and more than a little brutal opinion the hero has, that I think is absolutely realistic and that would also be absoutely unpublishable from a major publisher.) Talking about the story with her reminded me how much it had engaged me when I thought of it originally. Our conversation made me want to write it.

A week ago, I assumed I would put off going back to this story for months – the months necessary for finishing the novel I was working on, then revising it, then writing the two side-shorts that accompany it.

Yesterday, I changed my mind. Partly it was the practical considerations of fatigue, lack of time to focus, and being too close to the draft to make hard decisions about revising. Partly it was listening to a (different) friend enthuse about how much fun she is having with a new project, one that had called to her and seduced her away from the project she had let her reason choose to come next.  But mostly, I am jumping to this new old story because right now, it’s the one calling to me the loudest.

I am going to do my best to dive in and not look back. I am going to do my best to finish this one sooner than 20 months from now. I am going to attempt to roll Dean Wesley Smith style and not outline so heavily as I sometimes do, put in lots of little writing sessions to add up quickly to big totals, and just keep writing until it’s done. I am not shooting for a full draft in 10 days, but 2 months might be doable.

All right, muse. Let’s see what you can do when you put your mind to it.

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Le Fin

I just typed the last five words of my first long-form novel.

20 months of writing, on and off.

245 single-spaced pages.

132,444 words on the roughest hewn draft I have ever produced.

1 subplot to remove from the first half of the draft.

1 plot point to re-envision.

5-10 scenes to rewrite based on the dropped plotline/new scene.

1 scene I intentionally skipped when drafting.

1 epilogue to write and then decide whether to use.

The novel is by no means FINISHED, but I am finished writing the thing.

Tell me, and, remember, this is for posterity, so, please, be honest: how do you feel?

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How Do You Feel About Prologues

I don’t spend a lot of time here writing how-to articles or making lists of what (not) to do in writing. For all that this is a writing blog, this is a different sort of writing blog, and there are plenty of other writing blogs that do cover those things as well or better than I could. On occasion, however, I must break my own inertia and tackle certain topics. On the menu today is prologues, courtesy of my friend Astrea, who made the mistake of asking how I felt about them.

Short answer: I love them.

Slightly less short answer: I love them when they are used, as Tim Gunn would say, thoughtfully.

Essay answer, basically taken out of my email and edited to remove personal examples/callbacks there is no context for in this blog:

I hate  how the “don’t use a prologue” thing is in vogue right now on writing advice sites. I suppose that soundbite is more effective at checking the irresponsible use of prologues than saying “they are good if you know what you’re doing,” but the uptight thinking and blanket ban on them really upsets me. I love prologues.

…when they are prefacing the story for a good reason. I intensely dislike the kind of prologue that is basically an authorial hand-job to create a false tension about the coming events that would not have been supported by the beginning of the book (cough *Twilight* cough).

But an actual prologue? A piece of action that is self-contained, separated from the main text by years or by happening to different characters, that sets up something important for the problems to come or explains a pertinent past event with more emotional punch than a summary in the “current” timeline ever could? THOSE prologues are AWESOME. The opening chapter to A Game of Thrones is a perfect example: it tells the readers one very important thing that would otherwise have not been revealed for hundreds of pages–the white walkers are real. As readers of the story, we need the dramatic irony created by our knowing the white walkers are real when the characters do not.  It creates a minor tragedy in the opening scene of Ned beheading the deserter, and every time a character laughs at the legends we cringe and know better and get a little more tense waiting for the inevitable revelation. 

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a book that, to me, epitomizes “show, don’t tell” by literally showing the past events that matter. I forget if it had a prologue or merely started way back in the past and jumped forward and then back again, but the story FELT like it had a prologue. All the “interludes” from Locke’s past are there for the reason I’m talking about–to create tension and drama (and, ultimately emotional payout) that would not exist if you were merely told about the past events rather than seeing them happen. Show vs. tell, and a good prologue is all show.

Prologues, used properly, enhance a reader’s fundamental understanding of a situation and sometimes add significant tension to their reading experience. Proper prologues are good things.

One way I look at a story where I think I want to use a prologue, to determine if a prologue would be appropriate, is this: would telling the events covered in the prologue in the story be more of an info dump than just showing them as a prologue? If yes, show what happens as a prologue.

Is the prologue itself an info dump? If so, ditch it. Info dumps work better integrated into the narrative proper.

Another angle is emotional impact: will this scene/decision/choice have a bigger emotional impact if it is shown rather than told as backstory? Will the reader’s perception of this character be influenced by seeing this event happen instead of just hearing about it? If yes, then it’s a good prologue candidate.

What about writing a prologue but then just calling it Chapter 1? You can do that, right? Astrea also asked.

 Theoretically, yes.  If you are really twitchy about prologues that are called prologues, you could just write the events as the first chapter. If you are doing “parts” to the book like, for example, Tolkien did, the Chapter 1 (prologue) could be its own part, where Part 2 picks up in a different place in the overall narrative with Chapter 2. That is the point of part divisions, after all.

That said, personally, I would still put that part of the story in as a prologue, because ultimately the point of calling something a “prologue” is to make it easier for a reader to navigate the story. The standard for including it as Part 1, or Chapter 1, or a prologue, or whatever other division you decide to use, is the same standard you should be using for all the scenes of the story–does it justify its portion of the word count by showing the reader something they need to know (about either plot or character or setting) and do not get from another scene? If the answer is yes, then the story needs that scene. and whether you insert it as a prologue, or a part, or a chapter, or an interlude, or an epigraph really doesn’t matter. Those are just semantics to frame the scene for the reader to help them keep their bearings in your story. If the scene is necessary to the story, put it in–and call it whatever you want to, so long as it makes sense to a reader.

Myself, I’ll just keep calling them prologues.

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Amber Waves of Spam…

Welcome to my collection of conflict resolution quotes. I update it regularly and if you have conflict quotes to recommend, please drop me a note.

Wut.

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The Answer Was Already There, in the Text

I had what I would consider a breakthrough day on my novel revisions today. I am almost through with the rough draft – tonight I sat down and counted up the scenes I need to write, and it is essentially four. Knowing me, I will end up writing six or seven, but perhaps not.  I have known for a long time what the end contains in the way of denouement.

My breakthrough was not about the ending. It was about the beginning. I have known, also for a while, that the beginning would need to be rewritten. One particular scene, I knew even when I wrote it, would need to be not merely revised but reimagined, and that was the sex scene that happens early on and is the start, rather than the culmination, of the couple’s journey. The original draft was a little too cerebral–by which I just mean the characters spent too much time thinking–and not desperate enough for the situation.

This morning I was putting off writing any more of the end (right now I can definitely feel myself dragging my feet on writing, now the number of scenes to go fits on one hand) by reviewing the beginning to see if I could get a better grasp on how to revise it.  As I was reading through the first scene from the hero’s perspective, I realized that I had the answer for how to approach the sex scene already written: what the hero fantasizes about doing while they dance, and yet did not do in the original (or revised) version of the scene.

I was dumbfounded to think I hadn’t seen it earlier. My thinking about this case had gotten way too uptight, indeed.  I am dumbfounded now to see where I planted a seed carelessly, without paying the slightest bit of attention to it, only to then find it a full-blown idea when I most needed it.

Now the only question is: do I let the hero reference how he approaches the encounter before it takes place?… 

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