When writing is like wrestling an alligator: A midweek ROW80 check-in

Last week, revising my story felt like wrestling an alligator. There were a few moments where I just sat there trying not to pull my hair out. I had one chapter left to revise, near the end of the story, only something wasn’t right. It was one of those scenes where earlier pieces come together, only the pieces weren’t fitting properly.

So I hit the pause button and created a chapter-by-chapter outline of what happens in the story, complete with scene locations and timestamps. I found a couple things: One, the timestamps in the middle of the story were out of order. Two, the reason that later chapter didn’t work was because of the setup in the middle. So I decided that, before I called the second draft done, more work was in order. I spent Saturday afternoon staring at the outline, formulating a plan. I know the story will be stronger for it.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re almost finished with a draft only to realize that the story needs yet more attention. Now that I have a solution, I’m happy to be implementing it. But for a while, when I knew what was wrong but not how to fix it, yes, writing this story felt a lot like wrestling an alligator…

Which leads to a midweek ROW80 check-in…

ROW80LogocopyWriting:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Revised/rewrote two scenes. Every chapter has been revised, but I made some changes to the middle of the story that have a ripple effect, so I’m trying to smooth things out. Also dealing with smaller, nitty-gritty issues, like making sure the timeline of the story is clear.
  • Write a first draft of another novella Finished at 13K!
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Goal met!

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Met for Tuesday and Wednesday, not for Monday.
  • Blog two times per week. On track to meet this goal.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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Revising a manuscript: How do you know when a draft is finished?

How do you know when a draft of a story is done? For me, a first draft is finished when I’ve written it from beginning to end—it might be rough, but the story is on the page.

But subsequent drafts are harder to judge. In my view, the second draft is finished when all the major issues that you know of are resolved. Any research that needs to be done is completed. All plot holes (that you’re aware of ) are filled in. You’ve integrated your critique partners’ or beta readers’ comments into the story.

10969657603_bbbcbc3421_z notebook by Shan Jeniah Burton WANA Commons

photo by Shan Jeniah Burton, WANA Commons

Third drafts and beyond follow the same pattern. We share the story with our critique partners or beta readers and read through the manuscript again. Any problems or concerns that are noted are addressed. Language is polished. Typos are fixed. With every draft, the story is more polished, closer to being ready for the wide world to see. Eventually, the language shines. All aspects of story, from structure to character arc to description, have been addressed. It might take some of us three drafts. It might take others eight.

I’ve been working on second draft of a novella for the past couple months. Some of these criteria have been met. Most of my CPs’ comments have been addressed. But there are still some problems with the middle of the story that need to be dealt with. This past week, I felt like I was playing Jenga. I would change something in one chapter only to realize that that changed the course of events in several more chapters. These seemed like small changes, but they had a ripple effect.

I know the story will be stronger when all is said and done. This week I’ll pull or rework scenes from the middle of the story. Sooner or later, this story will shine.

Sunday ROW80 check-in:

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Wrote 4,859 words, including a rough synopsis. Three chapters revised/rewritten. I’ve decided to make some changes to the middle of the story, so I’m not as close to finished as I thought—but the story is improving.
  • Write a first draft of a novella novelette. Finished!
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Finished “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue” by James Scott Bell.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Target met.
  • Blog two times per week. Target met.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Target met.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along? How do you decide when you’ve finished a draft of a story?

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What’s in a name? Coming up with titles for our stories

Can a title sell a book? | photo by Jenny Kaczorowski in WANA Commons

Can a title sell a book?
| photo by Jenny Kaczorowski in WANA Commons

Of all the aspects of writing craft we talk about, one that’s rarely touched on is coming up with a title. A catchy title can sell a book, but it also needs to hint at what readers will find beyond the cover. If the title is a pun, for example, we don’t expect to read a tragedy.

Often, writers start out with a working title. My manuscript now entitled “Made of Shadows” originally started out as “Below-world.” It wasn’t until well into the story that I came up with “Made of Shadows.” I had to learn my world and get to know my characters more before deciding.

Sometimes a catchy phrase just comes to us, and the title serves as a writing prompt. My current WIP, “Good Old-Fashioned Magic,” actually came from my morning pages, three stream-of-conscious pages prescribed by Julia Cameron in “The Artist’s Way.” In one entry I used the phrase “good old-fashioned magic.” I liked it as a title, so I opened a document and started typing. It ended up suiting the story well enough that I haven’t felt the need to change it.

The title for a story can come from within the story itself. A powerful line or phrase that hints at the theme of the story could well serve as a title.

If you’re stuck on a title, try selecting a few passages in your manuscript that sum up the theme of the story well. Is there a title hidden in there, waiting to be revealed? If so, does it convey the tone and genre of your story?

Lastly, a midweek ROW80 check-in…

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Rewrote one chapter and revised another. Two chapters to go.
  • Write a first draft of another novella. Finished! (Although technically, at 13,000 words, this project ended up more novelette than novella.)
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Read “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue” by James Scott Bell.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. On track to meet this goal.
  • Blog two times per week. On track.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

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What do you think? Do titles, like covers, sell books? What’s your method for titling your stories? Have you ever picked up or bought a book because its title piqued your curiosity?

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Writing experiments and a Midweek ROW80 check-in

ROW80LogocopyIt has been an interesting week writing-wise. This week I’ve challenged myself to write 2,000 words per day. It worked yesterday and Monday—2,921 words on Monday and 2,325 words on Tuesday. But today a headache derailed me, so I doubt I’ll reach 2K today. But there’s always tomorrow.

The novella I started, tentatively called “At Rainbow’s End,” is turning into a novelette. I reached the 10K mark and realized I was way past the halfway point in the story. So it’s probably going to be more like 15K instead of 20. But that’s just the nature of stories and how they evolve. I tend to be more of a put-in than take-out kind of person when it comes to revising, so the final draft might be longer.

This is also my first attempt at writing in first person instead of third. I’m considering this manuscript to be an experiment, one I’m just having fun with and seeing where the road leads. Since it’s such a short work, it gives me time to really dig in and play with character development, theme, tension, imagery, and so on, since the structure is fairly straightforward.

Since I’m writing full time, I’m tempted to look at my work and ask, “How close is this to polished and publishable?” With this story, I’m trying to learn patience. I still have a way to go, and the process can’t be rushed.

Have you ever written something just for fun? How have you learned to develop patience in your life?

ROW80 check-in

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Wrote a new scene that came in at 876 words.
  • Write a first draft of another novella. Okay, at this point, it’s more in the novelette territory. Wrote 4,370 words so far, including a synopsis.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Three of four books read. Finished reading “How I Write” by Janet Evanovich.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. On track to meet this goal.
  • Blog two times per week. On track to meet this goal.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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One trait writers need to succeed

What traits does a writer need to succeed? Discipline, of course. Persistence. And, yes, patience—the writer’s road can be a long and bumpy one. But I think, in all of our discussion about what traits make a successful writer, there’s one we often overlook: curiosity.

Writers need to be keen observers of the human condition.

Watching how people behave and asking why they act or react the way they do makes us better writers. It’s why the works of writers from Jane Austen to John Steinbeck have withstood the test of time. They observed the world around them and wrote. Their characters feel like real people, and we’re drawn in.

We also need to be curious about the world.

Our writing might require us to research anything from weaponry to geography. Our character probably won’t be a writer; she might anything from a food critic to a physicist. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter, but the author isn’t. She put in more than a few solid hours of research to make her character’s world come to life.

Our characters might be adept at martial arts while we’ve never taken a single jujitsu class. Our story might be set in another time, another place, and curiosity will help us learn everything we need to write a story that leaps off the page. Readers will notice if the little things are inaccurate, and it will draw them out of the story.

So, go ahead. Explore. Read about the history of Ireland, how the Great Wall of China was built, the Mars Rover, classic automobiles. Anything that might inspire a story or end up in one. Be curious.

This week’s ROW80 check-in…

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” No progress to report. I still have four chapters left to revise, but the ending of this one is tricky and I needed some distance. I think I’ve figured out the direction I want to take with revisions, though. Distance is working.
  • Write a first draft of another novella. Wrote 5,232 words this week.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. On book three of four. Continued reading “How I Write” by Janet Evanovich.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Target met.
  • Blog two times per week. Target met.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Target met.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop.

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Midweek ROW80 check-in

ROW80LogocopySummer is flying by. It’s hard to believe that it’s August and autumn is right around the bend.

There’s not too much to report this week, so I’ll jump right into the midweek ROW80 check-in. I do want to get back into writing more detailed posts, though, so look forward to those (hopefully) sometime soon.

ROW80 check-in…

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” No progress to report, but I did get my CPs feedback on the last two chapters, so now I can forge ahead with the revisions. Only four chapters left to go!
  • Write a first draft of another novella. Added about 1K new words to this story—give or take a few words.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. On book three of four. Currently reading “How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author” by Janet Evanovich.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. So far, so good.
  • Blog two times per week. On track with this goal.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

What about you? How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along? How has your summer been?

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