Murky Middles and Sunday ROW80 check-in

Making it through the middle... image from WANA Commons, by David Jace

Making it through the middle…
image from WANA Commons, by David Jace

I’m currently up to my eyeballs in revisions of a novella, and one thing I’m struggling with—one that many of us struggle with, I suspect—is keeping tension throughout the middle of the story. I worry that the middle sags a little, not because I’ve made things too easy for my characters, but because they’re sort of trapped in a stalemate. In other words, there are a few chapters of reaction, thinking, and planning, but not much action. Sort of the calm before the storm.

This might be the hardest problem to fix in this manuscript, but it’s not impossible. I had a wonderfully productive meeting with my critique partners this week, and they made some suggestions that have definite potential: Give one of the characters more agency so she’s not completely trapped in her situation. Flesh out the secondary characters so that they can carry some of the weight. Sprinkle more magic throughout the story. And so on.

We often get so caught up in penning captivating first chapters and breathtaking endings that it’s easy to overlook making those chapters in between shine, but that’s exactly what every chapter needs to do: Capture and hold readers’ attention. Keeping up tension throughout a story can be a difficult part of the process to master.

Do you ever get stuck in the middle? Do your stories ever sag as they approach the midpoint? How do you keep things moving?

ROW80 goals check-in…

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Revised one chapter. Met with critique partners about three more chapters. Brainstormed a couple new scenes to help increase tension in the Murky Middle of the story.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Continued reading “Conflict and Suspense” by James Scott Bell.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. Goal met for Wednesday and Thursday, not for the rest of the week.
  • Blog two times per week. Goal met.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Goal met for Wednesday and Thursday.

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 coming along? How do you get your characters through the Murky Middles of your stories?

denise signature

ROW80 Round 3 Writing Goals

I’m getting a late start to Round 3. I should’ve posted this Monday, but it’s been one of those weeks. (Actually, it’s been two crazy weeks in a row, but sometimes life is like that.) We just found out that one of our cats might need not one but two major surgeries, one to remove a mass in his left eye and potentially another to remove a cataract in his right eye. So we’re hoping his first surgery, scheduled for later this month, goes well and the outcome is positive. For now he’s just getting lots of snuggles.

ROW80LogocopyMy goals for Round 3 of ROW80 are fairly straightforward:

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Currently approaching the halfway mark with this goal.
  • Write a first draft of another novella.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Currently reading “Conflict and Suspense” by James Scott Bell.

Social media:

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

What about you? What are your writing goals for the coming months?

denise signature

ROW80 Wrap-Up: Lessons learned in Round 2

ROW80LogocopyIt went by in a flash, but round 2 of A Round of Words in 80 Days is over. I met some of my goals for this round, but my main goal, to finish a draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic” is one I didn’t meet. Still, I’m happy with my progress. Here’s the wrap-up:

  • I finished a draft of a short story, tentatively titled “Midwinter Bride: The Goblin Master’s Tale.”
  • About a quarter of the way through revisions to “Good Old-Fashioned Magic,” a novella of about 35K.
  • My goal was to read four books on the business/craft of writing. I read five: “Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World” by Kristen Lamb, “Rock Your Revisions” by Cathy Yardley, “Sometimes the Magic Speaks” by Terry Brooks, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King, and “Revision and Self-Editing” by James Scott Bell (a reread).
  • I didn’t do as well with my social media goals as I did last round, but I’d say I met them 75 percent of the time, which isn’t too bad.

So, I met some goals, and didn’t meet others. But I learned a lot about writing and, more specifically, my writing process during this round:

  • I learned that slow periods are a natural part of the writing process, and that what’s most important is that we keep going.
  • I learned that I need to be kinder to myself when I, being human and imperfect, fail to reach a goal. I can take lessons from a failure without beating myself up. I’m still working on this.
  • I discovered a process of revision that works for me. Instead of revising in order, I’m tackling the scenes with the biggest issues first and working from there. Since I’m bouncing between chapters, it’s harder to track my progress. But as long as every day the manuscript is getting better, I can rest assured I’m heading in the right direction.

I’m almost halfway through my first year as a full-time writer, and I’m happy to see myself growing and improving, mastering new aspects of the writing process and developing a process that works for me.

What about you? What lessons did you learn in round 2? How much progress did you make toward your goals?

A Round of Words in 80 Days is a blog hop. Click here to cheer on fellow ROWers.

denise signature

Learning a new revision process: Sunday ROW80 check-in

ROW80LogocopyOne of my goals for the second round of ROW80 was to finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” With less than a week to go, that goal is clearly not going to be met. But the good news is that the manuscript is much better than it was when I started this round. I’ve come to realize that I needed a different way of approaching revisions.

I started out trying to revise from beginning to end. That method didn’t work, and I spent a couple weeks spinning my wheels. Now, I’m revising based on which scenes/chapters need the most work—they need a full rewrite, or have major issues with character development or world development. Revising out of order has proven to be much more productive and efficient than working on the chapters in order.

Out of all of this, I’ve learned a valuable lesson about allowing my process to grow and evolve. Getting stuck proved to be a wonderful opportunity to find a new process, one that works much better for me.

Has this ever happened to you? In what ways has your writing process changed as you’ve grown as a writer?

ROW80 check-in

1.) Writing:

  • Goal: to finish the second draft of the novella I finished in Round 1, “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Wrote/rewrote several scenes. Partial revision to one chapter. Started a character voice journal.

2.) Read 4 books on the craft/business of writing.

  • 4 of 4 books read. Continued reading a fifth book, “Revision and Self-Editing” by James Scott Bell.

3.) Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. Goal met.
  • Comment on 3-5 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Goal met.
  • Blog 2 times a week. Goal met.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life.

To fellow ROWers, good luck with the last few days of this round!

denise signature

Summer Days: Midweek ROW80 check-in

photo by Debra Kristi, WANA Commons

photo by Debra Kristi, WANA Commons

Summer has arrived in all its glory. What is your favorite part of summer? Making S’mores by the fire, reading a book poolside, firing up the grill, digging your toes into the wet sand, or stargazing on a clear night? Mine is definitely being able to hike on the weekends—a pastime I miss when winter rolls around.

My midweek ROW80 check-in…

1.) Writing:

  • Goal: To finish the second draft of the novella I finished in Round 1, “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Wrote a new scene and made some major changes to the climax of the story, since I felt the good guys had it way too easy in the first version. That was my major project for the first half of the week.

2.) Read 4 books on the craft/business of writing.

  • 4 of 4 books read. Goal met.

3.) Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. On track to meet this goal.
  • Comment on 3-5 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.
  • Blog 2 times a week. 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!

How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along for this week? And what’s your favorite part of the season?

denise signature

Learning to embrace “slow” writing: Sunday ROW80 check-in

original image by Myndi Shafer, accessed at WANA Commons

original image by Myndi Shafer, accessed at WANA Commons

A few weeks ago, I suddenly found myself stuck on the project I was working on, revisions on a novella. I was, of course, incredibly frustrated with myself for my lack of progress. Now that the wheels are turning, my perspective has changed. I see I actually made quite a bit of progress during that time. It just wasn’t easily measured.

I suspect many writers have these “slow periods,” and that they are, in fact, a healthy part of the writing process. When we’re stuck on one project, there are plenty of ways to keep our momentum:

1.) Read a book about the craft of writing. This can help us understand why we’re stuck and helps us keep growing in our craft.

2.) “Morning pages”: In her book “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron recommends three handwritten pages of free-writing or journaling every morning. These pages allow us to sweep the cobwebs from our minds. I’ve even found some story ideas in mine.

3.) The Ping-Pong method: When I realized I was stuck, I went into planning mode on another story. I did some plotting and some character work for a story I want to work on later this year. That meant I was still working, even if I didn’t have any progress on my WIP to report.

4.) Remember that thinking is part of the process: It’s hard to see thinking as writing, but thinking about our stories is vital to the creative process. Since I’m in revision mode with this story, I was mentally examining my story for weak points. I realized the dialogue needs to be strengthened. I realized the grand finale scene goes too smoothly for the good guys. And I realized there are places in the middle where the tension can be upped. During my so-called slow period, I was in fact mapping out potential solutions in my head. I see now that I came up with some solid solutions over the last few weeks, and now that the wheels are turning again, it’s time to put those ideas into action.

In short, I’ve learned that just because we can’t always measure our progress, that doesn’t mean we’re not making any. These times can serve as a sort of incubator for ideas. When we slow down, we discover solutions and possibilities that might not have occurred to us when we were zooming along. Now, I can approach these times with a sense of gratitude and patience.

ROW80 check-in:

1.) Writing:

  • Goal: To finish the second draft of the novella I finished in Round 1, “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Revised two chapters this week and planned out additional changes.

2.) Read 4 books on the craft/business of writing.

  • 4 of 4 books read. Goal met for this round.

3.) Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. Met for every day except Wednesday.
  • Comment on 3-5 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Goal met.
  • Blog 2 times a week. Goal met.

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

When you find yourself spinning your wheels on a story, what do you do? Your comments brighten my day. I’d love to hear from you.

Midweek ROW80 check-in

After a few weeks of spinning my wheels, I’m now making progress again on my WIP. I’ve also outlined a new project for later this year. My plan is to do character bios, a blurb, and a for-my-eyes-only synopsis before digging into that story, another novella, later this year. I also want to write a fairy tale retelling—something I’ve been itching to do for a long time. Something like that could be a NaNoWriMo project or another goal for later this year. But first, I have a second draft to finish!

I was quite frustrated with myself a couple weeks ago for my slow pace. I figured this year my writing would be zipping along, but a slow period every now and then can’t be helped, I suppose. I made use of time I wasn’t working on my WIP to mull over some new projects, type up some notes, and do outlining on another project, so the time wasn’t wasted.

So far this year, I’ve written drafts of a novella and a short story, and I have a couple more projects that I’d at least like to start. I’m learning to be kind to myself whenever I go through a dry spell and focus on what I did accomplish, not what I didn’t.

ROW80 check-in:

ROW80Logocopy1.) Writing:

  • Finish the second draft of the novella I drafted in Round 1, “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Revised one chapter so far this week. I won’t have a finished second draft by the end of this round, but I’m hoping to hit the halfway mark.

2.) Read 4 books on the craft/business of writing.

  • 4 of 4 books read. Goal met for this round.

3.) Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. Met for Monday and Tuesday.
  • Comment on 3-5 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. So far, on track to meet this goal.
  • Blog 2 times a week. 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!

What about you? How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along? What do you do when you reach an obstacle in the writer’s road?

denise signature