Good morning, everyone! I hope you are all managing OK out there.
NaNoWriMo is over and I’ve been struggling. I had developed a daily habit, but now it’s fallen to the wayside. I’ve been struggling to know what to write, because like I said in my earlier post, I’m getting to more historical events in my story, and having to do more research.
But, I’m determined to not abandon this project. I have a completed outline. That in itself is an amazing achievement! I’ve struggled with outlines on other stories before.
What has helped me is diving into the research, and trying to make it fun. For instance, did you know that there was a group of Lincoln supporters that did street performances in 1860, and ended up fighting in the American Civil War? They were called the “Wide Awakes”, and they had a parade and a big show on October 5, 1860. I never knew about them before, and I found the news and content about them so intriguing, it’s helped guide my story forward.
One helpful thing I read about post-NaNo slump was, keep setting goals and striving toward deadlines. Don’t just write without a goal in mind – maybe, write 2k words a day until January 1? Write 3 pages every day? Finish the draft by February? Whatever it is, put it on your calendar, hang it on your office wall, and get to it!
I like this advice, and it’s helping me. I’m still currently researching the events of and leading up to the Wide Awakes’ October 5 parade, but when I feel I’ve researched well enough, I’m going to be diving back into writing.
How is your novel going, whether you started it for NaNoWriMo or not? Or have you been working on poetry or some other writing? Maybe you’re going through a slump, too? Please share in the comments! I always like to talk with other writers.
Well, well…here I am. I didn’t expect that my National Novel Writing Month project would be T-boned by Covid-19…but such it is. I started feeling symptoms on October 27th but I thought it was just a cold/regular flu, because on Thursday the 29th I felt totally better! I even went back to work…fortunately I work alone at my office currently, but I hope I didn’t infect any visitors to my workplace.
On October 31st, morning, I felt an extremely high feverish feeling but couldn’t find my thermometer. I felt like I would throw up! It was time to get tested.
Testing results took 5 days to come back, because this IS Florida…my fiance and I have been in bed and resting for days now. We are SO SO fortunate to have loving friends and family, and they even sent us supplements!
My fiancé had a mild case at first, congestion only, fever for one day. Then he started getting a cough, which got worse. For me, I felt bad ever since the 31st and experienced fever off and on, severe sore throat pain, extreme fatigue, congestion, a dry cough, etc. My legs felt weak when I walked down stairs. I had brain fog. I could barely stand up in the shower. And I’m only in my 30s!
9 days in and we’re finally feeling a bit better. Yesterday we walked to the mailbox with masks and distanced. The day before, our adventure was taking out the trash. We even got some Mario Party in! Every day we take Vitamin C, D3, K2, Zinc, and many other natural medicines such as wheatgrass, colloidal silver, manuka honey, and more. It’s been a journey!
Now I’m back, and I’m going to try to regain the momentum I had with planning and writing my novel for NaNoWriMo 2020. I’ve got 3,712 words so far – about 6 pages. I’m behind by another 6 pages, since my goal was to write 3 pages/day, and I did 0 writing on Tuesday or Wednesday. (My 3,712 words, 6 pages was a head-start I got in October; those subbed in for November 1-2 when I was super sick this past Sunday and Monday and also didn’t write).
Here’s for writing 6 pages in one day – no, 9! If I want to catch up to my goal to write 3 pages/day and reach 50,000 words by the end of November!
For my fellow NaNo writers, I wish you luck! And inspiration! May you quiet your Inner Editor and get time to write. Don’t forget to rest, eat, and drink lots of water! I know that’s what I’ll be doing most of the time, what with Covid still in my system.
Tell me about your NaNo projects, WriMos! Are they going well? Started slowly? Still looking for Pinterest inspiration (or “Pinspiration”)? Please share in the comments! Also, if you care to answer either of the question under the pictures in my post, please do!
My writing work this week, coupled with reading The Artist’s Way and a fiction book, have made me very thoughtful. How does one go about plotting a clever book that will be unpredictable and engage the reader? This has been my topic of the week.
I started out by picking up a random book from my shelf, a book which I had bought for $1 or less at a wonderful, local book sale that goes on twice a year. I am about to finish the book, but things are wrapping up in it now, and I’m contemplating plot. The book is Kushiel’s Chosen, a dark fantasy/Alternate Universe novel by Jacqueline Carey. I picked it up knowing it is part of a series, and not the first book. Yet I had read so many good reviews of it, I just had to buy it when I saw it at the sale.
Without giving anything away, I will say a little about Carey’s book. Phedre no Delaunay, Comtesse de Montreve, is a chosen of the god Kushiel, and thus experiences pain and pleasure simultaneously. She was a slave girl and was bought by a spy lord as a girl and trained the arts of spying and prostitution; now, after the death of her master, who was also a dear friend, she has recently had some normalcy in life, which included a monogamous romance with a dear old friend.
But, at the start of the novel she receives a signal that indicates her old enemy, noble-woman and spy-equal Melisande, is still alive, and may be a threat to Phedre’s Queen. So Phedre returns to the Capitol and to her life of politics, seduction and intrigue, hot on the heels of an evil plot, whilst inside being tormented by the loss of her lover and friend (who feels betrayed that she has had to return to her holy prostitution under the service of the goddess Naamah).
In the course of the book, Phedre is forced to make important choices which effect the events later in the book. ***SPOILER WARNING!! SPOILERS BELOW**
Phedre chooses to take the bait the enemy gives her, and move to a foreign city to investigate clues. She chooses to track her enemy to her location, and thereby gets herself in huge trouble and almost goes insane, literally, in a terrible prison. Then she is given the choice to remain there forever or become an indentured slave to the enemy. Just as she chooses to be a slave, with little hope of escape, she is taken from prison – only to become a hostage in the hands of a famous pirate!
If Phedre had chosen to stay in the Capitol instead of pursue the enemy, she never would have found the information she sought – but nor would some of her companions have died, perhaps. ***SPOILERS END AFTER THIS PARAGRAPH***
WHAT MAKES A GOOD OUTLINE?
These are just a few examples of how characters choices affect the story. It was also the choice of the author to have so many options, and to make it so that one event causes her character to choose a different path later. Because of certain events, characters develop in varied ways and make choices different than those they would have made at the start of their story. Thus, both plot and character arcs become very engaging to the reader.
I find this all very interesting as I try to outline my novel, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. I want to learn better how to make one event the cause for another, to make one choice by the main characters affect the story later on. It may seem obvious to think on it abstractly, but when it gets down to writing a deeply involved novel with political intrigue and such, as Carey’s novel, then the writing work gets more gritty.
My contemplation of what makes a good outline seemed to be echoed in my life this week, too. I bought a plane ticket, which takes careful planning if you want a certain price, date, etc., and a friend of mine cancelled her plans with me because she got overwhelmed by circumstances beyond her control. Just one tiny thing can change the course of a day, a week…maybe even a lifetime.
I guess my point is, sometimes we feel small in the pullings of the world, but this ability to be small can help us when we outline our book in detail. The more detailed outline, some would say, the better. Others would say, don’t be so attached to the outline, and still others, don’t outline at all. My opinion lies somewhere in the middle: Outline, but be flexible about it. Outlines help, but it can be easy to get distracted by them, and get so involved in outlining that you don’t even get started (or continue) writing your story.
KEEPING YOUR CHARACTER’S DEVELOPMENT CONSISTENT
Back to Carey’s book, I noticed the skill with which Carey developed Phedre’s character. At the start she is very in control and strong, and through the course of the book she seems to become weaker and more vulnerable to her inner fears and truths…but towards the end, these very weaknesses become her strengths. If it were not for certain people dying, or certain unexpected attacks by the enemy, Phedre would not have developed in this way, but would have remained under the shadow of this false strength that she shows to society. Because of the events of the plot and her choices, she develops into a strong but vulnerable, even more clever woman.
Towards the end of the novel, there were a couple instances I felt that Carey’s writing…wilted. I had to suspend my disbelief a little too much, as characters who had previously been very intelligent and quick to act missed a couple key opportunities to do a quick one-two political moves to render the enemy defeated quickly. For the sake of plot and her series, and a dramatic climax, Carey gave her characters a couple stupid moments, right at the end when it really counted, right when I REALLY wanted to see them be smart! It left me feeling a little empty, when I had been so full with the genius of the book thus far.
So this gets me thinking more on, not only plot and deliberating one event into causing another, but showing our characters using what they’ve learned while not giving them too much advantage. Perhaps Carey felt that if she didn’t give the characters their stupid moment, the end would have been too easy. Indeed, she is good at being tough on her characters – and her readers! Yet, I had believed in the intelligence of her character so well so far, that seeing them falter – and for no given reason, just randomly – struck me as a bad move on the author’s part.
Right now this post is just a mad ramble, because I am still thinking on all of this. I want to de-jumble the mess of my thoughts and post again soon. I am also going to continue my posts on Julia Cameron’s creativity workbook, The Artist’s Way. For now…
Any thoughts on plotting, outlining, or character arcs?
I betrayed you by not posting when I said I would. I made it sound like I would post every week, without fail, but I failed to uphold that promise and your trust. Please accept my sincere apologies.
Since so much time has passed, I’ve had time to think about why I just couldn’t sit down and write that blog post. Here is why:
I haven’t felt inspired in my writing and so I felt like a liar to post on this blog, which is about writing. I have been reading The Artist’s Way, but I have a terrible confession to make:
I do not write my morning pages.
Yup! You read that right. I have been voluntarily skipping one of the most important regimens of the Artist’s Way workshop process. Because I have not been pouring out my thoughts every morning, my worries continue to entangle, stop me from writing, and stop me from even posting on this blog. This is what happened to me in the last two weeks (I was supposed to post about a week ago).
Tonight I attended a traditional Indian music concert. I brought my notebook with me, just in case I got ideas for finishing the outline of my novel revision. Ever since my inspired post here, where I talked about the flash of inspiration that caused me to outline roughly half my book…I’ve got nothing to show. Nothing has been written of that outline since. So I brought my notebook, thinking the mellow music of the sitar, the humming of the sarod, and the fast beat of the tabla might get my gears going.
Lo and behold, it did.
I wrote this blog post while listening to that fantastic mystical medley of sound. The conclusion I came to is this:
Don’t Let Go of What is Precious to You.
I know those of you with children, especially little girls, have probably gotten very familiar with the song Let It Go from the Disney film Frozen. Well, here is a lesson to the opposite: Don’t Let Go!
Don’t let go of what you want to do, or be, or see, etc. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop that healthy new diet or exercise regime. Don’t stop getting up early when it feels good and you’ve finally got a rhythm going. Don’t stop caring about something that may be so difficult or so painful, but when you decide to care, you are amply rewarded. Even though what you want to achieve may seem far and the process to obtain it may be challenging, keep going.
They say that that which is precious, which is most rare, is most difficult to obtain. Writing is one of the hardest anyone can do, I think, and this is why so many people quit before they’ve even started. So many people are surprised when they hear you are a writer. Half of them, I think, are shocked that you are surviving, and the other half is scoffing and waiting with bated breath for you to fail.
Half of the time, that little voice of contempt that thinks you will fail, is your own self. It is the monster in you that Julia Cameron mentions in her books. It is the Inner Editor. It is the voice of so-called “reason” that stomps on your dreams.
Go out there and make it happen. Dance, write, take classes, whatever it is! Don’t let it go.
And if you DO stop, if you lose your momentum…start up again. Don’t let you stop you. Form or join a support group, if that’s what you feel may help. We all have our bad days. Just don’t let one bad day become “the day I stopped _____.” Let it be just a bad day, nothing more.
This may all sound like a bunch of junk. But look at the other side of it. Right now you are maybe living in an existence in which you have most likely already let it go. You are living in an existence that is easy, or lazy. I know that I certainly am.
There are reasons we continue to let go of what is important to us. Staying away from those things is easier and requires less of us, or does not disturb our loved ones, or our schedules, or our Facebook time. But just try to grab hold of it again, please. Give it one day. Then, give it another.
You will feel the difference. I promise this, because I have experienced it. When I write for days after maybe a month of not writing, it feels so good. I’ve had success with this in other areas of life, too – spiritual, health, finance, etc. Try to create a habit of what you don’t want to let go of. I am telling this to myself, even more than I am telling it to you.
What do you not want to let go of? Please share in the comments.
Think of it as your chance to finally tell Elsa to shut up and stop singing! *wink*
This week’s Artist’s Way was an exciting eye-opener. It felt like getting closer to seeing the top of the mountain as you climb it.
For my artist’s date, I went to a ceramics studio and painted a bowl, which I am super excited to pick up this week! It was so relaxing to just sit for two hours amidst quiet fellow artists, silent, painting my bowl. I had no limits. I had no worries. Past and future melted away. It was just me, my paints, and my bowl.
It was SO relaxing! I felt so de-stressed after. I also felt my creativity was invigorated. It helped the rest of my week whiz by. Perhaps due to that lovely, long, respectful artist’s date, I got flashes of inspiration this weekend and started outlining my entire novel, so that I can more easily revise it.
I think there’s something getting through to me, even though I’ve missed so many morning pages in this read-through of Artist’s Way:
RESPECT. (Really tempted to spell that out and attach a YouTube video of the song here, but I won’t…hehe).
I am starting to respect my writing time again. Because of that, I’m starting to respect myself more. I love myself more when I feel inspired to write. I love writing. It really is a part of me.
This week’s artist’s date felt the most respectful and calming of all the ones I’ve done so far. It was very private (even though I was in a room with others, it was quiet), and I was really able to let the rest of the world sink away. The lack of stress and noise really helped me dive into that creative mood, to just sink into my piece, my bowl.
Sinking into my work is my favorite part of writing. Don’t you just love it when you sit down and the words flow easily, the scene makes itself clear, the characters who who they really are? It’s such an amazing feeling. I would love to hear you all describe it, because I find it tough to describe, myself.
I also really enjoyed working on my outline. I’ve got about 12 chapters outlined now. It was on a day that was sunny and breezy. I had decided to read on my back patio, but brought my notebook too, just in case. Then when I was in the bathroom (yes, LOL, no one ever talks about getting your great writing ideas on the toilet – but it DOES happen!). While there I got my ideas, and when I returned outside to my patio and notebook, they just sortof flowed out of me for a while.
Even when the flow ebbed off, I kept going, and spoke encouraging words to myself. I wrote what happened, in scenes. I’ve never really done that before. I scribbled questions to myself in bubbles. And next, I’m going to do a chart showing how the main plot and the sub-plots weave together, so I can keep outlining the other chapters (middle arc and final arc stuff).
So my friends, if you’re thinking of reading The Artist’s Way, don’t be discouraged. It’s challenging at first, but it does get better.
This week, I’ve got some crazy tasks Cameron gave at the chapter end. We have to NOT READ ANYTHING for a whole week, so that the sludge of constant stimulus and others’ ideas can leave, and we can get ideas, aka “refill the well”, Cameron says.
I’m going to try it, not reading. I know it will be, well, insane. I WILL ask someone to glance at my email for me, so I don’t miss anything super important. But I’m happy to say goodbye to Facebook for a week, I can certainly live without Twitter. The real hard part will be not reading your WordPress blogs, my fellow writers, friends and bloggers…and, of course, the awesome newsletters by Jennie Nash and other writer coaches that I love. I’ve already taken a break from Writer Unboxed so I can focus on my story and not get too hyped in just reading articles ABOUT writing, instead of actually writing.
Well, it’s late here, so I must stop. But more tales of The Artist’s Way adventures will be here in a week!
Today I read a great guest blog post over on Writer Unboxed about outlining your novel before writing it, versus writing straight-off from your mind with no outline, “by the seat of your pants,” as the saying goes. I like what the writer had to say there, and it got me thinking…am I a pantser, or an outliner?
I have one novel which I outlined for – BUT, I did not keep the outline. How ridiculous, right? Well, it was the first novel I wrote which I could actually show to other people and to the light of day, so…when I was initially doing the outline, I would delete the outline I’d made for that chapter once I finished it. This was so that I could feel proud and accomplished for having finished that chapter.
In the second half of writing and outlining the novel, I started to keep my outline.
Now that I am in the second draft of the novel, I really, really wish I had kept my outline! Sure, it might have been laughable and ugly, that old, early outline, but…it would make me feel good now, at least, to be revising the novel into a better state. And, of course, it might make the job easier, if I had that outline now. I would see more clearly and easily the underlying themes that I wanted to go into the novel. I would be able to decide, do I want to keep those old themes? Do I see a particular way that this character has developed that I want to maintain as I do the second draft? Etcetera.
My other novel is definitely a pantser one. I started writing it in college after my first viewing of Hayao Miyazaki‘s Howl’s Moving Castle film. I named one of the important characters in the novel Sophie, but she ended up very, very different from that protagonist in Miyazaki’s film (first of all, she’s dead! But her death before the novel’s story begins is very important to the characters and their development and actions).
For this second novel, I just wrote whatever I wanted. Scenes would come up upon me like dreams, and I scribbled them down in notebooks, sometimes frantically, sometimes with a grin upon my face. My inner editor somehow shut up or died throughout the process of writing this novel, and I just wrote whatever. Sometimes I went back in and changed something that I had decided early on in the novel. Sometimes I introduced a random character out of nowhere (*cringe). But darn it was fun!
Going back over that pantser novel recently, I realized – this is going to take a LOT of work if I ever want to publish this! And I mean a LOT. But even as I made a list of questions about stupid things in the draft and came up with ideas for my grand fixer-upper, I realized a few things about the pantser novel:
The characters had really distinctive voices. They felt like really people to me, with intricate pasts and even futures beyond the novel. I grew to love them so much, I even wrote little snippet pieces that have nothing to do with the novel and won’t ever be in it, but feature the characters doing ordinary day things, having separate little adventures and romances, etc.
The writing is stupid sometimes, but never do I get the feeling, reading the pantser draft, that I struggled a lot in writing it. It doesn’t FEEL like “oh this is writing, see what the writer was trying to do here?” Instead, it just feels like a flowing story, albeit with a lot of holes, cuts, and scrapes that need healing in revision work.
In contrast, my outliner-novel is a lot more fleshed-out. It is more of a child than a baby, and it certainly does not have as many cuts and holes that need mending. It DOES have sections that feel stiff though, and the ending is terrible. The pantser-novel has some stupid elements in its ending, but ultimately…that last line? I love it. It’s perfect. The last scene has just enough, and not too much….loose ends are tied, but not too tightly.
The outliner has more of a message. Its characters also have distinctive voices. It has bad plot holes, sometimes, too, and cliches that need to be mopped up and are embarrassing. It will DEFINITELY be easier to revise, for which I’m happy.
But…but…there is something to be said for heart, when you write a pantser novel. Somehow they’re just so fresh and lively and laughing, when you wrote them without that awful Inner Editor lifting a shotgun to every sentence.
Ultimately though, like I commented on John Vorhaus‘ post at Writer Unboxed…I vote for outlining. It just helps me keep my sanity!
Anyway, back to the main topic…I wanted to say more, aside from my personal story about outlining vs. pantsering.
If doing nothing, staring into space, daydreaming, and wandering aimlessly through fields of wheat and such helps us write…and pantsering novels into creation has more heart and voice but ultimately more work in it for us writers…should we stop outlining, forgetting about deadlines, in the name of writing “better” novels which “speak more”?
But…will they speak more to us, or to readers? Perhaps an outlined novel will have more structure and more efficient plotting etc., making it a more enjoyable read? Even if it meant more work for us…it would be worth it, to work more, to outline, because what we produce will reach more people, touch more lives, and be ultimately more satisfying for us, too, since we’ll be connected with a product that people enjoy.
Of course, this is just me throwing ideas out to you all…thoughts to munch on. After all, we know that each writer has his or her individual process. The pantsers will pantser on, and the outliners will outline. That is that. They may switch, or stick to their chosen method, whichever they choose.
I think I choose both. I think I choose whatever strikes my fancy.
I also think that one of the commenters on Writer Unboxed makes a good point. His opinion was that Pantser writers are simply writing an outline, in the form of a higgledy-piggledy, super-rough first draft. Yeah. I tend to agree with that.
Here are some fun statistics on outlining vs. pantser-ing, from the lives of well-known authors:
J.K. Rowling knew the end of the 7th book in the Harry Potter series rather early on in her writing. She does outline!
Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries series and other series for YA, does not outline. More on her view here.
Faulkner wrote his outline for A Fable on his office walls.
The outlines are as varied, organized, disorganized, and interesting as the writers who wrote them!
So, you see? Perhaps outliners and pantsers aren’t so different after all. Even the outliners have differing styles. Some of their outlines just look like tons of squiggles. Some make miniature books showing their outlines, bit by bit. Some do charts and rows of boxes…it’s all very diverse.
I love that. No matter whether we fall into the outliner or pantser field of writing, or whether we run from one group to the other depending on our format, novel, or mood…writing remains a very free thing, very individual, and each story has its own unique flavor.
Yet another reason to keep on chugging on!
I hope this gives some confidence, or at least a few laughs and munchies, for fellow writers who are outlining or revising out there today.