I Am A Work-In-Progress

Keep working, Mr. Bee.

Miles run today: 10

Words written in my novel so far: 53,592

Times I have been wrong: 4.5

You may ask my husband and family: I am never wrong. Well, I mean… mostly never.

Memorable times in history when I have been mistaken:

1. “Pluto and Yugoslavia will always exist as they are today.”– Anne, circa 1987.

2. “I don’t get the big deal about the Information Superhighway. It isn’t going to affect my life in any major way.” –Anne, circa 1992.

3. “I am completely uninterested in sharing my life in a blog.” –Anne, circa 2009.

(The .5 is to encompass any slight oversight in my recollections.)

Please control your gasps, but a sea change occurred recently in my writing life, and I need to confess:

4. I was wrong about being a pantser. Plotting and outlining my novel might be a good idea.

I know. It’s huge.

Much has been made about the plotting vs. pantsing divide in the writing world: some writers prefer to construct detailed outlines of their novels, while other writers write “by the seat of their pants.”

I read an excellent blog post by a published author recently, though I can’t find it now to save my life. She said that she had many reservations about outlining… until she got very pressed for time: between caring for young children and rigid deadlines from publishers, something had to give.

She found that by taking a few minutes at the start of each writing session to write out, longhand, the gist of the next couple of chapters, she increased her word count by thousands of words. The result was dramatic and life-changing.

I was resistant to the outlining/plotting process. Like this author, I was afraid that specific, Roman-numeral, English-class-style outlines would stunt my writing, essentially locking me in a 10×10 cell wrapped in blank pages.

I’ve never been fond of formal outlines. They represent everything about school that I disliked, all rules-y and authoritative, judgmental and blocky.

But if you can find a way to make a chapter summary-style outline work for you, it just might change your life. I am finding, not that I’m writing wildly productive, 10,000 word sessions, but that the chapters I am writing have more of a focus.

And if you struggle with maintaining tension and keeping conflict alive in your writing, as I do, a scene/chapter loose outline may help you hone in on the nugget that each chapter needs to push your story forward.

I am fortunate to be in an excellent critique group, and if you have critiqued other writers’ work as I have, you will find that sussing out lack of tension in other writers’ work is SO EASY. Why, how simple it is to see what someone else is lacking! You, there–your story is getting dull! Your characters are talking about nothing that helps the story move forward! I just read a chapter that didn’t even need to be in your novel!

But it’s not so easy to see in your own work. At least not during the initital writing process.

You can become so enamoured of your characters, of the setting, of your snappy dialogue, that you forget the very essence of why you are writing: to make the reader want to find out what happens next!

I’m still muddling through on my WIP. I am no speed writer or novel goddess. I have not yet placed in the time trials of Olympic Novel Writing. I, myself, am a Work-In-Progress.

But I’d love to hear back from you about what you have changed about your writing process. What were you wrong about? What has made your job as a novelist easier? What nugget of wisdom can you pass along to make the world a better place?

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Backseat Navigation, Eyes Closed

You can only imagine where you’ll end up.

Words written in novel so far: 14,696

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Days of school until summer: 2 1/2

I can’t lie and say I never got bored as a child, mostly because my mom would shout to the world, “LIAR!”

But even with all of the free time in the summer, I remember being bored less during those long, lazy days.

Some years, I was in daycare, roller skating to Kool & The Gang and The Beatles. I was all about the disco ball but unfortunately never mastered skating backwards with proficiency.

On hot afternoons, we sat under trees on the playground and French-braided each other’s hair.

When I got a little older, I owned time. Time had no value or boundaries, and I rolled around in it, let it spill over me in an abundance I would never know again.

I love the pool; we used to spend hours there and never got bored. I love to read; just lying on my bed with nothing to do but read The Once and Future King was my idea of heaven.

But one of my favorite things was when my friend and I would say, “We’re bored! What can we do?” and her mom, who looked like a Skipper doll and often burst out into “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To,” would say, “Get in the car.”

She had a little white car (make and model unknown; see why here), and we would stretch out in the hatchback section and close our eyes.

“Here we go!” she would sing out.

My friend and I would pay attention to each turn: left on Emory, right on Holt, right into the high school parking lot… no, maybe that was the next right, into the church. Dangit!

Once you got off track, it was impossible to salvage the Navigation Game. But we tried. Oh boy, did we try.

Summer is here again. I want those fun memories for my kids. And I also want to write my novel and see its progress… I want happy memories of this summer for me, too.

As a fiction writer, they say there are two types of writers: the Outliners and the Pantsers (as in Seat of Your Pants).

I’m a Pantser for the most part. I have an idea of where the plot is going, but I’m always sad when I see that something bad has to happen to one of my beloved characters.

I’m in the backseat, eyes closed, visualizing the left on Emory, right on Holt, driving, driving… but we didn’t turn at the high school like I thought we might. Oh? We’re still driving? Wow. All the way to Lower Roswell?

With writing and with summer break, the most gratifying part is that there are still surprises around every corner.

This summer, there will be the pool, there will be lazy afternoons of reading, but if my kids give me a precious few hours of writing time each week, maybe one day, I’ll say, “Get in the car.”

They will climb in the minivan, close their eyes and get ready to play the Navigation Game.

This time, only I will know where we end up.