The Plot and the Rough Draft

I’ve had most of a rough draft of the MG Sci-Fi finished for a while. My big goal right now is to move from almost complete rough draft, to a complete first draft. As posted before my plan to get to a first draft is:

  1. Work out the seven point plot for this novel.
  2. Write up a detailed plot.
  3. Move the scenes I have to fit the final detailed plot.
  4. Finish writing the rough draft.
  5. Read through and edit to get a complete first draft.

Step 1 – Seven Point Plot
Once I figured out the starting state, the seven point plot came together quickly. I spent almost as much time watching videos and researching the seven point plot as I did figuring out the seven points for this novel.

Step 2 – Make a detailed plot
Writing up the detailed plot took longer than I expected, but I’m glad I took my time. To get this step done, I first broke up all the ‘chapters’ in my scrivener file into scenes. Then I lumped the scenes into folders for each stage of the adventure. This step took some time, but was a big help when it came to doing step 3, so no regrets.

Once I had the scenes broken out, I reread the novel. This didn’t take long, as it is only 30k at the moment. With a much fresher view of the story I made up the detailed plot. I took my time, and was able to move and imagine how to rework scenes to get a much better plot than I have right now. I think I only tossed three scenes into the garbage, although several more will need a complete rewrite.

Step 3 – Set up my Scrivener file
Because of the prep work I did in step 2, this step was fast and easy.  I finished moving my file in a single night. At the same time I also copied my final plot into my story notebook. I know the plot will still shift a bit during edits, but I feel much better having a solid place to start.

Step 4 – Write a rough draft of the missing scenes
This is where I am right now. I’ve taken this week off of writing, so next week when I dive back in, I hope to make good progress. I have four scenes left to write to have a finished rough draft.

What are you working on right now? Do you make a plan when writing a novel, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

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Having Your Writing Critiqued

Our critique group isn’t even a year old yet, and I can’t begin to count the number of things I’ve learned. The piece that continues to amaze me is how much I learn by reading the work of the other group members. Our abilities and styles vary, but I gain valuable insight every time I read through their work.

Having others read through your work with the specific intent of telling you what you are doing wrong is hard. I don’t know that it will ever get easy, but now that I know the benefits it isn’t terrifying.

I’ve discovered that I have an easier time getting comments on newer work. Especially if the piece is something I’m playing around with to work on improving my writing as a skill, not because I want to polish the actual piece. I guess it makes sense that I’m less attached to the words and scenes of something I’ve only just started working on.

Are you part of a critique group? What makes submitting easier for you?

Motivated to Write Again

Earlier this month I decided that I needed to pick a writing project and stick with it for the next two months until NaNoWriMo starts. I began rereading bits and pieces of my longest projects. I read a bit of my Murder Mystery and my MG Sci Fi, but they didn’t quite hit the spot. I still love them, they just aren’t what I want to be working on right now. I think the MG Sci Fi needs a bit more research, and the Murder Mystery needs a bit more experience.

Then, a few days ago, I started rereading bits of a YA Urban Fantasy I’d written for NaNo one year. It’s a fairly original concept, and I’ve always known how it would end. The story is interesting, I enjoy the characters, I already have names for everyone, and could easily spend some time expanding the characters (a weakness I’ve mentioned before).

Most importantly though, I’m excited to start working on it again. I can’t wait to dive into edits and start polishing things up. I can’t wait to write the last bit of the middle to match it up to the end. I’m going to let myself skip the beginning for now and work through the middle of the project first. I know how the story starts, I think, but I need time before I try and rewrite it.

The best part about settling on a project is that I should be able to submit to my critique group for the next two months. I’d been submitting only every second month for various reasons, but with my focus on a single project I can submit for the next two months in a row.

What project are you working on right now? Are you writing, editing, or both?

Submitting to a Critique Group

Over six months ago I started a small critique group with a friend. We started with four members, briefly went down to three, and are back up to four. Overall things have been going well, and I’ve learned a lot both from reading and submitting.

Submitting work to the group was hard the first month. It hasn’t gotten any easier. I think the part that I’m struggling with for submitting is how much I’m learning from each meeting, but I can’t manage to put any of it into practice. It’s great to know what I’m doing wrong, but frustrating that it isn’t getting any better.

It probably doesn’t help that I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve managed a bit of sewing, but mostly at the end of my day I’m brain tired. I’m not physically tired, but I can’t think well enough to attempt something as thought provoking as writing. I also can’t exercise much because of a minor ankle injury. Overall I spent a lot more time than I should sitting on a couch watching TV and reading to my son.

With summer here my stress level might go down, but life continues. I still have to work, and I’ll have even less time to myself than I do during the school year. More sunlight, means more vitamin D, but it also means forcing sunscreen onto myself and the kid. It also means all the work keeping him reading falls to me.

Does the rest of your life often get in the way of your best writing intentions?

How (not) to Begin a Story

There is a lot of advice on how not to begin a story. Don’t start with your main character waking up and getting out of bed. Don’t start with a slow scene. Don’t open with dialogue. Don’t be vague.

For me writing the opening scene of a novel is probably the hardest part. It isn’t because I don’t know the story. It’s because I get caught up in all those don’ts. For me there is an easy fix. I don’t stress about it … at least not in the first draft. If the only way I can think of to start my story is to have an alarm clock wake up my character, then I do it. If I need to write a few pages (or more) of filler to get in the groove, then I go for it.

When it comes to the first draft, the most important thing you can do is write it. Make all the mistakes you want. It might mean more editing later, but at least you’ll have something to edit. In my experience the first scene always needs to be rewritten anyway. It often has the wrong tone, is in the wrong place, or gives away too much of the story or background.

In the first draft of my YA Portal Fantasy the novel stars with my main character waking up and doing some morning push ups. In that original draft it took 11,000 words to get to the other world. In the most recent draft it takes 6,000 words to get to the other world, and the story starts as the characters walk into the school. I didn’t have to just rewrite the first scene to make the beginning work, I had to rewrite the first four chapters.

My advice on how to start a story is simple: Start typing.  If it is a first draft, and you are a linear writer: start it however you want. Use the first few scenes to get a feel for the story and your characters. Find your voice and play around a little bit. If you’re anything like me, getting the writing time is far more important than anything else you can do right now.

Do you usually have to rewrite your opening scene? Are you a linear writer or do you jump around?

Tracking my Writing Goals

I enjoy writing, but numbers are my first love. I’ve always been a big math fan, and I get excited when I have to spend time at work playing with spreadsheets. It should come as no surprise that I created a very cool (if I do say so myself) spreadsheet to track my writing.

I enter my total words for the day (positive or negative) as well as the novel I was working on. It colour codes the words based on preset values, tracks my words per novel and per month, and spits out one of five charts based on the options I pick. Below is my cumulative word count for the month of March via a NaNoWriMo style chart.

NaNo Style March 2016 Chart

I love that I can tell at a glance that I spent the middle of March editing. You can see a tiny increase on March 19th, then a drop on the 20th and 21st. I actually spent the 22nd and 18th editing as well, but the change in word count was so small you can’t really see it next to the larger increases on other days.

For March I worked on two different projects. The larger jumps at the end of the month were from my MG Sci Fi, everything else was from the new Steampunk novel (previously referred to as Mystery Project) I’m continuing to work on during Camp NaNo this month.

Do you track your writing progress? If you do, how do you track it?

p.s – I know it isn’t Friday, but I’m going to try a Monday/Thursday blogging schedule for a  while to see if it works better for me.

April Goals

My delayed goal post as promised 🙂

My Goals for March were:

  1. Write 3,000 words and submit it to my crit group on March 22nd. Done!
  2. Use my NaNo style spreadsheet for any writing or editing I accomplish. Done!
  3. Write twice each week. (I need to start somewhere right?) Done!
  4. Finish one of the grammar books I am working my way through. Done!

I’m very happy with my progress over March. The week before my critique was due I worked on my writing five nights in a row. That’s my best streak since November. In the end, instead of reading a grammar book I had on the go, I reviewed the one from a course I took a few years ago. It helped me remember a few things I’d forgotten, and taught me a few things I wasn’t ready to learn the first time. I earned my new running skirt and if I get my butt out for a run I might even get a chance to wear it.

My Goals for April are:

  1. Write 18,000 words. (15k on the mystery project, 3k on whatever I want)
  2. Use my NaNo style spreadsheet for any writing or editing I accomplish.
  3. Find at least two nights to sew.

I’ve gone back and forth on what my word goal for the month should be. I want to challenge myself, but I don’t want to give up my life to writing the way I do every November. I need to find the right balance. I set my Camp NaNoWriMo goal at 15k, but I would love to get some writing done on more than one project, hence the higher goal for the month.

What are your plans for April? Did you accomplish everything you set out to accomplish for March?

Happiness

It has been a long few weeks. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling lost, guilty, and often overwhelmed. Today I’m determined not to focus on those things. Today I’m going to focus on the good things in my life. So here are five things that make me happy.

1) The kid helped fold the sheets
I am home today for Easter Monday because the kid doesn’t have school. Someone has to look after him and neither my husband or I get the day off. We force the kid to help out at home. Nothing too big, but so far today he has cleared his dishes from the table after each meal/snack, unloaded the cutlery tray on the dishwasher, matched socks, and helped to fold the flat sheets. The part that makes me happy? He did each task with only one reminder, and zero complaining. In our house that practically makes today magical.

2.) I am making quick progress on my quilt top
I’ve left the ironing board set up in the dinning room as a small staging area for quilting. Over the last few days I’ve squared up, ironed, sewn, and pinned pieces as time permits. It has been amazing how much progress I’ve made in tiny 5-15 minute intervals. I have 1/3 of the quilt blocks finished, and another 1/3 ready for the first of two passes through the sewing machine. Things will slow down now that my long weekend is almost over, but I’m very happy with my progress.

3.) A long weekend with family
The kid, the husband, and I had three days together this weekend. This month the husband and I have spent so much time trading off that we haven’t had much quality time as a family. It was nice to do simple things like eat breakfast or dinner together, or even spend an hour watching TV together.

4.) I made time to write this month
With all the craziness, I still found time to write this month. I will be writing tonight and again on Thursday. That puts me well above my goal of writing (or working on writing) two nights each week.

5.) I’m on my 5th load of laundry today…
and I haven’t gotten distracted! The first three loads are hanging to dry or put away. The last two loads are in the dryer and I have a time set to remind me when I need to go and fish them out. The only dirty clothes left in this house are my husbands socks, which he can wash himself if he so desires tonight. I even have clean towels in the bathroom, and clean sheets on the beds. I can’t remember the last time I was so caught up on the laundry.

What are makes you happy today?

Unexpected Consequences

I don’t often have reason to keep secrets. It isn’t that I can’t keep a secret, I can , but when it is something I am bubbling to share or talk about, it gets hard. This time it is also a secret I’m keeping from an unexpected group.

I started a new writing project a few weeks ago. It isn’t anything special, but because it is being sent to my critique group so quickly I decided to keep it a secret. Before now, I hadn’t considered what having my sounding boards be part of a larger critique group would mean. In this case I have a brand new story idea I am itching to share and hash out with the usual suspects of my writing group. Since I am submitting it so quickly to the critique group though I’m in a position of being able to get an opinion untainted by any previous knowledge.

It turns out there are unexpected consequences of having these two writing groups overlap. It has brought out questions I wasn’t expecting. Am I always going to want a completely fresh opinion on my work? Will I only care about having fresh opinions when it’s a brand new idea? Are there benefits to having people who know some of the background before diving into the work, while others know nothing?

In this case, no one knows anything. I’ve kept the genre, age, and type of story to myself. I haven’t told anyone about the characters, plot, or expected story arc. They are all going in blind. I guess I’ll be able to start answering some of those questions after the April meeting of the critique group.

Do you have a writing or a critique group? How do you deal with the overlap if there is any?

Writing Critique Group

My friend @CateReads and I have started a writing critique group. We both decided that this is the year we need to focus on more than just writing stories. We need to spend time working on the craft of writing stories. Over the years we have both done various things to improve craft, but exchanging writing has been something we only played with a few times.

This year we pulled together some of our favourite local writers and convinced them to join us in a critique adventure. Everyone in the group already has multiple time commitments. The usual things like jobs, families, time to write, and other hobbies. To that end we are taking things slowly. To start we will review two pieces a month. At our current group size that means getting a review every two-three months. Somehow I ended up sharing in the first round. I will be sending out the first 3k of my Portal Fantasy before bed tonight.

I am always amazed at how hard it can be to hit the send button on a email that contains a piece of my writing. I shared an earlier draft of my YA Portal Fantasy with my mother early last year. It was (and I expect will be for  a while) the hardest bit of my writing to send out. While hitting send is getting easier over time it still isn’t easy.

This time I am sending to another group of writers. The scary part isn’t sharing exactly. It is that they are going to tell me what they think. These are all people who will have no problem telling me what they enjoyed as well as what need works, but hearing that something you wrote kind of sucks (or more likely one part or aspect sucks) is still hard. Knowing that it is going to improve your writing overtime doesn’t make it that much easier. I am trying to look at it as both a good way to grow as a writer, and as a way to develop the thick skin everyone says you need if you ever want to publish anything.

Do you have a critique group? Is sending your writing out to other people intimidating or is that just me?