August 29, 2011

writer growth

A lot has changed in my last year of writing. I look at the pre-writing process, the actual writing, and the revision differently than I did a year ago. Last August, I had just finished the first draft of my Indian-inspired fantasy, a standard quest adventure with magic and mayhem abound. I did not plot that story. I did little more than brainstorm before I dove headfirst into writing. When I first started, I wrote maybe 2000 words a week. With school, I didn’t really have time to do more. I wrote without regard to quality. When I graduated, I had a lot more time. I wrote 2000 words a day. 3000 words a day. Even 6000 words a day. Still not concerned with quality. So when I finished, revision was a daunting task. I went through several revision drafts. My beta readers responded with meh to good feedback. Undaunted, I started querying. No responses. Not a one. So I started revising again. And again. I reworked the plot. I changed the entire story. I rewrote the first half… and quit. I spent too long working on that novel. Fourteen months! When I started my steampunk project, I knew I wanted to do it differently.

And I did. I plotted heavily. I developed my characters. I brainstormed every free minute of the day. Then, I wrote. I revised as I went, starting out writing less than 1000 words a day, but ended the novel writing 3500 words a day. I was very concerned with quality. And all that extra legwork in the beginning, the plotting, the character sketches, the ├╝ber-brainstorming, it paid off. My beta-readers so far have loved the story. I continue to get excellent feedback from all of them. When I’ve gotten the last of their responses, I’ll do one pass of my manuscript. One major revision. And then, I’ll be done. No eight revisions. No rewrite. No burning out on the story. I will have completed the novel, revisions and all, in six months (not fourteen). I’d say that my new method worked a lot better.

Now I’m starting a new story. I’m in the brainstorming stage. I filled out character sketches for the main characters (for the character worksheet I use, visit here), and while doing that, scenes started popping into my head. I built the characters so that certain traits conflict with one another, things to create tension between them. Now that the characters are alive in my mind, lines of dialogue, plot points, visual scenes, and character exchanges appear to me, nearly fully formed. I haven’t written anything down yet. I’ve learned that good ideas stay with me. The bad ones, I forget. Some of the ideas will burrow into my subconscious, only to be remembered while I’m writing or plotting. That’s fine with me. This stage of the pre-writing process was the most important while writing my steampunk novel. I waited and listened, and the story told itself. I hope to have the same thing happen with this fantasy novel. Already it has changed from a light-hearted, childish fairytale to a more serious, grown-up fairytale, full of political intrigue, deception, and less-than-ideal romances. I’m extremely excited to start writing, but I still have a long way to go before I can write Once upon a time

So, I’ve gone from full-on panster to heavy plotter in the last year. I’ve learned how to characterize effectively. I’ve learned how to craft effective scenes, full of conflict and change. I’ve learned that all that plotting and organization up front saves me a lot of time after the novel’s finished. I’ve also learned to be confident in my writing. Before, I was always unsure, never certain that what I had written was any good. Now I know. I write confidently. I believe in my own ability, and it only makes my writing stronger.

What have you learned writing-wise in the past year? How has your process changed between projects?

6 comments:

  1. That's awesome! I plot in very much the same way. In fact, I just vlogged about my "binder" I use to organize my MS. But it helps so much, right? Knowing that you've got everything well thought about before you even write is priceless! And saves so much time...and so many tears of revision angst!

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  2. I've learned that I can finish a novel! I've been pantsing this one all along, because it took some sharp turns early on and I could only hang on and write it down (working on the sequel now).

    I see the value of plotting, at least lightly (because like battle plans, no plot survives first contact), but I do love that euphoric rush when a major sequence opens up before you and 5000 words pour into your keyboard without thinking much about it. The thing is, I've always been a "revise as you go" writer. I have to force myself to just write and allow the first draft to suck sometimes, and then I can only do that for short stories.

    OTOH, I've already done a lot of preparation toward my next major writing project — mostly world-building, but some plotting as well. When I'm able to really start it, I'll at least know what's going where. Or know why it goes somewhere else.

    I've learned the value of beta readers — even though the novel has held together very well through the process to date, they've found weak spots to correct/eliminate/fill in and a few last lingering typos.

    I've learned that I can visualize a decent book cover, even if I don't have the talent to get it onto a screen by myself. But if I trust a talented designer with my vision, I'll get a cover that can hold its own on a bookstore shelf (and my last name would put me on the shelves between Stephen King and Dean Koontz!).

    I have yet to learn the value of a good editor, but I need to finish beta. First things first!

    (BTW, I think you meant "pantser" where you wrote "punster" in the penultimate paragraph…)

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  3. All these changes sound wonderful, Brooke. I tell you one thing I've learned in the last year -- writing every day, no matter what, no matter if it's fiction in my novel or non-fiction of blog posts, really pays off. Keeping the old wheel (that would be my brain) greased, really keeps it moving!

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  4. I've learned that revising a novel is something that requires focus and time. When I try to shoehorn it in around other writing, it doesn't work at all.

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  5. I've learned that there is a difference between constructive criticism and "something else". Constructive criticisim lends itself toward finding plot holes, noticing certian grammatical errors, suggestions about adding/removing tags and that all of this and more can help me, as a writer, improve my craft.

    There's no need to go into "something else".

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  6. Holly, I don't know how I ever wrote differently.

    FAR, "punster"... lol. Great lessons on your end. I'm not so certain of my book cover capabilities, but I'm too cheap to hire it out. ;) Beta-readers are a writers best tool, no doubt.

    Susan, yes. Writing every day is the best thing that you can do for your craft. :)

    Tony, revision is a monster all by itself. You can't do it and something else. I learned that when I was in college. That's why I try to make it as minimal an effort as possible.

    Angela, definitely. I learned that in my critique circles in my fiction workshop classes in college. Some people just tear things apart just to see the creator cry. Others genuinely want to help, and those are the people you have to find and listen to. I had too many critiquers giving me the "something else", and you're right: it's completely useless.

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