inasmuch as it concerns Plotting And Scheming:
The puppeteer's art of Making Stuff Happen. Subject to change without notice.
so about those new year's resolutions
Happy 2018 everybody! I hope the first day of the new year has treated you splendidly. If it hasn't, well, what's one day out of three hundred and sixty-five? Not even one percent. Tomorrow can always be better.
I have done my darnedest to stuff everything I want into a single day. Writing, playing, exercising, cooking, time with my husband doing all of the above. All that was missing was fibercrafts and derby, and those will happen tomorrow.
I even got in a visit to the Boulder Bookstore. When I checked out the other day, they gave me a coupon for 25% off everything in the store on January 1. "Is this because you've got annual inventory coming up, and you'd like as little stock as possible to inventory?" I asked. Both staff members on check-out duty nodded emphatically. So John and I went in today and did our part to make their annual inventory easier.
I got new packages of non-specific winter holiday greeting cards. (All the winter solstice cards had sold out long ago.) John got a couple of books. One of them was all about bread. So tonight, a few hours after our lovely homemade dinner of saag paneer over rice with fresh naan (I win at dinner), John opened up his new book and started experimenting. As we speak, he is eating quesadillas made from his very first attempts at making tortillas.
So I said I'd come up with some New Year's resolutions today, something more specific than what I babbled out Friday. I'm not sure I have, actually. I've just kind of made today into a sort of microcosm of what I want my writing life in 2018 to look like. Which is to say: drafting new story, revising existing story, submitting finished story. I want every working day to have all three of those things in it.
Additionally, I want to:
- Keep the Friday Fictionette project on schedule
- Finish new stories and submit them to paying markets
- Make meaningful progress on novel revision
And of course I would love to actually make some sales and get published more. But I'm leaving that out of my resolution-like statements here because it's not entirely under my control. I can't make editors say "Yes, we love it, take our money and let us publish it please!" But all the work that comes before the editor's yes or no--that is, writing, revising, and submitting pieces of fiction to paying markets--that is under my control. So that's what I'm resolving to do in 2018: More of that.
As for right now this minute I want to write enough words to defeat enough Winter Frizis to collect enough Winter Snowflakes to complete the Snowflake Collector Quest before the Winter Wonderland 2018 event ends midday January 3! Well, that's less "this minute" and more "tonight and tomorrow." Still.
Yay, one more Winter Frizi down and two more Winter Snowflakes in my inventory! Woot!
making awful things happen to fictional people
- 20,223 words (if poetry, lines) long
Still sick, but getting better. Better enough to take a walk down to the bank and the bookstore. Still sick enough that any pace above a leisurely amble resulted in a painful coughing fit. Three hours of roller derby practice was out of the question. Am spending the evening at home with my writing instead.
I went to the bookstore for more postcards. What with the current Postcards to Voters campaign, I'm going through them pretty fast. I've got a 100-pack of BE A VOTER! postcards winging their way to me as we speak, but in the meantime, I'm fresh out. And the Bookworm has, in addition to its spin-rack full of shiny Colorado and Boulder tourist postcards, a box full of random donated postcards and greeting cards I was looking forward to exploring. I picked out eight to get me through my current list of addresses. They were a mix of historical architecture, tourist souvenirs from assorted locations, and... cactus flowers? Also a moose.
Then, when I brought my selection up to the check-out counter, there was this amazing-looking book of 20 postcards of classic The Hobbit illustrations by various artists, just waiting for me like it knew I was coming. Why yes I snatched it up. Some Alabama voters are going to be getting some very pretty postcards early next week.
The epic word count days continue. Managed the requisite two NaNoWriMo sessions both today and yesterday; now, at 20K plus change, I am caught up through day 12. 3,300 words per day from here on out and I am set.
Last night I did a bunch of mental plotting while I was waiting to fall asleep, which helped prime the pump for today. Of course, I had to pick out and discard the bits of not-quite-asleep-but-already-dreaming nonsense that crept into the mix. Like, I'm running through the scene in which Delta and Michael first meet, and she's paying to replace his lunch (she klutzed his meal all over his clothes as a contrived meet-cute), and they're exchanging numbers, and... helping each other make squares in Two Dots? Because that's what I did before going to bed, I guess?
Hypnagogic contributions aside, last night in bed was also when I realized that, during the tragic flashback I'd written all about Michael's little brother's very short life, I'd never once mentioned his parents' kindertotems. In fact, all through my conception of the novel, I've only mentioned Michael's kindertotem. For those just joining us today, kindertotems are specific to people from Michael's country, who are born in animal form and slowly change to full biological humanity as they reach adulthood. Once they have fully outgrown their non-human morphology, an animal of the corresponding species will show up and become part of that adult's life going forward. Kindertotems enjoy a mild, mostly one-way psychic connection with their humans, and they can talk (when they wish) just like animal companions in any number of fantasy books you may have read, but they remain more or less immature as regards things like imagination and impulse control. So it's sort of like a person's "inner child" but as a concrete, living being.
So, in the flashback, seven-year-old Michael is still part cat, and poor doomed Karlkin is a kitten who's just opened his eyes--but their parents are adults, so where are their kindertotems? What are they? Even considering their come-and-go-as-they-please nature, why don't they show up at all over a several-month-long flashback? Well, I came up with some answers. They are not pleasant answers, but they are in keeping with other things I discovered/decided while writing that flashback. (Michael's father really is a piece of work, you know that?) Michael's mother's kindertotem is a canary, which probably means she herself has a tendency to sing. Or did. Until all the awfulness happened.
"But so anyway about that meet-cute in the coffee shop," she said, desperate to change the subject and lighten the mood...
minor optimism at tired o'clock
So I did spend a little time the other day looking at the notes from last year's novel brainstorming session. Got kind of excited about it all over again, like, yes, this is going to be a novel worth writing, and spending time with these characters will be keen, but I didn't have any sudden breakthroughs. I mean, it would have been very nice to reread the notes and suddenly go, "Oh! That's how the novel ends. I see it all now! Must write the first draft NOW!" But no.
I also haven't managed to get back to it since that night. Which isn't very good for maintaining that excitement level. Mainly I've just been plugging away as best as my schedule and energy levels will allow. Mostly not having any crash-and-waste-the-day days, but still haven't reached the sort of daily productivity level I'm looking for.
Meanwhile, the goddamn insomnia is back. Not getting sleep isn't helping, body, please do a thing that is helping, pretty please.
On a different note, there is something very satisfying about getting together with fifteen or so of your best roller derby buddies to reposition the floor tiles and lay down a fresh track. Then, when you get there for Tuesday practice, you get to look at it and skate on it and think, "We did that. Go us!" Very tiring work, especially when the day previous you skated in two very competitive bouts, but very satisfying nevertheless.
OK, I'm off to try to make myself very tired.
this fictionette will not get a delay of game penalty
- 988 words (if poetry, lines) long
Mwahahahahaha--BEHOLD! The Friday Fictionette for June 16, released on June 16. BWAHAHAHAHA! Ha-ha. *ahem* It has been a good week. And so I present to you "CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP" (ebook, audiobook) which is another of those tiresome self-indulgent magic realism numbers wherein the author subverts a physical law in order to say something meaningful and symbolic about the human condition. JUST KIDDING. It's a weird little flash piece about a day when all the off-switches for everything electronic stops working. (Which is kind of the same thing, depending on how you feel about weird little magic realism numbers.)
Thanks to the weave and dodge strategy, I wound up this morning looking at about 1500 words of disjointed pieces of story, all auditioning to be part of the fictionette. It was surprisingly simple to remove the bits that didn't fit and smooth the remaining pieces together into a single work. So. Note to self: this works.
(There is still no Mongo. There is still no cheese.)
And I have a lovely weekend ahead of me, with an unscheduled Saturday (omg!) and a holiday Sunday off from derby. I know, I know, Tuesday's blog post I was all MOAR SKATING PLS. Well, after four hours on Tuesday, a couple hours on Wednesday, and Thursday's double scrimmage which managed somehow to tweak my left knee, I'm oddly OK with taking this Sunday off. Don't nobody panic--it's not comparable with January's grade 2 MCL tear. If it's comparable at all, the comparison is with that injury after four or five weeks of recovery, OK? I'm walking fine. I'm not in significant pain. I'm just stiff and sore and a smidge swollen, that's all. It's responding nicely to a regimen of ice and ibuprofen and some of range-of-mobility exercises from my past PT repertoire. But I'm sure it will appreciate a little extra time off skates before diving back into travel team practice in preparation for that big Bombshells vs. Crossroads bout on the 24th.
(Sunday plans involve dinner-anna-movie and quiet acknowledgment that, gosh, John and I will have been married for 19 years come Tuesday. How about that.)
weave! dodge! parry! thrust! booiiiiinggggg
Aside from "set unreasonable expectations for oneself," there's that other reason for collapsing on Wednesdays: Tuesday night roller derby practice. Oh yeah. Bodies that get beat up and worn out by night tend to not want to get out of bed the next morning. And this body got beat up and worn out for four hours last night.
(I have a new joke. It's in the style of the Animaniac's short Good Idea, Bad Idea. It goes like this: "GOOD IDEA: Playing offense on the brace. BAD IDEA: Playing offense with your face." The point of this joke is to explain why my chin is all sorts of sore and tender today. Do not introduce your chin with force to someone else's shoulder. Nothing good ensues. Other than inspiration for stupid jokes, that is.)
Well, guess what? Want to or not, the body got its ass out of bed and got to work. That's right. Still didn't get as much done today as I'd like, what with it being Wednesday and there being Wednesday things to do, but work did get done. So that's the report.
(One of the Wednesday things for my body to do was yoga and more roller derby. It occurs to me that one thing last year's absurd dual-team schedule did for me was raise my tolerance for physical activity. Maybe if I voluntarily take on extra practices every week, I'll collapse less readily on the mornings after. It's a hypothesis.)
I did my daily session today of working on this week's Friday Fictionette release, just like I'm s'pposed to. (That's two days in a row! Go me!) Assuming everything goes according to schedule, Wednesday is about the time when I panic. I've got this hot mess of a freewriting exercise from sometime last month and I'm supposed to turn it into a vaguely presentable thousand-word story-like object. If by Wednesday I still don't know how to do that, things begin to look grim. This is one of the reason we experience Fictionette Delay.
To avoid Fictionette Delay, and to also make other fiction-drafting exercises more enjoyable and less stressful, I have begun employing a strategy I call weave and dodge. It is very simple. It goes like this: If I get stuck on something--can't come up with a way to explain a bit of worldbuilding smoothly, can't think of the right words for a character to say, can't figure out exactly how to fill a plot hole, whatever--I dodge around it. Instead of spending the next half hour writing one sentence and erasing it and writing it again, I just pretend it's already written and keep going. Maybe I put in a bracketed comment, like "[the perfect paragraph explaining how Mongo got hold of the cheese in the first place goes here]" to remind myself that the paragraph still needs writing. But the main thing is, keep going. Keep going so as not to waste time (in theory I'm only putting 25 minutes of each day toward the Friday Fictionettes project). Keep going and I might just find out how to write that perfect paragraph or segue or bit of dialogue. Keep going and I might discover I don't need to write that perfect paragraph/segue/dialogue after all, because that's just not part of the story anymore. Keep going! Dodge and weave! Weave and dodge!
By the way, there is no Mongo, and no cheese to do with Mongo, in any of my stories, fictionette or otherwise. I have no idea how Mongo got hold of the cheese. Besides, Mongo is deathly allergic to all dairy products. Why should Mongo have cheese at all? If you know what's up with Mongo and the cheese, by all means, write that story. Go for it.
invalid question, redo from line (n - 1)
Holy heck. Said I had this week's number, didn't I? No idle threat, that. Writing! Derby floor preparation! Household chores! Seafood udon for dinner! I just blew Tuesday right out of the water. Bang! Splash!
I am especially pleased because I finally got to work a solid afternoon session on the novel. And despite not spending that session in the tub with a glass of wine, I figured out some extremely key things. I still haven't figured out the ending, but I did finally figure out what exactly the main antagonist wants anyway. That's an important piece to uncover. Just that by itself got me miles closer to the ending.
Thing that makes plotting difficult sometimes: Unlimited choice. Otherwise known as having to figure out who wants what and what happens where, from the micro to the macro. What knick-knacks are on the receptionist's desk in the first scene. How long a drive our protagonists take on their way to confronting Delta's mother. The nature of Michael's relationship with his parents--or is that just one parent? And which one? Which of them took the lead on that terrible decision years ago and argued the other around to their way of thinking? After the divorce, which one raised Michael? How often did he see the other? And how did each parent answer questions about that terrible decision Michael was not to know about? What about the secondary characters we've met along the way--what's their larger role?
So many decisions. And there aren't any right or wrong choices, not at first. So those first decisions are the hardest to make because how can I choose? How do I know I'm not painting myself into a corner? Because once the first decisions are made, they limit the options available to the rest of the decisions.
The later decisions are the next hardest to make because it turns out some of the earlier decisions--not the first ones, but some of the ones somewhere down the decision chain from there--can be totally wrong, but I won't know it until later.
It goes like this. I'm stomping around the house asking myself, "What exactly is it Delta's mother wants? Why is she calling Delta up? Why is she reappearing in her life? Why doesn't she just spirit Delta's daughter away from Delta's ex-husband--is she calling Delta up just to taunt her? What the hell, as-of-yet nameless antagonist?!" And there are no right answers. Nothing feels right. Nothing makes sense. No answers I can think up come with that special sense of inevitability. There's no near-inaudible thunk of a puzzle piece fitting into the slot that only it can fill.
Why? Why am I stuck? Whyyyyyy?
Because, as it turns out, I was asking the wrong question. And this was because, at a particular decision point just upstream from here, I managed to get myself stuck up a tree.
The question I answered wrongly was "Who calls Delta up during her first date with Michael, and why does it upset her?"
Since the right answer turns out not to be "Delta's mother" but rather "Delta's ex-husband," it makes perfect sense that I couldn't answer the question "Why is Delta's mother calling her up?" Turns out she's not. So.
Moral of the story: If you're stuck on a plot question, it might be because the plot answer that led you to that plot question was wrong. Back up a step and see.
on convincing protagonists to climb trees that are bad for them
OMG you guys I KNOW WHAT THE CAT SAYS. (No, smartass, the answer is not "Meow.") I mean, I kinda know what it says. Maybe not word-for-word, but enough to get the plot moving both forward and away from the main characters' homes and workplaces.
My problem--what had me stumped--my stumparoo--was in thinking the cat would just open its mouth and impart some sort of Cosmic Wisdom upon poor, confused, troubled Delta. When your pet cat suddenly starts talking to you, it's kind of a momentous occasion. I thought that what the cat had to say ought to be momentous too. Oracular, even.
But that was my mistake. The cat is a kindertotem, an animal made up of all the parts of its human that its human outgrew. An externalized inner child, if you will. Inner teenager maybe. I think Michael was fifteen, maybe sixteen, when he went fully human and the cat showed up? So the cat might angst. The cat might be very intelligent but also whimsical and reckless. The cat might have a simplistic point of view. The cat will most definitely not spout the Wisdom of the Ages.
(This is a good thing. I'm not particularly good at coming up with Wisdom of the Ages for my characters to spout.)
In fact, it's the cat's simplistic point of view that helps move the plot. He points out a very simple solution to Delta's complex problem. Sometimes, it takes a simplistic, straightforward POV to cut through the complexities and deliver a simple solution.
What was it H. L. Mencken said about that? "There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong."
Of all the ways I could get my characters up a tree, "It seemed like a good idea at the time" is a great one. After that, the rocks pretty much throw themselves.
can't TG when I isn't O
It's Thursday. Thursday is scrimmage day, both here with 10th Mountain and back home with Boulder County Bombers. (I hear tonight's BCB scrimmage was fantastic.) Unfortunately, a conflicting event scheduled in 10th Mtn's practice space obliged them to cancel tonight's scrimmage, so I never did get to try out the jerseys I made out of those plain white and black T-shirts I bought at Walmart the other day.
Actually, I only found time to finish one of them, and I'm still not sure it was a good idea. See, after I hacked off the sleeves and six inches of the shirt tail, I cut that material into long strips, about a quarter-inch wide, which I then crocheted into numbers which I sewed onto the back of the shirt. I'm a little concerned that the crocheted numbers are too thick and heavy to hang from such a lightweight material. They're also about a quarter inch thick, which could be a problem in terms of sticking out and catching people's fingers. I don't know. I'll try it out when I next need a numbered white jersey and see what happens.
It's possibly a good thing there wasn't scrimmage. My shoulder got tweaked a little last night, ice skating up at Beaver Creek Village. It wasn't a fall! It was one of those sharp backwards windmilling arm movements a body makes when trying to catch one's balance, even after roller derby has done its level best to train a body otherwise, and I guess I pulled something, 'cause it hurts. It feels better now than it did late last night, but it'll be even better after resting a few more days.
I went ice skating last night and paid full price because I knew with scrimmage tonight I wouldn't be able to go when it was free. Well, surprise! So once I heard scrimmage was canceled, I headed back up to BC Village again. Unfortunately, those rental skates are really unfriendly, and my feet were still annoyed at them. Most especially annoyed was my right upper ankle/lower outside shin, where the hard boot cuff had abraded a slice out of my skin last night which opened up again tonight. The boots also pinched my feet, as though the soles, rather than being sole-of-foot shaped, resembled valleys. And not wide, rolling valleys, but sharp, deep ones still being carved by a white-water creek. And the snow was piling up on the ice. I think that's why I skidded around worse tonight than last night. In any case, I managed just a few minutes of skating before giving up. Good thing it was free!
So in the end I walked across Avon and took the shuttle up from Elk Lot to BC Village... mostly just to have dinner at Blue Moose Pizza. So that was my Thursday night.
It's also December 1. December 1, in addition to just happening to be the day this year when the reindeer visit Avon Public Library (they are adorable and a good deal smaller than you might imagine), is the day after National Novel Writing Month ends. This is sometimes known as "Thank God It's Over" Day, when NaNoWriMo participants hold TGIO parties to celebrate achieving their goals and getting their lives back. But my novel, far from being over, has not even hit word 1. It's still deep in the planning stages. No, despite designating November as the start of my personal "novel-writing season," I quite definitely didn't do NaNoWriMo this year.
I feel a little guilty about this. I did it for so long, it became a tradition. But if everything I did for more than two years running became obligatory for the rest of my life, I'd have no room to try new things, or to just rest. Besides, after twelve years of done-and-won, and then a few years of "Am I doing it? I should be doing it. Except I don't seem to be doing it," I've come to the conclusion that I've learned what NaNoWriMo had to teach me, and it's OK to let it go. Maybe at a later date I'll return to it, but right now I have other things to learn.
(Like how to plan a novel. And then how to begin drafting it without blurting out all the juicy worldbuilding details in the very first scene.)
The other thing about NaNoWriMo is, it's social. It's joyfully social. It's an international communal challenge that brings all its participants together under a single banner and in pursuit of a single cause. And that is awesome, but it is, at this time, no longer for me. I seem to have reached a time in my life (and doesn't that make me sound old?) where my writing process has become intensely private. It wants a writing environment that's more or less under my control. Like, say, in a room in my house behind a closed door. I'll still write in coffee shops and libraries occasionally (and have done most days this week!), but my threshold for ambient intrusions has dropped sharply. And what with a decade of being a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison and organizing and attending NaNoWriMo write-ins, I've kind of burned out on having to be the Mean Lady who's constantly telling everyone else (including, memorably, my co-ML that final year) that this is a write-in and some of us are trying to write and could you please take your loud, animated conversation elsewhere. I'll happily do a write-in with a group of close friends who have all agreed what we're there for, but I'm kind of done, at least for now, with public write-in events a la NaNoWriMo.
In the meantime, I continue planning out the current novel. During tonight's session I managed to start moving out of backstory and worldbuilding and into plot. There are several catalyzing events that I know of, but I don't know what they consist of. For instance, I know Delta gets a phone call during her first date with Michael, but I don't know who's calling or what they have to say. I know that the talking cat has something to tell Delta, but I don't know what.
And so forth. I made a list of that sort of thing. Questions That Must Be Answered Before The Plot Can Move. And then filled in a little more backstory and worldbuilding, which led to at least an idea about who might be on the phone.
Argh. But I'm getting closer to being able to start writing actual scenes. When I do, in the spirit of NaNoWrimo, I plan to do it at a rate of at least 1666 words per day. Every month should have fifty thousand words in it. Or more. Because this is what I do.
the hot tub and red wine method of novel planning
- 1,328 words (if poetry, lines) long
Tonight was another successful evening of novel planning. Yes, yesterday counted as successful--once I put away the laptop and got in the tub. This time I skipped the bit that didn't work and went straight to dunking myself in hot water AND I COUNTED THAT TIME TOWARD MY WRITING LOG AND YOU CAN'T STOP ME. Because it worked. There was about 20 minutes of soaking in the tub and talking to myself, and then there was about 20 minutes of non-stop feverish-paced typing to jot down what I came up with. We have a method, folks.
We may need a non-tub version, though, because once I get back to my own house, it might be prohibitively painful in the utilities bill. At the very least, I need a comfy place to lounge and complete solitude so no one will hear me talking to myself. But I'd prefer the wine and hot tub method any time I can get it.
Meanwhile, I got this book out the library, right, I got it yesterday, but this evening it TALKED to me about THE VERY THINGS I'D BLOGGED ABOUT YESTERDAY. Like the author knew. It's The Writer's Idea Book, which isn't entirely my cup of tea as it turns out--the author's sense of humor comes across to me as LOOK AT ME I MADE A JOKE, he has a tendency to make unmerited universal pronouncements ("Who, for heaven's sake, doesn't like Popeye?" Me, for one, but thanks for telling me how absurd and freakish you think that is) and the "prompts" are more like the Tasks in The Artist's Way than they are viable jumping-off points for my daily freewriting--but which is nevertheless full of unexpected gems here and there. Like...
...under the spell of The Author, that part of ourselves that sees every moment of writing as important and valid only if it leads to publication.
(Emphasis mine.) Which seems to speak directly to my insecurity yesterday that the time spent novel-planning was such a waste of time compared to, say, revising a story that's nearly ready to submit, or going back to consider an existing novel draft that's much closer to completion than this thing that still only lives in my mind. I'll also admit to chafing at my Morning Pages or daily freewriting sometimes for the same reason: THIS isn't publishable writing, why am I wasting part of my precious day on this? Despite knowing that they are both valuable exercises from both a craft and self-care standpoint.
And then there's the frustration that came from sitting down at the laptop to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, only to find that I couldn't make the missing knowledge appear just because my hands were on the keyboard.
Ideas don't respond to the force of our wills--damn them. We can't make them appear. That's why when we're feeling blocked it does little good to try to pound our way through. It won't work. We'll grow even more frustrated....
Getting ideas requires allowing our minds to yield....
YES. Or, in other words, relax and let them come. Let yourself off the hook. Don't try (so hard!) to figure out the novel. Get in the goddamn tub, drink your wine, and daydream about the novel.
Incidentally, another activity that has produced significant insight into this novel is thinking about it while falling asleep. Not coincidentally, my dreams have also played a part.
Anyway. During my successful novel-planning session tonight, what did I come up with? All the details about Delta's daughter and the broken contract that obliged her, Delta, to give up her name. Also an extra tidbit, related to that, which makes the tragedy in Michael's backstory not just a maudlin trope but PLOT-NECESSARY. Yay. I was worried about that.
And that's all I'm going to say. This novel is now far enough along that I can't keep blogging everything anymore because that would be spoilers. And that's kind of exciting!
The closer we get to the point where it's time to start writing actual manuscript, the more scared I get. Can I do it? Can I actually convert this novel in my head into a novel on the page? Emotionally, I'm all nooooo it's not possible I'll BREAK it I suck forever. But logically, I remember that I've been doing exactly this in short-short form almost every week for two years now. This is exactly what I'm supposed to be getting out of Friday Fictionettes: practice in, and confidence in, turning ideas in my brain into stories on the page.
Speaking of Fictionettes, I have released the Fictionette Freebie for November 2016. It's "The Witch on the Corner." Link goes to the HTML version, which now includes the first text. At the bottom of the page are links to the ebook and audiobook versions, or you can just click the links right here. Free for all! Enjoy! See what you think!
no no really this is part of the writing process
I've never planned a novel out the way I'm trying to plan this one. But then, I've never actually finished a novel at all, so it was probably time to change my approach. Oh, I've reached THE END before, I've reached 50,000 words, but I've never quite managed to clean up the babble into proper drafts and chapters, fill in the holes marked I'LL THINK OF SOMETHING LATER, or clean up the infelicities and unfortunate implications. I've never gotten more than the first three chapters of a novel ready to submit anywhere, and since the rest of that novel was still a mess, those three chapters were probably a mistake. But all the novels I've ever not finished, I wrote them according to the NaNoWriMo method: 1,667 words a day, come hell or high water, and fifty thousand by 11:59 PM on November 30th.
Which is to say, until this fall, my novel writing experience has consisted of pounding away at the keyboard whether I knew what came next or not. It's a perfectly feasible way to do it, but I can't help but think my failure to finish revising any of them is connected with this untidy method of creating them.
So this fall I determined to plan everything out before I wrote Scene 1. Instead of the Chris Baty "No Plot? No Problem!" method, I'd give Rachel Aaron's "from 2K to 10K" strategy a try: The more you know about what you're going to write, the faster you can write it, the more you'll enjoy the process, and the more developed your first draft will be right out of the gates.
Aaron's first step is to write down everything you already know about the novel. Cool. Check. Good. It's her second step that's bogging me down: Fill in the gaps. Take all the stuff you don't know, and figure it out. I'm having trouble figuring things out. Like, oh, how the novel will end. And a large chunk of the middle, too, I don't know that either. Every time I sit down, I figure out more about the characters, their surroundings, their conflicts, and their backstories, but I still don't know how things will proceed. It's like there's a barricade constructed right across the plot timeline about two weeks into the narrative, and I keep running into it--wham! Ouch.
Today, taken as a whole, went swimmingly. I worked my "morning shift" right on schedule (at the Avon Public Library, as planned), so I had plenty of time to stroll around town, shop, eat, and then go back to the room and read (library books!) and nap. Then I sat down to my novel planning session, also right on schedule. I had allotted myself two whole hours to work on that novel, and not the last two hours of the conscious day, either! It was, in theory, fantastic.
In practice, I immediately got uneasy and restless. Like I wasn't properly utilizing my work day. As though sitting there planning a novel was wasting time. Like I was cheating my timesheet, crediting myself for two hours of writing when all I'd done was sit there staring into space, talking to myself, and typing incoherently into my Scrivener project. Which, yes, is part of the writing process, I know that intellectually, but deep in my gut where the butterflies live I feel like it doesn't count as writing at all.
It's not precisely that I feel I should be typing up the draft rather than planning it--although actually typing out actual scenes would probably help mitigate the uneasiness. It's more like I'm feeling that any time spent on this novel is a waste, and that I ought to be spending my day on more worthwhile projects that actually have a hope of getting finished. Like revising one of my already sorta-finished novel drafts. Or writing new short stories and revising existing ones for publication. What if this novel never gets finished? What if I never figure it out enough to write it? What if I secretly know that it'll never get finished, and that's why I'm doing it, as an infinite means of procrastination such that I'll never finish or publish anything else again?
Reminder: These are not my logical thoughts. This is the shape of my uneasiness. Have you met me? I am a very insecure person. If you didn't know that, awesome. Maybe I've gotten better at hiding it over the years. (I hear that's like 85% of adulting right there.)
Sometimes, when I'm stuck, things will come unstuck if I just talk to myself about them. Not on the laptop; just talking to myself, out loud. Admittedly, I'm always talking to myself. It's like my thoughts aren't real until I've made them into words that my ears can hear. So that's what I did tonight. I put the laptop away, ran a hot bath, and commenced with the relaxing and talking to self. (The talking to self method works better while relaxed. Relaxing works better in a hot soak. Also, a hot soak was really necessary after this afternoon's hour and a half walk to the Walmart and back. I forgot to pack my scrimmage jerseys, OK? So I needed cheap T-shirts in black and white. $2.79 in the craft aisle along with all the fabric paint pens you can choke on.)
What I was hoping to figure out was more street-level details of the neighborhood Michael's currently living in: what his daily commute looks like, what cafes and restaurants and bars he frequents, what his apartment complex is like. I can't really write forward without knowing the terrain the characters are going to be moving through. I didn't get any of that. What I did get was a few more details about childhood in Allemondia, the kinds of fairy tales and fantasies that those facts inspire, and a tragedy in Michael's childhood that was a factor in his decision to be a doctor.
Argh. More background and backstory. Still no narrative progression. But I got out of the tub and I wrote all of it down, because I'll take whatever I can get. In the end, it's all going in there.