This month’s theme is about resolutions. It’s January and that means it’s time to look at the year ahead through rose tinted glasses and lay out all we wish to achieve.
Except I don’t. Not this year. My resolutions haven’t changed much from last year which highlights my failure to achieve them. Instead of setting out another list for me feel crummy about in January 2017, I’m bringing my goals back to one fundamental of my writing: this year I am going to improve my process.
A diagnosis of the current state of my writing process will let me see where it is thriving and where it is staggering around in dark corners failing to contribute to the possibility of success.
Generally speaking, an effective process can be divided into five parts:
It seems a succinct list. How bad could my process be? Surely whatever way I do things is the right way… Yes?
This includes ideas, research, character information and writing exercises.
Ideas – Check. Well, I start off with one basic idea and during the drafting stage more ideas come. Usually.
Research – Check. I am on my way to obtaining my certificate III in Japanese Demonology. I wish! (Seriously though, how great would that be?) I wonder if there is a course… *googles Yokai courses*
Characters – Check(ish). I start off with one clear MC and gradually discover new characters while drafting. I’ll profile them and explore their music interests, fashion sense, likes and dislikes, physical appearance, hobbies and interests. Pinterest is great for this, though I do like to print out the pins and stick them in a scrap book for easy reference.
Exercises – Nope. Why would I want to do writing exercises about my book if I am a reckless pantser with no interest in plotting? Where’s the excitement? The uncertainty? The mystery?
I admit I have done a few character exercises during the drafting process of my second ms. The exercises did enhance my understanding of the characters, their personalities and their possible reactions to situations. In fact, it was a really useful experience. As I’m currently re-writing my first ms, doing some exercises would help my develop the GMC of my characters.
In the pre-writing stage I spend time with my ideas before jumping into drafting. I find value in the elements of pre-writing so I need to dedicate more time to them before I start.
This includes a look at routines, writing habits, goals.
Routines – Nope. A writing routine sounds lovely. So does having a house elf but so far both elude me. The only consistency to my routine is the cups I drink from. I write any where and any place I have time. That sounds like I write a lot but it varies week to week, month to month. I juggle a fair bit as most writers do, I don’t drink coffee or work well late at night or early in the morning. My routine needs to change. Hopefully my beautiful new writing space will help foster a strong routine.
Habits – Check(ish). I have music I listen to with set play-lists for each manuscript and I try to minimise distractions as much as possible.
Goals – Check. I have word count goals for the overall word count, for each chapter and for each writing session. I’ve determined I can do an average 650 words in a half hour sprint. I use that as a guideline for each writing session. I also like to finish a scene or a chapter before I walk away for the day.
Not too bad. Routines could use some work though. I will use my goals to establish set writing times each week.
This includes looking at consistency with time-lines, plot and structure issues, plausibility and beta readers.
Time-lines – Check. I keep a calendar/time line in my journal to ensure consistency. Often I will revisit the dates to test for plausibility.
Plot and structure issues – Check. This one is harder to do by myself. I try and work through each step of the story to determine order. Occasionally pieces are shuffled around.
Plausibility – Check. Again, a tough one to do by myself. I need to take a good hard look at the action, characters etc and ask, ‘Is this believable? Are there any glaring omissions or things that don’t quite add up? Am I assuming the reader knows something without giving them enough clues?
Beta readers – Check. When I’ve done the above three revision points to the best of my ability I’ll send it off to the beta readers who then do a much better job than me at identifying issues with time-lines, plot and structure, and plausibility.
Pretty good. It is difficult to check my own work for these issues so the beta readers definitely help. I do enjoy having someone else point out problems with plausibility, plot etc. I relish the opportunity to improve my work.
This involves reading your work in a different format, cutting it out, cleaning it up.
Change the view – Check. I like to print out a hard copy and go through that with my green highlighter and sparkle pens. It makes it easier to view mistakes. After about a gazillion reads this way I’ll convert it to a mobi file and upload it to the kindle. Then I cringe with embarrassment at all the errors I missed in the printed edits.
Cutting it out – Hmmm, not so much. Cutting large chunks of text – especially description – tightens prose. I need help with this.
Clean it up – Check. As my writing skills improve so does my ability to clean up sentences. Each word must count. I spend lots of time cleaning up ‘was’,‘that’and other ‘to be’ verbs. I also seek to destroy passive voice (by zombies!).
I need to be ruthless with cutting it out. I read somewhere agents and publishers look for lots of dialogue and are put off by chunks of description. My cleaning up of sentences is progressing but, gosh, it would be nice to get it right the first time.
5. Climb Aboard the Query Coaster
This can be the hardest part of the writing process. Having to create an elevator pitch, extended pitch, query letter and synopsis then start querying fills many with dread.
Write an elevator pitch – Check. A succinct summary of of the book just in case I ever take a lift with an agent or publisher. Note to self – use more elevators.
Extended pitch – Check. After completing the Pitching to Publishers course I’ve learned the trick to creating a pitch that sets the tone, conflict and obstacle for the story.
Query letter – Check. This is the one part of the query coaster I enjoyed. In it I’m allowed to admit all the dorky reasons why I love writing and what inspires me.
Synopsis – Check, though this one was by far the most painful. Having to reduce your thousands of beloved words to 300-500 feels like taking a gourmet meal and turning it into a powered format. Blurgh.
Start querying – Check(ish). I diligently check submission guidelines and format the manuscript as requested but I haven’t done any traditional querying. I am scared to. Weird, right? I do enter a lot of pitching competitions and have had good responses from there. I’m going to hold off querying this year until I know my first ms is as shiny and polish and READY as it needs to be.
While painful to create, I have the pitch, query and synopsis for my first ms. I do however need to face up to querying and throw my work out there once it is finished. Creativity takes courage.
So bring on 2016. I’m not going to dream about things that may or may not happen. I am going to work on my process. I am going to make the writing process work for me. Anything else that happens on top of that will be a wonderful bonus.