The Charlie Horse Solution – Overcoming Fear While Rewriting Your Novel

Fear of Frying Your Novel represented by Bacon Bruzeln Slices Of Ham Sear Frying Pan Fat by Coding 4 Web on pixabayFear of Frying Your Novel

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been posting about rewriting a lot lately. And not just posting. I’ve been reading about it, talking about it, thinking about it… okay, obsessing about it.

I want very badly to do an excellent job on draft the second, so I’ve been planning a lot. I’ve re-swizzled my beat sheet and used my electronic note cards to clarify the details of individual story elements I want to bring out. And then I’ve done it again. And again. This has been going on for weeks.

The other day I woke up to the fact that I wasn’t doing anything except spinning my wheels. Why? I could give you lots of explanations, but there’s just one basic reason behind all of them:

Fear.

Here’s the deal: I have before me the first first draft of a novel I have ever written. It’s precious to me. It’s true I’ve written a lot in this space about writing fiction with a non-attached attitude, but I kind of forgot about that and latched onto my draft like a leech on an artery. My first draft isn’t that great, but it is finished, and I don’t want to break it. Never mind that, thanks to the wonders of personal computing, I can make a copy to revise so I don’t touch the original. If the situation had anything to do with logic, it wouldn’t be a situation.

Charlie Horse solution to novel rewriting problem represented by Boy on Rocking Horse property of the authorThe Charlie Horse Solution

Then, as I said, I woke up and saw that I was stuck. So, great, Now I was afraid of being stuck and afraid of editing my draft. Not a happy place, but, thanks be to St. Luke and the Muse (feel free to insert your own spirit guide here), I remembered the Charlie Horse Solution.

Which you’ve all heard of. No? Here’s the story for your edification.

When I was a teenager, after a long day of dodging saber-toothed tigers I would sometimes wake up with a Charlie horse—a cramp in my calf muscles that would bend my leg to that my calf was involuntarily lodged against the underside of my thigh. Most painful and unpleasant.

One should probably massage or soak or breathe deeply in such a pickle, but upon being awakened by intense pain at 3 a.m. I was not one for slow solutions. I would grab my calf in both hands, grit my teeth and straighten my leg. It hurt like flaming Hell’s bells, but just for a second, and afterward my leg would be all better.

I decided to take the same approach with my revision. I went right to the beat sheet, made a copy and moved a row (I use Excel) from point A to point B. It hurt! My nice little plan had a gouge in it. But the world did not come to an end. My novel did not disintegrate. I did not break out in boils. Encouraged by this absence of disaster, I moved another row, and another – still no signs of doom. Quite the opposite, in fact. I began to see how the rewrite could fit together. Before I knew it, I had discovered an approach to the novel’s beginning that I was finally happy with.

After some days of work, I had the B.S. (we should all call it that more often, don’t you think?) in good enough shape to start writing. That’s where I am now. The first time I tore out a paragraph that wasn’t working, my stomach was in a knot Alexander the Great and his sword would have had a hard time sorting out. But I yanked it and again, the sun stayed in the sky. I added new material and still the other stars stayed in their accustomed courses. Rain still fell down, not up. Ducks still went quack.

Recovering momentum in novel rewriting represented by Rubicon,-to-ford-the-river- by Simon Kozhin on commons.wikimedia.orgCrossing Over

At this point, I crossed a sort of literary Rubicon and do you know what was on the other side?

Fun!

And, yes, some of that non-attachment I’ve been telling you guys is so important. I was really glad to see it again. Most importantly, I found momentum on the other side, the forward energy of the story and the joy of creating it for its own sake.

So that’s the Charlie Horse solution:

  1. Recognize you’re afraid.
  2. Make a fresh copy of your beat sheet, manuscript, whatever you’re using.
  3. Don’t hesitate: change something, anything in the copy, to get going.
  4. Change stuff until you’ve got your momentum back.
  5. Start having fun again.

Good luck!

Comment fairy nili_fairy_2a_by_jagged_eye-d47hv70l on deviantart.comTell Me Something Good

Make the Comment Fairy happy. Leave me a comment if you have some good ideas about getting past the frightened stage when you’re revising, or if you just want to commiserate.

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On-the-job Training with the Rewrite of the Rewrite

On-the-job Training

Two boys doing paperwork on the job

As regular readers of this space (a.k.a. people with too much spare time) already know, I’m working on the second draft of my first novel. Novel making is one of those jobs for which on-the-job training is a must, I’ve discovered, no matter how many craft books you read or workshops you go to before you start.

One thing my O.J.T. has taught me is that as you rewrite, you’ll discover yet more things that need attention, from miniscule nits of prose to Godzilla-like swaths of illogic. For me, correcting all these things at once would be maddening. To bring some sanity to the process, I’m rewriting in layers—more layers than I expected when I started out.

Layers

Layers of soil

When I began the rewrite, I thought I’d be correcting the faults in the storyline and fixing the prose at the same time. Well, kids, that ain’t happening. I find it’s all I can do to get something down that corrects the story problem at hand and vaguely resembles the English language. Later, in another layer of the rewrite, I’ll go back and fix the prose.

Now I have to decide if I’ll fix the prose before I fix the second bunch of story problems I have uncovered as I’ve been tinkering with the first batch. Among these are:

  • Proofreading matters, such as being consistent with the use of “leaped” or “leapt.” In a book with as much leaping about as this one, I need to pick one term and stick with it.
  • Story-world items, like the thin spots. Right now, they are sort of ragged holes in reality, but of late I’m thinking they should have a thin fabric over them that you have to tear through. I’ve got to figure out if that’s a good idea and, if it is, implement it.
  • Plot gaps. For example, I’ve got a character that I was going to eliminate, but now I want to keep him. The problem is, he disappears halfway through the book. How do I get him back in there?

So, now I’m looking at a rewrite of the rewrite, and then a rewrite of the rewrite of the rewrite. And that’s just the second draft! What an adventure this writing project has turned out to be.

The Plan

A bulletin board with post it notes for a software plan

What does this have to do with you, if you’re a writer reading this and waiting patiently for something helpful? Well, what I’ve found is that it’s helpful to have a plan and keep working it. Mine is roughly this:

  1. Analyze and rework the beat sheet for improvements.
  2. Arrange a fix-it matrix.
  3. Work simultaneously through the fix-it matrix and changes from my critique group.
  4. Record changes needed for the rewrite of the rewrite (story fixes, etc., not prose) as I go along.
  5. Complete the rewrite of the rewrite.
  6. Complete the rewrite of the rewrite of the rewrite (prose).
  7. Then, depending on how ready I think the thing is, either start draft three or send it out to beta readers. I’m not sure which—that’s another part of O.J.T.

Comment!

The riddler

Got any challenges with rewriting and clever solutions? Tell the world in a comment.

Rewriting Your Novel: The Deadly Game of “Compare Yourself”

The Rewriting Jungle

jungle to represent the rewriting jungle

So, there you are, the part-time novelist, maybe the nascent part-time novelist, and you’re working hard on your rewrite. It’s tough going, because, no matter how many craft books you’ve read, this is unknown territory, jungle territory no less, and you’re hacking your way through with a metaphorical machete. Despite your careful beat sheet revisions, you come to a point where the 83rd unexpected plot hole jumps out and surprises you. “Ohmigawd,” you think, “this is never going to work. I am wasting my time on what is possibly the worst travesty of literature ever committed in the English language.” So, realizing that you are getting a bit strung out, you take a break to relax and read a bit.

Which only makes things worse.

The Comparison Game

A sign that says stop the comparison game

Things get worse because you start comparing your work with whatever it is you’re reading. This happened to me the other day. Thinking novel #2 might be a lighthearted thriller, I thought I’d pick up One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich. Well, not only is that sucker light, it’s tightly plotted, it has sparkling, well-defined characters, plenty of excitement and a ton of humor. My book stinks, I thought. It is nowhere near good as this.

Well, that was depressing, so I turned to my current audiobook, Shades of Gray, by Jasper Fforde. Oh, man, the world-building that guy has put into this book! It’s about a society in which people can only see one shade of color and the whole social pecking order is built around a colortocracy, with purple vision at the top and mere gray at the bottom. And that’s not all. There are roads made of living material, giant swans, libraries empty of everything but librarians… it’s amazing. The world in my book seems shabby by comparison.

Feh, I thought, feeling doomed.

Avoid Idiot Syndrome

An idiot with a paper bag mask on his head the mask is on fire

But then I thought some more, and realized I was being an idiot. (This often happens.) Here’s why:

  • The books I was reading are finished. They’ve already been through the whole rewriting process. If they aren’t better than my second draft, something’s wrong.
  • The authors of these books have had a lot more practice than I. Both have several published books, and I’m willing to bet they both wrote a lot before they got the first one in bookstores. I didn’t write much in my youth (or early middle age), so here I am. I will never make up the experience gap, unless I live to be 200. (I’ll get back to you on that.) Might as well accept the fact and do the best I can.
  • One for the Money and Shade of Gray are great, but they aren’t my novel. Even after it’s all polished up, my book is going to be utterly different. I’m a different author with a different vision, voice and skill set.
  • For a writer, reading is sitting at the feet of the masters. There’s much to be learned from Evanovich and Fforde if I can set my ego aside and see it. Can I plot as tightly as Evanovich? I can try. Can I make my world as thoroughly as Fforde? I can try. The more I try to emulate the virtues of good writers, the better my writing will become.

Armed with Spackle

Man spackling a wall

Having thought all this, I feel better. I can finish my novel and make it the best book I can write at this stage of my development. I can learn from other writers instead of falling into the deadly game of Compare Yourself. Now I can tackle my rewrite fresh, with some positive ideas instead of a head full of put-downs.

Have spackle; will fill plot holes.

a monkey with a gun demanding a comment

What do you do to lift yourself up when you feel your writing stinks? Leave your thoughts in a comment for the other three people reading this blog. Thanks!

Tools for Novel Writers: From Fix-it Sheet to Fix-it Matrix

Taming The Imps of Rewriting

If you want to pry the lid off a barrel of imps and dump it out on your shoes, start rewriting your novel. That’s how I feel today, at any rate. There’s not just one thing to do. You’ve got to revise words, fill in plot holes, make characters look, act and speak consistently and, oh, sweet Saint Syrup of the Waffle House, do a hundred other things. And when I say imps, I mean imps, not tasks, because they slide out from under you, escape your attention, pile up in a writhing disorganized mass and do their best to make you crazy as a June bug in, well, like, June. It’s enough to make you run away screaming.

But I want to promote myself from nascent novelist to stuck-with-it-and-totally-finished novelist. And I presume, since you’re reading this, so do you. Or maybe you’ve done it before and you want to do it again. Let’s not split hairs. Or hares, which would be messy.

What I mean is, here we are. So let us gird up our loins and tame the imps.

The New Rewriting Steps

First, obtain a beverage. This should be free of alcohol or any other potentially mind-bending substances. I prefer coffee and, no, caffeine is not a mind-bending substance, it is a vitamin. Look it up.

Second, sit down (or stand up, if you prefer) at your chosen tool of literary construction.

Third, assemble the following: manuscript, beat sheet and fix-it sheet. (I described the fix-it sheet in “Tools for Writers: Fix-it Notes and the Fix-it Sheet.”)

Fourth, get something to make a matrix with. (A matrix is a grid; I am obligated to call it a matrix because of my brief sojourn in Hell… oh, wait, that was MBA school.)

Fifth – here’s the fun part – make a new, improved, fix-it sheet. This one enables you to track your rewriting tasks against your chapters with much more ease than the fix-it sheet.

I made my NIFIS (New, Improved Fix-It Sheet) with Microsoft Excel. Here it is:

 New Improved Fix It Sheet for Rewriting

Imps are listed across the top, sections down the left side.

Creating Your NIFIS

Take all the things you need to fix as noted in the three documents gathered in the third step and go to town making columns. Then fill in your sections in the leftmost column, or list them a section at a time as you work on them. As I go through the list, I check stuff off or mark it n/a (not applicable). I like this because it gives me one cage for all the imps, is simple to track and allows me to make the tasks as general or specific as I like. “Beat Sheet Changes” and “In-Line Fixes,” for example, are high level tasks; I track the details in the beat sheet for the former (duh) and in the manuscript for the latter (by just erasing the in-line fixes). On the other hand, “Fix-it: More Factories” is a reminder to include more of Satan’s weapons factories in the setting throughout the book, a pretty specific item.

Goofs of the Past

To give you an idea why I went this route, check out what happened with the fix-it sheet when I started revisions:

 Old Fix it Sheet for Rewriting

I still love the fix-it sheet for keeping track of issues as you go along, but it doesn’t really provide a good way of tracking where the tasks have been done or if they’re not applicable to a chapter. I also found myself resorting to symbols to indicate if changes were noted at specific places in the manuscript, were issues permeating the whole thing, etc. That was pretty clumsy. Sure, you could do it this way, but it would be a mess and I’m kind of an organization freak when it comes to the writing (in case you hadn’t figured that out already, based on this post).

I may revise my rewriting tools again sometime. I’m learning as I go and the novel, the tools and novelist-me are all still works in progress.

Bonus for the Curious

If you noticed the tabs “Arcs” and “Hair References” at the bottom of the NIFIS, check back here soon for a post explaining what those are all about.

Leave a Comment

If anybody has a better way of keeping their rewrite life in order, please let me know in a comment. Thanks!

Writing – or Re-writing – Your Novel’s Beginning

A little plant represents starting off right, as in your novelStarting Your Novel Right

If you work hard and eat your vegetables, oh part-time novelist, you’ll eventually find yourself in the position of rewriting the first draft of your novel. All kinds of interesting things happen, like, for instance you discover that your beginning needs to be gutted and rebuilt.

Argh. Such is the position in which I find myself at present.

Overdrawn at the Brain Bank

I love my original beginning, but it’s a prologue. A corking scene, to be sure, but prologues tend to get you excited about one thing and then you have to switch to another – like the main character, in my case. The thing to do, per my reading in the craft literature and in actual literature-literature, is to start the book off with an engaging – no, riveting – scene that will introduce the protagonist and make everybody fall over themselves caring about him.

I made a few tries at said riveting scene and found I was overdrawn at the cleverness bank.

Ideas for Starting Your Novel

What’s a writer to do? Well, swipe something. Duh.

Idea 1: A Hint or Weirdness

Put a hint of weirdness in the first sentence and show your lead in action. Swiped from Coyote Blue, by Christopher Moore.

“While magic powder was sprinkled on the sidewalk outside, Samuel Hunger moved around his office like a machine, firing out phone calls, checking computer printouts, and barking orders to his secretary.”

Here’s a guy working in an office. But wait! What about that magic powder? The weirdness sucks you in, but then the author makes you wait to find out about it while you learn about the main character for a few pages. Curiosity keeps you hooked and weirdness sets up the events to come.

Idea 2: Curiosity, then Chronology

Just start at the beginning and go from there. Swiped from Inferno, by Niven and Pournelle.

“I thought about being dead. I could remember every silly detail of that silly last performance… Call me Allen Carpentier. It’s the name I wrote under, and someone will remember it.”

The first-person narrator starts with a curious statement about being dead – enough to get your interest – and then goes on to explain how he died. From there, he goes into a chronological reminiscence of his adventures. This book could have started at “Call me Allen Carpentier,” but the first paragraphs about being dead hook your curiosity much more easily.

Idea 3: A Foreword

Start with a brief, intriguing essay on a thematic element, or something. Swiped from Sacre Bleu, by Christopher Moore.

“This is a story about the color blue. It may dodge and weave, hid and deciev, take you down paths of love and history and inspiration, but it’s always about blue.”

You’d probably better be a well-established author like Moore before you do this, and not only that, but a writer capable of engaging an audience without immediately resorting to big emotions or derring-do (the two don’t always go together, you may have noticed). By the time he’s finished talking about blue, you’re convinced of its supernatural nature and itching to find out how it figures into a whole big novel. I’ll let you know how this works out when I’m on, like, my twentieth novel.

Idea 4: Action, Jackson… Contrasted with Quiet

Get things moving in a big way and keep them that way. Swiped from “Afraid,” by J.A. Konrath and Jack Kilborn (who are the same person).

There are a couple of paragraphs in which Konrath sets a quiet fishing scene to begin. These provide contrast for what quickly follows: “The zip of his baitcaster unspooling and the plop of the bait hitting the water were the only sounds he’d heard for the last hour. Until the helicopter exploded.”

What makes this beginning work is the contrast between the fishing and the ‘copter exploding. Just listen to the sounds. There’s a “plop” of bait and then a “kaboom” of helicopter fireball. The action ramps up quickly after this and never lets up.

Idea 5: In Medias Res (“In the midst of things”)

Start somewhere after the actual beginning of the story’s events. You can back up later and fill the reader in on what came before. Swiped from “Letters from Hades” by Jeffery Thomas.

“On my fifth day in Hell, I found a praying mantis. It was during a break between classes, though that should not be taken to mean a break for rest.” After the intriguing first sentence, we start witnessing the fun existence of a Hell newbie through the narrator’s eyes. Not much later we find out the narrator is keeping a diary and the discussion of how that came about creates a framework for discussion of days one through four. The immediacy with which you’re taken into the story makes this work, as it does for most other tales begun in medias res.

This is far from an exhaustive list of ways to start a novel, but it’s Boxing Day, the house is quiet, and I’m ready for a beer. So there.

If you have a way of starting a novel that floats your boat, let the world know in a comment. See you next time.

Tools for Writers: Fix-it Notes and the Fix-it Sheet

Tools for writers fix it notes and fix it sheetFixing Fiction Writing Mistakes

I make a lot of mistakes while I’m writing. No, I mean, like, a lot. I’m not talking about little grammar and spelling mistakes – those are just part of the landscape. I’m talking about big, ridiculous mistakes: plot holes you could fly a 747 through, characters who act so inconsistently they might be diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, settings that have tall blue trees in one scene and scrubby orange bushes in the next.

As I’ve been writing my way through novel number one, some of these errors have jumped out at me almost immediately, biting me in the face like angry wolverines. Others have lurked in the text like hungry alligators just below the surface of a pond, waiting until I started working on the rewrite before closing their noissome jaws around my head.

Fix-it Tools

On the one hand, I’m fortunate to have found these errors. It’s so easy to toddle along creating your fiction while remaining completely oblivious of any problems your creation might have. On the other hand, all those stupid mistakes are a pain in my tender portions. They’ve got to be fixed, the little buggers. The trouble is, if I fix the writing mistakes immediately, the pace of my writing goes from slow to sub-glacial and I lose track not only of pace but of where I exactly I was going, beat sheet or not. If I wait to fix them until later, I just flat forget about whatever egregious error it was.

To deal with all these imperfections, I’ve discovered a couple of tools. One is a trick from a science fiction writer whose name I can’t remember, because I picked it up so long ago. The other is something I just started doing out of the desperate need to remember all the stuff that was going wrong with my novel.

Fix-it Notes

The first technique is very simple: brackets. Whenever I am writing along and notice something that will need fixing later, I make a note right there in the text, as I write; for example, “Jackie pulled her pistol and leveled it at the badger. [Jackie never had a pistol. Be sure she gets one earlier.] ‘Don’t shoot!’ cried the badger.” By using the brackets, I can make a quick note of my flub and move on without losing momentum. This works pretty well for smaller mistakes.

Fix-it Sheet

For bigger mistakes, such as plot holes, I maintain a fix-it sheet. This is just a separate document in which I have written down things that need fixing, hence the name. Here’s a breakdown of the contents:

  • I’m having some issues with character development in novel number one, so in my fix-it sheet I’ve noted things like “Need emotional investment in Colin from the start,” “Colin always needs a goal in mind, at whatever stage his character is,” “Ensure Colin’s quest for the Bough is clear… clear start, reason, etc.”
  • Because I’m an organizer (regardless of what my family might tell you), my fix-it sheet is arranged according to sections of the novel. There’s also a separate section for suggestions from my writing group (Thanks, gang!).
  • I also have a section titled “Look at during mss work,” which contains things to review each chapter for as I go through the rewrite, things like “Colin’s internal dialog: Try to make it out loud along, in dialog with a character, or skip it,” and “Check for character growth in every scene.”

You can organize your fix-it sheet any way you want, according to your needs and temperament. (Like you needed my permission, right?)

Now that I’ve started my second draft, I’m using these tools in earnest. I am using the bracketed notes as I work with the manuscript itself, tidying up the smaller errors as I go along. I have used the notes from the fix-it sheet to fill out a detailed beat sheet for the second draft, which ensures I work all the big fixes into the correct spots. That’s working well so far. I am also checking every chapter for the look-at-during-mss-work stuff. That’s slow, but it makes me slow down and comb through each chapter, which is what I wanted to do for the second draft.

So, there you have them: the fix-it notes and the fix-it sheet. Use them like crazy! Unless your writing is always defect-free, in which case, go away, I don’t want to hear about it.

If you’ve got a cool way of dealing with mistakes in your fiction, please share it in a comment.

Thanks for reading!

For Novelists: A Planning and Re-planning Tool

A matrix of numbers unlike the novel planning matrix.
No, not this one.

A Novel Planning Matrix

Thanks to Some Fine Writers

To kick this post off, I want to thank one of my favorite writers of the last several years, J. K. Rowling. It is from her that I swiped the novel planning matrix I’m going to describe. I’ve taken this writing tool and tweaked it to suit my own style, and right now I’m using it to plan the structure for the second draft of my first novel. I also want to thank Roz Morris, author of Nail Your Novel, who really clued me in to using a beat sheet, of which the matrix is a fancified example.

Columns in the Novel Planning Matrix

This bad boy has six columns. Here’s what they are:

  1. ID: The number and name of the scene. I like setting up the matrix so the ID number changes automatically when I move a row, and because the numbers can change I like having a name to identify the scene as well. ID is useful for keeping track of what the heck you’re doing.

  2. Time: When I get around to it, I’m going to put the timing of the scene here. Working out the timing of it all will be a post, I think! Time is useful for making sure things happen in logical sequence and for building towards a satisfying climax.

  3. Main Character: The character from whose point of view we see the scene. Main Character is good for being sure your fiction isn’t populated by empty furniture.

  4. Purpose: The purpose the scene plays in the novel, what it’s supposed to show or make happen. Filling in purpose helps you figure out what’s more or less important and what should be ditched altogether.

  5. Action: Here’s where I put a brief description of what happens in the scene. Sometimes the events are in sequential order, sometimes they’re in the order I thought of them. I also put notes about things to fix, rethink or foreshadow here, in a different color.

  6. Conflict, Pace, etc.: This is a catch-all column I use to hold information about the scene that isn’t action. Conflict, of course, records what the point-of-view character is up against; there could be more than one thing. For Pace, I use number, 1 for very slow, 5 for very fast. I suppose 1 could translate into “not much drama or action, maybe some reflection or preparation,” while 5 could “high drama and more action than a barrel of blood-sucking, tap-dancing, mutant killer monkeys.” I’ve been having some issues with theme as I rewrite, so I’ve been using a note for “Theme” in this column, too, recording how each scene supports (or should support, at least) the theme.

A Picture of the Novel Planning Matrix

Okay, so here’s what it looks like. This is the matrix I’m using to re-plan my novel for its second draft, so it’s full of notes in red-brown. Try to resist the temptation to steal my brilliant ideas… yeah, right. Anyway

It’s Easy!

The matrix is pretty easy to whip up in the word processor of your choice, as long as it has a tables function. You could also use a spreadsheet program, although I find those a little lame for heavy text applications like this.

I love devices like this because you can tweak them all you want and make them your own, which I hope you’ll do if you like this. If you don’t like it, maybe it will inspire to come up with something that better suits your style.

Got any cool tips or tricks for planning or re-planning your novel? How about giving us all a break and sharing them in a comment?

See you next time!

Onward! Even When Your Fiction Writing Stinks

02-27-13 OnwardIf I have learned anything about writing fiction this week, it’s that the magic genie comes and goes. I’m talking about the magic genie that makes your writing worth someone’s putting an eye to.

Monday was painful. I had to squeeze fiction in amongst a bunch of other stuff and what came out was corny or wooden. Tuesday was much the same. But then, on Wednesday, something happened. My imagination woke up, the cork came out of my word-bottle and the next thing you know I was writing about pirates-turned-gladiators-in-Hell and a prison where the inmates are encased in solid blocks composed of some – let me exercise some delicacy for once – especially unpleasant materials. I had action, sights, smells, characters, plot movement—joy! Thursday and Friday continued this happy pattern.

So what does this have to do with you, dear reader, who is perhaps, like me, a time-challenged part-time fictioneer?

Everything. Well, okay, a lot.

The one thing I did on each of this week’s five working days was sit down and bang out some fiction. Stinky, glorious, whatever its quality, I hammered on it. That happened for a few reasons, handily revealed by hindsight:

Habit. Over the last year-and-a-half or so, I’ve become accustomed to the routine of carving out about an hour or so five days a week to work on the not-so-great American novel. So part of getting through this last weird week was just reflex, one I’ve developed through some early discipline.

Big Picture. I kept reminding myself that this is the first draft. It’s okay for the first draft to be rough—okay, terrible—in places, or even all the way through. I’m just at step one of a lengthy, multi-step process.

Permission. I followed the advice of J. A. Konrath and gave myself permission to write crap. It never fails to surprise me how that little attitude adjustment will help you keep going.

Associative Causality. That sounds important, huh? Let’s say it again, together: “associative causality.” Ooooh. We are smart. Actually, I’m not smart enough to come up with a term to encapsulate the notion that because our thought processes proceed by associating one thing with another, that even crummy writing produces thoughts and ideas that eventually cause your brain to spit out something halfway decent. This is just a pompous, ten-dollar way of saying I realized that if I kept going, something good would happen. I just didn’t want to call it “optimism,” okay? Too cheer-leader-y.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I hope it’s helpful. Good luck with your genies, folks.

The “Ikea Effect” and Re-writing Fiction

Ikea store frontThe other morning, after dropping my son off at school at 0-dawn-thirty, I heard a report on NPR about something called “the Ikea effect.” In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last several years—which is fine, if that’s your choice—Ikea is a chain of stores that sells housewares, including a lot of furniture. The unusual thing about Ikea furniture is that you purchase it in a box, unassembled, take it home and—you hope—put it together yourself.

Some researchers at Whassamatta U. or some such institution did some research and discovered that while people who buy new tables like them, people who buy new tables from Ikea and put them together love them. They love the tables more intensely and for longer.

Why? Because they put some effort into them.

If you’ve ever put one of these things together, from Ikea or anywhere else—my kit was a desk with a hutch—you know that you had darn well better love the thing, because it was such a pain in the buttocks to construct.

By now you’ve probably guessed what this has to do with fiction writing. We don’t just pour knuckle-flesh, blood, time and our cussword vocabularies into our craft. We pour our hearts into it, our deepest emotions, a measure of our souls. Even something that might seem less than deep to the reader has come out of our boundless, crazy need to create worlds on paper with the magic of words.

So, naturally, when we’ve finished writing some slice of fiction, we tend to love it with a passion that makes an Ikea table-lover look like somebody who… well, somebody who really, really likes a dumb table.

There’s a problem here and that’s the strong temptation to send our literary babies off into the big world before they’re ready. I know, I know, you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating (and besides, I wanted to write about the Ikea effect because it was cool, and it’s my blog). Let that manuscript sit in a dark drawer for six weeks, at least, after you finish it. Then, and only then, drag it back out, read it and improve it. Time will separate you from your passion for the thing.

And that’s not all. Get your writing group or some beta readers to give you impartial feedback and then rewrite yet again. If you’re able to and your manuscript is a big enough deal, have it professionally edited—not just proofread, edited—and rewrite again. Then rewrite some more.

Okay, so maybe you’ll do fewer rewrites, maybe more. I’m not trying to dictate a process. But it is undoubtedly very important to put some emotional distance between yourself and your fiction before you polish it, so you’re not blinded by the Ikea effect.

The world has plenty of wobbly, lopsided tables already. Let’s all be sure we don’t add to them.

Fiction Writing in a Hurry… or Not

HurrySometimes I get in a hurry…

Eleven-thirty!

Okay, time for writing break. (Most people know this as lunchtime.)

Wait, the boss has sent an instant message. He’s a good guy, I want to do a good job for him. Stop. Think. Write reply. Done.

Eleven-thirty-two! Omigod. Two precious minutes flushed.

Grab laptop, thumbdrive, shove them into the briefcase. Stupid laptop won’t go. Shoooooovvve! There.

Eleven-thirty-three. Crud.

Speed-walk to the elevator. Punch the down button over and over to make it come faster.

Get on the elevator, press the P1 button to parking over and over to descend more quickly.

Trot to the car, throw in the briefcase, realize I have forgotten my reading glasses. Screw it, I’ll squint.

Peel out and make the five-minute trip to the library or coffee shop. Why do I change location? Too much distraction at the office, what with the demands of gainful employment.

Eleven-forty!

Pray one of the two tables at the library is unoccupied.

Luck! First table is free. Sit. Rip laptop from briefcase.

Where is the stupid thumbdrive? It should be in this pocket, but it’s not.

Root, root, root in briefcase, find thumbdrive somehow enfolded in checkbook. Arg.

Hand are now shaking from a combination of morning caffeine and hurry-stress. Some difficulty plugging in thumbdrive. Come on, stupid laptop, boot, boot, drat you, boot.

Need to do a free-write to focus. No, forget it.

Look at the last sentence written. Do no further review. Just start writing.

See Craig write. See Craig write fast.

See Craig get stuck. Is this right? What happens here? Crud.

Open up the novel plan and check. I have wasted five minutes on a tangent, and not a good one either. See Craig delete text.

Eleven fifty-five!

Write stuff. Hate it all. Repeat.

Alarm dings. Time to return to the office!

Peel, dash, elevator, desk, reboot stupid laptop, have brief lottery fantasy, back to work.

Sometimes, I take my time…

Eleven-thirty! Time for writing break.

Wait, the boss has sent an instant message. He’s a good guy, I want to do a good job for him. Stop. Think. Write reply. Done.

Eleven-thirty-two. No problem. I’ll just do what I can do today. Persistence will win my battle.

Pack the laptop in the briefcase, taking three seconds to reach in and jiggle things a bit so the PC slides in. Put the thumbdrive in my pocket.

Stroll to the elevator, press the button once. Smile and nod to passers-by.

Down to the car, off to the library. Wave to the librarian and sit down at the table. Unpack, boot up. While the laptop starts, take minute for breathing meditation.

Check the novel plan to see what’s on tap for today. Reread a few pages from the previous day’s work to get grounded. Free-write for a couple of minute to get the gears greased.

Linger over the first words, letting today’s pace come out on its own. From there, write as quickly as possible without rushing, pausing to look up once in a while.

The alarm dings. Look over today’s production. Not bad, either for quality or quantity.

Back to the office. Smile as I open that first email, because I’m a good worker.

And I get to be a writer, too.

So… which do you choose?