I had a conversation with my oldest daughter today regarding writing, and I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but it was in relation to my plans for my writing. And I said something along the lines of, “If I can write 2000 words a day.” She stopped me right in the middle of my thought and said, “That’s not a good way of thinking about it.”
It took me a moment to figure out what I’d said, and what she was talking about, and then I saw it. The word “if”. There is no better hedge word in the English language. It allows for the possibility of failure, and when used for something that is entirely under your control, using the word pretty much facilitates failure. I’ve been using the word “if” to avoid commitment to my goals. Goals which are completely within my ability to control the outcome.
“If I can write 2000 words a day.” OF COURSE I can write 2000 words a day. It’s not an onerous chore. It’s a couple hours in the morning before work, or in the evening before bed. The question is not “if” I can write them. The question is “will” I write them. Will is the key. Effort. Choice. “If” And “Can” are not what we’re talking about. I have complete control over the choices I make. Do I want to write 2000 words a day? Yes. Do I want it more than I want to watch a movie? Do I want it more than I want to play World of Warcraft? Those are the questions I need to be asking.
What words are you using in the conversation in your head? Are you giving yourself opportunities to make excuses for why you’re not doing what you want to do, just by the choice of words you use to speak to yourself? Avoid “if I can” in areas where you are in complete control of the outcome. Change it to “I will” and see if that doesn’t improve your odds of doing what you set out to do.
Alright, this one has a new feature I’ve been dying to add for a while. Something I ended up calling Outline Builder. If YOU can think of a better name for it, let me know.
In any case, it lets you quickly enter text to create a linear outline that you can then use to populate your story with chapters, your chapter with scenes, or the synopsis or the body of the current document with snippets of text. You can reorder them as much as you like within the outline builder, even reorder them in sets. It’s sort of an initial planning tool that doesn’t require you to even have a chapter ready in your project.
There are also some other bug fixes and changes to go with it.
So, that was the announcement, now the explanation of why.
I do have my own novel that I’ve been trying to work on, and it’s been stuck at a certain point for quite a long time. I’ve just been far too busy (famous last words of failed would be novelists everywhere) with my work and my other hobbies to find the time to work on it.
In addition, the last entry in the outline for it ended with “and he failed for some reason.” I was stuck for what that reason was, and instead of sitting down and thinking about it and inventing something specific, I just let it sit there and laugh at me.
Our oldest has been staying with us for the last week while her husband is out of town, and she’s been writing up a storm (she’s completed eight more novels than I have….), and I asked her to look at my novel in limbo. She told me, after reading it, that I had to complete it. So I sat down, converted it to ePub format so I could read it on my iPad, read it, decided that it’s not awful, and figured out what was going to happen in the next scene right as I finished reading the final bits.
I started writing it up in the synopsis pane of StoryBox for the scene, and realized that, at least the way I work, there was a better way, and that would be if I had my Outline Builder implemented. Why? I like to write a bunch of short bits that describe what’s going on in the scene from beginning to end. I’d done it a bit on my own, but prior to NaNoWriMo this past year, I’d read Lazette Giffords NaNo for the New and the Insane, and in it, she described her Phase System, which really intrigued me and gave my head a way to describe what I was doing more formally. I don’t use her system exactly, as I don’t bother with the word count part of it, but I really needed the Outline Builder to do it right.
So, now, with the Outline Builder implemented, I’m crossing my fingers that I can get back in the saddle on this novel and get it done by the end of September. If I can do that, it will only have taken me eleven months to finish my NaNo novel from last year. Go me!
I’ve spent the majority of my reading time, nearly all of my life, reading Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. I love the adventure and the speculation and possibilities that are inherent in those genres.
Reading outside those genres has happened occasionally, but never consistently. I’ve read Stephen King, though most of his works are essentially fantasy. I’ve read books by F&SF authors who dabble outside their original genre (Stephen R. Donaldson, Bradley Denton and a couple others). And then I’ve read the occasional book suggested by some other media outlet. A radio interview with Joe Gores got me to read a couple of his mystery novels. A recent article on James Patterson caused me to look at his books on the shelf of the bookstore recently, which resulted in my purchase of “When The Wind Blows” (Of course, it treads on SF territory) and the consequent finishing of that novel in a day.
I’m going to make a commitment to myself that at least one in every three books I read this year (and for the foreseeable future) will be something from outside my comfort zone of the F&SF genres. I’m going to try to sample all sorts of stories that I haven’t read, in the hopes that it will expand my vision of what’s possible to do with a story.
After all, I just read a book where I doubt any of the chapters was longer than four pages. I flew through the book and it was impossible, almost, to put down. 416 pages and 127 chapters. It’s not something I’ve seen before, but it was certainly effective. What other techniques are out there that I’m not aware of because my reading has been so insular?
My NaNo novel is going better, so far, than any of the previous attempts. I’m over 12,000 words, and I know, sorta, where it’s going. I previously never made it much past 5000, and I never had an outline before, not that the one I have is much of one. But any outline seems to be better than none for trying to mash out 50,000 words in a month.
Of course, at 12,000 words, I’m not on target anymore. I’ve essentially only averaged about 1,000 a day, which is far short of what I need to win NaNo. I’ve got to hit 2111 words a day, now, to win, and I don’t know if I can manage it. It was hard just getting 2000 yesterday. I just have too many projects going, and suffering through a cold for the last week hasn’t helped at all. I’ll have to see if I can pop some extra words out this weekend, but we’ve got projects to get completed around the house, too, so I don’t know how much uninterrupted time I can squeeze out.
I’m satisfied, though, with my progress. Even if I don’t win NaNo, I’ll finish the draft of this novel, as it will still count toward my goal for the next year (yes, I worked out my 2010 goals early) of getting three novels drafted.
“Huh, what?” you say.
I’ve come to the obvious conclusion that, if I want to get better at writing, I need to write. And I think I need to write a great deal, so I’ve set a goal of drafting three novels by the end of 2010. They’re going to be written as practice, with no intention of trying to get them published through a traditional publisher. I may even make them available here, in some fashion, if they aren’t total trash. A friend of mine, back in 2006, did a project he called A Short Story A Day, and this will sort of be my novel version of that project. I’m not about to post as I go along like he did. I’m not that comfortable with my fiction yet, but I may post them as I edit them. We’ll see.
I’ve tried to spend the day working up my plot and my characters for my NaNoWriMo attempt, but I kept finding things in StoryBox I wanted to change immediately. I really need to not try to write on the same computer where I develop StoryBox. I did manage, however, to come up with an idea, a half a dozen or more scene descriptions to start the novel, and a description of the final scene, as well as short descriptions of the essential characters. There’s still a lot of work to do, but what I’ve got should get me through the first couple of days. I’ll try to make sure I stay a step or two ahead on the scene descriptions as I go, and I may even get more done this evening as I watch Monster House with my kids.
My main worry, now, about NaNo, is that I’ll spend the time I’m supposed to be writing on tweaking StoryBox. For example, todays effort netted a Recent Projects list under the file menu, tweaks to the Black theme for checkboxes, a Dated Entry option (for doing things like keeping a journal inside of the Box of Notes folder), and the moving of relavent document types to the top of the File Drawer context menu (so if you right click on the character folder, “New Character” will be at the top of the context menu).
Enjoy your Halloween and good luck with NaNoWriMo, if you’re participating. I’ve set a goal this year to complete it, and I mean to. No more 5000 word attempts for me. Mark crosses his fingers, shuts his eyes and says this over and over until he thinks he believes it!