On Snail Time

An old housemate of mine told me this joke once.  He found it hysterical.  He laughed and laughed.  This was years ago, and the exact details are a bit fuzzy.  Now, it’s true, the funniest thing about the joke was my housemate telling it.  But, I still appreciated the joke.

It went something like this:  dude’s hanging out watching TV when there’s a knock on the door.  He goes and opens it, and there’s no one there.  He grumbles and returns to the TV, only to hear another knock.  This time, he whips the door open and looks all around.  There’s no one there, but, he spots a snail on the door step.  He’s angry now, so he picks the snail up and throws it.  A week later, dude’s watching TV again and there’s a knock on the door.  He goes and opens the door–there’s no one there.  But this little voice says, “what was that for?”  Dude looks down to find a snail on the door step again.

I know, I know, eyes are rolling.  Snails can’t knock on doors.  Or talk.  But, hey, river guides always need family-friendly jokes to tell.  I mean, it ain’t all whitewater and action out there.  There’s miles of flatwater, an ever-present upstream wind, and people trapped on a boat expecting a show.  So yeah, lame jokes can serve a purpose.

Anyway, back to the point.  In all seriousness.  Seriously.  It took the snail an entire week to get back to the door!  That’s probably like, three decades in snail-time.  His shell was probably cracked too.  And that is exactly how I am feeling about writing my novel right now.

I ooze along at a snail’s pace, make it to the door and knock, only to be thrown for a loop.  As in, I find I need to write about something I don’t know, and so I have to spend another snail’s week researching so I can write about it.  Or, I fix a plot problem, only to find that the fix breaks another part of the plot, and there goes another snail’s week.  This has been a disheartening cycle.

But, I’m not writing this to whine about or make excuses for my lack of a publication-ready draft.  As I’ve made this snail-paced journey I’ve come to realize that my story is worth taking the time needed to get it right.  I’ve heard writers say that nobody writes a good first novel, and if you really love your story, you should save it.  Tell it after you’ve got a few published novels under your belt.  Get the bad writing out of the way, then write the story you love so you can do it justice.

That’s ridiculous.

I say, write the story you love every time.  And give it the time it takes to get it right, to make it good.  Learn the stuff you don’t know, even if it takes months of research.  The story is worth it.

I have to remind myself not to rush, and not to get discouraged.  I have to trust The Compass Code will be a better story for all my snail’s weeks lost to research and plot problems.  Because I really do love the story.

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Featured image courtesy of Pixabay

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Snow Days, Deadlines, and Editing Madness

Last week, it snowed.  A lot.  Winter finally decided to really make an appearance.  Which is awesome.  I love the snow and we certainly need the water.  But, all that snow isn’t great for getting any editing and writing done.

Schools were closed for four days, and the smallish bi-pedal beings (and the one that is now taller than me!) were stuck at home.  And I can’t seem to get much work done when I don’t have the space to myself.

We survived being home bound and school went back to normal this week.  In order to get my head back in the game, I committed to another deadline.  It’s still got some holes, but I’ll be sending The Compass Code, draft three, to a couple of beta readers this weekend.   Which is exciting, but extremely nerve-wracking too.

In order to get the draft ready to share, I’ve been editing like mad.  I’ve also given a lot of time to learning different techniques for self-editing and improving my craft.  Much to my surprise, this has been a lot of fun.  Maybe after all these years with this project, I’ve just gone mad.

If so, it’s worth it.  I think.

Anyway, in my quest to polish my writing, I stumbled across a couple really helpful podcasts I want to share.  They are The Book Editor Show and The Writership Podcast.  If you’re looking for some great tips on editing your own work, check them out.

And so, back to the editing madness I go.

Wait…What Chapters?

I’ve read many, many books.  All sorts of books.  Nonfiction, text books, novels from a huge variety of genres…and almost all of those books had one thing in common.  Chapters.  As I am finally approaching The End for The Compass Code, the idea of chapters is weighing heavily on my mind, because my novel doesn’t currently have any.

[chap-ter]

noun

  1. a main division of a book, treatise, or the like, usually bearing a number or a title.

Another November has come and gone.  I avoided NanoWrimo again this year, but I didn’t avoid writing.  My kids and I made a wager that if I didn’t finish a second draft of The Compass Code, they would get to choose the dinner menu for a week.  Think ice cream and bad pizza for seven days straight.  Gross.  So, I was motivated.

I made a list of over 30 missing scenes.  I wrote the last missing scene from the list on November 30th.  It took just over 36 minutes to print the 540 pages of a PDF of my second draft.  It took six years and the threat of a week of ice cream and bad pizza for dinner for me to finally figure out how to finish a novel.  Now, I have to figure out how to make it look like a novel—with chapters.

I like making lists.  I like making timelines for my characters.  I like writing down ideas and connecting them to each other with lines.  It’s fun to play around with my writing in visual ways.  But outlining?  Oh, heck no!  That’s work, not fun.  That’s organizing, not playing around with ideas.

Breaking this novel into chapters feels like outlining.  It feels like an impossible task.  It’s work, and it’s hard.  Bleh.  I know I’m not going to get it right the first time.  (Yay for beta readers!)  But somehow, I’ve got to find those chapters.

I have a lot of short scenes following multiple narratives in the beginning of the book and I’m struggling to decide how to organize them so they don’t get confusing.  Add to that, I’ve never even thought about the average length of chapters, or how many there should be, or how many scenes should be in a chapter… just how does one take all of the little pieces and construct a novel?

I found some helpful resources online, like this one.  I read through the entire draft and tried to visualize chapter breaks.  I set up a new draft project in Scrivener, and created the first three chapters, hoping to provoke some optimistic inspiration.   I’m still feeling intimidated.  But, this story has come too far to give up now.  So, it’s on to draft three—and the very epic struggle to create chapters.

I guess I need to figure out what sort of wager with the kids will help me get through another round of editing by the end of December!

It’s Red Pen Time

I’m nearly a month behind schedule.  But, I printed a draft of The Compass Code yesterday, and I’m ready to dive into editing it.  It needs a LOT of work.  There are several plot lines that still need tying up in order to bring all the action together at the end of the book.  That is, if I want it to make any sense, anyway.

Even though I know it’s still a mess inside, I think all 345 pages are the most beautiful things I’ve ever held in my hands (well, except for the smallish bipedal beings, but it’s been a long time since they fit in my hands).  I’m sure I’ll change my mind about that in the coming days and weeks.

Today I’m just going to bask in satisfaction while sitting here next to my novel.  I’ll be back at it tomorrow, armed with highlighters, a red pen, post-it notes, and inspiration.  And coffee.

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Me for the next few weeks, as depicted (lovingly, I’m sure) by the smallish bipedal beings.

Snip Snip My Darlings

It’s already January 4th.  And I still haven’t written a word about goals for this new year.  In fact, I have managed only to write a few sentences of notes, an email or two, and a few tweets this entire year.  Maybe it’s a slump.  Or, it could be the whole winter break thing that results in some very distracting, smallish bi-pedal beings running rampant in my house rather than being dutiful students somewhere else.

Anyway, in the midst of all the frenetic chaos that is my winter break existence, I was struck by a revolutionary thought about my novel.  I guess I should say, it isn’t a new thought.  It’s more of an acceptance of what needs to happen.  Writers talk about this a lot, the whole “kill your darlings” thing.  I’m sure it doesn’t come easy for any of us.  But, the acceptance that I have darlings that need killing has brought with it a renewed surge of energy to do whatever it takes to get this ridiculously overdue novel finished.

A while back I was listening to an episode of Writers After Dark podcast (I highly recommend this podcast) and was suddenly overcome with an urge to chop out huge portions of the prologue of my book.  This took me by surprise.  I took out scenes I truly love, and have struggled for far too long to keep in the book.  Once I started chopping, however, I was instantly happier with the beginning of my book.  This past week, I took the chopping to a new level.

My story covers a significant span of years, and from the beginning, I have struggled to explain, or work around, large gaps in time when nothing of importance is happening.  This is a self-inflicted struggle, I now realize, that can be solved by simply snipping away at all those unnecessary darlings of mine.  No biggie.  Except that it’s the entire part one of the book!  Gasp!

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In a brief moment of alone-in-the-kitchen calm, I realized that, while part one certainly helps to explain who, what, and why, the main characters are, it isn’t necessary to understanding or enjoying the plot of the story.  In fact, part one really just slows the entire thing down.  So, snip, snip, my darlings.

Oh, the freedom I feel now.  This solves so many complications and opens up so many possibilities with what was formerly known as part two.  Don’t worry, I didn’t waste years on a bunch of scenes that will never be read.  Now I have a nearly completed prequel!  And those chopped out prologue scenes?  Well, odds are good at least a few of them will make an appearance here one day.

 

Lego sculpture courtesy of the smallish bi-pedal beings.

140 Character Precision

I can’t deny that I love (and also hate) Twitter.  Because I have a bizarre obsession with news, my standard operating procedure as a writer is to have two computers on, and one of them always has a window open to Twitter.  I know, it’s a time suck.  I’m okay with it though, since I do find a lot of ideas and inspiration there.  I also find a lot of very supportive fellow writers on Twitter.

There are so many Twitter hashtag games for writers.  I’ve written about this before.  I enjoy posting lines from my work in progress, or WIP, and reading the lines of others.  There is some serious talent to be found on these different hashtags.   And, with the 140 character restriction, there’s some serious creativity in making those lines fit without losing their shine.

Along with the inspiration found in reading others’ work, I find that sharing a line, confined to 140 characters, is a great editing tool.  I don’t know how many times, while searching for a keyword to fit a theme, I have found over-used words in sentences or paragraphs.  And I’ve made many a change to lines in order to make the point more concise, changes that have been incorporated into my draft.

Recently, Twitter made a pretty huge change to the platform.  Tweets are no longer limited to 140 characters.  They can now contain a whopping 280 characters!  This is a game changer for line sharing.  I’m sure many love it.  I don’t.  It isn’t that I don’t want to see more of the work of other writers.  I miss the precision of 140 characters.

I’m certain I’m not alone with this opinion.  So, maybe all of us who feel a bit disgruntled with this change need a new hashtag game.  Something like, #140line, or #linein140, where we strive to keep our lines close to the old-school rules.

What do you think?  Do you love the change?  Or hate it?  Does it improve line sharing for writers, or is something of the challenge and value of 140 characters lost?

 

*A good one-stop source of information on the different games can be found here.