An Update on Tracking My Writing

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I wrote recently that after an Instagram post by Victoria Schwab I was inspired to track my own writing. My marked off blocks don’t look as impressive as hers, and aside from a few anomalies the page looks mainly like a single column of purple boxes.

But there’s a purple box on every day.

Knowing that I’m marking myself, I make sure to take the time and sit and write, even if it’s in the evening and I’m tired and all I want to do is watch Disney vlog videos on YouTube. I can’t stand the idea of having a blank spot so I sit and I write, and the consequence of that is that I’ve found a momentum in my writing, it’s easier to pour out the words. So, even if it’s only a little bit, my pages are stacking and stacking in a way that makes me feel…good.

I’m also allowing myself to qualify lots of things as writing time. Critiquing, blogging, even querying. These are things that I want, or need, or want-need, to do, in order to feel complete, in order to feel accomplished, in order to feel like I’m working towards any sort of a goal. So I mark off that time. And again, I feel good.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up. Maybe a couple weeks, maybe forever. Maybe just until I regain my momentum enough that I don’t need my little boxes to remind me of what I’ve gotten done.

I’m curious about what everyone else does to keep track of their writing, whether you go by time in the chair or simply word count, and how you keep yourselves motivated.

Keeping Track of Writing (Inspired by Victoria Schwab)

Lately I’ve been having trouble keeping up with my writing. You know, for some some reason. So I keep looking for ways to keep myself motivated, and to force me to get in a little bit of writing every day.

Photo by Bernard Tuck on Unsplash
Photo by Bernard Tuck on Unsplash

One thing I’ve done, ever since I was supposed to keep track of my freewriting in a creative writing class, is I mark on the page of my composition notebook where I’m starting my novel writing for the day. It’s a nice visual so I can see where I last came in, and also gives me a clear goal: “One page from this mark. Two. Three pages…”

On a Instagram post from author Victoria Schwab a few weeks back, she shared a picture of 10 days of writing, with 25 minute intervals marked off on a notebook page in little black squares. This was her writing, editing, freewriting, so on. Some days she has several, some days she has one. But there’s always something. “Books don’t happen all at once,” she writes, “but one increment—one line, one scene, one chapter at a time.” Seeing all of those things she does — that all of us writers do — added up in small, manageable chunks, it all seems so much more doable. And, probably, so very satisfying to see your own little boxes add up over time.

Writing from the Hard Parts (Who my Characters Are)

On a recent episode of The Yarn podcast, Victoria Jamieson (author/illustrator of the middle grade graphic novels Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School) spoke about how hard being that middle school age was for her, and how that informed the way she wrote her books.

I hadn’t planned on writing a middle grade book, it’s kind of naturally what the books have fallen into… When I write my books I try to write about some of the hard parts of being that age because as a kid I liked to know that other kids are going through what I go through.

Jamieson writes about middle schoolers because that age was so hard.

The Yarn Podcast interview with Victoria Jamieson

Ten years ago I would’ve picked the same spot for myself. And I did pick it, with all the longer stories I wrote focusing on 11 year old girls. But, that was right at the beginning of my 20s, my actual hardest age, as I was about to discover. I didn’t know who I was, or what I was going to do with myself. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself.

In my late 20s, and now early 30s, I finally feel more settled with who I am, what I need, what I want. Also finally, after a lifetime and two degrees, I’m getting the hang of writing. So is it any wonder the novel I’m currently querying stars an awkward 20-something? Is it a surprise that the story I’m anxious to brainstorm now is about a woman fresh from adolescence who doesn’t understand what she needs and wants? (I’m also sure there’s a metaphor in their enemies being ghosts and demons, respectively.)

This isn’t to say I won’t attempt middle grade stories still (I have one written and waiting for a readthrough and other ideas stewing) but now that I finally feel settled, I keep pulling from a time of frustration and confusion to write.

Does your writing center around a hard time in your life? Do you pull your characters from somewhere else?

Joy in Every Stage of Writing

I’m sitting at my desk, reading through my manuscript one “last” time (you know, before the next “last” time) before sending it back to my critique partners before (hopefully) prepping it for query. And I’m thinking to myself, “I really like this part.” Reading through my story, making only minimal changes, sometimes in awe of a paragraph I can’t believe was actually written by me. Surely this is the part of the writing process that brings me the most joy!

Except, every part brings me the most joy, all for different reasons.

Editing and writing and editing…

Read More »

The Ease of Writing (When an Idea is Working)

As I wait for some friends and writing partners to get back to me with critiques of a finished story, I started working on another idea that had been gnawing at me for a few months. I have loads of other things I could be working on, another draft that needs just a few more rounds of polishing before I can send that off to readers, some stories that I think I could get to work if I just worked out the themes a bit more. Instead, I went with something completely new — and I am very glad that I did.

Plum TreeUsually, when I’m writing new drafts (or complete rewrites) I can get up to 3 and 1/2 pages, and call that a good day of writing. It’s usually less on days when I work in the morning and I can’t get myself up, and there are, of course, those awful days with nothing at all, but on a day off when I can focus on writing, that’s what I get, and I’m pretty happy with it.

With this story, the 3 pages can come out in the early light of morning, and on the good days, when I’m home, I can get 5 to 7 pages.

I’ve hit that number on other stories, though not quite so regularly as this. I keep waiting for myself to smash into a wall, but that hasn’t happened yet. The story keeps flowing out, and even if I sometimes write in a circle, I manage to keep pushing things forward.

I’m not sure what’s different this time. Is it that I’ve made an outline? No, I’ve done that before. Maybe I just really enjoy these characters? No, because I can’t see a first draft to the big THE END unless I love the people I’m writing about. Maybe the rhythm I figured out in NaNoWriMo is helping me, maybe I’ve just built up the muscle enough that I can finally pump a heavier writing weight. Maybe I’m finally shoving my anxiety out of the way, so I can write with one less thing impeding me. Maybe it’s not something I’m thinking of at all.

I do know that there is a chance that this momentum will pass. I know that I could run into a block, or on a read-through I’ll see all the parts that won’t work, and I’ll be overwhelmed by my inability to fix them on my own.

But for now, it is so fun to roll with it. To look at my notebook and see all the pages I’ve filled, to watch that little callous on my right middle finger grow because I can’t stop the story, even when my hand hurts, even when all that writing makes my brain feel like it’s swelling. I’m enjoying all the scribbles, the pen marks on my hand, the cramp in my butt because I’ve kept writing for a half our longer than I meant to and now I’ve been sitting for too long.

I’m enjoying writing, and inventing, and discovering what I’m capable of. This writing thing is loads of fun.

Sometimes It’s Nice to Just Go with It (Some NaNoWriMo Thoughts)

We’re into week three of NaNoWriMo! While I’m a little behind the official marker, I did start  eight days late (Thanks, Disney World, I regret nothing) I’m clipping along pretty well, to the point that I think I’ll catch up by the weekend (just in time to fall behind over Thanksgiving, yes).

I’m following the outline that I slapped together before starting pretty well, and I’m pouring out words, plugging along forward. And the result so far? A big, steaming, snarled up mess. And I am so happy with it.

Sometimes when I'm on the couch, clacking away...
Sometimes when I’m on the couch, clacking away…

The whole point of NaNo is quantity, getting as many words out as you can before the month dries up. Quality, coherence, that’s not the point. This, of course, always feels really wrong. When I hit a snag, or realize I took a wrong turn in chapter two, or realize halfway through that no, this is a world where the Internet doesn’t exist, I’m tempted to go back and fix it. Or, if I’m really frustrated, I imagine stuffing the manuscript in a drawer and pretending I never had this awful idea.

But it’s NaNoWriMo. You’re supposed to keep pushing through, and so I do. And I’m glad, because when I keep going with it, I start to like it again. Yes, I keep finding things I want to change, or add, or snip out entirely, and it’s definitely not forming into its final shape. But this method, of just rolling through to the end, is a road of discovery. With each rambling paragraph or nonsensical plot turn I learn about the characters and the story and the world. I realize that one person’s motivations have to change because she’s not who I thought she was at the beginning, or that technology has to be different because it better suits the story and the world view of the characters.

Maybe my story doesn’t have a good shape yet, but writing in this way, not stopping until I discover my middle and my end, is helping me to plot through all the different bits so I start to see what that shape will be when I’m done.

 

Hey WriMos, find me and friend me! I love stalking other people’s progress.

 

Writing Discoveries: You Don’t Just Run Out of Ideas

Yesterday I started plotting work on a new novel idea I had. This comes after I’ve finished and have begun edits on a couple of short stories, scribbled out a bad-to-okay middle grade manuscript, and am waiting to hear back on queries on another novel.

Sometimes, after I finish writing something, I feel like, “Whelp, what do I do now?” The story has poured out of me, and for a little while, it seems like there’s nothing left. After sending off my most polished manuscript for querying, I had no idea what to do with myself, and needed the motivation of my writing group to first polish up old stories and then, finally, begin something new.

Most recently, I tried to plot out a different novel idea, but even though I researched elements I wanted to include and wrote notes on some character personalities, I couldn’t get more than a few key characters and the beginning of a plot. Not enough to really dive in, since I’d hit a wall so fast and hard I’d probably lose a tooth, and I decided that this idea still needs time to thicken and stew.

So was I out of ideas? Nope. One of my favorite websites, The Oatmeal, has a great comic about creating content. While he’s specifically talking about stuff on the Internet, much of it pertains to writing or creating in general. Particularly relevant to this post are two panels about midway through, where he points out that after every comic, he feels like he’s got nothing left. But, he says, “Idea generation needs to be like a river…Fresh input flows in and out, and there is always change.” New things are always coming at you, and if writing or creating is what you really want to do, you will find inspiration and stumble upon something new to write.

It’s not always convenient — my new idea burst into my brain while I was listening to a lecture on CD, driving on the highway alone, with no one to dictate to, forcing me to repeat sentences and force some level of memorization before it drifted off — if you’re waiting, if you’re open, if you’re ready to scribble them down.

Do you ever feel like you’ve run out of ideas? Do they eventually come to you or is it a struggle to move onto the next project?

Writng Discoveries: Making an Outline

Most times, when I get a new story idea, I just kind of dive into it. I take some notes to get myself a starting place, but most times I go into a new fiction piece without much of an idea of what’s going to happen. I went off this path a bit when I wrote one middle-grade manuscript, an experiment where I based it off the Hero’s Journey, making sure my character hit all the basic markers. That got me a mostly full draft (I still don’t know the climax, but that’s a different problem for a different post).

But just recently I wrote out the entire outline for a short story, making it very detailed with what would happen, and what the characters would think. That took a little under a week. Then I wrote it — that also took a week. It’s still in a very rough draft form, but I was amazed how smoothly the story came out when I had a map to refer to. I found I didn’t have moments where I was stuck, pounding my head against the table trying to figure out what happened next. When I thought I hit a wall, I’d look at my outline and realize I’d already solved the problem I thought I was having. It was a relief.

I’ve tried the outline idea for another novel-length piece I’m working on. My impatience to get started made it so I didn’t get it quite so detailed before diving in, but there’s still a bare skeleton there. And still, I’m finding that when I’m lost, I look at it, and see that I already figured out the basic direction to turn my character. It’s not like I can’t go off the path I’ve written for myself — I’ve already gone into the outline document and added things I want to have happen, or altered a plot point based on something I see. And obviously the revisions will involve so many rewrites and plot reworkings. But for getting the first draft finished, an outline is a tool that’s more important than I even knew.

Do you write outlines before working on your story? Or do you dive in? If you’ve tried both, what do you prefer?

Rewriting

I’ve been working on Speaksong, the story for my NaNo; this was something that I had actually planned out ahead of time, and unlike everything else I’ve ever done for NaNo I think it actually has potential. The problem is, most of my NaNo writing is awful, since I’m spitting it out so fast. So going over the early chapters isn’t just editing–for most of the story, there is complete re-writing involved. This makes it a little easy, since I already have most of the story out of my head and on the computer in detail. But it’s also a pain, since I don’t know what to keep sometimes, and it also feels a little like I’m just redoing something I’ve already done. Maybe this will work, though, and I’ll end up with something of higher quality.

Writing Pen