Word Constipation

 

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Do you like it?

 

So…Embracing the Demon. Dale, book 2.

I’m frustrated.

The good news is, the book is coming along. I’ve got about 40,000 words right now. I’m not stuck, and I don’t feel like I’ve written myself into a corner. My editor read a good chunk of it, and he’s happy with how it’s coming. This is good news. When we were working on The Demon Within, I basically had to rewrite the book from the original manuscript I submitted to him. Then after his feedback on the rewritten draft, I still had to go back and gut the entire middle section. It was an arduous process, and there were days when I felt like giving up completely. I figured maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a professional writer. For perspective: I signed my contract with California Coldblood in May of 2014. I submitted the final manuscript to my editor in November of 2015. Even after that, there were copy edits and minor changes, but I was mostly out of it by then.

That’s not what’s going on here.

This time, I did a lot of the work up front by writing an extensive outline of the story ahead of time and submitting it to my editor. As much as my pantser heart hated to do it, I have to admit that it is helping considerably, especially now that I’m truly in the middle section of the story (which has always been the hardest part for me). Whenever I get stuck, I just refer back to the outline. I’ve got a map to give me directions.

The problem I’m facing now is that the story is not coming fast enough, and because of that, I’m looking at the very real possibility that Embracing the Demon won’t be out until 2018.

When I sit down to write, I average about 1,000 words. On a good day, I might be able to push it closer to 1,500 or 2,000. On a bad day, I might only write a few hundred. Some days, I don’t write. I’ve heard so many writers give the advice to “write every day, no matter what,” but that has never worked for me. Writing is a job–on top of my other, full-time job. I love it, but some days, my brain just needs a break. Other days, I just don’t have time to write. Maybe I’m busy at work (the full-time job, the one that currently pays the bills) or I’ve got other appointments that don’t bring me home until late. Most weeks, I’m averaging about 4-5 days of writing time, 2-3 days off.

I know this about myself, though, so I know I should have started sooner. I was very burned out after finishing The Demon Within–and then once I’d recovered enough to write again, I was smack-dab in the middle of buying a house and wedding mania. But even beyond that…I got married in July. I didn’t start working on the outline until October. That’s on me, I know.

I’ll also be the first to admit that I’m not so great with either time management or focus. I’m distracted easily, and tend to fall down the internet rabbit hole too often.

The first draft of The Demon Within was about 100,000 words; the final was about 85,000. Then you need to factor in time for rewrites–which probably won’t be as extensive as they were on the first book, but there are still going to be scenes where my editor says things like, “Add more cool weapons” or “Be more descriptive.” In order to get Embracing the Demon out this year, my editor would have to upload it sometime in the next couple of months. You don’t have to be great with numbers to see that the math doesn’t work out.

I follow other writers on Facebook and Twitter who says things like, “I wrote 10,000 words today!” or “I only wrote 2,500 words today, I’m so disappointed in myself.” To which I’m like, WTF?!? I don’t even know how it’s physically possible to write 10,000 words in one day, and 2,500 words would be a great day for me!

Mostly, though, I’m just oozing jealousy. I genuinely don’t know how one can manage to be that prolific, especially with a full-time job (or kids, or family obligations, or volunteering, or pets, or whatever).

I wrote faster back when I was living on my own, but back then I had fewer demands on my time and distractions. It’s so much easier to write when you have no life!

But, since I have no intention of giving up my husband, my family, my friends, or my cats anytime soon, some mitigating strategies are in order.

–I’m going to be deactivating my personal Facebook account soon. It’s temporary, and I will reactivate when my draft is done. My public author page will stay up, but it’ll probably be less active. This is both for my mental health as well as time management: ever since the election, Facebook has been a hotbed of political activism and discussion. Which is great, but it’s causing me stress I can’t handle right now.

–Twitter will stay up, but again, I may not be around as much. (Twitter has never been my poison.)

–I’m going to try (emphasis on try) to start getting up early in the morning before work to write. I’m not a morning person, so this will likely be the biggest struggle. But I’ve done it before.

–I’m going to try to get to the gym more. Doesn’t directly have anything to do with writing, but it clears my head and makes me feel better.

–After I finish the draft of Embracing the Demon, I’m going to work on some things that aren’t Dale-related. I love Dale, but I’ve been in her head exclusively for way too long now. (The last non-Dale project I worked on was in 2013.)

–And if it does come down to delaying the publication, I’ll have to think about some things to put out in the meantime. Short stories? A Dale novella? A non-Dale novella? Deleted scenes? (God knows I’ve got plenty of them.)

I know that building a writing career is a long process, and it feels better to have a plan. But right now, I’m still grumpy and frustrated with myself. Damn kids. Get off my lawn!

 

Are You A Pantser or Plotter?

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To Annabel, it doesn’t matter whether I am a pantser or plotter, only that I drop everything to pet her.

 

For most of my writing life, I have been a “pantser.”

For those of you not familiar, a pantser is basically a writer who writes by the seat of their pants, without doing a lot of planning beforehand. A pure pantser might be someone who just sat down in front of a computer or notebook and wrote whatever happened to come out, sort of a Jackson Pollack approach to fiction.

For me, it’s always meant that I start with at least a germ of an idea—usually, but not always, a beginning and an ending—and maybe a few markers in the middle. I’ll come up with new scenes and sequences as I’m going along, but I’m often only a few scenes ahead of my actual writing. I roughly know where I’m going, but I don’t know how I’m getting there until I’m well into the book.

The advantage of this, for me, has always been the rush of creativity while I’m writing. I often find myself doing things that I didn’t expect: killing characters, creating a conflict where I didn’t expect there to be one, inventing new things. The feeling of creative freedom is awesome.

But the disadvantage is that because I didn’t have a direction, my plots sometimes tend to meander or lose their focus, and sometimes my story just isn’t tight enough. When I was working on revising The Demon Within for publication, I ended up rewriting about 80-90% of it. Even after I submitted the draft to my editor, Bob Peterson, it needed a lot more work; the middle section got completely gutted, which was another 30,000 words I had to start from scratch. It was very frustrating, particularly since I’d already been working on the book for four years before I was contracted for publication. But when my editor and I started tugging on some of the strings, I realized there were some fundamental, structural issues and it had to be gutted.

The whole process, from the time I signed the contract to the time I turned in the final draft to Bob for copyediting, took 18 months.

For Embracing the Demon, my editor asked me to write an outline before I began the book. With only a year between the releases of The Demon Within and Embracing the Demon, I do not have the luxury of completely deleting the middle of my book and spending another six months on rewrites. Bob wants to make sure we iron out any story issues before I really sit down to write. (I suspect he also wants to have an idea of what I’m writing about so that when the folks at Rare Bird Books and Publishers Group West ask about the book, he has a better answer than, “It’s about…demons? And, uh…embracing stuff?”)

An author who routinely does this kind of prewriting and planning is called a “plotter.”

I’m in the middle of the outlining process now. Not gonna lie: it’s been tough. Basically, I’m trying to force my brain to work in a way it hasn’t before, and 25 years of writing habits are hard to break. But I can see the advantages. As I’m outlining, I’m getting that rush of creativity, that feeling of possibility. I get to throw ideas at the wall and see what works! And that’s my favorite part!

My first outline was a jumble of bullet points. Bob sent it back to me with a few notes and then asked me to break it down by scene, so he (and I) could get a better sense of the organization of the book. About a week or so later, I sent it to him: 6,000 words detailing major plot developments, character arcs, and set pieces. It was a thing of beauty. Bob was going to love it, and send me on my writing journey with his good wishes.

Or so I thought.

Instead, he came back almost immediately with comments, some of them pretty fundamental to how I had structured the book. Basically, I was starting out too boring, and the pacing of the first half was too slow. And once I stopped pouting and pulled my head out of my ass, I realized he was right. The pacing was too slow, and the beginning was never going to hook readers in—and it might lose existing readers.

I was still upset and frustrated. But then I realized that it takes a lot less time to fix a 6,000-word outline than it does to fix a 90,000-word book. This was some of the toughest stuff Bob and I worked on during the revision process of The Demon Within. I’m getting it out of the way before I actually start writing the book.

It didn’t completely cure my frustration. But it helped.

Since I haven’t started writing the book yet, I don’t know how the experience will be for me. Will I feel like the outline constrains me too much, zapping the process of its spontaneity and creativity? Or will I experience a sort of freedom by having a map of my journey: freedom from fear of failure, and freedom from blank page syndrome?

I’m not the first author who’s contemplated this: Chuck Wending wrote an awesome blog post on his journey from pantser to plotter, and this Goodreads post quotes several famous authors on both sides of the spectrum. (Sidenote: That’s harsh, Stephen King. Seriously.)

Fellow authors: Are you a pantser or a plotter? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of each?