Saturday, July 13, 2013

Novel writing: I think in terms of 'moments' now

Last weekend, while I was home sick with the flu, I saw in Google Plus newsfeed someone had written a blog on the topic of overcoming writer's block with the solution being to write your novel in 'scenes' rather than face the prospect of starting an ambitiously large project.

I was sick and didn't read the article, and now that I'm better, the article is too far down for me to go back to.

But, earlier this week I also checked Mugglenet website and saw an article that mentioned that the final instalment of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban pages will be available in a few weeks time.

The two topics have come together in my mind.

Relaxed from four weekdays away from all the stress and tension at work, and feeling significantly better on the weekend than the days preceding them, I sat down to work on my novel work in progress.

I use a combination of typing up manuscript or story notes and using a paper based notebook and pen to record my ideas; it is not always possible to fire up my laptop computer to record new thoughts and ideas; and at other times, I fair better because I am able to get more done by typing than is possible when I hand write, because I type around 70 words per minute, but can only write at half that speed.

Last weekend, after months of zero progress to this particular work I thought up yet another new starting point for the novel which works better than my previous efforts.  I know the middle and ending of this storyline rather intimately, but until now, I have struggled to find the right starting point.  I've experimented with starting the storyline when my main character is eighteen and having just left formal schooling, I've experimented with her having a loving parent, an abusive one, and other background motivations - and although some of those beginnings resulted in ten thousand, twenty thousand, even sixty thousand words of novel manuscript being produced, eventually those false starting points ended up causing me to come to a grinding halt as I faced my story having taken off into directions I didn't want it heading or couldn't connect it to where I knew the storyline intimately - each of my prior starts  were 'just not right' despite my initial enthusiasm or belief that I was on the right track when I started from that point.

I'll have to go through this computer's and my previous computers files to work out how many different times I have started this story... I think this might be the eighth, or ninth... I really would have to check to be certain.  And I'm scared to go through all my files to work out how many thousands of words I have written in story notes and manuscript as my character has undergone name and personal situation changes.

And, I think the reason I have made so much progress over the last two weekends - with approximately fifteen thousand words committed to electronic file or paper - is because I thought back to how I successfully achieved completing a one hundred and twenty thousand word story, and considered how I succeeded in getting the story out of my head and into a fully completed draft that with a few rounds of editing, was satisfactory enough for me to pitch it to a publisher in the hopes of getting a publishing deal.

Yes... I had a very strong idea of the story from start to finish. I knew the sequence of scenes, always knew what was coming next. So, each writing session - I did some of it as an unregistered, one month in arrears NaNoWriMo participant, meaning I tried to complete fifty thousand words across four weeks in December/January - I got into the flow of the story I was telling by starting at the beginning and reading the story to myself, fixing up sentences and words here and there as I went, and then boldly moved forward in telling the story, even if I only managed to add one or two paragraphs in new storyline (I often increased my story's word count more than reducing it just from adding and deleting sentences to skeletal paragraphs and scenes -- oh, I haven't anchored the reader to knowing what time of day it is, so I'd slot a word or sentence into an appropriate spot so each of the essential elements within the scene were present).

Being that I had given myself a huge challenge, and I didn't have paid employment, I was able to successfully reach my word count target, and the momentum to continue became quite consuming - my housework and sleep routine suffered, but I had the luxury to indulge in doing this.

But with further thought, I have also realised -- in connection with the Pottermore update -- that I did my best writing by adding moments to my scenes and chapters rather than thinking in scenes, which leads to having to think of sequels, or worrying about the novel as a whole.  Isn't it strange that Pottermore call them moments, not scenes like most writers talk about.

Last weekend, after months of not making forward progress, my creative muse revisited and I imagined a new 'moment' my main character found herself in... and this moment turned out to be a really good 'ordinary life just before the inciting incident occurs' for the character that I had been wanting, and leads directly to the middle and ending that I have long had in mind. So inspired anew, I typed and wrote while the ideas were flowing.  Even a busy and hectic week since then hasn't stiffled new ideas that are still flowing (not as thick and fast as previously, but still coming) as they presented themself to me while I got dressed or drove to work. And, feeling less stressed and more refreshed from almost an entire week lazying at home sick between coughing and sneezing and using up two boxes of tissues, I even wrote a few words in the evenings too once I did reluctantly return.

And I can happily report that I have made great progress towards my goal to finish the first draft of my manuscript by the end of the year. Suddenly realising that I think progress when I work in moments rather than writing scenes or chapters has helped unblock me.

So my advice to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed or blocked as they work on their novel manuscript is not to think in scenes, but take it to an even smaller level and write in moments - even if, like me, those moments come to you out of order. 

My solution to that, developed over a lot of novel writing at an unpublished level, is to have three electronic documents open as you work on your storyline at any given time: the draft manuscript for which you are writing your great novel; a 'scenes and moments' file - where you add text using numbered paragraphs to record the moments and scenes of your storyline in as little or great details as it first comes to you - and a blank document, always on standby, where you quickly record the new ideas before you then transfer into order in your scenes and moments file as soon as you have finished recording the details of that idea - so that this electronic file becomes a sort of story outline, sort of half-written scenes for you to use relevant details to build the next scene or chapter you are working on.

I know this system won't work for everyone, but let's face it, when you are struggling with your novel, which writer isn't looking for useful tidbits to try out to get their creativity moving forward again.

The other way I make writing progress these days, is to work on small writing projects in between - for me it is writing blog posts, or rewriting scenes taken from favourite books that I could take into a different direction, and if I changed the original characters names, could possibly be there own story.

Anyway, back to it.  I plan on adding at least two thousand words to my manuscript or scenes and moments files before I head for work on Monday.

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