A Writer’s Life: The Rush

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Still working to finish the draft of “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet.”  In this case, I’ve decided to try and finish it a month early – literally about a week from now.

Usually I did 15K words on it a month.  I’ve gotten to  nearly 29K (nearly 40K for the month).  Why did I decide to do this?

First, I realized that I was committed to what I had (which has problems), so it was best to push through and get it done.  It’d be better to finish up and edit something than to diddle around with plots and tweaks.

Secondly, I’d make discoveries as I wrote.  The more I wrote, the more I learned and thought and explored about my story.

Third, if I kept up the rush I kept in the “zone” of my story, had a better more subtle feel for it.  I think there’s an ideal pace for writing something, a minimum you need to write to stay in touch with your work.  My rate is higher than I thought.  It’s probably every other day at most.

The result is that, upon review, I’m probably going to rewrite a good 50% of the story.  It won’t be bad (I’d say it’s about 60% to 70% a good story), but it can be a lot better.  The thing is if I’d really pushed myself like I have now, just stayed in the zone, I’d have been done in October if not earlier.  Also, the benefits of the replottings and rewrites I had done earlier are ones I probably could have realized in a second draft.

In other words, remember my big halfway point edit?  I am questioning if it was necessary.

This is how my friend Serdar writes – he gets it out and then edits.  I’m starting to think he has a point – but hey, as always writing is an experiment.

So now the goal is to finish up the draft of “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” and see where I am.  Then it’ll be multiple read-throughs and edits, about 4 months at my current estimate.  When you’re dealing with a road trip type story it’s one thing, but it’s eight characters going through weird stuff on a series of weird planets that are totally normal to them.  I’ll be reporting on that too.

What can you as a fellow writer learn?  Well . . .

  1. We all have our ideal writing pace – what works for us, our subject, and our methods.
  2. You don’t find that pace until you do it.
  3. That ideal pace should let you both create a coherent (if not good) work and keep you in touch with the work.
  4. You have to be open to learning.
  5. You’ll keep learning as you keep writing.

My takeaway lesson is that I overplanned and under-applied myself.  Not entirely surprising as I was enamored of trying various methodologies.  But in the end, it’s an experiment.

I learned something.

– Steve

A Writer’s Life: Space

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

This month I’m trying to write at least 24,000 words, preferably 30,000.  This isn’t due to any NaNoWriMo thing, it’s a personal challenge to up my productivity.  In setting this goal, I ran into a problem.

I’d set aside time to write, but it felt constrained.  A punishment, a forced duty.

Yet when I’d get writing, I’d often enjoy it.  I find that even when you don’t want to write, doing it for five minutes usually unblocks you.  Besides, even if you hate it, you’re going to edit it later, so might as well enjoy half-baked crap as you make it.

At this point I knew my “ugh, time to write” reaction was irrational.  So I set about thinking of how I could “re-imagine” that writing time to make me see it in a positive light.  Not so much tricking myself, but more how to take a better attitude.

At the same time, I was also discussing the concept of “Pull” in Kanban, and Agile methodology.  So you can guess this is another one of my Agile/Writing posts.

Anyway, the idea in Kanban is you only work on something when you have space to do it – then you “Pull.”  It’s the opposite of “Pushing” work.  If you’re blocked up, you don’t Pull in new work, you focus on getting things moving.  If you can’t get anything moving because of other people, go do something else like take a class or get a coffee once you’re done yelling at them

It sounds weird, but then you realize that Kanban gives you “space” to work.  “Space” to take tasks on when you’re ready.  It’s very much like my earlier thoughts on the subject.

That’s when I realized that setting aside writing time was not making myself write – it was setting aside Space to write.  That 30 minutes or 60 minutes where I’m clear to write.

This changed my mindset (for the most part).  It felt less constrained, less forced, less trapped.  Sometimes it even felt amazing – “a whole hour to write, wow!”  Oh sure I still get those moments of feeling I’m forcing myself, but they’re diminished – and I can rethink that time as “space” and reduce the feelings.

Let’s see if this gets even better over time, but it’s certainly helped already.

– Steve

A Writer’s Life: The Big Edit

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

I got to the halfway point on “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” and realized I had lots of notes, things I wanted to improve and tweak, and so on.  In general I wanted to “tune up” what I had and improve my plot outline.  So I did something kind of ambitious: I decided to review the entire first half of the book scene by scene, both adding and rewriting, as well as fleshing out the plot outline.

Yeah.  Kinda stupidly ambitious?  Probably was a good 6-8 hours of work.

It was also totally worth it.

First, it let me get in touch with my story.  Over time I’ve been rereading parts of it, but seeing the whole sweep really helped.  I kind of wonder if I need to do this at the 3/4 mark.

Secondly, it let me tone up my writing.  Always good to apply lessons learned later to earlier writing.  It’s been especially good as I’ve been “shaking off the rust” of having not done fiction for awhile.

Third, it let me improve the plot and story in both the large and small.  A big review in a short time – not quite a revision or rewrite – did wonders for making things better and tighter.

Fourth, I got the characters down even better.  Seeing them in the big picture and small, in a short time, let me tighten them up.

Fifth, I got the “mood changes” much better.  I can see the big picture and how the mood shifts (more later).

Sixth, it got me the improved plot outline (at least for what I wrote, see below).  I now have every scene noting major goals and major character attitudes.  That’s something I should have done before, but I got it now.

What was also kind of amazing is how starting to write the second half felt.  The characters felt more solid, the shift in moods more real, the sense of plot tighter.  Diving into writing after this review has taken all I learned and applied it.

(It’s probably good to keep writing after such a review so those lessons get applied).

Of course as I go on and write the second half, I want to take an hour or two to review the plot notes I have and revise that as well, which should take all my lessons here and solidify them.

(Remember I do all sorts of books on creativity to help you out!)

– Steve