A Series-ous Problem

sprouts

I had an epiphany while getting ready for work.

I’ve been trying to plot out book 2 of my series with little luck. It has a plot of its own—Lakeerae is trying to learn more about her Jadeflare, but an assassin amongst the Avar is complicating things and now wants her out of the way.

However, I can’t seem to form that into a coherent outline. In fact, I can’t even get myself to start. I keep distracting myself with other things—like maps, or blog posts. 🙂

Then I realized why.

Book 1 of my series was super easy to outline. It’s basically the Hero’s Journey, which worked great to give it a clear cut beginning-middle-end path. I meander along the way, no doubt, but it’s a nice, organized 3 Act play at the heart. Yay, organized.

Book 2 won’t conform to that. Now Lakeerae is between her initial journey and the overarching goal of the series which is only just becoming clear to her. So now I have to rethink my strategy, and it seems I’m being lazy.

I have to wonder if this is why the second book/movie in a series is usually less spectacular than the first. Often, the second seems to just be a means to an end. It’s not our introduction to the character, and it’s not him/her reaching their ultimate goal. It’s just some of the stuff that happens in between.

I had this epiphany after reading an article from Ink and Quills about book series. It wasn’t directly related to my problem, but it got me thinking enough to get me here.

Her suggestions for making a series that works:

  1. Make sure you have enough story. I know I have enough story. I’ve actually expanded from 3 books to 4. We’ll see if I can fill all that space, though. But from what I’ve planned currently, I think I can.
  2. Plan it out. Yes, yes, I need to plan. Apparently I need to plot all three of the remaining books, not just because of this advice, but to make myself feel better too.
  3. Don’t add filler. I don’t plan to. My goal is about 90k words per book, but if I end up under that with a story that’s satisfying, I’m okay with that.
  4. Don’t rush the ending. This is what editing is for! Currently, book 1 feels like I rushed to the end and half of the book exists in the last handful of chapters. All will be fixed soon.
  5. Focus, focus, focus. Yes, this is the goal. Unlike the original incarnation of this novel, which accomplished the goal about halfway through and then wandered through Neverland for the remainder, I have an overarching goal and an individual goal for each book. I just have to outline and plan and stay on target!

This makes me feel a little more confident about getting back to it.

My plan now is to just start outlining book 2. If I hit a snag, I’ll have to figure something else out, but for now, I’m going to plot out the chapters the way I did for book 1. I found this great group of videos from Autumn Writing, and using the Three Act Structure, it’s fairly easy to plot out chapters. It’s what I did for book 1. We’ll see if it works as well for book 2! I’ll let you know!

~ Effy

Three-Act-Structure-780x400

Advertisements

It Only Took Me 20 Years

finish-line

My May update is a little bit early, because…

Drumroll please…

I finished the first draft of my novel!

May Flowers Tally

May-Writing Tracking

The numbers:

  • Starting May 1st: 29,773 words
  • Ending May 19th: 41,496 words
  • April Total: 11,723 words
  • Average: 651 words/day

It’s pretty amazing to think that I wrote more words in the first three weeks of May then I did in all of April. But as hard as it was to get to the finish line—it sure seemed to go real, real slow at the end—I was sucked into the story at this point. Similar to when you get near the end of a book you’re reading, I kept at it and I kept coming back. I was able to sit down nearly every night and squeeze a few words out.

The end even took a slightly different turn than I expected it to, which was a pleasant surprise. Though, it will probably mean more editing in the second draft.

What This Means

As crazy as it is to think about, I started writing this novel in middle school. That means this novel is over 20 years in the making! It’s an incredible feeling to be at this point. I’m not finished, but this is the furthest I’ve ever been with anything more than a few thousand words.

To think that I’ve had these characters in my head for that long. To think I got the crazy idea in my head back in January—after months of looking at houses and going through a huge move—to pull out my old, original manuscript (hand-written by a pre-teen) and reread it. To think I started pre-writing with no idea what I was doing with a novel, because I’ve only ever finished short stories. To think I just started writing it in February. To think that now, in May, it’s a start-to-finish piece of writing—rough, but finished.

I’ve gone through a name change of my main character’s magical power—from Magefire to Jadeflare. This came about in large part because of the suggestion of Philip Athans, whose Worldbuilding class I took. He mentioned it seemed a little overused, and though I couldn’t find it used exactly anywhere, I knew it was a good suggestion if it even felt generic.

I’ve spent the last year and a half or so reworking and improving the way my world’s past and present fit together, how magic works, and the magical creatures that roam there.

I’ve worked through the ups and downs of weaving a story that makes sense plot-wise and within the confines of my world’s perimeters—sometimes tearing my hair in frustration and sometimes squeeing in delight at my lightbulb moments.

What Now?

Everywhere I’ve read, it’s been suggested to set aside my manuscript for a few weeks before I start editing it. It is proving very difficult to stay away, I’m very invested in my story at this point, but I’m trying.

This weekend, I wanted to start pre-writing the second book in my series. I quickly realized that it was going to be difficult to pre-write book 2 when I’m not entirely set on how book 1 is going to end up when I’m all said and done. (I still have a lot of editing, including major structural and plot pieces, to do yet.) So I spent some time fiddling with maps and writing down as much as I know so far about books 2, 3, and 4.

If I can at least get down a good idea of what my final plot structure for book 1 will be, I think I can feel more confident about starting book 2.

I’ve thought about working on some short stories or other little ideas I have, but I can’t seem to pull myself away from Jadeflare. As much as I want to put together an ebook of short stories, origin stories, and dragons, I can’t seem to pull myself out of Lakeerae’s head.

So I guess I’m stuck, and you’re all stuck with me talking about my process some more. 🙂

~ Effy

March Madness Writing Update

writing-goal-success

My goal at the beginning of March was 300 words per day on my novel. Despite missing writing completely a few days and not reaching my goals on some others, I still surpassed my goal with the help of the writing I did on the weekends.

The Tally

033116-Writing Tracker

So here are the numbers:

  • Before March 1st: 7505 words
  • Ending March 31st: 18,770 words
  • March total: 11,265 words
  • Average: 376 words/day

Hooray!

So to continue this great success, my goal is to continue my average of 300 words per day through April.

Improving My Efficiency

Late in March, I started tracking my words per hour. I realized that when I write in the living room, which usually means the TV is on in the background, I average about 300 words/hour. I manage about twice that if I “hide” in the bedroom to write, or anytime I’m only listening music instead of the TV.

I’m even more productive on the weekend. Is this because it’s first thing in the morning? Cuz I’m by myself? Cuz I’m not still focused on the work day and how exhausted I am? Or does it all come down to the distractions while I write? I think I’m far more productive to music than having the TV on, which isn’t that surprising.

I started tracking these extra things because of a great book I’m reading right now: 2,000 to 10,000 by Rachel Aaron. Her suggestions for increasing words are threefold:

  1. Knowledge: I’ve been spending 5+ minutes when I first sit down writing about what I’m going to write about. This both gets me into my writing mood and gives me a general skeleton of the upcoming scene.
  2. Time: I’ve been tracking my writing time on a spreadsheet—expanding this to include start time, end time, words, where I wrote, etc.
  3. Enthusiasm: I’ve been trying to get excited about what I’m writing—each and every scene needs to be exciting, because if I’m not excited, readers won’t be either.

When I’m not writing, I’ve been brainstorming in my notebook and reading whatever I can find on pre-writing, scheduling writing time, and maximizing my writing time. I recently read Writing Scary Scenes by Rayne Hall. It had some great suggestions for increasing tension, helpful to my novel because I’m leaning toward making it more of a dark fantasy blended with epic/high fantasy. I also found interesting article called Three Things to Do Before Before You Write a Book. It had some good information and led to an idea I’m still working at incorporating into my novel’s growing collection of documents—the Snowflake Method’s scene spreadsheet. I combined this with a suggestion about scenes from 2,000 to 10,000:

  • Break action down into scenes
  • Group the scenes into chapters
  • Make sure chapter breaks increase dramatic tense

Organizing My Writing

Currently, I’m doing all my writing on my Google Drive. I find it to be the best place to keep all of my writing and documents easily accessible from anywhere—be it my computer or my phone, home or work. It also allows me to write in a “no distractions” mode: CTRL+SHIFT+F to compact the doc controls and F11 to put my computer into Fullscreen mode.

I tend to over organize and I’m very particular. So my novel isn’t the only document I’m using. I have notes and spreadsheets galore:

  1. Novel doc
    • Confession: This is probably going to sound odd and even silly, but I realized that I write better on my novel with a page format that more closely resembles an actual mass media sized paperback page. On the Google Drive docs, I found a page size called “Statement” that is 5.5” x 8.5” and works perfect, rather than the standard 8.5” x 11”. It throws off my page counts and average words per page, but it seems to work better for me visually. I swear my word counts have improved since I did this.
  2. Dadreon World Notes doc
    • Jadeflare isn’t my only work in my fantasy world of Dadreon, and it’s a fantasy world I’ve been building since middle school. In recent years, it’s taken on more dimension and has started fitting together better. This doc includes gods, elements and magic, races and monsters, history, setting, etc.
  3. Theme & Outline doc
    • Part of my pre-writing, this doc includes my theme sentence, thematic words, genre info, target length, and a basic chapter outline.
  4. Scene List spreadsheet
    • This spreadsheet consists of one line for each scene, including scene number, chapter number, PoV, description, and estimated pages.
  5. Story Bible doc
    • This doc worked awesome for getting me started. It helped me ask questions that I would have missed. But now it seems too complicated to refer to regularly, and I’ve been mostly using the Theme & Outline and Scene List.
  6. Writing Tracker spreadsheet
    • This spreadsheet consists of one line for each day, including day of the week, date, start and end time, hours, writing location, words written, words/hour, writing project, and novel total.
  7. Paper Maps
    • I love maps. I love drawing maps. This is probably one of my favorite parts of worldbuilding. No, I don’t draw them in Google Drive, but I’ve started saving the majority of my files here too.
  8. Paper Sketches
    • Whenever I have an idea, I sketch it into my notebook. Sometimes it turns into a color drawing that ends up on the Google Drive.
  9. Pinterest board for Jadeflare
    • I recently read a great idea for organizing thoughts and themes—Pinterest. I wish I could remember where I got this great idea, because I’d love to give her the credit she deserves. I’ve had a Pinterest account for a while now, but this really gave me a great reason to use it. This is a collection of images that relate to my characters, settings, and plot and give me a nice visual reference.

Closing Out March

My birthday month was hugely successful. I’m making great progress in my novel. In fact, Saturday, I hit 20k words!

I think a combination of improving my writing habits and focusing on writing without constantly editing is really helping my progress. If I can stay focused on these things, I think this novel will actually get written!

Expect more updates from me soon.

~ Effy

Why I Don’t Write?

notebook

The other day an author I follow shared a writing prompt to write about “Why I Write.” I realized this comes up often, and that I’ve already written about that, probably several times in several ways. However, I’ve never written about what keeps me from writing—what scares me enough to stop me from lifting a pen (or sitting at the keyboard).

I thought Why I Don’t Write would make a more appropriate questions and post after my long hiatus.

During the winter semester last year (it’s literally been almost a year since I wrote here!), I wrote a lot and I felt my work became better developed for it—my world of Dadreon became more developed. Between Creative Writing (and the huge number of assignments in that class), Horror & Sci Fi, and Mythology, I had lots to inspire me and deadlines to motivate me.

Then, I started Kristen of She’s Novel’s 30 Day Author Up Challenge. It went well in the short lull between my winter and spring classes. Granted, it took up a LOT of time—writing a blog post everyday—but it felt good. Even if many of the posts didn’t feel as polished as I prefer, I had goals and deadlines.

Then, spring got underway. I got busy with both school and work. Spring turned into summer and now here it is spring again. Of course, I bought a house in the interim. But school, work, and house hunting turned into almost a year of my blog sitting untouched.

The wider that gap between my last published post and today became, the more difficult to pick up my pen/keyboard. Even when I did have time, I didn’t use it to write.

Why is that? I’ve always been happiest when I’m writing. I’ve been writing all my life—albeit on and off—and I’ve always received positive feedback on my writing.

I think the process of writing that last sentence says a lot. I had to rewrite and reword it several times. My confidence is not what it should be, that’s for sure.

My work sits hidden on my Google Drive or slightly less hidden here on my blog, in this tiny corner of the internet, obscure and unpublished. Family and friends give me positive reinforcement, and occasionally I have the opportunity to share something with a class. (Max’s class last winter was the most I’ve ever shared my work face to face.) But for some reason, I lack faith in my abilities, lately especially.

It’s easy to lose faith in the lulls it seems.

So I ponder further the question of Why I Don’t Write?

  • Writing is hard and requires a lot of work. Without deadlines I tend to lack the ambition to work that hard, to push myself. After my more than full time winter school schedule, plus working, I think I broke my ambition for a while.
  • Social media is so much easier to waste time on. I can spend five minutes or an hour. I can mindlessly scan and not have to come up with anything witty or even coherent if I don’t want to.
  • I get lost in a loop of not knowing what to write RIGHT NOW. For months, I made progress through my stories. Now I feel like I have to play catch up, find new things to write about, and it’s paralyzing.
  • Because of this paralysis, I’ve become bogged down in negative self-talk: I’m never going to go anywhere with this. I’m not good enough. It’s a waste of time. I don’t have anything worthwhile to say. I can’t make the words fit together right. I’ll never get published. I’m too old.

My first step toward beating back this self-doubt and paralysis was starting a new, hand-written journal. I slowly started building myself back to writing regularly by writing there.

In fact, this blog post started in that little journal.

Another thing to help motivate me was to finally take the advice of several of the writers that I follow to create a schedule and write every day.

After we got moved, I found some of my boxes of books and notebooks. I realized that with all of the time I’ve devoted to writing over the past few years, I’ve not tried to finish any of the novels that have been in my head since middle school. I’ve spent all this time focusing on world-building and short stories.

But those will never make me a true “published” author.

So about two months ago, I reread my original version of the novel (all 200 rambling, handwritten pages of it) and started pre-writing. One of my favorite writers to follow, Kristen over at She’s Novel, put together a workbook for pre-writing. It sparked new ideas and facets of the novel I’d never thought of. It expanded my world further and improved the depth of my characters.

Then, I further improved my theme and outline with the help of Autumn Writing.

At the beginning of February, I started writing my novel.

At the beginning of March, I made the commitment to myself to write an average of one page, or 300 words, per day.

I’m trying to write every night, but I’m finding some weeknights I’m so exhausted that my brain just can’t do it. I’ve been making up my words on the weekend, though. So I’m starting to wonder if it makes more sense to give myself a weekly goal, rather than a daily goal—still aim for writing every day, but give myself a break if I miss a day.

Consistency has definitely been one of my biggest stumbling blocks.

I think giving myself more leeway is the way to keep myself on track. I need goals and deadlines, but if I miss one here or there it can’t beat myself up and fall into the all or nothing trap. That’s usually where I fall off the writing wagon. I’ll start a challenge or make a goal and once I miss one day or one post, I feel like I’ve failed and there’s no reason to go on.

I think that’s the biggest reason Why I Don’t Write.

The best example of this was falling behind on the Author Up Challenge. I turned my failure into ten months of not writing on my blog. I can’t let that happen again.

My novel is my top priority. But I also need to give myself the breathing room to miss a day without crumbling. I also have other options for writing on nights that I’m not feeling the novel—my journal or writing a short story or distracting myself with a blog post.

If nothing else, I’ll keep you up to date here with my novel progress.

Currently, I’m on Chapter 11 and I’m 15,993 words in. Since March 1st, I’m averaging 424 words per day.

~ Effy