I wrote every day for 3 months and here’s what I discovered…
For three months I wrote every day on my novel. I finally got my act together after stalling for years. The process of writing wasn’t hard once my mind was primed for a reset. I wrote about my Psychological Hacks For Writers (click here) and Writing Rituals (click here). They are simple hacks and rituals and the result is a game-changer. After 3 to 4 months, here are 6 writing lessons I learnt working on my latest novel…
Turn the Writing Motor On
For three months, my writing was on fire. Writing every day worked wonders. My “short story” planned as a promo piece grew to over 95k words. Not a short story or a promo story anymore. My method is simple — just write. Don’t look details up — just write. Unsure — just write. First thing in the morning (well after breakfast, I’m Grumpy Bear before coffee) works best because it’s turning the motor on — even if it was only 10 mins before leaving for an appointment. Morning writing primes the brain to think about the story throughout the day. My biggest challenge in the past was letting the creative motor grow cold. I spent too much time trying to turn a cold motor on and stalling. What a motivation killer. I hated being ripped out of the creative zone and felt I need hours to write (a writing block). Life doesn’t always provide what we want. Keeping the motor warm means I am ready to go when block time arises. Yes, I still hate life tearing me away but the payoff is worth it.
I wrote in detail about finding writing rhythm (see Writing Rituals post here) and writing as the first task of the day (see Psychological Hacks for Writers here).
Keep Writing, Keep Moving Forward
Twice, I wasn’t sure about a scene. As a solution, I created a placeholder scene card (a vague idea of what needs to happen in the scene) and skipped to the next scenes I know will happen. Stories do not have to be written in chronological order. The key is making sure words are written daily. On busy days I may have done 100 words and that’s ok — it’s moving forward. I can’t do days off. One day turns into two and two turns into three… Small word counts give me more hours to do other things in life while safeguarding me from my old bad habit of stopping the creative motor.
Once the words are completed for the day, there is no revisiting. The words are done until the first round of edits. The philosophy: to keep moving forward, don’t roll backward. As a compromise, I add editing notes as a reminder. For a big story change that requires extensive editing of the manuscript thus far, I write editing notes and continue writing as if everything was written perfectly the first time. Faught the urge to edit while writing… worse than any sweet food craving. In the past, this is how I ended up with a million Chapter 1 variants when working on my first novel (now an unfinished dust bunny). The craving to “fix” is real.
Stories never turn out as expected, muses like to offer more compelling ideas or there is an unforeseen plot hole that needs reworking. Therefore, as I write plot changes are expected and embraced with the understanding the plot might alter yet again before the manuscript is complete. No wonder the beginning of a story is a tangled mess needing the most editing. If the beginning is changed as the story progresses, there is a risk of stalling because editing takes the place of writing new words. Beginning chapters will regularly need to be reworked to reflect desired changes. Some writers work this way, each to their own. I prefer to save time and do one structural edit at the end. As it stands, I have a lot of first draft editing to do and that’s ok, by the time I edit, I’ll know the story and will be certain of changes because I’ll know the entire story. Writing is a discovery.
Dark Themes Slow the Writing
My story is a dark fantasy retelling of the Batavia shipwreck. This real-life event occurred when the Dutch ship, the Batavia, hit a coral reef near the Western Australian coast in 1629 on the way to Batavia (current day Java). Survivors made it to tiny islands nearby. With
no limited supplies, the situation brought out the worse in humanity and turned “Lord of the Flies” pretty quick. There were challenging scenes to write and towards the end of the three months of writing daily, my word count dwindled. Not because of motivation. The murder, rape, and mayhem started to wear me down. I dropped to one writing session a day to keep my mental health sane. While I’ve never shied away from the dark, writing about the worse of humanity day in, day out, is… well… bleak, even for me.
I pushed on through — go me. Help arrived for the survivors. Executions for the murders and mayhem — YAY more death. My protagonist, Judick, makes it to the Dutch port, Batavia (Java), and more brutality — YAY. I swear, the Dutch gave my English ancestors a run for their money. Everything changed, not just for Judick, but for me, the writer. The ending, yet a beginning.
Smack. I hit a wall.
If you want to read self-contained flash fiction set in The ImmorTales series world (some stories star Judick and Coen), click here.
A Writer Can Only Make Crap Up For so Long
The Batavia shipwreck occurred in 1629. I can
fudge up make up a shipwreck story; small island, no resources — got it. But back to “civilisation”… I know very little about the 1600s spice trade and the 17 century other than the fact there were tons of religious nuts and crazy crap happened. Hello research rabbit hole; slavery, the wheel, religion… Light reading… Great before bed.
After a week or two, I got my shiz together and wrote several scenes. I hoped to wrap the story up. I planned the ending while writing like a mad woman during those three glorious months of being productive, but didn’t know the details. Working through the ending at a scene level, the story grew. Pushing past the impulse to research while writing is a great way to get the words out, but there comes a point where research is needed for plot purposes.
After the hell I put Judick through, I want a deserving ending for her, not a hurried botched job. The reader needs a payoff after putting everyone through literal hell on earth. Damn it, I need a payoff for my suffering.
Sometimes You Don’t Know The Story or Characters Until You Reach the End
Some characters take time to grow on the writer. Just like the plot changes as the story progresses, so do the characters. After a struggle to bond with Judick, I discovered who she is… only took, oh I don’t know, 90k? She’s more than the nieve girl when she first boarded the Batavia. If I am honest, she bored me at times. I don’t relate to meek characters. Judick grows as she adapts to her environment and questions God and authority. Who knew her character arc was coming of age? Given all the dark events, the story needs to highlight the romance elements. They are there, but Coen needs to share his side. That’ll be for an edit. For now, keep moving forward (see lesson 2).
Stop. Pause. Reevaluate.
Writing longer stories never goes as planned. I wrote some of what I dubbed “the ending chunk”.
Smack. The wall again.
Something is off. I mean my ending scenes are sound but something feels wrong. The bridge I need to build between the last scene I wrote, and the next planned scene… not right. On reflection, after days of wanting to hit my head against a mirror Agent Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks) style, it dawned on me — it’s no longer Judick’s Story, it’s Coen’s. My head exploded with the slap forehead moment. I wanted so badly to finish Judick’s Story, I’ve been blind. Now The Muse tells me it’s Judick’s and Coen’s story, two sides of a coin. I’m not sure how the finished product will look but one can’t edit a blank page. And magic is in the editing. I may slice their stories up and alternate their point of view. I don’t know — just write.
Coen’s Story opens up the realm of sea creatures —mermaids or sirens if you will. I will admit it’s the least developed part of The ImmorTales World. I’ve been world-building for many years, so of course I’ll start there. Thanks, Muse. I’ve started exploring and world-building. Time out to prepare for what I am considering mentally book 2.
Personal, Tannille only
I fudging hate writing in the first person. Short stories are fine, but 95k in one head has driven me insane. When I write, I see a movie playing in my head. The first person disrupts my mind’s eye. I found there is a lot of telling rather than showing. There are advantages to the first person. When the protagonist “talks” the writing flows it’s fantastic but the other moments…
Every book is unique and has its own challenges. For many of us, writing a novel is a starting and stopping process, as our brains need to process what we have written and replot accordingly. Lessons learnt during the writing process are added to our writer’s toolbox. The more tools we have at our disposal, the better because tools make future writing easier.
I have a growing writer’s toolbox shared on this blog, click here.
What’s in your toolbox? What are some writer’s tools you recommend?
Categories: News, Writers' Tool Box, Writing, Writing Battles
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