30 May 2012

Confessions of a Slow Reader

This post is adapted from a comment I posted at Jordan McCollum's blog.

Okay, confession time: I am a snail reader. As in, I seem to crawl slowly through books. I didn’t realise I was a slow reader until I read blogs touting 50-100 or more per year, or I heard people rave about a book, saying they finished it in one sitting. I could never do that. It’s a combination of a lack of time (writing takes priority in my free time) and the actual speed that I read at. When I was a child I was faster than everyone else, but now it seems everyone else has sped up! I do make sure I read every word, and it makes me wonder if everyone else does.

I read on the train during my daily commute: a chapter or two per journey, and then I try to sneak in another few chapters during the weekend. So it takes me about two weeks to read a book, and I generally have around three on loan from the library (with a couple more on reserve). I suppose that’s around 10 hours of solid reading time to finish a book, but I do tend to let my mind drift occasionally (a lot of times to my own WIP!).

I’ll admit I haven’t read an “unputdownable” book in a long time. Even though I’m reading in my genre, I don’t really love most of the books that much. I’m still trying to find more authors I click with. So sometimes reading that chapter on the train is a chore, and I find myself rolling my eyes frequently with parts of the writing that annoy me.

If I was to challenge myself to read a number of books in a year, it’d be about 20! Sad, right?

How many hours of solid time does it take you to read a typical 350-400 page paperback? Am I the only snail reader around here?

23 May 2012

Into the Home Stretch

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I think I have finally reached that point in my first draft. The part of my process where I think I have emptied my brain of all the major stuff that will be in the book (in terms of structure and plot – themes and further development of the content will continue to be refined). As I don’t write in order (even though I’ve tried very hard to), what I have is a whole lot of scenes, paragraphs and dialogue snippets that now needed to be weaved together to make some sort of cohesive draft. This process always takes me a lot longer than I anticipate, and I end up adding a lot more words than I expected. That’s why I’m not worried that I only have 70,200 words when I want to end up closer to 80. Last time I went through this process I added nearly 20,000 words, although I feel as if this draft is more complete than that one was – I have tried very hard to ensure I have all the parts of the hero’s journey/3-act structure covered off.

For me it’s very much like a jigsaw puzzle, except some of the pieces are blank at the start of the process. As I figure out the plot and develop the characters with random bursts of insight, more pieces are revealed. Now I’m at the point where I can see what the picture in the puzzle is, but I need to fill in the gaps between the major pieces. It’s a trying process as I work to think of settings for dialogue and action, or flesh out scenes where I’ve made notes on what will happen… but I haven’t made it happen. I also need to make sure it flows for the reader, rather than jumping through time, and that my POV alternates regularly and with a reasonably equal share between my two MCs. And I’m sure I’ll discover numerous other tasks as I move through from beginning to end for the first time.

At the moment I’m reading over the notes I’ve made, most during October when I was preparing for NaNoWriMo. There were so many things I hoped to accomplish, and some of them I have. There are many more ideas I may not be able to incorporate… and some things I just can’t figure out how to make work. However I feel it’s valuable to go back and see what my original seeds of inspiration were, to be in the right frame of mind when I do this pass. A little frustrating that my word count hasn’t grown while I’ve been doing this, but I’m nearly ready to get my writer’s shovel and dig in. Let’s go!

What’s your process for creating a first draft?

17 May 2012

Give Your Muse Some Head-Space

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We are quite often too hard on ourselves with what we try to accomplish in our writing time. The pressure we put on producing work right away may even be counter-productive. When you think about it, it seems crazy to expect to be able to sit down at your computer and pump out hundreds of words instantly, when seconds earlier your brain has been held hostage with family, bills, dishes or The Bachelorette. If there’s a magical button you can push which will cause the creativity to flow right away, I’m yet to find it. If you stopped writing mid-scene and you have latent inspiration to tap into, then great. But once the first burst of inspiration is over (for me, around 30,000 words into it), we need to be intentional with allowing the muse time to give us the next steps.

You're serious about your writing, right? Well, then take it seriously. Don’t write in front of the television, or with one eye on Twitter. This craft demands both your creativity and technical skills, and it deserves your full attention. In my case, it needs my full attention, or it simple won’t get done.

My muse is a jealous beast. It wants every cell of my brainpower, so I need to spend time emptying my mind of distractions. The rewards are insights, plot problems solved, and magical phrases or dialogue (mostly while I’m about to fall asleep, of course).

The other night I did what I usually do – I took care of the essentials (eating, chores, talking to humans etc) and the not-so-essential (emails, social media) with the definitely-not-essential (television) running in the background. When I finally turned my attention to writing, I knew I had problems to solve. While it may seem counter-intuitive, I shut my computer. Instead, I read over all of my scene cards a few times, thinking of specific problems with each pass (my heroine’s character arc, the romantic development, the antagonist’s role). Already my mind started to churn. Then I flopped onto the couch, feeling the wheels slowly gain momentum. A new scene popped into my head, which will advance all three of the problems. I typed up a few notes, and then a few more as more snippets and solutions fell into my head.

And then I did the ultimate muse-loving activity: I had a shower. I don’t know what it is about standing in a stream of hot water and lathering up – but it sure does get my mind humming. It’s a race to finish up in there, get dried and get to the computer before I forgot everything I need to type up. In this instance I had five separate ideas come to me, all marvellous of course. When I actually type up the scenes, dialogue or a character's internal musings they never seem to be as brilliant as when I was in the cubicle – why is that? But at least I have something to work on later. And anything is better than a blank page, right?

My muse delivered 1,000 words over the following 48 hours, which isn’t that prolific I’ll admit… but I’m at the business end of this first draft, and many of those words need to be expanded into proper scenes. I actually feel as if I have most of the puzzle pieces in place. I’m sure more pieces will come out of the woodwork as I progress through second and third drafts, but for now I’m starting to feel as if I have a complete story, and it’s something I can only owe to giving the muse the undivided attention it craves.

I think the thing is to tell your muse what it needs to uncover or deliver. If we go for a walk or start folding the washing with just a general idea to dream about our book, we may end up with greatness… or we may just end up fantasising about our hero for half an hour without discovering more about what makes him tick or, more importantly, the things he needs to accomplish and how he should interact with the other characters. Before you purposefully give your muse your 100% attention, give it instructions.

Think about specific parts of your story that aren’t working, or a specific character who needs a backstory (or any story!). Or, think about your plot structure as a whole and ask your muse to fill in the gaps or figure out how to make the climax more intense. Perhaps you should do some research, and then ponder on how a certain fact can become a plot twist. You get the idea. Be specific with what you need, and let your subconscious do the work. More often than not, your imagination will be enough of a resource to give you the answers you need. Just relax, have a goal in mind, and give your muse free rein. It might not come right away, perhaps not during that session, but the next time you give your muse the lion-share of your brain cells, it might surprise you with the answer.

How do you encourage your muse to show up? Do you have problems refraining from multi-tasking?

07 May 2012

Inside the Male Mind

As I surveyed my scene note cards over the weekend, it occured to me, and not for the first time, that my hero has more scenes than my heroine. His arc is well-defined, his history, motivations and conflicts crystal clear in my mind. While I have developed a heroine who I hope is delightful, interesting and worthy of his affections, I have realised she doesn't have much of an arc. Sure she is changed by the end of the novel, both through her relationship with the hero and in her own right. But there aren't many scenes to illustrate why she changes (except in order to fight for the hero and her own destiny). I need to mull on her development some more.

The fact that I am writing the hero's story more naturally is somewhat of a surprise. As a woman, I would have thought I would identify with the heroine more, and struggle to get under the hero's skin. Perhaps it's because I find nothing more romantic than a tortured hero who cannot have the lady he wants. I have fallen in love with this guy, and while I like this girl, I'm not going to spend hours happily daydreaming about her. I should, but I don't automatically because she's not the one causing me to swoon.

My hero started life in a sequel to my first completed novel. He began quietly enough, but he soon demanded to be part of a different story. He just wouldn't leave me alone. I wrote the very beginning of chapter one from his point of view a couple of years before I sat down to actually write the novel.

I'm not saying I'm completely confident in my abilities to write the male point of view, but I'll let my readers be the judge of that :-)

So I need to develop my heroine more, and writing further scenes for her should both fill out gaps in my first act and supply most of the 10,000 words I need to complete my first draft. I already have two scenes in mind to write, both in the last act (illustrating her transformation). I still need to work more on her parts in the beginning and middle. Here's hoping I can make her shine!

Do you find it easier (or more fun!) to write from the male or female point of view? Which side do you enjoy reading more?