Tag Archives: novel writing process

One Day At A Time

Well, I’m tired this week. Still getting over a cold I’ve had for over 10 days now. And We had a big weekend — my hubby wanted to throw a party for friends who’d helped him with this Bighorn Sheep Hunt last year, and so I helped. It was an all day affair on Saturday that started at 7am and lasted until 2am the next morning. After a few hours sleep, we started in on the clean up.  I had a nap after that.

Monday I was good — worked on Sky for three hours! — but Tuesday I crashed entirely. Slept almost all day. Watched TV all evening… (Well.. they were the season openers for NCIS and NCIS:LA, so… I’d have watched them anyway. Probably wouldn’t have sat there for VEGAS though…)

Today I was in the blank, wandering around the house staring at things mode. Trying to make sense of the notes I had for Sky, feeling like the entire premise was absurd and fatally flawed and how had I ever thought this was remotely interesting?

So I didn’t work on the next blog post I’d thought to do for my impromptu Light of Eidon week. In fact, I couldn’t even decide which one of several to do.

So I got the idea to go looking again at my early newsletters… the ones I put out right after Eidon released and found this bit from one I put out in April of 2003, written while I was deep into the writing of Book 2: The Shadow Within.

It applies today as surely as it applied nine years ago, and was actually a comfort to me to reread in my current circumstances.

One Day at a Time

I’ve been writing for a long time, and have never been a fast writer. I have always tended to go three steps forward and back up two. Sometimes I have to rewrite and rewrite until I get the thread right, and only then can I go on with the story.

Often I may go for two or three days getting nowhere at all, blank and empty and even indifferent. Then the doors will open, the scenes will emerge and all will be well. Until I hit the next blank spot.

Over the years I have tried setting up various writing schedules according to the generally accepted advice that if you want to complete a big project, you must divide it into increments, then proceed to carry out each increment in its time. I would make up my schedule of how many chapters I wanted to complete over a certain period of time, and determine that I would be professional and disciplined and Just do It! It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not, you just have to write it. Except . . .

I couldn’t.

Never have I managed to keep one schedule. Always I hit a snag, go over the allotted time, then hit another snag and another until the deadline I had set for myself fades into dim memory. I have received much friendly and helpful advice on how to deal with this, but none of it ever works.

Over the last few months, as I contemplated the remaining time I had left before Book 2 (The Shadow Within) is due, I found myself increasingly disturbed that I still hadn’t reached the point where I could sit down, plan out a schedule of work, then embark upon that work and be confident that it would all be done on time.

Throughout all this, the Lord was reminding me that I should be trusting Him about it, but the voice was too still and small, and the message too familiar.

I was too busy thinking about how much time I had left and comparing that with how much work I thought I had left to do. Too busy harassing myself to get to work, to be more disciplined, to force the story out. Too busy getting upset over outside things that came in to steal my time. Too busy beating my head against the wall–for it was all to no avail.

The story wasn’t coming any faster than it ever had. But the idea of stopping that, and giving it all over to Him? How could I do that? To do that would mean losing all control over it.

It wasn’t until I had that last ridiculous thought that I realized how silly I was being. I had no control over it anyway, so what’s the big deal about giving it over to Him?

Clearly I had a choice to make. Was I going to continue to seek to control the what for me is an uncontrollable process, flailing myself for my lack of progress and worrying about what would happen in the months to come when the Lord clearly tells me not to? Was I going to continue refusing to rest in Him, and instead seek to use my own strength and ability (obviously lacking) to handle this?

Cursed (miserable!) is the one who puts her trust in man. Or woman, as the case may be.

Finally, that verse, one I memorized long ago, got through. The light went on and I backed off.

So from here on out it’s one day at a time. I WILL stay out of the future. Whatever progress He gives me, I will accept, without making a fuss about what hasn’t been given. If I fail to concentrate or use my time wisely on any given day, I can have confidence that He knew, way back in eternity past, that I would fail and He took it into account when He made His plan.

If something comes up that diverts my time and energy away from the book, I will remember that it is also part of the plan, and that He has everything under control, knowing precisely how long it will take to make this book what He wants it to be. This is His book, not mine, so He’ll have to see that it gets done in spite of me. (I especially like that part.)

Now, at last, I can rest, knowing that even though I am “dust”, inadequate and weak, He is completely adequate and His strength will be perfected in my weakness. I may bungle my way through my days and the writing of this book, but He who is wise and good and faithful and gracious is at work in me nevertheless. And His Plan is not only perfect, it’s brilliant!

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord, for he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes.” ~ Jeremiah 17:7


“Mulling over the problem in a sort of chaos of ideas and knowledge, letting go of certainties… entertaining widely differing or incongruous ideas so they can coexist long enough conceptually in order to be considered as a new composition.”

That’s “incubation.”

So when I am having a day like I described in the nonstops of yesterday’s post (Walking in Fog) or looking at the note cards spread across my desk and each one is an item that has little to do with any of the others, or there are clumps that relate, but no sequence that is emerging… they just are all there, like jigsaw puzzle pieces… I am in the process of entertaining differing or incongruous ideas together.

Incongruous: lacking congruity; not harmonious;  INCOMPATIBLE (not compatible: as a) incapable of association or harmonious coexistence; b) not conforming. DISAGREEING “conduct incongruous with principle”,  c) inconsistent within itself: “an incongruous story” d)  lacking propriety : UNSUITABLE “incongruous manners”

So if you have two ideas, say, “Abramm plans his way” and “He thinks about Blackwell…” those don’t, on the surface, have anything to do with each other. Nor does, “Trinley and Rolland argue about Abramm’s reign.” They are all three incongruous and when I think about it, I feel this frustration. Because I can form no connections.

Not that I’ve consciously tried to form connections, just that I survey the stuff and there aren’t any. So I’ve lately been just collecting it all into a chapter. Then I read the chapter and it jumps all over the place. Because there is no sequence, no organization. It’s chaotic, it’s a collection of different things, ideas, actions, feelings… sometimes they contradict each other. They can’t both happen, but I don’t know which one I want to happen. And it is very uncomfortable.

You’d think I’d have learned by now to get comfortable with it, but I haven’t. Reading files like this one, written as it was back when I was starting Return of the Guardian King is helpful.

As is the realization that this very thing that I find so frustrating is probably a key ingredient to making my books work. If I just laid down a simple sequence, chose a few things and went with them, I wouldn’t have so much to wrestle with. Writing would go more quickly. Unfortunately I would be very bored… which means my readers would also be bored.

And consciously trying to link my incongruous ideas not only won’t given me the final answer, but may lead me off on 100 page rabbit trails. I just have to resign myself to waiting until it falls together on its own, in God’s timing, not mine. Thus this stage will always be here, this mulling stage where I have the incongruous and widely differing elements coming together to form something new. I have no idea what that is, so how can I possibly guide it? I can only play with it.

And pray for guidance. And wait.

Walking in Fog

Last week, in the process of looking for something else, I stumbled upon a documentI created in 2007 called “The Muddled Phase, which is a collection of quotes from various nonstops I had made when I was beginning The Enclave.

Once again, they track dead on with what I’m experiencing now with Sky, and it was such a help for me to read them, again, I thought I’d share.

“Gah!  I hate all this muddled thinking I’m doing!  Just completely mushed up and tangled.  Nothing clear, nothing right.  A mess.  Ideas float in and out.  Who knows if they’re any good?  They sort of fit, but then need modification.  I just don’t know what I’m doing.  It all feels like a stupid idea, I should just give it up and go write something simpler.  But . . .

“I do recall feeling this way about Arena.  And about Eidon, for that matter.  So.  Again, I must walk by faith.  And again I am in the fog.  Where I can’t tell if I’m going forward or backward, where I’m going, if I’m actually going anywhere, or just in a circle.

“In fact, it’s hard to even think about any of it.  As I start to grope for it mentally, it seems to recede and fall into a jumble.  I want to wrest it all into order, and yet there’s nothing to hold onto.  Not even a direction to head in.” 

–Snip questions, possibilities, ideas —

“Hmmm. That could be interesting.  Urk and urk.  Swirling again.  Maybe I should just try and write it.  I don’t know.  Maybe I need to lie down or iron or something.  Something constructive.  Something besides just sitting here staring at the wall having half-formed thoughts flit in and out.  It’s maddening.  Maybe I should just paint.  Or clean or . . . but I don’t want to do any of those.  I want some order.  I want a map.  I want it now.  I have to make it myself.  My brain won’t cooperate. 

“Interesting about …” [and then my mind flits to something that is completely irrelevant but bothering me at the time]

“Where was I?  Trying to distract myself?  Is this avoidance behavior?  I don’t know what to do.  Sit and wait, or try to make something emerge?  Reread the material or . . . sit and wait.  Lie on the couch.  Stare at the penguin mobile.   

“Oh this is a waste.  My brain is dust.  Ash.  Urk and urk.  And urk.  So many distractions.  I am becalmed again.  There seems to be an awful lot of that.  I need to rebound I guess and ask for guidance because there doesn’t seem to be any. 

Oh.  That’s right.  My emotions have been turned off, so I can’t look for much help from them.  I listened to two songs today that usually get me going, and they did hardly anything emotionally.   Maybe I shouldn’t be waiting for some great surge of  “It’s right!”  Maybe I should just look at what I’ve got and go with it, whether I feel good about it, or not.  Just do the plan I have,”

 From another Nonstop, later

 “Okay, I was being frustrated, angry.  I have need of patience.  I need to trust Him to provide and to be content in whatever state I find myself.  And if that is in not finding the lost object — AGAIN — then that is what I will be content with.  Looking for the object in my mind.  Or not finding the answer.  That’s what it is.  It’s not an object, it’s an answer.  An understanding. 

“And I haven’t found it.  And I feel as if I should be able to find it now.  Immediately.  But I can’t.  I look inside and only incoherent thoughts fly by.  Not even floating anymore, more like whirling, breaking apart, joining with others and breaking apart.  Maybe that’s what’s going on.  I don’t know.  Maybe I should just give it up and iron.  I am impatient.  I feel that I must get busy on this book.  That I must be professional and work.  That I must use my time wisely, when it seems all I do is write endless, worthless nonstops that get me nowhere.”

And then having read all the above, I opened another file, this one titled “Incubation” which justified everything I described above as being a legitimate part of the creative process. But I’ll save that for tomorrow.

A Tomato, a Coin and a Die

Today I actually managed to get around to working on Sky for a good five hours!Actual story writing as opposed to  note organizing. A tiny bit of progress.   YAY!

I did so using a new technique that I’ve recently discovered and an old one I’d forgotten.

A Tomato

The new technique, developed to help increase productivity, is called The Pomodoro Technique, so named because its inventor used a red tomato kitchen timer to implement his system. He’s Italian and “pomodoro” is Italian for tomato.

The technique was designed to also investigate where various distractions originated and to provide a means of dealing with them.

I used it pretty much as outlined (click on the link above for the full thing) when I started a couple of weeks ago.   There is a free booklet you can download and some official pages as well:  a To Do Today sheet and an Activity Sheet.

You list the things you want to do on the first sheet. In the beginning, I listed things like “write a blog post,”  “read through all my notes on Sky,”  “transfer information on sheets to little cards,” etc.

Then you set the timer for 25 minutes  (a “pomodoro”) and get started. If you suddenly get a thought to go do something else, you are to make a tic mark in the column next to where you listed your task, then decide if the activity must be done  right now, or if it can be done later. If later, you note it on the Activity Sheet. If you feel it’s imminent — you absolutely HAVE to order that pizza now — you note it at the bottom of the To Do sheet.

One of the iron clad rules is that you cannot spend more than a minute or two on some distraction so if you do get up and order the pizza, then you have to void the pomodoro and start over, even if you’ve only got five minutes left.

It was in intriguing exercise which made me aware of all the things I kept thinking of doing in the middle of when I was supposed to be writing. Internal distractions the developer called them. They seemed to come rapid fire at first. But because I had the timer on, I stopped getting up to go do them and just noted them on my activity sheet. The more I used this technique, the less internal distractions I had. Plus having a place to note them helped a lot.

After the timer goes off, you place an X in the column next to your task, then take a 3 to 5 minute break to walk about, stretch, visit the restroom, or get a drink. Then it’s back to another pomodoro. . After four pomodoros you get a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

It’s not as complicated as it might sound, but it’s pretty regimented and while at first it did a lot to get me back on track, ultimately I rebelled and one day I just couldn’t make myself do any of it and went out to play. I’ve since abandoned the activity sheet, since it’s not all that relevant for me.

I have, however, stuck with the 25 minute increments and the three-minute breaks, the latter because they get me out of the chair and walking around or stretching and that’s good for the body. And the former because I not only have to somehow quantify my task (“work on the book” is not specific enough) but it puts a beginning and an end time to it (as opposed to doing it “until I get tired”)

Before, if I hit a snag there was a good chance I’d just get up and walk out of the room on some inner directed tangent. With the pomodoro, I at least wait until the timer rings before walking off, though even then I haven’t wanted to dive into some other thing.

So that’s the new — modified — technique I used today.

Yes, I know… rules again. But not exactly. I think they’re more just useful guidelines that keep me on track. So for now I’ll keep using them. I have my own “pomodoro” all set up under my computer screen.

A Coin and a Die

The other technique, the one I’d forgotten, was to use a coin to build my characters. I had five male characters who were nothing but names that I needed to be in the scene I am currently working on.

So one of the things you can do and which I had actually made charts for years ago, is to divide characteristics into twos… tall/short, fat/skinny, muscular/frail … then flip a coin to determine the characteristic — eg, heads, he’s tall, tails he’s short.  If you have more characteristics than two, like hair or eye color, use a die — assign a color to each number, then roll the die.

It’s a way of breaking through the blankness. As the characters started to emerge, I found myself thinking, “Wait, I don’t want him to have light brown hair, it should be black instead.”  Or, “No, he’s not going to have a beard, he’s going to be clean-shaven.”  You aren’t bound to whatever the die or coin dictate, but if you don’t care, it’s a way of actually getting something to take shape.

So that’s what I did today using my pomodoros, and my coin and die. I now have five index  cards and five characters with a fair amount of definition. Since these are minor characters, I’m not yet sure how big of a role they’ll play so I don’t want to go too far in developing their profiles. For now, I have enough to work with.

Another thing I did, that came out of nowhere, was that as these guys were coming together I started seeing parallels to some of the Avengers, so I decided to just go in that direction and use the Avenger characters as a rough guide for my development. Oh! Horrors! She’s copying movie characters!

Not exactly. I think it was more a general template and lifting one or two characteristics from each. And it was fun. I know in the end it won’t be noticeable, because once they get “real” for me, they’ll take on their own individuality. Besides, they may turn out to have almost no role at all. I have no idea at this point.

All I know is, it helped me work, and as a result I ended up with one guy who’s a techie and another with anger issues. As an additional bonus, those two qualities triggered thoughts about the setting and the situation and suddenly the whole scene — characters, interactions, setting, situation and action — gained richness and substance and direction far beyond what I had when I started.

Oh yeah, and that new laser TSA is going to be using in 2013 — the one that can read your cells from 164 ft and tell if your adrenaline is rushing, and what you ate for lunch and if you have explosive residue in your fingerprint creases?  Well that’s just perfect for this scene as well. Only it won’t be a laser, and there isn’t any airport. 😀

Quote: Beginning is Chaos

“For some people, the beginning is a time of complete chaos. You see bits and pieces of what is before you. You have a sense of what it is you must set out to do. But nothing will form yet. When you sit cown to write or paint or form movement, it’s like stepping over a cliff or into a dense fog. All you can do is trust that this impending masterpiece is going to somehow manifest itself as you work. But you do know that there is something specific ahead, and you feel the excitement of that.”  ~  Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story

At first I thought dense fog was the better metaphor for how I tend to feel at this stage, but then decided that stepping off the cliff might be better. Because you’re falling and you have no idea where and it may well be to a very unpleasant end.  And you’re seeing all sorts of things — rocks, trees on the cliff face, birds, but can’t quite get a fix on any of them…

Sit and Wait

This is funny. I accessed my blog just now (Sunday afternoon) in order to take the link here to my old blog (Writing from the Edge 1)  and discovered that I never published the post I’d intended to put up last Thursday.  Duh!  I could have sworn that I had at the least typed it into the WordPress program and just forgot to push “Publish.”

Alas. No. I did type it into notepad in a first draft stage, but I must’ve left the office and walked through too many doorways after that and so forgot! (See article HERE on how walking through a doorway causes forgetfulness.)

But it was a post I liked, a bit more timely last week than this, so, what the heck — I’ll post it now, anyway:

Sit and Wait

I wrote the following on June 21, 2007 during the early going of writing The Enclave. In fact, I was on chapter 5. I could have as easily written it any day this last week. I’m currently working on chapter 6 of The Other Side of the Sky and this entry from FOUR years ago describes exactly what I went through last week. Well, am probably still pretty much going through:

21 June [2007] Thursday 10:30 am I have chaos now. The book’s giving me a flood of additional options, thoughts, directions. Suddenly all I thought was decided has come into question. Should Gen be assistant director and not Slattery? How metaphysical and quirky should this Institute be? Do they require meditation two times a week [like the early Biosphere did of its staff]? Drama? How does the way the Biosphere developed compare with what I’m doing? Do I need more information? Different information?

Okay, I might as well get used to the fact that this is how it’s going to be with writing. From afar the field looks beautiful and smooth, aglow with color. When you get into it, it’s a bramble patch on rutted, rocky ground, full of pitfalls and boulders. I’m in over my head and can’t see where I’m going.

I have to trust the Lord — utterly — to guide me. Not only with respect to the path the book will take, but with respect to the path my actions will take.

12:30pm I worked on gleaning, transfering notes, thinking until 11:45am, then stretched. Just now I did a blog post for tonight [for the record it is 1:08pm as I type this] I’m tired.

I read a cool poem though, the last line of which was, “They also serve who stand and wait…” Not wait, trust and do the next thing. Just stand/sit and wait. For direction…

6:30pm Bible class is done. I’m back in bed, icing my foot [this was back when I’d broken my ankle].  I did a nonstop, then moved stuff into chapter 5 and then edited the first part of my hard copy. It’s extremely messy and confused right now. But I’m no longer frozen.


Though I had no opportunity to work on Thursday after I had read this and copied it into Notepad, or on Friday, when I did get back to the work on Saturday, I had the same sort of breakthrough I described here: ie, no longer frozen.

Can we say “This is the PROCESS, Karen?” Why are you always so surprised?

I Do Outline Eventually

The comments on Monday’s post (The First Draft is a Slog) got me thinking more about my process, especially as relates to outlines. Becky Miller’s link to  a post on Harvest House editor Nick Harrison’s blog about getting stalled because you’ve let go of the tension, also sparked some thoughts.

Letting go of the tension means you’ve resolved your main line of conflict long before you reached the story’s end… which is not a good thing. And the outline method I use does address this potential pitfall.

(I was amused by one of the author’s suggestions for figuring out what to do — i.e., consider that perhaps you don’t have enough plot for a novel.  I have never had the problem of too little plot material for a novel.  LOL!)

But back to the subject at hand, which is that eventually I do outline. In fact, before I ever start to write, I spend time gathering notes on 3×5 index cards I’ve cut in half. (being smaller, more cards can be laid out than if I used the 3×5 cards whole)  Notes about characters, the world, possible motivations, possible events, incidents… So it’s not like I’m diving blind into the book. If anything, it can feel like I have too much material. Some of it I’ll use; some of it I won’t. It’s hard to know, sometimes, which is which.

In her book Novel-in-the-Making, Mary O’Hara (also the author of My Friend Flicka) talks about various ideas for what might happen needing time to sort themselves out. At first you may not be able to tell which one you like, which one fits, but over time they will sort themselves out as some rise to the surface while others sink into oblivion.

All this work with the cards is a way of allowing some ideas to rise to the top and other to sink out of my awareness.

Once I’ve gotten started though, tested the waters a bit, as I said I do have a form of outlining that I use, which is based on information Jack Bickham provided in his Writer’s Digest Elements of Fiction Series book Scene and Structure.

The structure is based on cause and effect and the notion of alternating “scenes” and “sequels”, all oriented to an overall story goal.  Bickham uses an example of Fred needing to be first to climb a mountain .

“I must be the first to climb that mountain,” Fred said.

Thus the reader wonders, “Will Fred succeed in being the first to climb the mountain?”

So Fred begins his quest. First up, he must convince the bank to give him a loan of sufficient money to  finance and equip his expedition. Thus, in the next scene, taking place at the bank, his goal is to get a loan.

If he gets the loan, everyone’s happy, and his plan moves forward but the reader will be asleep, or worse, annoyed, wondering why he was made to read through such banal material.

No, we have to have conflict. Therefore, the banker is opposed to Fred’s absurd notion right at the start and they have a fight.

This little scenario illustrates the components of a scene

First, it is active, something that could be staged in a play. It has a viewpoint character (Fred) with a goal (get a loan), and an obstacle to his achieving that goal (the banker). He and the banker conflict over the goal, and the scene ends in disaster for Fred’s goal. (the banker says no, and never come back to this bank again; the banker says yes, but you’ll owe me for the rest of your life; or yes, but you must take my bratty, 14-year-old son with you.)

A sequel, on the other hand, is static, it’s reflective. After the above scene, Fred will have to go away and think things through. Review what happened, deal with his emotions, decide what he really wants, consider his options and come up with a plan of action, which should involve a new goal related to the overall story goal of climbing the mountain.  A sequel then, recounts the character’s feelings about what’s just happened, these move into thoughts about what to do next, and culminate in a decision.

I try to organize my stories based on this framework, and I’ve found it helps at least not to end up with everything wrapped up before you want it to be, seeing as the scenes always have to end in some sort of disaster, or they’re not a scene.

Obviously there is a LOT more to all of this, or Bickham wouldn’t have been able to write an entire book on the subject. And it’s not quite as simplistic or as formulaic as I’ve made it seem here. Sometimes the viewpoint character is not the one with the goal for example, but the one being acted upon. That is my situation right now with Chapter 1. My POV is reacting to events that have suddenly come into her life, which is part of what’s making this chapter so difficult. Plus elements of the hidden story are emerging, but of course, neither she nor the reader will realize that at the moment.

Anyway, I had written about two-thirds of Arena, got bogged down, got hold of Bickham’s book and spent three weeks reworking the book in accordance with the scene/sequel structure. I think it helped a great deal. I’ve used Bickham’s approach on all my subsequent books, though maybe not as religiously as I did in Arena. After awhile you start to get a sense for doing it automatically. But when you hit a wall, it’s these principles that have most often helped me get around/over/through it.

And just writing about all this has been helpful as well. Because I have rediscovered all those note cards I had, which I knew I had but didn’t feel ready to look at yet… Maybe tomorrow I will.

Repost: Writing is Hard

I think this will be about the last repost from four years ago, but it so expresses how I’ve been feeling as I circle around my work, dreading jumping in to wrestle with it, that I want to share it again.

It is more taken from the book Overcoming Writing Blocks by Karin Mack & Eric Skjei. I adapted the following passages to fit my situation because it pretty well describes what writing is like for me and is another reminder of why I want to check email!

“You take some notes, make a list or two, then, if you’re not too blocked, you launch into spinning out a sequence of story events. But no sooner do you have an event or two in line, than you begin to see that your first considerations weren’t quite on target. This isn’t quite the way you wanted it to be. It’s not going to work because you see some other considerations that will alter it. Suddenly you are in the middle of the quest for the best possible events and ordering of those events. Or you look ahead and see a new line of conflict appearing that could reshape the story in a better way. You see how each added event, or character, or motivation, or world situation, like a stone tossed into a still pool, sends out ripple after ripple, each merging with and altering the others.

“Precious story patterns shift, disintegrate, then reform into something quite new and different, but still composed of the same basic elements. So you realign your thinking, and your writing, and you start over. (Or, if the critical feeling gets too strong, and you begin to feel that what’s coming together in a storyline isn’t quite right enough or good enough, you falter and stop dead in your tracks.) The chase can be exhilarating or stupefying, but it’s never easy.

“Zigzagging like this from creation to criticism and back again is often extremely frustrating, especially if you magnify it by feeling guilty about not being able to put together a story line in a short order of time. Those who aren’t used to the process (and even those who are) often find themselves terribly beaten down by the feeling that they’re wandering aimlessly around, getting nowhere. A deceptively small internal voice . . . keeps wondering why you seem so ambivalent and indecisive. “Don’t you know what you think?” it whispers. “C’mon, just get it out. Stop being so indecisive! Maybe you can’t do this after all. The other two worked, but this is just too complicated, too complex. You’ve bitten off way more than you can chew!”

“This experience of constantly discovering new possibilities, alternate ways to proceed, fresh ways to restructure and recast what you’ve devised, rich as it may sound, can induce confusion, fear, and eventually, blocking of the writer’s decision-making faculties. This is especially true because there’s never enough time to thoroughly explore all the possible permutations of the work. Deadlines are nipping at the writer’s heels. She can’t afford to indulge in endless speculation and experimentation. Decisions must be made, and they must be made now. So there can arise a paralyzing conflict between the need to understand the alternatives and the equally powerful need to bring the task to an end.

“It takes energy and self-control to do all this. You have to be able to concentrate, to form your thoughts, to pick those that are central to the topic, and reject those that aren’t. You have to be able to articulate them, to name them with sufficient accuracy and lucidity that someone else will know what you’re talking about. There’s no easy way to do this.”


The First Draft is a Slog

People often think that professional writers just sit down and start writing something that comes out fully formed. While a few writers may do this, most do not. But even those of us who do not, can get caught up in that lie again if we’re not careful. I have been caught in it for several months now.

I think in part that’s because the experience of beginning a book is much different from that of rewriting one or finishing one. My favorite parts are rewriting and polishing. That stuff is for the most part easy. And fun, because it’s always fun to make something better. I can work fourteen hours a day on rewriting, editing, etc. And while sometimes there are those periods where I have to think about the problem, mostly the words suggest better words, the ideas, the characters themselves suggest improvements, and because you have so much of the work before you, the work itself is a partner in the effort.

In the beginning there is no “work” to partner with. I’m sure this seems obvious, but it isn’t always to me. I remember most the exhilaration of working with a draft already there, seeing how things come together, seeing what isn’t needed, what needs to be added, refined. I’ve been expecting those feelings to manifest themselves now, when that’s not at all what it’s like for me to write a first draft.

Basically, the first draft is a slog. That’s the only way to describe it. I have never been able to breeze through a first draft, just writing willy nilly, come what may. Because usually that just sends me off a cliff, where suddenly words fail me, and I have no idea where I’m going any more. Not only that, the whole direction I was moving in now bores me and I can’t bear to write another word in that direction. I did that with a draft of The Light of Eidon. Wrote 100 pages of stuff that had to be axed in entirety.

So I do it for a bit, usually very roughly, then have to go back and see what I wrote. See if I can make some sense out of it, get a direction out of it, at the very least make it coherent. That part, not surprisingly, I like better than the first part. I think there is also an aspect of memorization involved… I go over and over things and get the events, the world, the people imprinted more strongly on my mind, so that when I start the next bit, I’m not wondering if I chose A or B in the last chapter and what kind of goals and reactions would be reasonable for Character C.

Granted if I had an outline, this wouldn’t be so necessary, but I can’t write one until I’m a little further into the book. There’s the element of “what I really want to write” that plays in, as well. So, if this sounds confusing and ineffecient… it is! It’s why I don’t write a lot of books in a short period of time!

Another Five Pages

I seem to finally be getting into the swing of things writingwise!  Today I progressed another five pages through chapter 1 (and really that’s chapter 2 because I already have a prologue completed).  I’m back to writing long chapters. Supposedly thrillers like The Enclave have a convention of short chapters (about 15 pages or less), but I don’t by nature write short chapters. Especially not when I’m starting out. This chapter is currently 26 pages long, but I expect that will end up a bit shorter. My comfortable range is around 20 pages per chapter.

I also rediscovered my research books today! Not that they were hidden. They’ve been sitting on shelves in my office and in my bedroom in plain sight all the time. But today it  suddenly occurred to me to take them off the shelves and look inside!

Whoa!  Inspiration on every hand. And I’m not even reading in earnest, just skimming, stopping to read whatever catches my eye. Very fun. One book, called “As the Romans Did” actually has recipes! And actual invitations in which the proposed fare for the dinner party is laid out as an incentive to accept, or in one case, punishment for having accepted the invitation and not showing up:

So! You promise to come to dinner, and then you don’t come!  You will be tried and fined the full cost of the dinner, and not a penny less. My kitchen staff had prepared one head of letuce for each of us, three snails and two eggs each, barley soup along with mead and snow (you’ll pay for the snow first, although it melted right in the dish), olives, beets, cucumbers, onions and a thousand other items no less sumptuous.”

I also, before starting any of it, went outside with Quigley in the midmorning (now that it’s cool enough to do so) and sat on a bench in the shade in our backyard and just drank in the quietness, the peace, the trees and the birds and the grass. It was wonderful. I also wrote a bit in my journal, until suddenly I was moved to come inside and get going.

The important thing now is to keep it going. I think part of the problems I’ve had in all this is that I kept getting interrupted by one thing or another. I’d have a day or two of work, then suddenly events would intrude and I’d not be able to pay any attention to the book. Usually another day like that would follow. And then I’d have lost the momentum and want to do anything but go and start to write again. I feel differently today.

Hopefully tomorrow I can continue this run. As things stand now, it looks as if I can since I don’t have any big plans… but as I know far too well, plans can change in an instant. I also know, though, that my times are in God’s hands and if He wants me to get this book written He’s going to have to at least give me the opportunity to do it, even if I don’t take advantage of it. My intent today and hereafter is to make sure if the opportunity is there that I DO take advantage!