Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

I was going to go on my typical, "Valentine's Day is the Stupidest Day of the Year" rant, but I thought I could sum up the entirety of my feelings with a simple image:

Valentine's Day  Reflex

There are some funny gifts floating around these days designed especially for people like me. Check here and here for some.
Celebrating the finishing of Hunter has been going well. I managed to refrain from writing all of Friday. I'm supposed to not write for the rest of the month and give my brain and my fingers a well-deserved break. It's not going so well. Already I am itching to get writing again.

A reader left a comment on the post announcing my small victory, along with a question. I answered it in the comments, but did so quickly and I don't think I answered it very well. So I'm going to try again.

I am so jealous of you I almost hate you! I've been through I don't know how many re-writes of the same story and it never felt right. Then I started taking Stephen King's advice and I'm gonna keep writing until it's finished. Anywho, CONGRATULATIONS. Would you be willing to share some advice on what you did or didn't do to finally get the job done? Fellow scribbler, Joanna

Thanks, Joanna. I'm sorry for my dismal reply the first time around, and I hope this attempt is much more helpful.

First off, Stephen King is right. You just have to keep on keeping on until you get the job done. You can change it around as much as you like after the fact. First, however, you have to write it. The best thing you can do is to just sit down and write.

I'll start off my list of things I did or didn't do with a disclaimer. Every person is different, therefore their approach to anything they do will be different. I have no formal training in fiction writing. I am simply an avid reader with stories of my own. Someone with a formal education in fiction writing will likely do things differently from myself. All the same, here's what I did and didn't do that allowed me to get Book 3 written.

  • Set myself daily goals. A word count that is small and attainable that will be the least you can do each day would be a good place to start. I am extremely fortunate that I do not have children, and I do have a steady income that affords me plenty of time to write. I tend to write between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, which affords me an unusually high daily word count of roughly 3 000 words. To be honest, sometimes I just can't make it to 3 000 and I am forced to content myself with something a little lower. For most people (the normal sort who have obligations and lives...), about 1 000 words is a good word count to strive towards.
  • Took breaks often. Some breaks were scheduled. I do not write on the weekends, for example. Other breaks weren't at all. Every so often on a Friday, I would sit in front of the computer with my hands on the keys and... sit. Though I knew what I wanted to write, I just didn't have the will to do it. I just couldn't. I call this "writer's fatigue" and I'm pretty sure everyone gets it every so often. Basically, it's burnout. I've done too much, and I need to rest. Despite it being simply sitting in front of a computer, writing can be exhausting work! Also, quite emotional if you are like me and happen to get too attached to characters that eventually up and die. I once stopped writing after 1 000 words because I was far too distressed over a death to continue for the day. It's alright to take a break! As long as you come back.
  • Exercised! This is so important I can't even begin to explain it adequately. Exercise was what kept me from burning out more often. Sitting in front of a desk all the time can be very tiresome. Getting active improved my mood and my ability to think. Even if it's just a walk after dinner, get away from that desk!
  • Celebrated much and often. I rewarded myself every time I reached my goal. I did a happy dance in my chair and bought myself some chocolate, or left my desk to walk around outside for a bit. Sometimes I really splurged and bought wine. Celebrating the small stuff makes the big stuff seem a little easier, and much more fun to get to.
  • Allowed the story to flow. I've had many debates about this with fellow writers. This doesn't work for everyone. I used to be a control freak when it came to my stories. If it didn't go the way I expected, I fought the story. In every single case, the story won the fight. If I fought really hard, all I could expect was a protracted period of profound writer's block. As soon as I let go, and let the story do whatever it wanted, I found that reaching 3 000 words a day really wasn't a problem (most of the time). Of course, this did lead to a few, very emotional surprises. In The Great Man series I am currently working on, one character decided (of his own accord, I might add) to go into battle knowing full well he'd end up dead at the end of it. I was rather attached to this character, and fought the decision tooth and nail. Six months later, the story hadn't moved anywhere. When I finally let go, in three weeks, the rest of the book was written. Of course, I cried a lot those three weeks... Now I have had discussions with fellow writers who cannot write that way, and I don't blame them. They've often said they don't understand how an author can feel they have no control over their stories - they're the author. I believe that, ultimately, I am the author and I'm probably drawing from some sub-conscious part of myself when I write. All the same, it feels to me as if I have very little control over my stories!

  • Beat myself up if I didn't reach my daily goal. Life happens, and there often isn't anything you can do about it. I might have gotten a little mad at myself if I hadn't reached my daily goal by the time I had to leave the computer and get ready for training. I'd forgive myself just as quickly though. After all, in most cases, I managed to write a least a little something.
  • Outline. Much. At all, really. This is directly related to letting the story flow as it will. When I first sat down to write The Great Man, it was in no way a series. It was a single book about the tragic life of a remarkable young man named Julian. When I threw the outline I had made into the rubbish bin and just wrote, I ended up with six books (four at first, then, just when I thought I had finished, other little bits of story flooded in, demanding attention, so now it's six books). I require only the protagonist, and the way their tale ends in order to write. Using the Seraphimé Saga as an example (it's a much better example, as I have been writing The Great Man since I was fourteen and the details get hazy), I had, suddenly, the image of a young woman in a sage green cloak standing on an ancient ruined plaza and staring out over a windswept Tundra. Beside her sat an enormous black wolf. Then I saw her having a conversation with a lanky blonde man who was obviously foreign to her. That conversation told me everything I needed to know about her. I had my protagonist. I sat down to write that scene (which occurs somewhere in the middle of the first book now), then I wrote the end. After that, I just let the story write itself. How it gets to the ending is really up to it. I quite like writing this way. I find myself continually surprised and intrigued by the interactions of my characters! That said, most of the writers I have networked with online are enormous fans of outlines. Many cannot write without one.
That's what I did and didn't do to get my books done. Do bear in mind that what works for me won't work for everyone. You need to find the time you write best, what surrounds you write best in, whether or not outlining is something you need, or if it detracts from the organic feel of your writing. It's not an easy task, but the best thing to do is to experiment and most important of all, keep writing.

There, I hope that helped you more. You're a champ, by the by, if your read through all that.
And now here's today's very appropriate Forgotten English word of the day:


The word (from Dutch opzitten, to sit up) is descriptive of the peculiar method of courting which in earlier days was in vogue among the Dutch farming population, the duration of the lovers' evening interview being determined by the burning of a candle, which conveys a hint of the lady's feelings towards her wooer. Should she favour the suitor, a long candle is employed. But if not, she produces "ends" and he at once understands the his [absence] is preferred to his company.

- Charles Pettman's Africanderisms: A Glossary of South African Colloquial Words and Phrases, 1913

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