Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 19
I DID IT!
I actually did it. I have finished writing the first draft of my novel for children. I wrote the last words this afternoon.
My target was 40,000 words which is set down as a requirement by my lecturers. (This is my thesis paper for my Master of Arts Creative Writing degree.) In the end I finished on about 39,175 words which is good. It gives me a little flexibility during the rewriting stage. I know there will be extra things I want to include in a few places. The maximum word count is a guide only anyway, but we really can’t stray too far under or over. In reality it may have been better to be over by a few thousand words; it is much easier to cut rather than add words.
Next stage: rewriting
I’m going to let it sit for a few days before getting back to it. Ideally I might be better off leaving it for a few weeks, but with a deadline of the end of November I don’t have that luxury. The next stage is to go through the whole manuscript, rewriting sentences and passages as needed. I know I have some problems with point of view in the early chapters, for example. I will also sit down with my supervising lecturer and analyse whether there needs to be any structural changes. This will inevitably lead to more rewriting.
The next crucial stage is editing. In this stage I will go back over the whole manuscript, looking at all the fine details of spelling, punctuation, word usage (is this the best word to use here?), grammar and sentence construction. It is a process I do not enjoy. I’ve been trying to get to ‘like’ this stage as an important step in the creative writing process. I don’t think I’ll ever ‘love’ it. At present I tolerate it as a necessary stage towards getting published.
The final stage is proofreading. In this stage I will check every letter, every word, every punctuation mark and make sure everything is perfect.
I have a few busy weeks ahead.
- Problems with point of view
- The importance of editing
- To err is human – to proofread is to be a good writer: seven effective proofreading hints
- Writing a novel
Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 18
This week has seen great progress on my novel for children. I have had one of the most productive weeks in a long time. It has also helped that my diabetes at last is under some sort of control. Sure, I’ve had a few periods where it has caused a little problem with sleepiness, but overall I am feeling much better. Energized, creative and productive – that’s a good combination.
The momentum with my novel has been building now for quite a few weeks. Over the last week I’ve added on 8000 words. I passed the 36,000 word mark this afternoon which is another major milestone along the way. My target is 40,000 words but we do have a little leeway either way. I still have a chapter and a half to go and that should add 2500 to 3000 more words so I am right on the money with my planning.
Originally I planned to write 20 chapters each of about 2000 words. I’ve generally achieved that. Most are a little under and several are just over. The first chapter was written deliberately short, so that gives me a bit more flexibility in the rest. During the rewriting stage I anticipate adding a few sentences and paragraphs here and there, so I should still be within the word limit.
One of the interesting things that has happened over the last week is that the momentum built up and the total focus on getting the story down has produced some unplanned, unexpected twists. Several times characters have popped up in unplanned ways, giving the plot a little twist which has enhanced the tension of the story.
Another interesting thing has happened with the tension. After about chapter 4 or 5 I realized that I needed to dramatically ramp up the action. I believe I have succeeded in doing this. Aimed at 10 to 12 year old children, it needs to be a page turner. Each chapter needs to end on a high, a cliff hanger, or the desire to want to turn the page to see what happens next.
As a writer I have learned that I need to be very goal oriented.
- Setting firm goals for my writing keeps me on track.
- Setting firm goals keeps me accountable to myself.
- Setting firm goals helps me to track my progress.
- Setting firm goals keeps me focused and minimizes distractions.
More recently I needed to revise some of the goals I set for this year. Due to my illness and hospitalization several months ago, I suddenly found myself well behind with the writing of my current novel. For new readers to this blog, this novel for children is my thesis paper for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing. I should have had the draft finished weeks ago and I should now be in the process of rewriting, editing and polishing the finished product. Not so. My supervising lecturers have been very sympathetic to my plight.
About a month ago I reassessed the situation. Could I, in reality, get it finished on time? The lecturers believed I could. I knew it was going to be a close call. So I took a cold hard look at myself, at what needed to be done and the available time left to complete the project.
I decided to set myself a goal of 600 words of my novel per day. This would get me finished on the first draft by the end of September, leaving October to complete the rewriting, editing and copy editing. I also needed to set aside November to write a 10,000 word exegesis essay about how I went about the writing, my research and other matters.
My goal of 600 words daily seemed achievable. Last year I achieved just over 700 words per day for the whole year. This year I was hovering around the 600 mark so it was a realistic goal to set.
To help me visualize the task and the progress (or lack thereof) I was making, I set up an MS Excel file. On this file I listed the dates, my progressive goal for each day and then graphed the actual words achieved. Every day I update this graph and it maps my progress. It is working like a charm. At a glance I can see if I’m ahead of schedule (I was) keeping up (I did), getting behind (currently yes) or slacking off completely (I haven’t).
I think I’ll do it. I might need to take a few extra days near the end, but there is enough flexibility built in to accommodate this eventuality.
So it’s head down, tail on the seat and fingers to the keyboard.
I just can’t afford to get sick again.
I did it.
I finished my novel 10 days ahead of schedule. This will give me much needed breathing space and more time for rewriting, editing and proofreading.
Where is my story going? Some thoughts about plot
A few nights ago I had a restless time in the early hours of the morning. I had been working hard on my children’s novel. I had written 400 words in the hour or so before retiring. This had drained me emotionally and mentally. I took a while to go to sleep; the mind was too active. Several hours later I more or less woke up knowing why I had been struggling with the story.
The story was going nowhere.
Sure-I had a vague idea of some of the plot. I knew the major events that I wanted to incorporate. I roughly knew where it was going and how it would finish. I just basically didn’t know how to get there.
In a flash of inspiration-despite the fog of being only half awake-I knew what the problem was. I hadn’t asked the protagonist some fundamental questions. (Hint from one of my lecturers: if you don’t know where to go next, ‘interview’ your protagonist. Thanks, Claire)
I needed to know the following:
- What does my character need or want above all else?
- What worries my main character? What is he afraid of?
- What or who is stopping my character getting what he wants?
- How will he overcome these obstacles and who can help him?
Once I had a clear understanding of the answers to these questions, plot ideas started to suggest themselves and the story became alive. The main character started to take over and I just had to take a back seat and let him drive the story. It’s exciting when that happens.
Plotters and Pantsers
Writers tend to fall into one of two camps, plotters and pantsers.
Plotters are meticulous planners. Plotters have an idea for a story and then plan, plan, plan. The read and research their theme and topic and revel in their discoveries. They draw up story boards and plan extensive character studies. They fill note books and sticky labels with all kinds of detail. For some of them, the research and planning is far more exciting and satisfying than the actual writing. I would imagine that crime writers in particular need this approach, or there will be too many loose ends at the end of the story. A very real danger in this approach, however, is drowning in a whirlpool of information.
Pantsers are almost the complete opposite. They have a great idea and rush to their keyboard and start typing, often with little regard for planning and really just writing by the seat of their pants-hence the name ‘pantsers’. Plot? What plot? Oh-that will take care of itself as I go along. The big problem with this approach is the brick wall that the writer rushes headlong into after three or four chapters. After the initial flurry of enthusiasm and inspiration, the writer suddenly comes to a screeching halt in front of that wall-what happens next? Often they have no idea where to go with the story. They don’t have a plan. There is no plot.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. I tend to be a ‘pantser’, especially with short story writing. With the shortened forms of fiction writing one can afford this luxury. With novels it is crucial to spend more time planning, researching, plotting and doing character outlines and so on. With my current novel I am trying to do more planning and plotting as I can see the benefits of doing so. It doesn’t come easily but I’m trying.
For a good discussion on the pros and cons of these two approaches see:
For more articles in this series go to Writing a Novel – a writer’s journal.
I haven’t posted much here on this blog for quite a while. In fact, I haven’t posted much on all three of my blogs over the last two months.
One major reason is that I’ve been busy finishing off the course work for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing . That’s now finished and the final assignments were handed up last week. I almost had a period of grieving when that happened. That might sound a little strange but over the last 18 months my focus has been on completing the requirements of this course. That can be an all-consuming focus too. It has left precious little time for blogging and general writing.
Then over the last five weeks we both had illness to deal with. First, I was in hospital with kidney stone problems. Very painful but over that now. Then a few days later my wife also ended up in hospital and when she came out I had to care for her for about a week. She is now on the road to full recovery too. As if that wasn’t enough I ended up with a severe bout of flu which put me in bed for 9 days. I’m much better now – except for a very persistent cough that refuses to go away.
All through this trying time I was able to keep up with some reading – most of the time I couldn’t attempt much else.
Now I really much get back into the writing again. My major focus for the next few months is to get back into my novel. I’m in the middle of writing a novel for children which will be a major part of my thesis paper for the degree. I’ll keep you posted here on my blog as to progress.