LaShawn’s Writing Update October 2014 (Or how to find time writing with a full-time job and life exploding around you)

This has been a year of change. February, my status at work changed to full-time. It’s been ten years since I’ve been full-time at a job. March, my inlaws, who had been living with us for 3-1/2 years, moved to their own place. May, FrenkelFail happened. July, my gall bladder was removed because they found a gallstone.

It is now October, and I can almost say the dust as settled. I know there are a couple of other things that are coming down the pike, but I’ll wait until they appear before I mention it. Right now, I want to write about how my writing life adjusted (and trust me, it was a huge adjustment.)

I did a guest blog over at Sarah Hans’s website (and yeah, it’s been so busy, I’m just now getting around to mentioning it). In it, I mentioned that I started getting up at 5:30am to write. Yeah, that didn’t last long. Turns out, I’m really not a morning person. I was only able to do it for two weeks before deciding I really, really like getting my sleep in the mornings. And when I did try to write, I would write well for about 15 minutes or so, run out of steam, then sit there staring blankly for the rest of the hour or so, writing whenever something came to mind.

Come to think of it, that was how I wrote. Period.

A couple of years ago, I was chatting with Sarah Monette about her writing process. Her method was to leave a story project open on her computer and work on it in bits and pieces throughout the day. At the time, I thought it was a slow process. After all, there are many creatives who say to schedule at least an hour to work on a project. Writing in shorter increments won’t work because it takes you 15 minutes to warm up and get into your stride and then by the time you are all warmed up, stopping kills the flow.

But…as I thought about it…that’s how I was if I was working with a time crunch deadline. When I don’t have that, or if I’m brainstorming, or revising?  It doesn’t take an hour and a half. Before, I would sit at my desk for an hour, slowly going through the text line by line. If I wrote in shorter time chunks, how would that work? How could I arrange things so I could write in shorter bursts? What I needed was more than just adjusting to writing in a shorter time period. I needed to change my entire writing process.

In a sense, it’s like going back to basics with Barbara DeMarco’s book: “Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within“. In it, she suggested to set aside 15 minutes to work on writing. I can find at least 15 minutes during the day. Can I write during my morning break at work? In 15 minutes, I sure can. What about lunch? 15 minutes there? Afternoon break? 15 minutes At home? another 15 minutes. Hey, that’s an hour right there.

Now that I’m writing now at odd times, I needed something that I could have accessible at any moment, at any time, where I could jot down thoughts and lines and words as they came to me throughout the day. Something so accessible, I could use it even when I didn’t have access to internet. Get ready, because this will blow your mind.
 
 
 
Ordinary pen and paper. Who’d thunk, RIGHT?
 
Having a physical notebook means that I can write anywhere, anytime. Which, if I’m brainstorming or jotting notes or playing with sentences, it’s awesome. I can be thinking about my work, honing it in my head, then jot a few phrases down. Get enough of those, and I got me a working draft.
 
Revisions are a little trickier. It’s easier for me to edit drafts on the computer, therefore I needed a way to do it so I can access those drafts anytime, anywhere. This meant changing the place where I stored my work from my local computer to the cloud. Currently I’m using Dropbox, and it’s nice. I still back up to local though, because backups are good.
 
This also meant I could no longer bounce between three programs: Writer’s Cafe, Word and Scrivener. I had to stick with something that could contain all my work and notes and word processing in one place, that I could access from anywhere. 
 
I loved Writer’s Cafe. I really, really did. I even wrote a blog post comparing the two programs, saying I couldn’t give up Writer’s Cafe even though Scrivener was the better choice. Well, that changed this summer. Scrivener was overwhelmingly better in keeping all my notes, drafts, storyboards, annotations and working drafts in one spot. And as I used Scrivener, I began to discover new ways to keep my writing on track: utilizing the outliner, working with meta-data. You know the best feature I’m loving right now? Color-coding the annotations in my drafts to show what needed to be done in the texts. A sort of to-do list, if you will. Parts I need to brainstorm are in blue, sentence rewrites in white, facts to research in orange–even if I’m not actively writing, I can open Scrivener, choose a color, and work on those in bits and pieces throughout the day. Then, when I’m done, I delete the note. It’s nice to see all those notes and comments vanish as the story firms up.
 
Sorry, Writer’s Cafe, but from now on, I’ll have to go with Scrivener.
 
So that was my summer–figuring out Scrivener and the new writing process. Write in bits and pieces, get them into Scrivener. Expand. Set myself a limit of 500 words. (Oh, yes! Scrivener is awesome for setting daily writing goals). Work on the text in bits and pieces. And, if needed, use a couple of vacation days as writing retreat days, go to a coffee house and write like mad all day.
 
All of this to say, October 1, I finished the first draft of a new 6000 word story. I didn’t think I would have time to do that, and I’m quite pleased with it. I’ve also been working on Willow (because oh gosh, that never ends), and now that I have everything in Scrivener, I find working on it much MUCH easier. 
 
I may have lost time with the expansion of the day job, but nowadays, I’ve been feeling way more productive than the past three 1/2 years. We’ll see how things go.
 

State of the My Writing Life

It’s time once again for a update on "What am I doing?"

Short answer: my novel. Long answer: I’m editing my novel.

Really long answer:

In February, I had what one would call a slump. It wasn’t depression, actually, nor the blues. I lost my cell phone, and then a couple of celebrities who were part of my childhood world died: Whitney Houston and Davey Jones. I had fallen behind on the Month of Letters activity, and each day that passed accused me that I wasn’t using all that fancy paper and stamps I bought. and finally, I found myself deep in revisions in a short story that I had sworn I wouldn’t go back to and feeling glum that I hadn’t learned a thing at Viable Paradise, because here I was, six months later, going back over revisions and repeating the process of rewriting an entire story from scratch, grumpy because I had put Willow aside again, to finish this short story…

I was reworking a pivotal scene in my short story, angry, tired, and just full of grump, when a part of me split off and said, why are you rewriting this?

Because it needs to be rewritten, I said.

Why?

Because it needs to be stronger.

You thought it was stronger when you rewrote the last time, did you not?

Well, yeah, but that was then. Look at all these weak sentences and–

What did you learn at Viable Paradise?

Huh?

What. Did. You. Learn?

Well, I learned how to trust my words and–

Then stop trying to revise every fricken sentence and send it out.

But let me just finish rewriting this ending–

No.

I should at least change this sentence–

No.

But what about–

No.

I–

No.

Trust. Your. Words.

And suddenly,  it clicked.

I ran spell check, tidied up the story, and sent it out. That was the middle of March.

Then I turned to Willow, and suddenly, I knew how to fix it. After all these years, I knew what I needed to do. Cut. Cut. Cut. And the more I cut, the clearer the story became , with what needed to stay, what needed to be clarified, and what needed to go. I’m learning to look at my scenes with a critical eye, to see if they’re needed to advance the story. I’m even learning when not to rewrite. If what I needed to convey works well for that scene, I don’t need to rewrite a whole new scenario to make it better. I just tidy it up and move on to the next scene.

As of this writing, I’m now up to Chapter 11. My goal had been to work exclusively on Willow until Worldcon, but I might not be done by then. That’s okay, though. I have a synopsis, and I have a pitch. And finally, I can honestly say that the first three chapters are good enough that, if I need to, I can send them out. I won’t make a decision on that though until after Worldcon.

But I got something, and that feels good.

Now, I do have some important publishing announcements, but that can wait until the next post. Heck, if you follow me on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus, you already know the special news. ^_^.

Weeping of the Willow Update: Resetting the Counter Back to 1

Well, I can’t put it off any longer.

The main reason I went to Viable Paradise was to get help for my work-in-process, The Weeping of the Willows. I had reached a point where I was in revision hell, and I needed clear eyes to get myself out of it.

What I learned there was that 1) everyone goes through this, 2) I got a good complex story, and 3) I need to CUT THINGS DOWN. Right now, I have so much happening and so many characters, trying to juggle it all wore me down.

I’ve looked over my outline and cut out some stuff. Some storylines can wait until the next book. I’ve combined some characters into the main characters, making the latter stronger. And ::deep breath:: I’m starting all over again.

So you see the Willow in progress counter to the right? It’s back to zero.

That was probably the most painful part of this whole process.

But…in theory…this revision would go faster. I no longer have 60 chapters to wade through. It’s been streamlined to 45 chapters. We’ll see how this works.

Last night, I edited the first page. Only a kazillion more to go. It’s a start.