I said I’d come back here with an update and it’s an update I don’t mind giving.
I did not write six pages per day for five days this week, However, I learned something vital – if you keep writing, you keep writing. Simple, ain’t it?
The muse, like a muscle, when lazing around too long, turns to mush. It’s harder to get it into top form because each time you start, it’s like starting a new workout routine… or worse, starting to work out for the first time. You have to keep the muscle moving, working, in order for it to reach maximum potential.
After pushing through my first day of real, wrist-numbing writing, I found myself, once again consumed by my story. That’s a good thing. I heard the characters’ voices again. I saw them moving, they way they gestured when they spoke. Their clothes, their environment. The beauty of Book-in–a-week is that you’re immersed in your characters’ world and that makes the writing fluid.
I confess, I broke a couple of huge Book-in-a-Week rules. I re-read my work. A lot. And I stopped to research various locales via Google Maps – Street View. I had to. I’m the kind of writer who winds up preoccupied with story blanks and must fill them in if I’m to move the story forward. It’s okay. It’s my process.
And so, because of my process, I didn’t write six pages per day this week, I wrote four. I’m happy with that. That’s sixteen pages more than I had before – and, if you’re doing the math, then yes, that means I wrote for four days so far. Today will be my fifth. And, for the record, since I write single-spaced pages not double, that’s actually 32 pages in four days so, in fact, I’ve written eight pages per day.
No matter how you look at it, writing daily – in solid blocks or in ten-minute spurts – is the not-so-secret secret to getting the story down. Of course I’ll need to polish, but the ‘story’ is there and as Nora said, “You can’t edit a blank page.”
Speaking of Nora Roberts… I attended a writing lecture about a month ago and heard that Ms. Nora writes her first drafts with just dialogue. Once the chatty bones of her story are down, she goes back into the story to add those details that make Nora’s work so unique.
Why does it matter? Because everyone has their own method. And as my wonderfully wise and encouraging critique partner often says, “Trust your process.”
I shouldn’t be blogging right now – I should be working on my story. However, I figured, I’ve given myself a goal and, as I’m known to do, wanted to put it out here for all to see. It’s a way of holding myself accountable when life gets in the way… or when I LET life get in the way.
So here’s the goal – finish my work-in-progress by June. Why? Because June is when I will be attending my first Romance Writers of America’s National Conference (more about that in a future post). I want to have something to pitch to the agents and editors who will be there eagerly seeking new stories.
So… according to my math, I have to write about 1-1/2 chapters per week from now until then. That’s not so bad (unless you’re a slow writer like me). It’s only six pages per day, single space, and I know I can do it. I’ve reviewed my Book-in-a-Week workshop notes and and am ready to go.
I’ll see you here at the end of this week with an update.
I survived my Book in a Week marathon and did pretty well, if I may say so myself. Not surprisingly, though, I broke some rules AND I did not write the entire first draft. I’m not sure I expected to. Not really. Though I had hope.
I noticed something vital about myself and my writing during my marathon week. I need the details. I need character reactions. I cannot just write the story without all the layers, the angst, the passion, because those layers and passion are what drive my plot. The way a character responds to a given moment, leads me in the direction s/he needs to go.
That’s not to say my story gets away from me and winds up in the fickle hands of my fictional characters. No. It means, I have direction and will get there, but whether I take the highway or the scenic route is up to ‘them’ not me. Forcing the story out is like driving through a torrential downpour. Yeah. You’ll get there but only because you wanted it to be over. Not because you were enjoying the ride.
When I give my characters a chance to absorb what I’d thrown at them, they reward me with texture I could not create on a second pass. Well, maybe I could, I don’t know. What I do know is how the freshness of the moment, of the reaction, drives my story forward. And so, BIAW might not work for me as it works for others, but then, everyone’s process is unique and I find it rewarding to have found just a little bit of magic in mine.
Yup. You read that right. Book in a Week.
I took a workshop by that title about two years ago and it was one of the gems I refer to with each new project. The main gist of it is this – write. Yeah. That’s it. Write.
For a writer, that’s a powerful word because it means so many things. It means the obvious – write. But it also means – don’t look back, don’t judge, don’t worry. Write.
The fabulous Nora Roberts said something every writer should remember. She said, “You can’t edit a blank page.” The Queen of Book in a Week-dom, April Kihlstrom said something else every writer should remember. She said, “The first draft is for your eyes only.”
So what if it’s crap? If it is, refer to Ms. Roberts’ comment and be happy you have pages to edit.
I have the tendency to write a sentence, study it, disect it and revise before going on to the next sentence and starting the process again. I’m a slow writer because my inner editor is a bitch. Nothing is ever good enough and so I always go back over what’s been written and wonder if it can be written better. You know what? It can always be written better.
Enter Book in a Week.
What’s the point? To get the words – the story – down with the least amount of distraction. To keep the story moving forward – not just on the page, but in the writer’s mind. Once the events are down, in pretty prose or shorthand, and ‘The End’ is reached, THEN the writer can go back to page one and add layers and texture.
April Kihlstrom was gracious enough to agree to an interview on this blog. In it she helps ease some concerns over the BIAW process. Take a look at it here and see what she had to say.
The hardest part of BIAW, I think, is banishing that inner editor. Writing is fun. And since it’s a creative process, there is no ‘wrong’ way to do it, despite what the inner editor says. That’s why it’s vital to lock it away.
And so, next week will start the BIAW marathon for me. I will have a very rough draft of my entire story by this time next week. It’ll be my muse’s chance to play. And when playtime is over – and only when it’s over – I’ll release my inner editor from solitary and let her have at it.
I picture Lucy and Ricky, with my muse being Lucy – all playful and mischief-making, and my inner editor being Ricky – all gooey-eyed over his partner yet logically cleaning up much of her mess. They meld together beautifully but look how much fun they are independently.
Writing is fun. Keep it fun and the story will flow. It has to because there will be no doubt. No looking back or revising. Writing is play and I intend to play with my writing this week.
Muse and Editor? Kiss goodbye. You’ll meet again a week from today and not a moment sooner.
As I work on the query and synopsis for my completed story, I’m also working on the next one.
It’s actually quite exciting. In the past I’ve struggled with “starting”. It seemed the story I just finished – and its characters – had taken hold of my heart and mind and wouldn’t let go. I’d try to work with my new characters but hear the old character’s voices.
So… starting this new work immediately after finishing the first had me a little on edge, wondering if I could do it so quickly or if I had to let some time pass. Well… so far, so good. I think I’ve finally worked out a system that blends the needs of my muse, me and story.
I was a workshop diva – signing up for every and any workshop that came my way. I’ve modified some of them, taken parts of each that ‘spoke’ to me and blended them into a method of plotting and creating character that I enjoy. For my past work, I was a true pantser. Just typing away as the story came to me. I’m very happy with those stories. And I love the memory of writing them. The thrill of hearing the character’s voices in my head, seeing them move and interact, then rushing to the computer to get it all down. So exciting.
But I spent a lot of time revising those stories. A LOT. Pantsing like that just wasn’t working for me the way I thought it was. I, apparently, need some direction. My Gemini spirit is too flighty and must be guided – though not restrained.
And so… I now work with Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s Fatal Flaws, Sue Viders Character Diamond, and Karen Docter’s W-Plot (the latter of which, closes by incorporating a subdued ‘storyboard’ that, when properly done, transfers beautifully into a synopsis). I highly recommend each of these workshops. For me, parts of each of them make the characters come to life. With a little work, their deepest desires are revealed along with the conflict they’ll face trying to achieve those goals. Finite details are not disclosed, that happens during the writing process. What’s left is a planning stage that’s not only fun (for me), but also edges me closer to writing the story.
My synopsis and query are nearly ready to go. And this time, while I wait for a response, I’ll be doing what I love most – writing the next story with my notes there to help keep my excited Gemini muse on track… or at least close to that track. 🙂
I have taken some amazing online workshops since I started writing. Each of them has helped me tread easier along the writing path. The most recent workshop I attended was one offered by April Kihlstrom, titled – Book in a Week.
I truly needed the class because I am a slow writer. In fact, a single chapter can take me a couple of months to complete. I tend to procrastinate, and I’m a perfectionist. So… unless I know precisely what I am going to write, I stall. Not on purpose, yet through my own sabotaging efforts.
After taking April’s class, I completed – COMPLETED – two solid 12 single-spaced paged chapters in one week. Completed. Two chapters. In one week.
I was so thrilled this enthusiasm and momentum did not let up after the class, that I asked April if she would answer a few questions about the process for me and other writers. She graciously agreed to an interview, and I now happily share that with all of you.
Enjoy… and WRITE ON!
April, I want to first thank you for agreeing to talk with me. I was energized by your class and thought more people should know about what you offer.
I have to know straight off if it’s really possible to write an entire book – start to finish – in just one week.
Not start to polished final draft! But it IS possible to write the FIRST DRAFT of a book in one week. My last 10 or 12 books were written that way.
Have you always been a fast writer or was there something specific that triggered that desire for you?
Good heavens, no! I was dragged kicking and screaming into a challenge on GENIE (a bulletin board service in the old days). My previous first draft had taken 7 months! I was a slooooow writer–trying to get it perfect the first time around. But once I did the first draft in one week, I loved it. I realized my story was more consistent and more fun. So I kept writing my first drafts that way.
I feel if I haven’t fallen completely into the heart and mind of a character then I can’t write them the way I’d like – with deep POV. What do you recommend as a way of dealing with or overcoming the need for such details in a first draft?
Keep reminding yourself that it’s only a first draft. See what you naturally write. You may be someone who always needs to go back and layer in such things. One of the big lessons for me was realizing that whether I took 7 months or 7 days, my first drafts would essentially have the same weaknesses and strengths so…I could quit worrying about it. I knew that was how my brain worked and I could relax and use it to my advantage instead of fighting to try to make it work differently.
Quality writing time is an issue for many writers. Can you recommend ways to find that time?
First, make sure that writing is a priority in your own mind. If you don’t take it seriously, neither will those around you. Other strategies I’ve used over the years: go out somewhere to write, take a notebook with me everywhere so I can jot down ideas every time I think of them (and keep the story vivid in my subconscious when I can’t be actually writing), hire a babysitter even if I was going to be home so that I could close the door and write, experiment–discover WHEN you write best. Are you better off getting up early to write or is that worthless to you and you’re better off staying up late? Discover that even 5 to 15 minutes at a time can produce pages of material–IF writing is a true priority for you and you’ve got your notes and are ready to go.
How do you prepare for this writing marathon? Is there a certain process you go through to prepare yourself and your muse?
I set things up so I have everything I need handy and try to clear my schedule as much as I can. And I remind myself it’s only ONE WEEK. So what if it turns out to be trash? (It never does, of course.) I’ve wasted more than a week at a time putting off writing out of fear it won’t be good enough! When I sit down to write, I close my eyes and bring up memories of books I sold and how much fun writing has been. You’d be surprised how much power visualization has.
A chunk of writing often causes extreme issues with my wrists. Can you suggest ways in which we can enjoy this writing blitz without causing tingling in our extremities… and our butts. 🙂
Alternate writing methods–longhand, typing, maybe even a voice recorder or voice recognition software.
As a self-proclaimed perfectionist (when it comes to my writing), nothing I write sounds good unless I tweak it to death. What advice do you have for taming the ever-present inner editor?
IT’S ONLY ONE WEEK! Seriously, no one’s first draft is ever good enough.
What if a writer needs a specific detail, like say, how many miles or hours it would be from one location to another. Should s/he stop writing and research this information?
NO! Make a note (in colored font or highlighted) to look it up later and keep going.
Can you give us more information about your Book in a Week workshop, including how to register for it?
I expect to offer it again in late May or early June. I have information on my website and a button you can click to get added to my online class notification list. The class runs 5 weeks and it’s all handled by email so you can do it in your pj’s at 3 in the morning if you want! I take students through every phase of planning a book, a week of intensive writing, and a bit about publishing and revisions.
I have some questions from some fellow writers. Would you mind answering those as well?
Happy to answer.
This is from Barbara Atha –
Would you have some “bullet point” type suggestions to keep in mind regarding point of view, first person versus third person or other common issues writers face while trying to write fast?
See it as play–writing that first draft. It’s a chance to experiment if you’re not sure which POV will work best. That depends on the material and the genre (readers have different preferences and expectations in different genres). When you go back and reread the material, odds are you’ll be able to see which works better and that’s when you can make it consistent all through the book. In other words, don’t stress out for the first draft.
From Chessie Welker –
How do you avoid burn out and exhaustion?
See it as PLAY! Celebrate at the end of each day, take frequent breaks while you’re writing to get up and move around, eat healthy foods, and do at least 3 things a day that make you smile.
From Louisa Edwards –
How do you recommend structuring your day to get the most out of it? Is it personal choice? Or is it one of those things where it really is true across the board that the hours before noon are more productive than the hours after?
Every person is different. The key is to find out what works for you. And that’s part of the goal of Book in a Week–to discover when and where and how YOU write best. Put a 100 writers in a room and you’ll get 100 different answers about what’s best.
Also from Barbara Atha –
What can you tell us about showing rather than telling?
Think in terms of body language, facial expressions, voice timber and intonation and pace. Think in terms of what your characters do when they are in different emotional states and use those typical behaviors to cue the reader. These may be things you go back and layer in OR it may be one of your strengths and something you find yourself doing automatically.
From Linda Ford –
How do you stay motivated and how do you find the fun in your writing?
I choose to focus my mind and energy on happy memories concerning my writing. I choose to focus on what could go RIGHT instead of what could go wrong. And I keep reminding myself as I write the first draft that IT’S ONLY ONE WEEK! Even if I threw it all out after that week I’d at least have learned what didn’t work. And because it’s only one week, I can let myself go–putting in the things I would have dared risk if I was going to have to invest close to a year before I knew if it would work. And every time I’ve done so, the risk paid off. Stuff I was sure my editor would insist I take out she didn’t. Because it worked. And the books were more fun for me to write because I wasn’t constantly self-censoring.
April, this is such wonderfully insightful information. Thank you so much for sharing your passion and wisdom with us.
My thanks to April for the interview and for the class. And to everyone else – Write on, write now!
I had such a great experience with my Book-in-a-Week class that I just can’t keep it to myself. Soon I’ll be posting an interview with the Book-in-a-Week mistress, herself, since she’s graciously agreed to speak with me here. I’ll keep you posted on when that will happen.
Meanwhile, book-in-a-week (BIAW) fever is still soaring for me. Before this latest story, I’d spent a lot of time revising other work. Starting something new after all that time was tough. That’s why I accepted the BIAW challenge in the first place – to fan the fire under me again. Yowza! Did that fire get fanned!
A lot went into preparing for this challenge, by the way. I didn’t just take the class and have at it. I’m a workshop junkie. I love them. LOVE them. Love the interaction, the push, the praise, the hints on how to make things better. I love it all. What I especially love is plucking out the gems that work for me. And that’s how I see workshops… like panning for gold. You never know when or where you’ll find that one brilliant nugget.
I’ve found quite a few brilliant nuggets. Some of my favorites came from workshops like –
Shelley Bradley’s Storyboarding (scroll down on linked page to find workshop info)
Mary Buckham’s …. anything!!! … Pacing, Sex on the Page, One-on-one Synopsis and more.
Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s … again anything!!! … Fatal Flaws, Plotting via Motivation, Block-busting (putting the joy back in writing) and more.
And now, of course, April Kihlstrom’s Book in a Week.
Nuggets from each of these workshops have helped me set up the structure of my WIP, so when the day came to take up the torch and run, I was ready. I think what’s happened in the past was a blind desire or need to write without the necessary prep-work. I’m a pantser who likes to plot – but only a tiny bit. What I’ve learned over the years is that my needs and methods shift with each new story. For some, I need more plot details before I start, for others the details are like quick sand.
Each story is unique and requires a fresh approach. I like it that way. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me, who knows. Point is, I’ve learned there isn’t one set formula for writing a book. It’s a fully customizable process with handy upgrades. The workshops I’ve taken have taught me about those upgrades and how to apply them when necessary.
Are there golden nuggets in your writer’s toolbox? If so, what are they and where did you find them?
My wrists staged a mutiny yesterday. I could barely move the fingers on my right hand. They just locked up. This has happened to me before. I have to watch how I sit when I type. I tend to let my wrists droop, sitting more for comfort than for function. And I MUST get wrist guards.
Well, because of the stiffness and pain in my hands, yesterday was a bit of a wash. I managed only a few hundred words – about four hundred, in fact. But… resting my wrists yesterday helped me today. It’s not even 10am and I’m nearly done with this chapter. Already 1425 words this morning and the day is still young. Another 1200 words or so, and this chapter is done, done, DONE!
I’m going to keep this momentum going. I’m not as afraid to make mistakes because I know I can fix them. In fact, I know when I’m done with this rough draft, I can let Nil play/revise/nitpick until she’s giggling with glee. I will confess, however, it’s been a struggle to avoid going back to fix every little thing… like having my heroine lift her car keys and give them a shake to make a point – TWICE IN ONE SCENE. Blah. But, I also know, I can eventually go back in to fix that. This is not meant to be perfect, it’s meant to be fun. Writing fast is supposed to help get the story down without distraction or second guessing. I second, third and fourth guess myself all the time when I write. Writing fast leaves little time for that bit of sabotage so writing fast is a precious and vital thing to master… and so is understanding that this is a first draft. Perfection has no place here.
Wow. I should repeat that until it doesn’t cause me to reach for my inhaler. Yikes. It doesn’t have to be perfect???
Okay. I’ll repeat that – Perfection has no place here in my first draft.
My first draft is for fun and creativity. My first draft is my time to play. When I’m done in this sandbox, my inner critic can have her chance and clean things up all she wants. After all, without me to make the ‘mess’, what would there be for her to do? She’ll just have to wait her turn. Meanwhile, I will play until my hero and heroine reach their happily ever after and I reach… The End.
My way of writing seems to involve a LOT of thinking – like sometimes days or weeks – and then I have this manic spurt of writing. And then more thinking. It’s a frustrating process, and I’ve hoped for a more efficient way to unjumble the words in my head and get them onto the page.
I might have found it.
Day one of this challenge gave me three solid, single-spaced pages. I was thrilled but realized three pages a day does not a book-in-a-week make. So… instead of ramping up the typing, I revised what I’d written. How’s that for sabotaging my own work? It seems that perfectionist, nit-picky, inner critic of mine has an intense aversion to speed writing.
This inner-critic, whom I shall henceforth call ‘Nil’ as nil is all it allows me to write – nags me constantly about every little word, every punctuation mark, every thought I dare consider worthy. Nil has forced me to stop the writing flow and do things like research awkward wording, rethink the plot, change the heroine’s name and whatnot.
Nil slices creativity, hacks away at confidence, rewords everything I’ve written while grumbling how awful it all is and then laughs as I slink away from the computer certain I’ll never write another word. That’s what Nil does best.
It’s time I put her in her place. Yes? And I think I know how.
You see… I have learned something fantastic during this process. The best way to keep Nil from messing with the work is not to show Nil the work in the first place. 🙂
When you write without looking back at what you’ve written, you fall deeper into the story and wind up with a more flowing and consistent rhythm, tone, mood and voice. It’s when you stop writing to review or revise, that Nil puts on her work clothes and happily tweaks and alters your beautiful prose until it’s barely recognizable.
Ever hear the term “less is more”? So it is with revising as you go. Less is more. Nil has yet to learn that term.
Day two was yesterday, Sunday, and so there were family things to tend to. However, I managed another three pages… and this happened in just two hours. For me, that is some kind of record. I’m thrilled to have written 3,031 words in two days and cannot wait to get back into it today, Day 3.
Will I finish my book this week? I highly doubt it (my wrists are already planning a mutiny), but I will have a new tool in my tool box because of it. This tool is the privacy screen between the words I type and Nil. If I do not show it to her by rereading what I write as I write it, SHE cannot possibly feel the need to ‘fix’ it.
Not until the end is written will Nil be allowed to have a go at it.
At least, that’s the plan. I have the new tool, now I just need to make sure I use it.
Day three? Here I come… armed and ready.
I’ve accepted the challenge that starts today in a workshop I’m taking. It’s the Book-in-a-week workshop with April Kihlstrom as instructor.
The challenge? Type a complete first draft of my work in progress in one week and one week only. That means… no revising as I go. That means, whatever scene pops into my head is the one I should write. That means keeping my inner critic bound and gagged until the week is over – longer if possible.
That means pushing WAY past my comfort zone. Writing a book in a week without revising as I go is the same to me as jumping from a plane without a parachute. Okay, for me, the non-adventurous type, it’s more like going over a speed bump without putting on the brakes. 😕
I am a rule follower. I don’t like to make waves and I don’t like to upset those around me… including myself. And so, this book in a week challenge, challenges me on many levels. I have to break the rules I set for myself which say every word I write has to have a purpose. Every scene must draw a reader into the heart and mind of my characters. Every page must contain several sense-stirring phrases that will place the reader right there in the scene. To accomplish a book in a week, I must simply write what’s in my head despite how sparse it might be. Can I do it? Well… I can certainly try. And posting here commits me to the process… hopefully that’s all I’ll wind up committed to. 😯
I’ll check in as often as I can to keep you posted and to keep myself answerable to someone. I have a new ticker right there to the right of this post…….. see it? It’s next to the picture of beautiful Tiffy. I’ll move that slider each time I complete a chapter. I should tell you, because I’m an honest soul, that I already have three solid chapters completed and seventeen left to go. Three solid chapters is a lot to me. “Three” means I’m committed to the work… ah, ‘committed’ there’s that word again. I hope that’s not some kind of forshadowing…