Cutting hurts

We are cutting down trees today.

My heart is hammering and I feel sick.

I love trees, but unfortunately the person who planted these trees didn’t think before they planted.  One is under the powerlines.  One hovers over the power and phone lines into the house.  One is right up against a window.

So they have to go.  But I hate doing it.  I hate destroying something so beautiful.

I console myself with the thought that as soon as they are gone I will plant more, in the right place this time. Trees carefully chosen for height and shape and location.  Trees that will glow with beauty, attract birds and bees, form a shelter for fauna and privacy for us.

I console myself with this and try not to cry while the trees come down.

Okay, so maybe I cried a bit.

But they had to come down.  Sometimes you make hard decisions, and then you grieve, and then you pick yourself up and move forward.

In life, and in writing.

Building your writer’s tribe

I was reminded the other day (after a massive bout of self-doubt) of the importance of surrounding yourself with other writers.  Aside from the companionship and understanding angle, a strong writer’s tribe can really help you move forward in your writing.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses as writers and people, but we can’t always see that.  Having someone there to not only look over your work, but to be a sounding board for problems and possibly a font of advice is a great help.

Build your writer’s tribe with care.  Find people who you like and whose work you like, and who like you and your work in turn.  It is important that your tribe likes what you do.  They don’t have to love it; in fact, blind love can do more harm than good.  But they should at least be on the same page as you.

Here are four essential members of your writer’s tribe.  You can certainly have more, but try and find at least one of each of these types.  Having all of one type of tribe member isn’t good for you.  Balance is the key.

The Overachiever is everything you would like to be.

The Overachiever

This is the person we all wish we could be.  She’s sold so many stories.  She has a novel out to agents and is just cranking out another one.  She’s driven and dedicated and sometimes she just bloody drives you nuts.  She’s perfectly nice but you can’t help but feel inadequate when faced with her productivity and success.

Knowing an Overachiever is good for you.  This person has done the things that you are just coming up to, and her experience could save you a lot of time and pain.  She’s also good as evidence of all you can achieve if you really work at it.  Reading her work should make you want to work harder, should inspire you to tackle something a bit tougher than you normally do.

Beware of the Overachiever who comes with an ego.  If they are constantly rubbing their success in your face, it can be demoralising.

The Nurturer will always be there for you.

The Nurturer

The Nurturer loves everything that you write.  They can see the promise in even the worst draft.  They listen to your woes with patience, and tell you that yes, it is okay to write a shitty first draft.  Above all, they tell you to keep writing, because you will get there someday.

Nurturers are wonderful people.  They may not even be writers.  They may be friends who read your work and love it.  They may be your mother.  Either way, they are your support crew when the whole writing gig becomes overwhelmingly difficult and you cannot seem to write a cohesive sentence.

Nurturers are important.  You have to have someone who loves your work, who sees your talent.  However beware of surrounding yourself only with nurturers.  While it’s lovely to have so much affirmation, you need a cold dose of reality now and then.  Otherwise if you do hit a setback and you have only Nurturers around you, you may be tempted to blame everything except your writing.  Critical analysis is as important as support.

The Lawyer has read every writing book known to man.

The Lawyer

Rules, rules, rules.  This person knows grammar and writing and structure like the back of their hand.  They know how to structure a query letter.  They know what agents like.  They know the hero’s journey AND all the variations.  They can tell you what should happen in each Act of your story.  They have read every writing book known to man, and can recite important passages to you on demand.

Lawyers are very useful people.  They can tell you what standard manuscript format is.  They can help you to understand what theme and motif are.  They are a veritable encyclopedia, and save you a lot of time and research.

The problem with the Lawyer is that he is often paralysed by all these rules, to the point where his creativity suffers.  Be grateful for their guidance, but don’t be afraid to step outside the boundaries in your quest for a good story.

The Destroyer will find the weakness in your story and kill it with fire.

The destroyer

No matter how small the flaw is, this person can see it and will point it out.  They’re not being malicious; they just have a sharp eye for things that feel off, and aren’t afraid to tell you.  They will take your perfect final draft and reduce it to a sea of red scribbles.  They may, on occasion, make you cry.

Agonising as it is to get a really critical review of your manuscript, it is the best thing you can do to yourself, at the right time.  At the wrong time, it can be a confidence breaker of epic proportions.  But at the right time, the Destroyer can really help you find the hidden problems in your manuscript.  They can help you to see where the story could be sharper, tighter, stronger, better.  They are an invaluable resource, mostly because they will always be truthful with you.

The important thing with a Destroyer in your tribe is that they still like your writing.  A Destroyer who doesn’t enjoy what you write, or one who is trying to rewrite your story they way they would write it is very damaging.  Find the right critical partner for you.

The Neophyte’s enthusiasm is contagious.

The neophyte

This person may be just starting out on their writing journey, or they may have just made the decision to submit stories, or they may have decided that they are going to take things seriously now and really learn the craft.  Either way, they are setting out on a magical journey and their enthusiasm is wonderful and infectious and inspiring.  They might look up to you as an Overachiever or just as someone else who is on this wonderful journey.

Don’t squash their enthusiasm.  The realities of the writing life will hit eventually.  Encourage them, enthuse with them, assist them when they ask for help.  It’s lovely to have a Neophyte in the group, to enjoy that precious innocence and joy, to remind you why you started writing in the first place.

And sometimes, it’s also nice to look back and see how far you have come.  The important thing is to guide them without trying to make them write like you, to recognise their talent as valid and different from yours.  To have the pleasure of watching that talent develop.

Your Tribe

You may not have five people who fit this exact mould.  You may have a couple of people in your tribe who take on multiple roles.  You may find some of these roles outside your personal writing tribe. You may have just one writing partner who is all of these things and more.

And don’t forget, you will be performing one or more of these roles for someone else.  Be aware of how you fit into your writer’s tribe.  Build lasting, long-term relationships and you will be happier writers.

Do you have a writing tribe? Are you missing any of these roles?  Can you think of another role you find valuable?

Progress

Still pretty quiet here on the blog, but the writing is coming along well.  I hit 20,000 words last night on the rewrite which I’m pleased with.  Tonight I get to pull The Vessel to pieces in preparation for revision.

How about you?  Give us a report on your progress, good or bad!

Scene vs chapter, it matters not

I’m doing a lot of writing in the spare room lately, sitting on the futon bed.  It’s a good place to write, distraction free, quiet, and I can change position when my neck or back gets sore.  It’s going well.  I’m 10,000 words into the rewrite of draft 2 and starting to pick up the pace after my rocky start.  I mention this mostly to explain why I haven’t been posting any helpful revision posts lately.  I’m trying to get a solid chunk of words down on the draft, and I have very few to spare for the blog.

So I thought, while I’m here procrastinating, that I would have a brief discussion on writing in scenes vs writing in chapters.

In the first draft I was a writing-in-scenes gal.  I plotted out 63 tidy little scenes to get be from the front end to the back end of the story.  I wrote.  Some of them were big scenes.  Some were small.  But on average I was writing scenes about 1600 words long.

A few months ago I read a book that had eleven scenes in it.  Eleven.  It was a full sized novel.  Each scene made up one chapter.  It was a good book.  So when I finished, I went back and had a look underneath the story, at the structure the writer had used and the way he had developed his scenes.

(By the way, if you don’t already do this, start.  When you read a book that rocks your world, go back over it and try to see the hidden wires and the mirrors and all the other tricks of the magician’s trade.  I mean the writer’s trade.  It’s a great way to learn.)

At just eleven chapters, for a full-length book, we’re talking honking big scenes here.  9000 words plus.  No scene breaks.  Just one continuous flow of story.

And for that story, it worked.  There was only one POV.  The whole story ran in a continuous timeline from the first line to end.  Even the protagonist sleeping didn’t break the scene, and yet the story never faltered.  I was impressed.  (The book, if you want to do some research, is Dauntless by Jack Campbell.)  The author made good use of exposition to keep the scene moving in places where you might normally expect a scene break.  It was a good trick.

So good, in fact, that I totally stole it for draft 2 of Traitor.  The second outline has only 16 scenes, rounding out at approximately 6,600 words each.

Is it working?  Well as a matter of fact, it is.  I am finding it quite easy to write honking big scenes.  I am not having trouble with messy scene breaks.  I am also finding it a lot easier to make the scene do multiple things.  I have a lot more space to play with.  And the story reads so much more smoothly without regular breaks.

I like it.  I’m not saying that I would write every story like this from now on, but it is a tool that I have added to my toolbox.  And in the end, the only real difference between a lot of short scenes rather than fewer but longer scenes is the number of words.  The end result, the story, is basically the same.  It just comes down to style.

Your turn to pitch in.  Do you write in chapters or in scenes?  Do you write large scenes or small?  Have you ever read a book and then tried writing in the same style?  Did it work for you?  Let me know.

100 words for 100 days

I missed the end of 100 x 100.  Hell, I missed the last half thanks to my family’s and my own health issues.

But it was a glorious ride.  I wrote a phenomenal amount in the first half, 45,000 words in 50 days.  If I’d managed to finish, I would have been close to 100,000 words.  That, my friends, is an entire novel.

Kerryn and Matt both wrote summaries of their experiences, which I think you will find interesting.

Distractions are my writing kryptonite. Whenever I tried to write, even with a timer, surrounded by other people or the TV I couldn’t sink into the story and the words would be stilted and slow. I tried blocking the distractions out with music and sitting with my back to the TV but still my super-human hearing caught onto the other storyline. I have to physically remove myself from distractions so it’s just me, my story and my timer.

Kerryn Angel – 100 x 100 – Thank you

Before I did this challenge, I was aiming to write every day, but I just couldn’t manage it. This challenge really made me accountable, and I quickly got into the habit of writing every day without fail. If you have trouble writing daily, get a friend to keep you accountable. I found that it only took me a couple of weeks to get into the right habit.

Matthew Dodwell – 100 x 100: Lessons Learnt

Drop in and see what other lessons they have to share.

So, will I run 100 x 100 again?  I’m not sure.  If there’s interest out there I might.  Otherwise I will add it to the list of tools-that-have-helped-me-write, which also includes the Novel Push Initiative (NPI) and 750 Words.

Hello

So, yeah, hi.  Remember me?  I used to post here, once.

I’m not dead or hiding.  My family is (finally) back to being healthy.  I’m better than I was, though my back is still being an obstacle to all the things I want to do.

Including writing, of course.

Anyway, remember the poll on what I should write next?  Well, 38% of voters went for The Godmaker’s Daughter (steampunk), 23% went for Echo Station (science fiction, far future) 15% went for The Destiny Engine (science fiction, post-apocalyptic) and 15% went for Owlchild (fantasy, sword and sorcery).

So I’ve been tossing up between The Godmaker’s Daughter and Dark (science fiction, political/thriller) which got no votes at all.  I like both ideas, but they’re so completely different that I can’t make up my mind either way.

I need to take it very slowly, to coddle my damn back so it doesn’t break again.  But I’m going to start, anyway.

How do you know how long your story will be?

One of the comments left on my last post was:

Wolf Lahti said:

How do you know you’re writing a novella?
Knowledge of end word count is something that always boggles me, but many writers toss off phrases such as, “I have 28,142 words to go before I’m done!” How can they know this? To me, I never know whether I’m writing a short-short or a multi-series epic until I’m finished with the durn thing.

It’s a good question.  How do you know, before you even start, how long your story will be?

Well you can never tell exactly (unless you are more special than me) but you can usually work out an approximate wordcount.  And the wordcount really depends on the scope and complexity of your story.

Lets start with the easy stuff.  What’s the difference between a novel and a novella?  In terms of word count a novel is usually 80-120k words (depending on genre) and a novella is usually 20-50k words.

How you know you are writing one and not the other comes down to the elements of the story.  Novellas have no subplots and they generally have only one protagonist.  You’re writing a simple story, usually about one person, where the road travels from A to B without deviation.  To tell the story, you will probably need between 20 and 40 scenes.

If the story involves multiple characters, subplots and a complex world, you’re more likely writing a novel.  You will need up to 100 scenes to tell the story.

If the story in your head is simply a character and a single event, you’re writing a short story.  Depending on the depth of idea and character, this can be anywhere from 1k words to 15k words.  You’ll usually only have a few scenes, anywhere from 1 to 10 to tell the story.

So the rest of the question, how do you know how many words you have left to write?  You can usually judge from your own writing how long it takes you on average to write a scene.  I vary between 1,000 and 2,000 words to complete a scene.  So I know that if there are only 3 scenes left until the end, that I will have about 4,500 words left to write.  Sometimes it’s more, sometimes less.  It’s never an exact science.  But you can make educated guesses based on your history.

As to knowing how many scenes you will need to finish your story, well, that’s another post entirely.