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Uncle Josh Tries to Plot His Way Out of a Paper Bag

Once again I turn my hand to writing and trying to do something with the stockpile of stories I have unsold and unfinished. Once again I turn to structure templates and books on writing to solve the perennial problem of “what happens next?” Once again I map out plot points and realize I still don’t have enough scenes to make it work.

My latest attempt at re-writing my 2004 NaNoWriMo entry involved reading a couple of books by James Scott Bell that Dale Ivan Smith recommended. His books list 14 structural checkpoints, 5 in Act I, 4 in Act II, and 5 in Act III. I struggle with pacing in all my stories. To have 4 checkpoints in 50-55% of the book and 10 for the remaining 45-50% is frustrating. This is where I fall apart. I need to find other ways to fill this narrative space.

I need scenes. I don’t want to mistake these checkpoints for actual scenes, but my organizational pattern searching brain is trying to map them one-to-one.

I know I am hitting the greatest fault of all would-be writers, in that I’m not writing. I’ve tried pantsing my way through novels and it doesn’t work. I end up hitting a wall where I cannot come up with the  next thing. I’ve tried several plotting methods and those still leave gaps in my second acts.

Maybe, after 14 years of this, I should give up.

Uncle Josh Tries to Plot His Way Out of a Paper Bag was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

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Uncle Josh Limps to the End of NaNoWriMo

This experiment has not been a successful one, but I know the external factors that led up to this failure: The election took a lot of wind out my sails. OryCon slowed me down, but no more than the other days.
The internal failures were consistency: I scheduled a 6-7 am writing hour every day and didn’t follow the schedule for a whole week in despair; and I often didn’t get up on the weekends to write. I didn’t make up that writing time, either.
The other internal failure was tracking my progress. I decided to write this one non-linearly. I had a rough outline of what I needed to write and let my mood for each day dictate which scene I worked on. This made for some good writing sessions and for some good drafts. When I knew what I needed to write and let myself go, I wrote fast. 1,800 words in one hour is pretty good, and rereading that material confirms for me that it’s not crap. I think it will hold up through edits.
The not-so-good sessions happened when I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen in the scene and had to pants it a little too much. I also let the despair of the world invade my space, and the despair of being twelve years into this with six sales for maybe $30 total on my biography. The endless stream of rejections has stopped because I gave up submitting. I have no critique group and no beta readers. I have no feedback community. All of these things came into my morning hour and all of them slowed me down.
Because I wrote this out of sequence, my nightly task was to organize the text in a separate file, already prepared with 18 chapters that just needed to be filled in. I did not review my daily work, copy it to the appropriate channel, and take notes. So while my daily writing practice has been somewhat successful and consistent, it has not been a focused writing review. There has been a loss of intention in the process. The best book to every explain zen to me is Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo. I need to re-read this book to re-connect with the content, but I remember something about focused practice, playing with a focus in mind, and I frequently spent my first few waking minutes deciding what to write that day.
Instead, I should have gone to bed knowing what I was going to write, letting my brain sort out the best phrases and the coolest images. On the days this worked, it worked well. I went to bed trying to sort out a Lovecraftian dream sequence and I was able to get up the next day and crank it out. It is not as pretty as I’d like, but it surprised me.
That is something else that did work this year: I surprised myself by my own writing. I invented a character on day two that has to be there in the in the opening chapters, but she never showed up in the outline. A second character showed up as well, brand new and unnamed (like my first-person narrator) and he needs to exist for world building purposes. I didn’t know he was there, and he’s only in one scene but I think he plays a vital role in shoving my guy through the portal this fantasy deals with.
Overall, I think the non-linear technique worked from an inspiration standpoint. Now I need to focus on the process around my writing hour to keep track of the story as a whole.
I asked several published authors about non-linear writing and none of them do this. They can start at the beginning and work their way through. They’ve also written lots and lots of books and sold or self-pubbed them, so their processes are probably kink-free. I’m still reinventing myself, losing focus on the longer stories in front of me and trying to re-write the longer stories behind me.
So I will keep on with the morning routine, and try to keep the weekends in the routine, and I will work on the evening side of things doing the necessary paperwork.
And one day, maybe, I’ll submit a story for rejection.

Uncle Josh Limps to the End of NaNoWriMo was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Metawrites

At OryCon and getting some good practical stuff on writing and process, and some silly stuff that involved losing a rhyming challenge. Ah well. I have fallen into the trap on not writing fiction, which seems to be a constant in my life but it always has that extra special sting during NaNoWriMo.
This year I am finding inspiration in my simple desire to be a panelist. I have to check myself from kibitzing through panel after panel after panel. It’s worse when I know the real panelists personally. I like to teach and help other people that’s what I think I’m doing when I’m just being that guy who’s going to help you fill out or ConBingo card.
So to mollify my need to pontificate, and to help myself get a framework of my own process for writing and editing, I’m going to work on a series of essays about writing that follow two basic tracks: The Reader’s Journey and The Writer’s Journey.
The Reader’s Journey is the creation of the writer for; the Writer’s Journey is the process of creating that journey.

I’m planning several essays and tying them together. Hopefully this can tie into my old Better Writing Through Reading series.

Hopefully this will help get me writing again.

Uncle Josh Metawrites was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh does the NaNoWriMo thing again

This morning the plan was to get up at 6, make a cup of coffee, and start writing for NaNoWriMo. My body decided that I needed to be up at 5:30, but I wasn’t aware of the time and after failing to fall asleep, got up about ten till six and made my coffee and managed to start writing by 6:08. Not bad.

One hour later I heard Stephanie up and about and so I called it a day and checked my word count: 1,714.

That had to be wrong. I don’t write that fast. Yes, I’m a fast typist but I average 1,000 wph when drafting. I have a new computer. It’s possible the program I’m using (Focus Writer, damn fine tool) wasn’t calculating it correctly. It’s possible something went wrong with the file. I opened it LibreOffice and it confirmed the count.

On the way to work, Stephanie and I went through the mental math to figure it out: I hit “flow”. I found that spot where I could just keep on writing at a steady pace without worry. We figured I was going at about 30 wpm, which is a slow typing speed. It’s maybe 2 to 3 keystrokes per second. If that pace is kept up and consistent, 1,800 words in an hour is feasible. The scary thing is this means if I was really on fire and really knew what I wanted to say I could get 3K in an hour, and that seems ridiculous. It’s the sort of thing that makes me want to do the math all over again.

30 wpm @ 5 cpw  = 150 kpm = 2.5 kps. (@ 6 cpw = 180 kpm = 3 kps.)

30 wpm × 60 m = 1,800 words.

Shockingly, this works.

I am taking a different tactic this year. Usually I start at the beginning  and crap out mid-way through. After extensive work with Mark Teppo’s Planning, Plotting, and Progress I have a pretty good idea of the pace of the novella and where things need to happen. This year I decided to start right after the midway point where the standard plot crisis occurs. I don’t plan on writing this thing in order, which should help solve my perennial problem of not knowing what happens next.

So, with a sample size of one day, I’m going to look forward to NaNoWriMo this year and I think I’ll have a successful year.

Uncle Josh does the NaNoWriMo thing again was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much