The Countdown

The schedule isn’t quite the same, but I’ve managed to keep most of the workflow I used during NaNoWriMo going. It’s a little convoluted at times, but in a nutshell, it’s this:

Write.

Haha, alright- there’s more to it than that. There’s nothing special or magical about what I do when I need to write, and in most cases, it’s the act of setting out to write that affects whether or not I’m actually doing it. Making it a conscious decision, either because it’s in a particular place/time, or because I’m physically going out of my way to do it, that affects workflow. One doesn’t tend to accidentally write. You might get an idea while you’re in the midst of other things, but if you don’t have the means with you at all times, it’s very unlikely you’ll find yourself putting words to the page in the middle of the-rest-of-your-life.

You can’t just want it. Wanting a roast beef sandwich might get you really keen for it, but wanting alone won’t deliver it to your hands. You really want to write? Not writing leaves it at that – wanting to. Yes, we all have lives. Our lives are days on days filled with things we don’t want to do. Some days there’s so many of the things we don’t want to, that we can’t find a minute to breathe, and writing often needs the time in which to catch our breath and stare at walls and letting the story do its thing in our heads. We all have those days. A bunch of them pile up, and we lose the habit, and put writing off a little longer. We even get a splash of guilt. We’ve neglected the story.

Bad author. Nasty hobbitses.

Assuming a blank slate – and by blank I mean a horribly depressing slate of failure to write – here’s what you do.

Decide on your writing implements. For me, it’s pen and paper. During NaNoWriMo, I would occasionally use a tablet with a keyboard, or even a laptop if I wanted to churn through a lot of words. General practice for me is to go with a nice pen and a nicer notebook. Having the means to write is a necessity for writing. You can plan it all in your head, and it’s easy to think of that as writing (it’s definitely an extension of it), but until you’re putting the words into some quasi-permanent medium outside your skull, it’s not writing. Plotting isn’t writing. Method acting your way through a difficult scene is not writing. Getting blind drunk on cheap vodka and scribbling illegible poetry on the walls of toilet stall- well, maybe that counts. The point is to have a means to write. If you have a decent throughput of words using your phone to text, you can email yourself. If you have a pen and a study napkin, you can jot down smaller ideas/notes that could be a type of writing. They’re assists to the main event, which is – yup, actual writing.

Once you have the means to write, you’re physically capable of doing it. At this point you could just start, but I like to have some habits. The place doesn’t matter so much, so long as there’s a comfortable chair and I can write there. If there’s a table at the right height, that’s good. If I’m out in a park, I can sit on the grass and write with the book against my leg, or lying down, or whatever other permutation works. Some people like quiet, some want noise. I like music. I have a playlist on my phone, computer, and ipad that’s specially suited to whatever I’m writing. Putting together a writing playlist can take some time but it’s an investment. It’s spending some time now,  to make your future writing time more productive. If you don’t like writing to music, skip it. Otherwise, do it. Make one that you know you won’t be fast-forwarding every second song, that’s enticing enough for you to just write and drown out all the other distracting noises no matter where you go.

That’s all habit. Habit habit habit. Process goes a little further.

Once I have my reasonable writing conditions (sometimes that’s ideal, sometimes it still doesn’t feel write but I try anyway), I begin. I like to know the basic overview of what I’ll be writing next, though most of my writing has only a guideline of what’s to come. In the first draft especially, I use the act of writing as a way to discover new ideas or characters, letting myself be surprised while being hopeful the bits I do put down aren’t wasted. To know what’s to come, and to help smooth over the interruption of flow that comes with being broken up over time, I make lists. Everything is lists. Whether it’s the start of a novel, or the end, there’s a list somewhere that tells me the shape of things to come. Each list is only valid at the time it’s written, until I either change my mind and go off-plan, or when I write a new list.

Using a list started with my first NaNoWriMo. I planned out ten points that comprised a very generic version of the story. Some happened, some didn’t. Some of the points on the list took chapters to get through, and others were only a page. As I worked through my list, I took stock, revising what else had to be done. There were some ideas that were never used, and some that came out of the writing process. The number of points didn’t matter so much, but the existence of a list gave focus.

Whether or not I have inconsistencies in my storytelling, I don’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me, and I’d put it down to my process. I split what I do into chapters, and each chapter is comprised of a bunch of scenes. The chapters are generally about the same places, event, and theme. They’re comprised of a number of scenes, which I see as smaller one-or-two note events. Someone goes to buy a car. That’s possibly a chapter. The saunter around the showroom, furtive eye-contact with the sales rep, and then hesitantly moving forward – that’s a scene. The backroom dealings where panic sets in, that’s another scene. Driving off, nervous or distant from their situation, closing scene and end chapter.

The points on each list could be chapters or scenes, depending on how detailed they are. A vague one like “Show GM life” is a chapter, and open-ended at that. “Ernest gets an audience”, that’s a lot more specific, and definitely a scene. If through writing, I find some extra potential in the scene, I follow it. I go through and see exactly what there is on offer, what unexpected wins could add to the story being told, and go with it. Sometimes there’s nothing there. If that’s the case, I’ll cross out what I did and go back to just before it went awry. I might rewrite exactly what I had that I still want to keep, or I might veer toward new words in the hope they’ll take the story somewhere I want it to. The same applies for a scene that I’m following the plan for. If one approach doesn’t work, cross it out and try brand new words. Go poetic if a terse version of the scene doesn’t resonate, or spartan if the choice of words feels overwrought.

Right now I have what is one of my last checklists of what’s left to happen. There were fourteen on it, and I’ve crossed out two. Of the twelve left, the immediate four all happen within the same time and place, and the same general characters. It jumps a little after that, but the wrap-up is on the way. Just to give myself an added push, I’ve numbered the list, counting down. I wrote the number thirteen down the other day, and wrote through that scene mentioned above (getting an audience). Once it was done, I wrote down the number twelve. While I’m still in that (and the related) scenes, I know the next number I write on the page will be lower, and closer to the very last scene that needs to be written. I also have a bunch of handwritten pages I’ll need to type up and add to the electronic version, which is currently sitting at 66,664 words.

It’s possible the countdown won’t progress smoothly. New ideas could happen that require a new list, that add more points, or that stall the countdown by a point that warrants further exploration. The certainty is that the list, known or unknown, is a thing with a definite end point. I know the last scene of For More Than Earthly Ends, and its on the way. With some luck, but mostly determination and ACTUALLY WRITING IT DOWN, it’ll be done before the month is over.

Whatever comes after that is a whole other checklist.

2 thoughts on “The Countdown

  1. Firstly, now I want a roast beef sandwich.

    Second, this is a great post and I found myself nodding with almost every paragraph. We have similar habits of using a pen and paper and even making playlists for what we’re working on.

    I often find that making a playlists or using Pinterest for inspiration for projects. That way even if I’m not writing something that day, I can still kind of fangirl over my own work for awhile. Taking the time to do that really helps inspire me on the days I do sit down and write.

    1. One thing that always triggers my “GAH, I NEED TO WRITE” nerve is not being able to. Sometimes that’s because of other responsibilities, but sometimes it’s research, or reading a book on writing. Once I’m finally through it, it’s like I’m at a starting gate, about to run.

      Love hearing that others do the same, especially with specific playlists. It was only a few hours after I posted this that I saw comments from/about another writer along the same lines, which is always reassuring.

      Fanning over your own stuff is something special, isn’t it? 🙂 You almost want to thrust in people’s faces and say “I wish you could see it like I do. It’s so… perfect.”

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