Tag Archives: breath of stone

Tetris vs. Jigsaw Puzzle

Sand WordlsMy writing “process” has so differed from project to project, I can’t even relate to the die-hard pantser/plotter discussions anymore.  And really—when it comes down to it, a pantser is simply someone who plots in detailed prose, and a plotter is simply someone whose pantsing happens in a streamlined outline.

The writing process for Breath of Stone is, again, very different.  Tearing apart two novels, ripping out an entire plotline and set of characters, cramming everything that’s left back together into one volume, and making it all flow as if I’d always envisioned it that way…  And wow, holy shit, this is hard.

Outside of a couple chapter-here-and-there cases, I write my novels straight through.  Start to finish, I move between viewpoint characters, shift settings, and push forward the plot.  Everything is pointed toward That Scene – the one event/confrontation/exchange, usually near the end, that is the entire reason I’m writing the novel.*

But this time… I’m writing out of order.  Yes, yes, I know many writers do this as a matter of course.  I don’t.  So the fact I’m writing Breath of Stone one viewpoint at a time, start to finish, is a bizarre experience.  At first, I spent far too much time crosschecking while I wrote to make certain each chapter would fall into its perfect place, as if they were Tetris pieces falling from the sky faster and faster and faster…  It didn’t work for long.  Not even my Magic Index Cards could save me.

So now I’m writing chapters according to viewpoint as if I’m sorting puzzle pieces by color before attempting to assemble it.  No, wait, that’s not quite right.  It’s more like… carving brand news puzzle pieces to match the picture on the box, and I won’t know exactly how to make the pieces fit perfectly until…  well, until I try to make the pieces fit together.  Then it’ll be all about shaving an edge here, sharpening a corner there, and making sure I didn’t create a snore-fest sea of blue-sky pieces in the process.

And it should all fit within the single novel.

Aaaaaand that’s a goal.  Not a promise.  Hee.

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* I have a critical That Scene for the SheyKhala series.  It happens about eight years after Sand of Bone.  I’ve no idea if I’ll one day write the novel that includes That Scene, but it remains the distant point I journey toward.

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Writing Away While Away

I remembered to bring every writerly thing I might conceivably desire to use on my weekend retreat.  Alas, I forgot most of my food.  Clearly my priorities were in order!

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I took myself and one dog camping this last weekend, and chose a site right on the lakefront.  This meant I was a tent amongst small RVs, but the sites were large enough I didn’t feel as if they were right on top of me.  Aside from the repeated, “You’re out here by yourself?” disbelief, my camping neighbors were nice, and practiced that wonderful balance between being friendly and leaving your neighbors alone.  Besides, as you can see from the picture, you couldn’t beat the view.

Getting away from phone calls, business, internet, and at-home reminders of everything I could (should?) do other than write was the motivation for the trip.  With all the other things happening these days, I was finding it impossible to wrap my head around how to make changes to Breath of Stone’s original outline that properly and deeply incorporated the seemingly small changes to Sand of Bone.  I had trouble keeping track of the diverging and converging plotlines.  And I had to figure out how to keep the character arcs I wanted while considerably shortening the action arcs.

I am happy to report it worked.  It did help that, due to my food-forgetting, my meal preparations were no more distracting than heating a boxed soup on a Sterno stove (and that little thing is awesome!) and opening bags of peanuts and dried fruit.

The remainder of today is for a little writing followed by necessary chores and teaching.  The rest of the week is for plowing ahead before I lose momentum.  While it would be awesome to say I can finish the draft by the end of October, thereby clearing the deck for a possible NaNoWriMo attempt, that would require consistent 5K-word days.  Since not showing up to teach and ignoring my son aren’t viable options, I’m going to say that October 31 finish date is out of the question.

One the other hand, finishing the draft by the end of November isn’t unrealistic.  Let’s give that a tentative shot, hmm?

Added note: Younger me would have been affronted at the shock others had to find a woman camping alone.  Current me finds it amusing.

 

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On Making My Writing Time Matter

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Once upon a time, I wrote two to three thousand (sometimes four thousand!) words a day, in four to five hours, routinely. I thought nothing of it. I wanted to write. Stories poured through my thoughts. And my time was severely limited by caring for my infant son, managing the family business, and teaching the occasional class. So when I had a sitter for the afternoon, or an evening free of responsibilities, I wrote like mad.

Somewhere along the way, those thousands of daily words began to sound immense. Part of it was the paralysis of acquired knowledge—that second guessing of every phrase because you’re thinking of what the story ought to look like after it’s been edited and polished rather than thinking of just writing the damned story. Part of it was the internalization of the “appropriate” writing schedule as slow and measured. And part of it was the increasingly complicated life and schedule before me. A thousand words a day? Damn, that became a stretch.

Here is the contradiction I face today: I don’t have time to write slowly—not only because my writing time is slim and often broken, but because I can’t build the career I want on one book every twelve to eighteen months. But unless I quit all other work, including parenting and homeschooling, I couldn’t see how to make that happen. I just couldn’t get any umph in my productivity.

Then I read this post by Rachel Aaron on how she went from struggling with word count to producing anywhere from 2K to 10K words a day. Then I read it again. Then I set it aside and forgot about it because BUSY.

Halfway through revisions for Sand of Bone, after I’d had days of writing time that produced damn near nothing, I sat staring out the window and longing for those days of fingers flying over the keyboard, when life had been simpler and…

Wait a minute: life hadn’t been simpler at all. Different, yes, but still demanding of my time. So what was the difference, and what impact had that made on my writing?

It took a couple cups of coffee, but once I stopped looking at how I was different as a writer and instead looked at what was different about my obligations, it made sense. Before, many of my daily tasks involved work that was physical. Rocking a child to sleep or sealing and stamping tons of envelopes, cleaning the bathroom or sorting papers requires very little concentration, leaving the mind free to work on other things. So I plotted during those working hours, came up with character dialog, imagined settings and a cast of thousands. By the time I sat down to write, there was no staring at a blank page while I figured out what I was going to write. I already knew. I’d danged near memorized paragraphs from my imagination. The words tumbled out with excitement.

These days, I have few obligations that permit my mind to wander. I can’t teach an all-day seminar on classroom management while considering how a group of warriors are going to react to a change in leadership. I can’t run a karate class while figuring out the connection between an historical event and what a character sees in her dreams. I can’t oversee my son’s high school education while at the same time “rehearsing” the dialog I want to insert into a scene. And I cannot, nor do I want to, quit doing those things.

So I’m screwed, right?

That’s when I remembered the methods Rachel Aaron shared:

Here I was, desperate for time, floundering in a scene, and yet I was doing the hardest work of writing (figuring out exactly what needs to happen to move the scene forward in the most dramatic and exciting way) in the most time consuming way possible (ie, in the middle of the writing itself).

What she then shared as her solution was essentially what I’d been doing in those productive years, only I’d been doing it in my head as preparation for my constrained writing time rather than on paper. Once I smacked down my knee-jerk objection (“I can’t take even more time away from getting words down!” “Why not? You’re not being all that productive anyway!”), I set to work making detailed sketches of what I wanted to accomplish that day. The remaining revisions and new writings for Sand of Bone wrapped up rather quickly. Success!

Now I’m facing a complete rewrite/reimaging/slash and burn of what was once two very long novels into a single volume to follow Sand of Bone. (See picture above.) Since Side 1 of Aaron’s diagram seemed to be my personal key to increasing my productivity, I opted to look at how best to personalize her advice to my own method. So in addition to jotting down those points she suggests, I’m adding two elements I’ve discovered are my own stumbling blocks. First, I’ll come up with the chapter’s opening line. It might be the first thing I scribble down, or it might be the last. But that alone will eliminate Blank Page Syndrome.

Second, I’ll use the word “because” when writing down character actions and decisions, and answer that “because.” My poor skill at communicating character motivations is, I think, a very real and potentially fatal flaw in my drafts. I get so caught up in What Happens that I forget the readers aren’t privy to the characters’ Whys. Using “because” forces me to consider it, put it in the forefront of my mind, so I’m not then second-guessing (and thus slowing) myself during the writing process.

I refuse to take eons to finish Breath of Stone, but I’m not setting a firm date until I see how this new method works over the next few weeks. But I’ll whisper to you, my darlings, that I’d like Stone to be drafted and ready for betas by the end of June. Frankly, I’d like it done my Wiscon, but know revisions for Sand will interrupt things mightily.

Today is the start of writing for Stone. I’ve finished the plot overview, then expanded the overview into sixty or so Magic Index Cards. In a few minutes, I’ll pull the first card and set to work handwriting the larger details, the first line, and the because. While Stone will be an imperfect test of the process, it’ll be enough to go on.

Does this writing method match yours? Is it totally different? Have you found something that works well for you?