Friday, July 6, 2018

Why when my treadmill dies, I'm buying another one

My treadmill: an oldie but a goodie
It has been interesting how my writing process has changed over time. I’ve always approached every writing project with an idea of how the story was going to end. Sometimes I have an outline but usually not. Looking back, I can see some constants: a title tends to come to me first followed by the main characters. Over the last two years, I have found that the book cover is my most inspiring starting point. It follows on the heels of the other two constants. The cover acts as a focal point I can return to as I progress through the story.

Book 1, Standing Stone Series
My second series, Standing Stone, had its covers before I even started writing. The same has occurred with my third series of books (Solstice Dragon World) that I’m working on now. Each Standing Stone cover provides a key character and the stone that is the crux of the story. In the case of SDW novels, it is the main character and the location where key events take place. Each of these covers help ground my writing and are designed to give my reader a sense of the story. I feel with the covers done, I am certain the novel has a developed core. 

I have a contemporary story with about 18,000 words, no cover yet. It’s been sitting for three years. I know the characters, the title and the end point moment. I think I need that cover. I have a space opera: 30K words. No cover. I don't want to admit how long its been sitting. It really needs a cover.

Knowing the ending is very important to me. I don’t need to know the details, just a key moment that will test the main character and bring them out the other side of a conflict, and even that is mutable. It becomes my north star. I may tack numerous directions on my way to it, but having that fixed point in the back of my mind keeps the story rolling. I can ask myself, “How does this relate to that? How does this decision ultimately lead the character there?” I find the answers on the treadmill.

Writing itself has changed for me as well. The treadmill has become a source of inspiration and direction. While striding along, I can focus on one question, one scene, one direction that needs development. Nothing else will interfere. My husband isn’t going to show up to talk to me. He respects exercise too much. My time on the treadmill is set, so there’s no getting off which can sometimes create an urgency in me to write as soon as my time is up. 

Since I exercise every morning before I head to my job, that urgency has is flaws, but that impetus to write with a fully-developed idea gives my writing direction and flow even if I have to wait to write until that evening or after a mound of grading. It is an appointment I feel I must keep because I know being on the treadmill will result in a better first draft. It is also my best opportunity to go over a scene numerous times and realize what I missed or how I can incorporate more character or plot development. Of course, there is the added positive of keeping me in shape since writing means I’m sitting in a chair often for hours at a time.

I talked about change in my writing, and I have mainly covered what I do now. So what was my approach in the past? 

The past:

  • An idea would come to me. I’d sit down and write. Then stop where my idea ended.
  • I’d lay down on the couch and think about a question, such as "How is he going to deal with his daughter’s unwillingness to talk to him?" Fifty percent of the time, this resulted in an unplanned nap.
  • I would have a title and a vague notion of how the character was dealing with a situation or causing a situation 
  •  I'd sit at the computer and hope more words were going to come soon
  • I would develop when I redrafted, slide in side stories and look for inconsistencies
  • Writing a novel was a yearlong process
  • No cover
  • A working title (very much subject to change)
  • Ill-defined characters, setting and plot that took a lot more work to develop and clean up
  • One novel at a time
  • One book a year and a full-time job

VS the present

  • An idea comes to me. I get on the treadmill and walk (fast and on an incline: don’t want you thinking this is a walk in the park :) ) and hash out the idea, Socratic method.
  • I write through the developed scenes (after that visit to the treadmill)
  • Title, character with backstory and fully-fleshed appearance and behaviors. Distinct main conflict and side conflicts. 
  •  I’m at the computer to write, not sit
  • Development occurs in process, daily, a much more recursive process that results in a better first draft
  • Redrafting occurs daily and is more about layering in deeper description, searching out inconsistencies, clarifying, and copy editing in an ongoing approach (more about this in another post)
  • Writing a first draft of a novel takes a month and a half, average word count 90K (summer time writing – six months during the active school year)
  • A cover (changes subtly over time, but the main concept is set)
  • A title (still may change but rarely) 
  • Well-defined characters with greater depth, setting is full of sensory details, the plot is organized and part of a greater series
  • Three novels in development and linked together by plot, setting or characters
  • 3+ books a year and a full-time job

I’m pleased with the changes and enjoying how it makes my writing better and though nothing makes writing a novel easier, this process does make for better flow and direction to my writing, which, after all is said and done, is what makes writing an enjoyable activity. This is why my husband will say, “I know you want to write today and you enjoy that, but can we do something fun together?" I can walk away from the computer not feeling like I’m losing my “special time with my story” to my “special time with my husband.”

That's why my treadmill isn't going anywhere. It takes my writing where I want it to go. So what fosters your creative side? Tell me in the comment box below, and it doesn't have to be about writing.

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