First drafting: elegant as a drunken duck

Baby Elisabeth with Daddy
Bub liked the hike. Then again, so would I if hiking meant a perma-hug!

So it’s been a while. Mostly because we’ve been having all sorts of baby adventures – sleep school, family visits, and even our first tiny family holiday. (Including a picnic at Hanging Rock, from which everyone returned, possibly because no one in the family is called Miranda. Phew. What a relief.)

As the capacity for schedule – and scheduled working time – returns our household to sanity, I’ve been cracking on with the first draft of my next project. (It has various titles. “Minion: a musical comedy” is what I’ve called the pinterest board. “Rabbit’s guide to ruining your own life” is how I’ve jokingly referred to it. When I’m trying to sound like serious business, though, I call it “Deadlands”.)

I’m now about three-quarters of the way through the first draft. This is a great point in a story. It’s where the finale comes looming into inescapable view, and all of those big, hefty story elements that have been built by the story come seamlessly and elegantly together.

Of course, this is just the first draft, so things are about as elegant as a drunken duck. Instead of coming seamlessly together, my story elements are still wandering the wilderness, or asleep on the job, or in one case completely non-existent (oops). This is the point where I realise that that subplot should have been going differently all this time, and that subplot needs to have started way earlier if it was going to end up over there. Not to mention that two characters who’ve never spoken need to have a fraught relationship, and my magic physics need to work differently.

For me, this is the most difficult point. It’s tough enough to keep the inner editor quiet while I slog through a complete draft, but when things are such a mess, she really starts hollering. And I’m so close to the end anyway, right? I can see how it all goes from here. So surely I could just take it as written that I finish it off and, like, stop now and fix all this hideous mess.

Except it’s not written. It’s not finished. And I know from experience that there are still plenty of twists in the final quarter that can change everything. And there’s little more frustrating than spending another month fixing everything so it’s perfect up to this point, only to find that when I progress into that final quarter, there’s something I couldn’t have realised would mess up everything that I’ve just fixed.

There’s nothing for it but to haul on the metaphorical gum boots, wade through the mess, and sticky-tape things together into an ending.

(“Then you can fix it,” I whisper to my inner editor, as she cries in a corner. “Then you can fix it all.”)


Writing this week: 26th September 2015

This week I… didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I did manage to write every day – yay – but some days it was only a couple of hundred words. I only managed half a chapter all up, which is a bit demoralising. Considering-just-giving-up-until-after-baby demoralising. But that sounds like a great way to achieve nothing and feel terrible about it, so enough of that nonsense.

Next week I’m looking to… keep up the every-day-writing habit. While I would like to do better than I did last week, if I plug at that long enough, even a few hundred words a day start to add up.

On which note, I’m going to relax my demands on myself a little and not have a “I want to do X much” this week. Anything I get will be good. Let’s just do the best we can.

The weather is also getting a whole lot nicer. Maybe I should look at some outdoor writing sessions. Gets butt in chair and it’d be good for my vitamin D.

Writing this week: 19th September 2015

This week I… did a bit better. I’m settling into a last-few-weeks schedule that includes napping (v. important) which is making it easy to nail down some other routines. Putting at least one word to paper every day, I managed to finish off the chapter that’s been plaguing me, with significant satisfaction about how most of it turned out. Hooray!

Next week I’m looking to… consolidate on and continue this progress. Daily writing is a goal yet again – I want to nail that habit down, even if it will get completely messed up by arrival of baby – and I’d like to complete another chapter this week, possibly two if I can manage it. If I do hit Thursday (or even better, Wednesday) with a chapter completed, then I might cheat slightly to accomplish the second. Deadlands has two strands of story – the present time and the pertinent history – which are alternating in the telling. I’ve been alternating in the writing as well, because this is such a strong “told” book (it’s first-person, conscious narration, very much a “I am telling you this story” style) that I wanted to build the two parts side by side as I went. But it does require a certain mind shift – even if only that one is present and the other is past tense – that can interrupt the flow a little. I might skip over the other storyline and write two chapters in the one arc if that becomes an option.


Writing this week: 12th September 2015

This week I… really didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I suppose it’s to be expected, as the pregnancy gets to the really-not-pointy end (I am so cumbersome; baby is so prone to bulge) that things are going to be more time-consuming, impedimenty and nap-prompting, but it’s still a little annoying. After my mammoth Tuesday (no time for writing), Wednesday became about follow-up housework and napping, and Thursday was more involved than expected as well. I did manage to get back into actually putting words on page, though, and have about half of a chapter written. I’ll take whatever I can get – some words are better than no words.

Next week I’m looking to… continue getting at least some words down. I have errands or appointments on every day, but nothing enormous, so hopefully I will be able to at least get a little bit done very day. That daily habit has been key in previous productive phases of work, so I’m keen to establish it. (My personal experience being that establishing daily habit is harder than growing said habit once established.) I’d like to finish this chapter that’s had me stuck for so long, and be in a position to be considering the next chapter over the coming weekend so I’m ready to launch into it the following week.

Writing this week: 5th September 2015

This week I… finished my scene outline, as scheduled, all except for the one scene where I got hung up that sent me back to the planning board. I don’t know what it is about this thing that makes it apparently so impossible for me to come up with the details, but it just isn’t coming. I’ve tried edging up on it from all sides. I’ve made lists of considerations and elements. I’ve thrown everything aside, stopped thinking about it, and let my subconscious simmer. But I’ve still got nothing. Time to get out the big guns: discuss it with the Mister.

All the other glitches and problems identified in my planning have been solved and folded back into the scene outline, so once I get this one nailed I feel pretty good about running through a first draft. Which is good, because I’m now on a definite deadline: baby is due 13th October, and that’s if it cares about punctuality. I’m well aware that I could go pop any time. (“Have you packed your hospital bag yet?” the midwives keep asking. “What about now? Pack your damn bag already.”) I’d like to have the first draft of this project more or less done before routine and getting stuff done become the topics of hilarious nostalgia for a while. So with that in mind…

Next week I’m looking to… start writing. I think my ideal pace is going to wind up being two scenes a day (~2000 words) but I’d like to give myself a chance to ease into it this week. Not to mention that Tuesday’s going to be a challenge – I have a double driving lesson, a doctor’s appointment and a childbirth class – and Thursday might be tricky as well, since it’s earmarked for taking care of the last of the baby shopping. I’ll aim for a scene every day except Tuesday, which means by next weekend I should have a chapter done.

Provided, of course, that between us the Mister and I can solve my little details problem. *glares at it*

Writing this week: 29th August 2015

This week I… was somewhat interrupted by an unwell Mr Dee, but still managed to get a fair amount done. My goal was to scene-outline Deadlands, and while I’m not quite finished, I’m nearly there.

In the process, I’ve uncovered a few more need-to-solves (which are highlighted for now on the outline) and a few more bumps in my initial chapter-outline that I’ve smoothed over at a scene level. These include places where the flow of story from one chapter to another looked good in brief summary, but once I teased out the details just wasn’t going to work. A few twitches see it put right. Payoffs for getting a little more detailed: now those glitches are solved before I get to the writing – or closer to it, because I’m sure I’ll find more as I write. It’s also been handy to note how often supporting and lesser characters are reoccurring. A brief note of “Events happen” having now been teased out into a more detailed description of what sort of events, and how they happen, I can see that character X and character Y are involved in the story a lot more than I had been expecting. This is good to know from the outset, so I can develop their details and relationship with the protagonist and other characters from early on – the more I do now, the less I have to try and wrangle in during revisions.

Next week I’m looking to… finish the scene outline, and solve the outstanding problems. Update my world-and-plot wiki as needed. In short, make sure I have everything I need to write smoothly once I get going. It’s tempting to push myself to get back to rough-drafting next week, but I want to make sure I don’t skim or skip over the problem-identifying and -solving parts. It’s tempting to do, because that’s the hard stuff and my brain is like water, seeking the path of least resistance. But that’ll just land me back in Stuckville further down the track, so I need to do the hard yards now.

Writing this week: 22nd August 2015

In a bid to both track my work and goals, and keep things ticking over here on the blog, I’m going to start a weekly check-in for how I’ve been going, and what I’m going to try next. (Weekly for now, at least. Everything, of course, is open to renegotiation after the Baby Event takes place and my entire life gets turned on its sticky sleep-deprived ear.)

This week I… largely took a breather. Early on I put in some solid sessions on Notorious Sorcerer to take in some final alterations that had been prompted by discussions with second-round readers, and to smooth out some bad line-by-line habits I’d noticed in my writing, preparatory to sending the manuscript out in response to requests. All the better to engender said requests, I sent out another batch of queries – though of course practically nothing will be happening in spec fic publishing land for this week and probably next, as Sasquan swings into merry and much-watched action. (I’ll be watching the ACO play Mozart and Brahms at Hugos time, which I am absolutely fine with. Especially since every time we go to classical concerts I ponder more on that novel idea I once had with duelling sisters, magic violins and chamber music invocations.)

Having done all that good work, and in the spirit of giving my brain a little time to recover, I largely took the rest of the week off. Off writing, that is. I still had a driving lesson, an antenatal class, an editing workshop class, a date with a double batch of cookies, an appointment to make a will and Friday night drinks-dinner-and-a-movie arrangements. (Gattaca, with a discuss-the-science panel afterwards. Still a great little movie!) But there’s been plenty of time around (and often on the way to and from) those things for napping, reading, pondering, playing and generally letting my brain get its mojo back. So next week, it’s time to have at it.

But have at what? That’s been the other thing I needed to sort out this week: what was I going to be working on next? There’s the YA fantasy with jinni and pirates and craft beer (The House of Truth and Lies) that I rough-drafted for NaNo last year; that needs some major revisions, and plotting for its sequel. I feel pretty good about this one for a lot of reasons, but it’s definitely not a standalone (since it ends on nearly a literal cliffhanger) so I’ve never been sure it’s a sensible thing to work on when I might still be looking at my debut novel. And then there’s the really weird fantasy (Deadlands), with radioactive poisonous magic and a protagonist who’s unapologetic about having been the recently vanquished Evil Overlord’s minion. I was trying to first-draft this for Camp NaNo in July, but various other opportunities delayed my progress, and then I hit a big roadblock in the fourth chapter from having not planned sufficiently beforehand. So I’m currently feeling a little bruised on this one (though I do have a good 12k words already down).

In the end, it came down to timing. Before mid-October (and Baby Event) I can probably manage to finish my planning and get a complete rough draft of Deadlands. Then it’ll go in the drawer anyway, so it won’t matter if I don’t even manage to pick up a pen again until February. But even being optimistic about my working rate, I can’t manage a full round of heavy-lifting revisions on HoT&L before then, and it’ll irritate me no end if I have to start all over again later. And so…

Next week I’m looking to… finish a full scene-by-scene outline for Deadlands. I’ve already got a chapter-level outline, but having already hit one roadblock, that’s obviously not detailed enough, so I’m drilling down another layer of detail. (My scene outline for HoT&L ran to fifteen pages for thirty planned chapters, but it meant I barely paused once in rough-drafting that, and I’d like to avoid my roadblock behaviour – where I flounder around for a few days trying to decide if it might be better to skip this scene and write on in the hopes of figuring out what I need later, but not doing that because I know that’ll just leave me with more holes later. Solve all the problems at the outset, and it’s easier to power through.)

Now, let’s see how I go. :)