Losing steam near the finish line

I have been pushing for two weeks. Struggling the last couple days. Tonight I am calling it. My momentum on this work in progress has crapped out and although I am so damned close to done, I think I need to take a break.

I don’t want to write this anymore. Not right now.

For every paragraph I write, my mind is drudging up plot holes that need filling.

I still don’t have a perfect ending. And it’s the end.

I don’t even like what I’m writing now.

Now I will tell everyone who will listen the most important part of writing is to finish what you write. You can’t truly fix anything that hasn’t been completed to begin with. But when doubt starts to take over and nothing is coming easily, I have found that my best method is to just take a step back.

Wait for it to call again. Think on it. Work on something that excites you.

It’s not going anywhere.

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Pantser Writing

So if you’ve read my last post, you know that I strongly recommend outlining, especially if you want to keep a steady momentum and keep a short deadline. But the truth is, I don’t always take my own advice. I would like to, because when I have outlined my first draft comes easier and is much cleaner.

But stories don’t always work the way you want them to and this is the case with my current project.

A first chapter I wrote way back before I even had children sprang to life last winter, lurching out of the obscure recesses of my hard drive and demanding attention. I wasn’t quite sure where it wanted to go, but the feeling of it began to become clear to me and the characters started speaking.

One late night when I had to go to bed but was reluctant to leave it, I put together a working outline of where I wanted it to go when I picked it up the next night. And the next night, it went in a completely different direction.

I wrote a looser outline of how the story would end, leaving plenty of room for unexpected twists.

When I consulted it next time I hit a lull, I was completely off course.

This story wanted to remain a mystery to me. Writing it was like navigating a heavy fog. I could only see what was going to happen when it was right in front of me.

Some ideas stuck. Some twists I came up with at the beginning remain, waiting for their big reveals. The characters who popped out at the beginning have claimed the personalities that they presented with. But the story, insists on being written by the seat of my pants.

To be honest it’s kind of a mess. But it’s also pretty exciting. I’m still not sure who the villain is. I’m still not sure how the anti-hero will prevail. Or if he will at all.

Seat of the pants writing is not the easiest way to write and when this manuscript is finally done I am in for a whole lot of serious editing, which is not my favorite thing to do. Writers who are dedicated to pre-plotting and outlining may abandon stories that insist on veering so wildly off course.

In my earliest novels, seat of the pants writing was the only way I worked. And those novels are unlikely to ever see the light of day again, but some surprising and exciting ideas and plots came out of them, and this will be the case for my newest work as well. Only this time, I think (or hope) I have learned enough to be able to clean this up into something awesome.

There is no wrong way to write a book, except not to do it at all. A story will tell you how it wants to be written, whether it’s with disciplined pre-plotting or complete chaos. If you let it call the shots in the first draft, it will take the pressure off of you and will actually make the experience of writing it pretty fun.

Tell me what you think. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Have you have had an unruly story that just insisted on going it’s own way?

#NaNoWriMo : Some tips to get er done

I’ve tried to participate a few times and never quite made it. But you can learn from my failures.

If you’ve decided to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, first off, Congrats! It’s an awesome opportunity to stretch your limits and see what you can do. And you can do this, but the way is fraught with danger! Danger I say!

No, seriously, not danger, but it’s very easy to get off track and fall short of your goal. I know because I have done it myself. In fact I still have an awesome start to my NaNoWriMo manuscript from 2008 sitting on my hard drive, collecting digital dust.

But, I’ve also managed to churn out a few first drafts in a month’s time. Just not the month of November. If I wasn’t already 75% through a manuscript already, I would be participating in this year’s challenge.

So, get your work space ready. Decide that you can do this, and check out these tips to stay on track.

1 Outline

Seriously. Outline this story. You have already been told this so you might have done it in October, but if you haven’t do it now. It doens’t have to be exact. It does not need to be complicated, but having a framework to go off of, and a clear idea where the story is going will keep it moving. Whenever you start to feel the momentum slowing down, refer to your outline and move onto the next plot point.

2. Take advantage of the resources available to you.

One of the most helpful things I have come across in completing my work is having a writing community of real writers to bounce ideas off of, commiserate with, and tap for research. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of NaNoWriMo writing forums. Find one you like and use it! Often, just talking about your novel (with people who’s eyes don’t glaze over when you say “my novel…”) is enough to get the wheels turning again.

3. Turn off Social Media

We all know social media is the dark lord of time wasting. And your time is valuable right now. Don’t let the dark lord suck it away, even in your awesome NaNoWriMo forum, or you will be one of those people who is talking about the book they are writing instead of finishing the book they are writing.

4. Don’t edit it. Don’t even review it. For now.

No spell checks, no clean ups, NO REVISING. Just move forward for now. If you stop to read over everything you’ve written, you will be tempted to start fixing things. If you try to clean it up as you go along, you will never get done. Clean up later. Create now. Forward and not backwards. Even if you changed the MC’s name in chapter twenty.

5. Write every day. Every. Day.

Even weekends. Even Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be 5000 words, but try to write a paragraph if you have a busy day. Time off kills momentum and you need to keep momentum to finish this. Every day. I mean it. And yes, I mean you.

6. Have a life.

You can write a chapter a day and still grab a drink with your BFF, go on a date, re-watch all of Stranger Things. You should. Because writing is awesome, but you need to live to have stuff to write about and writing burn out is a real thing that will destroy your motivation if you let it. When your eyes start to cross or you are more stressed about what your MC is getting herself into than your latest work drama, take a breather. Just, you know, write first.

7. Take a Walk or just a brooding ten minutes

I need to write a post about my brooding breaks. They may be one of the most important parts of my process. I usually take one when I’ve completed a scene or a chapter and they allow me to collect my throughts, work through my transitions and start to piece together the next scene or decide it’s time to go to bed. It is imperative you get away from your computer to take a break. Go outside, take a walk, or just go sit in a different chair if need be, but no distractions, no phone, no TV. Just think, or brood. You will return to your manuscript fresh and ready to go on.

8. Outline.

Yeah, I know you thought it didn’t apply to you, but now you’re stuck in your story half way through and have no idea where it is going or how to get to the end from here. So take a walk and work out a rough idea how to get to where you want to go and then write it down. There is no hard fast rule that says you have to outline before you start, but whenever you find yourself stuck, an outline WILL tide you over until the seat of your pants starts flying again.

9. Accept the Suckage

First drafts are bad. It’s okay. I know you don’t want it to suck but the strong difference between those who can write a novel in one month and those who cannot is that the ones who do it accept that at the end of November they will have a completed first draft. It might resemble a flaming dumpster fire but it’s a flaming dumpster fire that can be edited into a diamond. If you try to make it perfect while you are writing it, at the end of the month you will have a beautiful twenty pages.

10. Love what you do

This is your story. This is your voice. It is important whether it’s a space opera about fighting vampire robots or a generational drama about American immigrants. Write what you love and love what you do. That authenticity will carry you and your work further than any other method you use to complete your first draft.

Good luck!