This week, as you probably know by now, the Eight Ladies are doing a series of linked posts on the topic of cold start processes–that is, how we get back into our work-in-progress after being away from it awhile.
The idea to do these posts started when my sister posted this video of Diana Gabaldon on Facebook and tagged me:
The video really surprised me, because my own cold start process is day-and-night different from Diana’s.
When I’m trying to pick back up after being away from a work-in-progress for a while, I figure out what scene needs to happen next and work on that.
So, while Diana is examining the way light falls on crystal, I’m thinking:
- Which characters are in this scene?
- Which characters have a stake in this scene? That is, they don’t just happen to be there, they have a goal to accomplish.
- What are their scene goals? The scene needs to have both a protagonist and and antagonist with mutually exclusive, or at least competing, goals,
- Next, I work on the beats of the scene. What will each character do to attempt to achieve their goal? What will the other character do or say to block them and advance their own goal? I try to identify at least three beats (attempts to meet goal).
- At this point, I’m ready to try actually writing. With this skeleton outline of the scene up on my secondary screen, I start letting the characters talk to each other on my primary screen.
- If my head is actually in the game, the scene generally takes a left turn as I write it. The characters don’t do or say what I have laid out for them. They have their own ideas. That’s how I know I’ve tapped into my creative side.
My first drafts are generally 90% dialogue. To be honest, my finished product is probably still 75% dialogue or body language. I go back in and add setting when my critique partners complain that they don’t know where they are.
So what happens when my patented technique doesn’t work? I go back and reread the manuscript from the beginning, tweaking. This isn’t my first choice because, as the manuscript grows, it becomes time-consuming.
What do you do?
When all else fails, you could try warming up the process with ‘a wee dram’.
Creativity is fleeting. Stories are ornery. Words are elusive. Writing is just damn hard.
Or so it seems on those days when the writing mojo is nowhere to be found. Diana Gabaldon refers to her approach to combatting this common writing problem as her cold start process, which she discusses in this clip. This week, we ladies are discussing our own cold start processes. So here’s Nancy’s guide to unsticking when stuck, in 4 simple steps.
Avoidance. When it comes to bad writing days, I’m a firm believer in an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. In other, words, I try to avoid them. At least, I do my best to avoid one of the leading causes of these creativity blocks: not knowing where to go next.
One of the things I found fascinating about the Gabaldon clip is that at the end, she announces that she realizes where her character is physically for the next scene. If I didn’t know where my characters were going to be for each scene of the next act, let alone the very next scene, I would spend most writing days crying in a corner. The joy that some creators find in writing in the dark and tunneling their way to their story would break my brain. It simply Is. Not. My. Process. Continue reading
It’s now February. Of 2018. February 2018. I need to sit with that for a minute, because I really can’t believe January 2018 has headed for the exits. But here we are, on the first Monday of a new month, and you know what that means: it’s accountability time, people!
As I prepared today’s accountability post, I scrolled back through previous posts on this thread, and realized I just started doing the First Monday accountability posts in June 2017. I recently heard the past year described as feeling as though we lived it like dog years – that 2017 felt like seven long years. So maybe it’s no surprise I thought I’d been tracking my accountability for well over a year, but nope, this is only the ninth time I’ve shared my monthly goals.
Perhaps a bit more discouraging, though, was Continue reading
Happiness is a warm fireplace. The new brickwork still needs painting, but you get the idea.
I’m a slow writer. Even when I’m well-rested, well-fed, well-caffeinated, focused, comfortable, with good light, and have an idea I can pursue, I’m unlikely to hit 1,000 words a day. My goal is 500. Usually I hit that. Some days I hit a little more. Some days, I regret to say, I hit less.
Despite the slowness of my pace, despite the “thought” and “care” I can theoretically put into my daily output given the time I put into it, on any given day I’ll delete half of what I wrote the previous day.
And sometimes—fairly often, really—things snarl up anyway. Just two weeks ago, I reported that I’d hit a wall with my WIP. I needed to work out the story question. That question answered, the “wall” that I saw two weeks ago is now just a distant memory, something that turned out to be merely a bump in my writing road, a problem solved quickly and almost painlessly.
In fact, lately I’ve been—for me—streaking along. I’m writing 600 or 700 words a day most days, and I don’t delete that much from day to day. Every day I have an idea. Every day I can express it. Continue reading
You’ve probably heard some writers say their books are like children. If that’s the case, my current WIP is definitely in the cranky teenager stage.
In it’s nascent stage, I was content to nest and let the story incubate, finally letting it hatch when I knew the idea was ready to come out of my head and onto the page. Then there were the heady, frenetic days of discovery, of getting to know this baby story, of giving it guide rails and parameters as it grew from a blob of words to a someday-could-be-a-readable book, in the form of a weirdly gawky and awkward (I will not use the word ugly!) first draft. Then I assessed and worked and sculpted some more, until I had a reasonably stable story world and through line. In that process, I’d weeded out some unnecessary subplots and exposed some minor plot holes. (And had begun to mix my child metaphor with a gardening one, but stick with me!)
So now my book is on the brink of adulthood. The story is pretty well-formed. It’s easy to see what it will be when it’s finished and where it will find its niche in the world. But there’s stuff still to be done. This is akin to the stage of parenting where we have to nurse broken hearts and teach safe driving and prepare our almost fully-grown progeny for life in the real world. But we’re so close. Easy peasy!
Said no parent of teens or writer of books EVER. Continue reading
You know how that journey begins: with just one step. While it’s a cliche, it can be a helpful one, especially when you’re staring down the barrel of a 100k-word novel, overwhelmed and blocked, ready to curl up on the sofa and get lost in ten hours of Netflix and a box of chocolate sea salt caramels. Not that anyone here has ever done that. (Ahem.)
I got a reminder of the importance of breaking down a long, difficult journey into do-able steps his past fall when I took a course called Get Your Scary Shit Done, taught by Jen Louden. We all need different motivators and encouragement at different points on our creative journeys, and fortunately for me, GSSD came at just the right time for me. I not only completed the project I’d identified for the 7-week course (writing an Act of one of my many writing projects), I finished early and started on the next mini-project (planning the next Act). As is often the case in a motivational program, it’s not so much that the material was brand-new, never-before-seen information; it’s that it was framed and organized in a way that made me use knowledge I already had in a different way.
I’ve recently returned to the 7-week course week to overcome the last mental obstacles I have in finishing my HFF series book 1 revisions. In the first week of the course, one of the core activities is Continue reading
So how’s the New Year shaping up for you?
I started January with a new challenge—deciding how to respond to my very first professional content edit. I’d previously seen the excellent report the editor, Karen Dale Harris, wrote for Jeanne’s The Demon Always Wins, so I knew roughly what to expect. That didn’t mean I was ready for it.
The overview/summary report alone ran to 24 pages, and covered everything from subgenre choice and the implications of that, to characters, conflict, plot, plot holes, world-building, language choices, inconsistencies…you get the idea. I’ll just say that it’s not a comfortable experience to have one’s every last choice subjected to such detailed scrutiny. Continue reading