Beyond the Midnight Mountain re-outlining
Simi draft 3
National Novel Writing Month is in November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I've never participated, but I did my own Novel Writing Month in September. I drafted my book from start to finish in 53,456 words in 30 days. I later went back through and added a few details and fleshed out skimpy scenes, and counted that as still the first draft, so in the end the draft was about 60,000. Decent for a first draft. My target for the book is about 80,000. (It has no title yet. The placeholder title is Simi.)
It helped that I outlined the book in August. I wouldn't succeed as a pantser. I wouldn't come up with anything decent. When I wrote Beyond the Mountain I knew the whole story beforehand, but didn't know what I was doing, and pantsed my way through it. The pantsed parts weren't so great. For Simi, I outlined as much as I could beforehand. I highly recommend Janice Hardy's Outlining Your Novel. She has you brainstorm a lot of aspects of your story, and the exercises have you write a lot down so you can see where you have gaps. (I also tried Libbie Hawker's Take Off Your Pants. It seemed okay for writers who already have a pretty good idea of their plot, but it doesn't take you through any brainstorming. I'll give it one more try on my next book.)
It also helped that I was on a time constraint. For Beyond the Mountain, I researched as I wrote, and it took me about 8 months to write the first draft. For Simi I wrote first, and now I need to do a bit of research to fact check and add setting details. I hope doing it this way won't take as long. Rather than researching everything and seeing what I can fit into the book, I'll be researching only the things I need to know.
Now comes revisions. There are a lot of books and websites dedicated to plot, structure, character arcs, writing fast, letting your first draft be sloppy, theme, and writing style. But I haven't seen many on revision. Revision for me usually means staring at the screen and knowing what my problem is, but not knowing how to fix it. And without a time constraint (why is there no NaNoRevMo?) it's easy to procastinate. Fortunately Simi had a pretty clean first draft, so that's a step forward already.
I'm getting closer to publishable-ness with Beyond the Mountain as well. I've had one round of beta readers, and I know where it needs work. Now to figure out what to do about that.
"Write what you know."
That's the advice a lot of beginning writers hear. But if we just wrote what we knew, our characters would too often have our hobbies, live in our hometowns, and never do things we haven't experienced. Writing what you know limits fantasy, horror, science fiction, even historical fiction if we're not historians. It restricts most of us us from writing about doctors, lawyers, mental illnesses, horses, Peru, farmers, being rich, living in poverty... you get the idea.
(But at least it lets you write a choking-on-swamp-water scene based on the time you almost drowned on Dr Pepper at Qdoba because someone told a fart story.)
So my modification of this advice is:
"Write what you know. If you don't know it, learn it."
And to learn, we research. Sometimes we have to research very specific topics or questions that don't always get us answers. Sometimes we spend an hour looking up names for grey, because we've already used ash and hematite, and the characters have never seen steel or concrete to compare a color to. And sometimes, we make weird searches and hope no one sees in our browser history that we Googled "man shave face how often."
So in the name of getting details right in my fiction, here are some searches I've made while writing Beyond the Mountain, of varying levels of weirdness. Not all of them even made it into the later drafts of the book.
My book Beyond the Mountain is in the beta reader stage now, and I'm exploring ideas for my next project. I'm simultaneously suffering from not enough ideas, and too many of them.
I have a basic setting in mind, with some characters, and two or three premise possibilities. I don't think I can combine them and still have a cohesive story, so I have to decide on just one premise. Yet, whichever I pick, I don't really have ideas where the plot can go from there. I'm afraid of picking the wrong one, and spending all that time planning/writing something that doesn't work out.
I know from experience that I work best without a plan--as in, I actually get words written if I just jump right in. When it's only an idea on a brainstorming list, I'm afraid to get too invested. But when I'm actually writing in the story, it's easier to just pick something and go with it. However, that doesn't mean the words are any good.
I'm afraid of "pantsing"--jumping in without a plan--because Beyond the Mountain was a mess to edit. But so far outlining--looking at a whole story at once--is overwhelming.
I want to get something written, but I don't want it to be rushed and crappy. I want to take my time, but I don't want to base a writing career on publishing one book every few years.
Another dilemma is the length. I want to write a novella, both to sell, and to offer free to readers who subscribe to my mailing list (once I get that going). But I also want to get started on another novel. I'm afraid of starting on a novel, knowing how long the first one has taken--I want to get something finished and added to my backlist. But I'm afraid to write only a novella--what if it has novel potential, and I use up a great idea on something shorter?
I've decided more than once that I'm just going to sit down and write a few short stories. Maybe some will spark into something longer, and those that won't will at least be something I can give readers. I open my notebook or my laptop, and then close it again.
Maybe my well is dry. I've been done with BTM's major edits for a couple months now, but still, the process of doing it all again is just so daunting. I was lucky writing BTM, in that I already had the entire story in my head a long time before I decided to write it down. I want to do that again, know the whole story ahead of time--plus, now I have a better grasp on structure, pacing, and cohesiveness.
Ideally, I'd have several ideas brewing so that when I finish one book's draft/edit I can move on to another without a long unproductivity gap in between.
I feel frozen. I'm trying to get a newsletter started, but I don't have a lot of content or updates to offer subscribers. A lot of people say to start a mailing list before you're published, as early as possible, but until I'm published, why would anyone want to subscribe? They say to offer a freebie for subscribing, but I don't have one yet. I thought about offering visual content, like illustrations of my characters or landscapes, but I got out my drawing pencils and remembered I haven't done pencil drawing in 7 years.
I won't hire a cover artist until I'm just about ready to publish, so after it's formatted and the trim size and spine width are figured out. That will happen after an editor has been through it. That will happen after I find enough beta readers that I feel confident moving on. It's not a process you can rush. (Oh, and the editing-formatting-cover happen after I have the money to pay professionals. Eep!)
Right now, I just want to get one step closer to something.
I recently finished, printed, read, and made notes on my third draft of Beyond the Mountain. It's both exciting, and scary. Exciting, because it was the finish of a (very large) step in the process, and a change in routine is always a bit refreshing. Scary, because now I have to do it all again, another draft--each draft seems like it should go faster, yet I still work slowly, and each draft puts more pressure on me to get it right already.
This time around is a little different from the ones before. Now someone other than me has read the book. It wasn't an ideal situation, since I gave her chapters a few at a time as I finished editing them, which happened much slower than I'd anticipated. But at least I know a few little details that might confuse readers, and I know that my story isn't hugely flawed or stupid.
By now I've figured out my characters, world, and events well enough that there won't be so much of that to agonize over during edits anymore. But I do need to tweak the pacing, and right now I have no idea what edits that will entail. I'm trying to back up the beginning of the story and add a scene before the events I already have in the book, but I work so slowly, staring at the screen and wondering why words don't come. It's been this way at least for the past 2 drafts, and I keep hoping it will get easier. Some days I remind myself that writing is slow and hard, and the process is different for every author. And some days feel foolish for ever believing I could turn this into a career.
I write because I have to. Now that I've started I can't just drop it and let this story (or the others in my head) float around forever unfinished. Crafting characters and cohesive plots is rewarding. But it definitely isn't easy.
First, writing is hard. And slow. I've been writing my current novel two years now. I'm nearing the end (I hope) but I know I have a least one more round of editing and beta readers, before I begin the process of publication.
Here are some more things I've learned about the writing process:
Some things I've learned about myself specifically: