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Shifting gears

My inner critic is confused.

For the nearly six months I was working on the first draft of The Polaris Uprising, I kept her locked in a room, with nothing but jigsaw puzzles and Angry Birds to keep her entertained. Occasionally, I’d let her out to take a whack at a particularly egregious typo (I couldn’t let her muscles atrophy, after all–I needed her in tip-top shape when I unleashed her for the editing process), but for the most part, I was pretty disciplined about keeping her in that room, no matter how many times she’d bang on the door and beg me to unlock it.

But then the editing process came, and I set her free, and boy did she have a field day. How she mocked me with her cruelty and hinted I was a hack writer with flat dialogue and repetitive phrasing and plot holes the size of Rhode Island. I bowed to her whim, fixing everything I could, pouring out blood, sweat, tears to get to a draft that was a far cry from what it was when I first typed “The End” (ok, I never actually used those words, but you get my meaning). It was a grueling process, but one that brought me results I was proud of, and when it was all over, I thanked my inner critic for all her hard work, and then…

… forced her back into the room and locked it up again, because I had a new first draft to write as I begin book 2.

She’s in there now, whining and pouting, calling me all sorts of nasty names. I can hear her still. The thing is, she had a taste of freedom, and she was enjoying it a little too much. Now she’s back in her room and the jigsaw puzzles ain’t cutting it, and she wants out again.

See? Confused.

That’s the thing about switching gears. You get used to one thing, and you start to get proficient at it, and then you change things up again, and it’s like starting at the beginning. In theory, I know it’s not the absolute beginning; I know I’m starting from a far stronger foundation than I did before. I know this world. I know its people. I know the story inside and out, backwards and forwards. I’ve constructed a story structure that’s very sound, mapped out a character journey that’s compelling and (hopefully) moving. And yet, all my inner critic can focus on is the crappy words I’m producing right now, and she’s sure letting me know it (even from way inside her locked room).

It took me a while to get good at learning to ignore her. I suspect it’ll take me just as long this time, too. Beginnings are especially hard; it’s where I struggle most in a story (once I get in my groove though, man, there is no stopping me!). But the only way to get through it is… to get through it. Just keep hacking away at it. Eventually, she’ll get bored and go back to putting together those puzzles. She’ll leave me in peace to just get this draft down, knowing I’ll let her out eventually so she can have a field day with it. I’m in those negotiations with her right now.

Until then, it’ll be painful for both of us.

At least until I let her out again temporarily after I get my editor’s feedback on book 1 and need to shift gears again back to editing mode–boy that’s going to be fun. But then, back in she’ll go, and hopefully she’ll give me a good 5, 6 months of harassment-free writing.

Pardon me if I stall out a few times as I get back in the first draft mode...

Pardon me if I stall out a few times as I get back in the first draft mode…


Back at it again…

I’m about to start training for my 6th marathon this weekend. So it seems somewhat fitting that earlier this week, I began training for another kind of marathon: writing book 2 of my Polaris trilogy.

As you might have gathered from the previous statement, yes, I did finish The Polaris Uprising! Woohoo!! It was amazing to cross that finish line, of course, but I did end up celebrating quietly because I realized that my true “finish line” isn’t completing the manuscript; it’s seeing it in print. Seeing it in bookstores, on e-readers.

So until that day, I will hold my “celebration to end all celebrations” — although I will hold on to the feeling of accomplishment for getting to this point at all because let’s face it, the path to get here wasn’t easy either!

You might be wondering why in the world I’m plunging back in again and embarking on a “new” marathon. After all, some of you may remember my story that when I finished my first marathon, I was telling everyone left and right I would never, ever, ever do another one of these things again, and if I ever spoke of another one again, I gave people permission to call me crazy.

5 months later I ran my second marathon.

See where I’m going with this?

I love challenges. But more importantly, I love challenges that come from things that give me passion. Writing, like running, gives me tremendous passion. This story gives me passion. These characters, this world give me passion. I’m not ready to let go of them yet, and I want to tell their whole story — and until then, it won’t feel over to me, and I’ll keep running these marathons.

So as I start that terrifying, frustrating, but ultimately thrilling journey of writing the continuing saga of Ryla, Alanna, and Owen, I can’t help but think how fortunate I am that 10 months ago (almost to the day, in fact), a little seed of an idea took hold in my brain and wouldn’t let go. Whatever happens and wherever the road takes me with these guys, I will always be grateful for the privilege of writing about them.

Now onward with the “training”!

Back to this again... mapping out the key storylines for book 2!

Back to this again… mapping out the key storylines for book 2!

Searching for Superman

When it comes to plotting a novel, I seem to always want to leap tall buildings with a single bound. But the reality is, there’s a lot less leaping and a lot more eking out. Progress is made bit by bit — sometimes millimeter by painful millimeter. And I do mean painful.

Well, maybe it’s not all painful. I mean, it is — there’s no denying that — but the process of plotting/outlining also brings with it a lot of joy and giddiness. There’s nothing quite like the magic of making those unexpected discoveries that transform your story. Those little gems you uncover always make up for the dirt and gravel you have to sift through in order to find them.

So maybe not being able to leap tall buildings isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not if leaping them means missing the nice landmarks in between those buildings.

Plotting is foremost on my mind right now, since I’m in the thick of the outlining stage. I naïvely thought that it would take a week or two at most, and then I’d be ready to dive right into writing the first draft. Maybe a few months ago, that might have been the case, but since then, I’ve gotten a lot more disciplined about trying to establish a sound story structure before starting my first draft. And while I’m convinced this is absolutely the right thing to do (and I can already see it paying dividends!), I’m also adjusting to the fact that… it’s hard.

Like, hard. 

Did I mention it’s hard?

It’s like trying to use a new muscle I’ve never really used before. It takes a while to strengthen, and as we’ve established many times before, I have very little patience. There I go wanting to leap tall buildings again.

Part of the difficulty I’m having is translating the story structure to the actual scene creation. Using Larry Brooks’s fantastic Story Engineering, I was able to come up with my key story milestones — a feat in and of itself, because this is the first time I’ve attempted to do this for a novel, and it’s made all of the difference in truly solidifying the story for me. Now I thought that identifying these 9 story milestones would make the process of developing the actual scenes super easy. A reasonable assumption, no? After all, I’d now identified my 9 buildings — shouldn’t I be able to just leap from one to the other with apparent ease?

Um… not quite.

I have  been able to develop the scenes much more easily than I did before I adopted this method, yes. But I’m still left with big gaping holes where there should be scenes, and of course, they’re in that dreaded “middle” part of the story, where details always seem to be murky for me. I tend to have a good vision of the beginning, a good idea of how the story will end, but the middle part… scary territory.

If I were working on a movie, I’d probably have more than enough scenes to work with now. Screenplays are like half marathons (hey, there’s that running analogy again — I just can’t seem to get away from those :)); the progression is similar to a full marathon, but fundamentally, there are just fewer miles. It takes much less time to your halfway point and much less time to get to the finish line.

A novel, on the other hand, is much longer than the average screenplay, and just as a full marathon has twice the number of miles as a half, a novel has about twice as many scenes as a screenplay, too. Which means more scenes to develop. Gah, it’s enough to make my brain freeze up.

Just as I’ve completed every full marathon I’ve ever run, I know I’ll get to my finish line with this, too. Millimeter by millimeter movement may not be the same as leaping tall buildings, but it’s forward motion, and having run 5 marathons, I know that any kind of forward motion (I don’t care if it’s running, walking, or crawling!) will get you closer to the finish line. One way or another, you get there.


index cards

Scene gaps are no fun. But the only way to get rid of them is to keep chipping away at them.