Friday, March 01, 2013

Work-In-Progress: February

The Goal: Finish a complete first draft of a novel by the end of 2013. 
February Progress: Shaky plot, lack of interiority, too many ideas. In other words: still at the beginning.

February was an interesting month as far as novel-writing went. My biggest chunk of progress occurred in the early weeks, because I handed in what was, at the time, the first 84 pages of my novel for workshop. The workshop went well, or as well as a workshop on a large section of a rough, raw, half formed novel idea can go. I learned a lot of things from the comments I listened to and the letters I received, and got some excellent ideas on how to move forward. I also took a visiting writer workshop with Cristina Garcia, which was really helpful. Instead of a traditional workshop, where we each hand in a short story and get feedback from the class, we embarked on a series of small projects - exercises and short pieces meant to "cultivate chaos" and challenge us creatively. I got a few promising starts out of the class, and towards the end, used the exercises to explore different aspects of my novel. There was one exercise in particular that was really helpful, and I plan to use it for all my characters - I'll post about it in more detail soon.

To sum up February: a lot of what I felt sure of is no longer certain, which is an exciting yet frustrating place to be. I still feel like the book is 95% potential, and I'm ready to move past that and get to the writing that will stick.

To that end, I've decided to write an Actual Outline. As of today, I'm officially on spring break, and since I'm not going to AWP and am working a total of 20 hours at the wine store, that leaves plenty of time for figuring out what the hell will happen in this book. So far, I've been writing without knowing what comes next - letting the characters talk and amble around the page, seeing what they say and do, and then following their lead. And while this is an excellent way to get to know who they are, it can only be productive for so long. It's time for me to step in and push the characters in the desired direction.

The good news is that currently, I have characters I know fairly well. I have conflicts that are simmering and about to explode. I have the place where the story will begin, and a good sense of where it will end. I just need to figure out how to get my characters from point A to point B. The problem is that novels are really complicated - I never realized how complicated until I started trying to actually write one. There is so much to keep track of - plots and subplots, protagonists and secondary characters, worlds and sub-worlds, themes and conflicts. Simply opening a word document and typing means that I lose too many things in the shuffle of electronic pages. I forget ideas I had twelve pages ago, I write the same scenes two or three times.

This morning I downloaded a free 30 day trial of Scrivener. It's a novel writing program that's supposed to help you organize your book and get your first draft written. I've heard good things about it from some writer friends, so even though it sounds gimmicky I'm going to give it a try. I'll be sure and review it at the end of the 30 days.

As for the month of March, my plan is as follows:
  1. Finish a rough outline for the novel by the end of spring break (March 10). 
  2. Write ~25 more pages - try not to revise too much. (This is a difficult thing for me to avoid.) 
  3. Meet with my thesis director by mid-April to discuss what I've got and where I plan to go. (We got our thesis committees in February, and I am very happy with mine.) 
  4. Write when I can until the end of April, when the semester ends. Gather research when I don't have time to write. (Classes and teaching make this tricky, but I will do what I can.) 
  5. From May 15th until classes start in August, write 2,000 words a day, most days, until a (very rough) first draft is complete. 
  6. Revise and rewrite, restructure and rework, and make the draft go from very rough until sort-of rough. And do whatever else my thesis director tells me to do, because he is a genius and I trust him totally. 
That plan went just a little past March, but I guess I'm already in outline mode, so I won't complain and neither should you. And now, I have to write this novel walk the dogs. Hey, I'm just keeping it real. 

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