Writing Faster

A couple of weeks ago when I posted my lament about not finishing my work in progress any time soon at the rate of one hundred (or even three hundred) words a day, several friends recommended that I download an ebook by Rachel Aaron called 2,000 to 10,000. As it happened, I found the book waiting on my own Kindle, where it had been sitting unread for over a year. I have a lot of books on my Kindle.

2K to 10KAaron includes a number of excellent suggestions in her short (65 pages or so) book (long essay?) based on blog posts and articles. Quite a bit of what she says rings bells for me, but perhaps the most important was If you want to write faster, the first step is to know what you’re writing before you write it. When she sits down to write, she spends at least the first five minutes planning what she’s going to write that day, sketching it out on paper or computer, phrases, lists, bits of dialog, whatever helps her formulate the day’s writing in her mind.

I, on the other hand, usually sit at my computer and squeeze out one sentence at a time. My road map of late has been very limited, and I’ve been leaning too heavily on the one hundred words a day mantra. Clearly I need headlights with a longer reach if I’m going to stay on the road. So I thought I would adopt Aaron’s practice and see if it helps.

I think it will, but what really helped this month—and numerous times in the past—was a deadline.

A contest I did not enter because I did not have a synopsis at the end of August extended its deadline to September 15. I had used the same contest back in 2011 to kick myself into plotting the second half of Bathtub Jinn and writing a synopsis. The manuscript was not only a finalist in that contest, but the plotting and synopsis enabled me to finish the book in time (barely) for the Golden Heart deadline, and it was a finalist there, too.

So I adopted the contest deadline to plot the second half of the story I’m working on, and it worked. I wrote the synopsis yesterday and sent the entry off this morning. Whether or not the manuscript makes the cut in this contest, I now have a seven-page road map for the rest of the story, and whatever publishing path I decide to follow, I should have this tale finished by the end of the year. Three months or so doesn’t seem unreasonable now that I know where the story is going. I hate to say how long it has taken me to write the first half—I’m not sure I even know.

I still don’t think I could sit down and plot an entire book before I write it. It takes me quite a bit of writing to discover my characters and see where they want to go. Maybe that will come some day. Right now I’m balancing somewhere around the middle of the panster/plotter continuum. If I’m ever going to write more than one book a year, I may have to drag myself, kicking and screaming, further toward the plotter end of the scale.

The subtitle of 2,000 to 10,000 is How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love. Sounds good to me, especially the “what you love” part. If you’ve really having trouble writing, Aaron suggests, you may be writing the wrong story.

Bell: Write Your Novel From the Middle

James Scott Bell has been my favorite writer-on-writing for some time now, and I have his full-length books from Writers Digest (Plot & Structure, Conflict & Suspense, and Revision & Self-Editing) on my shelf. I recommend them all (and should re-read them myself). Bell has also Write Your Novel From the Middleself-published several shorter works, including collections of online articles and blog posts.

The latest of these is Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers, and Everyone in Between (available for Kindle and Nook). Bell begins with a quick look at Plotters, Pantsers, and Tweeners, at the “Death Stakes” for characters (which may be physical, professional or psychological), and at the three-act structure we’ve all tried to wrap our brains around (Bell adds two helpful “pillars” to the structure, which he also calls “doorways of no return”).

Bell doesn’t really recommend starting your novel at the mid-point (although I suppose you could if you are a far better plotter/outliner than I am). But he has come to the conclusion, based on a wide assortment of well-constructed books and movies, that each contains what he calls the “look in the mirror” moment, the point at which the protagonist takes stock of herself, and considers who she is becoming and/or what she must do. Call it the pivot point in the character arc. This moment at or near the middle of the story can pull the entire novel together and tell you what it’s really about. And once you have it, you can write/plot/outline in either direction. The Mirror Moment is the halfway point between pre-story psychology and transformation.

There’s more to it, of course: details, explanations, and lots of examples. And Bell has added some extra essays, including his views on Showing versus Telling, and an analysis of what makes a page turner, based on a 1953 paperback original suspense novel.

Writing Your Novel from the Middle is short, but it’s packed with information and ideas. It is available for Kindle or Nook, and Amazon also offers a paperback version.  James Scott Bell blogs regularly at The Kill Zone.

Recent Reading

I continue to buy books faster than I can read them (that’s material for another post), but I’ve managed to finish a few in the last month or so.  About ten days ago my ancient air conditioning system died, resulting in an unexpected day off (and a very large replacement bill).  While men crawled around my attic with power tools, I sat on the couch and read Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen, a fascinating and thoroughly readable book.  I finished it with a new respect for the quiet, dedicated and very competent way Elizabeth II has played the hand she was dealt, and more than a glimpse of the woman under the crown.

Also in non-fiction, I enjoyed Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York’s Greatest Hoarders, An Urban Historical, by Franz Lidz, which I downloaded one day when it was the Amazon special.  Lidz mixes the story of the famous Collyer Brothers with that of his own Uncle Arthur in a short book with a long title.

My craft-of-writing read this month was also on my Kindle, Holly Lisle’s Mugging the Muse.  I reviewed it for the Houston Bay Area RWA newsletter here.

I’m delighted to report that Amanda Stevens’ The Kingdom is every bit as good as the first Graveyard Queen novel, The Restorer.  This one takes Amelia to the dying town of Asher Falls and a whole new cast of characters, and away from Charleston and John Devlin, but she returns to both in the next installment, The Prophet, which is waiting near the top of my To Be Read pile.

On a much lighter note, I thoroughly enjoyed Elaine Viets’ latest Dead End Jobs mystery, Final Sail.  I’ve followed Helen Hawthorne’s adventures since she first went on the run from her greedy ex-husband in Shop Til You Drop (2003), so she and the other denizens of the Coronado apartments are old friends.  In this outing Helen works for an exhausting week as a stewardess on a private yacht, while her husband and detecting partner Phil poses as several different people to investigate a possible murder.

Last night I finished reading Zoe Archer’s Skies of Fire, the first in a new Steampunk series, The Ether Chronicles.  Airships, big explosions, the fate of the British Empire at stake, and a hot romance.  What more could a lover of action, adventure, and alternate history ask for?  This was the first recent Steampunk novel I’ve read, although I still have a copy of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine (1990) on my keeper shelf.  I also have several new Steampunk volumes on my TBR shelves, and on the coffee table (you definitely want this one on paper!) Jeff Vandermeer’s The Steampunk Bible, a gorgeously illustrated book in which literature seems to be something of an afterthought.   This is a subgenre that interests me as a reader, and perhaps as a writer, but that needs more exploration.

What have you been reading lately?

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