Saturday, June 04, 2011

Three Authors Who Helped Me Finish My Novel. (What? Didn't I Tell You? It's Done!)

Originally published at Absentminded Author, v1.

I got a phone call from my mother yesterday. "Douglas, what's this about you finishing your novel? I read about it on Twitter."

Whoops. Yes, indeedy, I finished my novel by my June 1st deadline. I tweeted about it on both my accounts, interacted with folks on Facebook about it, then put it mostly out of my mind.

I've kicked around some titles, thought of what my next project would be, thought about future blogging and podcasting, then promptly forgot to let you folks know about this amazing achievement. And I forgot to tell my mother, too.

Oh, and my wife learned about it from my Facebook page. And here I thought I was tooting my horn too much online.

Many people have requested that I share the manuscript with them, but that's not going to happen at this stage. I learned long ago not to show unfinished art & articles to people simply because they couldn't see what I had yet to chisel out of the first rough draft. The first sketch or draft is often high in concept and low in execution. In the case of #snkrz, it is so rough I don't even have a title for it yet.

What I can share with you is the author advice I followed to get to this point.

  1. Carol Lynch Williams: I called Carol last December in a discouraged slump. I knew I wouldn't make my December 23rd goal, and knew I had written myself into a corner. I mostly called to commiserate, but she had some fantastic things to say. Firstly, she told me all authors have a problem with the "murky middle" where the euphoria of the world setting and character building has ended and the actual work of how the story unfolds and resolves begins.

    I had assumed that I might wander off due to distraction somewhere between the beginning and ending of my novel. I hadn't thought that the work might be intimidating. It was a relief to learn I wasn't alone at this stage, and that it could be easily overcome.

    Lastly, she assigned me homework to write a 3 sentence summary of each chapter. Until this point, I was trying the organic, non-outlined approach, but my grasp of my story was so slight that I either got lost or I kept changing things. It was an ADHD nightmare. I finished the summary in time for Superstars Writing Seminar a few weeks later and discovered something: I really like outlines. A lot.

    Yes, the guy who needs ToDo lists in order to remember what to buy at the grocery store needs outlines to write novels. Sometimes, epiphanies aren't striking because they are mind-opening. Sometimes they are striking because of how stupid we suddenly realize we have been.

    With an outline I could suddenly write in smaller sessions, squeezing them in all over my schedule. I didn't need to be immersed in hyper focus to get work done. The outline already provided focus, but it wasn't so detailed that I felt constrained or bored.

  2. Kevin J. Anderson: One day later after discovering my undying love and adoration for story outlines, I attended the Superstars Writing Seminar. Kevin was one of the superstars and he shared his 11 Tips for better writing. I've written before on my other blog about how instrumental they were in changing how I approached my work. Shut up and write, dare to be bad at first, know the difference between writing and editing, and use every minute. I had encountered this advice in various forms before, but his succinct list helped me see the advice anew. It made me work smarter. (Read more of his tips here)


  3. Dave Wolverton/Farland: Dave's Kick in the Pants newsletter is always full of fascinating insights and advice, but one day in particular he wrote of how artists create amazing artwork from the merest of sketches. He wrote of how the artist sketches out the piece on the canvas, then reworks it and reworks it in stages of greater complexity until the masterpiece is complete. He related that to working a manuscript. I don't think I've ever done any masterpieces, but having been an artist all my life I was struck by the simplicity of the suggestion that my novel could be constructed the same way. In tandem with Kevin's suggestions, a great weight came off my shoulders. But more importantly, I suddenly understood the stage of the first draft in a way that empowered me to complete it, as opposed to being intimidated by it.

As with most things in life with me, when I flounder it is usually because I have no image in my mind of what I'm supposed to do. Once I know what to do, I leap in with enthusiasm. That is exactly what I did with #snkrz.

I have been working on #snkrz since 2009 when it was a picture book called "The Secret Life of My Cat, Sneakers". I took one year to write a picture book and convert it into eight awkward chapters. Once I had a roadmap, however, I drove out the other 60% of my book in under half the time. I know that future projects will be even faster.

So, I finished a book. Yay, me! Now to write a short story as a break before July 1st and then dive into #snkrz' 2nd draft. My goal is to have a polished book ready for sharing by the end of the summer. You don't need to wish me luck. I've got this covered.