Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Cat-Bird Stole My Afternoon, And I Don't Care

I have just devoured Dog-Man And Cat-Bird.  I was supposed to be grocery shopping, and I don't care.  I was supposed to be baking buns, and I don't care.  Hell, I was supposed to be doing my own writing, but again, I don't care.  Because for the past 14,000 words, all I've cared about was Cat-Bird.  All I wanted to know was how and what now and oh god, why can't you see what's really going on here?  Yes, ok, I yell at characters in the hopes they'll figure it all out before it's too late.  I do it to the TV.  I do it to my characters too.  It's only because, even for a little while, I really care about them.  And like I said, I cared.

And now for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about here, I'm talking about the first story in Chuck Wendig's new short story collection Irregular Creatures.  Now that you know about it, go buy it.  If you already knew about it but haven't bought it yet, what's stopping you?  No Kindle?  Amazon doesn't like your method of payment?  Do what I did, contact the Man Himself through his website, send him the monies through PayPal and he'll send you a PDF.  Nothing easier.  And I'm not just saying this because he has those incriminating photographs of me...

Ok, I'm done.  For now.  Chances are I'll report back as I read the rest of the stories though, which I am very much looking forward to doing.  Until then, happy reading and writing, folks.

My Writing Process: Making It Up As I Go Along

Just based on process alone, it's painfully obvious that this is my first novel.  I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I started, or what I was getting myself into.  Hell, it started more than anything as a writing exercise.

It all started when this character with the unlikely name of Michael Pariah wandered into my head and politely requested that I write him down.  And so, not knowing any better, I did.  The whole first chapter was just me getting to know him.  (The fact that I've since completely cut that chapter is beside the point.)  I was just writing. I would write when I felt like it, and I'd often have to read what I'd already written to remind myself not only what was going on, but what kind of voice I was using.  I'd also edit.  A lot.  I was committing that most heinous of all writer crimes: editing as I went.  Honestly, even after I'd heard about it I thought I was above that rule.  I'm not, and neither are you.  I'd ask you to believe me, but chances are you won't until you've figured it out for yourself.

Well, between the long breaks and the constant editing, it's really no wonder that my novel fell by the wayside for over a year.  Even though I had begun to get an idea of the plot instead of pantsing it completely, I was storing it all in my head and losing momentum.  Other things got in the way, and I'd made it far too easy for these other things to distract me.  That is, until I noticed this intriguing little Twitter hashtag: #NaNoWriMo.

I'd figured out through context that it had something to do with writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, and thought, what the hell.  I've got that Michael Pariah thing sitting around doing nothing, might as well pull that out and see what happens.  It was already a couple of days into November when I finally found the official NaNoWriMo website, found out it stood for National Novel Writing Month, and joined up.  I found out that there was a whole community involved in this, and a local branch with in-person writing sessions that I resolved to take full advantage of.  This began my second writing phase: writing every day.  I still had my outline in my head rather than written out in any way, but I was keeping up momentum and I wasn't editing as I wrote.  I also began reading a lot more about the craft of writing, most notably at Terrible Minds, a blog by the brilliant and bizarre Chuck Wendig.

Did I win, did I beat the NaNo challenge of 50,000 words?  No.  But that wasn't really my goal.  My goal was to finish my first draft, a goal that (I thought) I had accomplished.  The fact that I'd only finished the first plot-arc is a post for another day.  The upshot here is that I got into the habit of writing, and writing every day.  I'd take my laptop on the bus with me, I'd plug in a few words before bed.  I was writing and I was reading about writing.  And eventually, when December rolled around, I started actually plotting.

Admittedly, I still follow a pretty loose format for my outline, more a series of progressions per character group of this action leads to this action, each one indented further than the one before until it looks like way too many nested replies in a forum thread.  Some of it still reads pretty vaguely, like: →Possibly by becoming Timoth's property as well, pulling a Michael? Perverse... Potential. Need to plot on this...  There's also a lot there that can only really be understood if you're living in my head, but it gives me something to refer to, something to give me a direction.  I've also been noting what scenes I've already written, and in what order so I have a better idea of where I left off and what plot-line to pick up next.

Is it a perfect system?  Hardly.  I'm still learning as I go along, but the more I do the more I can fine-tune my process, and what I do have now is in part thanks to reading the advice and experience of others.  Who knows, maybe by the time I write my second book, I'll actually know what I'm doing.  Until then, I'll be doing a lot more reading, and a lot more writing.

How about you, what does your process look like?  Is there anything you find particularly helpful?  Has your process changed much since you started?  I'd love to hear about it.