Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing Schedules

I did not have a schedule when I started writing. In the beginning I took the occasional boring evening to write, sometimes listening to music or watching television.  Then I started writing an hour or so each lunchtime, sparing fingers from the keys only to grab a bite of sandwich or sip a drink.  I produced my first thirty stories (two of which actually sold!) this way before I abandoned writing entirely.

When I did get back to writing about thirteen years later, I set aside a few hours each evening to simply write.  Only occasionally did I miss writing for at least an hour.  My pattern was the same for years; eat dinner, do family things, walk the dogs, and then write for a couple hours.  Because of the time constraints I turned out mostly short stories, although I did manage to struggle through a few novels that could have stood some more serious attention.

I cannot stress the importance of sticking to a schedule for writing.  A decent novel contains about a hundred thousand words.  That's less than three hundred words a day!  If you write a thousand words of crap and edit three quarters of it out you've accomplished your daily quota.  Anything more than that is a bonus.  Writing regularly also hones your literary voice, making your phrasing and styling more consistent.  Another benefit is that it allows you to maintain a steady focus on the story itself, holding everything in mind prevents missteps of timing, characterization, or "fact."

It also improves your typing speed.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Step Eleven of the Ten Step Process

I come back to the story after producing a diverting piece of work, ready to do battle with the thirty-two thousand word monster I'd left lingering in the recesses of my mind.  In the interim I decided how I want it to end and fully intend to now bend it to my will.

It sits where I left it, each scene glowing in all its color-coded glory, unknowing of the surgery I am about to perform.  After saving the draft I create a copy and begin to pare away all the gloss and glitter that was the result more of me talking to myself about the story (what we call the creative process - noodling, in other words) than informing the reader.  With the fervor of a berserker I hack away any scenes that do not directly impinge on the ending I want.  I use a little judgment and leave only those scenes that I believe are part of a logical flow.  When I finish after a few hours I discover that this has reduced the draft by ten thousand words - a good start.  Of course, I may want to restore some of that material later, but for now it's bye-bye.

The next step is to remove the parts within each scene that do not advance the plot. This is slower and requires more delicacy with the delete key but in the end manages to reduce the narrative by another six thousand really good, but unnecessary words that weren't relevant to what I'm aiming for at the moment.  I can call back what I need from my earlier draft, if I have to, so nothing is really lost.

Once again I dive into the text and word-by-word erase excessive adjectives, collapse gerunds, and do all the linguistic house-cleaning necessary to produce crisp, clean text.  This arduous process removes another two thousand immortal, and now unspoken, words and produces what I believe to be a final draft.

But is it done?  Is this really as good as I can get it?  The question haunts me for a day and then, unsatisfied that I have really done all I could to improve it, I decide to make one more editing pass.  Just once more, I promise. Once more. In this pass I add some of the deleted material, although not necessarily in its former location in the text.  Perhaps another pass before anyone sees it, I think.

On an absolutely final, final editorial run-through I still find places where I can tighten the text.  For economy of expression I convert exposition to explanation, background to dialogue, dialogue to exposition - whatever I think it takes to reduce the density of thought and crystallize the narrative.  In the end I am left with a little over fifteen thousand words; less than half of all that I've written.

And what's left over is enough over for another story, I realize.