Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Newsflash: Writing is Hard

In the last year or so, I've become extremely interested in the process of getting a book from the brain to the shelf. From inception until a reader cracks that bad boy open, what does it take to get that book made? My Twitter feed is crammed with authors - both traditionally published and self-published - editors, and agents. I read tirelessly about publishing and marketing, writing advice and author branding. It's a fascinating time to be interested in publishing because the old model is convulsing in agony and multiple new models are trying to take its place.

At the beginning of the month, Kathy talked about participating in Camp Nano - it's NaNoWriMo in June instead of November. I decided to give it a try, because you can read about something forever but you'll never know what it's really like until you put on your Big Girl pants and just do it.

After a week of work, I am here to drop some knowledge on y'all:  Holy shit, writing is hard.

via stuffjournalistslike.com
In order to 'win' Camp Nano, you have to get out 50k words in 30 days.  That's 1667 words per day. That sounds like a lot and it really is. However, that's not even close to all that writing a book entails. Much like walking into Mordor, one does not simply write a novel. It's not like you go, "Hey, bro, gonna write a book today" and BAM, words just get on out there. You have to figure out what you're going to write about. Also, who the hell are these people in this story? Why do they care? Where are they going and why? There's all this thinking and planning that has to happen before the writing.

When I got serious about doing this book thing, I decided to approach it with as structured a method as possible. I am a huge process whore - I love steps and flows and decision points - so I hunted down the most process-oriented writing approach I could find and went with it. (Yes, I am that girl who clapped her hands and bounced with joy when the teacher wanted us to outline something. Don't judge me.)

Jim Butcher is a man with a plan. A formula, if you will. He organizes everything just so and he always knows exactly where he's going. His advice on how to write a book resonated with me because it is just so damn process-driven, and yet his books don't feel formulaic. They have an even pace, never retread ground we've been over before, and both the character and the story are always moving forward. Butcher never dithers or gets lost in his own cool story and after reading about his writing process, I totally get why.

I took his advice and applied it to my Big Idea. I immediately found that I didn't know quite enough about where I wanted to go to plot it all out to such a granular level. I knew my Big Middle and I knew my Fabulous End. But I wasn't sure where my beginning was. (Is that weird? It seemed weird.) I took refuge in the process, and I wrote a blurb for each of the scenes I knew had to happen. How did I know they had to happen? Because I kept going back to Butcher's process. Scene: Goal -> Conflict -> Setback.  Sequel: React -> Review -> Plan. Rinse, repeat. Before I knew it, I had a ten thousand foot view of what I wanted my book to look like.

It turned out that the beginning was where the first scene started. This makes sense because, well, duh. You wouldn't believe how much I agonized over that, though. OMG HOW TO START? For like two hours. Because you only get one chance to make a first impression, so it has to be good. Incidentally, when someone tells me "just start at the beginning" I will no longer be inclined to throat-punch them. I totally get that now.

Also, research. You know how I talked about the thinking and the planning? There's also the requirement of knowing what the hell you're talking about. I knew I wanted my heroine to be a family advocate for missing children. She's kind of the Hispanic Elizabeth Smart. I have read so much depressing shit about abductions and Amber Alerts and statistics regarding deaths and recoveries and response times. I now hate all people. Even something small like the name of the airport my gal is at has to be looked up. A million little pieces of research pop up and that leads me to the biggest challenge so far...

My brain. Won't. Stop. Fidgeting. I should check Twitter and hey look what Kim posted on Facebook a few minutes ago and SportsCenter oooh top ten plays wow soccer guys are hot and I don't get why Lebron thinks the Heat will win so handily and look at that dog isn't he cute I love this commercial it's so funny watching Malkovitch talk to Siri and... Say, wasn't I supposed to be writing?

Hai thar.
The kissing cousin to brain-fidget is distraction. I'm in the same room as my boyfriend and he's playing Diablo 3 with four people from three different countries and they're talking on Ventrilo in an amalgamation of two different languages at volume ten. Trying to concentrate on anything when someone is yelling in Cantonese five feet away from you is an exercise in futility. In other distraction-related news: My cat.

I'm going to have to make some adjustments to my life to be able to make this work. Move the computer, leave my phone in another room, leave the TV off. Prioritize, concentrate, focus. These things are harder than they sound.

Like starting anything new, there's definitely a period of adjustment here. I have to carve out the time - uninterrupted, quiet time - to do the work. Having the discipline to do that is going to be a tough sell to my easily distracted brain. I guess I thought making the words would be the hard part. It turns out that the hard part is everything.
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  1. Wow, his process is really, really . . . organized. I feel like a slacker.

    Good luck with the book!

    1. Organized is one word for it. ;)

      I guess this was the way he learned in school, but I also think it has to do with him being a gamer. When you're putting together a campaign, you really have to think about how you're going to get your players to all the cool stuff you want to show them. Prodding people from point A to point B to horrible death in a dungeon isn't all that different from leading a reader.

  2. Laurie, try this for some anit-internet-distraction-tactics. I learned a few things here. http://hugs-and-chocolate.com/2012/06/08/tools-to-trick-yourself-to-productivity/ There is also Ommwriter which you can google. It's a writing tool that blacks out your computer desktop...plus some. There is a free version, and it works well.

    It's a rewarding process once you get rolling. You can feel it coming together and it will motivate you.