The State of the Novels Address

That is the absolute worst title I have ever come up with. Moving along…

I haven’t written about the novels recently, and as I did say last week that I would write about those, that’s what I’m here to do. You’ll forgive me if this isn’t the smoothest flowing and most polished writing I’ve ever done. I’ve been writing for most of the day. I can actually hear my brain fizzling.

I’ve hit a wall with my current novel. It hasn’t stopped me, but I’ve definitely come to a point where, as I’m writing, I think to myself, “What’s the point in all of this? What purpose does this scene or this event even serve in terms of overarching themes, etc. How does this contribute to the grand scheme of things?” I’m very consciously aware of the fact that I’m over-writing, but I just keep pressing on because, at least theoretically, it’s easier to cut than it is to augment. It should work that way in theory, but it’s not always so in reality. I’ve added about 5000 or so more words in the last week. I’m just not sure how many of those will make the final cut.

Perhaps we haven’t all heard some variation of the warning that you’re never really safe knowing a writer, but I’ve begun to understand why that’s true. Or at least kind of true. Now, before all of my friends swear me off and run away, just sit tight. I’m not committing libel here. I’m not slandering anyone. I haven’t caricatured anybody. It’s just occurred to me as I’m writing these scenes and fleshing out these characters that sometimes they seem familiar to me because I’ve observed those qualities in the people I know. I know I’ve said before, though, that my characters are more like composites than anything else, so fear not, friends and family. Some of my characters are just, well, kind of stereotypes too. But I want them to be stereotypes for a reason.

One particularly difficult day last week, I felt like I just couldn’t do anything else with this story until I backed away from it. The temptation to make it personal was becoming too great — and by that, I mean that I wanted to commit libel, slander, and caricature people who were, in general, just really irritating me. I had a Taylor Swift moment where I thought, “Hmm, I can really make you suffer by writing about you.” You know, as though all of the people who were bugging me were actually going to read it and be offended. This is what happens to me when I get stuck.

So I let that story go and I…. (are you ready for this?) …. I went back to the first novel. I didn’t actually do any writing, but I took a really big (and time-consuming) step in overcoming what it was that was really preventing me from working on it further.

When I wrote the first novel, it was done completely in Word (well, actually it was done in OpenOffice’s word processing program, which is essentially … Word). The second draft — the one that I’m working on now — was started in that same program. As a refresher for old readers and a heads-up for the n00bs (yep, I just went there, too), I’ve been writing the second draft of my first novel by actually going back and re-typing the entire manuscript, which I edited by hand on a printed copy. I’m re-typing it with those edits, but as I go, I often find things that I’ve missed or want to change, so it’s like a bonus edit. When I stopped working on the second draft of the first novel, about half of it was complete (which, because of the nature of the narration in that novel, was about 33 chapters so far).

For the second novel, I started using a program called Scrivener and now I never want to type anything in Word ever again. Way too boring. Scrivener allows me to fill out character and setting sketches. It allows me to create index cards for each scene. Then I can rearrange those later in a much easier way than, say, when I decided there were three chapters of my first novel that all needed to be moved around. Scrivener allows me to keep notes on each scene. It compiles everything into .PDF for me. It tells me how many words and manuscript pages I have and how many paperback pages that equals. Check out the website for more reasons to love it. There’s so much you can do with it. It’s not just for fiction either. It’s got screenwriting functions, as well as resources for if you’re writing nonfiction or academic work. It’s really a very powerful writing tool.

So after using Scrivener for the second novel, I was having a ton of trouble putting myself in the frame of mind to go back to Word. When I decided that I needed a break from Novel #2, I decided instantly that it was also probably time for me to just suck it up and convert Novel #1 to Scrivener.

It took HOURS.

I had to import the document, first. Sure, it was only half of the novel, but it was still 160-some pages by that point. Then I had to create 33 chapter folders (the rest will be added as I continue to re-write). In each of those folders, I had to create a space to paste the text. This wasn’t difficult work. It was just so time-consuming. I wanted everything to be organized because … well, that’s just how I am. Then it was time for cutting and pasting. The chapters in that novel, again, largely because of the narration (there are multiple points of view), all serve as scenes, so I didn’t break the chapters down any further (at least not yet. The chapters in novel #2 are broken down quite a bit because there are several scenes in each chapter. There are also subsequently fewer chapters). Once everything was copied, I told myself that the few hours I’d spent doing that were good enough and that I could stop.

But I’m way too anal retentive for that.

So I went through each of those 33 chapters and wrote chapter summaries on the built-in index cards for all of them. This took another couple of hours, but ultimately was completely worth it to me. It had the extra benefit of forcing me to re-read each chapter, even if just quickly, so that I could refresh my memory on what was happening there. I used to never understand why, at rock shows, artists would forget the lyrics to their own music. Now it makes perfect sense to me. Not only that, but on the way through, I caught a couple of typos and things that are to be expected when you’re staring at a manuscript and not watching what you’re typing.

By the time I finished doing all of that, it had taken about five hours total. Scrivener then decided to praise me for my diligent work by crashing on me. After seven minutes of four-alarm panic attack, I found that everything had been saved and restored, and all was well. Don’t let that deter you from trying the program. It’s really great.

So now I’m trying to get back to that plan of balance that I had going into November. With the pressure off of me to produce 50k words in 30 days, it seems more reasonable that I could do both at the same time. I have this idea for where I want to go and an approximate time frame that I’m giving myself to complete X amount of work. With other things that I’m writing (cover letters, blogs, etc.) and a possible part-time temp job coming up, I’m going to really need to push myself (and allow myself to be pushed) if I want to reach that goal. Game on.

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