Developing the Novel… the class and the reality…

I’ve mentioned here before that I like to write stories. Basically what happens is my imagination comes up with all sorts of ideas for stories and characters and worlds. Then I more or less do nothing with those ideas. I have started a few “novels” — but after about 10k – 20k words, I quit and move on to something else, always meaning to get back at it, but never getting around to it. Until I started taking classes at UC Berkeley Extension, I never really finished any of my stories. And, as many great writers will tell you (here is Neil Gaiman telling you), the first rule of writing is FINISH YOUR SHIT (to quote Chuck Wendig).

And so, as I posted earlier this week, I recently set out to FINISH something I started. Just one thing. And this would have the bonus of being something I needed to do for the class I started last week — Developing the Novel I.

What a cute little plan. I should have known better.

Here’s how it went…

Day 1: okay, I’m home late from class and I just wrote a blog post, but dang it, I’m going to get those 600 words in before midnight. I can do this! (result = 710 words)

Day 2: As soon as I wake up, while I’m getting ready to hit the pool, before the sun is even past the horizon, I start thinking about when I am going to squeeze some words in. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I may need to plot out what happens in this next bit. I remember I have a book on how to outline a novel and I dig it up on my Kindle and start reading on my way to work. Immediately I’m hit by a desire to STOP EVERYTHING and create an outline. I already have notes. I need to organize those notes. I need to create MORE notes. I need an OUTLINE! (result = late that night I outline the first chapter, find a ton more plot holes that need filling, and write about 350 new words in the actual novel)

Day 3: I decide I really can’t go any further into the next bit until I HAVE A PLAN. So, I keep reading the outlining book (result = more notes / plot questions, 0 new words written)

Day 4: Shit! I really need to catch up, but I have SO MUCH WORK to do! And I haven’t had any time to outline past the first chapter — even though I’ve already written through the 11th chapter and am held up on what happens in the 12th through 15th chapter, because I already know what happens in chapters 16 – 18. (result = more reading / more notes / more questions / no new words)

Day 5-6: Repeat Day 4.

Day 7: Today. Writing about writing. Or, more accurately, writing about not writing.

But I have a plan… No wait. Not that again. How about… I have an idea. I am going to do a VERY BRIEF outline of chapters 2 through 18 (like a paragraph, or some bullet points). Then I am going to alternate between writing chapters 12 through 15 and continuing to briefly outline chapters 19 through the end. Then I have to re-write chapters 16 through 18 (they are written from the wrong point of view and need some tweaking to align with my current plan for the plot). Then it is (hopefully) clear sailing through to the end).

This means that I have to double up writing and outlining for the next few weeks. I’m going to set the goal of trying to get caught up through chapter 12, at least, today. Then I need to do 600 words plus at least one chapter outline each day until I’ve got the outline done. I’ll increase the word count to catch up to the original plan after the outline is done. Boy am I glad this actually counts as homework. With everything else I have going on this is going to be a challenging goal.

I’m learning that finishing your shit is hard. But I love this stuff. I am having so much fun creating this plot and this world and these characters. The only downside is that when I get into writing mode, I slow down on reading. So, all those great books I had planned to read? It may be a while before I get back to that…