Writing Update – 3 Years In

Three years.

December 11, 2015 is more of a ceremonial date because I’m not sure how much writing I did at the start. Did I sit down and type, “Tildy sat up so quickly her head swam” – the first sentence of the first chapter – that first day? I don’t think so. I’m pretty certain I didn’t have her name yet. If memory serves, I started with the prologue, which has a boatload of too much historical context in it.

I recall thinking about a new direction for my story over the Summer of 2015. I started parts of it twenty-five years ago and I still liked much of the world I’d created. However, I needed to inject something into it: something to make it appeal to a broader audience and something to reinvigorate myself as a writer.

I wondered what kind of books the real world needed. It occurred to me that we could use more stories with empowered female characters, and they had to appeal to girls and boys. As simply as that, I was running, sprinting, in a new direction.

The writing came suddenly. One day I wasn’t writing; the next day I was.

superman_typing

Three years later, and more than a thousand hours of effort, I’m coming up on 190,000 words, which is about 100,000 more than I intended. I’ve also removed characters, places, and scenes to cut another 30,000 words. And I’m pretty sure I’ll have a bit more culling to do.

jump around.gifThis month, I’m finishing up the final chapter and the epilogue, and then the mid-draft is complete. I’m now using this term instead of a numbering system for drafts because I’ve discovered I reaaaaaally don’t edit in a linear fashion. I read and edit. I jump around. Re-read and re-edit. I jump up, jump up, and get down. Some parts of the book have changed twenty times. Others have been touched once or twice. While it would be easier to tell someone, “I’m working on the third draft or eighth draft”, it’s just not accurate. I have the first draft, mid-draft, and final draft.

Once I finish the mid-draft, I print the beast: 374 pages of 12-point Arial font in MS Word. Thirty-seven chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue. If I keep my head down, and don’t write too many blog posts, maybe I can get this to the print shop before Christmas. This would allow me to start reading it over my holiday vacation, and hopefully, I’ll enjoy myself.

That is, until I whip out a dozen colored pens and start marking up the crap out of it. Call it my New Year’s Resolution.

too many pens.jpg

No no no: fuchsia is for typos, magenta for grammar, and rose for verb tense conflicts.

But it’s also the draft where I can hand a completed copy to a trusted reader or three. I’ve shared the beginning chapters with nearly twenty people now, but no one has read the entire thing completely. I’m asking a lot, so we’ll see if their enthusiasm wanes explodes with delight! As I mentioned in a recent post, That Time I Shared My Writing #2, I’m extremely grateful for my trusted readers, and I’ll take any feedback they have, even if it’s, “You lost me on page 1.”

After all of that, we’re on to the Final Draft, and then, maybe after that, I can start looking into literary agents and publishing. In a serious manner, though, not in the I’m-unmotivated-to-write-and-need-a-distraction-so-I’ll-daydream-and-do-“research” manner.

That’s the plan.

Complicated-plan

As I was re-reading my one- and two-year anniversary posts (links below), I saw that I’d described some things I’d learned. Here are the big moments from Year 3, in no particular order:

  • I significantly under-described some scenes in the original draft. Or I decided I had plenty more to say. Candidly, I think some first-draft sections were glorified outlines.
  • Related to that, I finally found a consistent plotline that connected everything in a sensible way. Or so I think. Having not read it straight through myself, I guess we’ll see.
  • I’ve always been a huge gamer, and it’s been the bane of, well, many things. I think I struck a better balance this last year, and I often chose to game and write in an evening, instead of letting one monopolize my time.
  • I recommend connecting more with other creative people, even if they aren’t in your genre or medium. They’re as hungry for feedback as you are. I’m now exchanging time with a former colleague who’s starting a podcast, and we’re each interested in the other’s project.
  • No matter how many times I’ve lost my motivation or my rhythm, I’ve always gotten them back. Maybe I’m lucky. But also, I persevere when I can do nothing more than type with one finger or disparage every single word I’ve ever written ever. EVER. There will be black days, but man, there will be some brilliant ones, too.
  • And finally, one thing I re-learned. Writing can be your escape, your salvation, your energy, your love, your greatest hope. I do it because it’s all these things to me. After an extra-long workday, a gross commute, and a kid that wants to sit on my lap all evening to play iPad games, I can still be completely recharged by a couple hours of writing.

So, there you go. That’s what happens when a writer gets inspired and spends three years working on a project. There aren’t too many things in a person’s life that she or he spends this much time on, in my experience.

As much as it has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, it’s also been one of the most wonderful and rewarding and fulfilling. Here’s to a great 2019. Good luck with your own writing!

–Mike

PS: Click these links to see where I was after Year 1 and Year 2!


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© Michael Wallevand, December 2018

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Writing Exercise #8 – Whimsical Horror

This is post is approximately 650 words, many of them silly nonsense, but limned with a sinister tone, I hope.

I like fun and I like whimsy, and I like them mixed with horror. In the appropriate proportions, of course. Without the proper balance, a story is either too dark or too goofy. It’s something I’m managing in certain parts of my current manuscript.

I think this penchant comes from fairy tales I read in childhood. They’re cautionary stories, of course: stay in bed, eat your peas, don’t lie! They all promise horrible fates to children who fail in some regard. Take Little Red Riding Hood, who was devoured by a slavering wolf before a woodcutter sliced open the beast’s belly to free her.

In deliberate contrast to the horrors of the story, the pages often featured colorful illustrations of cherubic tots venturing obliviously into danger. After a few similar stories, we all knew something bad was coming, despite the innocence of the art. And we loved it. As kids, we were practically watching them through half-covered eyes, gleefully anticipating their demise as we imagined their chubby little legs carrying them toward certain doom.  Continue reading

The Book’s New Working Title

A 750-word post for those who want a peek into the thought process – in the loosest sense of the term – that a writer puts into naming his first book.

I’ve probably renamed the book a dozen times in the last three years.

At first, I just needed SOMETHING, because I’m writing a book and a book needs a title. It wasn’t even a full title, but sometimes the Muse won’t let you progress until you’ve checked off that box She wants filled. So I’ve named and re-named, never finding something I loved; always promising to figure it out later. I usually followed the typical pattern you see in a book series: “The Lost Princess and the Descriptive-words-that-will-intrigue-readers”. I like the style and I’ll admit I’m heavily influenced by the Harry Potter series, though you’ll see it these excellent series, too: Percy Jackson, Skulduggery Pleasant, and The Spook’s Apprentice (US version shown here).

Unfortunately, I’d been imposing some confusion upon myself, and I just hadn’t been able to get past it. Because I was too in love with my own idea.

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Inspiration: the Star Wars soundtrack

This post is approximately 900 words and focuses on one of my favorite topics: Music. Ooh, and Star Wars.

Star Wars reel-to-reel 1You won’t be surprised that Star Wars has been hugely influential to this 40-something writer. It’s second only to family in that regard. I’ll probably write about that on some future date. A large part of my adoration/zeal/mania is the soundtrack. I’ll get to this in a moment, so please bear with me while I set the stage, sounding like an old man as I do so.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have streaming services that allowed us to watch any movie when we wanted. We didn’t have cable. VCRs were around $1,000 and video tapes were $100.

I grew up twenty miles from the nearest movie theater, which doesn’t sound like much these days, but when you’re on the edge of the North Dakota prairie, you don’t make a lot of trips “to town”. Back then, you saw a movie once, and you might never see it again. If you were lucky, one of your three TV channels might air it, though your rooftop antenna was at the mercy of the elements. Yes, yes, first-world problems.

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Wonder – Discovery – Adventure

I started this post in June, but set it aside as part of the writing break I described in my last post. The title comes from three words I wrote as they came to me. Behind my office desk, I might refer to them as ‘guiding principles’ or ‘fundamental values’. But we’re talking about writing today, so no stuffy corporate phrases allowed!

macbook pro beside white cup and saucer on table

Here’s what they really are. They are the heart of Tildy’s character, and therefore, the heart of her story. Of all the words in the English language that I could use to describe her, these three are all I need. Everything I have written so far – and everything I will write – needs to convey this or I haven’t adequately transported the reader.

The amount of thought writers put into their works might surprise people. Using a scientific measuring tool known as ‘my gut’, I’d estimate nearly half of my time is spent thinking about the story. Yeah, it’s not all butt-in-chair, typing away like a half-crazed hermit. Whether I’m walking in to work, driving, or waiting in line for coffee, I’m thinking about where the story is going. What happens beyond the first book? Am I doing my female protagonist justice? Is it marketable? There are myriad questions, and if a writer isn’t focused, it’s easy to deviate the story too far from your original intent.

Continue reading

Inspiration: Chemistry by Semisonic

This post is approximately 900 words and focuses on one of my favorite topics: Music.

Semisonic 1Oh man, I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for awhile. Ideas have been churning in my head for years. Years! I’m excited to finally get to it, and I hope this comes through in my writing! It will be the first in a series that covers storytelling in lyrics and what writers can learn (similar posts can be found here: Influencers). The hardest part, aside from finally taking the time, was choosing which song to cover first. Honestly, in two minutes I could list a hundred songs to write about, but as I listened to a playlist tonight, it came down to two: Prince’s “Starfish and Coffee” and Semisonic’s “Chemistry“.

A friend and former colleague one told me that Dan Wilson was “finest singer/songwriter ever.” As is common with people in the music biz, he said it with a fervor that would suffer no debate. And while I’m not overly familiar with Dan’s solo work, I do know a fair number of Semisonic songs. I find it hard to disagree. Because of that, this is not the only Semisonic track I’ll write about, though for the sake of diversity, I’ll probably write about a number of other songs before I get back to them. Continue reading

Celtic Christmas Poem

When I read ancient tales like Beowulf or the Odyssey, I like to consider the challenges faced by translators. It’s not simply replacing one word for another; in some cases, it’s also preserving the rhythm, often at the expense of what we’d consider ‘standard grammar’. Rhythm is a critical component of memorization, which was essential for stories that passed from mouth to ear, rather than by written page.

I kept that in mind when I wrote this poem in 2005. I put myself in the mindset of a translator struggling to capture the flow of some ancient chant. To me, it’s a combination of science and art, with the latter given preference. You’ll hear similar things in modern music, when the lyricist chooses rhythm over the rules taught in high school English.

Without further preface, my Celtic Christmas poem:


Come, my dear friends and do hearken
And sit by my fire for awhile.
For I am about to regale you
Of the Scourge of the Emerald Isle. Continue reading