Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I’m cruising, crew.  I just topped 68K words on my WIP Monday night.  Whoot!

But I’ve stopped again.  Hopefully it’s just a short pause on the road to the end.  I realized that my hero has a case of wanderlust and I never realized it.  I had him being a responsible, take-care-of-home kind of guy.  He IS like that, but his desire to take care of his family wars with his desire to get away from them.   I just didn’t realize it until Monday night as I was about to write the black moment.  He felt like a puppet doing the stuff I wanted him to do and then it hit me.  So, now I have to go back through and put that in so I have the backstory I need to write the end.

Before everyone starts jumping from the yardarm and swinging from the masts yelling, “Just vomit it out” or “REVISE LATER” or something similar, I thought I’d share something I’ve figured out about my writing through the course of this story.

In all my stories, I stop in similar spots.  I really noticed it this time because two times is a fluke; three is a habit.  So, when I stopped at the 45K mark again, I thought to myself, “Wait a goshdarn minute” (I edited to keep this PG) “I stopped here the last two times.”

I started taking note of why I stop at the same places.  Am I a creature of habit?  (Yes.)  Is this some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy?  (Maybe?  There is no spoon, there is no spoon.)  Could I have avoided these delays?   (Oh fine, maybe.)

To figure this out, I stopped focusing on the negative times (ie, “Why in the name of cheese sandwiches am I stopping again!?”) and started focusing on the positive times (ie, “A HA!  I’ve figured this out.  I am Queen of the World!”  *Titanic music swells, fade to me on the front of the ship pretending I’m an airplane, making bad airplane sound effects*)

My conclusion:  I stop when something is off with one of my characters.  Almost exclusively.

I’m a plotter.  I’ve already decided all the external events of the story.  Whether it’s Colonel Mustard with the candlestick or Miss Scarlet with the gun.  What I don’t know is how my characters react to all these external factors.  So, for example, 45K is about mid-point crisis in my stories (give or take a few thousand words one way or the other).   I need to think hard about how my characters are going to react.  Then I have to decide if it’s authentic, if I pulled any punches.  The entire story is me learning about them, getting to know them, seeing how these two people are going to grow through the circumstances I’ve set up.  Sometimes it takes me a week (or month) to figure out their reactions to major events.

Therefore, it seems, I’m an external factor plotter but an internal crisis pantser.  And, apparently, my brain doesn’t deal with the pantsy part well.  It bulks, it downshifts.  It grinds away until it makes sense of all the facts in the universe again.  Then it lets me move forward.

My pause Monday?   I’m about to write the black moment, as mentioned.  Something wasn’t sitting right with my hero.   So I paused to reevaluate him.  I think it’ll be a quick fix.

My takeaway?  Next time I stop, just go directly to character.  Don’t even stop at that, “This story sucks, I suck, everything sucks, die-in-a-fiery-ball” place.   It’s just a sludge pit that slows me down on the way to character.  And that place is no fun anyway.

So what about you guys?  When you stop in the middle of a WIP, why do you stop?  Is it for plot, for character?  To reevaluate some other aspect?  What usually gets you going again?


2nd Chance said...

Good for you to figure this out about your techniques!

Me? I suffer from periodic brain death.

Okay, I will stop writing for one reason or another, sometimes life just gets in the way, but I'll keep thinking about the story, I'll daydream a lot...my massive drive to Las Vegas...lost of telling myself stories... The problem? Figuring out where to start writing or what I missed in the middle while I daydreamed my way through the floating level of the story without the deep dives.

Or I just suffer from periodic brain death.

It's like that old physics law... An object in motion will tend to stay in motion, while something not moving is hard to get moving... to paraphrase it all... If I stay in motion, I'll generally keep going. It's the stopping that kills me. Whether it is character or plot or whatever. If I can get moving, I'll be fine...

Right now, I'm not moving.

Marnee said...

I do think there's something for maintaining momentum. Starting up is much harder than starting.

Periodic brain death. LOL!

Darn that life getting in the way. That definitely happens to me. I've had to get so good at just sitting down and making myself stare at the document on my computer.

I'm sorry you're not moving right now. I hope you get some inspiration. I always hate that feeling. Like, "Move, brain! What have I ever done to you?!"

Donna said...

Marn, I like that your brain is plotty AND pantsy. And it's awesome that you've figured out that all of this is your PROCESS, not merely a method to get you to stop writing. Like any journey, the rest stops are important -- and it's clear yours have a valuable reason, allowing you to ponder and figure out and get yourself ready for the next leg of the trip.

Congrats on the wordcount! And for discovering what works best for you. :)

Marnee said...

You know, Donna, I think creative endeavors have as much order as any other endeavor. Most writers write the same way (for lack of a better way of saying that) every story. Whether it's a fast draft, then a massive revision. Or if they write through and revise as they go. Whatever. But it's figuring out the process that's difficult. Because in the fits and starts, it's easy to fall into the pit of despair.

Hellion said...

I stop when something is off with one of my characters. Almost exclusively.

This is where I stop, but this is because for me, I believe plot comes exclusively from character. (Since, well, I don't write about natural disasters and stuff, but people and their neuroses.)

In the immortal, slightly modified words of Kevin Costner from Bull Durham: Never fuck with a working writing process.

If this is how your process works, then go with it. I think we get more concerned when--like me--you keep redoing the first three chapters of the novel instead of moving on. Anne Gracie writes and polishes as she goes; can't say it doesn't work for her. So whatever works.

Loving the word count and how close you are to the magical words: The End. Whoot!

hal said...

In the immortal, slightly modified words of Kevin Costner from Bull Durham: Never fuck with a working writing process.

Brilliant! Marn, yours and my process is so similar it's creepy. I also tend to stop - for me it's the 25k mark and the 60k mark. My reasoning is also similar - for me, its that I have learned just enough about the characters that what I originally plotted for them doesn't quite work anymore, and needs to be adjusted.

When I explained this to my thesis adviser at school, he said, "Then plan for that." And I thought, "Oh. Duh. Right." lol. His advice was that instead of saying, "I'm going to write the first draft by September 1st," to say, "I"m going to write the first 25k words by Feb 1st, then from March - May, write from 25k to 60k, then from July -September, write the final 30k."

By building those breaks right into your schedule you 1) don't get behind when you do stop, 2) expect to stop, so aren't surprised or dismayed by it, and 3) (theoretically) don't fall into said pit of despair.

And ps - you're already at 60k???? WOOOOTTTT!!!!!! Way to go, Marnee!!!!

Bosun said...

Sorry I'm late. Kiddo had Orthodontist appt this morning and I'm still recovering from the sticker shock. O_o

Three cheers (or drinks) for pinning down your process. Those buggers are hard to get a grip on since it takes several books to find it. So Huzzah for that!

I'm only on book 2 (and a 1/2?) and know a few things for sure. I have to do the story board and the characters detail sheets before starting anything. Lots of letting the book come to exist in my head first. I'd say the last 40% is still a mystery to me.

Though I'm all about momentum. I have to keep momentum going. And not just in writing. I sit my fat and happy ass down and it's torture getting it back up again.

2nd Chance said...

Maybe we needs a perpetual motion motivator here on the ship... Could be a drink...with cayenne involved...

Bosun said...

You'd think being a ship always out to sea, the motion of the ocean would help. Maybe if we weren't using that particular motion for other things...

Marnee said...

Sorry, gals. Preschool day and a doctors appt. Crazy morn....

Hells - I agree about not messing with the working writing process. I've certainly rewritten the first few chapters. A few times. LOL! I've done it for lots of reasons. Sometimes I think that if I just look at the first chapters again, it'll get me going to the next part. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't and I just feel like I'm spinning my wheels. I think the most important thing I learned this year is that giving myself a hard time about something in my MS just makes things worse for me. LIke they say in Weight Watchers, you're supposed to forget yesterday and start every day fresh. I've tried to do that this spring and summer and it seems to have helped me along.

And as Chance says, that life thing can sometimes get in the way of a perfectly good writing day. When I'm down or things are hectic, sometimes I'm too emotionally or physically spent to write. Last year I was having a hard time after the youngest was born, all sorts of hormonal stuff. I couldn't have made myself write if the next Pullitzer winner had popped into my head. Sometimes I just have to let myself off the hook. NOt always, but sometimes. :)

Marnee said...

Oh, a new drink? Sounds good. Cayenne, tequila and... Red Bull, maybe?

Sounds gross.

Marnee said...

Hal - Our processes are so similar! I remember us lamenting at the midpoint in our last stories, all WHY ARE WE STOPPING!!? But I did it again this time, too.

I like the idea of planning for it. Leaving in there some time to just refill the tank. If I could just get into a regular writing schedule.... Bleh. Nothing regular about my schedule most days though. LOL!!

PS, yes, almost to 70K! I want to finish this draft by months end. I'd originally hoped for end of August. So, we'll see. If the kiddos stay healthy..... I'm entering the GH this year if it kills me though.

Ter - I was just thinking the other day when you passed the 40K mark that I was so proud of you. You're really keeping things moving! :) I think I need to look into these character sheets. I bet they'd help me out a lot.

I start with the storyboard too and then I start going and see how they act. Then when I start to feel like they're just wooden puppets, walking through my story all stiff like they're doing the robot, then I take a break and figure it out.

Process is rough. And I know plenty of writers, even after years of writing, who seem to still have a hard time. That doesn't give me a lot of hope that it'll get easier. I think we just learn to power through it better.

Bosun said...

That does sound gross. LOL! Forgot to say I love the idea of planning in the stoppages. I stop around 20K and re-examine everything about the story. The initial storyboard is just a bunch of scene ideas (very basic - "Heroine meets dog" stuff) so around 20K the post-its start to get color (whose POV) and more fleshed out scenes start to show up. What I need and where. Things move a lot.

That's the important part for me. A lot of those initial post its go away and can move and change and shift. That flexibility and the fact NOTHING is carved in stone has to be there for the "pantser" part of my brain to keep churning and giving me stuff.

And my brain is ALWAYS giving me stuff. Heck, three nights ago the heroine for two books from now showed up. Really? REALLY?

Janga said...

Marn, what a great insight about your work!

I stop at about the same spot you do—60-65K words, but what I have at that point is a collection of scenes from throughout the novel. I still have to write the scenes that pull the scattered scenes together and give me a coherent whole. That’s tough, tough writing for me. I have two WIPs at this stage now, and completing them seems an impossible task—all perspiration and almost no inspiration.

Bosun said...

Janga - Do you use anything to help you see what all you have? Storyboard, index cards, outline or even just a list? I can't imagine keeping all those scattered scenes straight without an aide, but then I have this awful memory.

I've been getting scenes much further up in the WIP but haven't attempted to go ahead and write them now. Feel like I need all the other scenes that come before to "inform" the scene and make it work for me. Or I'm just being stubborn.

Marnee said...

Ter - I am the same way about the moving around stuff. LOL! I do mine in excel so I don't have anything physical just sitting around for little fingers to jack up. I'd have postits everywhere. I'd find them in a diaper, I'm sure of it.

As to the heroine in books from now... YAY!! That's good stuff. Make sure you write it down!!!

I had a scene for my next book in my head on the drive to preschool this morning. My next hero is in my current book (Jack) but his heroine is new. I've seen bits of her and she's going to be fun to write. All petite and sassy. It's going to be fun.

Janga - I was wondering how you keep that all straight too. Have you tried Scrivener? The version for Word is in the beta testing phase so it's free. I downloaded it but I've yet to dig in too much. I think I probably will at the editing phase. Lots of good stuff in there.

I hope you find something to pull it together. I'd love to read your stuff. :)

2nd Chance said...

Terri - That's where my block on the scifi romance I'm working on came from. I let my mind drift to the end of the book and now I'm stuck figuring it out when I haven't even written past the middle of the book!

Then the edits for The Pirate Circus arrived and I'm fighting to get myself back into pirate speak...argh!

Not sure a cocktail with Redbull is the answer...I'm thinking Baileys. Lots and lots of Baileys. Damn the diet!

Marnee said...

Ohh... I want Baileys.

2nd Chance said...

It is so often the one, true answer.

Marnee said...

It is so often the one, true answer.

To any question I've ever asked, anyway....

Bosun said...

Even Donna would like the Baileys since she can put it in her coffee.

Marn - I turned on the light and walked to the desk to scribble the details on a notepad. I'm not sure I even opened my eyes. LOL! It'll mean having two books in a row with heroines sporting "boy" names. Oh well. I'll make it work.

Oh, petite and sassy sounds fun. Could almost describe a few of us pirates provided petite can mean short and not "slight build".

My cat gets to the post its and rips them off the board. Damn cat. He's also ripped my "inspiration" pictures off the wall around the storyboard and a wall cling decoration off the wall in the dining room. You'd think I have a destructive dog.

2nd Chance said...

The cat needs to watch more HGTV to see that wall decor is the way to go. Plain walls are considered a total drag...

And I do believe that any question worth answering deserves a Bailey answer.

Bo'sun? You're doing the heroine with a non-gender specific name thing? Isn't that one of the romance rules? Good for you! I like to name mine after plants.

Bosun said...

The heroine of book 2 is Sid (Sidney Ann) and book 3 is Will (Willow). That's who they are so that's that. My characters come with names. Though my current heroine did go thru some name changes. She had an identity crisis in the early stages.


Marnee said...

I like to name mine after plants.

This made me giggle.

2nd Chance said...

Okay, I've only named one main character after a plant...but I do like side characters after plants...

Irisheyes said...

Marn, that is so awesome that you figured out what was stopping you. I bet it is a lot less stressful now when you think you've hit a brick wall.

I realized very clearly a while ago that I cannot write if I can't put a clear face on my characters, especially the hero. I know I heard someone say they cut pictures out of magazines and such, which is a great idea. I found a great hero the other night, though, at the Sox game!!! He was sitting right in front of us and man was he hot - looked like a young Paul Newman. After leaving I thought I should have taken his picture (accidentally, of course, while posing the DH and kids right in front of him. LOL)

Ter, I'm with you on the ortho bills. We could have bought another car for what it cost to put both my kids in braces. They also had to have oral surgery to bring their eye teeth out of their palette. Not fun!