Editing a Monster: Index Card Therapy

I’ve mentioned before that I’m still editing my monster of a novel I did during last year’s NaNoWriMo. And y’all? I do not like editing. I am not good at it. Ask me to write something – anything – any length – and I’ll do it. Ask me to take that mountain and whittle it down into a terrarium, and I lose my damn mind.

As I consider this crazy, meandering thing, I’ve found that I have a lot of characters. So I’m trying a technique that uses a tool I’ve read about many writers employing when they are working on books: index cards.

Here is the process I’m using. For now. Until I get tired of it. But you might find it helpful!

  1. Take an index card. Write the name of your character on the blank side, including possibly a picture if you have one or a brief physical description.
  2. On the back, it’s bullet list time. Write down what part you want that character to play — are they the hero? The villain? Someone’s foil?
  3. Next, write down what they want, ultimately. Their best case scenario. Where they seek to find themselves.
  4. Write down a few of their favorite things and who they are most linked to in the story.
  5. Write down what you like about the character. Maybe it’s their dialogue. Maybe it’s just the fact that they seem like someone you would want to be friends with (or, on the other hand, someone you’d like to be running from).

Now, take the cards and lay them out on a table or flat surface. How does your cast look? Did you struggle to find things to write about them? Are there characters you could put together into one MEGA AWESOME CHARACTER FUSION? If your book was a movie, would you want to see it?

Over the next few weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, I’d like to talk more about my editing process. If there are any aspects to this you would especially be interested in hearing about, leave me a comment here or head over to my Facebook page! Or Twitter! Or homing dolphin!

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Looking Over My Shoulder

It’s been three days since NaNoWriMo ended, and it all feels very weird. There’s this huge gap in my day-to-day schedule, like going from taking classes to summer vacation. When I’m not at my day job, I feel aimless. I’ve started keeping lists just so I don’t feel like I’m not doing anything at all.

NaNoWriMo was really, really hard. I did the bare minimum, writing almost every day with the exception of a day or two in the first week as well as Thanksgiving. I was never scrambling to catch up on more than a few thousand words, which I am obscenely grateful for. High five, November Katie.

Here are 5 lessons I learned from NaNo 2015:

  1. Never be afraid to go in without a plan. A general idea is great, sure, but the real magic truly does come when you pick up from where you left off and springboard into a random event. How your characters react may end up being super natural because even you didn’t know it was coming!
  2. Decide what you know you can do each day and make that your goal. I know now that I can comfortably write about 1,000 words in roughly an hour. Sometimes I get a momentum and head forward, others I get really ‘meh.’ But now I know I can do that, and I’m going to use that as my baseline.
  3. You have time. Now, I know I’m saying that from a place of not having kids, but I think in general that people have more time than they realize. When you are trying to fit in a specific amount of work each day, you’ll be surprised where you can carve out the opportunity. It’s just easier to say “I don’t have time.”
  4. You can do it. Just don’t get caught in analysis paralysis. It’s easy to go, “Oh god, I don’t know where this scene is going to go. I don’t even know if this book is good. Should I start over? Maybe I should go to veterinary school instead.” Just open the document and start writing. Pick up where you left off and go, even if it’s just to a scene where one of the characters goes to the bathroom. It’s something, and something will happen after they go to the bathroom.
  5. Take every ounce of writing advice with a grain of salt. Not even that. Half a grain of salt. A thought of salt. There is so much “guidance” out there telling you what is the “right” way to put a book together and how “wrong” it is to do something and how a certain method is the way “all writers do it.” By all means, listen, but try different things. Break rules. Say, “Thanks, dude, but I’m going to do this instead.” Nobody is 100% right. Because otherwise every book – every style, every voice, every story – would sound exactly the same.

Phew. Now what, world?

NaNo: Captain’s Log, Week 3

Okay, so…I can’t even believe I’m heading into the last week of this crazy journey. I have less than 15K words left, you all. 15K. And I’m all, “Oh god, am I actually going to get to the end of this?! Or am I going to have to go all Imperial Affliction and end this in the middle of a sentence BUT IF SO I HAVE TO GIVE SOMEONE CANCER.”

If you understand all that, you are my kind of people.

So let’s see…pointers from this week:

  • I made pouch shrimp one day, and it was essentially green onion, shrimp, ramen and broth with mushrooms. It was delicious and really easy to make. Meals like that have made this month possible.
  • I didn’t realize this but I felt more like I was really switching from a feminine to a masculine point of view by changing my music stations (feminine was Amanda Palmer station, masculine was Nirvana/Radiohead station). I was very surprised there, but it’s a nifty trick.
  • This is a bit more of a life lesson, but when you’re undertaking projects like this, it is easy to lose sight of the people around you also undertaking projects. Even if you run out of time to give them feedback immediately, let them know that you believe in them and that you are rooting for them.
  • The holidays are coming up. I challenge you to balance these two aspects of your life: creativity and togetherness. Is your book important? Absolutely. Is it important that you take some time away so you can appreciate the people around you? Also absolutely. Budget your time. Now. Before Thanksgiving.

I am grateful for every one of you. Have a great week, and I’ll see you when all the crying is done.

Writing About Buying a House About Writing

boxes

Recently, life has been a lot about breathing.

Stopping and taking long, deep inhalations. Drawing out heavy, whooshing exhalations. Saying, “Yes, I will freak out for this few seconds, and then I’m going to get back to work.”

My husband and I are buying a house. They tell you about the money part of it, how you need to have cash that will sing, that will tell people, “How about this guy? She is ready for this piece of property to be hers.” What they don’t tell you, though, is how much time you need.

How did people buy houses before smartphones and text messaging? Did people have to actually spend as many hours as I have just in text dialogues alone stepping away from their lives to get all this down? I have thanked a lucky star every time I’ve been able to sign a document electronically because if I had to actually go somewhere and do it in person every time I would have already lost my mind.

Getting overwhelmed has been easy. Casting one eye across a home that has been my hidey-hole, my magpie nest, my asylum for eight years…I can’t even believe how much can be accrued in that long. But here it all is. And it needs to be processed, looked at, decided upon, weighed, judged, tossed, packed, rehomed.

And I have to stop, take one of those breaths, and say, “Just one box. One box at a time.” And that’s made it easier.

When taking up a writing project, it’s easy to only see the sprawling expanse of words, letters, and keys. You start to go cross-eyed considering how many paragraphs are going to go into it, how much time it’s going to take just to get through a chapter, let alone a whole damn part of the thing. How are you going to get all the stuff that’s mashed into your brain compartmentalized enough to get on paper? You start reconsidering your life’s journey. Maybe information technology¬†should¬†have been your major.

Stop.

Don’t do that to yourself.

You can’t pack an entire house in the blink of an eye. And you can’t write a book in one sitting. You are both the person eating the elephant and the elephant itself. Take one bite at a time. You’ll be okay.

You are the king of time. Rule.