A Totally Different Experience

A few years ago, the idea of writing a book intimidated me enough to keep me from even trying. The complexity of the task overwhelmed me. The job was too big to comprehend and I didn’t know enough to break it into smaller, more manageable chunks. I added “write a book” to the things I would probably never do.

Even if it never gets published, writing Glass Houses changed that. Turns out, I could write a book. Not having a clue about how to get it published motivated me to find the Athens Writers Group. We hang out together for three or four hours every other Saturday at a local coffee shop. I’ve missed the meetings maybe four times in the fifteen months I’ve been going.

I’d read the submissions, make my own comments and suggestions, and then at the meetings, be amazed by the sophisticated feedback the other writers provided.  The manuscripts they submitted and the comments they made showed me that these people really knew what they were talking about. Listening to the discussions about technical issues taught me a lot.

But many of the finer points were beyond my comprehension. You can’t learn to swim without ever getting in the water. At some point, you have to jump in and do it. So I started writing a novel and began submitting 5000 words at a time to the group for critique. I was a sponge, soaking up every comment the seasoned writers had to offer. Until Thanksgiving is the result.

Some of the writers won’t submit a word until they’ve finished at least a rough draft of the entire manuscript. Others submit works in progress as they go. Some work with outlines. Some don’t. With Until Thanksgiving, I tried to stay 5K to 10K ahead of the section the group was reviewing with my writing, and for months, had no idea where my story was going. They call it pantsing, as in flying by the seat of my pants.

Until Thanksgiving was revised and edited for grammar and typos from start to wherever I was at the time, every two weeks, until I finished the first draft. Changes to the story often meant backing up to Chapter One and integrating a new plot line or even character. Keeping up with whether or not changes had been incorporated throughout the manuscript made me wish for computer software to track plot and character details. I learned a lot and even enjoyed the process.

Meanwhile, my carpool pal is writing her first novel. She started off pantsing, but changed her ways a few chapters in. I’ll let Amy tell you about her experience. While you’re there, check out her Zombie-a-Month 2011 and Robot-a-Month 2012 pages. She’s a great writer. Her whacky sense of humor infuses her writing and I’m sure she’ll have no problem finding a publisher.

Because of Amy’s experience, I vowed that my next novel would begin as an outline. It didn’t. It started as a blurb and synopsis which, along with character profiles, should be the prerequisite to any outline. The catch is that doing it that way really isn’t an option without the experience of having already written a novel. At least for me.

With After Christmas Eve, I’ve fleshed out all the main characters and selected names for most of them, subject to change. The synopsis and character profiles helped me to write a paragraph description for every chapter.  Details of the story have changed, but the idea is still the same–just a lot more detailed. There are some subplots I still need to incorporate into the chapters, and details I need to research, but the book is pretty much fully-conceived.

And I still haven’t written the first word.

Oh, the freedom! Adding a significant detail to a paragraph about a chapter is much easier than integrating it into a finished chapter. For me, changing the Point of  View is especially difficult. Again, this is much easier to do for a paragraph than for an entire chapter. And the format is still loose enough to easily accommodate any wild ideas I might get for plot twists and sub plots.

The number of chapters is low for me–fewer than thirty. My “stretching myself” goal for this novel is to write longer chapters, so maybe my projection is accurate. Time will tell.

Once I’m satisfied with the chapter descriptions, I’ll start writing. Hopefully, the chapter descriptions will make writing the chapters easy. Finishing the book shouldn’t take long at all. Or maybe I’ll be pulling out what little hair I have left trying to stay true to the descriptions. If so, the pain and torture will help me to write better chapter descriptions in the future.

After Christmas Eve is going to be even better than Until Thanksgiving. My writing has improved, and taking it through the group 5,000 words at a time will make it even better.  I’ll keep you informed of my progress right here on…

My Glass House

2 responses to “A Totally Different Experience”

  1. I’m so excited for you! Cant wait to start reading it. Having a plan, even a rough one, makes the process much less daunting. Just remember that your outline can be tweaked as you go.
    And thank you for the shout out to my blog. You rock!

    • Thanks Amy! I’m not worried about things changing–I know how a good story can take on a life of its own. And YW, though I doubt you’ll notice much difference. 🙂