I started my AOL writing journal (whose contents have since been merged here) when I joined the writing group, “What if…,” started by Andreakingme of “Unhinged” fame. Andrea is trying to write her own novel, and she’s under a rather brutal deadline now to get the first draft done. You can read about the deadline and how it came to be here.
Meanwhile, members of the group, as their first assignments, have been asked to do two things.
First, we should take a writing quiz which seeks to determine what kind of writer we will be. I score in the next-to-highest category, and on the low end of that. It’s not a total surprise to me, because I disagree with a few of the questions as posed. There were a couple where my answer was a crapshoot at best: my reality fell dead in the middle of two answers. I could have chosen the “higher scoring” answer each time, but that didn’t seem right, either, so I picked as best I could.
On the other hand, in terms of my work in TV, I’ve been a “published” writer — since my writing has been broadcast daily — for more than a decade. So, whether I’m “writer” material is a moot point. Whether I’m novelist material, well, we’ll just wait and see about that one.
The second part of the assignment is to describe what and why you want to write. The novel I’ve been working on has changed many times. The setting has changed, the staging of events has changed. The roles of the characters has changed. The latter, in fact, has changed more than anything else. My biggest challenge when I write isn’t in coming up with the basic story, but in dealing with the holes that develop as I go on. Some writers can just write around them and patch up the gaps later. I’m not that kind of writer. I like to make sure that the road is without car-sized potholes before I drive across it.
The novel I intend to write first (yes, I have a few ideas floating around in my head), involves a television reporter — because of that awful “write what you know” advice that causes writers more trouble than most are willing to admit. Over the course of the story, while battling a family crisis, he encounters a psychic, a vampire, and a story so amazing that none of his viewers would believe it if he told it. (I can be as cruel as fate sometimes!) At the moment, the roles of the characters are set in stone. Getting them to interact for a few hundred pages, solve a series of problems and grow from the experience of having done so is the current goal. I actually started this novel about seven years ago, but it’s been put aside a few times as I’ve stopped to redesign the basic plot.
I’m not one of those writers with a tight outline for everything I do. I’ve tried that on an earlier novel I actually completed back in college. The outline I came up with was so rigid that I even set “ideal” chapter lengths for each chapter along with a one or two-line synopsis of what happens within each chapter. As you can imagine, the priority eventually turned into trying to meet the chapter length quota I had set rather than developing the story. I was able to produce a novel that way…350 pages or so, as a matter of fact, but it was bad. I made a simple mistake that was so stupid that I had to finish the entire thing, set it aside and then look at it about a month later before it hit me over the head like a giant beach ball: I made the lead character so sympathetic that you had to pull for him, but had him fail. The secondary character was the one who really should have been the “hero” of the story. After all, if you’re going to sit through 350 pages, you want there to be something good happening, even if there’s a lot of pain and suffering to get there. Lesson learned.
As for the current novel I’m working on, I’d like to have it finished by next spring. That’s not really a goal, but it is at least a wish. There are a few reasons why I probably won’t, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to overcome them. At the moment, I’m contemplating reformatting the first couple of chapters, to shorten them a bit. When I read a novel, I appreciate short chapters. After getting about 110 pages in, I’ve realized that the first chapter is a lot longer than I would like. This may mean that I’ll have to renumber all of my chapters from the beginning, but I’m thinking it’s the way to go at the moment.
That’s pretty much the “what” part. As for the “why” part, I think it’s because I have a good story to tell, and deep down, I’d like to see whether I’m decent enough at writing to be able to tell it. I can remember in ninth grade writing a short story during gym class. (Actually, we’d finished the exercising or whatever it was we were doing, so we were waiting for lunch.)
Anyway, I sat in the gym writing as if I were in “the zone.” A friend of mine sat next to me, trying to peek over my shoulder. Finally, I gave her a few pages to read. A friend of hers came along and wanted to see what she was reading. Then another friend…and another. Within about ten minutes, I happened to glance around and see that there were about a dozen of my classmates seated all around me, and that as one of them would finish a page, he or she would pass it to the next one in line. Their interest in what I was writing sort of fed the writer. I wanted to write more to give them more to read. I guess it’s like the comedian who gets that big laugh from the audience…or the pianist who gets that standing ovation at the end of a concerto. I had been writing long before that, but that was the first time I had that large of an audience at one time. It was cool. Very cool, in fact.
Maybe I hope to get that kind of reaction again from something I write. I’m not holding my breath, mind you, but it might be a nice feeling if it comes.
You’ll notice a little graphic to the left with a weekly writing goal. I’m trying to go for ten pages a week, and I’m counting revised pages of previously-written material. After all, work on ten pages of completely new writing or improved writing is still better than work on none, right? If I stick to that goal, I will definitely be able to complete the novel by spring. That’s a big “if.” Then I’ll look for agents and/or publishers. (In other words, don’t worry about trying to plan a camp-out at Barnes & Noble for May, 2005!)
When it is finished, believe me, you’ll be among the first to know.