There may be some who’ve been following The Foundling Wheel who think I’ve run out of gas and abandoned it and there may be some readers who hope that’s the case. I assure you, it’s not.
Tim Hallinan gave me the greatest writing boost I’ve ever had by tempting me to take the Dickens Challenge. Writers crazy enough to take him up on his challenge would each start a brand new novel and post a chapter a week. The concept was to use the deadline and the seat of the pants approach to get down the first draft of an entire novel.
Before the Dickens Challenge, I was an obsessive fiddler and I’d never finished an entire first draft. My two prior novel attempts were definitely much more defined in my mind when I started them, but they felt overwritten and contrived to me.
Two days before the other writers planned to post their first chapters, the germ of an idea came to me. This seed got me through the first eleven chapters of the story, but once I exhausted my initial idea, I realized that I couldn’t keep flying by the seat of my pants.
Things I’ve learned from the Dickens Challenge:
- The deadlines boosted my productivity. By looking at the WIP in terms of weekly chapter sized bites, the idea of writing an entire novel felt much less intimidating and I could see real progress quickly.
- It forced me to write more and faster. This helped me to tap into my unconscious much more easily. It kept me from over-thinking, over-describing and over-writing.
- Posting a chapter a week made me much more focused on leaving a hook at the end of each chapter.
- People seem to be in agreement that I hit my stride around the fourth chapter. I think that’s a direct result of writing a lot without stopping to tinker.
- Now that I’ve re-read the work to date, I hate my first chapter and I’m not crazy about the second one. But I have something to revise, so I don’t mind a bit.
- Some of the chapters feel choppy. I’ve got multiple short scenes within a couple of them and I realize I did this in order to keep the chapters under 3,000 words, knowing that was pushing it for blog posts. When I revise, I’ll expand on some things and write better transitions to smooth out the choppiness.
- The earlier chapters need a lot of revision. Since the characters and the story developed over time, it only makes sense that the first couple of chapters probably need to be completely rewritten.
- Pantsing has been a much more creative process for me than writing to an outline. In previous WIPs, when I tried figuring the story out ahead of time, my creativity was stifled because I kept trying to stick to the plan. I’ve got much more confidence now in my ability to “what if” myself to a better and better story.
- Timeline is one of my biggest problems. I introduced the story in the present. Chapters 2-11 take place more than 20 years earlier with a couple of brief stops back in the present. People have referred to that part as being told in flashback, but I’m not too sure that’s what it ought to be. It's too long and too big a part of the story. I’m wondering now if the inciting incident in chapter 1 really belongs in a prologue so that the story can naturally begin in the past and proceed in linear fashion.
Issues I need to figure out before I can go on:
- What is my premise? What does
- Plotting is a huge challenge. The problem is not a lack of ideas, it’s too many. There are an infinite number of possibilities I can explore in order to move
- How should the story end? I have several possibilities and they all tie back to how I choose to move the plot forward.
Things I've found helpful:
- Time. With enough solitary time, I can nail this down. Driving, walking, and solitary tasks all open up the floodgates. My challenge is that I am not accustomed to making this time and pushing all the other demands away. Work has been unbelievably busy, which means that even when I’m not actively working, it’s hard to stop thinking about it. I believe the solution is to put walking time on my calendar and just walk even when I’m too busy. I’m not sure it’s going to work during the day, but I’m going to give it a try.
- Going back to the basics. I have a lot of craft books. I read most of them when I got them, but the trouble with books on writing is that you don’t always read the right book at the right time. I spent a few hours this past weekend with a book on plotting and structure. It forced me to go back to the very questions I’m working to answer now.
When will chapter 12 be done?
I don’t know. I do know that once I have answered the questions I’m working on now, I’ll be able to pick up at chapter 12 and keep writing until “The End”. I hope that those of you who have been following the story will still want to come back by then.
A big motivator:
A very good friend of mine emailed me at 11:23 MST this morning to tell me she’d just typed “The End” on the first draft of her first novel. She set a goal, she stuck to it and she did it. Tonight I read it and I really loved it. Naturally, she has some work ahead of her in order to polish it to a high shine, but she did it. Her characters are strong, her writing is elegant and clean, her descriptions are wonderful, her story is compelling and when I got to the end of the story, there was a lump in my throat.
I am very proud of her. She makes me believe I can do it too.
All comments and suggestions are welcome -- particularly with regard to the time line.