Thursday, May 8, 2008

100+ Pages Into The Foundling Wheel

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 Tracy want or not want, what conflict or challenge is interfering with that desire and where will she end up at the end of her journey? I had some vague concepts at the beginning, but now I need to nail them down. The good news is that I think I’ve got this.

- 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 Tracy forward and there are all kinds of possible sub-plots involving my secondary characters. Which to choose? How will they serve my premise? The more I think about it, the more cool ideas I think of.

- 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.


Leatherdykeuk said...

Keep going :) You making a Good Thing happen.

kristenspina said...

Thank you, my friend. YOU inspired me every step of the way.

I can't wait (but will wait patiently) for Chap. 12. When you're ready, you'll know.

kristenspina said...

Oh, and the timeline? As you know that was a HUGE problem for me. The thing that helped was mapping it out. I got a big long piece of easel paper and starting long before my story starts, I mapped out the events. I'll probably need to do this again as I rewrite, but it was enlightening to see it drawn out that way. Good luck.

Yogamum said...

I'm so proud of what you've done so far and it's such a huge accomplishment already. I have no doubt you'll get through the "issues" and end up with a completed novel!

steve said...

Lisa, your support has helped me so much in getting to where I am in my own Dickens Challenge novel. I've kept up with The Foundling Wheel not just because I like you personally, but because it's an interesting story well written. You've given us some unforgettable characters and given us a glimpse of military life at the end of the Cold War.

Check in with Tracy and Aaron and let them guide you. And with Sabine. She's got a story to tell and we hope to read it soon.

P.S. I just reread Chapters 1 and 2. Maybe they need a little tweaking, but they're still excellent chapters. Here's a paragraph that really stood out:

"Natalie became a fixture at the club. She was blonde, short and sturdy with a broad country English accent and a brassy personality. She was just shy of pretty, with Van Gogh peasant features and an imperfect smile, but she had a bawdy sense of humor, she could take a joke and she and her friends were the center of attention wherever they went."

One paragraph and you've nailed Natalie for the reader. Whatever you do, don't take out that paragraph.

CindyLV said...

I'm right there with you, Lisa. I've got a few scenes I need to write that fit in between some of my existing chapters so I can figure out how to get back on track. I've declared this weekend a mini writing retreat and warned my husband that I'm not to be distracted.

I have no doubt that you'll be typing "The End" within a few months. And I've decided that if YOU can do it, so can I.

Melissa Marsh said...

"...but the trouble with books on writing is that you don’t always read the right book at the right time."

How very, very true. I find myself picking books up again when I really need them.

This has truly been a great exercise for you - I can just feel your enthusiasm jump off the page. You can get to The End, Lisa - just keep on plowing away.

Ello said...

Very good list of things learned! Now get cracking on chapter 12!!!

Hee hee no pressure - just trying to be a motivator. Plus I'm dying to know what happens next.

Shauna Roberts said...

You can do this! Many writers hit a wall somewhere in the middle of the book. So you're not alone in having to pull yourself out of a hole at this point.

It sounds as if you've been thinking a lot. Have you tried organizing those thoughts with flow charts or graphs so that you can see where each path will take you and whether there are some ideas that can be a part of whichever path you choose?

Lisa said...

Rachel, Thanks for cheering me on. I am so impressed with ANOTHER BLOODY LOVE STORY. You have such a gift for juggling a huge cast of fascinating characters.

Kristen, Hey, big paper and mapping it out is brilliant. I'm going to do that next. That will get it out of my head and into a format I can better digest, I think.

Yogamum, You're too nice. I'm looking for your next chapter. I meant what I said the other day on your blog. You're so onto something.

Steve, You've been very supportive every step of the way. That's the one thing I should have mentioned in my lessons learned. Knowing that other people are working through the same issues and are at the same stage is so beneficial. The camaraderie has really helped to keep me going.

And THINGS DONE AND LEFT UNDONE is going to be fantastic. You've got such a great blend of the historical and the mystical, all wrapped around exciting times and great characters.

Your persistence is such a motivator. So far, I think you've written more than any of us -- well, you and Rachel both have.

Thanks for all the encouragement and the great feedback.

Cindy, I've been sensing you might be struggling with some similar issues. Nice to know we're in this together, huh? Yeah, we'll make it to the end. If it was easy, everybody would do it.

Melissa, I'm glad I have all of the books. At times like this it's nice to have a bunch to flip through for ideas.

Yes, this really has helped. I kept thinking I should be able to write my way through it but I think it's more a matter of pulling back and remapping.

Ello, I'm working, I'm working! Ha. I'm actually starting to worry that since I'll be leaving the 20-something characters behind for now and leaving the setting behind that I run the risk of losing everyone. I guess it's all about taking chances though, right?

Shauna, Aha! You just made me dig through my entire office to find the 3 million index cards I bought months ago. I had no idea what I'd use them for at the time, but you've given me an idea. Thanks!

Larramie said...

Lisa, the best advice I've heard/read is to begin the story in the middle of the action and that means with Tracy and Aaron in Germany OR in England when Natalie first appears.

And Yes. You. Can. Do. This!

Tim said...

Lisa --

Thanks for giving me so much credit, but it's all you. You've done some really wonderful writing. All I did was suggest an external stimulus, which isn't all that different from the ones you get when you're published: deadlines, editors' expectations, etc. But THE FOUNDLING WHEEL is tremendous, and it's all Lisa.

And you're obviously doing much better on the DC than I am. My current Bangkok book has been giving me conniptions, driving me to distraction. And, yes, the early chapters need work, and so do the middle chapters and the late chapters, and . . .

But I'm SO happy to hear you say that pantsing opened you up creatively. When it's working, I think it's the biggest thrill in the world. When it isn't, I just have to remind myself that I'm learning.

Tim said...

Just to clarify some sloppy writing on my part, the chapters I said needed work are in my book, not yours. I was just suggesting that we're in the same position as far as that's concerned.

And I'm currently going through my DC effort, COUNTERCLOCKWISE, so I can do a short preface -- "The story so far" -- that will appear with the next chapter. It's a humbling process.

Lisa said...

Larramie, Yes! Those are the questions I've been mulling over. Do I need that first chapter? Well, yeah, if I'm going to introduce the issue of Natalie's baby up front. But maybe I don't need to do that. Jeeze, I don't know!

Tim, Well truly, if you hadn't come up with the idea, I don't know when or even if I'd have ever loosened up, so I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

As far as the current Bangkok book, if anyone can figure his way to the end, it's you. You demonstrate that time and again. How many novels are you up to now?

Funny you should say that about learning. I have a tendency to get frustrated fairly often when I'm working and I noticed that no matter what problems I run into with writing, I don't ever seem to get emotional about it. I think I realized that my frustration is generally toward things/people I have no control over. With writing, I have all the control so it's just a matter of figuring it out and finding a way. It may not happen overnight, but I will get there.

Yes, when I was on a roll, it was nearly euphoric. Now, it's like a puzzle I'm trying to solve.

You didn't confuse me! I can definitely understand that COUNTERCLOCKWISE and the Dickens Challenge really runs counter to your process, which I equate with total immersion. I hope you get back to it because I love the characters and the setting. What's more fun than murder in the entertainment business!?

Thanks for always being so supportive and for always saying just the right things when I've needed to hear them.

Carleen Brice said...

KEEP GOING. 100 pages in is when it gets rough, but don't start second guessing yourself. Don't start trying to fix those pages. KEEP GOING. You can go back and fix the timeline and whatever later. KEEP GOING.

And congrats to your friend!!

Riss said...

Hey there lady,

I know the feeling. I'm working on who to give the story to so they can tell it..if that makes sense...with my work. With your work, I think it would be nice to have the present day start us off, go back, but intersperse past with present more...break up the space. It's not quite flashbacks but more of how memories operate I think. I don't know if that makes sense. However, if the important thing is how your characters got to where they are now, and if that information will have an impact on the end of the story, or the meaning or the message or whatever, then you could operate chronologically just fine as well. ( I think all this is important, by the way..(c: )-you have a lot of great material that you could just reorganize. It's fun too...sitting down and literally restructuring everything to see how it reads. Sometimes that opens up doors you didn't know were there.

by the by, thanks for reading my work. (c: Now go get typin'! (c:

I'm going to post my messy chapter and just move on. it's a train wreck but I think if I keep writing a surprise will happen and I'll end up with the answers I need. :D


Lisa said...

Carleen, I am definitely going to do just that. Although I can already see things I need to change, I'm not touching anything until I finish. I spent some stolen time today brainstorming the way ahead and working out what happens to everybody, so I feel pretty energized. I kind of sense that if I can just work out the general shape and direction, then I can get back to writing a shitty first draft of the rest ;))) Thanks for you support. KEEP GOING in caps X3 has my attention!

Oh, and I didn't want to "out" her yesterday, but now that she's posted, it's blogger Kristen Spina (on my sidebar) --- Hooray for Kristen!!!

Sustenance Scout said...

Woohoo, I guessed right! :) Way to go, Kristen! And I'm chiming in with Carleen, looking back can drive you buggy. Think like Dora in Finding Nemo and just keep writing, just keep writing, something I plan to do this weekend (with fingers crossed, though that might make typing a little tricky). TGIF! :)

Greg said...

keep it rocking!

Lisa said...

Riss, It makes perfect sense. "more how the memories operate" -- yes, that's exactly what I have to keep in mind. It's weird because what has been a pretty linear story with a few characters in the same place is going to necessarily branch off to follow each character to some degree to see what happened to them between the time they separated in Germany and now. Believe it or not, I spent a good part of today writing up scenes on cards and tacking them on a bulletin board so I can begin to shuffle things around. I'll try anything ;)

I'll check in to see your latest this week for sure. Thanks for the great suggestions.

Karen, I'm with you. Although I've already got some thoughts on things that will change and just go away, I'm not planning to mess with them until I'm done and go back to the beginning.

Greg, Thanks!

Steve Malley said...

My timeline advice?

Finish the first draft. Odds are good that by the end, you'll see what the beginning needs to be.

Lisa said...

Steve, Well put and excellent advice. I am putting all my faith into the idea that you are correct.

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon

Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf