Today, I am beginning my final attempt at writing this story that I have tried to write off and on for nearly 7 years now. It is, I think, a novel, but I won’t know for sure until it is finished. If I can’t do it right this time, I’m giving it up as too difficult for me. That said, I’m not giving up without a fight. I have a plan this time, which I didn’t have in my previous attempts. I also have a secret weapon that I hope will make this last attempt a success.
The plan: I’m giving myself a season to write the first draft and a second season to write the second draft. Start today, I plan to be finished with the first draft by August 31. At that point, I plan to take the month of September off from writing and not even look at what I wrote during that time. Then, beginning on October 1, I’ll start the second draft with an aim to finish it by December 31.
The secret weapon: this time, I have an outline.
That may come as a surprise to longtime readers. In the spectrum of plotters versus pantsers, I’ve been a proclaimed pantsers for a long time. Indeed, all of the short fiction I’ve sold was produced without outlines of any kind. And therein lies the rub: I have, to this point, written only one draft of a novel, way back in 2013. I never moved beyond that first draft because it seemed relatively incoherent. I’ve made numerous attempts at the story I intend to start today, and all have failed. In considering why this may be so, I decided to swallow my pride, and assume that at least part of the problem was that for something so big, I need an outline to provide waypoints for where I am going. My pal, Bud Sparhwak, will be pleased.
Armed with an outline, I plan to get started today and see how things go. I’m feeling pretty good right now, but that just may be the excitement of getting started. We’ll see how I’m feeling in mid-July, when I am deep in the middle of this thing–and on August 31, I’ll know once and for all if I am capable of writing this thing.
I don’t plan on doing any updates along the way. There just isn’t the time, and given my schedule, any time I can spend writing, I want to spend working on the story. But I will post an update by August 31, letting you know one way or another, if I succeeded in completing the story.
Never having used an outline before, I don’t know what a novel outline is supposed to look like. Mine consists of many sheets of yellow legal paper with a rough outline of all the chapters, and more pages that break each chapter down into things that I think need to happen. There’s also random notes scribbled here and there and various arrows point this way and that. I could have typed it up, I supposed, and brought some more order to it, but I like the chaotic feel of it. It feels like I am less locked in to a specific line of events, and have a kind of fuzzy map of how things are supposed to happen. If the outline works, and the story is a success, maybe I’ll post those pages someday as an example of an outline that worked–for me at least. (I suppose, it would be equally useful to post the outline if the story doesn’t work out, as an example of something that doesn’t work, but I don’t know if I’d have the nerve to do that.)
I’m trying not to think in terms of metrics on this go around. You can do the math and figure that for a 90,000 word novel, I need to write about a thousand words per day, on average. If my past experience is any guide, I’ll be well ahead of the curve in the first week or two, then I’ll hit the curve for a while, before falling off. I’m hoping that outline will serve to protect me somewhat from that falling off, but only time will tell.
So what’s the story about? I’m not really sure myself. I usually can’t answer that question until after I’ve written the first draft. But from what I know right now, it’s about baseball, and growing old, and the strange effects of… well, if I ever sell the thing I don’t want to spoil it so for now, you’ll just have to use your imagination.
Jamie, darn your hide. Such a jinx.
I self-published two unpolished lumps in 2014 then floundered for a few years on follow-on books before shelving. One was 110K words and the other around 90K. I created reasons to not do it, my last being my last formal education (a masters in tech). At the beginning of the year, I put on my calendar “May 11-15, resume writing.” I’ve engaged an editor and am correcting a known issue with one book in June, and should pick-up writing the 3rd book in July. With 8-12 years to retire (closing on 50) and Tyson’s Corner out my office window, I endeavor to finish 2 books a year for the next decade.
If you are struggling between being a pantser or plotter, may I offer a middle path? Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method should help you take your varying ideas and get it into a structure and the level of detail that should work for you. It is available on his website. He co-opted a method used for software tech-writing; as a fellow technologist you might find it helpful. He co-wrote a book that is deceptively very good, “Writing Fiction for Dummies.” But, his book “How to Write a Book Using the Snowflake Method” is a short story that teaches the method then shares the details of the method used to write the book. I’ve struggled on the character/story side for a while, but just this Spring hit upon a way that works: write Step 3 in narrative. Search “ingermanson snowflake method” and it should be the first hit.
I think this would appeal to you because of your short-fiction background. You end up writing short narratives that incrementally increase the detail of the work until you tackle the actual first draft. Stop at the step comfortable for you. I merge Step 4-6 together and end up writing a several page treatment that is probably somewhere between step 6 and 9. I would say Snowflake provides building blocks for you to find your process.
I’m familiar with more pantsy methods, but I use Randy to keep me from over-outlining. I would say one gets to Step 4, then as you write you expand toward Step 6 or 9.
Snowflake is also helpful to outline post-mortem. You could pants away, then write a one-sentence summary of each scene into a treatment at the end of the writing session. That will show you where the story is going. Could help with re-writes. This is a method used by a bestselling panter (not King).
I know writing is personal, but reach out if you want a sounding board as you work out your process. I’m still learning, but maybe I’m a step or two ahead here and can help.
I won’t wish you luck, because you don’t need it. You’ve got this. I’m looking forward to its publication.