WIP Wednesday #5: Home Stretch

Work in Progress

I think I’m in the home stretch. But I’m not sure. It’s takes me months sometimes to write a chapter. Technically I’ve been working on this book for years. I haven’t always had the luxury of being able to build a daily writing habit. Nor have I always utilized the writing time I have for working on my novel. But even when I am writing daily, I find it takes me a long time to finish a chapter. And I’m only on chapter 11 of a planned 15 chapters. Yet, despite the evidence of the past, I really feel like I’m in the home stretch.

The number one reason I should not feel this way is that I am moving to a new home. That’s right, my wife and I are moving out of our rental and are buying our very first house together. In a month and a few days, I’m going to be a bona fide homeowner. This week we began packing.

Office

The first box for the move is taped up and labeled.

Trying to finish a book while also getting ready to move is probably not wise. But you know what I think is even more foolish? Not writing.

There’s a time to write and a time to rest. Right now, it’s not a time to rest, but a time to use the changes in my life as a catalyst to finishing the first draft of this book. I figure that if a normal person only gets to pack in the evenings after work or on weekends, then I can just pack after I’m done writing for the day.

moving boxes

I won’t be finished with this book by moving day (Oct. 12!). Still, the feeling of crunch time is helping motivate me to get this novel done. I might get burned-out with packing our whole house into boxes, but I don’t think I’ll be getting burned-out on writing the book. There’s too much excitement there for me. Especially since I have a self-imposed deadline of October 31st.

Why Halloween? Only because I want to do NaNoWriMo, so I will ideally be done on or even before the deadline. Hopefully I’m not setting myself up to fail in November (or to fail to even participate) by cutting things so close. Nevertheless, I think it would be nice to just set the novel aside in November and let my creative side jump into something completely different.

And now for something completely different

I won’t go into my evolving thoughts on NaNoWriMo or into the piece I hope to write for it because it’s not yet being written and this is work-in-progress Wednesday. All of that will come later—if at all. I will, however, share a photo of a note from my wife I found on the back of one of my as yet unpublished stories while sorting through papers that needed filing.

Wow. Three Eyes by Randal Eldon Greene

WOW. This is probably the best thing you’ve written. Seriously, honey!! ❤ ❤ ❤

In summary, I think the rest of chapter 11 and the subsequent chapters will be written faster than all the parts of the book that came before. I’m in the home stretch. Let’s just hope that my move doesn’t stretch me beyond my limits, creatively or otherwise.

Micky packing

WIP Wednesday #4: Am I a Novelist?

Work in Progress

When I began writing Descriptions of Heaven, though I did intend to one day become a novelist, I never intended this narrative to be of book-length. The thing grew from a single scene into a story composed of chapters. It, in fact, unintentionally took the place of a book I was writing about a son dealing with the decline of his mother’s health due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Descriptions of Heaven 3D image black background.

Even with this book published, I had never been quite certain that I legitimately was a novelist, since my first book is what many call a novella. However, I have come across writing just as short as my novella where the publisher calls it a novel in the blurb and foreword. So I was either a novelist who wrote a little novel (novella) or a short story author who wrote a long short story.  Either way, my book was published as a standalone piece, just like any novel—big or small. Yet, I still kept asking myself, Am I a novelist?

Novelist contemplating©2004-2019 wredwrat

When asked what I do all day, my default answer is no longer “I’m a writer” or the only sightly less vague “I write books.”  Instead, I’m more apt so say “I’m a novelist” (though saying I’m a short story author is equally true, short fiction work isn’t a part of my quotidian practices).

There are two primary reason I’ve embraced the term novelist:
1) Recently, a friend on my Literary Fiction Writers Facebook group, during a discussion about the demarcations between a short story and a novel, pointed out that the real difference isn’t word count, but structure and flow. Novels and short stories are extremely different in that respect. While I’m not willing to discount word count as playing a central role in their difference, I’m apt to agree that rather small word counts can still be structured as novels. Descriptions of Heaven has under 35 thousand words, but it is structured as a novel and does not flow like a short story.
2) I have to admit that in this past six months I’ve become much more focused on my novel-in-progress, spending less time on my short fiction, which I often used to write, edit, and submit in lieu of working on my novel. Not only did my computer go kaput, as I explained in a previous WIP Wednesday post, making this kind of productive “distraction” less available, but I’ve also been spending every free day I have novel-writing for as long as I feasibly can. While it’s often not as much as I want, I can honestly say I am spending large chunks of my weekdays writing a novel.

©2016-2019 TheGraphicNovelist
©2016-2019 TheGraphicNovelist

So, there you have it. I have already written one little novel, and most Tuesdays through Fridays I spend my hours after breakfast until lunch writing my next novel. I am a novelist, both a published and actively working novelist.

Real talk time: I think a lot of novelists suffering from impostor syndrome or whatever, suffer a lot not because their book is too small, but because they don’t write as much as they can. No one should spend all their time writing, and in your life there are likely other things that take precedence over creative work. But a lot of us have the time—have in fact painfully carved out some small hours to focus on creativity—and yet we feel like impostors because we haven’t developed a good writing habit, thus we don’t use the time as we should. Consequently, we don’t feel like writers, let alone novelists.

The truth is, I haven’t developed a consistent habit of getting back to the desk after lunch. I can’t even blame it on a honey-do list, since I don’t let chores distract me anymore. My problem is that writing’s been going so well that I often finish my intended writing goal for the day or complete a long scene before the hours I’ve carved out for myself are used up. So I often stop writing because my brain feels like it needs a reset or some time to think about what’s next (yeah, I’m not a huge plotter).

On the one hand, I don’t mind these breaks because I’ve felt productive and hit my goals. On the other hand, I want to make a living as a writer—as a novelist—and in order to do that, I’ll probably want to be putting out a book every other year. Stopping for scene changes isn’t going to cut it.

Maori Sakai writer's life

© Maori Sakai

Here’s four things I’m doing to try and keep it going:
1) During lunch, I don’t turn on the radio or watch any TV. This lets my mind linger on my work, keeping me in my novelist zone or at least letting me transition back there faster.
2) I just get right back to the desk after my break and write. It’s been years since I’ve had to be in a mood or needed the Muse to write. So why I think I need to be calibrate my brain for the next section of my novel, I don’t know.
3) If I don’t have so much as a bullet point on a sticky note or general idea of what comes next, I’ll let myself go on a walk and think about it. I write when I get back. This isn’t something I want to become a habit since I won’t be going on walks come our long Midwestern winters, so I’ll only go out for a walk after serious creative thought. If nothing comes, I’ll let myself head out into the neighborhood for an hour or so.
4) I’m building a habit by writing every day I can, starting as early as I can and staying at it until 3:00pm if possible. Yet there’s this thing called real life that gets in the way sometimes of that good habit, so I’ve been trying to write daily regardless of the time. If needed, I’ve started at 11:00am, which is really late for me. I’ve even resorted to writing in the evening if I didn’t get a chance to during the day. While it cuts into family and reading time writing so late, it also shows my commitment to making a living from my books, continues to build my writing habit, and literally gets me a few pages closer to my goal.

This book is getting done. And, while I am a novelist, it’s forming the habit of novel-writing that’s going to let me someday be a career novelist (and occasional author of short story collections).

author novelist short story writer

© Elias Stein

 

Do you consider yourself a novelist whether you’ve written a novel or not? Or a poet, even if you haven’t made a collection of poetry? What are your writing habits like? Are your habits working or can you improve upon them? Let me know in the comments below.

WIP Wednesday #3: Adapt

Work in Progress

My computer broke.  It became extremely slow of a sudden. I did manage to finish typing up chapter 7 before the thing became unusable, giving me disc error messages when I boot it up.

errormouse.jpg

I’m not terribly upset. Yes, I need a computer to type and edit, but I really don’t miss the internet. I’m actually enjoying the extra hour(s) of book reading now that I must wait until a work day (like today; I was called in) to do anything online. I already refuse to own a smartphone. I really don’t want to deal with the constant presence of social media in my pocket. And the computer that went kaput is also the same one that for years didn’t have internet, functioning as just a useful word processor. I was forced to add  internet functionality back to it when my tiny laptop with a half-broken screen finally died. The truth is, I’ll probably get the thing fixed come winter. Maybe. The Spring and Summer months are really the worst months to be staring at screens anyway.

unplug and go outside

I spent over a week typing up chapter 7. I ended up with 71 double spaced pages with 21,577 words. My novel is now past the 100 thousand word mark. Chapter 8 was written before chapter 7, so I took a weeklong break to just read, which corresponded nicely with my computer going to shit.

During this break, I also contemplated what to write next. I thought I knew where I wanted to go. In fact, I still want to go there. But there’s been this character, Kimmie, who has been sitting in my mind since the beginning, and I wasn’t sure if there’d be enough room to squeeze her in and flush her out like I wanted. I’ve toyed with cutting her out altogether. But this book is a “cast of many,” and so I never entirely snipped her out and, in fact, mentioned her in the last chapter, basically daring myself to find a way to give her some page time.

I DARE YOU

So I was sitting in my library, thinking about how to start the next chapter, and this big old monologue from Wesley formed in my head. I had problems with it though. The first problem was that it simply didn’t feel right for the next chapter. Though maybe it could be slipped in somewhere, I couldn’t imagine where exactly. The second problem was that chapter 8 already had a heavy dialogue-only section toward the end. It would make a good beginning of a chapter, but not a good start to the next chapter.

The idea of Kimmie’s displaced narrative suddenly bumped up against this monologue, and I could see thematic resonance. While I still couldn’t start the next chapter with the monologue, it could certainly follow Kimmie’s section just fine. And once I had set the monologue behind my other character’s story, I realized I had a new chapter—an extra and previously unplanned chapter.

With this extra chapter squeezed in, will my book fall apart under its own weight?

heavy

No. I don’t think it will. In fact, Wesley’s monologue will be a great segue into chapter 10. It’s an accident of inspiration, and the novel will adapt to fit it. Just like I’ll adapt to only having access to a computer when at work on the weekends. My experience of the sunny months will be better without a computer in my house. My novel will be better with this extra chapter nestled happily into the middle of the story. Everything will adapt just fine.

 

 

WIP Wednesday #2: The Book Pitch

 

Work in Progress

What the hell is this book about?

I’ve been working on my novel for a couple of years now, yet until recently I never tried writing out what it was about in any succinct but descriptive way. The most I’ve said about it is basically an evasive log line: It’s about a rock band that gains fame through infamy. Yeah, that doesn’t tell you a lot. I finally decided it was time to write out what the hell this book is about when someone in a Facebook group asked members to pitch their books.

Moby Dick book pitch

The Pitch

The death metal rock stars of Overdose II, known for the on-stage suicides of their guest artists, are looking for a new permanent lead guitarist. Will Wesley Hartsell, the sole survivor of a band whose concert was attacked by terrorists, be willing to take their offer? What he doesn’t know is that the mother of one of the band’s “victims” is out for revenge, the wife of their music producer has begun a destructive emotional affair, and Overdose II’s next guest music artist may just be someone Wesley cares about.

Now I’m no expert at writing pitches. And I’m certainly not recommending anyone use my pitch as any kind of template. For a Facebook comment, though, it held up well enough that I was contacted by a member of the group who happened to be an acquisitions editor for a publishing company.

Book Agent: Give your novel to me

I’m really flattered that there’s already some interest (well, someone interested) in my book. I jumped the gun a bit and agreed to send the manuscript in May when the book is closer to done. After really looking into the publisher, I won’t be considering them. While they print quality books, I see that their marketing plan doesn’t include getting their author’s books on bookstore shelves. In other words, I’m looking for better distribution and marketing than they can offer.

In truth, I’m going to end up needing an agent. This means I’ll need a query, but I can wait until the book is completed before I begin to write one.

 

Elevator Pitch

You’re in a elevator with either your dream agent or a decision maker with a major publisher. You’ve got their full attention, but the ride is short. In 50 words or fewer, pitch them your unpublished masterpiece. 

Elevator Pitch

That’s the setup for the elevator pitch. You’ve got to sell it with something brief, enticing, and true. It’s the true that’s hard for me with this novel. It’s hard because there’s so much crammed in it—characters, plot lines, digressions, regurgitations, non-diegetic narrative—that any pitch I write is lacking a major piece of the book-shaped puzzle. Even my slightly lengthier pitch makes Wesley sound like the main character, when in reality the plot isn’t revolving around him in the way that pitch suggests.

“Step back and breathe, Randal.”

Good advice to myself from myself. I need to remember that if a whole plot summary can really really fit inside a pitch, it’s probably a plot belonging to a children’s picture book. A pitch is for selling the book, not revealing all the nuances. And it’s possible that it might even leave out whole plotlines that don’t fit into the short pitch very well. And when you have an elevator pitch, well, you’ve got even less to work with. So make those words count, even if something rather important is left off in the 50-word pitch.

Again, I’m no expert, but here’s my elevator pitch: The death metal rock stars of Overdose II, known for the on-stage suicides of their guest artists, are looking for a new, permanent lead guitarist. Will Wesley Hartsell be willing to take their offer? It’s a musical affair of wills where revenge and love collide.

What’s here?: One of the main plots.

What’s missing?: The other main plots.

Does what’s missing matter?: Not for an elevator pitch.

 

Mock me, not my book.

Feel free to send me your thoughts, suggestions, and corrections. I’d love some feedback on the pitches and my pitch-writing abilities. But be nice to the book—what little you know of it; the novel is, after all, a sort of paginated fetus right now. You can beat up on it after publication.

Critic

 

TL;DR I finally wrote a pitch for my novel-in-progress. I’m by no means an expert at pitches, but my pitch did capture the attention of someone in the publishing world (ultimately, I’m rejecting them). I also prepared a 50-word elevator pitch. Pitches leave out a lot of information, but that’s okay as long as they’re brief, enticing, and true.

WIP Wednesday #1: 90K in and Counting

Work in progress

INTRO TO WIP WEDNESDAYS

I’m starting a new blogging segment I’m calling WIP Wednesday. This is WIP Wednesday #1. I don’t plan to post every single Wednesday but occasionally will be writing about my latest work-in-progress on Wednesdays.

This year I’ve been posting weekly about my dialogue challenge, and I’ve found setting a blogging goal related to my creative writing is a great motivator. This isn’t that exactly. Unless I’m doing a weekly post, an occasional update on my next WIP isn’t going to really motive me not to procrastinate if for some reason I am procrastinating. Instead, I hope this new segment will be more topical in nature, letting people know some aspect of what I’m working on as opposed to what I used to do pre-dialogue days, which was only really post when a story of mine was published somewhere.

Since I’ve already been posting like crazy about the dialogues, expect my WIP Wednesday posts to be mostly focused on the novel. Though there will probably be WIP posts about the dialogues once they are ready to be compiled into a short story collection, but I wouldn’t expect any such posts in the near future.

Reedsy Wordcount
Image Source from reedsy’s great article on word counts.

 

WORD COUNT

For my first WIP Wednesday,  the focus is going to be on word count.

I just did a recount of the latest drafts of all the chapters in my novel-in-progress, and I’ve got 89,191 words typed up. Now I write everything by hand and only a small portion of the chapter I’m working on is actually typed up. Using a conservative estimate, I’m without a doubt over 90 thousand words.

When I began writing I feared that my book would be too short to count as a novel. I worried I didn’t have enough to say—enough words—to tell a novel-length story. After all, I write lots of flash fiction and my debut book was a novella of less than 40 thousand words (at least after my editor got through with it).

cutting a book down to size

 

The goal for my current WIP was at least 80 thousand words. I tried to focus on just writing—not word count—and repeated the mantra, A story will be as long as it needs to be, whenever anxiety about my novel’s length cropped up. Truth be told, I failed to brush away my worries and instead have been keeping track of my chapter’s lengths. Here’s the current breakdown:

Prologue: 623 words
Chapter 1: 17,082 word
Chapter 2: 10,943 words
Chapter 3: 8,359 words
Chapter 4: 6,404 words
Chapter 5: 10,034 words
Chapter 6: 5,389 words
Chapter 7: 4,647 words typed (This is the chapter I’m currently writing.)
Chapter 8: 25,710 words

Now that I know I’ve reached the magical 80 thousand, I feel relief because I have certainty that this work is long enough and, with more to write, will stay long enough even after editing. I believe I have something like four more full chapters left to write, including the one I’m currently writing. So I can calculate the average of my completed chapters (not the prologue or chapter 7) at 11,989 words. At only 4 more chapters, that’s 47,956 words left to write if I hit that average. Add this predicted total chapter length of the next 4 chapters to my completed chapters and we’ve got a 132,500 word book.

I have no way of knowing right now if I’m going to be spot on, way short, or a lot longer than this guess. At the lowest, my chapters should be 5 thousand words. I’ve read in places that 5K is a good word count for chapters in most books for adults. As you can see, my chapters are all above 5 thousand words. I think 5K is a good chapter length myself, but that’s not how this book decided to structure itself. It’s perfectly possible that I could end up with four 20 thousand word chapters to finish off my book or, much less likely, end the book with four 5 thousand word chapters.

Isn’t over 100K words too long for a novel?

According to this reedsy article, my book is likely to be a little on the long side for literary fiction. 80 to 100 thousand is the sweet spot. And while the sweet spot is a good place to be because it’s more likely to be accepted by agents and publishing houses, it’s also shorter than I hoped my novel would be. You see, while I fretted about reaching that magical 80K, I felt my book needed to be bigger. It might be best to remember that the sweet spot exists for a reason, but it’s also good to remember the mantra, A story will be as long as it needs to beAnd I always felt this story needed to be longer than the minimum.  Ideally, I really wanted it to be at least 120 thousand words.

Why break the “rules” of novel-length, especially when it’s your first novel?

That’s a great question? The simple answer is the same as my mantra. But it might also have to do with genre; though to be honest, I really don’t know. To me, my book is literary fiction. But a friend of mine said the book I’ve described to him is a systems novel, a genre of both literary and speculative novels.

I don’t know if he’s correct or not, but one trait that some systems novels have is bulk. Word counts in lit fic systems novels are often way larger than my guesstimate of 130K. So if my friend is right, then maybe the word count this thing is bound to be is closer to correct for its genre (though the mantra takes precedence IMO over any other correctness criteria). My friend is smart, so he’s probably right. But whatever the genre, I feel like the more words for this particular book, the better. You can look up articles on systems novels and, after the book out, decide for yourselves if it’s one, and while you’re at it, you’ll probably make a decision on how you feel about the long chapters in my book.

endless book

TL;DR Announcing a new blogging segment: WIP Wednesday. I’ll be posting these occasionally. My current WIP, a novel, is at 90K words and could get past 130K words. This is long, but it might be the right word count for the book’s genre, a literary systems novel, if it’s even its actual genre. In the end, A story will be as long as it needs to be.


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