Planning Makes Perfect

Well, if not perfect, then at least progress. Faster, easier, smoother progress. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

I’ve started three different drafts of the story I refer to only as Amnesia Conspiracy on this blog. Each one failed for different reasons. Draft #1 had compelling character voices, but lacked any kind of plot. Draft #2 started in the wrong place. Draft #3 contained a weirdly retrospective voice that didn’t fit the story, among other issues.

When I lost interest in draft #3 around the 30k mark, I was kind of confused. Drafts #1 and 2 had involved much less planning time than I usually put into my stories, but I’d approached draft #3 in more or less the same way that I’ve approached everything else I’ve finished. I wrote up short character sketches, decided on a setting, and drew up a rough outline that spanned the length of the story I had in mind. I’m one of those writers who can’t work without an outline–I have to have some general idea where I’m going in order to get there.

I was totally stuck on Amnesia Conspiracy though, and I had no idea why. I blamed the plot for being too twisty and turny. I blamed my characters for being too flat and uninteresting. I blamed myself for not being talented enough to do the story justice. And then, when I finally sat down to work on draft four after five months of rewriting Facing the Music, I realized that the problem was actually my planning methods.

You see, I’m used to rewriting my manuscripts. If I like an idea well enough, I generally assume that I’ll do a couple different drafts before I figure out what approach I want to take. And frankly, that’s a horrible attitude to have about your own writing. Why rewrite a manuscript multiple times in a row when you can do the lion’s share of the preparation ahead of time, and write the very best version you can right from the start?

That’s why I’m taking a slightly different approach with Amnesia Conspiracy. Instead of drawing up basic, descriptive character sketches, I’m focusing a lot more on what each character wants, what’s motivating them, and how their motivations contradict. I’m drawing maps for a few different major settings, writing up short descriptions of others, and figuring out where all of my locations are in relation to each other. I have a detailed outline that lays out the events of the story as concisely as possible. And, because Amnesia Conspiracy is a mystery novel, I have lists of evidence and witnesses and clues that need to be included.

Every manuscript I’ve finished has been a learning experience, in more ways than one. Rewriting Facing the Music, for example, has given me an up close and personal look at what my weaknesses as a writer are. I don’t expect to conquer all of those weaknesses, or even most of them, in one draft of Amnesia Conspiracy. My only goal is to trouble-shoot as many possible problems as I can now, before I’ve put any actual words on paper. That way, I’ll be able to shorten the drafting process–not to mention finish a draft!–and dive into revisions.

Writing a novel is always an experiment, but I feel as though Amnesia Conspiracy will be more of an experiment than most. How well it goes is anyone’s guess at this point. I’ll be keeping you posted either way.

How do you approach your writing? Do your planning strategies work well, or have you had to change them at any point?

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On the Write Track (I Hope)

It has been a pathetically long time since I’ve talked about my own writing on this blog. I’m always up for discussing books that I loved or stories that resonated with me, but I don’t tend to stay mum about my own work for months on end. I like to talk about what I’m writing, and how my ideas have changed or grown from the seeds I start out with. And yet, every time I’ve sat down to blog about my progress on Facing the Music, or the brainstorming I’ve done for Amnesia Conspiracy, I’ve wound up silencing myself.

I’ve blogged about my crisis of confidence in my own writing several times now. I’ve blogged a little bit less about how hard it has been for me to get back on track after a slump that lasted most of 2013. What I haven’t been able to admit up until this point is how much the idea of sharing my stories with anyone scares me.

I know I’m not the only writer out there who feels that way. Sharing your work is scary. Receiving constructive criticism from people you may not even know is scary. Opening yourself up to all kinds of public reactions can be terrifying. There are plenty of blog posts out there about how to tune out the naysayers, or learn from them, or live with them. I see dozens of conversations happening on Twitter during any given week about how hard it can be to live with your own insecurities–about your work, or your success, or your likelihood of being successful.

The funny thing is that it’s much easier for me to be kind and supportive to the people having those conversations than it is to be kind of myself. I mean, I know what my experiences are. I’ve participated in so many writing workshops, through school and online and in person on my own time, that I should be used to handling criticism. I’ve had my work eviscerated in forums full of professionals who were strangers to me, and in classrooms with people I’d have to see multiple times a week. I’ve worked one on one with other writers who spelled out in detail what was wrong with my stories and how much work I would have to do to fix them.

You’d think by now that I would’ve perfected my thick skin. I haven’t.

That crisis of confidence didn’t just affect my writing, it affected my perception of my writing. It impacted my ability to care less about what other people think, take constructive criticism as it’s intended, and move forward. All this time I’ve been pretending that I don’t need to address my fears the way I would address a writer friend’s fears, and it’s completely held me back.

If I’m going to become a better writer and move closer to being published, I need to admit my own insecurities. I need to confront and deal with my self-doubt, instead of bottling it up and pretending that everything’s fine. I need to charge full speed ahead into the writing, or revising, or manuscript swapping without worrying what other people will think, or whether they’ll judge me. I need to focus on whatever story I’m working on right now, and enjoy the process instead of worrying about the future.

And I finally, finally think I’m on the right track. 🙂

 

Has insecurity ever intervened with your goals for yourself? How did you handle it? I want to know!