see the forest, not the trees

Lately I’ve been working on an adult, contemporary romance novel. The genre has been a bit of a stretch for me in some ways. Usually I write about characters living in or journeying to a fantastical world. I have written character-centric romance before, however. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find I enjoy working on this novel just as much as my genre fiction. So far we’ll call this new novel “Moonlight”.

I started this novel about the same time I decided to get serious about my writing career again. It’s taken me a couple years to get back to this point. I’m older and wiser this go-around, with more experience and insight than I had before. I’ve also been reading advice from other authors and professionals when I can. These past couple of months have been a huge learning process for me and I thought I would share a few things I’ve discovered along the way.

Stephen King’s memoir, “On Writing” was a birthday present given to me by my beta and best friend, Allison. The first half was what the title implied, a memoir, not just about writing, but about Mr. King’s life. It was entertaining and hilarious, as well as interesting. I felt like I knew him a lot better by the time he got around to the writing part.

I won’t quote the dozens of brilliant snippets to be gleaned from “On Writing,” instead I encourage you to pick it up at your local library or click on this link right now and read for yourself. You won’t regret it.

Mr. King waxes and wanes about many things, but encourages us most to tell the story. He emphasizes a lot on being as genuine as possible in writing. In other words, write truthfully how people talk, how they really live. Don’t sugar coat everything. My adult romance, “Moonlight” is about 80% dialogue, so I found this helpful in crafting my characters. They may be the most honest make-believe people I’ve ever met, because I’ve made myself take it a step farther than my comfort zone.

With these things in mind, I felt ready to tackle my new story and all the stories to come. But I still looked into one of my favorite sources of writerly wisdom, author blogs. One such author, Susan Dennard, talks about her outlining process in detail. What stuck out most was her note about her screenplays. As she works through upcoming chapters, she writes the dialogue and minimal “stage direction” for characters. You can check out the article, HERE. I thought I’d give it a try while working on “Moonlight” and a wonderful thing happened. I kept up with both the screenplay and first draft together. But often times, the screenplay was easier to gut out upcoming scenes. It challenged me to have the characters tell their story without me writing extra pages of description and backstory to tag along with it. Also, many times I would start writing a scene in my draft, but when I put it in the screenplay, the dialogue grew and shifted. When all you have in front of you are words, it forces you to think about how your characters speak. It made me work harder to tell the story through their words more-so than mine.

Things started moving along well enough. I could easily put in about a thousand words per day when I sat to work on my novel. But I turned to a couple of books I had recently bought, to see if I could learn anything else. I’ve read a lot of K.M. Weiland’s “Outlining Your Novel” and while I have heavy respect for her methods, it would drive me crazy to try and outline to the intensity she does. I’m something of a “pantser”, always have been. But I like to think I’ve gained a lot more structure in the last year or so.

The one that sparked my latest personal challenge is Rachel Aaron’s, “2,000 to 10,000”. It’s essentially an extended novel version of a blog post she wrote a while back, showing how she went from writing 2-10K per day. Crazy, right? I don’t know if I’ll ever reach that lofty 10K a day goal, but her methods have already improved my writing.

I took her advice and made a spreadsheet for a writing record. When I sit down to work on “Moonlight” I clock in and clock out, keep track of word count and total time spent. I make note when I take breaks and add up a total word tally for each day. In the last week, I’ve spent an average of four hours every day working as steadily as I could, without interruptions. Today, my word count went past 4K with just under 4 hours of writing under my belt, a vast improvement. It’s encouraged me to keep up the habit and helped me to treat my writing like the part-time work it should be. The fact I’ve more than doubled my typical word count tells me I am capable of more and I’ll keep working to get to that point.

I started “Moonlight” this last month, after a month prior of brainstorming and procrastinating. I’m about fifty pages into the story now with over 20K words. I hope I can write a post next month announcing the completion of draft one. 🙂

Check out these resources and see what happens to your writing when you put the tips to practice.

Do you have any method that works best for you? Please share in the comments below.

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