Toby’s Update – November 2019

Sixty days and counting, then a new year starts. If anything, 2019 has been a most productive year in terms of writing for me. In this month’s update:

  • progress on my first novel
  • 2016 to 2019 – what changed?
  • The next 500 word story (which is never 500 words)
  • improving the craft – coaching and developmental editing

Progress on my first novel

It is getting there! At 68K words it is larger than I set out to write. Intended to write a series of novellas, hitting the 20K-25K mark with each in order to practice the craft. Who sets out to write a 100K word novel at first. Well, some people do.

Instead, this experiment became a magnet for my creativity and with every character action, a deeper understanding of the world and its workings was required. One thing lead to another, and to the rising word count. This leads me to the simple conclusion that the number of words to use are simply the number needed to tell a story well and properly.

Currently I am revising the chapters leading the climax of the third act, with the fourth to be the final. What I have learnt from this is that there is value in outlining. Very often I just write and the words flow. This freeform writing leads to insights into sprouting ideas. In the rewrite, those ideas grow and their showing improves. This is why I revise vigorously, because it improves what is on paper so much. Despite the fact that it does take time.

My plan is to finish this draft by the end of the year – alas missing my 15 November deadline. The work will then go to the developmental editor, and I intend to work on a short story (set in the same world!) for a month, before getting back to this manuscript with fresh senses. Maybe, by the end of 2020, it will be good enough to either send to agents or consider self-publishing. Who knows.

2016 – 2019: What changed?

The first entry into my notebook on Ealisia dates back to June. 2016. I spent years, over breakfast, on the weekends, during holidays, pouring the world I saw into that notebook. The act of putting pen to paper gave me tremendous joy. I tried journaling daily as well, to build the habit of writing, and blasted into chapters starting stories, but never quite finishing. I drew maps of the world, of places in the world, and populated it with cardboard characters, each destined to be a heroine or hero in their own right. Sure.

In 2017 I set myself the goal to write daily, and I picked a story and worked at it. The goal was to finish a book. A good one at that. I wrote a chapter or two, and revised it, then had someone read it, and revised it again. Before long, I was constantly rewriting the same part of a wholly unfinished story, with no idea where to take it. These stories are still in a pile on my desk.

Only in 2018 did I actually learn that a story needs an ending as much as it needs a beginning. I wrote something, based on a D&D one-shot I had created, from ending to beginning. Maybe 1500 words in total. That became the seed that sprouted the story as it is today. I am on my seventh draft for a reason.

To be honest, it is not finishing the book as much as it is the pleasure of writing and getting better at writing, that drives me. In these two years, working on this single story I have learnt much. About the craft and about myself. Right now, all I want to do is have that one finished story, so I can comfortably move on to the next.

The next 500 word story

Why do I write these? Two reasons. First, to practice the craft. Second, to explore aspects of the world I write about. Telling a good story boils down to two things for me. Rewriting and craft. Rewriting forces me to look at a text and make it better. First drafts are never readworthy. Don’t kid yourself. Craft can only be improved by deliberate practice. Conflict. Characterizing. Clarity. Particularise. Showing. Tension. Action. Combining these into a coherent narrative. It gets better with practice.

And 500 word stories are just that. Practice. Though I never manage to stick to 500 words. I try to write one every month, spending an hour every Saturday dedicated to writing this. This forces me away from the novel, I know. I get back to the novel with a fresh mind after writing something else, it makes it easier to write.

Improving the craft

I cannot stress enough the improvements my writing coach has forced into my writing. The awareness of what I am actually putting down on paper, and the effect it has on the reader is such a valuable skill, and I would encourage every writer, at any level, to seek such help beyond friends and family reading and commenting on your writing. It is a worthwhile investment in yourself.

The notes my developmental editor gave me are a treasure trove of insight into where to improve the story. To have someone with an eye for structure and arcs, read this story and point out the strong and weak points has helped reshape and improve in ways I had not imagined myself. Especially for longer works, such expert input can make the difference between an okay story and a really good story. Six months after the assessment, I still find something new to work with in these notes.

That’s it for this month. I am still having fun writing, and hope that some day you will be able to enjoy reading the story I am writing now.

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