Balancing Blogging and Writing (Second Draft Journal #2)

I’m starting a series of posts called my Second Draft Journal. It’s nothing fancy, just a collection of posts inspired by and following my progress as I write the second draft of my novel, Devil May Care. I’ll talk about everything from writer’s block to character development, but today I’m focusing on how being a blogger affects me as a fiction writer.

paperwork
ever feel like this?

I love being a blogger. I like that it is an easy outlet for writing and that I get to be a part of a reader/writer community.

However, as I’m working on my second draft of my WIP, I can’t help but notice that when I’m blogging, I’m not writing fiction. If I have a random pocket of time, I am much more likely to sit down and write a blog post (like this one) than commit myself to Devil May Care. Blogging is easier for me, and I can do it while watching TV (I’m rewatching an episode of Psych right now). If I’m writing my WIP, I’m really working hard to make my fiction writing strong. And that takes a lot more focus, energy, and commitment.

Especially during summer, focus, energy, and commitment are not exactly my bywords. Television multitasking is much more my style. So here’s my question: am I blogging too much, sort of using it as an excuse to avoid fiction writing? Where is the balance between blogging and writing?

I like that blogging gives me a break. If I have actually written during a day, blogging is a nice break that keeps my mind thinking about writing but also lets me relax. Blogging has helped me develop a conversational writing tone and pushed me to go outside my comfort zone occasionally. Blogging has an element of instant gratification and real-time feedback, which my WIP (which I keep fairly private) lacks. Blogging and fiction definitely work together positively in my mind, sort of a left/right brain interaction.

If you ask me if in five years, I’d rather be a successful blogger or a published fiction author, I’d say an author 100%. But I also know that I don’t want to stop blogging, and I like that I’ve kept myself committed to three posts a week.

Going forward for the rest of my summer (I only have like six weeks left! *crying*) I am going to try to make sure that however long I spend blogging, I match with fiction writing. Will I be able to do it every day? Probably not, to be honest. But I have to find a balance, and this seems like a good starting point. Does this mean I might have less blog posts, might read a few less books? Yes. But sometime  soon (eventually) I’m going to have to prioritize my fiction writing, and this summer is the right time.

What is the relationship between blogging and writing? To you writers out there, how do you balance your time blogging and your time writing?

Second Draft Journal #1: Now What?

Since December 2014, I’ve been working on the second draft of my work in progress, Devil May Care. It is a YA paranormal romance with a heavy dose of social commentary, based in a world where everyone is born with a devil on their shoulder, signifying them to embody one of thirteen sins.

I’ve written about my WIP in random posts on this blog since then, but now I’m starting a series of posts strictly dedicated to logging my journey to a second (and better) version of this novel. It’s called my Second Draft Journal and it will talk about everything from writers block to character arcs, from social commentary to plot development. Here’s the first installment.

After two months of not touching the word document “Devil May Care take 2” because of school and stress, I finally opened it back up. After I had a mini heart attack while I waited for all of the pages to load (I always feel like pages will randomly go missing), I started in on the arduous process of reacquainting myself with the 50,000 words I’d already written. This involved reading all 148 pages and creating a plot spreadsheet for myself to keep track of everything (something I had been too lazy to do earlier in the year). I’ve talked about using Excel to organize plots before; basically each cell is a scene and each row is a day. I also created a spreadsheet to keep track of my characters, and I brought back the one I was using to keep track of how many words I write a day.

words written
to keep track of words written
to keep track of characters
to keep track of characters

The plot chart is color-coded based on how much I liked each scene. Dark green is the best, dark red is the worst, lighter shades of each represent somewhere in between, and gray is for scenes I just don’t care about. I love that this gives me a visual layout of the areas of the book I need to fix and the areas where I hit a groove and everything works. Eventually I’ll copy the spreadsheet and color-code it by what each scene is about (which subplot it moves along), but right now I’m just trying to keep track of which scenes I like, which ones I hate, and which ones are just whatever.

spreadsheet 1
here are the first few days

Yes, I am a little crazy when it comes to excel. I never learned how to do math with it, but I know how to do this really well.

Then I made the mistake of using the comment feature on Excel to jot myself notes about what was wrong with the scenes I didn’t like. Some of these notes are constructive, reminding me of elements that could be added to certain scenes and reminding me of what needs to be fixed. Others reveal my fraying sanity. I’m basically talking to myself, asking questions that I don’t have the answer to and releasing my frustration:

  • Who the frick knows

  • Well written but is it too long??? GAH

  • maybe I like it maybe its awful — EMOTION SUCKS — ook

  • Is this foreshadowing or just giving it away???

Lots of question marks, not a lot of answers.

It took three days to get through all of what I’ve written. And now I face my real problem:

I have to start writing again.

And the scary thing is that tracking the colors of my spreadsheet, the quality of my writing has been steadily improving, which is what happens when you get into the habit of writing and get comfortable with your piece’s voice and start to gain some confidence. But I got out of that habit. Now I’ve got a blank page and the sick feeling that anything I write at this point will be noticeably shaky compared to what came before. Which is a confidence killer if ever there was one.

So I’m just staring at my computer, thinking, “Now what?”

On Why I Might Ignore Your Writing Advice

plot-structure
click for picture credit

 

I love writing. And I love learning about writing. I love reading blog posts and quotes on Pinterest about writing. There is so much advice out there: how to write interesting characters, how to come up with a plot, how to create the ultimate antagonist…

It can be super helpful.

And it can also be overwhelming.

To explain, let me backtrack a little. I’m currently working on the second draft of my WIP, Devil May Care. It’s a YA sort-of-paranormal, kind-of-romance sort of thing. See? I’m so good at describing it.

The first draft was entirely free-form, written without an outline or the vaguest idea of what was going to happen next. And while I loved the experience, when I sat down to write draft two, I knew that I needed to have some sort of roadmap.

For the first 60-ish pages, I wasn’t overly concerned with definite plot structure. I knew what scenes from draft #1 I wanted to use, what new elements I needed to pull in, and that was enough. I wasn’t flying by the seat of my pants, but my plane was built of fairly shitty cardboard. It was enough to get me going, though, so I ran with it.

And then the exposition had been expositioned (wow, so not a word) and I knew I was starting to get into the meat of the story, which was great, because meat is good, but it also sucked, because my roadmap had ended. One minute, I’m following my self-made GPS’s commands, the next, I’m stranded in the middle of no where with only a bottle of water, a bag of stale Cheetos, and the knowledge that I really need to decide on a concrete plot for this monstrosity.

So I turned to the internet. A quick Google search later, I’m reading all about plot structure, how to create a plot, the parts of a plot–

And none of it is helping. In fact, an hour of skimming writing advice blogs and Pinterest infographics has convinced me that I have absolutely no hope of ever turning Devil May Care into a workable novel.

It sucked. A lot.

See, I’ve always had this idea that if I have a good premise and characters I like and a vague idea of what I want my book to say, there will also be a plot. If I think about the elements of the book I have to work with, I will eventually discover a plot. Like my WIP is a math problem and I just need to find the right formula and solve for “plot.” Like I can dump everything I created in draft one into a sifter and if I shake it enough, a nugget of plot gold will surface.

But everyone on the internet has different ideas, and they ask a lot of questions: What does your character want? What is your conflict? What is in the way of what she wants? What is The Lie Your Protagonist Believes? What is your point A and how do you get to point B? Who is your antagonist?

They’re good questions, and I know they shouldn’t be hard to answer, but they tripped me up. Not because I couldn’t think of an answer, but because I could think of too many answers. Or the answer I thought of didn’t feel “plotty” enough.

I couldn’t get my idea of the novel to fit into their molds, and it left me feeling like I’d gotten the answer wrong on a test.

Devil May Care has romance in it, but I’ve never felt like it was the central plot. On it’s most basic level, DMC is just a girl (who is a lot like me) trying to figure out who the hell she is in a society that is screaming at her to sit down, shut up, and be the person they have told her she already is. I don’t feel comfortable calling it a coming of age novel, or a bildungsroman. It’s more than that, but I’m not exactly sure how.

All I know is that the internet (well, the advice I was reading) was forcing me into a box that felt way too small for the book I wanted to write. I ended up feeling like I was doing something wrong because I didn’t have a “good” answer to their questions. I stopped writing for a weekend, overcome with doubts and anger.

But part of me realized that my idea of “good” answers were just the answers that other people would give, the answers that other books would respond with. But I don’t want to write a book that already exists, I want to write my novel.

All of this was about a week ago. Since then, I’ve actually sat down, focused on my book, and formed a plot that I like. It doesn’t exactly match the formulas the internet wanted me to use, and I’m sure I’ll change it as I go along, but I’ve got my roadmap back. And I like where it’s leading me.

I still read writing advice online. I follow a few writing advice blogs and some Pinterest boards. Most of the time, they help me focus on what I need to accomplish with my writing.

But I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to ignore their advice. Sometimes, that is the best thing you can do.


Have any of you experienced this? Do you read writing advice? How do you deal with it when someone tells you you’re doing something “wrong”?

 

Falling into a Rhythm

At the end of December, I started writing the second draft of my WIP, a YA paranormal-ish novel called Devil May Care. I currently have 20,349 words, and I actually like what I’ve written.

To give you a timeline of this project, I had just finished the first draft when I started this blog in April 2014. I decided to let it sit for a month, and then that month became, like, eight months. School was in the way, and then summer was in the way, and then school came back and there was always something standing between me and free time.

A lot of it was homework. A lot of it was self-doubt. A lot of it was just being tired and stressed and not wanting to put another project on my plate.

But in December, I started writing again, and miraculously, I’ve managed to keep writing, even when second semester started and hit me in the face like a freight train. (I hate January…)

Last night, I wrote 3,348 words, the most I’ve written in one sitting since I started draft #2. It took about three and a half hours, and I’m paying for it today, because I stayed up until midnight to write it, and my body really wanted sleep.

Just over three thousand words is not a lot, but actually it is. In the grand scheme of things, it is a tiny scrap of a story that I will probably rewrite five more times before I like it. However, it is a sign that I’m still writing, and that I’m writing more. I’m not just adding a paragraph a week. I’m adding entire chapters, chunks of plot.

I’m falling into a rhythm. I can tell people that I’m a writer because I’m actually writing.

My grades are still great. My life has not become more hectic. Writing, just like it used to before I convinced myself it was too stressful, is a wonderfully therapeutic exercise. I feel like myself again.

I’m just putting this out there because I doubt I’m unique. Everyone has life get in the way of living. But I woke up this morning feeling tired but content, and wanting to write more. I’m caught up in a great story–and it’s not the one I’m reading, it’s the one I’m writing.

In fencing, falling into a rhythm is bad. It’s predictable. You want to change it up, catch your opponent off guard.

But with writing, rhythm is exactly what I need. Routine. I can’t let writing be a once-a-month occurrence. I have to remind myself that I’d rather write than watch TV. That I’d rather write than stare for hours at Buzzfeed. I need to keep writing, to stay in this rhythm.

One thing that has definitely helped is that I’ve started an Excel spreadsheet keeping track of how many words I write a day. My average is around 1,000 words. (I don’t write every day, so I only take into consideration days I actually sit down and add to DMC.) I always have the spreadsheet open in my laptop as a reminder to write. It also gives me a confidence boost when–like last night–I realize that I’ve written a substantial chunk of words.

I know one night of writing doesn’t mean my novel is done, but it’s enough of a confidence boost for me to believe it might get there eventually.

Finally Back to My Novel

Remember, right when I started this blog, that I said I had just finished the first draft of my novel, Devil May Care, and that I was going to let it sit around for a month before I started editing it? And then after that month was over I said I’d wait one more month until school was out?

Well, school has been out three weeks, but I FINALLY went back to my novel. In the last three days, I reread the 341 page manuscript. It was painful and uplifting at the same time.

I knew that the beginning of the novel wasn’t good. It was rough, and I didn’t really know where I was going with the plot. And though the writing at the end of the manuscript is some of the best I think I’ve ever done, the writing at the beginning…is not.

edit old writing

I wrote the entire novel without an outline. I basically had no idea what the plot was going to be as I wrote it. This is the way I write and I don’t regret it, but it definitely left my work cut out for me as an editor.

I am, of course, having existential crises every two seconds: This has no plot! My main character is one dimensional! There’s too much romance! There’s not enough romance!

edit crap

I’m trying to stay positive, but it’s hard.

The thing is, I really like Devil May Care. But I’m also realizing that I need to do a lot of work on it. I’m going to rearrange events in the plot, add depth to more side characters, and flesh out my main characters. There are some elements of the conclusion of the novel that I know I need to add, but I haven’t yet figured out what they’re going to be.

I have a lot of work. And it’s summer, so motivation is taking a while to show up. But I’m taking this seriously. Now that I’m back inside the DMC universe, I’m ready to work.

edit homework

 

Keeping this in mind, there will probably be less Hell and Styx posts for the next few months. I know I’m sort of in the middle of a plot line right now, and I promise I will work on it while I edit. Just, you know, slower.

I hate editing. Seriously. The last novel I wrote died when I tried to edit it. That’s the reason (one of the reasons) I switched to Devil May Care. So I’m kind of scared at the idea of editing DMC, which is my favorite manuscript I’ve ever written.

I just have to remember this: