B.I.C. in All Its Meanings

Before I forget, if you haven’t entered my contest for a copy of Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, there’s still time. Just leave a comment for that post, and I’ll add your name to the pot.

For the past week, I’ve been running around like the proverbial decapitated chicken.  Today was the first time in too long that I had several hours to sit in my office and get a large chunk of work done. I set myself a goal for the day (made it!!) and got to work.

In other words, I did Butt In Chair (B.I.C.).

We’ve all heard the phrase. On a good day, we love the acronym and feel proud of how disciplined and productive we are. We even add F.O.K.T. (Fingers on Keyboard Typing) to our commitment.

On a bad day, we pretty much want to send the chair and the keyboard through the window.

This may be because we’re stuck on a too-narrow definition–the one that says B.I.C means typing away, putting words on the page, and sending those pages to the printer.

Today, I MAYBE typed 100 words.

My B.I.C. time was spent thinking. I was working on the next stage of The Critiquer’s Survival Guide. I have an interesting task to do while I write this book, and that is to create a very small  sample of each genre for which I discuss critiquing.  I’m using excerpts from real books, too, but those are for the good example. I couldn’t very well pick up a novel I thought was “not-so-good” and then write, publicly, about why I thought it didn’t work. So I’m making up those not-so-good examples.

Today was my day to pick topics. Even though I only have to write a page or two for each, I knew that–if I didn’t have a plan ahead of time–I’d hit a major stumbling block each time I started writing a new chapter. And stumbling blocks can pretty much triple that B.I.C. time!

How did I spend my B.I.C. hours? I thought. I scribbled ideas in a notebook, thought about my life and experiences, any things I might be a semi-expert on (to write something purposefully bad, you pretty much have to write it decently first). I closed my eyes and visualized, dipped into my memories and my opinions.

And then I typed a word or six.

There are days I don’t even come to my desk for B.I.C. Opening a chapter file—new or existing–can be deadly for brainstorming plot events or developing characters. You look at the empty page, or at the words you’ve already written, and you get stuck. You have no idea where to start the scene, or you’re frozen at the idea of changing any of the words you’ve already written.

For big thinking, I do B.I.C. in my rocking chair. Usually, it’s tucked away in a corner of my office. My husband and son drop into it occasionally for a chat. But when I don’t know where I’m going, when I have to explore concept stuff, I pull the chair out. I put a blank notepad next to me, with a pen, and get a cup of hot tea to sip on. And I rock.

The ideas come. Without a CPU, monitor, or keyboard anywhere nearby.

I’ll admit. As soon as I’ve got the thoughts, I’m back at the desk chair. I don’t trust my notepads or my brain to keep things straight. Everything goes into a computer file and gets printed out to the appropriate binder–my one-stop containment center. But it all starts in that rocking chair.

Be careful what chair you pick on any given day. Use B.I.C., but don’t let it use (or abuse) you. Writing is so many more things than just writing. You wear multiple hats as an author, and you need just as many places to wear them.

What’s your favorite chair, and how do you use it for writing?

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Happy Thanksgiving–Pat Yourself on the Back

Earlier this week, I talked about the break I was giving myself by getting some files off early to my critique group. While I was writing the post, I wasthinking about all you NaNoers. First, for all of you who have made your word count already or can see that number within range, CONGRATULATIONS! 

Specifically, though, I was thinking about the NaNoers who weren’t quite there, who were probably NOT giving themselves a break, not yet, and who may have been panicking a bit about non-writing hours eaten up 🙂 by the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

And I was thinking about any of us writers, even those not doing NaNo, who are looking at the end of the year heading rapidly toward us and thinking, “I was supposed to get more done.”

I know that feeling. I can bring it into the forefront of my mind any day, any hour. All it takes is looking at my writing path from a certain angle, one that somehow show right up front the goals I haven’t met, the books I haven’t written.

Let’s face it. This is an unhealthy angle. Goals and dreams are wonderful and necessary, and we should all use them as motivators. We should not use them as punishment. 

So tomorrow, and for however many days you’re surrounding yourself with family, friends, and food, be thankful. Not just for the company you’re keeping, but for all the words you have managed to put on the page so far this month, or this year. Remind yourself of all the things you have accomplished, and let go of worrying about the ones you haven’t.

Relax and recharge. The dreams will be waiting for you.

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody!

To Worry or Write? That’s the Question

It seems like, for the past few weeks, I keep running across articles of doom and gloom. Now I know. I get it. The economy stinks. And it’s hitting everybody, no question. Including publishing.

Realistically, this is going to impact us as writers. And, realistically, I–for one–am capable of breaking into a cold sweat and spending way too many hours fretting about how, specifically, it may impact me.

But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to keep writing.

Yes, things are bad, but the economy, like everything else, goes up and down and–sometimes–in loop-de-loops. I am incapable of predicting how long this downfall will last or where I’ll be on my writing path when it’s over. For all I know, just as I finish my current revision or get the next book idea drafted, everything could be on an upswing and every publisher in the world will be wanting me as their author. (Okay, its a stretch, but if I’m dreaming, I might as well really dream.)

So I’m going to figure that there’s still a book market out there and that Publishing will survive and I will have a place in it. And I’m going to keep putting words on a page and networking with other writers and marketing my skill with words as a valuable commodity.

I’m not putting up any negative links in this post. Instead, I’m just going to share a couple of the ones that made me feel better today.

My sister, a home economist in Illinois, put this link up on Facebook. The article basically says that, when we freak out, we don’t do ourselves or the economy any good. I’m taking it as a prescription to stay sane.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/garden/20math.html?ex=1384923600&en=e2861f2c72869a85&ei=5124&partner=facebook&exprod=facebook

And this article shows the flip side of book sales (maybe!) going down. We all love our libraries and wish good things for them, so…

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/10/16/library_use_rises_as_economy_falls/

What about you. Got any cheerful links to post about what’s happening with books and writing and how you’re dealing with the uncertainty?

First Drafts: Fantastic or Just Fast?

Don’t expect me to stay this organized, but I thought, for today, I’d start at the beginning. The first draft. A stage that some of us love, and some of us, well…let’s just say we struggle with it.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts in ten days. Martha Alderson blogged about it this week at The Plot Whisperer— talking about “pantsers” and “plotters” and how both types of writers can make NaNoWriMo work for them.  Debbie Ridpath Ohi also put up a post about the month at Will Write for Chocolate–she’s going to do cartoons for NaNoWriMo this year. (Once again, I wish I could draw!) And if you want a serious peptalk about joining in, go over to GottaWriteGirl and scroll down to her Git Her Done! post.

What I like about these posts is that they go at this novel-in-a-month thing with some flexibility. I know lots of writers welcome NaNoWriMo with wide-open arms, but I’m also guessing there are plenty out there who would rather eat massive amounts of eggplant than try to pour out 50,000 words in 30 days.

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo myself–the timing was never right. I did, however write a Book in a Week, after hearing April Kihlstrom talk about the process. Did it work? Yes. Did I do it exactly as the instructions said? Nope. I am NOT a pantser. I need a path to follow, even if I know that path is going to change (and it will). So, in my “free” time, over a couple of weeks, I plotted–making use of Martha’s Scene Tracker, and writing a page of basic info for each scene I had planned. Then I took the week to write.  Essentially, I did Book in Three Weeks.

Guess what? I wrote 150 pages in five days. I had a book.

And then I revised.

Because, for me, this is what NaNoWriMo and Book in a Week and Karen S. Wiesner’s book First Draft in 30 Days are about. Oh, yes, they’re about the first draft, but–really–they’re about getting that draft out of the way so I can start fixing it.

I hear authors talk about writing a slow first draft, revising as they go, cleaning up the plot and the characters and the prose before they move on. I believe that, for these writers, this process works. It does not work for me.  At this point on my writing path, it doesn’t seem to matter how long I spend on the first pass at a page, or a scene, or a chapter.  I’m going to have to change it…often in very big ways.  Any extra time I send on phrasing or voice or setting–the work I do to get things “just right”–is wasted.

The truth is, you really don’t know the beginning of your story until you’ve written the last scene. Odds are, the pages you will revise just before you send a manuscript off for submission will be the first ten. When I’m first-drafting, I need to get to “The End” as quickly as possible, so that I can stand back and look at my story–my whole storyand really understand what it’s about.

Since I did BIAW, fast first drafts have become one of my soapboxes. It’s a little crude, but when I speak at conferences, I tell the writers in the room that my first draft is my “vomit” draft. In other words, I get it all out and worry about cleaning it up later. 🙂

 

I know this process isn’t set in stone for me. As I write more books, my attitude and the way I come at the first draft may change. But for now, I’m definitely on the side of the fast first draft.

I’ll make it fantastic in the revision.

What about you? Do you speed through the pages the first time around, or do you need to take more time, figuring out the details before you can move on? Have you done NaNoWriMo, or a variation? Are you joining the NaNoWriMo gang this year? Or have you built your own, flexible, method for getting that first pass on the page?

Join in the conversation. I’d love to hear your take on things.

Welcome

Wouldn’t it be nice if we knew every step along our writing path? Not just the ones we’ve already made or the one our foot is coming down on just at this moment, but the ones yet to come?

It’d be a bit like taking your list to the grocery store–walking down the aisles, picking the right items off the shelves and putting them in your cart, checking off ingredients one by one. The whole journey would be well-planned, organized, and straightforward, and each step would bring you closer to your goal. You’d be heading toward the check-out line, you’d know exactly how to get there, and you’d succeed. Easy. You could even work it so you had a nice bar of chocolate at the end.

Unfortunately, our writing paths are a lot harder than shopping for milk and bread. Fortunately, they’re also a lot more fun and way more interesting. We do all the work we can to try and figure them out–take classes, read books, join critique groups, and write and write and write. There are steps along the path that are nothing like you’ll find at the market, when something happens that has you doing Snoopy’s happy dance in front of your computer. There are also moments that feel like you just stepped in the broken-egg mess left behind when someone dropped a carton.

At this new website & blog, I want to talk about all these steps (yes, the bad ones, too). When you visit, here are some of the topics you’ll find:

  • The BIG elements of writing–plot, characterization, voice, pacing–you name it
  • The writing process–outlining, first drafts, revising, polishing
  • The critique process–reading deeping & thoughtfully, giving and getting constructive & supportive feedback, brainstorming, revising (yes, again!)
  • Networking–getting to know other writers, and agents and editors, in person and online
  • Marketing & PR–websites, blogs, social-networking sites, book launches, workshops, signings
  • Book reviews–books about the craft and business of writing, as well as books that I just fall in love with

Today, more than ever, all these pieces are stepping stones on our writing paths. I hope you’ll stop by frequently, enjoy the posts, and leave your two cents (or three!) in the comments. Together, I believe we can make more progress than if we walk alone.

Let’s start the discussion. Leave me a comment about who supports you on your path, and how you work together. What are the benefits you gain?