Friday, January 09, 2015

2014; 2015

2014 was an interesting year for me.  I started the year with the intention to take it easy.  Looking back, I'd say I succeed in some areas and failed spectacularly in others.  Which is fine.  Part of the point of the goal was to pay attention to exactly how I don't take it easy, and to try to find ways to change my habits or mindsets.  For instance, I stress out WAY too much about most stuff.  To quote dear Dad, "You stress out more than anybody I know."  And my brother, "And your way of stressing out is really unique.  Like, things that nobody else would even think to stress about."

So I figure, I've got some growing awareness and some new habits.  About something that's so fundamental to who I am, that I completely lack awareness about it until others point it out to me.  In my humble opinion, some new habits and increased awareness are actually a pretty good outcome for 2014.

In 2014, I started a new job with the intention to find a balance between work, life and writing.  I asked to work fewer than a full-time workweek to try to make that happen.  I booked myself into a nature preserve to read through my entire 1st draft in (close to) one sitting; after 100K words my brain rebelled, so whatever's in that lst 40K words, I hope it's either 1) not important, or 2) embedded in my subconscious!

And then, for the next 9 months, I stewed over the book.

You see, I'd spent 3.5 months in the fall of 2013 doing a pell-mell, sprinting, verbal vomit through the book.  Just had to get to the end, even if that meant I had sections that literally said "GIANT ARGUMENT HERE!!!  Revisit next draft."  That's fine - instead of getting writer's block on the conflict scene, jot a couple notes to remind yourself who's fighting and why, then pick up post-argument and keep going.  Literally, just get to the end.  The important thing is to create a full arc, even if the first draft has holes in the middle (that's what a second draft is for!)

Finishing a book-length piece is no small task.  But having trial-and-error'd my way through 140,000 words, I had no intention of using the same tactic the second time around (well really, EVER AGAIN, if I can help it.)

The second time around, I wanted to go in with an idea of where I was going and how I might get myself there.  Yet therein lay the problem.  Rereading my draft, I realized that I'd written about a bunch of things that happened, but unfortunately "things happened" is not a story.  A story is when you shape those "things" that "happened" into a beginning, middle and end.  When there's a larger storyline behind the things that happen, so that things happen for a reason, and certain things get left out because they're not relevant to THAT storyline, and other things get thrown in for foreshadowing, etc.

Basically, if we go back to the architecture metaphor, I had a bunch of building materials and no floor plan.

For the next 9 months, I tried different techniques to crack this nut, all borrowed from other writers, writing books, screenwriting, and even a design/creativity consulting firm.  The holy grail, and what you see pictured above, was to identify the 20-60 key moments of the book, identify the main "activity" of each, associated themes, characters involved, etc.  Storyboarding, where you draw 1 picture/scene, was super helpful (my ugly ass stick figures still make me giggle, how does one make stick figures so darn ugly?!?!  Heh.)  When you are as fond of words as I am, it can be easy to get lost in long, rambling sentences of "and then this was so important because of that, which actually loops back to this concept, which is really interesting because ..."  Whereas when you storyboard, you're forced to ask yourself: What is the single key moment that I need to draw, who's involved, and what action is happening between these characters?  Terribly useful.

Anyways.  This is all to say that in 2015, my writing goal is to finish a second and maybe even third draft.  In college, I used to scratch out 20 pages of notes in order to figure out what I was writing for a 10 page paper; if I had 20 hours to finish the paper, I probably spent 12-15 on the notes, after which the writing itself was easy.  I don't think this project will be QUITE so simple, but I'm feeling good about where I'm at.  I have enough structure here that this finally feels manageable.  Like I've got my arms around it.  Like I know what I'm trying to do.  Executing, and executing it well, is a different matter ;-).

More broadly speaking, I like picking a theme for the year, so this year will be about "perspective."

When I maintain a healthy perspective on my life, I find that I have a much better attitude towards everything - friends, family, work, writing, ME (you know, the things we tell ourselves about ourselves, etc.)  The challenge is figuring out how to incorporate that into daily life.  I don't know, folks - any thoughts or experiences on "operationalizing" this idea?

For now, I'm adapting an idea I read in Real Simple: each night I plan to journal four "celebrations": 1 big thing that went well, 1 small thing that went well, 1 work-related thing that went well, 1 personal thing that went well.  It's a bit like a gratitude journal, which I've used off and on through the years, but maybe this time the habit will stick.  I don't like to get too rigid about year-long intentions, as the weight of obligation tends to bleach my joy, but I've also thought about doing brief nightly readings of texts that I find insightful (like the Daodejing or The Sun Magazine).  My boss often listens to snippets of an audiobook by her favorite Buddhist guru.  I might give nightly meditation a stab.

Anyhow!  We'll see how all of that - writing and Perspective - unfolds in 2015.  Sending all of you warm vibes and happy thoughts for the new year!

(Want to know how 20th Century I am?  I took a pair of scissors to my first draft and chopped out the little bits - sentences, paragraphs - that I liked, and separated them into folders, each folder corresponding to a different chapter.  Then I took the stickies with the notes about theme, character, setting etc., and put those in the same folder.  Each time I write a new chapter, out comes that folder!  I'm positive they have a computer program for this, but it's working well so far.)


Minnado said...

Your processes are so fascinating. I was slightly reminded of writing and rewriting my masters thesis. Just organising so many words, ideas, threads...your architecture analogy was spot on. I hope you have a productive and relatively stress free 2015. Love to you from over here xx

Roobeedoo said...

Happy New Year! I love the way you have thrown so many organisation methods at your writing process. Talk about lateral thinking! The old-fashioned version of cut and paste is so satisfying... just don't try to do it with the window open or with an animal in the room!

Alessa said...

Sounds like a fascinating process, I love the "key moments"/storyboard idea. :) I can't even begin to describe how awe inspiring the writing of 140.000 words of happenings and ideas in such short a time is to me. Good luck with drafting and zen and your other plans this year!
I got your package btw!! :)