No Magic Bean - Part II

So you want to know what it's like to be a (part-time) writer? Every day is different. Some days I feel brilliant. Other days I feel delusional. 

One day, I was writing a scene in which one of my characters is composing a letter. I stopped myself and thought, "Wait. How does one write a letter with medieval era technology?" Wikipedia confirmed my assumptions: with a quill. But with what ink? Two hours later, I'd decided what form of ink my character was using, how it was made, what it was made of, and what fictional country from which it had originated. Two hours later. But that small detail added something to the story, so although I laugh about it, I don't regret the time it took.

Another day, not so long ago, I wrote 4,600 words in a day, 9:00am til 11:30pm, with short soup breaks and brief dance-party-in-my-chair sessions to keep me fuelled. A gruelling, great day. But don't think it stemmed from genius: I'd spent many days before that one prepping notes, plot points, and character arcs. Writing seems to work like painting: 90% preparation.

Another day, I couldn't write. Something wasn't sitting well. I kept re-reading and re-reading the first 75 pages of the manuscript, trying to figure out what I wasn't happy with. It took me half the day to realize that there needed to be more action. Then I had a depressing lunch. For the other half of the day, I lay on the floor scrounging my notes to figure out what could happen within the existing plot that was true to the story and also more enticing to the reader. Did I write that day? Nope. But I had the best answer for when people asked me how my day went: "Not bad. Plotted an assassination all afternoon."

Another day, I re-read a bunch of my favourite books to learn what makes them tick, gleaned some things, and then felt disheartened by the comparison of their polished and published work to mine. Silly of me. But those days happen.

Another day, I removed all speaking verbs that weren't "said" or "asked". Goodbye snarled, snapped, exclaimed, retorted, and cried. Bestselling author Dean Koontz has some crisp words to say about this. I'll probably write a full post about dialogue in future, but sum it up here with his harsh but true words.

Such clumsy substitutes merely interrupt the smooth flow of the prose and add nothing but an unwelcome note of melodrama.
— Dean Koontz, on the usage of exotic dialogue tags

Another day, I compiled all the random voice memos, Notepad notes, notebook scribbles, post-its, and scrap papers I'd had lying around, and added to my enormous Excel spreadsheet titled "Notes". Every item went under a category; "Good Phrases", "Plot Twists", "Questions to Answer", etc. I then tidied up the spreadsheet to record if I'd completed the item, or what chapter it might be useful in. Realized I had about 300 to-dos. Cripes. A useful day. No writing, though.

Some days, all I do is edit what I've already written. Tweak, tune, refine. Those are the unglamorous days. But they are vital to finishing a story.

I've spent hours building a bank of male and female names, flipped through a herb encyclopaedia to describe flora (only to realize that I'm probably mixing up growing zones), read dozens of articles online to pick up writing tips, taken "productive naps", drawn maps, discussed plot points with my readers, and more. 

The naive delusion that this would be quick and easy has faded. This book ain't no magic bean! (I love saying that out loud. You should try it) It's fun. It's hard. I get stuck. I get depressed. I frequently request all-encompassing and detailed praise from my #1 fan. I laugh gleefully—to myself, by myself—after writing some particularly brilliant dialogue. But you know what? That's exactly how life works. And I'm writing as I live it.

I look forward to reporting at the 50 Days' Writing mark.

If you haven't already, read Part I of this post for my reflections after twenty days of writing.