Book 2 Diaries: #3 — Outline is complete

Dear readers,

Good news: I recently finished my outline for Rhymes with Wisteria (working title of novel-in-progress). I’m not sure how it happened, because I’ve been a terrible writer for the past few weeks and have been neglecting my outline almost entirely. But a few nights ago, as I was trying to fall asleep, I was in desperate need of a distraction. I started telling myself my story, watching it play out before me. I do this often, but usually, the story ends when I get to the point where my outline is at a standstill. This time, it didn’t stop. I watched the whole story play out before me from start to finish, and as I fought to open my tired eyes, I told myself that whatever you do, don’t fall asleep. Get up and write your outline. I don’t care that it’s 2:00am. Don’t fall asleep.

I fell asleep. But magically, I didn’t forget. I woke up with the story still fresh in my mind, and managed to write it all into my chapter by chapter outline. With the material I have, I’m estimating that this novel should get to around 80 000 words.

This feels really strange for me, as a past pantser. I’ve never managed to complete an outline before. I’m sure it’ll change along the way, probably quite drastically, but I have a very clear image of the ending. This outline has given my brain the freedom to think of scenes, dialogue, setting descriptions, and all sorts of snippets from different parts of the story. They come to me at random times throughout the day, and I tend to write them  in/on whatever I have at the time: receipts, notebooks, backs of hands. It’s strange to know so much about a story I have yet to write. It’s also extremely calming.

Now all there is left to do is write (and write, and write, and write).

Thank you so much for reading. I should be back to regular blogging once my university semester ends in June.
All the best with your writing,

Tamara

 

Header image [Used under creative commons license.]

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Book 2 Diaries: #2 – Outlining

Outline word count: 5038 words

Working title: Rhymes with Wisteria

 

Dear readers,

University and a new job have taken over my life over the past few weeks, so I’ve had to put my project to the side for a while. In saying that, I haven’t shelved it completely; I’ve been slowly working away at a chapter by chapter outline, so that once I do get the time, I’ll be able to write the first draft with minimal road blocks.

Plotting vs Pantsing

For my whole writing life, I have thought of myself as a pantser. I’d always written without any sort of road map, simply uncovering the story as I wrote it. I’d never successfully created an outline from start to finish, and I didn’t believe it was something I could do. For this project, however, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at outlining. The prospect of having a road map to refer to whenever I get lost was just too tempting.

My New Outlining Process

Outlining has always been extremely difficult for me, which is the reason I’ve never done it before. I realise now that I just hadn’t discovered my process yet. A fellow blogger (Bryan Fagan from acrackinthepavement.com) suggested I try outlining chapter by chapter, simply writing brief summaries for each. This method seemed like the perfect balance between creative freedom and structure. I got to work straight away.

Part 1 – Chapter Outline

I started by going through some of my favourite books and writing chapter summaries for each of their first chapters. Once I’d gotten the hang of summarising, I created a document called Chapter Outline.

Chapter 1 (0 – 2000 words)

Under each heading, I write a summary of all the events of that chapter, as well as goals and notes to myself. I use 2000 words as a guide for chapter length, but that’s not something I’ll force myself to stick to when it comes to writing the draft.

Part 2 – Notes and Scenes

I also use a second document called Notes and Scenes. This document is a complete mess where I allow myself to be a pantser and just write all the scenes that come into my mind, all the random bits of dialogue, descriptions, etc. In this document, I don’t restrain myself with structure. It’s basically a more readable version of the notes I scribble into my journal in complete darkness at 3 in the morning.

These are the scenes and notes that make the story click in my mind. The  Notes and Scenes document lets me uncover the story without having to write the whole thing.

I’ve found that these two methods together allow me all the creative freedom of pantsing, while also giving me the ability to see my story as a whole, and therefore improve its plot and structure before writing the first draft. There have been so many little plot holes that I’ve been able to identify and fix in minutes, saving me what would be a complete rewrite if I hadn’t caught them in the outline.

Where am I up to?

I’ve now outlined around half of Rhymes with Wisteria! It’s strange to know the story beats before having the manuscript in front of me, but it’s also been extremely liberating. I think that, for me, writer’s block comes from knowing there is a problem in my work and subconsciously being afraid of what it will take to fix this problem. Outlining has removed any plot-related writer’s block because with an outline, I can catch the problems before doing all the work. Fixing the problem is as easy as deleting the bad chapter summary and reworking the direction.

I fully believe that some people can write brilliant novels without some kind of outline; I am just not one of those people, and it’s taken me a long time to realise that.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Did it take you a long time to figure out your process?

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below!

Yours,

Tamara Drazic

 

 

[Header image: Wisteria flowers. Owned by Meneerke bloem. Used with permission under the creative commons license.]

Book 2 Diaries: #1 – A New Beginning

Word count: 1322

Working title: Rhymes with Wisteria

 

Dear readers,

Yesterday, I wrote the first 1000 words of book number 2. Juice of Half a Lemon (I’ll call it JOHAL from now on) is resting on the side while I wait for the last few beta critiques to peter in.

I was hesitant to move on from my JOHAL characters, but with the help of your comments and the excitement of a new idea, I think I’m slowly getting past that hesitation.

I’ve decided to post little updates on Book 2 as I write it, to both document my writing process and help keep me motivated!

Inspiration and Ideas

I’m always interested to hear how other writers get their ideas, so I thought I would share the moment Rhymes with Wisteria happened. It was on a long cold bus ride a few weeks ago. On the bus radio, which was exorbitantly loud, there was a news story about the Wisteria flowers coming back. I misheard it as hysteria coming back, and that was when the story and characters became clear.

For me, the difference between an interesting idea and an idea that I could actually stick with is being able to hear the characters’ voices early on. When I started writing JOHAL, Adele, Edward, and Louise came naturally, as if I had met them all in person. Although I’ve had other story ideas, I haven’t had that same experience with characters until now, with Elsie, Maud, and Ólafur.

This story is taking me back to Iceland, and part of it is set in the town where I stayed during my writing residency. I think that’s part of the reason why I feel so connected to this project.

What am I doing differently this time around?

Outlining. If you’ve been here a while, you’ll know that I wrote JOHAL without an outline until around the 55 000-word mark. After eight rounds of structural editing, I realised that I didn’t want to do that again. I also discovered that the 20 000 words I wrote after I knew how the book would end were probably the best and least-messy 20 000 words in the whole messy draft.

I’m not going to write an in-depth outline—I don’t think I am capable of that—but I do want a rough road map and an idea of the ending.

I am so looking forward to writing this story and taking you along with me. Outlining is extremely difficult for me—I would appreciate any helpful hints! What are you all working on at the moment? I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you so much for reading.

Warm regards,

Tamara

Favourite Lines: ‘Exit West’ by Mohsin Hamid

Dear readers,

Isn’t it a beautiful moment when you read the first line of a book and connect with it instantly? I recently started reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, and within the first line, it somehow found its way onto my list of favourite books.

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

Exit West is the kind of book I can’t help but read as a writer more than a reader, admiring each carefully constructed sentence. Today I thought I would share with you a couple of my favourite lines, starting with the opening line.

 

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in class and did not speak to her.

– page 1

 

The following evening helicopters filled the sky like birds startled after a gunshot, or by the blow of an axe on the base of their tree.

– page 32

 

One’s relationship to windows now changed in the city.

– page 68

 

…but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.

– page 94

 

If you haven’t read Exit West, I strongly urge you to go pick up a copy! What are you reading at the moment? Please let me know in the comments below–I’m always looking for suggestions.

As always, thank you for being here.

Yours,

Tamara Drazic

Creative Writing Playlist: Juice of Half a Lemon

Dear readers,

Music is a huge part of my writing process. I’ve done a couple of creative writing playlist posts in the past (see here and here). But for today’s post, I thought I’d put together a playlist of songs that helped me write and edit Juice of Half a Lemon specifically. For each song, I’ll include the most relevant lyrics, as well as an embedded YouTube link, so get a cup of coffee and some earphones! I hope you enjoy.

1. Fire Escape by Half Moon Run

Relevant lyrics:

Hey Dark Eyes/Rest with me a while as I drift closer to sleep/Still cannot/Still cannot find no peace

You let go of glass at our feet/It rained through the night/And you take the fire escape/Run down the street to the church

Hey Murderer/killing keeps us close enough/Hey Murderer/every breath you steal is a breath that I breathe for

 

2. Quiet Crowd by Patrick Watson

Relevant lyrics:

Dear Mr Quiet who’s got so much to say/So much more than all of the sleeping parade

While everybody’s walking their own way through the quiet crowd/All thinking the same old things/If they only knew

 

3. Sense by Tom Odell

Relevant lyrics:

Hard to know/Maybe if I skim the stone/Walk a different way back home/It would all make sense.

‘Cause I/I’ve been feeling pretty small/Sometimes/Feel like I’m slipping down walls/And every line/I ever get a hold/It seems to break.

 

4. Today Has Been O.K. by Sleeping at Last

This one is reserved for sad scenes and very sad days. Skip if you have important things to focus on today.

Relevant lyrics:

Without you here the seasons pass me by

I know you were not new/That looked like May and June/All the same I miss you//And I thought, today has been ok

 

5. Futile Devices by Sufjan Stevens

Relevant lyrics:

It’s been a long, long time/Since I’ve memorised your face/It’s been four hours now/Since I’ve wandered through your place/And when I sleep on your couch/I feel very safe

I think of you as my brother/Although that sounds dumb//And words are futile devices

 

6. You Wouldn’t Like Me by Sleeping at Last

Relevant lyrics:

I feel like/I wouldn’t like me/If I met me//I feel like/You wouldn’t like me/If you met me

 

7. The Pugilist by Keaton Henson

Relevant lyrics:

Oh I’m sorry I broke it/Never forgive me

 

8. Should Have Known Better by Sufjan Stevens

Relevant lyrics:

I should have wrote a letter/And grieve what I happen to grieve/My black shroud/I never trust my feelings/I waited for the remedy

I should have known better/Nothing can be changed/The past is still the past/The bridge to nowhere//I should’ve wrote a letter/Explaining what I feel, that empty feeling

 

Thank you for reading and listening along with me. I hope you found some new music to add to your own creative writing playlists!

All the best,

Tamara Drazic

A Writing Update in 3 Parts

Dear readers,

I structured this writing update in three parts, using questions that I (and I’m sure all of you) get from some well-meaning friends and family. I hope you enjoy!

What is it that you actually do?

I’ve been revising  Juice of Half a Lemon for over a year now, longer than the time it took to write the damn thing. I can recite the first five chapters by heart. I wake up every morning thinking about what else I need to fix. But I think I’m almost there. I’ve made a couple of big changes in the past week and I’m a lot happier with the manuscript now, at draft 8, than I have ever been.

In saying that, its flaws and shortcomings hit me in waves. At this point, I’m holding on to that quote by Anne Enright: “Only bad writers think that their work is really good.”

Oh great, you’ve finished your book. Are you getting it published?

I remember around draft 4 when I thought, yep, after this draft I’ll be ready to query. I wrote up a query letter, a synopsis, the whole package. Then I did four more drafts.

How do I know when it really is finished?

I don’t want to rush myself to submit, but at the same time, I don’t want to keep rewriting and rewriting, making the manuscript different but not necessarily better. I don’t want to use the editing process as an excuse not to send it away.

My next steps are to:

  • wait to hear back from a few more beta readers
  • finish this draft
  • let it sit for a while, and then do a thorough line edit
  • fix up my query letter and synopsis from draft 4, ask for feedback
  • submit Juice of Half a Lemon to an unpublished manuscript competition to get this whole submitting thing started.

If that doesn’t lead anywhere, I’m going to start querying agents. To the query trenches I go!

Thanks for that super long-winded answer that I did not understand/need to hear. So what are you working on next?

I’ve started brainstorming my second manuscript and am looking forward to drafting it! It’ll be a magical realism novel set in a world where people don’t have reflections.

I have been itching to go on another writing residency, so I think I’ll make that a goal for either the second half of 2018, or the first half of 2019. I work best in short bursts, as I saw with Juice of Half a Lemon, so a residency would be perfect to cover some ground on project number 2.

 

Please feel free to comment down below! I love hearing about other writers’ works-in-progress.

 

All the best,

Tamara Drazic

Icelandic Landscapes: Visual Creative Writing Prompts

Dear readers,

Today I thought I’d share a few photos from my trip to Iceland that could spark some ideas for new stories. These places are all incredibly special to me, and I go back to them in my mind whenever I need some clarity. I hope these photos can inspire some great scenes, settings, or even worlds in your stories.

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Laugarvatn. A rusty gate at the foot of a mountain. Lake up ahead. Cemetery on one side, and woods on the other.

 

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Swans fly over lake Tjörnin. Crisp air. Hands in warm pockets.

 

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Laugarvatn morning. Sunrise reflecting on a thawed patch of lake. Winter ending.

 

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Blurry Reykjavik after a snow storm. 10 o’clock in the morning. Empty streets. Overworked streetlamps. Days and nights roll into one another.

 

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Log cabin morning. Windows heated by the sun. Coffee and porridge.

 

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Herd of Icelandic horses. Smell of hay. Round bellies, well-fed. Soft fur, soft clouds, soft snow. Hard ice, numb nose.

 

As always, thank you for being here. I wish you all the best in your writing endeavours.

Yours,

Tamara Drazic

All About Editing: Filter words

Dear readers,

Today’s post is all about filter words, what they are, how to find them, how to get rid of them, and how this can improve your prose. This is the second installment of a little series of posts all about editing. You can find the first installment (all about plot) here.

These tips are not all my own; they are things that I’ve learned either at university, or through research.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I am still in the process of editing my first novel, Juice of Half a Lemon, before I start submitting it. I finished the first draft in April of 2017, and have since progressed to draft number 8. Along the way, I have discovered many recurring flaws in my writing, one of which is overusing filter words.

Filter words are verbs like saw, heard, knew, and felt that distance the reader from the action of the story by putting a character between them.

I’ve always thought of it like this: filtering forces the reader to see the action from behind the character, rather than seeing it through the character’s eyes.

For example,

He saw the woman take a knife out of her bag.

In this sentence, saw is a filter word. This forces the reader to see the character see the woman, rather than just seeing the woman for themselves. Without filtering, the action feels more immediate.

The woman took a knife out of her bag.

I’ve found that the most common filter words in my writing are knew and felt.

*She knew she couldn’t tell Edward her real name. —-> She couldn’t tell Edward her real name.

*She felt an ant crawl up her arm. —-> An ant crawled up her arm.

Filtering relates back to the old rule that we’ve all heard a million times, show don’t tell. Instead of telling the reader what the character sees, knows, feels, tastes, or hears, show them the action and let them see, know, taste, or hear it themselves.

If you’re past your structural edits and are ready to clean up your prose on a line level, try checking your manuscript for filter words. The search tool is your best friend.

Ctrl + F : saw, heard, knew, felt, tasted, could see, could hear, and could feel

Removing these filter words tightened my prose, improved the sentence flow, reduced the word count, and made the story’s action feel a lot more immediate.

I wish you all the best with your manuscript edits; I know it can be a grueling process.

Thanks for reading,

Tamara Drazic

 

 

City Muse

Dear readers,

Once again, I’m sitting in my parents’ spare room, suitcase packed, Melbourne-bound. For some reason I feel nervous, as if I’ve never done this before. For today’s post, I thought I’d share a little something I wrote the first time I moved to Melbourne.

*

Is there beauty in a skyline, a city’s fractured spine?

Trampled, photographed, built and destroyed, all by little people with hard heads, or hats.

You can’t own a city, but you still want a piece.

It’s my city. Our city. Not your city.

You’re never alone. You’re always alone. Too small, but filling too much space.

It’s hard to stay but harder to leave. It’s got you now, the city.

Maybe it owns you.

*

Thank you so much for reading.

Yours,

Tamara Drazic

Favourite Lines: ‘Heart of Man’ by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

Dear readers,

I recently finished reading Heart of Man by Jón Kalman Stefánsson, translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton, and wanted to share my three favourite lines with you.

 

“Death is neither light nor darkness; it’s just anything but life.” – page 1

“Thus it was, the mast stuck in the seabed, the sea refusing to release its prey.” – page 175

“How dangerous it is to let yourself dream of passion, of freckles and eyes, let yourself dream instead of concentrating on the struggle for life.” – page 185

 

I love reading translated fiction. There’s something about how translated sentences are constructed, how they reveal hints about a foreign culture, that gives them this inexplicable beauty. I recently realised that most of my favourite books were not originally written in English. More on this in a future post.

What are your favourite books, or lines from books? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.