Tuesday, October 2, 2012

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

Two weeks ago, I posted that I felt the book was halfway written.  So what has gone on in these past two weeks?  Have I written many chapters, solved the mystery, or have I even written at all?

The answers are 1.5, yes and no, and yes and no.  Hmmm ... am I making any progress here?

Actually, yes, I've made a lot of progress.  I had a number of fully developed and written chapters and a few scenes written but as yet unplaced.  These scenes did not affect the murder but completed an element of the back stories that go along with the main story.  Back stories can help the reader understand the characters better.  They let you gradually see how the characters think and interact, giving you some insight into how they tick.  Sometimes back stories provide essential background about the setting and create situations that help the author move the main story along. 

Over the past two weeks, I found good spots for the scenes that weren't yet placed in a chapter.  This is helping me keep to a fairly consistent page length in my chapters.  It's not absolutely necessary that every chapter have the same number of pages.  But it helps me to feel as if a chapter is completed when it matches the flow of the other chapters, moves the main story along, and develops the characters and setting a bit more.  I feel as if the pace of the book is on target when there is some consistency to chapter length.

I write mostly in the early morning - and have been getting up around 5:30 many days over the past few months to write this book.  That early hour is unusual for me.  I typically need 7-8 hours of sleep each night to function well the next day.  And I work until 7, 8, even 9 or 10 many days; so I go in to work between 10 and Noon.  I eat dinner as late as 8:30 or 9:00 and nap a little, then wake up for an hour or so and go back to sleep between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM. Early for me has been 7 AM -- until lately. 

I have severe sleep apnea and the condition took a huge toll on my body over the past 40+ years.  I know I had it a very early age and in 2003 finally asked my doctor for a sleep test.  Once diagnosed, and now under treatment, I feel like a different person from the one who, 10 years ago, was sometimes afraid to drive for fear I'd fall asleep and kill somebody.  Sleeping 10, 12, even 14 hours wasn't enough.  I would find myself at work, writing a report or proposal, and my head would jerk up and I'd discover that I'd been sleeping while still typing.  These are called microbursts of sleep.  Our minds will take every possible opportunity to give ourselves even a moment of sleep when we have been deprived too much.  I now find that I need only 6 hours of sleep many nights and awaken early; refreshed, renewed, and eager to get up and start my day. 

The past week I had intended to add at least one chapter to my book.  But my schedule included a last-minute request to be a panelist at an out-of-state conference on a topic I'd not developed any materials for yet, 2 committee meetings for which I needed to do a little homework before attending, and a late night community group meeting (got home after 10 that night).  I was also getting promotional materials out for an author friend who is doing a book signing this week that I had arranged at a local bookstore.  It wasn't the week for a lot of early morning writing.

After work Saturday, I rested and got back to the book early Sunday morning.  I found places in existing chapters for the scenes that had no home as yet.  I wrote one or two more scenes that were in my head. 
  • Step 1: a total reread from start to finish
  • Step 2: move unplaced scenes into chapters where they seem to fit well
  • Step 3: re-read that chapter to feel how it flows, move some things around in that chapter
  • Step 4: research on names and local history of the area where the story takes place
  • Step 5: (Sunday night) another total reread from start to finish to make sure that changes to chapters maintained consistency with the overall story timeline and that it still felt as if the story made sense
There are about three more scenes pretty well developed in my head that I hope to write this week.  All of this is being done with the aid of notes in a spreadsheet. One worksheet maintains the timeline of major activities in each chapter.  Another worksheet lists all the characters, their backgrounds, roles, and other important features (blue eyes or brown eyes, red hair or dark hair, etc.) that I don't want to mix up if I've mentioned them in the story.  The nice thing about tracking important items this way is that I can add to it at any time, then check the book to see if it makes sense to bring in that information earlier or perhaps later. 

An important bit of work I did Sunday was to rename the location of this murder mystery.  The town is, as yet, unnamed.  The lake and site of the major activities have new names.  For the past few months (I began writing this in July), I used the name of an actual lake and a site name that my research revealed does exist.  I was okay with that for a while because both existed near the location of this story and fit the descriptions and activities.  But 10 chapters into the book, I felt, was enough time to go with good enough.  The site and lake needed unique names; ones that, as far as I can tell, do not already exist.  The lake in the book has many of the characteristics of an actual lake I worked on.  But I included characteristics of several lakes I have worked on to create a composite and don't want comparisons to the actual lake that sits in the area of this story.  I also changed the last names of several characters to use names that are part of the early history for that geographical area. 

Now I have to re-read it a few more times.  Having spent the past few months with certain names in my head it takes a little getting used to as I read or even think about the story, area, and characters with different names in place.  Thank goodness for my spreadsheet that helps me keep it consistent.  Another great tool is search and replace, which lets me make these changes quickly or lets me search for instances of a character's name so I can see if something I've decided fits that character should be introduced earlier in the story. Young writers have no idea how cumbersome it is to have to do these things manually on handwritten pages or with a  typewritten manuscript!  I have done both in my work life and feel blessed to have adopted the computer early on (before the PC!) and to be a baby boomer who is a self-taught Geek! 

Well, it's 6:43 and I need to get onto my story.  I have about an hour to write, then have to shift to work mode and get ready for a morning meeting.  I'll leave you with this quote that seems to sum up this process and my life:

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
~ Louisa May Alcott