Category Archives: Writing Endeavors

Novel Progress 1.19

A short update on my writing life.

Book One: My goal was to finish my first novel before the end of 2018. I did succeed at that, more or less. Right before Christmas I finished editing the last chapter, and had a complete draft of a novel for the first time ever, which was really exciting! But I did not do the final pass through that I’m still planning on before I can say it’s as complete as I can make it on my own.

While I was working on this project all last year, I had the book divided by chapters so that it was easier to navigate while I was skipping around a lot and editing small pieces at a time, so my only real progress with Book One since Christmas is that I’ve got it all formatted in one document for the first time. It ended at 295 pages, and 93,940 words. My goal was 90,000 words, about 10k per each of the nine chapters, but I think the last three chapters or so came up a little short so I was glad to see that I had still reached my goal. I know the word count is not as important as the story, that was just the number that seemed like a good workable length for what I was trying to write, and I’m happy with the length and content at this point. I don’t expect it’ll change much with my final pass.

I’ve now had someone read through the draft, and I’ve got a handful of notes about paragraphs here and there that could use some adjustment, but I’m done with major revisions. The biggest change I’ll be making to this draft is to put the dates in each chapter header instead of simply numbering the chapters, but I already mapped out all of the chronology of dates for my own ease of navigation while editing, so it’s just a matter of filling them in from my notes.

I know the first month of the year is almost at its end, but my goal before the 31st of January is simply to do that full reread and make any small edits I want to based on my first reader’s notes. At that point, I will have no excuse not to start querying, so I guess it’s time to quit procrastinating and take the leap. I’m proud of myself for finishing at least, no matter what happens next.

Book Two: This related/companion novel is mainly the progress I’ll be talking about in my Novel Progress series throughout 2019. One of my goals for this year is to finish this second novel before the next Christmas, which is a faster pace than I wrote Book One, but I do want to challenge myself and I think having completed this process once should make it more familiar and manageable the second time.

I’ll probably be updating about it once per month, and for this book I want to include my word count progress, which I think will help hold me accountable to keep moving with it, and it’ll show my progress better than my simply announcing which chapter I’ve been editing lately. Since this one is a companion, I want it formatted similarly, and expect it’ll turn out about the same length. I’m still exploring it, so if it ends up being shorter or longer or turning out differently, that’s fine with me. At this stage, my goals are pretty flexible with this one because I like to write knowing the bare minimum about where the story is heading and how it’s going to get there. Which is probably why I end up doing so much editing, but that’s my process.

I was hoping to do about a 10k word chapter per month this year, with plenty of time for editing between wrapping up the draft and my Christmas deadline, but honestly I’ve been a bit drained after working so hard to finish Book One in December and coming down ill in January and I’ve been in “rest and recharge” mode instead of “work harder” mode. So my current word count on Book Two is only 1,735 at the moment, out of a hopeful 90,000. But it’s been fast and easy and so fun to write when I do actually sit down to work on it, so I think I can still make a good amount of progress before the end of the month.

I’m hoping to get back into doing these progress updates earlier in the month, and to pick up the pace with the writing, so hopefully by the time you see my February update I’ll be past 10,000.


And that’s all I have to say for January writing. It’ll be interesting to see how this year turns out. I’m off to a slow start, but I’m confident I can turn that around.

Do you have any writing goals this year?


The Literary Elephant

Novel Progress 12.18

In January of 2018, I set myself a goal– well, several goals of course, but one that mattered more to me than the rest: to finish my first novel. There have been some bumps in the road, and I didn’t expect it to take this long. But here we are in the last month of the year, and… I’m on track to finish.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I’ve had a phenomenal time of it the last month or so. Between my road trip in July/August and my insane work hours in October/November, I got stuck in the middle portion of the book. But I’ve broken free. I’ve moved on.  And now I’m in the last chapter.

My book is a soft paranormal/sci-fi that’s mainly focused on the ways the characters cope with the bizarre and unfair hand they’ve been dealt. It includes two supernatural elements, but the reader should be able to relate realistically to growing and changing through the unavoidable (and often non-magical) circumstances life tends to throw in one’s path. I’ve divided it into nine chapters, each of which is subdivided into various character perspectives. In the past month, I’ve thoroughly revised and edited chapters 1-7 to fit my final image for the book. I’ve written the missing half of chapter 8. And I’ve begun work on chapter 9.

I’m currently at only 2k out of my goal of 10k words; most of the 2k I already have consists of bare structural notes that need to be expanded into proper writing. When I’m satisfied with chapter 9, I want to do a final sweep through chapters 7-9 since I’ve written new content into those chapters most recently and I’ll want to brush up my edits and make sure everything stands. And then I’ll want to read the whole thing through, because I’ve never actually done that. Since I’ve been revising and editing as I go, this first/only draft will be finished very abruptly, almost as soon as I hit my target word count. Also, I’ve been focusing so single-mindedly on one chapter at a time through much of this process that I haven’t seen it all fit together. I have checked the transitions between chapters for coherency, but I’ve not yet read more than two chapters of the book at a time. I’ve been saving that experience.

But don’t let me get ahead of myself. I still need to finish writing chapter 9 before I get to any “final sweeps.” There are a lot of characters and a lot of details that need to come together in the finale, and I’ve got plenty of notes but it will still be an tricky balancing act to make it all play out right. It’s a little stressful, but also… I’m so excited about the way it’s turning out and how close I am to the end! I’m trying not to think much about 2019 goals until this 2018 goal is wrapped up.

It’s definitely been a learning process. I started this project in the summer of 2016, and have been on-and-off with it ever since. I’ve believed in the story from the start, but not always in myself. It’s hard to make forward progress when you’re convinced you’re going to fail. It took me a long time to realize that even if it never gets published or even read, I won’t be any worse off for having tried with this novel. In fact, I would say I’ll be better off. I have read hundreds of books and written hundreds of pages in the last two and a half years, not always on track with this manuscript, but pages that have shaped who I am as a reader and writer all the same. I understand so much more about how stories work now that I’ve been experimenting. My writing has developed in leaps and bounds, and I’m proud of it. And that’s been worth the journey, no matter what happens with the story.

And the story– it is such a different creature than it was when I started. I’m a pantser. Nothing gives me greater pleasure in writing than starting a story that I don’t know how to end, but I have never followed an idea so far down the path of discovery. It’s funny to look back at notes and paragraphs I cut out of the story and see how much has evolved. I don’t think a draft will ever take me so long again, now that I know I can do it, and how.

But first, to finish chapter 9. In fact, I had best get back to it now.

This year, I’m going to be a finisher.


The Literary Elephant.

Novel Progress 9.18

It’s been two months since my last writing update, instead of one. I could make excuses, but the truth is that when I went on vacation, I came back to three weeks of procrastination in which I made very little progress on the book I’m trying to write. I felt guilty about that for a while, but now that all systems are a go again, I think that time off was helpful. I came back to my project with fresh perspective, and for a couple of weeks now I’ve been sitting down with the novel in front of me every day again, getting a little farther.

So this is where I’m at: I’m mostly finished with chapter 7 (of 9); I’m doing a final read-through just to make small edits and double check details, but the content’s all there and the word count won’t change by much. I’m 500 words short of my chapter goal of 10k, but I’m okay with that because I’m still around 73k toward my total project goal (90k), with two 10k chapters left to finish. Today should be my last day in chapter 7, except for my final read-through of the whole project.

And speaking of the whole project, I have a reader who’s going to go through and check for plot holes and typos, and since my three weeks of procrastination put me behind schedule, I had to pause work on chapter 7 to make another pass through chapter 1 before I passed that off. I really wanted to get through the entire draft before I went back to the beginning again because I get sucked into making small edits and then I get derailed, but I love chapter 1 and it’s in great shape and going through that was exciting and encouraging and helpful. Also, it didn’t take long, so I’m hoping that when I do my final read-through of the project that the rest of the chapters will go as quickly and easily into the final draft stage. It’s still a bit weird that my first complete draft will be more or less my final, but that’s what I get for working out of order and editing as I go– very little obvious progress, and then everything all at once.

Everything all at once: after I close out of chapter 7, I will have only two chapters left. 8 is already half-written, and 9 is not started, but both chapters are fully outlined. I’m usually not an outliner, but I have so many perspectives and plot arcs coming together here at the end of the book that every time I wrote about a character I made a note about where their next section should take them, and at this point there just aren’t many sections left so they’re all accounted for now. I just have to go back through and write out the content that I have planned. And I’m going to be swamped with work in about 3 weeks, so I’m probably going to push ahead and make a lot of progress now through the end of September. The same surge happened at this time last year with great success, so I’m feeling hopeful. I don’t know if I’ll quite make it through the end of chapter 9 in three weeks, but I’m going to work hard and see what happens.

As I am getting closer to the end, part of the problem with procrastinating is that I’m having wild swings of confidence/lack-of-confidence about this project. With the end in sight, I’m thinking more about what comes next. For so much of this project I’ve been putting off thoughts of publication because I couldn’t publish something that I hadn’t even written yet anyway. But now that I’m looking ahead to being done soon, I’m worrying a lot about what comes next. I need this book to be published. But I know there’s no guarantee. So I go back and forth between being so excited because I think the book is turning out great and everything in my life has led me here blah blah how can it not get published? And then the next day I’ll remember that so many writers never get published, I have no connections in the publishing world and I have terrible luck and who would ever publish my work? So for about a month now I’ve been going through some pretty intense euphoria and depression and it’s getting in the way of my writing. By this point, I’m just so emotionally exhausted that I need it to be done and out of my hands, one way or the other.

Another issue I had with chapter 7 that made it drag was that even though I had most of the chapter written before this round through it, I had to rewrite a lot of that content. Working out of order landed me with an almost-complete chapter that had all the wrong details; I’d tried to write this first part of the concluding sequence before I knew all of the characters and understood how the setting would develop and wasn’t aware yet of what the emotional atmosphere would be at this point in the novel. So while I sill wanted to use the same basic storyline, I had to go back to old chapters to match up setting details and character names/descriptions, and fix discrepancies in dialogue and actions. I’m afraid there’s going to be a bit of this going forward with chapter 8 as well, in the half-chapter that I wrote probably a year ago. Hopefully now that I’ve had some practice with this process it’ll go faster.

I’ve always written that way, back and forth and out of order. I write whichever part is strongest in my mind so that I don’t lose the words, and then I come back and fix it later. I know the urge to edit as you go is a struggle lots of writers have to deal with, and I think I’ll always be that way, but I’ve learned a lot from the writing and reading I’ve been doing in the last two years and few months while this project has been ongoing, and I think when I finish this one and start my second book, I’ll be ready to try a new approach. I definitely don’t think every book that I write will take me two and a half years, but I had to start somewhere and I’m glad I took the time to make this one as good as (I think, at least) it’s turning out to be. And now I know more for next time. And there will be a next time– whether I’m ever published or not, I don’t see how there could ever be a time when I’m alive and not writing. Which is why I’m really hoping for some luck  in my literary agent search, because I’d much rather make writing a career than a time-consuming hobby. All the words I’ve read that other people have written have shape my life, and I want to share the love by adding to the conversation; hopefully my words will reach the people that need to hear them the way other writers’ words have found me.

How’s your writing project going? Have you had any particular struggles or successes lately?


The Literary Elephant


Novel Progress 7.18

In my last writing update, I talked about how much I was struggling to finish Chapter 6 (of 9) of my manuscript. Fortunately, writing that post and admitting how hard of a time I was having helped: I did finish Chapter 6 shortly after that. Unfortunately, I thought I could also finish Chapter 7 before this month’s update, but it just didn’t happen.

For each chapter, I have a 10k word goal. When I opened chapter 7 this time around, I was already at 10k words. But those were thousands of words I had written before spending the last 6 months honing chapters 1-6, so changes needed to be made. The main plot arcs will stand, but there are a lot of details I have to go back to check and brush up, and at this point my characters are stronger than when I originally wrote the events of this chapter so I have to make sure that they’re still themselves in chapter 7. I also added some transitional events to the beginning of the chapter to bridge the gap between 6 and 7. So I have been working, just not enough.

Part of the problem is just that I’ve been busier than I expected (again), but also that while I love writing and revising and editing, I always end up feeling stuck in whichever part of the cycle I’m in.  (Does this happen to anyone else?) I thought that making the first chronological trek through my manuscript with a patchy partial draft already in place would be easier than starting at the beginning from scratch– with pieces of the book already done, I’m not always doing the same thing every time I get to a new chapter. Some chapters require more writing, but others are heavier on revision, and chapter 7 has been mostly editing. It’s nice, in a way, not to be stuck writing all 90k words in one go, and then doing all the revising and editing  at once in additional drafts; this way, I’ll have a nearly complete draft by the time I’m finished with my first full draft. I’ve always operated that way, no matter what I’m writing. But I’ve never written anything this long that had to be a coherent, finished product by the time I reached the end; as I’m approaching that finish line, there are more pieces of the story to juggle, and I’m feeling more constricted. I miss the early days of this project when I let myself work on whichever part of the story I wanted to work on, in any order.

I’ve been really tempted lately to pause these chapters that I’ve been feeling bogged down with lately, to go through my list of small tweaks that I need to make in the early chapters. I’m a pantser with my writing, so when I started at the beginning of this draft I’d intentionally left the end open and I wasn’t entirely sure where the story would end up. Now that I have a clearer idea, I know there are little details I need to introduce earlier on, and I have a better idea of how to characterize my MCs from the beginning, in a way that’s more relevant to the overall plot. I feel like I could be more productive working on those aspects that are on my mind right now than pushing through chapter 7, where I’m just trying to make everything add up. Chapter 7 feels like the part of a jigsaw puzzle when all that’s left is the sky, all the pieces are same shade of blue, and some of them fit in multiple slots. But there’s only one solution to connect all of the pieces, and it takes a lot of trial and error and patience. I want a break from the sky pieces.

But that’s dangerous thinking. Letting myself “quit” chapter 7, no matter how temporarily, is how I kept getting off track in the first place, when I was working unchronologically. Instead of making forward progress, I would just keep editing the same “finished” sections over and over, and even though I am glad that everything I’ve “finished” at this point is as polished as it is, I’ve been working on this so long that I really need a complete draft before I go crazy and abandon the whole project. I will never quit writing… but I could see myself quitting this particular project in a moment of weakness. I don’t want that to happen. I am really happy with what I’ve got so far and where this project is going, and I want to get to the end and have a finished draft to show for the last 2 years of work I’ve put into it, but…. But. I don’t know.

I’ve been rambling through these updates lately. I think I’m just getting more stressed out. I’m juggling multiple perspectives in this narrative and as the main event is looming on the horizon, I’m also trying to weave all these characters together properly. I knew it was an ambitious project, and I’m immensely critical of my own work. I wanted to write something fun that would also challenge me, so even though ultimately I love this manuscript, I’m giving it 200% effort and it’s exhausting. This close to the end, there aren’t little surprises for me in the text anymore, it’s all going the only way it can possibly go because there’s so little left to happen. I know where it’s going now, and without the sense of mystery that I started out with, I’m less driven to transfer it onto paper.

And I suppose, as I’m nearning the end, I’m also getting distracted with the next steps. For months I’ve been so focused on just finishing this project, but I’m in the final third of the manuscript now, and even that final third is half-written and just needs brushing up. Within a couple of months, I’ll be writing query letters to potential agents. And that’s the part I’m most worried about in the entire publishing process. That’s the stage of the process that most makes me worry whether I will ever be published at all, whether anyone will ever read my work (I don’t think self-publishing is the route for me). It’s hard pushing that fear aside long enough to even reach that stage, but I’m trying.

So Chapter 7 is where I’m at. I’ve got over 11,700 words in the chapter right now, and I’m trying to edit it down a little bit. I’m not sure if there will end up being a scene or two I need to add towards the end, but even so I’m pretty confident I can get that number closer to 10k. It’s mostly editing left to do, cutting out what’s not necessary, rewording the sentences I can’t stand anymore, checking details. It really shouldn’t take more than a few days of hard work to get through it, if I just make myself keep going.

Looking ahead: I wanted to be finished with this whole first draft by the 29th of July, when I’m leaving for a little vacation. It seemed like the perfect time to put the whole thing out of my mind for a week and come back to it with fresh perspective to make all those small tweaks I’ve been making note of in the last couple of months. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. If I work really hard, I might be able to finish chapter 8 by that time, but we’ll see. I think I’ve already got about 5k words stored in chapter 8. If I can keep myself going, it might be possible to get through 7 and 8, and spend that week of vacation just gathering all my thoughts for chapter 9. I won’t be actively writing during that week, but I’ll probably still have the project in mind, especially if I’m not through to the end of the draft by that time. Hopefully I’ll come back to it more confident and excited than I have been this month, and ready to wrap it all up. I will be looking for an agent within the year. That’s scary, but also really exciting. The balance of those emotions varies day to day.

I know I’m all over the place right now, and I have no idea what my next update will look like. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep moving forward and making progress.

A little inspo for any other struggling writers out there:

“Once I thought that writing this book would be impossible. It was a skyscraper, massive and complete and unbearably far off. It taunted me from the horizon. But do we ever look at such buildings and assume they sprung up overnight? No. We’ve seen the traffic congestion that attends them. The skeleton of beams and girders. The swarm of builders and the rattle of cranes… Everything grand is made from a series of ugly little moments. Everything worthwhile by hours of self-doubt and days of drudgery. All the works by people you and I admire sit atop a foundation of failures. So whatever your project, whatever your struggle, whatever your dream, keep toiling, because the world needs your skyscraper.” -Pierce Brown (Morning Star)

What’s the hardest part of writing for you? Is there any part of the process that scares you?


The Literary Elephant

Novel Progress 6.18

I’ve been dragging my feet about this update for days because this has been the first month all year that I can’t say I’ve finished another chapter of my manuscript. In my last update, I talked about how much work I put into (and success I had with) chapter 5, but a month later I’m still only in the middle of chapter 6.

I could list excuses: my seasonal job kept me insanely busy at the end of May, my chapters are long (10,000 words or more each, only 9 chapters total), I put so much effort into finishing chapter 5 quickly that I was in a bit of a slump in the aftermath. But the important thing is that I still made progress, even if it was slower this month. I kept trying, and I think I’ve finally pushed through to productive mode again.

When I opened chapter 6 right after my last update, there were only 2,000 words in the chapter– only 1/5th of my target number. But I did add 5,000 more words that were tucked away in a file of scenes I wrote without knowing where exactly they would fit into my manuscript. But they needed heavy revisions and editing. So that’s what I’ve been working on this month. I’m currently at 8,400 words, and I’ve revised and edited my way through 14 pages of what will probably end up being about 32 pages.

But some good, encouraging things have been happening lately. First, I read Charles Soule’s The Oracle Year, a recent sci-fi release that has almost nothing in common with my manuscript and was only a 3-star read for me but proved very helpful anyway. The Oracle Year follows a similar sort of structure as my manuscript, and it uses the same concept of  a single weird phenomenon being introduced into the real world. So it was great to see in someone else’s writing which aspects worked for me (or didn’t) as a reader, since it’s so hard to be objective about some of the technical/mechanical aspects of my own writing. I know people say you should read a lot of the genre you write in, and I don’t exactly do that. I just read a lot of anything that catches my eye. But this one was particularly educational, and I came back to my manuscript feeling like I had new ideas to apply.

Second, I cheated on my writing plan. I was supposed to be using 2018 to work through my manuscript in chronological order– my work on it in 2017 was all over the place, so even though I was close to a full draft it basically looked like Swiss cheese and the parts didn’t all mesh together. It’s been nice having a lot of the structure and plot already in place, but I was so afraid that if I looked at anything other than the chapter I was in I would get derailed again. But in my slump, I looked ahead. It turns out chapter 7 already has over 10,000 words in it, and I like the plot in there a lot. Some revising/editing will be required, and now that the first 6 chapters are (almost) completely in place I know of a few more details I’m going to want to add. But working from a starting point of 10,000 words sure beats the 2,000 I started with in chapter 6, so I feel less daunted about the last 3 chapters now. When I started struggling so much with 6, I was really afraid that 7, 8, and 9 would be just as hard, which didn’t exactly motivate me to reach them. But now I know that 7 should be easier, and more fun. I want to get there.

On a related note, one thing that often happens when I get into a slump is that I think all of my writing is bad. Writers sometimes talk about “killing their darlings,” how hard it can be having to cut out parts of the writing that they’re proud of; I have the opposite problem. Especially when I’m in a slump, I can look back at something that I thought was good, and cheerfully destroy two thirds of it. I wonder why I’m trying to write at all, when clearly I’m terrible at it and will never be able to convey what I want to in any appreciable way. (We’re hardest on ourselves, right?) But after I cheated and looked ahead at chapter 7, I cheated again and reread a lot of chapters 1-3. And surprisingly, I didn’t hate them. I really liked them, in fact. I’ve been working so hard on every individual chapter this year, going through sentence by sentence, and not moving on until every word feels right. When I was stuck in that one section of chapter 6, going over the same 2 pages again and again and still not finding the right balance of the original idea and the new information I needed to combine, it was harder to see the bigger picture. But when I went back to reread some of the scenes I knew I had really liked, I remembered why I was being so stubborn about the details– because in the end, it was paying off. There were still a few word choices I’d like to go back and change once I have a complete draft, but for the most part I’m still really pleased with the work I’ve done this year, and reminding myself of that made soldiering on through this tough spot more tolerable.

Third, I just kept opening up section 6, day after day, even when I knew I was going to get nowhere with it. I had to look at it. I had to keep it in my mind, so that I would be ready for the ideas to start flowing again at any time. And in the last few days, that persistence has been turning into progress. I finally made some sense out of that 2-page section I’ve been stuck on for weeks, and I’m excited about the next sections of the chapter. That one section went really slowly, but even the days when I had only edited a couple of sentences after hours of work added up, and I did finally make it through. Sometimes working on a scene I’m feeling uninspired about can backfire, but I was patient this time. I didn’t let myself settle for having words on the page even if they weren’t the right words.

This has been a long update already, especially for having only “completed” half a chapter this month. But you know what’s better than reading success stories? Reading about other people’s struggles. Sometimes you don’t meet your deadlines. Sometimes you have a lot of work to do and you take a nap instead. Even the writers you idolize have rejection letters and unfinished projects. Bad days (or months) are part of the process. Today, I’m feeling a little better about where I stand than I did for most of this month, but I wanted to admit that I’ve been working on the same 2 pages of my manuscript for probably 3 weeks now. My go-to slump-crushers weren’t working (taking a walk, reading something inspiring, opening a new document and writing something non-manuscript related just to get some words flowing again). But I’ve survived and the world marches on. I’m still confident that I’ll finish this project eventually, and some days I’m even pretty confident that it’s publishable. (Though that’s a whole other fear not worth going into today.)

I’m ending this update with no particular plans or expectations– I have no idea how far I will get in the next month, or how much longer it will take me to finish section 6 much less reach the end of the draft. But that’s okay. I’m still trying.

What do you do with writer’s block?


The Literary Elephant

Novel Progress 5.18

If you missed it, I’m writing a novel. I still don’t know if it will ever be “good enough” or published or even read by anyone other than myself, but I do know that nothing can happen with it if I don’t finish. So here we are. It’s terrifying, but it’s life.

In my last update, I was just finishing chapter 4 (of 9; they’re long, but they’re subdivided into smaller sections) and I was staying positive about it even though I had put a lot of work into what felt like not a lot of actual progress. This time I feel like I’ve made a ton of progress, but I can also feel a slump settling so it’s been harder to stay positive this last week or so.

In the last month, I did my final read-through of chapter 4, and set that aside. I formatted what I had of chapter 5, which was only about 2,500 words (out of my 10,000 word goal per chapter). I edited it down to about 2k. Then I wrote about 7k more words, revised, edited, revised, edited, rinsed, repeated, etc. I was stuck on the last section of the chapter, so I left just under 1k words there to work with later while I polished the rest of the chapter. That all happened in the first two weeks of this writing cycle. I was in a great frame of mind, the words were flowing, it wasn’t perfect but it was falling into place. And then I spent two whole weeks struggling through that last few hundred words. My final read-through turned into three semi-final read-throughs because each time I came a little closer to smoothing out the connections and that ending but I knew it just wasn’t quite there. Yesterday I finally found the right note to end on, to tie it all together. I did a final final read-through. And I backed up that file and closed chapter 5.

It seems like such an obvious milestone: of course after finishing chapter 4 one goes on to chapter 5. But 5 felt like a turning point for me, because I’m now past halfway. I’m comfortably past half of my final word count. I’ve now completed more chapters than I have left. There’s more work to go, of course, but I finally feel like it’s coming together. Like some day in the not-too-distant future I’ll be coming out on the other side.

I’ve been working on this novel (part sci-fi, part romance, and a whole lot of adventure) for almost 2 years now. I would really like to finish it around the 2-year mark at the end of June / early July, but I don’t know if that will happen. I don’t want to push myself so hard that I lose forward motion, because getting there a little slower than planned is better than never getting there at all. I know chapters 5 and 9 were the most content-lacking, but actually the improvements to what’s already there have been more time consuming than filling in the missing writing. Which, I think, is why I kept getting derailed in past attempts to actually finish this thing.

Partially, I hate that I’ve been dragging this out for two years, because the bulk of the work has been done in the last six months. I’m revising/editing so hard that I’m basically rewriting everything I had done before, and if I had worked this hard all along I probably could have been done in one year instead of two and I could be a lot less lost about what I’m doing with my life right now. But also I know that I’ve grown 1000% as a reader and a writer in the last two years, and that even if it seems right now like I don’t have a lot to show for that time, I know I’ve been learning all along and when I finish writing this novel it’s going to be stronger for the extra time it’s taken. I know that this round of intense edits and revisions and additions holds new insights and techniques and intelligence that I just didn’t have two years ago, even if I could have written the appropriate number of words in a cohesive whole. These are some of my better-late-than-never thoughts that came out around the halfway point of this draft.

So going forward, I’ll be looking at chapter 6 (again, it’s obvious, but I’m still excited about it.) I’m going to nurse this writing slump a little because I learned in chapter 4 that pushing through with mediocre content is not worth having to do the work twice. A break can be highly beneficial. I’m hoping that in these next few days I’ll get chapter 6 formatted and do an initial round of edits mostly just to see what’s there and map out what I need; hopefully getting through the mechanics of those set-up stages will excite my creativity again so I can keep working on the hard stuff. I was so impressed with myself when I started chapter 5 because progress was fast and easy and fun; if I felt that way all the time I would fly through this manuscript. Fortunately, I do think the moments of doubt and the days when everything I’ve ever written seems awful do help me pinpoint where my problem areas are and find ways to fix them. Having mixed feelings about my writing helps me to be more objective about it. It’s not the best thing ever written, but it’s not the worst, either.

And hopefully someday people will want to read it.

How’s your writing going?


The Literary Elephant

Novel Progress 4.18

I’m writing, I’m writing! In my last update, I felt like I had made a lot of progress and things were moving fast and I was excited. But my writing usually fluctuates, I have a week or two of great progress and then an off week or two, and then I’m back again. So this month I have less progress to report but I’m on the upswing and I’m still excited about what’s going on in my story.

I used to feel bad about the weeks when I just can’t seem to get anywhere in my manuscript– still do sometimes– but these last weeks have emphasized for me why that doesn’t help anything. In my off weeks this last writing month, I started to feel guilty about not getting anywhere and I did manage to force myself into getting words onto the page. I needed about 2,500 more words in Chapter 4 when I started out, and after editing and revising what I already had I got to the end where I knew I needed a little more content with only about 1,000 more words needed at most. That’s about where I was at during my last update in March, and I thought at the rate I was going I’d finish Chapter 4 within days of that update post.

Cue the off weeks. As I said, I forced myself to write through it and I was right up there at the 10,000 words mark after long days and then long weeks of struggling, when the writing mood finally hit hard and I realized I was going to have to rewrite a lot of the new content I had added as well as some of the revisions I had been making in the chapter at the same time. All the answers just started falling into place and I knew what needed to be said in the chapter, but I had said a lot of unnecessary things instead in those off weeks.

So I’ve spent the last week and a half redoing most of my progress. I was so into the work (finally) that I was shirking my reading (I have an overdue library book for the first time all year) and my blogging (I let a few days that I had posts planned for just go by without even looking at the drafts I had started), but when the writing fire lights I don’t want to miss the magic before it fizzles out again.

I finished Chapter 4 today, all but a final read-through that I like to do at night when it’s quiet. I’m just over 10,500 words and I feel really good about it– not just about being done with the chapter, but about having quality content in it. Even though it’s less progress to report than last month I feel just as good about it. It took more time and effort to finish Chapter 4 than Chapter 3 (8 of my 9 chapters are named but it’s easier to refer to them by number while the manuscript is in progress), but I think the end results of 4 were worth it. Did I mention I’m really excited about how it’s looking right now?

I know some writers have rules/goals about writing every day and pushing through slumps (and probably also about finishing writing before trying to edit and revise anything), but this month I learned all over again that I should listen to my instincts about what works for me, at least when it comes to my manuscript. I have plenty of side projects that I could’ve worked on and not cared if I messed up in those off weeks, but instead I created a lot of extra work for myself by trying to be more proactive than I was ready to be. In the end I probably could’ve finished Chapter 4 faster if I hadn’t put a lot of mediocre content in there when I wasn’t feeling it, but I’m so happy with where it’s at right now that I’m more interested in living and learning than resenting the lost time.

Current standing: other than a final read-through of the chapter tonight (just for small word choice edits and double-checking that everything lines up), I’m confidently finished with 4 of my 9 chapters. I have over 130 pages and over 40,000 words that feel like final draft material, but I know Chapter 5 is going to be more/different work than I’ve been doing so far. There’s a lot of content still missing from Chapter 5 so I’ll be back to writing and editing at the same time like the end of Chapter 4. (I don’t have an outline per se but I do have notes of what’s generally supposed to be happening and some pieces put in here and there in the middle.) Chapters 5 and 9 are the ones I’ve put the least time into so far so I’ve got plenty of work coming up but 5 will be exceptionally pleasing to finish– because it’ll mean a lot of work done and because it’ll put me safely past the halfway point. I think the key thing to remember going forward, after the writing month I’ve just had, will be to use the good writing days when I have them and not to worry too much about the off days when they strike.

If you haven’t checked out my previous updates and are wondering, I’m aiming for a 90,000 (up to 100,000 at most) finished product divided into 9 chapters (10,000 words each) with smaller sections inside the chapters. I have two main perspectives but also two minor perspectives that come into the story regularly, all in third person because I have an omniscient narrator. It fits best into the sci-fi genre, but primarily it’s a character-driven story about ordinary people turned superheroes with just enough science to explain what’s going on. The best age range is NA, as the characters are college-aged and figuring out life. I think it’s a pretty great read, but I’m biased.

What do you do when you hit a writing (or even reading) slump? Is it best to wait it out or do you have a trick for working through it? Tell me about it in the comments!


The Literary Elephant


Novel Progress 3.18

I have had a superb writing month.

In my last writing update, I talked about being stuck in the third chapter of my book, and about wondering when it’s an appropriate time to modify writing goals if the original goal just isn’t working. In the month since then, I finished editing chapter three and it’s currently my favorite chapter. Once I let myself focus on the story instead of the word count, it was much easier to approach the work and make productive progress, and in the end I was only 30 words short of my original 10,000 word count, which is about 970 words more than I was afraid I would end up with. In addition, I worked through most of chapter four (of nine) as well.

Chapter four is one that still had some narrative holes this time around. When I opened up chapter four this month, it had 8k of 10k words, which meant that before final edits, I had some more writing to do: my first substantial writing jog on this project since I started working my way through my manuscript in chronological order. It was a nice change to get back into pure creating, though it does mean that even though I’ve gone through the entire chapter once to do a rough edit and fill in the missing content, I will have to go through the whole thing one more time as a whole.

It should maybe feel like a lot more work since I’ve only had to edit the last three chapters without generating new content, but this chapter was written more recently and thus was more polished to begin with. I approached it just as rigorously as the first three chapters, combing through sentence by sentence,  but overall there were just less edits to be made. Also I had good notes already in place for the content that needed to be added, and it was nice to have a little change of pace with the project. I have more editing ahead of me on the final trek through chapter four, but I know I’ll be getting back to writing in section five again. The alternating is keeping me on my toes. Figuratively.

So, where do I stand.

Right now in section 4 I need about 500 more words, but I’ve got the basis of the missing part worked in so it should be easy to work in those last 500 words as I expand the new content a little more. I’m pleased with about 2/3 of the chapter at this point, but I’ll read through it all (making any more minor changes along the way, of course) so that I have a good lead-in to edit the last 1/3 that still needs some work. I’m planning to finish with the 500 missing words today, and from there I expect the editing and final read-through of this chapter will take only another day or two.

But I do have a busy week outside of my manuscript so I’m not giving myself an exact schedule to follow. I find that exact schedules make me feel boxed in and when I fail them it sours the whole project so I’m trying to keep myself going at whatever pace feels the most productive on a day-by-day basis.

It’s always exciting to reach the end of a chapter and feel like there’s a whole new section complete, but chapter four is especially exciting to me to finish because it’s so close to the halfway point (half of nine chapters is 4.5, so halfway through chapter five I’ll hit it). I’ve been over and over the first three chapters of the book in the last year and a half, and it’s so exciting to put them on the back burner, safely out of the way, and to move into the second arc to the story (each group of three chapters has its own arc inside the main plot).

One more thing I want to talk about in this update: reading for writing.

For several weeks as I struggled through the end of chapter three and then changed pace for the new arc in chapter 4, I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. This has been the perfect book to read at this point of my own novel, especially as I’m getting back into the writing parts of it rather than just the editing. Atwood’s prose is so… visceral, colorful, metaphorical… She uses so much imagery and makes such unique connections that reading her work inspires me to add to the atmosphere of my own manuscript. I know I tend to err on the side of writing action and inner conflict, so reading something so sensory has been a great reminder to describe things a bit more and pull the reader into the world of my story. Different things help me with different aspects of my writing, and often I don’t know how they’ll help until I’m in the middle of them. This is part of the reason I try to read so widely– it’s surprising what can motivate you.

What do you read for writing inspo? Or have you had any writing break-throughs lately? I love hearing about the ups and downs of everyone’s writing process!


The Literary Elephant

Novel Progress 2.18

I can’t believe it’s been a whole month and I’m still editing the same 30 pages of my book. But I don’t want my slow progress to start holding me back from updating again, and then from making any progress at all, so I’m going to talk a bit about what’s holding me back in these 30 pages and why I’m not letting it stop me.

First, a brief reminder for those who don’t know: I’m aiming for a sci-fi/fantasty story with nine chapters of 10,000 words apiece. I haven’t quite written 90,000 words yet,  but I was getting out of order and saving things in tiny separate pieces because I didn’t know where exactly to paste them in and it was time to go back to the beginning, smooth things out, put everything I had together and fill in the empty spaces. I’m calling it the “final run-through” just to force myself into finalizing it as much as I can, putting in everything that needs to be there instead of getting distracted working on whatever seems the most fun at the time and verging into chaos again. I’ll probably still do another read-through of the whole thing when I reach the end, just because I am making a ton of changes this time around. But I mentioned in my last progress update that I was working on the third chapter– and I’m still in the third chapter, a month later.

Because of the structure of my book, with its nine chapters (further divided into smaller sections, for anyone who’s worried about unreasonably long chapters), the main plot is divided into three separate arcs. So in this third chapter, I’m reaching the end of the first arc, the first third of the book. It’s been largely a set-up arc, introducing readers to my world and characters. Two major things are happening to my main characters in  the first two chapters, so this third chapter is all about bringing the pieces together, the motives, the problems, to get them where I really want them for the meat of the story. There’s a lot of characterization happening, a lot of mystery being solved in why this world is functioning the way it is, some politics and alliances and obstacles being levered into place. I believe there’s plenty of action to keep the pace rolling, but especially in this third chapter there’s a higher level of introspection, decisions that need to be made and accepted on a personal level, resolutions made. And I just kept trying to rewrite the slow parts to make them work, to build up the conflicting emotions that are forefront at this time, and in the end it just wasn’t working. It didn’t flow with the charm and surprise of the first two sections.

So I’ve been doing some cutting. Some compacting, really. I’ve been removing whole paragraphs to replace them with singular, to-the-point sentences that better fit my book. The problem with doing this is that by winnowing down my content this way, I’m not going to hit the 10,000 word mark. That’s why my progress has been so slow and reluctant this month, because I was so determined to hit that goal, when it just wasn’t working with this chapter.

Now I’ve accepted that my chapters aren’t going to be of uniform length. I already knew that to some extent, because I went over the 10,000 word mark for the first two chapters, but I didn’t think with as much as I like to draw things out and say every relevant detail that I would ever have a problem with too-few words. And I think in the end I won’t be short of the 90,000 word range, even if I have to let a couple of chapters fall below my original target goal. Which is why I finally decided that the consistency of the story is more important than a word goal I set before I was this sure of my content. 90,000 words seems to be a general target range for my genre, so once I had those nine chapters planned it wasn’t an arbitrary goal, but I think the important thing now is to let the words fall where they will, keeping an eye on that final word count goal without being too inflexible about each chapter.

I am more than halfway through the third chapter, and it’s going faster now that I’ve got a system of sifting through it. I’m getting excited about the project again instead of dreading trying to work on something that just wasn’t working. By the end of this chapter I’ll be a third of the way through my book; all the important characters will be mentioned, important places will be visited, key terms linked to their objects, major conflicts noted. I feel a little as though I’m checking these things off a list as I’m editing this chapter, so I hope they read like they’re appearing naturally, that the bones of the story won’t show as much to someone who’s got a better distance from the story. But as long as I’m working on it so closely, looking at each sentence individually to make sure that everything is strong enough to hold up in the final work, I think it’s best that I can see the underlying structure so clearly to keep an eye on how things are moving along.

For my fellow writers:

How do you know when it’s time to modify a goal? How do you know when to trust that the story is strong enough to stand in its own way instead of sticking to the constraints of your initial outline plan? How do you make it feel less like failing if you do have to change a goal?


The Literary Elephant

Novel Progress 1.18

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you almost don’t even want to try for it? Because there’s that chance that you won’t get it, that you’ll give everything you’ve got and you still can’t get it, and that’s worse than dreaming forever without following through.

That’s how I feel about writing a novel.

But I know that’s not a helpful way of thinking, or of potentially succeeding at my goals. So here I am again, committing to monthly progress updates (whether anyone else is interested in them or not) to hold myself accountable, to push forward and find out whether writing is a dream I should keep chasing.

So here’s where I’m at:

Between my busy fall job and the holiday season, I started back at the beginning (as I’ve done a hundred times before) with the intent to revise, edit, finish writing in missing pieces, etc. all the way through to the end of my working manuscript. My book is divided into nine sections that’ll be about 10,000 words each (further divided into chapters within the sections). Currently I’m trending toward running closer to 11 or 12 thousand words per section, but I think at this point that’s the preferable way to skew. I want to hit the end without being short on anything, then do one final sweep to take out anything that doesn’t belong.

Right now I’m very happy with the first two sections, and working hard on the third. I’ve never been this excited about the progress I’m making, the changes to the story and the way it’s all turning out. I wish I could share a few excerpts here, but I just don’t trust the internet enough with something I hope to publish at some point. But I think the very fact that I’m ready to share parts of it, that I can read back through what I’ve edited and think, ‘Wow, I wrote that?’ is a great sign of achievement. I cannot wait until I feel that way about the entire book, and send it out into the world to try my luck with publishing.

But I’m not getting ahead of myself this time. I’m a big believer in goals, but I don’t want to fall back into the trap that brought my progress to a halt last year: failing to meet my goal meant I didn’t want to post a progress report, and when there were no progress reports to keep me motivated to work, there was less incentive to make progress… It was a vicious cycle in which I accomplished very little for too many months.

So right now I’m working in section three of nine. I’m expecting to take about two weeks to pick it apart and stitch it back together in a way that’ll satisfy me. This isn’t a goal, it’s an estimate based on the time frame of the last two sections I edited and the current state of section three. I’m hammering out small details in my editing, but I’m also still asking myself the big questions, ‘What themes am I reaching for here,’ ‘What’s the point of this character, or this event, or this chapter?’ I have an ending in mind, but I haven’t written as much of the plot in the later sections so I want to make sure I stay on track with the purposes of the novel and make sure everything is staying together cohesively.

I don’t know if anyone’s actually curious about my novel-writing endeavors, but I think it would be kind of cool to have some record of my working on it in case it ever does turn into the biggest accomplishment of my life.

Also, updates help keep me on track. I’m aiming for one update per month, and I think the more I get into it, the more I’ll share details about it, and about my process. Right now I’m going through sentence by sentence, changing everything that just doesn’t excite me. Making sure every word is relevant to the overall story. Culling adverbs. Streamlining dialogue tags. Adding sensory details. Cutting redundancies. There’s a lot of set-up in this first third of the book, but by the end of section three, everyone important is introduced, all of the fictional elements specific to my novel’s world are named and explored, the settings are covered, etc.

Oh, it’s a superhero book, by the way. New heroes, new monsters, new plot. New Adult age range primarily, but I wouldn’t say it’s inappropriate for younger audiences or too immature for adults. It’s also an exploration of soul mates– whether they exist, under what conditions, how important they are (or aren’t) in the grand scheme of things. It’s a nice balance between fast action and introspection (at least I think so); it’s got a strong female lead with an admirable sometimes-partner in a world turned upside down by man’s quest for immortality. I’m hoping it’ll be pretty good, in the end.

But I gotta get back to section three now.

Any other writers out there? How long have you been working on your projects?


The Literary Elephant