Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Breakup: When to divorce your project

Do you have at least one novel, short story or poem you've been editing for years?

Do you find tweaking words easier than starting something new?

If so, you may need to divorce that project.

Breaking up is hard to do.  Describing gamers' addiction to FarmVille in a Wired Magazine article ("Gamed," July 2011), Dan Ariely explains why it's hard to stop working on our creations.  "Once people take all the little steps to build a farm, they become invested in it--and thereby value it more highly.  The more complex and difficult and time-consuming a process is, the more we fall in love with our creation and the more we become interested in the game."

Complex, difficult, time-consuming, and hard to give up. Sounds like my addiction.  Does it sound like yours?

It's great to be invested and to love what we do.  But attachment to an old project keeps us from going forward.

Nine months ago, burned out from working too intensely on Wacky Road, I divorced that sucker and embarked on painful weeks of brainstorming a new story, The Girl on the Mountain, something very different.  I blogged about this earlier in Writing from Scratch.

Now Girl is undergoing the critique process, and I've transitioned to something new, inspired by John Locke's How I Sold 1 Million ebooks in 5 Months!   Locke says that a reader who enjoys your first book is likely to look for another of your books right away.  Therefore, bringing out two or more at the same time can give you a bump in sales.

Everybody acknowledges that generating ebook sales is tough, maybe next to impossible for those of us who don't write in highly popular, sensational genres.   We need all the help we can get.  But here's something encouraging:  Joe Konrath, in his blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing mentions that ebooks will last forever.  Forget shelf-life.  Your ebook has a chance to sell over time, or at least until popular tastes change.

So now I'm happily romancing a story I divorced almost ten years ago.

Separation from your story doesn't have to be permanent.  You can fall in love again, and write better, the second time around.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Write chapter summaries as you draft

I've always hated to write summaries, but in working on my current project,  I actually found them useful. 

Instead of waiting till the final draft to tackle the dreaded task, I started writing a summary as I finished each chapter.  But I didn't begin to do this until I was more than half way through the first draft, so I had to catch myself up, reviewing and writing summaries for all the chapters up to that point.

The first good thing about it was the way it ended my confusion about what was happening at particular points in the story.  That's why I did it.  I was lost.

The second, unexpected good thing was how the summaries showed problems, contradictions, and inconsistencies.  I found chapters where there was nothing much happening, or too much.  Plot threads I'd forgotten about and hadn't carried forward.  

I still hate this kind of writing, but heartily recommend you write summaries as you go along.  It's easier when everything's fresh. Use the summaries as a reference to keep yourself straight.  When you write the next draft, revise them as necessary.  When someday a publisher asks to see your first fifty pages and your chapter summaries, the summaries will be seasoned veterans.