I’m about a third of the way through the first draft of a novel. As it happens, this is the furthest I’ve ever gotten with one — ignoring the misbegotten monstrosity that spawned from my 2007 NaNoWriMo — and I think I’ve finally at long last found a process that works for me. (Famous last words!)
It’s this: write, one scene at a time. After writing the scene, review it to make sure it actually has some kind of conflict or tension, and that it moves the story forward and is sufficiently interesting. Also continue to think often about the story as a whole, and periodically read the book from the beginning, so that things don’t go off the rails. After finishing each scene, add it to an outline to make high-level review easier. (This is all inspired by Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing into the Dark and Steven James’s Story Trumps Structure.)
So far, it’s working. I have a loose deadline of mid-July for finishing the first draft, which means writing around 1,100 words a day. I’ve written 80 pages so far and am aiming for roughly 240 pages total. (My current vision of myself as a novelist, by the way, is primarily writing short standalones rather than long books or series.)
Organic writing like this is familiar, in that it’s what I’ve always done for stories and poetry, but at novel length it’s mildly terrifying. I have vague ideas about where the novel is going but it keeps surprising me so who knows. Truth be told, while I’m having a lot of fun with this writing method, I also frequently find myself wishing I were an outliner. Having a roadmap for this book would be really, really nice. Maybe someday, for future books. In the meantime, though, this method is producing results. If all goes well, sometime this fall I should have a finished, polished novel.
A quick update: I was stuck for a while on the Dagh story, but I’ve started spending my lunch hour working on it, and it’s coming together nicely. I should have a complete first draft done soon. (I’ve got 7,000 words on it so far.)
I’ve spent the last few months avoiding the heck out of writing the novel (Edge of Magic). The plot changed several times — completely changed, that is — and then I abandoned it and started on a short story which I then also abandoned.
The good news, however, is that I’ve written a thousand words a day every day solid since the beginning of December. The habit is securely in place.
Tonight I realized that for some reason, when I’m working on a story I can’t do other projects at the same time (art, typesetting, coding, etc.). Whether it’s because I use those other projects as avoidance or something else, I don’t know. But during a writing project — at least the planning stage, not sure yet whether it applies to the drafting stage — I need to put all my other projects on the back burner. That gives me enough mental space to let the story grow.
The plan right now: finish the aforementioned short story (featuring Dagh and María Bonita — I don’t have a title yet), then decide which novel I’m actually going to write, outline it, and write it as fast as I can, to get it done before self-doubt slashes my tires.
One problem with the novel, by the way, was that Makrannan’s character was never very clear or interesting to me. He never came alive to me. Thus his part of the book was always weak, even after several re-outlinings. With this current story, however, Dagh and María Bonita feel much more alive to me, and it’s making all the difference. (And hopefully that will make the story much more worth reading than my earlier stories.)
Goal: finish the first draft of the Dagh story by May 21, and release the edited story on my site by May 31.
Back on December 3, I made a goal to write a thousand words of fiction a day, every day (skipping Sundays). I made up a chart with sixteen weeks on it, ending March 19, printed it out, and taped it on the headboard of our bed.
And that chart is now full. I’ve written exactly 100,000 words since December 3 (I wrote a little extra each day), which is crazy considering that I used to be unable to get myself to write at all. I don’t know what actually made the change, but I’m writing every day and it’s great.
Today I tried doing my daily writing via phone dictation, and it went surprisingly well. I had to correct a fair amount of mistranscribed words, but there weren’t as many as I had expected. And I think it might have actually been faster than typing on my phone (considering that I often have to fix autocorrected text when I’m typing).
I’ll say, though, that I’m not at all used to writing things by speaking out loud. Very different. I suspect it may grow on me, though.
As I’m now starting to get more serious about writing novels, I recently made a list of the next few books I want to write after the one I’m working on, and I ran into an unexpected side effect: knowing what the next few items in the queue are has somehow made writing a novel feel far more doable. It’s now a task that has an ending, rather than being something with no end in sight.
Sidenote: I’m not sure how much I’ll talk here about the novel in progress, at least not until I finish a full draft, but I do plan to talk about tools and process. (For example, I’ll write more about this later, but I’m using Vim with a Git repo and a post-commit hook that generates a print-ready proof PDF of the full book via TeX whenever I commit.)
As requested, here’s my process when creating the circle series paintings.
My ideas for these pieces usually come while I’m in the shower or reading the scriptures. Sometimes, as with Sweet Hour of Prayer, I’ll be consciously trying to come up with an idea for a new piece. Other times the idea just comes to me in a flash, as happened with Sacrament — in the middle of an unrelated verse in Mosiah during family scripture study, it popped into my head fully formed.
Once I’ve got the idea, I sketch it out, run it by my wife to make sure it makes sense, and revise as necessary. With Sacrament, I painted a mockup in Brushes Redux on my phone (ArtStudio is also good for painting):
With Sweet Hour of Prayer, I drew some thumbnail sketches, trying to figure out the best configuration of circles and triangles to convey the idea of prayer:
I then settled on this layout:
I also made a version in Illustrator so I could further refine the idea (it’s easier to manipulate the shapes there):
I’ll then open Photoshop and create a new file, usually around 4500px wide so the resolution is high enough for printing at larger sizes. This is also where I’ll decide on the orientation of the painting — square, horizontal, vertical, etc.
I fill the background layer with a color to get started. The color usually ends up changing by the end.
I then paste in my mockup and set the opacity to something like 10% so I can trace over it.
On a new layer, I take my Ninety-One brush (part of my Eclectica brush set) and, using a light color set to Color Dodge at 20% opacity, I paint in each shape in successive passes, usually doing seven or eight passes. This gives the edge look I like.
At this point it looks something like this:
Once I have the shapes in place, I texture the painting, generally trying to make it look like it wasn’t made on a computer (with varying levels of success).
I then add five to fifteen texture layers. For each, I usually choose one or more colors, paint all over with a noisyish brush (dots, lines, etc.), and then erase lots of it with another noisyish brush. I optionally set the layer blend mode to Soft Light or Overlay and/or turn the layer opacity down to 10–20% (this combination of steps I’m going to dub “SLO” since I’ll be using it again in later steps). The layers for Sacrament:
I’ll also usually drop in a photo texture (usually pictures of concrete sidewalks I’ve taken) on a new layer and set it to SLO. I’ll also often desaturate the image and play with the curves to get a more contrast.
Sometimes I throw in a radial gradient (usually white to a color) on another new layer and set it to SLO (sensing a trend here?). I also often add a layer mask and paint/erase some noise in black on it to get rid of gradient banding.
I sometimes paint/erase noise, then duplicate the layer, make it darker, turn the layer opacity down, place it under the original layer, and move it down and to the right to simulate shadows.
I usually tweak the colors of the piece at this point, using the hue slider to play around with the background color layer and the radial gradient layer.
The execution phase usually takes an hour or two. After I’m done, I send it to my wife for feedback.
Once I’m satisfied with the painting, I flatten the layers. I optionally run the Unsharp Mask filter on it to make it look a little more like a photo/scan. And then I save it to a full-res PNG and upload it.
After it’s done, I’ll come up with a list of possible titles and send it to my wife. I almost always use whichever title she chooses from the list.