The pandemic challenged us in ways none of us could have anticipated, including how and where we write. Since we ended Write by Midnight, each of the Write Owls have received their COVID-19 vaccines and the communities we live in are seeing businesses opening their doors again. After writing from home for more than a year, often with little humans and spouses around more than they usually are, we’re ready to venture out to libraries, book stores and cafes to get our writing done in new spaces. Are you ready for a change of scenery too? Are you in a position to get back to a writing routine that reflects your pre-pandemic life? If so, now’s the time to reassess your goals, set new ones and create a new routine.
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Congratulations on finishing Write by Midnight 2021! We hope you established some solid routines that will carry your daily writing habit well into the rest of the year and beyond. We’d love to hear from you about how you did. Did you accomplish everything you set out to do? What practices or techniques helped you meet your goals? What distracted you from reaching them and how did you alter your routine to help you overcome those challenges? It always inspires us to hear how other writers work. In that same spirit, here’s how each of us fared during this year’s write-a-thon.
How Laura Fared
Yesterday, I read a tweet encouraging writers not to have high expectations for themselves when it came to setting goals for daily output. Why set the bar high and fail to get over it when you can aim low and surely succeed? I feel certain there are people who agree with the author’s reasoning, but I’m not one of them. To me, the point of setting goals is to push yourself to see what you’re capable of achieving if you work hard and remain open to learning. For this year’s Write by Midnight, I set big goals, vowing to write daily for more time than I usually do with the intention of revising eight chapters of my work-in-progress. I’m pleased to report that I wrote for my designated 90 minutes all but three of those days and logged more than 10,000 brand new words. While I only revised five of the eight chapters I challenged myself to revise in 28 days, the ones I finished are better now than when I started with them. I wrote entire scenes only to delete them later because I found more compelling ones waiting to be written. Most important, I’m discovering my voice as a writer through the process. Moving forward, I’ll keep sitting down each morning to write and I’ll keep revising scenes and writing new ones. Publishing my first novel is a big goal I have for myself, and I’m fired up to crush it.
How Stacey Fared
In November and December I made steady progress revising my manuscript and felt really good about my writing. Though I lost momentum in January, I figured I could turn things around during Write by Midnight if I pushed a little harder.
For the first two weeks of February, though, my writing stalled. I could not move past one scene. Every morning I would write and delete, write and delete for two hours or so, always feeling like I was just on the cusp of getting it right, but then didn’t. Usually, when my writing sputters to a halt like that, I can look back over the chapter I’ve been working on and, after some critical study, point my finger at a culprit—a plot flaw or character inconsistency that’s giving my subconscious fits, or a segue that turns the narrative down a dead end. But this time, I couldn’t spot the problem with the story and decided the problem might be with me. Maybe, my brain just needed a little writing vacation.
So, instead of beating my head on my keyboard, I decided to take the third week of February off and indulge in some non-writing activities in the hopes of recharging my creative well. I spent days drooling over plant catalogs, thinking about raised garden beds—clearly, I have a terrible case of spring fever—and making preliminary sketches for new paintings and sculptures.
Though I’d originally planned to dive back into my manuscript for the last week of WBM and try to finish the write-a-thon strong, the universe threw me a curve ball when someone stole our car. At that point, I just gave up on February.
But yesterday was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the temperature was balmy, twenty six of the thirty echinacea seeds I’d planted sprouted, the dog had a great time on the beach and I booked my husband’s first COVID-19 vaccination.
I see a light at the end of the tunnel, and that makes me think that, despite all the crazy in the world right now, March may be a better writing month.
How Megan Fared
The month of February did not go exactly as planned for me. I made excellent progress during the first half of the month and even worked through a significant world building concept that made my entire outline much stronger. However, the middle of February brought with it such snow and ice as my part of the country rarely sees. Since we don’t have the equipment or infrastructure to deal with that kind of winter weather, everything just shut down—including schools—and I spent a full week of Write by Midnight stuck at home with my restless family. I know the pandemic has marooned many of you in that same situation for a year now. I salute you, my fellow writers, because writing with children underfoot is hard. My situation was temporary, so I just bailed. No writing at all for the week of snow and little for the week of recovery that has followed. It was not a stellar showing for me. However, March is looking up. I think. Surely we won’t have another snowstorm. Or flood. Tornadoes? There’s still that pesky pandemic … Nope. I definitely have to get writing. The world won’t survive without a little fiction to escape into.
Be sure to check back in with us for our monthly Write by Midnight Pep Talks. Together, we can help each other achieve our writing dreams.
At a certain point in working on a manuscript, it becomes impossible to tell if dramatic moments actually feel tense, if magical moments are saturated with wonder, if comedic moments are funny. All the words are on the page that should evoke those qualities, but do they? Do my characters have distinct voices and clearly differentiated characteristics? Or are they interchangeable? Is my world building clear and comprehensible, or is it confusing and filled with contradictions? I know what I want to accomplish, but I’ve spent so much time elbows-deep in the story that I’ve lost the perspective a fresh reader can bring.
I can ask beta readers those questions and let them think through their answers. They can make notes on my manuscript and discuss possibilities with me, and all of that is incredibly helpful. But the thing they can’t do is provide in-the-moment gut reactions to the story the way a listener can. So, while my primary Write by Midnight goal is to complete an outline for my next manuscript, I am also reading my current manuscript aloud to my very own beta listener.
I read every night to my kids before bedtime, so one night, without fanfare, I began reading my own manuscript—a middle grade novel—aloud. Kids are fantastic and expressive listeners, and I was delighted to see them squeal with worry in the tense moments and laugh out loud in the funny ones. They also asked specific questions that brought up problems with the story—and showed clearly how to address those same problems.
It has been fun to share this project that has consumed so much of my time with my own family. Now they know what I’m talking about when I say I need to write. But it has also been incredibly helpful for my writing process. I’ve gained that fresh perspective that shows me what works and what needs work. And when I’ve finished my Write by Midnight outlining, I’ll know just what to do to get my manuscript in tip-top shape.
I’m no stranger to revision. During my years as a daily newspaper reporter, I edited and revised on deadline. Every day. Often, for multiple articles, each written in a matter of minutes, not hours, and certainly not days. Even as a freelance journalist, I regularly revise and edit articles, press releases, web content, blogs, social media posts and whatever else a client might send my way. But revising a middle grade historical fiction novel is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. This past week, I’ve been really taking the words of poet and novelist Vikram Seth to heart:
“Revision has its own peculiar pleasures and its own peculiar frustrations. The ground rules are already established; the characters already exist. You don’t have to bring the characters to life, but you do have to make them more convincing.”
In the spirit of Seth’s words and to mark the start of the second week of Write by Midnight, I thought I would share some of the pleasures and frustrations I felt while striving to make my characters more convincing.
First, the frustrations.
Revision. Takes. For. Ever.
My Write by Midnight goal was to revise two chapters a week. And even though I wrote more than my planned 90 minutes on five days and met my time limit on the other two days, I only revised one chapter and barely made a dent in the second. Last night, as I prepared to write this progress report, I reflected on why, even with more dedicated writing time, I struggled to reach my goal. There are many answers, but I can sum them up by saying I want to write with historical accuracy and emotional authenticity in a way that middle grade readers want to keep turning the pages.
This. Takes. Time.
When I wrote the first draft, I didn’t worry about researching how people in the 18th century would have treated pneumonia. I made notes to go back during revision to discover what the hold of an 18th century sloop would look like and how the crew would repair storm damage to the ship at sea. I just wrote past those – and many other – period-specific details during the drafting stage.
But now I’m revising and I need those details. They’re vital for my readers to feel the fear, worry and helplessness that my protagonist experiences as she’s trying to care for her sick mother during a storm in the hold of an 18th century ship that is carrying them away from their homeland to an unknown destination. Finding those details takes time. Paring them down to the ones that evoke the emotions I want the reader to experience takes time. Making sure they’re the sights, sounds and smells an 8-year-old girl would notice takes time. Discovering the words she would use to describe her thoughts and feelings takes time. Making sure all of these details are age appropriate, readable and interesting takes time.
Revision is the stage of writing where writers need to invest the time.
Doing so leads to the pleasures Seth referenced. My research unearthed the details I needed to not only add layered depth to my characters, but also illustrate the themes I want to get across in my writing. The discovery process is thrilling, especially when it leads to writing you never thought yourself capable of. So, I’m not beating myself up for not writing two chapters by the end of the first week of Write by Midnight. The words I did get on the page are good ones. They say what I want them to say. My story is better because of the time I invested.
As I move onto the second week of our write-a-thon, I’ll keep letting the peculiar pleasures outweigh the peculiar frustrations. I’ll move forward with my revision process, slow and detailed as it may be, and wish you all the best in discovering what works best for you and the stories you strive to tell.
Today is #WorldReadAloudDay, so take time to read aloud what you’ve written so far for the Write by Midnight challenge. It’s best to have someone read your work back to you. The experience is invaluable because it allows you to hear repetitiveness or wordiness, judge the pacing and figure out where the reader stumbles. If you’re uncomfortable with that, record your voice and play it back to yourself or upload your manuscript to an app or program that will read it aloud to you. If you’re brave enough to read to someone, you have the added benefit of observing where they’re confused or if they stop to ask questions. However you choose to celebrate #WorldReadAloudDay, share with us how the experience helped you as a writer.