Sunday, November 20, 2011

Writers' Challenge Week THREE

I have to confess that I had to adapt the rules of the Writer's Challenge to my own diabolical purposes.
I am at the beginning of a new book that is a historical, so while I've tried to write actual prose, it just wouldn't come. I wrote up character descriptions, but they seemed thin. I needed to steep myself in the early to mid 19th century to get to know my protagonist and her world. So instead writing six out of seven days, I've been researching seven out of seven days. And instead of writing each day before I check my email, I've been limiting myself to checking four separate times throughout the day when my alarm clock interrupts me from note-taking or careening between Internet websites.
The result: I've only written about five pages - and its all synopsis, but I am firmly in the 19 century and is there anyone happier than a writer who has a brand new book starting to form in her head? (Except maybe a writer who has a brand new book completely written?)
At the Creative Brain workshop at The New England Crime Bake, author Shelley Carson called this the "absorb" method. I think of it as the percolating stage. But it's still hard for me to think of reading and highlighting and writing down notes as "work." For one thing, it's so much less of a struggle than writing, for another, it's hard to measure.
I'm wondering how everyone else measures or sets goals for the research phase of a book. And I also how the Writer's Challenge has worked this week for the rest of you. What are you successes and failures? Or your discoveries?



  1. Currently, I am attempting to write a novel(not crime fiction) set in 1928 Los Angeles. I've found it really hard to get my mind into the characters and the setting in the twenties. Every sentence seems to require research, which alas, I did three years ago and then took time off for another novel. I've found it helps to listen to popular music from the period, and YouTube shows the dances, too. Black Bottom, anyone? There were two kinds. One was sort of raunchy.
    It's rewarding to become an expert on a new period, but the writing is definitely slow as molasses. My guess is that the further back in history one delves, the more difficult it becomes. I have gained a lot of respect for "historicals."

  2. For my Writing Challenge adaptation, I count a day as successful when I show up at the writing desk for a time slot equal to how long it takes me to write our goal of 2pp/day. This week I've done other than straight writing - brainstorming, organizing, outlining, plotting. And research.
    On one day my book's focus shifted to a different character. Big excitement.
    Along the way, research took me on extended sessions surfing the web. Because research can carry me away from any clock, I've got a couple of grounding rituals. (I could use more.) I usually work from a list to help me focus (& I check items off). I print (web pages or my notes) (if not on paper then PDF files), and I log the number of pages, just like I would for a client.
    A backburner project (era 1800s) has been in research for over 3 years. I beat myself up - Was I obsessed? or in a stall? Till this week I attended a presentation of findings for a 1-year archeological study related to my topic. Suddenly it seems predestined that my prep work has brought the project to where it is. (Coming soon to front burner!)
    My stats: Writing 6 for 7; discipline (no internet until...) 3 for 7.
    My writing week - two pages each day it was not. Not with actual (/virtual) pen to paper. More like stirring the pot and watching what bubbles up. "Percolating" is a good word - tht's what it feels like.
    (If you get the image of a witch at cauldron, that's what I'm picturing.)

  3. Avi -
    I'm going to use your advice WORD for WORD. I've already been printing out from the internet, but now will start logging my pages. Also will force myself to work from a list.

    Judy, love the music idea. I've been reading sea shanties from the 1850s, but maybe I should start singing them? And although I doubt YouTube has any 1850s seashanties on file, with YouTube, you never know!!

    Thanks both you. I am so glad I brought up this topic. ANyone else have research advice?

  4. Sometimes I've googled a particular year just to see which historical events took place that year, which movies, music, books etc were popular just so I could get a fix on what things might be influencing my characters (what would they have liked when they were 16, for example.) Also helps with charcter names.

  5. I love Avi's image of witch stirring a cauldron! The book I'm working on has been a witch's brew for more years than I want to remember. Not always in its present form, however. I love research (I missed my calling). And I'd already done research for the brief parts of this book and have a stack of volumes (32) next to my desk, should I have a senior moment. Overkill?
    But my "procrastination" this week came from a JR discussion earlier in the week. I had forgotten about Scrivener! I downloaded the free trial for Mac (always impressed when there's a Mac version). I'm hooked. Wish I'd had it years ago. Wonder how many books would have come out of that by now.
    Of course, there's the learning curve, I still don't understand how to create a new Character Sketch template. But all I can say is thank you, Rosemary, and to all of you who shared your thoughts on the subject.

  6. Research is very important for my historical novels.
    I work in three phases:
    1.the big picture, the environment in which I am going to set the story (so that for Bless the Bride I read up everything I could on Chinese in America.
    2. The feel for place and time. WAlk the streets of New York's Chinatown. Eat at restaurant there and listen to noise level etc.
    3. The small stuff as I start to write--name of particular street, which El station etc.

    I find novels written in the period not about the period very helpful in getting the flavor and tone and modes of address, but being in the place is the best.
    Good luck

  7. Oh, we do go off on interesting tangents, don't we? The research factor in writing a novel is always a big issue for me, and I obviously don't organize it very well or I'd write faster.

    I do make lists of things I need to look at or read about, and when I'm planning a trip to the UK I make LONG lists of things I need to see and do.

    But I could certainly be more disciplined in my list-making, and check things off as I do them. And I love the idea of logging pages. I used to print out a lot of my research material and put it in a notebook, along with a printed version of my chapter/scene outline, but I'm now doing some of that in Scrivener. The problem with the printed version of the outline is that the outline constantly evolves (I almost never get quite as far in a scene as I planned, so material is constantly being shifted forward.)

    So thanks for the suggestions, everyone.

    As for the writing challenge, I made more than my page count goal four out of six days, as well as doing some organizing, research, and outlining. (I lost a whole day to a major planned gardening project. I'm still sore...)

    We're going to talk more about dealing with the seduction of the internet tomorrow, so tune in!

  8. Real Life(tm) had me zinging all over the map this week so my work time has been all wonky. I'm also working to get prep work done on the National Readers Choice Awards, sponsored by my local RWA chapter. The nominations close 12/1. *peers at the authors here and wonder why they haven't entered*

    I did completely edit and revise my 220 page manuscript so I figure that covers my work ethic for the week. The MS goes to my critique partner and beta reader and once I get it back for a final edit, it goes off to my editor. Starting tomorrow, I'm back to work on my NaNo project. New words. Hopefully.

  9. Sounds pretty impressive to me, Silver

  10. I'm playing with a new cozy idea. I wrote 1500 words, decided it was backstory, and so tried again.

    The writing flows until I have to name something, or describe my characters. Then I get stuck - until I solve the question. Then I can write again.