Redefining: Expectation

I can want everything to be “just so” all I like, but expecting it to happen that way is something else entirely. When I expect something to work a certain way, I’m just setting myself up for irritation and disappointment because I lose sight of the fact that I cannot have ultimate control over everything!

There is a difference between planning and expectations. When goalsetting, you’re meant to have identified a reachable achievement and be aiming for that outcome. Expectations are sometimes just irrational demands on yourself. And the longer I let myself think in terms of expectation, the harder it is when things just don’t go the way I wanted.

Perhaps this is just a distinction I have come up with. Maybe other people don’t see any variation between “planning for” and “expecting to”. However, I certainly do, and it’s something I should be more aware of when thinking about my future. Much in the way of deadlines, a lot of expectation is hinged upon timeframes.

So the new idea is to plan for outcomes, but stop imposing expectations on them. Plan to, yes, finish stories when I can, but don’t expect them done in a certain time, or even a certain way. Stop expecting them to come out as a specific thing. Keep working and see what comes of it. Learn, evolve, improve, and always move forward. Plan for a polished, complete work at an indeterminate “end” point, but don’t expect things to come out the exact way I want the first, or second, or even third time.

Most importantly, plan for leniency. Stop expecting a sense of failure when something goes awry. I can’t snap my fingers and force the world to come into line. Plan for Zen. Stop expecting control. Continue, persist, move forward. It’s a relaxing way of thinking!

~A

Snowflaking

The Snowflake Method is Randy Ingermanson’s brainchild of plotting out stories in very particular detail.

I would say I’m a Pantser, but I don’t think that fully covers the depth to which I imagine my stories before writing them. I percolate information for months leading up to most of the actual writing; scenes are imagined and noted, sub-plots are considered, the lives of the characters outside of the specified story are thought through.

But there’s a lot to be said for being a Plotter, too. I’m definitely not all Plotter, just because I don’t put it all down in nice, neat rows. But the idea is appealing. Some kind of romantic notion about having it all worked out beforehand, you know? Just watch me never do that in my life – but I’ll muse over it all the same.

This Snowflake Method seems promising, to a degree. For the sake of curiosity, I broke down a completed story into the pieces which Randy directs. The single line summary, the paragraph, the character explorations. It worked out alright, though I quit when it got to the longer steps simply because I’ve already written this novel, and if I’m spending that kind of time working, it’ll be on another edit.

What about other stories? I’m only halfway through writing the first draft of SL, and while I have a good idea of where it’s going, there are still scenes missing from my process, ones which I’ll make up on the fly. Could I break this one down and try Snowflaking it? I’m interested in giving it a try.

If I did use a method for these books, how would I then adapt it to suit the over-arcing story? Do I make a wider view Snowflake, encompassing the end plot? Or do I line up the individual notes, one after the other? Maybe by this stage, I won’t do any of the complicated layers for the existing works, and just try building the next few books with this kind of method in mind. It really does seem promising, and a good way to keep an even flow of a long-term series.

Better yet, I can more than easily do all the steps in my favourite novel writing software, yWriter. It appears set up in a pretty similar format, so the important parts should all slot in nicely.

I like the idea of order, I really do. I just live in a natural state of chaos.

~A

Mind maps, how I love thee

FreeMind saved my sanity.

I had been turning the thought over in my head for ages: how could I personally organise all of my series ideas into something cohesive? I have a very expansive world built, I have a large over-arcing plot in place, and I have a cast of characters as long as my arm. But I had not been able to lay it all out neatly and look it over.

I’ve tried index cards. They only work for me in very select situations. For instance, indexing a single-sentence summary of each scene through my finished draft to find dead zones, areas where no particular action occurred. If three scenes in a row turn out to be discussion or travelling, I can see that right at a glance and spice it up. Change where that information is shared. Throw in a different scene between them.

I have tried various programs designed to be used to track plots and outlines. Most of the writer/story programs drive me to distraction. I want simplicity, yet I need a lot of control. Not much software is designed for basic use with a high degree of customisable features. The software designers think they’ve stumbled across a great way to do this one thing, and it won’t be the one way I’m looking for. I know I’m picky, so if it doesn’t work, I shrug and move on.

I have even attempted to write things out on large sheets of paper, but there’s no way I can keep something like that tidy. Besides, who has the time? I could be drawing out huge diagrams, or I could be writing! Or… crocheting. A lot.

Eventually, I remembered an article I read back when I first discovered my favourite novel-writing software, yWriter. My love for yWriter is all kinds of special, but that’s not what helped me organise the quagmire of my chaotic plot, characters, and various world events. Simon Haynes (author, and programmer of yWriter) wrote about his own methods, in Plotting a Novel.

When I first found that article, I used FreeMind for a project, then promptly forgot about the program. When I went back to Simon’s page, it was a lightbulb moment; of course, why wasn’t I using FreeMind? I already knew how well it worked for me, using a system of organisation very similar to the one Simon discusses (with examples!) in his article.

Needless to say, I went ahead and fired up FreeMind right away. After inputting just a little fragment of the important information for The Damning Moths, I felt a lightening from my mind. It was getting all laid out. Nice and neat. Right where I could see it and feel like I’m not going to miss anything. Mind maps are great.

~A

Don’t panic: do something

Going in over your head is sometimes the only way forward. The next step is straight into the deep end, and you know it’s unavoidable. Instinct number one is to panic.

I’ve been panicking. Just a little bit. But mostly because I’d forgotten my simplest and best rule for avoiding that sense of losing control of my direction. I require a high amount of self-education any time I’m uncertain of my plans. If I’m lost, I just need to stop and find enough information that I am enabled to have more confidence.

Honestly, my biggest problem of late has been putting all my efforts out of order. I want to get this thing over here done as soon as I can, but I desperately need to do this other task first, and putting it off won’t change any facts. There are plenty of activities which can be done in any order, but certain challenges must be faced one after the other.

I got tired of feeling under-confident and uncertain. Instead of pretending like I can avoid the hard parts until the very end, I sat down with a search engine open and started typing my questions. Simple things I needed to know, the very concerns which triggered my panic. “How do I?” such and such. Figure out the answer as I go.

And yes, research of this nature takes a long time. Many pages of browsing, many refined search terms. Click, read, click, read. Pick up tidbits of information from this person, disregard what that guy has to say, stumble across other fragments of valuable knowledge and store them for later.

I know this is all rather vague. In fact, all my panicking has been vague and across the board – one crisis at a time is more than enough, but I decided to have a couple. You know, for laughs and “funsies”. Or something. But the good news is, I fell back into old habits!: Research. Learn. Find out everything I can to give myself the stability I require. I might not do any of my tasks right, even after all this, but at least I can provide myself the best possible start to tackling my concerns. Information. Education. Knowledge.

Doing something is better than flailing about in a blind, self-defeating panic. I know. I’m there.

~A

Is this what we’re doing now?

You don’t have to say a thing. I already know.

I’ve skipped out on continuing one story in favour of hitting the eight-novella series again. The characters crept back into my head with some astounding clarity today. There were things that I hadn’t gotten right during draft one which I am confident I can fix and keep fixed through the series now.

I also got to have a very complicated discussion with the husband about magic theory. Scientific-based magic is a sneaky business. When the magic in my universe is just that much closer to known physics, I have to be even more aware of all the places I am intentionally stretching reality to fit in my brand of fiction. As I work through the theories, I bounce confirmations off the husband and get his input on the likelihood of one thing affecting another, or the limitations that must be in place.

One of the things that came up during this was the X-Men character, Magneto. The X-Men series is one of those things that has so much intense depth, I can’t even begin to do it justice by a few lines of explanation, but suffice to say, someone with the powers Magneto is given shouldn’t have any actual restrictions. He should pretty much be able to do anything, with no contest from the other mutants in that universe (besides the ones intentionally made even more undefeatable).

All magic requires limits, but certain powers need author-imposed restrictions that keep the character from being able to just do their thing and overcome the challenges with no effort, growth or progression. These are the most difficult scenarios for me, because they still need to live in that realm of believability that I am already applying to my magic theory. They also have to be hidden restrictions, things that don’t jump out at the reader as something I have used as a character-roadblock.

So with all this fresh and burning in my mind, I’ll be getting back to the first major edit of TDM. Then, should everything go well, I’ll charge straight on into finishing the first draft of SL. Yeah!

~A

The plan, the challenge

As you may know, I’ve switched to working on the potential-novella referred to as M. I read the opening I wrote several years ago and felt somewhat overawed by how awesome the idea was, and wondered why I stopped. I can honestly say it was because I hadn’t plotted any of the story out besides the general idea; it slowed me right down, and I can see that, now. At the time, I just drifted onto other projects that had more immediate appeal, without ever realising what was holding me back.

While the ideas for this story were still there, they needed a lot of developing. And as my last blog entry covered, the strange little ideas I’d worked out, and the interesting plot directions I wanted to use have finally started to make sense as a whole story. I got excited and I have begun planning out the plot properly. The best part about doing this is always knowing what to write next. Once this is sorted, I can sit down and throw whatever words I want at the page. Editing will be challenging, but the important part is always finishing that first draft.

My plan is to have the overall plot finalised, to whatever extent I usually do, by the end of this week. Then starting Sunday, I intend on writing like a maniac (or if you’re a fan of Dear Sugar, writing like something else!). Novellas clock in around 40,000 words in length. I want to hit that in two weeks. Madness? Oh, yes. With my lifestyle, most certainly. And that’s precisely what draws me to it.

I have always been inspired by challenges. Put some kind of ridiculous deadline in my head and I want to tackle it wholeheartedly, just to see if I can. Looking over my writing records for TDM, I don’t often reach 3,000 words a day, but where’s the fun in it if I already know I can manage ~2,000? I could do it in a month, but two weeks? We’ll have to see.

There’s always the distinct possibility that I will get directed, bored, or grumpy with this whole plan before it’s finished. You guys can always call me on it if my happy little word counter isn’t rising daily.

~A

When suddenly, it all makes sense

My writing has been on hold while I try to untangle the vast reserves of ideas I have. I needed to put everything in place for this story, because it’s been years since I worked on it, and despite knowing the general plot, I never came up with too many specifics. Ahh, the days of literally making it up as I went.

I have been sorting and compiling ideas for a couple of weeks now. It feels like forever, and I’m an impatient sort. I’d prefer to be writing than planning and plotting, but I can recognise that one must come before the other. Little ideas, big ideas, strange notions that don’t seem to fit into this story have all been running through my head. For a while there, I intentionally avoided even thinking of any of it, because I was getting so frustrated at how none of it was slotting together nicely.

Then yesterday, it clicked. The parts fell into place. Even the weird things that I didn’t think were relevant to this story had a specific and important role to play.

I don’t know how any of this works. It’s some kind of function my brain has had for as long as I can remember. I could attribute it to a wild imagination or half a lifetime of practice in writing, but that doesn’t encompass the fullness of how stories sometimes just “work”. After all that struggling with ideas, after all those days of just giving up trying to put the crazy jigsaw together myself, I can finally see the full picture and why those ideas were connected at all.

Does this mean I’m back into writing immediately? Not quite. I can see it all, but I still need a little time to percolate this as a whole. I’ll probably start by putting down a plot outline with all the major and minor events I’ve already decided on. From there, I think I will be able to fashion something like a story out of it. I have a pretty great feeling about this work. This is going to be fun.

~A