First Reactions to My First Chapter

Oh man – there’s nothing more awfully exhilarating and nerve-wrecking than waiting for reactions on something you’ve created, right?

Maybe it’s a speech you give in front of an audience or a painting you’ve done, or it can be the first chapter of the manuscript you’re writing for real. Whatever it is, it’s crazy scary to let people see it, hear it, feel it – and comment on it.

But I did just that.

The Secret Word Society

When I came back to Finland from our trip, I was asked to join a writing club called The Secret Word Society. It was a writing friend from the writing forum who, together with six others, had put together the club just a month earlier.

I said yes, of course I want to join! We managed to meet with the group face-to-face once before the pandemic broke out, all the proper meeting places were closed and social distancing was recommended. That one time was so great, the people were so nice and friendly and we had a great time talking about writing, reading and creating. I was really looking forward to meeting these people again.

Luckily, even the pandemic can’t stop us and we’ve continued our meetings twice a month through Zoom since the end of March, and it’s been awesome.

Every month we have a different writing theme one can choose to use if one wants to, everything from a specific genre to everyone writing a story with the same title or getting inspired by a certain number or a word.

It’s been great fun to challenge myself as a writer and lately, I’ve been writing more original stories than fan fiction.

Our theme last time was the big one: the first chapter of a manuscript.

So, I posted the first 1,700 words of Yellow Tails on our Google Drive and tried to relax, waiting for Saturday. I did everything but relax: I was terrified, excited, nervous and somehow exhilarated, everything at the same time.

Finally, Saturday came.

Feedback from Five Readers

In The Secret Word Society meetings, every feedback round starts with the author’s note on the story, how the writing process was and if there’s something specific she’d like to get feedback on. Everyone gets approximately three minutes to give general comments, feelings and notes on the story. After that, we discuss the story as a group for about 15-20 minutes.

With my story, the first chapter of Yellow Tails where the main character wakes up in a random house without any memories of how she got there and then finds a huge, yellow cat in the living room, I was looking forward to hearing how the first pages felt to the readers. Were they eager to read more, how did they feel about the two out of three characters presented in this chapter?

It’s said that the first five pages are some of the most important pages in a book because they hook the reader’s interest. It was this hook I was wondering about, if it existed in the story.

And I think I’ve got it. At least a little. Maybe not a huge fork lifting kind of hook, but more like a little hook that gets caught in your little finger, creating a little jerking movement that pulls you back to the story.

Because: I was happy to see glad, slightly amused reactions to my story when we started talking about it. The five members who were joining the meeting last Saturday liked the characters, their quirky behavior and personality. They were curious about the mystery that was presented and interested to read the second chapter. YAY!

In addition to that, I got some good, more practical feedback on how to develop the chapter a bit further: adding a few questions the protagonist can ask to make her confusion more realistic and giving a tiny hint about the mystery that will get the big story moving in the coming chapters. As a result of the discussion, I also decided to change one of the character’s names that goes better with the Finnish language.

The most exciting thing was to hear how the readers perceived the story: how many of those five got the secret idea of what actually happens in the story, or what the story is about. And get this: two out of five was on the right track, just on the basis of the first chapter! I was so happy to hear this because if 40 percent of the readers get the idea behind the story, it’s a huge win.

So, What’s Next?

The great thing with The Secret Word Society is that it boosts my writing confidence and helps me stay motivated about writing. With and because of them, I write at least one story every month even though everything else would end up in the bin. Their feedback make my stories better and me a better writer.

Last Saturday’s meeting came at the best of moments, because I was having a great deal of doubt regarding Yellow Tails. I was getting closer to my first 10,000 word mark and wondering if the story was worth writing at all. Luckily, the feedback helped me feel better about it and ever since Saturday I’ve felt more motivated to develop and continue the story.

I don’t think I’ll be showing other chapters to the group unless they specifically ask to or something unexpected happens, because I’m already in chapter seven and going back to discuss chapter two few months after writing it feels like stalling the story.

Instead, I’ll keep on writing so that I’ll finish the story and will then reach out to a few test readers so I can send them half or the whole story later this year for reading and commenting.

However, I’m so very happy I decided to show my writing friends the first chapter, despite how terrifying it was. Instead, it was the perfect decision in my state of doubt and The Secret Word Society cheered me on in the best possible way.

So, to sum it up: if you have a chance to join a writing club, with face-to-face meetings or online, join. You won’t regret it, writer.

The Good and Bad With Rewriting

IMG_1562_1

Since last week, I’ve been working on the rewrite of Yellow Tails. I’m close to reaching my first 10,000 word mark (out of approximately 80,000 words) and thus far it’s been good. It’s been fun, visiting the familiar environment and making the characters more like themselves. I’ve felt confident about my writing.

However, these past few days I’ve also been noticing a feeling of doubt.

More or less, it’s the same kind of doubt I was experiencing last week – the fear of working in vain, the fear of writing a story no one wants to read – but now I feel like I know why I’m feeling that doubt. It’s like a fear that I’m not making the story any better by rewriting it. What if I’m making it worse?

And therefore I thought it would be a topic worth writing about this Thursday: to list the bad things with rewriting an old story – but to also tell you about the good stuff that comes with it.

Feeling Chained To The Old Script

Let’s start with the negative, more challenging aspects.

To Not Follow the Script

First of all, it’s hard not to follow the original script. My aim is to write the story with approximately the same plot line as in the original one but to make it more streamlined and better and the characters stronger.

However, to continually keep glancing at the old not-so-good script makes improving the story difficult.

I’m nervous to take the freedom to write a whole new story with the same idea, the same characters and the same plot line. But at the same time, I keep getting frustrated at the fact that I’m so dependent on the original script that isn’t as good as I would like it to be.

I’m afraid those faults in the original script will slip into this new one without me noticing it.

Feeling Inspired By The Idea

The second challenge with rewriting an old script is that the idea is old: Yellow Tails was written in 2018, two years ago. Back then, writing about the fat yellow Jello cat was inspiring and motivating but now, writing that same story feels more mechanical and less like an adventure. It can turn into a real problem if I don’t feel motivated to write the story.

(But I wonder if editing a story feels the same? Do share in the comments, if so!)

And the trouble is that if I don’t feel energetic and joyful while writing the story, it’ll most likely show in the script. That would be miserable.

Doubting My Former Self

The third, and last, thing might be just me imagining things or it might be real. It’s fear: what if the idea that felt so great in my mind two years ago really isn’t that great? That Yellow Tails got written in that honeymoon phase of the idea when I didn’t see that the story had no depth and wasn’t really worth telling? Am I trying to write a story that isn’t worth rewriting?

This, of course, is Resistance that should not be trusted without proper proof. But I can’t help but doubt my thoughts and ideas from two years ago. Or – maybe the thoughts were deep but I’m not capable of getting that depth on paper again?

Confidence from Knowledge and Experience

And at the same, I’m finding great joy in noticing how I’ve developed as a writer during these two years of active writing. These developments can be seen in the rewritten script when compared to the original one, and that gives me great joy. Therefore, despite the fact that I’m feeling doubt and fear over the rewriting process, I’m also finding positive aspects in rewriting an old script.

Knowing My Style

For the past year, I’ve been curious to find out what my writing style is. Slowly, through writing both fan fiction and original stories, I’ve been figuring out some aspects of my preferences when it comes to style.

I prefer writing in present tense rather than past, for instance, and most often write in third person. I also enjoy the dramatic effect of breaking sentences in the middle –

to continue them on the next line.

Knowing this, and especially knowing the effect the chosen style has on the reader and the reading experience, is valuable when rewriting the script. The original Yellow Tails, for instance, was written in past tense and is therefore changing a great deal because I’m rewriting it in the present tense.

Awareness of the Art of Writing

The other thing that gives me confidence and joy while writing is that I know so much more about writing than I did before. I’m aware of the importance of multiple plot lines and knowing what they are in Yellow Tails. I know more about creating complex characters and how to make them less perfect and more humane to create characters that actually awakens emotion in the reader.

This makes the script richer and I’m feeling more confident of the fact that I’m writing almost-good text already and it won’t need as much editing later as it would otherwise.

**

I really do hope that the feelings of doubt and fear will subside as I get deeper into the story. Hopefully I’ll also be able to forget some of the original script and let the story take the course it wants to take because I believe my imagination is even better than it was two years ago. Because who knows, maybe the new story, although the characters and the main idea stays the same, is much better than what I created two years ago?

The Return of the Draft

IMG_1232_1

When Monday came along, I opened It: the first draft of Yellow Tails. The one I completed in December 2018 (it feels like a long time ago).

Ever since finishing it and re-reading it again after a few months break, I’ve been tossing around the idea of when to get going on the second draft and make it into a manuscript I could consider letting test readers read and comment on.

First, I thought I’d get the second draft done before Christmas last year. Traveling the world didn’t quite agree on the project and the last and only time I put some work into the draft was in the jungles of Malaysia on a rainy afternoon sometime in September. After that, I just let it sit. Didn’t even poke it with a stick.

Even now, although we’ve been back a few months, the draft has been waiting. Or, rather than waiting it has been hibernating. Keeping no noise, but still existing.

And now I know why: it has simply been waiting for its time to come. It hasn’t been about when I want to get back to it or have the time. It has been about when I’m ready for the draft.

I know this, because during the month of April, I recognized for the first time a motivated, courageous little feeling that was telling me that now would a good time to get back to Yellow Tails. It felt like I was finally feeling ready to rewrite it.

At the time, I was in the middle of a writing project working on a 23k fan fiction story and I was very determined to complete it, but I hoped that that courageous feeling would hold on until I was done with the story.

Lucky for me, it was still there this Monday. I felt excited to open the draft, to take a look at it and start writing it again from the beginning. So I did it: in Google Drive, I went to the Yellow Tails -folder and opened the second version of my first draft.

But after looking at it for a while, before typing a single word, I freezed.

I began to feel dread.

Because, as you might know, the first chapter is incredibly important: it’s supposed to be the thing that surprises the reader, makes him or her hang on to the cliff you’re creating with interesting characters, exciting quests and questions about the plot. The first few pages are crucial. And I was sitting there, looking at my previous draft and wondering, how on Earth will I ever manage to write a great first chapter?

Which led to the roller coaster ride of:

Is my first chapter interesting enough? Will anyone get to the end of the first chapter and is there someone who will want to keep on going to chapter two?

Will anyone care about a girl who wakes up in an unknown house and tries to become friends with a cat and a squirrel?

Does my story matter? (Or ever worse: why should it matter?) Will it ever matter? Is there someone out there who wants to publish it?

And so on, and so on. I trust that you can imagine how my thoughts kept going like that until the morning was over and I was feeling exhausted already, with zero words on the new draft.

However, after the first shock of Resistance was over, I remembered that 1) the first chapter is important, yes, but I can always go back to make it even better, which leads to 2) the most important thing is just to write. Simply get those first pages done and keep on going – because if you have nothing written, you have nothing to work on, to improve.

(Also, one thing that encourages me is that these days I’m part of an awesome writing club called The Secret Word Society and the theme of our next meeting is ’first chapter’. It’ll be the first time someone else gets to read Yellow Tails and I’m terrified nervous and excited to hear if my first chapter is working and if yes, YES!, and if no, how it could be improved.)

I believe that riting the second draft is just as hard as writing the first draft, but the good thing is I’m more capable of recognizing Resistance and have a few tricks to get it off my back. I’m better equipped for this writing process than I was for the first one.

And now, three days later, I’m working on chapter three and it’s going great. I am considering taking a few days off actual writing to work on the timeline and the plot because then it’ll be easier to get back to the draft more or less every day but the fact that I have 5,000 words on the new, improved draft and I’m still feeling good… How do feel about that, Resistance?

 

Different Methods For Writing

IMG_0538_1

The past couple of weeks have been good writing weeks for me. I have found the flow, the groove of writing. I believe it is a result of me reflecting on my writing process and me as a writer. It has had to do with how I write.

The thing is, a writer can write 100 or 100,000 words and not develop if one does not reflect. It is like a constant self-check, skimming through thoughts that go through one’s head, catching those flimmering emotions that one feels in the pit of their stomach (dread) or chest (everything from joy to fear to anger).

Quite often that feeling of dread, fear, disappointment or even anger can come from the fact that you, the writer, haven’t been able to put down the words. You might have a daily, weekly or monthly word goal and every day you don’t work towards that goal makes you lag behind. 

It’s not a nice feeling, for sure. It certainly does not help you get back on the saddle the next day. But I have some suggestions for you – some ideas that might help you get to your word goals regardless of how you feel. Interested?

A Writer’s Heureka

When I got back to writing in February 2018, I had a simple goal of writing 30 minutes per day. It was usually in the morning before heading to the University. I wrote what I wanted, self-reflections or short-story ideas. In a week or two, the idea of Yellow Tails started to find its way to the pages.

During that time in my life, studies at university and working for radio, 30 minutes per day was enough for me. I felt satisfied for whatever words I put down. It was enough that I was writing.

But then I quit my job and had suddenly days upon days of nothing planned and I could write. I changed my daily writing goal from 30 minutes per day to 1,000 words a day. It took me longer, maybe an hour, to get to my goal. After that, I was usually exhausted, done for the day. 

All the way until the last pages of Yellow Tails in December 2018, I wrote 1,000 words per day.

After that, in 2019, my writing got less foreseeable with the fan fiction and all the short stories. It wasn’t any more about a certain amount of time or a certain amount of words – it was more of writing until the story was done, going by feeling. Sometimes it took days, sometimes only one.

But now, since December, I have been wondering again, how many words per day should I write? What would be enough? I kept thinking about something between 1,000 or 2,000 – but it was supposed to be fixed. You know, 1,500 and no less or precisely 2,000 because that’s the way I am. 

And I kept thinking about this back and forth while definitely not managing to reach this daily fixed goal which led to confusion and disappointment. But then I realized that I can change up my writing routine every single day if I wanted to. Who cares how I write those words as long as I find pleasure in writing?

So I started trying out different things: word crawls, a 20-minute writing session, a 100-words-at-a-time approach – and suddenly I was having both fun with my writing and I was reaching good word amounts every day! Gone were the days of personal frustration for not getting enough writing done or doing it with a grumpy face.

And that’s the thing I will tell you about right now: how to have fun and write.

Finding the Method

I know, it’s not groundbreaking in any way. It’s pretty simple, really. But I believe we writers tend to get held up by our beliefs and self-made rules that a good writer writes 2,000 words per day like Stephen King. 

That’s not the deal here, folks. 

You don’t need to write 2,000 words to be a good writer. You need to write XX amount of words to feel good about your writing and that can be different from one day to another. It is also key to have fun while writing. So, how do you do it?

The best way for you to get your words down today so that you’ll feel satisfied with the work of the day is to reflect on how you feel that day when you sit down at your writing desk. And to do that, there are a few different things to figure out. 

(But before you go on, just let me say this: if you feel motivated about your WIP, go for it, write already! But if you don’t, then keep on reading.)

What are working on today?

Are you writing flash-fiction? A short story, a one-shot? A novel, perhaps? It’s important to know since different stories and story formats have different needs. So, with that in mind, the next question, then.

In what phase of the work are you?

Do you know where to continue from last time? Or is there a troublesome, grubbly, muddy mid-section plot catastrophe waiting for you? 

You got the answers? Good, go on to the next section.

Depending on your work in progress and if you know what’s coming next, there are a few different methods to get going with your writing and getting those words down.

Method 1: Writing for a certain amount of time.

For short stories and novels. This method is for you who knows what scene comes next but finds it gruesome to get going.

Try putting on a timer, either on your phone or online. You can start by 10 minutes, or even just five if that feels like a good start. When those minutes are up, take a break, put on a new timer and start working again.

And if this doesn’t feel motivating or get your fingers running on that keyboard, try instead giving yourself a time limit. Decide for, say, 15 minutes and if you still feel unmotivated – maybe today isn’t your day? Rachael Stephen talks about meeting your muse at a bus stop: the method is to try writing for 20 minutes and if you muse hasn’t met you by then, you can close your computer for the day and be happy that at least you wrote for 20 minutes time.

Method 2: Writing a certain amount of words.

For flash fiction, short stories and novels. This method is for you who is uncertain of what scene comes next.

Instead of working against time, give yourself a word goal you try to reach. This way you don’t end up only thinking about the next scene for ten minutes without ever writing a word. 

If you’re feeling extremely unmotivated, start with 100 words. Anyone can put together that scrawny little amount! Then try another 100. Or 250. And take a break. Always, remember to stand up, stretch, drink some water and/or go to the toilet before getting back to work. Taking a break might even help you figure out what the next step in your story is.

Method 3: Writing a certain amount of words during a certain amount of time.

For short stories and novels. Also known as a word sprint. If you know what’s next and want to challenge yourself, try writing either as many words in a certain amount of time or, for instance, 500 words in 15 minutes or 1,000 words in 45 minutes or 400 in ten minutes. After a session, take a break.

Method 4: Take a wild card.

Are you feeling undecided about how many words or how long you should write? Would you like to give your faith to the hands of chance? I have a few options for you: check the clock and take the last three digits of it as your word count for the next session (right now, I would have to write 914 words). Alternatively, you can take the three last digits of your current word count and write as many words as it says. Or roll a die and multiply the number by a hundred. Or simply write to nearest thousand.

And without you even noticing it, the words are starting to fill the pages. Don’t be afraid to switch things up – you might end up having more fun trying out a different writing method. Start out with a five minute timer, then roll a die, try to write 450 words in fifteen minutes and lastly, round up to the next thousand. Believe me, it’s going to be fun! Because that’s what writing is supposed to be, FUN!

Again, this is nothing groundbreaking, right? But I think we all sometimes need a reminder that it’s more than okay to switch things up and try a different way of writing that might suddenly result in 500; 1,000 or 2,000 words more than you expected.

So, what will your method be?

My Brief Career As A Plotter

IMG_9371_1

A few months ago at a hostel in Malaysia, I got an idea for a fan fiction story. A longer story with action, adventure and a hint of mystery, starring the characters I had been writing about for a while now.

Because the idea was for a longer story (more than 20,000 words) than the ones that I’ve previously written (around 5,000), I decided it was time to write down a basic plot line following the hero’s journey.

Earlier this year, I read a book from Beth Ravis called Paper Hearts that goes through the basics of writing a book. There, Ravis shows her method for plotting called ‘chart structure’ that has four acts, all divided into four parts. As this was the structure I felt comfortable with, I planned my plot line following the chart.

This was a new thing for me as I had never planned this carefully before starting the actual writing process. And I loved writing down the plot – it was fun to know what was going to happen and have a feeling of coherence. This, I thought, was the way to get rid of those plot holes and inconsistencies!

Following the chart method was really almost like writing a very short story, and I really liked the ideas I had. I believed I had a good plot on the way.

The False Cure

When I started writing the story, at first everything went pretty well. I let the words come and wrote them down, writing the first four chapters. However, every night when I was thinking about the text, I realized some small inconsistencies or things that needed to be added in as foreshadowing for future events.

Slowly, as I wrote, the inconsistencies started adding up, it didn’t feel like I was foreshadowing enough – 

I mean, did I even know how to write an adventurous mystery? 

– and I wondered if I was wasting my time continuing to write the story when it felt like I was just making the editing process more painful with every scene that I wrote.

I realized I needed to plan way better than the chart structure. A better, more detailed plot line, not only for the main plot line but for the side plots, as well. It should and it would help me out, both in writing and editing the story.

So I opened a new Word-file, made a chart with four columns (one for the different acts according to the chart structure and three for the different plot lines) and started writing out the scenes more carefully, tracking the plot lines side by side.

It felt like I was doing the right thing. I was ensuring I was getting to know my story and my characters. Scene by scene, I was minimizing my work load in the editing part of writing.

I deleted the fourth chapter and started writing it from scratch. I edited a big part of the first chapter and was still unsure if it was right. I added some more foreshadowing to the second chapter and wondered if the third chapter was needed at all because maybe there wasn’t enough happening?

While thinking of all these things, what I didn’t realize at first was that I wasn’t writing the story anymore.

I was so focused on thinking about what was right or wrong with the first four chapters and how could I make everything as right as possible in the future, that I totally left the story file stand alone on my desktop. I didn’t touch it, I simply couldn’t, as long as I didn’t have a proper full outline for all my plots.

And I realized that somehow, all that plotting and planning took out all the fun of writing the actual story.

My Two Sides

But why? Isn’t planning and plotting supposed to be the way to a more coherent, intriguing story? Like the writer of a murder mystery writer who knows from the beginning who the murderer is and can therefore create false trails for the reader to follow? Why couldn’t I do it?

The weird thing is, when it comes to writing, I’ve always considered myself as a plantser. I write down a loose idea or a beginning of a plot line that might have an ending and then I start writing. I don’t put down too much time to plan the characters or the world, but let them build themselves while I write.

Then again, when it comes to life outside of writing, I’ve always been a planner. If you’ve read more of my blog posts, you know that I enjoy being organized, managing my time and goals. I love writing lists, having things tidy and structured according to the alphabet or a numerical value.

I thought it would be easy to implement my organizational skills to my writing – but the truth has proven to be almost the opposite.

At first, I was somewhat disappointed in myself because it felt like what I had thought was a definite step on the development path for me as a writer turned out to be a total bust. 

But then, as some quotes happened to change my perspective some weeks ago, a passage in a book helped me see my plantsing in a better light.

What book, you may ask, by whom?

Well, no other than On Writing by Stephen King.

The Return of the Plantser

According to my quick analysis, Stephen King is somewhere in between a pantser and plantser. His stories start with an idea of what if… and from there, after some thinking, he starts writing. He lets the characters do their thing and the story tells itself. King, as a writer, is only there to put pen to paper, like an archeologist is there to uncover a fossil.

This passage in the book (pp. 163-165) woke me up from my decision to become a plotter and made me think of the plantser-plotter dilemma from a different perspective.

If all this time I had had fun writing without really knowing what was going to happen, why was I taking that fun away from myself? And if I have been writing good stories without plotting everything down to a detail, why change?

And after thinking about King’s words for a day or two, I decided to let go of plotting and resume to my plantsing. Some people are planners, some people are not – and the key is to know what kind of writer you are and play your strengths.

I believe I am a hard core plantser.

So, in the future, a basic plot line will do or I’ll only come up with the starting scene and let the story take me anywhere from there. Yes, it might lead to more work on the editing side, at least at first. But maybe I will be learning while I’m writing and for every new draft there will be fewer inconsistencies and enough foreshadowing? 

It is, at least, something to aim for.