All the Way Home blog post #11 – Over 100 pages written!

We’re up over a hundred pages now. It’s really starting to feel like a book.

I had an interesting insight into Shelly today. I hadn’t made the connection before, because SHELLY hasn’t make the connection. But, viewing things from the outside, some of her thoughts and actions are starting to make more sense. You’ll probably understand when you read the book. I put a bit of symbolism in there to underline it – see if you catch it.

It’s funny, because readers will probably assume it was all planned. But, until today, I’d just been documenting Shelly’s feelings and reactions without really understanding where it’s all coming from.

I love this part of the writing process – when something suddenly goes “click”!

All the Way Home blog post #10 – Boot Camp over!

Quick update. Shelly and Alan have made it through Boot Camp and are hanging out in Florida with friends. It’s very motivating to see the page count growing. There’s still a long way to go, but I’m really enjoying this section.During storyline work, I re-watched the entire Worlock Foxtrot Boot Camp video. The last couple of weeks I’ve watched several of the session in great detail. I’m learning a lot!

All the Way Home blog post #9a… Oops!

Just discovered I’d been posting blog entries directly to Facebook instead of posting them here first, then linking to Facebook. So, I’m reproducing those Facebook posts here as blog entries.

I prefer to post here because then I can look back at the entries and say, “what was I thinking?” 🙂

“All the Way Home” blog post #7 – the video

Remember that the new working title of “Book #3” is “All the Way Home”. Thanks to the generosity of Glen and Helen Arceneaux, and of Curt and Tammy Worlock, who performed the dance and OK’ed the post, we can finally show you the title dance. Choreography by Christine & Theron Hixson:

Isn’t that just gorgeous!

“Book 3” blog post #6 – “Book 3” no more!

We have a working title! It’s “All the Way Home”. This dance plays an important role in the book and the title of the dance fits well with the overall theme of the book.

This won’t necessarily be the book’s title. Titles often change as books evolve (At’s Amore’s working title was “Cuando”), but I’ve got a feeling this one is going to stick.

I’ve written elsewhere (here and here) about the impact a name has on the development of a character. Before the character has a name, it is pretty maleable. You can make the character nicer, or meaner, or taller, or shorter. But, for me, once the character has a name, it becomes “real”. Some set of neurons in my brain gets assigned to “be” that character and the character begins to develop like a person. I can no longer make wholesale changes. In fact, sometimes the character grows in unexpected ways. It all starts with the name.

I wonder if book titles have the same effect? “Cuando” was never a particularly good fit, so the book never really bent itself around the name. But “All the Way Home”… We’ll see.

Lots of progress on the story line. I got another lesson in how much better it is to have a partner. I came down all excited about a new idea that might help bridge two chapters. I told Jean, and she suggested an alternative which was much better. A little back and forth and we ended up with a third way that was better than either.

Besides, it’s fun!

We’re down to the last couple of “Needs Work” sections of the story outline now. Then it’ll be time to “boot” Alan, Shelly, et al back up by re-reading both books. Can’t wait!

“Book 3” Blog post #5 – Keeping track of it all and staying motivated

Another peak at the process:

Some readers may not know that I (Paul) am an engineer. I spent the final 12 years of my career as a consultant, billing by the hour, so tracking the time I spend on particular projects is a well-engrained habit.

Since I started The Bicycle Waltz while I was still actively consulting, I naturally built spreadsheets to track my time.

The format evolved over time. Here’s what one of those spreadsheets looked like on At’s Amore:

By then, I was logging actual writing time separately from editing time or research time.

But, being an engineer, I wanted to better understand and measure the process. So, I started maintaining spreadsheets to track word counts on a weekly basis.

Here’s what one of those spreadsheets looked like on At’s Amore (prior to chapterization):

This is what happens when you let engineers write books.

Every Sunday (my writing “day off”), I would collect the latest word count data and combine it with my time logs to generate measures like “words per writing hour” and “words per total hour”.

At the time, I was just curious about the process. I soon found, however, that these Sunday “rollups” were very motivating. If I didn’t put in my hour (or more) a day during the week, it would stick out in the rollup like a sore thumb. And seeing the word count grow each week turned out to be highly motivating.

This time, I’m tracking the story development time as well. Seeing my time log grow is helpful, but turning N’s (not ready) into R’s (ready) in the outline is the most satisfying of all!

“Book 3” Blog post #4 – Storyline coming along nicely

The storyline for the book is coming together very quickly. I keep track of the status of each part of the storyline in a spreadsheet. Here’s the “status” column of the chapters/scenes (chapter/scene titles deleted):

R = Ready

M = Mostly Ready

N = Not Read

W = Waiting for more info

As you can see, a substantial number of blocks are either Ready or Mostly Ready.

At this point, we’re focusing on clearing those “N’s”. “M’s” are OK – that usually means there are a few details to be worked out or looked up.

Although I keep track of status, wordcounts, etc in spreadsheets, I use OneNote to organize the storyline:

You can see that the story is broken into 3 parts, and under each part is a chapter/scene. It’s difficult at this stage to tell exactly where the chapter breaks will be. As a general rule, each new “scene” will likely end up as a chapter, but there can be cases where a single scene spans multiple chapters or, more often, multiple related scenes form a single chapter.

Right now, it’s all about the story, not about the structure. And the story is coming along very nicely.

“Book 3” – Blog post #3

Another fruitful brainstorming session yesterday, but I want to talk about what got it started as it provides input into our (esp my) method.

I have a system I use when I’m actively writing a book. I dedicate 1 hour a day, 6 days a week to “writing time”. I try to do this about the same time each day and I follow a routine. I think this helps “prep” my brain for the task.

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame, but also a bestselling non-Dilbert author) recounted his method for keeping up an exercise routine. Each day, when it’s time to exercise, he puts on his workout clothes and drives to the gym, regardless of whether he actually feels like working out. He gives himself permission to turn around and drive home if he still doesn’t feel motivated when he arrives. But he said he’s only done that a couple of times in all the years he’s been working out.

The key is that the process of dressing, gathering his stuff, and driving to the gym boots up the “workout” routine in his brain. Research demonstrates that our brains are wired for routine. Common actions get transfered to the “basal ganglia” at the base of the brain – the “habit zone”. Once stored there, the habit routine can be kicked off easily and the basal ganglia will take care of getting everything ready to go, and even performing the actions, if appropriate.

This is why you can drive somewhere while thinking of something else. Your “habit loop” in the basal ganglia is doing the actual driving.

I try to use this brain bug to my advantage to get the “writing loop” running.

If I sit down to write and I don’t feel very motivated, which happens a lot, I don’t worry about it. I keep a list of non-creative tasks, like research, for times like this and work on those. After a while, I often find my creative juices flowing as I imagine the characters in these environments.

Or I just start reviewing and editing what I wrote the day before. Often I’m “in the zone” before I realize it.

This is the first book where I’ve tried to apply this disciplined approach to the story creation process. I still allow the natural, back-and-forth-over-dinner process to take place, but I also put in my hour at the computer.

Yesterday, I was feeling unenthusastic. At this stage, there’s plenty of research to be done, so I picked up one of those tasks. Avoiding spoilers, it had to do with learning about a venue important to the story.

Very much to my surprise, I found something inspirational almost right away. By researching real things in a real place, I was soon bubbling over with ideas for our fictional story. I finished my hour by showing all this to Jean, and the brainstorming really got into high gear.

These new, more real, venues suggested new aspects for the story, and I had that wonderful feeling of things slotting nicely into place.

In a future post, I’ll talk about some of the other things I do to keep myself motivated and keep the project moving forward.