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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's not all about writing

"Just write." The easy, obvious, and highly unsympathetic advice that is often distributed blindly amongst writers. It is the wisdom of the published to the unpublished, the layman to the writer, the writer to the layman. The advice flows and all directions, despite the fact that it is a radical oversimplification.

Sure, almost anyone can sit down and "just write". But any author who is being honest with you will tell you: it's not all about writing.

Truth time: writing takes discipline. And I'm not talking about sucking it up and writing everyday whether you feel inspired or not.* I'm talking about the hard stuff, the stuff no one really wants to think about. I'm talking about the not-writing.

The not-writing can be a lot of different things. It can be your planning and character sheets, your practice, etc. But then there's the spreadsheets.

This is one of my color-coded beauties.
Oh, you're not familiar with the spreadsheets? Well, let me direct you over to The Write Practice for an example. Monica M. Clark wrote a great post over there about called How A Scene List Can Change Your Novel-Writing Life. It gives some great insight into how others authors are staying organized. Because writing isn't just about getting words on paper -- it's about getting the right words on paper in a way that works (and preferably makes sense).

Personally, I am always losing the thread of time while writing. I'll be writing a scene set in the summertime without realizing that in the previous scene, which I wrote months ago, I had everyone playing in the snow. This has been particularly problematic with my current novel because one of the main characters is pregnant. I not only have to keep track of my seasons, I have to have her belly growing at the normal rate and I can't just decide to warp forward two months in time without consequences. And Excel has served me well. I can track scenes by time, chapter, characters, content -- really in any way I can think of. It's all super easy for me to decide a scene needs to be moved and to drag and click it where it needs to go (I do this constantly in my editing process).

This kind of planning is hyper-functional for any authors who veer towards the disorganized (or, to put it kindly, organic) side of the spectrum. Excel can help you plot out your plot, structure your minor characters' story arcs, identify when you've accidentally left an end untied, and keep track of what you have and haven't edited.

In the end, I have a spreadsheet for the overall plot progression, every subplot, every character, the whole world's lineage and relationships, the mythology and, of course, for the scenes. This is not the fun part of writing, nor is it glamorous. But it is necessary and it is oddly satisfying when you look at the work you've done and know exactly where you need to go next.

Announcement: On April 19th, I will be doing a guest post for The Write Practice. Be sure to check it out!

* Do I really have to link to this post again? Well I'm going to anyway.

1 comment:

  1. I use the software WriteItNow, and it is amazing. It's so much more user-friendly than a spreadsheet.