Sunday, December 8, 2013

Switching Gears

Not quite two weeks ago I found myself approaching the 50,000 word mark for my NaNoWriMo project a good four or five days ahead of schedule. From the beginning, well before November 1st, I decided that I would "win" NaNo and then clean up the last 5,000 words (or so) of my first novel. Let me just tell you that as someone who was struggling to put the final touches on a first draft of a manuscript this seemed like a great way to finally just get 'er done AND be a good 50-60% of the way through my second book.

(Yes, I just used bold, underline, all caps, and italics in the same sentence. Don't judge.)

So, I crossed the 50,000 word plateau and found myself staring a NaNo victory in the face and I took an hour off to savour it. I even poured myself a (not so) small glass of 40 Creek Barrel Select Canadian whiskey. I went on Facebook and Twitter and I told the world that I had just achieved National Novel Writing Month success for the second year in a row. After 60 minutes of bragging and patting myself on the back it was time to ride the momentum of the writing train and switch gears.


Here's the thing though, the book that I had just spent writing 2,000 words a day every day for 26 days is about a serial killer who preys on unsuspecting people (mostly women) who have broken some sort of ethical (and quite arbitrary) code. The book that I was putting the finishing touches on is about a paranoid computer genius with a medical secret who erases his digital history in an effort to hide from a surreptitious government agency who wants to use him as a pawn in a morally corrupt game of bio-warfare

When I sat down at the end of my hour long reward/break I jumped right to a bookmark that I had put in my manuscript somewhere within the last five chapters of the book. For the next half hour I spent most of my time typing the wrong names and using language not normally associated with clandestine government operations and computer geeks. It was frustrating, and reading it back now it's quite clear it was pretty terrible writing. 



So what did I do? I could have gone to the internet in search of answers but to be quite honest I didn't have the luxury of spending a lot of time surfing around for answers. I had a deadline, albeit a self imposed one, and I knew getting lost in the web would kill any momentum that I had going. Instead, I decided to look within.

Here are the four steps I took to get me back on track:

  1. I spent ten minutes reading the scenes before and after where I had identified more work was needed
  2. I then picked a section that was heavier in narrative or action than dialogue and wrote until I got to a heavy dialogue section. I meandered through it and took my time, just getting a feel for the setting and the environment. Painting a picture, if you will - Bob Ross style. 
  3. Then, I reviewed my character notes and spent a few minutes letting each one's voice into my head; getting a feel for "hearing" them talk. What do their accents sound like? Do they have particular phrases they like to use?  Etc...
  4. Finally, I wrote a very dialogue heavy scene. Lots of characters saying lots of things to each other with very little punctuation and minimal dialogue tagging. I let their voices out and brought the characters to life.

Within an hour I had written a few very good pages and I never looked back. The rest of the words just seemed to flow freely from then on.

Would I recommend such a switch to others? Hard to say - I haven't been doing this long enough to know if it's a good practice or not - I just know that the one time I did it was a bit of a shock but it ended up working out just fine. Plus, I write a blog post every week no matter what I'm writing and those seem to be going well. So maybe variety is in fact the spice of life... and writing.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with literary task switching; both successful and challenging experiences alike. Leave a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

~ Andrew


Thanks to http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ for the use of the following images:

  • "Gear Head Time and Thinking" courtesy of Sailom
    • "Hammer Hitting Computer Shows Angry Laptop" courtesy of Stuart Miles

2 comments:

  1. I tried to bounce back and forth between my usual project (the foul-mouthed psychic detective series) and an epic fantasy work. I ended up with a wizard droppin' C-bombs. It was quite alarming and not at all intentional. I can't imagine trying the back & forth again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, AJ, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for sharing your story about profane wizards. I think I might want to encourage you to go back and forth simply based on the endless possibilities for some crazy writing.

      Delete

I am addicted to blog comments, so please support by habit and leave me one. I appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts and I will always reply. If for some reason Blogger is giving you grief and you can't leave a comment you can always reach me at potatochipmath@gmail.com