Thoughts from the Writing Trenches

Fran - Bruce Witzel photo

(Yes indeed – that’s me. Wandering in the canyon of my own thoughts – LOL)

75,000 words and counting on this fourth book in the Crater Lake series. The whole story is blocked out. This is the first time I have written a draft using Word’s navigation pane function with level one and two headings to create a highly effective outline. The ease with which I can navigate through the text has turned me into a fan.

I’ve come up on the first minor climax. Writing any type of climax is an interesting process for me. I can’t do it sequentially. I need to write characters’ actions, reactions and dialogue on either side first. Knowing what led up to the action and the fallout afterwards means writing the actual event is a piece of cake. I experienced this in The Light Never Lies when it took me forever to write Lisa-Marie into labour. I circled and circled like an old dog around her bed, waiting and hoping I’d find the perfect spot in the turning process where I knew enough to write the damn scene!

I have been buried in my current work-in-progress for almost a month. Every day, it becomes more intense, more demanding. There are days when I can hardly bear to come up for air in the real world but lucky for me, life does ensure that sanity breaks occur – there is food to prepare, laundry to deal with and a bed to be made. Not to mention, walks on the trails to solidify dialogue and story ideas.

Though the work is draining, it’s a huge relief to know that nothing can sideline the writing of this first draft. The characters’ voices are too much with me to allow anything – short of breaking all my fingers – to get in the way. And even then, I suppose I would have to dictate the novel.

I eat, sleep and breathe this book, leaving the computer screen at night bleary-eyed to fall into bed and drift off with characters from one scene talking and wake up in another scene all together. Some mornings, I jump out of bed knowing that something I wrote the day before won’t work or desperate to get to the computer because I must fix something while it’s fresh in my mind.

I’d love to hear how other writers keep up their strength. I’ve got at least six more weeks before my first draft will be complete. All I can say is this – writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint.

Petroglyph in Nevada (3) - bruce witzel photo

20 comments on “Thoughts from the Writing Trenches

  1. Oliana says:

    Great post, Francis…I do not have the patience (yet) to write a novel (3 started and dust accumulating on them). But I could share this on my fb page and reblog if that’s okay.

  2. Oliana says:

    Reblogged this on Traces of the Soul and commented:
    I love how a writer shares so generously her writing process…inviting other writers to share…read on

  3. MariHoward says:

    Interesting to read how others de with the huge manuscript/enterprise which is a novel. I am into my 3rd in the Mullins family series, and after much floundering have now become organised. I’ve just worked a long ‘synopsis’ which gathered all the main ‘events’ into a collection of ‘scenes’ (this being, you understand, summaries, quick ones, of what happens) and labelled each with the ‘pov’ it is told from.
    All takes time, doesn’t it? And the research – weather, if relevant, and all the details of realism.

    Happy writing, Francis … you sound on a real creative roll!

    • Your process sounds similar to mine and you are so right – it is time consuming to pull all the ideas together into some kind of cohesive whole. And then you have to write the damn book! Oh, this process. I’m going to write another post soon on the complications faced when writing the 4th book of a series. Details, details! I am on a role and many thanks for your well wishes.

  4. Jane Fritz says:

    I really enjoyed this post, Fran. Your description of your writing process is every bit as eloquent and vivid as your finished products! On another note, I started using Word’s outline feature when I was writing my dissertation many moons ago and also found it remarkably helpful for such a seemingly simplistic tool. Have fun with it! 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Jane. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. The navigation pane and outline feature is very cool and I only came to it through desperation. My new version of Word had eliminated the set of arrows on the vertical right bar that allowed me to skip from the top of one page to the next – a quick way to work your way through a long document. Without that, scrolling is a nightmare. When I googled complaints about losing this feature, someone had written – get over it and learn to use the outline feature! Okay, already, I did. As usual, dragged kicking and screaming to change and then loves it – that’s me 🙂

  5. diannegray says:

    I get stuck into a novel and then let it rest for a while, or start writing another – but I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t had time to think 😉 I love the way you’ve set out your writing process here and I’m going to try that navigation pane function next time I get into it again.

    • Thanks, Dianne. Here’s hoping you take the plunge into writing soon and that the navigation pane proves handy for you. I am looking forward to the day I reach the end of this draft and can let it rest.

  6. Enjoyed your share. Glad you’re so devoted to your novel writing! I took years to write the first novel, then an editor ripped it apart(also had some good words, luckily). I have gone back to it only sporadically, but it requires such a grave overhaul that might be all I could manage to work on again…. A novel in progress as a series of stories connecting all goes on, and that is another sort of challenge–we will see.
    How I keep up strength? Writing for my blog is an enjoyable time. I also take an hour walk daily, talk to/visit friends and family as there is time. I am big on music and dancing or stretching to break up the work.I also write poetry and nonfiction so there is a variety of pace and experience and that seems to help me think more fluidly and openly.
    But being solitary is how it goes for most writing days and sweating it out as needed… And that talking to characters and vice versa at all hours? It does seem the nature of the process and if at times distracting is vital, apparently, for us to keep writing on and forward!
    Regards and best wishes from Portland OR!

    • Solid suggestions, Cynthia – stretching, walking, checking in with the real world. But also true that this work just won’t get done without those silent hours of hearing the character’s speak. I’m intrigued by such a writing device that links stories and knits them together to create a novel. Thanks for the lengthy comment 🙂 This is my favourite part of blogging – the interaction and exchange of ideas.

  7. Roy McCarthy says:

    How great to be living in your characters’ world so that the story evolves of its own accord. As very much a part-timer I’ve only got that feeling rarely, and in one book. The nearest I can get to it is on occasional dedicated breaks away from my home environment.

    Sounds as if #4 will be at least as good as its predecessors.

    • Thanks, Roy – since you seemed to enjoy the first three books, I’ll take that comment as a compliment 🙂 I must say, I am enjoying the way this story is evolving of it’s own accord. Too bad it involves hands on the keyboard for so many hours a day. But as Roland (our illustrious Micah Camp Director) says, nothing worth having is easily gained. You have to know him to understand how he would deliver such a line.

  8. […] via Thoughts from the Writing Trenches — disappearinginplainsight […]

  9. Since I got to visit you in BC I can envision your whole process and the beautiful view from your desk and the amazing walking trails. I have a BIG block regarding attention span and the way I’m working through that is to show up everyday and do my best to listen to the characters and let them work through me – like you described, these close relationships pull you back! I think about my book when I’m walking, write things down on little pieces of paper, switch between writing on the computer and in ink on paper (what!?) because it changes how I connect with the writing.

    I listened to a wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert podcast the other day (Big Magic) where she talked about having them all in the room with you while you write and literally talking out loud to them and how helpful it is – that is revving things up for me.

    As far as keeping track of things, I work in Scrivener, a program I love but it is complicated in some ways and a little funky switching to another format. I am definitely going to check out the Word outline feature. The reason I do love Scrivener is that you write in snippets kept in outline form that you can easily move around and color code and it helps me to keep things straight so I can focus on the writing.

    I love hearing about your process and your writing and I’m looking forward to #4 – this time when I read I’ll REALLY be able to envision the gorgeous BC landscape.


    • I know there are so many ways to do this writing thing but my process is definitely that full immersion one. When I’m out walking, I’ll run through what they are saying to each other. New ideas pop up. I’ve written them letters. Do try that Word function. I have used Scrivener but found it too much work to move things out to Word later. Just me. I’m so glad you are enjoying this series, Angela. Yes, indeed, we don’t call it beautiful BC without reason.

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