Process, schmocess

Hi y’all,

Last week was the first week back at school for the kids after the Easter school holidays. But to my dismay, instead of having more time on my hands, for some inexplicable reason I had less! And writing the next chapter of the sequel to Freaks of Greenfield High (henceforth referred to as Freaks 2, as I have No Freaking Clue what to call this sequel as yet) had to be put on hold for a week while I got a bunch of pressing stuff I’d been putting off sorted.

Now normally, a setback like this would majorly pee me off — interrupting the writing flow when I’m on a roll can end up playing havoc with my capricious muse. Normally, if I have to put my manuscript on hold for more than a day or two I’ll be cranky as all get-out. My head will be spinning with ideas, my fingers twitching to attack the keyboard, and I’m so distracted I end up asking the same questions over and over because my family’s answers go in one ear and straight out the other.  I’ll be frustrated to the max that I can’t lock myself away from the demands of real life to get it all down on paper/computer screen. In short: I’m a horrible person to be around — HORRIBLE!

And, inevitably, when I do snatch some “me” time (i.e. time to write), it takes me a couple of hours — or even days! — to get back inside my characters’ heads and pick up where I left off.

Worse — oh so much worse! — instead of reveling in the joy of a nice long stretch of uninterrupted writing time, I’m haunted by this horrible suspicion that at some stage I thought up some completely brilliant idea for the direction of one of the key characters, or an awesome plot angle, got distracted before I could scribble it down, and now I’ve forgotten what the hell it was.

Not so this time. This time, I took up where I left off in my manuscript and was off and running… kinda like my cat when she spots food in her bowl.

So what’s changed?

At a guess the main change has been my “process” for this particular manuscript.

Let me explain. It was mid-2008 and I was a pantser who eschewed outlining for the heady thrill of  having only the faintest clue where my story and characters were headed. Where they ended up was often as much a surprise to me as it ended up being to anyone who happened to read my manuscripts. Freaks of Greenfield High was my first attempt at writing a YA. I always meant to write a sequel at some stage, so I left a bunch of threads open rather than tying them up in a nice, neat, tidy bow prior to the ending that eventually saw Tyler and Jay being Happy For Now in early 2009.

But now it’s 2012 — just in case you’ve recently arrived from another planet or something — and the journey I’d envisioned for the characters in their sequel back then, is very different to the journey I’ve planned for them now; a whole three years, two fantastic editors, five small press published books, five self-published books, and another completed YA manuscript, further on. And the problem is, I have to build this shiny new direction for Tyler and Jay into the structure and parameters already dictated in the first book.

I didn’t want to “wing it” with Freaks 2. These days I haven’t got time to do multiple drafts, change the genre or the point-of-view, or even tackle a complete “sex-change” and rewrite my hero as a heroine just for the hell of it (like I did with Freaks of Greenfield High). I’ve always seen these sort of rewrites as challenges, BTW. They’re never wasted because they’ve helped me become a better writer. But now my challenge was to write smarter the first time around.

I felt strongly that if I completely “pantsered” this sequel, I risked those open threads from the first book being addressed in meh “Okay, I’ve ticked that box — moving on” ways, just so I could skip to the more exciting things I had planned. And because my “voice” has evolved and my writing process has changed so much over the past three to four years, I risked it looking like two completely different authors had written these books.

The solution? I needed to outline.

I think I’ve mentioned before that the only story I’ve ever completed outlined and plotted from whoa to go is Kat On A Hot Tin Roof (in the Red Sage Secrets Volume 30 anthology released last year). So far as outlines go, that story, ah, didn’t exactly turn out as I’d planned.

  • It was originally supposed to be a slightly sexy story: It ended up being an erotic romance.
  • It was originally supposed to be a full-length novel: It ended up being a 30k novella.
  • It was originally supposed to feature a lawyer and a secretary: It ended up featuring an interior designer and an architect.
  • It was originally supposed to be a story with No Paranormal Element Whatsoever:  The heroine ended up being a part-time cat-shifter.

Yeah. My outlining process was… fluid, shall we say. And I must confess it was a process that I found terribly dull, terribly frustrating, and couldn’t bring myself to go beyond a couple of pages before diving in to the fun stuff–writing the damned book!

So despite being sold on the benefits of outlining after writing Kat On A Hot Tin Roof in six weeks so it could be contracted for Secrets, outlining was still far from my favorite thing in the entire world. And I sure wasn’t looking forward to outlining Freaks 2. Still, I was somewhat heartened by the fact I already had a starting point: a bunch of scribbled notes made while working on another manuscript. So if the worst came to the worst, I could type these into something resembling a logical progression of scenes and convince myself the outline was done.

It took me a few days to really become invested in this outline, but once I did? Damn if it wasn’t fun and the teensiest bit thrilling and immensely satisfying. I kept having “Oooh oooh!” moments, and rushing back to my keyboard to add another scene. And instead of being a chore, my outline got longer and longer, and to my surprise, I didn’t have to resort to bribes and threats and pleas to see it through to the (no longer!) bitter end. And at the end of two weeks, instead of a measly two or three pages, to my delight I had a 10,000 word, detailed outline for Freaks 2.

At least, it’s what I call an outline. Some might call it a hot mess of paragraph-long scene summaries, interspersed with narrative, and a few complete conversations that I had to get out of my head and down on paper in order to move forward. But hey, I figure whatever works is your “process”… at least for this particular work-in-progress, anyway. (I can always tidy up the outline later if anyone needs to see it, right?)

So here’s hoping all this groundwork will mean I can write Freaks 2 as quickly as I wrote Kat On A Hot Tin Roof. For a writer, that’d be a very nice reward indeed :)

Speaking of rewards: here’s a sneak peek at some of the royalty-free stock art we’ve purchased from Fotolia and are considering using for the cover of Freaks 2.

In Freaks of Greenfield High (without getting all spoilery) there’s a pivotal scene where  Tyler notices Jay’s changed her hair color. So imagine my delight at finding the same model we used for that cover, but with different color hair that exactly matches her hair in that scene.

What do you think?







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