A Year of the Chosen Grandma

As you know if you follow me on Facebook, Tuesday  marked the Chosen Grandma story’s first birthday. One year ago – after weeks of planning and impatience – the Last Man Standing (Round III) started on Young Writers Society, and I began writing about Edna & Co.

It’s been an educational experience. Coming from the write-or-die world of National Novel Writing Month, I found the first few weeks of LMS maddening. I’d tear through the chapter on Monday, skid to a halt when I reached my self-imposed maximum of 1500 words, and feel a sense of loss. What was I supposed to do with myself for the rest of the week? Sure, there were other things to work on, but I wanted to work on this.

After a year, I’ve gotten used to it. Limiting myself to 1500 words a week has its advantages. For one thing, it’s an incredibly achievable goal, even working two jobs. 1500 words? I can pound that out during my lunch and breaks, no problem.

Okay, no problem if it’s a chapter I’m really excited about. If the scene’s a struggle, I can still have it done early in the week by pushing through just a few hundred words a day. That leaves me the rest of the week to brainstorm and plan if I don’t quite know where the story needs to go next.

Which is often the case at this point in the story, since my answer to the question “how do you outline” is “I don’t.”

Real talk: if I outlined before a first draft, I’d never get any actual writing done.

On that note, I’ve learned a lot about my writing process. (I still feel pretentious saying “my writing process.”) I can’t use anything resembling an outline before beginning a first draft. Spare me your snowflake method, your mind map – the most unstructured method you can think of is too structured for me at this point. It requires me to figure out too much about the plot and characters ahead of time.

Admittedly, that’s helpful, but I don’t enjoy it. I’d rather figure it out through writing the story.

(“Discovery writing” is another thing I feel pretentious saying, but it’s accurate.)

Instead of outlining, I write a summary of the story as I go. I try to write the summary a little further than I’ve written the story so I know where I’m going next. If I get stuck, I write a big long letter to myself until I figure it out. Like talking to myself out loud, but on paper.

(Also, I do talk to myself out loud.)

For the first time, I’m noveling with an audience. Previously, I’ve only shared chapters from completed drafts. But Edna & Co. go out into YWS every week to show the event creator and fellow participants that I did in fact do the week’s writing and am in fact still in the competition. I get feedback from other writers not long after posting. (More on that in this post.) It’s new and a bit scary, but it keeps me going when I have a difficult week and don’t feel like writing.

Plus it sometimes helps me take the story in a better direction than I would have taken it alone.

I’ve learned a lot this year. I’m enjoying the story more than any I’ve ever written, and I feel better about it – yes, it’s a first draft and it’s going to need mass revisions before I go querying, but the plot is a lot more straightforward than usual, stronger, and it makes more sense.

Happy birthday, Edna, you bad old broad. Here’s to another great year.

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