How We Write: The Ugly, Sleep-deprived Truth…

For the next 12 days, I’m writing ugly–revising ugly, mostly–and I’m blog posting every day about it. I taught a NC retreat weekend a few weeks ago and am teaching again this weekend coming up on what it means to draft and revise as a professional fiction writer. Students tend not to believe that it’s as hard for the pros as it is for them. I tend to believe and teach that it’s harder.

I say I work 15-20 hr days at this point in the process.


Because of personal issues, I’m so far behind with this deadline (and am working on an extension my publisher graciously gave me) that it’s going to be more like 20 hrs a day. No. Really. I have close to 100k words of meandering draft, with no end in sight, even though I know what I want the ending to be. Only the beginning and middle of this thing won’t take form enough for me to be able to finish it. So it’s back to the drawing/design board. I’m deconstructing again and revamping character/plot/story AGAIN, the way I teach other writers to.

And I’ll be recording daily here, for  anyone who’s in the same place or is interested in following a long for the hell of it. In the end, this is a job, as much as I love to create and spend time with my characters. I have a series and a book to do my very best to bring to life and finish. I have a publisher, editor and agent counting on me to fulfill my obligation, no matter the chaos going on in my personal life. I have a plan for my career that I don’t intend to let fizzle away because of some bumps in the road.

There will always be bumps in the road. I have the great pleasure and luck of doing what I love for a living–most of the time I love it, anyway. Sometimes this is simply my job–and my kid needs to go to college, so I do my job.

So for 12 days I’m working my ass off to turn this thing over to my editor on June 15th. You can do anything for 12 days, right?

Join me, won’t you?

For those who follow my process as I teach it, here’s the new plan (character-driven, of course), from the analysis I spent most of yesterday pulling together. Today, I’m ripping at the old draft, cutting and tuning things up and moving scenes/plot points as needed. Likely, that’ll be all I do this week–ALL on hard copy, because that’s how I see story best at this stage. It’s most of us see it best, not that I’m insisting you try it this way, unless you’re one of my students, and then, yeah, I’ll insist!

Story Themes (weave in from beginning, through the middle, to the end):

  • Love (family, friends, community, lover, self)
  • Family (born into, choose, trust, transformation)
  • Mistakes (living with them, overcoming, not being defined by them)
  • Music (a symbol of feeling again, opening up, starting over)
  • Selfishness/Selflessness (equally destructive in their extreme forms, somewhere in between is where we live)
  • Parental substance abuse (affect on children, addiction, recovery, living with, co-dependence)

Heroine’s Story GOAL (teacher/assistant principal): belonging to her community without risking too much (since her family imploded when she was a child); her success/happiness is found in helping real families thrive.

Heroine’s Story CONFLICT: Must reach out to the person who tempts her to make belonging personal (hero) in order to help two special children; challenging hero to help her opens the door to making him/his daughter her family, and all the risks that comes with how much she grows to want that.

Hero’s Story Goal (bartender/single-father/musician who hasn’t played since his life imploded): He will make his daughter’s life secure and free of chaos, no matter what he must sacrifice; play it safe for daughter’s sake, the way he didn’t when he hooked up with her mother and finished destroying his life; fighting ex dirty (the way she’s fighting him) will destroy daughter’s happiness, no matter how much he longs to, so he fights the bad boy instincts that have gotten him in trouble before.

Hero’s  Story Conflict: Chaos finds him and daughter, when a real fighter (heroine) blasts into their lives to “help” and refuses to play it safe/keep her distance; playing it safe will lose heroine and his daughter–who needs them both; fighting will reveal the last of his secrets and possibly damage his child even more

Heroine and Hero must reach out to each other (though they’ve kept their distance for years, to avoid the impulse to get closer) and fight together to save the children they care passionately about. They drive each other to break through the emotional walls keeping the world at a distance…

There’s more, but that’s the bare bones of what I’m weaving in. Wish me luck. Let me know if you’re equally fighting for story this week. Come back tomorrow for more sleep-deprived babbling!

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8 Responses to “How We Write: The Ugly, Sleep-deprived Truth…”

  1. Monica Burns says:

    I’m in a hotel room for the next three days to try and move forward on this bloody story. I’m right there with you, doll. *sigh*

  2. Stephanie StClair says:

    Love seeing your process in action. Thank you for sharing. :-)

    Is this the same revision process you’re going to present next weekend at the Virginia Romance Writers meeting? (And after reading how much you have to get done, should we make sure you have lots of hot coffee ready for you?) :D

    • It is the same philosophy I’ll be teaching this weekend at VRW!

      And I will absolutely take some espresso, if you have any handy Saturday morning ;o) I can’t wait to meet everyone there…

  3. Ann says:

    Wonderful and timely post. I am tearing apart a story using what you taught in the mountains a few weeks ago and hoping to have it back together and ready to send out in two months. I will be following along and not feeling so lonely in the journey.

    • So proud of you, Ann! Keep working on digging out your characters’ emotional story arcs, and the weaving them into your external plot. I know you can do it!

      Hope today’s post (Tuesday) helps a bit more…

  4. Amy Pfaff says:

    I’m right there with you. I’m trying to finish my revisions by 6/15. Just so you know, this method of revision works. It is a lot of work but when I get done I know my story will be so much better.

    Thanks Anna!


    • I’m so glad it’s working for you, Amy. And it is difficult to “simplify” your characters’ story until it’s so clear to you, you can’t help but write it beautifully for your readers ;o) But it’s so worth it in the end.

      I can’t wait to hear more about everyone’s progress.

      Write on!

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