Hello and happy Wednesday!
I don’t need to say it, but I’m going to anyway: 2020 has been a crazy year.
Almost everything I planned on doing in 2020 didn’t happen, and things I never would have expected did. I never anticipated the way this year has played out, but among the many difficulties, there have been countless blessings.
One of those blessings has been my writing!
Although staying at home didn’t yield a huge spike amount of productivity, like I thought it might (somehow life just fills up with other things, doesn’t it?), I’ve still managed to get quite a bit more writing in this year than I have in the past. With another week left in the year, I’m about 10,000 words away from my goal of 275,000 fiction words.
This has been my first year meticulously keeping track of my words written. I began the year in a writing-accountability group with a 50,000 word goal; the official length of a novel. I hoped to write much more, but I wanted to play it safe and had no idea what I was capable of. After reaching that goal in January, I increased, and almost 225,000 words later, I’m thrilled to know I can produce a lot of fiction in a year!
Today, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve written this year and the lessons I’ve learned from them. Hopefully I’ll also get to hear about your writing adventures from 2020!
I started 2020 off with a fantasy novel about a girl cursed to lose all her memories every night at midnight. With the help of a sarcastic wizard-in-training, a talkative nymph, a senile elf and his invisible son, two pickpocket goblins, and a fiery pixie, the girl journeys to find the Wizard; the only one said to be able to break her curse. Only, it’s not as simple as they hoped.
This has been such a fun project. Although it needs a lot more work yet, I finished the rough draft in January (about 50,000), and it’s been one of my favorite novels to write so far. I’ve never had such a large cast of main characters before, so balancing them all has been an entertaining challenge. I’ve also really enjoyed poking fun at all the cliché fairy-tale tropes via one of the characters, who often acts as the skeptical voice of the audience.
The biggest struggle for this one was deciding which tense to write it in. Though I’d written in third-person before, at that point I favored first-person past. However, as I started writing the rough draft, something just felt off to me.
Writing from the protagonist’s perspective as she kept awakening without memories didn’t feel right in past tense. By the time she was telling the story again, she would remember what she didn’t know at the time, and it took away the tension and uncertainty.
I wrestled with this for a while before remembering about present tense (“I sprint toward the rock” vs “I sprinted toward the rock”). I’d never written in present tense before, but after switching the first chapter to it, I was hooked. The tension was much better, the story felt much more immersive, and I really liked the main character’s perspective as she struggled to remember what she’d lost. Now, the reader is right there, struggling with her.
I actually prefer writing in present tense now. I know a lot of people think it feels strange (especially when they’re used to reading and writing in past tense), but I personally enjoy the different feel it gives stories. I’d never really thought about how a tense change could affect the story-telling in a novel, but now I’ve learned to consider the best one for each project.
While writing the novel of the fantasy above, I thought (and my siblings agreed) that it would be a fun story to turn into a home movie, especially because most the characters had been at least loosely-based off of other family members and friends.
I’ve always wanted to create a home movie from one of my stories, so the next month I started converting the novel to a full-length screenplay. At first, I used my own casual formatting, and then I actually rewrote the entire thing again, this time using industry-standard screenplay formatting.
I’d say I finished it last month, except that it clocked in at almost 35,000 words and 111 one-sided pages, so I know I’m not quite done. It can probably use some trimming…
What can I say? I don’t do things half-heartedly?
Throughout the entire process, I’ve been surprised to learn how different a script is from a novel. The focuses are different, the descriptions are different, the dialog is different… all of it required a major shift in my writing, and despite the learning curve, I’ve enjoyed it. Not as much as writing a novel, but most of that is probably due to how ridiculously difficult it is to format industry-standard screenplays in Microsoft Word, haha.
With everything that’s gone on this year, my family and I have yet to make the movie, but we’re holding out hope that it will happen some day! And until then, I’m just grateful for the chance to have experimented with yet another form of writing.
Cabin Girl Rewrite
Next came the complete rewrite of my pirate novel, Cabin Girl: the story of an Irish girl who’s kidnapped from her family by pirates, and must endure sharks, storms, sickness, mutiny and betrayal in her journey to escape the Moroccan slave trade and return home.
I started writing Cabin Girl in the fall of 2018, and by the end of 2019, I’d put it through about three drafts. That draft was about 49,000 words, irritatingly short of the official novel wordcount (50,000). Though I felt good about it at the time, I came back to it a few months into 2020 and didn’t like what I read. It’s not a good sign when you can’t stop cringing at your own story, haha.
Alright, the story itself wasn’t so bad. The characters are actually some of my favorite that I’ve written, and the events of the plot were pretty ironed out and consistent. It was mainly the quality of the prose itself that I disliked. So instead of working through another draft, I decided to start from scratch and rewrite the same story.
I’m so glad I did. The book is much cleaner now, a better length for the story (about 65,000 words), and I can actually feel comfortable with showing it to others. Last year, I entered the first version of Cabin Girl into a contest and only placed entry-level (meaning the judges only read the first ten pages). This year, I entered the same contest with the rewritten version and placed semi-finalist, which is very encouraging. It must have improved!
The biggest thing I’ve learned through rewriting Cabin Girl is to never give up. That may sound cliché, but it’s true. I still have one last draft before my plans of publishing it next year, but seeing how far it’s come is motivating. I’ve changed it from past tense to present, added and eliminated numerous characters, tweaked backstory, combined and deleted chapters, spent countless hours researching everything from Irish villages to poisonous berries, and rewritten my first chapter at least eighteen times.
And it’s all been very worth it. I never thought I’d write a pirate story – especially not two (to be found in next week’s post!) – but the entire process has been very rewarding. I wouldn’t change a thing. The people and events that have inspired this story have resulted in a book that’s very near and dear to my heart. I look forward to sharing it with you next year!
The Toymaker’s Doll
Technically I didn’t actually write this in 2020 but I edited and finished it this year. The first draft was written in 2019, as a result of a school project that required me to write a short story.
Short stories have always been a challenge for me. It seems that every idea I come up with is either much too long (novel length) or much too short (drabble length). Thankfully, days before I needed to have it done, a spark of an idea flittered into my head and I wrote the entire story (about 7,000 words) in an afternoon. There have been very few stories that have flowed so easily for me, or that I’ve been so happy with afterward, but this one feels special.
The Toymaker’s Doll is one of my most unique stories, being an allegory, a story revolving mostly around handmade toys, and the result of conscious effort to use older-style prose. I drew inspiration from some of my favorite classic authors, like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and it was a fitting and wonderful opportunity to try a different writing style.
Well, these are about half of my 2020 fiction projects, and the things I’ve learned while writing them. I hope you’ve found them interesting and/or helpful. I’ll be back with more next week!
In the meantime, I’d love to hear about YOUR writing! What have you been working on, and have you learned anything new in the process? Please let me know in the comments below!