Novel Makers Week 8: Use blocks and grunts

This week is your last week and is about learning how to see your project through to the end.

Please note that the activities will take more than 10 hours, but we’ll be doing this week’s stuff over the course of a week and a half.

Your Goals

  • Learn the truth about writing blocks
  • Sensitize yourself to the 3 grunts
  • Continue to write, meeting the time or word goals you have in your plan
  • Create your project plan to finish this novel

Discovery Questions & Activities

Question 1: What do you do when you get stuck? (1 hr)

Writer’s block is not what you think it is. Please read Spiderman, Peter Parker, and the Gift of Writer’s Block. Note in the comments which of the breakers you commonly experience.

Question 2: What do the 3 grunts feel like, and what causes them? (3-4 hrs)

Read the four manuscripts you received from the other writers and accurately report your experience. You will report your 3 grunts—where you’re confused, where it doesn’t ring true, and where you were getting bored. You will also report the parts you really enjoyed.

For the 3 grunts, this is like a patient reporting symptoms. And symptoms are all you will report in our meeting. You will not be sharing your diagnoses or prescriptions. I recommend you think about those things, but that is not what you’ll be sharing.

Why none of that?

First, the story might not be broken. Your experience is just that, one person’s experience. It’s the author’s job to figure out if your experience is a sign of an issue he thinks needs to be addressed.

Second, you may not know exactly what the author is trying to do. So how can you diagnose the means when you don’t know the end? You could guess, and we could discuss, but we don’t have time for that in this session, and the most important thing is to get the symptoms. Better to simply report, and then, if he wants, the author can ask to discuss your comments and get your ideas later.

Third, I’ve been in too many workshops where someone, myself included (alas), weighs in with you-shoulds and you-musts as if they actually own the project and know the best way. We are going to practice humility. Because it’s closer to the reality of the situation, and because it makes for a better workshop. There’s nothing wrong with discussing story issues and brainstorming with other authors, but we’re not going to do it here. If the author wants to explore and hear your ideas, they can contact you afterwards.

Definitely think about how you might fix issues you have with the various manuscripts, but we’ll focus on simply accurately reporting our experience in the workshop. The most important thing I think we will gain from this is an increased sensitivity to these grunts and a better focus on reader response as the goal as authors.

How to do read:

  • Pick up the manuscript and approach it like you would a novel with an intriguing cover.
  • Read, hoping you’ll find a great story
  • If you experience any grunts, quickly mark the spot and keep moving. We know these are all first drafts and so there may be more grunts than with something more polished. If you find a spot that’s really delightful, quickly mark it and keep moving.
  • Read to the end or the point where you would have abandoned it in a normal setting. However, you may also push past that point and continue reading to the end.
  • When you get to the end, go back and clarify what each mark is for.

I’ll explain how you’ll report your experience with the story in our meeting.

Continue writing (6-8 hrs)

Round out your week by continuing to write your novel.

Attend our Meeting (1.5 hrs)

I’ll send out times. My daughters are coming home from their LDS missions this week. I haven’t seen them for 18 months, so I’m pushing it out to the 23rd or 24th 🙂

Create plan (1 hr)

Post your tentative plan for finishing your novel in the comments. I want a target finish date, hours per week you intend to spend, and how many words you think you’ll finish each week. Make it realistic, not super aggressive.


15 Responses to Novel Makers Week 8: Use blocks and grunts

  1. Greg Baum says:

    As far as the different blocks go, I think the ones I face most frequently are 1 and 3, with rare bouts of 2 (which I used to have more of, but now happens very irregularly).

    For type 1, I’ve found that long walks are great opportunities from brainstorming as well as long-hand brainstorming, which I often do in different ways (sometimes I set a timer and force myself to generate a certain number of ideas before time runs out, other times I just have a brain-sprawl and let my mind wander). Another strategy that I find helpful is to do what Dean Wesley Smith says and just write the next word, one at a time. Sometimes I have to write a paragraph or two of junk and then suddenly everything clicks and I know where I’m going.

    As far as 3, the most common way it manifests for me is a fairly regular anxiety about sitting down to write because ‘it won’t be good enough’ or ‘this time I won’t be able to do it.’ I’ve gotten over this, more or less, because I’ve established a routine where I make myself sit down every day and write–no matter what. It hasn’t made the anxiety go away, but it no longer keeps me from writing.

    For my plan, I estimate that I have approximately 60k words left. At ten thousand words a week, writing six days a week for two hours each day, that puts me at six more weeks of writing. That’s the schedule I’ve been running so far and it’s been working for me. The target date is 5/30.

  2. Bret says:

    Maybe it is because I’ve primarily focused on writing short fiction, but I often fall victim to the bastard child of Number 4: The Holy Crapper and Number 3: The All or Nothing. I look at a story and think Holy Crap, I can’t make this work in such a small word count! Then I get frustrated and give up. If the ideas are too big for a short story but too small for a novel, I get angry, and my keyboard doesn’t like me when I’m angry.

    As for Breaker 1, I feel like I waste a lot of gas revising what I wrote yesterday before getting any new ground covered. Sometimes I force myself to use Write or Die so that I have to create something new and can’t use that time to go back and edit.

    As for my plan, I’m worried I’m a bit lazy. I know that I have probably 80,000 words left. I teach, and we’ve entered into that time of year where I no longer have a prep period so that I can teach an additional remediation class for the state’s end of course exam and I’m getting my other students ready for their AP exams. So, my goal is to be done by August 1st. Puttering around until school lets out should give me 20,000. During the summer I’m good at getting a thousand words in before breakfast, after breakfast, and after lunch. If I did nothing until school gets out, I should be done before the end of June, be able to revise through July, and be done on time.

  3. John McClain says:

    I think Breaker 1 is the one that affects me the most. It doesn’t just affect me when writing. In college, I found that I couldn’t really do the marathon study sessions. After an hour or two I had to get up and do something else. Decompress if you will. I’ve noticed that working from a scene sketch really helps me get back into the groove after a break.

    One thing that helped in college when staring at a blank page was to just start writing “something.” The act of writing was usually sufficient to get the juices flowing. Over the years, I’ve started many a document with: “it was a dark and stormy night.”

    I find that I am also susceptible to Breaker 4 to a lesser degree. In my case, I tend to get overwhelmed with details. This course has helped me a great deal with this issue.

    My plan forward is to finish one of my story events per week. I’ll have the first finished this weekend and will have ~6k words. So, 9 weeks at 4k words a week will put me finishing up some time around June 21. I’ll be modifying my outline as a result of the sketching I did this week. I think the story holds together a lot better as a whole. This may result in an increased word count but may not affect my finish date. Since fixing these issues, I find that have a clearer vision of the story. I’m hoping that helps improve my output.

    • John Brown says:

      Excellent goal. BTW, I had to lock ALL comments down to manual approval with the Vox Day post I made. Too many folks not wanting to abide by my civil discourse rules 🙂

      • John McClain says:

        I thought I’d post an update as I’m not going to hit my estimated finish date. After our last online meeting, I had a real urge to start over and incorporate the feedback received during that meeting. It took me about a week of going back and forth with myself to decide against doing that. And, it took a further 3-4 weeks to get back in the groove of writing on a regular basis. So, there’s another big lesson learned. You might want to add “breaks” to the list of breakers. 🙂

        I’m back to writing on a regular basis. I seem to be writing more often but in smaller chunks. I’m making steady progress again. I’m going to bump out my expected completion date one month to 21 July.

  4. John McClain says:

    Well, let’s see if this one takes.

  5. Rich says:

    I don’t know what it is, but it seems the universe has conspired against me. I have 12k (in three weeks), but for the next three, I’m a single parent–the wife had to go away for corporate training. So, my progress has been slow, and I haven’t fully been able to employ the pre-writing techniques and chapter planning I want to. I just don’t have the time or mental energy after work, and I end up writing between one and two am, having to get my youngest up for school (yadda yadda, I know). So, I’m really hoping that when things settle down a bit, it will double and triple my progress. I hope to have the first draft done in ten weeks (the end of June, beginning of July). I write every night (unless something happens to make it impossible), so that will remain the game plan.

    I’m also supposed to be taking Larry’s (Larry Correia) streaming class beginning on May 5th. I’m hoping to up my output before then.

    I’ve got no comments on the three grunts, as I feel they may be different from story to story. I’ll wait and see what the comments are. (Still red-faced from the draft I sent everyone, but I’m surprised given that bout of crap going around my house that anything is legible, let alone makes me want to write more.) So, I’m off to pad my word count. 😀

    Have we decided on a meeting day?

  6. Anthony says:

    After a trip to Utah to visit family, and the vast reduction in production from that that I was not anticipating, I’ve gotten back to the work for this lesson.

    My most common breakers are the All-or-Nothing, The Holy Crapper, and the Grunter. These same emotions affect my other projects as well. I am quite aware of the deficiencies in my writing, and I want it to be perfect right away. I am being too impatient, and I need to put in the practice to hone the craft. By persevering, I will improve my ability, and my work will improve.

    I haven’t been working on work count goals through this so far, so I am join going to stick with the event based scheduling I have been using. I am completing 2 to 3 events per week, and I have about 23 events left to write (according to outline, that could change) which should take me about 10 weeks to write. I am adding a bit of buffer because I know I will encounter some additional breakers, and so I should have my initial draft done by the first of August. This will be the first novel I ever complete, and so I’m mostly shooting for a sense of being able to complete the project. I expect this never to actually be published, but to be a stepping stone to publishable works in the future.

    • John Brown says:

      Good plan!

      • Anthony says:

        Since our meeting, I think I need to do a bit more of a major overhaul on my story, and so I’ll be updating later with a new plan line.

        Also, there is one issue that was brought up in our meeting that I am not sure how to address myself, and I probably should have asked about it previously. I have the setting quite clear in my mind, but I have not successfully put it into the text. How can I signal a secondary world (not earth), canal city (like venice), with technology level approximately 1890-1910? This is why it was so confusing for everyone, I think. It is atypical for a fantasy, and so the cues people were confused because I didn’t make it vivid enough for them. Any suggestions are welcome at this point.

      • John Brown says:

        I hope I didn’t overstate my comments to you. Remember: innocent guy accidentally gets drawn into dramatic events is a perfectly good story. But is that the story you’re really passionate about with the material you have? Or was that just an exploration that helped you discover something else?

        As for signaling place, you have two options. A totally new place, or an actual place with differences (a made up city in an actual place falls in this second category).

        To see how to handle an actual place, look at what Orson Card did with his Seventh Son series. The map, names, etc.

        To do a totally new place, cut out all words that resonate strongly with things particular to the actual world. For example, “Washington” and “Jefferson” would be completely inappropriate for your story–they signal George and Tom. And if you have a second world, there was no American Revolution with those two characters. “Sweet jump” would be out. “Constable” is probably out because that’s going to say England to people. As is “policeman,” a thoroughly modern name. Get rid of those names. Replace them with something else.

        Your scene with him going to an investigator sounds like he’s going up stairs to an investigator in our world. Call him something different. That will help.

        Look at CJ Cherry’s book Angle with a Sword. Same type of setting as the one you’re describing. Go read to see how she did it.

      • Anthony says:

        No overstatement. After a bit of consideration, I’m more excited about taking the story in a different direction, and it will require more of a change than the current plan would allow for.

        Hopefully I will one day have a book you pick up to read, either off the shelf or off some ebook service, and you can say “I helped that man get his start” with pride. 🙂

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