Stop! Organize. - Travis Senzaki

Stop! Organize.

Ok, so last week, I thought I was almost ready to write, just as soon as I finished the hideously painful stage of figuring out language and names, but I was wrong. My character notes were still in a single, stream-of-conscious document that included a series of contradictions. Literally. There are sentences in the middle like “No, that doesn’t make sense. Forget last paragraph.” The stream-of-consciousness approach helped me to get my ideas in place, but I realized that I was going to need to do a little bit of cleaning up before I launched into the book.

The Days of Too Much Hesitation

Once upon a time, I was painfully slow and deliberate. I would plan forever and never execute. Before I assigned a single skill point to my RPG characters, I would research the entire set of skill trees and possible endgames. If I discovered later that I’d misplaced a skill, I’d start over and tackle the whole thing again. (Path of Exile’s skill system is a giant middle finger to this kind of gaming, but I digress). My writing was the same way, especially back in school. I would collect my sources, read through them, toss the whole thing together in my mind then, just before the deadline, flip the switch and write the paper.

One draft and done; my notes, a series of notecards still poking out of the pages they were drawn from, since I couldn’t be bothered to write out a bibliography or citations in advance; my works referenced, a series of stacks surrounding my desk chair, organized spatially by topic; my fuel, a two-liter of Mountain Dew and a pack of Twizzlers, often as not.

Writing Headlong

At first, I tried the same approach with writing. I’ve always been a deadline-driven worker and I had a hard time getting started in the fiction with only self-imposed deadlines, so I joined NaNoWriMo, with all its reckless abandon. That didn’t work, because I “won” stopped writing on December 1, without having finished the novel. Later, through Mur Lafferty’s “I Should be Writing” podcast, I learned about the Magic Spreadsheet, which is the atomic bomb to NaNoWriMo’s cap gun when it comes to effective writing tools- as of today, I have written 777 days straight using the Magic Spreadsheet. These tools got me past my hesitation toward starting, and I was off and running.

But they also propelled me further away from organization. Both NaNo and the MSS encourage speed and volume. The MSS asks less at first, only 250 words, but it progressively demands more. To meet that demand, I focused more and more on outlining and writing, and got farther away from organizing my thoughts. Going back to edit your character notes does not lead to a high word count, and word counts were the goal. Even after I got Scrivener, with all of it’s wonderful organizational tools, I used it to write my notes, but never went back to refer to them. Not so effective.

This Time: A Deliberate Approach

I took a step back from the MSS and it’s ever-climbing word count. Now, using Habit RPG as my motivational tool, I have set a fixed goal of 500 words per day, with additional goals for organization: Do I go back after each chapter to reflect the chapter’s events on my character notes? Do I re-read the previous day’s writing before launching into the new day, to keep things consistent? I’ve set these up as +/- habits in the game, so that I can reward or punish myself. I hate punishing myself, so I think this should work decently well.

I’ve also, as suggested in the title of this post, put myself on hold before I start writing. The next few days or week-plus will be dedicated to cleaning up the chaos of notes I have written so far and making sure I know exactly who my characters are and what their settings look like. It’s slow, but once upon a time in another life, I had a trainer who taught me that, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” So that’s what I’m looking to accomplish this time around.

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