Project wrap-up: Midnight Cowboy

In early June, I’d written myself into a corner in the novel I’d been working on since the beginning of the year. I knew right away that I’d failed with my outline. I didn’t have anywhere to go without making some major changes to where the story was headed. It could be saved, of course; stories are rarely so far gone they can’t be salvaged. But I needed time off to figure out where it needed to go to get back on track.

I try to make a point of writing frequently. Every day, if I can. I have a hard time building momentum, so keeping it once I’m in the groove is vital for my productivity as a writer. So how to keep my momentum while working on a plot overhaul, which might take weeks to work out? The answer was simple enough.

Just work on a different story.

I don’t like jumping between projects. I was a chronic project-hopper for many years, and until I made myself quit jumping back and forth, I never finished anything. I had some reservations about changing gears, but I did it anyway, and learned a few things in the process.

A book planner was a good idea.

In early August, I shared a bit about setting up my writing planner. This is something I think I’ll maintain for all my writing projects from here on out. The character profile sheets I set up were an incredible help. No more losing the names of minor characters or forgetting the color of someone’s eyes. Having the outline handy and space for notes was wonderful, but my favorite part ended up being the calendar.

Keeping track of a book’s timeline can be difficult, which was why I printed calendar pages to put in my planner with the outline. As I wrote important events in the story, I wrote them down on the calendar. This helped me keep everything straight, and refer back to it in a realistic manner. I’m looking forward to implementing this in future projects, and I’m glad I experimented with it now.

I fall into patterns, then overuse certain phrases.

They came and went in spells. The only consistent issue through the whole book was my use of the word turned, because apparently everything got turned. Heads turned, people turned, they turned again, they turned pancakes, they turned left, they turned something over. I’ll have to be mindful of this word affinity in the next book. I spent a lot of time weeding that word in editing.

I also went through phases of everybody crossing their arms all the time. Then everyone was wearing tasty Chapstick, I guess, because they kept licking their lips. People also frowned an awful lot, then they all shook their heads. It’s impossible to catch all cases of repetition, but finding the actions and words I get stuck using will help me keep them from reaching the paper next time.

I write much faster than I used to.

From start to finish, it took me ten weeks to write Midnight Cowboy, as opposed to the year it took me to write Death of the Sun–which was a slightly shorter book. I never thought I’d be able to write an entire novel that fast. Even better is that the overall quality of my writing has improved, so I’m not just writing more words faster, I’m writing better words faster.

Of course, it’s also worth  note that I’m only counting the weeks I actually wrote. I lost one and a half weeks out of July, and half of one in August, due to travel and other obligations. Fortunately, this didn’t seem to hinder my progress once I was back to it. Counting those weeks means it took just shy of 3 months to finish the book–which still isn’t too bad.

My highest word count was 2,846 words on the second day of the project. My lowest word count was 356 words, which happened approximately two weeks in. That’s still a good portion of a page, and better than I’d been averaging on my days writing my other project. After two and a half editing passes, the manuscript is just over 80,000 words.

Overall, I’m happy with the project.

As always, I learned a lot about writing, learned more about myself as a writer, and I feel good about the book I have at the end of it.

I’ll have more to say about it in the future, I’m sure, but for now, I’m working on finishing a query letter to go with it.

What’s the latest lesson you’ve learned from writing?

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