Obsession, change, and superstition — tales from the sequel



File this under More Bitching About Writing a Sequel.

Over the summer I wrote a post about my writing rituals and the magic number of words I needed to write to feel I was ‘done’ for the day.  When NaNoWriMo came around in November (the same month I published Schooled) I thought about taking part in the madness but said to myself: No. I have a system that has been successful one out of one times. I’m not messing with it. For those that don’t want to click the link, the ritual is simple. Write 500 words, print pages, review/revise daily output, make changes to master doc in the morning.

Well, with this book my ritual is all messed up. First, though I usually print out the day’s writing and read the pages in bed, I’m not editing as I go. I’m only updating the master doc for really horrible errors if I happen to scroll back and see them, or if I have to change a character’s name or fix something that effects the plot later on in the book. I tell myself that the momentum is all-important, and I will edit later.

While I’m sticking to the 500 words per day goal, in reality I’m writing at least a thousand words a day six days a week. Some days I write 1200 words (and post it on Facebook–I’m obsessive about updating my FB status each day with my daily word count/cumulative word count. So much so that if and when I think I’m done for the day but end up writing more I stress out about it: Do I do another word count post or roll up the extra words into the next day’s word count? These are the things that I wrestle with.)

Many days lately I write my thousand words (though I’m not really satisfied-ish unless it’s 1200 or more), chill out a while and find myself unable to do anything else but write. So back to the computer I go. I’ll just make some notes for tomorrow, I say, but end up knocking out another thousand or so words. So that’s it then, I tell myself. I’m spent. No more today.  And I feel like I’ve done well. I print my pages and read them in bed. Turn out the light and go to sleep.

And dream about my characters. Then I wake up. And in that limbo between sleep and wakefulness I’m composing dialog in my head. Or figuring out the logistics for an action scene. I can’t shut it off. Last night I was up until 4:30 a.m. writing and re-writing a scene in my head until I finally just got up and wrote it longhand in my notebook.

That’s another thing with this book; I’ve got snippets of dialog EVERYWHERE. I firmly believe that when the Muse delivers something to you, you snap it up and say thank you. Once I even–thanks to a reader’s suggestion–used the voice recorder on my phone to preserve an important bit of dialog.

Another thing I was pretty uptight about with Schooled was chapter length. I was certain that each chapter should come in at around 5,000 words. So if I wasn’t close to that, I’d drag the chapter on. In one instance, there’s a chapter break where there really shouldn’t be one simply because I’d hit 5,000 words since the last chapter break. Stupid, right? It seemed extremely important at the time.

With Pwned I’m letting the chapters break where they need to. Oh, I’m keeping an eye on the word count, but I’m not being a freak about it. Subsequently, I’m already up to Chapter 15 of Pwned and am about halfway done. Schooled only had 14 chapters (though the 14th was more of an epilogue and didn’t come close to 5k words.)

Overall, with the sequel I’ve relaxed some of my rules, but am much more immersed in this book than I was the last one. Is there a causal relationship? If I go back to my magical rituals of daily editing and being truly ‘done’ when I hit my word count will my characters let me sleep at night? Unclear. But I’m kind of afraid to change anything lest I lose my mojo. Are writers as superstitious as baseball players? Or is it just me?

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