Mar 17 • 14M

No big deal drafting

How writing in my pajamas is changing everything.

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Appears in this episode

Caroline Donahue
Ever wondered how to write a mystery novel? Peek over my shoulder as I share my audio diary of writing the first book in a new series. Along the way, I'll share conversations with published mystery authors and their advice on what it takes to write a mystery readers can't put down.
Episode details

We’re back to a solo episode this week, with further updates on how the mystery draft is coming along. I’m closer to 150 pages as we reach the end of the week, and I share the weird approach that has made consistent progress possible in detail.

I hope your writing is coming along well. Another bit of news that you’ll be happy to hear: my other podcast, The Secret Library, returns next week for its EIGHTH season right before our 8th anniversary in this April.

If you’ll excuse a tangent: if you’ve ever wanted to pick my brain about podcasting, I’m celebrating 8 years of the SLP and over 15 years podcasting with a special training:
Inside the Secret Library podcast. It’s happening on 31 March and I’ll be spilling my guts about everything I’ve learned on the show. If you’d like to join for the live class, it’s about half the price it will be for just the recording later on.

Ok, back to murder. Let’s dive in.

Oh! Murder is a reader-supported publication. To receive new episodes immediately and for full access, consider becoming a paid subscriber.

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Transcript of Episode Nine:

[00:00:25] Hey everyone. Welcome back to another audio diary update of the O Murder podcast. I have been working away on the novel. I think I'm well past the 125 pages mark that I shared in the last post where you got to see the opening of chapter one. The funny thing about sharing. In sort of middle draft stages, I suppose, is where this is, is that I've already had ideas about how I want to change what I shared.

[00:00:59] It's small changes. It's not a complete revamp, but I've been having a great time going through the second draft, feeling like I know the character is better and building up the story. I wanted to share a couple of things that have been working really well for me lately, in the event that they're helpful to you.

[00:01:18] So the first of which is that I set myself up, it's March as I record this, and I set myself up with a challenge, which I'm doing with my writing community that I run called the Manageable Yet Meaningful Writing Lab. And so what we've done is set up a writing challenge for this month, and what that involves is picking a really teensie unit.

[00:01:44] And the ones I recommended were a minute, a sentence or a paragraph, and then to write at least the number that equates with the date each day for that month. So for example, on March 1st, you'd write for one minute or one paragraph, or one sentence. On March 20th, you'd write 20 minutes or 20 paragraphs, or 20 sentences.

[00:02:09] I didn't want to suggest anything larger than these units because that starts to feel overwhelming. I did not want anyone or myself to feel pressured to write 20 pages one day and then 21 pages the next, and then 22 pages the day after that. That's a recipe for burnout, and so I have been doing. This month, and it is the first time in years that I have written every single day and not felt completely exhausted by it.

[00:02:41] Normally I shoot to write Monday through Friday and I take weekends off, and I focus on reading or researching or exploring ideas. Maybe sometimes I'll make notes if things come up, but I don't normally write the actual manuscript every day, and I have done. For the past 15 days. Today, the 16th of March, I haven't yet written, but I do plan to, and I have a sense of where it's going. there's a couple of things about this that are working. One is that we're starting really small and I find it's starting small is less scary pretty much in every area of life, but particularly in writing, particularly when you are either start a draft or a project, any, any point actually in a project can be scary. Even if you've written the first draft. Going back in for the second can feel like a lot of pressure because there's a sense, oh, I've got to get it all right. Now, going into a revision is scary. Going into polishing, going into any stage of it can be scary.

[00:03:41] So starting small is really good, and then building from there. The other thing is that there's no rule against going further than the amount prescribed. So many times I did write more than one paragraph or five paragraphs. I'm up at the point now yesterday I wrote 15 paragraphs and that's about five pages in my notebook.

[00:04:06] I also noticed that I was shooting at myself in the foot and writing really long-winded paragraphs all of a sudden, and I don't want the structure of what I'm writing to be dependent on the challenge that I'm doing or to be too influenced by the challenge that I'm doing. Anybody who's ever done NaNoWriMo will perhaps have had the experience where when the word count feels like too much or you've been doing that 1 6 67

[00:04:32] for a while, or maybe you've fallen behind a few days and have to catch up and you find yourself doing things like removing all the contractions, I cannot do it. I will not do it. I absolutely cannot, will not do it, and these kinds of ridiculous proclamations because cannot counts as two words and can't counts as one.

[00:04:55] There's also the bizarre and sudden dream sequence. Solution and other ways to simply fluff out a draft and meet the goal in the short term. So I wasn't interested in doing that. That just creates more work later, more cutting, more revision and so on. I wanted this to be a manageable process all the way through, and I hoped.

[00:05:16] which seems to be the case that by the time it started to feel like a bit of a push to do the amount of writing per day that the challenge called for, I would be in the swing of it enough that it would work. . The other thing is that because we're making up the challenge, because you are doing it for yourself, if it becomes too intense to count by paragraphs, you can change to sentences and then suddenly 16 sentences isn't such a big deal if 16 paragraphs feels like too much. I'm going to see how it goes. But it's been okay up to this point. And the other thing that I'm doing is I have a calendar, of course. . I love planners. I love physical paper planners. I'm not, I don't have the most astonishing handwriting or make beautiful layouts like many people you see online.

[00:06:03] But I do like a well-designed planner, and I like an excuse to put stickers in them. So I have, a Hobonichi planner, and it's a small one. I think it's a weeks, I'm not sure for this year. That's just for my writing. And so it has a week on two pages spread that goes throughout. And at the beginning there's a month on two pages spread.

[00:06:25] And every day that I've written, each month, I put a sticker on that date. So it's been really fun to fill up each of these sticker spots. And to see the calendar fill. I've also been pushing myself to use stickers that feel like fancy stickers for this, because a lot of times when I'm putting stickers on calendars or something, I think, oh, well then I'm going to turn the page and I'm never going to look back at this calendar, and so I should use stickers that aren't so fancy and save those other ones for something more permanent.

[00:06:58] I'm not quite sure what this permanent thing is that I imagine is going to happen. Like I'm not going to use them as wallpaper or I don't know. They, they certainly wouldn't last if I stuck them to myself. I do put them on the covers of notebooks and things, so I guess that's one option. But even then you finish the notebook, so it's always temporary, but it has felt really good to lean into it and use the good stickers.

[00:07:22] I've been using the fancy pens and the fancy ink, and my special notebook to write the draft, and all of that has been really, really lovely. I hope you enjoy the wonderful European siren in the background. If you can hear it, it's about 50 50 when the microphone picks it up in the background. And the other thing that is unusual is that I was very attached to this idea of writing in the morning,

[00:07:46] but I have found it's working really well to write sandwich between other pieces of my going to bed routine. So I have another sort of five-year diary that fits about a paragraph of text, and every day I write something about what happened that day. I usually try to find something that was funny or memorable or.

[00:08:09] Just an event that I think I will forget otherwise also, so that when I come back around to it next year, I feel like I have a better sense of what happened the year before. So that's what I do first, and then I write the novel, however much I have left. If I've written earlier in the day, then I'll do the rest.

[00:08:29] But most of the time I've just been writing in my pajamas in bed with a fountain pen right after writing the events of the day. And there's something about starting out with just the paragraph about how the day went, that gets me in the flow of it. And then after I finish, doing the novel. I have been reading with A Public Space, I believe they run a literary journal.

[00:08:52] They have a fellowship and they're based out of New York. And during the pandemic, they had a read along for War and Peace that a student recommended. And when they did it a second time in 2021, I participated and really enjoyed it. So they moved over to Substack now, and I really recommend them. And they're reading a book right now called The Betrothed, which is a new translation of the Italian equivalent of Dickens.

[00:09:17] So if Dante is the poet that everybody knows about from Italy, then everyone in Italy who studied literature will have read the Betrothed, which is called I Promesi Sposi, excuse my terrible Italian accent, but someone named Michael Moore, not the filmmaker, has done a translation of it and is making notes every day as part of a public space.

[00:09:42] And so I have been reading about a chapter, it's like 15 pages a day. It's not that much. And so I read that after. I have completed the manuscript, and something lovely about that is that this character has gotten himself into a terrible mess and is doing a kind of terrible job getting himself out of it.

[00:10:03] So if I feel discouraged by how the writing has gone, then I go on and read about Renzo and how he's making a mess of his situation and it makes me feel better. And so I read that right afterward, and if I'm not ready to go to sleep at that point, I will then read whatever novel I have on the nightstand.

[00:10:22] You'll learn more about that when I do the reading roundup for March when we get to later in the month. But that's basically what my routine is. And there's something about writing the novel being a matter of fact, part of my routine that is. In the middle of winding down to go to bed, that's making it not a big deal in a really good way for me.

[00:10:44] So if you find that going overboard with ritual and needing to have specific tools and sit in a specific place and have the right mug and then lucky socks and that whole thing is holding you back, then the no big deal, make it part of another routine is super helpful, like if I was doing this in the morning, I might do some German homework and then work on the novel to have the same level of no big deal.

[00:11:11] This is a daily activity. Energy to it, play around with it and see how it goes. I'm interested in your thoughts and your experience writing your own books. One little, extra bit: those of you who listen to this show may be excited to hear that the Secret Library Podcast, my original show is coming back on March 23rd, so a week from when I'm recording this, and a little less than a week from when you'll receive it if you are, a paid subscriber.

[00:11:44] So this is season eight of the Secret Library Podcast, we will be talking to writers in process, and we're talking about wonder because for me, the process of writing has created a huge amount of wonder, and there is a way that being a writer gives us a different level of access to wonder. And so that's what I'm celebrating as well about podcasting. After eight years of hosting the Secret Library, I've podcasted in some form or other for, I'm alarmed to say nearly 20 years. I started my first show in 2007, so it's been quite a while. It's probably more like 16 years now, but that's a lot. And as such, I'm also hosting a training the end of this month.

[00:12:34] If you're getting this much later, I apologize, but this training is going to happen on the 31st because I realized. I'm constantly giving people advice about podcasting. I'm constantly answering questions about podcasting and having done it for this long, I have experienced a lot of different ways to do it, A lot of different formats, and I have many thoughts and suggestions about how people can podcast if that's something they want to do.

[00:12:57] So if you've ever wondered how I've created the Secret Library primarily, but I will talk about this show as well, you may want to join us. I'm having this event, it's inside the Secret Library, and I will put a link in the show notes below this episode where you can check it out. I'm not planning to start coaching people on creating podcasts.

[00:13:19] It's more I want to give people somewhere to go if they want this information. I'd rather talk about new stuff with all of you. So I'm just going to say this all once in a training and then make it available indefinitely. So this is not a free webinar where there's going to be pitching or anything like that.

[00:13:34] It's just me sharing everything I know. It is paid because I have worked really hard to get this info, but it's going to be affordable, and I'd love to share it with you. So if you're interested, you can check that out below. Otherwise, I'll be back with more updates on how the writing is going. I'd love to hear how the writing is going for you.