Feb 24 • 17M

The first hundred pages of Draft Two

How I keep on trucking along

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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

I’m returning to the solo audio diary episode after a few interviews, so I can bring you up to speed on the novel.

In this episode, I share the current process for my “sort of” second draft, which is proving to be more satisfying and organic than the first. I go over the method I’m using, the tricks the critic is up to, and how I’m getting around them.

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Transcript of Episode Seven:

[00:00:25] Caroline Donahue: Welcome to another episode of Oh Murder. It's just me today. I'll be doing an audio diary episode as it's been a while since I've shared what's happening with the mystery writing process. So currently I'm about 75 pages into the second draft of the. And I say second draft lightly because the first draft is really more of a exploration draft.

[00:00:56] And I think that reflecting back on my first novel, and again, it's hard to say first novel because there were many, many attempts at books before that. But the first completed novel, I will say, did start with a sort of proto draft. That I then reread and reformulated, so I am seeing my process repeat itself as I go.

[00:01:24] And so 75 pages into this second draft, I am finding it much more satisfying to write. I'm finding it much more cohesive. I'm feeling the characters come together. I'm discovering more about them as I go, and additional characters that need to appear are showing up where they need to. The thing that is different about this round is that I am writing at longhand in a notebook, and each time I come back I use a different.

[00:02:05] Color of ink, so I know how many days I've been working on it based on how many times the colors change and there's something weirdly satisfying about that. I do have a bunch of fountain pens. I probably have 10 of them I like to buy them when I have a significant moment, like finishing a draft or finishing a project and I have tons of ink colors.

[00:02:29] So it's fun to have them here and just to. , I have a reason to use them frequently, and I'm writing in one of my favorite types of notebooks, which is Tomoe River, and for anyone who loves Tomoe River, I apologize if you don't care about this paper one way or another, but if you do love Tomoe River, this is worth the aside.

[00:02:48] a couple of years ago, we had this heartbreaking news that Tomoe River was going to stop production of its paper. And for anyone who likes fountain pens and has never used it, Toma River, especially the 52 gram, has this feeling almost like an onion skin, very smooth, but thin paper. and yet you can use the wettest, drippiest, seepiest, bleediest fountain pen ink on it and it will not feather.

[00:03:18] It will not seep through. You can still use a different color on the other side. It doesn't distort. It's just magic. And so I have been using these notebooks that they made-- the A5 size for years, and I felt like I had found the Holy Grail of paper. And so then when the news came out that they weren't going to make this paper anymore, I was so devastated that I turned into a hoarder and bought a huge amount of these notebooks.

[00:03:48] I generally use plain, but I reduced myself to buying the dotted. I also bought the 68 gram, which is not as preferable as the 52 because it's a bit thicker and just doesn't have quite the same feel. But I was desperate. And so I just found out in an email yesterday that they are beginning to reissue Tomoe River this year.

[00:04:11] So this makes me very happy as I have so enjoyed writing this novel longhand in a Tomoe River notebook. I took one of my precious hoarded copies out of my cabinet and said, I will use this for the novel. And it has infused it with a certain amount of magic and value. And I'm not casually scratching away in this thing, which is not to say that I, I'm not letting myself explore any idea that I have.

[00:04:42] I'm not attached to what I'm writing in the sense of, "this must end up in the book because it was written in this notebook", but more, " I'm going to take a moment to reflect" and there is something that elevates the experience just by being in a notebook that feels special. If you need further enabling or support about investing in really wonderful tools and supplies as a writer, I had a wonderful conversation with the founder of Mark and Fold on the Secret Library where we talk about the value of tools for writers.

[00:05:16] So I'll link to that below this episode so you can listen if you would like, because it's absolutely worth having a pen, a notebook, ink, other things as a writer. It's just as important as if you're a visual artist and you want the right drawing supplies or the right paints. We are not necessarily going to share these colors and this impact.

[00:05:40] Obviously the final printed book will look quite different than what we write by hand, unlike in a painting or a drawing. But the feeling we have as we're writing is communicated, I believe. If I'm happier and more connected when I'm writing, then my writing is more connected as a result, and that does transmit, even if the color of the ink I was using doesn't.

[00:06:01] So that's my current stage. My goal at this point is to get to about a hundred pages or so in the next, probably in the next week. And then I'm going to type up what I have so far. I have a point in this story I wanna reach at 25 additional pages. So reaching about a hundred and then by typing it up, I'll be able to revisit what I've written so far, and there will of course naturally be tweaking that happens once I type this in, because I'm getting to know things about a character. I'm going to know a little bit more about them having written further into the book. I'll wanna tweak things.

[00:06:43] I did use some square brackets where I left things to fill in later, so then I can fill those things in. All of that's going to happen when I type up those a hundred page. probably by the next time I share one of these audio diaries, which will be in two weeks because we have an interview for next week. So that's the process there.

[00:07:02] I had hoped to be further along by this point. I thought I might be at 200 pages at this point, but a hundred pages is still fine and I feel that the story is growing and it's happening and it's evolving. What I am noticing, as we come to a point in the year when there's a seasonal shift, so where I am, I'm at the end of winter, moving into spring, but I often feel this way at the end of summer, moving into fall if that's where you are. Summer wears me out.

[00:07:36] When it's very hot, my brain doesn't function so well. I just get tired and sweaty and don't feel inspired, and it's the same when it's been winter for a really long time and it's so gray and there's no color outside. I am currently having this craving for color. , whereas I suppose I do as well in the fall, I crave the color of the leaves, the crispness, the lack of dead brown grass, which seems to be happening more and more often over the past few years.

[00:08:03] But fall and spring are definitely my favorite seasons because they feel the most refreshing. I come alive during those seasons, so I am eagerly awaiting that change and it's already starting to come a bit. I was feeling really draggy and less inspired last week. We also had a pet that wasn't feeling well.

[00:08:26] He's now doing better, but that was quite worrying. And so all of those things coming together just meant I had less energy to give to writing. So things like paper that feels really nice and pretty ink was necessary to keep me engaging. And I didn't get to the page every single day, but I got to it more often than I would have had those things not been present.

[00:08:47] And I am now really amused by a little trick I've been using to get myself to write even on days that it isn't quite what I feel like doing. And that is taking my notebook that I'm working on the novel in into bed when it's time to go to bed after I've kind of had the thought, "oh, well, writing didn't happen today", and just asking myself if I can write a couple of pages and I find that I can usually get four or five.

[00:09:19] Now, these are in a notebook that's A5 size. These are not typed single-space computer pages. . It's better than nothing. And so if you find yourself in a situation where you're thinking, "Ugh, I wish I'd written today", and it hasn't happened yet, and there's still any time left in the day, you can turn that around. And you don't have to write four or five pages.

[00:09:45] You could write a paragraph and then that belief, "oh, I didn't write today" is gone. So if you are in a busy stretch or an overwhelming stretch or a tired stretch and you need to spend more time during the day dealing with life, dealing with staying motivated, or taking care of day job things, family things, health things, any of those things that come up,

[00:10:13] see if you can sneak in a little paragraph before bed, just so you get to hold onto that belief and hold onto the reality that you wrote that day. And we don't have to be as far away from the project as life can sometimes take us. I find if I have too many days in a row when I want to write and don't, I really start to feel terrible about it.

[00:10:35] And there is anxiety that comes up in the sense of, "oh, am I ever going to finish this?" Or, "oh, I thought I'd be at this point by now." And then that ruminating starts. And often are other things like this. I seem to do this to myself, like, oh, I need to pay that bill it's due in three days, but instead, thinking about, oh, I need to pay that.

[00:10:54] Don't forget for three days. Why not just pay it now if I, if it doesn't make any difference to me financially to pay it in three days or now, why torture myself with that ruminating? I think it's the same with writing. It's easier to write a paragraph than to deal with the mental machinations of, "oh, you didn't get it done.

[00:11:14] Oh, maybe you won't get it done Tomoerrow, or, oh, nothing happened today. Oh dear." Rather than just shutting it down with a few sentences. just the next thing that you think of, and those sentences can have square brackets in them, those square parentheses. I will put things in like 'description of area' or 'pick location for this' or other such details that I don't know the answer to yet, but aren't so central to the story that I can't continue moving forward without them.

[00:11:41] Like in my mystery, on the cruise that they're on, they're stopping at a point of interest with a tour guide and are walking around, and I hadn't picked this exact point of interest yet. So I put some square brackets in the scene with things like, ' history of area' or 'description of view' or 'significance of this point', and that's stuff I can look up and fill in later.

[00:12:05] What I know about the scene is who's going to interact and who's going to have a conflict and who's going to get in an argument, and all of those things don't have that much to do with the actual location. I wanted to add something to the story. I want it to be interesting, but it isn't necessarily the be all and end all of the scene.

[00:12:22] It's flavor, and so I can add a little more of that flavor when I'm typing these pages up. So I offer that update both as accountability, so you know that things are moving forward. And also to just give you some options as to how to approach writing when sometimes we're in a slump and sometimes there isn't that much energy to give to it.

[00:12:43] This is a way to s to stay connected, to not lose the thread with your work because it is harder to get back when we are away for a long time. That doesn't mean it's impossible to get back in if you're getting back in after a long break. I recommend doing very, very small sessions and setting a timer to edge yourself back in.

[00:13:03] Like, okay, I'm going to spend five minutes and I'm going to write a sentence about this scene that I think needs to happen next. And then there is as much happening in between those short sessions, whether it's when we're busy or when we've been away for a long time-- we kind of have to let the bread rise, is this image I keep thinking of.

[00:13:26] So I write a scene or a paragraph that's me kneading the dough. But then until the next day, until the next time I write, it needs to rise. I can't necessarily speed this up by writing, for 10 hours. That's a bit like punching the dough straight for 10 hours. There is benefit, there is a purpose to the spaces in between, and the idea in the book are growing in those moments.

[00:13:53] So don't discredit them and don't leave them out, or don't feel like you're being lazy by writing for a short time and then taking the full break between that day and the next. Or if you take a whole weekend off between writing on Friday and writing on Monday, sometimes those periods of time are letting the bread rise, and the best thing we can do is start to feel the difference because I can tell when I'm letting the bread rise.

[00:14:18] If I think about writing, there aren't any ideas yet, even if I want to have them. Whereas if I am hiding from the story, it's anxiety that comes up. It's not this sort of productive blankness of the bread rising. It's more, it's more coming up with lots of excuses as to why I can't write right now. It just feels a little speedier.

[00:14:42] The critic, it feels like the critic's voice, which is very wordy, fast moving, and chatty. " Oh, you don't wanna do that. That's a terrible idea. You don't need to write. You should really clean the bathroom. And then you said you were going to vacuum, so you better do that." That's more the critic. But if the bread is rising, it's more, " okay, I could write that next scene, but--" it's almost as if it hasn't appeared fully. It's still in fog in my imagination. So even if I feel connected to the desire to write, it's not there yet. And I find for me it's about 24 hours between writing and another writing session that that bread rising period needs. Because I took my notebook to bed one night over the past week, and then when I went to write the next morning, it was still a little foggy and

[00:15:25] it was harder for me to write in the morning, so I'm having to look at, okay, do I have at least 12 plus hours? But I, I do better with about 24 between writing sessions. So pay attention to that and, and see what it is for you. I'd be curious to hear what your reflections are. And that's my update. That's what's going on.

[00:15:47] Next week we will have an interview. I'm really excited to share that. and then we will continue on with another diary update, and I will have, hopefully by that point, reflections on how it's going with those first hundred pages and what the next steps are. Have a wonderful weekend or rest of your day whenever you're listening to this.

[00:16:09] Thank you to those listening to this when it is first coming out because you are supporters of Oh Murder. If you haven't yet become a full subscriber, I encourage you to do so. It means you get these episodes right away and there are other paid subscriber only posts that you will see as Happy writing.

[00:16:29] Happy reading, and I'll see you back here next time.