My creative process: writing the first draft

Bakuman illustration by Takeshi Obata

Learning about people’s creative process or “watching them create” is one of my favourite things. I’ve spent hours watching  YouTube videos of Takeshi Obata just drawing (he’s the mangaka who drew Hikaru no Go, Death Note and Bakuman, among other things). So I thought today I’d talk about my own creative process, because it’s fun to share and because maybe next year or in two or three years I’ll look back to this post and be amazed at how much my process has changed. Or not.

The idea

It all starts with an idea. It can come from vastly different things: a passer-by can sprout a character, a feeling can become a theme, etc. You have ideas, you know what I mean.

The daydream

There is a kind of natural selections in my ideas. I almost don’t consciously “choose” which one I’ll pursue, I just go with the one that obsesses me the most. After all, I write for fun. So, that natural selection occurs during my daydreams. Because I’m busy, I don’t just lie down to daydream like I used to when I was a teenager – I daydreaming while doing other things. rainbow-1445337690d8qMy personal favourite moment is while waiting for sleep, since I can just lie down and be happy in my own world for 15 minutes to 2 hours. It has the added benefit to keep me from worrying about… you know… real life.

The first words

When I have daydreamed a lot and I’m scared I might forget those dreams, I start writing. No plan, no plot, no nothing, just my ideas and my daydreams. And maybe notes taken in earlier steps. Normally, a “good” idea will get me to write over 10k words (sometimes even up to 20k words) virtually effortlessly. Those words would be written very quickly, like 10k over the weekend or 20k in two weeks.

The plot

Then, I stare at the mess reread the thing, and see where that could lead me or what I’d like to do with it. I write down key words for my different scenes on small pieces of paper and paste them on my wall. The mad artist look at that point is desirable. Then I try to come up with any missing element or plot point.

My wall; there are 7 books there. And a drawing of Haruma Miura because… uh… whatever. Who needs a reason to put up drawings of beautiful people on their wall?

The research

During my initial 10-20k words, I will most likely have broached subjects I know little about, so while plotting, I’ll do some research and see what fun ideas emerge. Then I go back to plotting and alternate both until I have a pretty strong sequence of events.

The plan

Yes, because I don’t consider “plotting” as planning. For me, planning deals with questions like: How long’s it gonna be? What kind of narrator will I use? What artistic direction do I want to use? Stuff like that. I’ll also create an actual outline of the plot with target word counts in Scrivener.

patrick_jane_s_cup_of_tea_by_carlaoliveira-d7bv5fdThe first draft

Then I go ahead and write the first draft. I used to write by bursts until I found that writing between 500 and 1,000 words a day worked better for me. I work on my story every day unless there is a special occasion (Christmas, a wedding, etc.) or I’m sick. At first, it needs some getting used to, then it gets addictive, and finally it becomes a routine that you simply won’t question.

Typically, I’ll do some research all along the way (I try to limit this to 30 minutes a day, otherwise it tends to take up all my writing time). After a chunk of 10-20k words, I’ll also go back to what I have written, rearrange things as necessary (this usually takes 2-3 days, no more than a week), and then go back to drafting. That last step is crucial. I have been caught in a loop of editing the first 20k of a manuscript forever and ending up never finishing the thing. The saddest part is: I now plan on finishing that story at last, and I might just end up scrapping that whole beautifully written intro and starting from scratch.


That’s it for this week. The editing process will require a post of its own when I’m done with my current novel, which probably means much later this year.

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.
– Shannon Hale


Birthday Ramble

peter-panI had a case of Peter Pan syndrome for about 10 years, from 18 to 28. Today, I’m turning 29. Only one more year until I reach the dreaded 30, and you know what? I’m fine with it.

Not a hundred percent fine. I freaked out when I found white hair among the brown. I noticed that my skin is getting less tight; wrinkles are coming. It takes me forever to recover from a hangover, and I know it’s not going to get any better.

There are a lot of things I wish I had done before I reached 30: have a solid career, have published a book (haha!) and finished many first drafts. There’s no way I can get a book traditionally published this year and I won’t self-publish. As for the career, well… I’m done putting my everything into a “meaningless” stressful job; all it did is get me depressed. So from now on, either I’ll get a low-stress job or I’ll get a (however stressful) writing job. I’ll put everything in my passion and see where it leads.

girl-3-copieNow for what I’ve achieved: in my twenties, I found myself. That wasn’t easy. It might be my greatest achievement so far. I was hiding really well behind who I wanted to be, who I thought I had to become and who people thought I was. I was a hobbit hiding in her hole. Now, I’ve set out for the adventure of my life. I don’t expect it to be easy. I expect my fair share of trolls and dragons and wars… But any story would be boring without conflict.

I also finished a first draft of 83,649 words. I’m proud of it. I’m also thrilled to have finally found “how” to finish a first draft. I’m in the middle of NaNoWriMo, and this year… I’ll finish it. I know it for a fact. I might not reach 50,000 words, mind you. But I’ll push through. Also, I started a blog and succeeded in writing new content 7 weeks in a row… and I even got 50+ followers from all over the world! I got to interact with many different people, to read their blogs, to share ideas. How awesome is that?

umbrella-copieOh, and did I mention that I learned to focus on the positive? So what if most of my first draft will have to be rewritten? If my NaNo novel has to be entirely rewritten? However bad a first draft is, it’s still better than a blank page. I’m taking baby steps toward my goal. It’s better than running in circles.

So sure, there are disadvantages to getting older. But I’ve become so much wiser, so much more at peace with myself, that it outweighs the disadvantages. For now. I’ll talk to you
again next year. *grins*

Oh, and here’s what the fortune cookie I got tonight at the Chinese restaurant sees in my future:
biscuit-chinois_01Prophetic or not, I choose to believe it. I might not get rich or do anything extraordinary,  but I feel like now I have the right frame of mind to succeed both as a writer and as a human being.

It gets easier as you get older. You accept yourself for who you are – your flaws and your attributes. It’s easier to live in your own skin.
-Barbra Streisand


What skills are necessary to write good fiction?

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_berries-11When I was in 14, I would have answered that question with: good mastery of language and creativity. Now, I would categorise the necessary skills in two categories: language and storytelling. Creativity is more like the very essence of any art. If skills were flowers and foliage, creativity would be the roots. That being said, you can consider it a skill if you want to, it’s a free world.

Language speaks for itself: you have to master grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax and *drum roll* style. No, style isn’t just the product of coincidence, there are rules to follow, too. The better you know them, the more efficiently you can break them to create your own aesthetic. Examples of style rules would be not to insert 4 adjectives and 3 adverbs in a 15 words sentence, to vary the length of your sentences, etc.

All of this can seem obvious, but to quote On Writing Well: “Few people realise how badly they write.” So let’s do our homework and study style. Every writer does in one way or another.

Which leads us to storytelling, woo! The one part I almost completely ignored until very recently. You read that right: I tend to obsess over details such as style and forget the big picture. Besides, the story itself is the very reason I started writing in the first place, it should be pretty straightforward, right? Yeah… not so much.

There are many ways to break down storytelling. Larry Brooks breaks it down in 6 core competencies: concept, characters, theme, structure, scene and voice. I prefer to break it into smaller chunks: concept, characters, conflict, setting, theme, voice, tone, structure, scenes and audience. Although this last element is much more abstract than the others, there is something to be said about the wisdom of perfectly adapting your story to your target audience.

Knowing this helps me self-assess my own storytelling skills to know what my weak points are.

It also helps with estimating a story’s difficulty. If you’re a learner like me, consider that if your first attempt at novel writing is a high-concept high fantasy series, featuring characters with mental health disorders and an unreliable narrator… you might as well try to self-diagnose cancer. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just saying you might not have the tools to make sure you got it right.girl-5-copie

A good educational approach is generally to focus on one difficult element at a time.

The good news is that in today’s world, the amount of self-help available is virtually limitless. It can come in the form of how-to books, writing blogs and websites (I’m a fan of Writer’s Digest), creative writing courses or workshops, etc. Reading extensively also helps a lot. But then you also have to write, try things, experiment, have fun. Awesome! Those are all of my favourite activities!

I’m leaving you on one of my favourite quotes by one famous author I unfortunately can’t fully appreciate (I’m sorry; I get why he’s great, but then he’s so depressing).

It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.
—Ernest Hemingway

Thanksgiving Day

It’s this time of the year again – well, in Canada. In my family, we celebrate it much like our southern neighbours with a family reunion and a hearty supper composed of traditional Thanksgiving dishes.

I also take this time to reflect on the past year and the good things that happened.

This year, I have much to be thankful for. I have come a long way in my quest for happiness, which I could also call coming to peace with who I am, or even finding who I am.

In February, I gave up writing. My job and my husband’s work schedule making me feel like a single mother were draining me. Also, after 14 years of trying to write a novel and never being able to cross the threshold of the first 30,000 words of any of my novels, I had lost my confidence. I thought something in my personality was inherently working against me in my writing endeavors. If that sounds depressing, well it might be because I had stopped taking my antidepressants not long before that.

Ironically, I lost my job on March 1st. I say ironically, but being a bit of a believer in signs, it felt like life’s way of telling me I had gone astray and needed a push to go back on the right path. The job loss was ok. I had employment insurance benefits and desperately needed a break. We had moved in our house the preceding summer and it had been a mess ever since. So with all my new free time, I first did a lot of cleaning in the house and I planted flowers and vegetables in my backyard. I admit, though, that I also indulged in Netflix binge-watching.

Then I reflected on what I was going to do with my life. I am a translator and there aren’t as many teleworking opportunities as you might think. I could have tried to go back to freelance, but I desperately lack the marketing skills.

I wandered. I wanted to focus on my career, to find my calling. I have a bachelor’s degree in translation, but I have a love-hate relationship with that career. The salary is decent, but the job opportunities in the closest city are rare, and working from home makes me lonely after a while. And I’m not even talking about the 60-hour work weeks in February and March.

I studied different things. I even registered for university classes thinking I might like to become a speech therapist. I also fantasized about running away and start over with a blank slate. During all that time I wanted to write, and I thought about writing, and I played my stories in my head, but I felt it was a waste of time. It wasn’t taking me any closer to a good career. Writers who can make a living of writing are superhumans, or so I’ve been led to believe.

I had already given up on writing, and it had been so hard and soul-crushing that retracing my steps sounded like a bad thing to do. But had I really completely given up? Why did it make me feel so bitter? Why did I suddenly, for the first time since I healed from depression, feel like I had no purpose in life? I was such a bad mother. Such a bad wife. It’d be better if I just disappeared.

But I wasn’t clinically depressed then so “disappearing” didn’t mean death; it meant running away. I could move to another country, get a stress-free job and live alone. Living alone, I’d have all the time in the world to… write. I wanted to write. I  needed to write. It’s encoded in my DNA: I’m a writer.

I realized that for me, writing was its own reward. It didn’t have to be a potential job, jobs aren’t fun anyway. It’s already my favourite hobby and my most effective form of therapy. I think that’s enough for a single activity.

It was an awakening. If I didn’t aim at publishing, my books didn’t have to be perfect. I didn’t have to have “performance anxiety”. I could just write for the sake of it. I dusted my favourite work in progress (I’ll code name it Daffodil because the idea for this book sparked while I was playing with daffodils with my niece) and started to address its structural deficiencies. Suddenly, it hit me. I don’t know how that could have escaped my grasp for so long: structure was my definite weakness.

I knew the basics, but that was it. So I googled how-to books on structure and purchased Story Engineering and Save the Cat! If like me you think Story Engineering‘s cover is plain-borderline-ugly, know that it represents well the writing it contains, BUT the content was helpful for me. I haven’t read Save the Cat! yet, but I vetted it heavily. I’m sure it will be helpful too. I also stumbled upon Jami Gold’s useful beat sheets.

Using that new knowledge, I started to try organizing Daffodil. After a few days of hard work and little to show for it, it struck that starting to use my new and untried novel-organization skills on a series of 5 books wasn’t exactly the best educational approach (and I won’t even mention all the other reasons making this project my most complicated so far). I filed Daffodil again and dusted another project: let’s code name it Guilty Pleasure for obvious reasons.

Guilty Pleasure is a standalone romance written in English. Standalone means easier to organize and less complicated plot. Romance means no complicated world building or journey and also out of my “main” genre, which is fantasy. Written in English means I can’t stress on the prose too much because I don’t master English nearly as well as I do French. Finally, the plot is so very cliché that I just can’t hope it is eventually going to become a masterpiece.

During online research, I also found the Twitter Monthly Challenges: write 500 words a day every day. It seemed doable, so I signed up for Twitter to join the challenges. I received a warm welcome from the participants and I started interacting with many of them on Twitter. It’s motivating to see everybody’s word count. It reminds me of those days when I worked in an office and how the sound of other translators typing on their keyboard kept me motivated.

All of these life events, lessons learned and tools combined made me much closer to reaching my goal of finishing a first draft at last. So I’m thankful for all of them – layoff included even though it is rather inconvenient in itself.

Of course I’m also thankful for having a healthy daughter, a loving husband and a comfortable home, but I don’t have to take one day towards the end of the year to be thankful for that; that’s more of a daily activity.

Alright now, enough talking about my life! Next week I will share my thoughts on the skills necessary to write good fiction.

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
– Oprah Winfrey

Featured image posted by Avia Venefica on Flickr and cropped by me.

Eeda… Oakland?

What the heck kind of name is that?

It’s an acronym of my real name. Ida has Greek and German origins. Auclond is made up, but I thought it sounded classy. What can I say? I’m a word lover. When there’s a word I don’t like, I change it. Even if it’s my own name. I’m a free spirit like that.

So, who am I then? I’m a writer. Not insane. Well, not particularly sane either, but at least I don’t have to live in a psychiatric hospital… anymore. I’m 28 and I live in a small town in Canada’s untamed French-speaking province with my husband and our daughter.

Okay… and what do you write?

Fiction – mainly novels – in different genres. My current project is a realistic post-modern romance. It’s a standalone aimed at 16+ women scheduled for publication on Wattpad in February. Among my favourite work in progress are a YA fantastique* trilogy (because I’m unambitious like that) and a coming of age high fantasy series of 5 books (talk about unambitious… this one will probably never see the light of day).

*Fantastique is a French term for a literary genre that overlaps with horror and fantasy. What is distinctive about fantastique is the intrusion of supernatural phenomena into an otherwise realist narrative. I guess it could otherwise be described as “dark urban fantasy”, but inserting a French term and writing a 60 words definition is so much more economical… or not.

What will you talk about here?

Books: I will endeavour to publish one book critique every first Sunday of the month. I want to try focusing on indie books, but… it might be a challenge for me. I’ll talk more on that subject later. October will be the exception to the rule, since I am posting my self-introduction instead.

Writing: I plan on sharing my favourite writing tools, writing books, and writing strategies. I might post a short story or two. We’ll see if I can manage to remain within the 7,500-word limit.

Life experiences: Sometimes I get philosophical or introspective, so I will post about life experiences. There might also be an occasional article on things I like and things that inspire me.

When will you post?

I will start by publishing once a week on Sundays and see how it goes.

Who’s your target audience?

Fellow writers of all ages, bookworms and… really anyone who shows interest in my rambles. My goal in creating this blog is to connect with people sharing my interests. In the comments of this post, I allow you (and even encourage you) to share any blog you own or enjoy that mainly focuses on fiction.

Where can I stalk you?

On Twitter, Instagram, WattpadFacebook and Pinterest, though for now I am mainly active on Twitter.

This is it for today. Have a good week!

“Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.”
― Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s