WIPMarathon Report #2 – March

Hooray for WIPMarathon!

I’m so glad we’re continuing to check-in with each other, mostly on Twitter right now but also with monthly blog posts to note our progress on our respective current manuscripts. Lately, I really appreciate accountability for much-needed motivation.

Having said that, however, I am officially a week late on this, but my excuse is I was in London last weekend and then this week seemed to be playing catch-up no matter what I did.

On Waterloo Bridge
On Waterloo Bridge

Last report wordcount + chapter count/scene count: This time last month, I was still in the idea sketching stage. So, a month has passed . . . I must be WORLDS ahead by now, eh? EH?! 

Current report WC + CC/ SC: A month later — words: 13,195; chapters: 3; scenes: 6. Draft #1 is on its way. Slowly. I hope it picks up the pace.

WIP Issues This Month: As I’m now keeping a spreadsheet in Google Docs containing notes on what I set out to accomplish each day versus what I DID accomplish, I can actually look back and answer these questions with some accuracy. This is the first time I’m starting a MS with a 3-act structure diagram and (vague-ish) outline from the get-go. Each day before I sit down to type out a scene, I’m trying to sketch a brief outline with ideas for what NEEDS to go in the scene, in a notebook. I’m hoping this gets me into a kind of routine that helps push me forward each day (thanks to Susan Dennard‘s recent blog series).

The problem I’m finding is that not every scene has an obvious “magical cookie” (i.e. the thing that makes you really excited to write that particular scene). I agree with Susan that each scene SHOULD because of the old, “If it’s boring to the writer, it’ll be boring to the reader” maxim. I believe that 100%. Susan says that if you can’t think of a magical cookie for a certain scene, go back to your original inspiration for the story in the first place, and find it there. This is excellent advice, but I’ve not been doing it. I’ve been trying to force a cookie out of thin air. So I need to work on that.

St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral

Four things I learned this month in writing:

1) Reading books you once adored and thought were the BOMB is healthy — because you might realise you no longer think that. Or you might learn what specific things you loved about them, but where they went wrong that you were idealising all this time. It’s healthy! Though a little disenchanting.

Example: I’m rereading a book that was one of my favourites in my early teens. I haven’t read it since I was about 20. It’s a re-telling that expands on someone else’s characters; sort of an old-school fan-fic. What I loved about it all this time is the *characters*, the idea behind them, the gothic tone, and the historical reseach the author did. The prose and dialogue is actually rather elementary. It’s nowhere near as detailed as I remembered it. It’s a little bit of a let-down, but I’m glad I’m rereading it to find the gems that drew me to it in the first place. It’s nice to know I’m becoming more objective.

2) What kind of story should *you* be writing? I won’t sum this up but simply point you to a great article by the always wonderful Janice Hardy: http://diymfa.com/writing/writing-right-story

3) Don’t know why a scene is happening, or what its motives are? Find the love in the scene. Figure out what the characters love (what they want to happen), and you’ll figure the scene out. Brilliant and surprisingly simple advice from Biljana Likic over at Pub(lishing) Crawl: http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2014/03/28/motives/

4) When someone you really admire gives you compliments mixed in with advice (that you might not agree with)… and I mean, someone you REALLY admire, would love to get to know, etc. etc., take those compliments. This person is not a crit partner, nor a friend of a friend, but someone with a position to know what they’re talking about. Take those compliments, and move forward with them 🙂

What distracted me this month while writing: My sister had a baby (her third! A girl!), and thank God for Facetime 🙂 I had some disappointing news mixed in with the good that brought me low for about a week; I had my first (I think) migraine which lead to a week of panic about my eye health; and I had a weekend away in London. I also recorded my first Vlog this month, for Write Away! Lastly, I read the truly inspiring Jim Henson biography by Brian Jay Jones. For someone who grew up with the Muppets (only the originals, please!!) and Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, this is a must-read. It’s hugely inspiring especially for those in creative fields, and I found Jim’s eternal optimism, when when networks and critics panned his work, is as magical as his body of work. I found this distracting because I essentially spent a week watching Jim clips on YouTube and crying my eyes out.

If this video doesn’t move you, you have my sympathy!

Goal for next month: For real this time, I would like to have the entire first draft of this WIP completed by May. We’re already 5 days in to April so I need to get a move on, but I’ve at least made it to Act 2.

Last 200 words: (this is a very, very first draft!)

Without pulling her eyes from the heavens’ arresting mélange, she knelt to the ground, neck still craned. The stars took turns in their luminosity, one color intensifying before ebbing as another outshone it. It was a night sky ballet of twirling tulle and organza of light, donned in all shades of the rainbow. How long she had slept, how she’d fallen without major injury that she could suss, what time or even day it was — Luma knew none of it. She knew only this: she wasn’t in Cornwall. She wasn’t in Britain. And she wasn’t in her right mind.

She sat cross-legged, hugging her knees as though doing so hard enough would prompt the dark earth to swallow her up and spit her back out beside the engine house. Night sounds closed in; a susurrus of scuttling as though from a creature with too many legs, and the dissonant melody of wind rustling leaves filled her with frightful wonder. With unfamiliar constellations pirouetting above, and the inexplicably small barrow at her back, Luma at last took in the ruins of an enormous statue, its pieces dotting the clearing. The limbs were mammoth, and marble perhaps. Arms shot upright like macabre trees, and a giant head leaned crookedly in the center.

In the midst of her disorientation, of alien lights, no mine in sight, and a sense of otherness she could not escape, Luma’s prevailing worry was how Brielle would get to work without her car.

– – –

Thanks for stopping by!

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P.S. Had a fun weekend away in London with my lovely friend Lauri from uni. We saw Phantom from the 3rd row, frolicked along the river, and had many adventures (some of which included the ever-popular game of suitcases-on-the-Tube).

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No Day But Today

I’m nearing the end of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin, and it’s making me think a lot. I found the book in a very odd way – after our trip to Disney World in June, my husband randomly found a photo via Google of a couple going down Splash Mountain (our favourite ride) posing with a Jenga game. It’s a great photo. The woman in the photo ran 30candles.net, a “30 before 30” list, and one of the items was taking a ridiculous Splash Mountain photo (I know what I’m stealing for my “Before I’m 40” list ;).

ANYHOW, on her page she mentioned Rubin’s book, and I loved the whole idea – the list, the book, and the project. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. It’s not a one-size-fits-all book, but it’s got some fantastic ideas and how they played out in Rubin’s life.

The first thing on my list of notes taken from her book is this:

Nothing is insurmountable if you do what ought to be done, little by little.

No news flash there – it’s a summation of Dale Carnegie and a thousand others’ mantras, but as I say, it’s the first thing in Rubin’s book that put my pen to notebook. I’m learning this slowly over the last few years. The other week when the Scotsman and I climbed Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glencoe, it reminded me that the first time we climbed it, I was new to hillwalking. I was nervous, especially during the scrambling bit. But I kept telling myself, “This is like writing. One step at a time. Just do what’s right under my feet, and that’ll take me to the next bit. One step at a time.” And I was amazed, and so proud, when we finished. I’m not an unfit person but this was a big deal for me, mentally as much as physically, being afraid of heights, falling, and all the rest.

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It’s a sentiment shared widely in the writing community, particularly among those of us un-agented and unpublished, with good reason. Little by little, a word becomes a page, becomes a chapter, becomes a book. Then you start over… edit, revise, cut. But it is that simple. One word at a time. I have to remind myself of this – and maybe others are the same – because I’m one who gets all too easily overwhelmed in life. One step at a time.

“No Day But Today” is one of my favourite songs (from the musical RENT). I used it as the song my bridesmaids walked down the aisle to last year, before I entered the room (I walked to my favourite piece of music of all time, “Glasgow Love Theme” by Craig Armstrong), because I think the message is universal. There’s only now and here, and I can happily say that finally in my life, I’ve gotten to the place where I’m grateful for every day and try to get the most out of every moment I possibly can, because I’ll miss it when it’s gone – especially the smaller moments. I might only get one chapter edited today, or I might not get any done if another moment takes over. But the important part that this book has brought to mind is that any mountain can be overcome if you take one step at a time, and today is your best time to do that.

#Writemotivation Update

I’m actually on track! Hard to believe, I know…

1. Finish WIP revisions. Finished this last week. Now currently Cutting All The Words (flabby, weak, soft words, as highlighted by John Skipp on the LitReactor course I did in August).
2. Send to CPs. Sent full MS to one CP, another friend has read the first three chapters, and I think a third CP to read the entire thing would be brilliant.
3. Get back to routine! Doing this 🙂
4. WF x5. Done!

I hope you’re having a great September and accomplishing little by little whatever you want to do 🙂

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Severn Estuary, Portishead. Enjoying my last few runs in this neighbourhood.
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Don’t Give Up! #Writemotivation June Check-In

So I’m late again on my #Writemotivation check-in! What is #Writemotivation, you might ask, if you’ve somehow stumbled on this blog?

My first full MS paper edit. Scary. But good.
My first full MS paper edit. Scary. But good.

Check out the link. K.T. Hanna has masterminded a group of cheering, supportive, amazing, talented, and varied writers who all encourage one another through their monthly goals via blogs and Twitter. Now on Google+!

Last post I mentioned I started using the Pomodoro technique. I’m here to report after little over a week, it’s done wonders for my productivity. I’m using PomodoroApp, and it seems to be keeping me focused on one task at a time, as well as showing me how long it’s taken to do tasks. I’m not just using this for writing, though. Oh no. Everything’s gone on here – from job hunting to weekly cleaning chores to my consistently-behind Inbox to even-more-consistently-behind crit work. I may still be behind on some of these items, but it’s really been a big help. Check it out!

Two quotes this week which kind of tie in together. But first, an awesome video and song (and band) that I’m late to the party discovering but am in LOVE with now:

It conjures so many story ideas. I can’t get enough of it. (Even if they do kinda borrow the Patronus visual ;))

Querying & Quotes

For those of you querying right now – and possibly using the crap out of Query Tracker and Publishers Marketplace in the process – a few encouraging quotes. Feedback, polishing, revising, even rewriting. Don’t give up. If you love and believe in your story, and keep doing your best, I believe things will happen. You have to believe that, or there’s no point, right? Here are a few quotes that are in my head this week:

This from EliteDaily.com:

The difference between the successful minority and the general majority is simply that the former group keeps coming back stronger after each rejection, not letting anyone get to them and deter their efforts in any facet of life. They create no excuses or rationalizations, nor do they accept limits. Those are the people that know how to get what the want and apply the focus and discipline necessary to achieve their ends. They’re resilient, cool and collected. They end up winning.

I recommend the entire article. It can be applied to anything. It’s a great reminder to STOP with the excuses. Take whatever feedback I get about my writing, sift through it for the gold and let the rest go. Out of all the critical feedback (and I don’t mean snarky trolls on contests, etc. because those people will always exist. Don’t feed them. Don’t explain to them. Leave their meanness to their big old meanie selves and move on.) … I’ve forgotten what I was saying. Yes. Out of all the great feedback I’ve been given, I’d say a good 65% of it has truly applied, and made a big difference in a revision. The writing community is overflowing with people who want to help others, even if it’s just a shake of pom-poms.

Most fellow writers want to see your story shine, and will give you advice that if duplicated by others, you probably want to seriously consider. But even the feedback that surprises you, that you bristle at…. give it a shot. Consider how your story would be different if you followed their advice, and if that means writing out a paragraph with their suggestion and comparing it with your original, do it. It just might lead to a world of difference. The smallest suggestions by a recent editor who gave me advice on my first 4 chapters were the ones that made me look at things in a whole new light.

Me on the Isle of Staffa, Scotland, from our trip the other week.
On the Isle of Staffa, Scotland, from our trip last week.

Quote #2 from Max Lucado, one of my favorite inspirational authors, from his book GREAT DAY EVERY DAY:

Do you let anyone who knocks on your door enter your house? Don’t let every thought that surfaces dwell in your mind . . . Negative thoughts never strengthen you. How many times have you cleared a traffic jam with your grumbles? Does groaning about bills make them disappear? “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.” (Proverbs 4:23 NCV).

I don’t let just any Joe Blogs in my house, so why the heck do I let every thought that appears in my head linger and grow? So you got one rejection today. Or five. Don’t let those negative thoughts that want to tell you you can’t linger. Don’t let irrational worries hang about. Reject them. I’m trying to learn how. It seems revolutionary to think that I don’t have to let worries, fears, and negativity hang about. Why didn’t someone tell me this before? That, in fact, I’m the only one with the power to make them go away?

Write Motivation June Goals

1) Complete Revision #2 (paper revision) of WIP This is what I’m mostly focused on this month. I’ve never printed a complete MS before. This is scary but it’s amazing. For each chapter, I’m reading and making notes on the paper copy, making noted changes in Scrivener, and then either printing this revised copy to check for errors, or reading on the screen for errors. It’s slow, but I’m cutting so much fat. 
2) Find 2 CPs/betas willing to read as soon as this revision is done!
3) Rewrite synopsis This will come when I finish 1). Might happen this month, but might not, given the month’s craziness.

How’re you doing this month? If you’re not writing, are you working on any goals that you’d like to get in gear for the summer? GOOD LUCK! Try the Pomodoro Technique, if you’re struggling with focus like I’ve been. Have a great week 🙂

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Web surfing morning-after guilt, or inspiration?

Abandoned structures, particularly when surrounded by nature that’s trying to reclaim its real estate, are a big inspiration for me. This one’s in Snowdonia.

I realise we’re already on day 8 of August, but I’m going to post my writing goals for the month. This #writemotivation goal-posting habit I’ve is now becoming vital to upping my productivity. So I’ll just carry on and see if I can attain the same level of …a-hem… self-discipline (I can hear you snorting. I know… last month wasn’t a winner for me in how much I checked off my list, but I DID make some important progress).

So, what do I plan to accomplish by the end of this month? A much shorter list. This:

  1. Write to the halfway point of my WIP’s first draft.

That’s it. No overinflated idealistic notions of reading X amount of blogs, replying to emails in a daily, timely fashion (some of you have been waiting quite awhile – I seem to have an inbox/ADHD problem lately, and I do apologise! I read emails, plan replies in my head, and then, oh! Look! It’s not raining, I better go for a run! I’m so sorry!).

No pushing myself with a specific word count or hours spent writing per day. I would love to be like Stephen King and promise to have my first draft completed in 3 months (or was it 3 weeks? It’s been awhile since reading ON WRITING. Loved it, though. This made me laugh until I cried for a full twenty minutes one day, much to my husband’s confusion).

Last month I managed to finally squeeze out a synopsis from start to finish, making some major changes to my WIP and its world. Great! Now I need to implement so I aim to get to the midpoint (described in my new synopsis) – no matter how many chapters that makes it. If I can get to that point, I’ll be thrilled with myself. I’ll keep you posted.

As for the blog title, I love hearing about random things that inspires others – and by inspire I mean infuse your mind with scene and setting inspiration, character motivation, storylines, images … AS WELL AS the stream-of-consciousness clicking for which we all tend to have a bit o’ morning-after guilt.

Example: I just completely nerded out for the last 2.5 hours pouring over websites about the London Underground’s disused stations, abandoned buildings, old signage, and so forth, and this lead me to a whole host of articles and websites about air raid shelters during the Blitz which then lead me to read up on one of my favourite films and books, ATONEMENT (Ian McEwan), and Balham Station (who can forget that horrifying scene), and then I thought I’d check up on what Saorise Ronan and Romola Garai are up to over on IMDb. One thing leads to another and then I’m faced with the fact that I stopped writing about 3.5 hours ago.

I won’t go into too much detail, but it did remind me of how certain images seem to have greater power than others – not just to evoke emotions during films, a la the Balham Station scene in Atonement, but also to create one little idea that leads to another that leads to another that inevitably inspires a whole world in our head.

It reminded me of an article we read on my film course at uni by Barbara Klinger about the “arresting image” in film, referencing The Piano shortly after we watched that. (BTW, I just re-read this article now, 5 years later, and it reminds me of how much I wish I could get paid to analyse films from a theoretical standpoint for a living). So while I might feel guilty in the morning that I didn’t get as much writing done as I’d hoped tonight, I acknowledge there are times where this clicking around has triggered integral fodder for my imagination. Just don’t get too carried away, or you’ll be like me and wonder how WW2 research and the London Underground brought you here.

 

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Belief

Dave Clarke believed in people. A rare trait.

He worked in the British film and photography industries for nearly 40 years (would’ve been, in 2013). He was absolutely the loveliest chap you could ever hope to meet, always smiling, always ready with another classic story from his work experiences, and always, always had something positive to say. He was a camera and lighting instructor at University College Falmouth after many years at the BBC, and he was such a delight to listen to. Whenever I’d wander into the canteen he’d beckon me over to have a chat, and many times when I doubted myself (as a perfectionist mature student with OCD tendencies does quite often!) he could read it on my face. His comment was always, “One day you’re going to wake up and realise you’re as great as everyone else says you are.” What a guy. I didn’t know him personally very well, but we kept in touch after graduation a few times and it was great to see him still encouraging other students, though I believe he retired from teaching since I graduated.

Last week, he passed away. The wonder of the internet let me know this on Friday, and the comments from so many former co-workers and students alike on this shock reflect a picture of a man who touched everyone he met with kindness, intelligence, and humour. He made me feel special, but he made everyone feel that way.

While we talked about personal stuff as well as course work and industry stuff, he never brought negativity to the conversation. I’m sure he had his share of struggles, but to my outside perspective, it was as though his mission in life was to cheer other people up, and not just superficially, but to help them learn, and to make them see their strengths.

I’m very sad to hear of his loss, but I’m so grateful to have been honoured with knowing him for a short period of time.

Last week wasn’t great for a variety of reasons. I didn’t get far with my writing goals, got a spread of bad news ranging from unfortunate to downright awful, but I think about Dave and am really encouraged, despite the sad news. I don’t want a drop of Dave’s belief in me – no matter how insignificant I was to his world of knowing so many people (all richer for it) – to be wasted.

– – –

On to my July writing goals…

1. Finish new round of edits to MS #1.  Done.
2. MS #1 x5. Done. In fact, I sent more than 5, mainly because 2 were rejected nearly immediately. Fastest rejections in the world! Which added to my not-great-week… but see #6.
3. Finish edits to WIP to Chapter 9. This week!
4. Write 10k in WIP. Next week! (Okay, so I said that last week, but life happened.)
5. Balance job hunting with writing, CP/Beta work, and blogging. Be realistic! Moving along. 

Thanks to Authoress Anon’s Crit Partner “Dating Service” last week, I’ve got an inbox full of friendly and interesting people to reply to about work exchange. So far I’ve connected with two. I’m trying to be careful not to over-commit because I don’t want to let someone else down by being slow – but I am slow right now. It’s just a fact of life. I’m so excited and grateful to have two more potential betas/CPs! WOOHOO!! 🙂 Stuff to read and more people to bounce ideas around with!! I am SO needing this right now. Grateful to Authoress for running this great “service” as well 🙂

In the “last week I learned” category:

Sometimes you have to take that first chapter that you’ve written and re-written, trashed, re-written again, and just frickin’ start over. Maybe not all over, but I opened two windows in Scrivener, with my first chapter in the top. In the bottom, the dreaded white screen. I rearranged it into a more sensible order for a better flow. I killed several few darlings (which should never have been darlings) and generally tightened, and holy cow, did I feel BETTER. A lot of the phrasing was awkward but had been there, unchanged, for so long, my eyes just glazed over it every time I read through. Ever happen to you? I’d tweak around these phrases, but left them as they were for some stupid reason. I feel like I’ve seen the light!

As for the job stuff, mentioned in item #5: I had a friend in HR look over my CV and cover letter and job spec for a job I recently got the old standard form rejection from. This is my second attempt to interview at this company, whose ethos I really believe in. My friend affirmed what I thought about my application: that I’d obviously spent a long time tailoring it very closely, and it clearly matched all their requirements. She even went so far as to say it’s one of the impressive CVs she’s seen, which is certainly saying something! (Whether she was just being nice… 😉 But she did point out that I’ve had a few gaps in my work experience, and this has been due to taking time off to prepare to move from the U.S.A. to the UK, and then time in the UK when I wasn’t legally able to work, and then time at university when I didn’t want to do anything but focus on my studies.

So to that end, I’m going to make more of an effort to explain gaps in my cover letters, but also take her suggestion to contact companies in advance to ascertain whether I’m suitable to apply for the role with the dim hope they’ll remember me when my application comes through. How I do this may be tricky, but I want to give the impression that I am confident about my skills, because I am. I’m even more confident about my dedication and ability to learn on the job. I just keep praying that one of these days, a company I admire will give me the chance to see that, rather than shoot off a reply they’re sending to 300 others.

One of these days, right?

Until next time, good luck with your own weekly goals, writing, work, personal, or otherwise! 🙂 And if you know someone who injects your day with some sunlight, like Dave did for everyone else, give them a big hug or a high-five and tell them so. <3

The zinnia that believes it can, and will. The windy, cold & wet British summer this year has nearly destroyed it and yet flowers keeps trying to grow despite it. I want to be that flower! Persistent despite the ludicrous odds!

Special shout-out to Jamie Dement for listening to me vent and giving me very encouraging words 🙂 Thank you!

 

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