WIP Marathon February check-in

Yeah, you read that right. February. That’s how I roll.

Actually, that’s how I rolled last month. Next time around should be more prompt. A last-minute weekend jaunt to London, followed by our annual March-let’s-get-some-sun-before-rickets-sets-in holiday, this time to the Canary island of Fuerteventura, sort of took over. I was still working, I just didn’t get around to posting about it, though if I could choose one or the other, writing wins over writing about writing every time.

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That said, my February check-in has arrived!

Last report word count: 113,431

Current report word count: 120,600 — bearing in mind that I’m on a sort of second draft right now, cleaning up the first draft hot mess and smoothing out some side plots and world building before sending it to CPs/betas. I don’t have a goal word count for this, but in the end I’d be happy around 100-110k. It’s become a bit more epic than I intended, but I *always* prefer to have lots of padding to work with when I get to the serious edits later on down the road, so I’m pleased with this!

WIP issues this month: I’ve had surprisingly few stumbling blocks, but there are things . . .  like a scene I wrote within my outline parameters, but then threw in a twist at the end. Some characters open a chest in another character’s chambers, and they’re shocked by what they find.

Why did I do that? I had no idea what was inside, and just left the scene that way and carried on. Now in this 2nd draft, I’ve had to puzzle out what of significance they could’ve discovered. Last night, I succeeded. But I tend to work like that! It’s not very organised and for someone as Type-A as I can be, that’s bizarre. But I’m learning that the way I work in writing is not indicative of the way I work in other matters 😉

Four things I learned this month in writing:

1. This I actually learned in reading: the thing that makes me enjoy a book isn’t how perfectly the opening scene is crafted (though a first scene has quite an impression and a lot of responsibility), but the characters and their choices, above all else. One of my holiday reads had an opening scene that made me think it would be a fluffy, one-dimensional tale of one-dimensional characters. Which isn’t good, but this book had such hype, and the subject matter interested me so I pressed on. I’m glad I did! I LOVED the book. So while opening scenes are weighty indeed, I only saw how it fit the story and characters as I read on. On its own, it made me literally wrinkle my nose. But in the end, it all worked together.

2. This isn’t something new, but a necessary reminder! I have a tendency to say the same thing in 2 or 3 (or, geez Louise, sometimes 4) different ways. I don’t know why. I think my brain feels this idea is so *deep* that the reader won’t get all that I’m trying to convey if I don’t describe it from multiple angles. But you know what? That doesn’t really matter. Different readers will always take different views of your words. Nailing a feeling, a vibe, or that one key feature is great. If they don’t get every last little nuance you want to impart, the story goes on. Just nail the key, and trust the reader (ie, get over yourself 😉 Less is often much, much more. They will fill it in with their own experiences just fine.

3. Some great tips on foreshadowing, by K.M. Weiland here.

4. And again, this is obvious, but sometimes the obvious things are the things I need reminding of the most: mystery = compelling. I wrote this on a Post-it and stuck it on my corkboard. Every scene needs to have something, no matter how small, that compels the reader to keep reading. Sometimes I get caught up in ticking all the plot boxes that I forget the simplest goal of each scene is to make the reader care, whether through a budding curiosity, a heart-twisting cliff-hanger, or a shocking revelation. There’s gotta be a question of who, what, where, when, or why, or you lose the reader.

What distracted me this month while writing: Piriformis Syndrome. I think this is what I have, coupled with some sciatic nerve nastiness. I’m calling it Writer’s Ass. I’ve had a shooting cold sensation down my right leg, which moves around and wavers in intensity (sometimes disappears! Like it did for the entire week we were in F’ventura!). I’ve been seeing an osteopath and a physical therapist for awhile now and I think we’ve narrowed it down. So. Strengthen the glutes. And I’ve just ordered a kneeling chair. I’ve used them before and they’re great. I’m praying it helps this because I can sit still for so long but the cold sensation can be so intense, it’s hard to think about anything else. No stretch or ibuprofen or hot bath or anything makes it go away when it’s happening, but sometimes I’ll get a few days’ reprieve. Argh.

Goal for next month: I’ve foolishly signed up for Camp NaNo. I’ve no idea how I’m going to write 50k in April when I’m still working on finishing this 2nd draft of NEVERSEA.

Last 250 words: (A random selection from February. Still first draft.)

Then he saw the front door clearly, the same chintzy white curtains hanging in the bay window that he’d meant to replace but believed there’d always be time. And all these years later, he didn’t regret that the time they’d shared had been spent enjoying each other, rather than mundane chores like redecorating. Seeing those curtains now filled his heart with new purpose, like a royal banner being raised, whipping wildly in the winds of decision. He would take time now for those things she wanted — they wanted — to make their home one that reflected the love they had. And the time they’d lost.

The truth will set you free. Wasn’t that what they said? The truth of his otherness would be breathed by his voice, proven by his native form, and all the cover-ups he’d shamefacedly doled out to her would come undone. He didn’t expect her to understand, or to love him still. But the fantasies had given him the guts to come this far.

The moment was here. The jig was up. He knocked on the door, a door like a hundred others in a hundred London suburbs, but as his flesh connected, it could’ve been a silkenstone gate to a palace of crystal and diamond and cut-glass beauty that would only shimmer in his sight. Of all the wonders the cockatrice had seen in his long life on both sides of the fissures, this door and — more importantly — what waited beyond, was incomparable.

A dog’s bark came from inside, followed by the sound of a chair scraping the kitchen floor. His heart thumped like a wild hare beating the burrows to announce the presence of danger.

Anna was allergic to dogs.

– – –

Good luck with March! What’s left of it 😉

White Saharan sands <3
White Saharan sands <3
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#WIPMarathon 12: January

Hello! You may have noticed my blog theme has changed. My old background decided to go offline and I’ve not had time to customise this new theme, but it works for now.

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View from Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth, Cornwall, Monday sunrise. <3

 

So our first WIP Marathon check-in for 2015 is here and it’s been my most productive month in awhile — my most non-NaNo month I should say.

I just returned from a 5-day writing getaway in Falmouth, Cornwall (where I went to uni) and it was such a refreshing and invigorating time that I’m pretty much sold on the idea of trying to do it a few times a year. I’ll post about how it went and writing holidays in general in a day or so.

On to WIP Marathon!

Last report word count:

80,936

Current report WC:

113,431

Yes, that means I wrote 32,495 words in January!! This is truly AMAZING and I hope I can keep this up, given how sluggish parts of 2014 were. This year is off to a fabulous start!

This WIP is an adult fantasy, the bulk of which was drafted during NaNo. My goal at the end of December was to finish the first draft in January. I got a shedload written in Falmouth, but yesterday, the last day of January, I managed a whopping 8,889 words in one 24-hour period.

I took plenty of breaks, went to the gym, watched several Sex & the City eps with dinner, and kept coming back to it and somehow, got my climax scene written. It helped that I had a list of beats and all the revelations that had to come out in the end. I somehow write better when I get up every 30 minutes and do something else for 5-10 minutes in between.

WIP Issues This Month:

I struggled with the last scene. I spent all Saturday trying to write it but it didn’t want to come, and I think it was because I was trying to force it in a setting I didn’t know and couldn’t picture well. It felt nowhere near as spectacular as it could be. So I changed the setting, and the characters found their voices in it a lot easier.

Four things I learned this month while writing:

1) If a scene isn’t flowing, take a muse break. Watch TV, a film, get some exercise, read a book. Or do what I did and change the setting.

2) I can’t begin to list all the things I’ve learned from rereading Susan Sipal’s fantastic A WRITER’S GUIDE TO HARRY POTTER. If you’re an HP fan, check it out. It uses endless examples of how JKR made HP so addictive and believable and rich.

3) Revelatory dialogue at a chapter’s end can be a good thing. A sudden and surprising piece of info coming out of a character’s mouth can focus in on the character and their secrets, and build suspense for the next scene (if done properly, of course). Someone recently told me this doesn’t work, but I just read MAKE A SCENE by Jordan Rosenfeld and she addresses this exact technique. And her explanation made more sense to me than the other person’s argument 😉

4) Regarding internalisation/inner dialogue: Instead of telling readers what the character is thinking, show it. Sounds simply put that way, but read this amazing post by the always awesome Janice Hardy. I really struggle with falling back on internalisation has a bad habit, and this really clarified it for me. I’m finally become hyper-aware of when my POV character is dithering over an action rather than just TAKING it.

What distracted me this month while writing:

I had writing and life issues in general because I jacked my back over Christmas — possibly just prolonged bad posture at the computer, or a dodgy yoga pose, or something. I saw an osteopath and physio TWICE each. It’s nothing major, I just need to keep up with stretches and get up every half hour. But when it’s bothering me, it feels like the back of my right leg, from my butt down to my foot, is really cold. Not to the touch, but inside. Very unpleasant and ridiculously hard to concentrate when it’s happening, but when I’m running or walking, I don’t seem to notice it. Going to keep up the osteo visits and hopefully get it sorted out.

Goal for next month:

One complete read-through and first revision of this WIP done, and hopefully have sent it off to some CPs/betas by then.

Last 200 words:

I’m going to hold off on this, given that my last scene was . . .  well, my last scene. But next month when I’ve done a round of revisions, I’ll be happier to share something then 🙂

Hope it was a productive month for all my fellow WIPMarathoners, and I’ll be posting soon about my writing holiday experiences, and how I managed to write 14k+ in one week (when I’ve been a snail for most of the year).

Happy February!

 

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What I Did in 2014: WIP Marathon Edition

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This isn’t technically late since today’s my first day back at my desk. The Scotsman and I had a relaxing 2-week holiday in Scotland over Christmas and New Year’s, despite the fact I had a chest infection the entire time. But I survived, and was well enough to ring in the New Year at Edinburgh’s amazing Hogmanay festivities.

The Scotsman had never been before (despite being a Scotsman), and I’ve always wanted to check it out. We picked the best year to go as it was in the 40s and *dry*. We wandered my favourite city during the day, had dinner at an old favourite (La Lanterna on Hanover, though it seems to have been taken over by new owners and may no longer be my favourite, but was still nice), then attended the Candlelit Concert at St. Giles’ Cathedral.

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We then explored the street party, vendors, food & drink (mulled wine & crepes, mmmmm), and spent most of the evening at the Ceilidh, which was good fun if a bit crowded for some of the more complicated dances 😉

I hope 2014 was full of blessings for you, and here’s a toast to 2015 being more joyful, more celebratory (of big AND small moments), more peaceful, and your best year yet!! <3

On to the year’s writing round-up…

Things I’m Glad I Did In 2014:

  1. Through my frustrating mystery illness (a very fiddly case of acid reflux), I learned and re-learned a LOT. The illness caused 6+ months of panic, stress, anxiety, and soul searching, but I am so glad for what I learned and am still learning through it, the biggest lesson of which is that worry & fear don’t prevent death; they prevent life. I’ve got to trust in what I have faith in, breathe deep often, and relax as much as possible, even when I’m working.
  2. All the fun events I planned that turned out to be the highlights of a very difficult year: in February I saw Taylor Swift live in London, in March we went on holiday in Cyprus, in May we hiked in the Highlands for our anniversary, in June we saw Monty Python live in London, in July we visited my family in New York, in October we attended Destination Star Trek in London and I met every main ST: TNG cast member (except Jonathan Frakes, who sadly had to cancel) — which was a mega-dream-come-true. My year was full of amazing experiences, and I’m grateful.
  3. Joined the WIP Marathon crew and was introduced to some very dedicated, encouraging, talented, and friendly writers, with special thanks to Ifeoma Dennis, who continually encourages and inspires me! I’m so grateful for you all!
  4. NaNoWriMo. It was my 4th time, but the first time I really saw what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it. It was a huge boost, to my WIP and my confidence.

In 2015, I’d love to:

  1. Release the worry, fear, and anxiety. Let peace & joy define my life, instead of negative thoughts. Meditate on the lessons I’ve learned until they “drop from my head into my heart”.
  2. Complete a total of 2 books.
  3. Expect and look for good things, instead of expecting, fearing, and dreading bad.
  4. Draw closer to my writing buddies, whether online or in person, and continue supporting each other!

 

Last report wordcount:

73,000.

Current report WC + CC/ SC:

80,936. Pretty good considering CHRISTMAS.

WIP Issues This Month:

Zip, but reminding myself that first drafts are for me. subsequent drafts will reach others’ eyes, so many changes to come.

Four things I learned in 2014 while writing:

  1. Time to refresh and rejuvenate, read and play games, and explore other peoples’ worlds is an absolute must for creating and populating my own.
  2. Jot down or Evernote all the little ideas, photos, articles, names, words — anything that pops into my head. You never know when something seemingly insignificant can prompt an entire character — or entire world. One single writing prompt posted on Google+ in the Write Motivation group last year sparked my current WIP.
  3. I can’t work effectively by strict schedules; I seem to do better by daily goals, i.e. aim for 1k a day, gym/workout 3x a week, etc. Rather than, “Between 9 and 9:30 I shall be doing this!” I’ve tried that over and over. Just doesn’t cut it for me!
  4. From a CP/friend: you don’t need them all. You just need one. And everything can change in a day.

What distracted me this month while writing:

Christmas, chest infection, Scotland. In that order. And absolutely none of this:

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Goal for next month:

1k a day. And hopefully, this WIP first draft will be finished!

Last 200 words:

(X-ing out some words since this is the start of a rather pivotal secret-revealing scene)

Luma paced the room, having re-read the yellowed letter half a dozen times before stuffing it in her jeans pocket. She needed to return to Cornwall, but she’d only just arrived and had all but depleted her student loan for the month. She had a credit card which she hated to use, but if now wasn’t an emergency, what was?

She hadn’t ever worn the necklace to sleep before, despite her penchant for napping whenever a spare moment presented itself. Her sister used to say Luma would sleep through life if she could get away with it, but that was unfair; she’d always believed time was precious, even as a child. Sleeping had simply seemed the best remedy when her vision disturbances got to be too much.

Maybe she was making it all up, the images in her dream and—no they were more than dreams, more like an awareness beyond sight. She knew it, in her heart, the way you know before you open the curtains that a new snow has fallen in the night, pockmarked now with footprints of early morning dog-walkers and creatures that stirred while the city slept. She could sense its truth. And the truth was this: XXXXXXXXXXX. Gildas had been on to something, after all. She had XXXX, just like Nelwenna Carbis. She had seen her parents, XXXXX, and this was their story.

– – –

On to an amazing 2015!

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NaNo Thoughts (WIPMarathon #10)

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Hooray!!

High-fives for everyone who worked on NaNo this year and came out victorious — and by victorious, I mean, got words down and learned a thing or two. I wrote over 50k on a first draft that I began earlier this year (but set aside to work on edits), and learned that I can crank out, on average, 1200 words in 30 minutes, if I have even a vague game plan for the scene(s). I have the wonderful Susan Dennard and her hashtag #NaNoDaydreamers to thank, big time. Somehow, knowing that there are others out there all “sprinting” together for half-hour chunks gets me pumping out words faster than if I’m sitting alone. Even with a timer, it’s not the same as writing alongside others. And a big shout-out to my encouraging, inspiring writer buddy Jody Neil Ruth for being an AMAZING sprint partner, and keeping me on my toes! (“Let us go forward together” :).

Writing does NOT have to be a solitary event!

This is my 4th NaNo but I think this year has really driven home that statement to me. Particularly as this has been a very difficult year for me, personally, and just recently, the Scotsman has pointed out that I don’t have the feedback and the recognition for what I do that I used to have. I’m not currently working outside the home, and I’m no longer at university. At uni, I thrived on feedback from the lecturers. Probably in an unhealthy way, I’m the first to admit, but that pushed me to do the best job possible. Decent jobs gave me the same feedback, and for better or for worse, I thrive off it. Even if it’s just a monosyllabic acknowledgement that I did something. I can’t lie; I miss it.

Unfortunately, when I’m sitting in my home office and have no such “boss” or authority figure handing out deadlines and feeding back to me, the stress and anxiety piles on. I love my stories, and writing is what I feel most passionate about doing, and has been for a long time. I’m so grateful for my amazing, hard-working CPs. But at this point, I’m still agent-less, and only CPs, betas, and friends are reading my work. It’s very hard to feel I’ve accomplished much at the end of the day, each day, even if I’ve written 5k+ and feel on fire with my character or the latest plot twist. I *do* write for me; the stories I write are stories I’d want to read. So don’t get me wrong — I get a LOT of satisfaction out of it. But I’ve just recently realized that there is that feedback, that professional interaction, that I’m missing. I’m a people pleaser, and I’m thrilled if my stories make me happy, but I dream of a point where they’re making other people happy, too, just as the stories that come into my life bring me joy and entertainment, thought-provoking concepts and beautiful prose, and characters who feel like friends.

I’ve learned during NaNO 2014 that I not only write better while writing “alongside” others, I feel better.

. . . To that end, I’m looking for another CP to work with — preferably someone who loves Tolkien, all kinds of SFF, and reads widely in other genres. If anyone knows anyone who’s looking for another CP/beta to befriend, please let me know 🙂

On to WIPMarathon!

Last report wordcount + chapter count/scene count: Oh gosh. I haven’t done this in MONTHS. Like I said. Crazy year. Before November, I had about 23,000 on the current WIP.

Current report WC + CC/ SC: Thanks to NaNo, I now have over 73,000 words on this WIP! Now, I need to aim for this *every* month.

WIP Issues This Month: No biggies, surprisingly! Since I already knew where the first 3/4 of the story was going, I was able to sit down with an idea for a scene and pound it out. I did realize that I spent a lot of the day THINKING about writing, and then when I sit down, like I said, I write about 1200-1300 in a half hour. It’s rarer that I sit down for 3 hours and write 5k, but I did it a few times. I’d like to be able to do it more.

Four things I learned this month in writing:

1) I draft easier when I feel part of a team/group. Not because we’re competing, but because I know we all want to do our best, and I don’t feel so alone.
2) Simply put, I CAN crank out 5k in a day, when I know where the scene is going. Even if just the most basic idea.
3) Writing dialogue is where it’s at for understanding characters. As DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE author Laini Taylor put it,

“Dialogue is the place that books are most alive and forge the most direct connection with readers. It is also where we as writers discover our characters and allow them to become real. Get them talking.”

4) First drafts are for the writer; subsequent drafts are for others. So use the first draft to figure it all out, and wait until the revisions to worry whether it will all make sense to the reader.

What distracted me this month while writing: Nothing I want to bring y’all down with here. Suffice it to say December will be much better, and 2015 will be AMAZING. So much to be thankful for.

Goal for next month: Finish the first draft of A SIGHT OF NEVERSEA!

Have a great rest of your Thanksgiving weekend, my fellow Americans! <3

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Embrace the Pants.

Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, last month
Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, last month

This is the first time I’ve done NaNoWriMo and been ahead of the required daily average, which in itself has been a huge motivating boost. When I feel like I’m doing good, I tend to keep doing good. But I think that’s part of human nature. The same goes for negative thoughts, moods, days. Either way can snowball.

I already had several chapters drafted for my novel this NaNo — cheating, I know — but it was perfect timing. So without reviewing the scenes already written, but glancing at the 3-act structure/timeline I drew out earlier in the year, I’ve managed to so far double what I had.

The big revelation for me, though, was something I’ve tried to deny for a long time:

I’m never going to be a devoted Plotter. 

Plotting has my respect. After reading so many fabulous, talented, hard-working writers describe their various methods for outlining, planning, getting every single duck in a row without a feather out of place, I was certain this was the way for me. I’m a bit type-A. I was a perfectionist at uni, which paid off. But I love doing research so much, I could get lost in it for a YEAR if I decided I needed to have everything figured out before I put a word on the page. I get way too carried away with lists and planning of lists and lists about planning my lists that I struggle often to just DO (like this brilliant article talks about, comparing life to The Sims).

But I kept pushing myself to be a plotter. Have it all figured out. To the point where I was forcing myself to hand-write a notebook page before each scene, describing what it would entail.

That is wonderfully thorough, if you can do it, and I completely agree with the value. In fact, if it works for a particular scene I’ve already got in my head, great! But for the most part, this ended in frustration, like I HAD to fill up a notebook page with a list of 10 questions answered before I could actually, you know, WRITE the thing (“What does the MC want? What’s in her way? What will happen if she doesn’t get it? What color is the sun’s hat on a Wednesday in December?”)

Those are (mostly) very important questions that need answers. But I’m learning that at the first draft stage, as the great Chuck Wendig tweeted,

“First draft is for you. Second and later drafts are for them.”

And in the first draft, I’m finally comfortable in knowing the minimum. Whose POV, where does the scene begin, and what’s one important thing that needs to happen. Everything else somehow seems to get figured out along the way. At least, it has so far this month!

The niftiest result of embracing the plotting/pantsing hybrid — apart from the relief of letting go of someone else’s awesome method that doesn’t work great for me — is IDEAS. Characters I hadn’t dreamt of, motivations I didn’t expect, secrets I didn’t know they held, it’s all just flowing. But if I sat down and told myself, “Right. I’ve got to write about what this scene will do for my story,” it puts heavy restrictions on me that I can’t seem to see past. I don’t know why. That’s just how my brain works.

It helps, like I said, that I’d planned the major characters and world-building and beginning and end and biggest secrets before I started writing. But the bottom line is I can admire what works great for someone else, but I can’t force it on myself. Most people already know that, but I’m a slow learner.

After all this time, I’m finally understanding how I work best. And that means embracing the pants. So if you’re reading this and feeling so inspired by others’ fabulous methods to the madness of writing but can’t seem to make them work for you? Take what you can and make it your own — and be happy when you know what works.

Happy NaNoing! 🙂

 

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