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NaNo Thoughts (WIPMarathon #10)

Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

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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When life hands you a butternut squash…

Confession: I’m failing at NaNo right now.

Prediction: This month will be incredibly important to both my most recent manuscript, and the one I planned to use November to sketch out.

Result: WIN anyhow!

The truth is, sometimes life hands you a butternut squash when what you really want is a pumpkin.

Case in point, my friend’s husband went in search of Halloween pumpkins for carving, and came home with a butternut squash. It was all he could find after trekking across various stores. Did he just give up? NO. That man bought it, brought it home, and they carved the best damned butternut squash jack o’ lantern I’ve ever seen 🙂

sid's pumpkin
The photo’s by me. Brilliant carving is by my lovely friends.

Apart from making me laugh, this story has been the theme for November. I regularly read blogs and how-to craft articles and books, clicking on Twitter links, or reading the blogs I subscribe to. But this month, I went for it. It was time for another serious growth spurt in my writing, and I wanted to nurture it before putting one. more. word. down. That was the squash life gave me. I certainly hadn’t planned it that way — no! I wanted to WIN WIN WIN! But a little voice said it was time for learning, not doing. No matter what the calendar tells me.

Everything I’ve read/listened to this month has had major effects on both the story I’m polishing, the one I’m plotting before throwing more words at, and all my future stories (maybe even my past ones…).

Here’s what I did:

1) Got hooked into Susan Dennard’s awesome series, How I Plan A Book. She’s the author of the SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY series, and is a kick-butt motivator. There are several parts to the series, and I highly recommend reading all of them (and taking notes). Her magic cookie concept, as well as her pointing to Rachel Aaron‘s earth-shattering reveal on how to write 10k a day, have changed my life.

2) Scoured the brilliant Janice Hardy‘s website for articles in how to handle internalisation, exposition, and backstory. These two stood out, but every article on her blog is an incredible tool for writing. Exposition can be filtered in – it has to be, especially in fantasy/sci-fi. We ARE in another world, and we do need to let the reader know how it works, and what its history is. She talks about how to add a character’s judgment/personal opinion to anything that sounds like telling that you can’t do without, to stop it from drying out your readers’ eyeballs. Among other gems.

3) Read Nathan Bransford‘s book – In case you haven’t heard, the man behind the hugely popular writing advice blog has a book, HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL. I loved how clear, concise, witty, and straight-to-the-heart this book is. I read it in one sitting and then re-read all my highlighted sections. Really puts things into perspective, and has a very helpful checklist on how to know when you’re done revising.

4) Listened to several hours of Writers’ Digest webinar archives – There are tons of video tutorials from past webinars on their website, and you can get a month’s worth of listening to as many as your heart desires for $25. I’ve “attended” a few of the webinars at the time, which usually comes with some critique of your work by the agent/pro who runs the webinar, but for a cheaper option, sans critique, you can pay 25 smackers and listen to as many as you want, pausing to take notes, etc. I wasn’t sure at first but you can listen to some 5-minute samples before taking the plunge. I’ve found it totally worth it – particularly for Chuck Sambuchino‘s tutorial on how to write a synopsis, agent Kathleen Ortiz‘s tutorial on querying, and agent Jim McCarthy‘s tutorial on “10 elements of a viable, lucrative novel”.

5) Revisited Query Tracker’s query forum. Post, critique, receive feedback. I’ve used it in the past and it’s been great, and it was wonderful to revisit, read others’ work, and receive feedback myself.

6) Joined Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror  I heard about this through Susan Dennard, and thought I would give it a go. Working with CPs and betas is one thing, but posting my work – whole chapters – for people to read and pick apart publicly always makes me squirm, but it’s great practice. Once you’re published, I imagine you must learn about squirming under public scrutiny on a WHOLE new level, and not only is it great practice, but I’ve read some wonderful stories and received great feedback. 

More than that, I traded feedback with a few people this month who’ve made me see the way forward for what would’ve been my NaNo story. I feel a lot more confident about starting this one out now, with some shiny new tools under my belt. That’s what makes writing fun for me — amongst the world building and character creation and tension plotting, I love that whenever I learn new tactics, or see something I’ve been doing wrong, it injects me with renewed passion.

If you’re looking for some new (or revisited) resources for inspiration and honing your skillz (with a Z), check any of the above out, and good luck with your pumpkin 🙂

 

Gratuitous Halloween shot . I am now the proud owner of a Starfleet uniform. Troi, eat your heart out.
Gratuitous Halloween photo. I am now the proud owner of a Starfleet uniform (phased out in late 2365).

 

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It’s that time again.

cuillins 2

Nana nana nana nana, NANO!

My sister introduced me to NaNoWriMo several years ago and since then, I’ve used it as a tool to gauge how I make use of my writing time the rest of the year. A lot of people will argue over the value of racing to get 50k written in a month. Don’t listen to them. It’s a great idea that helps lots of people get the words down, the people like me who work better under a deadline with a ticking clock than without such parameters.

Does everyone who takes part in NaNo believe they’ll have a bestseller come December, when they’ll immediately begin to query said masterpiece? Of course not. Maybe some do, but the NaNo critics should stop and realise that many people do know how things work, and take the opportunity for what it is – a chance to kick yourself in the butt and get moving. It’s that simple.

More than anything, I love the community that springs up around it every year. It’s hard to find time to constantly take part, but I love chatting and seeing the conversations on Twitter and blogs between writers who are so supportive of one another’s goals and dreams.

This year’s a bit different than last. Last year I had my story meticulously planned, and writing was a breeze. This year, I’m doing revisions on one MS, and with the recent move, I haven’t had time to put a single word down in advance. So while the vaguest plot was floating in my head with two very distinct characters, I didn’t type a word of it until Saturday. But already, I’m excited with what’s coming out in my plot sketch and first chapter. We’ll see how this goes…

About Time

The other week, we went to see this film as I’m not ashamed to admit I love Love, Actually and watch it religiously once a year. It contains my favourite piece of music of all time (which I walked down the aisle to), and was penned by the guy behind Black Adder, Richard Curtis (If you haven’t watched Black Adder from start to finish, DO IT. Hilarious, historical, and also, quite heartbreaking).

One of the things I loved about this film was that Bill Nighy’s character had all the time in the world, and what did he choose to do with it? Read. He admitted to reading every book a man could want to read. The more I think about that, the more I wish I had that chance. I’m a re-reader. I know that phrase splits a crowd down the middle. I’ve read certain books over ten times. I love reading new ones, don’t get me wrong! But when a world and its characters take me in like a friend, I don’t ever want it to end, and find myself returning for the cosy familiarity mixed with the wonders of uncovering new things each time.

If you could go back in time indefinitely, what book(s) would you want never to have to read for the final time?

My top votes would go to LOTR (the whole thing), Simon R. Green’s Forest Kingdom and Deathstalker series, Harry Potter — all of ’em, and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Of course, it’s easier to re-read picture books from childhood – I have a pile of these on my shelf that I’ve read since I COULD read, and opening them to revisit is relatively easy, but they’d make the list, too.

#WriteMotivation November

My goals:

1. Do Nano. Write 50k as a basis for new fantasy/sci-fi. Started, and on target.
2. Work on getting back into a daily routine after the Move That Took All Month. Trying. Adjusting sleep schedule again isn’t easy.
3. Spend majority of online social time encouraging others. Need to work on this!

I should also add, “Finish revisions on fantasy MS.” By next week, I hope to say this is the case. Good luck, fellow NaNoers!

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NaNoWriMo and November #WriteMotivation Wrap-up

I just realised my first #Writemotivation and NaNo post for November was saved as a draft . . . and never published. This is the ultimate example of how scattered my brain has been. My great ability to start things and not finish them has reared its head this year. Well, that’s quite enough of that. If nothing else, I hereby dedicate 2013 to be the year of finishing projects/tasks/goals I start, and being able to happily point at finished products before moving on to the next thing.

To everyone who wrote *any* words during November for NaNo, WELL DONE! A lot of friends and Twitterers have said they focused more on the quality of the words they wrote this year, as opposed to just throwing whatever up there in order to “win”, and I’m wholeheartedly in this camp. I think NaNo is an awesome motivator for people to get pen to paper and fingers to keyboard. It’s rewarding to be writing alongside others, even if they’re fellow storytellers we’ll never meet, and this is never more obvious to me than during NaNo, so thank you to everyone who shared encouraging words on Twitter 🙂

Writing Ahead of the Blank Wall

My goals for November #Writemotivation and NaNo were the same: add 50k to my WIP, A BREATH OF SILVER, and I succeeded. This time I tried something different though – I have the synopsis for the story down, all the pivotal story points and the ending, but it was the little details and connecting scenes that I began to struggle with halfway through the month. Some days I wrote nothing. Two weekends my husband and I were away so I got nothing down, but I secretly revelled in these excuses to take a break. Then I decided to do what someone suggested: write what I know right now. I wrote some pivotal scenes I’ve had simmering for awhile, and in doing so, on the spot I came up with details, characters, and side plots that I’ll have to explain later.

For instance, my MC–Bryn–travels from North London to Scotland in 1691. The last scene in chronological order I wrote was her arrival north of the border. Then when I blanked on what happens between her arrival in Scotland to her life at her ancestral clan’s Highland castle, I jumped several months ahead to her trying to fit in, what job she’s doing there, and what friends and rivals she’s made. That meant I immediately had to make up the peripheral characters and situations that would propel her to the next plot point: meeting a romantic interest and major character. It also means that the bits that will come in between her arrival in Scotland and her life at the castle are now sketched out, and backtracking to write these scenes will be much easier.

The point is, I think sometimes you need to move forward to fill the gap. It can be a massive chasm of unknown obstacles, characters, creatures, threats. There could be anything in there, particularly as this is first and foremost a fantasy. But when I jumped to the other side of that ravine, since I know what happens there, I can look back easier than I could look forward. I know some are totally against writing out of order, but I’m finding it really does get my creative juices flowing when I’ve reached a wall. So, you never know until you try. If you’re stuck, I recommend it! But probably only if you’ve got a solid overall synopsis constructed first.

It felt great to reach my goals this month for the first time in awhile, and special thanks to Leigh Caroline, Megan Peterson, and Andrew Patterson for encouragement, and Susan Dennard and Sarah J. Maas for their fabulous #NaNoWriMoBattle word sprints that seriously pushed me! Hope everyone enjoyed pressing forward in their goals this month, and are enjoying the holiday season!

Oh yeah, and yesterday was a year since my husband proposed to me 🙂 Nice to see my ring has survived everything I’ve put it through, including climbing Helvellyn in the Lake District covered in snow, climbing the highest peak in England & Wales (Snowdon), as well as other hills, scurrying down rocks to reach a hidden cove in Cornwall, jumping off a boat into the freezing-cold Mediterranean, and many other adventures. Here’s to many more 🙂 <3

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