Preparing for NaNo

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Image from Dreamstime

 

A lot of people prepare for NaNoWriMo.  I do as well, only my preparations are a little bit different from everyone else’s.

 

Of course, I plan a novel to write.  I didn’t use to (when I started NaNo, I was a committed pantser) but I’ve learned recently that NaNo is much easier with a plan firmly in place.  Shockingly, that’s the easy part of preparing for NaNo.

 

Yes, I just called planning an entire novel “easy”.

 

For me, the hard part is getting ready for my Municipal Liaison duties.  As an ML, I work with a good friend to plan various and sundry local events, write and send out weekly pep-filled e-mails, and generally act as a cheerleader for the local group of crazies… I mean writers.  No matter how well we plan, it’s exhausting and usually knocks me out for most of December (I recover just in time for Christmas!)  But I wouldn’t change it for the world!

 

I don’t want to talk a lot about what’s going on this year, because I know some local Wrimos read this blog and I don’t want to spoil them just yet, but here’s a general schedule for what we do to prepare.

 

 

July – start to get excited: only three months to go!

 

August – get together and plan approximate event dates and locations, working around work schedules, my trip to San Francisco, and other time constraints.  There are six major (newcomer’s night, kickoff, midnight kickoff, midway bash, twelve-hour, and TGIO – Thank Goodness It’s Over) and eight minor (weekly write-ins) events, as well as eight online events.  That works out to nineteen events in thirty days (not including kickoff, newcomer’s night, and TGIO, which happen in other months.  And that’s a small load for a region of our size.

 

September – Order stickers for the locals, brainstorm ideas for the yearly theme, and start on any prep work that we can do.  This includes the “survival kit”/goody bag for kickoff, pre-writing as much of the weekly e-mails as we can, planning the midway craft, brainstorm fundraising ideas, ‘standard’ forum posts that always go up, posters, press releases, etc.  Of course, here’s when we start to confirm with venues and beg for space that we need, prizes for TGIO attendees and superstars, and generally begin to freak out.

 

October – Pray that stickers arrive in time.  Wash hideous yellow ML shirt (I would include a picture, but it’s not photographable.  Seriously, you’ll thank me for this).  Finalize dates with all venues.  Finalize all written information.  Print out what needs to be printed and put together goody bags, craft supplies, and all necessary other goodies and supplies.  Try not to panic.  Host newcomer’s night and prepare for kickoff.  Host kickoff.  Prepare for midnight kickoff, and get ready for another wild ride!

 

November – I cannot describe NaNoWriMo to you.  It’s a month filled with joy, sorrow, stress, creativity, inspiration, perspiration, and general insanity that can only be experienced.  In my case, I will be spending a week in San Francisco for the annual “Night of Writing Dangerously” write-a-thon/fundraiser for NaNoWriMo.  I’ll return the night before our twelve-hour event.  Yes, I am completely insane.

 

December – Host TGIO.  Try to find any remaining energy to be peppy.  Sleep for two weeks.  Wake up and prepare for Christmas.

 

 

And that’s it.  Then I rest for eight more months and start the whole crazy process over again.  It’s a wild ride, but the day I have to quit being an ML, I’m pretty sure wild horses will be involved.  A whole herd.  With the requisite thundering and snorting and pawing of hooves.

 

Anyway, there will be more NaNoWriMo information incoming as we get closer to the month.  I’ll try not to be too boring but it’s about to consume my life for the next few weeks.

 

T-45 days until NaNoWriMo!  Are you ready?

 

What do you do to prepare for NaNo?  Any MLs care to weigh in on their process (or lack thereof)?

 

Reflections on a Year

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Image from Dreamstime

 

 

I don’t know if I’ve posted about it before, but just over a year ago, I started tracking how and on what project I was spending my writing time.  This includes everything from research/development, to editing, to critiquing, to career research.  My ultimate goal is to get to 2,000 hours written total, which is the point at which one is considered “proficient” in a craft.  10,000 hours of work means one is a master.  Given that I’m at 1626.5 hours to date, I’m close to proficient, but far from a master.

 

Another benefit of tracking is that it’s ended up teaching me a lot about how and when I work and where I spend the bulk of my hours.

 

On August 13, 2012, I completed my first year of tracking.  In that time, I have:

  • Done 118 hours of research and development (including outlining)
  • Spent 185.25 hours on first drafts
  • Spent 45.75 hours editing
  • Written over 195,000 words
  • Spent an average of 6.7 hours/week on writing or related tasks

 

Of those hours, I spent:

  • 208.5 on novels
  • 34.5 on short stories
  • 34.25 on critiques
  • 18 on blogging
  • 16.25 on my April Screnzy graphic novel
  • 6 on flash fiction
  • 31 on other writing related projects

 

I think it’s pretty obvious that I need to spend a little bit more time editing, so I expect to see those numbers creep up over the next year.  I also want to start spending more time on short stories (which kind of means that I need to start writing more of them), although I am generally pleased with where I’ve spent the rest of my time.

 

I was a little surprised by the total number of words and especially the weekly hourly average, given that it was about 5 hours/week a few months ago.  Clearly I’ve gotten that much more serious in the last few months!  It’s interesting to see how I was rather slow the first few months, but that quickly picked up in the months that followed.

 

Theoretically, in less than 400 hours (about a year at my current rate) I should be close to ready for publication.  That is and has always been the ultimate goal, but I think that a little more dedication, much like I’ve been putting in recently, will really help.  Of course, the time I put in can only do so much – it needs to be quality time too.  And that’s the real struggle, isn’t it?

 

How do you track where you’re at with your career?

On Fear and Rejection

This is what an editor looks like, right?

This is what an editor looks like, right?

Image from Dreamstime

 

I went to When Words Collide, a local writers and readers conference, this weekend.  I attended last year, and enjoyed it enough to attend again this year.  Of course, we put on a NaNoWriMo panel that went really well (much better than we anticipated), but there were so many other highlights that I couldn’t even begin to share them all with you now.  Maybe in the coming days, as I have time to process all that I have learned, I will be able to summarize some of the key lessons.  Most of the best information was actually shared by Kevin J. Anderson and his lovely wife Rebecca Moesta, and I suspect that I will be telling you a little bit more about those lessons as well.

 

The theme of this weekend seemed to be taking risks.  First off, I signed up for a blue pencil cafe (a one-on-one with an author or editor to review the first few pages of a manuscript).  Sadly, mine was a little rushed, because another author had to cancel so they tried to shove us all through, but I still got some valuable feedback.  Second, I decided somewhat last minute to attend a Live Action Slush Pile (more on this in a bit).  Finally, my partner was brave enough (and ready enough) to try pitching to a local publisher and was asked to submit a few chapters.  So positive news all around.

 

What I really wanted to talk about today was confidence.  I’ve blogged before that I’m new to sending my work out for others and a little worried about rejection.  I’ve only submitted one story to date, and that was for a writing competition (I wasn’t even long listed) with no harsh letter or feedback on the other end of it.  So when I submitted my first page to the Live Action Slush Pile on Saturday night, I was nervous.  The point of a Live Action Slush is for editors to listen to a bit of your manuscript and decide whether they liked it or when they would stop reading if they were reading from a slush pile at a publishing house.  My poor first chapter only made it through two paragraphs before three of the four readers stopped.

 

At first, I was crushed.  I worked hard at that opening paragraph, and I thought it was pretty good.  It didn’t help when the two entries after mine were writers that I know and were read all the way through.  I tried to brush it off, but it was pretty clear to me that it still needed a lot of work.  In what was perhaps a backwards sense of timing, on Sunday I decided to attend a panel about fighting fear and rejection.  While it didn’t reveal much to me that I didn’t already know, at least superficially, it was positive to hear that everyone else had some of the same problems with confidence as I do, especially at first.

 

I learned that emotions (especially fear) can colour how you receive a response, that I need sounding boards beyond friends and family (maybe my critique group is good enough?), and that it’s okay to be upset about a rejection, like I was the night before.  The most important thing that I picked up, though, was that we are in the business of no.  99 times out of 100, the answer will be no.  And although that’s hard, that’s the nature of writing.

 

So I’m going to try and look at my submissions a little differently from now on.  From now on, I am a rejections collector.  I’m going to collect as many rejections as I can and get more than anyone else that I know.  And eventually, maybe after the first 99 NOs, I’ll finally get a YES.

 

How do you handle rejection and disappointment?

Camp NaNoWriMo: Take Two

Well, here we go again.  I’ve signed up for the second season of “camp” this year, because I’m just not crazy enough, apparently.  I’m doing things a little differently this time though, and I’ll explain why.

 

After seven years, I don’t have any problem pounding out 50,000 words in a month.  In fact, it’s gotten so (relatively) easy that I decided to volunteer to organize events for local wrimos, partly to keep myself challenged, but mostly because I enjoy the community so very much.

 

The problem with this is that the words I pound out are not good words.  It’s something that I’ve come to accept and embrace, but it becomes frustrating when it’s time to edit.  The last two times I’ve committed to the challenge, I have had a very detailed plan for the novel I was about to write.  This worked well, in a way, but the speed I was writing at pulled me away from the pace that I was trying to set for my novel.  Also, I found that I kind of missed the flexibility of “pantsing” (writing by the seat of my pants) that leads to all kinds of fun changes and interesting plot twists during the month.

 

What I’m attempting to do for this month of camp is to plan a novel.  I’ll be using the Snowflake method and letting abandon run wild!  Instead of 50,000 words my goal will be to plan for 50 hours or to finish the snowflake (whichever comes first).  If all goes well, I’ll be writing this novel during NaNo (or possibly early in 2013).

 

And now, to celebrate the start of camp, I’m actually camping with some very good friends and fellow writers.  I’ll see you back in this space next week!

How I stop writer’s block in 15 minutes or less

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Image from Dreamstime

 

It happens to everyone at some point or another: you have an idea, but no clue where to start.  Or you have a daily word count goal and nomotivation.  Or you’ve written yourself into a metaphorical corner with no way out.  Writer’s Block: the bane of every writer everywhere.

 

Unfortunately, I face writer’s block quite often.  It’s a side effect of my current muse-less existence.  But sometimes I get a flash fiction prompt, or a vague idea, or even just a starting phrase and I need to flex my writerly muscles and get to work on something I’m not as inspired by or write something that I’m not 100% comfortable with.  When that happens, I have one surefire technique that I like to use.

 

Well, a few different techniques, but they’re all variations on the same theme, which is to shut off distractions, write like crazy for a set amount of time, and stop caring if it’s good or not.

 

For longer projects, the best way to do this, for me, is NaNoWriMo.  Writing 1,667 words a day (or more) given my already loaded schedule requires that I lock my internal editor away and stop caring quite as much about quality.  I don’t necessarily get amazing words out, but I get an editable first daft, and a few nuggets of pure gold that are enough to keep me going through the editing process.

 

On days when I’m struggling to focus, I need to shut off my access to the internet, otherwise I will keep checking Facebook, twitter, and various other sources of entertainment and amusement in an attempt to distract myself.  Sometimes it’s enough to turn off my WiFi for a while or use Freedom (my preference, because it comes with a built-in timer), but on really bad days, I sometimes have to pack up and move somewhere (usually a coffee shop or pub) where there is no internet, or where using the internet would drain my laptop battery (I don’t bring my charger)

 

And when I’m working on something that’s really not working or that I’m struggling to get ‘right’, I turn to the ultimate weapon: Write or Die.  Developed by the amazing Dr. Wicked, this web-based and downloadable program not only lets you set a time and word count goal, but it punishes you when you stop writing.  Depending on the setting this can be anything from a red screen to your words suddenly deleting themselves if you stop typing for a certain length of time.  Even if I keep hitting the space bar or start stream-of-consciousness writing, eventually I manage to come up with something using this program.  As Dr. Wicked says, it puts the “prod” in productivity, and it’s often the boot in the butt that I need.

 

Writer’s block hits everyone at one time or another, but I’ve found ways to combat it that work well for me.  What ways work for you?

Re-Organizing

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Image from Dreamstime

 

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the long weekend re-organizing my latest novel.  I was unhappy with the way that it had originally been set up and so I decided to take the time and make the changes that I wanted to make.  It took over six hours, a lot of re-thinking and moving and copying and changing the point of view of several scenes and adding far more new scenes than I had thought I would need to, but I finally got it done.

 

So far, I’m pleased with the changes that I made.  The story seems to be much clearer and gets my intent across better.  The organization should fix some of the issues that my critique group had with the structure.  And, so far at least, it’s been easier to work with.  Now, I’m only still editing and haven’t yet gotten to any of the new stuff (with the exception of one new scene, everything that I am working on now is being edited or re-written), but I really believe that the time made the story better.

 

It was frustrating, to be sure, and sometimes I wanted to just give up and read a book for a while, but I’m glad that I stuck with it.

 

Next up: organizing my office.

 

Have you ever made a drastic change to a story?

R and R

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Image from Dreamstime

 

No, not rest and relaxation (although I did some of that too!)

 

No: re-plan and re-organize.

 

This last weekend was the Canada Day long weekend for me and I spent the time resting at a secluded spot by the river.  This is a very peaceful spot, completely unplugged, and very private.  I only brought one book (more on that in a few days) that I finished by 4:00 on Saturday.  What can I say: it was good!

 

The novel read, I turned my attention to the novel I am writing!  You see, I wrote the requisite 50,000 words during Camp NaNoWriMo, and almost got the book done (as it turns out, there’s only five chapters to go!)  As usual for a NaNo project, the words felt like they lacked a certain… punch.  The novel was lagging and the reviews I’d received from my critique group had given me pause.  I finally decided that the novel needed a little bit of re-thinking.

 

Nothing major, of course, just re-organizing some scenes into different chapters, changing some points of view, and adding some scenes where I felt like they were needed.

 

I managed to get down to 26 chapters (from 32), deleted about six scenes, and tightened some others up.  All told, it was several hours of work, but the basic framework should now be (relatively) solid.  I’m sure that things will change as I continue to re-work and get feedback, but I feel like I’ve clarified things a lot, even if only for myself.

 

The novel itself still needs a little lot of work, but at least I have a map for the editing adventure that will soon be upon me!  Now… to get to that little detail…

 

How did you spend your weekend?

That Point

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Image from Dreamstime

 

I’m at “that point” in my current novel.  Those of you who write will know what I mean.  I’m far enough in that the excitement and joy that I felt at the beginning of the writing have faded.  The right words seem to be slow in coming, the characterization seems to fail, and I’m alternating between over-reliance on dialogue and over-reliance on exposition.

 

I’m just over halfway through the novel and I’m convinced that it sucks.

 

That’s not true of course.  Sure, parts of it need work, but this is only the first draft (of this incarnation of the story, it’s about the fourth time I’ve attempted to write it) and there’s definitely room for improvement.  That part, I can handle, as much as I might dislike it, because that’s a part of it.

 

No, the problem is that the story hasn’t yet met my expectations of it.  It’s lagging along, with completely pointless chapters, characters that some of my critique group doesn’t find lovable, and a set of subplots that I’m not sure I have the skills to pull off.  Of course, it’s not fair of me to blame the story.  I should be blaming myself, the incompetent writer who can’t handle a simple subplot and a half-engaging chapter.

 

In short, the story doesn’t seem redeemable and I’m tempted to give up, to work on something new or, even better, to move to Florida and become an orca trainer at Sea World.

 

I have no plans of doing anything quite so drastic as moving, of course (for one thing, my co-ML would do her best to murder me if I abandoned her before NaNoWriMo) but that doesn’t mean I’m not tempted.  I don’t have any shiny new ideas right now (that and the camp deadline are probably all that’s keeping me working on this story), but if I did, I would be quite happily working away on those instead.

 

Which is exactly the opposite of the thing that will get me past that point in the process.

 

I am trying to remind myself that this is normal, that everyone feels this way, and it’s part of the process.  Neil Gaiman said it best in a NaNoWriMo pep talk a few years ago.  Everyone goes through this, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

 

No, it doesn’t make it any easier at all.  Fortunately, I only have about 5,000 words to write until things start getting exciting again.  Then I should have reached the beginning of the “momentous downhill slide” and things will get easier and easier until I can finally reach the glorious end that I’ve been longing for since word one.

 

Unfortunately, the only thing that’s likely to get me to that point is more writing.

 

A word after a word after a word.

 

That and trying not to think about how much I have to edit this.

 

What do you do when you hit “that point”?

 

Flying High

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Photo from Dreamstime

This week, I drugged my cat.

 

No, not with anything illegal, and not without the enthusiastic agreement of my veterinarian.

 

You see, he hates his vet with a fiery passion that has led to the drawing of some blood from an unfortunate vet tech and the near injury of some of the rest of us.  He wasn’t always like this, but one year he decided that he didn’t like the way that his vet smelled and annual visits have been difficult for us all ever since.  Unfortunately, he has one of those coming up.

 

This year we’re trying a sedative to ease him through the visit (hopefully it will all be a beautiful dream).  Like a responsible pet owner I tried the sedative out in advance of the visit.  I naively thought that it would work, but it turned out that it didn’t calm my cat so much as it made him manically snugly and kept him (and thus us) up all night crying.  Last night I tried a different combination the vet prescribed, which seemed to work a lot better.

 

But what does all of this have to do with writing?

 

I’m glad you asked, because it’s quite simple.  Tuesday night, when my poor boy was wandering the house crying and couldn’t settle, he kept us all up with his woe.  And really, isn’t that what characters do?  Keep nagging us about everything that’s wrong in their lives until we just sit down and solve their problems for us.

 

At least my characters do that.  Your mileage may vary.

 

I didn’t want to drug my cat, and I’ve tried every other option before getting to this point.  That’s similar to writing too: sometimes we all have to do things that we don’t want to do.  I don’t want to kill characters, or torture them, or hurt them, or really put them in any bad situations at all!  I like my characters, in a way that I can only hope the reader will too.  But it’s for the growth of the character and ultimately the good of the story, so I must sometimes do things to my wonderful characters that I hate doing.

 

I suppose that’s part of what being a writer is all about: listening to the story and helping it unfold in the way that it wants to be.  And I guess sometimes that’s easy and other days it keeps us up all night and leaves us surviving off coffee for the rest of the day.

 

When was the last time something kept you up all night?

Work-like UnWork

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Image from Dreamstime

 

I haven’t been writing much lately [cue the *gasp, choke, shock* noises].

 

Now, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about writing.  In fact, I have been doing a lot in the last few days that is writing-related but isn’t actually writing.

 

1) There’s the group creative project I mentioned, that’s kind of beginning to get some momentum since we had a meeting on Saturday.

2) There’s the flash fiction and new short story idea that I have rattling around in my head.

3) There’s the critiquing that I’m doing.

 

Of the three things on the list, the last is taking up a lot of my time right now.  Not only do I have the regular, weekly chapter critique(s) that I do as part of my critique group, but we’ve all volunteered to critique a full novel for one of our members.  Of course, it’s a long novel and I’m struggling with the process of reading the work with a critical eye instead of purely for enjoyment (my usual MO).  That’s proven difficult for me and is requiring a lot more brain power than I might like.  On the positive side, though, it’s really made me think a lot more about what I look for in a novel, which has consequently made me think about what should be in a novel.  A novel like the one I’m writing!

 

The break in writing is okay, though, because chapter two of “Fighter One” is currently out for critiques and I don’t really want to continue working on it until I know what I need to fix.  Besides, I plan on working on it during June Camp NaNoWriMo, finishing it in July, and using the August camp to plan my November NaNo novel.  Then I have September and October to edit it and it’ll be done before the end of the year.

 

That’s reasonable when working on short stories, traveling for work, and trying to get a group project finished up by the end of the year, right?

 

Right?