Tag Archives: Camp NaNoWriMo

The Creative Writer’s Notebook: authentic voices

Because I don't always keep up on my editing, and don't always have something here and exciting worth sharing, I decided to come back to my book of writing prompts that I bought almost a year ago.
This week I did the lessons inspired by William Faulkner (ok, I did two out of three, the last one was hard and I couldn't think of what to write). They were mostly focused on allowing your characters to speak in a real voice, allowing punctuation, grammar and vocabulary to show what your character is like. I've always thought that would be quite easy, but as I sat down to do it, I realized just how proper my dialogue must be. When I'm writing, probably my most authentic language is the use of contractions.
The first prompt I did was inspired by one of my nieces, who wanted to make sure her papa didn't "lost" her hat instead of returning it to her. I tried to write a little scene about a small child who had a bad dream about an upcoming zoo field trip. I tried to think of the kinds of things that trip kids up, often tenses. My little girl would sometimes use the present tense if a word because she didn't know any better, and sometimes she would add an extra "ed" on the end of a word.
As challenging as that was, it was harder to try to write a scene about two people trying to cross a river using only dialogue to portray what kind of people they were. That I as what really made me notice how proper I am while writing.
So this next week, I have two goals in mind for editing: I want to work on the first chapter, making it something that grabs your attention and makes you want to know more. But I'm also going to read through my story and pay close attention to my dialogue, and ask myself if my characters sound real, or if they sound stilted and stiff. I'll have the answers for you next week!

Keeping motivated

I’ll confess, the hardest part for me, when it comes to editing, is keeping motivated. I’ve probably said that before.

It’s also hard to write blog posts, because I feel like I’ve written it all before. But here goes.

I pushed myself this week and I got a big chunk done in the first half of my story. My young rebels have a much better scheme for their civil disobedience, and I like it a whole lot better.

I’ve now started working through the second half, which will be more challenging. This is the part where I have to work in the people who claim to be his parents, and Mason’s struggle to grasp what is true. I think this part will require more than just a couple scene edits and additions, but that’s ok. I’m excited to be working on it.

What made a big difference in the last week or two was just editing when I found a note or spot that needed work, instead of trying to add a note or details on what to change. When I make notes, I end up using that as an excuse to “work” but not really accomplish anything, so I’m glad to be getting past that.

So this week it’s moving into the psychological part of the book. I’ll need to dig out my notebook and see what I had planned for it, then, as Nike advocates, “just do it.”

Planning to edit versus editing proper

I lost some steam the last week or two, and I didn’t even touch my computer for editing. But this week (OK, so like three days), I’ve pushed myself to get back to it. This story isn’t going to edit itself.

My story, when I left it, was filled with notes on what to do in certain spots and things to fix, and how to fix them, and just all sorts of would-be scribbles, if I were doing this by hand on paper. What I’ve noticed as I’ve started reading through the story yet again, is how many of those notes took as much effort to write as it would have required to just make the change and move on. I have to confess, I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in planning the edits and, consequently, allowed myself to neglect the actual editing process.

But the actual process can be hard. When you write something, or at least when I do, I get attached to it. And when it’s something that I’m revising, or an idea I’m moving somewhere else, I’m not convinced I won’t need that first attempt anymore. It’s hard to erase, to delete words that you spent time on. There’s the sneaking suspicion that once you delete them, you’re suddenly going to need them again, but you won’t be able to remember them. So then the challenge becomes allowing myself the freedom to recreate things. If I erase something that is bad, then can’t remember the idea I was going to use, did the idea belong there in the first place?

This whole process right now is for me to learn how to edit my own work. I have no deadlines, no demands for when it needs to be done. I have the luxury of taking all the time in the world to work my way through. And if I have to stop a time or two to think hard about where my story should go, that’s OK. Better now than when I’ve published or self-published it and there’s no going back, right?

So I’ve got some big pieces to edit, the ones I mentioned in my last post, the new plot ideas to weave in. The goal I’m setting for myself is to hurry up and wrap up the little things, and choose one big piece to work on. Because then I’ll have something good to write about next week, instead of something boring like how I changed a passive sentence into an active one. It’s important, but most of you don’t really care.

So as I’m wrapping up this week, I’m prepping my editing for next week. As I go through, I’m making notes of places where I need to work in something about the student’s civil disobediences, or key places to start implanting the people who claim to be his family, and the questions surrounding his mental health. That way, when I get to strapping in for the big editing, I’ve made it a little easier for myself. Maybe then I’ll make a dent in the proper editing.

The gaping, empty hole

I finished! When you read that title I bet you were expecting something much more… not happy. Like, I failed and I feel miserable and I’m falling into a black hole of sadness or something.

But, that’s not the case. I finished my story. I wrote a little more than the 35,000 words I wanted to. And I even wrapped up the story, so it’s finished and everything. That almost never happens. Usually it takes like another year before I come back and truly finish, but not this time. This time, I’m really done with the first draft.

It’s exciting to be done, and I’m currently reveling in the joy of being done, and the excitement for the editing process (haha. I’ll tell you why that’s funny later). And, of course, I’m looking forward thinking, “now what am I going to do?”

When I’m writing, and earnestly writing, it becomes pretty consuming. I’ve been working on my current read for like two weeks. That’s not really normal, even for a historical non-fiction book. And one night, when I didn’t want to write or read, I started watching Broadchurch on Netflix, so I’m excited to get back to that too. So on the one hand, you’ll read this and think, right there I just said two things that I can be doing. And I will, and it will be wonderful, but I think most writers can agree with me, it’s bitter sweet to come to the end (or at least an end) of a project. You’ve written it. You’ve said what you want to say. Sure, you can polish and fine tune, rewrite some stuff, probably add in new stuff as you read it through and think, ” wouldn’t it be cool if….” But it’s still true that a certain part of the project is over. The fervor of writing is over. As a general rule, you’re not going to discover something mind blowing during the editing process (though let’s be real, how would I know, I’ve never done it. This is all based on my experience editing college papers, and at least during undergrad work, I think we can all agree we really hope we don’t discover something mind blowing during the editing process of those).  There is just something special about having the idea in your head, before you’ve put your ideas down in writing. There is something special about having an idea so full of potential, and knowing that even if you’ve planned for it, surprises will still abound.

And then you’ve written it, and it’s wonderful, and you have this kind of completed thing to be so proud of (but no, you can’t read it, it’s not done yet). And maybe you’re excited because it was everything you dreamed of. Or maybe you’re disappointed, because you wanted so much more from your idea. But either way, it’s done, and you know that is something to be proud of.

But everyone tells you “wow, are you going to publish it?” as though word vomit is gold right out of your brain. But then when you sit down and think about editing, it is a little overwhelming. You’ve already written it. You have nothing else really to add. Or maybe you do, and that’s great. But you’re attached to your story. You’re attached to the dumb joke you wrote in at 3 am that made you laugh like a lunatic, and you know the publisher is going to have that as number one on the list of things to go, but you just can’t bear it.

I think, for me, the editing process is hard because I’m so proud of my creativity, and I’m just not ready to start looking at it critically and asking myself, is my creativity worth sharing? When you’re writing, you’re encouraged to just get it out, get it down on paper. But then when you edit, you have to sort through the garbage and mistakes. And sometimes it’s easy, other times it’s really hard (OK, I’ve tried editing like once or twice, now that I think about it).

In part, it’s scary, because editing makes you look at your work and ask yourself, honestly, if you’re writing is worth sharing. Are you good enough that anyone would want to read it? (I say read and not publish because I’ve seen some of the garbage that gets published, and in my opinion, no one wants to read that.)

But with the completion of this project, I have…. seven projects that have a completed draft, eight if we want to count my collection of stories from volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium. I think it’s time I tackle those scary questions. If my writing isn’t good enough to share, that’s OK. I write first and foremost for myself. But if it is good enough to share, I’ve got some more work to do, and it’s time to start.

So, I’m going to take a day or two off, then dive into some editing, because by then I should have a coupon code for software that I’ve heard makes the editing process easier. And I’ll fill that gaping, empty hole with a new process. Instead of feeling sad that the story is over, I’m going to stick with it until the story is completed, and then I guess I’ll get to see what that feels like.

The final days

I’ve finished week three and I’m down to the final days of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m proud to say I’m still caught up, and almost every day this month I have been writing. I count that as a victory.

I never did name my main character, I guess that will have to wait until May.

I’m quite excited for the ending. I think it will be interesting, and fun to write. That being said, per the usual, now that I’m down to the last 10,000ish words, it’s a long slow slog to the finish line. I’m not sure why my steam runs out right around this time, but it does. Part of it is that I know exactly how it needs to go to end, but part of me thinks I still need more.

Whatever the reason is, every day is a new chance to write, and I’m going to make the most of each day I have left this month. And then I’ll start again in May doing something else. Maybe I’ll try my hand at editing this story (I know, I always say that, but maybe this time I actually will). I think I will set myself a goal, between now and November, to get some substantial editing done on a project. Maybe this one, maybe another one, or maybe I’ll get really in to it and get a couple done (ha! But, maybe).

As challenging as it is to balance reading a book a week for blogging, writing, full-time work and being an adult, it’s been worth it. It has felt very good to set myself a task and work toward it, a task that I’m doing only for me.

Here’s to finishing strong, and doing a few more things just for myself.

The beginning of week three

I’m caught up on my word count, and I’m going to chalk that up to miracle.

This week was a little rough. For the most part, I kept up each day (I only have to write like 1,200 words a day, so, if I put my head down, I can get that done within a half hour), but this weekend was definitely much harder. Not only was I working during the middle of the day, which makes it harder to carve out time, but some anxiety and depression decided to tag team me. Normally I would just take it out on my characters and kill someone, but unfortunately, my story doesn’t lend itself to that. It just wouldn’t make sense. And even though they say sometimes doing something unexpected moves your story along, I don’t think it’s the right option at this juncture.

But! I’m caught up, and that counts for something. I’m making it so.

Other things about my story are a little more embarrassing, including the fact that any time I write my main character’s name it is literally “MAN.” I really ought to give him a name, but, I have a hard time spending a half hour looking at baby name websites when could be using it to get ahead. So, I’m currently taking name suggestions.

My goal now is to get to 30,000 words by the end of this third week (despite my goal of 35,000 words, once I got started I decided I was going to shoot for 10,000 words a week. I didn’t make that this week, but if I get a day off or a quiet evening, I can make up some ground. After all, it’s just a matter of time (and a few thousand words, I think) before I get to rip MAN’s heart out, and that will probably make me feel a little bit better, at least for a little bit.


All in a week’s work

Camp NaNoWriMo started a little over a week ago, and while I was a little slow out of the gate, I’m on track (even ahead a little bit), and motivated to get this thing done.

This year my writing process has felt different than last year, which I guess isn’t really surprising. Working full-time with an ever-changing schedule means I have to be very purposeful in setting aside time to write. Last year I slotted my time for breaks at work, giving me nearly an hour of writing time throughout my day. This year, I haven’t been doing that.

However, my goal is only 35,000 words, less than 1,200 a day to hit my goal. Which means that even when I get behind (though I’ve been pretty good the last week), it still is only an hour or two of writing to get back on track and give myself a little cushion for the next day.

Being on track is good, because it allows me to keep reading this month too. Even though I’ve got two book review blogs written and scheduled for posting (secret: I don’t actually write my blog posts the day they go up), I don’t want to get behind, nor do I want to give up reading for writing. I think the more I read, the better writer I become, picking up things by osmosis, if you will, and noticing different techniques and styles from other writers that end up being relevant to my own project.

I am behind on my planning and chapter outlines, but I haven’t caught up to where my planning ends yet, so I guess I’m still OK on that front, for now. As always, the chapters are more fluid than I first expect, and things are already changing a little.

It’s the changing that keeps me from getting too much further ahead in my planning. Even though I can obviously keep changing things, or disregard things that I thought worked but don’t anymore, it’s also kind of fun to wait and see where the story has gone so far, then jot down the plan for the next few chapters. It allows me to think with my story, and I like that kind of planning better than a full outline, I think.

My ending idea started out as nine words and a question mark. However, I knew as soon as I wrote it that the question mark was unnecessary, that’s definitely the direction it’s been heading the whole time. I’d share it, but I don’t want to spoil the ending.

Here’s to another good week of writing, making dreams come true (or achieving goals, anyway).

Back on the writing horse

I’d love to be writing a “why giving up my April writing project was the best choice ever” blog post right now. But, that’s also not at all what I want to be writing.

I got off to a glowing start on April 1 with a grand total of 0 words written at the end of the day. I’m only a little better off at the present moment, feeling very much not sold on my own story (plus, the cat has decided this is the month he ought to love me a lot).

But, here’s why I’m not giving up before I’ve really even started.

Perseverance: Writing is something I want to do, something I like to do, and lately, I’ve been quite lazy with it. I’ve been prone to dropping a project when I get a little bored of it, even if a week ago I was jazzed and ready to go. Writing isn’t about “feeling it,” it’s about having a vision and turning it into a reality. Writing is a job, just like anything else.

Completion: Sometimes, it’s important to me to finish something. At this point in my life, a lot of things are on hold, goals that won’t be accomplished for a while, dreams that are on the back burner for now. But setting myself a goal and achieving it, finishing a project, that is something I can do. Working to complete a story, maybe even work on editing for publication, that is one dream, one goal that I can work toward, regardless of where the rest of my life is headed. Obviously outside factors always play a role, but for the most part, this is something that is entirely dependent on me.

Finally, because I want to. I want to write. I want to finish. I want to take the ideas I have and turn them into something others might enjoy. For all my life, even now, reading books is a way for me to escape the humdrum routine and disappointments of life. Writing is a similar feeling, but even more, the thought that I could provide the same kind of escape and enjoyment for others encourages me to keep writing, even when I don’t want to.

Too often I let myself use the excuse that I work a full-time job, act as a full-time cook/maid for my family, and I don’t want a third full-time job writing. But, here’s the thing: if I want a completed work, I need to put the effort in. So for me, that’s what April is about. Putting in the effort to accomplish a goal, just for me.

The Town

With April bearing down on me, I find myself less prepared than I had anticipated for my writing project. In my defense (excuses), I was on vacation for a week with family, and now I’ve been busy working and trying to sleep, so…

My working title is “The Town.” Nothing fancy, but it helps me remember what I’m writing about, and spending time on a title before a book is written is a little presumptuous, I think. I never do know where my stories will end up.

I had expected that I would have a synopsis and detailed chapter outline done by now so I’d be completely ready come April 1, but, all I’ve got is the synopsis. So, with no more ado, here it is.

A young man is facing pressure. In his isolated mountain town, if a person isn’t married with kids and given society (or working on) something brilliant by 27, they are shunned. After the age of 27, they should not be having fun but raising successful children, then simply waiting to die. No one makes it past their 50th birthday.

The young man is approaching his 25 birthday, and has no girlfriend, no interest in one, and hasn’t thought of what he can contribute to society. Most men have settled by 25, giving up adventures around the age of 23 to get a head start in life.

The town believes you start dying at the age of 30, but he doesn’t buy it. He feels fine and has no interest in business or science, but he is seen as too wild to be allowed to teach the younger generation how to conform to society.

Now that it’s typed out, it doesn’t seem like that much to go on. Not nearly as much as it seemed when I wrote it. But, I’ve got a few days still to outline (if I can put down the book I’m reading, anyway).

I did, however, write some possible first sentences a few weeks ago, when I was doing Franz Kafka’s writing exercises, so I’ll share those with you now.

  1. It boggles the mind to feel so full of life when everyone around you tells you you are dying.
  2. [He] felt as vivacious as ever, despite everyone telling him he only had months of quality living left.
  3. As we grow into our mind, we take for granted certain ideas planted by society, and even if we don’t believe them in our hearts, our minds shout that they must be true.

I’m not sure I’ll use any of these options, or even the ideas, but I’d be interested to hear from you, my readers, if any of these sentences, or even just the gist of them, would entice you to keep reading (if there were more to read, anyway. Also interested in your thoughts on that last one, because I can’t remember now if I wrote that as a possible beginner for this story, or for something different).