Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

A recap and a flash forward

In the beginning of September, I challenged myself to try to write at least something every day. And while I didn’t get to every day (some days were just too busy, other days I just didn’t feel up to it), I feel like I made some real progress in training myself to be more consistent. Consistency is the only way I’ll ever end up with a finished product.

I’ve made some progress in my editing–which has been challenging, because in recent weeks I’ve made it quite the task for myself with a massive rewrite of the second half of the story. But even as I’ve been working through it, slowly, it’s been very fun to uncover still more hidden pieces and hidden sides of my characters.

And while it’s felt like a massive undertaking, I do believe there is an end in sight. One or two more good days, dedicated time, I might even be ready to take it from the top once more. And that’s a pretty exciting thought.

Looking ahead to the rest of the month of October (crazy, isn’t it?!) I’ve got two things to accomplish. First, of course, is completing this rewrite. Second is prepping for NaNoWriMo in November. I’ve already got the seed of the story, if you will. So this month needs to be all about cultivating it.

The basic principle is an old building/castle directly beneath a wormhole or something that will transport a person to a different time (perhaps alternate universe?). The main character is searching for someone, a childhood best friend or crush and ends up somewhere unexpected.

Obviously I’ve got a lot of work to do, story line to develop. If you really want to know, the basis of this came from a dream I had (and that a while ago). What I remember most clearly was the longing for the person missing, and the frantic searching. So, those are the themes I’m focusing on. I’ve got a month to work out everything else. And, as I’m learning in this editing stage, I’m not likely to get it all right the first time, and that’s OK. Things will develop in the editing. As long as I’ve go the bare bones to work with, I’ll be all right.

So, here’s to October, a new month and new beginnings. I’ve got two objectives, and I think I’ve got the motivation to see them through.

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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.

A new beginning (editing is going to take a while…)

The most important part of a story is the beginning. If the first sentence or paragraph doesn’t grad a reader’s attention, they will put it down and move on to the next book. For me, beginning is always one of the hardest parts. Whether it’s writing an essay, journalism article or a story, I can always feel the pressure to start well. Throughout college it served me pretty well to just write something and get the words flowing. If I wrote a good beginning, great. If not, usually by the time I finished whatever I was writing, the beginning was easier to write because I had the whole picture now.

With this story, it’s been more difficult. I’ve decided to work my way slowly through my story so that I can dedicate significant time an energy to problem areas. I probably should leave the beginning for the end, but I focused on it this week, and I feel like I’ve already made some improvements.

I’ve been challenging myself to think about the way other stories begin, both books I’m reading and even from my own writings. I’ve started a little journal, where I write how it begins, and then what kind of story that technique is good for. For example, some stories have one major event and the author weaves narrative strands around it, such as A Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Steadman. Though I’ve just started the book, I know how the writing is going to go. The story begins with the couple finding the baby (not a spoiler, you find out that much just from reading the back cover), and the rest of the book is telling the story. It’s jumped back in time and is telling the events leading up to finding the baby. And once we reach that point, it’ll shift gears and tell about life after the baby. Plenty of stories have this kind of plot set up, and the technique of giving the action scene, or a hint of it, then giving the background before dealing with the aftermath makes the story flow easily. But my book is not like that. Mason (I’ve finally named my character, hooray!) doesn’t encounter any one particularly pivotal moment that I can use as a teaser introduction.

Other beginning techniques include writing a prologue to set up a world or town, giving the history that explains what you need to know about where the character is. This, I think, is the one I use most often. I’m a fan of prologues. But, while I could do that for this story, the challenge with the prologue is that you need some kind of action to engage readers. You still need that pivotal event that sets the character up. And the history of my story is more broad than that. What I’ve decided to go with for the time being is a description of a scene that encompasses a major theme of the story; in this case, a description and encounter between Mason and his father that shows readers life in Vale is all about science, and a person’s value is inherently linked with how well they fit the expectations of society. As an example, I’ll show below the initial beginning I wrote for this story, and the new beginning I’ve been working on this week.

Dying didn’t seem nearly as dramatic as everyone made it out to be.

He had just turned 25, and the pressure he faced was unbelievable. He wasn’t just a late bloomer, his family had given up on him—no one believed he would prove to be an asset to society.

It was unbelievable either way—that other towns could exist, that Vale could be the only town. The town’s leaders were very strict, no one was allowed to explore beyond the town limits, curiosity and questions were no tolerated. Everyone clung to a religion of science. It was science that made them great, science was all that mattered. And science was his downfall.

Mason had never had an affinity for numbers, formulas, and the other complexities that went into the science, technology and engineering fields. He was much better at drawing—landscapes, people, animals, anything. But that wasn’t the kind of thing Vale valued. His drawings wouldn’t save or improve lives, they said, so by their very nature, they were worthless. Mason didn’t agree, but, dissent wasn’t valued either, so he did his best to swallow their context.

Life in Vale was all about society’s good…

Even I look at that and think I probably wouldn’t keep reading. The whole entire first chapter didn’t have any action or dialogue. Too much scene setting, explaining how the society functioned. It’s something I need to show, and maybe not all right off the bat. Here’s a bit of the new one in progress:

All his life, Mason knew science would be his downfall.

Every person in his hometown of Vale clung to a religion of science—it was science that made them great, science was all that mattered. Each child was raised from birth to believe scholastic achievement and worth were inherently connected.

But from a young age, Mason—and everyone else—knew he would never measure up to anything scientifically great. He was smart enough, but he couldn’t compete or compare with the waves of peers surrounding him that, in another place, would be hailed as geniuses and prodigies. Compared to them, Mason was worthless. And how he compared was all that mattered.

When he was about 13, he sketched his house and his sister Mel playing in the yard. He spent all day working on it, trying to get it just right.

“What have you been doing all day?” his father demanded when he returned from his day at work.

Mason proudly held up his drawing. “It’s our house, and Mel out front,” he said.

But instead of pride, excitement, or even interest, his father scoffed. “You’re well past the age of foolish past times, Mason. It’s time you put your mind to something worthwhile or you’ll never amount to anything.”

I’m not going to say it’s golden, but I think it’s far more likely to entice someone to commit to reading a few more chapters, so it’s a start. As always, the key to remember is show, not tell. After this bit that I’ve just shown, I fall back into the telling, telling how life in Vale works. I’ve still got a way to go on this, but, for the sake of anyone reading these blog posts, I’ll move on from the beginning this coming week so that you don’t have to read another post saying all this same stuff again.

Onward into the rest of the story!

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 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.