Furious Self Reflection

Let’s take a look back at what I said on November 12th, during the second week of this glorious National Novel Writing Month:

So far the outline is helping. Writing down one-sentence summaries of characters seems dippy, but it forces me to describe minor characters further than I normally would. If I spend a month in a writing experiment that leads me to a solid first draft then that’s good enough for me. I’ll be hung if you don’t find me scrabbling to churn out 20k words on the 29th-30th

Hey, at the very least I know myself. Today marks day… what, four or possible five of me cranking out over 5k words a day. Right now I am totally exhausted and yes, totally and admittedly using this blog entry as a way to both pad my word count and get a little bit of a warm-up before I once more plow back into the story I am working on.

Not the lack of apostrophes, it is a dead giveaway of a NaNoWriMo’er in desperate straights. But hey, look at my little NaNo widget! Look at that little bar getting filled up!

The big question I find myself asking is this:  are my efforts worth it? There are a lot of ways someone can work if they dedicate an entire month to writing. Maybe you could write a single short story and have it edited and ready for submission in thirty days! If you are some one who finds it hard to come up with new premises you can think up a plot hook each day (actually that would be pretty cool because then you would be set with story ideas for a good while). If you are not a writer, you could devote all your spare time to reading new books and adding to your Goodreads lists. Is NaNoWriMo the best use of time?

For me, for 2013, the answer is yes. I went into this year’s crazy merry-go-round of word count chaos with a plan to come out of the other side with an outline and if possible, a first draft of a story. Right now I have a bloated, but complete first act of a story and more importantly a ton-load of world building tucked away. I know the town that my main character starts in and how it functions. I came up with reasons for there to be magic, and why it the main character would have access to it in ways that supporting characters do not. I think I turned most of the background characters from stupid tropes into functioning people that have their own lives other that edifying or harassing the main character. So far I have resisted the urge to include an adorable animal companion.

Although I totally could throw in an adorable animal companion. The main character would absolutely care for an orphaned raccoon or something and it would be awesome. It would wear a collar and everything AND I would even give it a chance at not dying in a cheap ploy to provoke the reader’s emotions.

The benefit of NaNoWriMo for me is the constant press to keep the words appearing on screen. This helps to break my habit of leaning back and spending hours searching Wikipedia or sites that may or may not be relevant to ideas I have for the story.  That constant stream of thought brings out connections and ideas that I would have spend a week mulling over in the course of a single night of frantic writing.

To any one else participating in NaNoWriMo that reads this, I wish you Godspeed and a joyous thrill when you reach 50k. May you feel justified in your purchase of the “winners” t-shirt and may you one day find a purpose for your story, whether it be in a published novel or the simple pleasure of know you had a story and now it is down on paper (digital or otherwise).

Good luck, and keep writing!

How I Feel When I Get Rejected

Rejection letters! They’re a fact and function of submitting stories to various markets. My most recent additions to the “pile of sadness” include a rejection from Podcastle (rad audio podcast for fantasy stories) and my semi-annual rejection from Writers of the Future.

I get rejection letters, do you? How do you feel when you get them? I’m curious to hear from other’s about their experience and in turn, share my own. Usually the process goes like this:

  1. Send off a submission. Immediately re-read the e-mail and fret that I missed some grammatical error or skipped a step in the submission process.
  2. Look at the average reply time, and pretend like I’m not anticipating the e-mail.
  3. Once the average reply time gets close, stop pretending and check e-mail every forty minutes.
  4. Receive an e-mail from the market I submitted to!  Hey! A thrill of excitement and tension in the space between recognizing the e-mail address and reading the actual e-mail.
  5. Thanks to Gmail, immediately see the first line of the e-mail. See something along the lines of “Thanks for your submission, but-” or “Your story did not win” or something equally polite.
  6. Sense of anticipation is now mingled with disappointment. There is a detached sense of embarrassment for offering a sub-standard story to the market and for wasting a slush reader’s time.
  7. Tuck the e-mail into my “rejection letters” folder, and move on to doing something like reading my Tumblr for a while. Possibly use the rejection as a means to justify getting frozen yogurt.

I think that out of all of that, its the embarrassment that bothers me. I hate that feeling, and it bugs me that I react that way. The rational part of me knows that my story was read and then forgotten but the stupid part of me that remains in high school would prefer if I just hid all of the other stories I have in the back of my hard drive rather than put myself through that again. Fortunately that part of me had been outvoted for quite some time now, so it gets shoved into its own little locker and I keep trying.

 

IN OTHER NEWS THAT IS RELATED TO THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER, I finally got a fire in my but about NaNoWriMo and am reaching for that brass ring. Watch my word count jump up in the next few days! Yes I am dumb.

So how do you react? Anger, shame, apathy? Do you keep the rejection letters or delete them? Do you listen to your sad music of choice for a while and then soldier on? I am almost certain this is a straw man that I’ve created but I imagine that there are still writers who have stories that remain un-submitted for fear of rejection. I promise, it doesn’t hurt for long! It’s like…what, getting vaccinated? It hurts for a little, and if it is a tetanus shot then you’ll be sore for a few days, but afterwards you’ll be stronger! Your stories will be stronger! You’ll be… less susceptible to whooping cough?

Okay, I lost that metaphor.   I hope that every writer who reads this has their own rejection story because gosh darn it, it means you’ve tried.

 

 

Third Week of NaNoWriMo: The Excusening

Week three! There has been… little improvement to be honest.  The word count has slowed to a slogging crawl. I’m happy that my local NaNoWriMo group will be meeting for a write-up tonight, as that will help push me over the 10k mark, but 50k is looking to be unobtainable this year.

But I have excuses! Good ones, even! I realize that excuses are the domain of those who hope to weasel out of work but hey, I gots ’em and you’re going to read ’em.

EXCUSE #1: I am helping to coordinate an illustrator signing at my local friendly comic book store. While it is a smallish event, it takes a lot of effort and time to organize and arrange a very small store into an acceptable event venue. This event includes not only the illustrator signing but children’s crafts, people in mascot costumes, baking tons of cookies for treats, and a Toys for Tots donations drive.

Did I mention this store is about the size of a one bedroom apartment? We’ve had signings before that turned out really well, and I want to make sure this is another success.

EXCUSE #2: Because I am using this NaNoWriMo to produce a first draft, I am breaking one of the main rules of NaNoWriMo in the fact that I’m doing research. There is a lot of me staring at the screen going, “Hm…why would a town be built this way? What would it take to run it? What Wikipedia articles should I bookmark?” and that does not lead to a rip-roaring pace for my word count. That being said, what I’ve done has been super useful thus far so hey, that is a good thing.

 

EXCUSE #3: I’ve become an adult with other stuff to do in my life? That isn’t really an excuse, it is, because lots of people with full time jobs and commutes and kids can crank out 50k.  But… I don’t like essentially abandoning my husband for month. It stressed me out last year to spend my time doing other things while the 1,667 daily words hung over my head.

I will push myself to write more, and by the end of the month I hope to have a fully detailed outline. A full first draft would be nice, but if I can get the world and magic system settled then I’ll consider it a good first push.

 

excuse #4 I’m cheating on this story by working on a short story as well. There’s a themed submission during January that I want to enter and I’ll need enough time to edit and whatnot, so that adds to my workload.

 

IN OTHER NEWS, I didn’t place in Writers of the Future again. At this point I just kind of shrug at the rejection e-mails from them. No biggie. I’ll keep trying, you’ll keep trying, we’ll all keep trying.

Second Week of NaNoWriMo aka That Sinking Feeling

I just received a cheerful little letter from the NaNoWriMo folks about the harsh reality that is the second week of trying to crank out 50k words in a month. They’re so sweet, full of understanding and encouragement and they have famous authors write letters to you to help you keep going.

How am I doing?  In summary: not so good.

If I go strictly by the metrics of “reaching 50k by maintaining a writing schedule of 1,667 words a day” then I am way-failing. I have about 6k words in the bank when I should be somewhere around… much higher than that.  At least ten thousand words higher than that. Getting that little “WINNER!” tag on my NaNo account for 2013 is quickly slipping out of my hands.

But if I go by another metric (which I realize is a total cop-out, yeah I know), then maybe I’m not doing so badly? My intention with this year’s NaNoWriMo is to crack out a first draft of a novel. While word count is a vital part of that as it indicates that I’m actually writing a story, I’m taking a slightly different tack. This year I’m incorporating the Snowflake Method into my NaNo. If you’re unfamiliar with the Snowflake Method, I highly suggest reading up on it. It’s a simple, yet in-depth way of outlining a story.

I tend to be an exploratory author, by which I mean I just sort of make things up as I go rather than adhering to an existing outline. That’s a fine method for short stories, where I can stand at the beginning of my plot and find the end within sight, but it don’t float to well with novel-length stories. There’s world building to be done, subplots to keep track of, character motivations to keep intact, and all the fun stuff that quickly becomes overwhelming if you try and keep it in your head. I make daily errand lists to keep track of what chores I need to do, so why not adapt my love of list-making to my writing? An outline is a little bit like a to-do list for a plot, right? Sure.

So far the outline is helping. Writing down one-sentence summaries of characters seems dippy, but it forces me to describe minor characters further than I normally would. If I spend a month in a writing experiment that leads me to a solid first draft then that’s good enough for me. I’ll be hung if you don’t find me scrabbling to churn out 20k words on the 29th-30th, but for now I’m content.

(And I’m putting this entry towards my word count. WHAT? It counts as a warm up exercise!)