Clever with the Word Count.

As previously mentioned in my last blog post, I had every intention of participating in the 2014 run of National Novel Writing Month, or as the I’ve been informed the kids are calling it these days, The NaNos.

And, uh, so I am participating in the 2014 run of National Novel Writing Month. Huh, that worked out nicely didn’t it? Look at me and my holding to a promised action! I’m like some kind of functioning human being! PRAISE ME.

Anyways. We’re at the mid-point of National Novel Writing Month and so far, so good-ish. I’m about four thousand words behind at the moment due to missing a few days because that whole Life thing insists on continuing even when I ask it nicely to pause for a month. But only a few thousand words isn’t that bad in my NaNoWriMo history! It’s practically on schedule except for the part it isn’t! This upcoming week is going to be my mad push to reach 40k before Thanksgiving so I can, for once, not have to worry about frantically pushing out twenty-three thousand or so words in the last four days of November.

So far this has been my most successful NaNoWriMo. Honest to gravy this is the first time I have actually and factually pinned down an ending to a story before working on anything else and woah dang howdy, I will never attempt another story without doing so. The fact that I have an end point to work towards, or at the very least an end conflict, makes it a lot easier to piece together the fiddly middle bits that have to connect the beginning with the end. I’ve got myself a main character, she’s got herself a little sister, there are class mates and magical abilities and categorical divisions that eventual fans will be able to identify with and buy merchandise based on them. It’s going to be brilliant, I tells ya, and I’m enjoying the process so far.

But let’s jump back a month, shall we? Travel back to October with me when everything was beautiful and I could fart around making sure a 500 word piece of flash fiction was just so for days on end. O, the halcyon days!

Back in October I bought a Humble Book Bundle [see note at the end of this post for a correction], which if you’re not aware of this being a thing that exists, OH MY GOODNESS LET ME TELL YOU A THING. The Humble E-Book Bundle offers you, go figure, a bundle of themed books for a price that you name. There is a base price (which is going to be stupidly cheap for the amount of books you get) that will net you a handful of e-books in various, DRM free, format or as the case is right now, a bunch of audio books. However, if you pay above the median price you unlock another handful of books that often include a big name author to help sweeten the pot. When you pay you can choose how much of your money goes towards the authors, towards the selected charity that has been connected to the bundle, and how much goes as a “tip” back to the Humble Bundle makers themselves. If you’re feeling flush with cash and make a big donation you even get your name on a leader board! Whee, recognition!

The first bundle I bought was a collection of what I think of as “Writer’s Self Help Books” and which for the love of all things adorable I cannot find right now on the Internet @#$%!!! I’ve perused these books and their promises to teach me to write a novel in 30 days/Three Weekends/Fifteen minutes but I’ve never taken them seriously.

Until now.

*cue dramatic music*

From now until I’ve read them all, I will be trying out each of these writing aid books and seeing what shakes out from following their direction. Some are more literal step-by-step guides to produce a manuscript while others are more tips, tricks, and viewpoints from an already successful author. I’ll have a review up each month to let you know my experience with each book.

First up is going to be No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty. Technically this wasn’t part of the Humble Bundle, but hey, I wanted to be thematic for the whole National Novel Writing Month thing I’ve got going here.

(Yeesh, six hundred words to get to the review. It’s almost like I’m trying to pad some sort of word count or something…)

Chris Baty is the head-honcho of NaNoWriMo. He started the event among a close group of friends and developed it into an international event that invites all comers to bang out a fifty-thousand word novel just to prove that they can reach into themselves.  It gives people the excuse to dust off the story that they had always promised they would write “one day” but never thought they could really write, and lets them write it out in full. No Plot! No Problem? Gives readers the history and ideas behind what NaNoWriMo has become today as well as giving loads of guidance on how to accomplish a fifty-thousand word novel in a single month.

If it helps your personal journey, Baty is not totally beholden to the month of November. If that time frame doesn’t work for you then he would be delighted if you picked a more preferable month and held your own, personal NaNoWriMo.  The whole theme of the book is that all one needs to do for a successful NaNoWriMo experience is to simply sit down and write. Hit your daily word requirement with no excuses and to the exclusion of your normal daily life. Tell your inner editor to hush and get the story out.

No Plot? No Problem! Itself is a light-hearted collection of advice on how to NaNoWriMo including where to write, how to set a writing mood, how to prepare without burning yourself out, how to put aside any attempts at editing, and how to manage real life responsibilities whilst churning out 1,667 words a day. There are tips from former NaNoWriMo participants and a week by week guide to lead you through the month.

It’s a surprisingly funny book. I wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud (or as the I’ve been informed the kids are calling it these days, lol) at a book about NaNoWriMo, but Baty has a sharp wit when relating his own writing experiences.

“Things went awry almost immediately. With nothing to do all day but write, I found myself doing everything but writing. Essential errands were run. Laundry was done. The bathroom was cleaned. Less essential errands were run. The bathroom was re-cleaned. A complex rooftop Habitrail system designed to make tree-to-tree transitioning easier for the neighborhood squirrels was built and nearly installed before the county’s animal services intervened. And so on.

The mounting guild I felt each evening over accomplishing so little writing during the day would then force me to cancel the plans I had made with friends that night. So I could stay in and get some writing done.

Night, of course, simply involved more work on the Habitrail.”

Per my own personal preferences, the advice offered in No Plot? No Problem! Neatly skirts the line between Solid, Practical Writing Advice and Tripping the Muse Fantastic nonsense. I have absolutely no patience with the idea of my character running away with the plot I have designed for them because oh goodness, don’t those characters have a mind of their own~! No. They don’t. They are mine, wholly and totally, and will serve the purposes I set out for them. Perhaps I am not a very whimsical person? Maybe I need to buy a prism or something. That being said, it’s very easy to heed the advice you want and skip over the advice that doesn’t apply to you. My eyes flitted over the small section about how to choose a Writing Totem but I lapped up every bit of the time management tips offered.

The week by week advice is my favorite portion of the book. It’s 75% carrot and 25% well-applied stick. Baty will cajole, encourage, and praise NaNoWriMo participants for making it this far and do his best to convince readers that if they just keep putting one foot ahead of another, they’ll make it through the month with their fifty thousand word count complete. He gives little booster exercises and both accepts writer’s frustrations while offering paths to move past them. This section is very similar to the weekly encouragement emails that NaNoWriMo participants receive and I’ve always found them to be a nice little life line. After your NaNoWriMo summit has been reached there is even a little bit of guidance in regard to editing that beast of a manuscript.

 Overall, I recommend No Plot? No Problem! As a read. If you’re a serial NaNoWriMo participant than buy it, and if you’re a writer just seeking overall advice then I super-duper-recommend you get it from the library at the very least.

OH HEY WAIT I FOUND THE BOOK BUNDLE! Okay, turns out it is a Story Bundle, which is different from a Humble Bundle even though they both work the exact same way with their you-name-it price levels and donations to charity. The National Novel Writing Month bundle is still available at the time of writing this entry (click here) if you wish to partake. I would keep an eye on the Story Bundles for sure because they are a super cheap way to beef up your e-book collection. Now that I’ve scanned over both it looks like Humble Bundles are more games and comic selections.

Buy both? Both. Both is good.

NaNoWriMo is Nigh – A Month of Getting Things Done

Every year I think I’m free but they pull me back in.
National Novel Writing Month is approaching, and once again, I’ll be participating. That being said, I am going to be working towards that 50k goal on my own terms. It doesn’t serve me very well to just crank out thousands and thousands of words worth of stream-of-consciousness narration and then look back on it in December and see the text version of a tangled box of Christmas lights so I am going to take a more organized approach.
Here’s my 2014 NaNoWriMo Plan:
Use this month to write a rough draft:  Last year I did this and it was a great exercise in working through a plot idea and trying to stitch together all the ideas I had for a story. The story itself is a mess and a half, but nevertheless it was a great way to force myself to get through the hemming and hawing that comes from conceptualizing a story. Once you start putting ideas to paper (digital or otherwise) you can get a clear picture of what’s going to work and what isn’t.
Also use this month to clean out my in-progress short stories:  I use my Gmail account’s draft folder as a sort of cloud drive for short stories, plot and character ideas, and keeping all the other crafty and creative things that spring to mind close at hand. It’s nice to be able to have a few hundred words of a story on hand that you can pull up on any computer without having to constantly shuffle the most current saved file back and forth between multiple machines.
At the moment I have seven incomplete stories in my draft folder, and I’d like to have at least five of them completed by the end of November. Even if they turn out to be flash fiction, that’s around 10k worth of word towards the NaNoWriMo goal and more importantly, five more stories to submit to markets. I am looking forward to this challenge as I feel it will be a good way to take a break from working on the rough draft without removing myself from writing. If I finish all seven stories, then great! Woo-hoo, go me!
So that’s-a my plan.
Additionally, I like to throw some sort of personal motivation into the mix. The thrill of 50k in a month is pretty sweet, but hey, I’m a base human being and enjoy my rewards being a little more tangible. As NaNoWriMo draws nearer I will have to figure out some little treat for myself as a reward for certain word goals.
The trick here is to make sure it is something that you cannot just wait until December to get; it has to be a fleeting chance at achieving it only through word count. For me, this works best when I deny myself something, only allowing myself access to it again after I reach 10k, 20k, 30k, and so on. For example, I’ll buy a package of Biscoff cookies (SO GOOD) and put it up on a high shelf, only allowing myself to open them after I reach 20k. If I never reach that word count then they get handed over to a friend. I never buy them in day-to-day life, so it’s rare enough to entice me without being overly expensive or anything.
Man, Biscoff are so good. I love those stupid cookies.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Have an idea for a story yet, or waiting for the Muse to sweep you off your feet on November 1st? What kind of motivation would keep you writing during the long haul?
I’m user MuchandQuick on the NaNo forum, so feel free to find me and we’ll be buddies!

The NaNoWriMo Aftermath

Whew! Okay, I think I finally caught my breath.

After a frantic week and a dollop of writing, I managed to win NaNoWriMo! Sound the tiniest of trumpets! Slaughter, well, not the fatted calf, that should be saved for a special occasion. Maybe put a pork tenderloin on the grill or something. So what did a month of devoted writing get me in terms of working towards a novel-length story?

I obtained:

  • Some solid worldbuilding
  • A lot of character development. The main character has gained a lot of facets and her older brother is no longer Big Mac from My Little Pony. They have motivations and flaws and stuff!
  • There is now a defined second act, which is the most difficult part for me because it is that dastardly middle ground. So far from the beginning conflict, too far from the end resolution.
  • Lots of words. I would be so bold as to say that about 45% of them are worth salvaging.

Perhaps more importantly, I realized that I am lacking:

  • A fully-fledged antagonist. By that I mean that my bad guy has not progressed to far from “Bwahaha, I am evil and will therefore oppose the antagonist because… uh, did I mention I AM EVIL?!?!” which doesn’t work that well.

That’s the worst of what I’m missing right now and is my current main focus. It is hard to focus on making the antagonist worth their weight when I am constantly distracted by the shiny protagonist, but it is fun and a challenge to think of the story from their point of view. It has forced me to realize that I sure can build myself a fine straw man for my protagonist to knock down, but it has been fun to try and create a character that can stand in someone’s way with complete conviction that what they are doing is right/profitable/worth the effort to achieve their own goals.

I want you to realize:

  • One of my cats is asleep in a spare office chair, and he is hella-cute.

 

In other news, I am going to submit another story to PodCastle (coming for you, you magnificent market!) and am currently also working on a short story about a high-school girl that has to make up extra credit for Home Economics with maaaaaagic spiiiiiices. It’s dumb and I regret nothing and it is mostly about my personal struggle to make a pan of cinnamon rolls.

I will also be hauling all of my podcast reviews from my other blog over here, as I seem to be garnering an audience! Thank you so much for reading/subscribing to this blog. I am very happy to share my writing thoughts with you and will do my best to provide delightful content. Y’all give me the honey glow somethin’ awful.

What are you working on? Did you reach your NaNoWriMo goal? What is your cat’s name? Let me know in the comments!

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!)