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To NaNo or not to NaNo

(This is a repost of my Mad Genius Club post this past Wednesday. Real life has been eating me alive. I won’t bore everyone with all the details but it includes imploding tech and a series of health issues with my mother. I am so ready for this year to be done with. In the meantime, I am spending the next few days holed up, trying to catch up on work lost when the hard drive died an ignominious death.)

In case you haven’t figured it out by the last three MGC posts, NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It is the bane and the boon of many writers. We look forward to it with excitement and, at the same time, more than a little fear. Excitement because of the challenge and fear because how in the world are we going to write a complete novel in a month?

True confession time. I’ve done NaNo several times before but only once “officially”. By that I mean that I’ve only signed up on the national site once. Part of the reason is I’m not much of a joiner. Part was because I did NaNo for myself and not anyone else. So why join a national site? Shrug. That’s my warped sense of reasoning there.

Anyway, at our last critique group meeting, I asked the other members who would be taking part. Two instantly shot their hands up in the air. They first took part last year and discovered the goal of writing 50,000 words over the length of a month helped motivate them into putting butt in chair and words on the page. The others looked at me with varying degrees of non-comprehension to fear. So, after explaining exactly what NaNo is, I started trying to address the fear.

And this is where I deviate from the traditional goals of NaNo.

When you tell someone that they have to set a goal of 50,000 words over 30 days, eyes will glaze, complexions will pale and breathing becomes shallow. You can smell the fear in the air followed almost instantly by denial. There is no way they can write that much. They have jobs and families and real life and and and. . . .

So I go straight to the heart of NaNo, at least to me — committing to do something for the month. Not every writer writes novels. They write short stories or flash fiction. The thought of having to write long works turns their stomachs and they dig their heels in. Then there are the writers who agonize over every word. A good day for them is getting a couple hundred words down on paper. Then you have the writers who edit as they go. How in the world are they supposed to write an entire novel — and edit it — in 30 days?

So here’s my approach. You set a goal. Preferably, you accept the full 50k word challenge but, if that blows your mind to such an extent that you shut down, you set something more realistic — and you work toward meeting it. You don’t beat yourself up if you fall short on your daily goal. The final goal at the end of the month is what you have to keep your eye on. Sit butt in chair and write. Plain and simple. Write.

Something else you have to keep in mind is that you don’t have time to edit when you are doing NaNo — at least most of us don’t. So you have to turn off the internal editor and just trust yourself. Editing will come after you finish the challenge. Since 50K words is a very bare bones novel for most of us, we’d be going back anyway to fill in the blanks and flesh out the details.

What I have found NaNo does best is teach writers to trust themselves to write. It might drive plotters crazy because you don’t have time to site down and do a detailed outline — much less fight your characters to keep them sticking to your outline. For pantsers, it is an exercise in letting yourself go but with the knowledge that it needs to make enough sense at the end of the month that you can edit it into a workable manuscript.

Another way I deviate a little from the original goal of NaNo is that I don’t insist on folks starting a brand new piece for the challenge. As a working writer, if I were to put aside a current project for a month just for the sake of NaNo, I’d go crazy. The project I stopped working on would continue to demand attention. Worse, by the time I went back to it, there is the possibility that I will have lost the voice. That is a very bad thing — who wants a shapeshifting kick ass heroine who suddenly sounds like a ditzy airhead?

So here’s my question: how many of you are taking part in NaNo and how are you approaching it? Are you joining one of the local support groups and taking part in their activities or are you sticking to the lone wolf school of writing? Are you starting a new project or working on a current one? Or do you think NaNo is the biggest joke ever played on writers? (I’m sort of leaning toward the latter, at least part of the time, and I have this vision of a couple of guys sitting around laughing at all the writers they’ve pulled this con on.)

 

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

As I’ve been working on my October NaNoPrep I’ve discovered I may be facing a tough break up. If I am going to be successful with a NaNoWriMo commitment, I’m going to have to stop spending so much time with my iPhone.

I admit to having a borderline unhealthy relationship with my phone. I wake up and check all my Twitter and Facebook notifications. I read any new text messages. I check my email. I read some favorite blogs.

Throughout the day when I have a free moment, I’m looking at my phone. When I wait in line at the grocery store, I check my phone. When I am at the doctor’s office, I check my phone. When I’m at football practice, I check my phone. When I get the kids to bed, I check my phone. When I’m cooking dinner and the kids are playing Xbox, I check my phone. My phone is a constant go to for info and entertainment to fill the free moments.

The problem with having that constant go to for any type of distraction is that those free moments are all suddenly filled. By filling my open moments away from work and family obligations with a phone in front of my face, I remove the opportunity to just be still and think.

If I can take a break from my iPhone addiction, at least for the month of November, I can use the time I might otherwise be drifting through Facebook with no real purpose to get in my word count for the day, or at least make a start on it. I can work out a difficult plot point while sitting in the doctor’s office instead of shopping around for stuff for the house on a favorite website.  I can think through how the next scene I’m writing may develop while I wait in the grocery line instead of poring through the latest pictures of a favorite actor on Twitter.

By removing, or severely limiting, the smart phone distractions, I can open myself up for a healthier relationship with my own creativity. After November’s writing challenge comes to an end, I may drift back into that relationship over time, but perhaps I’ll see how well I can do on my own.

For all the good the break may bring, I have to admit that breaking up will be hard to do. 🙂

What about you? Do you have a smart phone addiction? Do Twitter and Facebook notifications call for your attention? Are you perpetually connected to your phone? Do you think you, or someone you know, could do well with a break up? I’d be happy to hear about it the comments.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

~CJS

The 5W’s and a Pile of Poo

[Reblogged from Writer B Is Me] (Read this post recently from Beth Teliho, author of Order of Seven, and loved what she had to say, especially since NaNoWriMo is about to begin. Some language does ensue but we’re all adults here. Right?)

I thought this might be a timely post with Nanowrimo on the horizon, but also because I know quite a few talented writers who aspire to publish (you know who you are!) but they haven’t started yet because it’s scary as hell. Fear of not being perfect freezes them. They choke at their keyboards, unable to let the ideas sprinkle through their fingertips.

I know exactly what the voices in their heads are saying: What if I fail?

I know because I thought those same things. So I ask you, what is your definition of failure? And regardless of your definition, wouldn’t you automatically fail if you never tried?

fly

The most freeing thing I’ve ever heard in regards to writing is give yourself permission to suck.

You’re not going to have a first draft that’s gold and ready for print, whether you cranked it out for Nano or worked three years to get it done. It doesn’t work like that. All professional writers go through dozens of drafts with the skilled guidance of their editor(s) before they’re ready to publish.

When you first start to write out your ideas, it’ll be shit at best. And that’s perfect. That’s all it needs to be. That shit will be the compost for your beautiful garden.

You need it. You need all the shit.

My current work in progress is a steaming pile of ….you guessed it. To me, this is a sign of success. This is how I know I’m creating something. I know flowers are on the way because I’m preparing the soil.

When I first realized I was going to do this thing – this crazy writer thing, my immediate emotion was overwhelm. But I don’t know how to find an editor. I don’t know how to publish a book. WHAT’S A QUERY LETTER? I have to build a platform? WTF?! I don’t know the right title/cover/genre. Should I self-publish or go traditional? *breathes into paper bag* 

So I took baby steps. I figured I’d learn all the aspects when I NEEDED to know them, not before. First, I needed a full manuscript, which meant I needed to figure out the ending. Once I did that, I moved on to beta readers, and rewrites based on their feedback. Then the next step, and so on, and so on.

Bottom line: I stopped worrying about the tasks that weren’t due today.

One. Thing. At. A. Time.

Let’s talk about editing. The most difficult aspect of creating for me is writing without micromanaging. Turning my inner editor off is TOUGH. It takes practice (precisely why nanowrimo is so useful). But if I don’t do it, I spend too much time toiling over sentences that may not even make the final cut. Waste – of – time. You have to do a word pile – just get all your thoughts and ideas on the page. Don’t obsess over grammar, or perfect chapter titles, or loose plot lines, or fully developed characters, or what if my dad/aunt/mom/grandma reads this?!

Block the negative thoughts out and replace them with: I am going to write exactly what’s in my head, and it’s going to be utter crap that no one will ever lay eyes on.

Sounds crazy, right? Yep – just crazy and freeing enough to work, trust me. Get your story on paper. That’s all. Get a beginning, middle, and end. Write FREE. Be unapologetically Brazen. Cocky, even.

Be the stealth-badass-ninja-writer you were born to be.

leap 2

Another toxic-time-suck-sewer-ass-sludge-writer-slayer  unproductive behavior is comparison. But Stephen King writes 2,500 words a day, and cranks out at least a book a year. I heard Joe Schmo wrote a best seller in 6 months during his train commute to/from work. What about so-n-so, she wrote for years and never made a dime. BLAH BLAH BLAH

So What? Their writing journey is not yours. Their stories are not yours. YOU will have your own unique journey. YOU will write something no one else can, in a way only you can write it, and it will take as long as it takes. It will be a success for no other reason than because You Fucking Did It. You can’t write your way into your own journey if you’re obsessing on the journey of others.

RECAP of the 5 W’s:
1. Write that shitty first draft
2. Worry only about what’s due today
3. Write FREE of inner editors
4. Write with fearless-ninja-take-no-prisoners badassery
5. Weave your own writing story

#amwriting

I sincerely hope you are too. Can’t wait to see your beautiful garden.

((To read my award-winning badassery, click this> Order of Seven.))

order of seven

Jenny, The Movie

When you’re writing fiction do you ever imagine who would play your characters in the movie version? What if I got a big movie deal? Oh Hell…I know it’s not gonna happen, but what if? What if Steven Spielberg wants to make a big epic film version of my novel, ‘Jenny?’

The casting department takes care of that, of course. But maybe they’ll ask for my input. As I’m thinking about it, right now, I’m suddenly realizing that I’m not up on my present day actors and actresses. I would have picked Brad Pitt as the hero. Perfect. But wait. The character is in his twenties. What’s Pitt now? Fifty!? Geez, I’m getting old.

And Jenny. I want Jennifer Connelly. When I saw her for the first time in the movie, ‘The Rocketeer,’ I thought, “Daaaaammmnn!” A dark haired beauty. But that was in 1991. I just checked and Jennifer Connelly will be forty- five in December. In my novel, Jenny is in her mid-twenties. Won’t work.

Okay, the casting people will have to work it out. I just hope that they don’t pick Lindsay Lohan to play Jenny. We can’t have the star of the film in a drug or alcohol induced stupor most of the time. We need to wrap this picture up, people!

Actually, imagining real people in the role of your characters isn’t so crazy. It helps you visualize the scenes and maybe even hear their voices. When I read I do it. In my head, I often see what’s going on in a book as I would see it in a film. So doing it when you write isn’t so much of a stretch.

It would be interesting to have a large group of people of various age groups read a novel and then ask all of them who they imagined as the characters. One would say Elizabeth Taylor while another will tell you Jennifer Lawrence. Hmmm…Jennifer Lawrence. Another Jennifer. Jenny, maybe?

Yeah, I’ll have to tell Spielberg that I want Jennifer Lawrence. Now we need somebody for my hero, George Price. Any suggestions? Let me know, I need to be ready when Spielberg calls.

 

You’re Not Alone

November is quickly approaching and for some brave souls that means NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in 30 days). Perhaps I will include myself in that group, if I can muster up a bit more bravery.

For many, October has therefore been all about NaNo Prep work. For those out there who are giving this a go and perhaps having a little trouble, I’ll tell you this much: you are not alone.

You are not alone if you have spent more time coming up with reasons why you can’t do NaNoWriMo than reasons why you can.

I fight off the instinct to list the many obstacles to actually getting 50,000 words written in the month of November. It is easy to see the difficulty of committing to such a significant word count goal. Sticking to a commitment to write with a specific goal in mind truly will be worth the difficulty however so I have to move past the excuses and keep looking at the reasons.

You are not alone if you’ve spent more time reading articles on the best way to prep for NaNoWriMo than actually prepping for NaNo.

Fortunately there are some excellent resources available, both through the NaNoWriMo site and through all sorts of other sites as well. However it is very easy to spend much more time reading about prepping than in actual prep work. I’ve begun limiting the exploration of ideas and just applying what I’ve already found.

You’re not alone if you struggle against the plotting nature of NaNo Prep since you tend to be a full time “pantser”.

I have never done an outline prior to writing, so this is a big step for me. I’ve played with completing character sketches that are much more detailed than I’ve tried in the past. I’ve also worked on a plot summary more detailed than previously done on work I let come freely (but a bit more haphazardly).

You’re not alone if you are not nearly as ready as you should be.

I am quite sure I could be doing more to get ready and if I do this again next year (heck if I make it through this year! Haha), I will definitely learn other things I coulda, shoulda, woulda done differently. Live and learn is, I suppose, the only way to handle it at this point.

How is your writing or writing prep (or thinking about writing or prepping for writing) going? Do you feel alone in your struggles sometimes? Does it help to know we all have our struggles? Feel free to share with me about NaNoPrep struggles/victories or any of your current challenges. I would guess whatever it is you may be struggling with (or succeeding at), you are not alone. 🙂

Thanks for reading and have a good week!

~CJS

 

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up!

pilot

“Growing up is so overrated. Just be an author.” –British writer Neil Gaiman.

Yeah. When I read that I realized that’s one of the main reasons I enjoy writing. It’s like playing make believe when you were a kid. My friends and I used to run around with our plastic helmets and guns and be World War Two soldiers. Or shoot each other down with our toy planes while screaming loud airplane engine sounds and spitting as we made machine gun noises.

I remember that after we all went to see the movie, ‘The Lost World,’ we were soon hunting dinosaurs.

I don’t have any toy guns, anymore. Or toy airplanes. And I guess I’d look just a little ridiculous running around the house with a plastic helmet sitting on my head. Although, it probably wouldn’t surprise my wife. But I don’t have to run around the house doing it. I have a laptop and Microsoft Word. Those are my toys!

When I sit down and write I can be anything and anybody I want to be. I can put myself anywhere in the world and stick myself into any situation that I can think of. And I have. England in the late 1800’s when Jack the Ripper was terrorizing London. I’ve been a Sioux warrior at Custer’s Last Stand. I’ve been in dogfights over the trenches of World War One France. I’ve been an American soldier in North Africa in 1943 and I’ve been a 1920’s barnstorming aviator.

I can make-believe all I want and not look ridiculous. I can be a hero or a villain. Hell, I can even see what it feels like being a woman. Don’t worry. I’m not changing my name to Josephine or Caitlyn any time soon. But when I write, I can do it and not have to painfully remove any body parts.

I can also move my characters around as though they were toy people. Admittedly, they don’t like it sometimes and will argue with me. Sometimes they win.

And just like when I used to play with my toy soldiers, I get to decide who lives and who dies. Again, arguments. I’ve lost these, too, on occasion. At least my toys didn’t talk back to me.

But still, it’s fun. We used to create our own little worlds with plastic. Now I do it with words. So, yeah. He’s right. If you don’t want to grow up and you want to keep playing make-believe, then write!

Some old habits are hard to break, though. When I write those World War One dogfight scenes, I often find myself needing to wipe the spit from the machine gun sounds off of my laptop screen.

 

A New Twilight?

This past week, Stephanie Meyer, the best-selling author of the teen vampire series, Twilight, upon which the blockbuster movies were based, made a big announcement.

With the 10 year anniversary of the first Twilight books’ publication, Meyer has announced a new Twilight book, Life and Death – A Twilight Re-Imagining sold in conjunction with the 10th anniversary edition . Well, it’s not really *new*, it’s a new version of the first book.

This release is not like her unreleased and incomplete version that was leaked and then given for free on her site at one point, Midnight Sun, which was told from Edward’s POV. The new re-telling is the same story with – wait for it- gender swapped characters! (Cue eye roll).

In this new book, Meyer now has the teenage vampire as a female character and the love struck human as a male. Instead of Bella, we have a Beau. Instead of Edward, we have Edythe. Other characters are also gender swapped, like Carlyle, but the story is the same.

Meyer has said that this “new book” is not really a new book and she views it as more like “bonus material”, however new book or not, it will get a lot of sales I would imagine, given the series success.

Here I will admit I enjoyed the Twilight books. I know, the writing wasn’t good. I know she totally ignored the vampire tropes and gave the world the sparkling vegatarian vampire. (Cringe) I know the female lead isn’t the strong character I prefer to read about and see portrayed in film. I know. But I enjoyed them. Yes, part of this had to do with liking the British actor who portrayed Edward in the movies. (I love the Brits okay?) It absolutely had to do with the fun of the first movie and the great soundtrack. For all of the books’ (and movies’) faults, I enjoyed them. Chalk it up to guilty pleasures if you must. I’m coming clean here. I liked Twilight. Judge me all you want. 😉

Having admitted to that, I can tell you I think it is absolutely ludicrous to re-tell the same story with changes. I’ve seen her defense that it’s a response to the harsh critisism she’s faced with her ‘damsel in distress’ main character. I think the flaws with Bella go beyond a simple gender swap to play with the weakness not being female. If she wants to respond to giving us a weak female character, she should write something entirely new with a kick-ass female lead.

If she wanted to capitalize on her well-loved existing series, she could take one of her other characters in the world she has already created and explore her story. Alice was a cool and capable character that she could make the heroine in a new series. It could still be in the same world people are already plugged into and could be either before Bella or after Bella.

She hasn’t done that with this new “book/bonus material”, so I have no interest in reading it. I hope for her that she gives her audience a better option in the future. Better yet, perhaps all the readers who fell in love with Twilight can continue enjoying all the great books that have been published since in the same young adult category that are really worth the read. Susanne Collins’ Hunger Games series is fantastic and has a kick-ass female lead. Marie Lu’s Legend series is a great read. Ally Condie’s Matched series is also great and her prose is beautiful. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices Series are both captivating. (The Infernal Devices series was my personal favorite between those two series, by far.) I also enjoyed the very popular Divergent series but didn’t like the writing as much as others. The YA audience has a wealth of strong options to choose from, so I would say, let’s just skip this “new” Twilight book and look nearby on the shelves for another instead. 😀

What do you think? (Amanda and AJ you don’t get to chide me for my Twilight guilty pleasure! 😉 ) Is a re-tooling of an existing story ever a good idea? Does her gender swap accomplish anything? Should successful series ever be re-visited? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. (No, Amanda, nothing about the Twi-Hatred you may have haha).

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

~CJS

The Write Stuff

If you’ve tuned in lately to all our Twisted Writer posts, you may have noticed an inadvertent recurring theme cropping up in some of our posts. We all seem to be touching on challenges writers including ourselves can be (or are) battling against. You’ve seen “Writer’s Angst” from Joe; “Getting Back into the Swing of Things” by Amanda; “The Hardest Part of Being a Writer” by Jesi and now you have me chiming in here with this post which touches a bit on all of those topics.

This week I posted on my personal blog about how in the last few months I have really been out of it with my writing, my blogging, my Twitter, my writing group attendance and well, pretty much anything besides work, back to school, and the new football season for my oldest. Despite getting off track, I am fortunate to have people around me who can help remind me of where I want to be and/or kick me in the behind to help me get back on track.

At this week’s critique group, our Fearless Leader prompted all of us to share our goals. I haven’t really been thinking about or following any real goals for my writing lately. No wonder I am so off my game! Without setting some clear goals and then following through with achieving them, how do I expect to ever have any success with my writing? Have I just been thinking if I kept ignoring the writing that I would just magically have a finished novel?

Sadly there is no  magic shortcut to getting to something I am proud to have written. To get where I want to go, I need to force myself to set some solid goals along with an action plans go with them.

I imagine I am not the only one out there who has reached a snag like this before. Maybe you are there too. Maybe you got mired down in the muck of a difficult work in progress and let things slide like I have. Maybe you have been busy and overwhelmed like I have been. Maybe you just fell out of the good habits like I have done. Whatever the case may be, the good news is that it isn’t too late to get back on track. It’s not too late to get back in the swing of things. It’s not too late to tackle our writer’s angst. It’s not too late to do that hardest thing about writing and just show up. It’s not too late to show that we have the “write stuff”. 😉

I will keep you posted on my progress. Please feel free to let me know where you are at, if you are struggling too, or how you have managed to get past the times you get off track. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks and have a great week!

~CJS

Brings Back Memories

My family and I just recently tried a local restaurant, Babes, famous in the area for down-home fried chicken and all the fixins served family style in a really homey setting. As soon as we walked in, the smell alone brought back memories of meals shared at my grandmother and grandfather’s house. The food was pretty yummy, but couldn’t quite compare of course to what I had growing up.

It is just remarkable how the smell or taste or sound or sight or feel of something can carry such a powerful memory. The smell of the food took me back to sitting in the kitchen while my grandmother fried chicken. I could have been sitting at the small table next to my Paw-Paw cutting up small bites of potatoes to boil and cream to go with the chicken, which by the way we always snuck a few bites of the raw potato when my grandmother wasn’t looking.  Did anyone else ever do that?  I could see the tomatoes fresh from the garden sitting on the shelf behind the kitchen sink that we might cut up to go with dinner or just sneak a bite of as a snack while we were waiting. I could hear the pop of the grease as my grandmother would put a new piece of chicken into the pan. I was back in those moments with just the little smell of the food at the restaurant.

When I write I have to be careful to remember details like the tomatoes on the shelf, or the kitchen sink facing a window that looks out to the garden, or the process of cutting up the potatoes. I don’t want to get lost in the details, but those type of little sensory details can help paint a much larger picture in a simple way that the reader may later color in with their own memories.

I could also fill in a character’s backstory with what he/she may remember based on a certain taste or smell or other sensory detail. Does the character deal with grief by listening to a song that he used to listen to with his wife? Does the character buy the house that is the setting for our story because the yard makes him think of the one he had growing up? Does the character hate the taste of beans because that’s all she ate growing up since beans and rice was all they could afford? Sensory triggers could be a starting point for a whole character sketch.

A solid go-to writing prompt can be taking one of the five senses and throwing it at your character. What is my character smelling in this scene? How does that smell affect her? Does the smell make her think of anything? It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it could be. How might your character react to the taste of a dish offered to him? And why? Does your villain try to torment your character with the sound of a certain song? Why might that impact your character?

For me, I am going to think some more about the beauty of the simple moments like sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen and wish I could somehow take a time travel moment back in time to be with them again. Perhaps someday I will write about that. 😉

What sensory details always trigger memories for you? Is there a certain smell or taste that takes you back? Have you ever read something that really did a good job capturing a sensory detail? Do you try to include these details in your writing? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week!

 

~CJ

When real life intrudes

There are times when real life simply hits you over the head and keeps beating on you. This week has been one of those for me. Between trying — and the emphasis is on trying — to do physical therapy in prep for surgery on my Achilles tendon to having to call 911 for my mother and spending the better part of the week at the hospital to the husband of one of my best friends being in the hospital, there has simply been no room for writing, editing or much of anything else. I’ve turned to re-reading books that are comfort reads for me.  Mom is home now — thankfully — and doing better but things are still in flux and I simply don’t have the brain cells for a solid post today.

So here’s the deal. I’m going to toss the floor open. You can suggest topics for me to cover over the weekend. Or you can ask questions you want answered. Or how about listing your comfort reads or watches (TV or movies)?

I’ll be back tomorrow with a real post. For now, I am going to fall face first onto the bed and collapse for a bit, or until AT&T gets here to try to figure out why my services have decided to be flakier than usual.