Tag Archives: National Novel Writing Month

NaNo Week Two & Using Adversity In Your Writing

As you know, I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). We’re two weeks in now with two more weeks to go. By now, according to a daily word count calendar, I should have completed 25,000 words. I have not. But I am not that far behind, only a few thousand words. Completely doable. I am not out of the game yet. 

It’s not so much that I want to “win” NaNo because I could care less about that. I just want to see if I can reach that 50,000 word mark for myself. I haven’t written every day but I’m not skipping that many days. Some days I may not write more than 200 words while the very next day I come back and write over my daily goal. I have already surpassed my total for NaNo last year, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a win already.

Currently, as I stated above, I am behind on my word count goal. There are events in my life that had to take precedence over the weekend, and they out me behind. I’d like to say these were normal every day things that just caused time to get away from me, but they were not. I’ve ridden an emotional rollercoaster several times in the last three days. This seriously hampered my desire to do anything but fall into bed and sleep until things straightened themselves out. So, writing became secondary. 

But, despite how I felt last night, I went to my bedroom where it was quiet and peaceful, grabbed my laptop, and began writing. I knew I was far behind where I wanted to be and I started to feel a little overwhelmed. After a brief Facebook writer support group meeting and a little encouragement, I calculated how many words I’d have to write over how many days and proceeded to type one word after another. It took a while to reach my new word count goal but reach it I did, and before midnight I looked at my word count total-21,000 words. It might not be 25,000 but I’m satisfied. Those words were well earned, and the writing was cathartic. 

One of the good things to come out of the dog-pile that was my weekend is all of the writing fodder. All of the emotional turmoil and fallout made for some excellent material to use in my book or in future books. My writing last night was very emotional and I think it will show later on. And in return I was able to look at what had happened through my character’s eyes. It allowed me to step back from my own perspective, view it through someone else’s, then let go of all of the stress caused by worrying over things.

Writing, even when I don’t particularly feel like it, is what I’ve learned this week. But if you persevere and just keep typing one word after another, even if they aren’t particularly good words, then you’ll reach your goal, whatever that may be.

Are you participating in NaNo, or even your own version of it? What have you learned and how is your writing going? Let me know below.

Jesi

What I’ve Learned During NaNo’s First Week

Happy Monday!

What? Too perky?

So Not Sorry. After a long weekend of feeling like someone skewered my insides while also having a house full of kids (and one of those gets sick, too), I deserve a little perky.

Plus, I have a grand total of 12,459 words in my NaNoWriMo word tally. That’s for one week of writing. By today I should have 15,000 words written and I will get it done. I’m not going to push myself into misery though, which is why I took yesterday off. It was a beautiful day and I had been up until 3 a.m. writing 4,000 words, I felt good after being sick for two days, and I decided I’d earned the break.

I’m learning a lot from this round of NaNo. I’ve figured out that if I give myself 20 minutes, and only 20, to socialize and distract myself from writing then I can actually focus on writing without being distracted because I spent my allotted time and have to earn more. It’s my reward system and it’s working for me. Next,  I’ve discovered that for the first hour I am pushing myself for words. This sucks because I might manage only 500 the first hour. However, once I get past that first hour and those 500 something amazing happens: the story takes over.

I’m serious. I’ve had a week of testing this theory. It’s like sitting down to do homework at first or reading a book someone tells you to read in a genre that you don’t normally read in. There’s pain. There’s whining. There’s wining. 😉 But after a while you realize that the book isn’t so bad or that you’re almost finished with all those thousands of math problems. Once I get past the mad toddler stage of that first hour I find that the words are flowing, the characters talking and telling me their part of the story, and I get lost in what I’m doing. So much so, that Saturday night I lost track of time and that’s when I looked at my word count and realized I’d gone over my daily goal. That’s happened quite a few times this week.

Another thing I’ve learned is to not focus on my word count. Because it’s insanity. I may be a lunatic poet but I’m not actually all that crazy. (Hush AJ.) At first I caught myself looking at my word count every ten minutes to see how close I was to my daily goal. It was a distraction in itself. So I tried to focus more on the writing, not the words. It’s helped but it is really tempting to look and keep track of those words. I’m now trying to just let it go. (Ok, Joe, stop it. If I have to hear that song one.more.time…)

Let’s talk about editing-as-you-go-now. One of our biggest problems, right? Not this time for me. I have somehow ignored all those little niggling impulses that say “go back and fix it now.” Nope. I am making all kinds of errors and just leaving them. I am info dumping. I am deliberately ignoring all the rules and liking it. I have chapters all over the place. I have scenes happening before other scenes. I have characters introduced that I will need to go back and create an introduction for. I have timeline issues. But it’s all good. I will go back after November, or when I’m finished writing, and sandpaper the hell out of it. That’s why its called a rough draft.

I’ve also developed an interesting little quirk. I like to knit, and with fall here and winter on its way I began knitting a scarf for one of my eldest son’s friends. (Its a Ravenclaw scarf, CJ. Thought you’d appreciate that note.) I’m almost done with it and have now begun knitting hats because they’re quick to make. Well, I’ve begun  keeping a hat in progress next to my laptop. Whenever I get stuck on what to write, I pick up the hat and knit until an idea comes to mind. There’s this idea that knitting creates a Zen-like mindset in the brain. I cannot corroborate that with any scientific facts but it does clear out all the minutiae and let’s me begin to focus on the problem at hand. Clearing my mind allows new to form and I can brainstorm while still being productive, which then allows my writing to be more productive as well. Plus, I love the yarn I’m working with right now. Its SOOOOFFFTTTT. So…writing and knitting, though not at the same time, an interesting but effective combination.

This week has definitely been worth the time I’ve invested in NaNo. Just learning more about my writing process, and how its evolved during the last two years, has been a gift in itself. I know I need to allow myself distractions and reward myself for a job done, even if it’s a small one. Knowing that I will be pushing myself for words the first hour or so allows me to know what to expect, and I will be developing a strategy to combat this problem as November goes on.

Week Two is here and I hope you’ve discovered things about your writing, and your writing process, that will help you as you go forward. And I would love to hear about it. Pipe up in the comments. Let’s see what ya got!

Jesi

It Has Begun

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo for short, has begun. Yesterday to be precise. And I missed it. I had a family emergency sprout up that took the entire weekend to resolve and so I ended up without logging (even for my own benefit) any writing time.

But you know what? That’s ok. I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’m not out to try and “win” NaNo. By that I mean that I’m not going to try and kill myself to make the 50k words in 30 days goal that defines NaNo. I will do my best to get close but pushing myself to frustration to be able to cut and paste a “I Won NaNo!” button on my home blog isn’t worth it. That’s not MY goal.

My goal is simple: to sit down and write something every day. I have one idea that is my NaNo project, but I have a few other projects that I would really like to work on and finish as well. So, I plan on writing a little on my NaNo Project, then working a little on another smaller project and getting it completed. No, that doesn’t follow the NaNo contest guidelines but so what? Isn’t the whole premise of NaNo to get you writing? What does it matter if it’s one new project or an older one? As long as you are writing every day and reaching whatever reasonable word count goal you have set for yourself, I don’t see that WHAT you write matters all that much.

So, what is my NaNo project? I am taking on and retelling King Lear. I was inspired this past September after I watched Sir Ian McKellen’s 2008 performance of Lear. His portrayal of the mad King sparked an idea that I ruminated on for at least a week before realizing I was prepping my story already. I had most of my characters and scenes began playing out in my head. All I had to do was write them down. That’s where NaNo comes in.

Thanks to NaNo I had to hold off on actually sitting down and writing the story. Because I had to wait to begin writing until November, I was forced to actually prep. I had some research to do (I still have research to do). There were character sketches I wanted to write out. And, horror of all horrors, I actually began outlining! A natural pantser (thanks to writing poetry…A LOT of poetry), I was outlining…in my head. I know. I can’t believe it either. But I did.

I don’t have all the mechanics worked out. But I have enough that it didn’t matter that I missed writing yesterday. As far as I’m concerned, all of my prepping (which includes writing about 500 words of a summary that could be a possible opening chapter) should count towards my first day work. I sat my butt down and wrote every day in October. Granted, it was for a poetry challenge but I still sat down and wrote. I also did lots of reading, on my subject and off it. I planned, I plotted, I wrote. (Google Translate says that is: “Aluero, confirmaro insidiatus scripsi” in Latin.) As far as I’m concerned, I have made a great start. And let’s face it, we’re going to need all the little bits of encouragement and support as November marches on and NaNo becomes a pain in the butt to get through.

So, a few tips.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make your daily word count. Some days you are going to have a word count euphoria while others you might manage two words.
  2. Take breaks. Get up and walk around. Go for a walk outside if it’s nice. Make a cup of coffee or tea. But take a break. Get your mind off of writing for a bit. It will help if you come back to your writing with a fresh mind.
  3. Reward yourself, even for small goals. Basically, be your own cheerleader. Do something kind for yourself like having a piece of chocolate (or your preferred delectable treat) or watching a movie (see tip #2).
  4. Ignore all your natural inclinations to surf the web and social media sites. Set your phone to vibrate or turn it off completely if it’s a big distraction. It’s a proven non-scientific fact that once you sit down in front of your computer to write you find a hundred other things to do instead of actually writing. So, put on the blinders and turn off the distractions.
  5. Remember that “winning” NaNo is NOT the goal. Writing every day is.

NaNo is a good exercise in dedication. It’s helpful in that it forces you to try and make a habit out of writing every day. And if you are sincere and determined to be a writer, then writing every day is not just a necessity, it’s your writing oxygen. Even the great writers knew it. Practice makes perfect isn’t just an adage, it’s a well-known fact of every craft.

Here’s to hoping you’ve made a great start to NaNo! Happy writing this week!

Jesi

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

Rogue Muses or Overbearing Ones, We Got All Kinds Here

Last week Amanda talked about her rogue muse, Myrtle, and how Myrtle is driving her insane. (My word, not Amanda’s but I bet she’d agree with me.)

I don’t know if I’d rather have her muse or mine. Mine does not have a name because mine likes to change identities half the time. Mine is also being a little overbearing lately. And a workaholic. It isn’t enough that she’s got me participating in a poetry challenge, which I can handle just fine, but she also has me participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for those who need to have it spelled out). And that means prepping for a long month of writing. Oh, and let’s top that off with agreeing to write a short story (5-10k words) for a murder mystery novella with a deadline of December 1st.

Yeah. She may have bitten off more than I can chew.

But that’s the fun/insane thing about being a writer. You never know what you’re going to find yourself getting into. Take for instance the poetry challenge I’m doing. Last year I joined thanks to CJ’s gentle nudging. (It really was-CJ is a subtle witch-she says “hey, you should do this” and then she begins writing some lovely words and I can’t resist.) I joined late but began writing two poems a day to catch up (because I could, not because I had to). By the time the challenge was coming to a close I was writing three poems a day. It was a lot of fun and I met new people and ended up with quite a bit of poetry in my repertoire.

Now take NaNo. I joined that last year as well, thanks to AJ. She’s not so subtle. She’s more like “you should do it because I’m doing it and you should do it.” Did I mention she was holding a sledgehammer at the time? (Okay, not really. She’s not that violent…or is she? 😉 ) During NaNo I began writing something I thought would be my first book. And I was doing well until midway through a bad head cold/infection cold-cocked me and took me out of the game for good. It was awful. You’d think that would put me off NaNo. But you’d be so wrong. I’m doing it again this year. What could possibly go wrong this time? (I know, I’ve just invoked the Writing Gods’ perverse sense of humor. What can I say? I like a good challenge.)

Amanda always asks us in group what our writing goals are. I may be one of the few that can look her in the eye without flinching, or fidgeting under her steely gaze, and give her an acceptable answer. I have more than enough goals and writing going on right now, and I think both Amanda, and my muse, should be happy with that.

And me, well, tune in next month to watch me become a sleep-deprived, raving lunatic.

Have a great week.

Jesi

Defining the Narrative (Story) Arc & Discovering Your “Hook”

I participated yesterday in a workshop where the subject was the Story (Narrative) Arc. We wrote 1-2 pages of a new story in preparation for the class, and then we had to determine our story arc and our “hook” (that part of the beginning that captures a reader’s interest). The story I used was not actually new to me but the group had not seen it and I haven’t worked on it since I wrote it.

The workshop was interesting and I want to share some of my moments of enlightenment. Firstly, a definition of Story Arc:

A story arc is an extended or continuing storyline in episodic storytelling media such as television, comic books, comic strips, boardgames, video games, and films with each episode following a narrative arc. A narrative arc refers to the chronological construction of plot in a novel or story.

A story, whether in book form or film, can contain several story arcs. However, each arc should contain the same elements. Typically, these elements are:

an exposition: introduction of characters, setting, and  a lead-in to the conflict

the rising action: the part of the story where the conflict increases

the climax: the point where the conflict is reached and the turning point in the story occurs

falling action: the unfolding of events of the climax and release of tension

and the resolution: rather obviously, the conclusion.

In picture form, it looks like this:

risko narrative-arc

 

I want to emphasize that this is a typical/traditional definition. In reality, your story/narrative arc should look more like this:

story-arc

 

The basic reason is you want to give your readers some breathing space. You can’t keep them on a constant high. If there is no downtime, at some point, you will make them want off the ride…for good. Giving them a commercial break allows, ultimately, the tension to build even more and permits you to throw in surprises they will not expect.

A few months ago, I read a novel that used this particular type of story arc. Dear Stephanie by Mandi Castle was one heck of a rollercoaster ride. Her main character, Paige Preston, is a hot mess, but what Ms. Castle did, brilliantly in my opinion, is give you a break from the drama where you can sit back and go “whew”, until she hits you with the next hill, which is higher and deeper than the one before it. And her resolution? Let’s just say it was like having the first bite of the best dessert ever…and then the restaurant catches on fire. I highly suggest you put this book on your reading list.

One of the other things we discussed was your “hook”. As a reader, you want to be taken into the story right away. Else why bother reading the rest of the book? For me, Inkheart was one of the hardest books for me to read because it didn’t grab my interest. It didn’t “hook” me. I read that book out of pure determination (shut up, AJ-determination/stubborness, poe-tay-toe/poe-tah-toe). It was hard for me to get into the book, and I never read any of it’s sequels. I’m sure it is a good series, but, for me, if a book takes me several chapters and I still don’t know why I’m reading, then I’m not going to be interested in the other books.

One of my favorite contemporary novels is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Ms. Morgenstern begins her book with a prologue (don’t get our fearless leader, Amanda, started on prologues), and it begins with this:

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

And, just like that, I am transported into magic. My brain begins firing and my imagination conjures up the movie Something Wicked This Way Comes. Let’s ignore the prologue. Even without it, the first sentence of the first chapter hooks you in.

The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspsondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl.”

I am all in now. I want to know more. Who is the note from? Who is Prospero? And why is the note pinned to a little girl?

In the workshop, we had to discover our story arc and then pinpoint our hook. To be fair, I had never put any thought into story arc. So, trying to find what the arc is in a story that isn’t fully realized yet was not easy. Even harder was trying to figure out what my hook was. Because what I thought it was turned out not to be the hook for everyone else. This is why beta readers are incredibly important, but that’s an article for another day.

I have been working on a story I began last November during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I basically began by writing the ending of my story and working my way backwards. Or so I thought. Now I’m looking at it with a different perspective. I’ve decided to go back to my ending and upload it to my writing group for a critique with the focus being on whether it will work better as the beginning. I also now see the possible story arc in it as well as a hook.

I challenge you this week to look at your current work in progress and view it with an eye to story arc and finding your hook.

Have a great week!

Jesi