Prep Work

Prep Work

Hello, friends! It’s Camp NaNoWriMo time again! And that means- bad art! reblogs! now later than ever!

I don’t think anyone could argue that any of the NaNoWriMo sessions churn out polished masterpieces, but lemme tell you, I needed this. I’ve been in an awful slump since… well, since last November, really. It’s nice to feel excited about a new project again.

Speaking off, I haven’t hit my word goal for the day yet. I’d better to see to that. Happy writing!

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I Miss Plastic, and Other Tales of Woe

seal paintI stood helplessly in the grocery store last Friday, wandering in bewilderment up and down what had to be miles of grocery aisles. Everything I could possibly put on my grocery list was right here, but I couldn’t seem to buy any of it. I stared at racks that soared over my head and thought, ‘I just… I just want to make rice krispie treats.’

A little background: each year, my family observes its own weird version of Lent. It’s not a part of our religion, but we’ve decided it builds character. And since we subscribe to Calvin’s Dad’s School of Character, calvin shovelingwhat it usually boils down to is forty days of making ourselves as miserable and deprived as possible. This year seems to be the granddaddy of denial and, guys, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.

My kids and I have been worrying a lot about penguins and baby turtles and dolphins and stuff, and so we decided to give up single use plastic. This wasn’t a completely naïve decision- I had been working at cutting back on plastics for several months going up to it- but holy guacamole, I don’t know if this is even possible in Fairbanks Alaska. We knew we would have to make exceptions for things like milk and medicine, but this is nuts.

Did you know that paper ice cream cartons are lined with plastic? And really any paper food container, such as shortening or my favorite almondmilk? As well as metal cans and aluminum soda cans? And the looks-like-metal-to-me twist off caps of glass bottles? The stickers on produce? Like everything ever? It makes me angry that I researched this at all because I thought things like glass bottles and fresh fruits and vegetables were safe. What the heck are we supposed to eat until Easter?

The thing is, the closer I look at my habits as a consumer, the more I notice all the ways I am a bad hippie (and, at least this year, a bad observer of Lent). Sometimes, when I’ve done everything I can do and it still doesn’t feel good enough, I just have to make a mental note and move on and hope that maybe, in a more perfect future, this will be fixable.

There’s a writing lesson here too. (I know you were waiting for it. [Although, really, I did just want to complain about plastic. Man, I would do some horrible things for a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips right now.]) Everybody knows that first drafts are pretty ugly little things, and that can be for a lot of reasons. Maybe the characters don’t feel real and layered, or maybe the plot got a little off course somewhere along the way. But one of my omnipresent reasons is the abundance of writing tics that slip in uninvited.

Writing tics vary from person to person. Some people find themselves using tons of brackets, or dropping necessary helper verbs, or writing in passive voice, or using the same three actions over and over. But the common thread is that these are the same sloppy little quirks that sneak into your writing over and over again, without your even noticing them. Drafting from scratch tends to dredge them up the most frequently because that’s when the ideas are first forming out of nothing, producing large streams of text for tics to sneak in with. Drafting is when we are most likely to write the way we speak, complete with all the hedges, repeats, and asides that are totally normal and acceptable in casual speech and informal writing, but less so in a finished piece.

Going back to edit is when I tend to notice my tics. And much like plastic in a grocery store, once I start looking, it’s everywhere. I swear, not a paragraph goes by without someone sighing. If I really want to shake it up, maybe they’ll roll their eyes instead. OR BOTH. But even knowing about the sorts of tics that I gravitate toward, I can’t seem to stifle them when I draft. They’re like dandelions.

Next month is Camp NaNoWriMo. I have been failing miserably at pretty much all of my goals so far this year, so I am determined to pick up the slack and get this thing back on track. I’m going to draft a brand-new story (a side story in-betweener novella in a series I’ve been working on forever), and I’m already anticipating all the funky little quirks that I won’t notice until the editing stage begins.

Your tics and mine are probably different, but just for fun, here are my most common writing tics. Maybe you’ll recognize a few from your own writing!

JUST, A LITTLE, SORT OF Okay, maybe I just like to hedge a lot. (I see you there, Just.) And on the other hand…

A LOT, VERY, SO Same issue, just bigger. (I can’t un-see all these ‘just’s. I’m not doing this on purpose.)

PET VERBS like sigh, pause, grin, and hesitate. Just these four words are probably a pretty good synopsis of most of my first draft stories. Look out for the pregnant pause. (Oh my gosh, there’s another ‘just’. Normally I would fix these, but I’m leaving them in for your benefit. You’re welcome.)

UNREASONABLY LONG SENTENCES It’s not editing unless I’m breaking behemoth sentences down into two, three, sometimes four much more digestible tidbits.

There are definitely more tics. Soooo many more. But at least I’m not quite as food obsessed as I used to be. I’d wedge in these Redwall-esque banquets and I swear, my characters did nothing and said nothing without a wad of food in their hands. Now they just fold their arms and slouch in doorways instead.

How about you guys? Any tics tend to crop up in your writing? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

Happy 2019!

resolutions*flings confetti* Wahoo!

Another year down and I haven’t managed to overdose on lemon sandwich cookies and kimchi brine yet! *fist pumps* Man, 2018 had a lot of madness and utter rubbish, but here with are with another shiny new year. Let’s not screw this one up, guys!

All things considered, last year wasn’t too embarrassing as far as resolutions go. I got pretty lazy on my health goals, but that’s somewhat to be expected, given how lowly I prioritize my own well being. (Stop that, Jill.) But other than that, things weren’t too shabby.

Numbers-wise, I hit my reading goal, and with a couple extra books besides; I even hit the stipulation that half of them be nonfiction! I did write up two new first drafts (Copper and Box of Bones) but only managed to edit one first draft into a second (Sacrifice); but I knew from about October onward that this would be the case, so I’m trying not to beat myself up about it too much. (Because man have I got excuses for the tail end of this year.) Sadly, I totally faceflopped on my goal to write twelve short stories by writing a grand total of three. *sad trombone* But in a shocking turn of events on the last day of the year, I actually hit the rejections goal! *soccer stadium cheer* I even managed one extra rejection (yay?) for a total of forty-nine.

Honestly, for my writing stuff, I think I’ve about maxed out my productivity in my current stage of life. So I’m pretty much just setting a repeat on last year’s reading, writing, and publishing goals, with just a few minor adjustments.

Once more, I’d like to read twenty-four books, with half of them being nonfiction. This year, I’m planning on leaning a little more heavily toward the editing side of things since I have about a million first drafts lurking around my hard drive; I hope to edit three ugly early drafts (probably Blood and Ebony, Quicksilver Queen, and A Cinder’s Tale, but I’m flexible) and to write one first draft of something new over the course of the three NaNo sessions. I’m also reining back on the short story drafting, just letting those evolve on an as-needed basis without a specific goal in mind. And I’m sticking with my forty-eight rejections for the year goal because, augh it hurts, but it seems to be working for me.

So that’s it! I’ve broken each of these goals down into quarterly, monthly, and daily goals to help keep me ticking along a little more smoothly (and maybe eliminate the need for New Year’s Eve miracles, haha). So I have a plan. Let’s see how badly I wreck it!

How about you guys? Any big writing resolutions? Or little ones? Let me know- I’d love to chat! Happy New Year and happy writing!

Proud and Not Proud: A NaNo Confessional

nano-winnerSo I did it! Yaaaay! I spent about five days this month not scrambling behind the curve, but one of those days was the 30th, so yeehaw, I’m a winner.

Buuuut… then I spent December 1st going through and deleting all the utter garbage that was only kept around because I needed the words. I had files and files of things that I deleted because it was of no value to the current draft or its future editing. It was just junk. Filler. Fluff.

I’m kind of conflicted about this year’s win. Yes, I wrote over fifty thousand words, and I’m proud of that. But in just that first sweep of cutting the fluff? That was nearly eight thousand words. Eight thousand words. I could have been typing sdf sdf sdf sdf sdf sdf and the final result would have been the same. So… less proud of that.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little hard on myself. A lot of that stuff was freewriting that I did to try and unstick myself from a gunked up corner of some scene that wasn’t going anywhere useful. And for the most part it worked, getting me going on things that actually were pertinent to the story. It wasn’t all completely useless.

But then I must also admit that some of those words I counted were a report for work, drafted up in a file within the NaNo document before being sent off. Not a lot. But certainly more than the 350 excess words I found myself with at the end of the month. There’s no way I can kid myself into thinking those were in any way helpful to my story.

So what do I consider a victory here?

I love NaNoWriMo. It usually comes right when I’ve gotten incredibly lazy with my writing (which seems to happen every fall and early winter). It’s a great kick in the pants to get back in gear and like I mentioned earlier, I have done every session since I first became a mom, so there’s a bit of sentimentality in my doing it as well.

NaNo is wonderful for a lot of reasons. It helps me get back on track with my writing. It is something that I can do with my friends. It forces me to move forward even if I want to stop. It gets me a lot of words that I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise, or at least not nearly as soon or as quickly.

But there is another side to NaNo that doesn’t get talked about as much. In addition to all the awesome things I get from NaNo, I also get really lazy with my craft. Writing more words is always better than writing good words.  I take time away from the people I love and the jobs that are meaningful to me, and I put that time into writing- at least in part- fluff and filler. Standards for the meals I feed my family and the state in which I keep our home fall off drastically. I don’t practice music. I don’t read. I don’t exercise.

The WIP itself has some serious problems too. But since I didn’t possibly have the time to work through the plot holes and figure out consistent and plausible and clever ways for the characters to behave, I just plowed forward and hoped I would think of something later. I wrote an entire book in which I have no idea what any of the characters even look like. Eye color, skin color, hair length, nothing. Because who has time for careful consideration in November? I’m more concerned with churning out endless streams of garbage in a desperate word grab than in actually making something that I’m proud of.

Now, maybe I’m just thinking like this because I’ve been having a hard time with depression this winter. I’ve also been stressed out at work for reasons that have nothing to do with writing. For months, I couldn’t even go to bed without my husband because I would just lay there in the dark thinking about how I’m ruining everything that is important to me. So I can’t completely blame all of these negative feelings on NaNo when my head is clearly not in a good place right now.

All the same, I am well aware of the things that NaNo is good for, but historically overlook the things that it is not good for. Maybe there are times when writing in a mad frenzy of literary abandon isn’t the best thing for my story, or even for me. Maybe sometimes having an ambitious goal can sabotage the very thing I’m trying to achieve. Maybe focusing my efforts on attaining a certain number of words may come at the cost of telling a coherent story.

I love NaNo. (Have I mentioned that yet?) So don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll have many years of reblogging and belly-aching to enjoy while I slog my way through future Novembers. But maybe, just maybe, if one of those Novembers is especially busy and I am especially unprepared, I’ll be a little more forgiving if I feel the need to just sit one out. After all, I didn’t get into writing to churn out words. I got into writing to tell stories.

How about you readers? Do you have any thoughts on NaNoWriMo, or even on just the pros and cons of quantifying writing goals? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your ideas!

Until next time, happy writing!

Reblog: Maximizing Writing Productivity While Working Full-Time

I try to avoid reblogging from Writers Digest because, well, everyone’s seen Writers Digest and I’d rather bring reblogs that I figure a significant chunk of you might have missed in all the vastness of the internet. But I liked this one too much to pass up, and it feels timely. As I’ve mentioned before, I work a full time job in the summer and four small part time jobs during the school year, not even counting being primary caregiver to our three growing boys (and our four chickens, they grow so fast). Time is always at a premium, especially during NaNo months. So without further ado, here is Audrey Wick’s WD article: Maximizing Writing Productivity While Working Full-Time. Enjoy!

Many writers dream of days they can devote entirely to their craft. But the reality is that working a day job in a field often unrelated to writing is sometimes a financial necessity, especially for new and debut authors.

When people learn that I write novels and hold a full-time job, they often ask me, “How?” They struggle to understand the balance of time, but I’ve made it a point to work hard to fulfill my love of both a professional life and my love of a writing life.

Also, what I’ve come to learn is that rather than seeing full-time work as a hindrance to the craft, writers can channel advantages of their situation to maximize writing productivity. Here’s how to do that:

Use time that surrounds your full-time job to think about writing.

For instance, on my commute, while I’m exercising or while I’m cooking dinner, my mind slides to my work-in-progress. During these times are when I flesh out my characters, develop plot points, imagine scenes of dialogue and consider conflict. Once I see these in my mind, it’s much easier to write them later. Also, permitting myself to think about writing during these times helps me stay focused on my full-time job to meet my responsibilities there since I know I’ll be able to come back to my writing later.

Ready to read the rest? Click on through to the other side!

Reblog: The Introvert’s Guide to Writing Conferences

Hey, look at that, it’s November! If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve maybe seen a bit of my drama surrounding NaNo this year. (Will she? Won’t she??) I really want to do NaNo- I love it and I’ve done every session every year since the birth of my first child. I’m kind of a NaNo junkie. But this November, through a series of unfortunate events (or just numerous time consuming events, really) has become incredibly busy, to the point that I don’t know if NaNo is even possible without dropping the ball on things at work or at home. (And I don’t mean just not doing the laundry. I mean like making meals for my children, getting them to school on time, not getting arrested for neglect sorts of things.)

But! Because I am a junkie and don’t know when to say no, I’ve decided to give it one week. The last few days have been… not promising, honestly, and it’s only going to get worse starting today. If I get to the end of week one and find that it’s really not working out, I am allowing myself to quit with minimal guilt. (I mean, this is me so there will definitely be guilt, but I will do my best to minimize it.)

And so it’s reblog time! I found this post by Kerrie Flanagan (via Writer’s Digest) to be helpful while getting myself ready for my conference a couple months ago, so maybe you will too! I’ll let you know how I’m doing with NaNo next week and, until then, happy writing!

 

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You did it! You signed up for a writing conference, and now the event is right around the corner. Slight panic sets in as you realize there will lots of people, you might not know anyone and you’d rather walk through fiery hot coals than network with strangers. If you relate to any of these statements, then I’ll go out on a limb and say you are an introvert. The good news is, so are a majority of other writers at the conference and there are strategies you can use that will allow you to enjoy the event and make some great connections.

Set Intentions

A few weeks before the conference, think about what you hope to get from the event. If you are still fairly new to writing or this is your first conference, you may want to take a broad approach, something that gives you a good overview about writing and publishing.

If you have been to writing conferences before or you have certain goals for your writing, consider a more laser-focused approach. Do you want to focus on the craft of writing? The business side of publishing? Building a platform? Finding an agent? Whatever the focus, make your plan with that in mind. Look over the schedule and choose sessions, workshops and other extras (critiques, one-on-one consults, pitch sessions…) based on your goals.

Be Professional

Ready to read some more? Hop on over to Writer’s Digest for the full article!