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!

Advertisements

Watercolor and Fire

Sorry, I had this all ready to post yesterday, but had a long and fierce argument with the scanner instead. (And shortly thereafter gave up on my Epson scanner. I gave up on it years ago as a printer and I’m giving up on it now as a scanner. Anybody want a free doorstop- I mean scanner?)

ANYWAY. I have a writing buddy who is doing a fantastic job at NaNoWriMo this month, but finds herself a tad behind. So I painted her a victory postcard! It is two of the characters from her WIP and I am mailing it to her today.

Dragon Painting

The catch? Well it IS a victory postcard. And the victory IS in question. So if she doesn’t win, she must burn her painting with dragonfire. Or just regular fire, you know, whatever’s around.

So good luck, Anna! Tick tock!

Speaking of, I’m a tad behind as well. Ugh, I think I’ve been caught up for like three days this entire month. Time to stop painting and start writing! (Well, stop blogging and get to work, but I’ll write soon! I promise!)

Update: She won! The postcard is safe! Another victory for truth and science!

A closing note:

The above picture was taken with my phone on my table, despite me being a TERRIBLE photographer. Even with the crookedness and the darkening of my colors, I still thought it was an improvement. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the Epson scan, shall we?

img011

Yeah, ew.

Box of Bones Caste System

Hi friends! So… I’m still doing Nano. Yes, I’ve been behind every single day of the month. Yes, I’ll quite possibly stay that way every single day of the month. But we’re not talking about that.

We’re talking about worldbuilding! So here’s some world building from my current work in progress, Box of Bones. The main characters in this story are from a country called the Grey Islands, a small string of islands poking off the mainland. They have a caste system that I made up mostly over the course of one morning and it is probably stupid, but I’m going with it.

So here it is in all its rambley glory: the Grey Islands caste system! (There’s actually a lot more to it, but I trimmed for brevity’s sake. This post would have been nearly thrice as long if I hadn’t!)

Nearly everybody on the Grey Islands is in some way descended from at least one of the officers or crew of the original ship of first settlers. (Those who are not are not allowed to vote, etc, even if they own a ship. They are considered guests of the Islands rather than citizens, even if they’ve lived there their entire life. The answer is usually to marry into an established line and then your children can have rights.)

People fall into three groupings: noble (veda), high (lira), and low (daru). Each of these is further divided into several classes. Class is very fluid and can even change within a single person’s lifetime. It has somewhat to do with birth, with wealth, with achievements, and with the favor of higher classes.

The three broadest class distinctions (veda, lira, daru) are called a person’s core. The distinctions within that are called scale, and are either high (alto), middle (mid), or low (bas). While it is common enough to move around within a single core, it is rarer to shift from one core to another. The fine distinctions within core and scale are called class and are numbered zero (highest) through three (lowest)- nun, ist, du, and tes. The final marking of a person’s rank is called direction, and is distinguished as rising (rin), stable (kos), stagnant (set), or falling (tol).

Class is highly linked to a person’s status and role, which are both merit based; therefore class, and particularly direction, is more an indication of how you are doing in the world; rising means that you are actively working upward in social ranking by your actions; stable means that you are comfortable moving within your current position; stagnant means that you are trying to work upward but not making any progress; falling means you are sliding backward in standing. Direction has everything to do with a person maintaining or changing class. For the higher ranks, kos is very respectable; after all the monarch (altoveda-nun) is considered kos, since there is nowhere higher to rise. Likewise, within the lowest class (basdaru-tes), there is no tol, since there is nowhere lower to fall.

Separation of classes is called degrees, each class being one degree. Below the royal class (which has its own set of rules), marriage is free within one’s own degree. It is also acceptable to marry someone one degree below or above you. Two is the maximum socially acceptable class gap.

While core is often dictated by birth, scale and especially class are more malleable based on a person’s merits (although there are undoubtedly more opportunities for advancement among the lira and veda than among the daru). Class is often determined by things such as wealth (disposable funds), income (and investments), education, occupation, reputation, etc, and can vary within a family, and even a single person at different points in their lives. Getting a better job can mark you as rin, but selling off your nicer furniture can mark you are tol. Class is highly flexible, and direction even more so, while core and scale are harder to change.

Spouses do not have to share scale, but marrying a lower class person can mark you as falling, unless that person is rising at the time of your marriage. Children inherit the core and scale of their parallel parent (matrilineal/patrilineal), and then typically don’t have a class separate of their parents until they come of age.

Few Islanders are veda, but lira and daru are about equally common. Most Islanders are kos and will remain so most of their lives. Rin, set, and tol indicate exceptional effort with varying levels of success. Rin is glamorous, set elicits gentle commiseration and maybe encouragement, and tol is not where you want to be. Most people would rather stop trying and stick with a nice respectable kos label than risk falling any farther.

About bucking the system: there is a thing called legal death, where a person abandons their caste, clan, and home to live as exiles. Despite being called ‘legal death’, it is definitely in the illegal category, so there is usually a faked death and family hushing, etc. ‘Legal’ in this case just means that the state believes them dead. Since they are dead, they don’t have any rights (even less than so-called guests of the Islands) which leads them wide open to any abuse whatsoever, so they tend to leave the Islands and never come back. This is a step beyond exiling, which itself is a step beyond disowning, both of which would leave the person’s place in the caste system intact.

So there you have it! All the exciting ways they can look down on each other! The MC is a nice respectable upper middle class, with the benefit of not having to think about this stuff a whole lot, but the secondary main is low class and it’s in his face a lot more, you know? Anyway, we’ll be back next week with another reblog and hopefully I’ll be better caught up! Tally ho! *dives at keyboard*

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!

 

By:  | 

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!

Reblog: 5 Ways to Save Your Character From A Drowning Story

Hey, gang! I’m down south visiting family in Anchorage Alaska, and getting very little writing done while I instead plan vacations, bake all the things, and hold the tiniest of humans far more than is necessary.  Fortunately, I’ve got the word count buffer to sustain this kind of lifestyle for another few days during this NaNoWriMo adventure. Any of you fellow wrimos- how go the literary hijinks?

This is our last reblog of the month, and then I have to start being thoughtful again. This one comes from Nicole Blades via Writers Digest, and stuck out to me probably because my story kind of stinks this month, haha. It’s nice to know that if the ship sinks, I might at least be able to launch a lifeboat and get my MC to dry land again.

5 Ways to Save Your Character From a Drowning Story

NBladeby Nicole Blades

As writers, we’ve all experienced that moment when it becomes painfully clear that the story we’re working on just isn’t. We’ve tried to twist and bend it this way and that, but then it’s time to finally admit that we’ve come to the end of the rope with the manuscript and will have to let go. It’s next-level kill your darlings, and it’s rarely pleasant or easy. But what if the protagonist or a key character in that sinking story won’t let go of you? What if the character continues to haunt you and you simply cannot give up on them? Is there a way to valiantly rescue a great protagonist from a less than great story? Short answer: Yes! So, move over, Rose; there’s definitely room for Jack on that floating piece of wood.

I’ve lived through this with my latest novel, Have You Met Nora? (Kensington). My main character, Nora Mackenzie, is a young woman with an incredible secret and a heartbreaking but complicated backstory. She is flawed and layered and fascinating to me. However, the initial setting of the book—an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school in Vermont, where a 17-year-old Nora reigned as the queen of Mean Girls—wasn’t connecting. As Dawn Brooks, a character in the revised book would say, “it didn’t curl all the way over.” I had received feedback from agents, writers, and early readers that kind of all said the same thing: she’s too mean. As compelling as Nora’s story was in my eyes, having readers say that they couldn’t relate to her, that they couldn’t find the connection site with the character, meant that they would never care about what happens to her. And that spells The End for the story. Who’s going to want to keep reading when they don’t care about the protagonist? Exactly.

The thing is, this character captivated me, and the heart of the story I was trying to tell was still beating strong. I just needed to strip away everything else around Nora’s foundation and rebuild it using sturdier, more developed bricks. I went about it by first growing Nora up, moving the character out of school and into full-blown adulthood. I had to construct a fresh world around her that included new relationships, experiences, and weighty conflict that served the character and the story. This kind of revise wasn’t a walk in the park; it took years to pull it off, but I did it. (After all, the book is going to released into the wilds come October 31, right?)

I wanted to share what I learned through this experience with others who may be trying to save a character from a burning book before just hitting DELETE on the whole thing. I asked some other author friends to loan me their two cents on the topic, too. So, here are five actionable tips on how to keep the baby when it’s time to dash the bathwater.

Ready to read some more? Head on over to Writers Digest for the full article. And until next week, happy writing!

Reblog: A Guide to Spotting and Growing Past Stereotypes

Hi! Welcome to another month of NaNoWriMo, and that means lovely reblogs by people who are smarter than me- yay! This week’s reblog was written by Ellen Oh of We Need Diverse Books and posted to the NaNoWriMo blog. Enjoy!

Nano

One of the most common mistakes I see when people try to write diversely is that they fall into the practice of writing a positive stereotype. After all, if it’s positive, it can’t be a stereotype, right?

Wrong.

A stereotype is a positive or negative set of beliefs about the characteristics of a group of people. Just because it is positive, doesn’t make it any less problematic.

Why?

Because a stereotype is a generalization, and a generalization can never come fully to life in your story, no matter how beautiful your words might be. Readers want to care for your characters. Talk to any fan of a well-loved book, and they can often rattle off the detailed physical characteristics, and tragic backstory of their favorite character.

As an author, this is what you want.

Ready to read more? Check out the full post here!

And if you’re looking for more info on writing diversity, check out the writers’ resources page of We Need Diverse Books, or the DiversifYA website. Happy writing!

Jill’s Planning Process

© Flickr | nist6dh

Howdy, friends! A few weeks ago, someone asked me about my planning process. The question corresponds perfectly with an upcoming NaNoWriMo session, and my current blundering toward it without a plan.

New projects usually start life on a document called Master Story Idea List. There are currently a dozen or so on there, ranging from picture books to thrillers to contemporary YA, although most of the ideas hover somewhere around speculative fiction. Whenever I get a new idea, I jot it down on the master list and there it sits until I get around to it. Some have been there for years. Some only live there for a couple months, or even weeks. When my docket opens up for a new project, this is where I first look.

Choosing which project I want to do mostly comes down to interest; if I’m not that interested in the idea, it usually translates into a super boring draft that I abandon midway and stuff in a dark corner of my closet. But if I have more than one project that interests me, I consider other factors. How much research does the story require, and do I currently have time for it? Is the idea robust enough to make a whole book, or is it so robust it’ll need to be broken into a series? It may take me a few weeks, but I eventually narrow it down to one project.

Once I have a project selected, I open up a blank document, copy over everything from the idea list, and start typing. Most often, I end up with a basic storyline, interspersed with character or setting notes. This is usually created in a single brainstorming session, and these are always so laughably awful that it’s painful to read years later.

After I have this basic information down, I typically start to dial in either the plot or the characters; for some reason, I can’t do both at the same time. Usually, I work out the characters first. I’ve found that when I work out the plot first and then shoehorn character profiles into it, the cast tends to feels more cardboard. (But that’s just me! Different authors write differently.) When I’m fleshing out a character, I start with their background, then move on to their personality, and then fill in gaps from there. When I have a really firm grasp on the people I’m dealing with in the story, I have an easier time seeing where the story will go when I boot them out the door with inciting action.

At this point, I proceed to one of two methods: fill in the blank, or lazy bum’s snowflake.

Fill in the blank works best on projects that are already about sixty percent of the way there outline-wise. If I have a really good idea of all the things that need to happen throughout most of the book, I can just inject bits here and there. The things I’m filling in most often have to do with why-because gaps- I know where the character will be, I just need a good reason why. It’s important that a character’s goals and motivations shine throughout the entire story. (They can’t just end up somewhere because the plot needs them to.) Fill in the blank allows me to make sure that, not only are there no giant plot holes sulking about, but the character’s inner workings are driving them just as much, if not more, than the outer conflicts.

Snowflake is my go-to method on projects that have a super interesting premise and maybe a few vivid scenes, but not a whole lot more. (For those of you not familiar with the snowflake method, check it out here. What follows is the so-lazy-it-hardly-counts version.)  I take what I have and I see if I can mold it into three sentences, one for the beginning of each of the three acts of the book. Then I balloon each of those sentences out to a paragraph. That point is usually good enough for me to move on to fill in the blank method.

I always intentionally leave a lot out of the outline. Side stories are more or less left to evolve as they will. The conclusion is always undecided. I leave these gaps for two reasons. First is my own short attention span. If I have a story worked out from start to finish before I sit down and write the thing, all the fun of discovery is over and I find myself at least twice as likely to get bored with the project and drop it before it’s completed. The second reason is that if I don’t let any parts of the story happen “naturally”, I sometimes have a hard time getting any of the story to feel natural. This isn’t always true, but it’s true often enough to be a factor. (Another reason is just that I know things are going to deviate wildly from the plan before this is all over, and I hate wasted effort, haha. Again, that laziness issue.)

So once I get past the fill in the blanks stage, I usually let it all rest for a week or two and then I’m ready to write.

None of this should be taken as meaning that I just decide to sit down and smoothly work out a story without any hitches. This process usually takes weeks of picking at it and thinking about it and starts and stops and erasures and you name it. (And the ‘weeks’ assessment is assuming we don’t count the time before the idea gets plucked off the master list.)  But once I get into planning mode, I can usually work it all out in a couple weeks, sometimes less.

That makes this the perfect time for me to start working on the outline for my NaNo project this November. A few weeks to plan it, a few weeks to rest it, and then I’ll be ready to roll. Time to go check out that idea list!

Happy writing!