IWSG: That Whooshing Sound

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s the first Wednesday of the month and time for the insecure writers of the world-wide web to get together and commiserate via the wonderful Insecure Writer’s Support Group. If you’d like to join us, click the linky, where you’ll find the Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh and some of the nicest writers on the web.

Let’s talk about deadlines. I’m sure everyone has read this little gem:

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by. Douglas Adams

Kriss Szkurlatowski @ stock.xchngI can appreciate a solid deadline too. I deal with them all the time at my day job because in the lab our customers like their results delivered on time, often ASAP–if not sooner. I sometimes joke and ask them if they might prefer their results before the samples actually arrive in the lab! Deadlines met mean money made though, so I rarely fail to turn my workload around on time.

I’m the same way with my personal writing deadlines. If NaNoWriMo challenges me to write fifty thousand words in thirty days, I churn out at least a hundred thousand. If I resolve to free write seven hundred and fifty words every morning, I write my words no matter what, even if I can’t get to them until eleven thirty at night. If a short story contest ends on March 30, I hit send on March 29 to make sure the story is received in plenty of time. When I resolved to finish the How to Revise Your Novel course sometime in June, I finished it on May 26. If I sign up to post on the first Wednesday of every month about my insecurities, I start writing my post weeks ahead of time and haven’t missed a post. (Not yet anyway!)

I used to think deadlines were no problem for me. Then I tried to write and, more importantly, revise this book. For the life of me, I can’t seem to set a deadline to finish it. (For those of you who are counting, this is the draft I finished in September of 2009.)

I tell myself that it’s because I’ve never written books before, so I don’t know how long it will take to produce one that’s actually good. Besides, how can I set a deadline to finish my book if I keep running into potholes in the writing of it? It’s not as if my book is a batch of cookies, where all I’d have to do is look inside the oven and pull them out when they’re brown around the edges.Dominic Morel @ Stock.xchng

How will I know when my book is done?

When the critiques all come back glowing? When I’m finally able to summarize my story in a snappy query letter? Will angels sing and stars float over my head announcing that I have finally created the masterpiece I am hoping for?

Or will I hear a faint but rapidly approaching whooshing sound as a deadline hurtles towards me?

I don’t know. But I think I need to figure it out if I ever want writing stories to turn into a paying gig.

So I’m turning to the insecure writers–and the secure ones as well. What kind of signs do you look for to decide if the book is well and truly finished? Or do you simply set a deadline, and stick to it no matter what?

Microscope image courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski, cookies image courtesy of Dominic Morel, both @ Stock.xchng

Making It Sing

Image courtesy of 'Kimberlee Kessler Design'So, you ask, how is that novel coming along?

I kinda figured my novel-writing journey wouldn’t be an expressway, but sometimes it feels like I’m on a bus headed to the wrong side of town.

I always thought writing a novel would be like wandering from the Shire to Rivendell, but mine often feels like it has ended up on top of Mt. Doom.

And it seems that most writers’ story-writing sewer pipe leads straight to the street, but mine stops in the garden, then shimmies under the driveway and even takes a turn or two around some tree roots.

What am I trying to say with all these awkward metaphors?

Writing my first book is taking a really long time. How long?

Okay, I’ll come clean.Image courtesy of Barry Meyer @ stock.xchng

The first draft- and I use the term ‘draft’ loosely here, being the first story I ever wrote, long, short, or otherwise- was completed in September of 2009.

Yes, you read that right.

Two Thousand and Nine.

Why is it taking so long to share this story with the world?

Revision, my friend, revision …

Here is a picture of where I’m at with it:Lesson 18-Chapter 35

Chapter Thirty-Five, you say. What’s the problem? That’s pretty far along in a forty-three chapter novel, isn’t it?

Not really.

I started this pass of my revision (line editing for usage, self-indulgence, and commas) near the end of the story because I couldn’t stand to look at Chapter One anymore! I’m seriously starting to wonder if I will ever finish this story.

This is not my inner editor talking here. This is the voice of reason. I look at my words and I know they are not ready. Some of them are, and that’s how I know that I’m being realistic. I think I’m close, but there are quite a few sections that need some more work.

It probably doesn’t help that I keep scampering off to write other novel first drafts, five in all (finished) since I started Image courtesy of Irina Tischenko @ Big Stockrevision on The Tempest’s Serenade. I like to stretch my storytelling wings once in a while and it feels so good!

I’m here to announce that I’ve made a decision about my direction. After the second pass of block revision, (I’m pretty sure I’m going to need a third) I’m going to try to sprint— all right mosey, this is the scenic route after all— to the end of the How To Revise Your Novel course, whether or not the final result ends up being a publishable draft.

I’m on Lesson Eighteen of Twenty-Two. At the rate I work, it is conceivable that I could get through them all by summer. Maybe even in time for the Create Space offer for NaNoWriMo winners?

Someday, perhaps The Tempest’s Serenade will take the world by storm … but for now, I want to do my very best to make it sing.

How long do you think it should it take to write a novel? And what do you do to stretch your wings?Image courtesy Kate Childers @ stock.xchng

Images courtesy of ‘Kimberlee Kessler Design’, Kate Childers and Barry Meyer @ stock.xchng, and Irina Tischenko @ Big Stock

IWSG: Driving A Story Off A Cliff

InsecureWritersSupportGroupHere we are at the first Wednesday of the month and it’s time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to pull our virtual chairs into a circle and discuss our anxieties. If you want to be a part of our great group, and join Alex J. Cavanaugh in commiserating about all the trials we Insecure Writers endure, click on this linky and join us! I’ve been posting with this fabulous group for almost a year now, and knowing that I am not alone in my insecurities and fears has made a huge difference on how I view this writing obsession of mine.

This month I was certain I would be posting an uplifting story about how winning NaNoWriMo has boosted my self-confidence, how much fun I had writing my story, and how I feel so much more a part of the tribe of writers.

Well, that lasted for about a day.

Then my Inner Editor, who’d I’d sent on a month-long imaginary shopping spree to spruce up her already stunning wardrobe, returned. It didn’t take her long to unpack all the designer duds out of her matching luggage and to add her latest acquisitions to a shoe collection that rivals that of the infamous Imelda Marcos.

She settles in quickly and makes a cup of coffee, black because extra calories do nothing for the hips.

“What have you got for me?” she says. Her desktop is one of those glass ones that only the high-powered executives with nothing to do except schedule meetings have, with only a phone, an expensive pen, and a vase of flowers on it.

I hand her my newly minted first draft manuscript, and she proceeds to look it over.Red Lipstick

“I see that  you wrote yourself in again,” she says as she flips through the first few pages. Her coral-colored lips, the latest Chanel shade, are pursed as she points out the first of what are certainly many strategic missteps on my road to literary abandon.

“Umm … yes,” I reply. “I needed to get into my protagonist’s head,” I add helpfully.

“Have you ever met an adverb you didn’t like?” She turns another page.

“Rarely,” I say and clap my hand over my mouth as I realize I’ve released yet another adverb.

“And what’s this?” She taps a perfectly manicured coral fingernail on the title of a chapter. “A Side Trip to Exalta City?”

“It’s a tour. Of the city where part of the story takes place.”

She pulls out her red pen, a Cross limited edition. “Does it move the story forward?”

“No, I suppose not. But I needed to see what things looked like,” I try to explain. “I might be a discovery writer.”

She frowns, looks annoyed, and goes to the next chapter. “You know, some people write their novels according to a plan. Scenes, character arcs, plotting …”

“So did I!” I reply (defensively.) “I just got sidetracked a lot.”

Question Mark-Red“I can see that. What’s with all this squid? This is a fantasy novel, isn’t it? Why is there squid on the menu for dinner, lunch, and breakfast?”

“Oh that.” I blush. “It was a dare.”

“A dare?”

“To see if I could figure out a way to include a squid in my story.”

“Tell me,” she says and tries to wrinkle her botox-enhanced forehead. “Why is it that you routinely insist on driving a perfectly good story off a cliff?”

I chew my unfashionably un-coral-colored lip. “Because it’s fun?”

“Aha.” She twirls her red pen between her elegant fingers. “Some Nano novels actually do find publishers. Did you ever consider that writing something this bad will never get you published?”

“Well, I was hoping you could help me whip this into shape.”

“Perhaps …” She pulls out her reading glasses, Christian Dior, and begins to pay attention. I dare say she looks interested in what she’s reading.

“Anything worth keeping?” I ask.Exclamation Point -Red

“Who’s this Lyra woman? I haven’t read about her in your outline.”

“She was a surprise.”

“Any other surprises?”

“A few. Some were good though. I think … ”

She smirks. “I’ll be the judge of that.” She pats the comfy chair, and motions me to get the blanket.

“You’re not going to quit are you? Is this story worth saving?”

She smiles a perfunctory smile, the kind the doctor has when he tells you that you’re getting older, and to expect a new ache now and then. “That’s why you pay me the big imaginary paycheck isn’t it?”

I’m so glad the Inner Editor and I have this worked out.

How about you, Insecure Writers? Has your Inner Editor gotten his or her hands on your Nano yet? Do you write from an outline? Do you prefer coral or ruby-red lipstick?Red Lipstick

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Images courtesy of  Jordan McCullough @ Big Stock, Jean Scheijen, and ‘Widiwidi’ @ Stock.xchng

Playlist: Swan Song

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, I’m looking over the devastation for the spoils of my achievement. Obviously, 78k or so words of new draft now resides on my hard drive, triple backed up and awaiting revision. But what else have I brought back with me?Image courtesy of Tijmen van Dobbenburg @ stock.xchng

There’s the golden paperclip I won in a word war.

And a playlist. This is what I turn to when I want to remember the joy of creating this story. My list was actually much, much longer than this, but I’ve gathered the most essential songs to showcase the music I chose to accompany the imminent end of civilization as we know it-lots of instrumentals, electronics, and angst.

Click here to enjoy it hassle-free on YouTube.

Playlist-Swansong

Image courtesy of Gregorius GP Buir @ Big StockImage courtesy of Gregorius GP Buir @ Big Stock

Do you bring home souvenirs from your writing journeys? If so, what are they?

(Images courtesy of Tijmen van Dobbenburg @ stock.xchng and  Gregorius GP Buir @ Big Stock)

Side Trips

While it may look like I’ve hit the pause button on A Scenic Route, I’ve only only been out visiting. In real life I’ve been away seeing family, and in my virtual life I’ve stopped over to see fellow Holly Lisle student and revision champ Anushka Dhanapala at Finding My Creature. Hop on over and say hi if you have a chance!

Oh, and I almost forgot. I won NaNoWriMo! Almost 75k words on The Whole of the Moon so far this month and I’m still writing …

How about you? Any side trips into real life? Any victories?

A Matter of Time

Today marks the halfway point in this marvelous adventure called NaNoWriMo, and I finally had some time to catch up on my correspondence. I found this letter among the many diversions in the Muse’s toy chest. My main character in The Whole of the Moon, this year’s NaNo novel, has responded to my letter from a few weeks ago. Here is what he wrote:

The Year of Our Mission: Three hundred and Thirty Six

Lunar Month: Lilac

Dear fair Lady Larke,

Though it is always a great pleasure to hear from you, I fail to understand your peculiar autumn ritual of writing a prodigious number of words in one month. Nevertheless I will stand at the ready should you need my assistance in this endeavor.

My misspent youth is not a source of pride to me, but as you have represented Rigel’s story fairly, I am optimistic that you will be as unequivocal in the narrative of mine as well.

My work on the DRAGNs was done out of necessity, and as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Please don’t fail to emphasize Angelo’s involvement in the development of the early prototypes. Without him I may never have had the impetus to move forward with the designs, and the future of your planet might have turned out quite differently.

As far as my unexpected visit to you is concerned, that was not a hologram. I haven’t the technology to project the image such a large distance. It was actually me. There is a time loop that has not yet been closed, and I have also encountered this displaced younger version of myself on occasion. It is quite a chilling experience. As I have no memory of this incident, I sincerely hope that my younger self did not disturb you and carried himself with the decorum of a Lunar officer.

I apologize that I was not as forthcoming last year, and for the resulting rearrangement of the chronicle that you are in process of writing. I intend to make it up to you in my cooperation with your efforts this year.

Your Most Humble Servant,

.

Teragus Swansong

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If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how is the writing going? Have you ever encountered a mysterious plot development only a time loop could solve?

 

IWSG: A Cloud of Caffeine And Happiness

Got self-doubt? I do!

On the first Wednesday of every month the inspiring Alex J. Cavanaugh and some of the most amazing writers on the web get together to talk about it. Click this here linky to join me and The Insecure Writer’s Support Group as we circle the wagons to huddle around the campfire and share our stories.

Today, I’m going to talk about National Novel Writing Month and how writing fifty thousand (or more!) words in a month has been a great confidence builder for an insecure writer like me. One NaNoWriMo experience in particular marks an unforgettable turning point of my writing journey.

Two years ago I participated in my second NaNoWriMo and, having clocked a personal-best word count of 121k, I was already feeling pretty happy about my writing prowess. But there was another challenge I had determined to overcome that year: Sharing excerpts of my work.

The NaNoWriMo writer’s profile has a page where one can post an excerpt of the work in progress. I knew I had a problem when I took my excerpt back down after only a few hours because I couldn’t stand the thought of someone seeing it!

Yes, I’m that insecure about sharing my writing.

I persevered and put another excerpt up, but it took all the courage I could muster to leave both the story summary and an excerpt up on the page for the duration of November.

That was why a particular challenge involving a seventeen minute word sprint and a subsequent posting of a snippet from the resulting words was perfect for me. I love word sprints, and the part about posting snippets was a good dare for me–especially because the forum offered no possibility for taking my words back down once they’d posted. I did this four or five times, and each time it got a little easier. I tried not to think about other writers actually reading them. I hoped everyone was too busy with their own stories to care about mine.

Then, at one of the last write-ins, I met a few other NaNoWriMo participants, known in Nano-land as Wrimos. As we talked about our stories, about why Twilight was so successful, what we liked and didn’t like about our protagonists, and various other sundry writerly topics, one of the other Wrimos asked me what my on-line handle was.

“Oh, I’m Larkk,” I told her.

Her response was spontaneous. “You’re Larkk? Omigosh, I love your story!”

I was so overwhelmed I almost started to cry. All I could manage was, “Really? Seriously?”

“Yeah,” she continued. “It’s such a cool idea, and I like your characters. I love the parts about flying, and the fog, and the numbers.”

Floating on a cloud of caffeine and happiness, I pulled myself together as best I could and proceeded to tell her more about it. She liked everything I told her. Never had I expected someone to actually like something I was writing, much less love it! In my insecure world the most I’d ever expected was for people to think it wasn’t horrible.

I can’t say that it will ever be easy for me to post excerpts and chapters–or to publish my stories. But that day, the revelation that someone might actually love my story as much as I do changed my outlook on my writing. These words will always ring in my recollection:

“Omigosh, I love your story!”

How about you, Insecure Writers? If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how does participating in a crazy month-long writing sprint help you become a more secure writer? Has anyone ever done or said something that made you a more secure writer?

And, if you love someone’s story, tell her! You just might make her day.

Permission To Be Brave

For the first day of National Novel Writing Month, commonly known as NaNoWriMo, I have a special treat today. Fellow coffee aficionado, blogger, and How To Revise Your Novel classmate Anushka Dhanapala is joining us today all the way from Melbourne, Australia with a few words of encouragement about how it’s okay to write something … um … less than stellar in pursuit of a finished story.

Take it away, Anushka!

“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong” –  Joseph Chilton Pearce

Growing up as a child I was terrified of many things. Monsters, zombies, soggy jeans, the devil living in my closet, people who never blink, and goldfish (don’t ask). Little did I know then a far more terrible thing would come to haunt me.

The first draft of anything is a scary beast, especially when you come face-to-face with that mirror of insecurity – the blank page. Every imperfection you have about yourself, including that ginormous zit that arrives three seconds before a first date, is reflected back at you in all its glory.

It mocks you. It laughs. It gossips about you with the other blank pages. You on the other hand now contemplate having your coffee Irish styled just to get through, or better still, begin cleaning the house. Doing the laundry is just riveting isn’t it?

There have been many times I would rather have faced a zombie apocalypse, even a plague of hairy black spiders than face that page. Yes, the probability of a premature death would be high, after all I am one of the most uncoordinated people on the planet, but the laughable attempt of wielding a sword and possibly a stiletto is far more bearable than staring into a blank page. You know, the one I am meant to miraculously transform into gleaming prose? In my head I must also accomplish that feat in one go. Talk about unnecessary pressure.

That blank page knows everything, my thoughts, the insecurities that reside within me and probably the name of my first crush. What I hate about it the most is that it knows I suck.

The. Blank. Page. Knows. Everything. 

My story sucks…

I haven’t planned enough.

My characters aren’t engaging.

I don’t know what comes next.

I have no arcs.

My beginning is rubbish.

I don’t know my ending.

Everyone is going to laugh at it, including that man and his pet llama that died three centuries ago. (Did I mention the llama had offspring? Just in case you were wondering they would be laughing too.)

However there is something beautiful about that blank page. It gives you the opportunity to fall royally flat on your face.  The first draft after all is meant to be the worst version of the story you have written. In fact, it cannot possibly get any more dreadful – the greatest blessing.

It’s meant to be disjointed and rubbish with bits – normally important bits – like say, conflict, missing from it. Characters disappear, the middle sags, storylines flicker and die, random subplots of no importance make an entrance, dialogue is awkward and so bad you wish you could blame the writing on the cat (or the man with the llama)… the list goes on and on. From my experience, if you have encountered all of these problems you are doing something right. You have conquered the page and put something down. This is where the whole bravery thing comes in.

By allowing yourself to be brave you give yourself permission to make mistakes. Letting yourself submerge completely into a cave of literary abandon truly is a wonderful thing. You should never deny yourself from experiencing that.

The first draft is your precious gift to yourself. I believe a lot of writers, between procrastinating  and not having the courage to put down any words at all, forget this sometimes, including myself, and I love getting into the first draft. But the fear of failure will always be there if I let it.

My first drafts are broken, underwritten and more often than not slapped together with a lazy ending. They are in dire need of CPR and intensive surgery, but that’s the beauty of revision. It brings everything you have put down to life.

So be brave. Write badly. Write well.

Put something down.

Writing is a relentless rollercoaster of emotions and as you face each new blank page remember this.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great” – Zig Ziglar

Good luck to all of you doing NaNoWriMo, I’ll be cheering right alongside of you. You can find me under findingmycreature where I will be wrestling with the blank pages and winning. Well, until I see that zit. To the rest of you tackling your story, no matter what stage you are at, be brave and I’ll be cheering wildly for you too as I furiously write through my first draft in the hopes of uncovering those unexpected gems.

Have you discovered any beautiful first draft gems?

Love and light,

Anushka xx

Anushka Dhanapala blogs at Finding My Creature where she shares beautiful vistas and encouraging words about her own writing journey.

Something Completely Different

And now for something completely different.

Dragons.

A steampunk Lunar colony.

A question of where the man ends and the machine begins.

In other words, my story for NaNoWriMo 2012.

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, in my never-ending pursuit of literary abandon I’m going to shoot for writing 50,000 words in one month. Or even 100k. It happens.

In preparation, I’ve stocked up on coffee, hot chocolate, and frozen dinners. I’ve backed up my computer. Reorganized my scene cards. Made playlists, one for each day in November, labeled by date and mood.

And I composed a letter to my main character, Teragus Swansong, warning him of my impending assault on his story. Here is what I wrote:

October 28, 2012 The Eleventh Hour

Whispering Pines Writing Retreat

Dear esteemed Lord Swansong,

Though I know it is late, I am writing to request your assistance in chronicling the early years of the Luna colony, as well as your involvement in its development. You might recall that last year I made a similar entreaty as I prepared to write the story of your daughter and future son-in-law, and I am still in your debt with regards to your efforts. However, once again I find myself in the difficult position of attempting to write your entire story in the period of one month.

I must confess that I wish you had you been more forthcoming with your involvement in the emergence of the DRAGN technology so that I might have written your story first. Fortunately, though I have been able to reconfigure my story to put Cerule and Rigel’s story second in the trilogy.

I hope you are not overly concerned that I will be delving deeper into the story of how you came to meet Avery, and why you decided to return to Luna, despite Luna’s betrayal and subterfuge. I understand why you chose as you did and will be sure to represent the story fairly. As far as your dalliance with Daphne is concerned, now that you understand how sparing her life led to a bright future for the DRAGN transports, I’m sure you will have no objections about my revealing the details to my readers.

And was that a hologram of you I saw as I was walking in the park the other day? You seemed so real, though I was surprised you’d chosen to visit me covered with oil and wearing your grey jumpsuit. I saw your eyes for the first time, and I think you were as surprised to see me as I was to see you. I would almost swear it was really you, and not a hologram, except that you were much younger than you are now.

I am still working through the intricacies of your inventions, and am amazed and impressed by your achievements, especially given that you did much of your work underground away from the supervision of the Lunar regime. If you might further elucidate how you managed that I would be grateful.

I hope my missive finds you well, and that I am able to do your story justice in the coming month.

With my regards,

Lady Larke

 

Tune in next week for Lord Swansong’s reply!

And, how about you? Have you ever written your characters a letter or an email? What do you do to prepare for NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo or Bust?

This is a first for me, so I thought I’d share this.

I like to set up deadlines and goals in my writing to give myself an idea of when I might finish a particular stage of a project. These goals can be word counts, (500 words a day on the work-in-progress, 50k words in a month) or number of scenes planned, or pages and scenes of revision.  The thing is, this being my first revision ever, it has been really hard to set goals because I have no idea how long things take. I’m tearing my story into scenes, reordering them, keeping old ones, writing new ones, all while doing research and critiques. I’ve had some scenes take me almost a week to get through after I wrote and rewrote them several times until I finally had them close to where I wanted them.

In other words, it’s hard to know when I’ll arrive if I don’t know how fast I’m going.

But now that I am more than halfway through this revision pass I had decided that 15k words per month was a realistic goal. With this in mind, my goal for September 30 was to get to 85k words edited, then by October 31 reach 100k, and by November 30 finish all 115k. I even gave up on NaNoWriMo so that I could finish this pass of my revision.

Well, guess what?

Today I crossed the 85k mark! Check your calendars, folks. It’s September 12!

So, now what? I guess I can reconfigure the goals, but in some ways that doesn’t feel like much of an incentive. I could take a few days off, but I love working on this, so that’s not much of a reward either.

I’ve settled on shooting for 90k by the end of September. And getting eight hours of sleep once in a while.

After that? Not sure, maybe, just maybe … NaNoWriMo?

How about you? Do you set intermediate goals for your writing? How do you reward yourself for achieving them?