NaNoWriMo 2017: Check!

I finished the 50k word NaNoWriMo writing challenge yesterday, and here are my impressions of the experience:

Time Management

This was a lot of work, but ultimately not as difficult as I expected it to be as long as I stayed on track with my daily word count goal (2k), and only missed the days that I knew in advance I would have to. I often could not begin writing until late in the evening, which was frustrating on many days when my energy was low, but usually doable. The better days were when I could find an hour or two to write earlier, when I had more energy. As long as I always pushed myself to write the 2,000 words at some point in the day, I found the goal to be challenging, but very possible.

The Positive:

I got a LOT of writing done in a much shorter time than I usually do, and learned a great deal about managing my time to fit in the writing without putting strain on my family and other responsibilities.

I felt the freedom to be descriptive. I usually tend to not overindulge in descriptions too much, at least at the beginning when I have a plot to drive, but I knew that I would need them in this draft to help me picture my world thoroughly and early in the process. The challenge will be deciding what to cut and what to keep in later drafts.

I am a little addicted to updating my word-count and checking my stats on the website. It’s a strangely satisfying motivator!

And of course, I experienced a highly satisfying sense of accomplishment as I watched my word count climb. 😊

The Less Positive:

I struggled with feeling like I was rushing the process in pursuit of my word count goal. I thought that I had prepared enough, but after a while I began to feel that, although my plot had an arc, my outline was not detailed enough. This usually doesn’t bother me when I’m writing at a slower pace, because I have the freedom to discover the subplots as I go, but it was difficult to find the time to focus on both plot evaluation and actual writing.

Additionally, I frequently felt that my characters were not where I wanted them to be, and it was probably from a lack of attention during my prep stage, and a sense of urgency to keep moving forward.

What Did I Learn?

I learned a lot about managing my time in order to meet my goal, and that I am capable of achieving a high word count quickly. In general, preparation is not my strong suit, so If I plan to move very swiftly through the first draft of a manuscript, I need to remember that there will be less time to plot along the way. A clearer picture in my mind beforehand will help the process immensely.

Would I Do it Again?

Yes! If I happen to be ready to begin another manuscript at the start of November, and manage to do some adequate preparation, I will definitely do it again. It was a great way to kick off a new manuscript. I am happy with where I am in the manuscript right now, and excited to keep going. The story is far from done – the draft is probably about 65% complete, but I plan on multiple revisions.

Now, I plan to slow down a bit and make sure I am satisfied with the direction of my plot and characters, and then continue on and hopefully keep up the momentum that began with NaNoWriMo.

 

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November is for Novelists

I’m excited to be participating in NaNoWriMo this year! I’ve only done it very half-heartedly a couple of times in the past, as it never lined up well with the writing schedule I was on, or life in general, but in spite of a full schedule this month, I couldn’t stay away. I’ve got a new project I’ve been thinking over, so now I’m ready to do this thing and clock in as high a word count as I can crank out.

Here are a few things I’ve learned, that I hope will help keep me productively creative during this crazy month:

Details:

An area of personal struggle for me when I write is descriptive detail. I used to bury myself in it when I didn’t know how to proceed with the plot, and my story would eventually sputter out and go nowhere. So, I finally learned to cut through that instinct and jump into the story. This forced me to plot more effectively, both before actually writing, and in notes as I went along. I found that my story moved along faster and I had less excess to cut in revisions when I didn’t let my writing get bogged down with overly thorough descriptions.

However, I believe that part of the reason I curbed my instinct to describe was because of a slight sense of panic that I would lose my forward momentum and the story would go flat. While this might be a risk, it’s not a good reason to suppress writing that could serve your story.  I found, when I backed off on descriptive detail in draft one, that I occasionally had more work to do in revisions because my world-building was weak from a lack of rich and layered groundwork, or I struggled to picture something later on that ought to have been established in my mind already. As much as it hurts to have to cut so much when it’s time to cull your word-count, it’s always better to have more to work with rather than less.

So, how does this relate to NaNoWriMo writing methods? Well, we’re clearly seeking an abundance of material to put on the page very quickly, so what better material than that which will help our world come alive to us throughout the process, regardless of if we will want or need all of that description in later, more polished drafts? As long as our plotting remains strong and our path forward is clear, I think we should take this opportunity to write our scenes, characters, and our worlds in rich, colorful detail. NaNoWriMo is an invitation to let go of what stalls you, and write freely.

Soon, your creation will spring to life in your head, and you’ll be flying.

Keep Moving Forward!

Of course, I already stated, the risk you take when embracing your inner prolific prose monster is that you could get bogged down and lose your way. Always keep the goal of each scene and how it will serve the next scene (and ultimately the whole story) in the front of your mind. Keep organized notes so that you can continue to surge ahead, knowing that you have a different job to do in revisions.

Keep the beacons lit and your path will remain clear. Don’t give up, Frodo.

Write Any Time, Any Place:

This has been a hard one for me to embrace. I have three small children, so while writing in silence is a massively helpful, it is unrealistic for me to believe that it’s the only way I’ll ever get anything done. If I wait for peace and quiet, not only will my story take forever to complete, but there’s no point in me striving for that shining 50k in the month of November!

Take your time when you can, and don’t panic or stress. But give yourself the freedom to try to write whenever you think it might work out. And give yourself grace when it just doesn’t. When you open yourself up to this, you realize that there actually is a lot more time in the day than you thought.

Speaking of, I’m going to stop blogging now because…NaNoWriMo. Thanks for reading, and please share your NaNoWriMo tips!

Peace.

One Word at a Time

I love to examine all the ways my writing has grown over the years. So, I’m going to share just a little bit about my writing journey, the methods that I’ve been developing over time, and how I’d like to improve upon them.

Book 1: Huntress

When I began my first manuscript in earnest, I was a new mom. As my son happily rolled and gurgled about on my living room floor, I sat next to him in front of my old laptop with a broken keyboard, and a MacGyver set-up of an even older desktop-keyboard and mouse set in front of it, and I wrote. It was painfully slow going (and the baby liked to bang on the keyboard, probably because it made his mom shriek), but I was doing it. Being the technological genius that I am, I lost about half of that manuscript, and spent a few painful months wallowing and wondering if I could ever pick up the pieces of my story again.

Long story short, I did, (and I tattooed “BACK UP YOUR WORK” on the inside of my eyelids) but by the time I was ready to commit to it again, I’d had another baby and was a busy mom to two young children. I needed to be more disciplined, and I found that the unearthly ruckus that a toddler and a baby can make are entirely unconducive to creative thinking. So, I carved out quiet time to write during naps and after the babies were asleep for the night. Finally, I finished the book.

It took a painfully long time, and afterwards, I figured out why.

I’d felt that so much was at stake in writing my first novel (primarily this question – could I even do it?), that I desperately wanted to get that first draft right. I needed everything to fall into place as I wrote it – a ridiculous expectation of a first draft. Of course, it didn’t work that way, but I was compelled to learn a lot about editing a manuscript.

Book 2: Truth Cursed

One more baby, several in-depth revisions, and a couple of short stories later, and I was ready to write another novel. It was different this time because I knew I could do it. This time, I knew that I was willing to make the inevitable mistakes, and plan for those subsequent drafts. I put that first draft in its proper place – as the draft that doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be written – and I had a lot more fun.

I had three children by this point, so nap-time and nighttime was when I wrote. My word-count goal for each week-day was an extremely attainable 1,000 words, and it was enough to get me through the draft in four months.

One of my goals is to become a better plotter. However, the method of light plotting at the beginning (a general outline containing the conflict, character goals, and desired resolution), followed by jumping into the writing and working out the rest as I went along, worked exceptionally well for this novel. The plot came together as I wrote, and even though my first draft was chock-full of contradictions and plot holes, I never turned back during that draft to correct them, but kept moving forward as if I already had. I kept a document full of notes of what needed to be corrected, changed, and figured out in the second draft.

I was delighted with the way the plot unfurled before me during that draft. The choice to keep it organized in my notes and in my head, but continue to charge ahead, was very freeing. Although challenging in the way that writing undoubtedly is, it was nothing like my first novel. I’d sweated over and struggled through Huntress, always doubling back to fix something, unaware of the knots I was creating for future pages.

I have a very helpful beta-reader (an excellent and exciting writer, herself) who read the first draft of this manuscript as a serial. She was always confident that I was working out the kinks, and was able to look ahead with me. Her suggestions were invaluable and joined my extensive document of notes for Draft #2.

My second draft was all about going back through and creating continuity, and making sense of the plot that had taken shape in the first draft. I handed it over to a second faithful reader, who helped me see it through fresh eyes. Mine were getting a bit blurry.

I made multiple revisions, and each time I read through Truth Cursed, it was with a different, very full checklist. Plot, character, continuity, line edits, world-building, trimming, etc., etc.

The organization that I’m able to control in my writing helps me balance the frustration that can grow when I can’t keep a lid on every disaster my three riotous children might conjure.

I left as much world-building as possible for later drafts. Another of my goals, for when I’m writing fantasy, is to be better at world-building at the beginning of the first draft, because this occasionally could be a set-back that affected the plot when I tried to fit it in later. However, I struggle to envision an environment until I know what my plot and characters will require from it. (In this way, writing historical-fiction gives me a lot to work with in the plotting stages in terms of researching the environment, which is something I appreciated about Huntress.)

So, those are just a few thoughts on my novel-writing journey and how my methods have evolved. I hope as I keep writing, I’ll keep growing and learning. I’ve been working on a short story this week, which in some ways is a very different ballpark, but similar in other unexpected ways. More on that another time.

I’d love to hear about the different journeys and methods that others have developed along the way. Thank you for reading!

The Useful Myth

Fairy tales shaped my early love of story, and as my interest in literature and history deepened in my teen years, I began to develop a love of ancient mythology as well. It took off, and was fed, in a college course dedicated to studying the works of C.S. Lewis. I loved seeing the connections to mythology in The Chronicles of Narnia, which had shaped so much of my early growth as a reader. The idea of using aspects of myths as a starting point in my writing has been around since the early days of my appreciation of mythology, but I became quickly overwhelmed by the vast, deep well, and felt that I could only ever skim the surface.

Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis, an allegorical novelization of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman, with its web of ancient and modern mythology, were two (very different) books that both inspired and scared me off. They were so richly imagined and researched, and I was thoroughly daunted, but hungry to read more.

It wasn’t until a few years after a college trip to Ireland, that I couldn’t help but give it a try. I was experiencing a hot-blooded, desperate sort of nostalgia that pushed me to research Ireland and its history, which often seems inextricably entwined with its layers of legend. I wanted so badly to inhabit not only that beautiful, physical place, but the magic and robust life contained in its stories.

I also wanted to write a story about a young girl (for young girls), fighting for her place and purpose in a changing land that is being overtaken by ruthless men, who would use a girl like her for their own gain. I wanted to write a story of adventure and sisterhood, and a magic that is as much part of the very fabric of a beautiful land as its deeply-felt history. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ireland and this girl, so I wrote Huntress.

It was an intensely emotional endeavor, fraught with mistakes, but I believe that story taught me how to write. Writing a novel, your first novel, is a little bit like going on an epic journey, then returning home again and realizing that it’s changed you. Your life won’t be the same again, you must keep ever onward, ever seeking. It’s a feeling that I wouldn’t change for anything. My writing might never find its place among the works that inspire me and the rest of the world, but I won’t let that stop me from trying any longer. Right now, it’s enough that some of my stories exist outside of my own head.

And for the record, I did only skim the surface. I used a teaspoon of myth and a bit more of history as my jumping off point, but it was enough to set me on my way. 🙂