Phase Outlines FTW(For the win)!

So I’ve probably mentioned phase outlines here before but if I haven’t they are basically a super detailed run through of your novel that can amount to many thousands of words being written before you ever start “writing”.  I’ve used them in the past and loved them, so on when a recent project needed a new, in depth outline, I knew that a phase outline would be the way to go.

To give you a little background, I started a draft of a book I knew nothing about in June of 2012. I wrote the first 32k in one week. And then I didn’t touch it. For months and months, until I’d almost forgotten about it. And then in February I started writing on it again. I added another 30k to the stories first draft and declared it good in March. I thought I was happy with it. I’d reread the first 32k and I felt comfortable with where I’d take then story. So I set it aside for the rest of March and then April while I worked on Camp Nanowrimo (which was a blast by the way and is occurring again, RIGHT NOW!)

Ahem… So in May I pick this story back up with the intention of giving a quick once over and sending it on its way… but oh what a foolish dream. I’d still been wearing my rose tinted glasses when I’d read it over in February. You know the ones we all pull out when we write a first draft and don’t judge or nitpick because we’d never get anywhere. Yes, well those came off in May and boy did I have a lot of work in front of me. I started editing and I realized there were some big plot holes. More than that, my characters where great by themselves, but every time I put them together, it seemed forced and well, stupid. So I made some note cards, revised on sticky notes, and worked on getting my plot ironed out.

This is where the phase outline comes in. As I started outlining/fixing major plot points I realized that the first half of the book was going to be almost entirely rewritten. I had made two characters switch their roles in relation to my heroine, and decided to weave in 5 subplots that had all been created and then promptly forgotten at one point or another during the first draft. And that was only the first half of the book. The second had just as many changes, but they were nuances and continuity and plot hole fixing and explaining away. I had an out of control potentially hazardous book on my hands and no way to tame it.

Enter the phase outline. I love phase outlines, because they allow you to simultaneously work and rework your plots/subplots while including things like setting info, dialogue and thoughts. Everything And the kitchen sink is welcome.

I’ve been working on my outline for about a month now in between shifts at my new job, family time, reading and goofing off and about an hour ago I finally finished it. How’d it go? Well.

It’s 26 pages long and 14,561 words long. It’s a pretty boss outline if I do say so myself. I’m super pleased and tomorrow I get to start really cutting into the meat of writing. Wish my luck. I’ll let you know how the outline helps me with my new draft. ^__^

Happy Scribbling folks. And if you’re interested in trying a new method of outlining. If you’d like to read about them Go HERE! Bye everyone!

 

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TGIO-party or The how-to-write-an-ungodly-amount-of-words-in-a-short-period-of-time guide to life… and Nanowrimo.

Well about an hour ago, camp nanowrimo officially ended, at least in my time zone. All I can say is… Damn do I need a nap.

Now that I’ve officially failed my word count goal, it’s only fair I divulge just how poorly camp went for me. Which is actually a lie. I did a ton of writing and the month was great, I just didn’t hit the 85k that I had hoped to. I did hit 60 k however and that was good enough for me!

Funny thing is, I learned a little lesson about myself and my productivity this past week that I never knew before.  I am a beast!

That’s right.

I may have only hit 60k. But let me tell you something about how this month went.

Week 1, I wrote 12k. Not amazing, not terrible. So far so good.

Week 2, I wrote about 5k… Embarrassing I know.

Week 3, I wrote 10k… Do you see where this is going yet?

Week 4 (first 5 days) I wrote 3k. Yep. Truth…

Sigh. In 26 days. I wrote 30k.

And in the last 4 days I wrote 30k.

Like I said. I’m a beast.

I’ve never written so much in such a short stretch of time in my life. I don’t know that I ever want to again. But if I ever have to, or if you ever have to, here are some tips.

Caffeine!  I can’t even begin to say how relevant this is. I have had about 8-12 bags of tea a day and I should have had more. Stock up!

Short term goals! If you have 25k to do, and you sit down with the intention of doing 25k, you will look at the clock and realize you just spent three hours on youtube. Don’t do it. Instead, set yourself small goals. Say, “Today I’m gonna write 5k.” After your first word war or writing session. Keep track of how many words you have till you reach your goal. Pretty soon, 5k won’t look so huge, and you’ll be saying, “Why don’t I write another 2k or 5k.”

Know where you’re going! Even if you are not a plotter, you need to do this to some extent. Keep a white board or a pad of paper by you when you write and before you sit down for a session look at where you left off (no more than 1/4 of a page back). Think about where you need to go, or what you want to happen next. Take five minutes and write down basic information, dialogue or other details you know you want to include. Like:

Fmc and mmc meet unexpectedly, and their personalities clash

Knowing they have to work together they hash out ground rules for their quest

“Look, I know you think you’re totally awesome, but I’m in charge here and what I say goes.”

I promise I just made all that up and it is not in any way related to any book I am now writing or plan to write. But you get the idea.

Set timers! Whether you plan to have a word war with another writer, or it’s just you and your laptop, you should set goals. Even a five minute timer can get your brain thinking about a scene and before you know it, you’ll be so wrapped up in what you’re writing, you won’t need the timer. Also, if you find that you are paying to much attention to your word count goals and aren’t focusing enough on the story, set page goals instead. Sometimes if it’s crunch time, getting caught up in how many words you should be writing per minute or per half hour can get really tiresome. Take a step back and say, I’ll check my wc when I hit page 37 or 41.  That way, you don’t set unrealistic or outrageous goals for yourself.

Find a place/environment that keeps you on task! I find that a lot of different things go into my perfect environment for maximum writing output. When I’m tired, a raging beat in my music can keep me on task because instead of wanting to close my eyes, I bob my head to the music. If I have a serious scene to work on, I listen to movie soundtracks that don’t have singing. delirious or easily distracted? I need silence. Some people also find that being in public helps them keep on task, so think about going to a library or cafe. 

Utilize breaks! Breaks are so necessary, they may actually be more important than caffeine. Although, now that I think about, you make the tea or coffee and acquire the snacks during the breaks so… Anyway, if you are taking a break there are a couple of things you should do.

1. Refill the food and drink! If you get ten minutes into a 30 minute word war and your water bottle is empty, you’re gonna be pissed and your characters are going to wind up walking around a bone dry desert for 800 words. 

2. Go to the bathroom! Same principle as with food and drink. Except your characters will be day dreaming of waterfalls and gushing rivers. Also Pro Tip! using how bathroom breaks to keep you writing makes your brain suddenly short circuit into direct brain finger coordination. I have never written so clearly and effectively as when I have to pee and I’ve made my goal not going to the bathroom until I finish the scene.

3. Change positions! Move from the couch to your desk, from bed to a chair, even just changing whether your legs are under you or stretched out in front of you can make a world of difference.

4. Rock out man!  Blasting your favorite songs and singing along as loudly as possible for ten minutes can really restart your creative juices. Same can be said getting up and dancing around, doing a sun salutation, playing with your pets. Do something that you love that has nothing to do with writing, and in ten minutes you’ll be in a good mood, even if your last scene didn’t go how you’d hoped.

Finally.

5. Do the math! Count how many words you’ve done today. Count how many you have left to do. Look at how many it would take you to get to an even number, or if you have friends who are also working on a project, see how close or far away your word count is. The thing is that we may look at our first drafts as just a number, but that number can vary a hell of a lot. One word could be A or it could be SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALEDOCIOUS. I don’t even care if that’s spelled right… But seriously. Our mind makes a big deal out of numbers especially when we think about things like, 50k for nanowrimo, or 75k for the average length of an adult novel. These mind games that scare us into avoiding the blank screen for three hours can also help you get back to writing with a new perspective. So do the math.

I know I said finally but really there is one more super important, don’t you ever dare break this rule or you’ll be burned in the middle of town square with a slab of bolognia on your head…

6. A break is only a break if afterward, you go back to writing! It’s all fine and well to say, “Meh, I wrote 800 words, I’ll take a break, and write some more.” But if you don’t get back to your word document for five hours it wasn’t really a break. Instead, if you need/want to do something else, give yourself permission to fully enjoy that other thing and say, “This writing session is over for now. But I will have a second writing session in 6 hours time, after I catch up on the latest episodes of Dr. Who and Game of Thrones. I promise you’ll feel better about the gaps in your productivity if you totally embrace what you’re doing and don’t guilt trip yourself.

So there you go, hopefully, you will never find yourself in the position of having to write 30k in four days or some other ungodly figure, but if you do, you’ve got a game plan now so. Good luck and I wish you all the best on your Camp Nanowrimo word counts!

Goodbye April, hello May!

Power through the end….of (Camp) Nanowrimo…

According to my timer, I have 1 Day, 18 hours, and 53 minutes left before I officially fail and let me tell you, it will be a freakin’ miracle if I win camp this year.

Now it’s totally my own fault, and I don’t regret the things I spent my time on instead of writing this month, but seriously, I’m super behind… I’m not going to go into specifics right now, because I plan to do a post about camp after the fact but I’ll give you a hint. I’m more than 20k behind… a lot more.

Anyway, what I really stopped off here to say is that for a those of us participating in Camp Nanowrimo, if you’re behind, these next two days are hellish. They are the most stressful, chaotic, mind-bogglingly tiring days of the month, and if you are there right now, I salute you. Seriously, you deserve a metal. But that comes when you finish on the 1st.

For now, I’d like to remind you why you should power through the back pain, the glazed over eyes and the carpel tunnel.

To finish the book! This should go without saying but having a completed book feels amazing. No matter if it’s 50k or 80k, seeing the words The End, is akin to Christmas.

To breath a sigh of relief. Seriously. Cause if May 1st rolls around and your book isn’t done, it’s still going to be staring you in the face, demanding an ending. Wouldn’t you rather have it done so you can ignore it for a few weeks before the edit. And then you can catch up on all that sleep you’ve forgotten to enjoy.

Be able to move on. Come the end of Nanowrimo one of two things happens to participants (at least the ones who finish). They decide that writing is epic and they need to do it all the time. Or they decide they never need to do that again… at least until next November. Same applies to camp. No matter which category you fall in, finishing your book means that you can either get back to your life, or you can get back to other projects. Either way just finish the damn book.

Pride. Plain and simple. It’s one thing to write a novel in a month. It’s another to tell the story of how you wrote a novel in a month and end the tale with “And then I didn’t sleep for 36 hours and I wrote 25 pages all at once.” (O_O) … <– You will look like that if you tell the tale on May 1st. Enjoy.

Also, to give you some idea of just how behind I really am, yesterday I wrote 22 pages… And it wasn’t enough… sigh.  (also it only took 7 hours not 36)

Moral of the story… Finish your Damn Novel.

See you on the 1st.

Things I hate about Nanowrimo…

I actually would like to preface this post by saying that I actually love Nanowrimo. This post is not meant to be a list of reasons why not to participate in Nanowrimo, because I think that most writers (would be writers) can benefit from Nano. That being said, I have been a participant for nearly 3 years now and I have taken that initial challenge of writing a book in a month, to writing nearly every day and writing books with or without it being November.

Now for those of you who know about and write during Nano, you probably are aware that this year marks the third year of CampNanowrimo.

While the months are a little different each year, this year the first month of camp is April and the second month if July. The silliness of having a camp in April aside, this means that writers everywhere are preparing to start another adventure in writing fast and furiously.

I myself have also been preparing (which is code for I’ve been in the nanoforums every day, since I write every day anyway). So this post really comes to you because of some of the really stupid/obnoxious/infuriating advice that I see on the forums each year before Nanowrimo and now before Camp. Bear in mind that I think there are far more reasons to do Nano, than to not do it, but still. This advice is just ridiculous all the time.

Also this post is a rant with detail and swearing. Just so you know.

Prompts

OK. Writing prompts can be really useful for both starting and un-mucking a plot midway through.

However, using a prompt that has nothing to do with your overall story just for the sake of words is stupid. So stupid in fact that it makes me want to smack people. Seriously.

A newbie to nano asked for advice in the forums and some moron told them to go to the prompts section of the forums and take prompts midway through their novel when they get stuck such as “Your characters have to run to the store in the middle of a rainstorm…” Or “Your characters find an abandoned kitten and have to decide whether or not to keep it.”  This poster also had the added advice of “if you do it right, you can drag those out to like 1000 words each.”

Are you kidding me?

This is why so many writers don’t take Nanowrimo seriously.

If your characters don’t need anything and just mysteriously decide that they need milk more than they are worried about being hit by lightening, then you have just wasted your own time. Time  that you could have spent writing something that would move your story forward and you have wasted your readers time if you ever get the damn thing published. Same goes for the kitten. Going to the store or finding a kitten will get you words, but unless your character really does get hit by lightening or the kitten turns out to be an alien or something, you aren’t moving your story forward.

… And now I want to write about a mutant kitten. Damnit.

So this issue with writing things just for the sake of writing something leads into this other huge problem that I have with Nanowrimo which is,

Quantity over Quality

This has, since nano’s inception, been an issue with nonbelievers of the process. Because the idiots who decided to send their characters out into the storm, only to return 2 pages later with the milk, aren’t writing. They are bullshitting. In real life and on the page. You are there to tell a story and your problems will still be there when your character returns from the store with a gallon of milk they didn’t need. So really you just put off the story telling for 2 pages. You did not solve any problems with your plot or characters.

Yes, you want to write 50k during Nanowrimo, and yes this is the magic (not realistic) number that signifies a book being completed. But the truth of the matter is, if you write 50k of strung together pointless word prompts or games, you won’t have a story at the end of Nano. You’ll have drivel. Plain and simple.

If you want to write a story in 30 days, then you have to be working toward some foreseeable end. Your characters have to have a goal, and your story has to have conflict and by conflict, I do not mean whether or not it’s a good idea to keep the fucking kitten.

It is totally possible to write a first draft of a story in one month (50-100k) and while it won’t be immediately publishable, you will at least have a story that you can work on in the months to come that can be polished and worked on. But you won’t have a story if you aren’t exploring something or reaching toward some goal. So leave the kittens and milk at home where they belong please.

Now one of my next biggest pet peeves of Nanowrimo participants is something that unfortunately happens every year and that I see all the time.

People who work on the same project year after year without fail

OK. Maybe your book would be better in the first person. Maybe it would benefit from being set in space instead of Alabama. But it you work on the same project year after year after year and you never finish it, you’re  selling yourself short. And you’re pretty much failing at life. Every project will have flaws no matter how long you’ve been writing, and no matter how many months you spend working on it. You will never be completely satisfied with your books. Fact.

Other fact. If you make it as good as it can be, then you can move on and start  a new fucking book. Stop being a pussy and just finish the damn book. Being afraid that it’s not good enough or that you could have done better isn’t going to get you anything but a stomach ulcer, so just accept that it’s not your finest work, and move on. You’ll do better on the next project. And the one after that.   You need to practice in order to advance at any skill, and for a writer, that means starting a new book.  Cut your losses and move on.

Which pretty much brings us back to my all time pet peeve of writers everywhere and I’m sure that there will be plenty of people who don’t agree  or whatever but I don’t really care.

People who write one month year and call themselves writers.

I’m sorry. If you take ballet classes one month a year does that make you a ballerina? NOPE.

If you read physics books one month a year does that make you a scientist? No.

If you dress up like Fantine for one month a year to put on Les Miserables  at school or where ever does that make you a whore in the streets of France? No, it fucking doesn’t.

Nanowrimo is a great incentive for people who think they might want to write a book to try out writing on a set schedule and writing for fun and writing for profit. You do it for a month and you can walk away from it and discover that writing isn’t for you. Or you can say, “Guess what I love writing, writing is amazing. I have all these cute little plot bunnies running around and I’m gonna be a writer.”

Grand.

But if you don’t write again until November when you have hundreds of thousands of people cheering you on, then you hopeful idiot, are not a writer. You’re playing a game.

Being a writer means that you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think about is What are my characters going to get themselves into today? Or How am I going to get my villian to give up the one thing my FMC needs more than anything? You go to work and you day dream about getting back to your laptop or your notebook and squirreling away ten minutes after dinner to work on your book. Being a writer means that you write on good days and on bad days. On holidays and on snow days and on days when you work a double shift. It means that even if you have a lull in your productivity, even when you can’t force the words to appear on the page, you are still thinking about writing. And if you were a writer, and had those impulses, you wouldn’t wait 11 months to fulfill them again. Asshole.

Sigh.

So there’s my laundry list of things that piss me off come Nano season. Enjoy.

Please feel free to flame me if you are one of these people, by the way. Go right ahead, I could use the extra  humor. Otherwise, please let me know in the comments why it is that you love Nanowrimo. Or why you hate it.

Happy Scribbling folks.