A brief update, some future plans, and thoughts on editing novels.

Confession time: It’s been quite a few months since I’ve posted here.

In part my absence is due to laziness, in part because of my second blog which I’ll talk about it in a bit, but mostly because I haven’t been writing. I didn’t exactly fall of the planet, or give up on my goal of being published. Instead I’ve been grappling with editing.

PSA:  So for anyone interested, my secondary blog is HERE, and it’s a bit more personal. I’ve been posting reviews of books, shops and the like, as well as my feelings about my nerd loves, and rants. Why am I telling you this? Well, this blog has played host to a few rants in the past, and a few book reviews I believe, both of which will now be appearing on my other blog. If you’re into that sort of thing check it out. If not, I’m not heartbroken. Wrampage, will remain a writing oriented blog. Onward.

A Word on Editing

For some writers, editing is kryptonite. I’ve also found that editing seems to be where many writers lose their non-writing friends and family. I can’t fathom a guess as to how many times I’ve heard people ask when the book will be done? I’ve tried explaining the process, the plot holes that need plugging, the wayward characters who need a map, the inconsistencies vast enough they’d confuse Moffat. But honestly, if you’re not a writer, and you’ve never edited something, you just won’t get it. Sorry. It’s not about seeing the words “the end” on the page. They’ve been there for many months now. It’s the stuff that comes before that phrase which worries me.

I suspect that some of the trouble arises in the unsubstantial definition of “editing”. Sure I’m editing when I fix misspellings, or punctuation, but am I still editing when I create an entirely new character to add to the story after I’ve written it? What if I delete a character? Change POV? Add/subtract whole plot lines?

Where do we draw the line between writing and editing?

In the case of my current novel, the process has been messy. The first draft was written over the course of three months, back in June-August of 2011, to the tune of 147,000 words. It was the first novel I’d ever written start to finish, and I had no idea what I was doing. Fast forward three years to today and I’ve add characters, combined others, completely changed the focus of the original plot, and added in a plethora of new subplots. As it stands, that one novel, is now the first book in an arc of 9 books within a series of 21.

But it’s taken nearly three years of “editing” to figure out who my characters are, what they’re really doing, and what they want. Many months of world building, and systems of keeping my information organized before I converted to Scrivener(=god). But to the people who know that I wrote a book three years ago, what exactly have I been doing? Nobody knows.

Being a writer, creating a world, and making people care, are all hard things to do, let alone to do well. If you’re in the middle of editing right now, firstly, I apologize because it’s supremely hard, but secondly, I’d like to let you in on a little nugget.

Writing is easy. You throw every trick you’ve got at the page, and at some point after far too much caffeine and rambling, you declare the project complete. It’s easy. One word after another. But editing, is were you take that brainchild of chaos and sleepless nights, and you mold it into something that makes sense. You give it purpose, meaning. Editing is where you test your problem solving abilities, not just your spelling. The shifting words, and restless characters and meandering plot can come together to provoke feeling from readers and writers alike. When you write a book, you give life to a world, but when you edit, you teach that world how to live.

 

Peace.

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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!

 

Conversations with the people in your head.

My tried and true method of getting information, motivations, and potential golden nuggets from my characters is the conversation writing exercise. You know the one, where you sit down say something like…

“So, what do you think about mmc? Hot huh?” says author smirking.

Fmc raises an eyebrow and replies, “Are you kidding me? He’s a self absorbed dog. I wouldn’t go near him with a ten foot pole…”

Sighs… “I thought you’d say that. Well, have you got any better ideas?” 

“Yeah actually, put that bartender back in my path and I’ll get cozy.”

“You can’t do that, he’s your brother.”

“What?! No he’s not. I would know if I had a brother.”

“Not if he was given up at birth and hasn’t been seen since.”

Fmc narrows her eyes. “Really. Why? Why does it have to be the bartender? If no one has seen him since my mother gave him up, then why can’t mmc be my brother?”

“’Cause then, I couldn’t annoy, infuriate and ruin your every waking moment, by sicking mmc on you.”

… “You weren’t going to do that before…”

Smiles wickedly. “I am now. Thanks for the idea. Oh and by the way. You can break the whole brother news thing to the bartender. He’s coming over here right now.”

“Wait what-”

Waves lazily. “Good luck!”

At no point in the next ten projects I have planned did I intend to include a bartender or this fmc or mmc, but I may have just started a new wip…

Regardless, this is one of my favorite writing exercises. It’s something that no matter where you are in the process, planning, writing, editing, it can do wonders. Haven’t tried it? Well, despite, how awkward it may seem at first, you should give it a try. The key is to use it when you have questions to answer, either about relationships, background or motivations in your character’s world. Of course it doesn’t always work out the way you plan.

More often than I’d like to admit when using this method, the first question I ask, is something huge and unanswerable. So let your mind wander.

“So, how exactly do you plan to defeat the evil queen? You have no weapons, no friends, and the entire royal guard is out looking for you.”

“Not my problem.”

Mmc crosses arms. “Actually it is your problem. The whole point of the book is for you to defeat the woman who killed your father and stole your kingdom.”

“My father was an ass, and I don’t want to rule. Send someone else to do it.”

Exasperated author grunts. “I can’t do that, I won’t have a book if I do.”

“Don’t care. I’m going to go back to the village to open a bakery.”

Raises eyebrows. “Yeah? And do you know anything about cooking? Have you ever baked anything in your life? Do you even have funds to open a business?”

MMC glares… “Fine. I’ll go to the village and apprentice somewhere. Anything is better than being king.”

“What’s the real reason you don’t want to do this?”

“That is the real reason. Besides, you dangled that beautiful baker’s daughter in front of me in chapter three. I’m gonna see about putting a bun in her oven.”

“Ugh.”

“What, did you see her breasts? I mean damn.”

“Enough, enough.” says author, pinching bridge of her nose…

Mmc shrugs. “Plus everyone loves her. She’s a real sweet young lass and I could use some of that in my life. Compared to being banished, having my father killed, and my kingdom corrupted, a shack and bit of ass is just the pick me up I need.”

Smirks. “And if the queen heard of your new love interest?”

“Why would that happen? She doesn’t even know where I am.”

Shrugs. “In a village that size, someone’s bound to notice a strapping young lad such as yourself flirting with the village beauty.”

“Well-”

“And it would be a shame if the guard plucked her from your grasp and used her as bate.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Wouldn’t I?”

“Aw come on…”

“And the whole village would blame you for her disappearance. News of what happened to their sweet young lass, is bound to travel. You’d be a pariah in your own land.”

“Fuck you.”

“Hmmhmm. And in order to restore your good name, you’d have to get her back.”

Mmc throws his hands in the air. “And how do I do that?”

A grin breaks across the authors face. “By defeating the evil queen of course.”

“Of course. I thought we already decided that I can’t do that.”

“You can if the whole village wants their girl back. I’m sure all the other wiry gents would hate to see such a beauty lost. I sincerely doubt your the only one looking to get in that oven.”

“Why I oughta-”

“Plus, that’ll give you a whole band of eager companions to fight with.”

“Which is exactly why this won’t work. They’ll hate me!”

“Oh yeah, they’ll hate you I’m sure, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to screw up and redeem yourself. You might even live to rule the kingdom.”

“You know on second thought, I don’t think I want to go back to the village. I’ll find another lass in another place.”

Author grins. “Too late.”

So, again, not something I was planning or gave any thought to at all before starting this post. This sort of exercise can be massively helpful and I encourage you to try it the next time you’re stumped. It’s also worth noting, that it aids tremendously in developing a separate voice for each of your characters so don’t just use it on your mmc or fmc. Try it out across any of your major players, and you’ll get results. Plus it’s sort of a stress/tension relieving exercise because it’s whatever you make of it.

Enjoy!

The trouble with to-do lists.

Okay, so the way I see it, whenever you have a bunch of things to do, the number one bit of advice people tell you is, make a list. I am normally all for this. I love lists. I love checking things off and feeling that sense of accomplishment in my day. But I’ve noticed this problem with them. Namely, they don’t freaking work.

Sigh. Okay. I should be more specific. To do list work really well for people with business or jobs and who have kids to pick up and activities that they need to work around. You know exactly how much time you have free in your day and with a list you can optimize your life. Fan-freakin’-tastic. But for those of us who are unemployed writers, whose days are empty as my bank account, to do lists suck.

It’s like, sure, I could write a scene right now, or I could watch an entire season of a show on netflix. Or yeah I could get up and workout or just move from the dent I’ve made in the couch, but I could also take a nap. After all the dent is really comfortable. Seriously. To-do lists, for people with nothing to really “do” are crap.

 

As far as I can tell there are three kinds of to-do lists for those of us who write at home with no reason to leave the house or get dressed but to buy a new tub of ice cream.

To-do list Number 1: The checklist. You know the kind with the little squares that you write up quick on a whim when you have five seconds of motivation. This is the list that winds up with things like, take the trash out, and go to the bathroom right next to finish the book and write a series. The most mundane things and the totally unachievable in 24 hours things wind up here, because you need to cross something off, and at this point, making it ten feet from your computer is a challenge.

To-do list Number 2: The Military regimen. This is the list that looks more like a battle plan than a set of things to do. Sure there may be check boxes, but here we also have time goal. It usually reads something like

2pm-3pm solve world hunger

3pm-4pm write 10k

4pm-4:15pm find sustenance

4:15pm-5pm finish book

If just one thing doesn’t happen when you expect it to, or a single interruption occurs, you’re screwed, because now you’ll have to eat at 4:30 instead of 4:15 and since the list is screwed up, you have to make a new list. That could only take another 5 minutes and 3 hours of netflix later, you can get back to checking off those things you meant to do.

 

The 3rd and certainly most illusive type of to-do list: is the one that actually works. It’s the one where you gave yourself some middle of the road, not to vague, not to specific goals, and actually managed to accomplish them all. This kind of list seems to be as hard to catch as the legendary birds from Pokemon. If you did not experience the 90’s as you should have, this means it’s really fucking hard to catch.

So seriously, this whole writing thing, it’s pretty hard. But I’ve got some ideas to improve my productivity. I just need to make a list.

 

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.

John Green, Harry Potter and Leakycon: They remind me to turn on the light.

So I’ve been gone awhile. Sorry. Life.

Never fret, I am still working on my first review but I’ve had some other more important novel projects to work on and the stuff that will be published (eventually) has priority. Today I’d like to talk about something else. Something nerdy.

So one of my favorite quotes of all time, is by John Green…

“…because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.”
― John Green (I just lifted this from Good Reads btw)

This was one of those quotes that basically altered my way of thinking. It’s not that I’ve ever been really bothered by what other people say, and at least when it comes to voicing opinions I’ve never shied away from stating mine on any given topic, nerdy or not. But this quote filled me with some sort of epic power to totally throw myself into loving the things that I love and be totally unapologetic about  it.

There are only a handful of quotes which have really stuck with me over the years and have made a lasting change on my life, but this was one of them. The fact that John Green is an author makes it relevant on a totally different level. I look at his words, both in his books and in public, and I see this incredible, profound, awkward, fun loving, joyous person who, in simply embracing who he is, makes those around him able to embrace themselves a little more. How cool is that?

How cool is it to have that power, not just as an author on the page speaking through other’s mouths, but to have the support to speak openly, and champion those who are different. I attended Leakycon ( a four day Harry Potter convention) in Chicago 2012, and met John for the first time. The entire convention was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life, and since then not a single day goes by when I don’t think about it or wish I was going again this year. But one of my favorite things about it, was that collectively, whether they’d done it consciously or not, all the people (all 4,000 of  ’em) had taken to heart that quote of his.

We wore wizard robes, and carried backpacks of books around, and screamed till our voices were gone when our favorite authors showed up on stage. People made powwows in the lines for events and took out HP books or others, and discussed them. Details, characters, motivations, plots, Easter eggs. Movie adaptations, writing, creating, entrepreneurial plans. For four days, authors were rock stars, and we all acknowledged that the ideas and emotions shared in that hotel, the jump up and down joy and enthusiasm, the wizard rock concerts, and the HP musicals, all of those things existed because one woman wrote a book series that she believed in, even when it was hard. When she was poor, and didn’t have a degree in English, and didn’t care (rightfully so.)

There is another quote that I’ve turned to a lot in the past few days.

Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
– J. K. Rowling, “The fringe benefits of failure”, 2008

So what I would like to leave you with today is this. Life happens. For better or for worse, the hours pass even if you don’t move. Give yourself the freedom to throw yourself at the things that make you the happiest, even if they’re impossible.

I’m unemployed. I’ve been unemployed since I graduated college 11 months ago. It’s been something that has brought me a lot of torment over the past few months. But I’m also a writer. And I write a lot. When I think about Leakycon, I spend a lot of time thinking about all the fun we had, but I also sit back and let myself think how cool it would be to be one of those authors. To be a rock star to the nerds who love things purely because it makes us feel something.

I don’t think that there will ever be another writer to create a community like J.K. Rowling did, but I know that I’m never going to leave that community behind. Harry Potter is  my home, and for all the fantastic and crazy, impractical ideas my fellow friends have, I’ll always support them. And with that, I know they’ll support me.

Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home. -J.K. Rowling.

Live your dreams people. Do what makes you happiest.

Happy Scribbling everyone.