Camping Out

I hate camping.  I didn’t always, but over the years I have come to truly loath the entire process.

The beginning of the end must have come when I was six years old.  My father was long gone, and my Mom was moving up North where living was less expensive and she could go to school.  Finding a place to live was rough, and for a few months we called the campground by the lake home.  At the time, I thought it was a lot of fun.  We went swimming every night, cooked on a fire, and watched the stars.  It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that the facts fell into place and I realized why we lived there.

Since the reality of camping hadn’t sunk in quite yet, and after years of watching my older brothers go off to boy scout camp for half of the summer, I was thrilled to finally be allowed to go to on a camping trip myself.  Girls camp through my mother’s church was only one week a year, starting when you turn 12, but it was the only option I had so I embraced it.  We swam, learned to tie knots, practiced first aide, read scriptures, and sang stupid camp songs.  For five years I went for my one week, adding in extra time my fourth year to go on a three day hike with the other girls my age.

I suppose it is possible that this is what drew me away from camping; as I left church behind me, perhaps everything church related when with it, including camping.  Fortunately for me, I married a man who also hated camping, and no one has asked me to sleep in a tent since.  Now, I am getting ready to go to camp again.

I’ve been a little quiet about my writing lately.  After NaNoWriMo, I had a bit of a writing hangover.  I had consumed too much writing in a short time period and I was burnt.  Naturally I haven’t given up writing, I just slowed down. A lot.

I needed to recover.  I spent the time editing, and writing new outlines, but not trying to write a new story.    Now, it is time to start again.  April 1st begins the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo, another chance to push my ability to write.  This isn’t only about putting words on paper for me, it is about making a commitment.  I want to tell my stories, and the only way that will happen is if I commit to myself, commit to my dream, and take action.

This is the first time since I was 12 years old that I am excited to go to camp.  I don’t need to sleep outside, or dig a hole to go to the bathroom, but I can tell stories while I look at the stars.  Not a bad way to live.

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After NaNoWriMo

Just over a week after NaNoWriMo ended, and I am sure there are many people who wish I would stop talking about it.  However, as my final checkin for the year, I have to acknowledge the aftermath.

Writing heavily for one month was great.  It helped me to see what I was capable of, and let me really push myself.  Now however, I cannot seem to write anything.  I tried to keep the momentum going, but it is not really moving yet.  After all of the work I put in, getting started all over again is not easy to do.

Perhaps I am stuck on the opening.  There is so much pressure put on the opening of a novel.  The opening line needs to be perfect, and if the first ten pages are not perfect, you will never hook the reader. At least that is what agents say.  Trying to sell your book, they only want a few paragraphs, so your opening has to be perfect.

Can you see where the pressure comes from?

Moving on, and moving past NaNoWriMo, is difficult.  When I had to get a lot of writing in a short time period, I didn’t have time to stress out.  Now, with a different time period, I can’t stop stressing.  More than that, during NaNoWriMo, I knew millions of other writers around the world were in exactly the same position.  Technically I know that there are many other people out there writing with me, but it is not the same.  I can’t seem to connect to them in the same way I did before.  Instead of being part of a larger team of writers, I am individual writer.  Writing is normally such a solitary activity, I didn’t realize how much  having the support and camaraderie of other writers made a difference.

This doesn’t mean I am out of the writing business, it just means I am needing to reevaluate my writing habits.

Okay.  NaNoWriMo is officially done here for this year.

NaNoWriMo Conclusions

Well, December 1st brings the official end to my first year of NaNoWriMo.  I wrote, I learned, I grew.  I was an experience.  As a newbie, I feel the need to sum it up before I move on.

First off, I’m probably counted among the many people who do not finish in the official records because I only completed 40, 774 words instead of the official 50,000 word goal.  I consider myself to have completed my novel inspire of the shortness because, I finished the story.  In the last few days I was trying to flush out the story a little, adding scenes I realized were missing and fixing problems I noticed during the first write.  I did not finish the first edit before the end of November, so I know the novel will get a little longer, but I’m not sure it will ever hit 50,000 words.  It will make it a little short for a young adult novel, but not excessively so.

I learned a lot about my own writing style as well.  In the past I have struggled with too much exposition.  In my attempt to un-exposition my writing, I created something that was very dialogue heavy.  I’m not sure if it is too dialogue heavy yet, I guess we’ll see how it reads.  I definitely have more to do to work on the balance of my writing.

Even more important than learning about my writing, I learned about my ability to write.  I have never written 40,000 words in a month before.  I have never written 3,000 words in a day.  I have never written a book in a month.  Until now.  I’m still not as focused as I would like to be when I write.  Beyond my wandering mind (which is currently wondering if a tea cozy serves an actual purpose or if it is just decorative), I have a weird tendency to get up and walk around in the middle of writing.  I make tea, I check the laundry, I take the dog outside, I make a snack, I check the fire; I am up and down every ten to fifteen minutes.  In spite of my concentration flaws, I can still be productive.  That is kind of amazing to me.

All in all, I am very happy I took part in NaNoWriMo, and I plan to do it again next year.  For now, I am preparing to start my next novel, trying to push out one more short one this year.

A Momentous Occasion

I reached a milestone the other day; I finished my NaNoWriMo novel.

Well.  Sort of. I completed the story arc I had outlined, and written all of the scenes I had planned, but I am still sitting at just over 35000 words.  Yes, I still have 15000 to write in order to ‘officially’ complete NaNoWriMo.

I am not at a complete loss as to what to do.  As I wrote I would occasionally make notes as to what I would need to add in later.  You know the type of things; change this fact, more build up on this relationship, more interaction among characters on this point.  It is not specific details, but is reminders on what I noticed as I wrote, which would help me in fixing things later.  I’m not entirely certain that it is 15000 words worth of add ins, but it is a start.

The biggest thing I have noticed in my writing this novel is my current focus on dialogue.  In the past, I have often been told I spend too much time on exposition.  I would tell details quickly, or include unnecessary details which would bog down the story.  In my attempt to avoid this pitfall, I tried to take out most of that, or present it in other ways.  Other ways read, mostly dialogue.  Seriously.  I have pages of dialogue at a time with little in the way of a break.

I am currently looking at four days of adding in and fixing this imbalance.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what should make a balanced novel in this respect.  I mean, let’s be realistic.  Good books are in the eye of the beholder.  Everyone likes something a little different.  There are bestsellers that I cannot stand, and little known books I am deeply in love with.

On top of the personal taste issue, is the emotional connection.  What makes this book resonate with the reader at this moment in time?  Timing is important.  I have read books which I considered only ‘eh’ at best, and then, months or years later had a strong pull to read the book again, only to fall in love deeply.  There are books from my childhood that will always be special to me, simply because they were there when I needed them.  Poor writing can be forgiven when the reader is really reading something they need at that moment.

That connection is not something you can count on when writing, and can occasionally work against you.  I mean, if the agent/editor/publisher/reader is just not in the mood at the time, then it will not be your day, no matter how good the story is.

It is a tricky business, trying to figure out when to break up the dialogue without losing the rhythm of the conversation.  In order to figure out if I had too much dialogue (I was really sure I did) I turned to my trusty friend the internet.

The first article I found, I actually liked quite a bit.  Ask the Writer gave the honest answer I already knew.  Maybe you do have too much, and maybe you don’t, it really depends on the novel.  Looking at your dialogue, you need to determine if it is important for story and character development, or if it is boring filler words.  It also recommends the reminder of what people would never say in normal conversation.  It might be easy for someone to drive by a house and say ‘My Mom died there,’ but it doesn’t mean it was natural.

The Creative Pen gave me recommendations that were more about keeping dialogue natural and productive.  They also pointed out that many readers like books that may have plenty of dialogue.  The white space it presents not he page can look less overwhelming to readers, even if they are not aware of that part of their screening process.

Of course Writer’s Digest is always a good resource, however in this instance not particularly helpful.  They recommend intuition as a guide; if it seems right to leave it as mostly dialogue, leave it there, and if it doesn’t add more narrative.  Hmmm.  If I intuitively knew, I wouldn’t be asking for advice, but I appreciate the affirmation that I can figure it out.

I finally found some clear numbers however!  When discussing dialogue as one of the seven deadly sins of writing, they estimate 40-50% of a novel being dialogue, with a potentially higher percentage for novels for younger readers. Finally, something I could quantify, and count.  Thank you!  Of course they were not really saying if this was a correct percentage you should have, they were discussing how to make your dialogue stronger.  I’m not sure if that means I am doing things right or wrong still.  Hmmm.

Okay, I have to be honest. I think the internet failed me on this one.  Or it told me what I already knew.  All books are different, and there isn’t an absolute formula for writing correctly.  There is no right or wrong, there is just something that works or doesn’t work.  Sigh.

I guess I am on my own with this one.  Wish me luck, only 4 more days!

NaNoWriMo Week 3!

Wow.  I am honestly a little surprised I have made it this far.  I know a lot of this is thanks to blogging it.  If not for the fact that I am sharing my experience with you, I might have given up by now.  I know there is a very good chance I will not hit 50,000 words in the next week, but because I have pushed through, I will finish my story.

So, onto my progress over the last little while.

This last week/8 day period has been most likely the weirdest of the month.  I have had sick kids, random inspectors, a power outage, late homework, Christmas shopping (I know it it early, but it has to be when you mail stuff out), and of course trying to be healthy and not go insane.

I have had the two worst days of  the month, with 338 words on the 14th, and 330 words on the 16th.  I have also had the two best days, with 3105 words on the 18th, and 3475 just last night on the 22nd.  Overall, I think it balanced out to my average word count of around 1500-1700 words per day.  It has taught me something important.  Some days, you have to know it is better to step away from the keyboard and know that it will be all right.  The writing wasn’t great on those days, I was exhausted, it just wasn’t good.  Sure, sitting there anyway I did get something, but I also ended up feeling horrible because I didn’t get as much as I wanted to.

Oddly enough, I found my two really good days fascinating as well.  Writing 3000+ words for me is pretty much unheard of, and ended up being most of my day.  It’s not like I can’t write a lot at one time normally; I can sit down and write a few blog posts at once, or do a homework assignment, and crank out 5000 words in a couple of hours.  But when I sit to write fiction, the words are much slower.  I know how everything is supposed to go, but I don’t write it out quickly. I get distracted and wander around the house.  I second guess almost every word.  Basically, I am pitifully slow.

During this entire month, particularly as I started out a little behind, I have been pushing to hit 2000 words a day.  It felt like if I could hit that, I would make it on time.  (Officially I need 2227 everyday now to make it one time).  So I pushed, trying to get as many words as possible each day.  Most days, I crapped out around 1500-1800 words.  A few times I made it to 1900 words. Every time I would stop.  It would be late at night, I would be falling asleep, I just wouldn’t have anymore words in me.  That would be it, I would be done.

However, the two days when I did hit 2000 words, I went beyond.  I didn’t just hit my mark, I surpassed it by a lot.  I can’t tell if I should feel like I am doing well when this happens.  Yes, I am getting plenty of words, and doing better than I thought I could, but I am not hitting the goal I aimed for.  Does hitting the goal matter when you are able to go much further?

I guess the answer is probably no, it doesn’t matter.  I did what I set out to do, and hit my word count.  Now, I need to stop talking, so I can go and do it again.

Happy writing!  Let’s finish NaNoWriMo!

5 Things About NaNoWriMo Week 2

Week two is over, and we are halfway through.  I would like to say I am halfway through my word count as well, but, well, I’m not.  Sigh.

1. This is harder than I thought.

I knew this was not going to be easy.  To write 50,000 words in 30 days requires an average of 1667, which is higher than my current average. This is the kind of daily word count that I knew would require focus and no days off. The no days off is a real killer as I usually don’t write much on the weekends.  This is a combination of family time, errands, and homework time.  I always get the required number of words on the weekend, it’s just not usually within the confines of my novel and unfortunately homework and blog post words do not count.

2. My writing schedule needs work.

Writing from home, much like working from home, requires discipline.  You have to be able to block everything out and just do what needs to be done.  I feel like this would be much easier if I had someone here to cook, clean, move laundry, grocery shop, go to the gym, organize, stress out, and worry for me.  Since that does not work, I need to find a better balance of work/school/family/home.  Everything seems to want every minute and it gets to be a lot.  I guess I am just not great at multi-tasking.

3. I am trying to take part in social media.

I like these big global events, and I am trying to actually be a part of the bigger conversation.  I’ve tweeted a few times about my NaNoWriMo experience, and I am trying to occasionally respond or show support of others.  It is difficult because there feels like an obligation of reciprocity; if someone comments or favorites or anything I put out there, I feel like I must find others to support too.  It is wonderful to be supported and support others, but it is another drain on my time.

On a strange note, it also brought me slightly to the attention of an actual corporation, but I’m not sure how.  I ran out of red vines, (a tragedy I know) and tweeted a comment that I did not have enough red vines for this. Someone commented, I commented back.  Whatever.  A couple hours later red vines retweeted my comment.  I felt like I had been tracked down by the man.  I didn’t tag red vines, or hashtag   them, they just found me.  Don’t ever doubt Big Brother people.

4. I am not sure I am going to make it.

When you start to fall behind, it is really hard to catch up.  The first two days of this combined I managed to get one days worth of writing in, meaning I started out about 1600 words behind the goal.  In order to catch up, I now have to write even more every day.  I’m writing faster and occasionally better than I have been in the past, but I am still not hitting word counts as high as I should be.  To catch up, I need to have at least a week of 2,000 words a day, a goal that has so far eluded me.  I have come close, getting as close as 1,939 before burning out for the day, but I can’t seem to break it.  Not only have I not broke that word count, I have had hard days where get no where near as much as I should. Usually these days are busy, but illness has also been a factor (thank you migraine for the 338 word day).

I know that technically the word count is subjective.  My book should be exactly as long as it takes to tell a story, and any longer or shorter is taking away from the power of the story.  I could still make it, as I am around the halfway mark in my story outline, even if I am not at the halfway mark in my word count.  Additionally, editing usually cuts words.  If I am below my word count right now, maybe I am leaving out things I would be cutting later.  The integrity of the story should come first, not the number of words.

I still wish I was on goal as far a numbers.

5. My family is very supportive.

I have stressed out, complained, posted my numbers on a white board by my desk, written a lot, refused to talk about my story, and felt as though I was close to a mental breakdown while trying to keep up with everything.  No one has done more than tell me I am doing great and should keep going.  This either means they are very supportive, or I am normally so crazy they haven’t even registered a change.  Either way, it is nice to hear kind words of encouragement, reminding me I am doing great, anything I get written this month is impressive, and that it is okay if I don’t make it.

NaNoWriMo!! Week One

So, I don’t want to overpower everyone with my NaNoWriMo tales, but I am excited, so I have to talk about it, at least a little.

First, no I am not going to share my NaNoWriMo story here, at least not now.  Maybe when it is done, but I don’t usually let anyone read a work in progress.

Second, I am torn as to whether or not I am currently successfully completing my word counts.  The official goal, according to the NaNoWriMo website, is 50,000 words.  As of last night, the end of day seven, I had hit 10,026 words; according to their finish on time chart I should have written 11,666 words.  I have hit my word goal three days in the past week, with the worst day being day one, and the best day being yesterday.  It feels like a very brutal pace, but this may be because I am coming off of a slump and pushing to get a lot done.  I have heard that writing is a marathon, not a sprint, but this is definitely a world class runner speed marathon, not my slow, mostly walking pace.

No matter the pain, I am making progress.  I am currently on Chapter 9, though I am technically working on chapter 8, as I accidentally began a scene early and went back to write the previous one.  I have a few notes for revisions to make already, and I have added a few things in the spur of the moment that just felt right and I think I like them.

Third, I feel like the writing might be taking over my life.  Many things are being neglected, from cleaning to running as I push to get enough words in.  I am still a little bit of a space cadet when I sit to write, and I am having trouble focusing.  I think if I can get that under control, and be able to sit and write when it is time to write, I will get my life back.

Finally, and most importantly I think I am learning a little about my writing. I wanted to do this to prove I can, and I am getting it done.  But I am learning too.  For example, I didn’t know how much I shape my characters as I go.  I knew what was going to happen, and who was going to interact with who, but as I have worked, the characters have begun to represent something to me.  They are finding ways to speak about something more than just the silly plot I had worked out.

I am also realizing I rely too much on dialogue to get my point across.  I am writing from a first person perspective, and am trying not to have the entire view of the other characters come from this one persons thoughts, as well as trying to avoid spending too much time describing the mundane actions one does while speaking. Cutting a lot of this out, and letting the interactions speak for themselves seems to leave, well, a lot of speaking.  I can’t decide if it is a normal amount of dialogue for a YA book or not. This may be another point for revision later.

Oh well.  I have word counts to catch, and a weekend to live.  If I want to avoid spending the entire day on my butt in front of the computer, again, I should get a wiggle on.

Happy Writing NaNoWriMo-ers!

5 Ways I am Preparing for NaNoWriMo

I am super excited for National Novel Writing Month, starting in less than a week.  I have never tried anything like this before, and I am hoping for, nay, demanding my success.  I know not everyone finishes, and most people end up with work that will require major editing, but I am still remaining hopeful as I prepare.

There are a lot of articles out there right now, teaching people how to prepare for NaNoWriMo.  They talk about time management, outlining, story planning, all sorts of funny little details.  Some of these I am listening to, but not all of them.  After all, they won’t all work for everyone. Here are five things I am doing to prepare.

1. Have a plan.

I am getting ready for this, and I am trying to do this properly.  I know the story I am going to write.  I have an outline, with some scene details where I have them ready.  I am not going in blind, I am planning to follow a map.

2. Schedule writing time.

Life can get busy.  If the writing time is not respected everyday, the words will not be written.   They always tell you if you are trying to workout, write it in your schedule like an appointment.  Just like anything else, you promise to be there, and you show up.  My writing will be the same way; I am making an appointment for my writing time, and I intend to keep it.

3. Clean up.

To get all of my writing done this month, I will need to be focused.  So, the next week will need to be spent cleaning out the other projects on my list.  Beta reading, homework; anything I can get ahead on I need to do, so that I can have the time I need later.

4. Anticipate issues.

You can’t necessarily fix everything, in either the story or your life.  I can however look at my life in the next few weeks and see what will make things easier.  I know when my kids will be out of school, and when I have appointments.  Those times will not be a free pass to goof off and not get my writing done.  Instead, I can look at those moments and plan around them, not letting myself waste anytime.

5. Write!

No matter what I do, the only thing that will get me through NaNoWriMo will be sitting down and writing.  I can plan everything, anticipate everything, but if I do not actually do the writing, it is all for nothing.  By this time next week, I plan to be neck deep in a story, bringing it out, and hopefully making it mean something.

NaNoWriMo!!!

October is moving along, already almost half over.  For writers around the world that means one thing. NaNoWriMo is almost here!

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month, the yearly challenge for writers to stop making excuses, sit down, and just write.

The most common piece of writing advice I have heard is to stop talking about writing, and start writing.  Not only is this the most common piece of advice, but it is the most practical.  I can talk, and I can plan, and I can dream, but if I never put the work in it will never matter.

I’ll be honest, I have never done NaNoWriMo.  Last year was the first I had heard of this event and I wasn’t exactly sure how it worked.  I tried to use it as a push to finish a novel I had already started and it didn’t work out.  Long story short, that novel is still not finished.

This year I am determined to make it work for two reasons.  The first reason, is NaNoWriMo is fun to say, and fun to do.  I love to write, and I need the push.  The second reason is to complete my yearly writing goal.

I gave myself a goal to finish three manuscripts this year.  In January that seemed easy.  I had two that were sitting at 100 pages, and what felt like an abundance of ideas.  Now, halfway through October I still have those two 100 page manuscripts, as well as a third 100 pager, and one that I finally finished.  I need more than just November to be NaNoWriMo in my house; it’s looking like December is going to be one too.

Last year was a disaster, but this year I am going in prepared.  I have spent weeks preparing my outlines, thinking about the characters, plotting the scenes.  I have a plan, and I plan to succeed!

I might be getting a little excited here.   Or perhaps this is the beginning I need.

Let’s go NaNoWriMo!