Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Editing woes – the burnout.

In the past four months, I have been steadily working on rewriting / editing my novel Of Broken Things, and in the past two months I had been doing only that and nothing else. I also signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo with this revision, so the pressure was on.

On hindsight, joining Camp NaNo was a mistake, because I had been struggling with motivation to pick up my work for the last two weeks, and I was feeling increasingly guilty about it… which made me even less happy about diving into the revisions… which made me even guiltier for not doing it. Vicious cycle!

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

It took me a while to realize what was happening, but last night it hit me like a ton of bricks – I had burned out on revisions. This realization was rather surprising, because it never happened to me before. Well, to be honest, I have never had to tackle such a big revision either. I had only edited two short stories before and both of them had been knocked out in a couple weeks. So this is the first time in my (short) writing career that I meet face to face with this particular monster.

I have learned two things from this misadventure.

1. Burnout happens even when editing.

I had read plenty of blogs about writers experiencing burn out when they write their first draft, but never about the same happening during the editing stage. Guess now I know that you can get burned out while editing as well. Lesson learned. Moving on.

2. I need variety to thrive.

I guess I have a mind form of ADD, because I can’t concentrate on one project for a significant amount of time. I think two and a half months is about my limit. That’s how long it took me to write the first draft Of Broken Things. Anything longer, and my attention starts wandering.

I had started editing the novel in April, but I took a couple breaks to finish writing a novelette as well. However, since about May, I have been doing nothing but editing. So I definitely need a change if I ever want to get to the end of this process without ending up hating my story with a passion.

Conclusions:

1. I am putting Of Broken Things away for a couple weeks at least and starting on a new short story, which will be a continuation of the short story A Small Detour published here. I already have the outline ready and printed, just need to sit down and put pen to paper. I think the freedom to just write whatever comes to mind and not worry about grammar or punctuation will be exactly the change of pace I need.

2. Sadly, I will have to withdraw from Camp NaNoWriMo this year, but I will definitely be there for NaNoWriMo in November! I even have a bright new shiny idea for the novel I want to write during that month. With characters and even a beginning of the plot as well! Can’t wait to start on that one, actually.

And finally a question for my fellow writers. Have you ever experienced this kind of burnout? What do you do to shake it off and get back on the writing horse again?

The more you write, the more ideas you get.

 

pen-and-paper

I remember reading the excellent book On Writing by Stephen King sometimes in 2009, when I had just moved state-side with my husband. And I remember feeling so pumped up and excited to start writing something, because the great Stephen King said that ANYONE could write a story, they only had to start.

So I sat down with my pen and paper, already thinking about printed books and glory and fame… and I hit a wall. I had nothing to write about. My mind was blank. Not a single interesting story idea to be found anywhere. But I wanted to write! So I grabbed the first half-baked story that had the misfortune to wander into the spotlight and tried to run with it. The run quickly became a walk, then a crawl, and finally it died in horrible convulsions. That was my first effort at becoming a writer and, as you can see, it was not a very successful one.

Then in October 2013 a good friend of mine told me, “Why don’t you try doing NaNoWriMo with me?” I looked at the site, I read the rules, and I decided why the heck not? But the last disastrous foray into the land of writing was still fresh in my mind, so I was rather freaked out to just start on November 1 and write 50k in 30 days. And I still had NO IDEA what I would be writing about! Needless to say that the closer that first of November loomed, the more stressed I got.

And then a miracle happened. Around October 15, one a character literally barged into my dream, knocking the door down with his military boots, and said, “Ok, you will write this, and you will write it now.” I woke up with a half-formed idea, three fully-formed characters and an almost feverish need to put pen to paper and get story out, because it was burning me from the inside. I spent the last 15 days before the start of NaNo frantically outlining the story, I hit the month of November running, and I didn’t stop running until I finished the first draft around January 15.

During this exciting journey, I learned a lot about writing in general, as well as what worked and didn’t for me (outlines are a must – I can’t pants it for the life of me). But something even more extraordinary happened in the process as well – all of a sudden, my mind was bombarded with stories clamoring to be told. I was writing one, and at least three more were knocking more or less politely at the door, waiting for their turn. Where I had suffered from lack of things to write about back in 2009, I was overwhelmed with possible ideas now. It was like the trickle had transformed into a downpour!

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

I now have a list of stories I want to write, and it’s getting longer every month. I must admit that it’s exciting. I am in the middle of the first rewrite / edit of my NaNo novel, and I have a finished short story waiting for a second rewrite, but I am also writing a brand new story that might turn out to be a novella. And I have enough plots for at least two more short stories set in the same word as another short story I just started sending out to magazines. Not to mention, another half-written novel I really want to go back to, because I have finally figured out the outline for it.

I guess it is true what everybody says – the more you write, the more you discover stuff to write about. It’s hard to start the ball rolling, but once it’s on the move, it gathers all sorts of interesting things along the way.

Editing my novel – first steps.

Editing woes

 

My big adventure as a writer started November 2013 when I attempted to take advantage of NaNoWriMo to write at least part of my first ever novel. I plowed ahead and even won NaNo with a nice 55k word count. My novel, however, was only halfway done. So I persevered. I applied butt to chair for the whole of December (well I made a break for the holidays) and half of January, until I had finally put THE END on my manuscript. I ended up with a 100k word brick and an immense sense of satisfaction. I did it! I had finally finished something. For the first time ever. Yay me!!!

So I put my first draft in a drawer and busied myself with writing a couple short stories. That was also fun and challenging in a different way than writing a whole novel. When you have a very limited amount of words to tell your story, you have to be a lot more careful about the choices you make.

Short stories were also my first serious attempt at editing a piece into something good enough print (still working on that, first story is on version three so far). I had tremendous fun editing and rewriting them, trying to see if I could tell my story better.

But now I am faced with the 100k brick that is my first draft, and I must admit that the task of editing it is daunting. I mean it took me two weeks to tweak a 5k words story well enough to be able to send it to my critique group, how long would going through THAT many words take me? I admit that I am terrified. I have been circling around this text since beginning of March, unsure where to start.

I even sent it to my wonderful beta who had been there with me every step of the way while I was writing the darn thing. I think she sensed my rising panic, because she advised me to break the story into manageable chunks, to re-outline my novel now that it’s finished, breaking it into scenes, and go from there. That’s what I have been busy doing for the past week.

I must admit that this advice was invaluable. Not only do I have a clear Excel spreadsheet with every scene making every chapter, but I also have a better understanding of what is going on in my story. I now know how the events unfold and link to each other. And I already see a few problems that need fixed. I didn’t notice them when I read through the manuscript before, even though I felt that something wasn’t quite right.

So now that I have that clearer picture, I can start working on my plan of attack. Hopefully, I will manage to make my novel better (and not get paralyzed by fear in the prospect of the cheer volume of words I have to edit).

But this is the first lesson I learned about editing a novel – a detailed scene by scene outline is a must.

The process is ongoing, so stay tuned for more!

Of Broken Things – first draft finished.

Last night, I crossed a very important milestone: I finished the first draft of the novel I had started in November 2013 for NaNoWriMo. For me, it is a huge accomplishment, because I have never actually finished anything before.

Sure, I have plenty of stories that I had started and abandoned after a couple chapters, when I got bogged down by plot inconsistencies, couldn’t see my characters clearly or had no clue where my story was going, or simply got bored and went off to write the next shiny new thing. But not this time. This time I stuck with it, through happy moments when words flew onto the page faster than I could write them down and moments when every single word seemed to cost an ounce of my own blood. I stuck with the story, with the characters and I brought it all to a satisfying conclusion.

The feeling is… exhilarating, electrifying and a bit scary. I have done it. I finished something. I proved to myself that I am a writer, that I can tell stories from beginning to the end. That’s the exhilarating part.

The scary part is that I am entering uncharted waters now. I have never finished a draft before, so I have no idea how to go about rewriting and editing it, and what steps to take to transform it into a book it deserves to be, a book that I wouldn’t be ashamed to send out into the world. It feels like standing at the entrance of a labyrinth with no map and knowing that you have to navigate through it to the other side. It’s kind of paralyzing.

So I need help and I need advice from everyone who has been in my shoes and had already tackled the editing hurdle. Where do I go now? How do I even begin?

Frist Drafts woes and wonders – rebelling characters.

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NaNoWriMo is over and done, but at the end of it I still had an unfinished story on my hands. So I had decided to keep up the good habits I picked up during November and write every day. I set my goal to 1200 words per day, which is about 800 words less than the mad rush of NaNo. I managed to stick to it so far, so my manuscript is now at 68k words and I would reach the end of Part 2 after one more chapter.

 This feels really good, to see this story finally taking shape on paper. I have never stuck with a story for so long and so consistently before. I have never written so many words before on one story either. The feeling is… exhilarating. If feels like an accomplishment. Even if my story is only two thirds done, even if I still have at least a long month of bleeding words on paper in front of me, I feel like having a small celebration. Like I passed a milestone or something.

But this is not what I wanted to discuss today. No, I wanted to talk about characters and all the marvelous things they do to advance your plot and sometimes totally mess up your carefully laid plans and nicely detailed outlines.

 When I wrote Part 1 of my novel during NaNo, my main character Aiden was a good sport and went along with almost everything I had planned for him. He rebelled only on the small details. So we really had a peaceful and productive collaboration during the month of November.

 Then I wrapped up Part 1 and moved to Part 2 which follows another character. I knew that I was in deep trouble from the get go. This character has a mindset very different from my own, so getting into his head and writing from his perspective was like reformatting my brain with a screwdriver – a slow and painful process. And as if to add to the suffering, he decided to fight me every step of the way. All my carefully-laid plans for Part 2? Out of the window. All the shiny scenes of romance and conflict I thought I would write? Scrapped and disposed of. He was having none of it. It was going to be his way or no way at all. So for fourteen chapters now I have been in a state of panicked wonder – how will he manage to change my plot this time?

 But you know what? I am just one chapter away from finishing his arc of the story and looking back at it, I must admit that what he did is much better, more in character than anything I had in mind.

 So my question to you all is how often do your characters rebel against your plans? Do you go along with them when they do? Does it turn out better when you do give them free reign or worse?

NaNoWriMo 2013 – on wining and what I learned from the experience.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover

As of this morning, I have won NaNoWriMo 2013 with 50021 words. What a strange and wonderful journey that has been!

When I made the decision to participate in NaNo, I thought that the goal of reaching 50k in one month was frankly unrealistic for me. I had been writing on a story for over a year, on and off (mostly off), barely managing 100 to 400 words per session. How was I supposed to get 1667 words per day on paper? But I decided to give it a try, especially since another story came to me beginning of October and just wouldn’t let go. I am glad I did.

What NaNo taught me is that I can sit down every day and write. That 1667 words is not that much, all things considered. Most of the days, I averaged about 1800-2000 words, with only two days where my word count was under 1600 but still over 1300.  So lesson number one – I can do this if I stop making excuses. If I want to be a writer, nothing stops me from being one but my own insecurity and procrastination.

Lesson number two – there is no such thing as writer’s block. The story is not going to write itself while I sit around and wait for inspiration. Only words on the page push the story forward, no matter how horrible they seem to me or how painful they were to come up with.

Lesson number three – you really need to love your story when you  set out on this big adventure, or you will get discouraged and abandon it. I had days, especially during Week 3 when I switched to a different POV, when it felt writing was like pulling nails. I was tired, I was starting to loose steam and my new character’s POV was very different from my own, so inhabiting his head was like trying to reformat my brain – painful. But I sat down and powered through it all, because I love my story, I love my characters, and I want to see them safely to the end.

Now that the big rush to the finish line is over, what I am going to do? Well I will continue working on my novel, because at 50k words it’s only barely half-way done.  And now that I know that I can write that much in a month, there is no excuse not to finish the manuscript before January.

So that ‘s my next goal.

What about you? What are you all planning to do with your NaNo novels?

Help, I feel like I’m writing utter crap!

ImageThis is week three of NaNoWriMo and I feel like nothing I wrote in the past two days is worth keeping. Now I am on track, even about 4k words ahead with my word count, and up until a few days ago I have been happily writing my story. Then I finished Act 1 and switched to Act 2 and the torture started.

I think part of the problem is that I had to switch POVs between the parts. Also the story that my new MC is telling is essential in understanding everything that happened in Act 1 and will foreshadow a lot of things that happen in Act 3. So I really want to write it “just right”, so that the readers would understand him and his motives. Plus I care very deeply for the characters in this part and I want to do them justice.

As a result, I have been paralyzed with fear ever since I started this Act. I managed maybe 1000 words in two days and every single one of them feels like it’s been written with my own blood. And I’m still not sure I am happy with how they turned out! Am I over thinking it? Do I care too much and it’s bogging me down?

Has anyone else encountered this problem before? How did you work through it? I want to hear from you.

NaNoWriMo – 15 days to go.

ImageWell, we are half-way through November already. Time just seems to fly by, doesn’t it? This is my first NaNoWriMo and to tell the truth I wasn’t sure if I could make it. But as of today I am at 30k words and about one chapter way from finishing Part 1 in my novel. And I still have 15 days to write another 20k words. That looks a lot less daunting than the big 50k from November 1. So I start getting more hopeful about the fact that I can make it to then end and win.

I would like to use this half-way point to go over some of the observations I made so far about my writing process. Hopefully, someone else will find them useful too.

1. Discipline helps. I haven’t missed  single day of writing so far. I made sure that I would find time to sit down and work on my novel every day, rain, snow or storm. It doesn’t matter how much time I have, even a five minute coffee break spent scribbling in a notepad can produce 100-200 words. A lunch date with a pen and paper adds another 400-500 words. And in the end, it all adds up.

2. Setting goals and working towards reaching them is essential. When I decided to do NaNo, I set myself  a daily goal of 1700 words. And I made a vow not to go to bed until I reach that goal. So it doesn’t matter if my pen is flying so fast that makes the paper smoke or if my muse packed up and went on vacation, I will sit and put one word after another until I get that goal done. And most of the days I end up with 200-300 words over that goal.

3. Celebrating small and big achievements is a sure way of boost motivation. I had a piece of chocolate cake and a fresh cup of tea when I reached my first 10k. I pored myself a glass of wine at the 20k marker. I sneak attacked my husband in the bedroom after I flew by the 25k :). Those little celebrations really make you want to go on writing, and thinking about your next reward helps when the fatigue sets in and you start getting discouraged with your writing.

4. Word wars and prompts help. No, seriously, they really do! There are days when words are just not coming, no matter how much you stare at the blank screen. I found that picking up a prompt or joining a word war either on the site or on twitter @NaNoWordsprints helps me get the ideas on the page. I tend to procrastinate less when I have a deadline.

5. Do not get discouraged. Whether you are 5k ahead or 10k behind, keep writing. You still have 15 days to go, don’t abandon you novel now. Every word you add to it is more than you had before. Word by word, the novel will get from “Once upon a time” to “The end”.

So how is everyone else doing at his half-way point? What are you guys happy about or struggling with?

NaNoWrimo – second week blues

ImageSo remember how a few days ago I said that I had gagged and tied my inner editor in the basement? Well, she escaped and returned with a vengeance. Or maybe it’s just the dreaded second week of NaNo blues.

I woke up yesterday absolutely hating my novel. The plot was not progressing fast enough, the characters were wandering all over the place, but most of all I had the feeling that every single word I had written up until now was absolute tripe. I sad down in front of my screen, opened Scrivener and couldn’t force myself to write. I worked through it, forced myself to put in my usual daily 1700 words, but I hated every single one of them.

So I thought I would use today’s Writing Marathon to power through this block. I even signed up for twitter to participate at the sprints at #NaNoWordSprints… It worked. Well, kinda sorta in a sideways kinda way. I manged to write 2500 words, but instead of progressing with the plot, my Main Character decided that now was the time to sit down and bare his soul and tell his back-story to the enraptured audience of one aka yours truly. I tried to nudge him towards action and getting on with the case on hand, but he just ignored me.

So I now have 2500 words of back story that might or might not make it into the final draft. But on the plus side, I think I managed to lock my inner editor in the bathroom, so onward with the story!

How is everyone doing with their novels so far?

NaNoWriMo – half way through week one.

ImageThe first week of NaNoWriMo is not over yet but I have broken the 10k words mark today. That’s one fifth of the goal done. I think I will allow myself a glass of wine tonight to celebrate.

Between bouts of frantic writing this weekend, I have noticed several things.

First of all, tying and gaging my inner editor and shoving her in a dark closet for the duration of NaNo had been strangely liberating. I didn’t realize how much fun it would be to just put words on paper (or on the computer screen in my case) without worrying about bad grammar, spelling or lack of style. Yes, it might look like a smoking pile of manure, but it moves the story forward, and anything is better than a blank page. Manure I can work with later and grow beautiful polished prose with, blank – not so much.

Another thing that I learned about my writing – having a pretty good idea of where your story goes and outlining it works wonders. All the other (unsuccessful) attempts at writing a novel started with me having a wonderful idea and a vague picture of the main characters. And I would sit down and happily punch words in for a week or two. Then I would get lost with no idea where my story is supposed to go, or hit a roadblock, or just lose interest and move on to a new shiny idea.

In this case I spent the entire month of October thinking about my story. I wrote the main idea, I thought about the beginning and the ending, I even sat down and wrote a more or less detailed outline. I dived into my world and tried to figure out as much about it as I could. I cornered my characters in tights spaces and interrogated them. So when November 1 arrived, I knew my world and my characters and I had a pretty good idea where my story was going. And guess what – I am still very much in love with the story.

So lesson learned – do not jump right into writing, let the idea sit and mature, poke at it for a week or two and see if what hatches is worth writing about.

Oh and I also found an excellent book by Timothy Hallinan called Finish Your Novel, there is a lot of very good advice and encouragement here, so I definitely recommend it to all aspiring novelists.