There is something to be said for fun

I’ve been working on my second novel for The Half Blood Sorceress series for a while, and pushing through the knots I made in the plot, trying to unravel everything. It was getting to the point I just didn’t want to look at it anymore.

So I set it aside for a week and wrote something different. Here we have a graph showing my word count per week since the beginning of this year. This week I set aside my usual work and I wrote a litRPG. I’m currently about half way done with it, and loving it. I love that the words came so easily, even though I didn’t really have a plot at the beginning. But the plot really took a hold, and after talking to Bjorn about it a bit he asked a couple questions and that made the plot so much better. It became a full story instead of just a little snippet of an adventure.

So far I have written at least twice as much each day on this new story. Something about it is just fun to write. And that fun keeps me coming back to it, writing more.

I think the Half Blood Sorceress became work instead of fun once the plot got so out of hand that I was actually considering rewriting ten chapters instead of just editing it. I’m still considering rewriting, or dropping a few of the chapters, and that doesn’t seem like much fun, so of course I have put it off some more. But don’t worry, I won’t be doing that forever, just for this week.

You know that saying “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”? It isn’t entirely true. Bjorn works a lot, and he loves what he does. But even when you love what you do there are some days when it isn’t as fun, and he has to slog through a bit to try and get it complete. He keeps going because eventually the work will be done and he can get back to the fun part. There is something he loves just waiting for him to complete the slog so he can get back to the good part.

It’s the same with any skill, really. Learning a language? You have to practice. Learning an instrument? Repatition isn’t fun, but you learn faster that way. Writing? Sometimes you just have to push through and get it done. Throw away, cut, rewrite, and continue.

And sometimes you need to set it aside for a bit and have some fun. Knowing when to do that is the trick. Knowing what the best course of action, and what you can finish, makes a huge difference.

It’s all about the little things

For the last week I’ve been setting up all the print files for my trilogy. I had to redo the one book I already had out because I rewrote three chapters, and the other two I had been putting off till I had “time.” You never have time. It’s just not there, never is, and I should just stop kidding myself. Something needs done? Do it.

Anyway, I got everything put in, ordered copies so I could see them, and then today I did the virtual proof just to take a look…and there was an error. Not like an error with the words, or with the cover. No, I was missing a page. A BLANK page even. But that one page made a huge difference. Without that one page right after the table of contents the rest of the book shifted. The first page wasn’t on the right hand side. The margins were backwards because they were formatted for being on the opposite side. And everything just looked WRONG.

I had to open the file, add one blank page, and resubmit everything.

Little things can matter, even blank pages. Sometimes you’re staring at that blank page wondering what the heck you should write, and you get an idea. Other times you stare at it, type a few words, delete them all, and try again.

I’ve had a lot of new ideas lately, but few of them get completed. That’s just another thing that gets in the way of following your dreams. But I don’t want to be just a dreamer. I want to be a finisher. I want a stack of books sitting on my shelf, all of them with my name on the spine.

So I finished editing the book again, and republished it. Now I’ll wait for it to be proofed, and order another copy. And it will finally go up on Amazon in a few more days. No big.

Because of one page.

It really is the little things that make your dreams into reality. I’m going to go write a page in my novel now.

Back tracking

zombie miniA while ago I started working on a short story called Zombie Swarm. I even came up with a cover that I really liked.

So why isn’t it out? Because as much as I liked the concept and several of the scenes of that story, it just wasn’t good enough.

The biggest problem was easy to fix. I added a few more characters. The whole situation wasn’t very convincing or suspenseful enough so it ended up falling a little flat. Most of the story takes place inside of once little lab, but with only two people working in a lab you don’t have a lot to work with. I added three more people and suddenly things started coming together. There were more issues between characters, more problems, and more strife. Then the creature they are dealing with, I didn’t have to change it much, but I did have to add a few more scenes to the original plot, and a lot more detail.

So it meant going back, completely reworking the original plot line, and rewriting it. I threw away the 6000 words I’d already written to start all over again. But I know I’m going to have a better story because I did that, even if it really REALLY sucked throwing away 6k words that I wrote. I’m also expecting the finished story to be twice as long, at least, so that’s a plus.

Don’t be afraid to throw it out and start all over again.

Aaaaand DONE!

Winner-2014-Twitter-ProfileI finished writing 50,023 words for my book, “Mermaid’s Curse” at 8:35 am the morning of Nov 30th. I am kind of shocked that I was able to finish so early. Not only that, but I only had 1300 words to write that morning.

Every year that I’ve done NaNoWriMo before I’ve been faced with the last day rush to get words. 8000 one year, 10000 another. It got to the point where I just threw words at the page hoping to see what stuck later in editing, and most of it was terrible.

First drafts are suppose to be terrible. But it isn’t always good to feel like nothing you write has any value except words on a page either. When you’re so tired you are holding your eyes open with toothpicks, and your back and neck hurt from all the typing, all you want to do is curl into bed and sleep, that’s when your writing suffers the most.

So, this year I’m going to share what made a real difference. Why did this year feel different from every other year? And why doesn’t it feel like I am so exhausted and sick of writing that I can’t pick up the keyboard this month?

Practice and Reality

dataFor the last two years I’ve been trying to write every day. That hasn’t always worked. I could give you lots of excuses as to why this hasn’t always worked, and of course there are days when things came up, or I was sick, or there was a lot going on… But the truth is most of the days I failed to write I just didn’t feel like writing. I was lazy. I didn’t take my writing seriously enough.

In October, for the first time, I actually started realizing how important writing was to me. I wrote a bit about this earlier this month, and the two things that really seemed to help. This was my reality check. I had to decide this thing, this writing, was important to me. More important than the job I go to 5 days of the week. More important than video games, or board games, or long soaks in the tub. (not that I can give up or stop doing all of those things, just that I had to decide what was more important.)

Once I got the reality check I started practicing writing every day in earnest. That meant that when NaNoWriMo came along I was willing and able to take up my own challenge and slay some writers block demons. And do so with excitement because “This was my story, and I loved it, and I wanted to see it finished!”

Be prepared for distraction

Things will get in the way. My daughter made an unexpected trip home. There was Thanksgiving, and a day where I felt sick. I had a day when I was literally so exhausted I almost feel asleep at the keyboard.

These things are going to happen. Prepare for them. I did this by always striving for 2k a day from day one. I wrote 2k a day more than half of the month. That’s what allowed me to finish NaNoWriMo that morning without stressing over it. I only had 1300 words and two hours before work. No problem because I had already been putting in 2k a day most of the month. This morning it was just the pure excitement of “OMG I’M ALMOST DONE” that got me to do it so quickly.

Listen to your body

I had a few days where I couldn’t quite reach 2k for the day because I was so tired. Being tired does not help your writing. When I was exhausted I tended to write much slower, and the words I wrote were far more likely to be deleted the next day. The next morning I still had work, and I was still exhausted. When I got home that night I would get to write and find myself doing even worse than the day before.

About a week in I decided that I wasn’t going to play that merry game of chasing my tail anymore. Nope, time to listen to my body. My body said sleep, I was going to sleep, darn it, and forget about writing that day. Each time I got to about 400-500 words and started feeling my eyes start to droop I’d close the programs, turn off the PC, and go to bed. The next day I would almost always manage to get 2.5k words out in a few hours.

Small Steps

I also talked a bit here about how I would listen when my brain started to wander and then I’d go do something else. After a bit I’d come back and write some more.

I’ve learned that I can do about 500 words in thirty minutes. Then after a short break I could come back and do it all over again. Four thirty minute sessions got me the 2k words I wanted for the day.

They are small steps, each step carving out a little more of the story, sharing it. And adding it to the already piled up masses of FINISHED chapters.

Take Joy in Small Accomplishments

About a week and a half from the end of NaNoWriMo I started to have a few new challenges. I was getting to the point where I had lots of words, but nothing finished. The chapters were in pieces, with lots of connecting sentences that read “and they did this and this until this happened” before going on to the next scene that I had been able to write. I needed to finish those connecting pieces so that I had a complete chapter.

So I got out my scrivener file and I just sat down and started on page one. Working my way down the page I filled in all those little pieces, and after half an hour I had a finished chapter. I added a little asterisk to the title of that chapter and went onto the next chapter.

After a couple of days the asterisks started adding up. I am done with the first twelve chapters of Mermaid’s Curse 3, and the rest of them are mostly finished. Each time I added that asterisk that said “this is done, it just needs and edit” I felt buoyed and wanted to keep going. It was awesome.

Take joy in the small accomplishments, because they eventually add up.

I have about 15,000 words to go to complete this novel, and then I will have a completed trilogy to send off to the editor. I think I’m incredibly excited! NaNoWriMo was a success for me!

NaNoWriMo day 3

I can’t believe how well it’s going, and yet I don’t want to jinx it. It’s only day three, but I’m on target, and feeling good about this novel.

My secret? The best plot ever!

Plot it out!
I’ve always been more of a pantser then a plotter, but this time I did some really thorough beats. I was influenced by the guys over at SPP who showed how they did beats, and put out a TON of wordage every month. I want that wordage! So I beat out the story, since I already had a basic plot, and gave myself a more complete skeleton on which to work my writing magic. The results? Two hours. TWO HOURS of writing gives me my word count for the day. There is no fuss, no muss, and then I can spend the evening cuddling on the couch with my boyfriend. THAT makes plotting worth it.

EXCITEMENT!
I just finished Mermaid’s Curse 1 last week, so I had a bit of excitement left over from finishing that project. Then I finished a really fantastic plot for book three (kind of Lovecraft meets high fantasy) and I just loved it. The plot got me excited, and if I’m excited I’m more confidant that a reader will love it too.

Write what you love, people. Don’t just write whatever comes to mind. You love dinosaurs? Write about them. You love romance? Write that. You love tanks and battle fields? Write that! Whatever it is you absolutely love use that as part of your story and that love will come through.

Time
Time is a huge thing for me. In order to really get into the groove of writing I need an hour, at least, to get fully into it. That means no children waiting to distract me, no games, no email, no TV shows. Just me, the headphones, and some chillstep playing in the background on loop. I even listen to the same exact video on youtube every time I start writing because it just tells my body: okay, time to get down to business.

Time is sometimes the hardest thing to get when you’re writing. Some of our friends and family just don’t get why why are doing NaNo, or why we even care about writing in the first place. Some of our friends don’t even read (why are you friends with people who don’t read? kidding!). But we have to be firm, and unrepentant. This is important to us, for whatever reason, and it isn’t fair of them to try to take it away. How would they feel if we got in the way of their hobby/craft/work/etc?

In the zone!
This last one… The “zone” is not a muse waiting to give you her affection when she feels like it. No, the zone is a place you figure out how to get into, and then you do the same thing to get into it every time.

A runner who does marathons trains for months, if not years, until he finally slips into a ground eating rhythm that lets him run, and FINISH, a marathon. A singer trains their voice for years so that they can hold and sustain notes, sing at a consistent level, and perform in front of crowds for hours. Whatever the craft, these things take practice. It takes training the mind and body to do these things, and do them consistently. Why would writing be any different.

I found the things that made writing easier for me (writing at night, listening to chillstep, uninterrupted) and did them over and over and over while writing. It’s taken a year, but I finally feel like I could sit down and write just by setting aside that block of time, turning on my music, and going over yesterdays writing till something strikes.

It’s the consistent pattern, the butt in chair time, that make the zone, or the muse come to you instead of waiting for them to appear from thin air.

I really believe that if you can figure out what inspires you to write, and do them consistently over a long period of time, then you will be able to consistently write more and more.

I don’t Wanna! – Day 10 NaNoWriMo

Every morning I get up, I take a shower, brush my teeth, and go to work. I put on a pot of coffee to slowly sip and wake up. I greet my customers with a smile on my face, even when inside I want to run away. Go home. Slip into bed with a book and a bottle of orange juice, and forget the outside world even exists.

I don’t want to be there, but I go. I have to pay my bills, and take care of my children. This isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. And I go, even though I don’t wanna!

This month I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. And this week… I don’t wanna. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to sit in front of the computer. I don’t want to fill in paragraph after paragraph of someone else’s life.

But I’m going to.

There are those who say you should only write when you are inspired, and I heartily disagree. Inspiration is not what gave me thirteen books, and over 100 thousand words in stories published on Amazon. Inspiration started the story, but sheer determination finished it.

I don’t want to sit in front of my computer typing. Not today. Today I want to cuddle up and play a game, or watch TV. But TV and games won’t put words on the page. And they won’t further my goal of being an author that makes my living from my writing.

So I’m going to go write. I might have to rewrite it. But I’m still going to go do it.

Keeping up the word count

I tweeted this morning that I’d written 12,000 words this month. That’s 500 a day, on average. Some days I did more, some days I did none, but over the average it’s 500 words.

spreadThe one thing that keeps me writing (almost) every day is my spread sheet.

Each day I add the words I’ve written, and what project I wrote on. Each day I add little pink highlights if that number is zero. I hate those zeros. I also keep blog and writing separate, but I do track both. And both show up on my graph at the end of the month (writing in blue, blog in red.)

The trouble with a “zero” day isn’t that I got a zero, it’s that the next day I don’t write as much. And if I have two “zero’s” in a row I have to struggle all that much more to get some words out.

I actually started this about February. That’s when I realized I was struggling, and I needed more accountability to myself. Something I had in spades during NaNoWriMo, but lacked afterward. I no longer had that nifty little graph showing my progress, or the bar creeping forward saying weather or not I “won”. So, I decided to make my own graph.

It took a few tries to figure out exactly what I should have on my graph. As you can see there is an “edited” column that rarely gets anything put into it. I’ve edited quite a bit this month because I am rewriting sections of “Rage War” in between writing “Forgotten Ones” and finishing up a short story. But I never really think about the edited pages, I just want to track what I’ve written.

I’ve also forgotten to add my word counts for a couple of days. Every time that happens I am extremely disappointed n myself. This has become an incredibly important part of my writing. It’s tracking my growth and accomplishments as I move forward.

Soon after figuring out my own graph I discovered “The Magic Spreadsheet” from Mur Lafferty. I really like her version, and how it gives you points for each day you reach your goal, but I’ll stick with mine for now. However, maybe some of you would like to try it out.

Whatever method you use, the best advice I can offer is just to try new things. Find out what works for you. I know authors who keep a writing journal in paper, and jot down a note every day. I know others who blast it out on twitter, o reddit. Still others keep writing journals on a blog. But I do know that it won’t hurt for you to try to keep track and figure out what you are really doing.

I would love to add time of day to this… but my scheduled doesn’t allow that right now. It’s too chaotic. Chalk that up to a dream for the future.

Stats

year graph
Half way through March, and I thought I would share my progress.

Now that I am tracking my daily word count I am having a lot fewer days with zero word count. I have had a few days, this month, of less than 200 words, but a lot more of them have been over 500, and I see it growing.

Last night I sat down to write and kept checking my word count after ten minutes or so watching the numbers go up hundreds, not just tens and twenties. I was thrilled! The words are tripping off my fingers with ease now. It isn’t a struggle to sit down and write. It’s more of a demand.

I bought a new game. Tropico 4. Instead of playing it I dangled it as a reward to get myself to write. Now that I’m in the habit of this it is completely natural for me to deny myself something until I write.

I do not yet have a set word count that I need to reach each day, or else. That is my next goal. At the moment I have a monthly goal of 9000 words for March. That’s about 300 words a day. I am just about half way there, so I think I need to increase my expectations.

What I’m learning is that just putting that expectation that I will write, no matter what, each day has been the most effective way of getting the words down on paper. And the more I exerciser the muscle that is my brain, my fingers on the keyboard, my imagination, and my story telling skills… the easier it all comes.

I’d been fretting and lamenting my writers block for all these years. And I am going to give myself a small… I guess it’s an excuse, but I really did have a reason to fall into the trap of writers block. I did not, however, have a reason to STAY in that trap, especially for as long as I did.

I think I’m going to talk about the trap of writers block, and the exercising of the brain like a muscle next blog post. It’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Excuses, Excuses

You walk through the door after a hard day at work, plunk down on the couch and turn on the TV.

You deserve a break. It was a long day, your boss was an ass, and the talk at the water cooler was draining. Plus your customer got in your face over some little thing that you had no control over.

You’re home… it’s time to relax!
Right?

Over in the corner of your living room sits that thing (piano, guitar, novel, painting, etc) that you keep meaning to get to. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Right?

I mean, it was a HARD day. You just need a break. Anyone can understand that!

Listen, we’ve all been there. We all tell ourselves these little excuses, or give them to someone else.

I’ll get to it tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes.
I deserve some relax time. But you need it every day.
I don’t know how to do it. But you never do the research to find out how.
I’m not in the mood. But the mood never really comes.
IT’S HARD!

It’s the last one that really gets us. It isn’t even always that it is hard. Sitting down at a keyboard and plunking in a few words or sentences isn’t difficult. Children write stories all the time. They come in with excitement holding up pictures, or plucking out keys on their little piano saying “Look mommy! See what I did?”

Then something happens. We start caring what others have to say about us, or our work. We start worrying, and fretting, and labeling ourselves according to how others see us.

So we build up walls of excuses holding that thing we WISH we could do at bay, but we never really get to it.

Those who do it… those who write novels, learn to play piano, paint landscapes or sew dresses… those who indulge in their creative ideas… somewhere along the line they said “This is important to me! I am going to do this!”

My boyfriends father took up the piano later in life. Every morning or evening when he is home he goes down to the music room and practices the piano. No one tells him to. He doesn’t often play for people…. but it became important to him.

Now, this is a busy man with a lot of things going on. Meetings, work, business lunches, a wife, and kids… but he makes time for the piano because it’s important.

If it’s important, you’ll make time. Or you’ll never learn.

I’m still learning this myself. But in the end, it’s worth every moment.

Drunk Writing

I am amazed by all the stories about people who wrote, painted, or created while dunk or high. I know, this shouldn’t amaze me. I’ve read some interesting books on LSD, and the scientific studies that were done before the bathtub version was available outside the laboratory. It is all quite fascinating.

I say this as a person who has never done anything harder then a shot of whiskey.

Here I am, after drinking a bottle of “Mocha Death” from Iron House Brewery (the best beer EVER btw) and… I couldn’t write if my life depended on it.

Well… I’m writing this. I’m also expecting to do terrible things with it.

I think the idea behind a substance and creating, be it art, writing, or whatever, is simply this: when you are slightly tipsy you turn of that internal voice that is constantly whispering at you that you are going to fail, you are wrong, your writing/art/whatever is AWFUL!

The trouble I have with the whole thing is that when I wake up completely and entirely sober I am going to come back to this and read it. The spelling will be correct, but only because of those ugly little red squiggle lines under so many of my words. But the grammar? The flow? The ideas behind it.

I think I’m going to post this anyway. And to all my brethren who have a nice glass of wine while sitting down to write that long epic that has been brewing in your mind I say GO FOR IT!

Turn off the internal editor. Sit down. And write. Worry about everything else once the words are down on the paper.

I think I’m going to go do the same.