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 10

data1I love this book!

Maybe it’s just that I love that my attitude toward writing has shifted so much, and that I finally, FINALLY, feel like I can do this.

So here is my data for the month so far. Notice day five with the almost 500 words. I was exhausted that day with lots of things going on, and at about 1am just decided sleep was better then forcing myself to keep going. So I went to bed. And the very next day I wrote almost 2500 words.

But the really awesome part? Day five when I was exhausted, mentally and emotionally, and I just didn’t want to look at the computer any more let alone keep my eyes open… My worst day this month so far was better then my best day most of the rest of the year.

For the last year I had been trying to get my daily word count to 500-1000. It ended up being between 300 and 500. But now? This month? It’s 1600 and holding strong. In fact if you get rid of that one 500 word day my daily average is 1800 words. And I am loving it!

Why the change?

I think two things have really helped me change. First of all, I read 2k to 10k last month. While I had heard her talk about many of the things that helped her get to 10k words a day, for some reason reading it made a couple things click. A big thing was the plotting. When you get stuck take out some paper (or in my case I just switch to red text on the PC) and jot down notes of what you want to happen in that chapter. I’ve been doing a lot more of that. But she also talked about having fun with your writing. Enjoying it. After all, if you find it boring and tedious so is your reader.

The second was an interview with Dean Wesly Smith on Rocking Self Publishing. He kept going on about how much he loved writing, and how it wasn’t work, it was play. Then he said one summer he had to dig ditches on a golf course in the blistering heat. That was work. Making up worlds isn’t work, digging ditches is.

I’ve dug ditches before. I fed farm animals, plowed fields, mucked out horse stalls, and everything else you can think of on a farm. I’ve changed lots of dirty diapers, and wiped the snot off little kids noses for years on end. That was work. All of that was work.

Writing? It’s fun. It’s still a lot of time and effort, but it’s fun effort. And it’s worth it. I love it.

That change in attitude right there is really what got my word count up. And I think I’ll keep it come next month and the end of NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo Update

For my data loving friends, I’m about to get a little nerdy on you.

data

This is my daily word count for NaNoWriMo during 2012,2013 and the few days of this year. Notice a trend? I was always struggling to stay on top of things with a huge push at the end (6-8k words on the last day.)

I don’t want to have to write 8k words in one night just to finish NaNoWriMo on time. Not this year. So this year I’ve managed to stay up on my word count pretty well so far. Day 5 I only did 250 words, so ended a bit short (because family always comes before writing… I think…) but last night I got my stride and wrote 2400 words, just 500 short of yesterdays goal, and really easy to catch up with today.

What I’ve learned so far? Small chunks.

Before I was trying to sit at the computer and just crank it all out at once, which left me feeling tired, annoyed, aggravated, and bordering on the “I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE” wagon. This time I am taking smaller chunks. I start earlier in the evening, write until I feel my attention start to wander, then get up and walk away from the computer. Cuddle with the boyfriend, whip up some dinner, clean something or watch a show on TV, then back to the grind.

I did this all day yesterday, my one day off, and noticed that those chunks of word counts started going up. First, 250 in thirty minutes. Then 500 in thirty minutes. Then 700 in forty-five minutes. The last chunk was about 1000 words, and may have been about an hour long. I’m not exactly sure because I wasn’t keeping track of individual writing sessions, just the completed writing session. I do know that I wrote more in one day than at any other time (except that last day of NaNo) but still felt refreshed and raring to go. I would have written more if my body hadn’t started crying for sleep.

I’ve heard Johnny B Truant talk about the 20/20 method where you set a timer and write for 20 minutes, then go do something else for 20 minutes, then come back and write for another 20 minutes. Timers and I just don’t get along, I barely know what day it is most of the time, so though I tried valiantly to do this method it just didn’t work for me.

What I did was similar, but focused more on my body, and what it wanted instead of some predetermined clock. By listening to my body I was able to get more words out, and actually wrote faster each time. Stepping away from the computer. Doing something else when my brain wanted to wander. It gave me that little reset that allowed me to keep going.

So the goal for today is at least 2050 words, which will get me back on coarse. But I’m not going to stop there. I’m going to do the same thing I did yesterday, listen to my body and my wandering mind, and see how far it will take me. For once I’d like to be OVER that bar instead of under it, or even just scraping by.

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.

Writing a Novel

The last year finally paid off. A novel that had been stewing in the back of my mind for the last several years. The novel, Mermaid’s Curse, started out as a simple thing. The name, actually. A cursed mermaid, never allowed to fall in love least she die, and Brother Hawk, a man cursed to be a hawk, and suffer the will of the priesthood who visited inhumane tortures on him for centuries.

I finished the first book of the trilogy today. The last stubborn chapter that kept whispering that it needed to be there, but wouldn’t tell me why it needed to be there until just last week. It is the third novel that I’ve completed. It actually has a few threads in common with the first book I wrote (the one that died in the computer crash.) I subconsciously picked out the best parts of that novel and used it in this one.

With each novel I’ve learned something about myself, and my writing habits. With this particular completion I learned quite a bit more then ever before.

Mermaid’s Curse: Book 1 is just over 50,000 words. It took almost a year to complete. Keep in mind that I started Mermaid’s Curse as a single book and it has since become a trilogy. Book 2 is now just over 50,000 words, as well, and should be about 52,000 words when finished. Book 3 is currently 5000 words of plot. It’s going to be at leas 50-60,000 words when finished. That’s a lot of writing. 50,000 of which was done just last November during NaNoWriMo.

What I learned: 

You can’t force the story sometimes. I had everything finished for Book 1 except for one small chapter. I agonized over that chapter for a while, added a few words, added some notes, deleted them, and wrote some more. But the chapter sucked no matter how I wrote it. Something was missing, and I didn’t know what.

So I skipped ahead, wrote some other chapters, finished whole scenes and gave up on that one chapter. I even tried cutting that chapter out because if it was that horrible and boring it probably didn’t need to be in the book, right? Wrong. Without that chapter linking the rest of the book together the story kind of had an abrupt shift that felt ungainly and… just wrong.

So that chapter sat in the back of my mind for months while I polished off other chapters, rewrote sections, and decided the novel was actually a trilogy. Then one day I was taking a shower and think about another problem chapter and it was like magic. All the pieces slid into themselves.

Oddly enough the pieces fell into place because I started plotting the third book. As I plotted the third book I saw more of the world, saw new characters, and realized what needed to happen at the end of Book 2 to make Book 3 carry on. It was always the end of the books that gave me the most trouble. Once I figured out the end of Book 3 the chapters for Book 2, and that one stubborn chapter from Book 1 just snapped into place. I wrote 2000 words that night just trying to get down all the plot points so I knew what to write the next day.

Really, the thing that did it in the end was just keeping the story in the back of my mind while I went about the rest of my day. Jotting down ideas helped a little, but when it finally snapped into place it had nothing to do with forcing it, and everything to do with just letting it happen naturally.

Scheduling

The next thing I learned was about time. You only have so much. Use it wisely.

I can’t tell you how many times I sat down to the PC and my daughter would suddenly need to use the computer, or my son would need help with homework, or my boyfriend would just need attention. Families take a lot of time and energy, and they are so worth it. But this means that taking those moments you get to write, pouncing on them and using them to your advantage means EVERYTHING. Even the few minutes you have on a car trip to think about the story and come up with a plan to jot down on a note is better then nothing at all.

Finishing

Finishing feels SOOOOOO GOOD. (Yes, read that however you want.)

When I finally completed that chapter that I had been stuck on for a year I was so excited. I almost wanted to dance for joy. I texted four people and told them I’M FINISHED! I was that happy.

Whatever you’re working on, finish it. Doesn’t matter if it’s terrible, if you have to throw it out and start over, or if you just want to burn it in a fire. Finish it. That sense of completion will give you more inspiration and perseverance then all the self help and uplifting posters with kitties hanging in there that you will ever see.

Around the Web (and FREE)

footprintsminiToday marks the first day of “Footprints” being FREE. The story of a man who travels to his families cabin after his fathers death to deal with his loose. But there’s something out there in the woods. Find out what happens. It’s a quick read, and it’s free for this weekend.

And as a reminder you can get news updates every couple of weeks, and a free gift if you sign up for my newsletter here.

Now for the links for things going on around the web:

Give customers what they want. (A long, but really interesting article from Hugh Howey.)

Gumroad iPhone app that lets authors sell direct. (Droid is in the works!)

What happens to a traditionally published author when his publisher goes belly up?

How accurate are SF space battles? (video)

10 famous authors that failed before hitting it big.

 R.L. Stine wrote 420 books… I need to write more.

The small details in writing.

 

FAQ: I’m stuck, now what?

download“Writers Block” is often synonymous with “I’m stuck, what do I do?” It isn’t that you don’t want to write, or can’t write, it’s that you’re not sure what you should say, or how to say it. It is usually the “how” part that gets me to stumble. When that internal editor starts telling me my writing is terrible, and I need to do better. That nothing I write is going to be worth the effort, that is when I have to dig into my repository of tricks to get the words flowing again.

The first trick is to reread what you alread wrote. Not all of it, just the last couple of pages. eventually something might spark the flow and get you moving again.

If that fails, then you can use stream of thought writing. This is like “beats” (or rough outlining) but a bit more specific for the area you are working with.

An example from “Mermaids Curse”

the kraken is flailing about, and gets stabbed, and immediately flails more, grabbing acolyte’s and tossing them into the waters.

Koric is trying to reach his wife and daughter, but the tentacle falls in front of him, blocking his path, and two priests grab him from behind, thrusting him up against the skin of the kraken where he is covered in a layer of slime from the tentacle.

It isn’t the best writing. It probably won’t even be the finished plot, but it gives me a good idea of where I am heading, and when I come back to that little section I can rewrite it and polish it up.

First drafts are often messy and need to be stripped down to the good bits before sending to an editor, so this is your first draft. Keep going.

Another trick would be to start filling in the world building a bit more. Just write about the culture, the town, a person, or and event that happens near your story. It may not effect your story directly, or it could be the extra plot point you were missing.

And besides, you might use the little bits of world knowledge that don’t make it into the final product somewhere else. It may become a new plot point in future tales, or reference in this work. Don’t discount world building just because it doesn’t fit right now. In general, someone like Tolkien who had so much extra world building that he put it into a separate book of it’s own, writes fuller and richer worlds then someone with no world building at all.

Happy Writing

I should be writing

I should be writing, But I’m not.

After NaNoWriMo I was a little burnt out, which is understandable. 50,000 words in 30 days, and I wrote 7000 just in the last two days. 48000 of it was just on one project.

I got tired of looking at words, and files, and spreadsheets of numbers. Tired of trying to string two words together to make a coherent sentence. Tired…. just tired.

So I took a little break, immersed myself in Minecraft for a little while, and haven’t written much in the last week. I did write one entire plot for a new novel that got added to my “to write”and list, but there are a lot of projects before it.

So… why aren’t I writing now?

I have two half finished books (one novel, one novella) waiting for me to finish them. I have several short stories almost finished that, if I actually sat down and concentrated, I could probably finish in a week.

I have convinced myself that as long as I keep putting out books, stories, novellas, and some full length novels, that eventually there is going to be a tipping point and I’ll eventually make enough sales so that I can write full time. But I also know this is going to take a lot of hard work, and time.

Hard work?! Ug!

So… to remedy this I am going to have to start writing every day again. Even if it’s crap. Even if it sucks and I know it. Because it can’t always be crap, right? But I’m going to start slower then NaNo levels, and work my way up.

Since I started tracking my writing last February I wrote 210,000 words. Finished, and published, 20 short stories, and 3 novellas…. lets see how many I can do before the next NaNoWriMo!

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.

What makes you think you’re so special?

I’ve been in writer forums, workshops, blogs and more, and invariably there is someone who says something like this:

“I want to write, but I’m afraid to write a bad story.”

One… no you don’t, or you’d be writing.
Two… why the hell do you think you’re so special?

Stephen King writes for years in the corner of his living room before he finally produces something worth selling. But you’re going to produce awesome prose on the first try?

Do you know how many times an author re-writes, re-vamps, throws out, and tries again… on the same project?

But you’re special. Right? Whatever comes out of your head must be perfect and wonderful the first time or you’re not going to write.

Let’s look at it from the view of an author who writes, puts out, and publishes a book, or several books. I’ve labored for hours, months, and possibly years to produce this book. I’ve tortured myself about what to write on that page, or who to kill on that page. I’ve lost sleep because of deadlines, skipped dinners, and missed out on fireworks… all to finish a novel.

And it sucked. The first draft was horrible. The second draft less so, and the third draft finally started to look like something worth publishing.

But you…. you think you should be special and everything out of your hands should be pure bliss to read?

I think it’s time for you to re-evaluate what it is that you really want. Do you want to write? If so, WRITE! That is all you can do. It will probably suck. People might laugh. So. If you are writing because that is what is inside you to do then none of that matters.

Unless you are Motzart, Pascal, Akrit Jaswal, or John von Neumann, you’re going to have to fumble and screw up just like the rest of us poor mortals.

I wasn’t a prodigy. I write. I suck sometimes. But I still pick up that keyboard and write.

What’s your excuse?