The Half Way Point

It’s day 18 of NaNoWriMo and a little over half way through the month. I’m currently at 25,800 words. Just slightly over half the 50k. And at this point I know I can make it, I’m actually farther ahead then I’ve been most years. But I am behind. Partly because of a huge storm that knocked out power for a day and a half. But the rest is all me.

Every year I do NaNoWriMo for the words, but mostly to learn something about myself, and writing in general. The last couple of days I learned that I have created a pattern for myself to write, and that if I’m knocked out of that pattern it’s really hard for me to get back on track. This is a good thing in that with a pattern I am able to sit down and write more. It’s a bad thing because you can’t always perform the same ritual every time you sit down to do something and that shouldn’t stop you from doing it.

My ritual: Sit down at the computer, put on my headphones, turn on some chillstep, and open scrivener. The chillstep playlists I use don’t have words, and I’ve listened to them so many time that I can tune them out, but they also help me block out everything going on behind me. I write in the living room, so there are children on the TV, Gregg at his leather working station, and a general hubbub going on most of the time. Even when I write in other locations I will use my phone to play some chillstep while I write. The music gets me in the mood. (I highly suggest getting a musical soundtrack to anyone who wants writing to be a habit. You just have to find the one that suits you.)

The storm came through and power went out. I sat at work slowly watching the sun sink, the office getting darker and darker. About thirty minutes before the sun set completely the one loan emergency light in the office also died. The battery is only suppose to last long enough to get people out of the building, and no longer.

My co-worker and I had only one little flash light. My phone was on it’s last bit of juice so I couldn’t even use it as a flash light. I did manage to sneak out and get a couple candles, but two loan candles don’t really light up an office much.

When I got home to a dark house with no TV, no computer, and no chillstep, writing seemed the last of my worries. It’s amazing how much the lack of light really bothers a person after a while. At least it bothered me. We lit a bunch of candles, and started a fire, but after a while of sitting in the dark not even reading my kindles was enough to distract myself from the utter quiet.

I think that was the worst part. The realization that lack of sound really bothers me. Odd since I work in an office by myself and there is no sound except the near constant vehicles driving by outside for 80% of the time. Even odder since I spent most of my life separated from the rest of the world, with no sounds other than the wind whispering though the trees, and birds singing from the branches. I lived on a farm well before Pandora, MP3’s or even Walkman’s. Music was a luxury, not an expectation.

I like to think that half the reason I like noise when I get home is simply because I just spent eight hours in an office that was extremely quiet. It’s good to have some noise to remind me that I’m not alone. I have always associated noise with my children and SO being there in the house with me. When I went to bed alone I always slept better if I could hear the video game playing in the background because I knew where my husband was. Now it’s the soft “tap tap tap” of Gregg punching designs into leather. Noise reassures me because I know where my family is, and that everyone is safe. And I’m not alone.

So last night I tried to write. I pulled out a notebook, not unlike all the spiral binders I have tucked away in my closet with thousands of words written on them, and tried to write. I scratched out a couple of ideas, wrote down the names of a few characters and…nothing. No more then twenty words and my mind just kept focusing on the quiet. The emptiness. The darkness.

I had to get out of the house last night. We went to the supermarket and had some deli food, sititng in the little food court with a bunch of college students charging laptops and phones since the campus was out of power. The noise, light, and people made me feel better. But I still didn’t get any writing done last night.

So it’s the next day. The power came back about 1pm today, and I have my music and my computer. My family is behind me doing their individual things, and my music is half drowning them out.

So why is it so hard to write today? It’s a good question. Gregg said to stop focusing on the fact that I’m 4000 words behind, and just focus on the next 200. That’s doable, right?

200 words, here I come.

Stress Matters

Witch's Curse smI hoped to have Witch’s Curse out on August 8th last week. Unfortunately the editor took a week longer then planned to get the edits done. partly because he had an emergency come up that pushed back the start date of my edits by a few days, and partly because my novel ended up being slightly longer than planned.

I finally got the edits, and started working through it. Great! Everything was wonderful…except that once chapter. The editors note said “you might look at this chapter, it was a little confusing.” So I did, and discovered that it was confusing, and it was really boring. So…I decided I had to throw it all out (5000 words) and begin again. Not an easy task, but doable. I’m about half way through revising it.

That means “Witch’s Curse”, the second book in the Witch’s Trilogy, has been pushed back again since I do want a second edit of the things I changed. But that’s okay, I can still get it out by the end of the month (I think.)

But the title of this blog post is “Stress Matters” for a reason. Writing can be a cathartic activity, giving you the time to think, and relax. Or it can be incredibly stressful depending on what you are writing. Writing also uses a lot of your brainpower, so if your thoughts are revolving around a particular problem in your life, say buying a house as I am currently attempting to do, or troubles at work, or a death in the family, then your writing is going to suffer.

The last two weeks have had a bunch of little things that slowed down the publication of “Witch’s Curse”, but the stress of trying to buy a house, and work issues, worked to set it back a little bit more.

Stress matters! If you’re stressed out you probably need to take care of those issues before you can really focus on your writing. But sometimes you just have to write through the stress. It might not be great writing, it might not even be publishable, but it keeps you writing. Don’t stop! Don’t let the stressful slings and arrows of day to day living keep you from your dream.

As for me, I’m getting back on finishing that chapter.

Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s been a long couple of months, and I’ve been working at finishing “Witch’s Curse” but I’ve been struggling a lot more lately.

I put up “Witch’s Sacrifice” a little over a month ago. I hoped that over the course of May, and maybe June, I’d finish the second novel. I have been working on it, but I am not putting nearly enough on paper to finish it by the end of June like I wanted it to be.

The edits struck a little harder then I thought they would. Not in a bad way! It’s just that now when I start writing I hear that nagging voice a lot louder in the back of my head… not that word again. Don’t do that. What are you writing? It’s obnoxious and I hate it.

Before those edits I wrote what needed to be written knowing that they would be fixed in post. That’s how you’re suppose to write. Do one draft, read through it and clean up the little things, or the glaring issues, then send it to an editor to have the grammar, spelling, and consistency examined. That’s the way I did it before, and what allowed me to finished NaNoWriMo several times. It’s what got me through the original book, writing every day and knowing that even if I wrote down crap at least it was written and I could go back later and fix it.

So why do I hesitate so much now? It’s my own brain, that internal editor that keeps asking “how should we say this thing now?” And he’s so insistent, so zealous that he is making it tough to write some days. I will sit down, read the last paragraph, and know that I need to write the next scene. I know that character 1 is going to talk to character 2, they are going to get into an argument, and then they are going to fight. Easy, right? I have all the pieces, now just right it.

Then I get stuck on the minutia. How do they walk into the room? What are they doing? Who is all there? Things that I need to know, but things I usually discovered as I was writing instead of before. I’m not sure which is better. I’m not sure if there is a better. I do know it’s slowing me down right now.

I do know one thing that is helping: “Take Off Your Pants” by Libbie Hawker. A few chapters of this each day seems to be get past the internal editor, and right back on track.

Today I practiced breaking out of that internal editor, giving myself permission to suck again. I wrote another 1500 words, and I’m going to try and do another 500 before bed. The goal is to get to 3k a day by the end of next week. That’s what I need to do to feel like I’m actually making progress on the stack of books I want to write.

The struggles will continue, I’m sure, but they are worth it. The end goal, finishing another novel, is worth every frustrated moment.

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.