Steady Now, Inner Critic

It’s official: September is more than halfway over, and fall is on its way (even if it’s still in the 80s where I live). Pumpkin spice everything is available now, and our local warehouse store started displaying Halloween decorations several weeks ago.

It’s time for me to start thinking about this year’s National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo.

Last year, I had lots of goals going into November. My NaNoWriMo 2014 book was going to be the sequel to 2013’s novel. But before I could start writing the sequel, I had to finish revising the first one. This was particularly important because I needed to change the ending. In order to know how to start the second book, I had to know what happened at the end of the first. I revised NaNoWriMo 2013 up to the last minute – actually past the last minute; I finished on November first and immediately started writing the second book, barely giving myself a second to breathe. This can’t-catch-my-breath feeling continued throughout the month.

This year, I don’t want to stress myself out like that. It’s going to be hard enough to meet the 50,000-word minimum as it is. So if you know me, you know I have a plan.

No matter what, I am setting October aside for NaNo 2014 revisions. That gives my beta readers time to read – but even if they’re not done, I’ll go ahead and spend my month editing and prepping.

What that means for the remainder of September, though, is that I’ve got to get moving on my Camp NaNoWriMo novel. In case you missed my summer posts, I got the writing bug something fierce in July and dug through my old manuscripts until I found one with some promise. It was just a jumble of unconnected scenes with a loose outline at the time, something I would pull out and work on every once in a while. During July, it became a much more cohesive story as I filled in new scenes to connect all the old ones.

Having a number of scenes already written was a huge help. I always knew where I was going next. But then there came the day when I wrote up to the last scene that I’d already written. I had this sinking feeling, like: That’s it? Didn’t I write more than this? But no, I was on my own. And even though I knew where the story was going, my mind wanted very much to transition into editor mode and start fixing what I’d already written.

And in this way, many of my manuscripts have fizzled out and died.

I couldn’t let this happen this time. Often, when I have trouble moving on with a story, it’s because I just can’t get it right. That’s the trouble with perfectionists. But the wonderful thing about NaNoWriMo is that you have a deadline. There’s no time for perfectionism. You just have to get the job done. And even though I met my Camp NaNoWriMo goal in July, I still need to employ that NaNoWriMo urgency and finish this manuscript.

I found this the other day, and it was just what I needed to hear at the time:

James Thurber Quote

If I had an office, I would have one of these posted on each wall because when self-doubt sets in, it’s easy to pull the writer’s block card and quit. One of the easiest ways for a manuscript to go from boiling to tepid is to decide you need to start editing when you’re stuck in a tough spot. Maybe if I edit for a while, I’ll get my groove back. Hey, it sometimes happens, but often, it’s exactly what it sounds like: an excuse to stop writing.

Just this week, when thinking about one of the thin spots in my plot – one of the places I knew my beta readers would pick apart – I had an epiphany that solved the problem. But this epiphany came when I was already 78,000 words deep into my novel. I’m going to have to weave this new info in and cut a lot of the old out to make it work, and I don’t have time for that right now. Instead of worrying about it, I silenced my inner critic by going back to the first page of my story and writing a two-word reminder in red. When I go back to revise, there it will be, screaming at me to make this massive change. (Of course, from this point on, I’ll be writing as if I’ve already made this change, so if anyone were to read my first draft, it would be extremely confusing. A reminder why no one but the author should ever be subjected to a first draft.)

As of this moment, I know where my story is going. I just have to help it get there. It may be sloppy and full of holes. It may be some of the worst writing I’ve even put on paper, but I can’t let myself worry about that now. October first is coming quickly, and November first will be right on its heels. This year, I vow to be ready and excuse-free.

Camp NaNoWriMo Recap

Camp NaNoWriMo 2015 Winner

This time last year, I never would have thought of participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. I was too concerned with having enough material for NaNoWriMo in November to use up all of my creativity in July. But of course, a year before that, I never would have thought I would participate in National Novel Writing Month to begin with. Write 50,000 words in one month? It seemed like the kind of thing that crazy people with no life would do.

So I guess I’m a crazy person with no life.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I participated in NaNoWriMo 2013. I didn’t even decide to do it until the weekend before November 1st. I never expected to actually write 50,000 words, but I wrote much more than that. In 2014, I signed up for NaNoWriMo again, and although it wasn’t nearly as easy the second time, I wrote the sequel to the 2013 novel, and I plan to write the third book of the trilogy this November.

Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a more laidback version of NaNoWriMo, takes place in both April and July. Instead of writing a 50,000-word novel from scratch, you simply declare your writing project goal for the month and then try to complete it. The minimum word count is 10,000, and you can even work on something that’s not a novel. April was a no for me both times because I was in the middle of editing the previous Novembers’ novels. But if you read my recent summer writing post, you already know that things changed for me this summer.

After finishing the latest revision of my 2014 novel, I gave my Muse a few days’ rest, but then she came back, apparently ready to get to work on a manuscript that’s been kicking around since 2009. It’s a story that I would add a scene to every once in a while, but I probably hadn’t opened the document in two to three years. After reading through everything I had – a little under 17,000 words at the time – I realized that I was ready to fill in the missing scenes, maybe even finish it.

I started writing, and much like my NaNoWriMo 2013 experience, it was like to direct the wall of water after the dam has broken. Then I realized that it was July, and if I was going to be writing anyway, I might as well declare my intentions officially by participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. When I signed up on July 9th, I was already at 20,000 words. Just in case the ideas petered out, I gave myself what seemed a pretty easy goal of 35,000 words total. That meant I only had to write 15,000 more in order to succeed. There were a couple days when it felt like I might be pushing it, but for the most part, inspiration was on my side.

I was at almost 54,000 words – well past my goal of 35,000 – when I began to slow down. I still had a week left, but I was already feeling the itch to edit. This is a no-no in NaNoWriMo because it can compromise your word count and keep you from finishing. But for Camp NaNoWriMo, I had more flexibility, and I really needed to go back and fix a big problem. I realized that I had too many main characters, one of whom was only the shell of a character. In my own mind, I considered him a throw-away – what would readers think? So I decided to cut him, but doing that meant going all the way back to the first page.

I also happened to have several unwritten scenes floating around in my head that I wanted to add to earlier parts of the book. Going back through it from the beginning helped me do this, and my word count slowly went up again. By July 31st, I recorded my word count at 55,652, and I have no intention of stopping, even though July is now behind me.

While I can’t say that Camp NaNoWriMo is the reason I’m working on an unexpected project in the middle of the summer, I am thankful that it lit a little bit of a fire under me, at least as far as making a writing goal is concerned. If you’re the type of person who has to be accountable to someone (or something) else in order to finish a writing project, I highly recommend it. You also have access to a community full of fellow campers who will give you support when you need it.

Not to mention that, if you’re unsure of if you should try the full NaNoWriMo experience, it’s a great way to practice. I know that I’m ready. Any experience that encourages me to write my heart out is a welcome one.

Summer 2015 Reading

Magical books

Magical books (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last blog was all about the writing I’ve done this summer (and since then, I’ve achieved my Camp NaNoWriMo goal – yay!), but as any worthwhile author will tell you, you can’t write if you’re not reading. So I’ve been doing what a good writer should do, naturally.

The reading list that I set for myself this year is an ambitious one. (Read it here.) On it are 27 books, including several series. Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle has been on my to-read list for three years now, and I finally finished it. But those books are dense and ate up a lot of my reading time. As I approached the halfway point through the year, I wondered how I was doing.

I’m happy to report that as of mid-July, I’ve finished 13 of the 27 books. Maybe Inheritance didn’t set me back too far, after all. Of course, I read a lot during our two-week vacation. I worried I was being overly ambitious when I packed the entire Divergent series, as well as a book that a friend lent to me a few months ago. But I read the whole borrowed book on the plane trip from east coast to west coast (Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss – I highly recommend it, particularly if you’re a fan of British humor), and I plowed through all but a couple hundred pages of the Divergent series over the two weeks.

Ahead of me, I still have at least one doozy (Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Heart’s Own Blood – all of the books in her Outlander series are formidable), plus Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series. I know I re-read it last year, but I want it to be fresh when the final movie comes out this fall. Also, I’ll start reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my seven-year-old in the next week. I’m excited that he’s finally old enough to comprehend the story – we may have another Potter geek in the making.

Other than my non-fiction books (which I rarely list here, unless it’s what I consider entertaining non-fiction, such as Talk to the Hand), I’ve stuck to my book list pretty well. Early on, I decided to read Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone because I’d seen the movie and was interested in seeing what kind of extra character developments happened in the book. I’m glad I did. Woodrell’s use of language is unique, and as a writer, it’s always helpful to mix it up with a different style from time to time.

The only other detour I’ve made was Lisa Genova’s Still Alice (also a book-turned-movie). This was a book I had to read. I’m going back to teach full-time in the fall, and the faculty at my school has a summer reading list. Still Alice was the only novel on our list of choices. I’ve jotted down the titles of several non-fiction books that interest me, but I wanted a good story – and I got it. But frequent criers, keep your tissues handy.

I’m sticking to my list and loving it. I hope to finish Lois Lowry’s The Giver series by the time the kids go back to school (I’m halfway through the second book, Gathering Blue), and then I’ll keep plowing ahead.

And never fear – if I actually make it through this whole list, I already have several new books waiting. (She rubs her hands together and cackles with glee.)

Summer 2015 Writing

So far, summer 2015 has been one of the best summers in recent memory. My husband and I aren’t big summer vacation people. In fact, other than weekend trips to visit his parents, we haven’t taken a big summer vacation since our honeymoon 11 years ago.

When we decided to spend two weeks in the Pacific Northwest, I thought we were crazy. We’re not the type of people to just leave for two weeks. But aside from taking our hot Florida weather with us to Washington State, it was a great time away from home with our family.

During the first half of our trip, I was a little anti-social. (Let’s be honest, I’m anti-social anyway, but this time it was because I had a deadline to meet.) I spent most of my down time polishing my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel for submission to CreateSpace. As a NaNo winner, I was eligible to claim two free copies of my book, but I had to have it submitted and approved before midnight EDT on June 30th. On the west coast, that meant I had to be done by 9:00 P.M., and I was nervous about pushing it that late. Last year, I had my novel submitted in plenty of time, but CreateSpace’s approval process took almost 24 hours, and by then, it was too late to get two free copies.

This year, my goal was to submit my manuscript on June 28th. I didn’t achieve that goal, but that’s because I decided to submit more than just the 2014 novel. Since it was the sequel of my 2013 novel, I included both novels in the same volume. The 2013 novel has gone through significant revisions since last year, and my beta readers for the sequel will need to read the new version of the first novel in order for the story to make sense. So I finished editing and formatting both books, then submitted them on the evening of the 29th.

When CreateSpace sent me the book preview, it was with a note that they couldn’t publish it because there were three blank pages in the middle. After hours of frustration (because my copy didn’t have three blank pages), I figured out a way to eliminate the blank pages on their end. I submitted the new version after one in the morning, went to sleep, and woke up to see that it was perfect – except for the headers. Since there are two novels in one volume, I thought it would be helpful to have the titles listed in the headers, but after making the change that eliminated the three pages, apparently the second header was deleted. Oh well. I went with it rather than risk fixing the problem, only for it to go past the deadline. These are just beta copies, after all, and I finally got my two free copies.

NaNoWriMo 2013 2014

It was an immediate relief to have that project behind me. I spent a few days filling my free time with reading. But then it happened – the itch to write again. After giving my creative juices a few days to percolate, I started looking through my unfinished manuscripts for something I could sink my teeth into.

Then I found it – a book that I started writing years ago and that I come back to every once in a while. I’ve written a scene here, a scene there. It’s not even a skeleton of a book yet, but it’s something. I read through everything I had – about 60 pages in a Word document – and decided I wanted to dig in and really get something done with this story.

I was surprised with how easy it was to sit down and just write. It’s a great feeing – one that I’ve only been able to capture during National Novel Writing Month the past couple years. There’s a reason that I have so many unfinished manuscripts, and it’s that I’ll start with a lot of inspiration, and then my Muse will just abandon me. It’s wonderful to have the motivation back.

So wonderful that, after several days of writing and having no inclination to stop, I decided I might as well sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I have friends who sometimes participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in April or July, but I never wanted to do it before. I’m always too busy editing and revising. But this year, while I wait for my beta readers to give me their critiques, I want to be productive. There’s nothing better than writing because I want to – and having the time to do it. I might as well enjoy it because I’ll be working full-time in November and don’t know if I’ll be able to make the 50,000 word minimum.

For anyone else who’s interested, Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own goal (I think the minimum is 10,000 words). My manuscript was already at 20,000 when I started, so I set my goal for 35,000 by the end of July. As of today, I only have 10,000 words to go, and I think I have enough momentum to maybe even finish this book.

Happy writing!