The Book Birth Plan

 

Keep Calm and Write On

If you read my last post, it was all about birthing a book. And since NaNoWriMo loometh, it’s time to talk about book birth plans.

Oh, she means outlines, you might think.

But no, in fact, I don’t.

Outlines are key for writing non-fiction manuscripts, in which the author needs to present information in an organized format, but fiction is a whole different animal.

In my novel-writing experience, outlines kill creativity. I’ve written a couple novels that stuck right to the outlines I prepared for them. I would write a scene, then have to look and see what to write next. I didn’t write anything without consulting the outline first because I was afraid of messing up what I wanted to happen later in the plot, but the result was that they read like someone dragging the novels along against their wills. Those novels are now collecting virtual dust because I haven’t touched them in years.

There is a time to tidy up your mess of a novel, and it’s the next stage: editing. When writing, it’s good to have bullet points, things that you know need to happen over the course of the story, but I am here to say that some of the scenes I thought were the most important at the start of a book ended up on the cutting room floor.

If you’re querying and have to provide an outline, you should create it from a book you’ve already written, not the other way around. But that’s not to say that I think books—especially serial novels—should be written without any direction whatsoever. This is where the book birth plan comes in.

If you’ve ever had a baby and tried to have a birth plan, you’re probably laughing. From experience, I can tell you that birth plans are often tossed out with the bath water (just not with the baby). It’s more about comforting the soon-to-be parents by letting them think they have control than actually checking off every box on the list.

So if you’re gearing up to start your novel on November first, what would your “birth plan” look like? How will you know you’re ready to tackle this huge task?

I have a file for “notes” for every one of my NaNoWriMo novels. For my first, I didn’t even decide to participate until late October, so there was no time to plan at all. I had a few scenes in my head and just let the story flow with a vague idea of what I wanted to happen. Once I started writing, I wrote notes, like a quick reference guide, so I wouldn’t have to scroll through the entire document to remember something like a character’s birthday.

The next two years, I had notes already written before I started, so I had a general idea of where the books were going, but like having a baby, they certainly didn’t cooperate with all my expectations. The one thing I wish I’d done with the third book in particular was to decide on how to begin the thing. That little hiccup had me stuck in front of a blank document for a long time.

So write notes, by all means, like how to start your book (who’s narrating? where does it happen? etc.). You can scrap that scene or put it somewhere else later, but at least it will get you rolling.

If you’re dying to write a scene but know you can’t until November, jot down the parts you don’t want to forget: “Brenda runs into her ex at the store”; “Josh’s future plans change when he doesn’t make it onto the football team.” Your character(s) may have a complicated family tree, or you may have a timeline that jumps all over the place. Write these down if you’re afraid you’ll forget, but don’t stay married to them! Therein lies the trap. Read over your “plan” before you start typing on November first, but then set it aside, and write whatever wants to be written. You may discover that your story has some surprises that you never imagined—and that wouldn’t be realized if you stuck to a rigid plan.

This year, I know how I’m going to start the book and certain events that I want to happen, but this one is more about the characters than the plot. And there is every possibility that these characters will be difficult. Actually, I kind of hope that they are. Since I won’t actually be having a baby, it should be fun to see how far this story deviates from the “plan.”

Birthing a Book (as told by memes)

01-become-a-writer-they-said

If you follow my blog at all, you know that I’ve participated in both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo for the past several years. If you’ve read my most recent blogs, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling to finish writing my latest book for several months now. Even dedicating both Camp NaNos to this book didn’t do the trick.

I find that writing is often akin to jumping on a treadmill—I keep going without actually moving forward. With this latest book, in particular, I already had the ending written and just couldn’t seem to get the story to go there. Yes, I wrote—thousands and thousands more words than I wanted to write. And I was still just as far away from the end as I had been when I started. Or so it seemed.

I’m glad to say that I finally made it (and completely changed the ending, of course), and in celebration as well as exasperation, I would like to document this latest writing experience via some memes that must have been written by some poor souls who’ve had similar experiences.

 

So you get an idea for a book, only to discover that

02-scariest-moment

But

03 Madeleine L'Engle Quote.jpg

Yep, Madeleine L’Engle. At least you get it.

And Dory has some valuable advice, too:

04-just-keep-writing-dory

So you do, but sometimes

05-i-dont-know-what-im-writing-about

Or you read over what you wrote yesterday and wonder,

06-what-idiot-wrote-this

Because

07-reason-4

And there are those times when the page stays blank because of

08-writers-block

But no matter what,

09-you-should-be-writing-batman

So your days start to look like this:

10-rapunzel

Through it all, you have to remember that

11-oscar-the-grouch

By the end of the process, you think this is a pretty good approximation of your mental state while writing:

12-stages-of-writing-a-book

You’re glad you stuck with it, however, because

13-happiness-is-a-good-book

But you’re not quite there yet. You still have to

14-keep-calm-and-revise

Why Not Sign Up for Camp NaNoWriMo?

Fiction Fix Typewriter

For those who may be learning about Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time, it’s offered twice a year – the months of April and July – as a kind of warm up for the biggie, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), in November.

Last year, I finished editing my previous NaNoWriMo novel at the end of June and signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July to work on an old, unfinished manuscript. This past April, I signed up again to work on a different novel that I’d started in December.

So why am I writing this when it’s almost halfway through July? To be honest, I almost gave up on the idea of participating this time. No, I haven’t finished the novel I worked on in April (although I did achieve the word count goal I set for myself). What happened is that I came up against a writer’s roadblock that I’ve written about numerous times: the mid-novel slump.

There is little more frustrating for a writer than knowing how your novel will end but then getting lost on the way. It reminds me of the family vacation we recently took, in which my GPS simply wouldn’t believe that our destination was on Sugarloaf Road. It was glad to take us to an empty field on Sugarloaf Mountain Road. While it’s a little misadventure we can laugh about now (and others who have been mislead by GPS can commiserate), at the time, it was aggravating because we knew where we wanted to be, just not how to get there.

Of course, with my novel, I can’t blame GPS. I was cruising along just fine and decided on the perfect twist to give my story more tension. The only problem was that I wrote myself into a hole in which I couldn’t write myself out.

Not knowing what else to do, I committed a big no-no: I went back to the beginning and started editing. Although it’s cost me a lot of time, I’m glad that I did. I’d written quite a few things that I’d forgotten, so I took notes along the way. I also trimmed a lot of extraneous words. And as I went, I realized what I would have to do when I got to that problematic scene that had effectively stopped my forward momentum: I would have to cut it.

There’s still tension, just not nearly as much. Although my scene isn’t the shocker that I originally planned, it’s no longer stalling the manuscript. It meant cutting 20 pages out that I spent days writing, but sometimes that’s what you have to do. I’m just glad that I’m moving forward again.

So now that I know what I’m doing, even though it’s 13 days in, I’m signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I am giving myself a low word count goal (12,000 words) because I hope that’s all it takes to finish this novel. Knowing my propensity for verboseness, it’ll likely be longer, but that’s okay. It’s often the scenic route that is most memorable.

 

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2016 Recap

Camp NaNoWriMo Apr 2016 Winner

I will have to say, compared to NaNoWriMo 2015, Camp NaNoWriMo in April was a cakewalk. Of course, part of that might be that you get to choose your word count goal. The minimum is 10,000, and although I was tempted to let that be it, I decided to do double. Twenty thousand words is nothing compared to the 50,000 in November, but after the struggle to finish the first draft of my 2015 novel, I wanted to take it easy (comparatively).

What I love about both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo is that you can update your word count every day, and then they create a graph to show how well (or poorly) you’re doing. This can be depressing if you’re coming in under. Considering that I didn’t even sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo until April 4th, my graph looked pretty pathetic at first. A bunch of nothing until day four, and then it was just a tiny little line. My total word count on the first day? Thirty-three words. But I’m happy to say that the line started to creep up, day by day. Being able to view my progress on that graph was encouraging.

The project I picked for Camp NaNoWriMo was a novel that I started in December (unexpectedly inspired to write by some good teen fiction). While concentrating on finishing the NaNoWriMo novel, I put this other one on the back burner, and when I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo, I had to read through all 20,000 words of what I’d written so far to figure out what to write next. During that read-through, I ended up cutting some (yes, a big NaNoWriMo no-no) and adding more, for a net gain of 33.

Another fun thing about both of these websites is that they calculate, based on your current rate of words per day, how long it will take to finish. I was supposed to write 20,000 words by the end of April, but for the first week or so, the calculation had me finishing in September. Yeesh. But as the days passed and the number of words I wrote per day went up, the gap closed. I would hit 20,000 by August, then July. Finally, I was on target to finish during the month of April. Typing like crazy, I hit my goal on the 20th.

As of April 30th, I had typed almost 31,000 words during Camp NaNoWriMo. The story still isn’t complete (it never is after just one month), but it’s a lot closer than it was a few weeks ago. Rather than interrupting it to edit my NaNoWriMo 2013, 2014, and 2015 books (because they’re a trilogy and need a lot of work), I’m going to keep going until I finish this one. It might be a long summer (with one more Camp NaNoWriMo opportunity in July), but I’m going to enjoy the process.

And if you’re a regular reader, you know that a big part of that process is reading. Right now I am devouring and being inspired by a lot of great teen fiction. But that’s a topic for another post.

Borrowed Books 2016

Stack of incredible teen books (and The Martian – also incredible)

The End of the Story

Print

Fer Realz

I know, I know, this is the third post I’ve written in nine days – a new record for me – but I just couldn’t keep it to myself: I finished my NaNoWriMo 2015 book! I was stressed out about it taking so long, but I guess spring break was the medicine I needed. That and a little visit from my muse.

I hoped that if I managed 2000 words per day (the usual goal during the month of November for NaNoWriMo participants – and much more than I’ve averaged since then), I would be able to finish the story. But as any WriMo knows, you can type 2000 words without saying much of anything at all.

So by Friday, the last official weekday of my break, I was feeling a little antsy. March was over, I’d hit 100,000 words (just over 101K, if you want to be specific), and I still had a lot to say. The problem was that I had this looming showdown between two characters, and I knew how I wanted it to end, just not how to get the characters there.

Then, the floodgates opened that night. I typed over 5500 words and was so close – but I still wasn’t done. I joked with my husband that I should just kill everyone off.

No, I promise that I didn’t take the axe to my characters. I actually wrote a real ending, but it’s clunky. When editing time comes, well, that’s when I’m going to pull out my axe. The manuscript is nowhere near ready for even my most trusted (and kindest) of beta readers; right now, there are some passages that are as awkward as a sixteen-year-old guy meeting his girlfriend’s dad for the first time. (Hey, that’s appropriate; this is a young adult novel.)

Anyway, I’m done, and I can breathe. I can actually think about other stuff for a while. Such as Camp NaNoWriMo, which officially began two days ago. Jeez, I’m already behind.

What, did you really think I was going to stop writing?

NaNoWriMo 2015: The Saga Continues

Keep Calm and Write On

Yeah, I’m still writing my 2015 NaNoWriMo book. Will I ever finish?  I had high hopes that I would be done this month, so I could focus on something different for Camp NaNoWriMo in April. But I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself (the pressure to write 50,000 words in November was enough), so I’m not going to go so far as to call this an actual goal.

My writing over the past week had started picking up, and I thought I was seeing light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. But as Metallica says, it’s just a freight train coming my way. Maybe the light is right behind the freight train, but I just don’t know yet.

See, here’s what happened: my novel is the third of a trilogy, and I realized that I’d made some discoveries about at least one of characters that would necessitate going back and making changes to the first two books. No big deal. The point right now is just to finish the first draft of this book. I can edit the earlier manuscripts to my heart’s content later. Like after I take a month-long breather.

But then I realized that I’d forgotten something crucial that affects the book I’m writing right now. Say, for instance, that there’s a character who loses a leg. This character can’t run a marathon the week after losing said leg. But I was so mired in the slow forward plod of my plot that I forgot this important detail (which isn’t a missing leg, by the way). Once I realized it, I had a brainwave about how to fix it – and how to use it to move the story forward in a new way – but I still have to go back over a bunch of scenes that I thought were (at least temporarily) behind me. For all of you hardcore WriMos, no, this is not editing but merely adding. If I were still worried about a word count, it would be great. But I’m not; I just want to finish.

What does this mean for finishing? Well, it means I’ll have to spend a lot of time reading over pages that I’ll desperately want to edit, just so I can figure out where to splice in the stuff I forgot. I’ll have to finesse it all later. It’s gonna be ugly, but it’s gotta happen.

So that’s where I am. It’s my spring break, so I’m going to try to dedicate my spare time to writing. And not forgetting about any more… ahem… absent body parts.

The NeverEnding (NaNoWriMo) Story

 

Keep Calm and Write On

I received a peppy email from NaNoWriMo this week about it being editing time. Usually, I would be all over that, or even a couple steps ahead. Last year, I finished the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel on January 24th. The year before, I was a little slower, taking until February 10th, but my first draft was 30,000 words longer. This year, sad to say, I’m still under 70,000 words (barely) and feel like I might have finally achieved the halfway point of the story arc (if there is such a thing).

I’m not giving up, just plodding along. I don’t write new material every day – I don’t even think about it every day – although I should. I’m just too busy – often with things besides writing. But I’m reading a really good book that I can hardly stand to put down. (Okay, I’m actually reading several good books, but only one page-turner that’s brand new to me.)

And I have become distracted by another writing project. Yes, I’m writing this with guilty fingers, fingers that have typed on another story. Just to think – I postponed work on my Camp NaNoWriMo novel for NaNoWriMo 2015, and now that’s slowed down because I had this completely unexpected novel barge in one day, demanding to be written. Books will do that sometimes, and although I’ve been able to put some of these stories off before, this one wouldn’t take “Wait” for an answer.

You see, it all happened when I read a good book. (That’s how my first NaNoWriMo happened to begin with, so I guess my muse is really rubbing her hands together in glee right now.) It was teen fiction. No vampires or werewolves or anything at all supernatural, which is somewhat unusual for me. And suddenly, I had a character and an idea, and poor NaNoWriMo 2015 was doomed. I’ve only typed a little on this new project (just under 5500 words), but there’s at least 10 times that much simmering in my head, ready to boil over. It’s not like anything I’ve ever written, which makes me think that maybe it’s special.

Or maybe I’m just coming up with excuses to let NaNoWriMo 2015 linger.

Somehow, I don’t think so. Although I’ve left quite a few manuscripts hanging out to dry before, my NaNoWriMo record to date stands at two participations, two wins, two completed manuscripts (and by completed, I mean that I plowed through to their respective ends, although they still need major editing). Considering it’s the third book of a trilogy, and I have beta readers who want to know how it ends, I need to finish it for them – and for me. Earlier this week, one of my characters surprised me and did something I thought a different character would do. I guess I ought to keep writing and see how that’s going to resolve.

But let me state up front what I’m not going to do. This year, I am not going to set goals that will put me in a panic. This year, when I finish, I plan to edit and do it right. I will eventually have a copy of this book for beta readers, but I don’t even know if CreateSpace has a deal for free books this year, and I’m not going to stress out about it. If I have to pay for books, I have to pay for books.

So I’m going to work on these two stories (plus Camp NaNoWriMo, plus editing books one and two of the trilogy again), and if they take me through the end of October, so be it. But come November 1, 2016… well, the NaNoWriMo piper will play for me again. I’m sure of it.