“Wow, You Really Like Books, Don’t You?”

 

New Stack of Books 2017

Books I can’t wait to read!

The title of this post is what my cousin said to me recently when I was at his house, returning a pile of books that his wife had lent me. And then because she has some sort of wicked sixth sense about her, she guessed that I might appreciate even more books, so she blessed me with another pile of loaner teen fiction. This is third such pile of books she’s let me borrow in the past couple years, and my cousin knows this, but I think this was the first time he was actually in the room while I eagerly accepted the books, all but bursting with delight to have my hands on more stuff to read.

If you know me, you know that I always have a book on hand. Nothing will stop me from reading. In fact, I finished one book and started another when I was in the delivery room, hours away from giving birth to my first baby. It’s a serious thing to me. (Some might call it a problem.) But I guess it’s different to witness me grabbing all the books I can get my hands on, a manic gleam in my eye, as if I’m on an episode of Oprah’s Favorite Things.

Now before anyone gets onto me for starting on a new pile of books before finishing what I set out to read at the beginning of the year, I will say that even though it’s killing me, I will read (or try my best to read) everything on my 2017 list before I get started on this latest stack of potential goodness. That’s not to say that I’ve been good and haven’t detoured at all. I have. The problem is that so many of the books from this year’s list are the first book of a series, and if I like a series, well… let’s just say that my bookshelf real estate is dwindling.

This could be a problem, having enough time to read everything I own. I was really worried when my position at work changed from teacher to admin support, which puts me in the office year-round. But I am not to be deterred. Maybe I’m not blogging as often, but I am reading and writing with as much gusto as ever.

It’s well past the halfway point of the year, so of the 34 books on my list, I should have read more than 17, correct? And I am happy to report that, despite getting sidetracked a few times, I’ve still crossed 23 off the list. (Check out the link to my Goodreads page in the sidebar for all the details.) If anything is going to sidetrack me from my list, it’s other books, not a lack of time to read them.

So bring them on! I need to have something to read in 2018, anyway. And please excuse me for cutting this post short; my current book is just getting to the good part.

The Little Story That Could

Never Give Up

It’s actually not a “little” story at all. In fact, according to an article I read years ago, at over 153,000 words, my novel would be considered by some to be a super novel.

I’m talking about my yet-to-be-titled NaNoWriMo 2016 novel, which I just finished minutes ago.

I’ve been waiting to make the “I finished!” announcement for a while. I thought that I would finish on my spring break, which was over two weeks ago. And I did spend two days in a row typing over 10,000 words, which got me a lot closer to finishing, but as I’ve learned with my novels, they never cooperate. They’re like children, each of them different, each with its own set of challenges. Good lord was this one unruly. It’s the longest of my NaNoWriMo books, and it’s taken the longest to write. I thought, at the outset, that it might be more of a novella, that I might not have enough story to fill out NaNoWriMo’s 50,000-word minimum. Ha!

I’ve adopted a motto from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender!” I know that NaNoWriMo considers WriMos winners if they successfully write 50,000 words from scratch during the month of November, but when I first undertook the challenge in 2013, I decided that I was done with leaving manuscripts incomplete. Even if the book will never see the light of day, I have to at least finish it, give it the chance to someday be edited into shape.

So that’s what I’ve done four times now. It’s a personal goal, but one in which I take pride. Years ago, when I was enrolled in a fiction workshop in college, one of our assignments was to write a piece of short fiction and have it critiqued by our classmates. The second part of this assignment, upon which our final grades were dependent, was to then take the critiques of our classmates and edit our stories. Some critiques were worthless, some priceless. But the assumption was that none of us walked in with perfectly crafted pieces; there’s always room for improvement. One day, nearing the end of the semester, I overheard one of these classmates pouring out his woes to our professor, how he “just wasn’t feeling it.” Yeah, I’ve had manuscripts like that. There’re lots of them, sitting in files that I haven’t touched in years. But when someone assigns me a task—especially for a college class!—I do my best to complete it. I couldn’t believe the nerve of this guy, saying that he couldn’t do what was required, yet he still expected a pass.

Whenever I feel like giving up on a story, I think of him and what a lousy excuse he made, and I realize that I’m not going to do something lame like that, even if I’m only myself letting down. I didn’t spend months on this to just give up. I haven’t put off editing other pieces that desperately need attention for nothing. I fought writer’s block and wrote… maybe not like a boss, but like someone who takes writing seriously. It’s not about producing something perfect. It’s not even about following an outline to fruition (conflict introduced—check! love interest refuted—check!). It’s about giving the story the chance to have its say—especially if it ends nothing like what I expected at the start.

I finished, and now I have the satisfaction of another novel under my belt. I haven’t let myself down. Breathe, edit, repeat.

 

NaNoWriMo 2016 Wrap Up

nanowrimo-winner-2016-badge

I had a hard enough time believing it was already November—and that was over a month ago. It’s always one of the busiest months of my year, thanks in part to NaNoWriMo. Now that we’re several days into December, I have to remind myself daily that I can relax—I no longer need to achieve a certain word count every day.

Still, even though I “won” a minute before midnight on November 23rd, that’s just a step on the path to finishing my novel. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo in 2012 (the year before I started participating), I wrote a post entitled “What Happens After NaNoWriMo?” I wanted to know if people called it quits after reaching 50,000 words or if they kept with their novels until the end (assuming their novels didn’t end at exactly 50,000 words).

As for me, I keep plugging away after 50,000 words (however long it takes). Otherwise, I would have quit after day 14 my first year. Winning to me isn’t just writing 50,000 words—it’s continuing until the story is finished telling itself. Last year, which was the most challenging so far, it took until day 27 to “win,” but it took months to finish the first draft. The experience made me tackle this year’s NaNoWriMo with more purpose.

I’ve slowed down since December first, though. Part of it is the pure craziness that is December. (Perhaps this is why no one was foolish enough to put it in December—who would have the time?) The first day of the month, when I was already up an hour later than usual, I sat down and typed 100 words, just so I wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving my novel hanging for a day.

Without November looming over me anymore, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate—even though I’m one story-day away from the scene I’ve been imagining for over a year. I’m getting hung up on things like voice. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m using four first person narrators this time. It’s what this story needs, but the problem is differentiating the narrators from one another. While this is really an issue for the editing stage, I can’t help but let the worry creep in that I should be doing a better job up front.

The other day, when writing the youngest of these characters, she said something that seemed particularly her, and I thought, This is it! But now, how to make “this” happen in every section she narrates? In a book I read over the summer, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, there are two narrators, twins (brother and sister). These characters are unique and a little peculiar, but their individual peculiarities shine through in such a way that it’s easy to pick out who is narrating without being told whose section it is.

I love how discovery happens through reading someone else’s story. I dream of inspiring someone with one of my own stories someday—but it’s not going to happen if I don’t go ahead and write—no matter how ragged the first draft is.

A Minor Miscalculation

I can’t believe we’re past the halfway point of November, and I’m just now blogging about NaNoWriMo. Some years, I’ve blogged about it on a weekly basis. This year, however, I’ve had even more obstacles than usual. (Seems like I always say that—but it’s true!)

November is a crazy-busy month in the Full-Time Writer Mom’s house. We have all the usual Thanksgiving stuff, plus my elder son’s birthday falls in this month. My husband was out of town all last week, and up until last night, my now-nine-year-old spent up to three nights a week and most Saturday mornings at the baseball field. Add to that the community chorus of which my husband and I are members and the children’s choir that my kids joined this fall, and my “life” has become something lived in five-minute spurts. By the time the kids are in bed at night, I’m wrung out and useless. Clean my house? What’s that? Write in my journal? It’s collecting dust. Oh, there’s one thing I have done: I’ve spent the last six weeks cramming for the final test I needed to complete my professional teacher certification. I took that test today, and—hallelujah!—I passed. So now, with fall ball over and the test behind me, I can finally devote more of my very divided attention to my novel—and even take a few minutes to blog about it. (Note that my house still isn’t clean, and we’re going to have a to cram a Christmas tree in here sometime soon.)

As for this year’s novel, I’m doing something I’ve never done before—I’m writing with multiple first person points of view. I assumed that I would write third person omniscient, but I kept reverting to first person present. The only way I could still tell the story I wanted was to expand beyond my usual one-narrator perspective. This is a challenge on a couple levels, the first of which is differentiating the character’s voices. Fortunately, this is something I should be able to address (for the most part) in the editing stage. The second challenge is simply remembering who the narrator is. Although I title each section with the narrator’s name, sometimes I get a few paragraphs in and forget—thus turning my poor character into a split personality (often turning into the very character he or she is talking about).

Add to this a new obstacle that I created out of thin air this year—a totally (unintentionally) fabricated word count. Let me first explain with this graphic:

english-major-shirt

Okay, actually, I’m not bad at math. (Mind you, we’re not talking about calculus.) I’m a treasurer for a non-profit as well as a part-time bookkeeper for my family’s small business, so it’s very important that I’m competent in the basics and then some.

I’ve always prided myself in equal use of both sides of my brain: I’m creative and OCD; I can have conversations with my characters and format Excel spreadsheets; I’m a writer with a fairly good head for arithmetic. I’m generally a walking, talking contradiction, but, boy, did I live up to the assumption that writers can’t add earlier this month.

I’m going to chalk this one up to all that busyness that I wrote about at the beginning of this post. Why tack NaNoWriMo onto a schedule that already keeps me out late every weeknight? Well, because I can’t imagine not participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me, I once thought it was crazy. (See my first NaNoWriMo post from 2012.) As I pointed out to my husband at the beginning of the month, I get a week-long break at Thanksgiving, so even if I’m abysmally behind, that’s a great time to catch up.

On the evening of November 1st, I got to around 1180 words, and I felt pretty good about myself—I’d just typed 1100 words more than I thought I would. I then told Thomas that I would need to type about 2700 words a day in order to finish by the November 30th deadline. If I’d paused to think for even half a second, I would have realized that 2700 words per day for 30 days was even more insane than the idea of starting and finishing a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. Something did strike me as kind of funny—2700 didn’t seem to be the right number—but I just figured I was rounding up from 2667, and that’s why it seemed off.

It wasn’t until day two that I remembered that if I type my word count into NaNoWriMo.org, it’ll give me all kinds of cool stats, like how far behind I am, how many words a day I need to finish, etc. So I plugged in my word count for the first two days and then looked at their cool little chart. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I was actually ahead. I was only off by…oh… a thousand when it comes to the word count. Can you imagine making a similar mistake on something actually important—like a mortgage? Sheesh. Thank goodness the mistake was in my favor.

The good news is that I now know I only have to type around 1700 words per day, and 18 days in, I’m averaging about 1800. While it’s less per day than the last three years, I’m still sticking to the hope that the week ahead will prove productive. Even with all the new challenges of NaNoWriMo 2016, I already feel like a winner.

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.