Margaret Atwood, the CON, and NaNoWriMo

All good things come in November, right? Even my birthday is only two days away.

Margaret Atwood spoke at the Englert Theater in Iowa City last night, which also happened to be her 75th birthday. She’s clever, concise, and funny. I might even have an appreciation for zombies after listening to her. After she spoke, there was a Q&A, then she signed books.

The questions were decent, somewhat – I’m going to ignore the best hockey goalie question because the guy was hunting for something she didn’t want to give. Still. One (expected) question was about advice for aspiring writers. Maybe aspiring writer is a different term to everyone who labels oneself with the term. However, this woman was 53 and had not finished a manuscript. (Ms. Atwood asked.) Her advice? Finish it. Then do something with it. Then write something else. That is a writer. And she’s right, of course. She also said if the writer was an adolescent, wattpad was a good, free opportunity to get words out there. Because, sure, writing for an audience of your teacher about a summer vacation is one thing, but having a real audience to give comments and feedback, even if it is just ‘more, more!’ is something that will make that person dedicated to the craft.

When she signed my book, I said I was also an aspiring author. She asked if I’d finished a manuscript, and of course I said I had. And it has been published. And I keep writing. And she said I’m not aspiring – I’m already there. Again, she’s right. Except I might still be aspiring. I want to reach higher- to find more audiences- and to always, always do better. She has a wonderful attitude, and I’d like to be like her when I grow up: in that I want to write the stories, share them, and have a humorous outlook.

Last weekend was ICON. (I suppose in this way, I’m different than Ms. Atwood. I do mingle with the science fiction community. Whenever I can.) I was so excited to go to Paradise ICON, which was the writer’s workshop piece. I didn’t do much with the CON itself. I did see my band, Wylde Nept, and I’m glad. I caught up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a few things that are still rattling around in my head trying to makes sense of themselves.

I’m in the midst of making new goals, trying new schedules to be more productive, and getting “out there” more. I’ve told several friends my focus after November will switch to editing. I know I need to force myself to do it, and with constant prodding is the only way I know to start that. (December 1st, hear me people?! Eleven more days!) Going to Paradise ICON helped. I need to spend more time in serious critique mode, too. Luckily I may have a new friend (or more than one) who will allow me to work on that with them. 

And NaNoWriMo! I love the writer energy in the air around this time of year, and I like to take advantage of it to push out a bunch of words. Greg Frost called what I am doing something like a Zero Draft, and I think I love that term. Plus it only emphasizes the amount of work in the future to resurrect it into something usable, sharable, worthy of the original vision in my head. But you can’t fix it until you get it out. I’m not sure how to describe this project, but it’s big. So I’m going to the end, and then I’ll define it. Whether I finish or not by 1 Dec, I will use that date to start editing my lovely pile of projects.

The other thing I will do (but not as much as editing) is put together another new schedule. Self-imposed deadlines. These I will also share, so everyone can keep me on task to make them. When I dream, I dream big. And I know I won’t achieve those dreams if I allow myself to let the deadlines slide too far. Like they have been doing. So thanks in advance for gentle nudges when I stall and encouragement when I falter.

I can and do own the writer label, but there are so many other labels that must be applied before one can become a successful author. So right now I will dream, schedule, plot, and implement until I make it there.

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New Writer’s Group

It’s always exciting to find a new one, and this week I managed to attend. I always start out a little aflutter because there are so many ways it can go. What do I take to read? What do I wear? [Yes, I tend to be silly that way.]

But however many groups you’ve been to before, they’re always a little different. I’ve tried to form a few online, to varied degrees of success. I’ve spent time in groups in person in three different cities, and each of them had a personality of their own. I’ve made friends and sparked debates and learned something from every group I’ve attended.

I try to think about what I want out of a group, and what I’m willing to give to them, before I go. While I’d love to trade novels, I haven’t yet been part of a group that was able to listen to an entire novel – I’ve traded those with some writer friends online with good results.

The group Monday does an exercise to warm up, and then they share. I’m not sure it’s a long enough meeting for all of that, but it’s a new group, new people together, and I’m interested to see how it evolves. And it seems they might switch off to do different exercises. It’s almost enough to make me run out and go research different things in that vein.

However, I’m being good and focusing on my WIP. Current word count is 24,181 (97 pages). There are 85 more writing days until NaNo.

What I did decide to take to the writing group next time is information about goals. We talked about writing goals, mentioned NaNoWriMo, and current projects. More than one expressed they wanted to be able to do NaNo successfully (50k words in 30 days). My first NaNo in 2007 was just over 50k, but I didn’t finish the project. Since then, I’ve been working to stay focused and actually finish a project during the month, which I did last year (76k words). I’ve also been writing 155 days in a row today, at least 750 words each day.

And I might take the opportunity to blog about how to do all of that, next week.

I’m most excited about this group being an outlet to discuss writing, the mechanics or the exercises or the WIPs from the members. They’re nice.

What do you look for in a writer’s group? What would you want if you were in a new one from (almost) the very beginning? Do you think ahead of time about what you will take from and what you will give to the group? What would you not want from a writer’s group?

Trilogy

When I was young and reading every spare moment, it seemed like everything in the speculative fiction section was a trilogy. Some of them became more than trilogies as the subsequent novels refused to wrap up the story.

I always wanted to be the one who had novels on the shelves like the ones I read. They were all in bookstores then as I browsed for something new to devour. The first trilogy I had planned was created while I was in high school. All the characters were named, pieces of the plot are still in my computer, and nothing ever came of it.

Yesterday I started Book 2 of a trilogy. It’s a real trilogy, I guess, in the way that it will be written. It will be edited, and as much as I can possibly manage, it will be professionally published.  On the bright side, if I average 1500 words a day, I can finish the rough drafts of both sequels by NaNoWriMo.

That would be good, because I already have a few ideas for November’s writing marathon. One hundred writing days to NaNo! (I haven’t written yet today.)

One of my friends told me that it was better to think in a series type capacity anyway, especially due to the amount of work it took to build these worlds in speculative fiction.

All I can say is I’m really excited about this adventure. I am finally writing a series.

NaNoWriMo

For me, November always means another novel with NaNoWriMo. During the month, there are plenty of things to read on both sides – writers who love it and writers who avoid it.

I don’t think it’s fair to say people hate it if they haven’t tried it. Part of it might be because of books like No Plot? No Problem! The challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and they recommend little to no preparation – to simply dive into a novel and write.

I think a lot of writers just dive into a novel and write in their first attempts.  I know I did for several – and the few I managed to finish in that time were in such disarray it has taken and will take me years to sort them out.

NaNo 2012 has come and gone, and I have a new novel to work on called The Next Jane. It weighs in at about 73,000 words. I hit 50,000 on Day 15, but the second half of the month presented challenges to keep me from hitting 100,000.

I know several writers who have embarked on sequels to a previous work and we are working toward using outlines and all kinds of preparatory work to make sure it is something that has a chance to be salvaged. I mean, we could have a nice romantic comedy going on and then have aliens land to get to the word count, but we’re reaching beyond that. Check out this list of published WriMos.

The beauty of the energy and the camaraderie of NaNoWriMo helps to turn off the internal editor long enough to get the rough draft out. You can challenge yourself to finish another scene, another chapter, another book. We post our word counts and compete with what we did the previous year. This year, I wrote more words than I have before in the month of November. I’m proud that I finished the entire draft of the novel, which was my goal in the first place.

The rest  can be fixed later. I’m fixing my last in-progress novel, and then I’ll be back with TNJ until I get it in order. I really want that one to be great. Plus, I have two sequels planned.

Change

Sometimes, change is unavoidable. And I wonder if that is why so many people try to resist it. It also might have something to do with more than just wanting things to stay the same.

I know at some point we think that what is familiar is what is comfortable and that it can take a very strong force to move us. We get inertia to stick in our little ruts. 

Though I still wonder if there might be more to it. So many times we mark the first time and the last time. When we can point to the first time, even if we don’t necessarily know that it is something we want to continue, it gives context to the beginning. When we want change enough to overcome our current path, we mark the last time and move on. 

But some things we must take in stride. Things that are unexpected and for which we cannot plan. When we realize a last time passed without fanfare. When a missed first time becomes an only opportunity. 

[You might have expected something political here, but you can get commentary on that somewhere else today.] 

I’m over 15k into a new novel for NaNoWriMo. It’s exciting to dig into a new project. Yet there are always events hanging over our heads where we cannot make certain that the future can be exactly as we plan. It means we have to change. It means we have to act and react. Also, somewhere, to be thankful for that which we do have. 

What Hinders Your Productivity?

Or maybe the question ought to be – have you looked into what hinders your productivity? It’s something I think about occasionally. I’ll admit it probably isn’t often enough.

Right now I’m a stay-at-home mother. The writing is a side gig that occurs mostly when my little one sleeps. The SAHM gig is not to be regarded in any way less demanding or rewarding than other career options, but a statement that my time is claimed. Life hinders my productivity in domestic tasks, but I don’t tell my two-year-old that she can’t get out her toys, even if it does look like a war zone. We’re learning to pick them all up before bedtime.

More often we point our fingers to the obvious procrastination markers like Facebook or Twitter and try to justify them as promotion. I recently ran into an article saying how people ought to only check that stuff twice a day. I’m not sure how that’d work for Twitter, but Facebook would be easy enough.

Maybe the trick to becoming a productive moonlighting writer is to know why you’re writing and not just the things that are also taking up that coveted downtime. I write because I love exploring new worlds through fiction. I love stringing sentences together (even if they’re not very good at first) and sharing them with others. I enjoy the struggle to find the right words to portray something in my head. With that in mind, I crank out a lot of words.

Over 250,000 words since I began writing at 750words last May. I had no idea I could be so prolific. Sure, I’ve done NaNoWriMo and completed the challenge without breaking a sweat or trying to finish in the 11th hour, but I haven’t kept track of what I do normally. While the 750words site has focused me to write every day and not in the fits and starts I had done before, it also keeps track of what I’ve done since I joined.

I don’t have a full novel written there yet. My last project has morphed into something I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle just yet and I’m working on editing a young adult manuscript more than whipping a wayward work-in-progress into shape.

The other thing I really like about those kinds of statistics is it will track how long it takes me to spew out my words. Some days are a struggle, full of distractions and nearly an hour sessions spent trying to find words. Others can be as short as seven minutes to make the minimum word count. A couple have been spent with a timer and an idea and simply throwing out the ideas as fast as my brain can make it up.

Of the times when my daughter is asleep, I rarely wake before she does. So between writing during her afternoon nap and after she goes to sleep at night, I am much more productive in the afternoon hours and try to take advantage of that. I also shut down other distractions like Facebook.

Lately I feel like I’ve been just waiting, waiting, waiting for the baby to be born. [If you believe the computer, I’m due today. If you believe the 8-week ultrasound, I was due yesterday.]  That’s been hindering my productivity more than I like to admit. How much could be done while I’m not feeling the best but not as sleep-deprived as I soon will be? Another blog post? Another article read? Another chapter edited? Another story written? Another submission sent off?

I’ve managed to get my iPad mostly in order to be my productivity station on the go. I only have three games loaded on it. Mostly I have been reading a bunch of articles and keeping up through other social outlets. When the games become a serious time sink, I’ll have to let them go, too. It’s always good to have goals and keep them in view to know what can be achieved.

I believe goals ought to be flexible and intended to stretch abilities. When I see the goals I want to make happen, I work harder to keep those results at the top of my list. When I allow for life or other things to intrude, I make it more likely that I will stick with the goal instead of just throw in the towel. Take 750words as one example: I haven’t written every day since I joined on May 1. I’ve missed 12 days. Most of them were in a row during a difficult couple weeks. I’ve given myself permission to lose a day or two with the impending baby, though I’m trying not to use that.

Whatever hinders me is something I allow to happen. My choices lead me to where I will be next. Not everything has to be productive – not every moment, not every choice, not every little detail – but I manage to get things done. Maybe that’s just because no one’s sold me on a reason to spend 3000 hours on a WoW profile…

What do you think about productivity and downtime and how they affect your writing and your goals?

NaNoWriMo and Moving Updates…

I have to admit, I didn’t finish my novel yet. I like to continue writing for NaNo until the novel is done. I have learned quite a bit about myself in the last month, though. Here are a few things I am reminding myself of while I finish this novel:

1. Writing is stress relief.
2. I can write over 3000 words in an hour if I focus. (3332 was my record for a full hour, and 102 wpm was my record for a single 750 sprint.)
3. There is a limit to how many things can be accomplished in one day. (Wait, that isn’t new.)
4. Dreck is expected for a first draft, especially at a rough pace. Finish the draft and worry about edits later.
5. Don’t stop at 50 000 words. It’s about finishing the project.
6. Motivation is cumulative. Sitting down and making progress every single day is important for continuity and overall progress.

I’m not sure how long it will take to finish the novel. I allowed distractions to get in the way of my daily progress – so not all of my words for NaNoWriMo were part of this novel; however, all of them were fiction. The total was 67,854 words. And starting yesterday I refocused on the project and took it in a different direction to the tune of 1000 or more words per day.

We found a new place and we moved mid-month. Part of my distraction included the annoyance of packing up the belongings I needed to have for the six months we’ll be in this temporary place. I also packed up the things that might be considered clutter to prospective buyers to our home. Luckily I had a lot of help!

I’m too pregnant to actually move the boxes I pack, so someone has to move them when I’m done. That’s challenging because not too long ago I could move everything just fine. I suppose it’s fair to say I can start slowing down, because I’m only six weeks from a new baby.

After we moved, we managed to unpack. Again, I’m stymied by stacks of boxes to unpack, because a couple boxes came with us that I didn’t intend to unpack. Of course, these boxes are full of the books that don’t exactly fit on the bookshelves. I had two bookshelves to move to declutter my office space, so that shouldn’t count against me. And I am unpacking the minimum needed.

Wait, that should be “unpacked.” Because we were fully unpacked less than a week after moving. Within four days, even. Sure, we missed a few things, but those have either been fetched or replaced.

The first few days it felt like everything went wrong, but it’s improving this week. I’m hoping it keeps going.

I’m very appreciative to the support I’ve received from family and friends, and I’m again faced with the oft-asked question, “Where are you from?” I’m not sure why people think we must have moved to the area to be around family. This does happen to be a little closer to family for both my husband and I, but we moved for his job. If they moved us somewhere else, we’d go.

The good news is I can write from anywhere. I’m sure I’d even figure out how to put pen to paper if all my digital devices disappeared!

Old Navy, Moving, and NaNoWriMo – Oh My!

I joined CrowdTap earlier this year. My sister-in-law started it. She and I share a love of shopping in many ways, which explains our Black Friday marathons and long telephone conversations that include details about recent trips to the store as well as opportunities to save more on the next trip. I’m lucky my husband has such a cool sister! But every now and again, I bet he wishes we didn’t have so much in common after our shopping trips.

In Dubuque, the Old Navy staff know my sister-in-law by name. I end up shopping as often or more with her there than I do at my own Old Navy in Des Moines. Somehow CrowdTap gave me a bunch  of opportunities to rate Old Navy merchandise and has offered me opportunities for several sample shares – but I either didn’t have enough experience within CrowdTap or not the right credentials for the past ones. The first one I qualified for I shared with my sister-in-law, of course!

It was totally worth paying priority mail to get it to her. I was also ecstatic when they opened it from only the compression tops to all activewear tops. I’m 30 weeks pregnant today, so it would not have been comfortable or pretty to put me in a compression top, even only long enough for pictures.

One thing that cracks me up about this picture is I think she bought me the same coat that she’s wearing – at Old Navy. I’ve been wearing it all the time because it is only one of two coats that fit me while pregnant. We should get a picture together when we match.

As usual, she looks great in everything, but I think she made a good choice.

While this is not taken while I was teaching, I have already taught a couple classes in m new outfit. My internal thermometer gets me too hot while teaching and I have a fan blowing on me most of the time, but I wear the hoodie to and from class, and also while packing at home.

I love how easy it is to move in this outfit. I have an Old Navy maternity yoga top underneath, too. The shoes are Vibram FiveFingers and this is one of my most comfortable outfits while pregnant! The pants don’t roll underneath my belly, but stay snuggled up to my new curves.

And on to the moving update: I will be moving from Des Moines to the Quad Cities on November 19th. It’s all happening very fast, and I hardly know which way is up. It’s one reason I haven’t been updating this blog as often, and the posts will be somewhat infrequent until we land in our new space. Moving is difficult but, on the up side, I’ll be much closer to my sister-in-law to go shopping! Because I need more distractions from my writing…

Speaking of which, I have come to grips with my limitations at 30 weeks pregnant. Even though I am moving, I still have to sit down from time to time. During those times, I have been writing. I have an entire novel prepped from an October challenge with my writing buddies. We don’t spend a ton of time per day as a minimum, but sometimes we get carried away. I spent over 15,000 words brainstorming around the outline, and I think I’m ready to attempt the novel. I am not promising to make the 50,000 words in 30 days, but there’s a good chance I’ll make it anyway. Things are coming together at home and I’m quitting my part-time jobs for the move, which will mean more time when we land in our new temporary living space.

Until then, I will be up to my eyes in to-do lists and little chores to take care of. Wish me luck, and go shop at Old Navy!

Does the World Need Another Fill-in-the-Blank?

I’m looking at writing an urban fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo. One of the challenges is to understand the market where I think this book would be placed. How often do you think about the market you’re going to be in before you write the book? I can’t say I do it often, though it is somewhere in the back of my mind when I’m thinking about a project.

Part of the trouble is that it’s difficult to imagine my book alongside the ones I take home and read. Not that I won’t be thrilled when that happens, it’s just difficult to picture ahead of time. Sometimes the closer I get, the farther it feels to the eventual goal. I have a published book out there, though it isn’t on the physical shelves of the bookstore. Some days that is hard to remember.

Today I was asking friends about urban fantasy novels they enjoyed. I know I’ve read a few, but I’m curious what draws in others who read that genre. I’ll also be making a trip to the bookstore this week to see what I haven’t read on the shelves that might be interesting or in the same market segment. The tough part might be keeping that list up to date by the time I get this manuscript ready to put in front of someone who can do something about the book-on-physical-shelf thing.

My answer to the title question is yes. It doesn’t matter how many urban fantasy genre books there are – mine will still be different. It’s like so many other things that take time and effort and seem to be a dime a dozen (bloggers and novelists can both fit in this category). If you want to make it work, do it. If you’re going to allow yourself to be daunted by the established names in the field, you’re toast. I’m working toward my goals and I won’t be afraid of failing. The only thing to be afraid of is not trying.

Just Around the Corner

NaNoWriMo is almost here. Seriously, it’s a month and two days away. Yet I get Twitter updates saying “33 Days to NaNo!” and I get excited. One of my friends put together an entire challenge to be ready to write a novel in November, and I help her organize it every year (fourth year running).

The energy is gathering among people throwing in their hats, making decisions about what possible project might be good enough to focus so much time and effort. Sometimes we agonize over the big decisions, like can we manage to get enough world-building in the beginning to make it stretch over the novel writing time without slowing down. It’s a particularly large problem for anyone starting a science fiction or fantasy novel of any kind. How do you get enough of the NaNoverse painted if you drive in on Day 1 without any preparation at all?

It was just that question that drives so many of my friends to undertake a small amount of early work before attempting that big novel. We gather and cheer each other on – digitally since we’re geographically diverse – and sometimes even help get past the inevitable block.

The NaNoWriMo challenge is about writing a novel in a month – usually stated at 50,000 words. The problem with that stated challenge is that most novels don’t end at 50k. In science fiction and fantasy, they’re often between 70,000 and 120,ooo words. For young adult it’s much closer to the guidelines. Many of the challenge-takers stop at 50k instead of finishing the book, or they write so that the book ends at 50k. Then when it’s time for the revisions it gets interesting.

On the other hand, you end up with a half-finished novel even if you didn’t finish the challenge, and the rules are all about starting a new challenge next year, rather than finishing something that was an abandoned idea.

Another drawback is that it is difficult to look at that novel when December rolls around. The energy will sap into a stupor as the crowd that cheered everyone to the finish is taking a collective breath and thinking they ought to rejoin their families and friends. Edits are pushed off from December to June to some other future date. I think it’s just difficult to be that dedicated all the time for most people. Fits and starts get me through some edits, but I’m not consistent in that area.

Someday I’ll wrangle a bunch of people into NaNoEdMo with me, not that March is a better time than November but I think the energy of having a group working through the words would be fun and inspiring to get through it.

Who else plans to take a dash at a massive dump of creative words in November? What do you do with your manuscript when you finish (yes, we’re assuming that we’re all going to finish)? Does the creative flow of energy help you get in the spirit of the novel? Do you ever get bogged down by the pressure of 1667 words per day rather than gushing out of a story? I’d love to hear what NaNoWriMo means to you.

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