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.

The Trilogy… Progress and Goals

I’ve been working on Book 3 about a month. I’ve written 48,336 words. While I’d planned for 75k, I’m going to change the plan. It isn’t because there are 11 days until NaNoWriMo – or that isn’t the only reason.

The main reason I’m changing the plan is I changed the way I wrote this novel. I started at the end, which I thought was solid. The problem arose during the draft that I had a question that fit within the novel’s conflict that I hadn’t addressed at the end. It became more and more apparent as I continued writing.

Then I stopped writing from the back forward. I started at the beginning and wrote toward where I left off. This was both a blessing and a curse. The question that had been hovering around the narrative took over. Because I started at the end, I lost the feeling of where I was within the book. I feel like there are holes that I haven’t filled in yet. I know my end has changed, because jumping around the way I did brought different pieces to light that needed to be resolved in a little bit different way.

I learned a lot from this experiment. It doesn’t matter how many novels you write – each one teaches you something. My method of discovery works better with an outline, which I have had for each of these novels. I write better when I take a mostly-forward direction from the beginning to the end. I have this picture in my head that changes as I progress through my story world, and the holes become apparent as I near the end, then I skip around again and write the scenes that plug the holes. By the time I reach the end, I generally have to cut off the beginning to find where my story truly starts. But writing that false beginning also gets me within the world and it is real to me.

I wouldn’t know all of this if I hadn’t written so many drafts. I know that I need to print these things off to read them and start editing. If I try to do that digitally, I don’t get anywhere. Next month I’m excited to start a new project.

So my revised goal for the next 11 days is to put the novel in chronological order as it stands, read through it, write the revised ending that finishes the conflict that decided it was going to be the focus of the narrative, and to make notes about where I think the holes are to start editing in December. It’s respectable to say I wrote 113k toward two YA novels in 66 writing days.

Of Course, There’s an App for That, But Does It Help?

I have a Surface tablet. I still use my iPad. I have an Android phone. I’m often confused which platform I am using.

My husband wanted to get me a great gift with the Surface (RT). I had the touch keyboard at first, but it annoyed me that I couldn’t type more than 40 wpm. I broke that barrier once, with great concentration and pounding my fingers into the thing. He switched the cover with the typing cover – about three times the thickness but it has actual keys. I love actual keys. At least I no longer have to worry about the keyboard slowing me down.

My Android phone also has the hidden keyboard, rather than the touch screen. One of my friends always questions how I can text her so fast, and that’s the reason.

I can’t let go of my iPad, though. The Surface was meant to replace it. I keeping seeing those commercials where the Surface beats the iPad. I’m sure that depends on how you use it. If I’m using social media, I pretty much want my iPad. When I update Facebook, Twitter, anything that ought to scroll – the Microsoft version dumps it all in on top, so you have to go down to read the new stuff, then go back to the top, then do it again. The iPad and Android versions all give you a break, then put them on top so you can scroll through them at will in the same direction. It seems like such a small thing, but it annoys me enough to reach for another device.

My phone won’t let me send direct messages on Twitter. No idea why. Just another quirk. I’m trying not to worry about it too much. My son is about to enter his terrible twos. My last phone didn’t survive my daughter through that age.

My WordPress app on the Surface won’t let me schedule posts in advance. I can save them as drafts, but I can only access them from the app. So if I happen to be away when I remember I can send it, it won’t let me. That’s enough to remind me to log into the site instead of using the app.

There are a few apps I use that don’t annoy me, but it seems like I often reach for the iPad when I’m home and scrolling through something.

Typing, however, is wonderful on the Surface. So every time I do 750words or respond to an email or participate with my writing community – that’s all on the Surface. It’s pretty handy to not have to visit my desktop in my office.

That always reminds me I need to clean my office.

For the update on my book progress: I have managed 30k+ on book 3. I think I’ve given up for now on trying to write the novel backwards. I kept going forward from that last plot point to fill in the things I had left out when I jumped. I also realized I knew exactly where this novel started. I had trouble figuring out where I was in the plot when I tried from the end forward. It was still worth the effort, and I’m not done with this book yet. About 40k to go this month.

When the Writing Gets Tough

Once, not long ago, there were 100 days before NaNoWriMo started. Silly me, I thought, sure, I can double what I’m currently writing and crank out two novels before November, and then write this idea that is simply burning inside.

[Burning means all my “spare” notes and words are spent flopping around in this idea but I haven’t made much progress understanding it yet. It simply takes over my brain with SHINY when I am not concentrating elsewhere.]

There are 36 writing days remaining. I wrote the second book to be 65k words, and I am about 21k into the third book. If I estimated it right and I don’t quit writing, I ought to make the goal. Scary, but possible.

However, I don’t feel like the words are flowing for book 3. Book 2 dumped out in nearly the same fashion as book 1 did last November. But I am always reading things about how to improve, and I tried writing this thing backward. I had the end from last November anyway, 892 words of it, and I wrote what came before that, and what came before that, and then I wrote what came in the middle, then I tried to write what came before.

I’m still trying. It’s difficult to envision where this thing is going when I feel like I’m doing it wrong. I know it isn’t wrong, but it feels off. Sometimes I feel like the whole book is right there, but because of how I chose to write this one, it’s all wonky. Today I ended up writing what came after what I wrote yesterday, because I wasn’t sure how that would fit if I didn’t put that scene in. And tomorrow’s writing might come after today’s. Which means I’m writing forward again instead of backward.

I keep wondering that If it feels so wrong, I ought to change it up, find the beginning, and start from there – except for one thing: I’ve never been good at finding the exact beginning of the story. I write backstory, then cut it off and find where the ‘real’ beginning is in almost every novel I’ve ever written. So I’m sticking with this method for now.

What do you do when the words aren’t flowing? When you feel a bit lost within the overall structure of your novel? Do you always use the same method to attack each novel you undertake? How do you write?

Life is what happens —

When you’re busy making other plans. (quote attributed to John Lennon)

The point is to keep making plans, right? The point is to figure out your direction and take steps toward it no matter what life throws at you.

I’m an optimist. I’ve learned to live with that.

My plan is to write. My plan is to keep telling stories. I’m often asked or told that no one knows how I do what I do, write with little kids. I don’t know how to answer. I simply do it when I have a moment. It’s not like I can turn off the characters in my head.

I learn by rolling with the things that come my way. Sometimes it is just about writing down goals and sticking to them. I love lists. But it’s also about when something happens and I forget to write, don’t accomplish anything, or completely become overwhelmed – I don’t stop. I am not afraid to give myself a pass for a day (or more) and try again tomorrow.

Then again, I’ve also been labeled as motivated, driven, determined, ambitious. I’m not sure any of us knows what we can accomplish until we make the attempt.

What have you attempted? What do you do to keep yourself motivated? I bet no one told the rocks they couldn’t stay there.

Garden of the Gods, CO

Garden of the Gods, CO

I Need More Fences in this Blog

Fences, you ask? I’ll get to it.Next week, preschool begins. It will be September, and it’s also a new session for my daughter’s activities. I’m looking forward to a new routine, though it always takes a little bit to figure out how to get everywhere at the right time.

I know a few moms who changed the sleep schedule so kids get up earlier, but my kids slept in the past two days and I’m enjoying that. In my house, sleeping in is defined as me staying in bed until 7 am.

Last night, I spent an hour catching up on social media, changing a few passwords, and adding a picture where it needed an update. The picture was the tricky part, because for some reason there aren’t that many pictures of me that I want to share. Most of them are old. Many of them have only my daughter. And it’s very rare these days for someone to take just my picture. It’s always with one or both of the kids.

My project is going well with 1500 words a day. Have 54,743 words and expect to spend less than two more weeks on Book 2 before moving to Book 3. The trick will be to find the writing time with the new schedule.

If I can wear my daughter out enough to nap, I could get some good writing time in. If I can focus, I can also get some editing time in when the kids go to bed. If I can find some quiet time, I can blog and catch up on social media, too. There are a lot of ‘if’s involved, but I think it’s worth doing, and I’ll find the time somewhere.

I even find time to read, because that’s the best way to get my brain to relax to sleep. I want to curse the authors who keep me awake past bedtime to finish one more chapter as much as I hope my readers feel the same about my work someday. At least if I read, I’m much less likely to be remembering new thoughts for the work-in-progress an hour after the lights are out, tapping them into Evernote in my phone.

But back to the pictures. I think I put too much thought into pictures. What should I use to describe editing? Writing? Some other activity? Do I put something else in as visual interest?

Visual interest reminds me of art class in high school. My teacher always had us trying new things, even though our artistic vision might differ. Once, a friend had a painting of a snowman, with skaters on a lake, and a few trees dotted around. The teacher said she needed a fence. It was supposed to draw the eye around the painting. After that, whenever we finished anything – we always joked that you needed a fence in it. I thought of that last night when I read about adding images to posts in Google+. It’s just something to draw in the eyes when you’re trying to get them to read your text.

So here’s my fence:

Fence around Flamingos at Sacramento Zoo
Fence around Flamingos at Sacramento Zoo


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.

Draft Finished?

Right. I know. I said I finished it. I felt good about finishing it.

So why is it that the little things I changed keep rummaging around in my head and whisper more little details to me? That’s not finished, that’s a work in progress.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. How do you know, definitively, that you are done? I’m struggling at the moment, but I will manage.

I’m moving on to the next draft, but I hope the susurrus moves to silence. After I fix that just. one. more. thing… After that, I also need to make that definite decision of what I’m doing next. I refuse to allow myself more than a week or two before making the next move. Only one manuscript will languish away in the drawer of death for five years. NO MORE!

Readers and Writers

Writers are readers. We can’t help it – what draws us to words is love. Sometimes I end up thinking about the writing side and neglecting the reading side, but not this week.

This week I went to a book club. It’s called Dagobah, and they focus on science fiction books. At least, I think they do. It’s a small group and they meet once a month to discuss the books they read. It’s different from what I often think about for a book club, where you choose one book and everyone reads and discusses it. 

[I know a friend currently trying to force herself to the end of her book club’s selection, and I hope she makes it. I also hope nobody has to do that with one of my books!]

The cool part about sharing books this way is that I get to hear about books I might not have chosen and I get to share books I love. It’s also a great way to keep me reading, because with limited time sometimes that is what falls by the wayside. 

It shouldn’t be, I know. It’s hard to keep up with a genre when so many books are published (traditional and indie). 

One thing I thought interesting: most of the people seemed to read older novels. It might just have been this month. And I can’t say much for myself, I’ve been listening to the BBC production of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

For the future: watch for news of The Art of Science ebook!

With the Nose

One of my weaknesses, writing-wise, is food. I know it seems like such an odd thing, because it isn’t like I forget to eat regularly. Actually, maybe that would help…

No, seriously, I won’t starve myself. I know one of my handicaps as a person is that I cannot smell many of the things that other people take for granted. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I called my friend to remark about how I could finally smell the laundry aisle at the store, because it was the first time I could remember having that sensation. At first she remarked, duh, but then we talked about how I was in the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy, and that it took that much to get me to smell those scents. My nose is more sensitive to certain kinds of aromas, and others I miss completely.

Unfortunately, I can smell diapers. I could smell the mulch outside my daughter’s preschool this week. But I can only vaguely remember what the flowers smelled like during my pregnancy. I’ve never smelled most of them on my own, but not for lack of trying. My husband (before we were married) would bring me flowers. I would bury my nose in them and inhale deeply. It isn’t because I can smell the roses – I literally can’t – but it is one of those automatic gestures I do when I receive flowers.

When I started editing Don’t Tell Your Mother, I have several places where the characters have food or it is cooking. My critique partners underlined them, asking what they were eating, what they smelled at that point, or something else along those lines. Sometimes, I just can’t even imagine what I’m supposed to put in there. Even when I can describe the actual food, whether there are cherries in the dessert or rosemary in the pot roast, I don’t always know if those things give off enough of a smell for most people to identify them.

[Yes, I’m still editing Don’t Tell Your Mother. I’m still struggling over some of these food descriptions.]

I started asking other writers about food in stories. A few of them find it brings out their experience to have these things described. To bring them into focus even though the food itself is not dragging the plot forward, in most cases.

The other problem with that novel is that it takes place on a farm, where the smells are different than they are in the city. Livestock is kept on the farm, and there are certain smells that I’m sure I haven’t delved into the descriptions nearly enough for people who have never visited one. Thinking of that makes me want to print off another copy and highlight all the places where I might have missed some smells or other sensory perception that would aid in creating my setting.

What is it you look for in a scene where food is present? Scent is supposed to be linked strongly with memory, so do you find it more interesting when there are smells, tastes, and textures along with the sights and sounds? It’s definitely part of the “show, don’t tell” advice to bring in all the senses to bear when using description. Or does all of that just get in the way of the narrative when you’re reading?

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