Check-In #4: Spring Writing Boot Camp

This week’s update is going to be a quick one, as I continue my trend of alternating good productivity followed by total uselessness.

Did not meet my big goal for the end of the month, which was to finish my revisions for Facing the Music. I’m disappointed, but I’m not that surprised either. I was reaching big time when it came to getting through round one of edits, and after all the medical bullshit of the previous week, I basically knew it wasn’t going to happen.

My one major complaint is that I’ve been stalled on chapter 18 for the duration of week four. Generally I dedicate the most uninterrupted time to the chapters where I have the most work to do, so I never really lose my grip on the editing mindset. Between doctors appointments and work and a visit from my parents, I simply didn’t have the uninterrupted time to devote. I’m hoping to plow through the rest of Facing the Music in April, since I’m expecting the ending chapters to be less work overall. The last half of the story was where I felt the most confident–where I hit my stride. With a few scattered exceptions, the real work should be behind me. (Please, God, I hope.)

I am well over halfway through the MS though, so I am intending to send chapter one to my CPs around mid-week. Every chapter they see is going to get a last read-through aloud from me before it winds up in their hands. Time to get this ball rolling!

On the subject of titles for Amnesia Conspiracy, don’t ask. I haven’t done any drafting for a week, so there’s no way I’m in the right head space to even think about brainstorming titles. Once I dive back into work, I’ll start the titling process. Still expecting it to be a while.

Speaking of Amnesia Conspiracy, my plan is to start out aiming for 20k worth of new words in April. The number was supposed to be 25k, but with Facing the Music’s end date being moved back, everything gets moved back. If I hit 20k before the end of the month, I’ll increase my total word count goal. 25-30k would be ideal, but I’m trying to leave myself a little breathing room for when I get stressed by everything I still have to do.

Since I’m planning to finish my revised MS edits for one of my CPs this week, I’ll be thrilled if I get anything new written at all. I’m not too fond of starting April with such low expectations, but hey. Low expectations are better than no expectations at all.



Check-In #3: Spring Writing Boot Camp

After the great computer muddle from hell, I seem to have gotten back on track. One of the thing goals I’d been dying to accomplish this week was to get more drafting done. And man oh man, did I ever!

For at least a week and a half I’ve been languishing on chapter five in Amnesia Conspiracy. My standard response to drafting off the cuff tends to be overwriting in a big way. When each chapter is twenty or so pages on average, the space between finishing them can feel like an eternity. (Trying not to think about how long the first draft of the MS will be is a whole other issue.) But after some crazy bursts of inspiration and a handful of late nights, I finished it.

As its own success, that would be exciting enough. Considering chapter five sets up one of the story’s biggest conflicts and sets a major plot line in motion, I was SO super stoked to be moving forward with the awesomeness that I immediately dove into chapter six the following evening. When the weekend rolled around and it was time for me to put on the editing hat, I’d also made it deep into chapter six–about halfway if my estimations are correct. Imogene, my MC, made some pretty big decisions over the course of this new material, and I can’t wait for the repercussions to start unfolding for her.

Also hit a record high of FOUR 1000+ word days this past week. Who’s awesome?

I had a bit of a scare on Friday night when I remembered that one of my goals was to finish my revisions for Facing the Music before the end of the month. That seems a little bit lofty now, and given the craziness I’m anticipating this week, I’m not sure if I’m going to get there or not. Getting chapters 16-17 under my belt helped an awful lot though. I’m officially past the halfway point on this manuscript, which means it should be going out to my CPs by next week. That’s scary as hell for me, but so exciting too!

Short update this time around, as I’m still up to my ears in work. Hope everyone else has has similarly successful weeks!

Toning the Writing Muscle

About a month ago, I blogged about creativity as a muscle and how my own personal slump had left me empty and unable to be productive. I’ve let that post sit far longer than I meant to, but for once my reasons were good ones. There are still some health issues in the works–mostly physical, thank God–and the onset of spring means I’ve started reorganizing my space and removing excess clutter. The biggest and best reason of all, though, is that I’ve been writing.

I haven’t reached my old peak of productivity and some days mean less forward momentum than others. That said, I’ve had more writing days in March than I’ve had non-writing days. When I’m in the middle of a MS, whether it’s drafting Amnesia Conspiracy or revising Facing the Music, the time I might’ve spent on other chores or tasks or whiling away of hours totally falls away. And so far, that’s been a great thing.

My moods and overall happiness have skyrocketed in the last few weeks. Reminding myself to stay positive, to not stress so much, has become more natural, and when stress does creep in, calming myself back to neutral has been much easier. No matter how challenging it can be for me to actually sit down and work, the overall benefits of  telling my stories really does outweigh everything else.

That said, it’s been a hard road getting my writing muscles back in this kind of shape. I’m not at where I’d like to be yet, hitting 1000+ words a day more often than not, but making consistent progress on both my projects still feels like a huge accomplishment.

Focusing mostly on Amnesia Conspiracy, since that’s the WIP I’m currently drafting, here are some of the tricks I’ve been using to get more work done:

1) Charting my daily progress.

I started an Excel spreadsheet a month and a half ago to keep track of milestones for each of my current manuscripts. When I started getting serious about Amnesia Conspiracy again, I began a whole new spreadsheet for keeping track of the days I’d written, the words written per day, and the story’s total word count. I never expected something so simple to be so helpful, but watching those numbers climb on the days when I write a bunch has given me more incentive than I would’ve thought possible. The extremely helpful Susan Dennard has been doing a series on Increasing Your Writing Productivity over at her blog that contains several other ideas I’d like to implement in the next few weeks.

2) Sketching out scenes in advance.

I’m a plotter by nature, and though an outline is the only way I can finish anything, I found myself needing a little more help with AC. One night before I went to bed, I pulled up my outline to look at what still needed finishing in that chapter. Though the individual bullet points were all clear to me, I wasn’t sure how to specifically fit them together or how much time to spend on each. Blocking out the scene in my head at work the next day–drafting and redrafting until I had everything laid out the way I wanted–made the actual writing process so much easier. When I sat down to work that night the words flowed out of me, and I finished the chapter within three days.

3) Taking well-timed breaks.

Thanks to my work hours, the majority of my writing is done in the evening or at night. I’m much more of an early afternoon writer, and getting tired when I try to sit down at my computer around eight or nine o’clock has been a huge issue for me. For a while I kept trying to plow through when I’d get sleepy, but keeping myself awake wasted the energy I should’ve spent putting words on the page. Lately I’ve been getting up when I start feeling tired to do the dishes or put away laundry. Tasks that keep me moving and alert for five or ten minute increments also give me the space to brainstorm so that I can come back to the computer refreshed.

4) Searching for inspiration.

In addition to writing as a muscle, I’m sure you’re all familiar with the concept of the creative well. Writing (or painting, or composing, or designing) drain your creative well and leave you devoid of ideas or inspiration. Refilling that well is an important step, but a challenging one. I’ve definitely struggled with it in the last year or so. And though stepping away from my story has been helpful on more than one occasion, I tend to seek out other places where I might find stories to provide me with inspiration for mine.

When the writing is going slowly I read a lot more. For a long time I thought that reading was–at least subconsciously–a procrastination technique, a way to focus on someone’s finished book so I didn’t have to actually finish my own. Now I’m not so sure. I love getting engrossed in other people’s stories for a variety of reasons, but the big important one is that reading an awesome novel inspires me to aim for the same level of awesome. TV has a similar result. I don’t have a long enough attention span for movies most of the time, but a couple kickass episodes of a show I’m really into has the same effect on me as finishing a good book. It makes me want to create something that will reach people in the same way. (Star-Crossed and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are what I’m excited about right now.)

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for continued success on the writing and editing fronts, but just in case, I’m eager for more tips. What do you guys do to work the kinks out of your writing muscle, unstick your brains, and get back to work? Let me know.

Book Review #31: If He Had Been with Me

If He Had Been with Me by Laura Nowlin

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“If He Had Been with Me” was a novel I never expected to enjoy as much as I did. Based off the summary alone, I knew going in that the story centered around two childhood friends–Phineas and Autumn–and some sort of Traumatic Event that changed both their lives for good. I had my suspicions regarding the nature of said trauma, and since I ended up being one hundred percent correct, I won’t disclose those suspicions here.

Traumatic event aside, Autumn and Phineas’s story is at its heart a contemporary coming-of-age tale, set at a suburban high school in an affluent town. It’s written in a style that feels instantly familiar, using dozens of little details to ground the reader in individual moments, while the big picture stuff fades into the background. I really enjoyed how easy it was for me to tie Autumn’s high school experience–the crazy adventures with her friends, the thrill of first love, the anticipation of the future–back to my own days as a student.

The strength of the bonds between Autumn and the people she loves were what made the story stand out to me. I loved how complex her relationships with her friends, her makeshift family, and Phineas were, and the low points or high notes within each personal connection fit perfectly within the novel’s expanded timeline.

By the time I’d reached the final pages, the Traumatic Event that causes Autumn to address the title’s concerns felt almost superfluous. Whether Autumn had been able to prevent the inevitable outcome of hers and Phineas’s story or not doesn’t matter half as much as how that outcome changes her. And for a book that centers so much around how different choices can lead to different paths, that small resolution feels just right.

If you enjoy your YA quiet but immensely gripping, definitely give this a look.

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Check-In #2: Spring Writing Boot Camp

So, we can just pretend this last week never happened, right? Right? We’ve all agreed that last week was polluted water under a bridge that you’ve just blown up?

Just me? Oh. Okay.

I had the best of intentions, I really did. Monday and Tuesday weren’t 1k or more word count days, but there was enough forward momentum that I was happy with them. The beginning of the week is always my craziest time anyway, and my word counts tend to rise dramatically as the weekend approaches. This time, my mid-week writing time was interrupted by the dreaded Computer Trouble. (Yes, I am capitalizing this.)

My not quite six month old laptop has had a fair bit of Trouble in its very short life span. We’ll avoid my potential buyer’s remorse for the sake of this blog post, but let’s just say that it’s a really bad sign when your computer tries and fails to boot up, and a much worse sign when–after three attempts–it can’t even manage that much. There may have been panic, accompanied by very creative cursing.

After the better part of a night spent at Best Buy, the problem seems to have been fixed temporarily at least. The only remaining issue is that I had to refresh my computer to make it start booting up again, which means that every app or program I’d downloaded since purchasing the computer was erased. I’m old-fashioned and work in a version of MS Word that I borrowed from a friend. In an attempt to get any sort of work done, I gave Open Office a try before discovering that we weren’t meant to be.

By the time Saturday night rolled around, I’d started writing in one of my journals just to prevent my head from exploding with all the words stashed inside it. That outlet carried me through to Sunday when I was able to replace MS Office.

And there you have my long-winded explanation–or excuse–for why I accomplished almost nothing in the last week. No editing, certainly, and very little writing. My one small compensation is that I had a glorious more-than-1k day on Sunday. Encouragement for the week ahead?

Goals for this week are very simple. Finish chapter 5 of Amnesia Conspiracy this week. Two chapters of Facing the Music edited this coming weekend. Here’s hoping for smoother sailing ahead!

Book Review #30: These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I am not generally a science fiction fan, but a survival love story set in space? For me, “These Broken Stars” by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Tarver Merendsen is a decorated war hero from humble origins, thrust into a spotlight he doesn’t want. Lilac LaRoux is already used to the spotlight, but as the daughter of the richest man in the universe, she hasn’t had to work for anything in her life. When the luxury space liner they’re traveling on crash lands on a foreign planet, Tarver and Lilac must rely on each other if they’re going to get home alive.

Can I gush about the character development before I get to the romance? Because it was grand. I don’t care that there are only two characters in almost the entire story. Doesn’t matter. When you can read a whole novel almost entirely devoted to the same couple and still be disappointed that book two doesn’t focus on them some more, you’re looking at good writing. Both protagonists were so clearly influenced by their histories, even after they’d been separated from everything they knew. And though I may be in the minority here, I respected the decision not to add in too many random other people throughout the book. Much more realistic given the survival story premise.

The take on alien races within “These Broken Stars” was another thing I loved. Aliens is only an appropriate term here because this group is foreign and other to Tarver and Lilac, but I still appreciated that neither side was an aggressor. There isn’t much I can say without risking spoilers, but I thought the conflict between what these aliens wanted and how they had to get it was refreshingly handled.

And, because I can’t–read, don’t want to–skip the romance, let me just say I loved that too. This is definitely a slow burn sort of book, but dear God, the ending. I read the last 75-100 pages with my heart in my throat. As a final teaser, I’ll also say that the last chapter made me want to cheer. Sadly, day jobs tend to frown on hollering, fist-pumping employees.

If you like your sci-fi light but well-developed, give “These Broken Stars” a read. Different characters or not, I know I’m eager for the sequel.

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Check-In #1: Spring Writing Boot Camp

I’ve already mentioned signing up for the YA Buccaneers Spring Writing Boot Camp, and I talked about my goals here. Since we’re already a week and a half or so in, it’s time for my first official update.

My March goals are to finish editing Facing the Music, first and foremost, and to continue drafting Amnesia Conspiracy. (For now, we’re not going to discuss my title woes.) Although my revisions are my biggest concern right now, I’ve made far less progress than I’d like to admit. Weekends are my designated editing time for now, but I only managed one chapter over the course of this last one. An unexpected cold was largely to blame for my laziness, but it’s not the cold’s fault that I did 2/3rds of my total revisions late Sunday night when I really should’ve been asleep.

I accomplished a lot more during the first weekend of the month, and since I hadn’t officially signed up then, I’m not even sure it counts. Hoping to feel better by next weekend so that the only thing standing between me and Facing the Music is, well, me.

That said, I had one of my best drafting weeks by far with Amnesia Conspiracy, so that kind of rounds things out. Though I didn’t get any words written on Monday, I passed the thousand word mark two of the last four days of the week. Considering it has taken me MONTHS to get back in range of those numbers, I’m celebrating that as a huge success.

Goals for this week include finishing chapter 5 of Amnesia Conspiracy before Friday, which has been a huge problem of mine. I’d also like to get chapters 16-17 of Facing the Music revised before the eleventh hour of my upcoming weekend. Assuming that happens, the opening chapters may end up with my CPS by the following week.

To my teammates: I’m super excited to meet you all and start hearing about your work! Keeping my fingers crossed for smooth sailing as we head into week two!