NaNoWriMo Updates: Week 2

I’m off to a slightly better start this week, now that my last vacation of the year is behind me. Don’t expect any major progress at this point–I’ve only been back three days, after all–but at least I’ve managed to get some work done.

Here’s where I’m at right now:

1. Research

Although I feel a lot better about having one book to finish as oppose to having six, that one book is still taking a lot more time than I’d like. It’s fascinating but bleak, and I can only read in short 1-2 chapter spurts, which is slowing my process a bit. I am still aiming to be finished before this weekend is up though, if only so I can take a temporary break from researching and turn my attention to other things.

2. Continue brainstorming for my mystery

Once again, I’m hesitant to share too much in case I’ve completely misjudged my own progress (again). Let’s just say that progress is being made on my revision plan, and I’m very happy with that progress. If everything goes according to plan, this manuscript will become my number one priority once I’ve cleared a few other things off my plate.

3. Finish critiquing a friend’s MS

I have made some progress on this, and I’m hoping to make a lot more before the week is out. There’s always this stage when I start a new manuscript where I’m still learning the characters and places, still struggling to find my footing in the world of the story, and not one hundred percent sure whether the things jumping out at me actually need to be edited. I feel confident in saying that I’ve cleared that hurdle with this particular manuscript, and I know the editing/critique process will go a lot faster and smoother from here on out.

4. Potentially write or start writing another short story

Because the bulk of my energy is currently being directed to projects already in progress, starting a new project is pretty close to the bottom of my priority list. Let’s see how I feel once I’ve managed to finish a few other things.

If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, drop me a line and let me know what you’re writing. And if you’re not, tell me what you’ll be doing–or not doing–instead.

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NaNoWriMo Updates: Week 1

It might be a good thing that I’m not aiming to write 50,000 words this month, because I wouldn’t be off to a very good start! Between preparing for a friend’s wedding and my usual pre-trip stress, I haven’t accomplished much of anything in the first full week of November.

Here’s a quick rundown of the work I HAVE managed to do so far:

1. Research

I actually came to a pretty important conclusion about my research on Sunday night, when I was lying awake at one a.m. stressed out to the max, and that conclusion is this. Nobody is forcing me to plow through six dense, depressing nonfiction books in the next month except for me. There’s no reason for me to break my own back trying to set deadlines on researching, especially when I’m already super busy.

I jotted down the titles and authors of all the books I’d checked out that I still needed to read, and returned them all to the library after work yesterday. Once I finish the book I’m currently working through, I’ll check out the next one on my list and start in on that. With any luck, I’ll finish Current Book in the next couple of weeks.

2. Continue brainstorming for my mystery

Let’s just say that I’ve done a lot more brainstorming than I expected to do and leave it at that. I don’t want to give too much away until I know whether or not my brainstorming is going to come to anything.

3. Finish critiquing a friend’s MS

I’ve made decent progress, but most of that progress happened over a week ago. This is my number one priority once the wedding is behind me, and I have actual time to sit down and read again.

4. Potentially write or start writing another short story

No dice so far, I’m afraid. Maybe in the coming weeks.

If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, drop me a line and let me know what you’re writing. And if you’re not, tell me what you’ll be doing–or not doing–instead.

NaNoWriMo Updates (Sort of)

A month ago, when I still thought I’d be participating in National Novel Writing Month, I was planning to post miniature updates on this blog as a way of charting my progress toward rewriting/revising my mystery and reaching 50k. And even though my NaNo plans fell apart, I still like the idea of holding myself more accountable to my various writing projects over the next 30 days.

Here, then, is a list of the things I know I’m going to be working on this month. There’s always a possibility that I’ll add or remove items as needed, but as of right now, these are my biggest creative priorities.

1. Make a serious dent in my research for an upcoming WIP. I have six library books checked out, and I need to get through those at the very least. Maybe if I succeed, I’ll check out some more new books or take my research online.

2. Continue brainstorming for my mystery, because I still think the right story is much closer than I realize.

3. Finish critiquing a friend’s MS.

4. Potentially write or start writing another short story, because I’m still itching to write something and I don’t have any longer works ready to go.

If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, drop me a line and let me know what you’re writing. And if you’re not, tell me what you’ll be doing–or not doing–instead.

Changing Plans

I’ve written before about being change averse, and learning to cope when my best laid plans are inevitably disrupted. It’s an ongoing process, but it’s a process I’m thrilled to have started, especially during months like this one.

Right now, trying to plan for anything feels like an exercise in futility. I was planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month, which is one of my favorite yearly traditions, and I thought it’d be no trouble to put the finishing touches on my mystery revision and have it ready to go before November 1st.

Yeah. About that . . .

When I went back to review my mystery outline with fresh eyes after months of working on other projects, I poked several enormous holes in my plot right away. I knew that the set up for the mystery element of my story was complicated, but I honestly thought it was the kind of complicated that worked.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. And, unfortunately, the process of trying to fill in those plot holes forced me to confront a few unpleasant realizations about this story and it’s future. Namely, that I’ve never felt like I’ve had a good grasp on what I wanted this story to be. I love the characters and the character arcs, I love the mystery arc, and I love the themes, but I don’t have a clue how to tie all those elements together into something cohesive.

I’m not giving up on my mystery, and I still WANT to write it. For almost a month now, I’ve had this niggling feeling that I’m on the right track, and that I’m closer to finding the right story than I’ve ever been before. I just need more time to let my subconscious mull over ideas, and I’m not going to have that time if I’m rushing to prepare for NaNo.

Instead, I’m going to spend as much of the next month as I can tinkering with a different idea. This one’s still in the brainstorming stages–and believe me, there’s A LOT of brainstorming involved–so I don’t want to say too much about it. What I will say is that I’m super excited to have something to work on, even if that something isn’t a brand new draft or a brand new revision.

The other recent change I’ve been dealing with has to do with my health. For the last three years, I’ve been working out regularly to combat some mental and physical health issues, and I’ve really come to enjoy it. I don’t do anything high impact because I’ve got too many bad joints, but the improvement I’ve seen as a result of my workouts is pretty staggering nonetheless. I always try to work out at least half the days of each month, and I was on track to meet this goal for October right up until last week.

I’ve been having trouble on and off with an old tailbone injury ever since my fiancee and I got back from Europe, but it flared up badly a week ago Sunday, and I haven’t been able to do much of anything since. Logically, I know that I have to be resting in order for the inflammation to die down and the pain to disappear, but I still hate being more or less confined my couch almost as much as I hate the thought of not meeting my workout goal. On the plus side, not being mobile has left me with plenty of brainstorming and plotting time. 😉

Because I have no idea how I’m going to feel in the next couple weeks, pain-wise or writing-wise or just about life in general, I haven’t made any long-term plans recently. Instead, I’m trying to take each day as it comes and focus on the things I can control moment-to-moment rather than week-to-week.

So far, I’m pretty happy with that approach.

Good Things: Fall Addition

The last time I did a ‘good things’ post was back in May, and it turned out to be a real mood-booster for me. This spring was immensely stressful, and taking the time to reflect on the things in my life that were making me happy helped make that stress more bearable. The irony, of course, is that I was too busy or too stressed out or too distracted to make another ‘good things’ list during the summer, when I also could’ve used one.

As we shift into fall, which is my second favorite season and one of the busiest for me personally, I want to make sure I’m taking time to slow down and appreciate the good things that are happening–seasonally and otherwise. Hence, a second list:

1. Colorful leaves crunching underfoot
2. Cardigans and bright, luscious scarves
3. Crisp nights and bright, sunny days
4. Wearing sandals OR leather boots with skinny jeans
5. Moody, gray skies and moaning night winds
6. My awesome autumn Spotify playlists
7. Drinking apple cider straight from the local orchard
8. Apple donuts, apple crisp, applesauce–anything homemade, as long as it’s apple
9. The fact that the students are back in town, because the nostalgic part of me still gets a thrill out of the new beginning that each school year symbolizes
10. Finally being able to put on my trench coat
11. Busting out our (limited) autumn decor
12. The start of NaNoWriMo season, and the increased desire to create
13. Harvest season, and all the fresh veggies that come with it
14. Brainstorming pumpkin carving ideas with my fiancee
15. Wedding dress research, because I get to start shopping soon, and I’m super excited
16. Making LOTS more soup
17. Flying out to CA in less than a month to participate in the wedding of one of my oldest friends
18. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin everything!
19. Hearing about my friends’ Halloween costume ideas, because they’re all more creative costume designers than I am
20. Write-ins and making new writer friends
21. Actually submitting a couple different writing projects (!!!)
22. Cribbage games and date nights with my fiancee
23. Finally being through the worst of an enormous systems switch at work
24. Approaching my 1 year anniversary with my current employer and still liking my job
25. It’s hot beverage season!

Let me know what good things you’ve got going on in your life right now, or link me to your own list in the comments.

Today is My Birthday

Today is my birthday, and I am happy. I haven’t spent the days leading up to today angsting about getting older, or whether I’ve done anything meaningful with my life, or whether I’m ever going to do anything meaningful. I haven’t stressed (too much) about whether I’m celebrating the “right” way or celebrating the “right” things.

Instead, I had dinner with my fiancee at one of our favorite restaurants, opened the gifts that my parents shipped me, and talked to my sister on the phone for the first time in ages. I took some time here and there to appreciate how much better things have gotten since my last birthday, and reflect on the changes I’ve made.

This time last year I was unemployed, job hunting frantically and stressing about money. I was working as many side jobs as I could manage, hustling from interview to interview with fingers crossed. I was suffering from a massive crisis of confidence, and because of it, I wasn’t writing. I had a hard time letting go of my worries long enough to enjoy my birthday at all.

This year, I’m working. I found a new job that I like so much more than I would’ve guessed, and even when emergencies come up–like one did today–I get through them. I’m not writing right now, but I’m not stressing about it either. I’m still working away at my stories, and I know I’ll be ready to take the leap and start something new soon. In the meantime, I’m gearing up for an old friend’s wedding, which is taking place in less than a month. I’m beginning to tackle my holiday shopping. I’m looking forward, not backward.

My fiancee is turning thirty this year, which is a much bigger milestone than me turning twenty-eight, and when I asked him how he felt about it, he shrugged. “It’s just a number,” he said, and he’s right. Which is why I’m trying to focus more on the memories I’ve made in the past year and the ways that I’ve grown than I am on my age.

If today is any indication, I’m off to a pretty good start.

Project Post Mortem: Facing the Music

I never thought I’d actually get to say this, but I’ve finally started querying Facing the Music. It took years of my life and more work than I could’ve ever predicted, but I’m so freaking proud of how the manuscript turned out, and I honestly believe that it’s the best thing I’ve written to date.

HOWEVER. The journey from initial idea to finished manuscript was arduous, tedious, and even downright unpleasant at times. Facing the Music took more mental and emotional energy from me than anything I’ve written to date, and it has made me determined to find a more efficient, less agonizing way to create.

Enter Susan Dennard’s newsletter, which has been an absolute godsend for both my mental health and my writing. (Seriously, writer friends, if you haven’t subscribed to it yet, you should.) In one of her winter editions, she discussed the importance of evaluating each of your writing projects after they’re completed. That way, you have an opportunity to assess both the project’s successes and failures in the hopes of doing better, smoother work the next time.

I don’t suppose I need to waste anyone’s time explaining how much that strategy spoke to me. 🙂 In any case, the remainder of this post is my project post-mortem for Facing the Music, and I recognize that it probably won’t appeal to anyone but me. If you’d like to do your own project post-mortem though, feel free to drop me a link in the comments, because I am fascinated by this sort of thing.

What Went Well

1. Off the top of your head, what are you most proud of from the latest project?

FINISHING. Between a mental health crisis and work stress and other life upheaval, it’s kind of a miracle that I ever managed to reach the end.

I’m also proud of myself for sustaining the determination I needed to tackle multiple drafts worth of rewrites on my journey to finding the Right Story, and for sticking to my guns on a number of important creative decisions.

2. What went better than you anticipated? What was easier than expected?

Uhh . . . Was there anything??

Well, whenever I had a major epiphany regarding the story or its structure, the writing and revising process became significantly easier. Cutting Leslie’s POV from that initial first draft for example, as well as axing a major romantic subplot from a later draft, required far less work than I would’ve expected.

3. Were you early or ahead of schedule at any point in the process?

Considering that my initial goal was to revise this story and have it ready to query by the end of 2013? And that almost every attempt at setting and meeting my own deadlines turned out to be a colossal failure?

No. Not really.

4. Name three moments from the project that, while happening, made you feel good–good about the project or good about yourself.

  • Finishing a massive round of revisions and knowing I had a story that was almost ready to submit.
  • Receiving CP feedback on that same draft and being blown away by how overwhelmingly positive it was.
  • Reaching the end on the first draft I finished with just Evan’s POV and realizing how much more I liked the story when he was the only person telling it.

5. List any challenges for yourself/your writing that you also know you met.

  • I finished the goddamn book. Somehow.
  • I managed to portray two separate “recovery from an abusive relationship” narratives without falling back on gratuitous violence to emphasize just how bad those relationships were.
  • I succeeded in depicting a relationship between two major characters that contains plenty of chemistry and plenty of potential for romance, while still keeping said relationship platonic.
  • I wrote an entire novel in first person boy POV that I’m happy with.

What Did Not Go Well

1. Off the top of your head, what was the most frustrating part of this project?

Feeling like I was never going to reach the finish line, no matter how hard I worked, and all the crippling self-doubt and anxiety that accompanied those feelings.

2. Were there any aspects you thought would be easy that were ultimately difficult?

Literally all of them. I thought 1st person POV would be easy to master. I thought that plotting a straight contemporary standalone with no mystery or thriller elements would be easy. I thought the revision process would be easy.

Shows how little I know, huh?

3. Were you behind schedule at any point?

I spent the better part of four years behind. No joke.

4. List any challenges that you set for yourself/your writing that you DID NOT MEET.

The most important challenge that I set for myself was to have Facing the Music ready to query by the end of 2013, and I missed that goal by a mile.

5. What recurring issues did people such as your editor, critique partner(s), agent, trusted reader(s) raise with regards to your story?

Almost everyone who read Facing the Music from start to finish correctly pinpointed the lack of consistent character arcs or consistent character motivation. I’ve always struggled with how much to emphasize character motivation, which means I always err on the side of revealing too little. Because my characters’ motivations are clear to me, I have this tendency to assume that they’re going to be clear to everyone else.

Facing the Music was my first real wake-up call that you can’t write a character-driven novel without taking the time to properly develop your characters on the page. Sounds obvious, I know, but you’d be surprised at how many different people had to point that out to me before I finally got it.

6. Rank in order from what went smoothest to what went worst.

Idea Generation – 2  Once I stopped floundering through false starts and knew what I wanted the story to be, coming up with ideas was a breeze. My biggest issue has always been in knowing which ideas to pursue and which to disregard.
Planning/Outlining – 1  I would never finish anything if it weren’t my outlines, but I struggle with making the choices at the outlining stage that feel right for my story. Part of the reason it took so many drafts to find the Right Story for Facing the Music was because I didn’t quite know where to focus my planning energies.
Drafting New Words – 9  Ugh. I don’t always enjoy the writing stage of writing, and it was especially hard for me this time around due to internal and external factors. I could regularly knock out large word counts, but the number of words I wasted was pretty alarming.
Spotting Problems to Fix – 3 or 7  I might be too good at this, honestly. Spotting problems is easy for me. Figuring out when to lay my inner editor to rest and declare my work finished is really freaking hard.
Fixing Problems/Revising
5  I’ve always considered myself to be good at revising, and it usually isn’t a problem for me. But Facing the Music was the book where I realized that I didn’t know half as much about revising effectively as I thought I had. Going back to the drawing board of revision methods made for a much better manuscript in the long term, but slowed me down a lot day-to-day.
Taking Criticism – 6  I struggled more with this during my revision process than I usually do. I developed a thick skin in college, but the mental health crisis I spent far too long battling also resulted in a massive crisis of confidence. Most of the critique I received was good, and I had no trouble processing it and incorporating it into my manuscript once the initial sting wore off. But there were also a handful of criticisms that missed the mark by a mile, and left me feeling about two feet tall. Those were much harder to bounce back from.
Applying Criticism/Editing – 4  Again, this is something I tend to be super good at that caused me a ton of problems with Facing the Music. Part of that was the mental health stuff and a lack of motivation. Part of it was massive self-confidence issues that left me wondering whether my story was even worth editing. And part of that was the growing realization that I had a lot to learn about effective editing before I could get to the querying stage.
Staying Motivated – 7 or 3   Considering I spent years working on Facing the Music, almost quit the story more times than I can count, and still managed to revise it to the point where I was satisfied? I’d say I did rather well. On the other hand, I spent years working on it because there were days (and weeks and months) where I couldn’t stand the thought of opening the draft, and I almost gave up. So there’s that.
Time Management – 8   Crawling out of a depressive black hole more or less shot my ability to do anything to pieces, which meant that proper time management wasn’t an option for most of the revising process. I was a lot happier and a lot more productive when I stopped trying to set goals for myself and just worked when I wanted to work.

Other Questions

1. Did you end up with a product you are proud of?

Surprisingly, yes.

2. Did you have adequate help to complete the project? (i.e. Did you have critique partners, editorial/publishing support, family support, people to brainstorm with, etc?)

Not to the extent that I needed, which is largely my fault. I’m not a professional, so I don’t have an agent or editor. My family was supportive, but sharing my struggle with them made me feel kind of inadequate. Like I was spinning my wheels on this task that they couldn’t possibly understand the immensity of, instead of building a career or finding a better job or something more worthwhile. (Note that these are thoughts I had, not opinions my parents or anyone else I’m close to forced on me.)

I also didn’t have any CPs when I began Facing the Music, which presented its own set of problems. For one thing, I spent far more of my time trying to find trustworthy, compatible people to work with than I did working with trustworthy, compatible people. And although most of the individuals who critiqued my manuscript were lovely, I also wound up in a few different situations that were downright toxic to both my productivity and my confidence.

I did come away from the whole experience with a wonderful group of writer friends/CPs, so there is that silver lining. And my boyfriend-turned-fiancee was absolutely irreplaceable when it came to helping me brainstorm, listening to me whine, and keeping me sane.

3. Based on the previous questions, were your deadlines realistic for the project?

Ha. Hahahahahaha. No.

4. Why do you think your highest ranked (smoothest) step went well? 

Outlining gave me back a measure of control that I was otherwise lacking throughout the revision process. As long as I had an outline, I could convince myself that the subsequent writing/revising I had to do would go smoothly. Plus, outlining/planning made me feel productive on days when I wasn’t making much progress, and feeling productive was one of the only things keeping me working sometimes.

5. Why do you think your lowest ranked (worst) step was difficult?

Aside from the fact that drafting is inherently harder than revising for me, I was also quite a bit out of practice at writing new words. Combine that with the mental health stuff and the general self-confidence issues, and it’s not a surprise to me that I struggled to put words on the page.

I need to be better at making writing a habit in the future, even when my focus is on revising or brainstorming. I’m also trying to strike a better balance between a “keep calm and write crap” style of drafting, and actually writing words that won’t all need to be cut once I start revising. It’s going to be a process, that’s for sure.

Note: This postmortem also includes a timeline recap, but I feel like this post has grown long enough. I’ve got my own personal timeline for Facing the Music squirreled away on my computer that focuses on how long it took me to complete each draft and each revision. I’m planning to go back and add some personal life stuff to that timeline too, but I won’t foist that on you guys at this point.

If you like the idea of postmortems and want to tackle one yourself, feel free to link me. And if you have a different recapping process for each project you finish, I’d love to hear about it.