On Writing – The Benefit of a Writer’s Group

Years ago, I was a member of a local writer’s group. It petered out, for reasons I do not remember. Since then, I have regularly met my cousin and writing mentor at Starbucks to write, talk about writing, brainstorm together and occasionally procrastinate together. Meeting Mark has been incredibly important to my development as a writer. His advice has been sound at every turn and, most importantly, his staunch belief in my talent has kept me going when I have wanted to give up.

While we reach each others drafts we rarely read in progress work, which is why I was excited to be invited to join a local writer’s group by a woman I met at the DFW Writer’s Conference. I attended my first meeting three weeks ago. The first two weeks the feedback was great. They loved my characters, voice and descriptions and had great suggestions for improvement. To say I went into this Monday’s meeting with an outsized amount of confidence I would receive more of the same is an understatement. I knew the section I was reading needed work and told them so before I started. I looked forward to their ideas on how to improve what I felt was a pretty rough patch but was still pretty good.

Then, I started reading.

About four pages in I stopped, looked at my group and said, “I’m bored. This sucks.”

They all looked a little sheepish, disagreed that it sucked but agreed that it was boring, contained too much description and would pull the reader out of the novel. Then, one of them said, “So far, this book is about a man’s first day on the job. Lots of meeting people. You need to drop him and the reader right into the action.”

Boom. What a great piece of advice. Advice I Knew, but apparently forgot while suffering from Description Diarrhea Syndrome. I was so caught up in describing the town, setting it up as the location of many more novels, creating the town as character, I forgot to tell this story, the story of Jack, Ethan and Ellie. I focused too much on the head and not enough on the heart.

The good news is the next day I wrote 2,250 words. The bad news is I haven’t written a word since. Life. What are you gonna do? But, I have constantly been thinking about these characters and their story and reminding myself the town will become the character I want when I show it through the characters’ eyes and actions.

Five Things I’m Looking Forward to This Week

The End of the Election

Not only am I tired of reading about it on the websites I visit, I am tired of being a slave to those websites. I can’t help myself. I check them constantly for new stories about the election. I am just torturing myself because nothing changes. Surely you know me well enough to realize I will go to great lengths, even if they are masochistic lengths, to procrastinate, and this election has been a black hole of procrastination since the Denver debate.

This Setee

The home improvement projects are done. Yea! Now, we are waiting for furniture to be delivered to finish it all off. One couch will be delivered Wednesday. It is the piece of furniture I’m alternatively most excited for and nervous about. I’m excited because it is a bit out of the box, style-wise, for me. My house needs a bit of a punch. I’m nervous because I don’t know how comfortable it will be to sit in while watching tv with the family. I can pretty much guarantee the big, comfy couch will be commandeered by the kids and my husband.

The Girl

I have this HBO movie about Alfred Hitchcock on my DVR. I’m just trying to find time to watch it.

My Own Private Nano

Despite not writing yesterday and today, I am not deterred or depressed. I’m not stopped down about what to write but about how to write it, i.e. should I introduce another POV character? How many POV characters is too many? In other news, Scrivener is allowing me to jump around in my document and write what inspires me. That makes writing much easier.

Skyfall

Every time I write about being excited about a new release I never go see it. This weekend will be different because we have no children’s sports responsibilities. Plus, I think I can convince the boys and my husband to go with me.

On Writing – National Novel Writing Month

Image from mysynonym.com

Ah, November. So much happens in November. The leaves finally turn and drop in Texas. My birthday. Thanksgiving. Fall sweeps. And, most importantly, National Novel Writing Month.

From the Website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2011, we had 256,618 participants and 36,843 of them crossed the 50K finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

I didn’t officially participated in NaNoWriMo last year because I was working on my historical fiction novel. (One rule of NaNo is you must start the novel from scratch.) This year I am working on the mystery I wrote during NaNo a couple of years ago.  Maybe one day I will be at a point where I can take part again, but not this year. That doesn’t mean I won’t use the idea of NaNo’s daily word counts with my current project. In fact, setting a word count goal this month will help me meet my goal of finishing the first draft of this novel by the end of this year. Maybe, I will finish the first draft this month and can use December to work on the second draft. I would like to start the sequel to my historical fiction novel in January.

To reach 50,000 words by November 30 a participant needs to write 1,666 words per day. Since, I already have 44,000 words I do not need to write 50,000 words. I want to keep this novel at 75,000 which means my daily writing goal for November is 1,000 words per day, or four pages. It is amazing how much more doable 1000 words sounds than 1,666.

Wish me luck!

On Writing – I’m Finished. Next Rabbit Hole, Please.

Last month, I finished my first novel.

I have been writing consistently for ten years, though not consistently well. I have four unfinished novels on my hard drive and too many story fragments to count. I start, stop, move on to the next great idea, start editing and abandon it when the going gets difficult or when the story shows little resemblance to my original idea.  To say I have ADD when it comes to writing is an understatement. That is why the completion of this novel is such a big deal for me and my writing future. I stayed focused, did not get discouraged during the editing process and received constructive criticism without losing confidence in my abilities.

I proved to myself I can do it.

Of course, that was the easy part. The hard part is trying to get published, a process I already loathe. Hurry up and wait. We’ll get back to you sometime. Maybe. I know the chances of this novel getting published are slim to none. There are too many opportunities in the process to receive a “no” to realistically believe that I will be one of the lucky few that get my novel on a bookstore shelf.  I get it. Rejection I can handle, it’s the waiting that sucks.

It’s a good thing I have another novel to keep me occupied. I am working on a contemporary mystery I wrote for NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. It needs fleshing out but not a re-write, thank God. While I’m working on this, I am outlining and researching the sequel to the historical fiction novel I just completed. The plan is to finish the mystery and start work on the sequel. While working on the sequel, I will edit the mystery. I hope to be able to always be writing a novel and editing another.

It was difficult the first couple of weeks to resist the urge to go back to the novel and tweak it. I can see how easy it would be for someone to work on a novel like that for years and years, getting so caught up in that novel that they fail to work on new stuff. As I plan the sequel, I already know there are a few things I’m going to have to tweak but not now. I know if I open the file again I will be sucked down the rabbit hole. Frankly, as much as I love the story and characters, I’m ready for a new rabbit hole.

 

NaNoWriMo Wrap-up – The Beginning in the End

Image from mysynonym.com

My neglect of Swamp of Boredom this past month has been almost criminal. I blame my inability to multi-task in my writing life. To wit, if I am focused on writing fiction, I feel guilty when I write for the Swamp. If I focus on writing regularly on the blog, my fiction writing takes a back seat. It is something I need to balance and it is what I am going to focus on in the new year. But, that sounds suspiciously like a New Year’s Resolution which is something I need to save for the Second Annual Twelve Days of Boredom.* Try to contain your excitement.

*Feel free to suggest Boredom topics in the comments.

I’ll leave you in suspense no longer: I did not reach the NaNo goal of 50,000 words. You probably guessed that when my posts about NaNo fell off into the abyss. In years past, this failure would result in much rending of garments and self-flagellation. Not this year.  This year I am determined to look at all of the positives that came out of setting a huge goal and failing. What are those positives? Glad you asked.

  1. I set a goal. Seems like a stupid positive but for someone that struggles with writing movtivation it’s a good step. (Another thing I’ve learned: writing is all about steps.) Have I set goals before? Yes. But I haven’t set one in a while, not since I abandoned the edits of my Great Unfinished Mystery. Setting a goal, even if I did it on the spur of the moment (October 31) and didn’t meet it.
  2. All the reading/research I’ve been doing for the past couple of months paid off.  The danger with me writing historical fiction is I’m a bit like the dog from UP! I’ll be going along just fine until something catches my eye. Then I’m off, chasing squirrels. Research is a bit like that for me. I can quickly go down a rabbit hole of history when all I wanted to know was if the Galveston Opera House was open in December of 1870. Before I re-started this novel, I took a couple of months to read about the west – the soldiers, the settlers, the Indians – as much as I could. Immersing myself in the world kept my need for research while writing to a minimum. I’m always going to be distracted like this; an innate curiosity is in my nature. But, it is nice to know that with a little preparation and some willpower, I can keep the Squirrel Hunting in check.
  3. The spark is still there.  I thought I lost the desire to write. I haven’t. It was just dormant.
  4. The desire to write is directly related to my ability to write. They are symbiotic. I want to write because when I’m writing, it is clicking. Flowing. There have been challenging scenes and chapters. I’ve taken days off so I can think about what to do next. These little breaks don’t break me like they have in the past. I don’t take this time as a sign that I suck and I need to just give up hope of ever achieving anything. Sometimes, you just need to let the character percolate a bit, let them take a breath before they tell you what happens next.
  5. I’m wonderfully distracted. All the time. My husband asked me the other day if everything was alright, that I had been quiet lately. Actually, I’m great. I’m just thinking about my novel. The downside of that is I’m a bit possessive of my writing time (see above reference to not posting here) and a little short tempered when someone interrupts all of my Great Thoughts.
  6. Stop being so goddamn critical. Man, this is hard for me. The problem is, I want to be a better writer than I actually am. I am trying to embrace what my talent level is and stop wishing I was Michael Chabon or Jonathan Franzen (how sad that I’m struggling to think of a literary female writer). I am what I am. My goal is to entertain and tell a good story, not win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

There you have it. What I’ve learned from my “failure.” Though here’s the thing: I wrote 21,000 words in November. I haven’t seen that kind of creative output for years. That, my friends, is why I will always be a proponent of NaNoWriMo. Just setting the challenge kicked me in the ass and got me to writing, something I couldn’t do for myself. For writers struggling to make their first sale or complete their first manuscript, that is the best lesson of all.

 

NaNoWriMo Day 16 – “Kill or hang them all.”

Image from mysynonym.com

Today was a great day. I wrote three thousand, six hundred and twenty eight words.

3,628

Or, for my husband who would rather know number of pages, 17. (No, I don’t know how many published pages that is and, frankly, I don’t care right now. That’s a bridge I have yet to cross. Hell, I can’t even see that bridge on the map. Yet.)

Chapter 4 is done.

What chapter 4 accomplished:

  • Introduced a real life historical figure
  • Personalized and gave life to two characters that, unfortunately, are going to die in about 10 pages
  • Gave some backstory and personality shading to the main character
  • Introduced another character that will leave the scene for a chunk of the book but will return for a big role in the denoument.

I’d call today a good day. Chapter five should be shorter; hopefully I can knock that out tomorrow. Then, finally, I will be into what I have already written, re-writing it for a first person perspective and tweaking character information/actions based on the backstory I have created for them since I first started this novel. I am very excited!