Same Time Next Year?

Posted: July 25, 2018 in 90-Day Novel, writing
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Humans really are cyclical creatures. I suppose it goes along with the nature of the universe. Planets spin and orbit creating days and nights. These in turn become weeks, months, years… And in the fullness of time we can remember doing something but unless it’s a life changing event such as the birth of a child or a foray into wedded bliss then the dates become a bit fuzzy.

Dates don’t really matter, do they?

No worries, Facebook is proud to present your memories from this date!

I find it funny when I realize I happened to pick the same weekend to go to the Renaissance Faire two years in a row. It’s like, “Wow, what are the odds that this would be the day I’d pick twice?”  Clearly, they’re really good.

What I find even more interesting are the odds that someone shares the same memory several years in a row. I have several friends who have latched onto some memories that have been shared on Facebook. For some it’s memes that need reviving (and I’m sucker enough to like them again the second or third time), and for others it’s pictures of their children or animals when they were oh so young and adorable (I can’t believe they were that tiny!). As I’m not one to share much on Facebook in general I wonder if they ever look back on their memories for a date and see that several are the same one just shared multiple years in a row. Does it give them a strange sense of deja vu?

I experienced my own version of deja vu the other day when I looked back on my writing notes from last year.

As you may recall (or not. This could be your first time here.) last summer I penned out a rough draft of a novel. I did the whole thing start to finish in 90 days, more or less. In order to keep myself accountable for how much I accomplished in a day I dated my work. I took it out to dinner on a regular basis and then took it back to my place to Netflix and Chill. I wrote the date in the margin along with what day of the 90-day program I was supposedly on. I wasn’t great with sticking with the program verbatim, but I accomplished my goal within the time frame so, success!

My great plan for the draft was to type it out during my off season, which for me is the school year, and have it all digitized by this summer.

That didn’t happen.

What actually happened is I tried to follow my great shining plan but in the end got caught up in a million other things and got maybe 1/3 of it typed up. The rest hung out in notebook limbo. Long story short, and circling back around to the beginning, I’ve been continuing my efforts this summer and it’s involved some hefty editing. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished a lot and the end of summer break is looming.

To make myself feel better about my progress I decided to look back at my notebook and see where I was in the story at this point last year. I assumed I had to be further along in the story.

I’m not.

I’m at the exact same spot.

Go figure.

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This post has been a long time coming not only because I finished my own 90-day novel back on Labor Day weekend (September 1), but also because I’ve flirted with this book before and never gone all the way.

I first came upon Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel in my local library sitting among the other “How to Write” books. Looking back, it’s very strange to me that a library, which only allows books to be borrowed for 21 days and then renewed once has a book that takes 90 days to finish. Who thought getting a book that a patron can only get through half of in the allotted time was a good idea? If it wasn’t one of the librarians then it means it was suggested by a patron who was looking to get it but didn’t want to invest money unless they were sure they liked it.

In any case, the book somehow found its way onto the shelves of my local library and my much younger self thought I should check it out. I’m sure my initial thoughts were that it was a formula, a step by step process to how a person would accomplish writing a book within 90 days. (Spoiler Alert: I’ve since found that the magic formula to writing within a time limit is to sit your ass in a chair and actually write. NaNoWriMo has people writing books within 30 days, and some indie authors are putting out a book a month. Don’t even get me started on how fast the guys over at The Self Publishing Podcast seem to put stuff out because those guys are nuts.)

Anyways, back to the point: The 90-Day Novel is, in some ways, a formula, and in other ways it’s a cheerleader supporting you as you sit your ass in a chair and write.

Watt opens by explaining his own journey of writing a book in 90 days. He was traveling for work and thought with all the free time he had to himself he might as well dive in and write a novel like he always wanted to. That book (Diamond Dogs) happened to do really well (a fact that he has no shame in putting out there as his credentials) and earned him a lot of money. He figures if he could do it, you can too.

The 90-Day Novel is a self-guided 90-day workshop. After the preliminary explanation of how your time will be split between pre-writing and actually drafting it takes you day by day through a series of motivational reflections and writing exercises until you hit day 90 and have a finished draft in front of you. To help you along the way there are additional writing exercises in the back as well as a sample outline.

The premise is simple enough, and if you’re self-motivated it is possible to complete the task you’ve given yourself within the stated time frame. I am not very good at sticking to a schedule, hence why I’ve started this book at least three times before and never gotten too far with it. This time around I took the schedule with a grain of salt and that seemed to do the trick.

The Formula Part: You spend a lot of time pre-writing. The first 30 days of the process is emptying your head of all the ideas for characters, setting, plot and it gives a free-form way to grasp how to write an outline. I’ve never outlined anything in my life. Okay, so back in high school I think I was required to submit an outline along with a research paper for my AP Psychology class, but that’s not quite the kind of outline we’re talking about here.

Research paper outlines are like using a GPS. The turns are all there, laid out for you. Fiction outlines are more like planning a trip before we had GPS. You have this huge road map, you find the two points, and you mark a route in red pen only to find out roads are under construction and you need to detour. In the past, I’ve been a pantser, which is to say I had a destination, and I was pretty sure my internal GPS could handle it, so I just started driving and maybe got lost somewhere along the way because I really wasn’t familiar with the city.

The Non-Formula Part: After you spend 30 days imagining your world, story, and characters, it’s time to take them out for a test drive and see if they can really get you where you planned to go. There is no short-cut for this. You have to do the work. If you don’t actually sit down and write getting it done within the 90 days is going to be tough. To help you on your way, Watt has written little anecdotes and cheerleading pieces to reassure you you’re doing a good job and you’re where you need to be. This is coupled by “road signs” such as “by the end of this week you should be at…” or “Don’t worry about it if you aren’t very far in this part of the story, we are spending a lot of time in Act 2.”

Does it work?

It worked for me.

Did I finish in 90 Days? Yes, but I took a lot of days “off”.  For me, it was 63 days of actual writing. From the day I started the pre-writing until the day I wrote “The End” I sat my butt in a chair for 63 days. That’s less than advertised. So depending on output/length of your story it is possible to finish early. However, 63 days doesn’t mean I sat my butt down every day for 63 days straight. Looking at my dates of June 7th through September 1st that’s a total of 86 days. I will say, I skimped on the ending. I needed to be done before I went back to work and I wrote a lackluster ending that I knew needed more time and effort but I figured I’d handle that in post as it were. (Considering the edits I’m doing, I probably would have scrapped the denouement anyways, but it doesn’t change the fact that I cheated the work in the interest of keeping to a deadline.)

Overall, I liked The 90-Day Novel. I thought it was a good way to break the process down into friendly bite-size bits, and hey, it got me to outline for the first time, which is a skill I plan to cultivate more in the future. Bottom line is, if having a daily routine is going to help you immensely then this may be the book for you. I know I got locked into the habit of reading the daily entry and then getting to work. A few days I refused, nay, found myself incapable of starting before I read the blurb cheering me onward. Still, it’s not a strict task master, and it’s really possible to take it and make it your own. Truly, I didn’t do all of the daily prompts but I still found the suggestion to pre-write really helpful in planning out my book. So many cool things were discovered there.

I’d recommend buying it. But if you’re just not sure it’s for you, check to see if your local library has it. You can get all the way to Day 42 before you’ll have to return it.

The three month vacation that punctuates every school year has come to an end. Tuesday morning I put on what I hoped looked professional (though not what was originally planned due to crazy cold weather that barely broke 60), and headed out to make new co-worker friends and perform the dance of small talk.

Long vacation periods in winter, spring, and summer invariably come with two small talk dialogue options. Before you leave it’s always, “Have any big plans for the summer?” When you come back people want to know, “How was your summer? Go on any big trips?”

My response to the pre-break question is always, “No big plans, just going to get stuff done around the house.”

My response to the post-break questions is typically, “Nothing much…” and then I expound on some festival I attended (Renaissance Faire, State Fair), or a trip up to visit my aunt and uncle who live up north.

The simple answer to why I never have anything big to share is that I have no money. Ongoing student debt from my 7 years in college combined with an unexpected (aren’t they always) appendectomy a few years ago really did a whammy on my ability to splurge, and so I have fun with what I have, which in this case was a lot of time.

Yes, the summer months were spent enjoying all that summer has to offer such as warm (but this year almost never sweltering) weather, no schedules, and the blissful calm of moving to a new apartment that left me being the only person in it during working hours.

Oh, and also I did this.

Furball Finished 1

That, my friends, is a complete rough draft for a novel. It is the result of sitting down every day after seeing my boyfriend off to work, and writing.

I learned a lot about my writing process this summer. For example, I found out I really do need to get my work done right away in the morning because otherwise I get terribly distracted. There’s always some chore calling my name, or the rabbit hole that is the internet. I also found out that the reason I haven’t finished the book I’ve been working on for the past 3 years is that if given the opportunity I will tinker away at the words, because it’s easier than pulling ideas directly from my brain.

Yes, writing a rough draft is haaaaaard. You start out all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited to get things down, and as you go you start realizing that there are parts you don’t want to write, or the mountain of plot that lay ahead is just too long a journey. You want to be done. You want to celebrate an accomplishment. You want to move onto something else that isn’t so difficult, or you haven’t spent so much time on. (Okay, so maybe all that was just me. I’m projecting all of my struggles onto you. Sorry.)

The easiest part was the climax. (That’s what she said?) That scene turned into my final day of writing. Suddenly everything was easy, and I hit a point where I realized I couldn’t stop. I had to keep going. (It didn’t hurt that I was 4 days away from the new school year and had promised myself I would be done before I walked through those double doors into the school building. That kind of motivation is amazing.)

That fervor of needing to finish was actually more exciting than writing the words “The End.” No joke. I wrote those final words, turned to my boyfriend and said, “It’s done.” No thrill of excitement, just cold, hard facts. He looked up from his video game, smiled, and said, “I’m so proud of you.” Then we went back to ignoring each other as I sat, unsure what to do, and he more than likely unsure what else to say in my lack of excitement. When I had explained to him a few hours earlier that I really just had to write and get it finished because I had this burning need to do so he was as excited as I was. I imagined an ending where I threw up my hands in joy, wrapped my arms around my boyfriend, and we made ourselves a few adult beverages to celebrate.

The reality was…underwhelming.

Surreal.

I mean, I had spent the last three months (the whole of my summer vacation) working towards this goal, and now it was over. I was Inigo Montoya.

Drafting Business

It helped that it was a Friday and as such I had a weekend of board games and socializing to distract me. That made the transition easier.

However, when the weekend was over, and the work week begun, I sat in my living room wondering what to do with myself. I had seen my boyfriend off to his job at 6am. I didn’t start work until 8am. Normally I would be writing at this time. (or napping, cuz let’s face it, waking up with boyfriend’s alarm at 4:30am when you have nothing else to do with your day warrants going back to bed and trying again), but I couldn’t do that.

I sat, basking in the gentle yellow glow of the lamp, the world outside still dark, picked up my draft, and started reading it.

So far, it’s not too bad.

Never split the party.

In the world of DnD that is perhaps the Golden Rule of adventuring.

Bad things happen when you split your party.

I’m sure there have been times when my gaming group has split up our characters and things went just fine. We came, we saw, we conquered, and we got some really great XP and loot to divide between far fewer than the normal group number. Ding! We level up early! Yay!

Those times are hazy in my memory. What stands out are the moments it did not work out in our favor.

I had been gaming for about a year when I saw this Murphy’s Law play itself out. Adventuring in a giant city we were schmoozing one of the head honchos and hoping to get out of it all relatively unscathed. When things were going good our Bard decided to wander off down the hall. And then things turned sour. Negotiations didn’t work out and we found ourselves in initiative. Things were bad enough being down a man… and then the Bard came back with several more giants in tow.

Miraculously, we all got out alive.

My group seems to skew lucky in that way when in combat. Our DM once sent a trap that our tank fell into, finding himself face to face with a HUGE earth elemental. Any other player would have been dead, but the dwarf’s armor class was so high the elemental needed to roll a 19 or 20 to hit him. He downed that monster all by himself. We were all totally jealous.

But splitting the party doesn’t always happen in combat. It happens out of combat, in towns when everyone gets to hang loose. These are the moments my gaming group forgets the rule, and it’s when we have the worst luck.My Bard once thought nothing could be more satisfying than setting the Paladin up with a nice wench. He was wound awfully tight and needed to chill out. Little did I know that wench was a shape-shifting monster who attacked him the moment his armor was off. Another time my Barbarian was left alone in a bar when a shifty Rogue intent on joining the party sidled my way. This set in motion a chain of events no one could have seen coming. Party members fought party members and we opened a gateway to hell that popped out demons like candy from a machine. The world imploded. The game ended, and we sat in awe at the havoc we had reaped upon the world by splitting up.

Never split the party.

In my writing life I forgot this all important rule. I know it doesn’t apply to exciting story telling. After all, who wants things to go as methodical as possible? Boring. However, there it was in the back of my mind, the idea that the whole group was going to make it out of the dungeon they were delving. I had it all planned out. One of them is chicken shit and stays behind, the other two make it to the treasure and then they come back for him.

I neglected to consider how the dungeon works. There are magical transports that one cannot come back from. You need magic of your own to get back through. They were hoping to get a special magical item at the end of all things that would make that possible…but they aren’t getting it. It isn’t there anymore. I had forgotten that there would be no magical deus ex machina to solve all their problems.

As soon as the door closed on the party member who stayed behind one of my characters remembered what I had forgotten, and it floored me. I had known this was coming, and yet I hadn’t. I went to work considering other methods of character retrieval and then remembered the all important villains whose plans do not make rescuing possible. The attack will be brutal and the two remaining party members will be forced to flee.

They may not be able to come back.

I had split the party, and casualties are inevitable. Things are not going to go as easily as I had planned, and no matter the argument that as an author I can change the flow of events to create a reality in which it all works out I realize that I don’t want to. I don’t want their lives to be easy; I want them to be real. I want my characters to deal with adversity in ways they did not expect.

So, much like the Fellowship of the Ring loses Gandalf, my group is losing a member. He may come back as Gandalf the White, but he will not be present for the next leg of the journey.

That’s what happens when you split the party.

Boomerang

Posted: March 31, 2017 in Uncategorized
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I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a nail biter. 31 years old and I still can’t kick the habit. It’s not for lack of trying, either. In fact, there are times when my nails get so long I actually need to cut them; when everything goes according to plan and I hardly think about them.

Then life hits, stress levels adjust, and I’m right back to ripping, biting, and gnawing.

It’s a nervous habit. The older I get the more I realize it doesn’t have much to do with a desire to bite them, it’s more of a compulsion. It happens in the moments I’m not thinking about it. I’m sitting at my desk, fiddling with an edge of a nail and then suddenly there is a divot, a small indentation that my other nail fits perfectly into. I worry at it, and then it is gone, leaving a jagged, uneven mess in its place. Can’t leave it like that, so I continue to pick and bite until it has achieved a new level of sameness, one that is far shorter than it started.

Every time I do this I wonder why I didn’t just grab my nail clippers. I have them. They travel in my purse for times like that when an edge needs to be cut. Only clipping them doesn’t seem to satisfy the compulsion, the urge, the need to relieve some inner anxiety in a physical way.

No matter how hard I try, I never seem to form the habit of leaving my nails alone. There are moments of triumph and then agonizing defeat.

Likewise, the road to writing has been bumpy this month.

February went off without a hitch. I upped my word count for a total of 3,532 for the month.  I was looking forward to another increase for March.

It didn’t happen. While February was full of nothing but smooth growth, March saw things torn apart. Life was too much and the tenuous hold I’d made upon creating a new habit was destroyed. My writing this month looks much like my nails. Not much more than a nub.

April will be better.

Partner Work

Posted: February 6, 2017 in writing
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Part of the school experience is getting assigned group projects. The size of the group varies but it always means you and at least one other person. This is no doubt supposed to teach us how to work together with others towards a common goal. As a child it always meant a really big project but if I worked with the right person it could be not only doable but enjoyable.

Invariably, there also comes a time when you get paired up with someone you don’t want to work with, who shirks their half and pisses you off. For me, a particularly clear memory of this is my senior year in high school. The class was Physics, and already that was a black mark against this from the start because I had a really hard time understanding Physics. There were all these formulas, and terms, and math…math I didn’t quiet understand. I didn’t do well in physics, which added particular stress to the whole partner issue.

Anyways, we had been assigned lab partners and while I had no particular grudge against the boy I was partnered with, that soon changed as he spent way more time fraternizing with friends than doing any work. By the end of class we had completed the lab but the write-up left something to be desired. Rather than make plans to call him in up after school to finish it up I did what any introverted, independently minded, pissed-off girl would do: I took it home, finished it by myself, and handed it in without his name on it.

The teacher saw straight through me and told me he couldn’t accept the assignment if we hadn’t done it together.

I said, “Fine.” Then I proceeded to not hand it in at all.

At the time I felt I was making a point, though I’m not sure what that was. Perhaps I felt it should have been obvious why I hadn’t finished it with my partner. More than likely I didn’t want to get into a discussion about how my partner hadn’t done any of the work lest it turn into a big deal.

I took the zero. And now that I think about it, he did too. I’m not sure if his semester grade could handle it, but mine couldn’t. As a student who was typically A’s or B’s, my C average really didn’t need a zero to help it sink any further towards a D. But I did it, and the experience reinforced the idea that most of the time it’s better to work alone. Group projects are great fun with friends, and sometimes necessary, but overall a person can really only count on his or herself.

This trip down memory lane isn’t just cathartic; it has a point.

My friend, Carlos, recently got interested in podcasting, and like anyone who has an idea but isn’t sure how to implement it, he came to the group with his idea and looked for support. Like any good group of friends we offered ideas and told him we were totally on board to help him in this.

The problem was that Carlos wanted a podcast in the style of old radio, much like the Thrilling Adventure Hour. He envisioned a fantasy-based story with monsters and mayhem, and was looking not only for people to add their voices to his cause, but also to help him brainstorm and write.

Here enters the bystander effect wherein we were great with initial ideas and help and then fizzled in execution. There were too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough leadership. Someone had to step up and say, “This is what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

Much like my Physics lab, it didn’t get done.

We took the zero, and Carlos networked with some other friends to create a simpler podcast about Vs Card Games which has now branched out to encompass board games as well. (Shameless plug, if you are a Vs Gamer you should check them out at Team Attack.)

The original podcast idea fell to the wayside.

Then, because nothing ever dies on the internet, Carlos stumbled upon the little bit of work we had gotten done on GoogleDrive. He texts me up and tells me he’s still interested if I am. I say, “Sure. When can we get together and hammer this thing out?”

We set a date, I come over, and after three hours we had a 10 minute long script and ideas for the next 4 episodes to finish the story arc. This is the first time since middle school I have written collaboratively. Writing has been a solo adventure for me. I do it, I share it with people I’m close with so they can have a look, but I don’t work together with people to get actual writing done. If you have a strong idea of something it’s really hard to let it go in favor of someone else’s idea. You have a clear picture and then they gum up the works with their ideas, and then there’s secret upset because things aren’t going as you planned.

I’m guessing here.

The experience was miraculously smooth. And fun! Oh my gosh I forgot how much I like only writing dialogue! Especially dialogue that is flippant! I feel like it’s my true medium, and so much easier to work through brain blocks when there’s another person there to think of what happens next.

So I guess my point is that sometimes it’s good to have a group project, even if past experience has taught you otherwise.

Satisfying Resolutions

Posted: January 29, 2017 in writing
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New Year’s Resolutions are difficult. Every year we hear about people making them and then breaking them. There’s a good reason for that. Changing your life is hard. It’s so easy to fall into the slump of comfort, of the familiar, of returning to old habits.

I wouldn’t call what I’m doing now as “killing it”, but its better than nothing. In the past 29 days I’ve written 2,490 words. This is a little shy of the 100 word a day goal I have set myself this month. Not bad considering I didn’t write 100 words every day. In fact, if I sat down 3 days a week that would have been fantastic, but I didn’t even come close to changing my daily habits.

What has changed is my level of focus. I’ve prioritized writing. Making smaller “to-do” lists has been beneficial as well. I’ve been trying my hardest this year to put three priorities on my list a day. This stops me from succumbing to overwhelm, as in the past I’ve made lists of everything that needs to get done and picking off the list as I went (not to mention adding). By keeping it at three it limits the scope of my focus.

I don’t feel like I have to do everything. It’s made sitting down to write very freeing. By having only three things on my list a day it allows me to feel empowered to write. If it makes my list I feel free to come home and write first.

The low word count requirement takes over the pressure I feel when I sit behind a keyboard. If writing is on the to-do list but I find myself exhausted or mentally taxed from work it’s only 100 words. Every time I sit down I surpass the goal, allowing me to feel satisfied that I’m succeeding.

I’ve made a lot of progress this month. I’m looking forward to making even more next month.