Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

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.


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.

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.

It’s Still Good…

Posted: December 16, 2016 in Life, writing
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I’m notorious among my family and friends for not eating my holiday candy. It doesn’t matter if that stocking is filled with all my favorites, including a Reese’s Tree (best Reese’s ever), I’ll still let it sit. I’m not certain when this habit developed, but it’s possible that I’ve never really had much of a sweet tooth. Growing up the most interesting item in my stocking was usually the Smuckers’ chapstick candy cane. You know, the one where instead of M&Ms piled within a plastic candy cane prison there is instead three tubes of chapstick. I’d bust that sucker open and smell each one in turn, making a game plan for which would be used first and which one would be saved for later.

Perhaps that’s the root of it all: saving things for later.

It’s like inside my head there should be a perfect time and place to eat the candy, that moment when all I want is peanut buttery chocolate goodness. So rather than indulge now, I keep it. Reese’s Trees have been known to exist way past the holiday season in my house. It stays in the stocking until the stockings go away, then, “Oh! I totally forgot I had candy! Let’s just put this on my desk to enjoy later.”

Weeks go by and then months. Before I know it it’s the middle of summer and I still have that Reese’s Tree lying around, accompanied by its little Hershey Kiss friends in their red and green wrappers. What complicates the problem is by this time there may be Easter candy hanging around as well. Who knows? It could be a regular past-their-prime candy party.

Finally, I eat them. I eat them far past their season and they are still delightful, but I can’t help but wonder would they be better if I’d eaten them when they were “fresh”? Does delaying the gratification of eating the sweets really do justice to them? I don’t know. It’s that time of year again and I have St. Nick’s candy in a stocking that I haven’t touched.

My writing, in recent years, isn’t all that different. I’ve been working on a book for the past three years. That’s not a finished draft that I’ve been tweaking until I feel it’s perfect. It’s literally bits and pieces, sweet little exerts that have come along at one time or another, typed up but never completed. I’ve been waiting. Waiting for the perfect time to work on it. Waiting for inspiration to strike. Waiting for my “sweet tooth” to tell me it yearns for the written word.

After three years the story is still good, still captures my imagination, but it’s stale. Like the holiday candy I hoard away, it’s missing something. Missing that thrill of the unknown. There are other shiny new stories beckoning. Fresh ideas. Yet it feels wasteful to set aside what I’ve been working on for so long. So I keep it, waiting for the right time.

I’ve decided it’s time to stop waiting. Stop hoarding. I’m starting my New Year’s Resolution early. I’m going to finish this book in 2017. July 1, 2017 I am handing over a finished manuscript to my friend the Book Gnome, because it’s time I eat my candy.

Writing Weather

Posted: November 4, 2016 in writing
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I don’t know what it is about November, but it makes me want to write.

Perhaps its the fact that by November school is well underway and my brain has settled into the rhythm of the work day. Less stress of remembering where I need to be means more time to daydream about things that aren’t work.

Maybe its the weather, as the heat of summer gives way to the ever cooling fall. Sure, there’s still plenty to enjoy outside, but when the sun starts going down around 5 the heat goes with it. No need to be outside in the chill when its comfortable indoors.

Or it could be my inbox, with its happy NaNoWriMo reminder e-mails sparking my inner Pavlovian dog to drool at the idea of a month dedicated to nothing but fictional bliss. Contrarily, I won’t be participating this year. I’ve had years when I’ve said I’m busy and then still attempted, and I’ve had others where there was nothing more pressing than the siren call of a word count, but either way for the past five years I’ve at least given it a shot. Last year I even won. (Shocking, because I’m perpetually behind in daily word counts.) This year, though, I really put myself in a bind with a play. Next week we enter tech week, and the following week we perform. There is no way in hell I have a spare minute.

Whatever it is (schedule, weather, NaNo habit, or a mysterious writing bug) I’ve found myself very much focused on the stories that exist only in my head. They kept me up a few nights ago. I wrote, fell asleep, woke at 4am and decided I couldn’t get back to sleep until I finished getting all my ideas down. Since then my brain won’t shut up. I don’t really have the time, but it’s there. Nagging me.

I can’t wait for this play to be done so I can have a little fun with my other mistress: writing.

I haven’t written in awhile because I haven’t been writing.

There. I said it. For reasons that are numerous and mostly bullshit I basically stopped writing soon after my last post. I told myself it was because I was busy, that my brain had too much to think about without forcing it to be creative, that I just needed a break.

As time passed and I busied myself with other things I continued to tell myself that I’d come back to it. That tomorrow I would write. That next week I would kick myself into high gear and start accomplishing things on paper.

Finally, I started to wonder if all my dreams of finishing my book were simply fantasies. Maybe writing wasn’t for me. Maybe I don’t have the discipline. Maybe I hold that dream up as a shield not because it’s really what I need to do but because it allows me to say that my current line of work is not forever. That as soon as I finish this manuscript I can start fixing it up. I can publish it. I can write more and maybe turn it into a job rather than a hobby.

I worried that I was hiding from some sort of truth deep down: that I don’t want to work at my current job for forever, but that I have no idea what I’d rather do so might as well hold up the banner of “writer”. It’s safer to hold up an unattainable dream than confront the problem head on.

I let the self doubt set up residence in my heart while I let my story stagnate on my hard drive.

As I sat, wondering what else I could do with myself if writing wasn’t it I suddenly found myself calling to mind all the times that it felt like writing really was it. I thought of the long-winded stories I wrote for English class back in middle school, of the afternoons in high school spent writing up fanfiction to later post online, the years of participating in group storytelling with an online RPG message board. I thought of the joy it brought me, of that feeling that nothing else was better than imagining a world and putting it on paper.

I’ve been focusing a lot on the struggle of finishing. To be honest, I’ve never attempted anything so large in scope before. Finishing a story never required stamina beyond a few weeks, and to be honest I’ve been working on my current project for almost five years. I started toying with the idea soon after securing my first professional job, and as a person who typically goes for what they want full steam I find it disheartening that I haven’t reached an end yet. That it’s still in disarray.

A few weeks ago I started organizing all my handwritten notes. All the jumbled scenes and snippets I typed up into Scrivener, labeling as I went. When I ran out, I started reading what I had, editing as I went, filling in some blanks.

I’m making progress. It is slow, but it is relatively steady compared to the months of nothing.

This afternoon I looked on my Google drive and found even more I had typed up months ago. Full scenes that flowed from one to the next that I’d forgotten I’d taken the time to type up. So I started copying and pasting them into place.

I started reading what I have and smiled, amazed by what I’ve brought into being so far. It’s more than I realized I had. Not a finished story, but not as big of a mess as I’d lead myself to believe.

A little bit of organization may be just what I needed to help me get back on track.