Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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.

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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
Tags: , , , ,

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.

Satisfying Resolutions

Posted: January 29, 2017 in writing
Tags: , , ,

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.

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.

It’s that time of year again, and as such I feel the need to make the obligatory post, not only because I think it’s a fantastic program, but also because much like a gambler I’m typically “all in”.

Despite my past history of always saying “Yes! I’m doing it!” the decision to participate in this fall’s NaNoWriMo wasn’t an easy one. I had already come to grips that November is an awful month for me, full of busy things that I’ve committed to and hinder my ability to give it 100%.  That and nothing is more disappointing than knowing all that, participating anyways, and getting maybe 10,000 words to page. Yes, it’s 10,000 words more than I would have if I didn’t write, but as a writer they are words I probably would have gotten down anyways.

Anway, through a strange twist of events I find myself looking at my schedule and realizing it isn’t as full as prior years. I could actually give it the old college try and make a real go of it. Typically, this realization would have been met with a “Hell yeah!” but instead I found myself waffling for several reasons.

1. NaNoWriMo Events

I’ve always been intrigued by the write-ins that happen during NaNoWriMo and whether it was just the fact that I was booked any night that they had one, or just didn’t want to travel twenty minutes to the opposite side of town, I’ve been to all of one. I love the idea. It’s not conducive to my work ethic (I chat way too much in group environments), but the ability to bond with other writers that I would otherwise not run into is an amazing opportunity. Now I have more time but the closest event is an hour’s drive away…grrr.

2. The Commitment

I already set aside time to write… just not nearly as much as NaNoWriMo requires. My inner lazy-bones bristles at the idea of increasing the time I already devote, especially when it thinks of how much 50,000 words can accomplish. I’ve been working on a project for almost a year now and I hoped I would be much farther along. Putting into perspective how much could get done in a month if I put my nose to the grinding stone makes me feel a little…guilty. No one likes to feel guilty.

3.The Prep-Work

In doing NaNoWriMo I wouldn’t be doing it as a normal participant. I’d be a rebel, working on what I’ve been trying to get through and put it to bed. To do this requires a lot of extra prep-work. I’m one of those fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants people who writes the scenes that spring to mind first and fill in the blanks later. More than that, I like to write with pen and paper first, and then transfer it to the computer. This means when I get going I can have a great many pages that are written but after awhile I lose my main thread and have to put them together in a document so I can regain my footing on the story.

I have a lot of papers that haven’t been transferred. It’s causing the equivalent of that awful word “writer’s block”, which as I’ve previously discussed I agree isn’t really a block it’s the brain revolting. After writing down a bunch of scenes I tend to lose track of which scenes I still need and the flow of the story. Putting them together helps me back on track… it’s also a lot of work.

 

So, last night I thought of all these items that were stopping me and decided “screw it!” I bit the bullet and signed up for NaNoWriMo yet again.

As the prep-work is the one thing I can control the plan is as follows.

1. Turn the handwritten to digital

I have one week to gather together my schnibbles and put them into digital files so I know what I already have done. This is really something I would have to do anyways and was procrastinating on so Yay! Taking Initiative!

2. Make a Scene Plan

Like I said, I’m a pantser, but as such I do tend to get gaps in my story. I don’t have a problem filling the gaps in, but I have to know they exist. So I’m going to make a list of what I have and gaps between them to fill in ideas of what I need.

3. Put Order to the Plot Bunnies

I don’t know if you do this, but I tend to write a scene and then write a discussion with myself as to character motivations, backgrounds, or thoughts on how things need to get fixed. I have a lot of these running around. It would be helpful if the ones that were answered got discarded and those not were taken into consideration moving forward.

If I know what I’m doing perhaps I won’t have so many moments of writing memos to myself.

 

In all honesty, this is way more structured than I’m used to, but when you have 30 days to get down 50,000 words a little forethought is helpful.

I won’t even think about the fact that I’m probably cutting out weekends from my writing schedule. That way lies madness.

What about you? Joining? Abstaining? Weighing your options until the last possible moment?

While I was procrastinating enjoying some much needed and well earned reward time for being an awesome campnanowrimoer I came across the following video. Dustin Lance Black (who is apparently an Oscar winner but I don’t recognize him because I live under a rock) details how he goes about outlining his scripts. The process is amazing and overwhelming all at the same time. Go ahead, take a look.

I love what he has to say about his “vomit draft”. The first ten pages are something presentable that he wouldn’t be ashamed to share with someone and then the rest of the 100 pages he allows himself to write crap because he’s just regurgitating what he’s already imagined so many times. This is a brilliant point in regards to the first draft. Many writers fuss and tweak, unable to just let themselves put it all down.

That’s why NaNoWriMo is so fantastic for me. Do I still agonize over word choices? Sometimes. But because there’s a word count involved I can’t agonize too much because the words will never get done. For those of you keeping score at home I’m at a little over 6,000 words. According to word goals I should have over twice that much. In fact, I have about 10,000 words to make up to get back on track. This summer has been a lot rougher than last year. Last year I got up, wrote, and was done with it. Yes, I fell a bit behind on weekends, but I more than caught up by the end. This year…well, this year my schedule is a bit different. My dog is a big older and he’s decided he loves me more than ever before…or something like that. I wake up, eat, and the dog is immediately on me to go for a walk, which at his pace could take half an hour to an hour. This is not taking into consideration that even after the walk he is sometimes not sick of me yet and requires my full attention or he will not stop barking.

That and I had several family members in town during the first week and it had a serious impact on how much time I devoted to getting words down. I’m not blaming them. I love hanging out with them and treasured every minute. But my word totals took a serious hit. And here I am procrastinating further because I really wanted to share this with people who would find it equally cool. It’s a lot of work. That amount of detailed plotting and note card writing I am not capable of doing. I applaud Dustin for being able to do that because it is an amazing process. The whole idea of note cards put into stacks and then laid out is really appealing to me and no doubt works for many other writers out there. It just isn’t for me, despite my love of stationary. My brain just doesn’t work that way.

For those of you who are that kind of plotter I would love for you to share pictures of what that looks like for you. Are they small stacks laid out across a table? On the floor? Are the cards singular? What ways have you categorized and labeled them to get the most out of them?

On that note, I’m going to go get some actual writing done.