October changes

I thrive on trying new things. (In my writing life, obviously–don’t go trying to get me to use a different brand of toothpaste.) The past few weeks, in an effort to cut back on headaches, I’ve been spending as little time as possible in front of my computer screen. And let me tell you, it has been a refreshing change. Aside from completing a hard-copy edit of the sequel to Demon’s Heart, I also pulled out this fabulous little notebook:

image

…and starting writing by hand for the first time in years. And it’s AMAZING! I love it! There’s something about adding in the uniqueness of your own handwriting to the story that makes it feel even more like your own masterpiece.

I also tried this for the first time ever yesterday:

image

Note cards, colorful pens, and M&Ms. Again, it was fabulous. Using note cards added a great dimension of flexibility to my planning that just isn’t there in a Word doc. And, you know, a little chocolate never hurt the writing process.

So here I am, congratulating myself on trying so many new things. And then I realize: it’s October. And you know what that means, right? It means writers everywhere are ramping up for that grueling marathon of words so innocuously called NaNoWriMo.

Never in my life have I participated in NaNo. 50K words in a month? Are you nuts?! That’s, like, death by keyboard!

But I’m teetering here, friends. I’m tempted to jump on board. I have two different projects that I could do, and there’s this crazy little voice inside my head that’s screaming for me to go for it.

So should I jump on the NaNo wagon?

All together now . . .

I’m not one of those scribble-on-napkins authors. I’ve never been able to write my story ideas on whatever scrap of paper is handy, because I’m so paranoid about it getting lost. When I was younger, I had specific notebooks devoted to specific story ideas, and not one of those notebooks could ever be spoiled with anything other than its designated story. It just couldn’t be done.

For years now, though, I’ve been writing on the computer, and I love my layers and layers of files neatly organized by story, type, and draft. I have files from middle school in this folder, guys. It literally has my life’s work in it.

When I finally gave in and got a new computer a couple of months ago, I thought it might be time to trim away some of the excess bulk. Because really, who needs 90 folders containing 1,111 files?

Well, I do, as it turns out. I had no idea how often I refer to older drafts and older story ideas to shape what I’m writing. I don’t just pull from the fourth draft to write the fifth draft; I pull from all previous incarnations of the story, including pre-drafts when it was a completely different story altogether. And then maybe I pull a few aspects from a story I trashed years ago, and then I get some inspiration from a story that’s been simmering on the back burner for a while.

So yesterday, I did a little cleanup to get it down to 1,035 files, reorganized my folders to make the first window a little less overwhelming, transferred it all over to my new computer, and breathed a sigh of relief. Now I’m ready to get back to work.

Take a peek a few levels deep into my endless spiral of story folders . . .

stories folder

New and improved welcome page of my Stories folder.

novus folder

Diving into my NOVUS series . . .

novus1 folder

. . . and book 1 of NOVUS, 2.5 drafts in.

How do you keep your writing organized? Or are you more likely to let your pages fly loose? Do you look back at past (and way-past) drafts, or do you let them gather dust?

NaNo in February?!

Today, I’m pleased to present Julie Holmes from Facets of a Muse! Julie writes adult mystery with psychic elements, mystery with a touch of romance, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy—and she’s got a decade of NaNoWriMos to her credit! That’s amazing. Keep reading to see how NaNoWriMo reshaped her writing process, and click here to see a sample of her novel Daughter of Pele. Thanks for visiting, Julie!

***

First, thank you, Emily, for writing our first guest blog post for the Meet Your Main Character blog. It was a great post! Thank you for inviting me to try to explain my own writing process. Sheesh. I just do it. Now I have to think about it? Seriously, though, understanding why what I do works for me points me in a direction for fine-tuning my process.

To all those novelists out there: has anyone ever asked you how long it takes to write a book? What’s your answer? A year? Two? Five? Been working on it since college and your oldest child is graduating from high school this year?

Been there, and realized if I wanted to write down all the books I had in my head before I get to that big writing studio in the sky, I needed a better method. I had half a dozen books begging to get out of my head, and once there was room, more were ready to be mulled about by creative brain cells. There’s no way I’d get them out during my lifetime unless I wrote every day, the advice given by just about every writer who makes a living at it. But come on, that’s hard to do along with everything else going on. You know, like family and work.

Enter NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. Some ten years ago, I read an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about a group of local writers who participated in the event every year. NaNoWriMo = Fifty thousand words in thirty days. Fifty thousand? In a month? Okay, so 50,000 words is about the length of The Great Gatsby, so it wasn’t like War and Peace, but that’s, like, a whole book. In a month.

Opportunity! In order to write those 50,000 words in a month, I’d have to write every day. If I could get into the habit of writing every day, I’d get the books out of my head, and become a better writer through practice. You become better at anything if you practice it. So I penciled NaNo onto the calendar for November.

In order to write a book in a month, I needed a plan. I wrote my first two books during the fifth grade through to my college freshman years, “pants”-ing it, that is, writing “on the fly”. No road, no map, just what I built in my head and anything extra made up on the way. That may work for a lot of writers, but I needed something different if I was going to write a whole book in a month. Maybe I should try an outline. And hey, since I’m on a roll here, how about testing the whole process on a fresh, completely new, no-mental-synopsis-yet story idea.

Gulp. I was committed to doing this, but oh, boy. I found Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days. Perfect! That’s exactly what I’d be doing. She uses a system that lays out the characters, settings, timelines, motivations, story evolution (conflict(s), short- and long-term story goals, roadblocks, showdowns, etc), beat sheets, and free-form summaries of the beginning, middle, and end. I recreated her worksheets on the computer and spent a month filling them in. I decided to write in the morning, so I trained myself to get up at 4:30 am (still do) to write for an hour and a half or so before everyone else got up for the day. Now I was all set.

I wrote almost every day that November, and though I didn’t make it to 50,000 words that first year, I created a habit of writing every day. I also learned the value of outlining my book. If I could write a brand-new story idea, what would happen if I tried to rewrite one of my old books? The next NaNo, I totally overhauled the second book I’d ever written, and “won” that year’s NaNo. The bonus was I ended up with a stronger story than my pantser original.

In the years since, I’ve learned some things:

  1. I need a concrete target to work toward, not just a “get to the end of the story” target. A “get to the end of the story by the end of the month” goal works better for me, otherwise there’s not enough pressure. Visualizing my progress, like I can with the NaNo progress chart, helps too.
  2. Outlines work well for me. They give me a chance to brainstorm the story, including character and timelines. I use them as a map through the story, but if the characters want to take the scenic route, I’ll let them.
  3. That inner editor will torpedo a NaNoWriMo victory every time, because she makes you go back and rework something in your rough draft. Hey, it’s a draft, it isn’t supposed to be good yet. Send her on vacation or lock her in a box for the month. I send mine to the Caribbean. I figure that way she’s too busy enjoying herself to bother me, and she’ll be all recharged when I start revising.
  4. I lose my “write every day” habit, so I need the annual reinforcement.

Now, with a decade of NaNos and eight completed novels under my belt (along with a few I didn’t reach “The End” on), I know I can do it. I can write 50,000 words in a month. With my last couple NaNos, however, I haven’t had “The End” success, which is frustrating. I outlined, planned, and wrote, but I just couldn’t get there. Part of that had to do with rewriting the story with a dead body this time, which changed the story line. I didn’t want to wait until November to write it, so I did something crazy. I decided to pick a month and do a self-imposed NaNoWriMo. I don’t know what I was thinking when I picked February, the shortest month of the year.

Guess what? It worked! Granted, I posted my intentions on my blog, so I was accountable to my followers, which added pressure to succeed. And even though I surpassed 50k words in 28 days, the story wasn’t done. I kept it up, and finished the story two weeks later.

Woo-hoo!

Every writer has his or her own method that works for them, and sometimes it takes a few tries to figure out what works best. For me, a NaNo approach works, including an outline written ahead of time. Afterward, I shelve the project for a month to get some distance, then call my inner editor back for revisions. And more revisions. Then send the manuscript to my writing sisters for comments. More revisions. After CPs and beta readers get their eyes on it, and more revisions, I’ll have a polished piece to add to my collection.

Now, if I could only find an agent…

Driving for inspiration with RC Hancock

Uncommon-Blue_9781462114887Today, you get an introduction to my first guest blogger and one of my fabulous author friends: RC Hancock, author of An Uncommon Blue. I got my hands on a copy of his book a week before my editing deadline for Demon’s Heart hit, and I made the mistake of reading the first page . . . and the next page . . . and the next page . . . and suddenly I had read the entire thing instead of working on my edits. You can learn more about Hancock and his insanely addictive novel on his website or his Facebook page.

But before you go off to read his book, have a look at his post on the process of getting a novel from an idea to a solid book! Enjoy!


Thanks to my good friend and fellow author, Emily for allowing me this chance to share a little about my writing process. I’ve recently finished a first draft for my third novel, and while I’m waiting on my beta readers to see whether it’s any good, I’ve started the whole process over.

First, I thought about an old manuscript and whether I wanted to fix it or try something fresh. I tinkered with the old one (about a chubby girl that could leave her body to spy on the neighbors), but didn’t feel a lot of inspiration, so I set to thinking up a new concept. For me, the best time to ponder story ideas is when I’m driving. I live outside of Philadelphia and work in Baltimore, so yesterday (March 1st) with the bad weather and slow traffic I had over two hours to figure out what I wanted to write. Incidentally, this has been the first time I’ve incorporated prayer in the initial brainstorming process. I suppose because my writing has become more like a career and less like a hobby, I need all the help I can get choosing a winning idea. In the end, this is what I came up with: You get on a plane only to discover it is a camouflaged alien spacecraft that has chosen you to compete in a series of games with real life consequences to the other oblivious passengers.

Once I had the kernel of an idea, my next step was to figure out whose story it was. Who would have the most to lose in this situation? At first I was going to go from the perspective of the crew since they’d know most about the plane, but it didn’t feel right. A passenger with family on the flight would have more to lose. And a girl who had recently fallen madly in love and was flying to see her boyfriend would push the stakes even higher.

Now I’m at step three. Figure out a beginning, middle, and end. I’ll probably try to develop a beat sheet using Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat method. That will ensure I have all the proper elements in place. Once I have a general idea of the plot I’ll write a concrete outline detailing what is at stake in each scene, and how they all escalate the action. (Robert McKee’s “Story” give great direction on how to do this.) This process usually takes a few months, but it makes the actual writing sooo much easier. The transition from outlining to beginning the first draft is always tough. (As is going from revisions to drafting.) But once I get in the habit of squeezing words and sentences from my brain, it gets a little easier.

Although I try to stick closely to the outline when I draft, there is always some discovery and fine tuning going on. A character will demand more attention, a plot will take a better turn, and as long as I don’t get too off track, it usually makes the story stronger.

After I complete the first draft (which can take several months to a year) I send it to my team of fellow authors and beta readers and wait. After I’ve gotten several responses (and it’s been at least a few weeks, I’ll go back in and see if I agree with their feedback.) I’ll also polish the prose and add a little more detail. Once I feel it’s ready I’ll email it with a short synopsis to my agent, and if she feels it’s ready she’ll send it to the acquisitions editor at Cedar Fort. (Who have first rights to my next book.)

Then when I’m waiting to hear from them I’ll pick one of the ideas in my story journal, or hop in the car and drive until inspiration hits.

The trick is to be able to pick up and leave off when other revisions, families, or jobs demand your time and attention. If you continue to cultivate your characters and plot during the day, when you finally get the time to sit down in front of the computer, the story will practically write itself.


RC-Hancock-authorRC (Recalcitrant Conformist) Hancock began his writing career with a story about a dead cat which his second grade teacher thought was brilliant. Convincing others of his literary genius has taken longer than expected, but along the road he has acquired a domestic goddess, four hairy gnomes (who, thankfully, look more like their mother), and a degree from BYU in Recreational Management & Youth Leadership (which gives him license to act like a child.) An Uncommon Blue is his first novel and the cause of most of his hair loss.

Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey

I hate writing my stories in chronological order.

For a long, long time, I would have a basic overall plan for my plot, and I would work on writing whichever scenes I felt like working on. I wrote some really good stuff this way, and I was pretty happy working like that.

Until the moment came where I had to string it all together.

All of a sudden, 80% of these brilliant scenes I had written were completely unsalvageable. The story didn’t flow, the pacing was wrong, the character development was all kinds of wonky. Each scene seemed so beautiful standing alone, but none of them played well with the other scenes. It was like trying to put puzzle pieces together when each piece came from a different puzzle.

And so now, I write the drafts out from start to finish. Once I have a reasonably good draft, then I allow myself to jump around and choose what I want to work on. Sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes I would much rather revert to my previous writing process. Today was one of those sometimes, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s worth the slogging to get a story that works.

How do you get your draft out? Do you write straight from beginning to end, or do you stitch together pieces?