Category Archives: The Novel Project

I wrote a book… now what?

I wrote a novel. Holy shit! I. WROTE. A NOVEL. Or more accurately, the first draft is finished!!

And it only took me four and a half years…

I started ‘writing a novel’ back in 2008 when I first participated in NaNoWriMo.And while technically I’ve been working on the same basic idea I had for that first book, nothing is the same in the finished draft as it was when I started.The character names are different, the character who’s point of view the story is written from has changed, even the scope and focus of the story shifted.Then there are my writing skills themselves. I trashed so much writing in the past four years to start all over when I learned another skill in the writing process and realized everything I’d written was now shit.

Let me tell all the aspiring writers out there some basic truths that I discovered along the way to my first completed rough draft of a novel-length work.

Just because you read a lot doesn’t mean you’ll have an inherent talent for writing. This was a hard one for me. I thought I could just sit down and write a novel. I’ve only thought about being a writer since I was in junior high. Sure it was going to be a lot of work and sure it was going to take some time. But surely I had what it took because I’ve been reading novels since I was in elementary school. Then I found all these things that I didn’t know – point of view, tense, showing vs. telling, plot structure, character development, voice, narrative voice… The list goes on and on. And all these things have rules that work and things that you can’t do and … and … and, yeah. It took me several of those first years stumbling around all that unknown territory realizing there was far more in the “things I don’t know I don’t know” column than there was in the “things I know” one. I still remember one of my very first chapters I ever wrote where the point of view shifted between two different characters as quickly as the dialogue they exchanged. There was a whole lot to learn that I understood subconsciously as a reader but that I had no real idea how to do as a writer.

Writing is hard work. I have a full time job, I’m a wife and I’m a mom to growing girls – one with a schedule all her own to keep up with. Part of me – not the overachiever part of course – wonders if it is even possible to write for a living on top of all that I’m already doing. This past year I’ve watched my friend and writing group partner sign with a publisher and embark on what comes next in the road to publishing. She doesn’t work outside the house and she thought some days it was more than a full time job commitment to keep up with the editing she had to do. Deadlines up until now have been of my own doing and could come and go with zero consequences if I happened to miss one. What happens if I do publish a book and I don’t have the luxury of writing at my own pace. If it has demands like a job will I still love it? And would my psyche rebel if someone told me I had to do something I didn’t want to do – because that is never a good thing for me. Plus, writing is not the quick way to fame and fortune – you have to sell many many many books in order to make enough to quit your day job. Frightening!

Writing is humbling work. You put immense effort and emotion into creating characters and worlds and this story and you shed blood, sweat and tears to make it the best you can. Then people want to read it. And you want people to read it and tell you how much they love it. And sometimes they do say that. But most often you hear more about the things that don’t work or that could be improved. And even when you trust and love these critique partners that you’ve asked to tell you these things it can hurt to hear them. If you can get past the initial sting and instinct to defend your work to the death, you can learn from what others see. But getting past those things can be very, very difficult. In the four plus years I’ve been writing *this* novel I think I’ve let my writer’s group see a total of six measly chapters and not even that much of this current draft. I’m both sorry for that and not. They are my biggest supporters and I owe it to them but somewhere deep inside where I don’t go very often, I am super scared no one will like what I wrote.

Writing a book isn’t the same as publishing a book. The first thing people want to know when they hear I’ve written a novel (my daughter included) is ‘when can I buy it and read it?’. Most published authors write countless novels before they are ever picked up by a publisher. Brandon Sanderson – who is such an amazing writer that Robert Jordan’s widow picked him to finish the Wheel of Time series – wrote close to ten novels before he ever got published. (I only know this because my other friend and writing partner is his biggest fan so I might have the facts wrong…) Regardless, there are probably hundreds of unpublished writers for every one that gets a break and gets to publish a book. Then there are even fewer published authors who sell a ton of books and whose names are nationally recognized. Those are staggering odds and I know there is still no guarantee on where I go from here.

Writing a first draft isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning. I didn’t even take two nights off from writing to celebrate before I was busy with revising. Key parts of the story morphed in the middle to make the ending work which then made the beginning inconsistent with the ending. And since I have a submission deadline for my writing group to read and critique the entire thing, I have to fix it right away. After they get a crack at it, there will be edits and revisions based on what they give me feedback on. At some point I need an editor to go over it and figure out all the things none of us have seen. Then beta readers for a look with fresh eyes, more revisions. And THEN I can hopefully find an agent who likes it enough and thinks he/she could sell it through the querying process which I haven’t even wanted to look at details of because it is like having a full time job, plus a writing job PLUS a querying job until you find an agent. In the meantime, I will move on to the next idea and write another first draft and start the complete process over from the beginning. I’ve heard of published authors who are editing two books at the same time they are writing a third. Another argument in the ‘writing is hard work’ area.

While I know this is one of the more important steps – finishing a story all the way to the end – I know I am still on a journey of discovery. I’m having a blast and learning new things all the time. For today, I’m trying not to be overwhelmed by everything there is still left to do and instead taking this time to revel in the fact that I have done what I set about to do all those years ago. Or the first step of it anyway.

Everything changes

One of my favorite sayings is “Change is the only constant in the Universe”.  And recently it’s been particularly true for my life.  Fundamental things I thought would never – I mean NEVER – change, are changing.

Monday morning I got up at five o’clock.  That’s a time people usually have to remind me happens more than once in a day because I’m guaranteed to be sleeping through the AM version.  Why did I ON PURPOSE drag myself out of bed that early?  On a Monday?  For yoga.  YOGA!  And guess what… I found out how much I like to work out in the morning.  I felt so amazing all day.  Yes, part of that was because I did yoga which always leaves me feeling amazing.  But there was more.  I had no anxiety about when I was going to fit exercise into my crazy day.  No lamenting about the day having slipped by, taking my best laid plans with it, and falling into bed without having worked out.  Nope.  Instead, I’d already done it before I would normally have been out of bed.  Brilliant! And the best part: I had so much energy all day that I didn’t even feel sleep deprived.  Monday mornings now mean yoga at six o’clock AM.

Today I realized that subconsciously I’ve been changing my night owl activities all week.  I’m slowly training myself to go to bed a tad bit earlier so I can eventually wake up early and run before work.  Because, let’s face it, my days of working out during work have been gone for at least eight months with no promise of returning.  And that half marathon is just getting closer by the day…

Then there’s my writing…  No, no, I’m still doing it.  BUT, I think I’ve been writing in the completely wrong genre.  My first novel, poised for completion of the first draft after five long, grueling, frustrating, learning years is an urban fantasy.  Its the genre I have typically read the most so it must be the one I will write in, too.  Right?  Except that both of those stories I’ve got brewing in my head are NOT urban fantasy.  They are mainstream fiction, character-driven stories.  And I’m so much more excited about them!  So much so that I haven’t forced myself to write the conclusion of the first one yet because every time I sit down to do it, I find myself thinking more about the next ones and the writing is crap.  I refuse to abandon my first baby until I’ve written “The End” and have at least the rough story down on paper.  THEN I can put it away in a drawer to pull out and re-work someday when I’ve got several more under my belt and could truly make an urban fantasy work.

On the home front, Hubby found out he has off-the-chart cholesterol so the entire family is now eating healthier.  My carnivorous husband hasn’t eaten a cheeseburger in almost three weeks.  Even Big Sister has embraced wheat bread, although I’m certain her BFF who always thanks me prolifically for having white bread when she eats over will be sad.  The best part:  I’m no longer the odd one out when fixing meals because now I just fix what I’m eating for everyone.

So while I still can’t completely explain it, man am I loving this cycle of change…

What is it about November?

Why is it that when the air turns crisp and the nights get longer I suddenly find new energy for writing?  Its like just the thought of November and it’s designation as National Novel Writing Month looming in the coming weeks magically motivates me.

I’ve been in the “percolating” stage for months on my novel.  Which is writer speak for I’m-not-actually-doing-any-writing-but-I’m-thinking-alot-about-writing.  I used to fight this time when it would hit me but I’ve learned that if I wait it out and allow the percolation I am surprised at what my subconscious spews out when it’s over.  This time was no exception.

Remember that the last writing I did was on my camping trip when I got reacquainted with where I’d left the story and all the characters and then banged out a new chapter.  Fast forward to yesterday when I sat down and without much thought produced a pretty killer chapter to fill a hole in the middle that until then had a one sentence of “this should happen here” as a placeholder.  Once that hole was filled in, the flood gates opened wide.

Tonight I spent my allotted writing time NOT on Facebook (miracle) and read the entire manuscript putting one sentence synopsis with each chapter heading.  (I just upgraded to Word 2010 and I’m really digging the default navigation bar on the left that shows you the headings in list form.)  Now I can see the flow of what every chapter accomplishes – as well as the few remaining holes that have yet to be written.  HOLY. SHIT.  I’ve only got 4 chapters to write and I’m done with my first draft!!

Surely I can write 4 chapters in the next three weeks.  Because then it will be November and I can start on the other thing the most recent percolating has conjured: a new story idea.  Yes, you read this post correctly.  I procrastinated percolated finishing the rough draft of my first novel so long that now I only have three weeks to finish it AND plan a new story so I can do National Novel Writing Month again this year.  Talk about working better under pressure and setting high expectations of yourself, eh?

Here’s to burning the midnight oil and drinking more coffee than I have all year so I can basically write at breakneck speed for TWO months instead of one.  And may I live to tell about it when it’s all over.

It’s like riding a bike – only you need to practice

I finished my second race of the year yesterday.  I have a great friend who is a brand new runner and needed a 5K for her first race this weekend to coincide with her chosen training plan.  The only race she could find was a half marathon relay.  So she recruited her daughter and I to run the other two legs leaving her with the final 5K leg into the finish.  It worked out perfectly for me.  We called the team “Two Old Ladies and a Ringer”.  Her daughter – being the ringer at 21 and a serious athlete – ran the first 4 miles all up a canyon.  I ran the next 6 miles down the other side of the canyon.  It was a great run even though I hadn’t trained hard.  Sometimes just getting out there is all that matters.  It was all downhill and a distance I know I am capable of running so I wasn’t stressed that the two weeks before had been a whirlwind and I hadn’t been able to stick completely to my weekly workout schedule.

I was all alone with my thoughts and the tunes on my iPhone, surrounded by the changing leaves of fall in northern Utah and IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.  Did I wish I had more time to devote to running so I could have gone faster? Yes.  Did I revel in the fact that I was still capable of ‘riding’ this particular bike because I had been doing what I can whenever I can to keep in shape?  Yes.  Did I find an analogy to make in order to compare this to my writing?  Of course!

Hubby and I took our girls camping a couple of weeks ago and I persuaded him to trek into the woods alone with the kids and the dog so I could have at least an hour of uninterrupted writing time. He fell for it – further proof that he loves me – and I sat down and dusted off my manuscript that I still haven’t finished from NaNoWriMo last year.  I read the last chapter so I could remember exactly where I’d left my characters and started writing.  Amazingly enough, I was still writing when the hikers returned two hours later.  I’d taken myself from the end of the middle to the climax of the ending.  And there are only a couple of ‘holes’ in the middle where its still a little muddy with placeholder statements of “this is what happens here” left to fill in.  Perhaps I’ll get this draft complete and pick up the editing process where I got mired down before November yet! 

The current lesson here: writing is an ongoing process of getting on the bike but you have to keep getting on it to get any better at it.  It’s not a new lesson, just a different way of looking at it for me.  I’ve also learned that in my own writing process I have to finish getting the story down before I can start editing.  And, much like my exercise plan, I have to squeeze writing into my insanely busy life wherever I can in order to keep myself progressing forward.  Someday when both of my kids are in school (and perhaps Big Sister is driving herself to dance) I’ll still be writing and be better at it than I am now.  And I’ll look back on this part and know how much it was all worth it to stick with it.

You’re doing it wrong

I took another step on my journey of figuring out how to write a novel this week.  In an attempt to pull myself up by my bootstraps and self-motivate some action in the writing department since writer’s group looms over my head, I reached out to my editor for some advice. 

I know what you’re thinking: Wait, she has an editor?  But she isn’t even finished with her first draft!  This is my friend who I found out recently is also an editor.  He will be tasked with editing my work once I get it finished.  And since I think it is super cool to refer to the fact that I have an editor, I’ll now be doing so every chance I get.

Remember I said I was currently discovering my own editing method?  I told him what I had been doing and how unmotivated I’d become and asked for some advice on the whole process.  Turns out, I was doing it all wrong.  In my haste to have something for my writer’s group to see, I was doing the editing completely out of order.  I was editing on the micro level instead of the macro level.  I haven’t even worked out the big picture and filled in all the gaps yet.  I haven’t figured out what the outline is to make sure I flow from scene to sequel and back to scene yet.  All this has to happen before we go through chapter by chapter which is what I’d been doing with my alpha-readers.

AH-HA!  No wonder I wasn’t feeling the flow!  It was like recapping a race I hadn’t even trained for yet.

I know my writer’s group is going to be sad that they won’t get to see what I’m up to for a while again, but I’m back to the writing desk.  This time with some direction on how to get from here to the end.  And with my new knowledge I’m excited to be here again which is the whole point.

This also reminded me of something else a lot of people have said…  Writing is damn hard work.

Finding your own method

I’ve been at this novel writing endeavor for many years – more years than I’d like to admit.  The lions part of the journey for me was learning the craft.  Like so many others have said before me, the only way to get better at writing is to write.  Yes, you can go to conventions and conferences and listen to others talk about how they do it – did that.  You can read books on the craft written by others who are successfully doing it – did that.  You can form and join writing groups who encourage and critique – did that.  But bottom line is that what works for others doesn’t always work for you.  My novel is the most complete and mature to date (this is the third time I’ve started again to write the same story among writing other things) because I think I’ve found what works for me.  Of course time will tell if I’ve really got the formula completely dialed in but so far here’s what I’m doing.

  1. Outline.  Oh boy did I spend too long thinking I didn’t need any version of this before I wrote.  I have several projects that ended in the middle of nowhere with characters who I didn’t know anything about doing crazy things I couldn’t get them out of and which had nothing to do with the story I wanted to create.  This time I put together a rough outline to get me from beginning to middle to end with enough vagueness to allow my romantic notions of discovery writing to still exist between the sign posts.
  2. Character studies.  It helped so much that I spent an entire month of preparation writing about what makes my characters tick.  What their motivations are.  What their character flaws are.  What their goals are.  Then when I put them in a scene, I know enough about them to write their reactions and interactions with each other consistent with what I know about them.  This also helps move the story along between the outline sign posts.
  3. Write like mad until the very end of the draft.  I almost got the entire story down during NaNoWriMo in November.  My motto was ‘write now, ask questions later’.  Later comes in the editing process where I fix all the stuff that doesn’t work in the first draft and finish up the ending that’s already been worked out in my head.
  4. Editing with my writing group.  Every two months I get feedback on two or three chapters from my most trusted alpha readers as I start to polish re-write the first draft.  The only think you do more of than writing in this process is re-writing.  I’m learning that lesson currently.  I take comfort in knowing that no one gets it right the first time and that the first draft is supposed to suck.

I’ve learned another thing during the current editing process.  I’m resisting making many huge changes as I get through the first round of editing.  Sure, there are a couple of chapters that I know need to be completely rewritten because the very beginning had my main character acting kind of out of character since she wasn’t as well developed in my mind at that point.  And there are a couple of plot threads that started out pointing in one direction that I morphed to another that need to be fixed in the beginning for consistency.  But other than that, the feedback I’m getting from my alpha readers are going in a “to-do” list that will wait for me to get through my first edit all the way to the end.  That way, my story is the most complete version of my story it can be before major revising prompted from outside editing influences will be entertained.  Why does this work better for me?  I don’t know, it just does.  And that, my friends, is exactly the point.

Revision – embarking on the scary journey

The past couple of weeks I’ve had to suck it up and dive into the part of writing I’ve been dreading since I started writing – and rewriting – each draft I’ve started of this crazy novel that I swear someday will be finished: revision.  I’ve never voiced that I’m scared of the whole undertaking until now but I am.  I even procrastinated an entire month of writing time between critique sessions because I didn’t know where to start or how to go about it.

There.  I said it.

I started this current draft with a fairly basic outline and well-thought out characters which was new for me having been a purely discovery writer on all the earlier drafts.  Even with an outline, I was still doing a fair bit of discovery writing between the sign posts.  I already knew I needed to revise parts of the beginning to match where the ending had morphed to during writing so it should have come as no surprise.  But I still had to slap myself and put on my big-girl panties just to dive in.

What I found after three excruciatingly hard weeks of writing sessions with little to no changes in overall word count is this:  Just like everything else it seems when it comes to writing, you just have to do it and it gets easier the more you do it.  I had to get over my OCD of a perfectly formatted word document and start hacking things up and making side notes in the margins and deleting them when they were checked off.  This meant reading and rereading to make sure there was continuity between the old and the new – constantly tweaking a word here and a sentence there. 

(Does it surprise you that I found a way to have a checklist even in this area of my life?  I guess it shouldn’t, right?)

After three weeks of doing nothing but rewriting, I can report that chapters one through three have gone through the first revision gauntlet and I have polished chapters four and five to submit for critique at tomorrow’s writer’s group.  It is amazing to have blown past this obstacle and know it has no power over me.  No longer will I cower on the sidelines worried that I don’t know how to revise.  I know I can and do it I shall.  Which is good because do it I must if I plan on finishing this thing.

The beauty of having a well established writer’s group is that they keep you honest – and writing.  Without knowing it, that’s exactly what mine did for me this month.  Without these three amazing women, I would not be where I am today.  Period.

Wait, it’s not November!

What the hell is wrong with me?  I go back and read my own posts circa November and I see how determined and motivated I was to write.  And how I vowed to keep it up until I was done with my rough draft.  Fast forward to present and what have I been doing for the last two months since my last writer’s group meeting had me motivated to polish three chapters of my NaNo writing for submission?  Nada.  Zilch.  Nothin’.  Well, not really – the last two days I finally got off my lazy ass and started my late night writing sessions again and have a whole chapter to show for it.

Yes, I might be PMS’ing… why do you ask?

Every once in a while I get down on myself like this and rant and rave to Hubby who calmly reminds me about all the things that I do in addition to writing.  Like a forty-hour a week job, twenty-hours a week of being on-call after hours, our two kids I’m basically raising by myself while he works in the evenings, training for another Ragnar in June, etc, etc.  And that most of the people I’m comparing myself to don’t have jobs other than being Moms.  I get this and I understand that I’m being hard on myself but that doesn’t stop me from going to this place when I feel overwhelmed by trying to drive myself to accomplish everything I want out of life.  Being an overachiever has its costs – don’t let anyone tell you any different.

Thank god for my writer’s group who have agreed collectively to hold ourselves to producing writing this year.  They and are keeping me honest by demanding new material to read and critique every couple of months.  If it weren’t for them, “tomorrow” would always be when I was planning on writing and I wouldn’t have that shiny new chapter of “showing” in place of the three sentences of “telling” that was there before.

This post is also driven by the fact that I got to hang out with some old friends who we haven’t seen in about five years this past weekend.  One of the women, who I’ve always looked up to and admired, shyly tells me that she’s been writing fan fiction and got so obsessed with writing that she’s also written a novel.  IN. THREE. MONTHS.  I wanted to shout ‘Are you fucking kidding me?!’ at her and throw my napkin down in a fit of anger then stomp off to anywhere else to wallow in the fact that it’s taken me years and I don’t have a single completed draft to show for it.  Instead I told her how amazing that was and gushed about how I couldn’t wait to read it because that’s what you do when other people do the things that you want to do and haven’t yet.  There is a silver lining.  I found out that one of our mutual friends is an editor so when I have a completed manuscript I know where to go for the next step and it will be someone I trust. Plus my competitive nature has kicked into full gear which helps drive my late night writing sessions as well now.

If you need me, I’ll be brewing pots of coffee and depriving myself of sleep in pursuit of this crazy dream!

A week of milestones

Last week was crazy and looking back on it I realized it was full of milestones for every facet of my life.  I should have something quirky to say right here to peak your interest and hope you’ll take time out of your life to read about mine but I’m too tired to try that hard right now. Oh, and I turned forty.  FOUR. OH.  Like oh shit you’re old now.  So forgive me?

Is it me or were those who told me that everything changes overnight when you hit forty right?  
We had already celebrated officially since Hubby also hit this milestone last month so we picked a day in the middle and had our good friend cater a fabulous meal for us and our closest friends.  It was amazing – both the company and the evening.  And so when the official day of my birth arrived, it seemed kind of anti climactic.  I got to do exactly what I wanted to do all day which included a whole lot of sitting around without guilt and getting caught up on movies.  Oh, and a trip to the running store WITHOUT KIDS.  It was a decadent hour of my life that I will cherish since it happens rarely. A couple of days later I was at the doctor’s for my annual checkup and since it’s the first of the year I had to fill out yet another new page of demographic and insurance information “for their files” and paused just slightly when it came to that blank next to “Age:”  How brutal to have to write that number before I’d even had time to process it let alone embrace it.

I quickly got over this insane milestone that, when I was young, I heralded as the beginning of old age.  After all, I don’t look forty and I sure as hell don’t act forty.  Plus I’m in better shape physically and mentally than I ever was at thirty.  Besides, I didn’t have time to wallow since Baby Sister turned two under a week later.  

Apparently I suspected subconsciously that “they” were right about the mind being the first to go.  Because I had individually told everyone on the guest list in my head to save the date for the birthday party for Baby Sister in the weeks before my birthday.  Lucky for me since I remembered to send out an actual invite (via email) with details three days before the party and stressed that no one would show up because I didn’t remember having invited everyone already.  Seriously, totally off my game!

Lucky for us, too, we learned the right lessons with Big Sister.  Like the one that says “until your kid is old enough to remember the birthday party you shouldn’t go overboard on it”.  We kept it low key with dinner for our immediate family.  The three or four people Baby Sister sees on a regular basis and who comprise her world came later for ice cream and cake.  It was perfect – well, except for that page I got at the end of the evening since I couldn’t get out of my on-call shift.  The next day on her official birthday she got her ears pierced.  She’s officially a big girl and I’m sad to lose my baby forever.

Another milestone in the last week involved work.  I’m busier than I’ve been in years.  Literally.  The entire week I didn’t leave the office until after 5:30.  I’ve been thrown on a new project – which I love – but not only do I have to come up to speed in the middle they are in the throws of major conversions so there’s not a lot of leeway for me to learn everything before I am required to perform new duties.  Gives new meaning to “sink or swim” that I hear all the time but never experienced before.  Plus, I’ve been assigned as the primary trainer for two new hires which carves out two hours of every day devoted to sitting in a conference room talking theory and principles and not doing any real work of my own.  Oh, and did I mention the slacker on my team who is supposed to take my pager shifts and hasn’t been?  It all has turned into a perfect storm of high-stress and no time to run at work which makes Terra a very bitchy woman.  
And then Friday – on top of everything else – my laptop decided to die.  It may or may not have been a result of someone trying to help fix the issues I was having and making it worse.  Now I could connect to the network in the conference room for training but not anywhere else in the building.  Makes it really hard to work that way.  In all fairness the hunk of outdated hardware had been on its last leg for months but this timing sucked.  I ended up losing a full day and a half of productivity.  Friday ended with me skipping my planned trip to the gym and coming home to yell at the kids, pour a very large adult beverage and plop on the couch for the evening to drink it and decompress.  I needed it so much I didn’t feel more than a twinge of guilt for not running.  I was emotionally and physically drained and it would have been a shitty run anyway.

I am still struggling to get back to running shape for proper Ragnar training which started officially today.  I did three miles but the last two thirds were all walk/run fartleks where I pushed myself harder than I normally would have for a training run.  Hoping it pays off next time I go out and my heart and lungs are in better shape.

Last week also marked a milestone in my writing.  I submitted the first three chapters of my rough draft from NaNoWriMo to my writer’s group for critique.  It’s been years since I had any work I thought worthy of being seen by others.  Two NaNos had come and gone and my beloved writer’s group hadn’t gotten to see the fruits of my labors or their encouragement.  I was so stressed between hitting send on the email and getting feedback at our meeting.  But it turns out they liked what I’d written and wanted more.  Plus they gave me some great feedback on ways to tighten things up.  Considering it was a true rough draft from NaNo land of “write first, ask questions later” I was happy and encouraged.  They make me feel like a real writer.

So here’s to life which marches on and delivers milestones in the weirdest places sometimes.  Do you ever have weeks where everything happens all at once in every area of your life or is it just me? 

Back to the beginning

This past week felt like the beginning of more than another year.  I did my first run without pain in more time than I can remember and I started editing what I wrote in NaNoWriMo.
While my body has healed from my injury and I’m finished kicking myself for waiting so long to address it as the injury it was for a year, that doesn’t mean I just pick up where I left off.  I thought I could but I was wrong.  I have to start all over again.  I’ve lost so much ground with my cardio that I couldn’t keep my heart rate down in the aerobic zone if I ran more than a few minutes at a time at my comfortable pace.  After a frustrating mile of running with some irritating walking interspersed (accompanied by curses mumbled under my breath which I’m sure still offended the girl walking next to me) I climbed off the treadmill and opted instead for a spin bike.  It was my first time on one and I loved it.  Well, once I got it adjusted appropriately for my short legs anyway.  It was easy to lose myself in my audio book and make easy adjustments to keep my heart rate in zone 2.  I came away from it feeling as refreshed as if I’d run the whole forty minutes.  I guess I’ll be doing a bunch of walk/run and spinning for a few weeks until I can get my heart and lungs back in shape.  It’s a road I’ve traveled before and I’ve heard it comes back fairly quickly.  Let’s hope so!  I’m looking back and regretting skipping the gym entirely just because I was dejected about not being able to run.  If only I had kept up with my cardio… *sigh*
Editing my writing is a road I have not traveled too much – unless you count that first attempt at NaNoWriMo where I wrote a chapter and then obsessively edited it over and over again losing sight of the whole point.  This is different editing altogether.  NaNo is all about writing first and asking questions later which I embraced wholeheartedly.  The drawback of this is that you get to the end and your characters and even their motivations have changed since you’ve gotten to know them better.  Plus, the story itself evolves.  I’m at a place where I can’t finish the ending unless I fix the beginning to keep things consistent.  I started doing that this week and while it is cool I find it takes a lot more time to see progress than just banging out a first draft with abandon.  I’ve got my first two chapters pretty well polished and ready for my writer’s group.  They refuse to be patient enough for me to finish what I started during NaNoWriMo to read something and I really can’t blame them.  After all, they were with me every step of the way and should be rewarded accordingly.
So far 2012 is promising to be a great year!

How I survived (and won) NaNoWriMo 2011

Remember when I was heading into this mammoth undertaking and I said I was scared because this time around it felt different?  Well, almost everything about this year was different.

This was my fourth “NaNo” (as people in the know call it) and my second win.  But, I had several epiphanies this time around which will be the difference in getting the first step of this multi-year project finally finished.  It is the hardest step I believe:  Finish your manuscript.  A first draft must exist in order to edit and polish and make pretty enough to convince a publisher to take a chance on your book.  It’s something that no matter how many times I’ve started I haven’t figured out how to do.  Before now.

No, I’m not finished, don’t get all a twitter just yet!

But I am still writing in December which has never happened before.  Even the first time I won I digressed into word padding shenanigans and let my characters do whatever they wanted to regardless of where I wanted the story to go or what I thought their motivations should be.  In all honesty, it was long ago and I don’t even think I realized they NEEDED motivations yet.  That year all I wanted was the sheer volume of 50K to say I’d won.  And December first came and I abandoned the entire thing.  That year I never even got out of the beginning, let alone the dreaded middle.

This year I treated NaNo like I had a second job.  Everyone in my life knew that my writing was happening at a specific scheduled time (9:00-11:00PM) and let me do it without interruption during that time.  If I’m ever going to be a published author without quitting my day job that’s the way it’s going to have to be.  And guess what – when I started living like I already have what I want, it was easy to do what I needed to do to make it happen.  Epiphany #1: writing every day is possible regardless of what you have going on in your life. It’s just like anything else – if it’s important enough you’ll find the time to do it.

Writer’s block aside, which I dealt with the second week and already wrote about, I stuck to marching my characters down the road I had mapped out for all of them in my plot structure/outline.  This got me through the middle before I even realized it.  Epiphany #2: it doesn’t matter what advice other authors tell you, the only way to be successful is to figure out what works for you personally.  I thought I was a discovery writer because my favorite author said that’s how he writes.  So I spent a couple of years forcing myself to be that, without the success I thought was inevitable.  Then I continued to learn and grow as a writer and explored other possible ways of doing things. I morphed several things that struck me as interesting to work for my own personal style and in the end found my own unique method.

One of the benefits of being an official, registered participant in this event is getting weekly pep talks from published authors who have been where you are every step of the way.  I got one that hit home as we headed into the final stretch.  Basically it said that 50K was not ever going to be a completed novel but the important thing was to finish the story and be able to write “The End” by the time you got there.  To do this, you pick key scenes you already know are going to happen and you don’t care about tying them cohesively together, you just write each of them until you get the basic story down.  Then, you go back and fill in the parts between them that have to get the characters from each big scene cohesively.  Ephiphany #3: a rough draft is never going to be anything but a diamond in the rough so don’t get bogged down in getting every single thing perfect.  Just write – and ask questions later.  Without this little gem, I would have gotten bogged down in not knowing every single little detail of what happens in the story leading up to the finale and gotten stalled out.  Instead, I wrote the scenes I knew and had already pictured in my head.  And I found out that, by doing so, many of the details of how to get the characters there were answered after they arrived.  And on at least one occasion, I found relationships had changed on the way to that point which will make going back and filling in the blanks that much better.

One of the things I wish I could have changed was not getting so far behind.  I wrote eighteen thousand of my fifty thousand in the last five days.  FIVE. DAYS.  I don’t recommend this to anyone – especially if you have a full time job!  I was up until three in the morning for several consecutive nights trying to work and stay awake to do it all over the next day.  I wrote during my lunch hour at work and for the hour I would normally have gone to the gym in the afternoons.  I lived on coffee – pots and pots of it all day and all night – and food that was not good for me.  The worst part is I was so exhausted that even if I had time to work out, I didn’t have the energy to do it.  I’m still afraid to step on the scale and see how much damage has been done, I’m already feeling the effects of the caffeine withdrawals, and I’m pretty sure in my delirious state on November thirtieth I said things in a staff meeting that were wildly inappropriate.

I did take an hour the second to last evening to attend an event at a friend’s house.  It was exactly what I needed – to see the majority of my writer’s group who cheered me on and were as excited about me being out of the middle as I was.  They gave me that extra boost of encouragement I needed to see me through the last INSANE twenty four hours.  If you ever decide to do this yourself, make sure you tell everyone and then shout it out to Facebook and Twitter for good measure.  All the people in your life cheering you on makes those bleak and dark hours when you don’t think you have it in you to continue never more than fleeting in the grand scheme of things.

All that aside, I survived – and I’m still writing – and when I look back I hope this proves to be the year that all the pieces finally fell into place.  Someone said that NaNo (or any rough draft) is like filling the room with straw that later you use to spin into gold.  I think of it more like all the hard work of finding and digging up a big, ugly chunk of rock.  When you’re done, you’re left with something that hopefully you can polish and cut into a beautiful gem.  To all of you who stuck with me and cheered me on and said you knew I could do it: Thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you!

Your latest NaNoWriMo WINNER!


With thirty minutes to spare – and 50,205 words at time of validation!

Now I need to sleep.  For a week.
And then finish the story which isn’t done no matter how many words I busted ass to pull out in the last month. This first rough draft demands to be finished.
Stay tuned, you know I’ll tell you all about it…

New beginnings in unexpected places

Here we are in week three of NaNoWriMo.  And what a wild ride it has been.  I thought a couple of times that I might be sort of cheating this year since I’ve *technically* been working on the same novel I originally started with back in 2008.  But I used the following rational to counter that:

  1. I had scrapped every piece of shitty writing I’d done to date and had no plans to even look back at any of it for reference.  (yes, it was that shitty!)
  2. I had plotted out a structure for the entire story complete with several subplots all neatly tied in with each other
  3. I had even changed the main character’s name since we named Baby Sister the original character name when she was born

With the new plot and new character motivations I knew the book would be far different than I had envisioned when I first came up with the idea.  But guess what?  I never needed to rationalize a single little thing!

I had a rough start after I got through the prologue (which hasn’t really changed much over each iteration of attempts).  I wrote myself into a corner where I knew my character would never be stupid enough to do what I was trying to make her do as a means to get her physically from one place to another.  I wasted days of writing more crap dragging one scene out and never getting anywhere but behind in my target word count. I was honestly getting worried.  What if I hadn’t prepared enough?  What if I couldn’t figure out how to translate a plot to a real story?  What if I failed?

Then I went for a run.

And I had the best run of my life – five miles in a hour which is insanely fast for me!

I must have shook up my brain with all that pounding of treadmill because I came off that run with a shit-eating grin glued to my face AND a way to get myself out of the corner and fix everything!

I rushed home and wrote like a mad woman.  I was able to salvage most of that original crappy chapter and after adding seven hundred or so words I was back on track toward where I needed to be heading.  I was even on my way to the next mile-marker plot point.

And I know I was still high from that amazing run when the next morning in the shower I had the one piece of unknown I’d been trying to solve SINCE THE BEGINNING IN 2008 just fall into place.  It was so earth-shattering when it happened I expected to feel the earth move beneath me.  But it didn’t.  One minute I had this question of “how does that happen that will make sense and be believable” playing over and over in my subconscious.  And the next it was clear as day how it would all work.  The last loose end was no longer loose!  Plus, it was so fundamental that it changed everything.  Including the title which had been the one constant from the beginning.

I wonder if anyone else who embarked on this journey is experiencing anything similar.  Because it is crazy how unbelievable it all is and I’m only half done!