Working for History

I’ve added to the mix of archaeology, editing, research, and writing I’m normally up to by getting a part-time job posting at The Clio, an online non-profit educational resource for historic research. (Read between the lines: it’s FREE to use). I’m writing about five entries a week, and having a blast finding out about historic places and cultural centers all over the country (so far I’ve mainly written about the DC, NYC, and Providence, RI areas). Here are links to some of my posts on The Clio:

New York City

Washington, D.C.

Providence, Rhode Island

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NaNoWriMo – Results

Did I finish National Novel Writing Month (November) with a 50,000 page manuscript, as challenged? No! Am I upset about that? No! Did I get a lot of writing done? Yes! Did I make a lot of progress on my novel this month? Yes! Did I write some awesome scenes? Yes! Am I going to finish this novel now that November is over? Yes! Can I finish the draft, as planned, by the end of 2015? Probably!

Thoughts:
I found NaNo to be very helpful in pushing through tough spots (like transitions, parts with unclear direction, etc.) in my manuscript. Trying to write 1,667 words per day means forcing your way through to the good stuff. And a lot of the time, if you just keep going, you can push through to getting on a roll. Sometimes not so much, but it’s worth trying.

fizzmywhiskersI found NaNo to be incredibly helpful in re-learning the art of prioritizing writing. Literally just keeping it in mind that you’re going to do some work on your novel every day makes a big difference – even if, like me, your schedule changes daily and you can’t set aside, say, from 9-10 pm each night or from 7-8 each morning to write (not that I’m ever voluntarily awake at 7 am). Aside from the time you actually spend sitting down and writing, knowing that it’s going to be part of your day kicks your brain in gear to think about it all day. What am I going to do next? you’ll wonder when you wake up in the morning. And What if I made this happen? you’ll think as you spill coffee all over your hand, distracted as visions of your characters dance in your head. It’s a beautiful feeling to take with you as you go about your daily life.

Since it isn’t always possible to sit down for five hours at a stretch and pump out 1,667 words every day, I was surprised to find how quickly I can sit down and knock out 500-700 words. Do that a few times a day, and you’re gold for a NaNo day. Do that a few times a day any day, and you’ve accomplished a lot. So maybe it’s good that I don’t have a set writing time. Maybe it works better to write a bit when I come home, then have din-din, then come back to my writing for a while, and then spend some quality time with my fella and my chinchilla. Got an hour between things? Don’t play Plants vs. Zombies II – write 500 words! Got 20 minutes before you’re meeting your friends for drinks? Don’t check Facebook another 12 times – write 250 words! DO IT, and don’t be intimidated by time constraints.

And breaks are good. Throwing myself at my book at a breakneck pace all month just didn’t turn out to be what I wanted. It felt really good, I got a lot done, but when it started feeling like writing a panicked term paper instead of creating a work of fiction, I didn’t feel bad about finding some balance. Getting away and doing something else gives you a chance to re-assess where you are and what you’re doing in the plot and in the characters. You see something or you have a conversation with someone or you just get some perspective, and you find a new level of inspiration, a new direction to take things, a new way to approach that boring, awkward transition scene. Taking a break also helps keep me excited about the book – I’m eager to get back to it if I take a day off, or if I get out and do something with other humans (gasp!) for a few hours.

My goal now is to finish this rough draft by the end of December. During NaNo, I generally felt the best at around 1,000 words per day, so I’m going for that to finish out the year. And yeah, I’ll take days off, probably, and I’ll write more some days. Will I do NaNoWriMo next year? Depends on what’s cookin’, but I think so, yeah! Whether I finish or not, it’s been worth it to participate.

Week 3 of NaNoWriMo

I spent the first part of this week running just under National Novel Writing Month goals (1,667 words a day = 50,000 words during the month of November). As the week has gone on, I’ve fallen further and further below goal. Running under goal doesn’t sound like a good thing, but I couldn’t be happier. When I find myself feeling frustrated and thinking things like, “Crap. I’ve only written 1,000 words today?” I stop and smile to myself, because any other month of the year, I’d be thinking, “WOW!! I wrote 1,000 words today!!!” There’s also the fact that on days my word count is low, or I end up taking the day off of writing, it’s consistently resulted in me rethinking something that could be better, could move the story forward or in a new direction, or brings out something important that I might’ve missed if I’d shoved on through my word count just to get it out. Here’s my NaNo trajectory thus far (not including the few additions from Day 21)…it isn’t a perfect diagonal line, but check out those jumps up after my last couple days off!

week 3 stats

Day 15: 1,356 words added, but I worked through some sticky parts I wasn’t sure what to do with…which is awesome.

Day 16: 1,840 words, and a huge breakthrough – all because I decided to say screw the plot structure I had in mind and just write a funny confrontation scene between a set of characters. Completely changed my mind about what happens when in the book. Also had great difficulty going to sleep due to all the ideas that kept popping into my head after I’d already shut down the laptop for the night.

Day 17: 1,515 words, and another breakthrough about the logistics of the characters within the book.

youstabbedhimDay 18: Focused a good chunk of my writing time on moving things around based on my new ideas, to see if they worked. They did, except I need to go back and fill in a chapter later. Moving forward with the story, added 1,473 words.

Day 19: 440 words into the day, I felt like saying, “Screw NaNoWriMo! I’m writing, I’m moving forward, that’s good enough. Who cares if I get to 50,000 words by the end of the month?” So I went out and did stuff in the actual world for a while.

Day 20: Pretty sure I am not going to catch up and finish by the end of November. 3,400 words short and got nothing written today.

Day 21: About 250 words written.

Day 22: Woke up with ideas! Have only begun to implement them, but am glad I backed off and got some perspective, because I’m really excited about where the next section of the book is headed.stats1

So when I look at my stats page on the NaNo website, I haven’t been sweating it too much when my numbers aren’t up to par. After all, writing isn’t work. Just because you work¬†at something does not make it work. In the end, NaNoWriMo is a writing exercise, something to challenge you and give you an excuse to prioritize your writing for a month (to help you remember how to do it the rest of the year!) It’s a kick in the pants, a spring-board, a launching point – not the grindstone. And for all you other Wrimers out there, I hope you’re having fun along the journey, whether you’re on par or not!

Week 2 of NaNoWriMo

After my fabulously victorious first week of National Novel Writing Month, during which I went from 10,000 words to 18,000 words, week 2 has been a struggle. There’s nothing unusual about week 2 being tough, especially since Real Life Happened and caused a hiccup in my new rhythm. But that’s okay, because – after only ONE WEEK, one little tiny week! – I’ve seen a big change in my mindset about writing. As in, I feel weird on they days I don’t write anything. As in, I think about my story in the shower, in the car, while I’m eating lunch, before I fall asleep, as soon as I wake up. As in, I’m getting my writer groove back. And that’s my prime directive this month, so hooray!!

Here’s the day-by-day low-down for week 2:

Day 7: After I posted about how I was starting to lose steam last week, I took a break from the manuscript. During my break, I realized what I wanted to do next, and wrote another 475 words.

Day 8: I took the day off intentionally to try and gain some perspective. Hung out with my brilliant partner-in-crime, cover artist, and may-as-well-be-husband (Zakary Kendall) and had fun discussing weird metaphysical and philosophical aspects of the manuscript. Very inspiring!

Erica Flynn cover by Zakary Kendall

Cover art for The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn. Oil on canvas, Zakary Kendall

Day 9: Real Life Happened. Only wrote about 200 words, but that’s something!

Day 10: 1,500 words, and had fun doing it.

Days 11 & 12: Real Life Ctd. No writing happened.

Day 13: Now officially behind on NaNo word count for the month. However, it was a productive day. I cleaned up my desk area (gasp!), hauled out multicolorful things (i.e., crayons, sharpies, etc.) and paper and arranged them neatly in the middle of the living room floor, and wrote out questions I want/need to explore in my manuscript – about the protagonists, antagonist, plot, world, conflicts, and turning points – as well as some helpful exercises from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, which is an awesome book and every writer should own it and Donald Maass isn’t paying me to say that, I promise. Now I have a bunch of questions and prompts in multicolored sharpie taped up above my desk, and a crap-ton of art supplies and paper ranging from index cards to welcome-mat-sized conveniently located in the middle of the living room floor. Because shiny colors make me happy, and help me write, okay?!?!!!

hellonekoDay 14: 3,000 words. Whenever I felt stuck, I doodled for a while, answered one of my note card questions, or researched something and jotted down notes about it. At around 2,000 words, I took a couple hours’ break – dinner, 1960s Dark Shadows episodes, and chinchilla playtime. And then came back and wrote another 1,000…which brings me almost back up to the overall official word count goal for NaNo – and more importantly, moved my book forward!

 

Day 15: Geared up and ready to rock! …As soon as I finish this coffee.

Things I’ve remembered this week: 1. It’s not that hard to find enough time to write 250-500 words in a day. 2. Taking a break is sometimes more productive than working. 3. One type of creativity usually boosts another, which makes a nice little positive feedback loop. 4. You do not have to write everything in order. If you’re trying to get the story to move on to the next point, but you’re not sure how to do it, and you’re not that interested in the part you’re trying to write, chances are the reader won’t be either. You’re not experiencing writer’s block – you’re experiencing writer’s instinct! Run with it! Run with it to the next bit you think is going to be so cool you can’t wait to get there. 5. First drafts are for fun. Rewrites are for making everything tie together coherently.

Week 1 of NaNoWriMo

The National Novel Writing Month challenge: Write 1,667 words per day, every day in November – and at the end of the month, you’ll have a 50,000 word draft. This year, I’m spring-boarding off NaNoWriMo’s challenge to get a rough draft of my sequel to The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn written by the end of 2015.

Here’s how it’s going so far:

  • Nov. 1: I cheated! I already had about 10,000 words written. I posted on my blog instead of working on my book. But I did think about my book a lot! And any writer who claims that thinking time doesn’t count as writing time is not to be trusted. Yes, sometimes writing looks a lot like I’m playing a video game and eating popcorn. That does NOT mean I’m not writing!
  • Nov. 2: Wrote about 3,000 words, although admittedly roughly 1,000 of those were copied and pasted from my “parts” file – things I wrote and cut out of the first dozen times I tried to start the book, before I really knew how it started.
  • Nov. 3: Wrote about 1,200 words, which is under the daily word count, but was GOOD STUFF and really kicked things in the right direction with some momentum behind it on one of my two major story lines (my new character, Seth).boyscape quote
  • Nov. 4: About 1,000 words on the Erica story line, all of which I’ll probably cut, because it’s extraneous and I wrote myself into a corner. Still, knowing I’ve got to move forward tomorrow means I backed up and got the perspective to realize what needs to be done.
  • Nov. 5: About 1,200 words in what feels like the right direction for Erica.
  • Nov. 6: Was out of town on a 10-hour there-and-back research trip for my day job. Came home tired and had trouble concentrating. 291 words on the Erica story line, which is better than nothing, no matter how far below goal it is.
  • Nov. 7: At this moment, I’d rather punch myself in the face rather than write. I’m stuck on the Erica story line, and I’m not sure why. Obviously, I’m trying to do something that isn’t working, but I don’t know why it isn’t working. <sarcasm> My favorite! </sarcasm> So I’ve written around 300 words again (so far) today, and I’m going to take a chinchilla break to clear my head. My plan is to tackle this block when my frustration subsides, whether by sitting down and working on it some more directly or by freewriting or playing around with visual art to get my creative ass in gear. I’ll update about NaNo in another week to let you know how it works out!

 

Why I Decided to NaNo This Year

It’s November – National Novel Writing Month! This is the second (not consecutive) year I’ve participated. Given my experience the first year (2011) I wrote a NaNoWriMo draft, (I “won”, but the manuscript was a mess I haven’t been able to face cleaning up), I wasn’t sure how I felt about doing it again. And for four years, I was busy going back to college for a belated bachelor’s degree, so November was a lot less “novel” and a lot more “OMG, how am I going to write four papers and study for four tests in the next two weeks?!?!?!”

Why did I decide to try NaNo again?

1. I already had a book in my head – the sequel to The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn – and I’d already started working on it…including a skeletal idea of the plot and structure.

2. I’d promised myself after I graduated in May that I’d throw myself into my writing projects and finish a rough draft of this book by the end of the year. Well, here it is November, and I wasn’t anywhere close to being done with a first draft.

3. Four years for undergrad is the longest I’ve gone without writing on a semi-regular or constant basis. Ever. In my life. It was never just a habit with me – it was a good chunk of what defined my life, my time, and my sense of myself. While it’s been nice to find out that I’m good at being things other than a writer, it’s also been hard to face a blank page again. Or even a half-written page. Since NaNoWriMo sets a goal (50,000 words written by the end of the month) and breaks it down into a daily, bite-size chunk for me (1,667 words per day), it seems like a good way to bring the habit back, especially since you HAVE to break through the second-guessing stage and just get on a roll to churn out that kind of word count every day.

I made this clock about 5 years ago. Acrylics, playing cards, and clock kitYes, it’ll be nice to “win” NaNo. But the important thing for me is to get back to being a writer – by actively writing, by consciously thinking about my story, and by being in the mindset of writing in my head all the time, even when I’m driving or doing the dishes or listening to people talk while I’m waiting in line. And although I’ll be thrilled to have 50,000 words toward a working draft down by the end of the month, I know the work doesn’t stop there. For one thing, I’ll probably need closer to 60,000 words to finish this story up – but I can do that by the end of December, if I keep up the good habits I pick back up from NaNo. For another, a first draft is the easy part, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Knowing me, I’ll be another year on the rewrites, because I need time between drafts to get perspective before I look at my stories again. That’s my process, and it works for me.

Now, back to writing this draft……

I Refuse the Winter Blues

Sooooo, it’s November. And that means (1) October, my favorite month, is over, (2) Halloween, my favorite holiday (aside from my birthday) is over, and (3) those of us who live in very silly places such as Louisville, Kentucky, have, through some clumsy arrangement, probably owing to an ill-natured fairy, been subjected to the sadness of Daylight Savings Time, which means now it gets dark at, like, 6pm, and will be dark by about 4:30 by Winter Solstice. BUT! I refuse to submit to being miserable just because it’s going to be dark and cold and rainy and…well…miserable for the next 4-5 months.

So here is my list of things I love about winter, in case I forget the bright side of the dark season:

  1. Appreciating the fact that you have heat, light, and hot food to get you through the winter. It’s nice not to freeze your ass off with nothing but candlelight to read by!
  2. No chiggers, no ticks, no mosquitoes, and barely any spiders. In my line of work, this is especially joyous.
  3. I don’t have to worry about heat exhaustion in the field. Again, as an archaeology tech, this is a big bonus.
  4. Hot chocolate, hot cider, hot chai, hot tea, hot APPLE JACK (heat apple cider, add desired amount of whiskey). AND SEASONAL DARK BEERS ON TAP…someone pass me a bourbon barrel stout, please? Or an Old Rasputin?
  5. All the excuse I need to hunker down and read/write/build up my guitar chops/draw. Why do you think Russian literature and folk art are so amazing?
    IMG_1982IMG_1964IMG_1974IMG_1958
    Hand-carved bone picture frame, hand-carved wooden toy set, hand-carved wooden sculpture, hand-painted bracelet, all in the Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
  6. I can take my chinchilla out to the park in her runabout ball, and she won’t overheat while she’s playing!
  7. Snuggling, space heaters, blankets, wool socks, sweaters, and the opportunity to wear an array of jackets. Plus, nobody gives a damn if your layers match or look good on you by February.
  8. Christmas cookies, pot roasts, and other comfort foods.
  9. Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you & your family and friends celebrate) and New Year’s and camaraderie.
  10. Striking winter landscapes, especially with snow on them.
    snow14ice
  11. Looking forward to spring again and planning your next garden.
  12. Watching the light come back after the solstice.
  13. Learning to appreciate sticky-hot weather you know is gonna come in the summer.

Knight at the Crossroads

The new header image on my site, in case you’re wondering, is part of a photo (of an oil painting) I took in the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg in 2013. The painting is Knight at the Crossroads by Victor Vasnetsov, completed in 1878. Here is the full painting, pulled from Wikimedia:

TheKnightAtTheCrossroads

Crossroads are a big thing in many folk tales, including Russian folk tales, but in Russia, crossroads are frequently used as a metaphor for the pull between East and West, Asia and Europe, tradition and modernization. In the last quarter of the 19th century, Vasnetsov’s imagery would’ve been even more striking than it is for me to look at, today, as a non-Russian – and it is striking, even out of its context.

Guest Post with Jack Wallen

I’m not updating my own site because I’m busy being¬† interviewed over on Jack Wallen’s site! Jack writes lots and lots and lots of super-cool books (seriously, like every 2 months, guys!), ranging from steampunk to horror to zombie apocalypse, and sends many of them to me for editing. So go check out my interview, and then go check out the rest of Jack’s site!

Imaginarium 2015

Last weekend, I attended Louisville’s second annual Imaginarium Convention for creative writers (and readers). I went last year, too, and have had a blast both times. Great programming, great networking, and great company. Plus, it’s held in the same hotel where the long-gone Rivercon Science Fiction Convention used to be held, which means it brings back great memories for me of attending my very first convention with my mom, 23 years ago. I’ve decided that I need a reversible hat to wear next year, with editor on one side and writer on the other, so people will know from which point of view I’m speaking.

This year, I was on 5 panels: one about the role of an editor; one about the writer-editor relationship (and how the editor is, in fact, your friend, even if they put enough red on your manuscript that it would never make it past Hollywood censorship); one about choosing and pulling off either a lone hero tale or a heroic group story (which, ironically, had neither a lone hero for a speaker nor a heroic group of speakers, but yet a third narrative choice: a dynamic duo of speakers); a panel about steampunk (which was lots of fun, and in which we discussed various other ‘punks, too, such as deiselpunk, clockpunk, etc.); and a panel about plotting, and how different writers do it (or don’t). So now you know the kinds of things writers sit around and talk about in secret.

I also attended a couple of panels as an audience member – one about balancing a day job and a writing schedule (because it ain’t easy getting back into a routine after four years away from creative writing), one about writing non-human characters (because the sequel to Erica Flynn includes some), and one about writing the zombie apocalypse (because two of my editing clients do). There were a bunch more I *wanted* to attend, but they were at the same times as the panels I was speaking on. These included, but weren’t limited to, panels on historical writing, unconventional fantasy, and comic books. As you can see, there’s a pretty good variety of topics at Imaginarium, which is one of the reasons I love it! Plus, they had a dragon this year. I mean, how can I not love it?

If I could change one thing about Imaginarium, it would be to add a tea/coffee room for the convention, so there would be a hangout spot to just shoot the shit with other writers. Because writers, myself included, love nothing better than to shoot the shit over caffeinated beverages!

IMG_3886

Mom, the dragon, and me