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.

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Writing Troubles

I don’t know how many other writers have this problem, but if I can’t visualize a scene, it’s like banging my head into a brick wall to get through it. I’ve hit that point in my current work in progress. I have a solid opening to the novel, and I know where I want to go with it. I have clear ideas about the themes, tone, characters, motifs, plot, and many of the settings. Now, usually, I just go from the last section I’ve written and see if things start to connect up. Usually, once I start writing, I start being able to picture the events unfolding, and it all goes fine. So what happens when, like now, the scene doesn’t start playing out on its own?

It’s not exactly writer’s block. I can write what the character is thinking just fine. It just isn’t going anywhere. Here are some steps I generally take to move forward:

  • Keep writing what the character is thinking – I can always trim it to a “scraps” file if it isn’t necessary to the book – until something clicks.
  • Work on the setting. Where is the scene taking place? Did I pick that setting for a reason, or was it just the first thing I thought of? If the former, then why is that setting important? What about that setting helps move the scene forward? Is there something the character notices in the setting that causes a reaction or a realization? If I picked the setting because it was just the first idea I had, then (a) Was there actually a purpose to the setting that I didn’t realize? and (b) if not, is brainstorm at least three alternative settings and try them out. For example, did I pick a coffee shop because that seemed like a “normal” setting? Do I even want a “normal” setting for this scene? What if I picked a library’s room for rare and antique volumes, an abandoned train station, or the alligator house at a zoo?
  • Work on the details. Going off the previous idea, if I want to picture a setting, I need to think about the details if they aren’t coming automatically. Usually the first place I start is making sure I have at least one detail per sense – sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. And touch doesn’t have to be texture. It could be air pressure, humidity, temperature.
  • Find something external that inspires you. For me, music is often the key to getting my brain going. If I hear a song that fits the story or the character, everything can just click into place at once. Some of my favorite scenes from Erica Flynn came about entirely as the result of daydreaming while listening to music. Something I like to do these days is look around Pinterest for inspiration. Between the architecture, nature, art, and travel pins, there’s usually something that strikes me and gives me something to start with.
  • Writing exercises. There are plenty of writing exercises to get you going when you don’t have a story yet, but there are also plenty out there to help you once you’ve got a story going – and even for the revision process – and are having trouble getting it where you want it. My personal go-to when I’m struggling is Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, which is chock-full of advice, examples, and exercises for character, plot, setting, tension, bad guys, good guys, and everything in between.
  • Back up. Instead of trying to force a scene that’s lying there like a miserable blob on the page, consider that it might not be working because you’re trying to do something wrong for the story. Are you ignoring a character’s reservations about something? If so, back up and use those reservations to create inner conflict – that’s prime stuff! Are you trying too hard to make something happen that doesn’t need to happen? Are you trying to put in a scene that isn’t necessary, that’s just padding in the end? Are you writing yourself into a corner? Sometimes you subconsciously know better, and it’s worth listening to the signals. For example, I just realized that I’m totally ignoring the fact that, even though my character has motivation to do something she’s been asked to do, she currently has no reason to be in a hurry about it. *facepalm* Maybe that’s why I’m stuck, d’ya think?
  • Talk to someone. Another writer, a friend who likes to read, a friend who hates reading but likes good movies….anyone you trust to give a damn if you need to vent about your writing frustrations. Sometimes, like anything in life, you’ll find the answer in talking about it. Sometimes, other people ask good questions and have good suggestions. And sometimes, you end up with a great brainstorming session.
  • Chill out and do something else for a while. It may not look or feel like you’re writing to anyone else, but some of your best work as a writer happens when you’re not typing or scribbling things in a notebook. Daydream for a while. Cook. Draw. Color. Go to work. Get groceries. Take a shower. Take the dog for a walk. Go to the park. Call your mom. Go out with friends. Sleep on it. Your brain will still work on your story. The best part of your brain – your subconscious – is always working on your story. Just make sure you sit down at that computer or scribble in that notebook again tomorrow.

Well, since blogging about my frustrations seems to have pinpointed a trouble spot, I think I’ll go do something else for a while and then try sitting back down at the laptop again later!

10-Word Poems

I’ve been doing my best to organize my stuff (especially papers) before the fall semester begins.  In going through the huge plastic tubs full of notes, documents, writing exercises, random movie ticket stubs, drawings from nephews, etc. in order to categorize everything into folders, I’ve run across a lot of things I’d forgotten about.  Some of the things I’d forgotten I had, I’ve been so happy to rediscover.  Letters from my family from times when we were far apart, comic books my nephew drew and mailed to me, notes from high school classes with my friends…sure have brought a smile to my face and, at times, tears to my eyes in the past few weeks.

One of the really fun things I rediscovered was a set of 10-word poems that my mom and I wrote.  It’s a writer-nerd game that any number of writers can play together:  Each person writes their name on a sheet of paper and passes it to however many other writers there are.  When each sheet has a title from each person (except the person whose name is on it) it gets passed back to the owner.  When you get your titles back, you have to write a 10-word poem for each title.  Sometimes, this gets extremely silly.  Sometimes, it gets unexpectedly deep!  And mind you, these aren’t haiku – you don’t have to count syllables, just words, and you can break the lines up however you want.

Here are a couple of our silly results:

Gluttonous Carnivorous Extravaganza

Meat! Meat! Meat!

What joy!

People everywhere!

Title by Sara Marian, Poem by Marian Allen

 

Penguin

A business suit and

A cheerful disposition —

What excellent company!

Title by Marian Allen, Poem by Sara Marian

 

What Day is This? Saturday? Tuesday? Wednesday.

Having successfully completed another semester of school, and not having posted anything on my blog in that entire semester, on this first day of my summer break, it seems like a good idea to update.

My writing life has felt very much on hold for the past four months, but when I think about it, I did make some progress.  I got 5 rejections from agents for my Erica Flynn novel (3 of those in the same day, which is a first for me).  I converted my 50,000-word rough draft from NaNoWriMo 2010  into a reasonable working outline.

Now that I have all summer free (well, free aside from my job and my assistance in the archaeology lab on campus) my brain is turning to questions about new project options.  Should I finish outlining the unwritten 2/3 of the events of my NaNo 2010 project?  Should I draft something new?  And if I draft something new, which of my new ideas should I work on – or how can I combine all of them into one cohesive novel?  Should I outline first, and then write a draft of a new book?  Or should I wing it, NaNo style, but spread it out over 3 months instead of just one?

It popped into my head this morning that it would be sort of fun to do a complete outline of a book every day for a week, no holds barred on going over the top with the plot or being silly about it.  As a rule, I get a lot more out of nonsense than I do over-planning and being too serious with my work.  It might be a good way to loosen up and shake some inspiration loose!  Maybe I’ll do one tomorrow and my next post will be about how it turns out.

Friday Exercise – WHAT Did You Just Say To Me?

Oh, misunderstandings!  You are the curse of the social animal.  Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, from minor to life-changing, miscommunications happen all the time.  Write an exchange of dialogue in which 2 characters are completely missing what the other person is saying.

Maybe one is being completely straightforward and clear, and the other is assuming subliminal meanings or ulterior motives that aren’t there.  Maybe they’re both playing coy, but misunderstanding one another’s meaning because neither one is being clear.  Maybe one is taking what the other is saying the wrong way, or seeing a threat where none is intended.  Maybe one of them is flat hard of hearing, and literally can’t tell what in the world the other person is saying.  Maybe connotation is in the way – what’s offensive or insulting to one person isn’t always a bad thing at all to someone else.

There’s the prompt.  Now see where it takes you!

Friday Exercise – Compiling Conflicts

A crisis occurs in your story.  Doesn’t matter what kind of crisis; any crisis will do.  Obviously, that means there’s conflict occurring – but don’t stop at one conflict.  Dig a little deeper into the situation, and find at least 3 forms of conflict within this one event.

As an example, say one character is threatening another.  The obvious conflict here is one character vs. another.  But then there’s the threatened character’s response to account for – are anger and fear battling for dominance?  The desire to strike first vs. the fear of repercussion or vs. the desire to do the “right thing”?  What about other external factors?  Is another character pushing one of the others toward a certain decision, angling for a certain outcome?  Or is the threatener internally conflicted, too?  Or do the police get involved?  And are there legal considerations at odds with one another in this instance?

The more angles you have on any conflict you write about, the more depth you can put into it, the more you can make it count, the more your characters will come across as “real people”, and the more intriguing the events themselves will be.

Friday Exercise – Wish List

Make a list of 5 elements you know you want in your next story (or book).  If you know what tone you want, a few of your main characters’ traits, whether you want first or third person narration, what genre you want, where you want to set it or what kind of setting you’d like to use.  For example:

  1. three friends as the central characters
  2. lots of humor and banter in the narration and dialogue
  3. scenic setting…maybe on a journey of some kind?
  4. adventures and mishaps, and maybe a battle with a tin of pineapple?
  5. a dog

And that example is pulled from Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, by the way, which is the funniest thing ever written.

Think of it as sort of a wish list for your story.  List more than 5 things…list as many things as you can come up with.  Fill in the details.  You want to write something that will fit into the steampunk genre?  Okay, so which established elements of steampunk do you want, and how is your story a little different?  How can you take an element of it a little further, give it a twist, or focus on an area that’s been overlooked before?  You want an exotic setting.  Otherworld or real-world exotic?  If it’s the real world, pick a place you’ve always wanted to know more about, or that you’ve visited, and do some research.  If it’s otherworldly, are you going for futuristic, alternate history, another planet, science fiction, or fantasy?

The point is to aim for what you’re excited about writing, and then get you asking and answering questions to focus your sights.

Friday Exercise – 3 Changes, 3 Complications

Write down three major life changes – stuff like moving, losing a job, getting a divorce, etc.  Whatever three come to mind for you.  Now write down three complications to successfully making these three transitions – can’t get a buyer for the house, no jobs available in the character’s field, ex gets stalky.

Now start an outline for a book, because this will be too much plot to fit into a short story, most likely.  And going along with the three things theme, you could work in a list of actions your character takes to try to fix each of your complications, a list of three supports that help your character, a list of the reasons why the first three things came to be, a list of the outcomes for each of the three initial problems.

Personally, I’m already off on a mental tangent about how the house is haunted and that’s why no one will buy it, and the character’s old job field was a miserable drain on his energy and in his efforts to sell the house he does a bunch of remodeling on it and makes it gorgeous and becomes a professional home renovator and loves it, and decides to keep his now-beautiful house, and his stalky ex-wife gets attacked by the ghosts when she sneaks in through the basement one night and…see, this exercise will totally give you ideas!  So go do it.