NaNoWriMo 2017

I will not be doing NaNoWriMo this year. I know, strange to hear an author say that, but here are the five reasons why I won’t be joining in the “fun”.

 

  • I Already Wrote Three First Drafts This Year – Not quite the four per year of more established romance authors, but I feel like it’s still an accomplishment. Maybe not the book in a month of NaNoWriMo, but clearly I already have the motivation to produce.

 

  • I have Five Books That Need Revising – In addition to the three new first drafts I produced this year, I also have two other books in need of revision. I need to be focusing on that as much, if not more, than producing new content right now.
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Yeah, about like that.

 

  • Prep Book For Publishing – I am seriously considering the self-publishing route right now. I’ve been querying a completed book, and I haven’t found any agents interested. But this means I need to spend some of my writing time formatting the book and figuring out how to launch it rather than write.

 

  • I want My Family to NOT Hate Me – This is a big one. I have that full time day job, and November is one of my busiest times of the year. Even busier than year-end and tax season. Combine that with Thanksgiving, two amazing kids, and a wonderful spouse, and they just don’t need the crap. Seriously. Trying to churn out 1.7k words a day is hard. It’s daunting. And it requires a commitment from the whole family I’m not willing to ask.

 

  • Stress Kills Creativity –  For me, NaNoWriMo isn’t motivating, it’s stressful. That makes it even harder to be creative, especially in an already stressful time of my life.
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Me starting mid-October to April 16th

 

  • I Want Writing to Stay Fun – The reason I write is because I love to create character and worlds. I love to see good triumph and get my happily-ever-after. I’ve loved reading since I was a small kid, and I decided I wanted to write after reading some books with crappy endings. I wanted control. To see things resolved properly. No control issues here. Nope. None at all.
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Me reading a book. Yup.

The one thing I’ve learned is every writer is different. What works for me doesn’t work for them. So, if NaNoWriMo is something that helps a writer achieve their goals, great!

I simply haven’t found it helpful, and for things like work-life-family balance, I’ve found it detrimental. I’m much happier with my five-hundred words-a-day goal. A lot of days I get more, but most days I get at least the five-hundred. It works for me.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, I’ll still be here, but I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines.

How about you? Do you find deadlines like NaNoWriMo beneficial? Do deadlines help motivate you? Or do you find the added stress actually makes it harder to achieve your goals?

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye is hard. Really hard. The longer you’ve known someone, usually, the harder it is to say goodbye.

As illustrated by the Harry Potter cast.

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Same is true for me when I finish a story. Whether a rewrite or a first draft, there’s a bit of sorrow that casts its shadow on the accomplishment.

So, yes, I finished the most recent edit of “Crowned Prince” that I started on October 24th. It took me eleven weeks to finish, and in that time, I was able to dedicate some pretty serious hours to the revision process. Interesting, as the first draft only took me eight weeks to write.

On this rewrite alone, I’ve traveled with these character for almost a quarter of a year. I’ve spent much of my free-time with them and many hours thinking about them. Working through their foibles, their defeats, and their victories. Seeing them change and grow. Falling in love with them along the way.

As I reread the ending for the eleventh time last night before finally sending it off to my beta readers, I knew I was going to miss these characters. Finally, at long last, they had each other and their happily-ever-after. They’d earned it, they knew what I cost, and they were both willing to fight to keep it.

I lingered with them a while, and then I closed the file and cracked open the novel I finished in October. Best way to beat the sadness of saying goodbye to one set of characters is to become invested in the next set.

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Years ago, when I finished writing my first book (that the Doubt Demon eventually stole), I actually cried when I was done. I had put over two years into the story, and I never thought I’d be able to write another. Took me a lot longer back then to realize I had more than one story in me. Once I realized I could write more than one book, and started work on the new one, I felt much better. Completing it made me feel better yet. (Yeah, Doubt Demon got that one, too).

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I’m not a big fan of book series that feature the same characters as the “leads” over and over, but I do love series that let me go back to the world the author created. Especially if I get a glimpse of some old favorites living their happily-ever-after while becoming invested in new characters.

Perhaps this is why all three books I’ve written so far stand alone, but they’re all in the same world. While you may never “see” the characters from the previous novels “on screen”, you hear the new characters reference them as appropriate. It gives me a little hug of feeling, reminding me I didn’t really say goodbye. I just said until later.

 

How about you? Ever feel sad when you come to the end of a book, whether reading it or writing it? If so, how do you overcome the sadness? Do you like series that feature the same characters? Same world(s)? Why or why not?

Endings Suck

As humans, we aren’t really wired to cope with endings. For much of human history, food was scarce and predators a very real threat. We had to seize the moment. Eat whatever food was available. Fend off immediate threats.

Think about it. There are no “good” endings.

  • The end of a relationship, even if we’re the one that ended it.
  • The end of a candy bar
  • The end of a book
  • The end of life itself

While ending a book isn’t anywhere near as epic as the end of life itself, a reader has invested many precious hours of their life into what I’ve written.

They deserve a good ending. When they don’t get it, fans riot.

Remember Mass Effect? If you never played it, many of the fans of the game were angry at how the writers ended the trilogy. We’d invested ourselves in three full games, only to be cheated at the end.

I suspect they ended it the way they did to lure players into a MMO that they were planning.

Instead of launching that MMO, they ruined their brand, and many players, myself included, haven’t touched the game since.

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As an author, ending the story is as important as beginning it. Maybe more important.

If the writer kills off the characters to get that ending, don’t expect to see me investing my time in another one of their books. I don’t just expect happily-ever-after, I demand it. This is my escape. If I want sad, I have the Economist for that.

I’ve heard the excuses:

  • But it doesn’t give me the impact I want. I need a Romeo and Juliet ending.
  • I have a message, a happy ending doesn’t convey it
  • But some stories just don’t have a happy ending
  • I need a jump-off to my next novel (which is a fast way to make me angry. Give me a whole story, a complete story, and let the next book(s) stand on its own)

 

My response to these excuses:  Get more creative.  I want better. I want an ending worth the time I invested.

With these thoughts in mind, I started to edit the ending of my current novel. After a couple of hours, I knew the ending sucked. Not Mass Effect sucked, but it was still bad.

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My beta reader was right. It needed something more. Something epic. A man has to choose between right and wrong, and his choices dictate not only his life but that of a kingdom. This should grip the reader and make them anxious before resolving it.

I cut over 8,000 words. That’s 10% of my novel. And I started over to write a better ending. To write an ending that would make the reader do a fist pump. To write an ending worthy of the time the reader spent in my world.

Yeah, it’s hard to cut that many of my darlings. Again. But I hope it’ll be worth it in the end.

 

How about you? Do you prefer a happy ending? Do you demand it? Ever do a massive rewrite and watch a huge chunk of your story disappear behind the Delete key? Ever have to rewrite a whole ending?

 

 

Held Together With Paperclips, Clothespins, and Craft Wire

I’m sure there are some people out there that can put together an amazing first draft.

I am not one of them.

Mine looks more like this:

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Yep, novel I finished looks pretty much like this. If you look closely, you can pick out the knight and wizard. Look close. Very close.

Yeah, not exactly the image of the chivalrous knight in shining armor or the powerful prince in line to be king.

How did I end up here instead of with a smooth refined work?

It’s a first draft, and I don’t do much editing as I write because it slows me down. I need to write while my muse is whispering to me. Let the creativity flow. I managed to put together 60,000 words in 6 weeks following this method. Yes, it needs rewriting, but I have a starting point.

Revision pulls out my analytical side, and this crushes my creativity. So, when my first draft is done, my work is held together with a lot of paperclips, clothes pins, and craft wire.

Yes, I can already hear many of you now. Write an outline! Not sure an outline would help my first draft get better, but . . .

Outlines Don’t Work for Me

I know, blasphemy. Almost every bit of writing advice I’ve ever heard has included this. I have yet to make it work.

I start with an outline for a story. I’ll even do character sketches and map out their arcs, blurbs for secondary characters, the whole thing. But I’ve never finished a story I first outlined.

The more I try to force myself to outline, the more rote and dry the story feels until my creativity has abandoned me and my writing feels about as interesting as eating sand.

This is my analytical side shining through. Once that comes out, you aren’t putting it back without a fight. My day job demands I be analytical, methodical, and precise. That side of me has been well-honed.

If you invoke that analytical side, I will follow that outline at hell-or-high-water.

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Maybe not that high of water . . .

I tried slogging through and forcing myself to stick to the outline on four different novels. I now have four half-finished books that will probably never be completed. Unless I run out of ideas and make myself go back to them.

I have since learned to let the story morph. To let it go places I never intended and watch my outline crumble.

Watch characters change in ways I never expected. Watch them reveal things about themselves that crushes my Author-God plans and means a rewrite must happen in the beginning to lay the groundwork for it. Or possibly a bigger rewrite as the character I planned to write is not the one that exists in the story.

I try very hard to turn the Author-God mode off and let things flow. Yes, it creates rewrites later. But at least there’s a finished version to rewrite.

I’ve come to accept that rewrites just are.

We’ve all got our process, and mine doesn’t have to mirror yours. It’s about getting it done, and I’m sure as I get more experience, my methodology will change.

 

How about you? Do you write polished first drafts? If so, what’s your secret? Do you write outlines? Do you stick to them if you do?

 

6 Reasons We Don't Take Good Advice

Whether romantic advice, career advice, or financial advice, there are a a slew of professionals out there that offer it . Some free of charge. Some we pay for. Yet, I (and I suspect many of us) are not always good at taking it.  Even advice we’ve paid for.

How many stories revolve around a hero or heroine not wanting to listen to their aunt, brother, sister, mother, uncle about who the right person is for them? Especially if it turns out that person was right?

After doing some digging, here are the reasons I’ve come up with:

1. The Advice is Bad – We’ve all been given bad advice, even by a professional.Sometimes it’s because we haven’t given them the whole story. Sometimes because they don’t understand. And perhaps sometimes because they really don’t know.

advice2
Tried this. It didn’t work. Co-workers looked at me like I was from Mars.

2. The Advice Conflicts With What We Want – I know i’m guilty of this. Not one, but two financial advisers told me not to try to pay off my mortgage as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to hear them. I lived through the Great Recession and remember how much belt-tightening we had to do to get through it when our primary income was cut by 50%. I don’t ever want to go through that again.

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3. Discouraging –  You see this less with professional advice as they are (usually) in the business to help you succeed.

4. Gut Instinct Takes You Another Direction – This is so nebulous, but sometimes, you just know something is wrong. It intrudes on your thoughts during quiet times. You find yourself mulling it over again and again. I have no idea what gut instinct is, (although I suspect it’s your brain working on a problem in the background) but it seems to be right most of the time.

5. It Differs From Other Advice You’ve Gotten – This is always difficult, especially when you’ve gotten advice from two professionals or two very trusted friends/family members.

6. Anger – Or other negative emotions make us much less likely to take even good advice. Here are other good reasons from real psychologists. Granted, these are mostly work related, but they could be applicable.

 

I guess this means I need to look at Point #2 and reconsider the advice an editor gave me on my manuscript. Just because I don’t want it to be true, doesn’t make it wrong.

 

 

How about you? How willing are you to take advice? What makes you willing or unwilling to take advice? How about offer it?

Let It Go

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Now just imagine a crystal palace at the top.

As I’m working on going through DDs clothes and toys, I’m struck by sadness and a little bit of waste as I give away beautiful outfits that she’s outgrown. Some still with tags on (she was a very late walker and couldn’t wear dresses and crawl).

But unless divine intervention undoes medical intervention, we won’t be having any more children. So, we no longer have a use for rattles or tiny little dresses.

With a bit of sadness and the hope someone else will enjoy the fact I loved playing dress-up with my daughters and bought them way too many girly dresses, I box them up to give them away.

It’s never easy, but I do it because there’s no point in keeping clothes that can never be worn again or toys that’ll only collect dust.

If only I could do this so easily with my writing.

I’ve heard Stephen King’s advice to “kill your darlings,” but for me, it’s more than just that.

Its one thing to cut words, it’s something else to cut chapters, a whole character, or the entire ending.

Yet, it’s still just as necessary as getting rid of old clothes. There’s no more point in having my story cluttered with ill-fitting characters, scenes or endings than there is keeping newborn clothes for my toddler, no matter how much I love those tiny overalls or Rose-printed dress.

While the concept is the same, the execution is vastly different.

I am 40,000 words into my third book (I know, I know, I should concentrate more on publishing what I have, but that isn’t fun). I was working away when I realized a scene I was writing would involve the hero and heroine apart for the next several chapters. By and large, that’s a quick way to annoy your Romance audience. The romance between the characters has to come first, the plot, while important, plays a back-up role. Read a handful of reviews on Amazon, and you’ll see what I mean.

I had written myself into a corner. I either had to separate the hero and heroine or I had to rewrite. In a first draft. Ugh. But I cut over 2,000 words and rewrote them. Back on track, with a little more clutter gone.

It’s pretty easy to know what fits your child and what doesn’t. It’s a whole lot harder to quickly see what works in your novel and what doesn’t. But once I do see it, I can’t un-see it. I try really hard not edit as I write, but sometimes it just happens.

In this case, I’m glad I rewrote now or the whole ending wouldn’t needed a full rewrite. It’s kind of like taking the cute dresses back once you learn DD isn’t going to be walking anytime soon.

Balancing Act: Left Brain vs Right Brain

Life is a regular balancing act of creativity and reason. Of balancing the left and right side of the brain. (And yes, I know this has been thoroughly debunked. And here’s Neil DeGrass Tyson doing it style. Still, you get my point.)

Whether you write stories, paint, sing, do performance art, make jewelry, or arrange flowers, most humans have a creative outlet. It seems to be wired into us, and there are lots of sites out there that will tell you how important creativity is, even in business:

While I think it’s important to foster this creativity in myself and others, I don’t really know how as I never had it fostered in me. As I was growing up, creativity was something for young children. When you reached a certain age, you put your imagination behind you and focused on the important and grown-up things like math, science, and tearing apart literary books looking for meaning rather than writing your own novel.

So, I’ve had to figure out ways to coax out my own creativity, especially when I’m writing a first draft of a story.

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This first draft is when I’m making something out of nothing. Piecing together electrons on a page to tell a story. Granted, my first draft is strung together with paperclips, duct tape, and pipe cleaners, but it has brought into being something that didn’t exist before. Something ready to be engineered into a coherent story driven by the characters.

Getting that first draft onto the page is hard. I’d love to say I’ve found the magic bean that lets your fingers dance across the keyboard as worlds, characters and plot fill the screen. Man, oh man, do I wish I had that bean. Mostly, my creative process involves butt to chair as I struggle to turn off my internal editor and throw words onto the page.

If I poke at those words too much, “edit as I go”, the creativity dies and I’m back into edit mode.

The magic bean is gone.

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So what if my magic bean looks a little bit like coffee…

But, like most things, if I practice turning off that internal editor, I get better at not listening to her and better at letting thoughts become words on a page.

Eventually, a story materializes. Then comes the editing to make those paperclips and duct tape into something I’d want to read.

And there lies my issue.

I have two books written and in various states of revision. But I haven’t figured out how to turn on the editor to get those books publication ready while not losing the skill of getting words onto the page.

I recently got some great advice from an editor, but I haven’t acted on it as I know I’ll lose momentum on the story I’m currently writing. I’ll forget, as I have so many times in the past, how to let the words fill the page.

This may sound silly to you, but my magic bean is a fragile little thing.

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I’ve learned from experience how hard it is to write new stuff after setting it aside to spend time on revisions. I’ve also learned putting a story on hold to go back and revise earlier parts of that story or even revise another story altogether is a death sentence for the story in question. I simply won’t go back to writing it. Or if I do, it’ll only be after “revising” everything I’ve already written a dozen times (which will just be cut in a later true rewrite once the whole book is written).

I clearly haven’t figured this out.

But I have to find a way. I have two completed manuscripts waiting to be revised then queried to agents or self-published.

I need to find a way to squeeze this revision time in between my full-time job, family, and creation of new work.

I need to figure out a way that once the editor brain turns on, I can turn it off again so I can put new words to the page. I just don’t know how to do it yet.

 

How about you? How do you get in the zone to do your creative activity, whatever it may be? What’s lures your muse to you? What sends her running off and how do you get her back? Do you have any issues balancing your creative and analytical sides?

Each Step Counts

If you remember my post from a while back, you’ll know that my Fitbit and I have a rocky relationship. It tracks my steps, or my failure to take steps, and reports it in glorious color.

I learned very quickly that I didn’t suddenly love exercise, nor did I suddenly have an extra hour a day to exercise.

My first week of wearing the Fitbit taught me how few steps a desk jockey really takes. It then taught me that squeezing in a 20 minute walk at lunch took me from deep “F” territory (read sub 5,000) to “D” territory of around 6,000 or so steps.

I was stymied how to get more steps, so I tried adding in a few here and there whenever I could. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk in. Play “chase” with my toddler for a few minutes in the morning. Walk around the lunchroom while I’m waiting for my lunch to heat up. Walk down to someone’s office to have a chat rather than drop an e-mail.

Believe it or not, a lot of these small changes added up. I have now averaged an “A” two weeks in a row at 9,400 steps or more a day.

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Not sure if the habits will stick, but they’re working right now.

So, I started trying this approach for my writing. While it doesn’t work for hard edits or revisions, much like my few steps won’t prep me for a 5K, dropping in a few lines here and there has started to add up. I have a thought, and I quick jot it into e-mail and send it to myself. And much like with my steps, these all add up.

And they add up quickly.

Yes, it takes some time to pull these disparate thoughts together, but its something I can do when I’m not feeling creative. And I’m amazed at some off-the-cuff creativity I’ve had. It seems as if ideas are percolating more even if it’s just back in my subconscious.

I still have another few weeks of working on my new story before I turn back to tackling another revision of book two, or of book one after taking a class on learning more about the first 5 pages.

We’ll see how this writing strategy works then. For the moment, I’m going to see where it takes me.

 

How about you? How’s your relationship with your Fitbit? Have you ever found it easier to just do a little here and there? Do you have a better Fitbit strategy? A better writing strategy?

Analysis: Plots

This might seem self evident, but a story is about something as well as someone.

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As a romance writer and reader, I expect a couple of things from a story:

  1. A romance.
  2. Something keeping the parties in the romance apart
  3. A happily-ever-after ending. This includes the conclusion of the romance as well as removing and resolving whatever had kept the characters apart.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of stories with the first point but severely lacking in the second.

I may not be the average reader, but I need the “something keeping the characters apart” to be more than a misunderstanding a 5 minute conversation could fix.

Something bigger than “I forgot to tell you I wrote the letter”. Bigger than that “incident from ten years ago I had no control over and was no fault of mine but I still can’t possibly love again”.

Preferably, make it something important to the characters you made me love. If it is going to be something from ten years ago, make it so much more than something the character couldn’t control.

Perhaps that’s why I loved Finders Keepers so much. There was more on the line than hurt feelings. We’re talking about full-scale war between the Imperials, Conclave, and ‘Sco with the Imperials at a disadvantage if the ‘Sco and Conclave unite. An even bigger disadvantage if they can find a hidden back door. You feel the tension. There’s a lot riding on Rhys and Trillby.

And you care because you like Rhys. You want him to have a home to go back to.

There is so much more than “oh, there was a terrible accident, but I’m blaming my father without listening to him. Now I’m going to get even with my father by not having any kids and ending his line so I can’t marry you and live happily ever after”.

Um, yeah, which set of characters are you rooting for? Granted, my prejudice is clear in how I presented the scenarios, but you get the point.

Goes back to my character analysis on brooding heroes here and here. Introspection and learning from the past can make a strong hero and a good character arc. I can’t imagine living a life where you think you’re the ultimate stain, a result of your mother being seduced or raped. But I’d much rather read about a hero who turns that into an attitude of protecting women, children etc. from the same threat rather than a hero who abandons the heroine because he has feelings for her and he’s so unworthy. 

Outside forces can be almost anything, especially if you’ve made me love your character and made this thing is important to the character.

It’s really up to the creativity of the author on how to use those outside forces and your characters’ needs to further the story of the romance. It’s all about how to get the characters together, keep the characters together, and give them the chance to fall in love. Yes, in a Romance novel it’s secondary to the Romance, but it’s still important.

Heroine Analysis: Part 4

For my last look at heroine analysis (for the moment, anyway), I took a look at the novel I am currently revising.

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I finished a first draft and my first revision that made me rewrite the whole ending. The heroine is a slave in a fantasy world trying to escape and find freedom.

So, can I not hate her if she were another author’s heroine?

  • Is she Passive? – She’s a slave, so there are areas that she is a bit passive, especially in response to the hero . . . And yet, she has struggled to find a way out of slavery and she is more than willing to stand up to powerful men. I might need to take another look at her interactions with the hero and make sure they aren’t passive. Make sure the reader understands her thoughts and manipulations to gain her freedom.
  • Do I tell one thing and show another? – I don’t think so. Again, I don’t believe I actively tell you that she’s determined. I try to let you feel how she longs for a family and a place to belong, how it’s shaped her, and how she’s willing to give a lot and risk a lot to get it.
  • Does she do stupid things? – No. At one point in the story, she does flee the safety of the palace, but that’s because she has inside information on bad stuff going down. Not foolish, and I laid the groundwork in advance as to where she’d go and why. I had some stupid in the story, and I cut it during the first rewrite. There may be more, but nothing I can quickly identify. Perhaps on revision two. . .

So, I might need to work with her to make sure she doesn’t come across as passive without making her overstep too many bounds as a slave. At least, I should take another look at it and try to be objective on whether I’d be annoyed with her or not.

Now, does she exhibit the traits I’m looking for to like her?

  • Is she actively involved in solving her problem? – Yes. From the beginning, she is fighting to escape and goes to great lengths to do it.
  • Can you identify with her? – I feel like this is harder as she’s a slave in a fantasy world. But perhaps the reader can identify with her feeling alone, unloved, and wanting a home and a family of her own.
  • No Damsels – I need to be very careful with that on this story. The rewrite I’m working on has been addressing a little of this, but the very dominant alpha hero can make it difficult. I need to balance her doing things to save herself with his need to protect. I might need to foil him more, throw much harder obstacles in his path. This will have to come through more on my second or third rewrite.

 

I think the heroine here has potential, and I’ll need to really focus on making her active, not letting the hero do too much rescuing, and showing her strength and determination. Thoughts to keep in mind as I begin the next round of revisions.