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Camp NaNoWriMo: Week 2

The second week of NaNoWriMo is upon us! Now that the first week push is totally over (and motivation is waning, might I add), it’s time to bring it back home and address all the things that currently might be standing in our way.

I, for one, have started out pretty droopy. Even though I am trying to use NaNo as fuel to get me to the end of Disconnect, I am finding myself still getting stuck in the mud of discouragement, writer’s block and misty character motivation. My plot that I thought had all figured out decided to take a small twist, giving me whiplash and leaving me feeling disoriented for a few days, I did manage to hurtle the initial writer’s block I was experiencing before Camp started only to faceplant into the one only a few feet behind it, leaving me with should-I-keep-this-character musings that I would much rather not deal with.

But enough kvetching about my week one woes. It’s time to talk about the solving of them.

Discouragement is a horrible thing to encounter. If you are anything like me, outputting an enormous amount of words in one day is like trying to lift a 1,666 lb angry cat with one hand and no glove. In other words, it hurts and you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. 

The solution is simple: Do what you can do. Don’t hurt yourself trying to kick the angry cat’s butt, go kick the butt of the weight machine first, and maybe go shopping for body armor. Work up to that 1,666 words per day. Sure it gets you behind, but after sitting on the couch your whole life, you aren’t going to one day be able to stand up and say “Hey! I’m going to run a marathon today!” You need to begin training. If the word count you can pull of in your best day is only a few hundred words, then great! Try to add another hundred to that the next day, and the next day, and the day after that, even if you have to carve an extra three hours out of your day to do it. In my opinion, NaNoWriMo isn’t just about finishing off a novel, but also pushing yourself to do your best and reach a goal.

The next thing to address is the bane of every writer’s existence: Writer’s Block. Having been wrestling with my own sever case of WHY-ISN’T-THIS-WORKING, I discovered that you can’t take the inspiration train to happy land through a wall of death. It’s one of those things you need to get up, face and start knocking your forehead against until you see the light peeping through tiny cracks and make them big enough to shove through. Writer’s block is work, and you have to keep clocking in and force yourself through slogs of nasty, cheesy dialogue, bumpy prose and embarrassing cliches.

The directors at NaNo recommend throwing in something unexpected like ninjas (my personal favorite) or stampeding elephants and seeing how your characters react from there. Even though you’ll probably have to delete the scene in later drafts, at least you learn things about your characters like how they react to absurdity, or what their fighting skills are like, maybe even who would throw who under the bus in times of life and death. Who knows? You could uncover a plot gem! A new twist! A sub plot! The possibilities are endless.

Something that seems to be working the best for me in times of writing block is switching mediums and the occasional environment. For example, I since summer started I started going to sit outside on the deck with my laptop perched on the bistro table, watching the hummingbirds divebomb each other while the sun rises. For me, the change from my desk to outside in the cool morning helped a lot. When I’m super blocked, I resort to the good ol’ writing journal and handwrite it out. This allows me to get over the mentality that everything has to be perfect and that I’m allowed to make mistakes. A lot of times I’ll write out the same scene several different times in my journal to help me figure out what I want to accomplish.

But probably the most important thing you can do to help yourself with a block is continue writing. Those walls slow you down and bring all the fun to a stop. Don’t let that happen, and a lot of the time, everything will work itself out. You’ll be back on track and getting things done before you know it.

The last thing I’d like to quickly address is  busting your way through character motivation. This first week, a scene occurred to me that didn’t really seem congruent with the rest of what I had written. I really liked it, and my IR said it was one of her favorite scenes I’d done yet. My only issue I had a character take a full 360 turn for about 2 pages then reverting back to the original personality I had given them. I couldn’t figure out if this was a part of the character I didn’t know about yet, or if I was just tailoring things to go my protagonist’s way for the sake of building his character. There are really only two bits of advice I can think of to give in situations like these.

The first mirrors what I said about writer’s block. Try journalizing about it. Write different scenes with them. Try some choppy pieces of dialogue with them. Introduce them to ninjas. Do something away from your manuscript to try and figure out who they are and why they act certain ways.

The next involves interviewing your character. I’ve only done this a couple times, and not with this particular storyline, but it works, and I enjoy it a lot. Having a back and forth or even an arguement with the character as an author lets you know a ton about motivations, especially if the characters are open enough with you to come out and say it. I’ll admit, it’s a little eerie when that happens, but totally worth it.

Well fellow NaNoers and non-Nanoers alike, this post has run long enough, and I hope it helped at least someone out there struggling with their own week one woes; I know it’s certainly helped me!

Time to get back to that manuscript! Stay strong and write on!

ACE

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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Writing Events

 

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Revision: Its Bark is Worse Than Its Bite

Revision is a scary word, a scary idea, hard to start and overwhelming. Over the course of the past two weeks, revision is all I have been doing and I am here to tell you that “revising is a process more dreaded than dreadful” (Burroway 341).

I have always been afraid of the “R” word. No joke. Ever since I began writing it has been a block to me. Just like with the journals, I have been under the impression that revising would ruin the integrity of the story and take it from its purer form. In this case I am right. It does take it away from its “true form”, but like a diamond goes through many stages of cutting and polishing to produce the gorgeous sparking gem we recognize, a story must go through the same process. While in the cooling stage of first drafting, your diamond is in its roughest and purest form. Don’t be afraid to chip it out of that dirty piece of coal and polish it to perfection (or at least as close to it as you can get, anyway).

This is what I have been doing with my first 25 pages of Disconnect, and I’m happy to say I now have a solid prologue and first two chapters.

Back to the quotation by Burroway, revision is harder the longer that you are not doing it. As I began pulling apart my manuscript (a feat that took a good week’s hard work between classes and riding buses), I discovered that I was actually enjoying myself. I liked returning to old work I had let cool off over the semester while I moved forward with narration from different sections of the book, and seeing how much my character and narrative had developed as I fleshed the story out. Additionally, I found I kinda like the way red lines, scribbles and margin notes look across my sheets.

When I finally finished marking up my manuscript, it was time to take to the keyboard and hash out all my notes. This was the hardest part for me. Once I had all my notes figured out, I needed to bring them to life, make them real. Seeing as my deadline was fast approaching, it took three days of at least 8 hour sessions a day to finish.

I’m going to be frank with you. It sucked. I felt like I made it worse. It’s been a week and a day exactly since I submitted what I had to my professor and still have not gone back to read what I did. I’ll go look back eventually, but not until I have made sufficient distance between me and those chapters.

Now as you are revising your own work, I would highly recommend a few things:

  1. Look for sentences that are unnecessarily long and wordy
  2. Look for descriptions you could succinctify
  3. Ask yourself questions like “Would my character really do or say this?”, or “Is there a way I can show this through dialog/action rather than telling?”
  4. Allow yourself to explore the possibilities. Keep in mind that if there is a gun on the mantle in Act I, it has to go off by Act III.
  5. Keep every draft you complete. I have a program called Scrivener on my laptop that works wonders for this. It has the option to create folders and sub folders that can house multiple revisions and things of the like.
  6. Don’t get discouraged. It takes you nowhere. If you are feeling down, go talk to your wonderful IR and they should have no problem cheering you up.
  7. Reward yourself when you finish. Why wouldn’t you crack open that stash of Cadbury’s Eggs? Or ice cream? Or chocolate bars? Believe me when I say you deserve it.
 
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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in On Writing

 

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The Ideal Reader

In honor of my wonderful Ideal Reader’s birthday this past week, today’s post is going to be about the Ideal Reader–probably one of my most favorite people to deal with in the writing universe.

In Stephen King’s On Writing, he said the “Ideal Reader is also the best way for you to gauge whether or not your story is paced correctly and if you’ve handled the backstory in a satisfactory fashion.” I believe this is true. Your Ideal Reader, as a definition, is that person that you write for. They represent your audience. They are the type of people you are writing for, and having a representative of them can be your greatest asset.

There are two main take home points King brings up when dealing with your IR:

  1. Watch your IR when they are reading your work. I realize this sounds sorta creepy and maybe unnerving, but you can gather a lot of helpful information by doing so. Be looking for certain reactions: when they laugh, when they are able to put your manuscript down and work on some other activity. These reactions can help you figure out where the story needs to pick up pace and where you are accomplishing the effect you are looking for.
  2. Listen carefully to where your IR didn’t understand. Your IR is similar to a search dog. They can sniff out those passages that just don’t make sense. It’s very likely that those places they didn’t understand, you probably don’t understand yourself*. Ask them what exactly they are confused about and try to pinpoint what areas need fleshing and/or clarification. Some areas that tend to have problems include backstory, description and character motivation, so keep your eyes peeled for those aspects as you write.

*Note: I have found that if the writer doesn’t fully understand the motivations of a character or how things work in their world, it shows in their writing. I’ve noticed it in my own work. I tend to get very vague and wishy washy about what I want to say in regard to the scene or event I’m working on.

When I work with my IR I do things a little bit differently. My IR has a lot more involvement in my writing process than King’s does in his. Rather than locking her out entirely as I’m drafting, I tend to use my her as a sounding board. Lucky for me, I work with her almost every day, and I’m able to bounce things off of her whenever I want, and I’ve found it helps me flesh out the world more completely. She asks me questions that make me really think about what I’m writing. How things work, why things happen the way they do, stuff like that. Numerous times she’s helped me out of literary jams and writer’s blocks, and provides the occasional encouragement that every writer needs.

In the selection of IR’s, I would highly recommend you find someone close to you that you could trust with babysitting your first born child, because that’s what your work is, right? I pick from those that I have known the longest and have been with me from the very beginning of all beginnings. I’ve known my IR since the beginning of my first book, True Heir to Freedom’s Throne, when I was 13, but I didn’t realize that she was my Ideal Reader until I reconnected with her after high school at my current job. The moment I figured this out was the best day of my life, might I add, because I got a better idea of who my target audience is. It really improved my writing a lot, and I am so grateful for her.

Oh, and one more thing:

Happy Birthday Jess. I freakin’ love your guts. ❤

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2012 in On Writing

 

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