Gaining Confidence and Words

NaNoWriMo week 1 stats. I am upwardly mobile.

Friday, November 7 marked the end of the first week of the National Novel Writing Month challenge for 2014 and it has been exhilarating for me.  I did post a few updates on my Facebook page, but don’t want to bore you with too much about it.  I will say that the Reno team is great.  Our fearless leader amazes me with the amount of time and energy she has been putting into getting the write-ins, both in person and on-line, organized and done.  Plus she has written her whole 50,000 words already and is now going beyond!  Great work, Alexandria King.  The encouragement really keeps you focused and pounding away on the keyboard.

What I have learned so far is that I can write close to 5,000 words a day without stalling too much and if I push a little, I can write through the stalls.  I have my techniques that work for me and it seems to be working.  The writing is not perfect and there are cringe-worthy parts that I will rewrite in the editing process.  The key now is to get the story written with the plot mostly working.  Any flaws, plot holes and inconsistencies can be addressed in the editing.

Why is this such a big deal for me?  It means that I finally have managed to turn off the internal editor to the point that it doesn’t slow down the creative part of novel-writing.  It allows me to write without losing the flow of the book and the characters.  It allows the characters to really come into the story and for me to begin to hear their separate voices and really “see” them.  Your logical brain is the editor and that’s not where your creative center is, so being able to turn that part off while writing frees up the creative brain.  And I suspect that while you’re relaxing and sleeping, the logical brain is busy trying to patch in the fixes to the weak parts of your plot because those definitely seem to get sorted out before it’s time to write them.

Another thing that does work for me is the pre-planning.  I started NaNo with a story synopsis that I wrote last month that pretty much outlined the whole novel.  I built the outline in Scrivener, which is writing software that I just learned about and bought in September.  I wish I had gotten this sooner. So, I set the novel up in chapters and scenes in Scrivener and it looks like this:

My novel in Scrivener with the cork board open showing the chapters.

When I started writing, I had a pretty clear idea of the start of the novel while from the middle section on was kind of hazy.  One of the really nice things about Scrivener is that it allows you to write in scenes that you can move around if you need to do without the hassle of cutting and pasting that you have to do in WORD. It’s a simple drag and drop with the corkboard open.  Another great thing is having all your character bios available without having to go to another program or another document to open them.  Same thing for locations and any research that you’ve done or need to do while you’re writing.  You can update these bits of information on the fly and refer to them quickly and easily.

So I can easily say that using this tool has made an improvement on my writing when it comes to organizing and adding to speed while writing.  It’s not for everyone.  For as many people in the writers’ group who love it, there’s just as many more who dislike or feel it’s not useful at all.  It’s one of those tools that if you take a little time to learn it, it can make your job much easier, but if you’re confused by the programming or just don’t see the value, then it’s worthless on your computer.

For me, it’s been great and I’m a huge fan.  This is not an advertisement and I’m not being paid to evaluate this product.  I’m just sharing something that has worked for me and I’m really enthused about.  I finished my sci-fi fantasy novel in October using Scrivener and to prove to myself that I could write at least 1700 words a day.  Even with the learning process of the software, I found it so easy to see right where I was in the book and to take those scenes in little bites, that I had my average daily word count around 2500!  With the extra incentive of NaNo and the write-ins, I am closing in on my 50,000 words already and averaging over 5,000 words a day!  It’s not the end of the novel I’m writing, as I expect it will be between 65,000 and 70,000 words in the first draft.  But I also expect to finish it by the end of November.

Stay with me to see if I make it.  And then I’ll begin the editing process in December.  Hint:  I won’t be editing the book I’m writing this month, but one of the other two I have written and ready to be edited.

Please leave me any comments or ask any questions you might have about this adventure in speed writing.

Blazing Fingers

Participant-2014-Twitter-Profile

How fast can you type?  I think when I’m really on a roll and I have cooperation from my fingers, I clock in around 70 words per minute, but there’s usually a few typos in there.  On average, I am about 60 wpm.

So when you sit down to write a novel, you’d think you could really pound those words out, wouldn’t you?  Nope, I did 1,325 words in the first hour of the morning on November 1, the first hour of NaNoWriMo.  That’s about 28 words a minute, which shows how much of my time is spent thinking about what I’m writing.

Some people are already over half-way to the 50,000 word goal on the first day and I’ve heard that one person actually does the full 50,000 in a 24 hour stretch on the first day.  I’m not sure how they do it, but they are truly amazing writers.

I wrote over 5,000 words total on the first day and I am proud of that because I’ve never written that many words in one day.  But at the end of the day, my brain was tired, literally.  More than the extreme typing trick to write even 24,000 words in one day is the strain on a brain that isn’t used to continuously tying words and plots together to keep that kind of momentum going.

Of course, there is the “just write” mentality behind the writing that’s going on and some people just throw down words and ideas and keep going, which is fine in this situation.  The objective is to get 50,000 words towards your new novel, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be the best words or even words that will ultimately end up in the novel.

My own objective is to have the first draft be the base for a novel that will be revised a few times, polished and published later.  So even though I’m writing as fast as I can, I want to feel that the story is following my outline, somewhat, and will be something I can work with later to get a publishable book.  I am already cringing at some of the phrasing and word choices as I write them, but I know they will be changed later.  The essence of the scene is down and it will be refined with the next draft.

So, I’ll try not to babble about this project too much over the next few weeks, but it is consuming my thoughts at the moment.  I will put up a chart, because I like to do them, next week of my week’s word count, but I will talk more about either the novel I am writing or the one I just finished the first draft on last week.

To anyone reading, thanks for following along with me and please feel free to subscribe and comment about my posts or ask questions.

10 Writing Tips I’ve Discovered

50K-words

One week from today is November 1, the start of the NaNoWriMo event, so it is exciting and still a little scary. As I posted to Facebook, I just completed over 50,000 words on my current work-in-progress, “O’Ceagan’s Legacy”  in 23 days and I am only two chapters away now from completing it. I am targeting the end of this weekend to try to wrap up the first draft. So I feel pretty good about that. Apart from wanting to get the book completed before I start on the new book on November 1, I wanted to see if I could write at the pace it would take for NaNo. Now I have proven to myself that I can do it. But here’s 10 other things I learned while doing this:

One  

Set aside the time to write in the morning or early afternoon and stick to it. Plan on additional writing in the late afternoon or evening. I even try to write for a short while after I turn off the TV set at night. After a couple of weeks, you’re beginning to get conditioned to this. It is sort of like training for a marathon, but not as physically tiring. You make up for it in mental exhaustion.

Two

Having a plan is really important for me. How do the pantsers do it? I like having an outline and knowing where my story is going and how it is going to get there. Not that I don’t have detours along the route and sometimes we go to an entirely different place than I planned, but that’s all right.

Three

Scrivener has been an amazing tool with the notes and scene planning and I wonder how I managed without it before. Oh, yes, I had those stacks of index cards with scribbled notes that I kept shuffling around. That worked well… not! So easy to adjust the scenes and move them around with this program.

Four

Take breaks while writing. Get up and move around, shake out the tension in your shoulders and put the book out of your mind for a little while. I like to play a video game for about 30 minutes to distract me and let my subconscious work.

Five

Don’t stop to edit. I’ve heard this from many people and it is something I have to work on. I still see the red squiggles under misspelled words and go back to correct them. So you noticed that you used the same word in the second sentence that you used in the first. Let it go. You’ll correct it in the next draft.

Six

Yes, this section really sucks and it feels flat, but once again, the story is the important thing now. The art of the words comes with subsequent drafts.

Seven

Holy cow! Is that a plot hole or what? Well, yes, your spaceship just flew through it, but make a note and you’ll fix it on the rewrite. This kind of includes things like this is more technical that I actually know, but research on those troublesome items can also come with the second draft.

Eight

Never mind that your main character thinks she suckered you in. You want to hear from your characters, as many as possible, because the mind works in a very strange way and those character viewpoints help you make the whole darn thing work. If you can hear and see them, then your story is coming alive and writing goes much more smoothly.

Nine

Stumped with something in the story and nothing is coming to mind to put on the paper? It’s not really writer’s block, not when you know what has to happen. I have two options to get around this.

• One is to write a different scene, either the next one or one in a different part of the story. Often other scenes are clearer in my mind, so skipping to one is a quick way to get the brain going again.  It sometimes helps to work out the details for the scene I’m having trouble with.

• This other technique has worked for me for many years. Pick up a pen and paper and write it out in longhand.  Because I did technical writing as well as article writing for many years, I tend to engage the logical side of the brain more when I’m on the computer. But I started writing stories as a child and I wrote them out on paper before I typed them with a typewriter. When you have to keep typing the whole book over for edits, you do tend to edit when typing. So, it seems that picking up the pen signals the creative side of my brain that we can relax and let the ideas flow.

Ten 

Take time to pet the cats and don’t get too upset with them when they decide that you’ve typed enough and the keyboard is in the way of their grooming on your lap. This is really important, especially to the cats. They help you to relax and sometimes that helps bring the story out. Besides if you ignore them, they will simply lie on your keyboard and put all kinds of unwanted cat words into the book… or worse.

These techniques may not work for everyone, but if the last 24 days have been an example for me, then they may be keys to my success next month. I am certainly hoping that’s the case.

Got some other tips for NaNoWriMo? Let me know in the comments. I need all the help I can get!

Character Building and Inspiration

Monument at Lady of the Snows Catholic Cemetery, Reno NV -Photo by R. Averett

A little under two weeks until the start of NaNoWriMo on November 1st and novel prep is underway.  I will be writing the first book in, what I plan to be a series, called Funeral Singer: A Song for Marielle.  It’s a paranormal mystery, think a Ghost Whisperer type of story.  I am so excited about writing this story and I have the plot worked out, although stories do tend to take side excursions on me as I am writing.

Character

This past week was spent with the characters more and getting the background for them worked out.  I am still adding to them, but most of them have names and histories and are beginning to “come to life” in my brain.  You know you’re succeeding when they start talking to you.  I think I am getting close to at least my main character speaking up.  That’s always a fun time in the writing process.

Even though my NaNo Reno group met on Friday to work on plot and characters, we didn’t really plot much or do much character building, but did get better acquainted and talked quite a bit about writing.  Two of us had signed up for the webinar on using Scrivener for NaNo that was presented by  author Joanna Penn and Joseph Michael, who offers training on the program.  I have been using the program about a month now and absolutely love it for any writing project.  But this webinar showed us quite a few tricks and learning how Joanna has used it during NaNoWriMo was a bonus.  So, we talked a little about the cool features in the program and how much more there is to learn about it.

Inspiration

Grave monument at Old Hillside Cemetery, Reno NV – Photo by R. Averett

Yesterday, I went out with the roomie looking for a little inspiration in, of all places, cemeteries.  I also wanted to get a renewed sense of the feeling in the mausoleums, chapels and along the rows of graves, new and old.  As I was taking a few photos, I had the feeling that I was intruding at times.  I found myself offering prayers and well wishes to any ghosts that might still haunt these areas.

I went to the Old Hillside Cemetery near the University of Nevada Reno campus.  Graves in it date back to the Civil War era, but it is a sad-looking place.  Fences surround the various sections of it to prevent vandalism.  Oddly, there were a few newer-looking gravestones for very old graves so the families of these people are trying to maintain those graves.  I’ve heard that there are some who wish to move the graves to a new location so that this area might be used for student housing.  Stories relate that there are at least two ghosts who haunt this graveyard and possibly more.  I am not prone to seeing ghosts, but there are times that I do feel a presence.  I also believe that moving the grave will not move the ghost with it.

One of the cemeteries was the Catholic one at the north of town. I stood among the graves of the innocents, the babies that had died, some not even one day old and yet offerings of flowers showed that they were still remembered and loved.  One grave of a 12-year-old girl, who died several years ago, had a freshly carved pumpkin and autumn flowers on it.  Very touching.  I want to remember all of this when I begin writing my book in November.

Getting Into Shape for NaNoWriMo

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In some ways preparing for the write-a-thon that is NaNoWriMo is a bit like preparing for an important race, like a marathon.  Not that you’d find me out running every day, but with a target number of words a day around 1,700, you do need to prepare for the race if you haven’t been doing it all along.  And I haven’t.

I started trying to discipline myself to write every day and work on the word count.  Let me start by saying, I do write every day, just not on my novel.  I have written something just about every day of my life from age eight on.  I’ve written short stories, poetry, newsletters, articles, training manuals, and business proposals.  If you count getting paid to write manuals, regulations and training modules as professional writing, then I am a professional writer.  It’s the creative writing that has lagged behind over the years.

When trying to write over a thousand words a day, the trick may be to turn off the internal editor that wants to polish the writing, choose just the right words and linger over the phrasing.  It may be to allow the purely creative force to freely let the words flow to capture the framework of your story.  So much easier said than done.  Just for example, I paused and changed three words in what I just typed there before continuing to the next sentence.  I stopped to re-read what I had just written, looking to see if it could be written better.

To try to unleash this creative process, I started trying to write every day on my current work in progress, O’Ceagan’s Legacy with an eye to getting as much done on it as I can before starting the new novel on November 1st.  I also wanted to see if I can actually write 1,700 words in a day consistently over the month.  So far, it’s been up and down.  I have done and exceeded the word count several times in the last 10 days, but I have also missed dismally, clocking in with a paltry 368 words one day, but topping out with 3,299 on another day.  The average is good overall and if I can do that while in the challenge, I should be able to make that 50,000 word count goal.

Are all the words good?  No, of course not.  Sometimes you just want to get down the thoughts and the flow of the scenes and not let that editor slide in to search for just the right phrasing.  That will come in the second and third edits.

What you actually write during this kind of writing isn’t a polished novel, but a very rough first draft that will be refined over the next few months to one that will be worthy of being published.  At least, that’s the goal.

If you’re like me and writing a novel has taken over a year for the first draft, then learning to give the creative side the freedom to flow for even 1,500 words a day is a big breakthrough in your writing.