Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On the passionate homestretch

Last week I posted about this has been my hardest NaNoWriMo ever.  Other Novembers have been hard because of travel, or sickness, but this time around, it's the story itself that was frustrating me. I just couldn't capture the vision (or even bits and pieces) of my vision for this story.

Turns out, blogging about my frustrations really helped. Even though I didn't get into the specifics. Just the act of sharing "I'm so frustrated!" (and all your kind and encouraging comments) helped me get past the frustration. Also much thanks to Julie Dao and this post of hers which reminded of the power of journaling through slumps.

The very night after blogging, ideas started to flow. I was able to isolate a few of the issues that were troubling me and some ideas about what could work, instead.

I had all these detailed character sketches for this story; so why weren't my characters working? Why did the main character feel so flat?  Part of the problem that I finally pinned down is that the character sketches were from 5 years ago (I wrote the draft of this story over 5 years ago. My plan this year was to completely rewrite it). Five years ago, I was really good at finding quirks for my characters, and I knew what their flaws were and their strengths. I even knew that all-important question: what do they want so badly that it drives everything they do? But I didn't know their passion. And, it turns out, that was a major missing factor.

So I've learned I have a really hard time writing characters that aren't passionate, and if I can't write the characters, I can't write the story.

The past week the writing has been going a lot better. I don't have the whole passion thing figured out, but I do know that it means digging deep into a character: into their past, into their fears. It also means seeing details that only they would see. Which is sort of the opposite of digging deep: this one sort of requires a light touch. But both require living in their shoes literally almost all day, every day for... well, let's say the month of November. (My family eagerly awaits the return of my attention. Most of this month I've been off in novel-land).

This post from Writer Unboxed: the Point of Writing, also really helped, especially this part:

  • Writing is about finding out who you are, what you have to say that is not the same as what everyone else has to say, and how to express it in the strongest possible terms.
  • The point of writing is to tell a story with your insight, the perspective that only you have.
  • The point of writing is to think deeply and to inform, entertain, communicate your insight with your readers.
  • The point of writing is to seek truth.  And it doesn’t matter how you do that, or whether you’re writing thrillers or detective stories or comedies, or picture books for children.  Truth is what will give your work resonance and power and make it worth reading...

I was close to giving up on this NaNoWriMo, but now I'm going for the win. Or rather, Lurching for the win.

Glad to be going into Thanksgiving tomrrow with a thankful mood regarding this story, which is my oldest and most beloved story, my "baby" but also definitely my "problem child."  Also thankful I have a clear holiday and weekend - no travel or plans (other than a yummy turkey dinner) - to compete with catching up my word count!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The writing isn't working

I'm having my worst NaNoWriMo ever. This month is usually a rush. Frustrating at times, exhausting, but oh - the ideas! the random lovely/scary things that appear and make me wonder, did I write that? where did that come from? I usually end up chopping up what I write for NaNo; a lot of it gets cut or heavily revised. But NaNo always gives me a solid diamond core.

Not so much this year. I have this vision my head that just isn't coming out in words. I don't expect the writing magic to flow every night, but the thing I've come to depend on with NaNo is that if I keep spewing the words out every night, then the drudgery momentarily turns to magic, here and there.  Into my third week now, and I'm not seeing any sparks flying yet. I'm holding onto my vision for this story, and trusting the process of visiting it every night, putting one word after another, trying not to give up.

My vision for this book (working title, Refuge) is a blend of the real world with completely magical mythical creatures. It isn't a portal into a magical world like Narnia, or a reverse portal where something magical finds itself stuck in reality; it's not a clash of two different worlds... it's sort of the real world and the magical one tentatively meeting each other, brushing edges  and sparking static electricty, but still hiding in the shadows. It's also about what the two worlds need to learn from each other. 

Plans for this story go back many, many years and includes inspiration from sources like Legend (the 1985 movie with Tom Cruise); the Island Stallion by Walter Farley and the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. More recently, the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, Pegasus by Robin McKinley and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor have sparked new passion into my original vision. I have a rough draft and years of dreaming; what I had hoped to do during this NaNo was to stitch the new vision into the old but now I'm wondering if I have maybe too much "grand vision" and "dreaming" and not enough of it distilled down into concrete ideas. And yet, I have a solid outline, tons of world building and character sketches - but something is still missing to make all of the ingredients work together. 
Even if the magic doesn't kick in during this round, I love this story too much to give up.  A story like this deserves as much time as it needs to fully come together. Maybe its waiting on me to grow some more, learn some more, collect more experience and heartbreak and passion. 

There are 10 days of NaNoWriMo left and I'm going to keep plugging away. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The sometimes overlooked hard part of NaNoWriMo

Last week I posted on things I love about NaNoWriMo, thirty days of writing frenzy. This week I'm posting on what I don't like about it, which is preceisely ONE THING: not being able to read November releases I've been waiting ALL YEAR FOR. (I *might* bump that up to 2 things, sleep deprivation being the other one, but even sleep deprivation has its benefits. I think it ups my idea quotient. Just hope I don't get into any driving accidents).

It's just not fair when books you've been dying to read come out during the month of November, when I'm supposed to not be reading anything but my NaNoWriMo manuscript (and I shouldn't even be reading that, I should just be adding new words to it!)

There are four books, three that just released, that I'm drooling to read! (can I resist the compulsion for the entire month of November? Especially when one of the books is titled Compulsion? ha! Stay tuned.)

A Thousand Pieces of You  chasing an enemy across parallel universes and then falling in love with him? (if I interepreted that blurb correctly: I can't resist falling-in-love-with-misunderstood-enemy  stores)

Compulsion  here's the line from the blurb that made me sit up and take notice: "South Carolina plantation....a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions"

Mortal Heart  Fantastic series, assassin nuns, historical fantasy... and one of my favorite book reviewers (Shae at Shae Has Left the Room) says this one just couldn't get any better.

The Map to Everywhere  Need I say more? A book with a map central to the premise? This map geek can't resist.

Illusions of Fate released in September, and it just now came on my radar... how did I miss this? Look at the COVER!!!  That teacup!!!!! And the blurb! Laini Taylor says its like "Howl meets Mr. Darcy" - now if that isn't a intriguing mash-up, I don't know what is.

but if This Shattered World was coming out in November, and not December 23 (yeah, guess what's on my Christmas list!) I would totally forget my NaNoWriMo word count until I finished reading this book. Which might take me less than 24 hours, I'm sure.  These Broken Stars (the first in this series) was one of my top 5 favs of 2013 and this one sounds just as good. "But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war" 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Insecure Writer: Pitch Wars and NaNoWriMo

Nothing like putting yourself out there to the whole world to light a match to insecurity. At least when you are querying, you are only putting yourself out to one or two at a time. When you enter an online contest you're out there for anyone to see whether you got agent requests or not.
The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
So I'm going to be out there tomorrow, November 6, on the Pitch Wars alternate showcase on Dee Romito's I Write for Apples blog. (Well, it's my pitch and first page for Star Tripped that's out there, but my name is also out there, so it feels like I'm out there). Yesterday and today are the main Pitch Wars pitch showcases on Brenda Drake's blog, where I've been stalking and mentally cheering on my favorites. Some of my favorites are also agent favorites (4 or more requests!) and others haven't had an agent visit yet at all, which perplexes me. But then again, "favorites" is such a subjective thing.

We know that, right? (I have to keep telling myself this). Writers who have started putting themselves out there to see if they get any bites? There's going to be people who love our ideas or characters and think our writing has potential, and then there's going to be a LOT of people that skip on to the next offering, because your stuff doesn't click with them. And that is okay (I have to keep telling myself this!) We're allowed to be different and like different things. This is a good thing.

Still, I'm insecure, but I love that the timing of Pitch Wars coincides with NaNoWriMo, because that helps, and here's why:

1) because there's nothing like another new exciting writing project to get your mind off the other project that's getting the occasional nibble but not any solid bites.

2) I love the #LifeDuringNaNo Tumblr. Oh my gosh people, this gif!! Whenever I rediscover the Muppets' Beaker it's like rediscovering how to laugh like a little kid. It made me laugh for like five minutes. My teenager heard me laughing last night and actually got out of bed to come see what was so funny.
Plot holes 

3) I love the author pep talks for NaNo. This year, I've already been inspired by Chuck Wendig's donuts. Donuts!! Writer donuts! (these are the kind of donuts that are even better than sugary donuts)

4) NaNo makes me fall in love with all my little writer rituals again. Like how I want to take a picture of my writing recliner (I don't use a desk) and the fairy lights decorated around it and the bulletin board of inspiration and ideas on the wall next to it and an upended wooden box on the floor next to it that is just the perfect perch for a mug warmer and a mug of tea. (You know about mug warmers, right? Absolutely essential for writing. You might get inspired and write like crazy for a half hour, and then when you come up for air your tea or coffee has gone cold! You need a mug warmer!)

5) I love that we get a whole month that's labeled a special writing month, with lots of people participating in the madness (usually I feel very alone in my madness)

6) and (or your own personal writing playlist). In past years I've used Brandford Marsalis as my background music; this year I'm into gentle rainy white noise.
“A moderate level of noise enhances creativity compared to both low and high levels of noise. Moderate background noise induces distraction which encourages individuals to think at a higher, abstract level, and consequently exhibit higher creativity.”
7) NaNoWriMo reminds that my main reason for writing isn't to get published. Sure, that would be awesome (but I'm also aware that it's not ALL awesome. Goodreads reviewers scare the living daylights out of me). My main reason for writing is simply that I love making up stories and characters and places and events. It feeds my soul.

How about you?

Coming next: the things that I DON'T like about NaNoWriMo. (Thankfully, it's a shorter list!)

Also, no matter what happens with Pitch Wars, requests or not, I'm so thankful to my mentor, Veronica Bartles, and all the other mentors who donated so much time to help us revise and polish our stories and pitches, and cheered us on. Amazing people.

*Update: my pitch did get a few requests!

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