Sunday, October 23, 2016


This has sort of been a year for me doing things I had said I wasn't going to do.

I wasn't going to start another project this year. (Technically I didn't I guess, I just expanded an already in progress project--but the outcome is the same. I'm starting work on another first draft.)

I wasn't going to write a series.

I wasn't going to do NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo, for those that are unfamiliar, is National Novel Writing Month. It is, as the name implies, a month-long writing event. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel draft in the 30 days of the month of November.

There are all manner of thinkpieces out there about NaNoWriMo from writers of all stripes and all levels of experience. The event has its supporters and detractors, and both groups are pretty vocal.

At the risk of making a generalization, I have noticed a trend in the articles that I have read regarding the merit (or lack thereof) of NaNoWriMo: professional writers--by which I mean writers for whom money from writing is either all or the bulk of their income--seem to think less fondly of NaNoWriMo than amateurs. 

This makes sense, I guess. The market has changed to the point where anyone with sufficient determination could throw 50,000 words on a page in November and self-publish their book in December or January. Even though most of these self-published novels won't see sales high enough to be threats to sales for authors with traditional contracts at bigger publishers, there is something uncomfortable about the idea of someone doing in a month, and seemingly on a whim, what can take literal years to do the "right" way. And having to fight for an agent or editor's attention for a work you might have spent months or years on against someone's thirty-day draft doesn't seem fair.

Beyond this, there are some more practical concerns. Marketable manuscripts usually run closer to 70,000 words than 50,000, so even if the writing on the November draft is perfect, it's probably not a complete novel--not for a publisher, anyway. And, if we're being honest, the writing on the November draft won't be perfect--a first draft never is.

You don't really have a true novel at the end of NaNoWriMo. You may have a great start, but you don't have a finished project. Not even close.

And, for me, I think that's the key. 

I am pro-NaNoWriMo. I can understand the frustrations, and I would hate to be an editor or agent on December 1 when I imagine hundreds or thousands of queries for 50,000 word rough drafts come to the slush pile, but I frankly think the benefits of this event are pretty great. Granted, my opinion isn't unbiased--most of the first draft of Evin was written during NaNoWriMo in 2011.

Sometimes, at least for me, getting the words on the freaking page is the most difficult part of a draft. I'm a perfectionist--at least when it comes to my writing. When it comes to revisions and editing, that's great, but it's not so great for the first draft. I want the words to be perfect--and of course they never are--so I keep trying to "get them right" before I get them on the page. Which generally translates to me never getting the words on the page. The looming deadline--50,000 words by December 1--helps serves as motivation. When I did NaNoWriMo with Evin, I didn't have a perfect draft by any means, but I had words on a page, and that's something I can work with.

And there's a community with NaNoWriMo. If you sign up on the official site, you can select your region and connect with other writers near you--on forums or in person (in public, well-lit places and in groups, naturally). This gives writers the chance to commiserate about their struggles, and struggles in a situation like this are inevitable, and provides a sounding board for ideas. Writing can be lonely under the best of circumstances. The marathon writing sessions that getting 50,000 words in 30 days requires can be even more isolating. ("Sorry, I can't go out tonight, I have to find some way to ad 1,600 words to a story that I have NO IDEA where it's going." "Sorry, I accidentally went to bed on time last night, so I'm 400 words behind.") This option to connect with other writers in your region--or around the nation--is a huge boon.

Honestly, my stance on all things writing is pretty much "do whatever lets you get the work done." If NaNoWriMo lets you finish a draft, then that is great (so long as you're realistic--it's not a finished product; it's a draft, and that is honestly still a crazy impressive achievement). NaNoWriMo has worked for me in the past. I'm hoping it'll work again.

I guess this post is basically my long way of saying that I'm going to be a NaNoWriMo participant this year. Since Project 2016 has expanded to a trilogy, I'm going to try to use the next month to pin down as much of the first draft of the first book as I can. I'm actually starting early (it's going to be considerably more than 50,000 words, so I'm giving myself more than 30 days).

What all of this means as far as the blog is concerned is that the blog will not be updating on the usual once weekly schedule. How often I post will depend on my where wordcount is. There'll be at least one post in the month of November, though I can't promise any more than that. If you're interested in keeping up with how things are progressing, check out my author Facebook page and/or my Twitter, where I'll be posting periodic updates.

Good luck to my fellow NaNos. See you in December.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


  I've never really bought into the idea of the solitary writer, sitting alone in a room pounding out page after page with no input from anyone else. I'm sure this is probably pretty close to how it works for some folks, but my process has never reflected this narrative.

 True, most of the actual writing is done on my own, more or less. I share a house with two other people and with two cats, so an actual private writing space is sort of a dizzy daydream, but the getting-the-words-on-the-page part happens when I'm allowed to work relatively uninterrupted. But I can't just thrown an idea at the page. The early stages of the process--of my process, at least--are things that I can't do on my own.

 Part of a text message conversation with my writing group partner.

I've written about my writing group partner before. She's generally the first set of eyes for any project that I write, and she's usually the person that I send the "final" draft to before I start querying. But beyond that, she's one of the first sounding boards for my ideas.

When asked if I'm a planner or a pantser, I usually say planner. I've discussed my outlines on here before, and even shared a picture of one on the Facebook page. And yeah, by the time I'm in a draft, I have a pretty solid plan. But, if I'm telling the truth, the beginning of a project is all pantsing. Every bit of it.

The earliest stages of a project mainly consist of throwing ideas at the wall and seeing if anything sticks. And this is where my writing group partner comes in.

In the past couple of weeks, I've sent probably two or three times my usual number of text messages. It's not unusual for she and I to send each other updates, especially when our schedules don't really allow for us to meet in person. But usually it's only one or two texts--maybe an update on where we are in the work or a question about when we're going to meet next. Lately, I've been sending little tidbits about characters or the world or relationships almost as quickly as I think of them.

It started with a message about not being ready to move on to new characters and a new world after finishing Project 2016 (which I guess I could call by its title now, since I sorta revealed it above).

"I think I'm too invested in my own story," I typed.

"You're never too invested in your own work," she replied.

I might have started brainstorming my way through the extra bits of Project 2016--which, by the way, is now a trilogy instead of a single book--on my own, but something about getting tacit permission from my writing partner sparked the fire further.

I started the first step of a new project--writing down literally everything I know about the story, world, and characters. And my writing partner has been my sounding board through the whole thing. 

"I'm thinking that I'll have to go back and tell earlier parts of the story."

"I'm not sure where the narrative for the first book is going to start, but I think I know where it ends."

"I've figured out who my narrators are."

 Technically, I guess I could have just written down these ideas without running them by anyone--it's never been part of our deal that we have to discuss every step of a project. I could have closed myself off and just started writing.

But there's something about sharing an idea with someone that makes you--or at least makes me--get more excited about it. 

For me, writing is always going to be a collaborative effort. The feeling of starting off with someone on my side makes the rest of the process less intimidating.

Monday, October 10, 2016


I generally don't feel like I'm very good at world building. Which is awful, because I seem to always want to write things that require a lot of world building.

Evin required me to build the forest and the worlds connected to it. The forest and the places the characters came from each had to have their own distinct ambience and identity. It couldn't feel like I was sending the characters to the same places over and over. I hope it didn't feel that way.

Project 2016 also demanded some world building--more, in fact, than Evin did.

See, Project 2016 is a set in the far future. And in space.

I love Firefly, but I will never understand why you go through the trouble of telling a story in space only to not have any aliens. Seriously. None? None at all?

There are several ways that this gets complicated. First, though my two POV characters are both human, they don't have lives like humans living today. Time, technology, and interaction with other sapient species have changed social arrangements and day-to-day activities for humans. It's up to me to determine how much has changed--and how much has stayed the same. I have to determine what technology exists, how it's used, and who has access to it. Beyond that, I have to figure out who came up with the technology first, because that's going to play a role in things like where the money is, who gets to make governmental decisions, and even what language people will speak--not just my human characters, but the other characters they come into contact with.

I also have to figure out my nonhuman characters--to build their species from the ground up. What about them is similar to humans and what's different? Why did these particular differences develop? How might these physical differences shape differences in culture (for instance, one of my species has a very refined sense of hearing--so they don't listen to music with brass or wind instruments because they can easily hear the spit moving through the instruments and it sounds gross). Does each species tend towards diplomacy or warfare? I also have to figure out how each species first came into contact with the others--peaceful first encounters might mean alliances, where violent once might mean long-standing grudges, and either is going to shape how members of different species interact.

And all of this is aside from the building required for any book--the characters' personal histories and their specific experiences with the framework of the world they live in and other characters associated with different groups, whether they're technologically savvy, if they've ever even seen a person from a different species.

There are so many moving parts that I'm not always confident that I'm doing a good job keeping track of them. Evin seemed like it was easier--though that could honestly have been more of a factor of my not knowing as well what I was doing.

For Project 2016, I built a universe bible. For me, it's a word document where I've listed the rules of the story's world--the history, notable people, some of the laws and political set ups. It has a brief description of each of the species and how they relate to the others, a history of how some of the important organizations and groups were formed and what the popular opinion of them seems to be.

I think I've been pretty thorough this time--more than I have been in the past. But I still worry that I've missed something. Part of the problem is that I don't usually know what aspect of the world I don't have pinned down until I need it in the story. And then I end up having to go back and put it in (and usually adjust everything around it so that things still make sense).

At this point, I know the world of Project 2016 well, and, as I said in the last post, I'm pretty fond of it.

Putting together the world of Project 2016 has been a lot of work, and I'm not sure how effectively I did it, though I can safely say I'm confident that I did it better this time than last time. And there's a lot of information that I have that's didn't make it into the project (though some of it may be in future projects, if I revisit this universe).

World building is the best and worst part of the process--there's so much potential for the story when you start putting the world together, but there's also so much that can go wrong or get out of hand (at what point does world building stop helping the story and start getting in the way?).

I'm in the early stages of world building for the next project, though I haven't completely left Project 2016. I still don't think I'm great at it, but I do think I'm getting better.

That's the best part of writing, I think. It's always hard, and sometimes I hate it, but I keep getting better--and I do love that.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Not Ready to Leave

Project 2016 remains out on submission (so far there have been 3 rejections, and I'm waiting to hear from another 5 that are currently out, and I have a list of about 20 more that I'm looking to send submissions out to).

This puts me in a strange place as far as working. I need to keep up my daily writing as much as possible. I've got a couple of other ideas that are roughly outlined. Reasonably, I could start on either of these new projects. Starting a new project would solve my "what should I work on" problem.

But there's a problem: I'm not ready to leave project 2016 yet.

As I think I've said before, project 2016 is very dear to me. I've been writing some version or another of this story since I was seventeen. I'm partial to everything I write, but project 2016 is special. It feels more complete than anything I've worked on--a benefit of having had the world and its characters rolling around in my head for ten plus years, I guess.

The manuscript as it is is about as good as I can make it. There's not really a lot left for me to revise or to edit. There is, at this point, nothing left for me to do on the manuscript.

I'm just not ready to leave the world yet.

The characters in project 2016, even the bit characters, are some of my favorite creations. I know each one's story backwards and forwards. I understand their relationships and their quirks. I have an idea of where they were before the story started and where they'll end up after the story's end. I know the avenues that didn't get explored in the story. There's so much more information, so many more scenarios that I could explore. And I want to play around with them.

Project 2016 was never supposed to be a series. I had one story that I wanted to tell, and the manuscript I wrote tells it. I was supposed to be done.

A couple of my early readers suggested that they'd like to see more with these characters and in this world--maybe pieces centered on some of the other characters or that lay out how the characters met or how the world ended up like it did.

I know these stories. I know how the situations arose. I know the history that the characters have with each other. There's a character that's in maybe two chapters of the manuscript whose whole life story I could recite. I hadn't thought about writing more in this world.

I haven't decided what my next project will be. As much as I love project 2016's worlds and characters, there are still other stories that I want to tell. I don't want my entire writing career to be spent in one story--even if I love that one story. But I'm also pretty sure that I'm not ready to walk away from the world of project 2016.

Maybe I'll spend a few days outlining--see which project tugs at me the most.

Too many ideas and too much enthusiasm for a story are good problems to have. But they're still problems--and I've got to figure out what to do if I want to keep on writing.