Monthly Archives: August 2012

How to channel panic

For those of you who have participated in NaNoWriMo, you are well familiar with panic. Same goes for those who have worked against a hard deadline. Some of us thrive on panic – we were the ones who waited until 2am the day a 20 page term paper was due before starting.  (Some call this procrastination, but I like to think of it as motivation…)

So now we’re in the last days of the August Camp NaNo, and I took 9 days off from writing to get some other things done due to my recent cataract diagnosis, as well as being editor-in-chief of my husband’s upcoming book (now in the publication process). In the NaNo events I’ve participated in the past (3 of them), I’ve crossed the finish line for a NoNo “win” somewhere around the middle of the month, and been at close to 90k and finished with the novel (or done with the 130 page screenplay) well before now. But this month is different, and I am going to be going pretty close to the wire. (August has 31 days, and all WriMos are appreciative of that extra day!)

I wrote 4273 words yesterday, and am at 37,742. If I stay on track with 4-5,000 a day, I’ll hit 50k on the 30th. The good news is that I’m really enjoying the book right now, which is weird at this middle point – usually that’s the doldrums of novel-writing. And since it’s YA, even though I won’t be done on the 30th, I’ll be close, so hopefully by Labor Day it will be a completed first draft.

In truth, I’m not really panicked about the NaNo novel. AFTER the NaNo novel, though, I have to do a 2nd and then final edit on The Hoard of the Doges. And here’s where my adrenaline starts to kick in and perhaps a few beads of sweat pop out… Because right now, if it were up to my left eye, I would only be able to read HUGE letters (I was going to show you, but WordPress doesn’t seem to want to let me change the font size…). Anyway, if you have a Kindle, it’s the 2nd biggest font, which gives you about 20 words on a page. And that’s now. By next week, it’ll probably be the biggest font.

All in all, since I have one good eye, it’s not terrible, but it is a strain, and typically I edit at least the first draft on paper. But the type is probably going to be too small. Which throws me off my groove, since I am fond of different color inks and arrows and notes. I realize I could change the publication schedule, but I really don’t want to. The cataract is temporary, as I keep reminding myself, and it really annoys me to have my body dictate my life. So I’m going to stubbornly carry on.

Hence channeling the panic. Thankfully, I have the NaNo excperience to help me. My first NaNo, I was well and truly panicked until I crossed 50k on November 16. By then I was really into the story, had figured out how to structure my life to accommodate writing, and was even managing to get dinner on the table for my family each night. So I’m going to take that same persistence and determination and plug along, working every day so that, by the time I either can’t read or the surgery comes around, I don’t have to do anything and won’t feel like a 50lb anvil is hanging over my head. (Ever feel like Wile E. Coyote?)

If we don’t follow the “flight” part of our fight or flight reaction to panic, it is actually pretty useful. Sure, the adrenaline eventually burns itself out and we end up exhausted. But if we got a lot accomplished before that happens, we can take a well-deserved nap. Taking control of that energy and putting it to good use is the key… I plan to channel it, use it, and come out the other side.

 

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Chip chop chip…

As we have previously discussed, life happens. Also, $hit happens, but we don’t cuss around here (we call those magic words), so forget I said that… So life has been happening, and my perfectly laid plans for August went up in smoke last week.

Here’s what was supposed to happen:

* I write 60k words for August Camp NaNo. I was really enjoying my YA dystopian low fantasy experiment, although it became obvious around 20,000 words that 60,000 words won’t finish it.

* Edit Undaunted Love (final final final edit) and start work on publication August 27.

* Help as needed for my husband’s book, scheduled to start publication work August 7.
Here’s what’s actually happened:

* I spent 21 hours over the weekend editing and formatting my husband’s book (yes, that was the weekend of August 18th, and yes, that was significantly past August 7.) Then I spent two hours on Monday, and an hour yesterday before 9am. But it’s done and on its way now, hallelujah!

* I haven’t written on my NaNo novel since Friday (yes, Friday the 17th), and am stuck just below 30,000 words until I can crank up again. Hence, I have lowered my goal for NaNo and will just get enough to “win”, and not worry about finishing. I can do the 20,000 words in 4-5 days, so I still have *some* time before I panic.

* I have edited 15 chapters, out of 60, in Undaunted Love. I have 4 days left. I have, at least, gotten all the other information together – blurb, acknowledgements, etc.

And here’s the biggest stink bomb thrown into my party – I found out Monday that I have a “monster” cataract in my left eye, that wasn’t there in an exam on July 19. So I spent 2 1/2 hours yesterday having my eye measured, ultrasounded, numbed, dilated (twice), and generally poked and prodded, not to mention the 4 hours I couldn’t focus afterwards, and will have surgery, but not until September 24. By which time I will be, literally, blind in my left eye. So I am going shopping for a pirate patch today, to reduce the strain on my right eye, but obviously, this is putting pressure on me to finish all the things I’m working on so that I don’t have to read so long on the computer. (That’s why I went back to the optometrist in the first place, to get computer-distance glasses.)

Oh, did I mention that September 24 is also the start date to work on publication of my sequel to Solomon’s Throne (called The Hoard of the Doges)? Yes, that means I have to completely edit that one, too, and write the blurb, acknowledgements, etc. But not in August. Thank God for small favors.

So to recap, between now and, say, Labor Day, I will be doing the final final final edit on Undaunted Love; writing at least 21,000 words on my NaNo novel; working on the publication of Undaunted Love; and doing the second, third and however many edits on The Hoard of the Doges. That’s all. No sweat.

Chip chop chip!!!!

So what are you up to with the end of your summer?!

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Ah, the glamorous life of a writer…

Other than Ernest Hemingway, who took himself off to run with the bulls in Pamplona and observe wars, it seems that writers have a pretty good gig. Jeez, they can sit around all day in their pjs, they get to fiddle around with stories and make stuff up, there’s no boss cracking the whip. They even have their kitchen, Facebook, Twitter and chocolate stash near them all the time! How is this a bad thing?

OK, it’s not a bad thing. But that’s not all there is to it. First of all, making a living as a writer is… well, nigh on impossible. Not impossible, just the next house over. Second, while I am the first to admit that the writing itself is a blast, even when it’s hard or not going well, there’s more to it than that. Here’s the short list:

  • Editing. Editing gives me a migraine. It makes my eyes hurt. It turns my brain to mush. And that’s on the days it’s going well.
  • Self discipline. This is not my strong suit. I am not a super disciplined or organized person. One reason I am a “project” person is that I can’t seem to manage to do things day in and day out. So writing a book in 30 days is awesome; writing a book in a year would never happen. This is the same problem I have with laundry, housekeeping, exercise, taking vitamins, and pretty much everything else that requires a daily commitment.
  • Avoiding distractions. This is somewhat tied to self discipline, but not completely. That’s because, unless you live alone and in a vacuum like Sandra Bullock’s character in The Net, people think you aren’t doing anything because you’re “just” writing. (This is especially true if you are not bringing in millions to the family budget – I suspect JK Rowling and EL James get out of grocery shopping from time to time.) So your non-driving teen needs you to run him somewhere. Your husband urgently needs something ironed for an important meeting. You realize that you really would love to have some scones with your tea later that afternoon, so you jump up to whip some up, realize you need to go to the store, and four hours later you have scones and nothing written.
  • Self doubt. This happens to any artist of any kind. When you are putting yourself out there in such a personal way, you can’t help but wonder if the work is good enough, if people will accept or reject you, and if you made any huge, glaring errors that the world will realize when you didn’t.

I am currently in a non-writing phase of being a writer (which is sort of inconvenient since I’m participating in the August Camp NaNoWriMo and am supposed to write 50,000 words by August 30). This is because my husband, also a writer (of brilliant political satire), is in the final stages before publication of his own book. Now, you might think that would be his problem, but the fact of the matter is (and he’d be the first to admit this) he is a terrible self-editor. He knows what he meant to say, and he doesn’t see typos, missing words, missing punctuation, bad grammar or any of that. He sees what he meant to say.

A lot of people are like this, so that’s nothing bad. It just means a lot of work for me. In addition, the book he is about to publish is non-linear. It’s a collection of 33 chapters which do not follow one another, interspersed with one-liners, interspersed with quotes from famous people. So the organizing, collating, and formatting has been a nightmare. Add to that the fact that he used a separate Word document for each chapter, and 35 separate word documents for the one-liners, and you’ve got a logistical sticky wicket. (Note to anyone out there writing anything with multiple sections or chapters:  SCRIVENER.)  I’ve spent 23 of the last 51 hours on his book, and still have the quotes to insert when he’s done. (cue fingers drumming on the laptop)

After that, which is today, I have to finish the final final edit of my upcoming Christian historical romance, Undaunted Love. I have one week to get the edit done, get the copyright handled, write the back cover blurb (which I am so bad at that my daughter despairs), and try to find an example of a romance cover I actually like. The latter being the most difficult.

And then there’s NaNo. I have just about 30,000 words done on my YA dystopian fantasy, so I only need 20,000 more to “win.” That won’t finish the novel, which I originally estimated at 60,000 – but 60k isn’t going to finish it, either, so at this point, with all that’s gone on in August (in addition to the above, this month my daughter had surgery, I had minor surgery, my husband had laser eye surgery, and my daughter went back to college….), I feel like I’ll be thrilled to “win” even if I don’t finish. (Although I will keep writing after August 30 and finish, so the first draft is done.)

Doesn’t this all seem glamorous?? To be fair, I am writing this in my pajamas.

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Do you write in a bubble?

No, me neither. Life happens. Our best laid plans go awry. Sometimes it’s our day job, sometimes it’s our kids, and sometimes it’s us. The key is to balance taking the time you need to deal with the issues at hand, and still staying on the path to your writing goals.

Last week I found out that I tested positive on a blood test for celiac disease. That was Thursday morning, and, to be honest, it threw me for a loop for a few days. I like to eat. I love pasta and pizza and this delicious sushi roll at our favorite sushi place that uses fried shrimp. Other than migraine medicine, I take no other pain relievers, even after a surgery, other than Advil Liqui-gels, and guess what? Advil Liqui-gels (plus Advil Migraine and Advil PM) that are made in the US have gluten in them. Beer, too… Now that’s just sad.

I took Thursday off from writing, because I was doing my OCD thing and researching celiac disease to death, plus my brain wasn’t exactly on the fiction fast track. Saturday I only wrote half of my 2000 words a day goal. Sunday I felt much better because I felt like I had a handle on the whole thing, and wrote 2777 words. Last night I wrote almost 2300. But tomorrow is the biopsy, and I’ll be sedated and all that, so I probably won’t write (or what I write will be gibberish!).

All that is to say this – life happens. Good and bad. Babies are born. People get sick or hurt. The opportunity for a road trip comes up. You get unexpected visitors. A deadline gets moved back. Your company gets a new account and suddenly you’re working 80 hours a week. Since I’m not Buddhist, I won’t say you need to maintain your “zen” but I will say that you need to have realistic expectations. And realistically, well, shit happens. (Pardon my magic word.)

It’s actually amazing that, in my 4th NaNo event, this is the first time that something like this has come up. Surely that’s beating the odds! But I’m OK with it. I’ll get my 50,000 words in August, even if I don’t get my goal of 60,000, so I’ll win. And I’ve begun to realize that this YA novel isn’t going to be finished in 60k words anyway, at least not the way I’m write it now. I’m not changing my 2000 word a day goal, but I’m realizing that there may be a few more days off or deficit days than I’d planned for. And I’m OK with that, too.

We tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Florida sailing… but I’m pretty mellow. But I can still start freaking out over my self-imposed goals. So once again, I’m giving myself permission to do my best, even if it’s not what I’d hoped, and to write a really bad first draft. It’s all OK – really.

Happy writing, friends!

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Taking requests – how to trick your brain when writing

I had a long conversation with a friend yesterday, and he suggested that I share some of my tricks for writing that maybe I haven’t shared before. So, by request – how to trick your brain.

First, these work when you establish a set deadline for yourself. If you don’t have one, you probably don’t need this, and probably have a better relationship with your brain and inner editor than I do. The deadline can be whatever you decide – for me it’s a month, but it could be 3 mos, 6 mos, 12 mos… whatever you decide. It’s your book, after all!

OK, so you have your goal. You’re going to write a novel/memoir/how-to/history book in X number of months. We’ll use 3 for our example.

First, that’s 90 days give or take. If you’re super OCD, please figure out the exact number of days, not forgetting leap year. Got it? OK, so that’s your writing days.

Now, subtract days you know you can’t write. Thanksgiving, especially if you’re the cook. Christmas. That week-long camping trip you’ve planned for a year. Your daughter’s wedding. Whatever. So if you started with 90 (I’m not OCD!), and you’ve got 3 definite “no way” days, you’ve got 87.

But are you going to write all 87? Nope, no way. Your brain will get tired, a day trip will come up, you or someone in your house will get sick, or you just want a fun day of freedom. How many? Only you know. It could be one a week, or two a month. Let’s say 3 a month for this example, so now we have 78 writing days.

Take a look at your genre now. Commercial fiction is typically 80-100,000 words, but some can be 125k or longer. How-to and a lot of nonfiction can be 50-60,000, as is Young Adult. Determine your word count. I write commercial fiction usually, and aim for 90,000. I usually end my first draft in the 88k range, but I still plan for 90k. So if we divide the number of words by the number of days, we see that we need to write a minimum of 1154 words a day on the days we’re writing. Jot that down.

OK, so now you’re ready to write. You need a list. I use a stickie note app on my desktop, which I leave open during my writing months, but you could use a spreadsheet or a notebook. Here’s what mine looked like for Undaunted Love:

writing goalsI write either the date or the day number (just 1, 2, 5, 47, whatever). Each day, before I start writing, I write my GOAL number. This number is the daily word goal (in our example that would be 1154) added to the day before. Not to the GOAL from the day before, from the actual.

Here’s where my friend thought a lot of people would be too hard on themselves. You can see that I had 2 days with deficits from my goal. Notice that I did NOT add the next day’s word goal to the GOAL from the day before, but from the actual. Why? Well, look at the other days. My goal was 3000 a day in this instance. June 6 was pretty close, at 3115, but look at the other days. 4418. 3530. 3789. 5820. Every other day exceeded my goal (it’s pretty hard to write exactly 3000, or 1154, words and stop). Sometimes by a lot. I don’t subtract those overages from my goal the next day, so neither do I add deficits. You’re talking about an AVERAGE of where you are vs where you want to be.

What does that mean in our example? Well, let’s say you’re on day 33 of your 3 months. On day 33, if you’re on track, you should have a minimum of 38,082 words. Are you there? Are you over? If you set a realistic goal, you’re probably over, or pretty darn close (even 100 extra words a day gives you a 3300 word surplus in 33 days). THAT’S what you need to look at, not each day in a microcosm. And that’s why you don’t worry about your goal from the previous day, you just look at actual numbers. Because it really does all average out.

Finally, in your first draft, DON’T DELETE! First of all, those are valuable words you’ve written down! If you don’t like something, just make the font white. That’ll save your words, but you don’t have to look at them. You can remove them later, when you’re editing. This is a FIRST DRAFT. It’s called a “first” draft for a reason. Otherwise, it would be your FINAL draft. Be kind to yourself – editing is where it gets ugly, but this isn’t editing. This is writing.

I’m not saying this is the only way to write. Some people just write day in, day out, and finish when they finish. I can’t do that — if I don’t have a deadline (self-imposed or not) I just won’t get it done. Life will get in the way. One other thing I do is tell people I’m writing. For me, that means I put on FB that I will be writing, then I put on FB that I’ve started writing, then I put my daily word counts and my totals on FB while I’m writing. And celebrate on FB when I’m done. There are 3 or 4 people who follow along, cheer me on, and celebrate, and that’s enough to put some pressure on me to do it.

Hope this helps! Keep on writing!

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