Monthly Archives: October 2013

What you can learn from the NaNo forums

As I work through my post-surgery fun, another post from last year’s NaNoWriMo:

I haven’t procrastinated too much in the forums so far. I did a good bit of forum reading before November 1, and might do more after I’m done, but mid-writing I don’t find it too helpful. Here are some things I’ve noticed, for what it’s worth:

People take themselves way too seriously. I am (at least in my own opinion!) a professional writer. I do NaNo events (all the NaNo events) so that I can get a first draft. My intention is to take that draft to publication. Is that draft ready for publication on December 1? Of course not. But I am serious and intentional about my work.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, and that I don’t try to make NaNo fun. I mean, let’s face it – it’s a crazy thing to do, to write 50,000 (or more) words in a month. Regardless of your plans for the work, the process is nuts! It’s absurd, when you get right down to it. And I celebrate that. I don’t take myself so seriously that I can’t enjoy silly posts or crazy rants or even the occasional whacked-out haiku. It doesn’t offend my “craft” when people have fun writing, and it shouldn’t offend yours either, no matter how seriously you pursue your goals as a writer the rest of the year.

People give up too easily. On day 1 there were countless threads that it was over, done, finished, irretrievable, irreparable. People were calling it quits right and left, before they’d even begun. Come on, grow some backbone! Believe in yourself a little! Will you write the next great classic, destined to be taught in ivy league classrooms? Not bloody likely. Can you crank out something, even if it’s a rambling stream of consciousness involving your sister, zombies, aliens, a smuggling ring and Bigfoot? Sure! If you thought enough of your skills to sign up, think enough of them to at least try, for more than 24 or 48 hours.

People don’t dig deep enough. I don’t mean with a backhoe. I don’t think a lot of people bring a plastic beach shovel. I am not the most disciplined person around. I don’t exercise regularly, diets don’t last more than a couple of days, I hate housework, I have boxes of crap that I don’t want to file. It’s a joke to my kids that people always say, “Oh, I couldn’t homeschool because I’m not organized or patient.” Well, neither am I! Everyone I know will attest to that fact.

But I do know that, for a month, I can set a daily goal and work towards it. There will be days I don’t reach it and days I don’t write at all. There will be days I’d like to scrub the toilet rather than write. Conversely, doing it anyway means that I’ll have days like yesterday, where I had an idea that turned into a small plot point that became a big deal. Where the first 2000 words had felt like pulling teeth, the last 1600 flew off my fingers. If I hadn’t plowed through those first ones, I wouldn’t have gotten to those last ones.

My first boss used to say that the streets were full of people with talent. He didn’t hire people with talent. He hired people with tenacity and stick-to-it-iveness. Tim Tebow basically says the same thing about football: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.  Bottom line is, you have to work hard at things. Some things come easy, and some things don’t, but you don’t get far without the work. You all know what I’m talking about… When you’ve worked hard and achieved something, you’re proud, right? In this case, it’s 50,000 words. Who cares if it’s good? It’s a marathon – crossing the finish line is an accomplishment, even if it takes you 8 hours instead of 3, right?

NaNo wasn’t created for the “serious novelist.” Nowhere in anything does it say it’s for the “serious novelist.” So lighten up. Even if you’re a “serious novelist,” does that mean you never have fun? Maybe you should! Throw in some fairies, some zombies, a line of dancing girls. Eat red hots and cackle over your own genius. Have some wine and chill.

It’s supposed to be fun. Really.

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NaNoWriMo – the one week countdown

Another oldie but goodie!

I will admit up front that, for this NaNoWriMo event, I’m not having to do much preparation. This is because I decided to do the next book in my YA story, which I started for the August Camp NaNo (barely squeaking out a win, with 37 words to spare), rather than the WWII romance I’d originally planned. Because I left a huge cliffhanger, there’s not much work involved in figuring out where to start.

However, since this is my 5th NaNo event in the last year, I do have plenty of experience with the last week and its stresses, excitements, jitters and twitters. (Tweets?)  Last year at this time, my mother had told me my plot was too complicated; my husband had told me there was no way I could finish a novel in a month (he was, strangely, okay with a 50,000 word goal, but not okay with double that); and I was frantically doing research on the Portuguese Spice Route. I was also trying to plan menus, clean the house, talk myself down off the ceiling, and wondering what in the world I would put down as my first few words.

As it turned out, the first few words were, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” thus starting the back story of Solomon’s Throne. I put all the research, plus many more hours of it during November, to good use, and managed to write a cohesive and cogent story out of the “too complicated” plot. (My mom has said every plot but one since was too complicated, but rather than being discouraged, I take it as a challenge!) But the week before I started my first ever NaNo, I had no idea what would happen.

How many hours would it take each day? I figured that, worst case scenario, it would be the equivalent of a full time job, or 40 hours a week. I was aiming at 4,000 words a day because I was estimating 15k words per location of my treasure hunt. I had no idea how long that would take since I’d never written a novel before. As it turned out, I wrote about 2-3 hrs a day on days that had heavy research, and 2 hrs a day on the days that didn’t. On the occasional “walking through cold molasses” day, I spent maybe 4 hours.

Would I have to write every single day for 30 days? I thought the answer to this was a resounding “yes,” because the task of finishing the novel seemed so daunting. What I didn’t count on was how tired being creative every single day would make me, both mentally and physically. Looking at my stickie note word count list from that event, here’s what I find:

  • I had 2 days between the 1st and the 11th where I didn’t meet my word count goal, and 4 where I vastly exceeded it.
  • I crossed 50k on November 12.
  • I took November 18th, 19th, and 24th (Thanksgiving) off completely.
  • I finished the book on November 25 with 88,651 words.

So now I know what to expect – but I had zero idea on October 24 of last year. And what I know now is that I cannot write that amount of creative words every single day without a break. So I just factor that in and enjoy the days off.

Would I become obsessed?  There’s a lot of rumor that, during November, you can talk about nothing other than your novel. For me, the opposite is true; other than catching my family and Facebook friends up on my word count, I found that I actually craved talking about something else, anything else, than my novel. It is very engrossing and all-encompassing while you’re writing, but my brain needs a rest. When I take my mind off of the story, things are still going on at the subconscious level (apparently). The same thing happens on the days off. I need that break for my writing to be coherent the next day.

Would I have time for anything else? This was a worry about things like reading, exercising, cooking. What I found is that a) I don’t like to read in the genre that I’m writing in, but reading other things, especially at bedtime, went on; b) the early darkness in November is more of a hindrance to exercise than NaNo; and c) while I planned my menus to a meal, I didn’t need to. I had plenty of time for cooking. I tend to write in the late morning and early afternoon, so cooking was a good way to “come down” from all that.

Other things I learned as that first NaNo went on:

  • I don’t do well writing at night. It’s hard for me to wind down and not have the story whizzing around in my head when I’m trying to go to sleep.
  • Everybody wants to know your word count. Not everybody wants to know what’s going on in the story. Let them read it when it’s finished and edited.
  • Posting your word count on Facebook is great for motivation – a few people will get invested in what you’re doing, and ask you if you don’t put it up one day. The NaNo site should be updated, but no one there is giving you peer pressure like your Facebook friends will.
  • When you go back and read what you’ve written, you can’t tell the days where the writing was hard from the days the writing was easy. So just write.

How are you spending the last week? Don’t panic – it will be fine! Spend some time enjoying the lovely fall weather. Bake some muffins. Go to the movies. And remember, you can do it!

(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’:  “This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org.”)

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Your Inner Editor

One of my most popular posts – the inner editor can ruin your chances of winning NaNoWriMo if you’re not careful! From October, 2012.

I just put “inner editor” into my Bing search bar. This is what I got: 43,600,000 results. Google, not to be outdone, has “about” 84,800,000 results. I find that astonishing! Of course, go to the NaNoWriMo website and forums and you’ll see lots about that most wicked of unwanted visitors. But people are still looking — obviously.  So what to do?
The inner editor is a demon of epic proportions that’s got to be at least as scary as a balrog.

Like a balrog (my own balrog experience being limited to The Lord of the Rings), it’s the bane of writers everywhere. In fact, it’s so scary that many would-be writers never venture forth into writer-land, afraid that the flaming whip is going to come out of the dark recesses of their mind and snatch them right off their feet. Many who start writing aren’t able to stand up to the balrog like Gandalf, uttering my favorite line of the whole book/movie: YOU. SHALL NOT. PASS. Many, if not most, don’t think they have that power.

Let me assure you, friends, that you do. You, too, can stand on that rickety writing bridge, turn to face the demonic inner editor, and throw down the gauntlet. You, too, can look that flaming freakazoid in the fiery eyeballs and refuse to back down. You, too, can claim your territory, can draw a line in the sand, can put a stop to the tyranny by saying “I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS!”

Who is this inner editor anyway? Well, like the balrog, he or she lives down in the dark recesses of your mind. Usually, it’s content with scathing remarks when you’re standing in front of the mirror or when you say something you’re not sure if you regret. But get out the pen and paper, or computer, or paintbrush and paint, and its true nature comes swelling into life. It says:

  • How dare you think you have anything to say to the world?
  • How dare you presume to write 50,000 or 100,000 words on paper and expect anyone to read it?
  • Who told you that you could write?
  • Who told you that you could do anything at all unique, interesting or good?
  • Who do you think you are????

If you forge ahead anyway, the inner editor goes from vastly exaggerated statements of your measly self-worth to minutia in an instant.

  • Your grammar sucks.
  • That sentence sucks.
  • Why would you choose that word?
  • This is crap.
  • Those people are one dimensional, unbelievable, and stupid.
  • You are one dimensional, unbelievable and stupid!
  • This whole thing is stupid. Let’s just order pizza and watch a movie.

And if you don’t turn, at some point in this whole process, and say it — say “You shall not pass!” right then and there — you will quit. You will close your laptop or cap your pen, wander off to the tv, and quit. And the balrog… uh, inner editor… will smirk and smile and leave you alone for awhile, so you have peace and forget about that stupid writing thing.

Well. Are you going to give up that easily? I’ve given you tips before for outsmarting the inner editor, and you can read those here. But I was struck by the fact that, really, the inner editor can only be stopped by taking a stand. Sure, you can trick it. You can use my tips and get your 50,000 words for NaNo, and that would be a great accomplishment. But what happens if, like 10-20% of us doing NaNo (totally made up that estimate, to be honest) you really want to try to do something with the book? That will require finishing it, and editing it, and the inner editor will get louder and louder. And you have to shut it up, or your novel will be one of millions in drawers, old hard drives and dusty boxes the world over.

It IS necessary to be honest with ourselves about our writing. It IS necessary to get beta readers who will be honest with us about our writing. It IS necessary to edit and edit and edit, and try to make it the very best it can be. But if you don’t believe in yourself and your writing, if you won’t take a stand for it against the inner editor/balrog, you will be stuck in the two blue squares above. Humility is one thing. False humility is another. Your balrog isn’t a pet… It’s an enemy. One only you can fight. Will you stand up for yourself and your vision and take a stand?

(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’:  “This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org.”)

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Author Interview with Jackson Paul Baer

A big thank you to Jackson Paul Baer for agreeing to be our Saturday Coffee with Authors guest today. His debut novel will be released later this month!

Tell us about yourself. When did you start writing and what made you start? 

I used to write poems as a kid and started writing books more times than I could remember. I never made it very far into a novel, but always had the desire to write. As a young adult, I began to write songs, and really began to find my passion. After studying at Oregon State, I found my calling as a writer. It was only about a year ago that I decided to write, and committed myself to doing so.

Tell us a little bit about your latest books. My first novel, “The Earth Bleeds Red,” will be out near the end of October (Pandamoon Publishing). It’s a literary suspense. It blends literary fiction, suspense, and a touch of mystery. Think Joyce Carol Oates meets Junot Diaz, while they were both reading Sherman Alexie. I’m very excited for its release as it feels like a part of me. I’m also writing a psychological thriller called, “The Lights Will Never Fade.” I plan on finishing that novel by the end of the year.

Where did you come up with this idea? The title came to me first and then the story just started to pour out. I wrote all night, every night. I stayed up till 3 or 4 in the morning nearly every night writing and editing, and then editing some more.

Who did the cover art for your book? The graphic designer at Pandamoon Publishing did the cover and they did an amazing job. I worked with the publisher for a while, passing ideas back and forth. They really captured the metaphorical image of this book.

Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing while working on this book? I believe I learned everything about myself. Every time I write, I learn something new. It allows me to create this world that otherwise wouldn’t exist. I can’t think of anything else in life that does that. I feel like I know the characters so well, and they feel like real people to me.

Who do you find to be a huge inspiration for your writing? And why is that? My wife, kids, and family inspire me the most. Many characters come from experiences in real life, though they aren’t based on any of them, if that makes sense. Also, the writers I mentioned before, plus: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Zora Neale Hurston have been huge influences on my writing.

Which one of your characters would be the best to meet in real life? Scott. He’s the main character and he’s struggling with his faith, and the loss of his only child. He’s real and says exactly what he thinks.

What are you reading right now? I’m reading “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, “Dracian Legacy” by Priya Kanaparti, and “Men of Kent” by Elizabeth Gibson.

Besides the genre you write, what genres do you like to read? I like historical fiction, literary fiction, and books set in a different, era (1600’s-1800’s).

What is the most embarrassing mistake you’ve made as a writer? It’s usually something small, but annoying. I’ll post something on social media like “thanks you” instead of “thank you,” or leave out a word. I can’t think of anything huge.

What is the one thing that seems to always get in the way of writing time? Don’t take this the wrong way, but family. They are more important to me and many times, I’m spending time with my wife and kids instead of writing. I am writing nearly full time now though, and have time during the day, which makes a huge difference.

When you are not writing, what are you doing? I’m spending time with my family, finishing my degree, and I buy/sell/trade as well. I stay busy!

What is one of your favorite places to write? In my recliner, in the living room. It’s simple, but effective.

What is one of your favorite places in the world?  My wife and I went to Ireland last year for our 10-year anniversary. We absolutely fell in love with the country, and if I could, I’d move there. At the very least, I’d like to go for a month and write a novel there. Dublin and Killarney were our two favorite towns.

What is one thing about you most people find interesting (or unusual etc.)? That I have four kids and have been married for almost 11 years, yet I just turned 30.

Are there any more projects you are currently working on? Do you know when we might get to see those? I mentioned the novel I’m currently writing above and I’ve also had two short stories published in “The Rust Nail” magazine this summer. I blog regularly too. Plus, we’re thinking about turning “The Earth Bleeds Red” into a series.

What is your favorite quote? “Love your enemies.” Jesus

What secrets would you share with aspiring authors? Write and write every day. Every little bit adds up.

Name one author you’d love to meet and tell us why. Joyce Carol Oates. Her novel, “Them,” changed me as a person, reader, and writer. Plus, she’s written like 70 books. That is crazy.

Now for some THIS OR THAT:

Hot/Cold                              Cold

Summer/Winter                  Winter

Coke/Pepsi                           Water

Cat/Dog                                Dog (Pug)

Water skiing/snow skiing    Snow

Beach/Mountains                Beach (barely)

Romance/Action                 Romance (I know)

Convertible/SUV                 Convertible

Flip Flops/Dress shoes         Flip flops

Historical/Futuristic            Historical

Hero/Villain                          Hero

Car/Plane                              Car

London/Paris                        London

Mexico/Canada                    Canada

Ice cream/Chips                   Chips

Hot dog/Hamburger           Hamburger

Beer/Wine                             Beer (just a little)

Jackson Paul Baer author photo The Earth Bleeds Red Cover

http://www.JacksonPaulBaer.com

http://www.facebook.com/JacksonPaulBaer

http://www.twitter.com/JacksonPaulBaer

http://www.goodreads.com/JacksonPaulBaer

I’m running a Goodreads giveaway for 3 autographed copies of The Earth Bleeds Red – enter today! (Through November 15, 2014)

 Here is a promo video for the book

 

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NaNoWriMo – How are you preparing?

Since I’m recovering from my elbow surgery and NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, this is the first of several republished articles from 2012 about preparing for the event. Enjoy!

This is the pre-NaNo question on everyone’s lips: Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you spend all of October (or all of the intervening year?!) planning a detailed outline, scene by scene, with pages of character sketches and location descriptions, and a fully laid out plot? Or do you go into November 1 with the adrenaline rush of pure, barely-controlled panic because you have NO idea what you’re going to write, and you can’t wait to see what happens?

Personally, I’m in the middle. I start knowing my general plot (meaning how it starts, where it leads, and the ending), my main characters, and sometimes any important secondary characters. My main characters have names and a general background. I use giant (really giant, about 5×8″) sticky notes to put these up on my door. I know the setting (usually location is what gives me the idea in the first place), and I know where their going, and I’ve done general historical research (all my novels have a historical element). That’s pretty much it.

Some of you are getting heart palpitations at the thought of this little – or this much – preparation. That’s okay; this is what works for me. It allows me to be creative and go with the story, but keeps me from veering off onto word-eating tangents. Since my NaNo event goal is always to finish the novel, not just cross 50,000 words, I need some structure to keep me on track.

It seems to me, anecdotally from reading the forums on NaNo’s website, that there are more planners than pantsers, although I could be wrong. A lot of people don’t even know about NaNo until right before – sometimes even during! – and they just hop on board and go. I think that’s awesome! The majority seem to need some structure, and some need a lot of structure, to have the confidence to undertake the challenge.

So some questions:

Which are you, and why?

If you’re a planner, and your plan starts to go awry (we all know that, sometimes, characters have a mind of their own!), what do you do? Go with it, or get back on track?

(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’:  “This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org.”)

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