Tag Archives: Camp NaNo

Do you have to know your genre to write?

10 steps to being a better writer copy

Since Camp NaNoWriMo is starting on the 1st, and since I completely forgot about it until a couple of days ago, I took a quick gander at the Campfire Circle forum on the NaNoWriMo website. (Gander, for those of you not from the South, means “look”.) One of the questions got me thinking, I think because I’ve been in the indie publishing world for a while now. Things are different — in a good way — in indie land.

Here’s the question: “I need some help identifying my genre.” Then the poster put a synopsis of her story up.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in asking the question, but it really reminded me of one of the best things about being an indie author. GENRE DOESN’T REALLY MATTER! Sure, once you publish, you have to select your genres on Amazon and B&N and Kobo… I get that. But you certainly don’t need to know what you’re going to check off before you even write the thing. And honestly, some of the best work coming from indies are cross-genre stories that would never get picked up by traditional publishers for that fact alone. Traditional publishers want to quantify you. Many traditionally published authors who want to branch out into other genres aren’t allowed to by their publishers, or at least not in their own name. That’s a shame, and something that the indie market is doing better than the legacy guys at the moment.

I will grant you that it’s easier to market yourself if you write in one, carefully defined genre. Since I don’t do that, I can attest to the “starting over” phenomenon when you have a new book out in a new genre. But still, the point of writing is (or should be) to write the story in your heart. If that story is romance, or suspense, or police procedural, that’s great. But if, like me, that genre is Young Adult sci-fi dystopian fantasy… Well, that’s okay, too. Will most of my action adventure treasure hunt readers cross over? I doubt it. Does that mean I’m starting from scratch? Yep. But I started from scratch when I published Solomon’s Throne, anyway, and it’s selling at a pretty steady pace, so it’s doable. And worth it, to write what I want.

If you’re doing Camp NaNo next month or in July, or you’re going to sign up for the big event in November, relax. Have fun. It’s a first draft. It might be terrible. That’s okay! You have to give yourself permission to write crap. Work on your story, your characters, your settings. Research the details. Let your mind take the story where it wants to go, and don’t worry about genre. Once you’ve written it, edited it, sent it to beta readers, and edited some more, then you can think about it. If you decide to go the traditional route, you can figure out which genre it fits best when you start sending out queries. If you decide to go the indie route, it won’t matter until you’re in production. Either way, that’s a long way off from the first words of the first draft.

Relax, take a deep breath. Write. Think. Dream. Imagine. For now, that’s all you need to do!

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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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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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Starting anew – August Camp NaNo

Many of you are NaNo participants, and some of you are NaNo haters. (I don’t really understand the NaNo animosity, but it’s certainly out there!) So this is for those of you who think NaNo is a heck of a ride, a great way to challenge yourself, and a complete hoot.

Tomorrow is the 2nd and last “camp” session. Camp NaNo is basically a laid-back, small version of THE BIG EVENT, the original NaNoWriMo held each year in November. For example, according to a NaNo email I received yesterday, “During June’s session, 15,307 writers penned novels, with 1,903 of them reaching the 50,000-word goal by month’s end.”  In November, 2011, 256,618 writers participated, with 36,774 “winners” (people who wrote 50,000 words or more). There were another 81,040 young writers in classrooms and online, with 16,334 winners.

Think about that for a minute… Between the November and June events (and not counting Script Frenzy in April), 55,011 people wrote at least 50,000 words on a novel. If we only give them 50,001 words each (I wrote 88,651 and 88,370 respectively), that’s still 2,750,605,011 words – not counting the hundreds of thousands of people who wrote something, even if they didn’t win.

For the NaNo haters, how can that possibly be a bad thing? Sure, a lot of it was crap. My first paintings were crap. My teenage poetry was crap. A lot of my journal entries over the years have been embarrassing crap (fortunately my handwriting is so bad I’m the only one who will ever know it!). But all that writing teaches people how to do it, how to persevere, how to plot, how to solve problems, how to FINISH. And whether or not that particular novel becomes a published work or sits in a bottom drawer somewhere, that has tremendous value.

For me, because this structure perfectly fits my personality (I’ve written about being a project person before), this is when I get my first drafts done. I can do it without an official NaNo event, but the support and forums and regional activity (which leads to after-NaNo friendships) is like having your own cheerleading squad. Because so many summer NaNo participants are young, you get to unofficially mentor young writers. You get to support people who are trying their first novel. You get to hone your own craft by helping others. It’s an awesome experience, actually!

So tomorrow, I start my new novel. I’ve written dystopian before, for my April Script Frenzy, but not together with fantasy. This is “low” fantasy, with some inter-planetary travel, and some “spacial relocation” type stuff (sort of a “beam me up, Scotty” without the sci-fi spaceship elements). Mostly it’s a dystopian thriller. I’m excited to do something new, and since it’s YA, I can write 20,000 fewer words, giving me a little more restful month.

So, my fellow WriMos, it’s the last night before Camp. Eat a good meal, pack your bags, and let’s hit the ground running tomorrow. Participate in your cabins, and on the forums. If you’re experienced, offer your help to the young ones out there. Make a difference in a young writer’s life. And most of all, have fun! See you ’round the campfire!

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Editing Frenzy… Now what?

This week was, admittedly, a little bit nuts. I finished the first draft of The Hoard of the Doges, the Quinn sequel; got the ebooks up and running on Kindle and Nook; did the first quick edit of The Hoard of the Doges; did the final edit of Undaunted Love; emailed the agent who suggested the romance that it was done; did several hours of plotting for the August Camp NaNo novel (working title is “Where the Ducks Went” but be assured that’s not the title!); and started figuring out about marketing.

I’ve written about my editing process here before, but it seems to be a frequent question, on all forums (and in person), so I thought I’d share it briefly again. Keeping in mind that, for whatever reason, I write very clean first drafts, here’s what I do:

*  Print it out. There is something really satisfying about a couple hundred sheets of paper, filled with words that your wrote.

*  Quick edit. This is my first run through, as I do zero editing during the writing phase. Zero. My inner editor is on vacation. This edit is for typos, name changes (I always have at least one secondary character whose name has changed mysteriously during the writing process), and anything obviously flawed. What I am not doing is checking for grammar, sentence structure, perfect word placement, etc.

*  Beta readers. I have a few people who are always my go-to’s, but if I’m writing in a new genre, I get more. For Undaunted Love, my foray into Christian historical romance, I asked a dozen people to read it. All they are reading for is the big stuff: characters, dialogue, plot, believability, etc. NO small stuff.

*  Word-by-word edit. Now we come to the big edit, first on paper. This is where I take (or don’t) suggestions by beta readers (my rule of thumb is that at least 30% need to comment on the same thing before I make a change, although I consider all the comments and decide for myself if I agree). I read for word placement. I do spellcheck. I fix grammar. I change the formatting if necessary (for instance, there are a lot of letters, and one song, in Undaunted Love, and it took me awhile to decide how to structure those from a formatting standpoint). I add chapter numbers (not always successfully, unfortunately!). In short, I am thorough.

*  Make all the above changes in the document. Sometimes I decide, reading it on the computer, that I like the original better. Sometimes I change it differently than I changed it on the printed manuscript. Basically, I’m trying to re-re-read, and polish it up.

And that’s it. That’s my editing. The writing takes me 3-4 weeks (usually), and the editing process, from first edit to betas to final, between 4-6 more. Most of that depends on how long I give the beta readers to get back to me – and I tell them up front what that deadline will be, and don’t bug them. Out of the 12 betas for Undaunted Love, I got detailed feedback from half, spotty from a couple, and nothing from the rest. And that’s OK – your betas are doing you a HUGE favor, for free… They have lives, and things happen! Ask enough that, if you only get 50% response, that’s workable.

So now what? My goal was to get Undaunted Love finished and the agent contacted by the end of the weekend. I was on a roll yesterday, though, and pushed through, so now I have two days. The August Camp NaNo doesn’t start until Wednesday, and I’m mostly done with plotting, just need to do some research on EMPs, the Enigma machine, non-viral WMDs, and some geography.

My thought is, marketing.  I know, it’s a bad thought. At least for non-marketing professionals like myself. But, other than word of mouth, an author has to do it (even if you’re published by a traditional publisher, anymore you have to do it). I’ve saved a lot of links in a folder, so I think this weekend is the time I get those out, see what I need to do next, and start tooting my own horn… Not my strong suit, by any means, but I believe in Solomon’s Throne, and the Quinn series, and I really think you’d like it. And your friends. And your neighbors. I just have to figure out a way to convince you of that, too! Hence my crash course in marketing.

Trust me, I’ll keep you posted!

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