Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

Did you think I disappeared? A writer’s tale…

I’m alive! yeehaw!

I realize you couldn’t tell it from my blog activity (this blog, at least). That’s because life just came along and slammed me in the face. True story. In fact, I’m taking time out from packing up our house to write this post out of guilt for not having written in so long!

So what’s up in the writer’s house? Glad you asked!

First of all, and a huge HALLELUJAH, I got Darian’s War off to the production team yesterday, only a month-plus late. Here’s the cover reveal: TA-DA!!!

Darians War cover 2

Do you love it? I do!! Here are all three covers side by side so you can see the awesome work Glendon at Streetlight Graphics has done:

IXEOS 800 Cover reveal and Promotional Ixeos Rebellion 800 Cover Reveal and Promotional Darians War cover 2

Not only will Darian’s War be released (fingers and toes crossed) next week, we’ll also have a boxed set of all three available for Christmas! So that’s really exciting. (I won’t tell you how stinking hard it was to wrap up a global war… Whose brilliant idea was that anyway?!) Now for marketing and all that stuff, and hopefully some good sales coming up to and just after Christmas.

In other news, we’re moving three hours away in January. I’m pretty excited because I’ve wanted to live there for years, but it’s kind of complicated, since we’re moving to a house we already own and which is already furnished. Plus it’s 1/3 the size. So that’s proving to be a logistical nightmare.

My grandmother will be ONE HUNDRED (yes, 100!) on December 1, and we’re all headed to FL for her big party the following weekend. She still lives alone, walks her dog, makes her meals… All my cousins will be there, so it’ll be chaotic craziness. But we’re driving, which is nine and a half hours, so that’s two full days. Then helping my mom get everything ready. It’ll be a fun but not very productive week.

My husband and I have been doing some national radio hosting. It’s been a blast! We’ll see if it goes anywhere, but, as the guy said last night, “You guys are a great team on the air!” I told him we were a pretty great team off the air, too!

C&J wedding brunch

Then there are the holidays just upon us… How is 2014 almost over??

So that is life at the moment, and I must say, I’m SO glad I’m not trying to do NaNoWriMo, and so glad to have Darian’s War done. I won’t be writing fiction for awhile. Maybe February? Or I might wait and see if the Office of Letters and Light does another April Camp NaNo. The next book will probably be a sequel to Undaunted Love. We’ll see!

Meanwhile, I’m hard at work on fundraisers for my nonprofit. Those of you who follow me on Facebook know about our work in Uganda and Andros, Bahamas. The end of the year is coming, and we’d love to have your help with our work. Please check it out, and you can donate on the website or at our GoFundMe.com page. A little goes a long way, especially in Uganda, so thank you for anything you can contribute!

That’s about it. I’m going to try to be more regular here, or at least repost some “best of” blogs. I’m going to be crazy busy until the end of January, so don’t think I disappeared! I wish you all a VERY………

Happy-Thanksgiving

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My take: Scrivener, Evernote and Celtx

I was so excited to have the guest post from author Heather McCoubrey on why she loves Scrivener and Evernote, because those are probably my two favorite programs, as well. I’ll add Celtx into the mix for screenplays, because I don’t think there’s a better program out there for the screenwriter. Here’s my take on all three.

SCRIVENER

When I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo in November 2011, I had never used Scrivener before. I got it on sale through NaNo, and spent a few panicked days trying to make sense of it enough to use it for this crazy “at least I’ll be able to say I wrote a novel” event. It had a lot of great features for the first-time novelist, especially since I didn’t have a method back then except panic-fueled marathon planning and typing sessions. What I liked was that I could have a separate folder for each chapter. What that looked like at the end of my first draft was this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 10.28.07 AM

As you can see, I was able to go back and insert subfolders of scenes into chapters where I needed to add information that would be crucial later on. While I no longer use random names for my chapters (I just number them), I do make frequent use of the ability to go back and add another chapter, like this one in IXEOS: Rebellion:

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 10.34.46 AM

Another thing I liked with Solomon’s Throne is all the things I could do when I was working on characters, plot, names, etc. I’m a very visual person, so the bulletin board/index card layout is a great way to stay organized and keep all my notes in one place.

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While I use Scrivener a little differently now, because I’ve written almost seven books and I know what works for me and what doesn’t, and am not longer running around in a panic to just WRITE THE DAMN NOVEL, I do use it for my first through third drafts and still love it. I love that I can easily find things, insert things, edit things, and navigate so effortlessly through my work. Once I’ve done major edits in Scrivener, including printing it out and doing an on-paper edit, I move it to Word to finish it. But I would never, ever write a novel in Word.

(You can format ebooks in Scrivener, but I’ve never done it, so I’m not commenting on that here. I hear it works well for uploading to Amazon KDP, but I don’t want to guarantee that since I have no first-hand experience!)

NOTE from experience: My husband wrote his first book in Word. It is nonfiction, and the chapters weren’t linear, meaning he would be moving them around when the book was done. He wrote them in thirty-six separate files in Word, plus another eighteen files of one-liners he was going to intersperse throughout the book. I was the one who was supposed to edit and collate this word. *cue the mad face and angry music* The first thing I did was move everything to Scrivener, where I could at least move the chapters around easily. The one-liners were a nightmare. I made him swear to NEVER, EVER EVER EVER write another book in anything other than Scrivener again. Ever. On pain of a slow, painful death. Save you, your spouse or your editor time and sanity. Use Scrivener!

EVERNOTE

I am fairly new to Evernote. I got it a few weeks before I went to Andros, so I’m still playing with it and figuring out, like I did with Scrivener, how to use it most effectively. I tend to be a note-taker. I have tons of yellow mini legal pads full of notes, lists, and scribbles. Trying to shift that to electronic is harder than learning Scrivener, but I’m determined to make it work. To that end, I’ve upgraded to Premiere (which lets me work off-line), and have ordered this for use with my iPhone and iPad (which I just realized won’t come until late this month, but since I’ll be without my writing hand anyway, it’s no biggie!):

Adonit Jot Script Evernote Edition

Keep in mind that Evernote is free! And the ancillary apps, like Skitch, are also free. I use Evernote on my phone for all kinds of lists, which I can then print off from its instant sync with my computer. This was especially handy for my Uganda buying-stuff-for-everyone list!

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 11.16.55 AM

I also use it for story ideas, snippets of dialogue I think of, names for future characters, photos (through the companion app Skitch, which allows you to make notes on the photo), and for those to-do lists that I’d normally be scribbling frantically on my ratty yellow legal pad. You can also schedule reminders.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 11.19.41 AM

See those little check-off boxes?? I love that! I think that’s either an iOS7 update or maybe a Premiere feature, but it is so helpful!

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 11.21.39 AM

There are a lot of things I haven’t used it for yet: trip planning (you can keep your electronic boarding passes in your folder, plus maps, ideas, photos of things to see, weather reports, you name it!); moving (we’ll be moving soon, and I will be heavily relying on Evernote for that); and a new app called Evernote Eat, which I just got yesterday. It keeps track of food you love in restaurants, recipes, and all things food. I love all things food, so that works for me!

CELTX

Celtx is a truly remarkable screenwriting program. While they do have other modules, such as novel writing, I found Scrivener to be better for that. But for screenplays, I don’t think Celtx can be beat. It’s got desktop, mobile and online workspaces, so you can work in whatever situation you find yourself, period. Second, you can truly collaborate and co-write with someone else, or simply let someone read your work and comment, without giving them the ability to change the original work. Everything is saved and synced and always up to date.

Second, it formats everything for you automatically, which saves a TON of time when you’re writing a screenplay. There is a lot more formatting required, and typing it all is tedious. Setting up macros to do it is tedious. With Celtx, you hardly even notice that you have to do it.

Here’s a shot of my screenplay, LAID WASTE:

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 11.40.24 AM

On the left side, you can see that all the scenes are listed. Celtx does that automatically, so I can go to any of the 138 scenes in the film and see what’s going on very quickly. The grey line demarking the scenes, as with the “Ext. Migori, Kenya – Dusk” are also automatically added. The character names auto-fill once you’ve created them. All of the indentions are done automatically, as well. You can also add photos and notes for each scene, and there’s a scratchpad tab that lets you play around with ideas, either for yourself or your co-writer(s). The comments don’t interfere with the scene, and are great for getting feedback from others.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 11.44.57 AM

Another awesome feature, if you’re using Celtx to produce your screenplay, is the storyboard. This screenshot is from a sample screenplay called Dirge. Do you see the tabs across the top? That allows you to set your production schedule. If you are a filmmaker, these are incredible tools that are not only at your disposal, but available to anyone on your team to whom you give permission!

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 11.49.30 AM

Summary

All three of these programs are well worth your while to get and learn to use. With so many programs and apps available, it’s hard to know exactly how things will work for you, of course, but as far as productivity goes, these are winners!

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How do you develop your stories?

grammar-police-625x370

The most common question I get asked when people find out I’m a writer is, “How do you get it finished?” I sympathize with this question, because until I found out how my brain works when putting together stories, I’d never finished anything either. I would get 3-5,000 words into a novel and then run out of steam every time, and I couldn’t figure out why, except that I must not be very creative.

 

Well, it turned out that the explanation was (thankfully) much more easily overcome. It wasn’t that I wasn’t creative, it was that the way most books and classes on creative writing suggest you go about cogitating a story didn’t work for me. What a relief!

I actually found this out by accident when I was beginning to plan my first NaNoWriMo effort in October of 2011. I had read Chris Baty’s book No Plot No Problem in May, and decided I’d try out National Novel Writing Month. I fully expected my novel to be terrible, but at least I could check it off my lifetime to-do list.

 

In the book, Baty says that you can’t start planning your NaNo book until a week before the November 1 start date. I didn’t realize the book was several years old, and now people plan a year in advance, so I waited until mid-October to really even think about it. I had decided I wanted to do a treasure hunt, but I had no idea what that would involve.

 

I began by reading World History for Dummies. True story. But I didn’t so much read the text as read the gray boxes and other ancillary information, and then reading the text if I wanted more information. Using this method, I came across ancient Persian ruins at Ctesiphon, in what is now in Iraq, and that is what started the whole story.

 

With IXEOS, the first book of my sci-fi trilogy, the story started similarly, when I read about the almost-200 miles of tunnels under Paris in a National Geographic magazine. I knew that would be in a story one day, and when my daughter and I had a strange encounter with a flock of ducks while kayaking, the two melded and became the basis for the novel.

 

As you can see, these two novels started with a location. Undaunted Love started with the idea of a romance in the Civil War South. The Hoard of the Doges, the sequel to Solomon’s Throne, already had established main characters, but the story itself started when I came across some interesting information on Venice in the Middle Ages.

 

This isn’t how most people who teach about writing suggest you go about the whole process, but once I discovered that unique and interesting locations really got my creative juices flowing, I’ve had no trouble creating full stories that flow relatively effortlessly from start to finish. I use the locations to put together a plot, and from there, I add characters. (Yes, this is backwards from most “how to write” suggestions!)

I write a lot of notes on various locations while I’m in this stage, in a notebook I use just for this “noodling” part of the process. After I’ve found the basic structure, I start working on the plot that will connect the locations. For IXEOS, it was the tunnels, which have portals that lead to other manmade tunnels around the world. Once I have a basic plot, I start working on the main characters.

I don’t really outline. I’m what you might call a “plotting pantser.” I know the basic plot points, the beginning and the end. If it’s a treasure hunt, I know where the Quinns are going and something about each location. I do big Stickie Notes on the main characters with basic information. And that’s pretty much it.

Having the whole story loosely defined lets me be flexible and to develop secondary characters and other locations that fit the story as I’m writing. That works for me, as I like to know my ultimate destination but perhaps take a few back roads while getting there.  But (so far, at least), I don’t change the ultimate destination, which gives me a target to aim for and keeps me from going off on tangents (which usually end up getting edited out anyway).

The way to finish a novel is to figure out how your own brain works in putting together a story. Some people need a lot more structure before they start than I do. A few need less. Many start with a plot idea or a great character. That just doesn’t work for me. If you’ve felt stuck after the first several thousand words, analyze your plotting process and see if what you’re doing is what best suits you, or if you’re doing it that way because someone told you that was the best/only way.

When you free yourself from other people’s methods and start to develop your own, whether that’s a wall full of index cards, a thousand Stickies, a formal outline, or just a list of locations, you’ll be able to finish the story. And finishing is a necessary first step to getting your work out there into the world. Or at least what will allow you to check “write a novel” off your bucket list.

 

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How to keep momentum going

act hysterical and give up copy

It sounds like bragging to say that I published 6 books in one year, so I don’t often say it in real life. Obviously, I’ve blogged about it as the year went along, and tweeted and posted on Facebook. But I almost never go up to total strangers and say, “Hey, guess what? I published 6 books in 10 months!” Because that would be tacky, at the very least.

I have not kept that pace in 2013, although I am on track to publish 4 in this calendar year, and that ain’t bad. I’m having some logistical (not story) problems getting Darian’s War finished, but I know that I write best when I write fast, so I’m not worried about it. I gave myself a generous deadline, knowing that I had 2 international trips (this first one, which started 8/7, requiring a TON of planning and preparation) in August and September. November might see me sweating a little, but I’ll be ready.

But here’s what people ask me all the time: How did you write so much so fast? How did you keep the momentum going?

I’d like to say I have a magic bullet (AKA easy answer), but I don’t. Not really. One answer is that I am a somewhat obsessive personality. I am a project person, as I’ve written about several times on this blog. When I start a project, no matter how small (and they never stay small), I am obsessed about getting it done, and quickly. It’s why NaNoWriMo works so great for me – writing a novel (not just 50,000 words) in 30 days or less is seriously speaking my language. I did 5 NaNo events in a row, and won them all. It’s just how my brain works.

But now, I’m not relying on NaNo to finish my books, mostly because the camps were inconvenient for me. I actually write better with that schedule, but this year was crazy (3 international trips, 2 graduations, 1 wedding, 4 books), and I know I need to cut myself some slack. For instance, after my daughter’s wedding, my brain was just fried.  If I had tried to write, you wouldn’t have wanted to read it! So this is where real life meets ideal life, and we tend to lose momentum.

So how do I keep it going? Well, several ways. First, I book with my production team ahead of time. I absolutely HATE to change my dates once I’m scheduled. I’ve had to, and it was not fatal, but it was close. I hate it. I feel like I’m inconveniencing not only all the great folks at Streetlight Graphics, but also whatever other authors are getting moved around because I didn’t have my act together. If people-pleasing is a good motivator for you, I strongly recommend this method. Book with your editor, your cover artist, your formatter, even your beta readers. Then stick with it.

Another way is to start telling your fans when the book will be released. I’ve had people email me, Tweet me, and Facebook me: “WHEN is the last book coming out???” So I say November. Guess what? Barring some really terrible life happening, that book will be out in November. I need all the fans I can get, and I’m not going to be untruthful if I can help it!

Finally, tell everyone you know. Post your daily word count on Facebook and Twitter. Blog about it. Make it public. This works for dieting, and it works for deadlines, too. Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing, if harnessed properly. We should always look at ourselves askance if we find that we are hiding our progress and our goal. That usually means we’re not making progress and haven’t set a goal. Just sayin’.

Writing every day is a treat, a blessing, and, to quote Mr. Monk, a curse. Some days we’d all rather clean toilets. Twice. So sometimes we need a little external pressure to say to us, “Get a grip – this is a JOB, not just a hobby. Write, no matter what you feel like.” And amazingly enough, that usually works!

I discovered when reading the first draft of my first novel, Solomon’s Throne, that I couldn’t tell the difference between the days writing flowed from my fingers faster than they could type the keys and the days every 200 words seemed like an epic struggle. In the end, I just wrote. With a migraine, waiting for my son at practice, when I was so tired I didn’t think I could come up with one semi-original word. And in the end, it was all the same. Really, that’s momentum. Taking a play from Nike’s book: JUST DO IT!

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Can you please everybody with your writing?

the worst thing you write

Hopefully, you answered the question with a resounding “NO!” But some of you said, “I sure hope so,” or “I’m trying!” This, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. Let me tell you why.

If you go to the reviews of any of my books on Amazon, you will quickly realize that the same thing that one reviewer loves, another hates. While these aren’t direct quotes from the reviews, you’ll see things like, “The beginning just sucked me in from the first page,” followed by “It took awhile to get into.” One reviewer will comment on how great the dialogue was. Another will say there wasn’t enough and they couldn’t tell who was talking. A third will say there was too much dialogue. On the characters, you’ll read everything from “totally believable!” to “I don’t think kids would act this way” or “the husband and wife seemed to have a weird relationship.”

What’s up with that? Don’t I get discouraged?

Well, honestly, no. I don’t get discouraged. Because I am a reader, I completely understand that not all books are for everyone. There are books that people swear are the best things ever written and I literally despise them. Some of the books I love meet no technical requirements for a good book. Many technically great books are awful (in my opinion!). Why would I think that my books are any different? Hopefully some people will love them. Certainly many people will both like and not like them. It can be hoped that not too many will despise them, but it’s likely that some will.

An honest review is a great thing for a writer, whether you like their work or not. An honest review isn’t like a lot of the “troll” one-star reviews out there, clearly written by people who’ve never read the book, or who even say, “I only read the first chapter, but…” and go on to slam the book. An honest review is, well, honest. What you liked. What you didn’t like. What worked for you and what didn’t. Those are the reviews that are constructive for the writer and the potential reader alike.

For a writer, reviews can be a kind of mass beta reading. You aren’t going to go back and revise that particular book, most likely, but if there are things that resonate, or if many people have an issue with the same thing, it is helpful as a teaching tool for future books. For the potential reader, reading a good number of honest reviews can give them a sense of whether they will like the book. There are things I know I love in books, and things that are pet peeves. If I read a review of a book and a lot of the comments point out something that’s a pet peeve, I can save my money. On the other hand, if the things other readers love are the same types of things I love… I’ll have it downloaded in a minute.

The main thing, as a writer, is that you write the story that’s in you to write. We can always hope that our loved ones will like it, and our friends. But the likelihood is great that at least someone you love won’t. My 99 year old grandmother wanted a copy of my latest book, IXEOS, because I wrote it. I can guarantee you that she has never read a Young Adult sci-fi fantasy dystopian novel in her life, and would never, ever buy one. It is absolutely not at all something she would normally read. But she read it, liked it okay, and will read the next two in the trilogy. My husband will probably never read IXEOS. He doesn’t like any of those genres in movies or books, with very rare exceptions. And that’s okay! It is not an indictment of my writing; it is an indication of his preferences and personality. I don’t take it personally.

The single hardest task we have as writers is avoiding our inner editor. I would say overcoming it, except I’m not sure we ever do that. We can subdue it, ignore it, stuff it in a box, and tie it up, but it never goes away. One of the inner editor’s main weapons is telling you that nobody is going to like your work. Because most of us have some perfectionist tendencies, and all of us want to be liked, we can easily get discouraged and even give up at the thought that what we are doing will be disliked or worse. We can’t give up. We can’t even think about the people who are going to read our books, other than to try to write the best and most entertaining books we can. That’s our job. That’s our only job.

Let people think what they want. Just do your job, and do it the best you can. You don’t need everybody to like it. You just need a group of fans who will support you and enjoy your work. They’re out there! Trust me.

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