Writers are Never Alone

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My daughter is a gymnast, a passion I helped her discover at the tender age of four, when she needed an outlet for her limitless energy. Now ten years on, she’s still at it — leaping, tumbling, and handstanding on any available surface.

Every gymnast progresses at an individual rate, excelling at some skills while struggling with others. Yet they are never alone. Teammates come together to celebrate every victory and provide support in moments of defeat.

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The parallels between the gymnastics and writing worlds are uncanny. We learn and grow as individuals, but we’re surrounded by a supportive network.

Recently I blogged about my First Draft Highs and Lows. The outpouring of support from readers was astounding. I feel compelled to give credit where it’s due, so here’s a sampling of the tips, advice, and encouragements that have helped me remember I’m not in this alone:

We all have moments of self doubtthis takes time and several revisions. So be patient. — Rajni Gupta

Write the rest how you think it should go, no matter how at odds it is with what you already put down. — Phillip McCollum

Think about where you want the story to go and how you could get it there. That will help you…fix the points where it started to drift. — Jon Simmonds

Things can often be fixed at a point of reassessment more easily than you may imagine, and then you are fresh for what is to come. — Francis Guenette

Stop, assess, see what’s working, see what’s not, and proceed from there. — Michelle Proulx

Compressing [my] book into a single page allowed me to see that the original story arc didn’t make a strong enough impact. When I corrected the synopsis, I was able to plan the book out to the end. — Joe Ponepinto

Something that helped me was to jot down what happens in each chapter…to see where the plot holes were. — Laura Read

Whenever my first draft goes astray…I always go back to the outline, understand the repercussions and then carry on with the draft. — Dylan Hearn

Sometimes I don’t know my protagonist’s goal until I’m in the second or third draft…That’s okay. You can really revise after you’ve laid the bones down. — Kourtney Heintz

Most first drafts are shit – we have to allow them to be. It’s amazing how much the quality changes over the…following drafts…and you’ll learn so much from the process. — Gemma Hawdon

Things can always be doctored and fixed. Getting the words out in the first place is what counts at the first-draft stage. — Carrie Rubin

Over time you can rewrite and edit…just let it evolve until it grows into a wonderful book. — Larry Merritt

You were successful at reaching your goal of 30k words, that’s what matters… Most importantly, enjoy the process! — Jill Weatherholt

I would take a bit of a break. And then re-evaluate what you believe needs to be done. — Fransi Weinstein

Look at it with a fresh eye. It might not appear quite as ugly as you first thought. — Jenny Pellett

Get some perspective before deciding how you feel about the outcome. — Lara Krupicka

First drafts suck, and they’re supposed to suck. — Natalie Wicklund

I say finish the darn thing. — Don Royster

Thank you so very much for your support!  ~Gwen

First Draft Highs and Lows

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The first draft of anything is shit. ~Ernest Hemingway

July was a whirlwind for me, much of the month spent in the blissful state of first draft writing. Early on this year, I set a goal to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, a virtual writing retreat offered every April and July.

For the Camp, I began a new draft of a novel I started some years ago. Revamped with a new premise and protagonist, I couldn’t wait to get started. So how did it go? Here’s my take on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

THE GOOD

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Goal reached! I set out to write 30,000 words by month’s end, a goal I achieved on July 26th. I can now proudly display my Winner’s badge.

Writing Every Day. By adopting this habit, the story was always with me. I woke up almost every morning ready and raring to write.

Just Write It. In other words, resist the urge to edit-as-you-go. I’ve learned I can turn off the internal editor and just write!

Three Cheers for Outlining! Poor outlining, the oft-regarded ugly stepchild of the writing process. My outline wasn’t perfect, but it gave me a road map to follow. Outlining didn’t kill the creative process, it energized it. I couldn’t have written 30,000 words without a plan in place.

THE BAD

Burn Out. Probably the only negative I took from the Camp NaNoWriMo experience. I thought I’d be motivated to continue on with daily writing, but I was ready for a break.

…And THE UGLY

The Ugly is the manuscript itself. I know, I know it’s a first draft, and by definition it’s not supposed to be good.

However, I made the mistake of reading a craft book (Wired For Story) while writing. It’s a fantastic guide, probably an ideal read between drafts, but it took the wind out of my sails, vaporized my momentum, and pointed out a laundry list of problems:

  • My protagonist’s goals aren’t clear or refined enough
  • I haven’t fully worked out his inner conflict
  • A subplot has gone off the rails and swelled the story into a sprawling, bloated mess
  • Because of the subplot monstrosity, I’ve lost my original focus
  • Theme? What’s that?

It didn’t help that my outline had some holes, particularly in the second act. I figured on-the-spot inspiration would help me muscle through this section, but instead, it’s where I’ve stalled.

imagesIn summary: Reading a craft book while drafting was not too bright! *face palm*

Lesson learned.

The question is, what to do now?

Option 1: Finish the draft as is, even though I’m discouraged by its current direction and lack of focus. Address the problems with revisions.

Option 2: Take pause and fine tune my outline. Remove what’s not working from the draft, and continue on with the character & story back on track.

What do you think? Advice and opinions, please!

Just Keep Writing

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It’s amazing what a change of scene and some fresh sea air can do for the psyche. This dazzling sunrise, over the turquoise waters of Cancun, Mexico, was my writing view every morning last week. What is it about beaches, anyway? I’ve come home to Chicago refreshed and ready to continue attacking the page.

Camp NaNoWriMo began on the 1st of July, and I’m one of thousands participating in this virtual writing retreat. I’ve chosen to begin rewriting a novel I started (and failed to complete) more than 5 years ago, with a goal of 1,000 words/day, and 30,000 words by month’s end.

Committing to a project and word count goal within a fixed period of time doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s been great for me. Currently at 24k, and with more than a week left in the month, I’m confident I’ll reach my goal.

Of course there have been ups and downs. During the first week, I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I had to force myself to quit writing each day, for fear I’d burn myself out. Naturally, some days have been more of a struggle, but that’s the writing life, defined by emotional and creative highs and lows.

Holding myself to a daily goal has produced an unexpected benefit: it’s kept my head in the story. “What happens next” is always lurking in my subconscious, and as a result, I want to write every day. The adage is true. Writing really does beget writing.

ellen-dory-finding-nemo-2__oPtBut the best part of the Camp has been the commitment itself. To reach my goal, I need to sit the booty in the chair, every day, no excuses. I’ve embraced the “Just Write It” mantra — get the story down, never mind the shortcomings. Problems are inevitable, and they can be addressed with revisions. Just keep writing. As one who struggles with crippling perfectionism, it’s been an incredibly freeing experience. I can do this.

Just keep writing…just keep writing…

Let the Insanity Begin

I’ve had big plans for the month of July for quite some time now. It’s one of two months each year to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’m signed up and ready to go.

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A cousin of the original NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I first learned about the Camp here in the blogging world. I’ve watched other writers toil through the word count, witnessed the elation of week 1, the crippling grind of week 3, the road blocks and breakthroughs, and finally, victory!

Now it’s my turn to give it a shot. But still. Write a novel in a month? Have I gone completely bonkers?

Unlike the original NaNoWriMo in November, in which participants pledge to write 50,000 words by month’s end, Camp NaNoWriMo (held every April and July) offers a little more flexibility: choose your project(s), choose your word count. So I’ve settled on 30,000 words, or 1,000 words a day. Doable, I hope. But it still may be enough to put me halfway to bonkers.

The concept of the Camp goes against my writing grain. I have a terrible habit of rereading and editing as I go, even on a first draft. Word vomiting, or “just write the darn story” is not in the fabric of my perfectionist nature.

I suppose that’s exactly why I’ve chosen to take this on.

I’ll spend today, the last day of June, fine-tuning my outline. It’s far from perfect and full of holes, but it’s the only road map I’ve got. I have to continually remind myself it’s just a draft. The bad stuff will be changed or revised out later, right?

My Camper profile pic.

My camper profile pic

My sister Katie and friend Rajni, my cabin mates, will be writing alongside me. We’ll keep each other motivated, cheer each other on. I’m looking forward to their company. And there’s plenty of room in the cabin — any last minute takers want to join us?

Wish me luck, blogging friends! Ack!

 

Writing the Wrong Story

It was a snowy January morning in 2009. Nestled under a quilt in front of the fireplace, I’d just finished reading a novel I couldn’t put down. The protagonist’s voice, the suspense, the delicious conflict — it was all perfect. The author was a genius! Made me want to give novel-writing a try.

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So I dreamed up a premise and a couple of characters, hauled out my laptop, and began to write. Yeah, just like that. Bing, bang, boom.

I didn’t know I was destined to fail, but in some ways my naiveté was very freeing. I wrote with abandon — just me, my characters, and my half-baked story.

Once the spontaneity had worn thin, and with no road map on how to continue, my story stalled. I started reading about craft, took some classes, and wrote a few more dead-end drafts, but inevitably, I abandoned the project in 2012.

IMG_1704The thing about writing is it gets under your skin. You can scratch the itch, but it never fully goes away. So earlier this year, I decided to have another look at that manuscript. Brimming with excitement and fresh ideas on how to revive it, I began a whole new outline.

Yet hidden beneath my exhilaration, something didn’t feel right. Even on my ‘good’ writing days, I couldn’t pinpoint what nagged me.

Finally one day in April, as I pored over Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success for the millionth time, it occurred to me what might be wrong. Author K.M. Weiland writes:

Then, suddenly, it struck me: I was writing from the wrong POV. My hero was not the character with the most to lose…

In her guide, Weiland tells writers to Choose the POV of the Character With the Most at Stake. Was this my dilemma? Was I envisioning my story from the wrong point of view?

For about a week, I resisted the idea, because change is never a good thing, right?

But really, there was no way around it. The person with the most at stake in my story was not my heroine. It was not her elusive love interest. It was their 14-year-old son.

It was almost as if I’d been trying to write the wrong story.

This realization demanded a POV and a genre change, but scratching that outline and beginning anew has made all the difference. Plot points are falling into place, and I absolutely love my new protagonist. I can’t wait to write my ‘new first draft’ in Camp NaNoWriMo next month.

Have you ever tried to write the wrong story?

Summertime, and the Living is Easy

Ahhhh June, my favorite month of the year. The weather is just right, and school will soon be released for the summer. For me, that means a 9-week break from the day job. Whoohoo! Here’s a glimpse at how I’ll fill the time:

I become a Swim Team Mom. My younger daughter is the swimmer of the family, and she has big plans to win the 50-yard breaststroke in the city championships for the second year in a row.

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Read, read, read. My TBR list never gets any shorter. Hopefully I’ll make some poolside progress over the summer months!

Participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in July. My revamped novel outline is falling into place. I aim to write my “new first draft” with the community support of my fellow campers.

Run every day. I relish those 30 minutes of peaceful solitude.

Family vacation in Mexico!

Clutter removal. Ugh. My least favorite job, but it’s gotta be done.

A reduced blog schedule. I’m cutting back to twice monthly during June, July, and August.

What are your plans for the summer?

Remembering

Memorial Day means a great many things to Americans.

The last Monday in May, it’s the unofficial beginning of the summer season.

There are backyard parties and barbeques. Public swimming pools open for business.

Students count down the remaining days before the summer break.

Families embark on weekend road trips to visit friends or popular tourist attractions.

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Cloud Gate, commonly known as “The Bean,” in Chicago’s Millennium Park

Memorial Day is also a time to remember the men and women who have died in the service of our great country. It’s a day to remember Freedom Isn’t Free.

A few fun facts (Source: Taking Off):

  • Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day
  • It was established to pay tribute to those who had died in the American Civil War
  • The first Decoration Day was May 30, 1868. This date was chosen because no Civil War battle had taken place on that day
  • Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day and was broadened to commemorate all American military personnel who had died in a war
  • Memorial Day was observed on May 30th until 1968, when it changed to the last Monday in May

How are you spending this holiday weekend?