Make a Joyful Noise

Time always slips by so fast during the holidays, doesn’t it? I was waiting for the notice that an anthology I contributed to had gone live. The final deadline was mid-November, and NaNo kept me busy and left me exhausted as December started. So it took me about a week to learn the anthology had already gone live.

Then it took me a few days to make sure it was listed on my Amazon author page with my own chapbooks and collection.

This flash anthology was put together by and for students of Holly Lisle. These are all very short stories, of five hundred words or less, created after her free flash fiction class. They lean toward the fantastic, but I believe we include every major genre. The great thing for you is that the ebook version is free, and available in multiple formats. (You can of course get a dead tree version if you decide to collect everyone’s autographs to say you ‘read us when…’)

Take a chance on us, the first one’s free. 😀

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Nano lesson #8: The Final Sprint

The good news is that we are now in that final stretch of NaNo. If you have been diligent, or did extra ahead of time to allow for Thanksgiving feasting and Black Friday madness, you should be in good shape.

I mean 1,667 words a day isn’t that much? I’ve seen plenty of comments on blogs from ethics to manners that roared past that number. I’ve seen run on sentences that sent on forever. How many of us finished that thirty page research project in three days for high school? Fiction can be way easier because you can make up shit. That’s why it’s called fiction.

NaNo whirlwind 2017, original neon whirlwind by Creativity103 without change, used under Creative Common 2.0

I easily average over a thousand words a day writing. I switch from project to project when one gets blocked or a plot bunny bites. Usually I do comments or blog entries, and write for two active fiction stories every week.

But doing nearly two thousand every day for NaNo lasts long enough that I have to prune my other activities just to get it done. The later in the month, the more has been has been pruned. TV and movies are much lower. Socializing too, but that’s been on a downward trend since college. Sleep has been hard hit, but that’s back to holding at six to seven hours. Some years, plot bunnies from EVERY other unfinished story attack to distract me, leaving fang and claw marks everywhere. Shopping for the holidays takes a big hit, even ordering online doesn’t help when the online system at Michaels told us they were out of stock three days in a row, but a friend walked right in and bought several from a flat. By the end of the month, family is a little better at not bothering you. A little, and only for humans. The four leggeds do not understand NaNo anymore than they get daylight saving time.

If you have made use of all this scavenged time, you should be over 40k words by today and hit 45k by tomorrow night. You may be tired and hate the story, but at this point you’re so close it would be stupid to stop.

And if you have fallen behind, you have only five days including today. Cut out more and write more. If you never really got rolling, write anyway. Write about the problems you had this year and how to avoid or lessen them for next time. Make it about a learning experience instead of about your lead.

Even after multiple successes, it is rarely any easier. The first draft is easy for a very, very inspiring idea that won’t let go. I think that has happened maybe twice in the last twelve NaNos for me. Twice were total wrecks and did not finish. The others were hard and sometimes brutal. But I made it through them. A majority of the stories were posted online as fanfic, or sit in a trunk hoping for effective editing and revision.

But there is always next year. There are also two Camp NaNo sessions where you can practice the pace or pick a different goal. Just keep at it. Someone will love your story, the tricks are to be clear in telling it and find your fans.

Get to it! And good luck!

Nano lesson #7: Burnout, aka Thanksgiving

Resting and adaptability sometimes just are not enough, the last few days are usually brutal. The various Thanksgiving hosting and food issues, plus even limited shopping for the holidays are not just distracting, but exhausting. This year Thanksgiving was early. You might think that a full week after the holiday means you have massive time, but no. It’s just that you only have three weeks for prime writing this time before the holiday, instead of closer to four.

There was a major illness in my immediate family this fall, so food and even cleanup had to be reconfigured. (Turkey breast in the slow cooker and dropping the stuffing) We also had a panic attack when sibling announced that all the leftover potatoes fell on the floor! But the bigger disaster was that a new helper eagerly rubbed pepper on the turkey, for a house where no one uses pepper at all and we only keep a little for guests at the table. The family attacked the turkey & gravy, mashed potatoes, and asparagus and took a communal nap. (forgot the fresh cranberry relish again!)

Holiday street light decorations shining along the river

image by Jack on flickr at [https://flic.kr/p/5LPmyy], under Creative Commons 2 [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/]

Of course the culture seems to have decided to replace watching football with competitive shopping, in stores that barely close for the longest holiday travel weekend of the year. I have some shopping done, but will make cards after NaNo ends. One issue is that shopping for normal things is about five times as as slow and exhausting as normal, like for just plain soda out of stock on Tuesday. I’m not buying a TV or phone, so the door busting doesn’t even open my door let alone bust anything. I will be looking at laptops real soon now as my 3rd fan is very noisy. It seems to work fine, but apps to monitor heat add extra overhead. I’ve been watching it for heat and stress for over a year, but noise is the only issue and gives me a headache sometimes. Researching a new one will take time, time I can’t afford during NaNo. Even if prices will be very good. I don’t know how long I can nurse this one, as much as I love it. All things pass.

But later.

The holiday + Black/Cyber/Giving brouhahas make even normal business a challenge. And writing something intentionlly thoughtfull? Concentration and time are near impossible for a couple of days. A day and a half away doesn’t seem like that much, but it is.

Getting started and back in the mindset is like an opening night. You have to ignore the butterfllies and all the little imps that remind you the slowcooker is stained with smudges of dried glaze at the top and you need to order and collect dogfood. They can wait a couple of hours.

Better yet, see what you can offload to other family members. But down on rec reading and even checking the news. Anything really big and family will tell you.

Use an idea you were doubtful of earlier. Add something lighter, as too much angst is a drag! Recast a favorite piece for your world if it doesn’t break the setting. I may look for a random plot or prompt list to do a scene. Write a tabloid reporter or newspaper like National Enquirer reporting of story events, even more fun, have the characters see the story and have them react big!

The first thing is to just start writing again.

That’s what editing is for later.

Just write! And let the devil take the hindmost.

Nano lesson #6

Well, the good NaNo news is that I am making slow progress against that deficit after that crash and burn. I should catch up by Saturday. You might be wondering if I got the ‘much better progress?’ I have. Instead of taking two or three sessions totaling about eight hours of struggle, I’m doing a trifle more than the 1667 quota in three of four hours in the evening. The extra hours immediately went to other things: A long-delayed roof repair became possible yesterday, an excellent idea as we are supposed to be getting five inches of snow today. Right now in fact. The other thing was that an invitational flash story for a collection is due today, so I chopped a fifth out, rewrote, and begged for some beta comments to do final tweaks. Twenty hours I really don’t have during NaNo.

I also think that teaching writing/inspirational people should not plan major seminars during NaNo, especially when they make great steps to make sure it won’t be available after NaNo is over and cannot be downloaded… It’s not like the dates for NaNo are unknown after this long.

Recharging

Albert Anker's Eine Gotthelf-Leserin, 1884

Wolf G photo of Albert Anker’s Eine Gotthelf-Leserin, 1884, creative commons 2

It is important to not get so obsessed with writing that you stop reading, especially for pleasure. Research reading really should be put off for later, something quick and easy when sweating over revisions. Else you fall into the rabbit hole of research and you look up with your writing time is gone. [Describe what detail you want or need] and just keep going!

But reading for fun is important as a piece of pie is to your eating. It may not seem important compared to that word quota, but it does far more for your mental health. The first and most important thing is that it brings joy and humor after whatever frustration your NaNo project is feeding you. It reminds you of why you want to write, why you love the written word and good characters. And thirdly, there is usually some serendipity, something you read will trigger an idea for some problem area. Last night I realized I was missing an evil temple in my story when I was commenting on another’s posting. I hurried off to record the idea for my own chapter. Should get there about Monday!

A half hour off to read something else is a very valuable expenditure of time in NaNo, Just don’t go wild and avoid the writing. Make it 30 minutes or so and use a timer like your writing sprints if that helps.

NaNo Lesson #1

I have taken a number of classes and seminars, read articles and blogs in hopes of improving my writing. I’m reasonably satisfied after ten years of fanfic with: most mechanics, pacing, dialogue, characterization and plotting. including a very important lesson: how to do reasonable closure even for a series so readers are eager for continuation and not feeling cheated.

I’ve been looking at many ideas and approaches, as my usual produced some very poor skeletons for two previous novels.  I discovered in 2010 that I am a pantser, if I do character studies and outlines with any detail, my muse will not show up. I failed NaNo badly that year as my muse went on strike being totally unwilling to start filling in the outline.

Oshkosh Public Library NaNo logo

So I went back to pantsing with a paragraphs’ worth of summary to plan my stories. That works fine for shorter projects, or ongoing serials where you can meander until you get to your ending.  But it made for trainwrecks of NaNo original novels. Several teachers go on about plannign stories around scenes. And I spent the last week studying one method of designing scenes.

So for my first day of NaNo I’ve produced only about 600 words after hours. I have much of the section clear in intention but working about that framework I was so excited about yesterday had the ease of pulling your dog’s teeth.

I’ve been thinking about it for a little while (dinner’s in the oven) and the problen seems to be I think about my stories more like a piece of weaving. One scene may have several plot threads in play and include nudges on multiple character arcs. Focusing on only one conflict thread is like trying  to talk with a scold’s bridle. There may be a few scenes that can be that focussed, but it ain’t the first one for this novel.

(I am hitting a lot of the recommended things for a start. My primary lead is front and center, there will be a small bit of danger and action, my big bad is audience and doing background tactics, I’m introducing bits about the setting and situation, and my lead is havng a terrible day.)

But the writing feels lifeless and I have NO enthusiasm in working to the framework.

That is a bad sign. It usually takes until about  Nov 20 for me to start getting dissatisfied.  I do not want to chase pyrite and lose what speed and skill I have. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and all that. So I’m going to rip that scene method out and keep other parts that have helped. If I cannot pull out on my NaNo I may work on something else to break the logjam.

So the lesson is: don’t forget that classes are not a recipe that will work for everyone.  Sometimes you have to strike out on your own when your muse demands it. Good luck to all.

Cover Art

I finished a major revision of a novelette August. Can’t afford professional editing so I dawdled that month checking a couple sites for trade or betas, but nothing came of it. Then September was dedicated to a major illness and surgery of a close family member. Recovery is slower than I hoped, but I’m starting to have energy and time for my original writing again.

This story is very dark for me, and I believe Halloween is a better time for release. While betrayal and faith are themes, the ending has loss and can be taken as horror or slight hope.

demons by jeanieforever

demons by jeanieforever, creative commons attribution

My issue is that releasing it to Kindle/Createspace whatever they are today, will require cover art. I really am proud of cover art I made for some fanfic or NaNo placeholder, but I have no concept for this one. How will I try to visually represent false representation/slow change/demons/manipulation/svengali/demonseed/illusions/regaining agency? At points it looks like a romance, but through a warped mirror. (and that was a challenge to keep as I like happy endings usually)

Where is that thinking cap???

Organizing My Thoughts

I write. Sometimes I write a lot. When my inspiration is running high, like during a NaNo challenge, I run 2000 draft words a day. That is a respectable pace, so I’m happy with that.  I used to do more before health issues interfered, but that 2k a day is as much as I can physically manage on a steady basis.

Some things, like most fanfic, I only do light editing or fill in missing facts, like the name of a specific space station in the setting.  Some fanfic requires more work to check on continuity in the 100k project. Fun stuff and parodies like a Gilligan’s Island piece go up faster.  But original work, especially heavy world-building make for a whole other kettle of fish. I feel fairly confident in my core ideas, my lead characters, and my overall plot. It’s the rest that I’m kind of wobbly on. I know theme and secondary characters are weaker.

So it’s revision for original works are my problem area, especially as I can’t afford an editor. So I want to have something top notch before I send them out.  A second opinion and noting brain-farts is more important than spelling and grammar at this point. Finding that honest opinion without giving away the cow is an issue. I have two original novel drafts, and I’m reluctant to start another novel until I figure out a better way to revise and finish those novels. I still want a thumbs up or down before I decide whether to seek a real publisher.

globe clear light bulb

old style light bulb, from pxhere

I’m still looking after ten years for a method better for editing than flailing about and running through a piece until the thought of one more pass makes me want more to shoot myself than look at it one more time. I’ve read articles and done classes, and I’m actually happy with a major revision I did last month. That is the exception, and the longer the work, the lower the confidence.

Sadly, several instructors I’ve found who seem compatable, are still in the 20th century, where piles of dead tree pages and huddling over a dining room table chaos is part of the writing package. People today, are more mobile, moving from place to place, and in between meals don’t have that luxury of spreading out and static resources.  Why can’t I apply digital analysis and tools to my work? This is organization and analysis if my work, not the raw rush of creation.  (Yes, I looked at Scrivener and yWriter but the latter just got in the way)  I want a tool that I can drop my finished draft in and let me organize and note things easily. Maybe  notice oopsies like the best friend only has 20 lines but a minor villain was featured for twenty pages.

I think something that lets me tag sentences, paragraphs and scenes with characters/roles/themes with checkboxes, and like a good modular code inherits from the higher level.  I may have to design my own database. It’s been a long time since my last and I am not looking forward to the timesuck. But I really want a better way to revise and work without scattered piles of dead tree pages.