Nano lesson #5


The worst thing about NaNo usually happens around the 17th. It’s not the sleep deprivation, though that contributes. It’s not the greater isolation, I’m already isolated because of many RL issues. It’s not when essential people and appointments fall through, those happen anytime. It’s not the cold and mystery thickener that left you sicker than a dog for days. It’s not even any one aspect: plotting, block, or incomplete worldbuilding reaching back to bite you.

It’s the depression when the story is coming to a screeching halt. And words are coming so slowly an hour of writing, a mere three hundred words, make you want to beat your head against something. You hate the scene, the characters, and the plot and you’d rather write an essay on muclear meltdowns than even look at your story you loved and were so optimistic about two weeks ago.

The story idea is good.

I did a draft about four years ago. It fell apart. The villain was a purposeless trope. A bunch of characters were bland and the climax just sort of petered out. Despite attempts to revise there just was too little to hang the good parts on.

So I put the great idea in a mental trunk until I was skillful enough to tackle it again. Now, I’m taking a class in novel writing and I thought I conld do both at once. After all, I already had the bones of a story I believed in.

No such luck. Despite some parts of the lesson showing me where I’d messed up the first time, another part was loathed by my muse.

Writing came to an utter stasis by Nov 2. Keeping the guidelines in mind seems to be enough to put my muse in a vise, a straightjacket. I even tried writing a separate prompt piece like the NaNo people suggest to clear the decks and resume the original novel. Almost 6500 words of that diversion and the original story’s air has cleared up.

I write a few thousand more if the original booj idea before I get to another crash and burn yesterday, bleeding every word.

swirlsof neon light

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

Today I had to face that the new noveling techniques are derailing how I wrote before, but the writing of it painful and has no joy. That diversion, a pantser with loose demi-outline but no deep planning flowed as normal. With the speed needed for NaNo, I cannot afford to use any technique that slows me down. So I’m switching projects… to that diversion one.

1800/day for the rest of the month will be challenge enough because of intractable RL issues. All this for these lessons: a) Even crashes and burns can be redeemed, that stories you are starting to hate can be set ashore before it’s too late. And b) Pay attention when your muse is not happy. You cannot force it to do what your logical side, your ego want it to do.

Tomorrow I anticipate much more progress…

NaNo Lesson #4

What is this thing, timing?

Really these lessons aren’t new. I follow them most of the year. But then the looming holidays make November almost the worst month to hold a worldwide writing challenge. The only month that might be worse is February, but unless you are really caught up in groundhog day / candlemas or have delusions that Valentines will cure your romantic woes, the second month with thenty-eight days isn’t too bad. Here in the northern hemisphere in February, it is the depths of winter and pounding away at a keyboard during long winter nights is pretty good.

But you can timeshift your challenge! Camp NaNo answers for challenges two other times a year. You can commit to the novel in thirty days, or some other challenge. There’s a wider list of challenges. I’d participated once earlier this year. I commited to a major rewrite of a 12k story to clean it up for publication, and it almost doubled in length when I filled in with more character balance. (alas, major family illness and shortage of 2nd opinions meant I lost momentuum and I didn’t find a pub or haven’t self-pubbed yet)

Now if a mass of personal friends participating or hometown pride helps keep you motivated, the NaNo in November is better, much better.

Also coupons and offers are much better in November than for Camp NaNo, probably because of the higher visibility. The Autocrit automated editing service is offering a sweepstakes for their service during NaNo this year, Createspace used to have discounts on paperback copies if you pubbed through them, when they existed autonomously. There’s bunches of tools and offers, only slightly better for people who succeeded. (note: I’m listing these as a NaNo veteran, not from some kind of compensation. I use only free tools these days as my wallet is empty) But the benefits of the Camps will probably keep growing, and the offers from November have dropped. If prizes and discounts matter, participate in November.

If a few extre vacation days late in the month help, Thanksgiving’s your time. There is much more moral support with local writing groups and writing ins in November. College ones can get a little rowdy, but in my area they are often hosted in coffeeshops or libraries. Usually a handful of published authors, sometimes name authors write pep talks in November.

In Camp NaNo, the only real organized support are virtual tents of writers which seem as successful as random roomates in college. They’re hit or miss and mine was mostly miss. The different writing goals in Camp didn’t help, because we were at different stages of writing, They were trying to just get a draft down on paper and dropped out like flies. I was revising a problematic story. November is mostly to prime the pump, to build a new habit for writing discipline. Everyone is in some stage of that cycle. Revision has little to do with that, so we were speaking different languages.

You have three opportunities for a novel sprint under the official NaNo umbrella each year. Camp NaNo is more useful if you already have a writing group, or are just writing for yourself. If you want or like the extra support and goodies for your first draft sprint, do it in November.

But just do it. So many people say they want to write, have an really good idea. But you have to sit down and write steadily. Do it alone, or find solidarity in November.

Nano lesson #3

Sleep! Sleep is not for wimps, no matter how much people talk about pushing through. A dream can also give you a present to get out of block or a story problem.

grains falling through hourglass

In Search of Lost Time by Alexander Boden on flickr, without changes, per Creative Commons.

Going short on sleep even a few days is an open invitation to any cold virus or other bug to come for a long stay. When sick, writing will be twice as bad and often be pure junk. Four hours in early November cost more like fifteen when the deadline is looming.

Don’t do it! Sleep at least an hour less than your usual. But I’m beginning to think even that is counterptoductive.

My NaNo cold came early this year.

NaNo Lesson #2

If at all possible try to clear all the recurring tasks in the last days of October.  Yes, yes, Halloween dressup and candy are fun, but a late party just drains time and energy. (And really, Target, what is the point of sending me an email about featuring boy’s halloween costumes on November 3rd late in the day?  So many things have already switched over to Christmas bazaars and craft fairs in the next week. Let’s focus on no Christmas movie marathons before Halloween!) Get the groceries early. Do that laundry.  Cook down that pumpkin.

This won’t save you from emergencies, like a prepaid grocery pickup losing the prepaid part and will not accept the numbers over the phoneThen there;s unexpected issues with understanding: when the shopper is requested to get red gelatin with sugar, but that was out of stock and wegot the disliked low calorie. old cable line with the central needle gave up the ghost so new shows  and old DVR recordings were inaccessible. Those were bad enough, but needed blankets are still stuck in the drier and tonight’s eat out treat became leftover pasta.

Crane Gears by Kevin Utting, attributed under Creative Commons 2.0

Today would have been much less stressful if some tasks were frontloaded. My muse wilted again from the stress.

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.

Looming deadlines

As usual, something came up when I have three deadlines too close together. a) NaNo 2018 starts in less than 48 hours.  I’m combining the NaNo challenge of a 50k novel draft in one month with part of b) Holly Lisle’s HTWAN class. (only part as the class in only about five weeks in, out of like thirty weeks of class) I also planned to get c) one last chapter of a fanfic done before my December crash. Then there’s RL issues like a missing aide to help my mother and someone scamming over a hundred dollars of Lyfts from a card of someone still in recovery from surgery.

I should surface again in December.

I really don’t want my sniffle to be a cold.

That Perfect Point in Time

I write some stuff that could be classed as urban fantasy. (It’s not ready for prime time) But I made the trigger event be in 2016 and to my total dismay I discovered a perfect theme song for my lead… that came out about two years later. I cannot move the trigger event, and the world has changed so they can’t get it later when it really came out.

old metal gears

Crane Gears by Kevin Utting, attributed under Creative Commons 2.0

I would love having my lead use a lyric’s text to gird themselves as bad things go down. Everything is dark in my current chapter, and even taking heart is a good thing.

I will probably find a weaker song, or just have it on my playlist when I write for battle.

But it is a missed opportunity, because of a missed point in time…

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???

Awful Words

… No, this is not comments on the latest Potter fabfic, this is just on words. You, know, those little marks in pixels or ink we absorb every day.

Today I was reading a fiction piece that the author had must put out a revised chapter. I’m near the beginning. It opened with a little action, a murder, but this is a villain centered piece, so feeling for the victim is pointless. But that was not what yanked me out of the story,

It was the word ‘various.’  The story said ‘various sofas and seats’ like various said anything useful to establish the description of the room. Were they matching silk and quilted satin? were they Goodwill cast-offs?  Were they brand-new and tacky like a gaudy and cheap bordello?

Various is not a descriptive word.

It wastes space and ink better used for other words, words that set a mood, describe objects, or give some kind of counts.

Don’t use it.


I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

I’ve got a sibling who’s been sampling the joys of online dating. (but, no, not using known and more reputable ones) These sites are so effective at something, the prospective dates all ask for money before a date. The latest has chatted for 2-3 weeks. But a first meeting has been postponed twice and they are demanding that sibling say the “ILoveYou” before they meet face to face.

Being romantic, I believe you can fall in love without a F2F connection, but demanding that is just way too soon. Are they that messed up? (Misery– Get away!) or are they greedy, using that as a feeder to start extorting money from a lovesick target?

I really can’t think of anther reason to demand a declaration of love before you meet. Bueller?