Posted in News, Writing

My First NaNoWriMo


Okay, so I’ve known about NaNoWriMo for years. In fact, I’ve used it and my friends’ participation as the motivator for a couple of unofficial spurts of writing over the years. Instead of signing up with a profile and seriously aiming for 50,000 words in a month, I set my own goal: write for at least 30 minutes a day in November. It worked for me. Of course, that was the manuscript that’s permanently retired and is a total mess (120,000 words and not even halfway done, ha), but it was also the manuscript I mined small passages and inspirations from to form my first completed manuscript, so it wasn’t for naught. Plus, just practicing writing was helpful.

I have written 50,000 words in under a month twice for both of my completed manuscripts. Once I finally got on the inspiration-train, they took off and poured out of me. But both those times weren’t in November or part of NaNoWriMo. Just feeling like I “have to” write 50,000 words in a month has kept me from participating before. (Not like the WIPMarathon, where you could set your own goal, no matter how big or small, whether writing or editing.) Because then I get depressed on those days where I don’t write enough words or I can’t write at all.

But I have a new WIP I’ve been thinking about since late August I’d like to get drafted somewhat soon. The past couple of months have been crazy, so all I have to show for it is one paragraph (I had the opening lines in my head right away) and about 2/3 of an outline. I meant to get to work sooner (although I’m taking a detour to write a fun short story), but I just haven’t been able to. So why not? I’ll do my best to finish the outline before November and make it my NaNoWriMo entry. (Sorry if I “break the rules” by having 150-ish words written before November begins, ha. I promise not to count myself as a “winner” unless I get 50,150+ words done.) I will NOT feel sad if I don’t get 50,000 words done. I will NOT force myself to work on Thanksgiving and every single day in the month. I’m just… writing.

So add me if you’re partcipating!

I actually wrote a pitch for the WIP while I was at it. That’s a first for me. (I don’t often share pitches online before I’ve even written anything!)


Posted in Writing, Writing: Help

WIPMarathon Check-In #2

Last Check-in Wordcount + ChapterCount: 23,839 words and 7 chapters

Current WC + CC: 45,053 words and 15 1/2 chapters.

Yeah, I wrote more in one week than I did in the ENTIRE FIRST MONTH I worked on this WIP. It was a combination of this awesome WIP marathon, having the outline completed and having less work (boo) than usual.

WIP Issues this week: Continuing to balance the multiple POVs. It feels harder to keep them separate when I work on more than one chapter a day, but I’m not going to stop when I have the desire to keep writing! I just remind myself about how each character would view the situation.

Also, setting high expectations has a drawback. I’m starting to be disappointed with perfectly FINE accomplishments each day. Like this week, 1000-2000+ words per day was the norm, and that’s GREAT, but one day I did just under 800 and I felt sad. Um, but 800 was MORE than I was doing MOST days in all of July!

What I learned this week in writing: Getting over the initial “omg, I have tens of thousands of words ahead of me, I can’t do this~” hump has helped. I’m probably only halfway to the end even still, so I’ve got a lot to go. But it feels more like I can do it. I HAVE to do it. My characters want the story told. (I’m getting nervous as I approach the word count where I got irrevocably stuck in one of my previous WIPs.) Also, I’m still loving outlines now. I’ve even managed to keep thinking of new ideas as I write, but having that framework in place is immensely helpful.

What distracted me this week while writing: Car troubles and a busy schedule, but I still managed to find plenty of time to write.

Last 200 words: A little more, I cheated. Also, this is smack in the middle of a chapter, but I was done for the day:

Tierny grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me onward. “Avoid the ladies of the night.” We stopped moving, and I noticed a slight twitch at the corner of his mouth. “At least when there are rumors the soldiers are combing their chambers.” I wondered if he would tell me to avoid them under any other circumstances.

He dropped my arm and guided me onward, through one alley and the next, through more puddles and muck than I ever imagined could exist.

At last he turned a corner and stopped again. No one was in this alley, and there was no torch to light our path. Something pulsated in the dark beneath me, like the heartbeat of the city, buried in mud and feces. I lifted a foot and shook it, suddenly feeling like I was covered in rats and insects.

Knock. Knock knock knock. Knock knock. Tierny’s fist pounded on a door I hadn’t even realized stood partway down the stone wall. He pounded the pattern again. And then once more.

“All right, enough.” A woman’s throaty voice called back from the other side of the doorway. I waited patiently, bouncing my knees and reminding myself that even a city as filthy as this one couldn’t possibly have as many spiders and vermin as I pictured now crawling up my leg, and the door opened, a squat and stocky woman holding up a candle in my face.

I looked down and saw my foot squished into the pile of what I hoped was horse excrement and all the maggots and worms squirming in it

And my little announcement–I came up with a working title last night! 

Fall Far From the Tree

I’m pretty bad at coming up with titles. (My other completed manuscript didn’t get one until after I’d finished the first draft.) It actually only works on one level, but I like how it sounds. However, it might give off too much of a contemporary vibe (the WIP is fantasy), and there isn’t enough direct connection to the narrative, and yeah… But the idea is a play on “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Well, it’s a working title anyway. And it’s better than “TITLE,” which it was named until today…

Posted in Writing, Writing: Help

WIPMarathon Check -In #1

Last Check-in Wordcount + ChapterCount: As of last Saturday, I’d just finished the fourth chapter and that took it to 17,480 words. (Long chapters, I know, but they were intro chapters and from now on, the chapters HAVE TO be shorter.)

Current WC + CC:
I outlined on Sunday and then got back to work. Now it’s at seven chapters, 23,839 words.

WIP Issues this week: Figuring out the rest of the plot (which I did with an outline, yay, I feel more confident now) and feeling bad about not writing much toward the end of the week because I was busy with work and then a bit ill.

What I learnt this week in writing: Writing outlines are not the enemy of creativity that pantser-me used to think. Yes, I love discovering the story as I write, but having that outline in place is so reassuring. I’ve tweaked a few things as I write, so it’s not like the outline is something rigid.

What distracted me this week while writing: Work and feeling sick. At least feeling sick let me read a lot, yay.

Last 200 words: Hmm…. Not my favorite passage or scene by any means (and a tiny bit more than 200), but:

“My advice, should you ever find yourself surrounded by an angry mob again.” The voice was alto, deep but melodious. I felt the soft brush of dark hair press against my cheek as he spoke, as the man—the man—ignored my blows and turned the horse backward, back toward the duchy. “Don’t rely on someone in the sky to get down in time to save you.” He flicked the reigns. “Hee-yah!” The horse went speeding forward, the few women and children remaining in that direction scrambling desperately to flee the pounding of hooves taking me away from Mother Flore and Mother Ermessenda, away from Mother Jehanne and the safety of the towers… And off into the burning ember sun, toward the duchy, a sun-kissed, unknown savior seated behind me.

“Why are there no men in the Stargazers, Mother Jehanne? Why must all the boys leave when they come of age?”

Mother Jehanne stroked my hair, lulling me to sleep with the rhythms of her rocking chair. “Ytoile would not permit their savagery. We take their gifts to the tower, it’s true. We might bless them even, if they are devout. But they will never be as dear to Ytoile as are women and children.” Mother Jehanne leaned in, whispering directly into my ear. “Men want women, Cateline. They want them in unspeakable ways. If one ever catches you, let Ytoile guide your hand. Don’t let him defile you.”

I shielded my eyes with my arm at my forehead, feeling the hot burn of the sun demon even through my closed eyelids, taunting me to do what needed doing.

Posted in Writing, Writing: Help

WIPMarathon Intro

So I don’t usually talk about my WIPs in depth at my blog. Mostly because I have too many of them going at once—or started, anyway—and I feel ashamed that I have nothing to show for it other than sweat and tears and some rough, uncompleted drafts that no one on earth but me has ever seen. Life gets in the way, writer’s block hits, and even well-intentioned “I’m going to write every day and finish this!” goals end in getting stuck at what seemed like the climax of the manuscript. (I’m looking at you, contemporary suspense YA manuscript. I’ve shelved you for a while now, but I swear someday I’ll dust you off and figure out what went wrong.)

Well, I’m tired of having nothing to show for it. It’s been my dream practically all my life to be a published author, and—dare I hope—an author with more than one book to her name. But I’m never going to get there until I have more than one manuscript to shop around!

So luckily, shiny new idea hit in early July. Like I needed another new idea I wouldn’t finish… But how about one I WOULD finish? What if I told myself I’d write almost every single day (I’m sorry, me, but some days I’m just too busy or tired to write even a line, and that’s okay, as long as it’s not often.) and this time, I had an outline ready so I couldn’t possibly wind up stuck at the end?

So that became my goal: write this manuscript and finish it. Stop fretting about all the things people will find wrong with it, that everyone I know will hate it and I’ll have to start another project, and just write it, just have another project in the wings ready to go.

So last week I found out about a group of bloggers devoting the month of August to accomplishing their individual goals in their WIPs, and although I’m late to the game, I’ve also been writing a lot this month (more than last month even), so I decided to join in! Learn more here if you feel like doing the same (yes, you can join late, I asked!).

So here’s my intro, soon followed by my check-in:

Marathon Goal: As close to finishing the first draft of this project as possible. I originally gave myself until the end of the year, but I feel more pumped. I’m hoping I can finish long before that. I did also have a goal of writing my outline this month after finishing the first four (long) chapters in July (I wanted to get a feel for the characters before I decided the rest of the plot), and I did that last weekend, yay.

Stage of writing: Writing the first draft of my sixth novel project. (Of the previous five, one is completely retired, one is finished and got me an agent :D, and the other three are in various stages of being on hiatus.)

What inspired my current project: It’s YA fantasy. I want to say Game of Thrones meets Marvel Comics’ Runaways, but every YA fantasy these days has the “YA version of Game of Thrones” tag already, so… yeah. Also, it’s my first project with multiple POVs. Four to be precise. Because I’m crazy like that.

What might slow down my marathon goal: Getting distracted, getting busy, and having too much work to do. I write for a living, too, and if I spend all day staring at my computer, pulling the creative juices out of my brain writing for work, sometimes I’m simply too exhausted to keep doing that for my own stuff. (Seriously, I wish I had like a Kindle screen just for typing. I get so tired of staring at a glowing screen.)

Posted in Writing, Writing: Help

The Soul-Sucking Synopsis (I Exaggerate, but Barely)

Ask virtually any writer, published or unpublished, who’s gotten as far as the querying stage at least, and they’re bound to agree: when it comes to writing the one- or two-page book synopsis or writing the entire tens-of-thousands-of-words manuscript, the latter is probably easier. I’m not kidding.

Luckily for me, my agent was one of the types who never asked for the synopsis (and he agreed with me on how awful they are)—not even after I signed with him! (It may be needed in the future, of course, so I can’t hold a digital fire and delete the wretched things off my hard drive…) But I wrote several versions before I started querying anyway because a fair number of agents do ask for one, either upfront or after they request further materials from you.

My first attempt was a joke. I tried writing about two sentences per chapter, but I couldn’t stick to it. In the end, I had about five single-spaced pages, which wasn’t going to fly. (I hear tell that sometimes agents will request 5-10-page+ synopses from you, but probably not until they sign you, and perhaps not even then, so don’t worry about writing a long one while still querying.)

When an agent requests a “one-page synopsis,” from what I understand, you can write it “Internet style,” which is single-spaced, chunk-like paragraphs and two spaces between paragraphs (see this blog entry as an example). The “two-page synopsis” is double-spaced and manuscript style, with indented paragraphs and no extra spaces between paragraphs. I found that the two are actually almost the same, when you take into account the spacing. The two-page one did allow for a few more sentences, though. (And every sentence you can wring out of the space counts. Really!) Expect both versions to be between 500-1000 words, and the closer to 500 words, the better. Yes, you have to distill your entire book into fewer than 1000 words. (I wound up with about 600 for the one-page and 760 for the two-page.)

I’m probably not the best source of advice on the subject, as I’m still not that proud of my synopses. Still, I’d be glad to share the tips that helped me rip the final results from my brain over a long period of three weeks and several drafts:

  • Aim for the limited space from the start. Originally, I thought I’d write up a summary of the book as I pleased and cut out any extra words later. Yeah… That wasn’t going to cut it when during my first try, I came up with a 3500-word version I needed to cut down to as close to 500 words as possible. I started over from scratch without even looking at the first version.
  • Follow the greater plot and cut out the subplots. If you ever write a longer version, you can put the subplots in there, but when every word is crucial, you’ll have to skip entire storylines. I actually skipped almost all of my beginning in which I set up the world, except for a couple of sentences that explained the world clearly. (When I changed the beginning of the manuscript drastically, I didn’t even have to change the synopsis since I never was able to fit in information about the start!) It helps that you have to…
  • Name only three (or four?) characters. The main character is a given, but most of the characters s/he interacts with will have to be known by their roles such as “Tanya’s sister” or “the old neighbor.” Other characters you might choose to name are any love interest(s) or antagonist(s). Everything I read said to name no more than three characters, but I could not do mine without four. Maybe some agents/editors are flexible… Oh, and by the way, put the names in all-caps the first time you write them in the synopsis: Sixteen-year-old TANYA RICHARDS ….
  • Try to add your voice. I had a lot of trouble with this one. You don’t want your synopsis to be boring—you’re probably using it as one part of your package to sell your book to an agent or editor—so it’s got to have some of that query-like, back-of-the-book-type flair. Try to project the same tone you use to narrate your book. (By which I don’t mean write in first person if your manuscript is in first person. Write in third person always with synopses.) I don’t think I quite did that (it was hard enough for me to get the story out in such limited space), but I know my fellow writer and beta reader did with her sassy book synopsis.
  • Delete unnecessary words. After the horrible first attempt at a synopsis, I wrote one that was about 1100 words. That’s the one I was able to get down to two pages and then one page. To do so, I deleted as many adverbs and adjectives as I could and made sure every sentence added something important to the summary. If not, it had to go, no matter how much it hurt to cut it.

Have you written a synopsis? What tips worked for you?

Posted in Writing, Writing: Help

Give Brainstorming a Try–Even When You Usually Write on the Fly

One of my favorite books, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, has a few jarring moments when the author speaks to the reader outside of the plot of the book. When I first read the book in high school and again in college, I was especially drawn to Fowles’ explanation of how the characters seem to write themselves without his conscious input:

“It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.” (Fowles, ch. 13)

He also mentions how the novelist cannot plan the worlds that they create through fiction, and goes as far as to say “a planned world… is a dead world.” Non-writers in the classes thought it silly, but this seemed to perfectly sum up how I write: sit down with a few ideas germinating and just write with no specific plan of where you’re going–more likely than not, the ideas come to me, and they sometimes surprise me as much as they do the reader.

On the other hand, I envied anyone who could sit down and write an outline for a book they wanted to write. They had a skeleton of the book in hand and could write without pesky writer’s block butting in. I just could never do it myself.

But about a week ago, I did. I outlined the rest of the second book in a planned series (after writing the first few chapters) and all of the third book. True, things may change when (if) I get to putting the words on paper (er, computer screen), but for the first time ever, I know exactly where I’m going with this! And plus, the experience was similar to that of writing on the fly: I sat down with a few general ideas as I wrote, and the rest came to me, surprising me all the while.

So how do you come up with ideas? You take some time to brainstorm! Next time you write, try the following, even if you don’t usually come up with ideas before you write the draft:

  • Discuss ideas with beta readers. You trust these people to have first access to your drafts, so they’re likely to be the only people on the planet who will be able to help you come up with ideas, since they’re the only ones who’ve read it! I never thought to discuss ideas with a beta before, but one of mine was so anxious to know “what would happen next” that he triggered a conversation over dinner. Ideas both of us came up with served as the general ideas I sat down with as I wrote the outline–and they evolved quite a bit as I wrote. And now at least the two of us know what happens, even if few others ever do!
  • Run with one idea. One idea is all you need to start. Describe how that idea impacts the world of your novel and see if more ideas come to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to try. You’re not married to the ideas you come up with–they’re just going to serve as a guideline once you write. If you come up with something different later, that’s fine, and no one need be the wiser!