Tag Archive | Writing

Moving Right Along

The last time I blogged, NaNoWriMo was nearly here.  We are now thirteen days in and the writing is going well.  My usual goal is 2000-2500 words a day, so NaNo’s goal of 1667 words a day is easily achieveable.

On a good day.  This is November, so of course, there are distractions, storms, and doctor appointments.  To say nothing of Thanksgiving and the need to do Christmas baking so it can be sent.

I find this takes ruthless planning.  I write from 9 am to 1 pm, go and bake, cook dinner, and come back from 7-10 to get my words in.  Most days I can get them in by 1 pm and have the evenings free, but last night it took me ALL DAY to get in 2566 words.  it was like pulling teeth.  I knew what would happen, was giggling my way through the scene, but what was in my head would not come out on the screen.  It was definitely like giving birth: long, slow, and painful.

I liked what I got, though, so I’m happy.

For many writers, NaNoWriMo feels more intense than our normal writing, probably because we who do it have set goals, some like one of my friends, are really high — she wants to write 100K words this month!  Wow, you go, girl.  I’m enjoying watching her word count mount each day.  Another friend successfully finished her 50,000 words in eight days!  I am content to do my 50,000 words by the time Thanksgiving gets here, because after that, I have company which is more important than writing.  People always are.

Another reason for the intensity is some of us challenge ourselves to see how many words we’re capable of in a month.  This is good, I think. I look at NaNo as a marathon.  Some people will naturally run from the front of the pack, others in the middle, pacing themselves, and some will fall off the back.  The fact that they entered and ran is good, no matter if they finish or not.

I’m a pacer.  I hit 22,750 words last night.  I’m ahead of the curve by a few hundred words.  That’s really all I want.  I don’t want to feel too stressed.  I need to stay within myself for health and stress reasons, so I’m writing as I normally do: 2000 words every day.  Takes all the stress out.  The novel I’m writing will be done before I hit the 50K word mark.  I’m writing the last “half” for NaNo.  If I get done early, I’ll write a series of short stories to add to the word count.

I’m enjoying NaNo this year.  As usual, my characters surprise me.  I had one throw a twist into the storyline I hadn’t seen coming.  Hmm.  Not what I thought he was.  I was left wondering if there was another twist coming, and there is.  I can see it glimmering out at the end.  I’m still not sure how it will all fall out, but when it does it will make logical sense to the characters (and I hope, to the readers, too).  I don’t plot a great deal in advance, but keep the action that has taken place in mind so I don’t drop something in the future.  This novel has a lot of moving parts in a lot of different places.  I keep notes of where my characters are at different parts of the novel and then pick them up when I need them.  I need them all together at the end, so I’m having to plot this a bit more carefully but still give them room to move.

We have a huge storm blowing through right now, high winds, lots of rain and 27′ beach surf.  Dangerous conditions outside, but just perfect for staying in with a cup of tea or coffee and writing my next 2000 words.  I’ll see you all again soon.

NaNoWriMo Already!

Eek!  It’s NaNoWriMo time again!  National Novel Writing Month.  Often known as NaNo by writers.

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year.  I’ve been struggling with pneumonia for the last seven weeks.  I’m recovering after two rounds of antibiotics and at this point it is still a question of whether it will come back when I finish this last round.  I’m exhausted most of the time and feel more like lying about on the couch than sitting my bum in the chair and writing.

BUT it is NaNoWriMo, one of the months I am forced to be most productive.  The goal is to write 50,000 words in November.  That’s 1667 words a day, every day in November.  It’s not impossible; my goal is usually 2000-2500 words a day.  I normally average 2000, but there are those days that getting more than 500 words from my brain to the computer is difficult.

Why the powers-that-be at NaNo decided on November, with Thanksgiving right at the end, I’m not sure.  But there we are, writing frantically and suddenly along comes Turkey day.  Try writing through a food coma!  Some of us are okay, and already ahead of the curve, or have completed the 50K and are just cruising along.  Most, like me, are struggling to finish up.  And we only have four days left to get our last words in!  Panic, panic!

What takes the pressure off is that whether or not you actually finish the 50K words and “win”, you are ahead because you have written.  It really is about writing, getting words into your story.  They might not be the very best words you’ve ever written, but that’s what the rewriting process is for.  The goal of NaNo is to write: 30,000 40,000, 50,000 or 100,000 words.  As my son says, “It’s all good.”  I have done two NaNos before this.  I wrote 45,000 words the first year and 67,000 the second year.  I’ve skipped a couple of years because of circumstances, but cheered on my friends who did it.

And now, I have been talked into NaNoWriMo for another year.  I both love it and hate it.  I love the writing, hate the pressure, love the word goal, dread the days my brain goes mush and not even three pots of coffee help.  The discipline of sitting and writing every day is good, even when I’d rather go for a long walk on the beach and watch the seals play in the waves.

One of the best ways to complete Nano is to have goals of your own, and to be well prepared.  I am not. My goals this week are to get organized.  I need a plan if I’m to do this well and not spin about in circles. I’ve had an experimental novel going for a number of years, a pirate spoof called Avast.  It is at the halfway point and I moved too many times in the last three years to  get it finished.  A month ago, a boy of twelve asked to read it.  He devoured it in two days  He is now waiting for my next chapters and bugging me to get the book done.  So for Johnson, I am going to work on what has turned into a Middle Grade Adventure novel.  It will take about another 50,000 words to finish up the story.  I am anticipating about ten more chapters.

I’ll let you all know how I do and any lessons I learn from NaNoWriMo this year.  I always learn something — about myself, my characters, and writing.  This is never a bad thing.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo and what do you do to stay disciplined in your writing?  I’d love to hear from you.  Drop me a line.  For anyone doing NaNo, I wish you the best of luck.

The Essential Tools of a Writer

This should be an easy topic on the surface.  Most writer can reel off a list of things they need when they write: pens, notepads, computer.  But when I stopped to think about it, it wasn’t quite so easy.

Each writer is different in the way they approach their writing, so each writer’s essential tools are different.  Some need only a couch, a computer, and a cup of tea.  Some work best in a coffee shop, in a library, or on the beach.  Others need a space to call their own, where no one interferes.  Some like writing outdoors, and some can’t think if there’s anyone else about.

I have certain things I require to write effectively.  Here’s a quick list of what I find essential:

  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Pens
  • Notebooks
  • Binders
  • Dividers
  • Filing Cabinet
  • Files
  • Binder Clips
  • A Desk
  • Bookcase
  • Books on Writing
  • Books to Read
  • Music
  • Coffee

You can laugh at the last one, but coffee is an essential ingredient in my life  A lot of writers I know have a favourite beverage they can’t live without when they write: tea, hot chocolate, water, a soda.  For me, it’s coffee.

One essential not listed above is space.  To be most effective, I need a room of my own.  I’ve got friends who say, “Nice, if you can get it.”  That is true.  I started out writing at the kitchen table, then had a desk in the corner of the living room for about eight years when the kids were young.  It wasn’t till we moved to our own house On Whidbey Island that I got my own office – and even then, I had to share it with my husband for a while.  Once I had the room to myself, I painted, brought in a squashy couch, and some bookcases, which I filled with books, making my haven more library than living space.

We moved to Hawaii in 2013 and I found myself working in small spaces, one of them with my desk facing a wall in a sort of hall just outside our bedroom; behind me was the dining room table, and beyond that a view down to the ocean.  My notebooks, binders and a few writing books were set on a board on boxes in a cramped alcove.  Still, I managed to finish the first draft of two novels.  I had the basics: desk, computer, printer, file drawers, files, and notebooks.  It wasn’t ideal, but I made it work.

Our house on Whidbey Island sold so we left Hawaii, packed up thirty plus years of life into storage, and finding ourselves footloose, decided to take a trip to Australia.  My essential writing tools for that trip were a computer and a thumb drive for back up.  We took a cruise across and I wrote on the tiny desk in our cabin.  My goal had been to finish the novel, but I spent more time watching the ocean go by. During my time in Australia, I was privileged to be invited to write with two great writer friends, Paula Beavan and Marisol Dunham.  Thanks, ladies for the use of your table and counter.

Today, I have an office set up in one of the bedrooms of our house on the Oregon Coast.  It’s not a bit space and I share it with the Wi-Fi and Internet equipment, and a box of spices for my spice business.  It has two throw rugs, a dining chair and a 7′ table as my desk.  I have the requisite filing cabinet, coloured file folders, binders and a set of bookshelves in the closet behind me.  The printer sits on one end of the table and at the moment I have files and papers from three projects in fairly organized groups around the computer.

A printer is the other essential for me.  I read best on paper.  A waste?  Maybe in years gone by when people didn’t recycle, but now we recycle all our paper (and glass, plastic, aluminum, tin, and anything else they will take; but that’s an entirely different blog!)  I have been known to keep my previous drafts to look through later, but when a manuscript is 750 pages, I quickly run out of space.  Besides, with programs like Scrivener, I can save my different drafts.

These are my essential office tools.  What are yours?  I’d love to hear from you.  Leave me a message and tell me about your essential writing tools.

Paper People

What are Paper People?  Not someone who works at a newspaper.  Paper People are the men, women, and children we meet between the pages of a book.  In other words, characters.  Writers always struggle with their characters.  If there is one thing I hear most, it is “my characters won’t do what I say!”

Well, folks, that’s because characters are people, as real as we are.  They aren’t cardboard cutouts we push around or direct like a play.  Just because we plotted the novel a certain way, doesn’t mean they are going to follow our directions.  You know what I’m saying here.

Characters are funny.  When a writer gives them life, they become living, breathing entities, as real as you and I.  (If they don’t, you better start again).  We might think they have straight yellow hair and blue eyes, but suddenly they have wavy brown hair and gray eyes.  Not only that, but they don’t like the name they were given and want a new one.  (Ha!  Some of you just laughed.  It has happened to you, too).  Like children, they often want to go their own way.  If we try to pull them back (the plot says go through the woods, not the village, and I don’t care if you like the red-head in the shop), they will often just stop and the story stops with them.

“What is wrong with my character?” is another cry I hear.  My answer:  Stop and ask them and then really listen.  They will tell you where you went wrong.  They really do need to go to the village and see the red head in the shop.  She sent your hero a note about his long-lost sister you didn’t know he had.  He’s been searching for her ever since they were children and their parents split up, taking one each.  The red head was his sister’s best friend before he was taken away and she’s grown into a stunning woman who takes his breath away.  So, see?  He does need to go to the village and you’d be wise to let him.  Yes, this will mess up the whole plot but that’s okay. You now know what is wrong with your character.  Nothing.  It was what was a problem with the plot.

“But I liked my plot,” you wail.  It probably was a very good plot — until you put your people into it.  Then everything changed.  Well, some bits stayed, but the rest changed.  Don’t panic, this is a good thing.  You need three things to make a great story: People (characters), a path for their journey (plot) and the scenery (setting).  Remember that paths often take many twists and turns, and has  forks or detours for the adventurous.  Of course, there are pitfalls and snares, too.  A plot is often a dangerous thing for our characters to tread, no matter how pretty the setting.

I have learned to leave my plotting fairly loose because I know, absolutely without a doubt, my people will change things.  They will discover in the course of a search that Aunt Maud had stored rare golden doubloons in her closet safe (they didn’t know she had a closet safe, let alone a doubloon in it).  Where did she get them and now who inherits them?  I would plot the search but not who was where or what they found.  If I had, I would have missed the doubloons entirely, and they could very well be the reason Aunt Maud was poisoned in the first place. It is because my people are dynamic, living breathing human beings that I discovered this new piece of the plot.

If you really run into a problem with a character, do an interview with her.  Find out what she wants most in her life (not I want this, please let me have it, but if I can’t have this one thing, I shall surely die), what scares her to death, what she loves above all else, and what she hates with a passion.  What are her hopes and dreams for the future?  What breaks her heart and brings her (and you) to tears?  All you have to do is listen and then record what she says.  Keep talking until you have all the answers you need.  You can then write the scene as it should be done (and all your characters will say “Amen!”)

Please leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.  How do you work with your characters?  Do they obey your commands or often go their own ways?

A Writer’s Library

I’m sure we all have a library of favourite books at home, books we simply cannot do without.  If we’re writers I don’t think we can help ourselves.  At least I can’t.  Walking past a bookstore without stopping in… well, it can’t be done.  I’m like iron shavings to a magnet where books are concerned.  Fortunately, my husband understand s and indulges my love of all things books.

My love of books started early.  My parents read to me, my aunts read to me, even my uncles read to me.  There was nothing better on a cold, rainy evening than a warm fire, a cup of cocoa, and a blanket while my parents read aloud some adventurous story.  Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, The Sugar Creek Gang, The Jungle Book.  My imagination took flight.

Then I went to school.  First day and we went to the library.  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  Books everywhere.  The smell of paper and ink!  I could have stayed there all day.  Unfortunately we had to go back to class.  I made up all kinds of excuses, got all kinds of extra privileges and managed to spend hours in that library.  I doubt it was all that big, but for me it encompassed worlds.

My dad, also a voracious reader, took us to the big public library in the city.  I spent hours working my way through the books in the children’s section, then moved on to higher readers and eventually the young adult section.  I was only eight, but I couldn’t read fast enough to get through all those books.

After grade three we went back to Ethiopia and I started boarding school.  Our system of education said you learned.  Period.  No excuses and no lagging behind.  Part of learning was reading.  A lot! The small library was amazingly well-stocked with both Classics and more popular fiction as well as a great set of encyclopedias and magazines from various countries.  We could read the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Margaret Mitchell and others.  I loved to go in a corner between the stacks and read the double books that were the Wizard of Oz on one side and The Jungle Book on the other.  In my opinion, those books were genius; if you got tired of one, you could flip the book over and read the other one and go back and forth till you finished both.  I still often read two or more books at once.

Everywhere I went there were books to read: HQ with its quiet lounge and old hardbacks, Bishoftu where our parents took R&R with its Readers Digest condensed versions and more old hardbacks, school, home.  My life has seemed surrounded by books old and new.

I’m not sure when I began to write.  I’d always woven stories in my head, and the feel of a pencil in my hand hovering over a blank paper was both sheer joy and sheer terror, something akin to standing on a high bank about to jump into a lake.  It’s going to be a blast but you have to nerve yourself up for it first.

In fifth grade we were allowed to write some sort of short story.  I don’t recall what I wrote, just that I finally felt I could fly.  I didn’t do any more actual stories until high school when a friend wrote a romantic novella that got passed around the room.  Now this I could do, I thought.  I spent hours scribbling on loose-leaf paper in my room.  My college papers were more like short novels than term papers.  Where everyone else brought in ten pages, I wrote twenty-five!  I couldn’t seem to help myself.  My English Lit teacher wrote on my Macbeth paper, “Very enlightening.  You were born to be a novelist.”  Okay, we were writing about the three witches and I was inspired by a huge storm we were dealing with that day.

When I finally started writing earnestly in 1983, another writer asked me what books on writing I had in my library.  I looked at her blankly.  “I’m supposed to have books?”  I didn’t even know such things existed.  A writer just sat down and wrote.  My friend gave me her copy of Writers Digest and the latest newsletter from Writers Digest Book Club (now www.writersdigestshop.com), as well as a book on writing romances to get me started.

I didn’t always have a lot of money to buy books but over the last twenty-eight years I’ve collected over 100 writing books of various sorts.  I’d like to share some with you.  Perhaps you will share some of yours with me.

Note:  Not all of these are in print anymore.  I would look on one of the on-line stores to see if I could find them, or in bookstores specializing in old books.

General Writing 

Writing the Novel from Plot to Print by Lawrence Block

The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray

Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck

The Writer’s Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd

The Mind of your Story by Lisa Lenard-Cook

Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich

How to Write Irresistable Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool

Genre Writing

How to Write a Romance and Get it Published by Kathryn Falk (my very first writing book!)

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron

Aliens and Alien Societies by Stanley Schmidt

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Any of the You Can Write A … Series by various authors (See Writer Digest Shop)

Writing Prompts and Practices

Every writer should have one or more books of prompts and practices in their libraries for those days when the words just will not flow from brain to fingers.

The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley

The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron

A Creative Writer’s Kit by Judy Reeves

A Writer’s Retreat Kit by Judy Reeves

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words by Phillip Sexton (photos by Tricia Bateman)

Take Ten for Writers by Bonnie Neubauer

Writer’s Markets 

A must for anyone seriously trying to publish their work.  The come out every year in various forms.

2012 Writer’s Market by Writers Digest (and an accompanying subscription to www.writersmarket.com)

2012 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market

General Reading and Research

The Story about the Story: Great Authors Explore Great Literature edited by J.C. Hallman

The Daily Reader by Fred White

Victorian London by Liza Picard

Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku

Read in your genre and out of it.  Some novelists will only read non-fiction when they are writing a manuscript, others only read in whatever genre they are writing.  I read everything I can get my hands on:  romance, mystery, science fiction, classics, non-fiction.  It keeps my mind stimulated and the words flowing.

Here’s are a couple of other sources of inspiration for me:

Velvet Skies blog by Meredith Rose Ashe http://fireflyfly.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/books-every-writer-ought-to-own/

Welcome to the Asylum blog by J S Chancellor http://welcometotheasylum.net/ (A bit irreverent at times, but well worth reading).

Let me know what’s in your library and let’s start a conversation.  The more we read the better we are as human beings and as writers.