Archive for nanowrimo

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 4

I can’t believe it’s already November 30th. While I might get some writing done later today, NaNoWriMo 2015 is effectively over. I can’t believe how quickly this month has gone. Now it’s almost December, and almost guaranteed that our baby boy will be a December birth. Here is The Good, The Bad, and The Excerpt for the last nine days of NaNo.

The Good

I decided a few weeks ago that just hitting 30k would make me very happy for the month, considering everything that was going on, and this morning I hit that mark! As of right now, I have 30,419 words. And like I said, I might write more later today, haven’t decided yet. I’m right about where I wanted 30k to hit in the story, too. Even though I don’t know how the whole thing will play out (I planned scenes for the first half of the book only), I’m still several scenes from the midpoint, which means for once I actually wrote fleshed-out scenes and subplots the first time, instead of saving them for revision.

The characters are coming together and getting more real in my mind, the antagonist is (by necessity) more likeable now, which was something I needed to deal with, and depending on the day/hour/minute/whatever, I don’t hate what I’ve written.

Considering the fact that I only started working on my ideas for this book in August, and my last NaNo novel I planned for a year before writing, I am so happy that I managed that 30k while extremely pregnant and watching my toddler.

The Bad

Consistently writing was just not my forte this year. After week 2, I could pretty much only write one or two days a week. Part of it was hitting a wall with the story and not being sure if I liked it, and part of it was Braxton Hicks, and part of it was having to watch my daughter, and part of it was needing to work, and part of it was the holidays and special events, but basically I did let “real life” cut into my writing time more than I wished I had. In those nine days, I didn’t even manage 5,000 words. But I got very nearly 5,000, and they are all slowly building the plot forward. I do kind of miss the days of writing spec fic, when it was easier to see the plot progressing, but contemporary has been fun.

The Excerpt

I obviously didn’t have a lot of passages to choose from this week, and didn’t want to choose something I had just written this morning, so here is a scene between Blanca and her love interest’s mother. This was a relationship I really wanted to develop and this scene was one of the first opportunities I took to do it. I’m relatively pleased with the direction the relationship is taking, as Mrs. de Vries means a lot to Blanca, and vice versa.


“So how was it in L.A.? It must have been completely different than here, where one secret can ruin somebody. Do you think it changed you?”

She ran a hand through her mousy hair, and wrinkles seemed to appear on her face as she did so. As much as I was comfortable immediately sharing things with her again, she didn’t seem to be the same person. My question was practically unnecessary. “Of course it changed me. You can’t spend time in a place so different than Piney Grove without changing. You can’t spend time, period, without changing. You should know that by now, Blanca. Even staying the same is sort of a change when everyone around you changes.”

“Did you like L.A.?”

“I loathed it. But it was also something I can’t imagine doing without. I needed out of Piney Grove. My family needed out of Piney Grove if we were going to make it—” She cut herself off and looked at me, then bit her lip like she was a teenager, too. “Never mind. There are some things you don’t need to know.”

I placed a hand on her arm and tried to reconcile the weird feelings between us. When she moved away, I was a child who looked to her for guidance. Was it possible that five years could make us closer to equals? “If I can tell you anything, you can tell me anything,” I said, meaning it.

She shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. Not when you’re still a teenager. Not with the way you feel about Lucas. It’s impossible for me to burden you with our family problems. It would be wrong.”

“Regardless of what I feel about Lucas,” I said, “And I’m not sure what I feel about him right now, it doesn’t matter. He’s making it pretty clear how he feels about me.”

“He’ll come around,” she said, sounding more certain than I believed she should. “It may take him some time to get used to Piney Grove again, but he’ll realize soon enough how much he missed you. I think he’s still trying to cling to his life in L.A. more than he should and forgets that he has roots here.” She smiled at me, the distress that had shown up when she’d begun to speak of her own time in L.A. slowly disappearing. “He forgets that you are one of those roots, Blanca. He needs you to help anchor him down. Please don’t stop trying.”

“I won’t,” I said. I knew I never would, anyway. We had rounded the last corner before my house and I began to slow on instinct. I’d have to go inside to my family and she would go on to Lucas without me. “Thanks for the encouragement.”

“You’re welcome. I’m serious, you know. Text Lucas. Spend some time with him this week and remind him that small towns aren’t all bad.”

It contradicted with the beginning of our conversation and her advice about Emma, but I didn’t mind. It was what I wanted to do anyway. “I usually hang out with Emma, Calvin, Daniel, and Elena at the diner on the weekends. I can text him and see if he wants to come tonight.”

She smiled. “I think that would be a good idea. And text him before church next Sunday, too,” she added. “I have to say we got out of the habit of going in L.A. and returning sure would be good for him.

“Thanks, Mrs. De Vries,” I said, one hand on the gate leading toward my front door.

“Please,” she said, her tone all sorts of serious, “Call me Aya.”

“Thanks, Aya,” I corrected, her first name sounding strange in my mouth. “I appreciate it.”

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 3

Unsurprisingly, this week did not go particularly well. I hit so many notoriously difficult things to overcome: nearing 30,000 words, week 3 in general, and an extremely busy personal life. So at the moment I just have to be grateful that (a) I wrote at all, and (b) the baby has yet to make his appearance.

Here in all its horror is The Good, The Bad, and The Excerpt for this past week.

The Good

Despite my crazy week, I managed to write just over 5,000 words and crossed the 25,000-word mark! The bits and pieces of the story I want to tell are getting onto the page, even if I know they’re nowhere near ready yet. On a weird note, I’m also pleased that I’m barely to the first pinch point (just into the second act) of the story. I usually write such sparse first drafts that I’m clawing around for a midpoint, at least, by the time I hit 25,000 words. Last year I’d even written myself into what I thought would be the climax of the story! Being so early on means hopefully I’ll have less structural revision, since I know I’ll have more voice-y and sentence-y revision.

The Bad

I only wrote on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was working like crazy trying to get through all my billable work before the baby comes and spend time with my daughter. I had a friend come to stay with me to help with my baby shower, so she was here Friday night through this morning. The baby shower and planning for it pretty much took up my weekend.

While I like where the plot is going, I’m more unhappy with the words themselves than I usually am with a first draft, and feel like I’m still finding my way into the voice of the story. I wish I knew Blanca better…

The Excerpt

This week the excerpt is something new I tried with the story. When I was first envisioning it, I wanted to dive into some magical realism and creepy settings and such, but this passage, 25,000 words in, was the first time I really tried to do it. Once again it’s repetitious and not exactly right, but I’m interested enough in the mood-setting to keep it… for now. 🙂


Five years had aged her more than it should an adult, especially one who wasn’t yet forty. Her hair, which had once always been impeccable, dyed a rich chocolate brown and kept conditioned daily, was limp and fried from over-processing. Her eyes were surrounded by wrinkles and her lips, too, but not the kind that were friendly, the kind people called laugh lines so they didn’t sound rude. Instead she just seemed old. Worn down, like life had taken a toll on her. I needed to say something better than just “L.A. didn’t treat you well, did it?” even though it was the first thing that came to my mind. Instead I just stood there, staring, until she began to look confused.

“Sorry,” I said, deciding on a half-truth. “I just haven’t seen you in so long I can’t believe you’re back.”

“Neither can I sometimes,” she said, and even her voice seemed to have aged. If I didn’t know better, I would guess she had taken up smoking in her absence. It was ragged and worn down, like her vocal cords were torn, angry with her. “And I imagine you’re here to see Lucas, not me. Come inside, Blanca. I’ve missed you.”

At least the hug she enveloped me in felt the same as it used to. I always liked her hugs better than Mami’s because they made me feel completely loved and like I wasn’t being judged about anything. I didn’t know if it was true—maybe she was just an excellent liar.

“Lucas is in the bonus room with some video game or another. Is he expecting you?”

I shook my head. “Do you think that will be a problem?”

“If it is, let me know and I’ll take it up with him personally. He’s always better behaved with you around.” I smiled. Maybe there were lots of reasons I liked Mrs. De Vries, and not just her hugs.

The house itself didn’t seem like something the family I knew would buy. I hadn’t been kidding when I told Lucas I pictured him in something sleek and modern, an apartment on the whatever-high floor with views of a city and a sleek, masculine exterior. Sure, I didn’t associate those things with his mother, but she had always been a tidy woman, capable of turning even the homiest of places into something livable and happy. This place was not happy.

Cracked floorboards made up the living space, with holes so big I could imagine tripping over one. They were hardly sanded and had turned white with age or too much dust. The kitchen, just to the left of the entryway, had modern appliances, but they all appeared to be sagging and out of commission, like this house was somehow living in a future far beyond us, projecting what would become of it when we were long-forgotten. The counter tops had an easy curve to them, like they had been through an earthquake or, more appropriately, a landslide. They weren’t cracked at all, just looked as though they had been turned to liquid and re-frozen in a new configuration that would make actually cooking impossible.

Single light bulbs hung from chains in each room, giving it an eerie, haunted feeling despite the fact that the light bulbs were the energy-efficient swirly kind meant to last forever. There were no pictures on the wall. Despite being the end of June, a fire was roaring in the fireplace, but it didn’t make the house any hotter. Ancient single-pane windows on cranks to open them remained shut, but it was still chillier inside than out. Everything about the house was impossible.

Every step I took seemed to cause a reaction in the wallpaper as it peeled down in sad and dying strips, each yellowing as they moved. Before I reached the staircase at the back of the house, I felt like my very presence was tearing it apart and we’d be collapsed inside its rubble in minutes.

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 2

I can’t believe November is already halfway over! Tomorrow I hit 37 weeks pregnant, so I’m really feeling the time crunch now, both with NaNo and my regular editing work, which is always busier in November and December. But it’s a week I didn’t give up on writing, so here is the Good, the Bad, and the Excerpt.

The Good

I still haven’t given up! To me, writing anything during NaNo will be a win this year, between being extremely pregnant, working a lot, and only having the part-est of part-time daycare situations for my almost-17-month-old.

The secondary characters and their story arcs are coming to life for me as well, and I feel like I’m getting the hang of writing conflict in a contemporary story, which was something I had been worried about since I haven’t written contemporary since the awful stuff I wrote in high school and college. I also devised a subplot that I wasn’t sure about at first, but I realized it would create so much conflict for my main character, Blanca, as well as remaining true to one of my original goals with this book, which is incorporating the songs I wrote in high school into the plot. (Unlike my stories, my songs, IMHO, didn’t suck.)

The Bad

There were two days in week 2 that I didn’t write. The first day I had my daughter home all day and by the evening I was both exhausted from taking care of her and having some major pregnancy-induced pain, so I couldn’t bring myself to write. I also didn’t write on Saturday, but that was because we had a very busy day (maternity pictures and a one-year-old’s birthday party) and I needed to get paid work done with the little free time I had.

Thanks to not writing, I only wrote just over 9,000 words in week 2, bringing my total as of Saturday to 20,249 when I should have been at 23,333. Thankfully, that gap should be easy to close.

I’m also not really connecting with Blanca’s voice. I don’t know if it’s because it’s too similar to mine, or because I want her to have a flowery, descriptive voice and that stuff usually comes in revision for me, or if I need to change it, but I’m not too worried yet. It’s frustrating, because Treyton’s voice in Small Things came easily for me, but the story is coming together easier this time around, so I guess it’s all give and take when you’re writing.

The Excerpt

A very rough draft with a ton of word repetition that will bother me to no end when I revise, but here is Blanca meeting up with her long-lost soul-mate for the first time in five years.


Daniel wasn’t paying attention. I followed his gaze to the open barn door where the sunset was leaking in. Someone was in the doorway, silhouetted in the vibrant oranges and pinks of the sunset painted in harmless clouds. “Can I help you?” he called down.

“I was told Blanca was here.”

The railing at the top of the loft made me invisible, but I could still see down. And I knew that voice. It was different than I had expected, but phones had the habit of distorting a voice. Five years and puberty had the same effect.

I took a deep breath—as deep as I could, given the way my lungs were panicking—and stood up. I didn’t look down, but mentally reviewed the outfit I’d chosen. I didn’t want to wear something too revealing to Daniel’s house, because leading him on would be wrong. But I felt like I looked good enough. Ripped skinnies, ankle boots, form-fitting tank top. Just the right amount of makeup. It wasn’t what I would’ve wanted to be wearing, but it would do. “I’m here,” I said, then made my way to the loft staircase. I wasted no time on goodbyes to Elena and Daniel. I’d see them soon anyway.

He didn’t move from the doorway and moving closer didn’t do anything to reduce the shadow he was in the doorway. Instead he was painted in the negative, everything around him vibrant colors, painted, fluid, feminine lines. He stood angular and black and white against them.

Even once I was on steady ground, I resisted the temptation to run, and he didn’t move, either. Finally, a few feet away from him, I stopped. “You’re here. I can’t believe you’re here.”

His answer wasn’t verbal. Instead he pulled me into a hug. “You ready to get out of here? We have so much catching up to do.”

I held him as long as I thought I could get away with, my head against his shoulder, breathing in his familiar-yet-new smell. I pulled away until my hands gripped his elbows, then cocked my head and smiled. “That is the understatement of the century, Lucas de Vries.”


“Where do you want to go?” he asked once we were outside the barn. He had his car, but I had walked over. The situation worked out perfectly and I climbed into the passenger seat.

“The tree house, of course. You can park on the side. The fence is as easy to climb as it’s always been.”

He grinned at me before starting the car, and his brown eyes filled with memories. I could watch them play out as easily as if they were yesterday… all the times we’d met up in our trailer park and hopped that fence together, pretending we were actually trespassing and the farmer had no idea. The fence was the same now as it was then, and I couldn’t wait to be there again with Luke instead of alone. It was the epitome of rustic, unsanded, unstained wood posts with just two horizontal bars in each of the sections. It was not a fence made for keeping people out.

The drive from Daniel and Elena’s house only took a matter of minutes. I kept waiting for things to be awkward between us, for me to look at Luke and suddenly realize who he was, or turn into a completely different version of myself the way Daniel sometimes did around me. But all I felt was giddiness and the sparks that filled the cab of his car.

“You’re back early. I wasn’t expecting you for a week!”

“We ended up closing the sale on our house in L.A. sooner than we were supposed to. The buyers were eager to get in, so we got out as soon as possible.”

He sounded so grown-up, so formal without being stifling, and it reminded me in all the best ways that we weren’t in seventh grade anymore.

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 1

Last year I reviewed NaNoWriMo in weekly updates, and besides having blogging as an excellent procrastination tool, it helped me break down how the month was going for me and assess how to do better in the following weeks. So, only a day late, here is The Good, The Bad, and The Excerpt.

The Good

I actually started! I was so worried about NaNo this year, because I hadn’t given my WIP the same amount of time to percolate as I had to Expiration Date/Small Things before writing it. However, I came into November with a list of scenes I could write for the entire first half, and despite not knowing my characters as well as I did Treyton and Hayleigh when I started Small Things, I have a much better understanding of plot. Which has made writing a lot easier, to be honest. I know what happens next and not just at the major milestones.

Plus, by the end of November 7th, I was ahead on word count! I had 12,459 words when the par was only 11,666 words.

I’m beginning to understand the characters better and have a more fleshed out first act than I had with Expiration Date. I’m looking at 15k per quarter of the book in my rough draft, which is a lot more than I usually get written in a rough draft!

The Bad

I didn’t write at all on Thursday, between not having daycare for Alexis and having worse pregnancy aches and pains than usual. I’m a little farther behind on my editing work than I’d like to be as well. Though I don’t have a day job like I did last year, writing with a 16-month-old while eight months pregnant is much harder than writing with a 4-month-old.

Not entirely bad, but I think I’ll have more editing work cut out for me than I did with Expiration Date/Small Things. It’s ironic, considering that much of Expiration Date was pantsed while I’ve done more outlining for Blackberry Jam, but I’m weaving a more complicated plot this time. I have three, four, or five story lines I’m trying to weave together, unified by theme. But the theme I wrote down when planning isn’t working out exactly the way I want it to.

Here’s to hoping when I re-read in December/January that it’s better than I currently think it is. That’s what happened last year. 🙂

The Excerpt

Like last year, my first excerpt will be from the first scene. Enjoy! (And remember that it’s a first draft.)


The last day it rained, Emma Gladstone, my second-best friend in the world, asked me to take her to the corner mart on Main Street in Hainsville. We didn’t live in Hainsville.

“Not because I need one,” she said. “But just in case. For emergencies.”

I believed her and we drove through two towns while torrents of rain blurred them into pretty watercolors, hundreds of still lifes bleeding down my windshield. I never liked driving in the rain, but she had asked and I was willing enough, if only to get away from my mother for a few rain-soaked hours.

Baseline changed from a two-lane freeway back into a main street with little warning. Open road and farmland stretched out on either side of us until a stoplight, the colors blurred from sheets of rainfall, seemed to appear out of nowhere. But despite being more than ten miles away from home, Hainsville was familiar. It had four times the population of Piney Grove, and all of the convenience. I didn’t need the blurry neon signs to tell me when we’d reached the corner mart. I pulled over and turned off the car, digging through my pockets for loose change for the meter.

“I’ve got it, Blanca,” Emma said, still refusing to look at me. Our drive had been silent except the pattering on my windshield. “Thanks for taking me.”

I reached across the seat to squeeze her hand. “I just hope you don’t really need this.” She didn’t answer.

No one else wandered the store, and Emma pulled me to the far right corner, by the beers. “Will you buy it for me?” she whispered, still looking around as if we were being stocked.

“What’s wrong? Do you need money or something?” I started unzipping my purse, but she grabbed my arm to stop me.

“No, I’ll give you the money. I just think it will be more… plausible. Or, I don’t know. Acceptable. You could just speak in Spanish.”

I took a deep breath before answering her. I no longer believed this was a pregnancy test she was buying just in case. Without even meaning to, my eyes flicked to her belly, normally flat and tight. Was it looking looser? Was she gaining weight? I hated myself for asking the questions, even silently. I decided to play dumb. “Your Spanish is better than mine is. If you want to speak Spanish, feel free.”

She smiled, a painful smile, like it was costing her. “Like someone with blonde hair and blue eyes is gonna look like an immigrant. Just use the accent you use with your Mama when y’all get talking about jam recipes.”

I crossed my arms, any pity I’d felt for her disappearing. “So you want me to do it because I’ll pass for an immigrant? Because it’s all right if I get mistaken for a no-good teenage mother dropout, but not the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who’s actually—I assume—had sex?”

She placed her hands on my shoulders and met her forehead against mine. “Please don’t be so loud. Fine. I’ll do it myself. It’s not like I meant any offense. But… will you still come with me?”

I lifted up my hands to copy her, squeezing her shoulders. “I’ll still come with you.”

We held hands as we wandered through the aisles, trying to pretend we were browsing for nothing in particular. Our conversations were usually lighthearted, with constant chatter, but we wandered the corner mart solemnly, like something sacred. Or maybe we were just scared.

Neither of us could meet the eyes of the older woman working the cash register. Emma just placed the test on the counter with a pile of cash. “Keep the change,” she muttered, taking the test and shoving it into the wide pocket at the front of her hoodie.

“There’s a bathroom ‘round the side,” the woman said, but Emma ignored her. She ran toward my car like she was trying to avoid the raindrops, but her hood was down, her blonde hair soaking. The water that dripped on her face seemed intentional, like it was trying to hide her tears.


How’s NaNo going for everyone else?

NaNoWriMo–Crawling to the Finish Line

You might look at the title of this post and think I’m crazy. The first week of NaNo isn’t even over yet–why should you be crawling to the finish line? You probably still have the momentum built up from adrenaline and waiting to start on this novel for however long between idea and November 1st. Or you’re still in the honeymoon stage of a new idea, typing out words with abandon.

November 30 and 50,000 words are far from your mind. In all honesty, they are from mine, too. What I mean by crawling to the finish line is something completely different.

In the NaNo forums, they have a section devoted to word wars, sprints, and prompts. The section has things you’d consider standard: “I’m sprinting on the :15 if anyone wants to join me,” or a race to 500 words or whatnot. But it’s also full of what I consider to be the best motivator for a long day of writing: crawls.

There are tons available now: the original pub crawl, crawls based on Divergent, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter… even a few crawls devoted to cleaning your house or getting other chores/non-writing things done.

What is a crawl?

It’s a step-by-step process, some driven by role play, that forces you to write x words in y time, or write for y time, or write x words, or any number of things like that. The role play is what makes it useful to me. This year I’m working through the Harry Potter crawl. On a first read-through, it can be really confusing. What’s going on? Why? Well, in a dice-based RPG, your moves are based on the standard game plus choices that you make. You choose certain strengths, and those strengths plus the role of a die determine whether you succeed or fail at each given task. (Basically. Honestly I haven’t played a dice-based RPG…)

In the crawls, it works out similarly. For the Harry Potter one, you choose a difficulty level before you begin: easy/medium/hard are split up as Muggleborn, Halfblood, and Pureblood. You earn Galleons by successfully completing challenges, and can use the Galleons to skip future rounds. I’m going to copy and paste the first three rounds of the crawl here and explain each one separately, since they cover all but one kind of turn.

You receive your Hogwarts letter by owl and are completely ecstatic to head out for your first year at Hogwarts. Sprint to 100 to let out your excitement and energy.

In this challenge, you write 100 words. It could take you a minute or 30, but you don’t get to stop until you reach 100. It’s a great way to ease into writing for the day. After all, it’s only 100 words!

You arrive in Diagon Alley and your first stop is Gringotts, wizard bank. Write for ten minutes. The amount of words you write will determine how many Galleons are in your vault.
Less than 100 words: 1 Galleon
100-200 words: 2 Galleons
More than 200 words: 3 Galleons
Less than 150 words: 1 Galleon
150-250 words: 2 Galleons
More than 250 words: 3 Galleons
Less than 250 words: 1 Galleon
250-350 words: 2 Galleons
More than 350 words: 3 Galleons

The second challenge is a little less straightforward. You write for a specified amount of time and earn Galleons based on how well you do. It’s similar to a challenge you’d take on with a friend, where you compete for the most words in x minutes. But this one requires no friends, and we all know that as writers, that’s an advantage. 😉

You step into Ollivander’s wand shop. Roll a die and multiply your roll by 100. Sprint to that many words.

This type of challenge incorporates traditional RPGs with the sprint. The number of words you have to write is controlled by a die.

So far I’ve used this crawl five out of six days of NaNo (yesterday, in the common third-trimester battle of Braxton Hicks vs. self, the contractions won. 🙁 ) and am way ahead on word count compared to where I normally am. Especially considering I didn’t write at all yesterday and the fact that I’m not holding myself “winning” with 50k.

Having the challenge to complete (and wanting to finish in time to complete the second-year crawl, too!) has kept me so motivated. I feel like I’d be letting down my Ravenclaw status by giving up. And for whatever reason, I’ve gotten way more into it than I normally do into RPG-type things. I seriously have running commentary in a Scrivener notes file about how well my challenge is going. I even named the owl I got (Her name is Bugle, in case you’re wondering, and she got me out of having to socialize with the other Ravenclaws just after I got Sorted.)

You can get as into crawls as you want to, like me, or just use the various prompts and fail points throughout as a guideline for writing in chunks.

Do you have a favorite way to get the words out?

NaNo Prep–Proof that Outlines Don’t Stifle Creativity

Once upon a time, there was an ingenious author (um… *cough*) who had a feisty critique partner who dared suggest a way to improve her book. Since my adjectives are exaggerations, if not downright lies, said author (read: me) realized the changes were awesome.

My critique partner recommended fleshing out an argument near the beginning of SMALL THINGS from one point and counterpoint to as many as possible. She gave a list of potential points, and I loved it. My right brain was apparently on vacation because even with her ideas, I had no idea where to start with the revision. So my left brain, poor frazzled substitute, did the only thing it could think of. I made a list. It looked like this:

Trey needs to take longer to convince Hayleigh. His arguments:

  • He thought she wanted to spend his last day with him
  • He thought she wanted to prove he wasn’t going to die
  • It’s her chance to finally do something

Hayleigh’s (even more important) arguments:

  • The shaman not changing anything
  • Not being able to prove it if he says he’ll die (or not)
  • Her parents being mad
  • Babysitting Charlotte

Checklist complete, I still didn’t feel ready to tackle the revisions. So I created a bare-bones, dialogue only version of the scene, starting from right before I knew I’d have to revise. One part of it looks like this:

H: No, because I’m still not going.

T: Why not? You said you wanted to keep me company.

H: I do. In Kenai. My parents will kill me if I just disappear for the day.

T: I highly doubt that. I’ve seen them. They’re still living in a haze trying to come to terms with Hunter not being here. Are you sure they’d notice?

H: (stubborn) Yes. They care about me and where I am. Even on Saturdays.

T: Text them in the morning, then, and say you’re with me on my last day. They’ll get it. They haven’t written you off yet. They want you to be happy.

H: You’re right. It’s Saturday. I have to babysit Charlotte at two.

T: On a Saturday?

H: You don’t get a 9-to-5 when you choose to be a doctor. I think they’ve been working overtime recently to prepare for taking time off before their trial. Why can’t we stick around and help?

Once I finished this bare-bones version, my right brain popped in, luggage in hand, a pic of the PDX carpet on its Instagram. Thankfully, it was ready to get to work. Thanks to the two exercises above, I knew where their arguments would start and how they would play off each other. So I got to (re)writing.

This is how that part turned out:

“No, because I’m still not going.”

“You said you wanted to spend the day with me.”

“I do,” she says, crossing her arms. “In Kenai. My parents will kill me if I disappear for the day.”

“I highly doubt that. I’ve seen the way they’ve been recently. They’re still living in a haze that won’t clear until they’re sure that Hunter’s gone. Seeing you probably makes it worse, since you look so much alike. Maybe a day off from you will be good for them.”

“Don’t talk about my parents that way,” she says. “They’re dealing the best they can.” She does not look me in the eye.

“They should be over it by now. That’s the point of expiration dates. I bet you they would be over it if they didn’t have Hunter’s lookalike still living with them.” I march down the stairs toward her and she backs up as I move, like she’s scared of me. Good. I want to intimidate her. I also want to get away from the house so we don’t wake up my own parents. I stop pressing forward when we reach the sidewalk.

“My parents cared about Hunter and they care about me. They care about where I am. Even on Saturdays.” She’s so assertive I’m sure she’s trying to convince herself more than me.

“Then text them in the morning. Let them know you’re with me. Remind them it’s my expiration date and get some pity out of it. Just don’t mention where in Alaska we actually are. If you’re right, they’ll get it. They will want you to be happy.”

“Look, Treyton. It’s not just them. I have to babysit Charlotte at two.”

“On a Saturday?”

“Doctors don’t exactly work a 9-to-5 schedule. You know that. And they need to work as much as they can. I think they’ll be taking a lot of time off to prepare for the trial and get Charlotte through her medical exams. Why can’t we just stick around and help? Charlotte misses you, you know. She’s stuck at the final boss in that video game you two love so much. Seems you were right: she can’t beat it without you.”

I grit my teeth and pull my camera close. Staying with Charlotte is tempting. Easy. Spending my final hours in her house, playing video games like everything is normal. Although then she’d have to witness my heart attack. I couldn’t do that to her. And I know in my gut the most useful place we can be is not cooped up in Kenai.

It’s probably pretty easy to tell that the dialogue isn’t the same. In the “script” version, I wanted to know where the argument was going, but I wasn’t worried about how they would say it. Once I knew that, I was able to turn my right brain on again and be creative. I surprised myself as I wrote that Treyton moved down the porch steps toward her, even though it made sense with his mood.

The takeaway:

Planning, even to the extent of a nearly line-by-line exchange, does not stifle your creativity. In fact, a little bit of left brain work can get your right brain home from vacation again, newly inspired.

This doesn’t only work with revisions. If you’re planning on tackling NaNoWriMo this year (I am!), October is the month for planning. Plan anything you’re stuck on. Let your left brain take a look and solve the puzzles so that when November 1st hits, your right brain is inspired and ready to get to work.

NaNo Prep–Broad Strokes

I saw this video on my Facebook News Feed today, and as I watched it, I couldn’t help but think of the WIP that I’m brewing. Watch the whole thing if you have time. At least watch the first three minutes and then the last thirty seconds.

Amazing drawing by an amazing artist <3

Posted by Alon Gabbay on Thursday, June 4, 2015

I’ve said it before with my own artwork: the difference between a professional’s work and an amateur’s is often time.

By about the halfway point in the above video, I was thinking, “Wow! What an awesome picture! It looks so realistic!” Then I saw the end result.

As September starts and I get geared up for another year of NaNoWriMo, this video was a perfect object lesson for me. Paint in broad strokes first. As this artist works, he gives a general outline of the face, then fills in the dark spots in various colors. Very early on, you get a sense of the hair, the eyes, the nose, and the mouth–and he hasn’t done anything but paint in the shadows.

The book I want to write for NaNo is slowly taking shape in my mind. I have four of the main characters, a few snippets of scenes I want to write, and a few themes and symbols I’m playing around with. This video was an excellent reminder that I don’t need to worry about details yet. The book will start to look like a book much sooner if I work on getting down the gist of the conflict and the ways the various subplots will build on each other.

If I just stick with the scenes I’ve decided on already, there’s a chance the “finished product” (i.e., my NaNo draft) will look much more like this:

than like the finished painting in the video.

Who cares if the scenes you’ve written have beautiful language and excellent symbolism if they don’t fit in seamlessly to the story as a whole?

In Praise of the Productivity Crawl

There are plenty of authors (full-time and otherwise) who write 50,000 words or more each month. What makes NaNo different is the community that comes with it, the camaraderie, and the forums. I’ve already mentioned the community and camaraderie that I received from participating in NaNo via Twitter. Today I want to talk about how the forum inspired me.

I didn’t use the forum much during November. I was receiving all the support I needed to keep writing from Twitter and emails from my CPs. However, I did poke around the word wars forum the week when I hit my writing block, and while I was there, I found this sub-group of word wars that really appealed to me. In them, you don’t race other people, and you don’t really race yourself, either. You go on an adventure.

This is the one I intended to do, but there were others, like this Egyptian Tomb one, that were amazing, too.

On Twitter, it was all about racing your friends and writing the most you could. The crawl I found was about more than that, and I adapted it for my personal use. While I didn’t talk about it in my Week 4 update, what got me through the week was a productivity crawl of my own making. It went something like this:

  1. Get a quick start on your session and write 200 words as quickly as you can.
  2. Excellent work! However, you aren’t just about writing today. Open freelance work and edit 10 pages.
  3. Time for a cleaning break! Set a timer for ten minutes and clean.
  4. You’re doing great, Rochelle! Set a timer for seven minutes. If you reach 350 words, you win. If you don’t, do twenty crunches.
  5. Good job! Look at you go! It’s time to get back to your freelance work. Edit another 10 pages. If you don’t get distracted, you win! If you do get distracted, you must either write 200 words or do five pushups.
  6. Whether you won or not, you need to write. Set a timer for thirty minutes and sprint to the finish!
  7. Great job! Time for a real break. Read for 10 minutes.

And that’s what I would do, over and over again while my daughter slept. I didn’t always make it through all of the steps in one sitting, but it worked. I got through 150 pages of freelance editing and kept up on my writing goal.

As December continues and my time is pulled three ways again, I’m going to make myself another, ripe with rewards and punishments. It’s a break from my usual way of working (which is just weekly to-do lists), but I find I’m a lot more consistent when I have a crawl to work through. It’s not like a race–it’s like a game.

The game of life

Anyone else have any tips on tricking yourself into being productive?

NaNoWriMo 2014 Update — Week 4

Well, NaNoWriMo is over. It’s December 1, 2014, and I have written 42,027 words that I had not written precisely 30 days ago. How crazy is that?

42,000 words. Less than one thousand fewer words than there are in The Giver. Four thousand words shy of Fahrenheit 451, five thousand words shy of The Great Gatsby. More words than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

That’s insane.

I’m not saying that my words are necessarily good. Many of them are not. A small number of them (less than 500) are parenthetical notes to myself that need to be removed. There are at least five scenes that need to go (not least because some are duplicates written in different tenses).

But I wrote almost 170 pages of a novel. In thirty days.

Did you catch that? Thirty days.

Eighteen of those days, I had my regular job to go to. Three of those days, I worked from home. Eight of those days, I had to pick up my daughter from daycare after work.  The remaining twelve days, I was not working but was primarily in charge of my daughter the entire day.

And I still wrote an average of more than five pages of text per day. One thousand four hundred words per day. Even though I had a life to live, and I lived it.

During that month, I also edited seventy-five pages of literary fiction and heavily edited 150 pages of a middle grade adventure novel. In addition to writing every single day. There wasn’t a single day in November that I didn’t write something, even though my low was 76 words. Those were 76 words I wouldn’t have written otherwise, and I hit my low after I reached 40,000 words, which was my goal for NaNo this year.

Some observations:

  • I met the 1,667-word goal on 10 days, a solid 1/3.
  • I had an abysmal writing day (less than 500 words) 4 times.
  • The other 16 days were somewhere in between.
  • Pantsing this novel worked really well for me, to my surprise.
  • Some of my best work came when I was in competition for something.
  • I will always find a way to distract myself from what really matters.
  • The work tends to get done anyway.

Some expansion on my observations:

Pantsing my novel only worked well because I spent months absorbing a plot and structure plan that would work for me. Like I mentioned before, I read and highlighted and re-read a book about how theme should inform the whole story. I used Scrivener to make notes of the plot points I wanted to hit, and put the scenes inside each area as subfolders (some, like “things get worse”, have a ton of scenes, while others, like “relational midpoint” have only one scene).

I knew when I would hit writer’s block, and didn’t let that stop me from writing. My worst days were at the 30k and 40k marks. I expected to hit a wall at 30k, so with some brainstorming help with a CP, I was able to get through it. And I only stopped writing at 40k because I could, and I was exhausted, and I wanted to enjoy Thanksgiving. (which I did. It was wonderful.)

I was wrong when I told myself I could only write by planning. And by forcing myself into word battles (with the lovely @seekellytse and @sarahrgleason, and with my wonderful husband as he did dishes, etc.), I forced my plot to move forward, one 30-minute segment at a time. I’m starting to understand what Stephen King meant when he called himself a pantser. He understands story structure, so he can know what he’s aiming for at certain word counts as far as emotions and upset are concerned. That style, surprisingly, worked for me this round. (at least I think so. We’ll see on revision if the structure holds up.)

It’s amazing what happens when you put your butt in a chair, your hands on a keyboard, and let the story unfold in thousand-word segments. (Thanks, Sooz!) You get somewhere. Slowly, but surely, you get somewhere. The characters came to life. Side characters showed up that I hadn’t planned on. I wrote some of my best work. I wrote some of my worst work. I banged my head against the wall for one weekend. But I wrote. (and watched too much TV. But I wrote!) Romances piece together. The bad guy gets his deeper motivation. The plot thickens.

All in all, I loved writing my novel, and I hope I don’t have to slow down too much in December while my freelance work picks up. Then, a break in January, and to work editing in February. I can’t wait. I’m already pleased as punch with this story, and with revision, it should only get better.

(Oh, and for an excerpt? You don’t get one this week. I’m too late in the MS and too far from my laptop to make it happen. Plus, I’m beginning to forget which words I wrote when. But know this: I’m very happy with it. Maybe not as happy as I am with the opening scene, but once again, all together this time: that’s what revision is for.)

How did NaNo go for everyone else? Was it better than you expected? Worse?

NaNoWriMo 2014 Update — Week 3

Week three was a hard week for me. As you can tell by my NaNo calendar widget, it didn’t exactly go as well as it should have. I mentioned last week that I thought it would be difficult because of having to pick up my daughter from daycare again, but that ended up being not as big of a deal as something else I should have been prepared for: the 30,000-word wall. With that short introduction, here is the good, the bad, and the excerpt.

The Good

I managed to write something every single day. Even when I didn’t feel like it. Even when I felt completely out of ideas. I still put my butt in a chair and my fingers on a keyboard every day without fail. With the help of one of my wonderful CPs, some side reading, and re-reading the beginning of the story, I got past my 30,000-word wall and kept writing. After about 33,000 words, it got easier again.

The Bad

I’m sure you know where this is going. I ended last week with 27,092 words. By Sunday, I was at 29,000 words and I. Was. Stuck. I’d written my way into the climax (unsurprisingly, because I always write sparse first drafts) and I hated what I’d written. I thought it was terrible and I knew it wasn’t the direction the story needed to take. Unfortunately, because endings are one of my biggest weaknesses, I had no idea what the right direction was. My total word count for the week was only 6,300.

The Excerpt

In this excerpt, Hayleigh and Treyton have just gotten a ride with a family of six, the parents and four adopted children, all of whom have or will have cancer and will die before their fifteenth birthdays. They’re obviously in a fairly rickety van...

There is a loud dinging noise coming from the front seat.

“Oh, heavens,” says Mr. Miller.

“Check engine again?” Margot says. “But we just did that!”

“I’m afraid this might be the end of the road for us.”

We haven’t even been in the car for twenty minutes. I mean, it’s twenty minutes of driving that probably saved us three hours of walking, but still.

Mr. Miller pulls over and everyone gets out of the car. Away from all the gear that cramped them, I see how skinny Elizabeth and Henry are. Both of them have their hair buzzed short, and I can see Elizabeth’s eyebrows are just starting to grow back in. I sit down beside her while Mr. Miller pulls out his cell phone, looking for service. “How long do you have?” I ask her.

“Until I’m twelve. Two more years.”

“Are you scared?”

“No. Last time I almost died and I remember how everyone around me in the hospital room was sad, but I was just kind of…floating. Like, I was ready to move on. But it wasn’t my time yet. I’m still here. How long do you have?”

“I don’t know,” I tell her. It feels nice. Better than saying a couple of hours.

“Why don’t you know?”

“The doctor screwed up. I outlived my expiration date already.”

She looks up at me, large brown eyes pensive. “What’s it like? Not knowing when you’re going to die? Is it like you’ll live forever?”

I shake my head. “It’s more like you’re worried every moment that you’ll die next. The scariest thing I had to do was reach the end of my expiration date and keep living.” She’s so young. Hardly older than Leilani. She doesn’t need to know that I’m still in the middle of the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“I hope that doesn’t happen to me,” she says.

I smile and squeeze her shoulders. “I do. And I bet your siblings do, too. Where do you fall?”

“Second. Henry only has six months.”

“Can you imagine how awesome it would be for Margot and Elias if you got to keep living?”

She smiles. “Yeah, that would be pretty awesome. Maybe I’ll ask them that. If I’m in the hospital. Not to just give up on me.”

“Please do. I promise you it will be worth it.”

“Not get here until tomorrow?” Mr. Miller shouts into his phone. “But I need someone today! Do you know of anyone—”

Next to him, Mrs. Miller has her own phone out, frantically pressing buttons. At first I think she’s playing some kind of game, but she says, “Have you tried Kenai’s Best Auto yet, dear? They have a good rating on Yelp.”

“Yes, Rebecca. I have. They’re the ones who can’t get here until tomorrow. Think of someone else!”

“Big Joe’s?” she says, more meek.

“What’s the number?” Mr. Miller calms down and types the number into his own phone. Margot and Henry play hopscotch through the path on the side.

Hayleigh and Elias are deep in conversation nearby. I wonder why we don’t leave. Neither of us seems to feel inclined to. Despite the parents arguing, the dynamic is nice. Strong. It’s wonderful to see kids slated to die so young who still have lives to live. Whose parents don’t just leave them alone to do their own thing.

I leave Elizabeth and join Hayleigh and Elias. “Don’t worry,” Hayleigh is saying. “I lost a brother earlier this year. It’s hard, but you’ll do great. You have your two sisters, and I bet they’ll take great care of you.” I’m glad to see Hayleigh lying just like I did.

“Yes,” he says. He must be about six. “But they’re girls.”

Hayleigh looks at him, smirking. “So am I, you know. And you did a good job talking to me. I bet you Elizabeth and Margot would love to listen to you.”

“Sometimes they’re good listeners,” he admits. “But sometimes they think I’m annoying. Because I’m the littlest.”

I squat down in front of him. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have the best kid sister probably in the whole universe. And sometimes I think she’s annoying. But sometimes she thinks I’m annoying, too. Do you ever think your sisters are annoying?”

“Yes! But when I think it I’m right!”

Hayleigh and I laugh and our eyes meet over the top of his head. When they lock, it’s like magnets. I can’t look away even if I want to. “Why are we staying?” I ask her.

“We don’t have to.”

“I know. I don’t know what we should do. We could keep heading home, but…”

She nods, understanding my unfinished thought. “It’s the most fun I’ve had all day, too.”

“I’m taking that as an insult,” I say.