Archive for WIP

RIP Christina Grimmie (and a song from my Blackberry Jam playlist)

I’ve been following Christina Grimmie on YouTube for years–long before she was on The Voice. I bought her first full-length CD, which was basically just Christina and her piano.

This weekend broke me. The news of her death was the first thing I heard on Friday morning, and I still feel like I’m recovering. I will do okay, then I’ll remember that I’ll never get to meet her, or hear her live, that she won’t be writing any more songs.

Blackberry Jam is about a songwriter, and this song could have been written by my main character. So here is Deception, by Christina Grimmie. <3

IWSG: Endings

The ISWG is a blog hop where writers can share their fears and insecurities about the writing life. To learn more, check out their website here.

(The following comic explains why this is posted a day late)

                           Apparently it’s May.

I’ve reached the amazing part of drafting a story called… the ending. Only here’s the thing. This is my third novel and it’s only the first time I’ve really attempted to write the ending in the first draft. Why’s that? you say. Well, because I suck at them. And I know I suck at them. During my last story, the “ending” that I came up with as I dashed toward the end of NaNo happened about 30k too soon, involved a helicopter chase and the antagonist physically chasing the protagonist down, and a battle in a courtroom between the two. In the final draft, the protagonist isn’t present for the courtroom battle, which is no longer about him, and his final showdown is with his true antagonist instead of the strawman at the courtroom.

Not that it’s obvious from those descriptions, so let me just spell it outright: the first ending didn’t fit the story at all and the second ending did.

The same thing happened with my first book, where the ending I originally wrote was so awful that I don’t even remember what it was. (Paused writing to look it up. And then facepalmed pretty hard. That ending sucked too.)

So, as I’m going in to the third act on my third book, I’m scared. I guess you could say I’m insecure about it. 😉 Last week I got stuck trying to write the ending I had prepared and I thankfully realized that it wasn’t going to work on a character arc level. So I updated the outline and I’m ready to write it. Technically. On paper. Which explains why Scrivener has been open for three days but I haven’t written any actual words since before I figured out where I was going wrong.

One of these days I’ll get the courage to write this ending. And hopefully it won’t suck nearly as much as the first drafts of my first two novels. But if it does… I guess that’s what revision’s for.

IWSG: Am I Putting Too Much of Myself into My WIP?

The ISWG is a blog hop where writers can share their fears and insecurities about the writing life. To learn more, check out their website here.

When I was 19, I went out to dinner with my very best friend in the world, the boy, now a man, I had pictured myself marrying since I was five years old. At the table we were sitting at was an ad: “Tell us your epic love story and win a cruise!” We laughed about it, because we weren’t dating, but we had kissed.

“We would have one heck of a story,” my friend told me.

And, well, I think he was right. So I’m writing it. Sort of.

My WIP, which I’m now nearly 60k words into, is a conglomerate of both experiences that happened to me and complete and utter fiction. My MC is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico. She has issues with her family and friends that I’ve never faced. But in so many ways… she’s me. And writing this rough draft has forced me to confront so many things about the person I was in high school, things that make me uncomfortable.

I have a feeling Blanca will get categorized as an “unlikeable protagonist,” and that hurts, when so much of her is me. I’m struggling to answer questions like, “what would lead someone to be ‘the other woman’ in a relationship?” and how ideals can be shattered. Part of my main research for this book is reading through my old journals. (For full disclosure and a bit of my dignity back: I wasn’t ever “the other woman,” but I was willing to flirt with taken boys I liked, hoping they would “realize their mistake” and date me instead. I also once kissed someone I didn’t know had a girlfriend. Blanca does the same.)

The justifications I wrote down for my flirtation, the way I would manipulate people into getting what I wanted, my absolute reliance on romantic/sensual touch (my love language)… it’s all going in this book. I was reading my 11th grade journal last night, and I had to stop and do yoga because it unsettled me so much to remember the kind of person I was. The kinds of things I was proud of. The kinds of things I would pray for.

I’m scared to death to publish this book one day, even if it is the best I’ve written. Too many people will see themselves in my characters. I wonder if the three exes that make up the antagonistic love interest will read it and know they inspired him–and not necessarily in a good way. I wonder if my old friends will read it and see me in Blanca.

More than anything, I worry about the things people will say about Blanca. Easily, her actions could be called unjustifiable, and she could be considered unlikeable. I’m okay with this, on an intellectual level. But I know from experience how badly it hurts when I get reviews and someone shames a character I wrote based on my own experiences.

I guess I could lie and say she’s nothing like me, but too many people would know better. More importantly, would know better. Anything people say about her, they’ll say about me. And that scares me.

But I’m writing it anyway, and I guess that’s really all I can do.

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.
Muggleborns
Less than 100 words: 1 Galleon
100-200 words: 2 Galleons
More than 200 words: 3 Galleons
Halfbloods
Less than 150 words: 1 Galleon
150-250 words: 2 Galleons
More than 250 words: 3 Galleons
Purebloods
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–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?

On Anticlimactic Endings

Last Tuesday was my last day at my day job. There were many reasons I chose that day: end of the quarter, a few days after I got back from vacation (so I could check in with the New Me to make sure everything went well), etc., but the biggest reason was that there was something final about leaving work on a Tuesday and not coming back in on a Wednesday.

Here’s what happened on my very last day at work:

I showed up at about 8:15 and checked in with the New Me. I watched her work until 9 a.m., when I had an exit interview with HR. That conversation lasted 20 minutes, and during our talk, I mentioned the style guide I’d created in 2010 before the company that hired me merged with the company I was quitting. She asked to see it.

It still needed updated from Old Company format (but I’d marked up a hard copy with my changes already), so I left New Me at her desk and went to my old desk to work on updating the style guide. This took much of the day.

To celebrate and/or mourn my departure, we had Thai food brought in. One person asked me what my plans were for the next day. Most people just had conversations like it was Just a Regular Company Lunch. After I finished eating, I went back to the style guide.

Near the end of the day, I was asked if I could check the data entered on some figures. Since New Me hadn’t done much of that, I went to her desk to show her how. It took a little longer than I expected and soon it was 4:45.

I went back to my desk, wrote a goodbye email, said goodbye to a few people, and left, the finality of it all weighing on me. I wondered if I’d spoken my last words to some of them, and lamented that I was already forgetting what those words were.

About a mile from work, I realized I had left my cell phone at my old desk.

I turned around, knocked on the locked door, and had to be let in again by someone I had already said goodbye to. I grabbed my phone and left for real.

And that, my friends, is what we call an anticlimactic ending.

Whenever something in my life ends, I look for it to be some kind of Meaningful Transition; I practically beg myself to feel older or different or whatnot now that I’m (1) in my 20s; or (2) graduated from college; or (3) out of a relationship with that guy I once thought I’d marry.

I want closure, like the end of a book, or at least the end of a chapter. Some kind of finite ending so I know that I’m allowed to move on. But it’s taken me 26 years, give or take, to realize that finite endings rarely happen. There are loose ends and mishaps and sometimes everything just ends, no transition, no parade to note that things are changing. And that’s okay.

The problem is that I suck at endings in both real life and my writing. I guess because so many things have simply ended in my life, I think I can just type a bunch of words and then stop typing a bunch of words and pretend like it’s a satisfying ending. I give my characters the easy way out. I make the bad guys less bad than they were earlier in the book.

So as I work my way through April, I’m trying to switch that–to let endings in real life end without all the drama I expect, and to pile on as much drama as I can in the ending of my story. The 42,000 words I wrote in November became about 35,000 (not a bad deletion rate, if I may say so myself), but I realized I was missing the entire third quarter of the book, and the ending I had vaguely planned wouldn’t work and was too soon.

I thought the story was smaller than it was, that it could be contained in a little box I’d prepared for it and the quick ending would happen and the book would shut and everyone would think it was a masterpiece. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

A week into freelancing full time, I’m pretty much over the way I lingered on my last day at work, only to have to return again fifteen minutes later. I’m more committed than ever to my story and giving it the hard ending, the one that ends much more satisfactorily than the endings I find in real life.

What about you? Have you ever made a big deal over a real life transition, only to realize it wasn’t a big transition after all?

Terrible Titles Tag

I was tagged by the awesome Leandra Wallace to participate in the Terrible Titles Blog Hop. The rules are to pull up your manuscript and randomly stop while scrolling through. Whatever words/phrases your cursor has landed on will become your eight terrible titles.

1. Back in Time

2. Trekking through the Forest

3. But We Just Did That!

4. Jokes about Cameras

5. Roughly by My Elbow

6. Maybe We Can Win

7. Gray Halo

8. Something about Dying

I think number 5 wins for the worst of the bunch. Number 8 is like a horoscope of my book: so vague it works. I’m fairly certain most books are something about dying. Number 4 is my favorite, but number 7 is good, too. Number 7 doesn’t win because I could imagine a book with that title, which sort of ruins the point. What do you think?

I tag Karyne Norton and Sarah Ahiers to participate. 🙂

Zen and the Art of Revision

I’ve pointed out before that I’m a fan of minimalism, and working on becoming a minimalist. A while ago, I found this old blog post by Miss Minimalist (who doesn’t blog regularly herself anymore) about creating space. It compares minimizing your possessions with art. Today I want to take her example and compare your art with minimizing your possessions.

Here’s a few tips on how to put some space between your notes:

1. Start with a clean slate. It’s often easier to compose from scratch than fix something that’s flawed. So when you’re decluttering your closet, your living room, or your schedule, empty everything out of it first. Then, put back only those possessions (or activities) that you cherish the most.

When I finished my NaNoWriMo draft of my WIP, I exported it to my Kindle and read the whole thing twice, the second time taking notes on what was already there and what needed fixed.

Now, as I create my second draft, I opened a blank word document, opened my Kindle, and began typing. I now have to question every word I originally wrote and put back only the ones that are doing their job.

astass / Pixabay

2. Lose the “filler.” Every item in your home, and task in your day, should contribute something of value to your life. If something does nothing more than take up space, give it the heave-ho. Filling your living room with extra tchotchkes is like putting extra notes into Clair de Lune.

Right now I’m struggling with the second scene in my book. The way it’s written now is 100% backstory. It’s like filling my living room with stuff I never use. During my read-through, I came up with a way to make it useful, but there is a lot of filler that has to go. Some of it is filler that I enjoy, filler I remember writing, that I think adds to the ambiance of the story. It’s time to realize what is ambiance and what is clutter.

Something’s gotta give

3. Put everything in its place. A melody depends on every note being in the right place. Similarly, having designated spots for all your things makes your daily life much more harmonious.

One of the most annoying things about revision for me right now is that it’s a dual narrative. I have the antagonist and the protagonist’s perspectives on different timelines. Deciding when to insert the antagonist’s mini-chapters is agonizing for me. Finding where “in its place” is will be one of the hardest parts of this revision, and I’m still not sure if I’ll get it right.

Magnascan / Pixabay

How to Use Word like Scrivener

I have Scrivener. I love Scrivener for writing my first draft. But invariably, I move into Word once I begin editing. Maybe because it’s more familiar to me, or because I like having a fully functioning dictionary. But it doesn’t matter. Today, I want to show you how to use Word as if it were Scrivener, from the very beginning. Read More →

On Changing Small Things

On November 11th, I decided I was going to start two new habits:

  1. Drink three glasses of water every day.
  2. Stop drinking soda.

HabitBull, the app I use to track my progress

That was it. Those were my guidelines. After I’d made it to three glasses of water, I could have anything I wanted to drink, except soda. I am by no means addicted to soda. I never drank more than two cans a day, and that was rare to begin with. My problem with soda stems from one thing—my work provides free snacks and soda. All I have to do is walk down twenty stairs, and there it is. When we run out, the office manager buys more.

When I was tired, the call for caffeine would get to me (I don’t drink coffee). I would go downstairs, grab a cherry Coke, or a Mountain Dew, or a Pepsi, or a Dr. Pepper if supplies were getting low, and sometimes that would be the only liquid I drank until dinner.

Now I’m one month in to my no soda/extra water experiment. There have been a few days I didn’t meet my required water intake (every time I failed I only drank two glasses of water a day, and every time I failed I wasn’t at work), but I haven’t had soda since I started tracking it.

The thing is, now I don’t want soda. It doesn’t sound good. For dinner, my drink options are apple juice, orange juice, iced tea, raspberry lemonade, and various flavors of Powerade. Even though I could have any of them, recently I keep choosing water. I drank some Powerade last night, and my favorite flavor tasted gross and overly sugary.

I’ve changed just two habits, and in exchange, so much more has changed. I crave water. I keep my goal at three glasses a day (about 24 ounces) because it’s manageable even on hard days, but I often double that. I crave vegetables and want to start eating healthier so I keep feeling better.

Zen Habits and Becoming Minimalist and other sites talk about it over and over again, and I’m finding it to be true: change one small thing, and everything else changes. I’m fairly certain this works for better or for worse.

It’s also true in writing. I recently finished a critique for one of my CPs. She was telling me about suggestions her agent made for revision, and how one sentence made her giddy. Why? Because in one sentence, she addressed two different plot holes. In one sentence, her characters became more fleshed out and connected to each other.

Sometimes, I think we as writers get scared during revision. Maybe we note that a character is acting completely out of sorts in one scene. Or the timeline is way off. Or a relationship needs justification. Or the goal/motivation/conflict in a scene isn’t clear enough. I know I personally get overwhelmed when I look at the long list of things I want to change in my NaNo WIP. And I’m not even a quarter of the way through deciding what needs changed.

However, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You might not have to change every single word of your story in order to make something work. Sometimes the only thing you need to change to revamp your entire manuscript is a single sentence. And sometimes, changing a single sentence gives you the courage to change the next one. One word, one different nuance, can impact the entire MS, like it did for my CP. Like how drinking water and not soda unintentionally branched out to affect the rest of my life.

What scares you about revision? What small change can you make today? Let me know in the comments a way you’ve seen a small change impact your manuscript or your life for the better.