Creating the Mess, or the First 3 Days of #NaNoWriMo

This might just be my favorite picture ever.

This might just be my favorite picture ever.

“First I created the mess. Then I had to clean the mess up.” – Maryka Biaggio, author of Parlor Games

This morning I started listening the series of workshops from the Historical Novel Society’s 2013 conference that I purchased as audio files a few months back. That quote is one of the gems from the workshop about writing women in history. Ms. Biaggio was talking about her research process, but what she said can just as aptly be applied to the writing process.

It’s also pretty much how I feel about writing a first draft. You have to create the world, it’s characters, their conflicts and dialogue before you can polish it to make it something readable. I have told myself this over and over the last few days (well, actually the last few months, if you’ve been following my struggles with book 3 of Guinevere’s story).

So far NaNo has been bi-polar. We started out manic at over 5,000 words on the first day. Okay, chalk that up to the enthusiasm of a new book and the excitement all over the interwebs about NaNo. All I know is, by the end of day 1, it felt like I could write the whole novel in November. The book wanted out and it wanted out NOW!

Yesterday was still pretty productive, at nearly 2,500 words, some written in places as crazy as the hair salon, since it was a busy day. But for some reason, I hit a slump last night – like the “ready to chuck it all in the trash bin” kind. I started several scenes, only to leave them unfinished because I wasn’t sure how I’d use them in the end product. I broke the #1 rule of NaNoWriMo: don’t think, just write.

Today I decided to give my brain a break and do other things this morning like walking at the lake (yes, I’ve made my every other day exercise goal this week!) and just sitting and watching the leaves fall. It’s sad, but I can’t remember the last time I slowed down enough to do something like that.

Time came for one of our local write-ins. I went, full of enthusiasm and hope, but I couldn’t seem to get in the groove. I started and stopped a few scenes, but couldn’t block out the conversations around me and the truly terrible music piped in overhead, even with my iPod on loud. Finally, I gave up and went home.

Having only written something like 500 words, I felt like a failure. I even tweeted it. Then I drank half a bottle of wine and wallowed in self pity for a while. But then I saw a tweet by author Robin LaFevers (whose His Fair Assassin books I cannot recommend highly enough) saying she wrote 4,000 words today, a feat she rarely achieves. I congratulated her and she wrote back a very encouraging note. This inspired me to get off my duff and try again. Two hours later I had 1,400 more words, a few of which are the first truly beautiful lines I’ve written in this book. A few hours after that, I surpassed 10,000 total for the first three days.

(For those who haven’t realized it yet, I’m a wee bit competitive. I’m proud to report that as of the moment I hit publish on this, I was the second highest in word count in my region. Yes, I’m bragging. Ahem.)

I still have no idea how this mess of scenes is going to weave itself into a book, but you know what? I’ve gotten better about not worrying about that (note I didn’t say I’ve stopped worrying about it; I’m a work in progress). It always works out after a few weeks/months of editing. (This is my fourth book; you would think I’d know that by now, but apparently I don’t.) What matters right now is getting the words down, telling the story to myself, as it were.  I’m going to need all of you to remind me of this many times over the next month.

So, it was touch and go for a while, but Glastonbury lives. And it seems to have all of its fingers and toes and is starting to emit a healthy wail, now that I’ve stopped trying to control it. I think I was putting too much pressure on myself hoping for four 5,000+ word days in a row (wanted to pad my word count for week nights when the brain will be too fried to write) and when that didn’t happen according to plan, I got in my own way. Now my goal is back to what it should be. Reach 50,000 words this month with the best writing I can (anything above that is gravy) and fix it when I edit in January. I’m the only one expecting any more than that from me. 

Have you ever faced a similar struggle where you set yourself up for a fall? How did you resolve it? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo orROW80? How’s it going for you?

Sunday Summary #ROW80

ROW80LogocopySeriously, how do the weekends go by so fast? Just when I’m finding my groove, it’s time to go back to work again. Oh well. C’est la vie.

This and a reblog of the guest interview I did over at another blog will be my only posts until next Sunday, unless I think of something tomorrow. There are topics I could write about, but all of them require more energy than I have tonight. My posting schedule (other than these updates) may be a little erratic during November as I devote myself to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. So if you don’t get new content from me for a few weeks, you know why. I’ll be back at it in December.

Last night I went to the ballet and saw Dracula. Today was a lovely day, with lunch with my friends, plus a visit from my mom, so that didn’t leave much time for anything else. BUT – that’s okay because I’m exactly where I wanted to be right now.

Make Progress on Book 3 – I’m going to eliminate this goal for the rest of this round. I’ll be focused on Glastonbury the rest of the year, so I won’t be worrying about book 3 – at least not consciously. But, if I get any major revelations, I’ll be sure to let everyone know. I’ll get back to Guinevere in January. I feel confident that after this time of rethinking, the final product will be better.

Write Glastonbury by December 31 – NaNoPrep is done! Woot! I am ready for Friday! I have a full character dossier, a much stronger outline than I expected (which includes all the historical background) and a simpler scene list that only includes what I plan to write (not all the background material that’s in the outline). All I need to do is print them out for easy reference during write-ins and I’m good to go!

Write at least four days each week – I didn’t do any fiction writing this week, but I still think that will pay dividends with a rested mind come Friday…

Win NaNoWriMo – T-minus four days and counting until it begins! I’m so excited to dive into this book. I hope the translation from head to keyboard goes as smoothly as I think it will.

Exercise every other day – If I would have exercised today, I would have made this one. But Friday was three hours of housecleaning and yesterday was several miles of walking. My poor legs just couldn’t take it today. Back at it tomorrow, hopefully with some pilates or yoga. I am sad that I can go longer do a basic stretch that I’ve been doing since I was six – and I’m determined to get that ability back.

Like I said, I’m not going to do a Wednesday update because other than exercise I’ll likely have nothing to report, so I’ll see you all on Sunday with my first NaNo update. (Remember, you can always check the word counter to the right if you’re curious…) Good luck to all my fellow NaNoers!

Mid-week #ROW80 Check-in

ROW80LogocopyMonday through Wednesday aren’t my most productive days, so these mid-week check-ins are shorter than the Sunday ones. This has been a few days of thinking, rather than action for me.

Make Progress on Book 3 – Guinevere and I are still conversing about possible changes to this book. She also hit me over the head with a major point that I can’t believe I’ve missed for half the book. (It was definitely a “duh!” moment.) I’m thinking I’m going to need to do some serious dismantling of the first part before I move on because the necessary changes will affect the second half.

Write Glastonbury by December 31 Got some more plot ideas on this book, including one that I think will weave an important aspect of the book throughout the plot nicely.

Write at least four days each week – I like to think of my lack of writing as resting before NaNo. You believe that, right? 🙂

Exercise every other day – This I did! Sunday was the bicycle desk and last night I attempted a ballet video on Youtube. Ballerina is not in my career future, no matter how much I may like the art form. It’s actually sad how not limber I am. I may still take a beginner’s class someday.

I promise, the Sunday Summary will be way more exciting.

Sunday Summary #ROW80

ROW80LogocopyThis weekend has gone by too fast! It makes me sad to be writing this already. But I did make a LOT of progress.

Make Progress on Book 3 – Not much here. It’s still in my thoughts and I was playing with a possible scene, but didn’t actually write it down. I did do a little research on some specific things that I’ll add in once I get back to focusing on this book.

Write Glastonbury by December 31 – I’m almost ready for NaNo, which starts in less than two weeks. My four days off have been exclusively dedicated to getting this thing ready to be written. Yesterday alone I spent 13 hours researching. I found a whole few angle to my female MC and one of the minor characters came alive and has become a lot more important than I expected. Twice yesterday history affirmed things I thought I was going to have to take liberties with. I love when that happens!

I am miles ahead of where I was in character planning. I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet with a tab for each character (I’m calling it my character dossier), that lists their motivations, appearance, strengths, weaknesses, enemies, allies, etc. along with a photo and brief summary of their history and character/plot arcs. I like it so much I may have to do this for all my future books. I still need to put in a few more details and I have a few more research books coming, but I should be done with all of that in time for NaNo.

I also have a historical timeline and the beginnings of an outline. Now I just need to think through the whole thing and note down the specific scenes that come to mind, as well as those that are symbolized by pins on my Pinterest board for this book. I had wanted to do that today, but I think my brain needs a break.

Write at least four days each week – No writing this week. Like I said above, I’ve been playing with scenes in my head, but haven’t committed anything to paper.

Win NaNoWriMo – As I said above, I think I’m in pretty good shape for this to happen. I started the Scrivner writing software tutorial and am attending a workshop on it next weekend. I just got back from our local kick-off party, which had about 40 people, so I’m amped up to get going!

Exercise every other day – I’m peddling on my exercise desk (half stationary bicycle, half desk) as I write this. My back was really hurting last night from sitting in a soft chair all day, so I did some yoga stretches and a brief “ballet workout” (it wasn’t what I expected) video from YouTube last night. Yet, somewhere in this week I missed a day. I’m not sure how that happened. Oh well, get back on track this week, right?

I hope all of you have the same beautiful weather we’re having and are enjoying it.

PS – My cat wants to blog, too. He just jumped on the keyboard and typed something in cat. I think it says “hello.”

Mid Week #ROW80 Check-in

ROW80LogocopyI can’t believe it’s Wednesday already! I’m happy to say I actually have something to report:

  • Make Progress on Book 3 – It appears Guinevere and I are on speaking terms again. She spoke up the other day with “why didn’t I do X? What would have happened if I did?” and then my brain was off and running with ideas for things that are missing from what I’ve already written and what could be moved around to improve it. Go figure, a little space was all Guinevere and I needed. As my friend Courtney said, “your books behave like men; the second you don’t give them any attention, it’s all they want. As soon as it’s time to focus on them, they clam up.”  I’m not sure if I’ll be doing any writing over the coming days, but I’ll still be thinking about what Guinevere as challenged me with. I’ve also got some additional research to do.
  • Write Glastonbury by December 31 – I’ve done a bit of research since Sunday, and spent a while thinking about exactly how this book was going to play out. Then today at work, when I was working on something totally different, I was struck with inspiration of how this book is going to be laid out. I’m thinking it won’t be told in chronological order (a first for me as a writer). But I may write chronologically, and then piece it together in the correct order with the second draft. We’ll see how that goes as I keep planning.
  • Write at least four days each week – I wrote a bit yesterday. Nothing much, just the opening words to Glastonbury (not a prologue, really just an opening statement that would come before the first chapter.) along with a few opening lines to chapter 1. But it was something and it made the book feel like it’s actually going to happen.
  • Exercise every other day – I exercised Sunday, skipped yesterday, but made up for it todayMy rowing machine (or as my mom calls it “my dragon” – that’s what she thinks it looks like) are becoming fast friends.

I’m off for the next four days, so I’m hoping to make some more progress. Will let you know all about it on Sunday! Best of luck to all my fellow ROW80ers!

Sunday Summary #ROW80

ROW80LogocopyThe second half of this week has been a busy one and I can’t believe the weekend is over already, but I’ve made some progress on my goals:

  • Make Progress on Book 3 – Nothing to report here. Guinevere and I are on a mutually agreed upon break. I think it will benefit both of us.  
  • Write Glastonbury by December 31 – I’ve done a good amount of research and today I wrote out the historical timeline of the book. Now I just need to add in the fictional plot elements and I’ll have the basis of an outline. More work to come on this later in the week.
  • Write at least four days each week – I didn’t write at all this week – at least not fiction. But that pause is part of my healing from the overwork I inflicted on myself in the weeks before.
  • Exercise every other day – Yes! I did this one. Rowing twice, exercise bike and three hours of cleaning house. It’s been hard to get back into a routine, but my bulging belly is forcing me into one.

I don’t expect a lot of progress between now and Wednesday, given the craziness of the day job. But, I’m off Thursday and Friday, so I should have some good stuff to report next Sunday!

Midweek #ROW80 Check-in

ROW80LogocopyTwo days into ROW80 and I’m already revising my goals. Truthfully, I’ve been trying to meet them since I first announced I was doing this, so it’s been a few weeks so for me.

I’m learning that while ambition is good and is needed early in a writer’s career, over-ambition hurts everyone, especially yourself. Things have come up that I didn’t anticipate when crafting my original goals, so I need to change them. Otherwise, I may just end up in the crazy house and none of us wants that. So, new goals:

  • Finish Book 3 by October 31 – Not going to happen. I write all day in my day job and I’m finding it harder to repeatedly force lunch and nighttime fiction writing when it’s so intense at the place that employs me. My new goal is to get as far as I can without driving myself mad, while finishing prep for NaNoWriMo.  
  • Write Glastonbury by December 31 – Still hoping for this one, but we’ll see how I’m doing after NaNoWriMo.  Right now I just need to focus on finishing research and then plotting. Writing starts November 1.
  • Win NaNoWriMo – Yes to this.
  • Write at least four days each week – Three or four, we’ll see.
  • Exercise every other day – I have to keep myself to this one. Otherwise, it won’t be pretty. (Pun intended.)

So, that’s it. If I need to, I’ll keep revising. I’m realizing the need to be kind to myself and tame my natural “I-can-do-everything-haven’t-you-noticed-I-was-even-born-early” tendencies. Life is a work in progress, right?

PS – I made my first cup of coffee (decaf) this morning. It’s full of milk and sugar and chocolate, but I feel so adult!

ROW80, Here I Come!

ROW80LogocopySo, since I don’t have enough to do (feel the sarcasm), I’ve decided to join the next round of ROW80. What is it? It stands for A Round of Words in 80 days. It’s a writing challenge that lets you set the goals and then you report on them twice a week for 80 days.

I’ve watched other authors do it and have been thinking about it for a long time. I think it may give me the motivation I need to get my crazy goals for the rest of this year accomplished. I’ve also seen writers use it for non-writing related goals, so I may throw some of those in there as well. All I know is I work a lot better with public accountability, so this should be a good opportunity for me.

What are my goals? So glad you asked:

  • Finish Book 3 by October 31 – This will just be a first draft, but I’m anxious to get what I know of the plot on paper so I can revisit it in the new year and turn it into something worth reading. (Yes, all books start out this way.)
  • Write Glastonbury by December 31 – This is the book that was conceived at Glastonbury Abbey in June (hence the code name) and is one that I’m currently researching. It will be my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) book, so that should set me up pretty well for success. Again, all I’m aiming for is a first draft.
  • Win NaNoWriMo – This is my second year participating and would be my second win. 50,000 words in a month? Piece of cake! (If you believe it’s easy, I have a bridge to sell you.)
  • Write at least four days each week – Pretty self-explanatory. I’m not specifying word counts, because some days it’s 5,000, while other days, I’m lucky to get 20.
  • Exercise every other day – Last year I gained about 10 lbs. during NaNoWriMo and I’m still carrying them with me. Exercise is the only way I’m going to lose them.

The newest round of ROW80 starts October 7, so starting that day you’ll see twice weekly posts from me updating my goals until the end of the round on December 26. I’ll label them “ROW80 Update” or something like that, so if you don’t care to see what I’m up to, just hit delete. (I won’t be offended.) But personally, I’ve found following other people’s successes and failures very comforting. It makes me see that I’m not alone and that my human frailty is just that – human – and not personal.

PS – I made my SitDownWrite goal of 15,000 words, in case you were wondering. You know you were. 🙂

Is anyone interested in joining me in ROW80? Have you done it before? If so, what did you think? Any advice?