Tag Archives: Online Writing

A NaNo-ing I will go

nanowrimo.org

nanowrimo.org

It has only recently occurred to me that November will soon be upon us again, and that means NaNoWriMo is on its way.

I have had mixed success with NaNo. I’ve completed it twice and failed dismally (at Camp NaNo) once, and I generally avoid it unless I have something pressing that I want to get out. This year, due to my ignoring most things writerly, I had completely forgotten about it until I saw it referred to on a website that I look out for very different reasons. NaNo? Already? I checked my calendar and it is indeed only a few days away.

My first reaction was that I’d ignore it this year: I’ve finished my novel and the short story I wanted to write, and was thinking of taking a break. But then I thought about Novel #2, which has been festering in my mind for over a year now. I’ve got about 10K words written for it, but I’ve done exactly nothing with it for longer than I care to think about. I have, however, started dreaming about its characters again, which is a sign I should probably get back into it. So, with NaNo coming along, I have decided to do the obvious.

Yep, I’m signing up again. The whole kit and caboodle. Fifty thousand words in a month.

I have no idea if I’ll be able to do it. I don’t know if I have 50K words of this story in me at the moment. But I figure it’s worth a try. And if I do, the more I write then the more I’m likely to want to write, as delving into that world is likely to give me more ideas, more tangents, and more scope than I’m thinking about now. In other words, writing is cumulatively addictive, and there is no better way to get new ideas for a story than to immerse yourself in it.

Am I stupid? No. Over-reaching? Quite possibly. But hey, the fun is in the attempt, and who knows? I might actually do it. You never know until you try.

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Getting there … kind of

Matej-writing

Yeah, yeah, I know. I said I’d be back blogging once a week, and that was three weeks ago. But my excuse is that it was school holidays and I was busy. I could perhaps have timed my comeback better, but so be it.

Anyway, I’m here today with my random update of how things are going. School holidays were MAD, but in a good way. I’m kind of glad I’m back at work this week so I can have a rest! We did a huge number of things and had a really good time doing them, but it’s so exhausting. But not to worry. The madness is now over and I can concentrate on other things.

So, what other things, I hear you ask? Good question. I’ve given my novel to a few beta readers already, with some more waiting in the wings until I can give them a hard copy. (I have to print it out at work so I’m doing it 10 pages at a time. It’s taking a while.) I’m giving them until Christmas to get back to me so hopefully by the end of the year I have some very constructive advice as to what I need to do to improve things.  (My offer from last time still stands, by the way. If you want to see my romance novel as a beta reader, let me know.) I’m also preparing to write a short story (10K maybe?) in a completely different genre, in order to enter a short story competition my local writers’ centre has going. It’s going to be a kind of dystopian thing, and it’s based on a rather strange dream I had a couple of weeks back, so we’ll see how that turns out. After all, there’s only one way to find out if it’s going to be any good, and that’s to get started on it.

Other than that, I may have mentioned a while back that I’ve been writing a collaborative action/adventure/fantasy piece with some writer friends, so that’s a lot of fun. I’ve also done about 10K of my next novel, and I’ve been thinking more and more about that story lately so we’ll see how that goes when I actually pick it up again. I’m in no hurry with that – I find it good to break from my normal genre entirely for a while sometimes, so it might be a couple of months till #2 gets going again. I figure that so long as it DOES get going again, it’s okay. Some things you just can’t rush.

So yeah, that’s me for now. I’m hoping to post a book review next week so it may be a little while before you get any more incoherent rambles from me. ;) Either way, I hope that your writing / other creative project is going just as well as mine is.

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I would be writing, but …

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

First of all, I’d just like to apologise for not posting earlier in the day, like I usually do. The fact is that I was having so much fun editing my novel (yes, I know, weird) that I just couldn’t bring myself to take a break and blog. But hey, I’m here now, right?

 

Today I’m going to talk about things that stop you from writing. Some would call it excuses, but to be nice I’m going to call it priorities. You know what I mean – the decision to read on the bus on the way to work rather than jotting scenes into a notebook, for example, or the decision to leave the pen and paper at home when you’re at the kids’ sporting events. Some people might see this as time wasted because you’re not writing, but maybe you’ve just made the decision that paying attention to what your children are doing is more important. It’s just priorities, and they are different for all of us.

 

Me, I’ve been spending time with the kids and, well, editing like there’s no tomorrow. Just today I deleted about 1000 superfluous adverbs, and I must say that my prose is looking a lot neater as a result. But I’m not even really talking about that sort of thing. Specifically, I’m thinking about that old fallback – television.

 

You see, last week two of my favourite programs started up again – Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. I love them, and I’m not afraid to admit that I will forego any number of things to stay up to date with them. Sure, I wait till the kids have gone to bed before turning them on – my children are a little young for even the good Doctor as yet – but I try not to wait more than a couple of days after release before I watch them. This is my escapism at the moment, and I’m protecting it fiercely.

 

I don’t feel guilty in the slightest. It’s been pointed out before that absorbing someone else’s creativity can be just as useful as your own in inspiring you, so I figure that’s as good an excuse as any. And hey, in the meantime I can check out how they are telling their stories, to get ideas for my own.

 

There. That’s my confession. Now it’s up to you: what won’t you miss to further your writing? And how do you justify it? Life is, after all, about our priorities.

 

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Being fair

Too much communications ?!?!

Too much communications ?!?! (Photo credit: occhiovivo)

 

Today I’m posing a question that I’d like people’s thoughts on: Can you work on two projects at once and be fair to both of them?

I’ve always been a one-story-at-a-time kind of girl. I have never been able to devote enough attention to two different projects at once and do them both justice. One will be going fine, but the other will be neglected (and in all likelihood complain about it loudly). I’m also the sort who insists on finishing one story before starting on the next one, because otherwise I’d have a whole stable of unfinished tales out there. Now, JRR Tolkein I am not, so having a collection like that doesn’t really inspire me.

What I’ve been doing this year is working on novel #2, which has a working title of Caffeinated. (This will probably change a number of times during the writing process, but I quite like having working titles even if they do swap around every other week. It beats the situation I found myself in a few years back when I was ready to post a novel online and discovered I didn’t have a title, so I just called it the first thing that came into my head. I didn’t like what I came up with then and I like it even less now, but it seems to have caught on so I am loathe to change it.) I gave myself permission to start work on Caffeinated because novel #1 had a completed first draft. That, and I only came up with the premise just before Christmas and it was all new and exciting in my mind.

Trouble is, I’m falling into old habits. I had set aside this year to edit my first novel, the one whose first draft I completed in November. But I’ve been working on novel #2, and as such novel #1 has fallen by the wayside. I haven’t even opened it this year, let alone started editing. And while I told myself it was becuase I was waiting for a book I’d ordered about structure to arrive from the UK, it arrived last week and I still haven’t done anything about it. Yep, I’m finding myself unable to work on two different projects at once again.

I’m a little torn as to what to do about this. Should I quash my instincts and make a concerted effort to work on both at once? Or should I make a deal with myself, alternating with one story one week (or month) and the other story the next? Or should I work really hard to get a draft for novel #2 done by, say, August, and then edit novel #1 after a good nine months’ break?

What works for you?

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Dream a little dream

dramatic dream

dramatic dream (Photo credit: unNickrMe)

I’ve been dreaming about my characters lately. My subconscious has been putting them in all sorts of strange situations, and they’ve been forced onto the back foot and had to find a way out of them. The scenes generally have nothing to do with my novel, but they are interesting in their own right.

What this is doing, of course, is cementing certain characteristics and traits in my mind about these people I have created. By putting them through things that would never come up in the course of the narrative, I am learning a lot about them and they’re evolving at a rate of knots. Of course, they were pretty well fleshed out before – my earlier post about not knowing them well enough is now well and truly irrelevant – but now they’ve got a depth they were previously lacking.

I have to admit, I didn’t even realise they were lacking until this past week, but now I know better. It’s amazing what having someone dangling off a cliff, hanging onto a fragile root system for their very survival, is doing for their character. Or how someone else tries to save them. Really, it’s a fascinating process.

In this case I have my subconscious to thank. I’ve seen writing exercises where you put your characters in strange situations and see how they respond, but I’ve never really done one of those. (Yes, I know, I’m sadly lacking in this sort of thing.) In previous stories I’ve written I’ve known my characters so well that I was barely writing them, but instead putting them in a scene and then stage-managing and watching what they did of their own accord. I wasn’t quite at that level with these characters – nearly, but not quite. Now I am.

As such, I have in my own way learned the benefits of doing this sort of writing exercise. Sure, I wasn’t writing, but dreams are still your creativity at work and I was getting my characters well out of their comfort zones, even more than the novel requires. And of course I benefited enormously.

This has got me thinking. If this is so useful, then what other writing exercises should I be doing in order to get this manuscript as good as it can possibly be? My general tactic is to write the scenes from several different points of view, to make sure I get each person’s motivations and reactions right, but this is the first time I’ve tackled things that weren’t directly related to the story I’m telling. And it was brilliant.

So now I’m asking you:  What tips and tricks do you use to get your story right? What writing exercises work for you? Because if we all share our techniques and try new things, then we’ll all become better writers.

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Assorted writing tips #4 – how to take negative feedback

"Writing", 22 November 2008

“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: dr_ed_needs_a_bicycle)

 

Writing is subjective. There are no two ways about it. What one person loves, another will abhor. What one person thinks is good writing, another will criticise. The simple truth is that no matter how hard you try, you will never please everyone – and if you try to do just that, then the chances are that you won’t  please anyone.

Writers love reviews, and any other kinds of feedback. It could be a tweet from a stranger telling them how much they loved your latest story; it could be a formal, several-paragraph review on Amazon or Goodreads; it could be in the New York Review of Books; it could be from a prospective agent or publisher. Wherever it comes from, we all love to hear what people think of our work.

Or do we? Because for every positive review or person who loved what they read, chances are there’s a negative one waiting in the wings somewhere. It may never see the light of day (some people just don’t review if they don’t like something), but everyone will, at some stage, get some feedback that tells them their work is utter rubbish. And no one likes hearing that.

Sure, some people appear thick-skinned and just shrug it off, but you know what? I bet they’re just like the rest of us. I bet they get just as hurt as everyone else does – they just don’t show it. They’ve learned how to handle it. And how do I know this? Because I’m one of them.

I had someone ask me once how I managed to shake off the negative reviews and concentrate on the positive ones. This was when I wrote fanfiction, and while I had a good number of people saying “I love this story!” and other variants on that theme, there were always some who felt they had to ruin the party. “This is the fanfiction equivalent of a trashy, smutty beach novel,” one person wrote. Another told me that “your story = vomit in my mouth”. And then there were the more constructive ones … “Your characters are flat and lifeless”; “this story is going nowhere”; “the plot is laboured and predictable, the characterisation stereotyped and the narrative tries too hard”. Okay, I might have paraphrased as I don’t remember them  verbatim, but you get the idea.

My answers to these reviews, though, were always polite and respectful. Even those which offered no constructive criticism at all were dealt with in that way. Why? Not because I didn’t take them to heart, but because I sat on them for a while.

“How do you just shrug it all off?” my friend asked. The answer was, I didn’t (and still don’t). They stung. No matter how many people told me how much they loved the story and how it made them laugh and cry, and (in some cases) even how it had changed their lives, the negative ones were the ones that I thought about when I was going to sleep at night. Those were the ones that stuck.

What I did do, though, was wait at least 24 hours before responding. And in those 24 hours, I thought about what the person had said. No matter how much I didn’t want to hear it, perhaps they had a point. Perhaps my characters were flat and lifeless. Perhaps the plot was laboured and predictable. And I figured that, even if not all of it was warranted (I thought the ‘trashy, smutty beach novel’ line was a bit of a stretch, for example, as my story had next to no smut in it), the person who wrote it had taken the time to read the story and also had the courage to make their feelings known. If something is reasonably popular, it can be intimidating to go against the grain and say that you don’t like it, so I had to respect that. Besides, it was quite likely that these people knew more about writing than I did, so it would be worthwhile to take notice of their comments.

So my advice is this. Whenever you can, get your feedback in writing. This is of course easiest when it’s organised online, but even writing groups will provide written notes if you ask for them. If the feedback is also provided verbally, just nod and thank the person and say you’ll take it on board. Getting uptight in situations like this doesn’t help anyone. When it’s written, though, read it and then just sit on it for a while. A day, two days, a week, whatever works for you, but make sure you do it.

The reason, of course, is that any response written in the heat of the moment will come across as defensive and argumentative, because chances are you will initially think that the other person is wrong, no matter what. Once you’ve thought on it for a little while, though, you become more measured, and more likely to take it in.

And that’s how we become better writers.

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On being a “writer”

There are a lot of articles and quotes online about what it is to be a writer. There are those who say you can’t be an aspiring writer – you are either one or you are not. There are those who say you have to tell the world you are a writer, otherwise it is merely a hobby and not a serious pursuit. And there are those who claim they know all the ins and outs of what it is to write.

I am none of these, though I do see the logic in the aspiring writer thing. Maybe people should call themselves aspiring authors instead. After all, anyone can write, but to finish a book, to have it in print or online in Amazon – that’s something else. But this is by the by. I have looked at all these views, and sifted through them, and come to my own conclusion: you are a writer if you believe you are.

I’m going to take myself as an example, because who else do I know as well? :) I don’t tell many people that I write. Most of my friends have no idea, and I certainly haven’t broadcast it among those I know in real life. (Hence the low numbers on my Facebook page.) There is a reason for this, but I won’t go into that right now. Suffice to say that by the time my novel has gone through a couple of betas I want to have a look at it, I’ll start spreading the word. I have stories published online under another name that only my husband knows about, despite the fact that within their online communities they are quite popular. But, for me, that has been a very personal part of my life, a private outlet for telling stories that I had in me.

However, I do see myself as a writer. I am taking this current novel very seriously and I do intend to publish it when the time comes, whether traditionally or independently. (I prefer the idea of traditional publishing, but am very aware that it’s very hard to break into. But again, that’s another issue for another day.) The fact that very few of my inner circle know about it is irrelevant to my dedication to the project. I am just as serious about trying to get a bit of an online profile before the novel is finished, and am trying to get involved in some new communities to boost my name awareness. In short, even if I’m being furtive in real life, I want to give myself the best possible chance of getting people in the wider world to read my book.

Does my reluctance to talk about it to my real life friends make me any less of a writer? I think not. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed about it and I don’t doubt they will support me, I just want to have the finished (albeit perhaps unedited) manuscript in my hand before I share this part of my life. According to some pundits, this means I’m not taking it seriously. To me, though, I’m taking the same steps. I’m just taking them in a different order from other people.

Image by Hector Gomez

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Restructuring – the dreaded “R” word

Right. First things first. You may notice  that my blog has a couple of new tabs at the top – one covering mentions and one listing publishing credits. These have both appeared since my last blog entry and I would like to send a huge thank-you to the people responsible for it: Rachel Kovacs, who linked to last week’s entry in her webzine Writer, and Maria Kelly aka the Were-Traveler, who published my flash fiction No Regrets in the latest edition. Wow. I really feel like I’m getting somewhere in this writing thing now!

That said (and please excuse my self-glorification but hey, you have to take everything that comes your way, right?), I am now going to get back to the point. Last week I went to my first writing-related conference.  While much of it wasn’t directly relevant to me, it was a really useful exercise in getting to know other writers in my area, and hearing about how other people approach their writing.  Coming out of this conference, I stood in the rain at the bus stop and had an epiphany.

I am going to restructure my novel.

I don’t mean anything small here. I mean, the whole thing is going to need a rewrite. I’m not even going to edit my main manuscript; I’m going to start a new one and begin from there.  The bits from the old one that I can use – which will be a lot of it, but much will be presented in a different way – will be copied from the old document and pasted into the new one, rather than me trying to navigate around what’s already there.

Believe me, the decision to do this did not come lightly.  However, I’ve been thinking about how to streamline my plot – some people who have read some of my earlier works might know that I have a tendency to tell the whole story when in reality snippets would do just as well – and give it a much shorter timeline. That is, instead of telling a story covering twenty years, it’s now going to cover four or five years and involve some flashbacks and the like to cover the initial bit that’s now being cut out. This means it will look very different from the original story I planned when this idea came to me two years ago, but it also means that it’s going to be shorter, better structured and have more of a punch to it.

In other words, it will be a better novel.

Now, I’m just going to ignore the fact that it may feel like I’m giving one of my children plastic surgery, take a deep breath, and jump in the deep end of the restructuring process. Wish me luck!

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