Five Things: People I’m Thankful For

Blessed be! Ordinarily, today would be a Twin Thursday, but I rather lost my head this week. I wouldn’t have even known what day it was were it not for my wife, who helpfully chirped at me that, “Isn’t it Thursday? Shouldn’t you be blogging?” So, sorry for the lateness and my lack of forethought.

Being that it’s also Thanksgiving, I thought I’d spend today giving a shoutout to the five people in my life that I’m most thankful for when it comes specifically to my craft.

  1. My wife, Mary. Whether I’m puttering on a story or forgetting what day it is, she always has my back and an encouraging word. Or a rebuke if I need it. Or both. She keeps me working when I’d rather bury my head. She’s also my unfailing research bug, doubly helpful since I’m working on historical fantasy right now.
  2. My critique partner, Jesse. There’s not a thing I’ve written that she hasn’t seen, and she’s been my sounding board for years. When I’m feeling lost in a story or stuck in the mire of “Do I have to?”, she helps get me back on track. She’s my go-to for technical issues and problems of craft as well as my sounding board for concepts.
  3. My writing kiddo and blog sister, Rachel. On top of being one of my best friends, Rachel is my very first writing kiddo. They say the best way to learn is to teach, so for the last few years, Rachel and I have been working on both her stories and mine. Her questions and astute observations often leave me looking at my work from a different angle.
  4. The Stonecoast MFA staff, faculty, and students. By the time I completed undergrad, I was wrung out on writing. I hated it. The Stonecoast program reignited my love of storytelling and gave me the tools and confidence to do it well.
  5. The agents who rejected my work. This one may sound strange, but hear me out. When I first started querying with my very first manuscript, it wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. Even my second completed story was nowhere near mature enough to be on the shelf, and I wasn’t seasoned enough as a writer to even know it. I can look back on those days now and know that, even though it felt like the world was ending at the time, it really was the right decision for both me and my stories.

NaNo Goal Check-In!

Blessed be, everyone, and welcome back! It’s Twin Thursday, so be sure to go check out Rachel’s blog at Chicken-Scratch Plot by following the link at the top right. This week, we’re looking back at the goals we made at the start of the month to see how we’re progressing.

  1. Write every day. So far, so good on this one. I had a rocky second week; a lot of very emotional things happened in quick succession. I was extremely tempted to take a few days off to get my head back on straight. But I wrote through them. Some nights I only did a couple hundred words, but the point is that I kept to the letter of my word and wrote anyway.
  2. Finish my current project. I’m pretty sure I’ll meet this. If everything goes according to plan, I only have perhaps a dozen scenes left to do, max a thousand words apiece. The thing is, though–
  3. Do a quick touch-up edit. –I’m not so sure I’ll have time to finish this one. I really want the story to be ready to rock and roll as soon as the calendar flips to December. With how close I’m going to be cutting it on finishing the bulk of the trashdraft, I’m not positive it’ll leave me much time to adjust the things I wanted to.
    On the whole, they’re pretty small things; I have two scenes early on that I wanted to add, one I wanted to change, and I wanted to adjust the timeline to spread events out more. That’s perhaps a week’s worth of work. I’m still going to keep on as if I’ll have the time, but I won’t be incredibly heartbroken if I have to send the story to my CPs and betas prematurely.

Draft Horse 02: Tilling the Field

Blessed be! Welcome to the second entry in my drafting series. This one’s probably going to be quite short, to be honest. There’s not a whole lot for me to say about my drafting process except that I really really hate it. Have I mentioned it’s my least favorite part of the process?

Anyway, moving on. Now that I’ve got the basic idea of the story in my head and some rough specifics figured out, it’s time to actually get the first draft on the screen. I wish there were an easier way to do this, but there really isn’t. So what I rely on is the BICHOK mantra: Butt in Chair; Hands on Keyboard.

Depending on my mood, the current story, and what’s going on in my non-writing life, there are several ways I get my words done in the day. Either way, I try to do a little every day when I’m actively drafting.

The first is that I set a minimum wordcount goal for the day, usually between 500 and 1500. Usually, I do this all in one fell swoop. I put on my headphones to create what I call the bubble, start writing, and do not move from my seat until the words for the night are done.

This worked well for my first two projects or so. The next few, not so much. I stopped having enough time to hit that word goal or I would start feeling lost or disheartened in the middle. In those cases, instead of a word goal, I tried to focus on doing just one scene, no matter how long or short. It often ended up being the exact same amount of progress in terms of words, but telling my brain that I was doing something different made it more bearable.

Of course, sometimes even that isn’t enough. On days like that, I have to break out the big guns. Or, rather, the small ones. Instead of doing one big burst of words, I’ll break it into mini-sessions of just 2-300 words. Just one page. That’s not bad! And then I’ll make myself do two or three of those sessions a day.

At the end of the day, it amounts to about the same amount of work, about the same time spent staring at the screen. Because, no matter what method I use, nothing is going to write this story except for putting my hands on the keyboard and my butt in the chair.

Five Things: Strengths and Weaknesses

Blessed be! For this week’s Twin Thursday, Rachel and I will be looking at our strengths and weaknesses in writing–the places where we excel and where we still need some work. It’s important to have an honest assessment of both so that you can write a story that nails your best points and camouflages your shortcomings. It also helps you pinpoint places to improve. Be sure to follow the link at the top right to Chicken-Scratch Plot to see Rachel’s list!

Strengths:

  1. Voice. The actual words that are said in dialogue and how, as well as the way the narrator communicates in their own mind. The voice and vocabulary of my characters tend to come to me pretty easily. I think this is because I tend to be a character-driven writer as opposed to plot-driven.
  2. Clarity of prose. There’s a balance between lyricism and precision in text. The way I heard it once described is to visualize your writing as a window. The former is a stained glass window, where the sentences themselves are a work of beauty, but they can obscure the story behind it. The other is a plain glass plate window. You don’t notice the glass; it’s simply there to let you see through it to the narrative. I tend toward the latter.
  3. Action sequences. I tend naturally toward a very spare style without a lot of exposition. This lends itself toward action scenes, at least the kind that I enjoy.
  4. Intercharacter conflict. Since I tend to think of villains not so much as bad guys as they are heroes in their own twisted story, I gravitate toward plots where the characters move at cross-motives to each other.
  5. Payoff. I love writing resolution scenes, the moment when all of the buildup comes to a head and you finally defeat the bad or die trying. When multiple threads smash together into the finale, when the thing you’ve been waiting for or dreading finally happens.

Weaknesses:

  1.  Blocking during conversations. I do often forget that, hey, these voices that are talking to each other also have bodies! As a result, I sometimes forget to let them move or fall back on the same handful of body language expressions and gestures.
  2. Lyricism and poetry. The flipside of having good clarity of prose is that evocative language often escapes me. I spend twenty minutes stretching for the exact right image that I want and, failing to find it, just recycle one from twenty pages ago.
  3. Sex scenes/physical intimacy. To be fair, I’ve rarely actually tried to write one! But that’s largely because they make me very uncomfortable. I’m not a prude, mind! I’m, surprisingly, a rather lewd, sex-positive person. But something about writing it… Just can’t do it.
  4. Setting details. I have a problem with leaving my characters in white space. I’ll say, vaguely, it’s a 19th-century bedroom. There’s an armoire, a writing desk, a bed, and a chair. What more do you want to know? As a result, I have to work much harder at actually drawing my setting for my readers, making sure they see it the way I do, and that it comes across clearly.
  5. Build-up. I hate doing it. It’s painfully boring to me, so I sometimes try to rush it. The problem is, this set-up work that I hate doing is a necessary evil if I want to get to my favorite part, the payoff. So I drag myself through it, trying to hope that it doesn’t read like I dragged myself through it, and usually end up jumping back and forth several times to make sure all the building blocks I meant to put down are actually there.

 

Draft Horse #1: The Idea Farm

I’ll talk about this in a little more depth later in the week, but drafting is not my strong point. I’m a much more editing- and rewriting-oriented writer. Editing is my bread and butter; it’s the seductive minx that lures me away from writing new material. That said, I can’t edit an empty page. So how do I get to that point? Strap in, folks, this is going to get bumpy.

The first thing I need is an idea. This usually comes from a character. I get the concept for a person I want to write about and their particular struggles. On rare occasions, I’ll actually get a thematic element I want to use or an aspect of the worldbuilding first, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Once I have that initial ping, I do some brainstorming. I’m largely a pantser when it comes to drafting–I like to be surprised by the story’s twists and turns. That said, I do need some basic information before I sit down to write.

If I got the character first, I try to figure out what their backstory is and how that contributes to their main goal. What’s in their way? What are they afraid of? What is their family situation? Then I do some drabbling to get an idea for their voice and how they move on the page.

After that, I start looking at the world. Because most of what I do is fantasy (except for my current foray into history/paranormal), there’s a lot of physical and cultural decisions to make about the setting. At this point, I also make a Pinterest board and start looting other pins for visual cues that help build my vision of the world. Rocky shores or sandy? Snow-capped mountains or forested? Other research often follows, but I try not to get too deep into it. I prefer at this stage to keep everything pretty loose and let it come together as it needs to.

To be honest, a lot of what I do with respect to this step is throwing a whole lot of concepts and abstract ideas into a stew pot to simmer. The rest, I usually determine mid-draft as need arises. For my queer fantasy romance, for example, I started with the basic building blocks of ancient Greece, dom/sub relationships, and gender fluidity. That’s about all I knew about the world going into the story.

The last thing I do at this point is set goalposts (I’ll talk more about these in a later post), which are carrot scenes or things that I think I might want to do during the course of the story. What happens in between those plot points, how we get there, and if any of them actually happen at all is largely subject to change.

All told, this part of the process can take me anywhere from months to years. I’m currently trying to refine this idea-farming stage so that I can turn out stories quicker, and it seems to be working. I’ve cut down the percolating from several years before I write a single word to just a handful of weeks.

On the one hand, this is good because it makes me more reliable as a writer. On the other, the next part is my least favorite, but I’ll talk more about that next week!

Goals for NaNoWriMo!

Hey, all! It’s Twin Thursday again, so I’m back with another sister post with Rachel from Chicken-Scratch Plot. Be sure to follow the link in the top menu over to her blog when you’re done here to see her take!

It’s once again time for NaNo or National Novel Writing Month! If you tried Camp this past summer, NaNo is the original thirty-day wordsprint. It runs a little differently than Camp does; there are no cabins, for one thing, and everyone has an unalterable 50k wordcount goal to hit within the month. But there are people (like yours truly) who still bend the rules or who set personal goals to hit as well. These are mine:

  1. Write every day. I’m supposed to be doing this anyway, but I don’t always. During the course of the year, this goal usually becomes the more lax “Do something writing-related every day” whether that’s reading, writing, research, or so on. But for NaNo, I try to stick to the letter of the rule, even if it’s only a hundred words or so.
  2. Finish my current project. This is more important to me than hitting the 50k mark, especially since it’s unlikely that it’ll take me quite that long. I don’t know how long this part of the project will end up being. It could be anywhere between 10 and 40k, but I won’t know until I actually get all of the scenes on the screen.
  3. Do a quick touch-up edit. As always happens with trashdrafts, I realized I’d done a few things wrong/out of order as I was going. The rules I’ve set for myself say that I can’t go back and make changes until the draft is done. Therefore, I’m hoping that I’ll finish the trashdraft with enough time to go back and make those small fixes before I send it off to my voracious hoarde of betas and CPs.

Say No To This! – Staying Faithful to Your Story

To explain the title, it’s a reference to this song from the Broadway musical Hamilton. I highly recommend the whole soundtrack if you have a few hours to burn. That line has become a bit of an in-joke in my circle of writers. Lately, one of us or the other will get distracted from our main WIP by something shiny.

It’s easy to do when you’re elbow-deep in the manuscript. Maybe you’ve got a killer idea for a new story. Maybe your current manuscript’s developed an unforeseen tangle that you now have to comb out, and you don’t want to deal with it. Maybe, from out of the blue, you’ve figured out the thing you needed to make that other old story finally work, so you just need to do this one quick fix. Whatever it is, your attention is divided, leaving room for the interloper to try to wreck your commitment.

I’m going through it right now. I’ve been working on my current story off and on for over a year. Sometimes it’s the main project. Sometimes it’s the homewrecking termite trying to steal my attention. Most recently, I’ve been trying to work on it consistently.

But the other day, I had a stroke of inspiration on the story I trashdrafted this past summer. A problem from the backstory that contributed to a nebulous character’s motivations snapped into sharp relief. This fixed everything! Suddenly, their whole arc made sense! Oh, it was tempting. So tempting. But I managed to not stray.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of advice on how to do it. The only thing that made me stay committed was that I have people waiting for the story. If I didn’t, I would have flipped in a heartbeat. Which, I guess, is the best suggestion I can make in this case. When you’re termited hard and you don’t now how to say no to that, having a writing partner or dedicated reader that can do it for you is sometimes your best defense.