Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo – We are all Winners.

Yesterday, I officially won NaNoWriMo with 50,167 words and got my shiny certificate and blog button to display. Here it is, in all its awesomeness! (I know you don’t care, but it’s my blog, so I can post what I want on it :P)

Yay, I won!
Yay, I won!

So now I get to bask in a sense of pride and check out all the winner goodies on the NaNo site, but that’s not the biggest and most important take away from this crazy month. You know what is? The 50k words I ended up with by the end of this adventure. That’s 50k words more than I started with. That’s well over 1/3 of a brand new story done. Sure, they are half-baked and probably horrible and nowhere near publishing ready, but they are there – black words on a white page, concrete and real, not just a jumbled mess of “what ifs” and “maybes” in my head.

That’s why I have a strong belief that anyone who even attempts to do NaNoWriMo is a winner. Hold on, before you disagree! I will give you some valid reasons why.

 

  1. Any words on the page are better than zero.

Whether you managed to write 100k, or 50k, or 30k, or even 1k words during the month of November, it’s that much more than the zero you had before. Sure, they might be a steaming pile of dung, and the story might be going all over the place, and the characters digress and meander aimlessly through most of it, but hey, that’s what’s editing is for!

You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.

So to everyone who made an effort and put at least something on the page last month – CONGRATULATIONS! You’re a winner.

Hemingway

  1. You have a story, so what if it’s bad?

This derives directly out of the first point. Those words you threw on the page? Guess what, they form a story. So what if it doesn’t quite flow right yet? So what if the pacing sucks and there are way too many secondary characters, and you have several plot holes big enough to swallow the Titanic? You have laid down the foundation and even put some walls on this house, subsequent revisions will help decorate it to your taste and make it pretty.

You have a first draft, which is more than a lot of people will ever manage to accomplish. That sounds like a win to me!

 

  1. That’s what it takes to be a writer.

Guess what, for full-time writers, every month is a NaNoWriMo month! This is what it takes to make a career out of it. Even if you have a full-time job and write on your time off (like I do), you still write every day, even if it’s not 1.6k a day.  So NaNoWriMo is a great testing ground. Dreaming to become a writer? Take the challenge and see if that career is really something you can stick with for the rest of your life.  Whether you succeed or not, whether you decide to continue or look for something else, it’s still a win in my books. Because you decided to try it out instead of just dreaming about it and thinking, “I’ll write a book… someday.”

 

  1. Gotta have a routine.

Or to paraphrase Chuck Wendig, “Writers write.” You got to have a routine. You got to set a time every day dedicated expressly to putting words on the page. And you have to stick to that time no matter what. The sky might be falling, your house might be on fire, the latest episode of your favorite show is airing, it doesn’t matter. You have to stick your ass in that chair and put some words on the page. Even if your muse took a permanent vacation. Even if you don’t feel like writing today. Even if every word that falls on that page feels like a pile of poop. Keep writing.

NaNoWriMo forces you to do that for a whole month. In fact, it’s like an intensive boot camp for writers. No matter what, you have to sit down and put words on the page if you want to meet your word count. Day after day after day for 30 whole days. And guess what? After 30 days, you have established a routine that it would just feel natural to continue.

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So I wanted to congratulate everyone who participated in this challenge. You are all winners! You have all learned something during that month. Now go forth and conquer!

As for me, the first draft of Shadow Hunters isn’t finished yet, so my NaNoWriMo will stretch through December and probably part of January. But that’s okay, because I have a routine for it 😛

NaNoWriMo is a battle of endurance.

NaNo-2015-Participant-Badge-Large-Square (1)

Well, we have survived the first week of NaNo. How about a big cheer? If you are like me, you spent these 8 days riding the excitement and doubling if not tripling your word count. As of today, my WIP stands 500 words shy of 20k.

Even if your word count is less than that or if you are behind the curve a little, don’t get discouraged. Remember that every words you write this month is one more word you didn’t have before that. Anything is better than zero.

But as we are entering the second week of this challenge, you have probably started noticing that your enthusiasm is waning. You might have hit a road block, or your story turned down a totally unexpected road, or you might just have gotten tired of writing it.  After all writing 1667 new words a day every day is hard and sometimes soul wrenching work. Especially if you also work full time, have a family that wants to be fed every day, and a house chores that won’t get done by themselves.

So now that the first rush is gone, it gets harder and harder to force yourself to sit down and write. If you’re like me, the sight of an empty page scares you when you stare at it first thing in the morning and the prospect to have to fill it with another 1.6k can seem daunting. That’s why I say that NaNoWriMo is a battle of endurance.

Don’t give up now. It doesn’t matter is you are ahead or behind on the word count, keep on writing. The only way you will win and, more importantly, get that novel written down, is if you work through the slump, and through the fatigue, and through the discouragement. All writers go through that stage at least once per first draft (and sometimes more than once) and the only way to get across the wall is to grit your teeth and keep climbing.

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But I have a few pieces of advice to help you win this battle. They worked for me, so hopefully they will work for you as well.

  1. Pace yourself.

Don’t try to do all of your daily word count in one session, and don’t postpone that session until last thing in the evening before bed. You will be tired then and the amount of words you’d have to produce would seem more daunting than ever. Break your day into several smaller sessions instead: 400 words with your morning coffee, 300 more during your coffee or cigarette break at work, 600-700 at lunch, and all of a sudden the amount you need to do in the evening would shrink to almost nothing at all.

  1. Write down what you want to work on the next day.

Even if you’re pantsing your NaNo, I found that it helps to jot down a few thoughts before going to bed. Write down the next scene you need to work on, or just an inkling of who where and what will happen. That why the next morning you won’t have to frantically rake your brain about where your story is going. You would have a departure point to start on your writing.

  1. When you hit a roadblock, throw a wrench at it.

If you’re stuck in your story and have no idea what to do next, make something bad happen to your characters. Then buckle up for the ride and watch them scramble to overcome this new crisis. You might get so excited about this new turn of events that you wouldn’t even notice that you hit your word count for the day.

Lost

  1. Don’t give up.

Seriously, don’t. Nope! Forbidden! It’s your story. Nobody will be able to write it if you give up. So fight on, get to the end of it one word at a time.

 

Write on wrimos!

Is Writing an extensive Outline a Waste of Time?

nanowrimo1

I had a conversation today on Facebook with fellow writer about NaNoWriMo and different methods of preparing for it. Plotting or pantsing it? If plotting, then how much to prepare in advance? Stuff like that. She is the ultimate pantser who doesn’t even have the vaguest idea of what her story will be about. She said she will just sit down on November 1st and write whatever pops into her head.

I must admit that I am envious of people who can pull that off. I can’t. I tried a few times and failed miserably. Those unfinished stories still gather virtual dust somewhere on my computer…

Anyway, I admitted that I need a detailed outline  as well as extensive character and world-building research in order to make the most of my NaNo writing time.

She asked me just how detailed my outline for Shadow Hunters was, and I told her that it was 20k words long.

You know what her answer was? “What a waste of time.”

Original by nord_modular on Flickr
Original by nord_modular on Flickr

I was rather speechless at first. Then I started doubting myself. I had been researching this project since the idea popped into my head in July, though I put it aside to do a new round of edits on Mists, but still, I put A LOT of effort into the prep work. Was it really a waste of time?

I guess it depends on your point of view.

Sure, I could have written 2-3 short stories in the time it took me to write that 20k words outline. And by the time I finished it, I also knew that I would change most of Part 1 anyway, because what I had written in the outline simply wasn’t working. And, judging by past experience, I tend to deviate from my outline all the time, sometimes tossing it out of the window altogether.

But you know what? If I hadn’t written such an extensive outline, I wouldn’t have noticed the problem with Part 1 until I was a good ways into my first draft. So I would have had to drudge to the end of the draft knowing that I would need to rewrite at least 1/3 of the story upon editing. When it comes to editing, I am slower than a turtle, so a full rewrite would have cost me countless hours. But since I noticed that problem at the outlining stage, I can rectify it directly in the first draft.

Another advantage of this extensive outline is that now I know exactly where the story goes and what important milestones it must hit along the way for maximum impact. And I have detailed outlines of those crucial scenes. I also know what role most of my characters play in the story and how they will react in different situations.

I know that for some writers, this knowledge will kill the creativity. After, what’s the point writing a story if most of it is already in the outline? Well, the story might be in the outline, but it’s written in a dry plan-like manner. Now I have the exciting task of taking that lifeless outline and instilling it with my character’s voices and breathing life into this world. That’s the most difficult and the most rewarding part of the writing process.

So for me, spending a month to write a 20k word outline is NOT a waste of time, but an integral part of my creative process. If fact, I wouldn’t even call it an outline anymore, but a pre-draft.

Of course, just because this method works well for me, it doesn’t mean that it would work for you as well. There are no absolutes when it comes to writing. The writing process is as unique and deeply personal as each writer’s personality. To me the pre-draft is essential to understand the story I want to tell, but to the person I spoke with, it was a waste of time. That doesn’t mean that my process is better than hers or that her story will be more interesting than mine…

good-luck-road-sign

So what is your writing process? How do you prepare for NaNo? Or what do you do before you start writing a brand new story? Outline or not? How extensive are your outlines?

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us.

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For most people November means Thanksgiving, College football, Black Friday, and stuffing yourself with so much turkey that we can’t look at it for at least the next six months. But for a select group of crazies out there, November is the month where they throw caution (and sometimes sanity) to the wind and attempt to write 50k words in just 30 days. Which also means starting a brand new story on day 1 and either finishing it on day 30, or in my case, getting a good chunk of the narrative down.

For millions of writers around the world, November is the event they have been waiting for, hoping for or dreading, gearing up for all year long. It’s NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.

Last year, I did a series of posts about NaNoWrimo that you can find under the On Writing – NaNoWriMo cathegory, so I will try not to repeat myself too much. If you are still not sure if you want to try doing NaNo  or not, I would recommend reading this post – 5 reasons everyone should do NaNoWriMo at least once.

So today, I want to talk a little bit about my reasons for doing NaNoWriMo. This isn’t my first rodeo, so to say. I’ve done (and won) NaNo in 2013 and 2014, and I went on writing afterwards until I finished the novels I’ve been working on. So I am not approaching this year’s NaNo with a need to prove that I can do it. I’ve already shown that I can. But I am just as giddy and excited about November 1st as I was two years ago. And do you know why?

Because NaNoWriMo is a wonderful and unique opportunity to throw your caution to the wind, shut your inner critic in the basement, and just run with the story. There is nothing better to shut down your “Spock Brain” as Kristen Lamb puts it in her excellent article, than having to put out 50k words in only 30 days. That’s roughly 1.7k words a day, which can be a challenge, especially if writing is not your full-time career and you have to carve time for it out of your already busy schedule. My average daily output during the year is about 600 words, sometimes a bit more, but I try to never do less. Well during November, I have to do almost triple to keep with the word count.

write

Let me tell you that when you are pushing yourself to write as fast as you can for as long as you can in the limited time you have (for me it’s early morning before work, during my lunch break, and before bed when the rest of my household is asleep), you don’t have time to second guess yourself or worry about your sentence structure or verb usage or even if that paragraph you just finished makes sense. You have to press on and keep the story moving, no matter what. Even if it seems silly or stupid; even if you feel like your writing is horrible; even if you are certain that you just zipped by a plot hole so big a small truck could fall into it.

During NaNoWrimo, I don’t have time to worry about that, and I never go back to re-read / edit what I have written. If I get an idea on how to change something, or if I know there is glaring mistake somewhere, I write it down in my notebook and keep on going. I can address all these issues during revisions, but I need a fully finished draft first.

And I don’t know about you guys, but for me there is something liberating about just rushing ahead and letting the story spill out of you without any restrains. Yes, it might be half-baked and will definitely not win the Nobel prize of literature, but it won’t do that just sitting inside your head either.

Hemingway

So I take a deep breath on October 31st and set off into a mad dash that doesn’t slow down until November 30th. By that time, I usually have over 50k words of my new novel written and the momentum carries me well into December and January when I finally finish the draft, because most of my novels run in the 100k words category. Of course, I usually slow down after NaNo, going back to about 1k words a day, but by that time I’m past the halfway point of my story and I am excited about reaching the end.

So to conclude this rambling post, for me NaNoWriMo is the essential yearly boost of motivation , like a writing vitamin shot, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Rant – Why the phrase “I don’t read because I don’t want others to influence my voice” makes no sense to me.

So I had a conversation with an aspiring author on Twitter the other day, and something that she said just absolutely floored me.

 

She is writing fiction, and her latest project is a science fiction / space opera story. When I asked her what science fiction authors she likes and what books influenced her story, she said the following:

 

Oh, I don’t read fiction. I don’t want other authors to influence my voice.

 

I was shocked speechless at first and could only repeat after the 10th Doctor, “What? What!? What!?!”

What? What?! What!?!
What? What?! What!?!

Frankly, I never shared the fear of some writers that reading books in their genre would somehow “contaminate” or alter their writing voice, but I can understand where they come from.  It’s true that we tend to borrow something from every book we read, especially if we really like it. It can be a story idea, a plot twist or, yes, the writing style, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

 

I mean, how can you improve your voice and your writing skill if have nothing to compare them to? How can you ever mature as a writer, if you don’t read a wide variety of books?

 

It’s all good and well to say that you don’t want other authors to influence your own unique voice, but I believe that your voice will stay unique no matter what. Even if you try writing like Charles Dickens or Stephen King, you will still be you, and your personality will still shine between the lines. And by experimenting, you will understand what works for you and what doesn’t, thus improving your style.

 

On the other hand, how can you improve your voice and mature as a writer if you never read? There is no growth if you have nothing to compare yourself with. Sure, you can look back at your earlier works and strive to write better, but how do you know what that “better” is if you don’t read anything in your chosen genre?  How can you even write in a genre if you’ve never read any books in it? That just baffles me.

This would be my living room if we didn't have ebooks.
This would be my living room if we didn’t have ebooks.

I’m an avid reader. I read a lot of books in a wide variety of genres, both fiction and non-fiction. Heck, any time I need to do research for my own stories, I browse the Internet, then I hit the library for reference books. Right now, I’m reading a research paper on Shinto, the traditional Japanese religion, for my fantasy book Shadow Hunters. The spirits in my book are not exactly like the kami and yukai, but Shinto gave me many inspirations, and it’s just plain interesting to learn something new!

 

I am not afraid to “muddy” my voice by reading and being influenced by other writers, because I don’t think that it’s going to happen. I know that sometimes I would read a book and think, “I love how this author handles dialogue. It flows the seamlessly and feels natural.” So I would pay very close attention to how it’s done, then try to integrate that knowledge into my own writing. Does that alter my voice? Yes. Does it make it better? Absolutely!

 

So in my opinion, a good writer needs to be first and foremost an avid reader who is willing to learn from others. Everybody is influenced by everything going around them, be it a TV series they watch, a book they read or a video game they play. All of these influences will show up in our writing, whether we want it or not, but that’s a good thing. If we feed our brain with a steady diet of diverse and interesting entertainment, it will produce some wonderful plot bunnies for us to write about! So read on, get influenced by what others do, evolve! And have fun!

There is no such thing as too many books.
There is no such thing as too many books.

Korean drama and plot bunnies, or my mind works in mysterious ways.

Image courtesy Badgirlzwrite.com
Image courtesy Badgirlzwrite.com

So I have been merrily editing my way through Chapter 18 of Broken Things when I decided to take an hour break and watch City Hunter, a Korean drama that several of my friends highly recommended. Plus, I had a valid reason to watch it, I swear! Just like my novel Of Broken Things, it deals with revenge and how it alters people. It raises some important questions. How far would you go to get your revenge and still be able to live with yourself afterwards? Where is the line after which you lose your humanity? How can you survive when your quest backfires and hurts your loved ones? Does the goal really justify the means?

 

Anyway, I had just intended to watch the first episode before going back to editing, but it was just so gosh darn good that I decided to watch episode 2 as well… There went my three day weekend, my sleep and my sanity.

 

This show rocks, people! The story is solid and fast-paced. The characters are fully developed and believable (and lovable). The actors who play them did a wonderful job of showing us the tragedy of the situation without falling into cheap pathos. I rooted for them I was scared for them, and I cried when one of them died. I hadn’t been this engaged with the characters of a series since Buffy or Firefly, so that’s saying something. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the main male lead, Lee Min-ho should officially change his name to Lee Min-HOT. And boy, can he act.

 

But I digress. After watching 20 one hour episodes in less than three days, I woke up on Sunday morning with a rabid plot bunny gnawing on my brain. You would think that after City Hunter, the story idea would be about revenge… and you would be wrong. No revenge at all. Zilch. Nada. And it’s not even set up in our modern world. The only thing it took from the Korean drama is the Asian-inspired setting. Even then, the spirits in this new story have more similarity with Japanese mythology than Korean.

 light-bulb-idea-vector

And the biggest surprise is that this plot bunny jumped into my brain already half-grown and well-fed. Usually, I just get a scene, or a glimpse of a character or two, maybe a vague idea of the world. This time, I already have a pretty good grasp on the world structure, mythology and topography, and even a bit of historical background. I have two fully formed protagonists, each one with their own backstories already.

 

More importantly, I KNOW exactly what this story will be about. No, I don’t have a fully-formed plot just yet, though I do have a scene that I know will be pivotal in the story. But I know the MESSAGE this story will tell. This is a first for me. Usually, the actual message emerges somewhere in the last quarter of the first draft or even during editing. Here, I already know the message and I haven’t even started planning or outlining yet!

 

And another big surprise: it’s a Young Adult story. I’m floored. I don’t usually read YA, and I certainly don’t write it, at least not intentionally, because Mists of the Crossworlds turned out YA in the end, but was certainly not planned like that.

 

This new story starts YA from the beginning. It’s a coming of age story. A story of self-discovery, self-improvement and even self-sacrifice. Oh, and it’s definitely a love story…

 

So after watching 20 hours of contemporary drama about revenge, my brain came up with an idea set up in a magical / steampunky world with not a single revenge plot in sight. Inspiration, you sure work in mysterious ways. Maybe I should cast Lee Min-ho as the male protagonist, just to pay tribute to the series that jolted my brain into overdrive?

 

Anyway, I spent most of my Sunday frantically typing all my shiny new ideas into Scrivener. Good news – I think I have my NaNoWriMo 2015 project pretty much locked down. Bad news – I haven’t done any editing at all this weekend.

 

What I mostly wanted to show with this story is that it’s good to expand your horizons sometimes, to venture out of your comfort zone. That’s where the best ideas lie in waiting. I was unfamiliar with Korean dramas and rather skeptical when I started watching City Hunter, yet it gave me a precious gift: the makings of what will become a wonderful story.

Image by Van Assche -Embarcadero
Image by Van Assche -Embarcadero

WIP roundup – What I have in the Pipeline for 2015.

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Since December seems to be flying by at Mach 3 speed and 2015 is almost upon us (already??? *panics*), I decided to roundup all my ongoing works in progress and decide what I want to accomplish in 2015. That way it will hold me accountable, but also let you know what (hopefully interesting) new things to expect from me next year.

When I look back at where I was in December 2013 compared to today, it’s easy to see the progress I have made. Last year, all I had to show up for my writing efforts was a half-finished first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel Of Broken Things.

I have been a busy little pen monkey since then. So here is the list of WIPs I have in the pipeline for 2015:

Mists of the Crossworlds (a novella)

Lori has the very rare ability to shift into the crossworlds, the strange plane that connects different words together. She guides merchant caravans for the Guild who has absolute monopoly on crossworld travel. But one day the mists start calling Lori’s name, and her best friend has gone missing. Lori is faced with a though choice:  will she hide from those voices in the safety of the Guild Tower, or will she dare step off the beaten path in order to save the person that matters to her the most?

Mists started as a short story that grew a little longer, than even longer, until it became a 20k words novella. The first draft is finally done (unless it decides to grow some more on me). From all my WIPs, this one is the closest to be finished. My plan is to rewrite / edit it this January, then find a professional editor and cover artist. The end result will be self-published around April 2015. I am in equal parts trilled and terrified by that prospect.

Of Dragons and Magic

The Eye of the Norns Cycle (collection of inter-related short stories)

As an Eye of the Norns, it’s Ryssa’s duty to right wrongs that would threaten the balance of the great Tapestry of the world. The problem is, she doesn’t choose the wrongs to right. She has to accept to be led by the Norns and has to discover the right way to resolve each problem. Her powers help in that, but are killing her in the process. And she can’t ever stop. And she doesn’t know if she is making a difference, of if her actions have a deeper meaning. But that won’t stop her from searching for one.

The first story of this cycle, A Small Detour, had been published in this anthology. But I felt that Ryssa’s story wasn’t finished with just one little short story. That’s when I had the idea for a collection of short stories relating Ryssa’s adventures and sorted in chronological order. The first draft of the second story, The Price of a Mistake, is finished and awaiting editing. The next two short stories are in the rough planning stages. My goal is to publish several volumes of 4-5 stories each. The goal is to publish the first volume around fall 2015. I don’t know yet how many volumes it will take to finish Ryssa’s story, so that’s a long term WIP.

Of Broken things (a science-fiction mystery novel).

When Aiden Stapleton, a successful private investigator, accepts to look into the murder of a seemingly ordinary college professor, he unwillingly crosses the paths of a government official eager to cover up traces of some shady research and a mysterious killer bound on revenge.  Now five seemingly unrelated professors around the country are dead, an illegal “snow” lab had been burned to the ground, there is a crater in the Arizona desert where a secret experimental complex was located, and Aiden’s life is in danger. And all of those seemingly unrelated events have something to do with Project Cassandra.

This is the first novel I ever finished. Right now it’s in the editing stage and I’m about halfway done with pass one. Since it’s my very first novel, there are A LOT of changes to make for this to be even remotely readable. So my goal for 2015 is to finish at least the first major edit and find beta readers for it. Long term goal – self-publication in 2016.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

The Choices We Make (a fantasy novel).

It was supposed to be a routine escort mission for battle mage Sky and his partner: escort a runemaster, wait for him to poke at the wardstones for a few hours, then portal back. Only the mission turned out to be a death trap. Now his partner is dead, the runemaster has had his brain fried, and Sky owes a life debt to a half-blood. But Sky has no time to deal with his guilt and hurt, because breaches open everywhere in the Kingdom and people start disappearing. The Order of Battle Mages needs to discover what or who is behind this before their Kingdom plunges back into the horrors of the Half-Blood war from the ashes of which it had risen three hundred years ago. Sky and his new partner will be in the thick of the events, whether they want it or not.

This is the WIP I’m working on at the moment. The first draft is a little over halfway done. My plan is to finish it by January 15, 2015, then pick it up somewhere around May – June and start the editing process. No publication dates yet, but the goal is to shoot for 2017.

And then, of course, let’s not forget NaNoWriMo 2015, when I will probably start a brand new novel.

So these are my projects for next year. Looks like I will be very very busy, but it’s rather exciting! And I’m looking forward to launching into this whole self-publishing adventure as well.

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