Category Archives: writing

It’s the end of the year! Time to look back at 2015 and see what’s ahead in 2016.

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I can’t believe it’s the end of 2015 already! It feels like this year has gone past me at the speed of light. Whoosh! Gone. So I think it’s a good time to look back and see what I managed to accomplish in the past 12 months, and what I had planned to accomplish but never got around to do. And of course, now is the perfect time to set up goals for 2016 as well! So without further ado, let’s start.

 

What have I managed to accomplish in 2015?

 

  1. Well, I finished The Choices we make, or at least the first draft. This is a personal accomplishment for me because Choices had started as a mess of a draft somewhere in 2012 then had been abandoned after I barely put in about 25k words. This is the first time I pick up a discarded story and run with it to the end. Of course, I threw all of those initial 25k words out of the window and did an actual outline this time, so that might have helped. And as a bonus, while I worked on it, I got the idea for a sequel. So that’s a project for 2016!
  2. I finally finished the chameleon of a story that are Mists of the Crossworlds. It went from a 4k short story to a 20k novella and then to a 50k novel. But at least now the whole story is there. I have nothing else to add to it. And it’s gone through at least 2 rounds of revisions and rewrites. Now I’m just waiting for the final remarks of my beta extraordinaire to put some finishing touches on the draft. After that, it will go to my favorite grammar Nazi ahem editor and will be ready to be put out into the world for everyone to see.
  3. I have outlined two more short stories in the Eye of the Norns cycle, but I never got around to write the drafts. Bad me. I need to do better in 2016.
  4. I have outlined and started writing the first draft of a new novel called Shadow Hunters. It’s over 60k now and I’m still working on it every day, though slooooowly creeping along to the finish line.
  5. I participated at NaNoWriMo again this year and I won, though I must admit that I had a harder time muster the excitement for it this year, maybe because November proved to be one of the busiest months at work as well.
  6. And finally, I got another novel-length idea that I would tentatively call Ghost and the Good Doctor for now. All I did is jot a few notes and character profiles down. I haven’t even started truly mining that world or story yet.

 

Well, now that I look at that list, it doesn’t seem all that shabby, does it? I guess it’s easy not to notice everything you’ve accomplished when you have your nose to the grindstone all the time, so stepping back and taking stock is a good thing.

 

I have also managed to keep my full-time job for another year, read some truly wonderful books (post about the best books I read in 2015 coming soon as well), watch some amazing TV shows and movies, and play a couple good games. So all in all, not such a crappy year after all.

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Now it’s time to make plans for 2016!

 

  1. First of all, I want to finish the first draft of Shadow Hunters and I’m hoping to be done with them by end of January.
  2. Once that’s out of the way, I will put the final touches on Mists and self-publish them on Amazon. This will be my first self-publishing experience, so I foresee lots of research and panic attacks in my future. And blog posts about it of course.
  3. I would also like to sit down and write those three short stories I had outlined for the Eye of the Norns That would bring the story count on this to 5 and it could be published as a standalone volume.
  4. Then I want to start editing Choice. Not sure if I will be able to go through the whole draft next year because I edit at a snail’s pace, but I would like to at least get a head start.
  5. Brainstorm and maybe outline the sequel to Choices.
  6. Brainstorm, outline and start the first draft for Ghost and the Good Doctor.
  7. Make that my NaNoWriMo 2016 project.

 

Pfew, that’s a lot of plans for the next 12 months! Let’s see if I actually manage to get any of that done.

On that note, Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year! Make your plans and don’t forget to dream big.

Can I just hibernate till spring?

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

You might have wondered where I had disappeared to lately since I haven’t been very active on my blog: a couple of measly posts here and there, no book reviews to speak off… I’m very sorry about that! It’s just that I found it very hard to scrap up any motivation to do pretty much anything lately.

Call it winter blues, call it post-NaNo burnout, or even blame it on an insanely busy work schedule, but either way all I want to do is go into hibernation and wake up when it’s spring and everything is flowering again. And the sun doesn’t set at 5pm right when I get off work, when it even deigns to grace us with its presence at all. It’s only mid-December, and I’m already tired of the gray and the early dark. I want my sunshine back!

I think I wouldn’t mind winter as much if nature made up its mind and it was, you know, actually winter. Give me the cold weather and the snow and all the other good wintery stuff. But even that’s not the case this year! It’s 35 degrees one day and 70 the next, then back into the 40s, then oh, never mind, it’s 75 again.

Winter is coming or not

My poor rose bushes have no idea what to do about this weather, and the azaleas are trying to flower. I mean it’s 75 degrees outside today… on December freaking 15th! We had a bona fide summer thunderstorm yesterday. No wonder half the people at work are sick.

So since the beginning of December, I had been pretty much coasting on autopilot. I have a first draft to finish. I have several other books to edit, one of which I want to publish in March. I have books to read and review. I have good TV shows to watch. I have cross stitching projects that have been neglected for too long… Yet all I do when I get off work is sit and watch the grass try to grow in the middle of December while I listen to K-pop, and wonder if I should break out the riding mower or let the (hopefully) coming frost kill it. And then go to bed early because even that is exhausting.

But hey, the situation isn’t as dire as I made it sound! I’m still working on the first draft of Shadow Hunters, even though I went from writing 2k words a day to about 400-600 words. But speed is not as important as consistency, right? And the will to stick with it to the bitter end. I’ll get it done, winter slump be damned.

I have read two very good books this month as well, but I can’t post my reviews yet because they won’t be officially released until February 2016. I was lucky enough to get the ARCs (advance reader copies) of them through NetGalley. So look forward to those reviews (and books) closer to February.

I have also watched some excellent TV series, though I tend to favor Asian dramas lately. One of them, called White Christmas, stood out so much that I even posted a review of it a while back. And I’m planning on doing a marathon rewatch of it for Christmas, which only shows how much I liked the show.

So to paraphrase Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s excellent Discworld series, “I aten’t dead.” Now can we just skip this whole winter deal and get on with spring?

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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.

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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?

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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…

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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.

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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!

Writing Progress Report.

I haven’t posted an update on my various writing projects in a while, so I think I’m overdue for one, especially since I will be starting a new first draft for NaNoWriMo 2015. So here is what I am working on, what I set aside to grow and mature, and what I had to shelve until better times.

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THINGS I’M WORKING ON NOW:

Of Broken Things

This is the first story I had ever finished, and like any first book, it needs A LOT of work to transform from a messy disjointed first draft into something I wouldn’t be too ashamed to put out into the world.

I have been doing edits and rewrites on it off and on for the past two years, with long interruptions to focus on something else, because otherwise I get the desire to pull my hair out, bang my head on the wall, and laugh hysterically. The good news is that two out of three parts are now fully rewritten. The bad news is that Part 3 will require a MAJOR rewrite. I’m kinda dreading that one, actually, because I’m pretty sure it will bring me to the brink of a nervous breakdown by the time I’m done with it. So that story will remain on the shelf until I’m done with NaNo and the revision of Choices.

But I discovered one good thing about going back to edit a story I wrote two years ago. I can see just how much I’ve grown as a writer. It’s easy to get discouraged in the writing process, because the changes are so gradual that they often get unnoticed. Sometimes we even feel like we are regressing instead of improving. That’s when you should pick up one of your old drafts, because you look at it and you think, “Wow, I’ve really come a long way! This is ghastly… but I know exactly how to make it better.”

The Choices we Make.

I had tried to write this story down several times during the years and gave up, but I finished the first draft during NaNo 2014. Well, in January 2015 after that Nano, to be precise. But I haven’t touched it since then. This is the second book I’ve ever finished so it doesn’t need as much work as Of Broken Things, but I will still need to do a pretty significant rewrite of Part 3.

This is a recurring trend for me, I’m afraid – I tend to drop the ball in the third part of the story. I get cold feet and decide not to follow the conflict to its logical resolution. I am too nice to my characters to make them suffer, even if it’s necessary to the story. So the climax and resolution of the main conflict falls short of the expectations.  I know exactly what I need to change to bring this story to the next level, so Choices are in the first place in my editing pipeline after I’m done with NaNo.

After all, my beta extraordinaire and most ruthless critique partner says that once this story is fixed, it’s good enough to try querying agents for traditional publishing with. Coming from her, it’s A HUGE compliment.

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

Mists of the Crossworlds.

This novella is fully rewritten. The story is as good as it will be plot and character-wise. Now I just need to tighten up the prose and hunt down all the pesky grammatical and spelling errors.  And find an editor who wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

I think about self-publishing this story sometimes in the December – January timeframe. This will likely be an adventure on its own, so expect a few blog post about that particular endeavor.

Shadow Hunters.

This is my new project. I’m planning on hammering down the first draft during NaNo and after it (and be done with it by the end of January at the latest). As of today, the worldbuilding is done, and all the main characters have complete bios. I am working on the outline, which promises to be 25k words long all on its own, the longest outline I’ve written yet. I’m done with Parts 1 and 2, but I still need to outline parts 3 and 4 before November. I can feel the stress levels rising.

 

WHAT I PLAN TO WORK ON IN THE NEXT COUPLE YEARS:

Ghost and the Good Doctor (temporary title).

This is a novel-length story that popped into my head after listening to the k-pop group BigBang’s song Monster.

I have written down the scene that sprung into my mind during the song and jotted down some details about my protagonist, Ghost, as well as some other characters. I barely scratched the surface on the worldbuilding front though. This will probably become my NaNoWriMo 2016 project, because I have too many things to edit to be able to start working on another full-scale novel until then. It’s hopping around my plot bunny enclosure right now, growing fat on fresh grass and the corpses of other, weaker plot bunnies.

Eye of the Norns Cycle:

After I had published the first short story about Ryssa in this anthology, I got the idea to write several more stories about her journeys and put them in chronological order. I have written the next story in the cycle, but haven’t had time to edit it yet. I have also outlined one more story and have ideas for at least 3 more. This might be a project I work off and on in between the revisions of Choices next year.

Breathless.

This short story will be a companion piece to Of Broken Things and will take place 15 years before the events of the novel. I know exactly what it will be about, but I haven’t done any outlining on it yet. I’m not in a hurry on this one because the novel itself still needs a lot of work.

The Price we pay.

Sequel to Choices, taking place a few months after the first book ends. It will follow a different set of protagonists, because Sky and Selena’s story was resolved by the end of book 1, but the story of the Free Kingdom is only just beginning. But do not fear, Sky and Selena will still make an appearance, because they aren’t going anywhere.

I haven’t even started brainstorming this story yet. I have a vague idea where I want it to go and who my protagonists will be, but nothing beyond that. So I might get around to it in 2016, but 2017 would be more optimistic.

 

 

Of course, this list is not set in stone, because plot bunnies can attack me at any time and just not let go until I write them. This year I got Shadow Hunters and Ghost and the Good Doctor like that, seemingly out of nowhere, so who knows what next year brings me.

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