Tag Archives: first draft

Evolution of a character or not all princes are jerks.

Paiting a new world, what's more exciting then that?
Paiting a new world, what’s more exciting then that?

Last week I talked about the importance of listening to your characters and letting them evolve. Today I thought that I would give you an example of that, since I had to let the characters take the reins in my current WIP – Shadow Hunters.

 

When I was outlining and plotting Shadow Hunters, I knew that my protagonist would be a prince. Not only that, but that he would also be a jerk. After all, this kingdom lives under absolute monarchy, which means the king and the royal family have a heck of a lot of power. On top of that, there is a rather rigid caste system with the royal family on the very top of the food chain.

 

So it made sense that a guy who was born with a golden spoon in his mouth and had servants cater to his every whim would grow up to be a self-absorbed and entitled jerk. So his initial character journey was to meet a girl from a very different environment, fall in love and slowly become a decent human being through a series of more and more staggering trials and obstacles.

 

With that plan in hand, I started writing my first draft and my protagonist immediately rebelled against me. He absolutely didn’t want to be a jerk. After fighting with him for the first three scenes of the first chapter, I threw the towel and let him drive the narrative. And I discovered some very interesting facts about my prince.

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Yes, Akemi’s family is all powerful and his father rules the kingdom with a firm hand, but Akemi himself is the youngest of five children. As such, he is so far down the inheritance line that nobody even considers him a contender. His eldest brother is the Heir in waiting destined to succeed to their father and has been trained as such. His sister is the perfect lady destined to be married off to form an alliance with one of the neighboring kingdoms. He could go into the military, but his second brother already beat him to it and he is, by all accounts, an exceptional warrior. And even the scientific field is covered with his last brother the genius inventor.

 

Akemi couldn’t even enter the clergy because there is no clergy per se in this world. And it’s not like he has a particular talent for anything. So in the eyes of his family, he is useless. He grew up seeing indifference in his parent’s eyes and annoyance from his eldest siblings.

 

On top of that, he learned at a very young age that no friendship is free. All the kids that wanted to be his friends in the past and even now that he is studying at the Royal College want something in exchange for that friendship. It’s either status, influence, money, or a way to get closer to his more influential siblings, and once they get what they want, they will jump ship in a heartbeat.

 

So Akemi learned to wear a mask of indifference and condescending aloofness and not let anyone close enough to see his real face. Heck, he doesn’t bother to learn the names and faces of most of his followers because they change from week to week. He remembers 3-4 that stayed longer than most and even gets attached to them more than he should, despite knowing that it’s a bad idea that would only lead to heartbreak.

Guidelines

So instead of a self-absorbed jerk, I discovered a decent and even rather kind guy who is just so lost and disillusioned about his place in this world that he hides behind a mask. His family thinks he is useless, so he ends up believing the same, and just kinda floats with the current, not making much effort to find a road to follow in life.

 

So his journey through the book transformed as well. Instead of being just a plain love story where guy meets girl and she makes a human being out of him, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Throughout the events of this story, Akemi discovers where his allegiances lies, what his dreams are, and how far he is willing to go to protect those he loves.

 

I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of story a lot more interesting than the one I had planed to write in the beginning.

 

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 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!

Why I write my first drafts longhand.

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

Several people on Twitter asked why I write all of my first drafts longhand since it’s so much quicker to type it directly into Scrivener. While I answered them, there is only so much you can fit in 140 characters. Plus, I think that this is a good topic for a blog post.

I have been a writer for almost two years now, so I think that I have pretty much found a routine that works best for me. I went through a long process of trial and error to get there, but I’m pretty happy with what I have now (though every process can be perfected indefinitely). So maybe my ramblings and explanations can help someone else who is struggling with their productivity and is still looking for the best way to put words on the page?

Anyway, here are some of the reasons why I write my first drafts longhand.

 

1. You can carry a notepad and pen anywhere you go.

 

I work full time as an Office Manager and writing happens on top of that. My writing time can happen any time I have a spare minute: it could be during a 15 minute coffee break, during lunch, in the bathroom (yes, I have been known to go to the loo with a notepad, shock!), or in bed when my husband is asleep. So with this erratic schedule, it’s much easier to carry a small notepad and a pen in my purse than a tablet / netbook.

Plus, I need a normal keyboard to type fast. I hate the touch screen keyboard on my iPad, plus it seems like it can be laggy. Nothing aggravates  me more than to type up a whole sentence and wait for it to show on screen… only to notice that I mistyped something halfway through and have to break the flow and go back to correct. GRR. I know that some people don’t pay attention to mistakes when they write down their first draft, and mostly I don’t either, but when I notice one, I can’t just press on without correcting it first.

Also, a small notepad is easier to fit on the table during lunch than a tablet / netbook, especially how small the tables in some restaurants are.  And if I spill a drink on it by accident (it’s been known to happen), I only wasted $4-5 instead of $500.

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

2. Keeps you focused on the task at hand.

 

Don’t know about you guys, but when I sit at the computer, I can find a million things to keep me from writing. I would start writing something, then decide to look up a word on google, then read an interesting article, then check on Twitter, oh and Facebook just buzzed me that there is a new post, and where did 3 hours of my life go? End result – almost nothing written and lots of time on stupid stuff.

When I am alone with my pen and paper, I HAVE to focus on what I’m writing instead of letting my brain flutter around like a butterfly on Red Bull (especially if I leave my cell in the purse and resist the temptation to check Twitter every 15 mins as well). So I get a lot more writing done in 1 hour with a pen and paper than sitting in front of my computer, even though my typing speed is much faster than my writing speed.

Usually, during my 1 hour lunch, I manage to write about 600-800 words (and eat something as well, most of the time). As an example, I’ve been trying to write this blog post for the past 3 hours and I barely got to the midpoint. Granted, it’s Monday and I have a lot of work to do as well, but I also spent a lot of time procrastinating on the internet instead of writing.

 

3. Helps organize your thoughts.

 

I don’t know about you, but I have noticed that writing longhand forces me to organize my thoughts better, which in turn results in a cleaner first draft that requires less editing afterwards. Writing longhand gives me the opportunity to think about the scene I’m working on, choose the right words and commit them to paper. While my hand finishes one sentence, my brain is already working on the best wording for the next one.

As I said, I can type really fast, but sometimes my fingers get ahead of my brain. So the resulting text is sometimes less than adequate. Don’t get me wrong, during NaNoWriMo, when I need to write 1666 words per day to get to 50k by the end of November, I usually bypass longhand and mostly write directly into my Scrivener file, but when I don’t have that time constraint, I prefer taking a much slower approach.

Plus, there is just something magical about seeing a pristine white page slowly getting covered with blue ink that motivates you to keep on writing. Seeing the words appear on a computer screen doesn’t quite have the same effect, maybe because the end result is not quite as immediately tangible (unless you print your work every day).

Creating new worlds.
Creating new worlds.

4. First round of editing when typing the text into Scrivener.

 

To me, that’s an added advantage of writing the first draft longhand. On the weekends, I usually try to type up everything I wrote during the week into my Scrivener file, which means that my text goes through a first round of edits almost on the spot. Sometimes I just change a word or two. Sometimes a  few sentences here and there. It also happened that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with a scene when I first put it on paper, but by the time I was typing it up, my brain had come up with a better version that ended up being a full rewrite of the original scene.

So to me, writing longhand has some definite advantages, even if the process takes longer. I think that for those struggling with concentration or motivation, this method might be beneficial as well.

 

What about you, my fellow writers, what are your preferred methods of putting words on paper. What helps you get through that hard to do first draft and get to the end?

Keep Writing – you get better even if you don’t feel like you do.

Last week, I finally finished the first draft of Mists of the Crossworlds… again. Yes, I’ve had to rewrite this story three times now and each time it nearly doubled in size. So it went from a 6k words short story to a 20k words novella and now, at almost 50k words, it’s a novel. Hopefully, I have finally told the whole story and I won’t have to go through this process again.

 

Anyway, I feel drained and rather low every time I finish a new first draft. I can’t help but feel like everything I have written is complete and utter s%$t and why did I even bother finishing it in the first place?

 

I know that feeling now. It happens all the time. So instead of panicking and sending the whole Scrivener folder into the Recycle bin or putting the printed copy into the furthest drawer, I sent it off to my favorite beta and most vocal supporter and decided to forget about it for a few weeks. Once she is done reading, she’ll come back to me with a long list of problems and some much needed praise, and I will try to make the story better.

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So while I wait on her to suffer through the murk of my first draft, I decided to come back to editing Of Broken Things, the very first novel I managed to write from beginning to end. I had finished the first draft in January 2014, had started editing it in March 2014 and hadn’t touched it since about July 2014. Back then, I managed to edit about half of the manuscript and got burned out. Considering that I had to rewrite about 80% of Part 1 and change almost everything, It was probably normal.

 

Anyway, I had put the manuscript aside and wrote a couple short stories, did my first revision / extension of Mists and then got busy with the NaNoWriMo project which became The Choices we Make. After I finished that one, I jumped into yet another revision of Mists, so I never got a chance to get back to Broken Things before.

 

Well, I can tell you that what I discovered when I opened that manuscript again after almost a year took me by surprise. The first thing I thought was “Holy s%$t, I can write better than this now!” And that was a very empowering thought, especially since I was feeling low after finishing my first draft of Mists. So that’s and observation I really wanted to share with my readers.

 

We spend so much time in our current project that sometimes we lack the perspective. First drafts can be soul-eating and draining. They look more like Quasimodo than Prince Charming, and we sometimes end up hating them by the time we are done. And we can start feeling like nothing we write is worth reading, that nothing is good enough. Worse, that we’re not improving, that we’re not moving forward.

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

What I discovered when I picked up Broken Things again is that it’s not true.  I have written a little over 200k words since the day I finished that manuscript, and I can see that they have made a difference. I have gotten better. I have grown more confident in my voice and my abilities as a storyteller and it shows. That doesn’t mean that this old manuscript is bad. It just means that I have a much better idea of how to improve it. And editing goes a lot faster than it used to!

 

So my advice to everyone who is feeling low at the moment; who feels like their craft is not improving – dig out an old manuscript of yours and re-read it. I guarantee that you will see the difference. You are improving with every word you write, with every story you finish, but sometimes you need a little perspective to see that.

 

Don’t give up. Keep writing. Finish what you started, even if it feels like you’re just smearing manure on the paper.

PS. If you are interested in checking Of Broken Things out, I am posting it on Wattpad.

Writing woes – the dreaded middle.

snoopy-writing

I have been diligently plugging away at the first draft of my new fantasy novel The Choices we make. I had started it as a NaNoWriMo 2014 project, but 50k words only took it to the middle of part 2, so I have been slowly adding words to it all December long. My goals is to finish it by January 15.

A week ago I have hit what I call the dreaded middle. It’s that state when you are already a long way away from the beginning of your story, where the idea was shiny and exciting and the characters spoke to you. But you are also equally away from the final resolution and those two wonderful words – THE END. You are in the middle, drudging through the mire of words with your final destination still miles away. That’s when I feel my motivation faltering.

When it happened for the first time while I was writing Of Broken Things, I panicked. I almost abandoned the story altogether. It felt like there was no point going on: my characters were flat and uninteresting, my story had plot holes so big you could fly a spaceship through, and I absolutely hated all the words I put on the page.

Good thing that I turned to the internet writing community before I tossed my unfinished draft out of the window. Because I discovered something both scary and reassuring. Yep, both at the same time.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

I have discovered that everyone experiences something similar somewhere during their first draft. Not exactly at the same place in the draft as I am though. Some stress out about the beginning, while their story is not yet fully formed and the characters not yet defined. Others hit that mire closer to the end when the story is almost done and the thought of wrapping it up neatly because daunting.

It’s scary because it means that no matter how many books you write or how successful you are, there will still be days, weeks, or even months, when you will absolutely hate your draft. Even if it goes to become a best-seller, there would have been a period when you felt like putting words on the page was equivalent to shoveling crap. And then it will happen again with the first draft of the next book, and the next, and the next…

But it’s also reassuring because Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, of John Scalzi go through the same pains and doubts time after time. That means that the draft you feel like tearing into tiny scraps might not be as horrible as you think, that this feeling is probably inherent to the creative process. I don’t know about you, but discovering that even successful writers have those doubts motivates me to keep going.

I hit exactly the same roadblock in the middle of The Choices we make, but this time I knew it would happen, so I didn’t panic and I didn’t let it deter me from writing. So even when the fatigue sets in, when the motivation hits the lowest mark ever, and I can suddenly come up with a thousand things I can do instead of writing, I force myself to put my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. I put words on the page. Maybe 400, maybe 600, or 1000 on a good day. I don’t look back, I don’t re-read. I press on.

As a result, I’m one chapter away from finishing Part 2, and I’m glad to say that the fog is finally lifting! I left the dreaded middle behind. I can see the road to the finish line. I feel excited and motivated about my book again!

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

So here is a question for my fellow writers. Do you experience the same symptoms during your first draft? When does it occur? The beginning? The middle? Closer to the end? Or more than once during the creative process? I want to hear from you!

NaNoWriMo – lock your inner editor in the basement.

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

Well, NaNoWriMo 2014 has now officially started. How did everyone do during their first full weekend of furious writing? Did the words flow out of your head and into the blank page or computer screen? Did you write until you felt like your head was on fire, your brain had turned to mush, and your fingers were bleeding? Or perhaps you stared at that blank page and felt overwhelmed by all the whiteness?

No matter what you have achieved this weekend, I’m sure you have realized something very important. Something that all the seasoned writers know, but that comes as an unpleasant surprise for all of us who decide to put our stories on paper for the first time.  I am speaking about the huge difference between the story that exists in our head and the result that gets put on paper.

I remember the first time I came face to face with this dichotomy. I had this important scene to write, and in my mind it was witty, well-written, full of good dialogue and tension – in other words, absolutely perfect. What I vomited on the page was absolute and utter crap… I was heartbroken. I was horrified. I was ready to press the delete button on the whole sorry excuse for a novel and go back to my day job.

But I did no such thing, and do you know why? Because first drafts are supposed to be bad. They are supposed to be full of typos, and ramblings, purple prose, and bad dialogue. In other words, like Ernest Hemingway said:

Hemingway

Yes, you heard it. Even the great masters of the written word have to struggle through a horrible first draft before they create a masterpiece. The trick to accomplishing that is to accept that your first draft will suck. In other words, you need to bind, gag, and lock your inner editor in the basement for the whole month of November (and maybe December and January as well) until your first draft is done.

That means every time you hear that little voice in the back of your mind telling you that your description sucks, that your dialogue is weak, that your plot is boring… tune it out, crank the music up, put earplugs in your ears, or shout, “La-la-la, can’t hear you!!!!” And keep writing.

Powering through your doubts and writer’s block is the only way you will get a finished draft to show for your efforts. It doesn’t matter if your first 3-4 chapters are a polished work of art if your story isn’t finished. As Kristen Lamb says, the world rewards finishers, not perfectionists.

Inner Editor

And if your inner editor is having a mental breakdown and sobbing uncontrollably in a dark corner of that basement, you can always tell her that she will have free reign over your work once the editing process starts. She will be free to take a chainsaw to your first draft and dismantle it at her heart’s desire. If you hate the scene you just wrote, keep a notebook handy and jot down the chapter and page number and a few words about what doesn’t work for you. Once you are done with your draft, you can use those notes during the editing process.

But for now, shhh, don’t listen to her, just write. Put one word on the page after another, no matter how bad does words seem. You can always edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.

So go on, wrimos, write your novels!