Some Betwixt the Books content for this week ABOUT writing, and how it is hard. Michaela and I are trying to support each other to keep writing, and we just recently bought some books to help aid us in that struggle. We also talk about our different creative processes, our struggles with editing and how to best tackle these issues together! We’re also in our pjs. We had a day off. Fight us.
I did it, guys! I did more work on my novel. Please bear with the camera lighting/technicalities for this one. My camera died this morning and I had to use Michaela’s, which was all sorts of interesting. However, if you bear with the weird sound in this video, there is a super cute surprise at the end. Like. Seriously. Super cute. Also, like, you know. I do novel stuff and talk about how I’m going to fix some of the weird tics in my first draft writing.
Thesis Thursdays is a weekly(ish) feature where I rant, love and talk about young adult books I’m reading because I’m conning my college into thinking this is all for academia! Find out more here!
For my last Thesis Thusday post (which was in October, hahahahaha), I titled it “Why I Signed Up for NaNoWriMo Even Though I Intend to Lose.” Then, just after midnight, in the first minutes of November 29th, I achieved this:
I DID IT I DID IT I DID IT HOLY MOLY HOT TAMALE I DID IT.
(For those of you who are confused, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, the challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November.)
So how, might you ask, did this happen? Last you knew, I’d run out of plot and had no idea what I was doing. Allow me to tell you the secret:
Seriously. You hear people say all the time that you should write every day. This sounds absurd. I know it usually does to me. I’m a finicky writer, and when left to my own devices I either write nothing or thousands of words in a day. There is no in between.
To illustrate my next point, allow me to share my words a day graph with you:
I think you can tell when I was in school, trying my hardest to keep up. When my Thanksgiving break started, I was only halfway there. I knew I either had to make the commitment to writing like crazy every day of vacation or let the effort die. As you can see from the last ten days of the graph, I chose writing every day.
This was the moment when I hit my groove. During school, when I had not let myself write every day, this project had been a slog. It felt jerky and unnatural. Once I started writing every day, however, I had so many eureka moments. My plot moved together better, and–most importantly–I discovered just what my conclusion is.
I don’t know where my novel would be right now if I hadn’t committed myself to NaNoWriMo. Even though I went into it expecting very little, I was able to find the kind of rhythm that I needed to get my novel into the green zone, where I know where I’m going. The conclusion is in sight.
I’m not saying that you have to write like it’s NaNoWriMo every day. I’m not saying that you’re a loser if you didn’t win. I am saying, however, that the spirit of NaNoWriMo is something that I’d forgotten, and something that I want to keep with me into December, until the book is done. Writing every day–even just a little–sometimes is just what you need to do, even if you don’t know what to write. Writing through that confusion can lead you to the best thing that you never expected.
Last semester, a friend of mine finally convinced me to get a Tumblr. (This is me. Seriously.)
What does that have to do with me writing? Well, it started off with me following a bunch of writing blogs on Tumblr. I’ve always been a really visual person, so the writing prompts with visuals and quotes really started to get me going. Also, stuff like this:
Hey all! I am finally back from Pennsylvania, and I CANNOT WAIT to tell you all about my last couple of days. For those of you who missed my post about the writing workshop I was just attending, it’s HERE. If you bear with this post, you will find live tweeted writing advice, a video of Tamora Pierce reading for Battle Magic AND a giveaway of a signed book!
In recap, for the past almost two weeks I spent days being lectured to by three amazing authors and one fantastic editor: Kij Johnson, Tamora Pierce, Catherynne Valente and John Joseph Adams. I also spent time writing and hanging out with 19 other fantastic writers in training, all between the ages of 14 and 20. It is like all the awesome in the world, packed into one.
Our first lecturer was Tamora Pierce, who is like the Alpha Writer-in-Residence. She is there every year, though the three other spots rotate. This year, she chose to live with us in the dorm and hang out the WHOLE TIME. I nearly died of happiness. Tammy was one author with whom I managed to get in some live tweeting, so here are all those tweets for those who missed it:
Tammy was fantastic, both in her lectures and in hanging out in general. At a Barnes and Noble reading, she also read from her yet-to-be-released book Battle Magic. Because I’m the best, I got a video of this for you guys. ^.^ Check out my youtube channel for more!
Kij Johnson was the second author guest we had. She was also the last person I got a large amount of live tweeting in on. Let’s just get that out of the way…
Like the other author guests, Kij was absolutely amazing. Her lecture about the levels a story should have with themes, motifs and symbols really got me thinking about my own writing. In some ways it was really hard to hear, but in others I think it was good to know that I have things I need to work on. We also got to hear Kij read her short stories Ponies and 27 Monkeys. She also signed my copy of her novel, Fudoki!
Cat Valente also lectured with serious levels of awesome. Her first lecture took place after some craziness: she had just flown in from Budapest! Talk about some serious jet lag, but she soldiered through it. During her second lecture, I was actually prevented from live tweeting because I was taking SPEED NOTES. She had this animated power point like thing that took us through all the levels of structure in a story and, well… I ran out of ways to bullet my notes trying to keep up with her diagram. She also read from her novel Deathless and signed my copy of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making!
John Joseph Adams was our last guest. This was a really awesome contrast, because JJA isn’t a writer, but an editor! He’s been called “The King of Anthologies” and also edits the online scifi/fantasy magazine “Lightspeed.” After a lot of lectures about the actual craft of writing, hearing about the world of writing and publishing–especially since the goal of Alpha is to submit something at the end!–was a great new topic and just as helpful. He also read a story, one not of his writing, from his latest anthology.
After all this time at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg campus, our merry band of writers moved on to a Doubletree hotel in Pittsburgh for a literary scifi/fantasy convention called Confluence. Though I did not actually attend many panels in lieu of spending time with all my new friends, the entire workshop did get its own hour Q&A with the Confluence guest of honor, Seanan McGuire (some of you may know her as author Mira Grant). Though I didn’t get any pictures or live tweet this, it was absolutely fantastic. Seanan is a GREAT person who is really funny and amazing to talk to. She also signed my copy of her novel Discount Armageddon!
My time at Alpha was amazing. Words cannot adequately describe it, and its entire purpose was to teach me to be a better writer. The friends I made there are awesome, and the things I learned I’ll keep forever. If YOU are a young writer in between the ages of 14-19, I BEG you to apply there next year. The deadline is March 1st.
Out of all this, I did manage to snag you guys something! A SIGNED copy of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cathrynne Valente! Don’t miss out! Click HERE to enter! Giveaway is US only.
Well, if you guys know anything about me, it’s that I’m always, always coming up with new ideas and writing too many books at once. (Right now, it’s four. I think. Are we counting thought processes?) Anyways, after a fifty billionth breakdown over “WHY I HAVE NO PLOT?” and “WHY THESE CHARACTERS NO WORK?” and “WHY IS THIS THE SUCK?” I finally called it quits. Not on writing, mind you. THINKING.
Yes, I’ve talked about this before, especially during NaNoWriMo. But this is a level even I’ve never reached before. As it turns out, this is the first book I’ve ever written where there is a certain time when I can write it: when I’m flat-out, drooling, giggly tired. Sound whacked out? Possibly. But I bet you’re jealous of all the fun I’m having.
If I were to read this WIP while
sane awake, I would know–as I know now in the back of my head–that this book is rather plotless. In fact, the entire beginning of the book doesn’t make any a lot of sense. Best part? At the moment, I don’t care. I introduce two new characters in situations where I can’t name drop without making it sound force, and in all seriousness they go through the chapter being called “Scaly-face” and “Gandalf Guy.” My MC is actually crazy enough to make that work for me, which is awesome. I’m not even 3 chapters or 10,000 words in yet, and she’s already referenced Disney, Pocahontas, the Wizard of Oz and the Lord of the Rings. She says things that I doubt are going to be funny to anyone but me. But I DON’T CARE.
Maybe this book will never be anything. That isn’t the point here. The point is that I’m fed up with taking writing so freaking seriously. This started as fun, didn’t it? So I want to keep it that way. Sometimes you just need to break away from your real, serious WIP and write something that makes you laugh at yourself. I think of it like a writing exercise–and also somewhere to store all those jokes that I think are hilarious but no one else seems to. The greatest thing is? My short attention span is actually remaining excited about this project. So at least if I’m not writing anything that will ever get me anywhere, I’m WRITING. And that’s the important thing.
And who knows? Maybe this’ll turn into something that is better than any WIP I’ve ever tried to think about!
Did you know that could HAPPEN? It’s a true fact, believe it or not. I just discovered this, roundabouts yesterday. Here I thought I was being so awesome–I was starting off the New Year the right way: writing. This short story just kept coming and coming until I’d sacrificed multiple hours and 11 pages of notebook paper to its altar. Then I went to read it. My face looked a lot like…this.
Only less yellow. Anyways…
Whether you’re really conscious of it or not, everyone has a writing style all their own. It’s something you do naturally, without thinking about it, because that’s just the way you write. You probably don’t even realize what the nuances of it are because you just do it. But let me tell you: when you depart from it, you know it.
I didn’t understand this story right after I wrote it and I still don’t understand it a day after I wrote it. It is so not me I don’t know what to do with it. It’s lack of coherency is probably another problem I have to fix… But the thing is, I know what it ISN’T: it isn’t what I normally write. And I’m not talking genre or characters or anything like that. I write fantasy all the time, my MCs tend to be girls–it was actually a story idea I started months ago but never finished. The rewrite yesterday turned into another beast entirely.
The thing about writing is that it’s a fluid craft. It changes when you change, and you change day-to-day. Your writing one day won’t be the same the next day, and it doesn’t always get better consistently either. You probably already know that the best writing comes when you’re in that “mood” that is really hard to find but always amazing to be in, as our friends from Calvin and Hobbs by Bill Watterson understand. And sometimes that creativity is just strange. Like this story I’ve got here. I’m going to need a decryption machine in Gibberish to understand just what’s going on. But you know what the funny thing is? I like it. I like it a lot. No, not the story. What the story represents.
Sometimes you start feeling like the way you write is tired and tried, but the problem is that you think you’re stuck with it. You think that this is the way that you write and, while you can learn to write better, it’ll always have that same flare to it. You started doing them because you thought it was cool, but now it’s like you’re stuck on them. I certainly thought I was. I had seven different stories started in my notebook, and I didn’t think I could write one of them well, so I just wasn’t writing. That is probably the worst thing you can do.
You know what, maybe it will take you all seven stories to get one paragraph of amazing writing. Maybe it’ll take you all seven stories to get a sentence. That’s okay. Just let out the words that want to come out and stop thinking about it. Yes, what comes out might make absolutely no sense, but that’s okay too. That’s nonsense you wrote. And maybe it’s less nonsense than you think.
Now, I know what you’re thinking? Right now, you’re frazzled writer’s brain has taken in this title and is screeching at me because WHAT DO YOU MEAN CALM DOWN WRITE WRITE WRITE WORD COUNT FRENZY GOGOGO! I’m not talking about that at all. I’m talking about how you shouldn’t be letting your expectations get the best of you.
NaNoWriMo is more like a sprint than anything else. Anyone will tell you, most NaNos end up being a lot of crap that takes months of editing to fix. (If you don’t think this, you are either the Writing God or far too overconfident for your own good, I hate to break it to you.) Nothing written this fast has a possibility of being perfect the way you’ve written it. Hell, nothing written EVER has the possibility of being perfect the first way you write it. Maybe parts, maybe sentences, maybe the idea in general is solid, but you can’t tell me you’ve ever written something and gone “Wow, this doesn’t need editing.” Because unless you are the Writing God, you are wrong.
Yesterday evening, I was minding myself, NaNoing away, when my father walked into my room utterly depressed. He was completely despondent about his NaNo. Nothing was coming out right, he said. He felt like there were critics sneering over his shoulder, mocking him. He could not understand why everything he was writing was coming out looking like utter crap no matter what he did. (Okay, my paraphrasing. I swear what he said was more elegant. Hi Daddy!) If you have ever written a paragraph, then you know that this is a feeling that often occurs. Sometimes, though, we tend to forget something else.
THIS IS NORMAL.
Just because the last thing you wrote was this short story or paragraph that completely blew your mind doesn’t mean this won’t happen again. Just because you’ve gotten used to long periods where the words won’t flow doesn’t mean that this won’t happen again. No matter how many instances you find where you feel like Shakespeare’s got a hold of your fingers, you will have two times wherein you feel like a wreck, a good for nothing and just plain trash.
NaNo is a very potent time for this to happen. Given that you’ve got this word count to meet, you basically give your soul to this novel for 30 days. Sometimes you’ll get these flashes, where you’re just writing and writing and you think, “THANK YOU WRITING GOD, FINALLY!” because everything is flowing out of your fingers and you understand your plot and everything is just BEAUTIFUL. Then, the next day, when you can’t recapture that feeling, you drop straight down into the depths of despair, crying and holding yourself because everything is over. Your novel, you realize, is crap. Even what you wrote yesterday is ridiculously horrible. You’re done as a writer, after this. And this is where it comes back to: CALM DOWN.
When my father came into my room yesterday, I took pity on him and read him the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter out of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If you have not read the excerpt or the book, I strongly suggest it. If you have, you may remember Lamott’s overall point: first drafts are SUPPOSED to be crap. No one is ever going to see it if you don’t let them, and no one has to. It may be horrible to feel like a complete writing failure, but just remind yourself you can fix it later. In some of my own delirious NaNo moments, I’ve written in red ink under the chapter headings of things I have to add or fix later. There’s nothing wrong with that. Even if this wasn’t NaNo, there’s NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.
In the moment, it’s hard to remember this–I know–but that’s why I’m here. Guys, its only NaNoWriMo. There will be months after this to edit and laugh at your sillier things. Overwrought descriptions and unneeded filler are really, truly par for the course in November. So add everything you want. Let your characters make fools of themselves all over the pages. Let yourself be a fool all over the pages. Really, that’s what NaNos all about. Just remember that there will be time to edit later. There will be time to care about grammar and spelling and plot continuity LATER. You aren’t alone, believe me.
Okay, I’m off my soapbox now. This has been your PSA to remember to not tear your hair out over those little editing things you can take care of later. Just hit your word count. That’s hard enough. (Oh, and don’t interrupt another NaNoer with your own woes. They will angrily blog about it later. …love you, Daddy dear!)
(Yes, I’m blogging during NaNoWriMo. So listen up, because these words are words I can’t count into my word count. :P)
Anyways! As previously discussed, NaNoWriMo is the time when EVERYTHING can happen. No matter if you wrote up 50 character sketches and a color coded outline before beginning or you just ran with it, no one is prepared for what NaNo can do to a story. Seriously, no one. It’s only day five, guys, so don’t think that because this hasn’t happened to you yet that it won’t. Because it will.
I write…fast. My friends will tell you that this is an understatement, but I’m just going to stick with fast. That means that I’m already at 12-something thousand. For the first time in my NaNo history, I went into NaNo with an outline and a pretty good idea on who my character was. After all, this is the 3rd book in my Mind Evolution series I’m writing here. I was probably one of the most in-tune with a character around the NaNo-world. But, guess what?
NaNo got to my character.
None of what I just wrote out was supposed to happen. My MC was supposed to be my innocent one. Girly. Possibly kind of airy. Funny like that. AND THEN SHE UP AND KILLED SOMEONE.
Character sketch? No good. And then the sweating starts, because I’m thinking, “MYPLOTMYPLOTMYPLOOOOT!” 5 days into NaNo isn’t a good time to be trashing that already, even at 12.5 k. Plus, I hate writing them and I’ve got a series to further, here. This is how it HAD TO GO. But with NaNo, there isn’t time to go back and fix it, so I had to move on. And do you know what?
I realized that what had happened WORKED. Believe it or not. I couldn’t myself, not at first.
As it turns out, my MC knew what was happening to her better than I did after character sketches, plots–the whole nine yards. With one action that I believed to be completely beyond her, she added layers to my plot and deepened some of the most serious plot points of her story. My plot before was good. Now, it was better. All because my character had apparently gotten out of character, and I had allowed myself to run with it.
Whether you’re doing NaNo or not, there’s something to be learned from this. There is a difference between events that happen that are out of character. Some writers think that they know their character so well or they’re so attached to their plot that the characters can’t make up their own minds. Some people might have backspaced my MC killing this person and let her be the damsel in distress she was supposed to be. I probably would have, if I had the time. But the thing is, when you’re writing, you’re telling this character’s story. This is their life. If something just all the sudden happens that just seems totally out of character, maybe–just maybe–it actually isn’t. I’m not saying, of course, to let everything fly. Some things you write that you just know aren’t right. But for just a second before you hit backspace, think about it. Experiment and see where it takes you. It might not follow your plot or be in character, but it still might be the best thing that ever happened to your story.
It’s November. To any normal person, it is a dreary month, a boring month, that month before the month that brings holidays and the New Year. If you are me and a bunch of other writers worldwide, November is none of those things.
November is National Novel Writing Month.
If you are unfamiliar with the event (or as it is commonly called, NaNoWriMo), then you should know that it is basically a challenge in the month of November to write a 50,000 word novel. Beneath that, it is so much more.
As writers, we’re so caught up in making our writing perfect. Some of us are such perfectionists that we can’t even finish a piece because we get stuck trying to edit it before we write THE END. We work laboriously, trying to come up with something that maybe—just maybe—doesn’t suck. Nine times out of ten, we can’t help but disappoint ourselves. After all, the second you start thinking you’re the next Shakespeare is the second you need to find a new hobby.
NaNoWriMo is a time to throw all that out the window. If you work like a perfectionist, you’ll never be done in time. Nothing irks a perfectionist like not winning, right? Everybody can be a winner if they try hard enough. However, winning requires that you stop caring about quality writing. You stop caring about discrepancies, clichés and even spelling sometimes. You have to learn how to stare into the eyes of writer’s block, because you literally don’t have time for that. You need to be able to kill off a character just to get things moving, or yank the story in another direction because your plot just isn’t working. The challenge of NaNoWriMo goes far beyond just finishing.
Have I scared you? I hope not. Everything I just outlined above might just possibly be some of the best writing lessons you ever learn. Mostly because, above all other things, NaNoWriMo is fun. You push yourself, you push your characters and you have a blast. NaNoWriMo isn’t a thing you have to do, but I certainly recommend it. Don’t worry about if what you’re writing is sucking. It probably will be. Everybody’s will be. And it’s going to be amazing.