Monday, May 4, 2015

Case of the Mondays

Some days are harder than others.

This morning the alarm went off and I groaned. I can’t face today. I just want to sleep forever. But instead I roll over and shuffle to the bathroom. I brush my teeth in a Monday morning fog and sit down at my computer with a sense of dread. But I am here. I am doing it. The words trickle out—it’s a slow morning for me, not even 600 words, but I did it. I sat here for my morning writing session and did what I could. That’s a victory. My Monday is already looking up.

The feeling doesn’t last. I scan my query list. Outstanding queries waiting to be closed for no response. An ever-dwindling number of agents left to query. The palpable feeling of failure that accompanies yet another soon-to-be-trunked novel. I really liked this one, but no one else does. Why? No idea. I haven’t netted a single non-form rejection that would give me any insight.

The worst part—the thing that makes me want to cry into my afternoon tea—is that I am doing everything I can. I quite honestly have no idea what else to do. It is the thing I want most in my life, one of the very few things that I have any ambition about at all, and I am floundering. “The secret to getting published is writing a great novel,” people advise. I envision them nodding sagely to each other behind publishing contracts. I fucking know that. I’m doing my best. I write a novel and edit it and love it and then trunk it and try again. I kill my darlings and write new darlings, I practice my writing and buff up on my comma placement and sentence structure. I take it very seriously. I read books and articles on craft and the writing business. I pore over agent details, trying to concoct that perfect line of personalization that will make them spend more than .4 seconds on my query.

None of it works.

So where do I go from here? What else is there to do? I’m getting a worse response for novel 7 than novel 6. I could hardly be said to be improving in any meaningful sense of the word. I am willing to do things, but I don’t know what things to do. My options are to give up, which makes me a quitter and guarantees I will never achieve that dream, or to keep doing this, which is the definition of insanity.

Friday, May 1, 2015

If You Want Change, Change It Up!

My most productive writing month ever was July 2014. My boyfriend was on deployment, and I was unemployed. It was basically a glimpse of what life could be like as a full-time writer, and it was awesome—I wrote 24,172 words! (Okay, boyfriend being gone sucked, but it did make for a lot of free time.) It was no surprise that my productivity tapered off as I started a new job in August, but I did still manage to finish and edit novel 7. It was back to normal for juggling writing with a lot of other priorities.

And so it remained. August 2014: 8165 words. September 2014: 1374 words. October 2014: 4124 words. November 2014: 10,286 words. December 2014: 4484 words. January 2015: 5129 words. February 2015: 127 words. March 2015: 9629 words. April 2015: 23,459 words.

Wait, what?

How did I manage my #2 most productive month ever while working full time, spending time with my boyfriend, going back to school for accounting, bonding a pair of stubborn bunnies, and training for a half-marathon? I briefly touched on this in my last post, but now with more data under my belt I want to re-emphasize it.

First of all, I started writing a new manuscript, which obviously is going to boost word count. Writing short stories and editing just don’t produce as much raw new words. Secondly, productivity breeds productivity. Having to actually think about what is most important and how I am going to manage things can lead to a lot more work getting done then when I know I have plenty of time to do it, which I then fritter away. But the biggest source of this productivity surge was a schedule change.

I am not a morning person. Really. Given my way, I’d stay up until 3 AM every night and wake up at my leisure. Sadly, no one seems to want to give me my way in all things. Until I win the lottery or retire or decide to drop off the grid, I am chained in part to the rat race. And it’s exhausting. My day job schedule is approximately 7:30 - 4:30 with a 15-minute commute on each end. It leaves plenty of time in the evenings, but it doesn’t leave plenty of energy in the evenings. I would come home, get through my workout, scrounge some sort of dinner, and collapse into my couch-potato spot until bedtime (about 10:30). I would kick myself for wasting those 2-3 hours. Plenty of time for writing, Nora! You’re just lazy!

Okay, well maybe I am. But I was just expecting too much of myself. So I decided—what if I got my writing done before my soul was sucked away at my day job? Since I can’t stay up all night anyway, does it matter if I have to go to bed at 10 PM instead of 11 PM? Is getting up at 6 AM any worse than getting up at 7 AM? I figured I would give it a try.

And I’m still trying it! Since I started this, I have missed only ONE day of my pre-work writing. No matter how much I hate it when my alarm goes off, no matter how much I think “I can’t do this,” I force my sorry ass out of bed and into my desk chair. And then I write. I focus on time, not output. It works out to ~45 minutes of writing, or usually 900-1000 words. Five days a week. That is easily 20k words a month, not including any bonus sessions I do on weekend. That’s a first draft in four months! Considering the first draft of novel 6 took me, oh, almost two years, I would call that a success. (Novel 7 took much less time, but was also only 42k long in its first draft, so not very comparable.)

Unprecedented pace of writing for me.

I honestly never thought that writing in the morning would work for a night owl like me. But identifying an obstacle (lack of motivation to write after work), implementing a trial solution (getting up earlier to write before work), and observing the results (33k words into novel 8) is never a bad idea. And if it comes to a point that this isn’t working for me, I’ll try something else. But just trying to do the same old thing and berating myself for failing at it was a terrible strategy. Don’t do it!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Post-Hiatus Hello

Welcome back! No, not to you, to me!

It’s been a little bit since I’ve blogged. I make no apology, since it was an entirely planned absence on my part. My boyfriend returned from his extended deployment two months ago, and I wanted to spend time focusing on reintegrating him into my life and processing the general change and upheaval that accompanies such a time period. I enjoy blogging, but it’s not my number one priority. Oh, and we went to Guatemala for a couple weeks, which throws one’s schedule quite off kilter!

It was awesome.

But now that things have settled into more of a routine, I have some time to start looking back at my Todoist list of “Blog Post Ideas”. I’m not sure what is coming next—probably a (belated) fun-with-numbers look at the books I read in 2014. What can I say, I crave making graphs.

Anyway, besides blogging, I have a lot going on right now. I still want to spend basically every moment possible with my boyfriend. Turns out I kind of love the guy. Unfortunately/fortunately, he works a lot more than I do and has to stay on his boat for duty every few days, so I still have time to chase after my own pursuits. And oh boy am I chasing!

Right now I am getting up at 6 AM every day to write for ~45 minutes before I go to work. A small change, in some ways, but also a HUGE one. My productivity has gone way up, and I’m already 18,000 words (!) into my newest manuscript, novel 8. That’s just since March 23! I am still researching agents and querying novel 7, which takes a fair bit of time and mental energy (oh the rejections). I am training for a half-marathon, so when I get home from work (around 4:30 PM generally), I work out, plus a long run on Sundays. I just started taking a night class in accounting one night a week (contemplating changing day jobs), which means 3.5 hours on Tuesdays and then doing homework sometime during the rest of the week. And that’s just the basics—on top of that I have all the usual stuff of tending my home and my bunny, cooking, reading, running errands, etc.

But it feels great! Productivity breeds productivity, or so they say. Or if they don’t, they should. I definitely say it! I can’t promise I’ll be able to fit in a weekly blog post, but I do enjoy blogging and so it will stay on my to-do list. Unfortunately, I can’t say when I’ll be able to bring back #FlashFridayFootage. It’s something I have a lot of fun doing, but it takes a lot of time and there isn’t something else I’m willing to take off my plate right now in its place.

I hope everyone else’s spring has been going well! May the flowers be blooming or whatever happens in places that have seasons. =)

I waited 7 months for that kiss...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Critique Blog Hop!

So as I recently finished up novel 7, I've been getting into the exciting/nerve-wracking stage of submitting it! Oh, the joys of querying. Anyway, I've had zero success in two contests now and so far no positive responses from the first batch of queries. It's enough to make a writer want to crawl into a hole and say "Sorry for bothering." But that's not me! So instead I am joining the Critique Blog Hop hosted as a follow-on to the Sun vs. Snow contest. If you would like to participate, follow the link--you submit your entry and crit 10 other entries. Or if you would just like to offer any feedback to me here, I am always looking for ways to improve! And with no further ado, I present to you my novel 7!
Short pitch:
A jaded god has to beat his ennui in order to save his family, his people, and his home from a roving gang of displaced gods.
Being a god is a decent gig, but Vassyr can only spend so many centuries seducing mortal women and antagonizing his older sister. So when he discovers a way off their world, he doesn't stop for half a second to listen to her objections. Sure, she says he owes the mortals something and should be doing more, but Vassyr knows she loves doing it all herself. He simply can't listen to one more prayer from some farmer's son dying to become a hero.

In the face of an alluring array of new worlds to explore, it's easy to forget about the tedious responsibilities and family he abandoned. But although Vassyr is four thousand years old, he's no better than a naïve mortal out in the wider universe. When he carelessly insults a roving gang of displaced gods, he becomes a casualty of their desperate search for a new home. Worse, he reveals the location of his world.

Vassyr's home may have seemed stifling to him, but to these gods, it is a target ripe for annexation—and they don't care who is killed in the process. As his world is ravaged in the battle between his family and the interlopers, Vassyr realizes that being a god comes with some real responsibilities after all. He has to find a way to protect the mortals, convince his sister to trust him again, and send the trespassers packing while there is still a home left to save.
First 250 words:
Vassyr hit the mortal with a thick chunk of air. Not hard—he was just after a bit of fun, not punishment. The mortal rubbed the back of his head and looked around the common room, frowning. Vassyr had to bite on the knuckles of his left hand to stifle a giggle. He could almost hear his sister's scolding that giggles weren't godlike, but he didn't give a shit about that. But if the mortals heard laughter from an apparently empty chair, they'd probably declare the place haunted and take to their heels. Idiots. Not that it wouldn't be amusing, but that wasn't his plan. He used his free hand to send another swat of air sailing through the tavern.

"Who was that?" roared a big beast of a man. He pushed his chair back, spilling his ale in an amber pool.

No one answered, or even dared to meet the man's eye. Trying to save their skins, no doubt—cowards, the lot of them. What else could one expect of mortals? Vassyr bit his lip and made another flick. A man sitting two tables away sprang to his feet, one hand clasping the back of his neck. A dagger was already unsheathed in his other hand.

"What do you mean by that?"

Vassyr flicked again, and now he was able to let his laughter loose. There was more than enough noise to mask it. The big man had picked up an entire bench and was waving it around rather indiscriminately, and the brawl was inevitable from there.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Life-Cycle of a Nora Novel

Okay, maybe a Nora novel isn't an officially recognized category—yet!

In any case, I have a pretty methodical way that I go about writing a novel, refined over several manuscripts. So I thought I would share that method in case it is helpful and/or interesting for anyone else!

The video describes it pretty well, but I thought I would also include a short summary here, in case you don't want to watch me blabber for 11 minutes. Or are at work, not that any of us would be thinking about writing at our day jobs!

The ideas for my novels usually get entered into my ideas notebook long before I start writing or even planning them. It's an outlet for all those plot monkeys that demand to be written while I'm trying to finish something else. There are all kind of random things in my notebook, ranging from snippets of dialogues to character sketches and title ideas. For example:
A long stretch of moonlit road. Dry grasslands as far as the eye can see. A lone horse rider, the clop of hooves a slow staccato, the rider slumped in the saddle. A faint wind stirs dust along the road.
This is written in my notebook with zero context. Just an image I had one day a few years ago. Anyway, I take one of these ideas that I want to work on, and I start to brainstorm. I like to do the one sentence premise -> paragraph -> plot summary progression. Then I write an outline. An honest-to-goodness, I.A.i.a. outline. From that outline, I create an Excel spreadsheet scene list. Here is where I plan out the details of the timeline, the POV, who is where, and what happens.

Then I write!

For the most part, I stick to that scene list. I guess that may seem boring to some, but for me, I like the structure it provides. It's like a checklist—butt in chair, write this scene. If I get wild inspiration, I'll pause to work it in, but that just isn't the way I normally work. Eventually, voila! A draft!

The revision process is pretty simple. Read through it, take notes. Create a new Excel sheet and, from those notes, come up with a revision plan checklist. Copy the scene list and modify it as needed to accommodate the changes. Then go back and make all the edits! X them off as I go, so I get to see my Excel percentage go up. Rinse and repeat until it feels done. Somewhere in there, try to get feedback from beta readers to incorporate into the revision notes.

Once I'm happy with it, write a query and a synopsis, and begin sending it out! At this point, the novel is basically done. If I get a partial or full request (very rarely...), I don't go back and re-read or edit, I just send what I have. Only if I am having a really bad response do I then go back and maybe do another edit.

So that's it! That's as far as it goes for me, for now. Someday I hope I will have to worry about agent edits and editor edits and all that fun stuff, but that's a future!Nora problem. Right-now-Nora needs to worry about writing that damn synopsis for Novel 7 and picking out an idea to flesh out for Novel 8...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Writing Tool Review: WikidPad

I want to take a break from navel-gazing (an occupational hazard, I swear) to offer something a little more concrete and useful.
There are a million tools for writers out there. For the most part, I ignore them. People chatter about Scrivener, but I plug away at my drafts in Word, crafting Excel spreadsheets that lay out detailed plans for scenes and stricter (and yes, that’s before writing—I’m very far on the “outlining” side of the spectrum!). I sign up for Novlr and then don’t even use it (I do plan to, for my next novel). I once had a brief flirtation with yWriter that lasted about one chapter of a now-defunct manuscript (novel 2). I read posts about the Hemingway app or distraction-free writing apps, but then I click the X and continue in my ways.
It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with the use of these tools. Writing can be painful as hell and whatever helps that process is a good thing. I am not a Luddite who insists that truly great novels must be written by quill via the light of a kerosene lamp, because seriously, fuck those people. Just someone who is loath to mess with their own system—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you might say.
But as much as I love my Word/Excel setup, I haven’t enjoyed the way I keep track of relevant information for my novels. I do some world-building before writing, sketching out details that are important to the plot and characters, usually in my catch-all writing notebook. But once I start writing, I constantly have to expand that, and I don’t usually have that notebook with me. My system for that was a notepad text document, adding random details as they come up. Inefficient and definitely open for improvement!
I cannot remember who originally brought this to my attention, only that it was mentioned in passing on some thread or another on Absolute Write. And it stuck with me, that mention, because it sounded like a potential solution for my world-building problem. I wrote down the name on my to-do list and eventually got around to checking it out: WikidPad.
WikidPad is a free, open source wiki software. Basically it is a digital notebook where I can jot down ideas and—very importantly—link those ideas together with merely a keystroke. It is easy to install and use, at least on a basic level. I am sure there is functionality that I’m not using, but it works for what I use it for. Every character gets a page, linked to the other characters they are related to, linked to their homes or groups, linked to whatever ideas I want. I can store facts about world-building locations or weird quirks about monetary systems. It’s searchable and sortable. And it’s not an online tool, so once you download and install it, you can work offline.
There are likely dozens of equivalent tools out there. I haven’t really looked into it, to be honest. I stumbled across this one, and it works for me. So I thought I would share this little gem, just in case it fills a niche for you too!
Screenshot of my wiki for novel 7.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Wrap-Up: Another Year In Review

Well, well, well, 2015. Here we are. Together at last--or already? It's hard to say for sure, because on the one hand, holy shit it's 2015. But on the other, 2014 was eons long!
It was definitely a big year for me, both in terms of my personal life and my writing.
In February, I applied for the Clarion Workshop. I didn't get in, but even trying was a big step towards being more serious about my writing. In May, I put on my Navy uniform for the last time, closing out a very big chapter of my life. I also finished novel 6 that month. I participated in my first Twitter contest in June. In July, I launched my #FlashFridayFootage series, which has had 10 entries so far. I tried my hand at #PitchWars in August, which was a ton of fun even though I didn't make it. And I started, finished, and did one edit of novel 7 in less than 6 months, an accomplishment I would have thought unbelievable before.
Not to mention that my boyfriend went on his first deployment in July (which he is still on, omg kill me), moving to a new apartment by myself, acquiring first one pet rabbit and then another, I got a new job as a civilian, lost 12 pounds, got braces--yeah, 2014 was a kind of crazy year!!
Here is what I wrote in January:
Looking forward into 2014, I hope to average at least 100 words every day, with 40k as my goal for the year. I hope to write at least 129 days this year (a 50% increase over last year's goal). And, most importantly, I want to sell or be close to selling novel 6 by the end of year. I plan to be done with my re-writing and editing by the end of April, and I think that gives me some time to get some serious eyes on it and some offers. Is 2014 going to be the year? We shall see...
So how did that all turn out? Really not too bad, actually! I wrote 73,526 new words last year (not to mention editing 2 manuscripts). I only had 93 writing days, but a lot of that was due to breaks between major revisions, so I won't castigate myself too much. And no, I'm not anywhere near selling novel 6. In fact, I'm close to giving up on novel 6. But I did give it my best shot. I sent out over 50 queries last year, participated in writing contests, and am still persevering through what is a very long and painful process. So maybe 2014 wasn't "the year", but it was a year, and a damn good one in terms of writing.

Now--2015. What have we got here? Well, I don't want to plan to write too much, as my focus will probably be on editing and refining novels 6 and 7. But I'll probably get cooking on novel 8 at some point (or revisit any of novels 1-5), so I'll aim for 60k words. I also want to write a bit more consistently, including more short fiction, so I'll stick with the 129 writing days goal and hopefully land it this year. And I can't say that this will be the Year of The Call, so I'll just say that I hope to continue querying novel 6 (up to at least 100) and begin querying novel 7 (up to 50).

So cheers and good riddance to 2014--bring it on, 2015!