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!

Friday, December 19, 2014

#FlashFridayFootage: "A New Planet"

Happy Friday, folks! Hopefully many of you will get a chance to take a little break in the upcoming weeks. (I am using all of my PTO to take two days off so I can go back to Iowa! I think I must be crazy.) In any case, #FFF will be on a little break, but will be back in 2015 for more flashes of SFF for your weekend enjoyment.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Wanna Be A Novelist! (Throwback Thursday)

Okay, I'm not saying that this is going to be a regular thing, but I kinda had fun doing Throwback Thursday last week. So I decided to dig back into my archives for a prose sample. I like to see how far I've come over the past 14 years! Because, yes, this excerpt is from my very first novel that I ever wrote, when I was 13 years old. I don't think I knew the term "infodump" yet...
Richare and his wife, Gracia, lived together not far from where Rialana and Fred lived. Renla, Rialana’s sister, lived by Richare and Gracia. All of them were telepaths, and very nice people besides. Neither Fred nor Gracia were telekinetics, but that wasn’t unusual. Very few telkins (The common word for telekinetics. All of the Touched abilities had shortened names like that, which confused me for a while at first.) lived at Land’s Point. Of the two hundred Touched that lived at Land’s Points, there were 50 telkins, 42 telehealers, 26 telelemens (fire, earth, or ice), 18 telemeteors, 16 teleblocks, 4 telempaths, and 4 teleseers, and the other 40 were telpats only. It was rumored that once teleherins had existed, a twisted Touched ability that gave the power to completely control the bodies of others. Although it was just a rumor, it sent shivers down everyone’s spine to think of what a terrible power that would be.
This is from the second chapter of Novel 1, and I think this is actually a product of an edit/partial re-write I did in high school. So I somehow read this at least twice and thought it was okay!

After a brutal writing sample like that, I think I'll play it safe with the photo. Throwing it all the way back to Baby!Nora, who was totes adorbs. This is, appropriately, a December picture. The kitten's name was Russia, and she grew up alongside me for many happy years.

I don't think she was stealing my soul, here...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Virtue of Vice

Sitting down to write a blog post today, I had to blink at my screen and figure out what I wanted to write. Not because I didn’t have anything to say—on the contrary, I feel like I have too much! First, there’s a list of “Blog Post Ideas” on my Todoist for those times that I can’t come up with anything. Second, there’s the fact that I just finished editing Novel 7. Third, there’s finding out, 5 months into my boyfriend’s deployment, that it’s getting extended. Fourth, there’s the holidays coming up. Fifth—well, okay, you get the idea. I have a few things on my mind!

So I’m going to say screw all that and write a totally different post. Just something that I’ve been musing on lately.

We are subjected to a constant bombardment of advice and exhortations regarding our health. Exercise 30 minutes a day! Eat your weight in vegetables every week! Don’t drink! Okay, drink a glass of red wine, but other than that, don’t drink! Don’t slouch! Don’t sit! Don’t sleep too much or too little! And each of us, according to our ways, either ignores this or strives for it or, most likely, a little of both.

But what are we really chasing? A few extra years of life in some distant future? Looking better naked? Perhaps even, somewhat sheepishly, happiness? I don’t know. Somehow it’s all just considered self-evident. You should do this, because it’s good for you. The definition of “good” is left as an exercise for the reader.

Which brings us to me. I’d imagine that I am somewhat of a health professional’s dream. I do not smoke. I do not drink (usually—every couple of months, maybe). I do not consume caffeine. I exercise regularly. I count calories and watch what I eat. I floss and mouthwash every night and use an electric toothbrush twice a day. I take walking breaks during the day at work. I get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. I rarely wear makeup or use heat on my hair and wash my face twice a day and use anti-wrinkle cream at night.

But at some point, I began to wonder, why? This was brought to a point yesterday when I had a dental checkup and they found two cavities. Not me! I am diligent about my oral hygiene! They smiled and said it could be worse, and I made an appointment to give up my MLK day to fillings. And as I lay in bed last night, trying to fall asleep when I wasn’t particularly tired so that I could ensure I got my 8 hours, I wondered why I bother.

I am not, it must be said, a particularly happy person. Many of the things I listed above I do to help self-treat my depression, but it doesn’t really seem to be working. I don’t particularly want to live a long life, as the idea of 60 vs 63 more years seems small and, in either case, exhausting. Sure I want to be physically fit, but the world doesn’t end if I don’t maintain my 18.5 BMI. Maybe, just maybe, I would be a little happier if I let loose a little. If I stocked my fridge with wine or stayed up until 1 AM or drank my coffee caffeinated.

Maybe. But…I don’t really want to. So for now I’ll keep being my boring self. But because that’s me, not because I’m following someone else’s dictates. I like the way my mouth feels after a good flossing, whether or not I still end up with cavities.

And as much as we all receive life and health advice, so do writers receive writing advice. Constantly. Conflictingly. Write every day! Outline! Don’t outline! Butt in chair! Character worksheets! Discovery writing! You could go crazy trying to follow it all. So don’t! Find the pieces that work for you, but don’t be afraid to mix a little vice into your virtue. Maybe you write only one day a week, but it’s better writing than you’d produce every day. Maybe you make half an outline but pants the rest. At the end of the day, following all of the writing advice isn’t going to make you happy/a perfect writer/published/whatever. So you do you, writers. You do you.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I'm No Poet (Throwback Thursday)

In honor of Throwback Thursday (or #TBT, for you young hip folks out there), I decided to dig into the wasteland that is my “Archived Projects” folder. I unearthed this gem, dating back to a period in my life when I believed that all serious writers should write poetry. Erm, yeah. I don’t even like reading poetry! And “serious writer”—ha, that’s a label I don’t even want anymore (I’ve heard it comes with mandatory elbow patches and a penchant for cigarillos).

In any case, at least it’s good for a chuckle. I present to you the poetry stylings of HighSchool!Nora (not entirely sure, but I think I was 16):


Monotonous tick,
Somniferous tock.
I lay awake listening
To the click of the clock.

Hum of the crickets,
Chirp of the birds.
I lay awake listening
To a song without words.

Creak of the mattress,
Squeak of the sheets.
I lay awake listening
To the night’s restless beats.

And just to ensure the humiliation is total, an accompanying picture of the poet:

Okay, this is probably the least embarrassing photo of me at 16 in existence. I’m easing myself in to this…