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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

writing process

NaNoWriMo Summer Camp 2015




Go ahead. Call me an idiot. Label this as another failure of a 12-step Addiction Cure.  Call it a prime example of "drinking the Kool-Ade." I know I swore I would never do another one of these masochistic, self-hate inducing writing marathons. But here I am again, needing something -- anything -- to push me over the final hurdles to the end of Yankee Reconstructed

My goal for the book has always been to finish it at approximately 100,000 words.  At the moment, I have written 78, 704 words, which puts me at the 79% finished mark.  Only 21,296 to go, although you know (particularly if you're a writer) that I'll need more than that when I get to the editing and pruning stage of the manuscript.  The usual goal for a NaNoWriMo participant is 50,000 words, so I'm setting my own personal goals much lower than normal. If I manage to write 800 words a day for the month of July, the book will be "finished."

Can I do 800 words a day? Sure! Easy, provided I manage to get seat of pants into seat of chair every day.  But that's the problem, of course. It's summer and my office is hot and stuffy. There are other things I'd rather be doing. I'm treading some unfamiliar territory by the time I reach 1876, so  I need research breaks. I promised to work the Lions Fishing Rodeo on the 4th of July. A friend wants to meet for lunch. You've heard the excuses before and you'll hear them again. But somehow, I'm going to make myself do this.  And if all the silliness and hype of NaNoWriMo  helps me do it, GREAT!

Today and tomorrow will be preparation days. I've already been to the grocery store to stock up on Hershey's kisses, which will become my rewards.  I've laid in a supply of frozen lunch entrees so that I won't be tempted to go off on some wild cooking spree in the middle of my writing day. I've gone through the house and replenished supplies of toilet paper, kleenex, bottled water, toothpaste, cat food, stamps, printer cartridges, sticky notes, and colored pens. (Not taking any chances on being lured away by a desperate need for one of life's essential elements.)

I've cleaned the house (well, most of it!), tossed out some penicillin-producing left-overs, paid all the bills, pulled the weeds and dead blossoms off my little row of front porch planters, and poured this month's supply of baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water down the drains to make sure they don't clog up on me.

Tomorrow I'll tackle my writing office, blowing away the month's accumulation of cat fur, emptying the trash, picking up cat toys, finding all my vital reference books, and bringing my new July calendar up to date with the deadlines I've set myself.

What else do I need before the marathon starts? Well the NaNoWriMo camp counselors will be assigning me to my writers' cabin sometime in the next 16 hours, and I'll learn who my cabin mates (competitors) will be. These are the people I will report to each day as we strive to see who can get the most done.  The last time I did this, I ended up in a cabin full of silly teenagers writing werewolf fantasies, and they all got homesick and went home after the first week. This year I've asked to be assigned to a cabin of either  people my own age or other writers of historical fiction. We'll see what happens!

And you, dear readers, will also have a role too play. Feel free to cheer me on or nag me when I need it. Blog posts will keep you up to date on successes and failures. Off we go!

New Beginnings

In my mind, May Day has always meant a time to make a fresh start. Winter was finally over (except, perhaps in Colorado, where it snowed on my birthday every single year, putting an end to plans to drive to Denver for dinner or a show.). It was now safe -- and even wise -- to get your plants in the ground, so they could drink in the frequent showers and start growing in the sun before it became unbearably hot and dry. The school year was over, so there was free time to be filled with the things we enjoyed, like travel, and cookouts,  and books. 

And this year? Well it's certainly a time for a new beginning of my own. Time to accept the fact that I now live on my own and that my choices -- while in some ways more open than ever -- are limited in other ways by my new circumstances. So what am I doing? Well, yesterday's venture out to the Garden Center to create a small herb garden outside the front door was one step.
























I checked the plants first thing this morning, and they seem to have recovered from their transplant shock.

What else? The watch tells me I've stood up three times and burned 31 calories, along with taking 664 steps and covering a quarter of a mile's worth of house-straightening. Not much, but something. 

I'll also be planning a couple of trips -- not exactly solo ventures, but different enough to pull me out of my comfort zone and remind me that there's still a big world out there with delights to be discovered. More on those plans later, perhaps when they are over!

The rest of today will be devoted to pulling together a new chapter in my "work-in-progress." I've hit the exact middle of the story. Time to finish off Part I with an emotional crisis and a family shouting match -- and then a small pointer to Part II and the characters' various attempts to turn their upside down world back together again.

Cliffhangers Are Great Fun, Except . . .

This is a writing week. I think I may be suffering from NaNoWriMo withdrawal. Many of the writers I know are currently pounding out  "a novel in a month" by writing 1667 words every day for the thirty days in November. Now, I've done that, several times in fact. And I've won the darn challenge three times. Never mind that I didn't get any new novels out of the exercise. I did at least manage to write some half-decent chapters to fit into a work in progress, but I finally had to admit that (1) 50,000 words is not long enough for a novel; (2)it is impossible for me to write without editing as I go along, partially because I can't type the letter "t" to save my soul; and (3)a story written without taking time to think about what you are writing doesn't turn out to be a very good story.

So I quit doing NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago -- swore I'd never do it again. And I haven't, except that when November rolls around, I get this irresistible urge to pound the keys. So, that's the lead-in to the announcement that I have officially finished the first quarter of "Yankee Reconstructed." That's twelve chapters and approximately 25,000 words. Right on target, I have finished establishing a setting, a theme, and the main characters. I've set up the main character's goal and established what's at stake if he doesn't accomplish it. We have an inciting incident -- an unexpected event that changes everything -- and we've revealed the possible dangers that lie ahead.  In other words, my character is standing on the edge of a cliff. Time for a commercial break. We'll be back shortly.

Second Thoughts on the Writing Process

Last Thursday, I posted a diagram of the process of self-publishing.  Now it's time to break it down. The diagram started out with this group of chores at the top:


I am dissatisfied with it for several reasons.  First, I would move "Start Online Platform" to the very top of the list. It takes months, even years, to build a presence online.  Waiting until you have book written is much too late.  Yes, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts can be used to tell readers about  your book.  But the truth is, people are not going to be interested in your book unless they are also interested in you. If  you build up a list of followers because you have witty or interesting things to say, if you blog about your travels, your reading, your causes, you will attract others who care about the same things.  Then when you write your book, your readers will be waiting, money clutched in their hot little hands. That's what you want from an online platform.  So start TODAY!

Now let's look at "Format Book Template." Do  you even know what that means?  Do you have the computer skills to create a template that will produce the kind of book a publisher or a reader expects? Unless  you are very skilled or very experienced, I recommend letting the professionals do this for you.  There are all kinds of book-writing programs out there.  I am most familiar with Scrivener, a writing program for Apple users. It is roomy, intuitive, and easy to use.  When you open the application, it presents you with a series of formats -- short story, poetry, script, novel, non-fiction.  You make your choice and it gives you a bundle of pre-set pages for title page, chapter, etc.  All you have to do is start typing; it handles spacing, indents, font size, and a bunch of other things you didn't know you were supposed to worry about.  And when you are finished, it gives you more options. It can compile all your chapters and assign numbers to them.  It can produce the ugly plain double-spaced page that an agent or publisher expects.  Or it can allow you to transfer the basic manuscript to your own word processor to tweak the appearance until it's exactly what you want.  If  you don't own a MAC,  the Scrivener folks have now produced an application that runs on Windows.  I can't vouch for it because I've never used it. But there must be similar programs for other computers.  Anyone have recommendations?  I would be happy to pass them along.

Next comes "Finish First Draft." My objection here is that word finish.  It sounds like you're done, and nothing could be more misleading.  A first draft is great, but there better be other drafts -- lots of them.  I know there are "seat-of-the-pants" writers out there, just letting words fly onto the page.  The results are seldom pretty.  Writing is hard work, and I don't see that kind of warning here.  You will probably need to start with some sort of research, unless you are setting  your entire book in  your own back yard, which you can see from your desk. If you are setting  your book anywhere else, you'd better go there and take a look before you write.  And unless you are very talented, you need another kind of road map to follow --  an idea of what your book is about, a plot outline, a theme, a plan for story development, and an idea of where you want to start and where you want to end up.  Otherwise both you and your reader are likely to get lost.  I've just been working on my book-planning, but what I've learned will have to wait for a different post.  For now, just note that instead of "finish" this step should read "think, plan, write, and then rewrite. Rinse and repeat."

What about editing?  I've expounded on that before.  I've worked with editors and I've done my own editing.  Because of the expense involved, this is a decision that will depend on your own circumstances.  But for now, let's just be clear that one round of "editing" is not enough.  You need to read and re-read -- backwards and out loud to catch your own errors.  I went through the manuscript for Beyond All Price  fourteen times, and caught different errors on each go-round. Then you need readers -- lots of them.  And you don't want your best friend or your spouse, who is just going to say, "That's great, honey." Find some critics and listen to what they say.  Then, when you think the book is perfect, consider professional editing.  I'll guarantee you it will improve your product.


Oh, I Wish I Were (Still) an Oscar Meyer Pantser!

OK, it's January 7th -- time to get over the holiday excuses and get back to work.  Actually, I've done quite a bit of work over the past three weeks, provided it's fair to call thinking a form of work.  I've been mentally planning the next book, collecting scraps of information that I hope will fit somewhere, and trying out some new software designed to help writers.

Why haven't I just started to write?  Well, I'm in the process of making the shift from pantser to plotter.  Remember those terms?  In case you don't, a "pantser" just applies seat of pants to computer chair and starts writing, in the hope that a story will develop and take her places she didn't know she wanted to go.  A plotter studies story structure and maps out the characters, the problems, the challenges, the antagonistic forces, the crises and the resolutions, and then fits the story to the outline.

My previous books have been based on the real-life stories of people, so it has been fairly easy to be a pantser.  After all, when you're writing about someone who actually lived, you already know the problems, the crises, and the solutions.  You even have the order of events, so you can start at the beginning and tell the story that you already know.  

You can also rely on life itself to have done some of the work for you.  After all, most people live to suffer the consequences (good or bad) of their actions.  Everyone who lives grows old, or at least older, with all the accrued benefits that experience brings. Individual circumstances make your story  a tragedy or a comedy. The events of your story have some logic to them, even if they seem cruel or fantastic. In other words, the writer of biographical fiction does not have to have a high degree of creativity.  In fact, being too creative will spoil the story. I've had it easy.

This time, I'm trying my hand at real fiction -- that is, my new story is still set in the real world of South Carolina during the Civil War.  But in the new book, the characters are all fictional, except for a few historical figures like generals or Lincoln.  Oh, some of them have been inspired by real people I've read about, but each one's appearance, personality, challenges, and final outcome must come from my own imagination.  They must seem like real people, their fates must be logical, they must grow and develop -- but there's nothing to tell me what "really" happened.  I'm finding that both challenging and a bit frightening.

Never fear, however! The magical world of electronic devices is full of tricks to make this whole creativity thing easier.  I've been drawing mind maps, creating timelines, photo shopping and shopping for photos, filling out character sketches, and plotting map movements.  In the coming few days, I'll fill you in on which software programs I have found most useful.  Among them: Scrivener, Evernote, Dropbox ( my old standard programs), with the addition of Easy Timeline and Scapple. Stay tuned.