Sunday, November 27, 2011

NaNoWriMo Wrapup

Awwww, yeah.

So this month was a definite success, not just because I managed to crank out 50,000 words. That's the underlying goal, and that final wordcount is what gets you the Purple Bar of Success on the NaNoWriMo site and all the winners' goodies. (Like the chance to buy a t-shirt, which of course I did.  Also a coffee mug - don't judge me!)  But I've won before, so I knew already that I had it in me to finish.  So I measured this month's success in other ways.

The most important thing I figured out this month is when I write. When I started dedicating every spare moment I had to laying down words on the page, I noticed the times I was the most efficient at it.  I set my alarm clock a half-hour earlier, so I could get all the morning crap out of the way - feeding pets, getting ready for work - and give myself a good few minutes to peck at my draft.  I brought my netbook to work and wrote a few paragraphs at lunchtime.  I added to my wordcount a little here and there while cruising Facebook at night.  But I found that I really cranked story out on weekend mornings.

I'm not sure why it took NaNoWriMo for me to figure this out.  I'm a natural early riser - usually up by 7:30 or 8 without an alarm.  The rest of the house sleeps until at least 10:30 or so.  So I discovered that, by getting up at 7:30, putting on some coffee and getting my useless-internet time out of the way, I had a good two hours of solid, uninterrupted writing time.  It was gorgeous.  I was having 5,000 word days on the weekends, jump-started by that Saturday morning writing burst.  Progress led to more progress - I'd take a break to, say, clean the kitchen or fold a load of laundry, but still be writing in my head, so I could go back and type some more later.

My other main achievement is that, not only did I hit that 50,000 word mark, I finished.  That didn't happen the other time I won in 2009.  Then, I crossed the finish line, wrote a little more, then put it aside.  I like the story so I'm still working on it, still trying to finish it up.  This year, I had a romance story in mind.  One that's actually been in my head for 20 years or more, ever since I fell in love with Soviet rock music in the 1980s.  I had the beginning, middle and end in my head, so on November 1 I just dove in and started typing.  I crossed the 50K line on November 24 and kept writing, finishing up the story on the 26th with close to 56,000 words.  And now I have a complete novel.  I mean, it's crap, of course - it's a NaNo draft.  But with so many unfinished drafts on my hard drive, to have something complete is a big deal for me.

There were other NaNo victories among my friends, other than the "finishing" variety.  One friend didn't get much written, but realized that she wanted to make writing a priority, so she set up a dedicated writing space in her room.  Another friend started with a story that had been tickling her brain and decided a few thousand words in that she didn't love it that much after all.  But another story that she had temporarily set aside started whispering in her ear, insisting that it be written instead.

In closing, do you want to hear a really pretty song in Russian, that I've been listening to all month?  Of course you do.

("Muzyka Pod Snegom," or "Music Under the Snow" by Mashina Vremeni [Time Machine])

I'm going to have to start weaning myself off this stuff, and go back to listening to songs whose lyrics I can understand without Google Translate.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Better Than I'd Hoped

There's a section of the NaNoWriMo forums titled "This is Going Better Than I'd Hoped," a place for people to crow about their (often unexpected) success in this crazy 30-day project.  And I hate to say it without jinxing anything, but that's how I feel right now.

I admit, I felt a little guilty at first for participating this year.  I have a novel I'm trying to finish, and to completely ditch it to write something new felt like stalling.  I should know, because I do plenty of that.  But I started writing something completely different - something just for me, without any kind of publication aspirations - and I've been typing like crazy.  I realized on day 2 or so that this was just what I needed.  I hadn't "just written" in a long time.  The past six months or so I've been working on The Main WIP, which was a NaNovel I wrote in 2009, adding bits, taking bits out, and generally turning it into a readable first draft.  But I had hit a bit of a wall lately, and it hit me that my stalling point was at a section that had to be created out of whole cloth.  It had been outlined, but none of it had gone down on paper yet.  And I hadn't "just written" in a long time.  The Inner Editor had come back and set up camp, and I'd forgotten how to just slam words onto paper and edit later.

So, only 5 days in, I'm calling this a success.  Not just for the month - even though I've got a good cushion on my word count and I really think I'm going to win this thing - but for my writing in general.  Come December 1, I'm going to jump back into The Main WIP and finish it.  I'm pumped now.

But first, back to Cheesy Russian Rockstar Romance.  Because for 25 more days, that's my focus.  Even if it never sees the light of day.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


My favorite time of year approaches... National Novel Writing Month!

I'll admit, it took me a while to get into NaNoWriMo.  I've got a couple of false starts, a few failures and one success under my belt so far.  50,000 words in 30 days works out to 1,667 words per day.  That may not sound like much, but it really is.  Especially when combined with a full-time job and a life that involves things like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking dinner and doing dishes.  Not to mention taking care of a houseful of pets.  And a bum shoulder that starts aching if you sit at the keyboard for any length of time, whine whine whine.

But some of my best writing has come from NaNo.  I used the time in 2005 to shape the beginning of a contemporary romance set in the theatre industry, and even though I didn't win, I've worked on it since, and I'd say there's about 2/3 of a pretty decent story there that I really am going to finish at some point.  I think I only hit about 20K words that year because of my crappy shoulder.

I didn't play again until 2009, when a random idea on November 2 had me signing up and writing.  That was the first time I had ever "pantsed" a story, i.e. by the seat of my pants without an outline, just put fingers to keyboard with no idea where I was going.  And yeah, a lot of crap came out.  My favorite was when I was in the middle of writing this long involved scene with characters I knew were never going to figure into the story as a whole, I just had my main character get up and leave the room, and go to where the story should be.  But then, around 10,000 words or so, I knew where it was all going, and then the writing was exhilarating.  Kind of like when you're driving aimlessly in your car down side street after side street, then you find that one stoplight that you know is going to lead you back to the highway and civilization.  That rush of adrenaline-fueled relief.  Yeah.  Pantsing is like that.

My 2009 NaNovel is what I'm currently rewriting into something I'd like to try to sell.  More about it in subsequent posts, I'm sure.

This year is for fun.  Just a silly romance that I have held in my head for a long time that I want to get down on paper for no good reason.  It's not to sell, it's not even really for anyone to read but me.  Writing as recreation.  Like musicians at a jam session.

So I'm in.  My username over there is jengee, if anyone out there wants to add me as a writing buddy or just point and laugh at my progress.  Just a couple more days till the madness starts!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

Ugh.  Haven't been feeling the writing lately.  I want to.  Sometimes the characters and the scenes do that awesome thing where they come to me just as I'm falling asleep, or when I'm driving or taking a shower, and say and do these amazingly clever things that I try to remember until I can get to a pen or a keyboard and take them down.  We know how that always ends, right?  I've also had some Life getting in the way: a wedding out of state where I had my credit cards stolen and then got a head cold.  So, lots of excuses not to write.  And who's going to notice, really?  Writing's a solitary gig.  Who cares if I don't get it done?

Then, Julia Quinn shared this story the other day on her Facebook page from romance writer Elizabeth Boyle, a writer I'm afraid I'm not familiar with.  It's about her first sale, and the lengths that she, and more importantly her husband, went through to get her manuscript where it needed to be.  I don't want to say anything more specific than that, because I really want you to read the story and I think giving you the rundown of it here would diminish some of the impact.  I'm a cynical bitch, and I was crying all over my smartphone when I read it Monday.  So just go read it.  I'll wait.

Anyway, at the end, her husband says "Don't ever say I don't support your writing!"  And Boyle ends the article And I never will.  Awwww.

It got me thinking, largely about how writers, especially those of us who have yet to drop the "aspiring" prefix, really write in a vacuum.  There's no publication contract, no agent, no NOBODY pressuring you to get it done, so it's really all on you to write.  It can be kind of liberating, but it can also get really lonely.  And it can be easy to put the writing aside, because Real Life is in the way.  It's not bringing money into the house, there's no fame and fortune in it, so it's not really worth any extra effort.  Not from you, and especially not from anyone around you. (Can you tell I've really been feeling like this lately?)

It's easy to get into that mindset, and fall into the trap of thinking that I'm in this alone.  But I'm not.  Much like the excellent Mr. Boyle, my husband is there for me.  He shoveled out the third bedroom in our house (the designated storage room crammed with stuff) and carved out a writing space for me in there.  He talked me into getting myself a comfortable laptop to write on (so my manhands aren't always cramped over my wee netbook) and a nice chair to sit in.  (I have a hard time justifying purchases for myself, so his help was necessary here.)  He reminds me every so often that I haven't finished my book yet, and I really should get to work on it.

I'm so not alone.  I have such a good friend and cheerleader in Vivien Jackson, who, despite her own crazy busy life, drops what she's doing to read my incoherent drafts and tells me that they're awesome, even though since they're at the Shitty First Draft stage I know they're anything but.

So, to the two or three people out there who have read my blog, think about it.  Think about those people in your life who love and support what you do, even if they don't go to Mr. Boyle-size lengths to show it.  Let that keep you going when you don't really feel like it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Winking

Do people still wink these days?  Apart from maybe Sarah Palin during the VP debates in 2008?

This question crossed my mind while I lay in bed today, doped up on NyQuil and surrounded by tissues, suffering through a headcold and a couple of novels on the Kindle I'd downloaded for free.  The books were fine for what they were - brain candy to help pass a sick day.  Two different books by two different writers, they both had one major thing in common.  All the characters winked.  A lot.

One of my writer's rules of thumb is, if it's something that happens enough in a story that I notice it, it should probably be toned down.  There's a paranormal romance writer I call Wincey because all of her characters wince.  All the damn time.  Another one is master of the gimlet stare - her characters toss them out like they're throwing beads on a Mardi Gras float.

Those two winky books were pulling me right out of the story today, because I got distracted by wondering if I had ever actually winked at someone, or if I had ever been the recipient of a wink.  Then I winked a couple of times to see if it felt like a natural thing to do.  (It didn't.)  Finally, I re-read a couple of the paragraphs that included the winking, wondering if the dialogue and other action in the paragraph would convey the message well enough without adding the wink.  Most times, it did.

So while I was really just wanting to spend a few hours in bed reading, I came away with a little bit of a writing lesson.  And a resolve to comb through my draft, making sure to excise unnecessary bits of business.  Like winking.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stealing Some Time

So I’ve been reading Writer with a Day Job, which is about what you’d expect: how to carve out writing time when you already work full time.  Get up early to write?  I get up too early as it is, and I started using that time for a short workout in the morning, so it’s taken.  Evening writing?  My brain usually feels like tapioca by the time I get home from work, so it’s usually dinner and then read for a bit before bed.  (Though they say exercise helps you feel more alert, so I’m hoping the aforementioned workouts will help with that.  Though I just started and I’m still in the OH MY GOD I’M SO TIRED stage, so it’s too soon to tell.)  So I’m still working on that.

But there’s also the concept of just grabbing spare moments.  The book references things like while you’re at your kid’s soccer game.  I don’t have kids, but I did spend a recent long, hot Saturday at my goddaughter’s softball tournament – watching a field full of 11-year olds play softball is an experience unto itself.  So I can get behind the idea of stealing time here and there.

Today ended up being perfect.  About ten minutes after I got to work our servers crashed.  So no email, no files, no internet.  Five minutes after that, the phones went out too.  We all sat there for a couple minutes trying to figure out what, as legal professionals, we could do with no phones and no computers, and then everyone got up to get another cup of coffee.

I got my moleskine notebook out of my purse.  I’m a sucker for these blank books – just nice enough to carry around, but not too fancy where I feel like every word I write down has to be part of an epic saga.  (I love fancy journals with handmade paper and hand-tooled leather covers, but I get a case of “what if I write something STUPID??” and then I end up never using it.)  Hey, if moleskine is good enough for Neil Gaiman, it’s good enough for me.  So for close to an hour, while the servers and phones were down and no work could be done, I rewrote a scene that had been bugging me.  Then the servers came back up, and I put the notebook away and reluctantly got on with my day  

I was so glad I had that notebook with me, and I was able to take advantage of that unexpected server crash.  Bonus writing time!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Not Writing

Writing during the week is really hard for me.  By the time I drive the hour home from work and have dinner, there’s usually laundry to fold or dishes to do, or I’m just so mentally drained from the workday that I’m able to do little more than stare at my manuscript for a few minutes before giving up, playing a stupid Facebook game for twenty minutes and then going to bed.  So I tend to save my writing for the weekends, where I envision being able to sleep in, get up feeling refreshed and fully rested, and spend a good couple of hours tackling my writing.

All day Friday I was ready to write.  But of course, I was at work and had to do work-like things.  The boss doesn't like it if you're supposed to be drafting a Motion for Summary Judgment and you're actually writing about your characters having dinner at the Big Sombrero Restaurant at South of the Border.  So I drafted motions and daydreamed about getting home to takeout and writing.  That was the plan.

Then I got home.  Takeout was delicious, as it always is. Then I sat down, nestled into my writing space, fired up my laptop and... started yawning.  I futzed with my scene for about three paragraphs, but nothing was coming.  I went to bed in disgust.  At that point, I was pretty convinced that my productive weekend of writing was shot to hell.  Yes, I had decided this on Friday night.

So I gave myself permission to not write this weekend.  I had to run some errands anyway, and the Jeep wasn’t cleaning out its own backseat.  Saturday was shoe shopping, a chore I put right up there with standing in line at the DMV.  After finding a pair of black pumps with heels low enough that I wouldn't fall off of them during the workday, I rewarded myself with a trip to the bookstore, where I picked up Writer with a Day Job by Aine Greaney.  I'm planning to settle in with it this afternoon, hopefully with a thunderstorm if the Florida summer weather does what Florida summer weather usually does in the afternoons.

A friend of mine mentioned on Facebook the other day that she was reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  When I saw her post, I immediately glanced over to my right, where my copy of it lived on the shelf with my other writing books.  It had always been one of my favorites, but I hadn’t read it in a long time so I couldn’t recall specifically why.  Then, this morning, the cat woke me up at 7, which he is wont to do, because he hasn’t figured out yet how to open cat food cans on his own.  Some weekend mornings I can plop some food in his dish and go back to sleep, but it didn’t happen today.  So I plucked my copy of Bird by Bird off the shelf, brewed some coffee, and spent Sunday morning on the couch re-reading it while the cat cavorted in a box top on the living room floor.  I was reminded of the value of shitty first drafts, small assignments (just writing the one scene that's in front of you, and not always worrying about the big, giant, overwhelming picture) and that you're not the only one who stares at the computer screen and worries about being a giant failure.

Giving myself permission to not write and to just have my weekend seems to have sparked something.  I’ve pulled out my notebook more than once to scribble down some ideas and vague plot points, even a chunk of dialogue.  I researched ghost-hunting equipment.  I knew I was inspired when I hauled the notebook out of my purse when we had a couple of beers at the brewpub on Saturday night.

I haven’t written that much this weekend, but that doesn’t bother me too much.  I connected with my story in other ways, and have some reading material to inspire me.  Some weekends are more productive than others, and I can accept that.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Brand New Blog

I figure it's about time to get one of these started. You know when a new shop moves in downtown?  Through the big plate glass windows you can see the renovating going on: shelves being removed or installed, walls being painted, counters set up.  Sometimes they paper over the windows, but you can still get a peek through the seams if you try hard enough.  Then finally, eventually, the paper comes down, the floor is swept one last time, and the doors open to the public.  And it's kind of cool, because in a way you've watched it all happen.

That's what you're going to get with this blog for a while.  I've been a writer almost my whole life, but I don't announce it much to the world.  I don't slide easily into a niche - romance writer, paranormal writer, erotica writer - so I can't just throw up some romantic colors or a sexeh picture of people in a clinch and call it a day.  So expect to see some bare bones for a while.  Expect to see me experiment with paint colors until the guy at Lowe's knows me by name.

But for now: Hi.  I'm Jen, and I write.