You’re Allowed to Suck

Happy Halloween all! Or, as many of us might think of it, NaNoWriMo Eve!

At this point I have to accept that I’ve done everything I can do. While my second draft of my outline is not yet complete, is full of holes and scene sequences that drag, the time has come to actually start the process. For better or worse.

Part of me is glad, because I definitely can see myself revising the outline until it has lost all meaning without ever actually doing the writing were it not for the pressure of NaNo. But, the part of me that wants perfection is screaming that I’m not ready, that anything born of this outline, this story, this idea is going to be completely dreadful, and why should I even bother trying if the end result is just a shitty book?

The thing I have to keep reminding myself, the thing I keep seeking out in advice columns, podcasts, pearls of wisdom on Twitter, the NaNo forums or elsewhere is… it’s okay to suck.

The first draft, ostensibly what most NaNoWriMo participants will be penning during November, is allowed to be awful. It’s not just permissible for it to be full of plot holes, extraneous fluff, and duller than dirt characters, it’s kind of… expected.

Personally, I can’t be told this enough. For me, the worst feeling in the world is being in the middle of a draft and realizing how terrible it is. In the past, it has been so easy to let that disappointment swallow up the creative motivation, of succumbing to that inner voice that is always asking, “What’s the point?”

So this time around, I’m doing everything I can to be mentally prepared.

It’s okay if I don’t have the best words. It’s okay if my sentence structure is sometimes a little wonky. It’s okay if I go way overboard on the adverbs. It’s okay if my chapter breaks feel awkward.

It’s okay if there are boring parts, and it’s okay if there are sections that are way too busy.

It’s okay if a character is under utilized. It’s okay if another one’s motivations don’t make perfect sense yet.

Say it with me everyone:

It’s okay for the first draft to suck.

The whole purpose of this month is to get it done.

As Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo said, “You can edit a terrible book into a great book, but you can’t edit a blank page into anything but a blank page.”

Good luck everyone!

Panic! At the NaNo

I’m back! Not that… anyone noticed I was gone, but I’m back! A mini-staycation from the day job was spent largely in bed or doing some much needed deep cleaning of the homestead. I did get some writing done, but blogging was not on my schedule. In the future I’ll try and announce programming interruptions before they happen, not after.

So, as of this writing, we are just ten short days away from the official start of NaNoWriMo, and I, for one, am freaking out.

Things were going so well.

I finished my first draft of my outline for this year’s project, Bordertowns, over a week ago. I knew it needed revisions, but I thought the extent of it would be trimming some fatty scenes, fattening up some thin scenes, and shaking others around so they fell in a more sensible place.

That was about ten days ago. I thought I had plenty of time.

tenor

I mentioned in an earlier post that I feared my plot was running a little thin, and that I hoped to thicken it with some supplemental story lines. However, when my outline reached sixty scenes, exactly my target, I thought perhaps I was on pace after all.

Well, revising my outline has brought me to the painful realization that the scene count doesn’t matter as much when the content of those scenes is dreadfully boring. There’s really no other word for what I have right now, particularly the last half of the second act. It moves the story along in the least interesting way possible. It drags and is often redundant. Worst of all, I managed to jam pack almost every original idea I had for this story into those scenes. The entire novel hinges on them.

Gulp.

I’m not giving up on this project. However, the entire outline needs to be rewritten from scratch, and now I’m just looking out the calendar and sweating. I mean, I guess I’m glad I realized this before I got two thirds of the way through the draft because I just know it would be a total motivation killer. And, yeah, I could just go ahead with the outline I’ve got knowing that it will need to be completely reworked, since, what with it being a first draft and all, it would have to be rewritten anyway.

That’s my backup plan.

For now, I’ve got about a week to crank out a new outline.

The struggle continues.

Making Time To Read

Today’s is a short one, kids, because, very simply I don’t have much to say. In fact, I’m hoping to learn.

With NaNoWriMo approaching and time management on everyone’s mind, allow me to ask a genuine question.

How do you make time to read?

It’s been said many times that being well read in the genre you intend to write is highly recommended, sometimes an absolute must.

It’s a sentiment I agree with, even if I don’t necessarily practice it.

I have an 8-5 day job with a 1.5 hour commute (total, not one way), three kids under the age of 8, a relationship to maintain with my significant other, and a household to keep. Despite all that, I do have some spare time in the evenings and weekends for leisure activities. With my new found dedication to getting a novel done, I’ve earmarked much of that time for writing.

So where, in all of that, do I make time to read?

Or, to put it another way, where does reading rank compared to writing, as well as every day obligations?

Everyone is going to have their own kind of answer here. Not just because individual circumstances vary widely, but also because not everyone is going to have the same relationship with reading as each other. Which leave me to wonder: if I even have to ask this question, what does that mean for me as a former voracious reader?

(A caveat here: I know audio books are popular option, especially for those like me who have lengthy commutes. But as someone with auditory processing issues, driving takes up too much of my brain space for the words to really sink in. I end up getting home with barely any idea of what happened in the story being read to me. Besides, it’s not quite the same as seeing the words in front of your eyes, being able to reread and savor those particular sentences that sink into your soul. But, I digress.)

So, again, how do you, yes you, make time to read?

Shelving Your Opus

In early May of this year I decided, once again, that I would take another stab at writing a novel.

The story idea was the same one I had been trying, abandoning, revamping, revising, trying, and abandoning for the past seven years or so.

To say I’m enamored with it is a mild understatement. A female led epic fantasy, replete with angels, demons, magic, a meddling pantheon of gods, and a trope filled saving the world plot.

It’s my opus. And this time, I was sure I was going to get it right. I made it about 10,000 words.

Then I got sick, and writing became one of those things I just didn’t have the spoons for anymore. (Side note: I’m better now.)

In some ways, I’m grateful for the sudden, forced time away from my story. It helped me confront something I’d heard numerous times, but always endeavored to ignore.

It was time to put that story idea, the one that had consumed me yet failed to get written for seven years, on the shelf.

It’s been a few months since that difficult decision, and, honestly, it’s still hard to consider myself “moved on” from that project. I still have every intention of writing it one day, but the truth is it’s not the right novel to start with, no matter how long and how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise.

The main thing that finally persuaded me to shelve it was the timeworn advice that I’d heard ’round the writing internets ever since I started poking my head into the community, which is: your first novel will, most likely, be pretty bad. And, while part of me balks at that notion, the rational side realizes that it’s probably true. After all, despite the many thousands of words I poured into fanfiction in my younger years, I’m a complete novice at independent story craft. Writing convincing characters, with an interesting and cohesive plot, in a custom built setting, and doing it all well enough to attract the fame and fortune sweet summer writers often dream about is a big ask for a first timer, and, frankly I’m pretty certain I’m not up to that task.

I didn’t, and don’t, want my opus to go unread. I don’t want it to be the story that gets fifty nos before I give up on it with the teary realization that it’s inherently flawed. Of course, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen even if its the 15th novel I write, I’m under no illusions about that. But I know in my bones that I have a better shot at it succeeding if I get a little more experience under my belt, if I fail on some stories I don’t have the same emotional connection with.

The other thing that pointed me toward the realization that it was time to put it away was the fact that I had been laboring for so long over it, yet never quite found it’s formula. I can’t help but wonder if my continued obsession with it is what has been stalling me in launching a writing “career” all along. Already since putting it on the shelf a few scant months ago, I’ve nearly completed an outline for a story I’ve been giving less than half the thought for less than half the time. I’m in the best position of my life to actually finish a novel.

Can’t argue with results.

I still think about my opus all the time, even while working on my current project, to the point where I’m basically the distracted boyfriend meme. You know the one. But I’ve accepted the fact that it’s not right for me now, or even for the next project I plan to take on. It’s kind of freeing, actually, and I know that when it gets written it’ll be better than anything I could produce right now.

So thank you, writing internets, for helping me swallow that bitter pill. I hope to repay you with a really bitchin female led epic fantasy one day.

(PS, I know I’m using that word wrong, but you know what I mean.)

Longhand

Since I’ve talked a lot so far about my fears and failures as it comes to writing, I thought I would, for once, highlight a part of my creative process that actually does work for me.

And that is writing longhand.

It’s such a writer-ly thing, isn’t it? To have piles and piles of notebooks laying around, some filled cover to cover, some with half writing and half scribbles of your two year old who co-opted it, or some that just plain looked pretty that you never got around to actually using.

I am one of those.

When I was a teenager, my girlfriends and I made up some Mary Sues and co-wrote self insert fanfiction as our hanging out activity of choice. We did this with notebooks and different colored pens for each of us. We would sit around one of our bedrooms, sometimes late into the night, throwing notebooks back and forth at each other and giggling about whatever drama we had just created in our fictional lives.

I learned a lot about writing and, in particular, my own writing quirks and preferences.

(Don’t worry, I got past the Mary Sue/self insert stuff. )

One of the things that did end up sticking was how much I enjoyed writing longhand. Maybe it was because I was a teenager and writing with gel pens gave me such delight. Maybe it was due to the portability of notebooks, allowing me to scribble anywhere and everywhere I felt inclined.

Whatever the reasons, I took this method into adulthood and have continued with it as my preferred method of drafting.

There are pros and cons to this, and it’s obviously up to individual personality and preferences which of those two cancels the other out.

The first big downside is that it takes a lot longer to write the same amount of words. Plus the hand cramping, oh the hand cramping. This might not be true for everyone, some people can scribble words just as fast (or faster) as they can type them, but I have a weird tic where I can’t stand looking at hand written pages that are full of scribbles, scratch outs, or ugly blots. So I tend to write a little more carefully, which of course takes longer.

However, that brings me to something I consider a major pro, and that is writing longhand limits my urge to constantly self-edit. Maybe it’s because of my strange little compulsion to keep written pages neat, but I tend to leave what I’ve written alone after it’s been inked on the page, no matter how clunky a sentence sounds or if a better word comes to me later. And in drafting, where actually finishing needs to be priority one, this is immensely helpful in silencing the inner editor.

Con #2 is that you’re pretty much doing twice the work. Not only are you spending more time writing the words themselves, you also have to put time into transcribing them.

But I’ve found that when taking my writing off the page and putting them into a word processor, I can make subtle changes that improve the quality of the work without really losing stride. I know I just bagged on editing while drafting, and I’m not talking about an actual editing step between the longhand version and the typed version.

But those clunky sentences or better words can easily be fixed or swapped in without too much time loss, provided you can reel in the impulse to make further, more lengthy edits.

I also really love that I can drop a notebook in my purse and be ready to write whenever I have some spare time. And, yeah, I still really like the feel of writing with gel pens.
I’m not saying this method is for everyone. It certainly doesn’t have the flow that typing rapidly can bring. But, as someone who tends to get paralyzed in front of a word processor for whatever reason, it is tremendously useful to have a jumping off point scribbled down already.

There’s also something immensely satisfying in the tactile feel of it, or maybe that’s just me. In fact, this is probably all just me.
So there you have it. If you can deal with the pain that is transcribing after the fact, not to mention the much more literal pain of your hand after a hefty word sprint, I find longhand a great way to draft.

Your mileage may vary.

Labor of Love aka Writing is Hard

Preptober is officially underway! And with it — the inevitable crushing fear of complete failure!

Okay, maybe that’s just me.

I have been diligently working on my outline for this year’s project, Bordertowns. I crossed what I think is the midway point of the story last week, and when I did I came to a couple scary realizations.

The first is fixable: the plot is a little thin. While the main story line has been percolating in my brain for about two years, it hasn’t really been a creative focus until I decided last month that it would be my project of choice for NaNo. And, as it happens, less than a month hasn’t been enough time to formulate some good subplots.

As I mentioned in my last post, new threads are hard to come by for me unless I’m already in the middle of one. So while I’m committed to both saving the writing itself for November and solving this problem before the challenge officially gets underway, I think I might have to pencil in some writing exercises sometime this month to get those creative synapses firing.

Otherwise I’ll just be crossing my fingers and hoping any new ideas that might form late don’t derail me long enough to fail the month.

The second epiphany is not so cut and dry. See, I realized that while I am really enjoying the process of putting together the outline, the idea of writing the story itself is filling me with great dread.

Usually I’m itching to get started. A lot of times I already know which turns of phrase I’m going to use in what scenes, and some striking dialogue to include. But not this time. Now, whenever I try get myself amped for this story, I just get this ill feeling in my stomach.

And what’s even more strange is that I feel like I’m more prepared than ever this time around. While there are still a few question marks to fill in (see above) and the outline is still incomplete, I know more or less how to proceed from beginning to middle to end. I can see traditional story structure in my plot, though I have been careful not to keep it in mind while I work (since that tends to sap my creative energy when I do).

So why is it that right when I’m poised to finally reach two goals I’ve had since I was a teenager, successfully completing NaNoWriMo and also writing a complete first draft of a novel, that I’m truly, unequivocally dreading the process?

The only reason I can come up with is straight fear. Fear of failure, of letting myself and those who support me down yet again. Fear that my story idea is hot garbage. Or maybe even fear of the hard work necessary to achieve my dream.

I want to promise that I won’t let those fears keep me down, but honestly my track record is not great. What I can say is that I’m not going to let myself waste such a great start. Even if I fail to cross the elusive 50k words in 30 days, I can at least utilize the month and the community to kick me over the hump.

And, anyway, if writing wasn’t such a massive struggle what would I have called my blog?