A New Story.

After many, many years of simmering in my head, I finally have a storyline for a character that I have kept close to my heart.

She is special in that she was my very first protagonist/MC that lives in the real, contemporary world. (And, to date, I have only gained one more contemporary/realistic story in the sea of science fiction and fantasy stories I’ve written.)

This storyline and structure surprised me, to say the least. But, my MC has been telling me her story all along. I just wasn’t listening well enough.

I know what I’ll be working on for NaNoWriMo next month.

This Week

READING RECAP:

This week–like this entire month, heck like this entire year–has just blurred by. Blurred. Days just *blinked* past me.

I didn’t even finish any one of my books that I’d borrowed from the library! #readerfail. I’m still planning on reading them though. I will make it a point!

A new book that popped up on my radar is The Bird and the Sword, by Amy Harmon. My friend raved about its beautiful words, and I was curious enough to eyeball Amazon and get a feel. The first page ensnared me, and I quickly sent myself a free sample and now I have to have it. Did you click over yet to experience it yourself? No? Seriously, check it out HERE and if you’re not rolling around in awe at all the delicious words, then I don’t know how we’re friends.

WRITERLY RECAP:

So, as I said, my recent life has been a blur. That’s because I have been a nonstop working machine. Just this week alone, I averaged 18-hour workdays with 4-hour breaks to sleep. (Yesterday, I worked 20 hours straight for the second day in a row, with breaks only for food. I think.) (I’m here on just right under four hours of sleep, so if I’m a little loopy, well, you know why.) If I wasn’t at the pay-the-bills job, I was writing. Website content, emails, feedback, stories, you name it, I was probably writing it.

I feel like most of the people around me think I am an obsessive workaholic. They’d be sort of right of course, but it’s in a weird, “Why are you doing this to yourself?” kind of way. Like, I’m doing something torturous or something.

Uhm, I’m in my creative cocoon where I feel untouchable and in control of my life. I “do this to myself” because I freaking love it! I told a friend just the other day: writing, ideating, creating…it energizes me. This isn’t the soul-sucking work of unfulfilled potential. Writing–the creative and business side of it–calls to me and compels me to work until my eyes give out. THIS is what people talk about when they make those clickable quotes that are splattered all over Instagram. Stuff like: “Do what you love, love what you do” or “Do what you love and never work a day in your life”…those kinds of quotes.

I get all of those quotes because I live it every day.

Speaking of clickable quotes, let me add a fave to it: “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” Buddha. I like this because it doesn’t shame the word “Work.” Work to me is wholly positive because I see the redemptive power of work every day of my life. My work gives me purpose, and I love every minute of it, and won’t apologize for it or make myself smaller just because others perceive “Work” as this horrible thing.

(If your Work is horrible, choose another form of it, or gain a new perspective. Completely transformative experience for me.)

I used to sleep as much as possible because I was a vivid dreamer. I loved that in-between feeling of falling asleep, anticipating the stories in my dreams. (They usually revolved around epic, end of the world type struggles…or whatever I’d been reading at the time.) And then my alarm clock would blare and I would be so miserable thinking about the day ahead, of the long hours of uselessness and busy work. All for what? A paycheck?

Now, as soon as my alarm sounds, my eyes open, and I can’t get up fast enough. Recreating the snippets of my imagination into whole, fleshed-out stories is so much more fulfilling than the shadows I experienced while dreaming. Creating is intoxicating and satisfying and addictive all at once. AND I’M DOING IT ALL FOR FREE. (Mostly. For now. 😉 )

Of course it’s also tedious and challenging, but the reward of seeing a story come together in a meaningful way is just beautiful. ::le sigh:: Just yesterday, I was reading through my manuscript, and basically had been feeling like a beachcomber, inspecting every bit of sand under a magnifying glass. I was so tired of picking at the beach that was my manuscript with what a backscratcher, that I put down my pen, grabbed more coffee (and kept both hands on the mug), and decided to skim for a few pages.

I got so lost in the story, that as I read over one of the main turning points, I literally started tearing up. At my own words. Like, I smeared my untouchable eye makeup wiping my eyes because I was crying.

I know I was basically sleep deprived, but forgetting for a moment that I wrote this thing, and the thing made me cry in a good way, was so, so gratifying after what has seemed like a neverending suckfest of words. (And I mean “neverending suckfest” in the best way possible.) It’s like, once I stopped looking at every grain of sand and only seeing imperfections, I was able to take in the entire panorama and be in awe of all the elements of what makes a Beach so spectacular: crashing waves, sunsets, long stretches of send…this is what I think of when I think Beach; all the elements together and not just the sand. It’s a very important part, but it’s not the only part.

(If it were, I’d hate the beach. Ew. Sand is tenacious and gets everywhere. Everywhere.)

IMG_1352

Anyway, that’s been my week (and month and year…) so far. Hopefully, I have some fun recaps for you next week after my upcoming writing workshop.

So, what’s been happening with you?

WIPWednesday: Soundtrack

Last week, I stumbled upon Ms Mr’s Secondhand Rapture, and I’m loving it! I can get really obsessive with music. Like, if I find a song or album I love that I can write to, I listen to it exclusively…until I start associating it with too many things, and then I need to stop.

(As an example, I adored Lorde’s “Glory and Gore” and made a NaNoWriMo 2014 playlist made from five songs from her self-titled album. It worked beautifully as WIP2’s soundtrack…until I saw it used in a promotional trailer for The Vikings. Now, I can’t listen to it without seeing bearded men running down a hill.)

So, back to my latest obsession, I love listening to the entire album because it’s almost like a novel the way the music unfolds and builds. My favorite song, though, is “Bones.” It captured me from the first notes. Like, gave me chills. I was all “How come I’ve never heard of this until now?” (Answer: probably because I was too busy listening to Lorde back in 2014.)

Here, have a listen:

{If you were curious, you can check out the playlist of other songs that are prominent on my WIP2 – music playlist . This isn’t ALL of the songs (picture a bunch of Linkin Park, Godsmack, Korn), but it captures the essence.}

Even though music helps me get in the mood and atmosphere of my WIP (each WIP has its own playlist), I generally don’t write to music. Instead, I write with my White Noise app set to Airplane noise. I don’t know if it’s the noise itself or the fact that it looks like this on my app:

Airplane Travel

but it’s just the perfect pitch to help my focus…more so than plain white noise.

Speaking of focus, despite my long hours of work, unplanned trips to the day job, family events, and my need to sleep every now and again, I was able to power through this draft of the WIP and get it looking like the story I want. It’s unreal because I never thought I’d get here with this WIP…it’s been my neverending story of sorts, something I kept reimagining and retelling because I really didn’t know what I wanted to say. I was in love with the idea of it, the world, the characters…so much so that I just wanted to keep reliving it and changing things up.

Well, no more! I have the story set and ready to read through again and polish. And, I had so many other ideas ::coughcough four finished drafts coughcough:: that I can develop those as companion stories in this world.

Every WIP is different, but the fact that I powered through this WIP specifically means so much to me, and makes me feel so accomplished.

And, the best part is I feel free to focus on another WIP now…I have two drafts calling to me, and I would love to see them finished as well, and out to the world. ^_^

Revisionland

WIPWednesday: Pictures

I love visualizing. I think it’s a great tool to really get after your goals. It helps that I’m also a visual learner and have a great photographic memory.

I’ve been using Pinterest as my virtual WIPspiration since its earliest beta-testing days. I don’t necessarily need to find the perfect picture for my characters or settings; I look for images that capture the feel of my WIPs for that time when I can finally draft and polish them. (Until then, my WIP ideas are outlined and are kept in various writing diaries until they’re ready to be drafted!)

But! I’d been lucky to find some really cool pics that capture a couple of my characters and settings.

First, here’s my MC:

Ren WIP 2 Writing Character

 

And here’s another major character:

DanielHenney as Gage

Aren’t they adorable?? When I stumbled upon these pics I was like “OMG THAT’S THEM!”

And, here’s a setting that I never knew could exist but totally fits in my WIP:

Cave island

I think I want to travel the world just so I can keep taking pictures of random stuff to WIPspire me. I have a few trips this year that’ll help me out with that. I’ll eventually post them throughout my blog as featured images.

And, for the curious, CLICK HERE to see the rest of WIP2’s Pinterest board!

WIPWednesday: The Revision Cave

My current novel looks like this now:

WIP 2 Revision Writing

 

I love drafting novels. Love, love, love them. I love being swept away with the story. I love how my fingers fly over the keyboard. I love the fugue state I go into where the external world just drops away, and all I see is my internal world.

Reading what I’ve written, however, is something…else. There are moments that surprise me, of course, flashes of brilliance and heart that make me smile and make me all warm and gooey inside.

But most of the time, reading through one of my first drafts is like trying to glean poetry from vomited up alphabet soup. Not pretty. And, the Not Pretty keeps me from working my revisions as eagerly as I do my drafting.

I can do a whole rabbit trail about mindset and motivation and mental bracing to accommodate the new skillset of revisioning, blahblahblah, but I’ll just cut to the chase: I found a way to get over my issues.

I realized that:

  1. Everyone’s first draft sucks. They are ALL filled with plot holes, dropped characters, extraneous plot devices, and so much more. I know no one exempt from this universal fact.

2. The effort that goes into revision is ten times harder than writing a first draft, so brace yourself. The revision process is the actual “go to work” version of writing, at least for me. Sure, it could be fun, but it’s still a Responsible thing to do, up there with Eating Kale, Paying The Bills, and Taxes.

3. The work of revision is simply finding where the story dropped the connection with the reader. That’s it. I didn’t need to rewrite from word 0, add multiple subplots, and untwist/retwist the ending. For sure, I’ve done all those things and more over the years, and yes a story may need those things…but it may not. It may just need an extra scene or sentence for clarity. There’s no extra credit for rewriting and reinterpreting your previous draft(s) when the original vision was perfectly serviceable and just needed tweaking.

Revisions always feels daunting to me because I made The Crappy First Draft, so how do I get from CFD to that fun, beautiful, action-adventure that I see when I close my eyes?

This is where my INTJ brain comes in handy. We INTJ-ers love to create systems and make processes more efficient. (This is a pastiche of revising strategies I gleaned from other writers that I made work for me. If you’re familiar with Holly Lisle’s strategies at all, this is basically like that.)

What Did I Want to Write?

First, you can’t hit a target you can’t see. I spend months thinking about my story, dreaming it up, loving it…remembering why I love it and wrote it in the first place. I condense all that love into a  series of index cards.

  1. WHY I WROTE THIS STORY
  2. Story in a nutshell
  3. MC story arc
  4. Themes–major and minor

I eventually transpose those snippets into my writing diary (I have a different one for each WIP) so I’d have them to look back on, but the index cards were important to help narrow my focus and scope. Those who know me well know how I can ramble on and on because I find everything fascinating and pertinent. Index cards don’t have a lot of wiggle room. If I can condense my story on to the front of one index card, then you can too!

I also write a synopsis page of sorts, hitting the high points of the novel so I know which scenes are part of the DNA of the novel–part of the reasons why I wrote the story in the first place.

What I Actually Wrote

Then, I read through the current spine of my novel (about 40-50K words) and print it out, each scene on a new page. I divide the story into scenes, number each scene from 1-infinity. Then, another read through on paper, this time with a spiral notebook where I note all the issues–plot holes, convenient plot devices, characters that jumped to just the right conclusion, etc–including scene and page numbers and reasons why it’s off.

When I finally figure out what I wrote, I line it up with the story I want to see, aka my Ideal Story. The comparison is often brutal, but also reality, and the sooner I get over how wide the gap is between the two versions, the sooner I could work on narrowing that gap.

Prioritizing the Story Problems

I find that the most efficient thing for me to do is to work through Big Picture/Plot issues then work my way down so that the very last thing I worry about is polished prose and Oxford commas.

With that in mind, I make sure each scene gets its own index card scene summary. For easy cross reference, I put the assigned scene number and page numbers on the card. All the issues that I noted in my notebook get assigned a color (Blue for Plot, Pink for Character, Yellow for Setting, whatever) and an alphanumeric label (P1 for the first plot issue in my story). I write that alphanumeric label and page numbers on the corresponding colored post-it tabs, and stick it to that index card.

WIP2 Writing Revision

When I finally have my story condensed to color tagged index cards I spread them out and see what I’ve got. Based on the colors, I can see at a glance where my WIP needs the most help, where there are plotting issues or characterization issues. (I recently added a subplot flag to my process, so I can see where I can weave the plot lines together to help with the pacing.)

This is where I can move scenes around and shuffle them up a bit. (Scrivener is a program that I know and love and use…but I enjoy the tactile sensation of literally feeling out my story. Plus I’m convinced that the brain-eye-finger connection works at a different level off screen than onscreen. Not saying it’s better, just different.) When the rearranged scenes look closer to my Ideal Story, I read through the cards again. I use a different color index card to add in new scenes if needed, writing out a summary sentence on the card with elements I need to see in there to make it flow with my Ideal Story.

All of the above sorting and organizing and reading through basically takes me two days. The long part, the hard part, THE STRUGGLE is the long slog of actually making the words better. This arduous march is made so much easier with a clear guide of what was wrong and what I want to see. This process makes revising the content so much more efficient, and I don’t end up wasting countless hours and words on following shiny, exciting rabbit trails.

Beware of Shiny New Ideas

I love to ideate, it’s one of my top five strengths, but I have learned that I need an exceptionally fine filter when it comes to ideas at this stage, and which idea will stick.

Most of the time, it’s my muse BORED TO DEATH and wanting to play with a shiny new idea. I honor the idea, recognize its cool factor, jot it down in my journal, and continue the march onward through my WIP.

Be honest and critical with yourself–Would this new idea really serve the story you want to see, or are you finding yet another reason not to finish this novel?

Editing the Content 

The actual edits I do by hand on the printed out version of the ms. This is easy because each scene is paper clipped together, so I just go to my scene card, look at the issues there, reread what’s on the page, and make the words better. Most of the time, it requires giant X’s, squiggly arrows, and just writing stuff out on another piece of paper. (When that happens, I go to the working draft version on my computer and input the changes immediately and print it out again.)

Each scene gets edited until every issue on the scene card is addressed. I do not move on until I do. Once it’s finished, I paperclip the pages together again, and they go into the done pile.

This is the most time consuming aspect but I’ve learned to look at each scene like a micronovel so instead of figuring out how to describe setting, I look at conflict–what are the obstacles here, how is the MC going to overcome those obstacles, and will the MC be successful? Even if it’s a bullet point summary in the margin, at least it helps me grease the groove into crafting better words for my reader.

I’m still going through each scene for WIP 2, weaving the story together. I’ll be done soon. I’ve crossed the tipping point where momentum is taking over, and the flywheel is basically running itself.

It’s all pretty exciting, considering this story has lived in my head for five years. Some day soon, I hope to share it with the world.

If you have any revision tips of your own, I’d love to hear it!

May the Fourth

It’s Star Wars Day, and in honor of it and #WIPWednesday, I thought to share my current writing diary.

(Fun fact, Star Wars Day is also my blog’s birthday–>I started blogging six years ago, and thought it would be kind of poetic to start again today.)

 

Isn’t this so cool?? It’s a limited edition Star Wars Moleskine notebook, with fun stickers and technical specs for the X-Wing Starfighter. ^_^

When I saw this in the store, I knew I had to have it. I’d even kept it in its wrapper forever waiting for just the right project to use with it.

Then a month ago, I thought: what was I waiting for? What better, more perfect book could there be to chronicle my WIP2 revisions? After all, didn’t I pitch WIP2 as “Star Wars meets DUNE with a teen-aged cyborg” once upon a time?? (To a couple of full manuscript requests, I might add, but I was too lame to actually send it off. A good thing, too, because it was NOT ready back then. Like, at all.)

So, after a years-long hiatus from this particularly project (because Reasons), I am happy to say that I’m finally hitting my revision-y stride and found the story that I wanted to tell years ago. I kinda had to go full-circle on it, and yeah, I suppose I lost a few years only to say the same story. This time, though, I like to think that I trust myself now and have confidence in the worthiness of my ideas. That I have the discipline, passion, and talent to keep throwing down words until I get just the right combination to fit this story. And, if all else fails, I surely have the ridiculous work ethic/drive to see this to a polished The End that I can finally (Finally!) be proud to send off to agent slush piles.

Anyway, it’s great to be back, hanging out in familiar worlds, chatting with my characters. It’s like a great reunion of friends–when you get together, you pick up your conversation exactly where you had left off years ago.

How about you? Whatcha been up to?

Be Here Now

“Lost time is never found again.” Benjamin Franklin

I’m about to dive in to the busiest time of year again, and no, I don’t mean the frenzy of National Novel Writing Month which kicks off at midnight (though I do enjoy that annual treat!). I’m talking about that blessed time of year that people love to hate: The Holidays.

Personally, I love the holiday season. I’m a sucker for the window displays. The more nostalgic and whimsical, the better! Bonus points if the window displays are animated! Anyway, even though I may end up mentally, physically, emotionally exhausted by January (yay for spa days!), I always look back on the Thanksgiving-through-Christmas rush with a feeling of ‘Whoa!’ Another mountain conquered, another wave I rode out, another notch added to my belt.

But before I dive headlong into the thick of things, I need to give myself a few ground rules/reminders. After all, I juggle multiple roles, and I want to ensure that I balance all aspects of my life.

1. Before I can be take care of others, I need to take care of myself. I’m not going to lie, I feel BLESSED to have my strong immune system, and I’m sure that my positive outlook on life is directly related to my health. I don’t remember the last time I’ve been sick, and I want to keep it that way. So. When do I schedule my work outs? What foods do I need to keep in stock to prepare my meals in advance? What does my routine need to look like so I can get a good night’s sleep?

2. Don’t Mistake Activity for Productivity. Instead of scheduling All The Things and prioritizing them, I just need to schedule my priorities. Ask myself, ‘Does This Thing require my attention Right Now or can I manage this later?’ Focus on the Few Things that will give me the biggest return on my investment. During the five weeks of holiday, those few things are: exercise/nutrition, family time, writing time. Everything else is a luxury.

3. Be Here Now. To me, all of the above planning and prepping is to set me up to be 100% present, whether at work or at home. So, where do I need to invest my time so that when I’m off the day job, the switch stays off and I can enjoy being with my family when I’m with them? When can I schedule time to write, so that when it’s writing time, I’m writing my novel and not tweaking a work schedule? How can I invest in my family time so that I don’t carry any emotional baggage with me to work?

So, if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines this year. There have been too many changes in my dayjob to spread myself too thin. Besides, I’m still revising WIP2, and my writing time will be devoted to finishing that.

Do you have any tips to keep yourself grounded during hectic times?