and breathe…

I attended a mega write-in today, known as the day of writing dangerously. We started at just after 8.30, and by 11 there were 14 of us around a huge table in a hotel conference room, with coffee and tea on tap, a genie button to press if we needed anything and lots of sweets and chocolate.

Numbers were taken down, sprints took place and coffee was drunk. At noon we stopped for a buffet lunch and a natter, then back to the keyboards.

During the afternoon there were around three of us who hit the 50k mark, amidst much celebration, and by the time we stopped counting, at around 5pm, we had collectively written well over a nano’s worth of words. Prices, badges and stickers were given out, sweets were eaten and more tea/coffee was drunk, of course.

I finished the day on a massive 53,010 words, having written around 9419 words during the day (most of which were fairly rubbish by the end, I have to admit) and I’m now in a position to go back through and figure out which sections I can use as is, which are needed but have a lot of continuity problems and which need to be completely rewritten or replanned.

I think I’ll probably go back to the timeline first, and make sure I know the structure is completely sound and matches with the new version of the plotline. That way, I can make sure I know how old the children are in each scene, for example. I’ll also make heavy use of the notes and synopsis features of Scrivener to help me organise things.

But tonight – tonight I get an evening off writing. Although it’s tempting to try and make it a 10k day…

 

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Draft zero

They say your nano draft is draft zero. I’m finding that to be accurate. 36k words in, I figured out where the plot should be going. At 40k my main character talked herself into a lot of trouble. In the swimming pool this morning, I/she finally figured out the solution.

Now I have a much better idea of what the main plotline needs to be: in some ways similar to my original plan, in other ways completely different.

This means that I have a clear path ahead of me: my first aim is to get to the 50k nano target. I’m at around 43k so far, with tonight’s contribution and an all-day write-in tomorrow ahead of me. By the end of that I should have done my 50k. In order to do that, I need to take a quick look at what I’ve written and figure out any major holes I can fill in to use the rest of my words wisely.

Then I’ll fill in the index card for each of my scrivener documents, figure out which ones to keep and which ones to discard and discover just how many words I’ve lost completely. I can fill in the blanks with cards, which will be expanded to full extracts, and the bits should go together to make a whole. I’ve got another all day write-in on Wednesday, and I should be able to spend a good deal of that on establishing the groundwork and moving forward.

By the end of that stage, I’ll have a first draft ready to edit, and can start worrying about quality rather than just quantity.

Will I always need to write a draft zero? Possibly not. Just as a painter has to learn to use his tools and to plan out his painting, but will grow more experienced with time and less reliant on the learning stage, so I expect that I’ll grow more experienced with structuring a plot, and will be able to dispense with some of the preparation. But it’s been an invaluable experience, just putting words together and seeing how it comes into a story. It’s like doing a jigsaw – how ever much time you spend staring at a photo, you’ll never know it as clearly as if you make it into a jigsaw and spend hours looking at small sections only.

 

Day 20

I’m starting to feel that finish line approaching… at 42k, I only have another 8k to write to complete nanowrimo. Of course, my story won’t finish then, it needs to continue on until it reaches a full conclusion. I’m guesstimating around 75k at the moment. I find I’m getting more nervous as I get closer to 50k – will I keep going properly? Will I shove it in a metaphorical drawer, never to see the light of day again? Will I be able to find something usable in there by the time I’ve finished?

At 36k I suddenly realised the motivation and situation of one of my main characters. Since then, I’ve found things are getting away from me. The government has turned nasty and my main character has a real dilemma to face. And I thought I was already making her life difficult! So, does she fight the system and risk losing her child or keep her mouth shut? Are the actions of a small minority enough to deal with a corrupt majority? Will the masses rise up and rebel? tune in for tonight’s thrilling instalment…

An extract: She weighed up the options, lying awake at night and worrying, and by Monday morning she still didn’t know what choice she was going to make.

And neither does her author…

Maybe it’s time I switched to the other main arc and see what she’s up to. She’s progressing fairly steadily, but I’ve a nasty feeling there might be a spanner in the works for her somewhere along the line too. I’m not sure whether this double arc is a blessing or a curse – it makes it easy to jump to the other arc when I get stuck on one, but on the other hand maybe I need to push through the pain and see what happens.

Ah well, I’ve still got about 800 words to write for today’s instalment, so I’d better get on. Still looking forward to a couple of full day write-ins. I’m also wondering how much time it will need to go through the story and check its flow and plot as well as actually adding to the word count. I’m trying not to tear on so fast I can’t use anything, but I know there will be chunks. The important thing is not to get so far off track that I’m writing for the sake of the word count and not for the storyline.

 

Going steady

I just broke the 36k barrier tonight (by 2 words, but hey, I broke it!). With a write-in planned on Tuesday morning and two full-day write-ins for Saturday and the following Wednesday, I’ve got plenty of scope to finish, and by now I’ve established a reasonable routine, sitting typing on the laptop in the evenings that would normally just be spent in front of the TV, so hopefully I’ve got something that I can maintain beyond the 50k and beyond the 30th Nov.

My faith in my writing skills is starting to falter rather, but I tell myself it just shows I know my limitations. That I can look at my writing and see that it falls short of where it should be. If I can do that, then I should be able to work out how to bring it up to a better standard, shouldn’t I?

And I should be starting to improve a little, with all this practice … and there’s always editing.

I find myself contemplating how to increase my skill at writing. The obvious way is to take a course, but then that raises at least two questions: which one and how do I afford it? I would love to get back to the Open University and finish my diploma in English Language studies, but to do that I need to do the course that runs in February, which is well out of my budget at the moment. Same applies to affording any creative writing courses from there.

There’s finding a local course, but they vary rather, I suspect. I once tried one of these distance learning writing courses that guarantees you’ve earned your fee in writing income by the end of it or your money back, but I don’t want to write short stories for magazines, endlessly studying the market so I can target my work accurately at what sells, and that’s what it seemed to be aiming at, at least for the first part, which is as far as I got.

I’ve still got my writing group, but while they’re good at pointing out what works or doesn’t work in particular stories, it’s not the targeted work that I feel I need.

I think my best bet for now is to work on the regular writing. To first build up a habit of writing, so that I give the words a chance to flow. Then I can start working to improve the quality as well as the quantity. But the biggest thing is that I can’t improve without writing. That while I make up stories all the time in my head, it’s about time I found the discipline to put them down properly, so that “she has problems with the nursery and decides to move her daughter to a different nursery” becomes details about the specific problems, and the characters and settings come alive for others and not just for my imagination.

It’s time to move my stories from an internal oral tradition to an external written tradition. These stories form themselves all the time. It’s time they were tamed.

 

It’s all about the numbers

Drat those numbers! As I do my daily writing, I keep track of my word count, of course. The simplest is if I’m working purely on one Scrivener document, because the word count for the document is at the bottom of the screen. Second easiest is if I’m doing it all in one session on one computer; the session count on Scrivener keeps track. If I swap from the computer to the laptop in the evening and jump from document to document, I have to rely on the spreadsheet to keep count, as I put in my total word count and it calculates today’s contribution (Notice by the way that word count is two words not one; anything to keep that number going up!).

I got to over my 2k daily target, but I was only around 200 away from 30k. So I kept going for a few more, because it’s nicer to stop on 30,000 than on 29,814. Only to find having hit 30,003 (a very satisfactory number that otherwise would have been a delight) that I was just a few away from having written 3k today. Then I was just a dozen short of hitting 30,100… That’s it. That’s a round enough number. I refuse to write the 200 extra words that would make this the most productive day so far… I’ve gotta sleep sometime! (all right, who said that’s what December is for?)

Watching the word count can be counter productive in some ways; it can focus on the quantity rather than the content. But in doing that, it helps to turn off the inner editor (something that’s being talked about a lot in this the second week of nano, when the first rush of excitement has passed and the end is far away) and gives small immediate goals to reach. By focusing on those small goals, before you know it you’re on the way to hitting a bigger goal, and a bigger goal.

It’s the same about life, really. Sometimes you can dash enthusiastically towards your final destination, but other times all you can do is put your head down, focus on the next small goal and try your hardest to reach that.

In the end, the only way to write 50,000 words is to write one word. Then write another word. Then another. Don’t think about the 49,997 still to go. Just worry about getting to the end of the next wayside marker.

 

Around the halfway mark

It’s not quite halfway through November, and I’m just over halfway through the nanowrimo challenge (27k out of 50k).

I still have a long way to go; the 50k isn’t my finishing post. And then the editing starts.

Am I sorry I started this? Actually, no. In previous years, I might have been sorry. The last time I tried nano, a couple of years ago, I was incredibly grateful when I fell far enough behind to decide there was no way I could continue and gave up.

This year, though, something is different. I’m involved with the Kent nano facebook group and the nano regional forum. I’ve attended meet-ins and have a couple of all-day writing sessions planned.

It’s great fun to go out to a coffee shop or somewhere and meet strangers who are really friends you’ve been chatting with and sharing ideas with and just haven’t met in person yet. To sit around tables with coffee and laptops, and to talk and write.

Our region is one of the most productive regions in the country, with collectively over 5 million words written. That puts us well up in the world and top in the country! I’m sure that’s due in part to the fact that nearly every day there’s a write-in somewhere in the county, and sometimes more than one, in different areas. Some are organised by one or more of the three MLs (Municipal Leaders), and others organised on a casual basis by individual members. Either online or in person, we can share plots, pleasures, panics and pains. Some people have already crossed the 50k mark and are still going strong. Others are behind on the scheduled word count but still finding pleasure in what they have managed to write. Whichever end of the scale, the rest are there to cheer them on.

So I’m still going strong, ignoring any doubts my inner editor might throw my way, because I still want to be part of this community. I’m attending two full-day write-ins over the next couple of weeks, plus one or two shorter meetups. And I’m really enjoying the journey. And I’d like to say a big thanks to all of the Kent nano group, especially the MLs, for providing some of the mental energy to keep me going.

 

 

They’re finally starting to talk to me

Well, here we are, 21,000 words in, and the characters are finally starting to relax and talk to me a little. One main character has suggested gently that she’s lonely and could do with some company, preferably male. I’m starting to understand their characters a little, and the story is starting to flow a little more.

It’s still hard work, don’t get me wrong. I’m still nothing like happy with what’s going on. But it’s a first draft. I don’t need it to be perfect. I just need it to be written, so I can take an objective look at what I’ve got and start pulling it apart and doing it better.

I did a lot of planning. Probably not enough, but I could plan forever and never actually get anything written. This way at least I’ve got something to work on, and the more I work on it, the more engaged I am with it and the more likely to continue, not to mention what I’m learning as I write.

My notebook is proving important, and I should probably make more use of it, to make notes of characters and their names as I introduce them. I printed out a section today to go through and check up on the names I’ve used, and I already found one character who inexplicably changed name partway through, and I know there’s another whose name I spelt wrong for a section or two – he’s turned out to be a right nasty character, by the way.

I haven’t done much looking back at what I’ve done so far. I’m more concerned with moving forward at the moment – working on covering as much as I can, with a view to paring it down to the essentials later. I’m also not concerned about being subtle yet – I’m happy to exaggerate situations and characters, with a view to refining later.

I’ve now attended a couple of write-ins, and at each I’ve taken part in sprints and increased the word count. I’ve also had a chance to chat to other writers and to admire how impressive we look, all sitting around with notebooks and laptops, talking about our novels.

I’ve started to get into the routine of sitting writing in the evenings, on the laptop in front of the TV. I mostly ignore the TV; that’s just for the others in the room. But it means that I have company and warmth and comfort, and a ready distraction if I need one. Still, I’m managing to keep to a steady 2k words plus per day, and so the word count is steadily going up.

So generally things are going well and I’m well on track to finish the 50k challenge on time and hopefully finish the full first draft soon after.

 

The twilight zone

I call this time of year the twilight zone, not just for the dark evenings but because the world seems to break down into “before Christmas” and “after Christmas”; things get put off because they’re easier once Christmas is out of the way. Post gets delayed because there’s no sense in getting it confused with the Christmas post. Things you would normally go out and buy are bought by someone else but put away as a present. Soon we’ll enter full twilight mode and everything will focus around present buying – which, no matter how early we start, always seems to continue up until the last moment.

I remember one year hubby was off work the week before Christmas, so we decided to leave the present buying until that week. At that point I had a two year old, a small baby and was looking after a friend’s one year old on weekdays…

I’m not that keen on Christmas anyway. The trouble is, my birthday follows right after. So when it seems like everyone else in the world gets a build-up to Christmas and a build-up to their birthday, I get Christmas and my birthday is all but forgotten. I learned not have birthday parties, because everyone was all partied out at Christmas. I learned that my birthday is often an afterthought, or acknowledged purely because it is more or less at the same time. Everyone else gets worked up about Christmas coming, and I’m the only one interested in afterwards.

The week between Christmas and New Year tends to be spent with long lie-ins and late nights, because the whole family is at home. Then we hit January, everyone is back at work or school and the night is over, the long climb back to summer begun. In a way it’s good to have Christmas to distract from the long dark evenings, but as someone who gets very stressed over having to do things right, and following social conventions, and who dreads social occasions because she’s bound to do or say things wrong, I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer to just slide quietly through the long nights without this massive hype. The opportunity for family visits and catchups with friends is treasured, but why can’t we do that without the excuses?

The novel is still progressing; I’m up to around 14.5k words so far. The project hasn’t grabbed me, but I’m persisting, with an average of nearly 2.5k words per day. I’ve got some write-ins coming up, where I get to meet other writers. Work levels are slowly picking up. I’m still exercising regularly – clinging to that like a lifeline, in fact, waiting for this burst of energy that they all say will appear. Wake me up when it comes. Or better still, let me sleep through the twilight zone and wake me in the spring.

 

Insecure Writers time again

86044-insecurewriterssupportgroupWell it’s the first Wednesday in the month again, which means Insecure Writers Support Group time. I’m already well into nano, having hit just over 12,000 words late last night. That puts me well above target for finishing the 50k by the end of the month (and also pushing on to finish the whole manuscript, of course).

So how’s it going?

In one sense, it’s going well. I have a lot planned out, I know my characters, I know where they’re going, I know what has to happen in every scene.

In another – not so much. I haven’t found the spark yet. It’s hard work. I see my writing as weak, trite, clichéd, uninteresting.

So why continue?

As part of my preparation and thinking about the writing to come, I looked back on one of my fanfiction stories. It was over 32k words, published a chapter at a time, as it was written, over a period of a couple of weeks to a month. The writing looked good, the characters well portrayed, the descriptions fitted and did the job they should do. And my author’s notes that I put in at the end of each chapter told another story: the one of the writer. The one whose characters were so real that they took over, doing unexpected things that changed the plot slightly. It reminded me of the extreme buzz that I can feel when a writing project goes well, that elusive high that leaves such an impression I can’t help but chase it. I likened it recently to a drug, that I’m addicted to and constantly looking for. I know it exists, because I’ve felt it. That compulsion to write, to get a story out of my head and into words, to a form I can share.

I’m constantly making up stories. I don’t often get to the point where I put them into shareable form. But that knowledge of the personal pleasure that comes from writing that’s going well – that’s enough to get me trying every now and again. And I suspect that the more often I feel it, the stronger the urge will be and the easier it will be to find.

So I’m going to keep going with this novel, maybe trying to slow down, concentrating on feeling the story rather than just purely chasing words – or maybe the opposite, waffling as much as I can in order to get the rubbish out of the way and find the real story. I’m not sure at this moment whether Scrivener is helping or hindering – the ability to jump around from point to point can cut two ways. It can enable me to pick up somewhere more interesting for a while, but it can also allow me to back off instead of pushing on with tricky sections.

So maybe I’ll just waffle and see what comes out of it. Editing’s easier than the first draft, right? Or put it another way, I can’t edit what I haven’t written.

 

The power of sprints

Oops, missed a day on here yesterday – in my defence, Sunday is actually the busiest day of my week, what with the housework, washing and ironing to be done as well as working for two hours. I now take Wednesday as my weekend!

I may have missed a blog post, but I didn’t miss the writing session. Yesterday I stopped at a very respectable 6.5k ish, and today thanks to facebook I managed to excel myself, writing 2138 words in a series of sprints this evening, to add to the thousand or so I had already written in the afternoon. For anyone who’s unaware, sprints are “heads down typing” timed sessions, either at an actual physical meetup or via facebook – although on facebook it’s a little harder to co-ordinate the go! and stop! yells, I guess (I haven’t attended a physical meetup yet).

The words are flowing, the count is going up, I’m not sure how much use any will be, but it’s getting a rough shape to work with. I think it’s like a lump of clay – getting the clay and pushing it into the rough shape before going back over it and refining it to the shape you want.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself…

Scrivener is performing very well – because of the nature of my story, I have three story arcs that at some point will start to intermingle. this means I can pick up on any of the arcs and work on it as I wish. Scrivener allows me to jump easily from section to section, keeps count of my session total as well as my overall total and I have the security of knowing that it will be easy to move the parts around later on.

I also found myself referring to the timeline at one point, to check how old a character was at a certain point in the story. So I’m very happy with the tools I’m using and the method of running through the draft like this – it may not be anywhere near as refined as taking it slowly and doing it properly, but it’s getting written, and at the end of the month I’ll have something to show and to work on. I don’t mind the waffle I’m writing because it’s helping to clear my thoughts and once I’ve laid it all out I can start carving it as I need.

I’ve had new characters appearing and introducing themselves, but so far the main characters haven’t tried to impose their will on me. I guess I’ll need to keep pushing further for that.