Obligatory #NaNoWriMo Post – 2019 Edition

Welp, here we are: the first week of Nano! Tomorrow is obviously the first full week, but we post on Thursdays so deal with it.

So. How’s it going, boo boo?

At this point, this morning, to be on par you should have hit that all-important 10k word milestone yesterday, looking at hitting 11,669 by the end of the day. But if you haven’t, don’t despair; there is still time. And, honestly, as long as you’re writing, it doesn’t matter if you hit par or if you “win” at the end of the month.

Nano doesn’t work for everyone, but I personally love it. I’ve been participating in Nano or Camp Nano since 2012 when I wrote my first Matilda Kavanagh novel that month, well, the first half of it anyway.

And that’s one of the reasons I love Nano, I love the jump start it gives me on a project. I’ve used it many a time for the push I needed to get into writing.

Take this year for example: I took most of the year off from writing, since about February, and was terrified I wouldn’t get back into the groove of writing again and be back at square one. But the pressure of Nano mounted for me in October and I managed to get thirteen chapters outlined before November first so I had something to start with when the big day came. And, so far, I am slightly over par.

“I don’t need time, I need a deadline.” – Duke Ellington. I feel you man. This is so me.

I like to write more than I need if I can on a given day so when I come up on days like today yesterday, and I can’t quite write the 1633 words I need, I’m still okay on the overall word count.

How do I do it, you ask? Well, henny, sit back and Auntie Shauna will give you a few tips and tricks that work for me.

As I mentioned above, I love an outline. When I was a baby writer, I didn’t outline and that led to meandering, massive manuscripts (say that three times fast) that needed 4-5 rounds edits before they were decent. With an outline I have a map I’m following to help me focus and leads to much cleaner and tighter manuscripts at the end. Yes, I deviate, and that’s okay, but the next page in the outline helps me remember where to pull back on course. Like, this story for example? My MC was giving me serious Carrie in the Library vibes as I was writing, but not when I was outlining. So, it’s in the story now and I’ll adjust as I go along. You can add things that weren’t in the outline to begin with, it’s fun to discover things you hadn’t thought of. So don’t look at an outline as set in stone, look at it as Google Maps that keeps “recalculating” as you turn down this road and that to see different attractions or get a coffee.

I also need a soundtrack.

I like to curate a playlist for every book/story, but I also have a playlist that is just soundtrack scores if I need that kind of big, fast energy without lyrics. It helps me tune everything out and zone in on the writing. Some people need silence and that’s hard to come by, so maybe just put your headphones in but with nothing playing and the soft electronic buzz might help.

Now to get the word counts. I’ve written quite a few books, so the idea of getting 1633 words a day isn’t particularly daunting, but I do NOT sit down and think, “Okay, I’m going to type until I hit 1600 words before I stop.” Nope. That’s a recipe for failure for me. Now, I just might get that many in a sprint/session, but I’m not doing it intentionally. I like to break it into pieces. I’ll tell myself I’m gonna get 500 words and then take a break—which might net more like 600 words. Or I’ll see that I have 20 mins before I have to go do something, so I’ll just get what I get in that 20 and it just might be a full 1k words. You decide if word goals or timed sessions work better for you.

Day-to-day, outside of Nano I may not go for multiple writing sessions. If I have time in the morning and over the course of an hour or two, if I get 1500-3000 words, I’ll call that good for the day and not come back in the afternoon or evening. But during Nano? No. If I have time to get a second session in, I will. Even if it is less than 30 mins. That’s how I stay over par. That’s how you get 2-3k words a day when you don’t have a couple of hours in the morning to do it all.

That’s also you hit par. If you get in your head that you HAVE to get those 1633 words all at once, you may be creating a creative blockage in your system. The anxiety, the pressure, that just steals the fun of this.

You’re writing with literally millions of other people. You’re writing with me. You might be writing with your favorite author. Even if you’re not sprinting actively with friends, if you’re doing this on your own, we’re all doing this with you! It’s a fun, friendly competition where we all want to win, but we’re excited to see you winning too! Nano is like the writer community Great British Bake Off! We’re all clapping for you and saying “Well done!” So don’t work yourself up thinking it all has to happen in one sitting.

I mean, look at this:

See that graph? So I “only” wrote 1334 today yesterday. And I did that in 2 sessions, not one. But I was just so tired and felt kinda grumpy all day; I didn’t have those 300 extra words in me. But I was already over par because of how many words I got the day before. Ups and downs are normal and there is always time to catch up. Do not kill yourself doing this. It’s meant to be encouraging and fun so try to keep that in mind.

You’re doing great. I promise!

One other thing I make sure I do is not end right after a climax. If I wrote a particularly exciting scene, maybe a fight or something intense and there’s a natural end to that scene, and I’ve hit my goal for the day, I will still make sure I start the first couple hundred words or so of the next scene. There’s something about starting a new chapter at the very beginning that kind of feels like starting at the very beginning again and you have to sort of find your momentum again and it can be a little hard. It may eat some of your writing time figuring out how you meant to start the next scene. But if you flow right into it and get a couple of paragraphs, you’re setting yourself up to get right into it the next day. If you haven’t done this before, try it, see if it helps.

One last piece of advice from Auntie Shauna. BACK UP YOUR WORK! Seriously. Email your manuscript to yourself every damn day. Do it after every session if you want—even if that means you have 3 or 4 emails in one day—I don’t care. JUST EMAIL IT. BACK IT UP. DO IT! DO IT NOW!

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November 30th you logged into the NaNoWriMo website and verified your 50k words to win the damn thing. And it felt good, right? To see that massive word count concurred in just a few weeks. That was a great feeling, both of accomplishment and relief.

Until.

It hits you.

The book isn’t finished.

Now, if you went into NaNo with a couple tens of thousands of words, winning NaNo might’ve meant finishing your book. Or if you were writing a Middle Grade book, that sucker is probably done. But if you didn’t and if you weren’t, rest assured, that book ain’t done.

50k does not make most books, I’m sorry to say. You’d see far less writers ripping out their hair, staring dead-eyed at Twitter, and drowning in coffee if it did.

The one bad set up of NaNo is the holidays come right after. December is often a whirlwind for most folks, trying to get things done, seeing family more than ever, friends and food and stress and cold and all the things. And maybe you told yourself it was okay to take a short break after such a big accomplishment. And you told yourself that’s okay because look! You wrote so much and have far less to finish, so you can get back to it totes easy. No worries.

Then New Years comes along and you realize the date last modified on your manuscript is 11/30/18. And all those warm fuzzy feelings of accomplishment and relief are but a memory.

Trust me, kid, we’ve all been there.

But that doesn’t mean anything. It really doesn’t. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it doesn’t mean the book won’t ever get done, it doesn’t mean anything. It just means it’s time to pick back up where you left off and finish the damn thing. The good news (or maybe bad news?) is, there’s no countdown clock watching your progress now and you don’t have to do the next 50k or so words by January 30th. Of course, you now know you could, if you wanted.

So, cue up your playlist, fix yourself a nice cuppa, and put those fingers to the keys and hit your daily goal.

Now, for the rest of you. You know who you are: the ones who won your first NaNo, didn’t give up in December and finished your first draft and are so freaking ready to start querying this month.

Stop it.

Don’t.

Close that email and back away.

A first draft is never, ever ready for the slush. Do not burn bridges with agents by sending out queries premature. And if you’re going the self-publishing route, back away from KDP and BN Press and abort that upload. A first draft is not ready for that either.

When I finish a first draft I give myself a week at minimum and up to a month away from the book. I don’t look at it, I don’t print it, I don’t actively think about it (sometimes those thoughts sneak in though and usually for a good reason). Then I go back and read the whole thing from start to finish, making notes as I go, picking up on dropped plot threads, plot holes, inconsistencies, etc.

Then I make the changes I’ve noted. Or, worst case scenario, the total rewrite or massive edits.

Then I read it again. Yup, I get three drafts done before my editor or beta readers get it. And once they’re done, that means five drafts before I’ll call it finished. Sometimes more.

Your book isn’t ready. But it will be. You just can’t rush it. Rush that first draft, get that shit on the page, get it done. But now comes the work. Now comes the real book. Now comes the gold. Your work is worth the work. Do it.

Now comes the shameless self-promotion. If you’re a newbie writer and don’t have a circle of writer buddies you can go to for beta reading or content editing, I do offer both services and I do have some openings, so feel free to go to my website, have a browse, and hit me up. If you mention this post, I’ll give you 10% off!

Mushy Middle: The Mid-Month NaNo Slump

I know you’ve probably read hundreds of NaNo blog posts, so, here’s another one! YAY!

So right now we’ve hit the middle of the month on this little experiment and you’ve been killing it. Hitting par every day, you’re watching those word counts go up and up. You’re feeling like a gotdamn writer. Right? And then BAM! You hit the middle wall.

The beginning of a book is exciting and fun, it’s something new with new characters and new worlds and new, made up words only you know the definitions to. It’s so pretty and shinning and new! And you totally know the end of the book, you know if the good guy or the bad guy wins. You know if the world ends or if your rag-tag bunch of misfits saves the world at the last minute. You know it so perfectly well that you can see it like the epic climax of a movie scene. It is seared into your brain. You just gotta get to that part of the book.

And what is between you and the exciting end? The middle. 

I promise you, whether this is your first book or your fiftieth, the middle is The Worst for everyone. The action seems to slow, you’re starting to wonder if it’s any good, and if you can’t get through the writing of the middle, who in the world is going to be able to read it.

I can make you another promise: it’s not as bad as you think. The middle always feels terrible when you’re in it and writing it but when you go back and read it later, you’ll wonder why you hated it so much. Oh, it’s gonna need some work, it’s gonna need some rewrites and some editing, there’s no doubt, but you’ll find that you wrote what needed to be written. You’ll find some exciting bits that make the action rise and fall naturally–after all, it can’t all be rise. You just gotta get through it.

If you find yourself slugging through you can do a few things to make it easier. You can outline if you haven’t. A lot of people new to NaNo tend to pants their writing but when you get to the middle you realize you’re not sure where to go. Take sometime to plot out the next few pages, or even a full chapter so you have something to guide you for the next couple of days. If you’re really stuck, just skip to the end and write scenes out of order. The only thing you need to do to win NaNo is submit a full 50,000 words–the website doesn’t know if those words are in order, just get the words down and in December you can go back and fill in the middle.

That second option is a little scary, I know. When I get to a scene I don’t feel like writing I’ll just change the font and do this: AWESOME LOVE/FIGHT/ESCAPE SCENE HERE and then, when I come to it in review I can just add the scene in. 

Just don’t give up. Remember, you’re not alone when you’re doing NaNo and you’re not the only one who totally believes the middle part of their book straight up sucks. It doesn’t, or at least, it won’t. Just put the words on the page and come back to it later.

Also, BACK UP YOUR WORK. I email myself at the end of every day so I don’t lose my work. Yesterday, I emailed myself twice because I had 2 large writing sessions. BACK UP YOUR WORK. I have lost work when my computer went into critical failure. I lost tens of thousands of words because it had been a couple of weeks since I emailed myself. NEVER AGAIN.

Ready for NaNo? Ten Great Writing Resources

A quick note: Yes, you’re getting a Spellbound Scribes email on Monday instead of  last Thursday. Life intervened. Sorry for the delay!

Recently a friend of mine tweeted a request for “favorite craft books”, which had me pawing through my kindle, looking for good books on writing. I came up with a couple, but her request made me realize I get as much writing-craft-related information from blogs and classes as I do from books.

*so many sources, so little time*

Since this is coming to you on 10/1/18, exactly one month before NaNoWriMo starts, I thought it might be helpful to make a post listing my favorite resources. Half of them are books, and the rest – with the exception of Margie Lawson’s classes – are blogs, so they’re free!

  1. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – This is sort of my bible, a concise strategy for building a plot. The author is a screenwriter, and the book focuses on developing a 110-page screenplay, but the principals absolutely apply to writing fiction. I love how he pulls from familiar books and movies to illustrate his points.
  2. Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon – I need to re-read this one. And then maybe read it again. On the most basic level, Debra teaches how keep from writing scenes where nothing happens. She also – and this is where I still have trouble – gets into how to ground action in a character’s motivations. (True confessions: I’m forever solving plot problems with the equivalent of “let’s throw in a unicorn!” Yeah, that technique works about as well as you’d think.)
  3. Terrible Minds/ Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative – Here’s a one-two punch from Chuck Wendig. Terrible Minds is his blog where he addresses the issues of the day, along with occasional writing craft posts, all with a heavy helping of eff-bombs. His new book on writing craft, Damn Fine Story, does a great job of teaching how to create characters that readers will care about, along with useful thoughts about how to use story structure to draw the readers in. And without the eff-bombs.
  4. Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes – Gwen is an experienced editor, and in this book she gives an overview of how to put together a romance novel. Now, the idea might make you bristle, because romance gets bashed for being “cookbook”, but I think there can be a lot of freedom in a set structure – jump here for my post on tropes. If you want to write romance, this book is a great starting point.
  5. Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward – This is a timely, thought-provoking set of essays and exercises drawn from a workshop by the same name. (Here’s a link to their website, where you can find a list of current classes.) If your work reflects the real world, either contemporary or historic, you’ll write characters who are “other”, and it’s worthwhile to do some homework before you do.
  6. Marge Lawson Academy – Margie’s a great teacher who focuses on the “micro” end of writing – how to use words, sentences, and paragraphs to keep readers engaged and entertained. Her instructors are all experienced, accomplished writers – I especially love classes by Rhay Christou – and I’ve learned a lot from them. Margie’s Immersion retreats are well worth the money, and a whole lot of fun!
  7. Fiction University –  This blog by Janice Hardy is my go-to for writing craft questions. Seriously, you can search her site for just about any keyword – query, plot, editing, whatever – and you’ll find a bunch of posts on the subject. The posts are meaty, so you don’t waste time with stuff you don’t necessarily need.
  8. Real + Good Writing – This website and blog is a new discovery for me. Created by literary fiction writer Rachel Giesel, the site is full of good information. I especially liked her blog post Three Big Things to Know About Your Characters. I’ve signed up for her mailing list, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she has to offer.
  9. Writers in the Storm – This blog is run by an accomplished group of authors and it frequently turns up on lists of the top websites for writers. They post daily, sometimes have guests, and they address a range of topics, from craft to promotion to writing life.
  10. The Fussy Librarian – I mostly Fussy Librarian mostly as a site for book promotion, but they also have a weekly email for authors and boy howdy are they awesome. Whoever’s putting the newsletter together scans the web for writing-related posts and groups them by subject: writing, law, grammer, career, marketing, and industry. This has been a fairly recent change – I think – but now they’re near the top of my “most anticipated” lists of weekly emails.

So there you have it! Are you ready for NaNo now? If you don’t see *your* favorite writing resource on the list, feel free to post it in the comments. I’m always up for learning something new…

What’s Cooking?


So my last couple of posts here have been heavy on the opinionating – here’s one and here’s the other – and while both of them were important to me, I don’t feel like I need to turn the world on its ear…today, anyway.

So if you were stopping by to catch up on the latest scandal, sorry!

It’s spring, you know? There are dogs to walk, and weeds to pull. And as always, there are WIPs to fiddle with. (WIP = work in progress.) In the interest of keeping things mellow, here’s a run-down of what I’ve got going…three things, maybe four…

Freshest in my mind is Haunts & Hoaxes 2, the second novella in an m/m romantic suspense series I’m working on with my writing partner Irene Preston. It’s a spin-off of our Hours of the Night series, but instead of vampires, this one’s more along the lines of Supernatural or maybe The X Files…but with naughty bits.

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Reluctant psychic meets skeptical ghost hunter. Shenanigans ensue…

You can grab Haunted (book 1) from Amazon for FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. Otherwise bookmark the link and check in on 5/10 – 5/11, because it’ll be FREE for everyone then.

Another project is Benedictus, book 3 in the Hours of the Night series I write with Irene. This is technically our fourth book with these characters – we did a holiday novella, Bonfire, that’s #1.5 – and the plot is definitely thickening! We’re doing our best to tie up as many loose ends as we can, because we left the last book with a bit of a cliffhanger. Fun times!

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If you haven’t read Vespers, book 1 in the series, and you like funny/sexy/scary stories, you can download the first few chapters HERE for FREE from Instafreebie.

A couple other things….last month I participated in Camp NaNo, a mini version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I set a goal of 50 hours work and while I didn’t win, I had fun trying. I started with one project (deets in a minute) then switched midstream to the sequel to The Clockwork Monk.  Monk is a steam-lite novella available from Instafreebie. If you follow the link it’ll ask you to sign up for my mailing list, and I promise not to spam you if you do sign up!! I’ve been working on the Monk sequel for a couple years now, off and on, and am cautiously optimistic I’ll have it ready for beta readers by this summer.

I didn’t meet my 50 hours goal because I got bogged down with another project. I started April with this cool idea for a story set in 1962 Cuba. Here’s the elevator pitch…

On 10/17/62, President Kennedy is shown images of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba. On 10/18, a CIA agent is shown pictures of a rogue spy who could set off a nuclear war. The agent is sent to Havana to eliminate that threat, but the spy’s a man he fell hard for years ago. 

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I even made myself a mock-cover for inspiration!

Every time I read that pitch, it makes me smile, because I know the story can work. I just need to do ponder it some more. To that end, I downloaded a couple James Bond audio books from the library. I’m driving several hours south for a day-job-related conference tomorrow, so I’m going to multi-task. Research while driving ftw!

So that’s what’s going on with me. I hope you’re all well and working hard on whatever moves you. Take care!!

Wait!

One more thing! Last week I enrolled Aqua Follies, my 1950s m/m romance, in Kindle Unlimited for the first time ever. If you KU, go HERE to grab a copy!!

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NaNoWriMo: Do blog posts count?

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NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Equal parts marathon and sprint, an artificial construct designed to help authors of all levels write a book.

Or most of a book.

Or something.

The basic idea is that by committing to write 50,000 words in a month, all those people out there who think they would write a book, if only….. won’t have an excuse to put it off. They’ll have to take an idea and throw down an average of 1700 words a day for 30 days, and in the end  they’ll have a solid start on that novel of their dreams.

But I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one. Let’s have a show of hands. Who’s doing NaNo this month?

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Awesome! Because even those of us who have already figured out how to get words on the page can use a little boost sometimes. Some authors figure “every month is NaNo for me”, but I know quite a few who are using this challenge to jump-start a flagging project, meet a tricky deadline, or otherwise get back on schedule.

This’ll be my first try at the November challenge. I’ve done the spring and summer “Camp NaNo” events, mainly because it’s fun to join a cabin – a group of people who cheer each other on – and it’s nice to get a boost to the word count. In past years, I’ve always had big editing projects going on in November, so didn’t have the bandwidth for the real deal.

Now, though, I’ve got the space in my schedule, I’ve got a premise, and I’ve even got a bit of an outline. I’ve also spent a month researching the time period and place (1920 Paris) – though as the start date got closer, I became increasingly worried that all I’d done was learn how much I don’t know.

Wait. That’s my inner critic talking.

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Shutting down that voice might actually might be the biggest benefit to NaNo, imho. By forcing myself to write 1700 words a day for 30 days, I won’t have time for second-guessing. The words will be on the page, safe in the knowledge I can edit them later. I’m curious to see what I come up with under those circumstances.

I also want to be able to say I did it.

I’m kinda laughing at myself, because when I initially considered what to put in this post, I thought I could discuss some of the resources I’m using. But… you know… word count. Gotta run.

If you’re participating in NaNo, happy words! And if you’re not, WHY NOT?! Everybody’s doing it…

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Included because it’s one of the coolest stories from last night’s World Series win. I’m a romance writer, so for me, this is what victory looks like. 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Merits of Changing Things Up

I’ve found that one of the most crucial aspects of becoming and being a successful creative (successful in the sense that you actually create) is routine. That may seem incredibly counter-intuitive to some people, including myself when I first started out. “But Lyra,” you’re probably saying to yourself. “Didn’t P G Wodehouse famously say routine is the death of heroism? Didn’t you just look up a whole plethora of quotes by famous people to find that everyone agrees that routine is basically where creativity goes to die?” Yes, he did, and yes, I did. But bear with me for a second.

giphy1Every writer and artist I know has a routine. These vary from setting a timer for 30 minutes before going to their day jobs to rolling out of bed and working straight through to bedtime. The routine is almost like the scaffolding of a house being built–it holds things in place so the building doesn’t collapse before it’s even started. And everyone’s is different. Write for two hours in the morning, then fingerpaint for the rest of the day? Awesome. Dance naked under the moonlight at midnight then scribble until dawn? You do you. Find a routine that works best for you, and your creative process. But find a routine.

But. (C’mon, you knew there would be a but.)

Routine can definitely get the better of you. My husband and I recently moved, and in order to combat the insane upheaval of lifestyle that inevitably causes, I’ve been clinging to other routines like nobody’s business. I try to write at designated times. I practice my instrument. I read books in my genre as work and I read frothy lighthearted books outside of it for pleasure. After dinner I watch a few episodes from a rotating selection of TV shows, or maybe a silly romcom.

giphyBut for some reason I’ve been blocked. It doesn’t help that most of my writing work recently has been copyedits, which is frankly a pretty banal slog. But for whatever reason, I’ve hit a wall. A few foundering short stories, a half-baked outline for a really ambitious space opera, and…that’s it. But the other night as I queued up yet another episode of Reign (don’t you judge me) I got a text from my sister. She was rewatching an old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie we used to love when we were kids, and was loving the costumes and snappy dialogue.

Now I used to watch a ton of old movies, either rented from the library or later–when my parents got cable–on TCM. But for the past few years, the combination of black and white film, square aspect, and casual sexism has made the genre feel a little inaccessible and undesirable to me. But I took a chance, jumped on Amazon, and rented it digitally. And a delightful hour and a half later–my head now full of gamine showgirls, mistaken identities, and a love-hate flirtation for the ages–I had a new idea for a book. Something wildly different from what I usually write, but something I’m excited about nonetheless. Nanowrimo–here I come!

giphy2So I’m just here to say this: don’t nail yourself to your desk. Read a book you think you’ll hate, watch a movie someone told you was boring, taste a dish you loathed when you were a kid. Because you never know where that shiny new idea might be hiding.