Quit Resisting the Muse!

27 04 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

 

The past several weeks have been, for all practical purposes, novel-writing free. As you might remember, I received a sleep apnea diagnosis a while back, and have now completed two months of treatment using a CPAP machine. I’m finally feeling mostly better, having more energy. If I wasn’t superstitious I’d say that I’m over the hump.

:::knocks on wood:::

Most weeks I’d barely managed 1,000 words, and that mostly blogposts, some weeks were a big, fat zero. Then on April 22nd I knocked out over 2,100. What happened? I stopped trying to tell my muse what’s what, that’s what!

I have been trying to hog-tie my (now 116,000+ word) novel into something that made three-act sense. I was looking for that opening scene, that inciting incident which would hook the reader into reading something that I hoped would be around 85,000 words. And it wasn’t working. I was blocked up, unable to move until I figured out where the heck to begin.

Then on Sunday morning, in the shower, my muse hit me over the head. (She has a way of jumping me when I least expect it).

“Just write the damned thing! Tell this man’s story! Damn the word count! We’ll figure it out later!”

Um, yeah. By the time I had dried my hair, I had the beginnings of three new scenes begging to be put on paper, and was ENTHUSED about writing again.

Today? I’m all WTH if it turns into a 210,000 word-trilogy. I’m unblocked, and writing better than ever.

And… I found a website with a novel-writing system that really appeals to me: the Snowflake System.

 

I’m going to take that out for a walk today, going through the steps for this particular novel, and fitting in the scenes that I’ve already written as I find them. Then I’m going to finish this novel, and self-publish it.





My First Anniversary: My First WIP

20 02 2012

Today is my First Anniversary… my first writing anniversary! I have been writing for one year.

February has historically been a questionable month for me. After all the darkness of winter I’m left in a deep depression, waiting for spring. I hit my lowest of lows in February 1994, when I had a nervous breakdown of sorts. I still have my struggles with depression, but for the most part, I’m okay now.

So it’s a blessing to put a gold star on February 20th, a star to brighten an otherwise bleak month.

My bestie is a writer, among other wonderful things. Sometime last winter she sent me a few pages of the novel she was writing, and I was blown away. Then it was as if a tiny angel whispered in my ear: you can do this too, Julia. Just give it a try.

I sat down with my laptop and opened up a word processing file, and started to write about Steven. I am character driven, but already had a scene for him. Boom. There it was. I opened up skype and read it to my bestie. She said, “Oh my god, Julia, you’re a writer!” I took on the mantle from that moment.

My life changed in an instant. Today I’m a happier person, more focused, more passionate, devouring everything I can about the craft… and, of course, WRITING.

I plotted out Steven’s life, and wrote out of order. For almost a year I had no idea how this book would end, but I kept on writing in fits and starts, until I had 90k words. Then I put it on the back burner for NaNoWriMo, and only returned to the Story of Steven Canelli in the past three weeks or so. I finally figured out the ending, which brought his life back full circle. Last night I wrote that final chapter, with a short epilogue planned.

But… and it’s a huge but… the book is nowhere near finished. I’ve cut out huge swaths of material (perhaps for a reader freebie in the future), and am seriously considering a complete rewrite to first person.

Even with that, I don’t know if I’ll ever publish this story. It is, after all, my first novel… and I hear that most writers have four or five of their first work in a drawer somewhere. But you have to start somewhere, and I did. I am a writer. One of the Creatives!





My First WIP is…

2 02 2012

 

… giving me indigestion.

 

I bought Scrivener a few days ago, and was happily putting my NaNoWriMo novel into it. I love the way each part of the story is easily accessible, and how the outline and corkboard views make it easy to see the story’s trajectory. So far so good. I was psyched.

Then I decided to put my first (unfinished) novel in, and uff da. What a mess! What I’ve written covers most of the protag’s life, from just after birth to his 50s in therapy.

 

::excuse me while I die laughing at myself::

 

 

************************

 

 

Ahem. That took a while. Advice from the writing blogosphere: don’t write your character’s therapy. It’s boring to read! (in my defense, I got bored myself and didn’t finish the scene…)

I was a complete pantser when I wrote the Canelli book, with no concern for plotting. I had scenes in my mind, and though many of them turned into true chapters, the chapters don’t fit together. In fact, the character changed as I wrote, becoming a much more complex, darker character. That kind of character development works well in novels, but I’d been writing his story out of chronological order. At 38 (which I wrote in August 2011) he’s a dark character, while at 48 (which I wrote in March 2011) he’s a happy being of light.

I hope to rescue this 96k novel and turn it into something more readable. (Yes, I wrote nearly 100k in this meandering mess.)

My first task: setting up a three to four-act plot. What is the point? Who/what is the antagonist? What does the protag want? What is his passion? What scares him to death, makes him break out in a cold sweat? What would he give everything he has to have in his life?

My second task is like unto the first: deciding what happens in the end, and write it. Is the guy salvageable? Or have his secret compulsions backed him into such a dark place that there is no way out? Will he manage to weasel his way out of XXX?

Can I bust out a series of short stories from this manuscript? Or a bloody TRILOGY? (Duology?) Or a sensible Contemporary Fiction 85k word novel? Or will I finish it at all?

 

That’s a lot of questions to be answered. There’s a bunch of dreck to be deleted, okay stuff to be rewritten, and some awesome wordsmithing in the manuscript. Time to spend some time coming up with a working logline, and plot from there.

The basic formula for a logline (from Anne R. Allen’s linked post above):

When______happens to_____, he/she must_____or face_____.

That’s what I don’t yet have… but I will!





Inventing a Religion

10 01 2012

My Writing Process™ strongly tends towards the free-form and whimsical. (God, is that the worst sentence I’ve ever written or what? LOL! I’m LEAVING it.)

Here’s a ‘for instance’ for your edification. The other day I was thinking about Naweetan, one of the Umgonnan characters in my Nanowrimo fantasy book. He is a warrior/defender/career military guy… single, in mid-life, childless. He becomes a pivotal character in the book when he falls in love. I was in the shower, thinking about his motivations.

“Whirling Dervish”, said the muse.

“What the heck? Whirling dervish?”

I have no idea where that came from, but I’m willing to consider it. Umgonnan are dragon-like proto-birds, living 55 million years ago, some 10 million years after the Cretaceous extinction which wiped out their cousins, the dinosaurs, and they fly, so ‘whirling’ makes some sense. I’m soaping up my hair, thinking about Umgonnan religion.

I’d been mulling over Umgonnan religion for a while. At this time their major religion is rather Taoist, something to help these newly-sentient beings remain rooted in their natural world. There is a ‘goddess’ of sorts, who may be a ‘demon’ of sorts to other Umgonnan tribes, but I’m not married to that thought yet. I hadn’t considered that there could be another religion, which could be completely different.

My musings led me to Mithraism and the worship of Mithras (I thought that he was worshipped by military men only, the link doesn’t confirm that). I started wondering about some kind of officially-forbidden military cult worship that Naweetan would be involved in. It would not resemble Mithraism at all, except that it would be a cult for military men only.

At that notion, I happily jumped into writing a nighttime scene around this, and it failed miserably, a waste of time. Actually, not a waste of time, because I figured out that I needed more background before I could write anything about his religion.

So tonight my meditation is this:

What needs would a Umgonnan Defender have? And…

How could a spirituality/religion meet these needs?

Umgonnan fight using three weapons – teeth, claws, and breathing fire – they have no spears/shields/arrows. So any battles would likely be fought tactically, avoiding clashing armies, because hand-to-hand fighting would result in severe injuries and death… and none of the Umgonnan tribes are heavily populated. However, his people’s sworn enemies, the Rodannerra Umgonnan, are primitive by comparison, and more likely to go all ‘Brave Heart’ on the Udunoa (Naweetan’s people).

That suggests that rituals/spells for protection, for concealment, for confusing the enemy would be useful. Perhaps veneration of a militarily talented ancestor, invoking his/her help. Even some sort of ritualized cannibalism – eating the heart or brain (why am I thinking entrails? Must be important!) – which could account for the religion being banned. Then there’s also the Whirling Dervish meme – perhaps some kind of ritual practice that puts the warrior into an altered state before going into battle? Which gives him access to telepathic communication with the fore-mentioned ancestor?

I like most of the above – nice to add meat to the story  – a source of conflict between Naweetan and his lady-love… and his boss, the Qingann (Qi is pronounced ‘Chi’, as in Pinyin. Why? Because I like it that way!). Tomorrow I’ll break out the notecards and plot!





Post-NaNoWriMo advice, from the blogosphere

4 12 2011

Yippee!! Fritos and KitKat bars for everybody!! Streamers and noisemakers, confetti everywhere!!

You just won NaNoWriMo!!! 50k in 30 days WooHOO!

Ahem. Now what?

In my case, finish the bloody novel. It’s nowhere near done, as I didn’t do any worldbuilding before I started, because I didn’t decide to participate until 9:30pm, Oct 31, 2011. I was originally going to set the novel in 600 AD among Germanic tribes, but people who read historical fiction expect that there be some historical accuracy involved, and I had less than 3 hours to do any research. Then I remembered Avatar and the Na’vi, and boom! But what do Umgonnan eat? Bother. Time for worldbuilding.

There is no shortage of good advice out there for Nano writers, whether ‘winners’ or participants, and since this is my first time out, I’m not going to stick my neck out and make a fool of myself. So here are some post-Nano links that work for me.

First out: Chuck Wendig. I <3 Chuck, and you might, too… IF you aren’t offended by coarse language. Don’t click this link if you are, because I guarantee you’ll be seeing red and unfriending me on Facebook and unfollowing my blog and my twitter feed… You get the idea. Just don’t do it if the F-word bothers you.

Chuck’s exhortation to Just. Write. is brilliant, vintage Chuck. IOW, just because you finished (or didn’t), don’t get the idea that you’re done. You aren’t. Miles to go and all that…

And for more specific advice, I like Victoria Mixon’s post on 23 Questions to ask yourself at the end of NaNoWriMo. I can see spending several hours contemplating that list, and there are links to four more of this editor’s posts on beginning a novel. I’m sorry I didn’t see those before now… though if I had I might have been too cowed to even begin. But now that I know I can do this, I’m ready to learn how to do it better.

Daniel Swensen’s post on Writing Through the Wolf’s Hour, deals with the ‘crippling doubt’ that every writer has about his/her work from time to time. I look at my ‘novel’ and think “Eeep. No one is going to be interested in this shit!” Well, maybe, maybe not. It’s nice to know that we all are host to those fears more often than not.

This will be my last post for a couple of days, as I’m heading out on vacation on Tuesday, and tomorrow is packed. I meant to get this post out on Friday, but as you can see, it’s Sunday evening and … here it is. I hope you guys have a good week, and I’ll see you on Friday-ish.





What I learned While Participating in NaNoWriMo for the First TIme

30 11 2011

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

First off, I finished! I managed 51K, though the novel is barely half done.

I learned that I still have my determination muscle hanging about. I mentioned before that I put it to good use back in high school, becoming an All-State flutist three times over. I thought that I had it in me, and I was right!

I also learned that I can put my competitive streak to good use, especially when I’m competing against myself. Watching that blue bar move from left toward the completion zone on the right every day was highly motivating, especially when it vaulted heavenward above the ‘par for the day’ line on the graph.

That competitive spirit is also well served on twitter, at the hashtag #wordmongering. There is a terrific community of supportive writers from around the globe who start writing at :00 or :30 of the hour, writing for 30 min. I’m actually wordmongering this blogpost right now, and will report my wordcount at 11:30 local time on twitter. Any wordcount is celebrated there, because it’s X more words than one had 30 minutes previously!

I also learned that while it’s optimal to write every day, with my professional schedule it just doesn’t happen. I knew that would be the case, and when I had time to write I pushed myself to get the words down. That padding kept me from despair when two or three days would go by without any progress. So from now on I’ll have weekly goals, rather than daily ones.

After NaNoWriMo I proudly wear the label pantser/plotter. I started out with a logline (which changed, oops), and a basic idea, but after about 10k words I was lost. In desperation I sat down and plotted some scenes, and that unblocked me. The pantser in me came back as I was writing the scenes that I’d plotted, nice juicy stuff that I couldn’t seem to plot before I had my hands on the keyboard. For the next books in the series (yeah, that’s the plan!) I’ll try out @elenaaitken’s storyboard idea, and see if I can plot it out in more detail.

Another thing: if you’re going to write a fantasy novel, it helps to have done some worldbuilding beforehand. I hadn’t, and there are scores of “XXXXX”s scattered throughout the manuscript where I didn’t have a word or an idea for something (What the hell do Umgonnan EAT, for crying out loud??) I need to go back and flesh them out. I’ve bought a couple Holly Lisle’s ebooks from Amazon, and if I find myself a committed fantasy writer, I may well take one of her courses. Hell, I may take one anyway!

I forced myself to not edit as I was writing, but my natural flow is to edit what I wrote the day before, then begin writing again. I need to read what I wrote before anyway, especially if it’s been a couple of days since I’ve written. In my first novel (unfinished, naturally!) there were days when I was uninspired, and I would edit during that time, thinking that I was getting something done. I probably deleted some good stuff in that process, but I’ve kept all my changes for that book, so I can go dig it out when I start working on it again.

I learned that I enjoy writing sex scenes. Even when they’re between non-humans. So shoot me! It’s fun, especially when the beasties are not only sentient and have consciences, but also have to deal with strong instincts that drive their sexual behavior. That’s part of culture building – how they deal with that.

Oh, one more thing. Playing Bejeweled does not add to one’s word count!

Did you participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo? Or in previous years? What did you learn? Did you grow as a writer? As a human being? Let me know in the comments!





On the Last Week of NaNoWriMo

22 11 2011

I’m at 41,000+ words, and it’s the last week of NaNoWriMo. What have I learned?

I’ve learned that I can still channel the determination that made me an All-State Flutist during my Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years of High School.

I’ve learned that a log-line is NOT enough for me, if I’m writing 1500+ words every day. Simply mapping out some scenes works much better, even though I end up adding more in between them when I’m in the thick of it.

I’ve learned that there is scads of info that one can give the reader using dialogue alone. In fact, the blasted book looks more like a screenplay now – pages and pages of dialogue.

I’ve learned that it’s big fun to hang with the folks at #wordbitches, #mywana, and #wordmongering, and I can really pound out the words when I’m against a timer.

I’ve learned that 1000 words/one hour is comfortable for me, at least in the first draft, when I have scenes set out already.

I’ve learned that having a spot of tea with a character helps me understand his/her motivations.

Is that enough? ::smile::

There are things that I know now, too. That I need to write, it’s in my blood. That I can trust when something just isn’t working. Set it aside and let it marinate, ferment. Perhaps it will turn into yogurt, or maybe just appalling goo. No matter, it was a learning experience. And, that I have no idea how to proceed, after the first draft is done.

I trust that I’ll figure it out. I have made so many writing friends on twitter, and they are such a helpful bunch! Go to my profile, and I think there will be a list of blogs that I follow. Maybe. I don’t know wordpress well enough right now… and I haven’t put up a blogroll yet. There is so much good info out there to be had for FREE.

If you are NaNoWriMo-ing, or have in the past, let me know – what have you learned from the process? Does any of the above sound familiar?

 

Oh… and I’m going to be blogging more regularly now. At least once a week through December, perhaps more. No more two week unplanned hiatuses. (Is that even a WORD??? lol)





And now for something completely different

1 11 2011

Last night (Oct 31, 2011) I had no notion that I would sign on to NaNoWriMo,but when I saw that you could get Scrivener for 50% off if you were a ‘winner’ (i.e., if you wrote a 50,000 word novel by the end of November), I was so in. I’ve been lusting after that program for some time now, and the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.

So I went for it.

Slight problem. What am I going to write about?

Well, here is my process thus far.

I had a book idea that I was batting about: Germany, A.D 600-700 or so. Two tribes, the chief’s daughter is given in marriage to the other tribe’s chief’s son. At the wedding, she and the groom’s brother fall in love. Pain and suffering ensue. Yeah, it’s an old story, right?

Now, if I’d decided to write this particular story a month ago, I would’ve had a chance to do some research into what actually happened in the area known today as Germany, 1400 years ago. But I had three hours. Hmmm. This isn’t going to work.

Then I thought about Avatar. Smile! So last night I started naming the characters that I knew I’d need, came up with a log-line (thanks to Kristen Lamb who posted on just this today!), and this morning I started writing. Even with work, and some ‘interesting’ issues coming up today, I managed just at 2700 words, 1000 words more than I needed to write to stay on track to get to 50,000 by 11/30/11.

The beings in this story started out in an amorphous manner, but in the second sentence they ended up having tails. Then later on they had six legs – two legs and four arms. And wings. With feathers. And they change color, depending on their emotional/energetic state.

Now they are dragon-like creatures. Having ritualized sex. WHAT???

 

Yep. Ritualized dragon sex. Kind of like the Alchemical Marriage. Not that I am any kind of expert on that. All I know is that it happens every morning in this world I’m creating, and it heals the spirits of those in that particular community.

 

All that, without plotting. This is gonna be fun, I can just tell!

 





Back to the drawing board

30 10 2011

You cannot imagine how much I love my Kindle! I’ve downloaded so many wonderful books on writing that I hardly know where to begin.

First, I read Kristen Lamb‘s two wonderful books: We Are Not Alone – The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. I love Kristen’s upbeat and humorous writing style which is very easy to read. She goes out of her way to hold your hand as she shows you how to set up a WordPress blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook and a MySpace page.  I did much of that last Monday, and just about a week later I’m following a double handful of blogs, three times that in twitter feeds, and am writing my fourth blog post. Highly recommended!

The book that has sent me back to the drawing board is David Baboulene‘s The Story Book – a writers’ guide to story development, principles, problem resolution and marketing, which is an unbelievable bargain in Kindle format ($2.99! Less than my usual Starbucks double/tall/half-caf latte!) and is chock full of hints, tips, dos and don’ts for writing both screenplays and novels. He uses “Back To The Future” in example after example, which renders his points extremely clear.

So… last night I was reading about the Story Development Process, feeling more and more dismayed. I’ve written over 90,000 words in my novel since I first started writing in February 2011, and my heart sank as I read Baboulene’s comments on structuring a story. I’ve done none of that in planning my story. It has been very stream-of-consciousness… well, not exactly. I’ve been bouncing back and forth in the chronology of my protagonist’s life, skipping here and there as my whim lead me.

In fact, for some time I have been wondering about exactly how I should structure this tome (feeling that I’m not halfway through with it as it is), and wondering if I was doomed to toss a good percentage of what I’ve already written. I don’t even know the story’s ending at this point! Then today I spent more time with Baboulene’s book, and I realized that I needed to just STOP. Stop writing, and start planning. Now. Before I write another word.

I have a very good idea as to the story, as well as the key question. And when I look at many of the scenes that I’ve written, I can tell that they are quite good, from a structure and character development perspective (though the definitely can use some good editing and proofing!) I’m happy with much of my work thus far, and I think that I’m going to be able to use at least half of what I’ve written already. I’ve known that it needs direction, and I feel that if I follow his suggestions (using index cards with each scene aim on the front, the sequence objective in a sentence or two on the back, etc) I will be able to deliver a much tighter, focused, and interesting story in the end.

But… I can’t find my index cards tonight, and I feel like hell anyway. My weekend was fraught, and tomorrow is my day off. Between laundry and getting new tires for the car (yikes!) I hope that I can spend some quality time with some index cards, as well continuing to read my new friend Samantha Warren‘s Vampire Assassin (Jane Book 1) which I’m going to cue up in my Kindle right now. (Hi, Samantha!!)

 

 








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