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!

Catching up, part deux

19 02 2012

My day job has ‘dark weeks’ – weeks with no work/no pay. This past week was one of those, and it came just in time. I had lunch on Friday with someone who is involved with the company, and he asked how I had survived the previous five weeks – that’s when I realized that it had been a time that was noticeably more stressful than usual.

My November was stressful at work and I added NaNoWriMo to the mix. December was supposed to be relaxing, but my vacation was anything but that. Then came January and the above stressful working conditions… no wonder I was exhausted, when you add in my likely medical condition. Uff da.

Like a lot (most?) people, when I’m in the middle of things I don’t notice what’s going on, or the affect that it’s having on me. I just do what needs to get done, and if I’m having physical symptoms, I push through it. Now, at fifty-four, with a newish medical condition, it’s not working so well.

And what am I going to do about it? It’s times like this when I need a nurturing mother to stand by my side. Yes, my Mom is still alive, but at eighty-one she has her own issues, after a lifetime of being hard on herself (a lesson I learned in SPADES). So I’m going to step up to the plate and be my own nurturing mother.

It’s not that I don’t have resources – I do! – and it’s not that I don’t have ideas of what could be helpful. The first thing is to stop running long enough to breathe, pause, and take stock of my condition. When I do that, I’m not pleased with what I see. The inmates are running the asylum.

I had an interesting experience last night. I recently signed up for Holly Lisle’s “How To Think Sideways” class, and the first exercises were about busting through blocks by seeing, among other things, the false beliefs that one holds about what is the ‘safe’ way to live. It took me three weeks to sit down and actually do the exercise, and when I sat down to do it I was like a fidgety 7-year-old kid with ADHD. And when I actually finished, I realized that the most important thing that I can do is to Be My Own Mother.

And what does Mother think that Little Julia needs? To be present with her own pain.

Ouch. Did I just write that? I guess so, since my first WIP is about the disaster that one man’s life becomes when he is unable to do just that. He’s constantly medicating his pain, running away from it, with work, with cigarettes, with alcohol, with women. Now, I don’t do any of the above… but I can see why someone would do that.

Just be present with my pain, my frustrations, my anger, my disappointments.

Just breathe.

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!

Goal Revisions, worldbuilding links, my row80 update

7 01 2012

I spent way more time on twitter than I meant to yesterday, but I’d like to think that it was time well spent… though it may well result in my revamping my row80 goals.

I had realized that I have major plot/structure/worldbuilding work to do before my writing time will be productive, but then this afternoon I came up with several new scenes while walking the dog, and wrote another 1800+ words tonight. So much for needing major work before the muse settles in for the weekend! Thanks to my friends at #wordmongering, I wasn’t writing alone. (Well, them and the dog…)

This post by Donna Newton is the impetus for restructuring the book, FWIW.

Dvorak is coming along nicely – every day it’s getting easier! I reverted back to qwerty while writing today, but I’m back to dvorak tonight, and as slow as molasses. O, F, and I remain my nemeses.

I found the following worldbuilding links useful in showing me what is missing in my book’s world. This one is one place that I found Patricia Wrede’s worldbuilding questions. I copied and pasted them into a new file, printing them up and deciding which ones I needed to consider for this book. My inner geek is smiling!

The second link is to a 30-Day Worldbuilding Challenge, and it lists a topic per day to be considered. If you read a few of the posts, it was originally suggested for October, as a NaNoWriMo warmup. I’d love to do it that way, if I didn’t have a job!

I’m adding two more goals to my list: walking 20 minutes every day that it isn’t pouring down rain, and getting to sleep before midnight. I’ve been doing the former, and I feel better already. As for the latter… I’m starting tonight!

Sticking a Toe Back in the Water, and Worldbuilding

8 12 2011

Yesterday (or was it the day before?), somewhere 40k feet above the Pacific, I brought out my NaNo novel one more time, and it was next to impossible to get back in the groove. I went back several thousand words and re-read to the end (which isn’t the end at all), and jumped back in… and was completely uninspired.

It isn’t my intention that this turn into a whinge, so I’ll get to the point. I stopped working on the story, and turned my attention to the beings and the world that are my setting.

Late last week I had an idea – why not set this novel on earth… but in the Eocene epoch? First – why the Eocene? Because I was basing a large mammal (the sarkkussan) in my novel on the Andrewsarchus, which lived during that time. But that created a problem, because the Eocene falls after the K-T extinction event, which resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs. The Umgonnan are rather saurian – dragon-like creatures – so wouldn’t they be extinct, too?

Um. well. No. Not necessarily… because it seems that they are some kind of proto-bird, and the saurian progenitors of the birds survived the K-T extinction event. So far so good.

If I choose to set the novel in that epoch, then the physical world is built. Simply surfing around Wikipedia I can learn about the landmasses of the time, the way the climate was, the way the climate changed over time, they way plate techtonics shaped the world during that epoch… everything. And last week I was in Half-Price Books selling some books that I needed to ditch, and I found a 5th edition of a textbook on all the above for $10 – the 6th edition goes for $130.

All that being said… I’m still not sure that’s the way to go. The Umgonnan are not based on any actual Eocene creatures (after all, they have eight limbs – four legs, two arms, and two wings!), and using actual historically verifiable denizens of the forests and plains of their planet might doom the scientifically-minded reader to confusion.

Since that is completely unsettled in MY mind right now, I started writing a detailed physical description of the Umgonnan, clarifying for myself exactly what it is that I’m seeing in my mind’s eye. I enjoyed the process, easily writing 1500 words, which morphed from a simple physical description to an outline of 2000 years of cultural history, and the relationship of the four main culture groups of the ‘people’. I plan on continuing that process in the coming days, as well as using Holly Lisle’s book on Language Building to make naming things easier.

What do you think about using a prehistoric era as a setting? How has worldbuilding worked for you? Are you able to get back into your Nano novel after setting it aside for a while? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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!

Two Days of Not Writing

26 11 2011

I’m in the middle of said two days, and quite unhappy about it. I like to say ‘my job gets in the way of my life’ like so many people, but in truth, it can be more of a soul-draining thing than many 8 to 5 jobs. I play in a symphony orchestra. I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve done this work for over thirty years, and have some incredible memories. Itzak Perlman, Lynn Harrell, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Lang Lang, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Sir James Galway, Kathleen Battle. Then there’s Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Marvin Hamlisch, Doc Severinsen. I’ve worked with them all, in some cases, multiple times. Somehow I missed Yo-Yo Ma.

But not this weekend, the last weekend of NaNoWriMo. This weekend we are in the pit, slogging through the Nutcracker five times in 3 days. And there are six more next weekend. And it’s not an easy score! This is what I mean by soul-draining. This is what musicians do on Broadway – play the same show day after day, week after week. You have to bring your game face every time, even though you could play it in your sleep (and may feel like falling asleep!), but you can’t snooze, because it’s tricky. I had a screw up last night on the last page, something that I needed to work on just a bit to make it work… but I hadn’t, so I crashed and burned. Oops. Not good when you’re on First.

My hands are shot. I am developing arthritis in my index fingers, and I’ve used my hands full out for years. Between typing, knitting, weaving, journaling by hand, and playing my instrument, it has taken its toll on my joints. I cannot type if I want to perform, particularly such a grueling weekend, and I cannot perform if I want to write.

So… I’m not writing. Tomorrow afternoon I have ONE Nutcracker performance to play, and when I get home I’ll walk the dog, feed her, grab a cuppa, get out the laptop…. and grind out the last 3500 words on the WIP that I need to win NaNoWriMo! Well, maybe I’ll finish on Monday night. But tomorrow? woooHOO.

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)

Thoughts After the First Week of NaNoWriMo

7 11 2011

Here in Texas the first week of NaNoWriMo will be over in a mere seven hours, and I’ve done what I set out to do – written 16,000 words toward the 50,000 word goal which comprises “winning”. I wanted to be as far ahead as possible, as soon as possible, because November is busy! Assuming that NaNo is an American invention, who in heaven’s name decided to hold it in November? Thanksgiving and the run-up to the holidays notwithstanding, my work schedule is tight, I have guests coming from out of the country in a week, and I’m just now getting over this cold/flu/virus/allergy thing that laid me low over the weekend. (The weekend where I wrote 6000 words.)

I planned to take today off from the novel anyway, and the timing couldn’t be better. I cannot face the book today, I’m bored to tears with it, I don’t know how to get from her to there with it… etc. And that’s just fine, because I know myself well enough to know that later on tonight, or tomorrow, latest, I’ll be ready to pound out another 2000-3000 words, and the next day, and the next, until my next day off.

I’ve been thinking about the choices we make, how we choose (or don’t choose) to spend our time. Speaking for myself, in recent years I’ve been treading water by choosing to spend hours of my life unproductively. One could certainly argue that the time I’ve spent playing games on the iPhone was ‘down time’ where my subconscious was doing its thing, which resulted in me being here, NOW, writing… and that might well be true. But now that I’ve committed to writing each and every day, whether the novels I’m working on, or blogging, or articles for sundry periodicals, I have to look more closely at how I have been living.

My very best friend is a marvelous writer who isn’t writing much at the moment. She’s the reason why I’m writing at all – her example gave me that “what if I were too…” notion that launched me into this profession in the first place. I love her dearly, and am concerned that she spends so much time on Facebook! And when I call her on it she has as many reasons for spending time online, as I did for using iPhone games to avoid the rest of my life.

But for me the real question is: When I get to the end of my life, will I regret how I’ve spent those hours, days, years? For me, now that I have this purpose, I have an answer. No regrets for the time spent here, on my butt in front of the computer, writing. And if I make the choice to spend the hours that I could be writing, playing games on the iPhone (or whatever gadget we’ll all be oohing and aahing over in ten years’ time) then yes, that will be a regret. With this realization, I now have a bottom line. Being published is not the issue (though eventually, that would be nice). Writing is, for me, the most satisfying creative form that I have ever experienced, and I have been a creative person my entire life: musician, artist, weaver, knitter. It is as though at fifty-four I have been reborn, with a new purpose. I’ve found something which I was searching for, without knowing that I was searching.

So I’ll sit down with the laptop and pull up the NaNo book, either tonight or tomorrow, and write some more. And there will be plot dead ends, threads that lead nowhere, ideas that don’t work… and then that flash of brilliance that makes me smile. Draft Zero. That’s the ticket!


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