Word Count Update #4: But I Don’t Want To Write Today!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack again?  Seriously, are y’all still reading this?  All right.  Let’s muck about in my brain and get our feet dirty.

  • Day twenty-two.  A crazy day at the day job paired with trying to get the blog out sucked up my day.  Re-edited #2 a thousand times, took 42 photos to get a few decent shots, re-edited a couple of thousands times more, then took a deep breath and hit “publish.”  It made me sick to my stomach, but I kept going with my day.  I call this day a Failure on word count, but an author win!
  • Day twenty-three.  Wrote a blog about the Bechdel-Wallace test with 560 words.  Word count goal WIN!  Had some fun conversations with other writers on Facebook.  I was reminded of a blog I wrote a year ago, about the merits of outlining.  A good day to be a writer.
  • Day twenty-four.   Wow, my motivation has completely left me.  I know I need to write something–ANYTHING–but can’t find the urge.  Not on e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, articles I’ve saved…  I think we have a Fail.
  • Day twenty-five.  Urg.  Emotional stuff has me in the doldrums.  No motivation to write, unless it’s some super-secret-my-eyes-only journaling.  (Ended up venting about 600 words, so goal Win.  I figure it’s a form of communication, even if it’s only with myself.)
  • Day twenty-six.  A blog written about how cool my writing friends are.  Seriously, y’all rock!  Anyway, goal Win, with 502 words.
  • Day twenty-seven.  Urg.  Today’s chosen blog topic only netted 321 words, so I’m short and too tired to think of another.  I may have done enough additional writing on some of the other blogs, but it’s too hard to count words during revision.  Technically it’s a goal Fail, but only in the strictest sense.  I definitely wrote today.
  • Day twenty-eight.  Caring for an elderly and failing pet has left me without anything in my head but worry.  No writing.  Fail.

Officially it’s three wins to four fails, but two of those fails were only technical.  In essence I spent five days of this week feeling like a writer, and that feels pretty damn good.

For the month that is ten wins and eighteen fails, but on a lot of those fail days I was still making progress. I also have a nice stable of blogs to post once they get some revision.  My motivation is now good, and taking the time to write is becoming easier.    I’m hoping to do better in the next few weeks.  If you missed the purpose of this little experiment here’s the original post, and updates #1, #2, #3.

Committing to writing isn’t easy.  Successful writers are the ones who don’t quit forever.  You may stumble, or stop completely for a while, but if the words keep pushing their way out, try to give them an outlet.  Give yourself permission to tell your stories; you are the only one who can.

If you are one of my writing friends who doesn’t have this particular problem I’ll try to start posting more interesting content.  Meanwhile, give yourself a nice pat on the back, have a treat, and keep an eye out for the rest of us to catch up.  (It is so hard to not say something really, really snarky to y’all.  Bless your hearts.)

I didn’t plan on extending this update series past week #4, but I hope it gave you a chance to snicker at a writer in “action”.  Frankly, it’s going to be more of the same slog; good days, bad days, and in-between days.  I don’t think I can keep these updates going without it sounding like incessant whining about being a writer, and that’s not fair because I do love it.  I’ll keep track of my goal, but I may not post updates.

Happy writing!

Word Count Update #3: Daily Writing Sucks!

Back again, exposing my shortcomings for your amusement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?  (My daughter, too shy to draw a monkey for last week, decided to help this week.)

  • Day fifteen.  Still considering picking up one of the rough drafts to give me something daily to sit down and work on.  Don’t want to use my most productive time for the day job, but mornings are so much better for writing, too.  Evenings are just not happening. No word count, so fail.  Published #1 of the updates, despite nausea at the idea of people reading it.
  • Day sixteen.  Why can’t I just sit my ass down and write?  Surely there is a half hour somewhere that isn’t filled with job/household/family obligations?  I’ve had this!  I’ve done this!  I want this!  Why can’t I do it again!!!!!  FAIL!!!!!
  • Day seventeen.  Ok, calm down.  One, you are adding something difficult to an already full life, it’s going to take some time to adjust.  Two, publishing is still a long shot, so there isn’t anything to help you feel the writing will pay off–eventually–except self-belief.  It may be delusional to believe in yourself, but most writers are, so you are right on track.  Anyway, word count fail.
  • Day eighteen.  Spent some time putting longhand blog ideas into my drafts files.  It’s technically re-writes, but at this point I’ll take it.  As the old writer adage says, you can’t expect water without turning on the tap.  Word count at 526, so that’s a win.
  • Day nineteen.  Job, family time, and general life stuff was like a tidal wave.  No word count.  Fail.
  • Day twenty.  Typed up some random thoughts from my blog idea notebook totaling 608 word count for the day, so that’s a win.
  • Day twenty-one.  More random thoughts turned into blogs, one is a list of things I’ve learned about social media, the other about gladiatorial slugs.  Word count 700, so winner, winner, chicken dinner!  I can’t really imagine publishing them, but that’s not really the purpose of this goal.  Feels good to be putting words into strings that somewhat make sense.  Yay, Me!

Ok, there is some strange and random thoughts recorded here, but you are just getting the thoughts that are directly related to the daily writing goal.  (My blog, my rules.)  Any way, if you are keeping score, that’s three wins to four fails, so some progress is being made.  Starting a daily writing goal SUCKS!  (And here would have been another good place for the bendy straw pic.  Oops!  I’ll get to it.)

I actually felt good at the end of the week that I seem to be hitting the goal when I can actually sit to write, but the hard part is carving that time out of my day.  And late evening writing (the last chance saloon of the writing highway) has started working for me instead of against me.

If you are wondering how this all started, or are interested in starting a daily writing goal, check out this post, and the #1, #2 and #4 updates.  (Didn’t you expect some self-promotion by now?  Don’t you like my blog?  My very amateurish photos?)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy favorite bit.  “Nope.”   Thank you, Sweetpea.

Word Count Update #2: Dance, Monkey, Dance!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, I guess I’ll continue this series for a bit.  I hope it is helping someone, and not just me dancing for the like button.  Dance, monkey!  Dance for the likes!

  • Day eight.  Rounded out miscellaneous blog posts for about 146 words, and posted the original Word Count Rant.  No other writing.  This is frustrating.  Can’t seem to find the groove.  Embrace the stink of failure. 
  • Day nine.  Stupid comments on Facebook and Twitter is all I seem to write.  Writing IS a pit of despair.  Maybe 40 words.  Another day of failure.
  • Day ten.  Tried to write a post about women warriors, but my blog rants are rambling and non-sensible.  For fuck’s sake, I’m 49.  Surely I’ve figured out something about life by now. (You haven’t, and stop calling yourself Shirley.)  Still, it’s 604 words so I’ll count it as a goal win since I didn’t delete it right away.
  • Day eleven.  More snarky comments and pointless conversations while wasting time on Facebook.  Trying to help a new friend launch a Dyslexic writers group, but not many bites.  Re-read some of my WIP character bios, but can’t seem to force myself to start the next revision.  That’s fine, because I really want to recapture the freedom and joy of writing a first draft.  Revision is a slog, but you can’t get published until it’s ready!  Word count fail.
  • Day twelve.  Another rambling/ranting blog, this time about slurs, both gendered and racially motivated.  I just want to help people find a way to convince themselves to write, not become a ranting social troll.  Yes, I want to promote social justice, but honestly, humans can’t even agree on what is basic human rights.  Still, it’s 504 words, so I will win the goal today.  I’ll decide later if anything can be salvaged from it.  Mornings still seem to be the best for new writing, when my brain is fresh.
  • Day thirteen.  Maybe I should clean up and publish my rants.  According to my WordPress stats my most looked at post was the rant-y The Hidden Hero.  (Yes, that got turned into a shameless plug.  Bite me.)  But, jeez, there is sooooooo much random ranting on the internet these days.  To tired from family stuff to think of something to write other than catching up on this log.  Word count is 80.  Fail!
  • Day fourteen.  Maybe I am relying on passion too much for daily writing, and trying to rough draft things that just aren’t ready to be written.  Maybe a long project would work better, like taking one of the longhand novels and typing it up into a second draft would get me back into the habit of daily writing.  Anyway, another day of FAIL!

 

It’s not pretty folks.  Two days of Win, five of Fail.  Making the decision to write everyday is just the first step.  Don’t treat it like a New Years Resolution, and drop it the first day you screw up.

If this rambling post confused you, here is the daily word count post where I decided to encourage other writers to try it while pushing myself, and update #1.  (More shameless plugs!  Yay!) Here is update #3.

Meanwhile, I still haven’t caught up on months of email backlog, or checked out the new people who follow my blog (Hey, everybody!), posted reviews for a couple of books/stories (Sorry Sarah, Alice, Matt and Joe!), or done the beta read of the two new chapters for an incredibly patient writing friend (Sorry, Orlando!), but I’m trying, and that’s all anybody can ask.

And, yes, I know that’s a Chimchar, not a monkey.  Work with me, people!  Sheesh!

Need A Kick In The Writing Pants?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo you have trouble finding the motivation to write everyday?  A lot of people do.  Life happens; jobs, family, chores, pets, social media, books, movies, chocolate…  (Mmmmm, chocolate.)  My point is, writing every day can be a hard habit to cultivate.  You are doing homework for the rest of your life.

Homework as a hobby.  Let that thought sink in.

Ok, now that the sobbing has stopped, let’s figure out a way to make it relatively painless.  Writing is habit forming.  Unleashing that part of your brain on a regular basis can be not just habit forming, but also pleasurable.  I’m not going to compare it to drugs.  Maybe it’s closer to a good exercise or meditation high.  Anyway, there is an event coming that may help you develop the habit.

If you have been trying to write for more than a year and have not heard about NaNoWriMo, you really should get out from under the rock once in a while.  Take a walk through their website, or, if you prefer, “Google it.”

The premise is simple. Write a novel in a month.

The devil is in the details, and there are plenty of them.  I’ll hit the highlights as I understand them.  Write 50,000 words between Nov 1st and 30th.  That averages to 1,667 words a day.  There a tons of rules to follow if you want to officially “Win” the event, and you get a whole community of support online. It also is during the start of the Holiday season.  (Seriously, why during November?)  The percentage of participants finishing out the months is only about 20%, which is not too surprising, considering the high word count expected each day.  That’s getting close to full-time writer word counts. Even assuming you are really just writing a crappy first draft,  that’s a lot of words if you haven’t gotten that far in your writing.

There are also lots of writers who just write alongside the event.  They do the word count, but it’s to work on an existing project.  Or they write poetry, so they try to write one a day.  You could try that with limericks, too, if your writing leaned that way.  Some try a 500 word count, or 1,000. Some people know they simply can’t produce that word count, but they set aside a specific time a day to apply butt to chair and write.  Or they just carry the project with them , everywhere they go, using spare moments to write.

I spent a year and a half with a word count goal that high.  Five handwritten pages would average me 1700 words a day.  It took a couple of months to hit that consistently.  I learned to shrug off the one or two page days, then chuckle gleefully when I’d have some ten page days.  Some days it was on a completely different project than the one I was trying to finish, but I took those days, writing everything down into a different notebook, and thankful for the inspiration.

I still write rough drafts this way, pen to paper.  I find it soothing to the persnickety parts of the brain, letting the ideas play in the mud.  No red spellcheck line yelling at me, or the blue what-the-crap-is-wrong-now lines.   I’m able to cross out, and jumble together, or leave arrows, asterisks. and alternate words anywhere I damn well please.

My brain was a different shape by the time I finished that project.  The self-imposed cooling off period, while I wrote whatever came into my head and got set up with a newer laptop to type up the second draft,  was filled with a strange euphoria.  I had finished a project.  Something some writers struggle with their whole lives.  No matter what, I had that.  A properly finished pile of crap.  My crap.  My own crap that I would figure out how to fix.  (It’s called revision and editing in more polite groups.)

My point is, you won’t be ready to publish Dec 1st.  You will still have a lot of work to do, but if you spend that month developing that writing habit, don’t stop when it’s over.  Continue it.  Embrace it.  You don’t have to “Win” or officially finish, but you might find those spaces in your brain and schedule that are built just for writing.  And if you are a writer looking for those spaces, it’s pretty damn wonderful.

The sublime feeling of finishing a project never gets old, and sustained word count is an experience not to be missed.  Both are worth working toward, and I spend a fair amount of daily thought on how to get myself back to that place.  I want you to have those feelings, too.  So give yourself permission to write, whether it’s by joining the ranks of NaNoWriMo or a more solitary  program.  Give yourself permission to have bad days, then forgive and move on.  You can do it.

Happy Writing!

The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 4 When the Manuscript Goes in the Garbage…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When the manuscript is going to the garbage can, what do you save?

I’ve been lucky enough to have writer friends who will loan me books they think will be helpful to me. It’s amazing how timely these incidents can be. My observations of synchronicity in my own life make me more aware when my instincts tell me to do things–random things–even when I don’t know why.  Even if I will never know why.

So, I am going to insert a passage from a book I’ve just read, and I’m not going to tell you who the author is, or what the title is, yet.  Just play along, as if it’s your manuscript…

On impulse, I held up her manuscript.  “Okay,” I said.  “We both know there’s a problem and we don’t know how to fix it.  Let’s pretend for a minute that I’m going to throw this manuscript into the garbage.”

She leaned forward in her seat, hands gripping the arms of her chair.  I dropped the manuscript onto the floor beside me.

“It’s gone.  Into the garbage.  You’re never going to be able to write it now.  You’ll never see the characters again.  I want you to think about that.”

I could feel her thinking.

“If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story, just one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?”

Did you come up with anything?  Instinctually, did you grab for something in your own WIP?  I sure did. Hold on to that thought.

The book I got that from?  “Writing Romance” (Self-Counsel Press, Bellingham, WA 1997) by Vanessa Grant.  It’s written in the workbook style and full of helpful information, and I have found it far more useful than I thought I should.  Since it is nearly twenty years old some of the information is outdated because publishing and the internet has changed, but the Romance genre still has a lot of the same expectations.  Vanessa Grant has a soothing but insightful way of picking apart what makes a good, satisfying story.  She cautions, throughout her book, that anything not working for the entire story must be cut.  (My Sci-fi Romance has some issues I can’t afford to ignore.)

But tucked into that genre specific writing book was THAT little gem.  The Vanessa Grant Garbage Can Test.  Brilliant.   There is a formal exercise included in the book, but I found the narrative  of the original incident far more helpful.  Since my blog is geared for newer writers, like myself, I couldn’t help but pass on that little bit of insight.

WHY are you writing your particular story?  You need to know.  If you lose what is important to you, how can you hope to make it important to a reader?  Anything that doesn’t serve the core of the story will be cut out (and filed away for another story).

Anyway, my own copy of this book will go into the permanent collection of my after-the-rough-draft revision guides.  The rest of the books in that helpful collection are in this article, safely tucked next to the rescued manuscripts that took part in the above nerve-wracking photo shoot.

Back to my revisions.  Good luck with your own WIP.

The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 2 The Monster in My Manuscript

Just when I think there may be some breathing room between culture crises, along comes another one.  Now, almost everyone I know or follow is pointing fingers at one issue or group as being the sum of all the world’s problems.  I think the biggest problem is too many people are screaming their opinions and not taking the time to listen to the real problems.  There is some big picture stuff happening in our culture, but we only see the symptoms.  It’s like those Magic Eye pictures, you have to step back and change your focus, then you see the three-dimensional shark.  Time to wake up, people!

Meanwhile, I will stay in my book-lined safe space and tell you about the “How to” writing books that helped me to understand that the very raw first drafts I scribbled were worth developing into manuscripts, and how I was able to approach revision.

The first of these, and the book I consider the benchmark for storytelling, is “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers” (Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA 1998) by Christopher Vogler.  It analyzes Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey theory, one of the most basic story structures, from the point of view of a veteran story consultant and scriptwriter.  Vogler really delves into why this kind of story speaks to humans, and cites plenty of examples to help you to understand the concepts.  He even gives workbook questions at the end of each chapter to help you apply the concepts to your favorite stories.  If you read through it, with your own finished rough draft in mind, I think you can’t help but see ways to improve your work.  Vogler admits that any and all of the guideline he presents can be broken, sometimes to great effect, but it’s easier to be a breakout writer if you already know what is expected and actually works. [Since posting this, I have had a chance to read the third edition (2007) of this book.  Vogler goes much deeper and broader into the theory, and you really shouldn’t miss it!]

Because of the popularity of  writing stories from the woman’s point-of-view, usually more introspective and self-creative than the Hero’s Journey, many articles are being written to accommodate this shift of focus.  Personally, I haven’t found any of these articles to be half as effective as “The Virgin’s Promise” (Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA 2009) by Kim Hudson.  This book maps out the journey stages of self-awareness found in many Fairy Tales, and the mythical princess breaking out of her tower plotline.  It is similar to the Hero’s Journey in some ways, but widely different in others.  Don’t assume this it is only for female characters, because it is about the idea of growing beyond the role society has placed on you.  In my current work-in-progress it is the male antagonist/love interest who is firmly on this path, and it was easier to understand him once I knew this.

Another way to check your rough draft is to run it past Noah Lukeman, a prominent New York literary agent, in the form of his book, “The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life” ( St. Martins Griffin, New York 2002).  It is written in a crisp, insightful way developed from his many years of reading manuscripts.  (Over fifty thousand in five years.  Yikes!) The first two chapters are full of questions you had better have an answer to, before you send your work to an agent or publisher.  Probably the biggest impression I got from his advice was Don’t Bore The Reader!  Boredom equals an unfinished or discarded book; a book that doesn’t get recommended, and word-of-mouth is the best promotional tool for a writer.  I personally love his Sahara-dry wit and no-nonsense advice.  Mr. Lukeman also has another book high on my reading list called “The First Five Pages” that I suspect will be just as important to read, since that is where you hook your reader into the whole story.

“How to Write a Damn Good Novel” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987) by James N. Frey is another excellent resource you can use to refine your story.  He covers the usual topics of character, conflict, plot, climax, voice, etc… in a very readable and engaging way, but also covers such in-depth topics as theme, premise, and symbolism in a way that makes sense to the writer and satisfies the reader (and how to not over-use these hidden gems).  The age of this book makes it a bit out of date in the current e-book and internet savvy world, but you should still be able to wield those skills he tries so hard to instill. I won’t re-read it after every first draft, but once a year or so might be a good idea.

Another important book, if the sheer number of sticky paper tags sprouting from the closed book is any indication, is “By Cunning & Craft” (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati 2007) by Peter Selgin.  He covers many of the same topics as the other books, but everyone has their own spin on the way to address and analyze the questions EVERY writer asks themselves when trying to tell a story.  Mr. Selgin has a deeply insightful way of choosing the tone and style of a particular story, and–more importantly–why.  The subtle nuances of storytelling are his to command, and he will show you by example.  He also encourages you to be as true as possible to your voice, as a writer, while still producing a marketable book.  The chapter on Revision is a well written pat on the head, a tight hug, and some wise words as you are sent on your way.

My internal conflict between the writer’s voice and marketability prompted me to grab onto “The Joy of Writing Sex” (Story Press, Cincinnati 1996) by Elizabeth Benedict with both hands when I found it by chance in a used book store, and to not let go until I had it home.  It was one of very few books that addressed this topic when it was published and completely novel in its approach, although now her advice is the standard model for mainstream novels.  Current trends in off-mainstream books have shifted away from “Less is more” and graphic detail is standard for some sub-genres, especially the many bastard children of Romance and all of the other Speculative Fiction genres, not to mention the increasing popularity of Erotica.  Still, I got a lot out of her examples of restrained detail, along with a greatly increased reading list.  And even this main proponent of “less is more” nearly tittered in horrified fascination as she gave a few examples of the bolder, more graphic writers of her time.  My biggest take away from her book was to be subtle if you can, but if you can’t… go all out!

These are the books I have kept as valued hard copies on my book shelf, and I have saved them for going back to if stuck or confused about my writing.  This is a tiny sample of what is available, so please, feel free to add any books I haven’t mentioned in the comments.  What helped YOU on the road to becoming a writer?  It may just be the one book that will help the next writer coming along.

If you missed it, last week the blog was about “Butt in Chair” and getting the first draft finished.  Next week will be something about how to “Take Over the Literary World!”

Revision’s Threshold

I feel the edges of a new threshold pressing around me.  It’s the Cave of Revision, and it’s dark.

I take comfort in the knowledge that many other writers have passed this way, some famous, some not so much. Some of these writers are my friends, who have given me advice, or written books or blogs about how to keep going.  How to keep pushing yourself into a better writer.  How to push yourself toward being published, past the level of the hobby writer.

I do note, however, the few who wistfully warn me away from going any farther down this road.  Their forlorn words are weathered signposts, encouraging me to stay on the path of the blissful hobbyist.  Keep Away!  Turn Back Before It’s Too Late!  Don’t Go This Way!

But it is too late.  I need to tell the story that burns too brightly in me.  Not for fame; I see how it ruins so many lives.  Those it touches contort into impossible shapes to keep that limelight on themselves.  And not for riches; that is its own kind of hair shirt.  I have no need to get-rich-quick.  I simply want to be spoken of with affection by those that know me, and make a comfortable living doing something I love.

Writing is my second chance, my “do-over”, but only because I am already doing it.  I have other choices, and some of them could earn me a living if I focused on them.  Art is in my hands, and in my head, and in my heart.  I will still do other arts; I’ll never give up my anarchistic hobbies, and the soothing rhythm of needle and thread can free your mind to pull apart plots and characters, then stitch them back together, better.

My beta readers have given me enough to see my way, at least the first steps.  I have some hard work ahead, and even harder decisions to make. I’ll hone the edge of my skill against the words of my bookish mentors, and hopefully kill my darlings mercifully. They won’t stop the story burning its way out.  (Hey, maybe I should get a Doctor to check that.)

So, like the archetypical Hero, I ignore the warnings, tighten my belt, gird my loins, and check my weapons.  Looking back down the path, I see the lessons I’ve learned.  Some were painful, some were fun, all were necessary.  I glance at my companions, those I’ve gathered along the way, and step forward, into the Cave of Revision.

Damn, anybody got a light?