wrapping up October

on writing

It’s been a little over a year since I last participated in a proper NaNoWriMo challenge and the thought of trying to write 50k words is definitely intimidating at the moment. My calendar for the next month is already filled with things to do: the boy’s birthday, a library conference, holiday parties at work and at home, and other little time commitments scattered throughout November. Plus, I’ve been in rewriting/revising mode for so long (between Cassiel and Anuna, it feels like all I’ve done in the last three years is rewrite and revise), I’m anxious about delving into a whole new story, setting, cast of characters, etc. I’m excited, but scared… and not sure I’ll get to 50, even if I squeeze in every free minute I can. My schedule has changed so much since the last time I participated in NaNo, I’ll be happy if I get close.

on life

It’s been nearly three months since I took in Caramelito, my half-blind rescue kitty, and we’re finally making progress. He’s no longer running scared when a new person comes for a visit, and (after much trial and error) I think he’s finally adjusting to my sleeping schedule and knows that I’ll be back to play in the morning. There have been LOTS of sleepless nights in the last two months, but the last two nights have been blissful. In my desperation, I purchased a cheap, disposable cat cube that is providing hours of entertainment, and a short scratching post thing with bouncy balls hanging off the ends, so he can bat at them to his heart’s content. It feels like he’s been here longer than three months; I’ve been so wrapped up in figuring out how to make the house friendly to a young cat. He requires lots of energy, but getting to know all his little quirks and habits has made for a nice change, and a good distraction after losing Didymus.

on books

After finishing the latest draft of Anuna, I decided to focus on reading, especially genre reads. Some of the latest include:

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – an original, post-apocalyptic/sci-fi style take on vampire YA.

Evernight by Kristen Callihan – the 5th book in the Darkest London series, Victorian paranormal romance (these are naughty fun).

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision not to have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum – a series of essays on choosing to remain childless. Definitely resonated.

and A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – still reading it, not sure how I feel about it, but interesting.

on recognizing the writer within

My friend and former library director invited me to speak about my NaNo experience in front of a group of aspiring student writers; it’s made me stop and think about writing and what it means to call myself a writer…

I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been a writer, but it took a long time before I was comfortable identifying as a Writer. What does it mean to me, this writing thing? It’s a part of who I am, when all’s said and done. There are days when I question why I write—-why I bother with the work and doubt and disappointment—-but I know I can’t give it up. Even if my work is never published, I would be cheating myself if I didn’t write. There are stories in me. That’s the thing that keeps me going. There are stories in me that I need to write. Stories that are alive in my mind. They’re the kinds of stories I seek and often fail to find when I wander the stacks. I feel compelled to write them myself.

Growing up in a working class Hispanic community, being a writer was not a career goal that seemed practical. We need to work. We need to eat. We need to improve our lives. Imagination is all well and good, but it won’t put food on the table. Good writing will help you excel in school, but what else is there? I kept a diary, played with dolls for hours, creating lives and stories for them. I think of these as my earliest efforts. Those dolls were my characters, even before I knew what plot meant. I wrote stories for school, poems, won contests… my teachers were encouraging, reminding me that I had a skill worth nurturing. My mom had always been supportive, even if she doesn’t quite understand the process. She knows it means sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time, that it makes me grumpy and surly when I can’t get my work done, that I groan to think of another draft… but then there’s the payoff: articles, books, chapters. Academic pieces as much as creative. They’re all a part of my journey and they keep me moving forward.

Academic writing is a different beast altogether, but the struggle is the same. You learn the conventions and find the patterns and deal with editors who may not understand what you’re trying to say, but are willing to help you make the most of your work (or not). I have my own way of writing. Sometimes, it gets me into trouble with purists. I press on.

As I prepare to start a new project and sink into another round of editing, I have come to know myself as a writer. I continue to grow with each word. As I prepare to talk about writing a first draft, I look back at my own first drafts, at the joyous mess of them. First drafts are the worst, but they’re also the best. You just can’t beat that feeling when you find a story you need to tell. So my advice is the same I would give a writer embarking an academic paper—love your subject, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with it.

i did the thing

I finished Draft 3 on Saturday… and though I know there are more edits to come (including some changes to the opening chapters), it’s such a huge relief to know that I managed to get this done despite all the complications, drama, life fiascoes, and sleepless nights. It’s done. For now. But it’s done.

I’m going to enjoy this short reprieve and look forward to getting to know some new characters in November.

the view from sunday: back to basics

One of my friends gave me a William Blake tarot deck for my birthday. It’s a tarot for self-deprecating creative types (e.g. me). It’s more of a tool for self-reflection than divination (and I’m still learning how to interpret the spreads), but it’s pretty spot on.

My dilemmas are definitely in the cards… and some possible solutions as well. I read today’s spread as a need to celebrate what I’ve accomplished and get back to what I do best by relying on methods tried-and-true. The biggest hurdle is letting go of the fear that it’s all meaningless drivel and just enjoy the writing, even when working to craft a strong scene.

Part of getting back to basics is getting back to those old habits I wrote about earlier, so I’ve started counting days and words. Even if it’s a small dent in the overall project, keeping score of my daily word count helps me see the work I’ve accomplished in a way that is more significant than just using the calendar method. Both methods help, but I really need to see those numbers adding up to spur me on. I also tallied up the total number of days I’ve spent writing; as of today, that total is 95 days and counting. My original goal was to finish the draft within three months, but I did not anticipate the mass revision I was about to engage in, nor did I expect the various derailments along the way. So I’m going to celebrate what I’ve accomplished and look forward to a finished draft.

I’m also going to celebrate my professional writing, which is a huge part of what I do on the job. I will celebrate the reviews I’ve written, the article that was just accepted, and the book that is about to go to print.

finding my process… editing draft 2.5

It’s month two of my draft 2.5 plan and I’m actually pleased with my progress. That’s a first; I’m usually woefully despondent about my writing process, but this plan is actually working for me and I think I’ve found a system that finally works for me. How does it work? Well, during the last read-through, I made copious notes and relied on notecards to outline major plot points and things that need fixing. I then read through those notes and drafted a detailed outline based on the novel as a whole–what needs to be moved/cut/rewritten, what needs rethinking, etc. It took a good two days to develop this outline, but it helped me get a feel for the edits to come.

Next, I wrote up a schedule, allotting myself 1-2 hours of writing time on Mondays-Thursdays (because that’s really all the time I can squeeze in on a regular weeknight). Fridays are free days to refresh and reenergize after the weekday grind. I block off a minimum of 3 hours on Saturday and Sunday–this means telling my loved ones that I’m off-limits between the hours of 10am-2pm (give or take). Weekends tend to be good days. I start my morning with a walk or yoga and then have a filling breakfast to keep me going until the afternoon.

During the week, I work on 2 chapters. I start by doing a quick read-through, reviewing the main outline and drawing up a list of what needs fixing in those two chapters. This helps me stay on task as I’m writing and keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by the drama of making so many changes.

Using this method, I’ve edited the first third of the novel with surprising ease. Even the rough patches have been easier to smooth over than when I try to edit as I read. It’s a new method for me, but one that I can see myself using in future. Later this month, I will be away for a week; my goal is to have the next 5 chapters done before then (cutting them down to 3), so I can read through the first part before starting in on next month’s round. It sounds slow, but it’s actually going a lot faster than I anticipated.

has it really been a year?

2013-Participant-Facebook-Cover

OMG! It’s almost November! Which means… NaNo time! Again! Yes! I’m exclaiming too much!

Okay. That’s enough of that.

So here’s the plan…

I’m doing NaNo… sort of. I’m really just using it as a way to stay focused on my rewriting. The idea of having a deadline, even a self-imposed one, works for me. I will only validate if I finish the entire round of rewrites that I assigned myself in September (when I really got back to working on Anúna). My rewriting process is slow and messy, so a complete draft seems a worthy goal to me. My main focus is working on plot, pacing, and characterization. Right now, I’m somewhere between chapters 9 and 10, and have cut about 5000 words from the original draft–which leaves a good 40000 words that remain untouched and untamed.

My next goal will be to work on individual scenes and get down to the sentence-level unruliness before finding a beta or CP willing to exchange ideas.

If I feel brave enough, I might attend some of my local write-ins (I’m more of an antisocial, solitary type, but I’m trying to be more open).

Want to be my writing buddy? Find me here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/emperatrix

I have a goal. I do.

I want to finish Cassiel by the end of the month. I need to stick to this plan. I’ve let it go a bit too long, but there’s no real excuse for it other than sheer laziness on my part. This is a much better draft than the first one, but there’s still work to be done and I need to keep at it until it’s in solid shape.

My plan is to finish and let it rest for a few months. Not look at it, not think about it. I need to get back to Anuna to ready it before I can get some readers. 

It might not be the best plan, but it’s something.

some new goaIs

When I wrapped up Camp NaNoWriMo, I told myself I would have 35k written by June 20th (that, coincidentally, is my birthday and it seems like as good a deadline as any). I’m going to one-up that. I want to reach 50k by then and have a finished draft by the end of July. After that, I’ll let Cassiel simmer and go back to working on the edits for my other manuscript. That’s the plan and I’m sticking to it!