Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Camp NaNoWriMo: July 2015

campingCamp NaNoWriMo sneaked up on me this time around. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have remembered at all if one of my April cabin mates had not emailed me about putting together another cabin for July. Luckily, she did, and I have signed up for the challenge.

For July, I am setting a much lower (though still challenging) word count goal of 30,000 words (as opposed to 75,000 in April). I’ve found that I can write 1,000 words a day pretty comfortably, but it will still be a stretch given our Independence Day weekend vacation plans and the fact that Daniel and I are moving on August 1st. I will be continuing the first draft of the sequel to The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1), creatively-titled Desertera #2 at this stage. Of course, I cannot tell you anything about it without ruining most (if not all) of The Cogsmith’s Daughter.

Now, as you may or may not remember (hopefully not), my Camp NaNoWriMo in April was not very successful. Based on this experience, I wanted to share my top five lessons from April so that you all do not repeat my mistakes.

1) Be realistic with your goal. Take into consideration the scope of your project and the non-writing demands in your life. You can always raise/lower your goal during the first two weeks of the event.

2) Be active in your cabin. Having a group of writers around to support you is a great resource. Cheer them on, and let them do the same for you. Share successes and failures, and use theirs to encourage yourself.

3) Don’t worry about other projects. I “lost” Camp NaNoWriMo in April, because I abandoned my draft upon getting the content revision feedback for The Cogsmith’s Daughter. However, I didn’t really start revisions until May anyway. If you can help it, stay focused on your Camp project for the entire month. Unless you have a huge deadline (in which case you probably shouldn’t be doing Camp anyway), other projects can wait.

4) Try new writing techniques. Camp NaNoWriMo is the perfect time to experiment. In April, I found that I actually could write in small chunks of time and that I did not have to end each writing session with the end of a scene/chapter. Breaking these old habits has helped me immensely in my everyday writing.

5) Don’t take it too seriously. The whole point of Camp NaNoWriMo is to have fun. If you go stressing yourself out over your goals, that is even worse than losing or not participating at all.

baby groot worldNow, before I end this scatter-brained post, I need a little help from you all. During April’s Camp, I had Baby Groot as my writing mascot. The question is: should I keep Baby Groot or introduce a new mascot? Vote below!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writing Fears: The Manuscript Monsters

Every writer is closely acquainted with the blank page. You know the one: that ghostly white computer screen with the mocking black cursor, or that sickly pale paper one with the dizzying horizontal lines. When we, as writers, are confronted with that blank page, we face the beautiful and mysterious possibilities that our ideas hold. Will our words weave themselves into lyrical masterpieces? Only time will tell!

In equal measure to this euphoric hope and optimism is the overwhelming negativity and fear. The blank page is not only a welcome friend; it is also a threatening foe. Will our words wrestle against our authority? Like stubborn teenagers, will they curse and stay out past curfew and laugh at our attempts to corral them? Or will they become something worse?

Will our manuscripts turn into monsters?

ghostThe Ghost

The Ghost is perhaps the most terrifying manuscript. It is the idea that we fell in love with too hard and too fast. The one that we raced to the keyboard to type, only to sit down with a look of bewilderment, like someone awakening from a daydream. We abandon our beloved, leaving the page empty, white. The Ghost is the blank page manuscript, the one we never birthed. It proves to us that we are commitment-fearing, lazy, unambitious fools. It haunts us.

The Mummy

The Mummy is the manuscript that we (want to) believe is perfect. We treat it like a fallen Pharaoh. We wrap it in bandages to keep it together. Then, we wrap it in the most beautiful prose we can muster — each adjective becomes a ruby, each verb a sapphire, each word of dialogue a diamond. We encase it in a golden cover, our beloved Pharaoh, hidden away in its sarcophagus of jewels and gold. We go so far as to build a pyramid in its honor — each Tweet, each Facebook post, each proud remark to friends and family becomes a brick in the impressive structure that will hold our manuscript. Others come from miles around to admire it. But when they crawl inside the pyramid, pry open the sarcophagus, and peel back the bandages, all they find is a rotting corpse. The Mummy is the manuscript that we desperately try to make perfect and imposing, but that is still horrid. It shames us.

demonThe Demon

The Demon is the manuscript from Hell. It is the big idea, the one that has been simmering down in our subconscious, the one we know we can’t handle, but we summon anyway. We lure it out to the crossroads and try to seduce it into doing our bidding. The Demon pretends to agree, and it behaves, for a while. But then, halfway through, we realize that we were never in control. The ideas are beyond our grasp, every word burns our  fingertips, and it feels like we are not the one writing. And we aren’t. The Demon is the manuscript that we attempted too early, too hastily, too thoughtlessly. The Demon is the manuscript with a mind of its own. It possesses us.

The Vampire

The Vampire is the manuscript that drains us. It is the one for which sit down in front of our notebook, open the proverbial vein, and  bleed onto the page. We pour ourselves, the very essence of our humanity into it, and instead of fulfilling us, it makes us woozy and pale. The Vampire is the tiresome, long-winded, overemotional manuscript. It sucks us dry.

Frankenstein’s Monster

Because, as writers, we know that the Monster has no name, and Dr. Frankenstein is Frankenstein.

frankensteinThe Monster is the manuscript that makes us feel like Gods. When we write the Monster, we feel powerful and omniscient. We manipulate our characters with ease, building them from pieces of forgotten friends, stitching them into our ideals of perfection and imperfection. We create a world of our design. We tell a story for the world. And then, before we know it, the manuscript takes on a life of its own. It runs away from us, lashes out against us. And when we finally glimpse it in the moonlight, we see that it is not the manuscript we created. It has become vile, uncontrollable, grotesque. It is nothing like we planned. It is Our Monster.

At the beginning of the writing process, we all fear our manuscripts will be monsters. We want so badly for our words to morph into a respectable book instead of some Halloween creature. As much as we try to prevent it, at some point in the writing process, our manuscripts will likely become monsters. In fact, if you feel like your first draft is turning into a monster, it probably is. But that’s okay. Keep writing and finish crafting that hideous beast. Then, when it thinks it has won, give it a good revision to whip it into shape. The worst thing you can do is let your manuscript stay a monster.

No matter what, don’t let your fear of bad writing stop you from writing. Now, right now, grab that demon by the horns and get to work.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo Prep: My Strategy for November 2014

In case you missed it, here is my original post detailing my NaNoWriMo prep strategy. It is fully updated with links to all of my NaNo Prep posts, so if you missed any of those, they are all here! I’ll be back tomorrow with fresh content — a Halloween special!

Kate M. Colby

In my everyday life, I am a planner, 100%. My ardent love for lists is legendary among my family and friends, and my occasional

Credit to NaNoWriMo Prep page. Image from the NaNoWriMo Prep page.

(okay, frequent) tendency to color-code those lists is a lesser-known, but still unsurprising, habit. I am not one of those people who can skate through life willy-nilly. I know where I’m going, and I know how to get there. And if, for some reason, I launch into an aimless existential crisis, you can be damn sure I make a list and get a plan. Fast.

When it comes to my creative life, however, I relax the reins.

If you are anywhere remotely near the writing community, you’ll know that there are two types of writers: planners and pantsers. Planners meticulously organize their works before writing. They know the whole plot, every corner of their worlds, and each freckle on…

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Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo Prep: Time Management

Have you ever heard or read an interview with one of those writers who does everything? Specifically, I’m talking about those hip, independent authors who work a full time job, have a marriage, raise children, run a successful blog and/or podcast, do all their own book marketing, run a business, do charity work, and write (if not PUBLISH) at least four novels a year. Well, I have. And let me tell you: I feel equal amounts of bewilderment, envy, and admiration whenever I stumble upon them.

superheroHow do they do it?! They MUST be superhuman!

After happening across these individuals, I typically go through simultaneous phases of inspired and ashamed. I mean, these people are living my dream (give or take a few details), and I aspire to be in a similar position of my own design. Yet, at the same time, I look at my daily routine and think, I waste so much time. I will never get to that level. I mean, having a full time job, a marriage, a speck of a social life, and writing this blog exhausts me. How can I ever have a writing career on top of it all?

Well, it’s time to figure it out. And, considering it’s NaNoWriMo season, and there are hundreds of thousands of writers out there stepping into the boat with me, I daresay a few dozen of you feel the same way. I must admit, writer friends, I am no time management expert. However, I’ve done my research, wrangled up some common sense, and given myself a good pep talk. Now, I bring my process to you, and I hope it helps.

Figure out where you are wasting time.

For the list-oriented out there (like myself), I suggest making a quick outline of your typical week. For the non-listers out there, think carefully. How much time do you spend at work or school? How much time do you spend commuting? What social activities in your life are non-negotiable (ie: time with family)? What extra-curricular activities can you cut back on, at least for November (ie: playing embarrassing amounts of Pokemon on your Samsung Galaxy)? Once you figure out your schedule and what is mandatory, you can shuffle things around and find empty gaps of time to write.

When can you make time to write?

Most writers advocate getting up early or staying up late to write. While I love the romantic idea of stumbling out of bed and to the keyboard, I know myself, and I know this probably won’t work for me. Likewise, I have to get eight hours of sleep or I get terrible migraines, so staying up late (while easy) is not a good idea, either. If you can do either of these things, great, but if you’re like me and this isn’t an option, it’s time to get creative.

commuteIf you take a bus or a train to work, write on your commute. Or, if you drive or get motion sickness, bring a recording device to which you can dictate your work. Then, you only have transcribing time when you get home later. Other ideas: writing during your lunch break, writing between classes, writing while dinner heats up in the oven, writing on the toilet. Seriously, take any spare minute you can find and cram in a few sentences or paragraphs. It will add up faster than you think.

Know how long it takes you to write.

If you are going to carve out writing time, especially if you have a specific word count goal in mind, it might be useful to actually know how much time you need to reach it. To help figure this out, do a practice write. Find a creative writing prompt or other writing exercise that inspires you, set a timer, and go until you reach your word count goal. You might try doing this a few different times in a few different situations to get a better idea of an average time for yourself. Either way, once you have a general idea of how long it will take you to reach your goal, you’ll know how much to alter your schedule.

Write in your head.

Even if you don’t have a lot of time to physically put pen to paper, you still have hours upon hours to write in your head. Every moment that your schoolwork or job or other life activity doesn’t require 100% of your attention is a moment that you can spend brainstorming. Think out the scene you need to write next: everything from the action to the dialogue to the funny smell wafting in from your protagonist’s window. If you have some semblance of a plan ready when you can physically write, you will avoid the wasted time you would likely spend backspacing or staring at the blank screen and cut your overall writing time down significantly.

Write ahead.

Be smart about your schedule. If you know there is a particular day (ie: Thanksgiving) where you won’t have a lot of time to write, make up that writing time beforehand. If you leave it until after, chances are, you’ll get overwhelmed, and you won’t get it done. Even if you don’t expect any writing disruptions, remember: life happens. If there is ever a day when you have extra writing time or extra motivation, take advantage of it and get ahead of schedule.

stopwatchUse “Write or Die” or a similar tool.

If you don’t have much time to write, you have to make every second count. Using a writing program, like “Write or Die” can help speed you up immensely. Essentially, it allows you to set a writing goal and then subsequently punishes you if you stop writing for too long. It’s a great way to force yourself to utilize your time and get words on the page.

Streamline your daily processes.

As you go about your day, think about how you do things and how long they take. Humans  waste a considerable amount of time flitting between tasks, focusing on minute details, and just plain making things harder for ourselves. There are plenty of ways to shorten daily tasks to free up writing time. I’ve heard several NaNoWriMo writers talk about preparing meals before November, so they don’t have to spend time fixing food for dinner. You could also take showers instead of baths, shorten your shower times (but please, still shower), lay out your clothes the night before (or plan a whole month’s worth of outfits if you really want to go the extra mile), compact all your cleaning into one afternoon, etc.

Ask for help.

When all else fails, go to your support system. Explain to your loved ones that your writing needs to be a priority this month, and you would really appreciate their help. Ask your parents to cut you some slack on your chores, request that your spouse cook dinner or do housework, or ask your friends to keep gatherings limited to one activity. You can always return the favors once NaNoWriMo is over (and you’ve reassessed your routine to make writing a daily task, if you so desire).

beyonceNaNoWriMo is a perfect excuse to rearrange your schedule and, to quote founder Chris Baty, “make creativity a priority.” It is only one month, and if you are creative enough to write a novel, you should be creative enough to make time to write your novel for 30 days. Of course, once NaNoWriMo is over, you will have to reevaluate your writing routine and decide if and to what extent writing will be a priority in your daily life. But that, my writer friends, is a whole other post.

Interested in reading more about time management? Check out this great post on The Rocking Self-Publishing Guest Blog.

How are you making time to write during NaNoWriMo? What are your best time-saver tips? Let me know below!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo Prep: Mapping Your Plot

Unlike many NaNoWriMo plot preparation posts, I don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing the merits of “planning” versus “pantsing.” While I do think it is important to know yourself as a writer and on which end of the spectrum you fall, there have already been so many great posts on this, I know my blog is not the place for you to figure it out. You must do that for yourself by writing. Instead, much like my NaNoWriMo prep post about motivation, I want to give you all a brief insight into my strategy and offer some questions for you to consider for your own planning.

compass_on_map_by_faqeeh-d5x3ob6I recently attended a Scrivener webinar with Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, in which they discuss how they use Scrivener to plot their novels. Essentially, Sean and Johnny map their plots by “beats” — big moments that need to happen within the story. By only marking big moments, Sean and Johnny are able to focus on where their stories need to go while still allowing themselves the freedom to improvise and change the beats as necessary.

In fact, during the webinar, the example beats grew less and less detailed as the story progressed, with the first beats consisting of several paragraphs and the last beats being only a few words or a single phrase in length. Sean and Johnny allow for this decline in detail, because they know that the story will grow organically and probably end up quite different than they originally planned.

Before attending this webinar, I didn’t have terminology for how I plot my novels. Well, now I can tell you that I also plot by beats; however, not in the exact same way as Sean and Johnny. As I said before, I usually arrive at a theme or message I would like to impart to my reader first and then the story follows. When the story does come to me, I tend to think of the ending first.

Once I have my ending, I ask myself two questions: If a book I’m reading ended this way, would I be satisfied? and What action will it take to make this ending satisfying?

800px-Leaving_KS_sign,_Route_66Normally, these questions lead me to a logical and engaging beginning, and the middle remains a bit fuzzy. Within the middle, I generally have four or five big beats that need to happen, but I don’t have a perfect plan for getting from A to B to C etc. In other words, I know I’m driving from Kansas to Oregon, I just don’t know if I’ll be driving through the Rocky Mountains, stopping at the Grand Canyon, or taking the long route along the Pacific Ocean.

While an open middle leaves me a lot of room to play, it also leaves me a lot of room to write myself into a corner. Of course, that’s where motivation and inspiration have to come in to keep me going. Hopefully, I don’t get stuck this November, and hopefully, you won’t have the same issues, either.

However, in attempts to be prepared, I’ve come up with a list of points I need to plot and questions I need to answer (preferably before November 1st, but definitely during my drafting). If you’re filling a bit lost in the NaNoWriMo whirlwind, take a look and see if any of this can be useful for you, too!

Step One: Introduce the World & Main Characters

First things first, you have to spend time orienting your readers in your world and introducing them to your characters. If your readers feel lost and overwhelmed in your world, they will be too distracted to pay attention to your story. Likewise, your readers need to get to know your characters so they will be invested in their stories and have empathy for them. If you don’t take enough time to do this, your readers probably won’t make it through the first quarter of your novel.

Ask Yourself: How can these goals be accomplished together? How can I do this in an interesting way?

The last thing you want is for your readers to feel like they’re getting a walking tour of your world or like they’ve been set up on a blind date. The introduction to the world and characters should happen organically and leave your readers feeling comfortable and invested in the story.

gear-76735_640Step Two: Sound Your First Beat

English majors and other students of the craft will know this as the narrative hook. Essentially, throw your reader into the action and get the main plot rolling.

Ask Yourself: Does this first step create multiple timelines that will lead to my conclusion?

Your narrative hook should be a logical first step in your main plot. However, I am a firm believer that it should also create several paths that lead to your novel’s conclusion. In other words, it should be the fork in the road, where you have the creative power to choose from different paths. This will help keep you from writing yourself into a corner, as you can decide where your novel should go and jump between your potential timelines if necessary.

Step Three to ???: Hit Your Middle Beats

I suggest planning out at least three big plot points that need to happen before the end of your novel. This will keep you moving in the right direction and help you avoid writer’s block.

Ask Yourself: Does each scene move the plot along?

Most likely, every scene in your novel will not contain a huge plot beat. However, each scene should move the plot closer to its conclusion. While you’re writing every scene, make sure it has a purpose — Is it teaching the readers about your character? Is it exploring a subplot? Is it leading up to a beat?

firework_rocket_burstsFinal Step: Finish with a Bang

I don’t need to tell you this — make sure the end of your novel has the loudest beat, something that finishes your novel off on the strongest possible note.

Ask Yourself: Is this conclusion sensible and satisfying?

When you look back on your novel, does this ending make sense in relation to everything else? Can you logically track how your main characters moved from your first beat to the last? Likewise, is the ending satisfying for your readers and characters? It doesn’t matter if it is happy or sad or bittersweet. Can your readers close the book, knowing what happened to the characters and feeling that the story has truly ended? If there is an intentional cliffhanger, do enough of the subplots get resolved to leave the reader comfortable until the next book?

Some other questions to consider while planning your plot:

Do your subplots enrich or distract from your main plot?

Does the plot make sense according to the reality, culture, and physical layout of my world?

Does the plot make sense with my characters’ personalities? I.e. Would they really take these actions?

How are my characters growing and evolving alongside the plot?

Of course, there are hundreds, possibly millions, of other questions that you can ask yourself while plotting out your novel. However, as long as you know the basic timeline of your plot and ensure that your plot doesn’t conflict with the world and characters you’ve created, you should be able to produce a solid and cohesive story.

How do you plot your novels? What other questions do you ask yourself when mapping your plot? Let me know!