Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NaNo Winner And My New Daily Word-Count Goal

I did it!

Last weekend, between strolls through the Christmas Market and a bout of ice scating, I wrote the six thousand words that carried me valiantly over the finish line of 50k.

To be honest, those six thousand words are probably not worth the bytes they're saved on. A lot of rambling and not much plot development went into those scenes. But I'm confident that I'll be able to use at least one or two paragraphs when revising - as soon as I finish my master thesis which from now on has top priority. My pleasure writing must step down until the end of January.

I've been juggling NaNo, thesis and applications this past month, along with various social and sporting activities, and it's exhausting. Something has to go, or something in me will give. For now, thesis and applications are more important. *sigh*

Which is not to say I won't write at all. But I've limited my daily goal to 100 words, mostly to keep in touch and feel with my story. No pressure, though. For now, other writing must come first.

Good thing I enjoy the typing aspect of writing in itself a lot. I love to feel my fingers dance over the keys, the soft clicking sounds they make. I find it soothing. So even though I'm limiting my pleasure writing, I'm not forgoeing the pleasure of writing, or rather typing.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Countering The Info Dump

So, there you are, with a blank screen-sheet of paper in front of you and a shiny new idea whizzing through your creative synapses, and the ideas for this world and story come pouring forth in endlessly detailed descriptions which, by the time you read through them the second time, you realize are not important to the present scenes and developments.

Especially in the beginning of a story, I find it very hard to limit myself to facts and information important only to the present action of the story.

For example, if our hero is fighting his dragon nemesis, the interesting things to know might be the dragon's size, length of teeth, thickness of hide, and the hero’s quickness and cunning. The reader will at this moment not appreciate excessive descriptions of the dragon’s home cave, the hero’s religious affiliation, or, heaven forbid, the kind of tea he enjoyed for breakfast that morning – unless it causes him to be sick at the exact moment he would have dealt the death blow with his mighty sword.

Great stories give only as much information as needed for the reader to understand the present scene, don’t repeat information unnecessarily unless making a point, and assume that the reader remembers what s/he read in the chapter before. It wasn’t always like this; I just have to think of the beginning of The Hobbit, where Tolkien describes in minute detail the pipe-smoking habits of hobbits, which doesn’t in any way further the actual plot of the story, and to be honest made me put the book away never to be picked up again. Talk about ‘info dump’, which is the term for unloading unneeded information on the reader.

Not that I, as a writer, have never fallen into its deep, dark trap. Far from it. When writing, I’ve often found it difficult to decide how much information is needed in a scene; how much I’ve already explained or can explain later, how much I’ve hinted at and will this be enough for the reader to understand what’s going on, whether I need to get this piece of information out there earlier in the story to get a bigger surprise or aha effect.

Two things help me handle this plight. First, I nowadays write down details about world building, character information and plot development in a notebook before I sit down to begin writing the actual story. This way, I get my own initial impulse to info-dump out of the way, and won’t forget the little details that seem so important when I first think of them. Also, I then have a loose frame in which to have fun with my worlds, scenes and characters, and can more easily determine whether a tangent I’m drifting off on will be beneficial to the story or not.

The second thing I do is that I compare my novel to a new friend, whom I get to know better with every encounter. I don’t need to know everything about this person, stat. In fact, I don’t want to know everything right away - personally, I find it rather annoying when somebody I've just met unloads his/her deepest secrets, highest dreams or darkest worries one me. 

You cover the basics, test the shallow waters, before allowing yourself to dive into the murky depths of a new acquaintance. The longer you know somebody, the better you get to know him/her. That, I think, is a good comparison to the relationship book-to-reader. All the reader needs to know and understand is why the hero re/acts the way s/he does during the scene being read. In some cases, even, the reader does not need to know everything, for example at times when the protagonist doesn't know everything either...

So, that's how I counter my info-dumping tendencies. I'm sure there are many other ways, but these two are the ones I've found work best for me.

I still do it while writing a first draft, though not as excessively. And that's okay - it's what first drafts are for. Get the story written down, then worry about perfecting it. I just find it helpful to get my initial dumping-urge out of the way, because then I can actually dive into the story head-on and not worry about whether I'll remember that my hero is allergic to camomile tea fifty thousand words from now.

Edited to add: An info dump can be well done, as shown in The Artful Infodump.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Knowing What You Want

This is a great post by Michael Hyatt, about overcoming bad habits. He lists possible alternatives one can focus on instead of ones habits. I have one more to add, one that I think heads them all:

Know what you want instead of knowing what you don't want.

We all know what we don't want. We don't want to get lung cancer, we don't want to get fat, we don't want to be poor, we don't want to raise our kids the way our parents raised us, we don't want to be outcasts of society, we don't want to argue... the list is long of things we don't want. We especially don't want to worry all the time. When we do this, we make ourselves the biggest obstacle to overcome.

The trick is to figure out what we want instead, and to visualize it as best as possible. I started doing this actively about a year ago.

For example, I told myself the following:

1. I want to enjoy my body - so I started rock climbing, which is a lot of fun for me.
The result: I lost approximately 10 pounds within 9 or 10 months and my backaches are a thing of the past.

2. I want my body to be free of toxins and unnecessary hormones even in old age - so I started eating mostly organic food, and stopped taking the pill.
The result: I have no more headaches or stomach cramps.

3. I want to finish a book - so I made a plan, sat down and wrote.
The result: I got to write The End on a manuscript and now have something to query with.

4. I want to enjoy (meeting new) people (something the prospect of always gave me a stomach ache) - this one wasn't so easy, and often still isn't. But I figured out it's easier if it's not important what others think of you. And the way to achieve that is, basically, the next point:

5. I want to feel worth something to myself - so every day I repeat my mantra: "I take the most interesting, beautiful and valuable person into my heart – myself." The hardest thing about that 'excercise' is admitting that you are, in fact, worth everything you could ever want for yourself. You deserve it, just because you want it (if you want it for the right reasons).
The result (of the last two): I've become more outgoing, I don't blush as easily, I can voice my opinions, I have opinions of my own, and I know what I want for my future, not some future somebody else envisions for me.

Basically, I've made my strengths, dreams and fun my priority, not my weaknesses, vices and other people's opinions. It doesn't make me ignorant of them, not by a long shot, but they've become less important and so lose some of their hold over me.

It is freedom, pure and simple.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Medieval Christmas Market - Squeeeeeee

I'm so excited!

Yesterday was the first day of the annual Medieval Christmas Market in my town, Esslingen - which, with its winding cobbled streets and squares, six-hundred year old timbered houses and the castle-like fortification overlooking the whole city from a nearby hill, is the perfect setting for such a festival.

Four weeks of knights, jesters, frivolous musicians, performers, fire artists, lords, ladies, peasants, herb women, blacksmiths, cobblers, furriers, armorers, glassblowers, cooks, bakers, taverns, leather workers, fletchers and chandlers - all in medieval garb and speaking in words which would be music to any accidentally present (as in whoops-my-time-machine-actually-worked accidentally) medieval ears.

Not to forget the wooden Ferris Wheel, axe-and-arrow games, the public baths (oh yes!), hot spiced wine, cannabis bread and the torch procession up to the "castle" two nights before Christmas Eve.

And all of this for the low low price of several layers off the soles of your shoes, depending on how often you go there and tread those cobbled streets of historic fun. Since I live only two minutes away from the nearest 'portal' into history, I'm going to be there a LOT. I also plan on taking my beautiful string-tied linen gown with the wide sleeves I bought last year out to mingle with other medieval haute couture. As soon as I've upgraded my language to a lady's vocabulary. Then again, a wench's vernacular might do just as well.

Here are a few pics to illustrate better what all my excitement is about:





Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NaNoWriMo Progress and Pros & Cons

Woot! I'm at 40.700 words and have seven days to go, which makes an average of 1400 words per day I have to get through. My plan was to write four-hundred words per weekday, and at least five-thousand words per weekend. By that calculation I’d manage approximately 52k by the end of November. I’m lagging a tad behind, but not by much.

Surprising, considering I only really had time on weekends and am trying to write good prose as well as a lot of words. People in the writing biz seem to be divided on the NaNo concept for this very reason. A lot of authors, agents and editors say the as-many-words-in-a-month plan isn’t very productive quality-wise, because the only important factor of NaNo is quantity.

I completely understand agents who are apprehensive about the coming months, when some (or, apparently, quite a lot of) authors of NaNo stories query them with their first, unrevised drafts. From the author’s, or rather the manuscript’s point of view, that’d be like conducting a caesarean four months into the pregnancy – that poor baby would have no chance of survival. In this scenario, the agent would be the doctor trying to tell hundreds of soon-to-be mothers that they’ll have to keep that bun in the oven a little while longer before they can even begin to cuddle with it and nurse it to maturity.

Okay, bad comparison; writing a novel isn’t usually a life-or-death matter (but wouldn't that be a fun premise for a novel?!). Just trying to point out where I see that NaNo has its drawbacks concerning quality. Which is why I tweaked the concept and added my own personal goal to the NaNo-premise: manage at least 35k while doing my best to make it a viable first part of a first draft. Because, if all goes well, I think this story has publishing potential. Ergo, I don’t want to ruin my delight in writing it by just slapping out as many words as possible and making it odious and taking the fun out of revisions because it is so terrible.

This is where I see the NaNo-concept as helpful – it got me seriously started on this project. Judging by my outline (and, yes, word count), I’m almost halfway through (I estimated approximately 90k for this novel). And even though a lot of it is still filler – stuff I know I’ll have to revise – the most important scenes are well-written and pose the fundamental groundwork on which the novel will be built further.

My point being that the first draft won’t be perfect even if I put quality over quantity, but at least NaNo got me started on it effectively and efficiently. That, to me, is the beauty of NaNoWriMo.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Structuring Stimulus And Reactions

If you've ever wondered how two write the reaction process to something, this post on Ilona Andrews' blog is a treasure trove of golden wisdom. Ilona states that our reactions happen in stages, with the reactions taking the least time and effort coming first. Meaning that physical reactions come before those that require thinking about.

Her example:

Stimulus: flame of a candle.
Stage one – involuntary response.  We jerk our hand away.   It takes almost no time for our body to process it and it happens immediately.  This is usually a purely “muscular” response.
Stage two – brain processes pain and comes with a simplest mental response.  We yell, “Ow!”
Stage three – brain recognizes the stupidity of touching the candle by forming appropriate thoughts.
Stage four – we vocalize.  “Who the hell put this candle right here?”

Now I'm itching to go through my WIP and check whether I structure such situations like this instinctively (oh, wouldn't that be nice), in some occasions, or not at all.

At least I can actively apply this golden wisdom on my future writing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Multi-Book Deals & Keeping Your Series Fresh

Interesting post by Alan Rinzler, on multi-book deals and how to keep your protagonist interesting to readers throughout a series.

Theoretically, the ms I'm shopping around right now could easily be made into a series. Except, for now, I'm sucked dry concerning that world. I've started on something else, something new and exciting in which the possibilities seem endless and I'm giddy with anticipation of my next words - that New World syndrome, I guess. Maybe, at some point, I'll go back to the Old World and enjoy it again.

At the moment, I'm not sure what I'd do, if I'd get offered a multi-book contract for the 'Old World' book.
Getting a contract: Huzzah!
Having to write more in the Old World: Meh!

Just spitballing here, of course; I'm not actually worried about this. Just going through all the possibilities. Dreaming.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. 

Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dos And Don’ts When Writing A Query

Great summary post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog:

  1. An entertaining but polite and professional tone
  2. Multiple forms of contact information
  3. Proof that you have researched and hand-picked an agent. (If you’ve got a connection, were referred by a client or met the agent at a conference, make sure to point that out early in your letter.)
  4. Especially for nonfiction: An author bio that demonstrates your platform and why you’re the right author for this project
  5. A quick, catchy hook or “elevator pitch”
  6. Making a case for the book’s built-in audience
  7. Especially for nonfiction: Showing why your expertise and media contacts make you the best author for your project

  1. Asking what the agent can do for you, rather than demonstrating what you can do for him/her
  2. Asking for a phone call or in person meeting before the agent has requested one
  3. Querying for multiple projects at the same time
  4. Listing personal information unrelated to your book
  5. Giving references from people outside the publishing industry (such as saying your writers group, your congregants, or your mother’s next door neighbor’s cockerspaniel loved your book)
  6. Comparing your book to a commonly-quoted bestseller
  7. Making broad claims that you can’t back up
  8. A pitch for an incomplete novels. (It’s OK to query with an unfinished nonfiction project, as long as you’ve written a proposal, but novels should be finished before you start contacting agents.)
  9. Overly familiar, aggressive, or incorrect salutations

Monday, November 8, 2010

Breaking The Power Of Myth

Great (and funny) advice from Chuck Wendig, things I’ve found to be true and have to work on myself but never put into words:

There is no Muse.
You are not slave to your inspiration, to some mystical ‘Muse’. “You do not work for the Muse. She works for you. Chain her to the pole and make her dance.” For this, you have to sit down, and write.

There is no Writer’s Block.
The feeling of being blocked isn’t restricted to writers. Again, start doing the work. By just making stuff up – which is the most awesome way! “You combat one lie with another: the glorious lie of fiction.”

There is no Perfect Draft.
“The perfect draft is a myth. […] You should accept that “This Sucks” is part of your novel’s life cycle. It will get better as long as you let it get better. […] don’t expect your first draft to be the one that blows everybody’s socks into the sky, either.
Put the perfect draft out of your mind.
It sucks now. Which is why you’re going to keep working to fix it.”

Summed up, the major point Wendig makes is this:
Don’t let liberally bandied-about myths keep you from finishing your manuscript! Don't waste time listening to others.

Sit down and WRITE!

I’ve quoted Yoda before, but I'm itching to do so again:

Do. Or do not. There is no ‘try’.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NaNo Genre Poll

Interesting poll on Nathan Branford's blog, to figure out popular genres being written in NaNoWriMo.

So far, it doesn't seem to be very different from last year's results.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Aftermath... muahahahahaaaa

No. After displaying their true natures for one night... 

Wicked Witch of the Purple-Fest, a.k.a. me

...they simply slipped into their guise of well-behaved human citizens again.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Ritual for achieving my Writing-Zen

About a month ago, I wrote a post about my zen-zone and trying to find the right ritual to get started with writing for me. Today, a blog post by Allison Winn Scotch made me think about this again, and I realized I already have a ritual, even if it doesn't seem like one at first glance (at least to me).

I need to start writing in bed: sitting with my back against the wall, a pillow on my lap, my laptop on the pillow, a cup of hot tea and some chocolate within reach. I need to be warm and cozy, able to snuggle into comfort - then I'll snuggle right into creativity. 

Of course, I can't sit like that for hours on end and not have back spasms afterwards (not even my rock-climbing enhanced spine of steel can handle that), so I move it to the desk after about an hour. By that time I'm deeply in my writing-zen, though (or I'll never be that day), so that teeny interruption makes no difference. 

And just in case you're wondering: Yes, I'm sitting in bed right now.