Throwing Out the Rules

Every time you sit down to write a new novel, you have to re-learn the process again. I’ve heard or read versions of that statement from many authors, but of course it only really hits home once you experience it yourself.

Each new story I write, I try to hone my technique, figure out “the way” to create the characters, understand their goals and motivations, increase the conflict. There are dozens of plotting systems out there, hundreds of different kinds of character creation tools, ways to dig into their psychology and personalities. And any of these methods or combination of them may be the “the way” for a given story.

So each time I write a new story, it’s like starting from scratch. I do think I’m learning from previous efforts, but that doesn’t actually make it easier to do the work. Duplicating the exact method you used previously is rarely possible, nor does it always achieve the same results.

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month and this year I’m throwing out the hard-won knowledge I gained from my two previous wins. I’m pantsing it this time. I would absolutely not recommend this strategy to anyone, but I’m having so much fun doing it. The challenge of waking up each morning with absolutely no idea what’s going to happen – or just a tiny sliver of an idea – and then putting fingers to keyboard and just letting it flow … it’s invigorating. And so far, it’s working.

I’ve gone down a few rabbit holes of story tangents in the six days of Nano, but by the next day I seem to be able to pull myself out. I’m crafting a story and only have the vaguest idea where it’s headed. There’s a mystery I haven’t solved yet, but I’m confident my subconscious is up to the task and will tell my fingers when the time is right.

I used to pants everything, and never finish anything, so I think the lessons I learned in actually finishing, in completing novels and winning previous Nanos, has coalesced, even though I’m throwing out the “rules” I used to do these things.

It helps that I feel no attachment to this story. It’s not on my production schedule, it may very well never see the light of day. Then again, maybe it will. I don’t know what’s around that next corner, and for once, the control freak in me is okay with that. I’m a pantser and a plotter and an everything in-betweener, and I’m cool with that.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Are there any rules you’re sticking to or throwing out the window?

photo credit: Any-Photo via photopin cc

My Creative Process

The lovely and talented Emily P. DeLoach (author of the fantastic book Escaping the Mirror, which everyone should read) invited me to participate in a blog hop on the creative process. Here is my take:

What am I working on?

Probably way too many projects 🙂 I’m working on the revision of my fantasy romance novel, codename: Earthsinger. I received amazing feedback from my developmental editor, Danielle at Double Vision Editorial, and am busy pulling it all together. I’m also co-writing a paranormal romance serial with my partner-in-crime Nakeesha. We’re sending part one to beta readers today and are digging in to the draft of part two. In the midst of this, last week, I finished the first draft of a story that was nowhere on my writing schedule. It’s called Angelborn, and those 30,000 words just demanded to be written. I actually woke up at reeeally early one Saturday and crawled over my husband to find a pen and paper to start scrawling out ideas. When inspiration strikes, you have to follow!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

My fantasy romance doesn’t take place in medieval times, but in a 1920’s-esque world where two races are separated by skin color, magical abilities and five hundred years of war.

I came up with the pseudo-tagline “romance for the head and the heart” because as much as I love fluffy, light stories, I can’t seem to write them. My characters tend to be tortured in some way: societal outcasts, refugees fleeing a brutal dictator, teens coping with a false diagnosis of mental illness, a daughter seeking closure from her dying, abusive father. I don’t see a romantic comedy in my future, though I won’t rule anything out.

Still, at the end of the day, I want my stories to make people feel good. Life is too real for too much realism in your fiction, in my opinion. Hence the magic and the happily ever afters.

Why do I write/create what I do?

I believe you should write the stories you want to read. I write characters of color because I want to read about them, and I believe others out there do as well. I write fantasy and paranormal stories because I want magic to be real, and believe that sometimes it is. Falling in love is the most magical thing of all, and I write love stories so I can experience the wonder over and over again.

How does my creative process work?

Occasionally the lightning bolt will strike and the words will magically flow from my fingers, but most of the time it isn’t like that. These days I get up at 6am every day to write for at least an hour and a half.

I keep a notebook of story ideas like most writers, but I take it one step further. When I have an idea, many times I’ll log in to 750words.com and just start writing a small section of it. Start in the middle and write for ten or fifteen minutes, sometimes longer, just to get it out of my system. I could use Scrivener or Word, but I don’t want to have to worry about filenames and where to put it on my computer, the website saves it and I can go back through all my idea snippets later on and choose one to expand on.

I talked a bit about fast drafting before – dumping out a first draft as quickly as possible helps me coalesce the idea in my mind. Then the second draft is all about fleshing it out, making sure there’s a plot and conflict, goals and motivations, and then a third draft to polish before anyone else looks at it. Critique partners are key to let me know when I’ve gone off the rails and to encourage and motivate me.

 

Tag, you’re it! Up Next on the Blog Hop: Angela D’Ambrosio & Nakeesha Seneb

Angela grew up in a small mountain town in Idaho and graduated at the top of her class of seven. She was born in Boise, Idaho in 1977, the second of four children and the only girl. She still lives in Boise, where she raises three small kids and blogs at http://angelad.me about reading, writing and the human condition. She has been featured in Go Read Your Lunch and IDAHO Magazine.

By trade, Nakeesha is a screenwriter. She wrote and produced for the kids’ programming block of the Black Family Channel. Currently, she teaches screenwriting and digital media production at an art college Washington, DC. She loves being immersed in a story whether it’s on a page or on the screen. Having success with the small screen, she’s turned her attention to the small press. She will be self-pubbing a collaborative shifter paranormal romance in the fall of 2014.

Do you want to play, too? Answer the four questions above and post a link here in the comments!

The Magic of Writing Faster

This past weekend I attended a great workshop given by two publishing luminaries, Candace Havens and Liz Pelletier. Candace is known, at least in the romance writing community, for her online and in-person Fast Draft workshops.

For an indie author, writing fast is key. With some exceptions, indie publishing is a numbers game. We hear it all the time, write a series, release them as fast as you can. Four books a year is my goal, but there are plenty of authors who release far more frequently than that.

I want to write fast mostly to be able to tell all the stories inside of me within my lifetime. So many ideas, so little time. Banging out a book in a couple of weeks (or at least the first draft of a book) would go a long way towards meeting my goals and getting all these people out of my head.

According to Candace, there’s a zone you get into when writing fast where your subconscious takes over. I’ve definitely felt this. When inspiration hits, it’s like my fingers can’t write fast enough. Last summer, I wrote the first draft of my novel Earthsinger, 21,000 words in two days. (It’s since grown to 66,000.) The story flew from my fingertips and when I read it again, I didn’t even remember writing much of it.

Your subconscious is so powerful. Even though I haven’t yet matched that kind of speed, I can feel the wheels churning on my stories when I’m away from my computer. It’s a wonderful feeling to have that spark that comes when a problem you’ve been mulling over is solved. Things just click into place inside your head. Sometimes it feels like magic.

Here are some things that help me write faster:

  • Write, don’t edit. The writing/creative part of your brain and the editing/analytical part of your brain are incompatible. They compliment each other, but from a distance. Turn off your editor. Don’t read what you’ve written before. I use an Alphasmart Neo – with only 4 lines of text, and no annoying red lines indicating misspellings and errors.
  • Keep track of your daily word count. Use a notebook, a spreadsheet or an app. Keep track of time and number of words. It helps to know.
  • Know what you’re going to write before you sit down. Read this article if you haven’t. It changed my life. Even a pantser can visualize one scene at a time beforehand.
  • Don’t judge yourself. Writing fast can and will lead to a lot of crap, but there will be jewels in there as well. Clean it up later, at least you’ll have something to clean up!

If you’re interested in writing faster, I’d suggest taking Candace’s workshop either online or in-person at your first opportunity. The online version comes with a community for accountability where you post your daily page count to universal applause or nagging.

Other options for community include Camp Nanowrimo, which is starting again in July. You can choose “cabin mates” or have some chosen automatically for you – these are the folks that will keep you accountable on your mission for more words.

Maybe you won’t get to 5,000 words a day, but any increase in your daily word count gets you one step closer to that goal of a finished novel.

Do you have any tips for increasing your word count? Let me know in the comments.

photo credit: Éole via photopin cc

A Journey of 30,000 Words Begins with a Single Click

Cat on TypewriterI began writing a new story today, the first in a planned series of short contemporary romances with paranormal elements. Well, this one may end up being the third in the series, but I’m writing it first since it spoke to me that way. It’s always exciting to be starting something new, and after spending several months on the last story, I’m taking a break this month with something new while the last one is out with beta readers.

I love new beginnings, crisp sheets of paper, unused notebooks, a fresh pack of pens (Uniball Jetstream 1.0mm in case you’re wondering… my birthday is only a month away). The start of a new story, however, is also fraught with danger. When you’re revising something that you believe is at least half-way decent, the nagging self-doubts tend to creep up less often. I mean, all through the latest revision I was still worried that I’d wasted the past few months writing an epic feat of craptasticness that would never see the light of day — convinced no agent or editor would touch it and self-publishing it would be moronic. But then I would read a few chapters and fall in love with it all over again. If you believe you should write to make yourself happy, then I’d at least reached that goal.

But as I took a break from the world of that story and began plotting something entirely new, the possibilities were once again endless. Unsullied by my poor word choices, overlong sentences and persistent use of adverbs. There is something hypnotic and enticing about a blank page — or in this case, the tiny blank LCD screen of my Alphasmart.

It’s like walking into a theater during the previews, or popping in a Bluray and pressing play — or, if you will, like Schroedinger’s cat. Before we begin, it’s both a bestseller and campfire fodder. We don’t know what we’re in for until we’re in it. And that poor cat is always alive for me unless proven otherwise. Until you watch it, read it or write it (paint it, draw it or film it, etc.) there are no boundaries. It’s a quantum of creativity with infinite potential to suck or be amazing.

Maybe I’ll toss it aside after finishing it, or maybe I’ll read it in a few months, when it’s done, and fall in love with it for the hundredth time. The anticipation of the beginning of the journey is the addictive part, not just to see if someone will one day buy this and read it and give me a five star review — but just to see what comes out of my brain onto the page. Today, I took the first step.

What about you? Have you started anything new recently?

top image © Benjamin Gelman | Dreamstime.com