Camp Nanowrimo Project — day 7

Current wordcount: complicated. The total is 37,275 (which I hope to get up to 38,000 before quitting for the night) but the total without the remaining deleted scenes is 33,226, which is still a more than respectable total for day 7. I’ve reintegrated all the deleted scenes I’m going to be able to, so the other ones are only being kept in to pad the wordcount. I’ve promised myself that I’ll take them out permanently when I reach 35k without them, which should hopefully happen sometime tomorrow.

I wanted to talk today a bit about writing communally. One of the things unique to NaNoWriMo and, to a lesser extent, Camp NaNoWriMo is the community surrounding the event. During November the forums are bustling with activity. Countless writers are all gathered together to commiserate, celebrate, help each other out, and just have fun together. It’s not like any other group atmosphere I’ve ever been part of, honestly. Not only are we all drawn to the same place through a common interest, but we also have a common goal and that goal gives us things to talk about and ways to connect. During June the forums have been less active, since there are fewer people doing the event, but there are still the usual dare and adoptable threads, as well as wordcount shoutouts and lots of commiseration and enthusiasm for those falling behind. More interesting, for me, are the chatrooms that have also sprung up. I discovered the joy of writing chatrooms several years ago, but had drifted away from the people in the one I used to frequent and so didn’t have one. That made doing word wards trickier, and left me with only my tumblr to use for random novel complaints or triumphs. Tumblr is an excellent format for that kind of thing, but it does lack the real time feedback of a chatroom. That feedback is, for me, the most important part of writing communities.

We tend to view writing as a solitary pursuit, something done alone at a computer or notebook, cup of tea on the desk and books scattered haphazardly everywhere. And many people, myself included, often do write this way. It’s odd to write with other people, even if they’re writing too. It feels awkward and distracting. Definitely it takes some getting used to. But I’ve found that learning to write while talking with other writers is among the most rewarding things in the world. Talking with like-minded people allows you to put your own struggles into perspective and reminds you that you’re not doing this alone. It’s much easier to encourage someone else than to encourage yourself and, in that same vein, it’s easier to accept someone else’s cheerleading than to try to do your own. Having a readily accessible community of writers gives you a support network which can double as an alternative to google. It’s surprising how many esoteric facts many writers have floating through their heads, regardless of their chosen genre.

It’s also far more fun. Writing, no matter how much you love your project, can be soul sucking. It’s especially hard at the speed that NaNoWriMo events require. Having other people to share the experience with helps ease that pain and keep the event fun. And really, we should all be doing this because we love to write. If the event isn’t fun, then there’s no point in putting yourself through it. Finding a community definitely helps to keep it fun, regardless of whether that community is a smallish chatroom or the entire NaNoWriMo forums. Writing communities are hugely underrated, but they really change the whole experience of writing for the better.


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Camp Nanowrimo Project — day four

So I apologize for missing yesterday. I really have no excuse save for not hitting my quota until far too late at night. I’ll try not to let that happen again.

You’ll notice that I’m not starting today’s report with a wordcount. That’s because I currently don’t know it. I spent most of today reworking the last seven thousand words or so of my novel (so everything I wrote yesterday, essentially) because I realized fairly early on today that it simply wasn’t working. Yes, you’re told not to edit during a writing month and to save it for editing, but I’ve decided this month that I’ll fix major structural problems as I go. Having to rework 7000 words is a pain, but it’s nowhere close to having to redo 60,000, as I would have had to do had I waited until the end. Not to mention that trying to keep writing without fixing the issues would have led to another day of painful, forced writing. I write for fun, and when it’s not fun I use it as a signal that something’s wrong.

So I spent most of today rethinking when my main female character would be introduced and essentially unintroduced her and cut all of her scenes. I’ve kept them in a separate document and will be reintegrating them when I get to that point in the new version, but for the moment they’re sitting nicely in a document of their own. Which means that I have no idea of how many words will be reintegrated because I’m not there yet. If you go by the new version I’ve dropped down to just under 20,000, but if you add in the scenes that I cut it puts me at 26.5k. I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to log, if anything. Hopefully by the time I finish tonight I’ll have reintegrated everything, but at the speed it’s going that may not happen until tomorrow.

It’s interesting that, after so many years of essentially not having a dictatorial inner editor, this one has chosen to show its face now, during the very month when it should be kept away at all costs. I think it represents both my investment in the story and an evolution in the way that I view my writing. Living with a fellow writer whose inner editor is far more vocal than mine has meant that I’ve spent the past several months listening to them talk about various revisions of their current work in progress. I’ve heard characters added, removed, made more important, made less so. I’ve discussed with them different ways to write scenes or which scenes to move around. I’ve actually learned a lot more about editing from talking with my roommate than I have in any of my English classes. Apparently hearing about editing first hand has rubbed off on me more than I thought, because here I am, reworking an unfinished draft in a way I would never have done even last year.

Then again, this is definitely proof that this story is talking to me properly. It ground to a halt towards the end of the day yesterday and this morning flatly refused to keep moving unless I fixed the problems. I do love it when novels come alive on me like this, so I can’t be too upset with it. And definitely the prose I’m writing now was better than the stuff I was attempting to squeeze out yesterday or this morning. It’s just frustrating to make so little progress in terms of overall wordcount when I’ve invested so much of my time today in working on the project. Ah well, it’s all still part of writing and, really, when I’m ahead even for my adjusted goal, I think I can afford a day with little concrete progress in terms of wordcount.

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Camp Nanowrimo Project — day 2

Finished out the day with 18,110 words, once again all in Amberspun Spiderwebs. It’s not quite as many as I was hoping for, but it’s certainly respectable, especially for the 2nd. I had a hard time getting started this morning, but once I got myself in gear it went fairly easily. 15k was hard to cross, because it’s such a nice round number, but I powered through and kept going.

I ended up spending quite a bit of time developing a country that I never thought I would use more than briefly. But my characters were caught trespassing and taken to the local law enforcement office, so naturally I had to pause and figure out what that law enforcement office would be. This lead me down the worldbuilding path and at the end of it all I had the beginnings of a functional government and class system for this country. I never intended to actually use any of this information, but now I’m considering changing the timeline and keeping my main characters there for longer than a couple weeks, so I may end up using those details after all (and creating many more along the way). I know we’re told not to edit during nanowrimo, but I would rather take the time to edit now when the changes would only effect a chapter and a half, than do it later when I’d have to change the other 12. I haven’t yet decided whether or not to actually do this, so I’m going to sleep on it and look at the story again in the morning.

In other exciting news I have finally introduced a third named character. Yes, for nearly 17,000 words it was just my two boys interacting with a couple nameless side characters occasionally. To be fair, my viewpoint character did spent quite a bit of that time either sleeping or nearly dying of pneumonia, so he had an excuse for not being particularly social. I expect my other MMC met several people and learned their names, but we don’t get to be in his head so we’ll never know.

I realized as I took my worldbuilding break today that this story really is writing itself. Part of the reason why I like nano events so much is that they do let me take the backseat to the story out of necessity, but this story is going even more smoothly than past nano novels. Partly I suspect it’s because this story has actually existed in my head for several months and so I’ve had time to figure out the major plot holes and find ways around them. So it’s mostly smooth writing, which means that I can sit back and let the story happen as it will. But it also means that it was a good story idea. Part of the way I tell if an idea is any good or not is by seeing how easy it is to write. Last November I started a romance novel about a human and a fae, set against a backdrop of a series of grizzly murders. The concept was fine, but writing the story was somewhat akin to pulling teeth. I didn’t get more than 10,000 words or so and will not be returning to it, at least not in that form. The idea may be recycled into something else, but that version of the story is finished. I write for fun, and I don’t see the point in continuing when it consistently stops being fun.  But Amberspun Spiderwebs is definitely fun and it’s definitely not hard. I know I’ll hit walls sooner or later — it’s happened with every other project and it’s bound to happen with this one — but the ease with which I came up with these first 18,000 words is definitely a good sign. I have a good feeling about this one, I really do.

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Camp NaNoWriMo Project — day 1

So today was the first day of June, and therefore the first day of Camp Nanowrimo. Because I promised to blog Camp Nanowrimo (details here), here’s my first report:

I finished the day with just over 11,000 words, which is fewer than I was hoping for but still a respectable amount. All of them belonged to Amberspun Spiderwebs, which is my official Camp Nanowrimo project and the one that I’ll be blogging from now until the final edit, assuming there ever is one. The writing went really well. Like I was hoping, the characters developed minds of their own and took the story in a direction I wasn’t expecting, which is always nice. Like I said last time, half the fun of writing for me is figuring out the plot along with the characters, so when they veer off in an unexpected direction it’s quite exciting. So far my two main characters bounce off of each other nicely, and I think my pacing isn’t too awful. Pacing tends to be a problem for me, so I’ve been trying to improve it for the past year or so. Currently I’m just about to end my second chapter and several things have happened to move the plot forward, so there is hope.

I’ve refined my overall Camp goal and it’s now to finish workable drafts of both Amberspun Spiderwebs and Skytouched. Workable, in this case, means proofread and without nonsensical tangents. I want something I’ll be able to start editing without having to go in and correct all the spelling mistakes and remove the extra chapters on the battle of Waterloo. I’ve rounded this to 130,000 words, though it may come out to a bit less since I’ve already started Skytouched. I’m thinking 80k for Amberspun Spiderwebs and 50k forSkytouched, but both are just ballpark figures. I’m not great at judging length, partly as a result of the aforementioned pacing problems.

Other than that not much to report. Expect these entries to be fairly short, since they’re really just progress reports. I’ll do my best to keep real content coming as well, though I don’t promise to be anything more than my usual sporadic self.

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On different planning methods

So I was pointed to the Snowflake method of novel planning today. I’d heard of it before, but never really investigated. Today my curiosity was peaked, since someone mentioned that my planning method looked a little like Snowflake, so I went over and checked it out. Obviously every writer is different in terms of how they plan and what works for them, but Snowflake is definitely a nicely detailed checklist of things to do for people who don’t know where to start. (It’s also fairly time consuming, so it’s not for the super impatient, sad to say.) Certainly it’s interesting, but one sentence towards the end caught me eye:

I have heard many fiction writers complain about how hard the first draft is. Invariably, that’s because they have no clue what’s coming next.

This to me is a bit astounding. Not because I always have an idea of what’s coming next (I almost always don’t) but because to me that’s the fun part of writing. I love following my characters into the unknown and figuring out what’s going to happen as they do. It’s exciting, not knowing where this journey will take you. I write for the same reason I read: I want to know how the story ends and what happens to these people when they get home again. Planning a story too thoroughly ahead of time ruins that journey for me because I already know everything. There’s nothing to explore anymore, nothing to discover.

That’s not to say that I don’t plan. I do, sometimes quite extensively.* But my planning revolves more around worldbulding than plot or even really characterization. My characters often come to me fully formed, and those that don’t tend not to want to give up their secrets until we get to that point in their story. Lately I’ve been playing around with the idea of a scenelist, an idea borrowed from Rachel Aaron, who pointed out that the scenelist doesn’t have to be in order at the beginning of the process. She goes on to write out every single scene, but I stopped at the more important ones and put those in order. So, for instance, here’s the scenelist for Skytouched, which is a story I hadn’t planned to write until July but sometimes life doesn’t work the way you want it to:

Current draft of the scenelist for Skytouched

There are, in fact, twelve chapters in Skytouched, but the last three don’t have any scenes yet and, anyway, my screen won’t hold them all at the same time. The novella is planned at around 50,000 words, and I have 19 scenes listed. That’s not nearly as many as I’ll have in the final draft, but these are the ones that I considered important when thinking up the story. Actually, this is fairly detailed, as scenelists go, because my main characters seem to enjoy talking to me. The scenelist for Amberspun Spiderwebs (my official Camp NaNoWriMo project) is much more typical:

Scenelist for Amberspun Spiderwebs

This is for a full length novel, not a novella, mind you. These characters are being quite reticent about their story, though presumably they’ll open up as I actually start writing.

Anyway my point is that nothing works for everyone. For some people, planning everything out to the most minute detail works best. For some, doing that is akin to committing creative suicide before even starting to write. But at the end of the day, there is no right way to write. Really the only way to figure out what works is to try out several different things and see what fits. Writing should be fun, and anything that makes it fun is the right way to do it.

In other news, Camp NaNoWriMo starts in a little over 24 hours. Expect regular progress reports throughout June.

All pictures are of the Liquid Story Binder program, for which I cannot claim credit.


*I plan more extensively for fanfiction than I do for original fic, but that’s a blog post for another day.

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Canon creation

Being an introverted type without a car, I spend a lot of my time on the internet. One of the things I do while wasting time online is read fanfiction. Lots of fanfiction. I discovered the internet via fanfiction, and that first love has never really left me. I spend a lot more time reading fanfiction than I do reading original fiction and, because my writer brain tends to turn on when I read something, I will often find an idea in a story and go, “I want to write something like that!” Usually this comes in the form of more fanfiction ideas than I know what to do with, some of which get started and some of which linger in my mind for a while before giving up and going away. (Very few of them ever get finished, though I’m still trying.) Lately, though, I’ve been trying to take those fanfic ideas and turn them into original stories, or add them into pre-existing ideas for original stories. Which is fine and an interesting challenge, but it brings up one of the key differences between fanfiction and original fic: fanfiction comes with pre-written history.

That probably sounds obvious and, really, it is. The whole point of fanfic is that you’re taking someone else’s creation and using it as a springboard for your own creativity. Fanfic lets you fill in holes or continue the story or shove two (or more) of your favorite characters into closets together until they give in and admit their undying devotion to each other. Fitting your vision into someone else’s world is a great exercise in creativity and flexibility and expanding someone else’s universe tends to be quite rewarding. (Or at least I think so. I am, after all, a fanfic author.) But all of those things that make fanfic fun go away when you take that idea and transfer it into your own universe. All the history you could draw on before goes away and you have to make all of it up from scratch. More importantly, you can’t assume that your reader knows that history. Fanfiction allows for shortcuts. You can namedrop characters without having to explain who they are or why they matter. Previous events can be alluded to without going into detail because you expect your reader to have the same background in the source material that you do. The moment you leave fanfiction you lose that shared background. Now the only person who knows the history is you and you have to convey that history to the reader without taking away from the story you’re actually telling. It also means that you have to, at some point, actually sit down and figure out what that history actually is. You have to establish your own canon.

This is currently quite relevant to me because my newest project was born from fanfic. It started as a what if question and was sternly guided out of the world created by J.K. Rowling and into one created by me. So far so good — the story wasn’t so hugely character-based that it couldn’t leave the magical world of Harry Potter. I started figuring out the basics — characters, setting, plot ark, etc — and even got a couple thousand words written. But the more I thought about it the more I realized how little I actually know. I know a decent amount about the future. I know the ark of the story and where the characters will end up (at least roughly; my stories work best when I don’t plot them too tightly beforehand). I know what the actions of the characters mean for the world they inhabit and how this story connects to the other stories set in this same world about 250 years later. What I don’t know is what happened before. The story starts in the middle of the final battle of a war. It picks up, in fact, just before a more traditional hero’s story would end: the final clash of good and evil where evil is defeated and good returns home victorious. The story is an exploration of what happens next. A tale of rebuilding, essentially, with wounds that are slow to heal and people whose childhoods were lost to conflict becoming adults in their own right. The problem is that I know very little about that more traditional hero’s story. I don’t know how my hero (who, spoiler, dies in the first sentence of this draft) became a hero, and I don’t know how he and my main character met. I don’t know much about my now defeated villain either. Back when this was fanfiction I had seven books of information to draw from for all of this, but now that resource no longer exists.

So I’m worlbuilding. I’m taking time off from getting to know my characters as they are now to get to know them as they were then. I’m figuring out how my hero came to be chosen and why my villain went down the path he did. I’m following my protagonist on her journey from wide eyed idealist to jaded warrior and making note of the major events in her life that influence her character as I met her. I’m visiting the centers of government before the war to see how that changed them and asking questions of my characters to establish their history before the opening scene of this book. I’m creating my own canon so that I can write a continuation for it. And it’s hard work, because plotting isn’t really my strong suit, but it’s hugely fun. My second favorite part of writing is worldbuilding, and this is nothing but that.

And before you ask, no, this is not the story I have planned for the June session of Camp Nanowrimo. I may still work on this in June, but my goal for that month is still to get a complete first draft of Amberspun Spiderwebs, which has its own unique set of problems that I will probably detail at length when the writing actually starts.

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Introducing the Camp Nanowrimo project

I’m going to be participating in Camp Nanowrimo this year, for the second year in a row. I’m signed up for both the June and the August sessions and, with May coming to a close far too quickly for my peace of mind, it’s time to start seriously thinking about the novels I’m going to be working on. Because this is supposed to be a writing blog instead  of a talking about writing blog, I’m going to do my best to document the whole process here, at least for one of the novels. This will involve spoilers and probably excerpts, as well as my various brainstorming sessions and inevitable dead ends. I can’t go through the whole process from start to finish because I’ve already had the original idea for both novels, though those might be discarded if they turn out to be unworkable. Hopefully, though, I’ll be able to stick with the ideas I have and create workable drafts. And who knows, documenting the process might inspire me to take the next step and actually edit a manuscript for once.

I’m currently focused primarily on the book I’m planning on writing in June, for the obvious reason that June starts in 11 days and I really should get my act together and decide what I’m working on. The planned book is fantasy, as is most of what I write, and focuses primarily on character relationships and growth. This is also not unusual for my writing. I’m an anthropologist with an interest in psychology and sociology. My writing is either character-driven or world-driven, with plot coming as something of an afterthought. As a result the most common complaint my roommate and fellow writer hears when I’m talking about ideas is a variation on, “this is such a cool idea, but I have no actual plot for this story!” We all have our weaknesses.

That said, this book does actually have a fairly coherent plot, though it’s not the focus of the story. Without giving everything away (that will come later) the story as it’s planned right now focuses on a group of three main characters and their changing and evolving relationships. The backdrop of this is a fairly turbulent political atmosphere, which will constitute the actual plot of the story. Each of these three main characters has different and fairly complicated reasons for being part of the group, the simplest of which belongs to the viewpoint character (tentatively named Torrick), who’s there because he has literally nowhere else to go. Throughout the story they grow and change and learn to work together (more or less) and eventually secrets get spilled, the most significant of which becomes vitally important to the entire story.

Admittedly, when talking about it broadly like that, it all sounds highly generic, but hopefully it’ll be interesting and engaging. Or at the very least coherent and lacking in significant plot holes and tortured logic. Not having started writing it yet, I’m not entirely sure how it will turn out, but I have a good feeling about this one. I’ve been poking at it for a while, trying to sort out the rather unique logistical problems in telling the story I want to tell in the way I want to tell it. If I’m very lucky, it’ll end up actually saying something about choice and self and how people interact with the world and the future. But for the moment I’ll settle for coherent and finished.

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