Monday, November 30, 2015

NaNoWriMo Day 30... just, ugh.

1667 words a day. That sounds so... easy, doesn't it?

But 1667 words takes dedication, luck, and an easy to control schedule. It doesn't account for sick days (I've come down with a terrible cold which is only now subsiding), or holidays (I spent the Thanksgiving week either traveling to Houston or spending time with my dad who was visiting from Phoenix, and wrote nothing for three whole days).

I also tried driving for Uber (look back on how badly that turned out), got incredibly serious about finding at real job again, and of course I took the weekends off to spend with my wife and daughter. Well, I took the first two weekends off. I spent late nights during the last two trying to catch up.

All in all, I think I had about seven full days to write, plus half days or two-hour blocks here and there. For me, that's enough. Heck, I can write 1500 words per hour if I have a good idea where I'm going.

And that, my friends, is why I entered the last two days with 10k words remaining. Like I said before, I can't write without a good outline to tell me where I'm going. I start going down an inconsequential path or I forget that a new plot point contradicts a major past or future one and suddenly all my writing is lost. So, when I had to reconsider something major around the 25k word mark, it threw me into a three-day planning binge where I wasted three of my seven full days reworking my outline to account for the changes.

If it weren't for NaNoWriMo ending today, I could have, and I would have, spread those last 10k words out over the next month which, since my novel will be about 90k words in the end, is something I would be doing anyway. NaNoWriMo was merely a waypoint, not the beginning, nor the end of my writing. I plan to finish the week before Christmas, but without the specter of NaNoWriMo hanging over my head, that's a slightly flexible goal.

Anyway, in case you absolutely need to know, I marathoned my way through those last 10k words between yesterday and today. It helps that I was writing set of key action scenes which goes much more easily and quickly than, say, a dialogue-heavy exposition scene.

I thought I'd be blogging more during NaNoWriMo... ha! Not with that 1667 word a day whip at my back.

Whatever topic I promised to get to last time, I'll write about when I recover. I promise that will be sooner than the last time between my blog posts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

NaNoWriMo Day 17... What's Working, What's Not

It's NaNoWriMo day 17, and I haven't been blogging much. Why? I'm incredibly busy, and no, not just with writing.

So, as I said at the beginning of this blog I was going to try to make writing work as a career. Sales on Kindle are increasing at a steady rate, so that's a good sign. But, it certainly won't fully pay the bills for at least a year, and that's assuming the best case scenario.

One option I considered was driving for Uber. Everyone I mentioned it to beforehand was very encouraging. "You can make so much money doing that," was probably the most common response. I didn't need "so much money," just "enough."

Well, let me tell you this: Uber DOES NOT make you "so much money" and it doesn't even come close to "enough." This is true in San Antonio where I currently live, so I can't speak to any other major city where Uber operates. But here, it's just not a viable option. I realized this Friday last week as I spent more than 8 hours driving around, wasting gas, without picking up rides. Friday is supposed to be the most lucrative night, and I certainly know the areas where riders would want rides, but I only made a net of about 30 dollars for working from 7:30PM to 3:30AM.


Before my last night driving Uber, I had begun calling in every favor and contact I have in this city and started really looking for a legitimate job once again. I'm quitting full-time writing. But I'm not quitting writing, not by a long shot.

I can't. I'm in too deep now.

Why can't I quit? Why will I continue to pursue publishing my stories even though it will mean filling in all my personal time with typing and plotting? Readers. They're like a drug, man...  Every time I see another purchase on my Amazon account I don't think to myself: there's another $3.44 for my pocket. I think: oh cool, another human is about to read something I wrote. It's exhilarating. These past two weeks, between purchases and Kindle Unlimited reads, I've had over 200 people check out my novel. That's awesome.

There are four accomplishments/acts I'm most proud of in life: my daughter, the effect my human rights career has had on the world (I recently played a tiny part in the conviction of Sadeq Alamyar, for instance), giving half of my liver to (and thus saving the life of) my father, and having people read a story I've written. Having readers ranks number 2 on that list. Yeah, #2, that's pretty damn important to me.

Anyway, all this Uber driving and job searching has gotten me about 7k words behind on my NaNoWriMo goal, and I intend to make that distance up this week with a marathon push before Thanksgiving inevitably slows me down once more.

Next time I blog, let's talk about my mixed emotions on Goodreads ratings, ok? I'm bookmarking that topic because I have some thoughts but 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

NaNoWriMo: Day 4

I'm still hanging in here, writing the middle 50k words for my new novel. As of last night I had about 6k finished, which means I was only about 667 words behind. Today that number is 2334. I think I'll get more done, and here's why:

Individual scenes vary greatly in writing difficulty

The scenes I was working on for days 1-3? A dinner party. I don't know about you, but those things can get dull very quickly. But, you can't just spice things up for the sake of reader interest. I could have had a meteor fall on the street below, but that would completely violate my the rules of my story's universe. So, how do I make a dinner party work without boring the reader into quitting?

1) Focus on what you need to accomplish. In my case, there was a lot of character development and relationship building to hash out quickly.
2) Skip dialogue. People talk a lot at dinner parties, some of that isn't entirely relevant to the reader even if the gist of it is. Write that it happened, but leave out the words of the actual conversation. Make sure to include a good proportion of dialogue too, but just the best parts.
3) Edit it down considerably when revision time comes. By then, the whole story will be written and the absolute most important elements will be clearer.

Writing boring scenes without boring the reader is essential. Most people judge a book not by its cover, but by the first pages. But the first pages are, with few exceptions, the most boring part of a book! While these scenes are essential to a good story, you have to be very careful not to lose reader interest. Naturally, writing these scenes is hard.

Today, tomorrow and Friday's scenes? Oh, a murder attempt! Exciting to write, exciting to read... EASY. But the impact would be lost without the preceding character development.

I suppose I could just put murder attempts, meteors and explosions in every other scene. That would make me the Michael Bay of novels.

But I don't want to be the Michael Bay of novels...

Side note:

For all the harassment people give Michael Bay for his ridiculous plots and tissue-thin character development, the guy is an action/explosion savant. Though it's not everyone's thing, the guy knows his audience and he gives them the best version of what they want. I recently watched and hated his version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (I watch movies at the gym), and though I was utterly disappointed, I did find reason to appreciate his work. If you can, go watch the scene where the turtles are sliding down a mountain with a big rig truck, fighting humvees with retractable shocking harpoons and answer this: what kind of mind can come up with this stuff? It's hardly cerebral to watch, but I dare anyone to say Michael Bay doesn't possess a twisted bit of genius to come up with it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo: Day 2, Pantsers Scare Me

Of course, NaNoWriMo had to start on a weekend when my mother was visiting...

I was supposed to have 1667 words written by today, and another 1667 by tonight. My grand total sits at exactly 0. That is, I have 0 words written during my NaNoWriMo push. Technically I already have more than 20,000 words written for my second novel, and tons of outlining/notes.

By the way, I don't know who out there might be reading this, but for some reason I saw a spike in sales of my first novel yesterday. I can't really explain it, but there are a few reasons I can imagine. Perhaps it was my NaNoWriMo profile which caught someone's attention, or maybe it was the fact that I activated my Goodreads author account over the weekend, or there was pent-up demand for books due to Halloween, or maybe my new ads on Amazon are gaining traction, and of course I can't discount all my loyal blog followers deciding to purchase a copy of my book *crickets chirping.* Anyway... if you have some insight feel free to leave a comment on this post.

So, today is going to be a quick post because I need to get on to writing before my daughter wakes up and I have to get her to school, get to the gym, take a shower and get back to writing.

I am a devoted member of the church of plotsers

According to writing blogs, there are two kinds of writers: plotsers and pantsers. The naming convention is suspect in my mind, as pantser sounds like someone you might meet in a middle school locker room, but those are the names others have chosen. A plotser basically plans their writing ahead of time, whereas a pantser just writes whatever comes to mind "by the seat of their pants."

I'm not going to sit here and argue that one method is better than the other. Whenever I start out, I like to have extensive notes, including character maps, a proper timeline of events, plot details and with my mystery novels, a map of the clues and red herrings I need to embed within the narrative. When I start out writing, I have a definite plan.

And then that plan is torn to shreds within the first 10,000 words.

The problem with writing character-first plots is that, when I'm planning the story, I'm planning it from my own personal perspective. But when I write characters, sometimes I have them in a scene where I expect them to do something but I realize as I'm writing that they wouldn't do what I have planned. So, these fully independent people who live inside my head start dictating changes in the plot. If I were a pantser, this might not be the problem it is. Every time something changes, I need to return to my plan and figure out where all the remaining plot points and mystery clues need to go. I couldn't imagine trying to juggle plot threads in my mind as I'm writing because most of the time I'm inside the characters' heads working out what they're thinking about. Keeping my notes external allows me to forget the story and just write the scene.

I'd love to see a breakdown of successful authors and which ones are plotsers vs. which ones are pantsers. Steven King is most-often cited as perhaps the king of pantsers, as he wrote in On Writing that he doesn't outline. I think the assumption is that pantsers are faster writers, as they are not bogged down by note-taking and planning, but I'd question that assumption because pantsers' heads must fill up with so much information that they get bogged down by the weight of it all. To be a truly successful pantser, you have to have an incredible mind.

I'm not saying I don't have an incredible mind, but mine certainly isn't set up for pantsing. I'm just terrible at memorization and holding multiple threads in my head at once. I have a mind which works by understanding how systems work on a macro level, but I can't remember minute details without some preparation ahead of time. That's why I loved physics and hated chemistry. In physics, you can get away with literally just understanding calculus and the basic rules of nature, then re-build the formulas in your head as you're taking an exam. The same can't be said of chemistry, which relies on information which can't be divined and must be either memorized or recalled via notes.

Final thoughts:
Some pantsers aren't genius writers who can juggle plot threads and character voices in their heads, they're just lazy.
Some plotsers aren't meticulous planners, they chronic procrastinators who are afraid to transition from planning to writing.

Nobody's perfect... but this post is way too long already and I have writing to do.