Camp NaNoWriMo 2015 – CHECK!

Camp-Winner-2015-Web-BannerI crossed the magical 50,000 word point today, so I’m going to gloat a bit. And I’m not even sorry.

The draft isn’t done yet, so I’ll be continuing to write for the next week or so until I can write THE END. Then I’ll do some quick surface edits before putting the whole thing aside for a while and coming back for the real revision. I will also need to track down some really gentle and tolerant readers to help me shore up the weak spots. So, yes, I know this isn’t anything like an end point. But it’s a mile post along the way, and I’m very happy to have made it this far.

Congratulations to all the thousands of people who’ve participated in Camp NaNoWriMo this year, whether they’ve “won” or not. The writer’s journey continues, as always. It’s been great to travel together on this leg of the trip.

Lessons From the Treadmill

TreadmillWe have a new exercise device at home, joining the stationary bike and a few free weights. I’ve been using the treadmill to walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for a couple of months now. And as I push to the end of a first draft at Camp NaNoWriMo, I realize how much overlap there is between the two activities.

They are very different as well, of course. Writing is mostly mental, with little physical activity at all; walking is pretty much all physical. Writing is about connections with other people; walking is (for me, at least), solitary. Writing is work, but also pleasurable (well, mostly–see below); walking (for me, at least) is NO FUN AT ALL.

But I’m going to make it to 50,000 words by the end of the month, winning Camp. I’m going to keep going for a week or two past that point to get the whole draft down (estimated at 60,000-80,000 words). I’ve never before finished such a big project all on my own in such a short time. And yesterday, as I huffed and puffed through my exercise, I realized one thing about how I did it.

I am a planner. I’m such a planner I plan my planning. I know it’s not for everyone, but for me, it works. Before I July 1 I already had a spreadsheet for calculating my daily word count and my cumulative word count, and comparing those numbers with what I needed to meet the goal of 50,000 words by July 31. Each morning I sat down knowing that I needed to write 1,613 words that day. Some days it went fairly smoothly (my highest daily word count was 2,861 words, on July 8 – I told you I’m compulsive about keeping track). Other days it was much more difficult, and I realized there were two different kinds of difficult days.

Some days there was just too much else going on to devote the kind of time I needed to reach my word goal. For example, my lowest day was only 685 words, and that was a day that involved 4 hours of travel and unpacking when we got home. This, I realized, was like those logistically complicated days when I just never got onto the treadmill at all. Some days that happens. You just have to allow for them and keep going. All told, there have been six days so far in July when I missed my goal by more than a few dozen words.

Other days, though, it’s just plain hard. I’m facing a scene that I haven’t fully imagined yet. I struggle to figure out what’s going on. People start out over here,doing this, and suddenly I realize they need to be over there doing that. I type, I erase, I copy text and move it around to new places. I switch dialogue and actions from one person to another, which means it has to be rewritten to fit the new character. I’ve been at it for an hour and I’ve added 78 words to my total. I hate it. The book stinks. What made me think I can do this? I want to stop.

That is exactly what my time on the treadmill is like every single day. I am not the kind of person who enjoys physical activity. If they invent a pill that keeps people healthy without exercise I will never move again. But based on several consistent research studies, I’ve set myself a goal of 30 minutes of fairly brisk walking five days a week, and once I get on the machine I do not stop until my 30 minutes are up. I’m still compulsive about numbers (I’m at 19:30 – that’s 65% done!) and the mantra “I hate this, I hate this” keeps running through my head, but until 30 minutes are up I don’t stop.

So on some of my most painful days, I just keep checking my word count and I just don’t stop. I can break it up, allowing myself to take a breather when I hit 600 words, then again at 1,200 words, and then it’s an “easy” 413 before I can quit. But when I find the litany playing in my head, I just think of the treadmill and just keep going.

And like the old joke about hitting yourself on the head with a hammer–it feels really good when I’m done.

Do you ever have days like that? What do you do to keep yourself motivated and moving forward to your goal, whether it’s word count or something else? Share your experiences.

By Any Other Name

Rose “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, II, ii).

I got to thinking about names after reading this post by Alec Nevala-Lee on the importance of titles and what makes a title marketable. He also mentioned that he always does a Google search of any title he’s thinking of using to see what else shares it before committing to it. This idea surprised me. Not because it is such a brilliant idea (although, of course, it is), but because I didn’t think of it myself.

As I’m imagining the characters in my fiction, I do a lot of voodoo to get them to come alive and real in my mind. I search for images of people who remind me of the character and save them in my character files (along with notes like, “her hair is darker than this picture, and her nose has been broken several times”). I read up on the connotations associated with any name I’m considering. And I always Google every name to make sure it’s not the wicked witch on a soap opera I haven’t seen or the CEO of an animal cracker manufacturing company. But when the name of my current work in progress came to me, it was exactly right, and for some reason I never thought to check it until I read that post.

Oops.

There are at least four different books in print right now by different authors that already carry my chosen title. They are all romance novels, which mine absolutely is not. I looked at some close variants and found the same thing.

So now what? I’m 2/3 of the way through my draft, on track to finish the complete draft this month, and I’m writing it with that title in the center of my mind. I even designed a cover, not because I’m any kind of cover designer or think that my design would ever be used, but because, like the character images, it helps me see the book as a real thing. Now, do I need to see it as a different thing?

For now, I need to just keep going with the draft in progress. That’s not going to be derailed. Finding a new name will be one part of the revision process. Some of the terminology would probably need to change if the title does, and this sounds like a revision thing.

In the meantime, I’m a bit in mourning for my wonderful name. Alas. poor title, I knew ye well.

Four Lessons From a Year of Blogging

CupcakeWordWacker is one year old today. Hooray!

Looking back, what have I learned in this last year?  Aside from “everything” and “not enough,” that is?

Here’s a summary of what I think I’ve learned.

  1. I’m still a newbie. This is the biggest one, I think. A year is not nearly enough to figure out how to do this blogging thing well. I’ve made it a ways up the learning curve (thanks to some help – see the next point!), and I almost think I can see the top from here, but there’s still a long way to go.
  2. I’m not going alone. There are lots of folks out there giving lots of help along the way. Let me point out two that have been especially helpful. I can’t say enough good things about the great folks at Blogging University. I went through their Blogging 101 course and highly recommend it, and I will be looking into other courses they offer as well. I’ve also gleaned helpful insights from Reflections, a blog about blogging. Other bloggers have been generous with suggestions and helpful tips. Thank you, all of you.
  3. It’s more fun than I expected. I started blogging because I thought that having a social media presence would be useful in my hoped-for career as a published author, and I should have something in place, with a history behind it, before that magic moment when my book comes out. But along the way I found it was a delightful creative challenge to plan posts, write them, and release them into the world. It has been especially fun to get feedback and responses from people (I’ve had over 400 visitors and over 50 subscribers – wow! Welcome, everyone!). Another source of fun has been figuring out what would be an appropriate image to anchor each post and doing the photography and photo editing. For this one, I got to buy a cupcake (and then eat it of course). It’s all been a blast!
  4. It’s all about what I say. Clever images, Facebook links, and everything else aside, no blog will work if it doesn’t have the right things to say, so that’s what I spend most of my energy on. I’m not on target yet, but I’m working on it! I think there are three things that are key here.
    • I need to have something to say. This blog started focused on my writing, which gives me a niche.
    • I need to have something else to say. Nobody would read a blog just about what I’ve done each day in writing, so I need to bring in other things as well. I think of it as ripples spreading out from that central focus on writing: writing tips, writing and authorship, book reviews and analyses, and general commentary about things happening around me.
    • I need to say what people want to read. This is not just me, talking to myself in some kind of isolation chamber. If the blog is nothing but self-indulgence it won’t go far.

My bottom line is that what makes a blog work is its readers. You, right there. Yes, you. *taps on glass* You are what drives this blog forward every day. With your help and support, I’ll make it through another year.

Thank you.

The Middle Muddle

CookieMiddles can be yummy!

They can also be challenging.,

I knew that I would have the hardest time getting through the middle of my first draft, and that’s how it’s turning out. I’m still making progress, but it’s slow and hard. I think there are two reasons for this.

One is that I’ve never had as strong and pure a sense of my own middle as of the beginning and the end. I know where my character and her world start out, and I can clearly picture how the whole thing wraps up. Getting from Point A to Point B? Not so much. I have an outline and I know where I’m going, but it doesn’t grab my gut the way the other parts do.

The other is that middles are hard in general. Most things that have a sequence are stronger at the beginning and the end, weaker in the middle. In the cognitive psychology field we talk about the serial position effect: when learning a list, items in the middle are harder to remember. Speech makers are taught to put their strongest arguments at the beginning and end, burying weaker arguments in the middle where they’re likely to be missed. A racer will often start and finish strong, but have a harder time in the middle. So I’m not alone.

There are several ways I’m dealing with this. One is that I knew this would happen and built up a cushion of extra words, being a few thousand ahead of my goal before getting into these middle doldrums. This means that a few days of lackluster word count won’t put me behind. Another is connections with my cohorts in my writing cabin at Camp NaNoWriMo, who nag and support each other as we push through. Another is simple grim determination. Some days this isn’t fun. So what? Do it anyway. I’m constantly reminding myself that, as a teacher, I expect my students to write their papers and get them in on time even when they’re not inspired and even when life gets complicated. How can I demand less of myself?

So that’s me – muddling through the middle.

What parts of your writing are hardest? How to you keep going?

Camp NaNo – Beginnings

BudsAlmost a week into camp and things are going well. Spookily well, actually. So it’s a good beginning.

The folks at Camp NaNoWriMo have a good system. For those new to the term, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The “real” NaNoWriMo is November, but the same folks run one-month camps in April and July each year. They’ve connected me with eleven other people in a cabin, and we chat with each other online and encourage each other’s writing. As I write this I’m involved in a Skype chat about untangling a plot question in a fantasy story, about which Christmas movies are best and why, and about what motivations work best. I share with them the daily motivational images I put up over on my Facebook page. They share the word of the day from a calendar and inspirational videos. It works well.

On the story side, I’m a few hundred words ahead of the daily goal and the chapters have worked out almost exactly as I planned. I say spooky because I know this will not last. As I approach the middle of the book, things are bound to get trickier. But I’ll get through it!

Are you doing NaNo? Have you ever done something like that? What was your experience like?

Starting Camp: #IWSG

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

Time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, dedicated to helping out insecure writers around the world. This month the event is hosted by Charity Bradford, S.A. Larsen, AJ,Tamara Narayan, Allison Gammons, and Tanya Miranda!. Many thanks to the cohosts!

I have an obvious insecurity to report on today: Camp NaNoWriMo has begun! I’m only about 500 words in so far, and I’m nervous – I need to more than triple that number each day. Can I do it? We will have to see.

My big problem is tweaking. I wrote 550 words in about a half hour last night (starting right at midnight), then spent more than an hour this morning revising them. I know I have to just keep going. But it’s the opening! It’s the most important part of the book! It will determine whether a reader keeps going, or not!

Too bad! Just keep going.

But I changed the scene a little – it’s happening slightly later than it originally was. That change will affect what comes next, so of course I had to go through and make the change, or I can’t go forward.

Man, this is the main thing I have to fix.

Just. Keep Going.

Does anyone else have this problem?