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Month: June 2016

Getting Back on Track with #CampNaNoWriMo

Getting Back on Track with #CampNaNoWriMo

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For those of you un-hip to the writing sensation, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it occurs every November. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in the span of one month. Some call it ambitious, others call it crazy. Brooke and I attempted it for the first time last November and we kicked serious butt. At the end of the month we each had a 50,000+ word draft and the confident glow of champions.

Looking back, I’m shocked that I achieved my word count. November 2015 was one of the busiest months of my life. I was swamped with deadlines at work and frantically tying up all the loose ends for my December wedding. I didn’t expect myself to lose my cool over something as girly and mainstream as a wedding, but…I did. Despite the stress I plowed through NaNoWriMo, had a beautiful wedding (NERD ALERT: I got married in a library), a relaxing honeymoon, and finished 2015 happier than I had ever been and full of hope for 2016. If I could successfully juggle writing, wedding planning, and a demanding day job during November, what could possibly stop me from making 2016 the year I achieve literary greatness? As the new year dawned I felt certain that this was to be the year I got serious about my writing ambitions. This was to be the year I wrote every single day. In short, this was to be the year I turned pro.

And then…life happened.

Life got busy, not as busy as last November – if I’m lucky nothing will ever be that stressful again – but life got busy nonetheless. And now it’s the end of June. The year is nearly half over and I’m as far from literary greatness as I’ve ever been. Heck, I’m not even writing everyday.

This is what I’ve realized. Life is ALWAYS going to be busy. There is ALWAYS going to be something new you have to deal with. If you’re not starting a new job or going back to school, you’re moving house, getting married, having a baby, dealing with family drama, toiling under a deadline, etc…, etc… I repeat: Life is ALWAYS going to be busy. Your dreams are like house plants. When you’re busy they get neglected, and if you continue to be busy, they will continue to be neglected…and then they will shrivel up and die.

I’m as guilty as anyone. It’s easy to let the daily grind consume your existence and it’s hard to focus your creative energy on your dreams. I’ve taken the easy route and now I’m way of track. Since January I’ve been letting my writing dreams take a permanent back seat to life’s never-ending laundry list. But here’s the thing: If you go weeks, months, or (gasp!) years between writing, then you aren’t a writer anymore.

That’s why I’m excited for Camp NaNoWriMo this July. It’s a chance to get my writing life back on track before it’s too late. A writing challenge is exactly what I need to shake things up and re-set my priorities.

July’s Camp NaNoWriMo is a lot like November’s NaNoWriMo, but it encourages creative and flexible goal setting. Instead of 50,000 words for the month, you set your own goal – anything from 30 to 1,000,000. Some people, like SS Press’s very own Brooke Stewart, choose to get really creative with their goals, making a time or page count commitment to revision. I’ve even heard of graphic novelists getting in on the fun, check out this LINK for more info.

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My July calendar is choke full of work deadlines, family obligations, and home renovations, but despite the craziness on my agenda I feel positive about taking on the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge. After all, Camp NaNoWriMo is “an idyllic writers retreat smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life.”

I love that description and it is what makes the whole NaNoWriMo experience so inspiring. Writing happens smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life, not when all the stars align, not when things settle down at work, not when your kids are grown up. With dreams, timing isn’t everything. It either happens now, or it happens never.

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. -Stephen King

My goal for Camp is 20,000 words. You’ll hear back from me late July. Until then, wish me luck! Stay tuned for Brooke’s next post mid-July.

Have you participated in NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo? What have been your experiences? Is it something you’ve never done but have been wanting to try? Share in the comments below!

 

 

Finding Your Flow

Finding Your Flow

This month is a month of preparation!  Did you all know that?  Are you getting prepared?  I see you all nodding your head like…

Thankfully we are not preparing an overthrow of the monarchy instead, I have been -and you should be – preparing for Camp NaNoWriMo this July!  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I have mixed feelings about NaNoWriMo, but what I love about it is it encourages authors to prioritize writing.  So, this month is full of tips on how to do that.

Kayla our guru on all writing events, who is even more pumped for July than I am, is going to blog about “Getting back into Writing” later in the month, so today I am going to talk to you about the most magical part of the physical act of writing:  Finding your flow.

Writing flow is this mystical place where the words spill from your fingers onto the page. There is no delay between thinking ideas and writing them out, distractions can’t grab your attention and the concept of time just slips away entirely.  This state is when your best material is created and when you are most productive as a writer.

Other people experience this sensation of flow as well.  Musicians, artists, chefs, and even the everyday office worker have all been known to experience this flow from time to time.  Athletes call this sensation – getting in the zone.

Alright enough with the Disney references.  My point is literally anyone can enter into this mode of focus and ultra creativity, the key is figuring out tricks to get you into the mode/zone/flow quickly, or at least often.  Side bar in the super nerdy direction, there is a great Ted Radio Hour on NPR “The Source of Creativity” that is about just that, where creativity comes from.  I would highly recommend you give it a listen if the science behind creativity is at all exciting to you.

Though I am far from living the dream of entering into a state of flow every time I pick up my writing, I do have a rhythm I use to encourage the flow to make an appearance.

First, I gotta’ go to my Writing Space.This used to be just a chair, but since moving from an apartment to a house a month or so ago I now have an entire writing room.  It’s pretty much the Bat Cave meets the library from Beauty and the Beast and it has helped me find my flow SO MUCH!  The door to the room is obviously a big plus, but there is science behind this too.  When I only use that room for writing or reading, my brain builds an association, or a neuron pathway, connecting those activities.  Once that pathway is established my brain has already entered writing mode by the time I’ve booted up my lap top, how’s that for cool.  Now, this only works if you keep your writing room sacred and resist the urge to do other activities in that space.  Seriously, don’t browse the internet, or check your e-mails, or even take naps.  For maximum impact your writing room needs to be about writing end of story.

Once I am in my Bat Cave of bookishness to keep myself from straying towards the black hole that is the internet I immediately turn on my Writing Music (more brain pathways!) and open up my writing, usually once the page is in front of me I am drawn towards it like my dog to a mud puddle.  I am aware that setting my writing to music is not a unique idea.  But, it is such an important element of my writing that I couldn’t ignore its presence in my writing routine.  Not only does music set the mood, and provide creativity, it also helps drown out the little part of my brain that is being a distraction thinking about practical things like groceries and dishes and bills, yuck!  Another fantastic power of music that I have been discovering is its ability to take down the walls of writer’s block.  If you’ve been writing to the same genre of music for a while and have been feeling stuck, try listening to something totally different.  Switch from rock to country, or from polka to heavy metal, the change in styles will spike your creativity and help you push through.

Now I’m set, I’m in my room, the document is open and my tunes are bumpin’, time to start writing right?  Wrong!  I always need some sort of Writing Warm-Up.  Just like athletes need to warm up before a game, writers need to warm up their creativity for a session.  When I don’t have a lot of time this is usually a quick read through of what I wrote the day before (lame).  When I do have time I:  Write a scene summary, read an article about writing on Pinterest, write a blog post, brainstorm character names, or do a simple writing exercise or prompt.  I don’t always do these warm up activities, but when I do, I feel more focused with my writing.  What’s more is my writing turns out so much better than when I just jump in cold.

That’s the essence of my writing routine, it’s not fancy, it’s not complicated but it’s what works to help me find my flow.  This routine also helps me to stay in the habit of writing which is pretty darn important too.

Since this is also my last post before July starts, I want to let all of you readers know my writing goals for July.  As you’ve probably heard me say 100 times by now, my current project is in an editing phase.  NaNoWriMo is all about word count goals which is great for getting first drafts done, but not good at all for editing. So, I am not setting a word count goal.  Instead, I am making a time commitment goal.  I want to spend 10 hours a week writing.   This is a big goal for me, I have a full-time job so this is like adding an extra day to my work week.  I am excited about this goal though and I can’t wait to see what I will accomplish in my writing next month!

Be on the lookout for Kayla’s blog post two weeks from now (seriously it’s a good one guys) and be sure to check out other areas of the website.  Our Pinterest is up and running and there are new writing events coming up as well.

Stay Amazing my friends.

The Good and Bad of a Book Signing

The Good and Bad of a Book Signing

Book signings are a major artery of the book community, connecting and benefiting everyone involved: author, book distributor, reviewer, reader. Readers get to meet the person who took them on a journey and immersed them in a new world. The local bookstore gets a chance to build its clientele and cash in on an author’s celebrity status. And if you’re an aspiring author like me you get the chance to soak up inspiration from a fellow weaver of magic.

Yes indeed, a book signing is a rare and marvelous opportunity for all…Or is it?

To be truthful, a book signing isn’t all fun and games. The size and venue varies – from big box stores, to cafés and churches, even high school gymnasiums – I’ve been to them all and the experience is always, invariably, mixed: horrible yet wonderful, positive yet negative.

Just like when your favorite band comes to town, if an author you admire is doing a local signing, then you should go! Life is too short for regrets. Don’t miss an opportunity to meet your literary hero. Just be aware of the bad along with the good.

The Bad

The lines you will encounter at a book signing are unusually and dreadfully long. The best way to handle it is to take a patience pill and be prepared.  A book signing typically runs two hours, but the line to get in and the separate line to get an autograph can add hours to the typical run time. If you’re a die-hard like me you’ll want to show up at least an hour before doors open, rain or shine. Once the doors open the civilized line becomes a black Friday nightmare and it won’t do you any good to play nice. My advice: throw your elbows up and run for the front row. Getting up close and personal for the author talk and Q&A is the best part of a book signing. To score an autograph you’ll be forced to stand in yet another line. A well established author’s signing can take hours. Fans will show up with literal bags of books and many authors don’t have a signing limit. A signing I recently attended had a four book limit because the author had developed a stress fracture during previous signings! Yeesh…

Worse even than the dreaded queue is the realization that the other attendees are terrible human beings. I refer to them as the nightmare fans. At every book signing I am forced yet again into the uncomfortable realization that I have something sacred in common with complete assholes, the something sacred being love for a very specific book and a very specific author. These are the nightmare fans. They cut in line, steal your seats, and/or loudly say something blatantly racist/sexist/horrible. They are best left ignored. Unless they steal your seat. In that case you sucker punch them first and ask questions later. But don’t get me wrong, a book signing is not all bad. If you survive the nightmare fans and long lines you’ll discover the best parts of a book signing.

The Good

While waiting to meet an author I have often been sandwiched between nightmare fans and unlikely friends. The opposite of the nightmare fan, the unlikely friend is a sort of fairy-tale-love-at-first-sight connection. Discussing your favorite books and characters with a like-minded literary soul is a great way to pass the time while stuck in line, and after the nightmare fans it restores your faith in humanity! These days, most fans only chat online and a book signing is the best way to meet outside the virtual world. Books change lives and it’s inspiring to meet others who have been enriched by a book you love.

The only thing better than connecting with a fellow fan is connecting with the author. Connecting with the author on a personal level is rare and more often than not you’ll simply be exchanging trivial pleasantries as they mark up your book. Don’t be discouraged if you walk away with only an autograph. A meaningful conversation is unlikely when the author’s wrist is aching and the line is out the door. Plus, the best time to get a word in is during the Q&A. Most authors put on a great show and if your question is selected they will give a personal, and usually entertaining, answer. Author interviews are inspiring. Learning about why they write helps you reconnect to the initial passion that motivated you to begin writing in the first place. Seeing an author successfully promote a book can be galvanizing. If they have made their dream come true, then so can you.

Attend a Book Signing!

It’s an incredible fan experience and you never know who you’ll connect with. Authors put a lot of time and effort into building a community online and they bring that community to life on their book tours. You’ll connect with other fans and be inspired on your writing journey.  If you’ve never been to a book signing you should check one out. I’ll keep SS Press updated with upcoming literary events in the Twin Cities, so stay tuned!

Plotting and Pantsing

Plotting and Pantsing

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

This question is a popular one on writing blogs across the internet.  In a nutshell plotters plan out their writing super thoroughly before they start while pantsers like to wing it and see what happens (There is seriously a ton of info out there on this subject, Chris Baty’s Book “No Plot?  No Problem!” is a great place to start looking into the topic a little deeper). This question is usually posed as a black and white situation, but I think there is more of a scale to it.

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Back then, I genuinely thought I was a plotter.  Most likely I came to this conclusion because I consider myself to be a planner outside of my writing life.  Whether scheduling events with friends or family I am always the one asking the “W” questions.  What time, Where at, Who will be there?  I thought this tendency to have a plan in place naturally made me a plotter.The first time I really reflected on this question was back in November when I participated in NaNoWriMo (National novel writing month).  I ended up deciding that I fell into the plotter category, though looking back, I’m pretty sure the NaNoWriMo craziness was affecting my judgment.

Over the past month or so I have come to an earth-shattering realization:  I am not a plotter.  I am a pantser, and I am actually pretty far to the left on the pantser scale.  The only thing I like to have planned, in both my writing and real life is the “what” I don’t usually worry about the “how.”  Phrased differently, I will figure out what I have to do, but not how to do it.

This is not generally recommended as best practice when it comes to writing stories.  I faced the pitfalls of this first hand with one of my early writing projects.  I had a great idea – what if I wrote a story where the main characters fly around on winged animals and have wicked cool battles fighting against the bad guys?  I loved the idea so much that I jumped right in without doing any planning.  Literally, I didn’t even know how I wanted the story to end beyond a mental picture of a castle in the background of a big battle.  It was two years later, with two books drafted out that I suddenly realized I was not on the right track with this story.  I ended up shelving those drafts, keeping them in the wings for the day I am ready to weed through the mess and make that story blossom.

After seeing how my pantser attempts at story writing failed, I decided I was going to be a plotter for my next project.  I tried really hard, writing out the story arch, creating character profiles and, praise the lord, clarifying in detail how the story would end.  This did help, but now that I have finished the first draft of this story, I can see that I still did not do the kind of hard core plotting that genuine plotters do before they write their stories.  So what is a pantser to do?

My solution is to own it.  Here I am shouting from the blog mountaintops I am a pantser and I am proud of it!  Just as plotters have their own advantages for writing, us pantsers have some great advantages too.-Pantsers write – we may not know what we are writing, but gosh darn it if we aren’t good at getting words on the page, something that we all need to do to get stories written

-Pantsers write – we may not know what we are writing, but gosh darn it if we aren’t good at getting words on the page, something that we all need to do to get stories written

-Pantsers are free – we haven’t put our stories into boxes before we started writing them, so the story really does take shape before our eyes, this can cause huge editing hurdles, but it just might create a story that never would have happened if we’d tried to plot it out first

-Pantsers know what to invest their time in – as we are quicker to begin writing our stories, we are also quicker to discovering if those stories are worth our time. Where plotters might spend weeks, months or years plotting out a story they think they will love, only to attempt writing it and find they dislike it, us pantsers find out right away if our story is worth investing in.

I’m sure there are many more advantages to being a pantser as well.  But just as plotters need to eventually stop planning and start writing, us pantsers have to halt our writing and do some plotting every once in a while too.  I’m still working on finding a balance, but I have two strategies I’m using to hopefully avoid letting my pantsing get the better of me, again…

  1. Pause: The big mistake I made with my first novel writing adventure, was not pausing to reflect on the direction my novel was going in.  I was thinking short term, “what is my next scene going to be?”, instead of the more long term, “what is my story actually about?”.  When you don’t preplan your novel it is super important to pause (frequently) to evaluate where things are going, and if you are in a place where you think it might be time to do a little more plotting.  Doing this will help you avoid wasting two years writing a series that isn’t even set in the right universe (biggest facepalm ever), and will help you be in a much better place when it is time to revise your novel.
  1. Plot before your second draft:  I was much too excited to get writing to do all my plotting before I got the first draft out.  Now that the draft is on the page, it’s time for me to plot.  At this point, I am so in love with my story that I am ready to do this task that feels cumbersome and painfully tedious.  I do it because I know, it will turn this story that I love into a book that others will love too.

I love being a pantser, even my big mistake story has value to me, not just because I learned important lessons from it, but because it was a super fun and wild writing ride.   I believe as pantsers our most valuable asset is the ability to just write, get the words onto the page and worry about the consequences later.  It is a dangerous skill, but one that I am learning to harness.

All you plotters out there, why do you love being a plotter?  What are some tips you would give to us pantsers to make our novels stronger?  All you pantsers, same question what do you love about your writing style and what advice would you give to plotters.

Stay amazing my friends!