Pearl Harbor and moving forward

When this post goes up, it will be an anniversary of a battle. It is the anniversary of what was meant to be a crushing defeat. It could have been, but it wasn’t. December 7th 1941 ended with the bulk of the U.S. Pacific fleet burning or on the bottom of the bay at a place called Pearl Harbor. But, instead of giving up people got to work. A country went to war. Men and women took their fate and the fate of their country into their own hands and did something.

Men went into training. Women went to work. Ships rose from the ocean floor to fight those who had attacked them.

There was a lot to do. The fight was long. But, when the war ended in 1945 the United States of America stood stronger and taller than it had before. We as a nation, and many as individuals, became more than what we had been before. We grew stronger because of a defeat, a failure some were sure would kill us.

Failure and defeat happen. Sometimes, even when you win, you are so exhausted it seems like you can’t go on. One example of this, not as dramatic as a world war but a real thing, is what can happen to a writer after NANOWRIMO…

I’ve pulled it off again. I ‘won’ Nano… But I also won myself a lot of work. There are the worky icky managery things I’ve put off because I was taking a month to write, there are the blog posts I’m behind on and then there is an almost 60,000 word (222 double-spaced page for those non-word count folks) manuscript that is going to need a lot of work before it sees prime time.

But in some ways I’m one of the lucky ones. I actually finished the first draft.

Whether you’ve finished the first draft or not, there is still a lot of work ahead of you. There is a reason that Nano’s “finish the manuscript” period is in February and March. One of the most important things to do right now is figure out where the Q@%#$%#%#$!!! you are and what to do next. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a finished manuscript and you’re heading into the world of editing. If you didn’t finish the first draft, you might want to take a look at why, and figure out how to move forward.

Either way, there will be issues in your story you need to address. Sorry gang, no first draft is perfect. They just aren’t. You are going to have things in the story you need to fix. And, you’re going to need to shift your work habits to a different mode (and time table) to get through it. But it is possible.

Some of the work ahead will take a team. Sometimes you will need advice. Pretty much all the time you will need somebody other than you to read stuff (we’re not here to write a big old manuscript and then shove it up on a shelf…). What you need readers, advisors, and other helpers for depends on where you as a writer are, and what your story’s about. But one thing is definite, trying to do it all yourself is about as easy as one guy in a wetsuit trying to get one of those sunken battleships back into fighting shape!

Writing and publishing, and how to do those things, are what we talk about here. These are the stories, adventures, and learning experiences we share here. If you’ve succeeded in these things; if you are engaged in doing these things; if you’re having problems with these things, but are willing to stay in the fight; you are welcome here. We all have rough patches and hard spots in what we do. Any successful writer has a few failed manuscripts lying around. Any good writer has learned something from those failures and then used that learning to do more and better the next time.

I learned a lot doing Nano this year, and I hope ‘win’ or ‘lose’ you did to.  In fact, I learned things doing Nano that are motivating me to raise one of my ‘failed’ manuscripts off the ‘bottom of the bay’ and make it what it needs to be!

Take time and figure out what’s next dear reader, it’s that time. Spend time with the ones you love (and be on the lookout for those who are feeling alone!). Win or lose in the past we are heading into the future Dear reader and let’s make it a good one!

Plantser…

There are two standard ways to write a novel: the “Planner” method and the “Pantser” method.

Planners have (or claim to have) everything planned out. They figure out everything first, outline every detail, and then write the book. This method will work because it creates a pile of text with sufficient words and all the parts of a story. But, there is no Ah-hah moment. It‘s all laid out. Where’s the joy?

These books are often plot driven. Too often I see characters bent to fit a preconceived idea even though the author might feel the character would do something else.

Pantsers “just write”. Real Pantsers don’t have a plan… Writing this way is possible, but you at least need an idea!
Steven King is a Pantser done right. He starts with an idea or interesting concept, finds a starting group of characters, and then allows them to behave realistically.

This method can work. But, you need to have a good concept, and a handle on your characters (a handle… not a complete plan (please skip the second grade report card!)). You can succeed if you have the right skills and mindset.

But, people think the Pantser method is easy, “you jump in and write”. What they miss is that people like Steven King have had a lot of practice and an idea or concept in mind. Without those your story has a good chance of acting like a cow that finds a hole in the fence.

Being a Pantser takes work, it’s just different work. But, I like the freedom for surprises (that’s part of the fun).

Unless you‘re willing to put in the work; all I can say is “MOOO!”

When writing, I try to hold the middle ground. I have a situation and some big challenges planned. I have a handle on my characters and key events thought out (“fixed points in time” for you Doctor Who fans…). But, I don’t plan everything.

In one spot I may say, “Here my characters move out of their comfort zone into their adventure.” In another I may ask, “If my characters do this, how does the government react?”

I have a plan; however, I also allow things to move and grow as I learn about my characters and story.

This is the “Plantser” method. You plan (you know won’t happen), but you also leave yourself some freedom for the spontaneity and surprises that can make those great moments of literature.

Starting on the first, I’m once again doing NANOWRIMO dear reader. You might not hear much from me until December. My plan is here. And, I’m looking forward to having my questions answered!

I invite you to join us in the fun and madness of trying to write a 50,000+ word book in a month dear reader.

The choice is yours. And, I’ll see you next post!

NANOWRIMO both surviving and thriving

Well dear reader we’re back… And I have to say NANOWRIMO turned out pretty well. This year’s all out push to write a novel in a month resulted in a 75,000+ word manuscript and a clear direction for where to go next (both with new writing on what has confirmed itself to be a trilogy and in terms of what to do next for this specific story).

Naturally in addition to turning in 75,000 words (17000 more than my last NANOWRIMO high score…) I learned a few things on the way.

One: an all-out writing push can be hard…

Even if you’ve planned, exercised your mind and writing muscles and/or have the ‘mojo’ to do 50,000+ words in a month it can take time and effort. That means even if you can handle the writing part like a boss you still have to cope with the effects on other ‘jobs’, relationships, household chores, regular meals, and so on. And that can add up to a lot of stress.

Solution: be attentive to the needs of your family and make a plan. Even if you’re a ‘pantser’ and don’t plan your story, take a little time to plan out how to keep your spouse talking to you and the refrigerator stocked.

Two: no matter what you do there’s always ‘that guy’ who doesn’t get it.

I did the math…. 75,000 words over 295 pages is an entire school year’s worth of term papers or more in a single month, and I did it… But there will always be that one person who just doesn’t understand the achievement, or what went into doing it.

Solution: finish your book and publish it anyway! Some people will come around when they see the final product and some won’t. The won’ts often have their own issues that cloud their understanding and it may not be worth the battle to bring them around. You may not be able to bring them around at all, but if you push through and succeed there is a chance that they will come around on their own.

Don’t be a jerk about it, but don’t let them stop you. The ‘I don’t get it’ crowd will always be there and there’s not a lot we can do to change that.

Three: the system may take a little while to cool down…

Even if you didn’t succeed in your NANOWRIMO quest, if you put in a good effort you have probably learned something and gained new skills and abilities. You will also need a little while to shift back into ‘normal’ mode (that’s why this post is coming out on December 8th and not December 1st…). And, it might be a good idea to put a little time and distance between your initial writing and the assessing and editing process… You need the space and perspective.

Solution: no solution needed! Go clean out the ‘fridge, walk the dog, buy those Christmas presents you’ve been putting off, or whatever it is you need to do. And then come back and keep writing. Give yourself a little space and see what has changed and how you improved (for instance my transcribing from notes speed is up by about 50%!).

As I said going into NANOWRIMO the whole experience is a good thing if you use it correctly. Whether you succeeded or not, if you want to be a writer (or if you are a writer) the thing to do now is to recover from the experience and learn what you can from what you’ve done and produced. It will help you in the long run.

That’s it for this one dear reader… Next time, back to our regular schedule (for about a week and then the holidays happen…)

My NANO Kit

As I mentioned last week I will be doing NANOWRIMO next month…

For those who don’t know yet NANOWRIMO is a yearly event in which writers try to write an entire 50,000+ word novel in a single month. I’ve done it twice. I can tell you it isn’t easy. You have to be committed and put in the work. You also need to know a little about your habits as a writer (and you may learn more in the process). Today I’m going to talk briefly about my “NANOWRIMO kit” and the process I use.

The bulk of the kit is actually in the front picture for this post. I’m one of those oddballs that likes to write by hand before I put the story one the computer, so I depend heavily on pens and seventy page college ruled notebooks (some of the ones this year are predecorated by a friend and will be used for the female pov in the story). Doing things this way has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side my writing speed (by hand) and my thinking speed are closer together for long stuff like this, so on a flow basis the notebook works better for me. The notebooks also make it easier to strike through and go on if I take a wrong turn.

On the other hand it’s harder to do word count on a physical copy, and the final count is computer verified. So, ultimately it has to be transcribed onto the computer to ‘win’.

Here’s the thing though. This ‘weakness’ in my style is a strength in disguise. Usually when you pick up for a new day’s writing it’s a good idea to review what you were working on last time (or at least the pages leading up to what you will be writing). When I start a day’s writing my first step is to transcribe what I wrote the previous day. This gets the information into the computer, allows me to review, and serves as my first editing pass. It takes time, but it puts me in a stronger place to write the next section (and gives me that all important word count…).

It’s my way of doing things and doesn’t work for everybody. Part of the fun is learning what works for you (and, by the way, that may change from story to story).

One thing that does change story to story is where I write. I virtually never do the actual writing at my desk. Editing yes. Writing not so much. Instead I tend to go out to write. For some projects it may be the public library; for other’s it’s my traditional writing hangouts. Last year I wrote about half of the book in a mall food court and rewarded myself with CCG cards.

This year I have two pov characters and things might get even more complicated.

The final piece of the kit (other than time) is also not in the picture. That would be the vast amounts of my favorite soda I’ll be drinking (another reason I don’t write on my computer…). Like so much else the choice is up to you. But I do recommend finding a lovely beverage to support you through the process. It helps.

Because I am going to be going all out on the book I will be quiet in the blogosphere next month (I’ll be writing, just not here…). I look forward to talking about the experience after NANO and I hope to hear from a few of you as well.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you in December.

Until then: Um…

Yes, can I have several packs of pens, a case of notebooks and all the (product name withheld) delivered to…

NANOWRIMO as a Tool

A few weeks ago I wrote about NANOWRIMO and why I wasn’t doing it this year. Well, things change.

Jamie’s Sacrifice is progressing well, but in ways I hadn’t expected. I crossed 34,000 words this week and expect to hit 50,000 before part one is finished. I sort of realized that the story needed more space and time than my initial estimate. Then I realized that if I get where I need to be at the end of the first part (here to for called ‘act one’), things in the second part are different enough that I could really look at it as a sequel story. And then the former third act shifts enough to call it a third book…

The next question was could I really do 50,000+ words in each of the parts. And the answer is: I think so! It’s really a two part question: 1) does each part warrant 50,000 words and 2) can I do it without padding. Again I think so! I’m kind of into growth and change, and there is lots of growth and change in the lives of teenagers, particularly ones in a place like where I’m leaving Jamie and company after part one. I think I might legitimately need 50,000+ words to handle the second part and I can do it without padding. And if I have 100,000+ words in the first two parts I might just need another 50,000 to tie up the loose ends and end things satisfactorily…

When combined these factors are telling me that Jamies Sacrifice could weigh in over 150,000 words. And then you add my real desire to get the story finished, so that I can get it edited and given to the world. I found myself at a moment where I might have to eat my words a bit and change my opinion. Maybe I do need to do NANO this year…

A final piece arrived earlier this month in the death of my friend Tanya, and her son’s desire to try his hand at NANOWRIMO. It’s something he wants to do, but doesn’t want to do alone, and I’m in a position to help.

For the most part I stand by what I’ve said about NANOWRIMO last time I see it as a tool, and as a way to help you finish a manuscript. What’s changed is the situation I have with my story.

I’ve learned how to write the story from Jamie’s perspective. I’ve also found that the story is bigger than I thought. I’ve found that I might have underestimated enough that this project may become a trilogy, even though I had no intention to do that. And, I’ve found that I need parts two and three in rough form at least before I can finish editing part 1. Together these discoveries add up to me having to say yes, I am doing NANOWIRMO this year. I want to finish the story and I need the first draft done now.

As I said previously, this is what NANOWRIMO is for, getting that first completed draft and sharing the writing experience. Sometimes you’re sure that’s not what you need. Sometimes it isn’t… Right up until the moment it is. In all probability I wouldn’t do NANO this year, except I find myself in a place to do so at the time it is happening.

So, I stand by my advice even while I change my mind dear reader. NANOWRIMO is a tool. Know what it is. Use it wisely. And, it might just be helpful to you.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post. Until then have success in your projects and don’t be afraid to go out and do!

NANOWRIMO an avenue and obstacle to success

I know NANOWRIMO is still a couple of months away, but to really do it is a commitment and that means some of us need to start thinking about it now…

Let me say at the outset that I am a NANOWRIMO fan. I like the idea and the organization. Johnson Farm, my first published novel, was a NANOWRIMO ‘win’, so was the sequel. At the same time the third book in the series is one that I wouldn’t even attempt as a NANOWRIMO project…

Depending on what you want or need to do taking on a NANOWRIMO project could be the best, or worst, thing to do. The key is to understand what NANOWRIMO is and what it does for you (and what it doesn’t do for you…).

NANOWRIMO is an organization {link} and an event. The idea is that during the month of November writers will go all out and write a full 50,000+ word novel. I can tell you it is a challenge, but it is a ‘doable’ one. I’ve succeeded in ‘winning’ twice and reaped the benefits.

The benefits of NANOWRIMO, what you really get out of it, can include:  experience, opportunities and potential contacts (with other ‘REMOs and supporters), and (hopefully) a completed first draft of a novel.

Things you do not get (directly) from NANOWRIMO include: prize money (maybe side bets…), a guaranteed writing contract, or a finished book. You could get any of those things, but additional work is required.

NANOWRIMO really is an avenue to success…

By definition completing a NANOWRIMO project gets you writing. To do 50,000 words in one month’s time you kind of have to put your head down and start writing. You have to put away the ‘somedays’ and the fear of the blank page. It is a small window in which to act rather than thinking about acting. That is the first real benefit, if you actually do a project you will get words on the page.

Second, if you ‘win’ (finish) you have a book manuscript, the raw material that is edited, crafted and revised until it becomes a finished, novel length, story that you can publish if you choose.

You also get contact, support, knowledge, and potentially goodies an opportunities thanks to other ‘REMOs and supporters. ‘Winning’ NANOWRIMO can be a good way to build your network/community; as well as proving to your friends, family, and neighbors that you really can write something that big.

Basically NANOWRIMO is an opportunity to build your writing community (or start one if you need to) and create a manuscript that you can then turn into a book. This is great if those things are what you need, but…

NANOWRIMO really is an obstacle…

The thing is, writing 50,000 words in a month is hard. If you’re not already experienced as a writer; if you don’t have a plan when you start; if you don’t have the time to throw at the project; you may struggle. If you let yourself give in to depression over not being up to ‘average’ on word count, or any number of other factors, you may even fail.

Also stemming from the tight time line, it can be hard to build in the features you want. It is a lot simpler and easier to do a story with one continuous voice than it is to do a polyphonic story. Chances are if you are trying for a more complex structure, and trying to meet a NANOWRIMO timeline, you will end up with some big holes that will take a lot of work to fix during the editing process.

And you have to edit. During NANOWRIMO you probably don’t have the time to do a lot of editing. But, you will have to come back and edit before you really have a finished story (we’ve talked about editing here before and we will do so again…).

As much as I like NANOWRIMO I’m not doing it this year. Why? Because I have a couple of manuscripts on my desk. So, right now there are other tools I need to use.

 Other things, other tools…

NANOWRIMO can be a great thing if you need to create a manuscript to work on, or the experience of creating a manuscript. NANOWRIMO can really be a good experience if you’re willing and able to commit. It can even help you build your community. But it really isn’t the only thing you need.

Don’t underestimate the value of education and preparation. You might want to read a few books in a genre before you try to write one. You might want to pick up a ‘how to write’ book, or take a class. You might even want to do some ‘real world’ research.

You also might want to do some planning. I have a lot of respect for ‘pantsers’, at least the ones who actually pull it off and create novel. I’m also not entirely sold on outlines (for reasons we will talk about another day…). But, you still might want to put in some planning for what you’re going to write. You know, so you have an idea of who your audience is, so you can have someone besides the butler do it, that sort of thing. Preplanning never solves everything but it helps.

You also need to edit (yes we talked about it already, but somebody out there needs to hear it again). Sometimes a new manuscript is the last thing you need. Currently I have three manuscripts, three partial manuscripts and a couple of non-novel projects on my desk. I’ve ‘won’ NANOWRIMO a couple of times now. It’s time to get the manuscripts off my desk and get them published!

I am a fan of NANOWRIMO. I think it can be really helpful to writers, if you understand what it is and how to use that ‘win’. The thing I want to avoid is people thinking that winning NANOWRIMO is all you have to do to be a successful writer.

There’s a lot more to be done, and I for one should get back to it.

See you next week dear reader. Until then

  1. Find a dream.
  2. Figure out how to make it happen.

Change and ‘normality’ (one round of many)

A few months ago two really important things happened at the same time: my wife graduated with a doctorate in instructional design and I released Johnson Farm: my first novel, my first nanowrimo win, and a book that I was forced to admit really did need a sequel (and after I promised myself I wouldn’t do that…).

We were done and life was going to get back to ‘normal’ (yes dad I can hear the laughter from here…). I jumped straight into the second book. After all, being a writer is what I do. Unfortunately it’s never that simple…

  1. In becoming a full time writer I decided to create my own publishing label and that needs regular attention, just like the writing part.
  2. As much as I hate to admit it I do have a life outside of books (gasp! It scares me too!)
  3. I went full time on the writer me and invented the publisher me while my wife was working on a doctorate.

When combined these facts mean that Farangian the full time writer, and Forever Mountain Publishing, had never known life without a grad student in the house. We have spent the last couple of years in a ‘make it work’ mode. And, while it’s good we can do that, it’s not really a healthy thing to do long term. So, about a month ago I gave myself the task of reanalyzing and making things work better in a ‘normal’ life (I know, there’s that word again…). That meant stopping the blog for a couple weeks, stopping the writing for a couple of weeks, thinking, reorienting, and then starting the whole thing up again with a new plan (it also meant my wife hiding the swords, axes, fire arms, plasma cannons, and so on until it was done…).

Going forward

Now we’re at the point where everything is moving forward again. I’m keeping semi-regular office hours (I still get book ideas at 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning, but I try not to be working on work stuff while I’m spending time with my wife in a non-work setting). I’ve reworked my weekly schedule so that things like website maintenance are less likely to be forgotten (I know I still have catching up to do, but at least it’s regularly on the plan and starting). And, I’m back to writing and putting out the blogs.

Things won’t change too much here. My blog at FMP is about writing: the mechanics of writing; life as a writer; the publishing process; and other things or interest to writing and publishing people. Words Mean Stuff is about words and ideas. That might sound like the writing blog, but from here on out it is about words and ideas about life: Making positive choices, finding meaning, and other “humany” stuff that words represent.

I will talk about books and projects that I am working on in both places, but I will try to talk about them in context appropriate ways. I will also talk about crafting stuff from time to time, in contextually appropriate ways. What I’m not going to be doing (well, I’ll try not to, but I’m not perfect) is ranting and spewing hurt feeler negativity. Those things happen in life, but I have no desire to speak of them here.

These blogs are about ideas and communication. You need a safe, open forum to talk about those things, and that’s what I’m going to make here. Speaking of talking… I love comments and discussion. So, dear reader, feel free to comment on the blogs, or share them if you find an opportunity and find the blog post worthy.

That’s it for this one dear reader, time to stop talking about and start doing! See you next week.

The good (and bad) of NANOWRIMO (Part 1)

I know it’s still a long way till November, but since the book I just finished and the novel I’m editing right now are NANOWRIMO wins I might as well start talking about it now…

For those who aren’t familiar, NANOWRIMO means National Novel Writing Month. It is an event and an organization that can be a major help to fiction writers (especially those just getting started). It is also a major cause of stress. The idea is that during the month of November those daring few will sit down at their notebooks/computers and write the first draft of a novel (at least 50,000 words).

There is good and bad about this. There are reasons I have found it useful and reasons I won’t do it again unless I’m working with a writing partner I want to encourage through the process.

NANOWRIMO can help you commit to the act of writing. Through the website you have a way of tracking progress and sharing with likeminded people. You have a deadline to work against. You have a source of advice. All of these are proven to help at least some of us get through the process.

On the other hand…

Not completing could act as a depressant that impedes future attempts. Some people are legitimately busy, with “day jobs” and lives that make it harder to finish. And, when you get down to it a ‘write it in a month’ rush doesn’t work for every writing style, or every book.

The first two books in my Johnson Farm series were NANOWRIMO projects. The second book is taking a lot of reworking. The third book will definitely take a different process, so I’m not even trying to turn that one into a NANOWRIMO project.

There are challenges, and limitations on what you are going to be able to do in a single month. It is going to be a lot of work. You definitely shouldn’t mistake what you get out of the process for a finished novel (you’ll hopefully have a finished draft. But, a finished novel? Not the way to bet…)

NANOWRIMO should be treated as what it is, something to help you write and something to help encourage the growth and development of fiction writing. It is a tool to be used and a way to test yourself. It is also something that I will be talking about occasionally on the blog.

I’m not going to guarantee that NANOWRIMO will help you dear reader. I am not going to promise it will ‘work’ for you. But, I think it is useful and I look forward to discussing it more in the future… And I welcome any comments/questions/discussion you choose to provide on the topic…

See you next post.