Monday, October 28, 2013

NaNoWriMo Approaches: Tips on writing quickly

I'm not participating in National Novel Writing Month this year, at least not in the traditional sense. I will use November to help me get some words on the page but I plan to do my own thang because dammit Jim, I'm a writer, not a machine. Also November is going to be like this for me:

I don't think I want to get on my own bad side next month. 

Anyway, NaNo is always a bit interesting to me. Writing quickly is sort of seen as a bad thing in the writing community, but there's good reason. Too many people who participate in things like NaNo or write quickly in general don't put in the time to properly edit their work afterward. To be honest, I don't think many people reading this post will have that problem.

But I'll say it again in case this is the very first time you're seeing it: don't write a book in November and send it off in queries in December! Bad idea. Very bad. 

Of course, as you well know if you've ever read my blog, there are exceptions to every rule. And in fact, once you're under contract with a publishing house, you may be expected to write quickly to meet deadlines. It may not be a book a month, but it may still be faster than you're used to. 

Now for my confession:

I write better when I write quickly. And you might, too. So here are some tips on how to get the most out of an exercise like NaNoWriMo.

1.) Just. Write. It. Already. I see people stall out on books all the time. The common complaint is akin to Writer's Block ("I just don't know where to go next"). Well, personally (and everyone is different!), I always know the ending of my story before I begin. And I am a tried-and-true pantser. Sometimes I know the beginning, too, but for the most part it's like filling in a treasure map where the only mark I have to begin with is the "X", and I don't even know where I'm standing. Even if you don't know how the ending of your book is going to go down, chances are you've got some inkling of what you want to happen (So and So wind up together, apart, Bad Guy dies, Bad Guy lives, Good Guy dies, Good Guy lives, etc.). You don't NEED details. At least not to start. 

Note: if you're a die-hard plotter, and you absolutely DO need details, your best bet for a quick writing exercise is to outline what you plan to write beforehand. 

So once you have a general idea of your ending, you know that every scene in your book has to move the story that way somehow. Maybe you have an idea of how to get there from where you're at, but you can't connect the dots. That's okay. 

Repeat after me: That's OKAY.

You don't need to connect the dots RIGHT NOW. If you're stuck, write the next scene you know is coming up. Just do it. Let go and do it. Even if you're missing crucial plot details, just plug in something silly like Bunnies and Carrots and write around it. You might be surprised. I can't say this is a miracle cure for everyone, but every time I've tried this, I've either a.) filled in the missing plot details/ scenes as soon as I moved on, or b.) realized I didn't even need the intermittent stuff I was so worried about in the first place. 

2.) Carry a notebook with you everywhere you go. When I write quickly, I'm usually only able to do so because I live and breathe my story. I think about it every spare moment I have. Oftentimes, I get my best ideas when I'm nowhere near my computer. I carry a little lined notebook with me everywhere I go. I have a different one for each story, so I can fill it with ideas, place/ character names and traits, maps of my settings, plot lines, etc. I even sometimes write whole scenes or chapters by hand and transcribe them later on. By having a notebook handy, you won't forget that awesome plot idea you had on your way to work in the morning. Hopefully. 

There are some pretty nifty cell phone memo apps for this kind of thing, too. I just prefer my notebooks. 

3.) A draft is a DRAFT. Don't worry about making it pretty! Write. Get the story out of your head. The best thing about written words is that you can always change them later. You're not committed to something just because you typed it. Get the story out, fix it later. Remember, this isn't going to see the light of day for a while anyway. (RIGHT???) You'll have plenty of time to edit and tweak. It can be SO HARD to ignore typos and grammar and plot holes and lines of Bunnies and Carrots and Bunnies and Carrots but you'll be thankful you did later, when you have the bulk of the drafting out of the way.

4.) Re-read the previous scene when you sit down to write again. This is the best way I've found to re-connect with the voice, re-immerse myself, and pick up the story thread immediately after I left off. But try not to let yourself get caught up in editing while you're re-reading! 

5.) If you do get completely stuck, talk your plot out to someone, even if they aren't really listening. This is quite possibly the single most important thing I can leave you with. Sometimes, sharing your plot out loud with someone else will kick-start your own plotting brain and give you the answer you're missing. It's human nature. When discussing a problem with someone, our brains start looking for a solution. So even if the other person has no context for the issue or isn't suggesting things that will work, I often find that the answers come to me when I talk it out. 

So remember kids, just get it out of your head. Worry about fixing it later. And most importantly, FIX IT LATER before ANYONE ELSE SEES IT. Okay. I think my work here is done. 

Happy speedy writing!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Giraffes are awesome! (And also kind of jerks)

If you're a big fan of giraffes, you may not want to read this post. It might change your view of them.

If you hate giraffes, you're probably not going to find anything here to REALLY fuel your rage. But it might help vindicate you a little bit.

If you're neutral or kinda meh on giraffes, well-- you're in the right place, my friend!

Giraffes (or giraffe, as the commonly accepted singular/plural), are pretty freaking awesome!

They have extreme vertebrae! Giraffe have seven vertebrae in their necks, just like us humans. But while ours are a centimeter or so thick, a giraffe's neck vertebrae are a little under a foot long each. A fully grown giraffe can have a six foot long neck!

Speaking of six feet, giraffe moms give birth while standing up! Baby giraffes have a six foot fall to welcome them into the world. Luckily, baby is also about six feet tall at birth, so it's more of a slide than a thump. But we think the jolt might help baby take its first breath, and possibly break the umbilical cord.

Giraffes' tongues can be up to eighteen inches long! The general rule is that for every foot a giraffe is tall, their tongue will be an inch long. So for an eighteen foot tall giraffe, their tongue will be about eighteen inches long.

Their tongues are a dark purple/ black color! At least the first 6-7 inches or so. Why? Simple: sunscreen.

They eat dead animals! 


Wait, what?

Yeah. It's true. This is the life-changing giraffe fact, and your little Halloween twist. MWA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

Wait! Come back! There's a good reason, I swear!

Giraffe sometimes eat the carcasses of dead birds and other small animals. You thought they were herbivores, huh? Well, they mostly are. The eating of carcasses isn't for the meat, it's for the bones. Which sounds worse until you realize that plants don't have a whole lot of calcium in them, and the giraffe has a massive skeleton to support. For healthy bone growth, they need to source the calcium from somewhere.


There's more where this came from (MY BRAAAAAAAAAINSSSSSSS) but that's all for today, kids! Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

On being bad online, or, why social media is HAAAAAAAAAAARD when you're having a tough time

Dear You,

Last week, the lovely Summer Heacock wrote this really interesting post on her blog about oversharing (basically, a writer's How Not To Act). To be fair, there are lots of "rules" for writers online, lots of things that we are expected to know and follow and do and not do and little dances and secret handshakes and a second-letter-replacement cipher, all of which add up to Membership in the Real Writer's Club.


Okay. So. I'm not laughing to be mean. I'm not even laughing sarcastically. I'm laughing ironically. (I think. I can never remember what the real definition of ironic is anymore. I'M SO CONFUSED. Is it ironic that I don't know what ironic means anymore??)

There is no Real Writer's Club. And most of the "rules" out there are common sense that must be stated as a Rule because someone, somewhere, didn't think of that.

Raise your hand if you knew absolutely everything when you started this crazy journey.


I... have made, and continue to make, LOTS of mistakes. If I was ever issued a card for the Real Writer's Club (which hasn't arrived in the mail, by the way), I should think it would have been revoked by now. I KNOW I'm not supposed to use rhetorical questions in queries and pitches. My first drafts inevitably include them anyway. I KNOW I'm not supposed to be too familiar with agents. It's so easy to feel like I know them from following them on Twitter that I often have to delete several forms of "So how's the knee injury?" and "Nice new color on the front door there!" (There's a fine line between "personalized" and "stalker". I prefer not to get anywhere near that line).

I KNOW I'm not supposed to talk about rejection. But there-- there, is my fatal flaw.

There's something you need to know about me. This isn't an excuse, or a backpedal. It's simply the truth. I am, by nature, robust and upbeat. I dislike complaining and while I, like most of the world these days, do suffer from anxiety and depression at times, I am, for the most part, a relatively positive person. When bad things happen I deal with them in one of two ways: vent to someone, or internalize it and self-combust at a later date.

Yeah, healthy, right?

The problem is that I often vent about the little stuff and internalize the big stuff. SUPER healthy. I hate it, wish I could change it. I find myself complaining more and more about little stuff the more big stuff I have going wrong. Big and little are, of course, subjective.

And this past year/ year-and-a-half, has been fraught with Big Stuff. Loss. Sickness (mine and others). Professional rejection, on so many levels, that I can't even go into. Disappointment. Writing rejection (yes, I'm mentioning it). Financial trouble. And I've watched several people close to me go through some very difficult things, as well. Of course this isn't my burden to carry but it still hurts me to watch my friends and family hurt.

Maybe this is how everyone else's life is, too. I don't know, having only been myself. I do know I'm extra sensitive to pain, both emotionally and physically, so perhaps I don't handle it as well as I could.

I have SO. MUCH. good in my life. SO MUCH. I have so much to be grateful for, so much I shouldn't take for granted, but at the end of the day, when so much Big Stuff flies at you, it's hard to see the forest for the trees or some other more appropriate metaphor.

Long story short, you may have never heard me say, "Got another email rejecting ______ today" here or on Twitter, but rest assured I've said it. I probably told you about that or some other Big Thing by way of "Can't believe there's no more donuts left in this house *sad face*" or similar.

The past few months, I have dealt with this Debbie Downer Diarrhea Of The Keyboard by clamming up instead, simply not posting for days or weeks at a time because if I didn't have anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all. And it was working fine until I saw Summer's post and could no longer hide from myself. Regardless of how I see it, I am Oversharing of the Negativity.

So, from me to you, I'm sorry for breaking the Rules. I'm hoping to be more positive online from now on. I'm hoping to find the balance between being Real and being Whiny. And I'm hoping to keep the internet friends I've come to know and love!



How do you deal with Big Stuff in your life and online?