October 28, 2021 / 4 Comments

Ready… Set… NaNoWriMo!

Spooky season is among us! Ghosts! Vampires! Nightmares! Panic!—no wait, we’re talking about NaNoWriMo this time.

Or are we?!?

Hopefully you’re not really panicking about NaNoWriMo. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s a bragging rights contest, something to make us focus on actually doing this for thirty days rather than saying “someday I’ll write it all down” for another month.

Wait, does everyone know what I’m talking about? In case you’re new to the ranty writing blog, we’re talking about National Novel Writing Month (Na-No-Wri-Mo). It’s a completely free, no strings, no requirements writing contest where you try to write, well, a whole novel in a month. Really, as much of the first draft of a novel as possible. There’s also no prizes, no trophies, no real prestige. As I mentioned above, I basically just get to say I did it. To someone else and to myself. Most importantly, to myself.

There’s a good chance this sounds a little intimidating. Don’t let it be. This is the writing equivalent of a fun run. It’s got a starting date and a goal, but past that it’s just you. Whatever pace you want to go at, however far you want to go with it. No pressure at all.

In fact, here a tip for you. Use that knowledge. Focus on it. Don’t worry about anyone else. Don’t think about your friends or the people in your writing group or that guy on Twitter bragging about his daily word count. Don’t consider what a future agent or editor might want. Toss all of that away. Forget all of it. Take a deep breath. Breathe in. Breathe out.

And now just write.

Seriously. Just write. Nothing else. For the next thirty days, forward motion only. No re-reading. No editing. No corrections at all. Don’t look back. Under no circumstances hit the up arrow or page up or push the scroll bar. None of that. Not even to go up to the last paragraph. We’re moving in one direction and we don’t stop moving in that direction. Making myself to only go forward means I’m making myself write. I’m not spending time rethinking yesterday’s work or tweaking that first encounter or double checking my spelling. I’m just writing.

And, yeah, this means things are going to be a little… well, very messy. Lots of typos. Dangling plot threads. Characters who suddenly change names/ hair color/ genders halfway through. Or are just suddenly dead because they really should’ve died back at the bank ambush and I’m only realizing that now and we’re only moving forward, right?

And that’s totally fine. Seriously. Remember, NaNoWriMo is just a first draft. It’s not going to be the thing we sell or the thing that gets us an agent. It’s the thing that’ll need some more time and some more work. Because a month isn’t that much time. Really. Even for pros.

Like I mentioned above, the goal here is to get as much work done on a first draft as possible. And first drafts are almost always messy things. In fact, I became a much more productive writer once I accepted that first drafts were messy things. It freed me up to and let me focus on getting things down on the page rather than getting them perfect the first time.

And getting things down on the page is what NaNoWriMo is all about.

So, as I often say… go write.

No, wait. A few other things before we all get on with the writing.

First, if you happen to be in the SoCal area and have a lot of free time at the end of the month, I’m going to be at SDCC Special Edition over Thanksgiving weekend. Sunday, to be exact. I’m doing the con edition of the Writers Coffeehouse, talking about writing, publishing, the state of the industry, and whatever other questions you might have. No idea what size crowd to expect, so we’ll see what happens there.

Also, I may be taking a little bit of a break here for a week or three. I’m feeling a touch overworked/stressed with said con, the holidays, the new book, and, y’know, the world in general. So I just want to take some pressure off and try to get to a place where I feel a little more caught up on things. Plus, to be honest, I feel like I’m just rehashing a lot of stuff here, and I’d love to be able to give you something new and, y’know, actually useful.

Anyway, that’s where things are at. Now fuel up on some Halloween candy and go wild with NaNoWriMo.

Now go write.

Last week I mentioned I was starting a new project. A huge one. Easily the biggest thing I’ve ever done and very  probably the next two or three years of my life.

To call it intimidating is a bit of an understatement. It’s been ridiculously easy to find other things that I need to do. Not that I’m avoiding it, of course, it’s just… look, I’ve needed to paint these Space Marines for a while now. And, if you missed it, I bought a Shogun Warrior to restore, a Raydeen like I had when I was a kid. Not to mention, I really need to spend more time with the cats. They’re feeling a bit neglected, and I think I’m making some real headway with Doctor Wade Salem. Heck, we haven’t even discussed all these ranty blog posts.

Okay, yes, I’ve already started the big project. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of other things I could be doing. Or maybe some I should be doing.

I mean, let’s be honest. There’s arguably a ton of stuff I need to do before I start a project. I should have a rough idea of who my characters are and what they want out of life. At least a bare-bones sense of a plot. Which could mean some degree of research.

Plus, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I knew what my chosen genre’s expectations are. Or had a notion of what’s been done before in it.

If you’ve been following this collection of rants for over a year, you may remember the A2Q. It’s a dozen long-ish posts about how to take a novel from the bare bones idea through to a finished manuscript. And almost two-thirds of them were things to do before we started our first draft.

When we get right down to it though, there’s only one thing I really need to do to start a new project. And just based off my own experience (and some experiences I borrowed from other folks) it’s probably the toughest thing. I know I used to get caught up on it a lot.

So what’s the all-important, ultimate step to writing a project?

We start writing it.

I know that sounds stupid but, well, it really is what it comes down to. I can do a lot of research and practice and character sketches and pin a hundred index cards up on the wall with different colored yarn. I can block out scenes with action figures and act them out with friends and take long walks where I have silent conversations with myself. But at the end of the day… I have to start writing it. Until then it’s just prep work at best, procrastination at worst.

I know some people might take offense to such a statement and insist all those character sketches 100% count as writing. And the multiple outlines. And the four months of research. To which I say… sure, of course it does. Again, I wrote around 25K words last year about all the prep work you can do before starting a first draft.

But I also wonder why some of these folks are so quick to take offense. I mean, at least four or five times a year here I point out that my method is my method and your method is your method. No problem at all. But if the mere suggestion that my wall of index cards doesn’t count as writing gnaws at me that much… maybe it’s because I know it doesn’t?

Two or three times here I’ve told the story of Jerzy, a personal trainer who helped me to lose a lot of weight by just pointing out all I had to do was follow the schedule he’d given me. I could come up with a lot of reasons for not doing it or to put off doing it or… I could do it.

There’s a point where I’m doing that advance work, and there’s a point where I’m just not writing. And that’s the real goal here. Stringing sentences together and making paragraphs and telling stories. If that’s what I want to be doing… well, I need to do it.

Yeah. It’s scary and it’s work and it’s a commitment. And we all want to do it right, to create something fantastic. We can always find good reasons not to start, to put it off, to convince ourselves we’re not quite ready to do it yet. Because it’s going to be tough.

But it’s going to be a lot easier than trying to lose sixty pounds was, believe me.

Next time, I’d like to revisit that idea of throwing rocks at people in trees. Even if you’re doing it for a good reason.

Until then, go write. 

April 2, 2020 / 4 Comments

A2Q Part Eight—The First Draft

And here we are once again. Or maybe we never left. Maybe we’ve been here all along, obsessively reading news articles and checking on friends in hotspots.
No? Just me? Really?
I find that hard to believe…
Anyway, it’s back to the A2Q, this rambly, sprawling series about how to write a book from bare-bones idea to finished manuscript. And it’s the day you’ve all been waiting for. We’re going to start writing. Finally! I mean, this is what the whole A2Q thing was supposed to be about, right? Writing a book. And yet, for some reason, we’re not getting to “writing the book” until part eight. EIGHT? What the freakin’ hell?
Hang on, though.
There’s a reason we took the long path. Well, I took the long path and just sort of led you along with little bread crumbs and Reece’s Pieces and maybe shots of whiskeys. Trust me, I lured you out this way for a reason.
Remember how I compared outlining to road trips? We can make a very loose, bare-bones plan or we can map out the whole thing and schedule every stop along the way. There’s plusses and minuses to both of these, but for the moment I want to flip this idea a bit and compare it to something else.
Have you ever needed to go somewhere you’ve never been before? Not wanted to go—needed to go? Maybe a doctor’s office or a job interview or a bar where that person is waiting for you and you reallywant to be there and make a good impression? And that place is… six or seven miles away? Maybe ten? Google gives two or three routes and it doesn’t seem quite sure where you’re going but you’ve memorized the names of a couple cross streets and maybe two stores that are supposedly nearby.

What’s that drive usually like? Overly-focused? Watching the clock a lot? Maybe a bit nerve-wracking because you thought you left early enough but you still haven’t found it and you’re watching the clock tick closer and closer to the time you’re supposed to be there and now you’re doing mental calculations about how far you think you’ve still got to go and find parking and… look, you know this feeling, right?

Compare that to the last time you drove to your significant other’s place. Or the grocery store. Or the mall. Did you think about street names? Did you even notice any of the stores along the way. No, of course not. It was familiar and easy and you barely thought about it at all. You just did it.
That’s why we’ve been talking about all this stuff up front. So you’ll have the characters and the setting and the plot and the story solidly in your mind. Heck, maybe you’ve got some bare-bones thoughts about theme. And because we talked about outlines and you moved things around a bit on paper—or even just in your head—you’ve got an idea how all these things fit together. Most importantly, you know what happens next. You’ve got an endpoint you’re aiming for, which means you can always keep going.
So, let’s get writing.
No, seriously. That’s it. Dive in. You’ve got the story in your head, so start writing.
Okay, fine. Here’s some more advice. Just because I like you.
First, dump any idea you have about art. Throw out all those books. Don’t even mention your muse. We’re not making excuses, we’re writing. The only way this happens is you pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard. That’s the biggest thing. You just need  to do it.
Second, think of this a lot like NaNoWriMo, just without the time limit. If it takes you six weeks or three months or half a year to do this… so what? You work at your own pace. You’ve probably got other stuff going on in your life and sweet jeebus there’s a lot going on in the world. Right now you’re under no time limit and nobody’s expecting anything from you.
More importantly, just like NaNoWriMo, absolutely nobody’s going to see this. Seriously. It’s a first draft. It’s going to be messy, you’re going to change a bunch of stuff as you go, and it’s definitely going to need editing. So much editing. Don’t worry, we’ll be getting to that point soon enough.

If it makes this easier, I forbid you to show it to anyone. Just like that. Forbidden. It’s going to be awkward to explain to your friends, I know, but it’s a little bit of a relief, too, isn’t it? Now you don’t have to worry about it being perfect. You can just put a bunch of words down on the page. And then do it again the next day. And the day after that. Are they all the right words? Probably not. Good thing you’ve been forbidden from showing it to anybody.

Third, don’t judge your process off anybody else’s. Some people can do a first draft in weeks, some need a few months, but like I just said up above—none of them are you moving at your speed. Don’t worry that he turns out great first drafts or that she claims she doesn’t even do drafts(that’s usually a bit misleading anyway). This is your book. It’s just about you. I absolutely, hand-on-my-copy-of-On Writing swear your editor or readers will not care in the slightest how long you did or didn’t spend on this.

Unless I tell them I wrote my six-hundred page masterpiece in a week, in which case… they’re going to go into it a little leery.

Fourth, because it bears repeating, please remember nobody’s going to see this. You can’t disappoint anyone. No one will know about those typos. That big plot hole is going to go unseen. You can’t even disappoint yourself. It’s all my fault. I forbade you from showing anyone, remember?
So for now, forward motion. Just get it done. We’ll clean up that other stuff next time. Honest.
Finally, have some fun with this. I know that might sound tough, but… you have to want to write this. You should be excited about writing it. As someone who’s been doing this full time for a while now… yeah, it can be rough and a grind and there are days (especially this past month) when it’s really hard to focus or feel like this isn’t frivolous somehow.

But even on the rough days, I’ve still got passion for it. I’m thinking of how cool this is going to be. When we started this thing, I jokingly came up with the idea of using a werewolf story to illustrate a lot of my points. But as we’ve been talking more and more about Phoebe and Luna and their family legacy and Luna’s curse… well, I started to get invested in it. I saw solid directions it could go in and even came up with a few little twists I liked and one big twist I really liked. To be honest, I’ve had a few developments I didn’t mention because now I’m thinking I want to write this as my next project (bumping my historical horror/weird western idea back yet again).

I’ve got nothing to back it up past my own gut, but I think readers can tell when the writer is bored. If I’m not enjoying writing it, they’re not going to enjoy reading it. My lack of energy for a character or a point of view or a sequence is going to be clear. Again, just my opinion, no hard research behind it, and there are always exceptions to the rule. But I really think it’s true.
So for now, just write. You’ve got the story in your head. Put it on the page “good enough” for now, we’ll make it better later.


Chapter One

            Phoebe sifted through the laundry pile again, willing the black top to appear even though it hadn’t the last three times she’d looked. “Luna,” she bellowed again.
            Upstairs the sound of the shower finally stopped and she heard the thump of feet on the wooden floor. The bathroom door creaked open. “What?”
            “Where’s my black top? The one with the ribbing?”
            “I’m trying to get ready,” her little sister growled. “I’m going out!”
            “So am I! Where is it?”
            “How should I know?”
            “You borrowed it last night. You promised you’d wash it.”
            Silence. Then the bathroom door creaked quietly.
            What?” Her voice echoed in the small house.
            “Where is it?”
            A sigh echoed down the stairs. “I’ll get you a new one.”
            “You’ll what?”
            “I kind of… misplaced it.”
            “You what?”
            “I lost it, okay. I said I’ll get you a new one.”
            “Goddammit. I wanted it for tonight. It fits under my armor.” She looked at the leather sleeves, vest, and gorget piled on the bed. Her mom’s old armor. Stained dark brown with years of oil and sweat and blood that sank in before it could be cleaned off.
            “Wear the green one.”
            “It’s long-sleeved and I wore it last night. It stinks.”
            “It’s not like anyone’s going to complain.”
            Phoebe bit back a sigh of her own and marched over to the hamper of dirty clothes. “How did you ‘misplace’ it?”
            “I was at a party.”
            “That’s not an answer.”
            “Yes it is,” Luna sang down the stairs. “I’m getting back in the shower now.”
            “We’re going to talk about this later.”
            “Whatever.” The bathroom door creaked shut and hot water started to gush again.
            They’d have to talk about that too. The water bill and the gas bill had been high last month. Phoebe felt pretty sure Luna’s long showers were a major part of that.
            She pulled the green top from the hamper. It had been warm last night, especially under all the leather, and she’d sweated a lot. The top was still damp, and it reeked. But it was that or she could try to find a Henley or turtleneck that wouldn’t bunch up under the armor and slow her down.
            She sure as hell wasn’t going to be some B-movie cliché, hunting werewolves with nothing on but a leather vest.
That’s a rough, first-draft, off-the-top-of-my-head page and a half. It’s not great, I’m probably going to tweak the dialogue, and I already have some thoughts on word-choice. But the point was just to get it out.

I’m a big fan of exploring and learning stuff in a first draft. But I think a lot of people get caught up because they don’t have a good sense of their characters or the world, and they don’t know where they’re going. They’ve got too much to explore, and so a lot of their first draft gets eaten up dealing with… well, all that stuff we’ve been  going over for the past few weeks.

But when you’ve got enough of it in your head, you can just go.
Will it be perfect? Definitely not. But that’s okay, because we’re just doing a first draft.
So get to it.

Next time… should I keep going with the A2Q? Or should we take a break and I could talk about something else for a bit? Let me know what you’re thinking.
Until then… go write.
Write like nobody’s going to see it.