Tag Archives: writing a novel

NaNoWriMonkey – Follow-up Reflections (Finally!)

Just over a month of recovery has transpired since my NaNoWriMo burnout. Like a Roman candle, the concentrated spew of writing was glorious, dazzling my eyes with a populated computer screen after a long stretch of spark-less procrastination. And then November ended and fffffzzztt. So did the writing. For the most part. Just like legs need a rest after a marathon, I needed to retrieve my eyeballs and fingers from where they’d fallen off onto the keyboard and step away from that project for a bit.

In the meantime, I’ve been tweaking my first manuscript and rewriting query letters over and over again to get ready for a much-delayed round of submission. I also headed Stateside for another two weeks for Christmas, which was crazy-busy but magical, just like the Disney trip before that. 🙂 Anyway, I’d promised to follow up on my NaNoWriMo experience, so let’s get on with it.

Writing 50,000 words in one month is a concept that makes folks wary, and understandably—for years I assumed it could only generate pure and utter crap; good writing is not to be rushed. But now having gone through it, there’s no question it was a useful exercise that I highly recommend, and here are some reasons why:

1. NaNoWriMo was like a writing enema. I’d been stopped up for a while in that respect, sitting on a story outline I’d completed in spring only to sputter out one chapter in summer and jack until November. It was shit-or-get-off-the-pot time, and NaNoWriMo was precisely the initiative I needed. So, to run with my disgusting metaphor, even if a lot of my massive brain-dump was crap, it was purifying to get it out of me. I did have an outline to keep me focused, but I think if you’re still in novel-brainstorming mode, it’s a perfect way to write your way into a storyline to run with beyond NaNoWriMo.

2. NaNoWriMo gave me discipline. For as much as I’ve preached on this blog that writing is a discipline, I still tend to fall in with the “I write when I feel like it” crowd. It’s incredibly difficult for me to establish routine in my writing, so having that NaNoWriMo goal was such a motivating force. Not only did my profile stats continually calculate how many words I had to average per day based on my actual pace, but punching in my new word counts and watching those bars climb on the chart was immensely satisfying. It pushed me each day to stick to a daily word goal and punch out a few more sentences just when I thought I had no words left in me. Contrary to such doubt, there’s always more waiting in the folds of our grey matter.

3. NaNoWriMo pushed me out of my comfort zone. There’s obviously no hard-and-fast “right” way to write. Some writers vomit out their stories first and revise later, and others revise as they write. I trend toward the latter category. It has merit, but I found it worthwhile to try a new approach, and the result broke some bad habits I’d naturally fallen into. One of the major flaws of my first manuscript was that its early drafts were overwritten. I pored way too much over every word and sentence and stopped writing new material in favor of revising finished chapters to death first. The writing needed to relax, and, what’s more, I hadn’t mapped out that entire story yet. To so painstakingly revise early chapters when I still had no idea where the later chapters were going was just stupid. It was only when I’d finished drafting the entire story that I realized what needed to change at the beginning to improve consistency. So, not only did I outline my second manuscript beforehand this time around, but NaNoWriMo forced me to keep driving this story forward and not complicate phrasing through over-thinking it—there simply wasn’t the time to. It’s not as though I had no opportunity for some thoughtful wordsmithing, logically thinking through plotting, or researching to enrich descriptive detail and authenticity. I simply mean that, overall, I had to write more off-the-cuff and to-the-point than I’m used to, a risk my writing in particular really needed to take.

4. NaNoWriMo powerfully immersed me in my storyworld. Curling up with a single story for so many hours of the day every day was the deepest sea-diving into my imagination I’d ever done. I was truly married to my characters, setting, and situations at that point; the level of commitment was tremendous when I promised to come back to them every day, and the short gaps between bouts of writing ensured I never really loved ’em and left ’em. It’s essential to at some point step away from a story and come back to it with fresher eyes (as I’m doing right now), but the benefits of sticking with it for better or worse in November included seeing my storyworld more vividly and improving its continuity—I remembered details more clearly and strung them together more efficiently since they were written only a matter of hours/days apart from each other.

5. NaNoWriMo was P90X for my brain. In view of all the aforementioned, my mind clearly got warmed up and broke a sweat trying to keep pace with my required daily average word count (~2,700/day thanks to my late start). The mind is a muscle, after all, and it needs to be flexed in order to grow. Pushing yourself to go as far as you can one day will strengthen you to do the same if not more the next. And haven’t you found that the more you exercise, the more you want to? In the same way, NaNoWriMo energized me to the point where I wasn’t writing because I had to. I wanted to. I honestly woke up every morning excited to get back to my computer to research and write.

Granted, there’s no way I could’ve sustained the intensity of NaNoWriMo beyond that month, but I do think the lessons it taught can be applied in realistic doses going forward on my project. I went into it with 10,000 words, came out with 60,000, and estimate I have about 15,000-20,000 more words to go until my first draft is finished. There’s no question I’ll have to revise the hell out of it, but I definitely don’t discount the earnest progress I initially made on it in a very, very concentrated amount of time—I think (*hope*) going into NaNoWriMo with an advance, focused vision of my story optimized how many of those 50,000 words actually have a shot at remaining in the final draft…the major ideas at the very least.  I tried my best to work smarter, not harder, so we’ll see one day what I have to show for it. 🙂


NaNoWriMonkey

Twelve days into November, I made the idiotic decision to first join NaNoWriMo, and ever since, my desk has been a feces-flingin’ factory of writing. Victory seemed improbable but is oh-so sweet for this now official NaNoWriMo-Fo. Reflections on the experience are forthcoming, but for now I really need to take a shower…


And now a word from our sponsors…

* * BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP * *

This blog is temporarily on hiatus.

The Primate was at first preoccupied with October travels,
and now with November NaNoWriMo.

(see sidebar widget to track my progress…
…and have mercy. I joined 12 days in.) 

Please stay tuned for The Fallen Monkey’s winter season line-up, though, when it returns to its regular schedule.

Same Monkey Time. Same Monkey Channel.

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On Priorities, Parks, Parents, and Publishing

Yowzah. Sorry I fell out of the tree again. These have been weeks of prioritizing, and unfortunately if I’m to make any blogging a priority, it’s gotta be the one I actually get paid for. 🙂 In the meantime, while I haven’t been the most attentive commenter on your blogs lately, I’m glad to see you all are keeping busy and doing well, too!

I do finally want to pop in this week, though, before going on hiatus yet again. I’ll be heading Stateside in a few days for a brief visit to my sweet home Chicago before then undertaking the grand road-trip with my parents to Orlando for our big family Disney World vacation three years in the making. We made this pilgrimage many-a time as kids, but we started the tradition of returning with spouses and grandkids ten years ago. This is the first time since that all of us siblings are able to make it again. So factor in me, me mum and dad, two brothers, one sister, two sisters-in-law, one brother-in-law, six nephews, two nieces, and my brother’s parents-in-law, and our grand total is nineteen. Could be an even twenty if my husband’s eleven weeks of grad school this year didn’t suck away all his work holiday and then some. 😦 In any case, leave it to my parents to be the only ones choosing to drive, so I’m making the journey with them to help out—they’ve had a rough year of health issues, and it’s the least I can do when I’m otherwise missing out on everything, the bad and the good, while living abroad. Time to shift my priorities to others, finally.

And who am I kidding. I love this stuff. Fire up the Family Truckster! Cracker Barrel, here we come! Marty Moose! Marty Moose! Marty Moose!

This is no longer a vacation—it’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun.”

In literary news, where my freelance editing work goes, I’ve wrapped up the developmental edit of a very fun YA paranormal novel so will await whatever the managing edit may throw back our way. And the second novel I’d edited has just been published! The author has been making a great effort at social media, so it looks like it’s doing well so far. Three-for-three wonderful authors to work with [knocks wood for next time]. And as for my own manuscript, I’ve been revisiting ms #1 after some time away from it and reckon my next step is consulting with a professional editor—I’ve been really envying the process I go through with my authors and would like to see my story get all buffed-n-polished, too. Regardless, I need to get more momentum behind that one; I admittedly haven’t been trying very hard to query. Dare I say it, I think I’ve settled into contentment with just the process of bringing it into being—I’ve entertained the hell out of myself!—so, where priorities go, getting it published has almost come to feel secondary. Or is that what all the unpublished say when they’re in massive denial? 😉

In any case, I’ll try to pop back at least a couple more times this week before the *Disney magic* beckons me…


Room with a View

All good things must come to an end. *sigh*

I have more to write about my week, but for today as I make my return journey to London, I’ll just pay homage to the charming B&B that I called home the last five nights.

The table where I wrote.

The view of St. Austell Bay and the hills of Tywardreath, Par, and Fowey on down to Gribbin Head.

My sweet lil' room, where I secluded myself when not hiking out in them thar hills.

This is the heart of Daphne du Maurier country, which was no coincidence when I planned this trip. In the posts to follow, I’ll document my literary pilgrimage of sorts.

But for now, I heave another *sigh* in departing this peaceful region where the farmland meets the sea, the air doesn’t turn my snot grey, and strangers actually reciprocate friendly smiles and hellos. (Gasp! Can you imagine that, Londoners?! Looking up from the pavement and breaking through your barriers of fear and preoccupation to meet someone’s eye?! The horror…the horror…). Home-made and jarred marmalade, crisp vegetables straight from the local earth, and eggs straight from the local chickens’ va-jay-jays, purchased on the honor system at the end of a farmer’s driveway. Coastal paths with something new around every bend and questionable signage that lets you get good and lost a few times in the fields and woods, all in the spirit of things.

Cornwall agrees with me.

And my hosts have been most gracious, making me feel part of one big happy household, complete with Tilly the Terrier and the more elusive Barney the Cat and Charles the Chihuahua. Even a pair of other guests nearly brought me to tears (I’m serious) with their pure and utter loveliness. So blessed. So happy. So coming back.


From Graphic Leftovers to Graphic Tees

After all my woe-is-me-ing in my last post, I SWEAR I’m accomplishing all that I’d set out to here in the rolling hills and seaside cliffs of Cornwall. I am writing, and I am hiking. Lots of both.

But excuuuse me that my B&B happens to have WiFi, so I happen to be hopping on the internet occasionally to check email and look things up for writing research. Well, the random cyber-navigation of said “research” has just now led me via Urban Dictionary to a novelty T-shirt site, where I’ve enjoyed a little bit of earned procrastination.

I’m thus compelled to pop in here and share with you in quasi-realtime that I have just read and enjoyed this:

And that this next one has me almost reaching for my credit card:

That is all. Back to writing.


Oh, Okay Fine. May as Well.

It seems inevitable that part of the aspiring author’s procrastination from writing consists of farting around with mocking up potential cover art. I suppose I might have sort of maybe done this myself before…in which case, oh, okay fine. May as well share with ya.

I came up with two possibilities for my first ms. No, I’m not sharing my title yet (too irrationally afraid to), and, yes, I’ve used stock images with watermarks still on them (too cheap to pay for them). Whatever. Do you like them or not? Sorry, that came out more antagonistic than I’d intended. And I’m also sorry that I for whatever reason didn’t keep a file that would’ve allowed me to just delete (versus hideously black out) the title in the 2nd image. So just to be clear, my title is not “Graphic Leftovers.” 😉

  – OR –  

Have you ever done this, too? I’d love to see ’em!


What Characters Looove to Do…


Characters love to—

* sigh *
and take deep breaths
when they’re not
catching their breath at the back of their throats
or gasping!
They like taking sidelong glances as they
look out the corner of their eyes,
and they’re fond of
muttering,
mumbling,
murmuring,
and growling
through clenched teeth.
They’ll pinch the bridge of their noses
or roll their eyes in frustration
or furrow/cock their brows in confusion.
And their mouths drop open in shock.
In good moods, they’re wild about
smirking
and
winking
and
blushing
as they
chuckle or snicker or giggle
with smug grins.
In tender moments, they’ll
whisper
and do everything
softly and gently.
And they absolutely get off on
beginning to do some things
while starting to do others.

These are just some of the things I see characters loving to do all over the place when I edit manuscripts. (I catch ’em with the naked eye, but a tool like “Wordle” might also help authors divide and conquer those tendencies)

What penchants do YOUR characters have?

*


Editing Out the Editor

This shit editing is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Hey, Editors, are ya there? Editors? Editors? Bueller? Bueller?…

I recently saw this editorial, “The Price of Typos,” which comments on how “typos are everywhere” now—in large part because publishers are employing less editorial staff and rushing to publish books ever faster. And modern authors are playing their part in it, too:

“Use of the word processor has resulted in a substantial decline in author discipline and attention. Manuscripts are much longer than they were 25 years ago, much more casually assembled, and beyond spell check (and not even then; and of course it will miss typos if the word is a word) it is amazing how little review seems to have occurred before the text is sent to the editor. Seriously, you have no idea how sloppy some of these things are.”

Though editors arguably have more work cut out for them in light of the above (man, don’t I know it firsthand!), when I read traditionally published books I’ve wondered the same: where are the editors? How did that typo get through? I’ve always said that I’ve never read a book without a typo, which is fine—annoying but fine, as I understand how that can happen maybe once or twice—but lately I see several mistakes, and it’s not just typos anymore.

Back when I read the Twilight series (disclaimer: my Freshman Year students were squealing about it incessantly and kept begging to write book reports on it, so I felt it my duty to understand what they were talking about…and obsessively read all four books, and joined Team Edward, and watched all the movies so far, and…), and, I’m sorry, where was I? Oh, so when I read Stephanie Meyer’s decent storytelling but crappy writing, her overuse of words like “guffaw” and “mutter” bored a hole in my head as they plunk, plunk, plunked against my skull like water torture. Where was the editor to chuck a thesaurus at her and make her vary word choice? [See Also: “Sloppy YA Editing: Tic Words]  And when each book got longer than the previous (and not in a good JK Rowling way), when plot didn’t thicken so much as stretch like taffy and read like a fanfiction of her own work, I asked myself, where was the editor to hack out those paragraphs and pages of redundancy and filler?

So maybe Twilight is an unsurprising example, but I was in a bit of despair when I read the most recent book of one of my new favorite authors: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I loved her first two books in a way I hadn’t anything that I’d read in such a long time, and while I still enjoyed this third one, it needed a good, solid edit. The thread of an interesting story was there for me, which did keep me reading, but I found myself in a frustrated “get on with it” mode—and this from someone who can totally nurture the slow-going and character-based. I don’t need action and rapid pace, really I don’t, but I also don’t need constant dancing around with dazzling wordsmithing and every detail about yet another thunderstorm raging outside while, go figure, conflict between characters is on the rise, too. That’s my two cents, but here’s a sample of what I saw at Amazon as well:

“What on earth went wrong with this book? Was there no editor involved?”

“[T]oo long and too repetitive. A great deal of the fault lies with the editors.”

“What did this book lack? An editor!”

“This seems to be a problem with modern publishing…some way down the line in an author’s output either the editors stop thinking they need to edit or they believe it OK to drop an earlier piece of work on an unsuspecting readership who naively expect new books to be better books.”

Hear, hear! to that last one; I really do think publishers think we’re chumps when it comes to best-selling authors. I don’t read much Philippa Gregory, so maybe she’s been doing this all along in her historical novel series, but I recently read her The White Queen and, while her writing style otherwise does keep a good pace (especially considering the mammoth amount of factual history she manages to distill), I felt little explosions in my head every time I chanced on passages like this:

“More importantly, I think, but I do not say, not even to Elizabeth, that once we are living in a private house quietly, my boy Richard might be able to join us. As we are stripped of our royalty my son might be with me again. When he is no longer a prince, I might get him back. He has been Peter, a boy living with a poor family in Tournai. He could be Peter, a visitor to my house at Grafton, my favorite page boy, my constant companion, my heart, my joy.”

Listen, I know there’s merit to lyrically using repetition for emphasis, but it loses its efficacy when this sort of thing is done over and over and over again for the length of a novel. I mean, seriously, this reads like she wrote the same thing a handful of different ways in brainstorming which she wanted to use and just forgot to scratch out the losing options.

And by this point, you’re probably all wishing I had an editor to keep this post concise. 🙂 But before I go, I leave you with this: eliminating redundancies might be a subjective task, but spelling and grammar are not. An editing colleague recently emailed this sentence:

“A woman without her man is nothing”

Evidently, an English professor wrote this for students to then punctuate. Most of the boys wrote:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

Most of the girls wrote:

“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

The power of punctuation! Never underestimate the importance of attention to detail—the importance of EDITING!

 


Blog Neglect

It’s happening again. Right now. As I type.

Well, not as badly right now as I’m technically tending to my blog by typing in it, but pretty badly nonetheless considering the worthless content I’m proceeding to dump here…

…just to say…

…that I’m traveling again so probably not going to give my blog nor any of yours proper attention until August. My sincerest apologies.

As penance, while I could do without a caning here in Singapore, how about next week I let the monkeys in Bali pelt me with their poop. Fair enough?


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