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Preparing for Nanowrimo

So I logged in today to get a load of the snazzy new Nanowrimo website. I am a sucker for new bells and whistles, so it was a treat to explore the new design. It’s very visually-appealing, and it looks as if there are new ways to track and celebrate writing progress that I am itching to try. If you are at all tempted, and I will try to give my own pep talk soon about how nanowrimo should not be a source of self-recrimination, check out the website here: nanowrimo.org. Even if you do not wish to work on a project in November, you might find some helpful tools or discussion boards there. It is free to use, free to participate, though they always appreciate donations, and they partner with librarians and teachers, aka heroes.

I set up my project on there with the catchy title of SF#3, which is code for the young adult/science fiction novel I hope to flesh out, drawn from the third in a series of short stories I wrote years ago.

I then clicked on a link for nano prep, and I found my way to a number of tools and prompts that I can use this month to get ready for November, hoorah. Which also may give me the excuse to post on here when I work on them as a way to celebrate progress. It’s all about progress!

I made baby steps yesterday on my revision of the time management e-book and related projects, but I think I may be able to start to build momentum there, too. So I will likely write blog posts on that topic, too, preferably celebrating progress rather than kvetching about doubts and imperfections… ahem. As I say (too often), fingers crossed.

Hope your writing or other endeavors go well today!

Just like a writer

So it is October now, which means November is coming. That is, National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo), my favorite time of year.

I love nanowrimo because it celebrates process, not outcomes. I know there are people who believe life is a zero-sum experience, but nanowrimo lets us all be winners. Heaven knows anyone who wants to write needs that.

I suspect I will be a hybrid nano writer this November. I love the traditional goal of writing a first draft of a brand new novel in the month of November because that is always be my favorite part of the writing process. But I am already in the middle of fleshing out a YA SF novel that has a few scenes written, but lots of holes and notes where the rest of the novel should be. So my goal will be to work on it, which makes me more of a rebel Nano then a traditional Nano, which means… not much. The key is to write.

I will probably talk more about Nano prep this month, but today I want to brag about two good moments in writing I experienced recently, when I felt like, well, a writer :).

Earlier in the month I was spending more time on the YA SF novel that will be my focus for November. I had several days of good writing sessions, but I woke one morning with a sense of dread, fearful that I would not be able to produce anything new. Usually I already have some momentum in my writing, but this time, I knew I had to find a new plot line and address some other challenges with this novel, and I had nothing yet.

But I made myself sit down to write anyway, and it turned out to be a highly productive writing session yielding unexpected and exciting insights into what could happen in this novel.

That was cool.

The second moment has to do with my historical/upmarket novel set during the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot in Wilmington, North Carolina. After countless revisions, I had announced this novel “done,” but in my research into how I might pitch it to an agent, I discovered that I had cut too much, and the total word count might not be enough.

So this month I went in and added 8,000 words.

It was a surprisingly positive experience. First, even though I could be forgiven for being a bit burned out on this novel after so long, I found myself happy to spend time again with some of my main characters. It coincided, fortunately, with feedback from a brilliant writer friend who mentioned one scene was a bit lean (it’s plumper now). I also added a new scene that had been percolating in my head earlier in the process that added some substance to a side character and may make more visible the wealth-stripping aspects of this terrible history. Finally, I surfed through various scenes to see if what might bring it more to life for the reader. At times, I felt like an artist adding extra depth and shading to a portrait.

So that was cool. Not only did it help me manage what I call my revision anxiety, but also the experience gave me more confidence that I really can make unexpected revisions if an editor were to request it.

Just like a writer would.

Creating character charts on Corkulous

Yesterday I went on and on about how much I love the Corkulous app, and I promised to talk today about how I use it for my novel-writing. Again, I would like to stress that owning this app (that works on iPad or IPhone only, and the pro edition costs 99 cents a month or $7.99 for the year, at least as I write this blog) is not essential—you can use pen and paper or real cork boards and post-it notes to do what I’m doing just as well, and possibly better. But if you like indulging in cool apps, Corkulous is fun.

I’ve taken a screen shot of the blank version of the character cork board similar to the one I am creating for my novel, which has one protagonist, one love interest, two best friends, and two half antagonists/half allies, and all of them deserve extra development on my part so I can bring them to life in the novel.

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You can see that I can add a photo, usually a screen shot of a stock photo or minor celebrity who looks the part of my imagined character (in this example, I just used a photo of my puppy dog Cisco). Then I can brainstorm different elements that might boost my descriptions of the characters as well as my understanding of how each one constructs their sense of identity. I find it helpful to associate senses with the character. For my puppy dog, let’s see, that might be the sight of the leash (always gets his attention), the sound of my husband’s whistle, which he can’t resist (he ignores my attempts to whistle for him, the stinker) (I mean the dog, not my husband, fyi), the smell of salmon and eggs, etc.

As for the other categories, the object prompt is one I did for a writing workshop where we wrote about an object that was somehow significant to a character or the story, and it was a powerful exercise, so that’s been helpful to me. It helps me build character and story at the same time.

As for the various favorites, I am working on a SF novel set at least a hundred years in the future (which I agree is very optimistic of me), but I actually assign to each character favorite songs, movies, and books from my lifetime—I won’t necessarily name any of them since one imagines that people will have moved on by then… though I’ve noticed that some of the shows I associate with the past are booming right now (Seinfeld, Friends, etc.). I just use those categories to help me think about what this character would connect with, to get a feel for types.

I have the advantage, being overly indulgent in owning various tech toys, that I can use a keyboard with my iPad, so I can type a bit more on the board than I would if I were entering it directly on an iPad or iPhone screen, but if you don’t have a keyboard, I would recommend just jotting a word or two at most, because this board is really meant as a pre-writing tool to trigger lengthier writing on the novel in whatever medium you use (notebook, word processor, etc).

I will also note that I keep changing how I create character notes for my fiction. I’ve used several templates that I’ve found from different sources, some more helpful than others. Sometimes less is better for these notes, serving as prompts for writing in the novel drafts but rather than generating a lot of writing for hours that I then completely forget when I’m actually writing parts of the novel (or that may just be me?).

Okay, enough about Corkulous and character charts. I will say that knowing I planned to write about this topic for the blog prompted me to move forward on this work on my novel, which was awesome, and now I’m filled with ambitions to use my blog as a tool or a kind of accountability partner to accomplish various tasks on my to-do list (I have, for example, multiple articles backlogged to read and reflect on for various reasons). So that makes me happy.

Hope your week is off to a good start. If you have the chance, let me know if you have any tools or strategies for character planning or cork board systems that you like.

Why I love Corkulous

I have decided to indulge myself by blogging sometimes about technology. I would like to start by saying that buying apps or technological gizmos is not the same as getting work done, nor does it mean you will even use those apps the way you imagined. Paper and pen are almost always the wisest choice.

So start with the assumption that this is an indulgence, not a necessity.

As a writer (and at times, a planner, project coordinator, and problem-solver), I have a special interest in apps that help with the writing or planning process. I also love apps that are pleasing in some visual or aesthetic way, perhaps because those aren’t my strong suits (I’m a word girl), so I appreciate what others can create.

I should also admit that I am an Apple product user, a slippery slope development that began with the purchase of the iPad 2 many years ago. I loved the iPad, but quickly learned it was even more useful if I owned other Apple products. I am now a total convert, but I realize that doesn’t mean you have to be.

I have a feeling I could write a very long post on Corkulous, but my new goal is to be brief in my blog posts (I’ve earned a C grade on that so far), so I think I will speak more generally today and then share an example of how I am using it on my novel later.

I bought Corkulous back when I got my first iPad. I loved it. I had almost full control to add a range of objects anywhere on the  corkboard. At the time, this app only worked on the iPad, and it could only be transferred as a PDF image (more or less), but that was okay. It was a planning/thinking tool, not a way to create a final product.

As happens in the world of apps, a few years later it vanished from existence, a discontinued, unsupported app, which is a risk we all take (and one reason it can be wise, especially if you do not enjoy indulging in app purchases, to build systems that rely first and foremost on apps with good odds for long life, which in the world of Apple, happens to be the apps they provide in increasing abundance with their operating systems).

Since then, I found a few corkboard-ish apps that were okay, but nothing brought joy to me like Corkulous.

Apparently someone else felt that way, bought the license, and re-released the app a few years ago. Here’s the website: https://www.corkulous.com

The new version offers the choice to pay once for the standard, or to pay a modest annual subscription for the pro, which is what I chose because I like all the extras and thought it might help lengthen the life of this app if I did so, though I am going in knowing that there are no guarantees of long-app-life, alas. I totally get those of you who resent subscription fees, but as an “old” who remembers life before “apps” when all we had were a few “Software Applications” that cost tons and were super crappy, I have a higher tolerance for some costs. (I have zero tolerance for the Adobe subscription fees, fwiw). Since this app can produce pdfs for me to store indefinitely for my reference (among other options now), I will use it as long as I can.

I’ve taken a screen shot of a sample of this app for you to get a glimpse of how it works. Later this week, I’ll share how I am using Corkulous to develop reference material for my characters in my latest novel.

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A new page

I have met almost all of my revision goals for my novel, except perhaps for the part where my writing becomes flawless. Ha. Okay, that wasn’t actually my goal, but it would have been nice.

So I am ready to start new writing projects while I explore next steps for my completed novel. It is a great feeling. No matter what happens, I am satisfied that I met my own goal to engage with the very troubled history of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot and that I, well, wrote a novel. Or something that resembles a novel. 

This may sound familiar, but my new goal is to post daily on this blog. Or close to daily. Until I don’t want to. A firm goal, right?

I have many topics I would like to explore, plus I always enjoy using the blog as a kind of process journal as I tackle various projects. As usual, I anticipate a variety ahead. I don’t know how anyone can stick with one platform for a blog. Is it really possible to focus one’s attention on the same general topic every day? This may be why the robots will win some day. Hmm. I skimmed some NPR reports on the ways technology may start to enhance our capacities both physically and mentally—maybe technology will enable us to stick to one subject? An unsettling thought.

At any rate, I’m back and ready to return to blogging. I look forward to peeking in at some of my buddies on here to see what’s new for you, too.

Hydra Head

While I keep gathering ideas for blog posts, I have prioritized my writing time for the novel revision (#2,345), not the blog. I am not sure if that has resulted in more time on the revision, but perhaps it’s some kind of superstition, similar to ones attributed to sports players.

Still, I thought it might be wise to post something today, just to remind myself I have a blog. I finished my revision of the point of view for the novel, at least a rough version. I then planned to review how different plot points and hints fit together and to look for what was missing. There is a light mystery tying the book together, and I’ve been kicking around how to make it as believable and seamless as possible. I decided keeping it simple might be best for what I’m doing. Then I reread the full report on the Wilmington Race Riot. This is perhaps a sad commentary, but the first time, I was so upset and angry by what I read that I had to take breaks frequently. Since then, we had the 2016 election, and I also just recently read the biographies of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells, and now it all just feels so d#$% familiar.

Anyway, reading it completely made me see more that I should or could add, so much so that I realize that writing a novel can be a bit of a Hydra head experience. You fix one part, and suddenly there are five more areas that need attention.

Revision Redux, Round 3

Just wanted to report on my progress on the revision. I finished the over-700-page (!!) Douglass biography this week and took some notes that may be helpful in thinking about my novel, plus a few that I may blog about later.

I make steady progress when I set to work on the novel revision, but I did catch myself putting it off, too. There was an article I quite liked on NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html that suggests if you manage your mood about a specific task, you are more likely to complete it. So I spent a little time asking myself what may have affected my mood about this revision because overall, I have been interested in seeing what emerges by shifting Point Of View.

I realized that I have FOMU—fear of messing up. As much as I am inspired by this idea to revise and re-vision how this book should unfold, I can’t shake the fear that I am going to mess it up. In some ways, that fear is hard to counter because while I don’t think I am going to mess it up, I can’t guarantee I won’t. I can’t guarantee that what I am writing now works, so how can I guarantee that this revision will work? The best I can do is to remind myself that I write not to achieve writing success, as pleasant as that might be. I write because I love to write. And if I love to write, why not see where this revision might lead?

Revision redux

After gathering some encouraging and helpful feedback on my novel and engaging in extensive research into the query process, I have decided it’s time to revise, not query. It was an easy decision to make because the only part of the writing process I dread more than revising is submitting my work. So it’s a win-win.

I have decided to use this blog as an accountability partner for me to report periodically on my progress, just in case I lose momentum. I am hoping I won’t. It is starting that is hardest for me, not the actual work. Before I start revising, I tend to view it as not writing and therefore not good. Once I get moving, I remember that revising IS writing, and it can be quite joyful. Or it will inspire me to make a fresh pot of coffee. Again, win-win.

My revision goals:
1. Shift from three storylines/protagonists to one. I think this will make the book more accessible to readers. It will also make it easier to query and find comps.
2. Commit to writing the book only in third person limited and past tense. The current version is more experimental, switching not just between p.o.v. but also tense. That was very fun for me as the writer, but might not be so fun for a reader, and at some point, I have to let the reader win.
3. Identify and, if necessary, tighten the arc of each scene.

Those are changes I believe I can make. With luck, I will find other ways to strengthen this novel in the process.

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Origin Stories

I have been on something of a reading tear, binging on several novels that I had on my TBR (to be read) list. At the same time, I have been working steadily through Paula Giddings Ida: A Sword Among Lions and David Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Plus Dreyer’s English for comic relief.

This may be why I’m not much fun at parties.

I am still early in both biographies, but I am filled with gratitude for the effort the authors put into researching and illuminating these lives. I sense that such time-consuming work can feel thankless in a culture that seems to treat it as futile, even for authors as esteemed as Giddings and Blight.

The first few chapters detail the early years of Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass, and the experience for me is that of reading the origin stories of superheroes. They are two giants, and I am humbled to learn what they never stop teaching us.

Don’t trust anyone over 40

As someone on the other side of 40, I only partly mean this title. I have felt despair and moments of fury when millennials disregard the insights and experiences of those who have been in a job for decades, preferring to recreate the wheel in the most inefficient means possible. I also love the acerbic comments of experts and grassroots activists older than me who have ridden through many ups and downs, professionally and politically.

But there is something liberating about some of the younger voices in literature and politics who are operating free of the confines of “how it’s always been.” To be specific, and I know I am sometimes coy about specifics on this blog, I loved the diversity represented within Marie Lu’s Warcross duology. Her characters were diverse in terms of ethnic identity, ability, gender, class, even nationality. None of these were flagged as problems or the focus of the story, just a way to reveal the world with clarity and insight.

I’ve noticed a similar trend in movies and TV shows, so much so that when I watch a rerun of an older show, I can’t get over how white, straight, and/or privileged everyone is.

Recently, I picked up a classic that would be worth reading but couldn’t get past the language used to depict difference. I remind myself this is a journey. If we manage to continue to break down the barriers of privilege, sometime in the future these examples I celebrate now may not measure up as well. The classic author I picked up was certainly forcing the reader to engage with difference in as advanced a method as was possible in the 1950s.

Still, it made me want to read more books that break away from what people over 40 sometimes claim is “just the way things are.” I am ready to embrace what should be, and I want to support authors *and politicians* who speak in those terms.

And don’t get me started on political analysts.