Blabber File – Raw Writing

From mid-November into the first week of January is the hardest time for me to find time to write. (Exception: visiting family or vacations) Why, oh, why does NaNoWriMo fall in this time? But any time is a good time for fellow writers to give each other a push, even busy times.

Yesterday our company left. Today I’m doing a ton of laundry and also setting up Christmas decorations. YET, this morning, I found time to do some precious raw writing – that is, rough draft blabbering –  on my WIP story. It felt incredibly good! Maybe that’s one of the reasons I write. When I’m thinking about the story, or typing madly away on it, knowing that about 3/4 of the stuff I think or write will be deleted, I get so excited about the story and the characters.

I actually look forward in January to looking over this (unfinished) WIP and chopping away pages and pages. Mind you, I don’t feel those deleted words were a waste of effort. Sometimes going off-track frees my brain to be thinking outside my box (story outline), and often very strange and wonderful things happen.

So I hope you are blabbering away, doing your raw writing, knowing that soon the bad will be tossed and the good, kept.

Keep on writing.

Survivalist Skills, Research, NaNoWriMo

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a day learning how to skin a rabbit and tan its hide. Yesterday I spent most of the morning learning about saltpeter – mining and leaching and how to turn it into explosives. The paranoid part of me worries that these survivalist skills will be noted by concerned government watchdogs. The winning part of me knows I need to know these skills if I am to write about them. Write what you know.

Now I must admit that I never actually skinned a rabbit, and I never actually mined for potassium nitrate, and I really ought to have been putting more words in my NaNoWriMo project, but I spent hours on the internet doing research – for my WIP (story). My story takes place in a pre-electricity fantasy world. There are cities, of course, and fortresses, and an agrarian culture, but what if I stuck my characters not in the city, nor working on a farm, which I have? The in between wilderness is where they need to survive, so I spend my days with bloodied and charcoaled hands, but not in reality as would be much, much better, but only in research. I do know the ultra-soft feel of rabbit fur and leather against my cheek, and I have walked through a saltpeter mine in Mammoth Cave, so I’m not flying completely blind on what I research or write about.

Writing Tip: Write what you know, but also prepare to spend many more hours in research for even the briefest reference in your book.

Now, back to writing for NaNoWriMo – I’m at a sloppy 15K now. (Whoo-hoo.) Only 35,000 more words to go by November 30th. Keep on writing!


NaNoWriMo 2015 is on it’s way to a keyboard near you

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past six years. NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, offered each November. I just signed up once again to do this remarkable-and-stress-filled month-long challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That’s approximately 1,700 words each day of November.

Because I completed the rough draft of two of my books (The Town That Disappeared and War Unicorn) through WriMos of the past, and because I have an awesome and encouraging critique group who are also participating, I dive in once again.

I remember standing on the edge of the deep end of pools, dipping my foot in the water, affirming it was colder than the air temperature, and still taking in a deep breath and diving in. I know if I were to instead, go to the shallow end and walk to chest-deep water before going under, it would take me ten times longer to finally submerge and start to swim.

So it is with writing (for me). I appreciate the writing challenge. It both terrifies me (because I’ve done it before), and pushes me to satisfactory conclusions.

With The Town That Disappeared, I struggled. I’d thought about writing this story for four years before I used NaNoWriMo to force me to pound the words out on a keyboard. That month, I added rambling thoughts about the book, about the characters, about my frustration. I also included some of the writing challenges. I counted all those in the word-count to make it to the 50,000 word goal by November 30. In January of the following year, I deleted all the blabber and cut back the story to the essential. That was 3,000 very good words. Over the next few months, I revised and rewrote and built it back up to 27,000 to be the middle grade historical fiction it is. But I could never have gotten there without the NaNoWriMo push.

So I challenge you, too, to take the plunge, and join NaNoWriMo. When you do, I am “sandycarl.” We can be writing buddies and encourage each other in this writing adventure.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part II — Some Solutions

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The problem: How to not be distracted when others are around, distracting you from writing.

The solution: I’m really not that vain to say there are solutions, but just hints of what might help you be less distracted. That being said, here are a few things which come to mind or which I’ve heard at writers conferences or in books or networking in general. But first a few general good writing habits:

1) Have the priority-attitude of actual writing time be important to you.

2) Take up the Book-in-a-Week phrases: BIC, HOK, TAM. (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard, Typing Away Madly)

3) If you have difficulty writing a whole novel in one sitting, do as Anne Lamott suggested in her book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD — break the task into smaller units. You don’t need to (nor can you) write a novel in a day, but you can write a page a day.

4) Have a writing space which you only use for writing — no reading, no emails, just plain ole writing.

5) Take breaks. Do mini exercises for your neck, arms, fingers, legs, backside, etc.

On to suggestions to limit or deal with external distractions of other people:

a. If you have young children, tell them when you have your writing cap on (get an actually cap specifically for this purpose), that you can’t be interrupted except in cases of emergency. I used to define “emergency” to my students as fire, blood or vomit, but you may quote your own definitions.

That lovely first suggesting being said, I need to add here that I have always felt that family ALWAYS comes first. The kids are young only once. In my family book, I mostly only wrote when they napped or watched “Sesame Street” or were at school. But by the time they started school, I went back to a paying career with energy sucking emotions which drained any writing enthusiasm. Still, family comes first.

b. Turn off the phone ringer, and refuse to answer your doorbell. Yep: hide and ignore.

c. One writer friend hired a baby sitter twice a week so she could write undistracted by her children.

d. Set a timer for your writing time — even just 15 minutes! This is for both for you and for your family members. Explain you MAY NOT be disturbed until the bell dings. And it’s probably a good idea to keep the timer near you just in case little hands like to play with time.

e. I want to say “shoot the ice cream man,” but I realize that sounds terribly wicked. You see, we have an ice cream truck which is driven S-L-O-W-L-Y through our neighborhood twice a day. Only a couple measures of a familiar child’s tune is played over and over and over again. Also in this category are the industrial strength leaf blowers and professional lawn care people next door. I think for this grouping, a good pair of headphones or ear plugs are in order. I know some people listen to tapes of white noise to filter out the outside distracting noise, but I could just type next to our air conditioner if I wanted that type of noise.

f. Family comes first. When your spouse wanders in and out, and in and out again, remember, family ALWAYS comes first.

Book-In-A-Week Boost

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I’m attempting to write every day during June — rather like NaNoWriMo. It’s going about the same as my exercise program — more sporadic than consistent, I’m afraid. I only wrote about 5,000 words last week.

HOWEVER, this month I signed up for Book-in-a-Week ( to give myself that accountability shot in the arm I sometimes need.

For Book-in-a-Week, you set a goal of the number of pages you plan on writing during the week (usually the first full week of every month; 250 words = 1 page), and each evening you send in your report. 

My goal for this week is 50 pages. This morning I wrote nearly 11 pages. Pretty good, even if I say so myself. (And, no, Susan, I’m not speaking from being on medication. I really did write almost 11 pages.) My secret goal is to double that, only if I say that out loud, then I may just be making myself accountable.

I’ll write like crazy during June, then revise like crazy for the rest of the summer. Exciting stuff, this writing.

Rewrites and Quick Revision Mode

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I did NaNoWriMo for the first time last November. I came up with about 37K words.

By the end of December I had 44K, finishing the story line.

Then started my “quick revision mode,” which means slashing and burning all irrelevant stuff, and building bridges to make a story arch.

The first week of January, I was left with 3K. Yep. That would be three thousand words, down more than 10,000. Permission to write dreck during NaNoWriMo left me with a skeleton at the rewrite stage, but a very nice skeleton.

Now, mid-February, I am up to 23K with three chapters to revise/rewrite.

Seems like my MG novel will be short even for a MG. When I’m “done,” after I sit on it for a while, I’ll get back to it again for some more rewrites and revisions. I hope to have this baby ready to be submitted by spring. That would be the shortest amount of time I ever spent on a book — not by hours, of course, but by days. Because I’m not working full time, I can spend a lot more time writing instead of spreading it out over years. Pretty cool.

The Writer’s Novel Marathon

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This fall I’ve been catching The Biggest Looser on reruns. It’s the first time I’ve watched the show. I was intrigued when a writer friend told me at our October conference that she faithfully watches the show each week and cheers the contestants on. Until that point, I never had the desire to see the show. Perhaps it was expanding my horizons into some new field. Perhaps it was caring about my friend’s health and to encourage her. I saw about half of the episodes, but enough to know the characters well enough. I got angry at the manipulations. The trainers’ yelling upset me. The personalities of the participants intrigued me.

Last night I saw (again, as a rerun on Hulu) episode 12, where the remaining 4 were sent home for 2 months on their own in the real world, and then were informed they had to run a 26 mile marathon, with no training.

Interestingly, I found that their marathon comments paralleled my book-writing, especially during my first NaNoWriMo, but also for any book I write. “I’m going to quit.” “I can’t jog any more ( but I’ll walk)” “I’ve never felt this much pain before.” (crying, almost delirious, but still jogging)

So what kept them going? What made them finish the race instead of giving up? One was determined to do the entire marathon running or jogging. He’d set his own mental goal — to finish, and how to finish — and succeeded. Two needed lots of encouragement from friends and mentors popping in at various mile points. One remained behind, with her partner throughout the show, to encourage him; for through their time on the ranch, he was the one who had constantly encouraged her; now he was the one who needed it.

There have been many times when I’ve wanted to give up on finishing a book. Either I know it’s awful, or it gets several rejections from editors and agents, or I’m distracted and not motivated in the least to write. I suppose part of the reason I tell people I’m a writer (even without book publication) is to hold myself accountable to write, to have people say to me, “So… how’s the book coming?”

I blog this now v.s. working on my NaNo novel, a book I actually like a whole lot, with characters I find very interesting. I’m spending too much time at this here “watering station.” I need to move on keep in the writing marathon.

And, thanks, my friends, for all your encouragements along the way.

Post NaNoWriMo, 2009

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This past Monday, my on-line critique group went back to submitting & critiquing 5K for the week. We’d taken the month of November off for NaNoWriMo. I was up to sub first. It was difficult for me to switch from historical fiction to fantasy, but I don’t need to be doing revision from their comments any time very soon. I used to be able to easily work on more than one project at a time, but lately I’ve felt the need to focus on just one project at a time. No multi-tasking for Sandy any more.

Writer Friend Sue — from about 45 minutes away from me, and not in my critique group — gave a challenge for us to continue working on our stories and report simply the word count to each other each Friday. Although I’d made several entries in my journal this week, and dealt with more moving-father issues, and started the many Christmas season activities, I reported to her my meager 300 count for the week (for words on story, not journaling). I felt embarrassingly miserable about that, even though I’d done better than Sue!

Tonight I typed in another 1150 words on my NaNo story. Still, it’s a pitiful count compared to what I was putting out in November. This morning I went through my NaNo writings and transferred only those scenes/chapters I was going to keep for sure over into a new file.  I did more reorganizing and rearranging and filling out a few things. I have more story to work on before I even start in on the revisions or rewrites. Yet, I have about 27,000 words. My goal for this historical fiction MG novel is 32,000 words. I’m sure I’ll easily surpass that, if needed. But now (Post NaNoWriMo) I’m no longer as worried about word count as I am story. It felt refreshingly wonderful for me to type words today and then go back and self-edit before proceeding. Very satisfactory.

I’m hoping this month, even with all the extra Christmas activities going on and family concerns, that I’ll be able to work on this historical fiction to somewhat completion. Then, in the new year, I’ll get back to my fantasy series and let this story sit and ripen for a while.

I challenge anyone reading this to try for 2K words each week, even in the very busiest of  times.

Day 30 of NaNoWriMo — Last Day Reflections

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Although there are still a few hours left till the end of NaNoWriMo, I’ve turned in my count. I’m not a winner for writing 50,000 words this month, but I did write 37,000 words, all on the same story so… yeah! 37 K!

Looking back, here are some of the things I learned this month:

* Since I like to keep my promises, signing up for National Novel Writers Month was a scary thing.

* About every day I worried that I wouldn’t make the 50 K.

* I wrote just about every day, anyway.

* Even today, when I knew I wouldn’t make the extra 13 K, I still wrote.

* What I wrote was drivel. I knew it at the time, but counted the words, anyway. It was really bad whenever I went back to see what I’d written and then deleted most of it! The rest of what I wrote this month will have to be either deleted, revised, or seriously rewritten sometime later.

* It was great to work on just one piece of writing at a time v.s. many (story) sticks in the fire.

* I’m a procrastinater.

* I work best in the morning. By mid-afternoon, you could find me staring mindlessly unproductive at a blinking curser on my computer screen.

* Family comes before writing. I’ve always believed that, but this month several major things happened: my father was/is dying; our son and DIL came for a wonderful 5-day visit; DH got to see his first-ever Packers game, live; me, too; my brother got laid off of work; I accepted the position of co-chair of another writers’ conference next October when the one co-chair up and quit. (I know that last one isn’t really family, but it was a major time-commitment.)

* I cheat. (So do lots of other NaNoWriMo folk, but that’s no justification for it.)  I counted each day’s date and each time I wrote in caps about research questions. It was still NaNo story related. (Defensive, aren’t I?) At first, I was really good about just sticking to the story. Then I spent a day working just on plot. That felt great. Another couple days I spent writing autobiographies on some of the major characters; this not only rounded them out, but I also discovered each of their voices.

* I spend way too much time reading and answering emails.

* I must always remember to save periodically, so when I press a combination of magic key strokes, I don’t erase an hour’s worth of work!

* I will probably do NaNoWriMo next year.

Day 22 NaNoWriMo — Lost Friends’ Encouragement and Characterization Ploy

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Okay. Twenty-two days into this challenge and I just decide today to procrastinate in yet a different way. Isn’t it amazing what variety procrastination can take on when you really, really want it? I checked my NaNoWriMo mailbox this evening for the first time this month. I discovered four unread messages, two from the first week of November. (BAD Sandy! Way to turn away writing friends!) Thing is, one friend wrote me three times, each time not only encouraging me, but telling me how I encouraged her by my word count — although I’m still behind about 3,000 words from the daily count. I’m around 33,500 words, and may have yet more in me later tonight. I’m thankful for friends who do not give up on me even when I’ve been ignoring them.

Group hug to my writer friends, old and new.

Half of writing is just sitting down and doing it, which is what this month is all about. The other half is hard, hard, hard work of plotting, characterization, twists, word craft.

I got rather excited this weekend with this brilliant new idea. Because many of the writers I know doing NaNoWriMo are cheating — as in, not doing straight writing from beginning to end of story in novel format — I decided my 12-year-old MC needed to write an autobiography for his English class. Very cool. I found that he wrote his autobiography in his own voice. His family filled in. His hobbies and interests developed. Then I had him talking about his best friend. I thought to myself, “Gee, they’re in the same English class.” So there came another autobiography through this very different voice. WHAT FUN! I was on a roll. I’ve done two other autobiographies, and can hardly wait to do more. I have in my possession lots of characterization lists and charts and prompts, but this autobiography thing was slick. Plus, it gave me lots more words which I’m using for my word count, even though they probably won’t go into the story as is. (Cheating, but it’s still about the story, you know.)

I’d like to say that I’m ready to type away for the rest of the night and get caught up to today’s count, but supper and a DVD with DH is calling. BTW, that is not procrastination; family always comes first. Feeding the writer now and then isn’t such a bad idea, either.