Tag Archives: student

Why I Lost NanoWroMo And Other Exciting News

Before I begin the analysis of my ill-fated attempt at NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I want to congratulate some of my lovely writer-ly friend who did win this year and showed me what Nano can offer every writer if given the right motivation. Both of my friends Denise and Rion are seasoned winners, and Rion has been an ML(Municipal Liason) for multiple regions in the U.S. These phenomenal ladies have many helpful tips and encouragement for any who wish to learn more about Nano or need help throughout the event. So, don’t forget to check out their blogs (linked above).

ATT_1418613029912_CYMERA_20141121_093517December 2014 marks the first failed attempt at NanoWriMo  for the Spotted Writer. While it is only a technical fail since I didn’t write 50,000 new words for the month of November, I knew beforehand that I couldn’t succeed. Well, wouldn’t is a more appropriate word. If I had scheduled and outlined I might have won, but I did none of those things. There was little time for me to prepare when I was finishing Dollhouse right before November began. That on top of the fact that I had never written more than 700 words in a day meant that I was destined to lose.  (For those who don’t know, a daily word count of 1,667 is needed to complete the 50,000).

Don’t worry my lovely minions, I was not discouraged and I’m not upset at the outcome. I knew going in that any amount of new words would be an improvement from my current standing (about 1,500) for the piece tentatively titled The Hawthorne Grove.  I managed a total of 350 words give or take a few, but my mind was still focused on my manuscript.  Which is why I’m hoping the below  tips will be of help for those who also didn’t manage a win at NanowriMo to improve for next year-including me.

#1- Any new words…any at all 1-50,000 is a true win. The simplified goal for National Novel Writing Month is to create an uninhibited habit of writing daily and consistently. That kind of discipline is astronomically helpful for a writer no matter what age or experience level. I still continue to struggle with putting down new words daily, so next year, the plan is to write every day no matter what. Maybe not 1,667, but new words every day is a great achievement.

IMG_20141205_103907

#2-Even if you’re not an outlin-er, a basic plot outline makes the goal of reaching 50,000 more manageable. Now in my case I did have an overall idea of  what The Hawthorne Grove could be about. Unfortunately, I hadn’t ironed out any specifics other than some character profiles. For some, that may be enough, but for me I needed more direction if I’m going to write at a faster pace. And thus I say unto you slow writers, plan. Plan for all of October and by the time November arrives, you will have everything in your arsenal ready to go. This is also where I fell short because I was still writing a majority of Dollhouse Daughter even into the first week of November, so I never made time to plan.

#3-Focus on the one idea. This is a good tip in general, and coming from someone who skips between different works frequently this is a challenge in itself. I became so distracted in November (even after I finished Dollhouse) with revisions and my beta reader comments that I never switched my brain to focus on the novel I was supposed to be writing. So, focus on the idea at hand and don’t let revisions clutter your mind and distract you. If necessary, make notes in a separate document or put [] in the place where you want to come back.

This is my advice. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and simple, but good. Yeah, still good. Now onto the phenomenal events that have happened in the last month.

1601378_10152786170506804_6580857074014483196_n

First and foremost, I finished my first novel. You can view the post  about finally finishing the piece here. It isn’t publishable yet, but Dollhouse Daughter has a completed first-ish draft. I hate say first draft because I’ve revised the overall story and the setting so many times. Ultimately, though, I finished it. Woot!

And then, my minions, I was asked to speak at a creative writing class at the school my boyfriend works at.  The request came as a complete and utter suprise because I assumed that my boyfriend had been whispering awesome compliments about me to his coworkers. In reality, I had a fan in my midst…a.ka. my boyfriend’s boss.  Imagine my further surprise as I had never met his boss and he had never actually read anything of mine.  He was fantastic in his support, especially when I discovered he was an avid reader and huge supporter of local writers.

10703751_10152855200426804_6683006687294229484_nI accepted without question at the opportunity to share what small nuggets of wisdom I can manage to articulate to other. Most of the wisdom I’ve learned from my mentors and guest speakers is currently bumbling around in my brain waiting to be absorbed and utilized at the right moment. So, what I really wanted to focus on was giving them an introduction into writing in the real world. Beyond the classroom assignments and what to expect if they want to pursue higher education (which even to this day and thousands of dollars in debt I still support).  Lucky for me, the class was made up of mostly seniors and some sophomores and underclassmen and the class was an elective, so the students were invested in what I had to say at least in some respect.

I started off the class with Mark Twain’s “what what you know” not in the sense that you must ONLY write what you know. Instead, I wanted to impress upon these writers how import it is not to put more into your story than you’re capable of accomplishing. I had learned first hand that no matter how much I wanted my novel to be in Revolutionary war England, it was going to take my characters and I decades (and a degree in history) to write it. It didn’t fit to try and make the story work in a setting and a time that I knew nothing about when I had all of the knowledge about modern day America already in my arsenal.

My initial fear is that I would sound pretentious and condescendingly repeat the same precepts that are drilled into every beginner’s brain. The students, however, were a blessing. Sure, every speaker would love to have more questions, but out of the eight or nine students there was at least a dozen questions, which was exciting. There is so much promise for these writers to be even if they were just taking the class for fun.

10660214_10152829833841804_7786051364276860172_nOne of the most difficult points to cover during the class was higher education (my Master’s degree included). For the parents of the millennial generation and later, college in general may seem like the obvious next step, but for the students it’s much bigger than that. In 2014, college is the equivalent to the mortgage on an incredibly expensive home without the guarantee of a return on investment (although to be honest depending on where and when the house may not be guaranteed either). And with a liberal arts degree or concentration…forget about it! With the average American having a potential of two to three career changes in their lifetime (source: some article that is probably now outdated by a few years) what room is there for thousands of dollars in debt for an education you may never fully utilize? These are a few of the fears/concerns that make it that much more difficult for students to choose what to do next, especially if their true passion is writing.

Yes, an understanding of the English language and communication is a vital skill set that students, and people in general should be more in tune with, but how does that translate to a well-paid career? With the right choices, it can pay off well. If you push yourself toward an unconventional or non-traditional career path, it could bring you a wealth of success and stability. I guess my main point (and I made this to the class) is being confident in your decision. I knew in high school that English/writing/reading/literature would be my life. I knew that nothing else would do, and I was willing to sacrifice everything I had been taught to achieve it. I was willing to forgo the more traditionally stable positions in the medical field (at the behest of my father) or education (at the request of my mother) in favor of my passion. To this day, I don’t regret that decision. What I regret most is not choosing wisely about which school to ascertain my degree from, allowing my debt to pile higher than Mt. Everest.

10411443_10152864193606804_3670116580517247579_n

But, I digress. My temporary class had little to no knowledge or advice on what to choose or even if they had a choice. I impressed upon the necessity to fully support their decision and if they had doubts not to make one hastily or at the behest of anyone! I agreed to the possibility of living paycheck to paycheck until I found my place in the work force. I was 100% ready to follow my passion wherever it lead. And I am so incredibly happy with where I’m headed.

I’m sure these students still have their reserves and questions about the craft and especially about how writing fits into their future, but I think…I think…I gave them something to chew on for a little while. They had the opportunity to read some of my novel that I continue to slave over for three+ years, and experience a public reading. It gave me a chance to see how it would be in front of a high school level class as well as a chance for those students to see possibilities for themselves if they are passionate about writing. And even deeper, it provided a continuous flow of information between writers regardless of age, experience, education or amount written. I saw in those students a glimmer of hope for something they enjoyed or the potential for it to grow. The experience has opened me to the phenomenal path ahead, and I cannot wait to share more milestones with you.

I’ll leave you all with some of the pictures from my vacation. I attended Blizzcon in Anaheim and experienced the glory of San Diego. If given the choice to live in a mansion in Pittsburgh, PA or homeless in San Diego, CA- I would choose San Diego in a heartbeat. It is quite the change from being on the east coast and I relish the thought of going back! Look for more updates and maybe even some excerpts from Dollhouse Daughter to come.

Happy reading and writing!

1529816_10152949009091804_8424725906835044993_o 1655725_10152949009786804_5246610919007241270_o

2 Comments

Filed under Idea of the Day

How to Survive a Rewrite Breakdown and Re-doing Your Novel

Welcome one and all to your salvation from insanity! This week has been a roller-coaster of emotional trauma for me and my manuscript as we approach uncharted territory. The dreaded rewrite. In search of some relief from my anxiety, I couldn’t find any articles about re-writing an unfinished draft. There was only one article that I found that could be applied to rewriting for any draft first, second, or half draft, which was exactly what I needed. From the blog of Ryan Casey, he writes a phenomenal post called, “Rewriting A Novel: Five Ways to Make It Less Painful” that I suggest for anyone at any stage of their writing to read. I will most likely be making similar points in my own post, but he has such a clever writing style that most likely will sound much better than mine.

I should preface this post by stating that almost everything that my mentor has suggested this semester has been perfect. I don’t mean that everything a professor says is always right, especially when creative writing is more subjective than most fields. However, my current mentor has been fundamentally right about everything I needed to do to make my story great. During our first classes in June, my mentor suggested that I change the setting, which meant rewriting at least eight chapters. Doesn’t seem so bad right? It wasn’t. That rewrite excited me. It felt like I was moving into a story that I was comfortable and familiar with rather than doing massive amounts of research. So, I am confident in following the lead of someone who has so much experience and knowledge.

So, I started the first rewrite, and I happily worked through the next five months with a renewed sense of purpose.

The other night, I finished writing a detailed chapter-by-chapter synopsis of my manuscript, and sent it to my mentor. Less than 12 hours later, my genius mentor emailed me back with his notes on my synopsis.  I was deathly afraid to open it. It may not be much that I finally plotted out the entire story beginning to end, but it had been such a relief for me to fit each piece together into a working story after a year of self-doubt. Before I read my mentor’s response, I felt free, relaxed as if my novel was finally heading in the right direction. And then I opened his email. He liked the structure of my story, and among his suggestions lie in wait the most terrifying words to be strung together into sentences.

My mentor had…other plans for my novel. Plans that for the first time in the semester, I was not sure of where my novel should be going. His suggestions were insightful and blunt. Both are absolutely necessary when giving critical feedback on a piece of writing. And yet, they didn’t immediately fit as they had all semester long. Instead, I felt confused and exhausted. Confused at how I could make the changes he offered, and exhausted beyond all belief that I would have to scrap over half of the 30,000 words that were already written. I know, I know. You’ll tell me not to be afraid to kill my darlings. I will be honest in saying that I am reluctant to make any big change, but I will if it feels right.

What it boils down to is this. I don’t think it would be possible to write my characters in the way I’ve been suggested. Oh sure, I could force them to be different, but I know in my heart that my main character Cassie cannot be changed in the way my mentor has suggested.

[Insert Panic Attack]

Love the Aspiring Author Bat Meme

Love the Aspiring Author Bat Meme

How do I make my characters become something they’re not? I want to use every sliver of advice I can get from my mentor, but at what cost? At forgoing the purpose of the novel? Should I in good consciousness force my characters down a path that I know is not one they will follow? My brain went into overdrive. In a few short paragraphs, my mind plunged into a rabbit hole of self-doubt. There was a feeble attempt to try and grasp my mind around an entire rewrite, but I was tapped. No ideas left and no energy does not make a good combination for success.

So, where did I have left to turn? I want so badly to apply EVERYTHING my mentor has to offer, but I can’t ethically make my characters do something they’re not able. One of my best friends in the entire world came to my rescue. Maeve, a wonderful, talented, strong writer gave me the best advice humanly possible. She said, “You have a story. Don’t lose sight of it.” Best. advice. ever. I needed to remember why I was writing this story, and all of my attempts to make someone else’s vision work was NOT working. I know that all of my mentor’s advise is invaluable, and yet I can’t lose sight of who my characters are and who I am as a writer.

So, I have decided I won’t need to do a COMPLETE rewrite of my currently unfinished manuscript. It’s only a partial rewrite. There is still a lot that I do need to change, but they are manageable changes–things that I know my characters are capable of doing. At the same time, I would not have questioned or been able to see the opportunity to improve upon my story without the extreme suggestions of my mentor. He is  the evil genius every writer needs in their arsenal, and I am certainly lucky to have spent six months in correspondence with him.

We have now come to the meat of my post after a little over 1,000 words here are some fast and fresh tips for handling the madness of rewriting of a story whatever size, genre, or point of completion. If you’re half way done, on the last page, or already on the second draft.

From the wondrous mind of my beloved friend, Maeve, I have two pieces of advice for the rewriting process.

1. “You have a story to tell. Don’t lose sight of it.”–In other words, no matter where you are receiving feedback (professor, beta readers, friends) never forget that YOU are the one writing the story. You ultimately know what’s best for your characters and the meaning for your story.

2. “Don’t force it. Percolate a little.”–Take a break from your work for a while. At the very least a week or two. Work on another piece or read a book that has been on your list. If you can separate yourself from your work for a little time, it will make the rewrite a whole lot easier because you’ve had time to recuperate and refresh your mind.

Now onto my contribution to the list of ever-evolving tips:

3. If it is within your capability to do–print out what you have written so far. Take a highlighter, scissors, or sonic pen, and find the best and worst parts of what you’ve written. Find parts that you can save or parts you know work. They will serve as a reminder of your overall goal in the rewrite (unless you’re scrapping everything). The worst parts or aspects you are no longer keeping should never be deleted or removed from existence. Highlight them for another story or use to avoid making those mistakes during the rewrite.

4. Always always have an outline for your work in progress. Whether or not you have one for your story before the rewrite isn’t AS important, but making one for the rewrite is. You may go insane trying to rework everything if you don’t have something to guide you on your way. I know some people don’t outline their novels, and they are lucky to have such an organized mind.

For most of us, the outline or synopsis helps to pinpoint major scenes and create story arcs that would not exist without proper planning. I happen to have a full chapter-by-chapter synopsis of my work pre-rewrite, so that I can do a sort of “before and after” of what my book will become. In my opinion, it makes it easier to see the transition of my story, and helps smooth out those plot holes that were otherwise invisible the first go.

5. My final tip is this: Be prepared to kill your darlings. Kill them fast and kill them good. It may seem counter productive to claim that I am willing to kill my darlings and then doubt perfectly good advice when given to me. But here’s the thing. Killing your darlings is a very different task than following someone else’s story.  Either one can be devastating, but you have to do what’s best for your story no matter what the decision is. This means taking out your favorite scenes or your favorite characters to make room for the RIGHT scenes and the RIGHT characters.

The further you delve into a story, the less it becomes about your brilliant,  authorial ideas, and more about how you can write the character’s story in the best way possible. Yes, it is your story, but you’re writing about the characters lives, and what you want may not be what is best for them. Trust in your characters, in how much you have grown to love them. Let them speak to you and tell you how the story should be told. And for goodness sake, wait until you are alone in the comfort of your work area to have conversations with you characters. You can’t very well public the next great piece of contemporary literature from the padded cell of a psychiatric hospital.

keep-calm-and-write-your-story-3

What is your advice for those trying to rewrite? Share in the comments below. Happy reading and writing!

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Breaking News