All posts by Michelle

An Upcoming Experiment

I’m attempting a writing experiment next month. For the month of August, I’m going to do all my writing and revising with pen and paper, rather than on the computer. I plan to print out the 30,000 words I have for Volume 6 and try to make sense of them by transcribing them in some coherent order in a physical notebook. Aside from my usual giant plot holes left by skipping over scenes for which I didn’t have details planned, many of the scenes I’ve written contradict each other.

Ever since I got my first laptop, I’ve done almost all of my writing on the computer. I’ll write in a notebook when it’s not convenient to power up my computer, but little more than a day goes by afterward before I type everything up and return to my old habits. I tried to do NaNoWriMo 2010 (my second year) completely handwritten, but that failed for a few reasons. I was using a Moleskine, which I considered “too nice” to ruin with my crossing out words and skipping ahead to the next scene if I couldn’t figure out that “perfect” detail. That notebook probably wasn’t big enough for a whole 50,000 word novel without my being careful of how many words I squeezed onto a page. I also hadn’t planned out enough in advance to know how the story would go. I think I ended with 27,000 words that year, and I gave up with the notebook after the first week or so.

Even with no class work to do this week, I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped to. I had an idea for Volume 5 Wednesday evening, and I wasn’t sure where exactly in the story I should put it. It’s a flashback, and if it weren’t for the point-of-view character being a POV character only in Volume 5, I would have put it in an earlier book. Still, it answers some lingering questions and I think it’s important to the story.

I wasn’t ready to put the scene in the document in case it fizzled out with my lack of ideas, so I sat down with my recently-neglected planning notebook and started writing. Seven hundred words later, I had some of the best writing I’ve done on this project in months. Details popped into my mind more quickly than they have in the longest time.

Writing for the past several months has felt like pulling teeth. My biggest obstacle is that because some chapters are basically done, having gone through multiple drafts and improvements, I feel like any new scenes I write have to be at the same standards. Even though I’m the only one who will see these books for now, the fear of not being good enough keeps me from writing at all. I need to change my methods, and writing by hand seems like the best option for me.

Other benefits to handwriting:

  • I own more blank notebooks than I’m willing to admit. I need to start using these.
  • I love my handwriting, even if it’s not always the neatest.
  • Without the computer on, I’m less likely to be distracted.
  • My brain functions differently when I’m handwriting vs. typing. Because writing takes longer than typing, I can focus on details of the setting that I tend to gloss over when I’m typing.
  • I like to see the physical evidence of my work, as all the pages fill with my loopy cursive.

Even if I fail this challenge and go back to the computer, at least I’ll be writing. The worst that could happen is that I write nothing at all, which won’t be much different than some other months of little to no progress.

As for my weekly Camp NaNoWriMo update, the good news is that I wrote over three times as much this week as I did the first week of Camp. The bad news is that my total is only 3,127 words. After changing my goal from hours worked to new words added, my goal was 25,000 words, but since I don’t have quite as many plot holes in Volume 4 as I’d originally thought (as well as being so far behind halfway into the month), I’ve adjusted my goal to 20,000 words.

Is anyone else interested in a month-long computer-less writing challenge? There are no word count goals other than what you might set for yourself. The point of the experiment is to try to think about your work differently.

How Do You Measure Progress: Camp NaNoWriMo Week 1

I had entered Camp NaNoWriMo with a goal of editing my current work in progress for a total of 30 hours in the month. After the first two hours, I realized my word count had increased only by about 100 words.

In the editing phase, a low change in word count is not a problem. You’re switching out weak verbs for stronger ones, restructuring confusing sentences, and taking out filler words and sentences. You’re exchanging more words than adding new ones. If I were at the editing phase for the entire novel, I wouldn’t mind having little to show as far as my changes in word count went.

However, there are still huge chunks of the story that I haven’t written. I entered July with 57,009 words written for Volume 3. I anticipate this story ending up around 65-70k. The beginning chapters are stronger, because I start at the beginning of the story when I start a new round of revision before losing the energy to think of ways to fill those plot holes. So, I’ve changed my goal for Camp NaNoWriMo to use this month to fill in those holes and complete the stories for Volumes 3, 4, and 5. I aim to add 25,000 new words total for these three novels.

I had a slow start for Week 1, with changing my goal, writing the two final project papers for my classes, and celebrating Independence Day. I have a total of about 700 words written, with 24,300 to go.

I often use the terms editing and revising interchangeably, but that’s only because in any one in-progress novel, I’m at the editing phase in some places and the revising phase in others. (And the drafting phase in a few, which is what I’m hoping to change this month.) These are the steps to my writing process:

  1. Planning. I need to know where the story is going before I begin writing, but even if I manage to write out a sentence description for each chapter, it is still not enough for some parts of the story and I flounder a bit. When going into a challege like NaNoWriMo, I need to know at the minimum my main characters, the setting, how the story begins, what the characters want, and how the story ends. I’m afraid to spend too much time planning, though, in case I never get around to writing the novel or lose interest in it.
  2. Drafting. Also known as writing. This is the part where I actually write the story. I’m a “bare-bones” writer, which means I usually have to go back in subsequent drafts and add in details and whole scenes. If I’m not sure how to get the characters from one plot point to another, I’ll often skip ahead to the scene after that, although I try to write in order as much as possible.
  3. Revising. The version of the story I write in the drafting step is my first draft. I’ll go through 6 or more drafts of revising. This is the step where I go back and fill in the plot holes. I cut scenes that aren’t necessary. I move events around. I begin new drafts in the revision process when I’ve set myself a challenge to see how much I can get done in a certain time period (like Camp NaNo), or I have to make a huge change and want to keep a copy of the previous draft before that change was made.
  4. Editing. This step is more detail-oriented than revision. This is where I’m fixing up sentences, adding in description, and basically making things pretty. If revision is amount changing paragraphs, editing is about changing words.
  5. Proofreading. Checking for typos. This is my favorite phase because it means most of the work is done. This phase gives me one more chance not only to find any errors, but to add or take out anything before someone else reads my work. The novel is done but not done.

The hardest part about writing is that so much of a story lives in a writer’s head, and it’s hard to translate it into words that will conjure up the same images and feelings for someone else. Sometimes I’m so afraid of writing something “wrong,” something that doesn’t match what I’m imagining, that I avoid writing it. That’s how I came to be on draft 8 of Volume 3 and still have so many missing scenes.

Does anyone else often find themselves at different phases of the process within one manuscript? How do you measure your progress when editing or revising–by words, by chapters, by hours, or something else?

A New Dedication

Seven years ago, July 2011, I participated in the first ever session of Camp NaNoWriMo. The novel I wrote during that session, a quirky, lighthearted mystery, was a big departure from all the unfinished “literary” musings I’d been playing around with since I started trying to write novels. In those books, characters seemed to do little more than sit around in coffee shops and bars, having philosophical discussions. So, I was proud not only to write but to finish a draft of something that felt like a real story.

Over the following months, I edited my Camp novel and self-published it the next year on the day before my 23rd birthday. I have since taken it off sale, but it’s still special because it was my first finished novel.

Seven years feels like a natural cycle of time, so I’m approaching this month as a new beginning. I have a new dedication to my writing. Time management has always been a problem, so I hope Camp NaNoWriMo and this blog will provide me with the deadlines and accountability I need to make some real progress. My goal for Camp is one hour of editing every day.

I’ve been working on my current series, in one form or another, for the past 4 years. If I write nothing else but the books in this series, I’ll feel as though I’ve said everything I have to say. Any other books I might write after that will just be for fun. The problem with writing something so personal is my fear of putting my work out there and, by extention, myself.

My fears have prevented me from working as hard as I should on finishing these books. Will anyone even want to read them, and if not, why should I bother finishing them? What if everyone says there’s not enough of this in them? What if everyone says there’s too much of that in them? Aren’t there already too many novels in the world? All these fears have to do with how people will react to my books, so the easiest solution was to keep my work to myself.

After finishing college, I dropped off the social media radar. A big part of it was that I hated going online to see how much more successful everyone else seemed to be than I was. Another part was that I’d spent so much of my life wrapped up in books that the written word felt more real to me than anything anyone said in conversation. If I posted something, I worried about all the different ways it could be interpreted. After all, I’d just gotten a degree in English, where the whole point was analyzing and interpreting the written word. I’ve been afraid to check my email at work and afraid to read feedback on my homework for the classes I’m currently taking, and even though I’ve brought myself to check my social media after a 6 year hiatus, I’m still afraid to post even a friendly note to any old friend for fear I’ll offend the ones I didn’t write to.

I’ve heard so often that the internet allows people the freedom to interact with others because they can remain anonymous. People who claim to be socially awkward in person can form close friendships and gain huge followings online. But I feel anything but anonymous online because I am my words.

So, you might be wondering, if I’m so scared to be active online, why do I have a blog in the first place? Why am I trying to resurrect it from all these months of silence? It’s time to get over my fears. I’ve heard that every writer has an audience. I just need to find mine. Someone out there will want to read what I have to say, and they’ll never find it if I don’t write.

I’ve learned a lot in the last 7 years. I like to talk about the writing process and figure out what works for me and what doesn’t. I hope to be able to share with you how to maintain the motivation to complete a project and find the confidence to share what you’ve poured so much of yourself into. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m trying to find them.

If you’re reading this post, it means I actually published it and didn’t let it linger in the drafts folder like so many other posts I’ve started. That’s one big step forward for me.


9 Tips For When You Want To Give Up On Your Novel

Revision is my least favorite part of the writing process. I second-guess myself the entire time, flip-flopping between word choices or settings of various scenes or the names of secondary characters. I have trouble with the drafting process as well. I’m on draft 7 of Volume 3, and the plot still has big, gaping holes, evident by chapters with headings and only half a page of text before jumping ahead to the next chapter and next plot point. I know where I need to go but not how to get there.

What part of writing do I like? Proofreading. By that point, the story is done, the prose sparkles, and if I’ve done my job right, this phase of the process is spent diving into a world filled with characters I love and doing nothing more than fixing a few typos. At times, it feels like I’ll never get to that stage.

The writing life has been difficult this last month. I’ve been feeling so devoid of solutions to my plot problems that I considered setting all my work aside (all 327,000 words I have so far, which have been written and rewritten over the last four years) and starting over. I would start with a magic system first, since that seems to be the biggest source of my troubles. Still, it would require building six novels from the ground up. That thought was overwhelming.

Rather than making any drastic decisions like turning my back on everything I’ve already done, I made a list of things to do when I feel stuck like this.

  1. Step away from the project. Sometimes you just need a break. You can return to the project with fresh eyes, and sometimes solutions will come when you’re not actively looking for them. However, it’s important to set a time limit on your break or you might never return to your book.
  2. Visualize what you want the project to look like when you’re done. What kind of story did you want to tell? What type of world or mood did you want to create? This is something I do before beginning a project, but it’s important to remind yourself what you set out to create.
  3. Work in another medium. If you normally write on the computer, try handwriting a chapter or typing on a typewriter. When I do this, it tricks my brain into thinking that if what I write isn’t any good or doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story, it doesn’t have to go in the actual draft. Even working in a new document with a different font than I typically use makes me see the story in a new light.
  4. Write the back cover blurb. Blurbs are my major weakness in writing. It’s hard to sum up a book in a few paragraphs. You need to have a good grasp of the major plot points. Sometimes, writing this can be more frustrating than fixing the holes you’re avoiding, but other times, it can help you clear up some of the issues in your plot.
  5. Do the interior formatting for the print copy. Of course, this only applies if you’re planning on ordering a print copy and don’t hire someone to do the interior formatting for you. This is my favorite thing to do. I love playing around with different fonts for chapter titles, seeing how many pages the story stretches out to with different page sizes, and formatting the headers and footers with page numbers, the book title, and my name. I like seeing what the manuscript will look like as an actual book.
  6. Create an e-book of your draft to read on your e-reader or phone. I use Draft 2 Digital to create e-books of my drafts to read on my Nook. Sometimes reading my stories in that format, as if they were a real book, helps me think about them in a new way.
  7. Watch, read, or listen to whatever it was that inspired your project in the first place. I get a lot of my ideas from music. Many characters in projects I wrote in college were loosely based on musicians from my favorite bands. If a favorite book or movie sparked the idea for your current project, revisit that inspiration.
  8. Do some research. Two of my characters are historians studying the founding of their town. To write their scenes, I need to know a bit about the time period they’re studying. I’d also like to mix some Celtic mythology into the “otherworld” of my series. There’s a lot I need to learn, but I have to remember not to get bogged down by all the information available. For the drafting phase, I might settle on 3-5 key details gathered through my research to mix in and get me over my mental block.
  9. Make a list of all the questions you need to answer in your plot. You don’t need to answer them right away; just make a list. What do you need to know to write that scene? When you are ready to start writing again, take a look at the list and work on answering one question at a time rather than trying to do it all at once.

Remember, the worst thing you can do when you’re feeling lost or frustrated is to delete your story. Even if you don’t intend to share it, revise it, or ever work on it again, it is worth storing an extra file on your computer or an extra notebook on your shelf to keep from feeling the regret you might have over the loss of all your hard work.

Why I Unpublished My Novel

I’m back! I’ve been busy with work and school the last year, and I’ve taken some time away from this site to think about what I want as a writer. Putting my work out there scares me. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

I published my first book shortly out of college for all the wrong reasons. I was unemployed, I had just quit a graduate program that I wasn’t suited for, and I was desperate to make money. Not to mention that I had been reading too many cozy mysteries and thought I could put my own whimsical spin on a light mystery. Whenever I told anyone about that book, I always felt like I had to say, “It’s not a serious story at all.” It was my way of telling them not to take it seriously. While I had fun writing it, I didn’t put in as much work as I should have.

I finished Volume 1 of the series I’m currently working on in October 2016 and promptly published it, under a pen name this time. It wasn’t that I wasn’t proud of it that I didn’t use my real name. My main reasons for doing so were because I was worried about how it might affect the possibility of my finding a “professional” job once I’m done with my degree. Besides, if my acquaintances didn’t know I had written another book, I couldn’t be upset when no one bought it.

I have since taken Volume 1 off the market. I want to finish writing the entire series before I publish any of the books. For that matter, I’m not sure if I will or not. All I know is that it’s not ready to be labeled as a final product. I have a lot of work left to do on developing the magic system. I’m more comfortable sharing a work in progress because even though people are going to make some kind of judgments on what they’re reading, I assume that they all know it’s subject to change and could improve yet. It’s just something I need to tell myself.

This series has been the first thing on my mind ever since I started it in 2014, even before I created the character of John Mazentius. In the first draft, dated July 2014, Aberdeen Scotland was a library school dropout who gets involved with a society of people with supernatural powers when one of them accidentally transfers some of his power to her. These characters are my closest friends. I can make them do anything I want. They’ve beheaded, poisoned, and shot each other, and yet they still live–in more ways than one, when you think about the fact that my series is about immortality.

Originally, I began this blog as a way to document the progress of trying to write a 50,000-word novel every month for a year. I participate in NaNoWriMo every year since 2009, and I’d read a few other blogs written by people doing the 12 novels in 12 months thing and thought I could do it too. What I’ve realized is that while I expect this series to have 12 novels eventually (6 that tell the main arc of the story and 6 unrelated adventures), my priority for now is to finish Volumes 1 through 6 and make them the best they can be. At the same time, I need to learn where to draw the line between endlessly tinkering with wording and minor details and learning to call something done.

At the end of 2017, my total word count for the series was 319,207:

  • Volume 1: 72,173 words
  • Volume 2: 66,537 words
  • Volume 3: 45,057 words
  • Volume 4: 50,154 words
  • Volume 5: 51,565 words
  • Volume 6: 33,721 words

If the average page has 250 words, that comes out to almost 1,277 pages. This is a massive project, and I want to be able to share parts of it, even if the project as a whole isn’t ready. I’m interested in the creative process and want to share details of my writing life because I’ve gotten so much enjoyment from hearing about other writers’ processes. While I do have monthly goals I want to reach with my writing, I don’t want to feel like I failed because I haven’t met that month’s goal. All I can promise is that I’m going to work my hardest.

I write because I love my book world. It’s not about making money from it. Besides, if I’m going to put something on the market, it had better be something that I completely believe is worth the money. As much as I love Volume 1, it could be better. Maybe at some point, I’ll release it again, but for now, I have more work to do.