Monthly Archives: October 2014

Writing and Research

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First off, you have to research sometimes. Some things you can fake, like what happens when a vampire bites someone (let’s be real, no one knows. Or they’re not telling.) But if you guess and get it wrong, or at least really wrong, it annoys readers. Conversely, if you get it right, they get drawn into the story more. If it’s something they know, like a place or subject, then you’re more than just an author – you’re a comrade. Research can pay off.

As a rule, I don’t stop writing to research something unless I absolutely can’t avoid it. I’ll mark whatever it is (maybe something like this: @look up how a broken shoulder is treated/how long to recover) and keep going. Then when I hit a point when I just need a break, or I’m done with the first draft, I’ll go back and search for all those little marks, and fill in the details.

Obviously, sometimes you run into a detail that isn’t little. You need to know a fact now because it affects too many things in the scenes to come. Those annoying tidbits, you have to stop writing to research, but there are different ways of handling the problem.

First, if I’m on a roll and my muse is on my side, I might just switch scenes and put off the research and the scenes that will result until later. I don’t want to lose momentum at that moment. If I’m writing chapter two and got stymied by a historical fact, I will take the option to jump ahead to write chapter eight that doesn’t have anything to do with said historical fact or the fallout of its revelation.

Second, in the case of a time crunch, like NaNoWriMo, I’ll try to do the same thing and approach the problem as if I’m trying to maintain momentum. It really is the same whether I’m actually feeling the blessing of the muse or not. I need to hit the wordcount goal and I will not accept a delay.

The third point is where plotters really have a huge advantage over pantsers (people who write by the seat of their pants). If you have an outlined plot, you probably know in advance where those big research points are. Do them in your down time or in advance. In the case of NaNoWriMo, do your research now.

There’s a specific bit about NaNo and research I’d like to point out: if you haven’t taken the time to actually join the NaNo community website, consider it. Yes, you can hook up with friends there and brag about wordcount, or use it to motivate yourself or others, and a lot of areas or cities have a NaNo community with write-ins and whatever. I don’t pay much attention to all of that. Okay, I do the occasional Write-in with friends to motivate them. That’s not what I want to bring your attention to here, it’s the boards. Specifically, the research board.

Everything is on the Internet, right? Finding it can be difficult, and writers know that. Also, sometimes what you need isn’t the velocity of a bullet or what gun an FBI agent who started in 1998 would carry, it’s something more personal. Like if your character carried a Smith & Wesson 9mm in a right side leather belt holster with a snap, and his right hand was smashed in a fight, how long would it take him to cross draw that weapon and fire if he were lying on the ground on his stomach? And maybe you live in a city/state/country where you can’t conduct that specific experiment yourself. Oddly, you can get a question like that answered on the research board. Or you’re a woman writing about a female character who wakes up one morning to discover she’s now male and has to contend with ‘dangly bits.’ That came up and it was hysterical to read the descriptions and advice the men volunteered.

This is where I will be distracted in November: reading the research board on Nanowrimo.org. I’ll answer what I can, ask Hubby or other professionals I know if someone’s question isn’t being answered, and read things that look interesting. Part of it is that knowledge is valuable. Part of it is that the people answering these insane questions are writers, and the way they respond is often times just fantastic. The various question sites on the web aren’t nearly as much fun.

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Two Weeks to NaNo – What I’m Doing Now

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I’ve gone on a writing hiatus while I decide what my NaNo novel will be. I’ve gone through files of the more developed ideas I’ve collected (I have a ton of short text message story ideas that, but I’ve left those alone for now in favor of concepts I at least spent a few minutes to jot some notes down on.) Narrowing it down helps, but now I have to decide not only what inspires me, but what I’ll actually stick with.

More than once in the passion of NaNo, I’ve started a novel, got ten thousand words in, changed my mind, and started over on something else. When I’ve been part of a writing group, I drove them nuts. I don’t mention it now so I can avoid those dirty looks. It wasn’t like I put their word count in jeopardy, but they took it personally.

Hubby keeps giving me pointed looks and reminding me that I’m trying to finish The Thousand Words series. Um, no. I have to do something different. Something I can play with. NaNo is a time for experimenting. I’ve explained this to him. So then he goes to Plan B: hinting that I could do a first draft of the next Genie in Your Pocket novel. That would be the crossover novel. I’m mulling that over. It would be different. I wanted to avoid romances, but it’s not a typical romance, and it’s not like the other genie books. It should have much more from the genie’s point of view. Maybe. I do need to get that done, he has a point. And it’s mostly outlined.

Okay, so assuming I go with that idea (and stick with it, I’m choosing a backup as well) it helps you get your word count easier if you outline. I’ve got that mostly done, but I’ll look it over to refine and fill in anywhere I can. This is hard for me, I’m not a plotter/outliner by nature. My writing is organic and comes to me on the fly. Since I have time now before the writing begins, I can force myself to do it.

Also, since I’ll have an outline, I’ll be able to see now what I need to research. That’s a whole other blog post. I have my spreadsheet set up for tracking wordcount, and my book bible ready for making notes on character names/features/details. I’ll make a playlist on my phone this weekend, so I’m being reminded of my book even while I’m doing dishes/taking a shower just by listening to music. Any little motivators you need, prep them now.

Prepare a practical word count goal. Officially, it’s 50,000 words in 30 days, so 1667 words/day. If you can’t write on the (5)Sundays, Thanksgiving just isn’t going to happen, and you know you won’t write on Black Friday, then subtract those days from the 30, divide 50,000 by your new number, and modify your daily wordcount goal. Don’t lie to yourself, it will cause stress later. I personally recommend padding the goal: round up. Instead of 1667 words, make your goal an even 2000. It’s easy to calculate, remember, and it will keep you ahead of the target for some unforeseen difficulty. Come to terms with your goal now, so it’s settled in your mind by November First.

Finally, make sure you warn your family and friends. Let them know what you’re doing so they can either support you or stay out of your way. I don’t know about you, but those who interfere risk being written into my novels. And then written back out…

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Something New for NaNo

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It’s NaNo Time! (Nearly)

Yup, coming up on that time of year where a lot of people around the world go mildly insane trying to write 50,000 words during November. Other people sit back and watch, cheer, and jeer.

Where will I be? Historically, I write the 50,000 words by Thanksgiving and cheer everyone on. I’ve been debating the value of my continued participating in this annual event for years. In my mind, NaNoWriMo has value, but it’s to those who struggle with it. I don’t struggle with it, so why do it? I know I can write 50k in 30 days. If I push it, I can write 80k, although my family hates me for it. Does that mean I should modify my goal? Should I step aside and cheer on everyone else?

For me it comes down to the reason for doing it. I see NaNoWriMo as being for those who struggle. Namely, for the new writers. I want to encourage those who have an idea for a book, but haven’t set aside the time to get that first draft down on paper. (Figuratively speaking.) NaNo is for those writers still fighting with that first draft. Maybe it’s their first book, maybe it’s their third. It doesn’t matter. The point is, they’re struggling with it.

Critics argue Nano puts quantity of words over quality of words. Yes, it does. Sort of. Maybe. Here’s the thing on that: the goal is the word count, not the quality of the words themselves, so that criticism is true. However, experienced writers know a couple of things that those critics clearly aren’t considering:

  1.   Increasing your words/hour doesn’t mean you’re writing crap. Authoress RJ Blain looked at three of her mindsets while writing, the words/hour that corresponded with each, and the quality of writing at each. Just because she writes faster sometimes doesn’t mean she writes worse. The blog post is worth a peek. I concur fully.
  2.  When you’re inspired, your words/hour increases as does the quality of your writing. The experienced writers know the trick is to stay excited and/or inspired about your work. If the author is excited/inspired it shows in the writing and the reader picks up on it. A byproduct is that it gets that book written faster. At least the first draft, which is what NaNo is all about.

Don’t be concerned about quality anyway. First drafts are rough, they’re meant to be, and that’s what revisions are for. You’re supposed to put that quality concern aside for NaNoWriMo. Too many aspiring authors get caught in the editing trap: they write a first chapter, then edit it. Write a second chapter, then edit it. Then they decide the first chapter doesn’t work anymore and go back and fix it. Now the second chapter isn’t working anymore and they fix that. At this rate, they’ll never finish the book.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: when writing, the first chapter doesn’t matter. It’s a jumping off point, but it’s expendable. You may know after chapter two that chapter one needs to be fixed. Fine, but don’t fix it yet. Don’t you dare touch it until after you’ve finished the book. It’ll need to be fixed again after chapter three. And again after chapter four. And you’ll need to delete chapter one and fix chapter two after chapter seven, and so on. The point is: until you write “The End” you won’t know what really needs to be fixed in those first chapters, so there’s no point wasting your time doing it as you go.

That’s what NaNo is about: putting pressure on you in the form of a wordcount and deadline that you don’t’ have time to go back and fix things. You have to forge on. It’s brilliant, and it’s exactly what many new writers need to get that first manuscript finished.

Now, back to my dilemma: I’m not a new writer. I don’t need the wordcount/deadline pressure. I know not to edit as go. I know how to forge on. Do I need NaNo?

Yes and No. Not really. I still do it every year, and I easily make my word count. Right now, I have a novel I’m working on to finish a series. I should finish that. I have another in extreme revisions (so extreme you really need to hear an echo when you read that). I should work on that. I have other books outlined, things I may not get to for years – except for NaNoWriMo.

This is the one month of the year I get to pretend to be a new writer again. Sort of. I still have to do my normal author-y things, but writing – for NaNo it’s always something new. A new book, a new concept, a new genre. Romance is too easy now, I can’t write that for NaNo, it’s not a challenge. I’ve done YA a couple of times (didn’t actually finish them, I may go back and do that.) I’m somewhat scary as a YA writer. I finished a zombie book (there’s a reason you haven’t seen it). Last year I wrote Rerun, my first suspense novel, and finished it up at 65k – the shortest novel I’ve ever written. This year…I’m not sure yet. Will I participate in NaNo? Probably. I’ll write something new.

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I’m Back

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Okay, first a few words on Multiple Sclerosis relapses: they really suck. I’d like to opt out now. Enough said there. I’m back, let’s get caught up.

When I left off, Darth Jingles had a collar on because she was injured in a cat fight. So while I was lying around hating life, a small black cat was shut up in my room with me going stir crazy. Misery loves company, right? No. She did recover and get the collar off before I strangled her. It was just in time for a series thunderstorms and rain showers to hit town and keep her locked inside longer. Since she was used to spending time walking all over me, and deciding my feeble attempts to bat her away were a signal that I wanted to play, she decided to grace me with her presence a little longer. Lucky me. There is nothing I enjoy more than having a cat pouncing on my toes with claws and teeth while I’m in a dazed never-land state. It makes for wild dreams. Particularly when I’ve been watching The Walking Dead.

On writing: I haven’t been doing much of that in the past few weeks although I have a collection of hastily scribbled notes that I now can’t read. Really. It’s like who taught this three year old cursive before she could color inside the lines? Anyway, I’m optimistic I’ll decipher enough to get the gist of these random nuggets of inspiration and file them away for use later. Or they could be useless. It could go either way.

That brings me to my muse. Imagine if you will a spindly woman with wild hair wearing an oversized cardigan and crystals around her neck, collecting herbs, and followed everywhere by a seemingly never-ending stream of cats. Got that picture in your mind? I’d be fine with a muse like that. She seems like a slightly crazy but creative sort. No, mine is the kind that sits in a coffee shop that pipes in the sort of music you don’t listen to, at a volume slightly too loud to be ignored, and won’t meet you anywhere else. She always has a coffee that’s half-finished and it’s just reaching the point where it’s the incorrect temperature so when you are finally making headway in any conversation with her, she sighs and gets up to go get another one because hers is suddenly undrinkable. Like anyone who hangs out in a coffee shop all frickin’ day would really have a problem with their coffee being slightly cooler or their ice melting. You learn to cope! And when she comes back from getting a new coffee, her attention is no longer on the wonderful idea she left with, it’s on that new purse or shoes she saw at the department store, or her nails need a fill, or her hairdresser is on vacation but she really needs her highlights touched up this week. That’s my muse and we’ve spent a lot of time almost communicating lately. (hence the pages of scribbled notes) We’ll see if anything comes of that.

For those of you who don’t deal with muses, the above is something along the lines of getting a good idea then — oh look, a squirrel! That’s the real world equivalent. FYI. Oh, except every once in awhile, you get to write part of the idea down in lipstick on the mirror before you get attacked by the squirrel. But you can only find your favorite lipstick, and you have to write fast because you’re in a hurry – squirrel.

Now, I have to go decipher hastily written notes. Thankfully, they’re not in lipstick on the bathroom mirror, and there has been no actual squirrel attack. Although, if The Girl could catch one, she’d give domestication a shot. Heaven help us.

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