Be Outlandish. Write Books with Wings #amwriting #nanowrimo

fox2bsmelling2bflower
Photo credit: front-porch anarchist 2012

 

As a writer, here are some things I try to remind myself.

Reach out for, and welcome, scary, crazy ideas because those can be the most brilliant. (Ask Vincent, Sylvia, F. Scott, and the gajillion artists who’ve come before us.)

Don’t be afraid to be outlandish. Think outside the box. Believe there is no box. When writing, allow yourself the freedom to freewheel unfettered through a galaxy of creativity. God, I love that part.

Revise with confidence. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t immediately get things right. Big, scary, daunting, multi-faceted, novel revision is a marathon, not a sprint–a marathon during which you get to stop and smell flowers, daydream, listen to music, and read other books (how cool is that?), with the ultimate goal of crossing the finish line with a novel you can be proud of.

Polish your novel until it has wings to fly: to overworked literary agents who perk up because you’ve written exactly what they’re looking for; to readers who are moved by your words, excitedly turn each page, and feel a sense of loss when they reach the last word.

Then write more novels to make those readers happy again.

–Eve Messenger

What You Can Do Now to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

For many writers, National Novel-Writing Month has become a joyful tradition like Christmas or the Super Bowl. NaNoWriMo is also crazy–riding-a-bucking-bronco kind of crazy (50,000 words in month?!). The good thing is that for the whole month of November we get to indulge in pure, unadulterated writing bliss. The bad thing is that, because we’re writing so much so fast, we sometimes end up with 50,000 words (or more) of “litter”-ature.

I hereby declare that it is possible to enjoy the adventure, camaraderie, and thrill of NaNoWriMo while also writing a cohesive first draft.

How?

Like the Boy Scouts motto goes: Be Prepared.

Boy Scout Pledge

In the final days leading up to NaNoWriMo:

1. Write an outline. In the interests of avoiding a sprawling, unworkable mess of a first draft, head into NaNoWriMo with a plot outline. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, just key plot points or, at the very least, knowing what ending you’d like to write toward.

2. Make up a word, any unusual, distinctive word. This will allow you to write faster. As you’re typing away at a breakneck speed, rather than lurching to a stop to mull over what name you’d like to give a character, place, magical fruit, etc., type your made-up word (i.e., “zibbit), which you can then search for later and replace with real names you like better.

3. Find write-ins you’d like to attend. Write-ins are good. Repeat. Write-ins are good. Write-ins mean rooms full of creative energy, discovering new local places to write, and proving to yourself that you can write anywhere. To find write-ins near you, go to the NaNoWriMo site, click on “Region,” then “Find Region,” then “Make this region my home.” Your home region should show a list of planned weekly write-ins.

4. Mark your calendar with virtual write-ins. In case there aren’t any live write-ins near you, or if you’d like to supplement with virtual ones, visit this YouTube link and make a note of upcoming virtual write-ins.

5. Prepare your family. Your loved ones may not like giving you up to the writing muse for a whole month.

Do whatever you can to ease your family’s pain. Bribe them with money for pizza delivery, tell them you’ll get them a really nice present at Christmas or Hannukah, whatever it takes. Then on November 1, say “See you at Thanksgiving,” get out of your house, and write.

Good luck and happy writing!

— Eve Messenger

Stick close to your novel until it’s done so you’re less tempted to break up with it. #amwriting #writer

When I’m writing my novel, I love it.

But when I’m away for too long, doubt sets in and I’m filled with everything that’s wrong with it.

With a novel in progress, distance makes the hard grow colder, so stick close to your novel until it’s done, nurture it every day, and you’ll be less tempted to break up with it.

— Eve Messenger

How to Weave Plot Threads Without Going Insane

Recently, I’ve had to face the cold, hard fact that I do not write simple plots. Very “not simple” plots, though I will stop short of calling them complicated. In coming to terms with this, my first instinct is to get very, very nervous, as in: how in the hell am I going to weave all these plotlines together into a cohesive story? Sure, the plot makes sense in my head, but piecing it all together on the page is another matter entirely.

So how do I avoid getting tangled up in plot threads?  Since I don’t personally know any professional writers To ask, I turned to my good friend Google for advice.

One of the first things that pops up is “Calendaring Your Story,” an article by writer Mindy Obenhaus. One of the things she says that really pops out at me is that she is “a visual person, not to mention somewhat detail-oriented.” That’s me, too. I am most comfortable processing information visually, so when it comes to plotting a novel, it makes sense to create a visual representation of my plotlines, a timeline that shows all the major plotlines side by side.

But how?

Obenhaus apparently uses a calendar, a large, desk-sized one. Other writers create Word tables or Excel spreadsheets. Still others use flashcards, a different color for each plot thread. And there are surely plenty of other methods crafty writers have come up with for calendaring their plotlines. (If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please feel free to comment.)

Then I remembered that at a company I once worked for we entered departmental events into an online calendar, with each department displayed in a different color, a multi-person event calendar, something like this:

Maybe this could work for calendaring plotlines, thought I.

So I tried it.

  • First, I found a decent online multi-person calendar at TeamUp.com, a free version that allows you to calendar up to ten different people/plotlines.
  • Then I got to have fun deciding which color best represented each of my major characters/plotlines.
  • After that, I started entering major plot points and, right away, the process got me thinking about my novel in new ways. For instance, I realized that my original plan didn’t logically allow enough time between a couple of key events.

Now the “heavy lifting” begins. I’ll need to really think about each major milestone and decide precisely when it should occur so I can put it on a calendar. I KNOW (as hard as I try to resist this) that calendaring my plot lines will make me much less confused than I was with my first two novels. As convoluted as those first drafts were, I’m thinking surely this will be an improvement.

When a Writing Dream Becomes a Mission #amwriting

Dance leap on the beach

Two years ago, my lovely, well-read, Russian friend Irina and I were chatting over coffee, reflecting on how some people seem to soar toward their dreams while others — like us — do not. “Break through the wall,” Irina said. Somehow, those words resonated. Each night after my family settled into their beds, I held her words close as I stole upstairs and Just Wrote.

I finally started working on a novel idea that had been kicking around in my head for years– through countless short stories, writer’s workshops (in one of which I met my future husband), a writing conference or two, a local writers’ network I founded that lived on long after I left it. After that one conversation with Irina, I started my novel, one character, one plot idea at a time.

And then abandoned it.

A few months later, I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month, jumped in with both feet, attended write-ins, checked off goals. And I completed the novel. Or a semblance of one. A rambling, complicated mess, actually. But alone in a Starbucks just before closing time I typed these words: “The End.” And I cried. I collected myself, went to the counter to buy a green tea, and when the Starbucks employee gave it to me for free he was joining my celebration and didn’t even know it.

I printed out the manuscript of my first novel, wrote out the scenes on flash cards, tried reordering them all into a semblance of a logical narrative. Then gave up.  I put the manuscript in a drawer, tossed the pile of scene cards on top, and left it.

But I kept writing.

Short stories, more novel ideas, observations on my fresh return to writing, my fear and excitement over witnessing what had always been a DREAM turning into a GOAL.  About the possibility that maybe it really is Never Too Late.

Then one day a character stepped out onto my page in all her feisty, loyal, kick-ass glory. Her magical world, her concept, all right there. And now I’m completing the third, much improved, 80,000-word draft of her YA fantasy story.

I wish I could explain how I finally broke through the wall. I think part of it is that, for so many years, I limited myself to only writing short stories because that seemed more attainable. But now I was finally allowing myself to write novels. As daunting as that had always seemed, I realized for the first time in my life that writing a novel was possible. And I loved it. Novels made sense to me because they are what I have always read. To be sure, writing a novel is as bloody difficult as everyone says, but I haven’t given up (well, not for more than a couple of days), and ideas for new novels are springing up all over the place.

As a writer, I still battle deep insecurities, but I breathe deep and jump back in to tackle those weak plot points, underdeveloped characters, and bad prose. The answers come. And I feel the shift.

My DREAM has become a MISSION.

–Eve Messenger

The Epiphany of “Write What You Know”

Epiphany

“Write what you know” messed me up as a writer for a long time but not anymore. I was conflicted because I thought Mark Twain’s adage meant I could only write with authenticity about experiences culled from my own life. But this morning, as I contemplated the third draft of my YA fantasy novel, I had an epiphany. My protagonist — a feisty, daredevil fifteen-year-old girl living in a magical, alternate world — might be very different from me, but she is exploring the great theme of my own life: Who am I? Why am I the way I am? Where do my people come from?

I am writing what I know.

My Name is Eve, and I am a Recovering ‘Pantser’

pantsing

I’m one of those writers you might call a ‘pantser,’ you know, the kind who writes a novel with reckless abandon — sans plot outline — until I reach the semblance of an ending.

It’s fun! It’s exciting! It’s FRESH.  And I’m afraid if I don’t write like that I’ll overcensor myself , or worse, get bored because I already know what’s going to happen.

But.

Revising a pants-style, mutant pit first draft of a novel takes a really, really, really, really long time.  I’m not saying I’ll never pants a novel again, but I’ve done it twice now, and the first novel was such a complicated mess I had to stick it in a drawer until I became “a good enough writer to tackle such a complicated plot.”

This second full-length novel, a YA fantasy, I’ve been revising for dozens and dozens and dozens of hours…reordering scenes, consolidating bits I had epiphanies about later in the writing, just, you know … Clean-up on aisle seven…and twelve…and one…and fourteen.  Clean up the whole damn store.

But hey, writing and revising a novel should take as long as it needs to, right?  And who’s to say I would ever have been able to come up with the cool, out-there things that happen in this story (don’t mean to brag, just sayin’) if I had NOT let my imagination flow 100% unhindered, not even by a plot outline?

But.

I’m not as young as I used to be (I’ll admit) and have a lot of stories I want to write. So many.

Yet here I am, dozens and dozens and dozens of hours into revising and fleshing out this first draft into a flow, a scene order, that tells a cohesive story.  Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel — I’m three-quarters of the way through — but I’m not even talking about all the fun edit-y things like crisping up dialogue, bringing out sensory details, polishing prose.  I’m talking about just getting the first draft into an order that makes sense.

Outlining would have been so much easier.  More importantly, it would have been FASTER.

Then this morning a lovely thing happened.  A brand new character, with a brand new story, in a brand new genre (still YA), danced herself right onto my computer screen.  And she brought a LOT of her story’s plot with her.  God bless her.  When I’m done with this YA fantasy, I might just be able to write a novel using a proper outline.

HALLELULAH.

Now if I just knew the best way to outline a novel.  Any suggestions?

–Eve Messenger

Reading While Writing – Is it a Bad Thing?

NTSNBN

There’s this YA dystopian thriller I’ve been dying to read.  Very hyped, mentioned in lots of blogs, highly ranked on Goodreads. I won’t mention the title because — call me superstitious, or maybe respectful or polite — I won’t publicly write negative things about another writer’s published work. Who knows, maybe you’ll guess it from the references I’m about to make. Anyway, I was excited to read this book, but I stopped myself.  I stopped myself from reading any fiction.  Why? Because I’ve heard from other writers that reading while you write can be detrimental.

But reading is the shizzle!

So two days ago I picked up this hyped novel-that-shall-not-be-named (henceforth known as NTSNBN), and I began to read.   Even though I’m working on my own novel.

And it’s been really helpful!  Possibly because NTSNBN is in a different enough genre from my own YA fantasy adventure. Or maybe because it’s a good book but not so brilliant that I’m utterly intimidated. Or maybe (and probably most significantly) because the plot and characters of my own novel are well-formed enough that reading someone else’s novel — both as a positive and negative example — gives me ideas on how to enhance what I already have.

Back when I was tapping and scribbling out the nucleus of a plot in coffee houses, libraries, and all the other free places writers and homeless people hang out, reading someone else’s novel might have been detrimental to my process. Consciously or subconsciously, another writer’s plots and characters could have crept their way into my own writing.   (Though I probably will take the chance and try it while writing the next novel.)

After two days of reading NTSNBN — while working on the 2nd/3rd major revision of my own — here’s how reading someone else’s novel has been beneficial. Throughout the narrative, NTSNBN gives a very clear sense of the main character’s emotional state. It contains too much a lot of internal self-talk. With a keener awareness of this, the next time I sat down to work on my own book, my characters started spilling their emotional guts a lot more.

I like that.

The author of NTSNBN also employs several quirky stylistic devices, such as replacing number words with the alphanumeric, as in ‘2’ instead of ‘two.’  Also, there are long passages that deliberately avoid commas. Thirdly, there is a lot lot lot of  too much  striking out of lines and words, which signify the MC censoring his/her own thoughts.   Though I probably won’t use those devices in my own writing, the stylistic experiments definitely inspire me to try new things.

Lastly, NTSNBN reads really fast. All the chapters flow really well, each with its own grabber that takes you right into the heart of the scene and an ending that propels you further into the story. All wonderful things to keep in mind while revising and polishing my own work.

E.B.M.

Just Say No to Cliffhangers

Angry about cliffhangers

I hate cliffhangers.  There, I said it.  I don’t mean cliffhangers in the middle of a story, of course — those are great.  I mean a cliffhanger ending to a novel — it’s a cheat, a crutch, a convenient device.  Inherent in every novel there’s a silent contract between writer and reader, included in which is a proper ending!  What should drive readers to want to read the next book is compelling characters and great writing, not — I repeat — a cliffhanger ending.