Nanowrimo Update: On Writing (and Beautiful Books)

Hello everyone, and welcome back to…not Top Ten Tuesday! This week, I thought I’d participate in this link-up for writers, Beautiful Books, as hosted by Cait of Paper Fury and Sky of Further Up and Further In.

beautiful books

So I figured for today, since I have scrambled egg novel brain anyway, I’d talk a little bit about how Nanowrimo is going. Which is semi-tragic, thanks to how crushed I’ve been by the flu, but I’m slowly recovering and hopefully my word count will keep up with that, too.

I’ve talked a bit in previous posts about my Nanowrimo backstory, so all I’ll say now is that I have no idea if this year’s attempt is made to succeed or doomed to fail—I planned a lot in September, but ran out of time in October, and this is my first time writing original fiction since a Not Great Experience. (Also, full disclosure, I’m not actually awesome at writing original fiction since I spent 90% of my writing life not writing that.) And, you know, I started auspiciously by getting sick and falling behind!

But trying is the important part, and this is at least my second (third, if you count my teen experience) time taking a stab at writing the first novel in a young adult sci-fi/fantasy trilogy. Only practice can make me good at the thing, and compressing the pain of it into one month means I have the rest to, um, practice more and cry about it. Yes.

1. Overall, how is your mental state, and how is your novel going?

My brain is currently a scrambled egg, but not in that good, deliberate, fluffy way, but more like a horribly failed omelette with bits of half-cooked vegetable and burnt cheese everywhere. My novel is currently a bunch of disconnected scenes of the two perspective characters having whiny internal monologues even though, in young adult novel terms, their lives aren’t that bad.

Honestly, though, even though I’m a few thousand words behind, I’m just glad I’m still trying. My head feels like it’s in the spin cycle and I still have to show up to my full-time job, but words are happening. (And the characters are honestly the part of the book I planned the least, so probably hearing out all of their whining is the punishment I get for not getting to know them beforehand.)

2. What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)?

At the risk of embarrassment, sure:

This is the fifth Wednesday since Tuesday, and this time I don’t even want to open my eyes. But my alarm goes off at 6:30 just like it did yesterday—even though last night, I changed it from “Wide Awake” to “Heat of the Moment” and changed it to three in the afternoon and turned it off, for good measure.

Being trapped in a time loop. Good times.

3. Who’s your current favourite character in your novel?

So thus far, I have two perspective characters, which wasn’t really the plan but whatever. One of them is the protagonist, Eva (of the first-person narration above), and the other is one of her allies/love interests/whatever, a shaggy-haired emo dork by the name of Kethan. He is also pretty internally whiny at the moment, but he’s an empath, so he can’t help it. He is also lovably awkward and justifiably upset about unfrosted Pop Tarts. And he really likes napping with dogs. Really, a person anyone can relate to.

4. What do you love about your novel so far?

I don’t love anything about it, but I like when I find a place that I can justify writing a bunch of dialogue between Kethan and his best friend, Jay, because dialogue is way easier to me than anything else and dialogue between old friends is so easy to find a groove for.

Basically, I just love writing dialogue so I should be writing plays but I’m terrible at making anyone move. They just look at each other.

5. Have you made any hilarious typos or other mistakes?

I definitely just changed Kethan’s stepmom’s name back and forth between Michelle and Melissa because I forgot which name it was and I don’t actually like her (she’s a deliberately irritating character) so I couldn’t be bothered to care what I went with.

6. What is your favourite to write: beginning, middle, or end—and why?

I’m torn about this question mostly because I rarely ever get around to writing endings, because I have a tendency to get bogged down and never get there (even after a lot of words). When I have, though, I do remember it being really satisfying.

I’ll have to say middles, because when I finally get past the trappings of all the beginning set-up and start hitting actual events (a process that takes me forever, always), it gets really exciting to write introductions of new characters and fights and romance scenes or whatever. I think that’s why in the last little while, I’ve had a tendency to do more jumping around while I write—I used to just sit down and write linearly, the story from beginning to finish, but that tends to entrap me more than anything, I’ve realized.

7. What are your writing habits? Is there a specific snack you eat? Do you listen to music? What time of day do you write best? Feel free to show us a picture of your writing space!

I have no set routine for writing because if I did, it might be hard to fit into my life. My life routine is kind of scattered (three days in an office really far from me, two days working from home, freelance editing sometimes, a long distance relationship), so I basically have to make time to accommodate the non-work, non-partner stuff whenever I can.

Places I write: On the subway. In bed. On the bus. At the coffee table or the dining room table. In coffee shops.

Things I consume: Tea. Coffee. Water.

Music: Definitely not—I love music, but I have not found any type of music that’s so bland (but also inoffensive) that it won’t distract me.

Time: Basically any time I can be writing and have it not be totally socially unacceptable. (I only work on Nanowrimo on my laptop and my iPad for syncing purposes, but I’ll work on poems or whatever on my phone or any device, including paper, at hand.)

8. How private are you about your novel while you’re writing? Do you need a cheer squad or do you work alone (like, ahem, Batman)?

This is the most I’ve told anyone about it. I’m Batman. But seriously, I do tell people I’m working on a novel or working on writing, but I don’t tend to talk to them about what’s going on in the writing. There are a few people I will share writing with to get their thoughts—I guess I’m more used to the workshopping process than I am used to the talking-about-the-process process!

9. What keeps you writing even when it’s hard?

Those moments of revelation when you figure out how some things fit together. Or those moments when you hit a patch of dialogue or description or action that just comes out so easily it’s straight from your imagination to the page. Or those moments when you look up and it’s been hours and you’ve easily blown past the word count you needed right now.

I try to remember all of those rare, precious, enjoyable moments while I’m slogging away to get out scenes that are killing me and internally screaming. But seriously, just knowing that I am capable, I’ve done it before, and the only way I’ll get any better (and be done with whatever idea) is by plugging away and practicing.

10. What are your top three pieces of writing advice?

The first: Don’t take anyone’s writing advice, including this. No, for real! There are people who will tell you that you need to write everyday, and how much, and when, and why. That may work for you, but it might also just make you feel guilty or smother your creativity. There will also be other people who say just to fit it in whenever you can, and to forgive yourself the times when you weren’t doing it. That’s more what I need to hear, personally—but it’s maybe not what you need to hear. You’re the person who knows your goals and needs and abilities best. Listen to yourself and take your own advice.

The second: Well, you shouldn’t still be listening, but okay. The second piece of advice is to find the right first reader(s) for you. This will depend on a couple of things; first, your tolerance for criticism, and second, what kind of stuff you’re writing and who you have access to. If you’re thick-skinned, find someone with a solid base of experience (as a reader or writer of comparable stuff) and a good eye for detail. If you’re thin-skinned, pick a super nice person who you think might like it. Take their feedback and improve. (A super nice person might not say anything critical at all, but you’ll be able to tell from what they praise and what they leave out where your writing is working or not working.)

There are going to be situations where the feedback you get from people will miss the point of your work and/or won’t make sense—usually, this means you have to make your work clearer, but sometimes it does just mean they’re not the best readers for you. Try someone else. If they say the same thing, then you are probably the problem. And appreciate those people in your life who will give harsh but on-point criticism. These people are priceless.

The third: Writing is a process. As much ado as people make about the difficulty or hysteric creative simplicity of sitting down to fill a page, that’s where it starts, but not where it stops. Revising, rearranging, writing drafts that will never see the light of day, writing scenes that don’t really fit but that you needed out to get to the right one, changing small details, changing huge parts—we have to learn to love all of it, and it’s not all as easy to love as those cool moments of epiphany when imagination becomes words. But the more we’re willing to do it, the better off we are.

So those are the thoughts of a former-writer-turned-book-blogger-person-turned-frantic-Nanowrimoer on writing this month. Hopefully you can take something from that, but if not, I’ll be back on Friday* and back to talking about books. I’ll see you then!

*This previously said Thursday, because I am so brain-scrambled that I don’t remember my own schedule right now.

3 thoughts on “Nanowrimo Update: On Writing (and Beautiful Books)

  1. Kate Marie says:

    Bahaha! I know you said not to take anyone’s advice, but yours was really good! 😉

    I particularly liked your second piece of advice… I wish I was thick-skinned and could go to someone who would be really hard on me and tear my book to shreds if need by, but… I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to take it.

    That said, I never really thought about the fact that even a nice person will inadvertently point out weaknesses by NOT mentioning them.

    So! Good to know!

    • dictura says:

      Aw, thank you!

      It took me a while to notice that about super positive feedback! But I think over time, when you get a lot of good comments on one aspect of your writing but not others, it really starts to show. “I loved this character!” becomes more of an, “Okay, but why not THAT one,” or, “Wait, but they didn’t mention the plot…”

      …which isn’t to say that we should look for unspoken criticism everywhere, haha, but I think knowing what you’re good at is always a good place to start for improving. (Or playing to your strengths!)

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