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Today I was supposed to post my review of Uglies by scott Westerfeld but the thing is, I’m still working on it. I finished reading it two weeks ago but put off beginning the review until yesterday because there was a niggling idea in the back of my head and it was taking some time to come through.

I want to keep the reading challenge reviews short and sweet. A paragraph, maybe two if I’ve got more to say. But I’m currently sitting on over a thousand words about Uglies. I need a little more time to organize and compact my thoughts on the book because thematically it brought up some really interesting questions. So no review today.

I’ll try to post it tomorrow because I’ll be busy cooking Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. Sunday will likely see the return of Author Recipes plus some thoughts on why I love dystopian YA.

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I still remember the first time I heard the term Writer’s Block. It was on the show Golden Girls, an 80’s sitcom about four mature ladies living as roommates. Blanche Deveraux, a southern belle and very randy senior citizen, had decided to write romance novels. After sitting fruitlessly in front of a typewriter for hours she swept out of her room in her long flowing negligée and declared she had writer’s block. Estelle, the oldest of the bunch, sat on the couch witnessing Blanche floridly describing the difficulty of her situation: the frustration, the waiting, the straining! As Blanche waxes on Estelle slyly compares Blanche’s writers block to constipation.

It was a funny scene.

At the time I thought it must be awful to suffer from writer’s block but I was young and the writing compulsion was only just beginning to surface. I had no conception of what it might actually be like to be a writer. Since then I have gained a little more experience. Certainly I’ve sat in front of a blank page but there was always some avenue to coax a story out of me; some glimmering shard of a first phrase or sentence to build on.

More difficult is when a scene stumps me. Perhaps I don’t know how a character will react or how to make the scene convey what I need it to or maybe I just don’t know what happens next but never do I feel blocked.

If I don’t know what a character will do or say next I can do character exploration exercises or write possible options and revise as necessary. If I’m having trouble making a scene say what it needs to I start by outlining those things so I have a clear picture of what I need and then explore what elements within the scene will meet that need. If I don’t know what happens next I review what happened before and what that will naturally lead to. I may get stuck in a scene but there are always ways to move forward. And if I think that I need some time away from a scene to get it right then I use the time to work on the next scene or another project. And there is always another project.

I might get scene-block or even novel-block but writer’s block? I don’t believe in it.

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On Monday I added a Blog Schedule widget over there on the right. From now until the end of the year I will be posting according to this schedule with possible interruptions during November. I’ll still be posting but it might all be Nanowrimo related.

I’ve thought a lot about what I want to do with this blog and what I’ve decided is that its current incarnation will serve two purposes. 1)A place for me to write and talk about my writing journey and 2)A place for me to talk about books.

For anyone looking for a little more information here is a breakdown of what I’ll be blogging about from now until the end of the year.

Monday

Reading Challenge – I am currently committed to an A – Z Reading challenge. Every two weeks I will post my progress including books I’ve recently finished and what books I still have to read.

Anecdotes – I like to write little hyperbolic anecdotes about my life. Usually I try to be funny and entertaining. These mini slice-of-life writing exercises are great fun to write and hopefully to read. These will be posted on Mondays opposite the reading challenge updates.

Wednesday

“Waiting on” Wednesday Meme – This ia a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine. in which participants talk about a book they can’t wait to come out. I follow a couple of blogs that participate and it seemed like a lot of fun so I joined up a few weeks ago.

Friday

Book Reviews – For the time being these will be short to mid-length reviews on the books I read for the A to Z challenge. Occasionally I might include a longer review if I really have a lot to say about a book. These will be posted the Friday after I do a Monday challenge update.

On Writing – Thoughts on writing techniques, challenges, advice and other lessons I’ve learned while trying to write. These will be short essay style posts.

Sunday

Personal Goals and Updates – These are exactly what it says. Updates on my writing journey. Specifics about word count, plot snarls, character tribulations and anything else I happen to be dealing with in my writing journey. Unlike my On Writing posts these posts will be more informal.

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Back on June 15th my writers group set goals of what we’d like to accomplish by the end of the year. Now that we’re halfway there I  thought it would be a good time to remind myself what those goals were and check in on my progress.

June 15th Goals for Year End

1. Finish Nano 2010 first draft

Done!  I finished the first draft on June 30th and it felt great! This kind of concrete progress is really good for the old self-esteem.

2. Finish first edit of Nano 2010 first draft in time for Nano 2011

Perhaps I ought to have checked those goals back in early July. Instead of taking a short time away from the big project and returning to edit as planned I’ve started on a whole new project. I don’t have any regrets on this decision; I’ve learned too much from my chosen course of action. What this calls for is a revised set of goals for year-end.

Instead of finishing a first edit of a draft I will work to finish the first draft of the July Novel in time for Nano 2011. That’s about six weeks to write what I estimate will be about 60 to 70K.

This leaves a question hanging. When Nanowrimo begins this year I will possess two first drafts waiting for revision. Will I want to put them both aside to pump out yet another one? I have three novel length story ideas waiting to be written but at some point I need to take the next step.

I have enough to do now that a decision can wait. Come October 31st I trust I’ll know which path is right.

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I have always been a pantser. When I get an idea it generally has an opening scene and one or more great characters. The story flows naturally from there. At most I would jot down the major points and a few scenes ahead but I figured the story might shift drastically so I thought that loose was better. It worked for me and the drafts that resulted seemed pretty solid.

Back in June I finished a first draft that I considered worthy of editing. It was wonderful, it was awesome and it was also an unholy mess that would need pain and blood and tears to turn into a “real book”. In other words it was a first draft and much as I loved it I needed a break. I backed it up in triplicate, closed the file and put it from my mind.

What to do in the meantime? All through writing that other draft I’d had a few stories try to tempt me away. I had been good, giving them no more than a few pages each just to make sure I recorded the idea completely. Now I was free to do more.

I decided to experiment with an outline. I figured, this isn’t my REAL book so I’m free to use it to learn new things. The outline took ages longer than the time I allotted it. Then just as I was ready to begin writing I realized I had pages of character outlining to do as well. It took as long to get to the writing as I had allotted for the entire project!

Once I began writing the going was slower than I anticipated. Slower than my last project in fact. And yet it was steady progress. Most importantly I was producing a cleaner draft than I ever thought possible. There might even be passages that could make into a final draft with little or no revision. Whoa.

What I have learned from this is the value of an outline in ensuring that my first draft is a clean and concise vision of what my eventual novel should look like and I guarantee that the amount of editing that will be necessary on this book is far less than that REAL novel I wrote (and still plan to return to). I have a new tool that saves me time and is making me a better writer. Shiny! I won’t be going back. I’m just too lazy not to put in that extra work in the beginning.

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In the wake of finishing my WIP first draft I was high on the rush of accomplishment. It felt great (to be honest it still does) and that first burst led me to set some lofty goals.

The July novel. The plan was to write roughly twice what is required by Nanowrimo but in half the time. Just two weeks. I know I am capable of 10k a day when I work hard so two weeks would give me an extra four days, weekends off if you will. I knew this was a nearly impossible goal but there was a sliver of possibility and I was high on success.

In those two weeks I wrote less than 1000 words of draft. But that was okay because I ended up using the time to write a detailed 16 page scene-by-scene outline, something I’ve never done before. I extended my deadline to the end of July and kept going.

2000 words later I was stalled again. I had my main character set up but it was time to introduce the supporting cast and suddenly I needed to know who they were. For the first time I needed to write scenes where multiple important characters interact. This meant being able to differentiate their voices and since not all of them would make it out alive and it behooved me to make them matter before I killed them. I needed to know more so once again I closed up scrivener, picked up pen and paper and got busy. I wrote 10 character sketches of varying complexity.

By this time it was the end of July. I looked at what I had and then checked a calendar and set myself yet another  goal. I would finish by August 15. Another “write a book in two weeks” deadline but this time armed with an outline and character sketches. How could I fail!

Today is the morning of the 11th and I admit it. It is just not going to happen. This book is different in tone and content from my earlier works and writing it has been a painful struggle for each word and sentence. With every step and detour I have tackled new techniques and learned new skills. I have struggled to meet my impossible goals and have failed.

Except I haven’t failed. The entire slow, winding, painful process has exhileratd and excited. The draft I am writing is, so far, the best first draft I have ever produced. It is the most cohesive, it has the least amount of diversions or talking head placeholders and it already resembles a real story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still just a first draft but I can see already where I have improved between writing the last book and writing this one.

I am ready to push back the impossible goal to the end of August. At that point it won’t be an impossible goal anymore just a difficult one. If the draft doesn’t get finished by then I might even put it away unless I am very close to the end. This July Novel was never supposed to be more than something to do while the real WIP first draft simmered at the back of my brain. I have already gotten more out of the process than I thought possible.

Whatever happens at the end of August I know something else I’ve learned. Setting impossible goals makes me reach harder than setting easy ones. Impossible goals inspire me and that assures me that I am a writer. After all to write is to strive for the impossible goals. It’s a tough industry. Bring it on.

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Next post: That book review I promised.

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It’s currently 29 degrees celsius (about 84.2 F) in my apartment and worse in the computer room. Those puppies do crank out the heat! I’ve told myself I won’t turn on the air conditioning until it hits 30 to conserve hydro.  Since the heat has both myself and the cat doing nothing except lounging uncomfortably I thought I might use my indolence to bust out a blog post. I have several more planned for the near future once I can stand to be in the office again. (AC is confined to the bedroom unfortunately)

It’s been pretty solid since my last post. I finished my Nano Novel first draft (WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!) at the end of June and took a week off… mostly. I then started what I’m calling the July Novel. The plan is to write a full novel while I let the Nano Novel simmer in the back brain. Ideally I will finish a first draft by the end of July. Realistically… I won’t beat myself up if it takes me through August, especially now that I’m bogged down in character sketches.

The July Novel is a YA adventure fantasy with steampunk and sci-fi elements. It’s also something of a murder mystery. Honestly the more I delve into the plot the more I realize that my “relaxing break novel” is going to be just as complex and difficult as everything else I write. It’s not helping that I have ten characters to develop not all of whom will make it to the last page. I thought this would make it easier because they’re expendable. What I have learned is that expendable characters can be the most demanding. They only get a short time and they want that time to matter to the reader. For the death to be moving the reader has to care and that means I need to know as much  about the characters I kill as the ones who survive.

Characters are the backbone of this book. Aside from the initial set up there is little in the way of outside forces moving events; so only through characters making decisions and taking action is the story, well, a story. Otherwise it would be ten people on an airship having a nice leisurely flight. Boring!

So that’s what I’m up to.

Coming soon:

  • A book review of Remedy by Heidi C. Vlach.
  • A few thoughts on plot and other writing related ruminations.
  • More personal stories!

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