Category Archives: Outline Writing

That does it! NaNoWriMo 2014 is a Wrap!

This year I cut it closer than any other year. Instead of finishing a few days early, with bursts of productivity throughout the month and gaps where I fell behind, I kept a fairly steady pace. Plodding along (Ha! As if I just described 1,667 words a day as plodding!), until I crossed the line a few short minutes ago.
That’s right I’ve done it! I won NaNoWriMo (and I got this nice little banner to prove it, because we all know miscellaneous images from the internet proves things! Oh, and the banner is a link.)
Now. That said, there are likely some of you that didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, or perhaps some that did participate and didn’t cross the 50,000 word threshold. Well. You want to know the truth?
It doesn’t matter.
That’s right. I said it right here, and my word is law (on this blog anyway). 
NaNoWriMo isn’t really about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Ok, well it is. Sort of. But not really. Nay! The point of NaNoWriMo is to (follow along with me here) build good writing habits.
Whether those habits are: 
250 words a day, 7 days a week
500 words a day, 5 days a week
1,667 words a day, 7 days a week
or Eleventy-bajillion words a day, 3 days a week
What matters is consistency and habit, and learning deep down, that if you chip away at something a little each day you can do it.
Let’s look at what a novel is at face value, and for the sake of argument I’ll throw away my usual target of ~100,000 words and go with NaNo’s 50,000 words.
50,000 is still a BIG number. There are roughly 250 words per printed page in a paperback novel. That means there are roughly 200 pages in a 50,000 word book. It’s not a door stop, but we’re not talking about a flimsy pamphlet either.
Starting at 0 words, putting together 50,000 of them seems nigh impossible. But, 1,667 (the daily goal of NaNoWriMo)? That’s not TOO bad. I can write that in a few hours (or less if I have a really good outline and no interruptions).
After day 2? I’ve got a little over 3,000 words. After day 9? I’ve got 15,000 words. That’s a BIG number right there, in a little over a week.

I likely never would have finished Crow’s Blood (the idea for which came out of a NaNo novel) were it not for NaNoWriMo teaching me that chipping away at the big number with a pile of little numbers would actually get me there. I learned that I could write a full length novel.

Now, that’s not to say that this year’s story is done (not by a long shot), or that the 50,000 words I’ve written are any good. It’s a Zero-draft, chances are a lot of those words are due to be scrapped and replaced with better ones in the first revision pass (and I’ll do MANY revision passes). But I find it a LOT easier to revise something that exists on the page, and it’s good writing habits that get them there in the first place.

Even if you don’t cross that 50,000 word line to “win” NaNoWriMo, as long as you worked consistently toward the goal of writing your novel, and learned some of those good writing habits, you’re still a winner.

So for everyone who partook in this month of writing dangerously and developed those good writing habits along the way.

Here. Have a Wordasaurus! You earned it.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? How did you do?

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Filed under 50K, NaNoWriMo, Outline Writing, Revision, Word Count

The 777 Blog Hop

In what can only be described as cold-brewed wanton and impish revenge for calling him out in my ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Colten Hibbs has tagged me in the 777 Blog Hop.

Those who have been tagged have to open their current work-in-progress (WIP), and go to the 7th line of the 7th page and post the next 7 lines.

My current work in progress is a Sci-Fi Noir Detective story I’m affectionately giving the working title “Sci-Fi Noir Detective Story”. It’s on it’s Zero-Draft.

If you’re unfamiliar with that term Zero-Draft, it’s the very first, very rough draft that’s written at the beginning of any project. It’ll be full of holes, notes, dead ends, incomplete arcs, crappy repetitive language, eye-bleedingly-bad punctuation and prose, and worst of all… stilted dialog!

After spinning my wheels on some of the characterization and motivation (which will all change by the end of the Zero-Draft), I’m about ~6,500 words ( ~26 pages) into actual writing, and about 1/10th of the way through my outline.

I’m a sparse writer, beginning with a skeletal framework and layering description on top of it, so my manuscripts tend to remain relatively spare through several revisions. Luckily, the 7 lines that this Blog Hop highlights aren’t affected much.

Without further ado:

 The speaker, Kats wasn’t sure whether she was Cross or Cork, let out a long breath. “Out of the ordinary? That’s Incidental territory. Those bastards wouldn’t know ordinary if it landed on their dinner table. 

The Nature’s Path, or Incidentals as their detractors called them, were a decades old movement that denied the benefits of genetic enhancement and error correction. They’d swelled in numbers for the first twenty years or so, then levelled off at around four percent of the population. Very few Incidentals ever held jobs higher than bottom rung maintenance positions. 

Despite their relatively similar social status, Tankers like Kats were as far removed from the Nature’s Path as it was possible to be.

Anything in that passage is subject to change, in whole or in part. I may even remove it from my manuscript with fire and brimstone at any time of my choosing.

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Filed under Grammar/Spelling, Outline Writing, Revision, Voice, Word Count

The Circus Won’t Have Me (I Can’t Juggle).

Ahem! So it’s July. My last entry was in May. Glad to see I’m keeping on top of this blog thing!
The good news about the delay between posts is that I’ve been writing, and I’ve learned something.

There are writers out there who can write multiple stories at the same time, and there are those who can’t. At present I firmly reside in the realm of Nope! Can’t do it! I’ve tried and it’s been an ongoing disaster that I’ve only recently started to dig myself out of.

Now, when I say “write” I do mean exactly that. I have no trouble writing one story and revising or outlining another. But if I try to actually write two stories at once? Catastrophe! Disaster! Calamity! Cataclysm! Armageddon! You get the picture. We’re talking problems of the Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and Steve Buscemi together on a rocket ship proportions.

I’ve been writing an Alt History/Fantasy since October of last year. I continued working on it, albeit at a slower pace, through Pitch Madness, without a hitch. I discussed where things started to get out of hand in April. Since that time I’ve actually been writing fairly consistently at least 300 words a day, 5 days a week. Not a great pace, but the habit is back, and that’s great.

I’ve had a few incredible story ideas sneak up on me, as they tend to, while I got my groove back. That’s great right? Awesome story ideas that just keep coming? What’s there to complain about? Well, Writer’s Block has never been a worry for me. I doubt I’ll ever have a shortage of ideas. I worry more about a shortage of time. If they keep coming I may never have enough time to write them all in the manner they deserve.

So, those incredible story ideas. Yeah. I couldn’t wait. I dug into one pretty heavily (a sci-fi, a genre I love and have wanted to sink my teeth into), and it consumed me. I wrote a barebones outline, then dug into a few test scenes and character spots. I really love the feel and scope of it. I was really rolling with it, at least until I hit the first plot hole in the outline.

I can handle that just fine normally by digging in and getting my hands dirty in the muck. But I had another story sitting around 40K words in that I could just jump over to and work on right? Lots of writers do it! It couldn’t be that hard… What’s the worst that could happen?

Well. I can tell you what the worst that could happen was: I’d lost the feel of the Alt History/Fantasy and couldn’t keep the headspace required for the sci-fi and a new cast of vastly different characters. I hit a hard wall and lost momentum on TWO stories.

 It was a long slow road to sort myself out. I went back to the beginning of the story and worked through what I’d written from the start. Performing a mini-revision on a third of a story isn’t something I ever wanted to do (especially considering the mental anguish dwelling on my early drafts causes me), but it was exactly what I needed.

So, for the time being I’m writing exclusively on the Alt History/Fantasy and only jotting outline notes on anything else.

I know writing multiple stories at once is certainly possible, and I might be able to do it someday. I’m nowhere near there yet.

Lesson learned.

– Alex

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Filed under Ego, Genre, Learning, Outline Writing, Revision, Voice

I Suck at Writing: A Confession

I suck at writing. I don’t mean my prose, or my descriptions, or my characterizations (though I’m sure to be lacking in a number of those areas).

I mean in my work ethic.

I haven’t written a single word of real writing in ~8 weeks.

There are all sorts of excuses I could line up, between my day-job workload, to travelling, to any number of things. None of them are truly valid to the writer in me. I’ve had all those things going on before and I soldiered through and got the words down.  Hell, some of my most productive times have been when my day-job was demanding 12-16 hours of my life per day.

So what have I done? Well, let’s see. I’ve read a BUNCH of books. I sort of caught up on some of the TV I’ve recorded. I’ve seen a few movies in theatres (and really enjoyed them). I’ve kicked some ass at The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD. And I’ve spent far too much money on Skylanders.

Writing related? I’ve cycled out a few more queries on CROW’S BLOOD. Tracked through and kept up with the blogs of all the writers I know and love. And I’ve re-worked the outline for my historical fantasy about six times.

Six times may seem like I’ve been keeping busy, but really I haven’t. Not busy enough anyway. I could be doing a lot more… you know… writing.

I’ve been doing some much-unneeded self-examination on what exactly my problem is. Turns out it’s pretty simple:

I suck at writing. This time I am talking about the prose, descriptions, and characterizations.

I worked on CROW’S BLOOD for a LONG time. I finished the first draft in November of 2011! Never mind that I completely threw that draft and story away and re-worked the entire novel from the ground up. That’s more than 2 years ago!!!

It’s been that long since I really dug in and worked on something new. The sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of every draft as the story and prose got tighter is gone, and the distance from that first clunky and painful draft is vast.

When I look at what I’ve written lately (and by lately I mean before I got into my writing funk), all I can see is the warts and garbage and things that make me want to set it on fire and walk away. It’s no wonder I’ve re-outlined the thing so many times. Outlines are safe. I can write a REALLY cool outline. Point form mind-maps don’t have to be pretty.

I’ve forgotten that it’s OK to suck, especially on your first draft. No one has everything worked out. No one has the perfect words for every sentence. No one really knows where the commas are supposed to go!

I suck at writing. But I desperately need to remember and keep reminding myself that it’s OK to suck. I’m going to keep doing it, updating my word-counts here on my blog so you can all keep score (and I can keep myself accountable).

I need to push on and get through the first draft. That first, clunky, broken, full of holes draft. I need to finish the story. I need to tie up all the loose ends. And I really need to achieve that awesome sense of finishing something.

You know why?

I’m really good at revision.

– Alex

P.S. Have any of you ever hit that wall? Let me know how you got past it in the comments.

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Filed under Outline Writing, Query, Real Life™, Revision, Validation, Word Count

NaNoWriMo 2013 Mid-Way Update.

This is a few days late. It was written on the 15th but I started to fall asleep at the keyboard before publishing (oops). I’ve gone through and updated some of the numbers to match the new publish date of the 17th.

We’re half-way through NaNoWriMo for those of you who are doing it with me. I’m a few hundred words behind pace (Update: I’ve since caught up), which is an achievement considering how quickly I got behind at the beginning of the month.
As I noted in my last blog update, this year’s NaNo is a real experiment for me, and it created some interesting challenges.
First: It’s a totally new story, not another book in the story that I’ve already written. As a result, my outline was sparse and my sense of characters very light. I’ve stated before that I’m an agile outliner, allowing for vast and sweeping changes to a relatively detailed outline. This time around the outline is a bare-bones skeleton, and I’m doing a fair bit more seat-of-the-pants than I’m used to. Revisions should be fun.
Second: It’s a historical urban fantasy in a relatively well-documented place, in a relatively well-documented period, with a protagonist from an incredibly well-documented family. Take all these knowns and start adding in fantasy elements of the secret-history type. It’s a bit of a nightmare and I spent the first week fact-checking everything. That certainly didn’t help my word-count. I’ve learned to let more go and use notes to myself to fill in details later.
Third: I’m writing in first person past tense. Past tense? Easy enough. First person? That was a hell of a learning curve. We speak and live our lives in first person all the time (unless you’re one of those twonks who refers to themselves in third person). It should be easy, but when you’re trying to write a compelling story from the perspective of a person that doesn’t exist outside of your head. Plus there’s a lot of I’s and Me’s and We’s in there and you can’t start every sentence with a first person pronoun or it gets old fast.
All told I’m feeling good about the story and making good time. I still struggle with First Person POV from time to time, and get lost in research over the smallest things (oh, this will just take a minute), but I’m learning, and making good progress.
I have another blog post that I’m working on for the end of the month covering all the various tools (such as Scrivener) and tricks (such as speech-to-text for notes) I’ve used this month, as my toolset is a bit different than the previous two years.
I want to give a shout out to my NaNo Writing Buddies who have already completed NaNo (well ahead of schedule):
Jason Cantrell: 90,913!
Angi Nicole: 63,975!
GypsyLuc: 61,622!
HeatherxMarie: 52,737!
Scarlett9284: 50,282!
And last but not least, my brother Cysec: with 50,355 words, and completed NaNo for the first time this year (and also early).

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Filed under deadlines, Discovery Writing, Learning, NaNoWriMo, Outline Writing, Research, Revision, Scrivener, Viewpoint, Word Count, World Building

NaNoWriMo 2013 Kickoff

50,000 words in 30 days. Fifty-Thousand words!!!! In THIRTY days! That’s a hard thing to type without throwing in some expletives. It makes me want to go all Sam L. Jackson.

November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo if you need a short form that makes people look at you funny). The deal is, you have to write 50,000 new words (minimum length for a work to be considered a “novel”) within the confines of the month of November. I’ve “won” 2 years in a row and I intend to win a 3rd, so I’m going to be sticking my little NaNo progress tracker over at the right and updating it as I go.

This year has some significance in that I’m starting a new project AFTER completing a full novel. So I’m writing something completely fresh that’s really only been bouncing around in my brain-pan for a few months. It’s going to suck! And that’s OK because first drafts always do for me.

You see… I’m somewhat terrified by the whole “starting from scratch” thing. Sure, I have an outline (a very light one) and characters (the core at least), but I both LOVE and HATE this part of writing. The blank page. The uncertain future of the story. It fills me with quickly alternating (almost to the point of oscillation) high levels of excitement and dread.

I can do ANYTHING with this story! What if I SCREW it up? This idea is so AWESOME! What is it DERIVATIVE of? Oh I’ve got this FANTASTIC twist. How the HELL am  I going to pull it off?

Truth be told, to begin to even quiet those feelings (they NEVER go away) I need something to work with. I’ve found my comfort zone, and it’s much closer to the revision end of the spectrum than the writing end.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE telling stories and making things up. Plotting, characters, worlds, I love all of it. I just like telling them well (and I do hope I do).

So today I embark on NaNoWriMo 2013, with a story in my head and a knot in my stomach. What are YOU doing for your November?

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Filed under deadlines, Ego, Id, Motivation, NaNoWriMo, Outline Writing, Revision, Word Count

Circling, Spinning, Twisting, Turning.

And that’s just my stomach!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks.

You see, I finished CROW’S BLOOD and started querying, which is no small task on it’s own.

Researching Agents:
There are plenty of websites (such as QueryTracker) to find out the basics about agents, what they represent, who they represent, what their query guidelines are, etc. But the best source is always going to be the agent’s website. It’s maintained by them (or someone on staff) and they direct what goes onto it. It also doesn’t hurt to dig through their trash (I’m kidding, don’t dig through their trash!).

It goes beyond just finding the agents that represent what you want to publish though. It’s important to find an agent that fits YOU. They don’t represent your book (ok, some do), the best agents (in my opinion) represent their authors and their authors’ careers.

On Querying:
It’s incredible how much time agonizing over and rewriting a single sentence in your query letter can be. I mean, it has to be perfect. Take that and multiply it by the number of personalized sentences, then the number of agents I queried and that’s a LOT of time!

Then there’s the matter of following submission guidelines. Beyond the query letter itself, and doing research on what the agents had for breakfast the last six days running (research is important) following the submission guidelines is key. If you don’t submit your query, pages, and/or synopsis to the agent you’ve carefully selected in the exact method (e-mail with or without attachments, font, spacing, size, content, specific data points, etc.) that they prefer you could have the next best-seller and they won’t even read it!

After you’ve queried you get rejections. They’re guaranteed. For the agents it’s a subjective thing, not every book is perfect for every agent. They have to be excited enough to invest in it and “sell” it to editors.

If you don’t get rejections (yay!) you might get requests. Requests can take a few different forms (usually in the following order):

  • Partial Requests: A request for a set number of pages or chapters
  • Full Requests: They want the whole thing
  • You might also get… nothing. The silence of no response is maddening!

Revise and Resubmit Requests:
If the agent likes your Full they might send an R&R. A Revise and Resubmit means they’re excited about it, but it has a few problems. It’s an opportunity for them to let the writer know that, while at the same time see how the writer takes criticism and direction as well as their work ethic.

Now, I’ve never made it so far as an R&R (yet), but it’s my opinion (and my understanding from talking to others who have been there) that you don’t have to just go along with it. If you have reasons for some things in your story, you can stick to your guns (or swords, or spells, or magical necromantic chipmunks, or whatever).

Could pushing back against changes hurt your chances with an agent? It could, but that doesn’t mean it will. One of the key points of the whole query process is to find an agent that you can work with. There’s going to be points of disagreement (unless you’re both robots trying to STEAL MY JOB!!!). It’s the points of disagreement and how you handle them that’s key.

What Else?
So, aside from going through the query grind and getting started on a Rejection Letter wallpaper, what have I been doing?

  • High-level outlining the sequel to CROW’S BLOOD
  • Brainstorming ideas and starting to outline them. 
    • I’m sitting on 6 full book ideas at the moment with 2 of them pushing to the forefront.
  • Writing vignettes on those ideas to get a feel for the characters.
  • Slowly working my way through 2 of my CPs latest drafts.
  • Reading (for fun)

So… What have YOU been doing?

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Filed under BookB, Ego, Feedback, Id, Learning, Outline Writing, Query