A Plan For NaNoWriMo

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Over the last few days, I’ve asked myself if it’s actually a good idea to do NaNoWriMo. My schedule is already ridiculously full and my stress level is already off the charts. Do I really need to add writing 500 words a day to my insane list of things to do?

In a word: YES. Writing is actually a stress reliever for me. Just like knitting helps me sleep (the repetition helps to slow down the thought train in my brain), writing lets me escape everything giving me a headache.

The only thing I’m worried about is having a enough time to complete 500 words. From past experience, I know I can punch out 500 words in an hour if I’m really focused. During the work week finding that kind focus will be challenging.

To deal with the work week challenge, I’m giving myself the freedom to have variant word count days as long as I hit a weekly goal of 3,500 words (which works out to 500 words/day). Some days I’ll be happy to get 200 words, while on others I might get up to 1,000. I know this isn’t how NaNoWriMo traditionally works, but I know what will work best for me!

I have several days off in November due to Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. I’ll be using those days off to their full advantage, along with weekends. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work ahead whenever the day job isn’t taking up 12 hours of my day.

We’ll see how it goes. While I’m motivated to dig into my novel, I’m also realistic. If I make my goals, great. If not, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. This is supposed to be a fun stress reliever, not a source of stroke inducing deadlines!

In any case, I hope my favorite coffee shop ordered extra mocha so they can keep me happily caffeinated while I write!

Stay tuned for updates on progress!

What’s your plan for NaNoWriMo?

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c.b.w. 2016

The November Plan

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After some careful thought and consideration, I think I’ve come up with a plan for the month of November. Both novelists and poets look forward to November as a month that both inspires and challenges thanks to NaNoWriMo and the Poem A Day Challenge on Poetic Asides (via Writer’s Digest). I’ve participated in both in various forms, but as I posted last week, I found myself in a quandary about what to do this year, (see This Writer’s November Debate).

To satisfy both the call of the novel and my muse’s obsession with haiku, I’m going to attempt an interesting compromise of both November challenges.

I’ve decided to attempt a modified run at NaNoWriMo. I like the idea of having a kick in the pants to start writing another novel.

The sequel for The Muse has been haunting me for a while. My characters are getting very chatty and the story is reasonably sketched out. I started writing The Muse with less than what I have for Lineage (see, I even have a title), so I feel pretty confident moving forward.

The goal is to write 500 words a day. Despite a heavy workload at the day job, I think this is plausible given my average writing speed. If all goes well I’ll have 15,000 words by the end of November.

As for the PAD Challenge, I’m going to approach this in a different way. In years past, I diligently posted a poem a day in the Poetic Asides comment section. My current haiku writing schedule will not allow for this, so I’m going to modify the poem-a-day framework to match what I’m already doing.

Saturday is haiku writing day – I punch out anywhere from 7-10 haikus every week. All I need to do is reference the PAD challenge prompts each Saturday and write haikus to match those prompts.

The haikus I write will not be posted here, but instead will be posted on what until now has been my secret haiku blog. For the last year and a half, I’ve posted a haiku every single day on Haiku Tree. This is the home for the haikus I write on Saturdays. I figure the PAD Challenge will simply direct haikus I’m already going to write rather than add another task to my schedule.

I hope my muse is ready to write, write, and write some more.

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c.b.w. 2016

And We Go Back

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It’s been very quiet on the novel front (even though my muse has been very chatty on the sequel!), but that’s about to change. I’m ready to take another dive in the literary agent pool, despite the ever growing odds against me.

I spent the summer waiting for query responses that never came – the silence was deafening – and evaluating both my novel and query package. After another round of rejections, I can’t help but ask myself if some of the changes I made were doing more harm than good.

The last round of query packages included a new query letter and a full Chapter 1 rewrite in the novel. Both changes were prompted by several rounds of rejections. There’s only so many rejections you can take before you consider that maybe there’s something wrong with the product.

Prior to the changes, I was averaging about 75% actual responses and 25% no response to my query package. While it is gratifying to receive some sort of a response, the fact of the matter is they were all rejections.

After the changes, the stats changed significantly and not in a good way. In the last round of querying, less than half of the agents I queried responded. The rest offered nothing but silence. This was either a really bad stroke of luck or I need to rethink the tinkering I did on my novel.

Given the drastic change in statistics, I’m thinking it’s time to get back to basics. It’s obvious the rewritten first chapter isn’t grabbing agents’ attention (all that I queried requested the first chapter as part of the query package), so I’ll be scrapping the rewrite in favor of the original version.

After comparing the two this weekend, I can honestly say I like the original version better. It moves a bit slower, but it offers a stronger introduction to the lead character. Furthermore, it provides stronger contrast to the character she evolves into as the novel progresses.

As for the query letter, that’s where it gets a little tricky. I like my new query letter better than the original, yet it’s also part of the package that incited little or no response. So, now the question becomes, was it it the query letter, the rewritten first chapter, or both that turned off so many agents?

Yeah, that’s a sticky wicket.

I went back and read my original query letter and there’s a lot to like about it, but it’s not that exciting. The new query letter has a little more personality and leaves a little more room to personalize it for individual agents. The logical solution to pull the best elements of each and combine them into one new query letter. Yet, I’m left asking myself if that’s really necessary. The original letter has a great track record for getting responses – why mess with it?

If I’ve learned anything in this process, second-guessing yourself can be disastrous. I’ve believed from the start that my novel is something special and I can’t afford to lose that focus. The plan moving forward is to submit the original novel (as structured by me and my editor) and to utilize both query letters. As I research agents, I’ll decide which query letter might be the best fit for each agent on my list. Social media, blogs, and websites for prospective agents offer a lot of insight on personality and preferences.

I’ll consider this last round as yet another lesson learned. We’ll just add it to the lengthy list of things this process has taught me! Despite the constant failure, I remain optimistic. My novel will find its way into print – it’s just a matter of when.

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c.b.w. 2016

Poetic Strategy

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Last night, my husband asked me out of the blue, “How do you write your poetry?” Well, that’s a loaded question! It largely depends on what kind of poetry I’m writing.

My chosen forms of poetry are haiku, black out, and free verse. It’s no accident that each of the forms has a certain amount of freedom and spontaneity involved. I like the concept of having no idea what a poem is going to be until it is finished. Perhaps it’s my trust in my muse or maybe I just like to be surprised!

Haiku is the most structured form I write, but I ignore the 17-syllable rule completely. Instead, I favor the modern english language haiku where the focus is less on syllable count and more on capturing a moment (as per the Japanese tradition). I prefer to keep my haiku under 13 syllables, but it’s not a steadfast rule.

The appealing element of haiku for me is the focus on a singular moment. All I have to do is look up or conjure a memory of somewhere I’ve been and the words just come. Rarely, do I need more than a few minutes to compose a haiku and it’s always amazing to me that they come so fast.

Overthinking haiku almost diminishes the purpose of a form that is so rooted in Zen. It’s about being one with nature, a moment, or a feeling. If you think too hard, you miss the point.

Black out poetry is very similar. While Zen isn’t the central influence, the idea of singling a few words out of a page of text requires a little selective observation. They key is choosing just a few words that string together. Too many muddles the poem into a long piece of verse that doesn’t make sense. Or worse, the “poem” becomes an overwritten mess!  I liken it to a student highlighting an entire page of text instead of just the important sections!

You have to let go of the instinct to circle every single interesting word. In many ways, it’s a lesson in letting things go and making decisions without fear. Overthinking it makes it impossible to single out the words that work the best together.

For years, free verse was my chosen (non)form. The lack of rules made poetry seem far less daunting. To a certain extent, I still enjoy writing free verse. However, it does take me longer to compose than haiku or black out. The lack of rules is very liberating, but it also widens the field of inspiration and possibilities which can be overwhelming.

No matter what kind of poem I’m writing, I employ one simple strategy: trust my muse. I don’t try to force anything or rack my brain trying to write the perfect poem. The words always come if I just breathe and trust myself to find them.

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c.b.w. 2016

OMG. I Wrote Fanfic!

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Every writer has a skeleton in the closet. Bad poetry, failed attempts at short stories, journal entries that should never see the light of day – you know, the stuff that seemed good at the time, but now lies forgotten in a file or a shelf somewhere.

This is the writing that makes you cringe when you see it, but don’t be too quick to chuck in the trash. This is also the writing that had to happen in order to become the writer you are today.

In my case, I have journals filled with page after page of poetry (some good, some not), spirals of horrible short stories (definitely not my thing), and journal entries from a writing group I no longer attend, (prompt based writing is a little distracting for me). I learned something from every piece of writing I’ve ever done. Even the horrible, awful, bad stuff served its purpose in that I learned what not to do!

These physical reminders of my writing past sit on a shelf next to my desk. They remind me of where I’ve been and where I want to go. For that reason, I treasure them even if I pray no one ever reads them!

I thought I had all evidence of my writing past collected neatly in one place, but I was wrong. It turns out I had a little skeleton in my closet  that I totally forgot about and its out there for everyone to see.

The process of revisiting some old writing (See Getting All Nostalgic), lead me to a fansite for The Office called More Than That. It’s a fanfic site that specializes in fanfic for the characters Jim and Pam, but also includes fan created stories for The Office as a whole. The moderator of this site reached out and asked for message board posts I did for the show years ago.

I remember visiting the site often to read fanfic when the show aired, so I already had a username and password. When I signed in and clicked on My Account, I was shocked to see that I had written several pieces of fanfic. I totally and completely forgot that I had indulged in the sappy, fan obsessed practice of writing fanfic.

OMG. *slaps hand on forehead*

I did it all – fluff, angst, and romantic sappiness. Everything an obsessed shipper could ever want for fictional characters. I was afraid to click on the stories. Who knows what I had done or what they were about!

It turns out they aren’t half bad. The writer in me today wants to fix them, but they will remain as is. Part of me can’t believe I wrote fanfic, but the rest understands my muse was trying to tell me something a long time ago. This is where writing fiction became a reality to me. This is where I learned I could do it if I really tried.

At first, I was embarrassed to discover I had been a fanfic writer, but then I realized I had no reason to be. Fanfic is an art form. Many of the writers on More Than That are incredibly talented and I love reading their work. It isn’t easy to create new stories for well-known characters. There’s a fine line between challenging characters with new scenarios, while also maintaining the established canon of the character’s personality.

I may focus my attention on non-fanfic writing these days, but I am well aware that fanfic is one of the reasons I was brave enough to write not one, but two novels. I proudly acknowledge my fanfic skeleton!

Writing is writing, no matter what the genre. Tap those keys or scribble with that pen. Your muse is waiting.

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p.s. Here they are in all their glory:

More Than That: scrantonbranch’s stories

c.b.w. 2016