The Benefits of Taking a Break From Your Project

We’ve all been there. You start a passion project – you’re so excited! – and you make progress and make progress and – hit a wall. Your passion disappears and your project becomes a chore. You lose your vision and your motivation.

I have to keep going, you tell yourself. If I stop working on this project, it will never get done!

Sometimes that’s true. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes taking a break is warranted, and beneficial.

I participated in NaNoWriMo in November, working on Serafima’s Stone. By the end of November, I was sick of my story. I didn’t like my characters, I didn’t know where my plot was going, I hated my writing style. I felt boxed-in: I wrote Grigory’s Gadget with the intention of having this sequel. I have to write this sequel! But I hate this sequel and have no idea what I’m doing!

So, during the entire month of December, I didn’t touch my story. I didn’t open Scrivener once for the entire month. I didn’t force myself to ponder the story, to try to figure it out. I just left it sitting patiently on my hard drive.

And do you know what happened?

During the month of December I was inundated with ideas and inspiration. I’d be listening to music (namely, the Westworld soundtrack) while working on a report in the office when – BOOM – I’d get an idea! Yes – that’s what motivates that character! Yes – that’s what will happen next! Yes – I need to work that detail in! I have a chain of emails I sent to myself in December, jotting down the ideas so I wouldn’t forget them.

When January 1st rolled around, I was itching to get back to writing my story. I like my characters again. My plot has a direction, and even a discernible  ending! I’m still critical of my writing style, but so is every author ever. At least now it’s not in a self-defeating way.

So if you’re working on a project – a story, artwork, etc. – and you’re getting stuck in a rut like I was, know that it is okay to take a break. Give yourself a time limit that works for you – take off a day, a week, a month, or even a year (sorry, a year is probably too long, I just got the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. theme song stuck in my head…) – and then jump back into your project.

And I’ll be there for yooouuu….

…sorry…

General Update 11/11/2016

A lot has happened in the past week.

Now, I’m not going to go into specific politics here. I’m sure if you spend any time at all on the internet, you’ve seen more than you can stomach, regardless of your political beliefs. I know I have.

I couldn’t muster the focus this week to pick a cohesive topic to blog about. So, this will just be a general update.

As many of you know, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the annual challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Right now, I’m on track, and by the end of today should have at least 18,333 words written. Those words are split between two projects. The primary project is Serafima’s Stone – Book 2 of the Gaslight Frontier Series, the sequel to Grigory’s Gadget. The secondary project is my Chapter 1 submission for the Collaborative Writing Challenge Steampunk Project.

NaNoWriMo has been going very well so far this year. I’ve connected with some great local writers by attending “write-ins” at a local Escape Room (seriously, one of the coolest places I could imagine writing in!).

I want to leave you all with something positive and optimistic this week, so I’ve compiled a list of books (and some movies or shows) that emphasize the goodness of humanity and that look to a bright future (or that are simply fluffy and funny).

Books

  • The Harry Potter series
  • The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology by Claudie Arseneault and Brenda J. Pierson
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Movies/Shows

  • Basically any Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli movie
  • The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
  • Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
  • Life in a Day (2011)
  • The Mindy Project
  • How I Met Your Mother (series finale not encouraged 😉 )
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Parks and Recreation

Happy Halloween!

Well, okay, today isn’t Halloween, but since actual Halloween is on a Monday, a lot of people are celebrating today and tomorrow. I’ll be attending a Halloween party tonight with the dance troupe I’m in. We’re dressing up as elves from The Lord of the Rings!

I’ve got some exciting things happening in the next couple of months. First, I’ve revamped (haha, pun intended) my website. It now has a store where you can buy signed copies of Grigory’s Gadget, candles, teas, and Steamship Pirate t-shirts!

I’ve also got some things up my sleeve for the holiday season – sign up for my newsletter to be the first to hear about them! You won’t want to miss out!

In November, I’ve decided to commit to doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I actually wrote the first draft of Grigory’s Gadget for NaNoWriMo 2010, and overhauled that draft for NaNoWriMo 2014. Now, I’m going to utilize NaNoWriMo to churn out my first draft of it’s sequel, Serafima’s Stone. I’ll be doing short live videos on my Facebook page every day in November with updates on my progress!

Finally, beginning in December, I’ll be participating in the Collaborative Writing Challenge – Project 7: Steampunk! This challenge will produce a unique steampunk novel written by up to 30 different authors! Each week, four or five writers will submit a chapter of roughly 2000 words, and one will be selected as part of the story, until we get to 30 chapters. I’m very excited to participate in this project!

Plotting vs. Pantsing

Well, another Camp NaNoWriMo has come and gone. I did a slightly better job this time, but still failed to meet my word count. Rather than feel discouraged, this forced me to step back and analyze what I, and my story, really need right now. The answer: stop pantsing and start plotting.

For those unfamiliar with the terms, “pantsing” refers to a style of writing where the author writes “by the seat of their pants”. That is, they don’t plan what they’re going to write. They just write, and see where the story takes them. This method lends itself well to events like NaNoWriMo, where the core purpose is simply to get words on paper.

The other method of writing is plotting. This method involves planning a story ahead of time by outlining beats and story arcs. This is where stories can get nice and complex. Plotting lends itself to stories that involve a lot of world building, mystery/intrigue, etc.

In my own writing life, I find pantsing to be a lot of fun. It gives a sense of freedom and takes away the pressures of a complicated story. I can set my characters free to get into all sorts of trouble. It’s an exceedingly helpful method to break writers block.

However, when it comes to actually creating a cohesive story, I need to plot. I need to have a sense of where I’m going so that I can reel my characters back in and push them in the right direction. Plotting is what gives my characters their drives and purposes, and it ties together all the foreshadowing, easter eggs, histories, connections…

Especially considering my current project, Serafima’s Stone, runs concurrent to Grigory’s Gadget, I can’t have my characters cutting loose and running rampant. Some events are already set in stone. They’re like fixed points in time a la Doctor Who. I can’t change them, and I certainly can’t ignore them. I need to incorporate them, and the best way I know how is to outline, outline, OUTLINE!

And so, now that July has come to an end, I have opened up my Scrivener file and begun getting those characters in line!

Camp NaNoWriMo July 2016

So far, so good. As of today, July 8th, I’ve met my word count goal every single day this month!

*loud cheering*

Granted, I made July MUCH easier than I had made April. My daily word count goal is a meager 500 words per day, for a total of 15,500 words by the end of the month. It’s enough writing to keep my story moving forward, and to get me into a solid habit of writing every day. But it’s also far less intimidating than the typical NaNoWriMo goal of 1,667 words per day in November.

If say, you forget about NaNoWriMo until 10pm one night, and then find out that PokemonGO has been released in the US, you can still fit in 500 words before bed! 500 words, a bulbasaur, an eevee, and a weedle.

This is serving as a lesson for me to be realistic about my expectations. Summer is busy – like, REALLY busy. I may not be writing as much as I’d *like* to, but at least I’m writing consistently.

Good luck to any other Campers out there!

Why “Writing” a Book Should Be Called “Editing” a Book

I’ve taken a step back to look at my writing process for Grigory’s Gadget and made a realization: most of the process was not, in fact, pure unadulterated “writing”. Most of the process was editing.

I wrote the first draft of Grigory’s Gadget in 30 days, in November 2010 as my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) story. I then determined I hated-HATED-it, and didn’t touch it again for 4 years. In November 2014, I overhauled the story into a second draft in another 30 days (NaNoWriMo again).

Depending on how you slice it, that’s between 1 to 2 months of pure, unadulterated writing. The second month is less unadulterated, however, since I was using the first draft as a guide for the second.

In January 2015, I started editing my draft. I edited from January through June 2015 (six months), then sent my manuscript to beta readers for feedback. I received that feedback in late September, and edited again through mid-November (two months). I then sent my manuscript to my professional editor. After receiving that feedback, I’ll finalize my manuscript over the course of approximately one month before moving onto interior and cover design. That’s a total editing time of nine months.

In total, that means I spent approximately 15% of my “writing” time actually writing, and 85% of my time editing.

This is a point I want to highlight, not to scare anyone away from writing, but to actually boost any fellow writers’ confidence. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have an amazing, marvelous story from the start. Then we start to find plot holes, inconsistent characters, weak sentences, etc. and we start to doubt ourselves. But that first draft, that rough draft, is not the end product. Through editing, we’re able to reacquaint ourselves with our characters, further explore our world, and polish our story into something great.

I think it’s perfectly normal, even expected, for a writer to hate their story with a burning passion at least once during the writing/editing process. We’re often our own worst critics, but we can use that energy to look at our writing objectively, and to improve upon it.

How I Won NaNoWriMo

First, a disclaimer: I’m not participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. But I have a good reason. I’m editing the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo LAST year, one that was over 50,000 words by the end of the day on November 30th. Since I was able to successfully win NaNoWriMo (twice, actually: in 2010 and 2014), I thought I’d share some of the things that led to that success.

Another disclaimer, though: I’m a plotter, not a pantser (for the most part, sometimes I’m somewhat of a hybrid). That being said, most advice applies to both types of writers. So, here we go:

  • Schedule writing time each day – We’re busy people, and squeezing in the time to write 1,667+ words every day for 30 days straight takes effort. When I won NaNoWriMo in 2010, I was a sophomore in college studying engineering. I was also getting over a rough break-up. When I won again in 2014, I was simultaneously working on my Master’s thesis. It’s pretty rare I, or anyone I know, happens upon free time. And when we do, it’s readily filled with surfing the internet, watching TV, making plans with friends, staring at the wall while contemplating life’s deepest mysteries…basically, anything except writing. Unless you specifically plan your writing time. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day all month, unless that works for you. You can decide to write before work/school, or after. Write more on the weekends to make up for weekdays. Whatever works for you, just make sure you consciously work writing into your schedule.
  • Plan little rewards for meeting your word count – It could be snacks or sweets. It could be watching an episode of your favorite TV show. It could be taking a bath. Whatever will motivate you to get to that 1,667th word, so long as the reward doesn’t take up too much of your time 😉
  • Don’t edit during November-AT ALL – This is extremely difficult, I know. I’ve been writing since early elementary school, and until sophomore year of college, I was a constant editor. I’d edit way more than I’d write. Do you know what I got out of that? A couple chapters of a couple stories that never grew any longer. When I did NaNoWriMo in 2010, I forced myself to accept that my draft was awful. Like, really awful. Characters were inconsistent, with very flaky development. Plot points were forced. The tone and language didn’t match the setting. But you know what? I got to the end. And that novel in 2010 wound up serving as an outline for the novel I worked on in 2014. And now I’m working toward publishing it.
  • Don’t stop at a “good stopping point” – This one is tough. You’re in the zone, you’re writing that scene and you finish that scene. You check your word count for the day, and you’ve met your goal! Time to close it up and reward yourself. NOT SO FAST! Do you know what will happen when you open your novel tomorrow? You’ll be staring at the blank white page of a new scene, and we all know how intimidating that is. Instead, when you finish one scene, immediately start another scene and DON’T finish it. Let it hang in your mind until you open your novel again. That way, you’ll be itching to finish that scene, and the words will pour out more easily.
  • Don’t know which direction to take a scene? Write ALL THE OPTIONS – You’ve reached a fork in your plot’s road. Which direction seems best? Even though I tend to be a plotter, I do run into this pretty frequently within scenes. I know I want to get from A to B, but what happens in between? Since NaNoWriMo is all about word count, you have nothing to lose (and everything to gain) from simply writing every option you think of. For organization’s sake, I can’t recommend Scrivener enough. I have a lot of versions of scenes, and simply label them “Scene 1.0, Scene 2.0…” or “Scene Re-do”. You can decide after December 1st which version you like the best.
  • If you’re stuck, focus on ONE aspect of the scene – This could be dialogue, actions taken by your character, describing the scenery, or even dryly laying out what you hope to accomplish in that scene. For me, personally, I’ll focus on dialogue. After NaNoWriMo, my manuscript is riddled with scenes that are 99-100% dialogue. Since my stories tend to be character-driven, and writing dialogue tends to be something that comes easily to me, this helps me keep my momentum on slow days.
  • Still stuck? Write about why that might be – I enjoy reading over my NaNoWriMo manuscripts, and it’s not because they’re well-written (they are NOT, as I mentioned before). It’s because I interject other thoughts smack-dab in the middle of a scene when my brain gets tired. I’d complain about school, or how I don’t have any nutritious food in my house but am too lazy to go grocery shopping, etc. Hey, those words still count toward your total word count. And eventually, you might even segue back into your story!
  • STILL stuck? Scold yourself, seriously – This is the other reason I love re-reading my NaNoWriMo manuscripts. I get very sassy with myself when writer’s block strikes. I have a huge rant in my manuscript from 2010 about how I should have done more research about steamships before November started, and that if I had, I’d be able to write a more detailed scene that takes place on a steamship, and instead I have to make stuff up and pretend to know what I’m talking about. And then I jumped back into the story as if nothing had happened.
  • Attend local or online write-in events – Sometimes you need other people to motivate you to write. Check your Regional group on the NaNoWriMo website to see if there’s an active community getting together during the month. Groups will often meet in coffee shops (where else?) and write. If you can’t go, or don’t feel like going, to a local write-in, check out online ones! NaNoWriMo hosts them regularly on their YouTube channel, and other people organize their own. Search around to find one that suits you.
  • Remember to drink, eat, and sleep! – Keep yourself nourished and healthy. If you’re tired, or hungry, or thirsty, your writing will suffer. And, you know, so will your body. Remember that NaNoWriMo is a FUN thing, and it’s not worth ruining your health over!

So those are my main tips for successfully completing NaNoWriMo. Feel free to comment or ask questions. Good luck to everyone participating!