🖋️ I finished writing my second novella, in time for NaNoWriMo.

I wrote my first novella, Strange Music, in July 2014, during NaNoWriMo‘s off-season event called Camp NaNoWriMo. That first draft was about 23,000 words and took 28 days to write. (The edited and completed version is now about 26,000 words.)

A couple mid-October weekends ago, I finished writing my second novella, A Dirge for the Amphiptere. The original draft was written in July 2016, also for a Camp NaNoWriMo. It took three years to finish, and its current state is approximately 60,000 words.

Why was it harder to write the second novella compared to the first novella? I once asked J. Daniel Sawyer, the host of the Everyday Novelist, my favourite writing podcast, for help. He replied in an episode: it’s stage fright. You have to let your subconscious mind drive your creativity. Which means you have to get out of your own way.

I listened politely but was a bit skeptical. So I set about proving Dan wrong. It took three years to learn that he was ultimately right.

The head game truly is everything. When I wrote Strange Music, I didn’t know anything; I had no clue how to and how not to write a novel, so I just went and did it. It was challenging, but there was a certain ignorance-is-bliss kind of flow to the writing. When I started Dirge a year after finishing Strange Music, I was no longer ignorant. I had some experience of what it takes to write a novel, and this knowledge kept me from finishing it — and all the other stories I wrote for NaNo but never finished.

Long story short, after writing and rewriting various versions of Dirge over the years (in between writing drafts of other stories), I set myself the goal to reach The End by the end of 2018. The story was getting stale and about to die on the vine if it wasn’t done. I tried throughout the year, and got 2/3rds and ~40,000 words through the plot to just before the climactic scene. But by the time I hit October, I was in despair and ready to put it to bed.

What saved my story from certain death was a group of people: my writing workshop. The workshop leader (himself a published author and freelance editor) gave me a deadline to present the finished work, and the other members (all amateur writers) were unanimously supportive. So… I put some measures in place, and went and wrote the rest of the story in the span of 10 days and 42 pages (~13k words).

I was shocked how easy it was to write the remainder of the story. Where did all the past angst and despair come from? But I’d always known the answer. I knew, deep down, that Dan’s advice was right, that I was just getting the way of my own creative mind by trying to build a scaffolding around the story. But my head refused to believe that. It took the school of hard knocks and three years of dickering around in circles to beat the conceit out of me, and reveal what I had to do to get out of my own way. In retrospect, it seems like such a novice mistake. But without the experience of desperation and having to be pulled out of my hole by my writing workshop, I wouldn’t have known what measures to put in place to help me beat the head game. So I’m consoling myself that those years weren’t wasted.

Writing is actually quite easy. It’s the head game that causes 90% of writer’s block and plot troubles, and makes or breaks a writing career. And if I don’t learn how to beat the head game, I will never progress and my stories will die. I think I’ve made progress in finding a solution.

~~~

NaNoWriMo has begun. I’m tired of unfinished manuscripts. This year my goal is to finish a full manuscript, even if I go overtime past November. And I’m determined to apply my experience into growing trees. No more of building houses!

I used these strategies to finish Dirge, which I’ll repeat for NaNo:

  • Write by hand. This will be the first year of handwriting a NaNo. I’m less tempted to edit when I have scrawly handwriting to wade through and not enough page space to insert edits. I averaged 300 words per page with Dirge, and it wasn’t too hard on the hands. So 6 pages a day should be enough to hit the daily NaNo wordcount. And if I put my mind to it, that can be knocked over in 2-3 hours.
  • Resist all reflex to plot/outline before the story is finished. This is my head game and how the Inner Editor manifests: wanting to plot and do character development and all this fun auxiliary stuff, instead of writing the infernal thing. The urge is even stronger when I hit a roadblock in the storytelling. The novella Dirge was strangled by all the plotting and char dev I did in my attempts to unstick myself, which only created more story complications, mental noise, and ultimately, a sense of despair and defeat. So, no more of that during NaNo. Not even make margin notes/reminders as I write. That can come later. Now the story needs to just get out.

I’m looking forward to this. I’ve always loved NaNo, especially since it encourages writing at a pace that leaves your conscious inner editor behind. Writing into the dark is nerve-wrecking, but it’s also exciting. At the end, I hope to have gotten further in my adventures in a writing career, and, for once, have a fully-grown tree to show for it.

What I learnt from NaNoWriMo 2016.

As stated in my previous post, I began NaNoWriMo 2016 having done some character development, some world-building, and a rough outline of the first half of the planned story.  I trusted that I could figure out the rest of the story as I went.

I’ve learned a lot from this NaNo experience.

Continue reading What I learnt from NaNoWriMo 2016.

On the road to NaNo 2016, preparations.

October is typically “prep month” for NaNoWriMo.  Because I was finishing my latest draft of Strange Music, I didn’t start “prepping” for my NaNo novel until about two weeks before NaNo commenced.  So I had quite a bit to do in a hurry!

NaNo 2016 novel is A Long Gaze of Fire, and I decided to tackle a type of story I haven’t tried before: an epic fantasy.

All my previous stories have been small-scale affairs: the novellas (~25k words) Strange Music and A Dirge for the Amphiptere are, for all intents and purposes, one-room dramas with tight focus on character and where the MCs’ incompatible goals and inner struggles are the main sources of conflict.  My NaNo novels, Dragon Within (which I’ve written about on this blog) and Highland Story, have external conflicts but are also largely concerned with the MCs’ personal struggles.  Long Gaze would have a substantially larger scope: a big external conflict, bigger stakes, and a much larger cast with more complex interaction.

So, an epic fantasy is something quite out of my experience.  So, how does one prepare or plot out such a large-scale story?
Continue reading On the road to NaNo 2016, preparations.

On the road to NaNo 2016, lessons from July Camp.

NaNoWriMo 2016 is in full swing, and this year I am participating again.  So far, staying ahead of the curve, having a ball, and learning a ton!

I plan to write some posts about what I’m learning so far for NaNo 2016, but before that…

I did Camp NaNoWriMo in July, writing a 25,000 word novella titled A Dirge for the Amphiptere.  (I really should make a subpage on this blog with all the names of my stories…) Having plotted for NaNo 2014 and pantsed for NaNo 2015 and gotten similar results on both fronts (a semi-coherent story that stalled at the start of the climax), I decided to “pants” again for Camp NaNo 2016.  I did the most rudimentary prep — a little bit of character development, a little bit of plotting — before diving right in.  I hit my 25k word goal, but once again, stalled right at the climax. Currently, the manuscript is cooling in that almost-finished state, but I plan to pull it out after NaNoNovel 2016 is finished, and work it into a second draft.

Yes, I hit the wall again at the same place.  But in the course of drafting Dirge, I think I’ve figured out why that was the case. Continue reading On the road to NaNo 2016, lessons from July Camp.

NaNoWriMo 2015.

I didn’t expect to join, let alone win, NaNoWriMo this year — but I did.

This year has been a drought for creative writing, because I was spending most of it writing massive essays and assignments. The Camp NaNos passed me by, and when NaNo season rolled around I initially didn’t want to join, because didn’t think I’d be up to doing yet more writing, even for fun.

But I joined in the end, because I wanted to tell a Highland Story.

Continue reading NaNoWriMo 2015.

(Post-)NaNoWriMo: Week Five.

NaNo has taken me to about 50-60% of the way through the story, and there’s still a good ways to go.

Now that I’m less focused on word count and more on finishing the story, I’m finding myself stalling. Zuhal’s story has been remarkably smooth going and I’ve just about written all of it up to the plot convergence, but I’m getting bogged down in Nonide’s story. This is a problem, because the main plot and inciting external events all revolve around her. The more I write her story, the less coherent it seems, the more structural weaknesses appear, to the point where I’m not sure that the scene progression and the overarching logic makes sense anymore. Truth be told, I deliberately stopped my pre-NaNo storyboarding right after the convergence, and told myself that I would figure it out when I get there. Well, here I am, and still clueless.

Part of it involves world-building and technology (the “science” part of the science fantasy), which is still somewhat in flux. I might have to actually nail down the world-building and be satisfied with it, before I can resolve these plot problems. Ugh, I’ve never had my world-building form the foundation for a story, so this is a new discomfort to stress-test it and find that it isn’t quite holding up!

I’m very tempted to pause the draft and rework my plot issues before continuing, but I’m also worried that when I stop, I’ll never pick it up again. Dilemma, dilemma. But for now, I’m determined to push through to The End, plot holes be hanged. But my writing is falling back into really lousy mediocrity. Argh, I need to finish this thing! What to do…

+++

…turns out that the thing to do was to take a step back. After angsting about this for a day, I had a time out and listed all the scenes I’d yet to write, and made a discovery: most of them were subplots, and practically all of them were in Nonide’s storyline. Yes, they are important subplots and are directly related to character growth, but none of them are strictly necessary to push the main plot forward. Furthermore, now I recognized them as the culprits bogging down N’s story!

At this stage, I’m tired of subplots and just want to get to the end, darnnit. So as strange as it feels to me, I’m going to ditch all the remaining subplots for now, and just hammer away at the main plot. The subplots have been very well mapped and I don’t think I’ll have a problem with writing them in later. And I think it’s imperative that I finish the main plot now, because it’s the most problematic part of the novel and hasn’t been outlined; if I stopped it now I doubt I’d be able to pick up all the threads again. So I’ve already triggered the endgame (yes, I was able to jump straight to that scene immediately!), and everything is now flowing towards the climax!

Lessons learnt:
I always knew that DW was a complex, multi-layered story, but I didn’t realize how challenging it was to organize and write. When I was prepping DW for NaNo, I made the outline by brainstorming a pile of scenes, sorting through the pile, and putting all the scenes on a chronology, but without regard to which plotline they were part of. I have been writing straight through N and Z’s storylines without regard of how they will play into each other, and while this has been good for my sanity, I got a little bit lost and didn’t notice that I was mired in subplot until recently — and after the NaNo writing frenzy wore off.

In the midst of this stepping-back process to find a clear path to follow, I worked out an outlining method that may help with this, which I’ll have to test one day. Essentially, it’s like grafting the branches of subplots onto the trunk of the main plot. For every scene in a subplot, ask: how is it relevant to the main plot, and how does it drive progression in the main plot along? I’ll have to test this new outlining strategy eventually. Maybe when revising DW.

NaNoWriMo 2014.

NaNoWriMo is over. It was my first NaNo and I can’t believe that I won!!
(If you care to follow, I’m FalcoVega at the NaNo forums.)

I was planning to keep an ongoing blog about my experience throughout November… but I was too busy writing my novel to post it here. =P I did jot down notes, though! So here is Vega’s NaNoWriMo journal, if you care to read it.

As of writing this, the novel writing adventure is still going. It was a fantastic experience and I learned so much from it. It was both a challenging stretch, and proof to myself that I’m still able to write. Sometimes decently, sometimes excellently, sometimes… well, stumbling and bumbling. But I can write. I think that NaNo is going to be a fixture in my life for a while now.

So here we go, let me get my blogging notes in order… settle in for a long read.
Continue reading NaNoWriMo 2014.

NaNoWriMo in July: post mortem.

Things I’ve noticed through the writing process.

  • Once I get started, I can’t stop. Good thing NaNo is confined to set times, so I can confine my own writing. RL right now is too busy for me to be writing throughout the year. I think my “serious” stories like “Killing the Dragon” will be during NaNo. “Old Man’s Journey”, which is much more casual, will be the daily/weekly/monthly exercise.
  • Writing requires formidable discipline. Just like everything else. I have a pretty scattered attention span about EVERYTHING, but if I put my mind to it I can focus like a laser. Setting a timer helps. 15 minute sprints help. Break the time down into small chunks.
  • I’m not a fast writer, even though I am a fast typist. I can’t really word-vomit. I have to mull over things, and make it all count. And this is not because of inner editor. I have to distill down the 3-d imagery, the sensorium, into linear sentences, which is not an easy thing to do. (I’ve written about how hard this is for me before on LJ.) So I’m a bit uncertain whether I can reach full NaNo daily levels unless I have a serious plan and know what is roughly ahead at every step. I know the point is not necessarily to win NaNo, just to write… but I’d like to see whether I can win it.
  • Writing stamina still needs to develop. I have hit 1000+ words/day for several days, but I go through swings and dips. (Partly because of RL schedule.) Writing in fits and starts while riding PT, in lunch breaks, is not too conducive to flow, those were generally the low days. I need 3-4 hours at a stretch to hit my stride and make it to 1000+ / day.
  • So… what next with Strange Music manuscript? I think I’ll take a stab at traditional/small press publishing. I mean, why not. Aim for the highest thing out there (in my case, small press would be amazing). If that fails, there’s still self publishing route.

NaNoWriMo in July: lessons at the end.

It’s done! The main body of the story is finished at ~21.5k. I still have a little epilogue to write which will probably take me into 22k, but huzzah, at last, it’s over. And I won my first Camp NaNoWriMo! ^_^

The novella is now called Strange Music. Sometime in the midst of writing, the finalized title fell out, and it captures the story perfectly. “The Radio Andromeda” was good when it lasted, but it really wasn’t appropriate. Sometimes you have to write the story, and then in the process discover its proper title.

Lots of lessons this week, mostly about how “pantsing” can be capitalized to the fullest. Continue reading NaNoWriMo in July: lessons at the end.

NaNoWriMo in July: lessons from week two.

Well, they said Week 2 is the most difficult one in a NaNoWriMo month, and it was true for me. An eventful week with a difficult, sloggy morass in the middle. But I managed to work myself out of it and get into a writing highway again. I’m now right in the midst of “The Radio Andromeda” and almost 2/3rds of the way through my wordcount! But will my story be done by then…?

Lessons learnt this week: Continue reading NaNoWriMo in July: lessons from week two.