Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ahhh.... That feels better...

Once I was able to find a quiet place in the house, I was able to get a lot done and get some words on the page. It felt amazing and liberating to get it out of my head, and now the muse can stop screaming me to sleep every night. It can just go back to screaming randomly throughout the day.

I don't want to get too far ahead of the chapters that I have already discussed, so I will only say that I am now about 25700 words into the book (6000 of those coming out in the last couple of days) which translates to roughly 102 novel pages without page breaks. This sets my mind at ease and makes me feel like I am getting a lot done. I also started writing an Afterword for the book, which explains a few things as well as reiterates my respect for the culture and history used in the book.

If you are trying to calculate how many pages your own novel may have when it's printed, take your word count divided by 250. 250 is the average number of words on a novel page. This is just a guesstimate for you, of course, but it gives you some sort of an idea where you stand on the hill of your novel. I like thinking that I could be a little over a quarter of the way done, and luckily for me, I have a lot more to write about. I'd hate to be this far along and have nothing left to say.

Just after Christmas I sat down and I wrote some goals for myself, and this will come as a shock to no one, but the novel came up. While I have dedicated my time to try and write in my blogs four days out of the week, I have set a firm rule that I must write for the book four days out of the week, no "trying" about it. The way I see it, if I write at least 1000 words per day, that works out to about four pages of text. My commitment to writing four days out of the week will put me at roughly 16 pages of text a week. Let's assume that I want it to be 350 pages long or more... that would mean that I could have this novel finished in 15 and a half weeks. That's less than four months! That's  not counting the days where I put out well over my one thousand word goal, like I did in the last two days. I set the date to be finished with this book as December 1st of 2011. If I stick to the plan I have I will finish before my set deadline and be able to get to the other aspects of publishing this, my first novel.

Okay, I realize I just went through a bunch of numbers, and probably lost a few of you along the way, but for some reason these numbers are comforting. It really puts a day to day goal on myself as well as a summit to this novel writing mountain before me. I wish I had a little machine like what they have on the Price is Right, where the little yodeling man is climbing the mountain... A visual reference that I could look at to inspire myself. I may just have to make one. Or one of those thermometer signs you see where it gives a donation amount and where you stand as far as the amount goes. I bet there's a widget for that, I would just have to find it. 

Climb that mountain, little yodeling man!

Where was I? Ah yes, goals. You have to have them. You have to set a number daily, weekly, or monthly that you can attain. When I sat down to look at the numbers I figured up for myself, it was more of a bite I could chew. Do you have goals set for yourself? What are they? How are you working to attain them?

I will leave it there for now, readers and writers. I hope that your own journey up the mountain is going smoothly. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Since I can't write...

With the holiday season in full swing, I am finding it impossible to designate any time to the novel which is beyond frustrating for me, especially when there are words in my head scratching to get out. Even if there were more hours in the day, I would still be the same restless insomniac that I always have been. To calm my restless spirit I have been reading a book called "Nature Girl", by Carl Hiaasen. It was an early Yule gift from a friend and since I can't be bothered to read a dust cover, and I am only a few chapters in, I have no clue as to what the book is actually supposed to be about. Right now the story is following three different sets of people in three different parts of the United States. I have found it to be interesting enough to keep my interest and far enough outside my usual genre (and the genre of the novel I am writing) to keep reading. At least it is doing something to relieve some of this tension I have.
 Most of the time when I find myself unable to write, even jotting something down on a napkin, I read. It seems to cool a little of the fire just enough to make life manageable for me.

I don't remember where I ever heard this jewel, and if you pressed me for an answer I would have to say it was on Sister Act 2... If the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning is singing, and you think about singing all day, you go to sleep singing, you're a singer. (I am paraphrasing. I have no idea what Whoopi actually said to the girl.) When I apply that same edict to writing, I feel as though it is what I was really meant to do with my life. 

Do I have some sort of false sense of hope that I might actually make a career and money off of my dream when there are thousands, even millions of people in the world with the same hope and aspirations that I have? Yes. Yes I do. Because I want it just a little bit more than they do. I am not, however, a fool. Being a full time writer means giving up a lot of free time. It means spiritually bleeding yourself dry once in a while. It means having something worth sending out into the world. I may have to work another job, I may have to stop wasting time in my life watching an episode of whatever distraction is on the television, I may even have to stop taking ten minutes at a time on this blog but I am going to do it. I think you are going to do it too. 

We are writers. We have a gift to give. We may be rejected and we may have to compromise but we are doing what we are meant to do. We may also be mothers, line cooks, factory workers, store clerks... but we are writers. We will keep the faith.

Best of luck to you, out there. Make those dreams come true.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chapter Three: The Denouement

I know that I said that chapter two was one of my favorites but chapter three, totaling out at about 2800 words actually is my favorite. That's because chapter three is all about the denouement. A denouement; The final resolution or clarification of a dramatic or narrative plot. While this isn't, obviously, the end of the book it is definitely a plot point where information is needed in order for my novel to continue. A reveal and a denouement can mean the same thing, but not all the time. You can have several denouements, or "little reveals", that lead up to the final reveal in a story. I think that is what I did with chapter three, and will continue to do as the novel goes on.
I worked hard at adding contextual clues into the first two chapters without giving away exactly what Cherry is and in this chapter, though it's not complete exposed as to what she is, there's enough there for the reader to figure it out for themselves.

Each time I go back and reread the chapter (which I did tonight to check for the same tensing issues I had had in chapter two and even found some), I find that I love the chapter more and more. There are so many sensory things happening in it that I feel compels people to read on... things they can taste and feel and see. I know it sounds like I'm tooting my own horn here, and in a way I feel it's deserved. It was made clear from the first blog post that this is my first novel, so I am really learning to explore along with the editors exactly what I am writing. I feel like this is the strongest chapter and I hope to write others as strong in the future for this novel.

Speaking on the subject of "reveals", usually they are held out until the last possible moment. I suppose you could say that chapter three holds one of many reveals throughout the story. I don't think that a story loses out because a reveal is, well, revealed early. In fact, I feel that in certain genres, this will decide whether a person is going to like a book or put it down and select something else. Obviously, if you are writing a mystery, it would be unwise to reveal the mystery in the first few chapter unless it was a total red herring or you had a good excuse for doing so and it led to a better ending for the book.

When do reveals happen in stories you have read or are writing? Are those moments of clarity what you live for in a story? 

Happy writing!

A Sigh of Relief and Free-Writing

After doing a little bit of editing, I found that my tense shift issue was an isolated event in chapter two. I am really surprised that I didn't find this sooner, but I suppose it's bound to happen during the novel writing process. I am just thankful that it was limited to a single portion of a single chapter. I am not sure what caused me to attempt the tense shift in the first place.

With the holidays just around the corner and with so much to do in the house and no maid to speak of, I haven't been able to get any writing done, which is a huge disappointment to me. I am thankful for the few hours in the dark of night that I get to do a bit of editing work here and there, though I wish there were more. 

I think that tonight will be mostly about editing, unless I get some sort of crazy wild hair that brings something out of the depths of my brain...

Battling writer's block has always been an issue for me. I don't know if it's just that I am being outright lazy or if the characters aren't speaking to me at that time. When I feel a total block in front of me, I have found that it's easiest for me to do one of a few things; get myself excited somehow about the current portion I am writing, free-write until I get whatever writing jitters I have in my system, or try again at a later time. The important thing to remember when setting your work down for a later time: SET A TIME LIMIT. It's important that you don't leave it for too long or you risk the chance of either losing the thread of what you were doing or fall out of love with your story.

Speaking of free-writing, I wanted to talk a bit about it as it has some relation to writer's block. Wondering what free-writing is? Well, free-writing is when you set a time limit for yourself (a good start would be something like twenty minutes) and write ANYTHING. Yes, I said anything. Pay no attention to punctuation or spelling, just write. It could be anything; what you ate for breakfast, something that made you happy or upset, a vacation you took as a kid, what your favorite food smells like... ANYTHING. I have found that this is a great way to try and get the brain warmed up for writing or to get out all of those thoughts jumbling around in your head and causing the block in the first place. Usually all of my free-writing ends up at my other blog, which is why I warn people of its randomness in the first place. 

A time limit for free-writing shouldn't really be called a limit, but a minimum. By all means, keep going until you feel like you're done, but commit to at least that time minimum for writing. The nice thing about free-writing as an exercise is that you are practicing your writing and, like stretching before a jog, getting your mind ready to do what you are asking it to do.

What kinds of things do you do in order to battle writer's block, or to get your mind ready for writing? What are the causes of these blocks? I'll talk more about writer's block in another blog post, but for now why don't you go and try some free-writing yourself? Perhaps there's a story in your free-writing just waiting to be elaborated on. Have a good night, all!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chapter Two: Tense shifts

Totally about 3000 words with little dialogue, I have to say that this one has been one of my favorite chapters to write thus far. Cherry shows so much diversity as a character in this chapter right from the opening paragraph. Not only that, but displays of her "creature" side come through as well. I gave small hints throughout the chapter as to what type of creature that might be. Also, I delve into what a very terrifying stalker might be like.

I think that the one thing I am going to have to go back and edit are the tense shifts I placed in this and in the first chapter. I attempted to use them as hints to where the reader was in time, and found I had become inconsistent in later chapters. I am going to have to spend some time making sure that that isn't the case because as time goes on the jumping into the past ceases and everything becomes very obviously present tense. I'll give you an example. For a past "dream experience", I wrote a section like this;

She fixed the blankets on the bed so that they were back to the way she had found them and put her shirt back on.

For a present tense "real time experience", I wrote a section like this;

Cherry coughs the dust from her throat and wipes her face with the back of her hand.

Notice the "ending in -ed" tense in the past and the "ending in -s" for the present? Later in the story, all of the present tense items end in -ed, using it as an active voice rule. It wasn't really until tonight that I reread it and disliked the "ending in -s" tense writing immensely. Now I am wondering whether I should go back and make it all end in -ed for tensing and leave it to the reader to understand that parts that seemingly make no sense are in the past or format the past instances in italics or changed font. If there are any suggestions you may have, I'd love to hear them.

This bring up an excellent learning lesson for me; I either need to learn to pay closer attention so I don't have to go back and make huge editing changes like this, or just not bother so much with tense shifting like that if I don't know how to do it well enough to pull it off throughout. I have learned now to pay closer attention to these kinds of things while writing, and what a stinging lesson that turned out to be. Do you work with tense shifting in your own writing? Do you find that it comes naturally, or that you have to pay close attention?

Aside from this huge tensing issue I just tonight realized was a problem, I am very satisfied with this chapter for what it gets across. I think I have given just enough of a hint as to what and who Cherry is, and added imagery to the story using all of the senses. I also added plenty of character tension between Cherry and another of the three main characters; Dimaia. 

I like being able to write both Cherry and Dimaia because I think that in ways they are both a part of who I am only exaggerated. I love to have them argue and bicker throughout the book because it is almost like having an argument with myself. I see how that could be very frustrating for others in reality because I really can tend to get unreasonable. Do you write aspects of yourself or are your own characters people that you wish you could be more like? Do you find yourself relating to your characters on an emotional level, and if not, does that hinder what you are able to portray?

I think that I will leave it there for now, as I really need to figure out what I am going to do to fix this tense shift issue I am having. My best to you all, and happy writing! 

For more information on tense shifts, see this handy diagram!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chapter One

Chapter One contains about 2600 words, not very much of that count in dialogue. When I first started writing this, I wasn't very comfortable with dialogue because I don't think that the main character, Cherry had a voice in my head quite yet. I think that the "grab" for this story is quite strong, and getting further along in the story, I had at one point thought of moving some things around which would compromise that grab. Thankfully, I worked it out so that I never had to do that because I really think that the first chapter is solid and strong.

After I have read and reread this chapter so many times, I finally had to stop trying to edit it. I got stuck in a wicked loop where all I tried to do was make this first chapter the best that I could but it left my writing in a stall. I finally had to promise myself that I would only go back to that first chapter for reference in further chapters, and to make sure continuity was the same, but aside from that I won't touch it anymore.

That brings up a very important point; If you spend so much time in correcting every tiny little mistake, you are never going to get any further into what you are writing. You'll become so discouraged by the fact that you have tweaked one little part past the point of recognition or even relevance to the story that you won't even like the story any more. You have to limit yourself on the time that you spend on one section or one chapter, and find yourself just moving on. I think that this was what caused me to leave the story for so long and come back to it. I edited it to death. Spend more of your time getting the bones of the story down and worry about flesh and skin later. Continuity issues can be addressed as you find them, but lingering in one place for too long in a story can kill it for you.

Once I was able to get past all of the editing I was doing and I finally read it for what it was and not what it could be, I really loved what I had and started working on it once again. While there is a lot of moving forward and backward in time in the main character's conscious and subconscious, every person who has beta-read the story for me has been able to keep up with what was happening in the story, insofar as the story allowed at that time. The point was to keep the reader feeling uneasy and unsure, because that is where the main character is, mentally and physically.

One of my favorite things about the first chapter is how far you really get to go into who Cherry is. She is, at times, a total contradiction of herself. I think that in a way we are all that way. We are proud yet frightened, strong yet weak, crazy yet sane. I think that people are going to be able to find their own ways to relate to Cherry and for that I am thankful.

As you are writing your own first chapter, maybe you can ask yourself what you really need or want the reader to know about your main character. Do the really need to know what kind of breakfast cereal your character eats? I had to start to limit myself on how much I was telling. Do you find yourself doing the same? Also, does your character have a voice in your head? One of the best ways to relate to a character as a reader is if the writer knows that character inside and out.

What are your own goals for your story? What do you wish to accomplish with your first chapter? What can you do for yourself as a novelist to accomplish those things?

Happy writing and/or reading everyone! I think it's about time I got myself to sleep before I get a little too overzealous about this blog. Good night!

A First Post and the Beginning of this Mad Journey

I had been kicking around the possibility of a blog like this for quite some time, and I am hoping that this is exactly the kick in the pants that I need in order to get the novel rolling along smoothly and hopefully have it ready in manuscript form no later than December of 2011. That's right. I have thrown down the gauntlet for myself in a challenge; get this damned thing written. I don't want to call it a New Year's Resolution because too many people fail at those, and I just can't set myself up to fail at this.

What can you, as the reader expect to gain out of all of this? Keeping with the status quo, the best answer I can give you is: I have no idea. Some days it may just be a simple word count of what I have been getting accomplished, other days it may be frustration, or elation. I may need to get an idea out there in the world just to see what it looks like somewhere other than in the novel. Here's what you can expect not to see: any of the novel here, in print, on the net.

As I have been delving into the world of novel writing, I have been trying to arm myself with the most possible knowledge I can gain, and one thing that I have learned is about "first rights". If you go around posting your work willy-nilly, you lose the copyright on that first printing and screw yourself out of money, and possibly printing at all. I suppose that brings me to the next thing you might expect: I'll probably write out what I find as a first time novelist not only to help out others who, like me, have no clue what they are doing but figure they have a good idea for a book, but to keep all the info I find in one place that I can access myself.

This blog is going to be for me, mainly, but if you stick around you may or may not learn something about writing yourself. I may bring up topics that have something to do with grammar, with the chapter I am working on in a general way, or with how my own journey goes in this crazy world of novel writing.

My first and most important lesson for you all, before you get too excited about what your own novel is: KNOW YOUR GENRE. Too many people let the broad world of genre allow them to become far too comfortable with being far too general. You have to know your genre in order to sell your work, so take some time to look into what genres are out there, and which fits your own novel best. My novel falls into the category of Fiction> Sci-Fi/Fantasy> with a smidgen of creative historical fiction (Thank you, Ariana Hauser). I now have a better idea of which publishing companies to consider contacting when all of this is through.

As it stands now I am working on chapter ten of my book, in manuscript form. I am about 350 words into this chapter so far. At some point, I will probably go through, chapter by chapter, and write a little something about each but for now, consider this first post my introduction...

My name is Naomi Houser. I have always been interested in books, as far back as I can remember. I have always been influenced by Fantasy and Science Fiction, reading books voraciously from the time I was able to understand what I was reading. I love anything from Robert Heinlein to Neil Gaiman. I can appreciate Young Adult authors like Scott Westerfeld, Christopher Lincoln, and J.K. Rowling. I have read almost everything by (and criticized most of) Anne Rice, but I am willing to give just about any book a try, as long as it captures me within the first five chapters.

I am a mother of two wonderful girls, and have been attending a technical college for a Technical Communications degree. While this degree isn't exactly an English degree, in its way it is because it allows me to have experience with writing in many different mediums. I suppose it could be used best for Technical Journalism, which I have done in the past. I was Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper at my college for one year, and it was one of the best experiences with writing I have had. It was a journalism convention that sparked the novel I am working on now, and it was my constant practice with writing articles that helped me with getting the written word out on paper in a concise and readable way. I have to give props to the place I started, even if it was a bit later in life than some.

I hope that you enjoy reading this blog, as it will be far more structured than my other, more "freewriting" based blog. Honestly, I will be glad of the dichotomy when I either need to go onto that blog and be completely unrestrained, or to come here and write more seriously. You can feel free to follow along with either, neither, or both but be warned that the other can seem like utter word vomit sometimes. It really is just whatever thought pops into my head at the time, when it pops into my head.

I am going to try and be a bit rigorous about writing on this blog no less than three times a week, with the other being a fallback for when I need to get totally creative. The only aside that I am going to force myself to add; if I am too busy writing in the middle of a chapter, I am not going to stop in the middle of my writing to update either of them. If there's something new to report, you'll be able to read it when it is worth reporting, believe me.

Welcome readers and friends. If you are a new novelist and you have questions that you think I may be able to answer, please feel free to comment here or send me a personal message on Facebook.