Creature of Habit

No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth; it just feels like it.

I have learned that I am absolutely a creature of habit when it comes to my writing. I need large blocks of time during which to focus, even if I don’t spend the whole span directly working on whatever’s on my plate that day. So when “circumstances beyond my control” (CBMCs) interfere, I can kiss my productivity goodbye.

Recently, for example, I took some time off to go to a convention. It was great fun, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. However, the fact that I’m an introvert meant that spending five days away from home among crowds of people, adding near-daily posts to my other blog expended all my energies (creative and otherwise) without the opportunity to recharge.

Then I came home to a sick kid. Before she even got back to school, we had (very welcome) company. By the time things got back to a more normal schedule this week, then, I was a bit of a mess.

But then I could return to my habits. I recharged. I relaxed. And I made progress.

At the end of last year, I made a plan about where I wanted my revisions to be by the end of this month. I’m nowhere near that mark, thanks a multitude of CBMCs these last two months. But I’m moving ahead again—the end of this Round of Revisions is in sight.

My new, interstitial chapter was remarkably well received by my CPs, given this is the first time the chapter’s been workshopped, and the following chapter is even closer to ready. I finally feel like I’m getting traction again for the first time this year. So keep your fingers crossed for me; a single month of normalcy could get me nearly there.

~draft dance~

Woo hoo! I just finished Draft Zero of Chapter Interstitial! It’s ugly and clunky and barely makes sense, but it’s a draft! Halle-effin-lujah!

~does happy dance~

The #MSWL Blues

According to my sources (that would be a Twitter hashtag), in about three weeks’ time, there will be another #MSWL Twitter event. For those unfamiliar with it, the letters stand for ManuScript Wish List, and from time to time, agents and editors will designate a day to tweet details of what they would like to show up their slush piles (though some tweet whenever they feel the urge, throughout the year).

Writers who follow the hashtag throughout the day can see if anyone is looking for the kind of manuscript (ms) they’re writing, and the tweeting agents and editors have a much higher probability of snagging a ms that hits their sweet spot. Everybody wins! Unless, like me, you’re not ready to query.

For those of us who haven’t quite got our mss up to snuff, #MSWL day can be agonizing. On the one hand, how can you look away—what if someone’s list matches your ms to perfection? You’ll want to know who that agent or editor is so you can query when the ms is polished! On the other hand, how can you watch—what if someone’s list matches your ms to perfection? You can’t query that agent or editor until your ms is polished!

It’s not like I have any illusions about my current ms. Much as I like my story, I’ve no idea if it will actually appeal to an audience wider than my closest friends and family. And all sorts of folks will tell you they had to write something like a dozen novels (and query ten of them) before even getting an agent, let alone a book deal. So I know the odds of getting this sucker onto the shelves are about as good as those of winning the lottery. But I want desperately to try anyway.

So come 26 February (the next “official” #MSWL day), I’ll be watching the tweets roll in, pondering my own simple, single-item manuscript wish list: get it finished!

Winter Slog

Mother Nature hates me.

Every time I think I’m about to get some time to myself again, another “polar vortex” bears down on us and makes the local environment so deadly the school district (wisely) decides to cancel classes, and I have my kiddos at home. This wreaks havoc on my concentration.

And just as there is ramp-up time to get yourself in a groove after you’ve spent time perusing social media (or whatever other procrastination techniques you prefer), I’ve found I have ramp-up time on a larger, daily scale, as well. I’m still not back into a “school’s in session” frame of mind; I’ve not been there since mid-December.

Experienced writers often tell aspiring writers that the only rule is to write! Sit down every day and get on with it. That’s the only way to succeed. Well, at this rate, I’m doomed to failure. I simply have not been able to carve out a sufficient block of time to get into that key headspace more than once or twice a week—and very small blocks they are, at that!

Yet I take perverse comfort in posts such as Kameron Hurley’s recent treatise on persistence. Do I write daily? No. Am I making consistent progress on my manuscript? No. Do I keep coming back to it? Yes. So maybe it will take me untold years to get this thing up to snuff (ye gods & little fishes, I hope not…), but I will finish it. And then I’ll move onto something else. And that something else will be better. And so will the next thing, and the next, and the next.

So I’m off, back to the Word Mines. Because when it comes right down to it, there’s really no place I’d rather be.

Chapter Interstitial

Writing conditions have not improved much since my last post. It’s been very difficult to carve out any sort of workable block of time in which to sit down and get on with it. I’ve managed to get some older pieces revised (again) and passed on to my CPs for comments, though, so that’s a step in the right direction.

The big deal about moving past those chapters for the moment is that I’m now free to refocus on the climax of the story. My final three chapters, such as they are, need polish on the mechanics (kill all the weak verbs!), and some PlotSpackle™ and sanding to make them match the changes made in the rest of the manuscript to date. My major challenge, though, comes in that quiet spot in between.

You see, I’m in need of an additional chapter; too much has been left unsaid. When all the build-up comes to a head at the end of that last chunk my CPs are reviewing, the reader will hopefully be eager to flip the page and find out how my protagonist takes this new revelation and runs with it. Unfortunately, on the next page she’s already executing A Plan without the reader having been let in on everything she knows.

Obviously, I need to write “Chapter Interstitial.”

What makes the composition of this chapter such a challenge for me is that it’s being created in a manner totally new and alien to my normal modus operandi. Having created the original draft in true NaNoWriMo “pantser” tradition (that is, I didn’t plot it out ahead of time, but just wrote by the seat of my pants), and revised from existing text, only adding or subtracting scenes as discussion with my CPs indicated it was necessary, I feel completely unprepared to write an entire chapter that needs to include specific information and plot points. It’s rather unnerving.

So this week, I’ve not yet done much in the way of actual writing, but I’ve begun expanding my notes. I’ve listed what else the reader needs to witness before barreling into the following chapter, from character motivations to background details to the foundations of that Plan. I’ve even done a little arranging where I think each part should appear relative to the others. Pretty much everything I need is there now—I just need to write it.

If I keep telling myself that, it’ll happen, right?

Two Hundred Words

Yesterday, after more than two and a half weeks away, I finally sat down to work on revising my novel again. Focus was difficult, to say the least. I hopped up and down from my desk—and back and forth from task to task—so often it’s a minor miracle I didn’t get motion sickness.

Each time I tried to go back to the passage I was rewriting and tried to smear some PlotSpackle™ into that hole, it turned out I’d not put enough on my putty knife, and there was still a big divot to be filled. I’d walk away, dealing with some piddly chore or another, and come back again, trying desperately to make my atrophied brain perform.

After hours and hours of this behavior, I finally had a big enough lump of PlotSpackle™ in place to start sanding it smooth. As many new words as stayed got cut, and in the end, I had only added a little more than two hundred words to the piece. And I’ll tell you what: I will gladly take two hundred hard-fought words that may or may not ultimately end up in the Dumpster.

Those two hundred words tasted like victory.

Harsh Realities

Unlike the last gap between posts, this one has not been productive. Holiday celebrations and other such Real Life minutiae (most notably kids being home from school) completely took over my writing time. Today I finally have time to get back to work, but other things are plaguing me instead.

About a year and a half ago, I took a leap of faith and quit my part-time job. I had been spending full time hours on it, and getting a lot more stress than money out of the transaction. Given that it was primarily a supplemental income for our household, we felt we could afford the tradeoff of mental health for cash.

Turns out we were wrong.

Yesterday—New Year’s Day—we spent most of the day reviewing our budget for the past year, and looking ahead. The message that glared out at us was that something needs to change. Essentially, it’s time for me to gird my loins and wade back into the job market.

What’s that mean for my writing? Well, time will tell. My gut feeling, though, is that the experiment has failed. We tried having a full-time writer in the family, and it just isn’t sustainable. And once I can get back to paying work, I suspect my writing gig is history; I simply cannot do the work that needs to be done without significant alone time during the day (nighttime writing doesn’t work for me).

So I don’t know what 2014 will bring for my dryad and her kin. I may or may not reach my goal of finishing the manuscript and sending out queries. I guess I’ll just have to make the most of what little time I have left with no job but writing.

End-of-Year Whirlwind

Wow… Where did the last five weeks go?

When I last posted, I was reeling from the havoc having surgery had wreaked on my NaNoWriMo plans. Since then, I persevered and squeaked in a “win” under the wire (with four hours of editing left to do on the last day of the month, I completed them with about three-and-a-half hours to spare); written consistently for my other, almost three-year-old blog; and kept up (barely) with my family’s schedule of travel, health issues, and various extracurricular activities.

So what’s the state of my novel, you may ask? Thanks to the huge amount of work I put in during November, it’s getting much closer to the end of Round Two major revisions. No, I’m not going to make it by the end of the year like I told my Editor (oops). However, at our most recent meeting, my CPs told me that the third of my four subsections is working pretty well. There’s pacing! There’s clear motivation! There’s characterization! It was quite a rush to realize I was nearing the finish line on those chapters.

Of course, there’s still work to do. As we were leaving, one CP mentioned that the second subsection still had some more serious issues to resolve, so my Optimistic outlook was summarily downgraded back to Cautiously Optimistic. Looking over her notes, though, I don’t think there’s anything insurmountable there. In fact, the suggested changes are drastically less severe than the ones I’ve already made. I dare to hope that I’m making something akin to real progress.

Speaking of progress, those last, frantic hours of NaNoWriMo led to some conceptual breakthroughs for my finale. There’s an entire extra, interstitial chapter for me to write now, linking the end of that third subsection and the beginning of the fourth. Finding a balance between polishing what’s already there and creating new material has been a challenge, but I’ve approached it like much of the rest of the revision process: identify something that makes me want to work on it, and milk that for all it’s worth.

If I can ride this I’m-making-progress high through the end of the year, I might actually get this revision in the can by the end of January! Now I just need you readers to hold me accountable…

When the NaNo Challenge Backfires

Last year I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time. It was awesome. Seeing that stats chart every day, with the little line to beat in order to meet the challenge was exactly what my brain needed to thrive. I pushed myself, got off to a strong start, and never looked back. I stayed ahead of the curve the whole month, even when I had to take a few days off near the end due to a family health emergency.

Well, this year’s different. First, I’m doing hours of editing instead of words written. That wasn’t really an issue, though. I got off to another strong start, averaging nearly 2.5 hours per day (my equivalent of 2500 words) for the first six days or so. But getting ahead early just wasn’t enough.

Last week, I went in for surgery. It was a scheduled surgery, something I knew was coming, and shouldn’t involve an arduous recovery. It was still surgery. And it kept me from doing any novel editing for two days. I only got in a half an hour on the third day, none again on the fourth, and only an hour on the fifth. Needless to say, I’m now quite a way behind the curve.

This is where that little motivational progress line backfires. “I’m already so far behind; how will I ever catch up now?” my jerkbrain asks.

“Well, you’ll never even have a chance if you don’t sit down and do something,” practical brain replies.

They go at it back and forth, bringing in points about other things that need to be done around NaNoWriMo, too: grocery shopping, a book review, bill paying… I still don’t know which one of them is going to win by the end of the day.

For  now, though, they’re both losers. “Nap. Now!” bellows recuperation brain.

If you need me, I’ll be huddled under my down comforter.

Individual WriMo Challenges

A lot of folks who participate in NaNoWriMo (“WriMos,” for short) look forward to the weekends so they can pound out a lot of words. They’re finally off work for a couple of days, and can dedicate more time to the challenge. Personally, I dread NaNo weekends.

You see, I don’t currently “work outside the home.” Writing is my day job, even though it’s never paid me a penny, nor is likely to any time in the foreseeable future. So when my kids go off to school and my hubby off to work, the only ones left in the house are the dog and me.

I’m not saying that makes it easy to get my writing done. Just like other WriMos, I have distractions. Social media, usually my primary link to the outside world, sing their siren songs, tempting me to waste hours catching up on the minutiae of my friends’ lives and developments in my fandom. Then there are the piddly things that always pull at the from-home worker: laundry, dishes, paying bills, grocery shopping… A typical day is not actually the lovely seven-hour stretch of uninterrupted writing time it might appear from the outside.

That is, of course, why I need NaNoWriMo in the first place. I need a way to hold myself publicly accountable, to force me to make the most of those hours, in between the chores and distractions. Having a specific goal makes it more likely that I’ll make time, shoving aside the things that can wait.

While a great many WriMos may be fitting their time in around full-time work, I’m fitting it in around young kids. That’s why weekends kind of suck for me. On Saturdays and Sundays, rather than hours of a one-canine-and-me household, the majority of my day is filled with energetic seven-year-olds desperate for some new craft project, bike ride, or other activity to occupy their time. Writing is hard enough for me when I only have to combat my own jumpy brain; it’s practically impossible to concentrate when two or three other people’s activities are competing for my attention, too.

I know I’m extremely fortunate to have the option not to hold down a regular job, and I count my blessings daily. On NaNoWriMo weekends, though, sometimes those blessings get on my nerves.