December 1st, 2014

Some people find it hard to believe that anyone could write an entire novel from start to finish in just thirty days. Well, I'm here to tell you that it's not only possible, but to show you exactly how it's done in just twelve easy steps.

  1. Write your query letter first. Seriously. Because if you can't succinctly describe and sell the book you're about to write now, you're not ready to write a book. You might learn a lot about yourself at this stage and save yourself a lot of revision time later.
  2. Before November begins, spend anywhere between one and one hundred and twenty months preparing. Plan your book and make sure you know enough about your subject matter to make your writing believable.
  3. During November, write like the wind. This is "Draft Zero", the stage where you tell yourself the story. Concentrate on the story, not the storytelling. Does it have legs? Is it going anywhere? That's exactly what you're going to find out this month.
  4. When the story is done, walk away from it. At least a week, but if you can, just enjoy December and pick it up next year.
  5. In January, print it out and read it. Mark what you liked and what you didn't like. Make detailed notes about what worked and what didn't.
  6. By February you should be able to begin the actual manuscript. We'll call this one the first draft.
  7. Spend two or three months on it. Feel free to self-edit along the way. You might be surprised what hits you now that didn't even occur to you in Draft Zero.
  8. Now it's ready for your first readers. Hand it to them and say, "Please read my book and tell me what you think." Be patient and don't pester them. They have lives too.
  9. When they tell you what they think, listen to them. Don't pout like a baby. Woman up about it. And definitely do not tell them in great detail why their opinion is wrong unless you've somehow also worked out a way for you to visit all ten thousand people who eventually buy your book and personally explain to them why they were wrong about why they didn't like your favorite scene.
  10. Take all feedback (including your own) and start the next draft.
  11. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
  12. When you're absolutely positive you're done, crack open that query letter, freshen it up, and send it off.

And you thought it couldn't be done.

Posted in Fun | Comments Off on How To Write a Novel in Thirty Days: A NaNoWriMo Guide

November 22nd, 2014

Yep. It's week seven.

Posted in Progress | One comment

November 15th, 2014

As far as hours spent and miles put behind me, things took a dive this week, compared to the first ten days of November. For one, I caught a cold, so that slowed me down. To that end, I tried to get some more sleep and that's never a bad thing. For another, I think I kinda knocked myself out creativity-wise. That burst cost me a bit.

As for the book progress, I still made some. I began revision mode. I took "Draft Zero", the fifty thousand word proto-manuscript, and broke it up into scenes (I ended up with ninety-nine). I also printed out a paper copy, because that really helps me wrap my brain around it. And lastly, I began some initial work on "scene sorting." Some scenes are already strong, a fair number are extremely weak, and every once in a while, they're just in the wrong place in the story.

So I broke my rule of "just leave it." In general, it's not good to jump right into revisions. It's better to let the manuscript sit for a while and give your brain a rest. But the thing is, I've been at this for far too long to just rest now (in spite of what I said in the opening paragraph). I've built up a lot of inertia in the last six weeks, and I have to keep it going.

More in a week.

Posted in Progress | One comment

November 11th, 2014

I have to admit I did not see this coming.

Okay, that's a lie. Last Friday I saw it coming, but even then it seemed a real stretch. But I can truly say, "I did not see this coming," if I go all the way back to the beginning of this year's PBWQ. I mean, even now it's hard for me to believe that as I started tapping away at the keyboard at 12:00:01 am on November 1, 2014, I still had no idea what my story was.


"How could you possibly not know what your story was?" you ask incredulously. And you deserve an answer. Normally I would sum up, but today I have time to explain.

When I say I don't know what my story was, that's just shorthand for: I had not yet come up with a detailed, bullet-proof, sensible plot. I knew generally what it was about. I knew who my protagonist was, and the setting, and how the story started and (most importantly) how it ended. But all the important pieces that glued all that together were missing.

Think of it this way. When I set out writing ten days ago, my story looked like this:

  • Restless boy on farm wants to see the universe.
  • Receives a Call to Adventure.
  • Meets an old man who helps him cross the threshold from the Ordinary World to the Special World.
  • Learns that the forces of evil are on the move.
  • He gets by with a little help from his friends.
  • Gains mystical powers along the way.
  • Finally, he uses all his gifts (knowledge, friends, and powers) to defeat evil.

So you see, there's definitely a story there. It's your basic Hero's Journey. But look what it lacks:

  • Why is he on the farm?
  • Why can't he just leave on his own?
  • Who is the old man and how does he help him to cross the threshold?
  • Who or what is working against him?
  • What are these mystical powers? How do they work? Why doesn't everyone have them?

Once you answer questions like these, the story becomes that much more fleshed out. Now you have your goals, your antagonist, your conflict, and climax all well-defined. But you're also not done. Because answering the above only opens up more questions:

  • What does the farm look like? Iowa? A swamp? A jungle? A desert?
  • What does the Threshold look like? Is it a wretched hive of scum and villainy?
  • How exactly does he develop these powers? Does it make sense in the overall story, or do they just magically come into his possession with no plausible explanation?

And as you continue to drill down there are further and further levels of detail:

  • How exactly are the space-clarinets designed and played?
  • Should the band be playing Daft Punk or perhaps something closer to dixieland jazz?
  • How many different species are in this bar and what do they look like?

Let Me Sum Up

So where did I end up on this continuum? In short, I now know everything I need to know about my story to actually turn it into a real, readable manuscript. And that's saying a lot. No, I don't yet know what the space clarinets look like. But I do know that there are space clarinets and what purpose they serve.

All my characters and their backgrounds and their personalities are fleshed out. All the scenes are now defined and in the right order. The story pace is finally apparent. About two thirds of the way through I realized my intended ending would no longer work and now I have one that's twice as good.

Next Steps

  1. Walk away from it. It has to rest a bit.
  2. Print it out and read it.
  3. Make notes: what worked, what didn't?
  4. Identify darlings. Kill them.
  5. Then begin writing the actual manuscript. Because what I have is definitely not a manuscript. It's all story, but no storytelling. It's all the facts, but without the emotion. It's bereft of scenic details and sweeping descriptions. Some of my characters are actually named So-and-So. Many of my places were given real-world city names until I could come up with proper in-universe names.

If I can even begin #5 by the end of this month, that would be a big win. If I could finish #5 by the end of February, that would be an even bigger win. But for the first time ever, that no longer feels like an impossible pipe dream.

Posted in Progress | 3 comments

November 8th, 2014

On Friday night I went to my first-ever write-in (well, one that also wasn't a kickoff party). After all these years of writing alone in a small box, I decided this year to try and socialize a bit.

I was admittedly hesitant, because (to me anyway) writing is not a social event. It's just me and my brain and everyone and everything else just gets in the way. Further, when I write alone in a small box, there's zero overhead. Write-ins mean traffic and parking and spending money to support the local establishment hosting your write-in and lots of tiny things that all add up to one thing: cutting into my writing time.

But I'm glad I went.

However, let's get on to the real focus of today's update. On Friday morning (yesterday, November 7) I started looking at my numbers and my trajectory and two possibilities became apparent:

  1. Breaking my seven-day word count record was within reach.
  2. I might actually be able to hit 50,000 in ten days.

I was cautiously optimistic about both. Especially the latter, which would mean a 7,500 word Saturday, a 7,500 word Sunday, and nearly 5,000 words on Monday. Anyway, first things first. Breaking that seven day record.

After I got home and took a brief break, I merged my "mobile" document with my primary manuscript, cleaned things up, and checked my word count. 29,846 words. It was around 10:30 pm and I only had an hour and a half to add another 1,871 words. I honestly thought, "No way." You see, I keep a spreadsheet which tracks my progress details: words written, time spent, velocity, and so on. And that spreadsheet told me I'd never written that much in that little time before.

In fact, I actually wasted time working on these calculations and predictions. So it was that I didn't even begin writing until exactly 10:43. But I set my fingers loose and somehow reached and maintained a pace of 1,712.4 words per hour. I not only met my goal but added 2,169 words in that last seventy-six minutes of the day. That's the fastest I've ever moved.

The writing is terrible of course, but it's serving its purpose. The story is growing, and beyond word counts and record-setting paces, that's my true goal this month: to have a fully fleshed out, end-to-end, complete story. And in all the years I've been hacking away at this, that's the one goal that's always eluded me.

Posted in Progress | Comments Off on PBWQ14 Week Five Update

November 1st, 2014

That was a FAST month and I'm sad it's over. Because October's my favorite month and Halloween's my favorite holiday and it feels to me like the month only lasted about seventy-two hours.

This is also the first time that I've ever skipped my favorite holiday. No costumes, no trick-or-treating, and (most importantly) no pumpkin carving (which itself means I missed my annual viewing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, because I always pop in that movie and put it on repeat while carving pumpkins.

Anyway, in my last update, I recounted my little miscalculation whereby I forgot to do any planning for my book during the month where I had intended to do all the planning for my book. I sure did a good job on everything leading right up to it, but stopped short of getting the immediate task fleshed out.

Time waits for no man and suddenly, and seemingly without warning, I found myself at Dragon's Lair for my very first NaNoWriMo kickoff party. This is my sixth NaNo attempt, but I never went to a kickoff (see above notes about my feelings on Halloween).

NaNoWriMo Kickoff Party, Austin TX, 2014

The evening began at six o'clock with a book signing by Elizabeth Moon. She's had twenty-six more books published than I have, for a grand total of twenty-six books. I bought one and got it signed, which means I can now cross off Item #57 on my Bucket List: "Go to Dragon's Lair on Halloween and get a book signed by an author with twenty-six published books."

At seven o'clock, she gave a talk which was followed by a Q&A session. At eight o'clock I was unable to get my last question in to her, "Are you hungry?" Because everyone else was. Fortunately, that's just when the pot-luck began.

Feeding ended around nine. I had planned on spending that last three hours doing some last-minute planning. But it was more noisy and social than anything, so it just wasn't in the cards. As the clock ticked toward midnight, I actually started getting a little nervous. Probably because I was about to embark on a thirty-day challenge to turn a three-sentence synopsis into a full-length novel.

3... 2... 1...

At midnight everyone shut up and got to work and suddenly I was happy for this event. Because without it, I would probably languish in planning mode for at least another half a year. It's good to just say "good enough" and move on to something else. Do I know every last detail of my story? No. (I barely know every first detail.) Will I get stuck halfway through or even tomorrow? Likely. But none of that matters. Because my goal isn't to write a novel in November. My goal is to write.

And it felt good to just finally start again.

Posted in Progress | One comment

October 28th, 2014

As I write this, there are about three days and nine hours left of Week Four and, by definition, Month One of PBWQ14. This will be a quick update. You ever have one of those moments where you're looking all over for your keys only to realize they've been in your pocket the whole time? It's so easy to miss the obvious sometimes if your brain is in the wrong place.

So it was with me. As I watched this week's deadline approach, I was starting to feel pretty good about my progress. The backstory and prep work had picked up the last few days and I was starting to think, "You know, I might get this all done by Friday." That's when it hit me. I would be done with the backstory work. Not the story story.

At midnight Friday, the calendar would flip over to November 1, and I would sit there with a really good idea of what happens in my story from 120 million years ago up until 1864 or so and have NO idea what happens after my opening, "It was a dark and stormy night..."

And now I'm back in panic mode.

At least I found my keys, though.

Posted in Progress | 4 comments

October 24th, 2014

I'm not going to lie, I'm nervous. I'm nowhere near as far along as I'd hoped to be by October 24. I have no idea where this last week went (though, to be fair, I know that some of it definitely went here). I have three things today: a progress report, an explanation, and a soliloquy of sorts.

Progress Report

Things came together a week ago, in a big way, for the over-arching story. It wasn't until a couple days ago, that I finally zeroed in on what I'm supposed to be doing right now: planning the immediate outline/synopsis for book one. It's picking up speed a bit, but where I am now is where I should have been last Friday.

An Explanation

I was looking through old blog posts here, specifically in the Progress category, trying to remember which book I was working on each NaNoWriMo season. My first one was in 2009 (which I've won) and I've tried (and died) every year since then.

Anyway, what struck me was how cryptic my posts were. I seemed to go waaaaay out of my way to actually talk about what I was working on. There are reasons, I suppose: spoilers, protecting my intellectual property, general embarrassment. But as a historical archive, they suck. So I'm going to fix that.

I still won't post spoilers. But I really don't care about my IP being stolen because: 1) nobody visits the blog and 2) there's nothing worth stealing anyway. And being embarrassed from time to time is just part of life. I'd rather share too much and have something enjoyable to look back on in the future than end up with more of what I've done so far.

So, here it is in plain language. My current project is part of something I'm (for now) calling The Underhaven Trilogy. The first book is called Elsewhither (yes, the same name as this here blog.)

It's 1864. The story begins in London. It's about a twelve-year old girl who, until recently, lived in a wonderful orphanage. The home lost its sole benefactor and consequently she's been turned out onto the streets. She runs into an old blind woman in a horse-drawn carriage who takes her in. The carriage pulls away and the two begin to talk. Upon arriving at the old woman's estate, the girl is chased off as "riff raff." In spite of the old woman's objections, servants send dogs after the girl. She spies an odd shack while running and makes for it. The shack contains what looks like a manhole cover. She heads below for safety. While below, she realizes that she may have stumbled into an opportunity to find buried treasure: treasure that could be used to restore her home. She moves forward and eventually encounters an ancient subterranean world where all sorts of adventures await. Does she ever find her treasure? How should I know! I haven't written the stupid book yet.

A Soliloquy

I've made it no secret that I've been at this (not this particular story but "this" in general) for over two decades and I have yet to accomplish anything. Sure, I spat out several "how to" books on video editing. I wrote that diet book. I've authored hundreds of blog posts (a fair number of them pretty good, if I do say so myself). I've released three major versions of my pet project Timekeeper. I've written some music. I've drawn a few pictures. I've carved a lot of pumpkins. But I still have yet to write that Mediocre American Novel.

I'm not sure why I'm still at it either. Part of it is momentum. I've spent (literally) thousands of hours on backstory, world-building, invented languages, research and development, and so on. Apart from The Underhaven Trilogy, I have Tenner Heed, Winter's Gate, and Ronald all in various stages of development.

It's not like the world NEEDS another book. In fact, I'm pretty sure we've crossed the point where, for the first time in history, there are now more people writing books than reading them. Plus, I still have my music and art interests waiting for attention. So why do I keep clinging to this notion that I've got some sort of story in my head that I need to put onto paper when all the evidence? Why do I keep at this?

The answer is simple. In fact, it's so simple, that it's only one word: because.

Okay, that's a bit too simple. Here's more words: because it's me. It's just what I do. Some people are compelled to photograph everything, others to weave baskets, others to plant trees, and still others to make peanut butter (for which I'm forever grateful). I firmly believe we don't get a say in this. The one hundred billion cells that make up your organic central processing unit make that call for you. There's a layer of consciousness in there which is aware of the decisions they're making, but that's about as far as our control goes.

I don't consciously decide that I love peanut butter and hate mushrooms. I don't sit down with a spreadsheet and think, "Hmmm, now let's list all the pros and cons of something, assign a score and weight to each attribute, then exclaim: It's official! I'm not a fan of The Godfather. Whew, glad I finally got THAT worked out." There's no logic or active thought process that says, "I like onions. I hate spiders. I love beer. I can't stand the color yellow." These things just is.

And so too with this writing thing. It just is. It's not whether or not the world needs another book. Or if I'm trying to cross something off some stupid bucket list. Or just spending a bit of free time noodling around with a hobby. Nope, my brain is wired in such a way that I always have to be producing something. I'm not happy if I'm not producing. I possess a modicum of talent in a few creative areas and if I'm not spitting something out, then I actually experience something approaching internal torment. So sure, it'd be nice to finish a novel someday. (Heck, I'll start with just one.) And it'd be nice if someone bought it. And even more nice if someone enjoyed it. But in the end, it's really just about me. And my sanity.

Posted in Musings, Progress | Comments Off on PBWQ14 Week Three Update

October 16th, 2014

I know it's only been three days since the Week One update. However, that update was late and Week Two officially ends tomorrow, October 17. Sure, I could wait until after tomorrow to post an update, but there's no point because I've already peaked. And I mean that in a good way.

So here's the scoop. I'm still working on the long timeline. This timeline includes key dates (years, actually) for both the backstory leading up to the main stories as well as key milestones within the stories themselves. The timeline begins at a point 120 million years ago. Yeah, yeah. This is pretty far back for a three-volume story that begins in 1864. But it's important to me.

Now, I'm not sure which definition of "it's important to me" I should use here. There are two:

1. Exploring the geography and geology all the way back to its (relevant) inception provides the author with key details and clues that will ultimately shape the story and improve it in ways that couldn't be accomplished by just "winging it."

2. I have to touch the light switch seven times with my right hand and five times with my left hand before entering a room.

History will be the judge.

Anyway, back to today's breakthrough. I got to a point in the timeline (specifically, 6,200 years BCE) where three different things all came together. And it was wonderful. I can probably describe this experience best with an analogy.

It's like I had spent a great deal of time crafting the letter "D". I worked on it, and poked and prodded it, and made it just the way I wanted it. On the side, a few years ago, I was also working on "E". I dusted that one off, cleaned it up, and made it presentable. Then I had an "R" going as well. Suddenly today I lined them up and said, "Whoa, I can spell RED with this!"

The uninterested observer standing over my shoulder would have seen this a long time ago. This observer would be highly unimpressed by my epiphany. But I'd been working on the individual trees for so long, the forest was effectively invisible.

But just like that, in a flash, I tied the three stories together in a very small but potentially significant way.

I'm still behind overall in my October plan. But this goes a long way to me not caring. 🙂

Posted in Progress | Comments Off on PBWQ14 Week Two Update

October 13th, 2014

Just a very quick update now that the first week of PBWQ is behind us.

"Week? Today is the thirteenth!" you say.

Yeah, yeah. But I'm breaking up October into four weeks for psychological reasons. The first week went from October 1 to October 10. The second, third and fourth weeks end on each subsequent Friday. So, the first week is done and we're now just into the second week.


I've noticed the past few years that my PBWQ posts have gone like this:

Post #1, before it starts: IT'S TIME! IMA GONNA DO IT! YAY ME!!!

Post #2, after it's over: I failed. I suck. I'm never going to do anything.

So I vowed that this year will be different. This year I shall post at least four times between "IT'S TIME!!!" and "I failed." It's a whole new me.


The update is that things are going mostly well. I set a first-week goal for myself of having all my way, way backstory done: the part that lays the foundation for the stories to build on. I think I'm close, maybe another day or so. But it's all progress. I haven't missed a day yet working on this stuff. And that's saying a lot.

Posted in Progress | One comment