I Have No Idea What I’m Doing!

i have no idea what im doing

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me use this gif to explain my writing process. It’s so accurate. I am totally winging this whole “writing” thing.

Some days, it really hits me how accurate that is.

This struck me recently while reading through the first draft of Trustfall, which I wrote during April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I can tell it needs work, but… fucked if I know what to do with it.

I thought I had an idea. I thought it was a great idea. It would require significant changes in the first half of the book, but it seemed brilliant!!! I wrote 400 words of notes about everything that would need to change in the first half in order to make this work. But then as I kept reading, I realized I did not like that idea. It wouldn’t work. It didn’t make sense. It wouldn’t fix things.

So now I’m back at square one. Having no idea what to do.

I’ve only written and revised one full novel in my life. It took me like three years to get it to a point where I thought maybe I was done revising and should start trying to publish it. Three years of “spend a couple months working on it, take six or eight months off, pick it up again later and revise again”… Ain’t no one got time for that now that I’m taking writing seriously and trying to publish. My goal for Camp Nanowrimo during July is to get this draft to a condition where I can send it to beta readers. Then I’ll probably wait 3-4 weeks for feedback from them (and write another short story or two in that time….) and revise again. Hoping to have it out to at least one publisher by the end of the year.

But I have no idea what I’m doing. No idea. At all. How do I fix this? I think I’ve figured out the problem (unclear character arc, entire first half of novel written during NaNoWriMo so it’s really, REALLY rough, and cute, but not overly exciting) but I am not sure of the solution. I guess I need to make Saul’s arc more clear? Make Alex’s struggle more difficult? So what do I do?? Add a scene? Change scenes? Remove scenes? Just flesh out scenes that are already there? rewrite the entire first half?!

This feels like someone dropped a calculus problem in front of me, told me the solution, but didn’t tell me how to get to it, and I have to write down the process of how to solve it. I HAVE NO IDEA. I GUESS I’LL JUST TRY A BUNCH OF SHIT AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS! Except I have a time limit! One month! One month isn’t enough time to “try a bunch of things” with a novel.

I know, I know, self-imposing a deadline like that and pressuring myself is bad and leads to burnout. But I want to get it done.

I’m hoping for a flash of miraculous brilliance but not betting on it. How do you move forward when you have no idea how to move forward? Especially with revisions?

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Writing “Process,” Step One – Birth of an Idea

As a writer, you hear a lot of “what’s your process?” and “How do you start?” and “Where do you get ideas?” and so on and so forth.

I’m starting a new novel draft for Camp NaNoWriMo, so I figured I would share my “writing process” while it’s still fresh in my head — at least as it pertains to this particular project, because to be honest, I don’t think I have a universal process. I don’t have a tried and true “method” for “getting ideas” and “prewriting” and then “writing.” Maybe writing this will help me figure out a more efficient method of shaping my ideas into coherent drafts, as well as give you guys some ideas.

I often start with a concept or emotion. For my NaNoWriMo draft back in November, I started with a concept along the lines of “opposites helping each other, sort of against their will.” For this new draft I’m starting, I woke up one morning with a thought in my head: I want to read a gay romance with a dom/sub relationship…. with asexual characters.

BDSM is a very sexual thing. I find it appealing in books because, as I discussed in my post a couple weeks ago, I am intrigued by the exploration of power dynamics in relationships (especially in m/m). BDSM is power dynamic exploration to the extreme. But it is very sexual, but given my recent realization about my own sexuality, I thought… how would a couple with at least one asexual member explore their BDSM kink?

So first, with this concept in mind, I went on a quest to find books to read for research. I wanted characters that are explicitly identified as asexual, so after posting a question on Twitter, my Facebook, and the Facebook M/M Romance group, I consulted the wonderful Aro/Ace Speculative Fiction Database first (maintained by Claudie Arseneault). There, I found one entry mentioning a D/S relationship, in the web series Iwunen Interstellar Investigations

Next I moved on to the M/M Romance Goodreads group and looked through their shelves. No shelf for asexuality, so that was a bust (get on that, guys).

I found a different Goodreads list of asexual characters – any gender, orientation, or genre, as long as it has a confirmed asexual character (with a whopping 105 books on it). I browsed through that and found one published novel that fit my ace BDSM criteria, from Dreamspinner Press – City of Soldiers by Sam Burke. I bought it.

Then I went back to my Facebook posts where I’d asked for recs. Nothing. I had three people who were interested enough in the same topic to follow the FB post, so I provided them with the two items I’d found.

So after several disappointing hours of searching, I decided FUCK IT. Guess I gotta write one. I’ve always thought there is nothing original left to explore in the world, but APPARENTLY, asexuality is pretty damn original. Asexuals are like unicorns or something.

So I had a concept, and two vague character archetypes to plug into the concept – In addition to wanting to write a “no sex” BDSM relationship, I also want to write a sub who is more physically imposing and/or financially successful than his dom and a dom who is not a suave millionaire stereotype. (on that note, if you have recs for m/m BDSM books with a dom and/or sub who fit those criteria, please drop them in the comments for me – they can be explicitly sexual, I don’t mind, since this is a different aspect of research than the asexuality aspect).

Anyway, with my concept in mind and a fair amount of excitement (I’m exploring new territory here, apparently), I went and got in the shower, because as a human being, I must sometimes do mundane things such as this.

And I got like FORTY MILLION IDEAS while I was in there. Thank God no one else was home because I kept going “Ooh!” and “OH MY GOD.”

When I got out of the shower, I sat down and wrote out about 2-3 single spaced pages of brainstorming. It was going to be urban fantasy. Magic! Danger! Curses and cures!

And then I went to bed, and at work the next day, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. It wasn’t quite right. Needed refining. The characters weren’t quite right for the plot I was trying to put them into. So I yanked them apart–these characters were not meant to be in this situation. So then I had characters in need of a plot, and a plot in need of characters. I also needed to do some worldbuilding, because if I’m going to write urban fantasy, I need it to be original. Urban fantasy is pretty popular these days and I don’t want to copy the Dresden files… So I consulted my sister for worldbuilding advice. We exchanged lengthy emails about worldbuilding for this story idea I have.

After another day of simmering, I ended up splitting the characters up, too. They had too many clashing aspects. I’d gotten excited and attached some feelings to one of the characters that I couldn’t shake off him, and they didn’t mesh with the other character. So I pulled my sub and dom apart, gave the sub a new dom, gave the dom a new sub……… and then I split some aspects out of each of those couples to create 2 more couples that could explore even more aspects of this idea I’d had.

So at this point, I had 4 potential couples/plots to work with. The characters were all still in the “vague concept” mode, but the plot was starting to have some substance. To decide which characters to work with and put into this plot, I brainstormed careers — I texted some friends and talked with my husband for career possibilities that would allow someone to be physically strong/imposing/able to handle themselves. I put together a list, but the vague notions I had for the plot immediately latched onto one career choice as soon as it came to mind, so the decision was easy. The same thing happened for the other character. I asked Twitter for career possibilities and the second I saw one of the suggestions I said YES. THAT IS IT. Almost like the characters were there, they’re in my head, but they don’t have any vocabulary yet. They know themselves, they know what they are, but they can’t provide the words. I have to drop words into the well with them and see which one they throw back at me, saying, “This one.”

It took me 2-3 days to shape that initial brainstorming session into something useful, and in the end, the characters that came out of it are nothing like the ones I initially thought up. This is why you don’t share first drafts! My original couple that I got excited about while showering was a magic-using bodyguard (dangerous/physically imposing sub) and a scientist (not so physically imposing dom). After shaking them down and peeling them apart and kicking the dust out of my plot idea and gathering that dust up and making a new plot out of it, my final couple is a personal trainer (or physical therapist, I have to do a bit more research) and a sociology professor. No magic. No danger. Just a nice, normal, contemporary romance… with an asexual character in a dom/sub relationship.

The characters’ names come to me with varying amounts of difficulty. One of them has had a name since I thought up his initial concept in the shower. The other one… I knew his name started with S. Throughout the day at work, various character facts come to me, rising up to the surface of my mind like soap bubbles, popping into existence with brillaint “a-ha!” certainty. I also begin to get flashes of scenes as those facts begin to appear, snippets of dialogue, vague notions of plot and events. All of this goes into my handy-dandy little memo book which stays on my desk at work and comes home with me each night, full of new ideas.

So to summarize, the birth of a new story, for me, goes: 1) concept or emotion, 2) research, 3) wild, excited brainstorming, 4) simmering & refinement. Of course, it’s not a nice even neat progression of events. It’s more like having a bucket of lego, and there are a few really cool bricks and a bunch of other pieces that aren’t as exciting, and you immediately grab onto the cool bricks and think I’M GOING TO MAKE SOMETHING WITH THESE. But then, when you try, it turns out you actually need all kinds of other pieces in order for the cool pieces to fit together, and some of the cool pieces just won’t fit no matter what you do, and you try rebuilding a couple times with a bunch of different types of pieces in a bunch of different ways in hopes of making your original “something” work, but eventually you have to discard some of your precious “cool pieces” and accept that your lego house will be better off if you sacrifice a little bit of “cool” in exchange for structural stability.

I’m always curious about others’ writing processes. Where do you guys get your ideas? How do you refine them down to something useful? Do you actually have a process? Let me know in the comments!

What I Learned from Doing NaNoWriMo

I know, a month ago I was saying I probably wouldn’t bother trying to win NaNo this year. Here I am saying it’s great.

This makes my second win in four years. My first win was in 2013. I’d been wanting to do NaNoWriMo since I first learned about it more than five years earlier, but unfortunately I was in school. In August 2013, I finally graduated with my Master’s degree, and in November 2013, with just a full-time job and no homework, I was able to pound out over 1,667 words a day to complete NaNoWriMo a day or two before the end of the month. This year, I demolished the word goal and won the whole kit-n-kaboodle in 20 days.

Here are a few thoughts on NaNoWriMo, things I learned, habits I developed, and why I think NaNo is a valuable expenditure of your time (even IF you don’t go on to complete, revise and/or publish your draft)

1. It forces you to make writing a habit

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I’ve always had things to write. Usually those things were persuasive essays, comparative research papers, and analyses of other peoples’ literature, though. Things change when you get out of school and no longer have deadlines and assignments to keep the words and thoughts flowing, no longer have classmates struggling alongside you to hit that page goal and finish that paper, no longer have teachers there to guide you. If you’re the kind of person who needs to set a goal or have a deadline to get anything done, NaNoWriMo is a great motivator. It gives you a deadline and an achievable goal. All you have to do is make writing a habit. In order to achieve the 50k word count goal, you need to write 1,667 words a day. For me, that’s about 45 minutes of focused writing. If you have other habits–morning coffee, going to the gym, brushing your teeth–then you can attach writing to one of those pre-existing habits to help make it stick. Get up, have coffee, write. Or, brush your teeth, write, go to sleep. Whatever works for you. If you make it into a habit, soon you’ll feel weird if you’re not writing, and NaNoWriMo will be a breeze.

2. You may (probably will) surprise yourself

If you’re not a habitual writer, it may surprise you to realize how much fun it is to write. If you are a habitual writer, it may shock you to realize how productive you can be–and how much you may have been selling yourself short all this time.

I am a habitual writer. I write every night… But if I must confess, I’m very lax about it. I pull out my laptop and sometimes I devote some solid focused effort into my project, but other times I open a word document, get on Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc etc, and then fall asleep on my computer (that happens really often you guys. When I was a kid I would fall asleep on books–Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets suffered several breaks in its spine thanks to me zonking out on it–and now that I’m an adult I doze off on my computer).

This year, I participated in NaNoWordSprints. They’re led by NaNo staff on Twitter, and the idea is that you sit and focus on writing for a set amount of time–anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Really focus. Don’t sit there with twelve tabs open and the TV on and your word document minimized and call it writing.

I wrote nearly 12,000 words in one day doing that. It took me almost the entire day (I took a few breaks), but I’d been hoping to maybe bust out 5,000. I realized that I have been selling myself short for a long time. I can be way more productive than I think, if I just stop dicking around on the internet and calling it writing.

3. There is a great community around NaNoWriMo

If you’re the type of person who needs other people to hold you accountable for your goals, or if you get motivation from competition or from seeing other people succeed, engage yourself in the community. The NaNoWordSprints Twitter account is very active and responsive and supportive. They keep things fun with competitions, such as the #nanocivilwar and #nanohousecup, where your word count per sprint is points scored for your chosen team.

If Twitter isn’t your thing, there are forums on the NaNoWriMo website.

If you’re a more in-person socializer, there are write-ins and meet-ups in most cities.

Authors write “pep talks” which are sent out via message and email to registered NaNo participants. One of the most encouraging things I’ve ever read about writing was the pep talk Neil Gaiman wrote for NaNoWriMo, where he admitted that about 3/4 of the way through his own books, he starts telling his editor/agent how awful his writing is and how he should just quit and trash the whole project. I read that and thought, if Neil frikkin’ Gaiman doubts his own writing, and he’s successful and prolific and talented as heck, then maybe my writing isn’t as awful as I think it is.

The whole environment of NaNoWriMo is nothing but encouragement and support. It’s delightful. So take advantage of it.

4. Maybe you should hire a maid in November….

If your SO/roommate/child/house guest/pet is not a tidy creature, maybe you should hire a maid for the month of November, because when you build that habit of writing and engage yourself in the headlong rush to meet word count goals and finish a novel, suddenly the facts that autumn leaves have been tracked all over your house (thanks dogs) and the dishes haven’t been done in two weeks (…we have plastic cutlery) and there’s no food in your house that isn’t frozen and microwaveable (or stale or rotting from neglect) don’t seem very important anymore. Then, on December 1, when you poke your head up out of your fantasy world and take a breath for the first time in a month, you realize… yikes.

Then, if you’re like me, you shrug and say “Fuck it” because who cares what’s going on in the real world when your characters are about to find the treasure they’ve been hunting for the past 50,000 words?!

5. Never give up, never surrender!

Even if you find yourself 10,000 words behind with only two days to go, IT IS POSSIBLE TO MAKE IT! Obviously sometimes real life interferes, but if you have time, don’t stop. Never stop writing, because even if you only write 20k or 30k words the entire month, you’ve still done more than you did in October, right? And just because you didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo doesn’t mean you should quit on your novel. Don’t lose that writing habit you developed in November. Keep plucking away at it. Even if it takes you until next November to finish your first draft.

just-keep-writing

Let’s Not Talk About Politics

I considered writing a blog post weighing in on the political field, but I just can’t deal with it. I try to be an adult and not sweep problems under the rug, but… I’m just overwhelmed by what’s going on in this country right now.

So let’s not talk about it here.

Instead, I continue to focus on improving myself as a person. Improving my writing. Spreading light and acceptance and joy where I can. Books have always been an escape, albeit temporary, for me and millions of other people. Sometimes, when things are out of your control, the only thing you can do is mentally escape to a fantasy world, invest your heart in fictional characters, and share their joy at a happy ending.

I feel like fiction is going to be a very important part of many peoples’ lives in the next four years. I’m going to keep writing. Hopefully I will have something published next year. I’ve been treating writing as a hobby, but I need to start treating it more like a second job. I see all those quotes that say “people need your writing” and I’ve always kind of scoffed at that, but I’m starting to see that it may be true. Given the results of the US election and the likely struggles to come in the next four years, my writing may very well help someone. And if it does, if it can, then it should.

So let’s not talk about politics.

Let’s just focus on being lights in this mess.

Here’s a picture of my cat for good measure.

loki

Audience of Zero

I am currently writing this blog for an audience of zero. Or, I suppose, an audience of one: Me. I’m kind of okay with that, because I’ve always been writing for an audience of one. Some people start out writing with the goal of publication in mind. They want to tell a story, to have people read it, to develop a following.

I write because I want to write. For me.

However, when you finally get to a point where you’re done with something, you’ve revised it twenty eight times and it’s finally ready for the light of day (or you’re so sick of revising it that the other option is to just throw it in the toilet), you just have to take a plunge and try to publish.

And if you want to make any money off your book, you need to market. Sure, publishers do that to some degree, but an author needs to have their own social media accounts going on to help build interest. I like to follow authors for advice and to see their thoughts and keep up with their work. It’s nice to be a fan of a person and be able to interact with them in some way.

So I need to have social media.

So I have this blog. And I now have twitter. And I have Goodreads (which I am not very active on currently because it’s NanoWriMo. Cut me a break!)

I have recently been reflecting on the fact that I’ve very much withdrawn from internet interactions with strangers. I don’t know when or why it happened, really. I used to go on forums and I used to use AIM and Livejournal and Fanfiction.net and myOtaku and I had followers and I commented on posts and had interactions with strangers. I had a lot of friends online that I’d never met in person.

But at some point, I just stopped doing all that.

And now, as an aspiring author, I’m having to try to go back to that. To start throwing things out there and seeing what sticks. Trying to make connections. To do things outside my comfort zone and interact with strangers.

As an adult they call it “networking.”

It’s very strange. It feels like a lot of work. But of course, any goal worth achieving is difficult.

New Story

First things first, I feel like I should clarify that I do not write short stories. I need to start. Maybe if I can bust out some short stories, I can get them published. However I tend to devote all my time to novels and I don’t really know how to write short stories, so anytime I talk about a “story” I’m writing, it’s a novel. I just don’t like saying I’m writing a novel because it sounds pretentious.

That said, I know in my last post I said I wasn’t going to really devote myself to the word count goal of NaNoWriMo, but so far I’m really motivated on this new story and I’m on track with my word count. It’s day 5, so I should have ~8,300 words, and I have just over 8,700.

I’m getting to know the characters. I did some development and pre-writing in October, but things always go awry whenever I start the actual writing process. The character profiles I put together are a good starting point, but once I sit down and get into their heads, things always start to change. Or a secondary character throws me for a loop because I didn’t spend much time developing him so he doesn’t want to fit into my preconceived plot ideas.

This story is meant to be kind of an action/adventure but also a m/m romance. The idea originated in my head when I played the final Uncharted game for PS4. Around the same time, I also read Strange Fortune by Josh Lanyon. I decided I wanted to write a cool swashbuckling treasure hunting type character. I sat down to create said character. I didn’t want him to be a Nathan Drake rip off, though. I wanted him to be not quite what you’d expect. So I ended up with a cat burglar with a sweet tooth who is incredibly squeamish.

That guy did not survive. We didn’t click. I felt no real motivation to write him. But the idea continued to linger in my head for a couple months. I wanted to write urban fantasy. I wanted to write an adventure type novel. And obviously, I wanted gay characters.

I often start writing with a concept or an emotion in mind, and no idea who the characters are. I just enjoy exploring the emotions. Plus sometimes I just want to write empty plotless smut. This one day in particular, I had an idea in my head that basically went like this: Two characters on opposing “factions” or sides of some issue or event. But they can help each other. But one doesn’t trust the other, even though the other is literally the most trustworthy person in existence. So the non-trusting one tricks the trustworthy one and basically takes him prisoner (even though there’s no need for it) and demands his help in exchange for freedom.

That was the vague notion in my head, and I started writing. And none of it went according to plan. It just all fell apart… into something better. Lo and behold, this new guy just steamrolled my brain. He just came barrelling in, full tilt, got up in my business and was like “Here I am! I know I’m not what you had in mind, but I am fucking fabulous. Write me.”

So there’s no longer any kind of opposing factions or taking prisoner or deep-seated distrust of each other. One character is a mage in a modern-day city (haven’t decided which one yet) and the other is a bit of a scholar/explorer type guy. I’m working really hard to not make either of them seem anything like the characters who gave me the desire to write an adventure/urban fantasy type novel (Indiana Jones, Nathan Drake, Harry Dresden, Atticus O’Sullivan, the characters from Strange Fortune whose names I cannot remember right now) while also still making them compelling. And of course gay.

Anyway, that was the birth of this story. It’s very strange how an entire novel can be birthed from a single vague notion or feeling or image. (I guess I shouldn’t say that as if I’ve already finished the novel, because I haven’t. I’m 8700 words in.)

I’m going to go continue writing said novel now.

NaNoWriMo

‘Tis the season.

Nanowrimo. Ahh. The word holds such abundant potential. Potential for new novels and new friends, for learning and growing. Potential for ripping out your hair and screaming in frustration. Potential for printing out your progress just for the satisfaction of scattering the pages around and stomping on them in dirty shoes while cursing loudly. Ahh. So exciting.

I think about doing Nanowrimo every year. It seems like such a great idea–sit down, start something new, blast through the month pounding out 1,667 words every day, finish out the month with a novel draft! So great!

Except here’s the thing:

nano2013

That is my completed 2013 NaNoWriMo draft and related notes. Please note the “Modified On” date on the right. That’s as of October 2016. I blasted through November 2013 pounding out over 1,667 words a day… hit the word goal… stopped. Never touched the draft again.

I am almost afraid to do NaNoWriMo ever again because of that. I hit the word goal. I feel like I should emphasize this, though: I didn’t finish my story. There is still plot to be wrapped up. Characters in the midst of crises. The story is not done. I hit the word goal, that’s it. And I haven’t touched it since. I’m not sure if I burnt myself out, or if I just had a really lousy story idea and didn’t give myself time to realize it until I’d hit my word count goal, or what.

I think for people who don’t write much, Nano is great. It gives them a goal and a reason and motivation. Some people are very goal oriented. Numbers are easily quantifiable goals. Saying “I will write 50,000 words in a month” is much easier to measure than “I am going to write a novel.”

To me, though, it’s much more important to finish a story, even if it takes you two months or six months or a year. So if you ask me, I will be over here writing a novel during nano. It will have a beginning, middle, and end,  all of which may not make sense, but it’s a shitty first draft and it doesn’t have to make complete sense. It just has to get done. Nano gives me motivation to start something new. Starting something new isn’t the hard part for me. Finishing it is. And Nanowrimo gives me a false sense of completion before I actually complete my novel. I don’t need that.

So I will be very lax in my participation in Nanowrimo this year, but I’m going to start writing this new novel on November 1. So if I do write 50k words of it in a month, I will get that badge of honor, but I am not setting my sights on 50k in a month. I’m setting my sights on finishing the story in an indeterminate amount of time.