Writing Process, Step Three – Writing

Ah, finally, the vital step. Writing. The first two steps are the fun and exciting steps. Then we get to writing. Writing is hard. Writing is the painful, strenuous, miserable, hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, fist-shaking, curse-shouting step. Writing is the step where everything can fall apart.

But it is the most important step in the writing process. You can get all the ideas in the world, develop them, plot them out, profile your characters, but if you can’t park your ass in a chair and put words on the page, then there’s no point.

For me, a typical night of writing looks like this:

Start up laptop. Open Word. Open Twitter. Open YouTube (FOR MUSIC!). Check all notifications on Twitter. Interact with some people on Twitter. Start trading gifs of Jensen Ackles and Tom Hiddleston back and forth with people on Twitter. Realize you haven’t started writing yet. Open appropriate document. Check Twitter again. Tell Twitter friends it is time for you to focus on writing. Open Facebook. Check Facebook notifications. Maybe interact with some people on Facebook. Realize you don’t have a blog post written for this week yet. Open WordPress. Brainstorm for blog post. Check Twitter again. By now it is 11pm. Realize you still haven’t written anything. Start writing. Fall asleep on laptop 20 minutes later. Wake up at 3am, delete the 3 pages of the letter s you wrote while asleep, put laptop away.

next bestseller
Actual post from my Facebook a couple years ago. This is an ongoing trend.

It is a true miracle I ever accomplish anything.

…okay in all seriousness though, I have a pretty good writing routine down. I write every day. It took me years to develop this habit, and I did not develop it because all the writer advice websites say “write every day.” I developed it largely because of anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. I used to have trouble getting to sleep at night, until I developed a habitual nightly writing routine. I’ve written previously about psychologically manipulating yourself to get results. This is another way. Attach writing to something in your routine. For me, I attached it to going to bed. I would go to bed, get out my laptop, and write. At first I did this because I had trouble getting to sleep, and writing gave me something to focus on besides every embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in the past 25 years, but before long, I did it because it’s just… what I do. It keeps my mind occupied so I don’t lie awake brooding, and it keeps me productive. Even if I go to bed at midnight and have to be up for work at 6:30, I get out my laptop (usually in these cases, I just fall asleep on my keyboard two minutes later, but if I *didn’t* get out my laptop, I wouldn’t fall asleep). I do write during the day on weekends sometimes, but for me, writing is a “once you start you will not stop” habit. If I start writing in the morning, all other activities for the day are gone from my mind. Writing at night also saves me from having to stop for any reason. I’m in bed. The day is done. Leave me alone. I can write until I can’t write anymore.

Anyway, each night without fail, I go to bed around 8, get out my laptop, and write. If I go a day or two without doing this, I get anxious. I can’t focus. I get irritable. All I can think about is going home and writing.

So let’s face it: I’m addicted to writing. And I think that’s how it should be. Writing should be something you enjoy. Even in all its teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling glory, you should enjoy it. If you enjoy it, you should make time for it in your life. If you do not enjoy it, then why are you doing it?

I try not to get preachy or spew out advice about “how to write” or “how to be a writer” or any of that. Everyone’s routine is different, everyone’s process is different, everyone’s life is different. But I do think that it is important to develop a routine if you want to see any results. Just like with any skill or art, you have to put a lot into it if you want to get anything out of it. You have to practice in order to get better. Whether it’s 1000 words a day, a page, a paragraph, a sentence–whatever it is, do it consistently. Writing is not a spectator sport. You can’t read a book about how to write, sit down, and immediately tap out beautiful sentences, vivid imagery, and realistic characters. I have been writing since I was a tiny little child (as you all know, if you saw my 500 Followers Celebration Post). I started writing “seriously” when I was 11 (thank you Dragonball Z).

In other words, I’ve been writing “seriously” for over 15 years–I have¬†a degree in creative writing–and I still think I’m awful.

But I keep writing, because I have to, because that’s all you can do, because that’s the only way to get better, and that’s the only way the words are gonna end up on the page. You gotta sit your ass in a chair (or on the floor, on your bed, on a bench, I don’t care where you put your ass, you could even write standing up, but it’s gotta stay there), you have to suffer through that self-doubt and anxiety, you have to accept that it is NOT going to be perfect (definitely not on the first draft… probably not after 5+ revisions, either. Just accept it), and then you have to start writing. I use a laptop. Some people write on a desktop. Some people write by hand. Some people use special pens or special notebooks. Some people write at home, some people write at coffee shops. Do whatever you need to do to make it happen.

One important thing to note about my writing process is that I am a pantser. That means I don’t outline in advance. I usually know what’s going to happen like 1-2 scenes in the future, and beyond that, there’s some vague notions of what might happen. Sometimes, I hit a wall. I get through those 1-2 scenes and then…. where do I go? What do I do? HALP. HALP. HALP!
When this happens, DON’T QUIT. You may need to take a day off. You may need to do more research. Sometimes you just down have the knowledge base to generate the ideas. This happened to me recently. I had some vague notion that Something Bad Happens, but couldn’t figure out exactly what. I was up against a wall. So I talked to a friend, figured out a direction, and then did some research to figure out a plausible way for that direction to be taken. I let the ideas stew and simmer for a couple days in order to coalesce in my mind, and now I have another 2-3 scenes in mind to write. After that, I once again don’t know what will happen, but fingers are crossed the boys will tell me when I get there.

If you’re having trouble with the writing step, I have a couple things for you to read. These two pieces stuck with me the most of any “writing help” I’ve ever read:

Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” (and really, the entirety of her book Bird by Bird) changed my life when I read it in college. I never finished a novel draft before reading this piece. I kept getting stuck on the idea of perfection. I’d edit as I wrote, I’d get caught up on things, and eventually fizzle out. After I read this, I finally managed to finish a novel-length draft!)

Neil Gaiman’s NaNoWriMo pep talk If Neil Gaiman can feel horribly insecure about his own writing, even after being published and awarded and praised extensively… maybe my writing isn’t as bad as I think it is, either.

Also for fun, a conversation between George R. R. Martin and Stephen King (I haven’t watched the video, just read the article) wherein Martin expresses his own insecurities about his writing.

I also highly advise participating in NaNoWriMo. It definitely helps with developing a routine.

So to summarize… Step Three – Writing = develop a routine and be consistent. Get words on the page. They are gonna suck, and you are gonna hate them, but you can’t make them better if you never bring them into existence. Once they exist, we get to move onto Step Four – Revision!!! MY FAVORITE STEP. (Jk I hate it)

The Road So Far

In my initial post back in October, I said I would be keeping you, my lovely reader(s), apprised of my writing progress, publication attempts, etc. Initially I did not think I would take NaNoWriMo so seriously, but I did, so there has been no forward momentum in the publication process thus far. My plan is to get the manuscript sent out to at least one publisher by the end of 2016. If that means I send the email on December 31 at 11:59 PM, I will consider that goal a success.

To get us all caught up, this is what has happened in my writing/revising/publishing process so far:

I started writing this thing in 2012, and the characters were in my head for at least a year or two before that. I wrote a large portion of it over the summer between school years in 2012, and then didn’t touch it for six months. I finished the first draft in 2013.

I then revised it, and revised it again, and revised it again, and wrote the first draft of a sequel, started to revise the sequel, decided I hated the entire sequel, trashed it, revised the first novel yet again, wrote another draft of the sequel, and now here we are, three years and four revisions later, getting ready to finally try to publish it. I never felt motivated to publish it until recently, so I’ve just been dilly-dallying. My next novel will not take three years to get submission-ready.

Anyway.

I am going to tweak it yet again; just one tiny little thing about one MC that’s always bugged me and I finally figured out why and how to fix it (thank god it’s fixable with a small tweak). Then I will be done.

In preparation for the publication attempts, I have: begun paying more attention to who publishes the M/M romance books I read. I’m investigating every publisher I see. I’m following publishers, editors, and authors on Twitter (I created a Twitter specifically to do so). I’m entering giveaways, joining reading lists, and of course, reading more in the genre I write. (contemporary gay romance)

These are all things the internet has told me I must do in order to prepare to publish a book. And so far I’m finding it helpful.

Now I just need to figure out how to write a synopsis. God save me.

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

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.