Starting when the goal is an outline

In my evolving quest to ensure that the month of November (NaNoWriMo) aids my writing process, my plan this year is to work on my outline and ‘some’ scenes for the fourth novel in my French series. It is not to write the first draft. I’m going into this intending to work on the outline, not write the entire novel.

I’ve had plenty of years of frantically writing 100,000 words to finish a first draft. That requires that I start months since I like to outline, sometimes with specific scenes and even snatches of dialogue. This summer my oldest daughter got married. And my youngest is starting grad school in Canada. I didn’t want to be distracted with working on an outline for months instead of being present this summer.

I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo for ten years and writing a first draft in thirty days isn’t a big challenge for me. Part of why NaNoWriMo has been good for me is the pre-November focus. How do I have that without actually starting the outline?

It helps to recall what causes me to slow down, and one of them is locations for scenes. Another is something for characters to have conflict about, or to connect over. Sometimes that’s getting a croissant at a café, or visiting the Eiffel Tower, or … Those ors can be hard to think of in November in the midwest. Especially if I’m traveling, away from my normal routine, which seems to happen a fair amount in November lately.

So I’m coming up with a list of ‘things that can happen’ or ‘places to go’ including which characters might be involved. This is where working on a series makes this easier. I know when I read a series, I’m pleased when minor characters come back, so I try to do that, as well as the series has two main characters and several people who are involved in their day-to-day lives. When I have an idea of a place, I think about who could best fit there–or not fit when the goal is to make the character uncomfortable.

I’m having fun seeing what attracts my interest. So far today, I made a note about being enthusiastic, a survey on local government budget and some great stuff about visiting a Nespresso place in Paris for the first time. Some days feel so creative. Others not so much. But I trust my process and enjoy it when things flow.

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Overbooked – background

Four years later and I’m polishing up the novel where my main character visits this café/bar. It’s neat to see a place and think, ‘this would make a good venue for a scene in a novel’ and then to write that scene. I often put recipes in the back of books that mention cooking, maybe I should include pictures in books that are based on real places. Hmm. Maybe? (Expensive to do in a print copy, but easy to do on an ebook.)

Overbooked would be a good choice to include such pictures since it takes place in Amsterdam and in many cities in Italy. Only problem, I bet readers would expect a picture of the front-end loader going down a pile of mud and into a house. But I completely made that up so I don’t have any pictures.

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Goals

It seemed reasonable to write down a goal to create a short story or poem about something specific, but when I do that, the goal sits undone day after day. It turns out I don’t feel inspired to write then. I could try harder, but it feels like such a struggle.

It makes sense to change the goal to something that doesn’t require that my muse cooperate, by making it about reading more background information. I can prime the pump, by doing background reading, even taking a walk and play ‘what if?’ If I don’t produce a poem, or a short story, at least I’ve learned something. And that’s a goal worth having.

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Not Noveling during NaNoWriMo

2016-11-17-15-12-41I don’t regret my choice to not work on the first-draft of a novel during November of 2016. Watching the words about digital inclusion grow, especially the words about our partners, was great. I wrote more stuff about computers, digital divide, and how to bridge that than I wrote since the start of PBDD. But it does go slower to work on lots of smaller items.

When I’m working on a novel, I often get caught up in a scene, trying to put it down as quickly as I can, especially when I’m writing dialogue. There isn’t much dialogue with partner profiles, and not as much in a short story as with a novel. So I didn’t have any days of writing more than 5,000 words in a day, and often it took a while to write the last 500 of my goal of 2,000 a day. I even settled for around 1,000 a day for a while. But I wanted to finish by Thanksgiving, so had to pick up my pace a bit. There were many excuses, some of them valid, but mostly that I often didn’t feel like writing, and without one project that I was trying to finish, it was harder to push myself.

I also didn’t edit anything else during November, so that freed up some time. I read novels in November, which was very unusual for me. It also contributed to the feeling of having plenty of time. Not sure if that’s a bad thing.

It was no problem averaging 20,000 steps a day during November, especially since the weather was very, very nice for that time of year. Warm, sunny, not the typical November weather. It was nice to take walks outside. At first, I updated my kindle with the latest version of what I was writing, but I found that I didn’t need to work on a story while walking and it didn’t work very well to work on a partner profile while walking.

Writing poems was unexpected fun. That’s not something I do while working on a novel, but it seems almost the first step when I’m working on a short story. I feel a real sense of accomplishment after some of the poetry, which surprised me a bit. Then again, I often use poetry to help remember things. I once wrote poems about different types of wireless access, and to keep straight the 40 plays/comedy/shows I saw during a week at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

It was also nice to write a bunch of potential blog posts exploring a number of themes. I have a lot of material there as well as the digital inclusion stuff.

All in all, I’m pleased with what I wrote during November. But I missed working on a novel. Which means I was eager to get back to editing my novels. That’s a good thing.

One possibility for next year’s NaNo is to work on book four in my French series. I could even start working on the outline in a few months since I don’t want to write 100,000 words in November anymore. It’s too hard on my body to be that focused. Two years ago, I started in September and wrote about a thousand words a day until November when I wrote two thousand. I’m thinking of starting with five hundred words a day and not having to write every day, so that would require starting even earlier. Another option is to write the outline and a few scenes one November, then write the novel the next, but I’m not sure I want to wait that long to get the first draft down. I have a few ideas for book four already.

It’s been a while since I wrote a novel slowly. This could be a good one to work on that way.

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After ten years, a different use for NaNoWriMo

2016-10-11-12-42-44The first time I did NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, I joined at the end of October, so didn’t have much time to prepare. Besides, the guy who started the whole thing was a big advocate of not planning, just write. I finished a novel that year. It’s the only one I’ve written during NaNo that isn’t a coherent enough story to edit into something reasonable. Since I enjoy editing, it’s not lack of willingness on my part. The story just doesn’t have enough of a point to be worth it. (I did use some of it as backstory for a character in my Edinburgh series.)

I already knew that I could finish a novel since I had been writing for years and had completed several mysteries as well as children’s novels. Before NaNo, I hadn’t published, or released (how I term self-published) a novel, but knew how to get to the end. So the next year I spent time on preparation before November, figuring out the major plot points, and sketching out scenes. That worked so well that every year I spent more and more time getting my outline ready. I determine what I’m writing about six months ahead of time, start writing down ideas and plot points, then around mid-September work daily on the outline for about half an hour.

That process has produced a new novel every November. Many of them are ones I’ve spent years editing into something I’m willing to release. (They can be found on my website.) This year, I didn’t see the need for a new first-draft novel. I’ve been working on book two of my French series and after dozens of edits, I have it out to beta readers for input before releasing it soon. Book three was last year’s NaNo effort. I don’t want to draft book four until I spend significant time editing book three since I sometimes find an important thread to work on for the next book during the editing of the previous book. I already have two more books in the Edinburgh series to work on. So I didn’t need another first-draft of a novel.

Instead, I could use material for the website Partners Bridging the Digital Divide, a nonprofit that I’m the VP of Communications for. I haven’t written a partner profile in a while and after a couple of years of becoming more familiar with the issues, I would like to have some easy-to-perform skits that partners could use to explain the importance of computer access for everyone, short stories about the importance of digital inclusion, as well as to highlight the work our fabulous partners are doing.

Since I’m not writing the first draft of a novel this month, I didn’t do as much prep as I usually do. I did start coming up with ideas for things I wanted to write about, and I got the Scrivener file ready including changing my mind about how I was going to keep track of what I was writing on since it’s a bunch of things. I went from listing different things for each day as 1-30 (with some extra) to labeling the items aa, ab, etc and starting a day-one file, and a base for day-two (to copy each day), so I could decide the day before what I was working on the next day. I figured that was more likely to fit my interest during November. I didn’t want not being inspired to work on a particular idea to stifle my progress. One of the lovely things about doing NaNoWriMo is that I can get to the point where the words flow quickly. Focusing on word count each day instead of the content of each sentence has that effect on me. It’s a great feeling and really helps my productivity. I do edit during November, but only a first-pass to ensure the words I wrote were the words I intended, not that they’re the best words for that passage. (That’s what editing is for.)

I wondered if I’d have much enthusiasm for NaNo this year, since I wasn’t working on a novel and haven’t done the usual prep in September and October. Also, I’ve been trying to be more sensible about writing ever since the year I wrote two novels for 200,000+ words and made my gluts so tight that I still have issues sitting in soft chairs. (On the plus side, I now walk at least 250 steps every hour that it’s possible.) I tried to work on prep this year, but once I had a good list of ideas, there didn’t seem to be much more to do with the ideas except wait to write them. I don’t know how to prep a skit without writing it, or a short story. With a novel, there are so many scenes and interactions needed between characters that just deciding how often a character shows up helps create structure. I’m hoping to have some poetry and even a recipe, although they’re not great for word count. A recipe for how to have digital inclusion sounds awesome, but not something I can outline. I found myself eager for November to get here already, which seems a good sign.

In the past, I’ve been so eager to write, that I get up at 4 a.m. to start. This year, I held off until 5:30.

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Another possibility for November

2016-07-05 18.04.00The idea of writing book four in the French series this November, or even just writing the very-detailed outline and a few scenes, isn’t inspiring me. After ten years of doing NaNoWriMo, I feel quite comfortable with breaking the rules. I’m thinking of writing a series of essays this year. It would be useful to have some material to use for PBDD.org, as well as being useful to reflect on things such as the wisdom of not having a vegetable garden since it made my left shoulder hurt every year. I’d like to have about 50 topics before November 1st so I can discard some, or if it turns out that I only have a thousand words to say on a topic, I still write 50,000 words in November.

They don’t all have to be essays. I could see writing a short play or skit about the digital divide, or getting a program started, or where to find information, so that it can be used on our site. I once wrote poems about wireless technology to reinforce concepts. That might be fun to play with as well.

As the VP of Communications for PBDD, most of the time I’m rather serious about what appears on the website. It might be fun to ‘play’ with words on this topic. Since I usually look forward to NaNoWriMo for months, it would be good to have a topic I was excited about this year. This one might be it.

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Time and expectations

2016-06-02 10.56.30Having too much time to write might seem like an oxymoron, but there’s a chance that I’ll not have a paying job in November. The last time that happened, I thought, “Since I normally draft over 100,000 words and finish the first draft of a novel during months that I do work, without that distraction, I should be able to write the first drafts of  two novels.” I knew that I had to be careful to move my hands and wrists to avoid carpal tunnel problems. But, I was so busy being careful of them, and focusing on writing 200,000 words that I didn’t realize that intense writing while mostly sitting was a very bad idea. I no longer like cushions on chairs, for example.

So, the thought of having ‘too much’ time to write in November is not a good one. Especially since I was planning on working on the outline in November instead of in the several months before it and so was aiming for 50,000 words, not my usual 100,000.

On the other hand, working on polishing up a couple of others novels is going well, so maybe I’ll just continue that in November. And work on communications for PBDD. And host a bunch of people for Thanksgiving. Oh, and walk.

If I start writing too much a day, there’s always the fitbit’s ‘250 steps per hour’ little chart. Turns out I’m a bit compulsive about getting that for every hour between 7 am and 8 pm. And once I’m up and walking for 250 steps, I often try for 500 or even a thousand. That might help me break from the writing. Hope so.

 

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NaNo Idea in May

2016-04-23 13.15.41Some people might think it’s a bit early to be thinking about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which occurs in November, but that’s the downside of being a planner. If I’m going to finish the first draft of a novel in November without ‘writing too much’ i.e. stressing my body, I need to start a month or two earlier, i.e. in September. To start writing, I need a complete outline. So I should be starting that, like now.

I don’t want to work on my outline now for something I’m supposed to write in November. But I like focusing on writing new stuff in November. So my idea is to work on the outline in November this year.

Not sure when I’ll write the novel, maybe next November. Perhaps I can iterate over a novel and write it over the course of three years at a sensible pace. Maybe. We’ll see.

I have a few ideas for the novel–it’s going to be the fourth book in my French series. I know one of the character’s conflicts, need to figure out the other main character’s issues. And when in the book’s universe the next book starts. Book one to two had a four month gap. Then book two to three had no gap. I’d like to skip some of the slow stuff, but June is a lovely time to be in Paris.

But I have the whole Summer and Much of fall to ponder these things. I don’t need to have a certain amount done by a certain point in time. That’s the beauty of this idea. I can even figure out the title.

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Lessons in Editing

2016-04-02 10.34.18When a chapter is slow, combine it with another chapter. I had revised both chapters several times, and they seemed fine. But fine doesn’t equate to interesting, exciting, or worth reading. As I imagined the critiquers on critiquecircle.com commenting on it, I could picture several of them asking, ‘What was the point?’ Well, part of it is to show the main character being effective at helping people solve problems. It takes a while to show something like that, which is why the general advice, ‘show, don’t tell’ is never meant to be used all the time. Part of effective story-telling is knowing when to summarize something.

I had so much fun combining chapters, that I got a bit carried away. Still, it’s a good way to see something fresh. And a lot of my chapters were too short.

With showing, it’s important not to drag something out. How do I show a boring meeting without boring the reader? Having the main character count the wrinkles on the speaker is one way. (Barry’s idea, actually.) But it made for a neat scene.

Marty had counted Frank’s wrinkle lines numerous times, but couldn’t pin a number on them. Somewhere between seven and ten. Frank didn’t vary his facial expression, so Marty wasn’t sure why the wrinkle lines appeared and disappeared. The exercise kept him from drifting off like other participants.

2016-04-03 08.39.36 copyWe had a square party on 4-2-16 and a friend made me this necklace. I really need to work that into a scene. I do describe a 10-10 party–so maybe it can go there?

 

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Cleaning up is giving up on dreams

2016-03-09 18.01.47After thirty years of ‘let’s put that in the attic,’ it was time to clean it up. Sorting through the attic stuff has inspired me to clean up other areas, such as my crafts. And gave me a reminder to continue my never-ending struggle to keep my writing in order.

It is time to acknowledge that I’m never going to finish some projects, such as the embroider of an old mill, or if I did finish it, have a place to put it since the closet is already hosting a lovely picture of parrots and bears on balloons and a scenic woodside. I often brought this project on trips ‘in case I wanted to do a craft project.’ I rarely did, so have downsized to a much smaller embroider project that I can bring along and ignore.

But giving up some of these projects is giving up on the dream of working on them, sometimes with my children. It’s hard, and it requires facing that some things we won’t have time for.

It’s hard.

But with writing, I never have to give up. Earlier projects can sit nicely in a folder waiting. They don’t need to be moved if the house is being downsized. I like writing projects.

 

 

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