Improving things

2016-02-20 14.54.48After years of using Scrivener, I’m finally looking up how to do certain things—like change the paragraph formatting within the editor windows. Turns out it’s easy to set the default configuration that you like—I like a paragraph indent with a large font. Preferences->Format. Since I have a Mac, I can highlight lots of text files at once and with Document->Convert->Convert formatting to default text style. Voila! It looks the way I want. Dang, why didn’t I Google that months, or even years ago?

Because it’s easy to tolerate things, even things that don’t fit quite right. Pretty sure there’s a life-lesson in there. Maybe something about tolerating living in the midwest in Winter. Then again, doesn’t Chicago look pretty on a nice day in February?

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Writing in Paris about Paris

2015-12-31 22.00.20Because our daughter was in Paris, we visited her two and a half weeks the end of December, beginning of January. I’d just finished the third novel in my French series and planned to gather descriptions while in Paris, especially of restaurants.

We had some lovely meals, including at Michelin-starred restaurants.

2015-12-21 13.48.32 2015-12-28 13.11.57 2016-01-03 15.12.05

I described some of the meals in books two and three since I’m still editing book two. Also managed to work in a museum visit or two.

Because I started this series before the Charlie Hebdo and other attacks in Paris in January of 2015, I wasn’t sure how to deal with this in my realistic novels. The November 13, 2015 attacks occurred while my daughter was living in Paris, making them feel more personal.

Do I set the series in 2014? Or do I attempt to bring in this horrific reality? I haven’t decided. Books two and three occur in April and May. Book one (which was released) ended in December. So I could address it. One thing I found was that while there were more police with guns walking around, the spirit of Paris continued strong. Paris is a lovely place to spend time whether you’re writing about it or not.

 

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Finished First Draft

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 9.08.13 AMMy goal for NaNoWriMo this year was to finish the first draft of book three in my French series and to write at least 50,000 words. Additionally, I wanted to NOT write 100,000 or more words. So I started with 12,000 words in September, and wrote 38,000 in October and 53,000 in November. I finished on November 22nd and haven’t written more since then. My first draft is 103,000 words.

It’s a bit hard to call this a great success because of the Paris attacks on November 13th. Since my book takes place in Paris, it was difficult to write about going to restaurants, seeing lovely gardens, etc. I muddled through, but it was difficult. (My youngest child is studying in Paris this semester and lives in the 11th district, near one of the attacks. She’s fine, but it makes the tragedy more personal.)

But, I finished the first draft in November which was the main goal for NaNoWriMo. I will probably continue to do NaNoWriMo, but it will be on my terms.

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Goal is to Finish a First Draft

My plan was to start writing this year’s novel early so I could have a more reasonable pace and still finish in November. After nine years of doing NaNoWriMo, my issue hasn’t been being able to write a lot every day, but the toll that takes in terms of body strain. My lowest word count was 77,000 which was the first year I did NaNoWriMo. My highest was 201,228 – the insane year I drafted two entire novels. That’s a daily average of 6,707. The goal of NaNoWriMo is 50,000 which works out to 1,667 per day.

So, I know I can write a lot of words in a month. I can finish a first draft of a novel or even two. I even like what I write. But I wondered if I could maintain a more sane pace. Last year I managed to finish with 100,007 words with an average pace of 3,333. I could probably do that again. But why? Why not start early? This is my tenth year of doing NaNo and I believe that best use of my regular participation is to enhance my year-long writing practice. I write/edit daily and have for years. So I don’t need NaNo to help me form the writing habit. I like outlining before plunging into writing the first draft and I like staying focused on that draft until it’s done. NaNoWriMo works with those. I like writing 100,000 or more words as the first draft without straining my body. NaNoWriMo isn’t so good with that. Although it does have the concept of being a rebel—someone who isn’t starting with a brand new novel on November 1st.

I started in early September without worrying about working on it daily and wrote 12,000 words. Then in October I started writing daily with a goal to write ‘on average’ a thousand words. I wrote 38,000 in October, for an average of 1225 words a day. Not bad. There were some days I wrote only a few hundred words, most days I was around the thousand mark. I started to worry around mid-October that I wasn’t going through the outline fast enough which would mean that the novel was more like 120,000 or more words. So I’m glad to have written a few thousand of those in October. I plan on writing less expansively if possible. One of the things writing less per day is that I’m more willing to write description which takes me much longer.

I expected to miss the heady feeling of not being able to wait to start my novel, but there is some anticipation in being able to share with the Naperville region of NaNoWriMo. I’ll start counting words on November 1st with the goal of finishing the first draft in November and only count the words I write in November.

While I feel a little less enthusiastic about November 1st approaching, I realize that my emotions are a little down because my mother died a year ago. Yesterday was her birthday, so it’s a little hard to be giddy with excitement. (Honestly, I have been in the past.) But, I’m looking forward to seeing if I can average 2,000 words a day in November. I like to get-ahead, so I may try for 3,000 the first week. We’ll see.

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Looking for Balance

My life has a lot of writing lately, which is great. But it does make it difficult to crank out five or six thousands words a day like I used to for NaNoWriMo. I originally planned on starting on October 1 with 1,000 words a day on average as the goal. Then I worried I’d still have too much left to write in November since my first drafts are around 100,000 words.

So I started in September with a goal of ‘writing some.’ That was 12,000 words and a very good pass on what was already a pretty good outline. On October 1, I wrote 600 words, then went to work and worked on paid writing and editing all day. Friday I wrote 1400, so I’m on-track for October. The plan is to write more on days I don’t have work, but to write every day, averaging 1,000 words a day.

It takes time to write a first draft. Sometimes a lot of time. When it’s going really slow, I wonder how I ever did 5-10-15K a day. And then I start writing dialogue and the words flow. But I’m still looking forward to a more reasonable pace for first-draft writing. When I woke up at 5 a.m. yesterday, I didn’t get out of bed to write although I was tempted. I didn’t need to start that early to write 1400 words, and I knew it. I know I can write a novel in less than thirty days. Time to test if I can do it in a more balanced way.

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Starting Early

I started writing the first draft of French Consequences, book three in my French series. I had planned on starting early on October 1st, but with all the writing I’m doing at work, and with PBDD, it seemed like it might make sense to start early.

My goal is 500 words a day, I think. Or maybe just a goal of working on it every day and see how it goes. I don’t need to get bogged down with word count. I am writing much slower than during NaNo, and that’s probably a good thing. I’m also still working on the outline, and that’s good as well. Adding some useful parts, and it’s fun. I didn’t know one of the characters was from Lijiang. OK, honestly, I didn’t know anything about Lijiang until this morning. But it’s fun to pick a place and imagine being there. So far, I’ve pictured being in China, and in Lyon, France. And I’m still working on the first scene.

Writing is fun!

 

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Rainbow Sugar Cookies

Dough:

1 1/4 c. soft butter
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
5 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground nutmeg or cinnamon
1/2 c. milk

gel food coloring – don’t use liquid. Use something like: Wilton Set of 8 Icing Colors

  1. Mix together all (except the food coloring).
  2. Divide the dough into 6 equally sized balls, plus enough dough to make two or three plain cookies.
  3. Make a well in each ball of dough. Place  1/4  teaspoon (or slightly more depending on the color) of gel food coloring (skip pink and black) into each piece of dough. rainbow-start
  4. Wearing gloves, knead each piece of dough to work the color in. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but try for well-blended. (Can split each color into two balls after this point, depending on how thin/thick you want each color to be.)       rainbow-blobs
  5. Either use a silicon 9″ by 4″ loaf pan or line a 9″x4″ loaf pan that can go into the freezer with a large piece of plastic wrap that hangs over the edges of the pan.
  6. Starting with one of the red balls, flatten out the dough to the size of the pan with your hands and place it on the bottom.
  7. Take the next color (orange) and roll the ball into a cylinder the length of the loaf pan, then place it in the middle and smooth it out to the edges.
  8. Do the same thing for each remaining color. (If you split your dough in half, then begin with the red again so you end up with two layers of rainbow dough.)
  9. Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap (place the uncolored dough in plastic on top) and freeze it for 1 hour. You can make this dough ahead of time and freeze for up to 3 months.
  10. When you are ready to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  11. Remove the dough from the freezer and set it on the counter to warm up slightly, 5 minutes or more depending on how solid it is. (You can hack off part of the loaf and save the rest for later, if you wish.)
  12. With a sharp knife, slice the rainbow dough into thin slices. The slices don’t have to be perfect but you don’t want them to be too thick.    rainbow-loaf
  13. You can use the slices, or carve them into hearts, or use cookie cutters.
  14. If your colors separate a bit, press down on the dough with your hands to bring the dough together.
  15. Place cookies on a cookie sheet, along with a non-colored cookie of the same size (to tell when it’s done.)
  16. Bake each sheet of cookies  for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden brown on the bottom. (This is very hard to tell on the rainbow cookies.)

rainbow-cookies2015-05-19 18.39.52

 

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Approaching First Drafts more Sanely

This will be my tenth year of doing NaNoWriMo, the month-long frenzy of writing a first draft that officially requires writing 50,000 words on a new novel. I’ve always had the personal goal of completing the first draft of a novel even when that required 100,000 or 120,000 words. I always began writing on November 1st, and finished before the end of the month. I enjoyed pushing myself more each year, often passing 100,000 words even when I finished the first draft by adding material to another novel. Then a few years ago, I decided that if I could do one novel of 100,000 words in a month while balancing work, I could write two novels and 200,000 words since my only work was fiction writing at that point.

Pen with number of words written in 7 years of NaNoWriMo.

Pen with number of words written in 7 years of NaNoWriMo.

I did it, but at a cost to my glutes and neck muscles. Turns out 12+ hours of writing daily isn’t so good on a 50+ body. I was careful to give my wrists a break, but didn’t realize how hunched I was, particularly when the story was flowing. At the end of the month, I had two first drafts, but found sitting in a soft chair uncomfortable.

It got me thinking that it was time to either stop doing NaNoWriMo, or be more sane in my approach. But what I like most is completely a novel in November. Okay, I also enjoyed updating my daily word count, and competing with other fast writers to see who had the highest word count. Writing lots of words on a given day isn’t difficult for me. In fact, the very first time I participated in NaNoWriMo, I wrote 10,000 words the first day, and 8,000 the second.

I’ve tried writing at a more sane approach, but still finish in November, which only requires an average of 3,333 words per day. Problem is, I dislike doing anything at the last minute, so I still ‘need’ to write 5,000+ words per day in order to finish early enough that I’m comfortable.

This year I’m being a rebel. I’m starting on October 1st with a goal of averaging 1,000 words a day for the first month. That will still leave well over 50,000 words to write in November, but allow plenty of time for walks, stretches, and other things. I didn’t decide this lightly. I’m a little concerned that messing with the formula of NaNoWriMo will make it less effective for me. But I think what is important to my writing process is working on the outline for several months, then pausing before plunging into the first draft. Not what date I actually start on.

 

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Three kinds of writing

2015-06-07 20.23.53Friday was a PBDD-intensive day (Partners Bridging the Digital Divide – a nonprofit where I’m the Vice-president of communications.) It makes me realize I’m juggling three different types of writing ‘jobs’: my writing, Fermilab, PBDD. I like being busy, which is good, because at times one of them seems to have an endless need. Which one varies. I try to give them all some time, especially my writing since I’m in the midst of outlining my novel for November, and need to stay focused to get a good middle figured out.

I finished tweaking the first book in the series, and updated both the paperback and Kindle versions. Book two is in the public queue at CritiqueCircle.com, and in a private queue, so I get feedback weekly on the current chapter – I’m ¾ of the way through posting chapters, and I get critiques on early or later chapters by the people who are reading it in the private queue. I can still find stuff to improve, but am trying to get input from other people as well.

In glancing over a stack of books my daughter was returning to France, I found one that has common French phrases. Exactly what I needed to help differentiate the speech of my French POV character from my American POV character. It’s tricky because I don’t want to use a lot of actual French. The French characters are actually speaking French to each other, but since the book is in English, the words are English. I can have the English-speaking people use an occasional French word, but I dislike books that pepper the English with another language.

Work has been busy, with a lot of writing stuff, which I like. It’s actually a good balance to have paid writing, volunteer writing and my writing. I like it.

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Writing can be Puzzle Solving – Three Books in a Series

I don’t know how other authors of series do it, but at the moment I’m working on three books in a series at once. It started when my book discussion group agreed to schedule the discussion of French Impression, book one of the series, in April. I took that as a good reason to revise book two so I’d be able to incorporate any suggestions they had that affected the characters’ arcs. Then it seemed a good idea to start outlining book three to write in November during NaNoWriMo since I was very involved in the characters day-to-day lives and had ideas about what happened after the end of book two.

I didn’t intend to do more than correct a typo or two in book one and change the font size so the book didn’t cost so much to print. Once I’m revising a book, it’s tempting to read through and look for things that can be improved. They’re usually minor things like the same word used too close together, a way to make something more active voice, or just an overused phrase that I suddenly realize is peppered throughout the book. (My brother recently pointed out how many different characters ‘snorted’ – kind of a laugh and a weird noise. It’s all right once in a great while but I had several characters snort in the same book.) I like to clean those up, and I often don’t see them until I’ve been away from the novel for a while.

Book two is up on critique circle so I’m getting feedback from other writers, as well as reading it while I walk and noting things to improve. It’s going well, and the feedback from the book discussion, as well as ideas for book three are influencing the scenes and character arcs in that novel. Rereading book one carefully is helping to ensure I made the characters consistent between the novels. And, since I’m looking at book one, I can make a minor change in the first novel to help set up the second or third novel.

If this sounds complicated, it helps that I like math and solving puzzles, which is what working on three novels in one series at once is like. I want each book to stand on its own, but also work for people who read them in order. It’s a challenge, but I like challenges.

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