WeWriWa – That Guy

It’s been a while since I participated in the Weekend Writing Warrior, a weekly blog event during which writers share 8 sentences of one of their projects. You should check out the others right here: http://www.wewriwa.com/.

This week, I’ve chosen an excerpt from a short, part of an upcoming series for this blog. The Quirks series will feature off-the-wall characters and may or may not stick to the romance genre –we shall see. Today’s eight sentences are the opening of That Guy.

Comments and critiques are welcomed! Enjoy!

That Guy walked in Jamie’s Coffee for the third time this week. He had gotten a turkey sandwich on Monday and ham on Wednesday, each time with a bowl of our soup of the day and a large cappuccino. Brown tousled hair and blue eyes, That Guy strutted in with a laptop bag slung over a shoulder and a casual-with-a-hint-of-bad-boy vibe in his green shirt, jeans and leather jacket. It was rather chilly outside so a leather jacket was a perfectly reasonable choice of clothing today.

That was all I knew about That Guy and I was okay with that. While he was still That Guy, he wasn’t The Ex and he could be anyone from a yet-to-be famous TV star to an understated millionaire to just another student.

“Next,” I said –like I always did– making sure That Guy wouldn’t think I found him special or anything. That would lead to him ignoring me or worse, wanting to have a conversation during which I would humiliate myself.

The Almighty To Do List

On a few occasions, people have been surprised by my productivity and asked how I manage to do so much. Like with my writing (which I plan out on post-its), I find that knowing where I’m going really helps relieve stress and free up space in my mind to actually get stuff done.

My days at work typically start and/or end with making/adjusting my To Do list. I draw a red or black square next to the task according to its priority and put a checkmark in the square when it’s done (which is always a satisfying moment). It takes about five minutes a day, but it ensures I don’t forget anything, lose track of what’s urgent and what’s not, and get overwhelmed. Low priority items may be postponed to the next day or week, and that’s fine as long as the important stuff is done.

During NaNoWriMo, my To Do list was my outline and my word count goals. Now that November is over, I need to make a plan for the coming months, which will be pretty amazing/busy. I got my Australian visa at the beginning of this week (a good two weeks before the expected date) and we’re officially planning for a flight on January 4th. Six moves over three continents in less than ten months; ain’t my life awesome with a side of crazy?

Before the holidays, I want to finish the first draft of Tag, You’re Me!, this year’s NaNo project. I’ve been slacking a bit this week so I still have two chapters and a half to go (about 10k). Once that’s done, I’d like to finally get through the last round of revisions on Oil and Boiling Water, my 2010 NaNo, so it’s ready for another round of queries. I’m also nursing ideas for a series of quirky character-centric short stories for this blog, which currently include The Girl Who Writes Motivational Posters and this year’s NaNo palate cleanser A Story About That Guy. Both fall somewhere in the vicinity of RomCom at this point, but that may not be true for the whole series. I’m hoping to launch these in February or March (once I’ve had a little bit of time to settle in Melbourne).

In-between all the writerly things, I’ve got friends to see, parties to attend, luggage to pack (the content of my three suitcases will be a bit different based on experience and weather difference), pre-departure paperwork to complete and post-arrival paperwork to jump start.

Oh! There’s also this blogging thing I do. ;)

What about you guys? How are your post-NaNo months looking? Any special plans for the holidays?

Lessons From the NaNoWriMo Trenches

We have now entered the last week of November and, like every other year, I’m amazed by the amount of work fellow NaNos and I have produced, and the intoxicating community of writers surrounding this event. From the daily support of fellow WriMos to the pep talks from professionals, this is an amazing experience. I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the non-profit coordinating this crazy venture (simply named National Novel Writing Month, formerly known as The Office of Letters and Light) and the Municipal Liaisons (volunteers who organize local writing events throughout November)  for their time and dedication.

I’ve seen a few negatives reactions about NaNo around the web, people complaining about the number of encouragement/bragging on social media or arguing that writing 50k in a month will only produce drivel. Sure, we get a little word count obsessed and some people only write random stuff for the fun of it and don’t care about the outcome, but that’s not true for everyone.

Fair enough, I concede on both arguments anyway.

However –you knew that one was coming, didn’t you?– by dismissing the whole event, detractors are missing out on some valuable writing lessons learned in the blazing trenches of NaNoWriMo. Because of the incentive to produce and the fast pace of the challenge, we learn a lot about ourselves and reflexes that can make us better writers. So, without further ado, I’ll present my top three lessons learned during NaNo, how to capitalize on them and why they work in favor of a first draft.

I’m stuck! – Kill Someone!

On the course of the month, it’ll happen quite often that someone’s shoulder will slump before he/she says: “I’m stuck.” Without missing a beat, someone else will recommend, “Kill someone!” or, alternatively, “Take their clothes off!”

There is a reason why this is one of the top advices heard during NaNo: drama keeps the story moving forward. When we find ourselves unable to write a scene, there’s likely a lack of conflict. If it is supposed to be a high-octane scene and yet the words don’t flow, the stakes aren’t high enough.

The “kill someone” advice causes us to ask ourselves what would be a huge wrench that derails our plot and gets us excited to write the next couple of chapters. That wrench needs to be in our story, not just for NaNo’s sake, but for the reader’s sake too.

Questioning the amount of tension when we get stuck is a reflex worth developing to avoid trudging through a bad scene, exhaust ourselves and hit writer’s block. It forces us to clarify the stakes and motivations which solidifies the plot. I’ve found that editing is much easier if the draft nails the core of the drama, even if it’s clunky.

So when you hit a wall, ask yourself: What are the stakes? Where is the drama? How can I crank them up? If this is a transition scene, how can I build in nods at the stakes and drama to make it interesting?

Slow Writing = Slow Reading

After a few days of NaNoWriMo, we ramp up to a cruising speed and such a routine makes dips in productivity unmistakeable. Every time writing is like pulling teeth, I ask myself if I’m tired, sick of writing in general or if the scene is especially tricky; these are valid productivity hindrances. If the answer to these questions is “no” yet the last thousand words took me twice the usual time to write, I make a note for myself and keep writing.

These notes come into play when I start editing: my first pass of edits on a NaNo novel is to read it while paying special attention to the marked section and questioning their relevance. Some of them are good and were just written on an “off day”, but most of them need some serious TLC or an axe in the forehead. The marked scenes fall flat, either because they lack drama (see previous point) or because, when I look hard enough, they’re useless.

I wouldn’t notice as many slowdowns without the imperative to produce.

[Insert Cool Science Thingy]

Research may very well be the number one source of procrastination for writers, and WriMos simply can’t afford to spend a couple of days researching the mating rituals of squids in captivity to write one 500-word scene.

In my experience, doing too much research while writing a draft caused me to get hung up on the details and overshadow the conflict with complex information that, in the end, isn’t necessary. I can fix it in editing, but I’d much rather be not spend energy on writing it in the first place.

Several WriMos use the [Insert blood pattern description that indicate a slashed throat] method to isolate the research that needs to be done for the scene. This enables us to pin point what we need for the plot and keep writing. We’ll do targeted research and fill in the blanks during the edits.

Yes, sometimes the research feeds the plot, so it may be needed, but the pace of NaNo forces us to question the relevance of stopping for that. Most of the time, we’ll keep writing.

It’s important to not get bugged down in the first draft and this technique can also be used to [add transition] and skip ahead to the next plot point. Once the core of the story is out, we’re more informed to make these transitions interesting during editing. ;)

Closing Words

NaNoWrimo makes us sit down and write a good amount every day, whether we feel like it or not. That’s already a good habit for a writer. The pace of productivity can also strengthen our first draft process, if we care to use the challenge to our advantage. Fellow WriMos are there for support and may become trusted critique partners for the rest of the year. The pace also helps us get to know ourselves as writers: how much outlining makes us more productive? Which time of day works best to churn out words? Coffee, tea or jelly bellies?

I encourage every aspiring writers to get through NaNoWriMo. You’ll grow, even if you only do it once.

Fellow WriMos, what is your top lesson learned from NaNo?

How I Write – Evolving Outline

We’re now a bit past the middle of this crazy month of November. A lot has changed in the course of eighteen days. For one, I went from zero words on a story to over 50k, passing the midway mark to my 100k objective on November 14th (a day ahead of schedule, yay!) I thought it would be a good time to give you a bit more insight into the way I write and tackle a challenge like writing a complete first draft of a novel in a month.

Do you remember the post-its outline I showed you in October? Here’s a refresh in case you need it.

Seventeen chapters planned. Order, content and number may change.

Seventeen chapters planned October 30th. (click to magnify)

In the original post, I mentioned that one of the reasons why I like using post-its is because they give me great flexibility. As I write the story and uncover new things about the characters, I take post-its out, throw them away, replace them, switch the order; whatever is needed for my outline to reflect the new needs of the story. That’s why the original outline doesn’t have chapter numbers on the post-its. I want to feel like it’s okay to go off road and let the story wander away from the initial plan –because it is okay, needed, even. Most of the time, the plot still heads in the same general direction, and when it doesn’t, that’s alright, too.

Sometimes, I’ll adjust the post-its before I write the related chapter. Sometimes, I’ll write the chapter once, discover something new, throw it out and rewrite it right away, strong with my new understanding of what the characters and/or story needs. In this NaNo, I wrote chapter 4 twice, and chapters 5 to 7 three times. I just kept rolling with the punches and revising the outline until my story had a solid enough plot to keep me writing through the end. The chapters still have big issues –it’s important not to obsess over perfection for the first draft—but the intrigue isn’t going face first into a wall anymore.

Some writers are fine with ignoring broken chapters and skipping ahead. They’ll fix them in revisions. Personally, I get demotivated if the continuity is broken, so I need to figure at least that much out in the first draft. The rest, I’ll fix in revisions. ;)

This is what my outline looks like now:

Now twenty-one chapters and moving toward the middle of the first draft. May still change before the end.

Now twenty-one chapters and moving toward the middle of the first draft. May still change before the end. (click to magnify)

I’ve added chapter numbers on the chapters that are written, which serves as an additional burn-down chart of my progress. I’m about done with chapter 9 and will number it with great joy sometime today.

Motivation & Small Accomplishments

If you’ve been reading motivational advice around the Internet, you’ve probably come across the classic “break objectives down into small achievable chunks” or “focus on manageable short-term goals”. By all means, do this for your second week of NaNo. Just like we’ve all broken down the 50k into daily goals, break down the 1,667 words a day into three 556 sprints or even smaller.

Most importantly, give yourself opportunities to celebrate yourself.

Reached 556 words? Make yourself a cup of your favorite beverage. Reached 1,112? Have your favorite snack. Blasted through your 1,667 goal? Pat yourself on the back and brag a little.

Do not – and let me insist on this: do not!—skimp on the little rewards. They serve two very important purposes in keeping you productive:

  1. They make you take a break which gives rhythm to your writing and resting time to your brain and fingers.
  2. They remind you that you can do this and that NaNo is a fun, satisfying experience, which helps fight the occasional feeling of “this is a gruelling pace”.

Since I’m between jobs (visa for Australia submitted yesterday! Yay!), I can afford to give myself bigger rewards, like catching up on a TV show, because my writing hours are numerous. My small goals are also bigger since I’m reaching for 100k by the end of the month. Find a split of goals and a type of reward that works for your schedule.

You can also supplement this with other writerly accomplishments and celebration. Post your favorite sentences on the NaNoWriMo forums or share them of social media. Hell, share your NaNoisms too and have a good laugh. This’ll remind you that you can do this.

I’m lucky enough that I have other sources of small accomplishments to boost my confidence when I hit a creative wall. I have this blog and WordPress is nice enough to track a few stats for me. A few days ago, someone from Hungary read the entirety of my first blog novel, Unforeseen Dives, in two days straight. Today, someone from Norway started blasting through chapters of Killing Time OST, my second serialized novel.

These are old stories, written at a fast pace and basically posted as I went, and yet, people are seemingly still enjoying them. They’re not legion, but they’re enough to tell me that I can do this.

And I celebrate that small accomplishment.

And it keeps me striving toward better writing and that 100k.

So thanks, Stranger One and Stranger Two!

Now, not every WriMo reading this is lucky enough to have a Stranger One and Stranger Two to boost their morale, so in honor of the middle of the Dreaded Second Week, I offer to be your Stranger. Reach out to me in the comment section, on Twitter or with a NaNoMail and let me know your NaNo username. I’ll write you a NaNoMail motivational/celebratory message. If your profile and novel information are filled or if you let me know about your current hurdle or accomplishment in your message, I’ll personalize your message as best as I can.

I pledge to do this for 10 NaNo, at least. I invite any other NaNo who wants to make a similar pledge to do so.

Let’s celebrate our small and big accomplishments and reach our NaNo goals like champions!


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