Category Archives: Novel progress

NaNoWriMo – The journey so far

LAST YEAR

Last year I attempted NaNo for the first time. I only got 25k. I managed to finish the novel a few months later and have recently just finished editing.

THIS YEAR

The plan…

This year I had four story ideas I was throwing around, I finally decided on the one I had the most ideas for since I figured it would make it easier to write. I planned it all out, I had an outline, I had character bios, I even knew what I wanted to happen chapter by chapter (I’m a real planner when I write, I like to know what’s going to happen before I start.)

November starts…

I started out slow. Really slow. In the first week I got a total of 3000 words. I had the ideas, I knew what I wanted to happen, I even had the time (since I’m not working at the moment). I just wasn’t feeling motivated. By the end of the week I knew it just wasn’t working and it was a choice between giving up completely or starting something new.

Second attempt…

I thought I might switch to the sequel for my last year’s NaNo, since I already had a few ideas for it and I was already in my characters’ heads from all the editing. I wrote 100 words and realised I needed the month break from that universe I’d promised myself (after all I’d been working on that story non stop for a year already).

Finding the right story…

I thought about the remaining two stories I had on my back up list and decided I didn’t feel the pull for either of them. There was only one thing left I could pursue. What had been my major distraction during that first week? A new book series I’d discovered a few months ago and which I’d just recently finished reading. Every time I didn’t feel motivated on my story I would read fanfic pertaining to this series. I’d written fanfic in the past (as I mentioned in my guest post on Harry Potter for Writers last week), why not try my hand at a new fandom?

Motivation finally…

The first day I started writing my fanfic novel I wrote 7851 words in one day! That’s more than double my word count from the entire week before. I’d found my motivation. The following days I wrote 5k a day. By day 9 I’d surpassed the daily word count goal and kept ahead. I couldn’t believe I was writing so much by the seat of my pants with no real plan and only the vaguest of ideas of where I wanted the story to go. It’s scary in a way, I’ve never written anything this long without a plan before.

Motivation dwindling…

Last week my motivation started dwindling. It was a combination of a couple of reasons. Firstly I hit a spot in my story where I’d written a really climatic scene and found I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to happen next (the downfall of writing with no plan). Secondly morning sickness kicked in. It probably wasn’t the smartest idea planning to get pregnant when NaNo was about to start and I knew morning sickness would kick in sometime in November. I planned to power through. Not so easy when my stomach is churning and I’m feeling tired on top of that and I just want to go to sleep. We’ve also been hit with some really hot days here the past few days, so that’s compounded my lack of motivation. Monday I wrote nothing at all.

Where I am now…

My total word count at the moment is just over 38k, I’m sitting right where I should be for my daily word goal, but have lost the lead I built up earlier. I need to hit 40k by the end of today to keep on track. I’ll have to keep fighting through the morning sickness, fatigue and heat if I want to hit 50k by the end of the week. Wish me luck!

NaNoWriMo this year has been a real rollercoaster ride so far, full of highs and lows. I know in the end I won’t have a publishable novel, since I’m writing a fanfic, but it’s a nice break from the editing I’ve been doing on my original novel. Perhaps I’ll find a fanfic site to post it on.

I hope wherever you are on your NaNo journey you just keep writing. There’s still a week to go, anything could happen! And no matter what our word counts are by the end, whether we get 50k or not, every single word is an accomplishment. Every word makes us better writers (and so will all the editing when we’re finished). Good luck to all my fellow NaNoers as you partake in the final week!

Blogiversary Celebrations: Part One – A Reflection

Wow! I can’t believe one year ago today I made the very first post on this blog. I started this blog with the intention of sharing my writing journey with others, as well as sharing information and helpful links I found along the way. The blog has changed appearance in the course of the year (a new header, new theme, handy page links at the top and a cute little Twitter link), but the intention has always stayed the same.

By far the most popular posts I make are the ‘Helpful Website and Blog Post’ editions I post once a month, compiling all the helpful sites and writing information I’ve come across in the past month. (Look out for an award ceremony later today where I’ll be awarding some of my favourite sites of the past year.)

Lots has happened along my writing journey. I finished my YA novel and I’m currently in the last stages of tweaking it. My picture book story ‘Can You Jump Like a Kangaroo‘ came third in the Smories 2nd International Short Story Competition. My short story ‘Waiting on the Docks‘ was featured on The Australian Literature Review website. And I’ve met so many fantastic and supportive fellow writers through chats, forums and Twitter.

A big thank-you and lots of love to all those who follow my blog or even just visit occasionally.

xxx

PS Stay tuned, I will be posting throughout the day. I have lots of exciting things planned. And don’t forget the contest for 3 people to win a 5-page critique from both Peevish Penman and myself ends today, but if you’re quick you can still enter: Blogiversary Contest Details

PPS Don’t forget to pop over and wish a Happy Blogiversary to Peevish Penman too: Peevish Penman. Happy Blogiversary Carrie!

The Revision Process

Back in February I talked about how I planned to do my first lot of revisions once I finished the first draft of my manuscript. Now I have finished those initial revisions, I am now doing more revisions (does it ever end !) so I thought I would dedicate a post to what my focus is in this part of the revision process. First a brief recap of what I did for my first lot of revisions.

FIRST ROUND REVISIONS

Main focus: Structure and technical elements

1. Listen to chapter read aloud on ywriter and highlight flaws.

2. Read chapter, fix spelling and grammar and make additional notes.

3. Go back over highlighted parts of text and rewrite (highlighted parts generally indicate telling rather than showing and awkward phrasing)

4. Read aloud chapter to myself and fix anything else that stands out.

SECOND ROUND REVISIONS

Main focus: Tightening manuscript and fixing plot flaws

1. Delete all unnecessary words, descriptions and anything not relevant to the plot. This includes getting rid of words like ‘that’ and backstory that contributes nothing to the plot. I also deleted the entire prologue.

2. Make a list of plot holes then go back and fix them.

3. Rewrite beginning (multiple times) until it hooks the reader.

4. Raise the stakes! Delete anything boring and add more conflict.

5. Restructure chapter breaks. Instead of ending chapters at mundane natural breaks (like falling asleep at the end of one chapter and waking up the next morning at the start of the following chapter) use chapter breaks in high-tension places to hook the reader into the next chapter.

6. Create more natural dialogue between characters.

7. Work with critique partner to pinpoint flaws I have overlooked and to see what impressions a reader would have of the manuscript in its current state.

What do you do when you revise? Do you follow a similar structure or do you revise in a completely different way?

NaPiBoWriWee: Now it’s over

What a busy week! NaPiBoWriWee officially ended at midnight on Friday. (See Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee 2010 wrap-up blog post here) I managed to get four and a half picture books written. It wasn’t the seven I was aiming for, but I’m still quite happy with what I got written. It was a great learning process. If you think writing a picture book a day is easy, it’s not! I learned that putting myself into my son’s world is a great way to find inspiration for picture book stories. I also learned that asking a three-year-old for ideas is not such a great idea (My story about a red button, a lion, a kitchen and a girl was a huge flop). A couple of my stories are still quite rough, and I didn’t finish the story idea my 3-year-old suggested because it just wasn’t working for me. One of the stories I really quite like and I want to revise it and polish it up at some point. For now though I’m going back to revisions on my novel.

For those who participated you may be wondering what you can do with those picture books you wrote during NaPiBoWriWee. I mentioned in an earlier post a website called smories.com where every month picture book writers have the opportunity to submit a picture book story. The best 50 are chosen and videos of children reading them are posted on the site. I just found out my picture book “Can You Jump Like A Kangaroo” has been shortlisted this month and the video of a child reading it will be posted on the site on the 1st of June! If you want to submit a picture book story to their newest competition just go here:

Submit a story

If you know of any other picture book opportunities I would love for you to tell us about them in the comments.

I would also love to hear how others did  for NaPiBoWriWee. Did you get 7 books written in 7 days? Or, like me, did you find real life made it difficult to find the time to get them all done? Maybe your muse left you halfway through. Did you learn anything along the way?

*icon from Paula Yoo’s blog

How having a critique partner can improve your writing

Once you’ve finished your manuscript and gone over it with a fine tooth comb, the time comes to consider, “What will readers perceive as they read my book, and, more importantly, will agents/publishers take one look at my work and throw it in the trash?” This is when having a critique partner can be invaluable to your revision process. I’ve recently finished my first couple of drafts and have hooked up with a critique partner. Even though we’ve only exchanged a couple of chapters my novel is already reaping the benefits. Here are a few ways having a critique partner can improve your writing:

1. A critique partner looks over your manuscript with fresh eyes. When you’ve been immersed in your book for so long it can be hard to distance yourself enough from your novel to see the little things. One thing I didn’t notice after my first round of revisions was just how much I used the words ‘that’ and ‘was’ in my writing. I know these are problematic words when overused, but I guess in the course of my revisions I overlooked them. When my critique partner sent back my first chapter with all the words ‘that’ and ‘was’ highlighted I realised just how much I used them.

2. A critique partner has no preconceived notions. As the author of your novel you know your characters inside out, you know the world you’ve created to the tiniest detail and you know the entire backstory of your storyline. Because you know everything about your characters, world and plotline you may unknowingly forget that your readers don’t know what you know and you unwittingly leave out necessary details. A critique partner reads your manuscript with none of the preconceived ideas you have and can point out where your story becomes confusing.

3. A critique partner can act as a beta reader. Your critique partner will read your story as a reader would read it. When I critique I tend to write notes on my first impressions as I read and ask the questions a reader would be asking. This helps show you how your future readers, or more importantly an agent or publisher, would be thinking as they read your work. If your critique partner is confused, you can be sure an agent/publisher/reader will be confused too. If your critique partner tells you a certain scene makes their eyes glaze over, you can be sure an agent/publisher/reader’s eyes will be glazing over too (and you can be sure they’ll be putting the book down).

4. A critique partner can offer you constructive criticism. Unlike a beta reader (someone who reads your work from the perspective of a future reader, ie: someone in your target readership), a critique partner is a writer too, so they will read you work from the perspective of a writer. This means instead of just telling you a certain scene isn’t working, they can actually articulate why it isn’t working.

5. Being a critique partner helps you see flaws in your own writing. Critiquing someone else’s work can make you become more aware of your own writing and your own flaws. You may notice in your partner’s writing a tendency to over-describe characters physical attributes, only to realise you’ve done exactly the same thing in your own novel. I’ve also found that after looking over someone else’s work with a critical eye, when I go back to my own work I retain that critical eye and pick up on flaws in my own writing I missed before. It helps me stand back from my own work.

If you do find a critique partner keep a few things in mind as you critique and receive critique:

1. Be constructive. For example, if you feel your partner’s characters are flat, try to explain why. Remember the point of critique is to help the other person improve.

2. Don’t rewrite the story for them. While it’s okay to suggest rewording a sentence to make the meaning clearer, don’t write the sentence for them. It’s their work, and as tempting as it is to write it how you think it should be written, you need to realise the story is their baby. Imagine how you would feel if they started rewriting your story! Offer suggestions and act as a guide, but don’t take over.

3. Be respectful. I believe in being totally honest when I critique, but there’s a difference between being honest and being nasty.

4. Include the positives as well as the negatives. Don’t forget to tell your partner what is working well in their story.

5. Be open-minded when receiving critique. If you partner up with someone you must be prepared to take any criticism they give you and not take it personally. Don’t sign up for a critique partner if you just want to hear good things about your novel. When I put up my ad for a critique partner I said straight out that I would be honest when I critique and I expected the same in return. If I wanted to hear only good things about my novel I could have easily given it to my sister and had her tell me how much she liked it (because I know my sister is too nice to hurt my feelings, and I love her for it). But I wanted honest critique from another writer, someone prepared to rip my manuscript to shreds, because that is the only way I can improve as a writer. Sure, you might feel like crying the first time you receive critique back on your novel, but once you take a deep breath and remember your critique partner is only there to help you, you can appreciate their honesty and start using their advice to help you create a better story.

One last piece of advice…

In the end remember that your novel is your baby.

As a mother lots of people have given me advice over the years on how I should raise my kids (if you have kids you’ll know what I mean!), and that’s fine, everyone has their own opinion on what works best for them and their kids, but I only listen to the advice I think will work for my kids and disregard the rest. When I was a new mum I was overwhelmed with advice (sometimes conflicting advice) and I felt obligated to take it all. In the end I realised that it was my child and, as much as people were trying to help, only I knew what was best. Once I realised this I was a lot less stressed.

The same thing can be applied to your novel. In the end it is your story and you don’t have to feel obligated to take all the advice given to you. Do what’s right for your novel. And the same applies for your critique partner too. You can give advice and critique, but don’t feel hurt if your partner doesn’t apply everything you suggest, because it is their baby.

If you are looking for a critique partner, here are a couple of links to sites with critique connections (both are for YA/kidlit writers, so if you write outside of those you may have to do a search):

Critique Connection – Kidlit.com

This is where I found my current critique partner. You can either scroll down the list of people who have already posted an interest in finding a partner and e-mail them, or if none there seem like a good match, then post a little about you and your novel and leave your e-mail. Writers here range from picture book writers to young adult writers.

Crit Seekers – YALitChat

This forum is dedicated mostly to young adult writers, but you may also find som middle grade writers too. Scroll through the comments to seeif anyone might be a good match, or post your own comment describing what your novel is about. You will need to join to be able to post (but it’s well worth joining anyway if you write YA).

Many cities also have critique groups. Check out your local library or do a search on the internet to see if there are any in your area.

How has having a critique partner helped your writing? Comment below and share.

NaPiBoWriWee

I promised in my last post I would talk about NaPiBoWriWee (it’s a little later than intended because I’ve been sick this past week).

In November I blogged about participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where the idea is to write a novel (50,000 words) in one month. NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) follows a similar concept. The idea is to write seven picture books in seven days. It is still quite new, as this is only the second year it has run. It will be taking place from May 1 to May 7. You can visit Paula Yoo’s website to find out more information (and join in the NaPiBoWriWee fun:

NaPiBoWriWee

Since I’ve finished my first lot of edits on my novel I thought NaPiBoWriWee would be a nice break and an opportunity to try something different. Now I just have to think of some picture book ideas to use! It’s always a good idea to have a few back-up ideas too in case any of them don’t work out (or your muse refuses to cooperate).

What does a picture book entail?

I found this description from right-writing.com:

Picture books — Traditionally, picture books (also called “picture story books”) are 32-page books for ages 4-8 (this age may vary slightly by publisher). Manuscripts are up to 1500 words, with 1000 words being the average length. Plots are simple (no sub-plots or complicated twists) with one main character who embodies the child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. The illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in telling the story. Occasionally a picture book will exceed 1500 words; this is usually geared toward the upper end of the age spectrum. Picture books cover a wide range of topics and styles. The list of Caldecott Medal winners, available from your library, is a good place to start your research. Nonfiction in the picture bookformat can go up to age 10, 48 pages in length, or up to about 2000 words of text.

And if you do decide to participate in NaPiBoWriWee and don’t know what to do with your finished products, there’s a new site called smories where authors can submit their picture book text every month. The best ones get chosen to be read aloud by children on the site and then voted on. The best stories win cash prizes. It’s also a lovely way to share your stories with children (since the site is primarily a way for children to hear stories read to them by other children).

Is anyone else participating in NaPiBoWriWee this year?

*icon from Paula Yoo’s blog

First draft written! Now onto the editing.

Last week I felt a great deal of pride and accomplishment as I typed the final words of the first draft of my novel.  It felt so good to know that I had just written over 50,000 words/20 chapters and got all of the plot that had been floating around in my head all typed up. But of course I am by no means finished my novel, and as much as I felt relief at finally get my entire story written down, I also knew I still had a big task ahead of me: editing.

The prospect of editing this novel is a bit scary, to be honest, since I wrote most of it without looking back, so I’m prepared for lot of typos and sentences that make no sense. In the past I have taken the approach of editing a lot as I write, constantly going back, revising and correcting. I decided to take a different approach this time around, mostly inspired by the NaNoWriMo process. So I wrote this novel without looking back, I let my muse take over and just typed, without worrying about typos and other writing disasters. Now I cringe to think what terrible descriptions, spelling mistakes and illegible sentences I will find as I proofread the finished product. Despite this, I actually think it is a good thing in a way because I will be proofreading with fresh eyes. Since I haven’t looked back since I started writing the novel it will be the first time I have read what I have written and hopefully this will mean I will more easily pick up on parts that need to be fixed.

I have a bit of a system for editing my novel, which is something else I am trying for the first time and so far I think it is proving to be helpful and efficient.

1. First I listen to the chapter on ywriter (since it has an option for the scenes to be read aloud). The voice lacks intonation and pronounces some words wrong, but it’s good being able to listen to the words read out and is helping me pick up on any typos (for instance, if I’ve written ‘form’ instead of ‘from’) or sentences where I’ve repeated myself. Sometimes when reading your mind doesn’t pick up on these errors, and even when reading aloud to yourself your mind reads as you think it should read, rather than what is written, so you miss those little errors.

2. As I listen to ywriter I fix up those errors as I go, but I also make notes on areas that need more description, more detail or need to be reworded.

3. After listening to ywriter, I go back and read the chapter in my head, making more notes. I’m using a colour-coding system: yellow highlighter for parts that need to be reworded; green highlighter for parts that need more description; purple highlighter for parts that need more detail (this is different to description – it means I need to add more content to the scene); and blue highlighter  for parts where I believe I am telling more than showing. I also write any extra notes in red, such as ‘check if this part is consistent with the letter from the first chapter’.

4. I then go back and fix up all the parts I highlighted, adding more description/detail or rewording where necessary.

5. Finally, when I believe I fixed everything in the chapter, I read it aloud to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything and it sounds alright when read with proper intonation. Then it’s onto the next chapter.
With my shorter stories I usually like to print out the story so I can read the words on paper and scribble notes with pencil in the margins, but considering the length of this story, I decided to skip this step (too much paper and ink!).

I really want this novel to be perfect because I have every intention on sending it off to publishers. I’m in the process of proofreading and editing chapter four at the moment (I’m up to step four and procrastinating because there is a lot that needs fixing in this particular chapter). Once I finish proofreading and editing through the entire novel I am hoping to get a couple of beta readers to read through the entire novel. The role of a beta reader is to read through and pick up any spelling or grammatical errors/plot inconsistencies/character flaws/etc. Basically it means having a fresh pair of eyes looking over the story and giving a different perspective.

I’m really very excited about this novel 🙂

25,000 words in one month

NaNoWriMo is officially over. Most NaNoers were aiming to write over 50,000 words in the month of November, but I always knew that goal would be little lofty for me due to work and being a mum to two young children. However I am extremely pleased with what I did achieve during NaNoWriMo as 25,000 words in one month is still quite an effort and has launched me over the halfway mark of my novel (considering I had already written a few chapters before NaNo officialy started). But even more than getting so much written in such a short space of time, NaNo has given me renewed motivation and momentum on my novel, and that is the real reward for me at the end of this endeavor.

It has been a new experience for me to push myself to churn out so many words in short spurts. Two methods I used during NaNo were Write or Die and Rat Races. Write or Die is a program where you set a time or word goal and then get ‘punished’ if you stop writing before reaching that goal. I chose the mediocre punishment of having a loud noise sound if I stopped writing for more than a few seconds. This was a real motivator for me because usually I was writing while my baby was napping, so I did not want that noise to sound and wake her up! However it was not as harsh as the punishment of having your work start erasing itself. Rat Races were writing races I participated in with other NaNoers on a writing forum. Basically someone would set a start and finish time and anyone who joined in had to write as much as they could in that time bracket to see who could write the most. The good thing about these methods is that I was able to achieve a lot of writing that I may have otherwise procrastinated over. However, I guess the down side of these methods is that you end up just writing without thinking and as a result could write absolute rubbish. I’ve yet to go and read over what I’ve written during NaNo, and I’m a little scared of how much editing I may have to do!

I have learnt a few things as a result of NaNo, though, which I think will help me with my future writing. First of all I have shown myself that if I use my spare time effectively I can get a lot written. I have also found that the best cure for writer’s block is to just write, even if the end result needs to get cut in the editing process, at least it has helped the plot to progress and allowed me as the writer to regain momentum again. And finally, even if I only write 50 words a day, it still all adds up in the end and it is worth just writing something everyday as it helps keep the story alive in my mind.

Creating visual imagery

I’ve been working hard on my novel this past month as part of NaNoWriMo and making great progress. I am at a stage in my novel where my characters are about to enter a labyrinth so I spent most of yesterday sketching a labyrinth on a piece of paper to help me better visualise how my characters will proceed through the labyrinth in my story. I’ve found many times in the past when writing stories I like to sketch elements of my story to help me get a good visual image in solid form. In the past I’ve sketched the layout of the houses in a street, creatures appearing in a story and characters. I nearly always sketch characters for my story, I find it helps inspire me when describing them, because sketching them first allows me to consider all aspects of their physical appearance. As for things like street layouts and labyrinths, I’ve found it helps me keep all the details consistent when I am writing a story.

I don’t know if any other writers out there are inclined to do the same thing, or something similar, but it is just a little something I do to really immerse myself in the story I am writing. I remember when I was younger and I wrote stories I would actually dress my Barbie dolls up as my characters so I could give my characters physical form. I’ve also used the Sims video game to give physical form to my characters too.

In regards to using visual imagery in my current novel, ywriter (the program I’ve been using to set out my story) has a great little feature that allows you to include images in your character bios, location descriptions and even with your scenes. This feature really appealed to me and I have been using it to its full extent. I’ve had a lot of fun googling images I think suit the various locations/characters/scenes in my novel so I can put them into ywriter.

I guess I should stop procrastinating now and get back to my novel… back into the labyrinth I go 😉

NaNoWriMo and other updates

It’s been a little while since my last blog entry, so here is an update on what I’ve been doing of late:

– I’m still working on my novel, though I’ve slowed down somewhat after hitting a slight roadblock, which I’ve just about worked out now.

– I’ve been doing a lot of character development and relooking at my overall plot to give myself new perspective and motivation.

– I downloaded a great free program called ywriter which has been designed by an author for authors. The program allows you to input all your novel’s information including character information, location information, you can write your novel in scenes, swap scenes and chapters around, keep notes and (my favourite part) it even reads your writing aloud to you! I’ve only just started using it, but I already love it and I know it is going to be a fantastic resource while working on my novel.

– I’ve been inspired by an event called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in which participants attempt to write 50000 words in a month. I’m not joining officially as I don’t believe I will be able to churn out 50000 words during November, but I am inspired to at least attempt to get some serious writing on my novel during November using NaNoWriMo as my motivation. The idea is to just write, without worrying about editing, whenever you have spare time. Then once November is over you can go back and edit and turn that writing into something legible.

– While procrastinating on my novel, I’ve been writing a novella on the side. It’s a horror story set within a high school. Originally I wrote this plot idea about 11 years ago as a script and made it into a short film for an English project. I’ve unearthed the plot and am now attempting to turn it a more substantial story.

So that’s what I’ve been doing lately. I’ll keep my blog updated during November and let you know how my novel is progressing during the madness of NaNoWriMo.