Closing Up Camp

Good news and bad news.

Good: I’ve passed my Camp NaNo quota. Actually, I passed it early last week, but I kept chuggin’ along.

Bad: I haven’t finished the novel yet.

I’ve got two chapters and change to go, and I doubt I’ll finish it all today.

So what shall I do? Well, I’m putting it on high priority while I sort through stuff, but I’ll submit what I’ve got for validation. I mean, I won, right? I deserve to own it.

On the other hand, when I do finish I have to get into editing land, and I think I’ve decided a plan.

I put my work – all my work – through nine rounds of edits before I send it off to Natalie Cannon. Each time through, I focus on something different. I think what I’ll do this time, though, is get friends involved as beta readers. I’ll have a different friend read during each of the nine rounds, and I’ll task them to look at everything EXCEPT what I’m focusing on. So while I’m focusing on description, they can’t comment on description. When I’m scrutinizing verbs, they have to talk about anything except for my verbs.

My friend Sarah is going to start out, and she’ll have a free pass to talk about anything, since my first round is just me reading it out loud.

I’m sort of excited for this new method, and I’ll keep y’all posted on how it’s working out. I have high hopes.

Cheers,

C

Slow and Steady: Organizing Tools for Writers and Others

Alright, I’ve definitely done blog posts on my pen-and-paper methods, but now it’s time to get serious and talk about one of my five biggest love-hate relationships. Technology.

(Why Love-Hate? Maybe we’ll cover that next…)

I’ve gone through TONS and I mean TONS of methods to keep myself organized using technology. I mean, it makes sense, right? We always have phones, computers, etc. with us. And with so many services allowing syncing between multiple platforms, and some even allowing you to scan in stuff you’ve written by hand and digitizing that information to store in one place, you can cover basically all platforms.

But what’s the best?

I’ll start with my computer. I don’t use these things as often, but they’re tried-and-true, and I do use them.

Evernote

This is everyone’s favorite friendly accumulation resource, and I have it on my phone as well, so I can sync between the two.

There are tons of things one might use Evernote for, but I have essentially two uses for it. One is organizing snippets of writing that will be part of other things into digital notebooks when I’m out and about and don’t have the right journal with me. It’s also something I’ve used for notetaking, so I could use it to write in class and look like I was taking notes.😉

The other thing is co-writing. Natalie and another dear friend have used this method to share back and forth documents, to look at things without using email, and we’ve used the Work Chat function to discuss and share whole notebooks at times. This is really the only app I’ve used for its collaborative features, and since nearly everyone has it these days, I feel it’s definitely the best choice.

Todoist

This one I’ve acquired more recently, but I’m still not sure if I want to pay for the pro one or not (I plan to make up my mind before the first paycheck at my new job). On the basic one, it works just fine. I love that I can label things effectively for a large number of different aspects of life, and that I can set lots of different kinds of recurring tasks quickly without scrolling through bunches of buttons. The quick add feature is wonderful.

It also has two ways of focusing your attention. One is to focus in on just today, starting with things that are overdue (I’ve got a lot of overdue, as always, most of them chores), then things that are fresh for the day. The other is to look at the week so that if you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, you can check forward to see if there’s something you have coming up that you can get some work done on early.

I’ve also got this on my phone, and it’s lovely. I use it when my computer’s charging and I want to see what I can do off the computer. Actually, just used it.

Trello

I’ve been using Trello very casually for a very long time now. This is a great little app that I now only have on my computer (I needed the space on my phone) and I use it solely for long-term lists. So, for example, a list of all the appliances and such I’ll need when I get my first place. A list of all the products for hair and beauty I would ideally have. A list of all the tech I would ideally own and use to keep my writing at full speed. To-Dos specifically for holiday planning. My long-term planning stuff. It’s really nice, and I used it a lot while in school to organize what I needed to do for courses so I could just plow through a course’s work and keep track of what I had yet to accomplish. It’s not perfect, but I really enjoyed it.

Glass

Now we’re onto things that I’ve only got on my phone. Glass is absolutely lovely, although I don’t use it as much as I should. It’s got two really useful zones (DISCLAIMER: I use Glass Pro, so I may describe features only available in Pro by accident – apologies): Plan and Act. There’s also Done, but I only use this to “undo” things I accidentally marked off. You get a scrolling calendar, as well as a scrolling list at the bottom of the list that goes from most recent/urgent to things due well far off. You can mark something as a basic to-do that can be done any time, a specific event or appointment that you don’t have to check off but it can remind you of, or specific To-Dos that you can (or can’t) make up. You can tag things, and even create project folders so that you can connect a bunch of To-Dos with different due dates to an overall project with its own due date.

Ready to start doing? Just scroll right to Act and everything’s in an organized list for you, starting with things that must be done now and scrolling all the way down to things that must be done later.

I use this as my calendar, primarily, and it holds critical tasks like my fan-fiction to-do list based on reader desires and backing up my files. All that glorious stuff. I’m not someone who checks digital calendars often, preferring my pen-and-paper planner by and large. But I like having Glass, and I really like that if you go pro you can get the dark background with light letters, which is really easy on the eyes before bed or first thing in the morning. Todoist kind of assaults my vision when I wake up.

Productive

This may not be the full name of the app – not actually certain – but that’s what it says under the little icon on my phone, so that’s what I’m calling it. This is a habit-forming app, and I use it CONSTANTLY. You can separate habits by things you do morning, afternoon, night (you set the hours), things you do any time of day, and even things you do multiple times a day or only once a month or whatever. There’s suggested things that other people have done, like drinking enough water, getting exercise, etc. I use it to organize my morning routine, so that when I have those absent-minded moments in the morning or before bed where I stand in the middle of a room and think, “Now, what I was I meant to be doing?” I don’t waste any time trying to puzzle it out. I have a checklist, and I can consult it any time to see what I’ve finished, what I’ve yet to do.

One of your things something you don’t do EVERY day, necessarily? Like, say you have brushing your teeth down three times a day (like me) and you are at work a certain number of days a week but don’t want to take it off your mid-day list. Just skip on days you have a very good reason for not doing the act! Skip sparingly, because it’s really easy to tempt yourself into doing it whenever you don’t get around to something, but I tell myself I can only skip when it isn’t possible or practical to do whatever it is, not just because I got caught up writing and didn’t actually think about having breakfast by lunchtime.

Hours

I’ve only just started using this app, but I LOVE it. So I might have mentioned that I write ridiculously quickly. So if I tell myself, “I want to write for an hour’s worth today,” because I do things in pieces and not always all in one go, I can’t be totally sure that the chapter’s writing took me an hour, or that the short story I just churned out was half an hour’s work.

With this app, you can make a list of projects to track time for. Right now, I have things like blogging (which I’m tracking right now), a general fan fiction timer, original works timer, and one for organizing my finances, because I use most of these apps for work and personal uses alike. Have a few minutes to go through receipts? Turn on the finances timer, and turn it off when you are done and moving on to something else. You can see a timeline of your day, color coded for easy reading, and also cumulative times for each project, and a cumulative time for the day.

So, yesterday, for example, it was my mum’s birthday, so I didn’t do a massive day full of work (frosting a cake takes time). I did, however, put in over three hours, with 35 minutes of blog writing, over two hours of fan fiction work, and about 20 minutes of original writing on my Camp NaNo Project.

You can also set reminders so that it harasses you if you haven’t started a timer by a certain time of day, or have one running at the end of the day, or haven’t had one running for a certain period of time.

Pomodrone

I’m a big believer in the pomodoro system of 25 on, five off. I first heard about this in high school and didn’t think much of it until grad school, where I got the first pomodoro timer for my phone and fell in love.

I’ve tried several, but this is the one I’m using now, and it’s lovely. I’ve not upgraded, and I don’t think I will because it functions as I need it just the way it is. This assumes eight 25-minute pomodoros with one long break smack in the middle and five minute short breaks otherwise. However, unlike other timers that have a set goal, it doesn’t stop counting when you reach that goal! This is great, because I can do twelve to sixteen pomodoros of this description in a day, and I want my app to keep going with me.

The design is simple, pleasant, and if you leave the app open, your phone doesn’t go dark like some pomodoro and timing apps do, which is one of my pet peeves. The sort of dark seafoam green background is soft, pleasant, and not angry, so I feel comfortable using it any light, any time of day without feeling assaulted by color.

Oh, one last thing – when you reach the goal, it gives you a new inspirational quote every day, which is pretty cool.

Cheers

C

The Prodigal Camper

Remember ages ago now when I said that I was doing Camp NaNo to finish up a novel?

Well, I didn’t lie. I just…put off adding on to that novel until this morning.

So it’s three weeks in. Meh. I still only have to write about 2k a day to finish on time, and I did about 3k this morning, so that’s totally fine. I’ll be done before the end, for sure.

How did that happen?

Well, writers are people like any other people, and we happen to be people who often have day jobs. While I see my novel as priority number one, my boss might not like me putting off paperwork until Camp Nano is over, right?

Right. Unfortunately.

So here I am, listening to Muse and taking a deep breath before I plunge into a bit more work so I can justify a bit more writing. A balance, I tell myself, everything’s a balance.

I happen to have complete and utter confidence in my ability to finish Camp NaNo successfully and possibly with a banging good story to turn around and edit. Not only do I write disgustingly fast (just ask Natalie, seriously), but I do that with quite a bit of efficacy to my writing, and I’ve got much of my work well-organized in one way or another.

So I’m taking this small break in my life to a) apologize for lack of blogging and b) remind you ALL that the best way to tackle anything in life, especially a novel, especially while doing something like Camp NaNo or NaNoWriMo itself, you have to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a color-coded plan with a binder full of alphabetized character profiles signed in triplicate (although one of my writing projects does have that, minutes the signed in triplicate part), but it DOES have to be a plan. Big, small, long, short – you have to know where you’re going to actually be sure you’re going to get there.

Now, you could just work from scratch and let the spirit MOVE you where you need to be. But for that you’d better be prepared to work for a set amount of time every day, at the same time every day, like a real job. And if your life can afford you doing that, I applaud and envy you.

I certainly can’t, and thus I’ve got my binders and notebooks and many pen colors and pomodoro timers.

Also, get a really good to-do app. I could recommend several, as I actually USE several simultaneously. Maybe that shall be my next post. Thoughts?

How are your Camp NaNo excursions faring?

Cheers

C

Writing a Wedding: Research

I firmly believe that every writer has something they avoid. Maybe it’s heavy action scenes, sex scenes, or an on-stage death (as it were). Every kind of event or scene has its own nuances, dictated by the end goal. A great writer can take those nuances and the other elements of a scene (like the characters, places, setting, plot points they’ve created) and meld them together to create and integral, cohesive piece.

Me?

I hate writing weddings.

I mean, the list is actually longer. Weddings, funerals, pregnancy (although strangely I kind of enjoy writing childbirth now), dinner parties. There’s a reason my funeral scenes are usually a few lines long, the pregnancies are shown obliquely through a few key points, and dinner parties are either cocktail parties or people meeting for a cup of tea.

Weddings, though, weddings are the worst.

Whatever the reasons for people disliking whatever they dislike in writing, the issue with weddings is a simple one for me. I’ve not been to very many weddings, I wasn’t especially fond of the ones I did go to, I’ve never really imagined myself as a bride, and while I have NO intention of getting married my ideal wedding would be filling out paperwork at a courthouse and a glass of wine with dinner for celebration.

Not exactly the romantic scene that dreams are made of.

How do I cope with my lack of qualification for writing weddings?

In truth, I really don’t. My wedding scenes, like the funerals, are very often a matter of lines, maybe a few hundred words, and always told through the point of view of NOT the bride or groom. Often, someone else in the wedding party. I’ve found the trick for making this tiny bit satisfying is in the buildup.

Proposals, wedding planning, honeymoon planning, and capping a short scene from the wedding with a suitable and proportionate scene from either the honeymoon or the trip to the honeymoon – that’s a recipe for happy readers, oddly enough.

Just like when my characters have children I do research on pregnancy and childbirth and child development (part book, part internet, part asking my parents who are in the medical field and also happened to have five children), the proposals and wedding planning and honeymoon planning takes research, as I have personally done none of these things.

Some of it I can intuit, like thinking about my characters and what kind of proposal makes sense based on whether I want it to be ideal or in some way not ideal. Other things, like ring styles, order of events, and logistical sense for honeymoons – that takes more research. As an example, I’ll lay out my research for my most recent project of focus, working title Hold Me Now.

The first step was picking out the ring. Given my characters, I opted with the Tiffany’s website, but as the groom is UK based and the wedding and proposal were going to take place in the UK, I searched for their UK website (as I did with all further web searches). I tried to find a ring that suited my characters, thinking about size, style, price…. Not just something I would like, but something that made sense for my characters. Other characters may not have ever gone with Tiffany’s, but this suited Ross and Katherine.

The next step was outlining the to-dos for a wedding. Here’s my best friend when it comes to writing marriages. I’ve used it many, many times now, always to great effect, always with the greatest of pleasure and relief at how well-organized and comprehensive it is:

Real Simple’s Wedding Checklist

Real Simple has a lot of really great checklists and tools that I use for many aspects of my life and writing, but this is one of the most helpful, and I’ll probably never use it in real life. Go figure.

Obviously, this checklist can be pared down depending on your characters (or if you’re planning a real wedding, your personal circumstances), but the great thing about this is it’s comprehensive. You’d be hard pressed to find something missing on the list, which makes it an ideal starting place.

From here, I went through the list thinking of everything I would need to describe and began searching for wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, flower arrangements, and the wedding cake. One of the best things about this project was that my characters are disgustingly wealthy and therefore didn’t really require a budget – something that makes the bride a bit uncomfortable. Obviously, in many cases budget is important, or you’ll run the risk of a highly unbelievable wedding plan for your characters.

Honeymoon?

Why do anywhere but Disney World? I mean, seriously.

Cheers,

C

Collaborative Writing

I’ve talked a bit before about writing with other people, but as Camp NaNo is coming up soon, I thought I’d revisit this theme.

There are two ways of writing collaboratively (okay, there are many, but two major ones). One is actually working on a piece together, the other is working on different pieces but bouncing ideas off each other. Both are useful for different kinds of work, and some cases of collaborative writing are age-old and almost legendary.

I mean, hello, Rogers and Hammerstein. Lewis and Tolkien.

That’s going to be my two examples, and just stay with me here. I know that musicals aren’t the same as novels.

We’ll start with Rogers and Hammerstein, though. What they did was work together, bringing different sets of skills in, and creating a single work of art. Musicians do this a lot, which is what makes musicals a great example. Think of jamming. You’ve got different pieces, but they all fit together to make one song (or album, or The Sound of Music).

A lot of my co-writing experiences thus far have been like this. Co-authored fan fiction with E. M. McBride and Natalie Cannon have looked very much this way, where we’ve brought our own voices and skills in, planned, and then executed a joint project to create a single work of art. It’s hard, it’s often time consuming, but it can create beautiful work when all’s said and done.

Another way, though, is the Camp NaNo way that Natalie (and other friends) and I are about to embark upon once again.

This is C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Inklings, their writerly group at Oxford, are fairly famous now. I’ve been to the pub where they often met and discussed their work. Think, like, a book club except it’s works in progress instead of someone else’s words.

Lewis and Tolkien would read from manuscripts, or their fellow writers would. Sometimes this was the nonfiction they wrote based on research, but famously it was bits of Middle-Earth or Narnia (among other fabulous fictional work) that no one else had read or heard yet. Some of the greatest literature ever written, and it started with a collaborative process.

Now, Tolkien didn’t write Narnia, and Lewis didn’t write any Middle-Earth, but they gave each other input, insights, and snarky remarks that were sometimes ignored, sometimes headed. In this way, a Camp NaNo cabin is a collaborative process.

My friends and I all have different projects. I’m finishing a novel, Natalie is focusing on finishing her portion of the chapters for our collaborative fan fiction (yup, she’s double dosing on collab), another friend is writing her Masters thesis, and thus is using Camp NaNo for that task. A third friend still hasn’t decided (although she doesn’t have long to choose…)

We’re all producing different projects, and even different kinds of projects, like the Inklings. But we’re supporting each other, and we have a platform for encouragement, shared thoughts, and a place to bounce ideas off each other. In some small way, we’re all co-writing. We won’t be listed as co-authors, but it’s arguably just as integral input as actual co-authoring.

Dedications, I suppose, at the very least.

Cheers,

C

The Importance of Food and Sleep

Let me take a moment to talk about two things artists of all sorts can find quite difficult to keep up with while working: food and sleep.

I know from experience that when you’re knee-deep in outlines (and I mean literally) and character profiles and name ideas and self-made deadlines, sometimes it’s difficult to remember the basics.

As I’ve probably said before, I have a lot of ways to try to keep myself on track with eating and sleeping, like timers and to-do lists and daily to-do routines, but that’s not what this post is going to be about.

This is about me telling you why it’s so critical to you as a writer to get proper sleep and food.

The reason you need food? Have you ever heard someone say that food is like fuel for your body? Even if you’re not a scientist, you should be able to understand that this is true.

If you don’t fuel your car, it stops running. Literally, it just stops. First, it tries to run on fumes (literally), and then the parts fail to work because they’re just not capable of working anymore. In doing this, you can do permanent damage to parts of your car.

Now, doing this to a car? Forgivable. It can happen to anyone, and parts can be replaced. Doing this to your body?

Less forgivable.

If you forget to eat, first your body gets weak. I get hypoglycemic, so my hands will literally start to shake when my blood sugar tanks. Sometimes I’ll try to work like that and I find I can’t really type, or hold a pen, and I have to give up and eat. If I leave it too long and I’m not trying to write through it?

Well, one time I nearly fainted in the middle of the kitchen while trying to make dinner. I hate a spoonful of peanut butter, sat for a while, and rebooted.

But when you’re really into work, you’re probably sitting. Adrenaline might be driving you forward so that the shaking isn’t happening, or you aren’t noticing it. Can you keep working? Yeah, sure. Should you? Gosh, no, especially if you accidentally do this often. Your body isn’t meant to be fed on a weird, undulating schedule. Damage you might do by repeatedly running on fumes is serious.

And do you really want to worry about that while you’re trying to write? No. So make a schedule. Set reminders if you have to. Keep snacks with you when you write, and try to make sure they have plenty of protein and simple sugars (quick boost, but it’ll stick with you because of the protein).

Now. SLEEP.

Much in the way that your car would wear out if you tried to run it (even with fuel) continually without rest, your body will not do well without sleep. Studies that have been done on college students pulling all-nighters have shown that not only do your reactions slow to the level of someone legally drunk, but processing can even slow to levels that are near that of being legally brain dead. Temporary, yes, but can you imagine writing like that?

I know you’ve probably heard “Write drunk, edit sober.” My writing professor actually gave us a version of this. Writing low on sleep is kind of like writing drunk, so it’s fine, right? I mean, my personal best ideas often come at three am, which is about an hour before I typically wake up, so if I am itching for good work, I should stay up all night and edit after I’ve crashed, right?

WRONG.

Very, very wrong.

The thing is, it’s way too easy to talk your body into doing this once, and then it’s even easier the next time. And the next time. And the next.

See the pattern?

Your body needs rest. I mean, you could kill yourself trying to stay up all night frequently, and not necessarily because your body will shut down. Things just don’t work right if you haven’t had time to recharge. If you’ve seen Star Trek, you’ll know that your mind needs REM sleep or you’ll start to hallucinate, and maybe worse. Headaches, misery, weakness of limbs.

If you feel like you could work through that, you’ve obviously never tried to stay awake for too many hours. The problem is, even if you could work through the physical issues, hallucinating is NOT good for work. Sure, you might get great inspiration. But you might also see terrible things that aren’t there and be WAY too distracted to work. And that can lead to tragedy too, not just inactivity.

So please. Eat. Sleep. Tomorrow, you can write. Take care of your body and it will take care of you.

Cheers,

C

Tackling Tough Topics

So, one of the stories I’m working on is crime and psychological thriller about a pedophile’s victims, who have essentially grown up in a cellar.

I won’t give too many more details, because spoilers, but that’s enough for getting to the crux of what I want to talk about in this post.

Sometimes the stories we want to tell don’t just make the reader uncomfortable. Sometimes they make us uncomfortable, sometimes so uncomfortable we have to ask ourselves periodically why we are even writing about these kinds of things.

Of course, this is a story I don’t feel I can stop. Because it’s something I could see happening, could truly believe as a reality, and because that reality makes me sick with the thought, I need to paint the picture so that other people are sick with the thought – sick enough to do something about it. To stop this from being a reality that we could believe as possible.

I know I couldn’t do this kind of story every day. It’s the kind of thing that would eat me up inside if I wrote it all the time, and my soul is dark and scary enough, thanks.

So how do we cope with the stories we need to tell but don’t even really want to think about for more than a few minutes at a time?

Small doses. It’s as simple as it seems. If you can’t cope with it in long stretches, don’t. Write what you can, and then write something else. Come back to it when you don’t feel slimy at the thought, and then when you start feeling like your skin is covered in an unwashable film, do something else until you’ve forgotten what that sensation feels like.

Yes, it’s a project going slowly, but every time I read back over what I’ve got to see where I’m at, I get that same chilling sense that I’m right on track.

So write the stories that make you question your imagination and humanity, but don’t destroy yourself while you do it. Physical and emotional health always come first.

Cheers,

C