Camp NaNo: April 2017

Last November, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to write the draft of Hold Me Now, which has been poked at by two of nine betas. I’m still sifting through my changes a la my most recent beta, and I think I’m going to take advantage of the upcoming Camp NaNo not to write another novel (which I could easily do), but to force myself to pick through the manuscript again, send it to my third beta, draft a query letter, then go back through the manuscript.

I’ll still work on other projects, but my goal is 30 hours for this time through. An hour a day? Cake. Miss a day? Simple to make up. And I fully expect to double this by the time the month is over.

I don’t know yet if I’ll have a cabin – mostly because I’ve set it to private, and I’m not sure whether my friends are doing Camp NaNo this year. Either way, I’ve got the cabin set up and ready for Natalie and others to join in on the fun! Still have plenty of weeks to convince people to join in on Camp NaNo with me.

Are you doing Camp NaNo this year? April, July, or both? Anyone doing the revision mode? Tell me your plans, ask questions about the structure, or just share well-wishes for fellow NaNoers in the comments section below! Want to be in my cabin? Let me know!

Cheers,

C

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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

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

Writing Sporting Events

As a writer, we write all kinds of events. Weddings, proposals, battles, graduations, deaths, births, rainstorms.

For the longest time, I thought weddings were the worst. I hated writing them, I did whatever I could to avoid writing them, and I got really good at writing all the wedding planning and then glossing the wedding in a way that somehow satisfied my readers.

And then I started writing sporting events.

When these are done well, they can enhance a story in so many ways. They help give a level of physicality and timing that can sometimes be difficult to obtain. They can add an emotional element that doesn’t involve characters actively emoting. They also can help draw in readers who might otherwise have little to connect with in your story.

I write lots of different sporting events, but mainly I’ve been doing Formula 1 lately. I like F1 for a few reasons. One is that it works into the types of social spheres that I typically write my stories in. Also, it’s an annual, season-long, global sport that’s been going on for decades, so it expands my geographic possibilities.

For example, in a short story I have F1 events on two continents, and characters across three countries. In a novel I’m working on, my main character is Canadian and lives part time in the US and UK, and I have her go to the Montreal and Silverstone Grand Prix. It also helps keep seasons straight for me and the reader. Those are typically June/July races, so by always having a race after her birthday, it reminds me that her birthday is early June – since I didn’t write it in my notes anywhere and using actual dates feels so clunky to me.

But how do you write a spectator at a sporting event without just giving a play-by-play?

Well, J.K. Rowling takes the viewpoint of a player (Harry) with play-by-play Quidditch commentary (typically done by Lee Jordan) and occasionally spectator viewpoints (most notably in the very first Quidditch match where Hermione sets Snape’s robes on fire). This can give multiple layers to an event and allows the writer (and reader) to shift attention to the most interesting thing, like when you’re watching a football match and the camera angles shift to show you the best bits instead of always giving you an aerial shot of the pitch.

I don’t always do this, partly because it can be difficult to find the right balance and partly because I don’t have the expertise to show a player viewpoint for some of the sports I use. Like F1 – I’ve never even sat in an F1 car, much less driven one, but I’m an expert spectator.

Also, because my reader may not have seen some of the sports I use – like F1 or cricket – I want to be sure that the where and what and who is clear. When I first wrote an F1 race into a story, Natalie read it and didn’t even know what I was talking about. For about half that scene she thought I was talking about horse racing, so I had to get more in-depth. I had to use specifics, names and dates and tracks and words like “pit lane” and whatnot. Just as I had to write a specific brand of cigarettes, I had to look at details on the racing.

That’s what makes a sporting event. You don’t have to cover a play-by-play, and maybe your spectator doesn’t even watch the full match of…whatever it is. Have them talk to someone. Have them smoke a cigarette (if that’s historically viable). Have them share a beer with their neighbor. Doing play-by-play of a tennis match in words would bore the reader to tears, and probably you as well. Just show what matters in the match, the big plays and the ending. Give it drama. Give it flow.

And most importantly, use that lovely writing rule that seems to hold true the more I write: If you’re bored writing it, they’ll be bored reading it.

Cheers,

C

Continually Moving Forward

I was reading over a short story I’d started because I set my mind on finishing it yesterday. (I did finish it, so now it’s going to be subjected to the rigors of editing), and it got me thinking about the development of my writing over time.

When I read back to my very earliest work (we’re talking when I was, like, ten) I am often astonished by the strength of character and the weird but suitable sense of plot. But something I’ve struggled with off and on is forcing myself to include enough physical description in a scene. In fact, in my list of things to consider in different rounds of edits, one of the first rounds is entirely focused on adding in physical description, with the knowledge that my editor my cut or pare down some of it later.

Adding this step to my editing process has been invaluable, and Natalie noticed the difference immediately. But this short story (which doesn’t really have a very good working title at the moment so I’ll not use one yet), I started out forcing myself to describe intently.

I have to say, when I’ve looked back on this, it’s really some of my better writing (not surprisingly), but it does NOT come naturally to me. I’m not a person who cares so much about how things look, but about how things ARE, what things are doing, what sort of person people are, how they interact with other persons. So the ending I’ve written for this story?

Not nearly as descriptive. I tried, I really did, but it just didn’t happen.

I suppose we are constantly moving and changing as writers, and that’s one reason editing is so important, isn’t it? We have to smooth over who we were when we started writing and who we were when we finished, and make the work seem like it’s from one cohesive place in time. But nothing ever does.

Cheers,

C