Sunday, November 25, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 25 - On Goals

So did I make my 50k goal, or will I be shaving my head?

Sorry to disappoint, but I won't be doing any shaving. Because I cheated.

I did get 50k words. And they're 50k pretty good words.

But they're for two different stories.

Halfway into the Jack book, I launched into a side story and just rolled with it. This became its own novella. For those who read my novels, it's a Harry McGlade story. With zombies. Which is why, obviously, it can't be part of the Jack novel.

Anyway, because it's an odd length (20k words) it's going to be damn hard to sell. After I edit it, I think I'll look into one of those publishers who do overpriced limited edition hardcovers.

So I technically didn't write 50k of one novel, but I did do 50k with the same characters (Jack is in this too) so I'm going to compromise. Instead of cutting my hair, I'll cut my nails. There's enough crap on YouTube to bother videotaping it.

For those who want to cry foul and demand a head shaving, I encourage you to start one of those online petitions, like the one used to get Family Guy back on the air. Get 1000 people to sign it, and Marcus Sakey can shave my head in front of a live crowd at Love is Murder in February. If 1000 people really want to see me bald, who am I to argue?

That said, I enjoyed the pressure NaNoWriMo put on me, and I may do it again. In fact, I encourage all writers to try it, whether they end up with a novel, or part of a novel and a novella, or even a bunch of crap that will never see print.

That's because writing is about setting, and reaching, goals.

Stories don't write themselves. They take a considerable time commitment. Often that commitment is hard to justify. But writers, real writers, make writing a priority. They make the time and the effort.

This is a business about pushing yourself, because many times there's no one else pushing you. Unless you're lucky enough to have a deadline, the pressure is mostly self-induced. NaNoWriMo helps to put on some pressure. Pressure = words on a page. And that's what writers do. We write. Anything that helps us write is worth trying.

Speaking of goals, my anniversary is coming up. This is my 299th blog entry for A Newbie's Guide To Publishing. Over half a million people have visited this blog since it began in 2005. I'm grateful to each and every one of you for believing I have something to share with the writing community.

I'd like to make my 300th post something special, and since much of this blog is about setting and reaching goals, I'd like to open up my blog to my readers.

I want to hear what your goals are for 2008.

Whether you're a pro or a newbie, a long time reader or a recent visitor, please email me at and tell me:

1. Your Goals for 2008.

2. How you will reach these goals.

If you're a lurker, but never comment, this is the perfect time to introduce yourself. If you're a long time reader, I ask you to help me spread the word. We're all part of the same community. We all have goals. Let's share them and inspire each other.

And please provide your answers email here, not in the comments section here. I'll put all of your goals (and my goals) in my 300th post in week or so.

Thanks again for reading.

Monday, November 19, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 19 - On Crap

So far this month I've written 26,000 words.

Unfortunately, only 10k of them have been the novel.

The other 16k have been a magazine article and two novellas for upcoming anthologies. I also managed to sneak in a few online interviews.

Am I worried I'll have to shave my curly locks?

A little. Assuming I won't get much done on Thanksgiving, that means I have ten days to write 40k words. That's 16 pages a day. It's doable, but won't be easy.

Which makes this pretty exciting. I'm guessing it will come down to the wire.

Setting goals and challenging yourself, both artistically and with deadlines, is part of being a writer. I think it's a fun part.

The book itself is going well. It's coming together nicely, albeit slowly. I just wrote my first ever sex scene for the series (which is on the kinky side--I think Barry Eisler will approve) and the plot is shaping up to be the most fun of all the Jack books.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog entry: Writing Crap.

It's important to give yourself permission to write crap. Writers write. They get words on the page. Spend too much time thinking, questioning, judging, dismissing, and second-guessing, and you'll never get anything finished.

However, you should NEVER settle for crap.

Though Cherry Bomb is my 6th Jack Daniels book, it's actually my 17th novel. I can say, with some certainty, that my first six novels were crap. Everything since then has, in my opinion, worked. And each book I write seems to come a little easier, involve a little less rewriting, to get it to the point where it works.

So what makes a book work?

It's hard to pinpoint why some novels work better than others. It's even harder to judge your own writing objectively. Obviously, there are craft issues you can be aware of, like narrative structure, rising action, character realism, linear progression, and pacing, among many others, but being aware of them and knowing if they're working in you book are two different things.

However, I believe there's something instinctive, something perhaps even intrinsic to the novel, which can tell the writer if it actually works.

We all have moments when the writing is flowing, the loose ends are all coming together, and we feel that this collection of words and sentences and scenes is coming together as a pleasing, cohesive whole.

Sometimes we're wrong. What works for us actually doesn't work for readers. But sometimes--and I think experience plays a part--we're right, and we can actually feel the process working instead of worrying if its working.

Now there have been intelligent, thoughtful posts all over the Internet this month, about the number of awful manuscripts that NaNoWriMo is going to unleash upon the world.

My friend Marcus Sakey, who is as meticulous with his writing craft as he is talented (which could be a knock, but in his case it's high praise) recently wrote this on The Outfit blog:

Look at it this way: would you participate in National House Building Month if you had to live in the result? Of course not, because a house takes care to build.

I agree. But I also believe if you've been building houses for years, and know what it takes to build a good house, that each one you built can be done better and faster.

Here's the thing though: You don't have to build a house in a month.

Maybe you just build the frame. Or the foundation. Or the living room. Or maybe you do build the house, but it is pretty shoddy. There is no law that says what you build you have to keep. You can change the house, fix it, add it it, make it better, before you move in.

My first six houses were lousy. Uninhabitable. But I learned from them. So when I built the seventh, I got an agent. And when I built the tenth, I got a book deal.

Don't spend your time worrying that your writing sucks. The writing will tell you that later. Or the world will.

You just have to get the words on the page, and trust yourself.

It gets easier the longer you do it.

And it should go without saying that when you do finish that book, don't assume it's ready to submit. Get feedback. Rewrite. Put it away for a month and attack it with fresh eyes.

Your first house may not sell. Your tenth might not either. But you will get better. And in this crazy business, that's all you have control over.

Keep at it. Set goals and reach them. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to turn off the Internet, take a handful of amphetamines, and bust my ass.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 13 - On Speed

As expected, I've gotten very little writing done because I've been travelling. My three day trip last week went into five days because of car trouble. So here I am, at Day 13, with 3400 words.

I've got some catching up to do.

The most I've ever written in a day is 9,000 words, and I've had two day totals of about 15,000, so I know I can still reach the 50,000 goal and save my lovely curly locks from the trimmer.

I've always been able to write fast, and stay focused for long period of time. But I never stopped to ponder why. I certainly don't think I'm more talented, creative, inspired, or dedicated than any of my peers, pro or newbie. But I haven't met many writers who can crank out the words as quickly.

So before I get started on my novel this morning, I thought I'd write a few words about speed, endurance, and staying focused.

1. Sit Your Ass In The Chair

The first step is to actually sit at your desk, your Word Processing program open on your computer. Now be a good dog and STAY, getting up only to eat, hit the john, and attend to any bleeding children.

2. Limit Distractions

The biggest attention temptation for a writer is the Internet. Besides email, chat, and games, there's also the dreaded research, which begins at Google or Wikipedia and then, an hour later, devolves into you reading about something entirely unrelated to your book.

Phone calls, nonessential communication with family members, stretching your legs, or doing anything "to get the muse started" is time that should be spent writing.

3. Write

You shouldn't worry if it's crap. Give yourself permission to write crap. The goal is to get words on the page. Write them, even if they suck. Inspiration is bullshit. Writing is a job. How often does your 9 to 5 job inspire you? Yet you do it anyway. When working, the motivation is the paycheck. With Nanowrimo, the motivation is getting to 50k. Get there, even if you think you're producing garbage. You can always edit in December.

If you are stuck, staring at a blinking cursor and pulling out your hair, here are some tricks:
  • Read what you wrote the day before. That can give you a launching point for getting into the next scene.
  • Spice it up. Usually, being unable to decide what happens next means you don't have enough action or conflict. Give your hero more problems to deal with. I don't care what kind of book you're writing, you can always introduce more characters and plotlines to make things harder for your protagonist. When God gets bored with earth, he sends in a tsunami.
  • Skip around. Much of getting stuck happens when you're pushing for something to happen, but you can't seem to get there. You know what I mean; the big scene that came to you fully-formed, but you haven't gotten to the point in the story yet. Who says you need to write in order? Do the scene you're itching to do--you can connect it to the rest of the book later.
  • Free yourself. Often you get mired down in outlines, plans, details, and expectations, which can bring your story to a dead end with no hope of moving forward. Allow yourself to change your original plans. Narratives often go in places we didn't expect, and may not even like. Roll with it. Change things. Go in different directions, even if that means your book becomes something different.

4. Fight Fear With Action

Fifty thousand words in a month is a scary thing. It's easy to obsess about word count, worry that everything you've written is garbage, and spend so much time questioning your ability to finish that you're wasting valuable writing time. The best way to combat fear is with action. Every time you feel the need to doubt yourself, or check your word count, force yourself to finish the page. The doubts usually go away for a while. When the come back, be aware of them, and finish that page.

In short, less thinking, more writing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have 46,600 words to write in 18 days, so I'm getting started...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 6 - On Plotting

Okay, I'm a wee bit behind.

Because I was at the Delaware Book Festival from the 1st to the 4th, I didn't get started on the new Jack book until yesterday morning.

So far, I've got about 3200 words done---about 13 pages. Not bad, but I'll need to step it up if I want to reach my 50k quota. Especially since I promised two author friends I'd read their current manuscripts, and next week I'll be in Wisconsin and Tennessee for four days, and I still have a 10k novella due, along with a short story collaboration that I'm working on with F. Paul Wilson, which has always been a dream of mine since I've been reading him since 1982 and I think he's a God so I don't want to screw it up.

It's going to be a busy month.

That said, in my free time I've been thinking a lot about the new novel, and even though I don't have an outline for it I've already got a pretty good idea of what I want it to be about. Which begs the question: What is plotting and how is it done?

I've talked with many authors, both newbie and pro, who have difficulties with plotting. Personally, I think it's the easiest part of writing. I believe the main goal of plotting is to make the reader want to know what happens next. To do that, there are some pretty simple tricks that anyone can master.

1. Give your character a goal. All narratives require a quest of some sort. It could be a quest to catch a killer, or get a boyfriend, or find self awareness, but in every case the story begins with the hero deciding upon the goal and beginning the quest.

2. Don't let your character reach her goal. The plot then comes down to making it difficult for the character, throwing obstacles in her way. Other characters with opposing goals, the environment, and turns of events can all conspire to make reaching the goal more difficult.

3. Use what you've got. If you're stuck, reread what you've already written. Chances are, your subconscious has already planted something in the manuscript that you can build upon. The car trouble alluded to in chapter 3 can become a huge problem in chapter 8. The sneeze in chapter 1 can become the flu in chapter 11. The argument in chapter 4 can become divorce papers in chapter 9.

4. Think about the worst thing that can happen. After you've written a character for a few dozen or hundred pages, and have gotten to know her like a family member, you're going to better understand her goals, fears, and motivations. Think about the most horrible thing that can happen to her, then make it happen.

5. Overcome the obstacles and reach the goal. That's it. You've written a narrative. Congrats.

If you're struggling to write what happens next, or you're stuck in the boring middle section of the book, go back and seed it with more goals and obstacles and foreshadowing. And try to avoid being obvious or overt. While all stories follow the narrative structure, good writers make the structure invisible.

Happy writing!