August writing round-up

Previously in monthly round-ups…

Total new words for July: 12,890

My goal for August was a fairly complete vomit draft of the fanfic project, which I knew would be around 25k. So, er, you can probably guess my goal did not get met. I also admitted that I’d be surprised if I did meet that goal, so I guess this isn’t a shocker. And I probably did better than it feels, baring in mind how busy I was in August. Between prep for my trip and my trip, I only had a few normal days this month. So getting nearly 13k words with all of that going on was pretty incredible, really.

Goals for September

Only one, again: finish the fanfic project and get a start on edits.

I’m not throwing any word goals at that, although I estimate that it will be at least 10k to get a vomit draft done. This time, I’m feeling semi-confident that I’ll make my goals happen. I’m starting to hit all the big action and coming-together-of-plots stage in the fic, and my writing always speeds up when I reach that point. I’m out of the sticky middle of doom.

My dad is coming to visit for three weeks this month, but there will be a week in that time when he and my mum are away exploring the north of the province, and I should have plenty of time to get some writing done. More than usual, if it’s just me and the cats in the house!

So this is me: I will finish this fanfic project and get a healthy start on the edits by the end of September. Watch me put my determined face on and do this thing!

July writing round-up

Previously in monthly round-ups…

Total new words for July: 26,654

My only goal for July was 25k new words on the big fanfic project. That was it. And look at that! I got 26.6k!

I should confess–almost 3k of that was actually on the first chapter of a new book. Woops. But I still got a huge number of words on the big fanfic project and it felt good to really get into it at last.

The new book? I’m loving it and itching to focus on it, which should provide the motivation I need to get my arse in gear and finish the big fanfic project by the end of this month, so it can be my sole project for a while.

Getting new words out is the part of writing I love best (I can hear so many other writers cringing because they love editing, but I’m sorry, I’m a new words girl), and after months in edits, the chance to just let fly and *write* has been glorious. July was a resounding success, one I didn’t expect to get because I had so much going on at the same time.

I’m crediting part of my word glut to Scrivener for iOS. It’s already making that much of a difference to my workflow–I can see it in my day-to-day metrics, where there’s a sudden jump in productivity since I installed it. Hopefully that’s not a temporary bump!

August goals

My goals this month are simple: write the big fanfic project and have a vomit draft pretty much done by the end of the month. That means this is another 25k goal month. If I’m on track with that, I’m allowed to goof off a bit every now and again with the next couple of chapters of my book, because I need to let myself have a treat 🙂

The potential roadblock is my upcoming trip: I leave next Wednesday for England, where I will spent several days at Nine Worlds Geekfest in London (such fun!) and then a couple of days with a friend in Jersey, before spending my remaining time until August 27th at my dad’s house. Based on previous experience, I may not get much writing done at the convention. And even my dad’s house may not be uninterrupted writing time: I’ve got family to visit, a Prom concert to attend, a day trips to Oxford and London planned, and a day at the Harry Potter studio tour.

So while my goal is 25k and a completed vomit draft, I’m going to be kind of stunned if I achieve it. Make that, incredibly stunned. Cross your fingers for me?

Camp NaNoWriMo Winner!

CampNaNo_Winner_555-1

I’ll do a proper monthly round-up for July on Monday, but last night I hit the 25k mark (my goal) and this morning I validated it, and I have officially won Camp NaNoWriMo 😀

Now, how many more words can I achieve between now and tomorrow night? Hmm…

Hacking the writing process

One of the things most writers learn early on is how they work best. What environment they need and how they need to approach a story to make progress on it. It’s something we learn through trial and error as we go, developing our process as we develop our skills at plotting, pacing, world building, and characterisation. When you read a lot of writing books, they talk about the importance of finding your process and sticking to it. They’ll advocate particular processes and extol the virtues, sometimes explaining (in detail) why their process is the only way to work.

Plotter. Pantser. Distraction-free environment. Free-writing. Coffee shop writing. Group writing. Solo writing. Detailed research. Research on the fly. Placeholders to do the research later. MICE quotient. Structure. No structure. Scene-sequel.

There are so many parts of the process we develop, and when we find one that works, we stick to it. Sometimes to a degree that’s ultimately unhelpful. Kameron Hurley talks about hacking her process on her blog: being unafraid to change it up and try something new. We can get stuck in a rut of “this is how we should write, because it’s what we do and it’s what has previously worked” and that can hold us back. It’s important to try new things, even try things we can’t imagine working, because it might lead us to something that works even better than what we were doing.

And ruts are usually a bad place to be, right?

I’ve always been a pantser. I’ll go in with, at most, the milestones on the way worked out and that’s it. The idea of outlining has always made me nervous because it hasn’t worked with me–I’ll write the outline and then I feel satisfied because I know how the story goes, and I can’t actually write the story. I’m starting to suspect this is a holdover from writing fanfic: you’re writing about characters you know so well already, often in settings you know (unless you’re writing an AU), and if you know them, the arcs they’ll take, and the detailed plot, what is left to discover? You need need to have something new to find as you write, or it becomes mechanical and passionless.

I guess one of the things I’ve realised is that I’m a discovery writer more than a true pantser. As I edited the book I finished earlier this year, I found that most of the big structural issues it had would have been caught and fixed before I ever began if I’d outlined it first. I went in with some research–characters sheets, some world-building, a really highlights-only idea of the plot direction–and I ended up with a mess. Most of the edits were dealing with the huge structural issues, the plot problems, and the missing character arcs–most of which could have been cut off at the pass with an outline.

My newest project (er, the one I’m tinkering with when I have spare time after my NaNo words) is different. The idea happened, I developed it, and I ended up with a one-page outline that felt fairly complete. All the major and minor plot points, right there on the page. I worked on it a bit more, added more details. When I set up the Scriv project, I set up chapter folders and added more details to the outline as I sketched in the chapter descriptions. I caught a few issues, found places that needed more thought and worked on them, and now I’ve got an outline that feels pretty solid. The main characters have arcs, the plot isn’t filled with logical inconsistencies or impossibilities. It’s an outline that, hopefully, won’t leave me with the level of mess I’ve been cleaning up for three months in my other book.

I’ll probably expand it as I go. Some of the chapters I outlined feel too full, so they’ll probably be turned into multiple chapters. An outline isn’t a line-by-line recipe, after all.

What I’ve learned is that for this book, with this outline, I’m still discovering it as I write. I’ve just finished the opening chapter, and I already feel like I’m finding out new things with each new scene. The outline is there, but it’s the details I’m discovering, so I’m still excited to find out what happens next.

Perhaps my old pantser ways only really work for the way I write fanfic, and my process for original fiction had to change. I’ll know better when I finish this book and see how it turns out. Hopefully it will be less fundamentally flawed and messy.

The other part of my process I’ve been playing with is environment. I’ve never been very particular about where I write–sometimes I’m at my desk, sometimes I’m on my iPad elsewhere in the house, or in a coffee shop, or in the lunchroom at work. It’s the reason Scriv for iOS has been so good–it’s fitting in with my habits really well. But for years, I’ve been writing in silence. No music. Having someone else’s words in my head made it impossible to hear my own words.

I’m also really easily distracted and I’ve been finding it difficult to get myself into the word space, which impacts on productivity. If I’m writing 50 words, checking twitter, writing 100, checking email, writing 25, checking twitter…you can see how that’s not really working, can’t you?

So I decided to try something. One evening, I downloaded a ton of classical stuff on Spotify and plugged in, and it’s working. No words, just orchestral–mainly violin or cello concertos, or symphonies–and suddenly, I’m actually getting a fair amount done each time I sit down. I get into the right wording zone and everything zooms along. At a certain stage, I stop hearing the music, but it’s okay because it’s become a background hum helping me to concentrate. It was the one part of my process I refused to consider changing for years, and it’s made a huge difference.

Finding a process that works for our writing is important, but so is trying new things. Sometimes, we need to hack our process and find a new way of working. It might not always work, a change you try might even sound counter-intuitive to everything we’re told by ‘experts’, but we should be open to experimenting.

You never know what you might learn and yourself and your writing.

Scrivener for iOS: initial impressions

I’ve been waiting for this ever since I was converted to the Scrivener way a couple of years ago, so the last couple of days have been pretty damned exciting. If you somehow missed it, Scrivener for iOS was released yesterday morning, after a wait that has felt interminable to many.

I began using Scrivener on my desktop a couple of years ago, for a NaNoWriMo. Friends had been extolling it for years, but I’d been stubbornly clinging to Word. “I write linearly,” I’d say. “What use is Scrivener to a writer like me?”

I tried it for that NaNo, only really planning to use it for planning rather than writing, but somehow ended up using it for everything that year and haven’t looked back. Having all my notes on characters and locations, evolving outlines and research, all in one place for easy reference is wonderful. Being able to version each scene using snapshots, rather saving the entire document as a new version each time I make a change, makes my heart happy during editing. (It’s the day job software developer in me, I swear.) Using colours in labels to, for example, display which POV a scene or chapter is from really helps in a quick visual assessment of the balance in a story.

The only problem has been that I often use my iPad for writing. In coffee shops, when I’m travelling, or even just because I’m too lazy to boot up the desktop of an evening, I have a keyboard and I can churn out the words wherever I am. Without Scriv, though, I’ve been typing into Word and copying into Scriv later. Which is as exactly as frustrating and fiddly as it sounds, so finally getting Scrivener on my iPad is going to be a huge timesaver.

Now I’ve been using it for a couple of days, what do I think so far?

When Scrivener announced the iOS version was finally going to be a reality, I concluded these were the absolute, must-have, deal-breaker features that I needed for it to be functional:

  • Ability to open existing Scrivener projects and add new folders and text documents to the manuscript section of the binder.
  • Ability to add new words and edit in new and existing text documents.
  • Access to the research/character/location folders in a project, even if read-only.
  • Ability to assign labels and statuses.

That was it. My bare-bones list of deal-breakers. If I had those really basic features, it would already be better than my Word-copy-paste routine. I also had a list of features that I really hoped for, because it would make working much easier, but wouldn’t stop me buying if they were missing:

  • Dropbox syncing so the iPad didn’t have to be physically connected to a computer for file transfers.
  • Word count tracking.
  • Compile/export functionality into Word documents.
  • Corkboard view.
  • Ability to move text boxes and chapters around to reorder.
  • Write access to the research folders for making notes on the move.

So, how did Scrivener do?

Well, first up, I got my bare-bones and nice to have features. All of them, which I didn’t expect. Even the compile functionality–it’s bare-bones, no custom templates and no ePub files, but it outputs a Word or PDF file, and that’s enough to be perfectly usable for what I need. There will be an occasion this summer when I’ll be travelling and I need to email a draft of the story I’m working on, thanks to deadlines, and this will do it. YAY.

I got word count tracking for both the manuscript and the session. Corkboard. Moving folders and text boxes around. Creating new research folders and adding text and images to them. Creating new text documents and folders in the manuscript and editing existing ones. Updating labels and statuses–and being able to use labels to colour-code cards in the corkboard and folder entries in the binder, which was more than I expected!

Dropbox syncing that actually works. No, it doesn’t sync as I go the way the desktop does. You need to manually invoke a sync, but this is actually great: I can work offline with ease (and without any of the demands to turn off airplane mode Word gives me) and sync when I’m online again. And it won’t throw up a thousand errors when my wifi signal cuts out for a moment (Word, AGAIN) while I have the project open.

I can even create new Scrivener projects and throw them onto Dropbox, which was another thing I didn’t expect. It’s a really basic project, just the manuscript folder and a research folder, so all the fancy settings and front/back matter in the templates I’ve created aren’t there and will need setting up when I’m at my desktop. But again, for working on the go, being able to create a new project is huge. I can start building my research folders and making notes if an amazing idea hits that needs to be noted down before I forget all the details.

The only error I found so far is this, and it’s not really an error. More of a minor miscommunication issue. There were updates to the Windows and Mac versions of Scrivener earlier this week to upgrade them to be compatible with the iOS version. Specifically, you needed to apply the update and then open the projects you’ll be using in the iOS version to upgrade their format. I did that for one project I’m working and then plugged away at some new words before saving and closing. I had another project that I’d barely started (just an outline that I also have in Word and some brief character notes), so I opened that one to upgrade and closed it without having made any changes. In that second project, because I hadn’t made and saved any changes, the format upgrade didn’t stick and it wouldn’t open in iOS. The first project was fine. So my only tip would be to make sure you make a minor change (even just adding a comma) to your project on the desktop after upgrading it and save it, otherwise iOS won’t be able to open it. After that, everything should work.

Overall, I’m incredibly impressed. I got the first scene of a new project written yesterday–created a new project after I couldn’t open the original in iOS and it didn’t take me long to get labels and statuses set up and start working. I even added the outline to my research folder and set up a new character folder. Today I went back to the project I’m supposed to be working on (er, oops) and added some new words. It was a doddle, much smoother than working in Word, and the MS and session words tracked for both project perfectly.

The text editor defaults to only using around 2/3s of the screen width, so the binder can still be displayed down the left, but it can be expanded to a full screen view. Typewriter scrolling is easy to toggle on and off. All the features I rely on day-to-day are right there, and the workflow is similar enough to the desktop version that the learning curve is easy. It’s probably not as intuitive to anyone completely new to Scrivener, but that doesn’t surprise me: desktop Scrivener had a steep learning curve for me and the iOS version is modelled as closely on that as it can be.

There are tutorials built into the app, though, to help new users to work out how to use Scrivener, so you’re not left flailing in the dark. And the Scrivener forums are an endless source of useful information, too. I’d definitely say that it’s good to have the desktop version, too, because there are features in it that the iOS version can’t replicate. Specifically, the compile settings are very basic, and you’ll want the desktop version to do anything fancy on those lines. I have a bunch of custom compile settings and I’ll only be using the iOS compile when I need to compile a rough draft for backups or sending to first readers.

And backups is the other thing iOS doesn’t have. In the desktop version, there’s a button to create a zipped backup of every file in a project, and iOS doesn’t have that. Compiling and exporting your manuscript is the best you’ll be able to do, and that won’t include any of the research notes. It may due to the limitations of iOS, but if the zipped backups are doable, I hope Scrivener will have them on their to-do list for a future iteration. That’s a feature a lot of people would love, because backups are vital to writer sanity and paranoia.

In the meantime, I’m compiling my project before I hit sync, due to that writerly paranoia!

In summary, Scrivener for iOS is everything I’d hoped for and more. It’s already making me more productive, because I’m organising as I write instead of having to do a lot of organising and tidying later, and it’s going to make my summer of travelling and writing so much easier. If you were on the fence on whether Scrivener for iOS is worth it, then I can report that it absolutely is. The hype didn’t lie: this is the app we’ve all been waiting for to make writing on an iPad not just workable, but enjoyable and incredibly productive.

May writing round-up

Previously in monthly round ups…

Total new words for May: 12,940

On the one hand, lots of new words! On the other hand…most of those new words came from me restructuring the novel. I think that I was overly optimistic about how much needed rewriting and what changes I needed to make. Despite my casual assertion that I only had half a scene to rewrite on May 1st and then it would all be tweaks and minor edits, I was wrong.

I am learning a lot from this novel. Mostly about how not to write a novel and why I need to make better outlines in the future, because many of the changes I’ve made were driven by big plot problems that wouldn’t have happened if I’d prepped better. At least I can apply this to my next book, right?

Anyway, I’m down to the final four chapters to edit. Over the course of this month, I rewrote entire chapters, deleted a chapter, deleted scenes, moved scenes into different chapters, and hopefully will have a better novel at the end. I’m trying not to get too ambitious, but it would be nice to have this round of edits done this weekend. Except I know that there are several scenes that need rewriting (argh) and probably another scene or two of filler to cut for pacing, so I’ll try not to feel annoyed with myself if I’m not quite done.

Then I intend to put the damn thing aside for a month so that I can read it over with a clear head and see what I’ve got. I suspect that I’ll have to do another round of edits before I send it to first readers, but at least that round will be minor tweaks and proofing rather than whole-sale restructuring. I hope.

I did get…around 500 words written on that big fanfic project. My plan during my downtime from the book is to get a first draft of the fanfic thing done. It will be a nice brain break, both because it’s fanfic and because it’s going to be a fun story. At this point, I really need the break from this novel for a while.

My other June aim is to get one short story edited and submitted. Lightspeed is going to be open for a couple of weeks later in the month, so that’s my goal. Get one story edited and submitted to Lightspeed. Around 4k of my new words were on a short epistolary story that is currently with my critique group. I’m really excited about this story, really pleased with what I did with it, so unless it’s deemed terrible beyond words, that’s the one I’ll be trying to get into a submittable state.

What about you? How did May go for you, and how is June shaping up?

Writing: why picking the wrong style can throw a reader out of a book

At the weekend, I tried to read the new Star Wars novelization. From the word ‘tried’, you might already have guessed that I failed out of it.

Now, it’s probably a great book for some people, but those people don’t include me, unfortunately. I got so frustrated that I ended up setting it aside, and feeling glad that it was a library book so I didn’t feel like I’d wasted money on a book I couldn’t finish.

The problem, for me, was the style. It was overly florid and flowery, which didn’t fit well with the actual content of the book. It jarred. The excesses of description and internal thoughts slowed down the action in key places, while somehow skipping lightly past other parts that needed emphasis. The author had also changed the dialogue–which I know he’d probably based on scripts rather than watching the finished movie, but still–so that it didn’t read naturally for any of the characters.

In short, the style the book was written in, florid and flowery, was a bad match for the subject matter. It wasn’t necessarily terrible, and might have been great for a different kind of book, but it didn’t work for this particular book.

Today I began reading The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. This is a reread, although it’s been years since I last read, so I knew what kind of book I was getting. I was expecting epic fantasy and all the elements that inform the genre. The prose wasn’t quite as overwrought as that Star Wars novel, maybe, but it certainly isn’t sparse. It’s highly descriptive, a little bombastic in places…and it fits this type of book perfectly.

This is why style and content matter in fiction. It’s all about getting the tone right. Something that jars for one type of book will sit perfectly in another, and there are genre conventions around tone and style that are tricky to break and require lot of talent do well. Pratchett’s comedy in an epic fantasy setting works so well because he’s bloody good at it, and even he took a few books to really nail the tone he was aiming for.

Doing it badly is painful for the reader. That SW novelization slowed the action down in the wrong places due to the excesses and skipped over more thoughtful passages. It sent the pacing haywire. Jordan’s prose is descriptive and expansive in places, but he reigns it back for the action. His style doesn’t get in the way of the pacing; it enhances it.

That should be our goal as writers: to get tone, style, and content working so well together, even if we break a genre rule, that the reader doesn’t notice them because they’re so absorbed in the narrative.

March writing round-up

Previously in monthly round-ups…

Total new words for March: 13,526

I said that March wouldn’t be a 25k month, and I was completely right about that! I did manage to hit the one goal that I’d set for myself, though: I wrote “The End” on a very rough novel draft. So that’s done, and I’m counting March as a success on the basis of it.

I didn’t get any editing done, but that’s because I took a well-earned break after I finished the WIP. I did some light editing on a fanfic project over Easter and sent it to my beta reader, but that was it. I really needed a break, it turned out.

But now it’s time to get back to it and work on some things. I have goals to set and achieve!

My plans for April:

  1. Edit a short story and send it out for a second round of reading. If possible, get it out on submission, but that depends on the speed of the second reading!
  2. Write at least 15k new words. There’s a new fanfic project that I need to get a serious start on, if I’m going to hit some deadlines.
  3. The novel I just finished has had some time to think about its sins. By the end of April, I want to have the major structural edits done and have it out with a couple of beta readers.
  4. Finish the major edits on the F/F superhero novella and send it out for beta reading.

Most of my plans involve editing, which is part of the reason I’ll be working on a fic project when I need to put down new words. It’s a good break, a nice change of pace, and it should be a good way to keep my brain from overloading as I work on everything else.

So, that’s my month and my plans. How was March for you, and what are your goals for April?

Links for your weekend reading 04/03/2016

A weekly round-up of links that I’ve collected over the week, curated for your catch-up convenience.

Publishing News

First up, this is probably old news for many, if you’re not jacked into the latest publishing news then this may still be relevant to you: Samhain Publishing is closing its doors.

This is a huge blow. As a reader, I always knew that if I picked up a book from Samhain, it would be well edited and beautifully presented. Some of my favourite authors are published with them, and they were one of the first houses to publish gay romance as a genre. As a writer, this is a blow because they’d been at the top of my publishing bucket house, for all the same reasons that I enjoyed reading their books.

Nook is pulling out of ebook distribution in the UK. According to the article, they’re pairing with Sainsbury’s to ensure that users can still access their content, but people will have to take action by the end of May to make that happen.

These two pieces of news are a strong hint that there’s a big shake-up coming in ebooks this year, and on the face of it, that doesn’t look good for anyone.

And it looks like mass market is also facing issues: Penguin Random House announced a round of layoffs today.

In slightly happier news, the submissions guidelines have been posted for POCs Destroy Horror. Submissions don’t open until April 1st. Queers Destroy Fantasy was where I sent my very first submission (and got my first very rejection), so I have a huge fondness for the Destroy anthologies.

Ghostbusters trailer!

You’ve probably seen it, but here’s the Ghostbusters trailer just in case.

And here’s a nice break-down on the awesome things that trailer is doing.

Essays

In Uncanny Magazine, Jim C Hines talks about why historical context cannot (and should not) be used to excuse bigotry in the works and authors we hold up as classics of the genre.

Over on The Booksmugglers, S.L. Huang, Sunil Patel, and Haralambi Markov discussed the process of shifting from writing short stories to novels and vice versa. I’m a natural novel writer trying to learn to write short stories, so Huang’s descriptions of how different the pacing issues are struck close to home for me.

On Lady Business, KJ (owlmoose) talks about why “Just do it yourself” doesn’t help in diversity discussions.

And finally…a story

Remember choose your own adventure stories? Try Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0 by Caroline M. Yoachim for a really interesting, and disturbing, take on the trope.

Under the microscrope: surviving my first critique session

I survived my first critique!

Ahem.

Last month, I talked about the first proper meeting of the new writing critique group I’ve joined. This month, it was my turn to submit a piece to be critiqued, which was nerve-wracking to say the least. It’s not like this is the first time anyone has ever read my work–fanfic background, you know? And I’ve been sending original pieces to magazines for a while–but this is the first time I’ve had several people read something with the express purpose of critiquing and then discussing it.

My impostor syndrome kicked in big time. One of our members, S, has lots of fancy English lit education and actual formal writing learning. That’s pretty damned intimidating right off the bat! The others have been exchanging and critiquing their work for a long time.

And there’s little me, with my fanfic background and my weird little comedy short story, waving a tiny flag and hoping that I wasn’t helplessly out of my depth after all.

I knew that the story had issues. It’s the reason why I used it as my submission–I wanted some more eyes on it to help me figure out why it’s not working. So I had my expectations set really low for how it was going to go, and fully expected to hear my piece being shredded. I almost changed my mind about submitting that piece a couple of times, because I was half-convinced that the response would amount to “trash it and start again!” and I like enough things about it to want to fix it instead.

What threw me was hearing the group talk about how much they liked it. Picking out favourite parts, and talking about themes that I’d used and hadn’t been sure anyone would notice. The scarily well-educated guy was the one who really got the comedy and what I’d been doing with it, which was particularly gratifying, and that took a lot of sting out of the criticisms.

Yes, there were criticisms. It’s not an easy thing to listen to, but what stuck with me is that they explained why things didn’t work. That’s what I really needed to hear. I already knew that the ending wasn’t right, but knowing why it fell apart for them has given me ideas on how to fix it. I think the format of this group is going to work for me. Coming away with only a list of things that didn’t work wouldn’t have been helpful–listening to people discuss why it didn’t work, hearing people disagree about whether or not something fell flat for them, that was what really made the evening for me.

The disagreements, actually, were as useful as the places where everyone agreed. That told me whether an element was reader interpretation or author fail. As my piece was meant to be comedy, that was particularly useful–everyone has a different sense of what is funny, and it’s impossible to write something that makes absolutely everyone laugh. That’s an unrealistic goal.

For me, most sitcoms fall flat, which baffles most of my coworkers. My idea of comedy genius is Terry Pratchett and M*A*S*H. I’ve been plotting a blog post about that for ages, in fact.

I went into the critique meeting feeling incredibly nervous and came out of it feeling inspired to fix the story and excited to repeat the experience. Now that I’ve done it, I’m feeling much more confident about being critiqued in this format.

Well, excited apart from the bit where my next submission won’t be comedy, so I’ll probably work myself into a nervous tizzy beforehand again!