Friday, November 15, 2019

NaNoWriMo Update: THE END

That's an actual screenshot of what I wrote today. No, I didn't finish the 50K word NaNoWriMo goal, but I did finish writing the last scene of the novel I planned out for it. My estimates were right on: I came in just under 30K.

So I just wrote my second novel... but it is shorter than a short story-turned-novella that I wrote a few years ago. Kind of feels anti-climatic, but it is close to the right range for middle grade, and I have a lot to add to it. I tend to write in dialogue and character thoughts, so I need to paint the settings and character descriptions.

I also tend to convey all emotion with the lowering and raising of the eyebrows, or shrugging, or nodding. So as well as going back to weave in the ideas I came up with as I was writing, I need to express the character's emotions more elaborately.

To get the arbitrary number of words that NaNoWriMo has deemed a novel, I am now writing character descriptions and setting descriptions. I've found it useful in the past to do this and then weave them into the actual text. I listed out and have more than ten of each of the two categories, which some simple math shows will result in 20K words.

I also got my first 4K day in a week. That's a relief because I started to feel like it was a fluke that I did it the first week.  Nice to go into the busy weekend on a positive note.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

NaNoWriMo Update: Week 1

It's my first year attempting National Novel Writing Month, which is defined as writing 50K words in a month. Going into it last week, I was completely uncertain if I'd be able to pull it off. And I'm still far from certain, but after 9 days I have 21,780 words in my document. That's ahead of the scheduled 1,667 per day, but I'm trying to finish before Nov 25 (I'm guessing that whoever scheduled this thing in November wasn't responsible for school-aged children who have the full week off nor was planning to host a Thanksgiving dinner!)

It has been a new experience for me to sit down by 10am and tap out 4K words before school pickup. I've had a few days where I didn't get focused enough and so had to carry on in the evenings, but overall I've been shocked by how fast I can write when I'm trying: I can generate 500 words in 20 minute sprints,  although the pace decreases to about 1K/hour overall, given breaks and such.

My biggest problem is looking to be that the novel is coming in close to my estimate of 30K words, which is acceptable for middle grade, especially considering I'll need to weave in setting descriptions and emotional explanations, but that will be much slower. So my current plan is to try to generate the balance to "win" NaNoWriMo by writing pure setting, character description and backstory. It could be a waste of time in order to reach the rather arbitrary goal, but I have found it useful in the past to write these pure descriptions and then pick the best sentences to weave in.

So, so far so good. Apparently, I can do it for nine days anyway, at least if I have a novel planned out.  Happy writing, everyone!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Inkberry, Crime Fiction, Indie Publishing

On Sat Nov 16, my day-job colleague and undercover-writer B.J. Smith will be at the lovely Inkberry Books in Niwot, CO for a talk, reading and book signing. I've found his books to be very well written and clever reads.  Check it out!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Sharing my NaNoWriMo planning and tracking spreadsheet

I'm so excited about NaNoWriMo that I wrote a planning/tracking spreadsheet . Feel free to copy if you want to give it a go. Support possible but not guaranteed (after all, I'll be writing!)

New Territory

It's Halloween, but my excitement comes from the unknown territory I'm heading into on a few different dimensions.

I sent out my first two query letters for Winter Yield and soon will contact eight more agents who've expressed interest at conferences over the years.  I'm ready for my first rejections.

Tomorrow is the first day of my first NaNoWriMo, in which I will see if I can write 50,000 words in a month. I have a contemporary, middle grade (new genre!) novel plotted out. Last time I just pantsed the first draft, then spent five years reverse-engineering it into a story that other people believed and found interesting enough to read. I don't know for sure if it will kill the writing magic, but this is my experiment to see if I can forward-engineer the process (and subsequently have something done much quicker).

It's all exhilaration and the luxury of dreaming, right now. I'll try to check in frequently!

Stepping Into the Wilderness

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


I just addressed the last twenty-two comments in my manuscript, and edited the "But" beginning out of 124 sentences. I will read it out loud to myself and send it to two friends for a final proofreader. Then I'm ready to query.

I'm appreciating the hopefullness of this point in the writing process. The manuscript is as good as I know how to make it. I have my agent list and query letters ready. There is so much potential.  I can spend hours daydreaming about getting requests for more pages, requests for the full manuscript, phone calls offering representation based on the first ten pages.

You can guess where is this going, right? I know those are pipe dreams. The average number of queries for traditionally published books is something like seventy-five, and those were apparently good enough to find not only agents but publishers.  This elation will almost certainly be tempered by rejections over the year that I've given myself to find an agent. After that, I have a few alternatives in mind.

Meanwhile, I'm going to appreciate the glow that comes with a manuscript that I can finally call finished, even if it took over six years to get here. I'm also going to enjoy planning my next novel and getting to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Volunteering Pays Off: Lesson #1 from the 2019 RMFW Colorado Gold Conference

View from my hotel room at Colorado Gold

My first Colorado Gold conference, in 2014, was powerful. Although I’ve attended every year since then, subsequent conferences have been less impactful as I struggled to connect with the writers who had made such great impressions on me.

This year was my sixth conference, and since I don’t feel the need to absorb every morsel of content anymore, I volunteered to sit behind the registration desk. I was hoping to meet attendees and get to know the dedicated folks who run the conference. I purposely signed up to share the shift with Nathan Lowell, a successful author who I had heard interviewed years ago on an RMFW podcast. His independently-published series of space opera and fantasy are so successful that traditional publishers can’t tempt him to sell through them.  I didn’t have high expectations for our meeting but it turned out he was friendly and brimming with advice (in a good way). He offered that I could reach out to him in the future, but I figured he probably wouldn’t remember me. 

Then, at the Saturday banquet, when I was feeling deflated about reaching but not placing in the contest finals for the second year in a row, Nathan sought me out to tell me he had judged my contest entry two years in a row. He liked my story and thought it had improved a lot. We ended up chatting extensively about our projects, processes, and experiences. I felt honored to be granted so much of his time and enriched by all that he could share. Days later, I’m still glowing* with the validation that comes from a successful author liking my work and with the potential offered by an influential mentor in the business.  

I’m not sure if any conference will ever beat that first experience of finding my tribe but this year came close.

*Note for writers: This emotion manifests physically as warmth spreading through the crooks of my elbows and knees, and it literally makes me smile to myself a full week later.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Throw-back: My First Writing Conference

I just returned from the RMFW Colorado Gold Conference and am composing a post about my experience this year.  In it, I want to link to a newsletter article I wrote after returning from my first, glorious conference in 2014 but I have so far failed to access the newsletter archives. So here is the email that I sent to the organizers when the conference finished that year (and which they turned into a newsletter article). It's as gushing as I had feared, and not different from others I've seen in subsequent years, but nevertheless solidly true.

A Writer is Someone Who Puts Words on a Page

Despite a life-long interest in writing and the near completion of my first novel, the Gold Conference seemed like an irresponsible expense and enormous swath of time to take away from my family for a mere hobby.  But I signed up anyway, arranging childcare with my spouse and parents and reading the schedule repeatedly to choose the sessions I wanted to attend.  On Friday afternoon, I showed up wondering why I had been too excited to sleep the night before and if the conference would be worth my money and time.

I expected to learn about craft; I did. I expected to learn about the traditional publishing business; I did. I expected to learn some insider information and I did: smashwords, nanowrimo, mass-market, cli-fi.  I expected to learn how to improve my writing; I did—the importance of critique groups and wide reading in my genre were emphasized. I expected to directly improve my novel and I did: I identified a theme, realized some of my plot devices are jarring, decided the antagonist should return at the end of the story, struggled to write a tagline and learned that metaphors can provide a consistent tone.  I expected to meet writers, both aspiring and professional. And I did.

I did not expect to feel such a profound sense of belonging.  The other attendees were as eager as I to soak up the advice and information. Even established writers, whether they were stressed about canceled book deals or celebrating a new publication, still had to deal with the same challenges I was facing: structuring sentences, developing characters, devising plots.  In my first hour, I learned there was no need for small talk; you simply asked, “What do you write?” 

I did not expect the effect it would have on me to meet three writers the first night who had made their first sales in the last year. Or to hear the Writer of the Year say she had started writing when her kids were small. Or to hear that a group of people had started attending the conference thirty years ago and were not only still great friends but all still present this year at this conference.  All I could think was: that could be me.

Dramatic? Optimistic? Yes.  But the people were there: real people who had stood in my shoes in the recent or not-so-recent past. Their first manuscripts were tossed out, their clich├ęd stories laughed at, but they kept writing and they kept learning. Even better, they had progressed along their paths using the tools available through RMFW: the classes, critique groups, access to agents and editors, and networking among members.

For the first time, I saw a path that could transform my fledgling story into a real book available to a wide audience.  For the first time, I met people who had done exactly that—thirty years ago and last year and last month. These people seemed just like me.  Although I know there are no guarantees, for the first time I believed it was a possibility.

When I started writing my novel, I didn’t tell my closest friends or my twin sister. I didn’t even call it a novel for the first year. As I scribbled one day on the bus, a student asked if I was a writer and I swiftly denied it.  I’ve been writing since I can remember: kindergarten picture books, teenage poetry, short stories in my twenties, mommy blogging now. 

Today, I understand that a writer isn’t only someone who has finished a novel, been paid for their writing, has ten thousand social media followers or has achieved financial independence through book sales. A writer is someone who puts words on a page. Today--even if I never stand on stage with the award winners, even if my words never earn me a nickel-- I believe that I am a writer.

I cannot thank you enough for that. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Summer Office

I finally found a place to write where I can't hear the children. It is quite lovely: flowers, trees, birds cheeping, lilac-scented breeze. Climate control achieved by moving my chair from sun to shade... 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Moon Phase Calculator for Writers

The phase of the moon is important in my story, since the characters are living without much electricity, and hiking through the night. Although there are lots of sites where we can look up the moon phase, I wanted something I could embed in my scene spreadsheet. So I wrote one in excel and am sharing it here in case you want to use it too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Automatic Chapter Numbers in Microsoft Word (Mac 2016)

I finished a draft of Winter Yield last weekend, and am now in the 'cleaning up phase' of addressing comments I left for myself. Since I find this very tedious, I rewarded myself for two hours of work this morning by finally learning how to automate chapter numbers in Microsoft Word.

Three parts to the lesson:
  • Using headings for navigation and formatting
  • Adding automatic chapter count in headings
  • (bonus) Adding page numbers in chapter headings

Using headings for navigation and formatting

This was the step that stopped me the first time I tried this. But thanks to a lesson from my esteemed critique partner C.R. Hodges, I am now using the navigation pane to not only see the master layout but also to immediately jump to any chapter start that I want.

In the Home menu, the heading styles are listed along the top right. Highlight the text you want to use (here, Chapter Something) and click Heading 2.

Note that I use Heading 1 for my Sections/Acts, and so chapters are Heading 2. 
Clicking on the far right 'Styles Pane' allows you to modify how this heading appears, but I just stuck with the default,

Adding automatic chapter count in headings

Now that we have the section and chapters, I can modify them to include automatic counts, and even the word Chapter and Section.

In the very top menu (File Edit View etc..., not the Home, Insert, Design, etc we just used), select Format: Bullets and Numbering

In the box that pops up, select Outline Numbered (blue box). This shows eight different pages. Other than the empty 'None', all but one have outline-type indents. So select the only one that looks like pages, in my view it is the bottom right corner option and there are even 'Chapter' words in it. 

Once it is highlighted/selected, click 'Customize'.

 Level on the left (red circle) seems to relate to the hierarchy of the headings, so I select Level 1 for my sections. I choose capitalized Roman numerals from the drop-down menu circled in blue. In the text box above it "Enter formating for number" I add Section before the automatic gray field. 

Similarly for chapters, which are Level 2. The one piece I couldn't get to work was continuing the chapter numbering in each new section. On the previous page (Outline Numbered) there is a box in the lower left corner to select 'Continue Numbering' but this doesn't help. The only way I could get it to work was to hard-code the chapter each section should start with in the green circle. This wasn't a big deal since I only have four sections, but if anyone knows how to make this work, please comment on this post!

 Then I had to go through and take out all my hard-coded Chapter N's... but it was worth the time investment because I won't have to hard-code them again!

Adding page numbers in chapter headings.

One last piece was to add automatic page numbers in the chapter headings. In order to make sure I have interesting things happening in my novel, I'm following the enviable Susan Spann's model of five-page chapters. So while I'm writing, I want to know what page each chapter starts on. I have been putting this in the headings so it shows up in the navigation panel, but again the hard-coding requires a lot of updating when I change things. In reading up about numbering, I was introduced to the concept of Fields, and I stumbled across this way to add automated numbers anywhere in the text.

In the Insert menu, a little white box on the far right (red circle below) inserts a frame.
Select Numbering (blue circle) and Page (green), and now it will update that frame with the actual page number.

Completed view: To see the navigtion frame, click View (red) and select Navigation (Blue). Now the left side of the screen has a collapsable list of sections and chapters, with the accurate numbers and the page numbers so I can see them at a glance. (The pane can be resized by clicking and dragging the border; the headings missing page numbers are just too long to be shown). Clicking any of the chapter headings in the navigation pane takes me to that text instantly. Yay!