Monday, January 19, 2015

Life-Cycle of a Nora Novel

Okay, maybe a Nora novel isn't an officially recognized category—yet!

In any case, I have a pretty methodical way that I go about writing a novel, refined over several manuscripts. So I thought I would share that method in case it is helpful and/or interesting for anyone else!

The video describes it pretty well, but I thought I would also include a short summary here, in case you don't want to watch me blabber for 11 minutes. Or are at work, not that any of us would be thinking about writing at our day jobs!

The ideas for my novels usually get entered into my ideas notebook long before I start writing or even planning them. It's an outlet for all those plot monkeys that demand to be written while I'm trying to finish something else. There are all kind of random things in my notebook, ranging from snippets of dialogues to character sketches and title ideas. For example:
A long stretch of moonlit road. Dry grasslands as far as the eye can see. A lone horse rider, the clop of hooves a slow staccato, the rider slumped in the saddle. A faint wind stirs dust along the road.
This is written in my notebook with zero context. Just an image I had one day a few years ago. Anyway, I take one of these ideas that I want to work on, and I start to brainstorm. I like to do the one sentence premise -> paragraph -> plot summary progression. Then I write an outline. An honest-to-goodness, I.A.i.a. outline. From that outline, I create an Excel spreadsheet scene list. Here is where I plan out the details of the timeline, the POV, who is where, and what happens.

Then I write!

For the most part, I stick to that scene list. I guess that may seem boring to some, but for me, I like the structure it provides. It's like a checklist—butt in chair, write this scene. If I get wild inspiration, I'll pause to work it in, but that just isn't the way I normally work. Eventually, voila! A draft!

The revision process is pretty simple. Read through it, take notes. Create a new Excel sheet and, from those notes, come up with a revision plan checklist. Copy the scene list and modify it as needed to accommodate the changes. Then go back and make all the edits! X them off as I go, so I get to see my Excel percentage go up. Rinse and repeat until it feels done. Somewhere in there, try to get feedback from beta readers to incorporate into the revision notes.

Once I'm happy with it, write a query and a synopsis, and begin sending it out! At this point, the novel is basically done. If I get a partial or full request (very rarely...), I don't go back and re-read or edit, I just send what I have. Only if I am having a really bad response do I then go back and maybe do another edit.

So that's it! That's as far as it goes for me, for now. Someday I hope I will have to worry about agent edits and editor edits and all that fun stuff, but that's a future!Nora problem. Right-now-Nora needs to worry about writing that damn synopsis for Novel 7 and picking out an idea to flesh out for Novel 8...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Writing Tool Review: WikidPad

I want to take a break from navel-gazing (an occupational hazard, I swear) to offer something a little more concrete and useful.
There are a million tools for writers out there. For the most part, I ignore them. People chatter about Scrivener, but I plug away at my drafts in Word, crafting Excel spreadsheets that lay out detailed plans for scenes and stricter (and yes, that’s before writing—I’m very far on the “outlining” side of the spectrum!). I sign up for Novlr and then don’t even use it (I do plan to, for my next novel). I once had a brief flirtation with yWriter that lasted about one chapter of a now-defunct manuscript (novel 2). I read posts about the Hemingway app or distraction-free writing apps, but then I click the X and continue in my ways.
It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with the use of these tools. Writing can be painful as hell and whatever helps that process is a good thing. I am not a Luddite who insists that truly great novels must be written by quill via the light of a kerosene lamp, because seriously, fuck those people. Just someone who is loath to mess with their own system—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you might say.
But as much as I love my Word/Excel setup, I haven’t enjoyed the way I keep track of relevant information for my novels. I do some world-building before writing, sketching out details that are important to the plot and characters, usually in my catch-all writing notebook. But once I start writing, I constantly have to expand that, and I don’t usually have that notebook with me. My system for that was a notepad text document, adding random details as they come up. Inefficient and definitely open for improvement!
I cannot remember who originally brought this to my attention, only that it was mentioned in passing on some thread or another on Absolute Write. And it stuck with me, that mention, because it sounded like a potential solution for my world-building problem. I wrote down the name on my to-do list and eventually got around to checking it out: WikidPad.
WikidPad is a free, open source wiki software. Basically it is a digital notebook where I can jot down ideas and—very importantly—link those ideas together with merely a keystroke. It is easy to install and use, at least on a basic level. I am sure there is functionality that I’m not using, but it works for what I use it for. Every character gets a page, linked to the other characters they are related to, linked to their homes or groups, linked to whatever ideas I want. I can store facts about world-building locations or weird quirks about monetary systems. It’s searchable and sortable. And it’s not an online tool, so once you download and install it, you can work offline.
There are likely dozens of equivalent tools out there. I haven’t really looked into it, to be honest. I stumbled across this one, and it works for me. So I thought I would share this little gem, just in case it fills a niche for you too!
Screenshot of my wiki for novel 7.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Wrap-Up: Another Year In Review

Well, well, well, 2015. Here we are. Together at last--or already? It's hard to say for sure, because on the one hand, holy shit it's 2015. But on the other, 2014 was eons long!
It was definitely a big year for me, both in terms of my personal life and my writing.
In February, I applied for the Clarion Workshop. I didn't get in, but even trying was a big step towards being more serious about my writing. In May, I put on my Navy uniform for the last time, closing out a very big chapter of my life. I also finished novel 6 that month. I participated in my first Twitter contest in June. In July, I launched my #FlashFridayFootage series, which has had 10 entries so far. I tried my hand at #PitchWars in August, which was a ton of fun even though I didn't make it. And I started, finished, and did one edit of novel 7 in less than 6 months, an accomplishment I would have thought unbelievable before.
Not to mention that my boyfriend went on his first deployment in July (which he is still on, omg kill me), moving to a new apartment by myself, acquiring first one pet rabbit and then another, I got a new job as a civilian, lost 12 pounds, got braces--yeah, 2014 was a kind of crazy year!!
Here is what I wrote in January:
Looking forward into 2014, I hope to average at least 100 words every day, with 40k as my goal for the year. I hope to write at least 129 days this year (a 50% increase over last year's goal). And, most importantly, I want to sell or be close to selling novel 6 by the end of year. I plan to be done with my re-writing and editing by the end of April, and I think that gives me some time to get some serious eyes on it and some offers. Is 2014 going to be the year? We shall see...
So how did that all turn out? Really not too bad, actually! I wrote 73,526 new words last year (not to mention editing 2 manuscripts). I only had 93 writing days, but a lot of that was due to breaks between major revisions, so I won't castigate myself too much. And no, I'm not anywhere near selling novel 6. In fact, I'm close to giving up on novel 6. But I did give it my best shot. I sent out over 50 queries last year, participated in writing contests, and am still persevering through what is a very long and painful process. So maybe 2014 wasn't "the year", but it was a year, and a damn good one in terms of writing.

Now--2015. What have we got here? Well, I don't want to plan to write too much, as my focus will probably be on editing and refining novels 6 and 7. But I'll probably get cooking on novel 8 at some point (or revisit any of novels 1-5), so I'll aim for 60k words. I also want to write a bit more consistently, including more short fiction, so I'll stick with the 129 writing days goal and hopefully land it this year. And I can't say that this will be the Year of The Call, so I'll just say that I hope to continue querying novel 6 (up to at least 100) and begin querying novel 7 (up to 50).

So cheers and good riddance to 2014--bring it on, 2015!