Camp Nanowrimo in April

I’ve been too exhausted to post much, again. But luckily, not too exhausted to write. The novel has progressed!

I decided to do Camp Nanowrimo in April to get revision done more efficiently. I set myself a 30-hour goal – thirty hours of revision during the month. Not much, but I figured it was better to set myself a realistic goal. And, lo and behold, it was an achievable goal – I did a bit more than 30h of revision in April. I got a lot done in those hours, too: my third draft of BoBH is now very close to done.

It’s far too long – around 125,000 words. I added a lot in revisions, oops… (The original Nanowrimo draft – too short for a novel, a mere skeleton of a book – was around 50k. That’s pretty much where I was a year ago, word count wise.) Anyway, I need to cut around 25k before I can start sending it out. So, draft 4 will involve lots of cutting; I hope to reach that stage soon.

Scrivener has continued to be amazing for revision. Such a good tool for me. I don’t use nearly all of the cool things the software could do, but it’s working for me. Revision has been less overwhelming because I can organise stuff into smaller, manageable chunks.

The biggest thing with regard to revision working out has actually been scheduling. Since I started the third draft, I’d mostly been working on revisions in the evening, since evening writing usually works for me. But for revising a novel – turns out, not so much. Apparently I can write zero/first drafts just fine in the evenings / at night, but revision requires a fresh brain not encumbered by decision-making fatigue.

So, since mid-April, I’ve been getting up a little bit earlier (just a bit, luckily, certainly nowhere near the crack of dawn – I have flexible schedules because of my PhD job) and writing for around an hour each morning. I am really not a morning person, but this approach has been working for me at this stage of BoBH. Once I’ve got past the inital argh of it being morning, my brain is in a more intuitive, alert stage, ideal for coming up with solutions to knotty revision problems. Far better than trying to puzzle out those solutions in the evening after a day’s worth of creative academic work.

Also, working on the novel a bit before biking to my office for PhD work has actually been great for my PhD as well: my brain is more active after creative writing, so this arrangement has benefited both types of work. I’m immensely grateful that I can arrange my work schedules like this!

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On gentle stories

The wonderful Rose Lemberg posted a Twitter thread last night on gentle, quiet SFF stories. Read the whole thread! Rose mentioned my writing (among others’) as an example of such stories, which makes me feel very fuzzy inside. Oh – let me tell you, reading these tweets after having just woken up (a long workday ahead, a bare five hours of sleep behind me), I couldn’t help but cry happytears:

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People can love my work because of the quiet gentleness, the kindness. In the haze of anxiety I’ve recently been wandering through, I really needed to hear this reaffirmation. Of course, I myself love reading this kind of fiction (among other kinds of stories! We need all kinds!). So why should it be so strange that someone else might like those features in my writing? Still, I sometimes/often feel a niggling doubt: maybe I should write more adventuresome stories? With more fighting in them? More CONFLICT? (Note: I have also written adventuresome stuff with some fighting. I’ve written grim(ish) stuff. It’s just not my main modus operandi.)

Yes, I worry that my stories aren’t exciting enough or don’t grab the reader enough, that they should be somehow different.

But really, the notion that all stories should follow similar (Western) patterns of conflict, for instance, is just monotonous. There is a place for gentleness, too. One of my main interests in writing fiction is writing evocative text, paying attention to language. I love describing beauty, in its myriad forms. I love letting my prose sing with poetry. I often like to do this by giving language and beauty front stage. So perhaps that results in a non-exciting plot? Well, but if I’ve captured what elfsong sounds like echoing through an ancient forest – is that not an achievement too? If I’ve captured two long-estranged friends’ moment of reconnection, is that not an achievement? Surely SFF is ideal for moments of wonder and gentle beauty like that?

In the future I will try to stop myself if I feel like dissing my fiction’s gentleness or “slowness”. I’m currently working on final revisions for a quiet, f/f Beauty and the Beast novel. Quiet magic, discovery, a realm within a city. I will keep working on this novel and then I will send it out, because it’s a story worth telling. A gentle story of love and hope. Not without conflict, but it’s about as far from grimdark as you can get.

Gentle fiction is my shield against darkness. When I get terror and dystopia and violence enough just by checking Twitter or a news site (Finnish political news is pretty awful, although not nearly as horrifying as the news from the US), I want to remind myself of the beauty and kindness that lives in people. Warm hugs. Selfless acts. Language shivering with meaning. Friendship, love, eucatastrophe, joy.

Especially in times like these, gentle fiction is important. There’s a quiet power in it. Kind, gentle fiction reminds us that people can be good. Reminds us that the world can be wondrous and that there is hope. Always hope.

Poetry sales!

I’ve been lacking in the blog posting again: November’s swallowed me up a bit with PhD writing and working on the novel. (Which progresses, although far slower than I’d like. General exhaustion is catching up with me, it seems. But I’m plodding along even if I’ve no energy for sprinting!)

I’ve had little extra energy for sending out poetry or short fiction this autumn (because of work + novel). That saddens me, but well, I can’t do it all. Much though I’d want to.

So, it’s extra awesome that a couple of days ago, I got news of a poetry sale despite not having sent stuff out recently. My poem “The Queen, After” will be appearing in Through the Gate. Yay! This will be my second poem published in TtG (a wonderful magazine).

Also, another poetry sale that I feel embarrassed for not having mentioned before (lack of energy has been a real problem): I sold my Helsinki-set poem “Sunharvest Triptych” to the upcoming solarpunk anthology Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation, edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Wieland. I’m very happy to be among the contributors for this anthology! It’s a really cool project.

(I feel sad that I’ve also lacked the energy for doing my Sunday recs. I’ve recced the occasional short story or poem on Twitter, but I’d like to get back to writing my mini-reviews too.)

Novel revision: My process so far

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages, and I feel a bit frustrated that I didn’t manage to do it earlier. It would’ve been more interesting to get posts from various stages of the revision process. I’ve kept a project diary of sorts in my notebooks, but it’s not the same as a post that draws things together. Better late than never, though!

This autumn has been far busier than I expected. I’ve been up to my eyelashes in PhD and related work, and there’s been travel and such things. Considering how much stuff I’ve had on my plate, I feel pleased and rather astonished that I’ve managed to get my novel this far in the past three months. I wish I could’ve been even more efficient, but alas, work takes precedence and self-care is important too. Still, I’ve managed to be stubborn and obsessed enough, and to love this book enough to work on it even in the midst of exhaustion.

But so. What has my process been with this novel?

Early history

BoBH is a novel whose original version was my first Nanowrimo novel, Dim Vanities, in 2008 (so long ago!). Similar concepts, similar relationships – but Dim Vanities was a completely different work from what BoBH is now. Anyway, BoBH has its roots in that first novel. I worked on Dim Vanities on and off (mostly off), till I decided to give it another go during Camp Nanowrimo in 2015. I changed the setting from our world to a secondary world, inspired by 17th-century Europe. I changed the main characters’ genders. I did a lot of worldbuilding. The project didn’t really take off during Camp, but in October 2015 I decided to give the project one final chance. I took my worldbuilding and ideas from Camp, came up with a plot skeleton based on the original Dim Vanities – and I wrote a completely new novel based on that. BoBH came alive during Nano and I loved writing it so much; it’s also the cleanest Nano draft I’ve ever written (and I’ve written quite a few Nano drafts).

After Nanowrimo 2015

I gave the draft to a friend to read; she gave me hope that it could actually become something, because she loved that 50k first draft so much. During 2016, I’ve basically been thinking about BoBH for much of the time. In January, I brought the first two chapters to my writing group and got feedback from them. I read through the first draft (printed out) at the start of the year, making copious notes. I tried starting intensive revisions during Camp Nanowrimo 2016, making use of Scrivener (of which more in a moment), but I was so swamped by stress and work that I didn’t get very far. Then, in July, I got back to it again. I made a revision plan and got quite a lot done in July; but it was only at the end of the month that I had a breakthrough. I had a brainstorming session with the friend who’d read the first draft. With her help, I got so many aspects of the magic and world sorted out that I felt I could start actual revisions. And thus started my two-month writing frenzy.

Flesh onto the bones

From August to early October, I added a little over 50,000 words to the original (50k) draft. An intensive revision, with so much added because in the Nanowrimo draft, I was interested in getting the basic story down but knew I didn’t have time to get everything in. The novel transformed so much during this time: gained flesh, gained life. I was working on it pretty much all my free time. I slept too little all the time, but I’d become obsessed and had so many of those glorious moments where the writing flows and magic happens. It was all rather amazing. Difficult, exhausting, but wondrous too. I’ve never written that much outside Nanowrimo before.

My tools

Scrivener has been essential for this project. In April I exported my novel draft into Scrivener and divided it into scenes. I hadn’t used Scrivener before so there was a bit of a learning curve, but I could immediately see it was going to be useful. I love this software so much. I don’t think it would work for me for first drafts, but for revisions, Scrivener is amazing. I love being able to divide things into scenes, because it makes it so much easier to look at the overall structure of the novel. Also, the colour-coding helps me feel I’m getting stuff done: taking a scene from “to-do” to “first draft” to “revised” was really fulfilling. Scrivener is just so great for me.

Another tool I use is far more old-fashioned: notebooks dedicated to this project, using a nice-to-write-with black pen. Simple but effective. When I get stuck, it often helps to write about my issues by hand. Handwriting really helps me focus and find solutions. I should perhaps find more efficient ways to organise my notebooks – because now, for instance, I have to go through them all and type up the essential things so that I can find them easier – but in a way I like the organic, all-in-one approach for notebooks.

***

Where am I now, revision-wise? Well. I just read through the second draft that I sent to beta readers around 10 October (I printed it out because it’s easier for me to read through that way). I took a couple of weeks’ break from the novel after sending it to readers – which I think was a good idea, because now I was able to read it with a little more detachment. Next up, I’m going to check all the comments from my awesome beta readers, and to draw up a revision plan based on them and my own revision thoughts.

I’m not doing Nanowrimo this year, which feels really weird. Instead, my goals for November are to finish the third draft revision of BoBH; to research literary agents; and to write my query letter and prepare for submissions. Scary things! I’ve never brought a novel to this stage before, although I’ve written many a novel draft and revised one of them further. It’s exhilarating to have made it this far.

I haven’t managed much in the way of poetry or short stories in the past couple of months. But I think BoBH is a project worth concentrating on.

Sunday recs: Issue 10 of inkscrawl

Longlong time no recs. I’ve been wandering the fields of exhaustion; the novel project is still ongoing, and I’ve got far too many other things heaped on my plate as well (work, of course, is the main thing). The novel progresses; but I’m annoyed at myself for being slower with it than I expected, annoyed that I haven’t been posting about it. I promise there will be a post at some point, hopefully when I’ve sent it off to beta readers (which I’m hoping to do in around a week). I have a lot to say about what the past two months (! it has not felt like that long!) of revision have been like. But no time now, since I have to be off to bed.

But I’ve got time for a brief rec, because I just read all of the latest issue of inkscrawl and loved it: a long, multifaceted issue with an amazing collection of poems. Bogi Takács has really done wonders with this!

So, I recommend reading all of Issue 10! I especially enjoyed the first section, “shout / gnaw / skitter / thrash / fly”. But all the poems are great and this was a wonderfully well curated issue, becoming more than the sum of its parts.

Recharging

Long time no post. It’s been a ridiculously busy year so far, and sadly, due to the mountain of work, I haven’t been writing nearly as much as I’d like. I joined Camp Nanowrimo with the intent to get lots of my novel revised, but alas, I’ve had to conserve energy for self-care and such. I think Camp Nano would have worked if I’d been producing a zero draft, but revision requires a whole other level of abstract thought and above all, decisions.

But I have been doing a little bit of revision – so the project of revising the novel I (re)wrote last November has been started, at least. I’ve imported the draft into Scrivener, made notes and pondered things quite a lot even if I haven’t got very far. I mostly have questions instead of answers at this point! But it’s a start. I’m trying to think positive instead of feeling horribly disappointed in myself. But really, April has been ridic. I’m trying to think more along the lines of “I deserve a medal for not utterly collapsing so far in 2016”, so I shouldn’t beat myself up for not managing to do epic amounts of novel revision at the same time as a trillion other things.

Luckily, many of the busy things that have eaten up my time and energy this semester have now wound down. And now, I’m taking a four-day holiday before plunging into funded PhD work (yay!). I really need a break, even if it’s short!

I spent this morning reading some of Becky Chambers’ A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (around 80 pages in, it has utterly charmed me! I hope the rest is as good!). My main plan for today (and the rest of the holiday, really) is to write. Actual writing! Yaaay! I just did a writing exercise – five hand-written pages describing a fictional wine – and now for novel revision, because hey, every little helps. I also have a few short stories I could work on. And perhaps could jog my brain into poem mode too?

So my idea of the best thing to do on a holiday is to write. :D It’s (mostly) not like work, I swear! Having had so little energy to write has sucked. Lack of writing has been gnawing at me like it always does: I feel bad when I don’t write, I feel like something’s missing. But now, four days to basically just write fiction is making me feel so excited! Writing is one of my favourite things to do even though I am gearing up more towards the pro side of it so it’s less of a simple hobby than it used to be. So this totally counts as relaxing as long as I’m having fun, right? Other plans: lots of sleep, some fun socialising, and a lot of reading. I hope this tiny holiday manages to get my brain out of stress mode for a bit!

Nanowrimo epic win!

No Sunday recs today – I’m too wiped out by a) finishing up a (not great) draft of an academic article in the morning, and b) writing around 5,000 words of my novel and thus WINNING NANOWRIMO YAAAY. This counts as an epic win because not only did I get over 50k, I wrapped up the whole story, too.

113 pages, 17 chapters. LibreOffice says I’ve got 51,565 words, the Nanowrimo website says 51,871. But whatever the precise wordcount – it means Nanowrimo success, and I actually finished this novel draft too, typed “the end” and all. Feeling dazed but very pleased. This is the most coherent Nanowrimo draft I’ve ever managed! A lot of that is thanks to the fact that I was using a lot of elements from the old version of the novel – but in the end, this novel is very distinctly its own thing.

I think I’m getting a bit better at plotting too, which is encouraging. I tried many different tactics for plotting before Nano, but in the end something like the “tent pole” method worked best (see this excellent post by Chuck Wendig). I figured out the most essential plot points – both external and internal – before Nano and especially after the first week, when I stopped to plan things out properly. Then, as I wrote, I figured out the stuff that needed to come in between those plot points, and by the end was outlining chapters in even more detail. This method worked for this draft, at least!

Oh yeah, how weird was it to actually divide the novel into chapters during Nano? REALLY WEIRD. But it seemed to work for this draft, surprisingly enough.

I think that with some editing (well, plenty) this might become Something. And that makes me very happy. I’m so glad I didn’t abandon this old idea – which was what I was on the verge of doing at the end of October. I’m so glad I managed to have enough energy to write every day (or very nearly every day) during a month that has mostly been horrendously busy, and dark, and stressful.

Nanowrimo saved my November.

Nanowrimo time!

Sooo it’s 1 November, and obviously that means NANOWRIMO. I’m swamped with PhD and translation/language check work, but despite that, I’m doing Nano again. Since 2008, I’ve only not done it for one year (2013), so I guess I’m a bit hooked. :D

Nano is just a great way to get a writing project done despite busyness. The group support of the Nano site just really helps me get stuff done. There’s something about that word count bar…

Yep. This year I’m sort of continuing what I did during Camp Nanowrimo in April: rewriting an old novel (…originally my first Nanowrimo novel, in 2008, ooops) that really couldn’t survive in its old form. The plan is for this to be the last time I rewrite this thing. If this attempt doesn’t work, I’ll just trunk the thing.

But based on how quickly I got my word count for today done, I suspect this might even work! Changing from 3rd to 1st person was probably a good choice. Now to get the final plot nailed down as much as I can, to make writing during busydays easier – and then some more writing, because really, it’s been ages since I wrote this much and I’d forgotten how much fun it is.

Camp Nanowrimo success

Long time no post (not even Sunday recs – sorry about that). This month has been ridic busy. So much work, so many other things I’ve been taking care of… I think I haven’t even mentioned that I decided to do Camp Nanowrimo this month. Anyway, I did! :D

Because of all the busy and the stress, I had times when I thought I’d just give up on my Camp Nanowrimo goal of writing 10,000 words for the novel (let’s call it Beast). Well, last weekend I finally came up with some things that turned the plot around and made me excited for the project (yay!). Yesterday I finally had time to actually knuckle down to writing some scenes. Unfortunately, I was feeling exhausted and a bit flu-ish, so it was all rather painful… but I managed a lot of words. And today, I sprinted 4,851 words, bringing my word count total beyond 10k! Including worldbuilding notes and such – but that was within my parameters for Camp Nano. Around 7k is actual novel text, anyway. Written in two days.

So: MUCH CAMP NANOWRIMO SUCCESS. Also: I love Scrivener. I bought it at last, and it’s working out so well. Am thinking of trying it out for PhD stuff too.

Now I can just keep on improving the outline for Beast and writing more scenes. Note to self: it’s allowed to be zero-draft level text even if this novel is based on a previous novel draft of mine. After all, a lot of things are different both plot- and character-wise.

In addition to continuing Beast, I have a few stories I want to write and submit for various things. And May will be super busy PhD-wise. I’ll have to be mindful of self-care as well: I don’t want to collapse just because I’m doing too many interesting things.

Still, writing-busy on top of work-busy is worth it, after all – because sometimes there are moments like today, when writing makes me lose all sense of time and the words hurtle out. When I want to write even when my ears are blocked and ringing, when my body is aching for rest.

But now I’ll go and engage in some self-care. To sleep, perchance to dream!

2014 in review

On 1 January I made a post about my writing in 2013 and my hopes for 2014. I like looking back on the past year at its end, so here we go again.

My writing goals for 2014 were (slightly abridged):

  1. Get a story published!
  2. Get more poems published.
  3. Work on a poetry collection.
  4. Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day.
  5. Rework Dim Vanities and decide what to do with it (whether to continue editing it smaller-scale, or do a total reboot, or just stick it in the trunk).
  6. Improve my plotting skills.
  7. Finish more stuff and edit previous work to a submittable point.

So, how did I do?

1) I exceeded my goal of getting one story published – I now have three stories out and two forthcoming. I am really proud and happy about this.

2) I got more poems published – nine of them. And to some highly awesome magazines, too. Yay!

3) I haven’t got the poetry collection into a submittable shape yet, but it exists! and it’s looking pretty good. Finishing it up and submitting to potential publishers is one of my goals for (early) 2015.

4) I haven’t managed to write fiction or poetry every day (except during Nanowrimo), but I have increased my writing output, I think. But this is something to work on – writing something creative every day even if it’s just an exercise.

5) Haven’t had the energy to start reworking Dim Vanities or do anything too much with it. However, a couple of weeks ago I got a flash of feeling that made me decide something: DV needs a radical rewrite. It might still not be publishable even after that rewrite, but I’ve got to give this novel one more chance. I still love so many aspects of it – I just need to rewrite the plot and give the characters higher stakes and more emotion. This is, therefore, a project for 2015. (Camp Nanowrimo, perhaps?)

6) I haven’t worked systematically on improving my plotting skills. I’ve been writing more stories, which I think helps, but plotting is definitely still something that I need to work on.

7) I have been trying to finish more things that I start! And I’ve managed to edit at least some first drafts of stories into a submittable point (and sold a couple of them, too – “Chrysopoeia” and “The Ruin”).

***

As for more concrete evidence of my writing in 2014, here’s a list of my publications this year:

POETRY (9 poems)
02/14 “Ninety-Eight” and “City of Stones” in Issue #33 of Chantarelle’s Notebook.
02/14 “Helsinki Love Song” in Wild Violet Magazine.
05/14 “The Alchemist’s Lover” in the “Alchemies” issue of CSHS.
06/14 “Looking-Glass Lover” in Issue #28 of Niteblade, “Looking-Glass Lover” (after my poem).
06/14 “Shrug Charm” in the Spring 2014 issue of Goblin Fruit.
11/14 “Kuura (extract from a Finnish-English dictionary)” in Issue 11 of Stone Telling.
11/14 “Sorrow-stone” in the “Summer Is Dead” issue of Goblin Fruit.
12/14 “Raw Honey” in Strange Horizons. Listen to me reading the poem in the SH December Poetry Podcast.

PROSE (3 stories)
07/14 “Wind Chimes” in 365 tomorrows. Flash fiction.
10/14 “Chrysopoeia” in Issue 9 (Fall 2014) of Quantum Fairy Tales. Short story.
12/14 “Munankuorikehto” (‘Egg-Shell Cradle’) in issue 3/2014 of Spin, the quarterly magazine of the Turku Science Fiction Society (TSFS). The magazine can be ordered from the TSFS webpage. Flash fiction. (in Finnish)

Oh, and rejections? There were many. It’s especially heartening to see some poem or story published that has previously been rejected (many times, even). I don’t really post about my rejections, but of course they happen. A lot. Way more than acceptances. I’ve learned how to deal with them pretty well – I usually don’t take them too personally any more, although getting a rejection is always a disappointment of course.

In addition to this published stuff, I also wrote oodles of poem drafts (I really can’t be bothered to count, there’s so many), several writing exercises with potential for more, one Nanowrimo novel (crapola zero draft, but with definite potential), and some short stories. Oh, and I edited two 10k+ novelettes. NOT BAD.

***

Now, what about the coming year? Here are some writing goals for 2015 (many of them, as you can see, carrying over from last year):

  • Get more stories published.
  • Get more poems published.
  • Revise the ms and submit poetry collection for publication.
  • Start gathering poems together for a speculative poetry collection.
  • Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day, even if it’s just a short poem or writing exercise.
  • Continue to write more in Finnish. It’s been so great to tap into that part of my writing brain this year, so I want to continue experimenting in my other native language too.
  • Rewrite Dim Vanities entirely. Do this with the help of a proper outline.
  • Improve my plotting skills.
  • Finish more stuff and edit previous work to a submittable point.
  • Submit more stuff, both prose and poetry! Try to submit something at least once a month.

In general, I’m really pleased with how much I’ve written this year and how I’ve improved as a writer. So far it’s been easy for my PhD work to coexist with my writing life – I really hope that state of affairs will continue! And I think it will, if I just make good use of my time.

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In conclusion: Dear readers, I wish all of you joy and fun writing times in this coming year!