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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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”).

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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.

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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!

My writing in 2013 – and my hopes for 2014

In a moment I’m going to get down to some actual writing – there has to be proper writing on the first day of a new year! But first, a round-up of 2013 and some writing goals/wishes for 2014.

I thought I’d do a list of the writing I’ve done this year. It’s difficult to quantify this stuff, really, because a lot of things are in some stage of unfinishedness, but here’s an estimate:

Written:

  • 69 poem drafts (not all of them edited or reworked, and some never will be; many have been submitted, and a few of them have got published too!)
  • 5 flash fiction pieces (4 finished, 1 still in draft phase)
  • 3 stories of <5,000 words (should send a couple of them out; one still needs editing)
  • two novelettes (still need final edits before can be sent out)
  • one failed attempt at reworking my novel Dim Vanities
  • several writing exercises with potential to become more

Published:

Rejected:

  • 32 poems
  • 1 flash fiction piece
  • 1 short story
  • –> As you can see, I didn’t submit too many stories in 2013!

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So, that’s the numbers. Now for some more words:

What pleased me writing-wise:

  • The writers’ group I’m in – Helsinki Writers’ Group, for people in this area who write in English – has been really great. It’s been amazing to actually share my stuff live with other writers, and to get to talk about writing with people who get it. It’s brilliant to have a group where constructive criticism actually works. I’ve been able to radically improve so many of my pieces from feedback I’ve got from the group. And of course it’s heartening to have people laugh out loud at the funny bits. :) We’ve got a really good, supportive atmosphere, I think. Looking forward to our first meeting of the year this Friday.
  • I wrote a surprising amount considering I was quite stressed out for much of the year and had too much on my plate. Extreme yay!
  • I got some poems published that are very special to me. The fact that ‘Orthography: A Personal History’ is out there makes me especially happy.

What I was disappointed in:

  • As I have mentioned previously, I was disappointed in failing to get a proper edit started for Dim Vanities despite the reasons for my failure being completely understandable.

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Now for the 2014 part of this post: the forward-looking, hopeful part. :D

What are my writing goals for 2014?
My major non-writing goal this year is to apply for a PhD position in my field of English historical linguistics and manuscript studies. However, my freer schedules this spring will hopefully result in more creative writing time too, despite my intended focus on academia. And even if (when!) busyness ensues, writing will always be high on the priority list. Hence, goals – which I may or may not achieve, but it’s better to have some nonetheless, methinks!

Some goals writing-wise (aim high!):

  • Get a story published! I’d like to get more than just my poetry out there, since, you know, I am not exclusively a poet. Achieving this goal – in addition to luck and writing well – means getting more stories (especially shorter ones) edited, finished and actually submitted.
  • Get more poems published.
  • Work on a poetry collection. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, and I’ve already got a lot of ideas and some preliminary work done.
  • Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day.
  • 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).
  • Improve my plotting skills.
  • Finish more stuff and edit previous work to a submittable point.

I could probably think of tons more goals if I really got to it – there’s always room for improvement and there are plenty of things in my writing that I want to work on. But these are the major goals. I will also work on not stressing out if I don’t manage to fulfil them. With Ye Olde Perfeccionisme, that’s going to be the greatest challenge of all!

Nanowrimo: Failure

What a discouraging title!

But it’s true.

I set out with the goal of starting the second draft of Dim Vanities. Then, as November started shitting on me, I thought I’d at least get the 33 chapters read through and commented on.

Well. That totally didn’t happen. I’ll admit it: there were more days in November when I didn’t work on DV than when I actually went through any chapters.

I have read through and commented on chapters 1-14. Not even halfway through.

I stopped visiting the Nanowrimo site because I got sad that I wasn’t working on a new novel and getting words done. (Let’s face it, “word count: 0” just looks bad.) But on the other hand, I was profoundly glad that I’d decided not to do Nano properly. Because hey, if I couldn’t even get my novel read through and preliminary comments written, I was definitely not in the right place to write 50,000 words.

Sure, if I’d just pushed myself, I could have done more. But this time, I had a more stressful November than ever before. I’ve slept too little, worked too much, cried too much, worried about the future too much. So I think it’s good that I didn’t push myself with writing. There’s a time and place for prioritising writing, and this time it wasn’t November. (I did get a few poems written, though, but that’s different.) If I’d pushed myself, I might have collapsed. And quite frankly, there’s no time for a collapse before my Christmas holiday.

Sometimes you just can’t get stuff done. This is a very difficult thing for me to admit, because my perfectionist tendencies still often equate “didn’t get stuff done” with “bad person”, even though I’ve been trying to work through this and eradicate such thoughts.

Lesson learned? It’s possible for me to fail and yet not be devastated by it. Next year, perhaps, I can do Nanowrimo “properly” again and start afresh, not weighed down by the expectations of five years’ winning in a row.

I will continue editing DV: slowly, with other projects in between. I’m feeling insecure about this novel, too, so I think I need to be careful with it. At some point I might need to smash the whole thing and rewrite it entirely, but I’m not ready for that yet. So, for now, I’ll just keep plodding on.

Nanowrimo: This feels different

It’s really weird not to be writing a feverish 50K this November. But I still think it’s a good decision to forgo a new zero draft this year – there’s so much work to do with Dim Vanities. Also, I’ve had a bit of a cold and am insanely tired, so yeah. Being merciful to myself and setting lower goals is a good thing. From previous years, I know I can do Nanowrimo ‘properly’ even when stressed out; so I don’t have anything to prove to myself in that sense.

So, what have I been doing, then? Well, during the weekend I worked on my story goals, organised my notes, and made a couple of spreadsheets to track my editing progress and my chapter outlines. I also started out simply going through the first draft, making comments and highlighting terrible words/sentences. I’ve done 8 chapters out of 31. The going is slow – editing is way slower than actual writing. But I’m trudging along, at least, despite my lingering cold and aching neck.

I’ve read a lot of advice on how to edit a novel, but I think it’s one of those things you learn best by just doing it. I have no idea if Dim Vanities will ever be good enough to even consider sending out somewhere, but in the meantime, this is an excellent exercise. I’m experimenting, finding out techniques that work for me.

Who knows, this might even become a coherent, not-totally-plot-holey novel when I’m done.

Nanowrimo: Preparing for the editing process

Firstly, let’s reveal the working title of the novel I’ll be editing this Nanowrimo: Dim Vanities. The name is from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem ‘Tamerlane’:

Dim, vanities of dreams by night —
And dimmer nothings which were real —
(Shadows — and a more shadowy light!)

Dim Vanities is the name I randomly came up with while Nano-prepping in 2008, and it’s stuck. The title will most probably change eventually once I think of a better one. Yes, there are shadows in my novel, but it’s still not the most relevant or awesome title.

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Anyway! Back to business (i.e. more babbling)!

The stats:
DIM VANITIES
word count: ~134,000
chapters: 31

Yesterday I read a 15-page chapter-by-chapter synopsis of Dim Vanities that I’d written last year when I was editing the messy zero draft into a somewhat coherent first draft. The plot still needs some tightening to make it more coherent – there’s some weird magicky stuff that I worry is too vague. Will have to work on that. But mostly, the synopsis seemed decent. I tinkered a lot with the plot last year, so I hope there won’t be a need for too many major changes now.

I’ll really have to work on making the characters alive and their relationships believable, though.

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I’ve been preparing for this editing process by reading a lot of posts on editing, and doing a lot of thinking with regard to what my strategy will be.

I just read this entertaining post on editing a novel by Chuck Wendig. Some sound advice there! Such as:

Writing is editing. Editing is writing.

Writing is rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting.

So damn true. Good thing I actually like editing… Although I have to say that tackling a whole novel is overwhelming. But hey, this is how we learn: by digging into it and getting shit done.

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Lastly: good luck to everyone doing Nanowrimo the traditional 50K way! *waves pom-poms*

Nanowrimo: The Rebellion

So, it’s nearing the end of October, and we all know what that means: Nanowrimo is right around the corner!

This will be my sixth year of doing Nano – even though this year, I’m not going to do it the traditional way. But November would feel empty without a big writing project! Thus, I’ve figured out a way to do a Nano-ish thing in November despite my stupidly busy schedules.

My Nanowrimo history
So, I’ve done Nanowrimo every November since 2008. I loved it from the start – as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, Nano totally revolutionalised the way I write. I used to be a bit of an edit-as-you-go writer, but Nano 2008 taught me that the way I write best is if I just pound out a shitty zero draft first, and save the editing for later.

Little did I know that I’d still be editing that 2008 novel now in 2013…

This is what I’ve done each Nano (so far, I’ve succeeded at the 50K challenge every year):
2008: Urban fantasy inspired by Beauty and the Beast.
2009: Steampunk-meets-Ancient-Rome fantasy about trains and a woman finding herself.
2010: Urban fantasy set in Helsinki – written in Finnish! I wanted to prove to myself that I can do 50,000 words in a month even in Finnish, a language that relies on suffixes and complex conjugation rather than handy short words like prepositions. It was tough to meet the word count, but I did it.
2011: Continuation of 2008 Nano – all-new text, plot continued from 2008 because I really didn’t get very far plot-wise in 2008 despite having 50K words.
2012: Started out as a fantasy travel story starring a woman from a secondary-world religious community going out to find her true path; I ended up abandoning this story halfway through because it was too difficult emotionally, and made up the rest of the 50K with a lighter-hearted novella about a fiddler and a giant-killer’s daughter.

Why am I rebelling?
NOTE: If you’ve never done Nanowrimo before, I absolutely recommend doing it the way it’s meant to be done – plan beforehand if you like, but don’t start writing till Nov 1st. It’s so much fun to get excited for your story, and then start writing in a frenzy!

Strictly speaking, I was a Nano rebel already in 2011, because I was continuing a previously started story. But that didn’t truly feel like rebellion, because all the scenes I was writing were new, and I did the full 50K words.

But now I’m going the actual rebellion route. Reasons: the aforementioned busyness. I’m all too good at trying to do too much stuff at once (I haven’t fallen over in exhaustion yet…!), so this year, with all my duties and planning the future etc., I don’t think I have the energy to plan and write a whole new 50K-long story.

However: what I do want is to get a proper second draft out of my 2008/2011 Nano novel. I blogged about rewriting this novel last year in August-October, when I was unemployed. That was great – I managed to get a messy zero draft into a readable first draft.

Now, my challenge will be to start off a second draft of this thing. I’m using the impetus and excitement of Nanowrimo as leverage to make myself start editing. I like the group support of Nanowrimo, and I need to have a creative project in November! So, editing it is.

My plan
This is pretty much me thinking out loud, but here are some things I’d like to get into shape during November (we’ll see how it goes):

  • Plot – I want to iron out any inconsistencies and make sure the whole thing makes sense
  • Characterisation – do my characters behave consistently? Do I have enough character development?
  • Narration – are my two narrators distinctive enough?
  • Scenes – do the individual scenes work? Are they dynamic enough? Where to add a scene, where to cut or combine?
  • Language – does the prose flow well? Does the dialogue sound natural?

I’ve never got this far in the novel-revising process before, so this is scary and exciting. I expect I’ll post more Nanowrimo-related stuff as November approaches and during the month itself, so keep an eye out for my ramblings.

On finishing

I just finished a poem I’ve been working on for the past month – at least, I think I finished it, because you never know. I might want to tweak it. I might get brilliant comments from someone that make me want to change it.

But soon it’ll have to be ready, because I mean to submit it to Interfictions tomorrow. HA.

It was wonderful to work on it today – to write, and to have written. I’ve been writing very, very little during the past couple of weeks, because I’ve been suffering from a nasty prolonged flu that flared into an ear infection last week. I’m on antibiotics now, though, and feeling much better. Fingers crossed that the flu doesn’t sneak up on me again. I’ve had enough of being sick and not getting to go to dance class, thanks very much!

But, poetry! Words again! Feels good. And feels especially good to have pretty much finished a long poem project – possibly my longest ever so far, and with my self, my soul, my history crafted into it. No matter if I never get it published anywhere; for me, this was an important thing to write.

Sunday recs: Sf with a dash of fairytale

Happy Sunday, everyone. It’s a grey, mushy one over here, with something unpleasant falling from the sky (ugh, sleet, whyyyy) and the lovely snow turning to slush. I have to go out in a moment, into that mess, but before that – here are some recs again.

First, the fairytale: Houdini’s Sister by Christine Hamm. A lovely prose poem, a praise of fairytale heroines.

Now for the science fiction.

Dysphonia in D Minor by Damien Walters Grintalis. A bittersweet love story about people who sing bridges and buildings into being. I really enjoyed this, especially the structure.

And then, oh, then. Gravity by Erzebet Yellowboy. Earth is covered in ice; a group of people set off towards the sun. This story made me ache so much by the end. Gorgeous, devastating. And such language! Of Mercury: “A dead god has scrawled its name there in a language we have forgotten.” And: “We become Ouroboros in twenty-five days, when the head of our orbit eats its tail.” Brilliant stuff.

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I edited 10 pages of an old novelette yesterday and did sundry other useful things. Today’s mostly for social activities. Which is lovely, but oh, I just wish I had more time! I have so many things I want to write – stories, poems, an academic article – but time slips through my grasping fingers and February rushes onwards.

I really need to finish one poem project soon, though, because submissions to Interfictions end on the 28th. Will have to set aside time for that.

FINISHED FIRST DRAFT

IT’S CAPSLOCK TIME.

I just finished the official first draft of DV. *FIREWORKS*

It is rough, especially towards the end when I started having serious lack-of-time problems; it’s a first draft. But for the first time ever, I have revised a novel. I now have a novel-length narrative (279 1,5-spaced pages in Open Office; 13,2587 words according to yWriter) that is actually coherent enough to show people, in theory. HOLY CARP.

And I finished it with three days to spare before Nanowrimo, too! With the power of sheer pig-headedness and love for my story. It’s been a crazy writing week (getting most of my words before this weekend written in 20-min bouts on the train to my temp job), with word counts occasionally rising far above e.g. the Nano daily word count of 1667 words. Today, yWriter tells me, I have added 4248 words. Hard to believe I could actually have written that much today, but then again, the clock tells me that I’ve been working around 5,5h.

Erm. Yes. Um.

I did it. *blink* Now DV will be laid to rest till December or so. And this coming Thursday, on to new writing challenges with this year’s Nanowrimo!