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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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.

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.

Sunday recs: art magic

Have been way too exhausted to blog lately. Should learn better time management, or possibly just somehow learn how to be less busy…

Anyway, small rec for today because I don’t want to get too badly out of the habit:

Do Not Touch by Prudence Shen (with some charming art by Noreen Rana and Faith Erin Hicks) (at Tor.com) – Awww this is an utterly charming story. I absolutely love the central concept in this, and fiction where visual arts are a major thing. This story made me giggle quite a few times, and I liked the characters. Not a recent story (this is from 2013) but utterly worth checking out!

On a somewhat related note, I read the novel The Golden Key this summer, and it was awesome. Written by Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliott. An intriguing novel with painting-magic and obsession with fame as a central aspect. I loved all the descriptions of art and the art process, and how the writers showed a society changing as time passes. A wonderful and involving read, highly recommended.

Sunday recs: art lessons, limestone, berries

Two poems and a story today.

First, an oldie but goodie from 2010: “Art Lessons” by Yoon Ha Lee (in Stone Telling). This is a really good poem, witches’ daughters transforming into a great feminist punch.

Then something more recent, from February this year: “Limestone, Lye, and the Buzzing of Flies” by Kate Heartfield (in Strange Horizons). This story is vivid, strange and lovely. Such a strong summer atmosphere, with the weirdness creeping slowly in.

Finally: “Chant for Summer Darkness in Northwest Climes” by Neile Graham (in Goblin Fruit, the same summer 2014 issue I have “Sorrow-stone” in). This is utterly gorgeous! The atmosphere reminds me of a Finnish summer (which is finally almost upon us!), the mysterious white-night countryside and berries bursting on the tongue.

*

Bonus book rec – well, series rec actually – Jo Walton’s Small Change series (Farthing, Ha’penny, Half a Crown). I just finished reading Half a Crown today and was in tears at the end. A chilling vision of an alternative Britain where fascism has reared its ugly head. But they weren’t depressing books, although they did make me feel that heart-clenching horror I always do when I think how inhuman people can become because they simply don’t care enough to defend those who are weaker.

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.

***

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

Nanowrimo, Day 9

Word count: 14,709/50,000
Beverages enjoyed: Delicious Tanzanian black tea, from a proper teacup with a saucer and everything.
Feeling: Drained. SO DRAINED. But also rather deliriously happy.

During the past week, I’ve been struggling with word count and having energy to write. I’ve just been so busy with work that I haven’t had energy/time to write till around midnight, and I haven’t had too many moments where the words would have flowed easily. But today! I had to write a scene where I killed off a character I like, and even though it was horrible and emotional, I just spent the past couple of hours writing like mad. It feels amazing to have written in such a delirium, for the first time this Nano. I hope this will give me the impetus for more writing moments like that!

It’s been ages since I killed off a character in a story. Didn’t remember it could be this intense.

Nanowrimo 2014 is go!

November is here, and Nanowrimo with it! Huzzah!

This year, I was going to have an Outline. A proper outline, with the main plotlines all neat and organised, and the major incidents all plotted out. Aww, self, so optimistic.

Well, suffice it to say that as a) I am more of a pantser than a plotter at the best of times, and b) my October was so full of academic busytimes (fun busytimes! good busytimes! but omg so busy!) – I didn’t have much time or energy to plan in great detail. Yes, I’ve had a lot of stuff about this forest world and had general ideas percolating for a while now. I’ve got some history thought out, and sort of a general plot idea, and some characters. But no detailed outline.

Now it’s Nano time, and I’ve decided, OK, screw it, I’m going the tried and true “just start writing and figure out the plot as you go” route. It’s going well so far! I had a horrible time trying to get started today, but once I got some crap written, I suddenly came up with an idea as to how FMC#1 gets to start on her journey. And now I’ve got Chapter 2 sort of planned, too. Also, I have an idea for an ending! So I think it’ll be all right. I’m hoping to have lots of fun, anyway.

Oh yeah, even though I failed at plot-prepping, I did make a map a while back, though! Check it out (still attached to my drawing board with beautiful masking tape)!

nano map 2014

Mmm, watercolours. I should actually shove the image into Gimp and see about actually indicating places on the map… I don’t want to spoil the pretty picture in real life. :)

In conclusion:
Word count: 1681
Beverages enjoyed: A glass of red wine
Feeling: Better than I was when I started today! Oh Nanowrimo, I’d missed you so.

Now for some more novelling. I want to get Chapter 1 done today.

Sunday recs: Everything Martha Wells has ever written

I was introduced to Martha Wells’ books earlier this year through this squee post by Kate Elliott (whose work I love, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog).

I’m so glad I discovered Martha Wells! I’ve been reading everything of hers that I’ve been able to get my hands on. Wells is an amazing worldbuilder – such unique, well-thought-out worlds – but more than that, she’s a great storyteller. I’ve nommed all her books really quickly, because the plots progress with such addictive pacing that I don’t want to put them down.

I’ve especially loved the Fall of Ile-Rien Trilogy (among the best books I’ve read this year, by far! such amazing characters and world and asdgjhsdgl squee), and the Books of the Raksura. I’m currently reading the third book of the Raksura, The Siren Depths (after swiftly devouring the second book The Serpent Sea), and had to consciously stop myself from gulping it down all in one sitting. (I had things to do today, after all.) I just love Wells’ characters, her settings, just, all of it. I can only hope to be as good a writer as her some day.

In conclusion: wow, much awesome, such addictive. Do yourself a favour and read Martha Wells. I’m going to go and read some more of The Siren Depths in bed now. Will try not to stay up too late…