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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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!

Finnish story coming up!

My Finnish speculative short story “Uusin silmin” (rough translation: “With New Eyes”) will be published in the Finnish specfic ezine Usva. Part of this weekend will be spent working on the small edits requested. Yaaay! So happy to have another story coming out in my other writing-language.

Incidentally, Usva’s current issue is a special English-language one, Usva International 2015. Check it out for some cool Finnish SFF!

This has been a week of good publication news. :) It’s also been a week of ridic busyness work-wise, but I’ll concentrate on the good stuff for now.

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!

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

Here are three stories I’ve read and enjoyed recently:

Selkie Stories Are for Losers, by Sofia Samatar: a gorgeous contemporary take on selkies.

The Flying Woman, by Meghan McCarron: a delightful atmosphere, an aching and haunting story.

And Their Lips Rang with the Sun, by Amal El-Mohtar: a lovely, poetic piece, strange in a good way and with a great narrative voice.

All three of these happen to be from Strange Horizons. What can I say? – they publish brilliant stories there.

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And what of my own writing? Well, I just realised that I haven’t written any prose at all yet in 2013 (although I’ve written more than 15 poem drafts), so I should work on that soonish. There is that one novelette that needs to be finished and then edited; and I should edit the snail story. Also, there’s one burgeoning short story idea that I should get out at some point.

As for what’s left of today: I should clean my flat, do the dishes and various other useful household tasks. But earlier today I started a long poem – fragmentary, linguistic and deeply personal – and to be honest, I want to work on that more than I care about my home being spotless. I always care about writing more than cleaning.

But we’ll see. I’m tired enough now that it may be that my brain’s not in the mood for poetry any more. In which case, dishes and hoovering, perhaps some fiddle practice too. But first of all: tea.