21-Day Novel Challenge: Epilogue

Accord of Mars
It’s been a fun journey. I’m on Day 22 now, looking back. It’s been a challenging trip.

The goal: in 21 days, write, edit, and upload a novel.

Mission accomplished. The final book was uploaded to Amazon at about 10:30PM on the 21st day. A lot of other people were inspired to work hard over this 21-day period – HUGE kudos to Chris Fox for getting us all so motivated! A few other people completed first drafts in the challenge days. One other person – Chris, the originator of the challenge – finished his edits too. His book is off at proofreading and will be uploaded soon. We both hit every milestone right on track the whole way.

The editing process was especially odd for this book. I added 5000 words (bringing it up to 60k), which is a VERY big increase for my work – my final drafts are usually much closer to my first. I also changed up the order of the final three chapters, which resulted in heavy re-drafts of all three. It was a good learning experience, and I think the final book is much stronger than the draft form was. I’m still at the point where I am a better writer by the end of each new book than I was when I started it. Learning as I go is a wonderful part of this job – I hope it never stops!

I had to push myself harder and more consistently than I have ever had to before, just to get the work done. I still work full time at a NON-writing job. I have one day a week that is totally dedicated to time with my three small children. Oh, and I moved on Day 20 – so I was packing for a move at the same time all the rest of this was going on.

Working my way through this challenge tested every theory I’d written about in the “Coffee Break Novelist” book – and made me come up with some new ones, too. Maybe it’s time for another book on “writing in the time you have”…! I certainly have more to say at this point.

Do not EVER let yourself believe that you are too busy to write. If writing is what you want to be doing, make the work your priority. MAKE it happen.

Too often life is something that happens TO us. We drift through, going to work, coming home, idling away the few hours we have left until its time to go to sleep. Then we wake up and do it all over again. Unconsciously, most of us simply go with the flow, living our lives the way others tell us we should, rather than looking at what it is we actually want to be doing.

Those big dreams are for bucket lists, not for reality. We don’t have time. We have obligations. We have things we need to get done. And we’re so tired after doing all the things that we are supposed to do – where can we find the energy to write?

This is my standard advice for anyone who is wondering what they should do with their life: “Do what makes your heart sing.”

That thing you get excited about every time you get a chance to do it? That thing that you can’t wait to go do? That thing that brings you intense personal satisfaction after you’ve accomplished some milestone? That. Go do that thing.

Most human beings will never get the chance to do that ‘whatever it is’. Most of us simply live in the channels that life has carved for us, not even realizing it’s a rut, not a path. Make a difference for yourself. Go do the thing.

This book is done. I’ve already begun outlining Book 3, which will launch in April. Because that is what a writer does, the day after finishing a book: we start the next book.

Accord of Honor is on sale right now, at a special price of 99¢ (it’s usually $3.99 and will revert to that price soon).

Accord of Mars is already selling on Amazon. It’s in Select for now – I’m trying that out with some of my books.

Accord of Victory will release in late April 2016.

I’m also working on a special prequel short story… It’s about 1/3 of the way done. It tells the story of the incident where Nicholas Stein ended a world war with one fatal action – and in doing so set the stage for the Lunar Accords, and everything that followed from them in these books. I’ve told this story before (badly) years ago, but this is a complete rewrite with a lot more detail, done in the same first person style as the Accord books. That short will ONLY be available to people who sign up for the Accord series newsletter; it will not be available for sale in any store, but will be free to my readers. I’ll be posting about it here (and elsewhere) when it is finished.

21-Day Novel Challenge: Day 19 Update

Cover Art

Cover Art

Been a busy couple of days at the day job. Thursday, as seems to be the norm, was a “no writing” day. Didn’t get any time during the 17 hour shift to get any edits in. Friday was mostly a packing day, but I did manage to get a few more chapters done.

So at this point, I am about eight chapters from finishing the edits. I’ll be doing those Saturday after the move, and then doing a final proofing pass either Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

Then I have one more tweak for the cover. The book title is a bit smaller on this cover than on the cover for book one. I’d like to have very clear branding between the two covers – so that they are clearly the same series. To that end I plan to tweak the cover art just a little bit.

In other news, the first book – Accord of Honor – is 99 cents on all retailers right now, and picking up some nice sales. If you’ve been following along on the mailing list for this challenge, then you already got the rough draft sent to you. If you’re interested in reading book one, then now’s a GREAT time to grab it while it’s on sale.

You can find it here: myBook.to/accord1            

I remain on target to launch Accord of War on Day 21 – Sunday the 13th! See you there.

21-Day Challenge: Days 15+16

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Cover Art

The book didn’t end up getting finished Monday night. Monday is kid day – and it seems Minecraft (the computer game) has a new patch, one which makes the monsters hit harder and the whole game much more tough. So my three kids and I spent most of the day beating up monsters and building virtual tree-houses together.

Key moment: lightning strikes something, and creates a new monster none of us have seen before – a skeleton horse! One of my kids goes to investigate, but approaching the horse spawns a bunch of skeletons. She dies. We go try to recover her stuff. Lightning strikes the horse a bunch more times, making more skeleton horses… All of which spawn more skeletons as we approach. An epic battle ensues.

Pullquote, in the most deadpan voice a nine year old can attain: “The skeleton horse apocalypse has begun.”

Anyway, after kid time was done Liz and I went to the new apartment to get things set up a little there. We had new curtains we wanted to test, and were doing some light cleaning, setting up cleaning supplies, etc. Move in is on Saturday, after all! I got a very little bit of writing done afterwards, but not enough to count. I called it quits, exhausted, to finish in the morning.

Today – Day 16 – I finished the last 1700 words of the book and wrapped it up. Those of you who’ve been following on the mailing list, your copies of the first draft edition are on their way to you tonight! Enjoy. :)

The finish ended up being 54,821 words. About the 55k I thought I was going to end up with. Now the question is, how long will it be after I am done with the edits and cleanup? Am I going to make the 60k I was shooting for? I’ve started a first run through the manuscript, and have added another 300 words today. Not a great start for editing 5 out of 43 chapters, but there’s still a lot of story to go through. We’ll have to see how it goes.

21-Day Challenge: Day 14

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Cover Art

OK! I’m two weeks in. And had a great writing day today, despite work: 4446 words, bringing the total count to 53,133. I expect to finish the book tomorrow, which is WAY ahead of schedule. In the plan I wrote out, the first draft was to be completed by the end of Wednesday. I’m not finishing because I’m writing faster than expected, but rather because I have two chapters left to go, and expect the book to wrap up at about 56-57k words, instead of the 70k I’d initially planned. I’m OK with that… Remember my mentioning a while back that I was trying to outline with the Story Grid method? Or a somewhat scaled down version of it, anyway? I suspect that my inexperience with that method has left the story a little leaner and therefore shorter than I’d expected.

Before I go any further, I’d like to pass along this invitation:

When the work is completed, I will be emailing out a link to the folks who’ve been following along on my email list. If your address is in there, you’ll get a copy of the rough work, just finished, with no polish or edits. For you folks who’ve been following, this will give you something to look at and compare against for changes.

If you’re interested in taking a peek, it’s not too late! Click the link below:

Sign Up For the First Draft!

Or you can just wait until it’s out on Amazon, one week from today.

Editing and Revision

I’ve written before about how I look at the editing and revision process. The TL;DR version: I don’t generally revise. I either self-edit (used to do that professionally; not recommended unless you’re quite good at it), or hire out the work to an editor. On longer works, I tend to do the latter. Mostly because I hate editing. I like writing the thing – correcting typos is not on a list of my favorite things.

In general, my finished published copies are about 98-99% identical to the first draft. I manage this by cleaning up the work as I go. If I notice myself repeating words, I’ll skip back up and fix it. If I need to add an element to a previous chapter to explain something, I’ll get to a good stopping point then go back and add it. I do these things while I write, so generally the first draft is very nearly the final one.

This run might be a bit different. In fact, if I add 3000 words to a 57,000 word story, as I think I might, then I’ll be changing at least 5% just with those additions. That’s unusual for me – which means it’s a good thing I’m going to have Tuesday and Wednesday to do some extra work on the book.

Every writer’s editing process is a bit different. Ironically, despite Chris and I expressing some of those differences earlier, it’s looking like the books we’re writing right now are going to be more similar than I’d thought! I’m using something much more similar to his process, adding in extra scenes to the final copy. But I think in this case at least the book will be stronger for it.

Sign up for the draft and you’ll be able to compare and see for yourself whether you think the changes merited inclusion or not!

21-Day Challenge: Days 11-13

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Cover Art

Went a little silent there for a few days, sorry! As I mentioned in my last post – I was moving into my long work period in the day job. With minutes to write, it gets hard to put them into a blog instead of story words! Playing a little catch up today.

Thursday was Day 11. I arrived at work at 7am. I left work just before 1am on Friday. During that time, we had four new admissions, three of whom I had to manage all of the paperwork etc. for, solo. For those of you not working in the medical field: imagine an already busy 17 hour work day, into which is crammed an additional 3 hours of work. As a result, no words happened. I got breaks long enough to wolf down some food, but that was it. That was why I had Thursdays as a ZERO word day on the schedule, remember – because sometimes my Thursdays are like that. So I didn’t fall behind, I just met expectations.

Day 12: Friday, I brought my word count total to 46,199 – about 1,100 words. More admissions at work, so even though I was only working one shift, I didn’t have time to write anything during a break. Just words at home. And the at-home words were broken up because we’re moving next Saturday, and I still had a lot of things to line up for the move. Finalized the movers; finalized the reservation of an elevator; stuff like that.

Yes, I’m moving the day before I have the book scheduled for launch. Hey, Chris set the schedule for this program. Blame him. 😉

Speaking of Chris, HIS Day 12 finished his book at about 60k words. Which is AMAZING. He’s done such a great job with this.

Day 13: I’m 1900 words behind at this point. Not so good. But I’m also writing SHORTER than I had scheduled. Much shorter. I think this book will wrap up at about 55k, and maybe expand a little during edits. So while I am behind my planned goal coming into the day, it’s not a disaster. Knowing work was going to be tough again today, I hit the ground running before work and got in about 2500 words, putting my count to 48,687 words total. Now, to be on target I SHOULD have 51,500 by the end of Day 13. So I’ve still slipped behind the target word count, but – this is life.

Life happens, and you roll with it. Notice, the ONLY day I didn’t get words done was the one crazy busy 18 hour work day. Friday and Saturday were busy, but I still got at least some forward progress each day. And this is the thing: sometimes life will intervene, things will get crazy, and your targets will be missed. It’s still important to find a few minutes to make some forward progress, though. Even if it’s a single half hour sprint, or a couple of ten minute sprints. Get some words in.

By working every day, you continue to reinforce to your mind that This Is Important. You’re keeping the mental momentum going. I know that if I stop writing completely for a few days, picking things back up again becomes harder and harder. In fact, the more days I stop writing, the more difficult it becomes to jump back in on a story. Writing something – even if it’s just a little – is important.

Onward to catch up a bit on Day 14!

As always, you can sign up for email updates on my progress – click the link below to join and follow along. Would love to hear comments, either here or in emails, too!

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21-Day Novel Challenge: Day 10

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Cover Art

And the grand total at the end of the day: 45, 062 words! It was a long battle, but I got in 6025 words to finish another day on target.

My biggest frustration right now, really, is that the story just isn’t as long as I was planning it to be. I’m very much below the 70k target. Going to struggle toward 60k, I think. I’ve added several scenes to the end, but I’m solidly into Act Three already.

Accord of Honor was 67k words, so what happened with this one?

I think part of the reason it’s running short is because I was using a new plotting system. Remember that I mentioned I was trying out a modified form of the “Story Grid” plotting system? It calls for 15 segments. Roughly doubled, because this story has two POVs and two interwoven storylines, that’s 30 major movements or scenes in the story. And I’ve doubled up some of them, especially for Thomas’s  POV. He’s the protagonist, and he gets a lot more screen time.

But that’s left me with only forty chapters in all, since I equated those major movements to chapters in my head (more or less – as I said, I made some of them two chapters). And my chapters are only running about 1500 words or so, average. Thus 60k words instead of 70k.

Lesson learned. If I want it to be a little longer, next time I need to add a few extra movements, or break up a few more scenes into multiple chapters. Open things up a little bit more. Still, the overall experience has been good. It certainly made plotting a breeze.

It also might be a side effect of writing so darned many novellas. I’ve written several recently – all about 20k word urban fantasies. And right before that I was writing the third Blackwell novel (another urban fantasy), which ended at 48k. Typical length book, for that series.

But for my SF, I’m intentionally trying to go just a little bit longer in the word count. It appears I still have some work to do in that regard. Every book is part of the process of improving as a writer. Identifying what you want to work on next and then plowing away at it is part of the fun.

As always, you can sign up for email updates on my progress – click the link below to join and follow along. Would love to hear comments, either here or in emails, too!

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21-Day Writing Challenge: Day 9 – Finding Balance

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Cover Art

As predicted, I did NOT hit my 6k target for today, making today the first day I didn’t reach the goal for words. But that’s OK – I had a 2400 word cushion already built up, which allowed me to take this afternoon and evening and spend a bunch of time seeing friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and spending some extra quality time with Liz.

I still managed 3639 words today, which is excellent. It puts my overall count at 39,037 words to date, or exactly 37 words over my target for where I had to be at this point.

I actually think I’m even more ahead of schedule than that, because I’m pretty sure this story will finish somewhere around 60k words, instead of the 70k I’d originally planned. Which is fine – that will just give me an extra day or two for cleanup and editing. No problem with that!

It’s impossible to stress enough how important it can be to find balance in writing and the rest of your life. I’ve been so hyper-focused on finishing this book that I’ve let some things slide which I ought not to. Things like getting the laundry done in a timely manner. You know, day to day tasks which just have to happen whether you’re writing or not. And getting out of the house and into the world is vital to us as well.

It’s all well and good to start a crazy challenge. Even great if you finish it. I’ve done 26,000 words in a single day before to wrap up a NaNoWriMo where I’d been especially lazy about word count earlier in the month. But it’s useless if you can’t maintain a good pace for the long run. Chris and I may talk about the value of sprints, but writing as a career is much more like a marathon. It’s an endurance event, and it’s about finding ways to make the work happen day after day, week after week, with the weeks flowing into months and years.

More than that, it’s about finding ways to keep the joy in what you’re doing. Because if we grow to hate writing, or see it as just a job, then we might as well be digging ditches instead of telling stories for our rent.

Balance in all things. Even in challenges. Do the work, yes. Find ways to improve your performance, surely. But also remember that it’s supposed to be fun. Storytelling is play. Don’t ever let the joy leak out of it. Do things to help yourself recharge, to rebuild your creative energy. Connect with other real human beings, because its from other people that we learn and grow and absorb new ideas. We connect those dots to create our art. We find the dots to connect by being out in the world and doing things.

As always, you can sign up for email updates on my progress – click the link below to join and follow along. Would love to hear comments, either here or in emails, too!

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21-Day Writing Challenge: Day 8

starship 1-5 kindleShort post today, folks, because it is very late and I am very tired. 😉

Today was my day with the kids. They finished catching up on Supergirl episodes – all three of them love the show now. And then we had an epic D&D game. They’re all playing wizards, at a school for wizards founded in Waterdeep (Forgotten Realms) to help train young people in the proper use of magic after the Time of Troubles. (Which I missed, ’cause I haven’t played D&D in years, but the little I heard about it worked well enough as backstory for this campaign). So most of their adventures are classroom tests. Today was a maze full of traps that I ad-libbed my way through, with a rescue of some classmates from a minotaur at the end. They did a great job working together and had an awesome time.

Geeked from birth, that’s my kids! Raising them right.

Anyway, I didn’t get to writing until late in the evening, and my sprints as a result were more like back to back writing sessions. Managed to get in 3087 words over the course of an hour and a half at the keyboard, which is pretty typical. I also started working on setting up some promotions for “Accord of Honor” – which will be getting a promo period right around the launch of “Accord of Mars”. Push Book 1 up the ranks a little and hopefully in the process help out Book 2!

Total to date is sitting at 35,398, which is well above my target of 33k by this day. That’s a good thing, because I am taking tomorrow afternoon and evening off to go hang with friends, so tomorrow will likely be short a bit from my 6k target.

As always, you can sign up for email updates on my progress – click the link below to join and follow along. Would love to hear comments, either here or in emails, too!

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21-Day Challenge: Day 7

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Cover Art

It’s the end fo the first week for the challenge, and another highly productive day of writing! Just finished my last sprint for the day. The grand total: 6223 words today, and 32,311 total for the book.

I’m starting to think this one won’t be as long as the last. Still not sure, as I continue to add chapters as I go. I’ve got at LEAST another 20k words left in the book. Might be as much as 60k total length, but I think the story might simply wrap up shorter than the 70k I’d originally planned, and shorter even than the 67k for Accord of Honor. We shall see. I’m OK with it running a little bit short, but I do want people to feel like they’ve had an enjoyable, sizable read!

This is still a lot of fun. I can’t wait to get cracking on the next book after this one is out, honestly. Oh – yeah – I spent part of my downtime today starting to flesh out the major movements of Book 3. So far it looks like it’s going to read a little bit like “The 300” mixing in with chunks of “Star Wars: A New Hope”. It’s going to be fun to write.

I have no idea if there will be a Book 4 yet. :)

A week in, and a lot of writing behind me, I am learning more and more about stamina and how it pertains to writing. I’ve spent a LOT of time at the keyboard lately. Today my knees hurt. My elbow aches a little. Aside from the minor body aches (I have been getting up, walking around, and doing light exercise, don’t worry!), there is a general sense of mental exhaustion after a few sprints.

It’s odd. Because my body doesn’t feel tired. But my brain needs a break once in a while. I just finished reading the first book in the “20-Sided Sorceress” series today during one of those breaks – because I find one of the BEST ways to recharge is to read or watch good fiction. (Highly recommend the series if you like urban fantasy, by the way; her protagonist reminds me a lot of Raven in my Raven’s Heart series.)

So if you find yourself starting to get tired and aren’t sure why, try taking a breather. The same way you would if you were working to improve your running endurance, you need to rest sometimes so you don’t burn out or break. Remember that novel writing is a marathon, not a sprint. After this challenge there will still be the next book, and the next, and the one after that. Make sure it stays fun. Writing can be the best thing in the world if you’re loving it, or as much a hell as any other job if you’re not.

As always, you can sign up for email updates on my progress – click the link below to join and follow along.

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21-Day Challenge: Day 6

MC900434719Today was awesome and productive for me. I hope your day was just as good! I slept in a bit, got up at 9am. I showered and made coffee. Then I went and played on the internet a little, checking messages and reading email. By about 11am I was already cracking in on the story, getting in my first sprints. I took a break for lunch, then back to work again. Sprint – go cruise the forums for a bit – sprint again. Good stuff.

About 3pm I was sitting at a little over 3k words, and went to take a nap.

Up, another sprint, then off to a fish and chips dinner out at a local restaurant with Liz. Back home, enjoying an evening together (she’d been working on midterms for grad school side by side with me while I did my sprints earlier). We watched the latest Supergirl episode (it was OK, but the season has had better episodes – overall a good show though) through Amazon. We don’t do “appointment TV”; just stuff via Amazon and Netflix. We watch programs when we feel like it, not when the networks happen to have them on. Also saves us $100 a month on the cable TV bill…

By about 10:30 she was getting tired and went to go get some sleep while I got back to work. I spent the next hour hammering out another 2400 words or so.

Total for the day: 6679 (target was 6000)

Total for the challenge: 26,088 words (target was 24,000)

Since Chris was talking a little about plotting in his video today, I thought I would share a bit about how I plotted this book as well. I’m actually trying a new technique, roughly cribbed from a book called The Story Grid. Which is excellent. It’s SO good, in fact, that I think it should be considered a “must read” for fiction writers.

Anyway, in The Story Grid the author talks about the structure of plot. He works from a three Act structure, breaking the Acts down into sections of action. Each section then gets broken down into scenes, which can then be further refined into beats.

I didn’t go into that much detail in this outline. What I did do was break down the Acts into sections. He calls Act One the “Beginning Hook”. Act Two is the “Middle Build”. And Act Three is the “Ending Payoff”. All makes sense, right? This stuff is straight out of Aristotle. We all learned this in English 101.

But then he breaks each Act down into five stages: Inciting Incident, Complications, Crisis, Climax, and Resolution. What was interesting to me is that he uses the same five stages for each Act. (He’s not alone in this. If you’ve read McKee’s “Story”, you’ll see some similar thoughts there.) The core idea is that each Act is itself a mini-story, a microcosm of the overall story. And that each scene is ALSO a story in itself, with rising action and some sort of climax or “turn” at the end.

It’s good stuff. Read the book. 😉

Anyway, Accord of Mars has two first person POVs, same as Accord of Honor. Two major storylines which intertwine. I built the plot by creating a Ulysses template broken down into fifteen chunks – one per section for all three Acts – for each POV, or thirty in all. Then I filled in the details. Thomas is the primary POV, and is getting a lot more words, so I broke some of his stages down into two chapters. I merged a few of Nicholas’ (the father’s) stages as well – two stages in a single scene can work in some cases. As I’ve been writing, even more of Thomas’ stages are being broken into two or more chapters, which is fine. But the major moments of the story were right there on the outline before I started writing a word.

And I knew what the major stages had to be, because I had a great story structure to work with.

It’s a pretty cool system. You might think it was limiting to work this way (that was one concern I had), but I didn’t find it so. I’ve done totally outline-free books sometimes, too, and others with only the barest of outlines. This is more structured than I usually go, but as a result the story feels very strong, very tightly woven.

Will I use it next time? I might. We’ll see. Oh yes, the other thing I did today? I fleshed out the three major movements for Accord Book Three. I already had the first one down, but now I know the entire major arc, and it’s going to be a great story.

As always, you can sign up for email updates on my progress – click the link below to join and follow along.

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