21-Day Novel Challenge: Day 10

Cover Art

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

Cover Art

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

Cover Art

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.

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21-Day Novel: Day 5

Coffee break novelist
Today and yesterday were serious tests of the whole “Coffee Break Novelist” theory of writing.

When I wrote that book, the tl;dr of the idea (although of course I think it IS worth reading!) was that writing ISN’T something that requires huge blocks of time to accomplish. You can slip bits of writing in between the rest of your life and be a productive novelist. Even a highly productive one. Chris Fox – the inspiration for the whole 21-day novel challenge – might be a full-time writer now. But he wasn’t always. He used to slip his writing in during his commute to and from work, working on a laptop.

In the time he had.

And that’s what it’s all about, for those of us who are not full time (yet!).

If we wait for a day when we’re going to have great big blocks of uninterrupted time, that novel really WILL take years to complete. And frankly, if it takes most novelists 10+ novels before they can go full time, and if a rapid release pace (at least a few books a year) is what works for most full-timers, those of us aiming for full-time simply can’t afford to wait for the moments when “the time is right”.

When I made my schedule for this challenge, I blocked in ZERO words for Thursdays. That’s because every Thursday I wake up around 6am, get to work by 7am, and don’t leave work until almost midnight. I’m a nurse, working on a very busy sub-acute unit. I don’t have a lot of time for writing while I am on the job, and that’s a 17 hour work day.

But yesterday I still managed to sneak in 1500 words by writing on my breaks. Which put me about 1400 words ahead of my goal for the challenge.

Today I only had a nine hour work day. I fit in about an hour of writing before work, and then wrote during a break again. Got in 3017 words for the day, putting my challenge total at 19,409 words. I’m still 1400 ahead of schedule.

That doesn’t mean I get to rest, though. The next two days are “days off”: and I plan to write about 6000 words each day. I’m into Act 2 of the book, things are starting to rocket along, and the pace is picking up.

Some of you reading this are following along on the challenge, which is awesome. Some of you aren’t, but I think most of you are working on some sort of book or you likely wouldn’t be here. (Unless you loved Accord of Honor and are desperately waiting for the sequel – in which case, hang on, ’cause it’s coming soon!)

Start looking at your life and instead of thinking about how busy you are, try to figure out spaces that you can slot a 15 or 20-minute writing period into. Even if you’re not a fast typist – I can get in 800 words in a good twenty-minute sprint, but not everyone can – writing just 200 words a day adds up to a 70k novel a year. Fit in two short 200 word sprints a day, and you’re up to two novels a year.

Novels are not about huge blocks. We write them the same way you eat an elephant: one bite (one sprint!) at a time.

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