AFTER CAMP NANOWRIMO, WHAT COMES NEXT?

Camp-2017-Winner-Profile-PhotoCamp Nanowrimo is finished and I will admit to being rather stunned. What? I don’t have to keep on with this schedule of writing 3 hours a day any longer? How amazing!

I am also really impressed with myself because I was three days ahead of myself on my goals and so I was able to doodle away the last few days of Camp.

In fact, I think at this point I am free to say that having completed a second not so bad version of my book “In Limbo” I am feeling slightly better about myself as a writer. It really was a very disciplined practice for me to write up 2000 words per day in order to write another version of my novel.   It now adds up to 339 pages!

I just printed out the entire manuscript yesterday, and I can tell you, even though it is not publishable material yet, it still is mighty impressive.

As a next step, since I realize I haven’t achieved the kind of quality work that I am looking for up to this point, I have gone on a major shopping spree looking for “how to write” books. I’m hoping that if I read these books, somehow the techniques will filter into my consciousness by osmosis and I will step across that line from still junk, to maybe something I can work with to the point where it becomes publishable.

For those who are interested, below is the list of the books that I have either consulted or intend to consult in order to improve my writing. I am sharing this information with you because I realize that there are so many books out there it is very hard to decide which ones to choose.

In fact, let’s dig a little deeper here.  I have noticed that along with writers out there, we have a homegrown crop of advisors to writers who tell writers what to do, despite most of the time, not really actually being writers themselves! Advisors to writers set up MFA programs, establish conferences, write books, and generally get money from writers by convincing them how much they still need to learn and do before they actually make it in the world of publishing!

Right now I am going to buy this line because I’m still in apprentice mode, but sooner or later, just letting folks know, I will not be spending my money on any of this stuff. This is only for now while I still have questions.

With all that said, below, in no particular order, are the books I have picked to learn more about creating a solid, publishable piece of writing:

“Creating Characters: The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction” by Writer’s Digest Editors and Steven James
Two book set “Outlining Your Novel” by K.M. Weiland
“Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure ” by K.M. Weiland
“Author in Progress; A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Takes to Get Published”
Edited by Therese Walsh and the Writer Unboxed Community
“The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master” by Martha Alderson
“Confict and Suspense” by James Scott Bell
“Mastering Suspense Structure & Plot: How to Write Gripping Stories That Keep Readers on the Edge of their Seats” by Jane K. Cleland and Hallie Ephron

“Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel” by Hallie Ephron

So here is what I’m going to do.  I am going to read and take notes on all of these books during the months of May and June.  During that time, I am going to write up a whole new outline for a third version of my book and I am going to join the July 2017 session of Camp Nanowrimo to execute my plans.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

NOW I JUST SEMI-HATE THE BOOK I JUST WROTE!

Camp-2017-Participant-Profile-Photo“So I hate the book I just wrote!” I said on a prior blog.

That was just after I finished work on the first version of my current novel “In Limbo” . This is a book about a little girl whose father is accused of sexually abusing her, and the corrupt family court system has trouble doing anything to address the complaint.

At the core of the novel is the question of whether the father is innocent or guilty. My reaction to my first draft of this novel was the insight that what I’d written was just too dang bad! The plot lurched all over the place, the main character was fairly unpleasant, and the whole piece of work just rambled all over the pace.

Luckily, I stopped work on this novel at around 50,000 words. I can’t imagine what damage I might have done to myself had I continued on for another 50,000. Luckily, I knew when was the best time to give up!

So bottom line, what was the lesson learned?

Who knew that it was so difficult to write a book!

At this point, I’d like to report that I have made considerably more progress on this project, largely through the intervention of Camp Nanowrimo. Currently, for those who are interested, I am halfway through my first Camp Nanowrimo experience, probably the most advanced in age of all my fellow campers who appear to be primarily in their 20s and 30s.

To be honest, however, it isn’t quite right to say my first experience.

The fact is that last fall, without being aware of Camp Nanowrimo, I wrote my first version of my novel in the month of October, rather than November, using exactly the technique they recommend. That’s when I came up with the first draft of my book, which I immediately announced that I hated!

For those who are unaware of what I am talking about, let me clarify. There is Nanowrimo (short for National Novel Writing Month) which takes place every November and consists of participants spending the entire month in a marathon race to complete a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month.  In contrast, Camp Nanowrimo, which takes place in April and July, is considerably more flexible. There you can literally choose any project that you wish, and also choose any goal that you wish using any form of measurement you wish.

For instance, I have been using hours, but others have been using minutes, pages, words, etc. etc. Further, you can be flexible about those goals; so if it looks as though you might not be a winner because you set your sights to high, you can just change your goals halfway through to ensure that you are a winner.

Camp Nanowrimo also has the advantage of online cabins where you can discuss your project with several other writers who are going through the same process. Plus, there are additional perks such as virtual write ins, word sprints on twitter, and daily messages of encouragement from more experienced, published writers. If that isn’t enough to motivate you, I don’t know what will!

Of course, at my age, what I consider an experienced writer, is probably different from what other people might think.  I also want to mention that if you go onto Youtube there are hundreds of videos by Nanowrimo and Camp Nanowrimo participants guiding you on the details of undergoing the experience.  So the flood of tips, cautions, suggestions, hints, and guidance is a never-ending stream. No way are you going to get lost in the process with this kind of assistance.

At this point, I want to address myself to an issue that I’ve heard about repeatedly when I go to writer’s conferences, and of course, it came up again as I approached the second draft of my book at Camp Nanowrimo.   To be specific, if you go to a conference, it is inevitable that some writer will be called upon to weigh in on the question of whether he or she is a planner or a pantser.

From my angle as a newly minted novelist, there could not be a more stupid question.

Any writer who says that they write without planning in advance, or by engaging a plan immediately afterwards is an absolute liar.

I used to be fairly respectful of these conversations prior to writing my own book, but now that I’ve done it once, I want to tell you categorically that if you do not plan your book, or if you do not impose structure pretty quickly after each writing session, you will be listed on the long list of failed writers.

I don’t want to discourage any one of you, but facts are facts.

Any book that you have read that has in the least appealed to you, I can also assure you, has carefully undergone a very strict planning process. That is what is called craft. Without craft, you have nothing. Trust me.

Why do you think writers and industry insiders deceive you on this point?

I’d guess they want to have an extra filtering method to separate the truly invested writers from those who are dilettantes. It is literally impossible to write a good book without careful planning, bottom line. So anyone who says, “Well, I just wrote this book by the seat of my pants!” that person is trying to crack a joke on you, trust me.  I’ve said trust me twice, so seriously, seriously pay attention to what I am saying, please.

At every point in writing the second draft of my book, I have had to sketch out the chapters in advance, or return and impose structure in order to get it right. How many ways can I say that!

At this point, I am much further along than when I did my first draft of this book. My lesson learned is that even though I’ve been a long time reader from childhood, this experience has led me to understand writing elements such as point of view, character development, story arc, and momentum in an entirely new light. All of a sudden they have become living challenges to me in a way they weren’t before.

I still have a long way to go until I arrive at the end of the month and the completion of this second draft of my novel. But I am already planning on what is going to be involved in creating the third draft. Perhaps this will be the one I like or dare I say–love!

THE THINGS I LOST IN THE FIRE!

unknown-20I believe it was the French author, editor, and flower aficionado of the 19th century, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr who said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Perhaps this is true of very superficial items. For example, I still wear the same clothing I wore 30 years ago, though a lot of it is very worn and often stained. My name is still the same, my features are still the same, though more weathered and old. You will still find that I live in CT.

However, there are profound ways in which I am not the same person that I was many years ago, and not only that, I am not even the same person I was a year ago or even last month. Yet, isn’t it somewhat annoying to find that in the minds and memories of the people who have known you, your image and your personality remain fixed in time as if since the last time you saw them time had stood still?  It is most particularly annoying if the way they remember you isn’t that good. Continue reading “THE THINGS I LOST IN THE FIRE!”

SO I HATE THE BOOK I WROTE, SO WHAT!

unknown-19The last time I blogged about the subject of writing a book, I talked about one I’d just written where I hated the final product. For a while, I just sat on that emotion and didn’t do anything about it. I asked myself: did it make any sense to continue trying, or should I just give up and resign myself to the fact that I’m just a shitty fiction writer.  

Alternatively, I thought, perhaps I should just forget about it and move on with a different writing project. As time went by, I carried on struggling with the issue, but recently as the holidays approached and I caught the season’s optimism bug, I decided that it was time to get back on the horse and try again. As a result, for Christmas I purchased a copy of the Scrivener program to see if it would help me regain my confidence.

While I don’t think Scrivener is much beyond a glorified word processing program, I hoped it would give me a boost and encourage me to try again. I’d also heard from other people who said that they found Scrivener particularly helpful. At $40.00 for the program, it seemed to me that a purchase was even better than therapy on why I couldn’t write well. At the same time, I did take myself to the side and gave myself a lecture on not taking this process of learning how to write books personally. It isn’t about my ego; it’s about acquiring certain skills and techniques, the same way that I have had to learn other such abilities. Continue reading “SO I HATE THE BOOK I WROTE, SO WHAT!”

NASTY, VICIOUS, SCUMBAG INTERNET TROLLS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM!

unknown-9While many people have heard of children being cyberbullied online, many are not aware that there is a serious problem online with adults cyberbullying other adults. There are ugly trolls stalking the internet looking for victims all the time.

For instance, I recall when I first became involved with the protective mothers movement, the leader of my organization contacted me with a list of people I was not supposed to associate with. Wouldn’t you know it, within weeks of her doing so, a group of these banned individuals hacked into my Facebook page and started to attack me. Every time I tried to block them, they would find another way to get back in.

I’m also a part of a mental health rights movement and have had internet trolls from those kinds of organizations attack me online as well.

When it comes to social justice work, fending off personal attacks from nasty scumbag, internet trolls seems to be part of the experience. Continue reading “NASTY, VICIOUS, SCUMBAG INTERNET TROLLS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM!”

YES, BUT I HATE THE BOOK I JUST WROTE!

Unknown-1

I have always been a self-hater when it comes to writing.  I have crumpled up and thrown away more work than anyone else I know.  Not only that, I also have a broad collection of work that I will never, ever look at again. 

Why? 

Because I hate, absolutely hate my own writing. 

I just don’t get it.  When the writing bug comes over me—like now—I am so excited and happy to have something to say.  There is nothing better than elaborating on an idea and putting your thoughts out there.  Some of my happiest moments in my entire life involve the times when I’ve been writing.  So what is it about my attitude towards my work that leads me to the point where I want to kill my own literary children? 

I’d feel pretty weird about this if I didn’t know that at least one other famous writer felt the same way.  For instance, Franz Kafka, author of “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial.”  Apparently, Franz Kafka burned 90% of his work, and then, according to a blog by Jory MacKay, after his death in 1924, his friend and literary executor, Max Brod, found a note in Kafka’s  desk asking him to burn the rest.  Luckily, he didn’t do that.

Stephen King famously crumpled up and dumped into the wastebasket the first three pages his first novel “Carrie” in a bout of self disgust and his wife had to rescue them and urge him to continue.   And, of course, this was the book that made his career!

In addition to these stories of great writing that ended up being rescued, there are the stories of bad writing by good writers which was thankfully dumped in the garbage can and luckily left there.  For instance, in 1983 Margaret Atwood was writing a novel about Mayan eccentric flints which she luckily disposed of before continuing on with “The Handmaid’s Tale” . 

I’m sure there are many more stories like this which both well known and unknown writers could talk about. 

So what’s my particular problem? 

To be honest, I’m not sure how I ever became a writer because, as I said, my earliest memories are of ripping my writing up and throwing it away. I absolutely hated it.  My writing was a complete and utter embarrassment to me. I only ended up in the position of writing as extensively as I have now because eventually I had a burning desire to communicate information that I felt was desperately important to convey.  I was outraged by my observations of profound social injustices in the mental health system and the family court system and, gosh darn it, I was not going to let it stand.  I chose to speak out against it in the only way I could think of, which was through my writing.  

Thus, my Initial attempts at writing were letters to the editor, and finally, after a lengthy period of time I became the inveterate blogger and memoirist that I am today.  What made me write what the fact that I was just so angry about the issues I spoke about, I could not be silent.  In the end, I stopped caring about the quality of my work because the task of sharing my convictions became considerably more important to me. 

So what is my problem now?  Why am I getting into this problem again? 

At this point, the turning wheels in my writing existence have gotten to the point that even without the kind of intense motivation I had earlier in my career, I keep on producing because I’ve gotten accustomed to spending my time this way.  Ultimately, this writing business has become so much a part of my life that I recently wrote a novel of something like 200 pages.  My question is, at this point, what should I do with it? 

Of course, I am immediately having my old standby reaction to my writing, which is, I think it is horrible and believe I should immediately throw it in the nearest garbage can, throw gasoline on it, and toss in a match.  Each  time I review the opening chapters of the book, I wince with dislike at every word.  So, should I pay attention to myself and toss the book? 

I have no idea! 

How is any author supposed to be able to assess his or her own work for quality.  I suppose I could solicit a few readers to take a look and share their response, but no, that would be much too painful—expose my deep and unutterable shame regarding my horrible writing to others.  No, I could never do that!!! 

Maybe I should just put the book aside and come back to it at a later date when I am feeling fresh.  Unfortunately, if I do, that might lead to a worse problem.  I wrote this book over an extended time period in between a host of other activities.  This means that I have quite forgotten some of what I did in this book even though I worked with an ongoing plot guide that I filled in as I progressed.  Seriously, how do people keep track of what they have and have not said as they write a novel, unless they have an editor to remind them, and I sure don’t have one.  This means that if I take time off from the book, I may have totally forgotten the book when I return to it, given my spotty memory.   That means coming to grips with the book will be considerably more difficult.

Bottom line is, I never expected that writing a novel would be like this.  I thought I would have more control, more of a capacity to structure the novel as I wished, and that hasn’t turned out to be true.  Sometimes plotlines and characters just take off and you can’t do anything about it.  I certainly have much greater respect for what novelists do as a result of writing this first novel. 

Will I destroy what I’ve got?  Will I ever try again?  I have no idea.  It’s going to take me a while to stop rolling around in the mud of writer self hate before I answer those questions.  One thing I do know, I am not the first or the last writer who will ever have to walk through the dark night of the writer soul.  But as I learned through my experience with non-fiction, if I can make it through, I may find that things aren’t as bad as I fear.  This means that for now, I will leave my manuscript burning plans for another time.

YES, BUT MAYBE I JUST DON’T CARE: FICTIONAL CHARACTERS AT PLAY!

41H23OcM88L._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_

Recently, I was working on a book I’ve been writing tentatively called “Limbo” and I came to the point where I decided I was the worst writer in the world and no one would care about the characters I’ve created because they are boring, boring, boring. Talking about a crisis of confidence!

As I thought about this issue further, it led me to ask, what is it about the characters in a book that will lead a reader to care about them? For instance, Catharine and Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights”—why do we care about them?  Cal and Aron in “East of Eden”—why do we get caught up in their stories?

Like many people, I took one of my daughters on a road trip to North Carolina to drop her off at her college. It was an eleven hour trip and on the way back I listened to an audiobook I had purchased entitled “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware. I was so caught up in the story that even though I’d arrived home after eleven hours of driving, I still sat in my car listening to the book for an additional hour because I felt compelled to hear the whole story and find out what happened to the characters in the end.

Why do readers like me feel so strongly about the fantasy characters they encounter in books that they will go out of their way to find out what happens to them?

For an answer to that question I turned immediately to the internet and googled the question. Would you believe that in response I received 2.5 million responses. Clearly, I am not the first person who has been intrigued by this question!  Although, there is no way that I am going to plow through 2.5 million articles, I will share with you the wisdom provided in the first ten!

Apparently, the “go to” person among scholars in regard to this area of inquiry is Blakey Vermeule who wrote a highly regarded book on the subject entitled “Why Do We Care About Literary Characters?” Ms. Vermeule essentially bad mouths the whole enterprise of getting involved in literary productions stating that it has no evolutionary value whatsoever. In fact she states, “caring about strangers—not just strangers but fictional strangers—seems at best a waste of time and at worst a form of madness.”

Nonetheless, practically all of us do! Why? Because pretty much, the human brain is conditioned to view the conflicts and difficulties of life within the context of narrative. Thus, if individuals seek to resolve those conflicts or find solutions to their difficulties, they are more likely to find satisfactory results within the context of some kind of storytelling. Apparently, even when dealing with inanimate objects, human beings tend to project a personality onto those objects and see them within that context.

In the same way that our eyes will tend to create structure and specific images out of even the most random visual detail, i.e. clouds, our minds tend to create fictional characters and situations out of the social interactions that surround us as a means to come to terms with the challenges they present.

Abby Norman, in “The Psychology of Fandom” states that it all comes down to that fundamental human capacity for empathy, a capacity that she states resides in the right supra marginal gyrus of the brain. Personally, I tend to be somewhat skeptical of attempts to locate any particular aspect of human character within a particular segment of the brain, but that’s just me. I come from a different generation that was all about soul, not about the brain, so you can ignore my views if you’d like. I’m just passing along the info.

Ms. Norman states that if the gyrus gets damaged, subjects are much less capable of experiencing empathy necessary to appreciating a work of literature.

In addition, according to Ms. Norman, in real life our capacity for empathy arises from the accrual of information that we obtain about other people. For instance we create the capacity for empathy through our ability to see physically the expressions on a person’s face and to touch, hug, or hold and smell another person. Also, when it comes to another person, over a period of time, through repeated encounters, we begin to put  together a complete picture of who that person is from the accumulation of shared conversations and experiences we have with that other person.

In fiction, we are limited to the written word, and yet even that limited medium has the ability to recreate all the thoughts and feelings we have about real people and apply them to fictional ones, simply through descriptive detail. Such is the remarkable nature of the human mind.

Furthermore, what literature does for people is that it frees them to explore an extraordinary reach of emotional, physical, and social territory that they would otherwise be precluded from experiencing based upon their ethnic, economic, and social circumstances. There is no earthly equivalent to the freedom that you can experience when reading books—intellectually, emotionally, socially, visually, and geographically. Simply this circumstance can unlock an extraordinary depth of feeling for and commitment to individuals who are, in the end, entirely fictional characters living in entirely fictional worlds.

Still, granted all that, what is it that keeps us reading? Why would I sit in my car in the dark for an additional hour after a whole day of driving so that I could get to the end of my precious audiobook?

Simply put, the answer is, we all want to know “who done it!” We want the questions posed, answered. We want the protagonist put at risk, restored to safety. We want the secret, what ever it is, to come out finally into the light of day. We want the heroine married. We want the fortune found. We want the dead buried.

In many respects, no matter how dull the prose, no matter how hackneyed the metaphors, no matter how silly the characters, we as readers are ready to plow through the mud of bad writing as long as the tickle of the dilemma gets scratched in the end. It’s sad to say so, but it is the truth. Quality narrative is not half as important as it is chalked up to be. If you want verification of that, just take a few moments to read a Harry Potter book by J.K. Rowling!

Ultimately, what this means is that we tend to care more about fictional characters who inhabit engrossing and engaging dilemmas. The lives they live, the problems they have, the challenges they face are for more important than who they are. In fact, the more neutral a character is, the more universal a character is, the more easy it will be for any person, any reader to slip into their shoes and inhabit them.

What this means is that character is not half as important as plot, and it also means that as long as you have sketched out the general stick figure of a personality, you are probably doing OK as a novel writer, particularly in regard to romance novels and chiclit, I would say. This should be reassuring to writers like me who worry about whether they have created characters that will attract the care and concern of their audiences.