NaNoWriMo – Pantser or Plotter?

Current word count: 30,433 …

and I’ve just come up with a major subplot for the lads

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Thought I’d discuss the two basic types of writers this post. Well, actually there are three, because I believe you can be a combination.

Plotter:

A plotter is a careful planner, a writer who outlines the entire novel ahead of time. A plotter sometimes writes such a thorough and detailed outline that it’s practically a novel in itself. Some plotters outline down to the scene level, while others simply write rough ideas for each chapter.

If you’re a plotter, you know what’s going to happen next. This helps prevent writer’s block and gives you a target. However, if you get stuck or decide to change something, you often find that you must redo your entire outline.

Pantser:

A pantser is a writer who writes “by the seat of your pants,” without an outline. Pantsers just like to start writing and see how it goes, letting the characters loose to do as they choose and to pick the direction of the story.

If you’re a pantser, you have the freedom to change anything at all, at any time you so choose. However, not knowing where you’re going sometimes means you get stuck. Many pantsers have strings of unfinished projects trailing along behind them.

Plantser:

I believe that you can be a combination of both extremes, and NaNoWriMo agrees with me, for it’s come up with this designation this year. A plantser is a writer who has a basic idea where the story is going, but likes the freedom to explore tangents. Plantsers usually have a rough outline of some sort, or at least a vague idea of the plot.

I think this is the best of both worlds. You’ve got the road map, but you’re giving yourself the opportunity to try different routes along the way.

Blathering: Reality Interrupts My Virtual Life Once Again

As with all of my creative friends, I spent yesterday in a state of shock. It’s still hard for me to believe that a doctrine of hatred, bigotry, racism, name-calling and pomposity actually carried the popular vote. As long as I’m putting my politics on the line, I can admit that neither candidate had my total support, but I was willing to take a chance on Hillary rather than go with the hate ballot.

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Based on what we have seen this past year or so, America is now in for four years of fear and loathing, with occasional rants and tantrums and massive propaganda campaigns against … well, pretty much anyone who isn’t a white male.

Not being a white male, I feel it is only natural that I feel trepidation when faced with this new regime. Being friends with so very many non-white males and females, I feel it is only natural that I fear for their safety as well. I fear for everyone in this country who is different, for that is what Trump and his Trumpettes are afraid of.

We are entering an age where the dumbing down of America has reached its climax, where it is no longer admirable to seek to better your education, your mind, or anything other than your wallet. In our new America, it is better to be ignorant and afraid of anything you don’t understand — and since you’re ignorant, that will be pretty much everything in the universe.

Even though I am not Jewish, the Holocaust has always terrified me because it is so very easy for ignorance to be stirred to horrific acts against others. It is so very easy to fan the flames of fear and hatred, to turn human against human.

I have no good advice for getting through these next four years because I just don’t understand their fear-based thinking well enough. My reaction to fear has always been to learn as much as I can about whatever it is I’m afraid of, so that I can conquer it. Their reaction is to destroy whatever they suspect might be causing their fear.

Keep your heads down, my friends. Act dumb and go along with things so long as nobody is getting hurt. But if the violence starts, we’re going to have to stand up and get hurt rather than step back and let someone else take a beating. Don’t stand aside as they come for someone else, because it will end with them coming for you. Stand up for the true American values: freedom to be who we are, love for all humanity, and a sincere desire to better yourself in all ways.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope Americans are not going to degenerate into violence against Americans. I hope Trump does a 180 and becomes, if not a wise leader, at least one who listens to his advisors before acting. I hope we can love one another as Americans have always tried to do before. I hope everyone lives through this.

Be safe.

It’s That Time Again!

No, not the holiday season – though it is getting to that point as well.

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No, I mean it’s National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMo is an event where you pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. There’s a website, local live chapters, and lots of inspiration and help.

If you manage to reach your goal, not only do you have what’s technically a novel (even though mine run more to 90-100K), but you get some nice virtual prizes as well.

So if you don’t see me as often this month, it’s because I’m trying desperately to reach my 1667 daily word goal.

Organization

People have asked me how I organize my work. Do I use a stack of index cards? A cork board? Computer files?

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The answer is yes.

I do have a cork board where I keep the really important stuff that will never change for the series, like a map of the city in the 1800s and a “blueprint” of their house and offices.

I used to use index cards – until I discovered Scrivener.

This is a software program that is designed for writers. You specify whether you’re writing a fiction novel, a nonfiction book or a screenplay – and the program gives you different tools for each one.

For the fiction novel, I have a cork board with all my scenes on it – I can arrange these by chapter, or combine several scenes in one chapter, or move them around however I want to.

There’s a section for research, and you can even “pull in” websites so you can find your source material immediately.

You have another section for character notes and one for places.

Scrivener also allows you to attach a note to a section of work, like a word or phrase. The notes show up in the margin so you see them whenever you go to that scene. For example, if you want to name a character, but don’t want to bother now, you could put down “John Doe” and link a note to that saying “Look up a good old-fashioned European name for this dude!” That way, when you’re working away, you don’t constantly interrupt yourself trotting off to do research – and the notes are immediately visible when you go to that scene, so all you have to do is pull it up and the note’s right there.

What sort of organization do you use in your writing?

The Mind Wanders

As you may already know, the state is under the eye of Hurricane Matthew this weekend. I’m hoping everyone who chose not to evacuate will survive. They’re predicting something equal to, if not greater than, Hugo.

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Having been through Hugo, I can barely imagine anything worse. The Lowcountry looked like it had been hit by a bomb – acres of trees downed, all lying in parallel lines; debris and flood water everywhere, making it hard to walk safely; homes destroyed outright or damaged beyond repair. We were without power for about two weeks, and we were lucky it was that quickly repaired. We were also lucky to be inside a brick building, so we had less damage than others around us, and we were about 30 miles inland, so we missed the storm surge from the surf. It took weeks to clear the roads entirely, though, and many downed trees were just sawn through and left beside the road instead of being cleared completely.

At this point, Matthew is still Category 2 (Hugo was 4 and 5), but is expected to strengthen before it hits South Carolina. Our hotels here in the Upstate are already full of evacuees and late-comers are having to travel further in search of shelter. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this storm – I’ll post anything significant on my Facebook account.

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I’m also dealing with the death of a friend’s mother. She had Alzheimer’s, but was a funny and loving woman. My friend made her last years happy ones, and that’s always a comfort.

Get Out of the House

Sometimes the same old writing space just isn’t stimulating your creativity any longer. If you’re staring at your walls waiting for inspiration, try shaking things up by getting out of the house and trying a new writing spot.

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Here are 10 places you might try (plus a bonus):

  • The Library – yes, it’s still everybody’s go-to spot for out-of-the-house working. There’s usually free Wi-fi and the librarians will be happy to help you with any research questions. No eating or drinking, but if you just want a few hours of quiet time, you can’t beat this spot.
  • A coffee shop – this is a writer’s classic choice for several reasons. Caffeine is great for stimulating the brain, and there are snacks and sometimes even meals available. They usually have free Wi-fi as well. Just be mindful of the business end: if they’re really busy, don’t monopolize a table for more than an hour, and if you do stay longer on a quiet day, do order frequently and tip well.
  • A Museum – sitting in front of an inspiring painting or sculpture can be stimulating, so consider an annual membership to your local museum. Or, if you’re not planning to visit that often, see if they have discount tickets or free days.
  • An Aquarium – sitting in front of a relaxing underwater scene can be equally stimulating. Look into that annual membership, or ask about discounts.
  • The Zoo – similar to an aquarium, only you’ll probably be outside. See if they have a reasonable annual membership or discounts.
  • The Mall – just as many people head to the mall for exercise, writers can find a quiet spot to work – or head to the food court for a table. Many malls offer free Wi-fi.
  • A Station – bus, train, subway … the idea is to plant yourself in a corner and get some work done while you people-watch. Just don’t get too distracted.
  • A train – you know I can testify to this one! Even a short trip can result in a great deal of work, and the “roomettes” offer privacy and electrical outlets.
  • Parks – if you’re lucky, your town or city has at least one decent public park or garden where you feel creatively stimulated. You can get some sun while you work, too.
  • Your Local College – campuses offer literally hundreds of nooks for studying or working. Investigate your local university to locate an under-utilized spot or to borrow their library.
  • Rent an RV – if you’ve got some spare cash, think about renting a camper and doing a mini-retreat somewhere nearby. Just park, sit at the table (or outside), and get some work done.

What’s your go-to writing spot?

Handling Rejection

My story didn’t make the cut for the Malice Domestic anthology, which sort of bums me out … but at least they were polite enough to email me and let me know, which is refreshing.

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In response, I’ve decided to do a short piece on handling rejection. Here are some good tips:

  • DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY – note the capitals. This is the Number One rule of rejection, and one that almost every new writer falls prey to. It’s not about you, but about your story not being right (for whatever reason). Stories can be improved or submitted elsewhere. You, as an author, need to learn to see rejection as a tool for improvement rather than a rejection of yourself.
  • Learn from it – If you can, find out why your story was rejected. If there are issues you can correct or improve, then do so, especially if you get similar rejections from more than one editor or publisher. Again, this is another tool to help you learn to be a better writer.
  • Change your thinking – If you believe that you “deserve” fame and fortune, or that you’re somehow owed a spot in the limelight, you need to think again. Rejection is the norm, not fame. Most manuscripts are just not suitable for publication – and wouldn’t you rather know (and work on improving) than be treated like a “special snowflake” that deserves to be promoted just for showing up? I’d much rather feel I actually deserved something than to just have it handed out to everybody.
  • Talk about it – Rejection hurts. Sure, every author experiences it, but that doesn’t mean you should suck it up and pretend nothing happened. Commiserate with friends and fellow writers. Announce it on your social media platforms. Get the hurt out of the way so you can move on to the improvement part.
  • Celebrate your courage – It takes guts to put something you’ve created out there for people to reject. Celebrate that courage and pat yourself on the back for trying. If you never fail, you’re not pushing the envelope. Keep putting yourself out there and keep pushing.
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”
                                                ~ Barbara Kingsolver
 

The End

Book Two is finished … well, the first draft is done

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This is only the beginning, though.

  • I’ve got the first edit to do – go through reading for continuity and flow.
  • Rewrite as needed from that edit
  • Then I’ll do a dialogue edit to make sure all the dialogue sounds good and matches the characters
  • More rewriting as needed
  • Then there’s the (possibly first) professional edit to see what I need to fix
  • Then there may be yet another rewrite … maybe even several

Then, and only then, will I send it to my agent to see what she thinks. It’s not a short process.

How many edits do you go through before you publish?

Good News!

I just learned that I placed first in my group for a flash fiction challenge. We’re starting with around 60 groups and weeding down to one winner in December.   Each group is given a random genre, location and prop to include in their story. A round begins at midnight Friday and ends at midnight Sunday.

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My assignment: Ghost Story/Tuxedo Rental Store/Wrench

Early Morning Jazz

“Where’d I put that strap wrench?” Jazz didn’t take her head from beneath the sink.

“Sorry, I was sitting on it.”

Jazz gave the man the eye. She let her gaze linger on the wedge of hairy chest showing at his shirt collar. Damn, he was a looker.

She collected her wrench and got back to work. Mr. Hotness was paying her to fix his leaky sink, after all. She checked the time. 7:52. She’d only been twenty minutes on the job. Not going to pull in a huge paycheck, not even with the after-hours bonus. “Looks like you got a good clog under here. Just take a few more minutes to clear it.”

“I appreciate you coming out. Don’t want to close the washroom during business hours.”

She shot him a look. “Lot of men needing tuxedos lately?”

He grinned wryly. “Just don’t like putting up a ‘closed’ sign. Gives the customers the wrong idea.”

“Well, you got about ten years worth of coffee grounds in this trap.”

“Bob always puts too much in the filter.”

“Tell them to wipe out the grounds before they rinse the pot, then. Surprised you haven’t had to call before now.”

“You know how it is. Just a drip at first. Shove a bucket under it and make do.”

She knew. Nobody wanted to pay the plumber. “Then you’re ankle deep in water when the pipe breaks.”

He laughed again. “Didn’t figure I should wait quite that long. And I liked your ad.”

“Designed it myself.”

“I like the way you shopped that old Billy Holiday video. Looks like she’s really saying the line.” He put a hand on his hip, mimicking the singer’s pose. “‘Plumbing giving you the blues? You need Jazz.’ I’ll bet you could write for an advertisement company.”

“There’s an idea if the work slacks off.” She held up the pipe. “You can’t just dump everything down the sink without rinsing. Let the water run for two or three minutes.”

He crossed his arms across that brawny chest, eyed her up and down. “You really like doing this? Must be a filthy job sometimes.”

She fought the heat that gaze left behind. They always asked. “I like figuring out what’s wrong and fixing it. Can’t do that behind a desk in some office.”

She returned his look. “You like renting tuxedos?”

“It’s a business. I like finding the right suit for a man, seeing him look his best. And most men don’t really need a tux more than once or twice.”

“Proms and weddings.”

“Mostly. But folks aren’t going to quit having either one any time soon. You had both yet?”

She cut a glance at him. Was that a convoluted way of asking if she was available? He wasn’t wearing a ring either, though he had a pale strip on the right-hand finger, like he’d worn something recently. “Went to the prom. You?”

“Same.” He leaned toward her. “You about finished?”

She banged the pipe against the side of the bucket. The coffee grounds glopped into the bottom — and something clinked.

“Is this a college ring?” She fished it out, wiped the grounds away with her rag. “Somebody’s going to be happy to see this.”

His face lit up, a dimple seamed his cheek. “I never knew what happened to it.”

She set the ring on the counter. “You got time for coffee before you open up? I’ll be done in under five minutes.”

He stared at the ring without picking it up. “I’d really like that. I’m not sure I –”

“Tell you what: I’ll finish up, walk over to Starbucks and get my latte. If you show, great. If not, I’m a big girl. I can deal.”

“It’s not that. I –”

A key turned in the front door. The lights in the main room buzzed, then lit up. Jazz finished the job and rose. Mr. Hotness was nowhere to be seen. Who knew beefcake could move that silently?

A balding fellow shuffled along the hallway, a glass coffeepot in one hand. He took one look at Jazz and screamed. Literally. Like the proverbial girl. He dropped the pot, screamed again when it shattered on the tile floor.

Jazz hefted her tool bag. “I guess you didn’t know the boss called a plumber.”

His jaw dropped. “Somebody called you?”

Jazz put a hand on her hip. “No, I used my ouija board.”

The man stumbled backwards, caught himself on the edge of the washroom door. “That is in poor taste, young woman. You never met Mr. Kersting.”

“I most certainly did. And if you’re Bob, he’s got a few things to say about your coffee.”

His face paled. “You couldn’t know about the coffee. And how did you get in here?”

“I told you. Your boss let me in. And now we’re going out for Starbucks.”

She stepped gingerly around the broken glass, halted at the trembling hand that plucked her sleeve.

“Mr. Kersting,” the man said. “He died last year.”

Jazz glanced back at the washroom. The ring no longer sat on the counter. Didn’t it just figure? All the good ones were married or gay … or, it appeared, dead. She freed her arm from Bob’s grasp, patted his shoulder. “I don’t think you need to worry about it. He must have been looking for that ring.”

“His college ring? He never took it off, but we couldn’t find it anywhere.”

“He’s got it now.” She turned toward the front door. You never knew. Maybe a ghost could stop for a latte on the way back to the afterlife.

Writing Retreat, Part 2

You’ve probably figured out that I’ve finally scheduled a vacation. Yep, getting a bit burned out at the day job, so it’s time to recharge those creative batteries so I can get back to working 12-hour days and writing before bed. Sometimes even I wonder how I do it …

Beach Life - colorful towels drying on the porch

Beach Life – colorful towels drying on the porch

Of course, before you leave for any vacation, there are chores:

  • tidy up all the clutter that accumulates because I’d rather write than do housework
  • make sure all those last-minute items find their way into the bags and boxes
  • pack the rental van … it’s rather like a giant Tetris game

I’m nearly done with Book 2 … my goal for this vacation is to finish the first draft and start Edit 1

Where is your favorite recharging destination?