Camp Nano: This novel sucks

fullsizeoutput_21b7There comes a time in the life of every story I write when I think that it is absolutely awful and I don’t know why anyone would ever want to read it. I had this over the past week with my current Camp Nanowrimo project.

When I first started to seriously write, this stage did me in every time. What was the point in continuing with a story that was so clearly already a failure? Obviously, the story was trite and used ideas and concepts that had been used over and over again. What could I possibly add?

What I have come to realize (for myself, since all writing advice or observations are inherently personal) is that I can’t listen to that voice. I have to keep writing. I have to ask myself what it is that I think is the problem.

Are there particular elements to the story that aren’t working? Sometimes there is a character that is behaving in a way that doesn’t work in the context of the specific story. Maybe their motivation doesn’t make logical sense. Maybe there are plot holes. If there are specific elements that are wrong in whatever way, I make adjustments to try and eliminate them.

Do I know where the story is going? I rarely know exactly how my story is going to end when I start. Part of me feels like a failure for writing this way, but I know that it’s just a style and there are plenty of successful writers who do the same thing. But even if I don’t know the specific ending, I do need to know the direction that it is going in. It’s hard to keep writing without that and that, in turn, leads to the sense that the story is just bad and going nowhere.

Is the story actually not working? Sometimes, I go through the various considerations and, at the end, determine that the story is actually not working at all. Most often what I realize in these cases is that I don’t have a clear idea of what the story is about. I have an idea or a character or maybe even both, but there is no story to hang them on. For me, this is usually in the context of a short story, as I am more rigorous in my planning with novels (so I typically abandon a non-working concept much earlier in the process). With some stories, I am able to work through this, but with others, I need to put them aside, at least for a while.

Most often, especially with novels, my problem lies with the first or second question. And those are the things I can work on. I can plug plot holes, figure out the direction my story is going, or add aspects to my characters. The key, for me at least, is to keep going. Writing is more than words on the page — it is thinking and note-taking and finding pictures of people who look like my characters, it is research and listening to other writers talk about their processes.

I don’t pretend that I know all the answers. In the depths of hating my current WIP, it can be difficult to remember the path out of that. But I do know that I need to remember to keep going.




Camp Nano: Measuring revision

With the first week of this April’s Camp Nanowrimo done, I wanted to talk about a couple of things that frequently arise for me during Camp (or Nanowrimo for that matter).

Today I want to address is how I measure revision (I’ll post about overcoming obstacles and blocks in the next couple of days).

One of the things about Nanowrimo that I love most is the simplicity of it — a 50 000 word first draft in 30 days. 1667 words a day for a month (although these days I usually break it down into twenty-five 2000 word scenes/chapters). I sit down and write in 2000 word chunks (from an outline). On a good day, I can get through that in two hours or less. On a very good day, I manage more than one 2000 word segment. And, if I can’t manage 2000 words one day? It’s okay, I’ve built in a 5 day cushion!

(I would like to stress that I could not write like this every single month. Or, perhaps I could, but at the end of the year I would have 12 first drafts, which doesn’t really appeal to me.)

But Camp Nano is a different thing. I could use April (and July) to write first drafts, too, I suppose. But I want to do concentrated work on other things — editing those November first drafts and writing short stories.

I have tried — and failed — to do short stories for Camp. It doesn’t work for me. I think that this is because I do far more thinking than writing or outlining for short stories. I spend time on them that is hard to measure — as I go to the grocery store, while biking to work.

But even more so, I find short stories unpredictable. I don’t do outlines of them. I start with an idea and I think about it for a while. And then maybe I write something down. Eventually, I reach a point where I just write the story. And then I edit. And edit some more. And think. At this point, I start trying to figure out a proper ending. (This is only partly a joke. I am so bad at endings.)

This process does not lend itself well to a structured month-long plan!

So, for me, Camp means revision. But how to measure it?

I tried measuring by hours, but it felt very contrived for me. I use an online time tracking web site (Toggl, if anyone is interested, it is very good) for my day job, but something about it didn’t feel right.

I’ve settled on dividing my revision by either pages or scenes/chapters. I take what I want to complete in the month and divide it by 30.  I try to keep it practical, but a challenge. This month’s Camp, I started with a 26 scene/chapter first draft. Over the previous few months, I have worked on developing subplots and other elements that I felt were missing. I used a new-to-me application, Plottr, to visually outline what I had, along with what I wanted to add. It gave me a good day-by-day outline.

So, I have one scene/chapter per day, along with a day every week or so to stop and consider how things were going and adjust accordingly. (I also added another, final chapter.)

As with those 2000 word daily chunks during Nanowrimo, a good day is one scene/chapter. A really good day is two.

Anyway. That’s what I do. It’s one way and maybe I’m the only one who finds it useful, but for what it’s worth, there it is.




Almost time for Camp Nanowrimo 2019

So, I know I’ve slowed down on the Rendezvous with Rama re-read, but other things have intervened. I am continuing with it, though. Hopefully, the next installment will be posted tomorrow.

But today I thought I would write about Camp Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo (or National Novel Writing Month) is in November each year. The premise is that you promise to write a 50 000 word novel in a month. That’s it. It’s essentially a huge accountability group. Obviously, it’s not for everyone, but I’ve done it for many years now and find it a great way of getting out a first draft quickly. (It’s also a great way of practising writing first drafts! Mine have certainly improved dramatically over time.)

Camp Nanowrimo is slightly different. It takes place in April and July and participants are sorted into cabins (either randomly or you can set up/join a specific one). Your cabinmates form your direct accountability group. And the content of camp is more flexible. It can be a first draft or editing or a series of stories or anything really. You set your goal in words or hours or lines or pages, depending on what you’re doing.

Anyway. I have, in the past, used Camp Nanowrimo to do editing or write backstory pieces (to insert at a later date) or write short stories. I have had more mixed results than with Nanowrimo, largely because I have found it challenging at times to find a way of measuring my work (particularly when editing) that allows me to set meaningful goals.

This April I’m working on the novel that I began this past November. I have just over 51 000 words and a good framework for the plot, although it is missing depth on the subplots (that’s where most of the additional words will come from).

I’ve been working on developing the subplots and fine-tuning things for the last couple of months, on and off. I’ve been working on a chapter by chapter outline that takes into account what I have written already, as well as what needs to be added. The outline covers the first seven chapters and I’m debating whether to do more before Monday or to do the first seven and see what needs to be adjusted. Either is probably fine.

My goal is a chapter a day, as I have details of what to add and what ‘new’ writing needs to be done will be, I think, less than 2000 words a day (which is what I tend to write in November and find doable for a month). I’ll re-assess after the first week, regardless.

Some new-to-me books and tools I’ve been using lately as I work on this novel:

  • Story Genius (this book helped a lot with developing my current story)
  • One Stop for Writers (monthly subscription website, tools for writers like thesauri of aspects of character and worksheets and story maps and other cool stuff)
  • Plottr (software, basically a visual timeline program. I have Aeon Timeline, which is more robust in most ways, but Plottr works differently and is pretty close to exactly what I was looking for with my current project.)

More later!