The Process

July 2013 Camp NaNo

For far too long this blog has deviated from its original intention. That is, to chronicle my journey from blank page to finished manuscript. So, starting today and for every week until the end of July my intention is to record my experience with this summer’s Camp NaNoWriMo.

I graduated in December last year and I still do not have a full time job, which will be the other major objective for this coming month. I have been teaching part-time, but now I am done for the summer. So, what better moment than now to take this writing thing seriously?

During the last week of June, my plan is as follows:

  1. Decide on all my character names and genealogies. I know that having to know the family trees of my major characters isn’t really necessary, but it helps me get to know my characters better.
  2. Get to know my characters and settings. I have a couple of books I am going to be using to help facilitate my process. Schmidt’s Book in a Month has some worksheets that look like they may be a good starting point from which to help me chart my story. Watt’s the 90-day novel also looks like it has some helpful direction. Since I do not have a degree in creative writing and I am a little unsure about how to craft a novel from beginning to end, I feel like having a couple of resources to help me along the way may be a good idea. Otherwise, I may end up with 50,000 words that go nowhere.
  3. Try to define my acts. Nothing too solid – just to try and figure out where I want my story to start and end. And what kinds of scenes I think should come in the middle.

I haven’t been thinking about this story idea for that long. I am not even really sure what is going to happen yet. I just have a vague idea of the town and the mystery that heroine will uncover throughout the story. I really don’t know how to move past that, but I suspect that part of my problem has always been a lack of discipline to just sit down and write the damn thing. I’d rather have 50,000 words of crap than 1,500 perfectly crafted ones. Which, if I am being honest, has always happened in the past. I get a story idea and I am really good about doing the research and crafting the world, but when it comes to populating it, I usually end up spending two writing sessions writing only about 2,000 words. Then, I get discouraged and I quit.

But not this month…At least, that’s the plan. Even if I do not finish 50,000 words, my goal is to spend 2 hours a day writing. I have this next week for the last bits of my planning and whatever doesn’t get planned will have to be decided on the fly as I write.

I don’t even need a cohesive story (although I am going to try) – I just want a complete manuscript with something that resembles a beginning, a middle and an end. I will update at least once a week to track my progress.

I’m putting my plan out there in the hopes of keeping myself accountable. So, here’s to hoping that I don’t have to eat my words.  

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Categories: Planning, The Process | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I’m Back? Or, The Story of My Dissertation Journey

*Brushes the dust off her blog and takes a look around.*

–WARNING: Extremely long post… I got carried away —

When I started this blog, I intended it to help me record my journey into the world of writing fiction.  The problem is I jumped into it before I was ready, really.  Way back in April, or whenever that was, I decided that the next thing I want to accomplish is finally finishing a novel.  Since then I’ve also decided I want to try playing Starcraft, so I can write an article about gender & esports.  That was back in June, I believe.  Recently, I’ve added another project to my list: learning SQL.  I’ve always wanted to learn a computer language.  Knowing SQL isn’t the MOST relevant language I could learn, but I want to build my own database to help me keep track of all the resources I’ve found during the course of writing my dissertation.  (I know there are some out there already and I haven’t tried them all, but the ones I have tried, I didn’t like.)

That probably gives you some insight into how my mind works.  I get excited over a new project, but I jump from project to project pretty quickly.  However, since finishing this dissertation and this degree has been  a 10 year process, it wasn’t something I could let slip away.  So, for the past 9 months I have been denying myself.  Facebook.  Video games.  Fun books.  Crafts.  Friends.  All I have done for the past 9 months (well, except for most of June – I took that month off) is sit in this room, in this chair in front of my computer.  But I made myself do it because I don’t want to have wasted the past 10 years.  The Secret World premiere came, I played for a couple of weekends and then had to stop playing.  Guild Wars 2 premiered and I played for a couple of weekends, and had to stop.  Pub(lishing) Crawl keeps posting these awesome-looking new books that are coming out.  Some of the new author blogs I follow announce the release of their book.  I can’t even remember the last fiction book I finished.  Honestly, I think it was The Passage, but I finished that three months ago.

At some point this summer, I started having a ridiculous feeling – I didn’t want to jinx anything  or something.  So I started denying myself writing in this blog too.  I wanted to be able to write about writing, but I wanted to finish the dissertation before I did that.  So, I started denying myself this blog too…except for the couple of unrelated posts I felt compelled to post (as you can see, television is the one thing I did not deny myself.  I did, however, limit my consumption).

Well, I FINISHED A COMPLETE DRAFT OF MY DISSERTATION!!!  It’s not the final draft, and Continue reading

Categories: Miscellaneous, The Process, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Umberto Eco Quote and the Dissertation

I’m not sure if I’m planning on rededicating myself to this blog, which really fizzled rather quickly it seems, but I had a thought and then an itch and then decided to write this down.  Earlier today I was surfing some of the blogs here on WordPress and I came across one that had this quote:

“Authors frequently say things they are unaware of; only after they have gotten the reactions of their readers do they discover what they have said.” ~ Umberto Eco

I found it both inspiring and relevant to something I experienced recently.  I’m sure many of you can relate.

I have officially started working on my dissertation again.  If I wanted to spend 12 – 16 hours every day, I’ve no doubt I could finish it by the end of the week; however, I think I’m going to give myself a tiny break with that and try for the end of July…end of next week at the latest.  What spurred me to this decision?  The realization that there is only one month of summer left and if I want one of my professors to have time to read it before the semester starts, then, well…, it kinda has to be FINISHED.

My first step in this process, after not even looking at it for almost three months, was to re-read it.  I read the Intro and the first three chapters and then decided to start revising and editing before I delved into the rest, but what I discovered was…parts of it are pretty damn good, if I do say so  myself.  I know I’m the one who wrote it, but I found myself interested in re-reading and engaging again with the ideas I had.  Now, it’s just a dissertation and even after the revision, it still won’t be publishable, but that’s the beauty of a dissertation, right? It just has to be good enough.  Nevertheless, I was a little surprised to be investing in the reading of my writing the same way I would have been if it had been a book for one of my classes.  And it reminded me of some of the ideas I had that I think are pretty important to my subject.

Anyway, that is all.  Setting aside a manuscript and coming back to it a few months later can be extremely eye-opening…and I’m willing to bet that it is nearly never as bad as we think it will be and at least parts of it will almost always impress us.

Happy writing, everyone!

Categories: The Process | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hello, my name is Marilyn and I am a Vampire Addict.

One of the first exercises Chris Baty has you do in the beginning of No Plot? No Problem! is to draft two “magna cartas.”  One should be composed of all the things that you personally like in the books you love to read.  He says to be honest, even if it means admitting that you like books with a lot of white space because you do not like reading large blocks of text.  The other “magna carta” should be the opposite list – all the things you find boring in books.  Again, he encourages you to be honest with yourself, even if it means admitting that you really hate books about old people or love stories.

I did this exercise, although I have not yet hung them up by my desk like he suggests.  I will not post them here either, but I do want to take this opportunity to be honest about the kind of book I want to write, based on the kind of book I like to read.

I am a genre reader.  I love me a good urban fantasy.  I also enjoy straight-up fantasy, science fiction (both soft and hard), apocalyptic dystopias, some steampunk, and the occasionally mystery.  Add to that Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and John Donne, and that about rounds out what I prefer reading.

I also LOVE vampires.  Love them…I get all feisty with people who try to disparage my beloved vampire and I feel the need to spout long diatribes, explaining their importance as archetypes of the human experience.  I will spare you that spiel here.

Bela Lugosi's DraculaFirst of all, I would like to concede the fact that the current state of literature is filled to the brim with vampire stories.  Well, I don’t care.  This first manuscript (and probably the  second and the third) is just for me.  I need to get in the practice of writing creatively again.  I need to experiment with story-construction, from beginning to end.  The first manuscript I write, edited or not, is probably not going to be publication-worthy.  I am okay with that, which is why I decided that one of the main characters in my first manuscript will be a vampire.  It will not have to compete with the market and that is what I want to write about, so that is what I am going to do.  So there!

Secondly, I just want to mention something that I find ironic.  I love reading and I love vampires, but, honestly, I cannot think of a single book about vampires that I would give five out of five stars too.  I am not entirely sure why.  It just seems that even if I enjoy the story and the characterizations, I always end up disappointed – as though the author could have treated the vampire mythology just a little bit better.  Of course, I have not read every single book out there with vampire characters, and I am sure there must be at least a couple that would become favorites.  Nevertheless, my experience to date cannot provide me with such a book, with the one notable exception of Dracula by Bram Stoker himself.  However, Dracula works for an historical setting (today anyway), but I like my vampires to feel a little closer and that involves a contemporary treatment.

If I may momentarily set the novel aside, Joss Whedon is my hero and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (along with Angel and the irrelevant-to-this-discussion Firefly) is, in my opinion, one of the best shows every produced for television.  I wish I could find that in a novel.

I believe part of my desire to focus on the vampire is that the part of my brain which has never been introduced to my internal critic thinks that maybe I can do it “right.”  When I say that out-loud (or the written equivalent), however, that little guy takes note, glares at me and shames me into believing that I could never do that.  My inner critic’s opinion is irrelevant, though, since he is barred from reading my first manuscript.

Well, there it is… *Whew!*  I have come clean.  I like vampires.  I feel so much better having gotten that off my chest.  Now you, dear reader, know what you are getting yourself into and I can no longer be held accountable for leading you down a dark path that leads to a genre you hate.

My name is Marilyn and I am a vampire addict.

Categories: Pensive Ponderings, Planning, Random Ruminations, Reading, The Process, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Writers write. Writers read?

In a comment to an earlier post, Eric reminded me that in addition to writing, writing, writing, becoming a better writer involves reading, reading, reading.  With which I wholeheartedly agree.  It makes perfect sense, right?  A writer needs to be familiar with her craft, with what is currently being produced.  Moreover, why would someone who is not an avid reader want to be a writer in the first place?

Nevertheless, something has been bothering me about this axiom.  What exactly about reading will make me a better writer?

Let me clarify; is there something specific I should be concentrating on while I read?  Because, if a book is well written with an engaging story, I usually become so wrapped up in it that I forget to pay attention to how the author constructs the tale.  Heck, this is the case even if it is not terribly well written – as long as the story is interesting enough.

Like I say, it makes sense that reading is an essential element of the craft of writing.  What I am concerned with are the particulars.  How can I ensure that I am fully extracting the benefits of the process of reading?  Should I be dissecting the dialogue?  Analyzing the plot?  Critiquing the characters?

I suspect that the answer will become clearer once I am in the trenches with the actual writing process.  At the moment, apart from my academic writing, I have not really gained any momentum with my creative writing.  First, I must finish my dissertation.  *sigh*  (However, I am interested to find out how my academic writing skills will translate to a creative mode.)

Part of me wonders if it works a bit like osmosis: I read and subconsciously absorb ideas, techniques and suggestions.  None of which I will notice until I am actually writing.

I welcome any thoughts, ideas or pointers on this concept.  In the meantime, I have decided that one method that may help me is to review the books I read once I have finished them.  Perhaps this will force me to be more reflective regarding the manner in which the author engineered his or her story.  I have never really done this before, so it will definitely be a learning process – attempting to critique from a writer’s perspective, but hopefully this will aid in making me a better writer.

Categories: Random Ruminations, Reading, The Process, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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