First Draft February

February Writing

Only about 4,000 words written for the novel.  Why the decrease from January’s 42k?  I finished my first draft, that’s why!  The end flew by, mostly because I didn’t write as much there as I did at the start of the novel.  I already knew many of my planned revisions would affect the end, so I spent a little less time worrying what the trees in any particular location looked like and focused on the characters.

After the rush of excitement and ice cream, I closed the first draft window and let it sit alone for a bit.  “They” say to do this before the second draft so you’re not as attached to your work and you can come at it with a fresh eye.  “They” also publish more books than me (I’m at zero), so I thought I’d take the advice.

I did not stop writing, however.  I started up a new file and began work on a short story about a battle mage with a bad attitude.  Just to make it more complicated, I threw it in space.  My writing group seemed to enjoy the characters and ideas but said it was WAY too much story for the word count I’d used. The good news is they think it’ll make a great novel; the better news is I have a great writing group who tells me these things.  This is what writing groups are good for!

Now that the month is over, I’ve gone back to the first draft of the second novel.  I’m updating the outline and arcs, polishing my thoughts on the world, and adding two POV’s.  Yes, two more point of view characters, because one wasn’t enough and I like a challenge.  Should I add these POVs?  Who knows, but I have to try to find out.  This is where writing differs from my engineering job quite a bit, as there I generally know what I need to do.  I can also usually tell if my math is correct.  Writing is a lot less certain, at least in my limited experience.  Does that improve with time?  Let me know in the comments if you’ve had a different experience.

I know some people don’t enjoy the revision process, but mine involves a spreadsheet, so I’m quite happy.

Books Read

Legion versus Phalanx by Myke Cole.  I picked this up after finishing the first draft for something different.  As I haven’t read a history book of this type ever, this was different.  The author is a fiction writer as well, though, and I found the narrative easy to follow and enjoyable to read.  The events of more than 2000 years ago can seem difficult to understand, but he does a great job explaining the details and relating it to modern day motivations.  I’d call this a history book for people who don’t usually like reading history, and have recommended it widely.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri.  I picked this out of a list of recommended debut books on Amazon, and I am so glad I did.  The novel was inspired by the Indian Mughal Empire, which I knew nothing about before reading but now want to study.  There are few swords, but plenty of tension in this tale, and I devoured it over two days, stopping only to sleep, eat, and work.

Games Played

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on the PS4, still.  This was the only video game I played this month.  The story with this game is excellent, and I am so emotionally invested I stayed up until midnight one night tracking down an evil group after they killed a friend.  I’m nearing the end of the game, but have more to look forward to as they’ve added a New Game + and there are DLCs.

Dungeons and Dragons.  Our group is going strong, and my druid is finally at a level she can cast some pretty badass spells.  Assuming she doesn’t get killed, of course.  She’s very squishy.  This goes well with my Critical Role consumption, which is still the only show I watch all week.

Entertainment Consumed

 

Dreary Walk

A dreary walk between winter storms

Just Critical Role, in terms of media.  Nature has been entertaining, however.  We’ve had snow, ice, tornados, wind chill warnings, and 60 degree days.  These often occur one right after the other, with little transition.  It is snowing as I write this.

The weather has made one of my other hobbies more difficult – hiking.  I’m training for a five-day hike in April in North Carolina.  I hate treadmills, so the bad weather has forced me to do something new.  This month, I became a mall walker.  That’s right, one of those people who just walks in circles in the mall.  I have to get my miles somewhere!

 

 

January Review

Greetings and Happy February! January flew by here, though it ended just like everyone else’s – freezing cold and covered in snow and ice. 1/10. Do not recommend.

Snowy Road

This is what the roads have looked like (from stocksnap)

Writing

January Words Written: 42,068

Check out that number!  That’s almost NaNoWriMo worthy.  It was a productive month as I fell back into the groove of writing after the holidays.  The first draft of my second novel is almost complete!

I’m looking forward to finishing the draft and starting revisions, but this time I’ll be taking the age-old advice of giving myself some distance. I’ll work on another short story between drafts to submit to Writers of the Future. I have a near-complete idea in mind.

An idea for another novel also popped into my head this month. I hear that is normal. You’re in the middle of your first draft, bogged down in all the words, wondering if it will ever end, and ooh! Look! Shiny new idea! I wasn’t abandoning the draft though, so I’ve taken some notes on the new idea and put it aside for now.

If you’re not a follower of the Writing Excuses podcast, now is a great time to start. They just began the 2019 season, and they’re discussing setting. This is a free podcast. It is only fifteen minutes long. And the people talking know what they’re doing. How can you pass that up? I’ve also signed up to attend the 2019 Writing Excuses Retreat because it was so good in 2018. It is also on a Caribbean cruise, which doesn’t suck.

Books Read

We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter by Celeste Headlee.  You may have seen an excerpt of this book or viewed her TED Talk.  I recommend both, but this is an excellent read if you have a bit more time.  Many non-fic books of this type seem full of extra filler just to take up space like they ran out of the good stuff after the third chapter but still needed more pages.  We Need to Talk is full of useful information cover to cover.  I’ve applied many of the suggestions to conversations with incredible results.

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski.  This series is where the Witcher video games came from, and they’re just as dark and violent as the games.  I found it oddly structured, but I assume that has a lot to do with it coming from another country and language.  The most surprising thing was the lack of sexual content, given what I know from Witcher 3.  Oh sure, you can tell it is happening, but it was written in a way to generate interest and then move on.  I like how that was handled.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day.  This was quite fun to read, as I’m about the same age as her and felt a lot of nostalgia at the mention of an earlier internet world.  It was also good motivation for my own adventures in creating.  She’s one of the people who helped bring Critical Role to Geek and Sundry, so I’m a fan by default, but enjoyed the book on its own merits.

Games Played

Fitness Boxing on the Nintendo Switch.  This was okay? I downloaded the demo, so it was free.  There was boxing.  There was music.  It was mildly entertaining for the few hours I played it.  The problem is I live on a trail and can get more exciting light exercise by going for a walk.

Witcher 3 on the PS4.  This game is fantastically long, and I’m still not finished.  The story and gameplay are excellent though.  There’s a reason it won many awards and almost every game I read about today is compared to this classic.  Also, it has the most badass trailer:

I’d still be playing Witcher 3, except I got something new on sale…

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on the PS4.  I’m a little late to the party here, but it was half off so I bought it.  I’m having WAY too much fun playing it.  I’ve never been too good at combat, so the idea I can sit in a bush and wait until people walk by me and then take them down is ridiculous fun.  Or I can perch on top of a roof and unleash an arrow to drop guards one by one until an area is clear.  Amazing.

Dungeons and Dragons.  We started a new campaign a few months ago, and now I’m a level 8 druid.  I went with Circle of Dreams and play the healer who desperately wants to tank.

Entertainment Consumed

I stuck with Critical Role this month, catching Campaign 2 on Thursday nights on Twitch and enjoying a stroll through Campaign 1 on YouTube.  I started watching this show because of Dungeons and Dragons, but I keep watching it for the characters, the world, and the story.  Any Critters still reading?  Let me know in the comments.

December Writing

December was a quiet month coming off some exciting things in November, but it was a good month overall for writing and for life.

The First Novel

This novel is titled Defiant, but nobody knows that, so I’ll just keep calling it The First Novel.  I queried an agent in October, and then put that process on hold until after the holidays.

I’m very happy with finishing this novel, and completing it was the only goal I had when I started.  Everything else is added icing on an already lovely cake, so you probably won’t see me talk much more about this one in 2019 if it doesn’t go anywhere.

The Second Novel

This novel is tentatively titled Dragon Herald, which should tell you there are dragons!  The writing on this slowed down in December due to work demands, but I spent a lot of time on the plan.  I have over ten pages for the outline and have hopped right back into the writing after Christmas.

My goal for this novel is to complete it in 2019, though I’ve extended my target for the first draft to the end of March.  That will let me take April off from this story, which aligns with my actual hiking vacation.  If all goes well, I’ll do a short story in April.

Other 2019 Goals

I do other things besides write and play with my cats!  I like to exercise, so several goals address my health.  I need to get in shape to keep up on a hike in April (see below) and find I feel better if I exercise daily.  So that’s my target.

In a similar area, I’d like to eat healthier.  I used a gift card to do some adulting over Christmas, and now have a toaster oven which will roast broccoli in 20 minutes (including pre-heat).  I enjoy roasted veggies, but warming up the oven and cooking them there takes too long to hold my interest.  I’ve had vegetables three days in a row with this wonderful item.

I am not a morning person.  I have never been a morning person.  I will probably never be a morning person.  Mornings are terrible times when the world is going, but my brain isn’t quite at full speed.  I bought a nifty light therapy lamp a few weeks ago and use it for half an hour each morning while I eat.  I am still not a morning person, but mornings are significantly better.  The plan for 2019 includes daily use of this as well.

Vacations

I’m going on a hiking trip with my sister in law in April!  This will be a guided five-day hike, and I won’t be carrying a huge pack like I did in Colorado.  We’ll return to a hotel each evening for a hot shower and a cold beverage.

The other big trip for 2019 is the Writing Excuses Conference and Retreat. This is an excellent writing conference, and it is on a boat, so there’s that to consider.  I went this year and had an excellent time.  You should join us!

Sunset at Sea

Sunset at Sea

 

November Wins

NaNoWriMo

I decided to charge ahead with NaNoWriMo in my last post, but I don’t think I’m going to hit the 50k this month.  And that’s okay!  There are two reasons I’m not going to “win” this year:

  • Writing this novel is different than writing last year’s novel.  I’m going more slowly, but I hope it will require a lot less editing.  Last year’s novel saw almost a complete rewrite.
  • Writing is hard.  It can be harder after a course like the Writing Excuses cruise.  They warned us about this during the retreat.  With all that fantastic information, our brains can be a little overloaded.

Not to fear, dear readers.  The second novel will arrive on schedule.  This isn’t too hard to do since there isn’t a schedule, but I’m not going to let that stop me.

Querying

Adding the “-ing” to that word makes it look odd, doesn’t it?  I don’t think I mentioned this, but I have started querying agents for that first novel.  A fellow cruise-attendee encouraged me, as I was on the fence.  I sent out my first letter and received my first rejection.

This is actually a happy thing!  Rejection isn’t usually happy, but everything for this novel at this point is icing on the cake.  My goal was simply to finish it, which I did shortly after November last year.  The drafts, the improvements, the querying – all of it is extra.  Extra experience on top of my original goal.

Goal setting is important, but so is celebrating goals when we accomplish them.  I will never be less happy about finishing that book, no matter what happens next.

Honorable Mention

I took Mary Robinette Kowal’s Short Story Intensive class in June.  As part of the class, I wrote a draft short story.  I didn’t know what to do with it, but between novels, I spent some time editing it and then sent it off to Writers of the Future.

There were no expectations with this submission.  Much like the querying above, I saw this as just part of the process of becoming a writer.  I’ve never written a short story as an adult and knew the chances were low.

Then they emailed me to tell me my story had won an Honorable Mention!  This is still technically a rejection, but I see it as a win.  I cannot tell you how happy this made me; almost as happy as when I finished the novel.  Writing is a lonely process, and I really have no idea how I am doing.  Rejections can happen because you’re terrible or because you’re not quite there.  It is nice to know my writing is closer to the “not quite there” side of the spectrum.

 

November has been good to this writer!

 

 

NaNoWriMo Writer 2018

NaNoWriMo Writer 2018

NaNoWriMo

Thursday starts another go at NaNoWriMo!  National Novel Writing Month is a month-long project in which participants attempt to write 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30.  It is a big deal, and though I don’t have the current number, almost half a million people participated in 2015.

When I started November last year, I was excited about the journey to write my first novel.  I “won” NaNoWriMo early on November 26, but I wasn’t quite done with the story yet.  I wrapped up my first draft in December and then spent many months editing, rewriting, and polishing it until the whole thing was complete.

This year is a bit more challenging as I know what I’m getting myself into, and it is a bit scary.  Also, they warned us on the Writing Excuses cruise that writing might be hard for us for a while due to all the new information, and I’ve found that to be true.  October has seen bits and pieces of writing, but certainly not the 1667 words per day required to win again.

Six of Crows

Thankfully, I have been reading.  This month, I read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.  I’d somehow managed to miss this one, published in 2015, and found it when someone on the cruise described it as “Oceans 11 meets Sarah J. Maas.”  I really, really liked Six of Crows.  I couldn’t put it down once I started and have been talking about it ever since.

As I read it right after the cruise, I was hyper-focused on my reactions as a reader with the hope some information might help me as a writer. At some point, I realized I had some concerns with the plot.  Something happened that made me hop out of the story and into my own head, and I started to apply logic to the corners of the novel.  It was a great story, but like all stories, requires a certain suspension of disbelief.  And like all stories, I lost mine for a moment.  In the same instant, I realized I didn’t care. I needed to know what happened to the characters.  I needed to know if they were okay at the end. I needed to know if the romances bubbling beneath the surface broke forth.  I needed the characters.  Period.

At that moment, I also realized why I want to write.  I want to evoke the same emotion.  I want for a reader not to care about my failings, but be so in tune with the characters they flip the page anyway.  I should have known this already, but it has taken several novels where this has happened to me for me to notice.  I want to lead to the ending that makes other writers forget why they love the story to begin with.  I want the ending that makes people pissed it is over.  I want that feeling I had when Dalinar exchanged his sword for slaves, when I realized what Ender had done (and when Ender realized what Ender had done), when the Reavers pop out behind Serenity.  I think this makes me emotionally manipulative, and I don’t care.

NaNoWriMo may be more difficult this year because I know more, but I feel more confident about it precisely because I do know more.

Legion Review

While on vacation, I read Brandon Sanderson’s Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds.

Cover of Legion

“Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are mad.” -From the book’s description

Summary

Stephen Leeds is gifted with a bunch of hallucinations who can remember anything he’s ever learned. They are all different characters, with different skillsets, and all help him solve mysteries.

This is such a neat concept.  Instead of seeing the hallucinations as only a burden, the character uses them to his benefit and for the benefit of others.  I don’t see hallucinations, but I know that my greatest strengths usually turn into my greatest weaknesses if I’m not paying attention.  The opposite must also be true and is explored in this story.  Stephen is successful at what he does through the use of his apparent weaknesses.

The book itself is compiled of three novellas following Stephen as he tackles different problems. There have been some complaints the third novella can only be purchased as part of the collection, which is double dipping for those readers who purchased the first two separately. I see their point there, but I’d not read any of them so this worked out for me.

Overall, I was very happy to read this story. I thought it was a fun, short read, especially in comparison to Sanderson’s other works. While we really only follow one real person for all three stories, the hallucinations are their own characters and seemed distinct. There was comedy and adventure as well as some very serious concepts.  I only had one minor complaint.

Spoilers

(There are spoilers below, so have a picture of my cat to save you if you’ve not yet read this.)

Faramir Rests

Faramir is my quality control agent.

My complaint is with the ending, which was too short to explain what all happened with Stephen and his hallucinations. They all go away, and I’m not sure why. I’m also not sure why he’s okay. I would have liked more of an explanation or follow up to what happens to him and his remaining aspect. And more details on that aspect in general. While I’m happy I read it, I want more, and not in the good way you’d want when reading a novel.  I wish this one had gone a little longer.

Have you read this story?  Tell us what you thought in the comments!

Con Crud and Cats

Two weeks have passed since my grand adventure on the Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat on a CRUISE SHIP.  Just for information, con crud is a real thing.  I relented this week and picked up some antibiotics for a sinus infection.  Next year, I have plans to avoid getting so exhausted that my immune system abandons ship.  In the meantime, I’ve been hanging out and drinking hot toddies.  As one does.

Novel News

The second novel does continue, however. My critique group on the cruise recommended I review my naming conventions, so now there’s a spreadsheet. There’s always a spreadsheet. The draft of the first chapter is done, and there’s a plan (and several thousand words) ready for the next few chapters. November is National Novel Writing Month, and I think I’ll be well positioned to crush 50k when it starts.

Regarding the first novel, I submitted my first query letter to an agent.  This was too stressful to describe yet easier than I expected, all at the same time.  Don’t expect news on this end anytime soon as the whole process may take months.

All the Learning

I am continuing to process all the information received on the cruise.  I’m not sure I’ll ever capture everything in my brain, but here’s to trying.  Just to add to the fun, I purchased access to a whole bunch of David Farland’s online courses.  They’re on sale for $89 through at least tomorrow.  He did the class on prose in Dallas I attended.  Everything but the traffic was great, and I don’t blame him for those issues.

Several months ago, SFWA offered a free mentoring program. I signed up because at worst, I wouldn’t get a mentor. That’s no change from the current status there so why not? This week, I was matched with Arwen Spicer. How cool is this? I’ve done nothing for the writing industry at all yet, but here is SFWA offering this setup for free and there’s Arwen volunteering. She’s published two books. You should check them out!

I plan to do more this week than spreadsheeting names and outlining chapters, but for now, have some cats:

Cats on counter

We have Difficult Lives. Also, the counter is warm over the dishwasher.

I recently returned from a seven day Carribean Cruise, but more importantly, the Writing Excuses Workshop & Retreat.  I managed to find and attend a writing conference ON A BOAT.  This was a fantastic way to finish out my grand first novel adventure and start on my second novel project.

view on a cruise

Other Writers

The other writers were fantastic.  Oh sure, the instructors were too, and I’ll get to that in a bit.  We expect the instructors to be great.  But you never know what the other people you’re going to hang out with for a week are like, and I found them to be universally wonderful.

We’ve probably all heard that various events and activities are “welcoming,” but this went to surprising levels.  Wandering around the ship and see someone you don’t know with the Writing Excuses badge?  Just follow them and join their conversation.  Need a place to sit at lunch and don’t know anybody?  Find someone in the badge and plop right down next to them.  Forget something at home?  Throw it out on the chat channel, and somebody will likely share.  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such a complete lack of awkwardness upon meeting strangers.

They were happy to share their writing ups, downs, failures, and successes in a way I have never experienced.  We were all in the same boat, literally and figuratively, so it wasn’t hard to find something to talk about.

Most of the other writers live in the Sci-Fi or Fantasy genres, but there were several who write Romance, Mystery, and others.  They brought their experiences as well and improved our discussions.  I think it speaks well of the classes and instructors that writers from all genres could learn something.

Instruction

If you’ve listened to the Writing Excuses podcast, then you can guess how awesome the instructors were at teaching.  They didn’t just repeat the same information they’ve covered on the podcasts though, as they rightly assumed most of us had heard all of those.  It was more advanced but still presented in the relatable way they handle subjects on the podcast.

I filled 31 pages in my 5×8″ notebook over the course of the week, and cannot hope to summarize the class content here. There wasn’t a single dud among the classes, and I even enjoyed the ones I wasn’t sure about, like Poetry as a Tool for Writing Fiction (a favorite among many of the students).  My favorite moment was when Piper J. Drake acted out a scene to show the logistics to a writer in our critique session.  It was unexpected but so useful!

All of the instructors and staff were just as friendly and funny as you’d think if you’ve heard them on the Writing Excuses podcast.  I can’t pick out a single moment to highlight as there were so many, so I’ll share one of the first.  Brandon Sanderson joined us for a class on developing characters at the end of the first day at the hotel.  During the book signing time, I told him I appreciated his writing lectures available on YouTube.  I was not prepared for him to ask me what I was working on, or to listen as I wobbled through a hasty description of my second novel idea.  This turned out to be normal for the event, and I had several opportunities to “pitch” my novel even before the official class on pitching.

Cost

It is easy to think that cruises are expensive, and they are pricey.  You also have to take a whole week off work or be away from home during that time, which can be another cost.

If possible, I’d suggest looking at the cost per day.  I compared this workshop with other workshops and retreats.  If I include the costs of food and lodging in addition to the conference costs, the price per day of the Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat is less than most of the others in my analysis.  Even a single balcony room comes out ahead of most.  And none of the others involve a cruise ship.

I’m on a Boat

The whole thing was set on a cruise ship.  There’s not much more I can add to the awesomeness of that statement.

Cons

There were some downsides.  Due to weather, I had the opportunity to spend the night at DFW.  While the airport staff was friendly and even passed out blankets, I can’t recommend this route.

I found it difficult to find healthy snacks on the ship between meals.  Perhaps I didn’t know where to look.  Please understand there was plenty of food and no going hungry, but all my normal snack options of nuts, fruit, and cheese seemed absent.  I did have plenty of pizza and cookies, however.

It was exhausting.  I didn’t go on any excursions or stay up much past 10 PM, but by the end of the week, I was dragging.  One cause was the physical exertion of the ship itself, and I averaged 3-5 miles each day walking around.  Another factor was the volume of information presented and the brain power it required to process.  The classes could also be emotional, given the quality of instruction.  Finally, there were people.  Passengers, other WXR participants, and crew.  They were all friendly, but as an introvert, all those interactions wore me out.

Departing the ship became a pain because of the poor line design and/or the flow of passengers leaving the ship.  Others may have found this less annoying.  I admit I have high expectations due to my profession.

Conclusion

Obviously, I had a fantastic time.  Toward the end of the cruise, I realized I felt like a writer.  I knew before I was a writer.  I’m writing here, and that alone would make me a writer.  But for my entire adult life, and most of my time as a young adult, I’ve interacted with the world as an engineer.  I solve practical problems with math.  I may have known I was a writer, but I felt like an engineer who wrote.  When my environment changed, I was surrounded by writers, and there were no math problems to solve, I felt very different.  While it will take months to unpack all that I’ve learned, I’m motivated to dive into my second novel, as a writer.

Break is Over

Greetings, fair readers!  You might remember I announced the end of my almost-final-draft of my first novel about a month ago.  Then I took a break! This post marks the end of my four week break from any scheduled writing.

I have actually continued to write during this time.  It just hasn’t been planned and I’ve attached no stress to doing it or not doing it.  This has been wonderful, but I’m ready to get back to work!

What I’ve been working on:

  • Short Story.  Plucked from poverty and granted unusual eyesight by the government, Iris is on a mission to train a new agent and take out a rogue doctor.  Complications from her “upgrade” make the task more difficult and may make her a target.
  • Next Novel.  Yes, I am working on my next novel!  It is not a sequel to my first novel, but a whole new adventure.  The gods bless anyone who survives the trek to Kelyt’s Crest with the gift of healing or the gift of fire, except Renato.  He arrived and received nothing.  Renato and his new friends must figure out why or humanity may fall to a dragon invasion.
  • Dungeons and Dragons.  I’ve had way too much fun with this lately.  We started a new campaign and I play a Circle of Dreams Druid named Cedar.  New dice, new mini, new adventure.  Just to be extra geeky, you can check out my character sheet on D&D Beyond.
  • Skyrim.  If I’m not writing, I have to fill my time with something.  I recently finished Breath of the Wild, and went looking for another game.  Then I remembered I never beat Skyrim and jumped right back in, this time with mods.  I still haven’t beat it because I’m just wandering around enjoying the awesome world.

Starting this week, I will return to the world of my first novel.  Reader comments are in, and it is time to do a few more edits before I call it “finished.”

I leave for the Writing Excuses Retreat / Cruise in one month!

Boom

fireworks

Fourth draft: Done.  After ten-ish months, my first novel is in the hands of some beta readers.  I’m not sure what else to say about this, except it is really awesome.  We’ll have to see where this goes in a month when I get back feedback, but right now I’m going to take a little break from the novel and work on a short story.

I’ll be watching Critical Role and playing Pillars of Eternity this week if anyone needs me.

Oh, and hey!  Website update.  Let me know what you think.