What Do You Want From Your Writing?

I was emailing back and forth with a friend earlier this month, and as frequently happens, our discussion turned to writing.  She teaches writing at a University and we both have aspirations to write mystery novels.  We’d talked about NaNoWriMo and she asked if she could see what I had for my project so far, so I sent off the first couple chapters.  She responded that my chapters seemed pretty polished, especially for a first draft, and wanted to know my secret.  Did I outline?  Had I planned out the story in great detail before I started writing?  I answered that no, there was not usually a great deal of advance planning for me.  I am a pantser.  I generally go in with an idea of who these people are, what the big problem is, and I have an idea (sometimes a fairly vague one) what the conclusion will be.  My secret, if I have one, is practice, and what I practiced on for several years was fanfiction.

Yes, I said fanfiction.  I spent several years writing fanfiction.  It was actually what got me back in to writing after several years hiatus.  I learned a lot doing it too.  Before I wrote fanfic, I didn’t know how to make chapters.  I just wrote one huge long narrative.  I learned how to put out a polished chapter in a short period of time (whether all those chapters always added up to a good story is another matter).  I got my first real feedback as a writer from my fanfic.  I made several online friends as well, and did my first NaNoWriMo with them.  Most of us are still in touch. Some of them are still writing fanfic.  One is a published author who continues to write fanfic on the side.  Another has pretty much stopped writing altogether.  A third blasted through NaNoWriMo this year, finishing an original fiction project in 20 days.

After I emailed my friend back, I started talking to my husband about my fanfic.  It’s still out there, and I still get reviews on it from time to time.  Reviews are generally something to enjoy, as most times readers who don’t care for the story just stop reading rather than commenting, but when I get these kinds words, I don’t feel happy.  I feel guilty.  My husband asked me why and the only answer I could come up with was that I felt that I should be focusing on my original fiction.  Fanfiction was fun, but it doesn’t help me pursue my ultimate goal of having an original novel published.  My husband, astute man that he is, asked me what I wanted to get out of my writing.  What am I trying to create when I write?  The answer, for me, is to write a story that will entertain a reader, something he or she can get lost in and enjoy.  Saying that out loud made me stop to think.  I did do that with my fanfiction.  I created a story which entertained, and people enjoyed reading it.  They enjoyed it enough to tell me so, which says something.  At least, I like to think it does.

The upshot of all this is that I think it’s time I stopped feeling guilty about having written fanfiction.  It was a wonderful learning experience.  I made new friends.  And I put out stories which entertained and gave enjoyment.  None of that is something to feel ashamed about.

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Hello November!

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I updated this blog.  Wow.  I did not intend for October to get away from me like that!

The Midwest Writer’s Workshop Manuscript Makeover session was wonderful!  Terry Faherty is an outstanding teacher.  He made many helpful suggestions for everyone in the session, and found a way to make us all feel encouraged about our writing.  It was a terrific session and we wound up going longer than scheduled because he was willing to keep going and none of us were eager to leave!  I came out of the session feeling good about the possibilities in my manuscript and ready to work on it.

My 5k was slow, but I had a lot of fun anyway.  I got to run with a co-worker, who was doing her first 5k.  We got lots of high-fives from Charlie Cardinal (races with mascots > races without mascots).  My co-worker’s daughter ran the 1 mile race with a friend and we had a lot of fun cheering them on to the finish line!  There we all are after our races, hanging out with Charlie.

Chase Charlie after race

The culminating event for October was attending the 21st Magna Cum Murder conference!  Magna is a mystery writers/readers/fans conference.  It’s organized by Kathryn Kennison, the director of the EB and Bertha C Ball Center at Ball State University.  The conference started out as a small event, meant to help connect the community to the university (Cum Murder is a play on Cum Laude).  The conference rapidly grew and these days we have guests from all across the country as well as internationally.  There are several people who have attended every single Magna, and it’s terrific to be part of something which inspires that sort of loyalty.  There are always new people each year as well, and it doesn’t take long for them to recognize how special this conference is.  No matter if we’re meeting for the first time or we’ve seen each other many years, it always feels like you’re getting to talk with old friends at Magna.  I had an amazing time at the conference but, as I’ve been asked to do the wrap-up write-up for the official newsletter, Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence (how we do love our plays on words), I’ll limit myself here for the moment.

Technically Saturday was the last day of October, but we had one more October-ish event which didn’t take place until today.  My husband and I went to the EB and Bertha C. Ball Center this morning to give a talk on Haunted East Central Indiana.  We shared stories we’ve collected over the years, as well as evidence we’ve caught on investigations, with an attentive audience of about fifty people!  We had a grand time sharing our stories and hearing a few from our audience as well.

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Now that the October fun is over, it’s time to buckle down for November!  I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (you can see my word count in the right hand column).  All the lingering October excitement has put me a bit behind, but I hope to catch up soon and be able to finish my 50k by November 30th!  I’ll also be taking my first knitting lesson tomorrow morning.  There’s another 5k coming up as well, plus Thanksgiving!  All in all, November is looking to be as busy as October!  I hope it will be just as much fun!

Heading to Camp!

Camp NaNoWriMo that is! That’s right – you don’t have to wait for November to do NaNoWriMo. The great folks at the Office of Letters and Light offer Camp NaNoWriMo as well. This year there are camping sessions in April and July. Camp is a bit different than November’s NaNoWriMo. For one thing, you choose your word-count goal. Want to do 50,000? Go ahead. Want to do less (or more) than that? That’s fine too. You decide! The other thing that’s different is that at camp there are cabins. A cabin is a group of fellow writers. You can create your own cabin or join one with friends, or be randomly assigned to a cabin (or, if cabins aren’t your thing, you can go it alone).

I’m very excited to be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this April. I’m using the camp to complete my first draft of my current manuscript, tentatively titled Ghostly Witness. I’ve set my word-count goal at 30,000 and I think that’s realistic both to complete in April and complete the first draft. I’m also excited to be part of the Cabin of Creative Misfits, started by Natasha Raulerson. We’ve got different genres and different word-count goals, but that doesn’t matter.  We’re all in this together.  I’m looking forward to getting to know my bunk-mates, cheering folks on, and seeing all of us succeed! I’ve seen some of my bunk-mates descriptions of their novels and I want to read them all! It’s going to be a good Camp!

Writing Chapter 2, Magna Cum Murder, and to NaNo or not to NaNo

Got a lot on my mind, if the title of this post doesn’t give that away!

First, after my lovely chapter 1 of my current ms, I’ve sputtered and faltered and am still struggling with chapter 2.  I was feeling uber-frustrated about it all, until it just hit me that chapter 1 was kind of that way too.  I wrote and re-wrote and re-re-wrote that thing, trying to make it awesome before turning it in for critiquing.  And guess what then?  I re-re-re-wrote the blasted thing, using the critique information to make it better.  I’m really pleased with it now, but that’s not the point.  The point is that I had a similar experience with that first chapter.  Lots of reworking of things, lots of re-writing, lots of stuff moved to the scratch pad file.  I have a couple of options here.  I can charge forward with stuff I’m less than pleased about or I can accept that there may be a good deal of struggle with this particular manuscript.  I think a good deal of the struggle comes from the fact that I’ve had this story in my head and heart for so many years, waiting for me to be “ready” to write it out.  I’m hugely psyched out about wanting to do it justice and about finally getting it written.  I need to learn to take a deep breath, let off the pressure, and just see where the writing goes (and silence the history major in me who says “but events have to be in sequence because one impacts the next”).

Magna Cum Murder begins on Friday, October 24th, in Indianapolis.  It has been my privilege to volunteer at this conference for the past 12 years or so.  A few years ago my husband joined me as a volunteer, and not long after that we started giving a panel each year.  Our first was discussing local haunts.  After that year we evolved to giving one on ghost-hunting in real life.  We’ve had a good reception for that each year.  I’m very excited about doing the panel again this year because we have some new stuff to share with people from some recent investigations.  It’s exciting stuff and it opens up good avenues for discussion and education as well.

I am also anticipating November and NaNoWriMo.  I don’t have a solid idea for a NaNo project yet, but that’s one thing I’m not worrying over.  If no new project idea springs forth, I can be a NaNo rebel and use the month to get 50,000 words down on an existing project.  In fact, I’m strongly inclined in that direction.  Maybe it will be the kick in the pants I need to stop sweating every word in the current project and just get something down.  After all, you can’t do a second draft until you’ve completed a first draft.

On the subject of NaNo, a snarky piece from a website I won’t name (because they disgust me and I won’t drive traffic to them) was going around last week.  I’d seen it before but it still made me angry.  Basically the writer felt that we NaNoers should skip attempting to write a novel and spend our time reading because a) we’d only wind up creating crap anyway and b) apparently anyone ambitious enough to attempt to write a novel is not someone who reads.  I really wanted to go slap this sour grapes person.  Clearly she’s never been brave enough to attempt NaNoWriMo.  She doesn’t create – she criticizes.  So here’s what I say to anyone who’s thinking of trying NaNoWriMo:
Maybe your manuscript will suck.  Maybe you’ll hate it and chuck it in the bin as soon as the month is over.  But you will gain something from the experience of creating it.  You will learn something about yourself (even if it’s only how much caffeine you can handle at one time) and that will be valuable to you, whether you continue writing or not.  Don’t let the negative Nancys of the world (even those in your head) chase you off.  Give it a chance, give yourself a chance.  It is worth it and so are you.

Revision: On to Phase 2

I finished my first read-through of my manuscript from NaNoWriMo 2013.  I noted typos, some grammatical glitches, and a few repetitive word choices which need changed.  I am pleased to say that, while the manuscript needs work, I found it very readable.  That pleases me.

Next up is Phase 2.  Phase 2 is to do another read-through, noting things which I feel need changed/fixed.  Are there scenes which need added?  Deleted?  Revamped?  Many things occurred to me on this first read-through but I resisted pursuing them.  I wanted to get all the way through before I started changing anything.  I did start on some notes after I finished the read-through today.

At present, I believe I have a character who needs punched up and a plot thread which was left dangling.  I suspect I will be adding more scenes, and possibly chapters, in rewrite.  I am excited to start on Phase 2.

Revision Has Begun: Phase 1

I completed a manuscript for NaNoWriMo 2013.  It was not the story I started out planning to write, but at the last moment (literally on the drive to work the morning of November 1st) a different idea came to me and I ran with it.  It was a lot of fun, with a little agony mixed in near the end, writing this story and I was pleased to both hit my 50k target by November 30th (by writing 8,000 some words on November 30th) and to finish the manuscript earlier this month.

Now I am reading over that first manuscript.  This time through I am limiting myself to just marking out typos and grammatical errors (and the occasional overuse of a word here or there).  The next pass is when I start looking for things to keep, things to cut, and things to change.  It is proving a bit of a struggle to stick with my just read it plan.  I want to start making notes on change this, delete this, what the heck were you thinking here? but I’m making myself stick to the plan.  So far.

When you do NaNoWriMo, your goal is to get 50,000 words by November 30th.  So you turn off the inner editor and, when in doubt, tell yourself “just go with it – you can fix it later.”  I have arrived at later and I find that I have some continuity errors to work on.  These may entail deleting bits, or writing new bits, or a mix of both.  Rather than finding this frustrating, I’m finding it kind of exciting.  I’ve never really done a proper revision of a manuscript before, so this should prove an educational experience!  Educational experiences are good, right?

We’ll see if my excitement stays and my frustration does not emerge as I continue this process.  And I’ll keep reminding myself that I am learning, and I do like to learn!