The Writing Log (update)

Photobucket I have a squeamish feeling in my stomach that this writing log idea was both good and bad.

Last week’s total was 185 minutes out of my goal of 600.

Completely pathetic.

I was telling myself that last week was an anomaly, because there were several ROML (Rest of My Life) things that I had to attend to, but this week is not shaping up much better. So far I’ve logged zilch on my personal writing. Some of it is ROML, some of it is Third Person Press, but the upshot is no minutes yet. I am considering the possibility that I have been deluding myself and that in actual fact I spend a ridiculously small amount of time on my writing. However, I am not concluding that until I have a month of logging under my belt.

That’s the squeamish part. The upside is that this is raising my awareness, so that I will be able to improve those numbers in the future.

*photo credit, sideshowmom

Writing Log

Photobucket You may notice a new item in the right sidebar–a progress bar for “Writing Time Logged This Week.” Part of my plan for the new year is to implement time-logging for my writing time, because I am interested in seeing just how much I work on it, and how that can be improved. In other words, I’m trying to cut down on my procrastinating and move to a higher level of writing focus.

To start, I arbitrarily chose 600 minutes (ten hours) a week as a goal. It may turn out that I already work more than that on average, so I`ll be making adjustments for the first while. That`s two hours a day, five days a week. Honestly, I feel sure that I`ll be able to make that easily, although this week it`s already Wednesday and this is the first day I was able to spend time enough to bother logging, so I could also be wrong about that. At any rate, I`m hoping it will be an interesting and informative experiment.

Also, I`ve made note of the fact that I am logging only time I spend actively working on my own writing projects, although it could be writing new words, revising, or editing. This doesn`t include time I spend editing or critiquing others`work, for Third Person Press or for my writing groups.

For weeks I don`t make the goal, maybe I`ll post my excuses. That should be amusing and embarrassing!

2009 Reading Roundup

I’m diving into a new pile of books, but thought I’d take a moment to look back at some of the reading I did in 2009. Sadly, I didn’t read as much as I would like to have. That seems to be a perennial complaint for me of late. Maybe it’s because I am writing more, but I’d like to find a way to balance the two. What follows will not be in any particular order, just as things occur to me.

By far, the standout book of 2009 for me was Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson. It was the first fantasy I’ve read in a long time that pulled me in from the beginning and offered something different. In fact, it’s the first fantasy I’ve read in a long time, period, because I’ve seemed to put them down almost immediately for lack of those elements. The characters in Elantris were highly engaging right from the start, and the situation and conflicts very involving. Sanderson is part of the Writing Excuses podcast team, which I’ve also only recently started following, and I’m really enjoying that as well. It’s like a master class in genre writing, in 15-minute lessons. Highly recommended!

Near the end of 2009 I read The Affinity Bridge by George Mann. This was also a very enjoyable read, in the Steampunk genre, although I found the author’s frequent use of passive voice somewhat distracting. This is probably the writer/editor in me coming out, as most readers likely wouldn’t even notice it, but I found it especially strange since Mann is an editor himself. At any rate, I’ll be looking for future stories about these same characters, as the other elements of the book were good enough to overshadow that one complaint.

In the summer I devoured a batch of Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich. These books are just plain fun, if some of the jokes do get to feel a bit old if you read too many of them at once. Before those, I caught up on some Sue Grafton mysteries, with Q, R, and S in her Kinsey Milhone series. I wonder, when she began writing these, if she thought they would take up so much of her writing career? They’ve certainly been good to her, I think, and I am still enjoying them; she has done a good job of keeping the main character interesting and evolving over so many books. Grafton has made the choice to keep them all in the same time period, though, instead of keeping pace with the times, and I also wonder if this is difficult. Anyway, I hope to keep reading them to the end of the series.

Other good reads from the year included Into the Green by Charles deLint and Marvellous Hairy by Mark A. Rayner. I met Mark at WorldCon in Montreal and heard him do a reading, then had to read the book! It was fun and funny and kind of strange (in a good way!). I’ll be interested to see what he writes next.

In non-fiction, I read most of (still reading) The Language of the Night, by Ursula LeGuin. This is a collection of her essays and lectures on science fiction, and really excellent reading for anyone interested in the genre. Some of them seem a bit dated, but are still very relevant in many ways.

I also listened to some audiobooks last year, including three notable ones: Murder at Avedon Hill by P.G. Holyfield, Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty, and Space Casey by Christiana Ellis. All very different books, but all very enjoyable. And I really love being able to “read” this way when I can’t read, if you know what I mean.

Rounding out the field are a few short story anthologies. I am always surprised at the number of people who say they don’t like reading short stories. I am very fond of them. Last year I read three collections that I really liked: Many Bloody Returns, edited by Charlaine Harris (all stories about vampires and birthdays), My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding, edited by P.N. Elrod (all stories about, well, weddings and the supernatural), and Extraordinary Engines, edited by Nick Gevers (steampunk).

And I think this post is long enough now. I’ve just added a new page to the site, The TBR Shelf (see the new link in the right sidebar), to try and keep track of what’s on my to-be-read list, so you can follow along with that if you’d like, and by all means friend me over at Goodreads if you’re a member. Happy reading in 2010!

About that Sparkly Thing

Photobucket Yes, this is a blog post about sparkly vampires, but it might not be what you’re expecting.

A disclaimer first: I haven’t read Stephenie Meyer‘s Twlight series. I did see the first movie.

Meyer has come under a lot of fire for her portrayal of vampires (I’m sure she’s crying all the way to the bank, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about). Her vampires fall outside the “norm” of traditional vampires in many ways, including the way their skin sparkles. People who aren’t fans of the books really seem to hate that and poke fun at the idea quite relentlessly.

I’m neither a fan nor an anti-fan, and I think Meyer is simply following a piece of writing advice that gets handed out to writers (especially genre writers) all the time, and it’s this: take an old idea, and put a new spin on it.

We’ve all seen or heard about those lists–there are only seven plots, there are only twelve plots, etc. We’re told there are no new ideas, there are no new conflicts, there are no original stories. There are only new takes on old stories. It’s up to us to take an idea and set it in a new light, twist it, change it, give the reader something different.

Isn’t that exactly what Meyer has done?

Okay, granted, maybe the sparkly thing was not the best execution of this advice. Maybe it flew too directly in the face of accepted vampire lore and the things that dyed-in-the-wool vampire fans were going to be looking for in her stories. Maybe it set the author up for too much easy criticism from those who didn’t like the books. In a way, it’s so different, so “out there,” that it makes for an easy target for such criticism.

On the other hand, there are now a lot of readers out there reading vampire fiction–all sorts of vampire fiction–that they would never have picked up if Meyer’s books hadn’t introduced them to the dark seduction of the vampire mythos. If nothing else, it certainly hasn’t hurt the books’ appeal or sales.

I think genre writers would be wise to look at this an example of a writer taking a piece of standard writing advice and using it to very good effect.

A Thing of Beauty

The image on the left is a thing of beauty.

Having started the month of November flat on my back and in pain with a slipped disc, there were times when I thought I might not get to say “I did it!” this year. However, with the help of the voice recognition software, it worked out. At 50k words, I’m maybe halfway through this novel, and I quite like it so far. I’m setting a tentative date of January 15th to try and finish the first draft. With Christmas in the offing that would usually be unrealistic, but the silver lining of my slipped disc experience is this: my shopping is 90% finished. Knowing I likely would not be very mobile even by December, I interspersed my novel-writing with online shopping and have arrived at this enviable place.

It’s too bad I can’t be in this place without major health interventions, but I’ll take what I can get.

NaNoWriMo & Miscellaneous Updates

2009 NaNoWriMo participant Well, it’s a good thing I was not also participating in NaBloPoMo this year, because my blog posting has taken a serious backseat to novel-writing. However, in the circumstances, I am not berating myself about it.

Last night I actually caught up on my word count for the first time since the month started. (Of course, I haven’t written yet today, so now I’m behind again, but that’s NaNoWriMo for you.) I’m really liking the story I’m writing. It’s turning out to be much more complex than I had realized, and of course I don’t have all those complexities planned out, but that is a big part of the fun of writing for me, so it’s a good thing. I’m about at the point now where I need to sit down with a stack of index cards and figure out the shape of the thing, and I may get to that this afternoon. Looking forward to it quite a bit. It’s my first real stab at alternate history, and I’m finding that aspect of it a blast.

The slipped disc problem has improved considerably in the last few days, although I’m still constrained in what I can undertake. I was able to attend my writing workshop session yesterday morning, which made me very happy since I did not want to miss out on these last two sessions. I went to the mall last night to pick up a birthday card for my brother and came to the realization that my mall-walking limit is about half an hour. Good to know, and it’s fortunate that I am in the habit of doing a large part of my Christmas shopping online. I’m doing a little of that today, too.

One side effect of being confined to be for a large part of the past two weeks is that the puppies have managed to infiltrate the house to the point of sleeping on the end of my bed, mostly because it’s just easier to keep an eye on them there and I haven’t had the energy to keep shooing them away. So if anyone came out of this experience to the good, it’s the furrier members of the household.

Something fun: a tweet from Elizabeth Bear today pointed me to these random fractal backgrounds, which are lovely, and poking around the site I found the free program to make your own. You can tile them to fill whatever size background you want. Take a look and try it out; they are really beautiful! Here are a few I got on the first run of the program (it generates 20 every time you run it):

Thanks, Tor.com!

As some of you may know, October was Steampunk Month over at Tor.com. The month was jam-packed with interesting blog posts, steampunk tips for DIYers, beautiful free wallpapers, and tons of giveaways. I didn’t stumble upon things until at least partway through the month, but then I entered every giveaway after that.

And, I won one!

My copies of Jay Lake‘s Mainspring and Escapement arrived in the mail today, quite promptly I must say. Also included in the parcel were a Tor bookmark and a handful of buttons, so it made a nice little prize package.

Jay Lake prize package from Tor.com

I was especially pleased to win this prize, because I am a big fan of the columns Jay Lake writes (often with Ruth Nestvold) over at IROSF (I always snag this one to proofread when I can!). If you are not familiar with the columns, I recommend you click over and check some out. They are available in the archives, many under the “features” tab, and are easy to find. Sadly, I haven’t had an opportunity to read enough of his fiction, so I’m really looking forward to these books. They may even jump the line in my TBR pile, since I just finished reading George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge last night and need something new to add to my being-read list.

A Very Different NaNoWriMo So Far

2009 NaNoWriMo Participant It has been an interesting week.

Over the weekend, I developed a prolapsed disc in my back. I won’t go into the details of the pain that came with that development, but the long and short of it was that I haven’t been able to sit up to type. In November. You can see how this would be a problem for me, especially if you’ve read my last five posts.

For the first couple of days, I just kept telling myself that I could still catch up, that within a few days, I should be able to sit up, and everything would be OK. However, I began to realize that the further I fell behind, the harder it would be to ever catch up in time if I didn’t get started soon. It became evident that sitting up for extended periods was not going to be in my immediate future.

However, it did occur to me that I might be able to use some kind of speech or voice recognition software. I quickly found out that Microsoft Word comes equipped with such a program. Now, I admit that I am not a big fan of MS Word, but in this case it has come to my rescue. I was able to set it up easily and quickly, and get to work on my novel.

While I’m not quite caught up to my word count yet, I’m well on the way, and not falling any further behind. It’s an interesting experience. I would have expected to to write more quickly this way, but even discounting the time it takes to correct mistakes, I find I work more slowly out loud. It clearly takes more time to construct phrases to speak, than it does to construct phrases to type. I find this quite fascinating. I wonder if this will mean a cleaner, crisper, first draft than I would have had otherwise.

I guess I should go and get back to work since I still have some catching up to do. As a matter of interest, I dictated this post, as well. I don’t think I would choose to work this way given an alternative, but for now it is keeping me from going absolutely crazy!

Survive and Thrive during NaNoWriMo (part 5)

2009 NaNoWriMo participant You can’t say, I won’t write today because that excuse will extend into several days, then several months, then… you are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer.
~Dorothy C. Fontana

NaNoWriMo is about writing. Period. Fifty thousand words in thirty days. There really isn’t time for it to be about much other than writing, is there? And yet…

NaNoWriMo is also about connecting with other writers. It’s about meeting them face to face in your neighborhood, or virtually on the forums and chat spaces. It’s about helping other writers by answering their questions about surgery or firearms or legalese or quantum mechanics or how to make the best pound cake or (insert your specialty here). It’s about helping a newbie figure out how to keep going, how to make (or make up) that word count, fill that plot hole, or balance life during NaNo. It’s about sharing the wonderful resource you’ve found or created. It’s about designing a cool mockup cover for your book so that it feels like you’re doing something real, here. It’s about–

It’s about so much more than fifty thousand words in thirty days. And yet, those words, that story–your story–is the core of what you’re doing this month.

In among all those other things, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that. But really, that’s what all my previous posts in this series have been leading up to. How best to rearrange your life for one month so that you can write.

It’s awfully easy to let the precious time that you’ve carved out for writing be frittered away on other things–even (maybe especially) things completely related to NaNoWriMo. You don’t even feel guilty about them because they are related to NaNoWriMo. Sometimes you don’t even notice that half your days’ writing time is gone and all you’ve done so far is answered questions on the forums.

I recommend making a few basic rules for yourself during November, and try to stick to them as closely as possible.

  • Do the writing first. Don’t visit the forums, check your NaNo mail, or do anything else with your alloted writing time until you’ve done the actual writing. The only possible exception to this rule is if you are absolutely stuck on your story until you have an answer to a question you’ve posted in the forums. Maybe in that case you can check for your answer first, but this is a rare exception.
  • Participate wisely Use meetups, chat spaces, and forums as ways to inspire you and keep you writing, instead of ways to procrastinate. Take part in word wars if you find the going slow. Skip a meetup if you would really be better off staying home and writing.
  • Ask for help If you are really having a hard time making your word count, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your ML or someone who has participated before, look for advice on the forums, try some new approaches.
  • Make time for fun Once you have your words for the day, have as much fun as you want. Part of the magic of NaNoWriMo is the strong sense of community and the creative discourse you’ll find with other participants. Make the writing a priority, yes, but allow yourself to enjoy the other aspects of the experience too. You’ll come away richer for it at the end of the month.
  • Don’t give in to stress You’re asking a lot of yourself (and maybe of those around you), but don’t lose sight of the fact that this is supposed to be a fun exercise. If things aren’t working for you or the rest of your life brings unexpected challenges, give yourself permission to back out gracefully. Not everyone makes it the first time, or even a subsequent time. A little bit of stress is good, but it’s not worth making yourself crazy over this endeavour.

I think that’s enough rules for one month, but the first one bears repeating. Do the writing first. It’s the hard part, and the siren call of the other fun stuff can be hard to resist. But all the rest of it will be even more fun if you’re getting those words. Updating your word count on your profile page and watching your progress bar fill up–well, that’s the most fun of all.

Survive and Thrive during NaNoWriMo (part 4)

2009 NaNoWriMo Participant One thing a lot of people will tell you is that, if you want to succeed at NaNoWriMo, you have to find time to write. Sounds reasonable, right? Even a little bit “well, duh!” again.

Unfortunately, time is not something you can find under the sofa cushions like spare change or lurking in corners like dust bunnies. Your time is, in one way or another, completely used up, filled up, and taken up already. Finding time is not the problem. Allocating your time is what counts.

Thinking about re-allocating
I’ve written a whole article on how to re-allocate your time so that writing can fit into your schedule, but since it is now just a few days before NaNoWriMo starts, we don’t have time to work through the entire exercise. I’m going to present you with a condensed version of the idea so that you can use it in your November writing plan.

Most of your time right now can be categorized in one of three ways: non-negotiable, give-and-take, and free. Non-negotiable time is time that is filled with the things that only you can do: working, going to school, or, if you’re an at-home caregiver or fall into some other category, performing your primary and necessary tasks. This includes required take-home work, homework, sleep, and time it takes you to shower and get ready to go out. If you’re like most of us, this takes up the bulk of your time.

Give-and-take time includes the time you spend on things that you have some control over, or that someone else could conceivably sometimes do. Unless you live alone, this means household chores and housework, yardwork, grocery shopping, and food preparation (if you live alone and can’t pay someone to do them, these things have to go under “non-negotiable”). This also includes the time required for participation in any groups or associations, time spent with your significant other and children, and volunteer work.

Free time is the time you spend on leisure activities and hobbies. How many hours a week do you watch television? Read? Surf the Internet? Sort through e-mail? Go to movies, parties or other social activities? Participate in physical activity? Work crossword or other puzzles? Read the newspaper? This includes everything that you are absolutely free to do or not do as you choose.

What I want you to do now is to consider all the items we’ve categorized in these three headings, and think about how you can re-allocate time from any or all of them and turn it into writing time. Of course, the easiest of these is the time that you’ve already counted as “free” time. You’ll have to make a few sacrifices here, choosing writing over television, social events, and idle Internet surfing, but if you’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, you’ve probably already thought of that.

How to “find” time
With some creative thinking, you should also be able to find writing time in the other two categories, too. For one thing, think about all the time spent doing things that are essentially mindless or do not require your full attention, or when you could conceivably work on your writing at the same time. If you commute by train or bus, you could be jotting notes, re-reading something you’ve written already, reading research material, or simply thinking about and planning your next writing session. You can also do much of the “brainwork” of writing while you’re in the shower, washing dishes, vacuuming, or mowing the lawn. You can actually write during your lunch break at work, free time between classes, and when your children are asleep or otherwise occupied.

Some people sacrifice an hour’s sleep each night, get up early and write. Some people scrape up the money to pay a babysitter for a couple of hours a week, or pay someone to mow their lawn. Some people negotiate with their families to take on a few extra chores (don’t forget bribes rewards!).

It’s not that you need more time during November (or anytime) to write. It’s just that you have to use your time differently. A little thinking and planning now, a little bit of resolve in November, and you’ll find you have exactly as much time as you need.

Next: Get the most of out NaNoWriMo…including your novel