NaNo No

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It won’t have escaped your notice that it’s November and the writing community, Twitter, blogs, Facebook even, are abuzz with tales of National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo).

Now, I am no stranger to NaNo; my favourite of my novels was born during NaNo in 2010 when I was 15, where I won NaNo, but then spent an additional three months trying to end the 50,000 words into 80,000.

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<It might partly have been to do with the fact that I handwrote the entire first draft, and so spent a deal of my time after November copying it onto Word.>

Later that year, I presented for my English Language GCSE on NaNo and my teacher and I were pleased with my resulting mark.

After that, my other forays into NaNo were in July, as I had entered a state of education where I could not afford to spend my November with a head of scenes and characters. In fact, there is indeed a version of NaNoWriMo called CampNaNo. It is essentially the same set up, though writers are encouraged to produce their own wordcount goals. Even so, I stuck to 50,000, as that was NaNo to me.

In 2013, I spent the two weeks I was volunteering in Uganda handwriting in a sandy notebook the sequel of the novel written for my first NaNo. But it felt disjointed, and, though again I completed NaNo’s wordcount goal, I was left with a lot more to type up of a novel that I didn’t love. The characters were bland and the plot felt samey, and, although this was a character’s side I needed to tell, I wasn’t invested in her as I had been my other heroine.

For those of you who know them: I still found Zara a whiny teenager as I had in Aidelle’s story. Although Aidelle was blunt, she at least had class. Literally.

The next time I did NaNo was the following year, yes the July again, with the absence of a notebook and a new plot on my mind. It was my first year as an undergraduate student, and I was free from exams, at least for where it mattered in July. I had already scrabbled at some ideas for short stories, but none were forming as I’d hoped, and coming to birth as knowing I was a Steampunk (and it was that aesthetic that the past two NaNo novels had tried to emulate), I was really beginning to grow a new idea in my head. One of true dirigibles and Vesuvian tribes and a linguist hunting for her beloved. Perhaps it sounds familiar…

I left her for at least a year, I did, and I kept leaving her. But I have been making slow progress through the third draft of H and editing updates continue (see the main photo above).

I haven’t done NaNo since then, though not for want of trying. As it is with my literary status (minor published, unagented, student), I’m not sure I want to spend my time on new ideas, particularly as writing a larger novel in general hasn’t been coming to me, when I ought to be editing, polishing, and submitting what I already have.

Well, I have written rather a lot – it’s funny to think how much I am still affected by those novels I have not worked on for a bit. I did mention they were dear to me. However, I have yet to talk about NaNo as it stands this year, the original topic of this blog, and it’s getting late. Look out for part two tomorrow, where I consider how I can utilise National Novel Writing Month this year.

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It’s been a while since I’ve worked on either of those favourite novels, but you can still read about the Time, Stopped trilogy over on my Novels page of this blog. 🙂

Why a Writing Hiatus Is So Painful

I’m taking a writing hiatus. This would be due to the importance of my studies for my final year of my undergraduate anyway – but it’s also due to another reason. I’ve hit a massive writing slump.

I should have expected it, what with my dissertation taking up most of my non-contact time; but where I’d planned to query in January February, I know WTCB has instead to go through a massive upheaval, and I don’t know where to start.

I’m afraid. Afraid of tearing it to pieces and gluing those pieces onto a new board. Afraid of the emotional and mental work I’ll have to do to recover it. Afraid of the time I’ll lose, and afraid of being back at square one.

Yet, I am back at square one with most of my novels. Let me count them – five. I think. Five I like in need of editing beyond a first or second draft. It took me so long to get to a queryable stage with one novel (and that turned out to be false hope), how long will it take with a second novel?

So, for now, before I drive myself crazy, I’m taking a writing break.

The thing is, I don’t want to have to stop writing. I find it incredibly therapeutic, even when characters and scenes frustrate me. However, I want to be able to look back on my work and feel proud, the way I would having finished a first draft.

But I’m not. Each book I read and the more research I do, the less confident I feel in my own work and my own style. I’ll never be as good as these, says one voice in my mind. Another chimes in, You call this tension? Your characters resolve debates as readily as infants change moods. The chances of me ever being successful are so slim, and part of me would give up were it not for the fact that I don’t want to throw away all the effort and characters and ideas I’ve had for so long. What a waste that would be.

I love Phillip and Aidelle’s world, and I definitely want to at least self-publish the almanac that I have detailing the timeframe of the three epochs featured in the Time, Stopped Trilogy, but I can’t deal with having poor writing at the moment. I think, were it not for my endlessly encouraging CP, Lillian M Woodall, I would’ve trunked the novel by now. Even the Steampunk world of Alexander and Cathy inspires me, but it’s not viable for me to meet them every night. By the time I’ve finished revising for the day, rested my mind, had dinner and settled in for the evening, I’ve been far too tired to concentrate on my editing.

Yes, it hurts. A writer should never have to abandon their families and their stories pressing through their mind – but then, I wonder if the resulting craft will even be worth it. I give so much to my writing, and sometimes I wonder if that’s too much…even though it’s not been enough.

That’s why a writing hiatus is so painful. It is is full of possibilities whilst drowning them with the silence. It’s putting the writer first at the expense of the characters. It’s breaking from the daily visits into the centre of one’s mind.

And, yet, I always wonder if it’s worth it.

Life Update

So, I’ve been doing a lot lately – not exactly extra curricula stuff like last year, but in terms of uni/school – and, as such, I’ve not been blogging as much. I’ll keep up with the Photo of the Week segment and the Weds/Thurs reblog, but posts that require a lot of thought and writing I might have to push onto a back burner for the sake of my work. And, I don’t mind that. This evening, for instance, I’ve been spending time working on my dissertation, and trying to piece together my introduction. I have a lot of background research and it’s fallen together without order. So, that takes daily pulling apart. But I don’t mind. Research is research. And fascinating. I can’t say much about my dissertation research project, but the working title is Increasing Cognitive Load Reduces Interference from Masked Stimuli in Working Memory Tasks.

My writing focus for the moment is just working on The Novel, editing and polishing it. I am currently spending about four or five hours a week going through new notes from a Critique Partner. I am also aiming to run through H for another friend/CP.

The thing is, to be able to do everything I want to, I do have to give up some things. The eternal uni juggling act, as some might say. Blogging isn’t last on my priority list, but it’s not high. I have my editing to concentrate on.

As such, I’ll see you when I see you!

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On Originality

(Or, its existence, which if is, is scarce)

What makes your novel unique?

They say it a lot, as if originality is a rite of passage a novel must go through. Chances are, though, not much. We all know the problem the modern writer faces: of writing the novel of our heart only to find that someone’s got there first or got their ‘big break’ with something so similar to yours.

It is devastating.

Recently, I was watching an old Doctor Who – The Time of Angels, in fact – for River Song kicks, when The Doctor mentioned the phrase ‘time energy’. Time-energy. What rather ravels the threads of my novel. Of the trilogy.

What’s more, there was a crack in time and people disappeared from memory.

‘Hang on,’ I said to myself, ‘wasn’t that the premise of my novel, the first draft of which I wrote five years ago…? Three before Doctor Who used it.’

It happens, and it’s a ruddy pain.

So, what’s a budding author to do? Well, for starters, consider the differences. Don’t get hung up on those similarities that must indeed stick out for you. My novel is set in an alternat/ive timeline, not the future. There is no one in Doctor Who who is trying to harvest the time-energy; it is purely wild. And, though, I mean my time-energy is wild, unpredictable, and partly antagonist, it can also be tangible when it wants to be.

It’s an entity, yo.

For others in a similar position to me – don’t give up! Don’t abandon your projects simply because there are others on the market with similar faces to yours.

That’s my advice, in any case. Make your novel yours, not anyone else’s.

Further, look with respect to those books and films and materials that are similar to yours. They help, they train – and you can support those who keep your genre and ideas thriving.

I wouldn’t even say the issue is genre-related; romance novels, for instance, still fall under the issue of the same plot, over and over. But, of course, a novel or fictitious story is not made solely of plot. For romance, it’s a little simpler to focus on the personality and quirks of your characters, but for science-fiction fantasy you could also give interesting traits that a reader wouldn’t suspect.

Don’t stick to stereotypes. That’s what the unoriginal is made of. I personally like subverting the tropes.

The writing, too, is the glamorous essence of reading a new novel. Voice. Imagery. Style. Those aren’t just buzzwords. And, unfortunately, voice is not something we can ever put words to so precisely. It’s the communication between the writer and their characters – a dash of each to the recipe that crafts the tone, vocabulary, even syntax of the story. 

The way a story is told can change anything. Make us forget what was similar.

It’s an unfortunate situation, I know – more than anyone, so it feels with my passion in temporal science, when every inciting incident is of people disappearing from time – but for writers facing this same problem, all I can say is that, though your story might not be the most original, you can paint something new with your characters and settings.

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7 Quick Takes: In Which Research Takes over my Life

It’s time to pop over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for Quick Takes Friday. 🙂

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~1~

Well, my week dashed past. Anyone else feeling that? I have so many tasks to complete, including a presentation for next Weds for which I have a block load of reading anyway. *phew*

~2~

I have started my Psychological testing! It’s very exciting, because this is part of my third year work, and entails a great deal of my final mark.

Plus, as I was reminiscing with my lab partner earlier, it was a long two years ago that the tables were turned, and I sat in the cubicle room, working on computer tasks. Now, I’m here. Wow.

~3~

It does, however, feel like all I do is work, dance, and watch murder mysteries. Which is frustrating, to say the least. Not the murder mysteries part, just the whirlwind of readings, submissions, and swing responsibilities.

~4~

Speaking of Swing, you may have heard (or not) of Scott Cupit, a swing teacher who runs the London scene. Reading University are very excited (and blessed) to have him teach us tonight in a one-off guest workshop.

Scottie was the one who ran the World Record Charleston – for which I am an official holder now – and it’s fair to say that I am in awe of his skills, especially as he’s been taught by the legendary Frankie Manning.

Here’s a clip of him dancing.

~5~

I may not remember to talk to Christ every day, but I know that he is here beside me, guiding me. When I have a rough or busy day, like yesterday, with multiple things not going my way, it’s definitely comforting to know that His plan is leading me somewhere. I just don’t know where. Keep the faith, wanderers. Deus vobiscum.

~6~

Editing. I did a bit more this week, yippee! *insert jumping animal here*

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Thank you, Facebook stickers! 😛

Granted, not much has been done, amount-wise, and most of my thoughts have been on structural edits/upping the tension.

~7~

Here’s a favourite new line of mine. It’s probably the most explicitly aggressive Rion has been to his family. I never thought he would actually pull a pistol on anyone, but – innuendos aside – considering the amount of warfare training he has, raising a weapon is actually a natural reaction.

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7 Quick Takes – Death, Work, and Lipstick

Look at that Oxford comma usage. Alex is happy. ^_^ I guess it’s time to formally resume my weekly posting, though my university work is a precedent. So maybe you’ll see me, maybe you won’t. 😛

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~1~

It was a shocking week for culture this week as both David Bowie and Alan Rickman were defeated by cancer at the age of 69. Another legend to add to the list of those who have passed us. They are worthy of giving a thought to as I start this post.

~2~

I’m doing a lot, academically, and somehow, I don’t mind that. I am almost at the point where I start collecting data for my dissertation project, but that also means I am almost at the point of diving into my written report too. Boo.

~3~

My Psych work is yet again being useful for writing – this term, my module is Cognition of Nonverbal Behaviour. Today’s seminar, we concentrated on the basics of gestures – different types, such as beat gestures and indication gestures, how they aid communication, and ‘proxemics’ or use of space.

In WTCB, I have some really aggressive characters in terms of non-violence. What I mean is that the upper-class would never risk scandal by explicit murder, but they are still likely to lash out in a ‘socially acceptable way’, such as showing dominance by posture. Imagine a mob-boss who has his hench-lackies to do the dirty work for him.

~4~

So, apart from that, my week has been pretty usual. Swing dance, creative writing, choir. Lectures, seminars, and meetings…

~5~

I’m still raving about my vintage stuff. The three lipsticks I bought myself for Christmas… The petticoat-and-swing-dress combinations. Maybe I will get round to doing a couple of reviews one of these days.

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And my hair is doing something completely different today… (Using Beet it, the pink lipstick.)

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~6~

However, this has left new writing by the wayside. All of my new is academic or contemplative, but not fiction. If you follow me on Twitter, however, you’ll get the daily update/rant about how my editing is going.

~7~

A little thought for the coming week. Have a good weekend, all.

Philippians 4:6-7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Beautiful People: The Resolutions Edition

Hello, blogosphere. 🙂 Today, I’m linking up with Cait and Sky’s beautiful monthly linkup Beautiful People. And this month it’s about the authors – new year, new goals (supposedly). So I guess that makes me a Beautiful Person.

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  1. What were your writing achievements last year?

I culled and rewrote so many darhlings… I got some industry interest in my novel. I gave two talks to my creative writing group: one about blogging – the other about tradition publishing and querying. I wrote a 16,000-word short contemporary romance. I wrote about 6,000 words of a Steampunk novella. I wrote about 45,000 words and completed a Steampunk novella for Camp NaNo July, then edited some of it.

I did a lot of research.

  1. Tell us about your top priority writing project for this year.

Editing, I think. Editing my novel. Editing my novella. Doing some subbing. Tell you? Okay, the premise of my novella, codenamed ASB303:

It’s 1870 and Lady Summer is two months away from completing her MA dissertation study of a brain, kept animated by a jar of its neural fluid. When she stumbles upon an activating tesla MRI machine during some of her night-research, however, Summer is shocked to find her brain hooked up to it. And worse—the monster that forms from it, threatening to destroy the Psychobiology department’s reputation, the lives of the many university students in campus over autumn, and Summer’s precious brain dissertation.

  1. List 5 areas you’d like to work the hardest to improve this year.

Spend more focused editing time. Listen to more science TED talks/podcasts instead of watching YouTube. Stick to, and be inspired by, a motivational star-chart. Work on more compelling character motivations in scenes, chapters, and arcs. Work on improving first- and early-draft pacing.

  1. Are you participating in any writing challenges?

I’ll do Camp NaNoWriMo in July like I do every year, but I don’t have a specific plan just yet. I have several book ideas, but I’m not pushing them out into the open until I actually have time to write. So I’m not sure which yet I’m going to focus on, whether novel or novella, fantasy or contemporary.

  1. What’s your critique partner/beta reader situation like and do you have plans to expand this year?

I always have plans to expand, but, when it comes to Critique Partners, my eyes are bigger than my stomach. That is, I took on two new Critique Partners last year and managed to crit some of their stuff without editing my own to send to them; and vice versa. Adding to that, that I neglected my first CP (who got a two-book deal last year!), I’ve decided that I can’t take on any others without neglecting one (or more) arm of what I already have.

  1. Do you have plans to read any writer-related books this year? Or are there specific books you want to read for research?

No, I don’t yet have any plans to read any writing/skill books. I’ve got a couple of Linguistics books and articles to read for uni research, as I will have expectantly for the next three months alongside my textbooks.

  1. Pick one character you want to get to know better, and how are you going to achieve this?

I’d love to learn more about the MC of my novel’s family, Mr. and Mrs. Masters and their two elder daughters and son. I’ve extensively explored the family history of my other MC/the love interest, but this is because the Costellos’ money makes them more inclined to scandal and foul behaviour. Their morals are twisted by societal success and boasting. Plus, they are more crooked by nature than the Masters who are only seeking to elevate their daughters into better society. The irony!

How do I plan to go about it? Vignettes and scenes. And quite a bit of daydreaming. That always works.

  1. Do you plan to edit or query, and what’s your plan of attack?

I am currently editing my main novel and going through the rounds with it already, and, although I don’t expect to get my quota in every month with my uni expectations, I hope to continue working on it with similar rhythm. On the other hand, I have a little pile of books waiting to be edited – my YA contemporary murder mystery; my Steampunk novella (which is chapter-by-chapter slowly going through my Beta).

  1. Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  What are the books that you want to see more of, and what “holes” do you think need filling in the literary world?

Ooh, difficult question. Love that quote, though. I guess I’d like to see more unusual/fantasy university-set fiction. I mean, I’m biased because the aforementioned Steampunk novella is a fantasy set in a fictitious English university town, cogs and all. I have no objection to the boarding school novel, but we always see those, with their narrow halls and fixed staff-set, and we rarely see the insides of universities, where it takes one 30 minutes to get from lecture to lecture and one gets lost in a single building. Or only for contemporary romance.

  1. What do you hope to have achieved by the end of 2016?

It’s really difficult to say at this stage. Well, no, it’s not, but few of my current wishlist achievements are writing/work related: graduate with a good grade, get healthy, spend a good summer with my darling partner, start post-graduate plans – whatever they end up being. Oh, and write something, read more, and get an agent.

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A motivational star-chart (example from November).

That’s me done, then. Now I’m off to read some others in the linky. *waves and skips off*