July Recap: Not quite there

July was not what I expected. I was so ready to tackle Camp NaNoWriMo. I was ready to finish a project. I was ready to write. Buuuut things didn’t really work out the way that I planned.

Writing: In total, I wrote 24,330 words in July. That’s better than all of my other non-challenge months, but it’s way lower than the last Camp in April. More importantly, it’s less than half of my goal of 50,000. Going forward in August, I need to make some decisions. I need to decide which project(s) I’m going to work on, so I stay focused. I didn’t write yesterday, and I may not tonight. I feel a little lost with my writing at this point. I know that I need to go back and finish a couple projects and edit The Travelers, but I also have an urge to start another new story. I know, I know. It’s a problem.

Reading: I read 10 books in July, and they were all lovely. My favorite was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. If you’re a child of the 80s and you love nerdy things, you must read this book. It was incredible. I found out that Steven Spielberg is making this into a movie, and it made me so excited. I also read a couple of more books by a horror author I really enjoy, Ania Ahlborn. If you like scary stories, I highly recommend her works.

Watching: I finally finished Daredevil! Liked it, didn’t love it. I also finished the most recent season of Orange is the New Black, and I am almost caught up with Hannibal (RIP, lovely show). I’m still watching True Detective, even though I’m not a huge fan of this season. I’m currently in the middle of another X-Files rewatch, in honor of the upcoming revival. I am very excited. I think this is the fifth time I’ve done a complete rewatch, but I’m not entirely sure. Up next: finish X-Files, rewatch Twin Peaks, watch Heroes (or, at least, season 1).

How did July go for you, readers? Here’s hoping you were able to meet your goals!

A Tale of Two Camp NaNoWriMos: Victory vs. “Failure”

With only three days left to go in July, you know where you are: you’ve either set yourself up for success, and you’re going to meet your word goal, or, you’re like me, and there’s no way that’s going to happen. This post is for both situations.

If victory is in sight…

Congrats! You’re so close to accomplishing your goal. No matter how many more words you have – 1,000, 5,000, 9,000 – you can do it! Now is not the time to give up. Now’s the time to push forward and pump those words out. Write on your lunch break. Write as soon as you get home from school or work. Write for at least an hour tonight, no matter what your plans are. Your goal is within sight – go grab it!

If you’re staring at a very, very small status bar that seems to be taunting you…

It’s okay. Really. You’re not going to meet your word goal. Maybe you’re 15,000 words behind or 30,000 words behind, but it’s not going to happen. And that’s fine. Maybe the well of inspiration ran dry. Maybe you got distracted. Maybe you’re like me, and you had some unusual, time consuming personal matters (both good and bad) pop up unexpectedly. Your writing career doesn’t end on July 31. If it’s been awhile since you’ve written, maybe open up your Scrivener doc tonight and write 500 words. Ease yourself back into it. If your project isn’t working, switch to something new – or old.

I realized about halfway through the month that I wasn’t going to make it this year. Despite my earlier post that insisted that you can always find time to write, things came up that prevented me from following my own advice. Once I got out of the habit of writing every day, my creativity faded, and I found myself with no urge to write. There were times when I wished I could write, but I didn’t have/couldn’t have my computer with me.

But, oh well. August is a new month. The project that I was working on during July isn’t bad, but I think I want to go back and finish one of my older projects. It’ll be tough to get back in a routine, but I’m a big believer in routine. Perhaps I’ll start tonight.

How did you fare during July, fellow writers? Did you hit your word count goals?

Camp NaNoWriMo: Tackling Writer’s Block

So, it turns out that this month has not exactly gone the way I anticipated. I’m behind on my word count, and I’ve missed a lot of writing days. I wish I could chalk this up to some easy excuse–working more than usual, personal stress, etc.–but it’s a combination of stress, exhaustion, and just not wanting to write. I’m beginning to wonder if my idea really has the teeth to make it to 50,000 words. So far, I’ve hit a little over 20,000, and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going. That can be good, but I don’t know here. Also, it’s a horror story, and quite frankly, it’s just not scary enough. I need to amp up the fear factor.

That being said, I wanted to take on a common problem for writers: writer’s block. I know some people will try to convince you that writer’s block isn’t real, but I am not one of those people. Sometimes, the well runs dry. You can look at a blank page and just have no idea what comes next. There’s no way around it: this sucks. But it happens to everyone. The trick is figuring out a method that works for you to combat the block. Here’s a list of things that I have found help me:

1. Write something else. If you have a blog, write a blog post. If you have another work in progress, switch over to that for an hour or so. If the block is specific to your current project, “breaking the ice” on something else can be all that it takes for ideas to flow again.

2. Read something. Basking in the creativity of other people can be a huge help. For me, it helps to read something else in my genre. I get motivated by reading great stories by other people. It makes me want to write an equally great story.

3. Create a Pinterest board for your story. I know, this might sound silly. Hear me out: I like to do this anyway, but if you’re having trouble with inspiration, a little visualization can go a long way. Cast your story. Research the city where it’s set. If it’s a science fiction/fantasy story, and it’s not a real place, search for artwork on Pinterest. Finding pictures that match the tone of your story can help get you back in the mindset you need to write.

4. Create your story’s soundtrack. Go back through what you’ve written so far, and imagine what songs would be playing in the background if this was a movie. Or if your reader wanted a recommendation for what to listen to while reading, what would you suggest? Music is critical to my writing. I have a giant playlist full of instrumental music that I use while writing, and I would encourage you to do the same, if you like listening to music while you write. Another musical option is to pick out your story’s “trailer music” – again, imagine it like a movie and think of what the trailer would look like. What are your key scenes?

5. Work on character development. If you google “character development questionnaires,” you will find a plethora of resources. Fill out one of these for each of your main characters. Even if it doesn’t actually inspire you to go back to the project right away, it’ll give you more information on your characters.

6. Take a walk. The world is full of inspiration, and sometimes, the best thing to do is to get out of your house. This is especially true if you’ve been staring at a computer screen for hours. Take a walk. Get a cup of coffee. Engage in some quality people-watching. Keep your mind as clear as possible, and you might be surprised what ideas jump in.

7. Don’t writeThis may seem counter-intuitive, but if you really can’t break the block, just walk away for awhile. A lot of writers say that you just need to power through it, put some words, any words, on paper, but that’s not always healthy. Sometimes you just stare at the screen. There’s just nothing coming out. The longer you sit at your desk, the worse you’re going to feel about yourself. With every passing moment, you start to doubt and criticize yourself. If you know that you’re not going to be productive, take a step back. The project will be there tomorrow. Take the time to recharge yourself.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are simply a few things that I’ve used in the past that help me. Writers, how do you battle writer’s block? 

Camp NaNoWriMo: Routine is your friend

We’re on Day 8 of Camp NaNoWriMo. At this point, you’ve probably exhausted the initial “Weeee, this idea is great!” feeling, and you’re starting to get into the weeds of your character development and plot. This is a treacherous time for a story, because if you’re not careful, this is when you fall into bad habits. The worst of these habits is, obviously, not writing. When a story is new and exciting, you want to write as much as you can and as often as you can. But once that initial glow is gone, we start to make excuses about why we can’t write anymore, and the most common excuse is, of course: “I don’t have time to write.”

That is a lie. You know it. I know it.

You think you don’t have time to write. Or you’re not making time to write. But believe me – the time is there. The question is, how do you find it? The key to setting yourself up for success during a writing challenge month is to establish a routine from the beginning. Here are four tips to help you establish your writing routine:

Work at the same time every day:  This is going to largely depend on your personal preference. Do you like to write first thing in the morning? Are you a night owl? Do you go into work in the afternoon, so your morning is free? No matter what you’re doing for work, you have some time somewhere. I’m not good in the mornings, and I’m definitely not good at waking up early, so I know that’s out. I get a lunch break, sometimes, but not always, so that’s out. That leaves me with the evenings. I generally block off 9 pm – 11 pm as writing time. I hit my stride around 10 pm. And as long as I’m home, I write during that time period, no matter what. I plan my whole evening to make sure that I have that time free later in the evening – I’ll do my errands, go to the gym, etc all before 9, so I know I have those two hours free. Sure, sometimes life happens, and I don’t end up actually writing until 9:30 or so, but I always make sure I sit down and do it.

Figure out how much time you need, and then work backward: How much time do you need? Well, again, that depends on you. Look at your writing patterns from the last week. How long does it take you to hit 1,613 (the magic “words per day” number you want to hit if you’re aiming for 50,000)? If I’m incredibly focused, I could hit that in an hour. If I’m zoning in and out, it’s going to be closer to two hours. Maybe you can write that in 30 minutes. Maybe you need three hours. If you find that you need so much time that you can’t block off a chunk of time, split it up! Write for 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes on your lunch break, 30 minutes on your train ride home, and so on.

Tell your family and friends what you’re doing: Two hours of writing time is a lot. That’s time that you’re not spending with your friends or family, and some of them might be a little confused about why you don’t want to watch television/go out/etc. Tell people what you’re doing, especially the people living with you, and ask for their support. This is especially important if you don’t have a dedicated writing space, like me. I have a rule with my husband that when my headphones go on, even if I’m in the living room, that’s the Writing Signal, and distractions need to cease. Let your people know what your goals are and how important they are to you.

Make it a pleasant experience: If you’re doing a writing challenge, chances are that you love writing. In other words, writing should be fun. What can you add into your daily routine to make it better? If you’re working in the morning, buy some really good coffee and tell yourself that’s your writing coffee. If you’re writing at night, have a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Find music that you love and make a writing playlist (I’ll talk about this in more detail in a later post). This shouldn’t be torturous – this should be a time for you to follow your passion.

Writers, what other advice would you give on forming a routine? Is routine important to your writing, or do you just write whenever you feel like it? I’d love to hear about your patterns!

Camp NaNoWriMo: It doesn’t have to be good (right now)

It’s Day 3 of Camp NaNoWriMo. I hope that if you’re participating this month, that your projects are going well. This month, I’m going to be writing a series of posts about the NaNoWriMo experience and how to stay motivated.

The biggest criticism I hear about NaNoWriMo, and other writing challenges, is that it produces crap. These critics love to dismiss the work put in during the single month, waving it off as poorly written garbage.

And actually… they’re kind of right.

But that’s okay!

Let me back up. If you’re going to write 50,000 words in a month, it’s not going to be perfect. Finishing an entire story in a month is a daunting task, and it requires a commitment to write nearly every single day. There are some writers out there who can miraculously produce 10,000 words in a day, and sure, those people only need to write for a few days of the month. But for the rest of us, that 50,000 word count gets met by writing consistently. NaNoWriMo doesn’t give you the luxury of reflecting. This isn’t the time to take a couple of days to think about your characters or envision your settings. This is the time to sit down at your computer and just pound out words. Inevitably, some of what you write will be crap.

That’s fine. It’s a first draft. All first drafts have problems. Whether you take one month or six months (or six years) to write your story, your finished product will not be perfect. Even famous, respected authors would have to agree with that. Your story needs to be revised and edited.

But first, it needs to be written.

I don’t like reading criticisms of NaNoWriMo that focus on the quality of writing. I think it’s a bad argument. You can’t write the next great novel in a month, so why bother?  That strikes me as short-sighted. No, you certainly can’t write the next great novel in one month, but maybe you can write the bare bones of it. Maybe you can get the idea onto paper and work from there.

If you’re serious about your writing, you know that the first draft is only the first step of many. There will be time later to fix your grammar and polish your prose. For now, you need to get your idea out there. It doesn’t have to be good right now. It just needs to get done.

June Recap: You win some, you lose some…

Ah, here we are again. Another monthly recap. June wasn’t too bad. There were some awesome highs and discouraging lows.

Writing: In total, I wrote 13,779 words in June. I’m disappointed in that number, but I’m trying to stay positive. As you may already know, I finished my first draft of The Travelers early in the month. I read it on my Kindle and decided to ignore it for awhile. I have every intention of going back and editing it… eventually. Right now, the task seems daunting, and so I’m just acting like it will fix itself.

After I finished The Travelers, I just stopped writing for a little while. Part of it was because I was reading my own projects (as well as many novels; see below). I was disappointed in myself for not pushing through and writing something every day.

On the positive side, the remainder of those words went to two separate projects. One of which is a weird science fiction story that I imagine will be only a short story or novella that is heavily influenced by Philip K. Dick. The other is my Camp NaNoWriMo project, which I started a couple days earlier. It’s a horror novel about the occult, sort of, but it’s really about the choices we make and the things we’ll do for the people we love.

Reading: I READ SO MANY BOOKS IN JUNE. Well, 10, to be exact. That’s pretty good for one month. I’m up to Book #50 on my GoodReads challenge of reading 100 books in the year. At this pace, I should be able to meet my goal. I just started The Maze Runner and Ready Player One, both of which I’m enjoying.

Oh, but I did make one crucial decision. After The Maze Runner, no more YA books for awhile. I just can’t do it. I can’t get into them, and sometimes, they frustrate me, even if they are good books.

Still haven’t finished Anna Karenina.

Other: I saw Jurassic World and Terminator: Genisys at the theater. I loved Jurassic World, despite the somewhat silly plot and the terrible character development. I liked (but did not love) Terminator: Genisys, despite the time travel wonkiness and Emilia Clarke’s terrible version of Sarah Connor (sorry, not sorry). Still haven’t finished Daredevil on Netflix.

Bring on July!

Inspiration Strikes!

Today was an odd day. On the way to work this morning, I was pondering which of my “in progress” projects to continue next month during Camp NaNoWriMo. I told myself that I was going to do some outlining and brainstorming on each one, and I’d make a decision by the end of tonight.

Around three o’clock this afternoon, I was struck with a sickness that I just couldn’t shake. I had a terrible headache and felt nauseated. I popped some Excedrin, but I didn’t feel any better, so I ended up heading home early. I went straight to bed and fell asleep for almost two hours.

I had the weirdest dream that I have had in a long time. It was creepy, but more than that, it was a complete narrative. This used to happen to me a lot, but it hasn’t happened in awhile. Somewhere in the middle of the dream, I realized that I was dreaming, and it got so intense that I had to wake myself up. Then, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the idea. The narrative was too bizarre, even for fiction, but the base idea was intriguing. Within an hour, I had four main characters and a general plot outline developed in my head. This is an idea that I can honestly say I’ve never approached before, so I have no idea where it came from.

It strikes me as especially weird, since if I didn’t feel sick today, I wouldn’t have gone home, wouldn’t have slept, and wouldn’t have had the idea come to me – would it have come to me at another time? I don’t know.

Anyway, I know this is a random post, but HOORAY for inspiration. This solves my Camp NaNoWriMo dilemma! Looks like I’m headed back to the horror genre for the month of July.

Project Update: Let the review process begin

I’m excited to announce that my latest project, now titled The Travelers, has a finished first draft. It’s rough. The ending is still all messed up. But it’s a complete story. It’s about 95,000 words, which is less than I anticipated, but still more than I have ever written before.

Now, I’m beginning the daunting phase of editing. Everyone is different, but my general editing schedule is this: first, I read the draft, as if I’m just reading a novel. I don’t make line edits or other changes, though I jot down things that I feel need improvement as I go along. This is really just a pass for me to get a feel for the story. What works, what doesn’t. Where are there holes? What can I cut out? I’m currently in the middle of that phase. It’s hard for me to read the whole thing in one pass, and I was in the middle of reading a great book (Red Rising!), so I put it aside for a moment.

CHJms3xUUAIJtXi
(The view on my Kindle. It looks so pretty.)

I discovered with my last novel that you can send Word documents to your Kindle, and it is essentially just like reading a “real” book, even though it’s a work in progress. This is really beneficial for me, because I’m able to approach the story as a reader and not just as the creator. If you haven’t done this with your works in progress, I highly recommend it. I actually went back and re-read my three major works in progress (all under 60,000 words, so much easier to do it in a short period of time), and it got me really energized to go back to those projects.

After I complete this draft, I’ll go back and rework “big picture” ideas. I’ll work on characterization, plot holes, fleshing out awkward scenes, etc. While I do this, I’ll line edit as needed, but I won’t be looking for that. Then, I’ll read it again and do a very cursory pass for line editing.

Then, it’s off to beta readers. I need to find some this time around, but I’ll get to that eventually. After the beta readers, it’ll be ready for some legit, professional editing.

So, that’s what’s new with me. I might be posting a little less frequently, since I would like to seriously work on editing The Travelers while trying to finish at least one of my other three works in progress. And in just a couple weeks, it’s July, and you know what that means – NaNoWriMo. So much writing. So little time.

Writers, what’s your revising schedule? Do you ship it straight to beta readers? Am I crazy for reading a first draft like a real book? Leave your comments below.

6 Tips for Dealing with Bad Book Reviews

It’s every writer’s worst nightmare: after getting feedback from beta readers and your editor, revising your book, and generally stressing out, you finally work up the courage to publish your precious, finished product. You release it into the world, hoping that you gain a few readers. People start to purchase your book – hooray! But then the reviews roll in. And there’s a 3 star. Or a 2 star. Or (*gulp*) a 1 star review.

How do you bounce back from that? Here are five ways that I cope with handling less-than-glowing feedback.

1. Every book has negative reviews.

Think of your favorite book – the book that you love more than anything, that you have read and re-read so many times. Even that book has negative reviews, I promise you.

For example, Philip K. Dick is my favorite author. I checked out the reviews for Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep? (a/k/a the book that Blade Runner is based on). Though the overwhelming majority of reviews for this book are great, there are a few outliers. Here’s some complaints from 1 star reviews:

  • “The story is an absolute mess.”
  • “No new ideas and overall poorly written.”
  • “It reads like it was written for the mentally ill searching for their inner self. Strange and awkward wording was one of the many lowlights of this audiobook.”

Of course, these make me cringe. What? I think. How in the world can you find Philip K. Dick’s work poorly written?! Okay, but maybe this is a bad example. Maybe MY favorite book isn’t universally acclaimed. So, let’s check out a widely acclaimed book:

  • “I am sorry but I would rather have my teeth pulled than to keep reading this whatever.”
  • “Did not finish reading it after about 1/3 into the book. In my opinion, there was too much dialogue and the story moved too slowly to keep my interest.”

Those are two 1 star reviews for To Kill a Mockingbird.

  • “I don’t get why this is such a classic, why people seem to love it so much, really I just don’t get it. It is just a bunch of rich people in the 20’s having parties and their nonsensical conversations.”

That’s from a 1 star review for The Great Gatsby.

In other words, every book will receive negative reviews. You will never find a book that has only positive reviews (at least, not one properly distributed to a lot of people), and so there is no reason to believe that you will receive only positive reviews. First and foremost, remember that you’re in good company.

2. The reviewer may not be your ideal reader.

Look, you could write the best vampire romance in the entire world, and I probably won’t like it. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve written a bad book. It means that I’m not the person who you envisioned reading your book.

Putting your story out into the world has drawbacks. When I first published my book, I had it available for free for a few days. I had over 5,000 people download it! That was wonderful, but I’m sure a lot of those people were downloading it only because it was free and not because they are fans of my genre. I would bet that a lot of those people never even read it.

I have pretty strong feelings about reviewing a book outside of your preferred genre. For example, I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but sometimes, I want a light read, and I’ll download one on sale from Amazon. I’ll read it in a day or two. It’s fluffy entertainment, but I wouldn’t necessarily call these books “good.” So, I try not to rate and review those books on Amazon or Goodreads. I am not the target audience, and even if I would give that book 2 stars, most people in the target audience are giving it 4 or 5. I don’t think it’s fair to the author for me to write a pointless review that says, “Meh, not really my thing.” (Believe me, I don’t have an issue giving negative reviews to books that I think are legitimately bad or poorly written books where I am the target audience).

This is not to say that if you get a review from someone who clearly doesn’t like books in your genre, you should disregard everything they say. But take it with a grain of salt. If the person has legitimate complaints about characterization, dialogue, etc, then you should consider that. However, if you write a fantasy novel, and someone’s review says, “I’m just not into fantasy, so this book wasn’t for me,” you know that the review isn’t truly helpful.

3. Learn what you can from the review.

Some negative reviews are completely unhelpful. “Eh, I thought it was boring,” is one such review. A review that criticizes character development, plot structure, etc. is more more helpful to a writer’s long-term success. I had several people read my story before publishing it, and there have been a couple reviews that have pointed out things that none of my beta readers did. This shouldn’t surprise me, because everyone reads with a different perspective. Some people may love your protagonist, while others may find her frustrating. Does the review explain why the reader had a problem with characters/plot/etc? It’s tempting to just write off the negative comments, but especially if more than one person has mentioned something, sit down and really think about it. How can you take that criticism and use it to improve your next story?

4. Ignore jerks.

As stated above, use the reviews that are helpful. If someone is vague or downright mean about why they dislike your book, push the review out of your head. There is a difference between someone providing a critical review and someone just being a jerk. There’s no reason for a reader to write something cruel, especially on Amazon or Goodreads, where they know they’re affecting future sales. Unless there’s something constructive in the review, ignore it. Otherwise, you’ll spend your time dwelling on why this reader thought your book was the worst thing they’ve ever read.

5. Criticism doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible writer.

Sometimes, when we hear criticism, we overreact. I’m definitely guilty of this. But a negative or quasi-negative review of your work does not mean that you’re a terrible writer or that your dream of being a writer is stupid. It means that this reader had issues or concerns with aspects of your story. If the person gives you a 2 or 3 star review, that means that something worked for them. Despite any issues they had with the story, this isn’t the worst book ever. Even if someone gives you a 1 star review, look at the reasons they use in their review. If someone hates your story for valid reasons, that doesn’t mean that you should give up on writing.

6. Read the positive reviews!

For every negative review your book gets, I’m sure there will be more positive ones. Go back and read those. Remember that even if someone didn’t like your book, there are readers who LOVED it! I think reading a positive review of my book is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life. One reviewer commented that she hoped I wrote another one, and I was just floored. Someone wants me to write more?? I couldn’t believe it. Reading the positive reviews will help remind you why you published in the first place. You wanted to connect with people and to give readers a great story, and for a lot of people, you accomplished that goal.

(Side note: readers, take note of this. If you read a book and love it, please rate and review it on all the platforms you can. Writers thrive off positive feedback. When I see a four or five star rating on Goodreads with no accompanying review, I want to beg the reader to write something on Goodreads and Amazon, but I feel like that’s a little too stalkerish.)

Writers: How do you deal with negative reviews? 

May Recap: Plugging Along

In retrospect, May was neither a great month nor a terrible month, in terms of productivity. It was okay. “Okay” is not the measuring stick that I would like, but it’s better than February or March.

I wrote 23,873 words during the month of May, which averages to about 770 per day. 19,956 of those words were on Repetitions. The remaining 4,000-ish were split among two new projects. I had no intention of starting new things at this point in Repetitions, but I found that sometimes I just could not bring myself to write on that project. Total project size is somewhere around 85,000 words, and it should be quite close to completion.

On the reading side, I finished 9 books, which was more than my goal. I’m currently in the middle of 4 books (including Anna Karenina – readers, this might take me the whole year. It’s impossible). I did finish 11/22/63, which was excellent. I highly recommend it.

Sadly, I did not meet my goal of finishing Daredevil on Netflix. I got sucked into The Americans on FX which is phenomenal.

June goals: Write at least 30,000 words OR finish Repetitions, whichever comes first, read at least 9 books, and finish Daredevil.