Get glimpses of the writing life of Christa Brassington, including novel excerpts, writing advice, sobering rejections and (hopefully) joyful acceptance, alongside basic writerly observations. All here on Writer Wise.

Getting Unstuck

Before I reached the half-way mark (25,000 of 50,000 words) during this NaNoWriMo, I felt truly stuck. I didn't want to sit down at my computer because I wouldn't even be able to pick up from where I was without feeling like I was fumbling my way around, and I was afraid of putting down thousands of words that would be useless to my story. I knew my ending, knew where I was headed with my story, but didn't know what should go in the middle to get me there.

So, I fell back on my safety net and refreshed myself with a very helpful YouTube video of Dan Wells on Story Structure. (watch it here) It is rich with example plot lines from familiar stories, and he walks you through how to get your own story structured, working with intuitive building blocks, rather than chronological. It's great. I worked through my snags, filled in that gap in the middle of my novel and even realized a subplot that was lurking on the sidelines that would help bind the whole thing together. Now I am back on track, with almost 34,000 words drafted. Woo Hoo!

I am noticing a trend of the most important tools I'm using this time around, very similar to 2011.

Post-it notes! I have them stuck to the wall beside my desk, each one a visual representation of a chapter. I have the POV character listed first, then a brief snippet of what happens in that chapter. They are lined up in order, so I can grab one and enter it into Scrivener's notecards when I'm ready to tackle that chapter and I'm off to a good start.

Timer is definitely a best friend again, setting fifteen minute increments (sometimes back-to-back) which helps me not feel overwhelmed, because it is only fifteen minutes, after all! And it keeps my fingers clacking away at that keyboard.

Another thing that I used in 2011 as well, but failed to mention...
Writer's Digest Weekly Planner. This thing is awesome. There is so much space for everything I need. There are 54 undated weeks-- which is perfect, because I was able to come back to the same planner and pick up with it, five years later!! Between each week there is a whole two-page layout for Goals, Notes, and Musings. Each day of the week has space enough for agenda items, and daily writing goals, because I LOVE CHECKLISTS. There are also helpful and encouraging essays, inspirational quotes, and seven sample query letters. If you are interested in getting one of your own, check it out here.

If you are a writer, I hope your words are singing along! Share what tricks you've used to get unstuck!

Back at It

Wow. A lot happens in five years. Five years! We moved houses, had a baby, took some vacations, lost our dog to cancer, and basically life took over.
Honestly, since our daughter was born two years ago, I had not worked on anything new. I did scrutinize my first manuscript, and scrutinize it again. Still it feels incomplete, like I am missing a key piece of motivation (perhaps on the page and off.) I am still passionate about that original project, but as it is the first in a planned series, I have to get it right. So, I set it aside, while I stretch my atrophied writing muscles.
I came across a Facebook memory from five years ago announcing I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo 2011, and it brought me back here. After reading my posts about that experience, it got me excited to take on the challenge once again, but this time with a standalone project.
The story seedling came on August 24th, 2015, while I read a passage in the Old Testament about God's covenant faithfulness, in the face of rebellion and spiritual adultery.
I know the date because I recorded the barest details of the concept, including a working first line, in Simplenote. (A free app, available for both Apple devices and Android, and also accessible online at Simplenote has been such an awesome tool for me because it keeps my files synced across all my devices. This is great for on the go notetaking. I love it.
So, I'm taking a lot of my own advice and I brainstormed for the last week of October and at midnight on the morning of November 1st, I sat at my computer and began to type. Here is where I began...

Today they will change her name.
She can barely hold herself up, and several times she has been supported by the maids in the room- how many are there- three? She can barely think. Her head is weak. She presses a palm against her eye, where a throbbing ache is blooming. The image of her hand covered in his blood flashes into her mind and she pulls it away. She shudders at what she is responsible for. 


Two hours later-- I was shocked to see the time-- I had three chapters and 1,694 words. An on-target beginning to the challenge.
Here were a few personal tricks I applied to the night's writing:
>>>  I set a timer a few times just to keep my fingers moving.
>>>  I worked out point of view over a few scenes. This time I am not doing first person, but multiple POV in third person, separated, so far, by chapters as to keep from feeling like we're head-hopping.
>>>  I delved into my characters senses to give a true feel for what was happening internally and externally in a scene.
>>> I tried to surprise myself as often as possible with better story advancement than what I went into the scene anticipating.
>>>  And, I stopped in the middle of a clear moment so that I can pick up again, easily, tonight.

Keep watch for updates on my progress and additional snippets.

Now, I am off to slide back into the remainder of that suspended scene.

50,000 Words and Counting

Yay! I did it! 50,000 words and a day early, too. Woo Hoo! I'm well into my second installment in my series and feeling good about the outcome.

Here's what I learned from this NaNoWriMo experience--

1) Friends can be great allies, even when they're rooting against you.
The day before I began the challenge I asked my friends and family on Facebook to come up with something (reasonable, but not necessarily desirable) I would have to do for them should I fail to reach the goal.

As Jon Voight (playing bad-guy Jonas Hodges on 24's 6th season) said,
"Stress is the fertilizer for creativity."

That should be the motto of NaNoWriMo. We should all hang it on our walls.

2) Having even a bare-bones plan for what to tackle during writing hours is key.
Each day I would brainstorm leading up to my writing time. This was helpful because I tended to write in the evening, usually ten to midnight, but if you write in the morning, just brainstorm before going to bed so you have a skeletal checklist for the morning.
An example of a day's checklist follows~

Wall of Mirrors
[X]Unity Gatherings held in commandeered church bldgs stripped of any spiritual significance
[X]Gwenna’s gemstone (@ Samuel’s?)
[X] Arrival— feeling checked-over
[X] Meets Erin, gets tour, sees Wall of Mirrors, and Mirror that Matters

I found that on the few days when I went to the computer without any firm clue as that where I was going with the story, it took me much longer to reach my daily goal.

3) Ask for help. When you don't know something, ask anyone who might. Ask your mom, your grandma, ask your Facebook community, ask a stranger.
Some examples of things I asked when I was coming up dry or simply didn't know:
-- What was a chore that you hated or would have hated to get stuck with as a teen?
-- When you have an asthma attack, which would help-- cool air, or warm moist air?
-- What are the turn-wheel passageways called in submarines? Hatches?
Also, Facebook (probably other social networking sites, too) is a great tool for writing prompts. I asked my friends to give me partial sentences to work into my writing one night. I had so much fun with what they gave me. Make sure to reward your friends for participating by letting them see how you used what they submitted. I did this by posting a "Note" and giving collaborative credit where credit was due. I'll post it on here, soon, as well.

4) Daily writing with a goal in mind is a great benefit and achievable. If I do NaNoWriMo next year, or any month in between, I would plan further ahead and set up an incentive plan for when milestones are reached. As it was I just made up my reward system as I went. Not terribly bad. A Cinnabon was part of my Treat day for reaching my half-way mark.
And on that note, Goodbye NaNoWriMo November, Hello NaNoSubMo* December. :)

*National Novel Submission Month where I will take on the task of perfecting my query letter, chapter summaries and polishing the manuscript of my first novel and work to get it into the hands of a reliable agent who can be passionate about my project, too.

Watch My Progress Over the Month

NOTE: this post will remain at the top of my blog for the remainder of November, so scroll down to see new posts!!

Deadline: November 30th, 2011

Full Speed Ahead: using the "find" function and symbols to your advantage

In the world of feverish writing, (as in NaNoWriMo November, or any other time of year when you are trying to get your first draft down) you cannot afford to stop and work out every scene to perfection. The most beneficial thing you can do is keep moving forward, or at least down the page.

For NaNoWriMo 2011, my daily target word count is 2000 words since I am observing a day of rest every Sunday to meet and worship with my church and to spend quality time with family. But because of this high count I have to be diligent to write on my scheduled days, and to keep my forward momentum.

Here's what I do to ensure that my fingers keep typing new scenes--

KEEP CHECKLISTS-- I am writing in Scrivener for Microsoft Windows (now available, Yay!), so I keep a pane open at all times with "Notes as I Write"-- my checklist of things I want to:
  • insert in my manuscript,
  • remember to add in future chapters,
  • build up into full blown plot lines later.
So, if while I'm writing I have a character, say, trudging through town with a grotesquely overstuffed duffel bag, I may add a check note (which might turn into a series of notes) saying**:
[] Explore what Gertrude is carrying and why this is significant.
[] Is the bag squirming? Is it Mrs. Terrenthal's missing cats?
[] Is it a red herring, perhaps? --a bag full of rats for Gertrude's 11 foot Burmese python?
[] Did the python eat Mrs. Terrenthal's cats???

If I realize that I've left out a crucial detail in an earlier scene, like a character coming into a large inheritance, and I'm going to write about what she's buying with it, I might add**:
[] Insert details about Kara Kitchure receiving news about her inheritance.
[] Are there complications that arise? Does she find she can't trust her friendships with Gertrude and Logan anymore?
[] Is the money doled out over time and she has to plan how to spent it slowly?

USE SYMBOLS-- When I'm typing out a scene and I come to a spot where I can't think of the right word and I know I need to move on, but I want to come back in revisions and change it, I will surround the non-preferred word with multiple parentheses.
Logan drew his gun and pointed it at the target in the distance. He spread his stance and aimed. But couldn't shoot. A gun seemed too heartless a way to take down the (((mythical animal with one horn))).

I do this also with instances where I don't remember a distance, a direction, or a specific color.
The air was still and the night music pleasant as Logan left his house and crossed the (((fifty feet))) to Gertrude's front stoop. Gertrude gazed (((north))) toward the glowing peak of Mount San Fiasco and wondered if the (((purple))) stone set in its ivory base was hidden among the burning forest there.

This way, when the time comes, I can easily jump to these sections by utilizing the handy little "Find" function and searching for "(((".

I also use symbols when I want to write a scene that I'll have to insert into an earlier portion of the manuscript but don't want to take the time to find and place it correctly now. I separate the scene from those surrounding it by entering
above and below the out-of-place writing. And, again, when I'm ready, I would do a "Find: <>" and move the resulting scenes to their proper position.

That's how I do it, how 'bout you?

**BTW, the above examples are purely for the purpose of this blog post and do not represent my current project or characters. :)

My NaNoWriMo Tool Box

I'm slowly compiling a list of the things that are most crucial to my success over this month of Word-trackery.

  • pens. My favorite are the Pilot Precise rolling ball, extra fine. They are nice and smooth and you can get them in a multi-color pack which keeps note-taking creative and fun, and can help organize my thoughts into category-by-colors.
  • notepad. Small enough to fit in my purse and be used on the sly in case I hear a snippet of dialogue that strikes a creative chord, or see a crazy hat that I must write about.
  • Google Calendar phone app. Set with reminders to track my Write-ins.
  • Advil. Can't allow a headache to cripple my word count.
  • Big Train Vanilla Chai. Gotta wash down the meds with something, might as well taste good and keep me awake, to boot.
  • water. It's imperative to keep hydrated, which can help with avoiding the dratted headaches in the first place. Much as I love the taste of Vanilla Chai, nothing quenches like a tall glass of good water. And, yes. Thanks to my momma, I am a water snob. Aquafina, Dasani, or Sparkletts are the dessert waters of the H2O choices out there.
  • VOICE RECORDER!! This is one of my favorites. I discovered while writing the first book in the series that long bouts on the road are a goldmine for talking myself through plot road blocks. Simply turn off the music and ruminate out loud about all that could happen and usually the best course will outshine the rest and cause me to look ahead with great exuberance toward the night's writing appointment. But it is crucial that I record this brainstorming train of thought because, invariably, I will forget some of the details I was most excited about and then sit and waste time trying to remember them again when the time comes to write!
  • laptop. (with a charged battery for when I'm not near an outlet.) For those valuable opportunities to sit down and plug in to my manuscript.
  • Scrivener for windows-- with NaNoWriMo presets. What a great manuscript processing tool. You can set each text document with a goal, and it will track your progress in the footer with a bar that begins blank, turns red, then yellow, then green when you are in the final stretch of the day's word count goal. Nice visual encouragement.
  • headphones. To listen to music in public, so as not to be disturbed by chatty strangers.
  • thumb drive. to back up my writing, lest I lose everything. *gasp*
  • timer. To keep my fingers tapping away, or limit my research time.
  • backpack. A way to lug all this stuff around with me.
And that is how I've been able to manage so far. We'll see if I realize any other items of necessity as the month goes on.

Bring on the Reinforcements!

I reread my last post and thought what a defeatist tone it had when I said that I would be happy to say I survived, rather than won the NaNoWriMo challenge. So, to boost my drive, last night, hours before NaNoWriMo officially began, I posted on Facebook a request that friends and family enter their ultimatums for me if I don't reach my 50,000 word goal by November 30th. They came up with some gems, these among them:

I would have to:
--give a weekly sixty-minute massage for six months to my Mom.

--sew my friend a gypsy skirt.

--take my niece and nephew over night once a month for six months so my sister and her husband could have a date night. (they are a joy, so this one isn't so much of a threat as some of the others, but, as my mom lovingly refers to them, they can be energy vampires.)

--Provide dinner three nights a week, with drinks to boot, to a bachelor friend of mine. However he didn't specify a duration, so I'm assuming this is only for one week. His loss in not being more specific. ;)

--do all of my math-teacher-friend's grading for a month.

--cook a Christmas ham for another bachelor.

--Run a 5k with a questionable friend. Yech! I hate running. Why would you run, when God created so many other less-horrible ways of moving from one place to another?

So there you have it. More motivation to reach my goal.

I then proceeded to clean the house and brainstorm where to begin writing, sat down at my computer at 12:01am and my computer promptly crashed.

Of course.

I rebooted and finally was able to get started at 12:28am. Two-and-a-half hours later I had 2023 words under my belt and a positive beginning to a month-long task.