Update on Willow (or Running the race as slow as I can…)

My friend Nicole recently ran the Chicago marathon. You can read her story, "Chasing Garbage Trucks (a marathon story)" at her blog, Five Penny Nicole. It’s really moving. Nicole is a fellow Chicagoan who also moved to Madison, so a lot of what she wrote resonated with me.

I mention this because as you can see, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this month. Just putting all my energies into my current short story and Willow.  And even those have been going slow. With work and Daniel’s school, I just haven’t had any decent writing time. And I also admit, I’ve been slacking in writing in the evenings. We’ve been watching Babylon 5, and while it’s an awesome show, I haven’t been able to dedicate my usual hours of work in the evening. Sometimes I do write, but it’s hard to concentrate when I’m engrossed in the workings of the Sintari. So it’s getting to be that it takes me two, maybe three weeks to finish a chapter of Willow. And at this snail pace, it would be a miracle if I finish at all next year.

In Nicole’s blog, she talks about running when most of all the sprinters and experienced runners had taken off, leaving the slow runners behind. She talks about running on the sidewalk because the police had open the streets to cars again. She talks about passing empty water stations because the helpers had packed up to go home. And she talks about how despite that, she kept on running. She had made it her goal to finish the course, no matter what place she came in.

It’s not like I have writer’s block that keeps me from working on Willow. While it feels like I’m chipping away at each chapter, paragraph by paragraph, what emerges from all that chipping is some real good storytelling. I’m taking time to think through the logistics: atmosphere, description, believable action. It helps that I’m not in a hurry. Yes, there are times when I get frustrated. I feel that I should be further along.  Here it is getting into November and I only just now finished introducing all the players and starting the dive into the story itself…

But wait…I lie. That last line didn’t feel me with frustration at all. It filled me with glee. It’s got me rubbing my hands in anticipation. I want to see the book to the end, and the thing is, I’m enjoying what I’m writing. It’s not like it’s turned into a thing I have to slog into. This week, I’m putting in the details of a palace that’s based on African architecture. Do you know how much fun it is doing that?

So yes, I’m going slow. But it’s okay. My goal is not to write fast. My goal is to write Willow and finish, so that’s what I’m going to do. And for all you NaNoWriMo writers out there who feel like you’re flagging, like you can’t keep up with the daily word count, ask yourself this: did I sign up for this just to write anything, or did I promise myself to write and finish a novel?

If it’s the latter, then congratulations. You got yourself a goal. Now just keep writing until you reach it. Oh, and thanks Nicole for re-inspiring me. Now if you don’t mind, I got some writing to do!

LaShawn’s Project Status Update (or working on my 5th final draft…)

So right around yesterday as I recoved from a full day of hanging out at the Circle M farm by cooking roast chicken and cheesy rutabega, a thought occurred to me as I looked out and to my shock saw tiny flakes of snow flying by the window:

Oh crap. November’s coming up isn’t it? That means I gotta spend the whole month focusing on Willow!

Ever since I learned about NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago, I’ve been using the month of November not so much as a month to put my butt in a chair and crank out a 50,000 word novel, but to focus on the novel I already had, Weeping of the Willows. The first year I did it, I cranked out 50,000 words worth of new material for my book. Ironically, a good deal of that material got stripped out in the first reading, but I still think it did me some good.

Last year, I don’t think I participated. Things were crazy for me that month, what with the possibility of selling our house and moving to Madison and all. It’s a miracle I got any writing done at all during that time.

So here it is, a year later. At the moment, I’m still reading through the first draft of Willow. It’s been slow going, partially because I do it at night, when I’m more likely to be tired and ready to blow it off. Partially because I’ve been focusing on my short story She’s All Light. Yes, yes, I know. A few weeks ago, I said that I was working on my final draft and once it was done, I would send it to Writers of the Future. No ifs, ands, or buts. I was done with it.

But then something happened.  As I worked on the final draft, one of the supporting characters, which in previous drafts had been pretty sublime and quiet, did something so unexpected and bizarre, I actually stopped working and backed away from the laptop. It still gives me chills thinking about it; I don’t want to say that it was violent thing she did, but in the framework of the scene, what she did was something that made me–and the other characters–jump. And just like that, it came out of the blue. As I was working on the final draft.

Well, of course, when a character does something that gives you chills, that changes the whole nature of their persona in the story. There’s repucussions. You want to know why the character did it. You want to know how that one single act impacts the story from that point on. And I knew that I couldn’t call it a final draft anymore, because the story had changed. Which means that I need to do some more work on it.

Luckily, we had a writer’s group meeting, so I brought my “final” draft in. Turns out that I don’t have to rewrite the whole story from scratch, which is a great relief. However, the group confirmed what I felt after finishing the ‘final’ draft–the sections I had to change were so strong on their own, it made some other scenes unnecessary. So basically, I need to do some cutting.

Which is fine. My word count for this story had been pretty high, roughly around 12,000 words. Cutting out some scenes will trim it nicely. The hard part will be structuring the story after those cuts. I’ll have to take a couple of weeks to think on how the best way to do that…

And now you see my dilemma? For me to do this, I’ll have to either put aside working on Willow, which is something I don’t want to do, or I’ll just have to continue doing what I’m doing now, which is spend the afternoon working on the story, and the evening working on Willow.

Then again, it’s not like my writing schedule is set in stone. I can be flexible. The WOTF deadline is not until January 1. I don’t necessarily have to wait until November to focus on Willow. I can start doing that…well…today…

So how does this look: this week, I’ll focus exclusively on Willow in both my afternoon and evening writing sessions. Then, next week, start working on the She’s All Light cuts during the evening session. It means I’ll be putting more of my energies on working on Willow still, but in switching the two, it will help me focus on something new at night. At least, that’s the theory. Then, when the story is done and finally out the door, go back to doing Willow twice a day until I’m done with the readthrough. My goal is to start working on actual revisons at the beginning of 2009. (Oh, and what fun that will be…)

I’ve realized that this means that I will have spent the whole of 2008 working on two things: She’s All Light and Willow. Doesn’t make for a productive year, does it? Well, I don’t feel terribly bad. Actually, I have written other stories for fun, and there are several that I want to focus on when I get the chance (I may actually focus on one after I get SAL out the door–it’s a flash, so it should take up much time). But in light of all that’s happened this year, I’m just grateful that I have the chance to write at all.

So thank you for being with me as I sort all this out. All of this will pay off, I promise you when both of these stories get published. Don’t know when, mind you, but I can tell you it will happen.

My first review! Sort of…and NaNoWriMo

Got this off the Kaleidotrope blog:

“Sam Tomaino of SF Revu offers a quick overview of Kaleidotrope #3, as well as some nice words…”

I hopped on over and read this:

“The October 2007 issue of Kaleidotrope is another nice one with a fine mix of stories and poems. I liked all the stories in the issue.

The issue starts off with “Click” by LaShawn M. Wanak. The story start with the narrator typing words into a keyboard, “A little girl is crying” and seeing the effect this has on the reader. More details are supplied. How long can the narrator manipulate the reader?”

He then mentions the rest of the stories and winds up with:

“Kaleidotrope is a small press magazine that deserves your support.”

Well, gosh! My first review…sort of. Granted, it’s more part of the whole, but still, it makes me feel great that I contributed to that overall nice feeling.

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By the way, you probably noticed the distinct lack of NaNoWriMo at the Cafe.

Around this time last year, I had already churned at least 8500 words and having the time of my life in writing abundantly and with abandon. It was great.

A year later, I haven’t given much thought to doing NaNo at all.

It was something I knew would happen. I figured I would be waist deep in doing Willow edits that I wouldn’t have time to work on anything new. And I’m quite glad I didn’t plan to do it–right now, life is so crazy that if I had added NaNo to the mix, I would be literally tearing the locs out my hair. So this year, NaNo’s taking a back seat while I focus on edits.

Will I do it next year? Depends. Maybe Willow will be out making its rounds at agents next year. Maybe I’ll still be stuck in editing mode. Maybe I’ll totally trash Willow and write erotica instead….

Nahhh….I’m not gonna do that last bit.

I’ll wait until Willow’s done first. I do have priorities, ya know.

NaNoWriMo Wrapup Thoughts

Okay. Now I can say that I’m officially done.

Thirty days of writing. I think I averaged about 2000 words per day. With the extra day of writing after I hit 50,000, I wrote an extra 3472 words, which bring the total word count of Willow to 53818. Usually, when I work on Willow, I average about 4 chapters a month. In November, I wrote about 8 1/2 chapters, almost two per week. I can safely say that I’m no longer in the beginning portion of the book. I’m about to step foot into the middle arc of the storyline.

Not too shabby!

So, the question for today is, now that I’ve done this experiment and gotten very good results, what am I going to do with it? There’s no question that if I want to finish Willow on a timely basis, I do need to up my word count. If I continue at the same pace as I did in November, either I’d have to give up working on short stories and essays, or I’ll need to find more time to focus on writing.

Looking at it realistically, I’ll have to go for the latter. As much as I love working on Willow, I also want to do other things too (and the fact that I did cheat a little in November by working on a short story to send off proves it). In fact, I have a lot of catching up to do–there’s a couple of essays I wanted to finish by the end of December, and a short story I put on the back burner to do NaNoWriMo that I’m itching to get back to.

It’s weird, though. I’ve also been really itching to get back to work on Willow, too. I took the weekend off of writing to celebrate–because hey, when you set goals for yourself, and you actually reach them, you gotta celebrate. My hubby asked me, “Now that you’ve done this constant freewriting on Willow, are you going to go back and work on that chapter you wished you could do over?” He’s talking about when, around November 13, I had two new characters suddenly pop up and create a major plot change, but at the time, I couldn’t go back and write their introduction into the story. I chosen just to write them in as if I had done their introduction, then go back in December. I’m not sure I want to go back and do that rewrite now. I think wrote enough that once I do the major rewrite, I’ll be able to look at my notes for that chapter and rewrite it better then. If I ever get a huge urge to rewrite it in the future, then sure, I’ll do it. But right now, I got a good groove going.

And finding time just got a whole lot easier. I think I found a good daycare place for Daniel to go to starting in January. My writing schedule plan, then, will be this: On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I’ll go back to my normal routine of doing short stories, essays, poetry, etc. during Daniel’s naps, then work on Willow at night. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll devote those days completely to Willow. And once I get those extra hours when Daniel’s in daycare, that will really make a difference in moving the story along.

Overall, what did I think of NaNoWriMo? I had great fun doing it. But I think if I’ll do this next year, I’m going to start a new book, maybe start working on the next book in the Willow trilogy. Or, maybe I’ll just work on something new. Who knows. But one thing I do know: if I can keep up the pace of writing 8 chapters per month, I’ll be done with the first draft of Willow by this time next year–assuming that it’s going to be 96 chapters or less.

So what am I doing gabbing away here? I need to get writing!

Done with NaNoWriMo, but…

nano 2006 winner small

Well, I did it. I made it to 50,000 words with a day to spare.

I did it a lot sooner than I planned, thanks to my hubby. Yesterday, during Daniel’s nap, I had written about 1500 words, so I figured the night session would be sufficient to put me over the edge. I had just settled in after dinner to watch an Azumanga Daioh DVD when hubby came down.

“What are you doing?”

“Watching this DVD.”

“How many words have you written today?”

“Around 1500.”

“No, I mean overall.”

I frowned. “How the heck should I know? I don’t really take an overall count until I’m finished for the night.”

“Well, go up and see.”

Grumbling, I trudged upstairs and woke up the laptop. “Lessee…I’ve have about…49,800 words so far…”

“So…that means you only have about 200 words left to write before you hit 50,000.”

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

“So, what are you waiting for? Get writing!”

I stared at him. “But, it’s not even Daniel’s bedtime yet. I can’t write now…it’s too soon!”

My hubby grabbed the little boy as he was dashing past. “I’ll put him to bed. You just start writing.”

“But…but…but…” Now I was getting annoyed. All I wanted to do was relax for a little bit. I didn’t want to write…even if I did have 200 words left. Geez, couldn’t he let me be in peace for a half an hour?

But then my hubby decided to do a cheer to spur me to write:

Go, go writer.
Write that word.
If you don’t make it,
you’re a turd.
GOOOOOOO Writer!

My hubbie, ladies and gentlemen. Nice to see that being around high schoolers hasn’t affected him much. But really, after I picked myself off the ground from laughing, I did sit down and wrote those 200 words, plus a little bit extra. I guess in goading me, my hubby showed me the main reason the founders of NaNoWriMo stress that you write a new novel instead of continuing a previous one. I don’t have that overwhelming feeling of doom that nags, “Gotta finish this novel…gotta finish it NOW!” I know Willow isn’t going to be finished when I hit 50,000. So I don’t have that push to write madly to beat a deadline. I’m pretty much coasted through all of November with that mentality. Hitting 50,000 wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it would be.

Technically, I could stop working on Willow if I wanted. But wait a sec…hold on. Let me flip through the archives real quick. When I decided to do this, my goal wasn’t to write 50,000…my goal was to focus on Willow for the entire month. And folks, the month ain’t up yet. I still got one more day.

So I’m not going to celebrate just yet. I’m going to do what I’ve been doing for the past 29 days–focus on Willow, seeing how many chapters I can finish. Right now, I’m on chapter 36. If I can finish it by tonight, then I’ll break out the champagne and streamers and whatever else people do when they finish NaNoWriMo…

I need to get back to writing. 🙂

Pulling into the NaNoWriMo Home Stretch

All right.

Three more days, 15 hours left to write. I’ve written 43,324 words so far. I still got a sore throat, Daniel’s been wearing the same clothes for three days now, and the house is a wreck. Well, more of a wreck than usual.

But this is it. Let’s see how quickly I can break 50,000. The Cafe will be closed for a couple of days while I’ll put all my efforts into this. If you still wish for your daily dish, may I suggest some leftovers?Catch up on some tasty bits you may have missed? The archive section is on your left towards the bottom.

See you in a couple of days.

Still chugging along…

It’s been quiet at the cafe. The leaves are gone from most of the trees, leaving their stark bare branches to hold up the sky, which has been a smeary gray as late. In the cafe itself, most of the tables are empty. Clientele is low, except for the guy with the goatee reading the tech manual in the corner–he’ll never leave. The waitress yawns, but keeps refilling his cup with decaf coffee for lack of anything else to do. Looks like it’s getting to be Thanksgiving time.

I’m doing pretty good. Most of the flu symptoms are gone except for a lingering sore throat and a voice that’s better placed on those ‘call 976-Debbie’ late night ads. Definitely not the type of voice to read Goodnight Moon. Daniel seems to take his Mommy’s hoarse voice in stride. This has also taught me well about disciplining him. Now, instead of raising my voice to yell, I get this real intense whisper right up in his face. “What. Are. You. Doing?!”. If the behavior escalates, it’s dumping him in his crib for five minutes. I still can’t believe how a time-out suddenly makes him cooperate. We all need time-outs in life.

I’m still chugging along with Willow. I’m aiming for 40,000+ words this week. I’m quite surprised how I’m zooming through all these chapters. Not bad for someone who didn’t plot this part of the book out. It’s easy to do so knowing that what I’m putting down now is really only a foundation to build on–when I go back over it next year, I get to decide what stays and what goes. It will be very interesting to see how this develops.

Okay, enough musing. I got another 3000 words to write today (hopefully). I have cornbread and chicken stock to make, then later tonight I have to start on macaroni and cheese. Tomorrow, I’m going to make my grandmother’s cornbread stuffing for the first time ever. November seems to be a month of risktaking.

All in all it’s just another brick in the Wall–Halfway Point of NaNoWriMo…

Ugh…my mind is turning to mush. I’m definitely hitting the wall now. Too much willow is turning my brain to ooze. Today, I sat down to write Willow and all I typed out was mush. I’ve been concentrating on it for too long. I want to do something else. Bleh….

Yesterday was the 15th of November. I’ve written 25,811 words on Willow so far this month. That’s roughly 5-1/2 chapters I’ve written. We’re at the halfway point, folks.

This is just like running a marathon. First moment, you’re running and you think, this isn’t bad. Then you start jogging and get a little tired, but you find your stride and rhythm and think, hey, I can do this. This is easy. Then you start getting cocky. I can do this alllll day. Look at me! Look at me! Then you foolishly, foolishly start to sprint. You get a good speed going and it’s great. You’re top of the world, Ma!

And then the wall falls. Right on your head. Boom.

All this freewriting, all this creativity, is churning my brains into bits of mental stew. I’ve think I’ve pulled a charley horse somewhere in my writing muscle is seriously cramping up. You know how bad this is? I just poured some tea into an empty cup. Took a sip out of it. Then turned and saw another steaming cup of tea sitting on my left. My laptop is now flanked by two steaming cups of tea.

Ugghhhhh…..

This, then, would be the absolutely downside of NaNoWriMo. You can’t let your mind rest. You gotta keep focusing, focusing on doing the same thing. But my creativity doesn’t like work like that. I like to write something, then let it rest for a couple of days, let it percolate, if you will. Then I can revisit it again with fresh eyes and a fresh mind.

I didn’t mind working on Willow once a day, because I always had something else to work on too at the same time–a short story, essay, poetry, and that would be usually editing, which exercises a different creative muscle than just flat-out freewriting. But so far, the only thing I’ve been doing now is freewriting Willow, and it’s beginning to take its toll. If it wasn’t for writing this blog, my head probably would’ve exploded by now.

I can hear the essay I was working on in October calling out to me. “LaShawn…why haven’t you touched me? I need editing! These passive verbs aren’t going to go away on their own. Worrrrrk on meeeeee….worrrrk on meeeeee….” Yep. You know you’re working hard when you start hallucinating about your essay begging in a whiny voice. Maybe it’s time to stop writing this and to work on Willow again.

Sprinting through the Willows without stopping to smell the rewrites…

Last Thursday in the afternoon, I had just finished writing another chapter of Willow. Usually, I time it so that I end a chapter around the end of naptime. Then I get up and go get Daniel, who has been awake and calling for “Mommy!” for ten minutes (and when she doesn’t show up, he invokes, “Elmo!” or “Thomas!”)

But to my surprise, Daniel was still in nap-nap land, which meant I had some precious time left to myself. Oh…what’s a stay-at-home mother to do? Should I finish folding the laundry? Get a head start on dinner? Read a chapter of my book? Or even, (gasp), take a brief, wholesome nap?!?!

Or, I thought…why don’t I write some more on Willow? Start working on a new chapter?

It’s an unprecedented thought for me. When I write a chapter, I usually write up to what I think is a good stopping point, then stop until the next time I start writing. It never occurred to me to just keep going on, to write as much as I can without caring if I stop at a decent point. So I tried it. I started a new chapter.

I think the word count I did for that day was around 3500 words. More than enough to put my weekly total in the 20,000+ zone. It’s pretty cool to see my word count shoot up by leaps and bounds.

However, there is a dark side to all this writing willy-nilly.

Today, after quite an eventful weekend, I woke up and started working on Willow. Halfway through a chapter, I suddenly figured out a plot point that will tie up the section I’m working on. I now had a way to get my characters from point A to point C, by traveling through D instead of B. It was a brilliant mindstorm, and all I needed to do was rewrite the last chapter I wrote to reflect changes that will bring my current chapter up to speed…

But I can’t rewrite that chapter, can I? Not only does it change my word count for NaNoWriMo, but even if I did, it’s not really new stuff I’ll be writing, is it? As far as NaNoWriMo is concerned, I’m done with that chapter. Which is cool. I understand.

One of the drawbacks of being a writer is getting the story down without jumping back to do rewrites. It bogs a writer down because when you rewrite, you’re not in freespirited creative writing mode–you’re in harsh, critical editor mode, and you’re weighing every word, balancing every sentence, testing how it feel, what it sounds like. I think that’s why it took me so long to start writing on Willow again. When I first pulled it out, true, I had forgotten most of the story. But I also saw that I’ve pretty much written crap, and the editor in me wanted to refine that. I don’t regret rewriting the first part of the book–it helped me get a better handle on the story as a whole; but now that I’m back in the freespirited, write-whatever-I-want-so-long-as-I-get-it-down mode, I don’t want to slow down for editor mode. At least not this month.

I think there are times, though, when a chapter rewrite is absolutely, positively necessary, mainly if a major plot point has changed. I think today is a good example of that. If this was any other month, I would have gone ahead and done the rewrite. But this is NaNoWriMo. So, in the spirit of the month, what I’ll do is write a couple of paragraphs or two that has the stuff I want to change in the previous chapter, then I’ll put it in my notes to revisit at a later date. Then, I start the next chapter off as if I’ve implemented those changes.

In fact…I think I’ll add those two paragraphs to my word count. After all, technically…it’s still Willow writing. 🙂

Just keep writing…just keep writing…writing, writing, just keep writing…

The day has come. I’ve been expecting it to come for quite some time now, but I always thought that I wouldn’t reach this point until some time next year.

I’ve reached a point in Willow where I haven’t the faintest clue what will happen next.

I haven’t outlined Willow trilogy down to the very end of book three. I’ve told the story to myself so many times, I have a general synopsis of what happens in each book. I also do have software that I use to plot out several chapters in advance. But at this stage of the book, I’ve run up against a blank wall. Basically, my characters are done with Town A, so now they have to go through [INSERT SCENE HERE] in order to get to Town C.

Normally, in cases like this, I would freewrite, journaling about the scene, asking myself questions and tossing around different ideas. Should they go to Such-and-Such? What if they ran into So-and-so? And I did do a little of that. But nothing definite really stuck out to me. What to do?

Well, when I put my son down for his afternoon nap, I decided that, well, I would just write and see what happens.

This is the spirit of NaNoWriMo in its essence, why it is so alluring for writers. Basically, NaNoWriMo really is nothing more than a massive freewrite, where you put down as many words as you can without worrying too much about content. Even if you crank out crap, at least you’re cranking out something. Up to now, I’ve been having my characters go the way I wanted them to go. Now, I shut off the controlling part of my mind and let my fingers go, watching how the characters react to the situation I’ve put them in.

Joshua, his family, and their Sworn Guard, Coren, reach a town called Inverness. Joshua’s father finds a place where they can settle down and rest. His intention is to meet with someone who works at a nearby Temple. However, at the inn, they learn that this person is out of town. Wiped out, they all stumble to their rooms. Joshua has a room by himself, and he comes in and closes the door.

Of course, this is all a synopsis of the actual chapter. At this point, I had toyed with bringing Joshua and his family down where they talk at dinner on what to do next. I also had toyed with Joshua sneaking out on his own, but seeing that he did that in a previous chapter, I didn’t think he would do it again so soon. So I decided to let Joshua nap a bit and then go down for dinner.

Joshua flops on the bed, tired beyond belief. He has the strangest feeling, though, that he’s being watched. Then he remembers. It’s that bond between him and the Sworn, the bond that ties him to her, and lets her know where he is at all times, even when she’s not around. For him, however, the feeling transcribes to always feeling her eyes on his back, and disconcerted, he sits up and looks beneath his bed, expecting to see her lying on the floor, staring up through the mattress at him.

I didn’t expect to write that, but it made sense at the time. In the last chapter, Joshua had tried to slip away from Coren to see just how far the bond went. I tried to get him to sleep again, but…

Joshua then realizes that, despite the bond to the Sworn, he’s all by himself. He hasn’t been by himself since the fiasco in his village, when he learned that he was a Voice…

At this point, I realized that Joshua was not going to sleep at all. For the first time, he has a chance to sit and ponder what’s happened to him and his family. It makes sense, actually. Joshua needs some downtime to figure out just what the heck’s happening to him. He’s been on the go for the past few chapters–seeing his village destroyed by marauders, the girl who tried to assassinate his father now suddenly their Sworn bodyguard, being chased by thugs, finding another village destroyed by an evil creature, and to top it all off, suddenly hearing the trees speak and learning that he may be the one to destroy the entire world–as I wrote the scene out, I wondered if I should curl Joshua into a fetal position as he thinks on all this.

But you see…that’s gold. It even gave me a little insight on him as a character. I’m letting a myriad of previous factors, Joshua’s personality, and common sense dictate what happens next. When I wrote this chapter, I always had in the back of my mind, “How will Joshua respond to this? What will he say? What will he think? Is it out of character for him to do this? Does it actually have him learn something? Will it change him into something new?” And lo and behold, I suddenly, not only do I have a character exposition that shows Joshua as a person who thinks as well as acts, but I also have a way to give some downtime to the reader, to break from all that action and let them catch their breath along with the characters. That’s pretty cool.

I wonder what tomorrow’s scene will be like?