#NaNoWriMo, Outlines, & How I Learned to Stop Fighting Plotting

We are almost halfway through National Novel Writing Month, and I am more than halfway through to the 50k word count goal. It’s amazing the difference a few weeks can make! This is my third attempt at NaNoWriMo, and the first time I’ve had 30k words done on a fiction project (I have just over 40k in the books on my Marriage Kit book). I  couldn’t be more excited with all of the progress that I’ve made on this story, and I feel that it’s a really strong one. I wanted to share some of what I’m finding so different about writing this time around, and why I feel this story may be “the One”–my first submitted full length romance!

First of all, I started thinking about NaNoWriMo early this year. I wrote down the incident that spawned the idea for the story on October 18th. From October 18th until October 31st, I teased the idea, creating a basic plot outline for the first time ever. I started with the main characters names, occupations, how they met, what changes, the external problems, the internal problems, and what changes again. I then moved into the climax and the happily ever after. I made a separate list based on this loose plotting that included all of the things that had to happen to keep the plot moving in the right direction, which has allowed for me to keep an element of surprise in the writing that keeps me returning to the page. I even checked the plot over for possible plot holes and had a list of explanations that dug me out of them. I made a list of who didn’t know what and when/if they would figure it out. I developed all of the supporting characters and tossed around a few first line ideas. Most importantly, I read several articles on where to start the story, how to set the scene, what Harlequin is and is not looking for, and advice from editors. I printed off a copy of the guidelines for the line I’m targeting, and read interviews with the editors of that line to get a better feel of what works with the line. In other words, I did my research.

Another thing that’s different about this year is that I have a reader. A coworker read my So You Think You Can Write entry and really enjoyed it. We got busted for talking too much just before the first, so instead of telling her about what I was working on, I decided to drop off what I had written to her on the first to see what she thought. She is a Norah Roberts superfan, so I knew she loved the genre and would be a good first reader, but more than that, dropping off the pages each day means I have to write the words and meet my word count each day. It’s the best accountability that I could have, and seeing her face light up each day I drop off the next batch of befuddling first draft pages makes me feel like a real writer with a devoted following.

I have never been able to quiet my inner editor, so I developed a compromise for NaNoWriMo that’s been working really well for me: I can fix typos, exchange words, and add words for clarity, but I can’t take words out until after NaNoWriMo is over. I look over a printed copy of what I’ve written each day  and correct anything that needs correcting. I fix any errors in my NaNo document before continuing on the next day. This way, my inner editor is satisfied I’ll have a clean copy when I’m done without me having to compromise the word count.

Another thing that has really helped me is getting up each morning at 5 am to write. I come to the same place to write as well. This consistency has helped me to keep the words flowing. I love the progress that I’ve made on this project, and I’m hopeful it will be my first completed not quite first draft of a fiction project.

So, about the story. It’s a romantic suspense story about what happens when an interior designer (Mallory Taylor) is given the wrong delivery by the hot delivery driver for Vito’s Ristorante (Jake Ballenger). Instead of getting her usual order of baked ziti with a side of meatballs, she’s delivered something a lot less edible and a whole lot more alarming. Jake had just made his last delivery on his last day at Vito’s, but he’s willing to return to the gorgeous interior designer’s office to get one last look at her curves before moving on. Instead of an eyeful, he ends up with a bullet in his shoulder. The two manage to escape with their lives, and set out to figure out what they’ve become caught up in. But when the bullets stop flying, will the love that’s developing between them be left standing?

I love Jake and Mallory. Mallory has no brain mouth filter, and Jake’s tough exterior hides a warm guy who’d lay down his life for the woman he loved. I have managed to incorporate both Mallory and Jake’s POVs into the story, as well as populating the with fun supporting characters and a few plot twists to keep things interesting. I’m hoping that I’ll be read to sub this story, tentatively titled Delivering Justice, by the beginning of next year, if not before. I will take a break from it for at least a week in December to plot the next couple of ideas I have for possible sequels. In other words, I’m really excited about this story, and I can’t wait to share a snippet with you guys…

Tomorrow. 😀

XOXO

Erica

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First Impressions

Yesterday I handed over the pages of my book to the first person I will have critique it. They aren’t anywhere near finished; this isn’t an editor. I just want someone I consider more knowledgeable on the subject to evaluate my arguments. Is it easy to follow and clearly stated? I want to see if what I’ve written makes sense to anyone not currently in residence in my head.

Now I’m in the waiting stage. There are a million things I still need to do for the book, but today I want to take a moment or two to feel a sense of accomplishment for getting this far. I have outlined my arguments and chosen my sources. I have a strategy for how to employ quotes from the interviews I’ve conducted and will conduct. I’m celebrating my productivity…and trying not to worry about what my reader thinks about it.

The Writer as Reader

Steacie Science and Engineering Library at Yor...

Libraries are a girl's best friend! Image via Wikipedia

As a recovering English Literature graduate (B.A.), I find that I have trouble reading for enjoyment sometimes. I’ve heard many of my classmates lament that they had trouble reading for enjoyment anymore, either because they were used to reading for writing papers or because they were afraid to read anything that could end up in their own work by accident. I’ve heard that all good writers are readers and that all writers love to read, but at the same time, it can be difficult to switch gears from editor and critic to reader.

I held on to my love of reading and found ways to get around this English Paper Mentality for a long time. I would always read things twice: once for enjoyment and then again to accomplish whatever assignment was attached. I was disappointed when I didn’t enjoy something the first time and had to write a paper about it. My primary joy was not in relating how Their Eyes Were Watching God worked as a Bildungsroman as it was the quotable lines that said so much in so few words. However, the English Paper Mentality has caught up with me in recent years as I’ve focused more and more on my writing. So what does a writer do to regain her “reader’s eye?”

Well, what I’m doing is going back to some old standbys, books that I love reading just for the joy of reading them. At the moment, I’m reading Autobiography of a Face for at least the third time. As soon as I secure a library card, I will be rereading Wasted: A Memoir and Prozac Nation. I’m sure there will be plenty of others, but these are the books that have been on my reader’s mind. As I’m working on my fiction writings, it’s a good change of pace.

What do you do to get back in reader mode when you’re experiencing editor/proofreader burnout? How do you return to your own work as a reader, reading for enjoyment as well as plot holes and continuity? How do you retrain your eyes to see what a reader would want to know more about, instead of just where you need a stronger verb? Can you separate your reader self from your writer self at all?

Trust Issues

Tessa Laird writing workshop

Writing Workshop as Writer's Anonymous Meeting. Image via Wikipedia

I have a confession to make: I have trust issues. I’ve been burned before. I’ve had people betray my trust to get . I stay closed to keep my trust from being violated, although I know I need to be open to accept love & support. The only way to grow is to examine and sometimes you need a third party examination to point out weak areas and help strengthen areas in which you are already strong. I say all of this to say…I need a reader/editing partner I can trust.

In writing you (or at least I) reach a stage in which your eye is unreliable. Your brain has this auto-correct feature. You know what you meant to say there, and your brain just fills it in. That’s part of the reason I advocate putting a piece away for a while between writing and editing.

But once you’ve gotten the grammar (almost) perfect, corrected punctuation, and closed plot holes, you still need a reader to critique your work. I learned this twice, both in the incident from the previous post and from writing workshop classes. It’s important for an impartial party to read your work for clarity & interest, to point out what’s working and what’s not, to help you find the lie in your writing. But there are pitfalls to sharing your unpublished work.

I read some of my poetry in class when I was in the tenth grade. A few years later, I found out that someone from that class “co-opted” one of those poems and was passing it off as her own work. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like Maxine Hong Kingston‘s No Name Woman–like someone had broken and sullied everything in my house and it was all my fault (“No Name Woman” is the first part of Kingston’s  The Woman Warrior).

I got queasy in each creative writing workshop class when I had to hand each person a copy of my work. Even though we all were equally vulnerable, I felt somehow more exposed, easier to victimize. I realize it was mostly a self-inflicted paranoia, but it never got any easier.

I know writers need readers, but I’ve no idea where to find a “Dear Reader” to my Charlotte Bronte (or Jane Eyre, as she is “telling the story”).

So, tell me, who reads/critiques for you? How did you find them? Does anyone read your work before a literary agent or editor? Do/did you have trust issues, and if so, how did you overcome them?