It’s NaNo time… Guest Post by Rhonda Parrish

Introducing my first guest poster on this spiffy new site: Rhonda Parrish. Rhonda is a twitter acquaintance; she writes fantasy/horror (zombies!) and edits a fantasy and horror fiction magazine, called Niteblade. Since NaNoWriMo season is upon us again, Rhonda is sharing her experiences with this (slightly crazy?) yearly event. (If you want to hear my thoughts on NaNoWriMo, visit Rhonda’s blog to read my guest post over there).

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I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. The thought startles me. I turn it over in my mind, feeling out the rough edges, then taste it on my lips as I share it with the dog at my feet. He looks up at me, lifts an eyebrow and then, with a sigh, rests his head back on his paws. It may not seem like much to him, but for me that decision is momentous.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is held each November. The object is to write 50,000 words in 30 days and the rallying cry is “Quantity over quality”. NaNoWriMo has been around since 1999 and I, personally, have been participating since 2003.

For seven years I have reserved the month of November for “Nanoing” (and yes, I’m sure it’s all right to make that a verb). It has affected my life and my family’s as well. For example, we implemented “No TV” month one November in order to reduce the number of distractions I’d have. Another year, no one in our house was allowed to get the newest World of Warcraft expansion until I was finished my NaNoWriMo novel. My daughter even got involved in NaNoWriMo and when she was in grade two she wrote a 10,000 word NaNoWriMo novel of her own.

NaNoWriMo was fun. Especially when I first started doing it. I liked carrying a notebook everywhere I went, being able to use the phrase “working on my novel” and feeling like, pardon the expression but, a real author. Having an entire community around me who were undergoing the same challenge, the same insanity, that I was, inspired me. I loved that we were all on the same team, cheering one another toward the finish line.

The first time I won (successful participants are called winners) was in 2005 and it changed my life. I had set this crazy goal for myself and then I’d reached it. I had reached it. I’d written a novel! I don’t think I can explain what a boost that was to my self-confidence, in general and especially in regard to writing.

After “winning”, I was hooked. Completely. I was hooked on writing even more than I had been before and hooked on the idea of 50k in 30 days. I was running a NaNoWriMo-based community on live journal, I’d made a lot of fantastic friends and I had a growing number of first drafts, each of which had been written in November.

Then, with enough practice (because I was writing the other 11 months of the year too), writing 50,000 words a day just wasn’t a challenge, and the quantity over quality mindset didn’t work for me anymore. So I started writing first drafts that had a focus on quality, which helped me for one year. Then I noticed something; the huge output of writing in November was burning me out. I would let writing completely take over my life for NaNoWriMo but then my creative reservoir would be completely drained and I wouldn’t write another word of fiction for two or three months while it refilled. It’s like a creative binge and purging cycle and I’m thinking that can’t be healthy.

I struggle with consistency, with creating routines and maintaining productivity, so while NaNoWriMo taught me about goal-setting, community and my own potential, I think that frenetic-paced writing is going to be a thing of the past for me. Something to remember with a smile and a head shake while I try out a new tortoise-inspired writing style; slow and steady wins the race.

After all, people change. Nowadays I wouldn’t even call 50,000 words a novel, but back when NaNoWriMo entered my life I knew so much less than I do now, about the publishing industry and even writing in general. In 2003 I used the words then and than interchangeably and thought the number of dots in an ellipses determined how long the pause they indicated was. Now I am reasonably well-published, my writing is vastly better and I even run an ezine. And though I recognize that maybe NaNoWrimo is no longer right for me, I don’t think I’d have gotten to where I am today without it.

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If you’d like to hear more from Rhonda, visit her site at www.rhondaparrish.com

On The Hazards of Editing

Editing is a hazardous experience, I’m convinced. I know some people say they love it, and I can understand the point of view: there ought to be a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve done the terribly long-winded draft text and you get into the phase of polishing it up. If only it worked that way for me. Here are the risks to health and sanity that I associate with editing:

Hazard #1: Extreme Apprehension (with overtones of pure terror).

The only way I can get to the end of a long project is by sticking at it day after day and keeping the word count growing. If I keep pausing to read back over my work, several things can (and frequently do) happen. One: I get seriously side-tracked with all the imperfections I see and start fixing them. My progress grinds to a halt. Two: I realise how terrible most of it is and my writerly confidence takes a nose-dive. Progress, again, suspended. This being the case, the only time I read over the text of a draft-in-progress is if I really need to remind myself about some detail I included before.

What that means, of course, is that I get to the end of a draft and I have next to no idea how good any of it is. I’ve probably more or less forgotten the earlier chapters altogether. Is it exciting, going back to the beginning and reading it almost anew? No, ladies and gents. It’s nerve-wracking. What if I hate it all? Back to the drawing board? That’s a pleasant prospect.

Associated Symptoms: palpitations, sweating, tremors in the extremities, hyperventilation.

Hazard #2: Self-Condemnation.

This is usually stage two. Once the new draft has been read back through, one invariably realises how awful much of it is. This leads to the usual existential agonies suffered by most writers. How dare I produce such tosh and then call myself a writer? What am I thinking, pressing my awful work on the world? I should go become a gardener or something. Etc.

Associated Symptoms: exhaustion leading to excessive sleeping, black moods, periodic yearning after sharp objects and tall buildings.

Hazard #3: Boredom.

Once one has struggled past the above stages and accepted the inevitable, then comes the boredom. True, this third hazard is somewhat less of a burden than the previous two, but it also lasts longer. The first and second passes through creep by, as one finds a great deal to fix or change. How about pass number three? How about read-through number seven? Somehow one must find the energy to keep going through all these reads, until every tiniest problem is fixed (or so one hopes).

Associated Symptoms: yawning to a potentially life-threatening degree. Blurred vision, desire to sleep (possibly forever), renewed yearning after sharp objects.

Hazard #4: Total destruction of all potential due to over-zealousness. 

This insidious hazard dogs the self-editor through every step. Almost everyone will agree that some editing is always necessary, but how much? Some of us edit and edit until it’s as close to perfect as we can get it; but some argue that this approach can ruin all freshness in the writing. In the process of ironing out imperfections, we iron out everything that made it quirky, original and uniquely our own.

HALP. How does one guard against this possibility? Well… perhaps by giving in to some of the urges generated by the above. (Not the sharp objects or the tall buildings – I was thinking of the sleeping and the desire-to-give-up generated by boredom). Rein oneself in at a certain point, hand it over to the beta readers and go on with life? Maybe that would actually help rather than harm. Who knows? Maybe perfectionism isn’t always the best approach.

So, as for me. I finished the first draft of Draykon #2 last week (which is most likely going to be titled “Lokant”, so I’ll call it that from now on). I spent a few days wallowing in hazard #1 and have now progressed into hazard #2. Hazard #3 is going to keep me happily occupied until the end of November. What joy is mine?

The crazy part is that I still love novelising to death, despite all of the above. But I am tired. So it’s lucky that I am flying back to England on Saturday to visit my family for a week. Strictly NO work is to be done in that time; it’s the first visit since I moved and I don’t know when my next visit will be, so I’m going to make the most of it.

This means I’ll be out of touch from the 15th to the 22nd. I have a guest post lined up to keep the blog fires burning in the meantime, but I myself will be harder to reach than normal. In the meantime though, tell me your thoughts on editing. If you’re a writer, how do you approach it? Do you think it’s possible to edit too much? And if you’re not a writer but a reader, do you think some authors need to edit more? (Or less?).

 

Introducing Spindrift: an online fantasy graphic novel

Those who follow me on twitter or facebook will already have heard about the Spindrift project. I thought I’d write about it in some detail here, as 140 characters isn’t near enough to do it justice.

I’ve talked about Elsa Kroese before. She did the gorgeous cover for my recently-released book (visible over to the right there—>). But long before that we were collaborating on something else. It must be nearly a year since I first heard about her plans to develop a graphic novel; it’s easily six or seven months since work on Spindrift began in earnest. The story concept, characters and much of the plot are Elsa’s creations; my role has been to refine, tweak or add to the storyline as appropriate and otherwise to work on dialogue. The lion’s share of the task – the drawing – falls entirely to Elsa.

The novel is being published online on its own website (www.spindrift-comic.com). It’s free to read, and I believe it will always be free (though artists must eat, too: if you like the comic and want to support the creator, there is the option to donate). The first two pages of the prologue were released yesterday! I invite you to view them here.

So what kind of story is it? Here’s the blurb:

Spindrift is a weekly updated comic featuring a modern fantasy story about intrigue, warfare, family, love and betrayal. The story follows the conflict between the close-minded, conservative Alar race and their mortal enemies, the power-hungry Ildrei. And one young woman who gets caught in between…

As half-Alar, half-Ildrei, Morwenna’s existence offends both races. She and her companions must find a way to navigate the conflict – and attempt to bring peace between the two sides.

Elsa is currently working flat-out to produce more pages of the novel. She’s planning to release at least one page per week for the next few months, until we reach the end of the story. If you like the look of it and want to receive regular updates about new pages and extras, you can bestow some love on the facebook page .

Enjoy the free eye candy!

Speaking of ebook formatting…

Which I was doing a week or two ago on ye olde blogge. I’ve just learned that one of the bloggers I recommended, Mr. Paul Salvette, has released an ebook with about forty-seven thousand words of help and tutorials on this topic. Sounds pretty comprehensive, right?

Click here to read his blog post about it.

Or here is the Smashwords page to buy it (for $2.99). Though if you visit the blog, you’ll note that Mr. Salvette is quite generously offering to send out free PDF copies to cash-strapped indies if need be.

I’ve lately come across myriad ways to get your text into ebook format. Probably a lot more will spring up in the near future as well. Personally, I prefer and recommend the method of building your ebook from scratch through formatting it in html yourself. It’s more flexible than converting a word document, and I think – once you get to grips with the basics, which these sorts of tutorials help you to do – that it gives you more control over the final appearance of your book. Plus peace of mind that you don’t have stacks of weird, unnecessary code threatening to cause problems somewhere down the line.

That’s just my largely uneducated and only mildly experienced opinion though.

 

 

Number 19, Brit Street.

I’ve previously heard, from various places, that there is quite a large British expat community in the Netherlands.

The presence of three enormous English-language bookshops in Amsterdam offers some evidence for this idea. Since I’ve been here, I’ve occasionally heard about book groups or writers’ circles full of native English-speakers, but these invariably take place in some distant part of the Netherlands (as far as that’s possible in such a small country). So if there really are so many Brits floating around out here, they’re quite well hidden.

But there were clues. Like the Welsh flag displayed in the rear window of one of the cars on this street.  Last week there was a knock on the front door and on opening it I was addressed in a blessedly British voice. What were the chances that the neighbours immediately opposite our house would be a British family?

There’s also a huge Union Jack filling a window some way down the street. Last weekend we met an Irish lady who’s been living here since the seventies. ‘That’s my daughter’s house,’ she said.

Okay, so there are two households of Irish extraction a few doors down. And I shan’t forget to mention an English lady living a short walk away, whose acquaintance I made some years ago.

That’s not all either. Our neighbour across the stairs is from somewhere in Eastern Europe I believe (she doesn’t speak English and my Dutch is so far deplorable, so it’s hard to hold a conversation). I also hear there’s a Turkish family somewhere on this street.

What a shaken up world it is. I’ve moved to the Netherlands but our house is surrounded by everybody but the Dutch.