Been a Minute

To say this post is overdue is far too kind. Nearly nine months have passed since I checked in, and honestly, things have been wild. Coast-to-coast travel for work and rowing in the fall, another round of heavy travel in the spring (which I remain in the thick of), way too much snow, another CampNano, our rowing team qualifying for nationals. And I got engaged! Crazy. However, while this blog’s been neglected, my silence here should not be mistaken for a lack of progress on the MS or a break from studying craft.

My last update occurred during a turning point in my process. In early September of 2018, I’d sent off the first 40k or so of Highness’s second draft to my beloved CPs. The next six months, I tackled revision based on their feedback, and man, I learned so much. Not just about what worked and what didn’t (which don’t get me wrong, is super helpful), but how to approach the story through a different lens. How to go one, two, ten levels deeper into character and perspective, how to lean into what made me both excited and uncomfortable. Heartfelt criticism can lift a manuscript, and I’m forever grateful for my friends, who are beyond wonderful and willingly spend their free time with the story. The second draft continues to be an entirely different animal from the first (t god), and at the current stage, I’m back to stripping out massive chunks of text and drafting the story anew. There’s plenty more writing to be done and changes – so, so many changes – to be made, and I’m pumped for all of it.

Amidst all the revisions and rewriting, my dear CP/favorite Aussie, Kira, and I had the grand idea to goof off and write cross-over fanfiction of our WIPs, because, well, why not? More on this later, but long story short, having a writing sandbox to play and collaborate in has been incredibly valuable. Even better when they spur totally new side projects to co-author. 🙂

So, not a ton of work on the blog, but plenty being written in other places. I’m still listening to storytelling podcasts everyday, reading (just finished A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab and am currently in the middle of The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo), and trying to do at least one thing daily to develop as a writer. Staying busy and having a blast. Now, just need to update this blog again before March 2020, and things will be all good.

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The Second Draft Thus Far

Holy smokes. Time flies. Fall is certainly upon us. The athletes have returned to school, leaves are browning, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back at Starbucks (super basic of me, I know, but can’t deny the PSL). Summer ended up productive on all fronts – writing, rowing, work. I’m on the cusp of tackling the second part of Highness, so wanted to share my feelings on the revision process thus far.

Everyone says your first draft is simply a matter of getting the words down. Everyone says your first draft is about figuring out character, plot, theme. Everyone says your first draft will suck.

They were right. And that’s an incredibly satisfying admission.

I don’t think I hit my stride with the first draft until the last 20k words. The final 20k of 109k (and let’s not discuss Draft Zero, which was 60k of slapping random scenes down back in December 2016. That has now been entirely cut). Frankly, “hitting my stride” still may be a generous self-assessment.

I’m about a third of the way through the second draft, and it has been less editing and more gutting of the entire manuscript. “Killing your darlings” has never been an issue for me – I liberally brandish the axe of revision. Multiple subplots were cut. POVs have disappeared. Character attributes got ratcheted up. Massive structural changes were implemented. This book is an entirely different animal than what I spent all of 2017 writing. The core elements of the story have remained, but my second draft isn’t revision. It’s a full-blown rewrite. The story is stronger for it.

I’m totally one of those people that enjoys writing the second draft more than the first. I like revision.

If you can’t tell, I’m a metrics nerd, so bear with me. Over the last twenty months, upward of 300k written words have resulted in 38k that’s in decent enough shape to go out to my critique partners, and that bit is still far from perfect. But the story is moving nearer to actualizing the vision. It’s closer than it was six months ago, and I can’t wait to see where it will be six months from now. Plugging away, plugging away.

Camp NaNoWriMo Halftime Report

This summer is flying by. When you live in a place that spends seven months of the year under the threat of snow, every warm weekend is filled with trips, weddings, rowing races, and just about anything else people want to do before Milwaukee returns to being a tundra. Although it’s been a busy few months, the writing goals haven’t changed, and I’m still laying down words in the second draft. One of my ways of staying on track is by participating in Camp NaNoWriMo.

This is my fourth time in a NaNoWriMo session (three camps and a rebellious November). I prefer the Camps for two main reasons – custom goals and the cabins. Unlike November NaNoWriMo’s 50k word grind, Camp goals can be set for words, pages, time, whatever. I’ve tinkered around with different metrics depending on where I’m at in the WIP, and though I do find myself most productive with tracking word count, I appreciate the flexibility. The Camp Cabins, which act as more of a chat room than anything else, are a great place to share ideas, commiserate, celebrate, and build a sense of community throughout the month. I’ve met some awesome people through the cabins, and the extra layer of accountability is fantastic. Plus, I’m a geek and love all the charts and graphs.

We’re halfway through July Camp, so time for a progress report. I set my goal to 12k words, since that aligns with what where Act I should wrap up in the second draft of Highness. I’m about 7k in now, so pacing along just fine. I’m fairly disciplined when it comes to writing consistently, but the nice thing about Camp is that it pushes me to crack open Scrivener everyday. I’ll still take a day or two off when I need to mentally transition through scenes, but otherwise, I’m putting new words on the page at a quicker clip than usual. The month has been fun, and I’ll be pumped to have an entirely rewritten Act I by the end of July (writing the second draft has been an experience in itself, but I’ll save that post for another day). Two weeks left to go!

 

Ode to Libraries

Libraries are nostalgic places for me. Growing up, my mom used to take my siblings and me to the library regularly. We’d compete in summer reading challenges, and I remember being super pumped as a kid when I finally could elevate to the ‘Gold Readers’ card. When I moved from Illinois to Virginia in middle school (talk about crazy adolescent transition), the library in my new town was walking distance from our house and one of the first places we visited. I’d always leave with more books than I could feasibly finish before the due dates (which naturally lead to fines I had to pay off with my piddly lawn-cutting money), and the innocent excitement that comes with holding heaps of new worlds in your hands.

Throughout college, I’d check-out an occasional book, but mostly I was in the school library to study. I didn’t peruse the shelves or chat with the librarians. As a freshman, I opened a new public library card when I moved to Milwaukee, but only went there once, maybe twice. Back then, I went to the library to attend overdramatic club meetings or Friday night study sessions with water bottles of gin.

Once I started reading more as an adult, the financial advisor in me promised myself I wouldn’t go broke buying every interesting book. Instead of shopping for more shelves, I marched ten blocks west from my office to the city’s main branch for the bookish. Milwaukee’s Central Library is gorgeous. Mosaic tiles covers the floor, and pillars stretch toward the high domed ceiling. The entrance alone was spiritual, sacred. Eventually, I stopped drooling at the Renaissance architecture and headed to the service desk to renew my card, which to my surprise (ahem, horror) had been expired for eight years. Eight. Years. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly updated my card, picked up a few books, and left with that same excitement I had as a kid.

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Entrance to the Milwaukee Central Library

The library is even better than I remembered. Now that I’m able to place holds on the app and download audiobooks to my phone, I’m checking out all sorts of titles that I wouldn’t have wanted to buy before. I recently read an article from the Pews Research Center that millennials are the most likely generation to use public libraries. Though that might say something about the millennial financial situation in the US (which is an entirely separate topic I’ll refrain from soapboxing about), I still think it’s a pretty dope statistic. The library is awesome, and though I still occasionally return my books back late, paying that fine doesn’t bother me like it used to. Such an amazing public institution is worth so much more.

Thanks, Rowing, for the Writing Reminders

Nowadays, if I’m not writing, I’m likely doing something rowing related. I’ve been a competitive athlete as far back as I can remember, whether it was club softball, volleyball, or basketball. For the last decade, I’ve been deeply entrenched in rowing, first as a collegiate athlete, then a collegiate coach, and now a juniors coach. It’s a sport that’s highly feedback-based, and ever since I’ve started taking writing seriously, it’s been easy to draw parallels between writing critique and coaching athletes. However, giving advice is not the same as receiving it. During my last two morning rows, where I was in the boat instead of on the launch with a megaphone, I came to appreciate a few things rowing reminded me about taking feedback, and how it’s helped me become a better writer.

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The fellas I have the privilege of coaching

1. Commitment to a Shared Vision

In the rowing shell, there is always one, clear goal – make this boat move as efficiently as possible. With every stroke, nine people are locked in on how to better move through the water, get more loaded on the oar, stay even over the keel…whatever it takes to cut swiftly. Along the way, the coach or coxswain is giving pointers and communicating adjustments which each athlete accepts and applies, because everyone believes that’s what it takes to make the boat run.

In writing, the objective is to make the manuscript the best version of itself.  When the vision is clear, and everyone, from critique partners to editors, is giving feedback to that end, it turns feedback into something that’s eagerly anticipated instead of feared.

2. Taking Personal Responsibility

When my coxswain says, “The boat is off to port at the release,” my first thought is what am I doing in my stroke to toss the shell? Are my hands too low? Is my shoulder angle off? Am I not maintaining lateral pressure? I run through the list, checking my positions to see what I can do to contribute setting up the boat. It’d be easy to ignore her call (as many of our novice athletes do), and assume someone else is the reason for the flop.

While this comes up less in critique (you can’t hide from your own work, and that rawness is something I love about this craft), I certainly see it in my writing time accountability. It’s too easy to blame missing word counts on having to cut the grass or being swamped at the office. But when I take ownership over my actions and my goals, suddenly, new words appear on the page. What a concept. Easier said than done, and the discipline is something I still continue to work on daily.

3. Celebrating Victories

The path toward the mystical rowing nirvana of perfect ratio, perfect set, perfect run is paved with an inordinate amount of discipline, grit, frustration and more calls of “even hands!” and “lift into the catch!” than one can count. But occasionally, there are these moments where everything is silent except for the click of oars and bubbles running alongside the boat. Bubbles. Oh, those glorious bubbles. The little pops that show that even for a few strokes, you got something right, and all nine people in the boat share in the bliss together.

All too often in writing, we beat ourselves up – always looking for what we did wrong, never for what we did right. Recognition of strengths and wins is just as important as identifying what needs work. It’s not arrogant to allow yourself the time to appreciate all the effort it took to create that one awesome sentence or nail that particular scene. Sure, it might not survive to the final draft, but you can enjoy the moment for what it is – however brief it may be.

This list could go on forever, as I believe many of life’s best lessons can be learned on the water, but if I keep blogging about writing and rowing, I may not hit today’s word count goal. In two, weigh enough.

INTO REVISION WE GO

Officially two weeks into the first revision of Highness. Considering how long it took me to settle on an outlining process, I was worried I’d end up spending half of April waffling between the million suggested methods. I learned from my outlining woes, however, and used my time away from the MS to nail down my steps toward writing the second draft. The process that resonated with me most was Susan Dennard’s (her website is full of fantastic resources for writers). While her revision steps are a little heavy on the worksheets, they’ve helped loosely guide my path. I’m particularly fond of what she calls “Dreaming the Perfect Book”, and taking the time to tie back into the vision for the story.

Rewriting is off to a good start. I have direction and a track to run on. Incorporating major changes, but the story is already stronger for it. Pogie has a keen eye for plot holes, so I think we’ll be in solid shape moving forward.

PogieMS

Printing out the book and reading start to finish was an experience. Sure the pages are chock full of red pen and “wtf?” comments now, but physically holding the full story for the first time was surreal. Like, a bunch of stuff that’s been floating around in my head for over a decade is in my hands. No matter where the story goes, that in itself is pretty badass.

DOUBLE K

Back in February, I finished the first draft of my WIP, Your Imperial Highness. Common advice is to spend time away from the manuscript before jumping into revisions, so that you can transition into the editing phase with fresh eyes. I’ve dutifully kept Scrivener closed the last month, and filled my free time with consuming narrative in its various forms aka watching a lot of Citrus and reading Nevernight. This has all been loads of fun, but as strange as it is to say, I miss the book. How weird is that? I feel goofy even admitting it. Who knew taking space from the MS would be so difficult? My self-imposed break ends next weekend and work on the second draft begins. Needless to say, I’m pumped.

KristoffKaufmanSpeaking of Nevernight, I drove down to Chicago to see Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman on their book tour for the Obsidio release. These Broken Stars was the best book I read last year (I adore Lilac LaRoux), and the opportunity to see them both was too exciting to pass up. Jay and Amie are awesome, hilarious people. It was great hearing them talk about their co-authoring process and creative choices while writing the Illuminae Files. They were both super generous with their time and stuck around until 11pm signing books. Their journey is inspiring (I may or may not have told Jay that I found his old AbsoluteWrite posts re: Stormdancer), and despite the car towing incident the following morning, meeting them was totally worth the trip.