Friday, December 19, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008 - The Results

Sorry for the hiatus. In between trying to get through NaNoWriMo, I had to catch up on my reading and didn't get back to the blog.

Anyway, I didn't get far in NaNoWriMo this year, but since it was my first one, I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt. I still like what "Project M" can be, but I just couldn't commit to the story like I wanted to.

Despite my best efforts to solider on, the frustrations with my last novel weighed me down. To put it simply, I didn't write much at all in November. I realize now that I needed that time off. I'd been writing and rewriting so much the past few years, I finally got burnt out.

Even though many have told me it was all right to take a break, I didn't want to let my frustrations be an excuse not to do ANYTHING.

But I've learned that sometimes you have to take a break, even if it means you don't write for a while. Now having taken a few weeks off, I want to rev up my writing again.

It wasn't a total loss though; I was able to get some valuable reading in.

While I will go back to Project M, I'm returning to my previous novel after having a month and change worth of distance from it.

How did NaNoWriMo go for you?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trusting Your Voice, Surviving feedback, and Why Moving on isn't Running Away

Every writer has a voice, even when you're just starting out. It's something you already have. While every writer has a voice to start out with, learning to trust it can be tricky.

In the years since beginning my writing life, I realized that trusting my voice is one of the hardest things to get a handle on. In terms of writing, Voice is the unique signature that differentiates your work from others. It's comprised of, but not limited to the following criteria-

Type of humor
Subject Matter

For example, if two writers each write a story about a horse, they may take different approaches to it.

In the first writer's story, the horse could be struck by lightning, but instead of getting electrocuted, it gains the ability to talk as people can. After some madcap mishaps, the horse figures out the best way to use his newfound gift.

The second writer's approach may take a more realistic turn in that a girl and her horse go on an adventure through the plains beyond her family farm. While the horse in this story doesn't talk, he'll express his feelings through his mannerisms and gestures.

Yet another way would be to combine the two tell the story from the horse's viewpoint like a memoir. Like the first story, the horse can tell the story his way, but like the second story, won't use spoken lines, instead opting for a diary-style format. Now obviously real horses can't write, but by telling the story as if they could without spoken lines will express his feelings and thoughts on things.

After your story has long past the first draft stage, you'll want to get feedback to see if your writing can connect with someone besides you. The key is finding the right people. You'll need people who can view your work objectively and honestly, without the need to brutally tear you apart word by word.

While you don’t want to be blind to suggestions to things that will make your story better, it's still your story. No matter what changes you make, it has to be your story, not a story someone would prefer you write.

One good place to get feedback is the Absolute Write Water Cooler forums, they have a "Share Your Work" section where you can post small excerpts of your work and get feedback. It's password protected so you'll need to register an account to use this feature.

If you don't want to share you story with the whole forum, you can go to the "Beta Readers, Writing Partners, and Advisors" section and find someone on the Willing beta-reader thread. Or post a request for a beta-reader (Beta-readers are people who agree to read and evaluate your work) Again, you'll need to register with the AW forums.

Trust me, it's worth it, I've gotten valuable advice from other writers who have the same goal I do, to improve your writing and get closer to publication.

It can be hard to get feedback, especially in the beginning. But it's the only way to get an objective opinion of your work. Even if someone doesn't like your story, they may give you advice that will ultimately help you make your story better, even if it's hard to hear.

However, be careful not to let the advice you get drive you batty. In some cases, someone may not like your story solely because of their tastes and preferences. Other times, they may not read your genre and may not understand certain things about your story.

That's why it's important to get feedback from multiple sources. If they bring up a lot of the same things, you'll want to pay attention, even if you highly disagree. Often when you get a general consensus on a problem people said they had with your story, it's usually the case.

For example, in one of my novels, I constantly got feedback that my dialogue was either too formal and stilted, or it didn't sound "real." Sometimes it was both! It hurt to hear that, especially since I love writing dialogue, but since almost everyone who read that novel said this was a problem, it was worth investigating, and they were right.

This is something I continue to grapple with because I've gone over my last novel (The one with unrealistic dialogue) at least twenty times since I wrote the first draft in 2005. Why did I stay devoted to it so long without easily giving up? Simple, I believed in my story. I wrote the first draft because I had to have this story in visible form. I spent years revising it because I knew it'd be a worthy story once it was "finished."

While it's not "Finished" yet, I had to put it aside to work on Project M for two reasons-

1. Saving my sanity
When you work on a story for long periods of time, whether it be months or years, it's easy to get frustrated when you constantly get feedback that it's not working because your character's inconsistent or your punctuation is not up to snuff, or whatever pet peeves your readers might have.

Even if you find your readers are right about the problems your story has, it can still feel frustrating as if nothing you did in your past revisions made a difference. As a wise writer told me: Even though it feels like your edits haven't changed anything, they have. Every time you improve even a single sentence, you're getting better at it.

2. Moving on isn't "Running Away"
While I still believe my last novel will be submission ready one day, I'm unable to do the restructuring and re-imagining it needs to shine as I know it can. That's because I'm so close to the work that I gloss over things that shouldn't be.

But I can't just wait and do nothing to get the distance I need to make the proper changes. So when NaNoWriMo starts on November 1st: I'm not going to look at my last novel at all and focus solely on my new novel, Project M.

I struggled with putting my last novel aside more than others I've put aside because I was tired of starting novels, finishing the first draft of them, and not getting them polished at the level to be taken seriously. I felt like I was running away for starting another big project when this isn't finished in terms of being submission ready. But I realized I've been too hard on myself, and NaNoWriMo is my chance to start over and re-evaluate my writing process.

Even though good writing is rewriting, when I kept hitting brick wall after brick wall, it stopped being fun for me. While I've learned to persevere and do the hard work, it has to be balanced with having fun.

My main goal in NaNoWriMo is to have fun with what I'm writing. Get out of Editor mode, and recapture the joy I felt when I started writing in the first place. I haven't felt it in a long time, and need to again.

After December 1st, I'll give my previous novel another look to see if I can better see where I went wrong before and go through another round of revision.

I'll talk more about revision and surviving the early feedback on your story at a later date.

My Game Plan for NaNoWriMo 2008

I've thought long and hard about what I'd do for my first NaNoWriMo, and I finally developed an idea for my next novel which here I'll call "Project M."

Project M is a children's book in the making. I'm not sure the age range yet, but I'm shooting for either YA (Young Adult/Teens) or MG (Middle Grade: Kids 9-12) Since I primarily write children's fiction, it wasn't a huge stretch, and since the subject matter was a favorite of mine, I couldn't turn away.

Project M has been brewing in my mind all year, but it wasn't until I realized one of my four novels needs to be restructured and re-imagined that I gave Project M more attention. When I realized NaNoWriMo was coming up, I decided to enter it this year and start the first draft of Project M.

In the weeks leading up to the mere days before this years NaNoWriMo, I started Project M by doing something I don't normally do, I started with an outline. In the beginning of my writing life, I didn't outline at all, for the sole reason that I couldn't get my head around outlining. Also, I didn't want to be trapped in outlining and never write the actual book.

Now having written four books, however flawed they may be, I realized that a little pre-planning doesn't hurt. While things will change as they always do from outline to the actual writing, and inevitable rewriting, I might avoid some of the false starts I've done in the past. I also get the know my characters more upfront and hopefully will avoid issues of credibility that I struggle with.

I also wanted to play NaNoWriMo fairly, so I didn't write any chapters beforehand, but since out lining's allowed I thought I'd give it another try. It's been slow, but I plan to finish it up by Friday night.

I also know that I'll need to do some research to get certain details right. I've done a little already to get a feel, but once NaNoWriMo starts this weekend, I'm going to hold off research and finish the draft. When I'm done, I'll go back and figure out what I'll need to research to keep things accurate.

For those who are first-time NaNoWriMo participators like me, it's important to remember some advice I got from Ann Gonzalez, a NaNoWriMo veteran who wrote her upcoming novel, Running for my Life during this event-

"Revision is very important, as are getting good readers and critiquers. But, really, those are worries for Dec. 1. The only thing you should be worried about right now is being able to find solid chunks of time and space to sit down and write, and write, and write. You'll have lots of time after November to evaluate how much work it will take to get the story you most want to tell into submission shape. Remember, Stephanie Bodeen only used 7 pages of her nano novel, but her book, The Compound, is available on bookshelves now. I used considerably more than 7 pages of my nano novel, and revision was fairly rapid. Still, those are worries for Dec. Right now, enjoy first draft writing."

Monday, October 27, 2008


Have you ever felt stuck on your novel? Is your short story's not coming together? Are you frustrated with knowing your writing lacks "something" but you don't know what?

I know all to well what that feels like.

I'm C.J. Rockwell, and I'm a (Currently) unpublished writer who like many other writers are striving for the day when their work is polsihed enough to be taken seriously by an agent/editor.

When I started writing seriously, I was able to write "first drafts" without worrying a lot about structure, narrative, and plot. But once I started getting early feedback on my work, and learned tons about what it takes to get published, it overwhelmed me.

Still, I persevered and spent four years writing. Four novels and two short stories later, I've gotten better, but not at the level I need to be.

The problem: I take my writing so seriously, I can easily frustrate myself when it's not coming together. I also had problems sorting through the feedback I received on my work, it was hard to know what were things I needed to address in my stories/novels, and what's merely a matter of taste.

I've come to realize that I've let my internal editor take over too much, and it's time to bring the fun back to writing fiction.

My Reason Behind This Blog

After debating about it amongst myself, I've decided to make NaNoWriMo 2008 my clean slate. From this point forward, I'm going to have fun with my writing again, and give put my internal editor in check.

In a way, I'm beginning my writing journey all over again. This time, taking the valuable knowledge I learned from my first four years, while not forgetting to have fun with the writing process.

In between my future posts on my journey through this year's NaNoWriMo, I'll also share what I've learned about the writing process, and what I'm struggling to learn but haven't…yet.

I'll also plug the books that helped me through some tough times. Either books that helped me with my writing, or books I read that remind me why I wanted to write.

I hope this'll be a blog that will inspire writers who are struggling to hang in there. Remember, you're not alone in your struggles; and if your persistent, patient, and passionate, you'll get closer to your goal and dream of publication. (Still working on the patient part)