writing

An abundance of M’s

Today I’ve been trawling through every file on my computer, Dropbox and Google drive in an attempt to find  something I started writing 3+ years ago. I remembered that it had been an attempt to write something with more of an ‘action’ feel to it, and that it began as an exercise in a creativity workshop thing I was doing just prior to Natalie’s birth – I’d been too tired, too scared, too anxious about trying to write something novel length since Lauren was born, and this particular piece, stemming from a dream I’d had, was a perfect way to cautiously approach a novel.

Of course, I never finished it, because life with a newborn, a 20 month, and a 5yr old is actually kind of insane.

But I thought about it today as I’m in a weird place in life right now – I have some spare time, but I have to start work on another assignment really soon, I have no pressing deadlines hanging over me (for uni, or anything else), and I want to write, but have nothing in progress as such. I’ve finished the drafts of three novellas this year, but I don’t have the time right now to revise any of those, and there isn’t much point in stressing myself out about that right now because I don’t plan on releasing those until late next year…

So naturally my brain went back to that other time when I was in limbo, waiting, and wanting something to play with. And this novel was the thing.

It has zombie babies, and regular zombies too. I’m on a bit of a kick right now and a friend recently said to me ‘you should write your own zombie novel’, so it was inevitable that my brain latched on that old idea.

I never titled this piece, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember the main characters names, so I went digging through every forgotten file, every ‘untitled’ document I could find.

And I didn’t find the story initially*. What I did find was that I have a ridiculous tendency to give my female leads names that begin with M. Overwhelmingly so. I had no idea!

Madea is the MC in Sun-Touched, and then we have Melanie from Surplus to Requirements, there is Melody in The Way the Sky Curves, and Moana in Shell and Bone. And then we have Meredith, Marama, Meagin, Megan, Marie, and Melissa from various short stories. And finally, Matilda in the Zombie Baby novel. Yes, I’m just going to call it the zombie baby novel for now. I literally have no idea where the story is going, though I’m sure I’ll have a blast finding out.

Not ALL my novels have M’s in the lead – Delaney is in charge in Saving Tomorrow**, and Lyssa is the female lead in Chasing Ascension… Gah! That might be it? Lord help me. I have an obsession with M names. Someone stage an intervention, right now. I’ll have to go out of my way to pick ANY other letter of the alphabet the next time I start a novel. Well, Samantha is the lead in my next novel, so at least she’ll kind of balance things out…

Save me?

Next time I start something new, I think I’ll put it to you to choose the letter the name begins with, because I need help. Obviously.

*I did find the first couple of chapters, thank goodness, but only because I’d emailed them to Anthony and I hadn’t deleted that email. I’m so pleased that my inbox seems to hold EVERYTHING from FOREVER ago. Apparently sending your stories to other people is the best back up method after all!

** It appears I might also have a thing for titles that begin with S… 

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And it’s done

The first draft of Shell and Bone is complete at 23, 532 words.

A few facts about it:

Things kick off with a kiss and they end with a kiss too.

One of the main characters could easily be considered a ‘bad’ character, though she has really great reasons for her actions and others come to see that too – though I found it hard to write and kept wondering whether the reader would find a way to love her too. We’ll see, I guess 😉

Stuff happened that I had not planned. The characters didn’t come out like I had intended, they did things I didn’t expect them too – and that is awesome.

I think it contains the most boring and bleck scene I have ever written – and yet that scene gave me the key to the first scene of the next book in the series, so no matter how painful and ugly it was to write, it was totally worth it (even if none of the original words survive the rewrite).

It’s a hot mess. And I love it.

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Winner!

I did it! Successfully managed to write to my goal of 20,000 words for the month, which means I ‘won’ Camp NaNoWriMo. Feeling pretty happy about that, though I didn’t quite finish writing the novella which sucks a bit. I thought I would finish it yesterday but ended up spending the entire day in bed with a crippling headache. I have codeine now though, and am actually capable of functioning a little (yay codeine!).

August is lined up to be another busy month. It’s ‘The End is Nigh‘ over at Kiwiwriters and I need to finish the first draft of Shell & Bone, and then make the beginning of Burn as good as the rest of it before submitting. And then I think it’s back to revision on ‘The Way the Sky Curves’. Which I guess makes it a month of novellas. Will be super nice to have them all at the next stage of writing though, and puts me well on the way to completing my goals for the year.

How was July for you? And what are you planning for August?

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Going Camping

Last night I had a fun catch up with some of my writing group: Google hangouts + wine + writer friends = total win. Somewhere between the middle and end of my 2nd glass of wine someone mentioned Camp NaNoWriMo and it sounded like a terribly good idea. 

I mean, I DO want to write the second novella in this series next month. I might not have done an outline yet, but there are ideas there… I’m sure I can find time to jot some more notes down before June ends and July rolls around. 

So, yes. I signed up. 

I’ve stayed clear of most things NaNo for a few years now, unable to really manage the larger goal of 50K in a month with small kids exerting their tyrannical will on me. Of course, the beauty of Camp NaNo is that you can set your own word count goals (I’ve put mine at 20K), and still be considered a winner. I’m actually kind of excited! I really need to kick another first draft out and writing alongside my group will be awesome fun.

Are you going camping in July? 

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Updates!

I keep looking at my blog, thinking I should post something, but not really knowing where to begin. The right words have been hard to find.

So we’ll start with: I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. As you might remember, I started The Artists Way back near the start of the year. I’m actually sticking with it this time and am up to Week 7. I’m learning a lot about myself, not all of it fun, but valuable even if hard at times. It’s not resulting in massive amounts of writing, though I have been revising steadily over the month (four scenes to go!). I’m changing, I can feel that, though I don’t know what form a lot of changes will take. When I can find the words to get all my thoughts down, I will.

I’ve also accepted that I have a problem, and my moods are not normal.  I’ve been feeling all kinds of things and about 10 days ago admitted that I’m not okay. I’ve been telling people when they ask, and many are shocked (those in the face to face world, anyway, my online friends don’t get my masks so much!), though at the same time pleased that I am being honest again. It’s one of the steps towards balance for me, so I’m glad I’ve taken it. I’m also taking some vitamins and other things which seem to be helping. I’ve not been back to the pits of despair since then, which is nice. Sometimes, just admitting you aren’t okay takes the pressure off. Masks are heavy, as are fake smiles, so my advice to anyone is to cast those aside.

I also had a short story accepted for publication! Was totally surprised, but delighted of course. I can’t wait til the line-up is announce and the cover revealed, though it’s been lovely seeing other writers I know and respect mentioning on facebook and twitter that they also got in. One writer friend in particular, as it’s her first sale, and she is such an awesome writer. I am so proud of her, and so pleased we’ll get to share space inside the cover of a book.

What else? I guess life is ticking along as normal. We’re still home schooling and there are great days and not so great days. I’m enjoying getting back into some renovation stuff, ticking things off my giant list. Playcentre began last week, so we’re finding a groove with that again as well. It’s a very busy term in general. Oh, and my university paper officially begins on Monday. I’ve not had a chance to read ahead yet, but that’s okay. I feel like I can handle all the things on my plate, which is more than I was feeling a couple weeks ago.

Right, better get back to that revision huh? I hope Feb has been treating you kindly. So hard to believe it’s almost over already.

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Raring to…

Revise!

Yes, you heard me right. I am gearing up for the great novella revision, and I couldn’t be more excited!

I know. What on earth has gotten into me? I can’t really explain it. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a good bit of editing – I love cutting words, and finding ways to make things better, and cutting words, and adding more tension and all that (and cutting words – did I mention that?).

But right now, I am knee deep in the part of the process I loathe the most, and I’m more excited about it than I have ever been before. Go figure! Today I went through the novella and made scene notes, and then noted conflicts and changes, and then wrote comments on what needs improving, what needs removing, what needs moving… And came up with a pretty decent length list of things I need to do.

Strangely, this is not that different from how I normally do things. I don’t edit in order, I make lists of things to do, then usually I start with something easy (to prove that I CAN do it, and LOOK IT’S REALLY NOT SO BAD), and then I tackle something major so that I can sigh with relief and pat myself on the back for a job well done, before going back to something quick, so that I can tick something else off the list and see PROGRESS, and so on until I am sick of the sight of the thing and can’t wait to send it off to my poor crit buddies.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, about other peoples editing processes, and it’s encouraged me no end to see that HEAPS of people do it this way. I thought, for awhile, that I was basically just flailing around blindly, but it turns out that folks like Chuck Wendig and Rachel Aaron have a similar process. I’ve taken some notes from both of those articles, and incorporated them into my own process to give a try this time, as always I’m ever hopeful of finding a way to make it all run a bit smoother.

I still have to write a timeline for the novella (groan…. but I know how important this is. I mean, I’m pretty sure that at one part of my novel it’s summer and then a few days later its the middle of winter), as well as get some character info solidly on the page. A few people get a bit wobbly here and there. Gotta straighten them out.

But this story is GOOD, I really believe that. Now I can’t wait to make it BETTER.

And I think, for the first time in a long time, maybe ever (definitely ever, for a story longer than a short), I’m doing all of this before I send it to so much as a single reader. I’m super pleased with myself for that. I’m going to call that growth, and a step towards not being such a lazy writer.

Go me 🙂

Hope you’ve been having a good week!

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Habits: New and Renewed

This first week of the year has been an interesting time for me. I think it’s probably one of those (many and varied) points where you shake off another layer of mummy brain and reclaim a little of who you used to be, though this time it’s not in a massively obvious way, at least, not externally. It’s more about mindset, and clarity.

You see, I used to be a really productive writer, pretty much until I had Natalie. Lauren never slowed me down, not at all. I mean, Ivy was in preschool for 4-5 hrs on a weekday then, and babies sleep a whole lot. In fact, Lauren was almost always on me, but she was quite comfortable to sleep in a wrap and I had my hands free to get on with my outpouring of words.

Back then I wasn’t really editing, or even revising though, I was simply writing first draft after first draft. And it was SO much fun.

Of course, at some point, you have to admit that actually, continual first drafts are not the best way to learn your craft and so before Natalie’s arrival I made the (wise) decision to switch from novels to short stories. I learned to revise, and edit, and how to make a story go from crappy to decent.

(Hang in there, I am getting to my point!)

And then my darling third came along and wow, everything was harder. Two under two is no walk in the park. It was virtually like having two newborns because Lauren was still breastfeeding and any time Nati wanted a feed, so did Lauren. That was my choice, and I was (and am) totally happy I made it as they have this awesome bond that I wouldn’t trade for anything. The point is that it was hard, and my productivity went out the window. I forgot a lot of things between then and now. A whole lot.

I forgot that I am actually a pretty fast writer, and that if I know where I am going, I can achieve a great deal in very little time. I’ve been reminded of this because in the last 4 or so days I have been using a stopwatch and timing how long I’ve been writing for in a day, and how many words I’ve written. I’m stopping the clock every time I get interrupted or have to stop for something or other – it’s not a perfect system, by any means, but it’s done a few things for me.

The first is that because I am aware that there is a clock on, I am more focused. And the second it’s revealed that over the last few years (aside from a few patches of focus), I have been super disorganized and pretty much shooting myself in the foot. I can consistently write 500 words in a ten minute period, even if that ten minute period has been interrupted 10 times (and yes, sometimes that can happen! Today was a good day, I wrote for 27 mins, managed 1610 words, and that was only over 7 blocks – the shortest one was 1m20s, the longest 6m48s).

The fact that some days I have not been writing even 500 words means that as much as I have been complaining about the constant intrusions on my time, I’m really the only one to blame. If I am not giving myself even that long, then what kind of writer am I?

It was kind of hard, making that realization. I mean, I’ve admitted I am a lazy writer, and I don’t plan or outline nearly enough. And yes, I’m constantly exhausted. It’s far easier to blame the rest of my life for that, but really, at the end of the day I am the writer, and I am the one who has to say ‘I need x amount of time!’ and find a way for that to happen.

So now I am making a conscious choice, and I have been writing over 1k every day for the past week or so.

That was the new, the renewed habit came about as a result of taking up with The Artists Way again. One of the first things you read about is the morning pages. This made me remember how I used to use 750words.com as a place to just let off some steam and get the words flowing. Six days ago I logged in and spat out 750 words. Since then I have learned that with no interruptions I can actually get out 750 words in 7-8 minutes. It’s pure freewriting, stream of conscious, not worrying about spelling or anything else. I just vent whatever is on my mind, I let loose, and usually around the 600 word mark switch from that to writing to myself about what I want to do with the day, or what is happening in my story.

This has been AMAZING. I’m really finding that it means by the time I sit down to my novella my fingers are warmed up. In fact, they are itching to get writing. Not only that, but because my last chunk of words is directly related to my story, I can just jump straight into the novella. I had forgotten that too – that daily writing means you never lose touch with the feel and shape of your story.

In the last six days or so I have written about 8,000 words on my novella, compared to December where I managed 13,000 over the entire month. Hopefully, with this new clarity, and these old and new habits back in my arsenal, I can continue on the path I’m currently carving out for myself.

Of course, after I finish this draft, I’m going to be revising, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish! lol I’ve got some new tactics I am going to be trying though – hopefully they work as well as these ones.

How is the year starting out for you? Anything new, or old, that you’re trying out?

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What’s in store for 2013

I love this period over the end of one year and the beginning of the next. I love the buzz that happens when people talk about their fresh starts, hopes and dreams for the new year. It echoes the way I feel and just makes it all so much better!

Obviously, after a pretty rough year last year I am hoping for a little bit of an easier time in 2013. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. No-one can predict these things.

This year, for me, is a lot about finishing things. I didn’t even realize this until I sat down just now and looked over the list I was posting to the blog. My other list is a lot bigger, and filled with each step required to achieve the goal – but I won’t bore you with all of that here. I am going to keep it really simple.

I want to finish Sun-Touched and submit it. It’s currently a finished first draft, and I’m really looking forward to diving back into that world and fleshing it out more, and then sending it out into the world.

I also want to finish writing Shell and Bone, get that ready and submit that as well. As for any other writing? Well, it’s purely a bonus. I am quite sure I won’t be able to resist starting something new, but these two projects are my main squeezes this year as far as I can tell.

I have a couple books that I am going to finish this year if it kills me. The first of which is Perdido Street Station. A friend recommended it to me YEARS ago. I started reading it at the beginning of 2011, and I am only about 30% through. It’s so long. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read, but there just never seemed to be a good time to finish it off. The quick reads have won out in the last couple years. Mindless books. Well, it’s time. As soon as I finish the book I am currently reading, I am switching back to Perdido until it’s done.

I also have The Artists Way sitting around. I read the intro and first chapter and that was as far as I got. Several of my good writers friends recommend it though, so this year I am finally going to work through it. I think its a good time to do that, as I really need to work on finding some balance in my life and making sure that I get time out from the every day grind to work on my creativity.

Another recommendation has been Writing The Other. I started reading this last year too, but started skipping exercises and forced myself to put the book down. It’s all very well and good reading books on writing, but the real learning happens when you put those things into practice. I decided that until I had time to do that, I was going to set the book aside.

I have a lot of learning to do. And I expect (hope) that this year will be a year of great growth. I am now able to admit that I’m a lazy writer, and I want to change that. I waste a lot of time on mindless, stupid crap, and I don’t want to do that anymore. It’s time to stop letting that little voice in my head demotivate me. Time to push past my ‘play it safe’ barrier, time to stop waiting for someone else to tell me to fix something and just get on and do it myself, because I shouldn’t rely on other people to tell me whats wrong*. Most of the time I know what’s wrong. I do. I’m just being lazy because I’m exhausted all the time.

Well, screw exhaustion. It’s not going to beat me this year. I’ve just finished reading 2k to 10k and I’m totally ready to get on the bandwagon and outline and write, and actually make the most of the extremely limited time I do have. I want to see Sun-Touched heading towards publication of some kind or another. I want to write other novels, and edit those novels and see them out in the world too. And it’s only going to happen if I put the hard work in.

So, that’s me. Really. One novel, one novella. A bunch of reading and learning and everything else that goes along with this writers gig. There are a lot of other things I am working towards, but I think they can be summed up in the words balance, and harmony. That’s what I’m hoping, for me, and our family.

*I know my writing buddies are there to help, they are amazing writers and their input is fantastic – but think how much more valuable their feedback will be to me if what I’m giving them is free of the same old things that keep cropping up? I’m pretty certain they are getting tired of seeing the same basic issues 😉 I know I would be! Time to do them, and myself, a favour. 

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Looking back

This month has been a grand old mix of just about everything, and I can hardly believe that we’re almost to the end of the year. I had high hopes of knocking out another novella, but that hasn’t panned out quite so well. All good. I turned 32, had an amazing birthday, Christmas was wonderful and my garden got a massive clean out. So as a whole, it has been a good month. Just not so much for writing.

At the beginning of 2012 I posted that this year was going to be all about exploration. I knew it was going to be a ‘big’ year, but had no idea in what way that would manifest. Quite frankly, I had no idea what was in store for me. This has been a hell of a year, and while the growth that’s occurred has been great and life is on track to improve, in some ways I wish it never happened. It has been hard. Really hard.

I started back at university, which was really something. I LOVED the paper I took. I learned so much and have been able to apply a lot of the things I’ve learned to life in general, as well as using new skills to help friends through some stuff. It really confirmed for me that counselling is going to play a role in my life – whether as a career, or just as something I have in my arsenal of skills*. That said, I did drop out from the Lifeline training as I had this overwhelming sense that it just wasn’t something I could follow through on (the weekly time commitment etc).

This was just as well, because not long after that school started back up for Ivy and things deteriorated pretty quickly. She’d already been on a downward spiral, having major difficulties with her temper, her moods and life in general, but the added stress of school just seemed to tip her over the edge. It wasn’t long before she started talking about killing herself, and making plans for how she would do this. Naturally, I was beyond concerned and we went to see child mental health.

Since the beginning of April this year she’s been in therapy weekly, had a mass of testing done and been declared to have either ADHD, Aspergers, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Depression, Bi-polar or a combination of these things. They can’t really pin-point which is it, and have said she is ‘unique’ and ‘baffling’. She is also highly intelligent, but we already knew that. They got us to trial some medication for ADHD but it was like she was on speed, so we opted to discontinue that within a week of starting and haven’t looked back.

This lead to us making the decision to homeschool. School seemed to be a major source of her depression and it had got to the point where she could eat nothing at school, she had almost constant tummy aches, chronic anxiety about what might happen at school, and would begin crying or screaming at me within moments of walking out the classroom door (which would pretty much continue until bedtime).

Needless to say, none of our wee family were thriving, and it was killing all of us living in a warzone with one incredibly unhappy little girl. No child should have to feel the way she was feeling.

It was August before she got her exemption, but since then she’s been doing really well. Her desire to learn has come back, she is creative and imaginative now, and while she’s still very difficult to keep focused, at least she has a lust for knowledge. She can eat again, she has no tummy aches, and she hasn’t spoken a word about wanting to kill herself for months now.

Total win.

She’s still very explosive though and gets exhausted easily, just behaving herself on an ordinary day is tiring for her. What other kids normally cope with is very taxing for her, and I’ve learned to make allowances. If we have a busy day, an overly stimulating day, we stay home the next and she can meltdown as much as she needs to in the comfort of her own home. She’s generally very well behaved in public, which is a blessing. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the best we can do right now. I’m so pleased we can do this for her, and even her psychologist has said that the main factor in her getting ‘better’ even this much has been home school, not therapy.

All of this has meant more stress in our collective life, but in mine mostly. I’ve gone from having two kids home full time, to having three and adding teacher to my already comprehensive list of ‘stuff I do’. I’ve got to admit I do enjoy it (thank goodness!!) but it has meant we’re still working on routines and I’m still learning to take time out for myself (I’m not very good at that yet). We’ll get there eventually. It’s clear to everyone who knows her that this was absolutely the best thing we could have done for her.

To make all of my daughters difficulties even harder to deal with, I got my cycle back finally (after years without!) only to find that I have PMDD. This is pretty nasty and meant that initially I was all but useless for about 10 days a month. I thought I had lost it, and then realized it was incredibly cyclical. The doctor confirmed it, and I’ve since tried a few things to help. I’m still working on sorting it out permanently, but after 8 or so months now, I am finally learning to go a little easier on myself in those down days, and make the most of the rest of the month. It’s a work on progress.

As for my writing, well I didn’t get a single thing published this year. I spent most of my time working on longer pieces – I finished the first draft of Sun-Touched, and I wrote, edited and submitted Burn (at least I thought I did. Turns out I actually submitted a portion of my final assignment for my uni paper… moral of the story is: don’t hand in a bunch of things at the same time, you might get confused), and started a second novella as well, currently titled Shell and Bone. I feel good about the lessons I learned regarding writing, which will hopefully pay off next year. I’m trying not to be too bothered about the fact there were no sales.

The bright spot of my writing life has been my writing friends, who are so wonderful, and so great to work along side, and the discovery that no matter how long a break I take between projects, I can slip right back into writing with ease. Beautiful.

EDITED TO ADD. OH AND I CO-WON AN AWARD. I had totally forgotten, but Anna reminded me. That was also an amazing thing that happened in my writer life. A Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Collected Works. Epic. 

So yeah. Rough year. Big year. And that’s without all the tragedies and sadness that has happened to those I care about. If you’d asked me what I thought life would look like at the beginning of 2012, I could never have predicted that this would be it. I think we’re all still adjusting, but that’s probably just what we’ll have to call ‘normal’ for… well, perhaps forever. Who knows.

For right now I am looking ahead. I can’t see how 2013 could be any more challenging (knock on wood!!), so I am certainly hoping for more light spots than dark, more obvious progress, and more positive change within our family unit.

I’ll be studying two papers – one per semester – and as my writing group as dubbed it, 2013 is going to be the year of the novel. Sun-Touched is going to be my primary writing project and I can’t wait to knock it into submission quality.

I truly hope that your 2012 was a little easier than mine. And if it wasn’t, I’m really sorry it was so rough. Enjoy the last days of it, though, you survived and that’s something to be proud of. That said, I’ll be raising a glass on the 31st and saying thank god it’s over!

Here’s to 2013. Catch you next year 😉

*I managed to swing a B+ on my counselling theory paper (which I’m over the moon about. I know it’s not an A, but all things considered, it’s quite an achievement). As well as to complete the Mauri Ora course through Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

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I have to laugh

The month started off so well! It was truly wonderful. The words were flowing, I slipped into my writing groove with ease and I was really enjoying my novella. So much. And then we got to the 5th of December and sickness entered my house, and you know, you just know, that you can never get away with only one person falling ill.

So for the last five days I have been dealing with a lot of vomit. None of it mine, for the record. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been puked on, though I can say I have had to clean all four mattresses, several duvets and sets of sheets and just about every blanket, towel and bowl in the house.

It was actually okay, until Saturday anyway. I was holding it together. Tending to my dear children’s needs as well as meeting my own by maintaining my 1,000 word a day output. And then Nati got hit at 115am Sat morning and I didn’t really get any sleep after that. All three kids were their sickest on Saturday and I was running on fumes, and I had a skip bin that needed to be loaded with the contents of my garden shed (which contained piles of timber with millions of nails, very old chemicals, broken glass and other assorted nastiness that I was desperate to get rid of).

Ah yes, this is life.

In my coffee fueled, sleep deprived, crazy state of Saturday morning I told a writer friend I was going to get my words out. And he laughed at me.

And now I am laughing too. Sometimes, I’m delusional, and I can admit that. Ah, I make me giggle sometimes. Needless to say, I managed about 100 words over the weekend, and I’m okay with that. The fact that I am now 2k behind my projected word count doesn’t actually bother me. Writing will happen, because I’m a writer, but life happens too and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.

P.S: I DID get the garden shed emptied, and the kids are all out of puketown now, so that just adds some awesome to the start of this new week.