NaNoWriMo is done!

It’s November 30, so I can officially say that National Novel Writing Month is almost done. For me, it ended a week ago when I got to my 50,000 words. Or maybe it ended four days ago when I finished the rough draft of my novel. Or maybe it ends tomorrow because that’s what the calendar says. Regardless, it’s over. When I first heard of NaNoWriMo (years ago this was), I thought it was a crazy thing to try to do. When I first started 30 days ago, I didn’t think that I’d finish. I figured that between kids, work, and…well…a national pandemic, things would come up and it wouldn’t happen. I figured I’d be writing this blog post (or not) reflecting on why it didn’t work for me. Instead, I wanted to think back on what I learned and got out of this experience. Which I get, isn’t that much different, except that I won NaNo — so I’m a bit more upbeat about the whole thing.

  1. I learned that having a goal, no matter how crazy, works for me. When I was trying to get to the 50,000 words, I was motivated enough to blast through more than 2,000 each day. Once I finished though, getting the last 5,000 words to finish my novel was slow going.
  2. I learned that I REALLY like writing sprints. I know I said that in my last blog post, but I am surprised at how much I like them. As I sit down for writing sessions in the future, I’m probably going to do a lot of 15-20 minute sprints.
  3. I learned that I am definitely not a plotter or a pantser, but somewhere in between (I know that it’s often called a plantser, but being Jewish, I prefer a plotzer). But I’ll also say that planning things out a little bit was useful, but also a bit stressful because I kept being afraid that that the well had run dry. It hadn’t. I was always about 2-3 scenes ahead of myself.
  4. I learned that the biggest challenge is going to be in the editing. As I was writing, I changed things here and there because (as a plotzer) I figured things out about my story along the way. To go back and fix those things is going to take some time.

I also found that I really liked this story. A story about a golem at a New England boarding school had been on my mind since the summer, but I held off on writing it because I knew it was an MG book and I wanted to try it out for NaNoWriMo. So I thought about the story since early in the Summer. And I thought about it and thought about it. I thought I knew my MC pretty well. I found out as I was writing the story that there was more to learn and I liked him and the supporting characters. I even liked the villain of the story. It all played out nicely. When I finished the story last week, I kind of wanted to start the editing right away.

But I won’t. Instead, I’m going to spend December doing more revisions on my first story (Seeing the Voice) and drafting parts of its sequel. When January rolls around, I’ll pick up this one (current title: Cryptid Academy) and start editing it. I think I’ll be happy to get back to Emmett and Khalil and Kymberly and Lyndsay. I think it’ll be good to polish up their story and see where it goes from there. My next blog post will probably come sometime then. Hopefully I can be as positive in that one as I am now.

Thanks for reading!

Eight days into NaNo!

I don’t know why this post and the last one both start with the number eight, but I’ll go with it.

NaNoWriMo is fully underway and I am doing it! If you read my last post, you’d know that I wasn’t feeling super-confident about my ability to keep up with NaNo. 50k words in a month is a lot. 1,667 words per day also is a lot. And my first novel, while being nearly 90k words, took me thirteen months to get through, and I was usually only doing about 2,000 words at a time or less. But this time is different.

Maybe it’s because I’ve shut my inner-editor in a box and I’m just writing.

Maybe it’s because I’m writing in short spurts rather than trying to do an hour or two at a time.

Maybe it’s the self-competition.

Whatever it is, after eight days of NaNoWriMo, I am at 17,012 words (not including this blog post)! That’s an average of more than 2k words per day. Woot woot!

For anyone else out there who is working through NaNo or thinking about doing it in the future, there are a couple of things that are working for me:

  1. Banish that inner-editor. I am part of the Metrowest Writer’s Group now for NaNo (they’re awesome) and to kick it off, they sent us all little boxes to “put your inner-editor into.” It’s just symbolic, of course, but I have just been writing and writing without going back and changing anything. That’s what January is for right?
  2. Sprints have been amazing! I am easily distracted. It’s a constant problem for me. But, I have been able to write for 15, 20, 25 minutes and then get distracted. This may have to be my new way of writing in the future.
  3. I write when my kids watch. We don’t let our kids watch that much during the day (much to their chagrin), so when they’re watching, I sit at the kitchen table and write. That, plus the 20-30 minutes in the morning before anyone wakes up has been golden.

I still might not be able to finish NaNoWriMo. You never know what comes up. But I am feeling better about being able to finish. And after it’s done, I might look back on this book and decide that it’s all trash. I don’t think so, but with the inner-editor locked away, there’s no way to know yet.

But regardless of the possible negatives. It has been a good experience and I am feeling good about my writing now. And that’s definitely what I needed in this dumpster fire of a year.

Thanks for reading!

Eight hours (and a bit) until NaNo!

I’m doing it this year! I’m going to try to do NaNoWriMo! I think there’s a decent chance I won’t be able to complete it, but I might as well try, right?

In case you don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month which shortens, of course, to NaNoWriMo. In honor of that, a “contest” happens every year where writers try to write 50,000 words in a month. Why 50,000? I really don’t know. Supposedly that’s the average amount of words in a first draft of a novel? That seems bonkers to me because the first draft of my first novel was almost 90,000 words and it went up from there!

But this summer, I got an idea for a story. Not YA this time, and not more work on the sequel to my first novel (which is currently just sitting and stewing for a bit), but this one is a middle grade fantasy novel. Think an MG American Gods meets a New England boarding school. And how long, according to most blogs, should an MG novel be? From what I can tell, 50k-60k words. Tada! A story idea that is NaNo ready.

Now, you might be asking yourself (as I know that I am asking myself), “Howard…how are you going to commit yourself to writing more than 1500 words a day for a month, when you could barely write an hour a day for four days a week for more than two weeks this summer?” Well, first of all, it’s at least 1,667 words a day Smarty-Pants!

Also, like I said before, there’s a fairly good chance that I won’t actually finish NaNo. A lot of people don’t. But also, I’m going to try a new strategy. Instead of trying to commit to a solid amount of time each day, I’m going to try writing sprints instead. If I’m going to be perfectly honest with myself, there is no way I’m going to be able to find an hour plus of time every day to write uninterrupted. But 20 minutes here and there throughout? That’s possible. (This blog post has only taken me 20 minutes so far).

So, here’s to trying something different. Here’s to ending this dumpster fire of a year with a new story idea that I’m excited about. And here’s to a month of crazy writing whenever I get a chance. Think I can do it? We’ll see!

Week One of #startsummerwrite

Ok, so I’ve done a full week of my #startsummerwrite initiative and so far, ok. Today is not going to be a big writing day, but I’m happy that the week has gone well. Just some quick thoughts about what’s I’ve done so far.

  1. Don’t tweet and write…or, allow a tweet to be a write — Earlier this week I tweeted a reply to a tweet from one of the awesome members of Jtwitter (or Jwitter, depending on who you ask). It was a long reply, and in and of itself, could have counted for a writing session. It started to get a bunch of likes, retweets, and replies, and, I, not being super used to it, was pleasantly surprised. However, I tried to write immediately afterwards and I had to practically throw my watch and phone across the room to stop getting distracted by the notifications. I know. Not the worst problem to have, but still unexpected. That tweet could have been the writing session in and of itself.
  2. Have fewer goals — This actually plays into the last one. I made a goal of writing at a certain time each day for a certain amount of time. I am now telling myself to get over it. As long as I write each day, it’s fine. It counts. Writing is what matters.
  3. My new biggest problem: a new idea — My current WIP comes immediately after my book that I’m querying (yes it’s part two of a trilogy, but the first book can stand on its own too — I think). I love this WIP and the characters, and I happily got over a bit of writer’s block recently, so I’m excited to move forward with the story (ROAD TRIP!). And then, this week, I was thunderstruck with an idea for ANOTHER story. I know other writers have this problem some time, but having two competing stories in my head at once is new for me. I want to finish my WIP though, so I need to stay focused.
  4. That being said… — I still want to putter around with the new idea (I mean, c’mon, the MC is a golem!). And maybe (and this is a very tentative maybe), I make the new idea a NaNoWriMo project. So in the meantime, I’m going to try to spend a writing session each week doing some character sketching of the new idea. But, to point two, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.
  5. I still need to find time to query. But like I said last week, that needs to be a different time block for me.

So, that’s the first week of #startsummerwrite. Overall I’m happy. I got a few thousand words done. I’m moving onto the next section of my WIP. And I’ve got a new idea. Next week’s challenge is that we’re going to be out of town, but I’m bringing the laptop, so again. Just need to find time.

Have a great weekend!

Trying to #startsummerwrite

Yesterday marked the last day of my fifteenth year as a middle school teacher. It was easily the strangest year ever, but it’s over now. And while I don’t know what the fall is going to look like (let’s be honest with ourselves here — no one does), I know that I get the next few months with significantly less school work to do and a lot more time to focus on my kids and having fun.

And focus on writing.

During the quarantimes (I don’t care if that’s not really a word… it is now!), I have not done nearly enough writing. I’ve been querying (to no success, but that happens), but the actual writing hasn’t really happened. Maybe in the last three months I’ve written 3,000 words. However much it’s been, it’s not enough. I have plenty of excuses, but no good reasons. Sure, it’s been an emotionally rough time. And yes, I’ve been focused on my own job. And yes, I’ve been making sure that my kids are getting their work done. And by the end of the day I’m just too exhausted to string together words. And yes, I haven’t been able to find a good space or time to work (I’m starting to feel like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” with all of his hands).

But the reality of the situation is, I just need to make the time to write and do it. I remember I had an English teacher years ago (probably in middle school), who had us do “free writing” at the beginning of class and when I complained once about not being able to think of anything to write, she told me to “Just write ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over again until you think of something.” Being an obnoxious middle schooler, I did it to show her that it wouldn’t work, but of course, it did.

So in that same spirit, I’m launching my new personal initiative to #startsummerwrite.* Every weekday, I’m going to spend about an hour writing. During the last few months, I was holding office hours for our school from 10-11 each day and my wife blocked that time off on her calendar. So, I’m going to keep that time during the summer as my writing time. And every now and then I’ll report out about it here, and on Twitter, to hold myself accountable.

Just to be clear, when I say write, I mean WRITE. Not query. Not edit. Not stall on my phone (my phone is on the other side of the room right now so I’m not even tempted — laziness definitely overrules distraction in my case). I’m going to write every day. Maybe I’ll work on my WIP. Maybe I’ll write more blog posts like this. Maybe I’ll write a review for a book on my library’s website or a letter to the editor or something totally different. No matter what, I’m going to be writing during this time.

I’ll still find and make time to do the other things. But from 10-11(ish) each weekday, I’m going to be writing. I like to write. It’s enjoyable to sit down and craft with my words. Even if what I write ends up being crap, I still enjoy the process.

Please feel free to join me if you’d like. Writing with a group can be fun. I’m going to count my words but not set a particular daily goal or anything. And even if I spend a few days just writing “I don’t know what to write,” so be it. No matter what, I’m going to #startsummerwrite.

Thanks for reading!

*I know this is a terrible pun, but in the last few months I’ve been posting a “Bad Dad Joke of the Day” outside of my house for the neighborhood to see, so terrible puns are kind of becoming my brand.

Reflections on Querying (NOT TIPS!)

I’ve started my querying process in earnest now, and I’ve already noticed a few interesting things. These are definitely not tips (I have no right giving anyone tips on querying when I’ve been doing it for less than two weeks), but things that I would have been interested to know before I started this process. This goes beyond some of the obvious things (including the pain of rejection) and more just “hmmm” moments.

#1 — Sheer numbers: There are SO MANY agents out there. I mean, of course there are a lot of agents, but still. I’ve been looking through both and Query Tracker and even though I have made lists (both in QT and in Google Sheets) of nearly 100 agents I could be interested in querying, so far I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface

#2 — Genre problems: My novel is speculative fiction. Except when it’s contemporary fantasy. Or sometimes urban fantasy (depending on the definition). Sometimes it’s paranormal. Other times it’s magical realism (except it definitely isn’t because of the historic meaning behind that term). Most places don’t list all of those though, and I have to pick just one. It’s a struggle.

#3 — Questions: For the agents who use online forms (whether with QT or their own agency’s site), they ask a lot of really interesting questions. One agent wanted my favorite sentence from the book. How do I pick just one?!? Do I pick a sentence that I personally like best? Do I pick one that somehow encapsulates the 90,000 word story as a whole? Do I pick one that I think someone will highlight on their Kindle? I picked one, but it was tough! Another agent asked for my favorite character of all time — book, movie, or television. Too many to choose from! I want to rationalize my decision or explain it in a lot of words. I get why they are asking these questions, but every time I see a new one it makes me pause for a while and neurotically obsess over providing the “right” answer (Yes, I know there isn’t one right answer, but still…)via GIPHY#3 — Questions: For the agents who use online forms (whether with QT or their own agency’s site), they ask a lot of really interesting questions. One agent wanted my favorite sentence from the book. How do I pick just one?!? Do I pick a sentence that I personally like best? Do I pick one that somehow encapsulates the 90,000 word story as a whole? Do I pick one that I think someone will highlight on their Kindle? I picked one, but it was tough! Another agent asked for my favorite character of all time — book, movie, or television. Too many to choose from! I want to rationalize my decision or explain it in a lot of words. Let me be clear, this is on ME and my neuroses. I am not saying this to insult the agents at all. I LIKE that they are asking the questions. I just get lost in my own brain trying to find the “right” answer (Yes, I know there isn’t one right answer, but still…).

Anyway. What kinds of things do other newly querying authors notice in the process? Are others struggling with the same thing? I might write more of these as I come up with more reflections.

Thanks for reading!

Out in the World

Two things have happened recently on the writing/author front and I wanted to blog about them:

First of all, you’re looking at it! I have a website now — It’s still a work in progress, but I feel like everything about writing is a work in progress. More on that in a bit…

Anyway, the website is exciting, but even more exciting (at least in my mind), is that I have sent the current draft of my book to a friend (read: non-family member) that graciously agreed to be a beta reader for me. So now, someone who is not related to me in any way has my book. And it’s a bit nerve-wracking.

Ok. It’s REALLY nerve-wracking. On the one hand, I’m super-nervous that she’s going to come back and just say “meh.” She’s a friend and colleague, so she’ll be kind, but meh is still meh and that’s the last reaction I want from my book. On the other hand, I also want some quality feedback so I can make the book better before I move on to my next round of beta editors and then *shudder* to querying.

I think I’m leaning towards wanting as honest of feedback as possible. That’s what beta-readers are for. And this friend of mine is really excited about feedback. She said, “You’re ok with lots of edits right? And I mean LOTS. It’s kind of a thing I do…” And that’s what I need! Edits. Feedback. Questions. Comments. I need it all! I’ve said it before that I’m new to this fiction thing, and I can use all of the help I can get.

So, I’m out in the world with the website and my book is out in the world with its first beta-reader. Please wish us both some luck. And if you’re a writer, let me know in the comments what your experience was like with either of these things. Thanks!


My Chaotic Editing

So I’ve come to the editing process now and despite what I’ve heard, it’s not as bad as people say…

It’s worse.

But my problem isn’t a deep emotional attachment to the words I have written on the page. I mean, I like the words, but I’m also ok with cutting them when I need to. As I’ve mentioned before, this is my first time really writing fiction, so I have no idea what I am doing.

No, I have two problems with editing:

1. Word count. From everything I’ve heard, word count matters a TON, especially when dealing with YA fiction. Maybe I’m wrong, but I was told that there are some agents/editors/publishers out there who will auto-reject anything that is outside of the acceptable word count range. Which, in the case of my book, is 50k-90k. When I finished my rough draft, I was just over 89k words. Fine. According to everything I’ve heard, it’s pretty typical to cut a large chunk from the rough draft. But then I started editing, and I asked a few people (two–two is a few right?) to read the unpolished draft. Consensus? It’s good, but add more to this. Or: good, but flesh out this character some more. Or: I want to know more about this. I’ve started taking their suggestions and now I’m just over 90k words. I’m going in the wrong direction for word count. I must be doing something wrong.

2. My style. When writing, I’m not a plotter, but I’m also not entirely a pantser. I have a decent idea of where my destination for a section (or the entire book) is, and then I just start writing to figure out how to get there. That style doesn’t work for editing. Each time I sit down to do some editing of my book, I feel like I’m just starting and stopping and have no real focus or direction in the editing. I’ve started at the beginning a couple of times. I’ve started at random spots throughout the book. I’ve even started at the end (a suggestion from my father-in-law which did give me different perpective, but still didn’t feel right). I have a chaotic nature, which is fine for the writing, but I have no idea how to do the editing. Methodically going through the book just doesn’t seem to work for me.

So now, I’m going to go back through and do some more editing. I’m going to try to use the notes I took from when I discussed it with my wife (one of my alpha [even earlier than beta] editors). But even that leads me to my other problem…when am I done?

When does the editing process finish? I feel like I can always find a word to change, a phrase to expand on, or a scene to cut. When do I move on from this phase.

Can it be soon please? 🙂

Thanks for reading!

I Don’t Want to Kill Off My Characters!

Image result for meme writing killing characters

There are a couple of memes that go around the #writingcommunity on Twitter that talk about how many writers have no problem killing off characters. This is an example of one of those memes.

I know. It’s pretty funny. But I just recently realized that I am NOT that type of writer!

I’m currently writing a chapter in my WIP where a character is going to die. Not the main character, but a rather important secondary character. I’ve known this character was going to die for a long time now. I’ve plotted this all, first in my head, and then on paper. This character needs to die.

But I am losing sleep over it. Literally!

Last night my amazing wife encouraged me to go out writing and I was able to finish the chapter right before this character dies. I came home with my brain all abuzz, but I tried to go through my normal evening routine to settle myself. I read for a while until my eyes wouldn’t stay open, and then I turned off the lights and tried to sleep.

I tossed.

I turned.

I tossed some more.

I was thinking about the story. Not questioning my decision to kill the character, but thinking through all of the ramifications for doing so. Finally, I drifted off to sleep where I started to dream.

In this dream, I set up a series events that were extremely important (not sure why at this point), but caused my son to be put in harm’s way. My actual son was in my dream and he almost died in my dream. I remember holding him and crying with him about it and feeling awful. I woke up, knowing it was a dream, but it doesn’t take psychoanalysis to figure out what this dream was about.

I don’t want to kill off my characters!

I still think it’s the right decision for the story. Don’t get me wrong on that count. I just also think that as this story (and the two that come after it) continue, I am going to do what I can to limit the body count.

These characters are my creations. I have put my soul into them. They have taken up a considerable amount of brain space. I cannot just kill them off willy nilly. They’re going to get hurt, but death is not always necessary.

I understand now what J.K. Rowling means when she has apologized for killing off beloved characters. As a writer, there are certain things that need to happen for the story to unfold the way it needs to unfold, but as a person, I can feel bad about it.

Do any other writers out there feel the same way? Leave a comment and let me know.



The Cell Phone Problem

Short blog post today about a problem I’ve recently been dealing with in my current WIP. Cell phones.

I have a smart phone. I love my smart phone. No, don’t worry, I don’t love it more than my wife and kids. But I do use it A LOT. Between playing games and checking social media, it takes up a lot of my downtime. But, I also use it to look things up or to get directions or to confirm the hours of something or to call or text my family and friends.

What does this fairly boring description of what smart phones are have to do with writing? So many of the typical problems (particularly minor ones) that protagonists face can be solved with cell phones. Is so and so available? Just give them a call. How do we get to that place? Check the cell phone. Is there a surprise thunderstorm coming in that will knock out the power and lead to a brutal murder that needs to be solved? Check the phone (and when the power goes out, use the cell phone flashlight).

My current story, as a YA novel, has teenagers as protagonists. I’ve been working with middle school students for the last 14 years and it should be no surprise that they always have their phones with them. So every problem that comes up as part of the story, I need to think of ways to either not have phones be able to solve it, or come up with reasons why the characters don’t have their cell phone charged/working. It’s a minor problem, but it’s something that I’m working through.

My wife says this is a chance for me to be creative with my story, and she’s right of course. It is. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

How do other writers deal with cell phones in their stories? Let me know!