What Have I Been Doing?

Whew. What a week. To anyone who’s been wondering where I’ve been — I’m sorry to have apparently disappeared off the face of the planet. It’s been a bit hectic around here, and I haven’t had the chance to do the blogging that I’ve wanted to. But I’m back, and figured this would be a good time for an update on what’s happening with my writing.

Novel Writing

I’ve had the opportunity this month to spend some extra time working on my WIP (Work in Progress) after negotiating “writing days” with my husband. Basically, this equates to four days a month where I can disappear into my (new) office space for 4 1/2 hours, close the door, and leave him to look after the children. That’s worked well so far, and I’ve written almost 9000 words this month.

Mentally, I’m so invested in my WIP at the moment that I keep expecting to see my protagonist wandering through my kitchen making himself a coffee. So either that’s a huge positive, or I’m going insane. I’ll keep you posted.

NaNoWriMo Prep

For those people who don’t know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual “competition” where people from all over the world sign up to write a 50,000 word in the month of November. It started back in the 90s as a group of college kids sitting around pushing each other to write a novel through sheer peer pressure, but has grown into an international behemoth of writing excitement. I’ve participated in NaNo five times previously, and have enjoyed every time. I haven’t always “won” (i.e. written 50,000 words), but I’ve always done at least 20,000 and NaNo is responsible for giving me the confidence to know that I can write a whole novel.

Back in February, when the year seemed to stretch out in front of me like a ribbon of eternity, I had a simple plan.

Step 1: Finish the first draft of WIP by 31st October.
Step 2: Spend November writing something different (a YA dystopian novel) for NaNo.
Step 3: Edit my WIP in December/January, ready for submission in February.

Of course, then the year disappeared, and I’m not even halfway through my WIP. And, in all fairness, I’m excited to have written 9,000 words this month. The chance of being able to write 50,000 words next month is pretty much zero. I’m not going to magically have fewer children or more hours in the day. So now I’m debating whether to (a) continue with the plan and try to write my YA novel, (b) sign up for NaNo but use it to try to write 50,000 words of my WIP, which would almost get me to the end of it, or (c) ignore NaNo this year and just keep plodding on with my WIP the way I have been.

Submitting

I’ve also made a commitment to work on getting some of my work out into the world through submitting to short story markets. This has forced me to look at my story writing in a slightly different way, and I’ve come to a grand conclusions:

I suck at writing short stories.

But flash fiction (1000 words or fewer), I can do. And I really enjoy it. (As you can see from the number of flash fiction pieces I post on my blog!) But for some reason, when I write a short story (1,000 words – 10,000 words), the feedback I get is generally along the lines of: “This seems like the first chapter of a novel.” or “This feels like the beginning of something bigger. You should keep writing it.”

Since a short story, by definition, should be a whole story that’s short, I’m clearly missing my target. While I know I could work on this and get better at the art of short story writing, I’ve decided not to do so. No, really. My intention is to be a novelist, and that’s the skill I want to work on improving. In the meantime, I enjoy writing short flash fiction, and so will be writing those for submission.

Wish me luck in getting a few submissions accepted in the last part of this year!

Judging

I signed up to be a judge for a novel-writing competition this year (I won’t go into the details of which competition), and am in the process of reading and scoring the first few chapters of four entries. I’m enjoying the process this far, although in some ways it’s harder than I expected it to be. It’s teaching me a lot about the way an editor or agent would read a manuscript, though, as I’ve found that I’m able to make a judgement about the quality of an entire novel after reading about 1000 words. (Sometimes even less.)

If you’re thinking of submitting your own manuscript somewhere, I’d highly recommend signing up as a judge first. You’d be amazed at the insights it provides for your own work.

Learning

As you know, I attended the Brisbane Writer’s Festival last month, and have been writing about my learnings. Or that was the plan. Anyone paying attention would realise that I haven’t got very far with that. But, since it was over a month ago now, I am really going to try to finish writing about the other sessions I attended this week. Fingers crossed.

I also signed up for a writing webinar this week, and learned a lot. Alan Baxter is an Australian author who writes dark urban fantasy thrillers. He’s also a martial arts practitioner and instructor. This gives him a valuable insight into writing action and fight scenes. He’s got a great book called ‘Write the Fight Right’, and ran a 1 1/2 hour webinar on the subject on Thursday evening.

Two words: Bloody fantastic.

I learned so much about the way experienced and inexperienced fights react during a fight, and how unrealistic Hollywood-style fight scenes really are. I also learned how to structure and write a fight scene for maximum impact and tension. And, as an added bonus, I was able to submit one of my fight scenes to Alan for him to give me feedback on how to improve it.

If he decides to run another webinar, I’d highly recommend it to anyone. In the meantime, the book info is here. It’s only US$1.99, and absolutely invaluable if (like me) you’re writing fight scenes without ever having been in a real fight yourself.

Blogging

I’m going to mix up my blogging schedule again. Bear with me. I did warn you last time that I would change it when the whim took me. So, here’s how it’s going to look from here on out.

Monday: Monday’s Top 5
Tuesday: Flash Fiction
Thursday: What Jo’s Thinking
Friday: The Family Life

Mid-month: Writing Update
End-of-month: What I’ve Been Reading

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13 Comments

Filed under Writing

13 responses to “What Have I Been Doing?

  1. I’m SO glad you are finding the judging process worthwhile. I can’t say enough about what I’ve learned from looking at other people’s work-in-progress. You see so much that you can apply to your own work.

    Like you, I want to finish my current WIP by the end of November (contest deadline in my case). I’ve never really set myself a firm deadline for finishing a novel (although I’ve met many a deadline on paid research reports in the past), so I hope it will be good practice for some editor’s deadline down the road.

  2. I wondered where you were! It sounds like you have lots of great things going on.

    The deal you made with your husband is excellent, I hope you get to keep it up!

  3. The story length between flash fiction and novel is a tricky place to be. I’m struggling there myself, right now. Good luck with your submissions and your WIP.

  4. I like your posts because I hope to get back into novel writing and it helps me remember. Lots of work, blank pages, rewrites, lonliness. Yep, that’s it!
    Thanks!
    Les

  5. “I keep expecting to see my protagonist wandering through my kitchen making himself a coffee. So either that’s a huge positive, or I’m going insane. I’ll keep you posted.”

    There was a great Edward Gorey story about a writer, and that happened during the most intense period of revisions. I understood completely.

    “My intention is to be a novelist, and that’s the skill I want to work on improving.”

    I think this is the right approach. Most writers find their own best form over time. Not that they can’t do anything else, but usually their best work is at one general length. Hemingway wrote some pretty good novels, but he was a short story writer, and one of the best I’ve ever read. Henry James was best at novellas (which was his opinion as well). The Sherlock Holmes novels are a mixed bag, but the best are the short stories.

    I’ve realized that I’m a novelist. Even when I write mystery stories, they turn start sending out feelers and connecting to each other and turning into a stealth novel. 🙂

    • Thanks, Anthony. Nice to know I’m not insane (or not the only one at least!) and that my approach bears some merit. I was really interested to read about your stealth novel on your blog this week. While there’s a lot to be said for pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, sometimes you should just play to your strengths.

      • I saw an interview with Eric Idle (of Monty Python) a few years ago and he was asked if he ever had an urge to try dramatic acting. His response was that he was still figuring out how to do comedy.

        Also, I guess it’s no surprise that I have trouble writing individual separate short stories, since I don’t write individual separate novels either. 🙂

  6. If you go for NaNo, good luck! I won’t be participating this year – actually I have yet to participate ever, because since I first learned of NaNo some years ago I haven’t been in a situation where I could legitimiately participate and expect to win. Most months the past few years, I’d be lucky to get any words. This year… things are up in the air right now… but even if I made a concerted effort I think I’d only make it halfway at best.

    It’s interesting to read about you judging a competition. I have to wonder… what sort of qualifications do they look for in judges?

    • I still haven’t decided about NaNo. I’ll probably make that grand decision on the 1st of November, either way.

      As for judging… I wasn’t quite sure whether to interpret your question as “You’re just some nobody, what qualifications do you have to judge a compeition?” or “Judging a competition sound sinteresting. What kind of qualifications would I need to be able to do that?”

      I’ve decided to throttle my inner self-doubt, and assume you meant option 2. In which case, the answer is that different competitions have different requirements. In the comp I’m judging*, each entry is read by 3 different judges, and only the two highest scores are counted. At least one of the judges reading the entry is a traditionally published author in that genre, the other two judges may be published in another genre, self-published, or unpublished. So technically, the only qualification you need is to be a writer with an interest in judging a competition.

      * This is my understanding of the process from when I read about it and signed up a few months ago. I haven’t re-fact checked, so I apologise if this isn’t 100% accurate.

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