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31 Oct

NaNoWriMo Tips & Tricks

In Drafting,Goals,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 31, 2016 / 0 Comments

The hour is nigh! It’s October 31st, which means NaNoWriMo is less than 24 hours away. Here are my favorite last-minute tips and tricks for Wrimos and speed-drafters alike:

Aim for halfway. Seriously, that 50k can feel like A LOT, but the first 25k is the uphill climb and after that you’re coasting downhill toward the finish line. Forget about 50k—commit to hitting 25,000 words in the first two weeks. It will be painful, it will suck at times, and you will hate your writing occasionally, but if you can hit 25k, you will have pushed through the worst of it!

Write your first page BEFORE November 1st. You can’t count any words written before November 1st toward your 50k goal, but getting the intimidating blank page staring contest over before the read deal starts can be a huge confidence booster! Turn some of that nervous energy you’re feeling into an opening scene. Just make a note of your wordcount before you start writing on November 1st so you can subtract it from your overall total.

Use placeholders to keep momentum up. You should avoid stopping to research things as much as possible. Don’t know what to call that city? @CITY. Can’t come up with a name for that character? @DUDE1. Can’t remember how many bones are in the human body? @RESEARCH LATER. Can’t get over how bad a sentence sounds? @DO BETTER. Literally anything that will cause you to break your flow as you write, just throw a placeholder there and keep writing. Once you’re done with your first draft, you can use the ctrl+F (or cmd+F on a mac) feature to find every single instance of that placeholder in your doc. I always use the @ symbol, since I rarely write fiction that has lots of e-mail addresses in it, but you can use any character that doesn’t show up in your story.

Stay in the story between writing sessions. Carry a notebook around and always have those characters cooking in the back of your head while you do other things. When you sit down to write, you’ll be ready to go!

Reward yourself. Set mini goals along the way, and give yourself mini rewards! A cookie every 10k words? An hour of video games each week you make your goal? Whatever motivates you!

Let your draft be rough. Real writing is rewriting. You’ll make it pretty and readable and entertaining later when you revise your novel. For now? Its only job is to exist. Make it exist.

Do you have any tips or tricks that help you survive NaNoWriMo? Post ’em below! Best of luck to all the wrimos out there. We will be victorious!

02 May

Spring Writing Bootcamp Goals

In Drafting,Goals by MK England / May 2, 2016 / 0 Comments

I’ve participated in the YA Buccaneers seasonal writing bootcamps on and off since spring 2014 and I’ve decided to participate in the Spring Writing Bootcamp again this year in hopes of distracting myself from being on submission. Time to refocus my energy on generating new words! So, here I am, publicly declaring my goals for May 1st through June 30th.

Bootcamp Goals

  1. Draft a new YA book. First draft wordcount goal: 50,000.

I have three ideas battling for supremacy, but I’ve been focusing my brainstorming and outlining efforts on a YA f/f contemporary romance novel. Last August, I went to one of my many annual fan conventions and walked into the con hotel to find myself surrounded by gorgeous women decked out in their finery. A fan convention and a beauty pageant in the same hotel? Obviously a meet-cute and whirlwind weekend romance waiting to happen. Can I write something that isn’t science fiction or fantasy? WE’RE ABOUT TO FIND OUT.

2. Critique my primary CPs latest YA novel.

My dear writing wife Lisen Minetti just delivered her latest manuscript to my inbox last night, and I am PUMPED to dive in and critique it. I’ll be setting aside lots of time during the first week to accomplish my first in-depth critique, and possibly another chunk of time late in June to read revisions. I love this project of hers and have been looking forward to reading it for months!

3. Be active for 30 minutes per day, five days per week.

Since I began writing seriously back in 2014, I’ve devoted more and more time to writing and writing-related pursuits. All of those pursuits involve me spending lots of time sitting in chairs, and my body is suffering for it. My health and energy levels have noticeably changed for the worse. All those days where I work from 8:30-5, then come home and write until midnight may make me feel like an awesomely productive writing superhero, but they do a real number on my health. My wordcount won’t drop dramatically if I take 30 minutes out of that time to go for a walk. In fact, it could even boost my creativity and energy levels.

Upcoming Pinch Points

I have several things on my calendar that may make my drafting goal a bit lofty, but hey, I’ve won NaNoWriMo for the past two years, so I should be able to do 50k in two months no problem, right? Right? Mid-May will be the New Jersey Library Association conference, which is providing me an excellent excuse to have a mini writing retreat with Lisen. June will be the American Library Association annual conference in Orlando, where I’ll have a peaceful hotel room all to myself to get some writing done in between conference sessions. I’m hoping the circumstances I’ve created for myself during these trips will mean I can still get some writing done and stay on track.

Tracking my Progress

I’ve tried lots of ways to track my goal progress over the years, but nothing seems to make me as happy as the combination of colorful star stickers on a calendar plus the wordcount tracker on storytoolz.com. Storytoolz makes a line graph as you input your wordcount each day, and there’s something so satisfying about watching that little line climb. But seriously, colorful star stickers. Who doesn’t love them? I’ll give myself a sticker for each 30 minutes of exercise, each critiquing session, and each 500 words written.

But M, you’re supposed to be a professional! Why do you need stickers to motivate you to write?

Fuck off, stars are awesome.

you got a star

What about you? 

Are you working toward any particular writing goals right now? Declare them for all the world to see in the comments. Let’s keep each other honest and motivated!

04 Dec

Thank Goodness It’s Over!: Reflections on NaNoWriMo 2015

In Drafting,Editing,Goals by MK England / December 4, 2015 / 0 Comments

What. A. Month.

#PitchWars agent round. Tons of querying. An R&R request. And, oh yeah… a little thing called NaNoWriMo.

madness

This was my first year as an Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month, and it was pretty great. Stressful, busy, but fun and rewarding. MLing took up a lot more of my time than I anticipated, so even though I was attending 2-3 write-ins per week, I still struggled to meet the daily word count. That honestly had less to do with my ML duties than with my story problems, though.

There’s a point at which I know a story is ready to be written. I do lots of outlining, worldbuilding, and character development before I even start, but I really know a story is ready when I’m about 5-10k words in and I find myself thinking about the characters constantly when I’m not writing. I play out conversations in my mind, imagine how they’re going to react to events that I know are coming, bounce them off each other and see how they relate. The mechanics of the story can all be totally solid, but if the characters aren’t talking to each other in my head, then the story isn’t going to happen, no matter how I try to force it.

That probably sounds kind of woo woo, but I’m serious. If that’s not there, the story falls apart. And this point was proved all over again this November.

I really, really wanted to write my next YA space opera during NaNoWriMo. I wanted it so bad, and I planned and outlined and figured out tech. But the characters were boring, especially compared to my beloved Rejects, who I’d so recently finished revising. They weren’t talking to me. I forced myself all the way to the 25k mark before finally throwing in the towel on that story. It’s not ready. I love the concept, and I’ll write it one day soon, but now’s not the time.

I thought part of the problem might have been that I’d so recently finished editing Space Academy Rejects and I was having trouble getting that voice out my head. The new space opera had next to nothing in common with Rejects, but I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth. So, I did something a bit… maybe ill-advised?

sherlock bluuuh

I decided to go for a palette cleanser. I had an adult M/M romance I’d outlined over a year ago, and with 25k words still to write for NaNoWriMo, I figured—what the hell, right? May as well write something completely different to give my brain a reset, then try another YA space opera after the holidays. And it was fantastic! It’s great to stretch writing muscles I don’t use as often and study the conventions of another genre. I had so much fun with it. In fact, I had originally decided to ditch my NaNo project altogether after I got the R&R request, but then I was waiting on feedback anyway and going crazy thinking about it.

So, there I was: November 29th, sitting at just under 37k words. I. Lost. My. Mind. And I beasted out a win at 10pm on November 30th.

Tenzin-Woohoo

See the crazy things that can happen when your characters talk to you in your head?

So now, here I am, early December, armed with tons of new feedback on Space Academy Rejects and diving straight from NaNo into this R&R (with an unreasonably ambitious self-assigned deadline because, hey, I’m me). I’m ready for this. And hey, if you see someone wandering around with coffee in a drip bag, please send them my way.

In my free time (hahahaha!)  over the next few weeks, I’ll also be indulging in one of my favorite holiday traditions: LGBT holiday romances. There’s just nothing like a fire, hot cocoa, and first kisses for the chilly winter months. Got any recs for me? Let me know in the comments! 

12 Sep

#PitchWars Edits Begin!

In Editing,Goals by MK England / September 12, 2015 / 1 Comment

I managed to break the back end of my site for a few days, so this post is long over due, but … I was selected as a 2015 #PitchWars mentee!

hermione cheer

The evening of the announcement went something like this:

And even a week later, it was still like this:

But now it’s really sunk in, and I’ve been hard at work. My lovely mentor, the super smart and talented Sarah Glenn Marsh, was so on top of things that I got my edit letter and #PitchWars homework the day after the announcement was made. I had some assigned reading, some character mapping to do, and a ginormous revision outline to make. At first I was like … revision outline? Wow, that’s new, I always just dive in and fix things start to finish according to the track changes/comments in word. Except then I looked back at my old notes. Yes, apparently I DO make revision outlines, they’re just scattered across six thousand post-it notes, notebooks, and google docs. Ha. Sarah’s way is vastly superior, and it got me really pumped to see how everything would eventually fit together.

I thought I would be afraid of my edit letter but actually … it’s all fine. In this case, there were no major plot or structure changes (thanks to my amazing crit partners, no doubt), nor were there many cut requests—just lots of opportunities to give the reader more. More emotion, more characterization, more interaction, more physical presence, more setting detail. Character is what really makes or breaks a book for me, so I’m thrilled to be making these kinds of changes. I’m pretty easy-going about making changes anyway, so long as they fit the overall direction of the book, but I was still very pleased with the notes I received. I would love to have those revisions done by the end of September. #goals

In the meantime, I’ve also been brainstorming, plotting, and character arc-ing a new book to be drafted during NaNoWriMo this year. My dearest crit partner Lisen and I were named Municipal Liaisons for the South Jersey Region of NaNoWriMo, along with our fellow South Jersey writer Krista Magrowski, so we’re looking forward to an intense November! I don’t want to say too much about the new book yet, but I’m bouncing in my chair at the thought of getting to write it. Humor, campy sci-fi, and bad ass ladies, oh my!

How do you feel about revisions? Do you struggle to accept the things your critique partners tell you, or do you take it and run? What’s the toughest part of the revision process for you? Let’s commiserate together in the comments.

09 Mar

Addicted to Progress

In Editing,Goals,Writing Process by MK England / March 9, 2015 / 0 Comments

give_it_to_me_stephen_colbertGive me a wordcount hit, I need it! Need the rush, need that high, need the validation–I can do this, I will do this.

Like most people, I get into awful ruts where it’s nearly impossible to force myself to write, edit, or be in any way creative. For me, it’s often rooted in anxiety or depression, which still flare up now and then. No matter the reason, though, the solution is almost always the same:

The more I make progress, the more progress I make.

What the hell does that even mean? It means, dear creatures, that progress is a snowball rolling downhill, gathering speed and mass until it crushes unsuspecting critique partners at the bottom of the mountain. It means the first few words are painful, slow, and make me hate myself. Then I write a few more. And a few more. And after a few days, I’m spending hours on my work-in-progress. And then when I get a day off from work? ALL DAY. Hope the house didn’t need cleaning. Hope there wasn’t food needing to be cooked. (Uh, that’s what takeout is for).

Once I start, the validation becomes the reward. Every time I put my butt in the chair and make progress, whether it be writing, editing, or research, I’m proving to myself: I can do this, I am a real writer, I do have the mental fortitude to put in the hard work required. Writing is 1% talent and 99% hard work, and I’m crushing it like a boss.

In the drafting stage, it’s easier for me: I watch the wordcount tick ever upward, perhaps with a satisfying little meter on some tracking site or another. I creep little by little toward some goal: 50,000 words, 70,000 words, whatever it may be; I revel in the knowledge that every single word puts me closer to the magic number, even if that word is terrible. All forward motion is progress. The first draft is supposed to be awful. All I have to do is reach the magic number and make the story end somehow.

For editing, it’s worse. I have a hard time building that initial momentum to get me going, because the first step in editing is facing the monstrosity you created during the drafting stage. It’s ugly, misshapen, full of holes and flat characters and tiny, rare moments of something great. It’s not until I see how the puzzle fits together that I start feeling the pull toward the end. And if the book doesn’t have a solid ending? I can’t do anything until that’s written. I have to know where I’m going before I can figure out how to get there in a way that is meaningful and resonant.

Right now, I’m at the point where I’ve finally hit my editing stride with my second novel, Space Academy Rejects. I’ve done my first read-through and markup, written the ending, added a few scenes, and am currently blowing through my chapter-by-chapter revisions and line edits. Because this book has a cast of five characters, I’m also making a ton of work for myself by marking every line of dialogue or bit of action for every character in their own highlighter color. This is so I can go back and read each color individually to make sure that 1) their voice and personality stays consistent throughout, and 2) their individual character arc is successfully portrayed from start to finish.

I’ve set an insanely ambitious deadline for this round of edits because I’m dying to get it out to my critique partners and cultural beta readers for first impressions and feedback. This book makes me geek out in all the best ways. I hope I’ll get the chance to share it with you all.

Okay, time to take another hit dive back into editing. Until next time, creatures.

 

03 Feb

Short Stories Shred My Brain

In Goals,Short Stories,Writing Process by MK England / February 3, 2015 / 0 Comments

YA author Maggie Stiefvater (my goddess) once posted some great words about writing short stories that really captured my feelings on the topic:

“I actually find writing short stories to be a completely different animal than novel writing. […] A good short story is not merely a chapter. It is not a shrunken novel. It is a story that by its very nature and telling is better suited to a short format. Short fiction doesn’t behave at all like a novel – it asks you to think about dialog and show-don’t-tell differently. Your brain must learn to understand what 500 words feels like, 2,000 words, 10,000 words. Maybe the biggest surprise to me was finding out that my reader and writer brain thinks best in 125,000 word chunks. I feel I have to justify any length shorter or longer. […] Every size story asks something different from you.”

This is so true.

I find it incredibly difficult to write short stories. My brain just doesn’t understand them. When I get a new idea, I always start asking questions: how did this character get here? What is the rest of the world like? What necessarily follows from this series of events? And before I know it, I have enough information to fill up a novel. Part of my problem is that I have this weird fear: that somehow, the idea is “used up” by writing it as a short story, restricting me from ever exploring that character, world, or plot line in a novel. It’s not true. So many excellent novels began life as published short stories — but tell that to my subconscious.

In general, though, my brain only ever presents me with ideas for novel-length works, so my complete lack of written short stories also stems from a lack of ideas. I have notebooks and word documents full of dialogue scraps, characters, and worldbuilding bits for novels. Short stories? Um, I’ve written one in the past ten years. I have two insubstantial, wispy sorts of story ideas percolating right now, but they refuse to take the leap from brain to keyboard. 300 words of witty phrases and evocative images does not a story make. Or maybe it does, and that’s my problem. Perception. Definition. Maybe some of those ideas I already have do need to be told in short format. Something to consider.

The most essential thing anyone can do to prepare for short story writing is to read short stories. Get the sound and the feel of 5000 words in your head. Read them from different sources: collections in book form, those published in literary magazines, flash fiction from curated websites. If you can find stories in a style you’d like to emulate, so much the better. For me, there were two stories in the September 2014 issue of Lightspeed Magazine that really inspired me, so much so that they made my list of Things I Loved in 2014. Check them out — I highly recommend them, obviously.

I think it’s time for a goal. Creatures, you know how I am about goals by now. I love setting them. I love achieving them. I love having something to shoot for. SO: in 2015, I will write, polish, and submit for publication at least six short stories. I’ve already finished off and submitted one that I started at the end of 2014, so I’ll let that count.

One down, five to go.

What about you, creatures? Do you read or write short stories? Are they easier or harder than writing a novel? Tell me all your thoughts on short fiction of all kinds. I’m terribly curious.

03 Jan

On Crushing Resolutions with my Tiny Yet Powerful Fists

In Goals by MK England / January 3, 2015 / 2 Comments

New Year 2015January always brings a rush of blog posts and witty articles bursting with either shining optimism or eloquent raging on the topic of resolutions. I may as well declare my bias right at the start: I’m pro-resolution. I love the feeling that comes with the new year, the feeling of a fresh start, a time to reflect and reexamine goals. I think Maggie Stiefvater best sums up my feelings:

“…I always keep promises to myself, because I like myself. Why would I lie to me, my dearest friend? What would I do to myself if I couldn’t trust myself to do the things I say?”

I may not accomplish every single resolution, but I make every one with the sincere intention of completing it, and you better believe I make an honest effort. I think setting goals is a powerful and essential part of achieving them, and if I happen to set those goals on January 1st, it doesn’t diminish them in any way, nor does it prevent me from setting additional goals throughout the rest of the year.

Apparently this topic gets me fired up with Opinions. I guess I’m just as guilty as the rest of the internet.

So, without further ado, I am publicly declaring my 2015 resolutions, writing-related and otherwise, so you can all watch me spectacularly crush them all over the next twelve months.

1. Finish querying Firestarter (YA novel)
2. Edit Space Academy Rejects (YA novel)
3. Begin querying Space Academy Rejects
4. Draft a third novel (stretch goal: draft a fourth one, too)
5. Go to the eye doctor and get new glasses, damnit. Five years is too long and you are a terrible example to everyone ever.
6. Ditto re: dentist. We won’t even discuss how long it’s been, self.
7. Play and complete 5 video games
8. Read 50 books (minimum 15 diverse titles, but make it 25.)
9. Go to zumba once per week (stretch goal: twice per week, or exercise at home in between)
10. Attend at least 3 South Jersey Writer’s Group meetings
11. Start blogging at mkengland.com (stretch goal: post once per week)
12. Make a household chores schedule (stretch goal: actually stick to it for more than a month)

See you on the other side, creatures. Happy New Year.

Do you have any resolutions, writing-related or otherwise? Share them below. I won’t judge you.