Life Cycle Of A Writer: NaNoWriMo – Sinking, Swimming or Soaring?

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Erm…I’m not too sure about this. It’s my first time. Be gentle with me, NaNo. I’ve wanted to get to know you better for a long time, but…well…life got in the way before. Can we stop if I don’t like it? Will it hurt?

Those were my ponderings in early October, still buzzing with the prospect of no work commitments this autumn; no planning or marking, no Christmas play to create – just writing, writing writing. Or so I thought…

Within a week, we’d had a sudden death in the family meaning trips up north and lots of sadness and my beloved firstborn was in difficulties health-wise. Add to the mixture a close friend needing lots of help and poorly in laws, and things lurched from tricky to downright worrying. Was it unreasonable to try to carry on and do NaNoWriMo anyway, whatever else was happening?

I decided to plunge in and have a go. If nothing else, starting something brand new would be a distraction, and I’d be bound to get at least some words down on paper. But 50K? Hmmm. Maybe if I launched myself into a children’s book, I could get the whole thing finished by November 30th?

So Arthur Angel and the Nine Lives was born – the tale of a disgraced Guardian Angel forced to come down to earth to complete his missions in cat form.

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To start with, the story seemed to tell itself. I went back into school and worked with my favourite class of nine year olds to get their junior NaNo going and to have feedback straight from the ones who count. The first chapters flooded out.

Then the first trip up to Northumberland knocked the ground from under my feet. I’d become seriously addicted to the little graph that appears on your personal NaNo dashboard, and I was flatlining! There was snow on them there hills, not just in Arthur’s story, my nose and toes were freezing and my brain absolutely refused to cooperate.

But better progress was just around the corner. Back home again, the tide turned in the right direction and although life is still very turbulent to say the least, the words are flowing again. By the end of today, I might be back on track, but even if not, I’m loving the challenge, and it’s very hard to bite your nails when you’re typing. I’m having to miss the RNA meetings and party this time but the writing…let’s hope it carries on, if only for distraction purposes.

Here’s the first chapter if you’re interested. Wish me luck. I’ll see you on the other side…

 

Arthur Angel and the Nine Lives

Chapter One: Getting In

 

Yuck. I hate snow. I pick my way along the track through the woods to the cottage and stop by the door to shake the worst of the slush off my fur. Disgusting stuff. It gets in your paws and sticks to your dangly underneath bits in lumps. And the trouble with being mostly white is that if you get lost in a snow storm, nobody can see you.

To be honest, getting lost in the snow comes a long way down the list of problems of being a cat. Number one’s got to be the D word. Why do dogs have to chase us? Why? Who tells them it’s a good idea?

The flea thing’s not great either.  Don’t look at me like that, I didn’t ask them to come, okay? They just seem to like me. And don’t get me started on catching mice.

Someone’s just opening the door – that’s my first lucky break for years. Have you ever tried ringing a doorbell when you’re on four short legs? Now, watch and learn. This is one of the trickier bits. Here’s what you need to do if you ever need to find yourself a cushy fireside and a kipper.

1) Fluff up the fur

2) Put your head on one side

3) Open your eyes really wide.

4) Miaaaaaaaow in the most pathetic way you can manage.

5) Be ready to roll over on your back at the first sign of them cracking – that one never fails

Right, here goes. The door’s wide open and now someone’s shouting from inside about not letting the cold in. Pah! He should try being me. It’s a GirlKid on the step. They’re usually the easiest of all. Wish me luck.

‘Dad. DAAAAAAAD!’

‘Rosie? Is that you bellowing again? Are you going to shut that door or have I got to come and do it for you?’

Heavy footsteps…coming closer. Great, now I’m going to have two of the human creatures staring down at me. The shorter one – the GirlKid – is quite nice to look at, if you like that sort of thing. She’s got curly ginger hair, nearly as good a colour as the bits of me that aren’t white, and she’s smiling. That should help.

‘Look, Dad. There’s a cute little kitten on the step. I think he’s hungry. Can I let him in? It’s so cold out there tonight.’

Kitten? What’s all that about? I’m a fully qualified Guardian Angel, I’ll have you know, GirlKid, and I’m at least three hundred years old, give or take a few months. Is it my fault if I’ve been sent down here as a smallish white cat? No, it isn’t.

‘Let him in? Aren’t four mouths enough for us to feed? I thought you’d have learned your lesson after last time.’

The big one isn’t smiling. He starts to shut the door but she stops him.

‘No! We can’t leave him outside. Look at his little face. He’s so sad.’

I do my best poor little me expression and start to wash my whiskers with a paw. That usually goes down well. I tell you, after three times of being sent down here as a cat instead of a human-looking angel, I’m getting to know all the tricks.

‘Aaaaaw, look at him. Dad, he’s soooo sweet. And anyway…I bet Jake’d like him, wouldn’t he?’

They look at each other and I can tell she’s won the first round.

‘Oh, go on then. At least we can shut the door. Your Gran’s already under two blankets.’

Result! I’m in before they can say kippers, down the hallway and into the living room, and I’m heading for the old lady with the rugs over her knees. She must be the brains around here – fast asleep and snoring, right in front of a roaring log fire.

She wakes up with a jump and closes her mouth just in time to stop her teeth dropping out. I take a big gamble and leap straight up onto her knee. Have I got it right? Is she a cat lover or one of those loopy humans who flap their arms at us and make a big fuss.

The old one reaches out a wrinkly hand and starts stroking me even before I’ve settled down properly. ‘Oh, what a beauty,’ she wheezes, ‘Where did you come from, my fine fellow? You remind me of my Charlie. He was handsome just like you.’

Time for my best move. I roll over on her lap and stretch out, revealing a very fine furry tummy, if I say so myself.  I start to purr deep in my throat to show her I’m a big fan of all this fuss.

The GirlKid’s on her knees next to the old lady’s chair now, looking up at the Dad person.

‘Look, he likes us already. Can we keep him? Please? You know Jake loves cats…well, he used to, anyway…’

As she says this, all three heads turn to look over to the far wall. My eyes swivel to follow them. I don’t want to stop all this attention, but there’s someone else there. It’s a BoyKid with the same curly red hair as the girl version, but he’s nothing like her in any other way. For one thing, he’s not making a sound. For another, he’s sitting in a chair with wheels on it. His face is much paler than hers and he’s all dressed in black, whereas she’s like a walking rainbow.

He’s not looking at me, or at any of the others. It’s as if he’s trying to pretend he’s somewhere else. The fur on the back of my neck stands up, just like it always does when I realise why I’m down here. This BoyKid needs the services of Arthur Angel.

 

 

 

How Michelle Betham Wrote A Novel In Six Weeks

With November’s annual NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I’ve been considering taking part.  This has been partly inspired by the lack of output recently experienced here in West Sussex and partly by Michelle Betham, author with Harper Impulse.

Michelle has been a one woman writing machine this year – she got an idea for a book that wouldn’t leave her alone and in just six weeks completed her first draft.

I’ve been chatting to Michelle to find out more about how she did it and to find out more about her new release The Brotherhood.

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Hi Michelle

First of all, congratulations on the release of your book Revolution (The Lone Riders MC book 1 of the series). It looks a great read and having spent many hours as pillion passenger, I’m really looking forward to reading this.

So, the first question everyone will want to ask; did it really take just six weeks to get the first draft down?

It really did take just 6 weeks – give or take – to get the first draft down. Although, it has had a fair amount of tweaking done to it since that first draft was finished!

What’s your secret? What was your motivation?

What was my motivation? That’s an easy one to answer. I’d just started watching ‘Sons of Anarchy’ (for anyone who doesn’t know, it’s an American drama series based around an outlaw Motorcycle Club), and because I’ve always had a fascination with that world, and because I’ve always been a bit of a frustrated wannabe biker chick, watching that show inspired me to write my own story based around a fictional Motorcycle Club – The Brotherhood of Lone Riders. And I also love that whole tattooed, long-haired, bearded thing as far as men are concerned, so to be able to throw myself into that world, and create my own group of bikers; to try and create some strong, feisty women to challenge the men living within that world, it was something I just had to do. And I loved every single second of writing Revolution. Loved it!

What sort of planning went into it? Did you have a clear plan/plot beforehand or did it evolve as you wrote it?

I had a very vague story in my head before I started the writing Revolution. I knew the characters I was going to create, and I knew the bare bones, if you like, of what their journey was going to be. But, as with every other book I’ve written, that story grew, changed a little bit, and evolved more as I kept on writing.

Have you got any top tips for anyone to getting the words down?

Just write them. Not all of them will stay, and a great deal of them may be messed around with, but as far as getting that first draft down, don’t think too much about it, just write those words! And that’s something I’ve learned as I’ve gone on over the years, because I used to over think first drafts way too much! But what I find so exciting about writing is that, sometimes, the characters you create will end up telling you where they want to go, and a lot of the time you just have to run with that.

So, can you tell us a little bit about Revolution? What genre does it fall in?

Revolution_cover_imageIt’s a contemporary romance, definitely, with quite a bit of action in this one, and I don’t just mean in the bedroom! Because it’s not just a romance – although, that is what’s at the centre of it all. It’s also the story of the Motorcycle Club itself – The Brotherhood of Lone Riders; the people who live within that world. So it really falls into the MC Romance/biker romance sub-genre. And it’s a real gritty love story.

The main female character, Lexi Hart, was born into the world of the Lone Riders. It’s all she’s ever known. But one mistake sees her banished from the northern Californian chapter of the club – a place she’s called home since the age of fourteen. She broke their rules. She gave them no choice. But after spending eight years back home in England, at the Lone Riders chapter her father is President of in Newcastle, she’s back in California. And not everybody’s pleased to see her return. Lexi, however, has come back to find answers. What happened in the past, the reason why she had to leave California, it had knock-on effects and consequences nobody could have imagined. And she needs to know the truth – she needs to find her own truth because, for far too long she’s been living someone else’s… And she needs one man to help her find those answers. Even if he’s a man she should never have gone near in the first place. But he’s a man she can’t stay away from… As dark secrets are revealed, and dangerous games start to be played, can the Lone Riders pull together to survive the storm that’s about to hit them…?

Did the genre have any influence on your decision to self-publish Revolution rather than through your publishers, Harper Impulse?

Yes, it did. Revolution is quite a dark romance, quite a dark story on the whole. And I just wasn’t sure it was the kind of thing my publishers were looking for. But I wanted it to try and stay true to the whole MC Romance/biker romance thing. Not everything is nice and pretty in those books. And the world of the Brotherhood of Lone Riders has a very dark and sometimes sinister edge to it, at times. But actually exploring that slightly darker side of romance, it was really interesting to write something quite different to anything I’ve written before.  I like to push myself, to explore the different sides of romance, and I guess I pushed a few boundaries with this one. But that’s exactly what I wanted to do!

And finally, what’s on the horizon, is there another six week novel in the pipeline?

Quite possibly! After I’ve finished my next book for Harper Impulse, I want to get on with book 2 in The Lone Riders Series – Retribution. And I’m hoping to get that one written, edited and out there by Spring next year.

Thanks so much, Michelle, it’s been great chatting with you.

Amazon UK link HERE

Amazon US link HERE

Michelle Betham blog HERE

 

 

P for Plotting, P for Polished, P for Enis …?

Today, we are delighted to welcome Jane O’Reilly to Romaniac HQ. Jane’s been managing without a P …

So you’ve (almost) finished nanowrimo – now what?

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If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve most probably heard of Nanowrimo. It’s kind of like Movember for writers – instead of facial hair, Nanowrimo involves growing a book. Fifty thousand words, written during November, cut and pasted into the Nanowrimo site which will, once you reach that milestone, declare you a winner.

So you have your 50K words. Or maybe a few more (or maybe a few less). But what to do with them now? Having been on a tight deadline which required me to have not just 50K words, but 50K polished and ready-to-send-to-an-editor words by the end of November, I thought I would talk about my personal process of moving from a first draft to a finished story.

This started for me back in October, when I was asked to write 2 25K erotic romance novellas with a fairly tight turnaround (5 weeks). I had plotted the first, had no idea about the second, and had no written words of either. I got to work and wrote a lot of sex scenes in a very short space of time. Some of them were weird. But we won’t talk about that. More disturbing was the weekend I spent on writing retreat in Devon (with lots of other lovely writers) when the P on my laptop decided to stop working. For the first 5 thousand words of the second novella, my hero had an enis. It was distressing for both of us.

By 19th of November, I had my first drafts of both novellas. Phew. After a couple of hours of recovering from the weeks of panicking that I wouldn’t get those done in time, it was time to start panicking about revising them in time. This is a different sort of panic. It’s not a blank page, I have so much to do panic, more of a what if the story is insane panic. The only solution is to open up the document and read it, preferably somewhere private. People tend to think you’re a bit strange if they see you talking to yourself and crying. We’re often told to take a break from a manuscript before revising it, but my experience has been that if a draft is left for any length of time, it is very difficult to go back to, especially if you have started a new more exciting project. And once you’re on deadline, you won’t have that option. By all means leave it, but for a couple of days. Not for a couple of months (which can all too easily become years).

For anyone who has never revised a draft before, I’d like to start by saying this: revising is more than fixing typos. You do have to fix typos, don’t get me wrong – but a draft isn’t finished when that job is done, and it should be low down on your list of priorities. The first step, for me anyway, is to check that the three act structure is in place. At this point in my writing career, I am definitely a plotter. I didn’t start out as one, primarily because I didn’t know how to plot, but now it is vital. I write to the following structure – ordinary world, inciting incident, turning points 1, 2 and 3 (with a midpoint change that needs to occur exactly half way through the book), high point, black moment, darkest moment and climax. I also try to have the end of the book mirror the beginning as much as possible (so in the first of the two novellas, the book opens at a wedding, with the hero catching the heroine doing something she shouldn’t. It ends with the hero and heroine doing that something at their own wedding). Got all that? Good. If the idea of 3 act structure is new to you, I suggest taking a look at The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. (Yes, it’s a tome. Yes, it’s worth it.) Alternatively, if you can get yourself on one of her courses, get the lovely Julie Cohen to explain it to you.

As well as a rough plan for the turning points, I also have a fairly good idea of what the book is about (the theme) and some sort of logline worked out before I begin, so that I know the conflict is enough to sustain the story. (For more on this, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain are both useful).

Even with a plan, however, it is still possible to take a wrong turn. Fix the structure first, and everything else will follow. Making sure the structure is right and that I have all the right scenes in the right order takes me through a second draft. Each of those scenes and the sequel that follows on from it also has to have structure – a character must enter a scene with a goal and fail to achieve it, and in the sequel that follows, the character must rethink and set a new goal. (For anyone looking for help with scene structure, I would recommend reading Scene and Sequel by Jack Bickham.)

The third draft involves making sure all the back story is coherent. You know, how the hero was her neighbour at the start of the draft and he was her best friend’s brother by the end. All those threads have to be tied together so that as you move from scene to scene, there is strong internal consistency. I also fix other inconsistencies I find along the way, like random changes of clothing and position, dialogue that doesn’t make sense, and the best friend who started out as Charlotte and ended up as Dave. Random animals have to be removed, together with any unnecessary Star Wars references and/or enises. At this point, I can also start to see where I’ve repeated myself and decide which bits to cut and which to keep. (Saying the same thing 8 times in a first draft is mandatory.)

At this point, I usually put the document on to kindle and read it on that. Changing reading format will give you a completely different view of the story – you will suddenly see the typo in a sentence that you’ve read a dozen times, see which sentences are clumsy and awkward, see where you’ve used the same word 5 sentences in a row. (Yes, you can fix the typos now. You mean you haven’t done it already?)

The final step, which takes me to 5 drafts, is to get the kindle to read the book out loud. More typos and sentences that need to be put down will make themselves known. Plus you get to imagine what it would be like if your sex scenes were being read out loud at a robot book club.

By this point, robot book clubs aside, chances are that you are completely fed up with your book. You may even hate it. This is the point at which to stop playing around with it and send it wherever it needs to go.

But before you do, I have one last task for you. Run spellcheck.

Jane O’Reilly writes contemporary romances for Harlequin Escape and erotic romances for Carina UK. Find her on twitter as @janeoreilly, on facebook at www.facebook.com/janeoreillyauthor or visit her website at http://www.janeoreilly.com/

Jane O'Reilly Cover Pic

Blurb:

When tabloid journalist Erica Parker is forced to take a holiday, she’s determined to make it the most miserable holiday she possibly can, but not even her impressive imaginative powers could have come up with sharing a tent with survival expert Nathan Wilde.    Nathan was a married man with a successful TV show before Erica got to work on his life. Now the hottest man she’s ever met is single, furious, and he’s got her alone in the wilderness for three long days…

Lucie’s NaNoWriMo challenge

NaNoWriMo.

Well, what can I say, I must be mad.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.com

For anyone who doesn’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it is a month long writing challenge that takes place every year throughout the month of November. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and the aim is to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. The trick is to switch off your inner editor – and preferably your mobile phone, house phone, doorbell, forget about your daily chores, any errands you need to run or children you need to feed – and just concentrate on getting the word count down. This challenge isn’t about getting an uber polished 50k down on paper – or in Word – to be ready to send off on the 1st December. No. It’s simply about getting words down to have something to work with. What you will end up with in December is a complete pocket novel, or part of a full length novel, that you can go on to edit, edit, edit until your hearts content. It is a great challenge to motivate. It is a great challenge to hit deadlines. It is a great challenge to try something new, completely out of your comfort zone. And if you do decide to try writing that YA book and then in December, after reading it back, you think, ‘actually, I don’t think this is for me,’ then all you have lost is a month. Onwards and upwards and onto the next thing.

So, yes, as of tomorrow, I will be embarking on my first attempt of NaNoWriMo in a bid to get the first 50k words of my new novel, Love Hurts, down. I think it will come under Romantic Thriller although I’ve never really written anything like this before so I may have to wait until I’ve completed the first draft before I try to place it within a genre. It’s definitely romance, though – what else! 🙂

The other thing that I am attempting for the first time with this novel, is the way in which I am going about writing it. I am normally a ‘pantster’ when I write. For those who are new to this writing term, a pantster is someone who writes as they go along. They may have a basic outline of what the story is about, but they pretty much have an idea and begin writing, letting the characters take them along the way and seeing where the story takes them. The other type of writer, the type that I shall be for the time being, is a ‘plotter’. A plotter gets the idea, drafts up a plot outline and works to it. Yes the characters may take them on a different journey, but there is a clear plot outline to the start, middle and end of the story, before the writer has even written the first word.

A snapshot of my desk, mid-plotting

I am completely new to this way of writing but I thought I would try it for Love Hurts. So I have spent the last two weeks, in preparation of NaNoWriMo, drafting up quite an in depth plot outline. I know exactly what happens to kick off the story, I know how it skips along and I know how it ends.

It’ll probably all change by week two as my heroine will no doubt trot off on her own little mission, but as it stands, I have the complete story outlined – I just need to write the damned thing! That’s where my writing challenge comes in. I’m hoping it will help focus me into getting the first draft completed by the new year so that I can send it off to the NWS very early next year. (If I get in!)

I’m not exactly getting the easiest of starts to the challenge either, as it starts smack bang in the middle of half term! Lovely! So I am having to do nighttime writing again – which I do enjoy, and I feel very creative at 1am, but it really does take it out of me. But it’s only for the first four days of the challenge and then I can go back to normal routine. And I’m sure there are hundreds of others out the whose only writing time is 1am.

I have also taken it upon myself this time round, to create a little playlist for this book. I’ve heard others say that they listen to certain songs or music whilst they write to help connect with the emotions. So I thought i’d try this too. I’m all for trying new things. I probably shouldn’t be trying all these new things at once, on one writing project, but hey! If it works, then brilliant. So here’s a little taster of a few of the more recent songs added to my playlist…..can you tell I was plotting a sad few scenes?

Leona Lewis – Trouble

Avril Lavigne – When You’re Gone

REM – Everybody Hurts

Shakespeares Sister- Stay

Leona Lewis – Run

Christina Aguilera – Hurt

And I want to just quickly say a huge thank you to my lovely friends, Kayleigh, Emma D, Emma P and Hannah, for knowing me well enough to not question my random text of ‘I need sad songs that will make me cry’ and just unload lots of ideas. It takes special friends to understand your crazy, weird and always random texts when writing – and only one of them being a writer themselves – so thanks girls for understanding my strangeness and never questioning it or ignoring my texts. (And if you ever did – I know where you all live! Mwahahaha!!)

So that just leaves me with the huge task of writing the first 50k words of Love Hurts. Wish me luck! And if any of you want to get a decent conversation out of me – wait until December!

Love Lucie x

P.S my name on the NaNoWriMo website is Lucie_Wheeler for anyone who wants to add me. Good luck everyone!

Image courtesy of istockphoto.com