Nine Block Outlining

Back in November I published a blog— (I really dislike the use of this word. it sounds like barf. BLAAUUGGHHHHHH! Am I right?)

–sorry, I wrote about Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius in THIS article. If you plan on being any kind of fiction writer, this will be your bible. It forces you to go in depth with your characters and story. I have discovered through this crazy writing process that I prefer to start with Story Genius after I get the basics out of the way.

Lisa plumbs the depths of your writerly brain and you find that a rough outline starts to form as if by magic. Great! You are now an Alchemist, creating something new out of two ordinary things (pen and paper, skin and plastic keyboard…whatever your medium). So what next?

Well now we struggle to flesh out the shiny new outline of course! Just because you have lexicon gold doesn’t mean you can let it sit there like a lumpy paper weight (haa….) I’ve tried to outline several different ways over the years. Pansting it never really worked but it gave me some wonderful one-liners of beautiful prose that fill me with pride even to this day. The basic bitch Three Act Story Structure that you can find every-freaking-where didn’t really give me enough to go on as far as definite plot points. It’s a better step forward than pantsing, at least for me, but I wanted something more detailed to follow. Forget Freytag Method (haven’t even attempted).

Enter AuthorTube. (YouTube that mainlines author/writer channels)

I found a gal on there a few years ago whose channel she named Katytastic and this video is the single most useful video I’ve ever found about outlining EVER. When I initially saw this video I didn’t pay it much mind. It seemed a little intense to have EVERY CHAPTER mapped out. (Aww, I was such an innocent little pantser back then.) Nothing against Discovery writing but this ingredient has a specific place in my noveling recipe now.

Katy does a twenty seven chapter, nine block, three act break down of her story. What’s great about the video is she not only breaks down every chapter into title and description, she does an example outline as well to show you how the flow is supposed to work. This time around, when I tried it, it worked wonders. It won’t for everyone and that’s okay. There’s no wrong way to write unless it’s not at all.

So this is what it looks like:

Image result for 3 act 9 block 27 chapter outline | Writing tips, Three act  structure, Kids writing

Katy’s looks slight different but the important bits are all here. This set up is going to turn your lump of raw golden brilliance into the the poignant prose you know your novel is supposed to be. You are injecting form and substance into your project now. This is where the fun bit begins.

I was having issues with my Faustus outline until I tired this method. I knew all the major points to hit but until I tried plugging them into the outline, I didn’t know which gem was supposed to go where and in what order. I discovered that certain beats I thought were supposed to happen later needed to be sooner for pacing purposes and that move left gaps that needed to be filled with…something. However, once I settled on placement, I took what I had already brainstormed and started trying to fit them into different places.

Should the Darkest Moment be when she’s taken into the Pens or when she finds out Zeizal is going to be assassinated?

Should the Midpoint be when her mother makes the announcement about the Sleeper Assassins or when she discovers the truth about her mother’s past?

Where’s the conflict in the first pinch point?

It was a bit of a surprise the points I became stuck at. Most of it was in the beginning right before the Midpoint, Act 2, Block 4. The whole thing was a mystery to me and I could have filled it with lots of meaningless melodrama but since I had already carved out a path for the characters to follow after that point, I just needed to decide which situations best led into those. (How do I hurt my darlings the most? MUAAHAAHAHAH!) It was at this point that I realized Katytastic’s Power Block Outline had done what it could for me and I needed to slip into my Pantsing Pants again.

It was more progress I had done on the book in months. I was just bursting with pride lemme tell ya.

Using the outline, I then used my tapping phalanges to flesh out the story. Once I was one a roll, I spirit fingered my way through the difficult bits, buffing the surface of the one or two sentence guidance and nudging pieces into place until I was happy with how it turned out. I made a note of the things I did not like and things to that needed changing before I moved on to the rough draft.

The next step is to flesh out the second half in order to create a basic rough draft, cut out the unnecessary bits and then start in on Scene Cards, an ancient writing art that is wholly a mystery to me. (I guess I should finish reading Story Genius, huh? Lisa talks about this too…)

*puts on my serious think-y face*

Let me know if this type of outline works out for you and where you got stuck. What did you realize while you were drafting it? Were there any surprises?

Start before you’re ready

…that’s where the learning begins.

If 2020 taught us anything, it is that nothing is promised. The cogs that make life turn seamlessly can get a monkey wrench thrown in and suddenly everyone is stampeding to the toilet paper and water sections of the grocery store. (Here’s looking at you Y2K and Covid!)

Everyone wants to be prepared as best they can for Life. They want to read the books and watch the videos and do the things, all of which are excellent ideas. Whether if it’s for school, or a job, or for learning a new skill, downloading as much info into your brain as possible will increase your chances of success. You can study the questions for interviews and tests. You can watch the tutorials. You can take boatloads of notes. You can practice for hours, present the material to your Pothos plants for days, plan the trips down to the gas station stops and start learning a new language in anticipation of international travel.

But what about the Doing of the thing?

Oh, yeah. Easier said than done, I know. What an awfully true cliché.

Ever heard of the term “Arm Chair Traveler”? It’s a term given to individuals who only ever deign to read about adventure secondhand rather than going out an experiencing it themselves. It is safer, easier, less expensive to live vicariously through the people that have already done it. We can save face that way too because we aren’t the fool doing the thing and failing at it.

Humans don’t want to fail. We don’t want to be uncomfortable or embarrassed. We don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country in the middle of God Knows Where with a dead cell phone, a broken down rental and no one speaking English near you. We want to go for that promotion but [INSERT REASON HERE] stops us. Mostly likely culprit is that we believe we’re not ready.

There’s another saying:

“The best way to learn, is to teach.”

I’ve been writing for a very long time. Loonnngggggg time. I wasn’t very good at it, at least in my highly critical opinion. I’m still not very good at it; I have some ways to go and I was deeply insecure about that fact, being a perfectionist. But somewhere along the way, I decided that I was going to try and fail and maybe that was going to be okay. Everyone–literally EVERYONE– has been in my shoes at some point in their lives. Maybe not exactly the same but everyone has had to start something they felt they weren’t ready for.

Parenthood.

Moving out of state/country.

Promotions.

Marriage.

I started this little blog before I was ready because I knew if I didn’t jump on the opportunity while the idea was fresh and tempting, I would never have hit the PUBLISH button that first day three years ago. I started it because I wanted to stop feeling afraid of being criticized and I wanted to show my writing to this little part of the internet world. I wanted to find like-minded individuals and join a writing community to share in the fear and joy of creating the written word.

WordPress was hard to navigate at first. I could have chosen an easier platform but this felt right (and was conveniently free!) It was a triumph to create even this simple platform page. Trying to do anything even slightly more complicated makes my brain rebel. So many buttons and widgets and options… ANALYSIS PARALYSIS. But because I started, I now have first hand knowledge of how this website works and I have since started to teach others how to use it.

I learned by teaching. And I started before I was ready.

Humans, at least most of them, are happy to help. They want to see you succeed. They want to share their knowledge and experiences and teach. I feel welcomed and competent by my experiences here as a blogger (even if I’m not very consistent with it). And once you jump in and get the initial embarrassment out of the way, you will gain confidence quickly. You will find your own way to navigate and be able to take the criticism with grace.

Practice doing before you’re ready. Ask that guy or girl out. Eat the suspicious food. Go base jumping. Start that YouTube channel. Sell your wool and leather purses on Etsy. Get your Passport and book the flight. Don’t let regrets haunt you!

Me no like-y the read-y

I have been dragging my ass about launching back into my Nano 202 story. I make preparations! I bring up the playlist. I bring up the draft. I lightly scan my outline– and then promptly find something better to do. I shy away from doing the work as if it physically repels me.

Not because it’s horrible. I actually quite like what I wrote (based on the bits I’ve managed to read before absenting myself from my laptop.)

Not because there are huge gaps in the timeline that need bridging. It’s pretty fleshed out.

And not because I’m still stuck on Faustus, my last novel. I have already committed to that only being half drafted.

It’s not even a mystery as to why I don’t want to dive back in. It’s a childhood proclivity that’s followed me since grade school: I don’t edit. I know, it sounds ludicrous but I was the kind of student that would write a first draft at two am, turn it in and get an A on it. This gave me a false sense of security, making me believe I was a genius. (I blame the teachers for not grading me more harshly. Yeahh…)

Now, I’m no stranger to reading my own drafts but somehow the story always seems to get re-written because of [insert reason here]. I do have a bad habit of labeling things illegibly while saving so it’s a struggle to find the right draft. Usually it’s something like “NANO 2020 Zero Draft 1” and then “NaNo February 3 Remi” or something that made sense at the time but is a complete head scratcher to future me. Losing whole drafts is a big one because my computer goes caput randomly. Technology and I have a rocky relationship. I’m terrible at backing things up too. And sometimes it’s just because I DON’T WANT TO READ IT AND FIX IT. So I start over entirely. SIIGGHHHHHH.

This is how you get to have a WIP that’s 18 years old, people. Don’t be me.

Last night I went through the check list: Tea, check. Computer plugged in, check. Playlist and noise cancelling headphones, double check. Found the right draft (after several missteps), check. I had already filled out the basic Three act story structure previously. I even wrote a list of the scenes both written and that needed to be written. GOSH I was so organized! I’m really impressed with myself actually.

Go me!

So I start reading, a kind of perma-cringe twisting my face weirdly as I slowly start to toe the waters of my draft. It’s…not bad. I like the voice of my MC, Juno and her side kick Benny. (Ha, yes, Benny and June was an intentional thing. As was Juno Marsi–Juno Mars–she’s Italian…and a writer using that as her Pen Name…Wow, okay just read the dang thing when it comes out in 2035, okay?) I absolutely love Remi Nissent, Drag Queen Extraordinaire. I remember her coming to life like a fire cracker in the dark of the night and she made a rather blah love story sparkle with wit and fashion and hard truths. Who she really is made me laugh and applaud my genius brain. Seriously, everyone needs a Remi in their life.

I read through a couple scenes and slowly it started to sink in: this isn’t nearly as horrible as I thought it would be. I quickly became engrossed in my own writing, seeing the two women sparring verbally and feeling how hard Juno was trying to hold her shit together. How Christian (the love interest) was trying not to push but at the same time trying to make her understand she’s not the villain of her own life. I felt the absence of inner conflict, how the scenes were all talk and no introspection but I did enjoy the talk-y very much. It was delightfully complex.

It was definitely complex.

IT WAS A FECKIN MESS.

Enter problem number two of Jessie not like-y the read-y: WHAT DO I CUT?

This wasn’t like a school essay where I might only have to rearrange a few sentences or rewrite a paragraph to make things flow better. This was an ENTIRE ZERO DRAFT. Do you know how daunting that is?! It almost stopped me dead in my tracks when I realized that this was my fate for the rest of my writing life. What was good and needed to stay? What was bad and needed to go? What needed to be reinserted somewhere else and how do I make that transition? What would make the most sense to readers without giving too much away? What was too subtle and what was too obvious? What was too repetitive? What was just my wish fulfillment and needed to be chopped?

Drowning…can’t breathe……HAALLLPPPPPPP! >_<

I was genuinely starting to have a panic attack over this. I got up and did a mini work out, doing squats and lunges in my living room and breathing deeply. I’m sure all writers do this sort of thing too. Freak out I mean, not work out in their pajamas. Newbies just get it the hardest because well, we’re new. Or maybe it happens to seasoned writers too?

Okay, okay, hang I got this. *beams false positivity*They’re just words! MY words! It is better than a blank page!

I noticed during my exploration that there were certain obvious scenes that could be cut out. A scene that carried on and on and on that really should have ended five pages ago. Scenes written as experiments to see how the characters would play off each other. Intimate scenes between Juno and other characters that were not right but have some really excellent dialogue and inner conflict. (I have a file folder called Random or Alternate Scenes where I can plunk these in, no problem). The first draft is the story you tell yourself, after all. (Right, Terry Pratchett?) My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to bridge the gaps between scenes in the same voice or *GASP* have to re-write a really good scene because it didn’t end where I wanted it to.

Oh my gosh writing is hard. IT’S SO HARD.

This is the first time I have actively written from a completely outline and then gone back to edit a nearly complete draft. I really hope the freak outs are normal. I know that part of this will go away partially when I figure out the mystery of the Scene Cards. There’s precious little out there about the use of scene cards, surprisingly. Abbie Emmons is my go-to girl for explanations and she has a good video about it but I feel I need more to go on. Lisa Cron has a whole chapter on them in her book Story Genius but I haven’t gotten there yet.

Oh the woes of choosing between reading and writing (and now, editing). Any suggestions? Please comment below if you do. I am a voracious book dragon but a pitiful lowly editor; I yield my pride to the more experienced. Links, books, videos, blogs, articles, anything. Scene cards, editing drafts, maintaining writing voice…give me the tools!

Better yet, give me people! I need a good writing community to join and commiserate with. I mean help and support, of course.

Thank you my fellows for hanging in there while I word vomited ❤ You are wonderful and appreciated.

W.I.P #1.3 Words. BOOM! splat

So I had a writing schedule that I wrote out back in January. I decided that THIS YEAR was going to be the year I full drafted and edited an entire manuscript and I was going to send it off for query. I can’t procrastinate on it anymore; not after the shit storm that was 2020. More than ever, I believe that stories and art and opinions and voices matter and I want to make my mark on the world before paper books are phased out completely by the digital age.

It’s amazing what a world-wide pandemic can bring into focus, right?

I recently attempted to zero draft my Faustus story. Turns out only giving myself a month is a brutal turn around time when I have to juggle kids, covid restrictions/shut downs, work and real life. Maybe if I was in a hermetically sealed bubble…HA.

Well, I didn’t finish the draft. I initially freaked out and beat myself up for it since I just put myself way behind schedule. Now I look at the calendar and scoff.

It’s halfway through April and I have barely written anything at all except blog posts and OneNote journal entries. I’m okay with this because those are important endeavors too and it totes counts as writing. And then looking back through the zero draft, I realized that I wrote straight through many of my question mark story beats. The rest of the story had been fleshed out pretty well but there was a part right before the break into Act 2 where I was just….derrrrr WHUT HAPPENS HERE??

So those are all wins. I had a creative word boom in March and then went SPLAT in April. I think this is healthy. I’m doing alternative projects that have nothing to do with writing. Crochet. Note cards. Baking. And those STUPIDLY ADDICTING DIAMOND PAINTINGS. So time consuming. So satisfying. SO SHINY… It is good to give the brain a break and let if play in other areas of fun so it can be refreshed and stimulated in different ways.

But it’s time to get back into the game. Even my iPod is urging me to write again, playing multiple songs from book playlists in a row. The plan was to re-read and flesh out my Nano 2020 Story. Possibly even name it properly. #Goals. I can’t let this grace period of abundance pass me by without making a concentrated effort toward my writing goals.

DECLARATIONS:

I am giving myself April and May to get a rough draft of the Nano story typed out and then I will set it aside and go back to Faustus.

I will write at least two blog posts a month in an effort to boost my author platform.

I will write every day.

Hopefully. Probably. Maybe. We will see what the Universe throws at me. Haaa. What are your writing goals? Did the pandemic force you to buckle down too?

Love the Journey, Not the Goal

(…but love the goal too, by all means.)

I read that recently in a book (of course in a book) and it really stuck with me. As a budding SERIOUS-MINDED writer –HA– I am having to learn how to be okay with not being a genius.

(I never got anything below an A- in English, okay? It’s hard to transition from being brilliant to being average.)

Writing is hard. Creating a coherent, likeable story out of our own experiences and thoughts and then showing it to people to criticize and judge is terrifying. Most people in their life think about writing a book but usually never get very far for this reason or another like, No time, No motivation, No idea how. But the few of us that hang on, who eat, breathe and live the written word, we know that there is nothing else for us except to write.

That doesn’t magically clear up the fear of failure or criticism though does it? Big fat NOPE. So what do we do?

We can learn to love the journey.

Yeah I know, easier said, or in this case, written, than done. But isn’t it more rewarding to have earned the prize instead of it being given to you? It’s certainly easier to be a unicorn and have the Senior Editor at Simon and Schuster look at your napkin scribbles, claim you are a prodigy and offer you a six-figure book deal (here’s looking at you Christopher Paolini).

You still have to write the dang book. And, if you are anything like me who has started a dozen or more different stories but never finished them, then this makes it doubly hard to love the WHOLE JOURNEY or writing a book. We all have strengths that make the process go fast: Fast outlining, excellent Zero draft skills, ignoring your inner editor, unique character development or realistic world building. Inversely, we have skills that we lack and we dread: writing the Murky Middle, outlining, staying on deadline, not editing every paragraph you write, or refusing to hurt your Darlings with nasty conflict. Whatever it may be, we all have stumbling blocks that make us want to stop or quit.

There’s tons of advice out there on the subject of How to Write a Book, Fast! You wanna know my advice? You’ve heard it a hundred thousand times:

FINISH THE DRAFT.

You can groan and click away from the page. That’s okay. But the advice will still haunt you everywhere you go. That naggy little voice in your head will still be there.

I made a plan for myself to zero draft and finish Faustus, my current WIP, by the end of March. I didn’t finish it, which freaked me out initially. It was the first time I had ever set a deadline for myself and even though I was working steadily on it, I realized that one month to zero draft an ENTIRE BOOK was not in the cards for me. I failed. Queen of Procrastination.

Of course, it depends on what one defines as a “Zero Draft”. Mine felt more like a rough draft but I was working off the rough outline I wrote so it was more like…fleshing out the outline? IDK. It took longer than I thought it would and I was kind of bummed about it until I saw that I hard written straight through my rough patch. Every chapter and beat had been fully conceptualized except the few points at the break into act 2 that I was drawing a blank on. How does one have “Fun and Games” out in the desert and mountains with a newly prosthetic/bionic arm, with demonic but well-meaning kidnappers and a good friend whom isn’t entirely human?

(Guns and ATVs it turns out. Who knew? My brain did! YEAAHH GO BRAIN!)

Now I should mention that I never had zero crafted before this attempt. It was straight pantsing with my stories, or Discovery writing. I wrote where the wind took me. But I tried a different route this time, with Faustus. I had a concept. I had a character, a side kick, a love interest, and a villain. I had a world and history for that world. I collected all the little shiny marbles into the circle and looked at them and decided, “Lets try something different”. And you know what I discovered?

I LOVE IT.

I LOVE ZERO DRAFTING.

Terry Pratchett has this quote “The first drafts is just the story you tell yourself.” That’s kind of what Zero Drafting is. It helps me to have a basic outline so I don’t stray too far away from the original intent of the story, but within that outline I dig up all sorts of gems like, the good friend has a mother who lived through a horrid ordeal that the main character will have to go through in the future. Now she has a mother figure to relate to since her own mother figure is the worst anti-hero ever. Other things try to work themselves into another direction, like the main character having a human love interest that just don’t work so I made a note to cut those parts out. Not that kind of book and my main character only has room in her heart for one person. It makes what she does later more relatable I think. Maybe.

Point is, I never would have figured any of this out if I hadn’t tried something new. And now I have something to add to my writing repertoire that will help speed along my drafting. The art of writing is the same as writing the words themselves; you have to find your own voice, your own method, that works for you and you have to be brave enough to TRY EVERYTHING.

Write for eight hours a day like it’s a full time job. Write 500 words directly after dinner and make it a habit to do so every day. Wake up an hour earlier to write. Use the Snowflake method to write. Use the Three Act Structure. Use Story Beats. Use Scrivener. Use your lap top or a pen and paper. Write word sprints at a bar or a park or your bathroom with the shower running. TRY IT ALL and discover what will make you fall in love with the process.

Life is a journey. You should love it, not just survive it.

If you’re Failing, you’re Trying

Seems like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Jumbo Shrimp. Icy Hot. Falling up.

Failing has such negative connotations attached to it and has psychologically powerful stigma. There are F’s following us around as young as six years old, usually in red ink, the color of doom, on report cards and tests. F’s are Failing. That’s what it says on the bottom of those papers. D’s are below average but an F is the end of the line. You are at the bottom and do not pass go or collect $200.

Failure, even the thought of it sometimes, makes us feel less. It cripples us, makes us shrink down into the smallest, most inconspicuous being we can be, and it is the fastest killer of dreams on the planet (besides money). It make us feel limited, beyond help, and, above all, inept.

Failure means END. Red means STOP.

Let me tell you something. Let me remind that if you find yourself facing an F, that means there’s no where to go but up, baby. That’s right. Look up into the light!

“If you’re failing, you’re trying.”

It's okay to fail | The Sentry

Image from the movie “Meet The Robinsons”

Read it again.

I am a thirty five year old woman and am just now realizing how early life failed to prepare me for the real world. My perfectionism and lack of interest in people cost me valuable lessons. My aversion to responsibility and my disrespect for deadlines created an intrinsically lazy person. I am now having to break down and rebuild those skills from scratch. Life failed me but now I have the chance to make it right for myself. I can TRY.

My ex mother-in-law told me once as I looked on in horror at her unraveling a beautiful crocheted blanket, that every time she did that, it reminded her of how many times she’s had to unravel her life to build it back up better and stronger and with more confidence than the last time. It was always such a comforting image to me, the unraveling of yarn. It gave me comfort that she, at fifty-five, was still learning the lessons too.

Failure looks different for everyone. It’s what you do with it that makes you sink or swim.

Denial of a promotion doesn’t mean you failed, it means not right now but KEEP TRYING.

Getting an F on a test doesn’t mean you’re failing the class, just that you need to make the effort to LEEP TRYING.

Burning the eggs doesn’t mean you completely suck at cooking. Do it again. Eggs are cheap.

It is an incredibly hard thing to be comfortable with failure. It’s like deliberately taking cold showers every day and drinking black coffee (literally the most horrifying thing to me besides willingly holding a live spider.) Our mind rejects the thought of doing the uncomfortable thing because we know that there is a great probability of failure and we are scared to be at the bottom. But what if we can reprogram our brain to believe that failing isn’t Doom and Gloom? What if we can convince it that Failure doesn’t mean we aren’t enough, just that we’re not quite there yet?

Failure means you’re trying and it should be a friggin’ BADGE OF COURAGE. A bright yellow happy face sewn into all your clothes that makes the statement:

I FAILED AND I’M STILL HERE TRYING.

Lift the 3lbs weights. One day, they’ll be 5lbs, and then 8lbs, and then 20lbs.

Keep fighting the courts to take back custody of your kids. Fight back with knowledge and persistence and a fierce love.

Keep saving for that wedding dress.

COOK THE DAMN EGGS.

Failure means you’re trying, even if it hurts.

Plannin’, and wishin’ and Hopin’ and showing that I care in 2021

Well, its been a minute, hasn’t it?

Last post was November, during the NaNoWriMo frenzy and my brazen traveling to Texas and Idaho in the midst of a pandemic. Yeah, go Rebel me! (Safe to say no Covid was given or received before or after said traveling). I have not been idle since then, however. Oh no, there’s been a slow burn transformation going on all up in here for the last few months. It been a death defying roller coaster of emotional ups and downs but has yielded some truly intense forward momentum. I am all agog with myself. Not to be all narcissistic or anything. That being said–

Let’s see, updates, updates…

Okay, well I won Nano last year, by a landslide of words. Early even! For the first time ever!

*Late embarrassing victory dance for viewers to cringe at* (or join in. Your choice.)

I have since written a zero draft of that story, dubbed “NaNo 2020” because the symmetry and repetitiveness pleases me. I imagine something eye-catching and pithy will come to me at 2:15 am and will have me grasping blindly in the dark for pen and paper before I forget. The usual, right my fellow Writers?

Alternating with that is my paranormal fantasy WIP “The Faustus Affliction”. I’ve decided it’s time to finish it. I don’t want it to turn into another fifteen year project like my first story and I think that if I can get it out into the world sooner rather than later, that it could be a great mini Netflix series, like The Witcher or Bridgerton, where the rating is a little more R than it is PG-13 but rich with detail and world building and character arcs so that you can’t look away for even one second. (Bucket list item: be an extra or minor side character in one of my own adapted-to-film books!) Big dreams, I know, but If You Build It, They Will Come. Totes my goats truth right there.

Get this, I even have a WRITING SCHEDULE for planning these two books over the next year! Me. Planning. I even have an awesome little Planner for it too!

MARCH: Finish zero draft of Faustus, flesh out character bios of Ulani, Boaz, Zeizal, Elliot, Micah, Lesya, Peter Salvatore, History of angelic wars, history of the Affliction, how Bonding works and what are the pros/cons, magic systems,

APRIL/MAY: Put away Faustus, NaNo 2020 27 chapter outline, advanced character Bios for Remi, Christian and Juno with misbelief/fears and goals, revise outline and missing scenes list, full rough draft and scene cards, look for beta readers,

JUNE/JULY: Put away Nano 2020, Re-read Faustus Zero Draft, Scene cards, full rough draft, look for beta readers, (Prepare for Pitch Wars?*)

AUGUST/SEPTEMBER: Put away Faustus, re-read NaNo 2020 rough and developmental edit with beta critiques,

OCTOBER: Re-read Faustus and edit (Hopefully get chosen for Pitch Wars??*)

PREPTOBER: Start work on new Autistic Super Hero plot bunny

NOVEMBER: NANOWRIMO! All work on other novels stops.

Isn’t it beautiful? So far I’ve been able to stick with it but instead of writing in my novel today I am updating my Blog. Because that’s a Goal for myself this year too. Twice a month, at the very least. I even made a list and a plan for that too! (I do so love lists <3) I know, I keep saying that I need to be more proactive here to build my author platform and I never do it, but this year is different. It feels different and so I am going to treat it differently.

I’m treating MYSELF differently. Like I matter.

To that point, I am also building more life habits, like exercising daily. I am sore just typing this. Yay upper body day! There’s a lot I can say about this journey of mine with fitness, or the lack thereof, and maybe some day I will, but suffice it to say, I am getting back on the wagon with ten minute increments. Just ten, for now. It’s more important to make a habit than beef up and burn out. No pains, no gains!

(Also, I don’t sweat, I sparkle ❤ And fart rose scented gas…)

This year I am also attempting budgeting, or trying to. That magical unicorn. One of these days it will come to me naturally and willingly.

It’s kind of a necessity now that I am living paycheck to paycheck. Yes, I could get a second job or a side hustle like Uber Eats but the whole point of me living in poverty, believe it or not, it to teach myself discipline and to make the effort to focus on my passion, which is writing (duh). I am giving myself one year to stick to my lists and my goals and try to make things happen for myself. With all the planning, and wishing, and hoping, this year is going to be a learning curve for me, one way or another.

Pray for me friends. Every little bit counts.

In my nifty planner there are other mini goals I pen each week like trying New Recipes and meal planning. I made the best teriyaki chicken yesterday from a recipe on Pinterest (apparently the secret ingredient is MIRIN sauce). And I am finally being a girly girl and using the Mary Kay Satin body scrub I was gifted a year ago so I can tick off the “Self-Care” bullet lists too. Along side that is meditation at night, positive affirmations like I AM ENOUGH; I AM DESERVING OF LOVE; and I AM ABUNDANTLY WEALTHY. But all these in little bitty easy increments. Stupid easy with great little rewards like a new packet of seedlings, an iced mocha from CBTL or a new book.

One hour, one day, one month can turn into an additional ten/twenty/thirty years onto my life. I have to look at the long goals now and take the steps to make my best life happen for reals, especially as my girls are entering High School and my boyfriend is this {_______} much closer to moving in with me.

FOR REALS!! ALL THE THINGS!

Okay, so what are you planning? 2021 has a wealth of opportunity opening up for us. What’s on your mini Bucket Lists this year?

Keeping the pen/cursor/crayon moving, dear fellows. The world needs your voice.

W.I.P #1.2 Story Genius

I am absolute shite when it comes of consistent blogging. Sorry. But at least this month I have an excuse! Because we all know what month it is!

NANOWRIMO! WOOOOOOOO!

Okay so yeah, I’m a little slow on the uptake but I am happy to say that for the first time ever competing in NaNo, I will be finished early. I clocked in at 42k this afternoon and I’ve been writing between 2k and 4k every day. HECK YES. Also, this will be the fourth year out of nine that I have actually finished. DOUBLE HECK YES. What is the secret to my success? I attribute it to three things:

  1. A fierce desire to avoid school work. (Copy editing is the equivalent of accounting for the written word)
  2. Trying to read WattPad stories and getting pissed off at the bad writing, which spurred a cynical short story that turned into something bigger
  3. Story Genius by Lisa Cron, a wonderful book on outlining and writing

It went like this.

I had fully planned on trying to continue my Faustus WIP and completing a zero draft on it so I could put it away for the year and work on something else. But then Copy Editing had to get involved so I decided to try and practice on Wattpad stories. I figured that it was a free source for me to edit in the privacy of my own failure and also try to absorb short story formatting, something I am not familiar with. Plus, I wanted to get into the book publishing industry so why not see what’s out there, right?

Let me tell you something about WattPad. IT IS NOT FOR ME. I clicked on a few stories and some of them I couldn’t even get passed the first chapter of. Some of them were interesting but only gave me a sample before asking me for money to continue. (Seriously? What the hell?) I could not subject myself to the bad writing. I’m sorry. You can call me a cynic or a bad person or whatever but I just couldn’t do it.

Naturally, this spawned a response story in which a copy editor is hired to fix one of these bad stories and an unexpected history started to unravel. This copy editor’s name was Juno Marsi, she had a roommate named Benny and this job was the cherry on top of a really crappy year for her. She fell from the ranks of editing stardom because of her misogynist boss and was then forced to take crap jobs and hand outs to make a living.

My brain matter bubbled with possibilities. Why did she fall? What happens next? And that’s where I turned to Story Genius. I had been reading it previously to try and figure out what the heck I was going to do about Faustus but stopped in the middle because that’s how I do. I am not an Outliner by nature but I was desperate to try and finish this damn thing.

Turns out that this Lisa lady knows what she’s talking about.

In the beginning she takes you through the trenches of your main character. Not just the height and hair color but the guts of what makes them tick. She starts you off by asking what truth or lesson you want your MC to learn. Why are you reading this book? What moral or teaching moment do you want your readers to enjoy?

Think about all those clichés out there: “Beauty is found on the inside”; “Love conquers all”; “Family isn’t always blood”. What journey does your character have to go on in this story to learn that lesson?

Now flip that lesson on it’s head. “Beauty is only skin deep”. “Love is pain”. “You can only rely on your family.” (Sounds like an Italian mafia story, haha.) This is the misbelief that your character will start out with at the beginning of the story and Lisa encourages you to write the scene that starts it all, usually something that happens in childhood. It could be something big like a death or something small, like the MC’s parents didn’t show up at the school play. Whatever it is, it has to cement in the character’s brain that THIS is what the real world is and the lesson will follow them throughout the story.

Lisa then has you expand that one scene into three other scenes in which your character’s misbelief is reinforced. Did she not become beauty queen because of an ugly birthmark? Did someone get left at the altar because their partner got cold feet before the wedding? Did a family member abandon the MC during a liquor store robbery and make them take the heat for it from the police? (This really is a mobster story!) Try to make the scenes a variety of big moments and private small ones. Take your time and don’t worry about perfect. You can always go back and edit or add different scenes but you can’t edit a blank page.

Now, having done that, you have to decide what the character wants above all else. What drives her to continue forward instead of staying in one place? What inner desire burns and festers inside them? Is it to stand up for herself against the mean girls? To live happily ever after with their best friend? To find peace with a criminal that murdered his mother? To join the Paralympics after a horrific accident?

Now pit these two ideas against each other. The character wants this thing, but this lesson learned keeps him or her from getting it. This is the struggle that will drive your story forward and keep readers invested. This is the heart string you tug to callously hurt your MC and make them move out of their comfort zone. Always keep the Misbelief and the Goal in mind as you write and it will add tension and meaning to all your scenes.

All it took was me to read that far into Story Genius (maybe 100 pages?) and my fingers were off. I felt like Zeus birthing Athena from his head. I would sit in my desk chair, trance-like, only my arms moving, for hours at a time. I wouldn’t even notice that my legs went numb and my butt had been complaining that it was over this sitting crap. I wouldn’t even notice that my coffee had gone cold and I hadn’t eaten breakfast and it was already past noon.

I did not expect to be writing this one off snarky little story. It is completely not my thing. It’s so…normal and literal. Not a whiff of magic or paranormal angst anywhere (unless you count the obnoxious but well-meaning Drag Queen and the eccentric Italian father).

My NaNo word count every day right now is 800 words to finish with 50k by the 30th. I can hand write that in under half an hour. I did it at work yesterday in fact, on my break. I am curating a playlist already for this little nothing story and it’s full of love songs and break up songs and girl power songs. I have to delete music off my ipod because of all the new additions! Madness! I am highly partial to “Good Things Fall Apart” by Illenium and Jon Bellion and “I’m never getting over you,” by Gone West, Colby Caillat’s new band. Also, I have discovered Lewis Capaldi ❤

I know, I said I was slow on the uptake already!

I am shocked this story got its hooks in me so fast. I’m calling it “Sand Paper Soul” at the moment but it will most definitely change. On my iPod it’s just “NaNo 2020” after I realized that I have a penchant for using double S’s in my story titles; “Silver Sun”, “Sidhe Seeker”, “Sand Paper Soul.”Maybe because of the double S in my name. Hmm….gotta psychoanalyze that later.

Point is, check out Story Genius if you want a thorough talking to about starting your story in the right place. It worked for me and I can only hope that at some point in your writing journey, it will work for you as well.

Take care and write on, friends ❤ Hulk Smash that word count!

Life Goal Lottery

I felt it was appropriate, considering the anniversary of what happened this day and the current situation, to deviate slightly from my usual writing banter to address a slightly more personal story: My Life. (And yours.)

This is a long one folks. Settle in. (I promise it’s not all doom and gloom!)

2020 has been life changing, has it not? Whether you’ve been living under a rock since March or you’ve been out in the field in the trenches with the rest of the working class, CONGRATULATIONS ON KEEPING YOUR SANITY. Humans don’t adapt well to sudden change and our Jumanji year so far has dealt blow after blow. It is a never ending game of Dominoes. Pandemic. Fires. Riots. Shootings. Political campaigning. Financial destitution. Death.

No one has remained untouched by this. NO ONE. Not everyone has had a death in the family or had to evacuate their home. Sometimes the damage is done inwardly. This is where I stand, looking out into the destruction with apathetic eyes then looking at myself and thinking, WHAT AM I DOING?

WHAT AM I DOING? If my life ended today, would I have been proud of it? Would I have done everything I wanted to do? Would my loved one have felt that I cared for them? Am I on good terms with my Divine Spiritual Guide? Do I have someone appointed to take care of my stuff, my animal, my kids? Was I a good person? Was I a good worker? Did I give more than I took?

It doesn’t matter if you can answer yes or no to these questions. What matters is that you can read them and apply them to yourself at all.

Whether people want to or not, they are having to face their shadow selves; the inner personas we keep buried in a closet and ignore. There’s nothing like a universal crisis to create a mirror for our lives. We live in a world of instant gratification, easy communication, massive distraction, and media-driven greed. What happens when that is lessened or taken away altogether? We have to sit with ourselves. We have to detox our brains and listen to the absence of chatter.

We have to listen to ourselves.

I spend too much money. I eat out too much. I ignore my kids. I’m cheating on my wife/husband. I’m over-medicating. I’m working too much. I don’t need to see the doctor. I live in filth. My car means more to me than my family. My jeans don’t fit anymore but I don’t want to buy bigger ones. No one wants to be around me because I complain all the time. I make an excuse for every solution. I have feelings for someone the same gender as me but I don’t know what that means. I was raped as a child and it has limited me in my adult life. My sports injury ruined my teenage life and now I am nothing without the glory days to look back on. I was fired from my job because my boss is a racist (not because I didn’t do the job well).

Not a lot of souls are ready to face their shadow selves. Humans don’t like to admit they are wrong or that there is a problem and many can’t even see there is something wrong. Or, if they can admit it, they don’t know how to go about fixing it. It’s even harder to try during the pandemic when therapists and gurus and all the suggested methods of coping are out of reach for us. Even our loved ones are cut off from us.

It can feel defeating, realizing all at once that you are the source of your problems. It is depressing and often debilitating, especially when we have a slew of them lined up in front of us and we don’t know which one to start with. Not only do we realize we have these flaws but now we’re supposed to fix them ourselves too and we are way out of our depth. It’s like getting fat; you did this to yourself and now you have to do the work to get rid of it. There’s no miracle pill, there’s no “Get Fit Quick” scheme that will work better than hard work.

Hard work. What does that mean? Bingeing on Self-help books? Pouring over motivational YouTube videos? Talking to a Life coach? Confronting your childhood demons face to face (should it happen to be a person)? Cutting up your credit cards and consolidating your debt? Pouring out all your alcohol and quitting cold turkey?

To some of these I would advise NO, simply because you aren’t ready. (Some of you may be. If you feel like it is the right choice, go for it). Hard work means trying your best every day to contribute to your goal, even if your best that day is only a few minutes of journaling or one small decision to grab an apple instead of a donut. Hard work means creating life changes with good habits. It means studying the problem from an analytical point of view and removing your emotion from it. If a friend had this problem, how would you explain it to them and what would you recommend to help them through it?

I am in the middle of this process myself. I have been fighting with my weight since I had my second daughter 12 years ago, remaining at a steady 165. I can feel how hard the extra weight is on my joints and how this sedentary lifestyle I’ve lead has impacted my children. Not getting myself out and moving has lead them to being slothful as well.

I am a shit budgeter. I’ve battled with money all my life and never got a handle on it, even when it meant eviction or not going to the doctor because we had no money.

I have been struggling with confronting my marriage and subsequent divorce, being honest with myself that HE was not the only problem; that I contributed plenty to the degradation of the union.

I am struggling with abandonment/commitment issues, starting with my dead biological father who killed himself. I don’t let anyone get super close to me and I don’t get invested in people beyond the surface because I’m afraid they’ll leave me.

I am struggling with failure and perfectionism. I refuse to try new things because I don’t want to fail. Or I don’t try for the things I really want because I might fail or be disappointed I made the wrong choice.

I am struggling coming to terms with my molestation both as a child and an adult and the objectification I had in my school years because of my “sexy” hourglass body. I shy away from intimacy and hide my body under layers of clothing.

I am a judgy bitch on the inside. I often feel superior to people because I think I know better and they are idiots because they can’t see what is right in front of them. (Although I hide it pretty well under a thick persona of helpfulness and positivity).

Sorry. That wasn’t supposed to be a pity party. I wanted to show you real examples of what a shadow self looks like.

Instead of looking at these problems in a group and allowing them to bury me with their importance, I picked one. ONE that I can tackle and break down and make changes to. ONE to start with. Admittedly, some of these problems are going to require more work than others. Some of them I can’t throw a kale smoothie at or meditate a few minutes a day on. Eventually I’ll get there when I have more confidence and knowledge on how to deal with them. I picked an easier one first.

I picked my budgeting problem. I looked at how I grew up poor and how I treated money over the years and asked myself WHY. I saw my future looking bleak, working at the ripe age of 80 to cover rent and bills that SSI didn’t. I saw my kids not going to their dream school because they couldn’t afford it and my mom living paycheck to paycheck because rent and credit card debt eat her money. She makes $22/hr. (But she also lives alone in southern california.)

Seeing this scared me. So now every day, I do something that has to do with finances. Every morning I get up a little earlier and while I drink my coffee, I crack open the computer and look at investment videos on YouTube. They are free and there are so many good financial planners giving you real advice you can trust; the good, the bad and the ugly. Andrei Jikh and Investing with Ro$e are good ones to start with. At night I read financial books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Unshakeable by Tony Robbins. Even one chapter is immensely helpful and creates a good habit of reading something other than young adult fiction. I keep my money problem the center of my focus.

As a result of the work I’ve been doing, I started my Roth IRA on Fidelity and bought my first Bond, valued at $15. In a two week period, it has gained $5. I don’t know how that happened yet but I DID IT. I was proactive about it and I feel so damn accomplished because of it.

This happiness led me to exercising for ten minutes after I finish my videos. JUST ten minutes. If I feel like doing more, great. If I can only do the ten, then I can add that to my accomplishments for the day. I have to admit I am not consistent with it yet. I make excuses not to like it’s too hot or my body hurts or my exercise clothes aren’t clean. But I am aware of the problem and I am trying.

My friends, I wrote this to tell you that you aren’t alone and that your problems ARE fixable. You may feel that no one could possibly understand exactly what you’re going through or you may feel that you have to do it alone. All I ask is that you pick one, JUST ONE, and try. Every day, do something to educate yourself about it, or fight it, or accept it.

Humans don’t like sudden change. So don’t stress yourself thinking you have to suddenly come up with an answer. Better that you start slow and keep plodding on, building good habits, rather than fast-tracking and falling off the ladder and feeling defeated. You got this. You got US.

Stay safe and keep trying. It’s okay to fall off the wagon as long as you get back on it.

WIP Diaries #1.1 Preptember

Nano is coming. It’s two months away and I can already feel the anxiety creeping over me. Work. School. Writing. Finances. And then there’s the problem of addressing my failures. So fun.

My Faustus WIP has been hanging over my head for two years now. I tried to finish it for NaNoWriMo last year and I didn’t even get to the Murky Middle. That was 30K of the first Act and I AM STILL STUCK THERE.

So shameful.

I started a Zero draft of it to try and just get the ideas out so I can break them into chapters and start making sense of the timeline. That’s when I decided that I need to finish and put it on the shelf for awhile. I’ve been poking and prodding this story for ages and I have a beginning and an end. Sort of. But it won’t get any better unless I make a hard decision about the story beats and just write them the feck down! I can edit later to make it make more sense but dammit I need words to edit and I do not want to go into NaNo 2020 with this still hanging over my head.

When I received an e-mail from NaNo asking me to announce my new 2020 project I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t think too deeply about it, I just picked one of my many plot bunnies and went with it: Love and Death in the Pixel Scene. (That’s a cumbersome title I know but it is by no means the final pick.)

Runners up were a humorous story about a trio of old grumpy demon ladies that run a fabric store and they hire this insanely perky and happy woman that drives them crazy. But when this girl gets kidnapped, the demons set off to find her and bring her back.

Another one was kind of a personal autobiography turned fiction about a girl with a crooked eye and how she rose up from depression to become a beacon of positivity and inspiration for others (but I wasn’t quite ready to put that one into the world yet).

I’ve already done some writing for Pixel Scene so I’m not going in totally blind. I know the main characters and the love interest. I know the basic plot and the sub villain but not the main one and I’m not sure how to approach the ending. Not sure if this story is completely reality based or there will be a magical aspect to it. I do want it to be a stand alone. So many of my books turn into duo or a trilogy. *siigghhhhh*

Honestly, it would be nice just to finish a full draft. I’m a cowardly, inconsistent, lazy writer.

My Goal: Finish the Faustus zero draft beginning to end writing at least 500 words a day, break it into reasonable chapter lengths, consolidate all the documents into one folder and not touch it until the beginning of the year.

Sub Goals: Find a writing buddy I can bounce ideas off of or an online writing group. (Hopefully NaNo can help with that), Zero draft my new NaNo project by December (regardless of the 50k goal), try to apply Story Genius practices to the new project,

What are your projects? Are you starting your Preptember right away? How do you kick yourself in the butt and finish things?