NaNoWriMo is Done, Now What?

December is here. People are baking cookies, going shopping for gifts, and recovering from the month that was NaNoWriMo. Or are you recovering? Every person reacts differently at this point. For my part, this is where we see a lot of stigma that hits near people who compete in NaNoWriMo. As such, this is where I am going to jot down notes, resources and ideas to share at our wrap party at the end of the week.

You finished your novel, now what do you do?

Do not hit “submit.” I mean it. When you finished your first finger paint in school did you submit it to an art gallery? Nope, your mom put it on the fridge. Too bad most fridges won’t support the heft of a 50,000 word manuscript. But there is hope…

Revision. True, this step will require a thick skin. A common theme I have heard at the craft panels at writing conferences is, “Your story is your child, your beautiful little baby… find someone to tell you your baby is ugly and how to make it better.” Killing your darlings (another mantra from the conferences) will come later, likely in that part of editing, revising and seeking critiques of your work. If you submit, or self publish something without editing it, you’re shooting your story in the foot. With a 50 cal sniper rifle.

Find a critique group, or even just a partner. If you plan on self publishing, find an editor you can trust and afford. I hate to be the one to break it to you if you had other plans, but you will have to pay for an editor. A cover artist too. That’s part of the reason many people won’t consider self publishing. They like the publisher taking care of all that.

In the effort of revising, I have snagged a set of “writing rules” from a post written by Delilah S Dawson. I have reposted it here as I’m not 100% on board will all of them, or at least I have comments on them. You can see the whole nine yards over at Delilah’s original blog post on them.

Delilah’s 11 Rules of Writing

The caveat I’ve heard included here is “this is what worked for me,” which implies “results may vary.” Just because this worked for her, or that I agree with it, means this will work for you. But she is a published author and one whose writing I enjoy. So I’m siding on the side of caution.

#1 Kill dialog tags whenever possible.

She states that “said” is the only acceptable one. I still haven’t completely eliminated “asked” from my writing. Though I have made a conscious effort to eliminate “replied” as a tag. That said (see what I did there), try to remove as many of these as possible. In addition to tightening up your dialog it will help you to see if you are describing the scene effectively or not. If a beta reader or critique partner gets confused about who is talking, the scene needs work.

NO = “I’m going to do it,” he said.
YES = Ferdinand crossed his huge arms and nodded. “I’ll do it.”

#2 Kill adverbs and replace them with beautiful writing.

I support this one. Mostly. I don’t think adverbs need to be eliminated from your text with extreme prejudice. At the same time, I don’t think you should sprinkled them out over your text from the Adverb Shaker on your desk. Like with most things in life. Good in moderation.

NO = The old man stood painfully and carefully walked to the kitchen.
YES = Helga groaned, her bones cracking like popcorn as she navigated the cramped hallway.

#3 Kill all instances of these words: feel, see, smell, hear.

Did you always wonder what people meant by “Show, Don’t Tell?” Now you know. Make sure you’re giving it to us from their point of view. First person can muddy this up a bit, but that’s what a good editor is for. (See above about hiring an editor.)

NO = Leo could see the tiger mauling his pet parrot, and he could hear the rending flesh splatter against the wall.
YES = The tiger’s teeth ripped into Mr. Cheeky, the scent of copper pennies and raw chicken sending Leo into a gagging fit.

#4 Don’t end a chapter on a note of complete comfort.

The idea is that any sense of mini-closure is going to give the reader a place to stop reading. You want to keep them reading. While I agree the first few chapters shouldn’t do this (at least 3-5), I’m not sure I buy into it as much further in. As a reader I have gone past these endings and continued reading. But I am odd…

NO = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington’s arms, sated and happy.
YES = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington’s arms, sated and happy except for the strangest feeling that she’d forgotten something terribly important. In the morning, her maid had disappeared.

#5 Become a master at communicating important details with just a few words.

100% yes… While never a real fan of poetry (or having any real skill at it), I have taken to listening to some of the better slam poets that are uploading their performances to YouTube. Neil Hilborn especially. A good spoken word poem, displays an efficiency of words. Definitely something to strive towards. It will also help in writing good, tight, short fiction. (Something I am currently working on.)

NO = The burgundy and black damask wallpaper was ripped and torn, showing scarred wood beneath it that matched the destroyed furniture and pockmarked floors, all of which had once given the appearance of wealth and abundance.
YES = She hated waiting, especially in a sitting room that so obviously displayed Lord Wolfington’s inner darkness, thanks to claw-torn wallpaper and a well-gnawed chaise.

#6 Try not to use the same word twice in a two page spread.

Within reason. Some words are just used a lot. As she stated in the original posting “the” and “a” don’t count. Also, if you’re working at coming up with a word to describe it too hard, then either rewrite the sentence or just leave it. Do you really think your readers will all know what a troika is?

NO = The carnival called to her, from the sound of carnies shilling their wares to the merry song of the calliope to the alluring scent of carnival goodies.
YES = The carnival called to her, from the barker’s harsh cawing to the merry song of the carousel to the alluring scent of funnel cake and popcorn.

#7 Your ego will try to insert itself into the manuscript, especially in the form of exceptionally clever similes and metaphors. Kill them.

As Delilah originally stated this is the source of “Killing Your Darlings.” You read them and you’re proud of these quips. Each time you read through it though, you try and decide if it fits. I agree a lot of this can be distracting. Also, if it doesn’t fit the character, don’t include it. At the same time, some of the truly good snark that I really enjoy as a reader likely falls into the author’s “Darlings” category.

In short, this falls to your (and your editor’s) best judgement. After all, you’re creating the voice of the character. Know when you’re detracting from it and when you’re enhancing it.

NO = The mermaid looked a lot like Goldie Hawn, and not just because of the fish lips and her tendency to be thrown overboard by men wearing eye patches.

#8 To up the tension, add a ticking clock.

Yes, it’s a formula. But it is there for a reason. Not all formulas are bad. Even the cliche ones, like the marriage deadline for Lord Wolfington to inherit his fortune that Delilah suggested in her original blog.

NO = “Your happiness is important to me, Linnea. I shall support you even should you become a spinster and haunt my attic forever.”
YES = “By God, I am finished with your mucking about in the laboratory, Linnea. You will find a husband by Michaelmas, or I shall put you up for auction!”

#9 Torture your character in ways big and small.

I’ll admit it. I’m an asshole to my characters. This year I had thought the story had turned into a paranormal romance. I had forgotten the end scene… the climax… the part that kicked the can of happily ever after down the road and past the book for my main character. For now.

NO = Lulu was doing fine in school, she loved her job at the GAP, and her grandmother had the body of a forty-year old.
YES = Lulu’s chemistry grade had taken a plunge, thanks to a misunderstanding with moles, which meant she spent most of her shift at the GAP studying in a dressing room and praying Chase didn’t catch her and fire her. She needed that money to help pay for Grammy’s meds, which only seemed to cost more as time went by.

#10 Make a spreadsheet to plot out the story and make sure its interesting.

Replace the first three words with whatever works for you. I hear that Scrivener has awesome tools built in for this. I use Storyist, which doesn’t have the corkboard, but does have excellent tools for denoting your character descriptions to help keep them straight. Spreadsheet, Scrivener corkboard or actual corkboard. Whatever works for you.

As can be seen in the original post, she refers to a blog post by Chuck Wendig for further discussion on the subject.

#11 Think about sentence length.

I agree. Definitely when it comes to the first sentence of the book. That should hit you right about in the jumblies and keep you reading for fear of the follow-up punch.

I would take it a step further to include paragraph and chapter length. Though it did make me stop to consider it when I first read it, I recently finished a book with a single sentence chapter. Once I reread the end of the previous and the beginning of the following chapter, it totally made sense. Though in reality, that is rather extreme.

Personal Examples

As many of the people in my NaNoWriMo region know, I chose my plot from a selection of three potential projects based on the fact that an editor I know posted she was specifically looking for the type of story that was a near elevator pitch for one of them. So that means there is an editor out there looking for the type of story I wrote. She knows me. I’ve given her a cupcake before. She won’t see this manuscript until late January at the earliest. It is rough, rough, rough…

I’m also jumping back in during January with another challenge. One started through a Roundtable podcast group of writers motivating other writers. Call it a sickness, but how many of you saw the Billy Crystal/Danny DeVito movie Throw Mama From The Train? Quoting Billy Crystal’s character from his class on writing, “Writers write. Always.” Did you end November with an empty spot where your word count was? Did you find yourself wanting to go out to the bar or cafe to write and ask people if they were doing NaNo too?

If you know now how you can work in enough time to put even 500-1000 words a day to paper and have the drive to put down more stories, then you have a taste of what it means to be a writer. Most of them have day jobs. So, they are in the same boat you are in during November.

A couple years ago I started in on writing every day. Sure, I skip from time to time. But when I do, I notice it. If I’m slacking at home in the morning instead of showing up when the owner unlocks the door to the coffee shop, I know I am willingly wasting time. Even if I am showing up to work on edits instead of writing.

If you want to join in too, I will be posting information to the Madison Area NaNoWriMo Facebook page. You can also consider joining the RoTaNoWriMo group. They are pretty open, and work well for keeping me motivated.

In Which Zombie Joe Contemplated Critique Partners

Okay, so my titles are still feeling a bit Victorian. Don’t judge. It’s an ugly habit. The judging… not the… never mind.

This is one that is out there for my author friends. Even if you aren’t friends, or wish you didn’t know me. Feel free to comment on this subject. Currently I am contemplating writing partners and critique partners. This has been on my mind the last couple weeks thanks to Odyssey Con and the panel on collaboration. Not to mention the week before I had lunch (well they had lunch, I had a soda and conversation) with some authors who had long distance critique partners.

I have a weekly writing group. We meet at a diner every Tuesday (provided nobody is sick/away and someone has something to share) to read bits of our work aloud and critique them. Considering some of our members are writing erotica I think it is pretty amazing the diner accommodates us. But lately most of us have been in a funk. I’m putting in solid words every morning, but nothing that is developed enough to share. I just today have a chapter in my rewrite/revision ready to share with them. So I have an outlet for feedback. Lately I’ve been contemplating if I am missing an opportunity.

Until I put these first couple of manuscripts to rest (trunking them or reworking for submitting), I can’t see me doing a collaboration. Not that I wouldn’t be open to it, but I can’t see me doing it until I know I’d be in the right place. Also, currently I don’t see me offering much to the table for any established author willing to do a collaboration. I don’t see me getting past the “Well tell me a story” line that Larry Niven gave Steven Barnes. That could be the neurotic author in me talking, but there it is.

What I think I am missing out on is the possibility of a long distance critique partner. Someone I’m not face to face with every week that I can simply meet online every now and again to brainstorm and then send a complete and polished work for a fresh pair of eyes on it. For instance, once I rework my current piece to have the first three chapters popping (as I just did) and then clean up the rest of it I messed up by doing that (as I have yet to do), if I bring it back to my writing group it will take months to go through it again, and they will have read it all before. I can see the value of having someone from a different state (or country for that matter) to send it to for a fresh opinion.

My questions for you established authors out there are:

  1. Do you go to a weekly/monthly writers/critique group?
  2. Do you have a writing partner?
  3. Do you use a critique partner?
  4. If yes, local or distant?
  5. Do you have multiple critique readers/partners?
  6. What do you look for in a critique partner? What value do you get out of it?

I’ve read a number of advice pieces on how to find a critique partner, so the how to is not really the questions I have. Part of me would like to stay local, but the bigger picture part of me knows that my writing community is a vast network and not just limited to Southern Wisconsin.


The Chain Gang

Between audiobooks this week, I stocked up on a number of podcasts. Specifically writing podcasts. We were discussing them at our writer’s group this week and I was actually kind of ashamed I had little to no knowledge of them. So I stocked up.

Wednesday I spent going through the batch of episodes I grabbed through iTunes for I Should Be Writing, by Mur Lafferty. If you are attempting to get published, this is a great podcast to listen to. There are others, but today I am mainly going to gush over I Should Be Writing as it gave me a kick in the pants to do something I have heard about before and sorely need – the writing chain.

Starting tonight I am going to write 500 words a day. Every day. No matter what. I even have a spreadsheet all ready to go. (Don’t give me crap about the spreadsheet being a gazebo, it only took me three minutes to do!)

I will also put a short blurb up here each day or two with totals. And to keep it in perspective, this blog entry alone will make up about two hundred words. Stay tuned for more on The Journey.

First Step on a New Path

Today I am heading out on the first steps of a new path on The Journey. I have outlined where the story from NaNoWriMo is going and continued along in writing that tale. At the same time I have started submitting the first chapters to my writing group for critique. Their feedback has been strong and I have a direction to go that will strengthen the first 6,000 to 8,000 words of the story. To that end I took a couple of chapters from the first start of the story and molded it into one – before making the editing suggestions the group gave me.

Any of you who are published authors or who have attended writing conferences are probably cringing at editing the beginning before finishing the end. Normally I would agree. Of course that’s assuming that the outlining I did had no affect on the chapters I had already drafted. Also I remember Patrick Rothfuss telling us at GenCon a couple years back how he did his manuscript in the worst way possible and not to follow his example. It has occurred to me that sometimes the wrong way can be the right direction on your journey. Everyone’s journey is different, right?

If it seems like I am asking permission or validation, I’m not. I know this is the way I need to go. The energy bubbling beneath the surface in spite of the fact I haven’t started in on my cup of coffee yet tells me this. Tonight is writing group, they will get the rest of the story that is going into this opening rewrite, leading to next week’s revision.

Do you have any writing practices that are bad form but seem to work for you? What are they?

Weekly Writing Group

Many of you who are local to me have heard me mention this before. This has been something I have been looking in to for a while. A way of finding a niche that I have heard about from some of the Seattle folks in our neck of the woods. The idea is a writing group or critique group really that consists of authors who are either published or are attempting to get published. Sort of like a literary sparring group – full contact author matches.

You exercise to build muscles and get more endurance, right? The idea should be sound for more cerebral activities as well. This would be the focus of this group. To meet with other authors and discuss the craft of writing, local events pertaining to writing and read/critique each others work. Every week you would bring 4 or so pages of writing that you would read to the group (with copies for each member to take notes on and follow along). Reading out loud is an awesome way to catch awkward sounding passages so that you know to fix them. It also causes you to face some of your fears (like public speaking).

All genres and formats are welcome (short story, novel length, poetry) provided you are willing to listen, read and critique everyone’s work as well. And this is a workshop style critique we are talking about. To use the saying I have heard before at seminars, someone will “tell you your baby is ugly.” But then they will help you find a way to bedazzle it up like you are on an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras.

No day and time has been set yet, but the current times being discussed are Tuesday and Thursday. Location is currently looking like Cool Beans out by East Towne, but that is up for discussion.

If you are interested, sound off below! Or contact me if you have my contact information already.

Nano Day 17: Writing Group

So last night instead of going to a write-in at Starbucks, Cool Beans or Java Cat, I was reminded that we had our writer’s group. That’s right, cue the Joe has to get more organized in the event we have two months between meetings. That meant a trip out to the Sundance, having a coffee that wasn’t too bad for a movie theater latte and waiting for the rest of the group for almost two hours.

Once we were all there and we had some discussions of writerly resources we had come across that month, we did an exercise. This one was to pull 1-4 sheets out of a fancy little heart shaped tin and write about those subjects incorporating as many of them as you thought you could. Since 3 of the 4 of us that made it that were Nano crazies, we decided we could add that to our Nano piece.

The four I pulled? Write about an awkward date. Confessions: Have anything to confess? Write about snow as either a backdrop or an element to the story. The Road: Write about a road or taking a trip.

Can you guess what happened then? You got it… none of those things had anything to do with what I was writing. Maybe confessions, but I didn’t want the reveal too early in the story. So I had to come up with something new. And for the record I can’t remember any of my awkward dates. Really the first date I had with Mrs. Zombie is the only one I can remember and she didn’t really call that a date until we were engaged. I told you it was awkward.

I am not sure why I decided it would be a good idea to post the first draft of something that is not my genre. Maybe it was because I could not see myself using it anywhere. Maybe it was because I thought it sucked and they thought it wasn’t bad. Who knows. Either way, here it is. You know, for funsies.

Tin Plated Story

                Becca always hated driving in the snow. But that was really her problem, and hasn’t been mine for over a year now. She can drive down whatever damn road she wants to drive down. For my part, there is something exciting about a snowy road. Call me an adrenaline junkie if you want, but everyone has their own vices. I sure as hell knew Becca had hers.

                Tonight was not about her though. It was not about her, about us, or about that night over a year back. Tonight was about starting a new life. A dinner at my favorite place – a place I have not gone to in over a year. It was about a night at the movies – also something I have not done in over a year. And most of all it was about Diane.

                Diane and me had always been on friendly terms at work. For all I knew there may have even been some flirting involved. I am not what you might call a romantic kind of guy. When Becca wanted to go see that movie with the vampires that sparkled in the daylight I kept wondering when the hunter would pop out and stake his emo ass. So it was entirely possible that we may have been flirting and I just didn’t know it.

                I can’t read her mind. I am a guy, I can barely read!

                Since the blow up with Becca though, her talks with me had been more awkward. Jokes that seemed to have us both laughing now made the conversation seem rather strained. I don’t know if it was because I was no longer “safe” to talk to, or if she just didn’t know what to say when she heard about what happened.

                Normally when a couple splits there is that time of constantly asking if they are all right. If there is anything you can do for them. On the up side, you get offered a lot of ice cream. At least that is what Diane said is the best part of a break up. I suspect that is secret woman rituals though. I have yet to see one of my buddies say, “Oh Scott, I hear that bitch dumped you. In your own apartment? You know, I’ve got a quart of Rocky Road in the freezer and it has your name written all over it!”

                It took a while before things began to chill between us, but I think things are evening out. At least I hope so. It was a good sign that she agreed to come out with me to watch the new Tarantino movie. I can never pass up a good Tarantino and those are just the kind of movies you have to see with other people.

                I suppose the fact that she said we should go to Amato’s Steak House meant this was even a real date. There is something else I usually don’t do with my friends. Of course it was probably time, and since we are already friends there shouldn’t be any of that awkward part of finding things to talk about. And since I am just oozing with the honesty, I have always had a particularly warm spot for redheads. (I didn’t mean it that way, you bunch of pervs!)

                As I pull up to her apartment, I can see her standing in the large picture window looking out at the road. She is wearing that little black dress that she wore to the office Christmas party last year. I remember her telling me once that a woman only breaks out her little black dress for special occasions.

                Holy shit! This really is a date!

                My palms start sweating before I can even get out of the car. And of course I chose to wear my jeans with a Ramones t-shirt and a sport coat. She breaks out the big guns and I am only dressed slightly better than going out to the bars with the guys.

                What the hell am I going to say to her? Does the little black dress mean what I think it means? It has been over a year!


                Becca watches Scott walk up the sidewalk from where he parked. Her coat was already sitting on the chair, waiting to cover up her secret weapon – the little black dress. Of course her nerves and her desire for him to see her in the dress first placed her at the picture window. Placed her at the picture window just in time to see him slip on some ice and go down hard.

                She will never forget the sight as his head bounced on the sidewalk.