When the greatest barrier is me

November has come to a close, and Nanowrimo has drawn to an end. My goal this year was around 12,000 words — a mere fraction of the 50,000 some of you brave writers committed to. If you succeeded, congratulations! If you fell a little short, don’t be disappointed. I’ll leave a tweet below from the official Nanowrimo account that perfectly captures my feelings:

For me, November had a bumpy start. I didn’t start writing until the month was already half over (oops) but when I got going, I wrote every night for 45 min-2 hours. I used writing sprints, roughly writing 800-1200 words per night. It ended up requiring quite a bit of discipline, there were multiple evenings when I just didn’t feel like showing up. Taking that time to work on my goals gave me a small sense of accomplishment which kept me coming back.

So, did I make it? Just about. I find myself about 200 words shy of my 70,000 goal for this draft of The Tower Project. This is the farthest I’ve come in the 10 years I’ve been writing.

But I’m having a hard time crossing the finish line.

My current Nanowrimo status, sitting at 66,941/70,000 words

There’s this thing I do, when I get to the last piece of Halloween candy or the last drop of my favourite shampoo or the last serving in the box of cereal  — I stop myself. I don’t want it to be over. I don’t want the good things to run out. I don’t wanna miss out tomorrow, when I really want that candy bar.

I think I’m afraid to finish this draft, because life has changed, and I don’t wanna miss out on the good I had planned.

I remember telling my husband that when I finished we would celebrate. Go to our favourite restaurant, get a babysitter, have expensive food and expensive alcohol and celebrate it as a milestone. An accomplishment. The support it’s taken, the dedication. The hours and hours. The tears.

My husband left me this summer. The last few months I’ve been forging ahead on my own and I’ve had to reevaluate a lot of things, including how much of my own accomplishments and successes I contributed to him. I discovered how much of my language had to change. I had been saying “us” and “we” for years, when what I meant was “I”. I wanted to acknowledge my husbands role in my work. His sacrifice, the time we didn’t spend together that I was hunched over the computer or locked in a room with a notebook. I wanted to thank him for supporting me. For cheering me on. I’m finishing this draft without him. And it feels really really hard. Much harder than I expected.

I’m trying to find empowerment in finishing this alone, but I wish I could celebrate with the other loved ones who have been on this journey with me. Miki, Carolyn, Amy, Sabrina — and all the peeps in our writing group. I love you so much right now. I’ve gotten a lot of advice and support on how to make this milestone special. Top suggestion is to order expensive takeout, put on a face mask, and have a bubble bath. I’m into it. My personal desire is to drop $400 on a single item of clothing because that’s how my dreams usually end, but I may have to resist. I’m gifting myself an IOU as I put the last words on the page, an IOU for a babysitter and a post-COVID-19 dinner with loved ones. I can’t wait to hug you folks. COVID-19 makes all of us more isolated, makes everything harder.

If you’re out there struggling to celebrate, whether it’s finishing Nanowrimo or reaching some other goal — I’m thinking about you. Your accomplishment is no less valid, even when we can’t be together. Your success is no less yours, and no less worthy of celebration, even when the celebration looks different than you anticipated.

These words are for me, but they’re also for you.

I have 200 words left to write in my novel, and I’m doing it tonight.

Character Aesthetics: Margot

You’ve already met Thomas, the main character from my current WIP (The Tower Project). I thought I would spend a little time introducing some of my other characters over the next couple weeks.

Today, allow me to introduce Margot Powell. Margot’s look was inspired by a picture of St. Vincent (Annie Clark), who I’ve since discovered is a super cool human. Just don’t ask me about her music, I have no idea ;p.

Margot is a character foil for Thomas, she’s dependable, strong as a shot of vodka, inquisitive, and has a strong sense of justice. She is a critical thinker who always does the right thing. To Thomas, she’s everything. He’s completely blind to her flaws, a fact that’s not lost on her. She’ll do anything it takes to protect him.

The Home Stretch

70,000 words is the goal for my first draft. It’s a carefully chosen word count, a minimum amount of words for my carefully chosen genre. The average number of words in my genre is somewhere around 100,000, so there’s room to expand in my second draft. Hopefully I gain words, and don’t just lose them. In the past, I’ve made it to about 30,000 words in a project before petering out, so trust me when I say that minimum goal is still ambitious.

Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month and, although I’ve participated in the past, I’ve never “won”. The goal for the month is to write 50,000, a feat which previously seemed impossible. I’ve only ever come “close” once, when I wrote 28,000 words.

I have a hard time staying motivated. I’m a planner, a plotter and inevitably, when my project veers away from my careful plot, I get overwhelmed and frustrated. A feeling that shortly leads to abandonment.

So you can imagine my feeling of excitement as I mosey into Nanowrimo with a tiny little goal of 12,000 words. That’s it. That’s all I have left before I reach my goal of 70,000 words, and it’s only taken three years to get here. Three years on the same project, with the same characters in the same world. It feels impossible to me that it’s taken so long, and it feels equally impossible that I’ve come this far. 12,000 words — I think that makes this my official home stretch.

All this to say, keep going! Don’t lose momentum and, if you do, don’t give up.

Drop some encouragement in the comments below! November might not be the month everyone manages to write a novel, but I move to make it National Cheer on a Writer Month! If you have a writer friend in your life, now’s the time to send them some love!

A collage of images representing characters in my current novel WIP, TTP

Short Fiction: No Goodbyes

Summer is so changeable. The sun beams down, then thunder and lightning a moment later. Sometimes all at once. That’s how I feel as I get into the driver’s seat—all thunder and lightning and sun shining between slivers of pale cloud. 

So why not leave the top down and step on the gas.

Continue reading “Short Fiction: No Goodbyes”

Writer’s Toolbox: Sprinting

Hello, yes, I am not a fan of exercise. There is, however, one form of sprinting I can get behind.

Start line for “100m sprint”

A writing sprint is a timed activity in which you write without distractions. Follow that up with a short break, then sprint again. Repeat for as long as you desire. Similar to the Pomodoro productivity technique, which breaks work into 25-minute segments separated by 5-minute rests using a timer, writing sprints can be customized to fit whatever time you have available.

I find Pomodoro works great when I’m on my own (you can use any timer app or install a Pomodoro extension on your browser), but sprinting with friends really kicks it up a notch. I’m a part of a sprinting group on Facebook, for example. One person posts when they’re about to begin the sprint with something like, “starting at (time)” so everyone can get in sync. People comment if they’re joining and, when the sprint ends, discuss how it went. The encouragement helps provide motivation and the company grants accountability.

Discord has been an excellent tool for connecting with other writers during the pandemic. My writing group has invited “Writer-bot” to our server which allows you to earn XP by telling it your word count each sprint. Gamification baby!

Sprinting is an essential part of my writing routine and is especially helpful if I’m struggling. Every-time I see someone try it for the first time, they’re astonished with the progress they’re able to make.

Have you tried sprinting?

If not, I’ll get you started…

… GO. You’ve got 10 minutes!

Character Aesthetics: Thomas

When I get stuck sometimes I need to get away from the word processor and use other parts of my brain. I’ve found that keeping focused on my WIP, but trying something creative other than writing, can be a great way to get myself unstuck! Lately, I’ve been venturing over to Pinterest where I spend time wading through the many many images and curating the ones that most clearly encapsulate my characters and plot. This has helped me flesh out some of my minor characters, as well as keep up my momentum and boost my creativity!

Writing exercise (kinda): creating character aesthetics.

Character moodboard/aesthetics for my MC, Thomas

Thomas Tower is the main character in my WIP (now that placeholder name ‘The Tower Project’ makes sense, huh?). He’s blind, has a rebellious streak, and a mop of curly dark hair. He’s a big coffee drinker, his sister is his prime motivator, and oh ya… he might be haunted by a ghost.

Writer’s Toolbox: Critique Groups

In my third year at university I took a writing critique class. We each submitted a chapter or short story on a rotating basis and were responsible for critiquing the weekly submissions. I have never learned as much — or been as productive — as I was with a bi-weekly deadline and the expectations of my peers looming over me. The feedback made me a better writer and gave me big-time motivation that rolled over week to week.

Giving and receiving critique might be nail-biting at first, but it’s a skill that’s worth learning!

After I graduated and found a desk job, my productivity fizzled. Almost ten years later, I randomly crossed paths via Facebook with a writing group setting up shop near my house. In the first couple of months participating I struggled to get a chapter done every month. I would often be writing furiously the night before the deadline (or still writing the day after the deadline had passed…). As time went on and I continued to write one chapter a month — shocker here — it got easier!  

To that end, I would encourage every writer to find a group of like minded folx who will help motivate them to write. There are a lot of options depending on your comfort level, from an individual critique partner to face-to-face groups of various sizes.

You’ve got options

  • Critique partner: I found my critique partner through a large discord server for writers. We’re interested in similar genres and have complimentary writing styles. I helped her revise a book jacket and we worked well together. When she put out a call asking for a critique partner, I jumped at the chance! This kind of connection is fantastic because we’ve built a lot of trust. I know she’ll enjoy and appreciate my writing, and still point out the weaknesses. I get a ton of encouragement from my critique partner and find her feedback very motivational. This is more of a developmental partnership, and the drawback is that one person can only provide a limited amount of perspective and expertise.
  • Online group: whether through a social app like Facebook or a forum like Discord, there are many places to find other writers! This kind of group is great for when you have questions, need to brainstorm or need to crowdsource some encouragement, but it’s not a critique platform. You generally won’t be able to develop the same level of personal relationships in a larger group, but it is a great place to meet people if you’re looking for beta readers or a critique partner!
  • Face-to-face group: This is the option I want you to consider! The benefits cannot be understated. You get the opinions, perspectives and expertise of multiple writers at once, the encouragement of people on the same journey as you, and the benefits of a face-to-face connection. Why does it matter that it’s face to face? It is so so easy to mire yourself in your own feelings when receiving feedback online. If there isn’t trust already built, it can be hard to take that feedback to heart without being offended. This is a skill. It’s a muscle you build like any muscle, by tearing it and then letting it heal (with pain, lots of pain). Having feedback delivered in person can make you more receptive to it. Overtime, you’ll build trust with your group and begin to see the feedback make a difference in the reactions you’re getting. That’s a great feeling.

If you’re in Alberta you can check out the list of writers critique groups on the Writers Guild of Alberta site, that’s where I found the Discord server for Yeg Writes. Though I don’t meet in person with that group, it’s a fantastic community of writers, readers and editors cheering each other on. If you live elsewhere, research your local writers guild or ask a local bookstore if they know of any active writers groups. There’s a wealth of active Discord servers to check out as well.

Questions? I’m currently working on a post with tips and best practices for giving and receiving critique! Help me out by asking in the comments below. 👇

Exercise: What’s in your protag’s pockets

The things in my main characters pockets are: a wallet with a California ID and folded money, a key ring, playing cards, candle stubs, pocket knife, lighter and business cards
What’s in Thomas’ pockets? A wallet with California ID, cash, key ring, playing cards, candle stubs, pocket knife, lighter, business cards.

After a brief separation from my WIP, The Tower Project, I recently re-committed myself to finishing this draft. As I do, I’m collecting inspiration and actively plotting draft two. One of the things that’s helping me get ready for this next phase in the writing process is … Pinterest boards. Specifically character aesthetics/moodboards.

Pinterest can be a powerful tool for writers, from collecting character inspiration through portrait photography, to world building and writing craft tips. I’ve started to deepen my understanding of my characters through collecting images that remind me of them and thus, the challenge: What’s in your Characters Pockets? was born.

Above: the things that I have said, over the last 50,000 words, Thomas Tower is carrying in his pockets. I may have even gone so far as photoshopping a fake ID and custom business cards. The depths of my procrastination truly knows no bounds.

Here’s the list:

  • A wallet with a California ID and paper money, folded for ease of identification
  • A ring of keys
  • Several stubs of candle
  • A stainless steel lighter
  • A pocket knife
  • A deck of playing cards (with raised braille)
  • Business cards

Your turn, it’s time to turn out your protag’s pockets. Tell me what they’re carrying in the comments!

gif of people emptying a tremendous amount of things out of their pockets

How a global pandemic helped me create a writing practice

For as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve been hearing about the importance of having ‘a writing practice’. What the heck does that mean? In short, creating a set of habits that help you put pen to page.

A writing practice usually consists of: a time, a place, and a ritual. An example would be: first thing in the morning, at your writing desk, with a special playlist blaring in the background.

Stock Photo: Open laptop with notebook and pen
Startup Stock Photos: open laptop with notebook and pen

Sounds easy right?

When it comes to forming habits, it’s not as easy as it sounds! Staying motivated requires determination and support!

Despite previous attempts, it’s taken a global pandemic to finally create a writing practice that works for me. You see, a funny thing happened when the province began to lock down in March due to COVID-19. We began to search out ways to connect in digital spaces. As seemingly insurmountable barriers arose in some instances, some were lowered.

Here’s what changed for me:

  • My writing critique group moved online. We still host a monthly meeting (now via Zoom) in which we critique each others work. We also set up a Discord server and began meeting on Wednesdays for writing sprints. Concurrently, I joined the YEGWrites Discord server (hit me up for an invite or check it out on the WGA website), where we sprint on Monday nights. The result is that I’m sitting down twice a week at the same time for several hours of writing. This simple change, from writing with my whims to writing at a set time, has had a major impact on my productivity. I’m also hearing from other members of my writing group how much it’s impacted their word counts.
  • I started working from home. My entire office has been working remotely for the last few months. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to do this, even though it does present its own challenges. I spend the entire day working at my desk, writing. Often, in the evenings I simply return to my dining room office and continue to write! Because my brain now accepts this space as a writing place where things get *done* I feel more productive and less prone to distraction.
  • I added structure to my writing sessions. I mentioned before that I’m participating in writing sprints twice a week. Sprinting consists of a timed round of writing, nose to the grindstone, don’t look up and don’t get distracted, followed by a timed break chatting with other sprinters. Rinse and repeat. It’s a great tool I’ll talk about at length in another post, suffice to say, it provides structure, support and gamification to my writing sessions. Secondarily to sprints, I’ve been making a concerted effort to at least write 200 words a day. Even that little effort makes a huge difference when I do sit down to write with a higher target in mind.

And there you have it. Add a generous helping of tea and the very encouraging words of my sprinting pals and you’ve got a writing practice that has doubled my monthly word count.

A time: Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:30-9:30

A place: Dining room table

A ritual: tea, window, sprint, encouragement, music (check out the Spotify playlist I listen to while writing The Tower Project)

Bonus round: Events moved online. Both the WGA (Writers Guild of Alberta) and EPL (Edmonton Public Library) host regular writing events. Since self-isolation began, many have moved to digital spaces. Fun fact about me, I don’t drive AND I have a baby! Before my daughter was born, distance was a small barrier that I would begrudgingly Uber across, now I have a nightly date with a 15-month-old I just can’t skip out on. The result is that I haven’t been able to attend an event in more than a year. Hosting workshops digitally has removed a lot of accessibility barriers. Since March, I’ve attended five workshops and am registered for another this weekend. Workshops always get me fired up, fueling my creativity and increasing my productivity.

In short, isolation has been tough. I’m sure you’re feeling it too. As an immunocompromised person, I’ve been more cautious than most around our province’s reopening. During this time, establishing a writing practice has helped me stay connected to my passion — and my joy. There’s really no feeling in the world like seeing that word count go up.

My Writing Notebook

Exciting news to share: in March I started working on a new writing project!

Inspired by the writing roadmap lined out by The Novel Factory, I began the process of writing a novel in one year. The flexibility of the timeline mixed with carefully plotted deadlines really appealed to me.

I also attended a panel by Lady Geeks Unite around the same time. The panelists — ladies in tech and gaming including some from from Beamdog, Canada Learning Code, & BioWare — had lots of wisdom to share. One of the quotes that stood out to me was from developer Kris Schoneberg who credited “increasing the visibility of my accountability” with helping her reach personal and career milestones.

To that end, I started to share process on my instagram, @kjewellwrites, with the tag #amwriting and I created a code name for my WIP so I can share more about it! More on that later, right now I want to tell you about the third thing I’m doing to keep up my productivity and inspiration!

I set up a writing notebook.

MyWritingNotebook-3

Borrowing from the bullet journal system, the first part of my three section notebook is devoted to general writing inspiration. I started with an index and took category inspiration from this blog post by Shelby of The Writing Pal. I have a major issue with titling books so it’s been super helpful to have a place to scribble down title inspo!

My categories are: To be read, names, good words, plot ideas, 1st sentences, novel titles, metaphors, setting snippets, description, overheard conversation snippets, character development notes, not cliché (an exercise where you write down a cliché and try to re-write it), and lastly, my novel in a year timeline.

MyWritingNotebook-4

And here it is, my timeline! You can see I’ve been a little wishy-washy in the progress bar on the right. I tend to get distracted with details and end up jumping ahead of myself. I’m itching to start putting words on paper, but I’m also hoping that putting in the work outlining and developing my world and characters will help the writing process go more smoothly!

As mentioned, the timeline is from The Novel Factory’s ‘Novel in a Year Roadmap’ — here’s a great infographic showing the timeline breakdown.

MyWritingNotebook-5

The second section in the notebook is dedicated to my writing project! More info to come about this later, but here’s a sneak peek of what I’ve been up to.

I printed off a little character moodboard and taped it to one of the dividers for inspo. Something about the whole thing made me feel like a teenager again, collaging the cover of my school agenda.

I created another index for this section and started copying the phases of the novel roadmap into the book. I have multiple versions now of my premise and story skeleton, but writing it out on paper helps me work through the finicky bits and force myself to be concise.

The third section of my notebook will be reserved for actual writing! Sometimes it’s nice to work on paper. When I was younger I used to fill up notebooks with stories. My good friend, and an amazing self-published author, Amy and I used to pass a notebook back and forth to write a novel. She would pick it up whenever I got stuck and vise versa. Sometimes, you need paper and pen to get your brain going!

Stay tuned for more deets on this project, and let me know what other categories you would add to your own writing notebook in the comments!