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.

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.

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!