NaNoWriMo and a couple of firsts

I never really planned to participate in the National Novel Writing Month. For the last three years since I learned of its existence, I’ve watched many of my writing friends take part in the madness, counting words and doing marathon writing sessions and virtual write-ins and what not, and I cowered at the mere thought of the pressure. I don’t do well with expectations and deadlines, see — not when they come from anyone but myself. And while you may argue that in NaNoWriMo, I’d take up the challenge voluntarily, it’s always felt more like a burden than motivation to me.

And yet.

This October, two things happened that made me want to try and bite the NaNoWriMo bullet: my second novel, Project Paris, got to a point where I knew I had to take a break and gain some perspective before adding the major changes it needs to be finished, and a story I’ve been sitting on for years finally sparked in my head.

You know the feeling when you have an idea and it’s good, but it just lacks something? You know there’s more to these characters and their story, but you can’t see the whole picture yet? It’s like an unripe fruit that needs some more time in the sun to mature. That was this story for me. I first dreamed it up about three years ago and it took its sweet time to grow, but then finally it plopped right into my lap, shiny and perfectly ready to be put on paper. And if I’m bursting with the need to produce tons of words, right at the brink of November, why not challenge myself with NaNoWriMo, after all? Who knows, maybe I’ll become a fan.

So here I am on day three, happily typing away, and it flows. I’m really excited about this story, and not just because I’ve wanted to write it for such a long time. It’s also new to me in a few important ways: this is the first young adult novel I’ve ever attempted, and it’s my first m/f story. Which doesn’t mean that I’m stepping away from the LGBTQ themes — far from it. But this novel, the first in a series of three in Project Three, is a story of a girl and a boy growing up and learning and experiencing life in its many colors, including all the colors of the rainbow.

Are you participating this year, too? Find me there as katefierro if you want to be a writing buddy 🙂

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The view from the other side of “published”

My debut book has been out in the world for six weeks now. It’s been read and reviewed, and received better than I ever dared to hope. I am a published author now.

I’ve always known that this was only the first step of this road; that I was going to do everything in my power to learn and grow and work hard every day, because writing books and making a living as an author is my dream and my goal. So I knew. I still know.

Except now, from the other side of “published,” when the excitement of the virtual book tour is behind me and the obsessive need to check Goodreads ratings five times a day is slowly abating, that plan has become more than determination and a goal. As I work on my second novel, start taking notes for my third, and try to work out a proper schedule of writing every day, I realize, perhaps for the first time with such understanding, what it means that I’m working on making a career as an author.

– It means that writing every day can’t be an option, but a priority.
– It means that while working on several things at the same time is fine, the original novels take precedence over the fandom stories and need to be tackled first in my daily schedule.
– It means that no matter how hard it is sometimes to juggle freelance translation projects, teaching, parenting, and writing, it’s no excuse. Nothing is an excuse; if I want it, I have to make time, find energy, and work to get it. Every day.
– It means that while social media is hard for my chaotic, introverted mind to keep up with regularly, that’s not an excuse either. I won’t ever be perfect, but I have to try and try again.
– It means working through some long-ingrained beliefs, doubts and inhibitions, carving a schedule for my procrastinating self (and sticking to it!), and demanding respect for my writing time and space from my loved ones.
– It means fighting my anxiety every day.
– It means doing this crazy, beautiful thing step by step, in little changes, leaps of faith, and feats of courage.

I knew all this – I thought  I knew all this before. But I feel it more now, somehow. No longer like I’m just playing with something I love, but more like I’m taking this love and weaving a life out of it, a little bit every day. And it’s scary just as much as it’s exhilarating. It will overwhelm me time and again, I know; I will disappear into my stories or my thoughts for a few weeks, and I will come back.

But one thing I know for certain. I’m here to stay. No matter how hard it may be.

Momentum

It’s a realization I keep having over and over again – and really, maybe I should hold onto what I know already instead of trying to reinvent the wheel – that momentum is a huge deal for my writing process. And by huge, I mean able to derail it for weeks.

I need to write every day. Rain or shine, week day or weekend, sick or travelling, I need at least an hour when I am able to focus exclusively on writing. Even if I’m tired or distracted, even if I end up writing 350 words and deleting them all the next day, I need to sit down and do it anyway. Otherwise, with every skipped day it’s getting harder to write anything at all, to get my mind into the writing groove. It’s like the words are a train: once I get them going and keep them going by regularly shoveling more in, they flow smoothly, and faster with every passing day. If I let them dribble to a stop, it’s a whole big affair and a lot of effort to get them moving again later.

I know that. And yet, I keep letting other things come first – because “I don’t feel like writing today,” or family is visiting so it’s rude to leave them alone to write, or I’ve had a busy day and am tired, or my anxiety is flaring and I don’t feel mentally capable of focusing. But every single time, I regret it later, because the effort of just sitting down and doing it would have been tiny compared with restarting the momentum, which is like walking against strong wind. In knee-deep snow. Not to mention, I always feel happier and more balanced, mentally, when I do write every day. So that’s a bonus, too.

I know it’s not the same for everyone – some people need their weekends away from the words, or thrive on writing sporadically but in huge leaps, or prefer to scribble for a few minutes here and there rather than sit down an focus for hours. This is the way that works for me, though, and maybe by writing it down here, I will finally use that knowledge the next time  I try to say “meh, not today.”

How to catch a plot bunny

Bunny1

A few weeks ago, I started posting what I call “daily plot bunnies” on my Twitter. (Almost) every day, I tweet about little things that have caught my attention and given me a spark of inspiration on that particular day: some words I heard or read, a thought, a picture, a song, anything. I tag them with #DailyPlotBunny.

These are not things I’m working on right now, nor are they direct story prompts. Plot bunnies are more like story seeds, except I do visualize them as bouncy, wiggly little creatures, very much alive, that grow and move around and have minds of their own. Sometimes they meet other bunnies they like and they breed, creating a herd. (A fluffle. It’s totally called a fluffle, at least in parts of Canada. How cute is that? I want to move to Canada.) If you’re not careful, said fluffle may then take over your brain, monopolizing your attention and feeding you bits of plot and flashes of characters until all you can think of is the story they brought you. Or at least, that’s how it works for me. It’s a delight, really.

So, catching the bunnies!

Typically, when I post a daily plot bunny on Twitter, I can already see several potential stories trying to unspool from it. And that’s just me, and just in that short moment. I can’t even begin to imagine all the things other people could come up with. It’s raw potential, nothing defined. A seed.

Like, for example: “A four-year-old happily telling everyone on a playground their full name and address” could become a meet-cutie love story about single parents meeting on a playground thanks to their respective children, but it could just as well turn into a kidnapping drama, or a fantasy story where real names are magic.

“Sleep well, love. I’ll be right outside your window, guarding your dreams” can be something sweet and tender, or a nightmare. It could find its way to a romance or a tale of supernatural, or – why not – a horror short story.

And a picture or a song can be interpreted and reinterpreted in dozens of ways, each one an inspiration. I can’t count all the times I’ve excitedly shared some lyrics or a photo with a friend, buzzing with ideas and newly-hatched plot bunnies, only to hear that it gave them completely different ones. (And then there is always much brainstorming and bouncing ideas around. Rolling around in them. So much fun.)

So, this is how inspiration works for me – it’s everywhere, it has a life of its own, and it multiplies when it’s shared with other creative people. What is it like for you?

The Beginning (a.k.a. How I tripped and fell into this writing thing)

If someone had told me five years ago that one day soon, I was going to be a writer, I would have called them crazy (or, you know, smiled and nodded to placate them, and then briskly walked away; you shouldn’t argue with the crazy).

I mean, sure, I’ve been playing with words all my life – I bullied my Grandpa to teach me how to read at age 4, and it’s been a slippery slope ever since: reading, reviewing, editing, proofreading, translating. I’ve worked with words, in different capacities, for well over a decade. But they were all other people’s words.

And okay, I’ve always had the (highly troublesome) gift of seeing all the ways in which any given situation – real or hypothetical – could unfold. I kicked ass at research. I never had a single hobby that wasn’t creative or artistic or crafty. But stories? Characters and background and plots? All built from scratch and carefully woven together like threads in a tapestry? No way. That was something real writers did. And how did one even choose a story to write? It seemed like a monumental task, something impossibly difficult that only professionals could do – experts in the world of words; the initiated. They surely possessed some kind of secret knowledge.

Then, in 2010, I discovered fanficton.

I’ve read my way through two large fandoms, at first just looking for additional glimpses into the worlds I’d grown to love; missing scenes to complement and flesh out the canon. Soon, I started sinking in deeper and deeper, discovering longer stories, talented authors whose words took me on adventures in no way worse (and let’s be honest, often better) than “real” books, and all the alternate universes within official worlds.

(All the erotica, too. Which was a shocker, how much there was and how good some of it could be. But that’s a topic for another post.)

And then, one day in the summer of 2011, a story seed hit me right in the heart.

It was a prompt someone started to fill, but the story seemed abandoned after just a few chapters, and the author took it in a different direction than I hoped to see anyway. But the prompt, oh, the prompt… It struck all the right chords. I could see how the story would unfold, I could feel all the heartbreak and comfort, the hope and slow build, I could imagine the way it ended – and I wanted to read it. That story, the one in my head.

I struggled for a week, waiting for the longing to subside. It never did. I kept catching myself daydreaming, building scene after scene in my head, and it felt like flying. It was a breathtaking feeling. Finally, I couldn’t resist any longer. I took a notebook and started writing down the slivers of random scenes, bits of dialogue – out of order, incomplete, just to get them out of my head. It was never enough. The story kept growing until it was done, over 20 000 words I never knew I had in me just flowing out within a month. It was only the first of many.

It turned out a writer doesn’t always choose a story – sometimes a story chooses them; jumps them on a perfectly ordinary day, uninvited, and clubs them over the head. That’s how it happens for me at least, with most of my ideas.

And real writers? Are those who write, published or not.

I can’t imagine not writing anymore. From the very first sentence, 3.5 years and nearly a million words ago, I knew I found my place. It was peace like no other I’ve known. It was like coming home.

I was really lucky. I found myself in a wonderful, supportive fandom community who welcomed me and my words with open arms, allowed me to safely practice and learn by writing, and who read and commented and embraced my stories. I was lucky to never have to write to the drawer; to never have to fear judgment, beyond the usual nerves/excitement mix when posting every new chapter. I’ve learned so much, and I have so much to be grateful for: the safe environment to slowly spread my wings and my readers’ support every step of the way. It’s such a precious gift for a fledgling writer.

For years, I’ve been saying thank you with my fics. Now, I get to say thank you with original stories, too.

A year in the (book) life

In three months (minus one day, because I fell asleep before I managed to post this last night, oops), Love Starved will be out in the world. And that means that it’s finally time to start talking more about the book, the idea, the characters – that whole world closed between the covers.

I have a whole series of wordy posts planned, but today, I just want to show the long way this story has come over the last year: from a pile of notes and index cards, through the first draft covered in red ink as I edited it for the first time, to a review copy – and soon, a final book. It has been a crazy, exhausting, exhilarating journey of hard work and blind faith that I can do it, and I’ve loved every step of it. I hope that love will show in the final product 🙂

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