November 13, 2014

go fly a kite... the nanowrimo edition

I'm by no means a person who has everything figured out--as a writer, as a woman, as a human being. That doesn't keep me from being quick to offer up advice to anyone who is maybe having a disagreement with her significant other (yeah, I so am not an expert on real relationships), problems at work (we've all been there), or wants to figure out how to find the time or energy to write a book.

Lately I've been vocal about using the Pomodoro Technique. Several of my writer friends have used it with success, and it definitely helped me finish the first draft of book 3. But I have a confession: Even though I sometimes use Pomodoro, I don't always. And in fact, this month for National Novel Writing Month, I've almost never used it. (Which is too bad, because I just bought a new egg timer.)

When it comes to writing a book, what it really comes down to is this: You have to make time for it by making concessions somewhere else. It's as simple as that. It's science when you think about it. There are a finite number of hours in a day (I believe it's still 24, but the time change often makes it seem more like 10). So if I want to use two or three or eight of those hours writing, well, I'm going to have to not do something else I might have done during that time.

That's part of why NaNoWriMo works so well for me. I figure I can do just about anything--save money, eat healthy, exercise daily, write--for a month. Making long-term commitments requires a lifestyle change that is harder to maintain every day. (I'm still figuring out how to do all four of those things as a rule rather than an exception, but what can I say? I'm a work in progress.)

And so in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, today I thought I'd share some of the things I've told to Go Fly a Kite while I work on the first draft of Book 4:

1. Watching TV, except during designated periods of time and only for those set times. That means carving out four hours on a game day to watch my Huskers or Packers play, and because Hallmark Christmas movies are in full swing, I check the schedule and pick out the few I'd like to watch. And then I plan my writing day around it. Sound a little extreme for watching TV? It probably is, but a lady has to do what a lady has to do. Oh, and this also means that some of my favorite TV shows, like The Mindy Project, are off limits until I finish this draft.

2. Buying candy. That's different than swearing off candy. I ate probably five or six pieces of Baker's Chocolate at work yesterday, because it was a gift. But I know myself. And I tend to mindlessly snack when I eat. And the more candy and chips and other crap I eat while I do it, the worse I feel, the more sluggish I become, and the worse I write. Instead, I have a ginormous pile of clementines sitting in my kitchen, and when I feel a bit peckish I eat one of those. Which leads me to the next point...

3. Having a variety in the foods to eat. I don't know about you, but when I'm in full-on writing mode, I don't have time to cook every day. With this in mind, I created a meal plan at the beginning of the month, and I make bulk lunches and dinners every Sunday--usually the same thing every day. I did pencil in getting to go out for takeout/dinner on Friday nights and Saturdays just to keep my life a little interesting, but for the most part I'm eating the same thing all day every day. While that might be boring, in a way it's nice. I selected dishes that meet healthy requirements and feel comforting, so it's a win-win. (This week it's oatmeal for breakfast, winter vegetable stew with carrot sticks and an apple for lunch, quinoa enchiladas and chips for dinner and fruits, vegetables, and a little popcorn for snacks.)

4. Partying like it's 1999, or even 2014. I still had a margarita with dinner last Saturday night (after I'd written more than 7,000 words in a day) and I grabbed a cocktail with a co-worker one night after work. But aside from that, I'm not hanging out at bars on the regular (except on the occasional Sunday evening, when I also add in some writing). Unlike Hemingway, I've never mastered the whole "write drunk, edit sober" mentality, so I try to keep a clear head. Plus, I really haven't figured out the whole "write hungover" concept yet. When you're waking up at 5 to start writing, you want to feel pretty decent.

5. Having two, fully separated and shaped eyebrows. I think I'm also growing a mustache and my fingernails and toe nails are a disaster. Oh, and you can see my roots coming in on my hair. I'm still washing my hair and showering on the regular (I do have to be seen in public) and I throw on a little makeup before leaving the house, but I do not look like I could walk into a Vogue cover shoot. Granted, I never look like that, but you get what I mean. Maybe I'll have some time to do a little pampering this weekend, but I'll have to meet my daily word count first. And if I think I look at a mess, I probably shouldn't take too close of a look at my apartment. Talk about dust bunnies... yikes.

And through all this I'm still having fun. Instead of going to bars, I go to the library or cafe and write. Instead of sitting in front of the TV for hours, I hang out with my MS. It all sounds like a lot of work, and it really is, but it's worth it in the end.

I'd like to hear from you. What are some of the things you do to stay focused on a project? Any big concessions on your end?

Stay connected with Laura Chapman on FacebookGoodreads and Twitter. Like Change the Word on Facebook.

November 10, 2014

week one of nanowrimo 2014

Friends, can you believe it's already November 10? It's been a busy, but productive month so far in my world. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, this is my fifth consecutive year participating in National Novel Writing Month. It's amazing how quickly it has become such an important part of my life. For example, October 31 is no longer just Halloween to me. It's NaNoWriMo Eve. While everyone else is excited to dress up in a costume and hit the bar, I'm organizing my notes and planning a nap so I can start writing at midnight.

I started the first draft of my first novel, Hard Hats and Doormats, my first year participating. That year and every year after I have learned important lessons about myself as a writer and as a person. Like, I've learned that I have to make the first week count in a big way if I hope to reach 50,000 words.

I've also learned that I operate best when I have an outline sketched out. I've used different approaches for preparation. In year one I created a working synopsis document in Word. In years two and three I used index cards. In year four I decided to wing it and just write--which ended up backfiring when I realized I basically had to re-start the whole book later, because it lacked focus.

This year I'm using Scrivener for the first time, and it has worked well with my index card mind-set. Before November 1st I created folders for each chapter with scene cards in each ones. While I'm a plotter, I like to leave a lot of room for interpretation so my outline notes are pretty simple (i.e. Have the characters go here and talk about this).

What's really exciting is how this leaves room for new developments to happen while making sure the main plot points are covered. During the first week of writing, I found myself adding additional scenes or notes to already planned scenes, because as I wrote and understood the characters better new ideas presented themselves. I'm pretty pleased about a few of them.

With that, here's a quick look back at the first nine days of NaNoWriMo through photos.

I attended a write-in with a few local NaNoWriMo participants to start writing at midnight on November 1. I kicked off my month of writing Leslie Knope-style with waffles.

I wrote at a bar on that Sunday night and a bookstore on Monday night. I kept the progress going throughout the week by waking up every morning at 5 a.m. and setting a goal of writing 750-1,500 words a day before breakfast (giving myself some room based on whether or not the writing muse was "speaking" to me).

I took a notebook with me to work and jotted down continuations of the work I'd started in the morning during lunches. I wrote at the library on Wednesday night.

On Friday night I opened a fortune cookie that offered me the inspiration I needed to keep going after the first week of writing officially concluded.

With that in mind, when I woke up on Saturday (which also happened to be NaNoWriMo's Double Up Day) I decided to make it count. So I created a writing treasure/scavenger hunt.

And great news--I met all of my goals and the bonus goals, which included 2,000 extra words and going to the gym bringing my daily total to 7,000 words. That's a record for me.

It's been a productive month for me, but I realize it's a result of me taking all of the lessons I learned in the first four years and I'm applying them now. I set reasonable goals and always factor in one "cheat" day like you do when dieting. For me that day was Friday. I had other work to do before the day job on Friday and I was wiped after a work event so I wrote a quick 200 words before bed and called it good.

So that's a wrap. Here's hoping week two is as successful.

I'm curious about you. If you're participating in NaNoWriMo how is your journey going? I'd love to hear.

Stay connected with Laura Chapman on FacebookGoodreads and Twitter. Like Change the Word on Facebook.

October 31, 2014

happy nanowrimo eve

It's October 31, and that means one thing. That's right, it's National Novel Writing Month Eve. This will be my fifth consecutive year participating in NaNoWriMo, which I'm now affectionately referring to as Cinco de NaNoWriMo.

The title works for another reason, too. This year is kind of awesome, because November has five full weekends in it. For those of us who do most of our major writing on the weekends thanks to our day jobs, that's pretty exciting stuff. It's like the universe wants us to succeed. I've been looking forward to this year since I did the math back in 2011 and discovered this year would one day come. I know. I'm a nerd. Embrace it. I have.

As we gear up for another exciting adventure of writing more than 50,000 words in 30 days, I thought we'd take a brief look back at my previous four adventures in competing in NaNoWriMo.

Year One: November 2010
I wrote the first 50,000 words of my debut novel, Hard Hats and Doormats. I had no idea I'd end up going through five more drafts before it went to publication, but what a ride. I crossed the finish line a few hours before the deadline and had to have a friend upload the words for me, because my Internet connection was so crappy.

I may or may not have cried when it finally went through and she told me I was an official winner.

This year is notable for me, because I decided to participate on a whim at about 9 p.m. on November 1. Another fun fact: I spent about eight days of the month traveling for work, and I wrote about a quarter of those 50,000 words on airplanes, in airports and in motel rooms.

Year Two: November 2011
I wrote the first 50,000 words of my second novel, NOT TELLING YOU THE TITLE YET, BECAUSE I'M SUPERSTITIOUS LIKE THAT. :)

During my second attempt at reaching 50K, I was less of a hermit. I had three local friends participating in the event, and we held write-ins at coffee shops and our homes throughout the month. The competitive person in me liked having someone to race. The nice person in me liked having good friends along for the ride.

So far I have only done three drafts of this book, which is a big improvement, right? I'm also still ready to tie the knot with this one, which is good news, because it's easy to start hating a book after you spend so much time with it.

Year Three: November 2012
While I crossed the finish line this year, it wasn't my best work. I wrote the first 30,000 words of a story that will have to be completely restarted, plus 20,000 words in other short fiction. None of it has been published and none of it is at all close to publication. My friends weren't participating, which meant I was back to being a lone wolf.

That said, I still participated, I still learned some valuable lessons, and I still wore this awesome NaNoWriMo shirt while I worked.

Year Four: November 2013
I wrote the first 50,000 words of my third novel, which I recently finished. I finished almost a week early, which was a new record for me.

That may have come at a cost of quality. After I reached 55,000 words, I decided the book wasn't going in the direction I wanted and so I scrapped most of it. Then again, maybe my story didn't feel right, because I was so busy thinking about the upcoming publication date for Hard Hats and Doormats, which was early the next month. Regardless, after two more false starts, I ultimately finished the first draft of the book earlier this month.

What's in store for this year? Who knows? But you can count on one thing--the cats and I will be counting down to midnight in style thanks to our Halloween costumes.

Jane is a witch (obvi) and Bing is a lion. All we need is a wardrobe or a tin man, scarecrow and Dorthy, and we have ourselves a good theme.

I'm channeling my beloved Amy Poehler and going as her author bio photo from her new book, Yes Please.

Ah, the life of a yacht captain. You'd better believe I'll be wearing that hat off and on as I navigate the turbulent sea that is NaNoWriMo.

Good luck to everyone participating in this year's NaNoWriMo. May the words be ever in your favor.

Stay connected with Laura Chapman on FacebookGoodreads and Twitter. Like Change the Word on Facebook.

October 29, 2014

thank you, t.y.

Not again. Just when you think that perhaps you've judged your rag-tag bunch of fantasy football players too harshly, they have to go and ruin your two-week winning streak.

And while some of my gentlemen put in a great effort, not everyone received the memo about how we were done with sucking this season.

Woe is me.

Since I've already boycotted naming a Prince Charming in the past, I suppose it wouldn't be very clever of me to boycott my boys again.

So, by default, my Fantasy Football Prince Charming of the week is...

T.Y. Hilton.

Dude scored me 25.5 points (which incidentally came out to being about a quarter of my total points for the week thanks to the losers on my team). He was going to be my Prince Charming of the week two weeks ago, when I was deep into finishing the first draft of book three, so it seems only fair that he finally received his due (He earned me 33.8 points that week).

Like my beloved Peyton, T.Y. has become someone I can count on. And that means a lot to me in these tough, tough times of mine. Did I mention I lost both of my games, again? My poor, poor ego.

I wish I could muster up more energy to brag on Mr. Hilton, but my heart is sad. Maybe I should eat candy for breakfast to fix it.

Let's hope the guys get the memo and show up to play the next few weeks. Otherwise, I can kiss my chance at the playoffs buh-bye. Come on, guys. T.Y., Peyton and Antonio Brown can't do this all by themselves!

Stay connected with Laura Chapman on FacebookGoodreads and Twitter. Like Change the Word on Facebook.

October 23, 2014

work hard and be kind

We all have those days (or weeks or months or even years, if you want to believe the Friends theme song) where we just feel a little blue. There can be any number of reasons, but for me it usually starts with disappointment about my current state in the world or my anxiety when it seems like there's nothing to do about it. And I don't know about you, but when this happens, it can be really hard to shake.

If you're like me, and you've had one of those bummer days recently, here's a little video I like to watch:

Isn't that a nice thought? If you work hard and are kind, amazing things will happen. That's not a promise you'll end up with a late night show or a best-selling novel, but can't life still be amazing?

So with that thought, I'm going to check my cynicism at the door and do what I can to make it a great day. I hope you do, too.

Stay connected with Laura Chapman on FacebookGoodreads and Twitter. Like Change the Word on Facebook.