The Black Sun (draft 1): Finished!

Writing

On Monday, I was convinced that I wouldn’t be meeting my self-imposed deadline to finish this story, despite the commitment I made last week. It wasn’t that there was a lot of story left to go, just… the story that was left was a bit daunting. This was the final set piece, the ultimate confrontation, and I knew it would be draining. And it was.

But I did it. The first draft of the story I started during NaNoWriMo is finished. The final count is approximately 76,000 words, which is just about perfect. (Though I already know that this is going to be one of those cases—rare for me—where the first draft runs a little short, rather than long.)

(And, yes: this means that I wrote 50,000 words in November, and then it took me two entire months to write another 26,000. But whatever. December and January are awful months to try to get anything done.)

Normally, this is the part where I’d say that the story isn’t perfect, but it’s solid, and I can definitely turn it into something good. And that might be the case (it’s probably the case), but I’m not going to say it. Not yet. I’m not in a good place to make that assessment right now.

But it’s done!

Now, I’m going to step back from this, take some time to figure out how I’m going to approach rewriting the 2016 story, and then… we’ll see.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Postmortem

Writing

I keep sitting down to write this post, and it keeps not happening. There’s part of me that feels like it’s not time, yet: I haven’t finished writing the story, so how can I possibly think about any of this objectively? I didn’t write the postmortem for last year’s project until I’d finished the draft, and that worked out well enough. But this isn’t about the story, it’s about the experience.

And this year was a very different experience from last year.

I went in confident that I could do it. Last year was… I won’t say “easy,” but it was fairly straightforward. I wrote nearly every day, and I stayed pretty much on-target as far as word-count went, and then I crashed as soon as I hit 50K, because I’d had a cold for the last few days of the month and the only thing that kept me going was stubbornness.

This year wasn’t like that. At all.

After the first week, I spent the entire month just a little bit behind schedule. Not far enough behind to send me into a panic, or make me give up, but enough that I was dealing with constant, low-level anxiety for the entire month. Every day, I sat down knowing that if I didn’t hit my goal for the day, things would start to snowball, and it would become a genuine struggle to get through.

I’m still not sure how I managed, but… I made it through. Somehow.

Word-count anxieties aside, I had two big goals for this year.

First, I wanted to focus on building the daily writing routine that I really want.

So, how’d I do?

I’m getting there. I’m learning how to fit writing and exercise into my best hours, which has always been my highest priority, but the constant deficit in my word-count meant that I had to sacrifice some other things to keep from falling too far behind. My photography suffered, and I was often too wiped out at the end of the day to think about the other writing projects (in the outlining and editing stages) that I wanted to be working on.

But now that the month is over, and I’m setting my own targets again, I’m starting to find the time and energy to think about other creative projects, on top of this particular story. That’s all going to get a bit chaotic again soon (the holiday baking marathon will start to suck up all my free time this coming weekend, and my brain is already moving into deep planning mode for the new year), but… I know that I can make this work for me. It’ll take a couple of weeks to find my way back to it in January, but I will find my way back to it in January.

My second big goal was to to write a draft that worked. by which I mean “doesn’t need to be torn down and entirely rewritten.” And I did much better on this one. I’m still only three-quarters of the way through Act Two (and there are a few missing scenes here and there), but so far, I’m thrilled with how the story is coming together. It’s not perfect (obviously), but it’s very close to the story I hoped to write. I kind of can’t wait to get to the editing stage, and that’s never happened before.

Part of this has been fine-tuning my outlining process (though, let’s be honest, that’s not something that’s ever going to be set in stone). Part of it has been finally figuring out how to create characters that feel real to me. And part of it is just growing as a writer. It’s starting to feel real to me.

So: I met my goals (including that whole write-50,000 words-in-a-month thing). So that’s good!

And I learned stuff!

I’m starting to figure out who I am as a writer, and that changes everything.
This is the first story I’ve written in a very (very!) long time that really feels like me. I’m not writing it because it ties into any particular trends (or wilfully ignores a trend because I’m a snob), or because I’ve got a passing interest in a genre, or even because the idea has been sitting at the back of my mind for years and I want to finally write the stupid thing. (That was last year.) I’ve got a connection with this story, I genuinely love the story-world, and, if it works the way I hope, it will move me toward some of my bigger writing goals.

And that’s made the entire writing process easier, and more fun.

I really need to learn how to write action scenes.
Building on that last point: the stories I want to write require action scenes. And I’m kind of terrible at writing them. I mean… I can. I have written decent action scenes in the past, but that’s more luck than skill. I want to take some time to really study (and practice!) the process… ideally, before I start the editing/rewriting process on this story. (Are you good at writing action sequences and fight scenes? Please: leave a comment! I want to pick your brain.)

The NaNo graph is really helpful.
NaNoWriMo 2017 Graph | Reghan SkerryI mean it. I love that graph. On bad writing days, I’d update it every time I took a break, and seeing my word-count creep ever closer to that line was enough of a reward to keep me going. Over the last week or so, I’ve started trying to put together a spreadsheet that will do something similar, but some of the formulas are tricky—it’s entirely possible that I’m making them more complicated than they need to be—and I really have no idea what I’m doing. (But it’s weirdly fun? I don’t know.)


That’s where I stand right now. The month was difficult—more difficult than I’d expected, going in—and I was dealing with low-level anxiety the entire time, but… it was good. I’m happy with how the month went, and I’m really looking forward to what comes next (like finishing the story).

(By the way: I’m just going to go ahead and count this as November’s sketchbook post, because NaNo was really the only creative thing I did in November. And I’m going to skip December’s sketchbook. I’ve got some year-in-review and goalsetting stuff coming up, and I’m not going to be getting very much done over the rest of the month. Except baking. I’ll be doing a lot of that.)

NaNoWriMo 2017 | Winner

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Week 5

Writing

I’m done!

Or… I’ve reached 50,000 words, and have officially ‘won’ NaNoWriMo. The draft is only at the midpoint.

I’m going to take the rest of the week off (so… tomorrow, since the whole ‘writing on weekends’ thing didn’t work for me at all this month), and then get back to work on Monday. I’ll have a proper postmortem for you soon; this year’s project has taught me a lot, and I want to talk about it… just not today.

Today I need to stop thinking about the story for a few minutes.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Week 4

Writing

At the moment this post goes live, I am almost exactly one day behind schedule on my NaNoWriMo draft. I’m closing in on the midpoint of the story itself—it’s running a little long, but that’s ok. It’s a first draft, and they’re always a little unpredictable, no matter how much I plan.

I keep having these weird, panicky moments, where it feels like there’s no way I can possibly reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, and I have to remind myself that I’ve actually been doing well the last few days. I’m writing faster than I was at the beginning of the month, the words are flowing more smoothly, and, most importantly: I still love the story. It’s the first thing I’ve written in a very long time that (probably) doesn’t need an entire page-one rewrite to turn it into something good.

(As an aside: this week, I started trying to plan the rewrite of last year’s story. It’s… a thing. I know exactly what I want that story to be, I just can’t figure out how to make it happen.)

So! This is where I stand, going into the final stretch: the story is still good. I like it, and I like some of the things it’s teaching me as a writer. If I can write about 1500 words this weekend (weekends have been consistently terrible for me this month), I’ll be able to finish on time, and without pushing myself too hard.

When I put it like that, it seems entirely reasonable. Which makes me feel like I’m missing something.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Week 3

Writing

According to the official NaNoWriMo chart, I’m about two and a half days behind schedule. This is after taking four days off last weekend.

That’s not great. I’m not thrilled about it. But I’m not in panic mode, either. I can still make it through the month, and hit 50K—I could take weekends off, and my current pace would still carry me through.

So that’s kind of good.

The real challenge right now is maintaining perspective. I woke up yesterday morning, suddenly very worried about my main character: she’s passive, she’s been rescued twice so far, and she’s not really driving the story.

But here’s the thing: I’ve spent two weeks writing this story. (So far.) I spent months before that thinking about the story, including nearly a month of intense planning. I’ve been living with this story for a long time.

But the story itself has only just started. The scene I’ve been working on for the past few days (it’s a long, difficult scene, for me and for the characters) is the first act break, about 25% of the way through the story. (Obviously, when the dust settles, the story is going to be more than 50,000 words.) I mentioned before that I’m using the Hero’s Journey as a guide for this story… well, up until this exact point, my heroine has been actively resisting the call to adventure. Of course she’s not driving the story yet.

She hasn’t had a reason to. Not until this scene.

So, that’s where I stand right now, half-way through the month: I’m behind schedule, but that’s fine. My main character hasn’t been driving the story, but she’s about to start.

And it’s going to be so cool.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Week 2

Writing

This time last week, I thought I was starting to find the rhythm of the story.

I was wrong.

The first few days of this week were really difficult. I barely got anything written on the weekend, and it took until yesterday to actually get myself back up to par. I still felt good about the story, but the actual writing of it was… ugh.

But then something shifted, and now I have found my footing with this story. I’m writing a bit faster, and the story is moving a bit more smoothly, and… it’s starting to feel like this might actually work. And I’m starting to get other stuff done, too—I can hit my word count, and then not need to spend the rest of the day mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Twitter. I can start working on some other outlines, or I can read an actual book with, like, a plot and stuff. I can even play a video game without zoning out after a few minutes.

It’s nice.

Now. This weekend (today and Monday included) is going to be kind of awful for my writing. I’m going to try not to fall too far behind, but who knows?

The important thing is that I still really love this story; the characters and world work in a way that I haven’t really been able to manage recently. And somehow, I’m not destroying that in my rush to hit 50,000 words.

I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

2017 Project365 #307 | Reghan Skerry

Project365: #302-308

Photography

National Novel Writing Month is an intense experience, creatively. And I love it for that. I love that it forces me to sit down and write—which is something I want to be doing anyway, but never seem to make the time for.

The downside? It’s an intense experience, creatively. Especially at the beginning, when I’m still finding my way into the story, it uses up pretty much all of my creative energy.

It’s getting easier, now. A full week in, and I’m getting to a point where I can spend a few hours a day writing, and not need to spend the rest of the day decompressing. I can think about the other stories I’m working on, and I can think about photography again.

Which is really just a long-winded way of saying some of these pictures are a bit boring, and I’m sorry for that. (That’s the other thing about NaNo: it gets really tempting to use more words than strictly necessary.)

2017 Project365 #305 | Reghan Skerry

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Week 1

Writing

Three days into NaNoWriMo, and I have a title!

I mean, I’ve also got a little more than 5000 words, but I’m really most excited about the title. And the fact that a few of my characters actually have last names now. That’s nice, too.

The thing is, the first 5000 words or so (sometimes a little less, sometimes a lot more) of a new story is always pretty close to impossible. It doesn’t matter how much I’ve prepared or how enthusiastic I am, it always takes a few days to find my way into a story.

But I think I’m getting there. Today’s words flowed more easily than yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s will probably be easier still. (Maybe. Weekends are always terrible for my writing.)

That said: I’ve realized that one of my secondary characters doesn’t really have an arc. He did, when I was originally figuring out the story, but it sort of disappeared when I developed his character more. (Which… isn’t the way it usually happens, but whatever.) And my outline still isn’t quite finished.

But it’s fine. I’m genuinely happy with the way the story’s progressing so far. And I’ve still got plenty of time—and words—to fill in the bits that are missing.

Current Word Count (3 November 2017): 5263

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Prep Week 5

Writing

It’s been a really good week on the NaNoWriMo-prep front.

Well. Mostly. It started out good.

It started out good enough that I’m not worried about the fact that I’ve come down with yet another cold (or possibly a mild case of the flu this time?), and I haven’t made any real progress the for the last day or so.

(As an aside: I really haven’t been kidding when I say that it seems like every 3-4 years, I get everything. My theory—and I’m sure that there’s no scientific basis for this, but please leave me my illusions—is that every few years, all the viruses mutate enough that my otherwise-solid immune system can’t cope. I’m just on a weird cycle where it all happens at once, instead of a few viruses every year.)

I’ve spent most of this week working on my secondary characters, giving them life and personality and figuring out what their stories are, rather than just thinking about how they impact the main character and her story. It’s been incredibly helpful—every character I figure out helps flesh out the world, develop subplots, and generally fill in the gaps in my outline.

That’s the other thing I’ve been doing: spreading my index cards out on the floor in a grid, and staring at them a lot.

I mean. It’s more than that. I’m figuring out the shape of the story (it’s much more straightforward than last year’s project), and looking at the scenes I have and thinking about what scenes I need to make everything else work. But there’s a lot of staring and frowning and false-starts involved.

(I’m also trying to keep the cat from walking over, laying on, or stealing the index cards. That’s actually the hardest part of this whole thing.)

I’m not ready for NaNo. There’s less than a week to go (!!!), and I’m not feeling well, and I’ve still got giant plot holes to paper over. But, at the same time, I could be ready. I could start writing right now, and it wouldn’t be a disaster.

I don’t want to. I still want to (and I’m going to try to) get this story really ready to go over the next few days. I want to sleep and try to shake off this cold. (And I’m not going to have much choice, there.)

But I could.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Prep Week 4

Writing

I’ve written my synopsis!

I still don’t have a working title, and I keep wavering between whether my story counts as sci-fi or fantasy (I mean… everything in it is based on “science,” but none of it is remotely realistic, and in the end it comes down to “I dunno… maybe aliens? Magic?”), but I have a synopsis, and I really like it.

Last year was the first time I bothered writing a synopsis for NaNo. I’d just never seen the point before—I knew what my story was, I had a full outline, so a synopsis felt like another variation on the theme. And… yeah. It kind of is. But it’s still really helpful.

To be clear, I haven’t written what I’d consider a “proper” synopsis. This isn’t how I’d describe the story in a query letter. This is just for myself and the NaNo site, so I’ve written something closer to back-cover copy. It’s not about selling the story to an agent or publisher, it’s about selling the story to myself, convincing myself that this is something that could work as a novel.

In that context, writing a synopsis has turned out to be really valuable.

It’s forced me to think about my story in a different way. When I write the synopsis, it’s less about the plot or the characters—though they both come into play—and more about establishing the story world and the overall tone of the story. It’s a way to draw the reader in, and to tell them what they can expect from the story without giving too much away. It’s a way to draw myself in, and to keep myself focussed on how I want the story to feel, even when I’m struggling with what happens next.

And both last year and this year, writing the synopsis has clarified bits of the story that I hadn’t quite figured out or didn’t understand. Last year, the synopsis helped me figure out the antagonist’s motivation, and the conspiracy that was lurking under the whole story. This year, it’s made me realize that, whether the story is sci-fi or fantasy, at it’s heart, it’s a relatively straightforward thriller. I know more about my main character’s backstory. And, suddenly, I know exactly how it feels to live in the story world: how it looks, how it sounds, and the vague unease that comes with just stepping out onto the street in this world.

It’s so cool.

I’m still working on the scene breakdown, though I’m feeling better about that than I was before. I’m making progress, though I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I’m still taking some time to study craft, but I’m being a little more discerning about it—right now, I don’t care at all how other writers structure their stories. I know how I’m structuring this story, and that’s enough.

I’m starting to feel like I might actually be ready when November 1 rolls around.

If you’re a NaNo-er interested in reading my synopsis, I’ve added it to my profile. (Though, naturally, it’s still subject to change.) As always, I’m thrilled to get new writing buddies, so feel free to add me—and if you need some cheerleading or commiseration, say ‘hello’ via NaNo mail! As an experiment, I’m also going to start opening up comments on these diary posts… I’m not sure if it’ll last (I’m not a fan of comments in general), but we’ll see how it goes.

(Also: this week I discovered that the index cards I bought in preparation for outlining are unlined, which is annoying, but I’ll make do. And I’ve been struggling with another cold, but at least I’m not trying to prepare for Thanksgiving on top of everything else, so I’ve been able to dedicate my limited energy to NaNo prep. I guess that’s something.)