Category Archives: Writing

Slaying the Demons

January’s over, and so is the JANO 2013 Writing Challenge sponsored by Sleuths’ Ink Mystery Writers. How did I do? Well, that’s a matter of perspective. Isn’t it always?

I wrote more than 20,000 new words—my biggest writing month ever, by far.

I worked through a sticky plot problem, researched the Egyptian underworld, outlined a whole series of new obstacles for my young heroes and spent a lot of time imagining scenes for the final act—all necessary steps for me before I’m ready to actually write.

Since JANO wanted us to submit our first pages, I faced my fear of coming up with a compelling opening and wrote a first page—which placed third in the Best First Page competition.

I also wrote a 100-word story description that won the prize for Best Blurb.

All in all, I’d say January was an outstanding month for my writing. And yet, technically, I failed.

Like National Novel Writing Month, NaNo for short, the goal of JANO was to produce 50,000 words in one month. As the challenge began, people offered advice on how to produce so many words so quickly—don’t think, don’t edit, don’t research, just write something even if it’s bad, use more words than you need to beef up your word count, etc.

Now there are as many ways to produce a manuscript as there are writers, and I know this method works beautifully for many people. This is the antithesis of how I write, however. I plot everything out carefully ahead of time. I research during every stage of my story planning, then research some more. I don’t begin writing until the scene is playing out in vivid detail in my head. I edit as I write, removing unnecessary words when I spot them. You get the idea.

So does a speed-writing challenge like JANO have any value for a slow-and-careful writer like myself? You bet! True, I will probably never “win” NaNo or JANO, but who cares? I’m 20,000 words closer to my goal of producing a publication-worthy manuscript. JANO helped me do that by giving me ammunition against my twin demons of Perfectionism and Procrastination.

Every writer—every human, for that matter—has their demons, and right now, those are mine. Don’t get me wrong, I procrastinated plenty. (Just look at my Twitter following—it ballooned from under a hundred to more than eight hundred in January. Not a terrible use of time, but writing my book would have been better.) But JANO gave me a reason to write the best story I’m capable of, even if it’s not perfect, and to do it right now. That was enough to help me have my best writing month ever.

So now that JANO’s over, how do I use these lessons moving forward? Obviously, I need deadlines and accountability—those are the weapons I need to fight my demons. JANO provided that for a few weeks, but what now? Oh, lovely critique partners, I think I have a job for you!

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A Little New Year’s Optimism

2013 is going to be my year.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Every December, my head swells with grandiose visions of a new life filled with broccoli, elliptical trainers and an impossibly organized house. The same unfulfilled resolutions, year after year.

I have a special feeling about this year, though. Not that those extra pounds are going to magically melt away, or that the boxes piled in the garage will finally make it to the top of my priority list. No, what makes 2013 different is that after spending several years studying the craft of writing, outlining plot ideas and working on a “practice” novel, I’m ready to write my first “real” novel. One I’m eager to share with the world.

I’ve already made solid progress on this project–the plot is fully outlined and I’ve completed several chapters of reasonably polished prose. With most middle grade novels coming in under 50,000 words, I may very well complete my first draft by the end of January.

How amazing is that?

Some writers reach this milestone in a matter of months. For me, it’s the culmination of more than twenty years of growth and preparation. A dream that always seemed too far out of reach to ever become real.

Until now.

When next December rolls around, no doubt I’ll still need to lose weight, to organize my house and to search for an agent, but I will have completed my first novel.

And that will make 2013 something special.