NaNoWriMo as a Year-Round Tool

I can’t believe I’ve been using NaNoWriMo since 2014 and never really thought to use it outside of the main competition. I’ve participated in their April and July Camps before, but that’s about it.

It has been an incredible tool the last couple months as I try to improve my day-to-day writing routine.

I’ve always tracked my word count as I write. That’s how I set monthly goals. But that was all on a spreadsheet.

NaNo lets you set goals for whatever time period you want — I do monthly — and then tracks how much you need to write per day to achieve that goal.

This has been especially helpful during the grind of writing. Every writer knows what I mean. You hit a point in your story or your schedule that just drags. You feel like you can’t get over the hump, but you know you have to.

NaNo’s words per day tracker is a lifeline during the writing grind. If I’m trying to eek out a sliver of progress for the night, I use the daily tracker to have that small goal. 500 words needed for the day… 400… 200. Then you’re done and still on track.

That’s a small tool that can keep you moving forward when you hit a natrative or mental snag.

That’s really all I wanted to say today. If you need something to help you track your writing progress, look no further than National Novel Writing Month.

Steve D

Balancing Reader Feedback with Story Constraints

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

Today I wanted to bring up an interesting conundrum I’ve been facing as I write the third draft of Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1. In a story that is effectively about how one family — and one woman in particular — deals with her entire life being upended, I’m now trying to add more characters.

Uprooted is also a novella. I only intend for it to be 35k-40k words if I can help it, so adding more characters seems counter-intuitive on the surface.

Alpha Reader Feedback

Back in December I asked a couple people to read the second draft of this story and provide some feedback. One of my readers gave me great feedback that I’ve really tried to take to heart in this rewrite.

She said that in settings like mine — a small village in a firmly patriarchal society and culture — the characters would likely have much stronger kinship ties than I had demonstrated in my draft. I focused intensely on the nuclear family of my characters, but that left this reader asking about their immediate relatives, cousins, siblings. aunts and uncles, and the like.

The crux of the story is that tragedy strikes this village, causing my characters to flee. With this now expanded family dynamic, my characters are not as isolated as they had been, but the dynamics of their struggle change. They now have to feed 10 or 15 mouths rather than three or four.

But that’s also 10 or 15 more names to keep track of as the story progresses.

Too Many Characters?

I agreed 100% with this feedback, and I built out a family tree for my protagonist’s family and their clan. This meant that I had to explain what happened to a lot of those family members alongside the more immediate narrative of my characters. What I’ve noticed is that in my third draft, I have to decide when to talk about these extended family members, and when to leave them out.

It should be obvious that the larger clan is still traveling together, and I don’t want to have to list the actions of every single member each day. But I also don’t want to ignore these characters’ existence. After all, they make up the immediate support system for my primary character. She needs them, and thus the reader needs to know something about them.

So I’ve had to figure out how to balance these additional tertiary characters within the more personal plotlines of the three or four characters who really drive the story. If I were writing a full-length novel, I could consider POV sections for a few of these tertiary characters, but Uprooted is not that type of story.

My general rule of thumb has been twofold:

  1. Take a quick tally of the family as they’re moving or something is changing so we (both the reader and I) know where they are.
  2. Try to include these family members in particular scenes, even if they’re just in the background or only offer one line of dialogue.

I think/hope that this makes it clear that these characters are important to the larger family dynamics, but doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too many names to remember.

Discussion Time!

How do you feel about tertiary characters in a novella? How many is too many?

Steve D

Haiku Sunday – Hunt

“Hunt”

Scouting the terrain

from selective vantage points

to find nesting ground.

Steve D

I’m not a hunter, by the way. The wife and I have started exploring specific areas of Maryland to identify neighborhoods we like for our next house — we we intend to be our “forever home”. We’re not ready to buy, unless we find the perfect place, but we’re enjoying casually looking with no strings attached or expectations. And it gives us an excuse to take the toddler and the dog on mini adventures in random parks we find.

July Write Day: Summer Writing

June was a solid month. We’re already a week into July, so I don’t have many other reflections. Let’s get to it.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 9,000 words.
  2. Spend more time outside.
  3. Read 3 books.

So how did I do?!

Write 9,000 words?!

Can you tell I’m excited about this one? I did it! All it took was a ridiculous surge of 2,100 words on the last night of the month, but I did it.

I started off the month really strong, for once, but started to fall off about halfway through. The final weekend we were at a family wedding, so I have an excuse there. Otherwise, I left too many gaps between writing sessions. Even one or two additional sessions of a couple hundred words would have made that final night far less grueling. But once I got close, I couldn’t not finish.

That gave me 15 days of writing, with 18 total writing sessions. Those three broken sessions where I started writing and then came back later to continue in the same day were strangely helpful. I was also pretty good about writing immediately after work to not lose motivation, even if some of those only took small bites out of my word count goal.

The Herb Witch Tales Progress

It’s been a while since I’ve really talked about my work-in-progress, so I just want to touch on it for a moment. I’m on my second rewrite and third draft of Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1. I knew I had to rethink some of the big plot points, and there have been some substantial changes. This story may end up ending differently, or maybe even longer than I had intended.

I currently have 22,000 words of what I had aimed to be a 35,000-word novella. But at two-thirds the way there, I don’t think my characters can make it to the original endpoint. So I’m debating whether Uprooted needs to be longer, or if it maybe needs to end in a slightly different place.

I know where I want the characters to end up eventually, but maybe they don’t get there until part 2. I’d be okay with that. Right now, I’m trying not to box myself into a specific ending or a specific word count. I want to finish the story, however I get there. That just means I’ll have even larger changes to make to part 2, which is still in its first draft.

I’m really enjoying the process, though.

Spend more time outside?

We haven’t gone for any hikes yet, but I feel like we’ve spent a fair amount of time outside. We’ve hit the record-breaking heatwave part of summer now, and the toddler is not as interested in going outside. He’s definitely an autumn/winter kid.

On Father’s Day I took him to a field near our house where he literally ran back and forth for 30 minutes.

But with storm season in full swing, it looks like we’ll get a few days where the heat breaks and it will be bearable for a hike in the woods.

Read 3 books?

GoodReads says I finished three books in June, but it was really more like four. I finished reading The Return of the King towards the end of the month, then spent another few days reading some of the appendices, which carried my finish date into July. Considering I finished three other books in June, though, I don’t care too much about the timing. One of those was the very long In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales, an omnibus of Lord Dunsany’s work edited by S.T. Joshi. That took me several months to get through, although I took a pretty long break from it.

I enjoyed it overall, but wasn’t a fan of the narrator. I think I need to buy this volume in print and spend more time with it, maybe reading one or stories at a time and letting them stew a bit.

Goals for July

  1. Write 10,000 words. This is my goal for Camp NaNoWriMo, and last month gave me confidence that I can actually achieve it. With all of the changes to Uprooted, I know there will be even more to my unofficially untitled part 2, and I want to be able to bring both to conventions next year. I really need to accelerate my writing progress the next few months.
  2. Read 3 books. I like this as a standard goal.
  3. Enjoy parental leave. We’re due to have our second child at the end of the month, so… that’s exciting! I’ll be taking three weeks of leave to be home with mom and baby, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Steve D

Book Review: BALANCED ON THE BLADE’S EDGE, DRAGON BLOOD Book 1

I was in the mood for a new (to me) fantasy series, and Audible happened to read my mind in that moment and present me with the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker. This omnibus includes books 1-3 in what is evidently a 7-book series. It was free, so I figured why not? I decided to give book 1 a shot.

I had no expectations going into Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a fun fantasy story with an interesting premise and solid protagonists.

The book opens more like a military fantasy, which I was not expecting, complete with all the trappings of a troubled soldier heading into a meeting with a superior officer.

Ridge appears at first glance to be a typical bad-boy cliche of an officer and a pilot, but ends up being more likeable as the story goes on. He’s prideful but tries to do right by those under his command. Sardelle is a little more cunning than her bookish personality would make her out to be, and Jaxi really does sound like a teenager trapped in a soul blade.

I was also not prepared for the more steampunk setting, replete with blimps, open-topped “flyers”, and cannons. This type of technology felt natural for the story, so that I didn’t even realize it was steampunk until I saw the term used in a different review.

There was one particular romance scene that was a bit more than I normally would have looked for, but it also served the plot and the characters.

Overall, I enjoyed this read, and I’ve already decided to give the second book a try.

Steve D