Sunday, November 30, 2014

That does it! NaNoWriMo 2014 is a Wrap!

This year I cut it closer than any other year. Instead of finishing a few days early, with bursts of productivity throughout the month and gaps where I fell behind, I kept a fairly steady pace. Plodding along (Ha! As if I just described 1,667 words a day as plodding!), until I crossed the line a few short minutes ago.

That's right I've done it! I won NaNoWriMo (and I got this nice little banner to prove it, because we all know miscellaneous images from the internet proves things! Oh, and the banner is a link.)

Now. That said, there are likely some of you that didn't participate in NaNoWriMo, or perhaps some that did participate and didn't cross the 50,000 word threshold. Well. You want to know the truth?

It doesn't matter.

That's right. I said it right here, and my word is law (on this blog anyway). 

NaNoWriMo isn't really about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Ok, well it is. Sort of. But not really. Nay! The point of NaNoWriMo is to (follow along with me here) build good writing habits.

Whether those habits are: 
250 words a day, 7 days a week
500 words a day, 5 days a week
1,667 words a day, 7 days a week
or Eleventy-bajillion words a day, 3 days a week

What matters is consistency and habit, and learning deep down, that if you chip away at something a little each day you can do it.

Let's look at what a novel is at face value, and for the sake of argument I'll throw away my usual target of ~100,000 words and go with NaNo's 50,000 words.

50,000 is still a BIG number. There are roughly 250 words per printed page in a paperback novel. That means there are roughly 200 pages in a 50,000 word book. It's not a door stop, but we're not talking about a flimsy pamphlet either.

Starting at 0 words, putting together 50,000 of them seems nigh impossible. But, 1,667 (the daily goal of NaNoWriMo)? That's not TOO bad. I can write that in a few hours (or less if I have a really good outline and no interruptions).

After day 2? I've got a little over 3,000 words. After day 9? I've got 15,000 words. That's a BIG number right there, in a little over a week.

I likely never would have finished Crow's Blood (the idea for which came out of a NaNo novel) were it not for NaNoWriMo teaching me that chipping away at the big number with a pile of little numbers would actually get me there. I learned that I could write a full length novel.

Now, that's not to say that this year's story is done (not by a long shot), or that the 50,000 words I've written are any good. It's a Zero-draft, chances are a lot of those words are due to be scrapped and replaced with better ones in the first revision pass (and I'll do MANY revision passes). But I find it a LOT easier to revise something that exists on the page, and it's good writing habits that get them there in the first place.

Even if you don't cross that 50,000 word line to "win" NaNoWriMo, as long as you worked consistently toward the goal of writing your novel, and learned some of those good writing habits, you're still a winner.

So for everyone who partook in this month of writing dangerously and developed those good writing habits along the way.

Here. Have a Wordasaurus! You earned it.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? How did you do?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Few Quick Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

First, in case you've been living under a rock (or you're someone who follows, or is visiting this blog, not because you want to mine it for amazing little golden wisdom and insight nuggets about writing, but because you know ME personally):
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It's a bit of a misnomer, but InNoWriMo (International Novel Writing Month) and GloNoWriMo (Global Novel Writing Month) don't roll off the tongue as nicely... scratch that, GloNoWriMo is still kind of awesome! It takes place in the month of November every year and the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or ~1,667 words/~6.67 manuscript pages a day.

You don't have to be some sort of mythical "writer" beast to be able to participate. Writing isn't magical. Stories don't burst forth from our heads fully formed and flapping their leathery wings. Writing is work. It starts with a cool idea, or a character, or a setting, or even as little as a really awesome one-liner. From there it's a building process, one keystroke at a time.

This is my 4th year participating, and I've reached the 50,000 word goal every year. It takes me anywhere from an hour and a bit to three hours to write 1,667 words, mostly because I have a hard time shutting my internal editor out entirely.

I've had varied reactions to doing NaNo this year. Writer folks have all cheered me on and talked about doing it themselves (which is cool), or why they're not doing it (which is also cool). Non-Writer folks have been split. Those who don't know me as well as they should simply ask "why?", especially when they see my recent announcement. Those who know me well know that I LOVE the challenge and dabbling in the community that shared pressure and experience brings.

NaNoWriMo isn't about writing the next Harry Potter. It's about building good habits and reaching the stunning realization that YES, you can write a novel. 50,000 words is a big number. And NaNo is all about showing that it is possible to write that many words in a reasonable amount of time. It's a few hours a day, tops, for a month.

And if you don't reach 50,000 words? Big deal! The real key, the point behind this whole exercise, is to form good writing habits. Sit your ass down in front of a keyboard, find your head-space, shut down Twitter and Facebook, close your web browser, and write. If you can do that consistently for 30 days then word count be damned, you win!

A few caveats for you, my fellow writers:
Crossing that 50,000 word finish line on, or before, or even after the 30th feels fantastic. It's a rush! But even if you've written "The End" you are not done your novel. DO NOT QUERY! DO NOT SELF-PUBLISH! That way lies ruination and heartache!

You see, 50,000 words used to be a novel. These days it's a Novella, with the actual word count of a novel falling somewhere between 60,000 words (literary works, cozy mysteries, contemporary YA, romance, etc.) to 110,000 words, which is roughly the maximum you can get away with for a debut Epic Fantasy or Science Fiction novel.

For the sake of argument, let's say you've typed "The End", be it at the close of your 50,000 word Novella, or your 110,000 word Epic Fantasy. BOOM! That's awesome. Now, before you send it off:

Step away from the keyboard!

Go get a drink, or take your family/friends/self out for dinner. You deserve it! You wrote a NOVEL(LA)!!!! Don't worry, I'll be here when you get back.

*****

Back? Fantastic! Now that you've had time to blow off some of the endorphins that had you rocketing to the moon it's time to get real. What you have on your hands is (almost definitely) not ready to go out. It needs a good revision or two (or 5) to whip it into that sort of shape.

Provided your dinner break earlier wasn't on the scale of days or weeks, you're likely going to need some distance to do it right. Not every writer does, but most of us need to get away from a story and come back to it as a bit of a stranger to be able to sort the gold from the muck. Go work on a different story, or write vignettes, or character studies. Whatever you do though:

KEEP WRITING!

I'll see you later, I have to go register GloNoWriMo.org and get some words written.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Matter of Queries and Representation

What a week and a half it's been!

I apologize in advance for any meandering, poor spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors you may find in this post. I don't sleep well on a normal day (what is a normal day anyway?). The past 10 days my abilities to ward off restful sleep have been exceptional. This is a superpower you do NOT want.

Before I get into my big news (and it's big, let me tell you, it's BIG), let me give you a bit of background.

I don't query randomly. Every single agent that I've ever queried is someone that I genuinely think would be a great fit for both my writing and, more importantly, me. That's of course all based on the limited information I can gather by Googling, reading interviews, stalking on Twitter, and chatting them up.

There are a LOT of fantastic agents out there, of all stripes (and spots, and paisley, and I suppose houndstooth...).

That said, everything has to click in both directions. I have enough rejections from those same agents citing "wonderful writing/world building/characters/other words describing stories" but they just didn't "make the connection" (or some variant thereof) to wallpaper my office and some surrounding surfaces.

They came fast and fairly consistently at first. I'd query, and then receive a rejection the next day or week.

I went back and rewrote my base query letter (I tweaked it a little for every agent). Responses went from generic forms to personalized responses (not all of them, but some). I even had a few requests for partial submissions.

Following that path I continue to tweak and tinker my query, all the while continuing to get further input on CROW'S BLOOD from my awesome Alpha/Beta Readers (including my wonderful wife, who put up with so MANY drafts) and Critique Partners (Colten,
Rachel, and Clare) and worked to make it better.

I entered CROW'S BLOOD in contests. You know the best part about contests? The community and support that comes out of them. They're a fixed point. Everyone entering is (in theory) at the same point of their writing process and/or career as you are. They know what you're going through, they're doing it too.

Renee Ahdieh chose to mentor me in Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars. With her helpful pokes and prods I polished CROW'S BLOOD even further. Trimming out a few scenes that were so necessary in my head (I'd done so much world building to support them!) that weren't actually needed in the book. She's also a master at spotting my Shatner Commas and teaching me to identify them as well (I've removed 3 from this paragraph alone).

Last week I got wind of an agent I really liked reading my full... MY FULL!!! Excitement warred with dread. What if he didn't like it? What if I didn't stick the landing? I wanted to scream (politely) "If you find anything drastic, I'll fix it!". But I didn't. Because I am a professional! (stop laughing!)

I waited, and slept poorly, and waited.

Thursday was a normal day (there's that "normal" word again). Things teetered on the edge of going oh-so-perfectly and/or blowing up spectacularly at my day job. I was packing up to go home when my phone sounded the "email in the writing mailbox" notification (it doesn't say that, but it is distinctive).

It was an Offer of Representation! He wanted to have "The Call".

I hyperventilated for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life. I had an offer! From an agent!!! I remember thinking "Ok I need to get my head on straight before I reply so I don't come off as a complete idiot..." I barely remember the drive home.

After dinner (I have no idea what, or if, I ate) I painstakingly crafted my reply. It took me 35 minutes to write and edit that email.

"I'd love to chat." (I'm paraphrasing, but that was about the level of awesome I was functioning at). We scheduled for the next morning.

The call was awesome. I acted like a complete noob while trying to be all professional and cool. The agent in question handled the situation like I was a sane and perfectly functioning adult.

He answered all of my questions and asked a few of his own (which I think/hope I answered).  I let him know I had some other Fulls out and needed a week to get those settled before I signed (because it's the right thing to do), which he was completely cool with. We ended the call, and I sat there, stunned, for a good 30 minutes before reaching out to the other agents with my full.

Here we are, a week after that call. I've badgered several agents with questions and clarifications, and I've communicated and settled everything with each and every agent that had my full, a partial, or even a query. I won't go into details on all of that here, they're not the point.

Today, I'm proud/pleased/excited to say:

I am now represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency!

P.S. Leon said to save some of my celebratory antics for when we sell CROW'S BLOOD.
To which I say:
Leon, this is nothing. When that happens, the world won't know what hit it!

I'm going to sleep now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The 777 Blog Hop

In what can only be described as cold-brewed wanton and impish revenge for calling him out in my ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Colten Hibbs has tagged me in the 777 Blog Hop.

Those who have been tagged have to open their current work-in-progress (WIP), and go to the 7th line of the 7th page and post the next 7 lines.

My current work in progress is a Sci-Fi Noir Detective story I'm affectionately giving the working title "Sci-Fi Noir Detective Story". It's on it's Zero-Draft.

If you're unfamiliar with that term Zero-Draft, it's the very first, very rough draft that's written at the beginning of any project. It'll be full of holes, notes, dead ends, incomplete arcs, crappy repetitive language, eye-bleedingly-bad punctuation and prose, and worst of all... stilted dialog!

After spinning my wheels on some of the characterization and motivation (which will all change by the end of the Zero-Draft), I'm about ~6,500 words ( ~26 pages) into actual writing, and about 1/10th of the way through my outline.

I'm a sparse writer, beginning with a skeletal framework and layering description on top of it, so my manuscripts tend to remain relatively spare through several revisions. Luckily, the 7 lines that this Blog Hop highlights aren't affected much.

Without further ado:

 The speaker, Kats wasn’t sure whether she was Cross or Cork, let out a long breath. “Out of the ordinary? That’s Incidental territory. Those bastards wouldn’t know ordinary if it landed on their dinner table. 
The Nature’s Path, or Incidentals as their detractors called them, were a decades old movement that denied the benefits of genetic enhancement and error correction. They’d swelled in numbers for the first twenty years or so, then levelled off at around four percent of the population. Very few Incidentals ever held jobs higher than bottom rung maintenance positions. 
Despite their relatively similar social status, Tankers like Kats were as far removed from the Nature’s Path as it was possible to be.
Anything in that passage is subject to change, in whole or in part. I may even remove it from my manuscript with fire and brimstone at any time of my choosing.

Monday, September 1, 2014

I Refuse to Aspire Any Longer

Time for an untimely blog post (because that's what I do lately when I'm in the throes of writing). This will hopefully be a short one (or not, depends on whether or not I get wind-baggy. The fact that this is the second parentheses in as many sentences does not bode well for that).

I've unceremoniously obliterated the word "Aspiring" from this blog's title. I've had enough. I refuse to "aspire" to be a writer any more. I've spent the better part of 4 years... that's right...
FOUR... 
YEARS...
..."aspiring" to be a writer.

I've written a longer-than-novel length work. Re-written it from the ground up with a new main character and a tighter plot. Revised that 6 times and pared it down. Polished it. Had it Critiqued. Re-polished it. Queried it. Received a mountain of rejections. Received more than a few requests for more pages. I've even sent out a few full manuscripts when they were requested. I've received rejections on those.

More than that, I've written other stuff. I have outlines and "voice/character" vignettes written for four more books. I've written 45,000 words on one of them and 16,000 words on another. All while "aspiring" to be a writer.


Well, I quit. I'm done. No more. This "aspiring writer" thing is for chumps and I'm not going to play that game. I'm taking that ball and going home.

 I have better things to do with my time.


Like being an actual writer. Lets get down to the point of the matter. I haven't been "aspiring" to be a writer since that first time I wrote "the end" (all in lower case, just like that) at the end of a ~140,000 word manuscript. It didn't have to be that long (it's now ~91,000 words), but it was. And I made it start to finish (not necessarily in that order).

So it's time I got honest, not just with you, fair readers (few as you are, you're important enough to be honest with), but also to myself. I'm not "aspiring" to be a writer any more. That's not a label I can hide behind whenever someone doesn't take my writing seriously. Playing off it as some sort of self-effacing joke.

It doesn't matter that I'm not published (yet!). It doesn't matter that I don't have an agent (yet!).

I take my writing very seriously. This is not a hobby for me (and it's fine if it is for other people). I will continue down this path, working to improve my craft.

I am a writer. I don't have time to aspire.

- Alex

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Circus Won't Have Me (I Can't Juggle).

Ahem! So it's July. My last entry was in May. Glad to see I'm keeping on top of this blog thing!
The good news about the delay between posts is that I've been writing, and I've learned something.

There are writers out there who can write multiple stories at the same time, and there are those who can't. At present I firmly reside in the realm of Nope! Can't do it! I've tried and it's been an ongoing disaster that I've only recently started to dig myself out of.

Now, when I say "write" I do mean exactly that. I have no trouble writing one story and revising or outlining another. But if I try to actually write two stories at once? Catastrophe! Disaster! Calamity! Cataclysm! Armageddon! You get the picture. We're talking problems of the Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and Steve Buscemi together on a rocket ship proportions.

I've been writing an Alt History/Fantasy since October of last year. I continued working on it, albeit at a slower pace, through Pitch Madness, without a hitch. I discussed where things started to get out of hand in April. Since that time I've actually been writing fairly consistently at least 300 words a day, 5 days a week. Not a great pace, but the habit is back, and that's great.

I've had a few incredible story ideas sneak up on me, as they tend to, while I got my groove back. That's great right? Awesome story ideas that just keep coming? What's there to complain about? Well, Writer's Block has never been a worry for me. I doubt I'll ever have a shortage of ideas. I worry more about a shortage of time. If they keep coming I may never have enough time to write them all in the manner they deserve.

So, those incredible story ideas. Yeah. I couldn't wait. I dug into one pretty heavily (a sci-fi, a genre I love and have wanted to sink my teeth into), and it consumed me. I wrote a barebones outline, then dug into a few test scenes and character spots. I really love the feel and scope of it. I was really rolling with it, at least until I hit the first plot hole in the outline.

I can handle that just fine normally by digging in and getting my hands dirty in the muck. But I had another story sitting around 40K words in that I could just jump over to and work on right? Lots of writers do it! It couldn't be that hard... What's the worst that could happen?

Well. I can tell you what the worst that could happen was: I'd lost the feel of the Alt History/Fantasy and couldn't keep the headspace required for the sci-fi and a new cast of vastly different characters. I hit a hard wall and lost momentum on TWO stories.

 It was a long slow road to sort myself out. I went back to the beginning of the story and worked through what I'd written from the start. Performing a mini-revision on a third of a story isn't something I ever wanted to do (especially considering the mental anguish dwelling on my early drafts causes me), but it was exactly what I needed.

So, for the time being I'm writing exclusively on the Alt History/Fantasy and only jotting outline notes on anything else.

I know writing multiple stories at once is certainly possible, and I might be able to do it someday. I'm nowhere near there yet.

Lesson learned.

- Alex

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Writer's Voice 2014

The inimitable Brenda Drake is running another contest called The Writer's VoiceI entered the Rafflecopter. I sang to it. And I got selected.

Without further ado, here's my entry:

Query

Dear Writer's Voice,

Ren is the best thief in the walled realm of Lenmar. Which is no small feat when everyone from the queen to the lowliest peasant has some level of magical ability—everyone except Ren, that is.

Instead, Ren has the rare ability to identify the kind of magic wielded by others. Given his chosen profession, this should be a boon . . . especially since everything worth stealing is protected by spells and bindings. 

Yet, he’d trade it in a heartbeat to be normal.

When one of the realm’s most powerful noblewomen is murdered in ritualistic fashion and no trace of the killer’s magic can be found, Ren becomes the prime suspect. Hunted by magic-eating Inquisitors and the Captain of the Royal Guard, Ren’s life becomes one of flight and fear in a battle to prove his innocence.

If Ren wants to clear his name and protect the people he cares about, he’ll have to catch the real killer. To do that, he needs to pull one more high-stakes heist—
And steal the proof he needs from the very people who want to catch him.

Complete at 90,000 words, CROW’S BLOOD is a Fantasy Thriller in the vein of Robin Hood. With dementors. It is a standalone with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,

Alex Pierce


First 250 Words

A sharp crack echoed in the silence. Ren winced. Without special tools or a talent for Fire to heat the lead around the pane, breaking in this way couldn't be done quietly. He had neither, and that much heat might set off the binding sigils and raise the alarm. Besides, it seemed louder than it actually was. He'd tested.

He lifted the segment of colored glass and settled it to one side, leaving a gap a scene depicting the Goddess and her four Scions holding the Adversary at bay. No hordes of guards or swarms of librarians boiled out of the hole. So far, so good.

A shaft of the Other's pale moonlight lit a small circle on the intricate mosaic near the center of the floor far below. 

To Ren, it said something about the Praetorian Order. They lavishly decorated their inner sanctum—where select few ever went—while leaving their public libraries grim and barren. Stealing from them was less than they deserved.

He had a job to do. 

The silken black rope uncoiled into the opening with a whisper. Ren swept his satchel so it hung behind him and sprung into the gap, dropping along the rope's length. 

He ignored the butterflies in his stomach and their vain attempt at flapping to slow his descent. Catching the rope at the last possible moment, Ren guided it with his hands and wrapped his legs around it, halting his free-fall.

Righting himself, Ren touched down into the silence with a flourish and a bow.