Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Writing Pains, Camp NaNo, & the WIP That WILL End! #AmWriting

Writing Pains and the WIP that WILL end!

Occasionally around here I talk about my writing projects. Not lately. A lot of people have noticed. In fact, the question I'm asked most frequently by EVERYONE I know is: "Finished that book yet?"

I'll let you in on a secret. This is my least favorite question. Here's why:
  • The project I thought would take a year has so far taken over two, and I had an outline and 100k words to start with from previous attempts.
  • I've fully revised this monster four separtate times in the outlining stage.
  • With over 250k words, I still don't have anything close to a complete draft of it from any stage.
Writing for the past few years has been very, very frustrating for me. I might blame it in turn on the fact that I have a job now, that I'm trying to do too much, that I don't know what I'm doing. But the truth is, I don't really know WHY it's frustrating me so much. It seems every corner I turn, every new plot detail I discover, sends me into another wall that takes me another day's or week's worth of work to climb over.

I've been writing since I was 9, and seriously writing since 12. I never used to get this frustrated with writing; it used to be the easiest thing in the world for me, to write a story on the fly, to write without really knowing where I was going and see the plot threads suddenly line up. So this whole frustrating/not going anywhere/CAN'T WRITE thing? I've never experienced this before and I'm the first to admit I haven't handled it very well.

So when people ask "Have you finished that book yet?" it sort of brings all this boiling to the surface, poking at me, reminding me writing used to be soooo easy for me, and yeah, Amanda, why haven't you finished that book yet?
I'm coming to realize there's not necessarily anything wrong with me. Turns out, this has all been growing pains, I just didn't recognize it because, with over 15 years of writing experience under my belt, I kind of figured my growing pains were over. Silly me.

It started a few years ago, with a middle grade series I've been working on since 2007. When I finally revised, edited, and perfected the first book, I realized it still wasn't finished because I really hadn't outlined anything about the series and that was something I'd have to do in order to foreshadow things that needed foreshadowing. Going into plotting and outlining that far in advance was really hard for me. For a while, it went okay; I thought I was making decent headway. I thought I had the hang of it. Then everything just started falling apart. I kept getting lost in the story, frustrated, and upset. Writing wasn't the joy that it was any more.
This is when I made, what I think, was my first big blunder. Instead of working through it, I turned to a different project. I decided to try a standalone for my first project, hoping it would be easier to write. Unfortunately, I soon started running into exactly the same problems with the standalone, only on a much more intense scale, because it involves so much more foreshadowing and multiple timelines in a shorter span of time. It probably didn't help that the particular WIP I chose, called Glass & Cinders, became increasingly convoluted with my plotting attempts. Beautiful and magnificent, but convoluted.

My second big blunder -which at the time I thought would be my saving grace- was switching from a Word processor to Scrivener. Since disorganization seemed to be a leading cause of my writing woes, I thought the freedom provided by Scrivener's setup would be a great tool. I loaded in my first two, unfinished attempts to write Glass & Cinders into a project file, pulled up the plot lines, and started working on my next attempt. Unfortunately, it turns out Scrivener gave me too much freedom and now it's a junk pile of scenes I need, scenes I don't need, and the beginnings of three separate attempts at a story line. Trust me, it's not pretty.
It's a terrible thing, that every time you open your WIP file, it's an oppressive weight on your soul, and every time you wonder if you should step away from this project and work on something else for a while. A few weeks ago, I got fed up. I didn't want to walk away from this. Despite all its frustrations, I still love this story; we're just not on the best of terms. And I know from experience, turning to a different project won't fix anything. There's an underlying problem here with my plotting abilities that is keeping me from finishing projects and that's not going to be fixed until I finish something.

So I did the only thing that's ever worked for me. I started printing out a hard copy. Sifting through the jumble of scenes I knew I wanted, I just started printing them all and rearranging them as needed into a folder. And you know what? It was easy. I couldn't believe how easy it was. In just over four days, I was able to compile almost the entire back story of my main character into some semblance of order, something I spent weeks, maybe even months, trying to do on the computer. I've been breaking my back writing out a load of backstory for flashbacks that I have hated writing with the core of my being and I realize now it's because I'd already written this content TWICE with my previous attempts. No wonder I was sick of it!

This was the Opening of the Floodgates moment. Looking through everything in my project folder, I realized just how much I have actually done with this story and that led me to some pretty awesome and encouraging conclusions:
  • The project I thought would be 'write another 100k and done!' actually had a fairly boring story. Instead of 'finishing' an 'easy' project, like I thought, I wound up creating an entirely new project from its ashes, with the addition of multiple POVs and several completely new characters, story lines, research, layers, and aspects. It's also probably the most magnificent thing I've ever written.
  • I might not have a finished draft, but I've recognized and resolved major issues through the outlining stage that will save me massive rewrites/lots of time.
  • I've also built an entire new world from scratch with a complicated magic system and back story that, frankly, blows my mind, so I hope it will eventually blow readers' minds, too
  • Over the past two years, even though I don't have anything reader-worthy yet, I think it's safe to say I've done the equivalent of three drafts.
  • For the past two years, I have begun considering myself a failure as a writer because I have trained myself to think of success in draft numbers and word count. Now I know that writing is so much more than just that. The key is to remind myself every once in a while.

Camp Nano

This year, I'm not falling into that 'push the project to get the word count' trap. Don't get me wrong, that has worked wonders on past projects. NaNoWriMo is solely responsible for imbuing in me the discipline and motivation to write at least 2k a day for years. Only recently have I fallen off that wagon, but this isn't the time to get back on.

I'm not shooting for a big word count. That's not my goal this year. I'm not that interested in having to separate the chaff from the wheat when Camp ends, because I've already done that enough with this project.

My goal is to make good progress on what I've already got. I've set myself a relatively small word count of 15k. Since my schedule currently allows me to write only every other day, I might be hard pressed to get even this without losing losing focus, but I crave a challenge. I want Camp to push me harder, but I also want it to push me effectively.
Now that I've rediscovered the backstory I wrote years ago, I don't have to write the stuff that's been weighing me down. There's only some outdated content I need to scratch out and a few key scenes for added plot and development I need to add to this back story to straighten everything out and get myself back on point before the big stuff begins.

And by big stuff, I mean the writing of the official first draft.

By big stuff, I mean the beginning of the end of this beautiful, frustrating behemoth.

I'm not predicting I'll have that draft finished during Camp NaNo. I'm not even predicting how much I'll finish this month. I have no idea when this draft will reach completion. I have become something of my own worst enemy, setting myself up with lofty goals, only to continually fail of late to reach them.

I'm going to stop pressuring myself to finish.

What I promise myself right now is that I will write and I will continue to write past any new hurdles and struggles that come my way. I will make headway, every day, every week. I'm going to take this one step at a time, until I'm back on my feet again.
And the next time someone asks "Have you finished that project yet?" I'll say, "I'm making progress. When it's finished, you'll know, because I'll be shouting it from the rooftops."

So do me a favor? Cross your fingers, wish me luck, and maybe randomly tell me "I BELIEVE IN YOU. YOU CAN DO IT." at intervals throughout April. ^_^

Are you participating in Camp NaNo?
Any writing pains experiences you want to share?


  1. Oh my beautiful writing beast sista!

    This is why I love ti visit your blog!

    I can related to EVERY SINGLE WORD here! :)

    The idea of my book came to me when I was booooored to death because I had been out on bed rest for two months with daughter WHO IS EIGHT now! I didn’t start writing until three years later so it has been a WIP for FIVE years OMG! And yes, I started writing when I was six so everyone asks why it has taken me SOOO LOOOONG. I even posted about it on my blog. “Why is my WIP always a WIP?” which by the way I just visited now because I couldn’t remember the title and saw your comment. THANKS! Sorry I had not seen it until now!


    Writing is damn hard people, get off our backs! If you don’t want to get splash with boiling rage  [I don’t handle my frustrations well either ;-) ]

    Yes! Yes! Yes! To everything here! When you are writing every corner you turn, every new plot detail you discover, sends you into another wall!

    No one could have said it better Amanda!

    Plotting and outlining far in advance is really hard for me too! To me is like giving birth! It does kill the joy of writing.

    For the past years I also considered myself a big failure! Until I realized that my lack of plotting and organization were to blame too! so I decide to plot seriously but I had to put my learning of Scrivener aside for a while because of Camp NaNo it was more complex than I though. I came up with my own set of excel spreadsheets and word structure that is working just fine for now. My word file also felt oppressive before I added the outline, now not so much. And my WIP now feels like an entirely new thing as well and it is much easier to write my 1K daily goal now.

    I’m glad to hear you also found what worked for you and the floodgates had been opened!

    Yay for that “I will make headway, every day, every week.” Resolution! Can’t wait to hear more about that new world you created and its complex magic system! 

    I will be sharing more of my experience on my next Sunday post!

    1. I've actually been sitting on this post for a while, because I was afraid it sounded whiny, but now I'm glad I posted it. I forget how often other writers relate to all my frustrations! I mean, it sucks we're all in the same boat, but at least now we've got fellow writing beasts to commiserate with!

      Looking forward to your next Sunday post! Until then, here's to daily word goals and never giving up! *clink glasses*

  2. Sounds like you're defiantly on the right track and wishing you much luck!!!

  3. Awesome post, Ms. Amanda. And those gifs are perfect! (especially the one with Kermit the frog)

    P.S. sorry for asking the "bad question" in the past.

    1. Thanks! (I was pretty happy with the gifs I found, too.)
      Hey, no problem! Definitely not meant to be a guilt post. Just a me thinking-out-loud-to-figure-it-all-out post. ;)