Tag Archives: nanowrimo

Preview – Not to the Swift

A year and a half ago, I completed my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge–I wrote a novel with over 50,000 words in the month of November. I revised and published the book last year, but I never really promoted it on my blog.

I’m a huge fan of caveat emptor – Let the Buyer Beware. No one wants to drop money on something with no idea what they’re actually going to get.

So over the next two weeks, I’m going to schedule posts for preview chapters of the book. But you can always go on my author page at Amazon and find all my books available there in both paperback and Kindle editions.

What’s this book about?

When I first committed to writing a novel, I planned on doing one of my fantasy projects. But around that time, the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the resulting explosion of racial tensions dominated the news. What I saw online frustrated me, because I knew that there was more to the story than any one side would likely present. Such complex issues aren’t answered by sound bites and 140-character policy statements, and anyone who thinks they are doesn’t deserve my attention or consideration. (Good advice for the current election, perhaps.)

I read up on aspects of culture I had no exposure to. I sought out perspectives that were unlikely to appear on my Facebook feed or regular web browsing. And at this time, I got sucked into some great books by Malcolm Gladwell that address human nature from an analytical angle using racial tensions and the civil rights movement as primary examples.

I was amazed, moved, challenged, and inspired. And I knew that though I arguably have no right to say anything on the subject of racial tensions, I had to write this book.

The back cover synopsis is as follows:

When a white policeman shoots an unarmed black teenager, the faith and strength of two families are shaken and a Midwest inner city community struggles with all-too-familiar tensions. The city’s lead investigator strives to control escalating protests, a middle school teacher tries to calm her frightened students, and a pastor sees a rare opportunity for his community’s voice to be heard. The victim’s friend feels the prison walls of gang and drug-related violence closing in, and the officer suffers under a burden of guilt and shame. But the heaviest decision falls on average-Joe hospital technician George Washington, who finds himself–gun in hand–face to face with the man who killed his son.

 

Most Words in a Week

I started logging my daily word count this year in an effort to 1) see how much I am or am not accomplishing, and 2) push myself to do more. 

Camp NaNoWriMo kicked off in April and I thought I had a good guesstimate of how many words I could knock out on my April project. And last week I logged the most words of any week this year. 

  
7,442? That’s my best effort this year?!

I got a few word sprints in with my virtual cabin-mates. I spent a couple hours at Starbucks on Sunday, cranking out words. And Thursday I took it easy to spend some time off with my kids and to get over a headache.

Still, it feels like a weaksauce effort. I can only guess how much time I spend browsing Facebook (then closing it, then reopening it a minute later as if everyone may have just updated). I don’t know how many YouTube videos I watched of Gordon Ramsay swearing at people (it’s a terrible but addictive vice). And when I “need to veg” for a bit, I make time to level up yet another toon on World of Warcraft. 

I’m sure I did better in November during the actual NaNoWriMo event, or December when I finished up my book revisions and got Diffraction onto Amazon and Kindle Unlimited (hint hint).

But I’m nowhere near the goal I set for the month on my Camp NaNo novel… not even if I count all the words written on other projects.

I know these things take time and effort. And I’m happy that I have 7400+ words more than I had the week before.

But good Lord this is not an easy discipline to master. 

Maybe I should take up cooking. Gordon has some great “how to” videos…

This Year's Projects

So I discovered that roughly two months of NaNoWriMo pace at my “second job” / “jobby” is too much for me. 

 

Yay! But also “OW! Thank God it’s over!”
 
I wasn’t about to miss out on November. I had a project bouncing around in my head since last November, waiting for its moment in the spotlight. The idea of psychic reconnaissance 30 years in the future proved to be a lot of fun for me to write. So 50,000 words later, Perdition is probably 80% complete. (I had some scenes I toyed with beforehand, and I have some gaps to fill in.)

On December 1st, I transitioned to my new goal–the “Christmas present to me” of completing and self-publishing my fantasy novel I’d written and revised off-and-on since 2008. Diffraction made it out the door laaaate in the evening of the Winter Solstice here on Okinawa, an appropriate timing for the struggles of the main character as an outcast and religious rebel in her community. Several friends bought copies, and a couple people read some of it on Kindle Unlimited. Then I ran a NYE giveaway and got 70 Kindle copies out there into the ether. Plus I have a shipment of paperback copies coming my way, with a few committed purchasers waiting. 

It’s no break-out success but I’m happy with it. 

What’s on tap this year? 

1. Finishing Perdition. It would be silly to leave it on the back burner when it’s this close to done.

2. Critique my wife’s NaNoWriMo draft. Jem surprised me, our writers’ group, and pretty much everyone who knew how her progress had been going. A day into the event, an idea sparked her creativity and she started brainstorming. But with about 4 days left in November, she had maybe 10K words. So instead of giving up, she declared “I am doing this.” And she knocked out the 50K before the deadline. She did awesome, and as she’s my biggest supporter and fan, I want to be the same for her. 

3. I hope to return some attention to short stories and flash fiction like Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle. I also want to get back to my Echoes project on WattPad, which has been ignored for the past two months. 

4. Most of all, my goal is to return to the Bordermarches and pen another book in my fantasy world (I have six or seven planned, in different time periods). I hope to put Diffusion into public sales by Dec 21st. In fact, I took time last night to touch up one of the first scenes.

I figure if I could manage 50K in a month while forsaking almost everything else, then manage touching up and publishing a 140K word fantasy novel in the run-up to Christmas, then a goal of 20K words a month is reasonable. If I do really well, I’ll finish the first draft of Diffusion in time for Markday (Midsummer), which would be a lovely treat.

Hopefully, I’ll get to spend more time with all of you lovelies on WordPress along the way. I always enjoy reading about your journeys, wherever they may lead. Thanks for joining me on mine. 

Christmas Present to Me

So NaNoWriMo is over, and I have another 50,000 words down on my future military / psychic reconnaissance novel. A few middle and ending scenes need to be filled in, and it’s all a disordered jumble in one document at the moment. But I’m happy to have completed my 2nd NaNoWriMo event.

  
I learned (or re-learned) a few things along the way, which I’ll post over the next month. 

But more importantly (to me), this frees me up to focus on revising and publishing my fantasy novel that I finished in late Spring. Thanks to several very helpful and thoughtful first readers, I have some solid suggestions on fixes and changes.

I’m going to start posting the first few chapters as a lead-up to the book being publically available online–which should happen by Christmas. It’s my present to me… and maybe to some of my friends who are already after me to work on book 2. 

If all goes well, this year’s group of Okinawa NaNo participants will also form a monthly writers’ group–something we wanted to do last year but couldn’t due to various military commitments and obligations. I’m ecstatic, since I maintain that’s the absolute best way to grow as a writer. I enjoy it so much I wrote a book about it, called Elements of Critique

And sadly, when I look at the news out of my hometown Chicago and other places around the States, I see very little has changed from the stories dominating the headlines last year. When I completed my first NaNoWriMo, racial tensions and community relations occupied my mind. More importantly, I could not ignore the wide gulf of animosity I saw on social media between people holding opposing viewpoints. And I wondered if anyone really considered the hurting families and broken lives in the aftermath of Ferguson and other flare-ups of racial tension. My book, Not to the Swift, is my effort to understand and empathize as a fellow father, husband, human. Seeing or considering what others go through reminded me how much I have to be thankful for. 

I hope Thanksgiving and the oncoming holiday season find you well and give you the chance to count your blessings. Maybe that can be another Christmas present we give ourselves. Gratitude and contentment seem truly counter-cultural in the West, so this is our chance to be ironic hipsters and go against the flow.

Grateful always for your time and attention,

Dave

NaNo Swag!

I’ve got mail!

 

Supplies are limited!
 
An exciting batch of “swag” arrived from the organizers of National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo… a stack of postcard-sized explanations of the event, and a small batch of stickers to give to participants. 

 

This year’s T-shirt design.
 
If you didn’t know, NaNoWriMo is an annual writing challenge where participants attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th.

It was the driving force behind me finishing my first book, Not to the Swift.

I’m a Municipal Liaison this year, which means I get to help organize events and tell people what’s going on so that interested writers can get together to share in the joy and misery. 

Also I got a sweet T-shirt.

 

I always thought NaNoWriMo sounded like the old Batman theme…
 
It’s one month away, and it costs nothing but effort and commitment. Whether you outline and plan every detail in a story, or loose wild characters into a fun setting to see what happens, it’s an exciting time to hone your craft.

And especially if you think, “Well, I can’t do that,” know that plenty of us said the same thing for years. Then we sat down and did it. So you can too, and we’d love to cheer you on along the way. 

There’s plenty of time to sign up.

Your imagination is waiting.

You Didn't Write That

I got an email from social writing platform WattPad celebrating my accomplishment in their recent 1-month writing challenge. “Congratulations! You wrote it!”

They ran an event for the month of August for their 2015 Wattys (their internal awards), using the slogan and hashtag #JustWriteIt. The goal? Write a story within a 30 day period, with at least 10,000 words. 
  
“Just ten thousand,” I thought, “that’s it? NaNoWriMo was fifty thousand words, and I completed that. So ten thousand is nothing. Easy-peasy.”

A little further inspection of the email made it clear no one had actually checked whether I really did write that much.

Which is good… 

…because I didn’t.

It was classic “the tortoise and the hare” stuff that brought me down. “So few words! I have all kinds of time. I can take a little break over here… the tortoise will never reach the finish line.” Days pass, then weeks. Then I see my word count isn’t where it needs to be, but busy schedules and competing priorities get in the way. 

“I have maybe one day left… if I sit down tomorrow and pound out the last 3,000 words, I could finish the 10K.”

But it’s a 30 day challenge, not a one month challenge… so what started on August 15th ended September 13th, not the 15th. 

The email arrived at 11:55 PM. The celebratory tone poured a little salt in the wound on my pride, and reminded me of the simple truth about writing or any other hobby we claim to take seriously. 

Writers write. 

They don’t just talk about writing, or talk about what they wrote in the past. They don’t just read about how to write better, or collect supplies and gimmicks and tips on cool, inspirational writing locations.

Being a writer involves intentional effort, effort that I failed to make.

So, what now? 

Well, I’m enjoying the Echoes story I started, and plan to continue it. It’s a nice side project if I want something I can break into smaller chunks (compared to working on a novel). 

And NaNoWriMo prep is in full-swing, with a little over a month before the kick-off. I’m going to be a Municipal Liaison this year, so I’m going to be encouraging others to accomplish the challenge while trying to complete my own. 

I managed to finish last time, and sure enough, it was all because of disciplined effort instead of any supposed skill. 

It took writing during almost every free moment. Beating a 1666 word goal each day before letting my hobbies distract me. Putting aside things I really enjoyed to focus on what I said I wanted. Avoiding the inclination to take a breather if some hard work over the weekend got me a bit ahead of the daily goal.  

For example, my wife started playing the new expansion to World of Warcraft when it came out in the middle of the month. I listened with eagerness to her descriptions of all the added features… then I kept typing the next scene in my book.

I finished the 50K a couple days early and finished the first draft of the book just before the end of the month. 

People balk at the idea of writing a book in a month. They hear the number of words and wonder if it’s possible. It’s both challenging and easy, in a way. You just sit down and write. Then keep writing. Then write some more. Then do it again the next day. 

We make time for what’s truly important to us. We make excuses when it doesn’t matter enough. And when we know something is easy, we may fail to put in the effort.

It’s harsh, but it’s more true than the email celebrating my success. 

After writing about hopes and dreams and possibilities, it strikes me that I don’t want a lingering memory of “what if I had?” 

I want to look back with pride and joy, saying, “That’s what I did.”

Woulda Coulda Shoulda

It seems inevitable. You work on something for days, weeks, even months. You reach the point where you’re satisfied that this is a good, finished product. You click “Publish” or “Submit” or some equivalent…

…and immediately you notice mistakes. 

 

“Oh no… how did I miss that?!”
 
I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year and completed a manuscript of a novel inspired by current events. Then I deployed to the Mid-East for almost four months, with grand intentions of re-reading and revising the draft (as well as finishing my fantasy novel, and starting a futuristic military novel). 

You know what they say about the best laid plans, and this was no exception.

In late May or early June I got the email from the nanowrimo account warning me that I would lose my reward of two free hard copies from CreateSpace if I didn’t use them by the end of June. I refocused my attention on the manuscript and got it ready for public release. I sent the materials into CreateSpace and started working on reformatting the document for the Kindle edition. 

Then I found the issues I wish I noticed sooner: two supporting characters whose plot threads could have been expanded and better resolved. Later feedback revealed an erroneous technical detail about hospital equipment that a little more research might have resolved. And while I got good in-person reviews from a couple first readers, I also learned they had a hard time connecting to the main characters–feeling what the characters felt, sensing their reactions to the various crises in the plot. 

So while I chalk this up as a win, I also have to recognize where I could have done better. 

1. Critique is essential. Bad on me for skipping it, since I wrote a book about this. Other readers see the weaknesses and mistakes I cannot. If I wasn’t going to pay the money for a professional editor, I should have taken the time to solicit some alpha readers’ input. 

2. There are five senses. It’s basic advice but a great reminder. A lot of the description in the novel provided sufficient detail for sight and somewhat for sound. But there are missed moments where taste, touch, and smell could have shined.

3. Plot like a roller coaster. Let the drama rise and fall to create pauses and build tension between rushes of excitement. Perhaps in the interest of trying to create good hooks, my characters go through a never-ending rush of drama, from one crisis to the next. I’m not saying everything should be happy go-lucky, but I could’ve included a few beats of humor or serenity in the midst of the chaos.

4. Good writing outshines wordplay trickery. I went with two characters with the same name as a way of driving home the point that we’re all pretty similar. In retrospect, the confusion that causes for readers doesn’t seem to be worth any supposed payoff. (Critique would have caught this… to her credit, my wife told me this was a problem and I foolishly went along with my grand plan instead.)

5. There’s no rush if you’re self-publishing. I let myself be fooled by the “deadline” of the nanowrimo reward. But that reward only saved me maybe five dollars. On the one hand, it spurred me to finish the project and get it out into the open, which I might not have otherwise done. On the other hand, it created a false sense of urgency that blinded me to some of the areas where I could have written a much better novel. Better to get it right than to regret missed opportunities. Like many things in life, victory in the battle to become a writer goes sometimes not to the swift

Lessons (hopefully) learned. I will do better next time. 

Finding Myself on Amazon

So I searched for my name on Amazon and to my delight, I see my two books available.

Elements of Critique (Kindle) is a 30-chapter guide to performing constructive critique and giving thorough feedback for writers and critique groups. It’s a revised compilation of the A-Z blog series I did last year. The topics cover a range of aspects to look for when reviewing a piece of writing, whether someone else’s or your own. Three chapters at the end lay out how to set up a potential critique group if a healthy one isn’t already available to you. A paperback version is available here.
Not to the Swift (Kindle) is my NaNoWriMo novel, born from my response to the dominant news story at the time: the tensions and protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the death of Michael Brown. I spent a couple months researching and reading about experiences outside my norm, because I couldn’t get the story I envisioned out of my head. A paperback version is available here.
 

Naturally there are several David Williamsons, so if you’re looking for ME, use the links in the text above.
 
Seeing these online is a surreal experience. I don’t know why it should feel strange; publishing–even self-publishing–is usually the point. Otherwise, why am I wasting my time? 

Yet it feels awkward to have my “babies” available to purchase at a click.

Needless to say, this is a small step by a fledgling writer. Anyone can self-publish anything and get it on Amazon, so I understand how much this does and doesn’t really mean.

But to me, it’s the end result of several months of effort and a milestone towards what I hope to accomplish in the future. With my fantasy novel in the hands of alpha readers, a couple Chicken Soup for the Soul of Military Families submissions in the works, and a sci-fi project currently a few chapters into the first draft, I’m excited about what lies ahead.

Thanks for encouraging and supporting me on the journey, wherever it leads. 

Back Where I Started

On a deployment six and a half years ago, to a “secret” undisclosed location in Southwest Asia (that everyone knew all about), I picked up some D&D rulebooks to keep boredom at bay.

I read through the rules of the game, and noted some of the authors’ suggestions for ideas players could use for their characters–or Dungeon Masters could use to write stories those characters could star in, like a Choose Your Own Adventure.

And it struck me that no matter how well I planned a story, real live people would make decisions I didn’t anticipate, causing the Adventure to go in any of several exciting ways–but not the way I first envisioned.

So why not write the story the way I wanted to?

I sat under the Memorial Plaza’s massive double-tent (affectionately referred to by most as “the bra” for how it appears from a distance) or at the Coffee Beanery shop across the street, and I began to write.

I’ve written things before, of course. But during my two trips here several years ago, I decided to take writing seriously. Within a couple years of studying novel writing and elements of style, over the course of six plus months deployed (and time writing at home), I’d typed out over 100,000 words of a massive fantasy tale.

But the material borrowed too heavily from genre tropes. It sounded too much like World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons in novel form. It had no unique element to separate it from the rest of the books on any fantasy shelf, along with too many elements I discovered had been done before and better than anything I’d write.

I decided to shelve the thing until I could devise some fixes to all the problems I saw. And I worked on other projects until I found the solutions to those glaring issues.

I regret that decision. It took me six and a half years to develop the discipline to finish a full novel manuscript–not of this fantasy project, just a novel–because I’d learned to give up part way whenever I felt a project had too many flaws.

So here I sit, where I began years ago, halfway through the almost-completely-rewritten manuscript of my long-planned fantasy novel. A lot has changed. Almost everything about the world, the magic systems, and the long-term plan for the story is different than when I first envisioned it. Also, I’m allowed to sit here in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt instead of wearing Air Force PT gear.

IMG_0941.JPG

Most important, I’ve proven to myself through NaNoWriMo that I can finish what I start, flawed or not.

So this time, I will have a completed draft before I depart for home. I may find my way out here again in the next few years, but I don’t want this novel to come with me for a fourth trip.

Winner Winner

Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

I’m happy to declare that I’ve validated the rough draft of my NaNoWriMo novel, “Not to the Swift,” and have won the event.

More importantly, I’ve actually completed a start-to-finish draft of a novel.

Up to this point, I’ve had outlines and chapters and scenes from multiple works-in-perpetual-progress, but never a finished draft. So the milestone is particularly exciting to me.

I could have uploaded the 50,000+ words my Friday evening, but the goal for me has been to actually get to a point where I could write two important words: The End.

It’s imperfect, no doubt dreadful in some places. There are scenes missing and plot problems I already realize I need to fix.

But for now I will enjoy the sense of victory.

Because if I can finish this one–about an unfamiliar topic in an unfamiliar genre–then I have no excuses for not knocking out the projects I’m really excited about.

No more excuses.