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NaNoWriMo: Save all the things!

This past November, I took a giant leap and tried out NaNoWriMo. I didn’t expect to complete it. I mean, I spent ten years to get a 128,000 word first draft out of my brain. Ten. Years. Attempting to write 50,000 in thirty days sounded like insanity. And yet, hundreds of thousands of people across the globe do this every year. What was the harm in trying? At least I’d be writing, and any amount of writing would be better than the zero that I was doing at the time.

Spoiler alert: I wrote 50k words and “won” NaNoWriMo. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the process (okay, maybe not at first) and took a lot more away from it than I thought I would.

NaNo forced me to change my writing process, for the better. Previously, I would spend an hour or more making sure the wording was right in a particular paragraph or section. I would stare aimlessly at a blank page, stressed out on making that first sentence not sound like garbage. This hasn’t been conducive for a while. So instead, I started pre-writing the bare bones of whatever section I wanted to work on. Then I typed it up, adding description and detail. The results? Two to three pages of longhand got me between 600 and 1000 words a pop once I embellished. Once those were typed, a lot of times I just kept rolling. Whenever I got stuck, I’d return to the notebook and write out another couple pages.

The NaNoWriMo website has a built in word count adjuster and graph to show you are each day. A bunch of people also make word count calendars and excel sheets in case you want more personalized tracking. I found one such calendar online, and it really helped motivate me to make the daily goal.

NaNo Count

This is my finished calendar at the end of NaNoWriMo. So many boxes!

There’s just something about filling in little boxes that is, sigh, so satisfying.

I also learned how important it is to SAVE EVERYTHING, especially when working with Scrivener. You see that last week of November on the calendar there? Those three days of 0 words? Those are the result of my desktop keeling over. The computer blue-screened about half an hour after I finished writing on the 23rd. It wouldn’t restart, so I let it rest the night. Monday evening I tried turning it on again, no dice. Husband attempted booting it through BIOS, no dice.

You might be asking yourself, “Chesley, why weren’t you saving to a flash drive? Or to a cloud drive? Or both?” I don’t have any reason for not saving to a flash drive, other than I stood naively under the, “It can’t possibly happen to me!” umbrella. I did, however, save it to Dropbox. Except when I tried to pull the backups, Dropbox hadn’t correctly synced with the computer somehow. All I had was the skeleton of my Scrivener project. No text files whatsoever. So just a fair warning, if you are saving to Dropbox or Google Drive or whatever other cloud service, make SURE the Files -> Docs folder actually has an obscenely long list of .txt and .rtf files.

I got stupendously lucky.  We were able to access the hard drive with a USB cable from Amazon, making it act like an external drive. We had to search for another hour to find the files – hidden – in the My Documents folder. I cried a little. Those (roughly) 33k – 35k words meant a lot to me.


Another funny thing happened by the end of NaNoWriMo – I was (and still am) excited about the writing that came out of it.

Your first instinct is to think you’d hate the resulting tangle of words, because you’re (ideally) writing so fast that you ignore spelling mistakes and punctuation errors, and characters going off on tangential dialogue that makes no sense to the rest of the story.  When you let go of form and let your fingers fly, though, beautiful things can happen. You write so fast that your brain starts throwing out ideas like beads at Mardi Gras. Inevitably, some of the ideas will be bad, but there will be some gold nuggets in there, too.

Even though my MC needs a ton of work, and I have a number of consistency/world issues to iron out, I like the partial first draft. Little foreshadowing details and hints of future plot threads emerged out of nowhere, but fit so well with the story as a whole. It’s kind of awesome to let your writer-self off the leash, step back, and watch the cool things that come out of your psyche.

To top it off, I enjoyed NaNoWriMo so much that I’m going to try and do another 20k – 40k words in February. Who wants to join me?!


The one thing I regret with NaNoWriMo is that I didn’t get involved in the community side of it. I didn’t make it to any of the write-ins. I missed the end party because I read the date wrong, and was mighty pissed at myself for it. So for NaNo 2015, I’m going to stop being a chicken and go write with other people.


*Remember folks, save everything. For the love of your characters and sanity, save everything two or three different ways. A computer won’t always give you a warning before succumbing to the deep blue screen.

* The pre-writing (or outlining) I mentioned that I used for NaNo is explained better in Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k . It’s an insightful read, and gives good advice on not just writing faster, but writing better while you increase your word count at the same time.


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Where has the time gone?

Where, oh where, did 2014 go? I don’t know if I should blame work or what, but the year really flew by. There were some notable experiences — attended my first writer’s conference; went to my first author signing; attempted (and “won”) NaNoWriMo for the first time. Lots of good things!

Unfortunately, our year concluded in a bad way. [Warning, heavy paragraphs ahead.]

Shortly after NaNo ended, we became concerned about Commodore. He acted fine, but would barely eat. After several days he wouldn’t touch his normal dry food. We bought three or four different wet foods (to start) trying to entice him to eat. He’d work down maybe half a small can and then stop. We knew something was wrong, just didn’t realize how bad it was for cats not to eat.

The short version of the story* is that Commodore’s FeLV likely went from regressive to progressive, setting off Hepatic Lipidosis (fatty liver) and/or something worse like lymphoma.  For two weeks we force-fed him four to five times a day and gave him a steroid, trying to reverse the fatty liver and slow down the FeLV. We are happy that one of those weeks was a good one; his energy picked up, he became interested again in going outside, and he ate more treats. But despite our best efforts, the sickness prevailed. On December 28, we chose to help Commodore across the rainbow bridge.

It is, and will be for some time, hard to talk about him. Hard to glance at his tower in my study, now empty save for a pile of his toys. Hard to pull into the driveway and not see him sunning in the study window. Hard not to see him hobbling down the hall to meet us when we come home for lunch. To put it simply, he was a glorious cat and is sorely missed.




Tomorrow we’re going up to my parents’ farmland in Virginia for a week as our holiday vacation. We’re going to bury Commodore’s ashes somewhere with lots of trees and birdsong, since he was an outdoor cat at heart.

On a happier note, my family will all be together for the first time in a year. We get to meet my older brother’s girlfriend. We can disconnect a little from the crazy stress of 2014 and re-balance for the new year. While there, I’ll be working on the next post. Suffice to say it should have a sunnier tone.  I do still want to talk about NaNo. It was a crazy ride, especially the last ten days or so. Book reviews will be coming too.

Most of the New Year goals I made in years past fizzled. I originally didn’t plan on having goals this year, but Commodore changed that. For 2015, I want to spend more time with family, friends, and our two dogs. I want to take a smarter approach to writing, so that more of my time is spent with those I love instead of wasting it on random websites. I also want to blog more about the books that move me, whether for good reasons or bad. I want to volunteer, or just give back in some way to the rescue that helped us out so much with our pirate cat.


What about you guys? What are your 2015 goals? What matters to YOU this year?


* If anyone wants the long story of what happened and our care plan, I’ll be more than happy to post it. I just didn’t want to drag down the whole post with giant blocks of text over the specifics.

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I got back from Charleston last week and all I can say is, wow! I had done some research beforehand on the historic downtown area, good eateries and the like, but I’m still just kind of amazed. Looking at a few houses on Google maps does not prepare you for just how many old homes there are, not to mention all of the different architectural styles.

A Charleston house with piazza and all!

A Charleston house with piazza and all!

Naturally, I fell in love. I don’t want to go into a whole giant spiel about why you SHOULD visit (I could, trust me), but if you do go, here are three things I would recommend seeing/doing:


1) Carriage Tour – I did this on my first day there, and it was well worth the money. The tour guides/drivers are all certified, and the city tests them every three years or so to make sure they know their stuff. On a carriage tour, you’ll go to one of three “zones” that the historic downtown is divided into – West, East, or South. You don’t get a choice, this is determined by a city official with a bingo ball. I don’t really think it matters which zone you end up in, because you’ll probably get a dose of Charleston’s history in with the highlights of the tour zone.

Palmetto Carriage, one of the carriage tour companies.

Palmetto Carriage, one of the carriage tour companies.


There are a number of companies doing these tours. They all have the city license to operate and whatnot, so just do a little research and see which one might be a good fit for you. There are also walking tours for both the downtown area and special topics (pirates, ghosts, naval, etc.).


2) She-Crab Soup – Just to preface, I don’t really like crab. It’s too sweet, and too expensive for the little bit of meal that you get from it. In doing my pre-trip research, though, a looooooot of people were talking about She-Crab Soup from one restaurant or another. Since I ended up going during restaurant week, when a lot of restaurants have a three-course meal for $30 or $40, and a couple had this soup on the menu, I thought I might as well try it. More because I like soup, than because I like crab.

Poogan's Porch, a restaurant on Queen St. in Charleston.

Poogan’s Porch, a restaurant on Queen St. in Charleston.


Oh boy, was it good. I had a cup at both Poogan’s Porch and 82 Queen, and I honestly don’t know that I can say one is better than the other. Poogan’s version was a little less dense, and had a spicy kick to it. At 82 Queen, the soup was a bit heavier and creamier. The sweetness of the crab came out more, but it wasn’t overwhelming.

One of the only times I've ever eaten gravy willingly.

One of the only times I’ve ever eaten gravy willingly.


There is a plethora of fantastic food in Charleston, but definitely try the She-Crab Soup.


3. White Point Gardens/Waterfront Park – After you’ve been walking around for a whole day (or two, or three…), take a bench in either of these parks and let it all sink in. Revel in the city’s past and present. Watch the sailboats and frigates gliding through the Cooper River. You might even see a cruise ship, or at least the behemoth tail thing of one. You’ll also see people walking their dogs, or running around the Battery. No one will bother you, probably.

Waterfront Park

Waterfront Park

(I prefer Waterfront Park simply because it felt more symmetrical. White Point felt unbalanced, because all of the statues/memorials were on one side of it. )


White Point Gardens, west side.

White Point Gardens, west side.


All in all, I came away with less, and in some cases more, than what I expected from the trip. I ended up with notes on just about all the primary characters, and some ideas on how to tweak the city for the setting. I’ll probably end up twisting some of the history and architecture for my needs, but I still haven’t decided how far I want to go down that hole.

My main concern was learning more about my main character, which didn’t pan out very well. She didn’t reveal herself. My next step will probably be practice scenes, which I’ve never done before. First time for everything, right?


In closing, Charleston is beautiful. If you’re not going to go, find some way to send me back!  =)



Last night in Charleston, treated to a gorgeous sunset-sky!




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Building a new world

The time’s running away from me, but I still want to address emotional response that I mentioned in the DFWCon recap post.

To sum up, one of the author/agent duos suggested, when submitting or querying, to be prepared for rejection and when it does happen, not to make your response from an emotional place.  Don’t go throwin’ ‘bows because they didn’t understand your character, or said your premise wasn’t exciting. If your comeback snarky and rude, why would that person (be it an agent, editor, publisher, critique partner, etc.) want to work with you in the future? If you aren’t open to at least considering change or opening your eyes to what the flaws are in your work, it’s going to be difficult to move forward.

After the conference ended I hit upon an epiphany — reigning in our emotions, and how we respond to what we’ve written (or someone’s feedback on our work), goes hand in hand with our entire writing process.  We need to breathe through the sentences that don’t work, and the characters who act in opposition of their nature. We need to remind ourselves that what we’ve written may not be perfect, but we’re moving in the right direction. Every word is another step towards establishing our voice, and learning what works. We need to stop letting our emotions run the show, and instead remind ourselves of what we have accomplished. We all have bad days where we look at what we’ve written, and our inner critic just won’t shut up. We just have to remember that we’re human, we make mistakes, life gets in the way, but the writing will get better if we can push past the self-doubt and put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard).

There are numerous other writers who have discussed dealing with self-doubt and guilt, but these are three of my favorites:  Rachel Aaron – Don’t Stomp on My Cake!  ;  Kristen Lamb – Writer Victory series  ;  Lauren Sapala – Self Doubt: The Writer’s Constant Companion


I tried revising my epic fantasy first draft from May to July. To say revisions didn’t pan out in those three months would be a massive understatement. The more I looked at it and tried to start fixing it, the more deprecating my thoughts became. In preservation of my sanity, I’ve shelved it. I’ll bring it back out in a year or two, but I’m just not ready to deal with it. Hell, maybe it’s not ready to deal with me. But that’s not necessarily bad, because I’m better off moving on to something that makes me excited to write, than to sit and stare at the monitor waiting for brilliant inspiration on how to fix a broken story.


Tomorrow I’m flying to Charleston, SC to fully immerse myself in a new project. For three and a half glorious days I’ll be sightseeing and eating my way through historic downtown, while filling in the gaps of an urban fantasy world that has waited patiently for its time in the spotlight. Now that the EF is out of the way, it’s all magic and technology and a different species of shifters from here!



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DFWCon Recap!

So I’ve been meaning to write this post for the last three days, and I’ve had problems pulling it all together. I don’t know if it’s work, or having to cook for myself again, but my writer-brain keeps trying to take another week off.

Last week was our second journey to Mexico (Riviera Maya), and we enjoyed it just as much as our stay last year. My stomach didn’t act up this time, so I got to enjoy more food. It was sunny and 80+ the whole week. The only speck of rain came at the start of our romantic dinner on the beach, which then became a romantic dinner in a nearby resort restaurant that just happened to be closed for the night. We caught the sunrise on the morning before we left, and then went on a hunt for coatis.

Of the (miniscule) disappointments:

  1. We didn’t get to go kayaking, due to rough and choppy waves the whole week.
  2. We were very nearly run over by a bus on the way to the resort. It’s one thing to have road rage in the States, and entirely another to see a giant charter-type bus beside of your van, that doesn’t want to let you over,  and is literally close enough to touch through your window.

The trip back was much less exciting, I promise.  And for the more noteworthy recap…



I woke up on Saturday morning nervous as hell, and not sure what to expect. In retrospect I shouldn’t have been worried, or stressed.  It really is a gathering of wonderfully talented, exceptionally kind people.

The day was chock full of panels, workshops, and classes, covering a wide range of topics. I went to the author/agent panel first. Even though I’m nowhere close to querying agents, I think it had the best non-craft related pieces of advice that I heard over the whole weekend (I’ll get back to that later). Next came Tex Thompson’s dialect class, which was totally not what I had expected (in a good way). She’s got so much enthusiasm for what she’s doing and what she’s teaching, you can’t help but be gung-ho about fixing your own stuff.

At lunch I stuffed my face with fajitas, and networked a little.  Jonathan Mayberry gave an insightful and inspiring keynote. After the lunch hour ended, I headed straight for Donald Maass’s class on setting.  It was packed, and for good reason. I certainly came away feeling like I could make my setting do more for the story than what it currently is.

Skipping past an hour-ish wait and then my consultation, the last class for me of the day was about writing a great query. Yes, I have a knack for putting the cart before the horse. By that time in the day, though, I just wanted to go home and take a three-hour long nap. I didn’t, though, because I needed to eat dinner and head back out for the Gong Show. The aforementioned event is a neat concept, and fun to watch. A panel of judges (agents/editors) listen as anonymous queries are read aloud. If they hear anything that would normally make them stop reading or reject the query, they hit the gong. At three gongs, the reading is stopped, and the judges explain why they have rejected the query. It’s exciting, wondering when or if they’ll sound the gong. But it’s also informative, and gives a good idea of what agents are looking for in a query. Sometimes it’s a language issue of the query itself, and at others it was simply the story idea. Two queries made it through the test, one having received no gongs at all. One of the best things, though? Everyone in the audience applauded the query authors. Community love = warm fuzzies.

I bowed out after the Gong Show ended instead of networking. In addition to feeling exhausted, I was not exactly in the best headspace. I felt better when I got back to DFWCon in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Highlights of the day included Tex’s prose class, Maass’s micro-tension, making our own “Fantasy” table for lunch, Amanda Rutter talking with us at lunch, and listening to Jennie Goloboy talk about killing characters with disease. Maass closed the conference with a prediction on how publishing is going to change in the next few years. He also left us with this thought – how will your writing change the world?

Long story short, DFWCon is more than I hoped it would be. I’m excited for DFWCon 2015, and am going to work to make my writing ready for it.

Now if we back up a bit, remember when I talked about the best non-craft advice that I heard over the whole weekend? Well, sorry to keep you waiting. Here it is:

Make sure your response is not from an emotional place.

I’ll just leave that to stew for a few days.  And to all my fellow writers – I hope to see you at DFWCon next year!


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Countdowns, Countdowns Everywhere

Some exciting things are happening in the next two weeks (not agent rep. or publishing excitement, but I’ll get there at some point). Hubs and I are headed to Mexico on Saturday for our anniversary. Wee!

We’ll be soaking up sun and margaritas for six days, and canoeing at least a couple mornings. I’ll help row us out, he’ll row us in. It’s a win-win for everybody. Our trip last year was the first time I’ve ever canoed. There’s nothing like racing through the ocean with waves splashing on your face to put your life in perspective.

The second exciting thing is that DFWCon starts the day after we return. I’ll be going, inevitable sunburns and all.

It will be the first conference I’ve ever attended, and it looks fantastic. There are so many panels and talks, I wish there was a way to attend them all. (Come on Hermione, give me the time-turner!). I’ve signed up for a consultation, but haven’t decided on the main points I’d like to ask about. That’s the good thing about disconnecting in Mexico — throw together a hammock, daiquiri, and a notebook, and you’ve got yourself a distraction-free brainstorming party. As long as the wildlife is napping, anyway.



Are any of you going to DFWCon? What workshop, panel, or discussion are you most excited about?


** Side note – can anybody explain to me how to “tier” the Twitter handles I follow? There are a few that post/RT crap that I just don’t care about 90% of the time, while tweets from several other handles are showing up way late on my feed.


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Into the Nether…

Welcome to the blog! I’ll be sharing insights about my writing process, the status of current project(s), and anything else I find that tickles my fancy.

Much of my last ten years has been focused on one story, a fantasy, which I planned as a trilogy. In the scope of how young I started it, ten years isn’t a long time. I finished the first draft of book one just before the new year (seriously, 9:00 PM on New Year’s Eve), and then set it aside for a couple of weeks. When I came back to it, I thought I’d be ready to push through revisions and editing sweeps to get it ready for the world of querying. I was wrong. I reread it, saw that the first half needed substantial rewriting, and promptly panicked.

It’s taken a few months, some tears/frustration, lurking on a variety of writing websites, and a lot of jottings on dry erase boards and paper, but I finally feel like I have a better grip on how the first half has to be changed.

Although writing isn’t easy, I want to show readers the world that I’ve created, and the characters who inhabit it.


Side note – I am really impressed that Literature&Latte (the people who make Scrivener) have a way to look up your order number if you’ve purchased it previously. So glad I don’t have to buy it again!



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