alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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NaNoWriMo Week 2, Day 8: 12,742 words

By Heather Ingram, via Flickr

Just a quick post this week. Somehow, all of my time–and all of my words–seem to have been taken up with this novel I’m writing.

My daily word goals are pretty high, 2300-2500 words most days, because I missed 3 days right at the beginning and I know I’m going to miss more. On the days I do write, I have to write a lot. It feels great when I finish it up around 11:30am most days, and that feeling propels me a long way. But sometime after the sun sets, I start to realize that the amazing feat I pulled off this morning? I have to do it again. And then again.

So, I thought I’d share the things that are getting me through the week.

  • It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Well, okay, NaNoWriMo is kind of both. But, for me, my writing career is a marathon. I may be sprinting through this first draft, but it’s okay that it’s not perfect because there’s going to be another draft. And then another one after that. And then another book. And another. And so on. I can’t get too bent out of shape over something going wrong at 500 words or 5000 or even 45,ooo, because there’s a bigger picture here.
  • Embrace failure. This came in a NaNoWriMo pep talk from author Kevin Wilson. I really had to use this advice on Tuesday. I found a lot of comfort in the idea that it’s okay to fail in writing a novel. It doesn’t have to be a good novel. But there is a difference between having written a novel and not having written a novel. As Wilson summarizes Padgett Powell, “At least you’ll  have the evidence.”
  • Use boredom to your advantage. On Tuesday (maybe you can see that Tuesday wasn’t a great writing day for me), I just kind of wanted to look at election results. But I wasn’t allowed to until I met my word count for the day. So, feeling sulky, I spaced out and couldn’t pay attention. I wasn’t interested in what I was doing. The words were piling up very slowly. Until the point that I got so bored with what I was doing that my brain rebelled and came up with something new.
  • Give yourself a pep talk. Or a pep write. Because I’m only allowed to count ‘manuscript pages’ toward my total, I have a notebook for other notes and thoughts. Sometimes I just need to switch away from the screen and give myself a chance to think more freely. Sometimes that means jotting down notes about how I want to revise Chapter 1 (yes, already I have plans for a HUGE revamping of what I wrote only 8 days ago.) But sometimes it also means giving myself the freedom to whine. Or to remind myself of the Big Picture (See #1). On Wednesday morning, I tapped out a desultory 250 words or so and stalled out. That could have been discouraging, but I went to the pen and paper and wrote longhand about 350 words of encouragement, reminding myself of all of the above, and finding my way back into why I was doing this in the first place. Then I was ready to write on.
  • New characters. Today, I moved onto Chapter 6 and got to hang out with a new character. He’s the love interest, but he’s also kind of quirky. (He’s Jared, and he’s REALLY into pigs.) I got a boost from getting to know him – how he talks, what he looks like, what he’s interested in, how he sees the world – and finding out he interacts with my protagonist. He’s new himself, but because he’s going to be important to her, he also helps me discover new facets of my protagonist’s character. He also brought the Nutter Butters.


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It’s Not About You + Trouble

Glimmer Train always has such good stuff.

Someone recently told me that they had decided not to take a writing class because of the inevitable presence of  folks who use the workshop to display their own critical smarty-pants, broadcast the tones of their mellifluous voices, and who aren’t willing to take seriously the work that’s in front of them. I admit that I have spent plenty of workshops fuming with impatience, head bent over my papers so no one can see my eyes rolling, but I evenutally realized, as Jeremiah Chamberlin says in this article, that Workshop Is Not About Me (or My Work). The point of a workshop is to become a better writer, and listening to a group of strangers tell you that they, personally, prefer a story with more post-apocalyptic biker fairies, isn’t how that happens.

When I’m working on one of those virtuous critiques of someone else’s story that seems to be all about helping them out, but instead is all about me making my own stories better, I’m always harping on trouble. Trouble is something I have trouble with, too. Most of us writer-types like peaceful lives — it’s why we stay locked up behind closed doors making things up on a keyboard when we could be out in the world lying, shooting, screwing, stealing, cooking meth and picking daisies. We tend to be fond of our characters, and, unconciously, at least, we want them to have peaceful lives too. But that’s why ‘happily ever after’ traditionally comes at the end of the story – now that everyone’s happy there’s nothing left to tell. Aaron Gwyn gives good advice for the hows and whys of getting some Trouble into your stories.


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What a Story Does

I was commenting on someone else’s story today, and I wanted to say something about what a story is, what it does, and why having characters moving around on the page for 4500 words doesn’t necessarily equal a story.

I knew there was a quote that expressed this beautifully and directly. A quote that I really need to keep in mind when I’m doing my own work, because I am also regularly guilty of characters who meander happily (or miserably) without actually getting anywhere.

It’s from David Allan Cates, and it goes like this:

[Stories] explain the day the heart opened, the day the heart closed. They explain how we became who we are, how we became aware of something ugly in ourselves or the world, or beautiful. How we lost faith. How we found it. And how, exactly, to the moment, to the second, we finally—albeit briefly—understood.

Damn, you know. I think that pretty much covers it. I’m going to tape that up over my desk.

(Read the rest of the article at Glimmer Train).


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More good advice

This month’s Glimmer Train bulletin is just chock full of good advice.

Several good tips here from Bruce McAllister, writing coach & former director of creative writing at the University of Redlands. I was most intrigued by this one:

  • Copy out sections or whole stories they love. (It’s “play and mastery”—we know it as children, as we know joy and passion in creative work, though we often block it as adults)

I’ve seen it before, and have always been tempted, but never done it. My obstacle is an efficiency fallacy. There is only so much time available for writing work (especially right now) and I tend to feel that I should be spending it getting my own stories on paper, not doing homework (Steps towards being a novelist:  #1. Write novel.) Exercises are for that mythical “extra” writing time I expect to have, separate from actual writing time.

I have been noticing lately when reading how other writers approach their stories, usually thinking along the lines of “I would never choose those words to tell a story” or “those sentences are so different from mine.” Maybe I’m halfway there. But I can see how actually typing would be like inhabiting someone else’s body for a while. Which is one of the reasons to be a writer in the first place, so maybe I’ll try it.

Anyone else done this one?