Zoë Writes

An Australian author living in Norway

Category: Novels (page 1 of 2)

NaNoWriMo. Again.

It’s November again, and for the second year running, I’m attempting NaNoWriMo. That’s the thing where you write a whole novel draft in thirty days. Okay, technically you only need to get to 50k words to “win”, but we call it a novel. Last year I wrote daily throughout November and December and completed the fourth book in my Eidolon series, but this time I’m attempting something completely new. And something I’m keeping completely under wraps until it’s finished, my agent has had a look, and we decide what to do with it. All I can tell you is that it’s contemporary (i.e. no dead people walking among us like those cheeky eidolons), and that I’m very excited about what it might become. For the first time, I’ve decided to write about something I’m personally passionate about—which is kind of terrifying.

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The End . . . for now

It’s done. The draft of Belladonna is finished and in the hands of its first beta-reader. Luckily for me, I get to share it with one of the talented writers I met earlier this year at the Djerassi Writers’ Residence. Susan was my first choice of beta reader not only because she gave meaningful and thoughtful critiques on the piece I took to the workshop there, but because we had discussed Belladonna on a hike around the property, and that talk got me over a huge hurdle I’d been struggling with for months prior. Needless to say, I was both relieved and happy when she agreed to read it.

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Sabine: Creating a Monster

My current work in progress is one I’ve been struggling with for almost two years. Given that the first two books took a collective thirteen months and the third only two months, this has been a source of constant frustration for me. However, I am nearing the end now, with almost 70,000 words down (and a rough target of 90,000 to finish this draft) I begin to see why it has been so tough.

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My Writing Process

My participation in the My Writing Process Blog Tour is thanks to Djerassi YA Workshop pal, Susan Crispell, who writes magical realism for both young adults and the adult market. Her book, Love and Cupcakes came out in January this year from Swoon Romance, and I had the pleasure of reading and critiquing the opening her very recently completed new YA novel, How to Take a Life. I loved what I read of her work, and am sure the new book is destined for big things. I also have to thank Susan for tagging me in this tour, because my blog has been sadly neglected since my return from Djerassi, and it’s high time I got back to it.

This particular blog tour is a really good way to find out about new authors and their books; you can follow the blog tour on Twitter via the #mywritingprocess hashtag.

And now for my answers to the questions… 

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Done

The first draft of book four in The Eidolon Cycle is complete at just over one hundred and ten thousand words, written over the course of sixty-four days, and boy are my arms tired. No, wait, wrong punchline. But seriously, what a ride! Averaging 1,700 words a day over two months was nothing short of a marathon for me, and the result is the firstest first draft I’ve ever written. I usually edit quite a lot as I go along, resulting in my first draft being something close to a second-to-final draft, but this thing is a beast.

I’ve now begun the editing process, and while my fears that it would be an incoherent mess were somewhat unfounded, this is honestly the sloppiest writing I’ve ever done. Forgive the horrid analogy, but it’s like trying to make a meal out of a pile of vomit. Not that the book is as gross as vomit, but more that it poured out of me in a constant stream, without… okay, I’m going to change tack, because this is just icky.

Anyway, the book I once worried wouldn’t have enough content to fill a full-length novel has become the longest I’ve ever written, and although editing is usually a process of cutting, I’m finding things that need adding as often, or more often, than I can afford to take bits away. As usual, the scenery needed some painting, but it’s also a process of fleshing out ideas that came to me in the heat of the writing moment. There are plot holes all over this thing, some big enough to poke my face through and take a picture.

Luckily, this is the project I’m taking with me to the Djerassi retreat next month, and now that I’ve seen the list of attendees, I’m not only horribly intimidated, I’m also confident I will get some useful, meaningful feedback. I just have to hope they don’t laugh me off the ranch. I get to have the group read and critique the first 25 pages of the novel, then I have a private session with YA legend, Nova Ren Suma, during which we’ll discuss another fifty pages. The question is, which fifty? This book, unlike the others in the series, is divided into two sections, one where the main character, Hannah, is fifteen years old, the second when she’s eighteen. I’m tempted to look at the second part so we can talk about continuity and consistency, but I’m still undecided.

I will also have several hours each day to work on a writing project of my choosing, so I hope to dive back into book three, Bella Donna, which I put on hold in order to write Primrose for NaNoWriMo. Interestingly, the two books are quite tightly intertwined, so I think finishing Bella Donna will be much easier than it was before. At least I hope so. If I do manage to get it finished by the end of March, that will be the entire four-part series done within two years, which makes me very happy indeed.

NaNo taught me…

November is over, the Christmas decorations are going up, and the sun is going down earlier and earlier in the day here in Norway. But, for the first time since I moved here almost eight years ago, I wasn’t as focused on the light (and lack of it) this year, I was focused on a goal, a daily word count target, and on winning NaNoWriMo in my first attempt. If you’re following me on Twitter, or my author page on Facebook, you will have seen that I not only hit the goal of 50,000 words nine days early, but that by the end of the month I had written close to 71,000 words. I find those two facts astounding enough, but what has surprised me the most is what I learned from what I originally thought of as a gimmicky type of thing that no real writers take very seriously.

When I started seriously working on Amaranth back in 2011, I dedicated one day a week to writing, and I would write the entire day, then let the ideas sink in over the following week so I’d know exactly where to start when I sat down in front of the screen again. That was one of the things that made me the most nervous about NaNo: there was no time to let ideas settle! What if I dried up every time I sat down to write? Or what if I wrote crap just to meet the word count target, only to discover I was running my story off in a ditch? This is why I decided to write my fourth Eidolon novel for NaNo, rather than the book I’ve been planning to write when the series is over. I knew The Eidolon Cycle would be fine with or without this fourth book, and if it turned out to be terrible, it wouldn’t hurt the series to simply dump it. The other book is one I’ve been planning for years and didn’t want to risk not doing it properly.

However, as it turned out my fears were groundless. There was never a day when I sat down with nothing to write, and although I only needed to write around 1700 words a day to meet the 50k goal, most days I ended up with between two and three thousand words. I only missed one day, and that was a Sunday where I spent all day with my daughter, then all evening working on a book release. The zero on my calendar is still mocking me, despite the fact that I got down a mammoth 4300 words the following day to make up for it—but that’s just me; I can’t stand to have broken the chain. But what kept me in fresh material was the idea suggested by my motivational NaNo writer friend, Audrey, who quoted Hemingway as having said he never drained the well. In other words, I left myself an idea or two to pick up the thread of the following day. And the more I wrote, the more I could see these characters and their world, and the more I knew what they were going to do or say next. So that gave me:

Lesson number one: Creativity is a muscle. The more you use it, the more it gives you to work with.

BUT! Back when I was writing once a week, I would usually finish up the day with three to four thousand words, and I never stopped writing until I had completed the chapter I was working on. It felt nice and neat to complete a chapter each writing session, and it made the overall structure of the novel pretty clean, meaning there wasn’t a lot of major rearranging to do when editing time came. During NaNo, I couldn’t afford to spend the entire day writing, and if I was to follow lesson number one above, I couldn’t use up all my ideas or I’d risk writer’s block the next day. With that in mind, I had to do something which was (to me) pretty drastic: I had to forget about chapters and neat little literary packages, and just write scenes. And sometimes [GASP!] leave them unfinished. That was hard.

Lesson number two: A first draft is allowed to be messy, and should be about the story, not about neat chapter packages.

I have said before that one of my main issues when I write is that I forget to paint the scenery. I write what my characters are saying, thinking, feeling and doing, often forgetting to paint an adequate picture of where and when they’re doing all these things. During NaNo, I embraced this about myself, and really let myself go into full first draft mode. Get the story out, put the detail in later. This proved to be a strangely valuable lesson; not only could I allow myself to write the way I naturally write, but it means that when I come back during editing to describe the sights, sounds and smells my character is experiencing, I will know her so well that it will be much easier to do it in her voice.

Lesson number three: Set free your natural drafting instincts; everything else can be fixed during editing.

The fourth, final, and most important lesson I have taken away from my NaNo experience is the one that will change my writing life forever. I have always claimed that I need a large chunk of uninterrupted time in order to write. NaNo blew that theory to pieces: most days I started at 9am and had written two or three thousand words before 11am. Given that I made a life choice to become a freelancer so I would have more flexibility to write, it’s frustrating to know that I’ve only just learned what that really means. I can apparently write whole novels in a matter of weeks if I only give myself the space and time to do it. This was never more clear to me than on Day 14 when I hit 33,963 words. On that day, I just happened to check the word count of book three (which, as of that day, I had been working on for two weeks shy of one year) and its word count was ONE WORD LESS! So, in fourteen days, I had surpassed my own word count for the previous eleven and a half MONTHS by one word. This is the kind of moment that one might call an epiphany.

Lesson number four: It is possible to write every day. You just have to make it a priority.

Those are my lessons, and what I started as an exercise in “let’s see if I can do this” turned into “Oh my God! I could do this every day for as long as I want to!” And I want to. I have printed out a new calendar page for December and started marking in my word counts each day, putting another big red cross through each day I write, and I will do it until I run out of words, may that be many, many words from now.

NaNoWriMo progress

There’s nothing quite like a real-time widget or two to show the world my progress, pride and/or shame. So you can come back to this post any time and see how my NaNoWriMo effort is going. (NOTE: Comments, messages, cheers and flowers are all great ways of keeping my motivation levels up. Just sayin’.)

How I’m doing so far:

How the month is going, on a graph. Just because I like graphs >

And how I stack up against my writing buddies:

Deep breath before the plunge

It’s the last day of October, and tomorrow begins the flurry of writing that will be my first NaNoWriMo. I am about as unprepared as I could hope not to be, but I do have backup in the form of writer-friend, Audrey Camp. We have agreed to do our writing first thing in the morning each day, and text each other when we’ve hit the day’s target word count. Audrey is one of the more competitive people I know, so that should keep us both on track.

As for planning what I’m actually going to write . . . well, that’s a whole ‘nother story. This is probably the least planned of any of the books in my series, in that all I have so far is a basic premise and some ideas of stuff I want to get in there somewhere. This is the first time I’ve started without knowing where it’s supposed to end, and that’s scaring me, to be honest. I don’t mind not knowing the path the journey will take, but I need to know the destination. So maybe I should stop writing blog posts and get planning. I’ll see you guys in a month.

(Oh, and just to make November scarier, I am also doing a self-imposed No-Snack-November. Yes, I know, I’m a masochist.)

Open mic night

A couple of times a year, Oslo’s Litteraturhuset (House of Literature) holds an open mic night for new writers of all kinds to come and share their work. Last week, I participated for the first time, reading the opening of my novel, Amaranth. I was lucky enough to have an entourage with me (fellow members of the Oslo International Writers’ Group) who not only cheered me on, but offered to take a video of my reading as well. Here is the result:

I was proud to participate in such a fun evening, and to receive such great support, not only from my friends, but from all who listened. The other participants read poetry, stories and novel fragments in both Norwegian and English, and were impressive in their range, skill and enthusiasm. Some were funny, others dramatic, but all were heartfelt and brave. I look forward to the next one in September.

New year, new book

At the end of 2012 I began the third book in The Eidolon Cycle, and already I know this will be the most challenging of the three. The story spans one hundred years, beginning in the late nineteenth century, and follows the origins, life and death of one of the secondary characters in Amaranth and Sweet Alyssum; Sabine. Titled Bella Donna, the story will explore how Sabine came to be the twisted creature readers will know from the first two stories or, if this is the first title read, it will introduce the saga from its earliest point.

There are always challenges when writing historical fiction, but I have not made even that part of it easy for myself; the principal location – the city of Lennox – will need to have its own believable history, even though no one really knows in which country it lies. Not only that, but the rules of the eidolon world are already set out in the first two books, even though they are set chronologically later than this story, so there are defined rules within which I need to work.

Then Sabine herself is a challenge; she is an unsympathetic character in the other books – dark, moody, callous and twisted – and to write her in the first person without alienating readers will take time and care. Knowing her as well as I do, I have that sympathy already, but can I get it across to my readers? Enough so that if they happen to read this book first, they will remain loyal to her through the other books? That is the goal I have set myself, and I accept it with relish. Why make it easy?

I am already fascinated with the research I have done so far, and it would be easy to get lost in that without writing a word. The history of our treatment of people suffering from neurological and psychological diseases is disturbing, particularly in regards to women. It is this very treatment, or mistreatment, in institutions around the world, still spoken about in whispers, that forms the backdrop for Bella Donna and Sabine.

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