NaNoWriMo Is Approaching

National Novel Writing Month is about to start up again, and I plan to participate just as I have for the last two years. 

For those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is pretty simple: write 50,000 words (approximately 200 pages) during the month of November. This works out to be about 1,667 words a day. A challenging goal, but one that I am capable of meeting, as my wins in 2010 and 2011 prove.

This year will be a bit different for me than the previous years.  In 2010 I wrote an initial draft of the second novel in my Gods Among Men series, …Demiurge, Unbound,…. In 2011 I focused on creating a draft of the backstory surrounding my most dynamic character, Artemis Arrowsmith.  In both cases I focused on a narrative that flowed from one scene to the next.

This year my plans are more scattered and random. I have some specific scenes in the first book, At The Lady’s Behest Comes…, that need a rewrite, such the opening paragraphs. Also I have decided to alter the opening few chapters of …Demiurge, Unbound,…. And there are a variety of scenes I have yet to create which I need in the second, third, and fourth books of my series. 

NaNWriMo provides an excellent opportunity to jot down quick first drafts of these scenes that I can later rework into useable material.  At the very least, the exercise of writing these scenes will help flesh out details that fill gaps in my rough outline.

In addition, I plan on writing down a lot of mythology that currently exists only in my head.  For example, I can specify:

  • Details about how magic works
  • The true history about Demiurge and the Lady
  • Delve into the wars Demiurge and the Lady fought against the Daemons and the False Gods
  • Explore details about the religions that have grown up around Demiurge and the Lady
  • Flesh out the cultures of the Gogs and Magogs

And so forth.  This material I will clean up and include on my new and improved website under the World menu. 

And I also hope to use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to create a series of musings I can later turn into blog posts. I have a variety of subjects in mind, but will let the whim of the day determine what I focus on.

These are my rough plans for the 2012 NaNoWriMo challenge.  I think I have plenty to write about, but the lack of a strict narrative I think will create new difficulties for me, as will the additional demands on my time. Check back in December to see how well I managed. Hopefully I’ll have a new winner’s certificate to post on my site.

The Big Picture

Some days you wonder if the process of preparing your first manuscript for publication ever ends. There are days when countless hours of hard work seem to not progress your plans or move your goals any closer.  It is at such points that it is easy to become frustrated and want to stop trying, to cease the endless cycles of edits and corrections, and walk away from whole project.

It is fair to say I have put a lot of effort into improving my skill as a writer, and that I have made tremendous progress over the last few years.  But the last meeting of the Magic City Writers’ Group also made it abundantly clear that even with extensive corrections, rewrites, additions, POV shifts, and so on, that my manuscript is still not at an acceptable level.

My writing is mediocre and often boring, my most important characters are problematic, my opening paragraph makes people not want to read further, and those few readers willing to plow on past the first chapter will likely stop reading before reaching the point where the various characters and plot threads come together because they don’t feel invested in those characters or the unfolding plot.

Compound this feedback, and the ensuing work required to address these problems, with my efforts to rebuild my author website from the ground up and it is enough to make me feel like I’m starting over from scratch.

Step Back

It is at times like these that it is important to step back, take a deep breath, and look at the big picture.

Yes, my writing skills are still well below that of good professional writers.

But it is also true that I am currently better than the vast majority of amateur writers, which is the category I still belong to. The reason I spent months interviewing professional editors is because I knew intellectually I wasn’t ready to compete with professional authors. All the reader review demonstrated is that my belief in my writing skills is significantly greater than my actual skills.

This information hasn’t altered my decision to move onto working with professional editors, but it does impact the types of professional edits I must consider.

Currently I am waiting on the results of a professional manuscript assessment, a high-level review of my manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses.  After that assessment I have to decide whether to next pursue a developmental edit, a line edit, or copy edit.

Uh…What’s the Difference Between These?

Without going into excessive detail, a developmental edit focuses on plot, structure of the manuscript, and character development; a line edit focuses on flow, logic of what happens within the plot, and tone of each characters voice; and a copyedit is a nitpicking pain-in-the-ass looking for grammar errors, misspellings, continuity problems, and logic lapses.

Basically a developmental edit is performed early in the life of a manuscript, a line edit is performed once the story and characters are well-formed, and a copyedit is done to wring out any remaining problems prior to typesetting a manuscript for publication.  After typesetting is performed, a proofread is performed to catch any errors that crept in during the final stages of preparing for publication.

The Decisions Before Me

Prior to the reader feedback I was thinking I could skip the developmental edit and move on to either a line edit or a copyedit. In fact, prior to making specific queries about the material, I ask the group which edit they would recommend I pursue next; two members recommended I go straight to a copyedit, while the other person believed a line edit would be of benefit.

But when I asked specific questions about how much each person read, where they stopped reading, why they stopped, and elicited feedback on what exactly they liked and disliked about the manuscript, it became clear  that what prevented them from enjoying the work were problems with character development and plot structure.

In other words, the types of problems that require a developmental edit to correct.

In addition, the group made clear their continued (and even enthusiastic) dislike of my opening paragraph. While I personally believe the current opening serves as a solid anchor for the series, I cannot continue to ignore repeated warnings about the obstacle it poses to potential readers. I must seriously consider replacing the series’ opening with something more gripping. There are several possibilities that have occurred to me, and some of these alternate openings might allow me to address some character and structural issues that continue to plague the manuscript.

Currently I am leaning toward an opening like:

My fate is sealed, Damon Roth scribbled in a large leather bound tome at the top of a crisp white page, the flawless marks left by his quill belying the speed with which he wrote. My apotheosis is inevitable, offering Earth its last hope for salvation. But I have at long last deduced the cost I must bear for daring to become the God Among Men. Knowing now what must befall me, I would turn aside if I could. But great endeavors, once begun, have a life of their own. They grow and feed, claiming more and more from you. The task becomes the master. Worse yet are labors that cannot remain buried, that demand to be exhumed. The beginning becomes the end, creating a new beginning. I am trapped in a web of my own devising, caught in a cycle that can never end. No matter my choices I am damned, and the most I can hope for myself is that my evil deeds will not be all I am remembered for.

Limitations

With regards to my current manuscript, I believe I have reached the limits of what the writers group can offer me as constructive feedback. I could continue to make changes and ask their opinion, but that would be of little value. Their feedback would be far more valuable on the next book in the series, the one I need to start writing in the not too distant future.  I have written many scenes that will be in the second book. A product of my participation over the last two years in NaNoWriMo which I can expand on and restructure until I have an acceptable first draft.

I will be receiving the professional manuscript assessment in about a month, at which time I can make my final decision about whether or not to pursue a developmental edit next or move onto a line edit.  At the moment I believe a developmental edit is called for.

Performing a developmental edit and making the changes required by that process, on top of the already planned line and copy edits, will likely push my publication date into 2014.  This is not a total negative, as that gives me extra time to master the intricacies of self-publishing, overhaul my website, plan my book launch, work on the second novel, establish my presence on various social media sites, and so forth.

The bigger questions are the ones nagging me in the back of my brain. It is clear, despite my innate passion to tell stories, that I am not an innately gifted writer. The progress I have made so far has derived more from hard work at developing crucial skills than from natural talent. Stubborn persistence has proven sufficient to turn what once was a truly terrible manuscript into one that is now mediocre.

But is that same persistence enough to turn the current mediocre manuscript into something exceptional? Are my problems with writing compelling prose part of the normal learning curve all writers must go through? Or are they reflections of my own limitations as a writer?  Am I at a plateau that I can move beyond with the aid of professional editors? Or do I lack some some critical element from the mix of skills required to produce great writing?

The only way to answer these questions is to keep trying, keep working daily, and hope that the final published novel was worth all the effort.

New Music and Updated Chapters

Kathryn completed a new piece of music called Guildhall; named after the building housing the central government of The Guild, the decaying empire which dominates the world in Gods Among Men.  As usual, all chapters, author readings, and music MP3s can be found at http://gods-among-men.com/blog/books/book1.  And here is a direct link to Kathryn’s new song: http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/Music/Guildhall.mp3.

Also, I have republished all of my chapters on the website.  I did this for a couple of reasons. 

First and foremost, the book’s final three chapters have undergone substantial changes in the last few months and I’ve been remiss in getting these changes posted.  These changes were prompted by the invaluable editing suggestions from the Magic City Writers Group.  Chapter thirteen is going to be edited by the group in the near future, so it will be updated again in about a month. 

Secondly, during the editing changes I made in the last three chapters I realized I needed to tweak specific sentences and paragraphs in various places throughout the book.  Minor edits that subtly enhance the overall work and is more consistent with the final third of the book.  Along the way I stumbled onto errors that had escaped my notice in previous edits; misspellings, the wrong word used (‘would’ when I should have used ‘wound’, that sort of thing), unclear sentences, etc.   Again, a series of minor edits that primarily cleaned up what was already there.

Third, I did another edit on chapter 7,…And Critical Moments Relived…, in preparation for submitting it to a writing contest.  I’ll go into more detail about that in a future post.  The main point is that the edits to chapter 7, while not major, were more than tweaks or cleaning up mistakes.  These changes smoothed certain rough spots and sharpened specific scenes.

Finally, I decided to change the font I have been using in the PDF’s of my chapters.  Up till now, the text of the story has been in Times New Roman.  I decided that using Garamond would give the text a more “book-like” feel.  This is part of an larger process in which I am moving closer towards the possibility of self-publishing my book.  Another subject I will go into more detail in a future post.

That’s all for now.  Take care and have fun.

New Music and Updated Chapters

Kathryn completed a new piece of music called Guildhall; named after the building housing the central government of The Guild, the decaying empire which dominates the world in Gods Among Men.  As usual, all chapters, author readings, and music MP3s can be found at http://gods-among-men.com/blog/books/book1.  And here is a direct link to Kathryn’s new song: http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/Music/Guildhall.mp3.

Also, I have republished all of my chapters on the website.  I did this for a couple of reasons. 

First and foremost, the book’s final three chapters have undergone substantial changes in the last few months and I’ve been remiss in getting these changes posted.  These changes were prompted by the invaluable editing suggestions from the Magic City Writers Group.  Chapter thirteen is going to be edited by the group in the near future, so it will be updated again in about a month. 

Secondly, during the editing changes I made in the last three chapters I realized I needed to tweak specific sentences and paragraphs in various places throughout the book.  Minor edits that subtly enhance the overall work and is more consistent with the final third of the book.  Along the way I stumbled onto errors that had escaped my notice in previous edits; misspellings, the wrong word used (‘would’ when I should have used ‘wound’, that sort of thing), unclear sentences, etc.   Again, a series of minor edits that primarily cleaned up what was already there.

Third, I did another edit on chapter 7,…And Critical Moments Relived…, in preparation for submitting it to a writing contest.  I’ll go into more detail about that in a future post.  The main point is that the edits to chapter 7, while not major, were more than tweaks or cleaning up mistakes.  These changes smoothed certain rough spots and sharpened specific scenes.

Finally, I decided to change the font I have been using in the PDF’s of my chapters.  Up till now, the text of the story has been in Times New Roman.  I decided that using Garamond would give the text a more “book-like” feel.  This is part of an larger process in which I am moving closer towards the possibility of self-publishing my book.  Another subject I will go into more detail in a future post.

That’s all for now.  Take care and have fun.

Still More Music From Kathryn

Kathryn finished another piece of music for Gods Among Men.  This one is called Guildtown at Dawn.  Within the story, Guildtown is the major capital of the empire called The Guild.  Essentially, it is the Rome of my fantasy world.  Kathryn’s song is intended as the city’s anthem. 

As usual, links to all downloads for the first book can be found at http://gods-among-men.com/blog/books/book1.

Direct links to the new material are below.

MP3 for Guildtown at Dawn: http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/Music/Guildtown%20at%20Dawn.mp3

Sheet music for Guildtown at Dawn: http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/SheetMusic/Guildtown%20at%20Dawn.pdf

Again I thank Kathryn for all her hard work.  Her songs are very good and I hope everyone takes some time to check them out.