Zero Draft, or 5 Steps to Writing the Crappiest First Draft You Can

Z is for Zero Drafts.

This is a new term for me. I'd always called my first drafts "first drafts," but now that I've been introduced to "zero drafts," I like that much, much better.

Having a zero draft like having a hibernating squirrel. Okay, an unusual simile, I admit. But, as your zero draft slumbers like a cute little squirrel (see picture below), your mind gathers thoughts and ideas for it, even when you think you are ignoring it, your mind isn't.

Hibernating Arctic Ground Squirrel.
Photo from Kelly Drew, UAF
A zero draft is a pre-first draft. In other words, it's a draft that you allow to be so crappy that it's not even worth the dignity of being called a first draft. In still other words, it's kind of like that NaNoWriMo novel you have sitting somewhere on your word processor...

But what goes into writing a zero draft? Well, there are several things, and I've taken the liberty of breaking it down into a few steps below which I tend to follow. (These steps are, by no means, set in stone.)

When writing a piece of non-fiction, it's inherent that you'll have to do a lot of research. But what about a piece of fiction? It might come as a surprise, but there can be a lot of research done for a fiction novel as well. Not all authors "write what they know." And, even if they do, most likely, they'll come to a point where they're going to have to Google something or go to the library.

Working with the definition of "a zero draft is a draft an author writes before the first draft," I've outlined the following steps:

Photo Source
STEP 1. Choose your Subject.

STEP 2. Recognize your ignorance on said Subject.

STEP 3. Collect as much research as you care to on Subject.

STEP 4. Select what research will be included in your novel.

STEP 5. Write your zero draft, giving yourself permission to write crap, using everything you want to be included. And sometimes, everything and anything you can think of, just to get yourself through the draft.

What these steps do is allow you to focus your novel around the research you've made. In some ways, this is exactly what NaNoWriMo encourages: a crappy first draft. 

In all honesty, a NaNo draft is often so bad that you cannot consider it a first draft.

As today marks the end of both the A to Z challenge and Camp NaNoWriMo, I'm happy to say that I've "won" both. 

However, as a struggling perfectionist, my NaNo novel is less than pleasing to me. It's so far from what I expected and so far from something I would share with others, that it's reiterated to me just how much of a "zero draft" NaNo novels turn out to be. Some are better than others, and my NaNo 2012 novel was a more complete zero draft than this one has turned out to be. But every novel, like every child, is different. And some take more work than others. (I anticipate a lot of intensive counseling sessions for this Camp NaNo 2013 novel.)

After completing a zero draft, I like to induce hibernation in said draft—especially if I wrote it quickly. (Here is where we return to the squirrel simile/metaphor.)

While your squirrel hibernates, you are subconsciously gathering nuts and berries to feed your characters like some inept, subsistence hunter-gatherer. Most of them are poisonous to your plot, or your theme, or are something your character would never, ever eat. But you keep gathering, hopefully storing them away somewhere you remember to look so that you don't misplace them.

Photo of Spermophilus parryii enjoying a mushroom
Eventually, after a significant hibernation, you return to fatten up your starved zero draft of a novel (see picture above), hoping it still has that cute new squirrel smell when you melt the snow and warm up that tiny squirrel body. 

Now, when you return to it, you see all the fresh opportunities you have, all the things you've stored up for it in your time hibernating. You could feed it a mushroom, a berry, a nut…a seed… 

Now, you have new appreciation for your characters (which you might very well have learned to hate during a NaNo marathon or two), and you have new ideas for fixing those plot holes which are suddenly so evident to you.

There is inherent value in your squirrel-esque hoarding of ideas. 99% of all zero drafts at least deserve for you to return to them and give them a cursory read through in order to see if there's something worth developing. 

A zero draft may be completely tossed out and reworked from the start, or it may be chopped into unrecognizable pieces, but I bet you anything that there is at least one sentence or thought or idea in your zero draft that is worth pursuing. If not for a novel, then a short story or a poem. 

How about you? How do you treat your zero drafts? Do you return to fatten them up? Do you never let them hibernate? Or do you leave them to starve a slow, slow death?


Additional Sources on Zero Drafts:
Write Livelihood
The Writing Wheel
Lisa Harjes
Moody Writing 
Justine Larbalestier


Yearning, or What Your Character Wants Most

Only two days left of Blogging from A to Z. I'm going to miss the challenge of coming up with something to write about nearly every day. But, it'll be nice to breathe again!

Without further ado…

Y is for Yearning

Have you ever wanted something really badly? I mean, really, really badly?

Everyone has longed for something at some point in their life. It could be something good, like a relationship, a child, their dream job, an iPad, or simply wanting to pay the bills. Or you could want something bad, like your best friend's wife, or that third piece of chocolate cheesecake.

In writing a novel, every character needs to have a yearning for something. A character's wants are what drive the story forward. What does Katniss Everdeen want? To survive the hunger games and protect her family. What does Harry Potter want? To destroy Lord Voldemort and live his life in peace. What does Lizzie Bennet want? To marry a good man for love (and it would help if he's rich).

Notice anything in common about these wants? All the characters' wants are being denied. A want only drives the novel forward if it is thwarted. If the yearning is satisfied, then it disappears. It drops out of the plot and the character does not need to act to get it. In other words, don't give your character what she wants--take it away from her instead. Or make her yearn for something new. And don't let her have that, either.

It's the best way to get a novel's plot moving: get your character yearning for something that she cannot have.

Do you know what your character wants?



Xerox, or Backing Up Your Work

X is for Xerox. 

There's nothing worse than a computer failure when you're writing your magnum opus.

That blue screen of death, otherwise known as the death throes of an exhausted computer. 

It's the thing every writer dreads. The blood drains from your face, you stare at the computer in disbelief, you may scream. Or burst into tears.

It's happened to everyone. You click "save" at the end of a hard day's work, and instead of saving, the program crashes. Your work is gone.

In the old days, a backup might have involved you typing out your manuscript on a typewriter and then using a Xerox machine (like how I worked that "X" in there?) to make a second copy. Or you'd have to type out the entire thing again to get a copy, or maybe you used carbon copy paper the first time so you have a smudgy, almost legible second copy.

Nowadays, it's so easy to back up your documents that you can schedule it and forget it. A lot of programs allow you to set automatic saves at certain timed intervals. There are programs out there which give you no excuse for losing your documents. Except that people get complacent, or forget to backup their work, and stuff happens.

I've spent a day looking for a backup when my program crashed without me having saved it. I lost an entire day of edits, and another day of potential editing looking for what I thought I'd saved. Then I had to spend more time recreating the edits I'd lost.

I recommend backing up every ten minutes. Actually, every five if you're being super productive. And then invest in an external backup service, either Carbonite or some other online service, or external hard drives. (I have two external hard drives which I routinely back up to. And keep in a fireproof safe.)

Paranoid? Perhaps. But it's sure saved me a lot of hassle, and I can sleep at night knowing that I won't lose my magnum opus, even in the event of a fire.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go backup my computer...



Winning at Writing

W is for Winning at Writing.

As the end of April nears, I am faced with two possible "wins" on the horizon. One is the A to Z blogger's challenge. I have yet to miss a day, a fact of which I am a bit proud, considering how sketchy my blogging past is. The second is NaNoWriMo. I am just over ten thousand words away from winning my third NaNo event in a row (my first Camp NaNo).

I am a competitive person, so when I can compete with a near-sure chance of winning, I am all over it. I mean, I like to be challenged, yes, but I mostly like to succeed. I don't like doing something that I know or think I will fail at. Therefore, NaNo and the A to Z challenge have been both rewarding and challenging. I feel confident in attaining both goals, a fact I can feel proud of considering how time intensive both have been.

But in thinking about my "wins" this month, I find myself naturally applying this to the writing life. What does a "win" look like in writing? Is it success? Is it publication? Is it the bestseller list?

I don't think there's any right answer. I think winning, like a lot of things in life, is what you make it. I've lost games to a lot of poor winners and some gracious winners. I've won over poor losers and gracious losers.

Writing is not a challenge I want to lose. Nor is it one that I think I can lose. Losing implies giving up, saying that I've reached the end of the game and someone else has bested me. But how can someone win over me when the opponent is me? For all I have to do in order to be a writing "winner" is to write.

What makes you a winner at writing? Publication? Attaining your goals?


This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.


Voice (or How NaNoWriMo Helped Me Find My Writing Voice)

This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

V is for Voice. 

I've recently finished reading a book called "Finding Your Writing Voice" by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall. I have to admit, it's taken me several months to get through it. Part of that is because of the variety of prompts included in this book. The other part is because there are so many magnificent points that I have to constantly put the book down and stew over my incapabilities as a writer.

For example: "You can learn the concepts of craft by taking classes and reading books. But you won't know how to work with them and they won't have concrete meaning unless you discover them in the outpourings of your own voice. This is because the craft of fiction wasn't invented by critics and teachers. It comes from stories and the voices that create them." (Page 74, paperback version, published 1994.)

Wow. So true.

But what really struck me this month was how an "exercise" like NaNoWriMo serves to put everything I've learned into practice.

I don't know about you, but I get so caught up in editing my first drafts (sometimes to the nth degree) that I forget to actually write new material. NaNoWriMo helps me focus on simply being creative, no holds barred. No expectations, no agenda in mind, simply a word count goal and a date to finish by.

It's astoundingly liberating. It's the main reason I like participating in NaNoWriMo. By forcing myself to use all the things I've learned, and by doing it on a time crunch, what comes out becomes...natural. It's almost counter-intuitive, but you begin to speak in your character's voice--in your voice.

Have you participated in NaNoWriMo before? Or have you been holding out on giving NaNoWriMo a shot? 



Under-Developing Your Novel

This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

U is for Under-developing Your Novel 

We've all heard about underdeveloped characters and plots and how that's a total faux pas. However, there are times when under-developing, or under-explaining, is preferable.

What do I mean by this?

Let's start with character development. We all want a well-developed character. We need to know enough about the protagonist, or even the antagonist, in order to identify with them and to find their actions believable.

Revealing a character can be done in two ways:

1. Showing
2. Telling

Was that too obvious?

Allow me to explain a bit. Showing the reader your characters means that the reader is being asked to discern what the character is like by the character's actions and reactions, thoughts and beliefs.

Telling the reader about your character means that you use narrative, other character's dialogue, or the character themselves to explain to the reader exactly how the character is.

We've all heard the adage, "show, don't tell," which by now has become cliché. Yet all clichés, just like all stereotypes, have a vein of truth in them.

In this case, as with most of your novel, showing is the preferable way to reveal your character. However, that's not to say telling is never acceptable. Telling must be done with caution and in keeping with the voice of the novel. 

For example, an omniscient narrator can better reveal a character trait of the protagonist (and especially the antagonist) than a first person narrator can state about him- or herself. I don't walk around telling people, "I can be vindictive and hold a grudge." If your character does that, your reader is going to be surprised or even skeptical. But I may very well reveal this character trait about myself when someone wrongs me. (And I'm just using those traits as an example...I like to think I am neither vindictive nor a grudge-holder.)

As much as possible, show the reader your character, revealing them through actions and reactions, thoughts and beliefs.


(or "sometimes, less is more")

This is the: "what was that about under-developing a novel?" section.

Part of the reason that showing the reader your character, asking them to discern what that person is like, is better than telling is because when you lapse into telling, it can quickly get repetitive and boring. 

The reader doesn't need to know every inch of a character's body, nor every twitch of their muscles. All we need to know is enough to put a picture in our mind—and one reader is allowed to have a slightly different picture than another. This is why so many readers watch the movie version and say, "that wasn't how I pictured it."

I mean, really--how annoying is it when you're told every single action of a character?


"John pushed his barrel-chested body into the air, his dusty brown hair falling into his eyes. He brushed it back impatiently with a meaty hand, then crossed to the door with a determined stride. His feet made heavy thuds on the carpeted floor in his irrational anger."

Too much? Definitely.

How about:

"John stood up, his brown hair falling into his eyes. He brushed it back impatiently, then crossed to the door with a determined stride. His feet made heavy thuds on the carpeted floor in his irrational anger."

Too much? Maybe.

What about:

"John rose and brushed back his hair impatiently. His feet made heavy thuds as he crossed the room in his irrational anger."

Too little? It certainly doesn't seem like too much.

And yet, I'm willing to bet that there would be someone out there who might disagree and say that it still is too much. (And that may very well depend on whether John rising and crossing the room is important at all!)

But therein lies the difficulty of writing. When is enough? When is too much? Unfortunately, there is no magic formula, like subject + adverb + adjective + verb can only be used be used once a page, or once in 250 words. No, writing is far too subjective for that kind of formula. But therein also lies the art of writing, which is what I love the writing craft for.

As authors, we need to leave some of the picture up to the reader's imagination. The amazing thing about reading is that when we reread a book, we can picture the story slightly different every time. As authors, we must give the reader enough to offer a picture, but refrain from over-describing the world.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section. 

Is there such a thing as under-development? Or over-development? What makes a novel or its characters under- or over-developed to you? Have you ever read a book that didn't satisfy because of under- or over-development?




This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

T is for Time.

"More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn't say I have a talent that's special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina."

John Irving 

Everyone has a limited about of time in their life. Some of this goes to responsibilities, some to hobbies. Some to plain ol' fun. It all comes down to how we spend our time.

I don't know about you, but when I waste an entire day watching TV or running around doing errands, I don't feel productive in the slightest. It may have even been a fun day, but it wasn't productive unless I did something worth doing.

We can go through life and have a great deal of "fun," but not end up leaving something behind. As a writer, I want to accomplish something. I want to leave something of my writing behind every single day. So I was thinking about time, and how there's a limited supply of it, but also about what I do with the time I spend writing.

I can break my writing time into three parts: 
1. Planning
2. Writing the First Draft
3. Editing

But where does the majority of my writing time go? 

1. I'm not a huge outliner, so my planning stage tends to be brief, and usually mental (as in, unwritten). However, for the sake of argument, I'll include the mental outlining time in my calculations, because it is time on the novel. I'd say this is maybe 10% of my time.

2. I can type pretty fast, and NaNoWriMo helps me to put a first draft on the pages in about a month, month and a half. I spend from 1-3 hours a day on those days pounding out the first draft words.

3. Personally, like John Irving, I believe two-thirds of my time on a novel is spent editing. 

Allow me to rephrase: at least 66% of my time is spent in the editing phase. Perhaps this goes back to my perfectionism (see post here), and my desire to get every sentence perfect before sharing it with someone. That can be crippling. 

So it leaves me with a dilemma of when to stop. I could spend a lifetime editing and re-editing a novel (and, who knows?, maybe I will). But where's that moment in time when you stop doing good for the novel and start doing harm instead? I wish there were a timer on each of my novels. They would be just like those little plastic pop-up timers on the turkeys you cook every Thanksgiving. When the novel is prime and juicy, ready for consumption, the little red sphere pokes out and says, "Bing! I'm done. Send me on to a publisher, I'm not getting any better than this!" 

Okay, that's a bit unrealistic; let's get back to time. 

I think most of our time working on a novel should be spent in the editing phase. A first draft is crap.

For example, every NaNo month, the NaNo supporters and the NaNo haters pop up with their blogs, either encouraging or discouraging people to try their hand at writing a novel. Both have valid points. 

A first draft is crap. It's inedible swill, it's raw turkey. Maybe half-baked. And consuming it will give you food poisoning. Beginning writers must remember this. It's something that has taken me many years to learn. Looking back at my first novels, ones that I chose not to edit much, I know a first draft is not ready for a reader's eyes.

So the NaNo haters have a point: don't write a first draft and expect it to be awesome. Unless you're willing to do the work editing, you aren't going to make it as a writer. "Everyone has a novel in them," is an oft-quoted bit of encouragement for the wannabe writer. Yes, everyone may have a novel in them, but not everyone has the perseverance to make that novel the best they can make it.

A writer must accept that writing a novel is not just putting the words on the page. Writing a novel is rewriting. And that, my friends, takes times. And it's hard, sweaty work.

"There is no great writing, only great rewriting."Justice Brandeis 



This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

S is for Strength. 

Everyone has certain strengths. For one person this may be singing, another public speaking, yet another gardening. But even within those areas of strengths, a talented speaker may be able to engage his audience well, but struggle with making a PowerPoint or an outline. Still, they may be considered a powerful speaker because of their mere stage presence.

It's the same with a writer. Each writer has their own strengths. The trick is to find out where your strengths lie and use them. In many ways this is easier said than done. How many of us can see our writing as a total stranger does? (Anyone? Anyone?)

I certainly can't. I've been shocked by the feedback I've received, highlighting strengths (and weaknesses) that I was never aware of. For example, I've been told several times that I can write natural sounding dialogue. This was never a strength I was aware of, I merely wrote it as I thought it sounded. But to the odd reader, it read like natural dialogue. The only way I would have known of this strength is by asking for feedback.

Now, I don't mean that you take every compliment you're given and conclude that you are the best writer to ever grace this world with your writing. No. But, if you consistently receive the same comments from several independent people on different projects, perhaps you may conclude that you have found one of your strengths. This may be creating lively, lovable characters, or a nicely paced plot, or a talent for description, or an enchanting voice.

Why bother finding your strengths?

I think it's just as important to know your strengths as it is your weaknesses. Often we overlook our own strengths and focus on what needs work. While this isn't a bad thing, as our weaknesses need more time and effort than our strengths, if we don't know what we're good at, we run the risk of trying to fix something that isn't broken.

Often when we try to fix something of ours, we look to others and how they accomplish this task. This may be the most valuable method out there. Except for this: there are as many ways to write as there are people on this earth.

By not knowing your strengths, you might end up believing your strength is a weakness and try to fix it. In other words, you could spend a lifetime trying to fix something that isn't broken.

What are some of your strengths? I want to hear from you!




This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

R is for Repetition.

There are many forms of repetition. Only some which I will address in this post.

I think when most people consider repetition, they think of the bad form. This is where a usually inexperienced writer will reuse the same word because they don't have the vocabulary needed to avoid doing so. This repetition can be distracting and frustrating to the reader.

But there are other kinds of repetition; repetition which adds drama and evokes stronger emotions in the reader, repetition which acts as a rhetorical device.

1. Alliteration, or Repetition of Sounds:

This is the repetition of one letter sound. It is closely related to onomatopoeias (see my recent O is for Onomatopoeias post), where the repetition of the sound is used to suggest the subject. "A spitting snake" would evoke a snake's hiss by the "s" sounds in spitting and snake. Thus it could be called both an onomatopoeia and an alliteration.

"I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street"

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

2. Anadiplosis, or Repetition of a word that ends one clause and begins the next:

"My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, And every tongue brings in a several tale, And every tale condemns me for a villain." William Shakespeare, Richard III, V, iii

3. Anaphora, or Repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of each clause:

Charles Dickens has perhaps the best examples of this that I can come up with right now. They send chills down my spine every time I read them, too.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities first line 

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities last line

4. Epanalepsis, or Repetition at the end of a clause that which was at the beginning:

"Blood hath bought blood, and blows have answer'd blows." William Shakespeare, King John, II, I

5. Parallelism, or Repetition of sentence structure:

This would be where several sentences in a row begin with the same phrase in order to draw emphasis to it.

It's perhaps easiest to see in poetry, so I've chosen some examples from a couple of famous poems to show this.

"With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

`I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.' -
"Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest!
This body dropped not down."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner

For another example, check out John F. Kennedy's famous, "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You," speech here.

6. Repetition of a single word:

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

John F. Kennedy, Inaugural address, 20 January 1961

Do you like repetition? I'd love to hear what you think about this rhetorical device! Leave a comment below!




This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

Q is for Quotes.

More specifically, one quote: 

"Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia."  ~E.L. Doctorow

This is one of my all time favorite quotes about writing.

As a writer, I have a thousand little voices in my head. As I go through my day, I am bombarded with voices. I see a car on the road driving recklessly, and I think that would be a great scene in a novel. I'm in a coffee shop and I overhear someone talking about their son who is in jail, and I think there's my next plot.

According to PubMed:

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it hard to:
  • Tell the difference between what is real and not real 
  • Think clearly 
  • Have normal emotional responses 
  • Act normally in social situations 

At first, you may have the following symptoms:
  • Irritable or tense feeling 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Trouble sleeping 

Disorganized schizophrenia symptoms may include:
  • Childlike behavior 
  • Problems thinking and explaining your ideas clearly 
  • Showing little emotion 

Writing, at times, feels like schizophrenia. You've got a million voices telling you what to write and what to do. It's impossible to concentrate on any one thing. You react abnormally to a social situation because you're thinking about how your character would react in that situation instead. When you lay down to sleep, your mind runs full speed ahead. You're distanced from the world, alone in your fictional one, and yet when you sit down to write, you have trouble communicating your ideas clearly.

Sometimes it's so easy to get caught up in the haphazard world of writing and surrender ourselves to it. But it's important to recognize that this is the life of a writer. As a writer, you seek the story in your head in its entirety. You want that little voice to become a loud, obnoxious voice clamoring for escape until it emerges, like Athena from Zeus' head: fully grown and authoritative. And a writer won't stop until it is. Because only that can silence the voice.




This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

P is for Perfectionism.

The bane of my existence. At least in writing. 

There are many things I attempt to do well in my life, and some of them I care more about than others. So it only seems apt that in writing I attempt perfectionism more than anywhere else. And thus, I struggle with perfectionism in my writing like I don't anywhere else in my life.

I think people tend to try harder at things they 1) find interesting and 2) are passionate about. Therefore, as writing is one of my great passions, I find it both interesting and am passionate about it. And, unfortunately, that's where perfectionism comes in. 

There are a lot of ways I could take this post on perfectionism. I could discuss the ways to irradicate it in your life. I could discuss techniques to avoid perfectionism or how futile it is to try to be perfect. But I'm not going to discuss any of those. Instead, I'm going to embrace perfectionism. (To a degree.)

When you care so much about something, you struggle to perform well. at the best of your ability. flawlessly. If you're passionate about cars and restoring old cars, you're going to put a lot of time and effort into restoring that car. You'll spend hours upon hours fine-tuning the engine, picking the right shade of paint and making sure every inch of that car shines before you drive it to a car show and ask others to admire it.

That's how I am with my writing. A to Z has been both a blessing and a curse. It's so much pressure for a perfectionist to turn out something worth reading every day (not that everything I've written this April has been worth reading). So I feel the pressure of not only coming up with an appropriate topic, with the appropriate letter theme, but also with writing something coherent and worth reading on said topic. And then posting a piece that I'm not pleased with on the Internet? For all to see? Some days, that's taken about as much courage as I can muster.

But A to Z has been a blessing, too. In some ways, I've shaken off my perfectionism and realized that even an imperfect thought has value. I've connected with people I've never met before over my imperfect thoughts. And how cool is that?

Allow me to be honest. I'm one of those people who finishes tasks early, then sits on them for as long as possible, making tiny changes here and there, just in the hopes of making it perfect before it's finally due. And really, who am I kidding? At least in writing, there will never be a perfect piece.

Well, let me take that back. In writing, it's the imperfections which can often make a piece worth it.

What do I mean by that? Life is full of imperfections. And it's only fair that fiction should also be full of imperfections. Not imperfect plots, not imperfect pacing, not imperfect point of views. But imperfect people. 

Life is characterized by imperfect people making imperfect decisions. So while I'm trying to craft a perfect sentence (because I remain unapologetically a perfectionist like that), I'm also trying to remind myself that life is imperfect. In dialogue, an imperfect sentence may very well speak to the characterization of the speaker. Its imperfections could tell a great deal more about the speaker than I ever could in a page of narration. And the reader will understand that.

Because while I'm stuck trying to have the illusive/nonexistent perfect piece of prose, my imperfect reader is sitting there with the book in their hand thinking, "I'm so glad this character isn't perfect. I'm so glad they made the wrong choice here--I would do the same thing, even though it's stupid."

Above perfect grammar and perfect plots, I want perfectly imperfect people in my novels. Because readers often connect with characters above all.

What do you think? Does perfectionism inhibit you?




This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

O is for Onomatopoeia 

Today I wanted to talk about onomatopoeias (pronunciation: änəˌmatəˈpēə). If that's not a fun and totally underutilized word to say, I don't know what is.

An onomatopoeia is a word which sounds like what it is. Officially it is, "the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named." 

Many common onomatopoeias are animal sounds. Bzzz, oink, cuckoo, ribbit, meow, etc. All these are spellings of what the sound sounds like. Non-animal onomatopoeias would be snap, crack, sizzle, splat, tapping, rapping, etc. 

The nice thing about onomatopoeias is that they paint an immediate picture in your mind about the sound. What does "oink" suggest to you? You'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't think of a pig.

In literature, words like buzz, snap, sizzle, etc. are all used frequently. Like an animal sound, they immediately offer the reader a metal image of what is happening on the page, an auditory image if you will. If you read, "knocked," you're probably thinking of someone knocking on a door, or a branch knocking against the house. That's because of the onomatopoeia essence of the word.

These can be incredibly valuable words to choose when writing fiction. They can also be some of the most annoying.

Personally, when I'm deep into reading a book and dialogue or narrative is broken by a two word sentence of: "Knock-knock!" I find the entire paragraph skip-worthy. It jerks me from the story I'm reading in order to interject an unneeded "sound"--a sound which comes off as "telling." Not to say that onomatopoeias are not useful or never appropriate. In fact, that jerking from the story may be exactly what the author intends--as the character is jerked from their daily life by a knock, so are you jerked out of the story.

But personally, I'd rather read something like, "The knock on the door had me jumping out of my skin." You still read the onomatopoeia, but you aren't jerked from the story in order to do so. Instead, it gently informs you of the auditory image in your mind, and you feel the tremble running under the character's skin from her surprise.

What are your feelings about onomatopoeias? How do you prefer to read them?


Onomatopoeias are used in some of the most well-known poems and by the most well-known authors.

Nursery Rhyme Examples:
Baa Baa Black Sheep

Old MacDonald had a farm
Ee i ee i oh!
And on that farm he had some chickens,
Ee i ee i oh!
With a cluck-cluck here,
And a cluck-cluck there

Poetry Examples:
Edgar Allen Poe
The Bells

Hear the sledges with the bells - 
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells - 
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Morte D'Arthur

"I heard the ripple washing in the reeds, [5]
  And the wild water lapping on the crag."




This month I'm participating in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, found here. Every day of April (except for Sundays), we are posting a blog with the theme of A to Z.

"N" is for NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo stands for "National Novel Writing Month." Traditionally, this refers to November, where wannabe authors attempt to pound out 50,000 words in 30 days. It's a frantic attempt to write a novel in a month (well, more like a novella).

I've blogged about NaNoWriMo (NaNo for short) before, and "won" it twice now. This

month happens to be one of the Camp NaNoWriMo months. April and July are both Camp NaNo months, but this is my first year participating in the Camp version. The awesome thing about Camp NaNo is that it's a little less pressure. Or, it could be even more pressure! That's because you can adjust your goal word count for the Camp NaNo months.

The default word count for Camp NaNo is 50,000 like for the traditional November NaNoWriMo. This time, I've left my word count alone, as 50K is a reasonable goal. It averages out to 1667 words a day, and that's plenty ambitious, especially if you have other things going on.

I'm a fast typist, so it's not writing the words down which challenges me. (I can accomplish my goal in an hour if I'm properly motivated.) The problem is coming up with ideas for the next scene. The past few days have been challenging, and I ended up with only 764 words for the past three days (Yikes, that puts me behind!).

Since I scheduled my April to give myself the weekends off, I didn't feel too bad. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I started off trying to get some editing done on a different WIP, and that was a big mistake. Instead of getting very far with that, I ended up spending about two hours editing less than 2000 words. And the rest of the day got way too busy too quickly to even think about Camp NaNo. Ugh. Can you say "guilt?"

But in my experience with NaNo events, there will always be days where life gets in the way. There will be days where other things slip to the front of the line, whether or not they deserve to be there. And then you're left wondering where the day went and how to catch up on my word count that I haven't achieved. 

When low word count days occur, or even days where I'm not able to write at all, instead of getting discouraged and wanting to give up, I only need to readjust my goals. Whereas my daily goal for Monday through Friday was 2272, it's now slightly higher at 2584. If that becomes too much for one day, I know that I can take a Saturday or Sunday and punch out a few more words in order to catch up.

Another option is to focus on the weekly word goal (which works out to 12,500 words a week) instead getting overly concerned with the daily goal. If I can't reach my daily goal for one reason or another, I just look ahead to the weekly goal and work towards that. There are always days where I'm more productive than others, and often when I am up against seemingly insurmountable odds, I find a reserve of motivation and strength inside to continue.

Even if I don't "win" (as in reach the 50K word goal for the month), I have a significant chunk of a new novel started. And that's well worth the effort.



Linking Your Novel Together

As we wind down on Week 2 of the A to Z blogger's challenge, I find myself struggling through a severe head cold and trying to string two coherent sentences together. So for my "L," I came up with "links."

A well-written novel must be linked. And what do I mean by links? 

Well, if you think about the link of a chain, each one connects with two other links, one before and one after. The only two links which do not connect to two others are the beginning and end. But each link is soldered together to make running your hand over it smooth. 

For a novel, this means each scene is a link. And your entire story should be linked together so that it reads smoothly. It should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, all of which seamlessly flow into the other.

Each link serves its purpose to string the plot from beginning to end. No scene should be so abrupt that it causes the reader's attention to snag. Each scene should naturally follow the prior one. In other words, each scene needs to build on the information, characters, plot, themes of the one before. If a scene doesn't advance one or all of these, it might need to be revised or eliminated completely.

Each scene should: 

1. Establish when (time);
2. Establish where (setting);
3. Establish who (character or point-of-view);
4. Advance why we're reading (the plot);
5. Make it clear what the character(s) want;
6. Have conflict;
7. Start as late as possible in the action;
8. End as early as possible (think cliffhanger);
9. Transition us from the prior scene;
10. Transition us into the next scene.

A successful novel is one where the reader eagerly grabs a hold of the chain and, link-by-link, works his way from the beginning to the end. He isn't snagged at any one link, he doesn't stumble or want to put the book down. It's a difficult thing to do, but it's what every writer should aim for in their novel. (It's almost as difficult as making this metaphor work.)




Life is full of knots. Those kinks in the rope of life which interfere with your goals. Every time the rope begins to run quickly through your hands, your fingers catch on a knot. Each knot is a different size, a unique challenge. Some force you to unknot them before you can continue, while some are mere snags in the rope.

In the same way, literature is full of knots. Or, it should be. Every time a character's life seems to be going well, every time the character is getting what she wants, she should have her rope knotted. The knots should be varied in size, big, small, in-between. Some should require stopping, or turning back, while others should be more easily overcome.

There are a million different types of knots to throw at your characters--sailor knots, decorative knots, climbing knots, etc.--and each has their own level of complexity. It's up to the author to determine how complex a character's knot should be. In a novel, they should not only be varied in size, but unevenly spaced.

When a novel's storyline is successfully scattered with knots, it is full of twists, turns and cliff-hangers. Knots are what keep the reader reading. Knots are what show the reader the real character.

And because my current knot is in the form of a head cold, complete with a migraine, that's all for today.

I leave you with some pictures of cool knots and links for how to make them.
Source Animated Knots by Grog shows you how to complete these knots.


Source: Animated Knots by Grog