So You Haven’t Been Writing

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Confession: I haven’t been writing everyday.

I haven’t been showing up. I haven’t been sitting at my desk or in a café or in my window seat at Barnes & Noble. My laptop has been dead for days. I literally had to dig my backpack out from under laundry and empty candle packages.

Honestly, my mind is a little cluttered these days:

  • Will George R.R. Martin finish A Dream of Spring?
  • I can totally go one more day without washing my hair
  • We’re short-staffed again.
  • I’m sorry, but your story became too passive.
  • They won’t loan you money to open a bookstore with this much student loan debt
  • He’s not good for you anyway
  • Don’t let them see you angry
  • Why, yes, that is a cheese stain on the page of my book
  • Maybe if I just add a dragon to this story, it’ll be more exciting
  • I’ll just eat my feelings today
  • I’ll write tomorrow

And on and on it goes. Sometimes I find it hard to cut through all of the noise in my head. Halfway through Camp Nano, I’ve lost almost all of my steam. I’m not even a quarter of the way through this draft and I don’t know what it is, but something’s not right.

I have this problem: when I give myself to something (someone), I give it all without a second though. I fall madly in love with that project, that place, that person, that book, that idea, and usually, by the time it’s finished, there’s nothing left of me at the end. But it only occurs to me after everything’s said and done that I somehow lost myself along the way. And writing usually helps me discover who I’m supposed to be now, to get back those pieces that I threw to the wind.

It hasn’t happened with this project yet. I think it might be because my brain hasn’t wrapped entirely around the plot. Contemporaries are so hard to write because they rely so heavily on the characters and the emotional pay-off. And recent feedback on my last novel really has me frozen because all I can think about is agency. But maybe I’m thinking too hard about the plot, about the characters, about what I want the final draft to look like.

But maybe it’s also exhaustion and frustration and staying up late after working on my feet all day and not getting enough sleep even when I’m not staying up to read (or write) and drinking too much coffee and worrying too much about the future and feeling like a constant disappointment and a failure and like I can’t take care of myself because of a) my anxiety and b) there are just so many life things I have to do that writing can’t always come first.

Not writing makes me feel guilty. It’s self-inflicted and hard to put aside.

I honestly thought that maybe I would write an inspirational post about how you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you step away from the page. Like maybe I would say things like: life gets in the way, you can take a break to breathe, it’s better to focus on yourself than the story in your head, let it come naturally, you will write again, you will achieve your dreams, you’ll find your way through this roadblock. I even thought I’d mention at least once that it’s not worth it to hold it against yourself, that living is apart of writing, as is reading and exploring and falling in love with yourself and the world and others. It’s okay to step back and let life run its course and the story to draw you back in at a later time.

But the truth is, I suffer for my art. I hold it against myself when I remember to just live, when my thoughts are more on friendships that are beginning to crack, how to not hold on so tightly to people who will never stay, how to just ask him to stay, how there is too much comparison happening, how things don’t just happen at your will, how dreams take time.

The thing is, there will come a point in the future when I sit down and write. I won’t think much of it then, probably not until after I’ve returned to the finish draft. Those months will feel like magic, a breeze against my cheek in a room with all of the windows closed as I reread those scenes: a guy in a bookstore with his hands on her face, a conversation she had with her father at the kitchen table, an elderly man paying for a cup of coffee with pennies, looking at a summer sky through a moonroof, fireflies in the yard, Google searches that lead to rabbit holes, late-night conversations with him about his favorite author and the book he hoped to one day write, fighting with friends via text, losing yourself in a job you don’t enjoy, crying in a Starbucks bathroom.

And it might take a few moments or months or years before I understand where those all came from and why they took me so long to write in the first place.

5 Essentials to Surviving Camp Nanowrimo

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I’ve embarked on a new WIP for Camp Nanowrimo 2019. Every time I think about this new one, I’m not sure I understand it yet. Which is part of the fun, because first drafts are for mistakes and too much dialogue and too little description and INSERT CHARACTER NAME HERE moments and plot holes and being continuously surprised by your characters and where they take you.

However, first drafts are daunting. And when you’re doing something like Camp Nanowrimo, it can be intimidating staring down a new project and not knowing what to write next. For me, there is fear of failure, of not meeting word counts, of writing myself into a corner.

Believe me when I say I worry about this a lot. During November 2018, I failed Nanowrimo. The official novel writing month challenges asks you to write at least 50k in thirty days. You’re supposed to sit down every day and write at least 1,666 words. You’re supposed to make a dent in that story that’s been weighing on your mind. You’re supposed to let go of self-control and perfectionism and just write.

That is hard.

Which is why Camp Nano is one of my favorite times of the year. Because there is more flexibility (of course, you’re not signing away your soul or your firstborn during November and can loosely cheat if that’s your style) with the camp version. You can declare whether you’re editing or writing or rewriting or whatever it is you need to do to finish the current draft. You get to pick your ow word count goal, meaning you can aim high or low and make it easier or harder on yourself.

No matter what, showing up every day to write can be difficult. I decided that I still wanted to write at least 50k this month. My current draft was sitting at a meager 8,377 words before I started, which means it’ll be around the 60k word count by the end of April.

We’re eleven days in and I have no idea if I’ll actually reach my goal. I’ve been wavering around 1k words per day now (but I’m hoping that once I catch up on my GOT re-watch and season 8 premieres, I’ll be back on track).

But I’m still writing every day. And here’s how:

5 ESSENTIALS TO SURVIVING CAMP NANOWRIMO

1. A Pre-Existing Idea

I’ve found that in previous years when I went into Nanowrimo without any solid idea of what I was going to write that month, I always failed. So, this year, I decided to return to a partial draft that’s been sitting in my .docs for a while. with only 8k words, I haven’t put so much time into it that it’s well on its way to being finished, but it’s also not so new that I don’t know anything about my hopes or my intentions for this story.

Knowing the general trajectory of the plot helps me keep writing and doesn’t keep me constantly in a “create” mode, which can be hard to maintain for a week, let alone a whole month.

2. A No Rereading/Rewriting Rule

I struggle with perfectionism, and will often times write several pages only to highlight and delete them moments after. (Sometimes, I really regret that decision and will ultimately undo it). But I can’t spend time this month getting caught up in small details that don’t require my immediate attention or damage the story in any way.

This time around, I’ve instated a new rule that I cannot reread or rewrite any of my scenes. (Admittedly, I’ve broken this rule once because it was very apparent halfway through the chapter that it was not at all what I was envisioning for it). But rereading and rewriting make me lose my momentum. I get caught up in things that don’t actually need to be fixed right away and once I get too focused on the minor problems, I can’t move on. I eventually just stop writing.

3. A Draft 2 Notepad

Because of the above rule, I needed a way to please my inner editor. Sometimes, she just won’t shut up. Like she’ll see something on the page or think of something better and won’t let me move forward until I’ve fixed whatever problem has caught her attention.

So, this time around, I’ve kept blank pages in my project notebook to scribble down ideas for things that need to be changed/reworked/rewritten/deleted in the next draft. It’s not as satisfying as going back and just rewriting everything from the very first line, it’s making it easier to keep moving forward.

(You might me noticing a pattern and it really is all about momentum and keeping writing and not getting caught up in the mistakes.)

4. A Scene Jar

Inevitably, I will get stuck. I will most likely write myself into a corner, or realize I’m missing a crucial event that needed to happen several chapters ago or that I just don’t like the current direction the draft is taking. And since I’m not starting with a random idea and no words, I went ahead and scribbled down different scene ideas on notecards. I dropped them into a mason jar, and now, whenever I’m feeling stuck, I pick a random scene to write.

I’ve found that it works great for a project in which you know the general gist of the characters/place/plot because the scene ideas feel like specialized prompts.

5. A Reward System

Finally, I created a word-count tracker. I’ve been using the pacemaker.press websitte as well as a notebook. At the end of the night, I scribble in the box if I’ve met my word count goal and jot down my daily progress regardless. Each week, I get to reward myself with something as long as I have shown up every day to write. It’s a simple but effective way to hold myself accountable, but also not guilt-trip myself either.

 

These are just small pieces of my process for Camp Nanowrimo. They’re all relatively simple, but I’ve found that they keep me writing, which is ultimately my goal for this month.

Do you have any tips or tricks to tackling a draft in one month? Drop them below, I’d love to know how your project is going!

Each WIP Requires Something Different

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It’s Day 5 of Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’m once again at Barnes & Noble. When you live outside of the city, there aren’t very many small cafes to escape to. So, I always end up at the same place, at the window seat, where the view isn’t more than the parking lot and trees in the distance.

Right now, I’m craving nature. All I wish for are sunny days and warmth and hours spent in the woods. What I’d really love is a writer’s retreat: a weekend in a cabin up in the mountains with two or three other writers, several bottles of wine, and conversations about writing. But there are currently too many things up in the air right now to make that happen, so instead I settle for this chair near the window.

I’ve found these days that my writing is very much dependent on my space. It’s so important during this drafting stage for me to just get the words out on the page, which is interesting, considering that when I was a teenager and writing mainly to post on Wattpad, I could write just about anywhere.

I’m still accepting that my process is an ever-changing thing. This is both encouraging and frustrating.

It has a lot to do with the fact that each WIP requires something different. When I was writing my last project (for this post’s sake, I’ll refer to it as Project B), I was a different person. I was fresh out of a heartbreak that shook my entire world. I was running three times a week just to clear my head, relying heavily on my friendships, drinking far too much, and battling shame and depression and change.

I’m a much different person now, so what my current WIP is asking of me is different. While set in the same town with a few reoccurring characters, I’m tackling a whole new subject and a completely new voice.

With Project B, I was able to sit down and write all day. There was just so much built up emotion and frustration and sadness, I found that the best way for me to deal with it was to write about it. Once the words starting flowing from my fingertips, I often couldn’t stop. I’d write and write and write, most days forgetting to eat, forgetting to hydrate, sacrificing sleep to write whenever the urge struck me.

This time, I can’t do that. Not only does my job really interfere with my writing time, but I’ve tried to spend an entire day at my desk and it doesn’t work. I’m fidgety and maybe only ever really writing for two hours at a time. Forget any sort of linear trajectory. I write whatever comes to mind (thank goodness for Scrivener).

At first, I thought that maybe it was because I don’t quite yet feel like I understand the voice of my current main character. During Project B, I felt like I was just pouring my heart onto the page. After my mom read the second or third draft, she said to me, “Kammi, this sounds just like you.” I hadn’t mentioned to her how much I felt like that character was a part of me.

This time, I feel kind of the same way the further I get into the story. My current MFC is just a different version of me. If the one from Project B was a reflection of the person I was two years ago, my new one is a reflection of who I was as a teenager and perhaps the things I haven’t yet outgrown or dealt with. Our situations are vaguely similar, and if anything, her journey is shrouded in the same confusion I’m still dealing with, especially when it comes to a political divide in her household and who she is versus who her parents want her to be.

I decided to use a lighter tone, to have this character use humor as a defense mechanism. (If you know me in real life, you know I am definitely not funny. And most of my humor is based around sarcasm and genuinely me just being a pretentious asshole). Regardless, I think at times this is why I’m struggling to really get into the story because both the form and the voice are so different from what I usually write.

That’s part of the beauty of writing a book. With each one you write, you realize it requires something different from you. In the end, though, it teaches you something in return. Sometimes it’s something about yourself, about your process, about your outlook on life, and sometimes you just can’t pinpoint what about you has changed.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to get from this draft. And maybe that’s because I’m also not entirely sure what is happening with these characters or where they will take me.

And with Project B, I dreaded all of the unknowing. I felt like I had to have absolute control over the story and the characters and the message, and if I didn’t, it meant I would ultimately fail.

But this time, it’s different. I’m excited about the newness, about the adventure, about how I haven’t the slightest clue how it’ll all end.

I think that finally means I’m just excited to be writing again.

The Bright Side

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So…it’s been awhile.

I know at the beginning of January, I had all of the intentions of posting weekly, but I started a new position at my job that quickly deterred me from a lot in life (and ate up almost all of my free time). It’s not glamorous in any way, and more often than not, I’m left exhausted and angry at the end of the night.

Let’s just say that 2019 isn’t exactly turning out to be the year of my dreams.

If anything, I’m quickly realizing that this might be the year that challenges me, that will continuously ask me how far I’m willing to go and how much I’m willing to sacrifice to achieve these dreams.

I’ve been holding onto a lot of rejection lately, which has led to a lot of dissatisfaction about my current place in life. After feeling incredible about the interview I had with a publishing house in New York, I ultimately didn’t land the job. The last agent who had the full draft of my last book didn’t want it. These were two things that could have changed the trajectory of my life. (I should be clear to point out that all I really want right now is some form of stability, which only one of these could have truly offered. I’m well aware of how competitive the publishing field is and I’m so grateful for these opportunities.)

Anyway, it felt very much like the publishing world wanted nothing I had to offer.

Admittedly, there was a lot of anger and frustration and many tears because these are things I’ve wanted since I was a child. Things that I have spent more money than I will ever have in order to be educated to increase my chances, to have internships, to have spent time writing, to buy books. Things I had romanticized as an escape from this very present stuck feeling that I cannot shake no matter how hard I try.

I am ridiculously hard on myself. Failure is a word that makes me deeply uncomfortable, but I have always gotten back up. Sometimes, I just power through it and suppress any and all emotions until fate brings them rising to the surface and I have no choice but to confront them.

So, this time, I tried to deal with it. I felt it all. I spent the Friday evening that both rejections landed in my inbox at home alone. I read my book, pretended it didn’t hurt, dug the knife in deeper by telling myself I’d never get my foot in the publishing world door and that I wasn’t good enough to be an editorial assistant or an author anyway. I watched too many episodes of Bob’s Burgers and cried through the funny parts (because losing out on both opportunities felt like going through a break up), and then I took a bath and went to bed.

It’s been about a week now, and I feel a little better. I talked to a friend about it, someone who has always been upfront with me, whether it was about my manuscript or life. She told me about a friend of hers that made her realize writing/publishing could be a career. But this friend ended up taking every rejection very personally and just gave up.

That’s something I refuse to do. Even when I feel I’m at my worst, at my lowest, I will always try to stand back up. It might take some time, but I’ve learned through the years of rejections arriving in my inbox that this is proof that I’m trying. And, yes, it’s extremely hard to look on the bright side when you feel further from achieving your dreams than ever before. But isn’t it worse to just walk away? To not keep trying?

Because in the publishing world, all it really takes is one yes.

And it was that alone that made me sit back up. Yesterday marked the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve been sitting on a third of a draft for some time, but have hardly written anything in months. But I woke up yesterday morning with one thing on my mind:

it is time to begin again.

Intermission: Bookcon 2018

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This past weekend was my first Bookcon. Going into it, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I mean, I knew from talking to one of my friends from grad school that there were ARCs to get, books to have signed, authors to meet and fangirl over, and a ton of people. It sounded a lot like the Supernatural convention I attended two summers ago and like a more intense, more readership-oriented AWP. So, I was prepared, but perhaps not prepared enough.

The original plan was to get up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning because the commute from our Airbnb in Brooklyn was roughly an hour away. We had taken the midnight bus into NYC and arrived around seven in the morning on Friday. That left us cranky, exhausted, and somehow jet-lagged, so I slept in on Saturday. It was maybe a mistake because I missed out on V.E. Schwab signing tickets, but I wound up with a King of Scars sampler. I mean, it’s not an ARC (I would have died right then and there because the Six of Crows duology is my favorite series period. And Crooked Kingdom is my favorite book.)

I knew there would be a lot of people, but when we were waiting in line outside of the Fierce Reads fan experience booth, I didn’t realize just how many people were there. How many people had come all the way to NYC to see their favorite authors, to attend panels, to snag an ARC or twelve, to fangirl in the lobby, to cry at The Hate U Give panel with Angie Thomas, Amandla Stenberg, Sabrina Carpenter, and director, George Tillman Jr. IT WAS INSANE. Like, it took all I had not to sob during that panel because Angie Thomas is legit the sweetest, kindest, most passionate human being I have ever met.

There was just so much to do at Bookcon–like spin wheels to win prizes, camping out in front of the Penguin Random House booth when they dropped that 2019 Spring ARC and had to call in security–that it was almost overwhelming. But I was there on a mission–to get an ARC of What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera–so I knew what my goals for the weekend was. I went in with a group of friends, but didn’t see most of them throughout the conference.

SATURDAY

One of my favorite parts of the conference was getting to meet all of the authors. That morning, my friend and I waited in line at the Fierce Reads booth and managed to snag tickets to play the Plinko game for ARCs. She walked off with the one I was dying to get, and I got Heidi Heilig’s upcoming For a Muse of Fire. After that, we had an awesome experience where there were five authors and they sat us at tables. For eight minutes at a time, one author would sit with us, answer questions, sign books and take pictures. So, in an hour, I got to meet and chat with Adam Silvera (whose History is All You Left Me was such a comfort source for me while writing my own novel about grief), Angie Thomas, Becky Albertalli, Julie Kagawa, and Soman Chainani.

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Later on, I had a signing with Marie Lu and nearly cried when I got that Wildcard sampler. Like, I need to get back into Emika’s world ASAP. But she was so kind and listened to me babble on and on. I also somehow managed to squeeze in getting one of Nova Ren Suma’s ARCs, as well as Adele Griffin’s.

At the end of the day, we attended the Booksplosion panel. It wasn’t until grad school that I was introduced to the Booktube community, but once I started watching, I was obsessed. Christine, Jesse, and Kat are so cool, and I’ve always just loved the way they talk about books. Their panel was interactive and they are somehow even funnier in person.

Then there was an event outside of Bookcon, but one of my best friends is obsessed with thriller novels. Ruth Ware just so happened to be doing a signing at the Barnes & Noble in Eastchester, so after the already extremely long day at Bookcon, we took an Uber an hour out of the city to her event. We didn’t make it in time to hear her talk, but we got to talk to her and have our books signed. There’s just something about watching someone else meet their favorite author that makes me appreciate the literary community even more. I was an emotional wreck pretty much all weekend.

SUNDAY

The final day of Bookcon came with a hint of sadness. It went by so quickly.

IMG_5324I met Tomi Adeyemi in the morning. It was one of the first things I did besides spin the wheel at Owlcrate and get tickets to play Plinko to win another ARC. She was so amazing. Like words cannot describe how much I loved Children of Blood and Bone, how that book took me out of my reading slump and then put me back in it because pretty much nothing can live up to it right now. I can’t say this enough because every author I talked to was genuinely happy to be at Bookcon, to sign books, to talk to fans, to let them get emotional when they said how much their books meant to them. And that’s pretty much why I love the YA community so much.

IMG_5326After that, my friend and I just happened to be told by an Ampersand booth worker (shoutout to that lady, she was the real hero of my day) that Veronica Roth was doing a signing. We got tickets, and even though I had no idea how to tell her how much her books helped me, it was an awesome experience. And an excuse to buy The Fates Divided.

IMG_5354The afternoon was devoted to Becky Albertalli, who I may or may not have teared up in front of. I loved Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, but Leah on the Offbeat outdid my expectations. I devoured it in a few hours. It made me laugh, it made me so happy to see Simon happy, to get in Leah’s head, but it also did important things: it made me comfortable, it reminded me of myself. I’ve never related to a character like I did Leah, and when I told Becky that, I honestly thought I was going to lose it. Because Leah is so real. She is flawed, but she is human. She is scared, but she is brave. She is angry and emotional, but she is still lovable. And those were things that really resonated with me. If only I could’ve been this eloquent while talking to her, GOSH. I mostly just blubbered and felt uncomfortable, but it was such a day.

I know this post–like always–is insanely long. But I had to share with you all this incredible experience. I can’t believe I have to wait a whole year for this weekend again.

BOOKCON HAUL:

  • The Fates Divided by Veronica Roth (signed)
  • They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (signed)

  • A Room Away from the Wolves (ARC) by Nova Ren Suma (signed)

  • Tell Me No Lies (ARC) by Adele Griffin (signed)

  • The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (won at the Owlcrate wheel, gave to friend, and repurchased for the signing)

  • Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (pre-owned but now signed)

  • Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (pre-owned but now signed)

  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (free gift at Harper Collins)

  • The Reckless Club (ARC) by Beth Vrabel (middle-grade novel handed out)

  • For a Muse of Fire (ARC) by Heidi Heilig (won at Epic Reads)

  • Legends by Marie Lu (signed)

  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (pre-owned but signed)

  • Warcross by Marie Lu (pre-owned but signed)

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (had to buy again bc I lost my original copy but now signed)

  • Broken Things (ARC) by Lauren Oliver (won at Epic Reads)