Last week, I shared about how much I hated my NaNoWriMo novel and how I got unstuck. This week, I’d like to share the wild and crazy ideas my friends gave me as I was wrestling with my inner critic and trying to figure out how to fix my broken story. Some of these suggestions were things I’ve used before; others were new to me. All of them have merit, especially if you are looking for ways to really shake things up.

The one thing these suggestions have in common is a sense of the extreme. The lesson I took away: You must be willing to do ANYTHING in your writing. For those of us who don’t really plan what we are going to write (known as “pantsers”, because we write by the seat of our pants), this is a Golden Truth about first drafts. Anything goes. Literally anything. Staying in that sense of the possible produces the most creative and surprising work, right along with the silliest and strangest.

Here, in no particular order, are the suggestions my friends made:

ZeppelinExploding

“Crash an airplane”… or a zeppelin, if you prefer.

  • In screenwriting, when we get stuck, we crash an airplane. It always works. If you’re in an era in which there are no airplanes, have a witch on a broom crash…or blow something up… —  Judy Fort Brenneman
  • Do something drastic. Have an asteroid drop on the situation and start over with whatever rises from the ashes. I mean, a COMPLETE blow-it-up. Vestiges of what you were working on will appear to have survived. What are they? — Deborah Robson
  • Maybe add in a scene from a different point-of-view and see if that change in perspective helps?
    OR
    My favorite sometimes non-serious advice is to have something fall onto the characters — literally or figuratively — that wasn’t foreshadowed, like the cliché “dead body falling down the stairs when they open the door.” — Jami Gold
  • Sounds like you need to go in a new direction, even if it invalidates a lot of what you have already written. My first thought is to introduce an entirely new character (or two or three). Maybe even someone with no relationship, yet, to the existing protagonists? — Kelleen Casey
  • Someone wakes up and it was all a bad dream.
    OR
    Someone finds a device that allows them to step into an alternate reality… and some how loses the device/key that will let them get back. Characters have different personalities, past events had different outcomes, protagonist is fish out of water. Protagonist loses/ finds love interest through this plot twist. — Josie Bergstrom
  • Step out the story and give your main character a dream. Then analyse it and then go back to the story and there should be some scene inspiration that’s magically evolved while you’ve been off dreaming… — Sara Litchfield
  • Get crazy. Jump around in your story. Write something that doesn’t fit, like zombie vampire clowns from outer space that turn everyone they bite into clones of the world’s most hated celebrities. — A. Marie Silver
  • “Road Trip!” Have a character or characters go somewhere. Get them out of their comfort zone. Shake-up their world by taking them out of it. — Christina Anne Hawthorne
  • What’s your main character’s biggest fear? Write a bit about why they’re afraid of that thing. It really helps me.
    OR
    You can write a scene out of order. That’s my other favorite trick. Good luck! — Jenny Hansen
"Introduce a new character"... or a clown, or  a giant, or maybe a giant clown.

“Introduce a new character”… or a clown, or a giant, or maybe a giant clown.

Have you every hated the story you were writing? What did you do to get over the hate?

Extended Illness + Arctic Vortex + Broken Car = CABIN FEVER

In honor of my current cabin fever, Friday, and the fact that winter is apparently here to stay, here is three minutes of Friday Fun: the Muppets singing about cabin fever in Muppet Treasure Island. Enjoy!

In case you are wondering, I’m still sick. It’s day 16 of this virus and I am ready to be well again. While I’ve been gradually getting better, last night my throat pain flared back up and I was afraid I was headed for a major relapse. This morning I am tired, but not in nearly as much pain, so I hope that means I’ll be healthy soon.

My thought for today is this: Patience is also a form of action. (Auguste Rodin)

patience_web

Considering how much sitting and lying around I’ve been doing, it’s nice to think that inactivity can count as a form of action. If waiting to get better counts as patience, then I’m an action hero.

As I’ve said, patience with myself is not my strong suit, but I’m getting lots and lots and lots of practice. For now, I’m heading back to bed.

How are you at patience and waiting? Does this quote ring true, or does it sound like a rationalization?

As an eight-time NaNoWriMo veteran, you’d think I would have all the answers when it comes to writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. Certainly, I know a lot about it and have strategies for dealing with many of the challenges involved. But here I am in the middle of my ninth year and NaNoWriMo is still teaching me new lessons.

For the first time ever, I hate the novel I’m writing. I’ve been stuck before, wondering where my unplanned story was headed, and frustrated with my feeble attempts to get the story moving again. But I have never before hated what I was doing.

IMG_6043_web

This year’s fun notebook cover hides the horrors waiting inside.

In the last week, sitting down to work on my NaNo novel has taken supreme effort and discipline. Any time I wasn’t actually on the computer, gagging out the next scene, I was dreading the moment when I would have to get on the computer and start gagging writing.

Yesterday, I hit the breaking point. I’d taken Saturday off because I hated the story too much to face it, and I needed to write something to keep from falling even further behind on my word count. (I’m determined to make the quota for the month, even if I can’t fulfill my other goal of having a complete story arc. At this point, I’ll deserve a medal just for surviving this exquisite form of torture.) So I complained to my friends via social media, I read their suggestions, and I took a hard look at what I hated about this story.

This is what I discovered:
1) My angry snotty teenage heroine was pissing me off.
2) My love-interest/hero was wimpy and letting the heroine push him around, making him completely unloveable.
3) My projected plot line was totally boring predictable.
4) My chosen genre (science fiction) was giving me trouble. I was having a hard time making things up because my inner critic kept telling me “You have to get it right, or what’s the point?”

The last problem was my biggest. The other three I could do something about*, but wrestling with my inner critic has been a life long struggle. Years ago, my critic was stronger than the rest of me and constantly paralyzed me with harsh words. Thanks to my years of NaNoWriMo participation, I’ve learned to shut my inner critic off and play on the page without reserve.

Which explains why I’m so cranky right now. I am halfway through another November, having looked forward to a month of carefree practice writing, and my critic is a cloud dumping acid rain on my picnic. I thought I had this thing licked, that I knew how to deal with my destructive inner critic. Unfortunately, defeating it is temporary at best. It comes creeping back in new forms, with new voices, and if I’m not vigilant, I get talked into the corner and shut down on the creative front.

I hate being shut down creatively. It leaves me feeling ill. And I really hate hating my own book. Fortunately, my subconscious took on my inner critic in a dream last night and argued him into submission.

The analogy my dream-self used was scientific research. Basic research is about trying things. There are no good or bad ideas, just ideas that lead to solutions, and ideas that don’t. Some ideas fail to solve the problem at hand, but instead solve a different problem in an exciting new way. (Post-It note adhesive, anyone?) You can’t find the new stuff if you aren’t willing to explore, to experiment, and to fail.

Creativity is about exploration and experimentation, too. What others think of what we’re doing doesn’t matter. No one can know for sure where a well-explored idea might lead. It could be a dead-end, with nothing new or interesting to offer. But it could open the door to a wonderful new place no one has seen before, a place rich with gifts for the visitor. All that matters is that the person doing the exploring is interested in this territory and is willing to spend time finding out what’s there. Even if nothing of use is discovered, it is not a wasted exercise. The explorer still learns from everything she does.

Today I’m feeling shored up. I have remembered that this writing exercise I am doing is an experiment, a chance for me to explore new territory and play with some ideas. They may not come to anything I am interested in pursuing, but that doesn’t matter. Anything goes. The goal is to see new things and think new thoughts. Whether they are of any value in and of themselves is a question for another day.

*My short-term solutions to my first three problems were:
1) Embarrass the little brat, plus break her ankle.
2) Give him spine and have him stand up to her.
3) Burn down the house and set the hero and heroine on the run.

Have you ever hated a project you were working on? How did you deal with it?

Last week, I posted about a book I made to commemorate a gathering of friends and where I went wrong. Here are instructions for how to make the book the right way as well as my way. The separate sets of pages make this book a great choice for group projects such as collaborations or swaps. You can also use this structure for a travel journal that you assemble after you return home.

This book was a collaboration made by my friends to celebrate my 40th birthday, back when I was still known as "Kathy"

This book was a collaboration made by my friends to celebrate my 40th birthday, back when I was still known as “Kathy”

For those who missed it, when I put my book together, I realized I’d made a mistake in measuring, and I wound up with a text block that leaned to one side. I made oversized covers and added “danglies” to fill in the space along the spine.

Party Book as seen from the top. Notice the way it leans...

Party Book as seen from the top. Notice the way it leans…

Here’s how to make the traditional version of this accordion-style book. (Notes for my funky version are at the end.)

1) Make your pages. I cut 90-lb watercolor paper into strips 4.5” x 12” to get two 4.5” x 5.5” pages with 1” left over for a glue tab.
2) Fold. Measure 1” in from one end of the paper strip, score, and fold back. With the tab folded under, line up the end of the strip with the edge of the fold. Crease. This will divide the paper into equal halves*. (If you measure instead, be careful. I didn’t account for the width of my bone folder and got unequal pages.)

Folding the page in half (the tab is underneath)

Folding the page in half (the tab is underneath)

3) Mark your tabs. With the tab to your right, use a marker or pen to draw a “this way up” arrow. Be bold; this tab will be completely covered up when the book is assembled and the arrow insures the finished book’s pages all go the right way.

One prepared section (2 pages) with well-marked tab

One prepared section (2 pages) with well-marked tab

4) Pass out the pages to your friends or decorate them yourself.
5) Glue the finished pages together. Put glue on the front of the tab and lay the next page in the book on top of it, so that the edge of the page lines up with the fold. Once all the pages are together, put the block under heavy boards or books to dry.

Gluing the decorated pages together

Gluing the decorated pages together

6) Make your book covers. Cut two pieces of mat board or heavy cardboard a little larger than your book pages.** I like 1/8” extra along the spine, top, and bottom, and ¼” extra along the front edge. Decorate the outside of the covers.
7) Glue on covers. When the text block is dry, glue the front cover to the back of the first page. Cut the tab off the last page before gluing it to the inside of the back cover. Add a ribbon tie by laying the ribbon vertically between the back cover and last page before you glue them together.
8) Dangly time! (You can add danglies to either version of this book.) Use, ribbon, fabric, paper, buttons, beads, feathers, tags, found objects, whatever you want, and make danglies – pieces that are long enough to stick out past the edge of your book cover after you attach them behind the spine edge folds of your accordion pages. In my haste (this was so much fun, I couldn’t go fast enough), I used double-stick and masking tapes. If your book will be handled much, take the time to use something more permanent, like glue.

My Birthday Book, opened out, accordion-style.

My Birthday Book, opened out, accordion-style.

*To get a funky trapezoid like mine, just make the fold between the pages consistently uneven, e.g., always fold the edge to 1/8” above the tab fold.
**The covers of my book cover the entire trapezoid. I just measured across the longest distance from spine edge to fore edge.

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