Post NaNo Wrap Up And Planning For 2019

Well, so much for Blogmas!

Actually, I didn’t plan on doing Blogmas, so I’m not behind or anything, but I would like to post regularly on here again. I need to find a way to do so that isn’t as severe as every day, but not as wanting as every week.

I have been writing, though, just finishing up my NaNo work. I got about 10k more words in the last week, but I wasn’t as prolific as I wanted to be. It’s easiest to blame Husband being ridiculously sick, but it ultimately comes down to my own laziness. I did get to just about the end of the story. I have maybe three more chapters to go, but I’m leaving those to be done after the first edit/rewrite because I feel like once this is edited, there’s going to be some major plot doctoring/character changes that would significantly change this last set of scenes, so I’m just leaving the very ending open to whatever happens in the future.

Here’s a look at last week’s writing schedule finishing up The Omega (title likely to be changed):

It’s lackluster, I admit, but like every time I have a dip in my prolificness, it’s due to the outline not being well fleshed out! I reached just over 60k words total in this book’s first draft, which isn’t bad, and I’m guessing the final drafts will be somewhere around 70k and maybe 40 chapters (my goal is actually shorter chapters than I normally write as I’m looking to web-publish and I’ve read that due to the average shorter attention span, shorter chapters are the way to reader’s hearts which is hard for my normally verbose self).

So where do I go from here? Well, first The Omega needs to stew, so the file is being put away for at least a month. Before it gets completely shelved, I’m doing two things: writing out the skeleton, and consolidating my first draft notes.

The Skeleton — This is a new-to-me thing which is basically a bare bones (hence “skeleton,” get it?), post-draft/reverse outline. I’ve been keeping up with it as I go every few chapters and just finished it up today. It basically looks like this:

  1. Single sentence recap of the chapter
    • Important specific thing that may have happened
    • Other important specific thing that may have happened
      • Clarifying thing relating to character or story development if necessary

The numbers on the list relate to chapters, so I have as many header bullets as chapters, and up to three sub bullets each, but hopefully less. I want this to be incredibly brief, unlike the outline I create before writing, because the point of this will be to help me edit later (when did that happen? who was there?), and to help me see if too much or two little is going on in a chapter (I’ve already marked a few chapters that will need to be broken into two), or where I can successfully add or remove information or additional chapters.

First Draft Notes — These are major issues I encountered as I went. I wrote most of them in comments on the actual document using Google Docs, though some I listed on my skeleton. What I’m doing now is just quickly rewriting them at the head of my skeleton so they’re all in one document as their own little list. This way, when I go to do my edit, I can look over the issues I know I already have and be figuring out how to resolve them as I do a future read-through.

For instance, in the last third of the book, I reference and use telepathy pretty heavily. It’s not a major element earlier; however, I feel like it should be established and some ground rules should be laid for it early on so it doesn’t feel like it comes out of nowhere later. Right now it feels like I’m using it as is convenient for the plot, but there have always been rules, I just haven’t framed them in any way for the reader, so I can see it feeling stupid and plot-holy later. This is something that, if I know about it as an issue when I do my first read-through, I can identify where I should be putting this information.

Beyond these two things, I’m hanging up my hat on phase one of The Omega project, which means tomorrow I enter phase two of the She’s All Thaumaturgy project! I have to say, I so badly miss this band of characters. While The Omega‘s characters are darker and broody (and that can be really self-indulgent and its own kinda fun to write), these guys were goofy as all hell and so much fun! I have so many ideas for that book, my heart is so full!

I’m going to try and follow Chris Fox’s editing technique, but I know VERY little about it right now, so tomorrow morning I’ll be watching his How To Edit videos and put that process to work first thing. December is going to be so busy.

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NaNoWriMo 2018 – Winning!

Well, shit, you guys, it finally happened. I’ve been a member of the NaNo website for almost a decade, I used the site to track for the past three years (though I competed more often than that), and finally, last night, I became a winner for the first time in the month of November. I did it!

Of course, the story is not complete, and I didn’t exactly stay on the schedule I’d hoped to, but I got 50k words on the page in 30 days. I DID THE THING!

I had some failures along the way, chiefly among them that I didn’t write every single day. I really did make an effort, even during busy days early in the month, I pulled out the computer and typed up a handful of words if for no other reason than to keep up the habit. Those hundred or so words were not particularly good, and they didn’t even pad the count, but they were a reminder of work to be done, and honestly they made me feel a sense of accomplishment. But I failed that on the first day of vacation! I wanted to hit 50k by the 20th because I knew I’d fall behind while in Ohio, but I fell behind ahead of schedule, so ya know, here we are.

But where we are is winning, so yeay! You can see I dropped back down to 15 minute sprints. Quantitatively, they’re more efficient, and they feel better, so I think I’ll continue this going forward.

Which brings me to where I take this which is through to the first week in December where I’ll just continue sprinting like it’s November to wrap up this story. I have the end plotted out (not as tightly as I’d like, but enough to get me there). When I finally get “the end” on the page, I’m going to finish up my skeleton (a very brief breakdown of the overall story by chapter) and make a short list of the issues I marked for myself to resolve in editing (currently they’re in the form of comments on the story document in Google Docs). This way, when I go to edit in a month or so, I’ll have my tools at the ready, and I won’t have to do a review before I review, if that makes sense.

My plan is the finish this up by December 7th (and if I can bang out 10k words over that time I’m fairly certain I’ll get there), then I’m going to binge Chris Fox’s editing videos before pulling She’s All Thaumaturgy out of hibernation to edit. This will be the first time I’m looking at the story since I wrote the first draft sprint-style back in July, so I’m nervous but excited. I expect it to be trash, but workable trash. That story isn’t complete, so after editing what I have (about 70% complete), I’ll pick up first-drafting the rest of it. I don’t know if this is the smartest way to go, but it’s the best I’ve got for now. I do think She’s All Thaumaturgy (title most likely to be changed) might just be the first book I ever query out to agents, so I get a little twitterpated when I think about it. Hopefully the prose and the story live up to my expectations.

I also bought a boatload of organizational things to keep myself on some kind of track going forward. I’ll probably blog about my planning goals sometime in December as I work through how I want to use these things. I love that false sense of having your life together that holding a planner in your hands gives you. I looked down at all my sticky pads and colored markers and I just said to myself, “Damn, future me, you are fucking organized. I cannot wait to be you, bitch!”

So yeah, NaNoWriMo 2018 has been one of my biggest successes ever, and it feels surreal. I mean, I’m happy about it, but I can barely believe it. What I can believe is how hard I fell behind on Vacancy and blogging in general. This is why I need to get organized: so shit doesn’t slip away from me! But on the flip side, things slipped away in favor of something good, not fucking off, not getting sad, not a fruitless endeavor, but a real project that–despite calling my “Embarrassing” project which is still true–I’m confident I’ll be self publishing possibly here before the end of 2019. And the world needs more stories, even if they are about vampires.

A Tiny NaNo Update At 40k Words

This is the letter you get at 40,000 words. It’s incredibly encouraging, for me at least. What’s especially funny though: I dyed my hair purple today for the first time in like four-ish months and the next scene I’m about the embark on literally is an awkward dinner.

The universe has opened up and screamed, “Ashley, finish this novel!”

I’m writing this on Monday night, but I’ll post on Tuesday. I’m hoping that I can poop out a fairly large number of words that day and possibly get another chunk written out in the car on Wednesday? Maybe I’ll even hand write some stuff and type it up that night. Anyway, we’re getting close, Dear Reader!

NaNoWriMo 2018 – 37,500 Words (75% Complete!)

Yesterday was the 18th, 60% done with the month, and 75% done with NaNo! Well, 3/4 of the way to the 50k word goal, at least. I’m feeling pretty good, very pumped to continuously be ahead of the word count, and super proud for spewing out words every day, even if some days that count is paltry at best. It’s building the habit that’s important right now. I do wonder, though, if when I’m editing I should continue some kind of daily first-draft-type writing and how to balance this kind of work with the more conservative, delete-heavy, stress-out-over-every-word work that editing brings.

So here’s the way the last week looked:

Almost 12,000 words in under a week is very exciting!

I’ve done a little writing this morning, so I’m a smidgen farther than this now, but I am behind my goal of 50k by the 20th, obviously (that would be a miraculous 12k in a day. I mean, not impossible, but not bloody likely). I’m in the hardest part of the book now which is the end bits. I’m just at the edge of the climactic arc (is that a thing?), and tying everything together. I’m really excited about this part in theory because I’ve been imagining it for quite a while, but the specifics are still too vague. Just more evidence that a well-thought-out and tightly constructed outline is the way to go before banging out a first draft.

Bumping up to 20 minute sprints, I’m not seeing the jump in word count that I should be. In fact, I’m doing worse. I averaged 469 words per 15 minute sprints which works out to 31.23 words per minute, but at 20 minute sprints I’m averaging 563 words which works out to a lower 28.15 wpm. It’s very close, and I find myself checking the timer during the 20 minute sprints, worrying I didn’t start it, so they feel longer and are clearly less productive. It may behoove me to jump back down to 15 minute sprints, but I perhaps haven’t given myself enough 20 minute sprints to get into the groove. Technically I’ve only done more than one 20 minute sprint a day twice so far, so I’ll give them a few more days to work themselves out–they deserve that, though I might be done by then!

I’m developing a better voice for my characters now. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go humorous with this story, especially since I opened with a pretty dark scene, and I was trying to set up a world that was full of esoteric magic and walked the veil between life and death, but some of the concepts–like vampires and werewolves–just don’t feel right to me without an injection of self-awareness and whimsy. These characters by no means live in the same world as Vacancy, but their world can’t take itself that seriously. This does mean, though, a lot of editing is ahead of me, and finding a healthy balance between that eerie darkness that I love and recognizing that the word “fireball” is very silly.

And I’m still not sure what to do with this story when it’s edited and done. I contemplated self publishing, but that’s not an alternative to traditional publishing, it’s just a different road with a LOT of work behind it. I may release it by chapter on Wattpad, or maybe even here, or both! I hope that giving away some of my work for free will eventually develop me an audience for the future, but I also struggle with the idea that that devalues one’s work. Case in point: the 99 cent novel. I could write a whole ranty blog about that and still end on the note: I JUST DON’T KNOW.

Anyway, I’m headed back to the giant text file that Google Docs can hardly handle and am very hopeful that I’ll report #winning in a few short days. I’m headed out of state for the holiday soon, so I may get pushed out to the end of November, but I am determined. Happy writing, Dear Reader!

NaNoWriMo 2018 – 25,000 Words (The Halfway Mark!)

First 12,500 words.

Last night I hit 25,000 words, or 25,969 (nice) to be exact! I’m halfway there and though I’m a little bit behind my goal of hitting 50k by the 20th, I think I can still make it (especially if I keep on ignoring Vacancy).

There have been a few weird days, but also some really successful days. Even on the most busy of my days, I still made sure I sat down and banged out these micro-scenes that I was able to expand on afterwards. The habit continues, and I very much don’t want to skip a single day.

nano18 pt 2

As you can see I haven’t bumped up my sprint length yet, mostly because consistency hasn’t been my strongest suit. I did write in an actual Starbucks for a few hours, but that only garnered me 574 words total so a terrible word/hour rating. I have no idea how people do that. They must get some kind of thrill from being (what they think is) watched. For me, every voice and movement was distracting, and I couldn’t talk to myself as usual, so that’s not going to happen again! Also with someone with a tiny bladder, getting up to pee and leaving your stuff really isn’t an option in public every 15 minutes.

I’ve been writing a lot more in the evenings which works for me, but I don’t prefer it. I’d like to get my words done early in the day so that if I want to write in the evening, it’s just extra. I’ve been in a really terrible sleep cycle lately though, and it’s hella hard to break.

Also as expected, things are getting murky in the middle. I do a lot of second guessing around my characters’ motivations and their actions because I feel like they’re not well defined. A big part of my issue is “is it too soon in this relationship for this thing to happen?” and I think I need to hold a mirror up to myself here: I’m writing these guys so fast that I don’t know them, but they’re getting to know one another better and spending more time together in between the pages, than I am with them over these past 13 days. Does that make sense? Hopefully after putting this draft away for a bit then coming back to it will clear everything up for me.

I’m planning on a three month cycle after this–I hope! A writing, first edit, second edit cycle, working in new drafts every three months. I think that’s reasonable, but everything looks reasonable from the outside. It’s all theoretical now, so I’ll update on how it goes. I don’t even have enough drafts right now to make it happen, so it might be a two month cycle and maybe that makes more sense? How much time between drafts? Between first draft and final draft?

I’m struggling with all this because this strict plotting thing has been such a boon, but has also thrown off everything I thought I knew about writing and my own process. I thought it was intuitive–and don’t get me wrong, I think it largely still is–but if this, this massive thing, is something I’ve been doing so wrong (for myself) all along, what else has been wrong?

I guess November isn’t the time to consider all that anyway, for right now we must write! I’d like to really overachieve today, and half the day’s already gone, so off I go!

NaNoWriMo 2018 – First 12,500 Words

Fucking whoa.

So over the first five days of NaNo, I’ve averaged 2500 words per day (and I got Vacancy out on time, so what the fricking frick?) to get me to 12,554 words at the end of the day yesterday. Can yoU BELIEVE IT?

NaNo1801

Just a note: this story was one I came up with earlier in the year, mostly just for fun–I wasn’t ever sure I’d commit it to paper. I wrote out the first two-ish chapters just to see if it excited me a couple months ago, and it did. That’s those first 2801 words which I’m not including in my NaNo total.

The NaNo goal is 50k in 30 days, but my own personal goal this go around is 50k by the 20th which means I need to average 2500 words a day (check!) because holidays, but also because I know 50k isn’t enough for a complete novel, not this kinda anyway. That isn’t to say this will be some lofty story, it’s just more realistically going to be told in 75k – 85k words as most novels are, and I want to try and get all those words written within the 30 days.

During Camp NaNo I completed 50k words–and I felt great about it–but that was sorely short of the entire story. I lost steam at the end and didn’t finish the first draft while I was in that first draft headspace. I don’t want that to happen again.

But most of my writing is modeled in the same way as Camp NaNo: sprints and tracking all based on a very fleshed out plot. Nothing is set in stone, and this story could snake off into an entirely different direction, but it’s unlikely, and it’s a huge boon to have that outline and the scenes laid out so I can do a short review of what’s next right before starting the timer.

I went back to 10 minute sprints because I didn’t want to wear myself out at the onset (I haven’t done writing this intensively since July), and it worked. I’m up to 15 minutes again, and will probably bump it up to 20 in the next couple days and sail forward on those.

As for the story itself, I’m really into this one, but I’m concerned about character development and how a reader might connect with these guys. That’s probably because they’re not particularly complex right now and some of them–including the most important ones–are a little flat. The characters for my camp novel had bigger personalities and each had at least one overarching trait that made them unique, and if I ever got stuck writing them, I could fall back on that trait. This time the characters are more subtle, but maybe that’s just a fancy way of saying “boring.” That’s my main concern right now: get my love interests to stop being “generic boy and girl” and to start being compelling people who a reader will care about and root for.

But that’s not exactly the point of the first draft, that can come later if I can use this month to feel them out and just get their story down on paper. I find there are still times I second guess myself, but it’s a lot easier this go around to say “fuck it” and just keep slogging through. I know I can fix it later, and in fact I look forward to fixing it later because I really love editing. Some of today’s words are done, but there are still more to do. Keep on writing, everyone!

Why Do You Write?

Chris Fox, who I’ve written about before, posted a video recently asking this question: Why do you write? I love listening to videos and talks when I’m doing chores because it gets me in a creative mood, and this was no exception. It’s short and sweet and motivating.

Like most animals, humans are, I guess, compelled to pass on their genes. That or sex is just pretty nifty and babies are a natural outcome of copulation. Either way, I think it’s pretty natural to want to be remembered after we die. My experience in life has been that I am incredibly forgettable. I mean, the year I was born, my name ~Ashley~ was the second most popular, and still I have been called every other A-name under the sun. The likely hood of me being an Amber, Amy, Alison, Adrian, or Aaliyah is significantly lower than Ashley–AND STILL! I am just not memorable, and it’s been a little hurtful and embarrassing, reminding people of my name, how I know them, and just passively listening to them tell me the same stories over and over because they don’t realize that yes, we’ve met before, you blowhard!

Of course, I shouldn’t care, but it’s made me feel pretty insignificant most of my life (though it’s been less prevalent the older I get), so at least part of why I want to write is so I can leave something behind, something to be remembered by, a way to impact other lives. But I realize as I think over what that would be like, I kind of don’t care if people really remember me anywhere near as much as I just care that they get joy out of my work.

Like Chris mentions in his video, there are approximately two camps of people: the artists and the entertainers. I think I fall much more squarely in the entertainer category. Yes, I want to write good books, and I’d love if someone found a paragraph or a sentence that sounded like beautiful prose to them, but if I can bring someone joy, give them an escape from the drudgery and torment of life (not to be too dramatic, but you know) then I’ll have really felt like I’ve achieved something.

I also just want to see my name on a physical book in a bookstore. Hopefully by the time that happens Barnes and Noble will still be around, but I’d really just love to walk into one and see my name on the shelves, pick up a hard copy, flip through the pages, hold it against my chest and twirl around–you know, the typical things you do with books. I know it’s a very superficial thing, but it will certainly be a marker of “making it.”

And do I want to make money doing this? YES. OF FUCKING COURSE I DO. Will I ever be Stephen King or J.K. Rowling rich off writing? No, I will not be, that just isn’t in the cards–BUT I do think I can pull an upright seven of pentacles on this bitch if I work hard enough.

This is a great time, I think, to ask yourself this question if you’re doing NaNo. You’ve slogged through a few days, maybe you’re super pumped and ahead of schedule, maybe you’re super far behind and suffering from a block, maybe you’re completing the exact amount of words everyday and it’s going just fine, but contemplating your truth can only help you. And it’s not too late to start or to catch up right now. Hell, we were just given an extra hour by the universe and the American government–use those 60 minutes to poop out some words! Even if it’s a manifesto on writing, just do it.

Blogoween Day 12 – Freaky Fiction Friday: Saber and Parchment

FFF - Blogoween

Note: This is written in first person, and sounds a lot like normal blogging me. Though it’s based on true events, it is, obviously, fiction. It was written originally in an attempt at the NoSleep style, part one to a longer story. Perhaps I’ll continue, only time will tell, but I do think it can stand alone.

Saber and Parchment

I met Nick when I was in my final semester at [redacted]. We had an American lit class together, and our mutual love of Poe evolved into love for one another. We moved in together that summer, some might say too quickly, but we knew we were meant to be together. It felt like fate.

Or like a totally manufactured series of events.

Maybe I jumped in head first because I never thought I could have anything normal, and Nick felt like my chance at normal. Up until my last couple years of college, my life had been so full of fucking noise–just this constant background chatter from what I affectionately call the Other Side, like background music that would occasionally crescendo into some horrific experience. But since about my sophomore year everything had gone quiet, and when I met Nick I thought maybe, just maybe, I’d imagined everything in my life up until that point.

Nick was a year older than I, but I finished my degree first as he was balancing school and work to help pay for his degree. Nick’s job was unique: he worked third shift for the university’s emergency facilities department. It was way too easy, and he got paid way too much to do it, even as a student employee, and of course he loved it. Basically, he waited to get alerts that could range from the temperature gauges in the science facilities varying by a degree, to a forced entry through any of the keycard-access-only dorms, and when they came, he would dispatch the right people to handle the issue. The alarms didn’t sound often despite the university being massive, and most of what he handled were drunken students stuck in elevators, or drunken student pulling fire alarms, or drunken students, well, you get the idea. There was always one other employee, a non-student, there as well, so Nick spent the majority of his time writing essays, watching pirated movies, and on rare occasion he’d go “exploring.” It was a sweet gig, and he was going into his fourth year at it when we moved in together.

I was newly graduated with an English degree and no idea what to do with it, but lucky enough to snag an editorial assistant job with a favorite professor of ours, the very professor whose class Nick and I met in. I could work anytime I wanted, so we both ended up living nocturnally that last semester he finished up school.

We lived in a shoddy one bedroom just off campus, but popular housing for students as some of our classmates lived in the same complex, and walking a couple blocks would get us on to university grounds. The school was spread out over hundreds of acres, and though it had its own transit system, it didn’t run at night, and Nick was usually scheduled from 10pm to 6am. His office was in one of the oldest halls on campus so there was very little parking near it, and most parking on campus required a pass that we were too cheap to shell out for anyway. He usually biked there, but when it was raining or particularly freezing, I drove him. I liked the drive, even at 15 miles an hour on old cobbled streets, and more importantly, I liked knowing Nick was safe.

I imagine there are other things like it, but in all the years since, I’ve never quite experienced the silence that is driving through a university campus just before sunrise. Parties ended hours before, classes have yet to start, and exhaustion settles over the grounds like a dense fog. In those moments, the towering halls and copper statues seem like relics from lifetimes ago, and you wonder if anyone will ever return to these ruins after you.

Of course, even in the predawn there are people out, very few, and most unseen–this I know better now than I ever wished to.

Summer passed uneventfully, with Nick taking a couple evening classes, and me getting paid to collect research for Professor White. He was working on a book about magic and folklore in literature with plans to publish in the following year. I was reading through renaissance poetry and romantic gothic novels to find the exact passages he would reference vaguely from memory in his notes, and typing up the information for him throughout the night, then Nick would come home by sunrise, we’d sleep for a few hours, and start our day over again. By fall we were in a pretty good rhythm save for Nick picking up an early morning class twice a week.

Nick’s job was technically high security, but he’d ask me to come eat “lunch” around 1am with him on occasion. I’d bring fast food if his counterpart John was working, and a burger or a couple tacos would keep him quiet about my presence. One night I got a Skype message from Nick–texting didn’t work from his basement office–asking me to come for lunch in the next hour. I hadn’t planned on it, but Nick typed out that he’d found “something awesome” and needed to show me.

I brought some Thai for all three of us, and left the car in a delivery area safe enough for an hour or two. Campus police seemed to like nothing better than to call a tow truck on passless cars, but didn’t start patrolling until around 5am. Nick was waiting for me at the door: his ID was high security and allowed him into most buildings on campus, but mine just gave me special library access, and without cell service down in his office, he wouldn’t know I was there otherwise. The emergency facilities office was a small room in the basement of [redacted] Hall, a largely disused building that had stood on campus in some form or another since its inception. The office had a number of cubicles, two glass-windowed offices for management during normal business hours, and cement block walls painted hastily in hospital white. Monitors lined one wall, most filled with text, one of them displaying a live video of the hall we’d just walked down, and a gentle hum filled the room. That hum let you know everything was fine.

We ate, and Nick told John he was going to take a break. John waved him off and hunched over in his chair, eyes closed. When we were out in the hall, I asked Nick what happened if John fell asleep. “He always does,” he told me, “but he’s never missed an alarm yet.”

Nick took me to the end of the hall where a heavy, fireproof door opened into a dim stairwell with the swipe of his ID. To my surprise, the stairs headed down. I grabbed his arm when the door slammed behind us, echoing into the empty space. “I thought your office was the basement?”

“Sub basement,” he pointed over the railing and winked a blue eye at me.

“Are we allowed down there?”

Nick shrugged and held up his ID, “I guess.”

Another fireproof door sat at the bottom of the stairwell, and through it a sadly-lit hall that was too dark to see its end. I immediately didn’t like it, but Nick insisted I had to see what he found, which he still wasn’t defining for me. He swiped his badge on the second door on the left and turned the handle, “You’re gonna love this.”

A single light shone down from the room’s center. Some old desks were upturned in the corner, but otherwise the space was empty. I looked back at him, and his face immediately fell. “What the hell?” He moved passed me and looked around, but there was nowhere to really search in the small space. “I swear it was right here!”

“What was here?” I gnawed on my lip. Nick was a bad liar, and his surprise seemed pretty genuine.

He walked to the corner with the desks, “This bin…this big rolling bin full of books.” Nick held his arms out to mimic the size, “Like loads of books!”

My heart sort of skipped at the idea of something so large and presumably heavy just vanishing in the middle of the night. “And you’re sure it was this room?”

“I left the light on,” he screwed up his face, gesturing to the fixture above us that had indeed been on when we entered, “I mean, it was right here, and it was huge.”

I wanted to bolt, then calm washed over me as I realized. “Huge, hu?” I went up to him and slipped a finger into his belt, “Like something else?”

His face changed, sort of giving me a stupid grin, “Yeah…” then he shook his head, “But no, seriously. This is weird.”

Now that was weird: he’d never turned down an opportunity to fool around.

Nick moved past me and my advances back out into the hall. From the doorway, I glanced down into the darkness at its far end as he started opening other doors. When my stomach flipped, I tried to convince myself the Thai just wasn’t sitting right, but when I followed him into a different room across the hall, the queasy feeling wouldn’t rescind. Nick was very still, staring at the back wall. Again there was a small pile of desks to his right, but the room was larger, and its most prominent feature was a chain-link fence reaching from floor to ceiling, caging off the back half of the space. The light above where Nick stood shone only slightly beyond the cage, but there beyond the fence was a rolling bin like he’d described.

“That’s it,” he pointed when I came up beside him, “The books I wanted to show you.”

I closed the space between myself and the cage, peering into the bin through the links. It was full to the brim with books, most with tattered covers. They looked like they might have been headed for an incinerator, but they also had some beautiful leather covers and ornate script along their cracked bindings, though it was too dark to make out what they said. I smiled, momentarily forgetting the weirdness of the situation, and searched the fence for an entryway, but there was a padlock on the chain-link door.

“Well, these are cool,” I offered, “It sucks they’re probably going to be destroyed.”

Nick came up next to me and pulled out his flip phone–old, even for those days–and pressed buttons furiously, “That’s not all. I took this to show you in case you couldn’t come by.”

He pulled up a picture, low resolution and shadowed on his tiny screen, but I could tell it was one of the books, lying open on top of the pile. I glanced at the bin again on the other side of the cage, nowhere near close enough for him to have gotten the shot, and what was more, none of the books were open. Looking back at the photo, I could see text on one page, and a drawing on the other, but it was quite blurry.

“I thought–”

“Shh!” I cut him off, snapping my head toward the cage. Something there, in the space beyond the light, had moved.

We were both silent, and I stared unblinking beyond the fence. It had been a subtle sound, a gentle sliding of material against itself, but distinct enough in the quiet of the hall’s sub basement to catch my attention. I held my breath standing there, trying to keep my mind from conjuring up all sorts of imagined visions and sounds in the darkness. I saw nothing, I heard nothing, but what I felt to this day I can barely explain. It was a bit like the feeling you might have gotten when you were little, immediately after one of those old tube televisions were turned off. The static is still there, radiating out into the room as it dissipates. I could feel the static of whatever had been there until its energy was gone.

I nudged Nick and gestured to the door. He said nothing, but backed up toward it, both of us still staring into the shadows until we fumbled back out into the hall. My heartbeat quickened as we scurried to the stairwell. Nick swiped his badge and the panel lit up green. As he pulled the door open, I glanced back because, well, I’m a fucking idiot, I guess.

In the blackness of the hall’s end, I saw it. In silhouette only, it stood there, taking up the space of the corridor unlike any human man could, its shoulders too near the ceiling, its chest too broad. It didn’t move to follow, but it stared after us with intent. I didn’t need to see its eyes to know it was looking right into me. And my first and only thought was, Not again.

We thundered up the stairs and let the fire door slam behind us. Nick turned to me to say something, but before he could get a word out I interrupted him. “Don’t go back down there!”

He took a few deep breaths and scratched the back of his neck, “Oh, uh, okay?”

“Promise me!”

I barely remember lunging forward and grabbing his shirt, but his hands were on my wrists and he tipped his face low to be near mine. “Okay, okay, I promise!”

Nick was a bad liar, but he turned out to be worse at keeping promises.

 

More Writing

 

Blogoween Day 5 – Freaky Fiction Friday: Best Friends

FFF - Blogoween

 

Best Friends

Marianne is my best friend. We’ve been together since the beginning of time, or at least it feels that way since I can’t remember an instance from before we met. When we were very little we would play most of the day and even sometimes at night when we were meant to be sleeping. If you would have asked her then, Marianne would have said I was her best friend too, even if sometimes she would do something bad and blame it on me, but it was okay because sometimes I’d do bad things too, and she would always end up the one in trouble.

Once I knocked over her milk–and it was an accident really!–but her mom didn’t see it that way. Marianne didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day, and I slept in the closet that night, but by the next morning we were back to having a tea party with her stuffed animals.

I will admit that over the years we’ve drifted. Days would go by, weeks even, and we wouldn’t even talk, but Marianne always comes back. A classmate turns on her, a boy breaks her heart, and when she’s finally at her lowest, she reaches out to me. She doesn’t need to know my part in those things–that would only complicate our relationship–she just needs to know I’ll always be here for her. I am her friend, after all. Her best friend.

Caroline would say that she is Marianne’s best friend. They met in Mrs. Mulberry’s third grade class and became inseparable, but I don’t know how Marianne could stand her with her whiny voice and stupid pigtails. Marianne ignored me when Caroline was around, but despite my best efforts they remained friends, so I came to accept her. I let them do whatever stupid thing Caroline suggested, work on projects I wasn’t part of, go to parties I wasn’t invited to, but I’d eventually get my alone time with Marianne. Even just for five minutes before falling asleep, we’d talk. And that was enough. It had to be.

Marianne was really nervous the night before her first day of senior year. We stayed up really late talking about how we missed being little and all the fun we used to have, how we’d play pranks on her mom, and how we’d fall asleep with Barbies in our hands. We even talked about how stupid Caroline’s hair was, and Marianne laughed! She thanked me for calming her down, told me that she loved me, and in her sleepy stupor as she closed her eyes, she said goodbye. Silly, I thought, she just meant goodnight.

I woke up last week to her call. She was so nervous all over again that I thought I was living the same night over again at first, but no. We caught up, apparently this last year has been great–without me–but she was a wreck trying to figure out where to go to college. Her mom wanted her to pick before graduation at the end of the week, and she needed help. That’s when it hit me: Marianne was leaving. I always had an inkling this would happen, but it never felt so real. Every time I’d watch her walk out the door, I never felt like this, like she might leave me behind for good.

I can feel myself slipping already. It’s like, I don’t know, like she’s able to look right through me now if I don’t go out of my way to get her attention. I didn’t want to break her volleyball trophy–really, I didn’t!–but I needed her to know I was there. To acknowledge me. Her best friend.

So after all this time, I finally sat Marianne down and told her that it was my turn, that I needed her now. I told her she owes me this, and, I mean, Marianne made me what I am, so she must want this too somewhere deep down inside. It took some convincing, some rationalizing, some coaxing, but in the end she understood. Of course she does, because really this is what she wants. What we both want. It’s the same thing when you’re best friends.

So Caroline is coming over to spend the night, one last time before their big graduation bash. Marianne says she knows the words–I think she’s always probably known them since she made me–and I brought her the knife. I’m sure I can dye her hair or something, and if I can’t, well, it’s a small price to pay to stop being imaginary.

 

More Writing

The Tools I Used To Win Camp NaNo

During Camp NaNo, I used a number of tools while I wrote. These aren’t necessarily the great works of art that inspire you to go forth and create your own prose, they’re more of the pen and paper variety, but you’re not writing anything without the utensils, okay?

Ambiance

I’m a pretty big fan of silence. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have misophonia, but there are times when even the AC coming on annoys the fuck out of me (and living in the southern US, it’s an unfortunate necessity). I’ve found that gentle, reliable background sounds, like the click of Husband’s mouse while he plays Rimworld or Bart snoring from under the bed, can be pretty soothing. So when I’m trying to block out something annoying like drunken toddler relay races thundering the length of the apartment upstairs, I turn to ambient noise machines. As a bonus, these can act as background to your scenes. If you’re writing something spooky, pull up a “dark and stormy night” track, or if your characters and traipsing through the jungle, get you some rain forest ambiance. I really like these sites for finding my audible zone:

Tracking and Sprints

As I discussed in my posts on Camp NaNoWriMo (10k | 20k | 30k | 40k | 50k), I tracked my writing very closely. I intend to continue to do this to hold myself accountable as it worked beautiful and provided me with that oh-so-delicious data (and you can’t know you’re improving–or getting worse–if you’re not tracking your progress!).

  • Google Sheets – Works very closely to Microsoft Excel and because it’s cloud-based, can be accessed anywhere, including offline once it’s been loaded. I used this to track all my numbers in a really clean way, and to help out with the math aspect.
  • Calculator App – Isn’t it funny how all the grownups in the 90s used to say we wouldn’t be carrying calculators around with us 24/7 when we were adults? Ringo-Wrongo!
  • Timer – I use the built-in timer on my computer because it gives me a handy popup and a pleasing sound when it goes off. I prefer it to my phone because that alarm is obnoxious, and I don’t want the distraction of even picking up that god-forsaken thing when I’m in writing mode.

Plotting

I’ve never properly plotted before this go round, so my process is still way developmental, but I like the programs I’m using to get the job done, and they’re simple:

  • Pinterest – Gods, I hate this site and all it stands for, but if all you’re trying to do is collect images for an idea board, this is where it’s at, and I’ve written about this before.
  • Google Docs – I do all my writing in Google Docs so hopefully that cloud never gets hacked and destroyed. Like Sheets (this is all in Google Drive, to be fair) it can be accessed anywhere, including offline. I like the ability to make different folders and view my work in the Drive, so I can treat it like a desktop with everything close at hand. I create different Docs for the outline, history, ancient history, mythology, etc., and of course for the story itself. It’s very close to Microsoft Word (the whole Google suite is) but for as close to free as you can get (meaning, you’re paying for the service with your info, but the minute you Google anything, you’re already doing that, so whatever!)
  • Google Keep – #NotSpons, obviously, but this is an application I used to use a while back then stopped. I pulled it up again out of curiosity in early June (I’d installed the extension and forgot about it), and the changes that have been made to it are phenomenal. It’s a post-it note app with a helpful labeling and color-coding system. You can keep little bits of information in here that don’t go anywhere else, or use it more permanently like I’ve been doing for characters. I used to create a Google Doc for characters, but I found that cumbersome. Now, I just make a note for each character, pasting in a character sketch and filling it out as needed. I label them all so I can filter down to the them by story and subject (right now I have both SAT and Vacancy stuff in there). Similarly, I create a note with names that I like, using the same label so I’ve got a ready-made pot to grab from when I’m at a loss.
  • NameBerry – I find naming people, things, and whole books to be a bitch and a half, and I get really hung up on leaving blanks or fill-in names for my characters. NameBerry has a nice “If you like X, you’ll like Y” concept, and you can search up any name and find similar names to get a good convention going.
  • Fantasy Name Generator – A classic, the fantasy name generator has about a bajillion different kinds of generators that make for awesome jumping off points for just about everything, and it makes up for what NameBerry lacks: you probably won’t find someone saving “Tlannatar Helekrana” for the future child.

Fun Stuff

  • A good drink – I’m talking a big glass of water, iced green tea, hot hazelnut latte, anything to keep my mouth busy so I’m not cramming popcorn or chips into it. Seriously, writing is incredibly sedentary, and unless you’ve mastered dictation and jogging simultaneously, you gotta find a way to counteract the possible pounds you’ll put on if you’re prone to bingeing like me. Just a note: I don’t advise “write drunk, edit sober.” Even with sober editing, you’re not a good enough anything when you’re drunk: you’re just obnoxious. Just like my phone alarm.
  • An easy to-do list – Between sprints I often got up to pee (see the above bullet point), and liked to complete a task when I did so. Something like throwing in laundry, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the cat litter up in the bathroom. Knowing what these tasks were ahead of time helped me to not waste precious minutes thinking about what I needed to do or stressing about what I might be missing and would surely drown under as I whiled my time away typing out nonsense. A list made things manageable and helped me to balance my life and my book. The tasks were also pretty mindless, so my brain could go on a little jaunt while I did them and was refreshed for the next sprint.
  • A comfy spot and lots of blankies – Don’t let anything distract you, including the temperature. I always had a sweatshirt and a soft blanket handy when I was sprinting. Like I mentioned, writing is sedentary work, and I get cold really easily, but if I leave the AC off all day the apartment becomes sticky like the Amazon and Husband and all the cats get cranky in the evening. I don’t give myself the excuse of shivering to stop midway through a sprint.
  • A cat – Rutherford sat on me for about 88.3% of my writing sprints, and since it’s illegal to move when a cat has made you its bed, he basically chained me to my laptop. I owe him most of my success, if I’m being entirely honest. If you only take away one tip for this, I hope it’s this: “get you a cat.”