The Best Birthday Present

Today may be my birthday, but this weekend I gave myself the best present ever. I finished my first novel! It came to a grand tally of 71,194 words, and an additional 10k words of research, pre-writing and character development. That’s about 325 pages!

Actually when I say I gave myself this marathon of words as a present, that isn’t totally true. I could never have done it without the support and encouragement of my selfless husband and fantastic kiddos. They pulled extra weight around here and cheered me on every step of the way.

The other misconception is that this actually means I’m done with my book. Au contraire! Most books are rewritten 6 to 10 times before being published, and so I know this is just a beginning.

But, as one of my favorite authors likes to say, I’ve shoveled all the sand into the sandbox with the first draft, and now I get to sculpt and mold it into something awesome.

Out of Hibernation

After the intense focus on writing for November, it was a beautiful thing to switch it up for December and focus only on family, Christmas, and lots of good food. But, now it’s January, the decorations have been put away, my guests have gone home, and this week the kids are back to school. Time to come out of writing hibernation!

I have to admit, my first steps out of my bear cave have been filled with trepidation. I knew I was at a tricky part in the story. What if I couldn’t figure out what to write? How was I going to tie up all the loose ends? I have found that I can be an excellent procrastinator.

Monday I intentionally took it easy and let some antibiotics battle a sinus infection. Tuesday I finally got around to reading the last few chapters of my story, and then instead of continuing on, I made writing goals for the year. The good thing was that in them, I decided to re-invoke NaNo with a 2,000 word daily goal until I finish my first draft. Starting, tomorrow, of course. 🙂

Yesterday was the day, and it took me half the day to get around to sitting down and writing, but I did it! I got my words in, and now I’m rolling.

This morning I was dead asleep when something in my dream was so humorous that I laughed out loud and woke myself up! Have you ever done that? I’m not sure I have. The bonus was that I could remember it all, and it gave me a great idea for some character development in my story.

I guess even my subconscious is back in the game! 2020 is going to be the best year yet. Happy New Year!

First Time NaNoWriMo Winner!

I just won NaNo! What’s that you say? Why yes, it is the very last day of the month, but that’s not what counts. What matters is that I set this goal to write 50,000 words in one month, and I did it!

My local writing group knows I love to start new stories. I’m really good at first chapters, and even seconds and thirds. Short stories, poems, essays? Totally! But I’ve never attempted a whole novel. I’m easily distracted with shiny new story ideas.

The more I learned about fiction writing and novel structure, the more I wanted to give it a try. Then the doubts set in. Could I write an entire novel? Did I have the stamina? The perseverance?

I owe my success today in large part to a local writing conference I attended where a presenter taught how to set goals and make them happen. Namely it came down to making an actual contract with yourself, setting up rewards and consequences, and recruiting people to check on you throughout the process. The stick, and the carrot, for all us little bunnies.

This worked beautifully for me, and since I won, I don’t have to go scrub out my husband’s work car. Yes, the stakes were high! 🙂

My husband and my kiddos were also a huge part of making this happen. If I succeeded, there was a reward for the kids too–a fun night out, so that helped, but I think they would have done it anyway. Carving so much time for writing out of my days wasn’t easy, and they really picked up the slack.

The best part is that this last week my kids, ages 6-15, have literally begged me to read them a chapter or two from my manuscript each night before bed. It is an upper Middle Grade book, designed for ages 10-14, so it has been perfect to share with them. Their enthusiasm reminds me why I’m doing this.

My word count goal for this novel is more like 60,000 words, as it is science fiction, so I still have about 10,000 to go. And lots of editing! But, I never would have been motivated to push myself this far without the NaNo challenge.

Now that I’ve established a daily writing habit, I plan to keep it up. Perhaps not for as much time, but every little bit gets you one step closer, right? December is going to be a recovery month, filled with family, white sparkly Christmas lights and hot cocoa!

All the Feels

Something that has surprised me during this NaNo experience is how emotional writing a novel can be. Sure, I’ve poured my heart into my writing before. I know the power of words. But never before have I been with the same characters for 47,000 words. All in the last four weeks I’ve laughed with them, cried with them, and felt the adrenaline rushes, right alongside them, on their adventures.

When I first started exploring fiction, I didn’t realize what a story was about—that it really boiled down to conflict. In a nutshell, there’s a person with a goal, and something keeping them from that goal.

The problem comes when you grow so attached to your characters that your natural instinct is to protect them. Authors have to fight that instinct. Authors have to be mean. 🙂 Authors have to tear their characters to shreds, so they can give them the chance to pick up the pieces and become better people. The story is in the journey, not the HEA (happily ever after).

While everyone is out shopping Black Friday deals today, I’ll be here at my desk helping my characters conquer their inner demons and overcome the destruction their choices have brought about. Two days left of NaNo and only 3,000 words to go!

A War of Words

Two weeks in to this challenge, and I just hit 25,000 words. The first week was exhilarating, the second week was grueling, but I am right on schedule. On Saturday my region had a large “Midway Write-In” event. It was fun to write alongside others on the same journey.

I experienced my first “Word Wars” at the event. Basically they last anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes, and you write as fast and furious as you can. It’s all stream of consciousness writing. It’s messy and creative and ensures that your inner editor can’t come out to play.

Since you can’t stop to think or consider how you want a scene to play out, you just jump in. Sometimes I would change my mind part way in, and instead of going back I would just start again, right where I was. The whole focus is on your total number of words written.

It did help me get words down, but honestly, I wasn’t sure how helpful it was for me overall. I don’t want to just write 50,000 words, I want a coherent first draft at the end of this. To do this, I need to strategize and weigh options as I write.

I realized today, though, that it had been a helpful exercise. While I still prefer to take things a bit slower and imagine each scene before writing it, the after effects of the weekend’s Word Wars helped me shove many of my editing urges aside and embrace a more creative approach. Today I am grateful that the words flowed freely. Now I just need to get my snacking under control!

Breaking through the Barriers

I was really struggling getting all my words written today. Since it’s my first attempt at writing a novel, doubts come at me all the time that I can even accomplish this goal. This morning I told my husband that maybe I just know how to spin out the beginning of a story, not bring all the threads back in and weave it into something satisfying. He reminded me that I felt the same way when I only had the first two chapters done, and now I’m on chapter ten.

It was just the reminder I needed. If I can bust through the wall of self-doubt at the 2 chapter mark, then I could do it again on the tenth.

And you know what? I did. And I’m pretty proud of my work, too. So take that brick wall. 🙂

The Courage to Reach

Creative endeavors are often intimidating and scary, full of highs and lows. Although I’ve always been a writer, I’ve never had the courage and perseverance to complete a novel.

That is, until now.

Over the course of this last year, as I’ve devoured fiction writing how-to books like a bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms, I have learned so much and come far in developing my craft. It’s time to reach for my dreams. I encourage you to follow along as I spread my wings.

I believe the first step to achieving a goal is to to visualize that you are already there.

My name is Sarah Lynne John. I am an author.