NerdCon 2015

What is NerdCon Stories? That’s a question I was still asking myself when I bought my ticket a couple months back.

Now that the convention is all wrapped up and I’ve dragged myself off my absurdly early flight, I feel like I ought to be able to offer a succinct explanation of what the first NerdCon Stories was for me. I can’t. Or at least I don’t think I can do it well, because NerdCon Stories was so many things at once. Generally it was a discussion and celebration of storytelling across various media. It was also a hilarious variety show in which writers got on stage to perform such timeless games as “What is in my Mouth?”. And, between the improv and interviews, it was a frank discussion of how we can tell stories with honesty and empathy, and support and encourage diverse voices. That’s a lot of stuff for two days. Overall I was seriously impressed.

Here’s a few other things that stuck in my head.

Minneapolis has magical skyways that allow you to traverse downtown without ever having to set foot outside (but you should probably go outside a little because there are good restaurants and stuff).

Celebrity Artemis: The space whales are stingy and illusive.

The presentations on why storytelling matters were a great thread to weave the con together.

Before this weekend I knew of John Green only as that guy who writes really sad books about teens with cancer (I know, I know, I’m like the last person left who hasn’t read it). Turns out he’s also an awesome person, and he and his brother Hank are both hilarious in interviews.

Apparently pureed spinach tastes nothing like spinach if you can’t see the green.

Don’t challenge Mary Robinette Kowal to a game of improve. Or do, because then you’ll get to hear her make up awesome stories about lubricated scepters.

Three auditoriums, even three big ones, was not enough presentation space for this con. While there was always room in the main auditorium, the side panels filled quickly and it was easy to miss what you wanted to see if you didn’t line up at least a half hour in advance. I found myself wishing for a board game room, or some other slightly-structured space to lurk in between panels.

Too Much Light Makes the Baby go Blind by the Neo-Futurists is a really interesting show, and if you live in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco you should probably check them out.

One small step …

A couple weeks ago I had the good fortune to sign with the wonderful and talented Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency. It’s taken this long for the good news to truly sink in, and as it has I’ve been thinking more and more about all the little happenings and decisions that got me to this point.

It’s been five years since I first began to seriously consider the idea of writing a book, and I still remember the moment that decision clicked. I was sitting alone in a bedroom in Valparaiso Chile. I was a few weeks into a six month study abroad program. My introduction to city life in Chile had already included waking up to what was at the time the fifth strongest earthquake in recorded history. I was feeling isolated and unbalanced, and seriously beginning to question my life choices. My Spanish was good enough to get by, but not so good that I felt confident socializing. It was a frustrating and humbling experience.

I’d spent that particular evening finishing one of the books in Brent Weeks’ Night Angel series. Having run out of book, I flipped to the acknowledgments. I found myself smiling, and relating as much to Weeks’ frank description of learning to write as I had to the actual story. I found myself thinking, I wish I could write like that. On the heels of that realization came the obvious question.

What, exactly, was stopping me?

Up until that moment it had been a vague fear of failure. Writing books was something other people did. Other people had good story ideas. How could I possibly write anything worthwhile when there were already so many great stories out there? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was something I really wanted. I needed an outlet for linguistic frustration, even if it was one only I saw. And besides, I’d already survived a major earthquake, and learned to navigate the city’s map-less bus system, how much harder could this be? With that naive optimism glowing inside me, I sat down and started typing.

That first book became a refuge, a way to remind myself that I could still string together words into sentences that were more than just functional. I finished the project a year or so later, and proudly showed it to a few close friends and family members. It was awful. Eventually I managed to figure that out even though most of my readers were too polite to say so. I revised. I rewrote most of the book. Twice. Eventually it got a little better. Then I wrote another book, and another.

Would I eventually have gotten to this point without that night in Chile to drive me forward? Who knows. But I can say that what started as a refuge has grown to an addiction, one I’m happy to keep feeding.

Getting Through the First Draft

I have a love hate relationship with first drafts. Starting out they always feel incredibly exciting. I have all these new characters to play with and this great big world to discover. I burn through the first ten or so chapters without much trouble. I know where my story’s going, all those twisty little hints I want to drop, and how to get my characters into all kinds of trouble.

The problem is getting them out of trouble.

Because at some point in every draft my brain does this little flip. It says “Okay, crap. We need to get from here to the ending. Here, this looks like a nice, straight, logical path.”

Never mind said path involves characters making illogical decisions so they can be properly positioned for the final showdown. Never mind that every one of them suddenly becomes a cardboard cutout in service of the plot. Never mind that my villains start making stupid mistakes for the sake of convenience.

You can see the problem.

In the past I’ve dealt with this by rewriting the entire second half two, three, twenty times until I find an ending that works.

I’m really not a fan of this process. So this year for NaNoWriMo I tried something new. When my draft sunk deep into the bogs of plot-panic, I didn’t trudge forward in search of the other side. I stopped. I went back to my outline. I thought about what my characters were trying to accomplish at each point. I wrote a new outline. I hammered out a few new scenes I knew I would want to include.

And then I watched NaNo’s final day sail past while my word count languished well behind the 50k finish line.

Despite failing the word count challenge, I felt better about my draft. Instead of writing new words I went back and made the changes I knew my new outline would need. I reacquainted myself with all the reasons why I’d fallen in love with my characters. And when I did get back to that dreaded second half I was able to give them more freedom to make their mistakes and find a way to the ending on their own terms.

NaNoWriMo

Yes, it’s that magical time of the year. That time when the leaves turn, the air grows crisp, and everything suddenly tastes like pumpkin spice.

Also, National Novel Writing Month.

The first time I learned about NaNo, I was skeptical. 50,000 words is a lot for one month. Also, most of what I write ends up a good deal longer than that, so I knew I wouldn’t *really* have a completed novel at the end unless I pushed way past the minimum word count.

Now, diving into NaNo for the third time, I guess you could say my doubts have been assuaged. Here’s a few reasons why I think NaNo is a great resource.

1. The community. I don’t think this can be overstated. Writing is a solitary pursuit. Conferences are expensive and good writing groups are hard to find. But for one month you can join with thousands of other writers who share the crazy plan of finishing a draft in a month.

2. The graph. This might sound weird, but I’ve found the little bar graph on the official NaNo site is a great way to keep me motivated. Maybe my brain’s just tuned to a gamified world, but sometimes the urge get those little bars up is just what I need push me through another couple hundred words at the end of the day.

3. The rules are meant to be broken. NaNo comes with a lot of rules. Don’t start before Nov 1st. Write every day. Don’t revise. But really, the only one who gets to decide which rules to follow, is you. I tend to start early, and I always end up doing revisions as I go. Revisions keep the earlier parts of my book fresh in my mind, and starting early means I’m actually pushing to reach the end of my story by Nov 30th rather than some arbitrary word limit.

 

Hello World

Hey internet.

This blog is likely to be rambling and strange. There might be cookies, or cats, or evil space monkeys. No promises.

But for these first few posts I’m going to talk about helpful writing resources I’ve found over the years.

Today’s resource is the Writing Excuses podcast featuring Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinette Kowal. I found Writing Excuses on the recommendation of a friend a few years back, and have been hooked ever since.

The podcast is pretty huge. But for those who don’t know about it, the archives are a fantastic (and amusing) resource. Most useful to me have been the discussions on worldbuilding and on adjusting characters with Brandon’s slider system. There are also some great posts on the business side of writing that cover everything from small-press publishing to online etiquette.

Aside from all the useful information, these guys are just plain fun to listen to. And the episodes are all under twenty minutes, so they make for a good break when your brain’s gone mushy from too much plotting.