Writing Fast(er)

This is from a post I wrote up for MayNoWriMo.

Everybody’s writing process is different, so don’t get hung up on the “right
way” to do anything. The trick is to find what works for YOU. You may be a
write-by-the-seat-of-your-flaming-pants writer. Great. Maybe you need to have a few notes written in advance. Maybe the whole thing should be plotted out in gruesome detail. It’s totally up to you.

This is what works for me.

1. At least some plotting. Each of my projects had different needs.
Ironically, the first year (2007) I had a very detailed plot and even created
storyboards for the project, but it required the most work. The second year, I had nothing written down at all — but the entire plot was in my head. I knew exactly how the story would end and just wrote hard to get there. The last year, I had notes, but no detailed plot.

For me, I really need to know the end (what I’m writing to) and a few key spots, but half the fun and glory of writing hard and fast is the discovery, the sense of magic as unexpected bits unfold. So don’t be afraid to just GO.

2. Each day, I start a new file. If I can’t finish the scene, I make notes and
continue that file the next day, but one big WIP file does not work for me when I’m writing fast and hard.

3. No reading back to other days (another reason I use individual files). If I
have questions, feel like I messed up a plot point, or forgot a backpack (inside joke: in Beautiful Death, I kept forgetting to have Isabella bring the backpack with her from scene to scene), I jot a few notes in my notebook, but I KEEP GOING FORWARD.

4. No backtracking or revisions. This is the hardest for me. When I’m writing
leisurely, I always re-read the last day’s work and “polish” it before
continuing. It’s like a pre-edit. But it’s also very tempting to keep
editing/reading instead of writing new words, especially when the going is tough in the story.

But wait, you cry. What if a major plot point needs to change? How can you
keep going?

I open another file (might as well count this toward my words, right?) and type out all my thoughts about the revisions I’ll need to do. I write out all the changes I think I’ll need. Then I continue FORWARD in a new file as though those changes have been made. Writing them out gives me the closure I need to move foward.

5. No cheating. If you read the NaNoWriMo forums, you see people talking about ways to get your word count for the day, like typing song lyrics, or throwing in an exploding goat into the scene (that has nothing to do with your story), etc.  That just doesn’t work for me. I’m a working writer. I’m going to have to revise this steaming pile of poo before I can submit it. Do I really want to have to edit out an exploding goat later?

6. Don’t get hung up on grammar, research, or word choice. I often write a word and then type [word choice?] to indicate that’s not really the word I wanted, but I can’t think of it. MOVE ON. In the Maya story especially, I had lots of [research Chich’en Itza] or [name the pyramid in the made-up city] or [check the spelling of Hunahpu’s name]. MOVE ON. If you’re like me, a five-minute check on the internet turns into checking e-mail, Twitter, etc. and your writing time disappears.

7. Write with focus. I don’t start a project that I know nothing about, I don’t
know where I’m going to submit it, etc. I always — even for the most basic
spaark of an idea — make a “target sheet.” Genre, length, and where I’m going
to submit it. When I’m finished, I don’t always submit it where I expected, but that focus helps keep me on the track toward “the end.” e.g. if I know I’m
targeting romance, then I’d better not kill the hero at the end of the book,
right? ::Ahem, guilty as charged, although I did fix it.::

Any pointers or tips you have to share?

Catching Up

Sorry for the unexpected blog silence!  I’ve been sick this week.  Pretty much all I’ve done for two days is watch movies (Snow White A Tale of Terror, Pan’s Labrinyth, The Invasion, and several others that I’ve already forgotten) and cross-stitch. 

I have a new idea I want very much to document, but I haven’t had the energy to even take a single note yet.  I’m returning to the Evil Day Job tomorrow one way or the other, even if I can’t sleep like last night (cold medicine right before bed really jacked me up).

I feel like April is slipping away and I’m nowhere as prepared for MayNoWriMo as I hoped.  Here I am the “moderator” or “host” for the challenge, and I can’t even get my own act together!  Argh! 

If you’ve searched and found the yahoo group, I haven’t officially opened it yet.  I need to get a few more things in order and I’ll open the group on Friday.  There’s no need to re-apply — I’ll approve the handful that are already in the queue.

The schedule for Coyote Con is really coming together.  You can now register for the events and ask for a ticket to the panels you’re interested in (we have to manage the number of participants in the chat rooms so they don’t crash!).  A few things may change as we juggle everyone’s schedules and commitments, but we’re very close.

This weekend, I need to drag out all my old Maya notes and the subplots that got axed from BGG.  I need to open up a new stack of notecards.  And get busy!!

Please spread the word to your writing groups about Coyote Con and MayNoWriMo!

Coyote Con Live

The website is live and we’ve also got a tentative schedule.  I’m so thrilled that Lynn Viehl, aka Paperback Writer, will be taking questions from the SF/SFR panel and blogging her answers later in the month!  Also Heather Massey and Nathalie Gray will be talking about Steampunk!  woot!

It’s going to be such a great month!

I turned in the blurb sheet for Victor tonight and finished a late critique.  All the MayNoWriMo and Coyote Con stuff has totally derailed me — so it’s a good thing I took the whole month off!  I may not actually get much writing done in May, either, not with all the moderations, guest blog coordination, etc. but it’ll totally be worth it.

I already know what my MayNoWriMo goal will be:  a complete synopsis for Maya #2.  More posts will come this next week about what I need to do to make that goal happen.

MayNoWriMo Guests, Sponsors, Virtual Con

Take a look at the MayNoWriMo page to see the terrific prizes and guest authors who’ll be writing articles of inspiration for us all month. 

We’re also working out the details for a virtual con hosted by Drollerie Press at the same time.  We’ll have live panels in the chat room on topics ranging from worldbuilding to character develop to transformative sex scenes.  Once we finalize the schedule, I’ll link to that information.   If you’re interested in leading a panel for the virtual con, please stop by Drollerie for the details.

If you’d like to donate a prize or write an article as a guest blogger, please drop me a note (joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com) and I’ll get you scheduled.  I’ll link to your article from here as well as the yahoo group to direct traffic to your site throughout the month.

On April 23th, I’ll open the yahoo group for the MayNoWriMo participants so we’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other a bit and finalize our goals.

If you have any questions, shout them out in comments.  It’s going to be an incredible month!

Upcoming: MayNoWriMo

I’m thinking about organizing a MayNoWriMo challenge.  No, you don’t have to write 50K in May — but I like the idea of setting a goal and then working my ass off to reach it.  When several people get together and work their asses off to reach their goals, something magical happens.  We can begin to feed on each other’s excitement.  Success breeds success.  Synergy builds. 

We could get a lot done in May if we set our minds to it.

My initial thought involves a temporary yahoo group that is disbanded shortly after the challenge.  Everybody sets a goal for the month.  e.g. Revise 250 pages.  250 words a day.  Write 50K first draft.  Send out 20 queries.  Something.  I don’t care what it is, but it has to be measurable and it should be attainable.

Attainable is key.  Did you know the success rate for NaNoWriMo is something like 10%?  How many people used to sign up for Sweating with Sven and then quietly drop out?  If you need a little extra motivation and encouragement, I think prizes may help us stay the course.

The group list would be for support and checking in.  Everyone who meets their goal will be entered to win a grand prize.  I’m not sure what that prize will be, either a gift certificate, a writing book on craft, a nice journal, etc.  Something along those lines. 

After the celebration at the end of the month, the list will be debanded.  I’ve been on a lot of writing groups over the years, and they’re exciting for a month or two, but then the list kind of dies.  That’s why I’d plan to use the list to have fun, encourage, reach our goals, and then move on.

So what do you think?  Is anyone interested in committing to the challenge?  What kind of prizes would you like to see?

MayNoWriMo: Day 31


Sorry for the screaming, but I’m pretty darned pleased.  If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have been sure I wouldn’t make it.  I just didn’t have any fire left in me.  I was distracted, dismayed, and generally dissastisfied.  But that’s why challenges like this work for me.  I simply can’t stand not meeting that commitment.  If I begin to say to myself that it’s impossible, then I begin to work harder. 

So many times this month I wanted to give up and work on a more fun, exciting, easier, [insert adjective here] project.  I had a bright, shiny new idea that I wanted to tackle.  I had a release, and another in the upcoming month.  I had website pages to update, reviews to hunt down, kids getting out of school….

You name it — I had an excuse for it.  But the challenge kept me on track. 

Almost 10K in two days to finish.  My wrists held up pretty good (although they may be sore tomorrow) — but I’ve been sleeping in my splints all month to be safe.  The story isn’t finished, either, so I guess this craziness continues into June.  However, I sort of wrote myself into a hole today, and I need to decide whether to continue down this path or not.  Lilias learned some key information “too early” for my plot, so now I’ve got to decide what changes, or if it’s feasible to keep her in the dark.  I like having smart characters that act — and not stupid characters that sit around waiting for someone to give them a clue — so I think I’ll be tweaking my stupid outline yet again.  :wink::roll:


No rest for the weary!  Anybody up for a JuNoWriMo???

50,368 / 100000

MayNoWriMo: Day 30

Wow, I never thought I’d be this close!  Today I got an incredible amout of work done, thanks in part to getting up somewhat early while the rest of the family snoozed the morning away.  I had 3,494 words before they got up!  Then I had another late afternoon session while the monsters played on the blow-up water slide (1020 words), and then while watching TV tonight, I chipped away at the scene and wrapped it up, bringing my day’s total up to 5,833 (this does include some words from last night too but I didn’t make an update so I threw them together).

MayNoWriMo total: 46,233.  Only 3767 to go!

46,233 / 100000

I’m too tired to pull up a snippet. Tomorrow is church and laundry, while the monsters are also wanting to go swimming over at Aunt BB and Uncle J’s apartment complex. It would be heavenly if That Man would take them and let me stay home….

Don’t hold your breath.

MayNoWriMo: Day 28

Despite my lack of updates, I have been steadily toiling away on my MayNoWriMo project, Arcana.  50K by 5/31 is looking rather grim, but I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished so far.  Tonight, I broke 40K and worked through a particularly difficult stretch of “new” material.  I have a murder mystery on my hand, and some surprising developments I hadn’t accounted for.

And yes, I deviated once again from my ridiculously detailed outline, but after 2-3 unplanned sections, I was able to right my course back to the outline and picked up the next planned scene accordingly.  There are some rough patches in this draft, but I’m not going to worry about that now.  That will be Revision Hell Deux!

MayNoWriMo total:  40,400 words

40,400 / 100000

Snippet:  In this section, we’re introduced to the antagonist.  Well, he’s the obvious antagonist.  There are other more arcane players that aren’t fully explained until later, but Aubrey drives the main conflict of the story.  I hope I got the clothing details right. 

This takes place at a small gathering, of which Lilias has this to say:    In the long, illustrious past of Nocturna Castle, there had never been a more tedious party.

“My dear Wilfreda has made quite a conquest.”

“How wonderful, and so early in the Season?  I wasn’t aware that you’d already been to Town.”

“We haven’t departed yet,” the lady preened.  “We shall still go, of course, but Wilfreda is quite taken with the young man, and he’s very suitable; not a grand lord, certainly, but his family name is impeccable and he stands to inherit a barony.”

Lilias made a sound that she hoped to be appropriately impressed.  She caught Violet with an imploring gaze, but her fickle sister launched into another country reel; she’d charge over and blast Mr. Nevarre with her fury, but she wouldn’t dare risk getting caught in Lady Mouls’ long-winded recounts of gossip, not even for a bit of Society news.

“You should know him, at least his name,” Lady Mouls said, jerking Lilias’s gaze back to her.  The smug glint in the older woman’s eyes made her stomach tighten.  “Oh, do forgive any impropriety, but he accompanied us tonight as Wilfreda’s escort.  Where are they…oh, there!”  Lady Mouls waved her hanky at her daughter and cooed.  “Why didn’t you tell me your husband’s family was visiting?”

Lilias’s heart beat ponderously, as though her blood had thickened and congealed to syrup.  Slowly, she turned her head in the direction indicated.

“Mr. Aubrey Slymere, such a handsome man.”  Lady Mouls sighed happily.  “Wilfreda is quite beside herself with joy, I assure you.  He stated that he was your husband’s cousin, so I’m sure you don’t mind that he accompanied us this evening.”

Mr. Slymere possessed the same golden hair, high, classic forehead, and proud hawk’s nose as Lilias’s deceased husband.  In fact, they could have been brothers.  Here, too, was the London dandy that Violet had hoped to meet:  fine double-breasted cutaway coat in sapphire velvet, white waistcoat quilted with sparkling golden thread to match the buttons on his coat, and spotless white breeches and stockings.  With such a high collar and the snowy white cravat twisted in a tall confection at his throat, he surely couldn’t turn his head without risk of injuring himself. 

Sensing the attention, he turned and escorted his companion in their direction.  For all his charm and civility, Lilias felt a blast of cold winter’s ice creeping through her veins.  Grimsgate taught only the darker arcane, and if this man were truly her husband’s cousin, she knew very well what sort of magic he might possess.

Soul darkening, life stealing blood magic.

Mr. Slymere’s mouth curved in the darkly sensual smile of a cat grinning at the frantic bird flopping on the ground with a broken wing, and the castle nexus erupted about her.  Raw energy bubbled up from the earth, molten power at her command.  It filled her without her consciously opening her gift and burned away the dread ice that had threatened to paralyze her. 

Kill him now.

MayNoWriMo: Day 17

Continued reading through my sections and making adjustments as I went to bring everything “up” to meet my outline. All the niggling little sequence issues that were bothering me have been fixed, and in the process, I added 1504 words! Then I finished the next new scene last night. All in all, a pretty productive weekend.

Up later than D&E this morning, so I may not get much done until tonight.

28,178 / 100000

Snippet:  This is the last part of the scene between Violet and Lilias that I was sharing last week.  This bit is rather prophetic, or at least foreshadows Violet’s character arc through this story.  I wanted to capture, too, the back and forth relationship of sisters:  love and understanding one moment; competition the next; angry words spoke in haste.

Lilias averted her face.  “I don’t trust myself.”

Violet’s chest felt constricted, as though her corset had been tied too tightly.  She’d never been in this position before:  her sister needed her.  Lilias needed to hear the right words to encourage her, as she’d encouraged her younger sister all these years.  What if Violet said the wrong thing?  Would it push her unstable sister over the edge into madness?

Something flapped above their heads, drawing their eyes to the sky.  A black bird swooped down and snagged a mouse a dozen paces away, and then soared toward the South Tower. 

“It’s still here.”  Lilias glanced at her, delight bringing some color back to her cheeks.  “I saw him last night, but I didn’t know it was a raven.  We haven’t had ravens at Nocturna for nearly a thousand years.”

Smiling at her sister, Violet suddenly knew exactly what to say.  “I trust you, Lily, with my life.  I love you.”

Her sister wrapped her up in a fierce hug that made them both cry, but this time, the tears were happier instead of tasting of ash and sorrow.

“I love you, too, dearest Vi.”  Lilias stared up at the South Tower, smiling at that fool bird.  Why did a raven mean so much to her?  If Violet had known, she would have written to every acquaintance they’d ever made and begged a scraggly dirty bird.  “Things are changing, for the better, I think.  Can you feel it?”

All Violet felt was the lingering threat of ozone and boiling clouds on the horizon, regardless of clear blue skies and green growing things.  However, she merely forced a smile and nodded.  She’d been in a foul enough mood the past few weeks since the school had re-opened; she wouldn’t ruin this fragile moment of recovery with some dire threat she couldn’t even find the words to express.

“A gentleman arrived awhile ago inquiring about an item Father had borrowed,” Lilias said.  “Did you know of any book he might have sought from Egypt?”

“No.  Is he handsome?”  Her sister merely blinked at her, so Violet added, “the gentleman?  Did he pass through London?”

“He didn’t inform me of his travel itinerary,” Lilias replied, a wry twist to her mouth.  “He’s coming this evening; you can inquire of his travels then.”

Excitement bubbled out of Violet’s mouth, a warbling song of laughter.  She skipped ahead and twirled, laughing more when her straw hat slipped from her head.  She untied the ribbons and swung it like a slingshot.  “At last, an interesting gentleman and a party!  It’s almost as good as a Season.”

“He’s staying in the carriage house, so you will have multiple opportunities to ensnare him.”

Something in her sister’s voice made Violet pause her dance.  Lilias smiled, still, but there was a tightness about her eyes, and her lips were compressed. 

A surge of femininity swelled within Violet, a sweet, fierce sensual power that she’d never felt before.  She’d never been able to compete with her sister for a beau before.  “I wager he’ll ask me to dance before you.”

“There will be no dancing tonight.”

“Then he’ll ask me to help him find this book.” 

Lilias didn’t respond, walking instead faster.  She was nearly to the door, and then it would be students and lessons.  She would be the eldest, assured and powerful, and Violet would be reduced to the little sister in need of guidance, tolerated, not needed.  This lighthearted moment would be gone as quickly as that ugly bird. 

Desperate to hold on to this strange and wonderful moment of adulthood, Violet threw back her head and held her arms out wide, her face tilted to the life-giving sun.  She filled herself with power, drawing more, more, sweet and thick and untamed.  Molten honey poured through her veins instead of blood.  Lightning crackled through her mind, blasting away lingering shadows of grief.

She wove strands of power high into the sky, seeking rain clouds and rainbows.  She’d coax a gentle spring rain while the sun yet shone, casting rainbows and crystals of light.  Yet all too quickly, the sweetness bordered on pain.  She couldn’t hold nearly as much as Lilias, and there was no moisture in the air that she could draw. 

Her gifts were lightning and wind, tornadoes and rain, fierce in the moment but too capricious to hold in the palm of one’s hand for long.  Power melted away like those wisps of clouds, leaving her bereft and slightly embarrassed, else surely she would never have said, “And he’ll ask to marry me, too, and perhaps I shall say yes.  I’ll be gone to London within the month and sailing to Karnak!”

Her sister gave her a look of such sad censure that Violet drew in a sharp breath as though she’d been slapped. 

“Oh, Violet, you know nothing of this gentleman.  Why would you say such a thing?  You haven’t even met him!  How could you possibly think you would find him a suitable match?”

Stinging and feeling unusually weary from straining to use her magic, Violet retorted, “I shall never make such a mistake in choosing a husband as you.”

Lilias recoiled and covered her hand with her mouth, her fingers shaking.

“Lily,” Violet breathed, tears spilling in horror.  How could she have said such a thing?  Why did her own thoughts and words so often betray her so foolishly and childishly?  “I didn’t mean it.  You know how much I adore you.”

Her sister turned away and pushed open the door.  “You shall have your Season, Violet.  I’ll see to it.  And you may choose any husband you wish.”


“I’ll introduce you to Mr. Nevarre this very evening, but I warn you:  I find him very cold and dangerous.  Choose wisely, dearest.  You may only have one opportunity at happiness.”