Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy and User Experience.

NaNoWriMo, Days 5 and 6

I have to admit at this point that I’m beginning to flag a bit. I’ve made a good amount of progress so far – over 12,000 words in total – but both yesterday and today were days where I had to struggle to think of what to put down next.

This does not mean I didn’t get a lot of writing done. I got a ton of writing done – over 8,000 words, in fact. However, at least 3,000 of those words don’t count towards the 50k mark because they’re part of the backstory that I realized I needed to create for myself. I am proud to say that I’ve got a majority of my novel’s plotting out of the way.

However, I’m chagrined to say that even though I’ve now set up an “official” plotline for myself, it feels that the characters and circumstances aren’t conforming to it as easily as I thought. Things just don’t seem to make as much sense in the world of the story if they adhere to the plot I’ve ginned up, so I’m still playing things fast and loose.

On top of that, I wrote a guest blog post for someone else and sent it off, and here I am writing again. I guess it’s true that the more you write, the easier it is for the dam inside you to burst.

One last note: A few nights ago I tinkered with saying my story out loud, recording the spontaneous dialogue that resulted, and then transcribing the recording. It was an interesting experiment,  but one that I’m unsure of repeating. I got some great dialogue at first, but once it ran out I stopped the recording due to dead air. Once I transcribed the result I still wasn’t sure where to continue, but in the midst of typing I came up with an excellent incident to illustrate the main characters’ abilities, advance the plot, and highlight the incipient insanity of one of the story’s antagonists. I still consider that my best piece of NaNo writing so far. So yes. while the method had good results, it requires real improvisation and momentum.

NaNoWriMo, Day 3

Ok, I have to admit it: I’ve fallen for NaNoWriMo, and I’ve fallen hard.

When I first heard of it a few years ago, I thought it would be a neat thing to try, but that it wasn’t the right thing for me to do. Then, when I decided to go for it a few weeks ago, I thought that I would approach it in a very detached manner – write the words, count them up, and bam. A good day’s work of writing done, I would then sleep like a baby.

However, now that I’ve actually got an account on the main NaNoWriMo site, I have to marvel at what a smooth ship these people run. Municipal Liaisons. An extremely active community. Corporate sponsorship, complete with discounts. And so many people! I’ve gone whole hog and agreed to attend the Toronto-area brunch they’re having in a few days, got myself a NaNo mentor, and am even in the process of arranging write-ins with other NaNoers who live near me.

This sort of rush is how I feel about the WCDR too, now that I think about it. Finding people with the same goals and trying to synchronize your activities with theirs is incredibly gratifying.

So, now that I’ve got the love-in out of the way, what do I think about the novel itself that I’m writing?

My method of approaching the process has been a bit surprising to me. I haven’t approached the plot linearly at all. When I started writing on November 1st, I had a very vivid image of a man looking over a wall to see two people coming towards his fort in the distance. I then cut back and forth between the people at the fort and the stragglers heading towards them, and ended with the two parties meeting in the middle of the field.

When I first wrote this scene, I thought the ending would provide enough juice that it would be a great “hook” at the beginning of the story from which I could hang subsequent sections of the story.

However, yesterday, I realized that this meeting didn’t have enough weight behind it, and that it isn’t meant to start the novel at all. It really needs to be the first conflict point about 25% of the way in. So now I’m trying to work myself up to that point.

I’ve been taking a fairly wattle-and-daub approach with this. I’m not writing the book in a linear fashion. I have an idea of how I want A, B, C, and D to connect, but I’ve been hop-scotching over the various parts of the novel, hoping to fill in the holes later. Also, instead of writing one looong word file, I’ve decided to save a different word file for each scene or each day of writing. I figure that if I use this method of saving my work, it will be easier to rearrange scenes for impact later on.

I’m also trying hard not to edit my work, but sometimes it’s hard to resist. I do go back and change certain words to avoid repetition, but I’m quite proud to say that I haven’t touched what I wrote on the 1st or the 2nd. Maybe over the weekend I’ll put the jigsaw pieces together.

NaNoWriMo, Day 1

Well, the first day of NaNoWriMo ended much differently than I thought it would.

For the past few weeks I was mulling around one idea in my head, thinking over how I would structure the story and how to introduce the main character and her circumstances. However, the story I was planning was just a bit too autobiographical to be interesting, and the main character was just going to be a thinly-disguised version of myself.

I sat for a good 10 minutes or so, trying to think of how to write about myself in a fictional manner without turning myself into a Mary Sue character. It didn’t work.

So I went back to the drawing board and thought about a story idea I’d had, but abandoned about a year and a half ago. And then all of a sudden, words came out. To be precise, 1644 words came out – very close to the average number of words you should be putting out each day to meet the 50k mark by the end of the month, and more than the goal of 1500 words that I had set for myself today. My plan over the month is to write 1500 words per day on the weekdays and 2000/day on the weekends, with an extra final push at the end of the month.

There were place names. There were multiple characters. There was a semi-dystopian military setting. I began to conceive of a backstory involving power struggles and wars and secret government experiments.

In short, right now it sounds like the most hackneyed thing alive, as God knows there’s enough dystopian fiction out there. But it was fun! Thinking of names for my characters was a good mental exercise. Most importantly, it got the words going, which is the big goal of NaNoWriMo.

So, I’ll consider this an important lesson I’ve learned: an unplanned but exciting story concept is better than a planned-out, boring, vaguely autobiographical one.

NaNoWriMo: Taking the Plunge

Yesterday a social-media friend of mine (Hello, Jonathan!) asked me if I was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year.

Short answer: Not really.

Long answer:  I’ve thought about it in the past but have always said no; I sincerely doubt that I’ll have the time to write 50,000 words in 30 days while working full-time, and I’d rather not start and end up failing.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the idea appealed to me. After all, I did have a bunch of story ideas rattling around in my head, and there was one story in particular where I had even gone so far as to take notes on what the main plot and the complementary subplot would be. Why not go for it?

So yes, I have decided: I will be doing NaNoWriMo.

However, I’m not doing this to prepare a manuscript for publication. I’m going in with a few reasonable assumptions:

  • My book will suck.
  • My pacing will be off.
  • My characters won’t be realistic or three-dimensional.
  • My setting will not engage the reader.
  • My diction will be poor.

If I’m so convinced my book will be horrible, then why am I doing it? Well, for reasons both personal and professional:

  1. I want to prove to myself that I have the discipline to complete a novel. I’ve never attempted writing anything as long as 50,000 words (I didn’t need to write a thesis paper to get my BA), and almost every writing resource I’ve read stresses that the most successful writers aren’t necessarily the best or most-skilled – the most successful ones are the ones who don’t stop and keep on hustling. NaNoWriMo provides an excellent platform for this because of the social aspect.
  2. I feel that writing a novel will make me a better editor. You know that old saying “those who can’t do, teach”? Well, I’m sure a lot of writers out there feel that “those who can’t write, edit”. If I actually take the effort to write a novel and realize how hard it is to do so (creating an engaging plot with believable characters, understandable motivations, evocative settings, and more), I’m sure that my understanding of how to make novels better will also improve. Plus, I’m sure I will be more tactful in my comments and critiques to the writers I end up working with.
  3. I feel that there is a good novel in me somewhere. I have lots of stories in my head that I want to develop further in text. But I want to give each story the attention and skill it deserves. I figure that if my first novel is something that I’m not too worked up about (remember, I’m assuming that this first novel will suck due to inexperience), I’ll feel more confident when I start subsequent projects. I’d rather not ruin a really amazing idea with bad execution when I can wait and really do it well once I have more practice.

In the meantime, I’m trying to gather up more resources about writing build up a cushion of support and encouragement. So far, I’m focusing on StoryFix and the I Should Be Writing podcast by Mur Lafferty. What writing resources do you have to share? Let me know in the comments.

A review of the Ryerson publishing program – Part 1

I never got to throw a graduation cap into the air when I finished my BA at Trent. Ah well.I’m proud to say that I’ve just reached one of the goals I set for myself when I started out as an editor: I’ve graduated from Ryerson’s publishing program!

My last lecture in my last course – Intro to Book Design – finished the evening before, so I’ve had about a day to bask in the glory of being an official graduate of the publishing program.

In response to a blog post by my Book Design classmate Lisa-Marie that summarizes Ryerson’s publishing program, I’ve decided to record my own thoughts about each course. However, while her interests lie in marketing and publicity, mine lie in editing and production. They’re very different parts of the publishing machine, though obviously interconnected.

Because it’s late and I’m tired, I’ll just talk about the first half of my courses and continue the review in a second post later on this week. Without further ado:

Substantive Editing

Unlike most other publishing students, I took this class first even though it’s not an introductory course – when I registered, the Trade Overview course was full and this was the only one that still had spots available. While it provided a very good crash course in editing full-length manuscripts, the Ryerson journey would have been much smoother overall had I taken the Overview course first and this one second.

The best thing about this course in the long run was the textbook. If you can find a copy of Betsey Lerner’s Forest for the Trees, I beg you, do not let it escape your clutches. Writers will find it useful to understand editors. Editors will find it useful to understand writers. The book is win-win, really.

(Note: This course was taught online by Joy Gugeler. I took it during the summer of 2008.)

Publishing Overview: Trade

Although this is normally the introductory course for most publishing program students, this was the second one I took. This course was also required to complete the program (and still is), so I took it as soon as I was able to get it out of the way. It focused on the economics and psychology of the publishing industry – the nitty-gritty of how advances and royalties work, the way books are marketed, and how books can both conform to, and subvert, our expectations.

However, learning about the economics of publishing dampened my resolve to complete the program because the industry resembles nothing so much as tightrope-walking. Here are some statistics, courtesy of my instructor, Sam Hiyate, co-founder of The Rights Factory.

  • A book needs to sell only 5,000 copies to be considered a best-seller in Canada, a country of over 30 million people.
  • Out of every 100 books published in Canada:
    • 85 books will lose money for the publisher
    • 10 books will break even
    • 4 books will be moderate sellers
    • only 1 book will be a bestseller (and remember, this means only 5,000 copies sold)

The course taught me a lot, but I consider the most valuable lesson to be one I discovered on my own once statistics like these were made clear to me: publishing depends on a constant churn of under-paid labour (aka: internships).

I suppose that this is a topic that deserves its own post, but learning about the money behind the publishing industry (constant government grants and constant reliance on interns) subconsciously contributed to my decision to freelance instead of work in-house.

(Note: I took this course on campus during the winter of 2009.)

Copy Editing for Books, Journals, and Reports

In contrast to Lisa-Marie”s experience, I really enjoyed this course and, in hindsight, I consider it to be the key to understanding what I wanted to do, and why I wanted to do it.

The answer is so obvious now: I love words. I find it akin to pain when they are misused. I enjoy finding the patterns behind them, and this course helped me to understand those patterns more thoroughly.

Often, the day after each copy editing class, I would come to work and babble to my then-coworkers about grammar issues that I found exciting – things like the spellbinding importance of choosing “that” for restrictive clauses and  “which” for non-restrictive clauses, or the evil of misplacing your modifiers.

This course had more homework than most of the others, but I don’t regret it; I still keep the textbooks handy on my reference shelf at home.

In retrospect, this course was my favourite in the program. It taught me a lot of things, and not just about grammar. Most importantly, it helped me realize that there are viable career paths available to editors even if the economics behind the publishing industry look doubtful, because lots of other industries rely on well-written and well-formatted content.

I really can’t stress this enough: there is a lot more text available to edit outside of the traditional confines of the publishing industry. So even if I considered the economic foundation of the publishing industry to be tenuous (and with eBooks, this has become even more of an issue), this course made a strong argument for the relevancy of the entire program, because the skills taught in it can be applied across multiple industries.

(Note: My instructor for this course was Camilla Blakeley. I took this course on campus during the summer of 2009.)

Publishing Overview: Education

The main thing that I remember about this course is that I did a tremendous disservice to it by not organizing my notes regularly. To this day, those notes are sitting at the bottom of my bookshelf in a disheveled pile inside a soft orange binder. However, I did learn a number of things from this course about the creation and editing of textbooks, chief among them being that creating textbooks is a lot harder than it looks.

The Education course is required to pass the program. Unfair as this sounds, I took this course during the first half of my program so I could complete the requirement and focus my time and effort on the electives that really piqued my interest.

(Note: This course was taught by Tony Luengo and Cara Yarzab. I took this course on campus during the fall of 2009.)

Update: Check out part 2 of this series!

Further update: Check out part 3!

Happy New Year!

As we all ring in 2010, I’m happy to announce that I found out my final mark for the course in educational publishing I just finished, and ended up with an A-. While I still have yet to adapt my essay on digital readers and their potential effects on the publishing industry to this site, I’m very pleased with the results of my labour.

Anyways, to all and sundry who may drop by: welcome, take a look around, and may your year ahead be full of growth, change, and all the other things that make life good.