Why I’ll Never Participate in NaNoWriMo Again

I have dreamed of successfully completing at least one NaNoWriMo competition since 2011, and this past year I finally realized that dream. I wrote 50,014 words of This Dread Road, Book Three of The Bennett Series, in November 2015.

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I was so proud of myself. Not only had I finally managed to complete a challenge, I did it in the same month my husband and I purchased a home and moved.

For several months after I finished, I was convinced that participating in NaNo was a great thing that everyone should do. After all, I’d never managed to write so much so quickly in my life. But now that I’m finished with revisions, I can look back and say with all manner of certainty that NaNoWrioMo, while well-intentioned, did me far more harm than good.

 

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For one thing, it ushered in a horrific period of burnout. I never stopped working on This Dread Road, but it took nearly six months for me to finish the second half of the book. I went through several weeks of just not caring about the story anymore. Working on it was painful and torturous. For a while, I worried I wouldn’t finish it in time. Or at all.

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Our trip to South Carolina in March forced me to rest and rejuvenate. I came home more excited about the story than ever, having seen places like Stella Maris Church (pictured above) that were connected to the story of This Dread Road. It took another month after our return, but I finally finished the draft. I was so happy to finish, and still eternally gratefully for NaNoWriMo. If I hadn’t written that 50,014 words last November, how much further behind schedule would I be?

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But when I started revisions a few weeks ago, I realized that those first 50,000 words were essentially useless. That section of the book was packed with filler words, unnecessary characters, and subplots I hadn’t taken the time to flesh out. I could almost map my exhaustion during the month of November just looking at that first half.

I had to rewrite the first twenty-seven chapters.

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I don’t wish that I hadn’t participated in NaNo last year–it was a fun experience, and I enjoyed the camaraderie and solidarity that I experienced all across the Internet. It was finals week, but without the stress of grades hanging over my head. I got a lot done. Had I not participated, I most likely wouldn’t have taken a break to redesign all three of the covers for The Bennett Series. I wouldn’t have been able to let my experience in Charleston influence my descriptions nearly as much.

Most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned a valuable lesson: what works for others does not necessarily work for me.


This Dread Road is currently in the editing stage and is tentatively scheduled for a December 2016 release. I will hopefully have a firm date for you soon! 

An Open Book – June Edition

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Thanks to Carolyn Astfalk and CatholicMom.com for hosting!

Holy cow, I haven’t posted here since last month’s version of An Open Book! I had no idea how much I’d been slacking lately. Last month passed in a blur with exams, essays, and portfolios, and I’ve been pouring ever spare second since into finishing up revisions on This Dread Road and updating the covers for all of The Bennett Series books. (Don’t worry, I’ll post on that soon!)

I have been getting a lot of reading done, though. It might seem a bit odd to spend time reading when there’s so much writing to be done, but I consider it research. I’m constantly finding new ways to improve, and what better way than to study what others in my genre are doing?

 

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As always, I have a couple of irons in the fire. From my Netgalley list (which is about as conquerable as a hydra right now, to be honest), I’m reading Dear Thing by Julie Cohen. Ben and Claire have struggled for years to conceive a baby. After yet another failed embryonic transfer, Claire decides she’s done with treatment, but Ben’s not ready to give up so easily. When his best friend Romily finds out, she makes what seems like a reasonable offer: she will carry their child for them. Well, Ben’s child. Claire’s not able to produce a viable egg. Romily’s convinced that being a surrogate will be easy enough–she’s a single mom already, and she doesn’t want any more children. But as the pregnancy progresses, things get a little . . . complicated.

I’m about halfway through this book as of this morning and I’m enjoying it. The writing is superb, the characters are well-developed, and it’s provoking a lot of internal dialogue and debate about medical ethics. I have a strong feeling this will receive a five-star rating from me.

 

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On the audiobook front, I’m listening to Cinder by Marissa Meyer. I haven’t finished listening to Harry Potter yet, but I won’t have the credit to download Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows until next week, so here we are! I think The Lunar Chronicles will be my next audio project. I loved reading these books, and I love listening to them too. Rebecca Soler is a fantastic narrator.

 

Up Next

I’m going to spend this month (and the next, and probably the next) slowly whittling away at my entirely too long NetGalley queue, in addition to a few titles I own but haven’t gotten around to reading. What I hope to read in June:

Dreaming of Antigone by Robin Bridges
Undecided by Julianna Keyes
Lucky Me by Saba Kapur
Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell by Liane Shaw
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory by Noa Gavin and Nick Scott
A Thousand Salt Kisses by Josie Demuth
Anything You Want by Geoff Herbach
Whisper to Me by Nick Lake
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Summer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider
The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Seize the Flame by Lynda Cox
The Martian by Andy Weir

Fifteen books seems like a tall order, but I managed to read 8 last month without even really trying, so hopefully I’ll get through this bunch!


 

Would you like to participate in An Open Book and share what are you reading? 

The rules are simple:

  1. Include a link back to My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com somewhere in your post.(http://carolynastfalk.com/category/my-scribblers-heart-blog/ and http://catholicmom.com/tag/open-book) Better yet, link to the week’s post.
  2. Link up your post.
  3. Use the hashtag #OpenBook on social media.
  4. Visit some of the other bloggers’ sites and see what they are reading. Let’s build a community and expand our reading horizons.

Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Creative Person

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This past Saturday, I had a booth at a local arts festival. This was not my first event as an author–in fact, it’s more like the sixth or seventh–and each time it gets a little easier to shove my trembling, terrified introverted self deep in my brain, take a deep breath, and start initiating conversation with strangers with a smile on my face.

Now that I’ve practiced coming out of my shell enough times, I can actually say it’s fun! I connected with so many old friends, new acquaintances, and eager future readers. I packed up my booth at the end of the day feeling tired, hungry, and rewarded. But as they always do, this event drew my attention to how creative people–artists, musicians, craftsmen, authors, you name it–are often treated in the public. They’re not treated particularly well, if you’re wondering; not overwhelmingly so, at least.

The more I do in-person events like these, the more I grow used to it. I don’t take comments and looks personally like I might have in the past. But it breaks my heart to know that there is a burgeoning artist out there who has worked up the courage to present their work to the public, perhaps for the first time, only to be met with rudeness and disrespect. A handful of ill-thought comments and remarks made by strangers could be enough to sever whatever glimmering, tenuous thread of hope and enthusiasm they have about their art. And that’s just unacceptable.

So today, here’s my list of what not to say to a creative person. Most of these are book related, since that’s obviously what I know, but I know several of my visual artist friends have had similar experiences.

1. “I can’t buy books from you. I only support local bookstores.”

Rest assured, purchasing a book from an author–especially one who self-publishes–is about as local as it gets. It’s great if you eschew the big chains in favor of independent shops, but don’t lose the spirit of what you’re trying to do by focusing on the letter of the law. A local author is a local business, and does not pose a threat to indie shops.

2. “I’m not interested in talking about your books. I need you to tell me how I can publish mine.”

I often meet budding writers, and that’s always a fantastic experience! It’s great to meet a brother or sister in ink, to paraphrase my friend Lissa Bryan’s expression. But when someone has a booth obviously dedicated to selling their works, it’s very rude to completely ignore their books and ask them for free advice on writing and publishing. They’re in selling mode, and odds are they are not equipped to become your pro bono writing coach at a drop of a hat. Publishing a book is no picnic, no matter which route you take, and you can’t expect someone to give you all the answers in three easy steps. Try to establish a connection instead. Read the back cover of the books, make a few polite comments, and if you think they might be able to help you, ask if it would be all right if you sent them an email later, at a more appropriate time. They will most likely say yes.

3. “I’m a writer, too. I have a fantastic pitch for you.”

Again, please remember that the author you are talking to is just that: an author. They are most likely not also an agent, an editor, the head of a publishing house, or anyone who could help you get a book contract. Even if they weren’t, a signing event specifically for their books is not the time. They are trying to connect with potential readers and don’t have resources on hand to help you at the moment. Ask for their email address and try your questions later.

4. “Is this novel based on your life?”

Maybe this isn’t always a rude question, but when the copy of the book they’re holding is about a girl entering a forbidden affair with her professor, it’s kind of inappropriate.

5. “I’ll buy these on Kindle, as long as they’re not more than two dollars. I never read a book for more than two dollars.”

…Sigh.

I don’t have a problem with eBooks. In fact, due to my busy schedule, I read almost exclusively eBooks these days, because it allows me to read in quick 2-3 minute bursts between classes, on lunch breaks, during unexpected traffic jams, etc. But what I do hate is how they have desensitized the reader when it comes to pricing.

Books don’t pop into existence free of charge. For a decent self-published book, assume that at least $1,000 has gone into cover design, interior formatting, editing, proofreading, and marketing. For a book published through an indie house or one of the Big 5, multiply that number by a lot. And that’s nothing compared to the hours and hours of drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and last minute reading that goes into producing a manuscript worthy of the public.

Now factor in that for a Kindle book costing less than $2.99, royalties are only 30%. That means that a self-published author, who doesn’t have to split royalties with anyone, receive a whopping $0.30 for an eBook that costs $0.99. Authors who have publishers to split the royalties with get even less than that.

I understand money is tight sometimes. I get that eBooks are sometimes way, way overpriced–I’ve seen some that are the same price as the print book, and that’s a little extreme.

But if you want to buy a book and support an author, I really urge you to consider paying more than $2 every once and a while. There are some great free and $0.99 books out there, and it’s always nice to find a bargain, but please don’t expect everyone to be able to afford to give their work away for $0.30–or free.

Top 10 4- and 5-Star NetGalley Reads

It’s time to confess that I have a problem. I request entirely too many titles on NetGalley. Between taking classes, writing, and working, I really don’t have time to be reading for pleasure, but what can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment.

Thanks to the generosity of several publishers and authors, I’ve been exposed to some truly amazing reads lately. I post my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and my review site Read Yourself to Sleep, but I rarely share my thoughts on books here. Today, I’d like to change that! Here’s a list of the ten most recent 4- and 5-star reads I’ve experienced thanks to NetGalley!

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Top 10 Ways to Use Instagram as an Author

Top Ten.jpgI’ll admit, for a long time I didn’t really see the point of Instagram as an app unto itself. I basically just used it as a photo editing app for everything I wanted to post to Facebook. I never only posted a photo on Instagram. I rarely added captions, and never utilized hashtags. I let people follow me and I followed them back, but I never checked the feed or interacted with others.

I realized a few short months ago that this was a mistake. To help out one of my favorite indie authors, I joined forces with a couple of other fans and helped start a grassroots Instagram campaign. I was amazed at the book culture that is alive and well on a social network I’d largely considered pointless. Instagram has a thriving booklover community, and it is dying for more author-reader interaction.

I’m by no means an expert, having only danced around the fringes of #bookstagram culture for a couple of months, but there are some valuable things I’ve learned that I think more authors can take advantage of.

1. Pay Attention to Hashtags

The hashtags that will be important to you vary depending on what genre and age group your books fall into, but some of the broad ones to use are #bookstagram, #booksofinstagram, #bookish, #booknerd, #bibliophile, #readinglist, and #amreading. Use these hashtags when you post about your books, but also search to see who else is using them and interact with people who look like they might enjoy reading your books.

2. Form Relationships

When you come across users who look like they might enjoy your books, don’t spam them with buy links or suggestions right away. Instead, take the time to look through their photos. Leave a few likes and comments. Ask questions that show you’re interested in getting to know them, not just making a sale.

3. Participate in Challenges

There will almost always be an ongoing photo challenge that centers on books, reading, or writing. In February, I participated (half-heartedly) in the #AuthorLifeMonth challenge. This month, I’ve been doing the #YABookADay challenge. Next month, I’m planning my own! This is a great way to connect with readers, book bloggers, and other authors, and it really helps get you in the habit of posting at least once a day.

4. Host Giveaways

Last month, I participated in an Instagram giveaway with several other indie authors. We all gave away a printed copy of one of our books. People entered to win by following me, liking the post, commenting with the hashtag #iLovePrinted Books, and tagging a friend who also loves printed books. Each of the participating authors linked to another author in our post, so theoretically an Instagram follower could click through the chain and enter each author’s giveaway. I had a blast participating in this–I received several new followers, met some great authors, and I gained a new reader in England thanks to the giveaway! It was a great experience and I hope to do it again soon.

5. Increase Blog Traffic

Create free graphics for your blog posts on sites like Canva and post them on Instagram with a sample of your blog for the day. Believe it or not, people will actually hop on over to your blog if you ask them to! I’ve seen increased traffic since I started doing this.

6. Promos, Sales, and New Releases

Continuously spamming buy links is no more successful on Instagram than it is on Twitter or Facebook. However, Instagram is a great place to share occasional promotional posts for your books, as well as eBook sales and new releases! Use hashtags like #ebooks, #kindle, #freebies, #FreeEbooks, and #newrelease in conjunction with the usual book-related hashtags I listed above to get the best coverage.

7. Provide Regular Updates

Did you just finish an amazing outline? Do you have impressive, serial-killer-like notes stuck all over your desk? Did you just print out your manuscript in all its several hundred page glory? Readers love seeing these kinds of visual progress reports. They’re fun to share, and you just might snag some future readers by keeping your followers informed about your WIP.

8. Help Boost Author Friends

Help your fellow authors out by taking a screenshot of their photos and reposting them with the hashtag #regram and tag them in the caption. It feels easier and more natural to promote others rather than ourselves, so it won’t be as obnoxious as us constantly reposting stuff about our own books, and it shows that authors are friends, not competitors.

9. Create Your Own Hashtag

Before doing this, make sure to search Instagram for it to ensure it’s not being used by another group already.

10. Post Non-Writing Related Photos

This probably seems counterintuitive, but think about it for a second. I’m sure you appreciate when the celebrities you follow on social media post about their movies, shows, albums, and books, since that’s probably why you’re following them to begin with. But don’t you really love it when they drop that persona and just get real with you? Aren’t we all dying to know what Stephen King is having for dinner, or what Nathan Fillion’s backyard looks like? Obviously, most of us self-published and indie authors aren’t celebrities by any stretch of the word, but people love to see what lies behind our writing persona. It makes us seem more like real people and encourages connection.

A Peek Into My Soul . . . Or Something Like That.

Some of you know that this semester, in addition to working on the last book in my young women’s fiction trilogy The Bennett Series and working full-time, I have also started taking classes in preparation for graduate studies in English and creative writing.

I am, for the first time in my life, taking a writing workshop class. The results of our various writing exercises and discussions have actually become quite interesting. A poet and short fiction writer, I am not–at least in my heart–but I have been pleasantly surprised with some of the poems and short stories that have been produced over the past eight weeks.

Here is a poem that was written in a scaffolding exercise early on in the class. Scaffolding a poem sounds like a rather dangerous activity that involves heights and a need for hardhats, but thankfully it’s rather simple. You take an existing poem, write it down on a piece of paper leaving space in between each line, and in those spaces, you write your own poem, drawing influence from the original.

The class started out with “Consolations After an Affair” by James Tate:

My plants are whispering to one another:
they are planning a little party
later on in the week about watering time.

I have quilts on beds and walls
that think it is still the 19th century.
They know nothing of automobiles and jet planes. 
For them a wheat field in January
is their mother and enough.
I’ve discovered that I don’t need 
a retirement plan, a plan to succeed.
A snow leopard sleeps beside me
like a slow, warm breeze.
And I can hear the inner birds singing
alone in this house I love.

After about three or four rounds of revisions, this is what I came up with. This is the first poem I’ve written in nearly five years, and the first since high school I’ve felt proud enough to share. A poetess still I am not, but now I know I could be, should the desire ever strike. I hope you enjoy it.

“Consolations After a Motorcycle Accident”

My clothes are gossiping with one another:
they are planning a little mutiny
later on in the week, if I still haven’t washed them.
I have books on shelves and floors
that think genies in bottles are real.
They know nothing of the world “impossible.”
For them, a winter ball in Moscow
is everything, and enough.
I’ve discovered that I don’t need
a will to live to breathe.
The cat watches silent in the corner
like an ominous fell breeze.
And I can taste the sad words calling forth
a ghost of diamond dust and ash and rust.

How I Do It: 1 Not-So-Easy Step to Make Your Dreams Come True

I hear it all the time. “How do you do it?”

It’s not an unwarranted question. Sometimes, I even ask it of myself. How do I do it?

How do I put in forty hours Monday through Friday, while still squeezing in six hours of classes, and then turn around and work another eight hours on Saturday, and then spend Sunday mornings at church, and then spend Sunday afternoons grocery shopping and doing chores? How do I manage to do all of that, and still manage to be a homeowner and a wife, and hopefully a potential mother, and put in enough writing to churn out roughly one book per year?

People also ask this question of my husband and myself as a married unit. How do we work fifty plus hours a week each, and still find time for romance and companionship? How do we manage to put money in savings almost every month on such a low combined income? How did we manage to go from limping along from paycheck to paycheck to paying off component student loans and purchasing a house in less than three years?

The answer to both questions is really one and the same.

This answer is simple, although it might not be what you want to hear. It is not a simple solution, one tiny step needed to right the balance in an already stress-filled life.

Here it is:

I do what I do because I have to.

We do what we do because we have to.

Plan everything.

Skip lunch breaks.

Save receipts.

Stay home and cook, even when it would be easier just to go out.

Budget everything. Money, time, calories. Everything.

Brainstorm while driving.

Stay up half the night working on homework and reading assignments, and then stay up even later to put in work on my books.

Don’t watch near as much Netflix as my lazy butt would like.

Know when it’s time to take a night “off” to spend time with my husband, and I don’t mind working twice as hard the next day to make that happen.

I don’t have a ton of free time–in fact, I’m not even sure I understand what free time is anymore–but you know what? I am completely, totally satisfied. I might be sleep deprived and busy to the point of nervous breakdown on some days, but for the first time in my life, I am passionate about what I do.

My office job? Love it.

My fast-food job? It’s only temporary, I don’t hate it, and it allows me to spend time with friends.

School? LOVE IT.

Writing? LOVE IT.

Achieving dreams, no matter what they are, will always require work. It will always require discipline. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll pursue them later, when it will be easier, when it will be more manageable. Such a time will never come. You don’t have to do everything all at once, but you have to start somewhere.

Make a list of everything you need to accomplish in order to fulfill your dreams and start doing them as you can, baby steps, one by one. It will be frustrating and draining, and some days you will just want to give up because you feel like you’re standing still, but you’re not. You’re still light years ahead of the people who are not even trying.

Stop waiting for your fully-formed dream to drop painlessly into your lap. It’s not going to happen. It never happens like that. If you want something to happenstart that process now. You’ll be busy, and you’ll be tired, but you will be doing something you love.

If you need further inspiration, check out Zen Pencils’ wonderful illustration of a speech given by James Rhodes, “Is That Not Worth Exploring?” It makes me tear up every time I read it, because it is so true. Your dreams are worth exploring, no matter the sacrifice. No matter what you have to do. So get out there, and do it!

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