About Cheri Baker
Posts by Cheri Baker:
My only quibble about word count sharing is that it can feel like a d**k-measuring contest if you’re not careful. That’s especially true when you have people (like me) who can write all day throwing their numbers up in the faces of those who could only squeak out forty-five minutes to write because they’re raising kids and holding down a job or two.
Instead of focusing on numbers, I’ll ask myself:
- Did I move my story forward today?
- Did I have fun doing it?
Day one was a YES and YES for me. And that’s why I’ll call this a good day at the office. ☺
So in that spirit of cozy autumn productivity, here’s my monthly project update for November 2019.
I’m working on a horror short that I’ve tentatively titled The Gig Economy. I wasn’t planning on writing a short story this month, but the idea kept hassling me, so I’m squeezing it in.
The Case of the Missing Finger is drafted and I’ve gotten good feedback on it. It’s ready for editing! The Case of the Karaoke Killer is outlined and I’ll start writing it Thursday.
Have More Fun. Publish More Frequently.
I’m in the midst of my Cozy Experiment, where I’m writing three cozy mysteries in a row and then releasing them close together.
Planning for 2020
Fall is strategic planning season, and my theme for next year will be “finishing what I’ve started.” My attention has been pretty scattered over the last 12 months, and I’ve got a few different series in a partially-written state. So my focus for 2020 will be tying up my loose threads. That means I’ll be launching the new cozy series, finishing the Emerald City Spies trilogy, and adding at least one more Kat Voyzey mystery.
(Hear how confident I sound? HAR HAR I AM TOTALLY INTIMIDATED BY THESE GOALS but that’s fine.)
And my stretch goal for 2020? Learning how to record audiobooks! I don’t have the big bucks needed for professional narration, but I have a decent microphone and access to recording software. Can I record my own audiobooks? I won’t know until I try.
Goodbye, and Thanks for all the Fish
My big personal news is that I’m closing down my management consulting business after a successful thirteen-year run. Earlier this year, after my travel sabbatical ended, I tried going back to work part-time, but despite my good intentions I guess my heart wasn’t in it? To my surprise, I’m feeling okay with letting go. Perhaps that’s because I’m so stoked about our fledgling publishing business.
Still, closing down my first business feels like the end of an era. So I’ll lift my imaginary lighter in the air and sway for a moment to some sad, sad, music.
Well, that’s enough of that! 😋 Anyway, that’s what I’m up to. How about you?
Hey, Nano preppers! We’re just a few days away from the big event, so I’ll wrap up this Nanowrimo prep series with some tips about mindset. How should we think about our writing? And what attitudes should we adopt in order to complete our projects well? I’ve got a few suggestions, which I’ve listed below in the form of beliefs. Do you agree with these beliefs, and if so, are you ready to adopt them?
Belief #1: Writing requires time and effort, so I’ve made space in my life to do it.
Writing is work, right? It’s work in the same way that going to your day job is work. If you put in the time and make an effort, you’ll make it through and you’ll improve your skills over time. And because we learn by writing, not by worrying about our writing, action is what matters.
That begins by making time, space, and energy available for your November writing project.
Belief #2: I’m writing a first draft. Later, I’ll improve it.
Writing a first draft is about telling the story to yourself. You can trust your future-self to edit your story, and focus now on the first task which is getting the whole story down so you can look at it. Nanowrimo isn’t the time to perfect your “first page hook” or obsess about comma placement.
That being said, you’re not required to write a shitty first draft! I’d rather see you produce the best work you can, right now, given your current skill level. Let’s talk for a moment about the notion of the happy medium, when it comes to the quality of your first draft.
Finding the Happy Medium
“I’ll just write shit because that’s what a first draft is.” Nah. Why on Earth would you intentionally write shit?
“I won’t start chapter two until chapter one is AMAZING.” Nope! You’re being too rigid. First drafts aren’t amazing. You’ll be stuck in a perfectionist loop!
“I’ll write this scene to the best of my current ability. Then I’ll move on to the next, because this is FIRST DRAFT TIME, baby!” Perfect! You’ve found the happy medium.
Seek out that happy medium, okay?
Belief #3: It’s time to listen to my gut and heart. Not the experts.
You’ve probably internalized a lot of advice from other writers, right? Stephen King hates adverbs. Others advise against prologues. Your high school English teacher yelled at you for using sentence fragments, or starting a sentence with and. Yadda Yadda. Taken in context, writing advice can be useful. But for a beginner, all this advice becomes an extra voice of criticism, making you second-guess your natural style as you start writing.
Tip: You’re fine. Just write! Use the voice that comes naturally to you. Fix any excesses in editing, and stop worrying about what the experts think. It’s not their story. It’s yours!
Belief #4: Progress matters, but progress is not linear.
You might have this idealized notion that you’ll write X words per day during Nanowrimo. And goals can be motivating sometimes. But in reality, writing is far more… lumpy than you might expect. You might have a day where you squeak out 200 words during lunch, and another day when you write four chapters because the words won’t stop flowing. It’s okay to have general targets in mind, but don’t flip out if you’re not producing equal numbers of words.
Keep it simple. Every time you write, move your story forward. And try to set aside enough hours in the month to reach your overall goal. That’s really all you can do.
Belief #5: No one is forcing me to do this.
Write because you love it. Or because it challenges you. Or because you’re curious to see if you can. Write because you’ve got a story to tell, or because you’ve admired authors forever and books still feel like magic.
But if writing is making you miserable, or if you hate it, it’s okay to stop. Don’t turn a story into an ego contest with yourself. Remember, no one is forcing you to do it. Proceed with the intention that you’ll enjoy yourself, and see how it goes.
Belief #6: I’ll decide what to do with this story later.
You might publish your story, or not. You might give it to friends to read, or not. But my point is, you don’t need to worry about any of that now. Get the draft down, edit it later, and then you can decide what to do.
Your story is a squalling little baby made of words. It’s red-faced and shouty and it has no career plans or life goals. So put away the college pamphlets and let it grow up a little. Let your story exist for its own sake! Don’t squash it under all your bossy expectations.
And that leads me to my most important belief, which is this:
Belief #7: I’m a writer.
If you write, you’re a writer. There’s no secret-handshake, certification, or permission slip required. Drop the word “aspiring” from your vocabulary and flush your impostor syndrome down the toilet. Once you accept the reality that you’re a writer, you can stop being all angsty about labels and do your damn job.
You can write.
Nanowrimo might be the start of something lasting, or perhaps just a fun month to try something new. Either answer is fine, but time spent worrying about labels is wasted time. Imagine me smacking you upside the head with THE OFFICIAL SCEPTER OF ALL WRITERS. Boom. You’re a writer! Now get to work.
This concludes my Nanowrimo prep series, and I hope you’ve found it helpful. Good luck with your story, and feel free to drop me a comment during the month of November to tell me how your project is going. And if you’d like some in-person camaraderie during the month of November, there are plenty of local meetup groups being organized on the official Nanowrimo website right now.
Welcome back to my Preparing for Nanowrimo series! We’re just a few weeks away now and shit’s about to get real. But no worries! If you’ve been prepping along with me you have your story idea plus a bit of structure, also known as your story arc. Perhaps you’ve jotted down some notes about your characters and chosen a point of view to write from. If so, you’re already well ahead of the game. For me, this stage in the writing process feels exciting but messy. Today we’ll add some specificity to our writing plan to help us hit the ground running on November 1st.
This week I recommend you create something called a beat sheet for your story. A beat sheet is a bullet point list of the major events in your story. I used to call this step outlining, but in all honesty I hate the concept of outlining because it feels too rigid. So I think of my beat sheet as pre-writing. I’m smoothing the path by laying down some ideas I can expand upon.
A story “beat” is a small piece of action that moves your story forward. Think of it like a note of music, leading to another note, and another.
Here’s a sample of two beats from a cruise ship mystery I just drafted: The Case of the Missing Finger
DAY ONE: MID-DAY BOARDING – SUNDAY – MIAMI
- Ellie admires the cruise ship. The S/V Adventurous Spirit is far bigger than she’d imagined and she compares it against what she read in the brochure two years prior. It’s very white and has tropical birds painted on the hull. She wishes Ronnie were there with her, but reminds herself that he wouldn’t want her feeling sorry for herself.
- Her daughter in law comes up beside her, making noise. She loves her DIL, but her concern-trolling is a bit much. Does Ellie have X, does she have Y? DIL hates the thought of Ellie being alone on the ship. It’s too bad she couldn’t wait for all of them to go. Ellie remarks that she won’t be alone, she has 1,XXX new friends. She says this, but inside she’s feeling nervous. Mostly she sees couples and families. Was taking this cruise alone a mistake? She hopes she won’t be lonely. But it can’t be worse than moping around at home. She’s tired of feeling sad.
Earlier, when we talked about structure, I mentioned that your character will likely start out in a zone of comfort (or a status quo) but they want something. My opening beats establish who Ellie is, what she wants, and what she’s leaving behind. Over the early chapters we learn that she’s widowed and that she loves her family, but she’s also craving more adventure in her life. From there I move into the plot of the murder mystery.
Your “beats” might be a single sentence, a paragraph, or something longer. It’s up to you! What we’re doing here is taking our prior prep work (structure, character, setting) and fluffing them out into a list of events.
Tip: I’ve never been able to define the final few beats of my story. I leave those blank, because I know I won’t know what the final scenes look like until I arrive there. So don’t worry if that happens to you too. This isn’t a school assignment and you aren’t being graded. Do it your own way.
Tips for Building Your Beat Sheet
Beat sheets are optional. You might prefer to sit down without one and just crank the words. But I find having a beat sheet helpful because I can take a beat and paste it into a document for the day, then expand it out to a full scene. This is far easier (for me) than generating every single scene on the fly.
Here are some things that might happen when you try to make a beat sheet:
- You write some beats, then you read them, then you think BOY THIS IS BORING. That’s helpful! It’s your signal to come up with some exciting events to spice up your story.
You write five or ten beats, then you’re not sure what happens next. That’s fine! You might come back tomorrow with more ideas, or you might want to start with those initial ideas and take it from there. There’s no wrong way to do this.
You make a beat-sheet for your full novel, but it seems a bit sparse in sections. No biggie! You’ll find yourself adding more depth and detail in the moment as you write. Some of us write “thin” beat sheets then thicken up the story considerably as we write.
You make a beat sheet and use it, but then you find your story is diverting off the path you set. That’s cool! You can adjust your beat sheet as you go, because we don’t always see the story in full until we start writing it. That’s normal and pretty darn fun. A surprised writer can mean surprised readers too.
You start making a beat sheet, but you get all jazzed and some of your “beats” are getting really long and detailed like scenes. Awesome! You might be doing some early writing before Nano starts, but I’m not going to rat you out.
For this week’s nano prep, my suggestion is that you try to write a beat sheet for your novel, or at least for the first part of your story. Can you make Nanowrimo easier by laying down some beats before you start writing? If so, go for it.
Future-you might be very glad you did. 🙂
Next Post in the Series: Nano Prep #5: Mindset