WIP Marathon March Check-in

Wow, it’s like I just did one of these!

…oh, wait…

Gorgeous view from Mirador Morro Velosa, F’ventura

At least this month, I’m (sort of) on time! I promise my next post (which might be today, who knows) will be about stuff other than my word counts, because I realise that for non-writers and even non-WIP Marathoners, that might be about the most boring thing in the world to read. Sorry.

Last report word count: 120,000. This is my WIP’s first draft, version 1.2 😉 (Not a 2nd draft, oh no).

Current report word count: 116,587. As I said last month, I like to have a lot of padding before I dig into a serious edit. I’m still at the “Does this story follow any kind of cohesive narrative whatsoever?” stage. So… As they used to say in Infocom text adventures, Maximum Verbosity.

WIP Issues This Month: I find myself feeling like, “Is this enough?” and wanting to add side plot after character backstory-reason-for-doing-X-Y-Z after side plot. I know I’ll have to scale back, but this is going to be my biggest (not just size-wise, but cast/world-wise) story yet, and I’ve yet to find confidence in the balance between enough complexity and too much. :-l

Is there a writing craft book called “Knowing When You’ve Got Enough Actual _Story_ And You Can Stop Adding Bits Now”?

Four things I learned this month while writing:

1) That it would be awesome if I was a meticulous JKR-like writer who has spreadsheets out the wazoo about what characters do/reveal when and related symbolism, flashbacks, foreshadowing, and what-have-you. I am not.

I have typically one journal per story, and keep notes in as organised a fashion as I can, as well as using different docs within Scrivener for keeping track of world building, but I’m constantly afraid I’ll miss some Post-it or scrap of paper or Evernote stream of consciousness where I’ve written something of UTMOST IMPORTANCE to the unravelling of this story’s universe that I’m stressing myself out.

Last Sunday I heard (and saw) Diana Gabaldon speak for the second time, this time at the Oxford Literary Festival at the Sheldonian Theatre. She was brilliant. I’ve heard and read her how-I-got-here story many times, and each time is increasingly inspirational. She said she doesn’t outline, she doesn’t usually even write chronologically, and often writes conversations or scenes where she may not even know who the characters are yet. And she offers no apologies. She does her research, finds something interesting, and finds a way to work it in. As much as I admire JKR for her sheer imagination and ability to weave plot threads from Page One of Book One with, apparently, God-like awareness of how it will all pan out, I loved hearing Diana explain with wit and refreshing self-confidence that no, she doesn’t know precisely how the series will end until she gets there. And that might bring me to …

2) There is no right way. There’s the way that works for you.

3) If you could use some great examples of plot points, head on over to KM Weiland’s website here: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/movie-storystructure/its-a-wonderful-life/. This particular example uses It’s a Wonderful Life, one of my favourite films, with a very concise and helpful look at how structure holds that story together so neatly.

4) Keeping Twitter/HootSuite/TweetDeck/whateveh shut for 3 hours = 4 scenes edited. BAM. Thus, henceforth I’m going to try to limit Twitter to breaks. I’m way too easily sidetracked. (Though I believe that sometimes this is a GOOD thing, and inspiration sneaks into cracks and crannies (what a word!) through means such as internet distraction. But for real, I need to be more disciplined right now).

What distracted me this month while writing: Besides Twitter, we went to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands at the start of the month, I had a monster cold, and then I went to Oxford for the following weekend. That and my previously mentioned Writer’s Ass, but in the past few days it’s gotten much better! I discovered something called somatics, and it seems to be helping. Praise God!

Goal for next month: Finish this draft by April 17th, then write 20k of Camp NaNo story in the days left in the month.

Next blog post around, no word counts! I promise.

And one more thing, infinitely more exciting than my WIP progress, is the amazing, generous, and talented Susan Dennard (author of SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY and writer of words over at Pub(lishing Crawl) is giving away a bound copy of her upcoming TRUTHWITCH! Check out this link to enter — it’s exclusive to subscribers of her Misfits & Daydreamers newsletter, which you can subscribe to RIGHT HERE. Run, don’t walk! Her newsletters are packed full of magical cookie GOODNESS. OMNOM.

See you next time!


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Cut the writing flab, unpack the muscle. Very tricky.

I met another one of my favourite authors recently. I just had to put that out there right away! Diana Gabaldon is AMAAAAAZING! (See below photo).

Okay, I’m behind on my #Writemotivation updates, as usual, but this is a habit I must break! So quickly, here’s where I stand, in the midst of a last-minute trip back to New York to visit family:

1. Complete LitReactor course and apply to WIP for a CP-ready draft.writemotivation_header1-36217_186x186
Completed the course and got some very encouraging words from the teacher, John Skipp. My summary of the course below.
2. Polish WIP synopsis. Working on this.
3. Keep up better with #Writemotivation cheering. Trying to! Shouldn’t be as hard as I’m in EST time zone right now, but visiting family takes precedence, but I cheer here & there where I can! You guys are ALL doing way better than I 🙂
4. WF x3. Hope to do this this week.

I admire people (*cough* KT *cough) who plow through edits regardless of what busy-ness life throws at them. When I’m travelling, I tend to lose focus; late nights are key when everyone’s asleep, but that means editing with my eyelids propped up by toothpicks. Must practice this technique.

Now, on to my experience with the LitReactor 2-week course entitled Lean, Mean Writin’ Machine.

As with most things writing-related, two unplanned events took place during the course of the 2 weeks that kept me from giving it my full attention (a friend visited from abroad, and then *I* went abroad). I made the most of it though, read as many of the other students’ stories as I could and commented on their revisions. I loved it because everyone was supportive of one another and shared some great suggestions. Everyone brought a fantastic idea to the table, and John Skipp was honest, blunt, witty, and insightful. I highly recommend any of his future classes. He says it like it is, but will tell you what he likes, too. There were a few “lectures” as well as discussions where John posted brief articles about how to tighten and cut your work down to fighting form.

This appealed because I’m struggling to find a balance between unpacking dialogue tags, adverbs and adjectives, and keeping work – especially action scenes – punchy and uncluttered. John is a master at this. He took one student’s scene and cut it down expertly without losing the heart of it, giving a template for my own assignments. Even though this was stuff I knew intellectually, being part of an online class made me whip both scenes into much tighter shape. I lost the flab.

A few items of note:

  • Cut to the chase. Literally. I don’t know why, but hearing this rusty old phrase hit me hard. In a pivotal action scene near the climax of my WIP, this was well-timed advice. I’ve got so many great big blobs of introspective hoo-haw in the midst of what should be a nerve-wracking, page-turning scene. Skipp pointed out that this stuff needs to go before or after the scene. Not in the midst. DUH!
  • Cut soft, weak words. Again. Obvious. But somehow these are words I find again and again in my revising. Examples from submitted work were things like, “and then,” “nearby” (as in “the nearby tree”), “simple”, “single” (as in, “a single bloody scrape”).
  • Foreshadow. It was brought to my attention that an action in my scene that seemed impossible and would make the reader go, “Yeah, right,” would easily be made believable had I foreshadowed it and how it might happen. A character was bound with ropes and I overlooked how I could show him a few paragraphs earlier inching his way forward and how he was moving to use his ropes to strangle another character. But before I foreshadowed, it seemed to just come out of nowhere. It didn’t even occur to me because *I* could picture it. Another reminder that my job is to make readers see and believe. Not just dump the stuff that’s in my head on the page.
  • Don’t forget sensory details. I fear being verbose so much that sometimes I skip even the most basic smell/sound/feel of things that would help the reader connect with the setting and the moment. Gotta work on this.

Conversely, there’s been conversations among #Writemotivation people on our +Google community (come join us!) as well as on some other websites lately about “unpacking” our prose. This article by Chuck Palahniuk says rather than writing, “Tom hated Mary,” we should unpack this to describe Tom’s facial expressions when Mary enters the room, how he rolls his eyes or moves to the opposite side, or exits the room entirely, clenching his fists or tightening his jaw. Interesting article.

But the advice is tricky to put into practice if you’re an unpublished author looking for representation. Yes, we want to show not tell as much as possible, but there has to be a balance, right? Skipp’s class was about losing the flab. This article is about gaining inches of muscle. So we should lose the flab (weak, soft words) and gain muscle (unpacked showing rather than telling). But doesn’t “writing muscle” in a kind of way leave us in a similar position as the “writing flab” that we want to eliminate? Both take up precious space on the page. Obviously muscle’s preferable. But it still adds heavily to our word count.

Example: if Diana Gabaldon was trying to get agent representation for OUTLANDER/CROSS STITCH in August 2013, she’d have to cut about 220,000 words first. And it’s all muscle.

Sunday I was lucky to hear Diana speak at the Fergus Scottish Festival in Ontario, which I found out was taking place (2 hours away) near my hometown as I was en route from the UK. She was on my “hope to meet someday” list but I didn’t expect it so soon!

Fergus Scottish Festival - 18

She was lovely, generous, and full of anecdotes. She mentioned that OUTLANDER is, I believe, 305k. I would never begrudge her a single of the exquisite words in any of her books. She’s successfully unpacked her captivating descriptions of everything from medical procedures performed in the 18th century to detailed character studies in every scene.

But we’re being told these days that 120k is the maximum for adult fantasy. 100k is more like it. 80k would really be best. How on earth will a debut author ever get a novel as richly painted as Diana’s on the shelves again, unless s/he first has wild success with something more akin to a novella by comparison?

It’s disheartening, but makes me realise the importance of striking a balance. Sometimes you need the, “Tom hated Mary” sentences. Boom. There it is. Sometimes you need the, “As soon as Mary entered the room, Tom set down his beer and excused himself from conversation. His jaw ached from clenching it. His first free night in weeks now ruined. Memories of their last conversation flashed in his mind, how her smug features set his nostrils flaring. He couldn’t make a scene here. He grabbed his coat and took the back door.” (Whatever. Please excuse the off-the-cuff verbiage).

Do you sacrifice word building and character exploration in order to “unpack” every dialogue tag or clipped phrase possible, thereby cutting down on actual story in order to SDT? There’s got to be a happy medium, but in this day and age when production costs and bookshelf space are primary concerns over story (and I do get the financial side of it… sort of), it seems like we’re being given very dicey parameters.

Having just finished a course about tightening your prose, I think a lot depends on genre, style, and voice. Maybe alternating clipped phrases with more illustrative actions. But I *don’t* think we need waffling on about Tom’s every body function that spells out his hatred for her when we could just say, “Tom’s disdain for Mary knew no bounds,” but I think maybe it’s all about context. In other words, there is no hard and fast rule. Don’t use “said” for every dialogue tag in the world, but we don’t need three sentences to avoid using an adverb.

Any thoughts? I’m still kind of baffled by it all, but it’s something worth thinking about. (Though perhaps, not too hard ;))

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Writemotivation check-in & Liebster Award

I think this might be the first #writemotivation month I actually complete all my goals (though I’m too lazy to verify that), and given what they are, this excites me. OoooOOooh.



Don’t ask. I just got a big fat depressing email in my inbox, and this made me laugh. Anyhow, here is my progress:

1. Second draft of WIP complete. I’m following my schedule to get this first revision done on time, and am feeling good about how this story is tightening up and some of the new subplot threads coming out of the woodwork!
2. Finish final revisions on SOMEBODY…  Done!

Good luck on all you other #writemotivation peeps out there! How YOU doin’?

– – –

Now I need to thank author Heather Jacobs for nominating me for the Liebster Award! Thanks for the thought, Heather! 9209113

Here are the guidelines:

(1)    Post the award on my blog.

(2)    Thank the blogger who gave me the award and link back to their site.

(3)    Post 11 random facts about myself.

(4)    Answer 11 questions from the presenter of the award has asked.

(5)    Nominate 11 new bloggers with fewer than 200 followers that I want to pass the award on to.

(6)    Ask my nominees 11 questions of my own.

11 Random Facts
(1) I used to be a massive Dave Matthews fan and saw him live about 10x in the span of 4 years. At one show, I brought a painting I did of/for him (how cheesy is that! But it was good, if I do say so myself ;)) and held it up briefly. When the show ended, Dave walked to the front of the stage and pointed at me. Minutes later someone came and beckoned my friend and I backstage where we got to meet the band. Freakin’ happiest moment of my life, to that point! (Of course, it didn’t hurt really that my bass teacher’s brother played in the opening band…)

(2) I stood for 12 hours for the premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Leicester Square in London to take photos. I’m not an autograph seeker. It was more interesting to see all the actors and how they interacted with people. And scream my head off.

(3) My favourite animals are sheep, puffins, and crabs.

(4) My sister and I played spies as kids. We had a tree fort, code names and everything. I wore a cape. These are some of my favourite memories.

(5) I’ve been playing volleyball in a local league for 3 years now and I still stink at it. But it’s fun.

(6) I love Trivial Pursuit. I feel like I learn more from it than I did in school.

(7) Gary Oldman is my favourite actor.

(8) My top 2 favourite films couldn’t be more different. I’m calling the LOTR trilogy one; two is Withnail & I.

(9) I’m greatly affected by lack of sunshine; when the sun is out, everything seems possible. This makes life in the UK difficult, to say the least.

(10) I can quote just about every Sex and the City episode, as well as entire films (nearly), some of which include Monty Python & the Holy Grail, the above two mentioned, Romancing the Stone, Anne of Green Gables, Goonies, Clue, and endless Little House on the Prairie episodes to name a few.

(11) My sisters and I largely talk to one another in such quotes 😀

My Answers:

(1)    Who is your biggest inspiration?

Difficult to name just one, but for this I’ll go with my mom, for her strength and encouragement.

(2)    What is/was your relationship with your mother?

Oh! Well, now that you ask, very good, thank you!

(3)    Do you have pets?

No, but we had loads growing up and I consider my parents’ cats “mine” when I go home 😉 Hope to get a cat of our own soon.

(4)    What is your guilty pleasure?

Which one? 🙂 I have many. I’ll go with the Golden Girls.

(5)    Do you outline or are you a seat-of-your-pants writer?

Started out a pantser; now I greatly value outlines. I start with a synopsis and expand on it, sort of like the snowflake method, but I leave plenty of space for inspiration to strike off in other directions.

(6)    Do you write aspects of your personality into your characters?

As Diana Gabaldon has said (and I paraphrase), an author IS every character s/he creates. As the creator, you insert bits of yourself into these people, so whether you like it or not, something slips through. But I think drawing on everyone you meet is just as inevitable. The point is to find ways to give each character a unique voice. While character A may be similar to me in her initial shyness, she’s unlike me in 15 other ways, ways I wish I was. And character B may have my temperament. And so on.

(7)    Last time you lost your temper, what caused it?

Speak of the devil! Ooh, it’s like you’re psychic. I don’t really throw fits, but I do get annoyed big time by poor customer service (having worked in it myself), and people who look you in the eye as you’re on the crosswalk then drive right through.

(8)    What would your dream vacation be?

New Zealand, an island resort in the Caribbean, Bora Bora, Azores…

(9)    Do you think you’re weird? Why or Why not?

Everyone is weird.

(10) What do you think you purpose is?

To do unto others as I’d have done to me. And to write. And eat cheese.

(11) If you were going to a deserted island and could only take three things, what would they be?

Loaded Kindle, my 50″ plush crab, and, oh, my husband 🙂

Ok. So next is to list my Victims…err…picks for the Award:I’m going to cheat here. I’m sorry. As much as I enjoy answering these and reading others’ answers, lots of my friends and online buddies are already receiving this and I don’t want to bombard anyone, so I’ll just be lazy and sit back and enjoy their answers to Heathers’ questions 😉

Your 11 questions to answer:

(1)    What would you say is your muse?

This is dependent upon what I’m working on, I think. Variable!

(2)    You’ve been whisked away to the Big Brother house, what type of housemate would you be?

The kind who gets herself kicked off as soon as possible because she’s done the housemate thing more than enough times, thank you 🙂

(3)     What’s the last book you read and felt lonely after because it was done?

The last book in the OUTLANDER series, AN ECHO IN THE BONE, by Diana Gabaldon.

(4)     What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

How much time have you got? Broadway actress, writer, doctor (briefly), video game designer (as early as 5)… I could go on.

(5)     The Doctor has decided to make you his next companion. Where in time or space would you want to go first and why?

Is it the 10th Doctor? Otherwise, I’m previously engaged 😉 I’d go anywhere with him.

(6)     Have you ever written anyone you’ve known into any of your stories? If yes please explain.

I plead the fifth.

(7)     We are all different. What sets you apart?

My laugh. It’s raucous. Rau-cous. Adj. Boisterous and disorderly. My old bandmates referred to me as the Queen Chortler.

(8)     If you could go anywhere right now without the worry of money where would you go?

Nashville, to visit a much-missed friend and meet her new little baby.

(9)     If you could meet one person alive or dead who would it be and why?

Hehe *cracks knuckles*. Let me tell you a story. Actually, no. Let me allude to a story. I’ve always been someone who wanted to (and tried to, and succeeded in many cases) meet her heroes. If I may, I’d like to suggest this isn’t always wise 😉 But we’re talking brief, I suppose – like have a coffee with. That should be safe, so, JK Rowling.

(10)   If you could change one thing in your life right now what would it be and why?

I’d change my status from agent-less to one with an agent. As for the why, I should think that’s pretty clear 😉

(11)   Name your favorite thing in the world right now?


Thanks for reading, kids! Hope you have a great week!

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1st July Goal Check

Gratuitous shot of the Med from our trip to Corfu, since the UK is having no kinda summer at all.

I’m calling this the first goal check for July since while technically last week was my first July post about it, it was the 2nd of the month so obviously not much had been accomplished yet!

I’m not doing too bad. My goals as they currently stand:

1. Finish new round of edits to MS #1. Completed! Just this morning, but still completed. Big thanks to those who cheered me along on this goal last week. You know who you are 🙂
2. MS #1 x5. On the to-do list for tomorrow.
3. Finish edits to WIP to Chapter 9. By the end of this week.
4. Write 10k in WIP. Next week.
5. Balance job hunting with writing, CP/Beta work, and blogging. Be realistic! So far, okay. I’ve read through one CP’s first draft and returned comments, have found 5 jobs to consider applying for this week, applied to one last week, and am trying to get around to everyone doing July’s #write motivation and read their blogs, cheer them on Twitter, and so forth. Quite a bit more of that to do this week, but I will do my best!

This might be a silly thing, but I found tremendous inspiration this past week in a very simple Tweet. I’ve exchanged Tweets a few times with one of my favourite authors (okay, Diana Gabaldon… I’m a groupie like that). I’m 1/4 of the way into DRUMS OF AUTUMN, the fourth book in her OUTLANDER series, and I’m reading them super slow because they’re so good, so chock full of history and detail, and I want to continue feeling like I’m living with these characters as long as I can. Usually I’m a fast reader but this series has slowed me way down, by choice! Unfortunately, it also means I’m up until about 2 AM and beyond every night, light on and Kindle in hand.

In any case, I thought I’d ask her, after days of perusing her website and interviews, if she outlines or not. If you’ve read her books, you’ll know that she masterfully weaves storylines and secondary characters and seemingly small events into the breadth of the overall story, pulling them in and out, sometimes making you think they won’t come up again but they do – and then you’re wondering how on earth she planned so far in advance. Not unlike JK Rowling.

This made me warm & fuzzy inside. Everyone writes in their own way, and what works for some won’t work for others – there’s no secret technique that will suddenly make you a gifted storyteller. But it’s nice to know that someone whose work I admire approaches some things the same way I do 😉

On a totally unrelated note, how about Andy Murray yesterday at Wimbledon?? I’ve been a fair-weather fan over the last few years of starting to watch (and play) tennis, rooting for him because he’s Scottish. But this Wimbledon he’s played his best yet, gave Roger Federer a serious run for his money, and gave a very moving short post-game speech. I still wish he’d won, but well done!!! 🙂

Hope your goals for this month – writing or otherwise – are shaping up!


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A month later; or I married my Scottish prince in a castle, and now I’m ridiculously behind on blogging. :)

This is why I’ve been away. Proof I’ve not just been lazy 😉

It’s been awhile since my last post and I want to thank every person who kindly posted encouragement, support, and well wishes for the wedding and my time away. It was absolutely awesome. We had the best weather imaginable (85 degrees and sunny in Scotland. Unheard of!); my mother and sisters and aunt came, as well as some friends from England, Scotland, and as far away as California, and a lot of us had some time before the wedding day to spend either in London or up north together. The only thing I wish was that I’d had more time to spend with everyone who travelled so far, who I miss, and that was the only hard part about getting on a plane to Corfu at 8:30 in the morning the day after the wedding. 🙂 The ceremony was short and sweet, the minister lovely, Andy the piper played the songs I requested absolutely beautifully, and marched us back up the aisle to Scotland the Brave at the ceremony’s end.

We had a fantastic week of relaxing in Corfu, which I highly recommend. I’m not very good at relaxing, it turns out, especially after 5 months of wedding planning, so it took me about 4 days to actually realise it was perfectly acceptable – expected, even – to do nothing but lie in the sun, read, sleep, eat, and drink cocktails by the pool. I got into the swing of that REALLY well in the last few days. Then we topped off our honeymoon with a few days hiking in the Cairngorms in the Highlands, and a visit to Inverness and Culloden Battlefield. (Not very romantic, that last bit, but in a very strange kind of way, to those of you who’ve read any Diana Gabaldon books…).

So now I’m back, and have finally (more or less) caught up on unpacking, thank-yous, name change stuff and a full inbox. Now it’s time to get back to job hunting, and writing of course. On my to-do list is to migrate to wordpress.org and host my blog somewhere externally – which I’m hoping to do this week. That means a venue and name change! I think it will be cheyennecampbell.com, but I’m still deciding. I hope anyone following my blog will follow me when I move!

And I promise my next post will be less a list of reasons why I’ve been away, and more about writing. Thanks for reading! Hope YOU had a fabulous May/start of June!


Mrs. Campbell


The venue, Broomhall Castle in Menstrie, outside Stirling, Scotland.
Me with the incredible piper, Andy Ward.
The cake topper, made and hand-delivered by my amazing friend Amanda, whom I met and lived with in California, who is from Manchester, England, who now lives in Mississippi Seattle.
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