Dec 12

NaNoWriMo Fail

I totally screwed the pooch on NaNoWriMo.

By the 26th, I had only about 32,000 words, even counting all my writing besides my novel (personal blog posts and posts for work). Even counting writing the same scenes again because my computer died when I was home in New Jersey.

That was what discouraged me. Although I remembered most of what I had written, it was still a pain to recreate it all again, and to know that I wasn’t moving ahead. Plus I had to deal with recreating a work document I had lost too (which actually didn’t take too long to redo and which I’ve put into Google docs, lesson learned).

It was also a pain in the ass tracking word count day to day. If you’re working on one thing (which is what NaNoWriMo is designed for), it’s easy, but I was driving myself crazy counting every single word in everything I was working on.

Then again, despite having to rewrite several scenes, I did move ahead in my novel, and I probably blogged more here than I usually would have. But I think I like better the habit of just making sure I work on my novel almost every day (with an unofficial minimum word count of 200 words), with one day off and one day to work on something else.


Nov 12

How I’m Doing NaNoWriMo This Year: Cheating

I’ve done NaNoWriMo (that’s National Novel Writing Month) several times. I’ve completed two bad novels, got partway through another, and spent one NaNoWriMo revising my memoir. Last year I started NaNoWriMo, then decided to do NaNoPlanMo instead, planning my novel, the same novel I’m still working on now, a year later.

Little by little I’ve been adding to it, and I’m finally in the home stretch. I have about 80,000 words, and just two or three chapters left write. But it’s been slow-going. I write between 200 and 300 words, five or six days a week. Once in a blue moon, I’ll write between 500 and 1,000 words. Better than nothing, but not a lot. So this year I thought I’d do NaNoWriMo, not to write a whole new novel, but to up my word count toward 1,667.

The thing is I don’t want to write that many words a day for my novel. Number one, I write a lot for work, and after doing a blog post, I’m kinda burnt out. Two or three hundred words is doable, but not much more.

Number two, I don’t want to write shit. In the past, I’ve written a lot of shit just to get in my word count. Not that every word in my current novel is gold, but I don’t want to be typing and not knowing where the story is going. I want to stop when I feel like I’m pooping out. I want to be able to research and revise.

So this is how I’m cheating: I’m counting everything I write in the 1,667 word count. Not emails or anything like that, but blog posts and shorter pieces (though I don’t think I’ll start any new stories or essays until the novel is done). The post I wrote for work earlier today counts (566 words) and this post right here counts (over 300 words).

And the total? About 1,200 words, which means I’m still short.

On the upside, I blogged for the first time in a while, and I added 374 words to my novel, which is slightly more than I usually do. Hopefully I can make up the difference on another day.

Nov 11

Babbling about the novel

I have conceded that my NaNoWriMo novel is no longer so NaNo (or WriMo?). It’s still a novel, and one I intend to keep working on, but I won’t be hitting 50,000 words on November 30.

Where I am is at about 8,300 words after 26 days. Not that great but not bad either, especially considering I didn’t work on it every day and have been pretty busy at work, both with a sort of data driven project and writing a lot. But more important than finishing 8,300 words, I finished the first section which establishes:

  • the narrator’s weaknesses, desire, and need (always putting her mother’s happiness first)
  • her opponent (her domineering mother)
  • the inciting action (being found out by her fiance that she has lied to him in order to please her mother and his telling her needs some time apart)
  • this drives her to leave the first story world (New York City, a convenience and a prison) and enter the new story world (Berkeley and her recently passed grandmother’s house, which she has inherited), creating a fish out of water scenario.

Those of who haven’t read John Truby’s Anatomy of a Story may have no idea what I’m talking about. Therefore you should read his book (shameless Amazon Associates plug).

Following Truby’s steps and structure had really helped me focus this first section of the novel. I knew the purpose of each scene, and set up the narrator’s weaknesses which cause her fiance to reject her, sending her to her grandmother’s house. I wasn’t feeling around in the dark the way I usually do.

The next section is a bit scary.

For now, I’ve decided on two heroes, the narrator and her grandmother, and to switch back and forth between the two, which means switching back and forth in time. The idea is that the two story lines will culminate in significant ways as the narrator makes discoveries about her grandmother and other family members.

Why is this scary? One, I’ve been living with the narrator for a good month, and switching to her grandmother will be a challenge. Two, I’ll be writing about a world (1930s’ China) that I don’t know too much about it, outside of movies. Three, I’m worried that the grandmother sections will be more interesting than the present-day sections.

Years ago I wrote another novel that followed a similar structure: interweaving of a present day young Chinese American woman and her grandmother in her youth. I sent the novel to many agents, and several said that while the grandmother sections were fascinating, the present day sections were “flat.”

What I’m hoping is that the narrator’s story is compelling enough, if not as compelling as her grandmother’s, and that the direct connection between the two stories will make the pay-off between the two interesting and satisfying.


Nov 11

NaNoWriMo: Day 4 + Premise


So it’s day four of NaNoWriMo and how many words have I gotten down?


I should have 6,668 by the end of the day today.

Ha! I don’t even have a one day minimum (1,667).

I have plenty of excuses. I’m writing a lot for work now, and on those writing days, I find it very hard to write for myself too. After more than four hours of writing, I’m pretty much burned out.

Don’t get me wrong: I love getting paid to write, and writing about really fun and interesting stuff. (A few examples: zombies, coffee, pirates, and saints.) But writing is writing, and once my writing energy is spent, there’s not much else I can do.

Another excuse: after spending these past few months planning my novel, I’m afraid that what I’m writing down sucks. When I didn’t have a plan, I could just keep going. I was planning as I went along. But while the planning should make the writing easier, at the same time I feel extra pressure: now it HAS to be good because I did all these months of pre-work! I have to keep reminding myself that this is just a draft and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

I also don’t have to necessarily meet the 50,000 word goal by the end of this month. The point is to get a draft done, and if it takes two or three months, that’s okay. As long as I keep doing a little every week. In fact, I may switch from a word count goal to a scene count goal. So in terms of scenes, I have one done, which is still pathetic, but number of scenes seems a little more doable than number of words.


I thought it would be fun to share the premise of my novel. John Truby defines a premise as “your entire story condensed to a single line.” For example, the premise for The Godfather is “The youngest son of a Mafia family take revenge on the men who shot his father and becomes the new Godfather.” For Moonstruck it’s “While her fiance visits his mother in Italy, a woman falls in love with the man’s brother.” And Star Wars: “When a princess falls into mortal danger, a young man uses his skills as a fighter to save her and defeat the evil forces of a galactic empire.”

Basically the premise shows the hero, an inciting event, some action, and a change. For my book it’s (so far):

A timid Chinese American woman learns to stand up to her domineering mother when she starts a dumpling business using the secret recipes she’s inherited from her grandmother.

And the first line of my book?

Serendipity’s mother was pressuring her again about the wedding.

Stay tuned for more next week (hopefully)!

Oct 11

Doing NaNoWriMo different this year

I’ve done NaNoWriMo four times, which for I have three failed novels (the fourth time I “cheated” and revised/rewrote my memoir). By “failed” I don’t mean I didn’t reach the 50,000 word goal. I did, more so in a couple of cases. I mean the novels suck. One petered out, another is boring as shit, and the third makes no sense at all.

I assumed it was the pressure of writing a novel in a month that was to blame. Or I went off in the wrong direction and couldn’t find my back. But now I’m suspecting it was something else.

Lack of planning.

I’ve already mentioned that the most I do in terms of planning a novel is write up a character list and a series of events. In fact, I thought even that was too much. I’ve always been under the impression that too much planning and structure would staunch the creative flow, that I should just “start writing” and see where the story took me.


This year I took a few months to actually plan my novel. MB recommended John Truby’s book Anatomy of Story, which has been really helpful. It gives you a step by step in terms of structuring a story – from the premise, to a character web, to the story world, to the scene weave – and TONS of examples illustrating the points.

Basically, every scene, character, and symbol has to be integral to the premise, moral problem, and hero. I’ve always had the problem of creating random characters and scenes without much thought. Basically I throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. In a short piece, I think that’s okay. But in a book-length piece, it’s much harder to do, and undo.

Does this mean I’ll definitely have a successful novel? I don’t know, but I do feel excited to see if all this planning pans out.

Nov 10

NaNoWriMo: Day 1

I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo this year.

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.  For the month of November, you write 50,000 words, regardless if it’s a complete book.  I’ve done it a few times before, but haven’t been satisfied with any of my efforts.  In fact, I wondered if that speedy kind of writing actually made my writing worse.

As some of you may know, I’m self-publishing my memoir, hopefully by March 2011.  I made a copy of Lulu and planned on revising it in that format.  Although I’ve revised it a billion times, I still think it can be better, especially in light of some helpful feedback I got from an agent.  Basically, in some places I don’t linger enough and sum up too quickly. I tell too much and don’t show enough.

So I started to think, Why not just rewrite the memoir like a novel, and use NaNoWriMo to do it?  That way I’m forced to finish it by the end of November, I’ll take December to look at it once more (hopefully mostly for copyediting), maybe have one or two people look at it, enter those edits in January, and use February to put on the finishing touches.

The timing of NaNoWriMo actually works out perfectly for my memoir.

I started it on the train this morning.  I won’t make any judgments so far, but I think this past year has been very good practice for my writing.  I’ve practiced writing nonfiction as though it’s fiction, as well as working through different aspects of my marriage and divorce.  Thinking about those different aspects through my short pieces has given me a wider perspective.  I think I’ll be able to take step back and put my memoir into even better context, while at the same time providing more of a feel of a novel.

Or so I hope.

Nov 09

Done finally. Sheesh.


Nov 09


Between NaNoWriMo and feeling a bit under the weather last week, I didn’t get out of the house much.  I didn’t even get to the gym!  But by the weekend, I was feeling better so MB and I made sure to get out of the house.

Saturday afternoon we went to Wicked Grounds, cafe by day, S&M dungeon by night, supposedly.   There’s artwork up of people in various (tasteful, if there’s such a thing) bondage positions, and some evenings they have events like “bring your human pet night” and “steam powered vibrator demos” (I can’t imagine how that works).

As a cafe it was pretty nice.  There were lots of tables, and the chairs were super comfy, opulent and nicely cushioned, though I’m sure a bitch to clean.  The menu is rather limited though that may be because they only opened in September.  Regardless, my steamed hazelnut milk was tasty.

Inevitably some of the clientele was annoying.  When we came in, there was this couple at the counter, a kind of dumpy guy way too old to be wearing a backwards baseball cap, and his half-Asian girlfriend with her standard issue hipster-girl glasses and, get this, cat ears.  Why was she wearing cat ears?  Halloween is over!

I wouldn’t have cared about them except the girl gave us a very weird look when we walked in, like, What are you doing here? and then was hanging all over her boyfriend at the counter, getting in the way of other customers (like me).

Then later I felt like they kept staring at us, but all they wanted were the ropes hanging off our table.  She came over and took one without asking (how did she know we wouldn’t want to use them?), and then the guy showed her how to tie knots for the rest of the afternoon.

Also, the boyfriend made it very clear that he was chummy with the proprietress – who was super nice by the way – making comments and talking very loudly to her while she tried to work.  Yeah, yeah, you’re an insider, we get it.  Now STFU.

On Sunday we went to MB’s co-worker’s house warming party in the Haight-Ashbury area.  It seems to be mostly residential, except of course for Haight Street itself.  MB’s co-worker has a very cute apartment, nice and big with hardwood floors and good light.  It’s cool to see what places are like in other parts of town, though that would be a bit far for MB to get to work.

After the party, we walked on Haight Street a little.  It definitely has a different feel at night.  During the day, there are tons of tourists, but in the evening, all the druggy scrubby kids and weirdos come out.  There were people singing on street corners and the smell of pot everywhere.  I don’t think it’s that great.  I love street musicians but ones who are actually good, not some stinky kid pretending to be homeless while Mom and Dad sit at home in Palo Alto.  And if you’re white, you should not wear dreadlocks.  You really really shouldn’t.

We thought about eating in the area, but the only place we wanted to go, the Pork Store, was closed, so we just headed home instead.

Since next week is Thanksgiving, I’ll have to work double time this week with NaNoWriMo.  My book is moving forward though I’m not sure if it’s any good.  Trying not to think about that right now.

Nov 09

And I’m off!

nanowrimo_large NaNoWriMo starts today!  I could have started it at midnight but I was way too busy watching the Ghosthunters marathon. I’ll need to do 1,667 words a day to reach the 50K mark by the end of the month.

Today: just 1,667 words to go.

Oct 09

Writing Madness

One of my goals during my time off is to submit pieces to magazines and enter writing contests. I’ve revised my essay based on the The Ring blog entry about a billion times, and have another piece for this online travel magazine. I wrote it a while ago and was able to improve it (hopefully). The online travel magazine has a lot of opportunities. I have two more essays planned that I want to submit to them.

As for The Ring, first I’ll try Modern Love in the NY Times, ie, the long shot, and then look for other places that might publish that type of essay.

I also want to try Hyphen, NPR’s This I Believe, Newsweek’s My Turn, Nerve, and a few lesser known ones. I like when a magazine offers a theme: it helps me to narrow down my ideas.

In addition, I’m in the process of revising my memoir AGAIN. (Billionth time’s a charm!) I’m glad I’ve been posting exerpts because I got some feedback that the order is confusing. What I tried to do was go back and forth in time: the relationship-with-Joe stream, and the China stream, mostly because I thought people would get bored reading it chronologically. But now I’m thinking it was mostly me who was bored because I’ve read it so many times.

So I’ve decided (and hopefully won’t change my mind) to reorder it so that it’s purely chronological. There are still flashbacks and foreshadowing, and you know right off it’s about a husband who has cheated on his wife, but I’ve basically broken it into five parts:

Part 1: The Rat and the Horse
Joe (the horse) and the narrator (the rat) meet.

Part 2: The Rat and the Monkey
The narrator (still the rat) goes to China and meets her cousin (the monkey).

Part 3: The Rat and the Rat
Joe and the narrator’s marriage; taking care of the Joe’s mother (also a rat).

Part 4: Rat, Horse, Rat
Joe’s affair and the aftermath. The second rat refers to Joe’s mistress (what is it with this guy and rats?).

Part 5: Rat
Divorce and the aftermath.

The rat/horse/monkey stuff is tentative. Right now I like those for subtitles, but I’m not 100% sure. It’s good to read the manuscript in order because I didn’t realize I repeated myself several times. When it’s out of order, it’s easy to forget I’ve already written something and repeat it in another section.

There are three memoir contests I’ll be entering. The first deadline is October 31 so I’ll be working like crazy for the next couple of weeks.

Finally, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as the cool kids call it. I did it twice, and both those novels sucked. But this year I’ll have so much more time. I have to think carefully about this because once I commit, I’ll want to finish it.

It is just one month, and I don’t have any contest deadlines in December. I could write short essays in the morning, then do NaNoWriMo in the afternoons and evenings. And I do have an idea and have yet to start it. Hmmm. . .