Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: Camp Nanowrimo

What Happened to “Solid First Drafts”?

As some readers will recall, I felt compelled to write about how I typically write solid first drafts back on the 14th of November of last year. I waxed poetic on my writing history and basically boasted about my writing skills.

Masks shot that all to hell.

I wrote the first incomplete draft of Masks in November of 2014—last year, the very same month I wrote that bragging post about solid first drafts. Of course, at the time, I thought I was well on my way to creating that solid first draft I bragged about. Oh, I was aware I’d have to do a bit of work on it—that it wouldn’t be perfect—but I thought I could handle the challenge of writing my first mystery book without too much trouble. Yes, it was a challenge, but it wasn’t beyond my abilities.

Since then, Masks has been cut to a scene I find acceptable twice, then rewritten from that point. I’m pleased to be able to say the second cut happened at a scene that happened later in the manuscript than the first cut did, though not by much. Maybe two or three scenes after the initial cut was made.

The first time I cut Masks, I did what I had before, and started working on the plot cards as I wrote. Since I was doing this rewrite over the course of the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo, I had to meet a specific wordcount goal each day. Since I’d set my total goal at 25k, I had to get only about 834 words a day. If you check my stats, you’ll see how inconsistent I was, and part of that, particularly later on in the month, is because I was struggling with the story again.

Yes, again.

I had a vague notion what the problem was, but since I was on a deadline with words, I tried to push through and continue writing. Unfortunately, the outline wasn’t moving any more, and I ate that up after a few days of writing, so I had to stop and consider things. I was looking at failing Camp Nano if I tried to force things as I had been doing. So, after much thought, I forced myself to cut everything I was dissatisfied with and start from the new cut-point. As is obvious, I did meet the 25k word goal, and that’s because I saved my cut words since I had after all written them over the duration of the writing challenge.

I copied and saved the plot cards I was keeping (those I’d already written out as scenes) and did my 2-plot-cards-per-1-scene-written habit since I was still at the tail end of the Camp Nano challenge and still needed words. This time, I put more thought into my plot cards as I wrote them.

In the first manuscript, I lost track of a number of subplot threads that fed into the red herrings I needed to establish in the mystery. In the second version, I lost track of the conflict Eirni was supposed to keep dragging into his relationship with Yavaniel. Because I want both these elements, I need to take the plotting of Masks slower. I see that now. Rushing through like I do on my standard books won’t serve me well here; I’ve got to spend time on the background work—I actually have to list out all those plot points I usually try to keep in my head! And then I actually have to employ them in the WIP. I’m not used to doing things this way (though I must say since I started this habit with Masks, it’s serving me equally well with my non-mystery stuff).

Masks is on hiatus right now. My creative mind has decided it’s time to work on stuff from Chraest, and I’ve made a number of breakthroughs on TPOM3 the past couple weeks, so I’ve been working on that as time and attention allow (I’ve been rather out of focus since my surgery, but things are starting to settle into place like I want them to). I also seem to be in a bit of a writing downswing; it’s creative, to be sure, but I’m just not writing as much as I’d like, though I’m trying not to push myself.


I’ve been taking it easy with my Camp Nano project, Masks this month. I set the wordcount goal to 25k and haven’t been freaking out if I don’t write on it for a few days. This, I think has been a good thing, because it’s allowed my creative mind to relax. If you look at my Camp Nano stats, you’ll see I’m at the end of a surplus of wordage, though, and part of the reason for that is because I’ve gotten distracted.

Over the past week or so, I’ve taken a tour of most of my incomplete fantasy works, mainly because I got hit with a desire to read them. As is sometimes the case when I make a tour of my wips, I had a desire to read only those which were incomplete. Over the duration of this tour, I came up with ideas for some of my wips, and I felt a vague desire to write on one or two of them, primarily Unwritten Letters.

So that’s what I’ve been doing the past few days. I had about 27 plot cards outlined ahead on UL, so I’ve been taking it slowly and doing a scene every two or three days. I intend to write on Masks tonight, but it’s been good to get a break from it. I’m thinking Maybe, if my mind still wants to play with UL when the next month of Camp Nano comes up, and I’m able to make progress on plot cards for it, I’ll write on UL for that month.

It’s felt good to get back into Merolén’s head. It’s a story that makes me glad I’ve started outlining my stories, even if I don’t do complete outlines for them all at first. Because of the outline, I’ve been able to bring romantic subplots into the story, and I don’t think I’d have been able to do so if I were writing it without the outline. Basically, what I’ve been doing with Merolén is my best to surround him with romances, because, from the first, I’ve seen Unwritten Letters as a kind of romance in absentia. The reader knows things that Merolén is unaware of, and that’s been fun too. I like giving the reader tidbits the MCs either had no knowledge of whatsoever, or have only partial or faulty knowledge of. It’s supposed to heighten the tension—and that’s another thing that the outline helps with.

As for Masks, part of the reason why I’m not writing as much on it is because I’ve left behind a major subplot that I can’t seem to resurrect. I want Eirni to to be a lot more resistant to working with Yavaniel, and it’s just not working out that way this time around. After this month’s Camp Nano, I think I’m going to go through and do some heavy editing, because if I try to continue with things as they are much longer, I’m not going to be able to make any progress on it at all. It should be easy to fix. I just need to read through the wip and pinpoint places where Eirni can be an ass, to put it bluntly. I’ve always seen Masks as mostly Eirni’s story than Yavaniel’s, primarily because Eirni has a lot of growing and changing to do over the course of the investigation. I’ve also been toying with the idea of including the pov of one or more of the conspirators, and I need to figure out how the ringleader is going to make the conspiracy an act of vengeance on someone who she believes ruined her happiness when that red herring has little to do with what they’re actually doing. I may have to change things a great deal. It’s going to take some thought, and I’ll probably have to cut the story back to the point I cut it before in order to make all these plot points work like I want them to.

I don’t really mind all this work on Masks. It’s a totally new genre/subgenre for me. Fantasy, yes, but also a mystery, and I’m enjoying all the work on it. This is part of the reason why I’ve always wanted to write a mystery story. It’s been fun, and that, to me, is what counts most. It’s always been my view that if I don’t have fun writing these stories, my readers won’t have fun reading them.

Masks and Music

I’ve said before in previous posts that I typically work up a pretty extensive playlist for my stories. Usually, I’ll find these just listening to my computer randomly play songs. Once, I went through the entire list of music on my computer and created a list—for Unwritten Letters, if I remember right—by picking the songs deliberately, andI at first hated the list, but was driven to listen to it in order to make progress, which was a weird experience.

Masks has proven very, very different, though. I’ve been able to find only two songs which work for it when I want the boost music gives me for writing. I had them listed on my Nano page last November. One, which I don’t listen to much, to be honest, when working on Masks is “Time Space” by Chang Jing; I don’t know why it works, but if the other song just isn’t working or I can’t stand to listen to it, “Time Space” does the job—it’s an adequate patch.

The song I listen to most for writing on this project is “Heavy In Your Arms” by Florence + the Machine. This song has a mood and a feeling that just resonates with me and the story in such a way that I find myself able to do my little hyperfocus thing and get things done on Masks. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to work past the “I can sing along to this song!” enthusiasm I occasionally have when I first turn this song on, but once I do, I’m able to come up with plot cards and write to it. I’ll even take myself to my bedroom and really focus on the Masks by having “Heavy In Your Arms” playing on my mp3 player while I lay with my eyes closed.

That’s what’s odd about this story. I can’t seem to find any other songs to make this story go. It’s either one or the other, and I much prefer “Heavy In Your Arms,” to the point where if I can’t stand to listen to it, I don’t work on Masks at all.

I suspect I’ll have a similar issue with other books in the JID series. I’m hoping I’ll be able to find a different song to push me along in each book, though, instead of being stuck listening to “Heavy In Your Arms” for them all. That would soooo suck.

And I thought it sucked being stuck with the same list of songs I have for the Discordant Harmonies series. At least that’s a variety!

Return of the Creative Mind

Since hearing in the first week of February about Bryce entering the hospital and his subsequent death, I’ve completely lacked any creative urges. It’s been all I can do to keep up with my blog posts as well as I have. But earlier this week, the dam broke.

The biggest issue with the original manuscript of Masks was that it meandered. In reading through it a few weeks ago, I realized I had no idea what I was doing with it. What I mean is, that while I had an idea of the overall story, I had no conception of how to get the story I intended to write, so I was questing around, via prose, for the point of the story. Taken on its own, the original manuscript reads fairly well; it’s strong, technically speaking, and it has voice and is interesting, but it’s bloated. It’s clear, to me, in that manuscript I had little idea just what I was doing with the story.

Unfortunately, my creative mind’s hiatus began about the time I realized this, so I couldn’t do anything to fix it. In any case, I think it was too “soon” to fix things anyway; my mind would have needed time to consider how best to fix the bloating issue, come up with better ideas for plotting, and, generally, give me a much better line to follow on the whole thing.

In Masks, I have the main plot thread of them solving the murders of the Maireadi people working on the Jodalur side of the wall, and several subplots. The first, and most important subplot to this particular novel, is Eirni’s reaction to having to work with a Mairead himself; he holds certain prejudices and will be the character doing the most changing throughout the story, so I began the book in his pov and consider it mostly his story overall. There are a number of other subplots going on in this book, also, and I intend them to span one or more other books in the series: Yavaniel and Arua beginning the adoption process to form a family; setting up Eirni’s relationship with the Temple of Eolith for a couple later novels and to merge in part with another subplot when trouble strikes Yavaniel’s home life; I’ll be setting up some worldbuilding facts, such as the one regarding Kaatje-Kalamren resistance to magic for a later novel (though I’m not sure just which book I’ll need that information for; all I know is that I will need it); Eirni’s continuing close friendship/brotherhood with his very first partner, Famir, who retired from the Constabulary Force when he lost a limb. So, lots of stuff going on in this first book, and I haven’t mentioned all of the subplots and future main plot threads I’ll be establishing in this book.

Last week (not the week this Friday is in, but the week previous), ended hard. First my firstgen Nook developed issues, and I had to replace it, then, on Wednesday, my desktop computer crashed and had to be taken in for repair, which I did this past Sunday. I spent most of last Friday huddled in bed because I couldn’t deal with the stress of facing the computer problems on top of the rest of the week.

This week, I had a breakthrough on Masks. It was fantastic. I finally have all the conspirators in line, a massive list of plot points and their subpoints I want to make sure to hit in the outline and wip, and I solved a major plot hole that developed with all the reworking I’ve done so now my Fantasy Sleuthing Duo will be even more challenged to solve the crimes. I’m really looking forward to writing this in April Camp Nano, which I’ve joined since they fixed my only real complaint with the event from randomly selected writing buddies to having “cabins” where we can join friends.

July Novel Writing Month

I’m participating in July Novel Writing Month this year.

I did this last year under this name with one of my Chraesti stories, and the year before I finished a half-completed gay romance under my other pen name on the site.

There’s also Camp NaNoWriMo, run by the official National Novel Writing Month whose event happens in November. I’ve tried the Camp version, but there are a lot of things I dislike about it, not the least of which is the cabin setup. Of the two to four events (it’s run twice a summer) I was in over the years I participated in it, I ended up in “cabins” (groups of up to 6) where most of the other members were uncommunicative and didn’t do much writing at all. I also happen to enjoy the bit of competition I find on the Julno site, which has a wordcount leaderboard.

This year, I’m working on a story set on an old-new world. The idea’s been floating around the back of my mind since at least 2009, but it reached the ready-to-write stage only last month. I’m rebeling it, which is acceptable to the Julno site, and started it with a count of 9725 words. I’ve added over 13k since the first of the month.

The story’s title is Where There’s Always Sunlight. I’m hoping have at least 60-70k on this story by the end of the month, though I don’t expect the story to be complete. My goal is to end the month in the top ten. I managed to do it last year, and I’m bobbing into and out of the top ten this year, so I think I’ll be able to end it in tenth place if not higher (I ended in 8th place last year).

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