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Posts Tagged ‘NaNoWriMo’

I’ve got a new novel cooking. Brainstorming is done. The outline is ready(ish). Nothing remains but to write the damn thing. You know, the easy part (hahahahahaha!)

In the spirit of motivation and accountability, I’ll be writing along with the hordes of others participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to ride the collective manic ra-ra-ra energy of thousands of other writers to complete 60K in the month of November.

What you end up with, of course, is likely to be a slightly fetid, overwritten, ugly first draft. But most first drafts end up in that condition anyway, whether you take one month to write them or three. 60K is also a bit shy of a full novel draft (most of my novels settle in the 80K range). Still, it’s a good start and a nice external push to just get it done.

I’ve done NaNo once before, and it went pretty well, though pumping out lots of words without going back over them, revising, and rethinking is not my natural inclination. I like to tinker as I go, so plowing ahead and promising myself to fix all the mistakes and work in all the lovely nuance later will be a real challenge.

I like a challenge.

So, no time to write more here…I’ve got a good 2K write today if I’m gonna keep the pace.

Laters, and happy writing, fellow NaNoers!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about goal-setting lately, and the inevitable side effect of unmet goals.  On the one hand, since newbie writers must self-motivate (lacking book deals and attendant deadlines), goals are essential.  On the other hand, when you miss them, a cycle of emotional distress starts: discouragement, quickly morphing into self-loathing, and then (hopefully) into a stiff determination to amp up productivity.

Goals are funny things.  Without them, we might not get as much done.  With them, we’re guaranteed ennui and semi-regular failure.

Exhibit A: this year I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time.  I did not finish the 50,000 words needed to “win,” and therefore fell short of my goal (by around 22,000 words, in fact).  However, I did get almost 30,000 words into a new novel, something that would never have happened if I hadn’t set the goal of 50,000.

Exhibit B: A week or so ago I resolved to practice specific writing skills daily.  Out of seven days, I managed four.  Viewed one way, an epic failure.  But…viewed another, I did at least get down four days of practice as opposed to the zero I would have managed without the goal of seven.

To add a little flesh to Exhibits A and B:  in the same time I set and failed to complete those goals, I also drafted two short stories, revised 1/3 of an already completed novel, and tended to my personal life and day job.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this.  Am I setting overly ambitious goals given the other commitments in my life, taking on too many projects at once, or awful at meeting goals?  Maybe this is just how things are – maybe my story is your story too, and we’re all perfectly normal?

Or, maybe goals are no different from those mileposts we cling to when out on a run (you know, where we tell ourselves: “just keep going. When you get to that telephone pole at the end of the block, you can stop”; but then, when we finally get to the telephone post, we say: “just a little further…maybe push on to the funny looking tree missing half it’s branches?).  Even though you don’t get it done as quickly as you’d like, you still finish your run, or your novel, or whatever.

So, what do you think?  Is this line of reasoning the sort that paves the way to a hell of justifications, or is it the best way forward through a writer’s life of peaks and valleys?

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Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on: As we’re in the death throes of the Fall semester, a lot of my time’s been taken up with writing and grading exams for my World Prehistory class.  But, I have managed to squeeze in some writing.  In particular, I’ve been working on “Absent,” the novel I started for NaNoWriMo.  In the section I’m reworking today, one of my protagonists searches for a missing girl in an Ice Age snowstorm.

Snippet from the screen: “Nick braced himself against the slap of the wind and staggered forward.  The trees loomed, ominous shadows in the wintry gale, but his headlamp cast a reassuring glow on the snowdrifts and he felt the firm grip of the climbing rope encircling his waist.”

On my iTunes: Baby Please Come Home (Christmas), by Mariah Carey.  Yes, it’s THAT time of year again.

In my mug: trusty, trusty English Breakfast tea

Keeping me company: with the onset of the cold weather, the Overseer has taken to seeking out unconventional warm nooks and crannies in our apartment.  Exhibit A:

 

Thanks for heating these up for me! You don't mind if I settle in, do you?

Out my window: It’s gotten downright bone-chilling in New York these last few days.  And, of course, the cranky heating system in our building has been having it’s annual temper tantrum.  Workmen have been tromping in and out all hours of the day and casting a judgmental eye on my stylish work-from-home ensembles….  What?  That sweatshirt looks hot!  Anyway, it’s cold.

Well, that’s all from here folks!  After all, I’ve got writing to do.  But, I’d love to hear what you all are up to…get in the holiday spirit and share, share, share.

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Good morning and welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on: Today’s a NaNoWriMo day, so I’m plowing ahead on the first draft of “Absent (see “Miranda’s Writing” for a synopsis).  So far, I’ve written 21,000 words in 15 days, but I’m still over 5,000 words behind.  I hope to eat away at that deficit today.

Snippet from the page: “Nick’s first impression was a blinding glare–the sun overhead.  Then the cold.  It pressed greedy fingers against every inch of exposed skin.  He gasped and the air bit deep into his lungs.  Emily’s hand still clutched his, and he saw Reid crouched nearby, his hands against his knees and vomit trailing in the wind.  Brittle, tundra-like grasses sprouted in miserable clumps, bent down in submission to the wind.  A jagged line of mountains loomed in the distance.”

Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses (The Overseer) has turned his attention to guarding the borders of his domain.  At least he’s not trying to steal my chair this morning.

Patrolling the borders

On the iTunes: Instrumental soundtracks are great for novel writing.  Right now I’ve got the Main Title (House Atreides) from Children of Dune playing.

Out the Window: it’s warm today, for a November, but miserable and gray.  The forecast promises “soaking rains.”  This might actually be inspiring since I need to write several scenes set in Ice Age Wyoming.

In my mug: Empty! Gah!  I’m contemplating a second cup of Irish Breakfast, but it’s still early.  Must. Pace. Myself.

A Little Procrastination Never Hurt Anyone: a few links to share today….Catherine Schaff-Stump on the love of writing, Scalzi reminds us to nominate books for the Nebula, and The Ferrett on the importance of working your writing muscle.  Enjoy.

Well, that’s all from here folks!  What are you up to today?

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As many of us know, the act of getting a story out of our heads and onto the page requires forcing the two unruly siblings living our in our brains — the uptight, fussy Internal Editor and the wild, emotive, elusive Beast — to work together.

I’ve long known (and squabbled with) my old frenemy, the Internal Editor, but I didn’t have a term for describing the Beast until I went to Viable Paradise and heard Laura Mixon lecture about the ancient, buried part of your brain that plucks patterns from a web of emotions, sensations, and evolutionary cunning.   It is from here that the well of creativity springs to nourish our storytelling.

For me, activating the Internal Editor is a breeze.  In fact, sometimes it’s a bit too easy; before I know it I’m putting off advancing the plot in favor of obsessing over the structure of a single paragraph.  As I’ve already blogged about, this year I’m trying NaNoWriMo for the first time, and the experience has brought the push and pull between the Editor and the Beast into even sharper focus.  After all, the point of NaNo is to shut the Editor up altogether and let the Beast have free reign to drive the story along at top speed.

On the one hand, I’ve found it physically painful not to go back over what I’ve written.  It’s hardwired in my DNA (perhaps a hold-over from grad school days?) to tweak the wording, revise the dialogue, and insert new scenes to shed better light on the characters and their behavior.  Plus, I staunchly maintain there’s solid value in this type of revision — more often than not, editing can help illuminate the path ahead and open doors to new plot developments you wouldn’t have otherwise found.

On the other hand, embracing the NaNo approach (as best I can) has liberated my Beast.  Telling the Editor to shut up and just pour the story onto the page without looking back is thrilling.  And the stuff that comes out is often surprising.  Of course, it can also lead thousands of words in the wrong direction, fingers taping in a frenzy of Beast-driven madness.  When I come back to myself, I find my characters have said stupid things and done even stupider things, and the Internal Editor is waiting, hands on his hips, saying “I told you so.”  Which sucks.

The real trick, I think, is to get your Beast to talk to you while you aren’t writing.  Coaxing him out and encouraging him to whisper yet-unrevealed plot secrets is about as hard as getting a cat to perform tricks.  I find it happens (the coaxing of the Beast, that is, not the cat tricks) most often when I’m in the thick of working on a project but am currently doing something else – especially something requiring minimal active engagement with the world around me.

For instance, in the last week, my Beast has visited me with gifts while I was:

  • sitting on the subway staring at my own reflection in the window against the blackness of the tunnel
  • sitting under a dryer at the hair salon with my head full of color foils (and without my glasses on, rendering me essentially blind)
  • walking outside on a route so familiar I didn’t need to look where I was going

In all three instances, I fell into a sort of trance and followed the Beast down new and deliciously twisty avenues of storytelling in my novel.  When I snapped out of it, for a moment I had forgotten where I was.  It’s possible I was even talking to myself (which on the New York City subway would put me in good company).

Thus far, my Beast flat-out refuses to appear when directly invoked, so, naturally, none of these episodes of Beast-contact were activated on purpose.  Nor did any of them happen when I had a pen and paper convenient to hand.  Thanks a lot, Beast.

Though, I’m finding there are certain activities that will usually lure him from hiding – including long walks and (ugh) trips to the gym.  Washing dishes, folding laundry, and ironing are also good bets.  Maybe the Beast just likes a clean house?

What are your tricks for getting your Beast to communicate with you?

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This is my first year giving NaNoWriMo a try and one thing that has surprised me is the general chatter out there regarding whether NaNo is for “real” writers or not (by which folks generally seem to mean published pros).  My feeling is that every writer, newbie or pro, will benefit from the practice of daily writing, so I’m frankly not sure what the fuss is all about.  Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo’s pros and cons:

NaNo’s advantages:

  • I’m nearing the end of Week 2 and am several thousand words behind of where I should be to “finish” on time…but, I’ve also written about 15K, thereby kick-starting a novel I might have otherwise never begun (and one I’m really enjoying writing).  Whether I reach 50K by the end of the month or not, I’m chalking this up as a win.
  • I write, revise, research, or otherwise work on my writing regularly, but the habit of putting down 2000 or so new words every day is a valuable one to develop.  NaNo has helped me develop this habit.  Again, a win.
  • Lets be honest, we all have goals we’d like to meet that fall forgotten into the gutter where they molder and die alone.  But when we announce those goals to the world at large, post our progress on a website, and read about the progress of our friends on Twitter, Facebook, and the like…well, the social pressure of something like NaNo can be very motivating (though also occasionally disheartening).  It’s a little embarrassing to see your buddies’ word counts grow while your status bar just sits there stagnating.  I’d be willing to bet social pressure plays a pretty big a role in how many people “win” NaNo.

And, for the cons:

  • The biggest drawback of NaNo, in my view, is that when you’re cranking out 50,000 words in one month and the NaNo cheerleaders are shouting “keep going!” “don’t edit!” “go!”…well, you get a frantic sort of feeling that isn’t conducive to reflection and revision.  There’s more to drafting a novel than just word count.  Giving yourself time for ideas to percolate, mutate, and grow into something more twisty and gorgeous than you first envisioned is an important part of the drafting process.  NaNo might not be the best means to facilitate plot and character development.

Some are quite critical of NaNoWriMo and say it’s a waste of time engaged in by only unprofessional writers who will produce mostly drivel.  While I don’t doubt a huge quantity of drivel is produced by writers during the month of November (and could provide whole passages of said drivel from my own manuscript), there are also plenty of examples of novels that go on to be finished after NaNo ends (50K is not really novel length, after all), revised, edited and eventually published (famously, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, but also (for speculative fiction fans) Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal and many others).  For many of these authors, the salient point is that NaNo provides a forum for setting a meaningful deadline and getting that first draft (or a big portion of it) down on paper.

NaNoWriMo isn’t really about finishing a novel in a month.  It’s about publicly shaming yourself challenging yourself to internalize what really amounts to a professional writing behavior: getting down a daily word count.  This is the advice that EVERYONE gives newbie writers: write, write, write.  Try to carve out 30 minutes, an hour, whatever, each day and write.  All NaNoWriMo is doing is saying to try this for a whole month.  All the rest about finishing a novel and so on and so forth is just window dressing.

So, bottom line.  If you struggle with producing a regular, daily word count and you want an external task-master (ah, that ever-helpful social pressure) to assist you in making it a habit, NaNoWriMo is an excellent tool for achieving your goal.

That’s my two and a half cents.  What are your thoughts on NaNo?

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