Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NaNo Update & Tips

Days spent writing: 13
Words written: 57,136
Goal - 100,000 words in 16 days

I'm happy to report I finished writing the first book out of my 2 book goal last Thursday.

How I did it:
1 - I had a brief, loose outline of the key scenes.
2 - I didn't write in order, or linearly, I jumped around depending on what scene was clicking through my mind.
3 - I jumped into scenes in the middle of them. I didn't worry about a transitional beginning or scene setting.
4 - I jumped out of scenes when my inspiration slowed down. I had written the essentials. I didn't bother with transitions for the next scene or closing-style stuff.
5 - I followed tangents, especially ones characters led me on. I learned some fascinating things about my characters that I didn't before.
6 - I didn't go back and edit anything. I pushed forward. If a later written scene had something that contradicted a scene I wrote earlier, that was okay. The 2nd draft I'll slow down and make things align.
7 - I tried not to think about my word count while I was writing. Surprisingly, it's easy to write more when you're not stressing about meeting a specific goal.
8 - I wrote more days than I planned by snatching an hour or two here and there, whenever I could.
9 - When I wasn't actively writing, I was prewriting in my mind so when I'd sit down at my computer I could hit the ground running.
10 - I don't give a care what anyone else might think of this story. I didn't think of my beta readers. I didn't think of my target audience. I didn't think of anyone except having a good time on my own, and of course, the journey of my characters.

And I'm grateful for that journey now. It was a rush, it was emotional, and personal.

So now I'm into writing the second book I planned. I'm approaching this one a bit differently.

How this one differs:
1 - Since this story has multiple POVs, I chose one person and am writing chronologically in his head. I also chose the POV I had put less prewriting thought into so that way I could be surprised as I charged forward writing. When I get through his POV I'll go back to the beginning and write from another character's POV.

I already know this book will extend beyond NaNo and 50K words. I'm not stressing about trying to cram it all in the last two weeks of November.

Some of the reasons for failure during NaNo:
1 - Finding time and taking the time to write. The idea that you need to block out half a day is just that, an idea. Maybe that's how you work under normal conditions, but for NaNo, the game is different. Grab time, a little bit here, a little bit there. Write a snippet of conversation. Write a setting description. Write an action scene. Don't worry about having an entire chapter in one sitting. You can always splice things together later.
2 - Lack of preparation. You can't just sit down in front of that computer and expect a story to magically appear in your head. You have to know what you want to write about ahead of time. Prewriting and outlines are your friends.
3 - The internal editor is still in command. You have to truss, gag, and drop him with cement shoes in the bay. First drafts aren't about getting the story perfect. This is where pantsers have more of an advantage, they know you just run along and write what comes to mind. Prepare like an outliner, write like a pantser. Do not go back and edit. Get the story written down.
4 - Distraction. Okay, so we all like to check our email or keep up with the news. But tone down your social media during NaNo. Avoid social media sites, unless you go there as a reward after you've hit your daily word count. Sure, you'll miss out on what your friends are saying and doing. That's okay. They'll still be there when you get back. And if they are real friends, they'll understand why you've gone silent and be glad to welcome you when the month is over. It's okay to blog less, to skip out on posting status updates, to refuse to critique for someone else, or even read a single book for the month. It's okay.
5 - Family. Family is important and I certainly don't believe you have to shun your loved ones for a month. The first day of NaNo, at breakfast, I had a talk with my family about what I would be doing and my goals. I explained that there would still be time spent with them, but when I go into my office to write they need to respect that time and leave me alone. It's hard with little children, I know. Naptimes are a great, so are early bedtimes. Some people get up extra early in the morning to write. Family distractions will most likely happen than not. Again why it's important not to have that internal editor going or to be more spontaneous when you start or stop a scene.
6 - Unforeseen circumstances. That happened to me last year. I'm getting plenty of that this year, too. Each Sunday I sit down to look at my calendar for the week and it fills up pretty fast. Health issues, disasters, trips (Thanksgiving anyone? Yep, I'm going out of town for a few days, too.) Don't beat yourself up if you find you had fewer days to write or if you came short of the 50K goal. If you didn't give up, you still deserve a pat on the back.

There are many other reasons. Sometimes it's just a matter of sacrificing some of your daily pleasures and luxuries. Instead of watching TV and looking at someone else's productivity, choose to be productive yourself. If your writing goals for NaNo are a true priority, you will be able to find ways to head toward them, or finish them. Self-discipline is the key.

How do you keep on track for NaNo? What are your biggest struggles?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


NaNo Update:
Days spent writing - 8
Words written - 36,146
Goal - 100,000 words in 16 days

Are you one of those writers whose family and friends shake their heads or chuckle whenever you mention you write books? They don't believe you or believe you can. It's frustrating, isn't it?

I have a different sort of problem. My family and friends know I write and that I spend hours doing it and they've seen ample proof. My writing peers haven't. It's partially my fault because I don't put everything I've written or am writing out for anyone and their dog/cat to see. Another writer can glance up at my NaNo goal and my word count thinking "No way," or, "She's totally exaggerating."

True, my husband has shaken his head (smiling) as I report my daily word count. He especially thinks its funny when I complain about only getting a couple of thousand words done in a couple of hours. But he knows first hand what I'm capable of.

I wrote my first, industry-standards-length manuscript when I was fourteen. (I had written shorter stories before that.) Since then I've completed 20 others. I have twice that number in incomplete novels and twice that in novel ideas written out in summary or outline form.

Here's some of that actual proof; the novels I have printed out:

I've put thousands of hours into writing, trying to improve my craft, and experimenting with style, voice, and plot structure. I've learned a lot. Spending 10,000 hours on something is supposed to technically make you an expert.

But here's the thing. I've never claimed to be a fantastic writer and I'm certainly not an expert. I do admit I'm pretty good at critiquing and knowing what goes into a novel, but as to writing, I'm the first to confess I struggle. I have fantastic ideas and I'm good at world-building. In fact, one of the reasons I don't air my stuff online is because of that. Too often when I have shared some of my work, a short time later I find that the people I shared it with were so inspired that they've copied those ideas. Not everyone, of course, but it does make me leery about who I share things with. You see, having great ideas is a fundamental element of writing, having those ideas published and to be able to say, "Yes, I thought of that twist or unusual character and here's the concrete proof of it," would totally rock. Not being able to publish those ideas stinks. Who in their right mind wants to be a muse rather than a creator?

There are no copyrights on ideas, but you don't want to take something you've cultivated for years, share it with someone else, and then have them practically rip it off - with their own spin, of course. It's not fun and doesn't exactly help for a friendly relationship in the future. That's also one reason why I like to beta read for other people, that way I can go out of my way to avoid writing like them or using anything that sounds like their ideas.

I've studied the craft of writing for years. Reading books on writing, blogs, studying the works of published authors. I've learned a ton. But that doesn't mean it's translated into my own writing. I am, after all, still me. And being myself is proving to be a problem. I won't bore you with the particulars. The market is fickle. One type of voice and style dominates for awhile then gets outed when everyone's tired of them. A new star rises, everyone tries to milk it for all its worth, then it too topples. I sit back and admire this great guessing game even as I inwardly loathe it.

The fundamental idea is simple. Someone has a story to share. They write it. They publish. Readers can choose that story or something entirely different if that story doesn't suit their fancy. Simple in concept but vastly different in execution. We human beings have trust issues and we develop our own tastes and standards jealously. We want to reject the notion that someone else's tastes and standards may run opposite of ours and also be valid or good. We like to belong to a collective, to what we perceive as popular or desirable. We push others to belong to that collective and to produce what conforms to the collective's ideas. Ironically, the publishing collective is always changing and sometimes broadsided by a novel considered radical or too different to be acceptable. Another irony is that writers and those in the publishing industry like to vaunt how rebellious or trailblazing they are. Yet the cold-hearted business side is what grinds the gears and pushes for conformity.

My point, overall, is that writing is a lot of work for most people, and there is always a growth factor. Some may only have one really great novel in them, others have the gift of churning out several. Put in your 10,000 hours of learning and writing then do more. It's important to realize why you are writing.

Doing NaNo has reminded me of why I write. I love the rush of getting the story out on paper. I want to go back and read it again and again, to relive it. And I enjoy pushing my creativity to see what I'll think up next. I'm seldom surprised, so to have a story or character surprise me is the ultimate thrill.

You will have your own reasons for writing. Many of us will try to take that story and try to share it. Most of us will be denied. The reasons for this will also vary. Some shoulder the publishing yoke as well as the writing one. Others will shelve their story, write a different one, and have another go at the institution. We've all read the stories that say something like, "It took me three books before I got an agent/publisher." And others will take their deflected work and give up on the idea of publishing.

I have at least fourteen novels that none of you will ever see. I have no intention of sprucing them up and sending them out into the world. They were indulgent, practice novels. I do go back and read them from time to time. They're for me. Some of the great ideas and world building pieces, or even characters from them will wend their way into the stories I do intend to share. How and when I want to share them is something I'm debating about.

So for any who may have doubted, you have the picture proof now. I have written what I've said I've written. I am prolific. Writing for myself is easy. Writing for the few people who understand me is easy. Writing for the general public is hard. I confess this freely.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It's Okay to Take a Day Off

NaNo update:
Days spent writing - 3
Words written - 18,924
Goal - 100,000 words in 16 days

Hi everyone. I feel like I'm poking my head outside, even though life hasn't stopped still while I've retreated into some kind of writing cave. If you look at the stats above, you'll notice that not only am I trying to do double the regular NaNo word count, but also in half the time.

Why is that?

Well, life happens. I have a family and several other obligations. So do most of you. A few days before November started I pulled up my monthly calendar, calculated how many days I was pretty sure I'd get some writing time in, and how many words I'd have to write each of those days to meet my goal. Luckily 6500-7000 words doesn't intimidate me. Word vomit is easy. The internal editor is tied and gagged, I jump around from key scene to key scene, not stressing over transitions or plot layers and I get a first draft done. The main story.

And oh, how I needed this kind of writing freedom! I've been in editing mode for too long. Editing drafts are the ones that help you grow and at the same time make you feel inferior, stupid, and weak as a writer. Going on editing mode for a great length of time wears down your ambition, your self-esteem, and your love for writing.

Which brings me to the main point of this blogpost. We need days off, guilt-free days, where we feel no constraint to approach writing or editing. I know the usual mantra on the internet is to write every day. I've found it counter-productive to drive myself at that pace, even if it's a measly 500 words one day and 5,000 another. I always reserve one day of the week to not write. And I've never broken that resolve. It's my day to step back from most things that I do during the week. I rest. I relax. I don't allow myself to feel the slightest bit anxious or guilty because I'm not writing. I don't even jot down writing notes if ideas come to me. If they're strong enough ideas, they'll keep until the next day.

After three intensive days of writing for NaNo I've pondered more on the idea of a day of rest from writing. Not a compulsion to rest because of outside obligations, but the choice to rest. To live and focus on resting. After 4-5 hours each day of nonstop writing, when I took my day off, it made a world of difference getting back into the third day's writing work. It's easy to become brain fried, dry out your eyes, and get headaches if you devote hours to writing every single day. If you suffer from these kinds of symptoms, I recommend setting aside a day off from writing. Take it even if you didn't get much done the rest of the week. Let it be your guilt-free day.

And now, I have to get back to work. I wasn't planning on writing today but some free time opened up unexpectedly and I intend to take advantage of it, because who knows what will pop up on one of my designated days to write?