Archive for the 'NaNoWriMeet' Category

Nov 15 2009

NaNoWriMeet: playing along

Published by under momentum,NaNoWriMeet,Writing

I’ve been looking forward to this post for a few days now. I need my own jumpstart for the next writing step. I got stuck on a chapter for several months, in part due to many recent large Life Events, but also for genuine story reasons. I didn’t have an “in” for this character’s head and it was making knowing where to go next in the story really difficult. So I gave myself permission to take a break–even though I really didn’t want to–and do other things for a bit. I did get a short story written during that break, which is now out looking for a home. I also spent several conversations poking at this character’s motivations and reasons for being in the story.

Major break-throughs on understanding the character in the last couple of months, and an irritation at not working on the project, means it’s time to start working on it again. However, the inertia to overcome is that of NOT working on it, which is what I’m now used to. Since I have the next three chapters roughly sketched out, and a good lock on all of this one and the first part of what happens in the next chapter, I figure now is a good time to do a solid chunk of words and regain my preferred daily writing-on-the-novel habit.

So I’m joining my NaNoWriMo friends for the rest of the month! Not officially joining the NaNoWriMo site, but joining the 2,000 word-a-day goal through the end of this month. What’s more, I’m going to be posting a daily accounting about it here: whether I make the daily goal or not, and details as to how and why that day’s wordcount happened. I deliberately waited until mid-month on this to make it a bit more challenging and immediate for myself; I doubt I’ll get enough extra words in to reach 50K (though it would be nice!), but joining in the middle means my hindbrain doesn’t get to be lazy on the daily wordcounts since there’s no time to “make it up later”. I’m excited! But for now, I’m going to get a nice bit of rest, to recharge my brain for writerly ways later today.

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Nov 14 2009

NaNoWriMeet: faces of success

That wordcount is staring you in the face. Every time you look over at it you get a little sinking sensation in the pit of your stomach. “I’ll never make 50,000 words,” you think to yourself. “I can’t even think of the next sentence! Why did I imagine I could ever be a writer?”

Riiiight, because Real Writers never get stuck. Or if they do, they know exactly how to get unstuck. And you will get a 6-figure book deal on your first book sale, and Hollywood will both buy your movie rights and give you full creative control over the script. Don’t forget all those literary awards! It’s when they start writing lit-crit analyses of how the theme of peanut butter relates to schadenfreude and your body of work that you know you’ve arrived. And how DID those monkeys feel, flying out of your butt?

Again, back to intent. Are we here to collect a wordcount trophy, or are we here to frikken write? So what to do when you’re feeling discouraged and as if you’ll never make that shiny 50K words at the end of this month, but you do sorta care about your characters now and kinda want to know what happens next for them anyway?

Hey, did you know that 50,000 words isn’t even a proper novel-length work in many cases? Sure the technical dictionary definition of novel-length is anything over 40,000 words. However, 40K or even 50K is NOT the current accepted industry standard, and in fact varies somewhat by genre in expectations. A mystery novel might be 60,000-80,000, while a thriller might be 100,000 words or more. If you’re coming in at 50K, it might be better to see what you can trim down enough to sell it as a novella, or add many more words to bring it to the size most people expect to read when they pick up a novel. Also, the story type matters as well: a Steven Brust Vlad Taltos novel is usually 80,000-90,000, while the Khaavren Romances are much, much longer than that.

The most obvious solution is to find some way of redefining success for yourself that allows you to continue working even if you don’t hit an arbitrary and specific wordcount. It’s been two weeks now, you should have enough data to at least make a guess about your average daily wordflow. One way to look at it is that NaNoWriMo was a useful tool for getting you to learn this flow-rate, or at least a starting point to guess from. Set your new standard of daily wordcount success at 4 pages a day, or 500 words a day, or whatever seems to be a more achievable and sustainable wordcount goal for continued writing. If you’re around the 3-page-a-day rate, and you still want community support, and you’re on Livejournal, there’s a community over there called novel_in_90 that has a 3-page-a-day wordcount goal for a finished novel draft in approximately three months. Still fast, but much less weighty than one month. There are likely similar communities to be found elsewhere, or if you know enough local writers create your own!

Maybe your wordcount is too erratic to pin down to a daily average. Some days you’ll write 4000, other days nothing, other days 50, then 1000 the next. Or maybe you don’t really have a problem when you actually sit down to write, but you’re a rather distractable sort who pretty easily loses focus to ooh squirrel!

Uh, right. Focus. So maybe in these instances, your daily measure of success is whether you write at all. One of Steven Brust’s sayings is “any day I write a sentence is a good day.” Or you could use “time spent writing” as your counted number, rather than a specific number of words. And as both Steve and Neil Gaiman (and others) say, writing a page a day will still get you a novel a year. Think about it!

How do you think you might redefine your NaNoWriMo success to keep writing if you can’t make 50,000 words by November 30?

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Nov 13 2009

NaNoWriMeet: write it anyway supplemental

Published by under NaNoWriMeet,Writing

The following link is why it’s a good idea to be reading Marissa Lingen’s online journal. Also, write the book!

even when you’re up to your elbows in dishwater…

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Nov 12 2009

NaNoWriMeet: define “success”

Published by under NaNoWriMeet,Writing

From dictionary.com, a wonderfully useful tool for any writer as it compiles definitions from multiple linked sources, as well as including a thesaurus option and more.

suc⋅cess
  /səkˈsɛs/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [suhk-ses]
–noun
1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.
2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
3. a successful performance or achievement: The play was an instant success.
4. a person or thing that is successful: She was a great success on the talk show.
5. Obsolete. outcome.

Word Origin & History

success
1537, “result, outcome,” from L. successus “an advance, succession, happy outcome,” from succedere “come after” (see succeed). Meaning “accomplishment of desired end” (good success) first recorded 1586. Successor “one who comes after” is recorded from 1297.

“The moral flabbiness born of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That — with the squalid interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease.” [William James to H.G. Wells, Sept. 11, 1906]

Success story is attested from 1925. Successful first attested 1588 in Shakespeare. Among the Fr. phrases used in Eng. late 19c. were succès d’estime “cordial reception given to a literary work out of respect rather than admiration” and succès de scandale “success (especially of a work of art) dependent upon its scandalous character.”

For this month’s NaNoWriMo, #2 is probably the least directly relevant. You’ll “win” if you hit 50,000 words, but what you win is bragging rights (and I think a certificate) (and hopefully a feeling of accomplishment). If you manage to eventually turn your 50K into saleable fiction you might get some (tiny amount of) “wealth”, but that’s a pretty indirect connection to this stage of the process. It’s likely you’ll have to achieve other writing milestones besides this one to attain position or influence with your writing (and I promise you that happens so much less often than many writers wish it did). And sure, it can be seen as an honor to finish within the parameters of the project, but that seems to me much more skewed than seeing it as a well-earned and major accomplishment you earned. An honor is something someone else bestows upon you.

So, what about the much larger percentage of writing participants who don’t make that 50K by the end of the month? Are we to be typical of our time and culture and say it’s winners and losers, man, you either succeeded or you didn’t? Sure, we could, but how likely is it that attitude will encourage you to keep writing after this month is over, or even get through the end of the month? Continuing to write is way more important to me than if I manage to hit a particular number of words, most of which will likely be changed or cut in the next draft anyway!

A Very Smart Writer friend of mine on her initial NaNoWriMo adventure this year figured out that those of her friends who were making awesome wordcounts were either previously published writers or students, both of which get you far more used to the habitual act of sitting-and-writing than other jobs might. It’s like I mentioned in one of the previous NaNo posts; if you haven’t been in training, you have to be much more aware of what you have to work with to not pull a writing muscle metaphorically. So what is more important to you, making that 50K? Or finishing the story? The approach you take for one goal might not be the same as the other. In the next post we’ll take a look at what other forms of success for the end of this month might look like. For now, what are your thoughts or fears on the word “success”?

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Nov 12 2009

NaNoWriMeet doubt supplemental

To follow up the previous post…

I thought up a saying that may very well be found elsewhere in slightly different form, but which I thought conveyed a good concept for many writers:

It’ll never be as good on the page as it was in my head. But it might be as pretty in someone else’s head, when it’s done…

Of course I’m not the only one being supportive of the NaNoWriMo participants, so here’s another link about “writer’s block”.

And a bonus link, to whet the appetite for those of you ultimately interested in following through to the business end of the industry (otherwise known as selling/marketing your finished book), an article from a well-recommended agent about writing query letters.

And don’t forget, SLEEP! (I posted this link several months back but the Storytellers Unplugged site did a massive redesign and moved all the links. I found it for you again!)

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Nov 11 2009

NaNoWriMeet: writers, doubting

Published by under momentum,NaNoWriMeet,Writing

By now, if you’re participating in this write-a-novel-in-a-month deal, you’re likely to have hit your first wave of “wait, whatever made me think i could DO this?” While some of the advice I’ve been giving is more practical ways to address that issue, all the practicality in the world still won’t necessarily quiet those doubts. So what do you do?

Well, there’s always the “holy gods this is so much more pressure and stress than I even guessed, good try, better luck next year” option. This is certainly a very tempting option, and it might not even be an incorrect one for your situation. You might not be a pro at assessing the effects personally of your own stressload, but you’re still going to have more info on you than the rest of us. However, if you pick this option there isn’t much point in me continuing on with my advice posts this month, so let’s assume for the moment that we want to continue to write, it’s just frikken hard sometimes.

There’s not room in one post to cover all the options for combating your writing doubt, but I can always go back and expand these points out in later posts by inclination or request. One big hurdle that hits many writers is a difficulty in separating the functions of your internal writer and internal editor. The internal writer, though stronger than you often think, is still quite sensitive to harsh judgment and attitudes. The generative creation energy of the internal writer can feel very capricious in how and when it shows up. This part is normal, and there are definitely tricks for work-arounds on this tendency, some of which have already been mentioned in these posts with likely more to come later. The difficulty often arises when the internal editor–a creature much more forebrained and usually quite full of judgments about writing–gets too much sway over the thoughts/emotions/process during the writer brain portion.

The internal editor is a useful beast. Often a bit too assured of its own importance in the scheme of things, it tends to jump in and participate when it really would be better to wait for its proper time in the limelight. Don’t eliminate it entirely, especially if you want to keep writing, as you’ll need that perspective later. But however you manage it, gag it, distract it, or otherwise control it, figure out how to get your keep-writing answers. Examples:

Wow, this is a steaming pile of word crud. Are you really going to leave that sentence there?
Shut up, I’m writing. Come back later.

Could you fit any more cliches into that last paragraph?
lalalalalala, can’t hear you, busy writing.

2000 words a day is too much. Plus you’re already behind.
Don’t care, can’t count right now, too busy writing. Count later.

Real Writers don’t have the problems you’re having right now. Also, your butt’s getting numb in the chair.
Hey, it’s time for my hourly stretch break anyway, I’ll go grab a butt-pillow! Now, back to writing.

Are you reading yourself right now? I mean, I’ve seen bad before, but…
Doesn’t have to be good, it has to get done. Back in your box, editor-monkey.

Future posts we’ll get into include examining writer issues such as the myth of perfect prose, and the transition scene difficulty of “how do I get my characters from where they are to where I need them?”, and Steve’s rule of “every writer needs a dog” and why. For now, what are your personal doubt issues in creative pursuits? How are you dealing with it (or not)? Other suggestions for future topics?

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Nov 10 2009

NaNoWriMeet: planning your sabbatical

Published by under NaNoWriMeet,Writing

A couple of days ago in one of these posts, I alluded to the idea that after your crunch month, you might want to consider giving yourself a breather and recovery period before diving back in. Of course, not all authors work like that, and you may be the sort who needs to bull through to the end of the revisions as well before stopping. But THEN, think about a break afterwards, if you’re that sort.

I’ve heard the exercise metaphor used, and it’s a reasonable one. If you try to start working out, but don’t pay attention to your proper form, or where your current limits are at in terms of weight or reps, you’re likely going to strain something–possibly even an injury that will make you stop working out, or severely curtail your range of activities. Be careful of overloading yourself now in your push to write write write, especially if you haven’t been previously “in training” for the event. On the other hand, we’ve all heard the stories of that person who never ran a marathon before, did the minimum prep for it, and had a more or less successful run during the event themselves. Those folk aren’t likely to make first place, but for these participants even getting to the end is a major accomplishment, and participating at all is a success. Several of those types might go on to run more marathons later on.

So, you might ask, why should I be worrying about taking a break at this point? It’s still early in the second week, I need to write! Well sure, but what’s your larger motivation here? If it’s just to get 50K semi-coherent words on the page, you probably don’t have to worry much at all about the quality of the final result. If you run that marathon just to say you can and have, for some folks that’s all they need from the experience. To those people, ignore the sabbatical advice, it’s not likely to be as relevant. But if you want a shiny story you can eventually show around to others, or (gasp) maybe even run another story marathon later, I think it’s better to be examining different angles of how to succeed in that throughout the writing process.

Also, the topic for this post allowed me to include a link from today’s internet salad. It’s another writer’s perspective on the sabbatical and recovery concept. For those of you who enjoy this article, there are many more like it over at Storytellers Unplugged, a shared writer blog with a writing industry-related piece each day and with each contributor responsible for posting on a certain day of the month.

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Nov 09 2009

NaNoWriMeet: more system hacks

Published by under NaNoWriMeet,outlining,Writing

So we’ve discussed some of the challenges of working within the NaNoWriMo structure. I want to chat about something that came up over the course of this weekend’s discussions, but don’t be scared, it won’t hurt TOO much. We’re going to talk a bit about outlines.

Now that some of you have gotten the high-school-programmed groans and initial aversive responses out of the way, let’s look further. First let us clarify that making an outline, in whatever form, doesn’t mean your eleventh-grade English teacher is suddenly going to pop up and start giving you a grammar lecture while you sit in your underwear in front of the class. Nor am I trying to say that you “should” outline your work; it might help you to develop a wariness of anyone giving you writing advice full of “shoulds” or the “one True Way to write practiced by All Real Writers”. But looking at the NaNoWriMo program again, with our ego blinders off…

Many writers that I know will change how they approach their writing depending on what is due and when. Something you’re writing on spec and not to contract or deadline gives you much more license to explore the fullness of your creative process–the fits and starts and erratic progress and long pauses and forward leaps so many of us are familiar with. It really does take time, discipline, and usually much practice to write regularly even when the muse is on vacation. So what happens when you need to scribe a whole bunch of words (for a deadline or for NaNoWriMo) and that isn’t the way you normally write, or you haven’t figured out your own brain-hacks yet? That’s the nice thing about writer toolboxes: the little tips and tricks you learn to get words on the pages in various ways come in handy both when you’re stuck and when you need to change writing gears and keep going. Now let’s glance back at that outline idea.

If you’re trying to write a ton of words quickly, and the clock is metaphorically ticking, it’s giving yourself a difficult additional hurdle to also try to generate all the needed ideas, information, characters, and action that the story needs on the fly, right as you’re deep in the wordcount crunch. One way you might make an end run around that problem is to consider sketching out (in whatever form that comes easiest to you) enough ideas about what comes next in the story that you don’t have to flounder so much for that part of it when you get to the words. But never fear, you still don’t have to dust off all those Roman numerals and caps and lowercase alphabet soup if you’re disinclined to that form. (Although have at them, if you like that style. Nest those little buggers to glory and fame!) While certainly an outline can take a very linear form (and some of you might even like that!), you can also get creative with it.

Some writers use index cards. You write a line describing a scene or major point in the action, and use a card for all of those scenes you have, then shuffle the cards around into the order that makes sense to you, figure out any gaps and fill them in, number the cards in your chosen order, and write the story from there. A couple of writers I’ve listened to who use this method say they think it works really well for writers who have a strong tactile sense; the physical act of moving the cards around into a story order seems to help these types of writers. (And there’s more advice on this method to be found online; if this interests you, do a search!)

There are other approaches. You can sketch out in your outline the major points, the scenes you already *know* you want to include in the story. Figure out what order those go in, then spend some time thinking about the smaller stops along the story path that lead you from point to point. You can use a dry erase board for a more malleable visual cue, or posterboard that you pin up on the wall and stare at, with notes for characters and plot and everything else in their own marker color (or not).

Other ideas similar to outlining that I’ve tried include a notes file where you don’t bother to organize, you just jot down anything you think of that you aren’t writing at that moment but that might be relevant to your story. My current novel-in-progress has a notes file that is over 60 pages long at this point, quite a lot of which I’ll likely never use. It was still useful to do, and it’s fun to search through when I need that inspiration for “what next”, even if I don’t always find what I’m looking for there. I’ve also done the “novel draft as outline” approach. My first draft for this novel is essentially 150-plus pages of really detailed characterization scenes and vague ideas of what actually happens. I declared the first draft “done” when I significantly changed my approach to writing the next draft, and the declaration was itself a nice psychological weight lifted from my creative process at that time. In addition, that first never-to-be-seen-by-others draft has in effect served as a rough “outline” for the next draft, which is not only much better prose but more coherent narrative besides.

What are some of your own ideas for getting enough of a clue about what you want to write in order to get bogged down less in the wordcount phase of the process? Do you keep it all jumbled in your head, outlined in your head, or jumbled or outlined outside of your head? I’m always interested in hearing how individual people adapt these ideas to their own needs.

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Nov 06 2009

NaNoWriMeet: when NOT to stop

Published by under NaNoWriMeet,Writing

Once again my friends page brings me inspiration for today’s post. A friend doing their first NaNoWriMo just discovered on their very own a Very Important “Writer Rule” (where we understand “rule” in this case to mean “really good suggestion”):

Never stop at a logical stopping place in your writing.

That means avoid stopping your writing sessions at the end of a scene, chapter, etc, wherever possible. Even if you only write one sentence of the next scene before you stop for the day, do that. Even if that sentence is crap and you ritually delete it and rewrite it at the start of the next session, do it anyway. Psychologically, for many many writers, it is ever so much easier to pick up the story threads if you left off “in medias res” in your writing. If you stop at the end of a scene or chapter, it seems as if there is a much higher chance of a “block” or more difficulty in continuing the story.

I think that so far this has certainly been true of most of my work. While sometimes a break is necessary to reassess something in the story, when I’m trying to get a certain amount done or setting myself a writing goal, it’s much easier to give myself that teaser line to jump off from in my next writing session, and it’s easier to get started each session if I have an obvious starting point rather than a blank page.

So hats off to my friend for being a Smart Writer and paying attention to the lessons they’re getting along the way, AND for figuring out the clever and obvious solution to this issue (write a bit of the next part before you stop).

Are there analogies to this method in other art forms? Has anyone else found a stumbling point that they’d like to see discussed?

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Nov 05 2009

NaNoWriMeet: success is not a scary monster

Published by under NaNoWriMeet,Writing

Some of you at this point are sailing along on the crest of early NaNoWriMo success, at least as defined by the daily wordcount standards set up by the event. We’ve already discussed patting yourself on the back, and don’t forget to do that today too! But Human brains are funny funny organs, and for some of them, the self-sabotaging button doesn’t kick in until after that first flush of success surges through the body and mind.

I’ve known several people throughout the years with varying manifestations of what I would call a fear of success. Sometimes, it’s because one just never got sustainable support on completing projects during the formative years, and hasn’t yet figured out how to learn those tools as an adult. Maybe the perception of some sort of obligation or responsibility (whether real or not) that comes along with success is the paralyzing factor. Or perhaps you succeed at the beginning stages and take a look at the “dreaded middle part” that scares so many artists, don’t know what to do next, and freeze up. There are other possibilities–creative, sometimes neurotic, funny funny organs, brains.

So how do you avoid this tragic fate being yours? Well for one, remember and repeat as necessary that it really is ok for you to make your goals. It doesn’t mean you’re also now responsible for the metaphoric equivalent of curing cancer and creating a sane and palatable national health plan. Learn what motivates you; are you more a “carrot” type or “stick” type? Play to your strengths and what you know of your own motivations when structuring your writing routines. It’ll be a heckuva lot healthier than trying to force your own bouncy brain into someone else’s writer jello mold.

I could go on, but these posts have been rather one-way so far this week; is there anyone out there reading along that wants to join in on this discussion? How do you get yourself to feel good about the milestones you make, or is it even a struggle for you? (Some people have no problem with this area.) Note that this post can apply to other than writers, for anyone wanting to discuss.

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