NaNoWriMo – Results

Did I finish National Novel Writing Month (November) with a 50,000 page manuscript, as challenged? No! Am I upset about that? No! Did I get a lot of writing done? Yes! Did I make a lot of progress on my novel this month? Yes! Did I write some awesome scenes? Yes! Am I going to finish this novel now that November is over? Yes! Can I finish the draft, as planned, by the end of 2015? Probably!

Thoughts:
I found NaNo to be very helpful in pushing through tough spots (like transitions, parts with unclear direction, etc.) in my manuscript. Trying to write 1,667 words per day means forcing your way through to the good stuff. And a lot of the time, if you just keep going, you can push through to getting on a roll. Sometimes not so much, but it’s worth trying.

fizzmywhiskersI found NaNo to be incredibly helpful in re-learning the art of prioritizing writing. Literally just keeping it in mind that you’re going to do some work on your novel every day makes a big difference – even if, like me, your schedule changes daily and you can’t set aside, say, from 9-10 pm each night or from 7-8 each morning to write (not that I’m ever voluntarily awake at 7 am). Aside from the time you actually spend sitting down and writing, knowing that it’s going to be part of your day kicks your brain in gear to think about it all day. What am I going to do next? you’ll wonder when you wake up in the morning. And What if I made this happen? you’ll think as you spill coffee all over your hand, distracted as visions of your characters dance in your head. It’s a beautiful feeling to take with you as you go about your daily life.

Since it isn’t always possible to sit down for five hours at a stretch and pump out 1,667 words every day, I was surprised to find how quickly I can sit down and knock out 500-700 words. Do that a few times a day, and you’re gold for a NaNo day. Do that a few times a day any day, and you’ve accomplished a lot. So maybe it’s good that I don’t have a set writing time. Maybe it works better to write a bit when I come home, then have din-din, then come back to my writing for a while, and then spend some quality time with my fella and my chinchilla. Got an hour between things? Don’t play Plants vs. Zombies II – write 500 words! Got 20 minutes before you’re meeting your friends for drinks? Don’t check Facebook another 12 times – write 250 words! DO IT, and don’t be intimidated by time constraints.

And breaks are good. Throwing myself at my book at a breakneck pace all month just didn’t turn out to be what I wanted. It felt really good, I got a lot done, but when it started feeling like writing a panicked term paper instead of creating a work of fiction, I didn’t feel bad about finding some balance. Getting away and doing something else gives you a chance to re-assess where you are and what you’re doing in the plot and in the characters. You see something or you have a conversation with someone or you just get some perspective, and you find a new level of inspiration, a new direction to take things, a new way to approach that boring, awkward transition scene. Taking a break also helps keep me excited about the book – I’m eager to get back to it if I take a day off, or if I get out and do something with other humans (gasp!) for a few hours.

My goal now is to finish this rough draft by the end of December. During NaNo, I generally felt the best at around 1,000 words per day, so I’m going for that to finish out the year. And yeah, I’ll take days off, probably, and I’ll write more some days. Will I do NaNoWriMo next year? Depends on what’s cookin’, but I think so, yeah! Whether I finish or not, it’s been worth it to participate.

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Week 2 of NaNoWriMo

After my fabulously victorious first week of National Novel Writing Month, during which I went from 10,000 words to 18,000 words, week 2 has been a struggle. There’s nothing unusual about week 2 being tough, especially since Real Life Happened and caused a hiccup in my new rhythm. But that’s okay, because – after only ONE WEEK, one little tiny week! – I’ve seen a big change in my mindset about writing. As in, I feel weird on they days I don’t write anything. As in, I think about my story in the shower, in the car, while I’m eating lunch, before I fall asleep, as soon as I wake up. As in, I’m getting my writer groove back. And that’s my prime directive this month, so hooray!!

Here’s the day-by-day low-down for week 2:

Day 7: After I posted about how I was starting to lose steam last week, I took a break from the manuscript. During my break, I realized what I wanted to do next, and wrote another 475 words.

Day 8: I took the day off intentionally to try and gain some perspective. Hung out with my brilliant partner-in-crime, cover artist, and may-as-well-be-husband (Zakary Kendall) and had fun discussing weird metaphysical and philosophical aspects of the manuscript. Very inspiring!

Erica Flynn cover by Zakary Kendall

Cover art for The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn. Oil on canvas, Zakary Kendall

Day 9: Real Life Happened. Only wrote about 200 words, but that’s something!

Day 10: 1,500 words, and had fun doing it.

Days 11 & 12: Real Life Ctd. No writing happened.

Day 13: Now officially behind on NaNo word count for the month. However, it was a productive day. I cleaned up my desk area (gasp!), hauled out multicolorful things (i.e., crayons, sharpies, etc.) and paper and arranged them neatly in the middle of the living room floor, and wrote out questions I want/need to explore in my manuscript – about the protagonists, antagonist, plot, world, conflicts, and turning points – as well as some helpful exercises from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, which is an awesome book and every writer should own it and Donald Maass isn’t paying me to say that, I promise. Now I have a bunch of questions and prompts in multicolored sharpie taped up above my desk, and a crap-ton of art supplies and paper ranging from index cards to welcome-mat-sized conveniently located in the middle of the living room floor. Because shiny colors make me happy, and help me write, okay?!?!!!

hellonekoDay 14: 3,000 words. Whenever I felt stuck, I doodled for a while, answered one of my note card questions, or researched something and jotted down notes about it. At around 2,000 words, I took a couple hours’ break – dinner, 1960s Dark Shadows episodes, and chinchilla playtime. And then came back and wrote another 1,000…which brings me almost back up to the overall official word count goal for NaNo – and more importantly, moved my book forward!

 

Day 15: Geared up and ready to rock! …As soon as I finish this coffee.

Things I’ve remembered this week: 1. It’s not that hard to find enough time to write 250-500 words in a day. 2. Taking a break is sometimes more productive than working. 3. One type of creativity usually boosts another, which makes a nice little positive feedback loop. 4. You do not have to write everything in order. If you’re trying to get the story to move on to the next point, but you’re not sure how to do it, and you’re not that interested in the part you’re trying to write, chances are the reader won’t be either. You’re not experiencing writer’s block – you’re experiencing writer’s instinct! Run with it! Run with it to the next bit you think is going to be so cool you can’t wait to get there. 5. First drafts are for fun. Rewrites are for making everything tie together coherently.

A Brief Observation…

If you’re not inspired to write, there is nothing more likely to make you start living in a story world than spending a few months in a class where the teacher never stays on topic, especially if the tangents are wholly uninteresting and usually repetitions of previous tangents, and after the first month you still only have half a page of useful notes taken from the lectures.  So in spite of the fact that I’ve learned nothing in one of my classes (yet am paying to attend it), I’m grateful it has bored me into escapism, and therefore inspiration, and possibly a new novel.  I recommend, if you aren’t sufficiently into a project, that if you can’t take an absolutely terrible college course that you have to pass to graduate, you should find some other way to make yourself a captive audience long enough to space out and start really loving that story world.

Obviously, I’m not going to tell you which of my classes I’m talking about….I still have to pass the damn thing.

Friday Exercise – The Tool of Music

I’ve probably mentioned on this blog before that what music I listen to can really color the tone of what I’m working on – and so while I’m actively writing, I pick my music very carefully, or don’t listen to any at all.  It gets to be sort of Pavlovian, too – a certain song or type of music will become associated with what I’m working on, and anytime I hear it, I’m in Writer Mode all of a sudden, ready to dig straight in.

I like picking out “soundtracks” – Hey, this song would be perfect for that scene where so-and-so happens, if they ever make a movie of my book!  And sometimes I’ll get an idea for a scene from listening to a song and daydreaming – I’ll start to picture action or dialogue that fits somehow with the music, or some emotion will well up in the piece that makes me realize some new level of what one of my characters might feel at a given point in the story.

For me, music is a great brainstorming tool at any point in my writing process, from the initial spark of, “Ooh, I have an idea for a story!” to “OMG!!!  I KNOW HOW IT ENDS!!!!!!”

So this week’s exercise is this:  Listen to a song/piece that takes you someplace, through emotion or connotation or whatever, and explore it.  Daydream or free write, whatever works best for you.  What could it mean to one of your characters?  If there are lyrics, would they become ironic in association with your imagined scene, or no?  Does the emotion of the music reflect a particular character’s attitude, or the story as a whole?  Are there multiple layers of feeling expressed – upbeat tempo but lots of minor to the melody?  Where there’s dissonance and resolution, what does that speak to in the story – again, is that how one character feels in the scene, or is that a clash between characters?  Maybe this works best for musicians – I play guitar, myself – but I would think it would work for any writer who likes music!

Choosing Curiosity

For the second week in a row, I’ve missed my Monday post – this time, because I was busy all weekend (thus, didn’t have time to write one in advance), and then started jury duty Monday morning.  So, like last Wednesday, I’m posting about writing instead of marketing with my Wednesday post.

To start with, here’s a little run-down of how my time has been spent lately:  last week (when I had the flu), over the course of this weekend (when I was out doing stuff, meeting and getting to know new people, hearing lots of memories and stories shared between friends, seeing new places and hearing the history these friends had there together, etc.), and so far this week (while waiting to be called from the jury pool room to trials, being questioned for possible selection to a jury, chatting with fellow jury pool members to pass the time, etc.).  All of this stuff is pretty much outside my normal routine, some of it understandably crappy (being sick, parking downtown, having to get up early (I’m a night person and an evening shift worker), sitting in a room for hours just waiting for something to happen), some of it understandably exciting and fun (my weekend), and some of it able to go either way (jury duty is very much all or nothing…either you’re just sitting around passing the time as best you can, or something important is happening).

That said, what’s been on my mind in terms of writing has been (a) the fact that breaking out of your normal routine does, indeed, get your brain going, (b) even if you don’t choose what breaks your routine and even if the break is unwanted and/or unpleasant, as a writer, you can use anything as an opportunity – any experience adds to what you know about life, and therefore what you can convincingly write about in your fiction, and (c)  anytime you’re stuck in a room full of other people, you’re sitting on a gold mine of observable material…characters, dialogue, quirks, mannerisms, backgrounds, story ideas….

One of the best things about being a writer, I think, is that we have the gift of being able to pull something positive out of any situation.  Whether it’s traumatic, aggravating, uncomfortable, or fantastically awesome, a writer can get at least a short story or a poem out of almost anything that happens.  At times in my life, that has been the one gleam of reassurance and positivity in the back of my mind – when things have been at the very depths of fear and trauma, I’ve had this calm, logical piece of myself that has told me, “This is going to be so good for your writing someday,” and patted me on the shoulder…it’s a soothing thought when you’re in a panic, a ray of hope in times of despair, a candle in the darkness.  Writers are lucky to have that.

In less dire circumstances, such as the aggravations of being in a jury pool (getting up ridiculously early and still being barely on time because of parking, monetary troubles, long lunch lines, chairs that make your butt hurt after 45 minutes, waiting around for stuff, not getting picked for a trial that sounded interesting, etc.) there’s still that happy little part of me that’s like, “Ooh, but shiny!  Now I know all this stuff about how this works that I didn’t know before!” and “Hey, this lady I’m sitting next to all damn day waiting to get pulled for a case knows an awful lot of cool stuff about [whatever]…wonder where that could lead?” and “Hm…this guy sure knows a lot about [historical event].  Has some good yarns to spin about the experience.  Let’s keep him talking!”

A writer can always choose to get curious – let yourself wonder about a system or a process you’re encountering for the first time, pay attention to what’s going on, listen to what other people are saying about it to you or to each other, watch the folks who’re on familiar ground and how they interact with one another and with the newbies, chat with people in waiting rooms, look around for anomalies, watch facial expressions.  It beats being bored anyday…and it’s good practise.  My theory is, the more you make it a habit to be observant and take note of your surroundings, the more generally inspired you’ll be, and the richer your details will become.

Friday Exercise – Fun Times

It’s all too easy to get caught up in trying to write to impress, to focus on ambition and the hopes of success, or just to feel a sense of accomplishment.  The trouble with that is, it makes the whole process a chore, and the vitality of the work itself suffers from that.  Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and remember that you write because you like to, and just take pleasure in the telling of a story.  Just like when you were a little kid and you made up crazy stories with dinosaurs and spaceships and panda bears running pirate ships, it’s nice to write something purely because you think it’s fun every now and then.

Write something – anything – just for you, just for fun.  Doesn’t have to be good.  Doesn’t have to make sense.  Can be totally silly or smash-bang cool or whatever.  But you do have to enjoy writing it.

Full Speed Ahead

Here is what I’ve learned from three days of NaNoWriMo:

  • Do your word count no matter what.  Yesterday I wrote 400 of my 2000 words in a noisy laundromat with NFL news pulling at me from the TV and an old acquaintance popping over to chat intermittently.
  • If you’re not sure about a particular scene but you know what you’re going to do next, skip to the ‘next’.  Just put in a note for yourself like, “Scene where C and M are reunited.  M’s background discussed etc.” or whatever.
  • Keep notes on things you know you need to research, inconsistencies or things you want to change, places that felt awkward while you wrote them.  Keep notes on this stuff, but DON’T WORK ON IT YET.  Tweaking ain’t going to get your story out of your head and into a tangible form.
  • Reward yourself when you get your work done!  Good food, good company, and relaxation go a long way toward positive self-reinforcement.

NaNoWriMo, Day 1

So today is the first day of my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month.  This means that (a) I will likely have a lot to say about the process of speed-writing this month and following, and (b) by the time I do my word count for NaNo, my brain is like a small mound of jelly in the middle of a dance floor on a July afternoon, which is to say mooshy and helpless and likely to be abruptly and unexpectedly squidged.  Although apparently creative, still.

Given the state of my brain right now, I will give you a quick recap of what the first day of NaNoWriMo was like for me:

Go to grocery in hopes of stocking up enough food not to have to do another big shop for the rest of November.  Buy ridiculous amounts of food and realize while putting it away that you really ought to have taken care of the laundry and dishes over the weekend, but you didn’t, because you knew it was your last weekend before diving into being a feral writer for a month.

Say to hell with the dishes and laundry, write 700 words.  Agonize.  Second-guess.  Remember you aren’t supposed to do that in November.  Sit back down.  Realize you are stuck.  Write 300 words anyway.  Realize you’re really tired and you feel like you’ve used all your ideas for today.  Sit there for twenty minutes before remembering that coffee exists.  Drink coffee, eat something (don’t remember what), and decide to play guitar for a while instead.

Sit down and try to write.  Still not feeling it.  Go for a walk and drop the rent off on the way home.  Inadvertently start writing a song while walking, and have to write it down right away when you get home.  Take a shower.  Realize you need to figure out the chords to the song you made up on your walk, before you forget the tune.  Realize you’re avoiding your novel.  Find the chords anyway, and write them down.

Sit back down.  Whinge via text messages.  Drink the rest of the pot of coffee you made earlier.  Buckle down again and write the rest of your word count and beyond, ending up with a daily count of 2348 words.

Realize you’re starving and haven’t eaten in five hours (for me, that’s eternity in food terms).  Heat up potato from dinner three days ago.  Avoid looking at dishes in sink.  Update blog.

It felt good to push past where I thought I needed to stop for the day and find a second wind.  I really got on a roll again, which I didn’t expect.  I’m both excited and dubious about doing this every day for a month, but so far my usual tricks (taking breaks to get out and walk, or exercising some other form of creative process (guitar, in today’s case), etc.) are working well for me.

Series Bible, Take 1

So I’m looking into this whole “series bible” thing – seemed like a good idea, since I’m about to delve into writing a trilogy.  It’s pretty self-explanatory.  A series bible is just an organized set of notes on who/what/where everything is in your books – a way to keep track of people and settings that you mention, even in passing.  So if you need that information later, you have an easy reference for it instead of having to scan back through your whole manuscript to find out what color some bit character’s eyes were. 

Honestly, I already have so many notes on this trilogy that putting together a series bible seems like a bit of a joke.  Still, I could benefit from some organization at this point, given how many versions I’ve started of this #$@% book over the years, then changed things around, then changed them back, then changed them to something entirely different, etc.

My plan for this series bible is along the lines of a binder with separate tabs for the major characters, one section for lesser and bit characters, and a section for the settings – maybe broken up into places around the main city where most of the story takes place, and all the other cities, towns, battlefields, etc. that the characters come and go through.  Personally, since I draw, I like to do sketches of my characters and the places they spend most of their time, as visual stimulation and to keep things clear and consistent.  I’ll probably put some of those into the bible, if not on my bedroom wall next to my outline.  Even if you’re not artistically inclined, you can collect photos from books or magazines, postcards, online sources, etc. and use those for your visuals.

This being a fantasy novel, I’ll also include my ridiculously extensive notes on how the different magic styles work (there are five of ’em in this book, but thankfully I know better than to info dump all of that into the story!) and maybe flesh out my notes about the two religions that are prominent in the storyline.

I’m sort of approaching the series bible concept as a scrapbooking type project, only without the fancy paper and little cutouts of birthday cakes and stuff.  Although fancy paper isn’t necessarily a bad idea, especially if it’s a pattern that would be common on clothes or wallpaper in the story setting….  Hm….!

Where & When

I make a conscious effort not to let myself get too picky about my writing environment. It’s not that I don’t think a routine can be helpful, or that I have a personal vendetta against my whiny inner artistic self. Routine can’t always be counted on, however – there are always variables in life, especially if you’re not a rich and famous author and you have to do other work to make a living (and let’s face it, that’s most of us). And as for my whiny inner artist, she has her place, but it’s good to remind her of it from time to time – as in, “Hey. If you ain’t writin’, you ain’t a writer. And if you ain’t a writer, you got no cause to be all prima donna.” Tough self-love is sometimes necessary.

But back to my main point – I try not to get too attached to any one aspect of my writing environment. Time of day is an unavoidably undependable factor, since my “day job” is on a flexible schedule, and from one day to the next I could work a midday shift and be off at four-thirty in the afternoon, or I could go in around six in the evening and work till midnight.

Location is something I stay whimsical about. I do generally use my laptop, since my desktop computer is full of distracting games and art programs etc., but every now and then I’ll shake that up, too, and work at my desk. When I’m on the laptop, sometimes I sit on the couch and work, sometimes in bed, and sometimes (now) sitting on the patio lounger on my balcony. I’m not one of those writers who can concentrate in a coffee shop, although I try sometimes. I can edit just about anywhere, but coming up with new material is something I really need to lose myself in for it to work.

I do let myself be a little prima donna about whether or not I listen to music while I work. Some days, I’m just not feeling it, but the right music will click my brain into the right gear. Other days, music is a blaring, horrendous distraction.

The main thing, for me, is to have enough self-discipline not to need certain circumstances to write. I’d hate to have writer’s block every time I worked a closing shift, if the weather was too cold for me to work on the balcony, if my speakers went out on my laptop, or if something came up during my “writing time” and took up those hours of the day. I’d most likely be furious anytime anything threatened my routine, including friends and relations, and that would be a miserable situation for everyone involved. So for my own well-being and peace of mind, for the greater good of the world not having to put up with me throwing tantrums about my writing time, and to keep myself productive as a writer, I’ve learned to write whenever and wherever I can, even if I only have an hour in between things to do it.

The point is: Be flexible.