Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

I promised a WriMo post, so here it is.

I’m currently at 45,479 words. All signs point toward me finishing, and I’m feeling like a champion. I put a lot of things on hold so I could participate in NaNoWriMo (like homework, TV shows, and . . . yeah, that’s pretty much all that’s going on in my life right now, which is probably why I’ll be able to get to 50,000 words—so I guess there really isn’t a lot going on in my life, but still).

The point is that even if I didn’t make it, NaNoWriMo encouraged me to write 45,479 words that I normally would not have written. And this is important for all writers to keep in mind regardless of whether or not they reach the 50k. So thank you for that, WriMo.

But still I have to say I’m a little disappointed in WriMo. While it did encourage me to write, I’ve decided that it’s simply not for me. I like being able to take more time when I write so that I can better plan the flow of the story and so that the words I spit out aren’t quite so awful the first time around. I think that WriMo actually makes it so that I have more work to do because I’m going to have to rework everything I just wrote. But that’s okay. Now I know it’s not for me. And I’m so glad that it’s worked as a motivation for so many writers. Sometimes everyone needs a good kick in the pants.

Tangent time.

Want to know a secret?

Finishing a book is like having our birthday. For some reason we expect to feel different when we’re a year older, but we don’t. Being 19 is exactly like being 18. Being 25 is exactly like being 24. And the real disappointment: being 21 is exactly like being 20. Likewise we expect to feel different when we finish writing a book, but we don’t. We feel exactly as we did when we were struggling, first-time writers.

But don’t fret, those of you trying to finish your first book. Because what we don’t realize is how we’ve grown during that year or during the time it took to write that book. We’ve learned new lessons, we’ve discovered what is and isn’t working for us, we’ve (hopefully) figured out what we are and aren’t good at, we’ve discovered new likes and dislikes. And in the end, we can decide that we are better off because of that year of growth. Now we can set new goals for improvement.

So it doesn’t matter how much we’ve written or how old we are. It’s what we’ve learned. Me? I learned that WriMo isn’t for me. Others may have discovered a new subplot, a new character, a new writing formula, a new genre, whatever.

Now it’s getting time to revise and make that book shine. Don’t stop just because November is over. We all have a lot of work still to do. Set a goal for finishing that story (if it’s longer than 50k) or for finishing your first round of revisions. Motivate yourself now that WriMo soon won’t be there. Create writing challenges with your friends to encourage you to keep at it.

Whatever you do, don’t stop.

 

How Important Is Prose?

My internship has got me thinking lately about prose.

I’m a sucker for a beautiful line. Take, for example, this line from Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone: “…the wintry peace might have hailed from another time. Snow and stone and ghostlight, Karou’s own footsteps alone and adrift in mundane thoughts: school, errands. The occasional cheek-chew of bitterness when a pang of heartache intruded…”

Sigh.

Back to the internship. Being a sucker for a well-crafted line, I’ve often found myself conned by a well-constructed query letter (I’m not even talking about a beautiful query. Just a well-constructed one), only to read the attached pages and discover the story isn’t what the query made it out to be. These are disappointing moments.

As genre writers, are plot and character more important to us than prose? I don’t think so.

In popular fiction, I’ve heard the idea that prose must serve the story. That it must not stand out, or distract from the progression of plot and characters. I know that not every popular fiction writer subscribes to this school of thought. And I’m not even disagreeing with those that do. I can like a story that doesn’t have outstanding prose—and by outstanding, I mean something beyond the ordinary, whether that be beautiful, raw, stark, or literary.

On the other hand, I’m often dazzled by beautiful prose. I love it especially in third person, when the prose becomes a narrator or author’s voice. Let me just throw out a few examples: Laini Taylor and Shannon Hale. But what I’m noticing lately is how prose can distract from a weak plot or flat characters (not with the two writers I just mentioned. They have beautiful prose in addition to great characters and plot). I’m noticing, I think, because I’m now turning more of a critical eye to the things I’m reading. I’m setting aside details in favor of the big picture. I love beautiful prose, but I really do think plot and character have to come first.

Here’s the takeaway lesson, then. I’m doing NaNoWriMo, and it’s going to be really important that I don’t sweat the small stuff, like word choice, just quite yet. Not until I get a finished draft. Then I’m going to whip my characters into shape. I’m going to knead that plot until it has the exact consistency I’m looking for. And then, when the substance of the novel is sound, I’ll go through and let myself have fun dusting the manuscript with a healthy amount of beautiful prose.

 

 

The Benefits of NNWM

Forgive me if this post seems redundant of Megan’s, but I was going to talk about NNWM and she totally stole my thunder. So instead of changing my topic this week entirely, I decided I would talk about it anyway.

While Megan is braving the waters of NNWM for the first time this year, I am something of a NNWM veteran. I’ve done it (successfully, no less) for the last two years and I always enjoy myself immensely. Even though I am a college student and am fighting the uphill battles of term papers and midterms, NaNo November always has a special spot in my heart. So despite the fact that I often wake up on December first feeling like I’d been run over repeatedly by a semi-truck for the past thirty days, I am here to impart what I think are the benefits of NNWM.

Benefit the first: You learn that you can write a book.
My first year doing NNWM, I was sitting down to write with a bright shiny idea and a very rough outline. Prior to that November in 2010, I had written drabbles and snippets of scenes and the occasional snatch of conversation. I had written a few short stories for creative writing classes, but I had never sat down and plowed my way through an entire coherent long-format work. So even though 50K is about the size of a novella or a middle-grade novel, it was way more than I had ever written before that. But I did it.

I daresay that I rocked it, even.

Which is not to say that I wrote anything spectacular. In fact, I would say that the 50k I wrote during that month should never be seen by human eyes ever again. But that’s the beauty of NNWM. In order to write that much in such a short time, you have to shut off your internal editor. You have to stop telling yourself that you suck and that you can’t write anything until you don’t suck. You just have to go for it.

But let me tell you–finishing up that novel, writing those last words and submitting them to the NNWM word-count validator, that feels pretty great. It’s empowering. You just wrote a freaking book! How cool is that?

Way cool, is the proper answer.

And since my first NNWM, I’ve learned that I crank out words and stories. I’m no longer bound by intimidation. I’ve proven to myself that I can write a book–even if that book will stay safely buried on my hard drive forever– and that’s a pretty impressive thing.

Benefit the Second: It’s a crash course in time management.
Here’s a funny thing about me: the more busy I am, the more productive I usually am. NNWM forces you to micromanage your schedule. I usually end up sitting down and mapping out my daily schedule by the hour, carving out time little by little to write. And because I also have papers that are due and tests that need to be studied for, I have to make time to write and do my homework. The result is that I’m usually far more on top of my assignments than I am at any other time of the year.

I might be alone in this, but I kind of thrive with that kind of insane pressure.

Of course, that high level of stress does have it’s drawbacks. Case and point, I was so overloaded with school and work and life this past weekend that I didn’t write my two papers and I didn’t prepare for my colloquy with my professor, and instead I spent most of Saturday watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory and Veronica Mars. My body and my brain had crashed completely and I needed a weekend of vegging to recoup.

But the fact is, in order to succeed in NNWM (and you can succeed–don’t let anyone tell you differently), you need to manage your time. You need to be prepared to come home from class or work or whatever and sit down and write to meet your daily word count goal. If you set time aside for it–I usually give myself an hour and a half per day to get it done–then it’s more likely to get done. And if you set time aside for all the OTHER stuff you have going on, you can get that done too.

Benefit the Third: Creation is energizing.
Okay, so maybe that’s not completely true, but I like to think it’s mostly true. Creativity does have it’s toll. Your mind can burn out, which is why you need to have time to do whatever it is you do to recharge.

But I think by and large, creating things gets your mind working in different ways. Being creative is a habit. I don’t believe that it’s something dictated by muse or inspiration. If you make a point of creating something every day, your brain will start to get in the habit of it. It will expect to be have to be creative–and it will rise to the challenge.

Because here’s what I love about NNWM: as much as you’ve outlined, as much as you’ve planned for this month, you will hit a point where you will say, “Screw this. It’s not working. I’m going to make something crazy happen.” Now the crazy something you make happen might not be the best storytelling and it might not be the best plot development, but it will probably be one of the most creative and hare-brained thing you have ever thought of.

Putting yourself under the pressure of NNWM forces you to drop assumptions of what good writing and storytelling is. It’s not worth it to fuss around with the plot you wanted to write when you have word-count deadline and that plot isn’t working. You have to come with new ideas that propel the story forward. You have to be creative.

And I think that sort of creativity is powerful. It energizes. It moves you forward. Simply put, it’s pretty dang awesome.

Benefit the Fourth: The spirit of competition compels you.
So again, this might be something that applies to me and not you, but I have a HUGE competitive streak. I do best when I have someone to beat or when I have to prove myself to someone. When things get hard, I have a tendency to work harder to prove to myself that I won’t be beaten by the hard thing.

And NNWM is perfect for people like me. If you’re signed up on the website, you have bar graph that tracks your progress each day and you have this beautiful red diagonal line that shows you where you’re supposed to be. For me, that red line is a challenge. It taunts me. It tells me I can’t conquer it.

Which just makes me want to conquer it more.

Benefit the Fifth: No matter what, if you try, you win.
And I think this above all is my favorite benefit, and this is the one I share with people trying NNWM for the first time. If you’re not a consistent writer, if you’ve only been able to write a couple hundred words of any given story in the past, so long as you try–and try hard, no namby-pamby trying here–you’ve written more than you would have otherwise.

Because let’s face it, any substantial amount you write is better than nothing. Writing 5K words is better than writing 1K. Writing 10K is even better than that. And getting to 50k? I mean, dang, if you’re writing a YA novel, you’re more than half-way done!

The only thing that will stop you from writing a book is not writing. And every year, NNWM encourages you to put aside your excuses and your fears and to bury yourself in words and stories and just write. And if you don’t make it to 50k, that’s totally fine. Because in the end, you wrote something.

And that makes you awesome.

 

It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here

NANOWRIMO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ve known about NaNoWriMo since 2006. My best friend and at-the-time roommate told me about it. At the time, I was very unsure about the whole writing thing. I had half a dozen notebooks I’d filled with story ideas, poetry, fragments of scenes, even lines I thought sounded cool. But writing a novel? I was just nineteen! I didn’t know how to write. So, I didn’t write a single word that first year.

November 2007 rolled around. I swore I’d write.

I didn’t.

Etc.

What stopped me? November is a tricky month for students because it’s right before finals. At the same time, I had no conception of how much/how little work writing 50,000 words is.

Winter 2012 rolled around and I enrolled in Brandon Sanderson’s Writing Fiction class. I was scared. I almost dropped out. Thanks to the cajoling of the aforementioned best friend and The Plotless’s own Tricia, I stuck it out. And wrote 50,000 words over the course of the semester.

NaNoWriMo is upon us again, and I thought I would do it. I mean, I know I can write 50,000. I have a lot more confidence and a bit more skill than before. Plus, I’m not in school anymore.

But hey, I might as well admit it here. I’m not sure writing 50,000 words is what my fledgling writing career needs right now. So, I’ve had to step back and think how to make NaNoWriMo work for me.

So, here are my goals. I’m committing them to you. (Hold me accountable!)

(1) Write 25,000 words of a new manuscript and

(2) Revise 25,000 words of an old one.

For those of you tackling this year’s WriMo, here are some tips that helped me get my first 50,000 out (sometimes, when I talk about that particular accomplishment, it sounds like I had a child. I understand writing 50,000 words of a rough draft is not equal to having a child. My apologies).

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. No one is going to read what you write unless you want them to.
  • Don’t be afraid to write something bad.
  • Turn off your inner editor.
  • Anticipate and plan for days where you won’t get your writing done.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Visualize success: and please, you’re a writer. Make your daydreams awesome.
  • Turn off your inner editor.
  • Stop believing in writer’s block. Your new reality is “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard.”
  • If you’re not having fun while writing, make it fun. Skip to scenes you’re looking forward to, write out of order, throw in an extra kissing scene, make a character say something embarrassing. You get the idea.
  • Turn off your inner editor (so important, I said it three times!).

 

What are your goals? What are your tips? Give me some good ones, since I’ve never revised a whole novel before!