Clever with the Word Count.

As previously mentioned in my last blog post, I had every intention of participating in the 2014 run of National Novel Writing Month, or as the I’ve been informed the kids are calling it these days, The NaNos.

And, uh, so I am participating in the 2014 run of National Novel Writing Month. Huh, that worked out nicely didn’t it? Look at me and my holding to a promised action! I’m like some kind of functioning human being! PRAISE ME.

Anyways. We’re at the mid-point of National Novel Writing Month and so far, so good-ish. I’m about four thousand words behind at the moment due to missing a few days because that whole Life thing insists on continuing even when I ask it nicely to pause for a month. But only a few thousand words isn’t that bad in my NaNoWriMo history! It’s practically on schedule except for the part it isn’t! This upcoming week is going to be my mad push to reach 40k before Thanksgiving so I can, for once, not have to worry about frantically pushing out twenty-three thousand or so words in the last four days of November.

So far this has been my most successful NaNoWriMo. Honest to gravy this is the first time I have actually and factually pinned down an ending to a story before working on anything else and woah dang howdy, I will never attempt another story without doing so. The fact that I have an end point to work towards, or at the very least an end conflict, makes it a lot easier to piece together the fiddly middle bits that have to connect the beginning with the end. I’ve got myself a main character, she’s got herself a little sister, there are class mates and magical abilities and categorical divisions that eventual fans will be able to identify with and buy merchandise based on them. It’s going to be brilliant, I tells ya, and I’m enjoying the process so far.

But let’s jump back a month, shall we? Travel back to October with me when everything was beautiful and I could fart around making sure a 500 word piece of flash fiction was just so for days on end. O, the halcyon days!

Back in October I bought a Humble Book Bundle [see note at the end of this post for a correction], which if you’re not aware of this being a thing that exists, OH MY GOODNESS LET ME TELL YOU A THING. The Humble E-Book Bundle offers you, go figure, a bundle of themed books for a price that you name. There is a base price (which is going to be stupidly cheap for the amount of books you get) that will net you a handful of e-books in various, DRM free, format or as the case is right now, a bunch of audio books. However, if you pay above the median price you unlock another handful of books that often include a big name author to help sweeten the pot. When you pay you can choose how much of your money goes towards the authors, towards the selected charity that has been connected to the bundle, and how much goes as a “tip” back to the Humble Bundle makers themselves. If you’re feeling flush with cash and make a big donation you even get your name on a leader board! Whee, recognition!

The first bundle I bought was a collection of what I think of as “Writer’s Self Help Books” and which for the love of all things adorable I cannot find right now on the Internet @#$%!!! I’ve perused these books and their promises to teach me to write a novel in 30 days/Three Weekends/Fifteen minutes but I’ve never taken them seriously.

Until now.

*cue dramatic music*

From now until I’ve read them all, I will be trying out each of these writing aid books and seeing what shakes out from following their direction. Some are more literal step-by-step guides to produce a manuscript while others are more tips, tricks, and viewpoints from an already successful author. I’ll have a review up each month to let you know my experience with each book.

First up is going to be No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty. Technically this wasn’t part of the Humble Bundle, but hey, I wanted to be thematic for the whole National Novel Writing Month thing I’ve got going here.

(Yeesh, six hundred words to get to the review. It’s almost like I’m trying to pad some sort of word count or something…)

Chris Baty is the head-honcho of NaNoWriMo. He started the event among a close group of friends and developed it into an international event that invites all comers to bang out a fifty-thousand word novel just to prove that they can reach into themselves.  It gives people the excuse to dust off the story that they had always promised they would write “one day” but never thought they could really write, and lets them write it out in full. No Plot! No Problem? Gives readers the history and ideas behind what NaNoWriMo has become today as well as giving loads of guidance on how to accomplish a fifty-thousand word novel in a single month.

If it helps your personal journey, Baty is not totally beholden to the month of November. If that time frame doesn’t work for you then he would be delighted if you picked a more preferable month and held your own, personal NaNoWriMo.  The whole theme of the book is that all one needs to do for a successful NaNoWriMo experience is to simply sit down and write. Hit your daily word requirement with no excuses and to the exclusion of your normal daily life. Tell your inner editor to hush and get the story out.

No Plot? No Problem! Itself is a light-hearted collection of advice on how to NaNoWriMo including where to write, how to set a writing mood, how to prepare without burning yourself out, how to put aside any attempts at editing, and how to manage real life responsibilities whilst churning out 1,667 words a day. There are tips from former NaNoWriMo participants and a week by week guide to lead you through the month.

It’s a surprisingly funny book. I wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud (or as the I’ve been informed the kids are calling it these days, lol) at a book about NaNoWriMo, but Baty has a sharp wit when relating his own writing experiences.

“Things went awry almost immediately. With nothing to do all day but write, I found myself doing everything but writing. Essential errands were run. Laundry was done. The bathroom was cleaned. Less essential errands were run. The bathroom was re-cleaned. A complex rooftop Habitrail system designed to make tree-to-tree transitioning easier for the neighborhood squirrels was built and nearly installed before the county’s animal services intervened. And so on.

The mounting guild I felt each evening over accomplishing so little writing during the day would then force me to cancel the plans I had made with friends that night. So I could stay in and get some writing done.

Night, of course, simply involved more work on the Habitrail.”

Per my own personal preferences, the advice offered in No Plot? No Problem! Neatly skirts the line between Solid, Practical Writing Advice and Tripping the Muse Fantastic nonsense. I have absolutely no patience with the idea of my character running away with the plot I have designed for them because oh goodness, don’t those characters have a mind of their own~! No. They don’t. They are mine, wholly and totally, and will serve the purposes I set out for them. Perhaps I am not a very whimsical person? Maybe I need to buy a prism or something. That being said, it’s very easy to heed the advice you want and skip over the advice that doesn’t apply to you. My eyes flitted over the small section about how to choose a Writing Totem but I lapped up every bit of the time management tips offered.

The week by week advice is my favorite portion of the book. It’s 75% carrot and 25% well-applied stick. Baty will cajole, encourage, and praise NaNoWriMo participants for making it this far and do his best to convince readers that if they just keep putting one foot ahead of another, they’ll make it through the month with their fifty thousand word count complete. He gives little booster exercises and both accepts writer’s frustrations while offering paths to move past them. This section is very similar to the weekly encouragement emails that NaNoWriMo participants receive and I’ve always found them to be a nice little life line. After your NaNoWriMo summit has been reached there is even a little bit of guidance in regard to editing that beast of a manuscript.

 Overall, I recommend No Plot? No Problem! As a read. If you’re a serial NaNoWriMo participant than buy it, and if you’re a writer just seeking overall advice then I super-duper-recommend you get it from the library at the very least.

OH HEY WAIT I FOUND THE BOOK BUNDLE! Okay, turns out it is a Story Bundle, which is different from a Humble Bundle even though they both work the exact same way with their you-name-it price levels and donations to charity. The National Novel Writing Month bundle is still available at the time of writing this entry (click here) if you wish to partake. I would keep an eye on the Story Bundles for sure because they are a super cheap way to beef up your e-book collection. Now that I’ve scanned over both it looks like Humble Bundles are more games and comic selections.

Buy both? Both. Both is good.
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Furious Self Reflection

Let’s take a look back at what I said on November 12th, during the second week of this glorious National Novel Writing Month:

So far the outline is helping. Writing down one-sentence summaries of characters seems dippy, but it forces me to describe minor characters further than I normally would. If I spend a month in a writing experiment that leads me to a solid first draft then that’s good enough for me. I’ll be hung if you don’t find me scrabbling to churn out 20k words on the 29th-30th

Hey, at the very least I know myself. Today marks day… what, four or possible five of me cranking out over 5k words a day. Right now I am totally exhausted and yes, totally and admittedly using this blog entry as a way to both pad my word count and get a little bit of a warm-up before I once more plow back into the story I am working on.

Not the lack of apostrophes, it is a dead giveaway of a NaNoWriMo’er in desperate straights. But hey, look at my little NaNo widget! Look at that little bar getting filled up!

The big question I find myself asking is this:  are my efforts worth it? There are a lot of ways someone can work if they dedicate an entire month to writing. Maybe you could write a single short story and have it edited and ready for submission in thirty days! If you are some one who finds it hard to come up with new premises you can think up a plot hook each day (actually that would be pretty cool because then you would be set with story ideas for a good while). If you are not a writer, you could devote all your spare time to reading new books and adding to your Goodreads lists. Is NaNoWriMo the best use of time?

For me, for 2013, the answer is yes. I went into this year’s crazy merry-go-round of word count chaos with a plan to come out of the other side with an outline and if possible, a first draft of a story. Right now I have a bloated, but complete first act of a story and more importantly a ton-load of world building tucked away. I know the town that my main character starts in and how it functions. I came up with reasons for there to be magic, and why it the main character would have access to it in ways that supporting characters do not. I think I turned most of the background characters from stupid tropes into functioning people that have their own lives other that edifying or harassing the main character. So far I have resisted the urge to include an adorable animal companion.

Although I totally could throw in an adorable animal companion. The main character would absolutely care for an orphaned raccoon or something and it would be awesome. It would wear a collar and everything AND I would even give it a chance at not dying in a cheap ploy to provoke the reader’s emotions.

The benefit of NaNoWriMo for me is the constant press to keep the words appearing on screen. This helps to break my habit of leaning back and spending hours searching Wikipedia or sites that may or may not be relevant to ideas I have for the story.  That constant stream of thought brings out connections and ideas that I would have spend a week mulling over in the course of a single night of frantic writing.

To any one else participating in NaNoWriMo that reads this, I wish you Godspeed and a joyous thrill when you reach 50k. May you feel justified in your purchase of the “winners” t-shirt and may you one day find a purpose for your story, whether it be in a published novel or the simple pleasure of know you had a story and now it is down on paper (digital or otherwise).

Good luck, and keep writing!

Third Week of NaNoWriMo: The Excusening

Week three! There has been… little improvement to be honest.  The word count has slowed to a slogging crawl. I’m happy that my local NaNoWriMo group will be meeting for a write-up tonight, as that will help push me over the 10k mark, but 50k is looking to be unobtainable this year.

But I have excuses! Good ones, even! I realize that excuses are the domain of those who hope to weasel out of work but hey, I gots ’em and you’re going to read ’em.

EXCUSE #1: I am helping to coordinate an illustrator signing at my local friendly comic book store. While it is a smallish event, it takes a lot of effort and time to organize and arrange a very small store into an acceptable event venue. This event includes not only the illustrator signing but children’s crafts, people in mascot costumes, baking tons of cookies for treats, and a Toys for Tots donations drive.

Did I mention this store is about the size of a one bedroom apartment? We’ve had signings before that turned out really well, and I want to make sure this is another success.

EXCUSE #2: Because I am using this NaNoWriMo to produce a first draft, I am breaking one of the main rules of NaNoWriMo in the fact that I’m doing research. There is a lot of me staring at the screen going, “Hm…why would a town be built this way? What would it take to run it? What Wikipedia articles should I bookmark?” and that does not lead to a rip-roaring pace for my word count. That being said, what I’ve done has been super useful thus far so hey, that is a good thing.

 

EXCUSE #3: I’ve become an adult with other stuff to do in my life? That isn’t really an excuse, it is, because lots of people with full time jobs and commutes and kids can crank out 50k.  But… I don’t like essentially abandoning my husband for month. It stressed me out last year to spend my time doing other things while the 1,667 daily words hung over my head.

I will push myself to write more, and by the end of the month I hope to have a fully detailed outline. A full first draft would be nice, but if I can get the world and magic system settled then I’ll consider it a good first push.

 

excuse #4 I’m cheating on this story by working on a short story as well. There’s a themed submission during January that I want to enter and I’ll need enough time to edit and whatnot, so that adds to my workload.

 

IN OTHER NEWS, I didn’t place in Writers of the Future again. At this point I just kind of shrug at the rejection e-mails from them. No biggie. I’ll keep trying, you’ll keep trying, we’ll all keep trying.

NaNoWriMo… BlogMoFoSho

It’s that time of year again!  Apples are in season (seriously, buy a bushel and bake something), the summer heat has finally broken, and the trees are starting to change colors.

It’s NaNoWriMo time, baby.

Coincidentally, November also happens to be the host to:

  • No Shave November
  • Look for Circles Day
  • Housewife Day
  • Have a Party with Your Bear Day
  • National Parfait Day

There are also some actual, sanctioned holidays tucked in the month but whatever.  For my purposes, in the realm of arbitrary celebrations, NaNoWriMo reigns above all the rest.  For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is an event wherein you aim to write 50,000 words within the month of November.  Each participant competes against them self in the end to make the end word count and earn the rank of Winner!  The prize is that you wrote 50,000 words in a month.  That’s it in a nutshell, really.

If this is the kind of thing that strikes your fancy, then it is up to you how far you’d like to get involved.  NaNoWriMo can be done in full isolation with just you, your word count, and your sense of gratitude when you reach then end.  You can sign up for free at the NaNoWriMo.org site for an account that will track your word count for others to see, and you can connect with other participants in your local area. There is swag to buy, you can receive weekly inspirational e-mails throughout the month and there are about a billion blog posts written about the topic of NaNoWriMo.

I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo several times without reaching 50,000 words.  The furthest I got was about 35k.  Most of the attempts petered out at about 10k, because Life Happens and I lose momentum.  This year?  I’m winning.  My strategy?

Brutal, uncompromising accountability.  And some actual planning.

First step:  make it publicly known that I’m doing NaNoWriMo.  I’m announcing it here on the blog and to my friends, with the encouragement for people to constantly ask me how I’m doing.  I even found a cool little widget that I put on the side of this blog so I will be forced to see my word count each time I update throughout the month of November.  At the very worst, I will be forced to feel intense shame 4 times next month.

Second step:  Get involved with the local NaNo scene.  I have joined up with the North AL NaNo people, and will be hosting two “write-ins” (events held for people to come and write in a friendly, less distracting environment) of my own.

Third step:  Direction.  Writers are encouraged to write anything for NaNoWriMo, so long as you are pushing a word count forward.  This year I have a specific intent:  to complete the first draft of a novel I have been faffing about with for too long.  I will be armed with an outline and a general idea of what I want to write.

Fourth step:  I have three different sealed boxes, each one filled with something that is relatively precious to me.  These boxes will be offered to different friends and will be held until the end of November, where one of two scenarios will occur:

  • I will complete 50,000 words and the boxes will be returned to me.
  • I will not complete 50,000 words and the boxes will be thrown away.

… That looks a little more psychotic when it’s actually written out then my original intentions.  I’m not packing up my cats or anything, but stuff I own that I either can’t easily replace, or would know that each time I looked at it that I had to buy it a second time.

I have been forced to admit that I do not hold to self-imposed deadlines.  I lack discipline when it comes to hitting word counts, sending out stories, all the things that I need to take seriously if I want to have writing as a viable career.  So now I’m throwing a new rule into the game to see if I can actually do this.  I would like to both win NaNoWriMo at least once in my life and prove to myself that if I can write 50k in November then it can surely be done in other months as well.