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WORDS FOR WRITERS – The Value of National Novel Writing Month

WORDS FOR WRITERS – The Value of National Novel Writing Month

 

#NationalAuthorsDay falls on the start of National Novel Writing Month. This is my 16th NaNoWriMo and I want to talk a bit about what this ‘competition’ has meant to me.

I have ‘won’ a total of 12 times – that is, I have hit the 50k word mark 12 of those 16 years.  The years I did not, I failed for a few different reasons. In 2011 I ended up in the hospital just hours after the kickoff party due to Sudden Organ Death (weee). Luckily, I still managed to scrape a short story out of the idea, which was published in an anthology. That story actually helped me win a grant last month to write the full version next year (so I guess I know what I’m doing for my 17th NaNoWriMo already!)

The rest of the failure years, I had signed up and plopped down a few thousand words. But things like a thesis or deadlines for other books due to publishers got in the way (ironically, all of them past NaNo projects themselves). I did sign up with the intention of at least trying to win those years, but I just couldn’t make it happen.

And I’m going to be really honest – how I do NaNo now is not at all how I did it at the start.  In the beginning, I followed “the rules” pretty stridently: new project on November 1st, started nothing before that date, outlined or pantsed (tried both). And that was fine. It worked. I wrote two novellas and the lion’s share of two or three books like that.

But the more I NaNo now, the more I find myself Rebelling. One year I wrote some shorts that I had promised folks and never finished. A few times, I wrote scripts (one now signed with a prodco). One year I wrote pitch documents and starting chapters for a few different projects, as this is what was due. Some years I’ve finished novels I’d already started (pausing when I hit about 20-40k in August/September to finish the last 50k in November). This year I am revising an existing novel, rewriting huge swaths of it, and in some case just out and out deleting and utterly redoing full chapters. This will likely be at least 50k New Words anyway, so I’m comfortable with Rebelling in this way.

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s not cheating.

Because while the aim of NaNoWriMo is to write 50k on a brand new novel, the real true value of NaNo is not in walking away with a stack of papers. It is in learning about what you need to write.

 

Committing to 1667 words per day means that you need to carve out time, space, and mental energy to devote to the story you want to tell. Over time you develop habits, and figure out how to correct or accommodate them. You learn what kind of planning you need to do in advance (if any), what sort of environment you need to write (I can’t attend write-ins because I find them too loud and busy), what time of day you write best (I like quiet, at night), what sort of writing you prefer to do (I jump all over the manuscript instead of writing the story completely in order – thank god for Scrivener).

But these things that I know about myself as a writer, these things that I do and I need? I would never have discovered them if I hadn’t done NaNoWriMo. If I hadn’t tried it at least once. In fact, if I hadn’t tried a few times. Practice makes perfect, they say, but practice also reveals process. Like granite revealed as softer soapstone is worn away by the elements, the core things that you need as a writer – writing environment and time, kinds of pressures, outlines or pantsing, types of edits and beta reads – will remain.

NaNoWriMo can also introduce you to other writers, who can mentor you, or become your beta readers, or teach you new methods, or processes, or just plain help you (just as you’d help them in return) along your storytelling journey. Publication may not be your ultimate goal, but having friends who understand and support you as you create is still valuable. Community and support networks are so important as a creator.

Why bother at all if you’re just Rebel Writing every November, you may ask? Well, part of it is just straight up nostalgia, I’ll admit that. But part of it is that I do actually like the deadline. I say it every year: 50k words does not a novel make. But it’s a lot more words on the page than 0 words. There’s value to at least having that much, even if it isn’t a full complete novel. (Novellas, on the other hand, are 50k so that might be a complete story when you’re done it!) In that same vein, you can’t edit what doesn’t exist, so it forces you to at least get the darn thing on the page even if it sucks. That’s what editing is for.

Deadlines do genuinely help me as a writer. They give me motivation and a target to aim for. And who doesn’t like putting a gold star sticker on a chart, or a checkmark in a ticky box? There’s a sense of accomplishment that I treasure in watching the stats bar go up. That works for me.

But deadlines like this are horrifying for other writers, and I accept that.

The big truth about NaNoWriMo is that it’s not for everyone; but trying and failing at NaNo and learning that this form of writing is not for you is just as valuable as succeeding at NaNo. The stress, the deadlines, the community, the way it’s all set up – it doesn’t work for everyone and that’s okay. Now you know that about yourself, and you didn’t know that before. So in a way, you still won.

While getting those words on the page it important, the real thing you win at the end of National Novel Writing Month is not a novel, but a better understanding of yourself as a storyteller.

 

For more discussion on the value of NaNo, visit Chuck Wendig’s twitter threadAnd come be my buddy on NaNoWriMo’s website.

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Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Read other Words for Writers blog posts here, including past posts about NaNoWriMo.

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JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – The Value of National Novel Writing Month
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ANNOUNCEMENT – Toronto Arts Council Grant

ANNOUNCEMENT – Toronto Arts Council Grant

I’m very pleased and humbled to announce that I’ve been chosen as a recipient of one of the 2018 Writing Grants offered by Toronto Arts Council.

I can’t wait to dig into this the world of this book with the help of the grant. Thanks again so much for the support, Toronto!

JM FreyANNOUNCEMENT – Toronto Arts Council Grant
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RELEASE DAY – The Skylark’s Song

RELEASE DAY – The Skylark’s Song

Strap on your goggles and buckle up your jetpack, THE SKYLARK’S SONG is finally here!

A Saskwyan flight mechanic with uncanny luck, seventeen-year-old Robin Arianhod grew up in the shadow of a decade-long war. But the skies are stalked by the Coyote—a ruthless Klonn pilot who picks off crippled airships and retreating soldiers. And as the only person to have survived an aerial dance with Saskwya’s greatest scourge, Robin has earned his attention.

As a Pilot, Robin is good. But the Coyote is better. When he shoots her down and takes her prisoner, Robin finds herself locked into a new kind of dance. The possibility of genuine affection from a man who should be her enemy has left her with a choice: accept the Coyote’s offer of freedom and romance in exchange for repairing a strange rocket pack that could spell Saskwya’s defeat, but become a traitor to her county. Or betray her own heart and escape. If she takes the rocket pack and flees, she could end the war from the inside.

All she has to do is fly.

Filled with intrigue, forbidden romance, and a touch of steampunk, The Skylark’s Song soars in this new duology from the award-winning author of The Accidental Turn Series.

Pick up your copy of The Skylark’s Song in eBook and Paperback today!

 

Happy author is happy! Photo by Adrienne Kress.

 

The Skylark’s journey from concept to published page has been a harrowing one. The third full novel I ever completed, and the first one I ever wrote specifically with the intention of showing to my agent for publication, this novel has left me crying on a street corner in New York City, laughing and dancing in a white wig at a steampunk festival, filled with me with hope for my career, and filled me with despair. There are about seventy labeled drafts of this book on my hard drive. In the time that I’ve been working on this novel, steampunk has seen a resurgence, and an ebbing away again. The novel inspired a beautiful song of the same name by french band Victor Sierra, which ended up coming out years before the novel. So, needless to say, this piece of work has been a real . . . piece of work.

Maybe I should have given up.

Maybe I should have trunked it and moved on to the next thing. (I half-did, many times). But then we wouldn’t be here, would we, in a time when discussions around religious freedom are so important in the real world, and the themes and aims of this novel have finally crystalized for me.

This novel was conceived at the first—and though we didn’t know it then, only—Canadian National Steampunk Exhibition, which was, to date, one of the most fun cons I’ve ever been to. Two wonderful things came out of that weekend for me. (Well, three, if you count Professor Elemental taking a nap on my shoulder in the Green Room, which was pretty cool, in and of itself).

First, I was put on a panel with Dr. Mike “The Steampunk Scholar” Perschon, where we sassed and snipped and laughed together as if we’d known each other for years, when we’d actually known each other mere moments. Mike’s friendship has lasted beyond that weekend, and I treasure it daily.

Secondly, I accepted a drunken dare.

The thing you have to understand about a bunch of theatre majors getting together to put on costumes and drink for a weekend is that, eventually, somebody’s gonna start making up stories. Or dare someone else to do it. And somebody is gonna be stupid enough to accept.

Steampunk costumes come in stereotypes, and what we had sitting in the circle that night was this: a biomechanical assassin, a devious airship piratess, an aviator in a white wig (me), and a wily spy-mistress-cum-madam and her secretly clever mountain of a bodyguard-slash-lover.

The first incarnation of The Skylark’s Song was born that night, as I pointed to each character in turn and declared how our backstories were connected, conjuring the Saskwyan-Klonnish war out of wine fumes.

Through edits and revisions, the biomechanical assassin eventually became an enemy aeroship ace. The piratess became a devious friend of the cause. And everyone swapped skin tones because, even if all of us were (mostly) white, there was no inherent reason why the protagonists of a book set in a pseudofantasy land had to be.

The Skylark’s Song was the first (and only) complete novel I presented to my first agent, and the one that taught me that there is such a thing as the right fit in this industry. It was the first novel I presented to my current agent, as well, but we put it to the side because by then, it had been so worked over that we had to take it back about twenty-five drafts and figure out where it had all gone wrong. In the meantime, I wrote The Untold Tale, which ended up ballooning (in a good way) into a series. And in that time, the Skylark circled in my brain, coasting on the updraft,  waiting her turn.

What followed after was five years of realigning, recasting, changing the motivations, the appearance, the beliefs, and the core traits of the characters. One character was removed entirely, only to return as the love interest when my first agent demanded that there be one—a love interest who has switched sides so many times that I don’t think even he remembers who he’s loyal to, and has switched names so often that I barely remember what it was to begin with.

But here it is.

Finally.

From drunken dare to the book you now hold, it’s been a heck of a journey.

And it’s only half done.

Art by Archia

JM FreyRELEASE DAY – The Skylark’s Song
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RELEASE DAY – The Accidental Collection

RELEASE DAY – The Accidental Collection

Something Magical happened today!

The forth and final book in The Accidental Turn series is now out in the world!

Happy book birthday to THE ACCIDENTAL COLLECTION

Forsyth Turn had no desire to be a hero, but that’s what he became. Bevel Dom has spent his whole life telling stories, never realizing that he was part of one of the most popular ones of all time. Kintyre Turn never thought he could be more than just a wandering hero with a sword, but he has reinvented himself as a compassionate Lord and a kind father. And Lucy Piper never believed that magic, adventure, or The Tales of Kintyre Turn ever really existed; but they do, and they have helped shape her life in ways she never expected.

Here now, for the first time in one collection, are all of additional stories set in the world of The Accidental Turn series – the shorts Home, Happiness, and Health, the novellas Ghosts and Arrivals, the prequel comic Ivy, and the exclusive new novella Magic, and short Pride.

As well, you’ll find all of the nursery rhymes and songs from the series, and the sheet music for Forsyth’s lullabye to Alis, For Calling Children In From Play, composed by the extremely talented Brigit O’Regan. And, er, performed by yours truly. Head here to check out the song on YouTube.

If you don’t have your copy of “The Untold Tale”, book one of the series, yet, you can also pop over to Voracious Readers Only, sign up for their newsletter and select “Fantasy” to get one.

Also, you can read my intro from and farewell to the collection right now over on my literary agency’s blog, Fuse News.

And of course, you can pick up your copy of The Accidental Collection in eBook today! (Paperback will be available at the end of the week!)


Art by Kelley Fesmire / Anotherwellkeptsecret

I’m sad to be saying goodbye to the world of Hain, and all of the lovely people I’ve had the pleasure of creating and getting to know in the last six years. What started as a vague idea and a monologue (see Pip’s Rant in chapter 11 of The Untold Tale), became a stand-alone novel. When Reuts Publications signed the book, it was with a request for a trilogy, and somehow opening the floodgates to the rest of this world and it’s characters created not just two more books, but a half dozen more stories.

And there are easily a dozen more that could be told in this world.

But (for now) I’m satisfied. This has been a wonderful adventure, completing my first series, and getting to dig my imagination into all sorts of different pies. But this also feels like a good stopping point.
I have enjoyed writing as Forsyth and Bevel immensely, had fun with Elgar though he was absolutely the most difficult voice to nail down, and getting to tell Pip’s tale has been an absolute privilege. I wrote my Master’s Thesis on Mary Sues and fan fiction, which I presented and made publicly available in 2009. Here we are nearly a full decade later, and I feel like the end of this series is that research come full circle.

As ever, thank you for being my Readers, for peering through the Veil of the Skies with me, and for trusting me to lead you through to the ending.

And hey, if you feel the need to write fanfic, cosplay, or create fan art or vids based on this series? Go for it. And let me know where I can find it when it’s done.

I think Forsyth would find it very appropriate.

JM FreyRELEASE DAY – The Accidental Collection
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