nanowrimo

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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A Summary of My 2015

I wrote two novels, a novella, a few shorts; two novels I wrote launched; five anthologies in which I had shorts or essays launched; I signed and announced two new book series (whaat??); got injuries that I am still recovering from (come on, me, being immobile is so 2006); had my heart absolutely crushed to sludge twice; moved back home with the rents (best. roomies. ever.); made my comic-writing debut; and made some amazing new Tumblr friends that I adore to pieces (one of whom just proposed to me last night. I’m moving to the Deep South, y’all. I hope she realizes that I’ve decided her joke was serious. :p ).

So in short: I’ve had lots of amazing things happen on the professional side, some really awful stuff happen on the romance side, so absolutely crappy stuff happen on the health side, and have had some amazing friends and family helping me through it all. Really am blessed in that category, and I won’t forget it.

Now onto the granular breakdown:

January

  • Announced that my two comics “Bloodsuckers” and “Toronto the Rude” had been accepted into Toronto Comics Vol 2. (I got a great pair of illustrators assigned to my stories, too!)
  • Midway through the month I took a slip on the ice outside of my house and (though I didn’t have a full diagnosis until November) herniated a disc, got micro-tears in the muscle of my back, wrenched my knee, tore the muscle at the top of my ankle, and tore the squishy stuff in the socket of my hip. Slept for the rest of the month with the really good drugs.

February

March

April

May

  • Unable to work full time due to my injuries, I moved home to live with my parents, and focus on getting better and meeting my contracted writing deadlines.

June

July

August

September

October

  • Attended EerieCon17
  • The War of the Worlds” happened, and I realized I was really, really not healthy enough to be treading the boards yet. It was interesting and extremely painful.
  • Began writing “Untitled Geek Dating Webseries Screenplay: Season 1”
  • Second round of edits for “The Untold Tale” begins

November

  • NaNoWriMo: wrote two short stories,one novella, and finished writing “Untitled Geek Dating Webseries Screenplay: Season 1”
  • Wrote and Launched “Ivy”, an Accidental Prequel
  • Finally got all the diagnosises for my slip and fall. Have now had enough MRIs and XRays to glow in the dark.
  • Finished line edits for “The Untold Tale”

December

 

Goals for 2016

  • Finish a short story for Peggy (so close to being done!)
  • Finish the second Accidental Novella (so VERY close to being done!)
  • Write two more Accidental Shorts
  • Write “Untitled Geek Dating Webseries Screenplay: Season 2” (And possibly 3, we’ll see.)
  • Write “The Silenced Tale”
  • Assemble all my Peggy Barnett short work into a short story collection, add a few new stories
  • Be faithful to my diet and loose some of the weight that makes my injuries worse
  • Walk every day, or ride my Recumbent Exercise Bike

Goals for 2017

  • Publish the Peggy Barnett short story collection
  • Write “The Skylark’s Search”
  • Write “The Skylark’s Sacrifice”
  • Finish some short stories set in the Skylark world
  • Be faithful to my diet and loose some of the weight that makes my injuries worse
  • Walk every day, or ride my Recumbent Exercise Bike
JM FreyA Summary of My 2015
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Words for Writers: The NaNoWriMo “Keep Yourself Accountable” Checklist

Sched

NANOWRIMO The Keep Yourself Accountable Schedule

Click the above link to download the PDF and then print it and post it beside your writing space! Ta Da!

Because there’s nothing more satisfying than checking little checkmark boxes, right?

(The schedule is based on the calculations found in THIS POST by Writerlynn)

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For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: The NaNoWriMo “Keep Yourself Accountable” Checklist
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Words for Writers: My Writing Sucks and I Hate Everything Or, Being A Writer While Human

When I sat down to write this NaNoWriMo pep talk, I was 10k behind and feeling sick.

Not the cold that’s going around, but a gnawing, mild sense of nausea that no amounts of ginger tea and/or red wine seem to be able to dissipate. For the last three evenings, after work, I had not sat down to my computer. I had, instead, finished reading three books that have been languishing in my TBR basket, repotted all my outdoor herbs and plants in their container gardens for the winter, had done no less than seven loads of laundry (most of it things like curtains and blankets that suddenly, inexplicably, seemed to need a wash), and filed all of my expense receipts. (Which, by the way, my friends will tell you that I never do before tax season).Yes. I was procrasti-cleaning.Why?Because I suddenly and inexplicably hated my novel.

Twenty thousand words and a good handful of chapters in, and I hated my novel. I thought it was trite. It was clichéd. It was boring. There was nothing compelling about it and I should just stop and save everyone in the world the pain of having to even know the book ever existed! I was a terrible writer! I sucked! I was a boring, trite, shallow human being and everything I made was boring, trite and shallow!

Aaaaaaauuuugh!

Right. So. You know those feels, right?

Sure you do. You might be battling them right this moment. I always battle them between 25-35k. I’ve had twelve years of NaNoWriMo and I still start procrasti-cleaning and despising my book between 25-35k. It’s a dark, horrible creature that sits on your shoulder and says “This is awful, you’re a hack, this is a waste of your time.”

1667 words per day is a slog, especially if you don’t type fast. Even more so if you fall behind and have to try to make it up. The greyness of routine, the lack of sleep, three weeks of being a shut in and missing your friends and family, those are all hard, and they compound the feelings of “I suck” ness.

But guess what? Monsters can be slain.

You don’t suck.

You don’t.

So first things first: flick that creature right off your shoulder. It’s a LIAR.

Nobody, but NOBODY sucks. Nobody is shallow. Nobody is worthless. And neither are any of the stories anybody wants to tell.

In the words of The Doctor:

Second things second: Sometimes the book’s perceived suckiness comes from being just plain weary. Give your creative well time to replenish itself. Read a comic, watch a TV show, go see a film. Go have a nice dinner with friends and family, reconnect with your social circle for a few hours. Take a night off from writing, if you need to. Go to bed early. Spend time with other human beings. Take a bubble bath. Drink a liter of water and eat something healthy. Take the dog for a really long ramble. Go to a museum. Go do something, anything that isn’t writing your book. Even for an hour. Then come back to your book energized.

Third things Third: And then have a good old think about your book. WHAT about it sucks? Is it that you don’t know where the plot is going? That you hate the MC? That you’ve suddenly realized that you’re telling it from the wrong POV? Is it that it just suddenly bores you? That you’ve realized that it’s a shallow ripoff of something else? Or is it something in your personal life that’s getting in the way? (I, for example, am currently dealing with the $#!%-storm that is my hate-blogger being finally unmasked.)

Once you’ve figured out where the problem is, don’t worry it like a popcorn kernel stuck behind your tooth. Work around it. And don’t stress. First off, finding problems with a story is normal. God, I am still not totally happy with my published books. That doesn’t invalidate everything you’ve already done.

Maybe what you did is just fine and you just needed a breather. Maybe you just needed a little vacation for an hour. Maybe you need to rejig the plot, or read your research notes. Or the conversations you had with friends and fellow writers about why you were excited to write this novel in the first place.

Maybe what you did is salvageable. Maybe you can Frankenstein it. Maybe you can just jump ahead and write the bits that you know you have worked out already. Maybe you could skip straight to the ending, write the climax to get you excited again and remind yourself why you loved this story.

Maybe you’ve realized you told the story from the wrong POV; that’s okay, start again from the right one. Maybe, just maybe, you need to walk away from this novel and just… begin fresh. That’s okay too. If it’s not working, it’s not working. Maybe, if you morgue it, you might get an idea that will help you resurrect it next year. Just own up to your word count, and keep going with a new idea.

NaNoWriMo is, yes, about writing a novel. But more than that, it is about learning who you are as a writer. NaNoWriMo is about how you like to write, and what you like to write.

And if you learn halfway through that you aren’t connecting with this book, then that’s fine. Write a different one. Write a better one. Or, take the breathing space you need to find out why you’re not connecting, and fix it.

But most importantly, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for having gotten as far as you have.

(And as for me, what was mobilizing my procrasti-cleaning? I found the plot too shallow and boring. So I had a friend over, made a roast, drank a bottle of wine, and explained. Together we found a way to weave some of my social passions into the narrative, and suddenly all these ideas were sparking off the page! The ending is the same, but it means something totally different now! My characters are essentially identical, but their deeper passions and motivations are more compelling, more driving. And the story is far more topical – I’ve been reading a lot of headlines and Tumblr blogs that have helped. I was telling the right story; but I was telling it the wrong way.)

Some of the best advice about the “I Hate My Work” phase of writing given was this:

*GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO BE A LITTLE BIT CRAP You can fix it later. No really, you can. If you need to, add some comments or notes into the MS, and just motor on through.

*NO ONE NEEDS TO SEE YOUR FIRST DRAFT Honestly. You can bury it forever in the back yard, or throw it into a bonfire, or put it in a drawer forever. Or you can put it away for a little white and come back to it in a few years with fresh eyes. Or you can put it away until the NaNo editing phase kicks in. The truth is, the only eyes that need see the draft is yours – you’re not obligated to share it until you think it’s been polished and is ready to share. WRITING MAKES STORIES, EDITING MAKES NOVELS This is so important. You can always go back in and add layers of meaning, or clarification scenes, or sub plots. You can always punch up dialogue or make sure the right senses are being evoked. This is all stuff that you can go back and consciously put in during the editing phase. Writing your first draft is like making the playdough. Once it’s made, then you can go back and use the medium to shape it into a novel.

*50k DOES NOT AN ACTUAL NOVEL MAKE Do you know how long the last novel I wrote for NaNo ended up being when I signed it over to the publisher? 78k. And the novel before that? 140k. The point of my telling you is this: your novel will live on after NaNo. You will still be working on it after December 1st. (If you’re like me, you could still be working on your novel from four NaNos to this very day.) So if right now it’s not right, it’s not perfect, it’s not what you want it to be, then that’s okay. It takes time to shape these sorts of things, and the time it takes is different for each person and each novel. You don’t have to get it totally right by 50k and you don’t have to get it totally complete by 50k either. Know that you have breathing room.

In summary/TL;DR –

You’re probably in the mid-NaNo doldrums. You’re probably battling the headspace that says everything you write sucks hard. I am too, so I get it.

The truth is, it doesn’t.

Take some time to reward yourself for how far you’ve come, and to rekindle the fire that pushed you to do NaNo on November 1st. Take some time to decipher if the feelings of suck are because the novel has genuine issues, and if it does, try to figure out how to solve them. If you can’t, write around them for now, and come back to them later.

Your novel doesn’t have to be perfect now. You have all the time in the world to write more, edit, and polish the book after NaNo is over.

Breathe. Sleep. Drink water. Eat healthy. Go for a walk. Be awesome. You’re already awesome. You’re a writer.

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For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: My Writing Sucks and I Hate Everything Or, Being A Writer While Human
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Words for Writers: NaNoWriMo Still Matters

As NaNoWriMo 2014 approaches – my twelveth go at it – I am rushing to finish applying edits that I made in a red pen to a paper copy of my 2012 NaNo manuscript to the digital version and get it off to my proofreader. I am a little behind on getting ready for NaNo this year. Okay, a lot behind.

As in, I haven’t even really decided what I’m doing.

A few conversations with friends have thrown some ideas that I had for a novel into the fan, where it’s been chopped up and I’ll need to reassemble what’s come out the other side. A few other conversations has revealed some flaws with the ending of said 2012 NaNo MS, and has me considering the possibility of writing a sequel novella to go with the book.

And a look at my ever-increasing To Do list and Anthology Invitations has me thinking that maybe I should scrap the idea of a new novel all together and use the peer pressure of the NaNo wordcount to play catch-up.

Basically, I’m stressed.

What began for me as a fun way to push myself to write a long fanfic, and then to write original stories is now sort of in the way. The meetups are all scheduled horribly for me, I have become a terrible introvert when I’m writing and prefer silence and darkness to help me focus so the write-ins are counterproductive, and the thought of slogging through 50k of new stuff that my agent hasn’t seen or approved yet and might veto at the end of it is horrifying.

I am also contemplating… cheating. I’ll be AFK for three days at the start, and I keep thinking that if I just write that 4k NOW, then I’ll be on track once I get back. But that is totally against the spirit of the thing.

In short, I think I’ve outgrown NaNoWriMo.

GASP.

But—! But—! I don’t want to! I love the community, I love the challenge, I love the rush of surpassing your word count for the day. I’ve already bought my notebook for this year, and gave my donation. I’ve already begun to post in the forums, and I’ve already put a novel up on my profile.

I love the literacy and arts therapy that the Office of Letters and Light promote, I love the Young Writer’s Program, and Camp NaNo. I love how important this has become for people, for their hearts, and their heads, and their lives. I love 30 Covers in 30 Days. I love that this matters to people. I love that, yes, there are published authors out there whose NaNo MSes are now purchasable at your local bookstore (including mine), but more than that, I love that there are millions of stories out there in the world, now, that there weren’t before.

NaNoWriMo matters.

But does it still work for me?

This is a question I assume many NaNoers ask themselves every year.

Not only are there questions of how well writing 1700 words daily works for an individual’s personal writing style, but whether November is a good time of year this time around, and if they even have a project ready to start fresh.

I want to be honest, here. I walked away from this blog post for about three hours. Yup, writing the above bolded section made me upset. Sad, that perhaps it was true that my time with NaNo was over. Angry, because aren’t I supposed to be a professional writer, dammit? Shouldn’t I find a way to MAKE it work? Upset because I feel so overwhelmed right now, so many ideas and not enough time to do them in. Resentful because I can’t seem to write that one project that will enable me to quit my dayjob and be a full time storyteller. Jealous of my fellow pro NaNoers who managed to NaNo up a New York Times Bestseller. Guilt because I talk so highly of the NaNo community and I don’t go out to near as much as I could, don’t participate on a level that I wish I could make myself do, that I haven’t had the stones to stand up and be a Mod or a ML, that I hide so often behind the excuse of “No, I have to write, I have things do to People. Important Things for Important People.”

It left me with a lot of roiling emotion.

I felt just crummy in general, because maybe it really was time to throw in the towel and declare my days of NaNoing over. I thought for a long time about what I love about NaNo, why I started, what it means to me and realized this:

I don’t want to go.

So maybe I’m a poor community person, and maybe sometimes I have to cheat a little to make sure that I get my wordcounts in, and maybe I don’t always start on a fresh project like you’re supposed to.

But you know what I always do?

I write.

It doesn’t matter what, and it doesn’t matter when, and it doesn’t matter what the project is.

In November, I write. And that? That I don’t want to give up. That I never want to give up.

So I’m a bit of a cheat, and a bit selfish with my time, and a bit of a sneak, but I am also a writer.

NaNoWriMo – for twelve years – has given me that.

And that is why I will come back. Every year. Always.

And if that’s what NaNoWriMo means to you, if that’s what makes your heart beat fast and your passion sizzle, then do it. Do it however you have to – be a bit selfish, be a bit of a cheat, be a bit of a sneak – but do it.

Write.

That’s all NaNo is asking of you. Allow you to ask it of yourself, too.

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For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: NaNoWriMo Still Matters
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