NaNoSanity Projects

There’s been a lot of back and forth this year among people about whether NaNoWriMo is a legitimate way to write a novel, or even spend your November.  People in the Pro camp say that it’s great for getting over the fear of the black page, forcing oneself to start, great for community and fanbase building, and that in the end, useable or not, 50 000 words is nothing to sneeze at.  They claim that NaNo, while not entirely useful for a professional writer who probably already does close to 30 000 words per month anyway, is fabulous for helping those writers find support and groups.

I personally sort of miss the feedback from the writer-circle/ support group that I had in Japan, and from writing instructors. Now I feel as if I’m writing into a void and my words are vanishing into the ether and nobody really cares if I finish that WIP or not (except Steph, a school teacher and huge steampunk fan who is reading my book chapter by chapter as I finish and offering feedback. Hi Steph!)

 Until I have an agent and/or editor looking for the MS, it sometimes feels as if nobody cares whether I keep writing or not. Of course, I have already mentioned in earlier posts that I would write regardless, I will also admit to liking my share of fame/feedback/acknowledgement. Don’t we all? Nobody cares if I finished chapter 7 and TEH COOLEST APLHA CLIMAX EVAR today, because nobody but my editor is paying attention to the status of the novel before it’s done. In November I get to be part of a community, and so what if I would have been doing that much writing that month anyway? For this one month, I feel like a PART of something, and it’s a great feeling.  For once, there are people out there who care that I am writing.

 Having people out there, even if they’re total strangers, who are not only waving their pompoms and cheering you along, but are in friendly competition to beat your ass to the ground with their own wordcount climb, is an invigorating experience. Yes, I might have written those 50 000 words anyway, but its way more fun when you can raise your arms and shout “neeener neeener!” when you win.  And yeah, so what if some of those 50 000 words aren’t worth anything and end up on the cutting room floor come edit time? That’s what editing is for.

In the Con camp, people say NaNo is hazardous because it focuses solely on quantity instead of quality, and that there are hundreds of agents and publishers and editors who then have to suffer through people submitting their NaNos on December 1st.  They fear that the push for 50 000 destroys the need for craft and editing in work, and teaches people that length is more important than narrative.  While I agree on the submissions point – for the love of god, people, do not submit your NaNo to an editor unless it’s been through rigorous editing! And remember that 50 000 does not a novel make in the current market! – I would reject the idea that quantity is inversely proportional to quality.

Let me say that again: quantity is not inversely proportional to quality.

As I said above, the point of NaNo is to just get the first, brain-vomit draft down on paper. It doesn’t have to be a Giller Winner on December 1st, it just has to exist.  And if of your 50 000 you need to cut 30 000 come January when you’re ready to pick it up again, well then, that’s what editing is.  That’s what revisions are for. The useful thing about participating in NaNoWarmUp is that you have 30 000 to start with,  before you begin your 50 000, so that way you have two months to get a really good handle on your plot and characters before you sit down to power-write through November.  That means significantly less of your 50 000 will be scrap-worthy on January 1st, and you do end up with a full novel on December 1st.

NaNoWriMo is a stressful contest that can be agonizing and elating all at once. I’ve made friends through NaNo that I wouldn’t have otherwise met (Hi Liz! Hi Helen!), found a fanbase through the site (Hello people who have found me through NaNo!), and had the discipline to finish five useable novels (soon to be six) and two unusable ones through the contest.  I’ve found my voice, found my discipline, found what distracts me, and best of all, found support from my family each November.

At first, my parents were like, “Why would you do that to yourself?”  But I explained what it meant to me and they saw the joy on my face when I win.  Last year, when it was November 30th and I had 5 000 words to go at 8pm, she scolded me, took over doing the dishes, and told me to sit down and write or I would regret it in twelve hours. Bless.  My brothers come to visit but are well aware that I am doing “that November writing thing”, so there will be some point in the visit where I have to tell them to go away while I write. My brother’s friend even knows that I take this seriously.

Something else I do in November, to help with the stress of NaNoWriMo, is begin a NaNoSanity project.

I know, I know, as if 50 000 words, a full time job, a secondary full time geek job, appearances, and working on marketing for “Triptych” weren’t enough…

A NaNoSanity project is a non-writing creative work that allows you to work on it in small stages, something you can walk away from and come back to with no problems. Generally my NaNoSanity projects have been to create a D&D character, do a painting, create a series of sketches, and lately, sew.  It’s something you can pick up and put back down easily, something quiet and unobtrusive if you’re doing it at a write-in, and most importantly, it’s something that keeps your hands busy but your mind free.

Basically, the point of a NaNoSanity project is to have something else besides your book to turn to when your book is being a pain in the arse.  It’s for when you’ve written yourself into a corner, or when you just can’t focus, or when you need to calm down before you can approach the keyboard/notepad.  It’s for when you need to think, reflect, percolate and muse, for when you need to try to figure your way out of a corner or a tangle. It’s for when sitting down on your chair/sofa/bed/café table/at your desk is starting to cause cramps and numbless and you need to get up and do something.

It’s also nice, because come December 1st, not only do you have a novel, but you also have a new knitted scarf, a dress you’ve sewn yourself, a costume for the Festivus party, a new painting for your wall, or a gift to give someone over the holidays.

Generally, I try to make something that has to do with my book, so that my brain stays within the world, but approaches a different aspect of it. Last year I tried to paint the cover of my novel “Triptych” – (my editor will note that she HAS NOT SEEN a picture of this elusive painting. There is a reason. I’m not a good painter.)

This year, I am sewing the uniform jacket of my main character. I describe a particular garment in the book, that has a particular structure for a particular reason, and it captured my imagination. It is a status symbol and an indication of rank for my MC, and it is very important to both her and the villain. The thought that I might be able to recreate it in real life was an interesting challenge.

The act of sewing is actually quite repetitive and kind of boring, which gives me lots of time to think about where the plot is meant to go next and what I want my villain to say while I am ironing hems and supergluing chain to second hand brooches.  The act of making the costume also connects me in a way to my MC that I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience if I was just writing. I get to look at the costume on the dummy before I go to sleep and think, “That’s Robin’s.  She wears that. This is what it means to her.”  And I think that comes through in the prose, I think that improves it.

Will I ever wear the costume? I am making it to my size because that’s what size my sewing dummy is.  And, I do belong to the Toronto Steampunk Society, so there is always opportunity, though I probably would be too self conscious to say “Oh, this is from my book.” And if the book is ever picked up, then I have something to lend the actress in the book trailer. I might put it on my dummy at book signings or behind con tables, for decoration. Otherwise, it will probably just end up on the dummy for decoration in my livingroom.

But the experience of creating it will last, and it will mean something special to me, and will have helped me work through my novelling issues.

Do you have a NaNoSanity Project?  Do you have yearly NaNo habits?

Follow the status of my NaNoSanity Project on Twitter at @scifrey hashtag #nanosanity

(Oh, one more thing I do – I always book a massage for December 1st!)

JM FreyNaNoSanity Projects