Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! I hope you get to eat good food, see friends and family, and get plenty of time to sleep.
It's been quite a lead-up to the holiday work-wise. Absolutely no one submitted an editing job to me during the week of the election, and then a week later everyone seemed to remember that they still had a job to do, so I got about a dozen editing requests from people who just had to get their manuscript finished before Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately, that rush put quite a jam on my NaNoWriMo plans, so to keep from keeling over from undue self-imposed stress, I decided to revise my goals to just writing a little bit every day. It kind of sucks, because I really think I could have hit those 50,000 words if I hadn't been slammed with so much editing in such a short period of time, but so it goes. Now I'll know for the future that people tend to get a little crazy about getting stuff finished before Thanksgiving, even if it's a fairly arbitrary deadline if you think about it.
But I will say that participating in NaNoWriMo this year has helped me get back into the habit of daily writing, and that's all I really wanted. So yay me! And frankly, the writing itself is so rushed, it doesn't come out that well, so I question the final product of NaNoWriMo and whether it's really worth it. Maybe it's more about the process, and so you shouldn't feel bad if you don't finish. That's what I'm telling myself anyway.
What do you think? Is NaNoWriMo a little silly?
A quick list (since I should be writing right now), but here are a few things that can help you achieve your NaNoWriMo goals:
Hope any of this is helpful. If I had to choose one piece of advice, it would be the sugar thing. Seriously, there's a reason you crave candy when you write. It's your brain saying "FEED ME!" I don't think it's a coincidence that on this list of 10 authors' favorite foods, 7 of them are sweet.
Where did this year go? How can it already be time for NaNoWriMo again?
As of a week ago, I wasn't going to participate. The story I wanted to write, and have been trying to write for the last three years, is just too complicated to bang out in one month. It needs time, thought, and a little massaging - and I'm fine with that.
BUT, I've mentioned recently about having some issues getting back into the habit of daily writing ever since I started my editing business (which is still going great). The one thing that NaNoWriMo is really good for is teaching you how to write every day, whether you "feel" like it or not. I want that habit back.
So I dusted off a story I began in August called The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House. I'd already written almost 20,000 words on it and then had to set it aside because work got crazy. It's another practice novel, with a simple concept that allows me to experiment and work at developing better writing mechanics, characters, plot, etc., so that when I am ready to write my more complicated science fiction novel, I'll actually be better prepared to do it.
This past summer I've also been messing around with posting stories on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform. I write under a couple different pen names. Yesterday, I decided to get my act together and after months of putting it off designed the book cover for part 1 of The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House, and finally published it there under the name "Karen V. Calhoun." It's not a perfect story by any means, but I don't think it's terrible either. I've listed it as an "Edwardian Romance," which is not precisely true, but you kind of have to choose a marketable genre whether or not it fits perfectly. It's more of a dramedy romp, if that makes any sense. Nothing too serious, and certainly not explicit. The romance is definitely secondary to the story, and honestly it's more of a "will they or won't they" thing, which I always find is a lot more fun.
Anyway, the whole point of publishing the first quarter or so of The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House was so I would feel even more motivated to finish the novel for NaNoWriMo. I'm not sure the book really needs another 50,000 words to finish, but I'll give it go regardless, and if I complete the novel "early," then I'll just round out NaNoWriMo with another WIP. So my goal is to finish my Edwardian novel AND write 50,000 words in one month, one way or another.
Then I'll do a little editing in December/January, finish publishing the rest of The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House on Amazon, and who knows, maybe I'll send it out to a few agents. Why not? What do I have to lose.
If you're interested in being writing buddies with me on NaNoWriMo's site, I'm listed as "Wordly Bird." You can find my profile here.
And if you're interested in checking out the first part of The Mistress and Master of Sparrow House, you can read it for free on Amazon with Kindle Unlimited. I'll also run some free giveaways over the next few weeks and will let you know when those take place. If you feel like reviewing, that'd be awesome, but don't worry about it.
Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Let me know in the comments. I would love to buddy up so we can motivate each other to finish!
Last November, I participated in NaNoWriMo. I was super motivated. I thought this could be the thing that finally pushed me to finish an idea I'd been kicking around in my head for several years. But then some personal stuff cropped up that caused me to abandon the novel after I'd only written about 15,000 words.
But if I'm being brutally honest with you, I put that book on hold not just because I was hurting (my husband and I very nearly divorced), but because I couldn't handle my own story's complexity. It needed so much world building and I'd never written a novel before, much less invented an entire universe within the framework of one. I've written before about how much I enjoy simple stories, but mine was anything but.
So I set my book aside and promised myself that I would come back to it again one day. I still liked my idea. I just didn't know how to write it.
In the meantime, I worked on my marriage. For the first time in what had been over two years (pretty much since we moved to North Carolina), we got on the same page again. The things we wanted and how we wanted to get there started to re-align. It was a relief to us both. With the worst of that behind us, some normalcy returned and I started to read and write again.
According to my records, I began writing a new book on January 2. This one was going to be different. I'd thought about it and I'd decided that my NaNoWriMo project had failed because it had been far too complex when I still hadn't learned basic story writing techniques, like how to build plot and move characters quickly from conflict to conflict without getting bogged down in excessive scene setting. How to build tension and give characters motivation that caused them to act in believable ways. If you can't write these basic components of a story, it doesn't matter how good an idea you might have.
So on January 2, I made a conscious decision. This next book would be my practice novel. I had no literary aspirations for it. In fact, I aspired to just the opposite. I wanted to write what amounted to a paperback book you'd buy at the grocery store. It would be a simple romance story, nothing more.
Why romance? I don't know. I was originally trying to write a science fantasy epic for NaNoWriMo and it was so hard for me. Romance seemed easier. Everyone likes love and sex; that made it simpler to develop characters. The genre helped define their motivation.
I set it in modern day D.C. because I know the city and its neighborhoods. I know exactly how the characters could move from location to location, the kind of people they could expect to meet, and what kinds of jobs they'd have. Not that I wanted to spend any time at all on the background, just that I knew enough concrete details about the city to set the story without getting lost in establishing that kind of information. The opposite of world building, basically.
I limited the number of characters to five main players. There were a few supporting characters here and there, but most of the action was tied up between these five people, with three of them really pushing the action.
And I had an idea, a little twist, that kept the whole thing from being too generic.
I did my usual writing routine; getting up early each morning to clock in ~1000 words a day. And I just kept writing. I never stopped or reread anything more than a few paragraphs back to help me get restarted each day. I tried to end each writing session on a hanging note, so I'd feel motivated the next morning to finish the scene. I never stopped writing unless I knew exactly what was going to happen next and made my notes accordingly. I left blanks to later fill with details I couldn't at that moment visualize. I just refused to let dumb shit bog me down. Forward and onward, that was my motto.
End result? I finished my novel yesterday. My first, honest to god novel, done. It's a practice novel to be sure. It's rough as hell and will need a lot of editing. There's at least one chapter that I think is going to need a decent rewrite. But I did it. 54,256 words. It took me three months instead of one, but I never thought NaNoWriMo was that realistic anyway (see NaNoWriMo - you are drunk).
I'm really proud of myself. For years, I thought I couldn't do it and I'm happy to have proved myself wrong. I can write long stories. If I've done it once, I could do it again.
The only people who know about my book include my husband, my therapist, and now you kids. My therapist asked if I would try and publish it. I told her, yeah, I'd probably stick it on Amazon Kindle with no other ambitions for it than that. She asked if I'd publish it under my name, and that question got a resounding NO. No way. Sorry. I was raised by literary snobs. I am a literary snob. Even if I love all kinds of genre stories, there's no way I'd ever publish a silly little romance novel under my own name.
Plus, I didn't write this for anyone but me. I don't need my friends' or family's approval. I just wanted proof that I could write a coherent novel-length story and I did. Now I'm going to edit it and see if I can get it into readable shape. And if it passes my BS test, then I'll publish it on Amazon for fun. We'll see.
Anyway. The practice novel. I'm a fan.
Have you written a practice novel?
I don't know about you, but I'm hanging in there. Still riding the wave, but it's fine. It's nothing compared to what families are going through in France right now, or what people are suffering in order to escape ISIS and related violence. It's just personal stuff and however it works out, I know it will be for the best.
Is anyone taking all of next week off for Thanksgiving? Prior to this relationship upheaval, I wasn't planning on using any vacation days and I wasn't going to visit family, but now things are different and I need to be with my parents. So I decided to take Tuesday and Wednesday off next week and drive up to D.C. to see them. Yay! 6-day weekend! I freaking need it.
If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you get to use the holiday doing whatever it is you want to do. The older I get, the more I understand that not everyone gets the same amount of comfort from family as I do, and that's totally fine. If hanging out with your parents stresses you out, can I recommend taking the long weekend for yourself and eating all the food that you actually want to eat instead of feeling suffocated by tradition? We did that last year and it was an incredible break from expectations, which was very relaxing. We basically stuffed ourselves on cheese, foie gras, and crackers while drinking copious amounts of cider and beer. Lots of fun. But this year, for obvious reasons, I'm feeling the turkey, the 20 aunts, uncles and cousins, and most of all the chance to just hang with my parents.
Meanwhile, in the remaining days of work, please enjoy these links from interesting reads I found on the internet this week. Peace-out and have a great pre-Thanksgiving weekend.
A short history of American writers and their feelings about Thanksgiving. Can't really argue with Mark Twain...(WSJ)
Do your characters act logically? Or do they do stupid things so your scene can turn out the way you want it to. (Janice Hardy)
Why Uber is not the future of the economy. (The Atlantic)
Dune art fans rejoice. (Omni)
If you're still in the thick of NaNoWriMo, don't forget to take a break! (Charlotte Rains Dixon)
More habits of famous writers. (ShortList)
Really interesting and sad article about suicide clusters among adolescents in Silicon Valley. I have never felt suicidal in my life, but I do come from a background that values achievement above almost anything else, which creates a lot of personal stress and anxiety. I'm still working to extricate myself from that way of thinking as I'm realizing it's my main source of unhappiness. If I ever have children, this way of thinking is what I want to avoid passing on to them. I want them to feel close and loved by me and for them to know that I value kindness and empathy above all other things. (The Atlantic)
Ugh, I confess, I just bought an adult coloring book - and I love it. Read more about the phenom here. (New Yorker)
Not everything needs to be fixed by technology! A case study of "ketchup leather" and solutionism. (The Atlantic)
Ok, you're doing NaNoWriMo. You need to write ~1667 words a day. You sit down at the computer and begin to type. You know the approximate aim of your story and the goal of that particular chapter. You know the stakes.
And the words start flowing. Onto the page they go. It's like there's a perfect link between the story in your head and the keyboard. The words are just flying out, no trouble at all. Your word count is inching up and up. You're not sure whether you're going to hit that 50K goal, but you're feeling like it's a possibility. Your chapter is getting kind of long, but you shrug it off and move on.
You do not read what you've written. You put on your editing blinders and they focus your vision so tight that you can see only the one word that comes after the next.
It gets hypnotic. One word after another. You start to wonder if this is turning into something else. Not writing exactly, more like automatic writing. You're almost disassociated from what it is that you're putting down on the page. You have to be if you want to avoid that delete key and hit that word goal.
You start to doubt. Maybe, you're not only writing a bad story, you're not even writing coherent sentences. You lift the editing blinders for just a moment. Not long enough to get harsh with yourself, but long enough to notice that you're reusing certain words fairly often in each paragraph. That's worrisome.
You pause and ask yourself, is this really the best way to write a novel? Will you have to go back and re-write everything? Would that be ok?
These are the thoughts that go through my head as I work on NaNoWriMo. But I also know that my usual method of writing (slow, meticulous word-choice, laboring days over a paragraph) tends to turn my fiction into purple prose. This is why I'm giving the speed-drafting method a shot. I'm going to trust in NaNoWriMo for the moment and reassess later. It will be a grand writing experiment.
Do you ever have NaNoWriMo doubts?
This is a little public service announcement for everyone out there who is doing NaNoWriMo:
Be kind to yourself.
If you don't hit those word counts each day, please don't let it be one more thing to beat yourself up about. NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun. It should help you develop the habit of writing. It shouldn't be another source of stress and anxiety.
I say this because I'm going through a very hard time at the moment. I'll be fine, it's not the end of the world, but I started to feel bad that my personal issues were causing me to fall behind on my NaNoWriMo word count. All I wanted to do yesterday was clean the house (i.e. bring some order and control back into my life) and watch I, Claudius, and I was feeling guilty about that. I felt lazy for not wanting to write.
But you know what? My well-being is more important than word counts. I can take a day off if that's what I really need to feel better. And relaxing did help me feel better. Then this morning, I sat back down to write and 1800 words poured out like they were nothing at all. That was a nice reminder that life goes on and however I might feel right now, I still have the capacity and drive to write.
Anyway I just think it's important to be attuned to those needs; one day you might be to sit and listen to a good story, and the next day it may be to write the story yourself. It's fine. Be kind to yourself. NaNoWriMo is just a game. It's ok.
Happy Friday kids! Oh, I am in such a good mood today. I had a productive meeting with my boss who had some really great ideas to help me with my research. I've also had a really decent first week of NaNoWriMo. I'm not quite averaging 1667 words a day (closer to 1250, which is still pretty good considering my slow start), but now I have a totally unplanned weekend in order to catch up and get back on pace. How about you? Anyone have some binge-writing planned?
In the meantime, here are some links to interesting reads from the web this week. I hope you'll enjoy them. Happy reading and writing!
While you're working on your NaNoWriMo novel, don't forget about pacing. Tips here. (Fiction University)
Ploughshares has two approaching submission deadlines. One is quite a ways off (March 1, 2016), but it's for emerging authors (previously unpublished) so it's good to be looking ahead to that one if you qualify. The other deadline (January 15) is for their usual fiction and non-fiction solicitation. (Ploughshares)
A short history of duct tape and NASA. Don't you just love vintage space exploration photos? (Smithsonian)
J.K. Rowling is working on another children's book. I'm not a huge Rowling fan, but I don't hate her work either, so I guess that's cool news. (Independent)
Have you heard? There's going to be a new American Writers museum in Chicago, opening in 2017. (Ploughshares)
Loved this NaNoWriMo list. (Fantasy Faction)
What do you think of adult coloring books? (The Atlantic)
Ok, I'm not a mom, but I also struggle with feeling constantly frazzled and stressed. I've been thinking a lot about why that is. What's the root cause? Then when I read stories like this one, on why Dutch moms are so calm, it makes me think that these problems all come down to working full-time. There just isn't enough time to work both full-time and take care of your personal needs. I think the secret has to be part-time work so you can earn money, use your professional skills, and have enough time to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Too bad American work culture seems almost violently opposed to the concept of part-time work. (WaPo)
Ah, no real post today. Just a little too tied up between work and NaNoWriMo to have the time to write here. But that's ok. There are only so many hours in the day.
I do want to say, though, that I am so enjoying NaNoWriMo again. I'm settling into a nice routine of writing ~1200 words in the morning (previously I was averaging ~500), and then in the evening I try to add another 500 or so. That's a big deal for me since I've never seen myself as a night writer. I'm much more of an early bird.
But that's what I like about NaNoWriMo: it pushes you out of your comfort zone. One week ago I would have said that I cannot write in the evenings; that I'm just too stupid at those later hours to string words together. Well clearly, if I push myself to do it, I can. It's fun to discover new things that you're capable of when you have well-defined goals.
Welp, I managed to cock up the first day of NaNoWriMo. We threw a Halloween party on Saturday night and although I drank quite responsibly, I still managed to wake up hungover. My tolerance for alcohol is so poor, I've wondered if I may be slightly allergic to it. Both my brother and all my cousins on one side of my family have independently come to that conclusion as well, so perhaps it's genetic? None of us are drinkers as a result, but it's hard to completely avoid alcohol at every social event, especially if it's your own party.
Anyway, I managed to eke out a few hundred works by the end of the night though that was under quite a bit of headachy duress.
The first time I tried NaNoWriMo, I never even came close to the average daily word count I needed to hit 50K. Even now, I wonder how it can be possible. There's just too many things going on in my life. It's hard to set aside that much time to write. However, I'm not going to crucify myself for failing to hit word counts. I'm more interested in trends than absolutes. Still, even trying to hit that goal - it's going to be tough.
As a consequence, my posts on this blog may have to decrease a bit, for just this month. Hope you'll understand. Maybe you're doing NaNoWriMo yourself? If you're not, but you're interested in trying, you can sign up here. You can also find my NaNoWriMo author page here. I'm listed under the user name, Wordly Bird.
Help keep me accountable and happy writing!
Writer, editor, scientist.