Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Did I Just Compare Writing To Knitting? You Bet I Did!

I’ve been doing a lot of knitting lately. I’ve also been doing a lot of writing. With NaNoWriMo almost over I’ve been working hard to sit down and write every day. I haven’t always managed that but I’m much better than I was last year. Now what does knitting have to do with that? At first glance, not a thing. But, recently, it hit me that writing and knitting are quite a lot alike.

First, knitting and writing require patience and practice. You aren’t going to learn to knit the moment you pick up a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles. Neither are you going to automatically write a bestseller by picking up a pen and putting it to paper. Both require skills you have to learn, over and over again. Knowing how to hold a string and a needle in one hand and a second needle in the other while simultaneously wrapping that string around the second needle without dropping the first needle is not a natural or easy skill to learn. It takes time and a lot of patience. So, too, knowing how to put words and phrases together so that they make sense is not a natural skill, but a learned one. We are not born knowing how to speak. We have to learn through daily lessons (listening to those around us and mimicking those sounds) how a word means something and how a certain way of saying it makes it mean something else.

The more challenging the knitting or writing, the more experience you gain. As in knitting, writing requires you to challenge yourself. Once you learn the basics of knitting then you are able to challenge yourself by attempting a project, for instance, knitting a hat. This will teach you new skills that you do not know yet. Writing is the same. I participate in writing challenges throughout the year because they force me to think outside the box and push the parameters of my current knowledge. Sometimes I am forced outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes my insight and/or perspective changes. My writing reflects these experiences. Challenges push you and if you aren’t being pushed then you, and your writing, can stagnate. What good are your writing skills if you aren’t using them to learn new ones or explore new ideas and perspectives?

Knitting and writing create black holes. Think I’m kidding? I’ve been knitting for over fifteen years. When I’m working on a big project such as a sweater or a blanket (or a freaking Harry Potter scarf in which I begin singing “this is the scarf that never ends…yes, it goes on and on my friends. One day I started knitting never knowing what it was, and I’ll continue knitting it forever just because-you get the idea), I will reach a point where it all stays the same no matter how much or how long I knit. The project never gets bigger, never gets longer, it just STAYS.THE.SAME. This is the black hole of knitting. No matter how many stitches I knit, the project eats them for breakfast. Then chaotically spits them out at some random point in the future without any notice. This means that I am often over my intended length or width and my measurements are way off. Then I have to carefully, stitch by stitch, go back to where a place as close to my measurements as possible. It’s a pain the butt. During NaNo I have discovered this same effect. I have gotten behind more than a few times and I have caught back up but it felt as if it took forever. I would type and type and type and not get anywhere close to the word count I was trying to reach. Then, after hours of writing and typing and losing sleep, I went to look and realized (after lots of tears and caffeine) I had written over my goal. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go back and re-type since I’m not editing as I go, but still…it was a pain in the butt. Knitting and writing black holes are evil. Watch out for them.

Knitting and writing are cathartic processes. I’ve heard knitting called a Zen hobby. The idea being that its meditative and relaxing. Have you ever watched someone knitting? Let’s say they are knitting a lace shawl. Guys, this means they are making fabric with a lot of holes in it. Having knit a shawl I can tell you, there is nothing relaxing about it. One mistake means you might have to rip THE WHOLE THING OUT! Seriously. In fact, knitting is one of the least relaxing things I do. I’m having to constantly read the instructions and watch what I am doing so I don’t make a lot of mistakes. One oops! and hours of work has to be unraveled and remade. How is this cathartic? Well, actually, its not only cathartic but enjoyable. You see, while I’m knitting (and focusing on something other than the problem that drove me to pick up my knitting in the first place) I have to concentrate on what I’m doing which drives everything else out of my mind. My breathing calms and I am able to think more clearly, less emotionally. While I’m knitting, I begin thinking about other ways to handle/deal with whatever the problem is/was. Basically, I’m using a more productive solution to deal with my stress. Writing does the same, but in a different manner. When I take my emotions out in my writing, I create a more emotional piece. I write out my problems from a different viewpoint (or at least I try), or I write in a new character who I immediately destroy or harangue or plague with problems. Its much more constructive, less destructive, though Freud and Jung might question my sanity. It’s definitely more productive than letting the feelings sit and simmer and eat away at you.

In the end, with both knitting and writing, once all the edits are done, you realize YOU have made something incredible out of nothing. In knitting, the magic takes place after all the knitting is done and your project is put together and washed and dried. In writing, the magic is in the final edits. With knitting, you’ve taken some string and two sticks and created a wearable (usually) item that someone will love. With writing, you take something (words) out of nothing (air) and created something that can be held in two hands (or listened to if its in an audible version) that someone will love. Its an amazing, almost miraculous, thing, and while you may think anyone can do it, the truth is not everyone can. You can’t just pick up a pen and begin writing without basic skills, and some people just never develop those skills beyond simply fillout out forms and their signatures. And, oh, horrors! Some people do not have the inclination or desire to write a story! Good thing there are enough of us out there who do, and who want to learn and give voice to the stories that live inside our heads. And, fortunately for me and my family, my knitting knowledge might just save us during the next Ice Age because, you know, skills.

Happy (late) Monday!

Jesi

NaNo Week Two & Using Adversity In Your Writing

As you know, I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). We’re two weeks in now with two more weeks to go. By now, according to a daily word count calendar, I should have completed 25,000 words. I have not. But I am not that far behind, only a few thousand words. Completely doable. I am not out of the game yet. 

It’s not so much that I want to “win” NaNo because I could care less about that. I just want to see if I can reach that 50,000 word mark for myself. I haven’t written every day but I’m not skipping that many days. Some days I may not write more than 200 words while the very next day I come back and write over my daily goal. I have already surpassed my total for NaNo last year, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a win already.

Currently, as I stated above, I am behind on my word count goal. There are events in my life that had to take precedence over the weekend, and they out me behind. I’d like to say these were normal every day things that just caused time to get away from me, but they were not. I’ve ridden an emotional rollercoaster several times in the last three days. This seriously hampered my desire to do anything but fall into bed and sleep until things straightened themselves out. So, writing became secondary. 

But, despite how I felt last night, I went to my bedroom where it was quiet and peaceful, grabbed my laptop, and began writing. I knew I was far behind where I wanted to be and I started to feel a little overwhelmed. After a brief Facebook writer support group meeting and a little encouragement, I calculated how many words I’d have to write over how many days and proceeded to type one word after another. It took a while to reach my new word count goal but reach it I did, and before midnight I looked at my word count total-21,000 words. It might not be 25,000 but I’m satisfied. Those words were well earned, and the writing was cathartic. 

One of the good things to come out of the dog-pile that was my weekend is all of the writing fodder. All of the emotional turmoil and fallout made for some excellent material to use in my book or in future books. My writing last night was very emotional and I think it will show later on. And in return I was able to look at what had happened through my character’s eyes. It allowed me to step back from my own perspective, view it through someone else’s, then let go of all of the stress caused by worrying over things.

Writing, even when I don’t particularly feel like it, is what I’ve learned this week. But if you persevere and just keep typing one word after another, even if they aren’t particularly good words, then you’ll reach your goal, whatever that may be.

Are you participating in NaNo, or even your own version of it? What have you learned and how is your writing going? Let me know below.

Jesi

What I’ve Learned During NaNo’s First Week

Happy Monday!

What? Too perky?

So Not Sorry. After a long weekend of feeling like someone skewered my insides while also having a house full of kids (and one of those gets sick, too), I deserve a little perky.

Plus, I have a grand total of 12,459 words in my NaNoWriMo word tally. That’s for one week of writing. By today I should have 15,000 words written and I will get it done. I’m not going to push myself into misery though, which is why I took yesterday off. It was a beautiful day and I had been up until 3 a.m. writing 4,000 words, I felt good after being sick for two days, and I decided I’d earned the break.

I’m learning a lot from this round of NaNo. I’ve figured out that if I give myself 20 minutes, and only 20, to socialize and distract myself from writing then I can actually focus on writing without being distracted because I spent my allotted time and have to earn more. It’s my reward system and it’s working for me. Next,  I’ve discovered that for the first hour I am pushing myself for words. This sucks because I might manage only 500 the first hour. However, once I get past that first hour and those 500 something amazing happens: the story takes over.

I’m serious. I’ve had a week of testing this theory. It’s like sitting down to do homework at first or reading a book someone tells you to read in a genre that you don’t normally read in. There’s pain. There’s whining. There’s wining. 😉 But after a while you realize that the book isn’t so bad or that you’re almost finished with all those thousands of math problems. Once I get past the mad toddler stage of that first hour I find that the words are flowing, the characters talking and telling me their part of the story, and I get lost in what I’m doing. So much so, that Saturday night I lost track of time and that’s when I looked at my word count and realized I’d gone over my daily goal. That’s happened quite a few times this week.

Another thing I’ve learned is to not focus on my word count. Because it’s insanity. I may be a lunatic poet but I’m not actually all that crazy. (Hush AJ.) At first I caught myself looking at my word count every ten minutes to see how close I was to my daily goal. It was a distraction in itself. So I tried to focus more on the writing, not the words. It’s helped but it is really tempting to look and keep track of those words. I’m now trying to just let it go. (Ok, Joe, stop it. If I have to hear that song one.more.time…)

Let’s talk about editing-as-you-go-now. One of our biggest problems, right? Not this time for me. I have somehow ignored all those little niggling impulses that say “go back and fix it now.” Nope. I am making all kinds of errors and just leaving them. I am info dumping. I am deliberately ignoring all the rules and liking it. I have chapters all over the place. I have scenes happening before other scenes. I have characters introduced that I will need to go back and create an introduction for. I have timeline issues. But it’s all good. I will go back after November, or when I’m finished writing, and sandpaper the hell out of it. That’s why its called a rough draft.

I’ve also developed an interesting little quirk. I like to knit, and with fall here and winter on its way I began knitting a scarf for one of my eldest son’s friends. (Its a Ravenclaw scarf, CJ. Thought you’d appreciate that note.) I’m almost done with it and have now begun knitting hats because they’re quick to make. Well, I’ve begun  keeping a hat in progress next to my laptop. Whenever I get stuck on what to write, I pick up the hat and knit until an idea comes to mind. There’s this idea that knitting creates a Zen-like mindset in the brain. I cannot corroborate that with any scientific facts but it does clear out all the minutiae and let’s me begin to focus on the problem at hand. Clearing my mind allows new to form and I can brainstorm while still being productive, which then allows my writing to be more productive as well. Plus, I love the yarn I’m working with right now. Its SOOOOFFFTTTT. So…writing and knitting, though not at the same time, an interesting but effective combination.

This week has definitely been worth the time I’ve invested in NaNo. Just learning more about my writing process, and how its evolved during the last two years, has been a gift in itself. I know I need to allow myself distractions and reward myself for a job done, even if it’s a small one. Knowing that I will be pushing myself for words the first hour or so allows me to know what to expect, and I will be developing a strategy to combat this problem as November goes on.

Week Two is here and I hope you’ve discovered things about your writing, and your writing process, that will help you as you go forward. And I would love to hear about it. Pipe up in the comments. Let’s see what ya got!

Jesi

It Has Begun

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo for short, has begun. Yesterday to be precise. And I missed it. I had a family emergency sprout up that took the entire weekend to resolve and so I ended up without logging (even for my own benefit) any writing time.

But you know what? That’s ok. I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’m not out to try and “win” NaNo. By that I mean that I’m not going to try and kill myself to make the 50k words in 30 days goal that defines NaNo. I will do my best to get close but pushing myself to frustration to be able to cut and paste a “I Won NaNo!” button on my home blog isn’t worth it. That’s not MY goal.

My goal is simple: to sit down and write something every day. I have one idea that is my NaNo project, but I have a few other projects that I would really like to work on and finish as well. So, I plan on writing a little on my NaNo Project, then working a little on another smaller project and getting it completed. No, that doesn’t follow the NaNo contest guidelines but so what? Isn’t the whole premise of NaNo to get you writing? What does it matter if it’s one new project or an older one? As long as you are writing every day and reaching whatever reasonable word count goal you have set for yourself, I don’t see that WHAT you write matters all that much.

So, what is my NaNo project? I am taking on and retelling King Lear. I was inspired this past September after I watched Sir Ian McKellen’s 2008 performance of Lear. His portrayal of the mad King sparked an idea that I ruminated on for at least a week before realizing I was prepping my story already. I had most of my characters and scenes began playing out in my head. All I had to do was write them down. That’s where NaNo comes in.

Thanks to NaNo I had to hold off on actually sitting down and writing the story. Because I had to wait to begin writing until November, I was forced to actually prep. I had some research to do (I still have research to do). There were character sketches I wanted to write out. And, horror of all horrors, I actually began outlining! A natural pantser (thanks to writing poetry…A LOT of poetry), I was outlining…in my head. I know. I can’t believe it either. But I did.

I don’t have all the mechanics worked out. But I have enough that it didn’t matter that I missed writing yesterday. As far as I’m concerned, all of my prepping (which includes writing about 500 words of a summary that could be a possible opening chapter) should count towards my first day work. I sat my butt down and wrote every day in October. Granted, it was for a poetry challenge but I still sat down and wrote. I also did lots of reading, on my subject and off it. I planned, I plotted, I wrote. (Google Translate says that is: “Aluero, confirmaro insidiatus scripsi” in Latin.) As far as I’m concerned, I have made a great start. And let’s face it, we’re going to need all the little bits of encouragement and support as November marches on and NaNo becomes a pain in the butt to get through.

So, a few tips.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make your daily word count. Some days you are going to have a word count euphoria while others you might manage two words.
  2. Take breaks. Get up and walk around. Go for a walk outside if it’s nice. Make a cup of coffee or tea. But take a break. Get your mind off of writing for a bit. It will help if you come back to your writing with a fresh mind.
  3. Reward yourself, even for small goals. Basically, be your own cheerleader. Do something kind for yourself like having a piece of chocolate (or your preferred delectable treat) or watching a movie (see tip #2).
  4. Ignore all your natural inclinations to surf the web and social media sites. Set your phone to vibrate or turn it off completely if it’s a big distraction. It’s a proven non-scientific fact that once you sit down in front of your computer to write you find a hundred other things to do instead of actually writing. So, put on the blinders and turn off the distractions.
  5. Remember that “winning” NaNo is NOT the goal. Writing every day is.

NaNo is a good exercise in dedication. It’s helpful in that it forces you to try and make a habit out of writing every day. And if you are sincere and determined to be a writer, then writing every day is not just a necessity, it’s your writing oxygen. Even the great writers knew it. Practice makes perfect isn’t just an adage, it’s a well-known fact of every craft.

Here’s to hoping you’ve made a great start to NaNo! Happy writing this week!

Jesi