Falling Flat

My husband and I are fans of an interesting TV show called Project Greenlight which is a behind the scenes series about getting a movie made from executive producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. We watched several seasons of the show years ago, but then there was a long hiatus between the previous seasons and this season. This season’s show on HBO ended earlier this month.

In addition to the seasons of Project Greenlight, we have seen a few of the movies that were made during the show. We have never really been overwhelmed with the results. It’s not unusual to have a more enjoyable behind the scenes adventure to watch on the TV show than a good movie as the result.

While this season of Project Greenlight, with the contest winning first time director Jason Mann assisted by Project Greenlight producer Effie Brown, had a lot of drama over the direction of the film that made the show a lot of fun to follow, the movie never really seemed like it would turn out well.

HBO premiered the movie, The Leisure Class, earlier this month to pretty poor reviews. Despite the bad reviews, we watched it On Demand just to see the end result. Unsurprisingly we found out it just was not good.

What was good about watching it, for me, though was finding lessons in what not to do when developing my own stories and characters.

The Leisure Class was Mann’s own script developed out from a 3 minute short film. The story takes place over the course of about 24 hours and is supposed to be a comedy. I think. Or a dark comedy perhaps.  Perhaps it is meant as satire? The issue is that it hits none of those marks. There is little that is funny and a lot that just falls flat because you just don’t get who the characters are or why we should care about them. Who are these people? Why are they doing the things they do? Why would anyone possibly say some of the things they say or respond the way they respond?

Ed Weeks plays Charles, a supposedly charming Englishman (who just comes off as a bit of a slimeball honestly, not at all charming) who is supposed to marry Fiona (Bridget Regan), a stiff upper class daughter of a wealthy Senator who is running for some sort of office apparently herself. They have an engagement dinner where Charles’s brother unexpectedly drops in causing the scheming Charles some difficulty. Tom Bell plays the screwball brother, Leonard, that shakes the family up.

It could be funny. Instead it’s just awkward. He doesn’t really cause that much trouble. The trouble is rather unbelievable. The aftermath is really unbelievable. The characters’ reactions are frequently the most unbelievable. Several scenes are just painfully bad with characters saying the most awful things to each other and for what purpose? Big meltdowns and confrontations should serve the story somehow but these seem to be confrontation for confrontations sake. Shock for shock value only.

Tell me a story! Not a rushed compilation of stilted scenes pieced together that can almost be blended together into a chunky mess of a story.

Make me care about the characters! If the character’s actions don’t make sense the story doesn’t make sense. If what the characters say doesn’t fit who that character is supposed to be, the story doesn’t make sense. The characters have to make sense for the story to make sense.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter how fine the details are if the overall story doesn’t work. The biggest lesson seems to be to just make sure there is actually a good story there. If there isn’t a solid story, no one is going to care how pretty it all turns out. Tell me a solid story and make me care about the characters or there’s just no point.

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

Here Lies An Old Friend

dead short story

There he is, lying in his little coffin. Not much of a turnout, either. You would think that he would have had more friends considering how long he’s been around. Hard to believe he’s gone. He had such an important influence on literature. Some of the most famous writers were known for their short stories.

But is he really dead, as some people seem to think? Could he just be in a coma and will soon come out of it to find himself in a dark lonely grave? Ewww…what a gruesome thought. I think I read a short story about that once.

I like short stories. I enjoy reading them and writing them. But, considering how poorly the sales are on anthologies, I must be in the minority. I can’t help finding it interesting that in these days of short attention spans people don’t read short stories. They can’t even take the time to spell out words when they text. And everyone is running around always busy, always in a hurry. You’d think we’d be a society of short story readers.

Really, though, he’s not dead. Just not as healthy as he once was. There are still magazines that publish short stories. Thing is, though, if you’re trying to make money as a writer then short stories are not going to pay the mortgage. Maybe, if you have a couple of them published they might pay the electric bill. If you don’t have a really big house. Or a pool. And you don’t run the air-conditioning much. And make sure you turn the lights out when you leave a room.

I like writing them, though. In some ways, more than writing novels. I like getting to the point, quickly. Not having to write filler or fluff to lengthen the word count. And it’s a challenge to write characters that the reader can identify with and care about in such a short time. I think I’m really a short story writer at heart and not a novelist.

I’ve taken that love of short story writing and adapted it to penning my next novel. In last week’s blog I wrote about jumping ahead in your book and not writing it in sequence. I was only talking about small scenes but now I’ve gone and finished an entire chapter that happens later in the book. And I wrote it in a different folder just so I could separate the writing from the rest of the novel. It’s purely psychological. I treated it a though I was writing a short story using my characters but not worrying about what needed to happen in the following chapters. I like it. This might help me move along a bit quicker. Like I said, it’s purely psychological. But, hey, whatever works to keep things moving!

So, maybe that’s not him up there, in the cartoon. Just somebody with the same name. Hopefully he’s alive and well and sitting quietly, somewhere, planning his come-back.

Truth strange and beautiful as fiction

But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking”  -Mitch Albom

I recently stumbled upon an interesting Facebook page that some had “liked” and I keep having show up in my Facebook feed. Sometimes it’s extremely annoying when Facebook throws a post into your feed just because one of your many friends “liked” it and thus you have to look at it to whether you choose to or not, whether you like it or not. In this case, however, the unsought out post was a bit of a gift.

Humans of New York Facebook page posts random pictures and brief stories of people’s lives ranging through a wide variety of experiences and perspectives. There is a collection of books associated with the page, the one I am most interested in checking out being one published last month, Humans of New York – Stories. This collection gives stories along with the pictures that seem simple but can be powerful. One of the starred reviews reads, “There’s no judgement, just observation, and in many cases, reverence, making for an inspiring reading and visual experience” – Publishers Weekly

The Facebook posts caught my attention for the little flashes into a person’s life. Many stories have the feel of a confession. Not perhaps confessing something they did wrong necessarily, but an unburderning of themselves by sharing the story. Many I have read have left me thinking about them afterwards.

As a writer whose job it is to create characters that feel authentic in situations that are not only believable but that also capture hearts and imaginations, these glimpses into people’s lives are fuel for the fire.

I’ve always loved the idea of each of us being a collector of stories. We have our own stories, we have our family stories and we have other shared stories with those around us that all help to define us. When we create our characters, it’s important that they too have their own collection of stories that have shaped and helped to define them.

What about you? What would you say our stories say about us? Have you built your characters with a collection of stories? Would you ever consider putting together your own collection of stories to share with others like Humans of New York? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Feel free to share a story if you’d like.

Thanks and have a great week!

~CJS

 

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

When you want to just stop

The other day, a writer in one of the online groups I belong to posted that he was ready to just chuck the whole writer-thing because he hadn’t liked his first day sales (and he went on to give us the number of sales made). I’ll admit, my first reaction was to reach through the screen and shake him because the number, while not best seller level was higher than most indie writers will ever see in a single day. Then I decided that wasn’t the best course of action and thought I’d take a look at what he had just put out and talk to him from a reader’s standpoint.

This writer’s work falls into a very particular sub-genre, or at least that is what his titles suggest. So that presents the first challenge for him. He titles his books one way but the covers cue something completely different. That confuses the potential reader. Are they going to get a book about X, as the title suggests, or about Y, which is what the cover cues?

Then there was the confusion raised by his Amazon listing. Doing a search by his name turns up a number of titles. That’s a good thing. Even better is that the new book is the first thing showing. But the second thing showing is a compilation of his work that says it includes all of the series in question. Hmm. So is the first title really a new one or is it included in the compilation that is a better buy? More confusion.

All of which can be easily fixed by making some changes to the cover images for the series and the copy on the cover and in the product descriptions.

But what about his complaint about sales from an author’s standpoint. He had expected sales at least ten times higher than they were. His conclusion about why sales were so bad was that Facebook has changed its algorithm that determines not only who sees your posts but how many people see them. You see, he has a large and active Facebook page and he had relied on that in the past for his promotion.

The problem with doing this is multi-fold. First, as noted, Facebook has changed its model concerning who sees your post. You should never put your main promotion effort into something that you have absolutely no control over and that changes how it does things more often than you change underwear (okay, an exaggeration but not by much). Even if you knew our promotion posts were going out to every one of your followers, they aren’t all going to look at it. Either they won’t get notice that you posted something or they are busy and don’t go to Facebook that day or they scroll past it, etc.

But there is another problem with putting most of your emphasis on promoting to people who are already “fans”. (I put that in quotes for a reason. All too often, people who join an author’s fan group have never read the author’s work or read only one or two books and then move on to other authors. They hang around because they like the interplay in the forum.) You have, hopefully, already won over those people and they will buy your work whether you promote it on the page or not. What we have to do is look for new readers to expand our fan base. So we have to look for new ways to find them. Social media posts are one way but not everyone is on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google +, etc. Blogging helps, especially if you can get guests blog gigs on other, more popular blogs than your own. Getting those who have read your work to post honest reviews on Amazon and elsewhere also help. But they have to be HONEST reviews.

And, when you see your sales for a certain title declining, you have to be able to look at it with a critical eye and figure out why. Is it the normal slump that happens after a book has been out for awhile? If so, that means you had better have another book ready to go pretty darn soon or your audience will move on to another author and they might not think to come back to you. Is your cover still cuing the right genre or sub-genre? This is something I’ve had to look at of late with regard to my Nocturnal Lives series. The covers were spot on for genre cuing when they first came out. Now, not so much. So the books will be re-released over the next few weeks with new covers. This will be done in coordination with the release of the next book in the series. Is your product description something that hooks the reader? Does it look professional (I see far too many where there is no spacing between paragraphs, leaving you to read a wall of text. Not good.

In other words, instead of throwing your hands up and threatening to walk away because a book isn’t selling as well right out the gate as you think it should, look at what you have done to write, edit, package and promote it with a critical eye. Writing is a business, something we tend to forget about all too often. We have to treat it as such. And, on that happy note, I need to get back to work. I have editing jobs to finish before I can write.

Jigsaw Writing

I just wrote this:

 “He spied the train coming out of the tunnel seconds before his right engine would have hid it from him. It wiggled out on the winding tracks like a huge dark worm leaving the safety of its cool hole in the ground for the warmth and brightness of the sun. He banked hard into a tight right turn and watched as the tail left the tunnel portal and the train hurried along as though its speed could somehow keep it from being seen. The black locomotive threw out a long thick ribbon of smoke as the engineer pushed it to its limits but it was too late. George circled the A-20 back around and turned towards the train, lowering the bomber’s gun filled nose. As he got closer George could see an anti-aircraft weapon mounted on a flatcar and orange golf ball like tracers began to rise up from it but slowly drifted back down and out of sight. The crew was possibly new and firing too far out of range from excitement and fear. Or maybe, thought George, they are old hands, purposely firing from a long distance to frighten the pilot of the diving airplane and keep him from attacking. George continued his dive and the orange golf balls came nearer.

The gunsight showed that the target was now in range of his battery of fifty-caliber machine guns. George placed the flatcar mounted anti-aircraft gun squarely in the sight’s center and pressed the button on the control yoke. The entire airplane shuddered and smoke from the guns wafted back from the plane’s nose and drifted passed the windshield. Yellow tracers showed George’s aim to be true and dust and smoke and pieces of both the flatcar and the AA gun flew into the air and dropped behind the fast moving train. A body was thrown from the gun and bounced alongside until finally disappearing into the dense brush that grew on either side of the tracks. The gun was still and silent as George roared over it. He glanced back at the still speeding locomotive and freight cars and could see that they would soon be entering another tunnel. George was determined that they would not make it. He kicked the left rudder hard and gripped the yoke tightly in both hands as he wheeled the twin engine attack bomber into a hard left turn and dove once again, this time placing the A-20’s reflector gun-sight reticle onto the black and heavily smoking locomotive. He pressed the firing button and the ground around the locomotive erupted into a cloud of dirt and dust and then the bullets found their target. Bright flashes appeared as metal struck metal and white vapor poured from the loco’s puncture wounds. Then, bright and sun-like against the dark green jungle, an explosion that ripped apart iron and steel and the blazing wreck flew from the tracks. The wooden freight cars dutifully followed it, crashing and splintering. George saw, as if in a dream, two of them flying through the air along with dirt, dust, palm trees and human bodies.”

 I think it’s pretty good. I’m happy with it. It’s a scene from my second novel. The thing is, though, it’s not happening until a long ways into the book.

I write like that, sometimes. Scenes keep coming into my head and I rush to get them down before I forget them. But it may be a scene, like this, that happens far into the book while I am still on the third chapter. I have another that involves my main female character, an Army nurse, in a heated argument with one of her Japanese captors. It also occurs much farther into the novel than I am, but it’s ready to go when I get there.

I had a lot of these disjointed scenes when I wrote my first novel, ‘Jenny.’ I keep it all in a folder I’ve labeled, “Vignettes.” When I’d get to the part of the story where those scenes are needed, I go in and copy and paste them. Sometimes they need a little work, of course. Often, things change while you’re writing the book, but the gist of it is there. Just lift it out and stick it in the right place. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle. I think I’ll call it, “Jigsaw Writing.”

It works for me for a couple of reasons. First, as I’ve mentioned, I need to get these scenes down while they are still fresh in my mind. But also because it keeps things from getting too boring. Sometimes there are scenes that are not particularly exciting to write, but they are important to the story none the less. It helps to leave them for a bit and jump into a more exciting part of the story. Once you’ve gotten that out of your system it’s easier to go back and write that less exciting part of your book. Or maybe you’re stuck. Jump ahead and write a scene that might happen ten more chapters into the story. The great thing is, you’ll still be making progress on the book.

There aren’t any rules on how you should write a novel. Who says you have to be linear? Try Jigsaw Writing.

P.S.

I’m starting to get lazy about the cartoons! I’ll make sure I think of one for next week. I promise.

 

Are You Ready For Some Motivation?

In my house full of guys (a husband and three boys), you can imagine I watch my fair share of football. There’s a tagline for football broadcasts, “Are you ready for some football?” We always are. Today I ask though, “Are you ready for some motivation?”

Many writers this week are beginning their NaNoWriMo challenges, but whatever challenge you may be facing today, I’m guessing a little motivation can’t hurt. I know I can use a little, so I’ve compiled some favorite motivational quotes here that can help us get started or keep going with whatever we’re working to accomplish. All of these quotes were taken from 365 Days of Wonder – Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts, a book full of lovely thoughts that came out as a follow up to one of my favorite’s,a RJ Palacio’s Wonder.

 

Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. – Lloyd Jones

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. – Christopher Robin (A.A. Milne)

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. -Henry Van Dyke

Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are absolutely right. -Henry Ford

Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance. – Samuel Johnson

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. -Wayne Gretzky

Far away in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead. – Louisa May Alcott

You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. – Andre Gide

Nothing will work unless you do. – Maya Angelou

 

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

To NaNo or not to NaNo

(This is a repost of my Mad Genius Club post this past Wednesday. Real life has been eating me alive. I won’t bore everyone with all the details but it includes imploding tech and a series of health issues with my mother. I am so ready for this year to be done with. In the meantime, I am spending the next few days holed up, trying to catch up on work lost when the hard drive died an ignominious death.)

In case you haven’t figured it out by the last three MGC posts, NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It is the bane and the boon of many writers. We look forward to it with excitement and, at the same time, more than a little fear. Excitement because of the challenge and fear because how in the world are we going to write a complete novel in a month?

True confession time. I’ve done NaNo several times before but only once “officially”. By that I mean that I’ve only signed up on the national site once. Part of the reason is I’m not much of a joiner. Part was because I did NaNo for myself and not anyone else. So why join a national site? Shrug. That’s my warped sense of reasoning there.

Anyway, at our last critique group meeting, I asked the other members who would be taking part. Two instantly shot their hands up in the air. They first took part last year and discovered the goal of writing 50,000 words over the length of a month helped motivate them into putting butt in chair and words on the page. The others looked at me with varying degrees of non-comprehension to fear. So, after explaining exactly what NaNo is, I started trying to address the fear.

And this is where I deviate from the traditional goals of NaNo.

When you tell someone that they have to set a goal of 50,000 words over 30 days, eyes will glaze, complexions will pale and breathing becomes shallow. You can smell the fear in the air followed almost instantly by denial. There is no way they can write that much. They have jobs and families and real life and and and. . . .

So I go straight to the heart of NaNo, at least to me — committing to do something for the month. Not every writer writes novels. They write short stories or flash fiction. The thought of having to write long works turns their stomachs and they dig their heels in. Then there are the writers who agonize over every word. A good day for them is getting a couple hundred words down on paper. Then you have the writers who edit as they go. How in the world are they supposed to write an entire novel — and edit it — in 30 days?

So here’s my approach. You set a goal. Preferably, you accept the full 50k word challenge but, if that blows your mind to such an extent that you shut down, you set something more realistic — and you work toward meeting it. You don’t beat yourself up if you fall short on your daily goal. The final goal at the end of the month is what you have to keep your eye on. Sit butt in chair and write. Plain and simple. Write.

Something else you have to keep in mind is that you don’t have time to edit when you are doing NaNo — at least most of us don’t. So you have to turn off the internal editor and just trust yourself. Editing will come after you finish the challenge. Since 50K words is a very bare bones novel for most of us, we’d be going back anyway to fill in the blanks and flesh out the details.

What I have found NaNo does best is teach writers to trust themselves to write. It might drive plotters crazy because you don’t have time to site down and do a detailed outline — much less fight your characters to keep them sticking to your outline. For pantsers, it is an exercise in letting yourself go but with the knowledge that it needs to make enough sense at the end of the month that you can edit it into a workable manuscript.

Another way I deviate a little from the original goal of NaNo is that I don’t insist on folks starting a brand new piece for the challenge. As a working writer, if I were to put aside a current project for a month just for the sake of NaNo, I’d go crazy. The project I stopped working on would continue to demand attention. Worse, by the time I went back to it, there is the possibility that I will have lost the voice. That is a very bad thing — who wants a shapeshifting kick ass heroine who suddenly sounds like a ditzy airhead?

So here’s my question: how many of you are taking part in NaNo and how are you approaching it? Are you joining one of the local support groups and taking part in their activities or are you sticking to the lone wolf school of writing? Are you starting a new project or working on a current one? Or do you think NaNo is the biggest joke ever played on writers? (I’m sort of leaning toward the latter, at least part of the time, and I have this vision of a couple of guys sitting around laughing at all the writers they’ve pulled this con on.)