Standing at the end of the road, but looking ahead

I love NaNoWriMo. I love the idea of it, the experience of it, and the satisfaction you get from participating in it with a bunch of other people in exactly the same boat as you. It’s all about forming habits, setting goals, and just jumping in there, head first, and not looking back. And while it is, in practice, all about writing, its concepts can be applied to anything in life.

Which is why it’s pretty gut-wrenching for me to admit that I can’t continue on my NaNoWriMo journey this year. Simply put, my life has other plans for me this month.

The last week has been one of the craziest, most intense, exciting, and atypical weeks I’ve had in many years. For the first few days I soldiered on with my word count, despite being plagued with a nasty head cold and being utterly exhausted and brain dead at the end of each busy day. But a few days into that week, which was at end of day seven of NaNoWriMo and after 10,227 words, I realised something:

I wasn’t having fun anymore.

In the beginning, I’d gotten in there early and got a bit of a lead with my word count, just because I knew it was going to drop off considerably as soon as the craziness began. When that craziness did begin, I continued on with it, but it was for reasons that I don’t consider good reasons. Reasons like stubbornness, and because I’d told several people that I was doing NaNoWriMo again this year and didn’t want to look like a quitter. Meanwhile, I was ignoring what I actually needed in my life this month; dedicated time for some R&R, reflection on each day’s events, and time spent with the important people in my life.ย In reality, I’d simply bitten off more than I could chew. I thought I’d be okay, going through this crazy, out-of-routine, transitional point in my life while still achieving each day’s word count. And while I know that I still could achieve it if I wanted to, I know what it will cost me. I need my sleep, my down time, and my social life and support circle right now more than ever.

The other reason is that my participation in NaNoWriMo has evolved over the years. My first NaNo in 2009 was when I really needed that push to get those words down every day, to form those habits, to write that book that had been floating around in my head for years. It’s a fantastic tool to use for that kind of thing. But now I’ve formed those habits, I do try to write consistently, and NaNo has become an event that I participate in for fun and to be a part of the community. The forums are very lively during November and filled with useful, encouraging, and deeply entertaining discussion. Without the time and ability to be a part of that right now, its purpose is not the same.

It’s still pretty hard to admit to myself that it’s okay to stop. I don’t like to quit anything, whatever the reason. My personality type usually forces me to continue with things until the bitter, bitter end. But even though I won’t be completing the journey with the rest of you NaNoWriMo crazies, I don’t come away from this experience unchanged. I’ve learnt a thing or two about myself, mostly that I’m now grown-up enough to recognise what’s truly important in my life, and that to think about myself and what I need isn’t a selfish thing to do.

Also, I’m proud of the fact that I attempted it this year rather than not bothering in case I didn’t have the time. It’s always better to give it a go. If you don’t succeed, so what?ย It’s rarely ever about the end result anyway.

Of those 10,227 words that I’ve written, most of them are a bit rubbish. Okay, a lot rubbish. But you know what? Some of them are okay. Some of them are even great. And some of them I’ll actually use when I finish the thing. It won’t be during November, but it will get written one day, and it will get finished, and I’m super excited about that. Also, I’d be lying if I said I’m not relieved to be able to write it a teensy bit slower than the break-neck pace during NaNoWriMo. To those of you still in for the long haul: enjoy the experience, learn a bunch of things about yourselves, and write like the wind!

Gearing up for November

November, November, November. Less than four days away. Specifically, 3.4 days. Just over 82 hours until we can start doing the fun stuff, theย actual writingย for NaNoWriMo.

And to be completely honest, I’ve hardly given it much thought until now.

Oh, I’ve spent a few brain cells on it here and there, sure, but I usually try to get into the NaNoWriMo spirit by frequenting the forums, writing a series of blog posts, and interacting with other NaNoWriMo wordmonkeys on Twitter and the like. But my brain has been elsewhere lately, focusing on all the craziness that awaits me next month (potentially moving house, new job, new life, eeep!).

So, here’s what I do have: A project set up in Scrivener, all ready to go. Within it is a poor excuse for an outline, with a sprinkling of major plot developments and ideas for scenes. I’ve also fleshed out a couple of my main characters. Sort of. Not as much as I would have liked, but, well, it’s a start.

And I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make; a start is all you need. The rest of the magic happens in November, when you’re sleep deprived and tapping away at the keyboard in the midst of a caffeine high. But the start of an outline, even just a handful of events you want to have happen in the story, can go a long way.

I really like Jane Espenson’s approach to outlining:

Start by making a “beat sheet” in which each development in the story is given one or two sentences, then flesh it out until you’ve got a list of scenes and you know what’s going to happen in each one.

That’s pretty much how I like to do things as well. It’s simple, but it works. It helps you to figure out the flow of your story, and that’s especially useful for NaNoWriMo where flow is important. A basic outline provides the big slab of meat so you can spend more time and creative energy figuring out which side dishes to serve with it, such as character development and subplot. And lots and lots of wordy exposition to fill up the daily word quota. You know, the fun stuff.

I’ll probably flick through this one again, too:

Image

…mostly for the ritual rather than necessity, but it’s also nice to be reminded that we’re all in this together, and week two is full of storm clouds and plot flashes for everyone.

The “Oh Shit” Part of October

It’s the “oh shit” part of October, the part where you realise NaNoWriMo starts in a mere 16 days, and it’s ACTUALLY HAPPENING, and OH SHIT WHAT AM I GOING TO WRITE?!

Okay, that might be a smidge of an exaggeration, but only just. See, last year I tried “pantsing” it. That is, writing without an outline. Just winging it.

Yeah, that didn’t really work out. My brain just isn’t wired for that kind of writing style, at least not for sustained writing in a frenzied manner, a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month. I need some sort of… Well, something, anything, to use as a guide no matter how emaciated it is, even if it resembles nothing but a few leftover bones. A little bit of structure just seems to help my brain calm down and think, “It’s cool, man… I know where I’m going. For now.”

This will be my fourth NaNoWriMo, and I’ve crossed the finish line each year so far. You’d think that would make me pretty confident about it this time around, right? Nope. This November’s going to be tough. I might be facing a new job, readying myself for uni next year, and probably moving house. My brain is rebelling:

“Writing? HA! You probably won’t even get time to wash your underwear this month. Damn optimist.”

But I’m going to give it my best shot, no matter how unrealistic the notion of actually finishing it this year. Put in perspective, finishing isn’t really the point. The spirit of NaNoWriMo is about just going for it, experimenting, getting out that novel that’s been living inside you for years, and forming new habits. That last one is the important one for me. Knowing that I need to write 1,667 words every day to get to the finish line is motivating. All things considered, it’s not even very much. But it forces me to stop turning the words over and over in my head, and just get them down on the screen already. Every. Single. Day.

…’Cause ideas are kind of useless if you don’t do something with them, you know?

NaNoWriMo 2010 Mission Accomplished

I survived another November… And, man, was it full of awesome. Another NaNoWriMo done and dusted. Another 50,000 words to show for it.

The highlights:

  • Much more challenging than last year (a good thing!). I didn’t have much in the way of an outline or plan, so for the most part I was just winging it. Or, in NaNo lingo, pants-ing it. I’m a big-time planner, so it was good to get out of my comfort zone for a change.
  • About twice as fun as last year. Two main reasons for this: I’d done it all before so I knew what to expect, and I actually liked the story I was writing. That last one makes a big difference in terms of motivation, as you’d imagine.
  • I discovered the genius of word sprints (setting a time limit and just going for it with the aim of writing as much as you can). Writing in 300 to 500-word blocks several times throughout the day is waaaay more achievable and less of a brain drain than sitting down and doing the 2,000-word hard slog until you’re finished. Also, I ended up writing more words per day when doing this, which was a nice side effect.
  • About half-way through, I realised I wasn’t writing book one of my trilogy, it was more like book two or three. Yeah, that was an interesting discovery. I’m actually pretty damn excited to expand on what I’ve already written and figure out what came before it.
  • I found my passion for writing again and realised I hadn’t actually lost it, it’s just that I hadn’t maintained the habit of daily writing. I plan to continue with my story, but first I need to spend some time organising what I’ve already got (it’s a huge jumbled mess) and doing more brainstorming and worldbuilding (the fun stuff!) before I can continue the writing part.
  • Reading while writing influences my writing style waaay too much. I think it’s because I haven’t found my own voice yet, my own writing style, y’know. Then again, when a book is so good that you can’t put it down, you’re at its mercy. There were a few days when writing definitely came second.

If you participated this year: Good on ya! You took part in something that takes a lot of balls, attention span, and time. Most folks who say “I want to write a book someday” never do, so be proud of the fact that you actually set out to do it, no matter what the end result was. And if you won this year: Yeah, yeah, don’t let it go to your head. You’ve got December to look forward to… The month of editing. Muahahaha! (But more seriously, congrats!). I’ll be doing it all over again next year if anyone wants to join me (I hope I won’t have to bully too many of you into it… Ahh, who am I kidding, that’s half the fun).

NaNoWriMo 2010

Yup, it’s that time again (jeez, it comes around freaking fast! And – of course – I’m late with this post).

I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month for 2010, the 50,000 words in 30 days global writing frenzy.

As always, I encourage anyone with the slightest shred of interest to take part. 1,667 words per day is definitely do-able, and it’s a ton of fun if you like to write.

If you’re participating, go ahead and visit my profile to add me as a NaNoWriMo Buddy. The more the merrier (and the less lazy I’ll be when I see your word count overtaking mine).

The NaNoWriMo Experience and the Taste of Victory

When I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo for 2009 – my very first one – it wasn’t just because it sounded like an interesting and challenging experience. Well, there was that, too; I was intrigued by the idea of writing 50,000 words in 30 days as part of a large community of people doing the same thing. But what I mean is that I decided to use NaNoWriMo as a platform to aim for some very specific goals:

  • Imposing self discipline. I wanted to form a daily writing habit, and discover how easy or difficult daily writing goals of this length would be for me.
  • Writing a story sequentially, from beginning to end in order, instead of jumping around all over the place like I usually do.
  • Suppressing my inner editor. I’ve developed a nasty habit of editing while I’m writing a first draft, which often stifles the creative flow and stops you from really just writing. NaNoWriMo was the perfect opportunity to force myself to just write, to just get the words on the page, and leave the editing until later.
  • Improving my writing. The only way to do that is to actually write, right? Even if I didn’t reach all my other goals, this is one goal I’d achieve just by doing it.

NaNoWriMo 2009 is officially over (has been for a couple of days, a little late with this post), and my recorded word count is 50,885. I reached the 50k goal three days early and decided to finish off the chapter I was working on and then stop. I’m pleased to say that I did achieve all my goals, and also discovered some things about my writing process and myself as a writer:

1,500 to 2,000 words every day is actually pretty simple; I can fly through the word count when I know what I’m writing about. It’s only when I enter murky waters that things start to slow, and I think this is because I find it hard to string a good sentence together when I’m also trying to feel my way through the story. I realised this about halfway through November, and decided to abandon great writing in favour of increasing the word count. This worked well for NaNoWriMo, but for my own writing, I think I prefer to keep the daydreaming and the writing a little more separate. This allows my ideas to bloom instead of being half-baked and forced, and I think I enjoy the process more this way.

My story is an absolute mess filled with sections of bad writing. I actually ended up with two first halves of two separate stories that are linked together. While I’m stoked that I made it over 50k, I’m going to welcome a slightly slower pace once again, and spending more time on the planning and worldbuilding will be nice, especially when I hit a road block and feel the need to consult or rework the plans even while in the middle of a chapter.

I learnt to shut out my inner editor completely. A couple of times I’d catch myself going over a paragraph I’d just written to see if it was structured well and made sense, but those occasions were rare and fleeting. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you actually force yourself to keep moving forward. Do that enough and it becomes a habit.

Writing is work. It might be enjoyable work, but it’s still work, and some days you just don’t feel like doing the work. It took an event like NaNoWriMo to make me realise that this is perfectly normal, and probably something that all writers go through. Even those off days filled with bad writing are rarely a waste of time; often figuring out what doesn’t work helps you to figure out what does.

I’ll be honest here: I never had any doubt that I would finish NaNoWriMo. My personality type and work ethic would never allow me to stop without crossing the finish line. That said, I’m still proud of myself and what I achieved, and I think everyone who participated this year, whether they reached 50k or not, should be proud. I think NaNoWriMo is more about the journey than the end result, and I got so much out of the experience that I definitely want to do it again next year.

As for the my 50,000 word novel, it’s definitely not my best writing to date (which is probably to be expected), but there’s some great ideas in there that I want to explore, and will do so now that I’ve developed a writing habit and realised it’s not so hard when you take the time and do the work. I’ll be continuing with it and aiming to finish my first draft. But I doubt I’ll be working on it exclusively; one thing I didn’t anticipate from NaNoWriMo was all the ideas for other stories that sparked just from being in a creative kind of head space. Can’t wait to start writing those.

NaNoWriMo: Hitting the Halfway Mark

25,003.

That’s how many words I’ve written so far, in the space of thirteen days. Nice big, odd number, that. Three words over the half way point. Can’t help but feel just a little bit of pride at getting this far with my first NaNoWriMo, and that’s perfectly okay (and encouraged!) because anyone who’s written any number of words this month deserves to feel proud of their achievement. For most of us, it’s more than we would ordinarily write, myself included. Hell, it’s more than many published authors write in that amount of time.

Tell you what, though: this experience has been pretty damn interesting. The week before NaNoWriMo started, I did a fair amount of planning. Outlines, character sheets, bits and pieces and scraps of notes, ideas that I thought I could use. I put them all down in my Scrivener document, ready and waiting for D-day. About ten days into it, I changed everything.

I hear that’s considered a bit of a no-no for NaNoWriMo, that you should just stick at it, persevere, keep going, just keep writing. But I felt like I was writing a sequel. I wanted to know what happened to my main character before all of this stuff, the stuff I was writing about, happened. I wanted to know the events leading up to the events that were unfolding on my screen. My mind kept drifting to an earlier point in the timeline of my story, and figured I’d have to write at least something about it if I wanted to be able to focus again. As it turned out, I’m still writing this “prequel” (I suppose that’s the best way to describe it) because it mostly seems to be writing itself.

Everything that I’d previously written isn’t suddenly irrelevant. It still fits into the grand scheme of my story, will still count towards my NaNoWriMo word count, and may appear as a story all of its own some day, possibly as a sequel. But what I do know for sure is that those 18,000-odd words definitely weren’t wasted. With every paragraph, my writing skills have improved, I’ve gotten back into the swing of things, started to challenge myself more, gained the ability to weave a mean sentence better than I could before. To witness that in the space of thirteen days is a pretty damn awesome experience, if you ask me.

I guess the point I’m making is that I now realise what’s so special about NaNoWriMo. It encourages people to start something, even if that something seems hard to reach. It gets us challenging ourselves, settings goals for ourselves, becoming motivated and disciplined. It encourages us to share and discuss and be creative ’til our heads are close to exploding. Yeah, it’s about writing, but I think it’s about more than that. I’ve learnt some things about myself during November that apply to me as a person, not just as a writer. I bet many others participating in NaNoWriMo have, too. That’s got to be considered a win.

November is a Write-Off!

Here’s to a productive November! Yup, NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, and already my nails are getting shorter with the anticipation!

Nah, that’s mostly a lie. I’m actually pretty excited about it. This will be my first ever NaNoWriMo, you see. I discovered its existence a few days before November last year, but the time just wasn’t right and I didn’t have any plans or outlines. But this year is a whole different story (though I did almost forget about it until the middle of October, but that’s a… minor detail).

If none of this is making any sense to you, you might want to go here and read up on all this NaNoWriMo business. Otherwise, if you’re lazy like me, I’ll give you the nutshell version:

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. Anyone can participate, writers and non-writers alike. This year, at the time of writing, there are already over 80,000 participants. There are no real prizes per se, but you’ll have a written novel at the end of it. You don’t even have to submit your novel or let anyone read a single page of it; you simply update your word count on the NaNoWriMo website.

Why would anyone do this? I can think of a few reasons, but it’s different for everyone. For me, it’s mostly for the challenge and motivation. I’ve never written 50,000 words in a month before, but it’s a habit I’ll need to form if I ever want to be a published author. Another reason is to silence my inner editor who always wants to re-read paragraphs to make corrections. This is my chance to just write in a mad frenzied state and not have to be a perfectionist; the joys of editing come later.

The sense of community is also a pretty good reason to do it. The forums are thriving right now, with people trading tips and exchanging ideas, and even just supporting one another. Plus, there are scheduled events all over the globe; you can put some faces to names and knuckle down for a solid writing session, if that’s your thing.

Me, I’ll probably be holed up in my room, at my desk, madly trying to get the ideas out of my head and onto the screen as fast as possible. Actually, the ideas for this one have been bubbling in my head for over a year, so NaNoWriMo is somewhat of a relief. Finally, my characters can stop pestering me in my sleep ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you’ve ever considered writing a novel at some point in your life, even had so much as a passing thought, NaNoWriMo is a great way to make it a reality. 50k words is the goal, but even if you don’t make it that far, you’ll still be better off for the attempt. Each word is one more than you’d have written otherwise.

If you’re participating, gimme a buzz over at the NaNo site and we can buddy up. My profile page is here.

And for those who are participating…… Good luck and have a blast!