Writing–Where I’m At with NaNoWriMo

November is coming, and we all know what that means. Halloween candy binges. Christmas decorations everywhere. Frantic preparations for a gigantic holiday feast. Men growing facial hair to raise awareness about their prostates. And writers everywhere going insane trying to finish a novel in a month.

Which one of these am I going to be doing?

I don’t like candy, and I don’t have a prostate.

So this leaves me with a dilemma—decorate for Christmas and feed my family on Thanksgiving, or write a novel.

Sadly, I can’t do it all. That’s my biggest problem with National Novel Writing Month. They couldn’t put it in August, the one month with no national holidays? A month more than one hundred days away from the holiday frenzy?

But what about that great idea I’ve been working on? How will I ever get it done?

I suppose there are other ways to write a novel—the one day at a time method. Two pages a day. Take a year to write it and a year to revise it. But, part of me thrills, if you do NaNo, the novel will be done on November 30th!

Don’t believe the hype. NaNo is a slog. It is the ultramarathon of literary grinds. Especially for slow writers such as myself. Maybe there are people who thrive on the challenge, just like there are sickos people out there who love to run 100 mile races (you know who you are, and you know you’re crazy, even if you’re going to live fifty years longer than I am).

I ran a ten mile race once. It felt great—up until mile five. Then it was like pounding nails into my knees for the last half, and I limped over the finish line and collapsed in a heap. I sat in the car for the five hour drive back home, and couldn’t walk without pain for a week. You should have trained for it, people said. Oh, I did, I argued. And I’m convinced the training is what set me up for failure. My knees were running low on their warranty to begin with, and I used up all their miles in the weeks before the race.

There’s no training for NaNo. You can plan and outline, of course. But you’re not allowed to start your novel ahead of time—that’s considered “cheating.” But when winning is the equivalent of printing of a certificate that says “You win,” who’s keeping score? If the goal is to have a novel by the end of it, I say do whatever it takes.

I’m not going to risk a repeat of what happened with my ten mile race, though. No way—no ice packs and ibuprofen for this girl. No training. No pre-writing. Not because it would be cheating, but because it would wear me out. I’m going to eeeeeease into NaNo.

Today, I’m going to consider signing up. (I want to, I do. There’s the euphoria of starting…of hitting 10,000 words…and then the crush of realizing you’ve stared at your computer for an hour and only typed three sentences. GRRR!!!)

Tomorrow, I might actually look at the website. (But the camaraderie! The pep talks! Hitting the halfway point!)

Maybe by next week, come November 1st, I’ll actually do it. I wouldn’t want to risk burning out too soon. (Like when you realize you’re three quarters through your novel…and you have no idea where to take your plot next.)

But if you see me putting up Christmas decorations and baking pumpkin pies before Halloween, you’ll know why. (I know I put that box of ornaments somewhere down here…)

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Letting Go: The Freedom of Failure

I’m doing National Novel Writing Month, and I’m proud to say, I wrote over two thousand words today. I’m also ten thousand words behind. And it feels great.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to say that.

I started the month with as much enthusiasm, drive, and determination to win as any WriMoer. Winning is good, right? Everyone loves a winner. Except my husband, it turns out. For some people, writing 1,667 words a day comes easily. For me, some days it does and some days it doesn’t. On the days it doesn’t, my family pays the price.

So nine days in, I took a day off. Then my daughter got sick, and I took off some more. I went through what any writer goes through when she isn’t writing. I got grumpy. I watched my fellow WriMoers pull ahead and meet their word counts with ease. One even wrote 75,000 words in two weeks.

Bah. Those aren’t tears of frustration, really. They’re tears of joy.

Then, I did something really drastic. I took a day off to write an outline. And I realized I needed to re-write the first third of my novel. So I broke all the rules, and I did.

Re-writing? During November?

Yeah.

Because I’ve spent a year trying to re-write a NaNo novel before, one that I pushed through without a plan, and I know how painful it is. So learning from my mistakes?

Yeah. The hard way.

There’s no way I’ll win this November. But I have 20,000 words of something that I didn’t have before. Something that’s a lot better than nothing.

It’s not winning. But now that the pressure is off, my family’s happier, I’m happier, and I like where my book is heading. I’m looking forward to December, Keep Writing Your Novel Month. And January, Finish Your Novel Month, and February, Start Another Novel Month.

That doesn’t feel like failure.

Wow, Kris Kathryn Rusch. Tell us how you really feel.

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards. -Robert A. Heinlein

It’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve never been more keenly aware of Robert Heinlein’s warning for writers. Yes, I have a blog. Yes, it’s about writing (occasionally). It’s been rather silent lately. But it’s not because I don’t have anything to say. I’m churning out two thousand words a day on my novel, and that’s only taking up half my work day. I spend the rest of it re-working short stories, writing new ones, or revising novels one and two. Occasionally cooking, cleaning, and picking up kids from school.

The silence is because I’ve done this long enough now to realize:

There’s much more out there worth reading than me.

Kris Rusch’s recent blog post “Reality Check” (re-posted in The Passive Voice) hit this home. In her very direct way, I’m still in the million words of crap phase. No getting around that. I’ll be there for a long time.

There was a time when beginning writers went through that phase silently. Pre-Internet. Pre-social media. Many professional writers might look on these days fondly. Not that there’s no advantage to hanging it all out there—having a sense of community as a new writer is priceless. We used to lurk in coffee shops, isolated. Stay imprisoned in our homes, banished. No more! Now we have a National Month! Right up there with National Popcorn Poppin’ Month (October), National Celery Month (March), and, of course, Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (Movember). And it brings us under the scrutiny of the professionals who know what they’re doing. Sometimes they offer friendly advice. And sometimes, not:

Yet writers believe that if they got As in school in writing (or in English, having written only one or two essays), then they’re good enough to sell as many copies of their novels as Stephen King. Or maybe their ego isn’t that big. Maybe they believe that they’re good enough to be rich, just not buy-a-small-country rich. – See more at: http://kriswrites.com/2013/11/06/the-business-rusch-reality-check/#sthash.vriOZI66.dpuf

For the record, I was a biology major. I took an English class in college, but I didn’t get an A. And I’m certainly not writing for the money.

Kris blames the confluence of NaNoWriMo and the ease of self-publishing for an explosion in disillusioned new writers:

Then NaNoWriMo came around again, and those writers finished a second book. (Magic!) They published that too, and thought maybe now lightning would strike. Maybe they sold some copies. Maybe they got beer and pizza money. But they didn’t make millions.

The tough writers, they entered NaNoWriMo in 2012, and finished a third novel. That’s hard. Honestly, most writers never make it past the first book. But a third novel does not a novelist make. It simply means that the writer had enough stamina to finish three stories. It doesn’t mean the writer learned anything about what makes good stories. It doesn’t mean that the writer learned how to write anything unique to them. It just means they had a little more practice under their belts.

Some of these writers did what they could to improve their craft. They started to write more, and they learned how to publish. They got a clue that they were in business, not in a get-rich-quick scheme.Other writers just tried to find shortcuts to sell their deathless prose.

This is my second NaNo, third if you count Camp NaNo this summer. Barring a handful of short stories, I haven’t published anything. Nor am I disillusioned…yet. I’ve certainly realized this is work. I don’t think I should sell a million copies. I’d just be happy to have my first novel published, after hundreds of queries, probably a professional edit, and lots of blood, sweat, and tears. Maybe it won’t be my first novel that makes it out there. Or even my third. But I’ll keep writing. It’s obvious that’s the only way to get better. It’s also the only thing I can do.

Kris may be direct. She may be, in her own words, snide. She certainly has a point. And it’s obvious she’s got a bone to pick with someone. But she’s not talking to every new writer, or even to most of the ones I know. I’m just one of the little guys, down here in a little pond. We’re far beneath her notice. She’s right that self-publishing allows writers to put out huge amounts of crap that shouldn’t see the light of day (my words, not hers, but I think I paraphrased accurately). You don’t have to rail against it. Just don’t buy it.

Yeah, she touched a nerve. She’s a really good writer, and despite how much it got to me, her post is worth a read. For nothing else, for the professional viewpoint of beginning writers. It makes me wonder if I ever want to be a professional writer.

Most of the writers I know are writing because they love it. Because they have stories to tell. They’re trying to get better, one story at a time, one sentence at a time. Sure, we’d love to be in the big leagues–but most of us are realistic. We’ll get there one step at a time, or not at all. That’s the way it works. To borrow her musician analogy, not everyone is practicing to be Wynton Marsalis. Some just want to play in the community orchestra. Some want to play for the joy of it. Maybe somewhere, in our million words of crap phase–which some of us may never get out of–we’ll spin out something that delights us or a few close friends.

And with professionals out there like Kris Rusch picking on us little guys, I get why Robert Heinlein recommended that it best be done in private.

It takes a certain kind of bravery to write…

I wrote this the other day when I was feeling dejected. (The book I’m in the middle of tearing apart and putting together is Timber Howligan Book Two. Book One hasn’t even been published yet.)

My solution to the revision blues? NaNoWriMo. Today I finished Chapter One of Timber Howligan Book Three. I realize at the end of the month I will have yet another novel that needs, you guessed it, revision. But this month? I’m just going to write. Writing is THAT MUCH MORE FUN than revision.
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Artwork by Ava Byroads

It takes a certain kind of bravery to write. To open oneself, dig out the words, and lay them out to dry, like underwear on a line. Glaring. Full of holes. Pinned by nothing but flimsy hopes and rusting plastic clips, against the winds of others’ curiosity.

Even worse, against their indifference.

All the writing blogs, all the founts of inspiration, everywhere you turn, there’s chin-up advice about writing. Word counts. Butt-in-chair time. Two pages a day makes a novel in a year. Etc. Well, guess what: Writing is easy. It’s a walk through the metaphorical rose garden, a lark through the loosestrife, a dance in the daisies, compared to revision.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has done this before that the process includes self-doubt. And yet, when the doubts came, I was surprised. (This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.)

With doubt, came paralysis. I froze, and I drowned. I’m not good enough, and I’ll never be. Worse, I stopped wanting to be. I regretted the time already wasted. All those hours, poured into a project no one will ever read. (Except, a voice whispered, your son…who loved it. And begged for more.)

Thousands of words written and erased, only to leave the book’s soul stranded between revisions…better to abandon it, than break it even more. (Unless, a voice whispered, you tackle it once more, and find the true story. It’s in there. It always has been.)

Easier not to try, than to try and fail, or face rejection. (But you know, the voice whispered, that each rejection has made you try harder. Only you can give this story life. You are its God. How can you forsake it?)

Oh, you had to invoke the deity argument! Fine, I’ll keep at it. I’m too far committed not to. I’m not a quitter. I’ve got a picture of Timber Howligan, tall and proud, staring at me from my desktop now. His green eyes are challenging me, every day. If he’s strong enough to tackle the life of a secret agent cat, I can tell his story with all the heart and honesty he lived it with. It’s a simple tale of friendship, bravery, and one cat discovering he can be more than he thought he could be. The words are there.

I just need to rip myself open and find them.

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 1

At least I’m writing. That’s about all I can say for today’s output.

But that’s how we get there, right? One word at a time. That’s what NaNo is all about–show up every day and write, and eventually, you have a novel. It’s magic.

But! you say. I’ll still have to edit! And revise!

That may be. Or it may not.

I say, you’ll still have a novel.

Via “The Passive Voice” (my source for many interesting things), I heard about this article from The Boston Globe about Rewriting (one of my favorite subjects, because the first time I wrote a novel I pretty much re-wrote it five times–and I’m not sure I made it better). The history of rewriting is fascinating, and in retrospect, obvious:

We (writers) didn’t always do it.

Hence, it’s not a requirement of great writing.

“It’s easy to assume that history’s greatest authors have been history’s greatest revisers. But that wasn’t always how it worked.”

The reasons for this culture of revision are complex, and certainly not all bad. But when did revision become as important as inspiration? Part of it is simply business:

“We can’t teach you how to write, but we can teach you how to revise.’ And it’s a big business.”

This month, I’m going to shed my fears of imperfection. I’m going to learn to write paragraphs where I leavfe in typos (see how I did that) and don’t stare endlessly at the screen trying to come up with the (insert perfect word here ) word.

And then when I’m done, I’ll edit. But if I did it right the first time, I shouldn’t have to totally re-write. The risk of re-writing (as opposed to editing) is ending up with something so edited it doesn’t have any life left in it.

This time around, I’m going to trust my instincts.

1,075 words in and counting.

Why I Will Love Camp NaNoWriMo (A Prophetic Love Letter)

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Two days. Two days! That’s how long I’ve been 40, and how long I have until Camp NaNoWriMo starts. Perfect time for some goal setting.

My stated goals for 40 were: “Recover from being 39” (which, frankly, kicked my butt), “Swim another 100 fly” (hopefully this time without injuring shoulder), “Publish novel” (I didn’t state which one), and “Take life as it comes” (seemingly at odd with list of goals).

My first novel, Timber Howligan-Secret Agent Cat, was the product of last November’s NaNoWriMo. Without its goal of 50,000 words in 30 days, I wouldn’t be able to say “Hey, I wrote a novel!” (To which people say, brightly, “Have you published it?” and to which I mumble, “No….but I’m trying.”)

What I learned last November is that I can write 1,567 words a day. Barely. Eventually, it turned into work. When it did, the creative side of my brain flipped off, and I slowed down. The days that took the longest to write also took the longest to edit. The days I whipped out in an hour and a half were the most fun to read and needed the least re-working.

How do I have more of those hour and a half days???

Last year, I hadn’t yet figured out that writing is a creative activity: I tried to force it. I’m a little OCD that way, and too goal oriented. I believe in showing up every day to write. I believe  inspiration comes to those who show up. But you can’t squeeze blood out of a stone, and everyone needs a recharge, especially when you’re in creative mode. Recognizing when you’ve stopped being productive is important.

So my goals for this Camp NaNoWriMo are less imposing: What I love about it already is that I can set my own word count, so I picked 1,000 a day, knowing I could easily achieve that and still have fun. I will allow myself to take a day off here and there without feeling guilty. My goal is not to “win”, but to make progress on my novel (Timber Howligan Book 2–IN SEARCH OF A TITLE!).

I went back to a Pep Talk I saved from Scott Westerfield last November. He reminded us WriMos that life is messy, and the real world is gnarly, but that’s often where inspiration comes from (in other words, “it’s not always about writing more words or drinking more coffee”).

I do plan to write lots of words. I will drink lots of coffee. But to make the most out of my writing time, I’m going to let my novel get messy and complicated and hella fun for the next month.

Then I’m going to tie together all the loose ends and, come August or September, let the left side of my brain out of its cage.

Wish me luck! And if you’re feeling inspired, maybe I’ll see you there!