Wednesday 8 August 2012

NaNoWriMo *slaps forehead* Oh my God, not that!

Update: 2021-10-30: see below.

Here I am minding my own business when I see in my Inbox an email from one Lindsey Grant over at National Novel Writing Month. *looks at calendar* What? It isn't November yet, is it?

For those of you not in the know, NaNoWriMo is a personal challenge. It is "thirty days of literary abandon" (their slogan) during the month of November when you give yourself the goal of writing a fifty thousand word book. If you're getting out a calculator, that works out to an average of 1,667 words per day for thirty days in a row. Okay, the uninitiated are going to immediately roll their eyes thinking, "Oh yeah, like you Mr. Amateur first time in your life are going to write a book, a whole book, a book with a beginning, chapters, and a denouement, the whole shebang." Hey, I didn't promise you a rose garden!

Admittedly the quality of such an endeavour may very well be up for question but that isn't the point of doing it. "What?" I hear you exclaim. Nope, that's not the point; the point is the doing. Have you ever attempted a task which would require the self-discipline of writing a couple of thousand words per day, every day, yeah like seven days a week, for a total of thirty days in a row, an entire month? (I'm trying to emphasize the length of the endeavour.) Think you're up to the challenge Mister or Mizz Amateur first time in your life? The purpose of running a marathon is not to win the marathon (be the fastest runner in the world) but to achieve the personal goal of completing the marathon. Hats off, we're all winners.

None other than Stephen King himself talks of the personal discipline of sitting down each and every day and cranking out two thousand words. (see my blog: Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King) While those on the sidelines are going to scoff at the bunch of us being incapable of writing spun gold like a Stephen King, I would like to quietly point out that the majority of people who run a marathon do not win it. They will never win it. But each and every one of them has done something you scoffing bozos on the sidelines haven't done and that is run a marathon. The training, the planning, and the execution represent a life experience for the individual doing it. Yes, they don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of winning as in being first but it's the life experience which is important.

The journey is the reward.
- Chinese Proverb

I am going to write a book
I'm not saying I'm going to do it this year but sometime between now and the end of the line; I want to write a book. I mean a published book. I don't mean I'm the next Stephen King or I spark the next Harry Potter type of craze but I would like to meet the challenge of completing such a task in my lifetime. Yeah sure, you can scoff but sometime in my life I'm going to run a marathon. Of course I'm not going to win but if I manage to complete the course I win. I have completed the task. Just because the winner does it in two hours and I take two days doesn't mean I somehow lost. The measure of success is completing the task.

My first time: November 2011
The goal is to write fifty thousand words in 30 days, an average of 1,667 words per day. I managed to crank out my fifty thou in 18 days. Sounds good but I ended up with a bit of a mess, an incomplete story by any stretch of the imagination. I have some good chapters if I do say so myself (And I do!) so one day I will revise it and complete the work. Or maybe I won't. Who knows? The point is that I did it. I completed my (literary) marathon.

What I did wrong
I didn't plan. Well, I didn't plan until the last minute. I guess like a lot of people, I had no idea of how to approach this so I thought to "wing it". Is this the downfall of anybody who ends up not going the distance?

It wasn't until a few weeks before the start date I read an interesting article by a professional author who talked of still participating in NaNoWriMo as it gives her a boost in completing her own work. Apparently there is nothing like a deadline, a figurative gun to the head, to get your butt in gear and do what needs to be done.

Lazette Gifford seems to know what she's talking about. While I couldn't say I had ever heard of the name, her entry on Amazon shows if I am counting this properly over two dozen books to her credit. That's a lot of books and I would take that as being indicative of her knowing a thing or two about writing a novel.

Ms. Gifford opened my eyes to planning, not winging it. You get an idea. You draft a story. You work out the ebbs and flows of the action and character development. She described that when the moment arrives to start the actual process of writing, she is putting on paper what she's already worked out in her head. She doesn't just do two thousand words in a day, she sometimes does ten thousand. At this point, it isn't so much creative as mechanical because she has done the upfront work, the planning.

I found that she was absolutely right. My planning came late and I now realise this was the mistake of a novice. But the stuff I did plan? I just flew through it. On my best day, I put in a full day at work and still managed to write six and a half thousand words. But on my bad days, in the areas where my planning was poor or nonexistent, I got bogged down. Nevertheless, my experience showed me the wisdom of Ms. Gifford's technique of planning. She mentions doing more than fifty thousand words in a single month and I can see that if I had the story better worked out, I could have done a lot more.

What I did right
I had fun. Yes, I had fun. Believe it or not, while trying to stick to the self-discipline of writing almost two thousand words per day sounds like an onerous task, there were moments when I "got into it". I was having quite an enjoyable time writing scenes. I would play my mental movie of the action and would be periodically quite amused by it all. I thought once in a while that somebody else would find such and such a scene interesting or funny. It was a lark constructing the story, the various scenes, and my characters and I must confess, there were a few times when I finished a section then jumped out of my seat exclaiming out loud in my empty apartment, "All right!" while doing a fist pump and gleefully pacing up and down as I mulled over my mini-triumph. That was fun!

Some recommendations
In the references section below, you will find the various articles I've written about NaNoWriMo and writing in general. Keep in mind that I am merely writing about what I'm learning. I am not a professional.

I have read each of the following and I would recommend you do the same.

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days
Mr. Baty is the founder of NaNoWriMo and who better to encourage us than somebody who's been through it all right from the beginning. The book is quite funny and an easy read. It does offer wise words about the process and emphasizes the quantity over the quality. You aren't the next Stephen King and you're not going to write the next Harry Potter, but you will have a life experience you won't forget.

NaNo for the New and the Insane by Lazette Gifford
(free eBook at Smashwords)
This woman knows what she's talking about. Heed her words!

On Writing by Stephen King
From the mouth of the master himself, this book is part biography, part guidebook based on King's own writing techniques.

Final Word
Unless something unexpected crops up to thwart my plans, I'm going to sign up again this year. However the email from NaNoWriMo is a reminder to follow the advice of Lazette Gifford and start planning. If I work out a plot and a cast of characters, November should be more of a mechanical process of putting down on paper what I have in my head. If last year I succeeded in writing fifty thousand words, a substantial victory unto itself, I'd like to see if this year I couldn't finish off the month with something a little more complete. Any professional author like Stephen King would explain that there is an editing process before anything can be considered finished and ready for market but I would like to strive for a more comprehensive whole instead of a Word document full of fifty thousand words. Oh but most importantly, I would like to have fun. Yes fun, I think that should be an important part of anything we do. Elsewhere I've written about enjoying my work. I've said that while work is work, if I enjoy my work, if it challenges me, if it gives me a sense of accomplishment, it isn't so much work as it is fun. That is the sense I want, anybody would want from participating in NaNoWriMo.

Good luck to all. See you in November... No, wait! I won't see anybody in November. Like you, I'm going to be chained to my desk! Ha ha. Okay, see you in December.

Update: 2021-10-30
It's nine years later. I have done NaNoWriMo five times, completing it four times successfully. Out of the four times, I have one novel published and a second in the midst of being edited. — I already have a second novel published but I completed that on my own, outside of NaNoWriMo. — I've decided to not participate in 2021 but to use my time to work on other things which need to be finished. I'm going to miss it. It is a thrill to undertake the personal goal of pounding out fifty thousand. It can be frustrating and sometimes nerve-racking, but I've also had fun doing it. I've had a number of instances where I've finished what I thought was a good scene and stood up to pace up and down, doing a fist pump and exclaiming, "All right!" as I mull over with relish my own work. I wish everyone that moment of triumph as it will be short-lived once you start the editing process. Ha, ha, ha! But don't let me throw any cold water on your enthusiasm. You are about to start a journey of discovery, of self-discovery, and it's going to be a thrill ride! ... All the best to you in your world. :-)


Picture: 2008 Boston Marathon: Robert Cheruiyot from Kenya breaks the tape to win the men's race.

official web site: National Novel Writing Month

Wikipedia: National Novel Writing Month
National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) is an annual creative writing project coordinated by the non-profit organization The Office of Letters and Light. Spanning the month of November, the project challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel in one month. The project has been running since July 1999 by Chris Baty and started out with only 21 participants. In 2000 the project was moved to November and in the 2010 event, over 200,000 people took part in the event, writing a total of over 2.8 billion words. Writers wishing to participate first register on the project's website, where they can post profiles and information about their novels, including synopsis and excerpts. Word counts are validated on the site, with writers submitting a copy of their novel for automatic counting. Municipal leaders and regional forums help connect local writers with one another for holding writing events and provide encouragement.

Books / Writing
Between the covers, between the lines

NaNoWriMo: My 30, ah, 18 days of writing madness
I have run across a lot of hoopla surrounding the writing 50,000 words and a lot of disparaging remarks. Knocking off fifty thou does not a book make and all those criticizing this as a month of producing crap have missed the point. NaNoWriMo isn't about the results; it is about the process.

NaNoWriMo: Are you out of your freakin' mind?
In light of November 1st and the overwhelming slash nail-biting slash just-what-the-f-am-I-doing start of this 30 day marathon of literary abandon, I thought to wrap up a number of blog postings and references which explain and support this personal (read: self-inflicted) challenge.

NaNoWriMo: Hopeful or hopeless?
Start on November 1st and finish on November 30th. 30 days. 50,000 words. On average 1,667 words per day. Some say that represents 1 to 2 hours worth of work each day. Doable? Crazy?

NaNoWriMo and an inspiring author: Dean Wesley Smith
Mr. Smith has written over 90 novels and in excess of 100 short stories. Known mainly as a science fiction writer, he has penned works for well known licensed properties such as Star Trek, Smallville, Spider-Man, X-Men, Aliens, Roswell, Men In Black, and Quantum Leap plus created original novels, such as The Tenth Planet series. Best known for his Star Trek novels, he has covered all five of the television series: the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. On his web site, he states that he has been making a living writing fiction for 20 years. Is there any doubt this guy knows what he doing? This is a professional writer.

Book Trailers
A book trailer is like a movie trailer except for a book. (God, am I a genius?) It apparently employs all the techniques of multimedia and from some of the examples I've seen, very much gives the impression of a movie trailer. Maybe this is a preview of what the movie made of the book is going to be like?

November: It was a dark and stormy night...
The perfect opening line for one of the duller months of the year: 30 days of somberness between the sparkling heat of summer and the snowy cold of winter. Charles M. Schulz hasn't been with us since 2000 and even though his comic strip Peanuts is still republished, is the next generation familiar with these words? I am dating myself by the number of times I have seen Snoopy the writer on top of his doghouse pounding out that opening line on his typewriter in mock homage to Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton PC. November? Snoopy? Bulwer-Lytton? Is everybody confused by this mishmash of seemingly random ideas?

Kindle E-books Overtake Paper Books
Is it the death knell for the book? - And here the word book infers the physical book printed on paper. Amazon began selling Kindle e-books in November 2007. In July 2010, the number of Kindle e-books sold surpassed the number of hardcover books. In December, 2010 Kindle e-books outsold paperback books. In May 2011, Amazon announces that its customers are purchasing more Kindle e-books than all print books - hardcover and paperback - combined. This is less than four years after the introduction of the Kindle.

Amanda Hocking: indie author goes viral
You start reading about somebody and your eyes just start getting bigger as your lips form the words, "Good Lord!" The Huffington Post used the word "wunderkind" and at the age of 26, this literary dynamo seems to be very much deserving of such an appellation.

Amanda was born in 1984, just your normal girl from Austin, Minnesota. However, over the years, she has apparently written over a dozen novels, all unpublished. She got the idea of self-publishing her work and started in April 2010. Huffington quotes Amanda as saying, "As of Tuesday, January 04, 2011 at 9 PM, I've sold over 185,000 books since April 15, 2010." She states that she started with Kindle in April 2010 and has not sold less than 1,000 copies per month since May 2010. The newspaper USA Today, Feb 9/2011, states that in January 2011 alone, Amanda's 9 published titles sold 450,000 copies, 99% of which were eBooks.
I was cruising around the Internet and ran across a comment on a blog. The author gave the URL to a book he had apparently written asking the blogger, or anybody else I guess, to have a look. He then added, "Also, it would help me to go up in the rating system if any of my friends would register and click on the link to "back" my book." Rating system? Back his book?

Holly Lisle: before I'm 25, I want to write a book.
In her entry entitled "What My New Year’s Resolution Means For You", she wrote: The path that brought me to this moment started exactly 25 years ago today, when in my diary I wrote, “Before I turn 25, I want to write a book.” 25 years later, I’ve written 33 novels (plus one I did anonymously as work for hire), am working on a couple more, and intend to keep writing novels as long as I live.

Assembly Line Writing
In reading about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo: Write a novel in 1 month?) and the objective of churning out 50,000 words or 175 pages in just 30 days, I reflected on various writers labelled "prolific". I am familiar with Georges Simenon (1903-1989) who wrote over 500 books and John Creasey (1908-1973) who wrote 564 but discovered a list of the 20 most prolific authors which puts a Mary Faulkner (1903-1973) at the top of the list with 904 books.

James Patterson
The earnings: James Patterson: $70 million; Stephanie Meyer: $40 million (author of the Twilight Saga); Stephen King: $34 million; Danielle Steel: $32 million; Ken Follett: $30 million

Q: What do you say to critics like author Stephen King who say you are not a great prose stylist?
A: I am not a great prose stylist. I'm a storyteller. There are thousands of people who don't like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do.

NaNoWriMo: Write a novel in 1 month?
I'm staggering around on my computer like a drunken sailor... Okay, I should have said that I was surfing the Net but late at night when I pooped and a little zoned out from fatigue, I'm not sure I'm surfing so much as staggering around mindlessly clicking on one link after another.

In any case - Whew, long winded digression! - I run across a blog article someplace where I see the term NaNoWriMo. WTH? What the heck? (No, not hell) It turns out that this stands for National Novel Writing Month and that month is November which is now apparently an annual event.

The point? In the space of 30 days, you write a fifty thousand word novel, about 175 pages. From scratch. By yourself. No help, no cheating.

Really? You can do that? I just checked. Fifty thousand divided by 30 is 1,667. So that's 1,667 words each day, every day for 30 days straight.

On Writing by Stephen King
From Mr. King himself: Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.


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