Tuesday, November 29, 2016

3 Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, #amwriting

I didn't even do real NaNoWriMo.  That's when people write 50,000 words in a month. Can you imagine? I did NaNoWriMo Lite, my own little version of the famous novel-writing challenge.

And, if I really hustle for the next two days - the last two days in November - I might make it to 20,000 words! That's a quarter of my project drafted in just a month. I've been working on the rest for 10 months, so clearly this is momentous! Celebrate!

I've learned some things along the way. Here they are:

1. Writing Begets Writing

When you're a new parent, they're always telling you - sleep begets sleep. Get that baby to sleep sometimes, and he'll sleep more times. It's an axiom we crushed in a death grip around here. And while it proved only partially true for the wackos we're raising, I really liked the premise. 

In the case of NaNo, it seems 100% true that writing some stuff makes it easier to write other stuff. 

Here's what I learned: If you've been writing every day, continuing to write every day appears the most logical, functional thing to do. It's less of a slog and more like a normal to-do list item. 

Call the dentist; then, write 800 words. Check it off.

2. Who Cares If It's Good?

I've learned this lesson so many times, but now I've learned it again. Revising is much easier than writing. So, just write something down. It doesn't matter if it sucks. 

You're going to change those paragraphs three or ten or sixteen times anyway. You'll revise them when you read them again in December. You'll revise again after your writing group weighs in. Your writing teacher will offer feedback, and you'll revise again. Later, if all goes well, an agent and then an editor will tell you what has to be fixed. And you'll revise.

You see how this goes. 

No matter what, no improvements can materialize unless the words are right there on the page. Get the story told. 

3. You Can't Do It If You Don't Try to Do It.

I've been using this as a motto since the summer. It's pretty much my motto of the year. Here's how it works: Maybe you won't end up finishing the  thing. Maybe you'll fail at it. But, for sure you can't do it if you don't give it a try. 

You can't get the job if you don't apply for it. You can't write a book if you don't try to write one.

NaNoWriMo gave me a great opportunity to just give it a shot - really focus for just a month. I'm super glad I did it. Maybe I'll do it again? Probably not next year. I'll still be revising this same project, I'm pretty sure. That's how books seem to be.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sleepy; #stillwriting

#amwriting,Nanowrimo, word count

I hate to admit this, but it's true: I didn't write any words on Thanksgiving. I thought about writing, but between the Turkey Trot (lost to Shef by only 5.5 minutes over the 3.1 miles), the cleaning, the table settings, the playing with the nephews, the sticks of butter, and the dish-doing, I just didn't get to it.

Don't worry: I've already forgiven myself and written 5/8ths of my daily quota. Like last time I skipped writing, I'm not going to try to make up yesterday's words. That just won't work. It's time to live (and type) in the present.

Lucky for me, the topic this week in my online novel writing class is revision, so I don't have to spend much time on the lesson.  Because do you know who's not nearly ready for revision? 

It's me, duh. Who else could I be talking about?

I'm still on the step of writing as many words as possible in a short period of time without thinking about whether they're any good. Plot, people. Content. Maybe characters. That's step one-ish.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

#amwriting: Status Report

Nanowrimo, #amwriting, word count

There's only a week left in NaNoWriMo. How are things going? I mean, pretty well. I've averaged 611 words per day during the month of November. That's well over my original goal of 500 words per day, and right on track with my revised goal of writing an additional hundred words per day in a graduated schedule week-by-week. If all goes well, my daily average will rise to 667 words per day by November 30th.

My NaNo dashboard will helpfully calculate that for me. My only problem with the NaNo dashboard is that it won't let me establish my own goal. It automatically says every writer's goal is 50,000 words in November, which we've already agreed is impossible for me.

But, oh man, if I keep trucking along, I will have written almost 20,000 words in just the month! Wouldn't that be awesome?!

Here's a pitfall: I've been writing so much that there's not a lot of time for revision. I feel like I'm losing my sense of whether any given scene is particularly good. That's a little disorienting, but I do have checks that keep me sort of grounded. First, I have my writing group. I send them pages, and they tell me whether they're any good. They do tell the truth, which I know because they've told me before that pages need heavy revision. Also the second check:  I know I can go back later, read the pages and determine with fresh eyes how much revision they need on my own. I find I generally KNOW, but I don't always want to DO.

But forget about revision for the rest of November. Might as well get the story on paper now, while the train is in motion. 8 days left. Let's do this.

Mac revises in kindergarten writer's workshop

Revising the fitness/war metaphor

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Setbacks! Danger!

We all knew this NaNoWriMo project couldn't be all roses and gold medals, right? Well, on Thursday, I didn't make my word count. I wrote 439 words, and then my interim grade reports crowded in. 

I don't think my students, their parents, or my bosses would have understood if I told them I couldn't perform my regular duties because I was attending to a self-imposed daily writing deadline during the month of November.

And then yesterday... yesterday was breakneck with writer's workshops (for my students!) and whole-class discussions and a presentation by a bad-ass transgender parenting advocate and a birthday dinner for somebody I really like. Also the dog had diarrhea all over the attic, if you must know. 

Anyway, I didn't write anything.

I did send some edited pages to my writing group, and here's something hilarious. There's a little 200-word flashback scene in those pages that totally doesn't work. I knew it didn't work when I sent the pages, but I kept it in because if I didn't, my word count would go down. 

Things might be getting out of hand.

But that's okay. Today, I'm going to write something. I think this is the key: I'm not going to try to "make-up" the words I missed. I don't think I can do that. I think I should just restart that target bar and get today's job done.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Speaking of Writing

I'm not the only one in the household producing lots of text this month. Mac is also hard at it, especially now that, after about 45 minutes of frustration, I've managed to set up our home printer. I think we can agree, there's nothing like seeing your work in actual print.

This week, Mac wrote a story about two kids who met at Super School. "This is really creative," I said. "I love the dialogue."

"Well," Mac said, "thank you, but I kind of copied the idea from another book at school."

"Hmm," I said. "Well, that can be good practice."

Here's a sample of that fine possibly-plagiarized piece:
"Oh, my, god, !!!!!!"
"What happens if we mess up when stopping a speeding bullet." I said with a worried voice.
"Well... you will die."
As you can see, it's got a lot of adventure.

Mac's other project is writing magazines called Nature News. He and some of his pals produce these at school, and the librarian keeps them in a little periodical holder near a reading nook. Bless her heart.

So anyway, a couple of  nights ago Mac wrote what he thought was to be Nature News, Volume 8.  When I picked him up yesterday, though, be broke the bad news that all of his work was for naught.

"Someone else was already doing Volume 8," he told me.

"Oh, well," I said. "Hey, why don't you just go on your document and make yours Volume 12? Or a higher number?"

This solution hadn't occurred to him, and I was pleased that he found it to be favorable. Sure enough, I'm looking at Volume 12 right now. Here's a tidbit: "If you think that snakes are mammals than you are wrong, snakes are reptiles!!!!!"

Good to know.

Mac's fiction reached #1 on the library circulation list.

Two of Mac's movie reviews.

Second Quarter Review, featuring Mac's television recommendations.

Monday, November 14, 2016

#amwriting: Upping the Ante

This screenshot is showing a couple of things. First, you're seeing that from a week ago Thursday when I first wrote about the Scrivener Project Targets, I've written 6452 words. So that's good! Yay! 

Also, you can see that I've upped my Session Target to 700 words. That part is the daily quota.

This brings me to my revised NaNoWriMo strategy, which is this: In the first week, I made myself write 500 words per day. That was challenging, but doable. The second week, I was all warmed up and primed for the effort, so I upped my Session Target to 600 words. No problem. I averaged above that for the week. 

Now, you see in the third week of NaNo, I'm pushing for 700 words. This seems like it'll be a bit of a stretch, but once you do 600 or 620, what's just a couple more sentences? Next week, I feel like I might go to 800. That's a lot, so I'm not sure, yet. But actually, I think I can do it because I only have school on two of the days next week and it'll just be for the week - not a permanent new habit.

You also see in the screenshot that my whole Manuscript Target is 75,000 words, which is typical for - ahem - women's fiction. Who wouldn't be excited to see that she's approaching halfway?! So, that keeps me typing.

I have a trait that's both unfortunate and handy: If I say I'm going to do something - even if I just say it to myself - there's a pretty good chance I'll do it.

This week, someone asked me, "How do you write so much when you have a full-time job?" My answer is both simple and stupid. It's this: I said I would. Another nice motivator is that I paid a pretty penny for a writing class that has four weeks left. A third motivator is that I decided to have private coaching from my writing teacher in February, in lieu of taking another class. The teacher said, all nonchalant, "I'm looking forward to continuing our work. I'll need the completed manuscript by February 1st."

So. There's that.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

#amwriting: NaNoWriMo Status Report

NaNoWriMo, #amwriting, #amreading

Well, I got a little distracted by the shocking international news of Donald Trump's election. I think we all did.

Lots of people have written lots of thoughtful pieces about that, including Ali Michael, Josh Marshall, and Garrison Keillor.

I don't have much to add except I'm hoping all of the women will keep their pantsuits on and show up like never before. We'll probably have to donate to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and we'll also have to put our bodies in the streets. There will be other things.

One other thing will be to read extensively and to produce good work. Reading, as Anna Quindlen reminded me, is a democratic act. It builds empathy and it increases your ability to participate as a citizen.

Producing my little fiction writing project - a beach read, really - seems pretty insignificant, but I'm doing it.  I've been averaging 563 words per day during the month of November. I've cracked the 5k mark in NaNoWriMo. The whole thing is 110 paperback pages long.

As luck would have it, my teacher's assignment this week is to assemble the whole book. I won't be able to do that because I don't have all of the parts written. But, I will be able to create chapters and write little chunks of them as placeholders. By the end of the weekend, the whole book will be started.

And, I should be able to see if my story holds up and where the holes are. I'm tripping over one major hole already. The main character - one of them, the teacher - gets threatening voicemails at her home number. It's a big deal that this happens. It's her inciting incident. And, I'm thinking there has to be kind of a twist with the messages.

And, shhhhhh. This part is a secret: I don't know who's leaving the voicemails. I've got some suspects, but I really don't know why they're doing it exactly and what they're getting out of it.

So, that seems like something to figure out post-haste, yes? Maybe this week?  I'll give it a go. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Podcast Review: The Loft Literary Center Podcast

podcast, podcast review, The Loft Podcast

My sister-in-law, Galen is a great podcast reviewer. I've tried it a few times, and I don't think I'm as good. But, it doesn't matter because I'm supremely confident.

This week, I listened to a podcast called "The Loft Podcast." It's a new podcast from The Loft Literary Center, which is right here in Minneapolis. In fact, the Loft is where I take my writing classes. Except I take them online, through The Loft's portal.

So anyway, I was pumped to see via Twitter that The Loft launched a new podcast. I listened to the whole first episode, which happened to be about NaNoWriMo, in which I'm currently participating on my own terms.

The podcast was pretty good. A few roundtable participants from The Loft talked about two ways to write a novel. One way is the NaNoWriMo method. What you do is you put in an intense flurry of effort and write 50,000 words in a month.

The participants agreed that there were some pros for writing fast and furious. First, the concentration of the work and the support of the community can motivate you to just get the words on the paper. That's the best possible thing to do if you want to write a novel. Just get the words down, no matter how bad they are.

Speaking of bad, everyone also agreed that if you did NaNoWriMo, the writing would not be polished at the end of the month.

I mean, duh. This was kind of obvious. You can't write 50,000 words in a month and also revise them and have them be super good.

Another duh moment was when they started talking about how not every writer is to writing as Michael Phelps is to swimming. So, if you try NaNoWriMo, you should just realize that your writing might actually suck and never find an audience.  I feel like most people listening to a writing podcast already know that. But, okay.

The next way to write a novel is taking a year-long class in a workshop. There are pros to that, as well. I don't think I need to list them here because they're pretty obvious.

In the end, the discussants agreed that the best course of action would be both courses of action. Write a lot of words really fast AND work on those words in a workshop with a teacher for a year.

That's validating, as that's what I'm doing. Thanks, Loft! Of course, I pay The Loft to work in a workshop for a year, so they have a vested interest in recommending that plan.

Overall, I give the podcast 3 stars. I'll listen to it again, for sure. I wish the sound quality was less echoey, and I wish the discussants had been a little less patronizing about the difficulties of writing a book that anyone wants to read. I'm already aware of those difficulties and facing them every day.

Onward! I wrote 3687 words this week. Let's celebrate and do it again next week. Go!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

#amwriting: The Project Target Motivational Strategy

In Scrivener, the book-writing software program, you can get a little box like the one above with "Project Targets." This is just the kind of stupid little thing that keeps me motivated to write.

What you do is you put in a "Session Target" of how many words you want to write. You can see in the screenshot above that I entered 500 words this morning, my daily target in November. I wrote 135 words over oatmeal, so now I have less than that to go.

Then, as you continue writing, the little bar advances and changes colors. At the beginning, it's red (Scary! Bad! Underperforming!). It turns friendlier color as you get closer and closer to your goal - orange, yellow, light green. When you're all done, it's green (Hopeful! Peaceful! Winning! Go!).

Is it a little bit sad to have to rely on something like the Project Target tool to keep writing my book? Shouldn't the chance of  reaching a lifelong goal be motivation enough? I don't know. I'm not above a few carrots. 

Who is?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Annals of Writing: The NaNoWriMo Jump Start

NaNoWriMo, #amwriting, #novelsnip

Today begins National Novel Writing Month. That's a real thing. You go online and pledge to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

Obviously, I can't write 50,000 words in the month of November. That would be insane. That would be 1667 words per day.

But you know what? I can write 17500 words in the month of November, and that's what I've pledged to do, both here and on the NaNoWriMo website. That's just 500 words per day. Not even two paperback pages! That seems totally do-able.

This week, I moved my project to a book-writing software called Scrivener, which calculates paperback pages for you. Want to know how many I have right now? It's 94. #headedtowardhalfway

At the end of the month, I'll have 152 pages, which is definitely halfway and 50% more than I have right now. That's going to feel amazing. Once I get to that point, it would just be easier to finish the whole book because 152 pages?! Whose ever heard of abandoning a project after you've gotten that far.

Of course, now that I'm thinking about it, I myself have considered dropping out of marathons at mile 22 before. But you know what? I didn't do it. I hauled myself across the finish line in every single one of those marathons. And that's what I'm doing with this book. The book is - mark my words - getting written.

It's not an official challenge or anything, but in November I'm going to write here about writing. Like a little meta thing.  It'll probably be fun, and even if not, I'll be writing words. Practicing.