Saying ‘No’ to NaNoWriMo

photo credit: thorinside via photopin cc

photo credit: thorinside via photopin cc

I’m not getting involved in National Novel Writing Month (that’s “NaNoWriMo” or “NaNo” to the initiated) this year.

While other writers are chugging their eighth cup of coffee, sitting down after a long day of work and trying to pound out 1,666.666 words a day, I will be reading someone else’s work, putting together a lesson plan, or I will be at rehearsal, baking a pie for Thanksgiving, or sleeping.

I just can’t bring myself to get involved in the massive peer-pressure-fueled write-a-thon that is NaNoWriMo.

Nothing against NaNo. I used to be involved in NaNo, and I loved it. For years, friends and I NaNoed as a group, pounding back coffee and slamming out words, sending our best and worst sentences of each day to each other via email and meeting on Friday evenings to celebrate our progress with drinks and more writing.

It’s just that —  for me, for the time being —  NaNoWriMo has served its purpose. There were times when I needed it to break through a wall of writers’ block and there were times when I needed it to make me make time for the writing I was constantly putting off in my 20s. Now, my best work now is done a little at a time, slowly, over the course of months.

For me, NaNo now does more harm than good. A couple of years ago, I proved this by entering NaNo with the same group of friends – now older and living in different parts of the country. We were going to duplicate our wild writing youth by using a message board to check in with one another.

Not only did I not make 50,000 words that year, but I didn’t produce anything of value. Even worse, I managed to burn out on all my writing projects; the work I was trying to do on another, paying project suffered because of my NaNoWriMo attempt. I had to finally admit to myself that National Novel Writing Month is more of a hindrance to my writing than a help to me right now.

It’s a helpful tool for writers who are trying to break habits, or make time for a novel that’s been eating them up inside, or who want to make new writing habits or forge new relationships, but despite the frantic peer pressure that often surrounds November, NaNo is not for everyone.

In fact, for every NaNo project that’s ended up published – for every Water for Elephants or Night Circus – I’m willing to bet that there are several people like me, who have produced meaningless masses of unintelligible words just to participate in a massive group writing activity and end the month with 50,000 words.

And that’s okay. But it’s not a great reason – for me, at least – to get involved with National Novel Writing Month. I might be back someday, but you know what? Sometimes it’s better and more productive to stick to your own writing schedule.

That’s okay, too.

How to revise a novel, according to my commenters.

So, I hear (via the  #AWP12 hashtag on Twitter) that last night, Margaret Atwood brought the house down at AWP with her keynote speech.

I cried a little on the inside when I read those tweets, because I love Margaret Atwood and I’m sad that this was her year to be at AWP and my year to not go. But as I said a few days ago, just because some of us writers aren’t in Chicago doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have some knowledge dropped on us.

Earlier this week, I blogged about my fear of revising a novel and issued a plea for help. And, as always, my fellow writers came through in the clutch with all manner of advice.

Here, in no particular order, is the revision advice that I received this week. It’s enough to make a girl want to get revising right away:

“I go over my text a few times, says SickBoyMcCoy, writer of the online serial Bad Blood Bandits. “The first is just to enjoy it. If I can’t do that due to grammatical or spelling or just structure then it warrants change. The second time I go over it and look for ways to push what I have just a little further. The third time I try to detach myself from what I have written and try and think of the most radically different ways I could have told the story and if none of them outshine what I’ve done it stays. It’s enough to drive someone to drink.”

HannahKarena (whose blog is sadly no longer available for me to link to) recommended a technique she read about in No Plot? No Problem! a craft book written by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWrioMo, (For the uninitiated, that’s National Novel Writing Month):
“I’m about to start revising my own novel this weekend–I’ve been putting it off for weeks because I’ve never done it before–but I’m going to try the index card organization of scenes method that everyone is raving about .”

E.S. Cameron recently wrote that she’s addicted to revision. Here’s her advice:

“I haven’t yet finished a first novel draft, so I haven’t yet revised one – but it seems to me that how you revise depends on where you are in the process. Start from the top and work down, from macro to micro. This is how I would approach it:

MACRO: The first thing I would look at is the story/plot, and fix any gaping holes/problems. Then I would look at form/structure: is this the best way to tell my story? If the answer is no, I would start moving things around until it worked.

IN BETWEEN: From here, I would look at elements like place/detail, character development, dialogue, etc. to make sure that I’m hitting all my targets in these areas. This step would probably involve adding a fair amount of text.

MICRO: Then I would go though chapter by chapter and start cutting mercilessly – any sentence/scene not carrying its weight would have to go. Finally, I would start doing line by line revisions, looking at my specific word choices and sentence structure, making sure that every sentence does what I need it to. (I feel strongly that people underestimate the importance of sentence structure.) This last step I would repeat as necessary.”

Matthew Dicks, author of Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo tweeted this advice: “Read aloud. Remind yourself that this is just the first of many revisions. Try not to hate yourself when it sounds like dirt.”

UPDATE: Whoops! Matt Dicks has also penned another book, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. It was released this week in other countries, but as with all delicacies (seasons of Sherlock, fashions from Europe, etc.) we will have to wait months (it releases in August) before we can get our hands on it in the U.S. European and down-under folks, go find this book! Read it, review it and don’t include spoilers!

Alena Dillon of The Time is Write has revised four full-length manuscripts. Here’s her process:

“When I’m done with my first draft, I print the whole thing out. I too am an underwriter (you mentioned that you are in a blog a few days ago), but most times I have a feeling where I’ve gipped my manuscript. For instance, if I think a theme or a character may be lacking, I’ll flip through the manuscript and highlight whenever it/he/she appears so that I can visually see its/his/her arc. Each theme or character would get its own color: green for mother, pink for loss, etc. I like to see physical presence as vividly as possible, and when I get a sense of that, then I read through and mark where I could write more (or, rarely, less), and what I could write–but I don’t actually do the writing until later. Revision takes a lot of courage and momentum, so I don’t interrupt that if I can avoid it.

If I don’t have a sense of what is needed, I’ll read a craft book, keeping my particular manuscript in mind as I read. For the novel, I read Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyons and took notes of what came to mind that my novel might need done. Then I placed those notes beside me as I read through the manuscript AND MARKED THE HELL OUT OF IT. The more cross outs, stars, arrows to the back page with a list of what is needed, the better.”

After reading all this good advice, I remembered that I myself am not completely without revision resources. One of my mentors once told me to put work away for a month, then to read the whole thing in one day as if I were reading someone else’s work. Also, Rick Moody visited my MFA program to give a lecture on revision. His lecture, I remember, was so exciting that I couldn’t wait to get out of there and revise something.  I didn’t have anything to revise at the time, but I still have the notes from the lecture. I plan to re-read the notes from his lecture, re-read this blog post and get crackin’.

Maybe E.S. Cameron is right; maybe a writer can get addicted to revision.

NaNoWriMo – Lagging behind

Like a runner in a marathon who stops for a drink of water handed out by some nice volunteer and then decides to stoop and tie her shoes, only to realize that she’s looking at the backs of all the people she was previously in front of, I am falling behind in my bid to complete a 50,000-word manuscript during the month of November.

I haven’t worked on my project in two days. It couldn’t be helped. I have a few other projects that need to be attended to this month. And, you know, life. Not that any of that is a valid excuse; I’ve known since the beginning of the month that I was going to have to halt word production a few times in order to keep other, more important, projects in motion.

What could be more important than a NaNoWriMo novel, you may ask? Let me tell you – a novel (novella, actually) that’s really, truly, honestly, going be published next year and needs edits. A class which I’m designing for my employer. My freelance income. A dire shortage of socks that’s been plaguing O’Connell household for a good week or so. Phyllis.

Still, all those seem like thin excuses for not novelling. The few thousand words that haven’t been written this week plague me, and tomorrow I catch up. I may try to type a little bit before sleep tonight, just to see if I can get a jump on tomorrow’s word count.

Actually, no. I just want to see if I can duplicate Saturday night’s sleep-typing incident.* Which, by the way, is actually a thing. In the comments on that post, two of my former roommates reported similar sleep-typing incidents (neither happened while I was living with either of them, unfortunately.) Check it out. One of the incidents is NaNo-related.

*By the way, I’ve worked a little more on that passage I wrote in my sleep. If you’ve been following these posts, you’ll be happy to know that Ted has resolved his gender issues. I still haven’t managed to figure out what a truck’s “babing” is, though.

Nanowrimo, or typing with my eyes closed.

I’ve been behind in National Novel Writing Month.

I don’t have a list of my worst sentences from each day for you, as I did last week, because I haven’t been able to write every day this past week. I have, however, mostly managed to write enough words to fulfill my daily word count. I’ve done this by harnessing my undiagnosed ADD and writing in short sprints. I give myself 15 minutes or 30 minutes or even an hour to write as many words as possible, and usually a couple of those will generate the 1667 words I need. Or I’ll bring a notebook with me to class and write by hand, then type it up when I come home. I usually find that 100 handwritten words will generate another 400 while I’m typing. I’ve also been writing very late at night, which has helped my creativity.

None of that, however, kept me from falling behind.  Yesterday I had to hustle to catch up.

Last night, I got home from a party, put on my pajamas and set out to type 2,000 words before bedtime. I almost did it, but not quite. Instead, I fell asleep at my computer when I was 28 words shy of 20,004, which was my goal. For the last 100 words before I fell asleep, I was apparently typing with my eyes closed.

Because I have no worsts for you, I’d like to share the paragraph I wrote with my eyes closed. It’s barely in English. Heck, it’s barely in broken English. One character, Ted, who I didn’t even remember this morning and who I apparently invented while I was sleep-typing, changes gender mid-paragraph. There is also a marked lack of punctuation. Enjoy. Or don’t.

Ted is covered in sweat. He’s been running from the over turned jeep. Athough it only takes a large saupods to cover th =e diance between  jeep and barn, it has taken Ted much loner to do so. He’s out of break and covered in sweat. When He’s allowed in the babing of the truck, he stinks of fear.

“We have a problem,” he says

“What problem.” Dalena is sympathetic to his workers who have to work in the hot sun.He has no idea what she’s talking about.

Ted wipes his sleave aganst the dress ode. Rgiht.  The problem is, he says, that there are more instances of the same

More of the same what, you may ask? And what is a “dress ode?” Will Ted ever get to the bottom of his gender issues?  All valid questions. We’ll never know, because I fell asleep before ending the paragraph. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this. I may pretend that I just never wrote it and move on. But I won’t be deleting it. I need the 110 words.

NaNoWriMo is like a fairy tale, and there are some scary fairy tales out there.

After 7 days of writing, I am 11010 words  into my National Novel Writing Month project. I’ve learned some things about myself in that time. Mostly, I’ve learned that I can’t really write for Nanowrimo until it’s past my bedtime.

Example: I spent a good part of the day on Friday trying to write my 1600+ words so that I could have the evening free. I think I might have squeezed out about 300 words. As soon as the clock struck midnight, I became a rampaging word machine. This happens every night, like one of the Grimms’ more sadistic fairy tales. I’m tired. I want to go to sleep. I’ve spent four hours trying – and failing – to focus on writing. Then – bong, bong, bong – it’s midnight and I can’t stop typing.

This sounds like a good thing and it can be, but remember in the original “Snow White?” (Not the Disney version, the real one that medieval people used to terrify  their children back when cable and the Paranormal movies didn’t exist .) The evil queen didn’t – oops – accidentally fall off a cliff in that version. No. That was too humane. She was the entertainment at Snow White’s wedding reception. The dwarves and the good people of the kingdom put a pair of red hot iron shoes on her feet and made her dance until she fell down dead.

This is kind of what my post-midnight writing is like (without the torture and death and dwarves.) I’m exhausted. I can see that I’m not writing good stuff. But I can’t stop until my eyes start closing all by themselves. It’s weird, because when I’m writing what I consider to be my “serious” writing, my best work happens between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. I do revisions  and careful, slow writing then. But when it comes to inventing bizarre plot points and to  spitting words out at a furious rate, I must need to be half-asleep. Possibly my internal editor is no longer functioning at 1 a.m. Who knows?

It’s kind of fun to know that different times of the day are good for different kinds of writing.

Weekly worsts – National Novel Writing Month

I think I might have mentioned in my last post that National Novel Writing Month is not about quality; it’s about quantity.

A group of friends and I celebrate this, by exchanging our best and worst sentences at the end of each day of National Novel Writing Month. We started this years ago, when most of us worked in the same office and after we sent the best-worst email, you could hear the others laughing at their desks. I am aware that it’s Saturday, and not many people check blogs on the weekend because they’re away from their computers and out living their lives, but I thought I’d extend part of the tradition to the this blog.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, here’s a sample of some of the worst writing this week has produced. Of the 7192 words I’ve produced so far, these are the most unfortunate, and that’s saying a lot.  Normally, I don’t like to share my creative writing online, but since all of this is really bad, none of it is likely to make it into the finished manuscript and I don’t feel the need to keep any of it a professional secret. Some of these sentences are lame. Some are bizarre. Some are just stupid.

Nov. 1 – Amazing how a person can be so afraid of something one minute and so fascinated by it the next.

Nov. 2 – “Steve, what about the kids? No one’s going to want to come here if you’re killing their favorite dinosaurs.”

Nov. 3 –  She removes her purse from between her arm and ribs and gestures toward the window with it. (The logistics of this one boggle the mind.)

Nov. 4  – “I don’t do primates.” (Good. Wait a minute. What?)

A little anti-climactic, I know. But we’ve only been noveling for four days. I’ll try to write really horrifying ones in the next week. I promise  to get back to you all with a full seven days of lame sentences next Saturday.

National Novel Writing Month (and dinosaurs)

In two hours, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo to those in the know) will begin. In two hours, people all over the globe will start typing furiously in an effort to complete a 50,000-word manuscript by the end of November. So will I. It’s pretty insane; the goal is to write 1667 words every day for a month. You don’t agonize over them, you just type. The goal is not to produce a work of stunning literary genius, but to simply force oneself to start writing.

I started participating in NaNo in 2003, I think. A group of my friends enticed me into it with promises of camraderie and boozy write-ins. It was that during that November that I made two happy discoveries:

1.) I cannot write under the influence of alcohol. One glass of wine invites the muse to come a little closer, but any more than that? She flees from me faster than a reality tv star fleeing a marriage.

2.) Peer pressure is my best friend as far as churning out words. My group had long, hilarious email  conversations. We sent each other the best and worst sentences we’d written each day. We commiserated about our low wordcounts, lack of plots, and work getting in the way of our noveling.

Most Fridays in November we got together for dinner and cocktails and tried to write. That first year was glorious, so we did it again. And again. And again.

I was active until about 2008, after which I went to grad school to study creative writing. I figured that getting my MFA in fiction was incentive enough to write like a demon every day. But now that my writing program is over I’m NaNoing again. My project this year ain’t the Great American Novel. It can’t be – there are dinosaurs. Hell, it’s not even the Great American Novel With Dinosaurs, because Michael Crichton already wrote that book. It is, however, a promising manuscript I’ve wanted to finish for  years. I started it during NaNoWriMo three or four years ago.

This is the year I finish it.