It Feels Like a Good Day to Write 50,000 Words

NaNoWriMo 2017 Badge

Okay, first off, I didn’t write 50,000 words today. As of this moment, I’ve written 2650 words today, but right around word 2550, I had 50,000 in my word bank, which means that I won NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2017!

If you read my last post (click here), you know that I was really taking a giant leap this year, working with little more than an idea I’d gotten from a dream. (And my husband can attest that some of my dreams are really strange and don’t necessarily lend themselves to coherent narratives.)

NaNoWriMo 2017 graph

NaNoWriMo 2017 Word Count Graph

Add to that the challenge of this November’s brutal lack of free time, and I was lucky to keep up with the requisite 1667 words per day. In fact, I only kept up through day 15, as you can see in the 2017 graph. That nice diagonal line that’s going up? The bar for every day needs to reach that diagonal line in order to keep up with the word count. As you can see, I took a little dip for a few days. There was even one day when I only typed 201 words. Yikes.

And this was uncharted territory for me. Never before have I fallen behind. Usually I’m just ahead (see my 2016 graph below—and I thought that novel was hard to write), but sometimes I’m way ahead. (See 2013—doesn’t that make you sick? I don’t know how I managed that except to say that I had inspiration strike just about every day.)

NaNoWriMo 2016 graph

NaNoWriMo 2016 Word Count Graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 Word Count Graph

On Thanksgiving evening, my dad asked me what my word count was, and at the time, it was only about 33,500 (which I admitted with a cringe). Already, I had a plan to write 2500 that night and the following three nights, which would put me at 43,500 before I had to go back to work and reality on Monday. That would allow me to breathe a little, and I would only have to write a little over 2000 words for the next three days, thus giving me a tiny bit of cushion, and I would validate on the 29th.

Now it’s time to admit to why I had fallen so far behind, something that’s a huge NaNoWriMo no-no. About 25,000 words in, I realized I had a major flaw in my (half-written) novel and decided that, instead of tackling it in the editing stage, I would go ahead and fix it. Yep. That’s the OCD at work. Of course, I used the opportunity, while going back, to add scenes and fluff when- and wherever I could, but a lot of it was just reading, looking for the flaw, and fixing it.

Thanksgiving night, I decided I couldn’t afford to edit anymore, fast-forwarded to the end of my story, and just started typing thousands of words of info-dump back story. Yes, much of it will be woven into the larger story, so it won’t seem as dump-y in the end (I hope), but for now, I just need the words. (I even left in an entire scene that really needs to go, but I’m being a good girl and ignoring it for now.)

By Friday, I felt like I had enough words down that I went back and finished the edit, then started moving forward again. Yesterday, the epiphanies started to hit—finally! it only took 40,000 word to get there—and I wrote over 7000 words in one day. Whew. I can’t tell you the relief I feel. Meeting today’s word count was a breeze, and now the rest of my writing won’t feel as much “have to” as “want to.”

So if you’re stuck, if you can’t see the light at the end of your tunnel, stick with it! I promise you’ll be glad you ventured into the scary, dark unknown of your novel-in-progress. It’s Rainbow-Unicornland on the other side.

It’s Almost November! (This Happens Every Year)

02-scariest-moment

I’ve come to the critical time of October when the anticipation of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo, aka November) is putting me in an almost constant state of anxiety/excitement. Part of me wonders why I do this to myself—after all, couldn’t I pick any 30 days during the calendar year to start a novel from scratch and complete 50,000 words? Now that I’m working a full-time job for the first time in almost 10 years, the pressure is more acute than ever. It certainly would be easier to do this over the summer, when my kids have fewer events that require my attention.

But the greater part of me can’t wait for it to happen. There’s something about November that’s magical. It’s always been this way for me. There’s the possibility of cooler weather (yes, it’s only a possibility in northeast Florida) and the certainty of my favorite holidays ahead. I can bake pumpkin things without feeling weird about it, and I have my kids’ birthdays to look forward to. Even though I’m always crazy-busy and feel like I have zero spare minutes for me, adding this event that is only for me is a challenge to which I eagerly look forward.

Maybe other introverts will understand. Although NaNoWriMo is a community event, what with writers from all over the world participating, introverts are free to sign up and write behind the scenes. Yes, I update my word count online and post about my progress upon occasion, but otherwise, it’s a solitary event. The fact that I’m operating within my little bubble yet still accountable makes me push myself more than I would if I just decided to start a book tomorrow and finish 30 days later.

It presents a different set of challenges. If you’ve read my previous posts about NaNoWriMo over the years, you know that I don’t do a lot of prep. I’m not one for elaborate outlines, plotting every little twist and turn and then filling in the prose on day one. When I first participated in 2013, I had a book-size idea just days before November first and signed up on a whim. The following two years, I wrote books two and three of that trilogy—challenging, but at least I was dealing with characters with whom I was familiar. Last year, I wrote a book about which I’d been thinking for over a year, and I was bursting with ideas. Although every year after the first has been a challenge, I’ve always won.

This year’s novel… well, it’s going to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants composition. The premise is based on a dream I had several months ago. (Other writers, do you do this? Turn your dreams into stories?) I woke up and wrote down some elements and decided that another idea I’d had for a character quirk would work well with that scenario… and that’s it. It’s basically a scene. And a scene from the end, best I can tell. How do I start this thing? How do I build the characters and get them where they need to be and make it readable?

In the end, I don’t have to. That’s a challenge for the editing stage, which is months away. I have to hold all my thoughts together for a few more days and then let them flow from my brain to my fingertips and into Word starting on November first. If all I do is string together 50,000 words of scenes, I will win. Maybe I’ll surprise myself. Maybe golden prose will flow forth, and… who am I kidding? The manuscript is sure to be disjointed and chaotic, and this OCD girl is ready to embrace the messiness of it (with rubber gloves on, of course). Stay tuned.

 

The Little Story That Could

Never Give Up

It’s actually not a “little” story at all. In fact, according to an article I read years ago, at over 153,000 words, my novel would be considered by some to be a super novel.

I’m talking about my yet-to-be-titled NaNoWriMo 2016 novel, which I just finished minutes ago.

I’ve been waiting to make the “I finished!” announcement for a while. I thought that I would finish on my spring break, which was over two weeks ago. And I did spend two days in a row typing over 10,000 words, which got me a lot closer to finishing, but as I’ve learned with my novels, they never cooperate. They’re like children, each of them different, each with its own set of challenges. Good lord was this one unruly. It’s the longest of my NaNoWriMo books, and it’s taken the longest to write. I thought, at the outset, that it might be more of a novella, that I might not have enough story to fill out NaNoWriMo’s 50,000-word minimum. Ha!

I’ve adopted a motto from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender!” I know that NaNoWriMo considers WriMos winners if they successfully write 50,000 words from scratch during the month of November, but when I first undertook the challenge in 2013, I decided that I was done with leaving manuscripts incomplete. Even if the book will never see the light of day, I have to at least finish it, give it the chance to someday be edited into shape.

So that’s what I’ve done four times now. It’s a personal goal, but one in which I take pride. Years ago, when I was enrolled in a fiction workshop in college, one of our assignments was to write a piece of short fiction and have it critiqued by our classmates. The second part of this assignment, upon which our final grades were dependent, was to then take the critiques of our classmates and edit our stories. Some critiques were worthless, some priceless. But the assumption was that none of us walked in with perfectly crafted pieces; there’s always room for improvement. One day, nearing the end of the semester, I overheard one of these classmates pouring out his woes to our professor, how he “just wasn’t feeling it.” Yeah, I’ve had manuscripts like that. There’re lots of them, sitting in files that I haven’t touched in years. But when someone assigns me a task—especially for a college class!—I do my best to complete it. I couldn’t believe the nerve of this guy, saying that he couldn’t do what was required, yet he still expected a pass.

Whenever I feel like giving up on a story, I think of him and what a lousy excuse he made, and I realize that I’m not going to do something lame like that, even if I’m only myself letting down. I didn’t spend months on this to just give up. I haven’t put off editing other pieces that desperately need attention for nothing. I fought writer’s block and wrote… maybe not like a boss, but like someone who takes writing seriously. It’s not about producing something perfect. It’s not even about following an outline to fruition (conflict introduced—check! love interest refuted—check!). It’s about giving the story the chance to have its say—especially if it ends nothing like what I expected at the start.

I finished, and now I have the satisfaction of another novel under my belt. I haven’t let myself down. Breathe, edit, repeat.

 

NaNoWriMo 2016 Wrap Up

nanowrimo-winner-2016-badge

I had a hard enough time believing it was already November—and that was over a month ago. It’s always one of the busiest months of my year, thanks in part to NaNoWriMo. Now that we’re several days into December, I have to remind myself daily that I can relax—I no longer need to achieve a certain word count every day.

Still, even though I “won” a minute before midnight on November 23rd, that’s just a step on the path to finishing my novel. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo in 2012 (the year before I started participating), I wrote a post entitled “What Happens After NaNoWriMo?” I wanted to know if people called it quits after reaching 50,000 words or if they kept with their novels until the end (assuming their novels didn’t end at exactly 50,000 words).

As for me, I keep plugging away after 50,000 words (however long it takes). Otherwise, I would have quit after day 14 my first year. Winning to me isn’t just writing 50,000 words—it’s continuing until the story is finished telling itself. Last year, which was the most challenging so far, it took until day 27 to “win,” but it took months to finish the first draft. The experience made me tackle this year’s NaNoWriMo with more purpose.

I’ve slowed down since December first, though. Part of it is the pure craziness that is December. (Perhaps this is why no one was foolish enough to put it in December—who would have the time?) The first day of the month, when I was already up an hour later than usual, I sat down and typed 100 words, just so I wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving my novel hanging for a day.

Without November looming over me anymore, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate—even though I’m one story-day away from the scene I’ve been imagining for over a year. I’m getting hung up on things like voice. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m using four first person narrators this time. It’s what this story needs, but the problem is differentiating the narrators from one another. While this is really an issue for the editing stage, I can’t help but let the worry creep in that I should be doing a better job up front.

The other day, when writing the youngest of these characters, she said something that seemed particularly her, and I thought, This is it! But now, how to make “this” happen in every section she narrates? In a book I read over the summer, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, there are two narrators, twins (brother and sister). These characters are unique and a little peculiar, but their individual peculiarities shine through in such a way that it’s easy to pick out who is narrating without being told whose section it is.

I love how discovery happens through reading someone else’s story. I dream of inspiring someone with one of my own stories someday—but it’s not going to happen if I don’t go ahead and write—no matter how ragged the first draft is.

A Minor Miscalculation

I can’t believe we’re past the halfway point of November, and I’m just now blogging about NaNoWriMo. Some years, I’ve blogged about it on a weekly basis. This year, however, I’ve had even more obstacles than usual. (Seems like I always say that—but it’s true!)

November is a crazy-busy month in the Full-Time Writer Mom’s house. We have all the usual Thanksgiving stuff, plus my elder son’s birthday falls in this month. My husband was out of town all last week, and up until last night, my now-nine-year-old spent up to three nights a week and most Saturday mornings at the baseball field. Add to that the community chorus of which my husband and I are members and the children’s choir that my kids joined this fall, and my “life” has become something lived in five-minute spurts. By the time the kids are in bed at night, I’m wrung out and useless. Clean my house? What’s that? Write in my journal? It’s collecting dust. Oh, there’s one thing I have done: I’ve spent the last six weeks cramming for the final test I needed to complete my professional teacher certification. I took that test today, and—hallelujah!—I passed. So now, with fall ball over and the test behind me, I can finally devote more of my very divided attention to my novel—and even take a few minutes to blog about it. (Note that my house still isn’t clean, and we’re going to have a to cram a Christmas tree in here sometime soon.)

As for this year’s novel, I’m doing something I’ve never done before—I’m writing with multiple first person points of view. I assumed that I would write third person omniscient, but I kept reverting to first person present. The only way I could still tell the story I wanted was to expand beyond my usual one-narrator perspective. This is a challenge on a couple levels, the first of which is differentiating the character’s voices. Fortunately, this is something I should be able to address (for the most part) in the editing stage. The second challenge is simply remembering who the narrator is. Although I title each section with the narrator’s name, sometimes I get a few paragraphs in and forget—thus turning my poor character into a split personality (often turning into the very character he or she is talking about).

Add to this a new obstacle that I created out of thin air this year—a totally (unintentionally) fabricated word count. Let me first explain with this graphic:

english-major-shirt

Okay, actually, I’m not bad at math. (Mind you, we’re not talking about calculus.) I’m a treasurer for a non-profit as well as a part-time bookkeeper for my family’s small business, so it’s very important that I’m competent in the basics and then some.

I’ve always prided myself in equal use of both sides of my brain: I’m creative and OCD; I can have conversations with my characters and format Excel spreadsheets; I’m a writer with a fairly good head for arithmetic. I’m generally a walking, talking contradiction, but, boy, did I live up to the assumption that writers can’t add earlier this month.

I’m going to chalk this one up to all that busyness that I wrote about at the beginning of this post. Why tack NaNoWriMo onto a schedule that already keeps me out late every weeknight? Well, because I can’t imagine not participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me, I once thought it was crazy. (See my first NaNoWriMo post from 2012.) As I pointed out to my husband at the beginning of the month, I get a week-long break at Thanksgiving, so even if I’m abysmally behind, that’s a great time to catch up.

On the evening of November 1st, I got to around 1180 words, and I felt pretty good about myself—I’d just typed 1100 words more than I thought I would. I then told Thomas that I would need to type about 2700 words a day in order to finish by the November 30th deadline. If I’d paused to think for even half a second, I would have realized that 2700 words per day for 30 days was even more insane than the idea of starting and finishing a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. Something did strike me as kind of funny—2700 didn’t seem to be the right number—but I just figured I was rounding up from 2667, and that’s why it seemed off.

It wasn’t until day two that I remembered that if I type my word count into NaNoWriMo.org, it’ll give me all kinds of cool stats, like how far behind I am, how many words a day I need to finish, etc. So I plugged in my word count for the first two days and then looked at their cool little chart. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I was actually ahead. I was only off by…oh… a thousand when it comes to the word count. Can you imagine making a similar mistake on something actually important—like a mortgage? Sheesh. Thank goodness the mistake was in my favor.

The good news is that I now know I only have to type around 1700 words per day, and 18 days in, I’m averaging about 1800. While it’s less per day than the last three years, I’m still sticking to the hope that the week ahead will prove productive. Even with all the new challenges of NaNoWriMo 2016, I already feel like a winner.

The Book Birth Plan

 

Keep Calm and Write On

If you read my last post, it was all about birthing a book. And since NaNoWriMo loometh, it’s time to talk about book birth plans.

Oh, she means outlines, you might think.

But no, in fact, I don’t.

Outlines are key for writing non-fiction manuscripts, in which the author needs to present information in an organized format, but fiction is a whole different animal.

In my novel-writing experience, outlines kill creativity. I’ve written a couple novels that stuck right to the outlines I prepared for them. I would write a scene, then have to look and see what to write next. I didn’t write anything without consulting the outline first because I was afraid of messing up what I wanted to happen later in the plot, but the result was that they read like someone dragging the novels along against their wills. Those novels are now collecting virtual dust because I haven’t touched them in years.

There is a time to tidy up your mess of a novel, and it’s the next stage: editing. When writing, it’s good to have bullet points, things that you know need to happen over the course of the story, but I am here to say that some of the scenes I thought were the most important at the start of a book ended up on the cutting room floor.

If you’re querying and have to provide an outline, you should create it from a book you’ve already written, not the other way around. But that’s not to say that I think books—especially serial novels—should be written without any direction whatsoever. This is where the book birth plan comes in.

If you’ve ever had a baby and tried to have a birth plan, you’re probably laughing. From experience, I can tell you that birth plans are often tossed out with the bath water (just not with the baby). It’s more about comforting the soon-to-be parents by letting them think they have control than actually checking off every box on the list.

So if you’re gearing up to start your novel on November first, what would your “birth plan” look like? How will you know you’re ready to tackle this huge task?

I have a file for “notes” for every one of my NaNoWriMo novels. For my first, I didn’t even decide to participate until late October, so there was no time to plan at all. I had a few scenes in my head and just let the story flow with a vague idea of what I wanted to happen. Once I started writing, I wrote notes, like a quick reference guide, so I wouldn’t have to scroll through the entire document to remember something like a character’s birthday.

The next two years, I had notes already written before I started, so I had a general idea of where the books were going, but like having a baby, they certainly didn’t cooperate with all my expectations. The one thing I wish I’d done with the third book in particular was to decide on how to begin the thing. That little hiccup had me stuck in front of a blank document for a long time.

So write notes, by all means, like how to start your book (who’s narrating? where does it happen? etc.). You can scrap that scene or put it somewhere else later, but at least it will get you rolling.

If you’re dying to write a scene but know you can’t until November, jot down the parts you don’t want to forget: “Brenda runs into her ex at the store”; “Josh’s future plans change when he doesn’t make it onto the football team.” Your character(s) may have a complicated family tree, or you may have a timeline that jumps all over the place. Write these down if you’re afraid you’ll forget, but don’t stay married to them! Therein lies the trap. Read over your “plan” before you start typing on November first, but then set it aside, and write whatever wants to be written. You may discover that your story has some surprises that you never imagined—and that wouldn’t be realized if you stuck to a rigid plan.

This year, I know how I’m going to start the book and certain events that I want to happen, but this one is more about the characters than the plot. And there is every possibility that these characters will be difficult. Actually, I kind of hope that they are. Since I won’t actually be having a baby, it should be fun to see how far this story deviates from the “plan.”

Birthing a Book (as told by memes)

01-become-a-writer-they-said

If you follow my blog at all, you know that I’ve participated in both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo for the past several years. If you’ve read my most recent blogs, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling to finish writing my latest book for several months now. Even dedicating both Camp NaNos to this book didn’t do the trick.

I find that writing is often akin to jumping on a treadmill—I keep going without actually moving forward. With this latest book, in particular, I already had the ending written and just couldn’t seem to get the story to go there. Yes, I wrote—thousands and thousands more words than I wanted to write. And I was still just as far away from the end as I had been when I started. Or so it seemed.

I’m glad to say that I finally made it (and completely changed the ending, of course), and in celebration as well as exasperation, I would like to document this latest writing experience via some memes that must have been written by some poor souls who’ve had similar experiences.

 

So you get an idea for a book, only to discover that

02-scariest-moment

But

03 Madeleine L'Engle Quote.jpg

Yep, Madeleine L’Engle. At least you get it.

And Dory has some valuable advice, too:

04-just-keep-writing-dory

So you do, but sometimes

05-i-dont-know-what-im-writing-about

Or you read over what you wrote yesterday and wonder,

06-what-idiot-wrote-this

Because

07-reason-4

And there are those times when the page stays blank because of

08-writers-block

But no matter what,

09-you-should-be-writing-batman

So your days start to look like this:

10-rapunzel

Through it all, you have to remember that

11-oscar-the-grouch

By the end of the process, you think this is a pretty good approximation of your mental state while writing:

12-stages-of-writing-a-book

You’re glad you stuck with it, however, because

13-happiness-is-a-good-book

But you’re not quite there yet. You still have to

14-keep-calm-and-revise