NaNoWriMo week two – we have problems

NaNoWriMo 2011 participant badgeI was doing well and the words were coming at a decent rate. Then the terror of weeks two. First I lost a day due to cold and then I fell out of love with one of my characters, two minutes into writing him. It’s happened before. The first time I tried writing a book-sized story I killed my main character after six pages because she irritated me. I then followed her white knight for another couple of pages before I got bored with him and gave up on writing a book. (I was 16. Cut me some slack.)

My experience this year was similar. I don’t remember having problems with my characters last year. Even (or should that be especially?) the outright silly ones wrote themselves. This guy and I have so little in common that I can’t be bothered with him. I have a number of scenes for him in my head that could be interesting to write, except that they don’t fit because I’m writing a first person narrative and he’s not the person whose eyes we look out of.

Luckily, there are solutions. Note the plural. I found ways to enjoy this character a little and to weave in a third person narrative into my straightforward first-person tale. Phew. I don’t want to have to re-think the entire structure or POV until I start editing, sometime next year.

Second week tally: 28,423

NaNoWriMo week one – we have words

NaNoWriMo 2011 participant badge
Before starting NaNoWriMo this year I did a little planning. Well, a little plotting, at least. I also wrote a very rough synopsis of the action and my main character’s motivations. Some of my characters got fleshed further out in my notebook, caricatures and all but most didn’t. There’s still a lot of making it up as you go along with this short novel.

Week one has come to a close. How did it go? Over all, it went well.

Saying that it went well is not the same as saying that I’m on the way of  writing a really great novel. It means I’ve got the words in, and more, and that I’m not stuck. Yet. Apparently, week two offers despair and writers bloc. That’s this week.

I remember last year being fun but hard work. I had to work harder than this year to meet my word count. Maybe that’s because I had a weekend in London and was ill for three days so that I lost several writing days. So far this month, all is ease and relaxation. The words come and I’m keeping a decent writing speed. But then, I prepared more of the story so I know where I’m going.

I’ve cancelled as many social activities as possible to keep the month focused on writing. I still have two writer’s groups and that took some planning but I have submitted and can breathe easily. (Next month will be a challenge, though.)  This month, two other things help with my focus and my time management:

  • Firstly, C is travelling. For much of the month I’ll have no one but me to think of.
  • Secondly, I have a writing buddy! I’m not doing it entirely alone this year.

So what’s the tally? At the close of Monday, 18,756 words. I’m ahead by several days. It feels good to have a buffer. Bring on week two!

Writer’s block? Writing something that doesn’t matter might help

Writer’s block gets between you and the page. It can be different things to different people: a crippling fear of writing something that isn’t good, a head as empty as the page you’re looking at or an inability to find the time to get started. Whatever it is, it stops you from writing.

Seth Godin wrote a post about writer’s block and how to get over it. In hsort, he writes that if the problem is that you’re worried what you’re writing is rubbish, then write more so that you get better. It is very good advice. Write something, just anything. If you free yourself from the demand of perfect quality, you allow yourself to learn and can enjoy the experience. Writing is a craft and one that can be mastered. With practice.

There are ways to get over writer’s block. Most of them involve writing something. NaNoWriMo works for me. It focuses on quantity not quality: it’s all about the words. Get huge amounts of words on the page and don’t allow yourself to edit what y0u’ve written, just charge on. Some sentences – maybe even paragraphs – will be good. Many will be rubbish but it doesn’t matter. Just doing it – writing – is tremendous fun.

You can also get weekly pushes through Write Anything. They post prompts for their Friday Writing challenge weekly. The challenge is really simple: look at the prompt and then write about it for five minutes. You don’t have to stop after the five minutes – keep going if you want. Again, much of what you write might be nonsense but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you wrote something.

The more you write, the easier it gets. After working as a technical writer for over a decade I have no problems getting words on paper. My issue is finding kernels of a story I think is worth writing about. But I’ve learned to start, get going and just continue. Not everything I write is worth keeping or sharing but each effort makes the next one a little easier.

NaNoWriMo starts today! (Don’t call me. I’m busy.)

NaNoWriMo 2011 participant badgeNational Novel Writing Month isn’t so much about crafting a beautiful piece of work as chucking words on the page. I enjoy the experience and am hoping to produce something a little more coherent and less verbose than I did last year.

Between today and the 30th, I’ll write at least 50,000 words arranged in a roughly story-like fashion. That’s 1,667 words per day. I might write a little less during the week and a little more at the weekend… When I know where I’m going with a story, 1,600 words take a little over an hour and a half to write. The problem with NaNoWriMo is that I don’t know where I’m going. I’m making it up as I go along.

The end result, I hope, will be something that can be edited down to a novella (so down from 50,000 words to about 45,000), the sequel to last year’s effort. The characters were fun and I want to play with them some more.

At some point, the heavily edited novellas may make them on to this site. But they probably won’t. I think they’ll sit on my hard disk, unread but loved rather more than they merit.

The art of plotting

I haven’t mastered plotting but I’m working hard to learn it. A lot of the time, I just take a character or a situation for a spin to see what happens: I improvise. When I write something longer I like to have an idea of where I’m going. I can only improvise for so long before I run out of steam and need directions. Or a map.

NaNoWriMo is getting closer. Last year, I had a character and took her for a spin. This year, I’m taking her and the world I created for her for a spin. But I want to write fewer moody words about walking through Edinburgh and more interesting words about Anna and the case she’s working on, so this time I need a map. And here it is.

NaNoWriMo2011 plan
Is this enough planning for 50,000 words? Well, it's more than I had last year.

Finding a balance: work, life and writing

Writing is time consuming. Thinking, planning, writing, reading and editing: it all takes time. Editing is what takes up most of my time.

The first draft of a story doesn’t usually take me long but kicking the budding story into shape does. I spend considerably longer editing than I do writing the first draft. (Yes, I am thinking about changing how I write, to see if I can get more of it right the first time, but I’ll always have to spend time editing. No matter how long I mull it over, the first idea is badly formed compared to the final one. Writing helps me develop the idea.)

I’m trying to clear my various desks for November so that I can focus on NaNoWriMo. I have two stories to finalise and submit to writers’ groups and magazines. Time is short and I’m not sure how to squeeze everything in.

Isn’t it unfortunate that I need to pay the bills? If I didn’t, and if I didn’t have a food habit, I could spend more time doing the things that I enjoy and the things that make me a better writer. Like so many writers, I have to work on my craft while also working 40 hours a week, maintaining a social life, eating, sleeping and trying to remember to exercise. We’re really busy people, what with the networking, submission preparation, reviewing stories, preparing for spoken word evenings, reading for research and for fun.

It’s not inspiration that makes a good writer, it’s hard work. I find that encouraging.

The perfect submission: Nicola Morgan at the EIBF

Today, I attended a workshop on how to write the perfect submission by Nicola Morgan. She wrote the book on submissions (Write to be Published). To date I haven’t bought the book but there’s still time.

The workshop was a quick summary of the main points that you should keep in mind when submitting a proposal to an agent or a publisher. It was quite inspiring. Yes, there’s an aspect of luck in whether you get pubished or not: you need to have the right book and send it to the right publisher at the right time. Do that, and all is good. Unless, of course, your submission letter is so terrible that no one looks at your excerpt, of course.

I learned a lot today and am write a submissin letter for my NaNoWriMo effort for the practice of it. It might help clarify what I wrote.

NaNoWriMo completed!

NaNoWriMo 2010 winner badgeI am deeply pleased to have reached the 50,000 mark on my NaNoWriMo text. The ending might have been a little precipitous, but I believe “random ending” is one of the NaNoWriMo merit badges and I’m just pleased to have earned one. I didn’t earn caffeine abuse, NaNo socializing or secret noveling but know I got

  • word-count padding for strategic avoidance of contractions,
  • creative nonfiction for describing something that happened to me but claiming my main character experienced it,
  • the 5,000 word day,
  • the eureka moment for changing the killer at the very end and
  • victory. Sweet victory.

This was a fun experience and I think I’ll do it again next year. In the meanwhile I have to decide whether to read, edit and/or share my first attempt at longish fiction. At the moment I’m not sure I’ll do any of those.