Sunday, November 27, 2011

NaNoWriMo Foursies and Looking Ahead

This blog post is all about what many believe is the hardest part of NaNoWriMo (hereafter NaNo)--the dreaded fourth week, when nearly a month's worth of frantic scribbling, missed sleep, and fraying nerves combine to wreck many an author's progress.

Nah, just playing. If you made it past week three you're probably over the mid-novel hump and headed into the homestretch. It only gets easier from here on out. You've tuned up your engine to a steady rumble, the words are flowing, and all your worries are over.

So, without further delay, first things first--I really, really hope everyone's NaNo is going as well as mine. I am currently around 57k, and over 2/3rds of the way through my MS. I have already won, according to the official goal of NaNo (50k.) I should hit my personal par of 60k in 2 more days, ahead of schedule. Finishing my MS will likely take another week or so, so I am a little behind there. I blame this on the three extra chunks I've added.

I am extremely excited to have made it this far, and also very proud of myself for the official win. Less than a month ago writing a novel, of any length or quality, seemed like a monumental task. Now it just seems like another thing I can do if i put my nose to the grindstone. This new self-confidence will serve me well when I start the next MS. Yep, you heard me right. This is just the first of many books I hope to write.

All of this goes to Goals and Intentions, which is one of the things I want to highlight today. As the actual writing has gotten easier, I have had more mind-space available to figure out where to go next. My original intent for this NaNo, which I wasn't at all sure I could accomplish, was to finish a novel-length MS, no more and no less. I will have done this very soon, I am absolutely confident of that now. So what am I going to do with the MS, and what am I going to do next?

I am not sure if the MS is good enough to be worth going back and editing into a coherent first draft (this is a zero draft, remember.) Even so, I will likely go ahead and do that anyway, for practice if nothing else. I've learned a huge amount about story-telling and structure from this process, I intend to apply that to my next MS by doing a much more in depth outline beforehand. In the interest of practice, once again, I plan on going back and drafting an outline of the current MS, as well as every kind of story analysis I can think of.

Basically, I want to use this work as a springboard to a better understanding of noveling as a whole. It took me several short stories to even begin to be happy with my short story skills, I don't see any reason that novel writing should take any less effort.

Last week I said that 2k a day was burning me out, and i didn't think it was sustainable. I've reversed my opinion on this. In short, practice may not have made perfect, but it sure has made easier. I've also seen the quality of my writing improve, becoming much closer to finished quality. The latter portions of this MS will require less editing than the beginning chunks.

All of this is great, because I intend to be a fast, prolific writer, as well as a good one (no modesty there, huh?) The only way to write both fast and well is to practice writing both fast and well. Not that I'm there yet, but I hope to get there.

It's amazing what you can accomplish when you sit in a chair and stare at a computer screen for hours a day, refusing to get up until you finish your wordcount.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo Part the Third

Week three of NaNoWriMo (hereafter NaNo) is drawing to a close. Like the last two weeks, I want to talk about how the experience has been for me. Particularly the lessons I've learned, what has worked and what hasn't. As always, my hope is to provide some encouragement, as well as a sense of solidarity. We're all in this together!

First things first. I am currently at 44.6K. about 2K of that is because of the Double Day I took back in week one. The rest is from doing my best to go over par every day, plus words I've added to each chunk as I've reread them. So I am only a few days from winning NaNo by the official count of 50k. I should win by my par of 60k a few days early, too.

I generally read the last two chunks before I start writing, just to get my head back in the story. I try not to do any actually editing (rewriting for clarity or style), just get a sense of the story's flow. I've noticed that I am spending more time pulling up old chunks to recall what happened earlier, in the dim past of weeks one and two.

I've also noticed that my characters have changed, sometimes radically, from my original conceptions. When I go back and rewrite, I will have to do more than just fix awkward sentences. Since I intend to add a lot more to each section of each chunk (chunklets?) this shouldn't prove to be much of a hassle.

My original outline was really sketchy, intentionally so. I wanted some kind of arc, plus enough idea kickstarters to maintain momentum all the way to the end of the book. Much of what I wrote in that outline early on I am reinterpreting now, and some of it I'm just ignoring. Hopefully I'll do a more complete outline (as well as prep work in general) on the next novel.

Not being organized is OK for this draft, though. The main intention here is to finish a novel, period. Learning exactly what goes into a novel is a strong secondary goal, and that knowledge will help me with the next book. I am going to go back and do a synopsis and a detailed outline when this story is done, so I have a clear idea of my novel's structure.

I've learned a lot from what I've written so far. The rate of "figuring things out" seems to be accelerating each day, more like a curve than regular growth. My chunklets are getting longer and easier to write, although the chunks themselves are generally still just a little over par.

If I had it to do over again, I would have organized by chunklets rather than chunks. I would have saved each one as a clearly labeled (like an outline summary) and numbered individual file. I also will make a new outline as I write next time, so I can use that for story structure reference more easily.

Even so, the chunk system has worked really well, both to motivate me and to keep me from having to wade through a really long .doc every day before starting to produce.

The mindset I detailed above, of focusing on finishing rather than quality, has been key. The zero draft, or what I'm now referring to as the Less-Than-Zero draft, has kept me writing when I would have quit out of disgust at my storytelling skills. But a writer learns by writing. So keeping at it is not only giving me a complete draft, its teaching me how to write the next one better.

And that's what it's all about. As a writer, and especially as a beginner, I have to be focused on the next story, not the last one. Looking ahead is what will get me past the first million words and into the good stuff.

As far as what hasn't worked (and still isn't), my biggest problem right now is sleep deprivation. Between work and home, there just isn't enough time to write for me to hit my pars without me sacrificing some sleep. Over the short term (NaNo) this is doable, but over the long term I am going to have to scale back my pars. 2k a day every day is not sustainable for me, especially because it leaves no time for editing or epubbing. In other words, I'm borrowing from next month to pay for this month.

The hardest part of my day is sitting down in front of a blank page. my outline is so unrefined that I am spending a lot of writing time just figuring out what happens next. I adressed this above. Next time i want a far more detailed and clear outline. I believe I will be able to write faster and a higher quality prose with a better map.

Finally, surfing the Internet kills my writing time. Twitter, I'm especially looking at you. But everyone already knows that, right?

So that's what I've got for this week. Overall things are going well, better than I expected even. I hope your NaNo is just as awesome. Heck, I hope your NaNo is even awesomer. <--zero draft style grammar.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

NaNoWriMo Part Deux

My NaNoWriMo (hereafter NaNo) is going absolutely freaking fantastic. I am pleased as punch at how well I'm doing, which is far better than I expected. Today I want to give an update on where I'm at in my MS, in the hopes of encouraging all my fellow participants, as well as discuss some things I've been doing that I believe are key to my success.

First of all, me:

I am at over 28k, less than two weeks in! In terms of my structure, I am actually one "chunk" behind, because I had a numbering snafu plus inserted an extra one for plot reasons. Which begs the question: what's a chunk? See below :)

In terms of my par (60k at 2k a day), I've only missed my par one day, which I made up on the following day. I've written a little extra every day, which has added up dramatically. Plus I took a double day instead of my usual day-off challenge last week. At this point, there is little doubt in my mind I am going to win by NaNo rules (50k). I'm fairly confident about hitting my goal of 60k, as well. I'm not as confident about actually finishing all 32 chunks by the 30th, but I feel certain I will finish them by at least a week into December. If I stay on the same course, I expect my finished zero draft to be about 75-80k, if not longer.

How am I getting so many words out?

1) Chunks - this is a phenomenally effective organizational method for me. A chunk is a daily wordcount-par-sized collection of segments, roughly analogous to a chapter. My chunks on this MS are 2-2.5k, most coming in around 2.2k. Some of those chunks have 5 or more sections, some have as little as three. Each section is a change in viewpoint character, new location, and so on, the same as I would organize a short story. When I am done with the full MS, I can go back and reorganize the sections into actual chapters, moving them if necessary.

What chunks do for me is they allow to think of my daily work in discrete, finite terms. Rather than writing until I drop, I write until I'm done. I never have to quit in the middle of a scene, I always know when I'm done for the day, and I'll have easy units to rearrange as needed when I'm done. At the beginning of my writing session, I read over the last few chunks, adding to them as needed, then dive into the newest chunk.

2) No editing/zero draft - These are two sides of the same coin. It is vital that I give myself permission to write absolute crap. In all ways: story, plotting, characters, phrasing, grammar. I do not give the slightest whiff of brimstone whether I am producing anything but a story. This allows me to turn off my inner critic and just go. If I come up with a nice turn of phrase, I include it. If my sentence is a rambling mess, as long as I understand it, I let it be and roll on.

The zero draft is the draft before a first draft, the one whose sole purpose is to get all the puzzle pieces out in the open so the writer can go back and reassemble them later. My only goal this NaNo is to finish a novel. No qualifiers, just finish. When I'm done, I expect to have to go back and rewrite much of the prose, flesh things out, and so on. That will be the first draft. But not yet. For now, the finish line is the most important thing.

3) Daily Plan - This is a brief pre-writing period where I look at the day's chunk, break it down into section, and detail the events of each section, briefly. The idea isn't a comprehensive outline, just a few sentence fragments for each section. For me, neither pure pantsing quickly becomes a snafu,  and heavy outlining bores me to tears. A daily plan provides enough direction to keep me from painting myself into a corner, and a quick reference for what happens next when I'm on a roll.

The most important thing about the daily plan is that it gets my mind oriented and aimed, like pulling back the rubber band on a slingshot. Then all I have to do is let go, and write.

4) Other - I take a brief break when I finish each section, noting my current wordcount and celebrating it (ie 1/3rd done=woo-hoo! and so on.) I often reward myself during these breaks with an article I want to read, or snackies, or whatever. I write every day, mostly mid-afternoon. If I miss making my wordcount early, I stay up after the rest of the house has gone to bed. Once I hit my wordcount, my priority for the rest of the day is anything but writing. I tweet every day when I hit my par, and post on NaNo, these trophies really help.

So that's some of the things that have worked for me. I'll have at least two more blogs while NaNo is running, and one post-NaNo wrap-up, as well, with more news, more of what works for me, and more encouragement. I'm very interested to see how the holidays (Thanksgiving weekend) affect my writing, and if I'll be able to keep up this pace for the rest of the month.

Until then, good luck, keep writing, and remember that the only way to lose is to quit.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

NaNoWriMo First Timer

So I'm knee-deep in my very first NaNoWriMo (hereafter NaNo) (or Na-Nooooo!), and I'm loving it. Every day so far has followed this basic template--my inner critic screams at me all morning, I have a blast writing for a few hours in the afternoon and feel great, my inner critic screams at me all night. The writing is probably the easiest part of my day.

Yeah, that inner critic is a butthole.

The novel that I am producing is now six chapters long, each chapter is about 2k words plus a little extra, and it will be a total of thirty chapters. So I will have between 60 and 70k when I'm done. I chose this structure specifically because I wanted to have a completed story at least 60k long. Having this clear and easy to follow plan has made the work much easier to process for me. I am not married to the structure, however, and will rearrange things at will once the story is done. If needed.

I will almost assuredly end up rewriting a lot of the clunk that crowds my MS right now. This is a zero draft, just a means to get the story worked out. Any decent writing that results is just a bonus. So far I am seeing a lot of room for additional descriptions and/or chunks of narrative summary that I will likely want to go back and turn into actual scenes. Or delete. Just saying.

My hope is to finish initial revisions by the end of December, at the latest. Then it will be time for beta readers, more revision (maybe) and so on. I say maybe to more revisions because it is entirely possible that I will abandon the work once it is whipped into half-decent shape. For a while, at least, while I work on the next one.

Why? Because my experiences with my first few short stories taught me that it will likely take a few novels (at least) to get to grips with the basics of long form story-telling. My very first short has been extensively revised three times, each one several months apart. It's now decent, not great but passable, but doesn't hold a candle to my later works (imho.) I have learned a huge amount about both writing and storytelling over the last half-year.

The biggest reason for this book, and for my participation in NaNo, is just to have a finished, novel-length MS. Just to prove to myself that I can do it, and to have enough experience to feel more confident going into my next one. Writers learn by writing. BIC HOK TAM, and all that.

Things learned so far:

Writing fast is easy if you don't worry about quality of words, just quality of story. Get the meat roasted, fix the trimmings later.

Double Days, like I had instead of my Day-Off Story Challenge, are great for getting a running start. I'm actually a day ahead on my quota because of that, and will likely finish my NaNo several days early.

It is difficult to write on weekends, with all the family distractions. I plan to up my weekly quota by a bit, just to take the edge off of weekends. Or something.

Biggest one--it is entirely possible to start with nearly nothing, and get at least to day seven of NaNo. I've proved that to myself. My initial outline is essentially 30 lines, one per chapter, bare bones and very skimpy, and my story idea entry in the Idea Bank is maybe 600 words. I've got the squiggliest of roadmaps and am just making it up as I go along. I'll let you know how that ultimately works out, but for now it's just fine. The only way out is through.

If anyone out there wants to be my NaNo buddy (assuming the adding system is up and running :), I'm silverbowen, same as on twitter.