Thursday, November 25, 2010

Merry Thanksgiv-oween

So I finally lost my steam with NaNoWriMo while spending time with the family for Thanksgiving. I'm still writing, but my word count has dropped off. I'm within sight of the end of my novel, but not the 50k limit.

I'm being called to come back and resume a dominoes game we are playing while waiting for our food to finish cooking. So, this post will be short. I'll elaborate more later on my novel progress and write some tonight.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The skinny on my NaNo progress

Well, here it is half way through NaNoWriMo. I've written everyday, usually getting around 2,000 words during each session. I will admit that I haven't written today...yet! I spent my free time today mapping out the chapters I want to get down on paper so I know where the hell I'm going, because (you may or may not know this) writing is like traversing a forest with or without a map. Sometimes the map is very detailed, sometimes it is vague, and then there are times when there is no map, just a vague sense of direction in the traveler's (read writer's) head.

I started this whole marathon with a map for the first few chapters and quickly ran out of road. This has made me map my course and later in the day follow the trail until I find myself off-road-writing again. It's very tedious to maintain the pace of 2k words per day (let alone the 1,667 recommended) and produce a first draft that doesn't give the feeling of crap on the page.

Also, I only wrote 1,100 words on the 13th. I just didn't have it in me to produce more than that. I didn't really care at the time, either, because I knew I was ahead of schedule so I shipped my oars and drifted. By today, authors participating in NaNoWriMo should have written 25k words. My word count is 26,298 (and remember, I haven't written today...yet!)

I don't feel quite as cynical as I did that first week and may even participate again, but not too soon. Finding the time to get the words out of my head and onto the page isn't the challenge. I find that the challenge is sitting down to write and not having a clear path of where I want the story to go. Since writing my first novel (which I wrote without any notes or outlines, and which is still lingering in the editorial process), I've learned that I like outlining my chapters before writing. I'm not talking about very detailed outlines, but notes about what should occur in each chapter to progress the story. I keep a separate file of notes for back story or informational tidbits that help me maintain continuity throughout the length of the manuscript.

Now that we're at the halfway point, I've realized that my novel may not make it to the finish line. At 26k words, my story is ready to be finished. I know that might sound odd, but what I mean by that is that the story actually tells itself. I merely transcribe what I see to the page as the story unfolds, even with the mapping process I mentioned. The characters have a story to tell and I just put it to paper (or computer screen) as I see it. Well, this story has pretty much run its course and I know that to try to wring another 24k words out of it just isn't going to happen. If I'm lucky, I may reach the high 30 or low 40 thousands.

Anyway, that's where I am at the moment and what I see in my future. I'm already anxious to go back and read what I've written and judge how well I wrote it. Of course, I know it's a first draft so I'm not expecting a masterpiece, but I hope it's better than nonsensical junk. Like I said before (somewhere to someone, I'm sure), if I'm not going to give it my all, then I'm not going to do it.

If my story runs across its own finish line before the 30th with or without making it to 50k words, I will certainly blog about it. Regardless of whether I "win" NaNoWriMo, I plan to blog how I fared through the relentless slog through the NaNo experience. If that interests you, then stay tuned. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Six days of the NaNoWriMo

Well, it's only six days into NaNoWriMo and already I'm pretty sure this will be the only time I participate. While I support the event and its participants, I don't feel that this marathon is for me.

I love to write. Hell, I've already written two novels this year as well as several short stories. I was planning on taking the rest of the year to edit said novels so I could start querying publishers or agents. Then, a writing friend mentioned that he was thinking of entering NaNoWriMo this year. In the past, we'd both sat on the sidelines. I thought to myself, yeah, this will be a fun competition to see if we can both do it.

Well, I registered to participate and tried making an outline and some character notes for a story that came to mind. This was five days before the start of the event. I'm happy to report that I am actually ahead of schedule. My stats say that I am scheduled to finish on the 28th if I can keep the same pace. Yay!

However, let me tell you how it really is. I think I'm doing as well as I am only because I know I've got the stamina to actually finish a novel. I've done it several times already. Those novels were not done at marathon speeds though. I had ideas for those stories, fleshed them out in my head, outlined several chapters, and wrote some character notes before beginning those stories. I then committed myself to a thousand words a day with the exception of the weekend, which I deemed my time away from writing. Occasionally, I might write on the weekend if I was feeling especially creative. I could finish a first draft in about two and a half or three months using that method.

With NaNoWriMo, I have to writer EVERY day. Not only that, as it's not a very big deal, but one must maintain at least 1,667 words a day in order to reach the fifty-thousand word goal by the end of November. That may not seem like a lot, but for anyone who writes and holds a full time job knows that it is quite a lot of writing. With the aforementioned technique that has been successful for me, I may not get a thousand words on certain days. I would try to make them up on subsequent days. God knows that there are those days when the words come hard.

This leads me to a problem with NaNoWriMo. I think the main focus of this competition is the word count, and not the story. I've heard advice that says if you are staring at a blank page, you should write nonsensical stuff until you break through the block. Okay, I can accept that. I assume they mean open a scratch pad and do that nonsensical writing there. But, I've heard people say no, just write it into the draft to get the word count. Are you kidding me?

Also, I've heard a literary agent say that following NaNoWriMo, their inboxes become inundated with queries for NaNo drafts. Are you kidding me? While I can see a writer outlining their entire novels ahead of time and writing everyday during November to get out the target word count, I think the finished novel should be longer than a flat fifty-thousand words. (Unless, of course, you're Steinbeck, Hemingway, or Faulkner). Also, when that first draft is finished, there is a lot of editing that must be done. I actually know of a writer who thinks his first drafts are publishable--and this guy has been writing for a while, albeit he's not very good.

So, here is my opinion of NaNoWriMo: I think it is good to help a writer get into the habit of writing daily. That is invaluable. Also, I think that it unlocks the mind at certain times during the writing process to release creative energy. These times usually come when the writer is below his target daily word count and near the beginning or end of a scene. He/she is forced to think of description, dialogue, etc to fill in the gaps. Also, I think that having a writing buddy to compete with is a nice friendly form of motivation and competition. It's a way to help urge each other on to write and cross that finish line.

Those were the positive aspects I can see in all this. The negative? Well, said writing buddies don't help motivate when they've thrown in the towel on day one and / or won't post their daily word counts. I have several writing buddies that have zero word counts. That's not much of a writing buddy, if you ask me. Also, with day jobs and other personal responsibilities, striving to make that word count becomes paramount while the other aspects of the novel tend to fall by the wayside (this hasn't personally happened to me yet, but I know others have experienced it). That stringent daily word count gives writers tunnel vision, focusing only on reaching a number. Their story may have come off the rails a long time ago, but the writer won't know it until they go back for a re-read.

Like I said, it's only day six and I'm already feeling the pinch. I'm not one to easily quit something when I put my mind to accomplishing a goal, so I know I won't throw in the towel. Also, I don't feel like doing something half-assed, so I am striving to turn out a reasonable first draft, something that I can edit into a fine story. But, I'm finding it very difficult to go to work and then sit down at night to get my words on paper, and then find time to chart a course in my outline for where I want to go the next day. It's hard fucking work, harder than going at your own pace.

Anyway, that's my opinion six days in. If you're involved in NaNoWriMo this year and want to become my buddy to check my progress or motivate one another, my username is mxlemore. Look me up. But, don't count on finding me next year. Also, stay tuned for more of my rants while I'm slogging through the NaNo trenches.