Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I learned from NaNoWriMo

As you can see in the sidebar, I've completed the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo challenge - and even before the deadline of November 30th. The reason I got it done - and early - was that little nagging fearful voice that kept whispering, This is too hard. You won't really get to the end, or at least not on time. What you're writing is garbage and a huge waste of time....etc. Completing this project became more about conquering that bit of negative self-talk than anything.

This month I have learned:.

1. Actually writing a novel is a lot harder than it looks. It's easy to armchair quarterback someone else's tale. But when you're creating it yourself - whole different ball game (to extend the metaphor).

2. A fast way of writing a first draft. I normally write, edit, rewrite, edit. It's push-pull all the way. This time I wrote the first draft like I've read of others writing it - FAST. No looking back. No editing along the way. I was afraid that if I started reviewing yesterday's work, my editor would get all excited and eager and I'd get distracted with that - OR, I'd be so discouraged about the dreck I was writing I wouldn't finish the project. (I still haven't read what I wrote.)

3. About the various elements of a novel - characters, scenes, mini-scenes, dialogue, transition stuff. I tend to be one of those people who feels like I've conquered something after I've read about it (thus my collection of feel-good writing how-to). But following that advice when writing an actual story is as different from reading about it as walking across a stream on a slippery log is different from seeing it on film.

4. Writing a novel-length story can be full of surprises.
  • For example, I was surprised by how my plot took different directions than I thought it would. What I tried to do with each scene was turn the characters loose and see what they would do. Often they didn't end up where I had thought they would. 
  • Also, some of the things that felt arbitrary when they first happened ended up advancing the plot later in ways I had never envisioned. It was really quite amazing. 
  • Another surprise - how I composed best. Writing longhand, though I put up more words when I composed at the keyboard. For some reason keyboard composing felt like making something with gloves on.

5. My story is far from done. Even as I was writing, I realized I was leaving out so much that had seemed important during the imagination stage. Now I need to look back to see if some of those things have a place. This initial writing has been a way of simply pinning the thing down, or as Stephen King describes it, uncovering the fossil. I take comfort in the chorus of voices that reassures me the brilliance of a piece of fiction comes from the author's ability to rework that clumsy first draft into a readable story. In that department I have my work cut out for me!

6. NaNo is a great way to get at the bones of a first draft because:
  • You're not alone in this craziness. NaNo emails, your NaNo buddies and regional events (should you choose to participate) alleviate the solitariness of the task.
  • Those NaNo emails, in particular, are something else! As one of my buddies said, someone should invent such an encouragement service for writers all year long.
Have you ever committed to NaNoWriMo? What was your experience?

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    River of Words - Anthology - official launch


    This anthology showcases the talents of over twenty Valley writers including the winners of our River of Words Poetry Contest.

    Bound in a spiral spine and wrapped with a cover that features a panoramic view of the Fraser Valley, this book is a delight from cover to cover.



    We would like to extend an invitation to all of you to join us for this event.

    Thursday November 26
    7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
    The Reach - Gallery and Museum,
    32388 Veterans Way, Abbotsford, BC 

    (on the same grounds as the Clearbrook Library).

    Maps and more information at

    The evening will include a reading time and refreshments.

    The event will also support the Abbotsford Food Bank. Participants are asked to bring an item of nonperishable food. Please note that $2.00 from the sale of every book will be donated to the Abbotsford Food Bank!

    Saturday, November 07, 2009

    NaNo update

    Just a little update on the last week. I've written. A lot. If you check the NaNo widget to the right, you'll see my word count is 16,110. My goal was to reach 16,000 before I quit for the weekend. Now the story gets a rest till Monday morning.

    I'm learning so much!

    • I can write for long stretches at a time.
    • I don't work like I thought I would. I envisioned myself working for hours at the keyboard. However, I've discovered my best way of composing is longhand, with pencil. This is about the speed my brain works (I know, I'm slow). Then I read what I've written onto a minicassette tape and type it out as if it were dictation (good thing I kept my transcription tools)  making wee changes along the way but of course never officially editing. I've sworn off that for the month!

      (For your interest, check out this piece about the variety of ways 'real' writers work - sent to my by one of my NaNo buddies)
    • This story has been brewing inside me for years (I first had the idea and did some work on it in 2002). It feels very good to get it out of my head and onto  a document  - I was going to say 'paper' but I haven't even printed the thing out yet.
    I'm celebrating the end my first week of NaNo with hubby, and friends. We're going to see and hear Adrian Plass and Glen Soderholm in the Story and Song Tour - Delta BC. Woot!

    Tuesday, November 03, 2009

    My NaNo adventure

    I haven't posted much about writing in the last few weeks - but I have been doing it! Maybe that's even better than writing about it.

    Around mid-October I started to seriously consider registering for NaNoWriMo. That's short for National Novel Writing Month and it happens every November.

    The NaNo movement started small a few years ago but has blossomed to thousands of writers getting on the NaNo bandwagon, each with the goal of writing 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel from Nov 1-30 (or at least that's what one must do to 'win').

    I was persuaded to dive in by some of the things Chris Baty wrote on the NaNo web site. I was even happier I had registered when I got my welcome email on October 27th. In it Baty makes three main points:

    1. It's okay to not know what you're doing.
    2. Do not edit as you go.
    3. Tell everyone you know that you're writing a novel in November (basically so it's impossible to quit without losing a lot of face).

    I especially perked up at point number 2. Because editing as I go is my modus operandi. But it makes for painfully slow writing. Here is an expansion of the "Do not edit point:

    "...Editing is for December. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it's hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn't. Every book you've ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you."

    So, having sent my inner editor on a much-needed holiday,  I've actually been free to write fairly quickly - for me. As of this afternoon, I've logged 6534 words of the aforesaid"beautifully flawed first draft." I'm simply not allowing myself to edit. Case closed.

    I'm trying different ways of spinning this tale.

    On Sunday I plunked it out at the keyboard.

    On Monday I thought of using my old transcription tools and tried telling my story to my little Pearlcorder microcasette recorder and typing it from that (I have the playback machine with the foot pedal). That works fairly well if you can get into a smooth telling mode.

    Today I tried writing in longhand with pencil, reading what I'd written back to the recorder and typing it as dictation. That may work the best, as my thoughts flow about longhand writing speed, and typing from dictation is a lot faster and easier on the neck than typing from copy.  

    My daily goal is 2000 words. If I reach that six days a week, I'll be able to take Sundays off, which is my intention (although I did write on the 1st).

    If you're interested in checking on my progress, my NaNo profile page is here.