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Month: August 2007

Re: NaNo Why?

Re: NaNo Why?

This comment has reached the point where it just needs to be a post.  Camilla_Anna wrote:

I have to ask, why do you still do Nano after a few years of it? You know you can write like a fiend if you have to, now. What's the point?

I did Nano two years ago, and would have made it if I hadn't had family obligations out the wazoo. The novel isn't done yet, but I blame too many projects on that. I don't dare start another project, I've got to finish a novel.

I kinda thought the point of nano was for people getting started in writing, to prove to themselves that they can write a big body of work if they try.

I just love NaNoWriMo.  It's a goofy idea.  Chris Baty is one silly, silly man, and the whole concept hits me right. I highly recommend his NaNoGuide No Plot? No Problem! for both laughs and motivation.

But you hit the point for me with “if you have to.”  I don't have to any other time of the year.  So beyond being silly, for me it's also effective.  It's a motivation issue.  There is something about the sense of community that works for me in getting a first draft done.  I like the 'we're all in this together' sense that I get — rallying the troops, holding write-ins.  I dig recruiting would-be writers, and encouraging first-year novelists.  Getting them through the Week Two slump, cheering at the 25k mark, and celebrating The End with them.

I also like that deadline.  All writers work differently; finishing a first draft of a novel is a monumental task for me and could drag on for months or years without something like NaNo to kick my ass.  A  short-term project with a high-pressure deadline, a like-minded community, and a clear goal is a perfect recipe for productivity for me.

It was also much easier the second year than the first.  I had a fair idea of what worked and what didn't from the year before.   

The rest of the year I write short stories, and edit my NaNovels.  Last year I tried to impose my own WriMo during January, to get last year's novel written, and failed.  A deadline that I make up for myself but am not accountable for in any real way doesn't work for me.  Things come up and I'll fudge the deadline, push it back, tell myself that it's self-imposed so it doesn't matter.  

I like the way Chris Baty put it:

Give someone a goal and a like-minded community and miracles are bound to happen.  Pies will be eaten at amazing rates.  Alfalfa will be harvested like never before.  And novels will be written in a month.

I also feel guilty about my other projects when I work on a novel during the rest of the year.  I know that's neurotic, but there's something about devoting myself to something *huge* that won't be finished forfreakingever when I could be writing a 5k short story and getting it in the mail.  November is the month where I give myself permission to not think about those other projects, because November will be over soon.

So I still do it because it works for me on a number of levels.  I must not be alone in that, because we have returning Municipal Liasons and droves of returning NaNovelists.  I suppose it could be compared to a marathon — some may run it once to prove to themselves that they can, and then never do it again.  Others will come back and run it year after year, and even when they don't want to participate anymore they'll cheer from the sidelines.  

I don't know if I'll always need this, but I hope I don't quit anyway — because even if I manage to crank out three novels a year on my own, I still find NaNoWriMo fun.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

With NaNoWriMo now thoroughly on my mind, I'm reviewing my past techniques and making some decisions about whether or not to employ them.

For the past three years (including last year, I did get through a fair amount of free writing, somehow) I have used the Notecard approach.  It's a system I first learned of through Holly Lisle, and SBWC's Abe Polsky (sorry, no anchors on that page) advocates a similar approach.  The idea is that you use one oversized notecard per scene.  As the scenes come to you (you know how they do — maybe it's just an image, or a snippet of dialogue, but they come) you write down everything you can think of about that scene.  In one corner you put When it's happening, in another corner you put Where it's happening, and across the top you write very succinctly What is happening and Who it's happening to.  So it looks something like this:

Thanksgiving dinner                      Mary confronts John about his affair                     Dinner table at John's mother's house

Details of the scene go in the main body of the card — who is there, what it feels like, what it smells like, what she says.  You may not know all of that at the time, maybe all you have are the headings, but you've got a card for it.  The card then goes on your corkboard.  

You can move scenes around this way, find holes in your narrative, see imbalances between characters.  My office in the old house and my kitchen in this one have been dominated by such corkboards.  Abe suggests spending a quiet ten or fifteen minutes every day with your cork board — with your story —  going over it in your mind, moving things around, finding the gaps.  When the cards stop moving, he says, you're ready to write.                  

I've never quite got to the point where it stops moving, because I'm usually doing this for NaNo, and we just don't have the time.  But it's definitely been helpful in getting myself organized.  Using the cards as tasks at writing time has been useful.  Sitting down and telling myself “Okay, I'm writing cards 15 and 16 tonight” is much more managable than not having a target to hit, and I get a greater sense of accomplishment than I do with targeting a word count.  1000 words feels good, but if I didn't get through the scene then I don't feel any closer to done.  

I have a couple of problems with the notecards, though.  I'm pretty tied to technology now, and I type *so* much faster than I can write.  When I sit down with a pen in hand I actually forget what I'm trying to write, it's such a laborious process.  I lose a lot.  It's much more effective for me to type.  I definitely like the tangible aspect of the notecards, but I'm not sure that's enough to keep me coming back.  Also my handwriting is so atrocious that I get distracted by (I know this is completely insane) the lack of uniformity and I find myself wanting to copy my cards over so they look nicer.  That kind of neurosis does not get a novel written.

I was considering using TiddlyWiki  this year.  It's great for brain-storming.  Wikis have become so useful and prevalent in my life that the idea of a 'stub'  — a subject in one article that becomes a heading for its own article, but does not yet have content — has entered my vocabulary for general use.  I've been using it at work to document my 'tips and tricks,' and it's good as far as it goes, but I'm not sure it's what I want for novel writing.

Patrick just pointed me to Google Notebook, and I'm playing with it today to see if it might be a good substitute.  Early reviews are positive.  It allows me to create the equivalent of notecards, and I can move them around, which is perfect.  The only thing missing is the Big Picture that the corkboard gives me.  I'll have to think about that.  

What's your approach?  What tools do you use? 

Preemptive NaNoPanic

Preemptive NaNoPanic

Okay, that's MUCH too long between posts.  Sorry about that.

Lots going on, but if we're to remain focused, basically I'm staying up too late, not getting up early enough, and getting no writing done.  The brain, such as it is, is whirring away on other things and can't seem to give my characters the attention they need.

The subject of NaNoWriMo came up in conversation the other day, which panicked me ever so slightly.  Generally by August I like to know what novel I'll be writing, and right now I absolutely do not.  I have three possibilities: the one I failed to write last year, one that's been kicking around in my head for about two years, or one I thought of last week.  I need to nail this down by September, and by October I need to have decided whether I'll be acting as Municipal Liason.  Last year I bombed out as ML in a really big way.  If I take it on this year, I want to do it right.  As in all things, go big, or don't go.

This year has the potential to be very interesting indeed, because there will be three NaNovelists living under one roof.  Instant Write-In, just add tea!  

In other news:

My friend Mike V. is making a career for himself out of really bad first sentences.  He won the Worst First Sentence contest at SBWC this year, (and trust me, it was terrible,) and now has gone on to greater fame by having a truly awful first sentence published in the Los Angeles Times.  Scroll down to “For Your Reading Displeasure.”  (Visit for help if you don't want to register.)

Fleet got some truly excellent press on the Dog Lover's Wine Club this week.  Brink of fame and fortune, I'm telling you.  

And lastly, two things that cracked me the hell up this week:  Biologists Helping Bookstores, and the LOLPhilosophers Flickr pool. 

Peace out, yo.