NaNoWriMo posts

Retrospective: Overnight write-in 2015

Every year, I try to do something a little different for our NaNoWriMo events. It has led to fun like:

  • The roving write-in, riding the trains around Brisbane with our laptops. (Sadly killed when they removed the daily train passes and it became horribly expensive to achieve.)
  • The Writer’s Retreat, a weekend away on a tropical island at the beach.
  • The evening Kick-off Party with the midnight writing start at 00:00 1st November. (Only feasible when Halloween and 1st Nov are on a weekend.)

Some of the changes have been small. Others have been larger, like those above. Some we’ve kept; some have come and gone for various reasons. This year, the Retreat wasn’t going to work (the cost was proving to be prohibitive), so I thought I’d try something a bit different: an overnight write-in.

The idea was that it would be similar to the Retreat, in that people would go away for a night, and have an extended ‘write-in’ to focus on writing. I’m lucky enough to have a generous-sized house right now, with room that could accommodate a good number of people, so I volunteered my house as the venue.

The idea was also to keep the cost down as much as possible. It being held at my house meant that there were no accommodation costs to worry about; it’s summer, so people could bring a pillow and crash out on couches or cushions easily enough.

The main challenge was the consumables. Knowing that there would be a lot of people, and knowing that we have one fridge in the house, I had to approach it as simply as possible: we would provide all the food and drink, and then we wouldn’t have to contend with people trying to squeeze food and drinks into my fridge. It meant there was a cover charge for the event ($60 AUD), but I figured that was pretty reasonable, all things considered.

It’s not cheap to feed and water a bunch of people. It being summer here, I had to make sure there was plenty of liquid refreshment available. That was fine, though I think I over-estimated how much we would need: there’s a load of soft drink left over. That’s okay, though; at least we didn’t run out.

For snacks, we got in loads and again have some left over. Not a problem; they’ll cover some of our other events as well. These are all good things to know, though.

The overnight was one night (Saturday), which meant one dinner to be catered. That was easy: pizza. That went well, and there were enough leftovers to provide breakfast the next morning, too. Definitely a win!

The Sunday lunch was a challenge, though. Again, I didn’t want to prepare/cook myself (the effort would have been too much, and there’s a certain level of liability that I’m not quite prepared to shoulder). So, I looked at caterers and getting a finger-food buffet lunch delivered.

This was, perhaps, the most contentious part for me. It required organisation well in advance, confirmation a week in advance, and payment several days in advance. It meant that I had to order for how many I thought would come, and predict the dietary requirements, or constrain the bookings to those who made it by our deadline. It was also a little more expensive than I had hoped it would be.

As it happened, the bookings were sluggish coming in, and I wound up getting a bunch of requests on the day it started from people who wanted to come along. I didn’t mind, but it did complicate things. So, with the caterers, I wound up making a judgement call and booking for how many people I thought would come, and hoped it worked out.

As it happened, the numbers weren’t that far off (we had about 15, rather than the 20 I was aiming for), and we had a gluten-free platter when no gluten-free people were coming. But it was all very tasty and went down well, and it all pretty much disappeared. So I’m glad for that!

The other surprise was when people started showing up. I had planned for a 10am start on Saturday, but it was 3pm before most people started to turn up. The last attendee arrived about ten minutes before the pizza arrived. I suspect it’s why we had over-estimated the drinks and snacks required; people simply weren’t around as long as we were expecting. Perhaps the emphasis on it being an overnight write-in caused it? Is making something cover the whole weekend too much? I’m not sure – more investigation required here.

Overall, I’d say it went well. People came, they spread out around the house and deck, and they wrote words. We met new faces. We took breaks and played some games. We ate and talked and hung out a bit, then wrote some more. I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

I will say that the numbers weren’t what I was hoping for. There were many who said they were interested but didn’t come (for varying reasons). There were others who, I’m sure, didn’t come because it wouldn’t be their kind of thing (sleeping on couches, for example).

It’s also worth pointing out that this required a lot of preparation. All the public areas of the house had to be tidied and cleaned, and that was a lot of work (not that it’s normally disgusting, but it’s different when a heap of people are coming over, many of whom had never been to my house before). Getting everything ready wound up being a lot of work.

On the flip side, the aftermath was actually not too bad: we used plastic cups and plates, which meant the cleanup was actually fairly minimal. That was a relief.

All the same, it took me two days to recover afterwards. I think I underestimated how much work and stress was involved. Thank goodness I had taken time off work around this! I was pretty useless for a couple of days. And this was even with help! (I didn’t do it all on my own.)

This all means that future expectations should be adjusted. If we were to do the same thing again, I think I’d approach it differently.

It’s far too early to think about planning next year’s NaNo (this year’s has barely finished), but I wanted to capture this while it’s fresh. Also, I’ve been thinking about doing a winter overnight write-in, because the notion of doing it when it’s cold out is very appealing.

So what would I do differently? Let’s see. For the winter one:

  • Pyjamas. For the whole weekend. Blankies are encouraged.
  • Have activities for people to do. This won’t be during NaNo, so a load of free writing time would get boring. So, something like holding writing games, or a character creation workshop, might be fun.
  • Focus on having a smaller group for it. With it being colder, it might be less fun to sit outside for hours at a time. The house is only so big. Smaller and cozier would be good.
  • Call it a weekend pyjama writing extravaganza (or similar). Staying the night entirely optional. Some beds and couches and beanbags available for those who wish to stay.
  • Think differently about the catering. Try to find a better/cheaper/more flexible option for the lunch.

For next NaNoWriMo, I might try:

  • Call it a Weekend Write-in. Hold it for the whole weekend, but less emphasis on the overnight portion.
  • Loosen up the catering and costing. Have people pay on the days, so they can come for only one day if they wish.
  • Look for alternatives for the Sunday lunch. The catering was great but ultimately too awkward and expensive.

So, a few things to work on. I’ll do a poll and get some feedback, and see what others thought of the weekend, too; there may be more to add to this list.

I enjoy these experiments. I like to try things out! I’d really love to try a floating write-in on the river, but I don’t think the ferries are conducive to writing here.

Always on the lookout for something new to try. What will next year’s big try be? Watch this space, I suppose. Suggestions are, as always, welcome.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)

Why NNWM: You’re not alone

Part of the why NaNoWriMo is good for writers series.

One of the best things about NaNoWriMo is the community.

Writing is so often seen as a solitary activity: writers tuck themselves away in garrets and corners and libraries, probably with headphones on, bent over their laptop or notebook or kitschy old typewriter. On their own. They spend their time happily toiling away on this thing they’re doing, without talking to anyone, without needing or wanting company.

Well, that’s bullshit. (I’ve written about this before.) The thing about writers is that it’s hard to shut them up once they start talking, because they want to talk. We want to share: that’s why we write, because we want to share the stories we have inside us. We also tend to enjoy sharing our love of stories and writing.

It’s not like we get together and just talk about what we’re writing, either. As lovers of fiction, we tend to be fans of all kinds of stories and related things, and we like talking about those things, too.

It’s more than being able to talk to people about fiction, though. It’s about finding people who share this strange, solitary, contact-hungry thing we do. It’s about finding people who understand without needing to be told, who get why we do it, and what drives us, and how it itches at us sometimes. It’s about sitting with others and writing, of doing something on our own with company, and it being perfectly fine when we’re not talking, too.

It’s about finding your tribe. A place where you fit with similar-minded people, without needing to prove yourself.

I pride my NaNo region on being open, accessible, and welcoming. As an ML, I encourage people to come along to the events, and I try to make them as easy for people to get to (no matter how they travel), and run them for long hours to try to cater to as many schedules as we can. When new people arrive, we try to welcome them and ease them into the group.

Most of us are introverts. A lot of us are very bad at this social thing, through introvert tendencies, or social anxieties, or shyness, or lack of practice, or any other reason. The good thing about the NaNo community is that we’re all familiar with that kind of thing, either through personal experience or by dealing with others in that position. We get it. We don’t mind and we’ll do our best to make you feel comfortable, because we really do get it.

As social groups go, we’re one of the easiest for a writer to slide into and feel at home.

And because we’re all working towards the same thing, you get supported. You don’t need to explain what you’re doing to anyone (though you’re encouraged to tell people about your story, because that’s awesome); you can just come on in and join in. It doesn’t matter what your word count is: everyone encourages and supports everyone else. We give out stickers as rewards (pro tip: writers love stickers, particularly is they are cute or have dinosaurs on; if they have cute dinosaurs on them, prepare for a stampede), and one of the things we reward is write-in attendance. Because it’s something to be proud of and pleased about.

Even if you can’t get to the events in person, there are the online regional NaNoWriMo forums. We regularly have writers in parts of the region too distant to make our central events who set up threads to talk with each other, and organise their own meet-ups. (I wish I could help out with those more, but I can’t be everywhere, sadly!) For those in remote areas, they can get their contact and support through the forums. There are Twitter accounts set up for those who want to do the writing sprints in a group. IRC channels for those who like to use them. The list goes on!

So many options to join in and feel part of a group, regardless of where you are and whether you can make it to the in-person events. Just going onto the NaNo website and updating your word count is a reminder that you’re doing this amazing challenge with a whole heap of other people around the world. You’re amazing, and you’re not alone.

One of the best thing about NaNoWriMo is the community. Everyone is welcome here. I love it more than I can truly express.

Coming soon: proving you can do it

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)

Roundup: NaNoWriMo 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015 is done. I made it to the goal – all 50,000 words – and have my winner’s certificate. The events all went off without a hitch. People had fun, wrote words, made new connections. It was a quieter NaNo than last year’s, but good nonetheless.

I was even interviewed on the radio! I did this a few years ago as well, over the phone with a local ABC presenter. This year, she came to a write-in and we spent some time talking, got a few attendees involved, and the result is live and online.

(I’m in the picture on the post. I try not to be mortified.)

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’m grateful enough for how well the events we hold go. There were no screw-ups. No-one got hurt or in trouble. Technical issues were kept to a minimum (and largely solved, like the time one person’s trackpad stopped working and a Wrimo was able to lend him a wired mouse for the rest of a write-in).

No drama unfolded outside of our stories. Just the way I like it.

I have one golden rule for events that I run: no hospital trips. (This is occasionally expanded to ‘no emergency callouts’, depending on how naughty some of the attendees are looking. They know who they are.) I am happy to say that the rule remains blessedly unbroken.

I have good people around me. I am utterly grateful for this. I am incredibly lucky.

On the writing side, this was my worst NaNo to date. I struggled to get my head down to write, fought for inspiration, and wound up skipping across different projects. It was better to write something than nothing at all, and sometimes it’s good to fire up creativity before turning it onto a single target, but it was still a struggle.

Now, I’ve made progress on a few projects, and that’s good. I’m really well-prepared for next year’s Writers’ Asylum. I’ve got a much clearer picture of a project that has been stick-figures and catch-phrases until now. But I haven’t made the inroads I had been hoping for in Starwalker, and that makes me sad.

I did, however, make sure that I kept going back to it. The last thousand words I wrote were in Starwalker, in a musing that helped remind me how much I enjoy the ship’s voice. Her perspective is so different to any other character I’ve written, and yet she’s familiar and warm to be around.

I’m giving some serious thought to how I pull Starwalker into shape and get ready to start posting again. I need to make sure that I don’t start off badly or it’s just going to dive into the ground on me. Plans are in motion. I’m too stubborn to give up on this yet!

Right now, we’re winding up towards the last events of the year, and then there are just a few more bits to keep me busy before Christmas hits us.

Now if only I had the chance to have a rest, right?

Hope it’s all going well for all you out there. More news soon, watch this space!

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (1)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)

A slow start

My underwhelming statistics to date.

My underwhelming statistics to date.

Usually, when the 1st November hits, it’s pedal to the metal, all system go, sprinting off the start line like a startled rabbit being chased by an eager puppy. As an ML, I’m part of the cheer squad, encouraging everyone to write write write. It’s all about high energy and enthusiasm.

This year hasn’t been like that for me. Oh, I’m doing my best as ML, encouraging people, cheering them on, providing stickers and applause and candy. I’m not feeling the high energy this year but I’m at least faking it fairly well for others.

The ML side of things feels like the only part I’m getting right. When it comes to my own writing, it has been a struggle.

2015 has been something of a low year for me, mostly in terms of health and energy levels, with a whole heap of work-related stress and complications. Taking a hiatus has helped and given me the breathing room I needed to get on top of things, but my writing largely stalled in the process.

So, sitting down to a blank page at midnight on 1st November was daunting. I knew roughly what I wanted to write but not exactly, and that’s usually enough for me (more planning than that is usually too much and takes the fun and impetus out of it). But it was a struggle to get started. Since then, it has continued to be a struggle to put words on the page.

I had planned to make Starwalker Book 5 my project this year, with dreams of burning through 50,000 words of the web serial and getting a nice, fat buffer for myself. I laid out the rough outline of where the story was going, re-read the last section of Book 4 to remind myself of where all my characters were and what state the ship was in, so I knew where I was picking everything up and where I was going with it. I was ready. Good to go. Right?

Getting back into the voice and flow of Starwalker has proven to be hard. Very hard. Currently, I’m over 35,000 words into NaNo, and have written only a handful of Starwalker posts. They are only ever 3,000 words each at most, so you can see how it’s not all I’m writing. I would say that, at this point, it’s less than half of what I’ve written.

Right now, I’m fighting a battle between stubbornness, discipline, fostering creativity, and not forcing writing.

I had to push to get those few posts done, far harder than I like. I’m used to pushing myself to sit down and write – through feeling tired and distracted, through wanting to goof off for a while and play games – and I know that self-discipline is really important for me to be productive (this is part of why deadlines work for me: they make me sit down and get things done). But there’s a line where forcing myself to sit down and write becomes counterproductive: the writing becomes noticeably forced and, put simply, bad.

Finding that line is not easy. To stop myself going over it, I’ve had to recognise when the words I’m putting down are not my best work and are probably going to hurt me in the long run (this is where wasteful tangents come from, and stories diving into dead ends). I’ve had to be honest with myself when it’s just not working and I’m splurging crap onto the page in the name of upping my word count. While NaNoWriMo encourages this to an extent, I generally try not to do it, mostly because it makes the editing afterwards much harder and the impetus of the story can get swamped in the random shit, making it harder to write it in the first place.

But this is NaNo (words, words!), and I’m also trying to get back into the swing of writing regularly again, and that means that I don’t want to just stop when it starts getting shitty. (I’m also, as I mentioned, really stubborn, which means I don’t give up easily.) So, I’ve tried to build momentum by switching to other projects temporarily, and returning to Starwalker for a fresh go.

On the first little diversion, I managed to finish off the second part of that naughty little project I’ve been playing with lately. It still needs a lot of editing and polish, but the first draft is done! If nothing else, I have achieved that so far.

As so often happens when I delve into a project, I have started getting ideas and inspiration for other projects. It’s like flicking a creativity switch in my brain: there is lots of light, it flickers pretty randomly, and it falls on everything, not just the thing I’m supposed to be focussing on. It’s a floodlight rather than a focussed beam. This is why I came up with the Starwalker idea when I was 2 months into a 12-month project (The Apocalypse Blog) and wound up having to delay it for nearly a year. That part of my brain is fairly indiscriminate when it is active.

This time around, the project that decided to be illuminated is Splinter Soul. I’ve got a heap of ideas for the main plot now, and a handful of elements that I know I can play with. The main character’s voice is firming up and it’s entirely possible that she’s one of the least-heroic characters I’ve ever written (which makes her a stark contrast to Starry, who is one of the most heroic-natured characters I’ve created).

So I’ve written a bunch of stuff around the start of that story and the main plot is starting to take shape. It’s currently sitting around 11,000 words, which is not a bad chunk to start off a novel. I need to start folding in the rest of the main cast soon, which means I need to work out who they all are, but I like the way it’s going. It’s a start.

Add it to the list of all the projects I have that I want to progress. Oh wait, it’s already on there! Oops.

What else have I been working on? I’ve also been tinkering away at a super-hero-themed short story, which I wound up rewriting entirely because I wanted to change the point of view and sharpen it up. That one is currently just over 8,000 words, and about halfway through the story I want to tell. It’s only supposed to be 10,000 words in total, so I’m going to have to edit it pretty ruthlessly. That’s okay, that’s the next stage. I should probably try to push it through to the end before I worry about editing it down.

But I’m determined that Starwalker is still going to be my focus this NaNoWriMo. So I’ve been going back and determinedly working through a few posts at a time. The first part of Book 5 is starting to take shape. Slowly, gradually, one step at a time.

My word count graph shows how much I’m struggling this year. For the first time in a long time, I’ve fallen below the daily target. I’ve caught up, then fallen behind again. My second attempt to catch up was brave but didn’t quite make it: that was during the overnight write-in, which happened last weekend. It was a fantastic weekend and I think it went well (more on this soon), but I struggled to focus enough to write. It took a lot more out of me than I was expecting, and I was pretty much useless for two days afterwards. On the second day, I went upstairs to write, and wound up sprawled on the bed attempting to nap instead (for those who don’t know: I don’t nap, ever. It never works for me. If I try, it’s because my body is giving me no other choice and it’s usually a sign that I’m really sick or run down.)

Today, I’m feeling much better. Rested. And excited to get writing again. I need to write about 5,000 words to catch up to target. That’s totally doable over the next few hours, if I’m lucky and can maintain some momentum.

So yes, this year’s NaNoWriMo has been more of a struggle than I was anticipating. But I still love writing. I still love meeting all those wonderful people who are sharing in this journey. I still love the ideas and the stories that spill out of it. There will be more, so much more.

And like I said, I’m stubborn. I’ll get to 50,000 words yet. Just watch me.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)

Why NNWM: try something amazing

Part of the why NaNoWriMo is good for writers series.

A lot of people who come to NaNoWriMo for the first time have never written a novel before. This is something that often crops up: people of all ages stumble over the concept of NaNo and think ‘hey, I could have a go at that’.

Some of them have always wanted to write a novel. It might have been percolating at the back of their brain for years, and this is their excuse/chance to make it happen. Others come across it without the weight of that background and decide to have a go anyway.

This year, I am noticing that we’re getting several fanfic writers who have never written an original (i.e. non-fanfic) novel before, and this is their first try at that. (This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this happening, but I’ve noticed it cropping up more often this year!)

This is all great! NaNo has created a safe, supportive place for people to try something that is daunting, scary, and really big. It’s so easy to say ‘one day I’ll write a novel’; NaNo helps ‘one day’ be ‘today’, ‘now’, ‘yes’.

For some, it is a case of making time. For others, it’s a matter of confidence. Because despite some opinions, not all writers have faith in what they’re doing. We’re a self-critical lot, seldom with a good opinion about our own work or our own worth.

Striking out on your own on a scary adventure when you think you’re probably going to suck is not an easy thing to do. It’s much more comfy to stay at home and do other stuff.

Setting out on a lunatic challenge with a mob of equally insane people who don’t give a shit about how good your work is, on the other hand, is completely different. It’s not just about you any more; it’s something bigger, and you don’t have to rely purely on your own personal motivation any more. You have MLs and fellow writers to help carry you along, word count goals and word wars to push you onwards, and dare-swapping parties to help you take it all a bit less seriously (and give you inspiration when yours is flagging!).

In many ways, NaNo is breaking down barriers and opening doors to those who, for whatever reason, haven’t brought themselves to do it on their own. It doesn’t matter if it’s a long-standing wish or a sudden urge prompted by someone mentioning the idea of writing a novel: you have this amazing thing in front of you, ripe for a tasting. NaNo makes the impossible and improbable feel possible.

You’re rushed through those opened doors in a happy crowd, and it’s all good. Whatever happens, it’s all good.

Coming soon: you’re not alone

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (1)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (1)
  • More pls (0)

Why NNWM: long-term gains

AKA: It helps us to understand how and where we can make time to write

Part of the why NaNoWriMo is good for writers series.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are a lot of demands for our time and it can be difficult to fit writing into it all. It’s easy to say ‘I don’t have time’. NaNoWriMo opens a door to temporarily make time, but it can be more than that, too.

It doesn’t have to be only about explaining and diverting time to write for a short period of time. Being forced to shoehorn writing time into your schedule highlights those places you could take more advantage of, and helps us to critically examine our own assumptions about what we can and can’t do in the longer term.

This means looking for tactics and tools that can be applied year-round. NaNo encourages the daily writing habit (through daily wordcount goals, etc), and it gives you an opportunity to experiment with different solutions. Some of them are short-lived only (for example, I now take a lot of my annual leave from work during November), but others can be expanded into long-term habits.

This is where the annual writing challenge helped me greatly. Having to juggle NaNo (and MLing) and a full-time job meant that I had to be critical of my schedule in different ways in order to get everything achieved. I tried a few alternative ways to achieve my wordcounts – filling up my evenings rather than spending time with the family, binge-writing on the weekends and at write-ins to catch up, squeezing writing in to every moment of the day when my hands were idle, and so on – and eventually I discovered those pockets of time that I wasn’t making best use of (primarily, my daily commute to and from the day job). With some tweaking, these became my year-round writing times.

It requires understanding what’s sustainable and what’s not, and sometimes making sacrifices. That’s going to vary from person to person, depending on their dedication to spinning stories and the flexibility in their schedules and commitments.

This is an area where NaNo shines a light for us, and the beam may extend far beyond November’s boundaries if we choose to tilt it that way. So use it. Find that time you never knew you had and make stories in it.

Coming soon: a wonderful opportunity

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)

Why NNWM: the temporary timebox of imagination

AKA: Permission to focus on your writing.

Part of the why NaNoWriMo is good for writers series.

One article writer is of the opinion that “[writers] will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not”, and she can’t be more wrong. For some writers, that is true, but like all writing advice, it’s far from universal. I wouldn’t even say that they’re in the majority. (Assuming that ‘we’ means ‘anyone’.)

The truth is that many would-be writers simply don’t know how to make it work. Our lives are very busy with a glorious mix of school, family, work, gaming, sleeping, chores, friends, commitments, TV shows, reading, health, fitness, and other extra-curricular expectations. Everyone’s demands are different.

On top of that, writing is so frequently seen (usually by our friends and family) as ‘just a hobby’, some unimportant thing that we play at sometimes. The truth is, to put any kind of decent time into our writing, we have to sacrifice something else, and there lies the rub. How do we justify the time and energy needed to write?

(It’s interesting that we have to justify it at all but, as a general rule, we do.)

It’s not an easy choice to make or explain. The way that writing speaks to us seldom makes sense to non-writers (and especially to non-readers); how do we explain that we have these awesome hallucinations that we want to partially solidify and share with others? How do we explain that we have these stories that push and pressure us to be told? How do we do this without coming across as a crazy person?

NaNoWriMo circumvents this issue. It provides a month in which a writer can say, “I’m doing this crazy-fun challenge to write a novel in a month, so I’m going to be busy for the next 4 weeks.” It’s a special event. It’s temporary, so it can be a time-out from the norm. It’s communal (a bunch of people are doing this thing) and dictated by an external party (it happens every November), both of which lend weight to why you want to a) have a go and b) do it at a set time. It’s permission to step around the usual explanation requirements and boundaries that would otherwise get in the way of writing.

This makes sense to other people in our lives; there are valid reasons for the time we’re spending on this annual challenge. They tend to accept it, to give us the leeway that the challenge demands. It’s time-limited, so we can put off chores for a little while, and have a free pass on dropping out of regular social engagements. It provides us a space in which to do this weird imaginary exercise.

It also opens the door for less serious or dedicated writers to have a go. I know many participants who only ever write during NaNo and don’t have the urge to do it any other time. This is great! Here’s a space for them to enjoy themselves. (Note: this is different to those who only write during NaNo because they struggle to be able to do it any other time.)

NaNoWriMo is an easy way to explain to others that writing is a thing you like to do, by coming with a handy, easy explanation built in.

Coming soon: It also helps writers to understand how and where writing can fit into our lives.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)

Why NNWM: Permission to be bad

Part of the why NaNoWriMo is good for writers series.

NaNoWriMo says that it’s okay to write bad stuff. Loose plotting, awkward phrasing, weirdly-depicted characters, holey timelines: it’s all good, as long as you’re progressing your story and building up that lovely wordcount.

This is a sticking-point in some people’s opinions, and yes, it produces bad writing. No-one disputes that. The thing is: that’s one of the good things about NaNo.

Writers want their stories to be good. They want to share them, and want to make them the best stories they can be. This desire is good and to be encouraged, but it can also get in the way.

For some writers, this desire leads to getting stuck. Endlessly polishing the first chapter can be very tempting, but it’s also a trap that stops us from getting any further in the story. (It’s also pointless until you’ve written the whole story anyway, in most cases.)

For other writers, it stops them from ever starting. The pressure to make it the best it can be coupled with the weight of a blank page can halt a writer in their creative tracks before they’ve even started.

Having a space in which it’s okay for your writing to not be perfect, to give yourself permission to make mistakes and let them lie, is really important to some writers. It lets writers throw down a meaningless, trashy first sentence to break the seal on a blank page, so they can follow it up with more useful, story-progressing sentences. It enables them to blast past the rough bits and get through the meat of their story, even if it’s cooked unevenly. It lets them get to the end.

(As I said previously: the point of NaNoWriMo is not to write bad stories that should be immediately published. The point is to write whole stories, with the intention of going back and polishing later. They’re not supposed to stay bad writing! It’s just okay for them to start out as bad writing.)

As one author (whom I can’t remember) famously said: “I can edit a bad page, but I can’t edit a blank one.”

NaNoWriMo lets you make a lot of bad pages, from which you can edit awesome pages (if you so choose).

Coming soon: permission to focus on your writing.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)

NaNoWriMo: Keep Coming Back

NaNoWriMo: yay or nay?

NaNoWriMo: yay or nay?

This year’s crazy novelling adventure is fast approaching, so attention is increasingly turning towards the challenge that I take part in every year. A little while ago, I came across an article about how writers shouldn’t bother with NaNoWriMo. It’s not a new article (it was written back in 2010), but given the points raised in it, I suspect that it’s not outdated for those who are inclined to agree. I feel the need to comment on it.

The article’s writer, Laura Miller, believes that NaNoWriMo is a waste of time and energy. I believe she is utterly wrong, but I’m not here to tear her or her piece down. It got me thinking, and when I get thinking, it often prompts me to write stuff down. So here I am, writing stuff down in response to her article.

One of the main points in Miller’s article revolves around the fact that writing crap is not only expected during NaNo, but encouraged. This leads to crappy first drafts being sent to publishers and agents, as if they are entitled to be published after making it through the NaNoWriMo crucible.

She’s not wrong about this, though it’s not a universal phenomenon (most writers know better!). Sadly, the ‘write a novel!’ message of NaNo can lead some participants to believe that that’s all there is to creating a book worth publishing. Advice for submitting novels is increasingly leaning towards not mentioning NaNo at all, because the amount of first-draft NaNo novels being submitted has given the annual challenge a bad stigma in publishing circles.

It has never been a good idea to submit your first draft anywhere. Anything less than a polished manuscript is wasting everyone’s time. This is not a new understanding and it is not likely to change.

However, it’s not like the influx of first drafts is a new phenomenon. There have always been people who think their first draft is gold. There have always been writers who think they don’t have to put in the work to polish a manuscript and who send it out regardless. NaNo might have increased the volume somewhat, but this is hardly a new problem for publishers and agents.

Also, this assumption isn’t one that NaNo promotes. The organisation goes to lengths to help writers understand what’s required to take their novel to the next stage, through its ‘What Next’ information and resources, emails it sends to participants, and so on. Admittedly, this aspect of NaNoWriMo has grown and improved over the last few years; was it present so strongly when the article was written? I have no idea. It may have actually come about in response to the stigma that NaNo novels have acquired in publishing circles.

What I find most interesting is that Miller isn’t writing this article as a writer, publisher, or agent: she’s a reader (and reviewer) of novels. So I’m a little bewildered about why she would be so negative about an issue that would never land in her lap; the terrible first drafts that are sent to bother professionals would only become her problem if someone decided to publish them. Her choice to make such an issue of it in an article is curious to me. (Which is not to say that people can’t comment on things that don’t impact them directly – of course they can – I just find her choice curious. Perhaps she’s complaining on behalf of publishers and agents?)

What I find more concerning is that she appears to resent NaNoWriMo because it’s all about the writers and not about readers, as if giving to one group detracts from the other:

“It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.” (On bookstores advertising writing space for novelists during NaNo.)

This single sentence shows her bias with astonishing ease: readers are ‘selfless’ while writers are selfish and ‘commercial’. What this shows to me is that she doesn’t understand what type of writers NaNoWriMo is aimed at, or writers in general. Sure, some are hoping to be professional novelists, but the majority don’t care or can’t be bothered to even try to get published. (I say this from observing the NaNoWriMo community, particularly the local ones I have participated and led.) No-one does NaNo to be ‘commercial’.

Miller goes on to talk about how lucrative is it to sell books to writers about writing, but that’s just good business for the bookstores (and writers of said books). How is this a bad thing? Writers seeking to improve their craft to make better stories for the poor, mal-treated readers is a terrible thing to do? (Note: I’ve never heard of a writer using NaNo to write a non-fiction book about writing. It probably has happened somewhere; could that be where this came from?)

Also, an interesting viewpoint:

“NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary.”

Miller goes on to explain why it’s unnecessary and pointless to encourage and facilitate writing, how there are too many books in the world anyway (even by authors she likes), and writers will persist at (and complain about) their craft regardless. (I’m paraphrasing: see the article for her actual words.)

To me, Miller fundamentally misunderstands what it’s like to be a writer and the value that NaNo brings to writing. She’s not a writer and, from her comments, most likely hasn’t spent time in the NaNoWriMo community. She sees only the obvious stuff from the outside: a non-profit group enthusiastically encouraging writers to write, to take up space she sees as ‘hers’ (readers’), and to produce crap.

I have a different view. I have seen how NaNo opens doors for writers. I know what NaNo has done for my writing, and I have seen the community at work. These things are why I keep coming back to NaNoWriMo, and why I put so much time, energy, and heart into it.

NaNoWriMo grows every year. Last year, over 325,000 people took part! Here in my local region, we have over 5,000 people alone, gathered up over the years. Miller quoted one famous NaNo book that made it big (Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen), but there are now over 250 books on the list of NaNo novels that have been published.

So Miller’s claims that NaNo is unnecessary for writers falls flat; if it was so unnecessary, it wouldn’t have such a strong following, growing year on year. Clearly, it is aimed at people who want to do it, people for whom it is necessary because they are not the type of writer who will persist at it anyway.

As for the complaints that it detracts from support for readers, I’m going to call bullshit on that. Readers are not a dying breed: every year, more and more books are being bought and devoured. Traditionally or self-published, it doesn’t matter: the market ebbs and flows, but literacy (judged by the total amount of books being bought) is at an all-time high. We are devouring books at an astonishing rate.

Do readers have sufficient ‘space’ dedicated to them? I’ve never noticed a problem myself, but that’s not to say there isn’t one. However, if you think the lack of reader support and events is a problem, then the solution is pretty simple: create them. That’s why I created my Creative Writing Group: I didn’t see the sort of group that I wanted to be a part of, so I made one. It’s why I do NaNoWriMo and create the events that my people and me enjoy. We already have readers’ and writers’ festivals where we share space. Having reader-centric events is something that we can do! (And people do, by creating book clubs, for example.) A lot of writer-ish events cross over into reader territory or interest as well: readings, panels, talks. So more writing events can mean more events for readers, too.

I don’t see NaNo as excluding readers; it is including writers. It certainly isn’t run in opposition to or instead of a reading event. Why are these mutually exclusive? I would fully support more events that promote reading! (I’m a writer: of course I love readers. That’s who I write for! Also, I am one!) I struggle to see why Miller feels that, in order to get the support for readers that she desires, something (NaNoWriMo) would have to be taken away from writers.

All in all, Miller’s article is an interesting look into the mind of someone squinting at NaNoWriMo from the outside (and, apparently, some distance). I’m aware that we all look like crazy people when it’s happening (no-one denies this; it’s part of NaNo’s charm), but the level of entitled disapproval in her article is still astonishing to me.

I started to write up all the things that I think NaNo does for writers as a counterpoint to Miller’s article, but it grew so long that I’ve decided to break it up into pieces and post them separately. So watch this space! I’ll be talking more about why I do NaNoWriMo and why I love what it does for writers.

Because NaNoWriMo is:

Coming soon: all of the above.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (4)
  • Interesting (1)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)

NaNoWriMo 2015: planning and prep

I can’t believe it’s October already. Ahhh!

Once again, National Novel Writing Month looms on my horizon. That means that I have a 50,000-word project to plan, and a region’s events and activities and giveaways to organise.

Luckily, my co-ML and I have been working on the latter for the last few months, taking our time. As October tipped into being, we’re almost set up: we only have a couple of details left to shake out, and then we’ll be completely set!

Our write-in calendar is the easiest of the organisation. We’ve got it down to a well-oiled machine now, with our awesome venue and a schedule that is a little crazy (our weekend write-ins run for 10 hours each) but one that we know works for us and our writers.

One of the biggest events we’re doing this year is the Kick-off Party. After the success of last year’s evening Halloween party with the writing start at midnight on 1st November, we were determined to make it even better this year. It’s our last weekend Halloween for a few years, so we’re making the most of it!

One thing we wanted to do was find a better place to hold the KoP this year. Last year’s was good but there was room for improvement. So, my co-ML and I had a chat with the manager of our wonderful write-in venue, the Coffee Club at Milton (affectionately referred to as the CCM). They usually close up around 9 or 10pm, but when we explained what we wanted to do, the manager had no hesitation at all: she offered to stay open to 2am. So we can do the party and the midnight start, right in our usual NaNo home!

It’s all set up and ready to go. I can’t wait!

The other big thing we’re doing this year is trying something different with our Writers’ Retreat. After our experiences and feedback last year, we decided that it wasn’t going to work again, so it was time for something new. We needed something low-cost but loads of fun. This year, we’ve decided to do an Overnight Write-in instead.

What does that mean? It means piling as many people as possible into my house for a weekend, telling them to bring their own pillows so they can crash on couches/mattresses/floors, and getting catering in to feed them all. The catering and some of the details are still a WIP, but it’s coming along. I should be ready to publicise the details and take bookings soon.

Once that’s done, we’re ready to rumble! The only other bits we have left to do is to take a trip to the candy warehouse to bulk-buy in the candy we need (writers need sugar – and caffeine, but we only supply sugar), and put together the party bags and lanyards for the Kick-off Party. That’s lined up for a couple of weeks’ time. Some quality testing of the candy may be involved.

Look! My plan! (Note: this photo was intentionally fuzzied to avoid spoilers.)

Look! My plan!
(Note: this photo was intentionally fuzzied to avoid spoilers.)

It feels good to be an organised ML. But what about what I’m writing this year? Weeeell… I’m getting there.

I have been tossing up what to do with my NaNo project this year, and as I suspected when I started my Starwalker hiatus, getting Book 5 underway is going to be my focus. While I do largely write without detailed plans, I want to start Book 5 off with direction and purpose, particularly after my Starwalker Book 4 experiences.

So, at our regular write-in this month (which happened on Saturday 3rd October), I sat down and noodled out the next part of Starry’s journey. This led to the collection of 10 notecards you see depicted in this post: 5 plot-progress cards, picking out the major sections and some of the details that will be in each one; and 5 ‘things to deal with’ cards, to identify the over-arcing issues that Starry and her crew need to handle somewhere in all that plot stuff.

I didn’t intend for them to be 5 each; I just wrote up everything that was buzzing around in my head. Sometimes things just come out weirdly symmetrical. Be assured that those cards are actually all different sizes: some plot points and issues are bigger than others.

Looking at it now, I have no idea if I can get through all of that in 50,000 words. I’m not sure if that is all of Book 5 but I suspect it might be, and that means… there is likely to be a Book 6.

(Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but the planned stuff only covers Starry’s visit to the space pirates; there’s a whole other adventure that comes after that.)

Wow. So much to write! I’ve set up a brand new Scrivener project to write it in (I’m transferring over to Scrivener from yWriter, now that I’m working primarily on a Mac). All I have left to do is read over the end of Book 4 again to get my head in the right space, and then it’ll be time to go.

Looking forward to it. It has been too long since I’ve written about my favourite starship. I needed the break, but it’s time to get back to it now! Bring on NaNoWriMo 2015. 🙂

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (3)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (1)