Camp NaNoWriMo 2017, Week One: Adventures in Planning

If you’ve been following along on Twitter, you may recall that my Camp NaNoWriMo project is planning for 60 minutes a day. To be specific, figuring out plot, character, and pacing for three of my past NaNoWriMo novels: the pumpkin novel, the parallel worlds novel, and the anxiety girl novel. (Surprisingly, the last one is the only one without a pending title.) I’ve been tracking my progress via minutes, which has turned out to be the most useful metric for this type of project–tracking words is nearly impossible, and tracking hours makes it hard to track partial hours. Tracking minutes has also been useful since most of my progress has happened in chunks of less than an hour, usually in sessions of fifteen to thirty minutes.

Why planning? I hate planning. I’ve always been that kid who wrote the first draft of a paper, then outlined it whenever a professor asked for an outline. I’ve tried planning for novels before, trying to figure out scenes and key events in a story, but this usually results in me staring at the paper or the screen and saying “I could stare at this paper and figure it out or I could just write the freaking thing.” Or “Who cares what color the character’s eyes are? There are too many options? How can I choose just one? Can’t I just write the thing and figure it out that way?” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which route I’d take instead.

So I avoided the planning process. Even the times I attempted to plan something, I’d quit a few minutes later and never come back. And then I’d go right back into pantsing my way through a new first draft (or the occasional second) out of a vague concept, even if it’s like pulling teeth at times. (But then again, what act of creation doesn’t involve some teeth-pulling at some point?) This method isn’t a bad one in itself; for me, it works great for the first draft, and occasionally for the second, provided I reread the first draft before attempting a second draft. But since I base the second draft off my first draft, both of them are still disorganized messes that require lots of time, attention, and focus to turn those messes into something less messy.

Therein lies my problem. I now have at least three past NaNo novels that I’d like to see developed further. I’ve completed first and second drafts for all three of them (and an adapted screenplay for one of them, RIP Script Frenzy). But since I took the same approach to both of those novels, I wound up with two messes. Messes with some salvageable gems, sure, but messes all the same. If I’m going to continue working on these novels, I need to take a serious look at what I’m doing so I don’t screw up the next version as much. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do for camp: figure out characters, events, pacing, and everything else a novel needs so I can write a third draft that I can use as a base for editing.

Most of my time so far has been spent on the anxiety girl novel. This isn’t surprising since I worked on this novel most recently of the three (2015 and 2016 NaNoWriMo). I did switch over to working on the other two projects a few days ago after getting stuck on planning for Anxiety Girl, but the next day I went right back to that novel with more inspiration than ever. On Wednesday night I found myself still full of ideas after half an hour but knew I needed to go to bed if I was going to get a reasonable amount of sleep that night. Alas.

Those flashes of inspiration are finally coming back. I remember that joy: the joy of coming up with an idea and furiously searching for some way to scribble it down. The small notebooks with the occasional page of novel concepts and character ideas. I used to have these flashes of inspiration for past novels, but for some reason they stopped. I don’t know what happened, but over the last few years, I rarely found myself getting excited over ideas and scribbling them down. Maybe it’s because I’ve been concentrating so hard on word count for the last two or three years. I don’t know.

But I do know some of that joy in writing is starting to come back. And I can only hope that it’s ready to hang out for awhile.

Coming later this month: things I’m good at when planning and things I need to work on

Writing Hiatus, Revisited

Regular readers and Twitter followers may recall my writing hiatus in February. Since I’ve been writing again for almost a month, let’s revisit that hiatus month.

Thankfully for my sanity and for my memory’s sake, I continued to allow paper journal writing, along with book reviews so I wouldn’t have to squeeze out what little I still remembered from those books a month later.

The writing hiatus worked; I wrote just under 5k overall in February. While this puts me behind in reaching my overall goal for 2016, I need “only” 25,000 words per month for ten months, which takes into account October’s likely lack of writing and November’s megawriting. At first, I found myself standing to the side as everyone else was talking about writing. Dreams of editing some novels, coming up with new ideas for this site (don’t worry, I wrote most of those down), and venturing into new types of writing filled my mind as I kept reminding myself of the writing hiatus. It didn’t help that most of my Twitter community consists of writers. I swear, following a bunch of writers on Twitter when you’re on hiatus is like still going to the bar after you’ve quit drinking just because your friends are there.

As for the guilt, I felt a little guilty at first for not writing, as you might expect. But as the month went on, I occupied myself in different ways. Playing some games. Reading a book a day at some points. Wishing spring would arrive faster. Wondering if I was a real writer since I didn’t miss writing at some points.

The problem is, I’ve barely pursued any of those ideas since then. That’s in part due to this month being about five times busier than a typical March, along with many more life changes than usual. (Most of them good, so don’t worry too much about me.) I’m a little behind on reaching my 25,000 word goal for March, but not so far behind that I’m concerned about reaching that goal.

So now what? My Camp NaNoWriMo project is primarily Wikiwrimo updates; like last year I’ll be counting characters instead of words for my project. Since this worked out well last year and I still have a lot to do on Wikiwrimo, Camp will kickstart my efforts. This seems like a good idea for a yearly Camp project, with the second project consisting of whatever else I feel like writing. Let’s get back to writing all the things.

Taking a break from writing

I’ve discussed feeling less into writing than I have in years past, and the idea of taking a break has come up over and over again, both in the comments of that post and in reply to tweeting about these feelings this morning.

So this is it. For the month of February, I’m taking a break from writing.

What I can write:

  • anything for work, because I like acquiring currency
  • my paper journal, since that’s how I vent and generally feel better about life
  • book reviews, so I don’t forget about the book by the end of the month
  • Wikiwrimo, just in case I get the hankering

Anything else is a no-go, which includes fiction and this blog. Any posts you see from me in February were written last month, so this blog won’t be totally neglected. And yes, I can jot down ideas that come to mind so I don’t forget them before March. I just can’t start writing those things until March arrives.

“Hey, wait a minute,” I can hear my brain saying. “You haven’t been writing any fiction since November, anyway, so the only thing you’re really cutting out is the blogging.”

Well, yes. You’re right, brain. But the point of this exercise is to forgive myself for not doing these writing things. I find myself feeling guilty when I’m not writing or editing a work of fiction, even if it’s not what I want to do right then. It’s time to let those feelings go.

Besides, doing something is much more exciting when it’s not allowed.

What will I do instead of writing? That’s such a good question that I don’t have an answer to it yet. I guess we’ll find out.

See you in March, writing.

Writing 500,000 words in 2016

I mentioned in my 2016 goals post that I want to write 500,000 words in 2016. That’s half a million words, which sounds a little daunting even to me. It’s not the numbers. If I write my anticipated goal of 250,000 words in November, that leaves less than 750 words per day for the rest of the year. That’s less than 25,000 words per non-NaNo month. Come on, self. You can write 25k in less than a day.

The challenging part, as always, is making writing a habit. I’ve been terrible at making writing a habit, something that I don’t think about doing. In the same way that I go to the bathroom immediately upon getting out of bed, then make breakfast and tea, writing should come just as naturally. I want to sit down at the computer and start writing without thinking about it.

I plan on tracking my writing progress across four areas in 2016:

  • Fiction (NaNo novels, anything else that I make up)
  • Posts to this blog
  • Major updates to Wikiwrimo (more than correcting a few typos or updating a region’s page, at least)
  • My paper journals

The paper journal progress will be the hardest to track, as I don’t fancy counting up the words every day. I’ll probably do that for the first few entries, then take an average and use that for convenience. After all, if something is convenient, I’m more likely to continue doing it.

And because I love accountability, you can follow along and hold me to this goal. I’m tracking my writing progress on a spreadsheet created by @HillaryDePiano, the Northeast New Jersey NaNo ML. You can view my 2016 spreadsheet here and follow along, then poke me with sticks if I get more than a few days behind. You can also get your own spreadsheet from that link. Since the spreadsheet will think I’m behind all year long until November, I’m using the monthly goals as a progress benchmark until NaNo.

So why am I doing this? I have no idea how much I write outside of NaNo novels. Sure, the notebooks pile up and I could go back and collect word counts of every post here I’ve written this year, but that doesn’t give me the whole picture. I want that whole picture so I can try to improve as a writer and hopefully turn writing into a profession. Since I thrive on accountability (and okay, not disappointing people), sharing my progress will keep me going. It worked for my very first NaNo novel, after all.

Besides that, I just counted one page’s words in my current paper journal. 220 words. Even with smaller notebooks than this current large one, that’s still 3-4 pages per day, depending on that specific notebook’s words per page. I’ve written something in there all but one day in December as an attempt to rebuild the habit lost during NaNo. Sounds like it’s working so far.

Let’s do this… and then set a bigger goal for 2017.

NaNoWriMo 2015 Wrapup

Hello, December. Missed me?

Let’s get the thing most of you want to know out of the way: my total NaNoWriMo 2015 word count was 302,203 words. This is a personal record that I won’t be topping anytime soon.

And I don’t want to top that record anytime soon, either. Writing that much in a month is HARD. I worked full-time this November, and my only days off were weekends, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday. This meant that I was barely on track for a lot of the month and played epic catchup on the weekends and over Thanksgiving. Even my other 300k year, when I didn’t have a job, sitting down to write that much every day was a challenge. Completing 300k with a job meant almost giving up the NaNo forums entirely and completely giving up reading and non-novel writing (hence why this blog went so neglected during the one month of the year when people are actually paying attention to me). I set a minimum of 5k per work night and devoted the weekends to writing as much as possible. This isn’t sustainable throughout the rest of the year, but that’s okay–the creative freedom and inspiration NaNo provides more than makes up for whatever I’m cutting out (including lots of silly phone games, let’s be honest here).

To add to the challenge, I had trouble coming up with a plot for NaNoWriMo. You may remember my confession back in October about not having any ideas for NaNo. I wound up writing three novels, so I bet you’re wondering: what happened?

My first novel was about a 20-something who feels like she’s wasting her life, so she moves to a new city and gets into shenanigans. This is eerily similar to the huge NaNoWriMo 2010 novel that put me over 300k the first time.

My second novel starred a high school high achiever whose life goes to hell during junior year: her best friend moved across the country, her dad is never home, she doesn’t have any other friends… and then what? This premise started out a lot like my very first NaNoWriMo novel, but I like this version a lot better. In fact, that I’m thinking of editing this novel. Not bad for a novel I started at a write-in and came up with on the way to that write-in.

I started writing the third novel on a road trip back home. It was supposed to be a third draft of 2009’s pumpkin novel. That lasted all of a thousand words. The rest of the novel told the hippie art teacher’s story and doesn’t really have a plot; it just bumbled through this person’s life as things happened.

Even though I don’t plan on touching the first and third novels again, they served as learning experiences: while I’m a pantser, I need more than a super-vague premise to succeed at writing a story. This goes back to my fear that I am in fact out of ideas, despite doing so much to gather ideas and inspiration.

Two more things of note:

I wrote at least 2,000 words every single day in November. I am damn proud of this. This is the first NaNoWriMo that I recall writing every single day in the month, and I plan to continue writing my many other things–this blog, more personal essays, a paper journal, editing my fiction… Stay tuned for another post on this topic.

And second, I’ve written 300,000 words for two of my 14 NaNoWriMos. I didn’t complete a single 50k day during either of those years, and I think this contributed to my consistency throughout the month. The 50k days burned me out for about a week after each one. Even though I hated everything at the beginning of the second day, I still managed to crank out nearly 5,000 words that evening after work. Consistency is much more valuable than pure volume, something I’m keeping in mind in December.

How was your NaNoWriMo? Did you reach your goal?

Why do I write like I’m running out of time?

The most common question I get regarding my NaNoWriMo word count is “How on earth do you write so fast?” The answer to this question isn’t very interesting: a childhood of typing games to make my fingers catch up with my brain, butt in chair, hands on keyboard, a willingness to embrace whatever happens next in the story even if I have no idea what’s going on. Years of practice is not what the asker wants to hear.

Question number two is usually “Why on earth do you write so fast?” While these two questions do have some overlap in their answer, the answer to this question is much more interesting.

Readers who have been around for awhile may remember that I’m a pretty anxious person. This anxiety fuels my writing, not just in worrying what other people think about my words (although that nagging in my head is persistently there), but in getting the words down in the first place.

My writing process is best described as a two-player game of Tag. The inner critic is It, and it’s chasing me around the field, trying to tag me. Except when the inner critic tags me, the game’s over. The only way for me to win is to keep running, keep writing. I may be a slow runner, but my fingers will give most people a challenge if they want to keep up.

When I’m writing at a breakneck pace, I sometimes reach a pace where my fingers can’t keep up. This results in typos everywhere that I don’t bother to correct after multiple attempts. That’s fine and good, but more importantly, writing as fast as I can means the inner critic can’t keep up. There’s no time to correct a turn of phrase when the next sentence is already formed in my mind, and writing it down is the best way to ensure it doesn’t leave my mind.

The process breaks down when I write more slowly. That’s when the inner critic chases me down. I freeze at the screen, trying to think of the next few words or sentences. Then I type something down, think for a minute, and backspace all of it. Sometimes I retype the same thing I wrote the first time; other times, I write something totally different or a scrap of an idea. After that I might check IRC or Twitter or the NaNo forums or something related to what I’m writing, proceeding to waste far too much time on these things. And then I turn back to the writing document and wonder if this is ever going to be worthy.

This is why I haven’t managed to get the hang of editing yet. The editing process is full of slowing down and making sure everything works. It’s also full of slowing down to a stop and questioning whether what I’ve written is any good at all. Unfortunately for my writing process, there is no speed editing process.

So why do I write like it’s going out of style? Because if I don’t write fast, I won’t write at all.

In writing, never have I ever…

NaNoWriMo starts in just under three weeks and I still have no idea what to write about. This would be less of a problem if I didn’t have a ridiculous goal.

Since NaNo is about challenging yourself, maybe it’s time to take on a type of novel I’ve never done before. I’ve written at least elements of every genre listed on the NaNo genre list.

* write a non-human protagonist. I’ve written non-human major characters before, but never a protagonist)
* write a epistolary novel. I’ve co-written part of a still-unfinished epistolary novel, but never written a full one myself.
* adapt a past non-novel work. This would technically be rebelling, but it’s a serious possibility and I have a script of my own in mind for it.
* write a novel taking place in 24 hours This one would just be fun.
* write a protagonist of color or of some other minority. Okay, this may be something I don’t think about much thanks to pantsing my way through the novel, and since I haven’t put much thought into this, that probably means they default to white, straight, middle-class characters. As a racial half-minority and someone who cares about human representation everywhere I find this problematic. I’ve included quite a few other major characters who are non-white, LGBTQIA, or some other minority, but that a main character isn’t of such a role yet is something I do find disturbing. This is something I certainly intend to fix this year.
* rewrite a past novel. Again, this would be rebelling, but I have a second draft of only one novel and I’m not that happy with it. And okay, I’ve done this before, but not for November NaNo, so this stays on the list.

There are certainly more (including “silly” challenges like not using a certain word or letter, or only using certain words), but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I intend to cross off at least one of these this year.

What are your “Never have I ever”s for writing?

Does NaNoWriMo foster bad writing habits?

There’s a discussion in the NaNoWriMo forums about a non-writer friend of a Wrimo who believes that NaNoWriMo fosters bad writing habits. Does it, though? The non-Wrimo friend believes that NaNo encourages writers to pad and worry about deadlines and word count instead of writing on one’s own and page count. Let’s take a look.

I rarely if ever pad, which you might not believe. In fact, I anti-pad. My writing is so skeletal in the first draft stage and lacking in description that I often have to go back and add these things. Of course, not every Wrimo writes like me. Padding can be part of the NaNoing experience, but only if that Wrimo chooses to make it so. The idea behind padding isn’t necessarily to make one’s word count or to intentionally write crap that will definitely be cut out later but to write something down. You can’t edit a blank page, and writing anything down lets you keep going. In that way, NaNoWriMo fosters the best writing habit of all if you want to write well: writing.

Word count, not page count, is what the publishing world usually goes by. Anyone who has written a paper for a class knows that you can fudge page count by changing the font or margins to squeeze in that last half page. Word count can’t be fudged as easily, but you get a good idea of how many pages, say, 50,000 words take up in pages. (Somewhere around 175 book pages, if you didn’t already know.) Awareness of your word count isn’t an entirely bad thing in the long run; it makes sure what you intended to be a novel doesn’t end at ten thousand words or stretches on to 300,000. Some genres have understood guidelines on word counts, so knowing those limits going into a book’s writing is a good thing so you don’t overstep them too much. Well, unless you’re absolutely convinced that your novel is really really good.

If you’re a writer outside of NaNo, there’s a very good chance you’re going to work under a deadline at some point. NaNo teaches you how to do that. Writing under a deadline makes you better at it over time, and you’ll learn how to write smoother prose that is easier to edit, even if it doesn’t look easier at first. Take this from my own experience; my first NaNo novel is never getting touched again, while two of my books from the past two years definitely have potential.

If there is a bad habit that a Wrimo may fall into, it’s the idea that one writes only in November with a bunch of other writers. Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary activity, but it’s not always an activity with thousands of writers cheering you on, either. Not everyone does NaNo with its breakneck writing speed and community support, and as much as I love NaNo, that’s okay. November is for writing, but if you want to be a serious writer, the rest of the year can’t be off-limits.

The characters with no names

The point I mentioned last night about my novel still rings true almost 17,000 words in, so now I get to bring it up.

None of my characters have proper names.

My story is told in first person, so that eliminated the need to figure out the main character’s name for awhile. He’s a pretty solitary ghost on the whole, and I don’t think any of the characters know his name. Come to think of it, I don’t think any of the characters know each other’s names. Actually, that’s a lie. There were two girls at a show the ghost narrator sneaked into in the beginning who probably knew each other’s names, though the names were unmentioned. And of course, the ghost’s love interest and the love interest’s apparent human interest probably know each other’s names, but those names haven’t come up in the story yet. The former’s name will likely come up eventually, assuming I ever get around to naming any of these characters. As for the other characters, who knows? My cast of characters is small so far, and I could probably count all the characters on two hands. Distinguishing the characters by calling them “the ghost” (another ghost who is not the narrator) or “the girl” or “the guy” hasn’t gotten me into trouble yet. This method will get me into trouble eventually, so maybe I should start introducing names into the story.

Is the lack of proper names in the story a bad thing? One could argue that “the girl” or “the guy” or “the ghost” are names. Names are what we make of them, and they can be whatever we please. On the other hand, proper names are easier to deal with and are much less awkward when you’re reading an entire book. Are there any books that brave the world of improper names for a whole book? I’m curious now. Enlighten me.

Camp NaNoWriMo: Day Two

As promised, I’m a quarter of the way through Camp NaNoWriMo. The story’s starting to develop, and I’m figuring out where to go next with it. The ghost’s love interest is not just a human, but a ghostbuster. Hello conflict. The conflict in this story is going to be huge, and I’m enjoying the story so far. Figuring out the next step hasn’t been too difficult after the first few scenes.

For those who struggle with this, my words of advice: think of the thing you would expect your characters to do, and then do the opposite. I found myself doing this several times throughout the plot. My ghost character could have floated away from the guy selling the roses like his common sense said he should have, but instead he stole a few, and that’s how he was found a few scenes later.

The other interesting bit about this story may or may not still be relevant tomorrow, but I’ll take that chance. I also probably won’t finish this story in four days, despite my writing speed today. I have nonwriting things to be doing!