My #NaNoWriMo Rules

NaNoWriMo is, ultimately, a contest in which we’re all our own judges.

Traditionalists will say NaNo is: a) writing at least 50,000 new words of fiction in b) the creation of a new work that is c) a novel.

But, at the end of the day, that excludes a lot of people who’d like to participate — and many of those people who’ve felt excluded have crashed the gates, so to speak, becoming NaNo rebels.

This is a huge portion of participants who’ve embraced the fact that we’re our own judges, and do their own thing — and from new website features specifically catering to rebels to the awesome NaNo rebel forum to NaNo rebel web badges, the NaNo organization has embraced this huge population of its participants, too.

So, you’re your own judge. So long as there’s 50,000 words worth of work, you make the rules.

Here’s mine, just in case they help:

  1. Every word counts. If I write 40,000 new words in my novel and 10,000 new words  of outlines/notes, that’s 50,000 words. If I decide I have to cut a scene – something I rarely do in first drafts, but hey, I’m human – I’ll paste whatever I cut right onto my word count file.
  2. It’s okay to rebel. Every year, I may be at a different stage of my writing. Some years, I may want to work on several ongoing projects — editing or writing. Other years, I may want to write something entirely new. It’s all good, as long as I’m doing 50,000 words worth of work.
    • Usually, though, I’ll create my ‘rebel code’ for the year, and add some special rules for myself — such as picking the projects I allow myself to work on, so I don’t spread myself too thin and fail to make a substantial dent in anything.
  3. Make things easier.
    • First drafts don’t have to be pretty — if you want to power through a chapter that you haven’t fully figured out, just write it as a glorified outline. If I can’t figure out how much description to add, I may choose “all of the above,” then worry about cuts later. A good idea: add a note for when we’re reviewing the project after our first draft is completed.
    • Use word count files for the official count. This makes it much easier to add things you wrote from different files together, not lose words from making cuts, and even account for any words we write by hand or through other means. If you write by hand, the human average writes 330 words/pg. Generate the same number of words through a dummy text app — I use this — then add the dummy words to word count file. If disaster strikes, my computer crashes and work is lost, I may not be able to get that work back, but you can bet I’ll estimate how many words I wrote and add it to my word count.
  4. All Writing is Momentum.
    • Don’t dust off an old project and expect a Day 1 lift off. It may sound counterintuitive, but in my experience it’s much more difficult to get back into old projects than it is to create something entirely new — especially if the old project isn’t a finished draft. NaNo can still be a great time to try to bring back that great idea from 5 years ago you didn’t finish, just try to get a firm grip on that project in September and October if possible, so you have an idea of what you need to do.
    • Taking NaNo days off is healthy. Weekends? Sure. Beyond that, and I’m asking for trouble — both by losing steam, and falling into word count holes that can be difficult to climb out of. We all have our own experiences, but I think it’s a very good idea to for people to save writing vacations for after they’re done with NaNo — and, better yet, after they have a finished draft.
  5. The only important thing about a 1st Draft is finishing it. Nothing about it needs to be pretty. Don’t worry too much about whether you think it’s good — we’re all our worst judges in the moment, anyway.  Anything to get to The End. The hard part starts there.

So, what’s your NaNo rules?

 

#NaNoWriMo Heals All Wounds

Back again?

It’s almost NaNoWriMo time, National Novel Writing Month, where crazy people like me — who enjoy scribbling down stories (or punching keyboards in frustration when the stories don’t come) — try to write 50,000 words, all in our imagined worlds.

It’s my favorite time of the year, the busiest — and, over the years, it’s come to mean so many different things to me.

While my first NaNo merely started as a time of the year to write 50,000 words — a big task, if entirely mundane — it very quickly morphed into a time to meet new friends and look at writing in a whole new, social way. It became a community.

Most of us writers are not surrounded by people in our everyday lives who are enamored by the fact that we write — casual indifference can sometimes be the best we can hope for from friends and family who are otherwise awesome and supportive, but just don’t ‘get it’ when it comes to our little quirk.

Then, all of a sudden, an entire month comes along where many countless thousands of people just like us — from all over the world, all walks of life, and ever-critically some in our own communities — collectively say “to hell with it!” and embark on an ambitious, crazy journey of a project.

Often it’s a project where we only start with a tiny germ of an idea — amounting to what will be a very big leap of faith. And yet we jump.

Whether we only participate in NaNo online, or race to all the local write ins, we see that we aren’t alone. We may share our ideas, or even select passages — the only words I’ll edit in November — among people who care about writing as much as we do. Often times, we’ll see the spark in their eyes that says “you’re not crazy, I like something about this, keep digging.” A little validation like that can go a long way, and in November the magic happens where it’s suddenly much easier for aspiring writers to find that kind of support.

As my years of participationg have continued to mount, though, it’s come to mean new, even more important things to me.

  • It’s when I forgive myself if I didn’t get the amount of writing done in the previous year that I should have — then recommit and do better.
  • It’s when I reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in a while, instead of letting them accidentally slip away into the aether.
  • It’s when I assess what I’ve done with my craft, where I want to it be — but am also honest with myself about what I need right now from it. I’ll look at old worlds unfinished, and think “is it time to resurrect this?” I’ll weigh the need to work on a current project against the cleansing desire of creating something all new. An answer will come, and whatever it is, it’ll be right.
  • Heck, it’s when I write on my website that I haven’t touched all year, because I have a good excuse to jump back in, and something I very much want to talk about.

It may sound weird to some, but the whole experience has what I can only express as a spiritual quality to it for me. Ritual. Community. A whole lot of hard work on a craft. Connection and reconnection. Forgiveness. Support. Imagination. Creative expression: that voice we didn’t know we have, or had about forgotten for a whole year.

It’s got history, lore, debates, meta, icons, wine and food, garbs to wear. It has community and website leaders doing work that’s downright pastoral. It even occasionally has people asking for donations for the good cause that it is.

There’s music, literature and visual art we NaNo writers like look to for inspiration — we just call them prompts. Cafes and libraries are our temples. Then there’s the zone, where the writing just flows — meditation if I’ve ever seen it.

Finally, the month is over. We pour heart, body and soul into it. Life inevitably gets in the way, and we do our best to overcome. Or perhaps our spirits fail along the way, and we just don’t want to continue working on a project. We don’t believe in it anymore. Maybe there’s time to course correct, work on something different — maybe there isn’t, but we do our best.

At the end, win or lose, there’s still the payoff – the fact that we tackled something hard, and that we did it together. We know that, at the very least, come next November we’ll be back again, our spirits renewed. We feel healed.

Star Trek Discovered, for now.


What a good stand-off in Star Trek looks like.

*******

I decided to give the CBS All Access trial a whirl and watch the first couple Discovery episodes.

Things I like:

  • The hero ship’s look and feel. It was vastly improved from the earlier shots. Glad the team behind it went back and got that right. Internally, we don’t see much of it, but what we do is even better.
  • Michelle Yeoh. She’s wonderful in everything, and was extra extra wonderful in this.
  • I liked the rest of the crew — what little we’ve scene from them — as well. But didn’t quite love them, not yet.

Things I didn’t like:

  • The early focus on just a few characters. This is going to make caring about other characters in later episodes a lot harder.
  • Absolutely no humor. These characters are in space (!!!) and not having any fun.
  • Almost everything about the Klingons.
    • Mopey Klingons huddling around a room doing nothing but complaining about a peaceful Federation is boring.
    • Klingon, as a language, sounds cool when it’s just a couple phrases here or there. Qapla’! Long monologue after monologue? Not so much.
    • The Klingon villain ship looks like gigantic coagulating vomit. (Another Klingon thingy we see, which I won’t mention because spoilers, actually looked pretty cool, though. It’s a shame we didn’t get more of that.)
    • While I think Klingons looked great between the original cast’s movies and the TNG/DS9/Voyager/Enterprise era, I’m fine with there being changes — in an ‘okay, whatever’ fashion. But if CBS suddenly decides Klingons need to look radically different, can they at least look different in a way that allows the make-up and cosmetics team to still let the actors portray their characters with emotions?
  • The writing.
    • Character conflict is great, but if there’s going to be character conflict, can they be over things that make sense? With rational characters acting in ways that feel natural to their character — and not just pigeonholed in there to move the plot along? And can the conflicts derive from issues viewers feel invested in?
    • Speaking of which, it would have been nice to have spent more time with the primary cast of characters before the story really started. This was a huge writing failure. Being thrust right into the central story almost right off the bat — before people had the chance to really meet the characters, and get some understanding of what this new Trek was going to be all about — did not help this series at all. This is one thing the Bad Robot movies mostly nailed, and why many people love the 2009 film as much as they do (despite its many warts), so it’s a disappointment CBS didn’t figure this all out.
  • Meanwhile, it feels like CBS learned all the wrong lessons from the JJ films.
    • Obligatory space suit launch scene, because that’s what everyone is waiting for when watching Star Trek.
    • Obligatory “call a Vulcan we know from a previous series who’s very far away from the plot while actual exciting shit is happening” scenes. Yes, more than one.
    • Villains we’re given no reason to care about.
    • Was there lens flare? There was probably lens flare.
  • Sarek, Sarek, Sarek. I actually like the actor who plays Sarek, and I think his portrayal was fine, but this series did not need Sarek, especially so soon, and especially how he’s tied up into the plot. Complete with magic! Subtraction would have been addition here.
  • In the middle of a big giant stalemate, I was bored.
  • If there’s going to be PEW PEW PEW, it be nice for the phase cannons to stand out in contrast with the blackness of space.

So, will I watch more? If CBS decides to air it on TV at some point, I’ll give it a whirl — because I’ve always watched Star Trek everything. But unless I’m reading about a dramatic turnaround by the end of the season, it’s not something I’m going to sign up to CBS All Access to watch.

P.40: On Journaling

19430170_10101274964647836_1054977293858506989_n (1)                                                                                        I started keeping a journal at about this time last summer — and I’ve found it helpful, to say the least. This journal here is my fourth volume since starting.

Most of my entries are brief — about a couple short pages — and are just a quick run down of what I did that day, or since my last entry. Conversations, random things I’m struck by, tasks of the day, how I’m feeling, and so on and so forth.

A collection of patterns and oddities and everything in between.

But it’s also a great way to keep track of goals, and make a record of what I’ve read, watched, listened to and what I took away from it all — so it’s not all lost in the æther. I also often include a short poem, to get my creative juices going, or to explore a thought or idea.

Over time, as I’ve written more, it’s made me think back to an episode of NPR’s Indivisibilia —  exploring if humans can change. The show’s guests went on to point out that not only can we, but that we are constantly changing (even at a cellular level), and can in many ways be viewed as entirely different people whether viewed over long stretches of time, or from one moment to the next. In that vein, keeping a journal is the great link — a record of ourselves, in all our different versions.

Do you keep a journal? Have you ever tried?

P.39: My Dream Plot for the Han Solo Anthology Film

Now that principal shooting has begun, news and photos from out of the Han Solo anthology film is really starting to trickle out — and I’ve found myself surprisingly excited for it.

And, loving the characters of Han, Lando and Chewie  so much, I couldn’t help but think about how I’d want this movie to play out, were it up to me.

So, here’s my dream plot/treatment that I know will never happen, but I think would totally rock and a guy can dream:

Han Saves Chewie

We start the movie with Han in a tough spot, trying to find a gig, in some seedy city.

An old friend from Corellia, played by Emilia Clark (who’s been cast in the film), worked herself into leading her own team of muscle — real enforcers — for a major crime boss, and while Han never wanted to be working in the crime business, he was a skilled (if not yet famously so) pilot, and his friend could get him in.

We have a flashback of the friend, as Han nears the crime boss’s location. But just then we see a fight break loose — some Wookiee is being cornered by a dozen different men, who are trying to take  him alive. It’s impressive, and draws Han in — until he unexpectedly finds himself forced into action, saving the Wookiee, Chewbacca.

This earns Han a lifelong friend (complete with a life debt)…. and some seriously bad enemies.

Continue reading

p.38: On Unlikeable Protaganists

How likable should protagonists be? Do unlikable protagonists need some qualities about them that readers can identify with, some aspect of the character they can feel invested in?

It’s a debate I’ve had with a number of other writers. While I think there are no right or wrong answers — there’s a reader for every kind of writer — I lean down on the side that even unlikable protagonists should have something about them that helps readers root for them in some way. Even if the protags are horrible human beings.

In that vein, I stumbled on this excellent video blog from the Lessons on the Screenplay channel on Youtube that examines the protagonist in Nightcrawler, a tremendously underrated movie. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a true sociopath in it, someone who I highly doubt most any viewer could actually like, who is yet an incredibly compelling character. The performance is a tour de force, but it’s all there in the screenplay, too.

The video really sums up my thoughts on the subject better than anything I could write, and uses great examples from the screenplay for evidence. I hope others will find it as useful as I did.

P.37: My Submissions, a Year in Review

Time for my yearly retrospective.

This past year, I sent out 33 submissions, 7 of which were new stories, with another extensive rewrite. I have another 3 finished drafts that aren’t quite ready, and about 3-4 stories at various different stages of I’m Working On That.

And that’s in addition to the 50,000+ words I wrote for my NaNo space opera mosaic novel, and some work on my first novel.

Assuming all my current submissions from 2016 are declined, I made it 33% of the way toward some of the best writing advice I’ve read during the whole year: aiming for 100 rejections. Honestly, I’ll take that.

I didn’t sell any stories, but I got 2 rewrite offers,  2 honorable mentions for Writers of the Future, 7 personal rejections and published one of my shorts (which I think came out fantastic) with my writer’s group. I’m getting close to that first elusive story winning the Submission Hunger Games.

All that said, I’ve been feeling like this was a bit of a step back from last year — and in many ways, the numbers bear that out. I wrote 12 more stories last year, and sent out 17 more submissions. That was a very productive year. Even more disappointing to me, personally, is the fact that I almost never missed deadlines on submissions I targeted last year, and this year I missed 3…. in December alone.

That said, the quality of my stories have definitely improved: both in my new stories and in improving some of my stories from last year.

In 2015, I had 3 personal rejections in 50 submissions and no honorable mentions at Writers of the Future. In 2016, I more than doubled my personal rejections and have two HMs in my past 3 tries at WotF (and feel really good about my current submission).

I’m big on the school of glass half full. I didn’t write (or edit) as much as I’d have liked in 2016, but I still wrote quite a bit. Writing is tough and life gets in the way, but I’m getting better — and, most importantly of all, not giving up.