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.

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.

P.24: Defend Your Writing Time!

It’s 11/20/15, and I’m a little over 45,000 words into NaNoWriMo. I’m feeling pretty good, but it hasn’t always been easy. These past couple days, things have gotten in the way of my writing — making the last 10,000 words harder than the first 35,000.

I don’t think I’m alone in life getting in the way, but one thing I’ve learned I need to do that perhaps some others haven’t: defend my writing time.

A lot of us look at writing as a fun hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with that — but even if writing is just a fun hobby, writers still need to write.

When people look at you funny for writing, or interrupt you, or wonder why you’re even doing it… tell them they can have their football game, a poker night or The Walking Dead, but you’re going to have your writing time.

If you’re in a real time crunch or find your commitment lagging, block off your writing time, schedule it in your calendar — and make sure everyone knows it. Make sure you know it, and don’t let things get in the way.

Of course, emergencies happen and you may not always succeed in blocking distractions, but if you’re never finding time to write, it’s on you to change that.

So, when it’s your time to write — even if all you can do is block off 30 minutes 4-5 days a week — don’t pick up the phone on the first call. Don’t write in the room people are going to talk to you in. In fact, get the heck out of dodge, if that’s what it takes, and go write at a local cafe or library.

If you have kids, particularly young ones, write for a half hour after they’re in bed, or have your spouse step it up if you have one.

Let people see the fruits of your labor when it’s ready. Maybe they’ll love what you wrote. Maybe it won’t be their cup of tea, but at least they’ll see your commitment — and respect it, and perhaps try to help you find more time to write.

I know finding time can be difficult, but you can do it, even if it’s just a little.

Carve that time out. Schedule it. Create goals. Start a project or two. Plan things out. Make sure others respect that time. Make sure you respect that time — and write.

P.23: My NaNoWriMo Progress Report, plus Keeping Up the Pace!

Book cover with title blocked out

I feel really good about my NaNo book so far — I’m at 21,223 words! Woot!

I even made a mock cover, since NaNo’s site suggested it, for kicks and giggles. I’m certainly not a graphic artist, just computer-literate enough to play around with PicMonkey, but I thought it was fun and serves as a nice little piece of inspiration for me to keep going.

It’s a first draft, so I know it’s rough, but I’m very happy with where the story’s going, and where I am today.

One thing that makes it easier to know how I’m doing is the fact that NaNo graphs our Word Counts. Here’s mine:

NaNo graph

Aside from Day 1, where I wrote a gazillion words out of excitement, I’ve been very consistent, if I do say so myself.

While NaNo’s 50,000 words in 30 days is a somewhat arbitrary number, I don’t think it’s arbitrary to suggest writers need to keep a consistent pace on a first draft.

Graphs like this should be especially valuable for people new to writing fiction, or who have never completed a first draft before.

If you’re working on a first draft, you should absolutely keep track of your daily word count. That way, you can learn what patterns you can reasonably sustain, and catch if you’re slowing down as soon as possible — so you can ask yourself why.

It may be a signal that you need to kick it up a notch, so you don’t risk fizzling out.

As I said in Post #22, fizzling out on your writing kills books. It’s very hard to finish a full draft if you put it down for weeks or months.

Trust me on that — I speak from experience.

So, even if new things are going on in your life, keeping yourself busy — don’t stop writing, just find a new pace instead. Even 30 minutes a day can easily get you 300 words, which adds up to a 100,000 word epic first draft in less than a year.

You can do it, just keep writing.

P.22: Put Away your Inner Editor on the First Draft

Someone in my NaNo region asked if they should really avoid making edits during their first draft, even if the writing isn’t any good.

I thought I gave him a good answer, so here’s what I wrote:

Locking the door on your inner editor on your first draft is really hard to do, but for me at least, it makes a huge difference.

Editing takes up a lot of time — more than writing, IMO, since it involves so much more reading, investigating, critical thinking and trial and error. Plus, for most of us, it’s not like we can edit a passage once and get it to the point we like — it takes many, many edits to get something to the point where we’re happy with it.

I think that can be dispiriting to do before you’re done with a complete draft. When you have a full story, you have that full story to spur you on. If you don’t have that full story, you can read over the same passages over and over again — that may need a lot of fixing to get good — and wonder if it’s even worth doing. If you have your full story done, and like it, then you know the answer is a resounding yes.

The only thing I’ll go back and change or edit on the first draft is if it’s related to the story — like if I realize I forgot to include a plot point earlier that’s important to my plot later. I make those edits because there’s a real chance that I could forget to do it in future drafts (or worse, think I did when I didn’t) and end up creating a plot hole.

But fixing grammar, typos, making language prettier and all that jazz can be done at any time — so I do it when my story’s done.

I forgot to mention two other reasons why it’s not worth making serious edits in a first draft.

  1. You’ll end up having to edit the same areas over and over again in the beginning, when fewer edits could have produced the same results. It’s wasting extra time.
  2. You may end up spending considerably time making edits to a part of a story you realize you’ll have to cut or drastically change, once you’re done with the first draft.

Like it or not, no one can really assess what’s worth spending time editing on when writing a book until there’s a finished draft, and trying to do so before then will not only waste time but could become a depressing vortex of doom you’re spiraling down in that leads to you fizzling out on the entire book.

While there are certainly some who can edit while they go along with the first draft of their book and get it all done in a good amount of time, there’s no real reason to do it. This is one of those things where the vast majority of people are better off trying to get a full story on paper before they do any reassessing.