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?

 

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.35: Deathly Hallows Part 1, a Retrospective

Spoilers, of course.

It’s weird. Right from when I heard that Warner Bros. was rereleasing the Harry Potter movies — all on IMAX — the movie I was most excited about seeing again was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.  I may be in the minority, but it’s by far my favorite in the film series.

For starters, the movie is fantastic. The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the score — everything delivers.

A lot of people at the time scoffed at the idea of separating the last book of a popular franchise into two different movies (me included!) — and it certainly set a bad industry standard — but unlike so many of the others that have followed, the two Deathly Hallows films are really well thought out.

Each part is almost the diametric opposite of the other, and yet they fit together so well. It makes the two films resonant — if Part 2 has all the action, Part 1 has all the feeling. And feeling wins for me.

But, of course, Part 2 doesn’t really have all the action. Part 1 has action in spades, maybe even more action sequences than any other Harry Potter film other than the Deathly Hallows Part 2. We get everything from a broomstick getaway to a diner shootout. There are two major heists, a blown-up house, a wedding raid, a battle with a Big-Bad-Wolf-esque snake in human clothing. There’s a magic-dueling chase, a prison break and a homicidal necklace drowning scene.

And all of them effect our heroes, and often the world around them, in very personal ways — for good or bad. A character doesn’t just die, but is cried over and buried. A wand isn’t just broken, but is used as a symbol of the need to not dwell on the bad in times of crisis. Our heroes don’t just save random strangers, but get to know them just well enough to make viewers care that they were saved at all.

Almost nothing is glossed over — even outright victory has consequences, as when Hermione had to compromise her morals and erase the memories of Voldemort’s snatchers, to keep the trio safe. Winning the fight, for Hermione, was the easy part. The results aren’t always predictable, and the film usually takes the time to let the impacts sink in.

Further, this film oozes character and relationship growth, hitting so many different emotional notes. By taking viewers out of Hogwarts completely, it gives us the chance to see Hermione, Harry and Ron stand on their own — and Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint deliver.

Another point in its favor? This is a Big Blockbuster that’s not afraid of taking chances. For example, it has all these beautiful settings and lingers on them, chewing on the scenery and moment, not afraid to stop and breathe. It creates this beautiful message — that even in the worst of times, the world is a beautiful place and there can be moments of peace.

It also puts the geeky Wizarding World lore at the focus. To beat the bad guy, the characters have to — for the first time — understand the world. They need to know how wands really work, something even Voldemort didn’t quite get. And for a franchise that never really tried to establish a detailed or rigid magic system before, wand lore adds surprising depth — depth the film wasn’t afraid to dig into.

Further, while the Harry Potter movies have always given us a great world, the Deathly Hallows gives us great stories. And those stories are important to the film itself. The Tale of the Three Brothers hits so many notes for me, from the film’s ridiculously gorgeous animated sequence (which was a huge risk!) to the way the story itself serves as a perfect pastiche of all the old European folktales.

But the really important thing is what the Three Brothers represents. If the Harry Potter universe were a mystery cult, it’s basically the outer and inner mysteries of the entire Wizarding World. In Harry’s world, there’s those who (like him, in Philosopher’s Stone) know nothing and are completely new to or unaware of the Wizarding World. They’ve never even heard of the Three Brothers, much less read it. Then there are those initiated into the outer ring — those who are well versed in wizarding culture, who understands the world in the same way most anyone would understands the one we live in. These are the people who’ve read the Three Brothers, or at least know the story.

But then there’s the people fully initiated — who not only understand the world, but how it came to be. They know what’s really going on. For Harry, Ron and Hermione, they’re just entering the “real” Wizarding World here, as they’ve come to know about (and believe in) the Deathly Hallows. It brings a greater depth to the story, and sets our characters in an almost Arthurian quest narrative, where they (like many others before them) have quested to find the elusive Grail Elder Wand, and its Deathly Hallow companions.

Of course, the book did many of these things, too, and it did them all first. We shouldn’t forget that, or how much JK Rowling rocks. But think of how easy it would have been for these scenes to have been written out or truncated in the translation to film. Or how easily Warner Bros could have forced David Yates to manufacture a bunch of different, plot-centric scenes to dumb this thing down and strip away all the character beats.

Did anyone read the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and expect all those scenes of Hermione, Harry and Ron wandering the English countryside to somehow all make it in the final movies? I sure didn’t, and yet they all made this movie so good.

So, wow, was seeing this film again a real treat. It’s one of the rare times I’ve gone to see something on the big big screen and thought, “I wouldn’t want to see that any other way.” In fact, I often don’t like IMAX for the simple reason that it can be too much. But not this one. That’s for sure. It really made this great, unique and emotive movie a perfect movie-going experience — sort of the fine wine of the Harry Potter movie franchise — and I didn’t even have any popcorn.

P.31: Star Trek Enterprise (A Retrospective)

Over the past few weeks, I watched/re-watched Star Trek: Enterprise. Wow, was I surprised. It was much better than I remembered it.

Its flaws are still there, of course, but I wasn’t bored. And if I’m not bored, that’s good enough for me.

Here’s just a few things that are a lot better than I remembered:

  • The sets. They really succeed at capturing a feel that looks dated compared to Next Gen/Voyager, yet advanced compared to today.
  • The horror episodes. There are only a few, but these were some of the standouts of the entire series to me. This is one thing ST:E did better than any of the other ST series. Silent Enemy was the best, but by no means the only good one.
  • The Andorians. The show goes a long way to fleshing out the species, one we barely saw before, despite the fact that they were one of the original few species to form the Federation. I wish the series brought a lot more of the early Federation member species into play. (Caitians, Tellerites, Deltans, etc.)
  • Limitations. We have a crew that wanted to help others it came across, yet a ship that’s not advanced enough to deal with much of what confronts them. While the show was criticized by many for making the ship too modern in some respects, ST:E actually does a great job at making the ship’s limitations impact the story. It creates problems on the show that the characters have to work around (aka good storytelling), and fits incredibly well with the show’s ‘early’ setting. Nothing’s easy, but they get it done.
  • The opening song. I used to *hate* it, as did most fans at the time. It eschewed the beautiful orchestrations from every previous Star Trek series for a pop song (!) — one first sung by Rod Stewart, at that. Maybe it’s been so long since we’ve last had a new Trek show that it doesn’t really matter to me anymore, or maybe it’s the JJ verse movies also emphasizing pop songs that have inoculated me, but now I find the song pretty catchy — and one that certainly fits the feel of the show.
  • Porthos, Captain Archer’s pet dog. Clearly, there should be more dogs in space.

The problems of the show are all still there, but it’s much better than most people give it credit for.

P.30: A Year of Short Stories

I didn’t realize it, but today is about 13 months since I first started submitting short stories.

In that time, I’ve sent out 19 different stories and four poems, for a total of 50 submissions, including seven that are currently active.

I wrote another two shorts that I haven’t sent out yet (they need a little more work), and have another two that are about halfway done which I like enough that I plan to get back to them.

And that’s not counting the fifth draft of my first novel, and the first draft of my second, neither of which are ready to send out yet… but both took a good deal of work this year.

I have no idea where the time came to do all this…

Since I like to post where (and why) I send my stories every ten blogs, let’s take a look at what I have out now:

  • I have one story submitted to the Writers of the Future, from the 2nd quarter of this year. This was my fourth submission to the contest, and they’ve always either been my early work or stories that weren’t quite my best (but where what I had available to send at the time). They were stories I wasn’t necessarily hoping would win, but wanted to see if they’d survive early cullings (one of them did) or maybe get an honorable mention (nope). This time, I decided to send one of my best stories and while I still have some worry about fit (I haven’t really read enough WotF to gauge what the judges like), I’m crossing my fingers.
  • One at Tor.com. I had to get at least one story in before Tor.com closed its doors to unsolicited short story submissions forever, and sent the very best story I had available since I know Tor.com is the Crème de la crème. I’m pleased it’s still in the running.
  • One for Ghosts on Drugs, an anthology about ghosts on drugs, both terms broadly defined. I wrote this one specifically for the anthology.
  • One at Uncanny Magazine. I wrote two stories in November and December that I really, really liked. I sent one of them in, which toyed a lot with mythicism, focusing on character discovery. The story lasted a tad longer than average before it was declined — so I don’t think they hated it. Thankfully, it was rejected a couple days before their submission window closed, giving me the ability to send another (thanks, Uncanny!). I sent that second story, which had some of the same mythic feel, but with prose that’s a little more lyrical. I’ve seen some stories in Uncanny with a similar lyrical feel, so felt like it could be a good fit. We’ll see.
  • One at Let Us In, which is an upcoming anthology about horrors people invite into their lives — either consciously or unconsciously. Again, I wrote my story specifically for the anthology.
  • I have two poems out, both to Apex’s Undead poems anthology. I had one poem that fit, and another that I wrote for it. I don’t consider myself any kind of poet, only the occasional dabbler for personal fun, but figured I’d send them out because the worst thing that could happen is they get declined.

Here’s hoping.

P.29: World Building and Cuts

When it comes to writing, there’s almost nothing that I love more than to create new worlds, filled with interesting characters and locations in them.

I also love to create beautiful prose, that flows well on the tongue.

I say all this because I just sent out a short story. It was a story I first finished and sent out in December, but it wasn’t quite ready then — it was one of those situations where I would have liked to spend some more time with it, but had a deadline to hit.

I didn’t really know what was quite wrong with it in my head, but I figured out those problems this past week, prepping it for a new outlet.

There were a few points in the story — just a few — where I was trying to do a little too much. I loved the character details I had, but they were bogging the prose down, making the writing feel clunky.

I didn’t want to lose those details, though. They really did add a dynamic to my main character that otherwise doesn’t quite show.

I tried rewording the writing, I tried to move things around… but nothing worked.

Ultimately, I had to let the writing win, and so I made the cuts.

At the end of the day, no matter how many wonderful ideas you want to try to incorporate in your story, you can’t have clunky prose. Some of them will almost certainly have to be cut.

Be merciless, my friends.

P.28: Characters You Can Relate to, or Not

My friend and I were having a discussion about Transparent, Amazon’s widely-praised series playing on their Prime streaming service.

I think it deserves all the praise it gets, but I don’t like it quite as much as I’d like, because the characters are all a little too flawed.

Don’t get me wrong — I like flawed characters, protagonists included. But for me, it’s important that there’s at least one or two characters in any story who have some nuggets about them that make them likable, relatable or people who you could root for in some way — even with their flaws.

My friend disagreed, and had a good reason — there’s so little fiction out there that doesn’t ascribe to the conditions I set above. For her, that’s what made Transparent all the more refreshing. It was hard to argue with that, so I conceded the point.

What it all boils down to is different strokes for different folks. I still prefer my stories to have at least a few characters to like, relate to or root for, especially if they’re morally grey or worse, and so that’s what I write — but the more different kinds of fiction, filling more and more niches, the better.