Saturday, 30 November 2013

What You Can Learn from NaNoWriMo

It's 30 November.  That marks the end of the month of madness known as NaNoWriMo.  Yay!  I won.

I've spoken with a few other writers regarding their views on NaNoWriMo.  Some aren't terribly in favour of the idea, the methodology or some other cosmic reason.  That's okay. I understand what NaNoWriMo's about.

I think it's a good thing.  And this is why:


See this pretty illustration I just made?

These are the three phases of writing.

DREAMER:  First we dream of a story, or a character, or a plot, or something.  This is what stirs our soul.  This excites us and makes us want to be a writer.  But until we write it down, we're only daydreaming. Alas.

WRITER:  To qualify as a writer, you need to write your story down.  This is the hardest part, this transition from Dreamer to Writer.  Lots of people feel they have a novel in them (and they're pretty much correct).  But until they write it down, they're not a writer.

NaNoWriMo transitions the Dreamer to the Writer.  Never underestimate how powerful that transition is.

Writing is hard.  Ideas are nebulous, vague things. Writing demands specifics.  A lot of people get stuck on this.  Some might start, and get about 2000 words in.  Some will persist, but hit the wall at 20 or 30K.  NaNoWriMo forces you to push on, to get the words down.  Fifty Thousand of them.

Some people can do it, some can't.  Can you write 50K in a month?  Did you find it easy, or difficult?  If difficult, what were some of the things that stopped you? (Time, lack of routine, lack of outline/plot structure, slow typist, etc.)  You will learn a lot about yourself as a writer--not necessarily whether or not you can be one, but whether or not you're ready to be a writer. If you can't crank out 50K of draft in a month, figure out why not.  Professional authors crank out that much draft all the time. And they have the additional pressure of being under deadline (Upon Pain of Death and other nasty contractual clauses).

Can it be done?  Absolutely.  Are you up to the challenge?  You won't know that until you try.

Get the words down. That's the Most Important Part.  Once you've written the words down, congratulations. You're a Writer.  They don't have to be good words.  Just get 'em down. You can fix 'em later.

Some people get bogged down because they want the words to be the Right Words.  They think that unless the words are the Right Words, they aren't worth writing.  So they write nothing, because they don't know what the Right Words are.

Bunkum.  Who cares if they are the right words or not?  Just get them down.  You can fix them later.

So.  Anyone who has written down words (Right Words or the roughest of rough drafts, or vomit on a page) can call themselves a Writer. I'll call you a writer. You've done the hardest part, which is getting started.

You can stop here, if you wish.   Most don't.  Some have the dream of seeing their story in print. (I don't blame you. It is a most potent dream.)

If that's you, then you move on to the Author stage.

AUTHOR:  someone who takes the words they've written and edits them, polishes them, subjects them to cruelty critique, rewrites, redo-overs, subs to editors, subs to agents, is rejected by editors, is ignored by agents, signs with Dream Agent, spends a few years On Sub, gets a Nice Deal, gets a Very Nice multi-book deal, sells foreign rights, audio rights, movie rights, earns out their advance, fails to earn out their advance... writes another book.  Writes another book.  Writes an 80K book in a month.  Revises & Resubmits. Rewrites a book. Cries over bad reviews, smiles at good reviews, goes on book tour, blog tour, convention tour...   You get the idea.

You can't do this unless you've written something down. NaNoWriMo makes you do that.

Writers write.  NaNoWriMo makes you write and not quit until you hit a goal with a deadline.  This skill will be invaluable if you choose to pursue a professional writing career.

For that reason alone, NaNoWriMo is worth it.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again next year?  Probably.  You gonna join me?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Details? What Details?

Jules Pascan can't remember either.
The other day a reader asked me a question about a short story I'd once published.  Conversation went like this:

Reader: "You remember your story "Title"?

Me: (Do I?)  "Yeah."  (Oh. Did I get that one published?)

Reader:  "Well, where M and N happen, what was O thinking?"

Me:  (complete and total blank)  "Uhh..."  (Think.Think.Think.)

Reader: (prompting)  "You know, when M and N happen because of P went to Q then D came out and..."

Me:  (DING! Lightbulb)  "Oh yeah. O was wondering why R hadn't gone to M in the first place..."  (Whew!)

Yeah. I'd been caught out.  It's not unusual. In fact, it's commonplace, not just for me, but for many authors. The thing is, we simply can't remember everything about every story we've written.

Here's why:

1. We write lots. You would not believe how much writing we do.  Many professional writers, by the time they get to the pro level, have written at least half a million words, possibly more. I know I've written nearly a million.  Yes, that's a lot.

2.  We don't dwell in the past. We write our stories. We edit them. We live very intimately with them.  We sell them.  And then we let them go.  They're big kids by that time, ready to go out in the world.  Once we release them to the wild, we forget about them because...

3.  We've given our brain over to our Current Work-in-Progress (WIP).  Our present is your future. The stories we're working on today are the ones you will read in the future.  Likewise, the stories you are reading today are from our past, those ones we've already let go.  Every details about those stories has already been put into cold storage so we can make room for the new projects.

4.  We live on a different ethereal plane than other people (except maybe Composers. We often hot-bunk).  You'd think we'd remember something as important as getting something published (!). At the time, we're quite excited.  But you're only as good as your latest publication. If that last pub was 1997, well... We need to get cracking.

5.  That's what our fans are for.  We love you guys!  We love how you lose yourselves in our stories and only come up out of them for air. We love how your lives are enriched or changed because of what we wrote, even if only for ten minutes. We love how you take it all in and revel in our rich world with lush characters.  If you want to know every single detail about a story, go right ahead. We write these stories to make a difference in your lives.  Fan response is wonderful.

I think about the Harry Potter universe, where fans have created encyclopedias, databases and more.  JK Rowling has mentioned from time to time how she's found them very useful when writing her last HP books. She might not be able to remember, but boy, those fans do!  If I ever find myself writing a multiple-book series, you betcha I'm gonna tap into the wisdom of the fans.

So yeah. Don't worry if an author appears not to be familiar with their own work. It's not that we don't care. It's simply that we can't remember.

Her Grace has forgotten just how many things she's sold, much less written. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Word Count

22050 words and counting.

Here you go.  I did promise a sporadic word count.  Currently, I'm just under par.  I was hoping to breach 30K by now, but that didn't happen.

On the Life front, I had a few End-of-Year things (concerts, etc) going on that took up more time than I planned.

On the Writing front, I sold a novella and cleared up my Sonar list, sending a handful of short stories out on sub.

Will I win NaNo this year?  Entirely possible.

When do you get to see this novel?  Not for some time.  NaNoWriMo's all about the first draft.  Some haters may hate NaNo for exactly this reason, but I see it as valuable.  Putting down this first draft is the passing through the door from Idea to Novel.  Even if it's an SFD (which is the norm), it's still got value.

Then I take that SFD and polish it up to the fiction you all know and love.

In a few years I'll spend a day the local library as the Author in Residence as part of their NaNoWriMo celebrations.  Then y'all can come and watch me crank out a draft and ask questions.  More details later as details are finalised.

When Her Grace isn't writing, she's dreaming about writing. Or music. A lot of that goes on as well. This song has been going through her head for the past few days:
The Soft Furry Purry Thing

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Why I Love to Read

Lilla Cabot Perry understood.
I love to read. Always have. Ever since I got my first library card at the age of 3, books have been an important part of my life.

This is why I love to read:

Escape.  I'll read pretty much anything, but escapist fiction is the top love of my life. Reality can be harsh and cruel, especially to the Shortest Girl in Class.  But when you lose yourself in a book, that reality goes far, far away.  A good book is a holiday away from life.  As a child, I fled to Narnia, to Terabithia, to Middle Earth, to Hawaii, to Pern, to Riva, to anywhere but Here.

Alas, books were always too short. Eventually I had to return.

Healing.  When the Black Dogs get you down, being able to leave the pain behind and put yourself in a book allows your heart to heal.  A healed heart makes it easier to deal with the crap in Real Life.

Sense of Belonging.  I didn't really fit in with the surrounds in which I grew up. My schools were far too homogenous for my comfort.  But in a book, I found people who had the same drive as me, who shared similar goals: "I am better than I appear and can accomplish mighty things."

Education.  I learned a lot about humanity from fiction. I learned successful human interaction, I learned how to deal with weaknesses, plot twists, bad guys, I learned that thinking outside of the box brings greater success than sticking with the ordinary.  I learned that a lot of what happens in Real Life isn't as dire or important as it wants to be, compared to fighting dark, brooding gods, battling dragons, rebelling against Evil Alien Overlords or the perils of time travel.

Books Understood.   When nobody else got you, books did. How could some stranger (as authors were in those days) possibly understand what you were going through or what you needed most? But they did.  Very few people understood me when I was young. But when I opened a book, it was like coming home.

Adventure.  Until I could grow up and have adventures of my own, books were the next best thing.  Even now, when I spend much of my adult life in one adventure after another, there are times when I simply wish to sit quietly and let the adventure come to me.  Unlike real life, books can take me to another world.

Why do you love to read?
Her Grace is an avid reader who, by the age of fourteen, had read every single book in the house. She is a frequenter of libraries and the occasional bookstore.  She encourages you to read her stuff.  But if you don't, she encourages you to read something else, as there's lots of lovely stories out there.

Monday, 11 November 2013

What NaNoWriMo teaches me

On Books & Such, Rachel Kent gives advice for plotting a publishable book.

She asks, "What advice do you have for others who are trying NaNoWriMo for the first time?"

Pretty much, "Just Do It.  You will not regret it, even if you don't win."

I've done NaNo twelve times since 1999.  Only once did I not win.  This is my thirteenth go.

Things I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo:

  1. The biggest obstacle to writing a novel is getting the words down. The most brilliant ideas and plot are useless if nothing is written down.
  2. I can write lots. And fast.
  3. The more I write, the better my mastery of the craft. I compare it to practicing scales on the piano. Sheer practice will improve me.
  4. One does not have to start with perfection. Let go of that idea and the words flow. Words can be tweaked later.
  5. The more novels I write, the better I get at writing them.
  6. NaNo is good practice for that time when I will be a multi-book contracted author with a deadline.
  7. Clean draft can happen, but only after lots and lots of practice and intimate mastery of the craft.
  8. Pushing myself will reveal what I am capable of as a writer.
  9. For thirty days, I am not alone as a writer.
  10. If I can do this, perhaps I can do anything.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Postbox in New Jersey

When I was young, I devoured books like candy corn on Halloween. No book was safe. I had my own library card from age three (it was yellow). By the age of twelve, I'd read every single book in the house.

As I grew older, I developed a sense of taste. Sure, I read every chance I got, but I noticed that sometimes authors took stories in directions other than where I wanted them to go.

"No, no," I said. "That isn't right." (Who kills Humperdinck?)

But these authors weren't listening to me. Sigh.

I got started writing my own stories by writing the tales other authors didn't.

As a teen, I read the Belgariad by David Eddings.  Good stuff for me at that time and that place.

Later I wondered, why is it the farmboys are always secretly hidden princes who must save the world? What if the farmboy was really a farmboy. And what if he didn't want to go off on adventures?

Thus a story was born.

Later, I read Dave Duncan's "A Man of His Word" series.  Also enjoyed it. Satisfying world-building, understandable characters, quests for intangible stuff.

Then I got to the end.  I wholly expected the ending to go one way. Duncan took it the other way. When I read that, my little Mormon heart went, "WHAT?!?  You've got to be kidding me!"

It was like reading a hot and steamy romance (extra spicy) and getting to the sex scene. Our Hero and Our Heroine are about to Get It On. They've torn off their clothes, exchanged Meaningful Glances, then leap into bed... spend the rest of the night doing nothing more than holding hands. Maybe not even that. Maybe only linking pinkies.

AND THEY PLAN ON DOING THAT FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.  For them, a condom is another name for a townhouse.

By gum, I vowed, I would not do that to my readers.  If I give my characters a vision of the future, we're gonna go all the way. Eucatastrophe!  Or Death! All or Nothing!
Man, I LOVE this stuff!


And another book was born.

Many of my stories take that road someone else could have taken, but didn't.

Sometimes I understand why an author chose the path they took. Other times, I am left to my bafflement.

I'm not unique in this; I've had readers tell me that they expected my story to go one way and I took it another.

If we all liked the same pathway, all our stories would be rather monochrome and predictable.  And where's the fun in that?
Her Grace believes that disappointment in a novel isn't an all-bad thing, if it inspires her to write something better.  Currently, she is doing just that.

Monday, 4 November 2013

A Real Job, Really.

So here it is, November, and I'm deeply into NaNoWriMo.  (I'll post sporadic updates as I go along.)

I've prepared for this by drafting an outline, dreaming about scenarios and developing characters.  BIC, and away I go!

I've also prepared the people around me: family, friends, Relief Society...  I've told them what NaNoWriMo is, and what it means.  They understand, the way a dog understands when you explain mathematics to them--accepting, if not completely sure what it means.

But come December, I don't plan on slowing down.  I intent to continue my writing pace. (Here's a secret: it's the same pace I've been using for several months prior to November.  Nothing's changed, except I get public accolades for work done during November.)

For the past few months, while I've been training myself as a professional writer with a Day Job, said Day Job has had me working full/school time.  Yep. All my weekdays have been spent working the Day Job (and getting paid for it, but that's irrelevant. it's the TIME that matters).   People have asked me, "Can you do this at such-and-such a time?"

"No, I'm working."

"Are you available for that other thing?"

"Nope, sorry.  Working."

But come the end of November, I go back to my part-time hours at the Day Job.  What I'm not working at the Day Job becomes Writing Time. And in my career plans, that qualifies as Working.  Within the next five years, I plan on acquiring an income because of that Writing Time.  In a lot of people's books, that qualifies as Working.

So what if my current writing income is minimal (but present)?  One's job is not necessarily measured by one's hourly wage.

I need to train up the people around me to know that when I am writing, I am working.  This isn't some hobby, or some cute little creative outlet because Mommy Doesn't Want to Forget Herself.  It's not something I'll cheerfully put aside the moment someone or something wants my attention.  You wouldn't bother an accountant when they're auditing.  You wouldn't bother a librarian when she's shelving.  You wouldn't bother the Helpdesk guy when he's troubleshooting (well, actually, you do, and it drives me nuts!) You don't bother the author when she's tapping way at a keyboard.

This is an actual job.  I have a schedule. I have project planning days. I have deadlines. I have external people expecting my work. I have to produce a certain amount of quality product at a certain rate.

So what if I'm doing all that work from home?  Doesn't make it any less a job than if I went to an office.

But if it bothers you so much, I'll head out to an office.  That's what Dome is for.  That's what the University Library is for.  Ain't nobbut gonna bother me there.
Her Grace has a plan.  You will respect the plan. All glory to the hypnotoad.

Friday, 1 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: "Currently Unsupervised"

My book cover
to inspire me.
My NaNoWriMo project is a Regency Romance with Magic entitled "CURRENTLY UNSUPERVISED".  I've got most of the plot arc in place. There's one plot element I need to flesh out, then I'll start outlining scenes.  I don't need them all outlined before I start, but the more I get done, the quicker I'll go.

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, come be my buddy on the web site.  I'm user hkneale.

NaNoWriMo supports worldwide literacy and education programs.  That's a cause very near and dear to my heart.

Not NaNovelling?  You can still support this worthy cause through donations or awesome merchandise, like the USB Bracelet, which sold out last year and I didn't get one! Wah!

Remember to back up your novel regularly!

I'll post semi-regular updates of my novel's progress throughout the month.