November 2, 2023 / 2 Comments

Na No Wri Mo

I’d planned a horror genre post for last week, but it never came together in a way I was really happy with. And one of the changes I’m trying to make here is not to force myself to come up with blog posts. Or to spend hours and hours trying to make them work—which, y’know then puts me hours behind in the work I actually get paid for.

On a related note, please don’t let this stop you from asking or suggesting something down in the comments. I’m always up for answering questions—that’s easy. It’s trying to come up with semi-relevant topics that’s always the tough part.

But anyway… now it’s November, and November only means one thing…

Turkey and stuffing!!!

No, wait it means

Na No Wri Mo !!!

(shouted like the opening to “Mortal Kombat”)

It’s National Novel Writing Month, and you may be one of the thousands of folks who sat down yesterday (or late Tuesday night) and started working on a book. If you are, I’d like to offer you four big tips for NaNoWriMo. I’ve presented these in the past, and I think they’re key to having a successful, productive November. Or any month, really, if you’re not trying to finish a book in the next thirty days…

So here’s four things we all should keep in mind

1) Pace Yourself—Trying to fill every waking moment of the month with writing will burn any of us out pretty quick. Seriously. And it’ll show in the work. Don’t believe all those bozos telling you that desperation and misery creates greatness. Nobody wins a marathon by sprinting the entire way.

It’s tough, but try to be aware of diminishing returns. A lot of times—especially when I’m on a deadline—I’ll work late into the night. Sometimes it goes great, but sometimes… I start to slow down and my productivity drops. Eventually it hits a point where I would’ve been better off going to bed two or three hours ago because I would’ve gotten just as much done in half an hour on a good night’s sleep.

Again, none of us can sprint for a month. And after too many sprints, you’re just going to crash. Hard. So find a good, steady pace that works for you and keep it up. Remember, the idea here is we’re not trying to write faster, we’re trying to write at a much more regular rate. It’s better to do a thousand word every day than two thousand every third or fourth day. Or six thousand a day for two weeks and then quitting because we’re burned out.

2) Rest and recharge—Don’t be scared to not write for a little while. Have a meal at the table. Curl up with somebody on the couch for half an hour and get caught up on Loki or listen to an episode of Old Gods of Appalachia or something. Go for a walk. Run an errand. Take a nap. Take a shower. No, seriously, take a shower. Yeah, I’m talking to you. You’ve been sitting there typing since midnight Tuesday and you’ve got Halloween stink and writer stink on you. Please use body wash.

The point is, don’t feel bad about stepping away from the computer for an hour. We’re trying to get a lot done this month, yeah, but we also don’t want to overwork our brains to the point they overheat and seize up (see above—crashing and burning). Take time to cool down and refuel. I’m not saying take off two or three days, but don’t be scared to get up and stretch now and then. In the end, it’ll make everything run smoother and overall faster.

3) Don’t be Hard on Yourself—NaNoWriMo is work, but it’s also supposed to be kind of fun. We’re on a deadline, sure, but it’s a self-imposed deadline with no consequences if it’s missed. Seriously, none. Working on my book shouldn’t make me feel miserable (again, see above—bozos).

So relax. Push yourself, but don’t pressure yourself. The real goal here is to improve, to increase my regular writing rate. Any and every improvement counts. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make your targeted daily or weekly word count. That’s the kind of thing that only makes you feel bad about yourself. It doesn’t help anything, it just makes you not enjoy writing as much. Enjoy all the little victories this month. This is a time when coming in second or third is still a great achievement.

4) Nobody’s Going to Buy This— Sorry to sound harsh, but forget that right now. Seriously, it’s just not going to happen. No agent’s going to look at this. No film studio will pre-emptively buy the rights after a prolonged bidding war. We’re just not there yet. Nowhere near it.

Y’see, Timmy, National Novel Writing Month is kind of deceptive, because we’re not really going to be writing a novel this month. We’re writing the first draft of a novel. Just a first draft. Maybe even just the first draft of a novella. And, as we’ve discussed here a few times, there’s a big difference between a first draft and a polished, completed manuscript.

And really, we’re writing a rushed first draft. It’s going to have plot holes and dropped threads and factual errors and punctuation mistakes and typos. Sooo many typos. Incredibly embarrassing ones. It absolutely will, trust me. Having a finished first draft is a fantastic starting point, but it’s going to need a lot more work once November’s over. No question about it.

This draft is for us. It’s to do whatever we want with. Don’t spend a moment second-guessing what those other people will want. They’re never going to see this. They may see the third or fourth draft later—and be interested in it—but what we’re doing right now? This is just the first steps. When we complete this draft, we’ll barely be halfway through the process.

So forget everyone else. For NaNoWriMo, just crank up the music and let your imagination run wild. Do whatever you want. Drop your inhibitions and expectations and just tell your story.

Try to keep these things in mind over the next couple weeks. Hopefully they’ll make things a little easier for you. Which’ll make the writing a little more enjoyable.

Next time… maybe I’ll finally talk about Rashomon. Or maybe I’ll answer one of your questions.

Until then… go write.

October 28, 2021 / 4 Comments

Ready… Set… NaNoWriMo!

Spooky season is among us! Ghosts! Vampires! Nightmares! Panic!—no wait, we’re talking about NaNoWriMo this time.

Or are we?!?

Hopefully you’re not really panicking about NaNoWriMo. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s a bragging rights contest, something to make us focus on actually doing this for thirty days rather than saying “someday I’ll write it all down” for another month.

Wait, does everyone know what I’m talking about? In case you’re new to the ranty writing blog, we’re talking about National Novel Writing Month (Na-No-Wri-Mo). It’s a completely free, no strings, no requirements writing contest where you try to write, well, a whole novel in a month. Really, as much of the first draft of a novel as possible. There’s also no prizes, no trophies, no real prestige. As I mentioned above, I basically just get to say I did it. To someone else and to myself. Most importantly, to myself.

There’s a good chance this sounds a little intimidating. Don’t let it be. This is the writing equivalent of a fun run. It’s got a starting date and a goal, but past that it’s just you. Whatever pace you want to go at, however far you want to go with it. No pressure at all.

In fact, here a tip for you. Use that knowledge. Focus on it. Don’t worry about anyone else. Don’t think about your friends or the people in your writing group or that guy on Twitter bragging about his daily word count. Don’t consider what a future agent or editor might want. Toss all of that away. Forget all of it. Take a deep breath. Breathe in. Breathe out.

And now just write.

Seriously. Just write. Nothing else. For the next thirty days, forward motion only. No re-reading. No editing. No corrections at all. Don’t look back. Under no circumstances hit the up arrow or page up or push the scroll bar. None of that. Not even to go up to the last paragraph. We’re moving in one direction and we don’t stop moving in that direction. Making myself to only go forward means I’m making myself write. I’m not spending time rethinking yesterday’s work or tweaking that first encounter or double checking my spelling. I’m just writing.

And, yeah, this means things are going to be a little… well, very messy. Lots of typos. Dangling plot threads. Characters who suddenly change names/ hair color/ genders halfway through. Or are just suddenly dead because they really should’ve died back at the bank ambush and I’m only realizing that now and we’re only moving forward, right?

And that’s totally fine. Seriously. Remember, NaNoWriMo is just a first draft. It’s not going to be the thing we sell or the thing that gets us an agent. It’s the thing that’ll need some more time and some more work. Because a month isn’t that much time. Really. Even for pros.

Like I mentioned above, the goal here is to get as much work done on a first draft as possible. And first drafts are almost always messy things. In fact, I became a much more productive writer once I accepted that first drafts were messy things. It freed me up to and let me focus on getting things down on the page rather than getting them perfect the first time.

And getting things down on the page is what NaNoWriMo is all about.

So, as I often say… go write.

No, wait. A few other things before we all get on with the writing.

First, if you happen to be in the SoCal area and have a lot of free time at the end of the month, I’m going to be at SDCC Special Edition over Thanksgiving weekend. Sunday, to be exact. I’m doing the con edition of the Writers Coffeehouse, talking about writing, publishing, the state of the industry, and whatever other questions you might have. No idea what size crowd to expect, so we’ll see what happens there.

Also, I may be taking a little bit of a break here for a week or three. I’m feeling a touch overworked/stressed with said con, the holidays, the new book, and, y’know, the world in general. So I just want to take some pressure off and try to get to a place where I feel a little more caught up on things. Plus, to be honest, I feel like I’m just rehashing a lot of stuff here, and I’d love to be able to give you something new and, y’know, actually useful.

Anyway, that’s where things are at. Now fuel up on some Halloween candy and go wild with NaNoWriMo.

Now go write.

Last week I mentioned I was starting a new project. A huge one. Easily the biggest thing I’ve ever done and very  probably the next two or three years of my life.

To call it intimidating is a bit of an understatement. It’s been ridiculously easy to find other things that I need to do. Not that I’m avoiding it, of course, it’s just… look, I’ve needed to paint these Space Marines for a while now. And, if you missed it, I bought a Shogun Warrior to restore, a Raydeen like I had when I was a kid. Not to mention, I really need to spend more time with the cats. They’re feeling a bit neglected, and I think I’m making some real headway with Doctor Wade Salem. Heck, we haven’t even discussed all these ranty blog posts.

Okay, yes, I’ve already started the big project. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of other things I could be doing. Or maybe some I should be doing.

I mean, let’s be honest. There’s arguably a ton of stuff I need to do before I start a project. I should have a rough idea of who my characters are and what they want out of life. At least a bare-bones sense of a plot. Which could mean some degree of research.

Plus, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I knew what my chosen genre’s expectations are. Or had a notion of what’s been done before in it.

If you’ve been following this collection of rants for over a year, you may remember the A2Q. It’s a dozen long-ish posts about how to take a novel from the bare bones idea through to a finished manuscript. And almost two-thirds of them were things to do before we started our first draft.

When we get right down to it though, there’s only one thing I really need to do to start a new project. And just based off my own experience (and some experiences I borrowed from other folks) it’s probably the toughest thing. I know I used to get caught up on it a lot.

So what’s the all-important, ultimate step to writing a project?

We start writing it.

I know that sounds stupid but, well, it really is what it comes down to. I can do a lot of research and practice and character sketches and pin a hundred index cards up on the wall with different colored yarn. I can block out scenes with action figures and act them out with friends and take long walks where I have silent conversations with myself. But at the end of the day… I have to start writing it. Until then it’s just prep work at best, procrastination at worst.

I know some people might take offense to such a statement and insist all those character sketches 100% count as writing. And the multiple outlines. And the four months of research. To which I say… sure, of course it does. Again, I wrote around 25K words last year about all the prep work you can do before starting a first draft.

But I also wonder why some of these folks are so quick to take offense. I mean, at least four or five times a year here I point out that my method is my method and your method is your method. No problem at all. But if the mere suggestion that my wall of index cards doesn’t count as writing gnaws at me that much… maybe it’s because I know it doesn’t?

Two or three times here I’ve told the story of Jerzy, a personal trainer who helped me to lose a lot of weight by just pointing out all I had to do was follow the schedule he’d given me. I could come up with a lot of reasons for not doing it or to put off doing it or… I could do it.

There’s a point where I’m doing that advance work, and there’s a point where I’m just not writing. And that’s the real goal here. Stringing sentences together and making paragraphs and telling stories. If that’s what I want to be doing… well, I need to do it.

Yeah. It’s scary and it’s work and it’s a commitment. And we all want to do it right, to create something fantastic. We can always find good reasons not to start, to put it off, to convince ourselves we’re not quite ready to do it yet. Because it’s going to be tough.

But it’s going to be a lot easier than trying to lose sixty pounds was, believe me.

Next time, I’d like to revisit that idea of throwing rocks at people in trees. Even if you’re doing it for a good reason.

Until then, go write.