Novel writing via NaNoWriMo

I’m finding I work well under pressure.  I should have realized from my newspaper reporting days that a deadline was helpful.  I am a procrastinator.  The reason is probably as fluid and complex as Medusa’s hairdo – and is mostly unimportant.  What is important is to realize it and find ways around it that maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses.

I’ve found one!  It appears it’s been found by many before me.  NaNoWriMo is working for me.  It has obviously worked for others before me.  It stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is November.  The list of published books that started on NaNoWriMo is long and impressive.  I’ve downloaded one to my iPhone’s Kindle, but will probably wait until December to start reading it.  There is a link to the NaNoWriMo site on my Resources page.  The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November.  If you meet the goal, you are declared a winner and receive a certificate.  In order to meet the goal, you go to your account and there is a page for your stats.  You can update your word count as often as you like.  I do it if I need to see it, and every time I have to take a break.  There are small grandkids in the house, so every time I leave the computer, I save and close all my work and update my NaNo page.

You can have Buddies on your NaNo pages.  I have one and she has been a great encouragement.  I started out a little behind, which many do I understand, but right now I’m just a little ahead of my daily word-count goals.  I have 25,008 words completed so far.  That’s not including the outline that I started before November but have changed extensively since then.  My outline is just a list of characters, their traits and how they fit in the story; and a list of conflicts, some of which arc over one or two books and some of which arc over the entire series, however long it becomes.  I don’t have a definite end at this point, and hope to have the opportunity to discuss that with a publisher and an agent at some point.  That would be a “Yay!”

Another thing I’ve added to the end of my outline is a glossary of Latin and French terms I’ve labored over Google Translator to arrive at.  One of my central characters was born in France and has lived there most of her life.  It stands to reason French terms would creep into her dialog.  What was I thinking?!  I don’t know any French.  It definitely messed with my daily word count, but translator time has slowed down and I think it has added depth to my story.

When I decided to do NaNoWriMo, I had already started outlining this story, and most of the characters were in place.  Since then, I’ve changed some names (not to protect the innocent, but to change their genders) and I’ve changed their roles in the story.  They don’t always toe the line when I start writing, so I have to make allowances.

This is the midway mark of the month, and I’ve found the little bar graph on my NaNo page is helpful in gauging when the action has to pick up.  There has been plenty of action so far, but mostly it’s been about character development.  Now it’s time to really shake things up.  This is the farthest I’ve gotten in the actual writing of a story.  NaNoWriMo came along at just the right time.  I was nearly done with the outline, and I just needed to write.  I’m treating my daily word count like a deadline.  Whatever I write over that is gravy.

Speaking of gravy, the NaNoWriMo staff warns you to try and get ahead in your word count to offset any deficits you may incur during Thanksgiving.  For any readers not familiar with American holidays, Thanksgiving comes on the fourth Thursday of November and is generally a time when families get together and have a big meal, traditionally serving turkey, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, some form of sweet potatoes and lots of pie.  Luckily for me, our entire family has been invited to my son-in-law’s aunt’s house for the holiday, so I’m off the hook for the prep, except for our culinary contribution.  I’m still going to try and get ahead in my word count though.  I plan on spending the day relaxing, eating and enjoying the company of friends and family.  I’d just as soon not have to play catch-up in the six days remaining of the month.

I’m trying not to edit as I go.  It’s hard.  It goes against my grain, but it’s working.  My writing tends to be dialog heavy, and this is no exception.  I’ve been working on my imagery, but dialog is what rolls out my fingers and onto the laptop screen.  So, I’m going with that.  I can always cut dialog and add imagery during the dreaded December Edit.  Then I’ll be on my own.

I have just written over 850 words that I can’t add to my NaNoWriMo word count, so I’d better hustle!

To outline or not to outline, that is the question

While I was going through a box of office-related items packed up from my old desk when we moved it out and moved my new desk in, I found a notebook I’d given up on finding a long time ago.  It was full of character analyses, back story and miscellaneous ideas for a young adult novel I started some time ago that stalled.  It’s from my pre-outlining, write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants era.  That didn’t work well for me.  My personality is flexible, try anything, push boundaries and take what comes.  My non-fiction writing experience has shown that to work for about three to five chapters.  At least that’s my experience.  Maybe I should have taken the fact that I can’t play chess outside of learning the basic moves.  I can’t visualize the game beyond the move that’s happening on the board at any given moment.  If you’re good at chess, maybe you don’t need to outline novels.  Let me know on that.  I’d like to hear.

I workshopped the beginning of that particular story on the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.  The link is on the Resources page at right.  I got some valuable feedback, positive and negative.  One critiquer who was a published YA author, after listing some advice, said she liked it and couldn’t wait to read what happens next.  The problem was, neither could I, and I had no idea where to take it from there.  I had lots of ideas but was very unsure on how to develop them, and I couldn’t decide who was going to be the bad guy.  I just let it percolate from the back to the fore of my brain and back again.  Round and round it went, but not forward.  Shortly after that I wrote, among other things, what was in the notebook I found, but it was really wheel spinning.

After a couple more great ideas that wowed very few chapters, my plots again fizzled.  I put novel writing on the shelf for a while and started reading like a maniac and writing occasional shorts, flash pieces, essays and slice of life essay-type things.  I always proof what I read, even if it’s an entertaining novel.  My mother had a full-time office day job and evenings (sometimes late into the night) she typed term papers and theses for students on a portable electric typewriter with a manual return.  Ah, those were the days.  I often proof-read anything from freshman reports to science-heavy doctoral theses.  Now I read to entertain and educate myself.

How could I possibly pass up an opportunity to be entertained and educated all within the covers of a novel?  When I read, I decide what I like about the way a particular author handles plot or action scenes or relational interaction; what I like or don’t like and what I’d do differently, like it or not.

I also visit the authors’ web sites, which often contain a plethora of insight into how that particular author works.  That advice can be a couple of short articles that are funny and informative and offered as fiction, like Kerrelyn Sparks at http://www.kerrelynsparks.com/writing_tips.html, who really brings her point home with humor and wit.  She writes the Love at Stake series.  On the other hand, writers’ sites can contain a mother-lode of detailed instruction that goes on for pages and pages, like Jennifer Ashley’s writing blog:  http://www.jenniferonwriting.blogspot.com/. She writes The Stormwalker series as Allyson James as well as many other series under the noms de plume Jennifer Ashley and Ashley Gardner.  Then there’s Jim Butcher’s blog on writing: http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/.  He writes The Dresden Files series.  These are some of my favorite authors and they write some of my all-time favorite series.  Isn’t it lovely that they also like to share their knowledge about writing?  Yes!

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