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Winner-180x180

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In case anyone was wondering, I pulled out another win for NaNo 2012. Yay me! My winning word count was 50,331.

From participating in four NaNos and one Camp NaNo I’ve learned that each experience is very different from the others. There is absolutely no way to predict how it will go based on how past NaNos went.

This year was really odd for me because while I never truly struggled or suffered complete agony in trying to get my story from head to page, I was also behind for pretty much the entire month. Out of the thirty days in November I was only caught up on word count on five of them.

But at least unlike my Camp NaNo 2011 loss, I was never deeply in the hole. The furthest behind I got was somewhere around 5k words, so it always felt doable, which encouraged me to keep plodding forward. So the lesson learned from this one I guess is to just keep moving and you can surprise yourself.

At 50k words the novel isn’t complete. I’d estimate the story is somewhere between one-third to one-half done. Which means there’s a lot of work yet still to do if I want to complete the first draft.

This one was the biggest mess I’ve written, and that’s including compared to my first NaNo. That one was a mess structurally because I had no idea what I was doing. This one is a huge mess in terms of the writing, which is all over the place. One of the only things that kept me moving was allowing myself to ramble. A lot.

If I ever complete it and go on to work on a second draft it will require not just cleaning up, deleting, and revising, but a lot of actual rewriting. But that’s not as daunting to me as it used to be. The idea of all that work involved used to mentally freak me out and make me want to quit, but I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy editing. So it doesn’t matter to me now nearly as much how messy the first draft is. At least it provides the framework of the story to work on.

So that’s been another valuable lesson. Don’t worry about what I’m spewing out, as long as the story I wanted to tell is located somewhere in the muck. Anything and everything can be fixed later, but you have to have something to fix in the first place before you can get anywhere.

I haven’t written any more on it since the last day of November. My motivation was low this year, so I’m enjoying the break from worrying about word count. But I hope that at some point in the coming months I’ll feel inspired enough to get back to it and see if I can get a second complete novel under my belt.

I hope the rest of you who participated this year had a successful NaNo. Even if you didn’t make it to 50k, if you wrote some part of a new original novel you accomplished something!

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NaNoWriMo 2012

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So how’s it going all you Wrimos?

I’m doing…okay. Not great and not terrible. I’m about half a day behind in word count, but from past experience I know that’s nothing to get freaked out over. (I lost a full day of writing from getting all caught up in following the election results.)

I’m feeling really scattered this year and it’s showing in my writing. I’ve been able to move forward every day, but what I’ve written is a lot more meandering and unfocused than usual it seems. This story has been in my head a long time, so I’m surprised it’s turning out this way. But, it’s still only the end of the first week, and things can change at any moment.

If you’re looking for something to help with procrastination from writing, take a look at this: NaNoWriMo the Musical! It’s being done in weekly webisodes, and the first two are up on the site.

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In the fall of 2010 I was getting ready to do my second NaNoWriMo. I had jumped into my first one in 2009 five days late, with only vague ideas about what I’d be writing, and pretty much no clue what I was doing.

So when I got an email about a workshop being given specifically for NaNo 2010, I signed up. It was called Speed Drafting, and was taught by Renda Dodge, one of the Seattle NaNo Municipal liaisons. The workshop was free, but for $10 you could buy a workbook to go with it.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my 2010 NaNo was my most successful, both in terms of word count at the end of the month, and in terms of going on to actually finish the novel once November was over. I learned a lot at the workshop, and then taking time to fill out the workbook in the days following helped me really get a handle on the story I wanted to write.

The workbooks that Renda created were what I’d call teaching workbooks. They weren’t just worksheets to fill out, they contained a lot of information about hooks, plot types, types of endings, and so on. Last year Renda published a book called, The Indie Writer’s Workshop, which covers a lot more material than just what was presented in the workshop I took. I haven’t seen the book, but I’d imagine it’s helpful to beginning writers.

This year I decided I wanted to create my own workbook to help me get focused on plotting my novel. I’ve been thinking that might help me be more successful again. I used Renda’s workbook as a starting point, adapting some her questions to my workbook. I rearranged some things to be more linear to fit how my brain works, and I also added a lot of my own material. It’s a bare bones workbook, with nothing in the way of teaching materials.

The main idea is that the workbook helps you brainstorm ideas for your characters and plot, so you have something to work from to write your novel. If you’re not a big planner, I think the brainstorming can still help, in that you get a bunch of ideas in your head about the story you want to tell. And if you are an outliner, you can use the worksheets to help you create the outline. (Which is what I intend to do.)

As I was working on it, I thought others might find it useful, so some of it is designed with that in mind. Originally I was going to host it on Google Docs so anyone could go and download it, but when I went to sign up I wasn’t happy with some things in the TOS.

So instead I’ll just offer that anyone who would like a copy can email me using the contact form (tab at the top of this page), and I’ll email it to you. (For privacy, feel free to use a fake name and a throwaway email address*.) You can request either Word .doc format or .rtf format. It’s designed to be printed out and written on, it’s not a form you can use on your computer.

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* Everyone should have what I call a throwaway email address. Sign up at Gmail, Yahoo, or some other free email site and create an email account that is specifically for using when you don’t want to reveal your real info. That way you can register at various sites around the web without any worries.

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NaNotainment

As proof that you can find anything on YouTube, here are some videos related to NaNoWriMo for your entertainment and amusement.

The NaNoWriMo Song by ALL CAPS

NaNoWriMo Night, inspired by the Muppets

For Gilbert & Sullivan fans, I Am The Very Model Of A Wrimo Individual

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In keeping with the NaNo theme, and also in keeping with the idea that procrastinating is almost always more fun than working on a NaNo WIP (work in progress), I’ve created My Personal NaNo History page. There’s a new tab for it at the top.

It’s a place for me to show off my trophies, making use of the bragging rights I’ve won. I also list my NaNos to date, first in brief format, then in quintessential, SeattleRobin long-winded format.

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So, yesterday I blathered on a lot in my intro to NaNoWriMo. But while extolling its virtues, I think I overlooked a very basic point. What is the actual purpose of NaNo? After all, people can write any time, they don’t need no stinkin’ contest.

NaNoWriMo is many things to many people. There are as many ways to approach it as there are participants. (That would be about three hundred thousand.) Everyone has their own personal goals, or reasons for participating. But there is one purpose that underlies everything else.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to make you write.

Duh, you say. How obvious can you be? But really think about that.

Many people fantasize about being a writer. But in order to be a writer, even as a hobbyist, you must actually write. Thinking about characters, imaginary worlds, and plot twists is all kinds of fun. (In fact, it’s my favorite part.) But having a creative mind and a vivid imagination does not a writer make.

And if your fantasy about being a writer includes sending your work off to agents, in the hopes of actually getting published, this is even more important to understand. The number of people who are talented enough to get their first ever novel published are few enough to not even be worth discussing. The vast majority of writers do not spring full grown from the head of a Muse.

The typical writer must learn the craft and develop their voice. You cannot do this by reading books or websites about writing, listening to speakers, or fantasizing. Those are all valuable, but what is absolutely critical is to write. You learn to write better by writing. There is no shortcut.

I’ve seen it bandied about that a typical writer must write one million words before they have developed enough skill to write something publishable. Exact numbers can be debated, and they’ll be different for each individual anyway, but the point can’t be ignored. You have to write a lot before you can write something truly worth reading. (Your aunt and best friend don’t count.)

NaNoWriMo makes you write. Especially when you might otherwise not. It gives you the framework within which to write some of those one million practice words.

By my calculations, I still have somewhere in the neighborhood of 712,000 words to go.

And now some links! I spent quite a while wandering around WordPress blogs to see what others are saying about NaNo. I selected a few to link to here.

Deciding if NaNoWriMo is for you.

A humorous pep-talk to get you fired up.

Some general tips helpful to newbies.

Some tips from NaNo veterans.

An easy plotting method if you have no idea how to start.

Are you a planner, a pantser, or a percolator?

A series of posts, starting with idea creation, and moving on to other topics.

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p.s. The link to the NaNo site is: http://www.nanowrimo.org

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NaNoWriMo 2012

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It’s almost that time again! The Office of Letters and Light are gearing up for National Novel Writing Month.

For those unfamiliar with the event, thousands of people from all over the world attempt to write a novel in a month. The goal is to write at least 50K words in the thirty days of November.

At lot of people think about writing, but never get around to actually doing it. Or like me, have dabbled in the past, but never got anywhere. By signing up and committing to do NaNo, it pushes you to finally take that big step and DO IT. Having people from all over the world cheering you on to success is a big help.

The beauty of the thing is that by having a short deadline with a challenging, but doable word count goal, it frees people up from the things that may otherwise hold them back from writing. Constant forward momentum is the key.

The mantra of NaNo is: Don’t edit.

What’s that you say? Don’t edit? No, that can’t be!

YES! Editing is for later. NaNo is for the (very) rough draft. By stuffing your inner editor into a locked trunk and letting the words flow, regardless of how craptastic they may be, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. It doesn’t matter if what you write is complete drivel, you can fix it later.

Some people call NaNo a contest, and it is in a sense. But you are not competing against other people, you’re competing against yourself and the deadline. No one ever sees what you write, unless you personally show it to them. The writing is not judged. The only thing you have to do to win is to write the first 50K words of an original novel before midnight on November 30th.

This will be my fourth NaNo, plus I did the summer Camp NaNo in 2011. I’ve won all three NaNos, I failed at camp. Out of those three wins I’ve only gone on to complete one of the novels after November was over. (NaNo 2010.) I even went on to completing a second draft. But then I stopped there, because I just don’t have the skill necessary to make it into a polished manuscript at this stage.

So what’s the point of even doing it, you ask? The first year I took it up as a personal challenge. I just wanted to see if I could even do it, since the most fiction I’d ever written prior to that was a few pages here and there. The sense of accomplishment I felt when I crossed the 50K mark at the very end of the month was a feeling that is impossible to describe.

And best of all? I can actually say I have written a novel! How many people do you know who can say that? (If you regularly hang with published authors, don’t answer.)

After my first time I was just kinda hooked on participating. It’s exciting, painful, frustrating, and elating. Plus, I got my best friend involved for my second year, so now we participate together and she’s a great writing buddy.

I will likely never be a skilled enough fiction writer to submit my work to a publisher. But I’ve already learned so much about writing it’s incredible. And it makes for a great hobby!

If any of this sounds the least bit intriguing, go to nanowrimo.org, click on Help in the upper right corner, and read the participation information and guidelines. Then sign up!

What have you got to lose? Even if you only write 5K, if that’s more than you’ve ever written before you accomplished something. And you’ll gain an entirely new appreciation for the authors who write the books you love to read, I guarantee it.

For tips on why I think timelines are important in writing novels, see my NaNo post from 2010 here.

Maybe I’ll see you around the NaNo forums. Though, I go incognito there.

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[At the Amazon Kindle Community forum there is a monthly thread where participants list and comment on which books they’re reading at the moment on their Kindles. These aren’t usually full reviews, often  just relatively brief impressions. I’m copying over some of my comments made there into Book Bits posts here.]

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My monthly Book Bits posts get rather long if I’ve read a lot of books and I include extensive comments on several of them. So I thought maybe I should try breaking them up into more than one post per month. So here’s my books from the first half of March.

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3/3

At the very end of February I finished reading Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I’m glad to have now read it since I’ve heard it mentioned so much over the years. It was an okay read, Susann is actually a pretty decent writer. But I thought the book dragged things out more than they needed to be, so many of their life problems just seemed to repeat. It’s a very soap operaish look at three women who keep making bad decisions and never learn anything from them. It did provide a very interesting look at New York and Hollywood in the 40s through the 60s.

After that I read Timeless by Gail Carriger which is the 5th (and final?) book in the Parasol Protectorate series, a sort of mashup of paranormal fantasy, steampunk, and mystery. I didn’t think it was quite as strong as previous novels in the series and wasn’t quite as funny. It did take a surprising turn near the end that was fun. Still an enjoyable read.

Early today I read the first five chapters of In the Blood by Steve Robinson (self-published). It’s the March Mystery Madness selection for the book discussion group in the Kindle Book Forum. That’s all I’m going to read of it though. I thought the writing, while not falling into the dreadful category, was amateurish and confusing. I had to work way too hard to try and find anything interesting, let alone entertaining, about what was going on. Bummer, because I was looking forward to the group discussion.

I’m now 23% into River Marked by Patricia Briggs, which is the 6th book in the Mercedes Thompson urban fantasy series. The contrast between it and In the Blood is like night and day. I was swept back into Mercy’s world immediately and the writing is smooth and unobtrusive. This book has a slow start in that there hasn’t really been much action to speak of, but that hasn’t been a bad thing. It’s nice seeing Mercy so happy and I’m enjoying it tons so far.

3/6

I finished River Marked by Patricia Briggs earlier today. I liked it, but it’s definitely not the strongest book in the series.

The slow pacing continued through the book until fairly near the end. I didn’t mind the slower pace for the first part of the book, but it did drag a bit in the middle. This one is heavy on Native American lore, which interests me. I loved that some of the details about Mercy’s father were finally revealed. So while it wasn’t a “can’t put it down” book, I wouldn’t say I was disappointed at all.

3/9

Instead of starting a novel I went back to reading some short stories in the Chicks Kick Butt urban fantasy anthology. I kept right on reading and I only have one story left in it now, so will finish it out. I’ve only read work from four of the included authors previously, so it’s been an interesting introduction to a lot of new-to-me authors.

It’s a very strong anthology. Unless the final story is a total dud I thought there were only three that were quite a bit weaker than the others.

One was fairly short and I thought the writing was sub-par with a Mary-Sueish protagonist. One was novelette length, and I just plain didn’t like it, so only read a little bit of it. The third started out really promising, but then took a dive, including one of the worst sex scenes I’ve ever read. It was the only story in the anthology that included romance/sex, everything else was pure urban fantasy action. Considering there are 13 stories in the collection, only three not-so-good ones isn’t bad!

3/14

I have fun participating in NaNoWriMo, and every once in a while my novels require a sex scene. They’re really difficult for me to get right. So I just read Be a Sex Writing Strumpet (great title!) by Stacia Kane, author of the dark and gritty Downside Ghosts urban fantasy series (which I love), who has also written erotic romance novels.

The ebook comprises a series of posts on the topic of writing sex scenes that she did on her blog in 2008. You can still read them for free on the blog evidently, but the convenience and ease of reading it all on my Kindle was definitely worth the $2.99 price.

Kane is funny, so aside from the helpful advice, it was just plain entertaining to read. A lot of what was included was common sense stuff, but sometimes you need someone to point out the obvious so you go, “Oh yeah!”

I thought it was a very good guide, especially in terms of learning how to properly set things up earlier in the novel because, as she points out, that’s the most important part to get right or the sex scene will flop no matter how good it is. Several of the chapters also suggest specific writing/reading exercises to learn how to apply the information in the topics covered.

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The Office of Letters and Light recently announced they’re introducing Camp NaNoWriMo this summer! The idea is to do a full blown summer version for those who yearn for literary madness more than once a year, or those who just can’t swing it in November. I haven’t seen any details yet, so don’t know if I’ll be participating. But the madness, it calls to me.

The problem is I’m still plugging away at my 2010 NaNo novel! I did win last year (graphic proof of my triumph presented above), which was my second victory in two attempts. But neither novel is finished. My first novel (ever!) still lies abandoned on my hard drive at approximately 75,000 words. I made the mistake of trying to write something that was too much for my essentially non-existent skills. (Hint: Don’t try epic heroic fantasy when you’re a newbie. Think smaller.)

I won NaNoWriMo 2010 with 62,000 words and I managed another approximate 15,000 in December before I became completely stuck in January. It was frustrating to get stuck once again because for my second attempt I chose a much easier type of novel to write. I was pretty confident of the story and my ability to tell it. Though, I’ll add, not tell it well or with anything close to what could be described as elegance. Still, one can be proud of one’s drivel if for no other reason than most people never manage to write a full, coherent novel’s worth of drivel.

I’m still not sure what all went into me getting stuck, especially since I was approaching a part in my plot that I had been looking forward to writing. Part of it was uncertainty about the details of my plot past a certain point. I knew roughly what I wanted to accomplish and had scenes in mind, but specifically? Not so much. Then I realized earlier tonight that I think a great part of my block was that I hadn’t settled on a firm timeline. Reflecting on that prompted this blog post.

TIP FOR WRIMOS (and other writers too I suppose): TIMELINES ARE IMPORTANT

Most of what I say here will apply more to us planner types than those wild and wacky pantsers. But even a pantser has to make sure that their story makes sense in terms of time lapsed in the novel.

My 2010 NaNo novel takes place between a specific date in the fall and a specific date in the late spring. Early into writing I realized that time, in this case meaning not only passage of weeks and months but specific days and dates, was of extreme importance.

If I was working towards a big scene that took place on Halloween and certain events had to happen prior to that day, then I had to make sure the timing was carefully worked out. And if my characters were together on Saturday talking about something from earlier in the week I had to know what day that something happened on so it didn’t overlap with or contradict some other previous event.

So I started using the Timeline feature in my writing software not far into the month of November. (I use Liquid Story Binder, which I got for half price at the end of NaNo 2009. Great program!) Like most features in LSB, there is a suggestion for how the timeline can be used, but you’re free to use it in whatever manner makes the most sense to you. Which is what I did.

I needed to track both the day of the week and the exact date for every scene. This helps with: avoiding contradictions, making sure there’s enough time for what needs to happen between two key events, and also with more nebulous things like overall pacing. I also use it to track which characters are in each scene. (This comes in handy by making you realize you introduced Jane Jones six chapters ago and haven’t done anything else with her since then!)

I now know that part of why I got stuck was because I had been unable to decide when a pivotal event should take place. I had it figured for anywhere from March to May, but kept dithering on what would work best. I turns out that my not knowing for sure contributed to a huge mental block. It made it difficult (impossible) for me to proceed, even though I wasn’t to that point yet in my novel. Knowing how much time was left prior to and after that date ended up being vital to the manner in which my story would approach the ending.

Once I finally was decisive and said, okay, it’s going to take place on THIS date, I got unstuck and started rolling again. Now I’m rounding the final turn and heading into the home stretch of actually completing a novel!

When I started the timeline I also copied a printable version of an online calendar for the year in which the story takes place and pasted it into a Word document. The timeline is used for the actual plot tracking, but I needed to have a full calendar to look at as a reference to guide my planning. I put important holidays and other days in colored text to help me visualize.

A mystery novelist may need to be even more exacting than I’ve had to be so far. You might not only need to break things down by day of the week, but by time of day. Plot contradictions kill the plot. If you need a mysterious caller to convey a message you might also need to know exactly what time of day that happened for plotting what happens immediately prior to and after that call. And the time of day often dictates what some of that other stuff could reasonably be.

Now all of this may sound like extreme overkill. After all, time isn’t quite so vital in many types of stories. If you’re writing an epic fantasy quest you’re probably thinking in vague terms of weeks and months. And you might not be using a copy of a real earth calendar.

But I found in my 2009 NaNo that there is still an important time element in that type of story, even if it’s not completely critical. If your group of intrepid heroes set off on their quest in the spring and have been on the road for three weeks you need to know they’ve been on the road for three weeks. This helps with planning travel distances, and it’s also important for realizing things like, hey, the weather should be turning warm or hot right about now.

Having a clear idea of the passage of time is also important if you’ve got any special holidays or things of that nature included. If your priestess of Oshgosh must attend the Holy Day of Pansy Blooming at the temple in the city of Snoz, then you have to make darn sure she has enough time to get there. Having important dates pre-determined on your fantasy world calendar, along with knowing it’s going to take four days to travel from Happydale to Snoz, is part of what makes your novel work.

All this info at your fingertips in an easily referenced format, whether it’s an actual timeline, copied calendar, or a simple list in Notepad, can save you tons of headaches (and precious writing time) as you write. This is true even for pantsers who may not plot out where they’re going, but may need to know precisely where and when they have been. Paying attention to time can also help prevent getting stuck, either because you’re floundering around with not knowing how fast or slow events need to take place, or because you found you accidentally wrote yourself into a time-constrained box.

I’m off to work on my old NaNo some more. Maybe I’ll see some of you at Camp NaNoWriMo this summer!

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