Learning to Write My Own Way

It’s NaNoWriMo time again and I find myself facing a familiar decision – do I participate in NaNo this year?

I’ve been a part of NaNo several times and I’ve enjoyed it. The camaraderie and enthusiasm of tackling a novel along with thousands of other people is exhilarating.

By participating in NaNo, I discovered that I really can write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I discovered that I can write 600 words in 20 minutes if I set a timer and just keep typing.

I discovered that if I don’t have a good vision of a scene in my head, I end up with 600 random, repetitive talking-head words in that 20 minutes.

I discovered that while I can write fast, I don’t like writing that fast as it feels like I’m just throwing ill-thought-out junk on the page.

This year, I want it to be different.

I have a story that I am thoroughly in love with. I’m using Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course to plan it out and it is turning out to be incredible.

I want to take my time writing the scenes so that they turn out as well as I see them in my head. so that I capture the passion and the nuances of my characters.

Will I participate in NaNo this year? Yes, I think I will. But I’m going to take my time with my daily writing. I’m going to use a slower, deliberate pace so that I’m happier with my scenes when I’m done.

Learning how YOU write is a huge part of learning how TO write. Participating in NaNo is helping me learn how I write, what works for me and what doesn’t.

What helps you learn how to write?

Three Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

November has been dubbed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) by Chris Baty, a writer from San Francisco. For 11 years, he’s sponsored an event for writers, challenging them to write a novel (50,000 words) during the month of November. Thousands of writers have taken him up on the challenge and participated through the NaNoWriMo website.

I’ve been a part of the challenges for several years and I’ve learned some things in the process that I’d like to share with you.

Challenge Yourself

Use NaNo as an opportunity to challenge yourself. You don’t have to adhere to the “50,000 words on a new novel” rule. It’s more of a guideline, than a rule. The point of NaNo is to challenge yourself–stretch beyond what you think you’re capable of.

  • If you already have a story started, write 50,000 more words on it in 30 days.
  • If you’re writing short stories, instead of novels, write 50,000 cumulative words on a variety of stories in 30 days.
  • If your novel is done, edit 50 pages a day on it.
  • If you’re submitting, send out 5 queries a day for 30 days.

Think of what you could accomplish under normal circumstances and then double your output for a month. You don’t have to keep it up forever, just for a month. See what kind of a kickstart that gives to your writing.

First Draft Freedom

NaNo requires fast writing. For many writers, 50,000 words in 30 days is really fast. You don’t have time to edit, to fuss with point of view, to layer your characters. You just write and get it down on paper.

As a writer who gets stuck in perfectionism, NaNo is a refreshing change for me. I can’t fuss over the first chapter for six months, getting the words just right. Instead, I have to throw something on to the page and keep going.

Now, mind you, I’m not deliberately throwing garbage on to the page and calling it my novel. No, I’m writing the story the best I can without self-editing during the process. Forward motion is my goal. I’ve come across several writers who feel that writing the first draft is necessary for you to figure out what story you’re actually telling. Then in the second draft (and subsequent ones), you shape the story to that vision. Since I know the story will change (possibly radically), then getting my first draft perfect isn’t necessary. It’s kind of useless, even, since I’m going to change it. So write fast and get to the end of your first draft so you know your story.

Help, My Plot Has Fallen and It Can’t Get Up!

One of my favorite “tools” I learned from NaNo is the plot ninjas.

Let’s pretend that you’re writing along on your novel and you start to realize that your characters have been sitting in a kitchen, sipping tea and chatting for the last 30 pages. Drinking tea in a kitchen is the kiss of death for a novel. Where’s the tension? Where’s the conflict? You need to get those characters moving and reacting to something.

Suddenly there’s a knock at the back door. Your main character answers the door and discovers ninjas who immediately start attacking him!

Now there’s tension and conflict in your story. Nobody stands passively by while ninjas are attacking.

Ninjas may not fit your genre, but you can adapt the plot ninja idea to other types of stories.

  • If you’re writing a mystery, someone totally unexpected is murdered.
  • In a romance, another man (or woman) shows up and claims to be married to your main character.
  • In a scifi story, aliens attack or a nanite plague breaks out.
  • In a crossover novel, the secret spouse of your main character’s love interest is murdered by aliens wielding nanites.

The only criteria for using plot ninjas in your story is that the ninja event be something unexpected and startling. Something that your characters must react to. Then they’re no longer in the kitchen drinking tea.

I’ve learned other things from participating in NaNo, but these are three biggies–enjoy the challenge, write freely in my first draft, and use plot ninjas to shake things up when my story has stalled.

What things have you learned from NaNoWriMo?

I’ll be participating in NaNo again this year. If you’d like to follow my progress, add me as a Writing Buddy.

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Yet Another NaNo Post…

I was planning on spouting off about tense and POV this month, but got sidetracked by this little writer’s challenge.  You know the one, National Novel Writing Month.  Maybe you’re not into forcing yourself to put 50,000 words on the page or you’re a firm believer that writing is a solitary job so no group endeavors, like those write-in thingies.  Neither was I on both counts.  Writing group?  I didn’t need no stinkin’ writin’ group!  And you can take that fake deadline and…well you get the picture.  All it takes is for me to sit down and start typing.  Umm, yeah, that worked.  Not!

Sure I churned out some short stories, but where was that novel I kept saying I was writing?  Most of them are unfinished in a drawer.  They’d make better scratch paper than reading material.  Then I got this brilliant idea and I decided this is the one.  The one I will finish.  Yeah, right.  I’ve been plunking away at it for, oh I don’t know, a couple of years maybe more.  Who keeps track?  It kept changing on me, too many directions at once, no solid plot line, a bunch of half-baked characters, in whole a disaster.  But something wouldn’t let me give up.  Might have been the characters knocking around in my skull.  Might have been the wonderful group of girls I joined.  Might even have been that I really, deep down believed it could work.

Speaking of those girls…One day I put on my big girl panties and admitted I needed support.  The kind of support your family and friends can’t give; only other writers—probably should add editors, agents and the rest of the publishing world-understand a writer’s mind.  Family and friends smile indulgently when you drift off into story land and pat your hand when you whine about your characters.  All the while thinking, why can’t she just get off her posterior and finish the thing already?  Other writers understand.  They’re going through the same things.  They don’t care when the words coming out of your mouth and your brain go in two directions at once.  So think twice about it being solely a solitary activity.

Putting 50k down on paper in 30 days and you can write crap with a capital C.  That’s the hard part for me in this challenge I still cling to my old habits.  Not as tightly but they’re still there in the background, wincing when something doesn’t sound right.  As stated in my last post I promised to finish Disenchanted by the end of the month and as I type this I’m over half done.  I started with 30k and set my goal to 80 so I would meet the requirement.  From my vantage point, I’ll not only meet that goal but probably over it.  That’s what this challenge has done for me, it pushed me, pushed me hard.

Moral of the story?  Yes, I need a stinkin’ writin’ group and fake or not a deadline is a powerful thing!