This year, unlike last, I did not “win” NaNoWriMo. On November 30, I ended up with a reported 29,170 words out of the 50,000 needed to complete the challenge successfully.
You know what, I’m perfectly fine with that.
Yes, I would’ve liked to win NaNoWriMo again, but even if I didn’t, I now have 30,000 words (I’ve kept writing) that I did not have at the start of November, and a story that I did not know I needed to tell a month ago. That is priceless right there.
Now is where the real work begins, where there’s no gimmicky challenge to get me to write each day but simply the need to tell this story completely, to finish this thing I started. Now is when the writers keep going.
And I’m still writing.
Pinterest is a fairly new social network where you can create virtual pinboards and collect images and videos. Though it is very popular with people into cooking and arts & crafts, the scope has continued to widen as greater number of members join. I have been a member for about a year and have grown to love the site for what it does, give me a place to collect visual inspiration for a number of different topics. When I started this year’s NaNoWriMo novel, I immediately created a Pinterest board for it, even though at the moment I did not know what I would pin to it. That uncertainty did not last long.
When creating a board for your novel, cast your net wide in terms of what you put into it. The general idea of such a board is to give you, the writer, a place to free-associate visual cues. You could put pictures of locations associated with your story, or images of actors/models that you would consider for an ideal casting, or perhaps music that resonates with the story or that characters listen to. The board is not meant to tell the story in your head, but it should help you call up ideas and concepts that are associated with what you’re writing. A board like this can serve as an interesting “backstage” look at the brainstorming process of writing, or as a bonus meta-look at the finished tale.
If you visit my NaNoWriMo 2012: Deirdre board (pictured here), you’ll find a variety of pictures showing locations in the novel, music videos for songs that have inspired the story in one way or another, as well as other images and videos that somehow relate to the tale of Deirdre Morrison. As I think of, or come across, things that tie to Deirdre’s story, I pin them there for easy reference. When I feel a bit at a loss about my story, whenever I feel I need to reconnect with my character as I write her story, I go to this board and remember why I pinned each item there. This in turns refreshes my mind and helps me get back to the tale of Deirdre.
Give it a try for your next work of fiction, and see how it can help you out.
I came across this remix of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” a song that I really like and about which I have written before. Take a look.
Watching the video, seeing the story of this couple play out, all I was thinking was, “What happened that brought them together, then apart?” Which then brought to mind what I consider to be one of my little quirks: as much as I like reading the whole gamut of speculative fiction, when it comes to writing fiction, I naturally gravitate towards relationship stories set in the real world.
I have tried my hand at fantasy and science fiction before, yes, but overwhelmingly, the stories that I prefer to imagine, develop and write are those where I am following the process of a relationship, whether it is the beginning, middle or end. Relationships interest me. It’s why I love romantic comedies, actually. The endless factors that feature into two distinct people coming together, staying together, and sometimes going apart, are simply fascinating. As the creator of these stories, it’s like I get to fall in and out of love over and over (which can actually be very draining when you consider what I wrote about being a method writer). Even better, it is a story that can be told across any milieu, whether real world, the far reaches of space, or lands ruled by magic and dragons (seriously, “The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm,” the Burning Wheel roleplaying game I’ve been playing with my friend Judd, for all the awesome fantasy stuff it has going on, can be summed up as the story of a love triangle, which is why I absolutely love it).
That’s why to me the greatest story will always be that of the process of love between two people. And I look forward to many years of exploring this story in my fiction.
There’s a very popular style of acting called Method Acting, in which the idea is that the actor embodies the character to be played, and draws on his or her own experiences to achieve a better portrayal. It is a style usually classified as immersive, and it can lead some actors to stay in role even after the performance has stopped.
I am not an actor, but I have discovered, and accepted, that I am a method writer. The definition found in Urban Dictionary nails it:
A writer or author who uses a technique of writing in which he/she identifies emotionally with a character in the story and assumes that character’s persona in the telling.
When I am writing a story, especially a longer one, I get into my protagonist’s head space so I can understand them better and thus achieve a better narrative.
The one problem with this approach? I get into my protagonist’s head space.
I’ve come to terms with the idea that I write stories in which I have a personal stake. While I am able to churn out a few pieces to specification for a freelance assignment or writing challenge, I mostly write stories that possess me and *must* be told. And more often than not, the way that these stories possess me is via a character, who becomes like an alternate personality until I am able to exorcise them onto the page.
This also means that I live with these characters, and that their lives affect me. When they are happy, I am happy; when they are sad and angry, I get sad and angry. My facial expressions change as I’m writing to match the mood of the scene and sometimes it gets to be too much, too draining, and I need to walk away, remind myself that *I* am the real person, not my character.
The novel I am writing now features a protagonist who was a supporting character in my first novel. She stayed with me long after the novel was done, daring me to find out her story so I could tell it. Her story isn’t necessarily a happy one, and it is taxing to get into the mind of a person with major depressive disorder. But I have to tell her story, so I, we, push through.
Method writing isn’t for everyone, but it is for me. I cannot fathom writing any other way, and if that means that my fiction output is greatly reduced, that’s fine as well, because I know the stories I will tell are those that *had* to be told by me and no one else.
The novel I am writing for this year’s NaNoWriMo features a female main character. What’s more, it’s written in first person, so not only am I writing a female character, I am writing her from inside her mind.
I bring this up for a reason. Because of the online social circles I frequent, because of the people I know, because of the classes I have taken and life I’ve lived, I’m sensitive to issues of gender, cultural appropriation, and privilege. These are lenses through which I filter life, especially things I create. So I’m sitting here writing a novel with a female character, it didn’t take long for a voice to erupt in my head saying, “You have no right to do this.”
I am a guy, after all. I might be a member of two minorities (Hispanic and Jewish), but I’m a guy. And I can already hear in my head comments about me putting words in women’s mouths, about me misrepresenting women, about me acting all patriarchal and stuff by controlling this female character. Mind you, no one has said any of this, but what if they do (with “they” being people I know, or people I don’t know)?
This paralyzed me somewhat as I started to write. It even shut me down completely one day. I briefly considered just scrapping the whole idea and moving on to something else. Then I thought better about it.
I hope no one feels that way after reading my story. I hope that I bring an honest voice to my female protagonist that sounds true regardless of her or my gender which will make any comment like the ones above superfluous and unnecessary. I am for nothing less.
Thing is, I can’t worry about the ‘What ifs’. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your work, for whatever reason. It may be that reason is even a valid one. But I can’t let that stop me from writing. My protagonist (Deirdre in this case, but really, any protagonist) is a person, an individual, with hopes and dreams, skills and limitations, who makes good and bad choices. She isn’t meant to represent an entire gender any more than my actions represent my entire gender. So if Deirdre does X or says Y, it reflects only on Deirdre, not on all women.
I’m being slightly paranoid in even thinking that I need to state all this upfront, I know it. In truth, this post isn’t for anyone out there, it’s for myself. It’s so I can get this worry out of my head, where it is blocking the flow of ideas. If it happens to speak to someone else, even better.
If you’ll excuse me, now that I got that off my chest, I need to go back to writing.
I had one week off from school during which I had originally planned to do the first rewrite of my NaNoWriMo 2011 novel. It was naive of me to think I’d accomplish it, especially because half my week was taken up by taking care of house chores that had been pushed off over the last four months, not to mention I also had to study for an exam I have right upon my return to classes. That said, I did go ahead and transfer my novel from Word into Scrivener.
I’ve been using Scrivener as my writing tool since I got it earlier this year and I absolutely love it. I knew from the start that I wanted to import the novel into it for all subsequent drafts, as I love the organizational tools available, especially for a long project like a novel. Take a look at the screen-cap above to see what I mean.
In Word, the novel was one long text file. That was fine for the first 50-thousand-words-in-30-days draft, but for rewrites I knew it would be a bitch. Scrivener allowed me to break off the manuscript into Parts, Chapters and Scenes. A wonderful thing happened once I had taken the time to reformat the text for Scrivener: I was able to see patterns I simply would have missed in Word.
On Dec 13, 43 days after I started the mad-dash that is NaNoWriMo, and 71,587 words later, I finished the first draft of my very first novel, now titled The Myth of Romantic Comedies.
Woohoo to me!
I am still in shock over the experience. I was “in the zone” that last day; I wrote 4539 words on Dec 13 alone! I was writing as fast as I could and then, suddenly, the ending line I had had in mind since the second week of November was written. I was done. I teared up a little.
I never thought I could write a novel. I always said I wanted to do so, but never thought I could. And now I’ve done it. And I cannot wait to write the next one, even with the crazy schedule I know awaits me next year with Nursing school. Because writing is something I have to do. I stopped doing it for years and I was miserable. And now, whatever else happens in my life, I have writing back in it and I won’t let it go.
I talked about this briefly already, but I’ve been thinking about it more and wanted to expand.
Plain and simple: writing demands a sacrifice of you, the writer. If you’re not willing to pay it, you won’t write.
This was made evident to me during NaNoWriMo; the format of the event forces you to make brutal choices if you want to reach 50,000 words in 30 days. And yes, I mean brutal.
This year, my sacrifices were two:
- The smaller one: I put aside everything writing related in my life (blog posts, my Play-by-Post RPGs, sometimes even my journal) to save all those words for my novel.
- The bigger one, my true pound of flesh: sleep.
A few years back I started getting up at 5 AM to have time to write before the start of the day. That worked for me fairly well, so with the start of NaNoWriMo, I went back to that format, except I would wake up at 4 AM to give myself an hour to do all my waking up prep before being ready to sit down to write. Every day, with few exceptions, this was my routine and I would write my 2000 words for the day between 5-7-ish AM.
It meant that by 10 PM I was beat and ready for bed (though in reality my bedtime is more like 11-12 Midnight), but it was worth it for the burst of fresh creativity I experienced in the mornings.
And you know what? I’m still doing it. And I will continue to do it for the foreseeable future.[ref]We’ll see once I start Nursing school what sacrifice must I make to carve even a couple minutes to write down a few words.[/ref]
So, what about you? What’s your sacrifice? What’s your pound of flesh offered to this cruel mistress, Writing?
So, NaNoWriMo? I accomplished that shit I set out to do. I “won” at 50,469 yesterday, Nov 29, though I’ve added another 1500 words by now. I’m about 60-ish % done with my story, so I continue to write.
I loved doing this. I’d done NaNo four times before, “won” once in ’06 but with a memoir, not fiction. To have done it this year with fiction, and new fiction that was flowing like a friggin river, has been fantastic. Why? Because I am a writer, have been a writer, want to be a writer, but I wasn’t writing, and that’s bullshit. For reasons I cannot even remember I stopped doing it and it left a hole in me that I plugged with words this month. And I will keep on going. Because writing is something I HAVE to do, for myself if for no one else.
So yeah, the fuck-you-don’t-think-just-write-50K-words-in-November boot camp march was what I needed to clear the cobwebs and get the engine running again. I woke up pretty much every day at 4-ish AM so I could write from 5-7 AM, before the world woke up. I’m not a morning person at all, but that worked for me so awesomely, I continue to do it even though I “won.”
Writing is a cruel mistress and she demands a sacrifice. Without a sacrifice, nothing is going to happen. Ante up your pound of flesh, cause that’s what it takes. At minimum.
I know a lot of people hate on NaNoWriMo, but I love it. Even the years I didn’t participate in it I glanced at it like a boy peeping through the glory hole in the girl’s bathroom. This time next year, G-d willing, I will be finishing my Nursing clinicals and studying for finals, so who knows if I’ll be able to do NaNo then. But it doesn’t matter, because I intend to write every day, and turn NaNoWriMo into NaNoWriYe(ar).
Go read Chuck Wendig‘s post, “The NaNoWriMo Epilogue: Miles To Go Before You Sleep.” This post started as a reply to Chuck’s post, and what Chuck says there is gospel truth.
If you “won” this year, HIGHFIVE for those 50K!
If you didn’t, HIGHFIVE for those [whatever]K!
Now, here’s the knife: where are you gonna cut that pound of flesh from? The words are waiting.
After skipping it for a few years, I am doing NaNoWriMo this year and I am loving it. I started right on Nov 1 with a scene that I had had in my mind for over ten years. I stripped it of the details that had accumulated over time and left it as the simple concept, then let the characters show me how it happened now. They very much did and they have continued to tell me their story day by day.
As of this post I am right on target with 14,201 words written. I have a daily goal of 2000 words so I can account for Shabbat and have a day off each week and after week 1, so far so good. I get up every day at 4 AM to give myself time to wake up and get some coffee made and by 5 AM I am typing, usually until 7 or so when it’s time to wake my wife up and do all the usual morning chores. It’s a bit exhausting, especially days when I work 9 hours until closing at 9 PM, but I am loving the early morning quiet writing time. The words flow so much better on a clear, rested mind.
I don’t know why I stopped writing. I have found a part of myself I had missed terribly and am loving reacquainting myself with it. I have a really good idea where this novel is going, too, which has me really excited to continue.
Ok, that’s 287 words I could’ve put into the novel. Back to work!