Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo: What's Next

Congratulations on winning
NaNoWriMo. Congratulation
on trying in the first place.
The last day of November means it's also the last day of NaNoWriMo. Did you write 50,000 words in 30 days? Or more? Is your novel finished?

And by finished, I mean, do you have a hot mess of a Zero Draft? By that I mean you've written something that's really just story-spew splattered all over the place, that needs some loving attention to make it a proper story. You have to decide what your next step is and you're tired from all the late nights, the caffeine and sugar-fueled writing sessions and maybe you're not thinking straight about what you've accomplished. Maybe you should ask yourself:

What do you want to do with it?

That's a question you'll hear a lot if you share that you've been noveling with anyone who isn't. Actually you may hear things like How many novels have you published? and Is it any good? just as often. That can be frustrating.

But let's explore What do you want to do with it?

Some people (I know a few) write during NaNoWriMo for pure pleasure. The challenge, the camaraderie, and pure fun of creating. They have no intention of publishing. I know someone who's burned a manuscript after logging it for a win on the NaNo site. If this describes you, more power to you. Writing is a hobby for you and you enjoy it and the heck with anyone who thinks that's crazy. You're my kind of people. I want to hear your stories.

But if you want to get this story published, or if getting published is your goal, then what next? Here's some advice:

  1. Read what you've written. The best thing you can do is know what you've done. Let it sit for a while once you're done writing then pull it out and give it a read. Prepare to wince at empty characters, gaping plot holes, and maybe some bizarre stream-of-consciousness weirdness. It's okay.
  2. If you like what you've written, do a quick revision for spelling, basic sentence structure, fleshing out characters who could conceivably fill some of those gaping plot holes. Do this in a month, like you'd do NaNoWriMo. This is the kind of thing you do with your child before sending them to school. You're ensuring their hair is combed, teeth brushed, and shoes tied before heading out the door.
  3. Once that's done, ask someone whose opinion you trust to read your story. It has to be someone who'll tell you if what you've written is crap just as easily as if they'd tell you it's brilliant. You also have to be prepared to hear the things about your novel that aren't good. Don't give it to someone if you don't want to know the bad along with the good.
  4. When give your trusted reader(s) the book, give them a list of questions you want answered: How does it read? Is the dialogue natural? Am I head-hopping to change POV? Is there too much violence? Too much sex? Not enough? Don't give a long list of questions, maybe ten or so is enough. What you really want to know is whether or not the story is worth your time to revise. Could it be better? is a great question to ask immediately followed by How?
  5. When you get comments back from your reader(s) say Thank You. That may be the most important part of the entire process. The people providing you feedback are giving you their time, you can afford to be gracious even if they tell you what you don't want to hear. 

Finally, don't get frustrated if it takes you a long time to get a draft you feel is presentable. There are a lot of stories about how long it takes to write a decent draft. One of the most famous is Harper Lee taking a year to write a draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, then taking two and a half more years to do the revisions and get it in front of the public. Not everyone is Piers Anthony or Stephen King. Even those guys aren't producing like they did early in their careers any more. Don't put unrealistic expectations on yourself.

What you've done, by writing a novel in a month or a little longer, is AMAZING. Bask in that for a while. When you decide what you want to do with the book - whether revise it or burn it - it's your decision. Do not let anyone's jealousy (I wish I could write a book) bring you down. You did it. You took the steps necessary to chase a dream.

No one can take that away from you.

If you're not quite done, keep writing. If your story is told, give yourself a pat on the back. You're awesome. Now - 

What's next?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Some Bad Habits

Five years of NaNoWriMo-ing
bad habits are sure to be hard
to overcome. I'm going to need
Oh, NaNoWriMo, I love you a lot. I am faithful to you these last five years. I participate, I finish, I donate, I help my region kick some serious ass in achieving word counts.

But you have helped me develop some terrible habits. Overuse of "like", "just", "back", and "a little" and endlessly repeating actions like "turned", "nodded", "smiled", and "walked" along with word-droppings of adverbs ending in -ly are the least of my worries. Those things are easy to fix and obvious upon rereading any work.

Plot holes are also easy to fix during a revision pass. Where did that character go? He was there at the beginning of a scene and then didn't show up again until the middle of the next chapter? Crap. Let's go back and get him in the background at least.

The worst offense I commit during NaNo is writing in the passive voice.


I did it again. That sentence up above. That (to be verb)...(gerund) bit. You see? It's the part where I say  "is writing". I have failed to recognize that particular mistake more often than not.

Being a largely self-taught writer carries a lot of baggage. Missing things like that and "he was there" are some serious obstacles in improving my writing.

I'm not going to preach to you about Passive Voice; I'm not an expert and it's something I'm struggling with. I will note that you should seek resources that will inform you of what to look for. Then it's up to you to practice (like I've been) to get better at first recognizing it then doing your best to eliminate from your storytelling.

I will mention that I think Passive Voice has a place in dialogue. People talk that way. Right? They use adverbs inappropriately, too. As for all the passive verbiage in this here blog, I'll point out that it's my dialogue with you, the readers, so perhaps I can be forgiven these minor offenses.

But they don't belong in my fiction. Setting a goal for next year's NaNo right now to do a better job of eliminating the passive stuff and still making my word count.

I'll have to spend the year practicing. Starting with a revision to that one sentence above:

Writing in passive voice is the worst offense I commit during NaNoWriMo.

See the difference?


Monday, November 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo: It's Official

I haven't written any words on the novel since last Wednesday.

That said, on Sunday I validated my novel (so far) and lo and behold, look:

This means that I'm officially
a five-time winner of National
Novel Writing Month. 
I took Thursday (Thanksgiving) off and then I ended up taking Friday to look around the web for some tools that would help me learn how to not write so many damned passive-voiced sentences.  I started trying to revise last year's novel because I have a reason to. But I got frustrated and ended up playing Wii golf longer than I should have. Then I had a movie from Netflix I needed to watch and by the time I realized what time it was, I didn't have any interest in doing anything.

But then later Saturday something clicked and I was able to really dig in and get to editing. And let me tell you that it's not just identifying the passive voice, it's changing how you think about saying what you want to say. Several sentences came out completely except for perhaps a clause or a phrase that became conjoined with a sentence that ended up being better. Let me say that again: the sentence ended up being better.

Reading through a 6,000-word chapter and identifying no less than 40 instances of passive voice is discouraging. But it's satisfying beyond reason to read back through that chapter and see how improved it is. It's time-consuming, too.

So I got off-track and distracted from writing and ended up editing instead. How does this relate to NaNoWriMo?

If I learn to avoid writing the passive voice sentences now, when I'm ready to get back in and finish the book (while I'm waiting to hear back when the book goes out on submission again) I'll have less time editing later. AND a better chance for acceptance.

I'm glad I've kept my streak alive, I couldn't have done it without the support of my writer's group and most importantly the love and support of my wife who is getting used to being a NaNo widow and now maybe an editing widow. 

In the end it's about telling good stories and realizing what it takes to get there. I'm on the road and I can see the exit up ahead. Thank you all for sticking with me so far. I promise the ride gets better from here on out.

Friday, November 23, 2012

NaNoWriMo: The First Finish Line

I don't get to validate my
novel until the 25th or so and
after that I get the cool winner
badges. And goodies.
On Wednesday night I crossed the 50,000 word mark for NaNoWriMo, exactly at the same point as I did in the month last year and ahead of the previous years.

I ended up taking Thanksgiving off. Only wrote a hundred words but I ate turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and drank the new beaujolais. Capped off the evening with martinis, the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving tv special and a nice retrospective on Michael Jackson's BAD.

Over at the Confabulator Cafe today, there's a brief note about the accomplishment and what I'm thinking about doing next.

If you don't feel like clicking over to the Cafe, here's what I'm planning:

  1. Keep writing 2000 words a day until the novel is finished. It's a nicer, less frenetic pace and when I did it last year I still had a few big days. 2K is the minimum I'm shooting for.
  2. Also begin the revision process on last year's novel so I can resubmit it before the end of the calendar year. It sounds easy, but editing passive sentences into active ones is what has to happen. 
  3. Take some down time.
So mornings will be for editing and evenings for writing for the next few weeks. With any luck I'll finish up in the middle of December on both projects and be able to enjoy the year-end holidays a little more. Celebrate a little more I hope.

Anyway, I'm writing. Updates to follow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What I'm Thankful For

Almost our national bird, folks. You can see why. Turkeys
and Thanksgiving are good together. The birds, I mean.
It's that time of year when we all should sit back and take a few minutes to think about what's been good this year.

First, I'm really thankful to have a great day job that I like. I'm learning a lot of new things, meeting a lot of great new people and THE BENEFITS are the best I've ever had in my career. There's so much art around the campus it's just silly. Everywhere, there's art. It makes me happy walking across the campus (that sometimes reminds me of the original MYST island) where I can see so many things that appeal to my inner artist. I'm in a really good place where I'm meant to be.

Second, I'm absolutely thankful for my wife's and my family's support of me this year. It may have been tested in interesting and unprecedented ways but it's all come through in the end and we're all better off this year than last year. Not that last year was bad, don't take that the wrong way. Every year the goal is to be better than last year and that tradition has continued. My wife, in particular during the month of November, is the best and allows me to write every chance I get. She's used to it now but the new job (with a new, sometimes erratic schedule) has complicated the process. Still, it's been a struggle and we're all adapting. I love her and everyone who's here for me so much.

This is inclusive of everyone who I saw over the summer and fall, who I ran into in the real world and online. Everyone who was so friendly and believed in me, old friends and new. I can't verbalize how thankful I am for everyone who told me "you're going to be fine"; you were all correct and whatever you saw in me that allowed you to say it, I appreciate it.

Next, I have a great group of friends in my writing group. I'm thankful for ALL my friends who have all contributed to my writing in some way, but this group is special. I told you about them earlier this year and I'm reminding you of them now. I wouldn't be writing as much or as well without them.

Lastly, I'm glad of things that make me laugh and forget (for a few minutes) all the crap that piles up and threatens to overwhelm. Every year I point you this video that is possibly the funniest thing I've ever seen. I'm doing that again this year and I also give you the link to my post last year on the video which offers a little more. Just a little.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Anyway, back to writing. Updates when I can.

Monday, November 19, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Unconscious

Interesting things happen when you tap the Muse, enter the Zone, and just start writing without a definite roadmap of your plot. Last year I found the story I wrote confronting prejudice and racism, topics I had no idea I wanted or needed to write about.

It's notable that I was surprised that the topics bubbled to the surface and that such strong feelings on the part of my main character stormed around the page like they did. I've always wondered if writers who say "it's the character talking not me" weren't full of it, but it's true that the characters will inform the writer - as much as possible - of how they feel and why they feel it.

Now my characters don't really speak to me. As a matter of fact interviewing characters is something I've never had any luck with. I have to know what they're made of, to be sure, but not knowing what they think about every little thing hasn't been important as I've been writing. I like discovering things about them as I'm writing rather than planning them out.

And I suppose as a reader you'd rather see how characters react to situations rather than me tell you what they're thinking, right?

That's the unconscious part of my writing. Using my experiences in the world to inform how characters react and then figuring out why later on.

Anyway, busy writing. Updates to follow.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Want to Give Up?

NaNoWriMo does it to me every
year somewhere in the middle.
This year seems worse but it
probably isn't. 
We're past the halfway point of NaNoWriMo and I'm confronting this old, familiar feeling of wanting to give up.

Actually what's happened is the middle of my story has sucked away the enthusiasm I had for the beginning and still have for the end. My characters are stuck in a seemingly insurmountable trap and I'm having trouble figuring out how to get them out of it so I can move the plot forward again. It can't be obvious, it can't be contrived, it can't be cliche, it can't be this and it can't be that.


I need to jump them ahead on the board and get the action going again. There are plenty of obstacles ahead and the ones they've got in front of them now are minor compared to what's coming.

But how do I get them there?

Stop worrying, drop in an at least plausible solution and move them above ground again. They're changing, that's good. They're resourceful and have power behind them, that's good. What's happened is that they're whining. It's too much and that's bad.

What's really happening is that I'm concerning myself with sentence variety, passive verb tenses, and keeping one focused POV. The first two things are easily fixable and the second less so but still fixable. I should just start writing and keep going, right?

The middle's not going to beat me. No, sir.

Anyway. Back to writing. More updates as they come. Keep watch on the Death Bar on the right column for progress.

Monday, November 12, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Excercise

Man, I don't get enough exercise while I'm writing during NaNoWriMo. I doubt anyone really does.

But it's important. I recommend getting up and walking around every forty-five minutes or so. Yeah, I know you're in the zone and breaking that to take a walk seems counterintuitive. 

It makes sense, though. 

For me, when I'm working - writing - I have to move around. If the weather's okay, I may take a walk around the block. Just ten or fifteen minutes to lubricate the body so the mind can work faster. If it's crap outside I'll walk from room to room, or at least stand up and talk to whoever's in the house for a bit and go wash my face or something.

What I want to avoid is just being a sitter, static, while I'm writing. If I'm moving around there's more likely to be movement in the story. Weird but true. 

Ritualize it if you must, go for a jog or head off to the gym, but exercise every day while you're writing in addition to getting up every forty-five. Get your blood pumping. That really helps you think.


Don't take my word for it though. Ask your doctor when you get sick and have to go see him next time. He'll tell you, too.

Anyway, busy writing. Updates to follow.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Halfway!

NaNoWriMo participants are called 'WriMos' which
baffles me. Shouldn't we be called 'NoWris'? Novel Writers
makes a lot more sense than Writer Months, don't you think?

Last night I passed the halfway mark of NaNoWriMo only ten days into the month.

Yikes. That means that I'm on track to write 75,000 words in 30 days. Right now I have some doubts as to whether or not I'll be able to make that target and that's okay. I've never written this fast before and I'm just kind of marveling that I'm able to put together the time in order to log one word after another into anything that's at all coherent.

I mean, here's proof:
I love the green bar but the orange is damn attractive
up there, too. I use Scrivener as my word processing

Well, not proof of coherency but proof of one word after another, I guess.

Don't be confused by the 100,000 word target on the top line there. That's the target for the entire novel. I'm hoping to hit that target by the end of December. If I can continue on this pace (and as I noted I don't expect to but it's possible) I should finish the draft of this novel on or about December 5th. We'll see. Even that would be ahead of schedule from last year.

What's the key?

Not worrying that this initial draft - the Zero Draft - isn't perfect. This is just a treatment, really. The real work will be in the editing. That's what'll happen after the first of the year, the cleaning up of the hot mess of a novel. That's JENGA.

Still, it'll be done.

You want some advice on writing a novel? Okay, here's some advice that you'll get from just about any author you ask:

First: Know the beginning of your story - the inciting incident. Know the bits that establish the world of your story as normal and the things that cause the character to be drawn into the action of the story. If you have an image that starts the novel off, even better. This might constitute up to 25% of your story, no matter whether it's a short story or a novel. This is essential.

Second: Know the ending of your story. Who lives, who dies, who is fundamentally changed by the events of the story. Maybe the last 20% of the tale. Better still, if you can visualize the final scene or image you'll know what to drop in when you're stuck in the middle.

Look, I've gotta get back to writing. When I feel like I can come up for air again I'll talk a little about the process of discovery in the middle.

Friday, November 09, 2012

In Case You Were Wondering

I'm still alive and still okay. I'm participating in NaNoWriMo. As of this morning I'm nearly halfway to the 50,000 word goal for the month.

Having a lot of fun with it, too. The process of discovery in writing - despite planning and plotting out the novel pretty extensively - is the most exciting. It's like a songwriter finding a chord that inspires a melody unlike any he's ever played before.

I'm pretty juiced.

Anyway, I'm over at the Cafe today talking about some NaNo particulars. Check it out, willya?

Also, here's a screencap of some of the titles of the scenes in my book. More to come.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Election

Taking a break from writing to put together a few thoughts for the politicians going to and returning to Washington about the re-election of Mr. Obama as President of the United States of America:

  • Those who worked SO hard to make Mr. Obama a one-term president have wasted their time. You have only served to further polarize the nation and make things worse. It's time to stop being obstructionist, stubborn and surly. It's time to reach out and find what common ground there is between us. 
  • I know it hurts for your guy to lose. I know it. I'm not here to rub salt in your wounds. Let's sit down with a glass and some time and talk about what we can start to agree on. I can wait until next week to give you some time to recover, but after that it's up to you come around. Be big about the loss and do that. You'll garner more respect from everyone by doing so, too.
  • You may not respect the man personally, but you have to respect the office. Mr. Obama is the President and you all need to start acting like it. When you want to get in his face and point your finger at him; when you call him a liar during the State of the Union; when you vow to defeat every single initiative he proposes; when you call a large part of the electorate lazy and beggars - you will lose. Respect the President. He's supposed to be working for every American. Don't limit the office. Your guy might win in the next round and need people to respect him (or her). Pay it forward.
  • And finally, tone it down. Believe your beliefs but stop trying to ram them down everyone else's throats. It's dumb and it doesn't serve you well at all. It's way past time to bring reason back to Capitol Hill and back into the front of the electorate's mind. You all are leaders and this election is your mandate to lead. Don't tell us what we want to hear, say what we have to do. Inspire us, represent us and do your jobs. That's how you will be re-elected.
This goes not just for Republicans but for Democrats, too. Ladies and gentlemen you were sent to Washington to do a job for your constituents. Listen to them. Come back home every once in a while very often and set up shop in a diner or a coffee shop and just listen to the people you represent. Even the ones who probably won't vote for you. Win their respect by being a leader. Stop pandering for money to get re-elected. Spending time with your constituents is time well-spent and better spent.

Too long we've gone without leadership at the state and federal levels. Without leadership that cannot work and play well with others. Not in all areas, to be sure, but across a wide spectrum. It's unacceptable and you are supposed to be grown ups. 

In the end, let's be people who care about people. It's not that hard. I know you can do it.

Monday, November 05, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Fuel

Sugar. Coffee. Soda. Whisky. Carbs. Pecans. Water. Walnuts. Raisins. Ice cream.

Potato chips.

Every one of these things is in my diet for NaNoWriMo and I'll eat while I'm writing. Well, snack anyway. And that's not good but it's a fact of how I work.

Coffee's in the morning and early in the evening. Not too much later. If I'm out at a write in I hope it's a place that has a chai I can get hot. Spiced chai, not that vanilla-sweetened crap. I like sugar in forms of candy bars, scones (with carbs!), and sweet pastries. I forgot to mention crackers. I like crackers: saltines, cheezits, club crackers, et al. Sometimes there's cheese to go along with.

Soda's in the afternoons if I'm writing at home. Water is good anytime, especially late.

Whisky. Ah, whisky. That's an evening drink. Not to excess because I have to stay coherent, even for the Zero Draft, but one or two. Occasionally one or both of them are a double, but that's when the evening's going well and I'm going to be up later.

About halfway through the month of November I realize I should really be eating healthier while I'm in the throes of writing and that's when I'll pick up some pecans or walnuts at the store and some more raisins. (It's a requirement there be raisins in the house during oatmeal season here at Greengate, anyway, but there's an extra supply on hand for novel writing month.) Ice cream usually takes the form of ice cream sandwiches or some other novelty. Something (theoretically) portion-controlled.

So there's some insight into what's consumed here during the frenzy. Hope it's enlightened you.

Busy writing. Updates to follow.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Busy Writing (It's NaNoWriMo After All)

Four years playing, four years
'winning'. Wish me luck.
It's the second day of NaNoWriMo and I'm writing. Last night I took part in a fun event at the local library with my cohorts in my writer's group and the Cafe. I've got a post about what the month will look like from my POV over there today and that's likely the last coherent thing I'll type online until sometime after Thanksgiving.

So, following are the remarks I intended to make at the library. I suspect I went a little off-script and I think there was a video camera rolling while we all spoke. We'll reconcile the two (or not) when it's time. There is a bit of news buried in the text, too. (UPDATE: It wasn't nearly as formal as I prepared for and I leave the text below as indicative of what I actually said. When the video is available I'll link to it. Also, there was an incredible class of sixth-graders there that blew me away with their story ideas. Their teacher (Mrs. Barbour?) is 'making' them write novels. This is soooo cool. You should have been there.)

Anyway, here they are. Updates on wordcounts and story problems as I can. See you on the other side.


Please forgive the pseudo-confessional nature of this talk but NaNoWriMo is the best thing that’s happened to me in terms of being a writer. I’ve found a community of like-minded, creative individuals and my stories have gotten better and better every year I’ve been a part of it.

My name is Jason and I’m a serial NaNoer. 2012 is my fifth year and I’ve officially ‘won’ every time I’ve participated. My first two novels were complete stories. The first was right at 50,000 words and the second a little over 60,000. The third novel was incomplete but clocked in at 60,000 words, too.

Last year’s novel is the exception. I wrote 60,000 words in November but the story wasn’t done. I kept writing. And I kept writing. Finally I finished the novel around the middle of December. At a little over 90,000 words the book was the longest single work I’d written and I kept thinking it was the best, too.

I let it sit for a while, got some very positive feedback that was encouraging and finally got around to editing it. Recently I sent the book to a publisher and got a great note back asking for some changes and to resubmit it.

I’m telling you this story so that if your goal is to get published NaNo is your first step, If this is your first NaNo welcome. If it’s not, welcome back. All month long, remember that NaNoWriMo is a process, a way to learn how to write – a means to an end rather than an end itself. A ‘revise and resubmit’ note is the result of four years of telling big stories and writing constantly.

Don’t worry about how good or not good your story is this month. Worry about putting your main character in some kind of predicament that must be overcome. Worry about the ending and how to get there. Worry about how much coffee it will take to fuel that kind of writing.

And come to the write-ins.

This community of writers will push you to get there. The sound of a dozen or more writers tapping madly away at their keyboards during a word sprint is oddly comforting and weirdly inspiring. (I’ll take the adverbs ending in –ly out later.) You’ll laugh with us and cringe at bad jokes. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll feel part of the group, this community of friends who just happen to be writers.

If you can’t make the write-ins, visit the forums. I exhort you to become part of this community. You’ll do more.

Feel free to add me as a writing buddy on the forums. Check in with us on Twitter and at the Facebook group. In December and January, come to the meetings. You won’t believe how your writing will change and grow. I bet you’ll keep coming back.

I bet you’ll become a serial NaNoer, too.