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The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Beyond NaNo: Using December Well December 1, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:09 PM
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December can be a rotten month. If you’re in high school or college, it means finals and papers. If you live in a continental climate, it also means cold winds, gloomy skies, and an air of complete desolation. If that’s not enough, holidays and visiting relatives provide plenty of distraction from whatever you’re actually supposed to be working on.

But try to fight this. One of the most important parts of NaNoWriMo is that it gets you writing regularly. Now that November is over, it’s very tempting to let those good habits you’ve built up slip away. Don’t let them! Over the last thirty days, you learned to cram writing into every spare minute you had. You learned to think plot, characters, and dialogue in overdrive.You learned to be a writer 24/7. You shouldn’t lose that!

Set your November novel aside. It may be worth salvaging, or it may not be. Either way, it needs time to stew. Now pick something else up. A short story idea, perhaps, or a manuscript that needs editing. Even another novel if you’re really daring. Then enlist those writing skills you’ve honed. It’s December now. You don’t have a word count or a deadline. You can go slower and write with more of an eye for quality. Or – if you enjoyed that mad rush of excitement – you could keep racking up words. Whatever you decide to do, don’t let this last month go to waste.

Keep writing.

 

NaNo Tips: Wrapping Up November 25, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 6:43 PM
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Today I verified my NaNoWriMo win and printed off the certificate, very pleased to see that it had an organic chemistry theme.

 

Some of you may not be this lucky. Don’t despair! There are five more days to go, and I know what it’s like to be typing down to the last few hours.

If you’re getting desperate, forget elegant plotting. Forget your outline, your dreams of perfect prose, a vision of a flawless first draft. Forget your characters if you have to. Just come up with something and write.

Sometimes all it takes is throwing in something completely crazy to jump start your imagination. Here are a few suggestions to spur you on to word count victory.

1.  A mysterious stranger arrives

It’s late in the third act of your book, but there’s a new player on the stage. He or she knows a secret one of your characters would kill to stop from being revealed. Or maybe he/she shares a messy past with your quietest, most forgettable side character. Perhaps he/she is on the run and needs help – and for some reason one of your characters agrees. Why? Or, better yet, he/she unzips their jacket to reveal a ticking device on their chest and whispers, “Help.”

Adding in another character can throw everything off kilter, but you can feed off that chaos and pull out lots of very fun – if random – words.

2. A crisis erupts

You know what can give you words? Things going wrong. Because mishaps and misadventures ensuing means a lot of people scrambling around, freaking out, and trying to make things right.

A nasty stomach bug infects everyone. A snowstorm blankets the town in two feet of ice and snow. The next day several important objects are missing, but there are no footprints to be seen. Maybe your character finds a scar they don’t remember getting on their arm, or the device on the mysterious stranger’s chest does whatever it was programmed to do.

Whatever happens, make it big, make it messy, and make it vital. It has to be fixed in a very wordy, complicated, and drawn out way.

3. A secret is revealed

Everyone has secrets. If your character doesn’t have one, give him or her one. Now. Make it horrible. Make it embarrassing. Make it something they would really hate to have revealed.

Then reveal it in a really awkward, public way.

People will get upset. They’ll scream. Cry. Fight. And you can wade through the bloodshed and rake up the delicious, delicious words.

Did I give you any ideas? I hope so. Now run along and hit 50000 words. I believe in you.

 

NaNoWriMo and the Meaning of Victory November 18, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 6:59 PM
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I crossed the finish line for NaNoWriMo today. It was a rough year for a lot of reasons. I ended up getting sick of my project halfway through, switching to another story instead. I didn’t finish anything this year, but I do have some bits and pieces salvageable from the mess that always comes out of November.

If you’re not done, don’t despair. You have lots of time to finish, and the site won’t even let you register your victory until the 25th. If you are done, try to keep up the habit of writing every day. If you keep churning something out – even a paragraph or two – you’ll get more practice and more readable material.

For more, I’ll refer you to this post on winning NaNo I wrote two years ago. I’d say it’s mostly still valid, except for the thing about editing being fun. That is a dirty, dirty lie.

 

Mastering NaNo: Week Two November 10, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 7:58 PM
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Week Two is widely regarded as the hardest week of NaNoWriMo. That thrill of doing something new is wearing off. You’ve played around in your sandbox and are now expected to build something. Real life is knocking on the door and reminding you that Hey, you have responsibilities! Your characters are boring, your writing poor, and everything sucks.

That’s where motivation comes in.

The point is not to write quality literature. Everyone writes terrible first drafts. We’re just writing them at higher speeds. To keep yourself going, or knock you out of a rut, here are some tried and true methods I use to spur myself on:

1. Write or Die

This site will save your life. It saved mine. Writeordie.com has downloadable apps for a price, but if you click the web app tab you can use it for free. Input the amount of time you want to work, the word count, level of difficulty, etc, and go! You have to keep typing at all times, or something terrible will happen. In fifteen minute stretches, I can pound out from 800 – 1000 words. There’s absolutely no editing allowed – it’ll get angry at you – so it’s a great way to get your day’s word count.

2. Word wars

Have a friend doing NaNo? Set a time period when both of you will type fast and furious. Whoever gets the most words wins. (Maybe you can make the prize be some carpal tunnel gloves. You’ll need them.)

3. Bribery

That’s right – good, old fashioned bribery. I found a ridiculously huge box of Andes Mints at my campus store, and I now get one every thousand words. It’s like being paid to write with delicious sugary treats. I also have a fabled bowl of Noodles and Company Japanese udon noodles waiting for me at the 50k finish line.

4. Random inspiration

Sometimes you really don’t know what to do next. Maybe you haven’t planned it out, maybe things went haywire, I don’t know. But you’re staring at a blank screen and you have no clue what to write.

This is where friends come in.

Go to Facebook or tumblr or a writing forum or wherever your craziest, most creative friends hang out. Tell them you’re doing NaNo and you  need something to write – the weirder the better. Then wait for the suggestions to pour in. The best I got was ‘your character accidentally falls into a time machine  (s)he was expecting to be a public restroom from which this character emerges and it’s (random time period). Then this person meets the person who invented the Twizzler that Y&S candy factory stole from them. What will your character do? Go back home and do nothing or stand up to the man to do what’s right?!’

I have not managed to include that yet.

Still, rack up those words and have fun! That’s really what NaNo is all about. Getting serious will ruin the experience.

 

What’s the Point? November 3, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:58 AM
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On the second day of my sixth NaNoWriMo, I was confronted with an interesting question. What’s the point?

It started with a conversation on a friend’s Facebook wall. He explained that even during NaNo he tries to write his best, because otherwise he’s wasting his time.

This is very different from my approach. I see NaNo as a crazy free for all, a chance to write junk and not care. (I was distressed this year to find myself writing even worse than usual, probably because I’m out of practice. Hopefully I’ll warm up my writing muscles soon. Otherwise this particular mess is destined for a Viking funeral.)  I see NaNo more as a practice exercise. I never write any of the books I really care about in November, because I know I”ll destroy them.

What are we practicing then? my friend asked. Typing?  Clearly not good writing techniques, if the whole point is to abandon all concerns of craft and execution.

Typing is good. My typing speed and accuracy ballooned after my first NaNo expedition. But I think NaNo’s biggest help to me was confidence. It showed me I could finish a book. It was possible. That gave me the strength to finish stories and even a book outside of November, which I never would have done beforehand. A novel was a horrifyingly huge moutina in my path, seemingly insurmountable, but NaNo helped me climb it.

I feel like even if I’m writing junk, I”m still improving. It’s like when you’re running and having an off day, you’re still building muscle. Writing every day gets both your body and your brain into a schedule that says “Yes. I should write every day.” If I do this right, I might be able to keep that pattern going after November ends.

So yeah – I’m not someone who strives for greatness or even readability with my NaNo efforts. Even so, I believe it’s worth my time.

What do you think? What mindset do you go into with NaNo? Are you hoping for a good product or just having fun?

 

NaNo Prep: Character Cheat Sheets October 27, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 2:41 PM
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This is the least prepared I’ve been for NaNoWriMo since eighth grade, when I read about it in the paper on November 5.

I have no plot outlined. I have no carefully drawn maps and plans. I didn’t even have characters or the inkling of an idea until a week ago.

This is going to be fun.

Anyway, this weekend I’m finally doing some very brief character cheat sheets, because I can’t bear to go in completely blind. I am not a pantser (NaNoing by the seat of my pants, if you need a translation). I need some semblance of structure.

Even if you like to go in blind, having some idea of what your characters are like is good. What’s more important than anything else, though, isn’t what they look like or how they dress or even what they lie awake thinking about at 3 am. (Although knowing all of these things will help.) The most important thing to know is this:

What do they want?

But let’s back up and go through this step by step. My super short cheat sheets are structured like this:

Name. Seems obvious, but I’m terrible at them. Names are hard. Sometimes I pick something that sounds nice or occurred to me randomly. Other times, I look up something with a little extra meaning. The site babynamesworld.parentsconnect.com has been a lifesaver for me. You can search names by gender, first letter, meaning, ethnic origin, and more. Of course, if you need something fast, grabbing a phone book is also handy.

Age. This is generally nice to know. What can your character legally do, and what would he or she get arrested for? (Note – if it’ll get him/her arrested, I’d say go for it. Those escapades are always the most fun to read.)

Appearance. This isn’t super important. You don’t need to tell us that he/she has ‘flowing ebony locks and eyes like limpid tears’. Still, having some clue of what they look like for reference is probably a good idea. Otherwise you might mess up and have a character refer to ‘that redhead’, leaving your readers utterly confused, since ‘that redhead’ is a brunette. I like to hint at the character’s personality with their appearance. Someone reckless might constantly be sporting bruises. A guy with big plans is constantly jiggling his leg or playing with a pencil. A girl with a secret has a posture more locked down than a quarantine.

Personality. NaNoWriMo is a rough draft, yeah, but you want it to be salvageable. (I have yet to have that happen, but I live in hope!) Characters’ personalities are not set in stone. No one acts exactly the same every day in every situation, but you should have an idea of their baselines. How does your character act around strangers? Around friends? Alone? Why do they act the way they do?

Desires. This, as I said earlier, is the most important part. What does your character want? His or her actions should be focused on this goal. Of course, the goal can change as the story progresses. The whole idea behind plot is figuring out what your character wants and throwing every obstacle you can in his or her way.

Arc. You may not know your characters’ arcs yet. I’m a little iffy on them myself. Ideally, you have at least an idea of where your character starts and where he/she ends. They should progress (or regress  throughout the story, and all of their experiences, interactions, and scenes should push them one way or another on this path.

Quirk. No, I don’t mean make them a quirky ManicPixieDreamGirl, but giving a character a distinguishing trait can make them stand out. This quirk might be verbal, behavioral, whatever. In my last project I had a guy constantly popping breath mints – he’s a reporter, don’t want to scare a source away with nasty breath – and an insecure guy constantly ending his sentences with ‘am I right’ or ‘right’.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful. It’s just a way I organize my thoughts before I start writing. Other people may do it differently. Whichever way you plan – if you plan at all – good luck and happy NaNoWriMo!

 

I Won! November 25, 2011

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 3:31 PM
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That’s right. At around 12 today, I entered my novel into the validator and came out as a winner of NaNo 2011. For proof, simply look below:

Of course, technically I had 50000 words on the 19th, but it doesn’t feel real until the website validates you.

Anyway, now that NaNo has cooled down, I can start posting normally again. Hopefully. For my first comeback post, I’m going to complain a bit. Can you guess why?

Of course. For the last few weeks, I have been bombarded by Breaking Dawn ads, and people gushing over Breaking Dawn. It’s enough to make a reader of decent literature gag.

Why am I hating on this book series so much? you might ask. If you don’t like it, just don’t read it.

And maybe I wouldn’t have such a problem with it… if ‘perfect, beautiful, god-like Edward’ wasn’t an abusive boyfriend. That’s right – the character that millions of pre-teen, impressionable little girls are looking up to as the perfect husband matches 12 out of 20 warning signs for an abusive boyfriend. So tell me that these books aren’t dangerous. They’re scary for more than their potential as really good bludgeoning weapons. They rationalize abusive, controlling behavior.

Don’t believe me? Read Eclipse. That one’s the worst. Edward is portrayed as being protective… as he rips the starter cables out of Bella’s truck so she can’t visit her friends, and later has his sister kidnap her every time he’s gone so she won’t wander off. How the h**l is that supposed to be romantic? I really hope a bunch of thirteen year olds don’t go out searching for their own personal Edward… because they may find themselves in their own personal nightmare.