Thursday, November 29, 2012

50k

Tuesday night I had a panic moment.  Sill 9k words from the monthly goal, and several thousand words under where I was supposed to be I had a distinct, acutely terrifying thought: “What if I don’t make it?”  Winner’s badges and triumphantly purple word count bars and a really cool winner’s t-shirt flashed before my eyes and then poofed out of existence like a magician’s disappearing act.  I walked downstairs to break for dinner feeling defeated and really, really sad.

I told my boyfriend about the source of my woes and after his initial reassurance went unheard he tried a novel approach: he held our dog hostage. 

He said “You have to finish, you know why?” 

I shook my head at him, looking very much like the kid who’s just lost his ice cream from off his cone in an overzealous lick.

“Because if you don’t Buddy’s gonna die.”

At first I thought he meant karmically, like a curse or something.  Until he promised to crush our little dog’s teeny-tiny head with a single kick.  He said all this as if it were the most reasonable, logical response to a failure to reach my word goal.

I stopped my pouting, looked at him and said “That is the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

Over the next few days, with my little guy sleeping next to me on my bed, totally unaware of the danger he was in, I wrote.  I wrote with abandon.  I wrote without giving a rat’s ass whether or not what I was writing made sense to the plot or whether or not that was quite the word I was looking for or whether or not that was something that character would actually say.  And every time I found myself wanting to stop and research something on Wikipedia or look up that word in the thesaurus to see if there was something better to describe what I was trying to get at I would look over at my dog, so innocent and unaware of his impending doom, and keep on writing.  Because I didn’t want him to die.
*NOT Dead!*

I managed to play a serious game of catch up Wednesday when I met my word count goal after being 2k words behind.  Then tonight, because I’d just written over 3600 words the day before, I figured that another 3300 to cross that goal line was nothing.  A one-hour word war helped significantly and the promise of actually crossing the goal line and getting all of those things I mentioned above (not to mention my dog living through November) was enough to get me through.  I now have a triumphantly purple bar with the word “WINNER!” on it, a kick-ass badge- check it out, on your right, it’s so pretty!- and I will be ordering my awesome winner’s t-shirt (because even though this is my fourth year winning, I’ve never bought a winner’s t-shirt before). 

BUT, ah hem, I have not yet finished.  I started this month saying that even more than winning this year I wanted to finish my story because it was so terribly rewarding when I did it for the very first time last year.  Now, with only a day left and a pretty busy schedule for that day, it seems unlikely that will happen because I’m nowhere near the end so far as my story arc.  To sum up why, let me explain that my story is about a group of seniors who go to a haunted house to do a paranormal investigation and at 50k words in, I just had my first actual paranormal moment.  So, yeah- I've got a while to go.

In my frenzied, excited state I’m thinking of all variety of ways I can challenge myself to keep going and finish the thing.  I could do NaNoFiMo again like I did three years ago.  But that didn’t result in the end of that novel and ultimately just made me more frustrated.  I could extend Buddy’s hostage situation until I finish, but without a concrete end in sight that just seems sort-of silly.  I could say that I have to finish by December 5th because that’s when the sale of the winner’s shirts ends.  Or I could come up with something so ridiculous, so devious, that I can’t even imagine it in my current elated state.

Whatever I choose, I know I have to keep going.  Because if this story deserved to reach 50k, it definitely deserves to be finished.  Wish me luck.

Monday, November 12, 2012

NaNo Magic

I spent several hours yesterday staring at my computer screen.  I'd read and re-read and re-re-read the last sentence, maybe come up with one or two more and then get stuck again.  I watched several Nanowrimo youtube videos to get in the mood.  I read pep talks.  I hoped on the twitter word sprints.  I even allowed myself to take breaks rather than beating my head against my laptop in exasperation.  Nothing worked.  And at the end of five hours when I'd planned on pumping out five thousand words in order to catch up, I had 2600 which I'd gotten through a process very similar to pulling teeth out of an alligator's mouth.  (At least I imagine.)  It was torturous.

Then today I managed to bang out 4,188 words.  Now, that is by far not my largest single-day word count ever, but it's certainly up in the top five list of word count days.  And I have no idea how I did it.

I didn't go back to my outline and flesh out my timeline anymore.  I didn't use contrived tricks to beef up my word count (some recommend not using contractions.  I don't have any characters that live in a world without contractions.)  I didn't sell my soul to Satan in exchange for words.  I just wrote.

Which leads me to believe that as much practical advice as is there is out there it's not the only thing that's going to get you to 50k.  There's a little bit of illogical, immeasurable and wonderful magic to the whole thing.  When you hit those days when the words just flow and all the questioning and doubting and judging goes away and you just type as fast as your fingers can go.  You don't worry about whether or not it's any good, you don't question whether or not it fits what you had originally contrived in your head, you just go.

Your characters' dialog comes naturally because they're starting to have their own voices as characters.  Your plot unfolds at a good pace because your words are flowing naturally.  The events that you had planned fall into place like dominoes pushing the next one down and you just let it happen.  It's the most organic way of writing I've ever encountered and I'm one thousand percent positive that I never learned how to do it- it just happens sometimes.  And I've had enough experience in this crazy noveling world not to question it or try to quantify it.  I'm just grateful for it.

Because today, for the first time since I started this thing two weeks ago I am back on par.  After spending every day of the past two weeks falling behind or staying as behind as I was I am finally back to where I need to be.  And it feels really, really good.

20,267 words and counting...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Planning Vs. Pantsing

In NaNoland, they like to talk about different kinds of wrimos.  Originally settling on two living on polar opposite ends of the spectrum, they’ve now differentiated five.  The new varieties are those overflowing with good ideas (or horrible ones, there’s not really any difference in Nano) who cannot stick to one plot, those who completely forget about the event until November first hits and then panic, and those who have all good intentions and no action and find their Novembers slipping away from them in the form of youtube videos, online games and the countless other ways that one can kill time on the internet.  But those first two- the planners and the pantsers (i.e. those who write by the seat of their pants) are the ones that have been on my mind.

I’ve never been a planner.  Not in life and most certainly not in my writing. My ideas are always amorphous blogs of stuff- some inspiration, some memories, some images and ideas from movies and books I’ve read, some daydreams, some nightmares and some of that weird mental goo that seeps out from you while you’re sitting in the car stuck in traffic.  And just like the original blob, those idea blobs can suck up whatever comes into their path and I’ll find myself including a variation of the conversation I just had or the household chore I just did in my novel.  The point is that they’re blobs- not story arcs.

When it comes to hitting 50k words this is not a problem.  In fact, it can be very helpful. You’ll write pages upon pages about all variety of stuff- some of which may ultimately end up being useful to plot or character development or theme but very little of which will actually move your story forward.  And the problem, of course, is that if you ever hope to actually get to the end of your story this method could be highly problematic.

A great demonstration of this is the fact that my first two Nanowrimo novels are both somewhere between 80k and 90k and both very far from the end despite their impressive lengths.

Last year was the first time I actually got to the end of my novel.  And I did it without bulking up the word count (final length was somewhere around 59k).  Now, I rushed to get to the end and the last few chapters probably wouldn’t make much sense upon re-read.  I undoubtedly skipped some stuff that may have been fun to write and possibly even useful for making the characters more than one dimensional.  I have no doubt that there is absolutely zero sense of flow to the story and some sections probably drone on with more detail than necessary while others flash by quicker than you can blink.  But in the end, it was still the end.  And the sense of satisfaction I got from that was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in writing.

Now this year, it seems like all the advice I’m getting from pep talks, youtube videos, blog posts and even newspaper articles is about how to reach the end.  The completion of the story.  The cessation of action, resolution of conflict, closing of the story arc.  The end.  So, I’m trying to reach the end of my story.

Like I did in past Nanowrimos, I have the basic arc in my head.  I have a beginning, a build up of conflict, and an idea of where I want it to end.  But all of the words and scenes and dialogues that connect those idea blobs together are unknown to me- and that’s where the pantsing comes in.  And that’s where I’m likely to fall into the trap of writing for word count rather than to move the story forward.  And that’s where I’ve been finding myself pausing and wondering “where is this going?”  At which point I will look at another youtube video or play a stupid online game I have no business playing.

There has to be some kind-of happy medium- because that’s the key to everything.  I have to be able to keep a general idea of where I’m going- a coffee-stained road map to lead me to the next plot point- while still letting the words flow.  Because what I’m doing right now isn’t working too well.  I’m not woefully behind (yet)- I’ve managed to keep myself only about a day’s worth of word count away from where I need to be.  But it has not been easy going.  And every time I’ve wondered “Where is this going?” it hasn’t helped me get to the point- it’s made me feel frustrated to the point that I procrastinate writing.  And that is not gonna get me to 50k by the end of the month.

So I’m going to try planning a bit more- see if I can’t come up with the key scenes of what need to happen to get me from where I am to where I need to be.  Something beyond the basic plot that involves more specific ideas about how my characters will interact, what will happen to them, and how they will transition to the next event.  And I will try my damndest to stay away from zuma.

If you have other suggestions of what’s helped you plot out your road map, please share them with me.  I am nothing if not open to suggestion.

Other than that, wish me luck!
Bev
(10,323 words and counting)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Franchise

Many people who are far more eloquent than I have already weighed in on this topic.  I wish I had some of their abilities.  But I’m just me.  So I’m going to talk about me.

I vote.  I vote because it is my right as a citizen of this country.  I vote because I recognize that it is my responsibility as a member of a democracy.  I vote because it’s the easiest way to tell the government that I still give a shit about what they do and will hold them accountable for it.

Some of those eloquent people I mentioned earlier have already spoken about the fact that voting is a responsibility.  And I recognize that if I expect to enjoy the benefits of a democracy that takes my voice into account then I have to participate in that government.

You wouldn’t go to a town hall meeting and complain about the fact that there’s no traffic light in that dangerous intersection if you didn’t live, pay taxes and participate in the activities of that town.  And you cannot complain about the policies of government that affect your life if you do not participate in that government.  It’s that simple.

And on a broader note, I will add that a majority of the things we’re proud of in this country- free speech, the ability to live the lifestyle that you choose, shared identify- are all based in democracy.  Voting is the first amendment.  Voting is patriotism.  Voting is being an American.  Voting is what separates us from so many people in other countries that we feel so much empathy for.  And those people have and will continue to fight wars, raise civil protest and kill for that right that is given freely to us.

So go vote if you haven’t, celebrate if you have and shut the hell up if you’re not going to.  Because if you don’t accept the responsibility of participating in this government than you have absolutely no right to state your opinion about what it does.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

Obviously, writing is something that I struggle with.  As many grand ideas as I have in my head and as much of an insane need as I seem to feel to write I am constantly plagued by this “Not good enough” feeling that overwhelms me and kills my desire/ability to write.  It’s something I’ve struggled with for as long as I’ve written and after so many years of practice I have perfected the art.  It’s my own particular breed of madness.

And four years of college with amazingly gifted writers throwing every trick they knew at me wasn’t able to change that.  Feedback and support from many gifted writers I know personally wasn’t able to change that.  A write-or-die web app, intricate reward system and threat of severe consequences were not enough to change that. 

For reasons I still don’t understand, Nanowrimo changed that.  And three years running I have participated in the event, hit the 50,000 word mark within 30 days and had the unparalleled feeling of glorious, wondrous success warming my very soul.  So obviously, I’m doing it again.

Over the next 30 days I will purposefully embed myself deep in my imagination, desperately seeking out pens and keyboards to jot down my ideas as facets of my characters, plot twists and simple devices to bulk up my count occur to me.  I will sit in front of my computer screen for hours and use every procrastination device I can think of whilst trying to come up with my next scene.  I will soar above the clouds like some untouchable God when I hit my word count goal and hit the deepest recess of depression and self hatred when I don’t.  And I will drive my boyfriend, friends and family nuts worrying about me in the process.

I know that there will be moments when I will want to quit.  I will conclude that my plot (or lack thereof), my characters, my setting and my words themselves are irredeemable and I will decide that there’s no point in going on.  I will actively plan on signing off of Nano forever and may even bury my laptop under my bed because I’m so disgusted I can’t even look at the thing.  But I will always come back to it, I will always get that glimmer of hope when a new sentence arrives in my thoughts and I get it down and see that word count go up just a little bit more.  I will always be buoyed by the words of those writers who do this crazy thing with me and those now published authors who know that I can do it.  And in the end, I will hit 50,000 words. 

Stay tuned.