End of the Month/Camp NaNoWriMo Report

Well, July 2014 has now come and gone. How did it go for writing?

Well, I dedicated myself to participating in Camp NaNoWriMo and writing 50,000 words of fiction in July.

What was my total for July? 19,872. (Average 595 a day.)

Verdict: Crash and burn!

So what happened? I’m a writer who has done 60,000 words in a month before (2000+/day) and it’s not like I haven’t finished a novel. (I’ve finished two, so far.) I should have been able to pull this one off handily, right?

Well, I made a few mistakes, so let’s go over them.

  1. I stopped a novel I was already working on to start a new one for Camp NaNoWriMo. Officially, you should be doing a new project for NaNoWriMo (although many of my fellow campers just finished old projects) and so I decided that I’d put my current book #3 on hold to try and whip off Book #4 over July before going back to it. Big mistake! My passion and mental energy was already in Book #3, so shifting gears to Book #4 took a lot of time and all it did was take time and energy away from Book #3.
  2. I tried writing in a completely new genre with Book #4 that I have never written in before and don’t normally read in. I tried to write a fair-play modern mystery novel thinking I’d seen my fair share of episodes of Murder She Wrote, and read more than my fair share of Historical Mysteries. (I love historically set mysteries.) You would think my experience reading Historical Mysteries would translate to writing a modern one, but it didn’t at all. You see, Historicals use the mystery as a device to explore a historical setting and culture like Ancient Japan or Tang Dynasty China, which give them a very different flow and style. Modern Mysteries, on the other hand, are all about the mystery and characters, and often about the troubled dramatic lives of the central character, which is something I’m not used to writing about. (I’m more of a plot/idea/adventure type writer.) So, I went in to a speed-writing competition already hobbled by not knowing my new genre, and not realizing that I didn’t know my new genre well enough. End result was a mess!
  3. Speaking of plot- despite all my talk about preparation and plotting techniques in June, I ended up deciding to just Pants my NaNoWriMo novel. I actually did plot out the mystery side of the story, so I knew what happened and whodunnit, but I didn’t plot anything out about the main character’s journey or the dramatic twists that would happen in the story. I also didn’t think deeply about the characters, as I thought I’d create and explore them as I went. While this was a reasonable approach in theory, in reality it meant that 8000 words in I hit a wall so hard I gave my bruises bruises. The tone was off, things weren’t going anywhere I wanted to go, and every day I spent trying to fix it meant I was falling behind on my word count. Going in without a fairly solid plan of some kind for the overall story was a disaster, and I paid the price for it.

So, the end result of all this was that at 8000 words in, I hit a creative wall and got so frustrated fixing it (and falling behind in word count) I eventually just gave up on the whole thing and quit. Instead, I went back to Novel #3, and found that I was still in love with and it that it flowed much better than Novel #4 ever did. It’s not a modern mystery (it’s a Young Adult Fantasy Novel), but it is something that I feel natural and comfortable writing because it suits me and my style. (As a result, I’ve added almost 12,000 words to it in the last two weeks.)

And I think that’s the key really. If you’re going to do a NaNoWriMo competition:

  1. Write a book you’re passionate about at that time.
  2. Write a story that feels natural for you and your style as a writer.
  3. Plot and plan as much as you can.
  4. Know your characters and their place the in the story beforehand.
  5. Don’t try writing in a genre unless you know it (very) well.

One last thing I discovered about myself is that I’m more of a “little piece at a time” writer, where I write best when I’m slowly working at something a little bit each day. Speed-writing just doesn’t suit me for some reason, at least not at the moment, and I find large writing targets more of a distraction than a benefit. As a result, I don’t think I’ll try NaNoWriMo again, but will instead keep writing in my own way at my own pace. That said, it was totally worth a try, and I would strongly recommend any writer or want-to-be writer give it a go. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your writing whether you succeed or fail- I know I did!

June 2014 Writing Report

A month ago I wrote a post entitled How Much Should You Write a Day, where I talked about a minimalist approach to writing where you aim for a small daily writing goal instead of a larger one to keep word count from becoming a barrier to writing. Saying you want to write 2000/words a day is nice, but it can easily become an obstacle if you start to think it isn’t worth writing unless you have time to achieve that number. So, instead I opted for the smaller 250/words a day as my goal for June.

How did I do?

Well, my total word count for June ended up being 21,478 words of fiction. (Almost all of it on a Young Adult fantasy novel I started at the beginning of June.)

My average word count a day was 704/words a day, with only Seven days have a word count of zero out of the month. (This was mostly due to my dog Penny being spayed and needing constant care for a few days.)

Overall, it turned out to be one of my most productive writing months in almost two years, and the “it’s just 250 words” strategy ended up working perfectly because not only did I feel I could always pull off 250 words, but I never once wrote less than that. Once I was 250 words in, I was always warmed up and wanted to write more, and it tended to be life that made me stop rather than not wanting to write more. The 250/day word count was not only do-able, it was inspiring.

Of course, I should comment that there were a few more factors involved. During June I learned to finally just let myself go, and dump the words on the page whether they were perfect or not. Also, I had an outline to work from, so I never really had to worry about where the story was going so much as what I wanted to do with a particular scene. If I wasn’t sure about a scene, I wrote down something that roughly worked and will go back to fix/replace it during editing and revision. This improved my productivity during the first draft stage immensely, and let me really just tell myself the story.

I also became a Spreadsheet user, after years of resisting tracking my productivity I gave in, and it actually helped a lot more than I expected it to. Seeing those numbers line up for my daily word-counts was a real motivator, and wanting to go as long as I could without a dreaded 0 appearing on the spreadsheet was also a big factor. I took every 0 personally, and it made me really want to write harder to make up for them.

Now, since I’m a masochist, in July I have an even bigger challenge! I’ve signed up to write another book (a mystery) for Camp Nanowrimo, and that will require approximately 1667/words a day for July to complete. Not only that, I still plan to continue my 250/day on my YA novel to keep it from going stale in my head.

Can I pull this off? Well, check back in a month to find out!

By the way, if I don’t post to the blog as much during July, you’ll have to forgive me. I’ll be buried in Camp Nano writing. Gomen!

Rob

I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo

Well, it looks like my July is going to look a whole lot like this…

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Registration for Camp NaNoWriMo‘s July session opened yesterday, and being the fool I am I decided to sign up. I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing and do more of it, and I figure this will make sure I get at least 50,000 words done on a book this Summer. I will be publishing my second Novel- Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess in the coming months, and it’s time to get another book ready for editing. Of course, I have to finish writing it first!

So, my plan is to spend June writing/finishing short works and editing Crocodile Princess and preparing for Camp NaNoWriMo, and then dedicating myself 100% to writing something longer in July. As I’ve never even done regular NaNoWriMo before, it will be interesting to try. When it starts, I’ll try to update my blog on how I’m doing, maybe turn it into a bit of a journal of my experiences. We’ll see!

Rob

 

Camp NaNoWriMo

na-no-wri-mo1

As a person in the academic field, one of the busiest months we have is November. It is a month of papers, tests, and general craziness for teachers and students and anyone else involved in education. This is why I’ve always considered holding National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) in November a seriously cruel joke. I mean, many students dream of writing a novel, and even more teachers feel they have a novel in them, so why torture them by putting NaNoWriMo in one the few months they can’t do it?

I personally think NaNoWriMo should become NaJulWriMo, or National July Writing Month. (Which sounds really Korean.) July is the one month that almost everyone has the time, in and out of education, to sit down and write a book. Well, although they’re unwilling to change the month so far (probably because the NaNoWriMo brand is too well established), the people behind NaNoWriMo are apparently aware of the issue. Their solution is called Camp NaNoWriMo, and this year it will be held in April (also not a great month for those in post-secondary education) and July (yay! teachers rejoice!)

Here`s how Wikiwrimo describes it:

Each month of Camp NaNo is its own separate event; participants can choose to participate in either session…or both. The default goal for each month is the same as regular Nano: 50,000 words. Previous participants of Nanowrimo and Script Frenzy can simply log in with their existing usernames and are automatically entered into the appropriate month upon creating a novel for the event. The rules are identical to regular NaNo, except you can choose any word count goal (between 10,000 and 999,999, inclusive), and may write either a novel or a script.

Another difference between regular NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo is that while regular NaNoWriMo is structured around people doing their own thing with forums and meetups being optional possibilities, Camp NaNoWriMo is structured around what they call Cabins. Which WikiWriMo describes as follows:

A feature exclusive to Camp Nano is the introduction of cabins, a small message board containing four to six participants that became functional in August 2011. Participants have the option of inviting specific Wrimos into their cabin, joining a cabin with participants of the same age, activity level, word count goal, or genre. They may also opt to join a random cabin or not to join a cabin at all. Cabins have a central “wall” on which Wrimos post messages to all other campers in their cabin. These messages are viewable only to other Wrimos in that cabin. The NaNo tech team runs cabin assignments frequently, so new cabinmates can show up in a cabin after the month begins and users can switch cabins if they so desire. Cabins close a few days after the event ends, but participants can continue to connect through private messages or through the main NaNo forums.

Sounds interesting! As someone who is (totally not jealous of not being) unable to participate in NaNoWriMo, this sounds like a pretty good compromise and I think I`ll probably give it a go this year if I don`t burn myself out writing in June. While writing is a fun pursuit, writing long works can be a real slog, and there`s nothing like a combination of encouragement and peer pressure to keep you on the straight and narrow!

Rob

Writing Chinese Style, or how to Crank Out 50,001 Words in a Day.

Not everyone knows this, but Chinese and European chefs actually take a radically different approach to cooking.

In the European style (which we naturally follow in North America), the focus is on short preparation times and long cooking times. This likely came from the nature of European vegetables (lots of tough starches) and the style of pots and ovens they used to cook with. In any case, the key to European style cooking is all about the cooking process itself, and not so much about the preparation that goes with it.

Chinese style is the complete opposite. A typical Chinese dish is almost completely prepared before the Wok is even fired up. They were usually just working with one fire and one cooking surface, so anything fancy had to be done during the preparation stage, because they only had one shot at it.

So, what does any of this have to do with writing?

Well, generally there are considered to be two polar opposites when it comes to approaching writing. One side, referred to as Pantsers (as in “Fly by the seat of your pants!”) are people who come up with an idea and just start writing the story,  developing it as they go. The focus for Pantsers is exploratory writing, as they’re basically telling themselves the story when they write their rough draft.

Being a Pantser is a lot like being a European chef, as the focus isn’t so much on the prep as the actual cooking itself. Of course, there’s the opposite pole as well- Plotters, who are like Chinese chefs. For them, it’s all about the preparation, and at an extreme you get writers who write 60-100 page (or more) outlines before ever typing a single word of dialogue. (That’s like writing a book to write a book!)

Of course, most authors fall somewhere in between these two extremes, using some hybrid method of Pantsing and Plotting- whether it be loose outlines, or a plotter who never looks at the plan while writing. There is no right way to write, and you have to go with whatever works for you.

That said, there are more efficient ways to write if your goal is churn out your rough drafts as fast as you possibly can. And, the truth is, they pretty much all involve using the “Chinese” approach of plotting the hell out of your book first, so that the actual writing of the book turns into an exercise in detail and letting your creativity flow instead of worrying about what goes where. Essentially, you do the creative heavy lifting first, so that the the writing itself turns into a long jog in the park instead of running a marathon through the Alps.

On a recent episode of the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast (an episode every author should listen to no matter what their writing style), writer Matt Ahlschlager outlined how he managed to finish Nanowrimo’s 50,000 words/month goal in a single day!

How did he accomplish this goal?

I’ll spoil it for you and tell you the answer was:

  1. The software Write or Die
  2. Planning. Planning. Planning.

He always knew where he was going, so he never had to stop and think about it, and could just keep writing. (Which is good, because Write or Die is a merciless little piece of software that will punish you in nasty ways if you stop writing!) Two weeks of planning based on Mary Robinette Kowal’s method of outlining put him in a position to know who all his characters were, what the story was, and where all the scenes went. After that, writing became the easy part! No wonder he could crank out 50,001 words of a novel in a single twenty-four hour period, have time for social media updates, and still finish with a half-hour to spare.

Naturally, there were a few other tricks and techniques involved (you can read a list of most of them if you click on the RSP episode link and also check out the file marked “Fast Drafting Guide”) but it pretty much all came down to planning ahead.

Of course, Matt isn’t claiming to pull off a ready-to-publish novel in those 24 hours (he even turned off spell check), just an extremely rough draft which can later be edited into something that might be worth publishing. He puts a lot of work into the editing and revision when he writes (he plans to publish 8 novels this year, and already makes a living with his writing), but that may be the better way to go for some writers. Editing can be a lot easier than writing it the first time, and even if you have to do a total re-write, it will still be easier than trying to get it perfect the first time for most writers.

As Nora Roberts once put it- “You can’t edit a blank page.”

So, should you give up Pantsing and turn yourself into a Plotter?

Not necessarily. There are a few Pantsers out there who churn out a novel a month, and they seem to do fine without a map. Also, if your goal is quality over quantity, maybe you do want to pick every word with tweezers and take the time to let your muse slowly guide you on a wonderful journey of discovery.

The only problem is that in the Self-Publishing World, Quantity = Money, because the more you write, the more likely you’ll write something that people enjoy reading, and the more you get your name out there and build a loyal readership. You need to write lots, and write often, and anything that can give you an advantage can make a big difference if you plan to make a living as a writer.

Also, I should note that there are degrees of plotting as well. Author Rachel Aaron is famous for being a 10,000 word a day writer, but she only plans a few chapters ahead before she puts her words on the page. And the speed can vary, Matt himself has only done the 50,000 words in a day thing once as a challenge, and has yet to actually publish that particular book. He normally writes at a fast (for most writers) pace, but nothing close to 50,000 words in a day.

So, like anything, it’s about finding what works for you and getting your butt in that chair to write. Even if you’re a Pantser, it might be worth experimenting with new plotting strategies in order to see if they help up your output. After all, the more you write, the better you will naturally get, and the faster too.

Just like most European chefs at least try cooking Asian cuisine to boost their skills at some point, taking a cue from the Chinese way of cooking might boost your writing as well!