Thesis Thursdays: How I Unintentionally Won NaNoWriMo

Thesis Thursdays is a weekly(ish) feature where I rant, love and talk about young adult books I’m reading because I’m conning my college into thinking this is all for academia! Find out more here!

For my last Thesis Thusday post (which was in October, hahahahaha), I titled it “Why I Signed Up for NaNoWriMo Even Though I Intend to Lose.” Then, just after midnight, in the first minutes of November 29th, I achieved this:

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I DID IT I DID IT I DID IT HOLY MOLY HOT TAMALE I DID IT.

(For those of you who are confused, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, the challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November.)

So how, might you ask, did this happen? Last you knew, I’d run out of plot and had no idea what I was doing. Allow me to tell you the secret:

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Solid representation of me.

I wrote.

Seriously. You hear people say all the time that you should write every day. This sounds absurd. I know it usually does to me. I’m a finicky writer, and when left to my own devices I either write nothing or thousands of words in a day. There is no in between.

 

To illustrate my next point, allow me to share my words a day graph with you:

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I think you can tell when I was in school, trying my hardest to keep up. When my Thanksgiving break started, I was only halfway there. I knew I either had to make the commitment to writing like crazy every day of vacation or let the effort die. As you can see from the last ten days of the graph, I chose writing every day.

This was the moment when I hit my groove. During school, when I had not tumblr_liok9sobya1qdce8vo1_250let myself write every day, this project had been a slog. It felt jerky and unnatural. Once I started writing every day, however, I had so many eureka moments. My plot moved together better, and–most importantly–I discovered just what my conclusion is.

I don’t know where my novel would be right now if I hadn’t committed myself to NaNoWriMo. Even though I went into it expecting very little, I was able to find the kind of rhythm that I needed to get my novel into the green zone, where I know where I’m going. The conclusion is in sight.

I’m not saying that you have to write like it’s NaNoWriMo every day. I’m not saying that you’re a loser if you didn’t win. I am saying, however, that the spirit of NaNoWriMo is something that I’d forgotten, and something that I want to keep with me into December, until the book is done. Writing every day–even just a little–sometimes is just what you need to do, even if you don’t know what to write. Writing through that confusion can lead you to the best thing that you never expected.

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Thesis Thursdays: Why I Signed Up for NaNoWriMo Even Though I Plan to Lose

Thesis Thursdays is a weekly(ish) feature where I rant, love and talk about young adult books I’m reading because I’m conning my college into thinking this is all for academia! Find out more here!

I know what you’re thinking: why is this a Thesis Thursday post? Well, if you click that link above and re-read that again, you might remember that I’m writing TWO thesis: one is an academic paper and one is a novel.

Er. Well. “Novel.”

Basically, I need a minimum of 50 pages. Technically, once I hit 50, I can stop. But–and this is going to sound so conceited but hang in here with me–50 pages is peanuts to me. This is because I write with a bunch of short paragraphs and a bunch of snappy dialogue in my first drafts. That, plus double spacing, means that I am ALREADY under ten pages away from the 50 page minimum but I just topped over 11,000 words.

So, if I’m that close, why NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you ask?

I could tell you that it’s because I’m committed to this book idea (I am) and that I savor the challenge (I do). I could tell you that it’s because I miss NaNo (I do) and I want to be a part of that again, even if I’m not really competing (I do). But there is one very distinct reason, above all others, pushing me to compete:

I’m out of plot.

You might have been thinking, “Ew, why would you take a already started novel into NaNo you cheater!” or just “CHEATER CHEATER PUMPKIN EATER!” That’s fine. But, trust me, it’s not like that. I just wrote my eighth chapter last night, which exhausted all of the planned plot that I had for this idea. (It was a very spur of the moment idea.) So I am going into NaNo with a set of characters I love, a few things that have happened and NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT.

That’s what’s beautiful about NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t allow you to say, “Well, I’m stuck, better put this down.” You have to soldier through and make things up on the fly–no second guessing.

That’s what I need right now. I’m so committed to this idea that I have, but I’m so confused by it. I don’t know where to go. Even if I can’t make 50,000 words (which I probably can’t), I need the drive that NaNoWriMo will give me. I mean, I once won NaNo in eight days. I get COMPETITIVE, even if it’s just with myself. (That was the year I wanted to beat my record of eleven days.) I need that to keep going.

If you’re on the NaNoWriMo journey yourself, feel free to friend me–adkwriter15 is the handle. If you are on the fence about it, DO IT. Join me in enjoying the journey but not intending to finish the race. Who knows what’ll happen?

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The NaNoWriMo Aftermath – What Now?

And that’s that. It’s December 1st. November is at an end. NaNoWriMo is over. Writers everywhere have put down their laptops and pens–possibly thrown them out windows–and now have the daunting task of dealing with the tornado of words that NaNoWriMo has left them with. But…what is that?

If you didn’t reach your 50,000 words, don’t worry about it! That doesn’t mean you failed or anything. Whether it was a lack of time or a busted plot, don’t let it sour NaNo for you. There is always next year! Besides, some people just aren’t wired to write the NaNo way, and that is also fine. Everyone writes in the way that works for them, and no way is wrong.

Now, say that you did get to 50k. First off, CONGRATS! Whether it’s your first or fifteenth time, reaching 50k is always a thrill, especially if you had some trouble along the way. Which you would have, unless you are inhuman. Maybe your book finished in 50,000 words, maybe it didn’t. Either way, there are some options for what you can do now that apply to any word count–just make sure to finish up the book first! If you do have to finish up the book, I recommend you write at the same fervored pace of NaNo. You’d be surprised just how much your writing style changes when you aren’t writing to win, and whether you are at halfway or nearly done, that is not a good thing.

The first step after NaNo is always the hardest. First, you have to actually review what you’ve written with a critical eye. After writing, of course, you have to edit, and now that moment has come. Avoid the urge to burn the manuscript–I know it’s strong, but it’s not the right thing to do. Even if you are utterly convinced your novel is crap, there is always, ALWAYS some gems to be found within them, whether it’s a sentence, a description or some other little passage or character–anything! Sometimes it’s just fun to read through the parts that you wrote in delirium. For example, during one midnight writing sequence I started writing editing notes under my chapter headings to remind myself of a plot change that occured right after my sweet, innocent, blonde narrator up and killed someone. The notes get progressivly worse and culminate in my favorite about my main character (Shadowed Thoughts spoilers ahead!):

Do you see what you did at the end there? You’re a genius. Now make it look like you MEANT to have Natalia’s power overrunning her own head and warping her mind with other peoples’ thoughts. Thank you.

 Even if I hadn’t enjoyed myself during NaNo, pretty sure it all would have been worth it just for that.

So then you’ve reviewed. What next? Well, that’s your choice. It’s perfectly okay to stuff the book in a closet and leave it for another date. You aren’t required to do ANYTHING with your NaNo. Not even edit it, or even review it. NaNo is FUN, remember? If that’s your choice than that’s your choice. Don’t let what other people are doing influence your choice. Do what feels comfortable to you.

If you decide to move forward, your first step is to edit. Edit, edit, edit. Edit until you are blue in the face. My NaNo editing starts with me editing the book myself, and then I send it off to three friends for their edits. People say that a critique circle is one of the most important tools a writer can have, and they aren’t lying. Remember, if there is someone or someones you want to edit your novel, they should be people you trust to be perfectly frank. The “Oh, you’re amazing!” from your mom or whatever is nice to hear, but not helpful.

My editing and waiting for edits back from my friends usually takes until about June, when the CreateSpace offer is set to expire. If you’ve checked out My Books, then you know that I self-publish my NaNos through CreateSpace. This is one possible option for your NaNo, even if you don’t want to push the books to the general public. When I first wrote Mind Evolution, my first book that was self-published after NaNoWriMo 2009, I hadn’t planned on selling them. It was just for me and my sense of accomplishment. There is nothing quite like holding a print copy of something you wrote in your hands. I tend to recommend at least redeeming the free proof copy order, because it’s just that amazing.

Some people don’t believe in self-publishing, and that is fine. If you think your NaNo is good enough for the agent route, good luck! I’m sure you know plenty about agents and publishing houses and all that other stuff that could overload a blog if I tried to get it all into one post. Don’t think that just because your novel is a NaNo means that it isn’t a good piece of work, no matter how much I’ve called NaNos crap. Plenty of them have been published, and at least one–Water for Elephants–was made into a movie.

NaNoWriMo was a challenge to exceed your limits. Even if you didn’t win, it doesn’t matter. Even trying has allowed you to break barriers in your limitations. Now, the sky is your limit. Enjoy the ride, bask in your glory and…LET’S GET PSYCHED FOR NEXT YEAR!

Guys, its only NaNoWriMo – CALM DOWN!

Now, I know what you’re thinking? Right now, you’re frazzled writer’s brain has taken in this title and is screeching at me because WHAT DO YOU MEAN CALM DOWN WRITE WRITE WRITE WORD COUNT FRENZY GOGOGO! I’m not talking about that at all. I’m talking about how you shouldn’t be letting your expectations get the best of you.

NaNoWriMo is more like a sprint than anything else. Anyone will tell you, most NaNos end up being a lot of crap that takes months of editing to fix. (If you don’t think this, you are either the Writing God or far too overconfident for your own good, I hate to break it to you.) Nothing written this fast has a possibility of being perfect the way you’ve written it. Hell, nothing written EVER has the possibility of being perfect the first way you write it. Maybe parts, maybe sentences, maybe the idea in general is solid, but you can’t tell me you’ve ever written something and gone “Wow, this doesn’t need editing.” Because unless you are the Writing God, you are wrong.

Yesterday evening, I was minding myself, NaNoing away, when my father walked into my room utterly depressed. He was completely despondent about his NaNo. Nothing was coming out right, he said. He felt like there were critics sneering over his shoulder, mocking him. He could not understand why everything he was writing was coming out looking like utter crap no matter what he did. (Okay, my paraphrasing. I swear what he said was more elegant. Hi Daddy!) If you have ever written a paragraph, then you know that this is a feeling that often occurs. Sometimes, though, we tend to forget something else.

THIS IS NORMAL.

Just because the last thing you wrote was this short story or paragraph that completely blew your mind doesn’t mean this won’t happen again. Just because you’ve gotten used to long periods where the words won’t flow doesn’t mean that this won’t happen again. No matter how many instances you find where you feel like Shakespeare’s got a hold of your fingers, you will have two times wherein you feel like a wreck, a good for nothing and just plain trash.

NaNo is a very potent time for this to happen. Given that you’ve got this word count to meet, you basically give your soul to this novel for 30 days. Sometimes you’ll get these flashes, where you’re just writing and writing and you think, “THANK YOU WRITING GOD, FINALLY!” because everything is flowing out of your fingers and you understand your plot and everything is just BEAUTIFUL. Then, the next day, when you can’t recapture that feeling, you drop straight down into the depths of despair, crying and holding yourself because everything is over. Your novel, you realize, is crap. Even what you wrote yesterday is ridiculously horrible. You’re done as a writer, after this. And this is where it comes back to: CALM DOWN.

When my father came into my room yesterday, I took pity on him and read him the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter out of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If you have not read the excerpt or the book, I strongly suggest it. If you have, you may remember Lamott’s overall point: first drafts are SUPPOSED to be crap. No one is ever going to see it if you don’t let them, and no one has to. It may be horrible to feel like a complete writing failure, but just remind yourself you can fix it later. In some of my own delirious NaNo moments, I’ve written in red ink under the chapter headings of things I have to add or fix later. There’s nothing wrong with that. Even if this wasn’t NaNo, there’s NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

In the moment, it’s hard to remember this–I know–but that’s why I’m here. Guys, its only NaNoWriMo. There will be months after this to edit and laugh at your sillier things. Overwrought descriptions and unneeded filler are really, truly par for the course in November. So add everything you want. Let your characters make fools of themselves all over the pages. Let yourself be a fool all over the pages. Really, that’s what NaNos all about. Just remember that there will be time to edit later. There will be time to care about grammar and spelling and plot continuity LATER. You aren’t alone, believe me.

Okay, I’m off my soapbox now. This has been your PSA to remember to not tear your hair out over those little editing things you can take care of later. Just hit your word count. That’s hard enough. (Oh, and don’t interrupt another NaNoer with your own woes. They will angrily blog about it later. …love you, Daddy dear!)

My character did WHAT? – Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo

(Yes, I’m blogging during NaNoWriMo. So listen up, because these words are words I can’t count into my word count. :P)

Anyways! As previously discussed, NaNoWriMo is the time when EVERYTHING can happen. No matter if you wrote up 50 character sketches and a color coded outline before beginning or you just ran with it, no one is prepared for what NaNo can do to a story. Seriously, no one. It’s only day five, guys, so don’t think that because this hasn’t happened to you yet that it won’t. Because it will.

I write…fast. My friends will tell you that this is an understatement, but I’m just going to stick with fast. That means that I’m already at 12-something thousand. For the first time in my NaNo history, I went into NaNo with an outline and a pretty good idea on who my character was. After all, this is the 3rd book in my Mind Evolution series I’m writing here. I was probably one of the most in-tune with a character around the NaNo-world. But, guess what?

NaNo got to my character.

None of what I just wrote out was supposed to happen. My MC was supposed to be my innocent one. Girly. Possibly kind of airy. Funny like that. AND THEN SHE UP AND KILLED SOMEONE.

Character sketch? No good. And then the sweating starts, because I’m thinking, “MYPLOTMYPLOTMYPLOOOOT!” 5 days into NaNo isn’t a good time to be trashing that already, even at 12.5 k. Plus, I hate writing them and I’ve got a series to further, here. This is how it HAD TO GO. But with NaNo, there isn’t time to go back and fix it, so I had to move on. And do you know what?

I realized that what had happened WORKED. Believe it or not. I couldn’t myself, not at first.

As it turns out, my MC knew what was happening to her better than I did after character sketches, plots–the whole nine yards. With one action that I believed to be completely beyond her, she added layers to my plot and deepened some of the most serious plot points of her story. My plot before was good. Now, it was better. All because my character had apparently gotten out of character, and I had allowed myself to run with it.

Whether you’re doing NaNo or not, there’s something to be learned from this. There is a difference between events that happen that are out of character. Some writers think that they know their character so well or they’re so attached to their plot that the characters can’t make up their own minds. Some people might have backspaced my MC killing this person and let her be the damsel in distress she was supposed to be. I probably would have, if I had the time. But the thing is, when you’re writing, you’re telling this character’s story. This is their life. If something just all the sudden happens that just seems totally out of character, maybe–just maybe–it actually isn’t. I’m not saying, of course, to let everything fly. Some things you write that you just know aren’t right. But for just a second before you hit backspace, think about it. Experiment and see where it takes you. It might not follow your plot or be in character, but it still might be the best thing that ever happened to your story.

What is NaNoWriMo? *gasp!*

It’s November. To any normal person, it is a dreary month, a boring month, that month before the month that brings holidays and the New Year. If you are me and a bunch of other writers worldwide, November is none of those things.

November is National Novel Writing Month.

If you are unfamiliar with the event (or as it is commonly called, NaNoWriMo), then you should know that it is basically a challenge in the month of November to write a 50,000 word novel. Beneath that, it is so much more.

As writers, we’re so caught up in making our writing perfect. Some of us are such perfectionists that we can’t even finish a piece because we get stuck trying to edit it before we write THE END. We work laboriously, trying to come up with something that maybe—just maybe—doesn’t suck. Nine times out of ten, we can’t help but disappoint ourselves. After all, the second you start thinking you’re the next Shakespeare is the second you need to find a new hobby.

NaNoWriMo is a time to throw all that out the window. If you work like a perfectionist, you’ll never be done in time. Nothing irks a perfectionist like not winning, right? Everybody can be a winner if they try hard enough. However, winning requires that you stop caring about quality writing. You stop caring about discrepancies, clichés and even spelling sometimes. You have to learn how to stare into the eyes of writer’s block, because you literally don’t have time for that. You need to be able to kill off a character just to get things moving, or yank the story in another direction because your plot just isn’t working. The challenge of NaNoWriMo goes far beyond just finishing.

Have I scared you? I hope not. Everything I just outlined above might just possibly be some of the best writing lessons you ever learn. Mostly because, above all other things, NaNoWriMo is fun. You push yourself, you push your characters and you have a blast. NaNoWriMo isn’t a thing you have to do, but I certainly recommend it. Don’t worry about if what you’re writing is sucking. It probably will be. Everybody’s will be. And it’s going to be amazing.

NaNoWriMo complete!

So … I finished NaNoWriMo yesterday! 50,000 words, eight days … I feel like the living dead but it’s all good! The book needs serious editing, I really hated my main character but I can handle that. It helps that for the past eight days I’ve had nothing to do with my life because I got a break from school.

Of course, now my question is why in the world did I finish in eight days? To say I could? To win the competition going on between my friends? Probably both, but a word to the wise? It’s a lot more fun when you have to fight to win. I’ll admit, NaNo this year wasn’t particularly fun. More like a rushed job done in between two huge deadlines all while battling some depressing forces.

Well, what’s done is done I suppose. Next year, I’m taking the entire month.

Now … to go EDIT this monstrosity…