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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Perusing Poetics: Why I Write and Other Passionate Rants

If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you know a couple of things–I hope. The thing pertinent to this discussion, however, is that I have no problem trashing the readings that I do for this class a lot of the time. So when I say I enjoyed William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All, you know I’m telling the truth.

This is an entire long work, so there were a lot of things that spoke to me in here. However, one thing that I want to talk about is this quote right here:

“Complete lack of imagination would be the same at the cost of intelligence, complete.” (28)

This is one of many things that Williams says about the relationship between intelligence and imagination–one of the more succinct and easier to understand without context. However, the basic gist of the idea is that intelligence cannot exist without the imagination. If you have no imagination, you can’t get smarter.

Right about here, I put the book down and smiled.

See, the thing about being a Writing and English double major is that you get a lot of flack–especially with the Writing portion. At least when I say English people say, “So you’re going to try to be a teacher before you start collecting unemployment.” When I say writing? Hahahahahaha that’s funny.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify what I’m not saying. I’m NOT saying that if you are in some kind of technical field you have no imagination. I’ve seen my brother building a computer and I know that would be IMPOSSIBLE without imagination. Scientists have to be able to dream, etc. But what I AM saying is that I’m sick and tired of being told that because I have an overactive imagination, I’m not smart.

Perhaps one of the biggest things I’ve learned in my readings so far (relating to my own personal life; the scholastic portion is gigantic) is that people have spent THOUSANDS of years recognizing the power of the storyteller and then tearing them down. Thanks, Plato. You can’t say “writer” and have people recognize that you sit there and create up realistic people who are not real who, in their plots, can explain something about humanity to you or illicit some kind of emotional response. No, you say “writer” and people just think “…oh.”

So when Williams says that intelligence depends on imagination, I feel just a little bit more justified. I have another set of quotes for my quiver of arrows to shoot against Those-Who-Need-To-Shut-Up. When ever Plato is scared of storytellers, you should know something’s up anyways, but sometimes people forget that. People write “apologies” and justify their craft and don’t stop to think for a second, “Hey. Plato banished poets because of how much power they had. That’s pretty damn cool.”

I’m not saying that I write to change the world. I’m not saying that you could. What I am saying is that if you deny the talent and the intelligence of a writer, you’re denying a human tradition. You’re denying how our stories are what connect us and explain our humanity. You deny your own personal story.

So maybe I, as a writer, will never make as much money as a neurosurgeon (sadly). I didn’t become a writer to do that. I also didn’t become a writer because I wasn’t smart enough to do anything else.

I became a writer to tell our stories.

My New WIP: A Mental Challenge in Not Thinking and Having Too Much Fun

Well, if you guys know anything about me, it’s that I’m always, always coming up with new ideas and writing too many books at once. (Right now, it’s four. I think. Are we counting thought processes?) Anyways, after a fifty billionth breakdown over “WHY I HAVE NO PLOT?” and “WHY THESE CHARACTERS NO WORK?” and “WHY IS THIS THE SUCK?” I finally called it quits. Not on writing, mind you. THINKING.

Yes, I’ve talked about this before, especially during NaNoWriMo. But this is a level even I’ve never reached before. As it turns out, this is the first book I’ve ever written where there is a certain time when I can write it: when I’m flat-out, drooling, giggly tired. Sound whacked out? Possibly. But I bet you’re jealous of all the fun I’m having.

If I were to read this WIP while sane awake, I would know–as I know now in the back of my head–that this book is rather plotless. In fact, the entire beginning of the book doesn’t make any a lot of sense. Best part? At the moment, I don’t care. I introduce two new characters in situations where I can’t name drop without making it sound force, and in all seriousness they go through the chapter being called “Scaly-face” and “Gandalf Guy.” My MC is actually crazy enough to make that work for me, which is awesome. I’m not even 3 chapters or 10,000 words in yet, and she’s already referenced Disney, Pocahontas, the Wizard of Oz and the Lord of the Rings. She says things that I doubt are going to be funny to anyone but me. But I DON’T CARE.

Maybe this book will never be anything. That isn’t the point here. The point is that I’m fed up with taking writing so freaking seriously. This started as fun, didn’t it? So I want to keep it that way. Sometimes you just need to break away from your real, serious WIP and write something that makes you laugh at yourself. I think of it like a writing exercise–and also somewhere to store all those jokes that I think are hilarious but no one else seems to. The greatest thing is? My short attention span is actually remaining excited about this project. So at least if I’m not writing anything that will ever get me anywhere, I’m WRITING. And that’s the important thing.

And who knows? Maybe this’ll turn into something that is better than any WIP I’ve ever tried to think about!

When your writing style begins to lose its mind…

Did you know that could HAPPEN? It’s a true fact, believe it or not. I just discovered this, roundabouts yesterday. Here I thought I was being so awesome–I was starting off the New Year the right way: writing. This short story just kept coming and coming until I’d sacrificed multiple hours and 11 pages of notebook paper to its altar. Then I went to read it. My face looked a lot like…this.

Only less yellow. Anyways…

Whether you’re really conscious of it or not, everyone has a writing style all their own. It’s something you do naturally, without thinking about it, because that’s just the way you write. You probably don’t even realize what the nuances of it are because you just do it. But let me tell you: when you depart from it, you know it.

I didn’t understand this story right after I wrote it and I still don’t understand it a day after I wrote it. It is so not me I don’t know what to do with it. It’s lack of coherency is probably another problem I have to fix… But the thing is, I know what it ISN’T: it isn’t what I normally write. And I’m not talking genre or characters or anything like that. I write fantasy all the time, my MCs tend to be girls–it was actually a story idea I started months ago but never finished. The rewrite yesterday turned into another beast entirely.

The thing about writing is that it’s a fluid craft. It changes when you change, and you change day-to-day. Your writing one day won’t be the same the next day, and it doesn’t always get better consistently either.  You probably already know that the best writing comes when you’re in that “mood” that is really hard to find but always amazing to be in, as our friends from Calvin and Hobbs by Bill Watterson understand. And sometimes that creativity is just strange. Like this story I’ve got here. I’m going to need a decryption machine in Gibberish to understand just what’s going on. But you know what the funny thing is? I like it. I like it a lot. No, not the story. What the story represents.

Sometimes you start feeling like the way you write is tired and tried, but the problem is that you think you’re stuck with it. You think that this is the way that you write and, while you can learn to write better, it’ll always have that same flare to it. You started doing them because you thought it was cool, but now it’s like you’re stuck on them. I certainly thought I was. I had seven different stories started in my notebook, and I didn’t think I could write one of them well, so I just wasn’t writing. That is probably the worst thing you can do.

You know what, maybe it will take you all seven stories to get one paragraph of amazing writing. Maybe it’ll take you all seven stories to get a sentence. That’s okay. Just let out the words that want to come out and stop thinking about it. Yes, what comes out might make absolutely no sense, but that’s okay too. That’s nonsense you wrote. And maybe it’s less nonsense than you think.

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.