Monthly Archives: November 2011

NaNoWriMo Lessons: The Once and Future Writer

November happens only once a year, but I’m a writer all the time.

If there are any lessons I learned this month, that’s the biggie. I had this epiphany moment at Panera the other day with my writing group. It was Monday, and my next day off was Thursday, so naturally I asked if anyone would be around. The response I got was: “You mean December 1?”

I get needing some R&R after a long month of feverish writing. I do. But I sat there for a moment with only a quiet thought going through my head. I’ll be writing December 1. 

Me. As depicted by StudentHack.org. Except not really me.

After writing almost 100,000 words this month (novels + blog), I don’t feel burned out. I feel somehow rejuvenated. Ready to tackle December. Ready to get my books on shelves after so long. So without further ado and sentence fragments, here’s what NaNoWriMo taught me this month.

1. I’ve written over 50,000 words in a month many times in the last couple years.
This was one of those sort of sort of “mind blown” moments. I realized that when I’m in my groove, I probably surpass that easily. It’s not all novel — a lot of it is blog or rewriting — but it gives me some hope  that I can make a sustainable career out of writing. I write all the time anyway.

Mind. Blown. Like this image will do to you, thanks to memebase.com.

2. Not all NaNo writing is crap.
I got the sense from several people that when they finish NaNoWriMo, they either toss their manuscript out the window or resign themselves to spending the other eleven months of the year editing said manuscript into sensibility. In spite of that warning, I am happy with a lot of what I got done this month. I haven’t gone back and read all of it, and I’m sure there will be some “WTF” moments in there, but what I have read, I enjoy a lot. So it’s not always the case that when you’re done plowing through those 50,000 words that finding the good stuff will be like reenacting this scene from Jurassic Park.

Love Jeff Goldblum. Image property of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment.

3. NaNo is a great exercise, but if that’s all the writing you put effort into during a year, it’s like spending a month at the gym in January after the holidays when February-December finds you on the sofa with a bag of Cheetos.
Want to write? You’ve gotta do it all the time. Ask any author who makes her living with words. Follow Laurell Hamilton on Twitter and  see how many pages she churns out per day. If you want to be a career writer, every month will be NaNoWriMo. If you don’t, you won’t have much of a career.

4. NaNo can be what you need it to be, much like The Thing.
Maybe you need a writing colonic, and you need to  just flush out 50,000 words of poo. The Almighty Poom (see above link) believes that you need to do that to get rid of the poo before you can write anything good. If November needs to be your colonic, it can be.

November can also mean you get some really good stuff done. I finished a novel and got almost 30% done with the third of my trilogy. I will need to edit, of course, but a lot of it is great.

The Thing knows how to adapt. Image property of Universal Pictures.

And finally, like I said in the opening of this blog, November happens once a year, but I am a writer all the time. In the spirit of staying on track, here’s what you can expect from me in the month of December:

December will be a month of editing and polishing. Not what I wrote for NaNo, but the first novel of my trilogy. I will be writing some posts about that process, as well as discussing the trouble spots I find and what I’m doing to fix it. There are some structural elements that need work. The rocks have gone through the tumbler, but they need a bit more help to shine.

A couple times a week, I will be adding to what I have of book three, working to seamlessly integrate the changes of book one into the existing material as well as expanding on it as I go. It’s a trilogy; I need unity and balance. My goal is to have three books that work as one — a story told in three acts, each of which also has three acts. I want to apply the structural process of a novel to the trilogy to give it solidity and cohesion.

I will also be working on my rickety little platform, trying to learn what I can and expand what I have. I suggest you check out Kristen Lamb’s blog for some awesome tips — I just bought her book We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, so I can’t wait to start using some of her tools and tips!

Finally, I will be researching agents. I know, I know! Squee! Most of the agents I spend time researching this month will be either my top choice agents in general or specifically the agents who will be at the Writer’s Digest Conference in January. I will make sure to give you all a keyhole look into that process as well, so you can see what I’m doing if it’s new to you or bop me on the head and give me a better way if you’re a pro. (Feel free to do that second thing.)

With that, gentle viewers, I bid you farewell for today. Happy final NaNo scrambling for those so inclined, and as December beckons, write on.

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The Pyramid of Glasses

I just finished The Hunger Games trilogy and loved it. Even the things that the critics have used to skewer pieces of it didn’t bother me. I thought that it wrapped things up in a way that, while perhaps not 100% thorough, were believable in the context of the story. And now I’m back to a book the Science Fiction Book Club sent me a while back, Robopacalypse.

I like the book a lot so far. It’s a classic sort of diorama for a story — humanity versus machine, and it’s told in a similar style to World War Z, as an oral history of sorts. I was reading along today, completely engrossed, when this blog post sneaked up behind me and goosed me.

Actually, it was more like it burst the bubble of story that had walled me off into that world. And it wasn’t so much the blog post as the reason I’m writing it. Some people call it suspension of disbelief, others building a world or staying in character.

I call it the Pyramid of Glasses.

When you write fiction, each sentence you write needs to reside, breathing and beating within the world of your story. Each word, each phrase, each sentence adds a glass, painstakingly constructing this shining pyramid.

Photo by javno192

With every word we write, we build. We lay the foundation, then add on the layers, the multi-faceted texturing and dimensionality of our stories. Today I was reading a vignette in Robopocalypse where a teenager in London was outsmarted by his own cleverness and discovered that his elaborate pranks had inadvertently led him into quicksand — quicksand inhabited by an entity of malicious artificial intelligence. His dialogue is convincing — I actually took note of how the nuances of speech reminded me so much of my time in London.

And then I saw the unstable glass that brought the entire pyramid crashing down a split second later into splinters of glittering jagged edges.

Not champagne glasses, but you get the point. Photo by Ken Tuvman

What was it, you ask? What burst the bubble and knocked the teetering glass over to start the avalanche and buried my suspension of disbelief? It went like this:

“I was f—g brilliant, Lurker. I called the headquarters of the Associated Press and spoofed my phone as the Bombay consulate. I posed as a bloody Indian reporter calling from –”

“That’s great, mate. Fantastic. You want a f—-g cookie?”

Record scratch.

Pyramid gone. Pile of broken glass. Did you catch it? If you’re familiar with English speech patterns at all, you probably did.

British people don’t have cookies. They have biscuits. That one little word ruined my moment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of cookies — but in all the time I’ve spent in Scotland and London, I’ve never heard one of the natives use the word in normal speech.

You see, some people might gloss over that sort of thing. The editor didn’t catch it. The author didn’t catch it. But it’s the author’s job to catch it. It’s the author’s job — that’s you — to make your Pyramid of Glasses shining, stunning, and flawless. No teetery bits that can send the lot of it crashing to the ground.

I can accept that perhaps the word is becoming more common, as language tends to fluctuate and transmogrify itself into a new beast when it comes in contact with media and outside influences, but it still strikes me as a very out of place word. And as a reader, you can’t really control when the world of the story you’re reading comes crashing down. Plot holes do it too — like if a character’s car is totaled and she has no time to get a rental, but somehow drives to a meeting the next day. It is a record scratch. It stops forward momentum, and while you can get it back, it’s far better to just weed that stuff out from the start of it.

The average little plot hole is just a bump in the road, but it can grow if you don’t pay attention to it. Writers have to be even more cognizant of subjects they are less than familiar with, and dialects of characters are a huge part of that. My stories have a few Scots in them. Before I ever let my book go to press, I am going to make it my mission to have a few Scots read it, just to make sure that the language is correct. The same goes for the Polish bits (except for the part about having Scots read over those bits). As we write, it’s our job to be as meticulous and painstaking as possible as we pile those glasses on top of one another. If we’re lazy, it will all come crashing down around our readers’ ankles. It’s a fickle thing, but carelessness with our pyramids can turn a potential bestseller into a C-list out of print mass market paperback.

It’s far from impossible to build a Pyramid of Glasses — you know your world the best, and you have the means to explore the glasses that have uneven stems or cracked bases. Repair them or replace them.

NaNoRebel Challenge — Guess Who’s Purple?

Okay, so I’m a lazy pants.

Maybe not lazy, and I’m certainly not pants, but I admit I fell behind a bit on my posts regarding NaNoWriMo. Sowwy. Still love me?

In spite of my lack of postage (return to sender), I have been chugging away at my word count, and early last week I crossed the 50,000 threshold. I forgot winning started on the 25th, and so I just now validated my words. And this is what I saw:

Look at me, my bar is purple! 🙂

Very exciting. I also got this handy-dandy doodad for the road:

Weener! Oscar Meyer.

All of that is very exciting. That also brings me to the detail of stats. If you recall from waaaay back at the beginning of the month when we began this challenge, the goal was to average 1,500 words per day and spend at least an hour a week doing something that refuels you. So without further ado, here’s the final info:

Average words per day: 2029
Hours spent at Panera: 34+
Coffee ingested: several gallons
Panic attacks: 0
Bread bowls devoured: 2
Nights past 4 AM: 5

And in case you were wondering about what I’ve been doing to refuel lately, here’s the most recent acquisition that has occupied my time like Wall Street:

Cannot. Stop. Reading.

I had a friend who didn’t really like the second and third books, but I am really enjoying them all. So with all the elation from my bar turning purple today, I’d like to take a minute to review book one of the trilogy, The Hunger Games.

I’ve always been partial to dystopian futuristic stories. Something about them, the grit of survival, the bare-bones attitudes of the characters always sucks me in. I heard of this book a while back, but it wasn’t until I saw the trailer for the movie that it really caught my attention.

“Primrose Everdeen!”

Those are the words that snared me, and when they were followed by the cry of, “No! I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!” I knew I had to get the book.

I wasn’t disappointed. That desperate, guttural cry that leaves Katniss’s throat when her sister’s name is called, condemning her to fight to the death in the 74th Annual Hunger Games against twenty-three other tributes from the country’s twelve districts was only the beginning of the story, and yet there’s so much subsumed within that moment that I was hooked.

For one thing, I am enthralled with the character of Katniss Everdeen. The trilogy is written by a woman, and the protagonist is a young woman. I’ve been yearning for something like this for quite a while — a female hero written as men have written male heroes for centuries. There are others out there, but I fiercely loved reading Katniss’s story. It resonated with me because she thinks like me. She’s pragmatic, stoic, strong, and flawed. She is rarely emotional and often gruff. While I don’t resemble her much on the outside, reading her thoughts was like reading a transcript of what goes through my head about life and its trials. She’s someone I would aspire to emulate. Her dogged determination is something to be envied, and she is a hero I think will inspire both male and female readers. She’s not over-sexualized. She’s attractive, but that’s almost never the focus of the story. The focus is her drive to protect her family and herself.

The story itself has many levels of political intrigue, nuance, and some very 1984ish doublespeak as Katniss tries to navigate a path that is fraught with traps and snares from all sides — both literally and figuratively. I think I enjoy it so much because she is  flawed. She doesn’t know what she’s doing for most of it, but she keeps trying — oh, she tries. She fights. She doesn’t give up even when it seems like every step she takes brings some new terror onto her head and everyone around her has their hands on her to push her in some new direction of their choosing.

I haven’t been able to put the books down, and that is something I haven’t felt in a while. I plowed through all three in a few days in the midst of turkey, poker with the family, and a bit of an excess of port.

Katniss Everdeen. She’s already been added to my wall of heroes. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I have. This holiday season, buy someone a book — one with a binding and covers. Give someone something to hold on to.

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