Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

When you can’t write

We’re a third of the way through NaNoWriMo. To those of you who’ve managed to keep the ten day streak going, congratulations and keep up the good work.

For a lot of the rest of us, writing new content for long stretches can be draining. I dream of a time where I can sit in front of my computer every day and produce something new and good. I tend to believe that every time we get something on paper, it’s useful toward our “writing development”, but I also believe writing a lot of bad prose leads to writing more. Part of writing is knowing when to do something else.

Always be writing. But writing is a nebulous term. It can mean researching, revising, planning, rewriting, designing book covers, writing program code for fractals, or even reading. The thing I’ve learned most is how to be productive even when I’m not producing.

Writing something brand new is one small aspect of finishing a book. It’s a necessary part, but not the only thing.

The way I prefer to think about “always be writing” is “live in your work in progress”. If you spend too much time not thinking about a book, it takes extra effort to get back into it (as I’m finding with the reread of Dark Matter). But if you’re working on the book, be it planning future scenes, reading existing passages, revising tricky sentences, then you’re still living and breathing in that world.

And I also like to work on concurrent book projects that are not purely writing. My wife has introduced me to the idea of coloring books for adults (a little clearer phrase than “Adult Coloring Books”). It’s been an interesting puzzle to think about writing software to produce images that are fun to color. It gets your mind thinking in a different way, which allows you to see new patterns and new possibilities.

The worst thing you can do when you don’t feel like writing is to worry about it. I’m not even a giant fan of the term “writer’s block”. For me it just seems natural that some days are better than others for producing new work. I can try to do the things that create good days, take care of my sleep and eating habits, and consume lots of interesting reading material. But even then there are going to be days when things work better than others.

We writers and introverts have a tendency to get stuck in our own heads, and to over-analyze why something isn’t working. Rather than trying to figure out why you can’t get anything done, just do something else you need to do and pretty soon the rest will come.

And don’t ignore the days when you’re itching to get to something. Forcing 500 words on a bad day isn’t a good idea, and neither is stopping at 2000 when you’re on a roll. Almost every book I’ve written has started with 20% written over a short period, a six month gap, then 80% written in intense succession. I’m not a fan of the pattern, but if it’s what works, then that has to be good enough.

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The Yearly Debate

I think a decent swath of us who consider ourselves independent authors are having a little debate with ourselves right about now. It’s the time of year when we all consider writing a novel, or more specifically, speed writing a novella.

That’s right, it’s soon to be National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo) where a bunch of people around the country take a stab at 50,000 words in 30 days.

November is a busy month for me. Beyond just Thanksgiving, there’s my anniversary and my wife’s birthday in the mix. I’ve tried NaNo a couple of times, and finished it in earnest one year. My NaNo novel still sits on the “to be finished” pile. And there have been other times when I’ve certainly hit the word count, be it working on Dark Matter, or even with my technical writing at work.

NaNo sometimes feels like something only a beginning author would do. Truthfully, I’ve found that, at least for myself, blasting out word count is not the way to good prose. I can easily produce 2500 words a day if I put my mind to it, but lately I’m much more happy to just write 1000 pretty good ones.

My current writing moment is an interesting one. I’m in the middle of promoting a book for publication, preparing the print edition, and potentially writing the sequel. I’ve got several books that have been sitting on the “to be finished” or “to be revised” piles, and I’ve got a half finished serial for this blog I haven’t forgotten about. Certainly adding 50,000 words to one of those areas wouldn’t be a bad thing. But I also don’t want to distract myself too much from the goal of getting Surreality out there (that book is almost across the finish line).

I’ve been contemplating some kind of a reading goal, or a review writing goal. Maybe 1-2 reviews a day (try to knock my NetGalley review percentage into respectable territory), but that seems to be getting a little away from the goals of the month. Ditto for working on fractal book sequel material (another book on the “to be written” pile involving programming and more pictures and research).

I think the best way to think about this month is as a way to kickstart and focus on some aspect of your writing. For a lot of people, that’s rough drafts, revising, plotting or whatever. For me … well, I’m not really sure.

The guy who actually started bugging me about this stuff is my good friend, Brian. And in that spirit, here’s what I’m thinking. Brian, more than just about anyone, has been wanting to read Dark Matter, which needs a complete rewrite before I would even consider it. And considering that it has been a couple of years since I wrote the original draft, I need to reread before I rewrite. So here’s the deal. I am going to try to read all 200,000 words of Dark Matter in a month. And maybe write 10-15K on Surreality 2 (don’t worry, not the actual title). That’s a long way from getting my book into Brian’s hands, but it’s a start.

This is where my commute and a Kindle that can read to me are going to come in handy. I had this bat-crap crazy idea to write Dark Matter with no chapter breaks, with the idea that I’d add them in revision. This first read will be brutal.

How are you using NaNo?


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This is the time of year when I’m tempted to do NaNo.

For those unaware, November is National Novel Writer’s Month or NaNoWriMo. The goal for all participants is to write a 50,000 word novel (or at least the first 50K of a novel) within 30 days.

I have done this before. It requires a writing rate of about 1667 words a day. At the moment I’m up to 2500 words a day for my work (and that includes formatting pictures and code), so if anything NaNo would be a step down.

There are some in the writing community who kinda look down on NaNo, seeing it as the kind of thing you do when you’re starting out, but not something that serious writers take on. To me, however, it’s kind of the embodiment of what a professional writer should be able to do, keep a consistent discipline going on creating a rough draft. Write every day. These are good things to be reminded of, and to encourage you to continue in your projects.

But NaNo can be disruptive. Almost always it falls for me when I’m in the middle of projects, and this year is no exception. I’m trying to finish revisions on Surreality while at the same time creating a structure for working on my new non-fiction project. The easy answer might be to use my non-fiction project as the basis for my NaNo, bang out a lot of the text I need, but that would require at least two hours of research prior to each session. I have a very understanding wife when it comes to the writing, but having me writing or working on writing for 3 hours a day for the next month is a bit unreasonable on top of everything else.

I could work on another of the many fiction projects in my head, or do revisions or rewrites on another. But that kind of work tends to shift focus away from other fiction I’m trying to finish. And my last NaNo is still sitting in a drawer. I was very happy I did it, and it kickstarted a rewrite of a novel I’ve been meaning to rewrite for years, but it kinda fizzled in favor of the immediate.

I do like the sense of community, of the “we’re all in this together” of NaNo, since I don’t have a regular writing group, or many writing peers to talk to. Though truthfully, at least in my community, many of the people participating in NaNo have a lot more free time during the day than I do, and can meet for writing sessions in the middle of the day. I work a job five days a week which has me out of the house from about 6am – 5pm, so evening meetings are kind of all I have time for (and not on evenings before I have to walk the dog which means I wake up at 4:30am).

As with many years, this is a nagging temptation that I’ll probably let slip to another year. It was a great feeling of accomplishment to do it once, but the writing life can allow for diverse accomplishments and feelings of success. Right now I’d feel successful if I could manage getting a first article written for my non-fiction book, and getting past the chapter I’m stuck in in Surreality. If I get both those things done by the end of the week… I can write another article and revise another chapter the following week.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but all that writing for work is making me a little tired for writing for myself. That probably explains the little more infrequent blogging, which I will try to get back up to speed this week.

Is NaNoWriMo something that tempts you or is too much going on with your writing life already?


Filed under Writing, Writing Goals

The Writer’s Survival Kit

Not everything fits into your duffel or laptop bag, but the items listed below should be able to get you out or through most writing scrapes.

1) Your idea notebook with 2 pens – Mine’s a thick, small lined notepad I picked up from Half Price Books. Carry this with you to jot down any plot idea or scene snippet immediately. Two pens are for if the first one fails.

2) Laptop, tablet or other small computer that can go almost anywhere – For me the netbook is the obvious choice, though my next one might be a Surface. Small in size and light weight is best for carrying to more places, though notepads work just as well if you’re not a tech person. Since publishing will eventually involve typing I start there.

3) An electronic copy of most of what you’ve ever written – Leave out anything particularly painful. Having this material around proves that if you’ve done it before you can do it again, and can also show you the ways in which you’ve improved, or are committing the same mistakes.

4) The current book(s) you are reading – Whether it’s related to your subject matter or not, seeing another writer’s words can inspire, and get you out of your head.

5) 20 hours of music, with an hour or so set as a playlist – I select about 20 hours of albums and random tracks for any new project and listen to that music over and over. It helps me to focus on the work, while drowning out other things. It can be a mood setter, and a way of controlling even the most chaotic of environments.

6) Small headphones that block out most but not all sound.

7) Coffee you can brew yourself and diet caffeinated soda – Caffeine is the creative person’s drug, and for me coffee and soda are the best delivery systems, often both at the same time. Red bull and energy drinks on the other hand get me jittery and out of focus. There’s a pace to caffeine use that is most optimal. Find yours.

8) Beer, whiskey or tea to cool down – A fierce writing session can be exhausting. Relax with your favorite beverage or small snack to reward your work and empty your head.

9) A small pillow for hard coffee shop chairs.

10) A bag with extra room for books you might buy afterward.

11) A writing prompt book – I like The 3AM Epiphany but there are countless others.

12) Writing busywork – Things like Writer’s Markets, cover designs, anything to get writing work that needs to be done out of the way, if the creative part of you is not working at the moment.

13) A pet – Works better than the beer for relaxing.

14) A measurable goal for the evening – Something manageable but substantive. Metric for this is, does it feel like you got something done?

15) A WiFi/3G OFF button.

16) Something that makes you feel like a writer – A favorite jacket, a good pen, a fancy notebook, something you buy for yourself that epitomizes your image of what a writer is. Try not to buy a beret 😉

What else would you put in the kit?


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