NaNoWriMo: A Summary.

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“‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.

‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘otherwise you wouldn’t have come here.'”

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Six tips for NaNoWriMo success

Two days left, folks! Who’s excited? Who’s eager to get started? Who’s wandering around their house with a glazed look in their eyes, mumbling, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

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Thirty days of happiness and joy!

Writing every day, especially 1,667 words a day, can be tricky. I get that.

But if, despite that, NaNoWriMo is still something you’d like to do, fear not: It’s totally within your grasp.

Below I’ve collated some tips that have seen me through two NaNoWriMos and two bouts of Camp NaNoWriMo. Seasoned WriMos, please feel free to pile on with your own advice. Let’s get our new colleagues abundantly provisioned on the trail to success.

"We do not need to stop for directions, Edith."

“We do not need to stop for directions, Edith.”

1) Make the commitment.

Tell people. Tell your friends and family. Tell your work colleagues. If you know people are likely to ask you about your novel periodically, you’re much more likely to stay on track with writing it.

Something else that might help you focus is writing your own Ten NaNoWriMo Commandments. When I did this my first year as a WriMo, the list included predictable items like “Thou shalt not prioritize TV over writing,” but also a few like “Thou shalt not prioritize writing over exercising or talking with family.” It’s all about balance.

Speaking of which …

2) Make writing a natural part of your balanced life.

If you usually watch an episode of Scandal or Bones in the evening, consider replacing that with writing 1,667 words, and an episode of a YouTube-based series if you have a few minutes left over at the end. If you usually listen to an audiobook while jogging, turn it off and spend your run mapping out the day’s scenes. If you usually spend your bus commute tapping away at Candy Crush or a sudoku, pull up your NaNovel and write instead. You don’t have to write your daily words all at once. It can be a paragraph here and there throughout the day — whatever works best for you and the time you have available.

Even the Weeping Angels couldn't stop this WriMo. What's your excuse?

Even a Weeping Angel can prioritize NaNoWriMo. What’s your excuse?

3) Don’t do it alone.

If your RL (Regional Liaison) is planning write-ins, word wars, or other general merriment close to you, consider joining in. Or find a few other WriMos from your social circle and agree that you’ll periodically check in on each other to cheer and console.

Also, online friends shouldn’t be underestimated. On the NaNoWriMo site, surf your Regional Lounge, Genre Lounge, Age Group, or the All-Ages Coffeehouse to find a core group of great people to commiserate and celebrate with. Post questions on the Reference Desk forum, and answer ones that ask for your expertise. There’s a beautiful, thriving community over there — don’t miss out.

4) Format can make a difference.

The NaNoWriMo site routinely promotes special “novel-writing software”. If that’s your jam, go for it. For my first NaNovel, I found it helpful to format a Word document like a book — landscape-oriented, with two columns per page, generous margins, page breaks for new chapters, and dropped capitals (Word tutorial here). It helped me feel like I really was writing something serious. It also made the pages zip by. If you’ll be writing on the go, consider using a Google doc so you can access it from any computer. Play around and talk with people until you find a method that works for you. (Again, the NaNoWriMo forums can be helpful for exploring options.)

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Or you can try to replicate Shelley Jackson’s Ineradicable Stain project. (Good luck.)

5) Reward yourself for meeting wordcount goals.

When I first did NaNoWriMo, I stocked up on chocolate eyeballs, in-shell peanuts, and Polish graham crackers — but I couldn’t eat any of it until I’d written my words for the day. You could also try setting bigger goals. Maybe if you validate your wordcount by November 30, you can spring for a professional manicure. (If you’re on a budget, stay home and give yourself this nifty literary manicure.)

6) Have fun!

This is your novel. Nobody’s looking over your shoulder and pointing out what you’re doing wrong. If you get bored with your historical novel halfway through and need to throw in a talking yak, have at it. If your two leads need to spend five pages arguing the finer points of grammar, let them. (And if you need to inventory a wardrobe or write out a character’s lengthy grocery list to meet your daily goal, have no shame — we’ve all been there.)

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? What are your plans for success?

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Photo credits: Rock climber and hikers from aatlas, angel from scrapbookingfanatic, tattoo artist from niekverlaan on Pixabay.

WriMos, start your engines.

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Again with a Poland story! I must be feeling nostalgic.

It was late October 2010, and I’d been in Poland for about a month and a half. I was learning a few new words every day, assiduously mapping out my lessons, and steadfastly ignoring how I felt about any of this.

Within a week of arriving, you see, I had realized something key: The Sonya who had landed in Poland was exactly the same Sonya who had boarded in the U.S., only a little hungrier, a little smellier, and a lot more tired. I hadn’t magically gained the ability to converse fluidly with strangers, or lead a group with confidence, or unequivocally love the company of children. I like kids. I respect them as the future of society, and I appreciate any initiative that tries to give them a good start in life. But it takes a special kind of person to work effectively with them, and as I greeted each new day in Poland, I was increasingly sure that I did not possess that particular superpower.

I know this face well.

I know this face well.

So after a month and a half of feeling like I was falling down a well, I realized I needed a parallel task, to reassure myself that there was something on this planet that I could accomplish. I opened up the document containing my bucket list and surveyed the items. “Ride in a hot-air balloon” — probably not an option here. “Go vegan for six months” — possible, but not very spirit-lifting. “Participate in National Novel Writing Month” — definitely not possible. I couldn’t take the time to write 50,000 words in a month. I had a job. I had Polish to study and people to meet. And besides, it was late October. If NaNoWriMo was a November thing like I thought, there was no way I could think up a novel-length idea in time.

I pulled up the NaNoWriMo website to confirm the timing. Yes, it was scheduled for November, about a week away. And it wasn’t just a self-regulated, work-on-your-own thing … you could fill out a profile, and accumulate writing buddies, and enter your word total each day, and ask for advice on the forums …

"You will ask strangers to tell you about life on a dairy farm. You will wait eagerly for their response."

“You will ask strangers to tell you about life on a dairy farm. You will wait eagerly for their responses.”

So sue me, I signed up. (Show me a blank online profile, and I’ll fall over myself to fill it out.) And in the end, I did manage to find an idea that sustained me to 50,000 words with a minimum of plot bunnies. I also had a lot of fun getting there. But even more than that, I found focus and purpose. No longer was I plodding through each day, glancing at the clock every ten minutes. Now my classes seemed to zip by, powered by my knowledge that when I went home for the evening, I could rejuvenate with a cup of tea and 1,667 words.

There’s a lot of debate over the value of NaNoWriMo. I examined it a little myself when I finished Camp NaNoWriMo this year. But for me, it will always have a special place in my heart as something that saved me during an unpleasant period in my life.

NaNoWriMo: The protective dolphin to teaching's sharks.

NaNoWriMo: The protective dolphin for a new teacher’s sharks.

If I make it to 50,000 words this year, it will be my third win. If I don’t, it will be my third unsuccessful attempt. Either way, I’m planning on having fun. Right now, for example, I’m having a blast developing the characters and puzzling out the plot (… between a full-time class load and three jobs. Gosh. November should be interesting.). I’ve discovered that the best way to do this is to compile everything — all the plot brainstorming, all the setting development, all the town maps and social hierarchies and character rosters — in a Google Docs folder, so I can work on it from any computer.

A big part of this folder is character development stuff. I used to have a terrible time with this — my characters all felt like carbon copies of each other. Then I started sitting down with each of them in my head and asking them personal questions. Below is what I’ve asked my characters this year. If you’re a fellow 2014 WriMo, please feel free to use it — and if you’re found additional questions helpful, I’d love to hear about them.

His/her name

Age:
Physical description:
Fashion style:
Personality synopsis:
Hobbies:
Room decorations:
Favorite social media site:
Celebrity crushes:
Religious beliefs:
General strengths:
General weaknesses:
Sexuality:
Relationship status:
Hometown:
Family:
Educational background:
Strengths in this setting:
Dream job:
Secrets:
If not in this setting, s/he would be:
What s/he wants:
What s/he will fight for:

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Photo credits: Bored student by PublicDomainPictures, pocket watch from BenjaminNelan, and shark from Taken on Pixabay.

Camp NaNoWriMo: Is it worth it?

Last week I mentioned that I’d been a little busy lately. Working, interning, apartment-searching, class-scheduling, and job-applying aside, here’s one reason why.

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Yeah. Seventy thousand words in 31 days. It happened. Of course, I grew bored with my historical novel after about 50,000 words and had to throw in an interdimensional portal and a talking three-legged yak to reach 70K, but I made it. Judge away. I’ll be here.

Camp NaNoWriMo isn’t as well known as its parent event, National Novel Writing Month, but it’s still pretty popular. Unlike NaNoWriMo, which mandates that participants must write 50,000 original words of a novel, Camp NaNoWriMo lets people choose their own word-count goals and genres. They can even spend the month revising an existing work, if that’s what they feel would be most helpful.

But the events have one thing in common: critics.

"YOU HAVE DISAPPOINTED ME, TABLE."

“YOU HAVE DISAPPOINTED ME, TABLE.”

Every time a writing marathon event comes along, you’ll always find people saying that writing that many words in so short a time will only result in terrible writing. That participating in NaNoWriMo doesn’t make someone a writer, any more than swimming a lap at the YMCA will make someone a Navy SEAL. That the people behind these events would have a great effect teaching how to write, instead of just focusing on the act of writing. That there is enough terrible writing in the world already, and it’s a crime against humanity to encourage the creation of more.

Speaking as someone who enjoys NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo and finds them helpful challenges, I can definitely see where these critics are coming from. Every year, my camp cabin will inevitably contain at least two people who pepper the chat thread with discussions of writing habits and snacks and schedules … and finish the month at 4% of their word-count goal. Every year, there will be much wailing and moaning over the travails of writers’ block, but not a lot of attention paid to my favourite method of overcoming it, ABC (Apply Bum to Chair). Every year, the last week of writing will be dominated by conversations about agents and editors and how self-publishing is really the only way to go because big publishers are just in it for the money and don’t appreciate real literature.

Fitzgerald was a fraud. Pass it on.

If only Fitzgerald had self-published. He could have known real success.

To be fair to these people, snacks are important. So is the egalitarian exchange of ideas in a judgment-free space.

And granted, conversations like those ones do make me wonder if, for those people, NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo are more about the community than actually about writing.

But is that so bad? The guy who invented Post-It Notes, according to something I read somewhere on the Internet, didn’t mean to invent them. He was trying to create a new kind of glue. The result was something that’s saved many an office worker’s life.

So if the masterminds behind NaNoWriMo meant to spur the creation of the Next Great American Novel and got a vibrant community instead, shouldn’t that still be considered a valuable success?

What are your thoughts on NaNoWriMo and related events? Have you found them valuable to your writing? Or do they drive you nuts?

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Photo credits: Winner’s badge from Camp NaNoWriMo site; fist from PublicDomainPictures and books from IDKDIY on Pixabay.