NaNoWriMo 101

NaNoWriMo 101

Gwynn Scheltema

What is NaNoWriMo

nano-logoNational Novel Writing Month is an Internet-based challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in one month. It started in 1999 with only 21 participants. By 2012, there were over 340,000 who collectively wrote over 3.2 billion words.

To win, participants must write an average of just over 1,667 words per day. Organizers of the Nano event say that the aim is simply to get people to start writing, using the deadline as an incentive to get the story going and to put words to paper. There is no fee to participate and anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner.

Writing in Community

timeChurning out over 1600 words will keep you busy–and alone–most days, but you can also connect with fellow participants and participate in daily challenges, pre-Nano prep sessions and post-Nano activities. You can connect through Twitter [@nanowrimo], on Facebook  or follow their blog.sudbury-nano

Many people run their own groups locally and regionally to support one another through the month. Tips, printable schedules, and advice is all over the Internet.

NaNoWriMo programs

Nano has spilled out into communities around the world. Writescape got in on the fun when we led weekly prompts and writing sessions in partnership with the Whitby Public Library a couple of years ago.

There are three formal programs listed on the Nano website:

  • The Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of novel-writing in K-12 classrooms. We provide free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston.
  • The Come Write In program provides free resources to libraries, community centres, and local bookstores to build writing havens in your neighbourhood.
  • Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writing retreat, designed to provide the community, resources, and tools needed to complete any writing project, novel or not.
Does it work?

nano-cartoonIt sure does. Even if participants don’t complete the 50,000 words, they get words written, lots of words. And anything that helps you write is worth trying. Sometimes just the tension of knowing you have a deadline combined with being part of a larger global event can bring inspiration and focus to the creative process.

But don’t take our word for it. Consider this: there are bestsellers that were born through NaNoWriMo.

The NaNoWriMo website says that more than 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. See a full list of published authors.

Maybe NaNoWriMo is “write” for you.

Let us know if you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo and what it did for your writing.

To edit or not to edit…

To edit or not to edit…

Gwynn Scheltema

You write Chapter 1. It flows like paddling a canoe in a strong current, a few J strokes and you are heading forward fast. Yes!

Chapter 2 starts out that way too, still moving well, still splashes of enthusiasm and creativity, but the current flows a little slower now. You think back to Chapter 1. Did you start in the right place? Perhaps you should go back to the beginning and make sure?

So you retrace your steps back to the start and paddlecanoe-1082130_640 through Chapter 1 again. For the moment you are convinced that, yes, you started in the right spot. But you find a short cut on an upper stretch that improves the trip, so you make it. Chapter 1 feels really good now.

Back on the route of Chapter 2, you look for similar shortcuts, note the beautiful spots you don’t have time to explore, make notes about bad spots you’ll avoid if you come this way again.

In Chapter 3, your writing river opens into a lake. You’re not sure exactly which way to point the canoe, so you figure you’ll go back to Chapter 2 and explore those beautiful spots before you continue.

And while you are in Chapter 2, you figure you probably missed a couple of beautiful spots in Chapter 1, so you go back to Chapter 1 and….

Sound familiar?

The internal editor

It’s certainly the story of my writing life. But I know I’m not alone. The urge to rewrite before you’ve finished the story is powerful. Many discarded, unfinished manuscripts have polished first chapters that would keep readers reading…if there was more to read.

It’s all the fault of that dastardly writers’ internal editor. The one that tells us that our writing is “crap”; that we are disillusioned at best and arrogant at worst to think anyone would want to read what we write. The one that tells us we need to be perfect.

man-286477_640And the truth is, most first drafts are not publishable. As Hemingway so succinctly said, “All first drafts are shit.” First drafts will have strong parts and weaker bits, and bits that should be axed and areas where more needs to be written. That’s NORMAL. That’s what the editing process is for.

But if you heed your rational, analytical, internal editor, and constantly loop back out of the writing process and into editing, you will run out of creative energy. And you will push the unconscious creative writer in you further and further away.

In her book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wrote:bird by bird

The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page… Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.

No editing on a first draft?

 So does that mean that you should never edit as you go. Of course not.

I get momentum for a new chapter by going into the previous chapter—not back to the beginning of the novel— to read it and often edit it. That’s productive. You get into the voice of your characters again, you renew your sense of place in the story. And the time invested is not huge. More importantly, you do it as a way to move forward, not as an excuse to not move forward.

Perhaps like me, part way through your manuscript, you feel that the wrong character is telling the story, or that the POV should be first person instead of third person. I think it makes sense at this point to go back to a previous chapter or two—again, not necessarily the beginning—and rewrite and decide. But make that decision and move on.

girl-1563986_640Time and circumstance play a role too. If all I have is the forty minutes on a noisy train, likely editing is a better use of my time.But maybe not. Maybe just thinking through a plot hole or a character’s reaction in an upcoming scene would be better for keeping the novel moving forward.

It’s definitely tempting to go back to edit when you can’t think of  what to write next. I do it all the time. But I’ve found some effective ways to overcome that urge:

  • Go for a walk and think my way through the plot or character problem and then write forward again.
  • Use targeted writing prompts
  • Freefall write
  • Write a brief summary of the scene I’m stuck on, and go on to the next scene.
  • Persuade myself to write just one sentence…then one more…then…

It all comes down to how much your editing loops are preventing you from writing new material. We all create and work differently. If a bit of editing gets the creative juices flowing, go right ahead. But if it’s a procrastination tactic, fight the urge. The main goal of your first draft is to get the whole story down.

How do you stop yourself from using editing as procrastination? Share your tactics in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step by Step

Step by Step

Gwynn Scheltema

Concrete steps with the words Step by step painted on themLately, I’ve been trying to increase the number of steps I walk each day. I bought a pedometer to record them. At first I just went about my regular routine to see what I was achieving already. Sad. Very sad. Some days I didn’t even break 500!

Apparently, you need to do a minimum of 6000 a day to maintain good health, and well over that if you want to lose weight or increase fitness levels. After several months, I now consistently do 7000 steps and some days even more. One day last week, I topped 15000. Yay me!

Lately, I’ve also been trying to increase the number of words I write in a week. I made a wall chart to record them. At first I just went about my regular routine to see what I was achieving already. Sad. Very sad. Most days I didn’t even break 500!

The difference is, after several months, I’m better but still not averaging a decent word count. I don’t expect to do 7000 a day, but I definitely need to average more if I want to finish my novel any time soon.

A first draft in one year

abacusAt first glance, if you do the math, an 80,000 first draft written over a year, five days a week, 50 weeks in the year, would only require a measly 320 words a day! A 100,000 word book is only 400 words a day.

But let’s face it. Not every word you write is golden. And there needs to be time in there for research or plotting with sticky notes or just plain thinking. So aiming for a minimum of 500 words a day and will allow you to produce enough “good words” for a first draft.

I prefer to think of that as an average of 2500 good words a week for 35 to 40 weeks of the year. That still leaves plenty of weeks for research or holidays or whatever.

 The problem

The problem is, when I think of 2500 a week, every week, I find that daunting, in the same way that I found the prospect of 6000 steps a day daunting. But I succeeded with the steps. So what did I do to get my steps up that I could apply to my writing?

The solution to increasing my steps:

  1. I wore my pedometer every day as a constant reminder and motivator.keyboard with check mark
  2. I coerced my husband into wearing one too so we could motivate each other.
  3. I didn’t try to do all 6000 at once during the day.
  4. I found times of the day when I could get in a quick 1000.
  5. I discovered that jogging got them done faster.
  6. I realized that every little bit counted towards the whole: walking while on the phone or jogging on the spot while waiting for the kettle to boil.
  7. I “rewarded” myself with a check mark on my chart for every day I achieved the 6000.

Therefore…the possible solution to writing 500 words every day:

  1. B.I.C [Butt in chair] every day. Doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write, or actively work on the draft in some way.woman's face with pen writing on glass - just words
  2. Find a writing buddy so we can motivate each other.
  3. Write in several blocks of time if it’s hard to do them all at once.
  4. Identify quick items that move the project forward to do in limited time slots: look up a missing fact, decide on a character name, weigh up plot options.
  5. Use freefall to write quickly and get ahead of the internal editor.
  6. Realize that every little bit counts towards the whole – keep a notebook handy and use it: on the train to work, while waiting in the car….
  7. “Reward” myself every week I achieve the 2500. Chocolate? Solitaire? A new book?

pile of books and glasses

 

What do you do to keep your word count clocking up week after week?

 

How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

Ruth E. Walker. Every time we organize a Writescape retreat, we email participants a “Useful Information & What to Pack” list. It’s full of practical advice. We remind them to bring comfortable clothes and outdoor wear for spring or fall. After all, Ontario weather can be as unpredictable as a newly discovered character for your novel. We suggest that they can bring munchies but not too many as we provide regular snacks and our 24/7 beverage stations are always ready to serve.

compass & mapWe provide maps and directions to the resort. And we remind writers to pack anything they need for writing.  Most importantly, we suggest they remember to bring their work in progress or ideas they want to develop. But if they forget those, Writescape retreats offer creativity sessions and other inspiration opportunities. We even have a companion workbook and an on-site inspiration station for those 3:00 a.m. inspiration needs.

Gwynn, Heather and I sometimes joke that anyone coming on a Writescape retreat just needs a change of underwear, their toothbrush and jammies.

But there are some other, more subtle things that don’t fit into a suitcase but that a writer should remember to bring on retreat. And these important items are needed no matter where you are heading:

An Open Mind
I’m not talking about how you see the world, your politics or your ethics. I’m talking about some internal housekeeping — owoman-readingpening your mind to possibilities. It’s a form of mindfulness. It’s you, paying attention to what your muse is suggesting. You, being open to the five senses — taste, touch, sight, smell, sound. You, bringing those senses into your writing. When your writing includes a range of sensory elements, your readers’ memories are tickled. And that results in writing with physical and emotional resonance.

A Plan
man writingHaving a plan may sound contradictory to what I just said about mindfulness but the two are companions on any successful retreat. Gwynn reminds us in every opening session to be S.M.A.R.T. in our retreat objectives: set plans for the weekend that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and that can be Timed. In short, if you don’t have a plan, how will you know what you have managed to accomplish?

Coming on retreat to “write something beautiful” is not as powerful as coming on retreat to “finish three vital scenes for the climax.” By the same token, planning to “write a complete novel” is not realistic unless you are on a 30-day NaNoWriMo retreat. Be reasonable. There’s nothing unrealistic about a plan that includes “relaxing with a daily lakeside walk and writing in my pajamas for two hours every day.”

Permission

Giving yourself permission — permission to experiment and explore, even permission to fail — offers you a delicious freedom from your inner critic. Most of us struggle with that quiet voice whispering in the background, telling us we’re not real writers. At one of our retreats, a participant told me she didn’t think she really was a writer, that her work “wasn’t good enough.” We talked about what makes “a writer” and how we all are on a continuous journey with the writing process. When she finally was able to read her work in one of the sharing opportunities, she was thrilled by the response. She got past her inner critic, gave herself permission to risk sharing her words and discovered validation when other writers responded to her work. And she’s grown so much since as a writer, seeing her work published in anthologies, winning writing contests and submitting her novel manuscript to agents and publishers. And all that happened because she gave herself “permission” at her first writing retreat.

Lisa and Andrea web largeOn April 22, a group of writers will be heading to Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake. They will bring casual clothes, walking shoes, bathing suits for the indoor pool, and rain gear, just in case. They will also bring their works in progress or ideas folder, laptops or notebooks, and their pens or pencils. They will have packed a writer’s suitcase full of optimism, plans, outlines, rough drafts, objectives, hopes and dreams for their annual Spring Thaw retreat.

And Gwynn and I will do everything we can to help them achieve their plans and their dreams. Because, after all, that is exactly what they will expect of us.

Let’s Get Practical:  Packing your suitcase can be a real challenge, especially when you want to lug along your laptop and flash drives and chargers cords. Rolling clothes suitcase overflowinstead of folding can get you more space. But what about keeping it all organized and quick to pack and unpack?

Here are some amazing “packing hacks” In a YouTube video from “Dave Hax”. You’ll gain some space for those extras and keep your clothes neat and tidy. Do you have any packing tips?

The Guilt of Reading

The Guilt of Reading

On the radio the other day, someone was talking about getting “unplugged” to read paper books. As a writer, and a reader, my ears pricked up.

The person on the radio explained that she usually reads on her phone, but when she does, she is also plugged in to message alerts and Facebook notifications etc. and doesn’t really give the reading her full attention. But what stops her from reading paper books, she said, was dealing with the guilt of being unplugged.

eye glasses on open bookFeeling Guilty?

I wonder what’s happened to our priorities when it feels wrong to be unplugged from the digitally connected world. For pleasure or to grow our minds, what is the problem with reading a book?

Writers need to read. No question. And they need to read widely. Yet her statement about guilt had a certain ring to it.

I’m not constantly plugged in digitally (to which frustrated friends and associates who labour to get hold of me will attest). So I don’t feel any guilt about being unplugged.

But, I have to admit, I do feel guilty about taking time to read.

When I plan my day, reading is seldom, if ever, on the list as an option. I do read. Usually around one fiction book every three weeks and non-fiction in between, but that reading is reserved for before bed or with my morning coffee — a luxury or a reward for an otherwise productive day.

Admittedly, if I get to the point in a novel when the book won’t allow itself to be put down, then I might spend the morning, or stay up late and finish it. And occasionally, I will “allow” myself the luxury of a day with a book. But I do feel guilty when I do that. I feel guilty about all the things I should have done with that time in the same way as I would admonish myself for playing computer solitaire.

do what you loveReading is not a luxury

It’s time, I believe, for giving my head a good shake. Reading, especially for a writer, is not a luxury. It is as necessary as writing or editing.

And I’m not just talking reading as research. Reading other writers is hugely important. It’s important to see what my contemporaries are doing. What’s winning prizes. It’s important to read as a writer. I have a notebook next to my bed where I make notes about things I want to remember or revisit. I list every book I read and the author and date. I keep notes like: Page 57 – good child’s perspective on death.

So if reading is so necessary a part of my writing life, why the guilt?

My brain seems to find it acceptable to read a book on plot or the latest copy of Quill and Quire to stay abreast of what’s happening in the writing world. It’s reading for pure pleasure that seems somehow different.  Hmmmm…

For me, I think it’s time to move all reading into the “acceptable past-time category”. It’s time to ditch the guilt. It’s time to head over to Goodreads and pick my next book!