Monday, 19 November 2012

NaNoWirMo: Report Card Two

It was all going so well. As you can tell by my first report card, I was soaring through my first week of NaNo. Heck, I was even steaming ahead with my word count.

Then Week Two hit.

The excuses for writing built up: the Mothership's birthday meant a whole evening out of NaNo time whilst a bad day at work meant I lost the will to do anything beyond stare at the television in a grump. Add to that a planned night out plus an unexpected shift at work and I was am behind in NaNo. Way behind - over half the suggested word count. That is one of the main disadvantages of NaNo (and one of the reasons it works) is that more than two days off means you're lagging behind.

I started to lose interest in my plot and my characters. I tentatively finished off sections of text I was not entirely happy with. On the plus side, I did manage to draft this month's submission to Write in for Writing's Sake when I was taking time off from NaNo. Although I was not sitting down and writing, I was still thinking about my plot and which direction to take it in.

So I've decided to let my characters wander. Using Scrivener means I can write scenes and move them around when I wish. Today I have been writing about my MC's first day at their new job. Tomorrow I might switch back to their 'flashback' scene that takes place seven years earlier. It makes the story feel more exciting especially if I'm dashing about and gaining a different perspective.

I have a week off work and I am determined to be back on track by Thursday. Instead of doing twenty minute writing sprints, I have been setting the timer for thirty to forty-five minutes. It's a trick I picked up from Unfuck your Habitat and it makes the task ahead feel much easier. As I write this blog post, my word count is sitting on 18603. Cross your fingers and wish for me to hit the thirties by Thursday evening. Bring on the pretzels!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

NaNoWriMo: Report Card One

When left to my own devices, I find it very easy to procrastinate. This very lunchtime I switched on the very *ahem* informative programme Don't Tell the Bride to have on in the background during my break. An hour later, my wraps eaten, I found myself still watching this programme. It's hard to kick those habits but I'm getting better at it. For instance, I switched off the programme instead of telling myself to watch the last twenty minutes.

Now if I had a method of holding myself accountable, I doubt I would have wasted an hour on a stupid television programme (especially as I slept in this morning). That's the danger I can see arising with NaNoWriMo. This morning I was over 3000 words behind the official target. After some writing sprints (more about those later), I had clocked up 2000 words and I'm only 1200 words behind today's official target. A quick note about targets: in order to complete NaNo on time, ideally you need to be hitting 1666 words a day at the absolute minimum. I took yesterday off NaNo to spend time with my family which was lovely. My story has taken an unforeseen dark turn and I did not want to burst my happy bubble returning to it last night.

How is my story going? Not the way I planned at all. As part of my NaNo prep, I made a list of what makes a 'bad' novel. Please note, this is what makes me put down a novel. My list of what makes a 'good' novel will not appeal to everyone, just as my 'bad' list might leave some people outraged. So here goes:

What makes a 'bad' novel according to Laura Stevens:

  1. Boring and poorly developed characters
  2. Long passages of inner monologue that are dull and don't move the plot along
  3. Confusing narratives that jump around
  4. Overly complicated language or jargon
  5. Repeated scenes of sexual abuse that do not add to the plot
  6. Cruelty to animals
  7. Overuse of exclamation points!
In No Plot? No Problem! Chris Baty encourages us to make this list so we can avoid these elements creeping into our novels. Alas, he also warns that it is very easy to fall into these traps especially when writing to a deadline. I am ashamed to admit that points nos 1, 2 and 3 are alive and well in my NaNo story. However, I'm willing to let them slide. Why? Purely because, excluding yesterday, I have been writing every single day this week. That was not happened in years, quite possibly the first time since I have left school. Instead of finding excuses, I'm working my way around them. Can't take my laptop on my work commute? Then use a nice A5 pad and a pretty pen instead. Not sure what to write? Doesn't matter, sit down and let the words come. This morning, I broke through the 10000 word barrier and I gave myself a little cheer. The last piece of work I finished clocked in at 3000 words with the re-writing process taking the finished story up to 3500 words. I should also add that 3000 story took me a month to complete, even with a submission deadline looming. So 10000 words in a week is not to be sniffed at. 

This has left me extremely happy with my NaNo progress so far. Yesterday I did have my first plot crisis due to Sunday's writing session. Out of nowhere, my second main character was killed off page  but it has thrown up some interesting routes for my main character. I now have a much more interesting plot lining up for them than my original idea that I am much more excited about.

There are three things I am attributing to my current NaNo cheer:

  1. Reading the daily blogs from Vikki at The View Outside. I've known Vikki through Bookcrossing for a number of years, although I have not bookcrossed for a very long time, I still keep in touch with people through the wonders of social media. Her updates on Twitter and Facebook are a good way of giving me a gentle prod to get my writing bottom in gear. 
    1. 1 Ali at 12 Books 12 Months is an old hand at this NaNo business - she loved it so much that she did NanNo every month in 2011. That means she's written over 12 books thanks to NaNo. Her blog is a great pit stop in between writing sprints. 
  2. Writing sprints. I've been setting my timer for 20 minutes and writing furiously without stopping to think. Then I give myself 10 minutes as a reward for doing what I want like filling up my coffee mug or other essential tasks, like peeing. NaNo does host official sprints on Twitter if you like the idea of competing against other novelists. They also suggest prompts if you're struggling to think of where to take your novel during the sprinting. 
  3. Rewards of pretzels, humous and salsa. Mmmmmm…..

Thursday, 1 November 2012

NaNoWriMo: Third Time Lucky?

It's sad to see 2012 almost slipping away. The nights are drawing in and everyone is talking in hushed tones about this winter being a bad 'un (read: lots of snow and panic). Still, all is not lost. November is an exciting month for the wannabe writer. I love this time of year when the trees start to change colour and the leaves crunch under your feet as you walk the streets. My birthday is in February which might factor into my enjoyment of winter i.e. lots of presents are starting to come my way!

First things first, I have November to get through. This time I have decided to have a third attempt at NaNoWriMo (or NaNo for short). For those not in the know, NaNoWriMo is a scheme designed to help you write a 50, 000 novel in a month. It started with humble beginings in San Francisco with a gent called Chris Baty and his group of friends. Now, thousands of people across the world take part in the wonderful task of making up stories whilst sticking to a deadline. It's a lovely thought that other people are hunched over their notepads, writing furiously to hit the end of month target. I took part in NaNoWriMo in 2010 and 2011 and gave up both times. This year I feel more prepared.

I spent most of October re-reading No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, as a guide designed to get you through November and across the novel writing finish line. This book helped me realise that NaNo is supposed to be fun. Who cares if a giant squid suddenly appears in quite a serious story about real life superheroes (I'm looking at you, Alan Moore) ? I realised why I had failed in my previous attempts at NaNo. The trouble was I took my stories too seriously and worried too much about how sensible some plot developments were. The aim of NaNo is quantity not quantity. Having a finished draft is the goal and you can edit that giant squid out of the narrative on the 1st January (it's recommended that you leave your manuscript alone for a month after NaNo).

Also, I've managed to persuade a friend to do NaNo with me. We met at a writing class a couple of years ago and have kept in touch. There is a possibility we might meet up to do some write ins together which should help keep me on track. A little bit of friendly competition never does you any harm. Him Indoors is embarking on a similar project in November called National Game Designer Month which will help spur me on at home. Unfortunately I don't know who is going to end up doing the hoovering (probably Him Indoors). I can see a lot of vegan chilli being consumed in this house in November. It's one of the few recipes I can chuck in the slow cooker and not worry about. Apologies for anyone that comes to visit!

Finally, I have my secret weapon: Scrivener. This is a program designed for individuals that are working on a writing project. It's primarily aimed at those writing works of fiction but it could work for non-fiction books as well. I have been using various word processing applications to write stories for almost twenty years and it is, by far, the best piece of kit I have used. Each writing project is organised into a binder that includes everything: research, notes, character cards and your actual writing. You can move pieces of text around with ease. Does that fight scene belong in Chapter Five, rather than Chapter Three? Drag and drop and hey presto! it's done. Much better than scrolling through X pages in Open Office or MS Word. You can purchase the software for £30 in the UK and I would heartily recommend it.

What are you writing about? I hear you cry. I have some plans afoot but I'm a bit wary of how events are going to play out. For the moment I'll keep quiet. However I promise to let you all know immediately when the giant squid turns up.