Friday, November 30, 2007

Waving the White Flag

With about 14 hours left of the Nanowrimo madness, I am officially throwing in the towel and calling it quits. It was a good run, I got a little over 40,000 words written, and although I had originally planned to glue my ass to the chair and churn out 10k words today, I decided against it. As much as I hate, HATE, quitting anything (I'm already having thoughts of abandoning the post and going for my word count) here's why I have come to this decision:
  • Purpose Sometimes, things happen so fast that you lose sight of why you do them in the first place. Looking back on some of the assignments I've taken or conferences I've attended, I don't understand why I did it. That's the way I began to feel about Nano this year. I was churning out page after page, knowing that it wasn't any good and I kept telling myself it doesn't matter if it's good, just get your word count. Then I remembered, I've written a novel before. I've written three novels before. I have nothing to prove. The original purpose of Nano was to light a fire under me and to get me started on the story. It did. I've learned a lot about my characters and which plot lines are going to work (more like which one's aren't). But to sit here and churn out 10k bad words that I'm not going to use later just because of an internet challenge, serves no purpose.
  • Time Although writing time did play a small role in my Nano short comings, a lot of it had to do with lack of preparation. Although I claim I seldom outline, which is true, I always have a mental outline drawn out in my head. This time, I didn't. I was just writing and writing and it seemed like I was going in circles. Some writers work like that, some writers end up surprising themselves (and therefore the reader) with plot twists and turning points they never expected to happen. I don't. My characters usually end up in a kitchen, talking about what's going on over cups of coffee (I don't know why). I kicked Nano's ass last year because I had a plan, because the story had been marinating inside me for so long that it couldn't wait to be told. So November, instead of being Novel Writing month, has been marinating month for me. I've had the time to realize my characters, work out some plot kinks, and in about a week I should be ready to start my story from the beginning.
  • Self Control I know it sounds weird to quit a writing challenge because of self control, but let me explain. I am a competitive person and I'm only starting to realize how competitive. I never do things half-assed either. I get obsessed. I did a sprint triathlon, now I want to do the Ironman. I beat a swimming state record, now I want to beat ALL the state records. It took me 6 months to write my first book, then I wanted to do it in one. I won last year, I want to do it again this year, even though I was completely unprepared. It's a compulsion. But I know, deep down, that this is not an effective way to spend my writing time, that I'm far better off using today to plot and outline (or read and do the laundry I've been neglecting) than to slave over 10k words that have no chance of being usable, even if I technically "lose" this challenge.

I do believe that Nanowrimo serves a purpose; that for many, including myself, it can be a very beneficial way to spend a month. Last year, I started the book that is now being submitted to agents. Knowing that there are thousands of people all over the world working toward the same goal, truly gets you motivated and, more importantly, gets you writing. Although I won't be joining the winner's circle this year, I did come away with more developed characters, a better sense of story, and about 150 pages of throat clearing, which I can never see as wasted time. It's like a scrimmage, practicing for the main event. Any time spent writing, is never a waste, because it serves as practice, helping you get better and more prepared for the next time around.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Things Every Writer Should Be Thankful For:

  • Coffee, Red Bull, and all those lovely, caffeinated liquids that keep us plugging away at the keyboards
  • Wikipidia, for making research that much easier (and more fun too!)
  • Backspace, Crimespace, Myspace and Facebook, for connecting writers from all over the country and giving them another outlet for procrastinating
  • Critique groups, for reading our work, supplying helpful feedback and providing deadlines.
  • Sarah Weinman, for summarizing every blog, interview, article, and review so we don't have to sift through them ourselves.
  • Publisher's Marketplace for keeping us up-to-date on deals, industry news and who's who in publishing.
  • Our friends, family and significant others, for reassuring us that our work is good (even when it isn't) and for putting up with our neurotic, borderline OCD behavior.
  • For our computers. Even though they sometimes freeze, crash or go crazy, they're still better than typewriters.
  • And finally, to all the brilliant authors who serve as inspiration, the agents who work their butts off to get us the best deals, and the editors for committing themselves to our work and sometimes taking a chance on us. We thank you.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Revisiting a Classic

Seldom do I get to review books that have already been published, let alone books that were published decades ago. But eMusic made it possible for me to revisit one of my favorites and review The Fountainhead for their new audiobook section. Both strange and time consuming to listen to the 800 page book (total of 32 hours), but the narration is excellent and the characters seem to come to life on tape.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Day 16

We just passed the halfway point and, unfortunately it is not translating into my word count. As of today I have about 19,000 words finished but I am confident that I will reach 50K by the end of the month. I attribute my lagging to two reasons: lack of planning and commitment issues. I didn't plan this year; November sort of snuck up on me. So when I began to write, I knew very little about my characters, my story and where the plot was heading. Because of this, every word was a struggle and, at about day five, I decided to scrap my original idea and start on something completely different. Big mistake. First rule of novel writing is to commit to your story. And, as can be expected, the new project was just as much of a struggle. Part of me wanted to wave the white flag and surrender, but the weekend in Milwaukee gave me much needed time to think and plot and now, I am happy to say, the words are finally spilling out with ease.

I've been writing now for quite some time, but I'm starting to realize that learning about your writing process never ceases, so here are some of the things I learned this Nanowrimo:
  1. Plan Ahead - Some people can just close their eyes and let the inspiration flow. I'm not one of those people. It's difficult enough to find the perfect wording, give your characters depth and snappy dialogue, I can't be thinking about what should happen. By planning ahead and knowing what I'm going to write about before I sit down at the computer prevents me from staring at the blank page for hours trying to channel inspiration.
  2. Don't Give Everything You Got - Although I plan ahead for a few chapters, I seldom know what exactly is going to happen in the entire book. By not writing everything I know, by leaving a scene or two for tomorrow, I can, again, eliminate the thinking and the plotting during my writing time. Which brings me to my next point,
  3. Know Your Cycles - I sometimes forget that I get less productive as the day goes on and that if I don't write in the morning, I probably won't get much writing done at all. It's much more effective to wake up really early than it is to stay up late. Plotting I can do anytime. It's a different skill set. The actual act of writing requires motivation and inspiration, something that fades with me as the day goes on.
  4. The Scenes You Don't Want To Write Are the Scenes You Don't Want To Read - I hate writing scenes with lulls. I hate writing police procedural scenes or interview scenes, or any scene that is for the purpose of conveying information. How do I solve this problem? I don't write them. Any scene without tension or a powerful driving force does not make it's way into the manuscript. When I read, it's always the information gathering scenes I skip over. I find them boring. So that has become my screening process. If I'm having a hard time writing it, people are going to have a hard time reading it, so cut to something else.

I'm sure there will be more as the month moves on. Feel free to add any other tricks of the trade or new things you've learned about your process during this hectic National Novel Writing Month.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Murder and Mayhem recap

Just returned from a lovely weekend in Wisconsin where authors, librarians and 200 fans came together for Murder and Mayhem in Muskego. It was very different from the usual conferences: smaller, everyone attends the same panel, they serve homemade brownies and cookies, there's no bar, etc. One day, low cost, and an opportunity to hang out with some wonderful writers. Be sorry you missed it, sign up next year, and for now, enjoy the photos!

Marcus Sakey helps prepare Sean Chercover for his Robert Crais interview...and doesn't look too happy about it

Ruth Jordan, Jennifer Jordan and Laura Lippman sign copies of Expletive Deleted with the encouragement of Alison Jenson

Greg Rucka and Gregg Hurwitz sign books. Anything for the fans...

Like I said, there was no bar. We just had to make do behind the gas station across the street. High school flashbacks anyone?

Playing either the best or the stupidest game ever. You be the judge.

Chateau Le'Jordan, more reading material than anyone in Milwaukee!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


I'm not a careful person. I don't take care in the things I do. Ever since we moved into the condo, this fact is becoming more apparent. I hang up pictures without measuring, I clean the exposed surfaces but omit the parts under the couch or behind the toilet, if a bottle says to let something dry for 24 hours, I usually think 12 is enough. Although it seems more evident now, looking back, I'm pretty sure I have always been this way. I always finished tests too fast, wrote essays without going back to edit, applied to colleges that I wanted to go to as opposed to ones that would actually accept me. So really, Nanowrimo is the perfect activity for me...maybe.

It is evident that my carelessness translates into my writing. I'm a drafter. I'll churn it out, read it over, churn out another version, read it over again and repeat the process. But I'm not one of those authors who is obsessed with everything being perfect. I won't get caught up in revisions thinking that my project will never be good enough. I'll work on it until it's as good as it's going to get, no more. Once it's acceptable, once it's decent enough, I'm sending it out. Does that mean I've submitted things that aren't as good as they could be? Probably. But for me, when I'm close to the project, when in my mind the story is completed, it's difficult to go back.

This is not the best approach, in fact, it's pretty bad. But am I any worse off than the authors who sit for hours pondering the perfect sentence or dwelling on the ideal word? Probably not. While they spent half their day worrying about language I just churned out my thousand words. As I could stand to take more care with my writing, they could stand to let language alone for a bit and just tell the damn story. Nanowrimo gives me permission to be careless, enables me to continue my bad habit. Banging away at my keyboard for hours letting the words flow isn't necessarily making me a better writer. Feel free to leave your thoughts.

8000 words and counting...