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NaNoWriMo - The Motive Center
March 8th, 2005
11:04 pm

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NaNoWriMo
Just back from Sleuthfest (www.sleuthfest.com), which is a very good conference focused on writers of mystery and crime fiction. Unlike most literary conferences, which are aimed at fans, this is focused on the writer. There were panels on things like guns and forensics but also a track on the business of writing. I was part of a panel on Writer's Block, and had a number of interesting conversations with folks around their writing. One pair of writers and I had a chat about NaNoWriMo, the "write a novel's worth of words in a month" competition, which is worth discussing here.

Doing 50,000 words in a month has a freeing effect for some people, because they know it can't be good, which takes away the stress. It's just about production. But despite this of course once you've done it, you've done it! Maybe it's a bad story, but for a lot of people 50,000 words in a month is an order of magnitude higher than they might do otherwise.

In fact, even if you don't make the goal and do only half as much, you may still be doing better than you would otherwise. And if you want to rewrite it and submit it somewhere, people will only be reading your last draft, right?

One of these writers I mentioned was doing this for a second year. She managed 50K the previous year, and figured she knew she could do it again this year, so she started thinking about whether she could make it 50K good words. Fortunately, she knew that might be too challenging as of yet. But there's always next year...

When I finished my 217-page doctoral dissertation, I remember thinking "it'll never be this bad again." I had sixty-odd tables (some were very odd), of up to three pages in length. Believe me, a novel is not intimidating by comparison...but I digress.

These writers benefited from NaNoWriMo, but they were frustrated with friends who had said they were going to compete and didn't. "Maybe it's fear of success," one said. Maybe, but while for some people doing this is freeing, for others it is terrifying. It's just too much. When someone is certain he or she is going to fail, often they will fail at once and get it over with. Or perhaps it is because they don't like doing it in public.

In my case, I write in bursts and travel a lot. I'd be afraid that I would run out of time, and then not even try. Yerkes-Dodson in action!

Current Music: I Have The Touch

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From:annearchy
Date:March 8th, 2005 08:21 pm (UTC)
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NaNoWriMo was a wonderful, yet terrifying, experience for me last year. I've always had a fear of starting stories, a fear that whatever I wrote would be irredeemable crap. Naturally that has tended to limit my output. I chose to write a fan-fiction as my NaNoNovel, as I didn't feel I could handle inventing a slew of characters my first time out. The best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it made me realize I really DO NOT have to write "perfect" stuff in the first draft. That's why it's called a draft. I had a separate Live Journal where I posted each day's writing as I completed it, and two friends read my "dailies", gave me encouragement and also told me in general where they thought I could improve things. Now as I rewrite, I'm making use of their comments to improve what I wrote during November. I managed 51,820 words during NaNoWriMo, so I technically "won" - but as it turned out my story was probably only 1/2 done when the month ended. I've posted about 2/3 of what I wrote in November as a work-in-progress on a fan site, but now the really hard part happens; I've got to finish this story! To be honest I never got around to plotting the whole story; I know vaguely where I want it to go, what I want to happen in the climactic parts and how I want to wrap up the story, but I haven't taken that outline out of my head and written it down yet. At the rate I'm going I'll be luck to finish this before NaNoWriMo '05 starts in November (and that's less than 8 months away!). But I'm already starting to think of whether I want to attempt NaNo again. If I do, I might actually try to write something original.
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From:stevekelner
Date:March 8th, 2005 08:37 pm (UTC)

NaNoWriMo

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How great that you got halfway through a novel in a month and are still excited about finishing! Formal, written outlines do help some people, but not everyone does one, despite what they teach in writing courses. Tolkien didn't have any idea where he was going with Lord of the Rings, and you see where that got him...

And you are absolutely right about not having to be perfect in the first draft. I think a lot of people forget that they only see the last draft--and have no idea how many preceded it! One writer I interviewed, in fact, had a "zeroth draft" to take the pressure off--sort of a bad first draft--which I think is a lot of what NaNoWriMo can do for people.

As for doing NaNo again, as long as you don't set too high a goal for yourself, why not? Or, if you still want to finish this story, why not do your own NaNoWriMo goal and do a high-speed finish?
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From:annearchy
Date:March 8th, 2005 09:07 pm (UTC)

Re: NaNoWriMo

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Well, I'd really like to finish this story before I start something else for NaNo 05, mainly because I'm having difficulty even starting any short stories (which is where I've felt most comfortable in the past, in the 5,000 -10,000 word range) with this thing hanging over my head. Though I know that writing shorter, unrelated pieces is (a) good exercise in general and (b) often useful for mental health reasons!

I was pleasantly surprised that my friends who were reading my dailies actually thought my first draft was pretty decent. They're now beta-reading my story before I post the chapters, and I've felt pretty good that neither of them has told me I should do a complete rewrite of what I've done up to now. Mostly I'm rewriting sections of each chapter, fixing up plot holes, polishing up characterizations etc. Now I need to get back to the end of chapter 8, which does need to be rewritten.
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From:loupnoir
Date:March 9th, 2005 08:03 am (UTC)
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The NaNoWriMo thing has always put me off. I guess I'm not a team player, but the idea has never rung true for me. For me, at least, writing isn't triggered by a virtual gun that signals it's time to start. It has a sort of car wreck fascination. I get a kick out of seeing people post about their 2 and 3K days, but I feel no interest in playing.

The mystery writers' conferences always sound so organized and informative. I'm fascinated by the whole forensic process, but the closest I've managed to come to one of the conferences is the Howdunnit series. Did you go to any of the panels?

Oh, and when is the paperback edition of your book being released? Amazon claims it's still forthcoming.
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From:stevekelner
Date:March 9th, 2005 10:44 am (UTC)

Conferences, etc.

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For some people the external goal is off-putting, but others find a deadline, however artificial, energizing. Especially since there are other people doing it too, I think.

Mystery conferences in general tend to be very organized and informative. Usually they were started by an SF person with lots of con experience who knows what they're doing! Sleuthfest is one of the best for writers, though any conference can be useful. Generally I find more mixing of writers and fans at mystery cons than at SF cons. I think I will not speculate on why...mystery cons I know of and/or have attended include Malice Domestic (focused on cozies, top-notch conference near DC), Left Coast Crime, the world mystery conference Bouchercon, A Dark and Stormy Night, Cluefest (Texas), and one more I can't remember. I went to a number of the panels at Sleuthfest and saw both speakers, one of whom was a fascinating guy who used to be on the FBI Hostage Rescue Team and had been at Waco, in Yemen after the USS Cole was blown up, etc.

I know Amazon says the paperback is forthcoming, but I have both editions in hand. I assume it just hasn't gotten to them yet. (The paperback is the one with the nifty cover.)
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From:kamenkyote
Date:March 9th, 2005 08:57 am (UTC)
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Thanks for the post, Steve. You make the NaNoWriMo things sound tempting, and I'm not even a writer! Also that "zeroth" draft really sounds like a good thing. Much coolness.

-mike
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From:agilebrit
Date:March 9th, 2005 09:10 am (UTC)
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I thoroughly enjoyed participating in NaNo, even though I didn't even get close to 50K words. My only problem with it is that it's in November, which is smack in the holidays, and that's just about the busiest time of the year for me. I wonder if I should, like someone on my LJ Flist did, pick a different month and do it on my own.

My writing style doesn't lend itself well to a NaNo attempt either. I tend to "edit as I go," and I don't outline either, so...yeah. *mumbles* That being said, it was my first attempt at original fiction in a very long time, and I have a good start on an original novel. Now to finish the thing...
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From:stevekelner
Date:March 9th, 2005 10:46 am (UTC)

NaNoWriMo

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Fun is good--that's what I keep talking about motivation for! But yeah, whose idea was it to put it in November!?

You don't have to outline first, you know...but if you've got a novel going, then I would hardly feel guilty about not participating an NaNoWriMo!
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From:stevekelner
Date:March 9th, 2005 10:45 am (UTC)

NaNoWriMo

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It is kind of a kick--"sure! Let's just write a novel in a month!" And I really liked the "zeroth" draft idea, too. Same idea: take off the strain, get on with the creativity!
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From:rei_c
Date:March 12th, 2005 03:33 pm (UTC)
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I've done NaNo two years out of the past three (guess which year I took off!) and absolutely loved it. I think it's exactly that fact that it's just 50K words and they don't have to be good. This year--2004--I went for a very different style, and parts of it I like and parts of I don't, but its--and this is the biggest thing for me--okay.

And I've since been editing it, which I never did last time. So I suppose that's a good thing?
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From:stevekelner
Date:March 14th, 2005 02:29 pm (UTC)

NaNoWriMo

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Absolutely it's good! It's part of what I was suggesting--it demythologizes the practice of generating words. So now you are not just generating any old words, you're writing stuff you like, and editing it. After all, people only see the last draft, right?
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From:rei_c
Date:March 14th, 2005 02:36 pm (UTC)

Re: NaNoWriMo

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Well, except for my friends, who get sections hoisted at them multiple times and somehow manage to still like me. It's a mystery, really. *Grin*

One of my writing professors once said that he had trouble starting--just the blank page would completely overwhelm him. So he covered the top space with swear words, and then kind of went, 'Well, I have to use this page for something,' and then he's write.

I've always remembered that.
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