NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is all over the Internet right now. Are you doing it? The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel this month. That means 1,666 words a day if you write seven days a week. That doesn’t seem like so much for me. I can spew out words in profusion on the days that I choose to write, but seven days a week? Including Thanksgiving? No, no, no. That kind of schedule is a quick trip to burnout land for me. I purposely keep my hands off the computer keys on Sunday and sometimes another day of the week because it’s not just typing. The brain needs to recharge. It needs to go back to the warehouse for supplies. If I get an inspiration on my non-writing days, I may boot up the machine, but I’m more likely to scratch it out on a piece of paper so I’m ready to go in the morning.
For some people, NaNo works. The camaraderie and the pressure to report progress every day can really help get you writing. You can even attend “write-ins” in your community to pour out the words together. No critiques, no craft discussions, or worries about marketing, just writing. It’s all good. Just not for me. Not this year.
I have started NaNoWriMo a couple of times and pooped out because I realized the novel I had started to write wasn’t what I was supposed to be writing at that point. I already had writing projects I needed to get done, and NaNo was just a distraction. Plus I think it’s more important to write well than to write quickly. This year, I’m immersed in a nonfiction project and don’t really have a novel noodling around in my brain. I’m still trying to sell the last one I wrote. Plus it’s November. I’m as busy as a dog barking at squirrels under the woodpile.
Challenges can be good. I have gotten many poems out of Poem-a-Day challenges, and I enjoyed last year’s A to Z blog challenge. Anything that gets us over the wall between not writing and writing is good. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, go, go, go. God bless you. May your words flow easily into a great novel that we’ll all read and love. But don’t feel guilty if you’re not taking the challenge this year. Do your own thing. Make your own challenge that fits your life and your writing goals. Finish that book by Christmas. Send out a query a week, write 500 words of prose a day, or write a poem every Tuesday. Or just keep doing what you’re doing. That’s probably challenge enough.
Now let’s go write.
I found myself reading an article all the way to the end this morning even though I really didn’t have time. I was drawn in by the format. The writer went through the alphabet offering words of advice for writers. A is for anecdotes, F is for focus, etc. And I just had to read all the way to Z. Alphabet articles get me every time.
1) They’re easy to read.
2) I’m curious what words the writer will connect with each letter
3) The letters act as mnemonic devices that help me remember what I read.
Letters and numbers can work for you, too. I’m going to talk about articles first, but hang in there, poets, fiction writers and essayists.
ABC articles are common, but numbered list articles are even more common: Ten hidden treasures on the Oregon coast, five reasons why your child should go to summer school, eight ways to get better orgasms, a baker’s dozen gluten-free cupcakes. Look at the front of any consumer magazine to see how popular list articles are.
These articles are rarely great art, but they are easy to write, easy to read, and they sell. If you offer an editor 10 ways to ___________, he or she knows exactly what you’re offering and where it will fit in the publication. Write an intro and a list of what your list will contain, a bio paragraph about yourself, and your query is done. When the editor says yes, fill in the list.
A few cautions about writing the list article:
1) If you start out with the alphabet, you have to use every letter, and if you go with numbers, you need to follow through with all of them.
2) Each item must have value, no cheating, no excuses like X is useless, nothing starts with X. Find something and make it good.
3) The pieces all need to fit together somehow. Think of those exam questions that ask which item doesn’t not fit in the list: apples, oranges, bananas, snickerdoodles.
Now, you writers of fiction, essays and poems, some of my favorite works are done with lists. You can get painfully corny with alphabet poems, which actually have a formal name, abecedarium, but some are truly works of art. Many great poems, essays and short stories have been written in numbered sections that draw the reader along and come together in a way that straight stanzas or paragraphs wouldn’t. Actually, how different is this from numbering chapters? They’re just much shorter, sometimes only a paragraph or even a line. Try it. It works.
There’s an annual A to Z blog challenge which I did last year. I was surprised at how easy it was to find ideas with the simple prompt of a letter of the alphabet. Try a list. Or make a list about why you’d rather not.
Some links to check out:
4) Also from the New Yorker: “A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists” by Maria Konnikova.
Now let’s go write. 1-2-3 GO!
D is for Deadline.
I’m participating this month in the A-Z blog challenge and it’s Writer Aid’s turn to serve a bowl of my progressive alphabet soup.
Lots of writers tell me they can’t write without a deadline. I’ve had students claim that they could only write when they were taking a class. Otherwise, they’d never write. Although I tend to write no matter what, I understand the feeling. Being a full-time freelancer focusing on creative writing these days, I set most of my own deadlines, knowing all the while that I can change them anytime I want. It’s only when other people are expecting to see something from me that I am sure to finish it on time.
When I was working in the newspaper biz, deadlines ruled our lives. When we were on deadline, it didn’t matter what was going on in the outside world. We couldn’t deal with phone calls or visitors or sometimes even a trip to the bathroom. We just kept our heads down and got the work done because there was always more to do than was logically possible in the time allotted. And we always got it done because if we didn’t the pages would be blank, the story that had to get published by a certain date wouldn’t get in, and all our interviews and research would be for nothing. When I worked on the copy desk at the Hayward Daily Review in California, we were still pasting printed words on cardboard sheets. As I stood proofreading the “boards,” I was constantly aware of printers standing in the doorway watching the clock, ready to take the pages out of my hands, finished or not, when it was time to go to press. That’s a lot of pressure.
Meeting newspaper deadlines taught me how to work quickly and to be realistic about what I could get done. If I was still missing part of the puzzle, I had to write around it. If I wasn’t sure it was my best writing, I just had to do the best I could. As a freelancer writing articles and books, I still have deadlines. The editor is not standing in my house waiting for me to finish, but if I miss the deadline, my story or my book might not be published and I won’t get paid. So I do it, sick or well, happy or not, busy with other things or not.
My deadlines for poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction mostly center around contest entry dates and literary journals’ submission periods. Did you know that most of the latter only consider manuscripts at certain times of the year? If you send your work in when submissions are closed, they’ll send it back unread. Always check the guidelines to see what the dates are. Because many journals are associated with colleges and universities, I’m seeing a lot of deadlines in April, presumably so the staff can put their publications together by the end of the school year.
Some writers just keep writing and don’t need any incentives, but most of us can use some kind of deadline. If nothing else, set goals and do your best to meet them, whether it’s writing a certain number of words, completing a project, or sending out your work by a certain date. Telling other people about your deadlines will help you stick to them and give you something to shoot for. If you are writing with deadlines set by editors and publishers, you know when you have to get it done. Start early to make sure you meet the deadline. Writers who turn their assignments in late will find themselves not getting any more assignments.
So D is for deadline. Now go write.
More than 1300 bloggers have signed up for the A-to-Z challenge. Visit http://www.kmdlifeisgood.blogspot.com/p/under-construction.html for the full list. To find out what E stands for and see the blog schedule for this month, visit my Unleashed in Oregon blog tomorrow.