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.
The old stereotype shows writers sitting alone in their garrets writing for hours, avoiding people while the bills and the trash pile up—and maybe the empty whiskey bottles, too. But is that really where it’s at? I don’t even have a garret.
I ask this because it came up at our board meeting for Writers on the Edge, which puts on the Nye Beach Writers Series in Newport Oregon. We are running out of volunteers. Even though writers and fans claim to love what we do, nobody seems to want to commit to working on the team that makes it happen.
In wondering why it’s so hard to get volunteers, some of the board speculated that it’s because writers are lone wolves. But are they? Writers are always asking me as president of WOE where they can hang out with other writers. They want to chat, they want critiques, they want to just set their laptops side by side and work. They need that extra push of someone caring whether or not they write to make them put words on the page. Some want classes, many want deadlines.
I read online recently about a group of women that meet to submit their work. Side by side with their laptops, they pound out their manuscripts, queries, and cover letters. Every time someone hits send, they all celebrate. This is similar to the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) write-ins that happen all over the country in November. I have not attended these. I prefer to write in silence. Also, I speak my words as I type them, which would no doubt drive the others crazy. But if you would like to write with other writers, you don’t have to wait until November. Invite somebody for a writing date.
I prefer to produce my rough drafts and do major edits alone, but I don’t like to be alone all the time. I enjoy the company of other writers, and I love the extra push from workshops and write-ins where everybody’s writing at once. Over the years, critique groups have been very helpful. Several of the most successful writers I know, including Chuck Palahniuk, Cheryl Strayed, Chelsea Cain and Lidia Yuknavitch, are part of a Thursday night writers group in Portland, Oregon that meets regularly for no-holds-barred critiques. I have no doubt that their association has helped them write better and get published sooner.
You may or may not like writing with other people around. I did it for years as a newspaper reporter and editor, so I know it’s totally possible to write elbow to elbow with other writers writing, phones ringing, police radios squawking, and people coming in and out. When you’re facing a deadline, you just do it. Now, I enjoy the peace and quiet, but I can write and have written anywhere.
I’m shy about reaching out to other people, but I do think we need other people once we hack out our early drafts. At some point, we need someone else to look at what we have written and tell us what works and what doesn’t. When we get stuck, they can help us find a way out. We also need someone to tell us it’s worth doing and urge us to keep going, especially when we’re getting nothing but rejections.
And when it comes to submitting our work, dealing with queries, cover letters, and sharing market information, it really helps to have friends to talk to, even if it’s only on Facebook.
The connections we can make with other writers are pure gold. Through my activities with California Writers, Willamette Writers and Writers on the Edge, I have met big-name writers, editors and publishers. I mean, they know who I am and what I write. They can help me with my career. If nothing else, they make me feel as if I am a real writer and my big success is just around the corner.
So are writers really loners? Not any more than the rest of the population. Have you noticed how many of us are on Facebook, Twitter and other social media? Quite a few writers I know prefer to write in coffee shops and other public places. You do have to put those words on the screen by yourself, but when you’re done, back away from the computer and find another human being to talk to. It’s healthy.
And if you live on the Central Oregon Coast, we sure could use your help with the Nye Beach Writers series. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are we loners? Are you? I welcome your comments. The comment link is at the top of the page just below the “tags.”
Now let’s go write.
I signed up for NaNoWriMo again. National Novel Writing Month. You have probably heard about it. Participants strive to write 50,000 words of fiction in the month of November. They post their words online each day, and if they get to 50,000, they win the challenge.They also have the first draft of a novel. Doing the math, 50,000 words comes out to 1666 words a day if you write every day. If you write Monday through Friday like me, reserving weekends for church, family and real life, you need to produce 2,500 words a day. That’s 12 double-spaced pages. Am I insane? Can I do it? Do I want to do it?
Actually, no. Since I wrote that paragraph, I had a talk with myself and decided to switch to NaNonFiWriMo, National Nonfiction Writing Month. This challenge will allow me to concentrate on the book I’m already writing, but at a faster speed with the support of other writers doing the same thing.
Compared to NaNoWriMo and NaNonFiWriMo, the poem-a-day challenges I’ve done and the A to Z blog challenge I did earlier this year are easy. Plus Thanksgiving happens this month. Also, Christmas is coming. Cards, gifts, parties, when will I write? First thing in the morning. Then I’ll worry about the other stuff.
NaNoWriMo is the original November writing challenge, but there seems to be one for whatever genre you want to write. The possibilities include:
Poem-a-Day challenge, http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2014-november-pad-chapbook-challenge-guidelines
National Playwriting Month, NaPlWriMo, https://www.facebook.com/naplwrimo
National Blog Posting Month, NaBloPoMo, http://www.blogher.com/blogher-topics/blogging-social-media/nablopomo
National Nonfiction Writing, Month NaNonFiWriMo, http://www.writenonfictioninnovember.com
There are more. Google “November writing challenges” for a list, but these are the biggest and best.
Challenges force you to write, offer a community of other writers to share the misery, and make you accountable. You have to do the writing to be able to post your results. Two hours on Facebook or an hour playing games won’t get it done. If we could put that kind of energy and focus into our work without an official challenge, imagine what we could accomplish.
Some of my best poems were born during Poem-a-Day challenges. I have written more poems during those challenges than at any other time. Many of those poems would not have happened if I hadn’t gotten out of bed knowing that I had to write a poem, that I couldn’t just say, “I don’t feel poetic today.”
It isn’t necessary to wait for the November challenges. You can set up your own challenge at any time. If you don’t trust yourself to stick with it, enlist a friend or a group of friends to join you. Challenge each other. Tell them “I’m going to write X number of words every day” and report your word count at the end of the day. Plan a celebration for when you achieve your goals.
My students often tell me they need a class to get them writing. They say they can’t write without assignments and deadlines. Days, months and years pass, and they just don’t get around to putting words on page or screen. Many writers long for wide-open days with nothing to do but write, but when we get those days, we’re overwhelmed by all that time and wind up wasting a lot of it. Sometimes an assignment, a deadline and limited time are the best inspiration.
So I’m getting ready to write, write, write. How about you? What kind of challenge do you need to kick your writer self into high gear?
November starts this weekend, but why wait?
Go write now.
It was the fifth total revision—I think. I got to the end of my novel, sat back with a sigh, then posted on Facebook that I was finished, ready to share that book with the world. My friends congratulated me. But my critique group was still about 50 pages from the end, and I hadn’t heard their comments yet. We met Tuesday. Bill and Theresa liked it, but wanted a few minor changes. “Tough Shit Dorothy” hated it. HATED it. No, you can’t have your protagonist do that. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The story ends here, not there.
But I was done, wasn’t I? Maybe not. Critiques spread out around my computer, I went into the file and tweaked some things. Better. Maybe now it was done. But my friends’ comments had gotten into my head. Doubts crowded in. Do I need this section at all? Should I cut this? Expand this? Does my main character suffer enough? Dagnabbit, I just sent out my first queries on this book. I’m ready to move on to another project, but maybe I’m not really done. I got so flummoxed I set it aside and went for a walk in the rain.
When you bake a cake, it’s easy to tell when it’s done. If it’s not fully cooked, it will be wet inside, but if it’s ready, you can poke it with a toothpick, and the toothpick comes out clean. You can press it with the tip of your finger, and it bounces back. You could cook it another minute or two, but it might burn, and nobody likes a burnt cake.
So how do you get your book to that place between soggy in the middle and burnt, to where the toothpick comes out clean? I have no magic answers, but I have learned a few things in the course of publishing six other books.
* No book is ready on the first draft. No matter how good a writer you are or how inspired you feel while writing it, you have to go back and revise. Everyone makes mistakes. With a book the length of a novel, you’re bound to find inconsistencies, places where you’ve said too much or too little, and things that need to change in view of discoveries you made along the way. Details and names may have changed. One of my characters is on her fourth name.
* After a while, we authors can’t see our own mistakes. We’ve got to have someone else look at it. We need other people, writers, editors or wise readers–not your spouse or your mother–who can come to the book with clear minds and who don’t know what we’re trying to say, only what we have said.
* If you’re not sure about something, mark it and come back later. Go for a walk, then look at it again. When you cut a section of your book, save it in another file, just in case you change your mind.
* Writing novels is not a race. You do not have to finish in a month or even a year. Perhaps you drafted a book in 30 days during NaNoWriMo. Bravo. Now take at least twice that much time to revise it. No one can say exactly how many revisions it will take. Revise until it’s no longer soggy in the middle and stop before it gets burnt.
* Sometimes it helps to stop reading fiction by other authors while you revise your own. That way, your story is the only story in your head.
* If you self-publish, you need an editor. Yes, even you.
* Even if a traditional publishing house buys your book, you need to revise and proofread like crazy. Today’s publishers spend less time on editing and proofreading than they used to. Any error in the manuscript is likely to show up in the published book. Be prepared to do some more revising for the agent and editor before the book is finally published.
So is my novel done yet? Almost. I woke up this morning knowing that what I have written is good. The house smells like sugar and vanilla, so we’re getting close. I can’t wait to frost it and serve it up.
Now go write.
It’s October, the beginning of the fourth quarter of the year. Three months left. What have you accomplished this year? Are you ahead, behind or exactly where you want to be in your writing?
This year has gone quickly, hasn’t it? Soon it will be Halloween, followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then 2013 is over. The weather is changing, the hours of daylight are decreasing, and there’s a real temptation to slack off, to coast to the end of the year. But I have a better idea. Let’s use those last three months, 90 days, to finish the year with a flourish. If we were football players running behind or only one touchdown ahead of the other team, would we relax in the fourth quarter? No way. We’d go all out to score some serious points. The game isn’t over until the last second ticks away.
Maybe this fourth-quarter push is why so many writing challenges occur in November. The most famous is NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, in which people engage in marathon writing sessions in an attempt to write a whole novel in a month. There are also several Poem-a-Day contests, the most famous of which is run by Writer’s Digest’s Robert Lee Brewer. Engaging in one of these contests is one way to cram a lot of writing into a short time. I’ll probably do the poetry challenge again because I do get more poems written than I would otherwise.
But maybe you already have something else you need to be doing with your writing. Have you been working on a project that you’d like to get done by the end of the year? Is there something you’ve been meaning to start and haven’t yet? Did you really hope that you would sell more articles and earn more money this year? Sit down and have a staff meeting with yourself. You still have three months, one quarter of a year. What can you do in that time and what is your plan to get it done?
What’s our fourth-quarter strategy to win the writing game for this year, to approach New Year’s Eve knowing we’ve done our best?
If you’d like to tell us your plans in the comments, we’d love to hear them. Sharing your intentions may help you to follow through.
I still have a few copies of Freelancing for Newspapers available for just $10, including postage. Part of my fourth-quarter game plan is getting rid of excess book inventory. If you’d like a copy, email me at email@example.com.
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, in which participants challenge each other to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. DigiWriMo, born here at Marylhurst University in Oregon, challenges writers to pen that many words for online outlets, such as blogs and web publications. PAD is Writer’s Digest’s Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem a Day challenge, which he offers in both April and November. Unlike so many writing activities, these do not cost money. Although the sponsors would love donations, there is no fee to participate.
All of these challenges push you to write, write, write. They let you post your progress on-line and offer various publication possibilities. NaNoWriMo has turned into a vast community with online forums and in person “write-ins” in many communities, including even my own Newport, Oregon. You “win” if you write the desired number of words. It’s a lot of words—approximately 1666 every day–and if you’re sticking by the rules, they all have to be fresh writing, no revising or adding to something you wrote before. It takes a great deal of dedication to reach the goal. I honestly have never gotten past the first week on this one.
DigiWriMo is new to me, but I plan to try it this year. Again, it takes a lot of work, but you’ll be cheered along by your fellow participants, and the sponsors promise to offer lots of prompts and exercises and ways to collaborate with other participants. [Note: As I’m posting this, I’m having trouble making the link work. Try @digiwrimo on Twitter to connect. ]
I have done the Poem a Day challenge several times. Although I missed some days, I had other days when I wrote more than one poem, so I came out with a nice batch of new poetry. Robert Lee Brewer, who publishes poetry prompts every Wednesday the rest of the year, offers a new prompt every day of the challenge and encourages poets to use them to write a poem and then post it online. He frequently offers contests for the best poems of the challenge or challenges poets to create chapbooks out of their PAD poems.
There are other challenges, and not just in November. Occasionally smaller organizations will challenge their writers to write toward a goal together, literally or at the same time in their own spaces. Search and you will find them.
All of these challenges have one beneficial effect: they give you an incentive to write. The one drawback (besides wanting to ignore your family or your job) is that sometimes you are driven to write garbage just to achieve the desired number of words. But out of that garbage, you may find some gems.
I urge you to consider a writing challenge. Simply working toward a goal with other people helps smash whatever blocks keep us from committing to our work. However, I also offer this suggestion: You can adapt the challenge to your own needs. Maybe you’re halfway through a project and just want to work on that. Maybe you just can’t do weekends or you’re going away for Thanksgiving. Work around it. Use the official goals and times to work on what you need to work on. Challenge yourself.
We still have more than than two weeks before November starts, but if you sign up now, you can get in on the pre-challenge discussions and planning.
I invite you to comment here on what you plan to do and how you’re doing. I’ll be doing DigiWrimo and the Poem a Day challenge.
Ha. 613 words. At this rate, I’ll be done in 83 days. But wait. It hasn’t started yet. I’m just warming up. How about you?
Good morning, writers. It’s almost November. That brings to mind winter weather and Thanksgiving. Time to get serious about those Christmas presents. But it’s also time to write.
NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, starts Nov. 1. For those who have been living on another planet, NaNoWriMo is an annual writing adventure that challenges folks to write a novel–or at least 50,000 words of one–in a month. That means 1,600 words a day. No one expects perfection to result, but it’s a great exercise and may just get that book you’ve been talking about well on its way to completion.
Last year I signed up and then chickened out, but I’m going for it this year. NaNoWriMo offers an online community, incentives to keep writing, and opportunities to meet with people in your area to write together.
If novels aren’t your thing, about about the Poem a Day challenge? Robert Lee Brewer, editor of Writer’s Market and Poet’s Market, hosts this at his Poetic Asides blog. Every day in November, he will post a prompt which you can use or not to write a poem. You’re welcome to post your poems and read those of others doing the challenge, but it’s not required. When it’s over, you can put your poems together in a chapbook and enter a competition for the best chapbook.
In reality, every day can be a writing challenge day. But these two challenges give you a chance to join others to write together. Give it a try. I’m going to.