Wednesday, September 28, 2011

NaNoWriMo #02: Gearing Up

Strictly speaking, there isn’t anything you need to do to prepare for NaNoWriMo (though signing up always helps).  Being able to sit yourself down on November 1st and just start writing is one of the virtues of the event.  But if you’re like me, the notion of sitting down to that empty page and blinking cursor is one of the most terrifying (literary) prospects imaginable.  I firmly believe that my success in NaNoWriMo so far has been the preparation I’ve done in advance of November, so if you think that you’ll likely find yourself in the same boat, then October is the month for you to get your head start.

That head start can be anything short of actually writing the novel (remember, that starts at 12:01 a.m. on November 1st!), but here’re a few things I’ve done in the past and will be doing this October.

Outlining Your Story

I’m not really into outlining, but I’ve found that having a framework to guide you through NaNoWriMo is crucial given the time constraint under which you’ll be laboring.   Brainstorm the overall plot arc of your story, write up character dossiers, and even quick outlines of your chapters.  The amount of detail you need is up to you and what works best for your creative process.  Some of us need to have all the ducks in a neat row before writing the first sentence; others just need an idea and an empty canvas on which to chase that idea to its conclusion.  Most of us fall somewhere between those extremes.   Figuring out where you fall and what you’ll need in order to succeed in November is what October is for.

Making a Game Plan

Along with planning the novel itself, planning how you’ll handle the task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days is also important.  50,000 words split into 30 equal pieces is around 1,667 words per day; if you’re very disciplined, you can plan on hitting the 1,667 mark and then calling it a day thirty times, and you’ll be done on time.  If you’re like me, though, you’ll have some days where you’re on such a roll that you’ll want to keep going, and end up with way more than your daily goal, and, inevitably, other days where you’re so busy with life and other exigencies that you can’t even add a comma before the next day arrives. 

To the extent possible, note the days in November when your schedule will be most likely to bottleneck: work deadlines, midterm exams, etc.  Mapping out where you’re most likely to be swamped will help you to figure out how many days you’ll need to designate for catch up – that is, days where you can reasonably set the bar at the 3,000, 4,000, or 5,000 word mark and make up for (or in advance of) days where you won’t get many words in edgewise. 

Locking and Loading

My last “Gearing Up” tip is all about the gear: make sure you have the tools you’ll need to succeed at NaNoWriMo, and check to ensure that they’re all in working order so that you’ll be ready to hit the ground running on November 1st.  Depending on your preferences, you may not need much: a bunch of scratch paper and a writing implement is all you need to start writing, and many NaNoWriMoers do pen their novels by hand.  (Admittedly, though, doing so does make word counting a little bit harder.)  For those who will be doing their writing on a computer, make sure its running smoothly, you have a word processor that you’re comfortable with and can rely on, and, perhaps most important of all, be prepared to back up your files!  It’s best to keep your backup copies on a separate drive, if possible, or even a cloud storage system. 

(My preferred cloud storage is DropBox.  It syncs automatically and is great for keeping files up to date across several computers.  It even has useful apps for iOS and Android that allow you to access and edit your files wherever you go.  If you’d like, you can click on my DropBox affiliate link to sign up for your own account [doing so gives me an extra 250mb of storage space, up to a max of 5gb, and once you’ve set up your own account, every friend you sign up gives you the same bonus as well].)

The point of locking and loading is to iron out any potential technical issues that might stand in the way of completing your 50k.

Monday, September 26, 2011

NaNoWriMo #01: What It Is And Why It Matters

NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month.”  It began in 1999, when founder Chris Baty and a group of likeminded friends first pegged November as the month in question and set out to pen 50,000 words in 30 days.  As of last year, according to the website, over 200,000 people participated and 30,000 of them completed 50,000 or more words by the November 30th deadline.  

What Are the Rules?

The rules are simple.  You write your first word on November 1st and keep going until November 30th.  If you reach the 50,000-word mark by the 30th (on average, that’s 1,667 words per day), then congratulations: you’re a NaNoWriMo winner! 

Why Participate?

The NaNoWriMo website (which is due for an exciting renovation this year) provides tools for your to track your word count progress and communicate with and derive support from other participants through its forums.  Local groups often organize “Write-Ins” where they arrange to meet in a particular venue to toil on their word counts together. 

Beyond these tools and activities, your participation in NaNoWriMo is really up to you.  There’s no editor (outside of your own head!) who will draw red lines through your sentences and make you rewrite them.  No webmaster or forum moderator is going to look through what you’ve written and make sure that the words you enter into the word counter tell a story or even make sense.  What NaNoWriMo gives you is an excuse to sit down and write, a month-long clarity of purpose in which you can breathe life into that story idea that has been niggling at the back of your brain for years on end.  It gives you permission to suck in your first attempt — as Hemingway said (and is proven true often enough), “The first draft of anything is shit” — so that you have room to complete it, and, eventually, go back and refine it.  It allows you to prove to the harshest critic of all — yourself — that the novel you’ve always said you’d write can, in fact, be written.  And it allows you to do all this in an environment where thousands of others are toiling in unison with you, all across the globe.

My First NaNoWrimo Experience

My participation in NaNoWriMo began in November 2008, but I first learned of it in the previous year from Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing podcast.   NaNoWriMo wasn’t my first experience writing a novel, as I had taken a year between college and law school — what I think of as my “fourth year” of college, as AP credits allowed me to graduate in three — to write the rough draft of my first novel, which I’ll be referring to here on Fictional Matters as Book One.  But that 130,000+ word draft had literally taken me the whole year to complete, so the notion of writing 50,000 words in 30 days was still daunting to me.   On top of all of that, I was in my third year of law school, which meant I was juggling classes and responsibilities as a law review editor, teaching assistant, and research assistant at the same time.  It really didn’t make much sense to add NaNoWriMo to my already overflowing plate, but I did it anyway. 

I did it as a way to show myself and my friends how serious I was about fiction writing.  I did it in order to prove that I still could write fiction after two and a half years of law school and legal writing.  I also did it as a partial rebellion against the traditional lawyer’s career path that I had placed myself on, an acknowledgement that I’d be taking a different direction after graduation.  It was grueling, but I succeeded in reaching 50,000 at the eleventh hour on November 30th, and doing it in a way that didn’t compromise my law school responsibilities, as I managed to ace that semester’s classes (and AmJuring, or getting the top grade in, my favorite class and area of law, Intellectual Property Law).

And I've been at it every year since then.

Your (Future) NaNoWriMo Experience(s)

If you’ve ever thought about writing a novel but talked yourself out of it, got too busy or simply never got around to it, you owe it to yourself (and your unwritten novel) to give it a try.   The experience will open your eyes to the possibilities of what you can achieve if you only dedicate the necessary time and resources.  Even if you’ve never contemplated writing a novel before, if you’re in for a potentially life-changing experience or just looking to try something new, give it a go.  If you decide to, there’s a whole community of others who will try along with you, and support you in this journey.  For my part, I’ll be following up with advice on how to get prepared for NaNoWriMo, some tools and strategies, and a day-by-day update of my own progress this November.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Fictional Manifesto

This post marks a turning point for the Fictional Matters blog, as from here on it will feature new posts on no less than a weekly basis.  After setting up this blog in March 2011, I took some time to determine the kinds of content that I will be able to provide, as well as what its readers would want to see.  

The following series are a glimpse of what you can expect to see here in the coming days:

  • Fictional Tips: These posts will feature techniques, advice, and thoughts on the craft of storytelling.  For most of my storytelling life, my medium of choice has been the written word, in the form of novel-length and short fiction.  I have also dabbled in illustrations, and have been working for the past month on my first fan-made comic, or doujinshi.  As a result, most practical tips will center on writing and drawing.  Tips focusing on the philosophy of the craft, however, will draw examples and inspiration from all media.
  • Fictional Tools: This series will feature the tools of the storyteller's trade, such as pens, pencils, keyboards, drawing tablets, and creation-oriented software and apps.  
  • Stories That Matter: These posts will review stories that constitute special achievements in the storytelling art and, in doing so, offer a great experience for storytellers and non-storytellers alike.  
  • National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Series: These posts will highlight what NaNoWriMo is, what steps you can take to get ready for it, and tips for succeeding in writing 50,000+ words of story in 30 days.  I've been a NaNoWriMo participant  and, knock on wood, perennial "winner"  since 2008, when I succeeding in reaching 50,000 words by November 30th despite being in the midst of the fall semester of my third year of law school.  This special series will feature posts on a more frequent basis in the months of October, leading up to NaNoWriMo, and November, the actual Novel Writing Month in question.