Thirty thousand words is the magical number for NaNoWriMo participants as of the end of the day. I’m slightly ahead of schedule, and that’s a good thing since I’ll be traveling at the end of the week and may have to cash in those extra words.
This past week, I worked my way past the halfway point and that felt incredible. Although, shortly before that happened, I wrote my way into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to get out of it. Wanting to press on, I put my characters in a room to see what might happen and one of them did something that was consistent with who she is, but I just didn’t see it coming. That fixed the problem.
The beauty of NaNoWriMo is, it doesn’t allow you to stop producing words. My natural tendency would have been to stop writing for a few days until I could figure out what to do. But I would have missed the opportunity to be in the moment with my characters to see how they would respond.
As a non-fiction writer, I should have known this, but for some reason it didn’t compute. If I’m on deadline with a newspaper, I can’t put the article aside to figure out how to shape it. I just have to dive in and fight my way through the fog until it lifts. And it will lift as long as I keep moving. Now that I know the same methodology applies to fiction, I’ll take full advantage of it.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If so, I would love to hear what you are learning.
NaNoWriMo veterans refer to this week as the second week doldrums – the time when many participants fall behind on their word count goals and then begin to stress over it, or even quit.
I’ve done it in the past.
But so far, so good this time around. The goal by the end of the day is 18,336 words. I just passed the 19,000 mark. My story arc is coming together. I know where it’s headed. Conflict is higher than expected. And the characters are settling into their roles nicely – even surprising me once in a while.
And when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about the characters and their world. The creative juices have nowhere else to go but on the page as I finally sit down to write in a restaurant or coffee shop each night. And I think that’s been a key factor in making more progress than I have in the past.
Some writers never talk about their work in progress. I’ve never been one of those writers, but then again, I've written primarily non-fiction, and that's a different animal. So I decided to keep silent about this novel, based on a theory I wanted to test.
When you experience a tough situation and talk it through with a friend, you release all your angst and then feel better afterward, right? What if that applies to writing fiction? What if talking about a work in progress releases all of your creative angst and then you haven’t nothing left to draw on when you sit down to write?
Writers are curious creatures. We find all sorts of excuses not to write. So we come up with theories like the one I proposed above to trick ourselves into producing words. NaNoWriMo itself is a trick designed to get us to produce words without worrying about revision or whether it’s good enough or not. Keeping my book to myself is the trick I’m using this year, and so far it’s working.
I attended the NaNoWriMo write-in at Perkins in Omaha on October 31. Maybe 15 people showed up and we all got to know each other before the clock struck midnight.
Then it was on.
I ordered a pot of coffee and wrote nearly 900 words over the next hour or so. The group disbanded around 1:00 a.m., so I finished my other 700 words on Friday evening at Barnes & Noble—which may become my home away from home in November.
On Saturday, I split my writing sessions again, writing the bulk of my word count in the morning and finished near midnight.
Sunday looked much the same.
Routine is good. It keeps me going.
So far, participants need to have written 5,000 words to be on pace to finish by the end of November. I’ve written 5,183, as you can see in the sidebar. I need to be at 6,667 by the end of the day. My guess is, the magic will happen in a local coffee shop later tonight.
During the day (I write and edit for various publications and publishers), I’ve been listening to writing podcasts to keep the creative juices flowing. Here’s what I’ve been listening to:
I've also been friending writers on the NaNo website so I can see where they are in the process. It's always helpful to know that others are walking the same path. Feel free to friend me if you want to.
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, what are you doing to stay motivated and to keep the creative juices flowing?
If I appear to drop off the grid during November, it’s because I’ll be busy writing a novella.
I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – during which novelists write 50,000 words in one month) and you can follow my progress, or maybe lack thereof, on the sidebar of this page where you will see my total word count.
Writing 50,000 words in one month breaks down to 1,667 words per day. The daily word count doesn’t scare me. What scares me is not having the plot line come together well enough to write 1,667 words per day.
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo twice in the past and failed miserably – partially because I did not plan my plot or characters well enough and partially because I have a difficult time turning my internal editor off.
I don’t follow the standard writing advice that says to just crank out a first draft as quickly as possible and then go back and revise it. Whether I’m writing a book, a newspaper article or a blog post, I edit as I write, so by the time I finish my first draft, it’s probably a third or fourth draft. It works for me, and I learned long ago that you have to go with what works.
But for this book, I’m going to turn off my internal editor and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, I may end up only writing 25,000 words. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, especially given that I’ll be writing a novella. Either way, it’ll feel great to write fiction again. I’ve put it off for far too long.
One of the fun aspects of NaNoWriMo is the built-in community that is available both on and offline. In addition to online forums where writers can gather for support, the website lists various places to gather in your local community for “write-ins.”
Tonight, NaNoWriMo participants in my city will gather in a reserved room at Perkins for a write-in to socialize and then, at midnight, to stop the socializing so they can write. I imagine some will crank out two or three thousand words, which will give them a great head start. I’m contemplating attending this event. I’d love to wake up Saturday morning and know I’ve already written my 1,667 words.
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, friend me on the official website and we’ll encourage each other throughout the month. If you are not, then please excuse me if I’m even slower than normal at returning email, phone calls, texts, etc.
Looking out my windshield at white puffy clouds, contrasted by a wide expansive blue sky as I made my way north on Highway 81 in Kansas yesterday, I considered something Alan Alda said in an iTunes “Meet the Author” podcast I was listening to.
He was talking about the power of now, in the context of his search for meaning. First he made reference to something Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote: “All we have is the present moment.” He connected that with something a neuroscientist told him recently: “Our experience of now only last about five seconds. We’re in now for just that long. And everything before that is a memory.”
Alda’s goal is to keep up with the now because he sees colors and hears sounds he wouldn’t otherwise notice. He sees multiple colors in a person’s face when he’s in the now – hints of blues, greens and browns. Presumably, he doesn’t just hear a conversational buzz when he’s in the now, but instead he hears every word, every syllable, every tone inflection.
For him, being fully present is the closest he believes he can come to finding meaning. While I disagree with his conclusion – I draw meaning from living for God, glorifying Him and enjoying his presence – Alda is on to something, especially in our present age in which it is common to see friends gathered around a table at Applebee’s, all of whom have their heads down texting other friends.
I tend to live two hours from now, or one day from now, thinking about everything I need to do, and I miss the leaves swirling toward the ground in my front yard. I miss two squirrels chasing each other. I miss the brief look of loneliness on a friend’s face.
The fifth chapter of Ephesians has been on my mind a lot lately. I may write more about that later, but in part, the apostle Paul said: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV). Some translations say “redeeming the time” rather than “making the best use of the time.”
The overall consensus regarding the meaning of this passage is, we should be more diligent about works directly related to the kingdom. I see the truth in that. But Matthew Henry goes a little deeper in his comments about this passage:
“It is a great part of Christian wisdom to redeem the time. Good Christians must be good husbands of their time, and take care to improve it to the best of purposes, by watching against temptations, by doing good while it is in the power of their hands, and by filling it up with proper employment – one special preservative from sin. They should make the best use they can of the present seasons of grace. Our time is a talent given us by God for some good end, and it is misspent and lost when it is not employed according to his design.”
I love this notion of making the best use of our time because our time is a season of grace. The five minutes you took to read this post was a season of grace, or five mini-seasons of grace. Being present in the now is so much better than being lost in the cares and concerns of tomorrow.