Archive for category Nanowrimo

#Flashathon Week: Day Three

Wait. What happened to Day Two?

Today, I’d like to bring up the elephant in the room. That other fiction writing marathon looming just a few days after Flashathon. I’m talking, of course, of Nanowrimo.

Anyone who has followed me on this blog and over on Unleaded knows I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Nanowrimo. I am a former Nano participant, and I think it did a lot of good for getting me over the hump and discovering that I could create novel-length stories. Then I walked away when I realized I was almost exclusively writing in Novemeber because Nano would leave me burned out for a few months. This isn’t going to turn into my annual Nanowrimo blog post, that’ll probably go up next week on Nano Eve over on Unleaded. Instead, recognizing that there will be an overlap between Flashathon and Nanowrimo participants, I wanted to discuss the two together.

First, yes, Flashathon is shockingly close to Nano. Typically I’d have hosted Flashathon last weekend to create a little more space between the two events, but life got in the way, so this year Flashathon will be that critical last Saturday before Nanowrimo. It’s a day I know some people spend outlining or preparing, and others spend putting their affairs in order before monastically locking themselves away for a month. If you can’t participate because it’s too close to Nanowrimo, I understand. No need for apologies, and good luck with your novel in November.

Second, yes, Flashathon is massively inspired by Nanowrimo. Not entirely. Some of the origin came from other blogs that do some form of “-athon” that typically deal with around the clock posting of entries. But in terms of this being a marathon of creative fiction writing insanity…yeah, the comparison is easy to make. Really, it’s based on what I think Nanowrimo should be, and how I treated it. One of my first years of Nanowrimo I came across the Staters of the Rules. These were the folks who said your Nanowrimo project had to be fiction, had to be started no earlier than November 1, and that words 49,999 and 50,000 needed to be “the” and “end.” That last one never made sense to me, but some insisted the goal was to write a 50,000 word novel, not a 50,617 word novel. I didn’t like the Staters of the Rules. The next year, they were largely gone. Or, perhaps, I didn’t just see them. The Nanowrimo that I walked into that year was a more open event that acknowledged creativity as the core principle. Adding 50k words to a work already in progress? Go for it. Want to write 50k words of short stories? Kick some ass.

I liked that second Nanowrimo better, and felt it was more in the spirit of creativity and fun. That’s why I tried to make Flashathon as rules light as possible. The prompts are there for the hard-core or the writers’ blocked. If you know something else you want to write, please write it. With that in mind…

Third, yes, Flashathon can be integrated into Nanowrimo. Last year we had people working on flash fiction pieces, certainly. But I know some Flashathon participants were using the hours to prep for Nanowrimo. They were world building, outlining, character sketching, and I fully welcomed all these activities. The only thing I don’t really count is “research.” No sitting on a wikipedia article during the hour and calling that a success. Other than that, if you feel like you did some writing during that hour that you wouldn’t have otherwise done, post what you did as a comment. Stand up for it and feel proud. And, perhaps, one of the prompts might give you that little extra element that you need for your story.

Though, even from the few prompts I’ve already looked at and scheduled, I would argue against trying to integrate all the prompts into your Nano.

So come along, one and all, and use the event as much or as little as it helps you. Then good luck in November!

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Enabling

It’s always a bad sign when I feel the need to start a post by saying how much I love certain institutions.  I love Nanowrimo, it got me started in writing and it can be a way of dipping your toes or a push to be more productive.  Fantastic event.  I love Smashwords, I used them for the brief e-publication of Rust and they provide a vital service for authors looking to get their books into various e-markets as painlessly as possible.  Fantastic company.  The Meatgrinder rocks.

Do you know where I’m going with this?

If you don’t, you likely haven’t seen Smashwords/Nanowrimo promotion, by which Smashwords is giving a place for people participating in Nano to put their works, whether in progress or recently “finished,” up for the world to see.

Right now there are only 42 books up, and I’m happy to see that most of them are actually free, but…well…let’s get back to something I said just about a week ago now:

However, please keep a few things in mind.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell this to anyone reading this blog, but what you’re writing the next thirty days is a rough draft.  Nothing more (though in my own experience, occasionally less).  Don’t be that person who is sending their manuscripts out to agents or publishers on December 1st.  Yes, those people exist.  Yes, those people are why Nanowrimo has a bad reputation in some circles.

Yes, I just quoted myself, but I want to repeat that exact point.  What people are creating during Nanowrimo are drafts.  Rough drafts.  Often extremely rough drafts.  They really aren’t stories that are ready for human consumption.  This move by Smashwords feels like an attempt to enable those who feel that the act of creating in November is good enough, that what they have at the end of the month is a novel, and that it’s ready for the world at large.

It isn’t.

I’ve fallen into a similar trap.  The entire reason I eventually pulled Rust off various online stores (in spite of the best efforts of Lulu to keep throwing it back up) was a realization that what I had written had a beginning, a middle, and an end.  But it wasn’t a complete novel.  What editing it saw was my own amateur editing, and I really am my own worst editor.  I pulled it down because it was a bad representation of my writing and a rather poor excuse for a work made available for a price.

I’m not going to pretend there aren’t writers in the world who would put their Nanowrimo novels up on Smashwords on December 1st and pat themselves on the back for being a published author.  I’m sure they see an uptick every year in that first week if they felt the need to put this promotion together.  However, I’m less than enthused about the apparent promotion of that idea, especially the promotion of putting up a work in progress that isn’t just unedited but incomplete.

And beware.  Anyone putting their stories up this way is burning their first publication rights, which will make these novels almost impossible to sell in any traditional way should they eventually be cleaned and polished.

Perhaps I’m being a curmudgeon.  Grumpy Ole Mr. Thurston.  I just want more people who want to be writers to actually be writers, and not just someone who threw something onto a website and called it a day.

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Nanowrimo Eve

I’ve made my reasons for not participating in the classic Nanowrimo event rather public.  If you haven’t seen them, they’re available on Unleaded.  So I’m not going to rehash them here.

What I will do is wish luck to everyone who is finalizing their outlines, limbering their fingers, auditioning their coffees, and otherwise participating in any of a number of pre-Nanowrimo traditions.  Myself?  I used to always stay up until midnight and write my first sentence, then go to bed.  Of course, the Nanos that I participated in tended to start on weekends, so this was more fitting with my schedule as a person with a day job.  So good luck!  Don’t take my lack of participation in any way as looking down on the event.  There are plenty of bloggers who will do so during the course of the next month, and I’ll probably end up taking one or two to task, it’s another of my annual Nano traditions.

However, please keep a few things in mind.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell this to anyone reading this blog, but what you’re writing the next thirty days is a rough draft.  Nothing more (though in my own experience, occasionally less).  Don’t be that person who is sending their manuscripts out to agents or publishers on December 1st.  Yes, those people exist.  Yes, those people are why Nanowrimo has a bad reputation in some circles.  It makes it easier for me to defend the event if people aren’t doing indefensible things at the end of it.  Have fun.  Say you’re writing a novel.  Yes, that makes you sound pretentious, but everyone needs a little pretension in their lives.

If this is your first time, remember, it’s not easy.  During one of the hours of Flashathon I mentioned a running term: the wall.  Novel writing is an endurance activity, and it is possible to hit that dreaded wall.  But keep going, keep pushing through.  This is, in part, where an outline may help, but not everyone is an outliner.  In that case, take a cue from compass-less orienteering.  Find a distant waypoint.  Keep pointing towards it.  If you have to go around an obstacle, do so with the waypoint in view.  If you have to look away, find it again quick.  It’s possible you’ll decide on a better waypoint as you go, but always think more than a few sentences ahead.

So what about me?  What will I be doing this month?  I’ve given myself another project, working half an hour a night with my wife on our joint novel project Nickajack.  This will be outlining and character development early in the month, it should hopefully be actual writing by later in the month.  We discovered we got a lot done during three weeks where we were eating out every night and talking about the novel over dinner.  We want to keep that momentum going.  I’ll likely be tracking my progress towards that goal more on Twitter and Google+ than in here.

Going to close with today’s XKCD, which isn’t entirely on topic, but not entirely off topic either.  I just really loved it:

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Nanowrimo and Writers’ Block #5

I’d like to start by saying this article may come across to some as anti-Nanowrimo.  It is not.  I am a very firm believer in the event as a spur for creativity and it can get a writer over the hump of what I’ve previously called “micro-editing.”  That said, let’s look into the issues that someone doing Nanowrimo might hit, especially Writers’ Block #5.

What’s #5?  It’s okay if you haven’t heard of numbering types of writers’ block, I hadn’t until today either.  I’m getting the term from an io9 article written by Charlie Jane Anders.  The whole thing is fantastic, worth a read, and peppered with awesome retro pulp covers.  I could probably expand on my own experiences with all 10, but I’d like to just focus on #5:

5. You have a terrible feeling your story took a wrong turn a hundred pages back, and you only just hit a dead end.

That, in a nutshell, is a problem I myself have had several times doing Nanowrimo, and I suspect I’m far from the only one.  It’s a roadblock that largely emerges out of extemporaneous writing, going into a novel without an outline, or perhaps without even a goal in mind.  It happens when your brain shoves a plot point into the novel that feels awesome at the moment, but sets off a string of follow-up events that derail the story.  It doesn’t even have to be a novel.  I’ve had this hit before in a short story and found the need to backtrack a few hundred, or even as many as two thousand words in a short piece to get back to the moment where everything went so horribly wrong.

But in novels?  Oh, it hurts so much in novels.  I know, it’s where I am right now with Capsule.  The moment in question was the moment that the story shifted from being a murder plot into a kidnapping plot, and is the entire crux behind the realization that the one novel is, in fact, two.

Why does it hurt more?  Because it often involves a much bigger fix.  Tracking back the last 20% of a short story usually means deleting triple digit wordcounts.  Tracking back the last 20% of a novel means thousands of words, multiple chapters.  There’s also more likely to be salvageable bits and pieces.  This sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it?  To some authors I’m sure it is.  To me, it means I have to more carefully pick out the pieces I want to reuse and save them from the whole sale burnination that I’m launching.

Know what I’ll never say in this blog?  I’ll never say that writing is easy.

And this is one of the ways that writing becomes hard.

But it can also be a moment to glory in.  That first time or two that you hit Writers’ Block #5, it’s going to feel like a brick wall, and it’s going to feel like the entire story has been for naught.  There’s actually a growth moment in being able to say you took a wrong turn 100 pages back.  The first time I got near the end of a story and realized not only that something was going wrong but where it had gone wrong, I was thrilled!  It was a moment that felt like I’d accomplished something, been able to take a step out of a story and seeing it as a whole.  That can be a great moment.

That it precedes a lot of deleting?  Don’t think about that at first.  Enjoy the moment.  Have a drink.  That will also help with the deleting.

How to avoid Writers’ Block #5?  I suspect it’s never entirely avoidable, but it’s less likely when a story is begun with an outline.  Those are tough words for me to write, as for so long I thought I was getting by just fine without outlines, but the more I write, the more I realize that short stories need at least some direction, and novels need full road maps.  They’ll identify those moments where you’re veering off the story as planned.  That’s not to say outlines can’t change, but when they start changing it’s time to work out the implications of that change, and perhaps even redo the outline with the new plot in mind.

So why did I tie this in with Nanowrimo?  Because the rapid nature of the event makes moments of clarity such as “I just went off the road” harder to have.  The event’s push towards completion has frequently left me at a point where I would love to go back and start huge sections over, but the artificial one month, 50,000 word deadline has forced me to move ahead.  I’m sure there are plenty of writers that go into Nano with a very detailed outline, I know for a fact there are many who don’t, so Writers’ Block #5 lies in their path as a very real danger.  Each time has left me either completely stymied, or with a completed manuscript as Writers’ Block #10:

10. You’re revising your work, and you can’t see your way past all those blocks of text you already wrote.

So what’s the lesson?  As shocked as I am to say it, the lesson is outlining.  There’s a small bit of the old David inside of me shouting against that advise, but it’s true.  Just remember, road maps don’t force you to go to a certain destination, or take a certain path, but they will let you know when you’ve gone off your route.

Block photo released into public domain by owner.

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Writers Write

I think that’s going to be my new mantra, and something that I need to get tattooed backwards across my forehead so I can read it in a mirror.  Anyway, another Wednesday, another post over in Unleaded, this time exploring the few things I’ll say against Nanowrimo, basically the line between having written and being a writer.

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My name is DL Thurston, and I’ve done Nanowrimo

I’m doing more output than usual on my blog today largely because I want to give a reaction to a piece in Salon.com by Lauren Miller.  It’s the same sort of article that comes up at this time every year, saying that there are better things to do with ones time than writing 50,000 words during the month of November.  Such as reading.  Before I get off on where I don’t agree with Ms. Miller, I’m going to start with where I do agree.  And where I agree most is one of her last arguments in the piece

Yet while there’s no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books. Even authors who achieve what probably seems like Nirvana to the average NaNoWriMo participant — publication by a major house — will, for the most part, soon learn this dispiriting truth: Hardly anyone will read their books and next to no one will buy them.

I don’t have the numbers for how much people read in modern society, but there is that strong feeling that the number has gone further and further down as there are more intrusions into time.  There’s the Blackberry that makes sure we’re never not at work.  There’s the internet, which is increasingly present in more and more of our lives.  People do need to read more, and especially they need to read more if they are going to be novelists.

“People would come up to me at parties,” author Ann Bauer recently told me, “and say, ‘I’ve been thinking of writing a book. Tell me what you think of this …’ And I’d (eventually) divert the conversation by asking what they read … Now, the ‘What do you read?’ question is inevitably answered, ‘Oh, I don’t have time to read. I’m just concentrating on my writing.'”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  You should never be so concentrated on your writing that you aren’t reading something.  Even if it has nothing to do with what you’re writing.  Right now I’m writing a piece of near-future horror science fiction.  What am I reading?  A history of the United States spanning the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812.  What did I last read?  Nicholas Clapp’s fantastic real-life archaeology adventures Road to Ubar and Sheba.  What’s next?  Mary Roach’s new book.  The reason we keep reading is to keep learning, to keep an open mind, and even when you’re vastly outside your writing field, there’s still applications.  Reading Road to Ubar has given me so many ideas on how to deepen the world that I’m creating for the ongoing series of projects lumped together as Arkham.  Please please please never think that you’re too busy writing to read something.

Where I’ll also agree with Ms. Miller:

[F]rom rumblings in the Twitterverse, it’s clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they’ll shortly receive. “Submitting novels in Nov or Dec?” tweeted one, “Leave NaNoWriMo out of the cover letter … or make it clear that it was LAST year’s NaNo.” Another wrote, “Worst queries I ever received as an agent always started with ‘I’ve just finished writing my NaNoWriMo novel and …'”

Writing a novel takes more than a month.  A hell of a lot more than a month.  Many novels take their authors years or even decades to perfect.  Now, while the latter is likely a worst case, you are not going to pound out 50,000+ words in the month of November and be able to start sending query letters off on December 1.  And if there are agents and editors that see a lot of “I just finished writing this for Nanowrimo…” I deeply sympathize for the time that they spend crumpling those letters up and disposing of the first three chapters of someone’s unedited stream of consciousness dreck.  Yes, there are people in this world called “editors” but that doesn’t mean they’ll do all the editing for you starting at the rough draft and going forward.  Editing is a detailed process that catches not just simple spelling mistakes but endemic problems in a novel, plot holes, lack of character motivation, lack of overarching themes and plot lines.  This process is not meant to be skipped (or to take just one month, thank you very much Nanoedmo).

However, I don’t know how much of a problem this is, just how many tweet’s Ms. Miller is finding to create her “rumblings” or just how serious those people are.

I suspect that the people who feel that their untouched rough drafts are ready to go to an editor are a vast minority of the people who do Nanowrimo.  I even suspect that the people who feel that they are writing a novel for more than their own sense of self satisfaction is a minority.  And to that end I saw: what harm is done in the process?  To Ms. Miller the harm seems to reside on rewarding the wrong sort of activity.  She bemoans the idea of “squandering our applause on writers” and suggests “why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily?”  That’s a fine notion, and one that I can absolutely get behind.  But at the same time, I reject the false dichotomy that the choices are to either celebrate people for reading or celebrate people for writing.

Nanowrimo does a lot of good for a lot of people.  I should know.  I’m one of them.  The hardest thing I’ve ever done as a writer was completing my first novel.  That’s not to say that everything has been easy since then, anyone that’s watched me working on Capsule for the past two years knows that it hasn’t been an easy process for me.  But because I did Nanowrimo, because I wrote Rust, I was able to get over that hurdle.  I’ve seen several other writers who are fantastically talented but who haven’t been able to cross that line.  Nanowrimo, if nothing else, can get someone over that line and get that first complete novel under the belt.  Will it be crap?  Very likely.  And Ms. Miller doesn’t necessarily think that writing crap is helpful: “I am not the first person to point out that ‘writing a lot of crap’ doesn’t sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if itis November.”

But it is helpful, as long as you write crap the correct way.  I’m not going to even for a moment pretend that everyone participating in Nanowrimo does.  But there are constructive ways to write crap.  If you’re writing crap with a plot that takes 50,000-80,000 words to resolve without being overly stretched or condensed, you’ve done yourself a positive.  If you’re writing crap that forces you to do character studies and to create three-dimensional people to occupy your world, you’ve done yourself a positive.  Now, if you’re writing crap where you string a bunch of plot dares together with a self-insertion character, that might just be crap, don’t get me wrong.  But I’ve intentionally engaged in crap several times, especially when I undertook the challenge of writing a screenplay in a weekend.  It wasn’t even Syfy quality, but much like the first time I won Nanowrimo, it showed me that if I buckled down I could get something complete.  And the first step of editing and revision is to have something to edit and revise.

So if you’re doing Nanowrimo, keep on at it.  Enjoy it.  But pay attention to what you’re doing.  And why you’re doing it.  It can be a lot of fun, but it can also do a certain amount of good.  Don’t listen when people tell you it’s a waste of time and energy because (1) it doesn’t have to be if you don’t want it to be and (2) even if you do want it to be…it’s your own time and energy, waste away!

Then?  Go read a book.  A real book.  It’ll make both me and Laura Miller happy.

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It’s Wednesday…

That means it’s time for some writerly words over on Unleaded.  This week: how best to use Nanowrimo.  (Hint: the answer is “however you want to”.)

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Starting Nanowrimo

This isn’t so much a post as a note to myself.

As I start Nano, Capsule is 56,259 words.  That means my goal tonight is 57,916.

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Sleep rejected, submitted

Had Sleep shot down in very short order by ASIM, which doesn’t surprise me too much.  It’s a tough story to find a good market for because it isn’t quite spec fic, even if it did get once picked up for a dark comedy anthology.  I’ve sent it back out the door, this time trying an audio market.

Because I’ve realized one thing.  Short stories are like children.  You need to raise them, make sure they’re ready for the world, but at a certain point you need to kick them out the door and tell them to get a job!  I’ve got three out right now, I’m going to try and get a fourth in the form of Div!0 in circulation.  Because short stories’ll never get bought just sitting on my hard drive.

Nanowrimo starts tomorrow.

2013 deadline is FAST approaching (Friday, people, Friday) so I’ll probably have to pass on it, since I don’t even really have a concept.  Two more deadlines looking better and added to a calendar over there on the right hand tool bar.  Yay, calendars.

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Unleaded quickie, Nanowrimo

New post up at Unleaded featuring SMBC and me…well, linking right back here again.

Next Monday marks the beginning of Nanowrimo.  This year I’ll be missing a big chunk of the month as I’m heading to New Orleans for a cruise to celebrating the wedding of the proprietors of the Unleaded Blog (yay!).  That means that the standard 50,000 word goal is out the window.  But here’s the thing.  I wouldn’t really want to anyway.  I feel like I’m less than 50,000 words from the end of Capsule, and that trying to put that many more words into it would be contrived.  And I sure as hell don’t want to start anything new, no matter how much I’ve been thinking about a plotline I’m currently calling “The Filibuster” (based on the old definition…shameless 200 Years cross-link).  So here’s my Nanowrimo goal:

Maintain Nano pace on any day that I’m not on vacation until I get to the end of Capsule.  Then work on editing, oh dare I even say it?  End of the Line.

Also, came up with an odd idea for a flash fiction piece that I’m hoping to write and post here in the blog by the end of the month.  Yay, flash fiction!

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