[Guest Post] Writing as an Endurance Sport

“You’re doing WHAT?”

That’s the typical response when you tell someone you’re participating in an event to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The second response is “What do you get if you win?” For most people the idea of writing a novel in a month is, at best, a foolish waste of time. After all, don’t you know how few people actually manage to get published? The world of writing is a mysterious world indeed, and one that seems crazy to outsiders.

So what do we get out of it? Well, for some it is an endurance sport. Some people choose to test their boundaries by running marathons, or climbing mountains. And to these people the same questions could be asked. “You’re running 25k? Why? What do you get if you win?” The knowledge that you’ve won. It doesn’t seem like much, but humans thrive on competition. The act of winning is enough to spur us on towards greater heights.

But there’s more to it. You see, we’re not just in competition – we’re in community. There’s something about the experience of shared hardship that brings people together. Nobody runs a marathon by themselves, you run it with other people. Those other people give you competition (I’m ahead of two thirds of the other runners!) and they give you community (we’re in this together!) Both are necessary to reach your goals.

But why do we do this? Surely writing a novel in a year is the same outcome as writing a novel in a month? Why push ourselves? Because we have to. You see, there’s a vicious and evil monster that plagues writers worldwide. It’s called the inner editor. It’s that voice that says “That sentence sucks.” It’s a useful tool, in some settings, but in novel writing it is crippling. Such a high word count in such a low amount of time allows you to force the inner editor into a closet and lock it away. it means you don’t have time to spend three hours agonizing whether that comma sound be a comma, a semi-colon or a new sentence. You just don’t have the time.

So you write, and you write, and you write. And of course that first draft is rubbish. It’s ok. That is the most important thing that NaNoWriMo teaches. That it’s OK to write rubbish. You have a whole community of people, writing rubbish alongside you. And so you press on, desperate to get to that word count. And you finish the story. And yes, it’s crap. But that’s OK. it’s easy to edit something into shape once it’s written. But editing it before you even have it on paper is novelist suicide.

And so at the end of the month, if you have the dedication and the ambition, you have a novel. A crappy, un-edited novel. A crappy, un-edited novel you can then take your time the rest of the year and shape into the story you actually wanted to tell. You can polish it, and make it actually make sense.

But not in November. November is for the writing. At about 10,000 words, your inner editor comes screaming out of whatever hole you’ve buried it in and begins picking your novel apart. This is normal, and it’s funny to watch the NaNowriMo forums at this time. Everyone goes from “this is the best novel ever!’ to “I suck as a writer and am going to go be a fry cook now, that’s all I’m good for!”

But the people who have done NaNo for a few years come in and assure everyone that this too shall pass. And we all keep writing. Because it’s what we do. We’re writers. Even if you’ve only ever written school assignments, or fan fiction. You’re a writer. And writers keep on writing.

So if you’re thinking of doing NaNoWriMo, be prepared. It’s hard. You will curse the decision to join. But you will find companionship, support, and sympathy. A whole bunch of people crazy enough to take on the challenge with you.

Ki Vick is a freelance ghostwriter and novel writer. She is halfway through her first NaNoWriMo novel and is hoping to polish it up in time for publication early next year. She has been a writer for 6 years and lives with her husband in a tiny apartment in Dayton, Ohio.

[Guest Post] Micro-Goals; or How Word Sprints Save Your Sanity

NaNoWriMo is a beast: a 50,000-word minimum juggernaut that’s defeated far more seasoned writers than myself… and if, like me,  you’re  trying to tackle the dragon for the first time, it might be beginning to seem rather like an epic quest in nature. The daily climb to 1,667 begins to look like a repetitive trek up a literary Mount Everest—but there are ways to make the journey easier. Heck, there are ways to make NaNoWriMo look like a walk in the park.

The best tip that I’ve discovered so far? Micro-goals. Forget 50,000, forget 1,667; just concentrate on writing as many words as you can 1 hour, 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, even 10 minutes at a time. It doesn’t only help your word count, it may also save your sanity.

There are hundreds, even thousands of writers who are tackling the challenge and triumphing over the world-wide writing marathon one quarter hour at a time. Don’t have a stop watch? Doesn’t matter. Don’t have friends willing to take the plunge with you? You will soon.

If you haven’t already, go to NaNoWriMo.org, sign up, then look under the Tab ‘NaNo Near You’ and Find Your Region. Select the city nearest you, then scan the forum for write-ins, meet-ups, and other events for the chance to join up with other local writers write, celebrate, write, lend each other support, keep each other sane—and participate in the face-to-face version of the motivational micro-miracle ‘word sprints’.

Don’t feel like heading out? No problem, you can also participate online. Go to Twitter, follow @NaNoWordSprints (the official NaNoWriMo profile for word sprints) and get ready to rock your NaNovel like a hurricane. @NaNoWordSprints is run in shifts by different volunteers worldwide, so no matter where in the world you are, you’re never very far from a wordsprint — and if you don’t feel like going through official channels, trying searching for #NaNoWriMo or #wordsprint to see when random users worldwide are gearing up for a sprint—or add those hashtags to your own tweets along with an invitation to join a wordsprint at :00, :15, :20, :30, ect…

Once a sprint starts, write like the wind for its duration, then take stock & add up the words you’ve set down. Chances are you’ll be surprised. Only a handful of sprints and you’ll reach your daily quota. If you’re inspired to keep writing beyond that, you could well surpass it.

For example, I participated in a 20-minute word sprint on Twitter. I wrote 604 words. I didn’t come in first in the sprint, but I won something else: inspiration. I kept writing. Reached 1,364 words, took a break to eat dinner, then participated in another word sprint — this one was 30min long.

By the end of it, I was up to 2,017 words. I really felt like I was hitting my stride. By the time I was done, I’d cranked out 4,746 words in one sitting—and before you think I’m some sort of NaNo rockstar or ringer, I’m a noob.

This is my first shot at NaNoWriMo and I still hunt & peck because I never learned to keyboard. My daily word count on for the three days prior to the wordsprint was 342, 0, and 564 respectively. I’ll be the first to admit that staring a screen, wondering how I’m going to crank out 1,667 words much less 50,000, makes me cringe. But writing my heart out for 20 minutes? Now that I can handle. Heck, it’s painless, it’s fun, and there’s no masochism involved in going back for more.

Word sprints, or micro-goals, are fantastic ways to tame the beast, to take NaNoWriMo and break it into something much easier to handle, to find your way to the finish line with some semblance of sanity, and create your NaNovel one quarter hour at a time. They are awesome at giving you a running start before NaNoWriMo runs you over; try them and see!

Eryn Lockhart is an independent romance author whose debut novel, After Midnight, was released earlier this year. She’s also an unrepentant chocoholic, bookworm, Rockband addict, and movie-hound.  You can find her online at her blog, on Goodreads, on Facebook, and at her homepage.

[Guest Post] Eradicating Excuses and Silencing the Inner Critic

I hear a lot of excuses for not participating in National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo. That sounds like something a tired novelist says at the end of a month-long, novel-writing marathon: “Naaah, no wri’ mo’…” just before conking out over the keyboard.

The only valid excuses, really, are “I have no desire to write a novel right now,” and being quadriplegic. With today’s assistive technologies, even the latter is questionable in its validity, provided you really want to write a novel.

In fact, this year marks my tenth NaNoWriMo. I’ve only “won” once, and that’s fine by me. I had something to prove – to myself. Until then, the longest story I’d ever written fell just short of 6000 words. I was still making excuses – “I’m busy” being one of the big ones. It was true, too. I had a full-time job, and the company I work for had just gone through a major merger. My kids were thirteen and five, and though loathe to admit in public, needed me. My mom was critically ill, in the hospital, a thousand miles from her home or mine. I traveled a lot that year. And then, there was September. 9/11. Need I say more?

They tell us, “Write what you know.” And we have to live, to experience, to get out into the world to have things to write about. But sometimes, it all seems too too real and somehow taboo to write about our own experiences or to say out loud the things we know.

I’d suggest that you edit “Write what you know” to “Write from what you know” – draw from the well of reality to craft fiction. You don’t have to know and certainly don’t have to understand  everything. Sometimes, by writing from what you know, a new sort of clarity begins to emerge and it starts to make more sense to you and, if you’re lucky, to your readers. It’s all grist for the mill; the trick to writing entertaining fiction, I think, lies in the ability to lie like a rug and be scrupulously honest, all at the same time.

I’m the first to debunk the notion that artists’ and writers’ creativity demands the infertile soil of hardship and deprivation to thrive. I don’t write well at all when I’m worried about things like paying the bills or feeding my kids. But the truth is, we writers do seem to have two gears: procrastination mode and deadline mode. And at no time is the old adage “If you want something done quickly, ask a busy person to do it” truer than during November and NaNoWriMo.

Besides the artificial deadline pressure, there was another factor driving me: A desperate need to escape reality. Most people would read a book, watch a movie, or veg out in front of the TV. But all of those activities were too passive to still the small, panicked voices in my head. We writers have learned to sublimate our craziness and call those clamoring cranial voices “characters.” It’s both frightening and exhilarating to realize, when you’re really in the writing groove, that you have given up trying to control those characters and have begun to simply take dictation as they tell you their stories.

There are other characters who must be silenced. I’m not talking about the victims in our murder mysteries – I’m talking about our inner critics.

Those insidious demons left over from our insecure, prepubescent years when we began to realize writing was work that involved skills we didn’t yet possess and somehow got the notion that our fantasies weren’t good enough to pass literary muster. The whole premise behind NaNoWriMo is to write so fast those characters can’t get a word in edgewise. But what if they do? What if, somehow, they manage to harangue us into believing their petty-minded nonsense? What else – we torment them on the page for fun and profit. One year, my half-finished NaNoNovel, Eradicating Edna, featured the inner critic as a character. Try it, if you feel your well of inspiration’s all tapped out. It’s wicked fun – and it might just serve as free therapy.

Eradicating Edna (Prologue)

“What was I thinking, to put such expectations on myself at a time like this, when all the  world’s gone mad around me?” I cried, throwing a forearm dramatically over my forehead and letting out a piteous wail. “I’ll do it!” I sprang to my feet, energized. It took less than a NaNoSecond forreality to sink in. “But I’m so far behind. All I have so far is three death scenes and an aborted suicide.”

You can imagine the withering look my Muse gave me. “That’s the spirit.”

My Inner Editor foamed at the mouth. Only, the foam came out her nose, since my Muse had had the foresight to bind up her mouth with duct tape.

“Look, you’re an overachiever, but you’re a burnt-out overachiever seriously in danger of looking like she’s got a bug up her butt. So write this one just for fun. And if you must compete, consider it your entry into the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest next year.” The Muse shrugged.

“That’s just supposed to be one sentence,” I said. I was pouting. I had my heart set on writing great lit-rah-chure.

“So write a novel that gives you nothing but hard choices as to which sentence you should enter.”

“There are multiple categories,” I said, warming to the idea. “I could have ’em all covered, by the time I’m done.”

“There you go. Enter in every category. Just be sure to win a ‘Dishonorable Mention’ for me.”

“I know that, Dear. It’s pretty pathetic, if you ask me.” She picked up my daughter’s TI-83 calculator and pushed some buttons at random. “Don’t think of it as ‘behind.’ Think of it as an adjustment, from 1667 words a day to 2800 words a day. You can do that, can’t you? I mean…if you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Can I use this conversation?” I asked. I was reluctant to admit it; it seemed so…puerile. But I was beginning to enjoy myself. Guilty pleasures are always the best kind.

“No.”

“Will you take that thing away?” I asked, pointing at the Inner Editor. The IE growled and struggled against the ropes that bound her to her ergonomically-correct office chair. Gleefully, I smacked her over the head with an ergonomic keyboard, breaking the device in two. I dumped it into her lap.

“Absolutely.” My Muse poured two glasses of cheap cream sherry and we raised them in a toast. “To fingering Bulwer-Lytton’s proboscis in April!”

“Here, here.”

“Isn’t that ‘hear, hear’?” squeaked the Inner Editor, who had managed to bite through the duct tape with her jagged fangs.

“Good lord. Does ‘anal-retentive’ have a hyphen?” sneered my Muse. Grabbing She-Who-Inspires-Writers-to-Write-Heinous-Scenes-of-Gruesome-Torture by the neck, my Muse saluted me and disappeared. The Evil One vanished, too, and I could breathe again.

Holly Jahangiri is a technical communicator, social media analyticator, children’s book author, blogger, happy wife and mom living in Houston, Texas. She would really appreciate it if you would read her post, Good Goals Gone Bad, on TheNextGoal.com.

[Guest Post] NaNoWriMo and Writing Immediacy

It was the afternoon of Jan. 13, 2000, and I was waiting at Microsoft’s headquarters to be ushered into a press conference with my fellow media elites. We had no idea why Microsoft had summoned us, other than it was a big announcement. Initially, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know what was going on – I was the AP business writer covering the company, after all, and I had worked the phones to no avail that day.

Finally, they allowed us in to take our seats, then handed us a press release. “Bill Gates to step down as Microsoft CEO.”

Oh, crap.

By the time Bill took the stage, the four paragraphs I had dictated over my cell phone were already on the wire. I didn’t even bother writing them down. By that evening, I had written more than 3,000 words, including a mainbar, a feature on the relationship between Bill and his successor, Steve Ballmer, and a few other tidbits. Each piece was re-written at least twice by the time I was done.

The only reason I bring this up is to remind you that NaNoWriMo requires you to write with that same kind of immediacy. And if you plan on doing any kind of writing for a living, you’re going to have deadlines to meet. Best to start now, right?

I’m a long-time writer, first time NaNoWriMo’er. And seeing from the amount of angst and nerves I’ve seen from folks’ blogs and Twitterings, I feel like I’m nowhere near as geared up for it as I should be. Then again, my journalism background probably leaves me somewhat more prepared than most. Here are some strategies from my reporting days that I’m using and might help you out:

  • Don’t second guess. It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck. When I was reporting, I had editors to edit and write-thrus to correct. Same here – you’ll catch it in the revision process later. My first novel, currently out on submission, was revised eight times. It started getting really good around the fifth revision. Perfection is the enemy of NaNoWriMo. Just get it down on the page.
  • Don’t go backward. Halfway through your book, you’re going to realize that your protagonist should be nicer, or your plot twist needs more twisting. Just incorporate those elements as you go, then wait until you’re done with the full draft before you clean it up.
  • Don’t be afraid of the TKs. When I’m writing on the fly, I’ll often throw in a TK (an old editing mark for “to come”) as a placeholder for a statistic or concept I need to research. That holds true for NaNoWriMo as well. Don’t pause to look up 18th century sailing-ship rigging or the state of Protestantism during the Counter-Reformation in Bavaria. Slap a TK on it and keep going.
  • Mark where you’ve diverged from your outline. Take a moment to put a comment or note in the text where you’re TKing or changing something major, to ensure you’ll catch it on revision. It’s a corollary to not looking back at that very moment. Every time you feel the urge to go back and revise, mark it instead, then move on.
  • Hit your word count. If you’re going to write 3,000 words a day, don’t stop until you’re done. That means you need to ensure you’re setting aside enough time to write, and that your outline (you DID create an outline, right?) allows you to chunk out the copy to meet that goal. Treat it like a job that you don’t get paid for. Not only will that attitude help you meet your goals, but it will prepare you for a lifetime of hard work and low pay. (Kidding!)

Above all, have fun. By the end of this month, you’ll have the start of something awesome in your hands. It won’t be ready for prime time, but you’ll be in far better shape than you were on Oct. 31!

Michael J. Martinez is a writer in the New York City area, with a number of non-fiction books, several dozen magazine pieces and a heap of newspaper articles to his credit. He blogs at michaeljmartinez.net and Tweets at mikemartinez72. Follow him on Twitter before Dec. 1 for a chance to win a critique of your NaNoWriMo work. Michael is represented by Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency.

[Guest Post] What to Expect When You’re Expecting (NaNoWriMo)

Kaitlin and husband Michael - co-author of The Athele Series - dressed for the Steampunk Ball.

Having done NaNoWriMo for seven-odd years, I’m going to offer you some (parsley) sage (rosemary and thyme) advice about what to expect in each week of your legendary Noveling adventure.

Week 1

Week 1 is like the first rush of romance in a new relationship.  You are just so darned excited to finally be going steady with your novel that all your worries over its little flaws don’t even register!  Ideas flow like the butter from movie theater dispensers; almost too fast and hot to handle – you’re racing to get everything down!  Midnight comes on November 1st, and you’re all “WOO!  THIS IS GONNA BE THE BEST THING EVER!  I’VE GOT MY COFFEE AND MY OUTLINE AND I A GOING TO ROCK THIS!”

Okay, so maybe not in all caps, but you get the idea.  And you know what?  That’s totally cool.  Go forth, young noveler and write as fast as your fingers and caffeine addled, sleep deprived brain will allow you.  This is pretty much my favorite part of the month.

Week 2

Week 2 has a reputation amongst NaNoers: it’s the most difficult week.  I’ve found that my week two is fine for the first half, and then kind of gets a little slow towards the second half, as if my arteries have been clogged by all the butter from week one (I’m going to let go of this comparison, now).  Symptoms of the week 2 doldrums include poking at your word count, wondering what the heck happened to y our outline, and bouts of author’s angst (also known as I SUCK, MY NOVEL SUCKS, EVERYTHING SUCKS! – and yes, that’s always in caps).

Remember, this is only a sprint insomuch as it’s a lot of words in a smaller amount of time than one is accustomed to.  You have all day to make your daily goal, so do it in little chunks.  Or be like me in week two and get yourself a large coffee rather than a medium, plus perhaps a donut or other sugary confection, and power through it.  (Get Powerthirst if necessary.  In lieu of running fast, you might write fast.)

Finally, make sure you’re signed up for NaNoWriMo emails because they have pep talks from famous published authors.  They’re often amazing.  I nerded out when Lemony Snicket was in my inbox, read the email about ten times, and then proceeded to have a bang-up writing day.  People like Lindsey are awesome too – and seeing as they run the show, they know how you feel!

Week 3

When you’ve had a tantrum, you eventually pick yourself up and look around and start to see the bright side.  Week 3 is this stage.  You’re still a little unsteady, but you’ve gone to the writer’s bathroom, looked in the mirror a la some Rocky film and given yourself a mini pep talk (or you’ve heeded my advice and let the Nanowrimo folks do it).  You have a plot that might just hang together.  That plot hole from week two is obviously closeable with just a sentence’s worth of explanation in this later chapter.  Everything is starting to come together!

If week two was really bad for you, keep yourself above water just for week three.  Trust in the novel – the heart of the words (I’m sorry, Yu Gi Oh! Fans).  Just remember ‘quantity, not quality,’ keep on truckin’.  Look back to the beginning of your document – don’t read it – just look.  You’ve passed the half way point and holy crap – there’s 40 pages or so worth of writing there!  You’re doing great!  Proceed on to…

Week 4

This is it!  This is arguably the most exciting week in NaNoWriMo!  It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, the final lap in this thirty day blitzkrieg of writing!  You may possibly feel as if your brain is dissolving and your fingers falling off from so much typing, but never fear!  You’ve got this!

Power on through the finish – cross the line and git’r done!  Last year, week 4 was actually the hardest week for me, but that was because I had a huge fight scene at the end of my novel and fight scenes aren’t exactly my strong suit.  But I sat down in my little Dunkin’ Donuts, grabbed myself a large Americano and crossed that finish line with confetti, streamers, and much rejoicing.  The store broke out into song and dance with me in the middle and…

Hm.  No.  Never mind.  Must have been my coffee-spiked dreams that night.

And that’s about what to expect.  As your motivation for the time being, I’m here to unabashedly tell you that you all can do this.  You’ve got a VP, you don’t really even need a story.  Just a whole lot of the caffeinated beverage of your choice, something to write with, and a lot of spirit (or is that more coffee?  I’m not sure.) Ready?  Set?  Go!

Kaitlin is a High Fantasy author.  With her husband, Michael, she is publishing The Athele Series, set to launch in winter of 2012.  Their blog, www.theatheleseries.wordpress.com, talks about writing, the fantasy genre, and publishing.