[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.


“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.

NaNoWriMo 2011: We’re Halfway There!

It’s November 15, and you know what that means?  We’re half-finished with the annual National Novel Writing Month challenge.  It’s my first year participating since 2008, and it’s time for me to take a step back and evaluate my progress so far.

So what is your progress so far?

Word Count: 25,016

Chapter Count: 12 completed, 13 in progress

And your progress as a writer?

This is the big question.  I’m convinced this year’s NaNoWriMo project – while not my first – has massively affected my style of writing, at least in terms of how I look at a plot.  While I do like having a base to build on – my outline – I’ve really learned about just letting things happen.  I do have a tendency to overplan, especially when it comes to the conflict portion, and that leaves little space for character development.

This novel has done plenty to improve my character development, although that’s mostly taken the form of Victoria doing a lot of cooking.

How stressed out are you feeling?

I don’t think anybody wants to know the answer to that.  If you know anyone participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I think you already know the answer.  If you don’t, congratulations.

Check back soon to get more guest posts, information, and more.  If you just can’t wait, read or re-read this awesome post by Mike Martinez or my own post about word padding.  People like them.  Check it out and comment.

[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.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Launches

Dear Readers,

Welcome to National Novel Writing Month!  NaNoWriMo, as it’s commonly called, is a 30-day challenge in November to complete a 50,000-word novel.

This year, I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo!  Along the way, I’ll post excerpts from what I’m currently working on – no excerpt longer than 500 words long – as well as a few words of encouragement for my fellow writers as you work on your own one-month masterpieces.

Today, I’ll start the month off right by sharing my favorite NaNo tips for college students.

  1. Don’t think.  This may not be so easy for some, but a lot of writers I know can write on autopilot.  Don’t concentrate on how your sentences look in terms of grammar or spelling: that’s what Microsoft Word Spellcheck is for, naturally.  Focus on just spilling your guts on the story.
  2. Use extra bits of your day to write.  I haul a notebook around with me and work on my novel before class begins or while I’m waiting for a friend to eat lunch with.  If you have a tablet PC – or don’t mind getting out your laptop all the time – you can work on the computer anywhere.
  3. Speaking of computers: If you don’t have Microsoft Word, use Google Docs.  Google Docs can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection and a computer – so if you’re using that tablet PC I mentioned, you don’t need a program.  Just a browser.
  4. Band together!  Just like with any writing group, a NaNo group (or partner) makes the challenge just that much more fun.  You can even place a bet.  My favorite bet with my writer boyfriend?  First one to reach the goal buys the other one a sushi dinner.

Remember: you need to write 1, 667 words per day to reach that 50,000-word goal.  You can also hit up some write-ins in your region to dig deeper into your goal.

And never forget the cute barista in your local coffee shop who you can see every day if you write for a couple hours there.  Peace, quiet, and cute baristas – what more could you want from NaNoWriMo?

Happy writing!


31 October: Current Progress

Happy Halloween!

As I gear up for NaNoWriMo with the rest of the UT Writer’s Guild, I’m wrapping up a few of my long-term projects before November.  Most of them will start over again in December.

  • I’ve decided to work on a new, as-of-now untitled screenplay project.  All I can really tell you is that it’s related to The TECH Project and my first attempt at Script Frenzy in 2009.  And that it’ll be much better than both of those things.
  • This month, I’ve been making some excellent progress on my novel The Final Experiment, which is a direct sequel to The TECH Project and takes place one year after TTP’s conclusion.  I’m more than three-fourths of the way finished transcribing the novel, but I also have to write two full scenes – including an intense battle scene – and there’s a lot of editing to do before I can do anything else with the manuscript.
  • I’m also working on Knitting, a prompt for my Screenwriting class that’s growing into a slightly larger story.  It may go on to do bigger and better things, but for now it’s a 10-minute short film.

And now on to NaNoWriMo!  Here’s what you can look forward to as I update with fair regularity about my progress:

Augustine is a little old-fashioned.  His whole apartment is decorated in neo-Victorian style – but he’s felt for some time now that something’s missing.  He finds that missing element in a back-alley antique store: an ornate brass-framed mirror, faintly scratched.  Thrilled with his find, Augustine hauls it home only to find himself sucked inside – into a strange, almost Victorian world filled with oil-driven and steam-powered machines.

That’s just a brief summary – I have much more outlined!

You can also see in my current sidebar a NaNoWriMo widget.  I’ll keep my word count updated there, too, so you can check my progress as I make it.  I plan to win NaNo for the first time this year!

Will you be participating in National Novel Writing Month this year?  If so, add me as a friend!  You can find me under the username xxfourthelement or in the Toledo regional forums.

NaNoWriMo: Support the Office of Letters and Light in 2011

National Novel Writing Month is a 30-day challenge to complete a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. This November, I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo as a writer and as a facilitator for my campus writing group’s NaNo activities.

This year, members of the UT Writer’s Guild will be participating in NaNoWriMo through contests, fundraisers, and events held on- and off-campus.  We hope to raise awareness of ourselves as a group as well as awareness for NaNo and the Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit organization that sponsors NaNo.

Each year, the Office of Letters and Light sponsors the Young Writers Program, a writing and educational program for kids and teens to encourage them not only to participate in NaNo but also to become better writers overall.  The Office helps educators participate by offering free educational kits to those who apply for classroom NaNo kits.

But we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

In order to keep the educational kits – and the NaNo website – completely free, the Office of Letters and Light runs almost exclusively on donations.  This year, I’m helping raise money to support the Young Writers Program as an individual and as a UT Writer’s Guild officer.

Please help support my campaign for the Office of Letters and Light – and, through them, their Young Writers Program campaign – by checkout out and donating to my fundraising page.  You can donate in any amount, from $1 up.

Thank you for considering sponsoring OLL on my behalf.  Know that if you participate, you’re helping writers across the world reach their dreams.