Monthly Archives: November 2013

Writing on empty


Books on writing give a tremendous amount of advice. Much of it good, some of it contradictory, and quite a bit challenges me. I suspect the varied types of advice and recommendations rest with individual personalities. Stephen King (and who am I to question him) recommends when writing the first draft “keep the door closed” and don’t let anyone influence your writing. Yet in my circumstance I thrive on sharing my work in progress and have altered the course of my writing (for the better I hope) by the feedback.

In spite of all the varied advice I have noticed a frequent theme. To be a writer requires the discipline of daily writing. This follows closely on what I have found to be the most common theme: if you want to be a writer—write.

This week I went through a dry spell. For three consecutive days I lagged behind my personal goal of writing at least the minimum words for a day (1,667). That figure is 50,000 divided by the 30 days of November. I committed to myself I wouldn’t blog unless I reach that number. So I have not posted my blog recently.

What was going on? On the first day of the dry spell not only did I not write much, I didn’t want to write. Thankfully the daily writing prompt challenged me to at least write something. Fatigue is part of the issue. I have a radically new schedule this year. This schedule not only makes my days longer but I have to add things to my weekend thus reducing some of my prime writing production time.

Another aspect, this one related to my personality, is boredom. Often during my writing a story as I have immersed myself in my alternate world I become tired of my story. I know my characters. I know my plot. I am ready for something new. Yet the conflict remains in that I have to finish the story. I need to complete the creative act. Letting it drag on is equally frustrating.

What do I do? I write. Even with the dry spells. Daily writing is the best “cure” for those times when I don’t want to write. This is not the same as writers block. I can write. I know where the story is going. For this I simply (!) need to push on through and eventually the fun returns to my writing.

On the fourth day I resumed my story narrative with added energy. The end of November rapidly approaches and I want to finish my story, wrap it up neatly.

Maybe even put a bow on it.

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One week to go!

About this time each Nano it suddenly occurs to me that the month is almost over. How can twenty three days pass so quickly? I could easily slip into a period of morbid reflection regarding the lost opportunities. I could berate myself saying, “so you were sick, you still could have written more than 181 words that day.”

But what good would that do? My purpose in participating in Nano is not simply words. It is a challenge I place before myself annually—a challenge to see how much I want to become a writer. That I press on and sometimes go with the flow shows that I am no longer idealizing the writing life nor am I so obsessed with simply adding words that I kick into my competitive mode and ignore almost everything else in life.

I look instead at what I have done this year. During the month I showed myself I can engage the creative writing process while sitting in a jostling commuter train for two hours a day. Even if that was all the writing I did during a year I’d complete two or three novels a year. You can do the math a thousand words a day is five thousand words a week. If I do that forty eight weeks out of the year I would write 240,000 words a year. If a novel is 75,000 words that’s 3.2 novels a year. That’s a lot of writing. Writing time I did not have while driving for my commute.

Another discovery I found as I didn’t focus merely on the words this year is I could engage the daily writing prompts and find them helpful. What an added challenge to incorporate these prompts as seamlessly as possible into my story. I’ve had to tap into creativity I didn’t realize I had and now I feel good about the effort and how these prompts have added to my story.

With these realizations I see another benefit of this year. Since I have not gone overboard this year (yes I am now at a total of 64,000 words I have not gone overboard as in the years where my goal was to break 150,000 words. I’ve been more relaxed and the writing has actually been easier as I have focused on the story more and the word count less. I anticipate that the big letdown I’ve experience the last few years when I haven’t wanted to write or edit for months after November will not happen this year.

I’ll actually be ready to continue to engage my story, which I may still need to finish after the month is over. In previous years my involvement in Nano has resulted in a lack of motivation to write. I needed the time to recuperate. (The first year I completed Nano with 150,000 words my hands hurt for a week.) The ultimate purpose of my involvement with Nano is to increase my desire to cultivate a writing life not diminish it.

Thank you Nano 2013 for showing me a better way to write. Thank you employer for forcing me to make choices and giving me a place to write free from the distractions of my daily life.

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Delightful writing drudgery

Any aspiring writers who read this title might wonder what on earth I am talking about. For those who talk about writing may just be enamored with the glamor of writing success. There is something heady—I agree—about seeing your name on a book’s cover. Even if that cover adorns a proof copy, for several years the “reward” of winning Nano. Aspiring writers, especially those who never have gotten around to actually writing, don’t understand most writing comes from drudgery.

I am at the stage of my month of writing that the initial fun of writing is over. I’ve trudged through thousands of words amid the daily grind of living. My story is coming along well and I like how it is developing. Especially the unexpected.

A simple writing prompt phrase turned into an idea for an entire chapter. I had not planned or plotted the chapter but now I am just about to conclude it. It fits in nicely with both the character development as well as furthering my plot. Surprises are nice.

But unplotted story for me takes work. Work can be drudgery. The need to concentrate and focus increases as I think and write. At times like this I push myself to write. As three quarters of the month is over I need to push and plod on in my writing. It’s no fun, let me tell you, to prop my computer bag on my lap, place my laptop on it and write for my two hour daily commute.

But this drudger is also delightful. Why? Because a story is developing. Without the daily grind I would not be moving along in my story. I wouldn’t see my character grow and the tension build. Only through the drudgery does the reward come to me, the writer. The reward of a finished story.

Today I trudged on knowing that only by passing through this drudgery will I ever achieve my desired rewards—a book cover with my name on it.

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Word count or story completion

Words, words, words. That’s what National Novel Writing Month is about. Words. Get the words out and down on paper (or notebook, or laptop, or tablet). During November do NOT edit. Just get the words out. If you don’t like a scene don’t delete it (just block it out for later removal).

I have gotten caught up in the words, words, words, emphasis of Nano. Some years all that mattered was getting words down. (Oh what work that caused when I did get around to editing!) I pushed myself in the years I strove to write 150,000 words in a November. This emphasis on words is understandable.

First, a word count is measurable. I like seeing the graph on my Nano webpage grow each day as I progress through the month. I like comparing myself with my writing buddies to see how they are doing—alright to see how far ahead (or behind) I am.

Second, for me at least, my biggest challenge in writing is to write and a word count goal adds to my personal motivation to write. I never would have written my first novel in 2007 had I not had a word count goal for which to strive. Once I start writing it is far easier to continue than it was sitting the first time at the blank screen.

Still I have sensed a personal tension in every Nano, this year is not exception, so far. I have never finished my story in fifty thousand words. My first Nano I wrote 75k words in November but added an additional 20k in December to finish my story. Ultimately a sterile word count is not sufficient motivation for my writing. I want to tell my story.

That is the essential reason I have exceeded the basic word count goal each time. I have a story to tell. For me that is an epic story. My hope in my science fiction writing is to present a consistent view of my world in all my books. As such my big story cannot be told in fifty, a hundred, or even five hundred thousand words. Each year I hope to tell a complete segment of my story.

And so I plug along this year; in spite of a long daily commute, all my weekend activities, and now another blasted cold, I want to tell my story. I have finished my 50k words but my story remains incomplete. I’m just getting to know this set of characters and so I trudge on, slogging each day to get my story out.

Wish me success.

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Encouraging others to write

Writing is a solitary act for the most part. No one can do write my novel for me. I create my ‘world’ and populate it as I choose. That is daunting enough but when you add a writing challenge as National Novel Writing Month does it becomes even more challenging. How can someone actually be sane and attempt to write 50k works in one of the busiest months of the year?

But thousands of people try it. All of us succeed. We succeed in that writing even one word toward a novel is more than all those aspiring authors accomplish no matter how much they talk about writing.

In my experience of National Novel Writing Month I appreciate the volunteer coordinators, called Municipal Liaisons, who coordinate events, monitor the region’s forum, pump out encouraging emails. These individuals not only actively attempt to write their own novel they also help challenge me to reach my goals.

Some of the tools the Naperville, Illinois, MLs use that help me include:

A graph (thank you Tim, our technical expired and fabulous veteran ML) which show me where I place in the raking of those in the region who want to be on it. I find it very motivation to see where I place among the active members of the Region. (For what it’s worth I’m currently in fourth place on words written.)

Write-in’s are times when members of the region get together to write. Although we socialize we also have our word wars in which we sprint to add as many words in 10 or 15 minutes. Tim and Katherine have modeled how to facilitate a good write-in and now others host them. I always get a lift to my writing participating in a write-in.

Prep sessions. Our Region usually hosts three or four prep sessions usually in October. Our MLs, Tim, Katherine, and Frank have all facilitated those sessions helping us to focus on plot development, mood, and characters.

Daily writing prompts. This year a new tool, which I am finding most gratifying is the daily writing prompt. Katherine collected this prompts at our Kick Off party and I have undertaken the goal of incorporating each of these prompts into my writing. What a wonderful challenge to creatively attempt to seamlessly weave these prompts into my story so they don’t seem artificial and may even stay in the story on editing.

Let’s Party! I don’t want to forget the parties. We have both a kick off and a TGIO (Thank Goodness Its Over) party. Not only do we eat (and eat well), we mingle, play party games, sing our Regional Song (well that may not be the highlight but it is tradition), and Tim does a fabulous job of presenting awards as well as special crafty prized for an annual 18k word writing challenge to help us finish strong.

The regional MLs enhance my chances not just of reaching my 50k words for the month but for my long term goal of developing a writing life.

Thank you Tim. Thank you Katherine. Thank you Frank.

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Writing and important things


One of the things I hope to achieve is the writing life. I’m not exactly sure what that completely entails but for me includes organizing much of my life around writing. My habit of journaling plays a part of that; as does my irregular attempts at personal correspondence with friends and family. In an age of Facebook, twitter, and blogs, I much rather use a fountain pen on nice note paper or cards and share with someone. I find a freedom of expression from a fountain pen I don’t have with another instrument (ball point, rollerball, or ink jell). Perhaps a pencil rivals the fountain pen, but that’s a “messy” instrument and smudges too much.

My participation each November in National Novel Writing Month contributes to a writing life as does my participation in a local library writers’ group. We meet twice a month, most months, and this exposes me to other writers as well as critiquing. So my writing grows and develops as I expose myself to what my writer friends write and advise. They also keep challenging me to edit—I like to write but cannot say the same about revising and editing my work.

The writers’ group met last night. During the meeting I notices my wife tried to call me. “She knows I don’t answer when at my meeting.” So I didn’t check my phone. When I got home she said she’d tried to get me three times. My son had been in an automobile accident. A youth on a learners’ permit failed to yield on a green light and turned in front of my son. By the time I learned about this, my son, wife, and two children were safe (and warm) at her mother’s place.

Part of the reason I want to write is to pass on a legacy to my family. That’s the important thing. How quickly all that could have changed had the accident been worse. Fortunately, it was not. Yet in the last eight years this is the third major accident (if you call totaling cars out major) in my family. No one seriously hurt in any of them. I want to be there for my family and I want my family to be there.

Thankfully today we all are here.

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The social aspect of writing


I passed through my adolescence during the wonderful late sixties and seventies. I remember the turbulence of the anti-war protesters (I was on the younger end of the age range). I remember the sit ins and I watched the premier showing on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Now I am fast reaching the end of middle age. Ow, that makes me feel old.

Now I do what I want to do especially as I comprehend that the years remaining in my life are fewer than the ones I have already experienced. I write. I enjoy writing. Ultimately writing is a personal private experience. Although I prefer to write in the quite of my study at home I also like to be where the action is. This year I am writing on a commuter train. That makes the time fly and is more productive than game apps on my phone.

I also enjoy the Nano regional write-ins. In various places, mostly libraries and coffee shops, people come together to engage in the solitary act of writing but in the company of others. How encouraging to know other people are engaging in the “crazy” project of writing 50k works in 30 days. Maybe I’m not so crazy. We also visit some and have our word war competitions to see who can write the most words in a set time period. I’m not the greatest at those, but they are still fun and I find I often write more words at a write-in than if alone.

I appreciate the Nano Regional organization and especially the Municipal Liaisons, volunteers, who coordinate the many activities of the regions. All with the express purpose of encouraging people to write their 50k words.

For me this social aspect contributes to my overall satisfaction. And I shall write on as I write-in.

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